27 November 2015

Movie Star Drool: Victor Frankenstein

*There may be spoilers. You are warned.

Howlers are more fun with friends. I saw this with my friend Kate and we clearly have way too much SCIENCE in our brains (I have a degree in epidemiology, she's finishing a PhD in linguistics) so we did some snickering and "no, that is not correct"-ing and generally had a good time 'shipping McAvoy and Radcliffe.

The plot for Victor Frankenstein is mostly cobbled together with a vague idea of what the original Mary Shelley book was about. The movie focuses on Victor Frankenstein's demons through the lens of Igor/no-name abused circus clown and his super-genius talent for correcting Frankenstein's experimental blockages. Plot connections are tenuous (did we need Andrew Scott's Scotland Yard detective, except as deus ex machina in reverse?) and half-baked (Jessica Brown Findlay's Lorelai is saved from dying in hospital by a wealthy Baron to be in his cabaret - which we don't see, ever - and also to be his beard in public but is apparently just accepted into society (which speaks to how someone didn't do his/her research into Victorian Society behavior and class beliefs) and also drags Radcliffe's Igor upstairs during a ball....the Baron wouldn't take that well). It all turns out as one expects. Particularly if you go into this expecting nothing but ridiculousness.

There is some great casting. Louise Brealey, of Sherlock and Bleak House fame, has the unfortunate and super offensive/inaccurate screen credit of "Sexy Society Girl" in a fantastic bit part where she gives excellent "shocked and offended because I am a LADY and we are discussing procreation" face during a fancy dinner. Freddie Fox can make a career playing upper-class Old Money Englishmen, because he is that good at it.  Victor's father is cast so deliciously I won't spoil it but for 5 minutes of screen time that actor was worth every second.  As Igor, Radcliffe wears two of the worst wigs currently in cinemas (although I am worried the second might have been his own hair with FAR too much mousse - not a good look) but he does some good physical acting as a hunchback and as the owner of a newly-straightened spine after Victor miraculously cures him through a combination of zit popping and chiropractic (it was gross, part of it). James McAvoy, though, drank the Kool-Aid for this movie.  He was SELLING that dialogue like the rent was due tomorrow. He had a lot of commitment and that went a ways toward making this movie less terrible than it could have been. A long way, LOOOOONG way, from being a good movie.

A+ set decoration and costume design. We commented a lot on the waistcoats McAvoy and Radcliffe wore, the textiles were very pretty. Jessica Brown Findlay wore beautifully vibrant clothes (guys, someone needs to cast her as Lena Heady's younger sister ASAP because man, does Findlay look like Heady did when she did some period films in the late 1990s/early 2000s).

In short: a fun popcorn movie, not a good movie in any way (has a really weird title card at the end of the credits that states how many people worked on the movie).

1. Deadpool - in it, and I really hope the soundtrack is that dope.
2. Krampus - I get a distinct Drag Me To Hell vibe off this trailer and since I spent most of that movie with my hoodie pulled over my face like Kevin from South Park, I pass.
3. In the Heart of the Sea - I might be up for Ben Wishaw as Herman Melville and a sea-soaked Thor, er, Chris Hemsworth.
4. The Revenant - I think this was the movie that had some reviewer saying something like this wasn't a movie for women (yep).  Technically, Victor Frankenstein isn't a movie for women, either, since it clearly ranked only one named female character who did not audibly talk to another female character (there's a Mrs. Winthrop (uncredited) in the IMBd listing that I don't remember from the credits roll in the actual movie because it was really short) and a plot that is so full of holes it might be cinematic Swiss cheese.  And yet I paid 8$ plus tax for it.  If I don't see The Revenant in the theatre it's more likely due to the fact that I have yet to really like an Iñárritu film (haven't caught Birdman, yet).  I have seen my share of "brutal" movies (raise your hand if you've seen Salò).
5. The Hateful Eight - Tarantino.  I usually catch up with him after the DVD release.  And a three-hour movie really tests limits on my bladder.  However, if I luck out and any of the nearby theatres get the 70mm film (which I highly doubt) I might try for a screening.  (There are two named female characters! And Tarantino known for brutality onscreen! Now I'm on a rant....guess I need to take my new Mulholland Dr. Blu-ray out for a spin).

20 November 2015

You Don't Have to Like Me by Alida Nugent

Summary from Goodreads:

The author of Don’t Worry It Gets Worse takes on the F-word

Alida Nugent’s first book, Don’t Worry It Gets Worse, received terrific reviews, and her self-deprecating “everygirl” approach continues to win the Internet-savvy writer and blogger new fans. Now, she takes on one of today’s hottest cultural topics: feminism.

Nugent is a proud feminist—and she’s not afraid to say it. From the “scarlet F” thrust upon you if you declare yourself a feminist at a party to how to handle judgmental store clerks when you buy Plan B, You Don’t Have to Like Me skewers a range of cultural issues, and confirms Nugent as a star on the rise.

The subtitle for Alida Nugent's new book You Don't Have to Like Me is "Essays on Growing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding Feminism."  And that is precisely what she writes about.  About finding and maintaining friendships with other women and how while she was busy trying to be The Cool Girl (you know, the one who burps, chows Big Macs, agrees with dudes' BS, and tries to be like a dude while maintaining a Hot Girl Bod) she was throwing other women under the bus.  About the "warning labels" that get attached to girls but not to boys. About the utter uselessness and hetero-normative-ness and obsessed with tab-A-in-slot-B-ness of sex education in public school (if you're even lucky to get that).

In the piece "Feral" Nugent calls out the utter bullshit whereupon women are taught to "Get Home Safe" and to take their drinks to the bathroom with them lest they get spiked and how presenting oneself as "female" in any way is dangerous yet we do not teach boys and men not to rape (Nugent presents a close call she had while walking home from work one evening).  The pieces "Shrink" and "All the Diets I've Been On" present contrasting pictures of the way food and pleasure and body image become twisted and unrecognizable.  "Advice I've Received as a Woman" is a hilarious and uncomfortable tally of all the conflicting and constraining (and occasionally amazing) advice Nugent has been offered because she is cis-gendered female.  The book winds up with the fantastic essay "Does This Skirt Make Me Look Feminist?" which reinforces the notion, at play throughout the book, that there is no right way to "do" feminism and that stereotyping feminists is ridiculous.

I was reading a few reviews for You Don't Have to Like Me and came across one that gave it a 1-star because Nugent was just repeating what others have said and wasn't saying anything new.  Considering that, on average, women still make less than men (which is the statistic for white women; the ratio gets larger for African-American women, Latinas, etc. as Nugent points out), we still teach women to "be safe" rather than teach men not to rape or feel entitled to sexual attention from women, we still call women "sluts" for having sex (or enjoying sex at all) yet slam women who don't have sex as prudes, and push a media representation of female beauty that is nearly impossible to achieve or maintain then deride women for taking pride in their appearances it is very clear that voices like Alida Nugent's, Roxane Gay's, Rebecca Solnit's, and others are still needed.  And they are needed to be loud, clear, and real and to repeat themselves.  We can't say anything new until what we're saying right now becomes part of the cultural fabric and the norm.  Also, Nugent, as a woman who is both Puerto Rican and Irish, reminded me that the feminism that I need and practice - as a white, middle-class, straight, cis woman - is different than what she needs as a biracial woman, or what a transgender woman needs, or what a black woman needs, and so on.  We still have a ways to go until feminism isn't a big, red Scarlet F.

Dear FTC: I first received a DRC of this book via Penguin Random House's First to Read program, but it expired so I ought a copy instead.

19 November 2015

The Sun King by Nancy Mitford

Summary from Goodreads:
The Sun King is a dazzling double portrait of Louis XIV and Versailles, the opulent court from which he ruled. With characteristic élan, Nancy Mitford reconstructs the daily life of king and courtiers during France’s golden age, offering vivid sketches of the architects, artists, and gardeners responsible for the creation of the most magnificent palace Europe had yet seen. Mitford lays bare the complex and deadly intrigues in the stateroom and the no less high-stakes power struggles in the bedroom. At the center of it all is Louis XIV himself, the demanding, mercurial, but remarkably resilient sovereign who guided France through nearly three quarters of the Grand Siècle.

Brimming with sumptuous detail and delicious bons mots, and written in a witty, conversational style, The Sun King restores a distant glittering century to vibrant life.

Nancy Mitford's biography of King Louis XIV during his years of building and living at Versailles is a book I bought for the cover. Bravo, New York Review of Books Classics.

This is a slim, under-200 page history/biography of the French King Louis XIV, the Sun King, from the time he starts the transformation of his father's old hunting lodge at Versailles, in approximately 1661, to his death September 1, 1715.  Along the way we learn about his wife, his brother, his brother's wives, his official mistress, his other mistresses (including the one he likely eventually married), his son, his son's wife, his grandson, his illegitimate children, and his great-grandsons.  Mitford touches on the weirdness of French court customs.  There are wars, religious persecution, suspicion of witchcraft and devilry, and poisonings (fer shizz, poisonings were a THING in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France).  There's also quibbling over French support of the deposed English king, James II, and his family.  Nancy Mitford does gossip like no one's business.

This was written in the 1960s, with research started in the late 1920s, and some of Mitford's views about Jews or Catholics or Germans (and her usage) reflect a .  It isn't too pervasive but it is good to keep in mind that Mitford was a novelist, not a professional biographer or historian.  There is just one (small) drawback to this new edition of The Sun King - according to the Introduction by Philip Mansel the original edition was a "coffee table" book with photographs of Versailles at the "appropriate moment[s] in the text".  Aside from the fabulous yellow cover, there are no photographs in the NYRB Classics edition.

If you're looking for a gift for a history buff or someone who like more narrative-style non-fiction, The Sun King would be a great choice (and so cheery to look at in the middle of winter).

Dear FTC: I purchased my copy of this book.

18 November 2015

Lingo by Gaston Dorren

Summary from Goodreads:

Whether you're a frequent visitor to Europe or just an armchair traveler, the surprising and extraordinary stories in Lingo will forever change the way you think about the continent, and may even make you want to learn a new language.

Lingo spins the reader on a whirlwind tour of sixty European languages and dialects, sharing quirky moments from their histories and exploring their commonalities and differences. Most European languages are descended from a single ancestor, a language not unlike Sanskrit known as Proto-Indo-European (or PIE for short), but the continent's ever-changing borders and cultures have given rise to a linguistic and cultural diversity that is too often forgotten in discussions of Europe as a political entity. Lingo takes us into today's remote mountain villages of Switzerland, where Romansh is still the lingua franca, to formerly Soviet Belarus, a country whose language was Russified by the Bolsheviks, to Sweden, where up until the 1960s polite speaking conventions required that one never use the word "you" in conversation, leading to tiptoeing questions of the form: "Would herr generaldirektör Rexed like a biscuit?"

Spanning six millenia and sixty languages in bite-size chapters, Lingo is a hilarious and highly edifying exploration of how Europe speaks.

Being a book person, words and languages are things I've always found interesting (not nearly as much as my friend Kate, who studies linguistics, specifically how people tell each other where to put things [actual things, not euphemistic things]).  I'm not fluent in any of my second languages (German and French, which makes the idea of them being second languages silly) but I do like the sounds and quirks of each language, what makes them all different from one another.

I happened across Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty Languages while looking through Edelweiss catalogs.  This was apparently published in the UK last year and then picked up for US publication by Atlantic Monthly Press.  Just from reading the description I was hooked.  I had no idea there were at least sixty languages in Europe.  (Yes, insert "ignorant American" joke here.)

Each language chapter is truly bite-size.  Dorren focuses on what makes each language interesting, whether that is the language's resurrection like that of Manx or Cornish, or it's isolation like Channel Islands Norman.  Even the country's history gives shape to a chapter; the chapter on Lithuanian is narrated in contrasting dictatorship/revolutionary styles (Comrades!).  At the end of each chapter, Dorren points out words that have been "borrowed" by the English language and terms that are extremely unique to that language.  I got a kick out of the Icelandic chapter when the unique word was the "Christmas Book Flood" (I'm not even going to try and spell it in Icelandic) which was a topic in an early Book Riot podcast.

Now, if you're not up on all your grammatical forms of speech you might have to do some Googling or go find Grammar Girl's site or something.  The book does assume that you remember what predicates and cases and so on actually are (not what you think they are, trust me, I fell into that trap).  But Lingo is a really fun, quick read and, since the holidays are coming up, it would make the perfect gift for a word or trivia lover.

Lingo by Gaston Dorren will be available in the US on December 1, 2015.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

17 November 2015

Extra, Extra: A first look at Sarah MacLean's new novel, The Rogue Not Taken!

News Flash: Announcing a sublime – and scandalously wonderful – new series from New York Times, USA Today and Washington Post bestselling author Sarah MacLean!

The author aroused immediate interest when she announced this high-concept affair: “I'm thrilled to announce my next project -- the Scandal & Scoundrel series, which I pitched to my editor as ‘Old School TMZ,’" says MacLean. “It’s modern celebrity gossip with a pre-Victorian twist. Basically, this is my way of convincing my husband that all those glossy magazines in our house are ‘work necessities.’

The first novel in the series, THE ROGUE NOT TAKEN (Avon Books; ISBN 9780062379412; eISBN 9780062379399; on-sale 12/29/15) is a riff on a certain elevator incident made famous at a Met gala several years ago. But in MacLean’s imagination, the scurrilous turns absolutely sensational, as a ballroom imbroglio sets off a very heated carriage journey along the Great North Road. It’s a long way from London to Scotland…you would be quite amazed at how much drama can ensue between a seemingly ill-matched duo on such a wild ride!

[Melissa's editorial: Are you intrigued yet?  I, for one, I was offering to do considerable groveling for an advance copy of any or all manuscript versions.]

The Rogue Not Taken description:

Lady Sophie’s Society Splash
When Sophie, the least interesting of the Talbot sisters, lands her philandering brother-in-law backside-first in a goldfish pond in front of all society, she becomes the target of very public aristocratic scorn. Her only choice is to flee London, vowing to start a new life far from the aristocracy. Unfortunately, the carriage in which she stows away isn’t saving her from ruin . . . it’s filled with it.

Rogue’s Reign of Ravishment!
Kingscote, “King,” the Marquess of Eversley, has never met a woman he couldn’t charm, resulting in a reputation far worse than the truth, a general sense that he’s more pretty face than proper gentleman, and an irate summons home to the Scottish border. When King discovers stowaway Sophie, however, the journey becomes anything but boring.

War? Or More?
He thinks she’s trying to trick him into marriage. She wouldn’t have him if he were the last man on earth. But carriages bring close quarters, dark secrets, and unbearable temptation, making opposites altogether too attractive . . .

[Melissa's further editorial: I'm eleven chapters into The Rogue Not Taken and I might love Sophie more than I love Pippa from One Good Earl Deserves a Lover.  Maybe...Sophie still hasn't dissected a goose....or had a no-touching scene....]

To celebrate the new book, cartographer Amy Solomon designed a beautiful map of Sophie and King's route to Happily Ever After!  Isn't it lovely?  Sarah has provided some commentary for the route:

Stop #1: "Sophie Stows Away" (English Country Estate near London)
Author Commentary:
There are moments in life when you know that you just can't go on without a change. Lady Sophie Talbot, the youngest of the infamous Talbot Sisters (darlings of the gossip rags and nicknamed the Dangerous Daughters) knows this is the case when she lands her odious, philandering brother in law backside-first in a fish pond at a major event of the London Season. And so, Sophie does what's necessary. “I simply need conveyance home,” she requests of Kingscote, Marquess of Eversley, notorious rake and her only chance of escape. Sophie's desperate, and in possession of the Marquess's boot, so she thinks she has a leg up, so to speak. King has other ideas.

Stop #2: “The Carriage”
Author Commentary:
Lady Sophie Talbot, youngest and least interesting of the scandalous Talbot sisters (think 19th Century Kardashians) isn't so uninteresting once she's decided to stow away atop a carriage belonging to the Marquess of Eversley -- notorious rogue and her recent nemesis. Indeed, she cannot wait for the horrible man to discover that she's disguised herself as an outrider and stolen conveyance home to central London. There's just one problem...

Stop #3: “The Fox and the Falcon Posting Inn”
Author Commentary:
By the time Lady Sophie Talbot finds herself outside the Fox & Falcon Posting Inn, miles from her home in London, she's realized she's made a huge mistake. She only ever intended to hitch a ride home to Mayfair--and simultaneously stick it to the arrogant, handsome, horrible Marquess of Eversley, who happens to be minus a boot, thanks to Sophie. Suffice to say, things got out of hand. And now, dressed as a male servant in the drive of a roadside inn, things are about to get much much worse.

Stop #4: “Beware Highwaymen!”
Author Commentary:
Suffice to say, being on the road with an arrogant aristocrat is no fun at all, so Lady Sophie Talbot does what any self-respecting woman would do, she "borrows" his money, and gets herself on the next mail coach north. All seems fine -- until Highwaymen arrive, and that arrogant aristocrat arrives just in time to see her entire plan go pear-shaped.

Stop #5: “The Warbling Wren”
Author Commentary:
Being shot on the Great North Road isn't exactly a thing people expect to happen, and Lady Sophie Talbot finds herself in the rooms above The Warbling Wren pub, under the welcome care of a rather mad doctor and the watchful eye of the rather infuriating (and infuriatingly handsome) Kingscote, Marquess of Eversley. There are worse things, she supposes. Or are there? Not for King.

Stop #6: “Mossband”
Author Commentary:
Lady Sophie Talbot, youngest and least interesting of the infamous Talbot sisters, has decided that her best bet to escape London and the aristocratic life for which she'd never been intended is to take herself home -- to the small village on the Scottish border where she spent the first ten years of her life. And perhaps, after a disastrous journey north, something would go right, and her childhood friend Robbie, now the village baker, would make good on their silly youthful promises and marry her. Of course, Sophie isn't alone. She's saddled with the horrible, handsome Marquess of Eversley. Who has done everything to ruin her plans. Until now.

Stop #7: “Lyne Castle”
Author Commentary:
The Country seat of the Dukes of Lyne, Lyne Castle is the childhood home of Kingscote, Marquess of Eversley, who left home at eighteen after a terrible tragedy and never returned. Summoned home by his ailing father, King finally returns--with the unexpected addition of Lady Sophie Talbot, irritating and somehow irresistible. The estate boasts one of the most complicated labyrinths in Britain...where King and Sophie find solace, and heartbreak, and each other.
Here's an excerpt from Stop #7:
Sophie would want love. She’d want it pure and unfettered, given freely, along with all its trappings. She’d want the marriage and children and happiness and promise that came with it.

King could see it, the life she wanted. The line of little girls, blue-eyed and brown-haired, in love with books and strawberry tarts. For a moment, he imagined them smiling at him the way their mother did, filled with happiness and hope.
For a moment, he let himself believe he might be able to give it to her.

But she would want love, and he would never be able to give it.

He didn’t have it to give anymore. And those children, they would never be his.

He set her down on the edge of the fountain, coming to his knees, as though she was Ariadne and he the Minotaur, worshipping at her feet, adoring her even as he knew she could not survive in the labyrinth, and he could not survive beyond it.

“Tell me about last night,” he said softly, looking up at her, his hands at the hem of her skirts.
“What—” She caught her breath as his fingers explored the skin of her ankles. “What about it?”
“I hated it,” he said. “I hated stopping.”

She pressed her lips into a thin, straight line. “I hated that you stopped.”

His hands were beneath her skirts, pushing them back, farther and farther, up and over her knees. He pressed his lips to the inside of her knee, swirling his tongue there, loving the little gasp of surprised pleasure that came at the touch.

“I hate that I will have to stop today, as well."
[Melissa's further, further editorial: Three other excerpts were released today, look for other The Rogue Not Taken teaser posts from bloggers.]

Intrigued?  Yes?  Need more?  Here's what Elyse from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books had to say: “The Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean is my favorite book of hers to date. If you’ve read her, or know me, then you know that I just said a thing.”

The Rogue Not Taken, Scandal & Scoundrel Book 1, will be available in the US on December 29, 2015, wherever books are sold - so get those pre-orders in now!  Now, if you're looking for signed mass market copies, anyone who orders a signed, print copy of the book from WORD Bookstores will get a gorgeous printed copy of the map!  Visit the WORD website for more information: http://www.wordbookstores.com/book/9780062379412 (link via Sarah’s website: http://www.sarahmaclean.net/the-rogue-not-taken).

You can also try your luck with our giveaway from Avon Books!  Click the Rafflecopter link for a chance to win a very exclusive early bound manuscript of THE ROGUE NOT TAKEN, along with some artisanal honey. Yum!  [Melissa's even further editorial: Honey is very important in this story, trust me.]

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks so much to Avon Books and Sarah MacLean!

16 November 2015

Armada by Ernest Cline

Summary from Goodreads:

[Normally, I'd have the flap copy here but I think the description posted on Goodreads shows that whoever wrote it didn't really read the book.  Because it's factually incorrect and then gives away a good chunk of the book making it not as fun to read.  So not posted here.]

After the phenomenal success of Ready Player One, I, along with about a bazillion other people, have been eagerly awaiting Ernest Cline's next book.  As in rabidly anticipating.  Great title - Armada.  Great cover design.

Weirdly, as happened with Ready Player One, I had trouble getting into the "voice" of Zack Lightman.  Maybe late-teenage male protagonists aren't quite my thing.  And the plot of the book just wasn't catching me - gifted gamer with parent issues (deceased father), not great at school, obsessed with eighties/nineties video games and trivia.  So I put the DRC aside and got on the list to borrow the audiobook from the library.  Wil Wheaton had returned as narrator and he had been my way into Wade Watts's voice in Ready Player One.

Luckily, Wheaton's narration worked again.  However the stars have aligned, Wheaton's voice and Cline's characters are a great fit.  I was able to listen to the book and understand the character better than I had reading it.  I liked Zack.  My only stumbling block now was the actual plot.  I've watched movies like The Last Starfighter and 2001 and The Black Hole (my dad and I watched a lot of sci-fi movies when I was a kid) and I've read Ender's Game.  Even though Cline gives us a few twists, I felt like I'd come across portions of Armada in other forms.  It didn't ruin Armada for me, which turned out to be a great audiobook, it just didn't seem as fresh or original as RP1.  And I think this is why people seem to be bagging on Armada - it suffers greatly from second-book-anticipation-syndrome because it's predecessor was so excellent and this one is just similar enough to pale in comparison.

My advice: if you've recently read Ready Player One, wait a bit before reading Armada.  If you've had some space or you're new to Ernest Cline, give it a go.  Particularly on audiobook.  Wil Wheaton is a fantastic reader of Cline's books.

Dear FTC: I originally started reading a DRC of this book I received from the publisher via Edelweiss but then switched to a digital audiobook borrowed from the public library.

15 November 2015

Cat is Art Spelled Wrong edited by Caroline Casey, Chris Fischbach, and Sarah Schultz

Summary from Goodreads:
"Coffee House Press, a major nonprofit publisher, recently launched a Kickstarter for a book examining the Internet's cat video fetish. The book, if the Kickstarter campaign reaches its $25,000 goal, will be titled Cat is Art Spelled Wrong, and examine themes like what makes something art, whether art is good or bad, and how taste develops. In other words, cat videos can actually be . . . pretty serious."—The Washington Post

"Coffee House Press one-ups all boring Kickstarter campaigns with Catstarter, a campaign to fund a book on cat videos."—The Millions

"Coffee House Press's upcoming book, titled Cat is Art Spelled Wrong, takes the opportunity to examine a seemingly irrelevant subject from new perspectives—from 'the line is between reality/self on the internet' to 'how cat videos demonstrate either that nothing matters, or that any art matters if anyone thinks it does.' Thus, it's an earnest attempt to uncover more about human nature—especially in today's internet-driven world."—Cool Hunting

Fifteen writers, all addressing not just our fascination with cat videos, but also how we decide what is good or bad art, or art at all; how taste develops, how that can change, and why we love or hate something. It's about people and technology and just what it is about cats that makes them the internet's cutest despots.

Contributors include: Sasha Archibald, Will Braden, Stephen Burt, Maria Bustillos, David Carr, Matthea Harvey, Alexis Madrigal, Joanne McNeil, Ander Monson, Kevin Nguyen, Elena Passarello, Jillian Steinhauer, Sarah Schultz, and Carl Wilson.

Why do we like cat videos so much? Or Henri, the existential Chat Noir?  Or Grumpy Cat or Maru or share a video of a cat dressed as a shark riding a Roomba chasing a duckling so many times that the hit count is in the millions?  (Admit it, you've been obsessed with those recent videos of cats freaking out over cucumbers sneaking up on them from behind.)

Well, Coffee House Press's new book, Cat is Art Spelled Wrong, pulls together pieces of many different varieties.  Some concentrate on cultural criticism, some bubble over with enthusiasm, some make us snuggle our own balls of fur a little tighter.  Ander Monson contributes a stellar piece titled "The Internet is a Cat Video Library" which contemplates both internet culture and an actual small-animal lending library (btw, if you haven't read Monsen's Letter to a Future Lover get on that).  Kevin Nguyen contributes some insight into the I Can Has Cheezburger work ethic with "The No Sleeping Cat Rule."  And, yes, there is an Internet Cat Video Festival, detailed in Sarah Schultz's "There Was a Cat Video Festival in Minneapolis, and It Was Glorious."

My only regret is that it wasn't longer!

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

27 October 2015

Falling Into Bed With a Duke by Lorraine Heath (The Hellions of Havisham #1)


In the first in a dazzling new series, New York Times bestselling author Lorraine Heath introduces the Hellions of Havisham-three charismatic rogues destined to lose their hearts…

After six unsuccessful Seasons, Miss Minerva Dodger chooses spinsterhood over fortune-hungry suitors. But thanks to the Nightingale Club, she can at least enjoy one night of pleasure. At that notorious establishment, ladies don masks before choosing a lover. The sinfully handsome Duke of Ashebury is more than willing to satisfy the secretive lady’s desires-and draws Minerva into an exquisite, increasingly intimate affair.

A man of remarkable talents, Ashe soon deduces that his bedmate is the unconventional Miss Dodger. Intrigued by her wit and daring, he sets out to woo her in earnest. Yet Minerva refuses to trust him. How to court a woman he has already thoroughly seduced? And how to prove that the passion unleashed in darkness is only the beginning of a lifetime’s pleasure…?

I have not read extensively through Lorraine Heath's backlist. I've read the three Lost Lords of Pembrook (and the novella) and the first two Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James (When the Duke Was Wicked is very good but I had some real problems with Once More, My Darling Rogue and never read The Duke and the Lady in Red) and I have a one or two from London's Greatest Lovers and Scoundrels of St. James kicking around on my Nook somewhere. From how I understand it, the Scoundrels are the older generation who begat the heroes and heroines of Scandalous, London's Greatest, and now this new series, Hellions of Havisham. (Aside: I would really, really appreciate it if someone at Heath's publisher could put together a family tree of all the characters for reference on her website because there some half-siblings that I can't keep straight. Thanks.)

So, in this new Hellions of Havisham series (spot on the nose with the estate name used), three young boys are sent to live with the eccentric (read: probably not all-together-there) Marquess of Marsden after their parents are killed in a railway accident: Nicholson, the new Duke of Ashebury (Ashe), Albert, the new Earl of Greyling, and Albert's twin Edward. Together with Locksley, Marsden's neglected son, the boys grow up to travel the world and raise Cain wherever they go. Now twenty years later, Ashe has developed a talent for photography and a particular fetish (no spoilers, you'll have to read on to figure it out). He frequents The Nightingale Club to indulge this interest with ladies who wish for the pleasure of a lover without the burden of a marriage.

Miss Minerva Dodger has decided that, since the men of Society seem more interested in proposing to her dowry than herself, she will remain a spinster. Most like. So to that end she obtains the address of The Nightingale Club and presents herself - adequately masked - to discover for herself the pleasure she is supposed to find in the marriage bed (those of us well-versed in Victorian history know that it was pretty hit or miss for happy marriages in the upper classes of England). Of course, she catches Ashe's eye by merely walking into the room.

Given that I had not liked my previous outing with Heath's characters, I tried to hold my judgement in check until the end of the book. I am so very glad I gave this new novel a chance. The push-pull between Minerva and Ashe regarding who-knows-the-truth-about-what-went-on-between-them-at-the-club and the thought process Ashe uses to connect his anonymous lady and Minerva was very good. I really loved Minerva, who we previously met as Grace's friend in When the Duke Was Wicked. She's intelligent, curious without being artificially naive, can defend herself, and absolutely fed-up with males who think they can marry the money and leave her in the country (she even wrote the book about how to spot a fortune-hunter). There is some ham-fistedness regarding dowries and who does or doesn't need money that I felt could have been plotted much better but the resolution was nice.

I'm not sure which Hellion is next on Heath's list: Locke or Edward (interestingly enough, Greyling is already married - has been for two years - when this novel starts and so doesn't seem to figure into the series) Scratch that thought, I just did some internet-digging and the next one has a really wild set-up (don't go looking until you've read this one or you're going to spoil a plot point, I'm serious).

Dear FTC: I received a DRC from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Keep reading for an excerpt from an Chapter 1 of Falling Into Bed With a Duke, advance praise, and where to buy the book!


The Duke of Ashebury was on the hunt for a pair of long, shapely legs. Standing casually with a shoulder pressed to a wall in the front parlor of the Nightingale Club, he observed with a jaundiced eye those who entered. The ladies wore flowing silk that caressed their skin as a lover might before the night was done. The shimmering fabric seductively outlined the body, hinted at dips and swells. Arms were bared. Necklines were low, the silk gathering just below a tasteful showing of cleavage designed to entice. People murmured and sipped their champagne, while exchanging heavy-lidded gazes and come-hither smiles.

The flirtation that occurred within these walls was very different from that found in a ballroom. No one here was searching for a dance partner. Rather, they wanted a bedding partner. He appreciated the honesty on display, which was the reason that he often stopped by when he was in London. No pretense, no ruses, no duplicity.

He had already claimed a bedchamber, the key nestled in his jacket pocket, as he wanted no one to disturb what he had so painstakingly set up. His needs were unique, and he knew that within these walls, they would be kept secret. People did not discuss what occurred at the Nightingale Club. For most of London, its existence was something spoken about in longing whispers by those who knew it only as myth. But for those familiar with it, it served as a sanctuary, liberator, confidant. It was whatever one needed it to be.

For him, it was salvation, bringing him back from the brink of darkness. Twenty years had gone by since his parents’ deaths, yet still he dreamed of mangled and charred remains. Still, he heard his mother’s terrorized screams and his father’s fruitless cries. Still, his behavior when he’d last seen them taunted him. Had he known that he’d never look upon them again—

With resolve, he shook off the haunting musings that sent a chill down his spine. Here, he could forget, at least for a few hours. Here, the regrets didn’t gnaw unmercifully at him. Here, he could become lost striving for perfection, for the ultimate in pleasure.

He had merely to determine which lady would best suit his purposes, which would be willing to concede to his unusual request without protest. It bothered him not at all that the ladies wore domino masks. He cared little for their faces, understood their need for anonymity. Their concealment worked to his advantage as he’d discovered that ladies were more comfortable with his request when they were assured it would remain their secret—and his not knowing their identity made them bolder than they might have been otherwise. They liked being a little naughty as long as they weren’t caught. He couldn’t catch them if he didn’t know who they were.

Still, he had one cardinal rule he always observed: never the same lady twice.

The ladies brought their own masks, seldom changed them, as the façade became their calling cards, as effective at identifying them as the ones handed over to butlers in the early afternoon when they were making proper visits. The woman in the black mask decorated with peacock feathers had a scar just above her left knee from a tumble she’d taken from a pony as a child. The blue mask, black feathers had two delightful dimples in the small of her back. The green mask outlined in yellow lace possessed bony hips that had proven a challenge, but he’d been pleased with the results when their time together was finished. But then he’d always embraced the challenge of discovering the perfection in imperfection.

The three glasses of scotch that he’d enjoyed were thrumming through his veins. The din of intimacy was calming. The muscles that had been so tense earlier were relaxed. He was in his element here, or he would be in short order. As soon as he found that for which he was searching. He wouldn’t settle for less than what he wanted; he never did. If one sure thing could be said about the Duke of Ashebury, it was that he knew his own mind. That he was stubborn when it came to acquiring what he needed—or wanted. Tonight’s endeavors straddled the line of both what he needed and what he wanted. All needs would be met before dawn. Then, perhaps, he could be glad to be back in London.

Lifting his glass for another sip, he watched a woman wearing draping white silk and a white mask with short white feathers walk hesitantly into the room as though she expected the floor to drop out from beneath her at any moment. She wasn’t particularly tall, but based on the way the silk moved over her flesh with each graceful step, it was obvious that she possessed long, slender legs. He wondered if she was meeting someone, already had an arranged assignation. Some ladies did—it was one of the reasons that the men didn’t wear masks. So they were easily identifiable if their paramours wanted to meet them here. Another reason was that men simply didn’t bloody well care if anyone knew that they were in the mood for a good tupping. Even the married ones were brazen with their presence.

The woman in white appeared to have dark hair, gathered up in an elaborate style that no doubt required an abundance of pins. He couldn’t be absolutely certain of the exact shade because the lighting in the room—only flickering candles—enhanced the mood of secrecy as well as creating an ambiance for intimacy while providing a gossamer disguise for some distinguishing characteristics that were easily identifiable by color: hair, eyes, even the fairness of skin. Perhaps she moved slowly because her eyes were adjusting to the dimness. Gentlemen not yet spoken for did not swarm to her side. But then that was the rule here. Seduction happened slowly. Ladies needed to hint at an interest.

But then, if this was her first time, she might not be aware of the subtle rules. He was fairly certain he’d never seen her before. A connoisseur of the body, he would have remembered the elegance of her movements, the way the cloth glided over her skin, outlining her form. Slender legs, but meat where it counted. No bony hips there.

With one long swallow, he finished off his scotch, relishing the realization that the hunt was over. He’d thought he wanted a tall woman. He’d been mistaken.

He wanted her.

LORRAINE HEATH always dreamed of being a writer. After graduating from the University of Texas, she wrote training manuals and computer code, but something was always missing. After reading a romance novel, she not only became hooked on the genre, but quickly realized what her writing lacked: rebels, scoundrels, and rogues. She’s been writing about them ever since. Her work has been recognized with numerous industry awards, including RWA’s RITA® and a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award. Her novels have appeared on the USA Today and New York Times best-seller lists.

“Heath’s first Hellions of Havisham Victorian romance is wonderfully entertaining….Heath adeptly juggles numerous new and familiar characters as she sweeps fans of her Regency novels into the Victorian era.”—Publishers Weekly

“With her usual flair for richly nuanced characters and elegant writing, RITA® Award-winning Heath launches her new Hellions of Havisham historical series with a tale that simply sizzles with sensuality.”—Booklist

“She dazzles with fascinating characters and a naughty plotline, but most of all she mesmerizes with the depth of emotion in this highly sensual story.”—RT Book Reviews, **4.5 Stars, Top Pick!**

“Falling into Bed with a Duke is a great start to Lorraine Heath’s new series, and book two can’t appear fast enough.” –All About Romance, Desert Island Keeper Review

“FALLING INTO BED WITH A DUKE is a passionate Victorian romance that leaves the reader sighing in happiness…” –Fresh Fiction


13 October 2015

Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann

Summary from Goodreads:
From the author of the award-winning novel Let the Great World Spin and TransAtlantic comes an eponymous novella and three stories that range fluidly across time, tenderly exploring the act of writing and the moment of creation when characters come alive on the page; the lifetime consequences that can come from a simple act; and the way our lives play across the world, marking language, image and each other.

Thirteen Ways of Looking is framed by two author’s notes, each dealing with the brutal attack the author suffered last year and strikes at the heart of contemporary issues at home and in Ireland, the author’s birth place.

Brilliant in its clarity and deftness, this collection reminds us, again, why Colum McCann is considered among the very best contemporary writers.

I only recently hopped on the Colum McCann bandwagon - it's that whole problem of having hundreds and hundreds of books on a TBR list.  It sometimes takes a bit to get to good writers.  I asked a friend which McCann I should start with - answer: Dancer, out from Picador in a gorgeous, gorgeous anniversary edition - which I read while on a trip last month.  Suffice to say, it was amazing  So when I saw McCann had a new story collection coming out, I scurried over to Edelweiss to see about finding a DRC.

Thirteen Ways of Looking is a small story collection, both in number of pages and number of stories.  Over half of the book is the title novella concerning an elderly former judge and the thirteen different ways he is seen by other characters or cameras and how he perceives or remembers his life.  I loved the way McCann interlaced dialogue and the aging man's thoughts into stream-of-consciousness sections that so accurately mirror how we each interact with the world.  "What Time Is It Now, Where You Are?" follows a writer as he creates a character, writing the story as he creates, alters, or embellishes each detail.  In "Sh'khol" an Irish single mother wakes to find her adopted, hearing-impaired son missing after receiving a coveted wetsuit for Christmas; her terror and guilt and confusion are almost palpable.  The final story, "Treaty," follows Beverly, a Maryknoll nun who was kidnapped and repeatedly raped and abused in the jungles of a South American country.  Thirty-seven years later, the rapist suddenly appears on a London news story as the broker of an important peace treaty unleashing a tide of memory and emotion in Beverly.  I did not breathe during the last four pages of this story.

Thirteen Ways of Looking is out today, October 13, wherever books are sold.

Dear FTC: I read a DRC of this book via Edelweiss.

30 September 2015

Forever Your Earl by Eva Leigh (The Wicked Quills of London #1)

Summary from Goodreads:
Eva Leigh's irresistible new series introduces the Wicked Quills of London: a group of bold, brilliant female writers whose spirited allure is beyond seductive...

Eleanor Hawke loves a good scandal. And readers of her successful gossip rag live for the exploits of her favorite subject: Daniel Balfour, the notorious Earl of Ashford. So when the earl himself marches into her office and invites her to experience his illicit pursuits firsthand, Eleanor is stunned. Gambling hells, phaeton races, masquerades . . . What more could a scandal writer want than a secret look into the life of this devilishly handsome rake?

Daniel has secrets, and if The Hawk's Eye gets wind of them, a man's life could be at stake. And what better way to distract a gossip than by feeding her the scandal she desperately craves? But Daniel never expected the sharp mind and biting wit of the beautiful writer, and their desire for each other threatens even his best-laid plans.

But when Eleanor learns the truth of his deception, Daniel will do anything to prove a romance between a commoner and an earl could really last forever.

Daniel Balfour, the Earl of Ashford, intends to tempt one Mr. E. Hawke, proprietor of the scandal rag The Hawk's Eye, with an exclusive: a first-hand look at the scandalous activities the rag so gleefully reports second-hand.  He intends to start with an evening at an exclusive gambling hell in Mayfair...except there is no "Mister" Hawke.  "Miss" Hawke, Eleanor, is the proprietor.  Miss Hawke, as a self-made woman in her early thirties, is no milk-and-water simpering ton maiden.  She agrees to Ashford's plan - with a little help from her friends in the theatre Eleanor captures her story and Daniel's attention.  Eleanor is the type of woman Daniel didn't realise he wanted - sharp, quick-thinking, enterprising, takes no crap, and calls him on his BS - but turns out to be exactly the woman he needs.  For his part, Daniel demonstrates to Eleanor that not all noblemen are useless, morally-dubious toffs.  Even if they drive the best phaeton in town.

I really, really enjoyed Forever Your Earl, the first book in The Wicked Quills of London series by Eva Leigh. Now, I've been having a bit of trouble with new series lately, particularly from authors that are new-to-me.  The "hooks" are a problem, or the premises are overly-contrived, or the writing falls flat.  However, Eva Leigh - who is a new-to-me author - has put together a cross-class romance series (we're given a look at Heroine and Hero #2 at the end of Forever Your Earl, so I'm assuming that Heroine #3 will also be a writer - possibly of a document we are tangentially introduced to in this book - and that Hero #3 will also be a dissolute nobleman of some variety, possibly someone we are also introduced to in this book) that manages to stay true to the Regency period yet feels fresh and delivers on the writing.  Given that our heroine Eleanor is a writer, I had expected good quality writing.  This book delivered with a bonus-order of snappy dialogue the way I enjoy it from Tessa Dare (though no dirty math jokes, sigh) and Sarah MacLean.  Eva Leigh is in good company among the stellar line-up of Avon authors.  The theatre back-stage scenes are appropriately chaotic and funny, the scene at the gambling hell is approrpriately sumptuous, the phaeton race is thrilling, and the B-plot is so, so good.  Oh, and there's a romance, too.  It's sweet and so appropriate and no one was a complete tool about saying those three little words when it was necessary to say those three little words.

There's only one thing that I didn't like about this book and that I felt very bashed-over-the-head by discussions of gender roles and class roles and how men act versus how women act.  It felt too modern for my taste in Regencies and I think I felt this way because it seemed to occur during one single arc very early in the book when Eleanor dresses in drag to go to the gambling hell.  We lost the majority of the gender tension - even though some of the scene was very funny - and I think maybe the discussions could have spread out through the book.  Just to be a bit more subtle.  But that's a minor thing in a really fun book.

Forever Your Earl is available now, wherever books are sold, AND for those of you who really like it, the next book in the series, Scandal Takes the Stage, will be available at the end of October!

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this novel from the publisher via Edelweiss.

22 September 2015

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson (The Gold Seer Trilogy #1)

Summary from Goodreads:
The first book in a new trilogy from acclaimed New York Times-bestselling author Rae Carson. A young woman with the magical ability to sense the presence of gold must flee her home, taking her on a sweeping and dangerous journey across Gold Rush–era America. Walk on Earth a Stranger begins an epic saga from one of the finest writers of young adult literature.

Lee Westfall has a secret. She can sense the presence of gold in the world around her. Veins deep beneath the earth, pebbles in the river, nuggets dug up from the forest floor. The buzz of gold means warmth and life and home—until everything is ripped away by a man who wants to control her. Left with nothing, Lee disguises herself as a boy and takes to the trail across the country. Gold was discovered in California, and where else could such a magical girl find herself, find safety?

Rae Carson, author of the acclaimed Girl of Fire and Thorns series, dazzles with the first book in the Gold Seer Trilogy, introducing a strong heroine, a perilous road, a fantastical twist, and a slow-burning romance, as only she can.

YA series are the worst series to start when only partially finished.  The best ones leave you salivating for more and the first book in Rae Carson's new trilogy, The Gold Seer, is no exception.

So...hands up, who played Oregon Trail on a PC in the 1990s, 8-bit graphics and all?  And died, a lot?  Seriously, I never ONCE made it to Oregon. I always caught cholera or got bit by a rattlesnake or the oxen died or I ran out of water....clearly, I would never survive in IRL wilderness let alone a 19th century wagon train.

The heroine of Walk on Earth a Stranger, Leah, must disguise herself as Lee-the-boy to escape her nefarious uncle (not a spoiler) and join a wagon train headed to Gold Rush-era California.  With her best friend, Jefferson McCauley, of course.  Leah must also protect her gold-sensing ability - she's like a dowser but instead of divining water, she can divine specks of gold dust.  The route from her small town in Georgia to the gold fields of California is hard and dangerous.  There are thieves (maybe one of them was sent to find her), disease, starvation, bad water, racist jerks, and a Micawber of-sorts but far less good-hearted than the real Micawber (those of you who've read Dickens's David Copperfield, I'll let you work that one out).  But Lee grows from a fifteen-year-old girl running for her life into a competent, strong woman through her journey.

Walk on Earth a Stranger is a change from Carson's previous trilogy, Girl of Fire and Thorns.  Those books were straight-up fantasy based around the premise of god-chosen individuals in a medieval Spanish-like setting who are expected to perform miracles; the heroine, Elisa, must save her adopted country from usurping dictators and balance the flow of magic and religion between two races and religions.  Walk on Earth a Stranger could remain a solid historical fiction series with the exception of Lee's gold-divining ability.  The historical research is A-plus without bashing the reader over the head with obvious details.  The secondary characters are memorable and diverse.  Carson allows real events like menstruation and childbirth to happen in real time as perfectly normal things (this is important - real girls get periods and real women worried about dying in childbirth so the fact that these are presented as issues one might run into while disguised as a boy or travelling as a woman in a wagon train to California is a way to firmly root characters in reality.  Side note: Lee isn't the pregnant one, before y'all start freaking out).

I loved the heck out of this book.  Walk on Earth a Stranger is well-plotted, perfectly paced to keep you reading, and formed around a kick-ass young woman who learns to be an adult in one of the harshest environments imaginable.  This first book in the Gold Seer Trilogy wraps up nicely, but I really hope we don't have long to wait for the second and then the third.

Walk on Earth a Stranger is available today, September 22, 2015, wherever books are sold.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

15 September 2015

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Summary from Goodreads:

HA! I'm not posting one (reasons).

So, back when I was moderating Barnes and Noble book discussions online, I was given an opportunity to read an advance copy of a debut novel, The Monsters of Templeton, and participate in a discussion with the author, Lauren Groff.

Of course, I said yes.

Unfortunately, I wound up bailing on the book after about 20 pages.  I didn't like the main character, didn't have any patience for her supposed "problem" (I have a rule about sleeping with bosses, mentors, advisees, etc. for good reasons, many of them), and the monster of the title had yet to make an appearance.  When Arcadia appeared a few years ago, I read the blurb and didn't feel inspired to try it out.

Hence, we come to Fates and Furies.  Everyone whose reading tastes I respect read the advances and gushed.  Gushed so much.  And yet no one was really giving reviews or talking about the plot.  Just that the rest of us should read Fates and Furies as soon as possible.

So I took that very good advice, surfed on over to Edelweiss, skipped reading the cover copy, downloaded the DRC, and read the heck out of Fates and Furies while on a plane ride last week.

This is a good book, a minutely observed portrait of a marriage between Lotto and Mathilde and all the ways in which good marriages work and how good marriages can mess up and how spouses can not know or not know each other.  And that is literally all I have to say about the plot, because I think the blurb/summary might give away too much.

What I really loved about this book is the structure.  How and when Groff chooses to allow the narrator to comment on the characters.  What parts are structured as a script.  Where the timelines shift back and forth.  And where Groff drops a gear and changes the entire key of the novel.  That is what I really, really liked about this book.

So go out and acquire Fates and Furies from your local bookstore, your ebook retailer, or beat feet to your library before everyone else does.  Put it in your head.  As for me, I'm willing to try Arcadia now or give Monsters of Templeton another shot.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.