Sunday, April 28, 2013

Review--Whispers Underground

Whispers Under Ground (Peter Grant, #3)Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wonderful, well-written series combining crime detection, a touch of pathos, and laugh-out-loud humor. I can't wait until the next adventure!

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Review--River of Stars

River of StarsRiver of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Best epic fantasy I've read in years, and one of Guy Gavriel Kay's best novels.  I hadn't read G.G. Kay for a while but the reviews of River of Stars were so glowing that I gave this one a try, and it was a good choice.

River is set in Kitai, a fantasy China, and as so many Kay novels do, deals with personal honor pitted against politics and corruption. There's also a love story woven through it, amazing world building, exquisite plotting and an ending that kept me turning pages late into the night. I debated between four and five stars, and finally went with five because I'm still thinking about the intricate details of River now that I've closed the covers, and that's a sign this book will be on my "keeper" shelf.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"It is not only fine feathers that make fine birds."

            “You are dwelling on this deception business far too much,” St. Armand told the governess over breakfast. “I am paying well for staying here, Miss Burke.  Now, finish your bacon so we can get on the road again.”
            He picked up a well-polished spoon and paused, distracted by his own reflection.
            “You are like a magpie, Captain. Stop admiring yourself in bright, shiny objects and tell me where we are going!” she snapped.
--WIP [working title] The Hot Pirate's Secret Baby, aka The Pirate's Governess 

I'm fortunate to have a lovely yard that is bordered by woods and undeveloped property. My favorite room in our house is the screen porch that faces the yard. I eat lunch here everyday and enjoy the antics of the birds flocking to my feeders and birdbath. The hummingbirds are back and sucking down nectar like it's their personal juice bar. The cardinals are pleased that I cleaned my fountain, because cardinals love splashing in running water. Finches, doves, jays, wrens, sparrows, woodpeckers and mockingbirds are feasting on the food I've set out at the bird feeder, and the squirrels are still suitably baffled by the squirrel baffle keeping them from the birdseed.

There's a wren exhausting herself feeding her chicks in the nest she built in my hanging planter. I know when mom's back from the frantic "cheeps!" as the three little ones jockey for tidbits.  I've also noticed that cardinals travel in mated pairs. If I see the flaming scarlet male, with a little effort I can usually find the female nearby. He may be at the feeder while she sips from the fountain.  The male hummingbirds look like little flowers flying around the feeder, but the poor females are just brown dabs.

The point of this is, clearly, that chicks dig guys with fine feathers. In the animal kingdom it's obvious with the plumage sported by the males, and it's also true in the human species. We're hardwired to be attracted to beauty--symmetry of features, height, healthy appearance--all factor into decisions we make about mating. That doesn't mean an unattractive person doesn't have a chance, far from it.  When I see the male birds preening in my yard, however, I'm reminded of the Smithsonian magazine article "Why are Some Feathers Blue?" : "What if birds, like humans, have a sense of beauty? Rather than being cold, calculating egg-laying machines, what if female birds just like pretty boys?"

My magpie pirate would certainly understand.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Review--Without A Summer

Without a Summer (Glamourist Histories, #3)Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been enjoying Robinette Kowal's "Glamour" books set in an alternate Regency Universe. As much as I love Naomi Novik's dragon books set during the Napoleonic Wars, I think R. Kowal's worldbuilding holds up better under scrutiny.

Sir David Vincent and Jane, Lady Vincent, are back in England after the Battle of Waterloo. They've taken on a valuable commission, but one that brings them back into contact with Vincent's estranged family and brings Jane's family into involvement as well.

Regency fans will enjoy the scenes in familiar London settings, and lovely descriptions of clothing, Almack's (of course) and other venues. Fantasy fans will find R. Kowal's worldbuilding satisfying, and her use of "glamour" to show a society quite different, yet also quite familiar.

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Friday, April 12, 2013

Review--Her Hesitant Heart

Her Hesitant HeartHer Hesitant Heart by Carla Kelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been a huge fan of Carla Kelly's Western stories ever since I tracked down her collection Here's to the Ladies: Stories of the Frontier Army. While she's best known for her Regency romances, Kelly truly shines when writing about a subject she knows very well, the US Army in the Old West.

Now she brings that era and the people to life in a new romance set at an army post, and it's got everything Kelly fans could desire: tons of angst (have your hankies ready), love, and most importantly, ordinary people being good.

That last point is important. Kelly's mostly moved away from writing about lords and ladies, and writes about people who appear average, and sometimes are not drop-dead gorgeous--Major Joseph Randolph is described as a "big, comfortable looking man", hardly a description to make a maiden swoon. Susanna Hopkins is described as a blonde who has one eye that appears sunken due to a broken bone in her face.

Joe and Susanna have had difficult lives and slowly they learn to open up to one another, and their relationship grows as a deep love can, bit by bit, building on little incidents. It's a delightful tale with wonderful characters, great color, an expert's eye for setting a scene, and a story that will leave the reader deeply satisfied at the end. It's likely to be enjoyed most not by teenage girls who long for sparkly vampires in their lives, but by women and men who have lived long enough to know what's truly important in relationships.

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Tutoring tales

The young lady I tutored moved away over Spring Break, which left me greatly saddened. This was a child who desperately needed help if she was going to catch up with her age group and be ready for the third grade, and I hope wherever she goes to school for the remainder of the year she'll get additional help.

I wasn't sure if I'd be assigned another pupil with the school year winding down, but yesterday I had my first session with my new Reading Pal, Katie. She's a third-grader who hadn't had her own Pal before this. She had to share a volunteer in a group setting, so we were both happy to have one-on-one opportunities. We met in the school library, and I spent part of the hour getting a feel for what she likes to read. To my delight, Katie picked Alice in Wonderland as the novel she wants us to read together.

I'm optimistic, and I look forward  to weeks of quality reading time with Katie before summer. It's really boosted my spirits to know I'll continue working with a young person on reading skills.