Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ironskin by Tina Connolly (Publication date Oct 2, 2012)

Steampunk fantasy in a world that has echos of Regency times -- right up my alley it would seem. With Ironskin, the reader enters a world just after a war between humans and fey. While humans appeared to have won, there are wounds left in the world, humans hideously scarred by fey blasts, now outcast, or else wearing iron coverings to stop the fey curses from leaking through and tainting the world.

Jane Eliot was wounded in the war that killed all of her family, except her sister Helen. While Helen has found a place in society and is to be wedded soon, Jane (definitely less flighty and frivolous, and considerably smarter than her sister) heads off to take a position as the governess for a child who also bears a fey curse.

Here's where it got a little confusing: I thought we might be headed towards a steampunk Jane Eyre (which would have been great, only sadly, the author states in her acknowledgements that when someone compared the novel to Jane Eyre, her response was, "Who's that.") Then there were Beauty and the Beast elements that got added in, the only question being who was the beauty and who was the beast. Next, came The Snow Queen bits, only this one was the Fey Queen.  While it all worked, I think my love of the other stories got in the way for this one.  In the end, though, it's all up to Jane (as it often seems to be for main characters who bear that name.

While there were some wonderful bits in this book that crossed all my t's and dotted all my i's, there were other times when my mind strayed from the plot. However, the world-building here was really well done.  It's not a retelling of a story with another element added in, but a nicely crafted tale.  The disappointments I had were probably because of my own expectations which I set myself (though a cover blurb also alludes to a reverse Beauty and the Beast).  I will look for other works by this author.

Sent to me by the kindness of Tor books. (3.5 stars)

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe

Suppose there was a group of people, deep in the heart of Appalachia, who arrived before the first Europeans -- who had music buried deep into their cultural soul, resounding in all that they do. Whose origins were lost in history, but glimpses could be caught in the very songs that weave through their lives. Suppose these people, the Tufa, rarely leave the glens and hollows of Cloud County, remain close knit, and wary of outsiders.

This is the world, Private Bronwyn Hyatt returns home to as a war hero, after being seriously wounded in Iraq. Once home, there are signs and whispers that point to trouble coming maybe even death. Bronwyn, who was a wild girl in the days before her enlistment, must confront her past, the signs, a haint (ghost for you non-southerners), her vicious ex-boyfriend, to help her family find a balance, a place within the hum and the shiver. And, she must find her music again, plus find her own heart, and her place in the Tufa world.

The book has mystery, a deep-seated spiritual strength, and some folklore. Who are the Tufa and what can they do is more compelling than what happens in the plot at some times. It's an ingenious blending of different worlds.

I cannot remember what prompted me to add this book to my wishlist, but I'm glad I did. And I'm glad Tor Books sent it my way.  I'd not read this author before, and liked the way the story flowed. Plus there was enough olde lore to match the Child Ballads and other old songs brought to life in the book.  It's interesting that the same painting mentioned in this book has been mentioned in another book, with a totally different plot line. SPOILER ALERT (of a minor sort) STOP HERE!!

The painting is Richard Dadd's The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke, which is a bit of a mystery in itself.  It hangs in the Tate Museum. The author leaves it up to the reader: are the Tufa descendants of the Faerie folk who fled the old country? Read the book, have a look at the Fairy Feller's Master Stroke, and decide for yourself. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan, by Robin Maxwell

This is one book when it's perfectly fine to judge a book by its cover. The pages between take the reader on a trip back into time, with a portrayal of Jane that is fresh, captivating, and spirited. I realized about half way through that I've never read the original Tarzan book(s) and only know the story from comics, hearsay, and the movies. I'm curious now how close to the original this book flies, especially with the ending (which seemed like something out of an old Hollywood adventure.) 

Robin MAxwell's Jane is intelligent and willful, determined to pursue her interests in anthropology, biology, and archaeology, even if such interests deny her a husband, and leave her tottering on the edge of spinsterhood at age 20.  Yet despite all the objections of society (and her mother's despair), she leaves with her father to head into Africa in search of the bones of missing link between apes and humans.  What she finds instead is treachery, adventure, some pretty cool learning curves to climb, and a glimpse of various societies that give her much to ponder. Oh, and she also find this perfect specimen of manhood that seems to fancy her, too. Not bad for the jungle.

Actually, the meeting occurs after Jane has been mauled by a panther, and is saved by Tarzan. As he nurses her back to health, the two begin to build a common language and understanding. Together they try and make sense of some mysteries in their world, and together, they must face not one, but two evils.

I was pretty captivated up until the very end, when the novel moved into some realms of big screen adventure film stuff.  That's why I'm interested to know if that bit was in the original book, or movies (I can't remember. Indiana Jones has clouded my mind.) This particular novel was authorized by the Edgar Rice Burroughs Estate, so I guess the ending fits into something somewhere in the Tarzan lore. It wasn't bad, just not to my taste: a little too over the top/fantastic/tomb raider-ish. It by no means diluted my sheer enjoyment of the first 3/4 or more of the novel, and definitely lived up to the cover.

Sent to me by Tor books.  Thanks!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

This Case is Gonna Kill Me by Phillipa Bornikova

"White fangs" and Werewolves and lawyers! Oh my!

This was a fun excursion of the paranormal, urban fantasy sort.  Clever world, where the supernaturals and humans coexist relatively peacefully.  And though the vampires are heavy into the legal system, the werewolves are in the military, and the elves are into the glamorous parts of life, humans still have their say.  Of course, those with loyalty to a particular branch of supers are rewarded in their careers and personal lives, some even being "turned'.  But in this world, only males can be turned, it is taboo to bite a female.

We see this world from the life of Linnet Ellory, top of her class in law school, and who was fostered in a vampire household. She enters a prominent White Fang firm, and runs into all sorts of problems. Her colleague is killed in the office by a werewolf on the rampage, she inherits the dead end case he'd been on, and begins to be knocked around by all sorts of events.

Phillipa Bornikova has created a great world, fabulous characters, and plausible plot twists and turns, plus some great references and Easter eggs. I get the feeling we'll see Linnet et al again, which is fine by me.  I also re-entered the world of horse training (though at a much more elite level than I participated) but that was a wonderful bonus.

The book's called This Case is Gonna Kill Me, but the book won't. In fact it will probably suck you in (ha!) to this genre of great female characters in a paranormal world.

Thanks to Tor Books for sending this along for me to read.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Bumma's bouquet

The endless job of clearing out the accumulation of several lives continues. It's a given that we have books; lots of books. Some to keep, some to give to friends, some to donate, some to bookcross, and some to maybe even sell. But in every library, there are a few books that no longer meet the criteria for any of the above. I suppose I could send them to the Charleston County recycling center, or use them for kindling, but have decided to try some projects that have intrigued me instead. (Note to self: you are almost 56 years old and still always spell intrigue wrong. LEARN IT!)

So, today I tried making paper flowers.  The pages are from a book published in 1968. The spine was no longer intact and pages cascaded out when I took it off the shelf. That seemed a pretty clear sign from the crafting elves that I should use this book for my maiden attempt at book art.

I did a couple of daisies, and used vintage buttons for the center that I'd inherited when I inherited my mother's sewing box.  Not that I didn't have enough buttons anyway, but somehow hers got added into the mix and now I have enough buttons probably to stretch across the city, or at least across the streed. One was a puke-green, so I painted it orange, but there were plenty of others that met my criteria for flower centers.  After a few daisy/aster type flowers, I began trying different petals. Fun!

Then, after a few of those, inspiration struck.  My darling mother had also left behind probably a dozen single screw back or clip on pearl earrings. I had yet to dispose of them, because somehow I knew I'd either find the mates or find a use. And find a use I did. 

I expect that very soon, we'll have a new bouquet to enjoy.  The fragrance will be one of memory, but that will make it especially sweet.

(To give credit where credit is due, I used the wonderful tutorial over at Sunday Baker for the daisies, and extrapolated for the petal flowers from several pictures I'd seen on Pinterest (where I have a board of things to inspire me or to try for book art) and at an article on Uses for old books by Savvy Sugar.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Turn of Mind, by Alice LaPlante (and some thoughts on Alzheimers)

The only reason I picked this book up was because it was the first of this year's Stanford Book Salon's selections. I have a deep, unholy fear of developing Alzheimer's and as a result, avoid anything that has the slightest hint of the disease. Reading this book, it is unavoidable.  Alzheimer's enters your life, your mind, your thoughts, and your world.  But it's only fair. It has done the same to the narrator of the story, Jennifer White, a recently widowed, gifted and brilliant orthopedic surgeon.

Alice LaPlante does a magnificent job of portraying Dr White's world through the use of a notebook she uses to write a record of her days and life, and then through Dr White's own thoughts. She's progressed beyond the phase of lists and sticky notes plastering her home. When the diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's hit, she retired from her profession, and engaged a live-in companion/helper. The book opens shortly after Dr White's best friend, Amanda, is found murdered, with the fingers of one hand neatly amputated. Dr White is "a person of interest" in the case.

The reader is taken through the twists and turns of Jennifer White's diseased mind. We meet her children, her husband, and friend through memories that seem as present day to Dr White. Woven through this world is the underlying investigation of Amanda's death. Dr White is at some moments totally in the present, fully aware of her condition, competent and lucid. At other times, she is (and I mean this in the nicest of ways) crazy as a loon, paranoid, sly, and cunning. It is brilliant, totally real, brilliant.

One of the interesting aspects of this novel for me was that I was so drawn into it, but really didn't like almost all of the characters. Dr White was a highly regarded surgeon, but as a mother and wife, she was less than stellar.  Her kids both "have issues." Her husband wasn't all he was cracked up to be. Even the murdered Amanda was a not-so-nice person. The best character for me was the police investigator, gave a beautiful description of what it is to lose a loved one to this horrible illness. I found myself speaking similar words to my aunt, who just had my uncle placed in a long care facility for people with Alzheimer's.  Only it wasn't my uncle.  He'd left us long ago, for the most part. It has been years since we dealt with just forgetfulness. What loved ones, and even the person themselves, is unprepared for is that the entire personality can change, and the person you love leaves you a thousand different ways, replaced by someone totally unfamiliar. They can be vicious and angry. They can be charming. But they never again are the person you knew. Yet you lose them over and over, every day.

This was a compelling book, both heart-wrenching and beautifully drawn. It's yet one more reason I am grateful to the SBS for taking me outside my comfort zone, into the world of amazing writing.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Staub

My father was a child of the great movie studios.  At the ripe old age of 4 or 5 he made the transition from Vaudeville to Fox Studio, and had several silent films under his belt as "Little Eli." He also was in a precursor to the Little Rascals, called the Sunshine Kids. One made it; one didn't. He used to talk about Jackie Coogan as his big rival. We have posters and pictures, and at least a copy of one film he was in. As a child, it fueled my imagination to think I could have been the daughter of a star.
My dad's the little brat dripping in Richard Dix's arms in the poster, after being pulled from the lake in Central Park.

But the depression had other plans for the life of Little Eli. He went on to become a physician of note, and though he was nominated for a Nobel Prize, it went instead to Jackie Coogan in the scientific world.  He always felt like a footnote in history.

Which brings me to this novel.  I had great hopes for a glimpse into the world of the studios in their glory years.  The classics of film still remain my favorites.  Give me Claudette Colbert, Katherine Hepburn, or Mirna Loy, or some equally slim, glamorous female pitted against the men of the day -- Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, or even Alan Ladd  (who my husband was named after)  black and white film moving on the reels, and the music of the big bands, and I'm a happy camper. Though a large portion of this book takes place in that world, I never really was transported there.  I'm not sure if it's because Emma Straub chose to make up a studio and stars entirely, with no basis in the real history or what. But the transport to that world never happened.

Elsa Emerson, enters stage right, youngest daughter in a Wisconsin family who run the summer theater in their small town. Elsa eventually wends her way to Hollywood (with a new husband she met in summer stock and later divorces), has several children and morphs into Laura Lamont, under the guidance of studio head Irving Green. The story follows Elsa/Laura's life over the next 50 years. What struck me most was how unhappy most of the people in Laura's life were. True, she did find her big love, but even that was cut short. The joy in life seemed to be lacking, especially as Laura moves from starlet to former star. I did like the way the author chose to end the book, with a new phase opening for Laura, that at least looked hopeful.

I'm not sure what I expected of this book -- maybe more of the Hollywood I knew existed at the time.  Everything was made up, without touching the actual Hollywood of those days.  Even the rival studio was made up. I wish Laura's world could have slipped into the golden age I know existed back then. I wish her family (birth, acquired, and studio) could have had more joy in it. As it was, I felt that I was looking at a faded picture of a place I knew and loved.

Rounding up to 3 stars because the story did keep me engaged, even though it did make me sad. Also, some of my beefs in the writing may have been due to this being an advanced reader edition of the book.

    Received via the kindness of LibraryThing and the publisher.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

In a Fix by Linda Grimes

There seems to be a new genre of book coming out now: Sassy, independent women in paranormal mystery/adventures with a bit of flirtation or the occasional tumble in the hay thrown in. I'm not quite sure how to classify that in terms of tags or categories, but In a Fix is right there on whatever shelf that might be.

Ciel is not your average life coach.  She is an aura adaptor (but don't call her a shapeshifter) who helps her clients solve the sticky moments in their lives they don't want to handle by assuming their forms (with permission) and getting the job jobbed. This book promises to be the start of a series of Ciel adventures. She's busy at work posing as her client, who is eager for an engagement ring from her handsome sweetheart.  It's all almost in the bag, (and in the bed), except the hunk in question gets kidnapped, and their vacation love cottage gets blown to smithereens. Ciel enlists the aid of her quasi-step-cousin (who wants the relationship to move into the kissing cousins realm) and the best friend of her elder brother (who she has a super-sized crush on) to rescue the guy.  Did I mention that the brother and crush are CIA, and that all are adaptors? And that the bad guys are modern day Vikings who are protesting against the unmanning of the male gender? They're on the rampage against having to pee sitting down and other emasculating gestures of society.

Though it sometimes got a little confusing who was taking which form/body, the premise was clever, and had some downright brilliant moments. Some of the unique ways Ciel used her adapting were quite inventive. The romantic tension added a nice touch.  It'll be interesting to see how Ms Grimes chooses to take the series. 

As an additional note, not only was there a cover blurb from one of my favorite authors, Diana Gabaldon, but she was thanked in the acknowledgements as well.  If Linda Grimes is a Gabaldon fan/friend/mentor, it's no wonder there were some pretty sizzling encounters in the book.

Thanks to Tor Books for sending this along for my reading pleasure.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio (Release date: Sept 25, 2012)

As a child, I learned the phrase Blackberry Winter when we had a sudden, surprising cold snap that left our springtime world blanketed in snow.  As a kid, it was magical, and the image of the azaleas covered with snow still remains in memory. Not so long ago, I heard Hilary Kole sing a beautiful rendition of Blackberry Winter. It has haunted me, and apparently haunted author Sarah Jio as well.  In an author's note, she tells how hearing the song on the radio sparked her to write this story. That alone is enough to endear me to the book, however, the story Jio wrote is worth liking on its own.

Set in Seattle, one of my favorite towns, Blackberry Winter combines two tales from two times, both when there were late snows on the first of May.  In the height of the depression, a young, single mother, headed to work as a chambermaid. Circumstances forced her to leave her precious son home alone, tucked safely in bed in their small apartment. In the morning,snow blanketed the town.  Her son had vanished. Only his teddy bear abandoned in the snow, remained behind.

In the 2010 story, after the town is once covered by a May 1 snow, a newspaper writer is assigned to write a feature about the blackberry winter of 1933. The story of the missing boy captures her. As she digs to learn what happened to little Daniel and his mother, she also faces  the ghosts haunting in her own life as well follow as a possible connection to the past.

I read this book pretty quickly. It took me a little longer to track down the lyrics to the song that captured both Ms Jio and me (which are written below, as well as a link to a video.) There were some weaker moments in the book, but mostly in the wrapping things up angle, so I can forgive some of the coincidences, especially if they involve a good coffee shop (don't want to say more for fear of spoilers.)

One of the things I especially enjoyed about this book was a glimpse into the world of the Depression in Seattle.  I'd recently read several other Seattle based novels (one written in 2000, but set in 2018; another set in an alternate reality present) so I feel like I've been to the town in the past, present, another present, and the future.  Maybe it's time for a real visit?

Lyrics to Blackberry Winter Video here.

Blackberry Winter comes without a warning
Just when you think that Spring's around to stay
So you wake up on a cold rainy morning
And wonder what on Earth became of May.

Blackberry Winter only lasts a few days
Just long enough to get you feeling sad
When you think of all the love that you have wasted
On someone that you never really had.

I'll never get over losing you
But I had to learn that life goes on
And the memories grow dim
Like a half forgotten son
'Til the Blackberry Winter
Reminds me that you're gone.

I get so lonely, most of all in springtime
I wish I could enjoy the first of May
But I seem to know that Blackberry Winter
Is not so far away.

Thanks to the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program for sending this lovely glimpse into two Blackberry Winters my way.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Girl Like You by Maria Geraci

Let me tell you about this book. I was at the library using wireless there since our cabin is sans Internet. Every time I glanced up, the bright pink cover of the book was smack in my line of view. The darn think taunted me, but I resisted. The next day, I chose a new seat, but the book had been moved on the shelf and again was right in my face. The next time I was back at the library, the book had been checked out. No magenta cover mocked me-- until the librarian came by to re-shelve books, and guess what was back and placed on the shelf across from me. Uh huh. That's right.

Let me tell you about this story: fresh, funny, thoughtful. Yes, it's chick lit, but chick lit with character and decent writing. I liked it. Emma, the main character has wit, intelligence, and a keen perspective on life. She is blessed with good friends, loving mothers, and a dogged determination that carries her through some interesting situations. Ms. Maria Geraci chose to create a path for Emma that carries her out of the realm of chick lit, into something with more depth and insight than someone picking up that magenta cover might initially suppose. From the opening gambit, where Emma hears someone describe her as "the fat friend" (you know, the one who other girls bring along so that they'll look better) Maria Geraci creates real characters, puts them in believable situations, and tops it off with nice writing, humor, and insight that gave this reader an author to watch. The relationships between friends, lovers, co-workers, and family were refreshingly believable. And I love a book that makes me laugh with the cleverness of a phrase or situation. Emma's "let me tell you" moments were a nice touch, too

Let me tell you something I've done, that you probably haven't , that happened in the book. Cow paddy bingo-- only I played it with horse droppings. And I won. So there!

Maybe I liked Emma so much because she and I share a commonality. As Emma said, "I have a tendency to overanalyze things. It's both my greatest strength and my greatest weakness." Let me think on that a bit more, and get back to you.