31 December 2013

Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals of Love & Karaoke

Summary from Goodreads:
Turn Around Bright Eyes picks up Sheffield's story right after Love Is a Mix Tape. He is a young widower devastated by grief, trying to build a new life in a new town after his wife's death. As a writer for Rolling Stone, he naturally takes solace in music. But that's when he discovers the sublime ridiculousness of karaoke, and despite the fact that he can't carry a tune, he begins to find his voice. His karaoke obsession takes him to some strange places, whether that means singing a Frank Sinatra song in a senior-citizen community in Florida, attempting a Merle Haggard classic at a cowboy saloon in the Mojave desert, or clearing the room at an after-hours dive in Chinatown. But he finds the music leads him to the most surprising place of all--a new life and a new love.

Turn Around Bright Eyes is a story about finding the courage to start over, move on, and rock the mike. It's about falling in love and navigating your way through adult romance. It's about how you can learn the weirdest things about yourself just by butchering a Hall & Oates song at 2 A.M. under fluorescent lights in a room full of strangers. It's about how songs get tangled up in our deepest emotions, evoking memories of the past while inspiring hope for the future. But most of all, it's a book about all the strange ways music brings people together.

Sweet, funny, honest, and full of the music you love, hate and love to hate, Turn Around Bright Eyes is Rob Sheffield at his very best.

After jumping back to Sheffield's teenage years with Talking to Girls About Duran Duran he comes back to his adult life.  Love is a Mix Tape was a rip-your-heart-out-and-ugly-cry memoir about how he met his first wife and lost her suddenly to an aneurysm.  Turn Around Bright Eyes starts in that lost post-grief space and covers how music, specifically karaoke, held him together. It reads like a cross between memoir and music reporting (which is fun, because he writes for Rolling Stone). This is a very sweet and tender story, his writing about this tall, skinny white dude belting out "Crazy in Love" or "Church of the Poison Mind" in a seedy karaoke joint and telling us he really can't sing for realz but there is just something transformative about karaoke that makes him get up and do it.  (He gets a lot of props from me because I have only done karaoke a few times and, as a singer, sucked balls at it and so never wanted to try it again.) Also, I'd love to meet his second wife because she sounds awesome.

Start Here, Volume 2

Summary from Barnes and Noble:
There are so many fantastic authors and great books out there that sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin. Start Here solves that problem; it tells you how to read your way into 25 amazing authors from a wide range of genres--from classics to contemporary fiction to comics. Start Here Vol. 2 helps by showing you how to read your way into 25 amazing authors from a wide range of genres--from classics to contemporary fiction to comics.  Each chapter presents an author, explains why you might want to try them, and lays out a 3- or 4-book reading sequence designed to help you experience fully what they have to offer. It’s a fun, accessible, informative way to enrich your reading life.  Each chapter is written with expertise and passion to help you get started reading authors you’ve always wanted to try.

Includes chapters on reading your way into:
Alan Moore
Anne Carson
Charles Portis
China Mieville
Colum McCann
Daniel Woodrell
Dave Eggers
David Mitchell
Dorothy Parker
Douglas Coupland
Flannery O'Connor
George Orwell
Isaac Asimov
James Salter
Jennifer Egan
John Green
John Steinbeck
Octavia Butler
Philip Roth
Roald Dahl
Salman Rushdie
Toni Morrison
Ursula K. LeGuin
Virginia Woolf
William Faulkner

There isn't much I can say in the way of introduction but if you're looking for more ways to add books to your TBR list and want to find authors that are new-to-you, you can't go wrong with Book Riot's second offering in their Start Here series.  I definitely appreciate the Douglas Coupland chapter, since that's an author that I haven't ever read and wasn't sure where to start.  I love how each contributor has his or her own way of arranging their chapters.

Dear FTC: I was a backer for the Kickstarter (thanks Rebecca) so I received this copy of the ebook for free.

30 December 2013

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore/Ajax Penumbra 1969

Summary from Goodreads:
The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything—instead, they “check out” large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele’s behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends. But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls. Rendered with irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave.

I got to meet Robin Sloane when he was on tour for the paperback release of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore (I had a hardcover that was languishing the TBR stack).  What better than to jump-start a read?

I loved the premise but I was expecting more of a thriller at times.  Every so often I would get a hint great building tension in a scene but then the resolution would back off quite a bit.  And I think the end does fizzle a bit because of this since there isn't anything truly nefarious going on. The plot did keep moving, though, so this was a good read. It's such a geek novel - data visualization, code breaking, programming, etc.

Summary from Goodreads:
It is August 1969. The Summer of Love is a fading memory. The streets of San Francisco pulse to the 
sounds of Led Zeppelin and Marvin Gaye. And of jackhammers: A futuristic pyramid of a skyscraper is rising a few blocks from City Lights bookstore and an unprecedented subway tunnel is being built under the bay. Meanwhile, south of the city, orchards are quickly giving way to a brand-new industry built on silicon.
But young Ajax Penumbra has not arrived in San Francisco looking for free love or a glimpse of the technological future. He is seeking a book—the single surviving copy of the Techne Tycheon, a mysterious volume that has brought and lost great fortune for anyone who has owned it. The last record of the book locates it in the San Francisco of more than a century earlier, and on that scant bit of evidence, Penumbra’s university has dispatched him west to acquire it for their library. After a few weeks of rigorous hunting, Penumbra feels no closer to his goal than when he started. But late one night, after another day of dispiriting dead ends, he stumbles across a 24-hour bookstore, and the possibilities before him expand exponentially . . .

As a bonus, those of us who went to Robin's signing got a little paperback novella titled "Ajax Penumbra 1969".  It's a fun prequel but it should only be read after reading the actual novel or else you'll spoil some things for later (just be prepared for an odd perspective switch from 3rd to 2nd and back in the middle).

29 December 2013

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth

Summary from Goodreads:
A beautifully illustrated book of imaginary fables about Earth's early--and lost--history.

Before our history began, another--now forgotten--civilization thrived. The people who roamed Early Earth were much like us: curious, emotional, funny, ambitious, and vulnerable. In this series of illustrated and linked tales, Isabel Greenberg chronicles the explorations of a young man as he paddles from his home in the North Pole to the South Pole. There, he meets his true love, but their romance is ill-fated. Early Earth's unusual and finicky polarity means the lovers can never touch.

As intricate and richly imagined as the work of Chris Ware, and leavened with a dry wit that rivals Kate Beaton's in Hark! A Vagrant, Isabel Greenberg's debut will be a welcome addition to the thriving graphic novel genre.

Who likes beautifully illustrated books?  I know I do!  I took one look at Isabel Greenberg's The Encyclopedia of Early Earth and I just knew that I had to have it.  A fabulous collection of "myths" that feel derived from Native American legends that center on a Nord man and South Pole woman who cannot touch because of their opposing magnetic fields.  One would think that might be cause for a break-up, but no.  The artwork is so enjoyable, largely through a limited color palette, and I loved the typeface created for the writing/dialogue.

'Tis the Season: I got your anecdata here

Holidays are winding down.  The store is filthy from winter mess, covered with bargain bins and half-off signs, and full of customers.

The cutest customers ever were two teen sisters (maybe twins - at most only 1 year apart) who share a room because they converted the other bedroom into a library.  A library.  The whole room is filled with books.  They were in spending Christmas book-buying money (and think about the buying power when there are two of you and you can pool your money since you like similar things) and having a hoot while doing it.  So cool.

I had a customer looking for I am Malala.  To my surprise (and delight), it turned out that we had sold out on Christmas Eve and were waiting for more stock.  I may have done the "yes!" thing a little too enthusiastically.
Customer: Why are you so happy that you're out of Malala's book?
Me (oops, that probably didn't look so good): Oh, sorry, not happy that we're out but happy that it sold out.  We sold out of all the conservative-white-dude books earlier this month and got a ton of restock.  But I've been trying to get people to buy more Malala for weeks.  Nice to see that it finally kicked in.
Customer: Awesome.
And we high-fived.  And she ordered it (it'll probably come Monday anyway since we had a boatload on order).

The Fifty Shades of Gray Party Game and expansion packs went in the post-Christmas bargain sale.  In 24 hours we hadn't sold any copies of the actual game but all the expansion packs sold.  Uh.....

And, lastly, here's your anecdata (a term borrowed off Rebecca and Jeff of BookRiot) about using bookstores to browse but buying from Amazon:
I spent the first twenty minutes of my shift yesterday looking for books on Norse language and history for a customer (male, college-age-ish).  We didn't have any language books on Old Norse since those are academic textbooks (he didn't want Norwegian or Swedish language-learning books) but I did eventually find a few books about the history of the Vikings, one of the Eddas, and Bengtsson's The Long Ships (a novel, yes, but well-researched).  I handed the books to the customer...who then took pictures of the covers and bar codes and handed them back.
Me (pretty well stunned, because no one has ever done that in front of me): Do you want me to hold these for you?
Customer: No, I'm just going to buy them on Amazon.
Then he walked out the front door.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you induce a murderous rage in a bookseller.

23 December 2013

The Isle of Youth: Stories

Summary from Goodreads:
Laura van den Berg’s gorgeous new book, The Isle of Youth, explores the lives of women mired in secrecy and deception. From a newlywed caught in an inscrutable marriage, to private eyes working a baffling case in South Florida, to a teenager who assists her magician mother and steals from the audience, the characters in these bewitching stories are at once vulnerable and dangerous, bighearted and ruthless, and they will do what it takes to survive.

Each tale is spun with elegant urgency, and the reader grows attached to the marginalized young women in these stories—women grappling with the choices they’ve made and searching for the clues to unlock their inner worlds. This is the work of a fearless writer whose stories feel both magical and mystical, earning her the title of “sorceress” from her readers. Be prepared to fall under her spell.

I don't know why Laura van den Berg hasn't shown up on my radar before except for the rather glaring reason that I had stopped reading short story collections (one of her previous collections was a Discover pick - oops).  But she just started appearing everywhere I looked on the literary web so I really didn't have an excuse not to pick up a copy of The Isle of Youth.

A lovely, haunting collection comprised largely of female protagonists who feel largely out of sync or out of place in their current role.  A newlywed whose plane crashes on the way to her honeymoon must deal with resurfaced doubts about marriage.  A young woman must care for her little brother while on the run from the cops - and her crazy, prepper father.  Another tries to piece together some part of her brother's life in Antarctica after he dies and yet another goes AWOL with French acrobats as her marriage implodes.  Van den Berg has such precise writing; perhaps not as scalpel-like as Alice Munro but very pared down.

'Tis the Season: Do you know all the capitals in the world?

We are now into the hellish part of the holiday shopping season, the part where people have the most oddball requests and we have zero time in which to fulfill them before Christmas Day.

Sometimes we just get lucky.

Dad (with two teenage girls in tow): Do you have books about Portugal?
Me (Reminder: we are in Iowa): Well....I'm pretty sure we have some travel guides right now.
One of the girls (with a voice to match all her A&F gear):  We want a book about Portugal.
Dad: Like about where the country came from.  We have a themed Christmas and they picked Portugal this year.
Me (WTF, I bet you knew about this more than three days before Christmas, and who is "they" because I want to "have a discussion" with them): Well, let's head over to the history section and see what we have.
Dad: You have a history section?
(Excuse me while my eyes roll out of my head.  So we get to history and lo, there with the books about Spain is one about Lisbon.  It's the only book about Portugal in any way.)
Me: Here you go.  This is about Lisbon, the capital of Portugal.
Dad: Wow, do you know all the capitals in the world?
Me: Probably.  At least most of them.
Other teenage girl: Do you know where we can buy things made in Portugal?

We are the whitest white people ever.  Oy.

22 December 2013

'Tis the Season: "Classics" isn't really a genre

The "Where are your classics?" question is a late-breaker this year.  I hadn't got that one until yesterday when I had three of them.

A sample conversation goes a bit like this:
Customer: Where are your classics?
Me: Well, we don't have a separate section.  Some titles are on a display, but most are in their specific subject arranged by author.  Is there a specific title or type of book you're looking for?
Customer: *blink blink blink* A classic.
Me: *headdesk*

"Classic" really isn't a genre.  If you talk to a Classics major, then you get the Greek and Roman Classics which encompass philosophy, history, and drama.  In more general terms, a classic work of literature is basically something approaching at least 100 years of age and is still read (more or less - this is one of those "definitions" that's become very elastic) and those span every conceivable genre and subject.  Plain old fiction, romance, mystery, science fiction and fantasy, mythology, western, drama, poetry, essays, history, philosophy, cooking, sporting, economics, travel, religion, and on and on and on.

All classics are not alike.  If you want something sort of crazypants and are a Lovecraft (who, depending on definition, is approaching classic author status) fan, then you're probably not going to be over the moon with Dickens.  You'd be happier with Kafka or Stevenson.  If you are easily offended, then don't read DH Lawrence.  If you're looking for something short then Eliot or Milton are not good choices.

So when the bookseller asks if you are looking for a particular book or subject that might happen to be a classic piece of writing don't just say "classic."  We do actually want to help you find something you like (or find something the recipient of your gift will like).  Put some thought into your answers to our questions.  "Anything" doesn't count as an answer.

Otherwise, we'll leave you alone in the corner to cry over the thickness of Don Quixote and War and Peace (and be assured, we have found the thickest copies we have).

21 December 2013

A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition

Summary from Goodreads:
No holiday season would be complete without watching Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Snoopy, and the rest of the Peanuts gang give a forgotten tree a little love, recite the Christmas story, and sing "Silent Night."

For nearly fifty years, since first airing in December 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas has been one of America's most beloved television shows and is a holiday television staple. Every year millions of fans tune in to the Emmy-winning Christmas special featuring Vince Guaraldi's iconic jazz score and Charles Schulz's Peanuts characters as they remind Charlie Brown, and all of us, of the true meaning of Christmas.

A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition is a lushly illustrated tribute to the beloved television classic that takes readers behind-the-scenes of the Peanuts holiday special. It includes the script of A Charlie Brown Christmas, more than two hundred full-color pieces of original animation art, Vince Guaraldi's original score and publication notes for the songs "Christmas Time is Here" and "Linus and Lucy," and a look at the making of the feature from producer Lee Mendelson and original animator, the late Bill Melendez. The two share their personal memories and charming reminiscences on the Christmas special and reflect on their three decades of working with Peanuts creator, Charles M. Schulz.

A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition is a delightful and fitting salute to the holiday special that never fails to deepen your love of Christmas, touch your heart, and give you hope.

There's just something about the Charlie Brown Christmas special.  It's hard not to love Charlie Brown as he despairs over his little sister's letter to Santa, Snoopy as he decorates his doghouse a la that annoying Clark Griswold-like neighbor, Lucy as she bosses everyone around (nothing new there), and Linus as he tells the story of the Nativity all the while holding his security blanket. The Peanuts gang are our old friends.

This lovely memoir/history/mini-biography originally published in 2000, shortly after Charles Schulz's death, brings together Lee Mendelson (producer) and Bill Melendez (animator - who also worked for Disney and Warner Bros) to tell the story of their good friend Sparky and how they managed to bring the Peanuts gang to life on the small screen (despite the misgivings of a few network executives who thought the whole thing would be a bust).  They talked to a few of the now-grown child actors who provided the voices of the characters and include a very nice chapter on Vince Guarini, the Grammy-winning jazz pianist who provided us with the iconic "Linus and Lucy" theme music.  Mendelson also included many pictures and animation stills as well as the sheet music for "Linus and Lucy" and "Christmastime is Here" (if you aren't me and don't already own the score) and the original script for the special.

There's even a little bonus: in the bottom corner of every right-hand page is a little still from the skating scene...flip the pages!!

A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition is a great present for the Charlie Brown enthusiast.

Dear FTC: I received a review copy of this book from !t Books, a division of HarperCollins.

20 December 2013

'Tis the Season: Hey, she's a girl...

I haven't had that many whacktacular customer encounters this season, but I had one on Monday that nearly had me in stitches (when I wasn't steamed).

I was near the front of the store, madly stickering books for the big display there when one of the merch managers came up with a customer (male, mid-50s).
Merch Manager: Well, a lot of women buy this.
And he handed the customer a copy of the new Nicholas Sparks novel.
Customer:  They do, huh?
Merch Manager: Yep.
Customer (points at me): Hey, she's a girl, why don't we ask her?
Me (immediately, and with a touch of the "oh hell no" in my voice): I wouldn't read that.
Customer: You wouldn't?
Me: Nope. Who are you shopping for?
Merch Manager: His wife.
Customer: She's in her fifties, sort of religious but not really, and she's a librarian.
Me: Does she normally like maudlin, weepy romances?
Customer: Oh, no!  No, she wouldn't like that.
Me (HA!):  Well, let me see...Ok, what sorts of things does she like to do?  Does she like outdoorsy things, like camping or sports?
Customer:  She's a girl.
Me (would like to kick him in the shins right about now): Oh now, just because you're a girl doesn't mean you can't like those things....do you think she'd like something quiet and reflective, maybe not religious per se?
Customer: Sure.
And this is how I hand-sold two volumes of Alice Munro short stories (Dear Life and Too Much Happiness - unfortunately, I was out of Hateship Friendship Loveship Courtship Marriage, which is my favorite) on the off-chance that she hadn't jumped into short fiction (he actually wasn't much help beyond the description he had already given me).  Take that, sexism.

14 December 2013

The Secret History

Summary from Goodreads:
Richard Papen arrived at Hampden College in New England and was quickly seduced by an elite group of five students, all Greek scholars, all worldly, self-assured, and, at first glance, all highly unapproachable. As Richard is drawn into their inner circle, he learns a terrifying secret that binds them to one another...a secret about an incident in the woods in the dead of night where an ancient rite was brought to brutal life...and led to a gruesome death. And that was just the beginning....

The Secret History is one of those books that opens with the climax of the action then rewinds to tell the story. You'd think that this wouldn't be compelling but let me tell you, Donna Tartt can tell a story filled with detail like no one else.

Even having read this once before and knowing how all the loose ends tie together, I was unprepared for the level of detail I'd missed on my first reading.  It will likely take a third and maybe a fourth re-read to catch them all.  The details about the twins.  About Henry, about Bunny.  About how we are given some clues to the setting - mid-1980s - but that the protagonists as seen by Richard seem to exist in some time-less void that gives off a vaguely mid-century air.  About how absolutely none of the characters - primary or secondary - are even close to being likeable characters (as Maggie Stiefvater says, they are all terrible people) yet we start to feel sympathy for them against our will.

A fabulous book to wallow in when the weather is nasty and cold.  I finished my re-read of The Secret History during a snowstorm, so now I can move on to The Goldfinch.

07 December 2013

A Sport and a Pastime

Summary from Goodreads:
Twenty-year-old Yale dropout Phillip Dean is traveling Europe aimlessly in a borrowed car with little money, until stopping for a few days in a church-quiet town near Dijon, where he meets Anne-Marie Costallat, a young shop assistant. She quickly becomes to him the real France, its beating heart and an object of pure longing. The two begin an affair both carnal and innocent.

Beautiful and haunting, A Sport and a Pastime is one of the first great American novels to speak frankly of human desire and the yearning for passion free of guilt and shame.

Firstly, thanks to Rebecca Schinsky (currently of Book Riot and late of The Booklady's Blog) for pointing me towards James Salter.  A thousand times, thank you.

Secondly, yes, Virginia, there are some people who can write good sex scenes in the literary fiction genre.  And that man is James Salter.

A Sport and a Pastime has an interesting structure.  We begin by travelling to Dijon with the narrator but when the narrator meets Phillip we really no longer stay with the narrator, we follow Phillip.  It's as if the narrator is obsessed with Phillip.  At times the interest seems fatherly, at times friendly, at times, even, romantically.  This is a very voyeuristic book as the narrator imagines/becomes omniscient during the love scenes with Phillip and Anne-Marie.  There's a lot of very frank sex talk which is interesting because it opens a window on how not only a 1960s privileged college male views sex without marriage, we are also privy to the ways in which a young French woman might view sex (although filtered through Salter's taste, but Salter-as-author seems to be very neutral, almost journalistic in tone).  Salter even plays with the reader's understanding, at one point telling us that nothing that he wrote was true.

An excellent book.  Also one of the first I've read using the Oyster subscription service.  Highly recommend that, too, for it's extensive backlist.

03 December 2013

Hyperbole and a Half

Summary from Goodreads:
This is a book I wrote. Because I wrote it, I had to figure out what to put on the back cover to explain what it is. I tried to write a long, third-person summary that would imply how great the book is and also sound vaguely authoritative--like maybe someone who isn’t me wrote it--but I soon discovered that I’m not sneaky enough to pull it off convincingly. So I decided to just make a list of things that are in the book:

Stories about things that happened to me
Stories about things that happened to other people because of me
Eight billion dollars*
Stories about dogs
The secret to eternal happiness*

*These are lies. Perhaps I have underestimated my sneakiness.

If you don't read Hyperbole and a Half on the web, you should start.  It is HILARIOUS.

Who knew that a stick-type figure could express so many emotions?  (The interpretation of how the dogs think is just a riot.)


01 December 2013

'Tis the Season: Surviving Black Friday

For the first time since starting work as a part-time bookseller, I opened on Black Friday.  It was also the first year the store opened at midnight, so I volunteered to work a 12-hour split shift.

Making dollars, yo.  It actually wasn't so bad.  I lived.  And didn't even really have any nasty customers.

Although I did kind of want to punch the ones who came up to the registers, yawned, then commented about how tired they were and how awful it was that I had to work so early in the morning.

And there was the dude who tried to convince me that the hardcover graphic novel he was holding was the same as a paperback box set advertised as 50% off (because "a graphic novel is called a trade in the business" - direct quote) and, therefore, it should also be 50% off.  Uh, no.  It's 3:30 am and I'm tired, not brain-dead, and since I put up the signs on Wednesday night I know exactly what they say.

A customer informed me that our bathroom wasn't "pretty".  It's a bathroom, not a lounge.  Go down the hall for "pretty" bathrooms.

(it was a display of John Green novels, huzzah for enthusiasm on Black Friday)

Exhausted-looking mom: I need the Richard the III book.
Me:  Ehrrrr....are you looking for the play, a historical novel, or a biography.
Exhausted-looking mom: You mean there's more than one?
(Yup.  Definitely.  After some discussion, she disclosed that it was for her son's high-school English class - process of elimination concluded that he was most likely in need of the Shakespeare play.)

Grumpy mom at the register: This book is $7 at Target. (Holds up new Wimpy Kid book)
Me: I'm sorry, we don't price match.
Grumpy mom: Never?
Me: Never.
(She bought the book - I wanted to high five her kid for whining about how he didn't want to walk alllllllllll the way back to Target and he wanted his book noooooowwwwwww)

So many customers bought JJ Abrams S that I wanted to kiss them all and tell them how much of a sensory experience they were getting or giving. (Yeah, OK, that's a little weird, but you understand.)

Customer:  I need an inspirational book for my little niece.  She's 17 and she doesn't really know what she wants to do or if she wants to go to college.  She's pretty quiet.
Me: *thinks that teenagers hate it when adults try and tell them how to plan their lives* Well, we have a self-improvement section...
(after going through section, we conclude that none would really work)
Me (has a brain wave - this was going on, like, hour 10 of work): Would you like to look at a novel? (Explains all about Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl with much enthusiasm - customer looks over the book and thinks this is a great idea.  Score!)

In my favorite encounter of probably the entire weekend (I worked Friday, Saturday, and Sunday), I helped a mom and her eighth-grade daughter for about thirty minutes.  They were looking for a book to buy that day (car ride) and ideas for later, especially series.  We went through all the YA series - nothing too violent, not too much romance....hmmmmm.  She thought Hunger Games was too scary and Twilight was "gross" (agreed, honey) and she hadn't read more than book 1 in each series; mom thought Divergent would be too scary also (+1 to mom for reading a book ahead of her kid to make an informed decision).  She hadn't read Harry Potter or Rick Riordan - interested, but not really sold on either.  After talking so much with her, it became apparent that she was a really young eighth grade....and she was wearing a GLEE t-shirt.
Me:  Do you...watch GLEE?
Kid:  YES!!!!!  I love GLEE!
Me: Who's your favorite character?
(because I had a feeling...)
Kid:  Kurt!! No, Rachel.  Ok, I like Kurt and Rachel best.
Me:  Did you know that Chris Colfer has started writing a series called Land of Stories?
Kid:  *emits sound in the frequency range of a dog whistle*  NOOOO!!!  HE DID!??!??!
And just like that she had found her book for the day - The Wishing Spell.  I don't think I could have pried it back out of her hands (good thing our scanners at the register can stretch).  Luckily for mom, there's book 2 to purchase for Christmas - I also had them interested in Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles, Cat Valente's Girl Who series, Wonder, and The One and Only Ivan.

29 November 2013

The Sandman: The Dream Hunters/Endless Nights

Summary from Goodreads:
The product of Gaiman's immersion in Japanese art, culture, and history, Sandman: Dream Hunters is a classic Japanese tale (adapted from "The Fox, the Monk, and the Mikado of All Night's Dreaming") that he has subtly morphed into his Sandman universe.

Like most fables, the story begins with a wager between two jealous animals, a fox and a badger: which of them can drive a young monk from his solitary temple? The winner will make the temple into a new fox or badger home. But as the fox adopts the form of a woman to woo the monk from his hermitage, she falls in love with him. Meanwhile, in far away Kyoto, the wealthy Master of Yin-Yang, the onmyoji, is plagued by his fears and seeks tranquility in his command of sorcery. He learns of the monk and his inner peace; he dispatches demons to plague the monk in his dreams and eventually kill him to bring his peace to the onmyoji. The fox overhears the demons on their way to the monk and begins her struggle to save the man whom at first she so envied.

Had the introduction not spoiled it for me, I am sure I would have pegged The Dream Hunters story as having a Japanese origin.  It's such a nice addition to the Sandman series and lends credence to the idea that Dream/Morpheus doesn't not exist solely as a single concept but is viewed in different shapes and forms by different cultures.  Lovely.  Apparently the edition I read has new art, so I want to track down the original to see that version of illustration.

Summary from Goodreads:
Featuring the popular characters from the award-winning Sandman series by best selling author Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Endless Nights reveals the legend of the Endless, a family of magical and mythical beings who exist and interact in the real world. Born at the beginning of time, Destiny, Death, Dream, Desire, Despair, Delirium, and Destruction are seven brothers and sisters who each lord over their respective realms.

This highly imaginative book, the first graphic novel to be listed on the New York Times best-seller list, boasts diverse styles of breathtaking art, these seven peculiar and powerful siblings each reveal more about their true being as they star in their own tales of curiosity and wonder. 

Endless Nights is more like volume six of the Sandman series - Fables and Reflections - in that it pulls together a series of short stories.  It does a lot to fill in some of the gaps about Dream's other siblings.  I'm very glad that Despair's chapter only had fifteen portraits - they were so sad, kudos to the artist.

27 November 2013

Anything That Moves by Dana Goodyear

Summary from Goodreads:
New Yorker writer Dana Goodyear combines the style of Mary Roach with the on-the-ground food savvy of Anthony Bourdain in a rollicking narrative look at the shocking extremes of the contemporary American food world.

A new American cuisine is forming. Animals never before considered or long since forgotten are emerging as delicacies. Parts that used to be for scrap are centerpieces. Ash and hay are fashionable ingredients, and you pay handsomely to breathe flavored air. Going out to a nice dinner now often precipitates a confrontation with a fundamental question: Is that food?

Dana Goodyear’s anticipated debut, Anything That Moves, is simultaneously a humorous adventure, a behind-the-scenes look at, and an attempt to understand the implications of the way we eat. This is a universe populated by insect-eaters and blood drinkers, avant-garde chefs who make food out of roadside leaves and wood, and others who serve endangered species and Schedule I drugs—a cast of characters, in other words, who flirt with danger, taboo, and disgust in pursuit of the sublime. Behind them is an intricate network of scavengers, dealers, and pitchmen responsible for introducing the rare and exotic into the marketplace. This is the fringe of the modern American meal, but to judge from history, it will not be long before it reaches the family table. Anything That Moves is a highly entertaining, revelatory look into the raucous, strange, fascinatingly complex world of contemporary American food culture, and the places where the extreme is bleeding into the mainstream.

I heard about Anything That Moves from Rebecca (of Book Riot and Bookrageous) and I thought this would be an interesting read as the holiday season heated up.  I like to eat good food and enjoy a good meal, so I consider myself a "foodie", but I won't eat just anything.  I was a very picky eater as a child and I'm still a picky eater as an adult (there's a whole category of foods, led by onions, that hate me therefore I hate them back).  However, there is a different aspect of foodie culture that will put just about anything in their mouths ala Anthony Bourdain and Jonathan Gold.  And I mean anything.  But some of these food(-ish) items, while strange to Western/US tables, are standards of cultures particularly in South Asian and Pacific Rim countries.  (A particular food that keeps coming up is "balut" - if Filipino food is not your thing, do not Google this until you put your cast-iron stomach on first.)

Dana Goodyear grew up hunting with her father and so has a willing, adventurous streak to her diet.  She readily jumped into the foodie lifestyle - her style is reminiscent of Mary Roach without the funny footnotes - and brought a very balanced view to the fringes of food culture.  She followed food critic Jonathan Gold who sort-of pioneered the "eating as sport" idea; Ottolenghi and the food culture of Las Vegas; the Rawsome incident/movement; the molecular gastronomy and haute cuisine movements; and dinners that don't occur at "restaurants" (think word-of-mouth private parties) and that serve not only expected food items but also, in one instance, an entire dinner centered around the idea of marijuana as an ingredient (it is a plant, effects of THC aside).  In what was my favorite chapter, she covered the ethics of eating endangered animals in the US where in other countries those animals are still very much on the menu; she also tangentially touches on the issues of using horse meat in the US where horses are often seen as pets rather than livestock as in other parts of the world (this reminded me of how often in historical novels I see the term "cattle" applied to a team of horses).  Goodyear discovered she was pregnant during her research for the book so she also touched briefly on how her own views on eating had to change and whether she should or should not eat certain items because of the baby.

A very quick read but also very informative.  If you're like me, you might want a bottle of Tums during your reading (I did actually feel like I was developing indigestion during one chapter).  If, on the other hand, you're more in the Bourdain camp you will want make a bucket list from all the places and food items that appear in Goodyear's book.

Dear FTC: I borrowed a copy of this book from my store.

26 November 2013

No Good Duke Goes Unpunished (The Rules of Scoundrels #3)

Summary from Goodreads:

A rogue ruined . . .

He is the Killer Duke, accused of murdering Mara Lowe on the eve of her wedding. With no memory of that fateful night, Temple has reigned over the darkest of London’s corners for twelve years, wealthy and powerful, but beyond redemption. Until one night, Mara resurfaces, offering the one thing he’s dreamed of . . . absolution.

A lady returned . . .

Mara planned never to return to the world from which she’d run, but when her brother falls deep into debt at Temple’s exclusive casino, she has no choice but to offer Temple a trade that ends in her returning to society and proving to the world what only she knows . . . that he is no killer.

A scandal revealed . . .

It’s a fine trade, until Temple realizes that the lady—and her past—are more than they seem. It will take every bit of his strength to resist the pull of this mysterious, maddening woman who seems willing to risk everything for honor . . . and to keep from putting himself on the line for love.

There are few things a male of the peerage can do to be permanently ostracized from Good Society - being accused of murdering your father's teenaged bride is one of them. Even though Mara Lowe's body was never found William Harrow, heir to the Duke of Lamont, is assumed to have killed her. After all, he woke up covered in blood and claimed he had no memory of what happened. Thus began his downfall in the ton's eyes. He joined up with Bourne and then became the third partner in The Fallen Angel gaming hell. Temple is the muscle. Any man who can beat Temple in the boxing ring - and none of that proper gentleman's fighting, this is bare-knuckles - will have his debt wiped from the books of The Fallen Angel. Temple has never lost.

One evening, or morning, given the Angel's working hours, Temple meets a woman outside his home. A woman he knows. From his past.

Mara Lowe.

She tries to explain. To ask Temple to help her. Her idiot brother Christopher Lowe, who knew she was alive, has gambled away not only the remains of the family fortune but the money Mara entrusted to him. Money meant to help the boys in her orphanage. He has lost it all to tables at The Fallen Angel. In exchange for Temple's help Mara will tell him what happened that night twelve years ago.

Temple is, rightfully, pissed. He is dangerously angry and beyond wanting an explanation. He wants retribution. He wants all twelve of those years back. He forces Mara into an impossible bargain: he will help her regain her lost finances only if she agrees to reveal herself to the ton and prove that Temple is no murderer. That Mara masterminded the entire plot and ruined his life. And in doing so, she will permanently ruin her own. Retribution.

No Good Duke Goes Unpunished is a different type of installment in Sarah MacLean's Rules of Scoundrels series. Temple and Bourne, though both characters that have been betrayed, each have a different tone to their anger. Bourne's is cold and calculating, with a hint of guilt at his own folly in assisting his downfall. Temple's anger is black, personal, and lethal. He wants to hurt Mara, to make her feel as alone and rejected as he has for years. As such, this book pulls no punches. The little boys Mara is protecting are not just orphans - they are the ton's unwanted by-blows, an unwelcome reminder that a ton male can do (almost) no wrong. When Temple is seriously injured, Chase has Mara imprisoned in The Fallen Angel while Temple's life hangs in the balance. The ton feels almost like a slavering wolf, licking its chops and savoring the taste of a broken reputation. And Mara's past comes to light. Her reason for taking such a drastic step in faking her own death. It is another reminder that women throughout history have little to no power over the disposition of their own bodies. A woman passed from her father's control to her husband's. In Mara's case, from an abusive father to an aristocratic husband who had notoriously chewed his way through wives, obtaining younger and younger spouses in the manner of Bluebeard. By saving herself, Mara accidentally condemned Temple.

In among this darkness, MacLean lets in a little bit of light. Temple gives the little boys at the orphanage lessons in being well-bred gentlemen (standing when a lady enters the room, etc). We meet Violet (not telling who that is). Pippa and Penny both appear. And there is the wonderful heat MacLean kindles between her damaged hero and heroine. Mara isn't an easy character to like. She isn't supposed to be. But the reader has to admire a character with that much backbone and fortitude, to swallow her pride and reveal herself to the person whom she wronged most in the world. Temple and Mara were attracted to each other twelve years ago and the attraction is still there. It's a bit deeper, though, for having been banged up and marred. And, oh, so hot.

Now, there is a little surprise at the very end of the book. Don't spoil it and look, no matter the temptation, no matter how much you've heard that it is amazing. Because it is. And you'll be mad at yourself if you peek. So don't peek. Paperclip the last 10 pages or so to the back cover and read No Good Duke Goes Unpunished from front to back. Then you can read the surprise.

18 November 2013

The Age of Ice

Summary from Goodreads:
An epic debut novel about a lovelorn eighteenth-century Russian noble, cursed with longevity and an immunity to cold, whose quest for the truth behind his condition spans two thrilling centuries and a stunning array of historical events.

St. Petersburg, Russia, 1740. The Empress Anna Ioanovna has issued her latest eccentric order: construct a palace out of ice blocks. Inside its walls her slaves build a wedding chamber, a canopy bed on a dais, heavy drapes cascading to the floor—all made of ice. Sealed inside are two jesters, one a disgraced nobleman, the other a humpback, a performer by birthright. On the Empress’s command—for her entertainment—these two are to be married, the relationship consummated inside this frozen prison. In the morning guards enter to find them half-dead. Nine months later, two boys are born.

Surrounded by servants and animals, Prince Alexander Velitsyn and his twin brother Andrei have an idyllic childhood on the family’s large country estate. But as they approach manhood stark differences coalesce. Andrei is daring and ambitious; Alexander is tentative and adrift. One frigid winter night on the road between St. Petersburg and Moscow, as he flees his army post, Alexander comes to a horrifying revelation: his body is immune from cold.

J. M. Sidorova's boldly original and genre-bending novel takes readers from the grisly fields of the Napoleonic Wars to the blazing heat of Afghanistan, from the outer reaches of Siberia to the cacophonous streets of nineteenth-century Paris. The adventures of its protagonist, Prince Alexander Velitsyn—on a life-long quest for the truth behind his strange physiology—will span three continents and two centuries, and will bring him into contact with an incredible range of real historical figures, from Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, to the licentious Russian Empress Elizaveta, and to English explorer Joseph Billings.

Romantic, thrilling, and rigorously historical, The Age of Ice is one of the most inventive debut novels of the year.

The premise of this novel is so captivating - two children, born of a frozen, loveless wedding ceremony, are endowed with the ability to adapt to cold temperatures.  One, Alexei, is able to pass as "normal"; the other, the narrator Alexander, becomes freezing cold with the onset of any emotion - anger, desire, sadness - becoming so cold while kissing his betrothed that she develops hypothermia and pneumonia. Alexander thus begins his journey to understand why he is the way he is.

The first 100 pages or so of The Age of Ice move quickly and build Alexander's character through his interactions with others.  However, just as Alexander joins the expedition to explore Siberia - the perfect place for a man who suffers no effects from cold to explore his oddities - the book grinds to a halt.  The plot just stagnates as Alexander and the expedition just seem to wander aimlessly.  Alexander even attempts to kill himself by freezing himself in ice.  At least I think that was what he meant to do...it was confusing.  The rest of the book is a tangle of returning to the society of Russian nobility, marrying his dead brother's wife, the Napoleonic wars, and a period of time in the land wars of Afghanistan/Pakistan/India/Great Britain in Central Asia (which then prompted a period of sniggering via Vizzini).  Had I not specifically requested this book for review, it is unlikely I would have finished it.

The author is a cell biologist and so built up a fantastic premise with, what I felt, very little resolution.  The conceit that Alexander, aside from his extreme cold tolerance and ability to control ice, does not age and cannot die felt forced; he only seemed to attempt to freeze himself to death - why not attempt a more violent means of ending one's life?  The later sections where Alexander seems to jump through time to get him to 2007 just add bulk without bringing him understanding.  I'd like to see what the author does in the future - perhaps a collection of short stories where she can play around with some of these odd concepts without having the burden of creating a book-length narrative.

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

11 November 2013

Parnassus on Wheels

Summary from Goodreads:
I imagined him in his beloved Brooklyn, strolling in Prospect Park and preaching to chance comers about his gospel of good books.

"When you sell a man a book," says Roger Mifflin, the sprite-like book peddler at the center of this classic novella, "you don't sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue—you sell him a whole new life." In this beguiling but little-known prequel to Christopher Morley's beloved Haunted Bookshop, the "whole new life" that the traveling bookman delivers to Helen McGill, the narrator of Parnassus on Wheels, provides the romantic comedy that drives this charming love letter to a life in books.

I recently purchased a subscription to Melville House's Art of the Novella series and one of the first books I received was Christopher Morley's The Haunted Bookshop.  I was going to read it right away but then I read the flap copy and it mentioned Parnassus on Wheels...oops!  Maybe I should read that first.

Well, I didn't have one on hand (obviously) but I had also just started subscribing to Oyster, a subscription-style lending library for ebooks.  It has a beautiful iOS app UI and a huge selection of backlist from HarperCollins, HMH MacMillan, and, you guessed it, Melville House.  A quick search brought up Parnassus on Wheels, with its accompanying information tidbits, so I settled in for a quick read.

Parnassus on Wheels is narrated by Helen McGill.  She keeps house for her brother Andrew on their family's farm and, well, she's beginning to get a tiny bit dissatisfied.  One day Roger Mifflin, having heard that Andrew is an author, shows up to sell him the "Parnassus on Wheels" - a horse-drawn caravan-cum-travelling-bookstore - because he wants to retire.  Helen seizes the opportunity and buys the Parnassus herself, determined to have a little adventure before she ages from middle-age to old-age.  Off she goes, after a bit of coaching by Roger, and certainly does have an adventure!  In the end, Helen and Roger fall in love - which is made all the better because, to mis-paraphrase Jane Austen, neither would have ever expected to play the part of romantic hero or heroine.

Throughout, Roger keeps expounding on his love of books and why books and reading are essential to a happy, well-rounded life.  His enthusiasm is infectious.  Parnassus on Wheels is a lovely little book for booklovers of all stripes.  Highly recommended for an evening with a blanket, some tea, and a cat or dog.

Dear FTC: I read this book on my Oyster app.

29 October 2013

National Cat Day! Happy 10th Birthday to my cats!

October 29 is National Cat Day - and my fur babies turned 10 at the beginning of September so here's a little timeline of my babies from ~8 weeks to present.

I think one of the computer crashes wiped a bunch of pictures so I can only find one (ONE! *sob*) picture of the boys as fuzzy little babies in October 2003.

They were so tiny - barely bigger than my hand.  I took this picture the night I got home from the farm where they were born (it was raining like mad, cold, and my friend's elderly father had to come shoot a possum that had got into the barn).
But they adapted to their cushy indoor cat life well and soon started getting into all sorts of trouble like getting stuck under the dishwasher rack.

 And getting stuck in items meant for the recycling.
And had $1500 worth of abdominal surgery for an intestinal blockage as a result of eating thread (and other things on top of that including the spare wire for the mandoline cheese slicer - which was radiopaque, thank god) and then more charges for his wound infection because he licked the incision (the vet didn't make him wear a cone).  Chaucer-kitteh still (STILL) tries to eat strings and ribbons.  He doesn't learn.

And gained a lot of weight.  At his heaviest, the Dante-kitteh weighed 18 pounds.  We're around 13 pounds now, which is much better, and I get to laugh about his poochy little tummy.  It is the cutest.

It helped that I moved to a split-level so they had to learn about (very scary!) things like stairs.  When one has to go up and down the stairs to eat, use the cat box, and sleep on the nice, warm bed you get lots of exercise.  When we first moved, they refused to go downstairs without me for the first few days - they would sit at either the top or bottom and cry for me to come and walk with them.

They're about the most adorable, annoying things ever.  Chaucer is very good at begging (see left).  Dante knows exactly which drawer in the fridge contains the cheese - which is a favorite kitty treat - and comes running when he hears it open.

They drag their favorite toys all over the house and into bed while I'm sleeping (Chaucer likes to carry his around like a baby and make weird "mrower" noises).  They love to snuggle and can purr like a diesel engine.

They get into just about anything I'm doing - working, knitting, reading, etc etc etc.  They were the subjects of my most popular blog post for a while - "Die Katzen sind nicht amüsiert" - which expressed why they don't like spam comments.

Chaucer has become the more photo-ready of the two - he's a bit better at staying still while keeping his cute facial expression.

But Dante has his moments, too (his little face is getting whiter/graying, which makes me sad).

He is obsessed with the kitteh who lives in the mirror.  All the mirrors.

Also, we are extremely vocal when we want something.  Like when I'm having supper and Chaucer-kitteh would like some, too - he sits at the table and meows incessantly.

I love them so much.  Which is why I spent a good 20 minutes taking pictures/video of them with their new catnip hedgehog and green-frog-with-tail (?) toys because they were so funny.

Happy 10th birthday Chaucer and Dante!!

Happy National Cat Day everyone!

ETA: Plz send treats.  Don't tell mommy.

28 October 2013

The Wicked Wallflower (Bad Boys & Wallflowers #1)

Summary from Goodreads:

Maya Rodale's captivating new series introduces London's Least Likely—three wallflowers who are about to become the toast of the ton…

Lady Emma Avery has accidentally announced her engagement—to the most eligible man in England. As soon as it's discovered that Emma has never actually met the infamously attractive Duke of Ashbrooke, she'll no longer be a wallflower; she'll be a laughingstock. And then Ashbrooke does something Emma never expected. He plays along with her charade.

A temporary betrothal to the irreproachable Lady Avery could be just the thing to repair Ashbrooke's tattered reputation. Seducing her is simply a bonus. And then Emma does what he never expected: she refuses his advances. It's unprecedented. Inconceivable. Quite damnably alluring.

London's Least Likely to Misbehave has aroused the curiosity—among other things—of London's most notorious rogue. Now nothing will suffice but to uncover Emma's wanton side and prove there's nothing so satisfying as two perfect strangers…being perfectly scandalous together.

Rodale's books always put me in a quandary when I go to rate/review them.  On the one hand, I find them inaccurate in the attention to detail and language that I prefer in my Regencies/historicals and possibly over-plotted in the lead up to the resolution, but on the other I quite like her hero/heroine pairings and plot elements.

"Least Likely to Misbehave" is a terrible misnomer when the punishment for stepping outside Society's strictures is ruin and ostracism. The false betrothal announcement was just for fun, it was never meant to be sent to the paper and when it appears in print Emma is particularly lucky that Blake is in need of a very respectable fiancee.

I particularly like Lady Emma in this instance and is very much the stronger character of this pairing. She's allowed to have doubts, as annoying as they are to the reader, right up until the very end. Blake seems more of a stock character at times - the Reformed/Reforming Rake is a very popular type - but he has an interesting relationship with his aunt. (I would have offed the character of Benedict, Emma's waffling long-time suitor, much earlier in the book. What a wanker.) Speaking of Blake's aunt, Agatha, the section of the book that makes up the Fortune Games is a hilarious riff on the popular Hunger Games young adult series and movies. Very imaginative and a way to get her hero and heroine together without parents for a good portion of the book. The Wicked Wallflower is the first in Maya Rodale's new series Bad Boys & Wallflowers that will consist of historicals with contemporary companion novels, the first being The Bad Boy Billionaire's Wicked Arrangement.

27 October 2013

The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013

Summary from Goodreads:
A selection of the best writing, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and comics, published in American periodicals during during 2012 aimed at readers fifteen and up.

This is apparently the last Nonrequired Reading volume that Dave Eggers will edit.  It will be interesting in future seeing the new direction for this section of the Best American series.  As usual, Eggers and the 826 kids came up with a really good selection of web pieces, essays, and short stories. It felt much more heavily weighted toward longer essays/stories than the shorter goofy stuff, which is a bit of a shame because those are often brilliant small pieces.

Karen Russell has a great reporting piece about a torero who now fights with one eye, having been seriously injured by a bull (note: accolades are for writing, not subject).

The Sum of All Kisses (Smythe-Smith #3)

Summary from Goodreads:

He thinks she's an annoying know-it-all...

Hugh Prentice has never had patience for dramatic females, and if Lady Sarah Pleinsworth has ever been acquainted with the words shy or retiring, she's long since tossed them out the window. Besides, a reckless duel has left this brilliant mathematician with a ruined leg, and now he could never court a woman like Sarah, much less dream of marrying her.

She thinks he's just plain mad...

Sarah has never forgiven Hugh for the duel he fought that nearly destroyed her family. But even if she could find a way to forgive him, it wouldn't matter. She doesn't care that his leg is less than perfect, it's his personality she can't abide. But forced to spend a week in close company they discover that first impressions are not always reliable. And when one kiss leads to two, three, and four, the mathematician may lose count, and the lady may, for the first time, find herself speechless ...

New York Times bestselling author Julia Quinn's enchanting third novel in the Smythe-Smith quartet is guaranteed to make you laugh out loud and tug at your heartstrings in equal measures.

Sarah feigned illness to get out of playing in the Smythe-Smith musicale (which, fortunately for her governess Anna and cousin Daniel, led into the love story in A Night Like This). The only way out of the quartet is marriage or death. Sarah, though, currently doesn't have any prospects of marrying before next year's musicale and wedding season is now upon her, first Honoria and Marcus (from Just Like Heaven) and then Anna and Daniel a week or so later. She's thrown together with the person she holds chiefly responsible for her unmarried state: one Lord Hugh Prentice, who was gravely injured in a duel with Daniel during her first Season and whose absolutely deranged father caused Daniel to flee the country in disgrace. It may be an irrational belief, but it's one she clings to.

Hugh, for his part, has put all the pieces of that night back together and concluded that he was as much at fault as Daniel. He made it possible for Daniel to return to England by holding ransom the only thing his father holds dear: Hugh's own life. If Daniel comes to harm, then Hugh will kill himself. The Marquess of Ramsgate cares only that Hugh live to continue the family line and so the tenuous peace holds.

For now. Hugh and Sarah gradually get past their prejudices. He initially thought she was a flighty, overdramatic ton miss; she let him know in no uncertain terms that she did not like him. Daniel, ever the instigator, coops them up in a carriage with Sarah's three younger sisters.  This is possibly the funniest scene Julia Quinn wrote in a very long time because Hugh and Sarah are forced to read a scene from one of Harriet's plays. Also, if you have any number of younger siblings and spent a long car ride with them you will find the dialogue in this scene to be perfect. When Sarah injures her ankle, Hugh keeps her company...and romance takes off.

There are a lot of lovely beats in this book. Hugh is a mathmatical savant, he counts things almost involuntarily. Sarah and Hugh dancing together when they have only two solid legs between them. But a lot of realism runs through The Sum of All Kisses, chiefly that the law is no protection from a member of the peerage with a sadistic bent. Hugh's father overshadows so much of the story that the ending, while satisfying, is tinged with bittersweet. Characters make decisions partially out of self-preservation when they would have freely made those decisions out of love. This is why I love historicals from Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, Tessa Dare, and Sarah MacLean - they are breaking aspects of the genre and it brings up the quality of the storytelling. Speaking of Eloisa James - the cross-pollination that saw JQ's characters in Once Upon a Tower brings Gowan and Edie into The Sum of All Kisses. If you aren't familiar with EJ, I highly recommend her Fairy Tales series (standalones, so you can start with Once Upon a Tower if you wish, but then jump back to the first one, A Kiss at Midnight, which is EJ's take on the Cinderella story).

17 October 2013

The Arrangement (The Survivors' Club #2)

Summary from Goodreads:

Desperate to escape his mother’s matchmaking, Vincent Hunt, Viscount Darleigh, flees to a remote country village. But even there, another marital trap is sprung. So when Miss Sophia Fry’s intervention on his behalf finds her unceremoniously booted from her guardian’s home, Vincent is compelled to act. He may have been blinded in battle, but he can see a solution to both their problems: marriage.

At first, quiet, unassuming Sophia rejects Vincent’s proposal. But when such a gloriously handsome man persuades her that he needs a wife of his own choosing as much as she needs protection from destitution, she agrees. Her alternative is too dreadful to contemplate. But how can an all-consuming fire burn from such a cold arrangement? As friendship and camaraderie lead to sweet seduction and erotic pleasure, dare they believe a bargain born of desperation might lead them both to a love destined to be?

[Note: I did not manage to save my review of The Proposal, the first book in this series, but I do recommend it.]

Vincent, Viscount Darleigh, has had enough - his well-meaning but overbearing mother has equated his blindness with mental deficiency (not to mention that he is now titled and rich) and has decided that he needs a wife in short order. Vincent escapes to a small village with only his valet as company to enjoy a little peace and quiet. It doesn't last. When the neighborhood nest of viperish social climbers decides to trap him into marriage he is soon rescued - by the quiet, unassuming, and very poor Sophia Fry, who is the companion to the intended young lady (I use "lady" loosely). For her basic human decency, Sophia is flung out onto the streets. Vincent seizes the opportunity - he doesn't really want to be married and neither does Sophia yet a marriage of convenience will protect each of them from relatives (and Sophia from destitution). He proposes the arrangement and offers that they will separate after enough time has passed that the marriage cannot be legally questioned or over-turned. Sophia will have the protection of his name and income and Vincent will have some peace.

Love comes in and upsets the apple cart, of course. Sophia determines that before she leaves that Vincent is as self-sufficient as possible; she devises the Regency version of a seeing-eye dog and a track to enable him to ride his horse unassisted. Vincent gives Sophia the confidence to become an independent woman. Most fascinating is that Vincent's blindness is total, his sight will never recover unlike many other blind/partially blind heroes, and so any love that Vincent feels for Sophia develops from their interactions and her personality rather than her looks.

This is a much stronger novel from Mary Balogh than The Proposal. The plot is a bit tighter, the stakes are a bit higher for the hero and heroine, and the resolution is much more satisfying. However, there are a few minor points that could have been better. The actual agree-to-separate-later portion of the proposal scene sounded quite hollow and years of childhood trauma and neglect seemed suddenly forgotten with a good haircut, nice clothes, an attentive husband, and a well-placed punch to the face (though, the punch was very well-deserved, so that's less problematic). On the whole, a good installment to the Survivor's Club series. I'm looking forward to the next one.

15 October 2013


Summary from Goodreads:
In Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.  Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

If Fangirl had existed when I was a HS senior I would have ate it up with a spoon and asked for more.  It is such a great YA/coming of age story.

I was a bit like Cather when I started undergrad - socially quiet, maybe a little unsure of who I was but definitely sure that I was smart and talented, and I went to a big state university.  My first serious relationships were in undergrad as well as my first major crises of confidence.  Granted, not all within my freshman year as happens to Cath.

I really liked how Rowell contrasted Cath's outgoing immersion in the Simon Snow fanbase with her tentative interactions among the student body in the real world.  Add to that Cath's support - her twin Wren - has decided that she no longer wants to do the "twin thing" and not only changes her social group but also her appearance.  Rowell allows Cath to make mistakes as she goes and to learn from them.  And Cath slowly learns that she is strong enough to take life on her own terms.  This leads me to wonder why the "New Adult" category is so narrowly defined because Cather's story is definitely one in which a new adult learns to be an adult.

Now, mixed in with all this are snippets of Simon Snow novels - a Harry Potter stand-in - and Simon Snow fanfic as written by Cather.  All of it is great fun.

Duke of Midnight (Maiden Lane #6)

Summary from Goodreads:


Twenty years ago Maximus Batten witnessed the brutal murders of his parents. Now the autocratic Duke of Wakefield, he spends his days ruling Parliament. But by night, disguised as the Ghost of St. Giles, he prowls the grim alleys of St. Giles, ever on the hunt for the murderer. One night he finds a fiery woman who meets him toe-to-toe—and won't back down . . .


Artemis Greaves toils as a lady's companion, but hiding beneath the plain brown serge of her dress is the heart of a huntress. When the Ghost of St. Giles rescues her from footpads, she recognizes a kindred spirit-and is intrigued. She's even more intrigued when she realizes who exactly the notorious Ghost is by day . . .


Artemis makes a bold move: she demands that Maximus use his influence to free her imprisoned brother-or she will expose him as the Ghost. But blackmailing a powerful duke isn't without risks. Now that she has the tiger by the tail, can she withstand his ire-or the temptation of his embrace?

[Note: this is another where I had a lengthy review at BR, now lost]

Maximus Batten, Duke of Wakefield.


Artemis is no dummy - when the Ghost of St. Giles rescues her and her feather-brained cousin Penelope from footpads in St. Giles (because Penelope had a bet with another idiot aristocrat to drink a cup of gin in St. Giles at midnight) he leaves a distinctive signet ring in her hand.  Only one man would wear such a ring...Artemis uses this knowledge to force Maximus to save her twin brother, Apollo.  The wretched Apollo is locked in the "Incurables" ward at the terrifying Bedlam asylum, accused of a triple-homicide.

Maximus (grudgingly) agrees and, as the Ghost, spirits the maimed Apollo out of the asylum and into the cellars of Wakefield House.  Along the way, he considers marrying Penelope (she's a duke's daughter and wealthy as they come, even if she's an idiot and unkind) and persuades Artemis to move into his house as a temporary companion to his nearly-blind sister, Phoebe.

Now, this is where all the good bits happen and I won't spoil it for you.  Suffice to say, there is a lot of plot left in Duke of Midnight and it has a fantastic final chapter.

(And an Epilogue! This won't be the final Maiden Lane book!)