Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Review: Santa Olivia - Jacqueline Carey

"SANTA OLIVIA DOES NOT FORGET."

Billed to me as a story of a werewolf who becomes a superhero in a dystopian world, I struggle to describe it more accurately and yet retain its actual meaning. Santa Olivia is a story about surfacing from oppression, creating your voice and living full speed. It is also a story about boxing and military-control.

In the first few chapters we view life in Outpost Number 12, née Santa Olivia, in polaroids. Carmen Garron is thirteen when the land upon which the town sits is seized and declared a buffer between Mexico and the United States. This is no longer Texas, this is no longer the United States, these are no longer citizens of any country, as far as anyone outside is concerned, they don’t exist.

Carmen Garron meets a soldier and falls in love, giving birth to her first child, a boy. Her love will come back for her after his tour, he says. But that won’t happen.

She falls in love with a stranger, a rover, a deserter, and he stays as long as he can before he is chased away. All he leaves is a mystery and another child, a daughter. She is as strange as he was, with a calm unlike children, an inability to cry, and is completely and utterly fearless.

Loup Garron grows up hyper-sensitive of all the things she can’t do, and of the horrible life they lead in Outpost. She dresses as Santa Olivia, the child saint, and brings hope back to the town. Meanwhile, her brother dreams of winning a match against the boxers the military posts to Outpost, winning two tickets out of there.

The book has ultimately relatively little to do with Superheroes (or Superheroines), Santa Olivia might wear a cape for a single escapade in this book, but her presence is felt throughout the book. She’s a patron of peace, and specifically for the protagonists, a beacon of hope, a reminder of the spirit the town had when it was free. Loup embodies the child throughout her life, asking for her guidance and unselfconsciously bringing guidance to a people who are nameless.

While a quick read might not bare it’s gears as easily — by virtue of consuming a book more quickly, I don’t think about contrivances until afterward — this one only felt like a book when I really thought about the motivation for a certain piece of dialogue. Writing is hard, and I can really appreciate how much work Jacqueline Carey put into this precisely because it felt so effortless. Oddly, I found the alien Loup among the most relatable and realistic. The smallest roles were practically invisible (in a good way!) and the rest are justifiably complicated, flaws and missteps are a part of being supporting characters. At worst Loup could be described as boring, but she’s far from passive. She has a penchant for thinking before jumping which means the plot avoids routine pitfalls. The biggest conflicts (aside from the climax) arise when Loup and her more human compatriots miscommunicate, as cliché as that sounds, it isn’t. Loup distracts herself, but when that doesn’t work, she moves. She is a character of action, and that keeps this whole story (taking place over thirty years) moving fast enough to excuse any careful steps Loup takes to remain undetected.

This is a superheroine story.

341pp. Grand Central Publishing. 2009.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Book Fight! College Boys vs Frat Boy and Toppy

College Boys was provided to me via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I hope this meets their criteria. I'm willing to provide a much more boring review if not.


 VS!


Steeeeeeeeeep right up, Folks! This ain’t the fight your grandma wanted to see, but you'll tune in anyway! We’re on LIVE and you haven’t watched scrappy fighters like these in a while. I promise you, if you’re looking for dirty, you’ll get dirty. This ain’t no alphabet soup match, what you see here issssss gonna be real!

Who will win? Who will lose? I don’t know, it promises to be a real barnburner!

This fight was a tense one, because while College Boys was short and Frat Boy and Toppy really had some depth going for it, College Boys packed a better punch, sticking basic moves and beating the weak ending of Frat Boy and Toppy.

There’s not much difference here, as it deals with a straight-until-proven-gay jock and a book smart gay guy who is out. College Boys’ Jock was smarter than Frat Boy, but I hear Toppy is a fan favorite. Aw, does that make you sad? Perk up, bibliophile!

You’ll notice I don’t remember their names. I think there was a guy named Max? Maybe Paul, maybe Ryan. That might have been the pissy room-mate though, we kicked him off the mat when he got too involved in the match, no reaching through the ropes to help out your favorite, Javier!

Going into the fight, I thought College Boys was too much of a lightweight, granted it’s only a hundred pages or so between them, but I honestly thought you couldn’t compare a novella to a novel, as short as it was. And up until the final round, I was sure that it would be clear win for Frat Boy and Toppy, but College Boys persevered where the others stamina finally wore out. Once they came out, Frat Boy and Toppy were down for the count. (Not even some kinky stuff was gonna put the crowd in a good mood again.)

It was in this final round that I allowed myself to compare Frat Boy and Toppy to this fighter I saw a couple years ago when it was on netflix, one that looked more like a college project than an indie festival winner, even though it was great. Really carried the crowd. I compared the coming out scenes, and found Frat Boy lacking in comparison to Defying Gravity. It’s always the veterns who do things better, huh?

All the previous development went out the window. Was the coming out supposed to be funny? Was the final clinch supposed to be the eye of calm in a storm? A public kiss would have been a simpler and more satisfying ending. I see so many stories try and force a final KO. Whether it’s an epilogue or just one final moment before the impossible tale ends, it never works, but Frat Boy and Toppy, while putting up a tough fighter, left a lot to be desired, flubbing the fight just when the odds were in their favor, and trying too hard for that high-score finish.

Frankly, College Boys was hotter on the mat, though there was some fluffing around at times, psyching himself up for a satisfying clinch that we all were waiting for. Also, that angst about the first couple hits that Frat Boy and Toppy tried to land? Totally worth it, not even the worst crying I’ve ever seen in a fight. Balanced out by all the stamina shown in the other rounds. Ah, who am I kidding, College Boys is a sweet one!

And boy did that fight have some action, it makes me think that no one really knows why they think phone sex is hot, until they live on the other side of a very thin wall of someone they lust after. Let me tell you! Then they think of it as a poor substitute. Don’t deny it, just tune in when College Boys picks up the gloves again. You’ll thank me, and stick around for the sequels while you’re at it.

College Boys by Daisy Harris
104pp. Siren. 9 Apr 2012.

Frat Boy and Toppy by Anne Tenino
174pp. Riptide. 25 Mar 2012.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mini-Reviews: Shock & Awe, Turning 16, Sibling Rivals

While these are all reviews of adult m/m romance, I have attempted to keep them as safe-for-work as possible.


Nabbed from The Tipsy Bibliophile.
Shock & Awe by Abigail Roux

This one was short, but I felt obligated to say something because there is so much chatter about it - at least there was 8 months ago when I read it. But I’ve never been exactly ‘current’ so why should I start now! 

This book was not my cup of tea at all. It had some cute moments, but lovers of smut and adirondack chairs will not be disappointed. (Seriously, how many times can two grown men go at it on an adirondack before it breaks?) I also was dismayed at all the casual use of prescription drugs for recreation. 

Ultimately, too short, and too niche, I really think that only fans of Abigail Roux’s Cut and Run series will get the intended effect out of it. I think I’ll be giving that series, and this new one, a pass.

Not recommended for: romantics or medical professionals.

106pp. Riptide. 30 Sept. 2013.


Turning 16 by Perie Wolford

Maybe if I were a fan of John Hughes movies I would be a better person.
That’s unlikely, but I may have gotten more out of this sweet little ditty based on in-jokes from Sixteen Candles and other movies by the much-loved director. The plot, obviously deviating from the movie in at least one major way, was about a boy whose birthday has been a catastrophe every year since he can remember, from setting the house on fire to break limbs, he’s never been spared. This year he can’t seem to shake the weirdo punk who sits behind him in detention, because yeah, he got detention for a whole week this year. It’s not terribly sexy as the characters are underage, but man, oh man, sparks do fly. When the kiss came, I was ready. 161pp. CreateSpace. 20 Feb. 2014.


Look at that pout, though.
So much sass.
Too much for one book?
Nope.
Sibling Rivals by Summer Devon

When people talk about a story being ‘organic’ I think this is what they mean. 'Real' is another word. There wouldn’t be a story without conflict and a little bit of drama, however, so I present: I’m not gay but my brother is. Wait, that sounds wrong. I’m not gay, but my brother’s boyfriend is. That’s not it either… Falling in love with one brother after getting over the last one? Two brothers fall in love with the same man?

Peter is used to being overshadowed by his "perfect" brother, and accepts the role as slacker until one Christmas when Mark brings home Colin, his boyfriend. Suddenly Peter's not the black sheep anymore. Years later, Colin and Peter meet again, and though sparks flew once, Colin wants nothing to do with either of the Stevens boys. Especially the one that is straight. I’m not sniggering, nope.

It was well written to boot, did I mention how real— oh. Well, the steamy bits worked really well, they didn’t feel forced in or tacked on at all. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, it's as delicious as it sounds.

130pp. Samhain. 1 Oct. 2013.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Morning Reader Edition #4

Here are we again.
  • Finally posted that review of Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood! That took forever and a day for no good reason at all.
  • My last review was of The Locker Room by Amy Lane
  • You might not believe it, but reviewing Romance is much more tedious than reading it. You might look forward to an editorial about that soon. Or don't look forward to it, I don't mind.
  • I tagged Buffy at Storytime with Buffy to do the Twenty Questions I did last week and she has been just too busy. If you don't mind, go schmooze her. She loves visitors.
  • Did you miss my Book vs Movie post? I look forward to do another one in the future. 
  • Look at what I found on Twitter:
  • Don't worry, the next book I finish, you will be the first to know.
  • I remember having reading resolutions... once.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: The Locker Room - Amy Lane

“Chris went back to Denver, and Xander’s heart became a well-oiled machine with one function. The only function.”

It’s not very typical, I think, for a romance to go beyond the culmination of a steady relationship, instead focusing on the happiness and future of something that’s exciting and soon pretty dependable. It takes aspects of forbidden love and the usual coming out story to be more than either of those, dealing with, in it’s own way, anti-homosexuality in sports, and the pervasiveness of alcoholism in our society. Well, I might be making a mountain out of a molehill, but I thought this would be a quick pleasure tour, not a difficult journey from dingy middle-school backlots to Madison Square Garden.

The Locker Room was surprisingly compact and lively, considering it’s practically a bildungsroman. At first it was just too much angst and the teen-speak was odd for me, but then it grew on me, and it really seemed so good. The kiss was early (relatively so was the sex) but it was okay because the drama wasn’t ‘OMG I’m in Love with you’ it was ‘I would do anything to be with you and play ball.’ It’s not exactly subtle either, as Xander says some iteration of this a couple times each chapter.

After a big event half-way through, things slowed down. But even before I turned the page I fervently hoped that they would kill him and spend the rest of the book covering it up. It wouldn’t have been as satisfying, but I think I need some more unpredictability in my fiction, which brings me to the ending...

The ending was fantastic even if it was a little bit of a cliffhanger. I mean, we all assume we know where it’s going, but most romance would leave it undoubtedly clear. (If you ever check out the submission guidelines on Harlequin or Samhain a HEA (Happily-Ever-After) or HFN (Happy-For-Now) is required.) It was good because Lane didn’t over-schmaltz it though. I guess we can’t have everything. Predicting the end we can now choose where it goes from here.

The fact that it's from Dreamspinner might be enough of an explination.

250pp. Dreamspinner. 21 Apr. 2011.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review: Born Wicked - Jessica Spotswood

Imagine you are wearing sensible shoes and trying to hide your very nature while your sisters care more about flowers and fashion than their secrets...

Cate and her sisters are Witches, abhorred by the Brotherhood, and hiding in a shallow closet, the last thing they need is a member of the Sisterhood teaching them how to mingle in society with the nice girls.

So, here’s the deal, in this alternate historical, a long time ago Witches came to the new world and created a nation which had them in power and welcomed immigrants from all over the world. At some point, a sect of patriarchal Christians saw evil in these Witches and set, in their mind, the world to right. Taking control from women, abolishing witchcraft and punishing any who continued to practice.

This is the world that Cate, and her two sisters, Maura and Tess, all witches, are left in when their mother dies. Their father, intelligent as he is, cannot help them. A meddling neighbor has finally forced them out into the small, close-knit community by recommending a member of the Sisterhood to teach them the niceties of society. They are, after all, well-to-do and each a good catch. As you can imagine, this is the last thing Cate wants for them.

(I decided to try making notes in the book as I read, which is much more fun that I thought possible. School kids stared at me on the bus while I scribbled. I feel very bad, and I feel admired for my reckless attitude!)

It was wonderful to see the horrible positions that Cate managed to extricate herself from, while retaining the horror of her actions. I liked Cate, until Spotswood threw in some competitiveness between the girls. Why do they need to be like that? Goodness. I mean, she’s really cool until she starts shaming other girls for being pretty. With growth Cate may become a favorite heroine, joining ranks with Jane Eyre and Penelope Lumley. Only the sequel will tell.

I liked all the specifications of flowers, but the note about ‘gaudy’ rose motif in the milliner’s shop really doesn’t jive with me. She keeps putting down Maura’s interest in fashion and society. Cate! Don’t you know its okay to want to be pretty? She reminds me of me, and I can only think of the impression a character like Cate might make on a reader of 12 or so, who wants to feel better about not caring about being pretty, seeing pretty girls as being frivolous and lesser. It also seemed that Cate is a bit too self-aware. Reading faster helped a little, but this book is not without it’s rough spots. The ending was wonderfully tight and fast-paced in comparison to the rest, I suspected where it was headed, but my heart pounded none-the-less.

There is so much that I don't know how to say about this book because my thoughts were more jumbled than usual (and it took me more than 6 months to write this - never again) and I couldn't find a way to write about all the things: the love triangle, the experiences of women in the ships and institutes and the wonderful, wonderful twists. I would like to refer you, in my inability to write more without spoiling the whole damn book, to Khanh's review on her blog. I should note that I wish I reviewed books the way Khanh does, fearlessly and with brutal honesty. I should also warn you that she does curse in her reviews.

The sequel was on my night table but it took so long for me to get to it that the library in question sent me threatening letters before I could crack it open. Oops.

352pp. Speak. 7 Feb. 2012.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Twenty Bookish Questions

Snagged from an old favorite, A Guy's Moleskine Notebook.


1. What author do you own the most books by?
Most stand alone books are by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. I have several long series.
2. What book do you own the most copies of?
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling. One hardcover, two paperback, one German translation.
3. What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
Remus Lupin, but it's not a state secret.
4. What book have you read the most times in your life (excluding picture books read to children, i.e. Goodnight Moon does not count)?
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban or Lirael by Garth Nix.
5. What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?
I think I had just read Harry Potter at that point, so it's a moot question to ponder.
6. What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?
Endless by Amanda Grey. I didn't have much to say about it either, but really couldn't laugh about it, like I did Slammed. In the end, I forced myself through it but really would have rather put it to the side. It's so dull and average that there isn't much to review.
7. If you could force everyone to read one book, what would it be?
Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin. I read it several years ago, but seem to remember it fondly in phases.
8. Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for Literature?
Andreï Makine.
9. What book would you most like to see made into a movie? 
Empress by Shan Sa. After all the manufactured beauty in the women and surroundings, the pomp and the religion, then all the backstabbing, philosophizing death and immortality and the ending futility of it all... I suspect I'd like to see Salammbô on the silver screen for the same reason, once I read it. Too bad Merchant-Ivory was rent asunder. 
10. What book would you least like to see made into a movie?
50 Shades of Grey but here it comes any way...
11. Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.
I constantly had dreams about the students at hogwarts as a pre-teen. They were more silly, than weird. But then I dreamt that the fifth book was coming out, and I raced on a broom to a parking garage and everyone had already read it. I had a lot of anxiety those days.
12. What is the most lowbrow book you’ve read as an adult?
Considering that most genre fiction is considered low-brow, I'd have to deliberate which of the dozens of books I've read in the last four years was the basest. I think it's best to not decide on principle.
13. What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?
One day I will tackle an intellectually difficult book, for now, The Physics of Star Trek by Lawrence Krauss took me two and a half years to get through.
14. What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you’ve seen?
I saw Troilus and Cresida a few years ago. Oof.
15. Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
I think there's a lot of overlap historically, but it's the french speaking Russians whom I've got a soft spot for these days. I prefer the bilingual russians, perhaps?
16. What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
The Highbrow Classics. Those books that professors make you read, the over lauded and often discussed. I'm young, I'm working on it.
17. What is your favorite novel?
Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones.
18. Work of nonfiction?
Passionate Minds by David Bodanis.
19. Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
Johnathan Franzen and Paulo Coelho.
20. What is your desert island book?
I think I'd take the book I'm currently reading, written by a Russian expatriate, translated from the french, Dreams of my Russian Summers by Andreï Makine.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Book vs Movie: The Last Unicorn

After reviewing The Last Unicorn I realized I had a lot to say about the movie as well. I've decided to compare the movie and the book, barring a few mild spoilers

Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn was published in 1968 and the animated feature came out in 1984. I did not read the book before I watched it, since I grew up with the movie and watched it many times as a child. We owned it in German so it was never a request that was denied, as everyone hoped my bilingual skills would improve.

The movie gets a lot of flack.

The book is certainly more faceted than the movie which was simplified in several scenes to make the tale flow better for a movie. The movie also gained a musical soundtrack (featuring America) which is actually true to the book, although Beagle's lyrics are seldom used.

I don't know if it was childish innocence or the place I'm living in my life now, but I think the movie also missed the books most mature themes of immortality, good vs evil, and the nature of evil.

Schmendrick is often described as being older than he looks, and when we are told that he was enchanted to never age, the remark makes sense, instead of him just having a baby-face. In fact Molly Grue, described as about 38, is judged by the unicorn not to be older than Schmendrick. This doesn't come out in the movie however.

The unicorn we are told is immortal and unlike a human in many ways, but unlike the movie she encounters this difference much sooner in the book. When in Mommy Fortuna's carnival there is a creature who is left out of the movie, and who set us up to anticipate several cues in the story. She is Ellie, personification of old age, death and the end of everything. Granted, like almost everything else in the carnival she is merely an illusion, but the fear that the unicorn feels is real.

I think it would be accurate to say the movie is appropriate for children because it left out some of these chilling dark elements. I don't think the book is inappropriate, but if the movie had been more true to things like this, it would not have been produced at all.

The art and voice acting are clearly the most loved parts of this movie. Mia Farrow, Alan Arkin, Jeff Bridges, Angela Lansbury, Christopher Lee, as well as many voices whom nostalgic folks will know from the animated Lord of the Rings, for example, Brother Theodore, the voice of Rukh in this, also played Gollum in those movies.

The production companies involved in this movie were also noteworthy, because of the three, two were consolidated or turned into famous studios of today: Rankin/Bass Productions's archives are shared by DreamWorks and Warner Brothers, and Topcraft, the japanese animation company of this feature was dissolved and bought by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, transforming it into the company that would release Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind not long after, becoming Studio Ghibli.

In this case I don't think you can go wrong whichever you decide. I love the movie because of nostalgia, but I feel it still has merit on its own.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Review: Katherine - Anya Seton

That painting is a bit lusty, isn't it?
It's by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 
“I only know that from wherever it is that we're going there can be no turning back.” 

It is absolutely astounding to me that this hasn’t been made into a mini-series yet. It’s a fact that because of Katherine and her illegitimate children, the House of York (and Henry VII) and the Tudors and the Stuarts are not only all Plantagenets but Lancasters as well. So much for the fall of the house of Lancaster!

But for those of you who haven’t come for a summary of Who Dated Who: 1366, you’ll be pleased to hear that this novel is the most romantic biographical story I’ve ever read. It goes beyond the Bildungsroman, carrying us into Katherine’s late life, her time apart from her love and briefly touches on everyone she knew and encountered. If you’re a fan of historical fiction (romantic or otherwise) this is such a great book to read.

It’s only show of being dated is the (wonderfully) chaste descriptions of Katherine’s young passion and consequently of her (what else can you call it?) rape. The other is the dancing around of Richard II’s rumored homosexuality. All other rumors are given life, and considering how close she came to this infamous king... but it’s not important enough to the story in the end.

A little tedious was when the Young Katherine is looked upon with desire by every man she comes across, they all lust for her, in a mild way, and see the purity and innocence in her appearance. It is finally trumped when she meets a man, one whom many would scorn and shun for his appearance, that she knows what it is to be looked at with love by a man who does not desire her. In this same segment, where we meet Lady Julian, a woman who, like St. Hildegard von Bingen was, has not been officially canonized, but is still venerated as a saint. The religious aspects of this novel are well placed and wrought with care for the rest of the novel. As important as religion was then, and how pervasive it was, it cannot be for nought that Katherine’s growth happens with the aid of priests and monks, saints and nuns. Equally so for the revolts of the Lollards and the heretics; the demands of an unruly bourgeois who despise the wanton greed of the bishops and cardinals; this was also the time of the schism of the church, where there were two popes in the world.

Phillipa Gregory (famously the author of several novels about the medieval british royals) gives this book a very pointed introduction on the differences of romance fiction and historical fiction. While this book bears a resemblance to the stories of Tristan and Iseult, Arthur and Guinevere, her point is valid, Katherine’s life, while not shaping landscapes directly, mostly of childrearing and observation, did have a marked impact on British history. She’s often strongly admonished in the classic history texts, her role as paramour and later the First Lady of England, has her brandished as an interloper as notorious as Alice Perrers. 

These contrasts of intent, greed versus love, and marriage versus love, are common to historical as well as medieval contemporary stories that explore a world obsessed with true love and empires built by men. The violence that intersperses the sanity and the abandon that pierces through the pious times without plague frame the troubles of Katherine’s life, even this fictionalized account of it. She lives long and sees much, and enjoys the width and breadth of what her world had to offer, even as unhappy as some of it was. I know that much of Katherine’s life is unknown, but there is something very noble about this woman nonetheless, her life is important, even if we don’t know the half of it.

Kudos to Geoffrey Chaucer, by the way, for writing absolutely nothing about his sister-in-law.

I can't believe I  haven't said anything about the fantastic narration! Looking over lines of passages from the book, it sounds so much more classical and stodgy than it did when read by the lovely and talented Wanda McCaddon. She's apparently narrated a couple other classics, historicals and romances: I'm on it!

500pp. Fawcett Crest Books. 1954. 
23:43. Tantor Media. 25 Mar. 2011.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Morning Reader Edition #3

Ugh, I've been a bad reader. And over a month since my last post!
  • I finally finished Katherine by Anya Seton, the audiobook, being carried through the final chapters on an emotional wave of amazement. It's a romance in the old sense of the word. The review is on it's way. Here!
  • Nora Olsen is a wonderful friend and gave me a copy of her new book, Frenemy of the People and just having skimmed the beginning, I know I'll love it. (So excited!)
  • In case you missed it I just posted a review of the cozy neighborhood romance, The Family Man by Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton.
  • That Christian Romance I mentioned last time? That was Making Waves and I finally reviewed that, too.
  • I also finally reviewed Dark Edge of Honor. I'm still not sure if it was worth it, but fans of the authors, sci-fi and military romance are sure to enjoy it.
  • All in all, I've been utterly horrible keeping up with my yearly goals. Goodreads says I've read twenty books (while my list says only fourteen), but five of those probably won't even get their own reviews, and in total, ten of the twelve romance books I read were gay romance. I'm seven books behind! My list of seven never-before-read-authors isn't complete, I'm working on paring it down from a long list I came up with back in February.
  • By the way, I've posted a couple snazzy pages on instagram and will continue to post some book related things there. If you don't want to see soccer or my face, just follow the tag #auroralector, no one else is using it.
  • Finally, in the best news of all, Emma Approved, that snappy and wonderful web-series, is back for the summer! It's an adaptation of Austen's Emma by the Bernie Su and Hank Green run company, Pemberley Digital. It's getting better and better as we go on. I know, 70 episodes is daunting, and you may not have read Emma (neither have I, intrepid reader!) but it's so worth it.
More reviews coming, and a little more variety now.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Review: Making Waves - Lorna Seilstad

This is not what I expected...

It’s 1881. Marguerite is going to have one last summer of adventure before even considering marrying someone boring. Hearing her father’s plans to camp them on the shores of the newly developed Lake Manawa seems perfect. Falling in love with the sailboats that glide across the lake, nevermind the charming captain of her proudest yacht, she concocts a risky plan to get sailing lessons and do what she wants for one summer more. When her mother’s choice for fiancé turns out to be almost as dangerous as he is dull, Marguerite may finally be ready to admit that she is in over her head. It’s a little late for swimming lessons once you’re drowning though.

This book shines with historical color. The boardwalk that Marguerite and Trip stroll along doesn’t exist, but is as modern and stunning as a recreation in a Rogers and Hammerstein production on broadway. And Lorna Seilstad’s attention to detail, and affection for this period of time on the shores of Lake Manawa is really impressive. When the fuzz clamps down on sin on the shoreline, it’s thrilling, when yachts pull out and race a regata, you hang on to hear every dip and tug of the ropes, when Marguerite puts on her most modern outfit - all white, slightly masculine - you feel the forwardness of the fashion, when she stands close to Trip and points out the stars in the sky, it’s definitely romantic.

One great review on GoodReads slammed this book in ways I didn’t even think of when reading it, taking it down as a member of the Christian Romance subgenre because the prayer was self-serving and felt added in. She also poked at the late night lakeside revivals that the two lovers attend. In defense of them, revivals were historically hokey as a rule.

Have you ever procured a book for yourself thinking it was one thing and cracking it open to discover something else? I added Making Waves to my list after glimpsing it on Lendle and thinking it looked like a fun story of a girl in the (why not) Australian Outback. Like, on a lake that isn’t Lake Victoria. This book was set in Iowa. In my defense, Manawa is a Maori word, which isn’t actually relevant here, only tangentially related.

368pp. Revell Books. 1 Aug. 2010.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Review: Dark Edge of Honor - Aleksandr Voinov & Rhianon Etzweiler

This review is filled with parantheticals...

There’s a whole lot of backstory that is given throughout the book, so I’ll try to keep it snappy here (and pretty, too). You have Mike, an operative on a dusty backwater planet that the Alliance (vaguely good-guys) has some unknown interest in, and Sergei, part of the Doctrine (vaguely bad-guys) sources coming to take over and, no joke, indoctrinate the people. These are, coincidentally, our lovers, and through some very daring choices, they end up in the field together. (It's all a bit Romeo and Juliet.)

I was a little hard on this book as I listened to it, mostly because of what happened last time I listened to a Gay Romance. (See my review of Escape Velocity.) But toward the end I found myself more and more amazed at how much info was given without spending (too much) time on actual exposition. No, that was left to moments of reflection and brief discussions (and omissions) when the boys were just getting to know one another. It was actually nice how before they could really settle into something temporary, the rug was pulled out and something proverbial hit the fan.

And even though I was hard on the audiobook, credit must be given to Jack LeFleur, who took an almost ridiculous plot very seriously, and he read the sex scenes respectably. The fact that I set the book’s playback to three times the regular speed has nothing to do with him, but more to do with the voices of the narrators. Sparse and compact sentences just sound like you’re listening to a very long spoken word performance of romance. And that doesn’t work at all. It was too dramatic, there was too much gravitas for something that is more contrived than cunning. Listening to it faster kept the pace where it should be. Reading short sentences usually has a reader flying through the pages, after all.

I’m hopeful for this this couple, but with all the world-building and tempting unanswered questions in the background it’s almost a shame this book is standalone. I’m torn between advising buy or borrow because lovers of sci-fi and military romance will probably come back to this one again and again.

(Read/Skim/Miss) (Buy/Borrow)
12:15. Carina Press. 15 Aug. 2011.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Review: Family Man - Heidi Cullinan & Marie Sexton

One family-style pizza with extra cheese, coming up!

He’s divorcing his third wife and neighborhood guy Vince can’t help but wonder if he’s been on the wrong side of the aisle all along. He actually takes a look at a guy who may be - you know - and whom he’s known almost all his life. And Trey would look back, if he wasn’t so hell bent on saying on track. He’s got his mother and grandmother to support and a college degree that he keeps chipping away at, but still seems to be getting older as his classmates get younger. He really doesn’t have time for a guy who may be a little ‘curious’. Except if he didn’t make the time, he’d be missing out on such an amazing romance. Just writing this makes me want to pick it up again. So cute! Slow burn, sweet romance, really sexy dancing in a jazz club. Yep, nothing wrong here.

I have mixed results with Heidi Cullinan it seems. An early read of mine was her novel, A Private Gentleman which was a blend of anachronism and stunning charm, I read Dance with Me soon after and was more than a little disappointed. Marie Sexton has had much more luck with me, as I really liked Promises. But this? It was really good. Romance is hard to bag and gay romance seems to run the gamut from impossible sexcapades to bum-numbingly good seduction.

Thore Schölermann, german soap actor
The book was refreshing, there’s something sweet about a romance that blossoms into THE romance of a lifetime, and I quite enjoy a coming out story. Vince’s sister was also a lovely addition to the story, even if she was a little flat, enabling more than contributing to the plot. She reminded me of an 80s Yuppie. So much was good about this book. I felt that quite a few clichés were avoided. Except there was a variation of the inevitable hospital scene with a vague resolution. Warm Italian family? Check. Was the conflict that for brought you to the hospital in the first place ended? Uh, right…

The hospital scene (as it does in all other incarnations I’ve seen) did serve a purpose, but for some reason, I’m not sure it brought any other conflicts to a head as one might expect in a story. It may have been more true to life, but it didn’t tie any tight knots for me. The ending as well, as sweet and in character as it was with the rest of the novel, didn’t contain all the satisfaction I hoped for. All the plans made, all their dreams, did they ever come to fruition? Then again, sexy slow-burn romance was sexy.

I think that guy on the cover looks a little like Thore Schölermann from the German Soap Forbidden Love. I mean, it's almost uncanny how similar their looks are...

(Read/Skim/Miss) (Buy/Borrow)
232pp. Samhain. 12 March 2013.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Morning Reader Edition #2

What's new in my world of bookish things?
  • I've been going through all the comic freebies I got from Comixology and Google Play and will be letting my thoughts loose on #1 issues for several series. 
  • Speaking of which, I've been itching to read the new Guardians of the Galaxy - I'm so excited about the movie, and I really like those characters. A little sad that Martyr doesn't seem to be on the roster for the movie. Then again, neither is Iron Man. I signed up for Marvel Unlimitied, and will talk about that soon.
  • I completed my collection of FAKE by Sanami Matoh the BL manga about cops in New York. I'll read and review that soon.
  • Silver Publishing, an infamous press of gay romance has closed its doors and many authors who were with them are looking to republish soon.
  • I'm currently reading a good YA romance that I hope won't loose steam, Endless by Amanda Gray, an instant read from NetGalley. As well as The Last Akaway that has the demographic stamp of approval: a 9 year-old I was babysitting couldn't get enough of it.
  • Heather got me into Lendle, a service that lets you lend your kindle books to other kindle users and borrow them as well. It makes me wish my 100+ kobo romances were kindle books instead, oh well. I've already gotten some good use out of it. I borrowed a novella by Josephine Myles and borrowed (then got for free) a Christian Romance which was apparently cliche of the sub-genre, despite the fact that I enjoyed it.
  • In case you missed it I just posted a not-so-nice review, of a book that I hope will get a revamp soon: Artificial Moonlight by DJ Manly & AJ Llewelyn
  • Before that I finally reviewed the hard boiled romp through Louisiana's seedy addicts, The Glass Rainbow by James Lee Burke, #18 of the Dave Robicheaux series. The audiobook was narrated by Will Patton.
  • Kindle Tablets are currently on sale - and they've never been this low before. I bought a paperwhite while they were on sale and while it's not the ereader to end all, it's very nice. I'm not an Amazon lover, but for those who are on the brink of buying one, now may be the time.
I'm trying out the 'bolded headline under the post title' thing. It may go away soon. In part inspired by several people I follow on GoodReads.

Review: Artificial Moonlight - D.J. Manly & A.J. Llewelyn

Once again Fan Fiction beats Published Fiction. Anyone keeping score?

Basically there are two gay guys who kinda have the hots for each other, one is a biker and the other is a really forward noisy guy who catcalls him in traffic. They hook up, biker guy finds out the other guy is also a biker, and they have to keep their developing hormonal lust away from public and the rest of their gangs. Add in a lot of biker jargon and an overblown plot involving revenge and pot plants, a lot of high strung bikers and you get the gist of this novella.

It took me a while to branch out from marathoning Sons of Anarchy with my cousin into learning more about actual gangs. I learned that for several months I lived next to one very quiet outpost of Germany’s biggest outlaw MC and that biker romance is as much a subgenre as Amish romance. It was by chance that I found out about Artifical Moonlight which didn’t sound great, but I figured that as a novella, not much could go wrong if I read it. I was in for a surprise.

I’m no connoisseur of the genre, despite having many motorcycle enthusiasts in my family, I’ve never ridden one, and my knowledge of American gangs, I mean, real ones, is non-existant. But I’m prepared to say that the drama in this kindle book is so ridiculous, and so obviously setting up a series, I wish you would all just step away and pretend you never saw it.

I highlighted several attempts at connection between the love interests with ‘nope’ and mocked so many of the tough guys swipes at one another for what they were: not badass, certainly not kickass. At risk of spoiling some of the (few) twists in this book, I was shocked at all the gay club members, seeing as they kept saying how being gay didn’t mix with the life. First the Sergeant at Arms for Banni de Louisiane (actually a cool name for a club), then the VP of Death Proof (would mean more if they actually were, yanno, kick ass), then the Pres, then the former pres, then another club’s Sargent and, wait, are you keeping track? Who’s straight?

But I might have forgiven that since it is a gay romance and you gotta have multiple strands of romance to follow, but too much was shoved into this little book to begin with, it felt like a drive through Baton Rouge was on a tour bus where the guide was reading off of the Wikipedia Simple English page. Backstory was weird, and facts about nicknames were just unnecessary. Sometimes a guy is just nicknamed Spider. Sometimes that’s all there is to it. Except:
“Sue Ellen and Jerry have a thing for spiders and the rest of us have learned to suffer in silence. Even their dog has learned to lick sticky spider silk from his fur without a whimper.”
As for character growth, well, the rich boy (because there always is one) is too hot-headed for his health, and snarky.
“That was when I made out the writing on the backs of all his fingers.
DEATH HURTS.
Okey dokey then.”
Which is understandable, sometimes hard-core dudes are a little too obvious and we all want them to chill out. But when someone puts a bounty on your head, says “you’re no longer death proof” and then you proceed to reflect on this same tattoo?
“Our baby was dead.
And f--k. He’s right.
Death Hurts.”
Oh for crying out loud! Are you an outlaw gang member or what?

By Manfred Kohrs [CC-BY-SA-3.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
Included is a picture of a German prospect for the Motorcycle Club I mentioned earlier. They are mentioned on their wikipedia page as being an outlaw gang mostly because they fought with a scandinavian club in the 90s, which did lead to bombings and the use of grenade launchers. There’s a fair amount of hang-arounds for all the european clubs who speak english and post on web forums about what's going on, and worth a read if you're interested in outlaw culture. A MC like Gremium considers itself part of the 1%, a patch some clubs wear to indicate they are outlaws. I’m pretty sure they would laugh at clubs like Death Proof and maybe the Banni too.

There's a hard balance to strike between romanticizing criminals and writing romance about criminals who are likable. These guys were just laughable. What a pity, there’s a lot of potential here. With the folding of the publishing company of Artifical Moonlight, it is unlikely, but I hope that the authors will use the lapse of sales to rehash the rough stuff and make this book a little more kickass. At the moment, it’s too short and barely worth the pixels. I recommend you find yourself some SoA fanfiction instead. Unfortunately, there’s some amazing stuff out there that will never get published and is totally worth a read.

(Read/Skim/Miss) (Buy/Borrow)
126pp. Silver Publishing. 22 Feb. 2014.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Review: Glass Rainbow - James Lee Burke

"It has been my experience that most human stories are circular rather than linear."

Dave Robicheaux is made aware of the deaths of several girls in his and neighboring parishes of Louisiana, and much to his bosses chagrin, he begins to poke around outside his jurisdiction. His daughter’s new boyfriend is a famous author, hoping to help her with her novel, as one of his friends, a criminal turned famous author. When connections from a small-time pimp to the criminal author keeps surfacing Dave provokes his daughter's ire as well as his own curiosity. Things begin to get a little too contrived for his liking, as his life and his daughter’s lives wind closer and closer to the deaths of those girls. In the end, only being prepared for anything is what can save them.

Filled with fantastic descriptions of character and landscape, Burke fills his book with exposition about history and personal lives as well as anecdotes about dialect and politics. Far from tiresome, and apparently as good a place as any for the newcomer to jump in, I listened to this book while commuting, while cleaning, while lounging - never tiring of Will Patton’s accents and voices for the myriad of unfortunates who caught the eye of Burke’s sober detective. It was easy to separate the goons from one another, and the poor souls ensnared in the beckoning lie of a better life. The disillusion that our narrator sees is paralleled in the fallen plantation empires and the failure of dreams and unsavory endings that befall so many in his scope. Keeping his own family from being pulled under is all there seems left for Dave to do, even as he runs around, solving other crimes.

It is well known amongst fans of James Lee Burke that his characters are flawed souls, complete with demons and friends who dog them, and his descriptions of the Louisiana Bayou are replete with unforgiving details of history. Despite the headaches that Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcell get themselves into, they come back for more, like the main character of a Tom Cruise movie. That the ending is often an unbelievable twist of evil plots and blazing gunfire that they somehow survive completely caught me by surprise that has become familiar to old fans. But,  as they’re back in Creole Belle, the next book, this isn’t one to be puzzled over too long. Enjoy it for what it is, or give it a miss.

Dave Robicheaux #18.

(Read/Skim/Miss) (Buy/Borrow)
15:07. Simon & Shuster. 13 July 2010.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Morning Reader Edition! #1

What's new with me and the world of books?
  • Kai Meyer has a new book coming out, Phantagasm! I don't know what it's about but I'm excited.
  • Katherine by Anya Seton is officially ruining all other historical fiction for me.
  • I joined a gym which means more time for audiobooks. Currently slugging through the less enjoyable Dark Edge of Honor by Aleksandr Voinov and Rhianon Etzweiler, red by Jack LeFleur. I bought it too long ago to return it so there is my conundrum.
  • I finally finished Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood and was so glad about how it turned out, now the sequel, Star Crossed is hurtling to my local library branch as we speak. The Born Wicked review is forthcoming.
  • I am a very lucky, perhaps the luckiest reader...
  • In case you missed it, I also just finished the historical. YA romp, Daughter of Camelot by Glynis Cooney, which was a pleasant surprise.
  • I just finished the adorable slow-burn romance between boy-band members, Catch My Breath by MJ O'Shea. Sidebar: I'm falling in love with One Direction.
  • Upcoming reads include the Wuthering Heights retelling Black Spring, and the She-Geek group read The Priestess of the White.
I'm also thinking about changing how I title my posts, because to be honest, I like how Off-The-Shelf titles their review posts, with a little tantalizing summary, rather than just a book title. Catch My Breath would become: Catch My Breath is filled with enough conflict to make the gooey romance so worth it. But that's long! Thoughts?

Review: Catch My Breath - MJ O'Shea

Looking to create the next Big Thing, Sasha Pulaski, a producer, holds a voice search, discovering not one, but four great voices who complement each other better than on their own. Danny Bright is a bit jaded, but knows the industry well enough that when the offer to join a boy-band comes along, you don’t give it a chance to slip away. They still need their fifth member, however, and Sasha finds him, unexpectedly, at an open voice call, comprised mostly of high school students who are throwing caution to the wind - like Elliott Price.

Danny and Elliott are like two peas in a pod, soon much more, from the beginning, but they suspect management won’t like it, and keep it a secret of the band. When management finds out though, they begin to wonder if pursuing their dream careers was worth it at all. 

Increasingly in need of a sweet-fix, this didn't just satisfy my sweet tooth, it also showed a rose glasses look at the not-so-nice side of being in the public eye and presenting yourself on some else's terms. 

The book is often recommended to, a bit obviously, One Direction fans who ship Harry Styles and Larry Tomlinson (that ship being HS/LT or Larry Stylinson). It can also work as an agent to convince someone that all is not platonic there (as MJ O’Shea demonstrated as she was researching boy bands for this book). It can also give you a bit of a craving for produced pop tracks, as proven by me. I’ve been listening to One Direction’s discography on a constant shuffle for over a week now. There’s enough difference between the real life heartthrobs and the book’s characters that it’s clearly not a fanfiction with names changed, and quite a few references to N’Sync, 98°, Boys II Men and Backstreet Boys histories, if you know them. 

It was really enjoyable as a romance for a non-directioner. For me, the cover is clearly Danny, who, of the two boys, is the more comfortable with the spotlight, having sought this break his entire light and growing up not far from the center of celebrity in California. 

For Elliot, he’s a lot like Harry Styles in appearance, but with his big eyes, wavy hair and bubbly personality, I was reminded of another gay teen popular on the internet, Milo Dunstan from Tripping Over You. (But you know, with brown eyes and pale skin.) Just look at those eyes, they’re huge!


This book also had some nice points for it - no gay bashers, no hospital scene, no angst about coming out to parents. It was slow-burn, a little angst about does-he, doesn’t-he, and just really adorable, but not pure fluff. I mean, I like conflict, and angst can be nice, but sometimes this is okay, too. Like, really okay! Heather made a point that the band gets along a little too well, that the lack of trouble among the five boys was a little unbelievable but I think the story would not have benefited from any discord among them — there was enough strife between Danny and Elliott as well as against management. Some who want more heat in their romance will definitely be disappointed, it’s not chaste, but there may have been only two explicit sex scenes in here, I hear that’s also not typical for MJ. 

This was my first romance by MJ O’Shea and I took advantage of a sale to pick some more books of hers up, to-be-read-soon. (I know, I made a resolution, but—sale!) I enjoyed this very much, all grievances of mine, as few as there were, have faded away in the honeymoon glow. I wished this book would go on and on in it’s adorable affection for it’s characters, but that is clearly unrealistic. 

350pp. Dreamspinner Press. 21 June 2013.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Review: Daughter of Camelot - Glynis Cooney

In 6th century Wales, a Chieftain’s daughter longs to distinguish herself and serve the High King, Arthur of Camelot. She plays at fighting with her twin brother, Rhys, and their groom, Ronan. Her older sister Nia is a lady at the nearby castle of Deganwy and a constant reminder of what is expected of Deirdre. When a close friend of her father’s, Merrick, tells of trouble in Camelot,  Lancelot and Guinevere having run away, Mordred, here Medrawd sees his chance to lead the rabble kings of Briton to fell Arthur, Deirdre thinks it is her chance to prove herself. (To read some dry stuff about trechery and name pronunciation, click this.) Dierdre, sent to Court while her brother begins knight’s training in the Fort, is sure all her chances to save Camelot will pass her by while her sister patiently tries to convince her that women are just as important. At Deganwy she makes friends and enemies in short order, among which are Sioned, a pagan lady, Hydd, a suspicious monk, Einion, a boastful knight, Dewey, a warrior dwarf and Caitlin, an eager servant. Deirdre soon is embroiled beyond her imagination in the intrigue and plotting of falling kingdoms, racing across the country on her devoted mare to do what must be done, only to meet her beloved King in his darkest hour.

Do you remember when you were young and you would play act at serious adult games, maybe with more intrigue than real life? You would hope that the people who mattered to you, the people whom you admired, would notice and you would save the day or at least get recognized for good deeds. This is who Deirdre is in a nutshell, but she was also often pretentious, playing at being a lady of nineteen like her sister. When attacked by bandits, and a member of her party is killed, instead of being heartened that a warrior like her is needed, deciding to keep the dead man’s dream alive, she doubts herself and her own lifelong dream, which I wasn’t sure fit with Deirdre.

This book was a struggle to read and review. It’s really good, and I ultimately enjoyed it, but it is clear that it could have used the kind of editing that debut authors can’t seem to get from publishing houses anymore. (When I began reading, I kept questioning the tenses that were used.) This book's flow stops and starts a lot, mostly it seems when Deirdre stops and starts. The books two central messages also seem to be as dichotomous as the genders were over a thousand five hundred years ago. While boring and falsified courting with Einion is glossed over, we are privy to the detailed discussions that Deirdre has with Sioned and Nia, intoning the glory and importance of a woman’s work, the value of religion and explanations of pagans. Since Deirdre is already aware of the glories of knights, we aren’t treated to many details in her training sessions, and some of the intrigue which may have been implicit to those involved is unexplained. (I’d like to know what happened to that spoiled princess who went to Pictavia, for example.) It seemed to plod along at times, we were expected to infer much, often shown things without being connected to the subject. Though the world was greatly detailed (and highly accurate, as far as I could tell) it began to fall slack after a few chapters, when we began to focus on the plot. This is as it should be, but I often felt left behind.

I was reminded of Will in Scarlet throughout, the same sort of legend soaked history story aimed at fourteen year olds. (Will and Deirdre both are fourteen.) Deirdre’s growth at Deganwy and subsequently at Din Arth in Rhos, is believable but because we do not see it, if feels abrupt and orchestrated. It felt a little more like a YA romp through Arthur’s court than a coming of age story typical of the genre. Dierdre was flat and really not faceted enough to be interesting. She’s a little too constructed — her flaws planned out. There seems to be a particular voice that all YA adventure-romances are written in, and at times this seemed to fall into the same pace as Divergent and Blood Red Road and The Testing. There was an occasional (and welcome) element of Gail Carson Levine herein, albeit with the threat of a heavy-handed moral looming every couple of chapters.

Speaking of which, the romance: keeping in mind that she’s a tomboy of fourteen, the fact that she becomes infatuated with the first eligible knight she meets, Einion, didn’t bother me. This was well handled — it really was good. (However, Einion’s self-introduction was out of place and as dry as the first paragraph on a Wikipedia page.) Though I did hope that Deirdre would run away with Ronan in the begining of the story, I was pleased with the progression of their friendship throughout their adventures.

What did bother me outright was the dorm-like atmosphere of the ladies rooms in the castles. The jealousy of Heledd and Deirdre’s subsequent capriciousness was unnecessary. One reviewer actually gave up on this book 40% in because of the constant finger pointing, people calling “Witch!” wherever Deirdre went. I was more concerned by the ultimate fate of Heledd, one of several loose ends. The aforementioned Princess who goes North, Caitlin’s story with the bracelet also needed finishing, as did the romances, Pictavia in general remained an important unexplained piece. Though I suspect these will be gone into in the next book, we’ve just been set up for more political intrigue in the final paragraphs of this book, not to mention all the new things that will be introduced. I kept thinking how good this book could have been as a mystery novel, and indeed kept expecting Deirdre to turn into Lady Georgia of Rannoch, but no such luck.

Despite my nit-picking, I made a note only a chapter or so in that I would forgive the book it’s smaller flaws if it ended well, and it did, spectacularly in fact. (I loved that when Deirdre found out about Lancelot and Guinevere's betrayal, she is appalled by Lancelot, feeling that the knight’s betrayal to his best friend was worse than Guinevere's betrayal to her husband.) I was pleased and feel that the story arcs were satisfactorily concluded, which is actually a momentous feat. And I’m certain that with Daughter of Camelot, Glynis Cooney has done something nearly impossible, constructing a historical world out of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s unreliable legends, forgoing outright magic for superstition, laying bare the greed and illusions that men and stories create, never crushing Deirdre’s vision of her King, but not treating her to the legendary spectacle of Morgan le Fey’s gift of immortality. This is the world that Arthur might have ruled over, where people speak of Merlin in hushed, suspicious tones, the same time devoutly believing in prophecies and providence — Deirdre is the perfect heroine to guide us through the swirling chaos. I look forward to continuing the adventure in the sequel, the as-yet-unnamed second book in The Empire of Shadows.

Note that there is a book with the same name in the Merlin Chronicles, book six.
I rated this book 4.5 stars on Leafmarks, rounding up to 5 on Goodreads.
This book was provided for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

410 pp. Mabon Publishing. 19 Sept. 2013.
(Read/Skim/Miss) (Buy/Borrow)

Friday, January 31, 2014

Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - Frank L. Baum

Almost everyone I know is familiar with the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz starring Judy Garland, while far fewer are the people who’ve also read the book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I read Ozma of Oz in 2003, thus familiarizing myself in the weird and wonderful ways that Oz exists. Ozma is book three in a series that began with Wonderful Wizard and continued on for thirteen more books. They are in the public domain and are frequently republished as classics and revisited as seen in the SyFy miniseries Tin Man or the book Wicked by Gregory Maguire. I will provide a summary of the book for those who are unfamiliar with it. You can skip to the next paragraph if you’ve heard this before: there is a little girl, named Dorothy, who lives with her Aunt and Uncle in a very grey and flat part of Kansas, a state in the United States. A terrible twister comes upon their farm and before Dorothy can get into the storm cellar, she is knocked to the floor of her house and carried away, with the entire house, by the Twister. After a long time traveling in the quiet eye of the storm the house lands, and upon stepping outside in a bright and strange world she is heralded a heroine. Apparently her house landed on a wicked witch who had been terrorizing the inhabitants of Munchkinland. After taking the silver slippers from the witches feet and asking how she can get back to Kansas, she is directed to the Emerald City in which The Wonderful Wizard of Oz resides. If the Wizard cannot help her, no one can. Along the way she comes across a man made out of tin, a talking scarecrow and a lion who is the most cowardly beast in the forest. Together they make it to the Emerald City where nothing is exactly as it seems and they are sent on another quest, to kill the last wicked witch of Oz. That isn’t even the end of the story — and it’s not a very long book! The book and this particular audiobook, narrated by Anne Hathaway in Audible.com’s a-list series, where well-known actors and actresses read their favorite novels, really seems intended for children. Frank L. Baum reputedly wrote these books as modern fairy tales when he began in 1901. Anne Hathaway reportedly thought of her nieces when she recorded the audiobook. I wish I had gotten to these books a little earlier in my life. Anne Hathaway does a wonderful job bringing all the characters and creatures along Dorothy’s journey to life. Her accents and flamboyance are colorful and right in line with the overall tenor of the book: variety is the spice. Particularly memorable are her raspy scarecrow and valley-girl flamingo. Unfortunately this audio version is only available from Audible as a download — no possibility to borrow from the library. Considering how easy it is to get your hands on these books — here, links to the series on Gutenberg — I’m going to read the rest soon. Unlike other old children’s books, I find they hold up really well. A recent question about holding onto our childhood favorites for the wrong reasons, engraining in the young stories where girls are often passive, made me rethink my determination to read more of the older ‘classical’ books I’ve heard lauded for years. Here’s the quote: 
Female characters in books that are for "everyone" are often marginalized, stereotyped or one-dimensional. Especially in traditional favorites that are commonly highlighted in schools and libraries. For example, Peter Pan's Wendy is a stick-in-the-mud mother figure and Tiger Lily is a jealous exotic. Or, take Kanga, from Winnie the Pooh. There is nothing wrong with these books per se; they are wonderful stories, and they reflect a reality of their times, but continuing to give them preference -- out of habit, tradition, nostalgia -- in light of newer, more relevant and equitable stories is really not doing anyone any favors.
Here’s the source: What Does it Mean that Most Children's Books Are Still About White Boys? I see The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a break from that generalization. It may not compare to Winnie the Pooh, but it certainly is a classic worth revisiting.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Best Reads of 2013

Last year I read 69 books, inspired by a recent blog post from the LibraryThing Blog, I'd like to share with you the best books I read last year. Despite a slow summer and a lot of genre fiction toward the end, I read quite a few really good books.

I started the year off on the right foot with On Writing, which I highly recommended to writers, but it wasn't one of the best; neither were Pagan's Crusade or Will in Scarlet, though I did buy them both for my brother. And even though I waxed on about how mind-blowing PostApoc was and how lovely Wives and Daughters turned out to be, they didn't make the list.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
The love story of two young, terminally ill cancer patients. Tasteful and fun, despite everything. Captures youth of today, will be released as a movie in June and may become a classic in a few years. Very nearly perfect.

Favorite line:
“I've gotten really hot since you went blind.” 

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Favorite lines:
"I say, sir," said the young man quite suddenly. "If you'd rather have the lower berth--easier and all that--well, it's all right by me."
A likeable [sic] young fellow.
"No, no," protested Poirot. "I would not deprive you--"
"That's all right--"
"You are too amiable--"
Polite protests on both sides.

The Assault by Harry Mulisch 
A book which asked a lot of questions without many answers, although the big question asked by the plot is answered at last at the very end. This novel feels like the ghost of something else, not shallow but a pale memory of something better and happier. Stunning.








The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro
The story of storytellers, written by a not-terribly-well-known Nobel Laureate.
Favorite lines:
It must have meant something, though, that at this turn of my life I grabbed up a book. Because it was in books that I would find, for the next few years, my lovers. They were men, not boys. They were self-possessed and sardonic, with a ferocious streak in them, reserves of gloom. Not Edgar Linton, not Ashley Wilkes. Not one of them companionable or kind. 


The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
The sort of whimsical tale that might be uninteresting to the general folk, but is such an interesting and beautiful book that any fantasy reader should try it.
Favorite lines:
 “Your name is a golden bell hung in my heart. I would break my body to pieces to call you once by your name.” 

What were your favorites of 2013?

Friday, January 17, 2014

The 2014 Reading Challenge for the Morning Reader

This year I have challenged myself to read 7 'classic' authors who are new to me, 50 books in sum, a set list of foreign language books, and re-read some of my favorite books from when I was a child. In this post I will keep track of these, and also link to reviews as I read them. The lists are far from final, but I thought I'd put them out there already.

'Classic' authors shall be defined as authors both my parents have heard of and shall only include authors who are no longer living. Stipulation: if they are familiar with a book they have written, but not the author by name, it counts. Short stories will not count toward any of these challenges.* Children's books may be 'short' in comparison to books I read regularly today, but they still count toward these challenges.

All books read this year, in order read:


  1. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank. L. Baum, Narrated by Anne Hathaway
    (Shoggoth's Old Peculiar by Neil Gaiman, Narrated by Neil Gaiman)
  2. Rhythm of Three by Kelly Jamieson
  3. Family Man by Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton
  4. Daughter of Camelot by Glynis Cooney
  5. Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood
  6. Catch My Breath by M.J. O'Shea
  7. College Boys by Daisy Harris
  8. Unteachable by Leah Raeder
  9. Artificial Moonlight by  D.J. Manly and A.J. Llewellyn
    (First Impressions by Josephine Myles)
  10. Sibling Rivals by Summer Devon
  11. Dark Edge of Honor by Aleksandr Voinov and Rhianon Etzweiler, Narrated by Jack LeFleur
  12. Making Waves by Lorna Seilstad
  13. Frat Boy and Toppy by Anne Tenino
  14. Katherine by Anya Seton, Narrated by Wanda McCaddon

Seven 'classic' authors whom I have never read before:
  1. Leo Tolstoy
  2. Gustave Flaubert
  3.  
  4.  
  5.  
  6.  

Some of my favorite children's books, to be re-read:
  • Blitzcat 
  • Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
  • Unicorns of Balinor: Sunchaser's Quest by Mary Stanton
  • Sort of Forever 
  • His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman 
  • Witch Quest

Foreign language books:
  • Chéri by Colette
  • Austerlitz by Sebald
  • Der Vorleser by Bernard Schlink (The Reader)
*I may review these none-the-less.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Review of the Second Edition of Off-Topic

Preface to the Review:

Several weeks before Christmas, I was charged with writing the review to announce the publication of the print edition of Off-Topic, that which we are now calling the Second Edition. There were many changes and quite a few sacrifices we had to make before any online publisher would take our book and distribute it. As it stands now, we can offer the book for sale from both Amazon and Book Depository - which as any discerning person knows, is actually one and the same company. It was not easy, but now that we have finally made it, I hope you will join us on this final part of the journey.

Dear Reader,

I am pleased to announce the publication of the print edition of Off-Topic, a book we, the editors, began distributing for free several months ago, in eBook format. Everyone worked very hard, laboring over editorial decisions which only became harder, discovering tiny errors that had slipped through unnoticed for too long, and in my case, refining the cover, checking the spelling of 'protesters' and making sure we agreed on the gender of Ms. Reader.

It is with great sadness and trepidation that I tell you that our book, belonging to you as well as the editors, had been censored by people more careful than ourselves. An author whose name was not mentioned in the book, and whom I may presume has not read our book, notified lulu.com of abusive content that had been found within and our labor of passion was removed. Readers, lulu.com cannot be blamed.

When I was younger my understanding of publishing began and ended with the movie The Russia House. My journey through  the movie was guided by Michelle Pfeiffer and Sean Connery's attempts to publish a book while traveling around the Soviet Union. I didn't understand why the book in question couldn't be published in the USSR (not until I saw The Lives of Others) but I understood what censorship was as soon as I knew what banned books were.

This book isn't about authors or even books, not really. I will concede that some of the contributors to this essay collection are authors in their own right, and that we are book lovers, all of us, without exception. What unites us is that we don't want our books, our privacy, or our expression compromised. This book was about compromising our relationship with the books we read and the people we share that with.

My job in this book was relatively small. I scoured Creative Commons for quality photography to replace pictures we could not legally distribute, adjusted my cover concepts as the editors weighed in, and moved pixels back and forth as we debated titles. We needed something dramatic - but self-mockingly so. We do take this very seriously, despite our jokes and laughter. If you've read Franz Kafka's The Trial, or, never mind that, if you've read Gibson's essay, reprinted in our collection, you see the big picture. Our plight began with reviews posted which did not follow a strict book-report formula, gushing criticism hard to swallow for many, and continued, in vague wordings, enforced in bizarre ways, to the kinds of essays found within this book, the type of review our community thrived on. Our book no longer focused on authors mislead into a world occupied by naïve consumers, but on those who continued to interact as they had before, albeit some a little more loudly, hoping to test the boundaries.

I understand that this picture may not be as clear to those who are not affected by the Patriot Act. Or those who have not lived or whose parents or grandparents have not lived under an oppressive regime - I have had the the misfortune of having all three. My grandparents lived to tell of The Third Reich, extended family survived the Iranian Revolution, lived in The Eastern Block.

To typists poised to tell me I'm seeing things, that I'm abusive, that I'm only ensuring that loud jerks continue to run their mouths, I would like to ask a question. Are you contributing to a culture without privacy or freedom intentionally or unintentionally? Our possessions have been sold, our words constrained and you have turned tail and run. Or you've enabled the powers that be to take far more control than when we joined this virtual community. By saying 'this is the way things are' are you willingly giving up rights you never thought you had?

Then again, we write our reviews for an oligarchy, lest we forget. We catalog in full view of the public and company employed statisticians. I may not like what you have to say, but I fully support your right to say it, comrade. This is the not Soviet Block, not by any easy stretch of the imagination, but I find my ability to stomach being a reviewer on Goodreads, not more than a piece of data, just as difficult as waking up under a dictator's iron fist. While I won't self-censor either, I certainly won't become a mere piece of data to be mined.

It is a rule of the internet that if you are not paying for something, you are the commodity for sale. This has become alarmingly apparent since Goodreads was sold. This book was a selected reaction to this rude awakening. With this revision we hoped to have a modern gift to give for Christmas. Due to the wrench thrown in our plans by misguided individuals and overly-prudent IT peeps, we had to find a new distributor and are now able to offer you a beautiful print edition from Amazon or Book Depository. Believe me, some editors suffered at my hand because I simply could not keep my file formats and fonts straight. But it's finally here. I've ordered my copy and hope that you will read this book. if you haven't already, and continue to pass along the word. And friends, continue to be off-topic.

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