30 June 2012

So, I won some books...

Quite a while ago. I completely forgot to post about them and thank the very lovely person/people who sent them.  (And then they got put under my desk for "safekeeping" - my office is a mess.)

Back during the Spring Bloggiesta bloggers who signed up were entered to win either of two grand prize packs (of books, obviously). Me being me, I forgot about it completely. I was having fun with Bloggiesta and was getting a lot accomplished. Go figure.

And then Danielle emailed me to tell me I won the Walden Pond Press pack.

Color me surprised!!  Thank you so, so much!

These are all really popular/well-written MG/YA books that I've considering reading.

I have no choice now!  And I can't wait until I can share them with my nieces (they're six, and they can read, so they're getting sooooo close.

In order top to bottom the books are:
Thanks so much again to Danielle and Walden Pond Press!!

20 June 2012

All Your Base Are Belong to Us

I'm not really a gamer. This is by choice because strategy and sim games are like crack or online gambling to me (not shooters, those aren't very interesting to my brain) - I can't stop once I start. The first time I played Civilization II with my then-boyfriend we were up for 36 hours straight to finally "win" it in some capacity. Rollercoaster Tycoon and SimCity sucked up my time - more rides, more Sims. I actually contemplated calling in sick to work once because a puzzle in Myst II had me so worked up I couldn't concentrate on anything else (I have yet to play Myst IV).

So I know about bits of gaming, even if it's not a major part of my life any more.  Hey, I grew up in the 80s, I had an Atari.

I like the breadth that Goldberg covers in All Your Base Are Belong to Us, all the way from Tennis for Two up to the early part of 2010 (right before the Angry Birds onslaught) and the glimpses inside the creative processes for video game innovators. Goldberg, for all that he's an insider, having worked at Sony Online, etc., pulls no punches with the realities of funding, creating, and releasing innovative, immersive, best-selling games. It provides some perspective to seeming rags-to-riches underdog stories.

What I didn't really like about the writing style was the uneven feel. One section would be more technical with regards to the business side or computing side of the story, the next would be filled with effusive fan-boy accolades, and the next would consist of conversation (Goldberg conducted over 200 hours of interviews with many of the game makers). It was a bit whiplash-like. There are no graphics (at least not in the ebook I read) and that, for me, was a bit hard because sometimes I couldn't recall the graphics for a game from 20 years ago. Liscensing and copyright probably contributed to that absence, but it would have been nice

15 June 2012

The Truth About the Duke: Books One and Two

Caroline Linden's new series, The Truth About the Duke, was recommended to me by someone...possibly Eloisa James's BN column or her twitter feed, I don't remember which.  The premise for the series caught my attention immediately: 

The recently deceased Duke of Durham his left a doozy of a mess for his three sons: a blackmailer who insinuates that the Duke was once married as a young man (long before he ever knew he was the heir to the dukedom), never divorced/had the marriage annulled, and the unknown lady may have still been alive when he married his duchess.  Le scandale!!  The inheritance is thrown up in question and the future of the de Lacey's hangs in the balance.

Now Edward, the second son, is the man with the head for business and legal affairs, and he decides to spearhead their legal case.  To that end he hires London's top attorney away from the widowed Lady Francesca Gordon.  Francesca is, predictably, upset because she needs the attorney to help her gain custody of her niece (she is convinced that the girl is being mistreated by her step-mother).  Edward also makes the mistake of confiding in his empty-headed fiancee who promptly tells her father who sells the story to the press, leading to the scandalous Durham Dilemma as it is soon called.  When an angry Francesca confronts him, Edward has no choice but to help her find her niece, solving Francesca's problems while preparing evidence that the de Lacey sons hold the best claim to the dukedom (as opposed to their pompous cousin from some lesser branch).  Although Edward is a hard man to read at times - all logic and precision - the more time he and Francesca spend together the more they come to like each other.  Well, you know, One Night in London....

I liked how Linden brought together pieces of the Durham Dilemma puzzle, not enough to solve the mystery but enough by the end of the book for Edward to pass it off the Charles (who is an annoying lazybones for much of the book), and brought Francesca's custody case to a nice end without death-defying fireworks of any sort.  It allowed the romance plot to come to the forefront.  Very nice.

Dashing Captain Gerard de Lacey, the youngest brother, takes it upon himself to track down the blackmailer in Bath (evidence points to the spa town).  First, though, he keeps an assignation at an inn where he receives a surprising but welcome offer, a marriage of convenience to a rich ridow, an act he had been considering on the off-chance the brothers lose the court case.  Lady Katherine Howe married up, a number of levels up from her country beginnings, to a womanizing viscount in need of her sizeable dowry.  Now that the odious husband is deceased, she is being pressured by her mother and nephew-by-marriage to marry the heir - the nephew, obviously - for her still-very large fortune.  Kate has nursed a tendre for Gerard for years, ever since he gave her a ride home on his horse during a rain storm, and she feels that, if she must marry again for convenience, it might as well be him.  Besides, as all the gossip has it, he may be in need of a fortune soon if his brother doesn't inherit.  Gerard accepts her offer, the two are married, and soon ensconced in Bath: Kate to worry whether Gerard will leave her behind in England and return to his regiment and Gerard to track down his blackmailer.  We'll just Blame it on Bath.

Kate is an interesting character.  She is convinced she's sexually unappealing - her mother constantly says so, she's been led to believe that drab, unshapely dresses "suit" her (also, by said mother who fears losing male attention to her daughter), and all this goes to "prove" why her first husband kept a string of expensive mistresses and condemned his young wife to a barren, empty bed.  What a treat to watch as Kate gradually emerges from her shell.  She learns to like shopping and enjoy pretty things, she starts to move a little more in society, to have friends, and, although there's a little set-back when Mommie Dearest arrives (awful old bat, and, much as I would have sent her packing, its understandable why Mommie Dearest's mental abuse undoes some of Kate's progress) Gerard manages to convince her that she's more than attractive.  Gerard is a bit of a departure, too.  Although it's obvious he's a gorgeous, appealing, charming man in a military uniform he also has a rock-solid decency (think Captain Frederick Wentworth from Austen's Persuasion) and he sets out to please Kate even when he doesn't quite understand her reticence.  There are also some funny bits that remind me of scenes from another Austen novel, Northanger Abbey.  The blackmail letters/ledger plot was a bit convoluted - I still don't understand how Durham could have been legally married if the priest didn't have a license - but it got another piece of the puzzle for Charles.

The concluding book, The Way to a Duke's Heart, will publish in August.  In the meantime, one can enjoy the novella I Love the Earl - a Georgian prequel in which the story of the de Laceys' formidable Aunt Margaret's whirlwind romance is recounted.

12 June 2012

Venetia: a mini-review (and audiobook)

So, I have a thing for Richard Armitage.  The man if flippin' gorgeous, oh. my. god.  He has these eyes and this really direct gaze and his voice.... *yowza*

(sorry, puddles on the floor don't have fingers to type, hang on)

Venetia was recommended to me as a great Georgette Heyer read.  Then I noticed this little audiobook in the catalogue read by Richard Armitage.  Even though this was an abridgement I couldn't pass it up.  Richard Freakin' Armitage.

It was a really good abridgement because there didn't seem to be any missing chunks of plot.  Armitage has a great voice, expecially in his "Damerel/Rake" voice, mrrgrrrrmmm....  His ladies' voices weren't too bad, either, although sometimes they may have been unintentionally funny.

Loved the character of Aubrey - just a perfect, self-centered little brother.

I did some checking and it doesn't seem like this has been adapted for television/movies.  Someone get one that - Heyer is pretty dialogue heavy so easily adapted.  Then you can cast Richard Armitage as Damerel for everyone to enjoy. 

I have the audiobook of Sylvester as well - also narrated by Armitage.  I can hardly wait.

(I am torn over Armitage's casting in The Hobbit - he's in The Hobbit (yay!) but he's playing a dwarf (so covered in SFX make-up/hair) but it's Thorin (yay!).)

10 June 2012

Regency Buck

In between reading Devil's Cub and the first chapter of An Infamous Army, I realized that part of a generation got skipped between the two.  And that a number of characters were introduced in another of Heyer's books - Regency Buck.  Thanks to the UI's extensive library collection, I was able to lay hands on a copy of the Taverners' tale.

Judith and her brother Peregrine, used to living in York, are determined to move to London, with or without their guardian's consent.  They've never met him and he has yet to visit them after their father's death several months before.  On the journey south, they cross paths with an imperious London dandy...only to find that their esteemed guardian the Earl of Worth, whom they thought to be an elderly gentleman, is that same London buck, Julian St. John Audley.

To whom Judith took an instant dislike since he more-or-less propositioned her in their confrontation.  Ew.

Over the course of the London Season, Judith becomes a darling of the ton and sets her own fashion (like driving her own phaeton) while butting heads with Julian at every turn.  The Royal princes (including Prinny) take an interest in her.  This is where the plotting gets interesting.  Someone starts trying to kill Perry (a duel, a robbery, poisoned snuff) and Heyer does an excellent job at keeping the reader guessing until the reveal.

Now, Regency Buck brings to a head one major issue I have with the Heyer novels I've read so far.  She writes excellent dialogue, the plotting is engaging, and her historical research is top-notch (Brummel and the Prince Regent feature prominently) but her characters' relationships are almost an afterthought.  She sets up her hero-heroine couple in very obvious fashion but the reader is thrown little in the way of inner monologues or confessions of affection until almost the last second.  Having read Regency Buck through, I can look back and pick out instances where Julian and Judith show an attraction, but I had trouble catching them on the first read.  The couple didn't need to preciptately jump into bed but I would have appreciated some musing by Judith that perhaps she is starting to care for Lord Worth.

Righty-ho, now I can read An Infamous Army - centering on Julian's brother, Charles, and Dominic's granddaughter, Bab.

09 June 2012

My hobbies are expensive!

I was listening to an old Bookrageous podcast the other week and Rebecca made a comment that reading is her hobby - she spends money on her hobby.

Well...my hobbies are expensive.  And, let me tell you, yarn is hard to pass up (books, too, but that's another story)! Between this weekend and the last I'm pretty sure I've gone past SABLE (stash acquisition beyond life expectancy) at the rate I've been knitting.

Last week's trip to The Knitting Shoppe yielded two skeins of Mountain Colors Crazyfoot:



Today I stopped by Home Ec Workshop for a bit of fabric and to eyeball their yarn selection.  Eyeballing turned to buying of course.

I'm intending to make more drawstring bags for storing bits and bobs. when I'm using my totebags so I picked up two cotton prints:

I also picked up a sweet little print to use in a gift for my new little nephew (his room has an elephant theme):

This is from a Japanese company whose name I didn't quite catch but all their prints were terribly whimsical and sweet.

And then I got captured by the yarn.  I couldn't pass up this beautiful colorway from madelinetosh:

This is Tosh Sock in Robin's Egg.  Perfectly evocative of an actual robin's nest.

I also was captured by a beautiful lace-weight from Juniper Moon Farm.

Findley in the Bloom colorway.  I am in love.  I had just finished reading through the new Interweave Knits' publication Jane Austen Knits Summer 2012 issue and found a beautiful shawl pattern: Anne Eliot's Fichu.  They used A Verb for Keeping Warm's Requilary II but I think it'll look gorgeous in Findley.

It's mine.  Mine, mine, mine.

Sorry.  Yarn fumes.  I gotta put my credit cards in a vault or something before I get anywhere near a yarn store in the future.  Ack!  But it's fun!

07 June 2012

Devil's Cub

Having read Justin and Leonie's exploits, I continued with their son, Dominic's - and he may be an even worse rogue than his father. He's pretty blase about most things, a picture of aristocratic boredom. And then he abducts a young lady of good breeding....oops.  If he's the son of Satanas, then he must be Devil's Cub.

Well, back up.  Mary Challoner wasn't the desired object.  Her flighty, greedy, ill-mannered sister Sophia enticed Dominic to arrange an assignation (Sophia thinks that will force him to marry her, Dominic thinks otherwise since she's behaving like a trollop).  Mary steals away on the carriage in Sophia's place - to save the family character, so to speak - and winds up under Dominic's protection.  And he intends to marry her...but Mary is rather wary of the whole heir-to-the-Duke-of-Avon thing.

The plot of this novel is more complicated than that of These Old Shades.  There are more characters, old and new, and more complications so instead of a nice straight road there are more than a few switchbacks.  I literally could NOT put it down, though, even when the plotting got a little crazy.  In the penultimate chapter, when Mr. Comyn started explaining what happened in Dijon, and Rupert kept interrupting, I was ready to shake the book until it's teeth rattled. Like a person. Oy.

(view spoiler)My favorite scene in the entire book is the one where Mary pours out the whole story and all her concerns to the "noble gentleman" who comes to her assistance in the wilds of France...he turns out to be the Duke of Avon and lays all her fears to rest.  It was a really nice section of dialogue.  Related to this, I found it interesting that had Sophia gone with Dominic as planned, in no way would the family have allowed Dominic to marry her - a scheming little brat. Avon would have let her rot. But once it was established that Mary was sensible - and could "handle" Dominic, which I suppose shooting him in the arm and tossing a pitcher of water on him demonstrates - Avon had no compunction regardng Dominic's marriage with her.  Sort of a double-standard since they both have the same grandfather who is acquainted with Avon...I guess the thought would be that while Sophia obviously got the mother's vulgarity, Mary got the Challoner gentility through her father's bloodline - very Pride and Prejudice (Jane/Lizzy vs. Kitty/Lydia).

Next up: Regency Buck (I was going to read An Infamous Army next, but it turns out that half the hero/heroine couple are got out of Regency Buck so I'll have to pick that one up next instead)

06 June 2012

Sarah MacLean: Love by Numbers

Having read a number of romance authors, and following them around on the Internet (sorry), I kept hearing about Sarah MacLean.  She wrote great dialogue, had strong women as heroines.  Ok, I thought, I'll give her a shot.

So I started with the Love by Numbers trilogy, Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake.  Quite a mouthful, that title, but such a great opening chapter.  Lady Calpurnia Hartwell is not having a good debut season - she's the opposite of willowy beauty (i.e. generously endowed) and is saddled with a mother who has a decidedly atrocious fashion sense ("looks like a furry banana" is one of the funniest lines).  At yet another disappointing ball Callie runs out to the garden - only to encounter the Marquess of Ralston, Gabriel St. John.  Rake, womanizer, good for no young lady's reputation, but Ralston provides Callie with an interlude to fill her dreams for years and a nickname: Empress.  Which is why Callie, when she decides to push the boundaries with a list of nine things "forbidden to ladies" she wants to try (fence, shoot, smoke a cheroot, drink whiskey, dance every dance at a ball, gamble, attend a duel, etc.), Ralston makes a bargain with her: he will help her complete her list as long as she provides guidance in the ton for his half-sister (actually, he blackmails her into it once he unmasks her at the fencing club but it leads to a delicious scene in his club).

A fun read - perhaps the wager plot was a bit much but it served a function.  Fictional Callie is much like many modern young women who believe that just because they aren't thin or ascribe to the current fashion (and others re-inforce those ideas) they have no sexual appeal. Combined with the rigid rules of Regency society it creates a mindset that just about says "death" to self-esteem. MacLean gives Callie a "to do" list that is just this side of random - it's not just about breaking rules, it's about seeing how the other half lives.  I did miss Ralston playing the piano again - he's playing when Callie goes to his house the first time and it's mentioned that he plays well, but he doesn't play again for her in the novel. It would have been nice as a sense of closure at the end of the book.

Book two, Ten Ways to be Adored When Landing a Lord, belongs to Lord Nicholas St. John, Ralston's twin brother.  Poor man, he's been named London's most eligible bachelor and it's driving him mad.  When his friend the Duke of Leighton asks him to look into the disappearance of his sister Nick jumps at the chance to get the heck out of Dodge.  The trail leads him to York, a collection of priceless marbles, and the prickly, fiercely independent mistress of Minerva House, Lady Isabel Townsend. Lady Isabel is in a pickle - her wastrel father has just died, has wagered her hand for one hundred pounds (and lost), and she is desperately in need of money to take care of her little brother and keep her dream alive (Minerva House is the Regency version of a women's shelter).  Conveniently for the plot, Leighton's sister turns up at Minerva House, determined to stay hidden from her brother and Nick.

This plot is much more tangled than Nine Rules and Isabel is a much less automatically-likeable heroine.  I just wanted to shake her until her teeth chattered.  Not all men are like her shitty father and all those other fathers and husbands who drive their battered women to seek shelter at Minerva House.  And certainly not Nick.  He keeps at it until Isabel realizes her mistake and wins him back.

Now the third book, Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart, is not my favorite book of the trilogy and, for this reason, ends the series on a weak note.  The Duke of Leighton, one Simon Peason, lives in fear of scandal.  The only thing that counts is reputation - which is why he essentially abandons his sister at the end of the previous book for a) being pregnant and unmarried and b) refusing to name her baby-daddy so he could force her into some horrible marriage to save face.  Leighton's nickname is the Duke of Disdain.  Catchy...and not endearing.  He's irresistibly drawn to Juliana Fiori, Ralston and Nick's half-sister, who is a walking "scandal" by simply being a commoner and the daughter of a fallen woman (and she's borderline legitimate, since there is some question as to whether her parents were actually married or if dear Mummie was a bigamist).  Therefore, Leighton behaves like a total dirtbag toward Juliana even if simultaneously he'd like to have his way with her.  For a good portion of the book.  He gets engaged to the perfectly respectable, titled, monied marquess's daughter his mother chooses while kissing Juliana senseless.  Repeat ad nauseum.  When Leighton's dirty laundry is aired in public (thanks to his sister), he suddenly develops the need to express his love for Juliana publically.  Luckily, his perfectly lovely fiancee - who conveniently doesn't love him - breaks the engagement to allow him his happy ending. It's a pretty miraculous emotional one-eighty.  And, sad to say, it was far too late for the change to endear me to him.  Juliana I quite liked (she reminded me of Ziva from NCIS with her language barrier) but Leighton...no way.spoiler)  (Side note: what did Ralston do with their prodigal mother? Last we saw her she was waiting judgement at Nicholas's townhouse but I never could find anything regarding what he decided to do with her. I'd have parked her on the first boat back to the Continent.)

MacLean's next book is A Rogue by Any Other Name and, despite Eleven's issues, I look forward to reading it.

02 June 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

Snow White and the Huntsman had me when Charlize Theron got cast as the evil queen.  I mean, seriously - she's absolutely gorgeous and she got the Oscar for playing Eileen Wournos.  Shit just got real.  Admittedly, I was not as enthusiastic about KStew playing Snow White.  She looks the part, granted, but I haven't been impressed with her acting since Speak and that's going back a ways.  The rest of the cast (Chris Hemsworth, Sam Claflin, and the always-ready-to-play-a-supporting-Dad-role Vincent Regan) had me intrigued.

And then the stills were released - yes, this was an opening weekend movie for me.

I really liked it.  Yes, the story is predictable, and, yes, KStew didn't blow me out of the water with her acting but it was better than her performances in the Twilight films.  But Charlize Theron makes this movie - she's not just a bat-shit crazy queen, behind all that she's a woman determined to never let a man rule her again, obsessed with beauty as her only "power".  There's a depth to the character that isn't seen in the fairy tale.

The cinematography was excellent.  There was an amazing shot of the castle in the morning light.  It had to be a composite - the sun on the water was real but the castle had to be CGI - and you really couldn't tell the difference.  The SFX work with the "glass" soldiers was inspired and this movie needs an Oscar nomination at minimum for the make-up work on Charlize Theron.  I also liked they way the fairy tale was manipulated to be less prince-saves-princess and more princess-saves-her-own-skin (with the exception of the kiss to wake her up, but there's a twist on that, too) and the set-up of a love triangle.

I have a few quibbles.  One, the overt Christian/Catholic religion stuff clashed badly with the overt paganistic/child-of-nature overtones and also went nowhere.  If you're going to have Snow White say the Lord's Prayer and have cardinals at her coronation, then throw in a priest or two trying to condemn Ravenna as a witch or something.  Two, the Ravenna's castle take-over makes little sense timeline wise - wouldn't it be better to wait until the wedding guests leave?  Then you can kill the King in private and no one is the wiser...unless you're a bat-shit crazy evil queen with a revenge streak a mile wide (I guess this is less of a quibble and more of a logistics thing).  Three, I find it ridiculous that they did face-replacement, etc. to put normal-height actors' faces on little peoples' bodies.  I recognized Eddie Marsan, Nick Frost, Ian McShane, etc. but their presence didn't seem integral to their parts.  There had to be eight (or more) male actors of the little people persuasion available - if Willow can find a whole movie full, there have to be enough for Snow's dwarves (hey, Mirror, Mirror managed).

1. House at the End of the Street - Jennifer Lawrence, suitably creepy, not quite ready to view Elizabeth Shue as a mom of a teenager.
2. Step Up Revolution - the story is secondary to the dancing, definitely a talent showcase for different dance forms (and it looks slick)
3. Katy Perry: Part Of Me - I dunno...meh?
4. Les Miserables - um, heck yes!  I am a little worried about Russell Crowe as Javert...will Stars be the same?  (and no, Taylor Swift is NOT Eponine)
5. The Bourne Legacy - Jeremy Renner!  Looks like a great action flick

01 June 2012

These Old Shades

I've been meaning to read Heyer for some time - An Infamous Army was recc'd to me ages ago in my Literature by Women group but I never got around to it. Then come to find out it's part of the Alastair trilogy...guess I better start with the first one.

Which is These Old Shades. It's Georgian, set mostly in Paris (and French environs, with a jaunt to England), and opens with the main character, Justin Alastair, the Duke of Avon, buying a teenage (but rather delicate-looking) boy from his boorish/criminal (?) elder brother. Justin is rather struck by the similarity of the boy, Leon, to someone (an enemy) he knows and he makes Leon his page.

Leon is rather devoted to Justin.

Everyone thinks Justin is an awful person - apparently he tried to kidnap a young lady to make her marry him?  And his nickname is "Satanas"....  In reality he's probably no more or less awful than anyone else, he just doesn't make nice to everyone.  Sure, he likes visiting his mistress and lives an extravagant lifestyle but he's not nasty.  He strikes me as a prettier version of the Vicomte de Valmont from Les Liaisons Dangereuses - rich, powerful, disdainful, and would rather die than have everyone realise he has a kind heart under all that. He's quite the pattern-card for historical romance rakes everywhere.

And then Leon turns out to be far more than just a pretty page with red hair - he's really Leonie, and she has quite a story.

Heyer doesn't dwell on her characters' inner monologues. No one ponders their feelings unless it's integral to the plot. She does everything through dialogue (except the clothing descriptions - those are rather detailed). As such, the marriage plot sort-of comes out of left field at you. I knew it was coming but I was still surprised because neither character had expressed a great deal of strong emotion of that nature (Leonie yelling "bah" all the time isn't really a strong emotion).

You can tell this is an older book not by Heyer's style but by what she leaves out. There are bits and pieces of Leonie's story left to the imagination: when she details life with her "brother" a significant chunk is glossed over so the reader is never fully informed as to what she went through between the ages of 12 and 19. Justin is suitably angry, but the reader is left to imagine.  Were this a novel written in 2012 the reader would get all the gory details.  (I would have liked footnotes - you hear me, Sourcebooks?  My French isn't very good so I would appreciate footnotes for the less-obvious French phrases.)

Now, for those who find the style had to get through - keep going. The denouement is a great stroke of genius and very much worth the reading to get there.

Next up for my Heyer reading: Devil's Cub