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!

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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!

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews