Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Review--Taking the Heat (Jackson: Girls' Night Out, #3)

Taking the Heat ( Jackson: Girls' Night Out, #3)Taking the Heat by Victoria Dahl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was unsure whether to shelf this under "romance" or "erotic romance", but I ended up going with "romance". Be aware, however, this delightful little story has lots of sex. Really, really, good sex. The kind of sex that if you were on the receiving end, you'd want to call your BFF at 3 a.m. to give her blow-by-blow details.

There's also a charming love story here. Librarian Gabe is in Jackson Hole, Wyoming on a temporary assignment to bring their library more into the digital book and media realm, but it's a labor of love. He's a rock climber, and being out of NYC is recharging his batteries and making him feel alive. But he knows he can't stay.

Veronica writes the "Dear Veronica" advice column in the local paper and online, but she's a hot mess of insecurity and sexual repression. When she meets Gabe there's attraction, but she doesn't know how to get around to discussion of the big "V" issue, and I don't mean "V" for Veronica.

All of Dahl's "Girls' Night Out" stories are entertaining, and this is a wonderful addition to the line-up. If you're looking for hot reading set in ski country, these are the books you want.


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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Review--Sorcerer to the Crown (Sorcerer Royal, #1)

Sorcerer to the Crown (Sorcerer Royal, #1)Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There were many things I enjoyed about this debut novel. I liked the Regency/Georgette Heyer feel of it, I liked the protagonists who were outsiders in their insular society, I liked the magic, but I think, most of all, I liked the strong women.

Prunella Gentleman is a rather pragmatic, one might even say cold-blooded, young lady who'd been dealt blows by life, and rather than fade into the genteel background she seized every opportunity, including trying to make a good match for quite mercenary purposes.

In addition, there were dragonesses who could teach the Patronesses of Almacks a thing or two, witches who don't take crap from any starched-up Englishmen, and society dames who manipulate events in their own subtle, but effective fashion.

As far as the men go, Zacharias Wythe is less cold-blooded and more of a dreamer as Sorcerer to the Crown, but even he realizes that his strong moral code is compromised and affected by the venal men around him. He'll have to be open to all sorts of things he never would have considered acceptable before (like women sorceresses) if he's going to keep his position, and his life.

The book is titled Sorcerer Royal #1, and I hope this means there will be more from Ms. Cho. It's a delightful start to a wonderful new series.


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Review--Saga, Vol. 5

Saga, Volume 5Saga, Volume 5 by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Saga just keeps getting better and better.


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Friday, September 25, 2015

Review--Craving Flight

Craving FlightCraving Flight by Tamsen Parker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I remember many years ago hearing a rabbi say, "If someone tells you, 'This is what Jews believe!', move quickly in the opposite direction."

There are many misconceptions about What Jews Believe, or what they practice, even (or especially) within their own community, so I approached this story with some trepidation.

To my relief and pleasure, Ms. Parker got it right. The tension between the BT & FFB communities, the misunderstanding and anger that can develop in families when someone becomes more observant and Shomer Shabbat, the difficulty in communication in a society where men and women have very different, but no less worthy, spheres of interaction--it's all here.

More importantly for the purposes of the tale, there's an emphasis on the joyous interaction that can happen within the boundaries of marriage and observance of niddut (separation for part of the month). Too many authors writing about religious societies only focus on their perception of restriction and repression.

In this regard, Tzipporah (literally, "Birdie") is an excellent narrator. She teaches a comparative religion class at a university and emphasizes the commonality of religious practice. But her secret longings have made the divorcee hesitant to marry again, even though she wants a family to have a full life within her Orthodox community.

Elan is the neighborhood butcher and when his name is mentioned to Tzipporah, something clicks. He excites her, but it's not until their wedding night that she broaches the subject of her desire for BDSM as a sub, and this is where one sees that Elan's her b'shert (destined love), for he has the same desires as a Dom. Talk about a match made in Heaven!

The novella is thoughtful, complex, and erotic. I would give it 4.5 stars if I could. The only reason I didn't give it a full five stars is the crisis at the end seemed a little rushed--I would have enjoyed a bit more pacing to bring the story to its full conclusion, but the author may have been constrained by the limits of the novella framework.

Nonetheless, I heartily recommend this tale. In fact, I'd love to see it in the kalla class curriculum, though I know that's unlikely to occur.[g]


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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Review--The Saint (The Original Sinners, White Years #1)

The Saint (The Original Sinners: White Years, #1)The Saint by Tiffany Reisz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this entry in the Original Sinners series because it gave us much more background on Soren and Nora. We'd picked up bits and pieces over the years, but this novel clearly establishes how their unique relationship as a BDSM couple developed.

Part of what I love about this series was Soren's insistence on Nora being an adult before she entered into her full relationship with him. One could quibble that because of the age difference he'd always been able to mess with her head, but The Saint makes it fairly clear that Nora's power to walk away was  real and strong.

I will continue to read, and I expect, enjoy, Ms. Reisz's tales of the BDSM community.


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Friday, September 18, 2015

Review--The Thousand Names (The Shadow Campaigns, #1)

The Thousand Names (The Shadow Campaigns, #1)The Thousand Names by Django Wexler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked it, especially the aspect of strong female characters and the alternative history feel of it, very much a setting familiar to fans of Sharpe's Rifles and other novels of the Napoleonic Wars. There's a definite nod to Napoleon's tactics and the use of the French square formation for infantry.

As far as the chicks-in-breeches female characters go, there were a few scenes that passed the Bechdel Test, and that's always a plus.

Clearly, this novel is the start of a series, and I'll know more after I read the second book. What bothered me the most about this one was that the alternative-history feel of it included light skinned "Europeans" vs. darker skinned, desert dwelling "Natives". It made a certain amount of sense if one's writing an alternative history, but it's difficult in the 21st c. to read a novel set in a faux-Egypt/Libya and not feel the weight of colonial history pressing down on you.  


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Celebrating International Talk Like a Pirate Day!

       
The tavern in Nassau had no name or sign outside the door, but everyone knew it. Almost everyone. It was a shame the place wasn’t known to any decent brewers, Oliver thought, as he tried to drink some lackluster ale.
“I told you to get the rum.”
“I don’t have your tolerance for that beverage yet, Captain.”
He shifted uncomfortably as she sipped from her own mug.
“You keep doing that and he may relieve himself on you out of spite.”
“I’m not used to wearing a live animal,” Oliver protested, as the parrot preened on his shoulder.
St. Armand looked at Turnbull.
“‘Bring him along’, you said, ‘It’ll be good for him to get out and about.’”
“I meant Woodruff, not the pa—not Roscoe!”
She snickered.
“Well, Woodruff, are you enjoying being out and about?”
He took another sip of the ale, worried that if he tried to respond he’d break out into a huge grin. He was sitting in a disreputable tavern in the Caribbean, with two dangerous pirates, and a parrot on his shoulder. This was the most exciting thing that ever happened to him, and being here today brought home to him how gray, structured and boring his life in Manchester was.

--[WIP] What the Parrot Saw (Mattie's Story)


September 19 is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, where you get to channel your inner pirate and talk with too many "Aarrrrs!" in your speech. Be sure to celebrate, pirate style, which may involve rum, booty (I will not elaborate on that) and basically, freeing yourself a tad from society's restrictions.

Pirates: Adding excitement to boring lives for over 2,000 years.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Review--Half a War (Shattered Sea #3)

Half a War (Shattered Sea, #3)Half a War by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel did not go where I expected it to go, and that's a good thing. I like a book where the boundaries between the good guys and the bad guys are blurred, or in some cases erased all together. This is the the third of the Shattered Sea novels, maybe the last one, and it's an excellent conclusion to a series about violent people in a bloody and stark post-apocalyptic world with overtones of the Viking era.



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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Review--The Wolf Hunt

The Wolf HuntThe Wolf Hunt by Gillian Bradshaw
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading this novel is reminiscent of hearing classic folk songs, which is deliberate. It's based on the medieval Lai de Bisclavet by Marie de France. There are themes of Tam Lin, Beauty & the Beast, classic werewolf tales and more, but at its heart it's a darn good story.

Tiarnan of Talensac is a "parfit, gentil knight", beloved by his people and his liege lord, and he has a secret. He goes into the woods and becomes a wolf a few days each month. When he marries, his secret puts him at risk, but he trusts love will conquer all.

Gosh, he sure is naive!

Anyway, there's a wonderful story here of a woman whose brains and morality outshine her beauty, a loyal lord, a scheming wife, a weasely enemy and faithful servants (even a faithful dog!). It's not a paranormal romance, but it's got a strong romantic element, and does a good job of capturing Medieval life in Brittany and Normandy.


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Monday, September 07, 2015

Happy Labor Day!

...under Cicero’s direction, he carried pots of porridge to the mess, followed by steaming coffee. There wasn’t much conversation as the men hurried through their meal to get to their tasks, and he returned to the galley to gulp down his own breakfast while Cicero readied a tray for him.
“Take this to the captain’s cabin, smartly now!”
The captain had mostly the same as the men, save for the addition of fine china and silver rather than tin plates and cups. There was a pot of coffee, porridge with a small dish of honey, and cheese from the ship’s goat.
He stood in front of the door, trying to figure out how to knock and balance the tray while the deck rolled beneath his feet. Fortunately, the door opened and Mr. Turnbull looked down at him, then raised an eyebrow.
“Your new cabin boy is here.”
“I am not the cabin boy,” Oliver said, setting the tray on the table in the captain’s cabin. “I’m the cook’s assistant. Good morning, Captain, Mr. Turnbull.”
St. Armand was dressed, but didn’t look fully awake, and nearly snatched the cup of coffee from Oliver’s hand.
“You’re the cabin boy if I say you’re the cabin boy. What’s worse, you’re cheerful in the morning. I may have to keelhaul you if you keep that up.”
--from WIP [working title] What the Parrot Saw

Here's a salute to the hard working women and men in the United States who get to celebrate a day honoring their contributions to society as workers, cooks, wait staff, carpenters and more. When you're resting from your labors, enjoy curling up with a good book and enjoy your day.


Sunday, September 06, 2015

Review--Only A Kiss (The Survivors' Club #6)

Only a Kiss (The Survivors' Club, #6)Only a Kiss by Mary Balogh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I read a top-notch Mary Balogh novel I feel like I'm getting the additional bonus of a class in "How To Write Really Good Romance With All The Feels". Balogh's use of subtle body language, spare description, slow builds and real, adult characters makes reading her books not only deeply, emotionally satisfying, but also illustrates what a good romance novel can be in the hands of the right author.

Only a Kiss is the latest Survivors' Club book. The Survivors are a group brought together by shared traumatic experiences during the Napoleonic Wars. Some are battle veterans and visibly scarred, others have hidden, but no less serious trauma. Lady Imogen Barclay is the only woman in the group, and this is her story.

We know parts of it from previous novels: Imogen's husband was a recon office behind French lines. His wife followed the drum. They were captured, Imogen's husband was tortured before her eyes, and he died while in the hands of the French. That's pretty much all we know when the story opens.

If you looked up "Entitled Upper Class Dude" in the dictionary, you'd see a picture of Percival Hayes, Earl of Hardford. Percy's life has been a charmed one. He's rich, ridiculously handsome, took two firsts in the Classics at Oxford, has good friends and a loving family. Nothing bad has ever happened to him, and his life's a crashing bore. He travels to Cornwall in February to check out the property he's inherited from a distant relative, meets Imogen (who's living in the dower house) and Percy's world is upended. Oh, and there are delightful rescue dogs and cats and dotty aunties abound in this story.

It's a slow build to true love and a HEA, but the story will have you staying up late into the night or phoning in sick so you can finish. All of the Survivors' Club stories have been outstanding, and this is one of the best of the series.


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Saturday, September 05, 2015

Review--Kindred

KindredKindred by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a deeply disturbing book, and that's a good thing. People should be disturbed when they read accounts of American slavery, just as people should be disturbed when they read accounts of the Holocaust. And the two were linked in my mind as I read Kindred.

Dana is a black woman in 1976, transported back in time to early-19th C. Maryland, to the farm where her ancestors were held in bondage. As I read Kindred I kept thinking about Jane Yolen's Number the Stars, a YA novel about a Jewish teen transported in time to the Holocaust.

A 21st c. reader has difficulty conceptualizing the horror of those eras, but through the vehicle of excellent novels the events are magnified for a modern person who knows, or at least has been told, how evil slavery is or how horrific the Holocaust was. Seeing it through contemporary eyes can help awaken the reader to the reality of the events.

I would like to see Kindred on high school reading lists, especially in those states that persist in trying to re-write history to downplay slavery as a role in the Civil War, or tries to smooth over the evils of a slave owning society. That's unlikely to happen, but one can hope.


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Friday, September 04, 2015

Review--Dangerous Books For Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels Explained

Dangerous Books For Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels Explained: Expanded EditionDangerous Books For Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels Explained: Expanded Edition by Maya Rodale
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a must-read for all budding romance authors, and it's a valuable addition to the shelves of established authors too. Rodale joins the small, but growing, list of researchers examining the attraction of romance novels, and I'm now recommending her book along with Beyond Heaving Bosoms, Dangerous Men, Adventurous Women and other recent publications about the romance genre and the romance publishing industry.

If nothing else, it's nice at the end of the day to read a serious, but entertaining, volume that looks at romance without sneering at it.


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Another holiday weekend=More reading time!

"...for best results, read it on the beach!" Smart B*tches, Trashy Books on The Pirate's Secret Baby.

Got books? It's the end of summer, and for some, a last chance to lounge in a hammock with a good beach read. Make sure your ereader is fully stocked, or your paperbacks light enough to lift while sipping a refreshing drink, and enjoy Labor Day Weekend. You've earned your rest and relaxation!




Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Some giggles from The Toast, and a snippet from the WIP

Oliver returned to the endless piles of vegetables, turnips today. They were thicker skinned than the potatoes, and after a few swipes at the uncooperative produce, Holt sighed and took the knife from him.
“Watch, Beaumains, while I show you how it’s done so you don’t waste half of it!”
Oliver raised his eyebrows.
“Shall I serve you then as Gareth served Sir Kay the Seneschal?”
Holt’s hand pause from where it was neatly skinning the vegetable, and his dark face broke into a grin so wide it threatened to displace his ears.
“You’ve read Le Morte d’Arthur? Welcome aboard, friend, welcome aboard!”
For the next two hours the cook stumped around the galley, discussing his favorite points of Mallory’s classic while Oliver plied his knife. When the cook announced work was done for the morning, Oliver stood, flexing his hand, then sucked on a nick on his thumb where the knife slipped when he wasn’t prepared for the ship to roll through a trough.
--[working title] WHAT THE PARROT SAW


It's no secret that one of my favorite novels of all time is THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING by T.H. White. I know the story of Arthur's fallen out of favor with many modern readers, but I still love it, so today I had many giggles over this wonderful piece from The Toast: "How to Tell if You're in a Chivalric Romance." Enjoy!