Monthly Archives: May 2010

The May Roundup

Here’s a list of the fun reads from May. They’re organized from highest-rating to lowest-rating for stand-alones and are grouped by series otherwise.

Score: 5/5 (Books I loved and will definitely read again)

Score: 4/5 (Books I liked and will probably read again)

Score: 3/5 (Books that are alright)

Score: 2/5 (Books I’ll probably get rid of)

  • Sirena by Donna Jo Napoli (2.5/5)

Score: 1/5 (Books I actually hated, or couldn’t finish)

  • None, Thank Goodness!

This month, I read 12 books, totaling 3,803 pages, baked one cake, and had 470 blog-views.

Leave a comment

Filed under Not a Book Review

Sword & Sorceress (Anthology, #17)

Marion Zimmer Bradley Presents: Sword & Sorceress XVII (2000). 312 Pages. DAW Books. $6.99

This is the last volume in this anthology series which Marion Zimmer Bradley was alive to compile. Each and every story was hand-picked by her, and featured a strong heroine. The entire concept of a high-fantasy anthology about strong women appeals to me. I was known to read anthologies of stories for strong girls, and that habit has never quite faded. I love the kick-ass heroine, the princess who slays her own dragons (or indentures herself to them) instead of waiting for prince charming.

There are 21 stories in this book, which is a lot to give even the briefest of per-story synopsis about, so I’ll choose a couple favorites. (Book of Enchantments only featured 9 stories, so it was considerably easier to summarize them all).

“The Conjurer’s Light” by Lisa Campos is about a conjurer, a princess, a sword, and destiny. “I have learned to Conjure thousands of images in my life, and of them all, butterflies have always been my favorite” (31). Faced with the impossible task of conjuring a sword from legend, our Conjurer must find a way to triumph.

“The Summons” by Bunnie Bessell is a story with a different flavor. Blaze is a mercenary-of-sorts, charged with guarding the heir to the crown. However, when her Temple gives her an order she never expected, she has to find a way to cope and choose a new path for her life.

“Deep as Rivers” by Cynthia McQuillin is bittersweet. A troll falls in love with an elf, and makes a huge sacrifice (which is unappreciated). It is especially enjoyable because there are so few stories about Trolls. It is very bittersweet because of the way things turn out, but the end is hopeful for a better future.

“Nor Iron Bars a Cage” by Deborah Wheeler is another excellent story, which doesn’t turn out quite how you expect. Alaina has the ability to speak to metal, and metal spirits, something her father has taken advantage of. However, this same skill may one day give her the ability to change her fate.

“Memories Traced in Snow” by Dave Smeds is nothing like what you expect when you begin reading. The town of Cascade Dell has forgotten… something, but nobody knows that they do not remember, nobody realizes that they have forgotten. Should they have a hint that something is wrong, they will have forgotten that by morning. The memory is not what you expect, and the hunt for the missing memories is impressively written.

It’s a very, very good anthology, one which I enjoyed a lot the first time, and I enjoyed nearly as much the second time around.

The Quick Version:

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress is an excellent anthology series, featuring solid stories with a firm unifying theme. It gets a 5/5 for being so excellent. (This is possibly my favorite volume in the series, honestly)

And so opens the Attack of the Anthologies, a solid week of me reading far too many anthologies for my own good.

3 Comments

Filed under Adult Fiction, Book Review, Fantasy, High Fantasy

Blow Me Down

MacAlister, Katie. Blow Me Down (2005). 359 Pages. Signet. $6.99

I said it last night; Katie MacAlister is dangerous. I started reading Blow Me Down this afternoon, and found that I could not put it down  until I finished it a few hours ago. My unfortunate boyfriend tried to speak to me once or twice, and found himself glared and/or growled at until he gave up. It was another of those books-I-grabbed-from-the-library-on-impulse, and I’m glad I did.

Anyway, Blow Me Down is about Amy, the incredibly organized, mildly neurotic, financial analyst. She’s divorced, and has a sixteen year-old daughter. I’m not usually a fan of “real life” in my romance. Divorce brings back bad memories, and relates to unpleasant experiences, and frequently makes it all-too-easy for characters to wallow. Katie’s characters have never fallen victim to that particular sort of wallowing, and even when they have been divorced, it’s never the center of their personality, and is really not one of their hangups.

Oh, right. So Amy the divorced, organized, neurotic financial analyst and mother of one techno-geek teenage girl finds herself playing her daughter’s new Virtual Reality beta in the middle of a storm. She’s zapped by lightning, and wakes up on a pirate island. Amy is a strange woman who finds herself organizing the finances of an entire brothel in an effort to set up retirement plans for computer-controlled-pirate-prostitutes. Of course, she meets Black Corbin, a man who is feared on the island of Turtle’s Back, and unfortunately for Amy, their attraction to each other is mutual and immediate. However, all is not easy, or as it seems in this pirate game.

Something has gone horribly wrong in this Virtual Reality setup. It’s a truly immersive game with cutting-edge technology which renders everything in such a way that you truly do experience the game’s events*. You can smell the privies, and feel the breeze on your face, or the kisses of an attractive pirate. However, there is no longer any way out. Corbin, Amy and Holder are trapped, and have to find a way to escape the game before anything else goes wrong.

The swashbuckling begins here. And boy oh boy is it some pirate-astic swashbuckling. And adventuring, and some hot and sweaty romance scenes.

The end is… not surprising, but that’s OK, because it was an enjoyable book.

The Quick Version:

As usual, I really enjoyed the book. I started it, and several hours later I realized just how much time had disappeared between when I started reading and when I finally put it down. I really enjoyed this one, and had no trouble suspending my disbelief. The trouble I did have, however was with the fact that I had the story figured out within the first couple chapters. It gets a 4.5/5, because I liked it a lot, but it’s predictable.

_______________________________________________

* One of the reviews I glanced at suggested that this was a plot problem. I’m a little concerned about people who read romance novels looking for realism.

This book is part of the Local Library Reading Challenge!

1 Comment

Filed under Adult Fiction, Book Review, Chick-Lit, Fantasy, Humor, Romance

Improper English

MacAlister, Katie. Improper English (2003). 369 Pages. Love Spell. $6.99

The trouble with Katie MacAlister is that when I start reading one of her books, I cannot put it down. I really and truly cannot bring myself to part with her books until I’ve finished them, and when they are a part of a series, I keep tearing through until I get to the end, and then I still want more.

This became increasingly problematic when I realized I had reached the end of the Dragon Septs series*, and I found myself wondering what the heck to read. Then, in the mail came a package. A book I had traded for had finally arrived, Improper English sat there taunting me, begging to be read. So I obliged, and found myself a day later, bemused, realizing I had lost yet another day and having finished yet another Katie MacAlister book.

Improper English is a lot like many of Katie’s other books; Alix, our (American) heroine, is insecure and flawed, more than a little neurotic, and prone to what I can only think of as verbal diarrhea. They prattle, they blather, they babble, they go on and on and on, and all I want is for them to just shut up already. I’m big on flawed characters, it makes them interesting, and it makes them likable. It’s the babbling I’m not big on. However, despite my annoyance, despite the fact that I sometimes just want to gag a character and move on with the plot, I genuinely enjoy her books. They’re good, they make you laugh, they make you sigh, they drag you in and have you yearning for more, all of which is great. It’s just the babbling that gets me.

Anyway, Improper English is about Alix, a neurotic, insecure babbler who has lived under her mother’s thumb for 29 years. She has left a string of failures in her wake, and is hoping to succeed with just one thing; a novel. Her mother has agreed to finance a flat in London for a month on the condition that should Alix’s novel fail, she will move back  to America and take care of her elderly grandmother without complaint. This seems fine to Alix, how hard can writing a novel really be?**

Alix’s landlady is the enviably perfect and poised Isabella, who represents just about everything Alix thinks she wants to be. She’s beautiful, prim, proper, and delicate. She knows scores of handsome, available men, and even offers to set Alix up with someone who is perfect for her. When Alix arrives for dinner at Isabella’s, she finds Alexander and Karl, only to be disappointed when Isabella says that Karl the Dentist is Alix’s perfect match. In fact, Karl is charming and considerate, and an all-around stand-up guy. It is, unfortunately, Alex whom Alix finds herself drawn to.***

As I have said so many times before, knowing this is a romance novel, we come in with certain expectations. They are met and exceeded. Alix’s romance is enthralling, you find yourself drawn in, and alternately horrified by what she has just said, worried about her stupidity, gasping at what she just did, steaming up your glasses over the next page, and laughing aloud immediately after. Adding to all of this is the story of Alix writing her book, and the excerpts which start each chapter. They are so bad they are funny, and all I can think is that Katie must have had a great time writing them.

The Quick Version:

Considering that this is one of Katie MacAlister’s first books, it makes sense that it’s not as polished as her later work. It is still incredibly fun to read, and I truly did enjoy it immensely. It gets a 4/5 because it really was good, even if Alix was annoying.

_________________________________________________________________

* And by end, I mean the latest book published, which came out earlier this month, and which represents the “end” only in that I can’t read the next one until it’s been written.

** Those of us who have attempted NaNoWriMo have got at least a vague sort of grasp on just how difficult novels can be.

*** I would make fun of the name thing, but I dated a guy named Aaron.

_________________________________________________________________

This book is part of the Into the Wild Book Challenge. It’s ready to go, and will be released Memorial Day Weekend at Fanime Con! Hopefully it will find its home soon!

5 Comments

Filed under Adult Fiction, Chick-Lit, Contemporary Romance, Humor, Romance

The Other Mr. Darcy

Fairview, Monica. The Other Mr. Darcy (2009). 351 Pages. Sourcebooks Inc. $14.99

This was another impulse grab from the library, and I’m actually sort of glad I picked it up. I had really only intended to drop off one book, but as I’d gone to the trouble of riding my bike there, I decided to spend a bit of time enjoying the coolness. The end result was me walking away with a couple new Pride & Prejudice reinterpretations (as well as a couple other books I hope to get through in the next couple days). I am actually glad I opted to pick this one up, because I really did like it a lot. (Once I managed to forgive the rather awkward character insertion which serves as the lynchpin for the main plot.)

Caroline Bingley sank to the floor, her silk crepe dress crumpling up beneath her. Tears spurted from her eyes and poured down her face and, to her absolute dismay, a snorting, choking kind of sound issued from her mouth.

“This is most improper,” she tried to mutter, but the sobs– since that was what they were– the sobs refused to stay down her throat where they were supposed to be .

She had never sobbed in her life, so she could not possibly be sobbing now.

But the horrible sounds kept coming from her throat. And water– tears— persisted in squeezing past her eyes and down her face.

Caroline Bingley was raised to be a Proper Lady, one who would enter the peerage by marrying Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Unfortunately for Caroline’s plans, Darcy met Elizabeth Bennet- in a story I hope we all already know at least in passing- and married her. This book opens with Caroline’s breakdown on Mr. Darcy’s wedding day. She allows herself to privately weep for her lost love and indulge in tears for the first time in her adult life. However, Caroline is not as alone as she thought, and she is even more distraught to find out that she has been observed by a stranger.

Months later, the stranger appears at the Bingley’s door. It turns out that he is Mr. Robert Darcy from Boston– that’s right, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy has a cousin from America– and he has come to summon Jane to Elizabeth’s side. Charles and Jane dash off to Pemberly, leaving Robert to escort Caroline (and Louisa, the recently widowed other Bingley sister) to Pemberly. The two, having not met under the best of circumstances, are not exactly pleased to be spending time together. In an effort to make the situation less awkward, Caroline has invited along another Darcy-Cousin; Colonel Fitzwilliam.

Things happen, the two have to spend more time together, there is romantic entanglement, drama, intrigue, and more drama. I’m sure nobody will be surprised to learn that there is eventually the happily-ever-after; it’s obvious from page 1. What makes this book interesting is the way it delves into Caroline, explaining things about her personality, and showing that she is, in fact, not such a terrible person. Robert, too, develops into an interesting character through the course of the novel.

The Quick Version:

As long as we ignore the fact that the character-insert is an incredibly fan-fiction-esque plot device, and we allow for the fact that Caroline was a first-class manipulative bitch in Pride & Prejudice, this book is actually really, really good. The writing is top-notch, and the book does not try to force itself to sound like Austen. The book is romantic without being overly sexual, and is actually very well executed. I’m going to give it a 4/5 because while it is a very enjoyable book, the fact remains that it uses a terrible plot device as its main premise.
This book is part of the Local Library Reading Challenge!

6 Comments

Filed under Adult Fiction, Book Review, Chick-Lit, Historical Romance, Romance

The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy

Angelini, Sara. The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy (2009). 338 Pages. Sourcebooks Inc. $14.99

When I go to the library, even when it’s for something as innocent as “just returning a book” I leave with more than I intended to. This latest trip to the library saw me returning the un-censored version of Deep Secret and resulted in me checking out a stack of books, one of which I actually knew about before I got to the library. First up on this impulse-grab trip is The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy: A Modern Pride & Prejudice.

It takes some minor inspiration from the original; “While Judge Darcy avoided meditating on the very great pleasure a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow…” (13), for example, recalls a line from the original Pride and Prejudice. But as a whole, the only things which remain the same are the character names and relationships (in the barest sense of the word “relationship”). If you can disentangle the names from Miss Austen’s original work, then you might enjoy this book, but don’t expect it to be a good Austen retelling.

Elizabeth Bennet is a clever, sassy female attorney (who is more Ally McBeal than Austen). Fitzwilliam Darcy is a harsh-but-fair Judge. Charles Bingley is a successful surgeon, as is Jane Bennet. Caroline Bingley is a cutthroat real estate tycoon, and is Darcy’s friend-with-benefits. Mrs. Bennet is silly and marriage obsessed, but the logic behind her obsession is not present here. There is no such thing as en entailed estate, and that means that her daughters not marrying promptly does not put them at any risk. Mr Wickham does not appear, Mr Collins is mentioned only in passing, and Charlotte Lucas does not make sense in this modern context. Add to that the fact that Elizabeth has acquired a gay best friend whom (we are repeatedly told) she “would have married if he were straight”, and we’ve got absolutely nothing left of the original work.

Does this mean that it’s a bad story? No, actually. While the “oh my goodness they hate each other, but then they learn to love and they live together and are happy forever after” is not new, and is not really the most amazing of plots, it is an entertaining read. So, let’s take a few moments to consider it as a book which has no relation to Austen’s work (because if we really treat it as a retelling, it bombs).

Lizzie Bennet is a new attorney who had a horrible first day in Judge Darcy’s courtroom. Because of her horrible first day, she decided that she dislikes him, and spends a lot of time making “clever, barbed comments” which for some reason, Will (which is what Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is called) misconstrues as flirting. Cue a lot of infatuation-from-a-distance on Darcy’s part and continue building up to the point that Darcy asks Elizabeth to work with him on a legal paper and she says no. (I think this was supposed to parallel the first proposal, but I don’t know, and more to the point, it’s better if we pretend it’s separate from the work which it was trying to re-write).  They clash, and she commits career-suicide by telling him off.

Meanwhile Jane and Charley have fallen in love over the surgery table. Charley (Bingley)’s friend has a home in London and he’s opened his home for them to visit. Jane invites Elizabeth along, thinking the vacation will do her sister some good. Cue some silliness which leads to Lizzie and Will starting a torrid affair which will end when they leave England because in America, they are Ms Bennet the Attorney and Mr Darcy the Judge, and the American Bar Association says that they shall not be in a relationship if she tries cases in his courtroom. This is the major obstacle which they have to overcome. The romance in England is sweet, and the scenes between the two are detailed (a little too detailed at times, I think). When they get back to America is when it gets downright annoying. “I love you so much.” “We have to end it” “But I want you” “But it’s over” “But I love you” *implosion*

The Quick Version:

As a Pride and Prejudice rewrite, this book bombs. As a complicated modern romance, it does alright. The writing is not fabulous, but it’s not terrible. The story is pretty good, for the most part. It gets a 3 out of 5, because it’s a solid book, but it’s nothing  amazing.

__________________________________________________

I am going to rant, for a moment, however. Angelini claims to live in San Francisco, and while I attempted to accept this, she referred to the “Pacific Highway” as a main thoroughfare from San Francisco to its suburb of “Meryton”. In California, there are a lot of highways and freeways. None of them are the “Pacific Highway.” In Southern California, a stretch of Highway 1 is referred to as the “P.C.H.” for the Pacific Coast Highway, however in San Francisco it is called “Highway 1” or through section-specific nicknames like “Devil’s Slide” or “Shoreline Highway” or even, in one place the “Cabrillo Highway.” If you are going to set a book in a city, for goodness sakes get street names and freeway names right. As a native Californian (and not just that, but one who has lived within 2 miles of Highway 1 my entire life), I caught that, and actually growled in annoyance.

This book is part of the Local Library Reading Challenge!

7 Comments

Filed under Adult Fiction, Book Review, Chick-Lit, Contemporary Romance, Romance

Bad Covers & Silly Titles II

I did not expect this little bit of mine to be quite as popular as it was. I mean, I realize that on some level, we all enjoy laughing at things, and there are a lot of silly books to laugh at, but the response I got was a lot stronger than I ever thought I’d receive. So now, with that bit of “oh my goodness how did I discover something popular” out of the way, let’s proceed with our second installment of Bad Covers & Silly Titles, a series I hope to post an addition to monthly. Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Humor, Not a Book Review

In the Hand of the Goddess

Pierce, Tamora. In the Hand of the Goddess (2005 ed). 288 Pages. Simon Pulse. $6.99

Song of the Lioness: Book Two

Alanna of Trebond returns, this time as the squire of Prince Jonathan of Tortall- one of the few people who know her true gender. She’s well on her way to becoming a knight, and she’s just found out that the Great Mother Goddess has plans for her. She meets Faithful for the first time (though depending on which order you’ve read the Tortall books in you might know him by another name).

Sure, she’s kicking a lot of butt, but sometimes a girl just wants to be a girl. Alanna is slowly learning that being a knight doesn’t mean she has to neglect being a woman, and being strong doesn’t mean rejecting love. She’s also learning that her magic is not such a bad thing, and that she has quite the healing gift. First George, then Jonathan express interest in Alanna as more than just a comrade, and she doesn’t really know what to make of it. Eventually, she and Jonathan become more than just friends– which is really the start of Alanna as a woman who has sex (gasp!).

Of course, growing up isn’t hard enough for our lady-knight-in-training; she’s got political intrigue to deal with. As Tortall marches for war with Tusaine, Duke Gareth the older is injured, and Duke Roger ends up in charge of the troops. Alanna is unhappy about it, but doesn’t have any proof that Roger has done anything. Then she and Jon get caught up in a plot which puts them both in danger (and gets Alanna kidnapped). Then, abruptly, the war with Tusaine reaches a tenuous treaty, and everyone heads back to Corus.

This particular book climaxes with Alanna’s Ordeal of Knighthood and the circumstances which lead to her revealing her gender to the court. In the end, Alanna is a Lady Knight, and she is ready for adventure.

The Quick Version:

The story in this volume is very fast paced; Tusaine and Tortall go to war and resolve their differences rapidly. Alanna and Jon get romantically entangled, Duke Roger is Evil, and Alanna becomes a Knight. It’s setting the stage for the next two books rather than attempting to be a complete story on its own. It gets a 4/5, because Alanna is slower on the uptake than the reader as far as Duke Roger’s plot goes.

Pick it up from Amazon or Swaptree.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Children's Fiction, High Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

Love in the Time of Dragons

MacAlister, Katie. Love in the Time of Dragons (2010). 331 Pages. Signet. $7.99

The Light Dragons: Book One || Dragons Universe Book Eight

Please be aware that though this is the first book in a new series, it is not a stand-alone, and the following may contain spoilers for the preceding books.

Tully Sullivan is Dr. Kostich’s apprentice, a mage-in-training who got dragged into the Dragon’s conflict at the end of Me and My Shadow. Except, she’s not a mage. Five weeks after she first arrives at Drake and Aisling’s house, she wakes up as a guest in Gabriel’s London house. She has no idea what has happened, and does not understand why everyone seems to be insisting that she is Ysolde de Bouchier, Baltic’s mate. But Tully doesn’t remember this– in fact, she doesn’t remember much at all. What she does know is that she has vivid dreams, yearly fugues, and a son (named Brom) who must be very worried about her.

Unfortunately for Tully, nobody is able to wait for her to come to terms with Ysolde. As Baltic’s mate, she is responsible for his crimes, and she is brought to the sárkány to face the charges. However, it is only a matter of time before Baltic figures out she’s back. Ysolde is his mate, and she was dead. Once he finds her, things will never be the same for her again.

The drama which has been building, all the intrigue which has left us wondering as we’ve read the last seven books has hit a crescendo with this book. Questions are (at least in part) answered, while yet more arise. By the end of the book (which is somehow shocking and expected simultaneously) you’re questioning nearly everything which the characters have taken for granted thus far.

The wait for the next book is going to be killer.

The Quick Version:

The drama which characterized the segment about Gabriel and May remains, but things have gotten funnier again. Ysolde and Baltic have that love/hate thing going on that makes things firey and fantastic. There is also something that is just so charming about a domineering dragon, and his willingness to do anything for his mate. I’m dying for the next book, which will be quite some time in coming, since this book was released on May 4, 2010. The book was fantastic, and scores a 5/5.

Please be aware, this is not a stand-alone book.

I know you’ll want to read it, so get it off Amazon or from Swaptree.

5 Comments

Filed under Adult Fiction, Book Review, Humor, Paranormal Romance, Romance, Urban Fantasy

Me and My Shadow

MacAlister, Katie. Me and My Shadow (2009). 352 Pages. Signet. $7.99

The Silver Dragons: Book Three || Dragons Universe Book Seven

This is certainly not the last Dragons book– Love in the Time of Dragons is the next book — but it is the last book about Gabriel and May. Much like with Aisling and Drake before, their series might be over, but they are not gone.

Kostya continues to petition the weir for recognition of the Black Dragon sept. Cyrene continues insisting that she is Kostya’s mate. Drake’s mother is an evil, obnoxious woman. Aisling has given “full custody” of Jim to May for the remainder of her pregnancy– which means that Jim will continue being loud and obnoxious and Not. Funny.*Something weird is going on with Sally. Magoth has been unleashed on the mortal realm (and is still obnoxious). And so on and so forth.

The only thing which really concludes in this book is May and Gabriel’s romance; they really and truly are committed to each other, and have found their personal happily-ever-after. Oh, and Aisling has finally given birth.** However, May has finally found herself- in more than one sense- and her relationship with Gabriel has strengthened in such a way that it will last through their immortality.

Things get more and more complicated with Baltic. He’s basically the center of everything, and we know next-to-nothing about him. Hopefully this is not the case in Love in the Time of Dragons, because I believe it is his chest decorating the cover. I should be reviewing that by this time tomorrow, with the way I inhale these.

The Series as a Whole:

May and Gabriel manage to be different from Aisling and Drake while following the same basic plot; Girl has some powers. Boy notices girl, Girl notices boy. Girl gains lots of powers and complicates life. Boy does not run away from incredibly powerful, complicated girl. Boy and Girl overcome obstacles, and live happily ever after. But then, aside from the powers point, that’s really ever romance novel ever, and who really reads them expecting something original? The fact is, seven books in, I still enjoyed the set enough that I want to read the eighth. The series scores a perfect 10 of 10.

The Quick Version:

This book makes a good end to the rest of the Silver Dragons novels, though as stated repeatedly, the overall plot of the Dragons universe is not done. I did enjoy it, and I did actually laugh aloud a couple times. As a whole though, this series is less funny than the Aisling Grey series, which works, because the dramatic and action-oriented plot has become much more significant than the slapstick humor of the first portion. There are still scenes where I laughed– I snorted out loud while I was sneakily trying to read this book at work (and was so busted by a customer).  It gets a 4.5/5, because I really did enjoy it, even if some of it made me cringe.

_____________________________________________________

* I have not thought Jim was funny more than once or twice the entire series. In seven books I have laughed at him maybe twice. He is not a good character. He is annoying, and needs to go away.

** She’s been pregnant through four books now. It’s about damned time.

1 Comment

Filed under Adult Fiction, Book Review, Contemporary Romance, Paranormal Romance, Romance, Urban Fantasy