Monday, December 23, 2013

2013 Round-Up

ooops
Favorite GIF of the year.

Guys, did you realize it's December already?? I kid, I knew it was coming all along. And since the year is ending, one feels the need, forced upon one by the Gregorian calendar and popular culture, to reflect on all happenings since January. This will probably come as a shocker, but I read a few books. Here are the stand-outs, with links in case you missed 'em:

hell is empty cover
Favorite New-to-Me-Author: Craig Johnson
Johnson writes the Walt Longmire series, which has been turned into a TV series on A&E (Longmire). The TV show is okay, but the books are so much better. Hell is Empty is one of the best books I read all year.

the english girl cover
Best Spy/Thriller: The English Girl by Daniel Silva
A surprisingly emotional, thoughtful book for a spy novel. Daniel Silva is also an awesome writer. This is another author whose entire backlist I want to read IMMEDIATELY.

vera cover
Best Forgotten Classic: Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim
This book is like a very dark, cynical Rebecca; yet it's also weirdly funny because von Arnim is so freaking clever. I would recommend it to anyone who thinks Edward Cullen is a stalker.

animal farm cover
Favorite Not-Forgotten Classic: Animal Farm by George Orwell
Kind of the perfect novel, in my opinion.

the bridge cover
Favorite Book Actually Published in 2013: The Bridge by Rebecca Rogers Maher
I pretty much love everything about this novella—the characters, the premise, the setting, how the romance developed, the tone, and the ending. A very hopeful, uplifting, romantic book.

the river of no return cover
Only Book That Kept Me Up Past My Bedtime: The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway
It's a real challenge for me to find a book that will keep me up wanting to read one more chapter, one more chapter, no matter how tired I am. The River of No Return did that, and I loved it. This one also has great characters and the chemistry between Julia and Nick was page-scorching.

the brinkley girls
Favorite Art-Related Non-Fiction Book: The Brinkley Girls by Nell Brinkley
I have a bias for beautiful, huge books that are heavily illustrated (it's the art historian in me), and The Brinkley Girls is definitely that. Nell Brinkley was an iconic illustrator of the late 1910s and -20s, whose drawings influenced the fashion of an entire generation of women. Her comics weren't just pretty to look at, though—they also had surprisingly feminist storylines. The Brinkley Girls contains all of Nell Brinkley's full-page color comics, and a little info on the artist herself.

in the frame cover
Best Art-Related Novel: In the Frame by Dick Francis
I do love Francis' painter heroes, and Charles Todd is no exception.

the secret adversary cover
Best Mystery: The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie is so tricksy, you guys. I honestly didn't know who Mr. Brown, the criminal mastermind, was until the end of this novel. Plus, it's hilarious and I LOVE Tommy and Tuppence. Can they be my best friends? Pleeeeease?

the three musketeers cover
Book I Can't Believe I Waited This Long to Read: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
If this book had been long enough, I seriously would have kept reading it for the entire year. IT'S THAT AWESOME. Also, I have a serious lady crush on Lady de Winter. Such a badass.

the suicide shop cover
Book Most Obviously Destined to Become a Cartoon: The Suicide Shop by Jean Teulé
Just read it. Then you'll know.

inferno cover
Book I Had the Most Fun Mocking: Tough one! I think this has to be a tie between Inferno by Dan Brown and Secrets and Lords by Justine Elyot.

the sheik cover
Favorite Discussion: I'm so glad Bridget from Portable Pieces of Thought agreed to read and discuss The Sheik by EM Hull with me. In the running for best book discussion ever.

scandal
Favorite NON-Bookish Thing: I am obsessed with the TV show Scandal. Colette from A Buckeye Girl Reads has been trying to get me to watch it forever, and I was like, "Meh," cuz I don't really do the political drama thing. But one night I decided to just bite the bullet and watch, and was immediately hooked. I recently got the first season from the library and binge-watched the whole thing in two nights, then immediately wanted to rewatch it. It's THAT addicting. It's not just a political drama, it's about true love and gladiators and solving mysteries and loyalty vs trust. Anyway, if you haven't watched it, you should.



Reflection time! I read a lot of mysteries and classics this year. I still enjoy romance, but I'm getting to the point where I need more from a romance than just two people getting it on to keep my attention. I also feel like I didn't read much this year, and according to Goodreads that's true. I've read less books this year than I have since 2010: only 139 books (so far), compared to 193 in 2012 and 158 in 2011. So next year I'd definitely like to make an effort to read more.

On a more personal note (notice how I stuck that at the end? I hate talking about myself), 2013 was a really hard year for me. My grandma, with whom I was very close, died of Alzheimer's. It was really awful and I still don't want to talk about it. But there were good things that happened this year, too. Since I was unemployed and pissed off about it, I decided I was going to try to break into freelance writing. And even though I'm making nowhere near enough to live on yet, I do have several paying writing gigs. I love being my own boss and getting paid to do something I enjoy. And I went to Las Vegas for the first time in October and met up with some fellow bloggers, which was awesome and a blast. w00t! I've made so many great friends through this community of book bloggers, I don't know what I'd do without you all.

So there were some excellent things that happened in 2013, and I'm more than willing to take the good with the bad. That being said, I really really REALLY hope 2014 will be better than 2013.

Hope you all have a great Christmas, and if I don't post between now and the 31st, may you have a fabulous, champagne-filled New Year's.


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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Review: THE PERILOUS LIFE OF JADE YEO by Zen Cho

perilous life of jade yeo cover

Jade Yeo is making a meager living as a writer in 1920s London, when one of her reviews catches the attention of famous author Sebastian Hardie. Hardie is handsome, clearly into her, and also married. On the other side of the aisle is Jade's sweet and dependable editor, Ravi. Will Jade give in to temptation and curiosity, or will she follow her heart? And how does she make a living writing only two articles a month, that's what I want to know.

There is one major thing I like about The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo, and that's that it depicts a multicultural, historical London. Do you know how rare this is, people?? The novella's worth picking up just for that. Jade is from Malay (former English colony and modern-day Malaysia—thanks for that info, Google), Ravi is from India, and Sebastian is English. Not only are the characters from different places, but they have different sets of beliefs that influence their actions. For example, where Jade grew up it's normal for men to have several wives, and that definitely influences her interactions with Sebastian. The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo does an excellent job of showing how people can struggle to communicate when they're drawing from different cultural frames of reference.

I also kind of liked the tone of the novella, which is very Austen-esque. It's a comedy of manners, only instead of being set in the Regency era it's set in the 1920s. Most of the "action" consists of conversations in drawing- and ballrooms, and the characters are concerned with all the things someone in Austen's world would be: marriage, reputation, people's character, and so on. Zen Cho reinforces the Austen atmosphere with clever references to classics like Pride & Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and even The Yellow Room, so I think that's what the author was going for.

All that being said, to say I enjoyed this book would be—well, not exactly a lie, but not really the truth, either (warning: I'm about to get spoilerish). The Perilous Life Jade Yeo isn't that perilous; in fact, it's pretty predictable. Within the first few pages we know that 1. Ravi is Jade's true love, and 2. she's going to sleep with Sebastian. And we all know what happens when an unmarried heroine has sex in a novel.

boom! pregnant
Don't have sex, kids!

By the time the pregnancy went down I had pretty much lost all interest in the story, but even before that the novella moved very slowly. It only took a few hours to read, yet those hours felt like they were multiplying like rabbits in a cage.

Furthermore, the story isn't really a romance—it's a chick lit novella that's more about Jade coming of age than falling in love, the latter of which was a complete afterthought. I would be fine with that—and the fact that it all hinges on her losing her virginity—if there was a strong emotional evolution on Jade's part, but there isn't. She treats her affair with Sebastian very clinically from the beginning, even going so far as to describe, in completely unnecessary detail, his penis (was this an attempt on the author's part to prove that Jade has seen a penis? "I have seen the promised land, ladies! And it looks like 'a bulging cylinder of pink flesh,'" etc. etc. I'll spare you all the several paragraphs worth of commentary). I can understand if Cho wanted to keep Jade from falling for Sebastian so she doesn't seem like an idiot, but there's a reason why Lizzie falls for Wickham in P&P—so she can realize she was being an idiot! Unlike with Lizzie Bennet, there's no change in Jade from the beginning of her story to the end other than she gets pregnant. And even that's not a big deal, since Sebastian's wife is 100% okey dokey with him fathering children with another woman, and Ravi is 100% fine with his wife giving birth to another man's kid and then raising said kid. Hugs all around you guys!

Wait. You know what? Never mind, this IS a romance novel. Jade was turned into a woman by Sebastian's magical penis. MY BAD. Carry on.



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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Virtual Advent: Favorite Not-Holiday Movies, 2013

bond's childhood home on fire
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...

Back by popular demand, it's the fourth annual Favorite Not-Holiday Movies post! Every year I list some movies that I consider to be "holiday" movies, even though they have little if anything to do with Christmas, because I have a mental block when it comes to recognizing proper Christmas movies. For more not-holiday movies, check out my lists from 2010, 2011, and 2012 (and LA Confidential is still my favorite Christmas movie).

I actually didn't see many movies this past year, so I was surprised when I started itching to watch a fresh batch of not-holiday films this past week. I guess there's nothing like a good not-holiday movie to put one in the Christmas spirit! Without further ado, here's my not-holiday flick picks for 2013:


  • Lost in Translation—The lovely Bridget from Portable Pieces of Thoughts recommended this movie to me last year. I have to confess I wasn't expecting a lot from it, but I wound up enjoying it so much I actually bought it! It's romantic in the literary sense of the word, beautifully shot, and Bill Murray is hilarious and adorable. I have to watch this movie at least once a year or I will forget how awesome it is, and that would be sad-making.
  • Midnight in Paris—1920s Paris and Tom Hiddleston as F. Scott Fitzgerald. What more needs to be said? I'm also a total sucker for movies where people just decide, "Hey, I'm just gonna move to Paris. C'est la vie, suckers." Then they immediately find some French person to hook up with.
  • Ratatouille—For two years in a row now, I've DESPERATELY wanted to watch this movie right around Thanksgiving. Unfortunately it's always checked out at the library. ALWAYS. By the time I move far enough in the holds queue to get a crack at it, it's usually March. I should probably just buy it.
  • Skyfall—It's just not Christmas without Daniel Craig. SERIOUSLY, IT IS NOT. The Golden Compass made my not-holiday list in 2011, and Casino Royale made the list in 2012. This year the Craig holiday movie of choice is Skyfall, a beautifully shot film with a spy plot that doesn't totally suck. I'm not sure I'm going to feel right about the holidays until I see Bond's childhood home engulfed in flames.
  • The Hobbit, part the first—I'm pretty sure this movie has a subtitle, but damn if I can remember what it is. The Unexpected Sexiness of Dwarves? Who knows. I actually thought this film would suck hairballs, and I'm still kind of resentful that Peter Jackson turned at 180-page book into six hours worth of movie, but still. Hobbits! Wizards! You can't have Christmas without them.
  • My Week with Marilyn—Evangeline from Edwardian Promenade reminded me of this movie's existence the other night while we were breaking down Eddie Redmayne's many positive attributes, as you do. I'm pretty sure there's a Christmas scene in this film somewhere. But even if there isn't, several of the actors are Harry Potter alumni, which automatically makes it thisclose to a Christmas movie. And besides that, it's a great coming of age story. I need to see this film again!

virtual advent tour 2013


Have any not-holiday movies you like to watch at this time of year? Share them in the comments!


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Friday, November 29, 2013

Review: THE ENGLISH GIRL by Daniel Silva

the english girl cover

Harper sent me a copy of The English Girl for review consideration, which did not influence my review in any way.

Infamous Israeli intelligence agent Gabriel Allon is enjoying his retirement from the spy business by dedicating himself to art restoration. But when an old friend in MI-5 calls in a favor, Gabriel agrees to go on the search for a missing English girl—technically woman—who just happens to be the Prime Minister's secret mistress. Will Gabriel be able to save the girl and find her mysterious kidnapper, a man who supposedly doesn't exist?

I think this is probably the best modern (as in, not in the public domain) spy/thriller novel I've ever read. Admittedly I don't read a lot of them, mainly because they tend to bore me out of my pie holes (I'm writing this during Thanksgiving... mmmm, pie). I managed to get through Mission to Paris, I'm not entirely sure how, and I can drag myself through a Dan Brown novel (with much whining about how long it is along the way), but that's about it. Even though it's in the same genre, however, The English Girl doesn't seem comparable to those books—it blows Mission to Paris and any other spy/thriller novel I've come across out of the water in terms of storytelling, writing, and characterization.

In the beginning, The English Girl feels slightly reminiscent of the TV show Scandal. The UK Prime Minister is being threatened with the publication of his affair if he doesn't give in to the kidnappers' demands, so he does what any powerful politician would: calls in the fixers to try and cover it up. As the story progresses, however, the problem evolves from something very specific and localized—find the girl and rescue her—into something with huge consequences for the British Isles and all of Europe. That probably sounds over-the-top, but it's not entirely unbelievable, and at least one of the things Daniel Silva mentions as a potential threat to Israel in The English Girl has recently come to pass.

But The English Girl has more than solid research and plausibility to back it up; for one thing, Silva is a really good writer. There's an almost a poetic use of repetition in the novel that reminds me a bit of Charles Dickens or the chorus of a Greek tragedy. It's the use of ideas and phrases to underscore cycles within the story, rather than the repetition of plot points just because you might not have gotten it the first time. I never once felt like Silva was talking down to his readers or assuming they're idiots—Allon is smart, and there were a few times where he was a few steps ahead of me. Finally, even though Silva's writing style is by no means humorous or light-hearted, there's an underlying wit to the novel that I loved. There are some great one-liners in The English Girl, mostly coming from Gabriel. Here are just a few of my favorites:

Hamdi... had been posing as a playwright, and Gabriel had given him a death worthy of his literary pretensions.

"Jews don't camp, Keller. The last time the Jews went camping, they spent forty years wandering in the desert."

"We have a saying in our service, Graham. We believe that a career without scandal is not a proper career at all."
"We're British," Seymour answered. "We don't have sayings, and we don't like scandals."

The English Girl is also a surprisingly emotional novel, something I've personally never encountered in a spy/thriller like this before. The director of Israeli intelligence accuses Gabriel of making emotional decisions, and it's true: even though he's a trained assassin, he's not some sort of automaton. He acts out of love, anger, and fear exactly as any normal person would, despite his far-from-normal life. But then the same is true for the other characters in the book, too, and the fact that there are personal feelings and motivations driving the characters and tying them together is one of the major reasons why I like the book so much.

I also enjoyed Christopher Keller, or "the Englishman," who serves as a foil to Gabriel. Unlike Gabriel, Keller behaves more like the trained assassins one encounters in movies and novels—a tough, cold-blooded, emotionless killer. But Gabriel doesn't buy his act, just like Keller doesn't buy into his old man routine, and watching the two of them work together is pretty entertaining.

Women also play a strong role in the novel, although it's an indirect one. The English Girl depicts, by and large, a man's game in a man's world, but those men have self-identities and beliefs that are shaped by their mothers, sisters, wives, and female friends. Again, this is an example of the emotional nature of the novel and how well-drawn the characters are. I'd hardly call The English Girl a feminist novel, but it does acknowledge the importance of women to men, and not just as some sort of sidekick or sexual object.

Finally, I liked how Silva took a standard thriller plot and turned it into something epic by taking Gabriel on a journey through the Underworld (metaphorically speaking, of course). He goes into hell and it's "white, pure white," to quote North & South. The English Girl isn't just an entertaining story, it's a book that's about something—resurrection, second chances, and accepting who you are and your place in the world.

Not that the novel was absolutely perfect, of course—Part Three was a much-too-long epilog, and there were some things that were left hanging or answered. But overall I not only enjoyed reading The English Girl, but was super-impressed with it. I am definitely going to be digging into Silva's backlist in 2014!


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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Review: THE GREAT MISTAKE by Mary Roberts Rinehart

the great mistake cover

Patricia Abbott is the social secretary to Mrs. Maud Wrainwright, the mistress of a huge mansion called the Cloisters because a good portion of it is a medieval monastery, shipped stone-by-stone from Europe to the idyllic hill overlooking the small town of Beverly. Pat likes her employer and her job, but a pall is cast over the Cloisters when a series of attacks and murders take place in the estate's ominously-named Playhouse. Will Pat and her friends from Beverly be able to discover who the murderer is, or will an innocent person go to jail?

As long-time readers of this blog know, I'm a fan of Mary Roberts Rinehart, the so-called American Agatha Christie (I somewhat disagree with that statement, but if it inspires other people to read her books, I'm good with it). The Great Mistake reminded me of another book of Rinehart's, The Swimming Pool—not just because the covers look similar, but because three quarters of the people who are attacked in this novel wind up either in or next to a swimming pool. I'm going to guess "the great mistake" was installing a pool. Never put in a pool! That way murder lies.

The Great Mistake also deals with similar themes to The Swimming Pool: wealth, the precariousness of the American dream, and so on. It's less successful than The Swimming Pool at fleshing those themes out, but I do think The Great Mistake is much better than The Swimming Pool at telling a good story with sympathetic characters.

The beginning of The Great Mistake immediately sucked me in. I loved Pat and how she definitely had people she liked and people she didn't. I also loved the chemistry between her and Tony Wrainwright, Maud's son. He's definitely charming, whereas Pat isn't, and it takes her a while to warm up to him. And then his wife shows up. Dun-dun-dun!

The mystery was also very complicated and difficult to figure out. For most of the novel I thought this was a good thing. But after the attack on Maud, I felt like it was time things started wrapping up. They didn't; there was a good 100 pages to go and people STILL kept being attacked. It was annoying because these attacks didn't further the plot of the book at all, nor did they provide me clues as to who the murderer was. Keeping readers in the dark is all well and good, but at some point one does need a collection of viable suspects. Even after the detective explained how he figured out who the killer was, Rinehart STILL kept the name of the murderer from us. I was like, "JUST TELL ME WHO THE FUCKING MURDERER IS ALREADY!" Seriously, I said that aloud, while banging the book against my forehead. I was THAT annoyed. If this novel had had a neck I would have strangled it.

The Great Mistake also employs a strange narrative device where Pat describes scenes to the reader as if she witnessed them personally, when she didn't (it's written in the first person, from Pat's point of view). I didn't hate the device, but it was a little odd, and it stretched the story out by a good third or maybe even a half. I don't need to sit in on every freaking conversation the police have, you feel me? If Rinehart wanted to include scenes that didn't involve Pat, why write The Great Mistake in the first person? It was just odd.

Because of the ending, my feelings toward The Great Mistake are mixed. I loved the first half and all the drama between Tony, his wife, Pat, and the other drama going on in Beverly. But by the second half neither Tony nor Maud do very much except panic because another person's dead in the Playhouse, which made them pretty boring; and the final quarter tried my patience to the nth degree (not that that's very difficult to do). There was a point where Rinehart just really needed to stop and wrap things up, and she went way beyond that point. That being said, Pat was a great character, and for the most part it was good mystery. Overall I think The Great Mistake was an okay read, but it's a bummer how a terrible ending can completely alter one's opinion of a novel.



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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Review: HURRICANE LILY by Rebecca Rogers Maher

hurricane lily cover

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess who was trapped at the top of an ivory tower. Actually, it was a cottage on Cape Cod, but the end result was the same. Then a carpenter with a ginger beard showed up at her door to reinforce the walls of her self-imposed prison. Ironically, what he actually wound up doing was tearing them down (metaphorically speaking, of course).

After finishing The Bridge, I immediately downloaded Rebecca Rogers Maher's backlist. Hurricane Lily wasn't as good as The Bridge, mainly because it was too much with the narration of backstory and inner reflection. But I did like the unconventional characters and how Rogers brought class conflicts and environmental issues into the story.

Basically Hurricane Lily is about two people who are extremely angry. First you have Lily, an agoraphobic with OCD who's obsessed with hurricane-proofing her run-down cottage BECAUSE YOU NEVER KNOW. At first it might seem like Lily's afraid of everything, but actually she's just pissed off and terrified of her own anger against humanity in general and her dad in particular. Then you have Cliff, a Vassar-educated reverse snob who hates rich people and dreams of writing a mystery that "means something." He's sick of dealing with rich people and their selfish crap. SICK OF IT. More specifically, he's pissed that his dad died because he didn't have health insurance.

So you have an uptown girl meeting a downtown boy with a chip on shoulder, and whenever they start talking--usually about how the ice caps are melting or the like--they fight, then have sex. Usually I'm a total sucker for books like this, but in this case Cliff was just way too self-righteous and annoying. I also thought his expectations were unrealistic—he kept acting like he was at Lily's house to attend a soiree or something, expecting her to feed and water him and his crew while they're working. Keep in mind she is paying an exorbitant amount of money in order for him to DO HIS JOB, not have tea with her. Methinks he can provide his own lunch and soda pop.

As for Lily, I thought Maher played the poor-little-rich-girl card in a really interesting way and turned her into a very sympathetic character where she might otherwise have come across as pathetic or annoying. I also liked that Maher used Lily's wealth as a source of conflict in the story. Usually in romance novels, if there's a huge socio-economic disparity between the hero and heroine (and, let's face it, that's pretty common) the tensions that might result from that are either completely ignored or glossed over. Ooops, she's a secret heiress! Problem solved. Not in Hurricane Lily; Maher shows how Lily's been judged by others because of her family's wealth and how the money doesn't solve her problems or make her happy.

That being said, the pace of the novella was really slow because there was way too much time spent on the characters' thinks, feels, and backstory that I don't think was necessary. Also, the ending was REALLY abrupt. Like, whiplash-abrupt.

Overall I liked Hurricane Lily, though, despite those problems. If you like unusual romances with working-class heroes, it's worth the $2 to try it.



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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Review: FLIRTING WITH THE CAMERA by Ros Clarke

flirting with the camera cover

Tom Metcalfe is an über-successful fashion photographer. But he wants to be more—he wants to be an artist! To that end, he's planning an exhibit of depressing and hopeless landscapes reflecting the emotional wasteland that is his life. Now he just has to find that punch of humanity and pathos the gallery manager insists he needs. At an open casting call, he makes his way through numerous models; but it's only when Hattie Bell shows up that Tom realizes he's found his muse. Will these two crazy kids get together despite their emotional Issues?

Ahead there be major spoilers...

I picked up Flirting with the Camera because Penny from Penny Romance recommended it, saying it was about "a chunky girl heroine who has good self-esteem and thinks she's beautiful." That sounded unusual and refreshing! And indeed, Hattie had no body issues whatsoever, something I found interesting (and a tad unrealistic, but delightfully so) considering she wants to work in an industry obsessed with appearances and maintaining a certain look.

I loved the character of Hattie, who was over-the-top, confident, and full of personality in a His-Girl-Friday kind of way. She's sexy and doesn't put up with any bullshit. I also liked Tom, despite the fact that the frequency with which he "dragged his eyes" over Hattie's curves made me roll my eyes a few times. Tom's kind of an asshole when we first meet him, which is entirely consistent with my preconceived notions of fashion photographers (anyone seen Blow-Up?), but Ros Clarke does a good job of making him seem like someone who could maybe possibly be a good guy. Deep down in there, somewhere.

The first half of Flirting with the Camera was fun and fast-paced, but then Hattie's photoshoot ended and she and Tom went their separate ways. How would they get back together? I wondered to myself. Now, maybe I was off my game the week I read Flirting with the Camera or something, but for some reason Hattie's deep, dark secret—that she had an abortion when she was younger—didn't warn me that she would magically become pregnant during the course of the book, thus resolving all issues.

boom! pregnant
Yes! I knew I'd find a use for this GIF some day.

I'm not a huge fan of "convenient baby romances" to begin with, but my main problem with Hattie's pregnancy was that it was used as a shortcut to resolving Tom's issues and bringing him and Hattie together in a believable and emotionally satisfying way. They have to get together for the sake of the baby, so Tom abruptly goes from being a complete commitment-phobe who's convinced he'll kill Hattie just like he did his last girlfriend, to "knowing" he couldn't have saved Lianne (like Lulu in The Cuckoo's Calling! What is it with models and these L-names?). Not only does the baby magically appear, it magically fixes all Tom's Issues! So instead of focusing on Tom gradually working through his feelings of guilt and fear, the conflict in the second half of Flirting with the Camera focuses instead on whether or not Hattie's going to get another abortion. And then if she doesn't, whether or not Tom will step up to the plate and be a father to the little tyke. Settling down for the sake of a kid is a solid on his part, but it's not terribly romantic.

To be fair, I thought the fact that Hattie had an abortion in the past, and the reason[s] why she might have one again (she doesn't, naturally, but the decision was up in the air for a bit) was handled fairly. She's not a Horrible Person just because she had an abortion, and she's not exactly scarred for life either (though she is broken hearted). Still, the focus on the pregnancy in the second half of the novella slowed the story down and didn't further the romance much, either.

Since I felt like the conflict was misplaced and the conclusion was rushed, Flirting with the Camera left me a bit frustrated and unsatisfied. But overall it's an okay read, and if you like confident heroines who aren't shrinking violets or innocent ingenues, this one's worth picking up.


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Sunday, November 3, 2013

J'ai Deux Amours, Neither of Which Are These Books



I really need to stop reading every book that crosses my path and has the word "Paris" in the title, you guys.

In the past two weeks I've read two books that both take place in pre-War Paris (well, kinda). And they both kind of sucked, although for different reasons.

bones of paris cover

The first was The Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King. It follows the walking and talking of Harris Stuyvesant, an itinerant PI who's trying to find a missing girl in what the author continually reminds us is 1929 Paris. As in, "But hey, it's 1929 Paris!" The "twist" is that Harris slept with Pip before she disappeared. Quelle horreur, y'all. As he follows Pip's trail, he discovers artists are assholes, and one of them might have killed Pip.

Now, I didn't pick up this book JUST because it had the word Paris in the title; I was also intrigued because I like King's Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes novels (or I did, until I DNF'd two in a row because they were boring me). Based on those books I expected better research and writing from King than I got in this novel. It was almost as if she got all her research from watching Midnight in Paris and Discovery Channel documentaries: everything from the historical characters to the bone-filled catacombs has been treaded and retreaded a thousand times. Even the scenes with Sylvia Beach (whom Harris naturally knows, because I'm sure she loved hanging out with aging private investigators) are so obviously based on those two photographs of her that are in every documentary about Paris in the 1920s. And naturally Picasso, Salvador Dalí, F. Scott Fitgerald, and Cole Porter all have to be mentioned. Come on, I can get this stuff from any book. I had to roll my eyes when it turned out Harris knew Ernest Hemingway, and Kiki de Montparnasse (but never even heard of the guy Kiki lived with for nearly a decade, Man Ray? Makes no sense).

The lack of original and unexpected story lines wouldn't have bothered me too much if King actually brought the city and society of Paris to life, but she didn't. There was a whole lot of tell and not show going on—some passages read distinctly guidebook-y—and while King might have been going for a crime noir type novel, the tone of the writing was too light to pull it off. I was also a little bothered by the way some of the surrealists, like Man Ray and Lee Miller, were portrayed. But to be fair, that's probably because of my background in art history.

In the end The Bones of Paris just wasn't interesting enough to hold my attention. I only read it for a few days, but it felt like WEEKS because nothing happened and I didn't give a damn if Harris found Pip or not. Or if he threw himself into the Seine, for that matter. The Bones of Paris was a DNF, and I think it will also be the last book I read by King.



midnight train to paris cover

The second novel, Midnight Train to Paris, was originally released as a Kindle serial and is about a journalist whose twin sister is kidnapped from a train along with two other women. Just so happens, 75 years earlier three other women were taken from the same train, at the same place and time. Coincidence?! Soon Jillian is traveling to Switzerland with her ex-luvarh (who used to be in the CIA but is now a private super-investigator) to find her sister and solve both kidnappings, in both time periods!

There is sooo much going on in this book: corrupt US senators, child abuse, murrrrder, betrayal, scandal (sounds like an ABC lineup), art, time travel, train mysteries, castles hidden in the mountains, insanity... LORDY LORDY. I have to admit that I enjoyed it a lot more than The Bones of Paris because there was stuff going on (what a concept), even though the writing was much worse. For example, the author took care to describe, in detail, the driving routes her characters took to get from one place to another, yet didn't bother to research average weather patterns in the Alps or what people wear when it's cold outside. Hint: it's generally more than a pencil skirt, heels, and a light jacket.

Nevertheless, I was having fun reading it. But about halfway through Midnight Train to Paris, I started to lose interest because there was a complete lack of plausibility. Not just the inconsistencies in clothing, but in the characters' behavior and the numerous incredible coincidences. I didn't care if Jillian and her cookie cutter hero got together, if her sister would survive, or even if Jill would. When the hero and heroine traveled back in time and the heroine started getting messages across space-time from her sister, it got to be too much. I skimmed to the end, so trust me when I say it only gets more ridiculous as the book goes on. Also, there are only about three pages that actually take place in Paris. You can definitely feel free to skip this pulpy mess of a novel.


Have you read any good books set in Paris lately?


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Saturday, November 2, 2013

Jennifer Burrows on What is it About Books?

shot in the dark cover

Today I'm hosting a guest post from Jennifer Burrows, author of A Shot In the Dark, as part of her blog tour with ABG Reads Books Tours. There's a tour-wide Rafflecopter giveaway at the end of her post, so be sure to enter!



I love reading books, almost more than I love writing them.   A good writer can get me so absorbed in the story and the characters that I won’t put down the book until I’ve finished it.  I love the feeling of escaping into another reality especially when I’m stressed, or just need a break from everyday life.  Often times, the feelings the characters have are so palpable, it makes me relate to them.

I recently read the Hard Rock Series by C.M. Stunich.  Without giving up too much of the story, two rock stars, Naomi and Turner,  have a history in which one can’t remember yet he was attracted to the other and wasn’t sure why.  Naomi had been hurt very badly by Turner and was trying her hardest to forget about him.  There was so much raw emotion with this story, and the pull of the love-hate relationship made me eager for more.  Needless to say, I read these books about two months ago and I’m still thinking about them.

I like a book that keeps me guessing.  I don’t like when I can figure out the plot and how the story is going to end in the first three chapters.  I started a book this week and it was just that, very predictable.  I haven’t been able to pick it back up.  There are only so many books I can read about womanizing gazillionares who fall for the girl who drastically changes his life for the better.  I need more from a book.

While I love the dirty romance books, I also love thrillers.  I can’t say enough about Dan Brown’s books.  How many books do you read in which you learn something and yet you’re thoroughly entertained the entire way through.  Now if Dan could add a little more romance, I’d be all in!
I love finding a good book boyfriend.  Who doesn’t?  In the Hard Rock Serious, Turner Campbell is dirty.  He has a dirty mind, dirty mouth, and he’s physically dirty.  I was having a hard time getting into that.  But when I looked at the cover and saw what Turner was supposed to look like, I was all in.  Turner went from dirty gross to dirty hot in about thirty seconds.  That is the power of a great book.  Between the story, the cover, and the mental images the reader creates a connection is created with the author and the story.


Many people say they don’t like to read or they don’t have time to read.  My personal feeling is they haven’t found the right book.  Because when you find the right book, you suddenly love to read and you make the time to finish it.


a Rafflecopter giveaway



Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Review: KILLER IMAGE by Wendy Tyson

killer image cover

I received a copy of this book to review from Netgalley via TLC Booktours.

Allison Campbell is a fashion consultant to the wealthy socialites of Philadelphia, particularly older women who've been divorced. When a teenage client is accused of a ritualistic murrrrrderrrrr, Allison is the only person who believes this Goth girl is innocent. Can Allison give her client a makeover AND find the real killer?

Killer Image was SO not my thing. Based on the cover (which has recently been changed to something awful), I was expecting a light, fun, cozy mystery about fashion and high society. What I got was one of those depressing, hard-boiled mysteries where everyone has Problems. I'm talking needs-to-seek-psychiatric-help, capital-P-problems. EVERYONE, from the main character to the murder victim, to the suspect, to the suspect's parents, to every single person the main character knows. And I knew everyone single person in the main character's life had problems because I was told about it in great detail, even though it had zippo to do with the plot.

patience


This novel also needed to be edited way, way down. It has a prologue that's labeled Chapter One, and it follows the activities of the most random-ass minor characters FOR NO REASON other than to tell me about their Problems. For example, Allison's assistant was a very intriguing character—possibly the most interesting thing in the entire novel—until we got to follow him around, day-in-the-life-of style, as he makes his weekly visit to his ma and the whores (literally, women who abide in a brothel and have sex with men for money) he sleeps with. What does this have to do with story??? Nothing, other than to let me know HE HAS PROBLEMS. Maybe I'd care more about everyone's Problems in Killer Image if I was given a chance to wonder what they were; but not only did I not wonder, I didn't want to know.

Despite über-long info dump descriptions of everyone's psychological and socio-economic Problems, there were no unnecessary clothing descriptions. Which is kind of weird, considering Allison is a fashion consultant and wrote a book about clothes.

As I said, Killer Image was very much not the type I go for. I wound up DNFing it out of frustration and boredom. But if you like hard-boiled detective stories where everyone's a psycho and which take forever to get to the point, you'll probably enjoy it more than I did.




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Saturday, October 5, 2013

Review: CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK by Elizabeth Peters

crocodile on the sandbank cover

Having just inherited a large estate after the death of her father, Amelia Peabody decides to indulge herself with an extended around-the-world vacation. Along the way, she rescues a younger woman named Evelyn who's been abandoned in Italy by a fortune hunter. Together, they travel through Egypt fending off a mysterious mummy and helping a pair of archaeologists named Walter and Radcliffe Emerson.

So the plot to Crocodile on the Sandbank is basically the same as Pride & Prejudice, only instead of two wealthy friends rescuing two sisters from genteel poverty, two wealthy women friends rescue two brothers from genteel poverty so they can dig in Egypt to their hearts' content. And there's a mummy. If anyone can take Jane Austen and create something completely original, it's Elizabeth Peters—I love the way she turned traditional romance tropes upside down. Evelyn's rescue, for example: in a typical romance, it would be the hero who saves the damsel in distress and insists on buying her clothes and sweeping her off to some exotic foreign country. In Crocodile on the Sandbank, it's Amelia; and the two become friends, not lovers. I also liked the fact that she and Evelyn are the independently wealthy characters in this scenario while the Emersons are in need of money (see my review of The Bridge).

I actually read Crocodile on the Sandbank when I was a teenager, and to be honest I didn't like it. As an adult, I can see why: Amelia is exactly the type of personality that would have annoyed the crap out of me as a teen. She takes over everything, thinks she's always right, and she is very much a nineteenth-century British colonialist, swooping in to save the ignorant natives from their primitive medicines and beliefs. She can be kind of insufferable some most of the time. As an adult, though, I actually found Amelia to be pretty awesome. Yes, Amelia can be annoying, but she also gets shit done. And while she might not be polite, she is genuine and kind. Amelia is a fantastic, well-rounded character who's totally of her time period, flaws and all, yet still sympathetic.

As for the other characters, Evelyn wasn't as annoying as I remember her being, either. She's not as take-charge as Amelia is, but she also isn't wishy-washy and in her own way is just as independent as her friend—she just has better social skills. I honestly didn't remember anything about Walter or Lucian. As for Emerson... well, who can resist someone that grumpy? He's like if Dr. House was an archaeologist.

I also listened to this on audiobook, narrated by Barbara Rosenblat. I've listened to audiobooks narrated by Rosenblat before (a few of the Mary Russell mysteries, for instance), and she was good in those. But Rosenblat + Amelia Peabody is like magic! She embodies the character of Amelia and brings so much humor and depth to the story. It was a joy listening to her narrate.

I'm glad I decided to give Crocodile on the Sandbank another shot. The mystery plot's kind of weak—it's obvious who the mummy is from the beginning—but the book isn't really about the mystery, it's about British Egyptology in the Victorian era and a woman who finds her place in the world. Definitely a must-read, especially for those of you who enjoy listening to audiobooks.


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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Review: THE BRIDGE by Rebecca Rogers Maher

the bridge cover
His erection still stands! (Does anyone besides me get that reference? Moving on...)

It's 4 a.m. and Henry's on the Brooklyn Bridge. After years of struggling with depression, he plans to commit suicide. But when he gets to the top of the New York-side tower, he finds someone's already there: Christa, who's just been diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time. Although neither of them want to keep on living, they don't want someone else to die, either; so they make a pact to give one another each 24 hours to convince the other person to live. IT'S THE PERFECT PLAN that doesn't make sense. Will these two lonely kids save each other?

Suicide romance, you guys! As soon as I saw The Bridge reviewed at Dear Author, I knew I wanted to read it. The premise is crazy-unusual; so crazy I figured it just might work. And it does, x1000. I loved the hell out of this novel and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good love story.

Now, I know what you're thinking (because it's what Colette from A Buckeye Girl Reads said to me when I told her she should read this): A cancer patient and chronic depressive who want to kill themselves? Sounds depressing! It's not. First of all—spoiler alert!—they don't end up committing suicide. The Bridge isn't about death and depression, but about life and forming connections with other people. "The bridge" isn't just the scene of their first meeting, but a metaphor for the choices the characters make during the course of the book: to stop being scared, to accept the possibility of pain and rejection, to let other people in. A romance novel with a literary metaphor! Crazy, right?

Even without the metaphor and overarching themes, The Bridge is a compelling story that had me from the "meet cute" scene (I feel a bit wrong using that term for it considering the circumstances, but hey). You know from the outset Christa and Henry are going to convince each other life's worth living, but you don't know how, or why they decided to end it. And you want to find out, because The Bridge immediately sets up a paradigm where a person's public identity and inner life doesn't match up. For example, from the outside Henry looks like a guy who has everything: he's from a wealthy family, makes a ton of money at his job, has the posh apartment, the car, the closet full of Armani, is good-looking; yet he wants to die while homeless people who live in cardboard boxes don't. Why? It's curious. The book definitely takes the view that you can never know what another person is thinking, and because of that you can't judge another person's life.

Finally, I loved the main characters, especially Henry. They were both incredibly sympathetic even though they each have some serious problems and make some very selfish decisions. As someone who has struggled with depression off and on since middle school, a lot of Henry's statements really resonated with me. He's also a super-sensitive, sweet, empathetic guy. Disliking him would be like saying you don't like puppies. I didn't feel like Christa's character was as strongly fleshed-out, but I couldn't blame her for being angry and bitter and scared, all things considered.

I'm not going to say The Bridge was absolutely perfect—I was a bit bothered by the fact that it's the bazillionth gajillionth romance novel with a hero who has more money than he knows what to do with and a heroine who's barely scraping by. Why couldn't Christa have been the rich person in this scenario? The musical references in the book were also really annoying and threw me out of the story every time. They were all songs from the '70s that were very literally about loneliness, blah blah blah. This would be bad enough if the characters didn't call them horrible and cheesy when the songs were mentioned, but they do and it's aggravating, especially in one scene where a homeless vet sings "Desperado" on a subway train. First of all, don't shit on the Eagles; and second of all, yeah, that song seems ridiculous IN THE CONTEXT OF THIS BOOK. It doesn't belong, so why is it there (this, incidentally, is the reason why song mentions in books tend to bother me).

Other than that, though, The Bridge was awesome. It's a completely satisfying read that's full of hope and optimism and even faith, though not of the religious kind. I'm glad I took a chance on it and look forward to reading Rebecca Rogers Maher's other novels in the future.





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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Review: KINDNESS GOES UNPUNISHED by Craig Johnson

kindness goes unpunished cover

Walt Longmire and his bestie, Henry Standing Bear, drive from Durant, Wyoming, to Philadelphia to visit Walt's daughter, Cady. When Walt gets there, however, Cady is too busy to meet him for dinner. Like, really, your dad just drove 2,000 miles to see you and you can't take off work early? ANYway, that night Cady is pushed down a staircase and nearly dies. Naturally, being a cop, Walt starts investigating. With the help of Henry and the Moretti clan (the family of his deputy, Vic), he discovers a web of City Hall corruption and drug dealing connected to his daughter's attacker.

I'll be honest, I wasn't crazy into Kindness Goes Unpunished. Maybe it was the setting or maybe it was the fact that I found the plot nearly incomprehensible, but uhg. Just thinking about the last quarter of the story makes me TIRED. Also, by weird coincidence Kindness Goes Unpunished is the second book this month I read with a coma patient in it. Writing protip: talking to people in a coma isn't that exciting.

So, yeah. It wasn't a DNF but it tested the bounds of believability and patience for me. However, I do have to say that I find the differences between Cady in the Longmire books and Cady in the Longmire TV show interesting. In the books, she's a high-powered, career-focused attorney with her own life. That's obvious even though the story is told from Walt's point of view. In the TV show, she lives in Durant and her life revolves around her dad and "taking care of him" after her mother's death (even though it feels closer to nagging). She had some sort of job before she moved back to Durant, but I'm not clear on what that was exactly. In the second season, she starts working as a waitress at Henry's bar, The Red Pony, so her dad can lecture her about hanging around drunk people.

Now I know in order for Cady to be on the show regularly she has to be in Durant a lot, but I find it interesting that the TV show made her a lot less independent and, well, ADULT than the Cady in the books. At one point on the show, Branch, Walt's most annoying deputy (whom I think is modeled after Turk from The Cold Dish), asks, "It's 10 o'clock. Do you know where your daughter is, Walt?" You mean his 30-year-old daughter who can go anywhere she wants and is capable of taking care of herself, that daughter?

Even Cady's affairs have something to do with Walt: she starts dating Branch in secret because he's running against Walt in the sheriff election and she doesn't want Walt to get upset. EYEROLL 1. Uncomfortable Oedipal associations; 2. I think Walt can deal with who his daughter is dating because he's a grown-ass man and not her high school ex.

Basically what I'm saying is I find Cady to be a nearly intolerable character on the TV show. I was actually dreading her appearance in the books; but in the books she's an independent adult who obviously loves her dad but is living her own life, and she's pretty awesome. Furthermore, Walt is definitely into giving her her own space and not telling her what to do or who to date. Complete one-eighty from the TV show. Needless to say, I prefer the books' version of these two characters and their relationship.



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Monday, September 23, 2013

Giveaway & Review: WEAK AT THE KNEES by Jo Kessel

weak at the knees review



I received Weak at the Knees through TLC Booktours in exchange for writing an honestly honest review.

Before I start discussing this book, I want to let you all know about an awesome giveaway associated with the book tour. One lucky winner will receive a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a famous wine from the Rhône wine region of southeastern France. The giveaway is open internationally to those of legal drinking age. To enter, simply fill out this Google form: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/13PQ8EBxNMtgk_JrkP391qhLCxtDUDioY1CLCq18IXlI/viewform

Now on to the review!

Danni's been dating the handsome and smart Hugh for eleven years, ever since high school. He lets her live in his flat even though she contributes nothing to the household expenses, has no job, is not going to school, and doesn't even have a consuming hobby. Meanwhile, he works his patootie off as a barrister. Not surprisingly, Danni is bored; and also unhappy, because she's never had an orgasm. Tiniest violin in the world! Maybe she should buy Hugh a manual or a diagram or something. Then her best friend suddenly comes down with a mortal illness and makes Danni promise her at her deathbed that 1. she's going to break up with Hugh, and 2. she'll never sleep with a married man. Because... science? So of course when her bestie dies, Danni breaks up with Hugh and sets off for the French Alps where the reader knows two things will definitely happen: she'll have an orgasm and get involved with a married man. And she does.

The above paragraph is basically Weak at the Knees' prologue, which clocked in at nearly 1/4th of the entire book (22%). It wasn't labeled a prologue, but that's sure as heck what it was. You all know how I feel about prologues, and especially how I feel about prologues not labeled as such. Quiz: what's the first rule of telling a story? Begin at the beginning! Really the only reason I kept reading was a morbid curiosity to see when the book would actually get started. Eventually it did, but it was still really boring because having an orgasm/affair isn't much of a plot. Also, by that point I disliked whiny Danni so much I wouldn't have cared if she took a header off a mountain.

Basically Danni has no agency in this novel. Does she do anything, period, at the start of the book? No. I'm probably supposed to take her leaving Hugh as a sign of agency, but why does she leave him? Because he "can't make you happy," according her best friend. Right. That might be because no one person can make another person happy. All Danni's decisions afterward are predicated by the actions of a man, from learning how to ski to having sex. Yeah, she may want to have sex with the guys, but the decisions are always ultimately theirs. The males drive the other action in the book, too: when Danni leaves France, for example, and even when she goes back.

I will admit I liked the meet-cute between her and Olivier du Pape, mainly because as soon as someone mentions he's married (which happens immediately) you know they're going to have sex. But the scene where they get together is kind of hilarious, and not in an intentional way. I loved it when Olivier was like, "I don't want you to ruin your life by having an affair with me!" Ruin her life, really? Someone's been reading a liiiiiittle too much Gustave Flaubert. And what's going to happen to Olivier's life in the meantime, business as usual? Nice dichotomy there. In any case, it's really hard to believe that there are any stakes involved in this extramarital affair because Olivier's wife is never there. Literally, she is never in town. We never meet her; I don't think we even ever know her name. Yet I found myself more sympathetic for her than for any other person in this book because she's the only one who's completely innocent of wrong doing and she gets shat on because Olivier and Danni find one another really, really attractive.

Melody from Redeeming Qualities wrote recently that one thing she loves about romance and adventure novels is "watching the author’s resultant struggle to steer the characters to a happy ending without in any way impugning their honor." This is not something Jo Kessel apparently struggled with in Weak at the Knees; all the characters acted dishonorably and in an expedient way to get what they wanted. Instead of caring about who she was hurting and whether or not it was worth it, Danni was mainly concerned that Olivier was taking advantage of her. It's a lovely world of narcissism and actions without consequences that these characters live in.

Weak at the Knees also had quite a few editing problems, but honestly I find the lack of storytelling and female agency in this novel more egregious. What story is being told here? Why should the reader care? These are basic questions that need to be addressed in any story.

Anywho, if you're still interested in giving Weak at the Knees a try, TLC Booktours is offering a paperback (US/Canada only) or eBook (international) copy of the book to one lucky reader! Just enter your name and e-mail into this handy-dandy Google form and I'll draw one winner using random.org on Friday, September 27th, and contact the winner by e-mail. All information will be kept private and deleted after the giveaway.





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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Bloggiesta Finish Line

bloggiesta finish line

Well, peeps, it's Sunday evening and I'm ready to curl up with a cocktail and watch Revenge. I only had a day to work on Bloggiesta, but all my goals were accomplished. Here's a summary:


  • Write reviews for Weak at the Knees and Kindness Goes Unpunished. Done! You know that feeling where you're like, "Idk what to say about this book," and an hour later you've written 1,000 words about it? Yeah.
  • Complete a few minichallenges (I actually finished 2 on Friday night even though I hadn't officially started Bloggiesta-ing yet). Done! I complete The Book Vixen's IFTTT challenge and another challenge. Unfortch I can't remember it was. Trust me?
  • Participate in Sunday's Twitter chat (#bloggiesta if you want to join in). Done! I was a little late but I made it.


I didn't get as much work done on my blog this Bloggiesta as I wanted to, but then again I never do. I did get what needed to be done, though, so yay!

Thanks to the organizers and mini-challenge hosts for another great Bloggiesta!


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Bloggiesta: Better Late Than Never

pedro

I know Bloggiesta—the blogging fiesta—is almost over, but I only now have time to start working on things. Here's my limited to do list:


  • Write reviews for Weak at the Knees and Kindness Goes Unpunished.
  • Complete a few minichallenges (I actually finished 2 on Friday night even though I hadn't officially started Bloggiesta-ing yet).
  • Participate in Sunday's Twitter chat (#bloggiesta if you want to join in).


And don't forget to complete the minichallenge me, Tif, and Becca are hosting over at Book Bloggers International before the weekend's up. It's a fun and easy way to discover new book bloggers.

If you're participating in Bloggiesta, how are you doing?



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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Review: NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR by George Orwell

1984 cover

Winston Smith is a lonely man living in the London of our dystopian future, with Big Brother watching every move people make and the Thought Police ready to take any dissenters down. Winston hates Big Brother and has a vague desire to join "the Brotherhood," a group lead by Emmanuel Goldstein, the Enemy of the State. But it isn't until Winston falls in the love that the Thought Police really come after him...

If Animal Farm is George Orwell's vision of communism, Nineteen Eighty-Four is his vision of totalitarianism. And just for the record, I'm already really annoyed at writing out "ninety eighty-four," so from now on it's just 1984. Okay? Okay.

I didn't enjoy 1984 as much as Animal Farm. Or, you know, at all really. There is sooooo much exposition about this and that and how everything works that it tried my patience. Winston is a misogynistic wet blanket and I had trouble caring about what happened to him, even when it was horrifying.

That's not say I think 1984 is a bad book, just that it's more about the world of the novel and ideas than story and characters. And some of the ideas are really brilliant! Things like Big Brother and the Thought Police are already part of the lexicon, but what I found fascinating was the concept of doublethink:

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ’doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.

This, combined with newspeak, the language of Big Brother, allows people to say anything and mean nothing. There's no longer an opposite of good, because why use the word "bad" when you can just say "ungood"? The ultimate goal of newspeak is to eliminate most words altogether. After all, as long as the word freedom exists, people will remember there was such a thing.

Memory, both historical and personal, serves a major role in 1984. Government altering history and the short-term memory of its citizens was touched upon in Animal Farm, but in 1984 that loss of memory is a cornerstone of the narrative. Winston doesn't know for sure it's 1984, can barely remember his mother and sister or any incident from his childhood, and is eventually completely brainwashed into forgetting he ever hated Big Brother. The only reality is the one created by the state. Everyone is sharing in a delusion, their view of the world slightly twisted until they're all participating in massive "group think." Anyone who doesn't conform to the universal opinion isn't just wrong, but considered insane, even though they're only sane people in the bunch. This isn't just a case of looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, but of "two and two make five": it's not logic, it's not reality, but it's the truth because Big Brother says it is. It reminded me of the empty Obama chair from the GOP 2012 convention.

Anyway, an interesting book. I'm not sure I would universally recommend it like I would Animal Farm, but if you're into dystopian fiction, 1984's the mother of all dystopian novels. It's also the only one that's ever really sent a chill up my spine because not only could it happen, it nearly did.




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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Excerpt of HIGHLANDER'S HOPE by Collette Cameron

highlanders hope cover

About Highlander's Hope:

Not a day has gone by that Ewan McTavish, the Viscount Sethwick, hasn't dreamed of the beauty he danced with two years ago. He's determined to win her heart and make her his own. Heiress Yvette Stapleton is certain of one thing; marriage is risky and, therefore, to be avoided. At first, she doesn't recognize the dangerously handsome man who rescues her from assailants on London's docks, but Lord Sethwick's passionate kisses soon have her reconsidering her cynical views on matrimony. On a mission to stop a War Office traitor, Ewan draws Yvette into deadly international intrigue. To protect her, he exploits Scottish law, declaring her his lawful wife--without benefit of a ceremony. Yvette is furious upon discovering the irregular marriage is legally binding, though she never said, "I do." Will Ewan's manipulation cost him her newfound love?

Excerpt:

Peeking at the nobleman from beneath her lashes, Yvette reached to straighten her bonnet. It hung askew off the side of her head, like a giant drooping peony. She shoved it back into place but the moment she removed her hand, it flopped over once more.

The stranger's unrestrained laughter filled the carriage.

“Oh, bother it all.” Yvette's patience with both her rescuer and the silly bonnet were at an end. She had no choice but to remove the dratted thing to reaffix it. Several strands of hair tumbled to her shoulders when she removed the cap from her head. Suppressing a shriek of annoyance, she placed the hat beside her. She then set about securing the wayward curls. Pinning the last strand in place, her eyes met those of her companion.

She stilled, as did the world around her. The air hung suspended in her lungs. Her eyes widened in disbelief, her stunned gaze riveted on his face. “You exist?” Her voice was husky with awe.

Raising an ebony eyebrow, a flicker of humor softened the nobleman's features. “So it would appear.”

A voice, deep and dark, caressed Yvette's heightened senses. She stared. Her gaze roved across his handsome features returning, as if compelled by some unseen force, to his eyes.

Those eyes. Fringed by thick lashes, the mesmerizing turquoise pools gazing back at her sent her senses reeling in recognition. Her mouth dropped open. No, it couldn't be.

“Am I dreaming?” Giving a quick shake of her head, she lowered her eyelids for a moment. Lud, but she was befuddled. "Who are you?


Buy Highlander's Hope on Amazon.com.


 Where to find Collette Cameron:

Monday, September 9, 2013

Review: DEATH WITHOUT COMPANY by Craig Johnson

death without company cover

Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire is still recovering from the events of The Cold Dish, but at least he's out of the house and voluntarily speaking to people, so that's a step in the right direction. Meanwhile, former Absaroka County sheriff and Walt's mentor, Lucien, keeps telling him there's something fishy going on at the nursing home. Walt's like, "Whatever you say, Agatha Christie;" but then one of the nursing home residents dies and Lucien insists it was murrrderrr. Walt agrees to investigate out of respect for Lucien, and winds up opening a whole worm-filled can of ugly secrets he didn't want to know.

I know when I reviewed The Cold Dish I was kind of like, "Sigh," and "Meh," but then I realized I was really missing my guys. That would be Walt and his BFF, Henry Standing Bear. At what point they became "my guys," I'm not sure, but I decided to read the second book in the series, Death Without Company, immediately after finishing the first. It's been more than a decade since I've done something like that, and I'm not sorry I did now.

Death Without Company is much better than The Cold Dish. For one, it's shorter. A mystery series with books that keep getting shorter? I must be in a reading utopia right now. For two, a lot more things happen in the course of Death Without Company than in The Cold Dish. Walt is on go mode for the entire novel, what with people getting murdered, and attacked, and the police department setting up sting operations, and Lucien being a curmudgeonly nuisance, and suspects escaping, and the new deputy showing up.

Like in The Cold Dish, the mystery is kind of depressing. It hinges on a star-crossed love affair between Mari Baroja and Lucien, and the shitty life Mari had after her family separated them. But also like in The Cold Dish, that aspect of the story was balanced nicely with snappy dialog and Walt's wry sense of humor. As usual, Henry gets the best lines in the book. My favorite was,

"How many murders have we had in this county since you became sheriff?"
I counted up quickly, then recounted. "Five."
"Three in the last month?"
"Yep."
He picked up the sandwich and looked at it. "You should retire... quickly."

Of course, the resolving of the plot depends on a series of incredible coincidences, and I guessed who the murderer was almost immediately (though not their motive), but those are minor quibbles.

One scene that did really bother me, though, was when Lucien told Walt what happened to Mari's husband, Charlie Nurburn. It was described in incredibly graphic detail—how? Lucien wasn't there, and I doubt any woman would have told him what happened to her at that level. Also, why? I didn't need to know most of that to understand what happened and it didn't drive the story. None of the other acts of violence in the book were treated to such highly expressive and intense description, even when Walt himself is attacked, so it seemed like a gratuitous depiction of violence against women with a tone of grotesque fascination to boot. Dislike.

Aside from that, Death Without Company was a perfectly enjoyable mystery novel. I'll definitely be reading the next book in the series.



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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Review: ANIMAL FARM by George Orwell

animal farm cover
It took me a ridiculously long time to figure out that pink shape was a pig.

The animals of Manor Farm are miserable. They're overworked, underfed, the farmer takes away their children, and they're killed when they're no longer "useful" to him. Then they get the chance to oust the farmer and establish their own farm, the Animal Farm, where all animals are equal! Only some animals fancy themselves more equal than others...

This is my first read by George Orwell, and it's terribly clever. It's short—just slightly over 100 pages—and the premise is simple. That's the genius of it: Animal Farm could be a parable about any uprising from the French Revolution, to the Bolshevik Revolution, to the Egyptian Revolution in 2011. Perhaps even the American Revolution. It was chilling yet totally convincing.

That's not to say the book is all political talk. It's also about society and economics and technology. But more than that, it's a great story that makes you think, and the animal characters are surprisingly sympathetic. Right from the beginning you feel for them, even though it's obvious their dream of a utopian society is NOT going to work. From the vain pony, Molly, to the cynical donkey Benjamin, the animals feel like characters you can identify with. I spent the entire book on the edge of my seat hoping the noble workhorse Boxer wouldn't die, even though I KNEW he would. And when it did happen, it was even more awful and cruelly ironic than I anticipated.

I was also surprised by the message of the novel. When I first started it, I figured the moral would be that the animals' idealistic society was doomed to fail because animals (read: people) were inherently selfish and out for themselves, but that wasn't the case at all. The majority of the animals were good, or at least good up to a certain point; they worked hard just on the basis of hope for a better life and that someday it would pay off. The reason Animal Farm failed was actually because it was modeled directly off of the human world and Manor Farm. The pigs got all their ideas from human books, even applying war maneuvers from Ancient Rome! Pretty soon some of the pigs were acting like Roman Emperors. It's the culture and system itself that supported exploitation and oppression, which is why it was nearly impossible to change.

Animal Farm entertained me while making me think about things in a different way. Just see if I don't start shouting, "Four feet good, two feet bad!" the next time I see a pundit on TV. I would recommend this novel as a must-read to everyone.




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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review: THE COLD DISH by Craig Johnson

the cold dish cover

The biggest crimes the town of Durant, Wyoming, usually sees are escaped ranch animals and drunk cowboys. But when a young man convicted in the gang rape of a Cheyenne girl is found in a sheep field, Sheriff Walt Longmire senses his days of phoning it in are over.

The Cold Dish is the first book in the Longmire series. It's not as good as Hell is Empty, but that's a good thing—after seven years and six books, one would hope that an author's work would improve, right? I basically got really impatient reading The Cold Dish because: 1. it's the first book in the series, which means there's a lot of exposition about things I'm already familiar with from watching the TV show; and 2. it took me forever to get through. This is mainly my own fault: I started it when I was busy and lucky to carve out fifteen minutes of uninterrupted reading time. Unfortunately, this isn't the type of book you can just pick up and get into right away, so I struggled through the first half and almost DNF'd it.

The Cold Dish finally starts to get interesting around the 150 page mark, when Walt goes onto the rez with his BFF, Henry Standing Bear, to question the father of the girl who was raped. Yes, it took him that long. The father's not a suspect because he can't walk, and Walt doesn't have any jurisdiction on the Indian reservation, but still. When he visits, the girl's dad gives Walt the legendary Cheyenne Rifle of the Dead, which was used in the Battle of the Little Bighorn and, it's implied, killed General Custer. The rifle is haunted by the Old Cheyenne who sometimes use it to call people to the land of the dead. Intriguing, no? Then things get really exciting because more of the rapists start dying.

So I did like the second half of the novel, but it was a long dang walk up to that point. On the plus side, even with the slow start, The Cold Dish definitely has its redeeming qualities. First of all, despite the dark subject matter, there's a lot of humor in the novel. Craig Johnson is as familiar with the universe of rural Wyoming as Jane Austen was with the gentle society of Regency England, and takes a similar tolerant-yet-ironic tone when describing the characters and foibles that populate his world. Aside from Walt, the secondary characters are awesome: Henry of the non-contractions has a very droll sense of humor, and gets most of the best lines in the book; and there's also Lucien, the former sheriff of Absaroka County and Walt's mentor, who's a crazy kamikaze badass living in a nursing home. Really all the main secondary characters are very well-realized except for Vonnie, but that's another story.

As I read The Cold Dish, I couldn't help but compare it to The Cuckoo's Calling. Unexpectedly, the two novels have a lot in common: they're both debut mystery novels that are reinterpretations of the classic noir set-up, with a down-on-his-luck, depressed, ex-military hero who's practically homeless; tons of literary references; and walking and talking. What is it with the walking and talking?! But The Cold Dish feels like a more original and organic twist, is more fully populated with characters and locations, has a better mystery (although the conclusion still made me roll my eyes), and the literary references are much more clever and integrated into the story. So I would say overall The Cold Dish is the better book.

Even though this book didn't wow me like Hell is Empty did, I'll definitely keep reading the Longmire series because I think Johnson is a great writer and the characters he's created are awesome.




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