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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