29 January 2013

A Letter of Mary (Mary Russell #3)

Summary from Goodreads:
In 1923, an amateur archaeologist brings Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes an inlaid box from the Holy Land and then promptly dies in a suspicious traffic accident that leaves the master detective and Mary with an dangerous manuscript seemingly written by Mary Magdalene. 

A very neat little mystery that promises a great deal in the way of theological intrigue and misogyny yet resolves itself in a mundane way. Much to Holmes's chagrin. How boring for him and a nice change for the reader.

I liked this installment of Mary Russell's "memoirs". It continues in Mary's theological vein, with the arrival of a purported letter from Mary Magdalene where she identifies herself as an apostle, but rather than the death-defying cat-and-mouse games of the first two books it has a bit of a slower pace. Also interesting to learn a bit about the Russell/Holmes marriage.  One of the best scenes was one where Holmes attempts to out-logic his gut reaction to Mary working undercover as a misogynist's secretary; he views Mary as his partner in deduction, not a subservient wife, yet really has to fight an innate urge to keep his loved one from harm. A slightly-related scene that made me laugh was one where Holmes attempts to cajole Mary into something and she describes her nice warm bed as "invaded" by a cold, bristly male person smelling faintly of cheap gin and strongly of tobacco (I'm paraphrasing, since I don't have the book to hand but you get the picture); an excellent way to show intimacy between the characters without being graphic.

Dear FTC: I borrowed this from the library.

26 January 2013

A Monstrous Regiment of Women (Mary Russell #2)

Summary from Goodreads:
Winner of the Nero Wolfe Award
It is 1921 and Mary Russell--Sherlock Holmes's brilliant apprentice, now an Oxford graduate with a degree in theology--is on the verge of acquiring a sizable inheritance. Independent at last, with a passion for divinity and detective work, her most baffling mystery may now involve Holmes and the burgeoning of a deeper affection between herself and the retired detective. Russell's attentions turn to the New Temple of God and its leader, Margery Childe, a charismatic suffragette and a mystic, whose draw on the young theology scholar is irresistible. But when four bluestockings from the Temple turn up dead shortly after changing their wills, could sins of a capital nature be afoot? Holmes and Russell investigate, as their partnership takes a surprising turn.

Returning to Mary Russell, I picked up A Monstrous Regiment of Women.  The intersection of Mary's coming of age with the religious awakening and seeming cluster of deaths made for excellent reading.  Many kudos to Laurie R. King for the amazing sequence where Mary is kidnapped and deliberately re-addicted to opiates in an attempt to knock her off is excellent.  Love the ending.

(Also, this is a beautiful cover for the paperback edition I read.)

25 January 2013

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Summary from Goodreads:
Flavia de Luce 11 is an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison. In the summer of 1950, inexplicable events strike Buckshaw, her decaying mansion home. A dead bird is on the doorstep, a postage stamp on its beak. Hours later, Flavia finds a man dying in the cucumber patch. His last words must save her father imprisoned for his murder.

Since I'm on a mystery kick, I decided to check out the Flavia de Luce series since the premise - eleven year old intelligent child-sleuth - sounded interesting.  So I borrowed The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie from the library.

This is a fun mystery, quick to read, but I had a bit of trouble with believing Flavia as the narrator.  She is supposed to be intelligent, nerdy, and self-educated but her vocabulary didn't fit that of a child, let alone one who has extensively in the sciences.  For instance, a metaphor that compared furniture of two different eras/styles using the metaphor of an old man watching a mistress taking off her stockings.  Coming as it does in a chapter where Flavia explores her mother's room it grates.  Good central mystery, though.  Not going on to the rest of the series now, but one to keep in mind for the future.

24 January 2013

Beekeeping for Beginners (Mary Russell prequel)

Summary from Goodreads:
In this crackling short story, New York Times bestselling author Laurie R. King reveals an unforgettable new twist in the adventure that led supersleuth Sherlock Holmes to discover his first (and finest) apprentice, Mary Russell.

Sherlock Holmes is fending off a particularly dark mood as he roams the Sussex Downs, in search of wild bees. The Great War may be raging across the Channel, but on the Downs, the great detective nears terminal melancholia—only to be saved by an encounter with headstrong, yellow-haired young Mary Russell, who soon becomes the Master’s apprentice not only in beekeeping but in detection.

Holmes instantly spots her remarkable ability, but his sharp eyes also see troubling problems. Why is this wealthy orphan who lives with her aunt so shabbily dressed? Why is she so prone to illness and accident? Is she herself the center of a mystery? These are questions that the great detective must answer quickly lest his protégée, and his own new lease on life, meet a sudden, tragic end.

The tale of their meeting has been told from Russell’s point of view, but even those who have never met the famed Russell-Holmes pair will read this tale with delight—and, as its climax builds, with breathless excitement.

An interesting little story/novella that gives an extra bit of background to Sherlock and Mary's first meeting in The Beekeeper's Apprentice.  Sherlock's voice is nice, but there is an unnecessary switch from Holmes's first person point-of-view to third person (Watson then Mary) before coming back to Holmes. Cute but definitely shouldn't be read before The Beekeeper's Apprentice.

23 January 2013

The Sandman, Vol 10: The Wake

Summary from Goodreads:
In the final Sandman tale, Morpheus made the ultimate decision between change and death. As one journey for the Endless ends another begins for the Lord of Dreams and his family. All the final pieces come together for the final moments of the Sandman.

The Wake is exactly what it is.  A wake for Morpheus and it brings together in the Dreaming all sorts of characters from different parts of the series.  It definitely wasn't the strongest in the series - and coming after The Kindly Ones that would be hard - but it had a particularly nice short story for Hob Gadling and Matthew had a lovely speech.  It was nice ending to the series.

22 January 2013

The Sandman, Vol 9: The Kindly Ones

Summary from Goodreads:
The most structurally ambitious of the collections, The Kindly Ones is a single storyline written as a Greek tragedy, with Morpheus as its doomed hero and an aspect of the triad of witches, the Erinyes, as the Greek chorus. It pulls together various threads left dangling throughout the series, notably the grudges against Morpheus of several characters: Hippolyta Hall, whose child, Daniel, was claimed by Morpheus; the witches themselves; the Norse god Loki; the witch Thessaly.

An amazing, sublime climax to the Sandman/Morpheus story arc.  I love how Gaiman created a Greek tragedy wherein the prophecy made and set in motion in earlier volumes with the death of Morpheus's son, Orpheus, by his own hand (the spilling of family blood as foretold), is finished with terrible retribution by the Erinyes, The Kindly Ones, in this volume.  Haunting.  The art style is a bit different, with thicker black lines so the effect is more like stained glass; I'm not sure I liked it as much as other styles, but it worked.

21 January 2013

The Sandman, Vol 8: World's End

Summary from Goodreads:
Reminiscent of the legendary Canterbury Tales, THE SANDMAN: WORLDS' END is a wonderful potpourri of engrossing tales and masterly storytelling. Improbably caught in a June blizzard, two wayward compatriots stumble upon a mysterious inn and learn that they are in the middle of a "reality storm." Now surrounded by a menagerie of people and creatures from different times and realities, the two stranded travelers are entertained by mesmerizing myths of infamous sea creatures, dreaming cities, ancient kings, astonishing funeral rituals and moralistic hangmen.

The eighth volume of Sandman, World's End, is an interesting interval in Dream's main story-line.  I loved the "nesting box" of stories, one within the other all being told in an inn at the crossroads of a reality stream.  Definitely inspired by The Canterbury Tales and The Decameron.  I particularly loved the art styles as I moved from story to story.  Excellent introduction by Stephen King.

One Good Earl Deserves a Lover (The Rules of Scoundrels #2)

Summary from Goodreads:

The second in the incredible new Rules of Scoundrels series from New York Times bestselling author Sarah MacLean.

Lady Philippa Marbury is odd. The bespectacled, brilliant fourth daughter of the Marquess of Needham and Dolby cares more for books than balls, flora than fashion and science than the season. Nearly engaged to Lord Castleton, Pippa wants to explore the scandalous parts of London she's never seen before marriage. And she knows just who to ask: the tall, charming, quick-witted bookkeeper of The Fallen Angel, London's most notorious and coveted gaming hell, known only as Cross.

Like any good scientist, Pippa's done her research and Cross's reputation makes him perfect for her scheme. She wants science without emotion—the experience of ruination without the repercussions of ruination. And who better to provide her with the experience than this legendary man? But when this odd, unexpected female propositions Cross, it's more than tempting . . . and it will take everything he has to resist following his instincts—and giving the lady precisely what she wants.

(I don't know about this cover copy, though - Pippa's more than "nearly engaged" at the beginning of the book. The wedding is scheduled.)

[ETA: This is one that I'm very sad to lose the full review from the original post at Brazen Reads - I only have the last full paragraph.  I loved this book so much that I'm not even going to being to be able to reconstitute it.]

Pippa is a character after my own heart.  It aches for her because she believes that no one will truly love her because she's odd, and scientific, and has glasses.  And for all of us fellow Geek Girls with Glasses:  we've been there.  Pippa gets her happy ending because she is herself, no matter how much Society tells her she needs to change (and her dog, Trotula).

Cross is a hero more than equal to her - and he's a ginger to boot - with a guilt-laden past. He gives Pippa everything she asks for including a scorching seduction scene in which hero and heroine do not touch one another yet the room is almost on fire at the end.

Sarah MacLean has created a character far superior to any other bluestocking, non-normal heroine in the romance genre. Pippa is given leeway to speak freely, frankly, and intelligently. She is bold and unafraid of self-examination. Because of this the plot resolves itself in an unpredictable way – instead of the hero rescuing the heroine, it is the other way ’round. One Good Earl Deserves a Lover is one of the best books to release in 2013 - yes, I know it’s January now but this is the best MacLean novel to date.

19 January 2013

Start Here: Read Your Way Into 25 Amazing Authors

Summary from Goodreads:
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.

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, and informative way to enrich your reading life.

A wide array of writers, critics, and bloggers offer their expertise and passion for these authors to help you get started reading authors you've always wanted to try.

Includes chapters by Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus) on Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill (Heart-Shaped Box) on Bernard Malamud, Linda Fairstein (The Alexandra Cooper Series) on Edgar Allan Poe, and Kevin Smokler (Practical Classics) on Sherman Alexie.

A good road-map for readers looking to get into authors' work. The chapters are all short, the reading lists as well (usually no more than 3 or 4 books leading from an accessible work to one that is considered a "magnum opus"). The tone varies between writers but most have a wonderfully earnest tone - they are each writing about beloved authors and the enthusiasm shows.  Though I'd read a number of authors it was nice to see recommendations for a range of authors from classic to contemporary.

I asked Rebecca why Toni Morrison wasn't included (since I was expecting a chapter from her on one of her favorite authors) - apparently the author list was voted on at the Book Riot site (I must have missed that) so here's hoping for a follow-up edition!

Note: Kit Steinkeller thinks one should start with It if one is looking for an "in" to Stephen King - I disagree vociferously. I read It and didn't read any more Stephen King for an entire decade. I hated it. A lot.  And it scared the hell out of me.  Skip it and start with her second recommended novel, The Shining.

18 January 2013

The Sandman, Vol 7: Brief Lives

Summary from Goodreads:
Older and more powerful than the gods themselves, the Endless are a dysfunctional family of cosmic beings that have ruled over the realms of dream, desire, despair, destiny, destruction, death, and delirium since the beginning of time. But three hundred years ago, one of the mythical beings gave up his duties and left his realm, never to be seen again. Now on a mission to find their missing sibling, Delirium and older brother Dream encounter immortal humans and various deities as they try to locate the prodigal Destruction. But as their adventure draws Dream into a final, tragic confrontation with his son Orpheus, the eternal being learns the true meaning of fate and consequences.

This was a wonderful installment in the series driven by Delirium's sweet, unfocused character as she takes Morpheus on a quest to find their missing brother, Destruction. He gave up his life as an Endless because he wished to create, not destroy.  Although we still don't understand how Delight became Delirium this book is most notable for the way Morpheus comes to terms with his son, Orpheus, and an inescapable fate.

15 January 2013

Dancers Among Us

Jordan Matter thought up an idea and went with it: why not have dancers interpret everyday emotions and situations?  Dancers of all stripes - ballerinas, modern dancers, tappers, breakdancers, newcomers, old hands.  Happy things, sad things, joyful moments, getting coffee, hailing a cab, taking the baby for a walk, singing in the shower.  A great book of photos and dancers. Props to the dancers for performing in less than ideal/possibly dangerous conditions (cf. the former rythmic gymnast in a deep penchee arabesque on the railing of a lookout point, damn!). The human body is amazing.

Love the passerby in a lot of shots who are pretty amazed at what's going on.  Matter also had some interesting notes about how passersby were also pretty happy about getting in on the action with Dancers Among Us.

14 January 2013

The Books They Gave Me

I picked up The Books They Gave Me: True Stories of Live, Love, and Lit pretty much sight unseen, very rare for me.  I didn't even read the cover copy (I thought it was a memoir about Jen Adams's reading life) - so imagine my surprise when I realized that the book consisted of stories other people submitted to the tumblr blog The Books They Gave Me.

That is rather more interesting than just one person's book-receiving stories.

There's a lot of variety in the submissions.  Some books were given by failed lovers, successful ones, future spouses, parnts and beloved grandparents.

Some submissions are almost heartbreaking in simplicity - those were the best ones.  Others seemed "over-arty" or over-edited, as if the submitters were trying to make a straightforward story more mysterious, but what happened is that they lost the ability to make sense.

09 January 2013


Jane Eliot inhabits a world scarred by a recent war with the fey, the supernatural beings responsible for technological achievements like automobiles and electric-type lighting and for inspiring a certain ethereal beauty not found in the human world.  Yet the fey have also caused great pain with bombs made of curses, of which Jane is a victim.  Jane's curse is concealed and prevented from infecting others by a mask made of iron - she is now an Ironskin, a borderline social pariah.  When Jane loses her teaching position after the war, she answers an advertisement for a governess to a child in a "delicate situation" - a child born during the war. 

At Silver Birch Hall, an old, dilapidated house situated very near a sinister wood, Jane encounters Dorie, a little girl with fey abilities due to a curse placed on her mother, and Dorie's father, Edward Rochart.  Edward is an artist of great talent.  And secrecy - rich women with average faces come to Silver Birch Hall, enter Edward's attic studio, and emerge with beautiful faces to rival that of the fey.  As Jane draws closer to Edward a confrontation with the fey is inevitable.

If you haven't noticed, Ironskin is a book loosely based on the plot of Jane Eyre.  The strange house, an unwanted plain governess, a lonely child, a man with a secret.  I really liked the originality that went into building the fey/steampunk-like world, a great plot concept.  Yet, there was so much Jane Eyre grafted onto the story (right down to some specific dialogue) that it got distracting.  And then it stopped working.  I felt like the author let the reader's knowledge of Jane Eyre color the narrative and do the work of building Jane and Edward's relationship without actually doing the work of building her central characters' relationship within the framework of her own created world.  When Ironskin finally broke away from Jane Eyre plotwise the characters made much less sense.  I didn't have a good sense of them anymore.

The book is obviously meant as a sequel and I am quite interested in reading the next Ironskin book because I wonder what direction it will take in this world Connelly has created.  She made an intriguing SF/Fantasy world and I'd like to see what she can do beyond the Jane Eyre skeleton.

08 January 2013

SnApp Shots: How to Take Great Pictures With Smartphones and Apps

SnApp Shots: How to Take Great Pictures With Smartphones and Apps is a really cute little book from Chronicle Books.  Like all other Chronicle offerings it has great production values - it practically jumps off the shelf.  Since I like to take pictures with my iPhone, this seemed like another book to add to my learning curve.

The cover copy says this will "unlock the secrets" of smartphone photography and I read some reviews that said this was a "difinitive guide".  Well, I don't know about that. It has a nice listing of different things you can do to either take or manipulate photographs on your mobile device and suggestions for apps and there are really great example pictures.  But...the directions are very good.

Where the book falls down is actually in telling the reader HOW the manipulation occurs. For instance, the pages on "exposure, contrast, and brightness" start out with a description of the technique, a few suggestions for apps that might do those things, and several pages of example photographs. But the authors don't say exactly how or which suggested apps were used to create the photos. Or, in the case of a manipulated photo, what the original photo looked like before the manipulation occurred. A shame, really, because this is such a cute-looking book and it could have been more helpful than it was.

She Tempts the Duke (The Lost Lords of Pembroke #1)

Summary from Goodreads:

Three young heirs, imprisoned by an unscrupulous uncle, escaped—to the sea, to the streets, to faraway battle—awaiting the day when they would return to reclaim their birthright.

Sebastian Easton always vowed he would avenge his stolen youth and title. Now back in London, the rightful Duke of Keswick—returning from battle a wounded, hardened, changed man—cannot forget the brave girl who once rescued him and his brothers from certain death.

Lady Mary Wynne-Jones paid dearly for helping the imprisoned young Lords of Pembrook, and she remembers well the promise she made to Sebastian all those years ago: to meet him once more in the abbey ruins where they shared a bold, forbidden kiss. While Mary is now betrothed to another, a friendship forged with dark secrets cannot be ignored. Unexpected passion soon burns dangerously between them, tempting Sebastian to abandon his quest for retribution and fight for a love that could once again set him free.

I liked the premise of this book (three boys who escape their murderous uncle with the help of a neighbor girl come back to exact revenge), how Heath set this book in and around Victorian London, included many historical bits, and the writing style was enjoyable. I liked this one enough that I want to read the next two books. I hadn't read any Lorraine Heath before, so it was a decent introduction.

What I found lacking was the resolution of the "murderous uncle" plot. Those bits of the book told from the uncle's perspective weren't illuminating as far as his motives to murder the four males between the dukedom and himself.  Those bits could have been dispensed with leaving the brothers and the reader, too, to puzzle it out on their own. The illustration of Mary's father as a weak-willed alcoholic was a combination of too many tropes in one character. Then there's the denouement (spoiler, so highlight to see the text):

Considering that Society was obviously more than happy to embrace assumption of the dukedom by a man who managed to "lose" his nephews under unexplained circumstances, and even happier to turn their backs on the brothers since they'd had a less than regular upbringing, how did Sebastian manage to avoid questions regarding the death of the uncle? It's completely glossed over.

07 January 2013

The Battle of the Labyrinth/The Last Olympian

So, having read 3/5 of the Percy Jackson series, I still had the last two books to read.  Thence, the Overdue Reads project.  I'll try not to spoil these two books too much if you haven't read them.

Poor Percy is starting a new school at the beginning of The Battle of the Labyrinth - as is usual.  His mom's new boyfriend, Paul, teaches there and he meets Rachel Elizabeth Dare again.  And fights off some empousai who've been sent to kill him - which is about normal, too.  Soon he's back at Camp Half-Blood, training with the new teacher Quintas, and finding an entrance to the Labyrinth.  Annabeth receives the Quest (and the prophecy, of which she withholds a part) and leads Percy, Grover, and Tyson into the Labyrinth to find its Creator, Daedalus, with the hope that he can help them stop Kronos.

The Labyrinth is such a great convention - it is constantly changing, dimensionally amibivalent, and full of traps.  Even if you back up and reverse direction it isn't the same.  It leads to a breeder of mythological animals (and an Augean stable), a death match, a long-lost god, and a reunion with Luke.  Or is it Kronos?

The Last Olympian starts as Percy and Beckendorf attempt to scuttle Luke/Kronos's ocean liner.  Well, it turns out there is a traitor among the Camp Half-Blood faction and Beckendorf pays the ultimate price when he sets off the bombs.  His death is yet another set-back for the Campers who are facing division in the ranks when Clarice and the Ares cabin withdraw their support in protest of a division of spoils.  Meanwhile, Annabeth and Percy's relationship is strained by his friendship with Rachel.  They must ovecome everything to mount a defense of Manhattan and Olympus.

There are such great overtones from The Iliad in the conclusion to the series: a conclusion to a long-standing war, a spat over war spoils leading to a sit-out of needed manpower, a doomed masquerade to lead that faction into battle, and a final fight between enemies.  The revelation of the "last" Olympian was so clever, I really didn't see it coming.  I also like the history and outcome of the Oracle because it all ties up in the outcome of the battle.

Riordan did a great job tying up the series.  I'll be going on to read the Heroes of Olympus books but not right away - I've got other Overdue Reads to finish.

04 January 2013

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination is a bit like an origin story. Margaret Atwood's origin story, the origins of an author who freely read pulp magazines, comics, and science fiction growing up in rural Canada.  The first three chapters address this, with the third ("Dire Cartographies") expanding on Atwood's definition of ustopia - a word made by combining utopia and dystopia and applicable to many of Atwood's own works.

The second section, "Other Deliberations", is made up of ten essays/reviews of works and authors such as George Orwell, Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, H. Rider Haggard's She, and HG Wells.  There's a great sentence where Atwood notes that the line "Do it to Julia!" - Winston's ultimate cop-out in 1984 - became a catchphrase at her house when one wanted to avoid "onerous duties" (p 145).

My favorite part of the book was the third section, a selection of five of Atwood's shorter pieces including "The Peach Women of Aa'A" from The Blind Assassin - the short story within the story within the story.  Loved the "Cryogenics: A Symposium" story.

This was also the first time I managed to catch-up with the Bookrageous podcast book club (just search iTunes or Podbean, etc. for Bookrageous if you haven't caught up with this great podcast created by book-lovers for book-lovers - as they say: "We're serious about books, but not exactly serious.")

Bonus: In Other Worlds is dedicated to Ursula K. LeGuin.

Overdue Reads: 2013

After thinking for a while (and then some more), I've decided that my "Read the Books I Meant to Read"-type project will be called...

Overdue Reads!  (yup, made that graphic myself and everything)

The premise for this project is pretty basic: I will be going through my bookshelves and NOOK looking for books I've had laying around for some time now and just haven't got around to reading. Could be classics, could be mysteries, sci-fi, contemporary, etc.  The goal is to read at least one of these books per month.  At least one per month is totally do-able.

The initial list of books (and this is probably going to grow as I keep digging in my shelves):

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (physical book)
The Long Ships by Frans B. Bengtsson (physical book)
2666 by Roberto Bolaño (three-volume paperback slipcase edition, so easy to break up)
If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino (physical book)
Fanny Hill by John Cleland (physical book - bet that one's a surprise)
A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse (physical book)
Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow (physical book)
Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco (physical book - started this ages ago)
In the Woods by Tana French (physical book - another that I've never finished)
American Gods by Neil Gaiman (NOOK)
Stardust by Neil Gaiman (physical book)
Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh (physical book)
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (physical book)
The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley (physical book)
The Black Moth by Georgette Heyer (NOOK)
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (physical book)
Complete Poems and Selected Letters by John Keats (physical book)
The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing (physical book)
Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem (physical book)
Life of Pi by Yann Martel (physical book - inorite?)
Birds of America by Lorrie Moore (physical book)
The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa (physical book)
Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig (physical book)
The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan (physical book - a) gotta have something for every mood and b) damn, I need to finish this series)
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (physical book)
Blindness by Jose Saramago (NOOK)
The Lotus Eaters by Tatiana Soli (physical book)
The Secret History by Donna Tartt (physical book)
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (NOOK)
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente (physical book)
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (physical book - one I never actually finished, and I got his new one as a review copy so I'd like to get them both read)

Now, obviously, that is way more than twelve books but the point is to read at least one per month. 

So here I go.

03 January 2013

The Lady Most Willing

Summary from Goodreads:

Step into the glittering world of Regency and prepare to have your hearts warmed by Julia Quinn, Eloisa James and Connie Brockway...

During their annual Christmas pilgrimage to Scotland to visit their aged uncle in his decrepit castle, the Comte de Rocheforte and his cousin, Earl of Oakley, are presented with unique gifts: their uncle has raided an English lord's Christmas party and kidnapped four lovely would-be brides for his heirs to choose from ...as well as one very angry duke, Lord Bretton. As snow isolates the castle, and as hours grow into days, the most honourable intentions give away to temptations as surprising as they are irresistible.

I liked it better than the previous "Lady Most" group novel/three part novel. Much more cohesive insofar as the three couples interacting with one another (in the last one we didn't see much of the couples outside of their specific novella).

The set up is actually pretty funny, particularly when its established that not only is Taran Ferguson fairly harmless, although bound to get into trouble, but Catriona isn't in the least bit afraid of him.

I liked Byron (not that Byron, he's not even remotely a relation) and Fiona's story the best. Good dialogue, nice bits about literature, and an interlude in the stable involving some Italian wine that tastes like pepper (?) and pre-marital hanky-panky. I'm pretty that part is Eloisa James's section of the novel due to the bits about Persuasion.

02 January 2013

'Tis the Season: My favorite request of 2012

This request from Christmas Eve pretty much took the cake:

A very smart-looking, well-appointed lady (chic overcoat, lots of jewelry, conservative haircut, good handbag) asked:
Can you recommend a book for an aging, leftist hippie who likes Carl Hiaassen?  Oh, and he's really smart.  He's a genius.

Hot. Damn. 

Aside from the fact that on Christmas Eve I was extremely limited in what I could recommend since I couldn't order anything and get it from the warehouse by the time we closed (which was in about 3 hours), what does one recommend in this instance.  Is Carl Hiaassen a hippie?  He doesn't look like a hippie.  Is it the mystery what he likes?  The only things I could come up with that were hippie-ish and genius-ish were John Irving and WP Kinsella.  Would those be good for Carl Hiaassen fans?  Especially aging ones?  What about geniuses?

I was torn between recommending something really snobbish like Naked Lunch (which an aging, leftist, genius, hippie has likely already read), laughing because everyone is a genius (I mean everyone - if granny asks for a book for her 11 year old grandchild, he/she is always an advanced reader, always, and therefore needs Dickens even if the poor kid is trying to suture the Wimpy Kid box set to his/her arm), and just grabbing a whole load of thrillers in the let's-throw-some-things-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks philosophy.

01 January 2013

The Maiden Lane Series, books 1 - 4

I picked up a few Elizabeth Hoyt strips out of curiosity and found myself buying and immersed in the Maiden Lane series.

Book 1, Wicked Intentions, opens with widowed Temperance Dews returning home after rescuing an orphaned baby girl in the stews of St. Giles.  She finds the dissolute Lazarus Huntington, Lord Caire, waiting in her sitting room.  He is investigating the murder of his sometime mistress in St. Giles and needs Mrs. Dews to show him around the neighborhood; Mrs. Dews makes a counter-offer, she will help him if he will introduce her to likely patrons for the foundling home she runs with her brother Winter.  Thus agreed, the pair embark on the hunt for a murderer who predates Jack the Ripper by nearly 150 years and is just as brutal.  Temperance comes to learn more about Caire's strange proclivities - he prefers to bind his women, which intrigues her, and physical human contact causes him pain - while Caire finds that he can't leave the respectable widow alone.  Intertwined with this story is that of Temperance's younger sister, Silence Hollingbrook, who makes a drastic decision to save her husband but wrecks her marriage in the process.  Meanwhile, the Ghost of St. Giles - a masked vigilante in a Harlequin costume - roams the area saving innocents and meting out street justice.

I find that I really like Hoyt's writing style.  It isn't as flowery as other romance writers which really works in the setting of a London slum.  It seems a pity, then that this is considered "Romance" and not "Historical Fiction" because it could be enjoyed by a wider audience.  There are some anachronisms, though, most notably the purchase of a piano for Temperance by Lord Caire (the novel is set in 1737; Bartolomeo Cristofori had only likely developed a pianoforte of some type by 1700 - extant examples date from 1720 - and the instruments were extremely expensive making it extremely unlikely that Temperance's family ever owned one in her childhood; Bach dissed on the pianoforte until about 1750; it would have been more likely for Caire to order a clavichord or harpsichord in 1737 London).  The only major issue I had with this first book was the treatment of Caire's pain/bondage fetish; rather than have the couple enjoy a little kink, the bondage was treated as something to "get past" which diminished that aspect of the couple's relationship.  I liked all the secondary characters (Winter, Silence, Charming Mickey, St. John, Lady Hero) so the rest of the books in the series are potentially very interesting.

The second book in the series is Notorious Pleasures and follows Lady Hero, sister to the Duke of Wakefield.  She is now a patroness of the St. Giles foundling home and engaged to the perfectly respectable, upstanding Marquis of Mandeville.  Her first encounter with his brother, Lord Griffin Reading, is not so respectable: she catches Griffin shtupping a married lady in a salon during Hero's engagement ball.  Lord Shameless, indeed.  Griffin doesn't take to Hero either, nicknaming her Lady Perfect.  The two war and squabble their way into an acquaintance since they both inhabit the drawing rooms of Society and Maiden Lane in St. Giles - Hero to oversee the building of the foundling home's new building and Griffin his gin distillery.  Said distillery is illegal - the proceeds from the gin trade support the Mandeville estate even as the marquis pushes for more stringent legislation and enforcement of the law (even given that the two brothers don't get along and Mandeville is a financial dolt, I find it ridiculous that Mandeville has no idea how Griffen has made the estate profitable).  Griffin is also involved in a turf war with the Vicar of Whitechapel (not a real vicar, obviously) and the Ghost of St. Giles and Silence Hollingbrook also continue their appearances.  A very endearing character is Hero's younger sister, Phoebe.

While I liked Hero and Griffin, I didn't get much in the way of attraction aside from the insta-lust; she did have a point when she noted they didn't have much in common.  The gin turf war and prosecution plot is actually a big selling point for the book.  Those sections are very interesting with the romance in the background.

The third book, Scandalous Desires, brings Silence's plot to the forefront.  At the end of Wicked Intentions Silence finds a baby girl left on her doorstep with a note reading "Darling"; Silence and Mary Darling live in the foundling home during Notorious Pleasures when she learns that her estranged husband is dead, lost at sea.  Now the nearly year-old Mary Darling has disappeared.  Silence traces her to the "palace" of river pirate "Charming" Mickey O'Connor and demands he return the little girl.  She loathes Charming Mickey; it is his fault her marriage crumbled - if he hadn't stolen the cargo which caused her husband to be arrested, she wouldn't have had to agree to Charming Mickey's request to stay the night in his bed (alone, he sat at the hearth and talked to her though the entire world believed they had sex) in exchange for the return of the cargo.  Mickey refuses to return the child - Mary Darling is his daughter and given that his old nemesis the Vicar of Whitechapel has moved into the area she needs better protection than the foundling home.  If Silence wishes to care for the little girl she must move into the palace with her.  Silence very, very reluctantly agrees.

Mickey's courtship of Silence is very like the Beauty and the Beast fairy-tale.  She is repulsed by the "ugliness" of Mickey's opulent lifestyle: robbery, extortion, use of prostitutes.  He is determined to win Silence's good opinion - and, it seems, her love because he sees the love she lavishes on his daughter.  Mickey goes to great lengths to both win Silence and assure her safety, even revealing a hidden side of himself that is surprising, to say the least.  The cat-and-mouse game with the Vicar is very well-plotted and requires an interviention by the Ghost of St. Giles at a crucial moment.

Which brings me to the most recently published book, Thief of ShadowsIf you don't like spoilers, stop reading now.  The action picks up right where Scandalous Desires left off - with the wounded Ghost of St. Giles falling unconscious in the street.  Lady Isabel Beckinhall (recruited as a patron of the foundling home by Lady Hero back in Notorious Pleasures), returning from a meeting of the patrons of the Maiden Lane foundling home comes across the fallen Harlequin and whisks him away from the mob.  Winter Makepeace wakes in Isabel's townhouse, just in time to prevent her from unmasking him if not undressing him to tend his wounds.  He has been working as the Ghost of St. Giles for several years, having been trained to the task by his former tutor - by day, he serves as ascetic headmaster of the foundling home his family founded and by night he defends the residents St. Giles.  Though weak, he manages to leave Isabel's house before dawn, leaving her no hint as to his identity.  Meanwhile, a newer, snobbier, rather more flush patron of the foundling home has decided that unless Winter can be presented as a gentleman (i.e. the Society version of a gentleman who can dance, flirt, and generally be insincere) he'll have to go; Isabel is chosen (as an older widow) to be Winter's tutor.

Though the two have a little war of wills - Winter really can't see the use of social niceties when he has hungry children to feed, clothe, and teach, Isabel doesn't understand why he's so stubborn and restrained - they grow closer during the tutoring sessions.  Winter feels the pull of sexual attraction, something he avoids because a relationship would interfere with both the home and his vigilanteism (especially when he must find the "lassie snatchers" who are stealing little girls before they can make it to the foundling home).  Isabel has her own secrets and very painful personal issues.  When Winter and Isabel finally make love it is rendered very sweetly - Winter is a virgin, and had previously told Isabel that when he finally found a woman he wanted to make love to it would be a woman worth marrying, so there is a great deal of reverence and love baked into Winter's character at that point.  They make a wonderful, unconventional couple - an older, more experienced woman and younger, inexperienced man.  I was a little irritated that the identity of the Ghost of St. Giles was blown in the cover copy (and that Temperance, Hero, and Lady Caire are all out of town during the Season leaving Winter at the mercy of the snobby Lady Penelope) but it all worked out in the end - even with a little surprise!

The fifth book in the series, Lord of Darkness, is due out at the end of February 2013 - I'll definitely be reading that!

Well, hellooo there, 2013!

Here I am again, looking down the barrel of another year.

Ugh, that sounds way more depressing than I meant it to come out but, howevermuch I avoid it, a New Year it is and, hence, a time for me to reflect on goals both reading/blogging and personal.

On the book front, I challenged myself to read 120 books in the 2013 Goodreads Challenge.  I figure 120 is a good compromise between the 110 I used as my goal last year and the 191 I actually ended up reading.  That's the easy-to-set-up goal.

The harder-to-set-up goal is currently going by the moniker "Read the Books I Meant to Read Challenge".  Inspired by Carrie's challenge to read one book per month she's meant to read (and others are reading with her) I am going to do something similar.  I live in a house with a re-donk-ulous number of books and I haven't read a good chunk of them.  Oh, I mean to, of course, since I purchased them, but I just haven't got around to reading them yet.  So the "Read the Books I Meant to Read Challenge" will consist of a list of books I've been meaning to read "for some time" (this is flexible) with the plan to read and finish at least one of them per month.  I haven't sussed out the stack of books/shelf of books/entire bookcase filled with unread books as yet but when I do I'll set up a separate challenge/project post for it.

On the personal front, I really need to get myself in shape, physically, mentally, and financially.  My goals for the year are (unfortunately, they're really vague, and since I learned in my self-improvement crazy-train reading, vague goals are hard to fulfill so they still need work):
1. Drink more water.
2. Get more sleep.
3. Move more.
4. Improve my money management (step 1: finish getting everything into Quicken)
5. Relax.
6. Take a vacation.
7. Be brave.
8. Cook for myself (I have discovered that my kitchen is cleaner when I'm actually cooking in it, random).

I should write those down and leave reminders in multiple places.  Really.

The first step:  I'm drinking coffee and staring at an empty water bottle.  I should fill the water bottle.