Sunday, December 1, 2013

For Poets and Lovers of Poetry

Poets Translate Poets: A Hudson Review AnthologyPoets Translate Poets: A Hudson Review Anthology by Mark Jarman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(I was provided an electronic galley of this book through Netgalley and the publisher.)

So good, I'm buying a copy! A must-read for anyone interested in world poetry and the art of translation. Only missing the original-language verses for comparison. I'm sure most people don't speak every language, but it's one of the joys of reading translations; when one does know both languages, it's easier to see both poet's visions--that's the theme of this collection, if nothing else is--a poem, translated, is two poems. Does one go literal or does one translate for spirit and image?  Mark Jarman's introduction alone is a lovely treatise on this theme.

As well as an overview of world poetry both historical and contemporary, the book contains translations from the careers of several poets, Merwin for one example--you can get an overview of his poetic sensibility over time by reading his translations over time. Though an original conceit of the editors was to arrange the book by translator in order to highlight this, the poems are instead arranged by language and by time within that language. Not a comprehensive collection, but a representation of what's been published in the Hudson Review over the years. Biographical notes on the original authors and the translators place each selection in time and context.

A must-have for any student of poetry and certainly many libraries.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

How the Ancestors Lived

ShamanShaman by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kim Stanley Robinson has imagined the life of one of the artists of the Chauvet cave in France. It's a novel of history and character, and though there is adventure, danger, and romance, Robinson views it as day-to-day life and not as plot. As are most of Robinson's books, it's an exploration of utopia, but in a possible past, instead of a possible future. I still haven't finished reacting to it. Its images will stay with me for a long time, and now I'll look at the cave paintings, too. If this theme and pre-history fascinate you, too, this is a must-read.

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Are cats really human?

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
If you like cats, if you like Buddhism, you will like the book. Too long to be a fable or a parable, it is not a novel, but a moralistic tale told from the point of view of a cat. The Dalai Lama has gone on a long trip, and told the cat to study the art of purring while he's gone. There are some lovely moments, a love story or two, or count the whole thing as a love story, but the cat who tells the tale is more from the "trainer: tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, and then tell you what you told them" school than the storyteller school. The point of view keeps slipping into a 21st Century, First World, human, instead of the cat. But I liked it.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Thousand Names deserves several thousand pages

The Thousand Names (The Shadow Campaigns, #1)The Thousand Names by Django Wexler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A curst good book! After 513 pages, I was both blessing and cursing Django Wexler. Like David Drake, Eric Flint, and David Eddings, he can write likeable characters--a must for a series you're going to follow however long it takes. A firm grounding in history gives a realistic portrayal of the realities of  military life and colonialism.

Khandar is a land steeped in all-but-forgotten magic (think Egypt, maybe). The Vordanai Empire has diplomatic relations (and a military outpost) with Khandar's ruler, a dissolute monarch. When there is an uprising of religious fundamentalists, the Vordanais must send more military aid. Marcus, the Senior Captain, will be so relieved to give over command! He is the consummate career officer, brave, honorable, and true--too loyal to his friends, sometimes. Winter is a lowly private, promoted out of spite--her Sergeant thinking she'll be sent on a suicide mission. Winter's been masquerading as a young man ever since she escaped from the orphanage. Janus is the new Commander, a man with a military gift as great as Napoleon's. He'll get the job done, but he's on the track of a magical mystery--despite the Vordanai disdain for magic as superstition.

Wexler has just the right balance of action and exposition. His society does feel like it's right in the 1700s-1800s, and Napoleonic studies certainly influenced Wexler, but I am also put in mind of Romans and Greeks, and Belisarius and Alexander in addition to Napoleon. I bought the book. I preordered book II, The Shadow Throne, coming July 2014. I posted on Facebook. I wrote a fan letter--only a few other times have I done that!

So happy, and so sad, to discover another series--to look forward, but have to wait!

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Saturday, November 2, 2013

Summer of the Foodies

Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American TasteProvence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste by Luke Barr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley, I received an e-galley of the book. Thanks to Paul Barr’s beautiful storytelling, I preordered a hardcopy 20 pages into my first read.

Lovely book! It helps if you’ve an interest in American (U. S.) culinary history, French cooking, or France. Vacationing in Provence, summer 1970, were M. F. K. Fisher, Julia and Paul Child, James Beard, and cookbook editor Judith Jones and her husband. The Childs’ summer home was on the estate of Simone Beck, Julia’s co-author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Also living in Provence, Richard Olney, an American ex-pat who out-Frenched the French when cooking.

The author, Luke Barr, is Fisher’s great-nephew and built the book around M. F.’s journal of that summer and extensive interviews with some of the players still living—Jones, Luke’s grandmother Norah, who was there for part of the summer, and the extensive letters of all the players. He frames that summer as a turning point in American culinary history—from a French and European snobbery and sensibility to a more encompassing, original, and all-embracing philosophy of food. These important foodies and their friendships and rivalries and personal styles of cooking embraced and irritated one another in turn, forming a new foundation of American cookery, enabling the modern Food Network and the celebration of local, fresh ingredients, fusion cuisine, artisanal baking, So-Be, and everything in-between.

I loved Luke Barr’s writing. The middle of the book, based upon Fisher’s diary, painstakingly researched to make the conversations come alive through the participants’ actual letters and memories, is interesting, but the personal reminiscences of Fisher’s last California home at the beginning of the book and the summer in the Childs’ home in Provence and that celebratory last dinner with family and friends—delicious!

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Best American Personal Essays 2013

The Best American Essays 2013The Best American Essays 2013 by Robert Atwan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the opportunity to review this book!

The beauty of an annual collection with transient editors means that you get a wide variety. This year’s collection, edited by Cheryl Strayed, is all over the place in subjects, but rigid in its view: that is, the “I”. The literary “I.”  Still, I believe there’s something for everyone to like.

Though I couldn’t bear to read straight through as I do with all the other collections, I look back and see that I really liked 7 of the essays, sorta liked a few more, and only found two or three or five unbearable. That’s a pretty good ratio.

My favorites:  Triage, by John Kerstetter. Seems to be a universal favorite.  Night, by Alice Munro, also popular. The Book of Knowledge, by Steven Harvey. Sometimes a Romantic Notion, by Richard Schmitt. The Girls in My Town, by Angela Morales. Some Notes on Attunement, by Zadie Smith (not on most people’s lists). Ghost Estates, by John Jeremiah Sullivan, whence came my favorite line: “…the notion of survival as an act of imagination.”  Aha! Not only my personal theme, but the elusive theme of the collection.

I hope you will find some favorites, too.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Good vs. Evil

The Faceless OneThe Faceless One by Mark Onspaugh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow.  I usually avoid horror, but I love shamanic themes, so I asked for this title. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think it counts as a paranormal thriller, like James Rollins’ first books. A screenwriter, Onspaugh makes the cut in a novel that would make a great movie. Engaging characters, (including spirit being Raven), heroes of all age groups, ripping good story: the book has elements of a great buddy story, heroism against evil, child in danger. Usually one wants to say pick one and stick with it, but Onspaugh balances the elements very well.

The Faceless One is one of those first novels that makes you hope for more,  despite some slight awkwardness of dialogue and plot in a couple of places. I’m not expert in Tlingit mythology, but the magical aspects hold up. There are some great comedic moments, too. Publish more, please!

(I received a temporary Ebook for review, from the publisher and Netgalley. Netgalley reviewers are not paid.)

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Tree and Dragon

Trade Secret (Liaden Universe, #17)Trade Secret by Sharon Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

1. I was lucky enough to get a temporary advance e-galley of the book from Baen and Netgalley, for review. Netgalley reviewers are not paid. Also, I started reading the series in their first late 1980s publication; I own all the other books in the series, and have reread them all.

2. Trade Secret is a sequel to Balance of Trade, continuing Jethri Gobelyn's  growth and journey as a young Terran trader from a long-established space merchant family who finds himself adopted into a Liaden trading family. You could enter the series with Balance of Trade, and surely you should read it before reading Trade Secret. You would find out that as wide as space is, civilized worlds are few, and Terrans and Liadens are starting to encounter each other more and more-encroaching and antagonizing each other on the whole. Terrans are large and loud and trusting and sneaky. They are kind of democratic. Liadens are short and quiet and quick to offense and twisty. They have a social code akin to that of Japan and Regency England's ton. And of course each race is more than that. And has two arms, legs, and one head (mostly thick), and breathes oxygen. (And hates the Yxtrang, who have the same extremeties, but harder heads, more tattoos, and military imperatives.)

If you have read Balance of Trade, we learn more about Jethri’s origins, Liaden sexual customs, Jethri’s kin, his Liaden nemesis, and other matters. A very fine coming-of-age novel, and a pleasant filling-in of backstory.

3. I do not know if it is possible just to "like" the tales of Korval and Tree and Dragon. (To be fair, it's possible to have favorites in the series.) I can tell you that if you like a mixture of humor, dueling, magic, drama and derring-do, you will become a fan. Anne McCaffrey was a huge fan. It seems if you are an avid science fiction reader and a Georgette Heyer fan, you will certainly be a friend of Liad.

4. As with Bujold's Miles books, and Asaro's Skolian Empire, you will have to accept some jumping around in time--the books are not published in chronological order.  Certainly many of us think that Agent of Change is the best place to start, being the book that was first published.

Fast ships! Sentient turtles who grow knives and whose ships hallucinate their
way through spacetime! Telepathy! Sentient trees who guide the genetics of their
caretakers! Ancient robots! Cats! Conspiracies! True love! How can you resist?
Rush out to buy the chronicles of Liad and thus ensure there will be more. will give you a few choices of where to start next.

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Monday, October 21, 2013

An Appetite for Science

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2013The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2013 by Siddhartha Mukherjee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As always, a wonderful journey. Though technically I would title it The Best Science and Nature Essays 2013.

Once again gathered from trade publications as widely varied as the New Yorker, Outside, Playboy, Scientific American, Harper's, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and filtered by a highly qualified guest editor, in this case Siddartha Mukherjee, cancer physician and researcher and author of The Emperor of Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner for general nonfiction. His theme was "how science happens."

Is space digital? How do we measure the universe? How do you do triage for endangered species? What's the next pandemic? These are just some of the questions explored by the writers and scientists within these pages. Very fitting, since science and writing both very often start with questions. :)

I usually enjoy every essay and this year is no exception--even the very short ending essay about the social utility of psychopaths.

I'm sure it was reading this anthology year after year that led me to eventually subscribe to Science News, which presents a mostly distilled version of papers and abstracts across the sciences in articles unfortunately too short for inclusion in this anthology, though also for the lay reader.

Yes, buy it and read it!  It will whet your appetite for science writing.

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Monday, October 7, 2013

I'm a fan, girl!

FangirlFangirl by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a great book! It's Cath and Wren's first year of college, and it sure seems like Wren doesn't want to be a twin anymore. It's not like they don't both have abandonment issues already, what with their Mom walking out the door when they were 8. But they and their Dad soldiered on. College is in Lincoln, though, and Dad's home in Omaha with his own issues. Cath made it into a fiction writing class, even though she's only a freshman. It's lonely being the most naive geek on the planet. Sometimes she feels like her real life can be lived only when she's writing her fanfic in the world of Simon Snow. With her other half gone AWOL, Cath learns to navigate solo, not without stumbling. Making friends, difficult choices, and new worlds along the way, Cath finds all kinds of love in the process.

It's the dialogue--snappy, snarky, smart--that makes the book shine so. And that perfect depiction of the awkward outsider we first know ourselves to be. I have to run off now and read the other two books. More, please!

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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Toujours, Vive la France

Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in ParisMastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris by Ann Mah
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anne Mah's food writing sings! This foodie memoir about France never falters when reminiscing about the food, Paris, people, and countryside of France. The personal memoir parts can be tentative, faltering, even at times whiny--reflective of the author's experience of a year spent alone in a new country without husband, friends, or family for emotional support and nurturing/nourishment. Her diplomat husband got a dream posting to Paris for a four-year stint, but then no sooner did they arrive and unpack, her husband was called to Baghdad for a year. What does a foodie do in this circumstance? Slowly but eagerly, start finding community through food. Food may be our homeland, but it is also how we discover and bond with the stranger.

The book's chapters are arranged by 10 regions of France, with a representative dish--its history, the author's discovery of its terroir, its variations, and a recipe for the home cook.  As the Anne Mah describes it, "...the link between history and place, culture and cuisine." Paris is itself a region and the author's home base. There are Troyes, Brittany, Lyon, Provence, Toulouse, Alsace, Burgundy, and Aveyron--not all of France--another book, I hope. Bistro steak, crepes, soupe au pistou--and seven more dishes to savor, to prepare or dream of preparing. The recipes are easy to follow, though some of them require many hours of preparation or cooking.

What Ann Mah discovered in France was that, "Separate from cooking, the very art of eating is in itself an art to master." Not only savoring the food, but sharing connection and community in a country that mandates, in law and culture, time for the pleasure of dining. As Julia Child (with her own itinerant life and diplomat husband) would say, "Bon appetit," to foodies and Francophiles.

I received a temporary e-galley of the title through the publisher and Netgalley. Netgalley reviewers are not paid.

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Rivers to the Heartland

RiversRivers by Michael Farris Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Michael Farris Smith is a beautiful writer. His spare, thoughtful prose weaves a spell of immediacy, beauty, and wit. While comparisons to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road are inevitable, Rivers carves its own path into apocalypse and dystopia. It’s speculative fiction about constant hurricanes along the Florida coast and the consequent breakdown of society. It’s about a man and his horse and his guns and his own two hard-working hands, and his dog and his true love and his grief and his honor and what he’s got to do when there are folks depending on him, with enemies all around. The true literary territory of Rivers is the Western. Science fiction, it’s not.

If you like to read Cormac McCarthy, Kent Haruf, Hemingway, Louis L’Amour, Elmore Leonard, and can handle some bleakness and despair, this book will knock your socks off.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Charming charms, because John Charming isn't

Charming (Pax Arcana, #1)Charming by Elliott James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's like the country song says, "Maybe I'm a real bad boy, but baby, I'm a real good man."

He comes from a long line of Charmings -- an illustrious family of evil-fighters dating back to before Rome. He was trained by the Knights Templar--vicious upholders of the Pax Arcana, established by the powerful Fae when they left this plane. The Pax prevents normal from recognizing the presence of the supernatural beings left behind. Sometimes there’s a lot of collateral damage in the Knights’ enforcement: the deaths of innocents.

John Charming is on the run from the Templars, but not from his geas to protect the innocent and fight evil, so he’s a goner in more ways than one when Sig the Valkyrie walks into the bar, followed by a vampire.

Charming hits all the notes I like in urban fantasy: snarky hero (female or male) with a heart of gold, check. Superpowers, check. Nasty villains, check. Disparate characters joining together to fight evil, check. Love interest secondary or tertiary plot element, check. We read in our genres and subgenres because we do want some common elements—yes, we do want to hear the same story over and over again, but different!

What draws us to urban fantasy, I believe, is that the lines are blurred—between this world and others, between right and wrong. Sometimes the only difference between the bad guys and the good guys is that the good guys have a conscience. So like real life. We all want superpowers, we all have a taste for violence, we all live in a world that discourages and condemns violence at the same time, and we all want to just hit something or blow something up sometimes! And boy, do we want that sarcastic comeback when we need it! Hence, fantasy.

Finding a new author, a voice with some originality, is one of a reader’s greatest pleasures, and for avid readers, a promise of more books from the same author, heaven. Recommended!

(Got a temporary e-galley from the publisher through Netgalley. Netgalley reviewers are not paid.)

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Read This, Eat That!

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and LongingMastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya Von Bremzen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(I received a temporary e-copy of the book through the publisher and Netgalley. Netgalley reviewers are not paid.)

For any of the Boomer generation, or anyone interested in history, or anyone interested in a memoir in an ironically longing and nostalgic nicotine-boozy (New York! Russian!) tone--a must-read. It's the Cold War from the other side, fear and loathing in Moscow.

Von Bremzen, a James Beard award-winner for her first book, Please to the Table: a Russian Cookbook, and other food writing, takes us through Soviet history as she and her family experienced it. And I categorize the book as social history, more than memoir or food writing—it’s fascinating.

The author's maternal grandfather was a Navy Intelligence officer; her paternal grandmother, a tall, blonde, hard-drinking, chain-smoking scientist. Her dad worked in Lenin's Mausoleum, did drugs and was a playboy; her mother Larisa, an anti-Soviet, culture-loving idealist, named her after Anna Akhmatova and spirited her away to the United States in 1973, when she was eleven.

Now, in the 21st century, Anya and Larisa decide to cook their way through Soviet history, one representative meal for each decade, from the fall of the Czars to WWII and the USSR's beginnings, through the travesties and tragedies of Lenin, Stalin, Kruschev, Gorbachev and Brezhnev. In their two tiny New York kitchens, they cook these sumptuous feasts to commemorate the past. (There are recipes for a few of the dishes at the end of the book. Yum--mostly. I haven't met a gefilte fish I like yet, but maybe this is one.)

Food is the unifying theme throughout this history. Food is all about memory and desire. When it's scarce, you want it. When it's plentiful you want it. You can invest all your senses, your imagination, your soul in it. Our food is our homeland, and we try to take it with us wherever we go. Access to food delineates the wealthy and healthy from the sick and poor. Food is the sublime and the ridiculous; food is life.

Food was all about mayonnaise in the USSR in the 50s and 60s, too! It’s actually scary to see how mirror-like we were during the Cold War, the anything-you-can-do, I-can-do-better balancing act of the MAD (mutually assured destruction) years. Scary, too, to look back through the years and see what happens when the gap between haves and have-nots widens so far that society implodes and the carefully crafted veneers of unity crack and crumble to ruin, prejudice and hatred shining through. This is history.

You laugh, you cry, you drink, you sing--and you put on the table whatever you can, however beautifully you are able. For me, this book is more than a memoir of food. I can't remove myself from the history of this book--it's my own history, from the other side. My parents, too, saw the Kruschev-Nixon Kitchen debates. I started an international cooking club with my high-school friends--our first dinner, Russian--borscht and Beef Stroganoff. I lived and live with Cold War nuclear missiles next door.

The food writing is lovely, evocative--and despite its unifying factor, the tone of the book is at once detached and dramatic, reflective of the world we grew up in, poised on the edge of destiny and despair, ready to go either way--because the future is unsure. By all means, let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow--who knows?

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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Empty Mansions, Full Life?

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American FortuneEmpty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think it's obvious from the reviews that this book has something for everyone. Examples of Carnegie and Vanderbilt wealth, history, mystery, peculiarity, suggestions of chicanery and madness, families fighting over money--and a gentle, protective portrait of a woman and her century+-long life. It's not the kind of book I usually read, but I am interested in thee kind of stories (Grey Gardens--still haven't seen it!). Sidebar: I blame Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle for that.

Bill Dedman, an investigative reporter, was drawn into the story when he ran across one of Huguette Clark's untenanted mansions while house-hunting. He was not allowed onto the grounds and he was curious, but it's not the kind of story he usually does, either. A few years later, in New York, Huguette's story was making headlines. She spent the last 7,000 or so nights of her life in a hospital room--though she was not ill--and her palatial New York apartment, her mansions and estates, remained empty, save for caretakers and staff.

Did her lawyer, accountant, caregivers and the hospital take advantage of a frightened, incompetent, lonely woman? Did the far-flung family, who never saw her in the last twenty years of her life (by her choice, or theirs?), deserve to inherit her estate?

Dedman, a Pulitzer winner, has teamed up with Paul Clark Newell, Jr., a cousin of Huguette's, to create this
tapestry of history and human interest story. Huguette's father made his fortune in the copper mines of Arizona and Montana--he was a contemporary of Vanderbilt and Carnegie, as well as their peer in wealth. Huguette was the daughter of a late-in-life second marriage. I leave it to the reader to discover all the scandal and wonder contained in these pages--there is plenty of both.

I especially loved the ending chapters of the book. I don't like revealing too many details of a book, or what's the point of reading? I will say that Dedman, who started out offended at the waste of maintaining empty properties not for sale, then drawn into outrage at the possibility that Huguette was being taken advantage of, in the end offers a multidimensional tale of a time and a life we can only wonder at. In the end, he is so tender that it's obvious he has fallen under Huguette's spell--as have all the men and women who really got to know her. As have I.


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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Bones of Paris

The Bones of Paris: A Novel of SuspenseThe Bones of Paris: A Novel of Suspense by Laurie R. King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Bones of Paris, Laurie R King's new novel (outside the "alternate Holmes" series),  is a tour through the underbelly of postwar (WWI) Paris. In the garrets and grunge of artistic Paris, where rich girls go to slum, some are disappearing. When he's asked to look into the disappearance of Philippa Crosby, our hero Harris assumes that she's shacked up with an appropriately inappropriate boyfriend. But the trail takes him from interviewing the famous and infamous to the rich and creepy--through mansions built above the crypts, houses decaying and full of decay, and the theater where death is staged as realistically as possible, the Grand-Guignol. Who is the villain? The famous photographer who likes his girls young and submissive? The artist who likes detached limbs and clean bones? The aristocrat whose forbears are mentioned in the same tone as the Marquis de Sade?Harris also has his personal demons to follow and face, after the events of Touchstone, King's earlier book featuring him and the intriguing Bennett Grey. In addition to loyal King fans, this book should appeal to readers of Jacqueline Winspear and Charles Todd. More books, please! 

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Robin McKinley new book contest

Do you love fantasy author Robin McKinley’s books Blue Sword, Sunshine, Pegasus, The Hero and the Crown, Spindle’s End, and others? SHADOWS is coming in September 26th! #RMcKSHADOWS Tweet it, Facebook it, blog it to enter a drawing for a signed copy Repost to share with fellow book lovers. 

Love, love, love her books.

Parallel Parking

Pile of Bones (Parallel Parks, #1)Pile of Bones by Bailey Cunningham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm going to start out by saying I hope to read the sequels, and I've ordered the author's other series, all 5 books. That said, it's hard to get into. It's like Stravaganza for adults, with way less explanation of the alternate world, which is more like a multiplayer real world role playing game. The main characters are Canadian graduate students who live in the city of Regina. By day they grade papers and teach classes while wondering what they will do to graduate, what they will do after they graduate, and why they exist--just like grad students everywhere. By night, they go to the city park and transfer to another world, where artificers (techies) soldiers (saggitarii and miles) musicians (trovadores) and (auditores) people who can hear/feel/see elementals, try to better their lives by risking  greatness (throwing the dice to fate).  By about halfway through, I had acclimated, and the story heated up. By the end I was appreciative of librarians and wishing the sequel was already out. If you don't mind working for your story and you are a proud geek or nerd, you will enjoy it too.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Literature helps one adapt.

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real MagicThe Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love the "going through a gateway to another world" genre. And I will read the next book if there's a sequel. I don't have so much liking for "woman abused by Faerie." All this is on the cover flap, so I don't consider it spoilers. That is the first part of the book, and I found it hard going; it's the reason the book has only four stars. The writer won me over, and finally the plot started moving along--so much that it went from 3 to 4 stars. The grit and dreariness of dealing with another society without our tech mod cons (plumbing!) has been done before, too. See Household Gods by Judith Tarr & Harry Turtledove, Night-Threads  series by Ru Emerson, Darwath series by Barbara Hambly, and for Faerie abuse see Duainfey, by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. But there is original magic in The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic, hurray!

Nora is a graduate student in literature who has just been dumped by her boyfriend. At a country wedding, she slips through a gateway into another world, with only her clothes and a copy of Pride and Prejudice in her back pocket. Who knew that a gift for literary detail would translate into an aptitude for magic? Austen proves a handy guide to society's setup in this new world, and Nora has a hard time of it, but as I said, things look up. The difference between magic and wizardry is quite neatly delineated. The last half of the book is speedy reading and fun, and the trick of how to feed a snow demon without feeding it your soul and that of your companion is probably what earned that 4th star.

It's the first time I'm aware of someone trying Jane Austen in fantasy--though Sharon Lee and Steve Miller do a great job of honoring Georgette Heyer in their Liaden space opera. I'm a fan of both.

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Andrews team does it again!

Magic Rises (Kate Daniels, #6)Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Short review, no spoilers. There is so much wonderful stuff in this book! Lifts this volume up to 5 stars, above the consistently great four stars. Lured across the sea by a bodyguarding job that promises payment in a drug that prevents shapeshifter children from going totally animal, Kate and Curran have their hands full, enemies all around, and only their own small coterie to rely on. Read the short story at the back of the book first. If you have never read Kate Daniels, start at the beginning. Wonderful take on magic vs. tech. Great ass-kicking heroine. Good love story. All the violence and mystery you could ever want. Taking fairy-tale elements and lifting them to mythic proportions. By the time we get to the end, 3 or 4 books from now, the Kate Daniels series will be a true hero's lay, an epic saga.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bookstore Bliss

The BookstoreThe Bookstore by Deborah Meyler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a temporary ARC of the book. Reviews are up and down the stars range for this book, and it's easy to understand why. But I am firmly on the positive side, and would love to see more from the author. (Even though I extremely dislike reading books that are written in first-person-present-tense.) The author's beautiful descriptive prose wins me over.

Esme is a young graduate student who has won a scholarship from Columbia and moves to New York. She immediately falls for Mitchell, a controlling, older, sexually predatory, rich, handsome man--and it's giving nothing away to say she has a hard time letting go of him, and this is the major flaw of the book. One day she discovers she's pregnant. He dumps her.  Will she get an abortion? He decides he wants her back, he dumps her, he decides he wants her back, he dumps her, etc. Even though she knows he's no good for her, she loves him. And I keep reading the book, because even though I get very impatient with her, she does have other stuff going on.

For this is a love story in more ways than one. It's a love letter to Art with a capital A, and the beauty of light changing and dancing with shadow through the day. It's a love letter to New York, the symbol of "making it," the giant city, the Promised Land to every artist, writer, actor, designer in their teen years. (Some of that Mitchell story could have gone to more about friendship, which does play a big part in the story, but gets short shrift in Esme's telling. But then, more verisimilitude--youth!). It's also a love letter to bookstores and books, as the keepers of knowledge and beauty that help us grow out of our mistakes, and the friendships we make there and the bits of other people's lives we see through our customers--to all the relationships that help us throw off being the thrall to our young adult hormones and grow up.

The plot of the story continues--Esme decides to keep the baby early on, she gets illegal employment at the used bookstore where she's started to hang out, she makes her way through pregnancy and school. And the bookstore comforts her, nurtures her, teaches her--the womb that's birthing her to be an unexpected Esme, a young mother, a person making hard choices, an adult. The bookstore is where the real love story happens.

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Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Cleaner of Chartres

The Cleaner of ChartresThe Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you haven't had the pleasure of reading Sally Vickers, it's hard to categorize her books for you. The Cleaner of Chartres fits in with her other books, as an exploration of faith, convention, and their opposites. Agnes, the cleaner in question, has had a very hard life up until she makes her way to Chartres, being a foundling raised by nuns, a victim of rape who had her child taken from her, a stint in mental institutions.... Quite a lot of  tragedy heaped upon one person. Yet she has had  some luck in life as well. After twenty years in Chartres and a gentle life as a cleaning lady for the cathedral and some of its townspeople, Agnes' sheltered life is threatened by suspicion and a visitation from her unhappy past. Will the pettiness of sin and jealousy win out, or will innocence and integrity prevail? Will Agnes ever find the love she so deserves? Like the renovation of the cathedral in progress, and the singular path of the labyrinth within, Vickers builds a story of interesting angles and vivid colors worthy of the great cathedral's vibrant windows and architecture, and the faith of the everyday people who manufactured its magnificence.

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Pagan Spring--a cozy?

Pagan Spring (A Max Tudor Mystery, #3)Pagan Spring by G.M. Malliet
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I received an advance copy of this through a goodreads giveaway, and am a new fan. This is the third in the Max Tudor mystery series, so you might want to start off with the first two, in which ex-spy Max Tudor, now a priest in the Church of England, is assigned to be Vicar of the village of Nether Monkslip (and two others, it appears).

As an ex-spy, Max has some respect from the constabulary that's usually not present in the case of amateur sleuths, a welcome twist. As a vicar, he has an insider/outsider access to his parish that's very handy for investigations. Since he has fallen in love with the woman who owns Goddesspell, (you can guess she's not high-church, and maybe not church at all), Max is woven into village life quite speedily. With comic relief provided by his housekeeper and the village writer's group, gossip provided by the local postmistress and beauty shop, and drama provided by village life itself, the series is set to provide many book's worth of reading pleasure.

In this particular entry, the murder victim, appropriately the person you love to hate, is newly retired actor and playwright Thomas Bottle. Though there is no one who knows him from the old days, Thomas has bought the village house he used to live in as a child, and hopes to be the center of attention--large fish in a small pond. Unfortunately, the villagers are not impressed. Thomas is mean and bullying, and at least one person thinks he ought to die. Is it Melinda, the wife he belittles and controls? Her lover? Or someone else? Follow Max through the maze, and find out.

Though we call them cozies, these mysteries we love are not very cozy at all. With the obligatory village or small-town setting and cast of quirky characters, they are actually the scariest books of all, for what they expose are the everyday evils around us, the most common grievances and pettiness of crime. Jealousy, revenge, greed, and self-righteousness are the motives most likely for murders that can touch our real lives. Frustrated love, lack of love, and love gone awry are the basis of murders of passion, so "persons of the cloth," whose business is love, and sin, make good characters to sift through motives and madness and discover the truth. And that's where the "coziness" comes in, after all. Cozy is for closure. In literature, if not in life, justice prevails. 

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Bone Season hype from Riffle SciFi-and a giveaway

From Erica Bauman, Riffle Sci-fi editor:
Have you fallen under the spell of The Bone Season? It is the year 2059. Several major world cities are under the control of a security force called Scion. Paige Mahoney works in the criminal underworld of Scion London, part of a secret cell known as the Seven Seals. The work she does is unusual: scouting for information by breaking into others’ minds. Paige is a dreamwalker, a rare kind of clairvoyant, and in this world, the clairvoyants commit treason simply by breathing. But when Paige is captured and arrested, she encounters a power more sinister even than Scion. The clairvoyant prison is a separate city—Oxford, erased from the map two centuries ago and now controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. These creatures, the Rephaim, value the clairvoyants highly—as soldiers in their army. Paige is assigned to a Rephaite keeper, Warden, who will be in charge of her care and training. He is her master. Her natural enemy. But if she wants to regain her freedom, Paige will have to learn something of his mind and his own mysterious motives.
Here's the link to the giveaway:

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Cruise to Die forA Cruise to Die for by Aaron J. Elkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a copy of the book through NetGalley, but as an Elkins fan, I had the first one sitting on my Kindle from a deal of the day awhile back. I read this book first--I recommend reading A Dangerous Talent, the first book, first.

A Cruise to Die For is the second in a new series by Charlotte & Aaron Elkins, veteran mystery writers with several other series. If you've seen the television show White Collar, you'll have an idea of the wit and sophistication they're striving for. The main character, Alix London, is the daughter of an art restorer who got caught forging paintings and a Boston high society rich girl. Fortunately, her mother died before her father went to prison, and thus was spared the humiliation and poverty Alix went through while her Dad was in prison. Bravely, Alix follows her own talent and becomes an art restorer as well. Dad is free now, in his 70s, and he and Alix are rebuilding their relationship.

In the first book, A Dangerous Talent, Alix became entangled with Ted Ellesworth and the FBI Art Crime Division and impressed him with her undeniable gift for spotting forgeries. Now they've asked her to sail along with potential buyers on an art cruise, on the fabulous yacht of a Greek magnate who may be running a scam. He sells shares in high-priced paintings--can you say Ponzi?

Full of derring-do and glitzy glimpses of the rich and famous, it's a fun romp. The descriptions of art and scenery are quite good, but there's something missing here that wasn't in the first book. It may be that Alix is on her own too much in this one, and she's not good enough yet to carry the book on her own. The ensemble cast is best. I am recommending the series--but start with the first one first!

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Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Different Drum

Song of the Shaman, a novelSong of the Shaman, a novel by Annette Vendryes Leach
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a temporary electronic copy of this book through Netgalley. Song of the Shaman, by Annette Leach, is a worthy first novel. Single parent Sheri is always surprised by her son Zig, whose memory appears to go back to before he was born. Caught up in making a living, Sheri is able not to think about Zig's little quirks too much until he gets older and his strangeness, combined with adolescent surliness, gets him in major trouble at school. When Sheri loses her job and is around Zig much more, she can no longer suppress the strange memories that fill her mind when Zig confronts her surface reality. And have to read the book! The present-day story is told alternating with a historical story. I'd like to have seen a tighter edit--there's some awkward phrasing, I would have cut some scenes in length, and you are right if you cynically sense a big New Age/Past Life cliche--but the author's passion and imagery transcend this. The parts that are indeed the shaman's song are well-told and true. Recommended if you have an interest in shamanism or past lives.

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Saturday, August 3, 2013

DeadlineDeadline by Sandra Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The publisher allowed me to read a temporary copy through Netgalley. Sandra Brown's Deadline was a pleasant surprise to me. Though I've over 20 years in the book biz, I have never read her before. I have to remember that successful writers of romance know how to tell stories! Here's the setup: many years ago, the FBI had a shootout with a gang of domestic terrorists. Most of the officers and the gang died, but the leader and his woman escaped-along with the baby born during the standoff. Fast-forward 30 years or so, and Dawson Scott, a journalist recently returned from Afghanistan with PSTD, is convinced by his godfather, an FBI agent involved in the shooting, to go cover a trial his godfather, Headly, thinks is linked to Carl Wingert, the terrorist leader who's never been caught. A beautiful young mother has to testify, and Dawson is hooked--on the woman, then the story. Ms. Brown gives a particularly satisfying twist at the end. I'm thinking once I wade through my to-read pile, or even before, I'll pick up another Sandra Brown.
Recommended for mystery/thriller book clubs; there is enough meat here to lead to lively discussion.

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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Five Days is An Eternity

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged HospitalFive Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley, I received a temporary ebook of this title. On to the review.
Five days is a long time. Five days in a hurricane and its aftermath is an eternity. I'm not sure how many people will stay the course through the 400+ epages and 500+ paper pages to the end.

Sheri Fink attempts to shine a spotlight into those dark days at Memorial Hospital during Katrina and its aftermath--but the information is overwhelming, the shadows obscuring, and there are no heroes to celebrate or villains to excoriate at the end. Not to say that Fink does not give all medical and emergency workers their due as heroes--but there is not a single person to rally the story around--and the probable villains are too big (government unpreparedness, corporate greed, and the usual human cluster-f*** in emergencies).

I have an interest in bioethics, so that's what kept me reading. I think Fink makes it clear what happened to the patients at Memorial who lost their lives due to injections of morphine. I think she also makes it clear, without meaning to, that disasters of this scope create insanity. Do they create criminality? I don't think it's at all crystal, beyond the shadow of doubt, clear why it happened. Is there a difference between people who shoot guns at rescue boats and people who end up making very bad decisions that cause other people to die? Is it ok to compare disasters to war because that's the only other thing we know where people die in such quantities, amidst physical, emotional, mental and spiritual stress?

It's an important book, these are important questions to raise. I wish it had been possible to pare down the pages, because this does not have the sheer storytelling power of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks that pushed it onto the bestseller list for such a lengthy span. This is a book that asks the questions, that should spark a national debate--but as the background history of disaster preparedness in New Orleans illustrates, humans don't often give these questions the discussion, decision-making, and deeds that follow through.

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Friday, July 26, 2013

The Jewels of Paradise

The Jewels of ParadiseThe Jewels of Paradise by Donna Leon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finally catching up on some reading--boy was I surprised to find Brunetti missing! A stand-alone, Jewels still has Donna Leon's trademark wit and appreciation of her adopted city, lovely Venice. Caterina Pellegrini is a musicologist whose specialty is Baroque opera. She's been working in England and mightily bored. She jumps at the chance to accept a temporary position back in her hometown. It's all very mysterious, of course. She must examine the contents of two chests purported to belong to a neglected opera composer from the Baroque period--with two heirs chomping at the bit for the money surely to be gained from the verification and sale of their contents. Loved it!

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tongue-in-cheek Tips for Intergalactic and Interdimensional Travel:7 of the funniest writers in Sci-fi and Fantasy

I think Gini Koch rises to the top of the sci-fi pile--her Alien series is like reading a cross between Men In Black and Clueless. Heroine Kitty  always has her hairspray and retro rock playlist. Sir Terry Pratchett's first book introduced sentient luggage and his Discworld novels have helped us howl ever since. He is the best footnote writer ever. Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe advises you to never leave your home without a towel. This advice may work better for Brits. Darling Diana Wynne Jones unleashed her stinging wit not only in the Tough Guide to Fantasyland, but in the Dark Lord of Derkholm and Year of the Griffin. Her gentler side is showcased in the Chrestomanci novels. And you can find many laughs in author/editor Esther Friesner's Bronze Bra series, otherwise known as Chicks in Chainmail.  Don Perrin and Margaret Weis' Mag Force 7 trilogy is hilarious--think "A-Team" in space.  And if you can find used copies of Alexei Panshin's Anthony Villiard novels from the 70s, you'll see some of their inspiration! Thurb. Grab any and all of their books that you can. But my copies are not for sale.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

3 Most Sympathetic Sociopaths

There's just something about a sociopath...not a psychopath, mind you, no Dexter or Hannibal here. Mallory is a cop who was found wandering the streets of New York as a child--by a cop who took her in and raised her. She has a peculiar but stringent sense of honor, breaks the law with impunity, and solves her cases. Carol O'Connell is still writing entries in the series, hurrah!  Thomas Perry won an Edgar for his first novel, The Butcher's Boy, about a Mafia hit man. The sequels are great, and Perry went on to create another great character, Jane Whitfield--not a sociopath. And John R. Maxim created a bunch of lovable killers in his Bannerman series. Bannerman's mother worked for the CIA, unbeknownst to him, and was their handler. When she died, he inherited them. But the government wants to kill them all. Reds, the movie, could have been inspired by these wonderful novels. So that takes the total to more than three, but you'll love me for it.

Top Brit Chick Lit-- 6 authors I'm so hooked on I pay extra to order new from the UK (blush)

Not only that, they are part of what fills up my house, because I re-read them! Generational sagas akin to Rosamund Pilcher and Maeve Binchy: Marcia Willett, Erica James. Romantic comedies: Katie Fforde, Christina Jones, Jill Mansell, Milly Johnson. I am an unabashed Anglophile, and these authors satisfy like no others. Also, you may have noticed this pet peeve of mine: I have a perfectly good imagination, ta very much, so why should I waste time and money on pages of sex scenes while I could be reading story? These authors all have the right touch of romance and reality, fantasy and frivolity. No thanks, Sophie Kinsella and Cecelia Ahern, you are ok, but these ladies are the best. Joanna Trollope is reliably published in the US, so I wait for hers, but she would be another drama writer on the list. Robin Pilcher was carrying on for his mom, but there hasn't been anything new for a while.

Spellbound Falls

Spellbound Falls (Spellbound Falls #1)Spellbound Falls by Janet Chapman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is one of those guilty pleasure things. I love the setting and the plot. This is on par with how I feel about Debbie Macomber's  books. The writing is not that great, but the storytelling is good. This is a new series, or continuation of the Highlander series, mixing magic and smalltown folks. I liked this, so I'm reading the rest, and I went back to her Highlander books. She is getting better as a writer after 10 years and I just could not stand the multo mach Highlander males, so I prefer these. They also do not waste half the book with sex scenes, though there are some.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

This Case Is Gonna Kill Me

This Case Is Gonna Kill Me (Linnet Ellery #1)This Case Is Gonna Kill Me by Phillipa Bornikova
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Even though Linnet does not realize how creepily lucky she is and we, of course, do, the sheer enjoyment of the lawyerly and werewolf/vampire/urban fantasy sendup is just too good! I ordered number two in hardcover. Linnet is a human lawyer, fostered by vampires, who is getting caught up in supernatural business and politics. We don't know why people are trying to kill her, and they don't know why it never works! I am content for her to be dim in this first book and trust that she'll wise up.

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River of Stars

River of StarsRiver of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kay's language is as beautiful as ever, but I agree with other reviewers--to many authorial digressions. I read a book like others watch movies, become immersed-and the voice of doom and history really breaks the spell. But Kay may be paying an homage to Chinese literature as well as history? Chinese movies, while beautiful and action-filled, are usually tragic. Not sure if this achieves high tragedy (did not cry, as Kay as sometimes made me do), but as always, I think Kay achieves high art.

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The Harvard Psychedelic Club

The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for AmericaThe Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America by Don Lattin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book needed tighter editing, there are some needless repetitions. Looking at the other reviews, it seems obvious that one has to have some background in the 60s and 70s and/or some experience with entheogens to appreciate most of the book. Context is all...but highly readable, thought-provoking.

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The Imperfectionists

The ImperfectionistsThe Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of Lit-Lovers most-liked Bookclub books. The most interesting character was the newspaper, though it could have been developed more. Most of the actual characters were desperate, dismal, and dreary. I prefer my books to have some uplift. This was a first novel, though. Might give the writer another chance.

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Monday, March 11, 2013

The Tapestry of Love

The Tapestry of LoveThe Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

a slow mover, less about plot than characters and situations and the rural countryside of France. Rather than the humor I tend to go for in my Brit novels, this has an aspect of melancholy, though not without hope. But 4 stars nonetheless, because of the depiction of rural France, and the lovely characters therein. It made me long for my own days of rural living. Also made me long for France or England instead of my desert!

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