Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Life of One's Own

Vanessa and Her SisterVanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Loved it. It’s hard to imagine a fresh take on Bloomsbury until reading this truly wonderful novel. With lush and lyrical prose Priya Parmar draws a portrait of love—many portraits, in fact. Presented as a journal/scrapbook—journal entries are interspersed with letters and telegrams from others to others—the story is told from Vanessa’s point of view, and covers the period whence the Bloomsbury circle formed until Leonard Woolf’s return to Britain from India. As is common with young, smart, artistic people, the focus is mainly on romantic love of the difficult kind: unrequited love, desperate love, stupid love, forbidden love, mad love, dangerous love—and damaging love. Of course this is what makes a story about rich, privileged people who take themselves (too) seriously a universal story, and by focusing on Vanessa, Parmar brings in familial love and the love of friends as well. At its core, the novel is the story of a woman’s (not a young girl’s) coming of age, a glimpse into what it is to love a person doomed to madness, and an exploration of what it takes to remain a stable personality amidst the whirl and wonder of the creative lifepath.  There are layers and depth here, and beautiful sentences to be savored.
(I received an E-galley of the novel for review from Ballantine and Netgalley)

View all my reviews

Friday, November 28, 2014

Big Finish Giveaway

The Big Finish: A Thorn Novel (Thorn, #14)The Big Finish: A Thorn Novel by James W. Hall

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Big Finish is a wild ride through Florida and North Carolina with crazed killers—and some of them are the good guys.

Thorn is an ex-Special Forces man who spends his time hunting and fishing and living a simple life off the grid in Florida. He recently met and bonded with his adult son, Flynn Moss, who then joined an environmental group and has been branded an eco-terrorist. Flynn sends him postcards from protest sites. One day, a postcard arrives that says, “Help me.” It’s shortly followed by a visit from an FBI agent, and Thorn sets off for North Carolina, to an area where Flynn was last seen, an area hard hit by hog farming—and more nefarious doings.  It’s an intricate, fast-moving plot whose twists and turns are worthy of both swamp and bayou.

The Big Finish is dark, violent, well-written—and not for the soft-hearted. There’s torture, twisted sex, cruelty—there’s honor, love, and beauty, too. If you like macho noir thrillers with lyrical prose, Hall is your man.  The closest comparison I could give would be James Lee Burke—in atmosphere, and both cynicism and hope.

I received an advance copy for review from St. Martins.

St. Martins has offered two Advance Reader copies for a giveaway! Enter by leaving a comment here or on Miss Em Recommends on Facebook. Winners will be announced on pub date, Dec. 2. I will ask for your address and St. Martin's will mail your copy directly to you.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Job (Fox and O'Hare, #3)The Job by Janet Evanovich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dear readers, I said I would give the series another chance, and by golly, they've fixed things!  Tighter editing wins the day, and all that's left on the pages is fluff and fun. Nick Fox, international master thief, and Kate O'Hare, the FBI agent who caught him, now secretly work together with government sanction, using elaborate cons to catch really evil bad guys. Though there's a shipwreck in the plot, The Job stays on course and afloat. An even closer combo of White Collar and Red--I can't help picturing Kate's father as Bruce Willis, no matter what he's supposed to look like! This is action comedy with the necessary tinge of romance. The dialogue is usually great. And an international thief goes international! Exotic locales, humor, quirkiness, suspense. This entry in the series hits all the right notes. Are the authors trolling for another movie deal? Miss Em says, "Brava!" (But books are better.)

(I received an EARC for review from the publisher and netgalley.)

View all my reviews

Thursday, November 13, 2014

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Flora Illustrata is an intellectual and aesthetic feast for both gourmands and gourmets of gardens, and will satisfy many other tastes as well; within these pages are history and science--the history of science, of art, of botany and pharmacy, of gardens and garden design, of book illustration and production; even the history of museum and library curation, philanthropy, and civic life. In short, here we have a work to celebrate and cherish for many years to come, and an example of the elegant perfection that can ensue when people of different disciplines collaborate to create; this is a work of love as well as of art and science, engaging all the senses as well as the mind.

Honestly, Miss Em is trying not to be giddy, but it's not working. She was unaware, growing up in the wilds, that one can travel a mere two thousand miles to New York's Botanical Garden and be almost as happy as traveling the 5,000 miles to Kew Gardens in London. She was unaware of the presence of these rich treasures of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library of the New York Botanical Garden, acquired in those dizzying years of the expanding American Empire, reaching back to Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis historia (1483), to especially rare  etchings of the water gardens at Villa Pratolino in Florence (1600s), to books that depict the exploration of South America. Flora Illustrata highlights key works spanning more than eight centuries, from rare manuscripts and iconic books to Renaissance herbals, precious botanical drawings, elegant engravings, explorers’ notebooks, and more.  Lilies and lettuces, librarians and landscape theorists, explorers, scientists, philanthropists and shopkeepers, the history of New York and the world--all glimpsed and touched upon in these pages.

Flora Illustrata was created in order to highlight the astounding and not-so-well-known collection of the Mertz Library, and there's an exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden from Nov 15, 2014-Jan 19, 2015 to celebrate the publication.
For those who go and those who can't, Flora Illustrata is an exhibition in itself, lavishly illustrated, beautifully written and edited to create prose that flows instead of "scholar-speak." Yet the authors' and editors' love of scholarship shows through, making this a perfect book for both coffee table and research collections, to be treasured for years to come.

What a perfect gift for book people, plant people, artists and antiquarians. Hint, hint. (Miss Em's giddiness was caused by a digital edition of the book provided for review.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Heart Has Its ReasonsThe Heart Has Its Reasons by María Dueñas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sure wish there were half stars. 3.5
Maria Duenas’ second novel to appear in translation, The Heart Has Its Reasons, is dramatic in a different way from her previous international bestseller, The Time In Between, a novel that dealt with the suspense of both love and war. The Heart Has Its Reasons is more a novel of the havoc of love. The book is told in the first person: Blanca Perea, a Spanish professor of linguistics, discovers that the husband who just left her is having a child with his lover—the third child he never wanted, and Blanca did. She wants to get far, far away, and lick her emotional wounds far away from her grown sons and ex-husband, and takes a sabbatical from the university to travel all the way to California to work on a project far beneath her level of expertise, compiling and classifying some documents—a project that requires a Spanish native with a humanities doctorate.

When Blanca arrives at the University of Santa Cecilia, she discovers much disarray—tumult that matches her own life. The papers she’s to deal with have lain in a basement for many years; there’s a conflict between the department head and a former University professor who’s visiting Santa Cecilia (but why is he neglecting his own university?); there’s the very odd daughter of the very creepy ex-department secretary; there are students protesting against the proposed construction of a mall in a beautiful park. There’s a mess to match the mess of her heart.  There’s lots of academic intrigue, many hints of dangers lurking. In the end, though, this is not a novel of plot, but an exploration of grief, loss, and recovery; of growing up and growing onward, of heart and home.

I wish I had read the previous novel (still on my to-read list) so that I had a little more perspective on how much of the book’s sense of emotional disconnection is due to the author, and how much to the translator—that book had a different translator. But I am not intrigued enough to read it in the original Spanish.

Pros: accurate depiction of academics and university culture, intriguing background of Spaniards in California if you don’t know it, a snapshot of Spain’s modern history. Cons: like I said, I don’t know if it’s the translator’s choice, or the author’s: despite the very dramatic, sometimes passionate, actions and words of the characters, it feels like one is “reading about,” rather than immersed in the story. The very formal, sometimes literal translation definitely lets you know you are in the head of a foreigner, but the lack of colloquialism imposes a distance. The most egregious “literal” example: Chapter 6, “four portentous GE electric irons.” In order to be “portentous” in English, they should signify something that comes up later. What came up, at the very end of the book, was that Chapter 6, a flashback, is supposedly based on something that a native English speaker wrote.

Liked it, didn’t love it. Pretty sure I could predict that as the overall opinion of my book group, as well; some will love it, some will hate it, most will like it.
(Thanks to Atria and Netgalley for the E-ARC for review.)

View all my reviews

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Hello From the GillespiesHello From the Gillespies by Monica McInerney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hello From the Gillespies

Wow. You think you're reading one book, a book you've read before, in many lovely iterations, the women's fiction, family saga, comfort novel. Then it looks like maybe there's a book within a book? Then there's a completely different twist altogether! I loved it!

All is not sweetness and light in the Australian outback, and for once in her thirty-three year marriage, Angela hangs it all out there in the annual Christmas letter, airing the family laundry. Her husband's become obsessed with his Irish roots, but he's not talking about anything else--like how much financial trouble are they in? Her twin daughters need to do a lot more growing up--they're in their thirties. Their youngest daughter bounces from job to job, further in debt all the time, and their ten-year-old son, the surprise, is talking to his imaginary friend again. No wonder she needs a fantasy life to relieve her worry and stress! Of course she didn't really plan to email her inmost worries to those hundred close and far-flung friends, but circumstances intervened, and the letter went out. And friends are taking it much better than family…

What will all this fresh air blowing through the cracks in the family bring? Healing and bridging the gaps, or huffing and puffing and blowing the Gillespie house down? With the charm and humor that have caused comparisons to Maeve Binchy, Monica McInerny has penned a winning soap opera of a story that reads quickly despite its length. If, as one reviewer said, this isn't her best, I'll be even happier to read her other books! Highly recommended!
(I received an EARC for review from NAL and Netgalley)

View all my reviews

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Chaplain's WarThe Chaplain's War by Brad R. Torgersen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brad R. Torgersen has taken some standard science fiction tropes (Earthlings under threat from insectoid aliens, young people signing up for war) and made them fresh through an unusual viewpoint—that of a military chaplain, or more accurately, a chaplain’s assistant—an accidental chaplain’s assistant, at that. Harrison Barlow is just a regular guy who likes to help people, and ends up assigned to the Chaplain’s Corps, even though he’s a nonbeliever who never had religious training of any kind. Faith and religion are often touched upon in fantasy, but not often in science fiction, and this insider/outsider perspective serves very well as Harry moves into adulthood surrounded by the questions of life and death, duty and fellowship, and humanity and personhood that accompany the folks at the front lines of armed conflict.

Never fear, there is no preaching here. The book is a novel full of action, not a philosophical treatise, so the reader is engaged by flashbacks to boot camp and enemy action and all the things that led to Harry’s current position as a man who brokers an alien peace.  As always, peace is threatened. Is it a miracle when governments act beyond self-interest for the good of all? Is the sum of the law and the prophets to help people? Can a non-believer inspire others to faith? If you are doing the works, is faith necessary? These are some of the questions never asked directly in the book, but certainly occurring throughout the action. I read a review by a humanist who was satisfied, and as a believer I am satisfied, with the answers and questions I took away from the novel—the hallmark of a great story, like a great teacher, that leads you to the door of your own understanding and lets you go.  Like David Drake’s Redliners, this is a book that goes beyond the standard military sci-fi.
Highly recommended.
(I received an egalley from Baen  and Netgalley for review.)

View all my reviews

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found AgainTables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again by Preston Yancey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tables in the Wilderness

It's hard to review memoirs, because it more than ever feels like you're reviewing a person instead of a book. It's both wonderful and hard to review this book, because the author and I have been on such a similar journey. Raised Baptist, drawn to Anglican. Failed church. Good with words, so that the Long Night is one of silence, so that we can learn to hear God's language of breath and bone and stars and blood, of math and music, myth and metaphor, of gestures made and unmade, the language of an ever-expanding table with a place for everyone, of a love as bright as suns, as humble as dirt and sweat. And Preston is one of the few others I've seen/heard talk about the comfort of praying the prayers, the traditional prayers, the liturgical prayers, as you realize that you are praying by rote, just like the people you despised in your youth--and yet--those prayers, those pilgrims of the past, those saints; they have stood where you are standing, and their faith and prayers are holding you up as you walk across the vale of tears--you, too, are walking on the water, and Jesus takes your hand and smiles. God never left.

So instead of thinking of the book as a memoir or coming of age story, I treat it as Preston's testimony. He says at one point in the book, "I just want to hear someone preach a Jesus who is fiercely good and fiercely beautiful." Preston, you are fiercely on the way. But you knew that. The book is inspiring. Its painful honesty soars to truthtelling. It's written mostly in the present tense, which I do not like, because the transitions from past to present take one out of the story. But it's a good book, because there was lots of (internal) discussion with the author, lots of "right on!" and some "you're still so young." And some "oh heck" (that would denote the arrow of insight). There are some wonderful discussion questions in the back, and a "further reading" list. I think it would be a great book for older youth groups to read and discuss and pray on as the world changes, as churches build bridges, as God continues to work in the world to bring everyone, all of creation, to the table of grace and fellowship.
"Taste and see that the Lord is good."

Thank you Zondervan, netgalley, and God, for the opportunity to read and review this book in EARC format. It's worth re-viewing, keep it in your library.

View all my reviews

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and LoveRare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love by Anna Whiston-Donaldson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rare Bird

It's hard to review this book, because there is love and loss at the heart of it--and there's no one way to love, and there's no one way to grieve; there are not even pass/fail grades for life, or death. But I would like to add this book to every reading list, along with Man's Search For Meaning and All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten--the head and heart, as it were, and Rare Bird would be the soul and the body--for we will all grieve.

Anna gives us her path from mother of two to mother of one; she let her kids go out to play in the rain, and one of them never came home. She gives us the grief, the guilt, the questions, the rage, the comfort, the weird almost-miracles; she gives us the elegy and the eulogy, the presence and O God! the absence. She lets you fall in love with her boy, Jack--omg, thank you for putting the picture at the end, such a beautiful 12 year old boy.

This is the best kind of religious book; there is no preaching, just the journey of a believer in one of the most difficult journeys, that of a parent losing a child. This is the best kind of religious book, because there are no answers, only questions, only a journey toward healing from almost unimaginable pain. This is the best kind of book, because even though it's honest and raw, it's crafted to highlight reality instead of magnify it, to give everything of truth and not aggrandizement, to let you laugh as well as cry, to tell the beautiful truth instead of a beautiful lie. A real kid died. It's just one of those things, you read about them all the time; life goes on, but there's holes in it, and who cares if it's beautiful, it would be better if it never happened. But it happens every day, and here's how one person goes on.

We all need Anna's example, no matter what we believe; we will all have to walk forward without someone we love...

View all my reviews

An Ocean Of Air: A Natural History Of The AtmosphereAn Ocean Of Air: A Natural History Of The Atmosphere by Gabrielle Walker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An Ocean of Air opens with Joe Kittinger, an Air Force test pilot, in 1960, about to jump from a gondola hanging 20 miles in the air above New Mexico, at the edge of space, wondering if he's about to die. As he falls through the layers of atmosphere (landing safely), he is tracing the journey we'll follow to discover the wonders of wind and breath and the thinnest radiation shield ever--the layers of gases that surround our planet and make our lives possible.

How much does air weigh? Galileo almost got in trouble again for wondering. He discovered that it must have weight, but "how much" it weighs--that was for others to find out. (If you are in Carnegie Hall, the air around you weighs 70 thousand pounds.) Like a good science teacher, Ms. Walker asks questions and draws us in to the discovery of the answers through epic storytelling. Galileo, Columbus, Marconi and Van Allen (of the belts) get their stories told, but so do Will Ferrel, Oliver Heaviside, Wiley Post, and others, in all their quirky glory.

Who knew that Columbus, alchemy, Pascal, wars, the space race, the sinking of the Titanic, and climate change could be bundled so compellingly together? Or how truly lucky we are to have an ozone layer? Even reluctant nonfiction readers are seduced by Walker's stories--and it reads fast, since the last full quarter of the book is notes and index. Fascinating. For the curious: Felix Baumgartner's death-defying leap from space in 2012 was the first to break Kittinger's 1960 record, and Kittinger was one of his advisors.  

View all my reviews

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Say "I do" to Honeymoon Hotel

Honeymoon HotelHoneymoon Hotel by Hester Browne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hester Browne has done it again--the perfect chick-lit, Valentine flick of a book to bring a smile to your face and a warm glow inside. Rosie works as event-planner (mostly weddings) at the hotel she's practically grown up in. Her own love life needs a bit of help, though. And she's starting to treat her entire life as a gigantic to-do list. Can the arrival of the boss's son revive her heart along with her competitiveness, or will her world be as wobbly as a croquembouche tower? With a nod to foodies as well as the hospitality industry, Browne puts her own spin on the "opposites attract" theme. There's also a reading group guide at the end. Miss Em recommends saying "I do," to this one. Especially for fans of Sophie Kinsella, Katie Fforde, Christina Jones, et al.
(I received an e-galley for review from the publisher and Netgalley.)

View all my reviews

Monday, September 15, 2014

Snark & Dark

The White Magic Five and DimeThe White Magic Five and Dime by Steve Hockensmith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The White Magic Five and Dime is a welcome addition to the genre of snark and dark, I mean contemporary urban fantasy, (or paranormal mystery). While completely original, Alanis McLachlan, daughter of con woman Athena Passalis, reminds me of Rob Thurman's Trixa, a character I haven't seen enough of--a particular mix of dark with heart--so Alanis is very welcome to fill the void.  Dark and funny, like an early Tarantino movie with less blood, The White Magic Five and Dime delivers in spades--or swords and cups, mostly, with some great advice on Tarot reading.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


An Indomitable Beast: The Remarkable Journey of the JaguarAn Indomitable Beast: The Remarkable Journey of the Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An Indomitable Beast

Alan Rabinowitz' new book showcases not only his lifetime of work, but the magnificent animal that inspired it. As a boy, Rabinowitz stuttered terribly in the presence of humans, but could speak his heart to animals. One day, struck by the mystery of wilderness and otherness in the eyes of a young jaguar, he vowed to speak for the voiceless animals when he grew older. He has spent his lifetime helping to study and conserve wild animals and their habitat and now concentrates on the big cats through the organization Panthera. The jaguar remains close to his heart not only as the embodied voice of the wild, but as a potential success in survival.

An Indomitable Beast tells the story of the jaguar as we know it, from its beginning as a species, its presence around the world, to its precarious success in the face of human expansion across the globe and into its territory. In telling Rabinowitz' story, too, from that life-changing moment, through years of schooling, the thrill of a young man's success, the humbling of life and work, the book gives us a glimpse at the growth of the conservation and ecology movements. In the cascade of habitat loss and extinction, it's hard to remember sometimes that we haven't been trying to undo the consequences of humanity for very long compared to how long we've been around.

The jaguar is the epitome of adaptation in the big cat world, changing its diet to match the available food sources, sticking to the shadows and byways, always choosing to avoid humans rather than confront them, a reluctant and wounded warrior. Perhaps it is the perfect animal to help us realize that when we destroy other top predators, our competition, our environment, we destroy ourselves. Although pictures were not included in the e-galley provided to this reviewer, one could imagine a picture book for adults made from the impassioned last section of the book, which is both a paean to the jaguar's beauty and tenacity, and a plea for its future, twined with our own. Recommended.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Pages Colored with Love

Lisette's List: A NovelLisette's List: A Novel by Susan Vreeland
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"In our life there is a single color, as on an artist's palette, which provides the meaning of life and art. It is the color of love."~Marc Chagall

This was my first Susan Vreeland, and I'm intrigued enough to read another--Vreeland writes beautifully about paintings and scenery and the hunger for art and artistic expression. The book is conceived as a "trail of the history of art. ... The visible reality expressed through the handling of light and color of impressionism-Pissaro-moved into the solid geometric shapes of postimpressionisn-Cezanne-to the modernism of distortion and cubism-Picasso-and finally to the postmodernism of the expression of the invisible personal reality of dreams. That's Chagall." The flaw is that this history of art is told by characters created to tell that story, who never quite come alive enough to tell their own.

Young Lisette was raised in an orphanage in post-WWI Paris, and she has an eye for art. She marries Andre, a young frame maker, and expects to find a job in a gallery--even cleaning the walls would do. But she and Andre are called to the countryside to take care of Andre's grandfather, Pascal, in his old age. From soirées and cafés to bedpans and roosters--Lisette's life is turned upside down! But Pascal used to be a paint salesman in Paris, a step up from his teenage job as a miner of ochre for paint and dyes in the small commune of Roussillon, and in addition to the stories of paint and artists, he has beautiful paintings from the greats--Cezanne, Pisarro, Picasso--that they can look at and comprehend together. Then, WWII starts, Andre and their friend Maxime enlist, and the rest of the plot ensues. Chagall comes into the story, hiding in a small village before escaping from the Nazis to the United States.

As I said, Vreeland writes beautifully, especially when she is writing about the heart of art and not art criticism and history; she shows what is behind all that jargon. But Lisette does not change, though more than ten years (and the war!) pass; it's as if by being in the countryside she's frozen in time at twenty, though she's thirty-one at the end. Or perhaps it's just that she exists, like her list, like the paintings, as a hook on which to hang some beautiful art.

Despite the flaws, it's a good book--it does fulfill the promise of its Chagall epigraph, coloring the pages with love, and I recommend it to anyone that has an interest in art. (I received an e-galley for review from the publisher and Netgalley.)

View all my reviews

Monday, August 18, 2014

Hermione's Posse: Girls in SFF Who Kick Butt with Their Brains

Brown Tells a Mean Tale

Perfect for lovers of romantic suspense, Sandra Brown's Mean Streak will be a four star for many of her fans. It is a total romance fantasy, with a kidnapping that isn't, really. Or is it? Somebody bonked sexy heiress Dr. Emory Charbonneau with a rock--and if it wasn't the mysterious stranger in whose cabin she wakes up, who left her to die in the winter wilderness? 
The mystery man won't reveal his name, some menacing hillbilly thugs presage violence, Emory's husband might be the one who tried to kill her--but her heart, frozen since her parents' deaths, is starting to thaw in the presence of the fearsome giant who has carried her off to--protect her? 
Dear reader, I read it all the way through, because Sandra Brown is a mean storyteller, but I wasn't surprised, and the story wasn't plausible. That's why I call it a fantasy instead of a thriller. But it is fun to follow the twists and turns, and satisfies in the romance department. 
I am a recent Sandra Brown reader, thanks to netgalley and Grand Central Publishing, and while I rate the previous book four stars and this three, I will continue to read and recommend Sandra Brown's books. 

(I received an e-galley of this book for review.) 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

After Long Silence: Favorite SFF authors write again

Foolish Love

Fool's Assassin (The Fitz and The Fool Trilogy, #1)Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fool's Assassin

This new entry in the Fitz and Fool saga brings the reader right back into the wonder and intrigue of the Six Duchies. I wish I'd had time to go back and re-read the other two trilogies (the Farseer Trilogy and the Tawny Man Trilogy), since they were my favorites of hers in this world. I don't remember such foreshadowing in the other books, nor the impatience of reading whilst thinking that the main character is such an oblivious fool. And I am all uncertain whether I should reveal why I thought so from the beginning page, but I will treat it as a spoiler. Nevertheless, I am sure you will realize far before Tom does the target of the mysterious intruders, and the identity of the unexpected son.

Is the Fool still alive? Why has he never contacted Fitz, now known as Tom, living in happiness and peace at long last, enjoying Molly's love? Unlike some readers, I do not chafe at the long descriptions of bucolic country life and dear daughter Bee's childhood. Let them enjoy their happiness, and me with them, until the wide world intrudes. Here we revisit again the differences between Skill and Wit, the native magics--Skill being a bit more abstract, controlling, and intellectual, and Wit being what some call beast magic. For some of us who might have waited to read the Rainwilds Chronicles until complete (finished recently, not yet read by me), this was a needed, leisurely reintroduction to this world and culture.

So cons: a little slow-moving, sometimes a confusing transition between Fitz/Tom's first-person narration and daughter Bee's first-person narration. And of course people die that you don't want to. Pros: I do love the mind and imagination of Robin Hobbs. Bee is amazing.Father Wolf. Unnamed cat. Stable boy Per.

Recommended--but begin at the beginning. I'll be starting there again, in the year we wait for the next installment! Bravo!
I received an e-galley for review from Del Rey and Netgalley.

View all my reviews

Monday, August 11, 2014

Small Blessings is a Big-Hearted Novel

<a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18404204-small-blessings" style="float: left; padding-right: 20px"><img alt="Small Blessings" border="0" src="https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1406526587m/18404204.jpg" /></a><a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18404204-small-blessings">Small Blessings</a> by <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/290987.Martha_Woodroof">Martha Woodroof</a><br/>
My rating: <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1024030281">5 of 5 stars</a><br /><br />
Small Blessings is the heart-warmer of the year. I love this tender story about people trying to do their best no matter what life throws at them. <br><br>Cleverly constructed with the terrible thing at the beginning instead of the end, we have orphans, free spirits, addicts, mental illness, campus politics, mysterious money, love requited and un-, Shakespeare and bookstores, all blended together and gently simmered with hope and humor into a soul-nourishing stew that satisfies the hungry heart in every way. <br><br>Rose, the new campus bookstore manager, has moved around a lot. She's never in her whole life had a place she called home for long, and never wanted to. But there's something about this town.... <br><br>If you'd like a read that brings a smile to your lips and an occasional tear to your eye, Small Blessings is the perfect prescription--for renewed hope in human nature, for a feel-good love story, for a book club read, for a present. Highly recommended! <br><br>I received an advance e-galley for review from St. Martins and Netgalley. 
<a href="https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/2206775-maurynne-maxwell">View all my reviews</a>

Friday, July 25, 2014

Charmian Charms

The Messy Baker: More Than 75 Delicious Recipes from a Real KitchenThe Messy Baker: More Than 75 Delicious Recipes from a Real Kitchen by Charmian Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Messy Baker title gave me hope, so I asked for a review galley of this cookbook, which Rodale was kind enough to grant through netgalley. My hope was justified; The Messy Baker delights the heart of someone intimidated by the "weigh-it-for-precision" philosophy of baking that's been in vogue. The Messy Baker does not refer to flinging flour around the kitchen with abandon (although, why not, if you clean it up?); it's for those of us that like a little wiggle room, room for flair. For those of us who think of recipes as guidelines, not commandments; for those of us without a kitchen scale. And possibly more experienced bakers will find inspiration here, as well.

Charmian Christie has the perfect tone of "Come on, let's try this!" The recipes themselves are clear--and most fit on one page, which is great. There's a lot for beginners, here. There's a kitchen supply list; there are tips for "when" things go wrong and tips for "making do;" there's encouragement, and a lot of celebration of the fun that can be had in the kitchen. Charmian celebrates the sensuality of cooking; the chapters are arranged by sensory experience: crumbly, sloppy, drippy, etc., and she describes the way the dish is supposed to taste. Her stories are interesting, too. Also, lots of savory stuff! For those of us who don't bake because they don't crave sweets, the book is a treasure trove--and the sweet recipes have some layers: Blueberry-Lime Cornmeal Muffins. Yum. Piglet Biscuits--with cheese and bacon!  And I really like the aioli and gremolata variations.

Charmian has a blog also (messy baker.com) and The Messy Baker book will go on my foodie shelf! I'm betting if she wrote a memoir or novel with recipes, I'd give it five stars. Recommended for both cooks and foodie readers.

View all my reviews

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Luscious Livre

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with RecipesLunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is truly a book for foodies! The recipes alone are worth the journey of Lunch in Paris. Interwoven with the recipes--three or four at each chapter's end--is the story of how Elizabeth Bard became an ex-pat.

The tone attempted in this memoir is Sex-in-the-City meets Three Coins in the Fountain, substitute Paris for Rome.  New Yorker Elizabeth is working in London when she meets Gwendal (Celtic Frenchman, who could resist?). They fall in love and she moves into his tiny, unheated Paris apartment. Culture shock and marriage ensue, whilst Elizabeth wonders what she should "do" with her life. You may or may not end up liking the author, this thirty-something those around her love to take care of, but it’s the recipes that really bring the book to life.

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes was the recipient of the 2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award for Best First Cookbook (USA).  So think of it as a cookbook instead of a memoir, with rather long stories before the recipes. There's some depth lacking throughout, but who can blame the author for being lucky and cute? Just concentrate on the food—advice for any uncertain situation, as the author demonstrates.

Chocolate soufflés, ratatouille, asparagus with ham and poached egg. Eggplants galore. Noodle pudding and matzoh ball soup, too. The recipes are so well-written, everyone in the bookclub wants to try at least one. There are descriptions of memorable meals with family and friends, and enough inspiration to make you want to try to recreate them. Have a wonderful time in the kitchen and get ready for book two, Picnic in Provence, due spring 2015.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Man Called Love

A Man Called OveA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Man Called Ove is the name of the book, but what you see above is not a typo. The book is, at heart, a love story. Fredrick Backman has created a small masterpiece in this gem of a tale about a not-so-charming man. A man of a certain age and type. The curmudgeonly type.

Ove is the grumpiest man on the block, until a young family moves in next door and calls him back to life and love. People aren't following the rules, and God is the worst offender in this matter, having taken Ove's wife, the only color in his life, and by gum, Ove is determined to join her. But the neighbors keep interrupting every time he has his method and timing picked, and Ove must save the day.

The book has been compared with The Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, but I love it even more. It's funnier and wiser than either, and neither one of those books had my grandpa in it. Or the cat. Backman can sure write a cat. He can also write the story of a man who speaks his heart with his hands, his harsh and brittle life, and the tenderness at its core. This is my favorite general fiction book of the year so far, and I could see an Oscar-winning movie come from it, with the right team. It is sure to be a book club favorite for years to come.

I laughed out loud and cried good tears. Thank you Simon and Schuster for retaining the British translation; it would not be nearly as funny in American English. The translator is gifted! Colloquialisms have been left in, and they make the book more charming: "Her laughter catches him on the back foot. As if it's carbonated and someone has poured it too fast and it's bubbling over in all directions. It doesn't fit at all with the grey cement and right-angled garden paving stones. It's an untidy, mischievous laugh that refuses to go along with rules and proscriptions."

Parvaneh is the young mother who has moved in next door, whose name means butterfly. That laugh has a butterfly effect on Ove's life, and he is caught by the back foot indeed, captivated like a stray and charmed back to the land of the living. And he smiling. You, too, will be captivated and smiling even through tears, as Backman celebrates the beauty and transformative power of everyday love, all kinds.

I received an EARC of this book for review from the publisher and netgalley, and it's cost me 20 bucks, because I have to buy a hardback for my "favorites" shelf. :)

View all my reviews

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Half a King Is a Whole Lot of Story

Half a King (Shattered Sea, #1)Half a King by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read it straight through. Immediately wanted more. Abercrombie has a distinctive storytelling voice here, cultural mores woven seamlessly into narrative, like listening to a saga that reveals reality instead of romance. The blood, guts, and gore are here, but they are not gratuitous. One is at the same time living the story but grateful to be in a modern world with running water and machines.

The culture of Half a King is analogous to the old Norse, or older. The story is like all old stories, with men clashing, thrones lost and won, heirs lost and found.  In this story, the prince is a reluctant king, being an introvert and trained from youth for the Ministry--meaning Administration. He'd rather be beside the throne than in it. But he is a man of his culture, and attempts to step up to the job--but others do want the kingship, and thusly the story starts.

Kudos for the strong, well-written women characters--there are a few. There is adventure, deception, merchantry, and personal growth. Stories are how we learn to live in the world, and there are some fine lessons here, lessons for heart and mind. This would make a great compare and contrast with Goblin Emperor; two young men with thrones unsought, two different but similar worlds, two different takes on duty and right behavior. Two different books marketed as YA and yet achieving far more range and power than typical coming-of-age stories. Highly recommended for mature teens and adults.

View all my reviews


The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I just got this review copy from Crown, and I read it straight through. People are comparing it to Castaway and Apollo 13, and it's because it reads like a movie. At 55 pages in, I wasn't sure I would be able to finish, the suspense was so enervating. Luckily, the book and I achieved equilibrium. It is good. It is good at depicting the character and culture of scientists and astronauts, and the people who complain about the humor and swearing must not know any Air Force personnel or nerds.

I can't comment on the science, but it reads like a string of thought experiments--a giant, well-written, story problem, but you're not the one who has to figure it out, you're along for the wild and crazy ride. Whether you think Crusoe or MacGyver, it's an homage to human ingenuity and engineering and the will to survive, and all the people seem true, if not deep. Recommended!

View all my reviews

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Heart Math

One Plus OneOne Plus One by Jojo Moyes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Writers are like magicians, really; by commanding your attention and then subverting it, redirecting it, they make you see, for a time, a world where anything is possible. One Plus One should not work, it is totally implausible! And yet, I believed in it every single minute I was reading, and believe its spirit, if not its details, even now. New fan, here.

The ones of love in this book do not add up to two, they add up to very much more than that. Tanzie loves maths, and smelly dog Norman, and half-brother Nicky and mom Jess and dad Marty, even though Marty is a sleazeball, this being the second time he's abandoned Nicky and he's abandoned her, too--she's just too young to know it and Jess is protecting her.  Jess is one of those people who's fallen through the cracks, trying to take care of two kids and herself in a very bad neighborhood, working hard and falling a little bit more behind every day. I cheered for her every step of the way.  Ed, geeky rich guy about to be indicted for insider trading, is pulled into the orbit of their lives, and mayhem--and love--ensue.

Oh yes, Jojo can have the empty Binchy and Pilcher spaces on my TBR shelf. Right there next to Joanna Trollope and Lucy Dillon and Marcia Willett and Erica James and Roisin Meaney--and with Jill Mansell, Katie Fforde, Christina Jones, Sarah-Kate Lynch, and Milly Johnson, because she's funny like them, too, in addition to being tender and wise and fierce. Go--buy, read, laugh, weep--and have a fine old time suspending your disbelief!

(I received a temporary e-galley for review, thanks to Penguin and netgalley)

View all my reviews

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Shaman Rises (Walker Papers, #9)Shaman Rises by C.E. Murphy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow. A fitting end to the series. Dear reader, I did cry. Joanne Walker, reluctant shaman, rises to the occasion once again. C. E. Murphy provides a convenient timeline/synopsis of all the previous books, but as always, I recommend starting from the beginning, if you've missed the series.

Over the course of eleven books (two collections), Joanne Walker has gone from being a brassy, bossy mechanic to a powerhouse shaman comfortable with gods. She's had her world turned upside down and inside out and back again, fought everything from embarrassment to zombies, loved and lost and found. She's had to blend the Celtic and Cherokee blood and magic within her. Now the Devourer, the Soul-Eater, will confront Joanne on her home turf of Seattle, in the body.

Just read the series, if you haven't. Look up Murphy's Negotiator trilogy, if you haven't read that. Wait for whatever Murphy writes next, because she writes with humor, heart, and soul--and with the magic she writes about.

View all my reviews

Monday, June 23, 2014

Reading Substance

Reading Style: A Life in SentencesReading Style: A Life in Sentences by Jenny Davidson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Recommended for intellectuals, academics, and poets. Jenny Davidson is an academic and has chosen that language for her book, so that does limit the readership. Especially for a book purporting to concentrate on the art of the sentence as a springboard to literary appreciation, I was hoping for a book with the range and excitement of Edward Hirsch's How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry, or Camille Paglia's Break, Blow, Burn!, where the examination of a work lights a fire within the author that's then passed on to the reader. That blaze is not here, but persistence brings a slow, warm glow.

The author lets us know she reads popular literature (Stephen King, Julia Glass, Dick Francis) but the works she chooses to highlight, and thus her own sentences, are dense, chewy, convoluted. (Proust, James, Eliot, Austen, etc.)  Also, kindle formatting sucks, so it's hard to tell what awkwardness belongs to the author and what to the software engineer--transitions are sometimes without a colon or line break, mostly without quotes, never italics; the mechanics of reading matter. There is a lovely sensual element to Davidson's writing and reading of texts that implies and exploits a synesthestic approach to reading, empowers literature as experience.

Criticism becomes discernment in Davidson's deft hands, and she does transmit her pleasure in the reading, the works, and the language(s).  Very fun, but in no way light reading!  Made me want to revisit James, Austen, and Proust.
Thanks to Columbia UP and netgalley for the e-galley for review.

View all my reviews

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Wake up and smell the incense...

The World We FoundThe World We Found by Thrity Umrigar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A thought-provoking read. Umrigar's beautiful sentences bring a bustling India to life. The novel starts out in America, however, where Indian ex-pat Armaiti is dying of a brain tumor.  Though she has an ex-husband who still loves her and a daughter who is there for her as well, she finds herself wishing to say goodbye to her almost-sisters, the three girls with whom she went to college thirty years ago. It's as if she must say goodbye to her own truest, deepest self.  This is the baby-boomer generation with an international twist. The book deals with feminism, racism, religion, politics, homophobia, class difference, marriage, and mortality—and yet not in a forced manner—all these are the background of our lives, after all.

We follow the four women and learn their stories, past and present, as their reunion approaches. The idealism and dreams of youth have changed for all four women, and the two men who went to college with them. Questions provoked by this book are: How do we build our lives amidst tragedies and betrayals, small and large? How do we decide what is good and right? What is it that brings us joy? Does love last? How does a man become a wife-abuser? What makes  women bend and break? The title references the adult world they found outside of college, and yet the story makes clear in luminous compassion—the world we get is the world we choose, as well.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Art of Arranging Flowers

The Art of Arranging FlowersThe Art of Arranging Flowers by Lynne Branard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are writers who tell a great story, and writers who put together wonderful sentences. There are my favorite writers, who do both. Lynne Branard is now on my favorite author list. With the literary talent of Alice Hoffman, the sweetness and humor of Sarah Addison Allen, and the wholesome storytelling of Debbie Maccomber, Branard still carves her own niche.

The Art of Arranging Flowers is a gentle, magical exploration of love and grief and the healing power of beauty. It's a sweet story of the smalltown flowershop owner whose appreciation of the special properties of flowers helps the love lives of all the town--who's been content to remain alone. And yet...twenty years after losing her sister, her heart starts waking up in unexpected ways, blooms in unsuspected places.

So, if you like a touch of lyricism, a smidge of mysticism, a peek into a quirky, quiet life, there's a lavish bouquet of love for you in The Art of Arranging Flowers.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to read the EARC of the book from the publisher and netgalley but it works out for them--now I have to buy the darn thing for my library. :)

View all my reviews

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Cyador's HeirsCyador's Heirs by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Modesitt's trademark "angry young man gains sense and experience" is worked out stellarly in this new addition to the Recluce novels. When Cyador was destroyed, the emperor's family fled and started over as supplicants in a new land. We follow the second son, third in line to Cyador's throne, as drought and famine push raiders and slavers into the boundaries of his father's dukedom. Lerial may be his youngest hero yet, called upon to do great and dangerous things with great need and little knowledge. That's life, really, in Modesitt's worldview. The study of chaos and order, the ways of power, the challenges of integrity and intelligence are Modesitt's lifelong themes. In between battles and large explosions, where other authors digress into technical details, Modesitt expounds on philosophy and relationships. And he is thought-provoking to follow, even after 23 years. His characters grow in character. Luckily the next installment is due in November, not a year away.

View all my reviews

Monday, May 19, 2014

Love and Life and Death

BenedictionBenediction by Kent Haruf
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"All that we behold is full of blessings." ~Wordsworth

His literary inspirations are Faulkner, Hemingway, and Chekov, and his prose is as beautiful as Hemingway's, if not as action-filled. What Kent Haruf sculpts with his spare, beautiful sentences is the landscape of the heart.  You don't read Haruf for excitement, but for insight.

Haruf has been telling stories of life in the hardscrabble environs of fictional Holt, Colorado, over the course of his literary career. Haruf grew up in the high eastern plains of Colorado, so his Holt is a distillation, the pure essence of the landscape and atmosphere of the non-urban West and the character of its folk. Benediction, his latest novel, has at its center "Dad" Lewis, owner of Holt's hardware store, who's just found out he's going to die soon, before summer is over. And this is life and death in Holt, Colorado.

Lorraine, the daughter, comes home to help. Their son, Franktook himself off years ago. That's probably Dad's greatest regret. But his and Mary’s love has lasted through their marriage. He believes she’s everything good that ever happened to him. There's another father and son in the story, Holt's new preacher, Rev. Lyle, has been sent out of Denver because he stood up for a fellow minister. His teenage son has this uprooting and embarrassment to deal with in addition to the tension in his parents' marriage, hormones, and the utter, terrifying culture shock from trendy urban to redneck rural.

Poor Reverend Lyle is discovering that having the courage of his convictions
causes a crisis of faith in others. Neither his superiors nor his parishioners
is really interested in What Would Jesus Do, thank you. And yet even as his life
crumbles in this brief visit to Holt, he is the compassionate center. Across the street from the Lewis family, Berta Mae's eight-year-old granddaughter has had to come live with her after her mom dies of cancer. Another middle aged daughter comes home to companion her mother.

There's sex and violence, remembrances and regrets, secrets and revelations,
tragedies and joys large and small. Love begins, love ends, love goes on. In the meltdown of his career, Holt’s new preacher Rev. Lyle takes to wandering Holt's streets at night, looking into the windows of its houses, expecting to see scenes of familial and societal breakdown--a mirrored apocalypse. Instead he sees tenderness and love, "the precious ordinary," he tells the unsympathetic cops.

“Love is the most important part of life, isn’t it. If you have love you can live in this world in a true way and if you love each other you can see past everything and accept what you don’t understand and forgive what you don’t know or don’t like.” Lyle expresses this to a young couple—and Haruf makes us wonder—what is it in us that holds us to hardness? How can we extend our love better?

I don’t know whether it’s the more contemporary setting, or the lack of closure that death brings, but I prefer the earlier novels, Plainsong and Eventide.  Nevertheless, Haruf’s tender truthtelling is always a pleasure.

I think I got this book from a giveaway, but it had no paperwork, so I might have bought it. Thanks, Vintage, anyway!

View all my reviews

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Those books you can just fall into...

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Forbidden Library is lovely. Miss Em looked forward to it with anticipation and a bit of trepidation; Django Wexler wrote her favorite new adult sci-fi novel of last year, The Thousand Names, and as silly as it may sound, some authors just can't make the crossover into good kid lit. No worries, though!

Alice hears a strange conversation between her father and a snarky fairy one night, and practically the next thing she knows, her father is missing, presumed dead, she's impoverished and sent to live with her "uncle," a rich old man she's never met--and who turns out to be a wizard who collects his powers by killing or enslaving creatures found in magical books. There's a talking cat, dragons, and critters of all descriptions. And a boy who has to be rescued. Alice has been raised by her Dad to be a plucky, take charge kind of girl, and it's a pleasure to follow her adventure. She stays true to herself and I look forward to the change she'll cause in every book/world she visits--oh yes, the Forbidden Library is true to the saying, "Books are portals to other worlds." I'll be gifting the book to all my nieces, for sure.

Like the blurb says, the book should be popular with fans of Coraline and Inkheart; I would say also fans of Diana Wynne Jones, Roald Dahl's Matilda, and I was reminded of the plucky, likeable Sara Crewe from A Little Princess (by Frances Hodgson Burnett, not the movie).  Highly recommended for both personal and library collections. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Drone Worth the Buzz

Sting of the DroneSting of the Drone by Richard A. Clarke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sting of the Drone presents an insider’s view of the Predator program, politics, procedure, and philosophy, all while laying out a scenario that puts our heroes not just trying to prevent another 9/11, but trying to figure out if one is planned. Kinda like reality, really.  The Cold War has morphed into the War on Terror—attempting to bring the age of Remote War—through technology like drones. But Mr. Clarke shows us that war does not remain remote—that short of genocide, the reasons for war are reborn with each generation, as are the responses to war.

You will come away with an appreciation for what—and who!—it takes for us ordinary citizens not to be wondering every day if it’s going to happen again—and also thinking, maybe us ordinary citizens should think about it more often.  Undoubtedly most of the scenes in the book were based on actual terrorist attempts, and one hopes not all of them.  Clarke presents the women and men on the new front lines of war--the political back rooms, the computer screens, banks, homes, high schools, hospitals, tents and caves.

Miss Em recommends Sting of the Drone for anyone who likes thrillers. David Morrell describes this book as “a cross between a techno-thriller and a docu-thriller," and I agree. Though not as polished as Mr. Morrell’s own work in balancing, character, action, and structure, Richard A. Clarke’s Sting of the Drone will be appreciated by fans of Tom Clancy, Dale Brown, and Stephen Coonts. (In other words, it's a little heavy on acronyms and technical descriptions, but plenty of explosions and bad guys getting their just deserts.)

Thanks to Thomas Dunne Books for providing an ARE for review.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Sea Without a Shore (Lt. Leary, #10)The Sea Without a Shore by David Drake
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I do love David Drake and I do love this series, though it's hard to explain why sometimes. Short take for fans: this is one of the better ones. If you haven't read them, do start with the first. Drake is a veteran and a historian and his military SF involves his own experiences and certain historical situations, reframed and recast in different universes. See Redliners, a military masterpiece, if you want to know what war is really like.

Daniel Leary is a Naval officer whose father is a political bigwig; they are estranged. Daniel is privileged and handsome and lucky--all good qualities in an officer.  He is also arrogant and prejudiced, a perfect caricature of British aristocracy at the height of Empire--this is why I downgrade the books that have a lot of leave time in them, because Daniel on the family estate in Bantry is a rich redneck. I read the books despite this--because I like his sidekick, sociopathic super-librarian Adele Mundy, whose entire family was massacred by Daniel's father. Adele's hobby is figuring out and mimicking human behavior--and she's inspired her sidekick, the psychopath Tovera.

In this episode, I believe Daniel works out a relatively quick solution to avert a longterm war and the involvement of opposing governmental superpowers. There's always the balance of civilians, citizens, politicians, bureaucrats, criminals, the military, spies--terrain, logistics, intel--practicalities vs. theories. There's even a bit of the spiritual in this foray. Drake is always interesting.

Why does Drake keep writing these, and why do we keep reading? It's the character development. The caricature of the British Empire and its lords is becoming a realized universe; Daniel Leary is young and he is maturing; Adele is learning to blend in. There's action, some introspection, some humor, some politics. It's a great way to spend an afternoon, whiling away the hours in another universe, learning about the human creature...

The first book is called With the Lightnings. Enjoy!
(Baen and netgalley provided an e-galley for review purposes.)

View all my reviews

Monday, May 5, 2014

Woman Power

A Creature of MoonlightA Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca   Hahn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. I will read whatever Rebecca Hahn chooses next to write. Lyrical. Dark, dreamy, moody, moon-driven. Creature of Moonlight is an original fairy tale, with kingdoms and dragons and living woods with tricky trees, and a princess as practical as a goose girl.

I may have mentioned how much I mostly dislike reading first-person narratives, but I had no problem with this one. I was pulled into Marni’s head and her world immediately.  Not for everyone, but anyone who loves language, fairy tales, and fantasy, should gobble it up. If you enjoyed Girl of Fire and Thorns, Graceling, and Seraphina, you will like this. The book I kept flashing on was We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson—for the eerie atmosphere and the authority of the voice—and its themes of grief, anger, power, loss, family.

Read the blurbs; consider that every word of praise is well-deserved. Be pulled into another world, where a powerful girl decides what kind of powerful woman she will grow into. Creature of Moonlight is an amazing book not just about coming of age, but of maturing, of choices made and unmade, of love and revenge and life beyond romance, of all the different kinds of youthful burning we do—mixed up with murder, magic, moonlight, and dragons.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Gibson meets Fforde

The Word ExchangeThe Word Exchange by Alena Graedon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dear reader, I wanted to hate this book—in addition to the first person narration, it’s a concept book! Word flu. Alice in Wonderland. And a nerdy romance. I thought it was all going to be too twee. Here’s part of the setup:

“In the not-so-distant future, the forecasted “death of print” has become a reality. Bookstores, libraries, newspapers, and magazines are things of the past, and we spend our time glued to handheld devices called Memes that not only keep us in constant communication but also have become so intuitive that they hail us cabs before we leave our offices, order takeout at the first growl of a hungry stomach, and even create and sell language itself in a marketplace called the Word Exchange.”

The publisher wants to call it a thriller, hoping to capitalize on the similarity of theme to Lexicon, I guess. Think more along the lines of Gibson’s Pattern Recognition as written by Jasper Fforde, and you’ll be closer.  There’s a likability and camaraderie that shines through, instead of tension. This is no one’s idea of science fiction, and it’s not reality, either. Hello, speculative fiction: near-future, possibly; parallel earth, possibly; parable of a pandemic, metaphor of society, possibly. Here we go. Let’s call speculative fiction what highlights the possible, and science fiction what makes the possible probable.

There are faults in the book (slow start, inelegant transitions, horrible footnotes), but Miss Em has forgiven all because of the love of language, the weft and weave of words—the virtual bricks of the memory palace we call reality—the lilt and tilt of Graedon’s words and thought. In other words, I ended up having fun, and look forward to playing again. Recommended.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Better than a cruise vacation

Miss Em is so excited about this book, she needs the objectivity of the third person to contain her excitement lest she put you off like an over-eager host. I loved it, dear reader.  And I must ask you not to start the book before an important project, like a cruise, because, dear reader, Miss Em snarled every moment she was forced to put the book down for some foolishness like sail-away parties, balcony dining, stunning ocean views, or any of that rot. Thank God I finished it before the Dom Perignon came along! But Miss Em believes this book is destined to be a classic, too. The publisher’s copy cannot do what Ms. Addison does, drawing you heart and soul into both her world and her characters. Here’s an excerpt, much more revealing than the plot blurb from the publisher:

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
News Comes to Edonomee
Maia woke with his cousin’s cold fingers digging into his shoulder.
“Cousin? What…” He sat up, rubbing at his eyes with one hand. “What time is it?”
“Get up!” Setheris snarled. “Hurry!”
Obediently, Maia crawled out of bed, clumsy and sleep-sodden. “What’s toward? Is there a fire?”
“Get thy clothes on.” Setheris shoved yesterday’s clothes at him. Maia dropped them, fumbling with the strings of his nightshirt, and Setheris hissed with exasperation as he bent to pick them up. “A messenger from the court. That’s what’s toward.”
“A message from my father?”
“Is’t not what I said? Merciful goddesses, boy, canst do nothing for thyself? Here!” He jerked the nightshirt off, caring neither for the knotted strings nor for Maia’s ears, and shoved his clothes at him again. Maia struggled into drawers, trousers, shirt, and jacket, aware that they were wrinkled and sweat-stained, but unwilling to try Setheris’s ill temper by saying so. Setheris watched grimly by the single candle’s light, his ears flat against his head. Maia could not find his stockings, nor would Setheris give him time to search. “Come along!” he said as soon as Maia had his jacket fastened, and Maia followed him barefoot out of the room, noticing in the stronger light that while Setheris was still properly and fully attired, his face was flushed. So he had not been wakened from sleep by the emperor’s messenger, but only because he had not yet been to bed. Maia hoped uneasily that Setheris had not drunk enough metheglin to mar the glossy perfection of his formal court manners.
Maia ran his hands through his hair, fingers catching on knots in his heavy curls. It would not be the first time one of his father’s messengers had witnessed him as unkempt as a half-witted ragpicker’s child, but that did not help with the miserable midnight imaginings: So, tell us, how looked our son? He reminded himself it was unlikely his father ever asked after him in the first place and tried to keep his chin and ears up as he followed Setheris into the lodge’s small and shabby receiving room.
The messenger was maybe a year or so older than Maia himself, but elegant even in his road-stained leathers. He was clearly full-blooded elvish, as Maia was not; his hair was milkweed-pale, and his eyes the color of rain. He looked from Setheris to Maia and said, “Are you the Archduke Maia Drazhar, only child of Varenechibel the Fourth and Chenelo Drazharan?”
“Yes,” Maia said, bewildered.
And then bewilderment compounded bewilderment, as the messenger deliberately and with perfect dignity prostrated himself on the threadbare rug. “Your Imperial Serenity,” he said.
“Oh, get up, man, and stop babbling!” Setheris said. “We understood that you had messages from the Archduke’s father.”
“Then you understand what we do not,” the messenger said, rising again to his feet, as graceful as a cat. “We bear messages from the Untheileneise Court.”
Maia said hastily, merely to prevent the altercation from escalating, “Please, explain.”
“Your Serenity,” the messenger said. “The airship Wisdom of Choharo crashed yesterday, sometime between sunrise and noon. The Emperor Varenechibel the Fourth, the Prince Nemolis, the Archduke Nazhira, and the Archduke Ciris were all on board. They were returning from the wedding of the Prince of Thu-Athamar.”
“And the Wisdom of Choharo crashed,” Maia said slowly, carefully.
“Yes, Serenity,” said the messenger. “There were no survivors.”

Obviously, there’s going to be plenty of plot here, and it is deftly handled. No horribly dangling loose ends, but plenty of room for a sequel (please, please!). Lovely world-building; I would call it somewhat Tolkienesque with an Asian touch, just to help you orient yourself—this is a fully original world. (The pronunciation guide is at the back of the book, btw, but the archaic forms do not grate, I promise.) It’s the story of a poor orphan boy elevated to a king, trying to live his values. Now that Maia is king, will he heap upon his former guardian the abuse he deserves? What or who caused the airship to crash? Can he find love, or at least friendship, in an arranged marriage? Can he ever trust anyone, or will he always be as alone as he has been since his mother died? Can and should the artificers build a bridge across the great river? Will anyone at court ever appreciate him like we, the readers, do?

Why does Miss Em think this book deserves “classic” status? The book satisfies on all levels. Beautifully written descriptions and dialogue engage the heart and the mind and the soul in the real lives and dilemmas of the characters. The book’s themes are power, poverty, and compassion—and it doesn’t preach. Miss Em loves it because it is like The Secret Garden in its tenderness and philosophy, and like Siddhartha and The Glass Bead Game in its complexity and spirituality.

Miss Em received an e-galley through the publisher and Netgalley, but has ordered the hardcopy to start her collection of Ms. Addison’s books, next to Michelle Sagara West, Modesitt, Diana Wynne Jones, Tamora Pierce, Miller & Lee, and the other authors in her permanent library. She has assumed the copyright permission. She hopes you will buy it, love it, and gift it, too.