Sunday, November 29, 2015

Hope springs eternal

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai UndercityBehind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Be warned, this book may be too topical for some. It deals with the underpinnings of racial and sectarian violence in an Indian slum, only a step away from the Middle East. It’s written by a privileged white American attempting objectivity and tells the story of how Muslims, Hindus, and other poor folks try to survive and thrive amidst poverty most Americans can’t imagine, and therefore have a hard time believing, let alone empathizing with.

The book is an attempt to stir up that empathy, I believe. But Ms. Boo, while attempting her objectivity, leads with a manipulative cliffhanger. Some people can handle immolation in the first scene and not know the fate of the woman for a hundred pages or so; they find it does draw them into the story and keeps them reading. It makes me want to strangle the author or editor. I’m committed to reading when I read the title, subtitle, and jacket copy, unless it’s badly written. I want to know the complete story already and I do want footnotes and to know that there were years and many interviews involved upfront. After you have manipulated me on the first page, I have a hard time believing that you’re inside the head of all these folks just from the narrative. Start at the beginning!

It’s a very good look at the choices people make when their choices are limited. There is no pity here, no plea for mercy. One is left with reality, hard questions: is poverty a problem? Can people of different cultures ever really get along? Does morality have a sliding scale?

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Friday, October 30, 2015

The Music of Bhutan :: Melissa Bobbitt :: The Occurrence :: Occur

 Miss Em recommends the music of Misty Terrace. And world music, people. Get some Tuvan throat-singing, some aboriginal fancydancing, and you'll see and hear, folk music is folk music, music of the people...

Occur Goes Global - The Music of Bhutan :: Melissa Bobbitt :: The Occurrence :: Occur

Monday, October 12, 2015

Quite Tasty: More, Please

Delicious!Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Delicious” is food writer Ruth Reichl’s first novel, and it shows. Pros: Reichl is touching, funny, evocative, an excellent prose technician, a great writer. Cons that to some are still pros: this is a romantic fantasy of the old school. There’s an obligatory love interest, but the romance is in its original sense of: adventure, excitement, not everyday life. And the fantasy is the same: a lovely daydream. This book is an homage to New York, the story of someone who goes to New York with a hole in her heart and gains not only healing but a vibrant, whole life.

I look forward to more; Reichl’s weakness wasn’t storytelling, but character development—most are New York “types,” not individuals. The plot is an excuse to put together everything lovely and exciting about being young, talented, and in New York, the most fabulous city in the world. (In the fantasy, of course.) The protagonist, fleeing to New York after a personal tragedy, lands a dream job at a food magazine. Her daddy is paying for an apartment for a year. Only one of her co-workers is nasty. Did we need the James Beard WWII subplot? No, though it was fun. Secret rooms and codebreaking don’t compare to New Yorker pride; the feeling of being the gateway to culture, class, success; freedom, theater, markets with fresh food, flowers and fish; ethnic neighborhoods; anonymity and community side-by-side; history. New York is brought to life in Reichl’s assured, vivid prose. She made us believe the very air there smells of dreams and sparkles of stardust fall to the dirty streets and inspires those who despair.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Back Soon, Dear Ones

"The Universe will never overload you with more than you can handle. The purpose of problems and challenges and difficulties is to make you stronger and greater – not to break you down." – Dr Jeff Mullan
Posted by Jeff Mullan on Monday, September 21, 2015

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Serafina Shines

Serafina and the Black CloakSerafina and the Black Cloak by Robert  Beatty

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate's maintenance man, have lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember. She has learned to prowl through the darkened corridors at night, to sneak and hide, using the mansion's hidden doors and secret passageways.

But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows the clues to follow. A terrifying man in a black cloak stalks Biltmore's corridors at night."--Flap copy

Loved it, characters, writing, atmosphere...hard to categorize! It's wonderful, but it's also definitely a bit scary. The book falls between YA and Middle Grade, to my mind; some teens don't want to read about younger kids, and some younger kids really would be frightened. There's a strong coming-of-age trope, as well, for the major themes of the book are right-and-wrong, good-and-evil.

More, Mr. Beatty, more adventures, please!
(I received an EARC of the book from the publisher and Netgalley.)

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Not Fooling Around

Fool Me OnceFool Me Once by Steve Hockensmith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a worthy follow-up to The White Magic Five and Dime. The twist to this mystery series is the quirky Tarot interpretations that enhance the plot. Alanis has taken over her con-woman mother's Tarot shop with the intent to help where her mother harmed. In this second offering, one of her clients is suspected of murder and Alanis sets out to reveal the truth. Smart with heart describes Alanis and the tone of the books; I highly recommend this quirky series with humor and an esoteric touch.

I received an earc of this book from the publisher and Netgalley.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Not enough

Chris Pavone is a good writer. I wanted to love his book, The Expats, but didn't. This is a case where loving the style and loving the story are different. In the end, though I will definitely look at his next book, I did not love the plot or characters enough to finish this book. 

There's a whole genre in this: "Books-we-wanted-to-like-but-didn't," as opposed to "Books-we've-pretended-we've-read-but-haven't." "Books-we-were-supposed-to-return-but-they're-holding-up-the-couch." "Books-we-wish-we-could-read-again-for-the-first-time." "Books-we-wish-weren't-stuck-in-our-heads."

Authors, the fault is not with you. It's just one of those things. I truly wish you the best. We just need to see other people. Have a wonderful life. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Get the Signal

Signal (Sam Dryden, #2)Signal by Patrick  Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sam Dryden is back in another heart-pounding adventure. Patrick Lee has solidified his place on Miss Em's "Don't miss the next book" list with this second entry in what she hopes will be a long running series. So far, there's a near-future, sci-fi twist to these thrillers highlighting government or corporate secret research and nefarious wrongdoing that our hero tries to right. Sam is as compelling a character as Lee Child's Jack Reacher: appealing to both men and women, a talented everyman who saves the day while remaining true to his own code, a man of particular honor.

The book starts out with what you are sure is another ripped-from-the-headlines tragedy--but turns into something completely different. Can we know the future? Is it possible to change the future? Is it wise? Is it possible not to try? These are the big questions behind the racing plot. Sam is drawn in to the drama by an old friend who needs help. There's a conspiracy that goes back to Nazi days. There are murders and intrigue and danger abounding, twists and turns and impossible choices, everything that's good about the genre. Don't wait years for the movie, the book is always better!

I received an ARC from the publisher, Minotaur, for review., and I have one to give away. Comment to enter for a chance to win.

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Little Paris BookshopThe Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Little Paris Bookshop is a bookseller's dream- a book of great appeal to fellow booksellers, librarians, and book lovers all. A quest for lost love, a true depiction of biblio therapy, with a nod to Proust and a Wind in the Willows feel. From the book:“There are books that are suitable for a million people, others for only a hundred. There are even remedies—I mean books—that were written for one person only…A book is both medic and medicine at once. It makes a diagnosis as well as offering therapy. Putting the right novels to the appropriate ailments: that’s how I sell books.”
I fell  in love with the writing, the characters, the story. It's a look at life and love from a young person's and a middle-aged person's point of view--refreshing! It's deep and sweet and wonderful. It is a book that will justify your hope and your pain, your sadness and joy, your loves and passions; it might make you cry; it will make you smile and wish that world was real when you're done, and maybe make you able to see its colors in the sunset and the water and the lights of your favorite bookstore...

I received an EARC for review from the publisher and Netgalley; then bought a hardcover for my shelves. Recommended for rereading and bookclubs and gifting!

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Friday, July 3, 2015

The Center Can Hold

The PeripheralThe Peripheral by William Gibson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow and wow again. Gibson has delighted and surprised. The street-smart voice and savvy of his earlier work is back, coupled with the insight and utter normal weirdness of his latest books. Flynne lives in our world (possibly), in a future that hasn't changed much. Everything comes from 3D printers, but the rich are still rich and the poor still have to hustle any way they can. From the flap: "Where Flynne and her brother, Burton, live, jobs outside the drug business are rare. Fortunately, Burton has his veteran’s benefits, for neural damage he suffered from implants during his time in the USMC’s elite Haptic Recon force. Then one night Burton has to go out, but there’s a job he’s supposed to do—a job Flynne didn’t know he had. Beta-testing part of a new game, he tells her. " Flynne thinks she's part of a video game, but she's really visiting the future virtually. She witnesses what was almost certainly murder, and it doesn't feel like a game. The search for truth (and maybe justice) is a wild ride from a writer at the top of his game. With youth's clear eyes of doom and destruction, and the wisdom and experience (and hope!) of maturity, Gibson has crafted another masterpiece.

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Truth is Fiction

The Truth According to UsThe Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Truth According to Us takes place in West Virginia in the late 1930s; it’s a story about history and stories and truth and mystery and growing up. It’s more Ivy & Bean than Guernsey, but that is fitting. No question that Annie Barrows is a good writer and no question that her aunt was, too.

This book has the leisurely pace of the South. To read it, you need to be able to “come to the porch and set a while.” If you’re in a hurry, you’ll think the book is too long; if you take your time, you’ll enjoy the atmosphere and subtlety that the writer’s eye has created. Barrows has built a layered portrait, literary time travel. Carefully placed backgrounds and vignettes bring to life a forgotten time…

Layla is a socialite on a mission: to get back to socializing in wonderful Washington, D.C., after her stint on FDR’s Writer’s Project has softened her father’s wallet. She’s stuck in West Virginia writing the town of Macedonia’s history until that blessed day, though.  Layla is rooming with the Romeyn family, once the most prominent in town. There’s some history there, she learns.  Twelve-year-old Willa Romeyn is also beginning to wonder why her family isn’t top dog in town any longer. And how come her father’s comings and goings are so mysterious? And does her aunt Jottie have a tragedy in her past? Forget the New Deal. What’s the real deal? What’s the secret? What’s the story?

Enlivened and intrigued by questions, Layla and Willa and the reader find that history may be facts and lies mixed up together to make a cohesive story. Like fiction. Like life. 

Recommended for summer reading and book clubs. I received an EARC for review from the publisher and Netgalley.

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Friday, June 5, 2015

Loss, Love, Art

The Sunlit NightThe Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved the writing and the setting and the quirkiness of this novel, but had trouble with the structure and plot. I've added Dinerstein to my writers-to-watch list and look forward to reading future work.

Here's the publisher blurb:
"In the beautiful, barren landscape of the Far North, under the ever-present midnight sun, Frances and Yasha are surprised to find refuge in each other. Their lives have been upended--Frances has fled heartbreak and claustrophobic Manhattan for an isolated artist colony; Yasha arrives from Brooklyn to fulfill his beloved father's last wish: to be buried "at the top of the world." They have come to learn how to be alone.

But in Lofoten, an archipelago of six tiny islands in the Norwegian Sea, ninety-five miles north of the Arctic Circle, they form a bond that fortifies them against the turmoil of their distant homes, offering solace amidst great uncertainty. With nimble and sure-footed prose, Dinerstein reveals that no matter how far we travel to claim our own territory, it is ultimately love that gives us our place in the world."

The story is told in alternating viewpoints, both of which I enjoyed, but it was a real shock to be so immersed in one character (Frances, first person) and then break away to another (third person, Yasha) point of view. It could have been two different books, their stories are so unlike.

I totally believe these young people would connect in the way they do, but to pitch this as a romantic love story is wrong, in my opinion. What else is going to happen when two young people are thrown together in such a place, in such circumstances? It was less enjoyable to slog through the last part of the book, not because of the writing, but because of the plot. I do agree love and connection are the theme, but not just between Frances and Yasha--among family and community as well. The story told here is about learning to live with loss; the only cure for the loss of love is to find a way to love again.

It's worth reading for the beauty of the setting and prose, whether the romance part rings true or false for you, though. Recommended.

I received an EARC of this book for review from the publisher and Netgalley.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

This is the Story of a Happy MarriageThis is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One might assume from the title that this nonfiction book by the author of the award-winning novel “Bel Canto,” is a memoir of her marriage. She is happily married, but the book is a collection of essays. She writes about all the loves of her life, the ones lost as well as the ones that have stayed, or that she’s kept.

The first two essays, about writing and process, were of interest to a group of avid readers. The rest of the essays, published in magazines from Seventeen to Gourmet to Outside (with a graduation address thrown in), are of general interest. Dogs and family, taking the entrance exam for the Los Angeles Police Academy, lovers and friendships, the dead and the living—most people of a certain age who lived through the 1970s will relate.  Locals will relate to her thrill at the video broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera, live and close-up in a Nashville movie theater. In one of the essays she talks about writers telling only one story, no matter how many books they write.  The human story itself can be seen as one story: life, love, and loss, the theme. Patchett is honest with her truths of the heart and knows her way around building both sentence and story—a reader’s delight.

In retrospect, considering the work it takes to hold on to love and to let love go, the title makes emotional sense. It looks like “Bel Canto” will always be my favorite of her books; sometimes the first book you read by someone retains the gloss of first love. But I am very happy to have read this one.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

More adventures in the Black Forest

From a High Tower (Elemental Masters, #11)From a High Tower by Mercedes Lackey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This Elemental Masters novel reworks the Rapunzel story. Giselle was traded by her father to a witch for food for the family. Giselle’s magical stepmother dies, and Giselle is on her own, trying to find a way to maintain her home and independence. It’s Lackey, so it’s good and all fans will want to read it, but I wouldn’t enter the series here—especially since the heroine of the previous book (Blood Red) shows up midway through. It’s entertaining, placing a Wild West show in Germany. It has a leisurely pace, though. Despite a challenge early on, it seems three-fourths of the book is setup.  In fact, it has the feel the middle book in a trilogy sometimes has, that the next book will be the reward.  Hopefully it will be, for Rosamund the monster hunter (Earth Master) and Giselle the Air Master are well on their way to establishing a kind of partnership. Maybe there is a Sisterhood of Elemental Masters coming up! That would be exciting, and allow a new refreshment to the longrunning series.
You can always count on Lackey to produce a three or four star book, and this is a solid three for me.

I received an EARC for review from the publisher and Netgalley. 

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Monday, June 1, 2015

The Shadow Revolution (Crown & Key, #1)The Shadow Revolution by Clay Griffith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Shadow Revolution can be likened to "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen meets Parasol Protectorate," leaning more toward horror than comedy. It's interesting and well-written and will appeal to fans of the genre and the authors. The atmosphere of creepy cruelty is so well done, the male aristocratic attitude so perfectly embodied, it definitely brings to mind the infamous Hellfire Club and the reality of the times. The storytelling is great and I recommend it for those fans whose taste runs more to the dark side; it's obvious the other two books will be as good.

I received an EARC for review from Netgalley and the publisher. 

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

We Are Not Alone

Footsteps in the SkyFootsteps in the Sky by Greg Keyes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The intriguing thing about this novel is that it places some Hopi/Pueblo lore at the center of a space drama, utilizing the tropes of invaders vs. colonists, advanced science vs. magical powers, tradition, politics, ethics, opposing and complementary worldviews, and first contact to draw the obvious parallels. And turns expectations upside down and crossways.

It was beautiful, violent, and strange, just like my native Southwest. Keyes is respectful of native traditions as he explores love and honor in the cosmos. I have read and enjoyed Keyes' fantasy novels and am happy to report he can handle science fiction also. Particularly recommended for those who enjoy scifi with a Native American twist, or the works of Dan Simmons and Greg Bear (this is short, though).

Though I received an EARC for review from the publisher and Netgalley, I ordered a copy for my "real" bookshelves.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Worth the Cost

Survivor (Vicky Peterwald, #2)Survivor by Mike Shepherd

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Vicki Peterwald: Survivor is better all around than she was in "Target," edging up from 3 to 3.5 stars. Shepherd hits the right notes in this second entry in the series. Kris Longknife's example lurks in the background, but Vicki is coming into her own. Lots of action (mostly outside the bedroom, this time, yay.) Vicki gains valuable experience, compassion and gumption--and the support of the real Navy. This Peterwald is saving people from hunger, economies from collapse, and working hard for good, for once. Well done! Recommended for Kris fans, and anyone else who enjoys a light space opera.
I received an EARC from Ace and Netgalley for review.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Well Met on the Path

The Canterbury SistersThe Canterbury Sisters by Kim Wright
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Canterbury Sisters

Is a great book for a long weekend read—or an anytime read. The blurb: “Che Milan’s life is falling apart. Not only has her longtime lover abruptly dumped her, but her eccentric, demanding mother has recently died. When an urn of ashes arrives, along with a note reminding Che of a half-forgotten promise to take her mother to Canterbury, Che finds herself reluctantly undertaking a pilgrimage.”

It won me over despite its first person, present tense narrator. Perhaps it was the “outsider” perspective—Che joins a pilgrim group at the last minute. Along the way, in Chaucerian fashion, the eight women tell stories that reveal their hopes and dreams for the journey.  All women will find something to relate to in these stories.

Wright has the perfect balance between tragedy and comedy in the perspective, language, and stories of her pilgrim group. This is a perfect book club book. Highly recommended.
I received an EARC for review from the publisher and Netgalley.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Plant Yourself and Read

UprootedUprooted by Naomi Novik

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Miss Em feels the wonder she first felt upon reading Novik’s Temeraire: the joy of finding a new take on old tropes, but even more, the satisfaction of being in the mind of a master wordsmith. Away to another world, where cultural assumptions are terribly and wonderfully suborned. This is a Polish-flavored fairytale for adults, with a wicked forest, a mysterious dragon magician, and an unconventional heroine. Magic, danger, love—and the twist of a sister-friend quest.

Miss Em does dot give five stars lightly. Nor do Robin Hobb and Maggie Stiefvater. And Sherwood Smith gave it an excellent review as well. These are reviews from her peers, not cover blurbs, mind you.  And, there’s closure enough, doesn’t matter if this is a series or not. Miss Em highly recommends. Will she thenceforth read anything Novik writes? Yes, and again, yes.

Miss Em received an EARC of the book from the publisher and Netgalley for review.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Baking is Life

The Art of Baking BlindThe Art of Baking Blind by Sarah Vaughan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In 1966, Kathleen Eaden’s “The Art of Baking” became Britain’s “Joy of Cooking.” Eaden was the “face” of her husband’s grocery store chain and has recently died, and the company is looking for a new expert baker. Five amateurs are selected to compete for the title. (A contest, not reality show, BTW—but you’ll be familiar.)

“There are many reasons to bake: to feed; to create; to impress; to nourish; to define ourselves; and, sometimes, it has to be said, to perfect. But often we bake to fill a hunger that would be better filled by a simple gesture from a dear one. We bake to love and be loved.”~from The Art of Baking

Baking blind is a challenge for every pastry chef. It means baking the crust previous to filling the pie, and despite precise measurements and practiced skill, it doesn’t always fulfill expectations. In this case, the crust baked well and the filling makes for a pretty good piece of pie. The filling, of course, is the back story behind Mrs. Eaden’s “perfect” life, and the contestant’s own hopes, dreams, and realities.

The more things change, the more they stay the same—Mrs. Eaden’s struggle for fulfillment is not that different from these other women’s—fifty years later. Most women can relate to that.  Fine descriptions of food and baking along with good storytelling make for a hearty, savory pie. It’s a bit heavier than I expected, more soap opera than dramedy. Would make a good book club book.
(I received an EARC from St. Martins and Netgalley for review.) 

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Sunday, May 3, 2015


Bitter CreekBitter Creek by Peter Bowen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Worth the long wait for the 14th book. If you've never had the pleasure of meeting Gabriel Du Pre, Metis fiddler, Montana brand inspector, start with Coyote Wind, the first entry. I own the entire series. Du Pre must help right an old wrong and clear up old murders in this welcome return of a master to his craft. Rural Montana. Cranky old medicine men. Pink wine and smart kids. It's an angry book, though, angry about lives wasted in fear and poverty and greed and hatred. And joyful, seizing the pleasures of family and food, music and beauty. Like McCall Smith's novels of Botswana, the character and the setting, the place and the voice and the stories combine to form an inimitable and irresistible whole. Literature at its best, that takes us to a completely different place and shows us ourselves.

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Tracker (Foreigner, #16)Tracker by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This long-running series is so wonderful--start with Foreigner. What makes the series stand out is its real attempt to portray the miracles and mishaps of communication between species. Unexpected actions in the heavens mean Bren does not get much of a rest after securing Tabini's rulership and young Cajeiri's heirship. Humans, as always, complicate things, but a dynasty is forming, and humans will be pulled along. A year is too long to wait for the next chapters!

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Silver Witch Shines

The Silver WitchThe Silver Witch by Paula Brackston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There were things in this book I loved and I want to read Brackston’s other books. (Even if they might be also written in the present tense, my least favorite way to read a book.) Brackston tells the story of Seren, an ancient Celtic shaman and witch, and Tilda, a modern day potter recovering from the loss of her husband who is discovering her own magic.

The descriptions of magic are what I loved about the book. While each woman has a love story, the love story is secondary to the plot, not really unique in the past or the present. The journey we take is Tilda’s journey through shamanic initiation, the discovery of her own power as an artist as well as a witch.

I’ll be interested to follow Brackston’s work. I would read a sequel to Tilda’s story. There are quite a few historical novelists and fantasists writing about magic in the past, but there’s lots of room outside of urban fantasy and thrillers for stories of magic in the present day. In both Brackston’s stories, modern and past, I was reminded of Mary Stewart—in a good way. Write on!

I received an EARC of this book for review from the publisher and Netgalley.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

April Book Club Book

The Movement of StarsThe Movement of Stars by Amy Brill

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This historical novel is slow-paced and thoughtful, but will win you over in the end, especially if you are a woman between 50-65, or a young feminist.

Brill gives us the story of a privileged and protected young woman who nevertheless comes up against the realities of being female in the 19th Century.
The protagonist, Hannah Price, is modeled after Maria Mitchell, America's first female astronomer. Mitchell burned her private letters, and that set Brill to wondering and writing not a fictionalized biography, but true re-imagining.

Hannah’s had the benefit of scientific training from her father and his friends, but even if she achieves her dream of being the first to find a comet and winning recognition from the astronomy community and a prize from the King of Denmark, marriage means she will lose control of the money and her choices.

The Civil War looms and Hannah’s Quaker community is becoming less welcoming to strangers and those who don’t fit in. Though Quakers profess the equality of all, male and female, slave and free, Nantucket schools were segregated when whispers of abolition started. When Hannah starts teaching a young black sailor advanced mathematics, the tongues start to wag. She does develop a crush on Isaac, in the end opening both her heart and her mind. But this is not a romance—it’s Hannah’s coming of age. Confronted by the realities of church, government, and family that comprise her life, can she dare to forge her own path with the strength of her own desires—once she figures out what they are?

Brill portrays the dawning of passion beautifully in a book that is not about race, but about freedom: of religion, of thought, of opportunity.

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Adventures in Being a Professional Reader, Part II


If it’s not obvious, I ‘m a true book addict. While I can, and have, sold or donated thousands of books over the years, I can’t say no to an interesting blurb, I’m drawn to a pretty cover.  So I was thankful to find Netgalley, and their ebooks for review. That’s good, right? The books pile up in virtual reality, not your floor. Good for the budget, too, right? Well, that’s where the rose-colored glasses need a wash. I’m incapable of not requesting a book that catches my interest. But you don’t get all the books you request, especially in the beginning. And then you’re getting more books, and more books catch your interest (you buy them) and you find new authors, and it’s actually pretty wonderful—if it weren’t for two things: digital books give me migraines—and now I’m reading to review deadlines. Not free to go back and read all the Belisarius novels, for instance, or investigate Pastrix:
The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, or catch up on the series, plural, that I’ve been reading for twenty years and I don’t request because I’m buying them anyway. There’s good and bad in everything, I guess.

I am grateful for Netgalley and all the publishers and publicists and reps I’ve met (virtually) because of them, but after two years, I understand the blogger who walked away. I have 400 ebooks and out of the 4K in my house about 400 I haven’t read. That’s 800 books on my to-read shelf. That’s 800 days of books for a fast reader like me, more than two years worth of reading. And I’m diminishing, not exaggerating the numbers. So it’s hard to justify the 20 books I have on pre-order—but believe me, I can justify!

Essentially, though, you pay for the books with a review. You do not have to publish a good review, but you need to turn one in. You are sometimes dealing with indie authors, sometimes with publishers, sometimes with publicity firms. You must put your reactions into words and pass them on. This is different than the simple process of assigning stars, 1-5. It requires thought and care. It takes time away from reading. The books pile up. 

I’m being more careful about my requests, but I’m not giving up Netgalley. I look forward to catching up on my own quirky reading paths, but I’ve found wonderful new paths as well. The glorious thing about a reading life is that, even if you read a book a day, you’ll never deplete that TBR pile! 

On Being Too Widely Read: Adventures in Being a Professional Reader, Part I

Can one really be too widely read? Of course people who don’t read think so, but evidently book professionals think so, too.

I’ve spent a lifetime devouring books. I’ve traveled throughout this world and many others through the magical portals of print. I love to meander wherever those print paths lead me, between the black and white of slashes and space to the boundaries of the mind’s grey matter.

Yes, I believe that reading makes one smarter, abler to navigate through life with leaps and bounds of both perception and faith. I am not only a voracious reader, but also an omnivore—there’s no one genre that holds my sole interest. I can’t even be a serial monogamist—I read too quickly, and am dipping with delight between the covers of the next bright flower that takes my fancy.   

I never really paid attention to the way I read until I was asked to take over a local book club and then joined Netgalley. With the book club, I pick the titles. I’m limited to books supplied by the library, so that’s one challenge—but other than choosing to honor the Omnivorous name of the club by featuring both fiction and nonfiction, it didn’t change my reading pattern much. Here’s the way I like to read, branching out and onward, like a Book Tree, a winding journey. It starts with my first-ever book club pick (I’d been carrying the book around for six years, not ready to read it, but unable to let it go—can you relate?). I can see many other book trees in my life, but this is one such journey.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer, led to My Life in France, by Julia Child, then to The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain, which led to
A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway (actually read it in high school, but there’s a new edition). Then nostalgia of teen years led to reading About Town: The New Yorker And The World It Made, by Ben Yagoda, and Genet: A Biography of Janet Flanner, by Brenda Wineapple. This led to The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, by David McCullough. Then what should appear but The Bones of Paris, by Laurie R. King. And then I always wanted to read Shakespeare and Company, by Sylvia Beach. A few months later, Lunch in Paris, by Elizabeth Bard—and now the sequel, Picnic in Provence. And more.
(Find the list with blurbs here:

One thing leads to another, and suddenly you know a lot of stuff about Paris, two World Wars, New York, art, poetry, food…you get the picture. It’s fun to read for discovery!

In a sense, I’ve always been a professional reader—I’ve never left the profession of student behind. I was a children’s librarian, and Poet-in Residence, where “Miss M” was born. And I’m a writer; kinda hafta read.  And I was a bookseller—don’t think I’ve left that behind either, at least I sure hope you’re buying some of these books I recommend and supporting your local bookstores, if you’re lucky enough to have them.  I truly love pointing people towards books that will take them on journeys of discovery—or just delight them—I’m not a genre snob (just a grammar snob). Booksellers are evangelists of the words.

But there are two kinds of librarians, I’ve found over the years. There are those that think the books are for sharing and growing and leading to more reading and more books, and those who think that books need protecting in little boxes of buildings and genres, cataloguing not correlating their discoveries.

Book people, book sites, let’s do the good work. Let there be Curators of Quirk, Editors-at-Large, Columnists of the Heartlands, Foreign Correspondents, diverse perspectives of literature and lives. Make new and bigger boxes, if you need boxes.

I am proud to say I read SFF and mysteries and thrillers and science and romance and poetry and religion and spiritual and gardening and cooking and memoirs and history. And cereal boxes.

I always remembered E. L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler as a story of overnighting in the New York Public Library (it’s really the Met), because what could be better than to have free reign amongst the halls of Heaven?  

Read on.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Bloody Good

A Crown for Cold SilverA Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Winter in the north is liable to make a grumpy panther of anyone..." Sometimes a voice is so powerful, so intriguing, you'll follow it anywhere. Though I love a good action movie, from Avengers to Robocop, I am not normally a fan of the relentlessly gritty and grim, betrayal upon sin upon treachery, especially for 656 pages. I prefer a tale of honor and hope, qualities in short supply in the Crimson Empire. However, there's swashbuckling, swagger and sass. Senseless violence, too. What is it about a bloody good fight? That sense of righteousness and terror blended...the demons in this book feed on emotions, so the demon that lives with former General Zosia is more than thrilled when she is roused from retirement to revenge. She's no less brutal than her enemies--or her friends--and that, of course, is the pointlessness of war.
Marshall is a Tarantino of a novelist, the power of his storytelling voice leading you through the puddles and pools of blood until you're bathed in it. It's not the originality of the story, but the way the author tells it, twisting a trope here, tossing one there, revealing facets compelling and strange. It's a rousing adventure, a companion quest, set in a world where people daily make the choice of "go with the devil you know," or "even death would be better than this."
I love a good story, but when you can luxuriate in the language as well, that’s bloody good.
I received an EARC of the book for review from the publisher and Netgalley.

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Her Name Is Rose: A NovelHer Name Is Rose: A Novel by Christine Breen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Look no further for a Mother’s Day or graduation gift, or a special treat for yourself. There’s a space in Irish women’s fiction right between wise Maeve Binchy and touch-of-magic Cecilia Ahern—and Christine Breen, with her wisdom, humor, and sheer good-heartedness, fits in it beautifully.

Her Name Is Rose is an exploration of love in many forms. Twenty years ago, Iris and her husband Luke adopted Rose. They had a wonderful life in Ireland together as a family for eighteen years. Then Luke died.  It’s two years later, and Rose has gone to London, accepted into prestigious Royal Academy of Music. Iris found some solace in gardening and blogging, but she’s naturally still grieving and she’s just been laid off her column at the local newspaper—and she’s just received troubling news after a mammography. How awful can life be? Rose could be left alone, both adoptive parents dead of cancer. Iris decides she must keep her promise to Luke to find Rose’s birth mother, just in case. But the system is set up for the “natural” offspring and parents to find each other, not for adoptive parents. It’s refreshing to read about the insecurities of the adoptive parent rather than the child, for once. But Rose gets her fair share of page time. She’s been raised with love and affection and is not full of angst; finding her birth parents is the farthest thing from her mind. She’s a young woman finding her talents—and possibly, romance.

Somehow, Iris finds herself in Boston, looking for Rose’s birth mother, before she even has her follow-up breast exam or diagnosis. Rose has a crisis and heads home to an empty house. Adventure, love, and mad coincidences ensue. This is my favorite kind of women’s fiction; everyday characters, ordinary problems, extraordinary situations looked at through lenses of love and kindness. The kind that leaves me with hope for the human condition and the world at large. Yes, it all works out in the end, and the journey itself is all pleasure.  Nice to have two female perspectives, of differing ages (Iris and Rose), and there’s a male perspective, too.

Highly recommended for fans of Binchy, Moyes, Mansell, etc. Also for those with an interest in love stories, music themes—Rose is not the only musician in the story—and gardening.  Miss Em is very much looking forward to more from this author!

(I received a galley from St. Martins for review.) And watch this space for a possible giveaway!

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Falling in Love (Commissario Brunetti, #24)Falling in Love by Donna Leon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been reading Leon for 20 years, and I’m still in love. The mention of time is pertinent, since in this 24th book of the series we meet again an opera singer from the very first Brunetti mystery.  Venice, opera, family, politics, history—all of Leon’s loves are burnished with both nostalgia and the usual cynicism in this latest novel. Here, against Brunetti’s wholesome home life, loving and hopeful, is contrasted the very skewed “love” of a stalker (the mystery is, who is the stalker—which we find out; the why, the twisted, painful heart of the stalker, we will perhaps never understand.)
One reads these mysteries to spend time in Brunetti’s Venice, to appreciate, laugh, and curse along with the characters. One reads for the elegant prose, the wit and insight and idealism.  And the occasional multi-layered pun. Brava, brava, encore, please.
I received an EARC for review from the publisher and Netgalley.

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Dream Lover: A Novel of George SandThe Dream Lover: A Novel of George Sand by Elizabeth Berg

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Short take for buyers: if you already enjoy historical fiction, it’s worth a shot. If you don’t, this book may not convert you—unless you download the book club kit, which is extraordinarily wonderful and will give context to those who missed out on reading French literature.

The delightful ambiguity of the title—Aurore Dupin/George Sand looking for the lover of her dreams, and as an artist and intellectual, loving dreams of love and freedom—becomes ambivalence.

Extensive research, exquisite description, some glorious chunks of prose are the reasons to read the book. It’s more like a novel of the nineteenth century than the twenty-first: a fictionalized autobiography, with plenty of room for philosophizing and reflection, less concentration on plot. The duality extends to the structure. The book bounces between Sand’s childhood and her present-in-the-book, except that “present” time stretches from her twenties to her death at 72. For me, that imbalanced structure and the first person viewpoint actually distanced me from the character instead of drawing me in. 

Berg's work in general is an exploration of the many forms of love, and this novel does fit into Berg's overall oeuvre in that sense. I think she does justice to Sand's life, and there are moments when Sand's character comes to life—moments that shine like scattered gems. Because of its difficulty and its beauty, you can see why ratings range from 2 to 4. I’m right there in the middle, with a 3, and an extra half-star for the online reading guide.

I recived an EARC for review from the publisher and Netgalley.

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At the Crossroads of Should and Must is the Eternal Yes

The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your PassionThe Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion by ELLE LUNA

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Crossroads of Should and Must
is an almost perfect book for creatives, or right-brain thinkers, to find and do their passions. I love the concrete suggestions for doing your passions even if you can’t figure out how to make your passions into your career. The exercises involve drawing and doodling and observing—giving you a way to view your life and habits objectively in order to deduce what is supremely important to you. We fool ourselves about what’s important often, it seems. In a sense, this book is  your own little retreat/workshop, handy for both exploring and getting back on track. There’s a lot of wisdom packed into just a few pages. (The only thing that kept it from being perfect is the last vignette, which seemed pretty judgmental. You can’t tell someone else’s “must” from one conversation, or how they’ve prioritized their “musts,” plural.)  I think this is a great addition to the genre, and plan to use and give it often! 

I received a temporary EARC of the book for review from the publisher and Netgalley.

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Something to sink your teeth into...

By Tooth and ClawBy Tooth and Claw by Bill Fawcett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this entry into the Clan of the Claw universe. Exiled: Clan of the Claw set up the worldview with the “dinosaur” vs. “mammal” competition—dinosaur lords enslaved the cat peoples, and a cataclysm on this part of the planet has allowed for a more overt than covert rebellion. It’s standard fare for exploring a lot of issues. What I particularly enjoyed about this book and hope is expanded in the next entry is the intriguing concept of dance magic. There’s a mix of magic and mental and manual technology. The cats follow core shamanic practices, and are the dancers. There are a lot of bard stories with magical music of instrument and voice, and there are stories with dancers as assassins, but there haven’t been a lot of dancer magicians—dancers, period—in the SFF pantheon. Dancers are usually thrown in with actors and prostitutes—entertainers and seducers. There’s the Robinson’s Stardance series, and I remember a story in which first contact on Earth was facilitated by dance as communication, but this promises a lot more depth if continued. Anyway I love how the concept’s being carried out.  Yes, buy!

I received an EARC for review from the publisher and Netgalley.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Next Species: The Future of Evolution in the Aftermath of ManThe Next Species: The Future of Evolution in the Aftermath of Man by Michael Tennesen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wish everyone would read this book. It’s a well-researched popular science overview of the current climate picture and the history of mass extinctions on the planet. It’s a step above Discovery Channel or NatGeo television, but not so high a step that members of Congress, for instance, couldn’t understand it.  It’s hard not to be angry when there’s so much of our planet’s life at risk, and the author does a much better job than me, taking the approach of “How did we get here and what happens next?”

As well as the past and present, Tennesen takes us on a speculative journey to mankind’s future, on-planet and off. Which is a little scary, because some of the folks he talks about going to Mars plan to pretty much treat that planet the same way, filling it with nuclear waste whilst terraforming.  So we are left with the central question: will humans survive to live new futures?

The problem with the future is not climate change, but humans. We are animals that move into a place, use up the resources, and move on. We pretend that our brains and perceptions make us better than all the other animals on the planet, but a look at current policies and behaviors proves our hubris. Climate change is happening, and the only real power we have is to adapt and possibly mitigate the effects.

“Extinction in reality is a simple process…This will come for man (sic) in five hundred, five thousand, or fifty thousand years as current rates of overpopulation, disease, or all the possibilities listed above continue. Toss in a nuclear war, an asteroid (a regular occurrence in our geological history), or a supervolcano (a major factor in the Permian and Cretaceous) and we’re there much faster.”

‘Stopping man from killing himself will take more than behavioral modification. Like a world of dieters fending off hunger, we would have to push back from the table of reproduction, renounce growth, and limit our use of natural resources in order not to hit that fatal inflection curve—to avoid the catastrophe of nature making those selections for us.”

Like most people handed a fatal diagnosis, the human race has been focusing on rage and denial. In fact, the diagnosis is more that of a chronic illness. It would be wise for us to curtail certain behaviors. Like children, the race is acting out—we’d rather fight than switch, die than change. No matter what we do, our children inherit a diminished world—though they have the opportunity, as did we, to adapt and change. What will change first, humans to fit into the world, or Nature, to make a world unfit for humans (and incidentally, most current living things)? The author leaves room for hope.

Life is amazing and wonderful and tenacious and will continue after humans, but we could grow and change with it—evolve. I hope there’s a grassroots miracle of small living and sustainability; it seems pretty obvious that the powers-that-be intend to leave a legacy of ashes and stone.

I received an EARC from the publisher and Netgalley for review.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Clash of EaglesClash of Eagles by Alan Smale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's a strong beginning to an alternate history series, pitting an unfallen Roman Empire against the Moundbuilding cultures of the Mississippi in the approximate 1200 AD analog of our world. Whilst the background details of wider history are a bit fuzzy, the world comes alive in the physical and psychological story of a "superior" culture discovering the dangers and audacity of assumption. What will happen to a Rome facing a continent bigger than its current empire?  What influence will Rome have in this new environment?

Smale does an excellent job of showing the tensions between cultures. Even without Rome in the mix, the Iroquois Confederacy and the Cahokian Alliance have been involved in an ever-escalating war, one every tribe on two continents may have to deal with. To them, a Roman incursion is a mere blip in a much larger scenario—or is it? The pleasures of reading alternate history are mostly about speculation: “What if?” “What happened to?” There is also pleasure to be had in the opportunity to re-examine history. Smale provides the opportunity for both pleasures, and tells a good story, too!  I usually don’t care much about the tech details of these kinds of stories, but the hero and I share a fascination here, hopefully explored in more detail in the next books.

For sheer inventiveness and setting, I was reminded of Kurt A. Giambastiani’s alternate Cheyenne Alliance adventures, though they’re an imaginary 600 years later. Well-researched, with an index and guide to further reading, Clash of Eagles is highly recommended for those who enjoy historical and speculative fiction with a thoughtful pace.

I received an EARC of the book from the publisher and Netgalley for review.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Keep on singing

NightbirdNightbird by Alice Hoffman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's a sweet book by Alice Hoffman, filled with beautiful sentences and just the right touch of magic, tasty as apple pie and moonlight, a mix of Cynthia Rylant and Hilary McKay. To me, middle grade fiction is the truly universal literature; like cartoons, deceptively simple yet appealing to all generations. Unlike cartoons, no need to slide into caricature--though it's certainly a great tool and an argument could be made that all fiction, the characters being crafted, is caricature. That was a digression, but gives a sense of how difficult it is to appeal to both children and adults. Hoffman succeeds.

Publisher blurb: "Twig  lives in Sidwell, where people whisper that fairy tales are real. After all, her town is rumored to hide a monster. And two hundred years ago, a witch placed a curse on Twig’s family that was meant to last forever. But this summer, everything will change when the red moon rises. It’s time to break the spell."

Twig doesn't have friends, she has secrets, but this is the year everything changes. New people move into the town, new controversy sparks, and somehow Twig's connected to all of it.  There's danger, mystery, prejudice, and love lost and found. There's apple magic, and summer days, and friendship and loneliness. Why only four stars? The story is told in Twig's voice, first person past tense, so not my favorite point of view. It's a beautiful story and mostly we are carried along in Twig's twelve year old perceptions, but there are times when I felt the perspective  switched to "flashback" and it threw me out of the story for a bit. Four stars--the book will be treasured and stay with you. Five stars--the book will help form your soul. And this will be a five star book for some. Here, describing a tradition of counting fireflies (which I have never seen), comes one of those Hoffman moments:

"It was an old game with us and we reached two thousand before we gave up. There was so much light in the world we knew we would never be able to count it all." Just one sentence gives you the nostalgic essence of a perfect summer. A good book from a great writer. Recommended for ages 10 up.

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

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Dead Heat (Alpha & Omega, #4)Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dead Heat

Children in danger? Supernatural elements in the case? Call in Charles and Anna Smith—and Agent Lesley Fisher of the FBI. The balance between suspense and love story here is perfect, and this spinoff series has fully come into its own with this fourth installment.. It’s been good to watch the progression of Charles’ and Anna’s relationship. Anna has finally grown into her strength, and Charles’ heart is not so hidden.  But trouble for the mortal world is brewing, brought on by the tricky Fae, and war between the werewolves and the Fae is looking increasingly likely. From start to finish, a delightful dance of danger with touches of humor and depth. The way to fight monsters is love.
Highly recommended.
I received an EARC for review from the publisher and Netgalley.)

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Murder of MagpiesA Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Murder of Magpies has just the right balance of wit and puzzle, smart and snark.
British book editor Samantha and her author/friend Kit did not expect to be caught up in a tale of money laundering and murder, but Kit’s new book puts them in the path of danger. Kit’s manuscript is stolen, the publisher’s servers are hacked, Sam has a break-in—and Kit disappears.
Both an old-fashioned puzzle mystery and a modern send-up of publishing, the book is not meant to be sped through, but savored. Sam’s relationship with her formidable lawyer mother is wonderfully done. The obligatory attraction between the main character and the main cop is cleverly (modernly) handled. And book professionals can’t help but smile at the insider perspective. British/bookish/puzzle/cozy/humor/mystery subgenre, rejoice! Keep writing, and sign me up for more.

I received an EARC for review from Macmillan and Netgalley.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Dream On

Dreaming Spies (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #13)Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Puns and poetry, high flyers and fools abound in the latest Mary Russell novel. And ninjas. Yippee! I was a bit wary when I started reading; somewhere along the line, though I read the first five or so Mary Russell novels, I quit the series. I was reminded of it recently when asked for recommendations, and this solidifies my intention to read them all. King is a very good writer of prose. There's action, an intellectual puzzle, travel to Japan and Oxford, scene-setting and character building in descriptions all the way from lush to lurid and everything in between. King aims to both instruct and entertain, and succeeds.

Basho and Buddhism make appearances. Threats of international incident. The arrogance of empire; the smug assumption of superiority by the very smart; the blinkers and shades of custom and culture. And honor: among thieves, nations, detectives and spies.

Such are the themes and meanderings in this homage: for it’s really a love story about Japan and Oxford all boxed up in a mystery. I'm sure there will be others who think one of the stars of the story is the missing book--so lovingly described I can feel it in my hands, and I surely desire to hold it and its beautiful illustrations. I want to walk along the road that Basho walked on. I want to look at the Pinterest board.

Haiku of varied
Quality sprinkle the text
Like cherry blossoms

but I hope the reader is inspired to look up Basho and Issa and other masters of this deceptively simple form. Dream on!

I received an EARC for review from Penguin Random House and Netgalley.

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Monday, February 9, 2015

The Very Best of Kate ElliottThe Very Best of Kate Elliott by Kate Elliott

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Short stories and essays by a writer of both science fiction and fantasy, this glimpse into the mind and work of Kate Elliot is a must for collectors. The theme of this collection is power—who has it, who doesn’t, who wants it, who doesn’t, who deserves it, who doesn’t. If you are an Elliot fan, read it!
That said, it does not serve well as an introduction to her work—that’s ok, the work speaks for itself.  Please go read all her series if you haven’t—especially the Highroad trilogy and the Jaran novels, now being re-released. Then the essays might make more sense. This world was a poor place for female heroes when we were growing up and Elliot’s novels helped enrich it.
So buy and read everything else, then this. Your appreciation for the work will deepen, and you will have had the pleasure of reading one of our finest SFF writers.
I received an EARC for review from Tachyon and Netgalley.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Bon Appetempt: A Coming-of-Age Story (with Recipes!)Bon Appetempt: A Coming-of-Age Story by Amelia Morris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this book more than I expected and as much as I had hoped. Bon Appetempt lives up to the quiet humor of the title. It’s a satisfying home-cooked meal, comfort food, a memoir with recipes. It’s a book about resilience, really—and not to ignore the uniqueness of each life, original and beautiful as snowflakes, yadda yadda—it’s about ordinary life, ordinary pleasures, and how great the ordinary can be.

After growing up in the Eastern U. S., Amelia and Matt follow the dreams of typical creatives and move to Los Angeles. He has a bunch of projects that get greenlighted by Hollywood, then not made; she gets her MFA in creative writing; they struggle to pay the bills. They try to figure out day jobs that will still allow them to do their creative work. While she’s working on her novel, she starts the blog, Bon Appetempt. It started out to be a comparison of how a dish looks in the cooking magazines and cookbooks, and how it ends up looking after being made by an amateur at home: layer cakes that turn into Leaning Towers, etc. But the blog evolved, as did Amelia’s life and cooking skills and readership, and so we get this book.

It is a bit slow and recipe-shy in the beginning, but well worth reading on. Loved the crèpe chapter, and can’t wait to try Matt’s Lemon Pasta recipe. I do disagree that every soup should have cheese on top, but certainly some should. Shrimp pancakes—yum! And I’ll be looking for the cookbooks she quotes from, too.  There’s a quote from Julia Child that sums up the book, the blog, and the life lesson: "The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude." Would make a good book club book. Go for it!

I received an EARC of the book from Grand Central and Netgalley for review.

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About a Girl

Funny GirlFunny Girl by Nick Hornby

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took me a while to get into this book.  It’s written by someone close to my age. It’s called Funny Girl; it’s about a theater star named Barbara; a gay man is one of the characters. But once I realized that the other shoe was not going to drop and the Streisand reference was unintentional—though I think anyone from the U. S. would have changed the character’s name—I was able to get into the story the author meant to tell.

It’s a sweet story about a girl who wants to be the Lucille Ball of Britain. It covers the early 1960s, British culture and the BBC during the beginnings of the sexual revolution. Like all of Hornby’s novels, it’s a love story that covers more than romantic love. It’s about ambition and artistry, friendship and family, social change, and the common eternal verities of relationships.

Hornby is always generous to his main characters, the main thing I love about British pop fiction: slightly quirky, endearing people who muddle through and carry on through life’s crises, winning hearts in the end. Despite the initial hiccup, he won me over, as always.

I received a temporary egalley of the book through First To Read.

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Friday, January 30, 2015

Slow, Green Medicine

God's Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of MedicineGod's Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine by Victoria Sweet

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

God’s Hotel is a medical memoir in the spirit of Oliver Sacks. Victoria Sweet tells her experience at the last almshouse in the United States, Laguna Honda in San Francisco, for the last years of its life. Laguna Honda was the step after the County Hospital: extended care and rehab for the homeless, the poor, and the terminal.

It was the place where young Dr. Sweet, fascinated with the medieval model of health care and Hildegard of Bingen, was privileged to work while getting her PhD in the history of medicine. It was the place that she learned that time and caring are the best healers and that patients are teachers.

I enjoyed the compare/contrast strategy and Dr. Sweet’s longing to combine the best of modern medicine with the best of folk medicine—as she says, to bring in Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet, and Dr. Merryman. I enjoyed the stories of the patients, Dr. Sweet’s special teachers on her journey. I was afraid, at the beginning of the book, that I was going to end up angry and depressed at the end, but I ended up infected with Dr. Sweet’s own hope: that the slow but strong natural tendency for health running in all living things will make everything all right in the end.

Highly recommended.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Same SkyThe Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For people who don’t know much about the people who cross the southern border of the U. S., or those who live near it, this could be an eye-opening—and heart-opening, read.
It’s the story of two people, one of them a girl from Honduras and the other a woman who lives in Texas, and the path their lives take to the moment their lives briefly intersect.
The alternating chapters and viewpoints didn’t work for me; I believed each story, but I did not believe the voices—both are written in first person—very hard to pull off.  Interestingly, it’s the girl’s voice that rings truer fictionally.
Some folks are better at suspending disbelief, perhaps. I’ve lived near the border most of my life, so only the Texas part is new to me. But that structure/voice issue is why it only gets a 3 instead of a 4 from this reviewer.
Recommended for book clubs, though—sure to engender discussion!

I received a digital galley for review from the publisher and Netgalley.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Jurassic, Squared

The Great Zoo of ChinaThe Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Great Zoo of China succeeds at one-upping Jurassic Park in concept and non-stop action. According to the author, Matthew Reilly, the movie Jurassic Park inspired him to become a writer; this makes all his books, in a sense, tributes to the movie.

The book is everything the author wants it to be, an over-the-top, explosive, cinematic exploration of imagination. Is it Michael Crichton or James Rollins? Not quite. But it is just like reading an adventure movie--and the female hero is fantastic.

It's actually quite a feat to provide just enough violence, just enough romance, just enough plausibility,  just enough suspense.  And it's actually a pleasure to root for the heroes and boo the villains--that's part of why we read these kinds of books. It's not deep, but it's fun. Bravo! And I'd like a sequel.

I received a digital galley of the book for review from the publisher and Netgalley.

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For fans of military, horror, blood & guts gaming

Gemini CellGemini Cell by Myke Cole
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gemini Cell is a great book I wish I liked better. The prose style is excellent. I'm as in love with the wife as the hero is (almost). The military action is well done. I think it will appeal more to fans of horror and gaming; there's proportionately enough graphic violence (blood spattering, bones crunching) to skip over in this as there is sex to skip over in a paranormal romance. It would make a great movie, and I would watch the movie. I would buy it for someone else; I would recommend it to fans of military, horror, and blood & guts gaming.
Why do I wish I liked it better? I'd have his Shadow Ops books on my TBR pile. I still might try them, he's that good.

I received a digital galley for review from the publisher and Netgalley.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Pleasure of the Mind

My Life in MiddlemarchMy Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's taken me months to read this book--I've been stretching it out, not wanting it to end. Rebecca Mead writes beautifully about her life and that of George Eliot, and how books transform as well as inform one's life. You read a book in your teens and then later in life, and you're reading a different book. You read a book and then learn about the author's life--this also changes the reading experience. You read a book and more books from the period, and some history; society changes, you change. You read a book and then write about a book, and again, the book changes--in your mind and heart, which is really where the book exists, being more than words on a page. I feel privileged to have gone on this journey; it's been years since I read Middlemarch, and I don't think I'll reread it--but I'm inspired to reread some of the other classics I read as a teen.

I think it's a great success for a book to make you want to read more! And no, you don't have to have read or remember Middlemarch to read this book--in fact for modern readers, it might help to read this first. Another way Mead has done a great job with this book.

I have to say I hate the texture of the cover. It's gritty and I had to take it off to read the book.

I received a copy of the book for review from Blogging For Books.

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Monday, January 5, 2015

All the Bright PlacesAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

All the Bright Places

Five very bright shining stars and I hope it gets many more five star ratings from its intended readership, teens. I hope every teenager reads this, and gets some hope and/or understanding from it. It has been more years than you might guess since I was in high school, but evidently it has not changed.  So easy for all the adults around you to believe everything is fine or ignore the clues when in reality, death and madness are waiting to embrace and engulf you…
And then you find somebody or some book or something inside to help you hang on.

This is first of all a love story, how Finch and Violet fall in love. It’s also a story about dealing with high school and cliques and tragedy, difficulty, mental illness, survivor’s guilt. It’s about resilience, and sinking or swimming.  It’s hard to survive to adulthood, and the book acknowledges that, no talking down. All told in present tense, alternating chapters with Finch’s point of view, then Violet’s.

All in such luminous, tender prose. It’s a beautiful, beautiful book and I read the last three chapters and beyond while sobbing. Good tears and sad tears and grateful tears.  I can’t go any deeper without spoilers…

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