Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Book Review - Candace Bushnell's One Fifth Avenue

One Fifth Avenue by Candace Bushnell
Published by: Voice
Publication Date: January 1st, 2008
Format: Hardcover, 433 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

One Fifth Avenue is a residence unlike any other. The people who live there love the building more then they do their spouses, children, or lovers. The older residents represent a golden bohemian age of New York with famous writers, gossip columnists, actresses, and old socialites. When the building's oldest resident dies her three story penthouse becomes a focal point for all the residents. Mindy Gooch, the head of the building's board and denizen of the worst apartment in the building dreams of dividing up the unit and claiming the top floor ballroom as her own. But seeing as Mindy doesn't have the money she will thwart the plans of others who want to break up the apartment, notably the author Philip Oakland's Aunt Enid, who wants one of the floors for him to expand his apartment. Mindy therefore strong arms a young couple with new money obtained dubiously through hedge funds to buy the apartment and what ensues could easily be considered war. Paul Rice views that if he paid $20 million for an apartment, well, everyone in the building should do as he says. They should let him have the one parking space and unsightly air conditioners. They should bow down to his every wish. At least his wife is likable. But the Rice's arrival signals a time of trials for One Fifth which they will all hopefully survive, Enid at least has newly lowered expectations and hopes to get the twenty two year old Lola out of her nephew's bed and Philip back with the lovely age appropriate actress Schiffer Diamond. But the hearts and "heads" of men might be harder to control then the fate of a beloved building.

No one can doubt the place Sex and the City has carved out for itself in our cultural zeitgeist. It has reshaped New York City for young women in such a way that I actually know someone whose ambition in life was to be a Sex and the City tour guide. This for her was the ultimate dream, the highest aspiration of her life. I was never on this bandwagon. Yes I knew about the show because I had watched one or two episodes back in 1998 with my mom to see what it was all about, but we both agreed rather quickly that this just wasn't our type of show, we're more into someone being murdered with a shoe versus a discussion of the shoe being Louboutin or Manolo Blahnik. Even Candace Bushnell has jumped on her own bandwagon being self-referential and meta with the character of Lola being obsessed with Sex and the City. Therefore when looking through my shelves to see how to round out my Chick Lit reading for the month I thought perhaps I should include an American author to try to get some kind of balance to this British dominated genre. So that's how I finally picked up a Candace Bushnell book thinking that I'd get some American Chick Lit... boy was I wrong. One Fifth Avenue is not Chick Lit, it's like a New York version of Maupin's Tales of the City where all the characters are unlikable with oddly graphic sex interspersed throughout the text. In other words, not what I was expecting. But I was willing to give the book the benefit of the doubt only to have it repeatedly dig itself into a deeper and deeper hole.

Firstly I want to address the issue of Lola. Lola is the wet dream of all middle aged men. She's perfect in body, with lipo and breast augmentation. Her libido is insatiable and she's willing to do most anything to get her way, sexual favors for cash is fine by her. And while she might not have Daddy issues she likes her men older so they can be her sugar daddies. I have issues with this trend. There's a part of me that knows this does happen, there is truth in this situation that Bushnell is writing about. Also Lola isn't the most likable character so I do wonder, is Bushnell taking the piss a little, but it's not enough. The problem I have is she is perpetuating this "manchild" dream that come midlife crisis there's a hot bodied twentysomething for every man out there. I get why the male dominated media wants to continue this trend, when they reach middle age they want this dream for themselves. I see it again and again in movies and television shows and books, but these are written, produced, and directed by men! Candace Bushnell is a woman. How about some women's lib? How about breaking free of the sexual fantasies of older males and writing something different, something new? There can be no change in this trend if even female writers are willing to accept the status quo.

Yet Lola is just one of a plethora of unlikable characters. There is not one character who you can latch onto as good or appealing. I've said it what seems like a thousand times before and what I bet will be a thousand times more; you need at least a likable character, someone to give you an entre into this book world. If you're going to play the antihero card, which you can do, look to Thackery and Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair, at least have a plot with interest, instead of having me read hundreds of pages about vapid lives of people who think they are entitled. There's a part of me that really thinks that this book would not fly off the shelves in 2014 as it did in 2008. Back in 2008 there was more hope in the world, we, as a society, might have found a glimpse into this elite world as titillating and interesting. Since then things have kind of gone to hell and the 1% that is represented by all the characters in this book, they have not fared well among us lower classes. Such wealth and excess isn't escapist for us, it's aggravating. I couldn't find any humor in a man spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on fish. There wasn't any wry chuckling and me thinking "oh those crazy rich bastards, what will they do next?" There was me going, can a burn this building to the ground with all these indulgent whiners trapped inside? You'd think that the "poorer" people in the book would be sympathetic, but no, they are even more annoying then the already affluent because of their money grubbing tendencies. I just want to wash my brain out after reading this book.

If, as the blurbs say, Bushnell is the modern day Wharton with a little of F. Scott Fitzgerald thrown in, chronicling New York and it's never changing passions and desires, well I weep for our modern age. She is no Wharton, she is no James, she is no Fitzgerald. Bushnell is a vapid and shallow storyteller that gives us no insight, no depth. This book aggravated, annoyed, and insulted me on almost every page. There was a romance and a vibrancy in Wharton's Gilded Age and even Fitzgerald's Jazz Age, a world you wanted to go to. When I first visited Washington Square Park these thoughts crossed my mind, I was walking in the steps of greatness. I'm going back to New York this summer and I will once again be walking in that park, I can only hope that by then I will have removed this book fully from my memory because as I walk through the arc up fifth avenue I don't want to being thinking about the people at One Fifth, I want to be thinking about the world as it was in bygone days, not this world of Bushnell's, never this world of hers. But perhaps I should look on Bushnell with pity. This book might be a cry to be a part of this world. Perhaps my friend who said Candace Bushnell had one good idea was right. She captured something with Sex and the City and she will never be able to get that kind of buzz again. She's scrabbling to stay a part of this world. Why else would she be now writing prequels except to cash in on her own previous success? Maybe Philip is Bushnell? Never able to recapture what she once had. That actually makes me a little bit smug and gleeful.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Book Review - Mary Robinette Kowal's Valour and Vanity

Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal
ARC Provided by the Author
Published by: Tor Books
Publication Date: April 29th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Jane and Vincent have been accompanying Melody and her new husband on their wedding tour of the continent. Leaving the newlyweds with their parents, Jane and Vincent head to Murano. Lord Byron has given the Vincents an open invitation to visit him in Venice, which is a nice cover for what they what to do in Murano. They have long wanted to visit the famed glassmakers there after their discovery about weaving magic into glass to make it portable and not tethered to the earth. The couple hope that with improved techniques they can get reliable results. Yet as Napoleon rallied and invaded Belgium when they were first experimenting with this idea, they are this time set upon by pirates who, while ransoming them and hence not enslaving them, take all their possessions and leave Vincent with a nasty concussion. Finding Byron away from home they are destitute. A kind man takes them in and gives them everything they could need till either Byron returns or they are able to alert their families. Only, sometimes kind men have ulterior motives and the Vincents could be in far more trouble then they could even guess. In fact pirates might be a welcome relief.

There are few authors out there which I will drop everything for. Anything other then reading their newest book is considered nonessential. Phone calls go unanswered, emails pile up, work deadlines get stretched to breaking point. If it wasn't for the fact that food keeps me going and therefore keeps me reading I don't think I would remember to eat. Mary Robinette Kowal has become such an author for me. What began as a strong like has developed into a deep love with her Glamourist Histories. Any chance I get I'm recommending them to people and have so far converted quite a few of my bookish friends. My goal is for complete conversion (say it in a scary cyberman-esque voice). I think this goal is possible based on how these books have grown and developed over time. They are no longer just Jane Austen fanfic with magic, they're so much more! The books are part history, part fantasy, part alternate reality, there's just so much to love about them that I really can't stress enough that you should go out right now and get yourself all the books currently available, because the first won't be enough.

But what is wonderful about Mary Robinette Kowal beyond her writing is that she interacts with her fanbase and while still maintaining the proper author reader relationship she opens up her writing and her process to her readers, giving them a glimpse behind the curtain. In this day and age if an author wants to create a lasting impression on a reader and fortify her following they couldn't do better then to emulate Mary. Back in November I was beyond thrilled because for NaNoWriMo Mary was looking for Alpha readers for the fifth installment of The Glamourist Histories currently titled Of Noble Family. I was doing little dances of joy when I was approved, but more then that, because I had read the series all along Mary included a copy of the forth book, Valour and Vanity. She sent me the email on November 14th and by November 17th I had already devoured every single line. I didn't think that she could surpass my love of Glamour in Glass, which is the second book in the series and my number one read of 2012, but I think she might have. The only problem I faced was that getting to read the next book, Of Noble Family, in installments wouldn't really work for my voracious appetite. So, showing amazing fortitude, if I do say so myself, I waited until the start of the Beta read and over another long weekend I took it all in.

So why you're asking am I so enamoured of these books? Aside from the fact that I love anything Regency and Mary captures the feeling of the time period by sprinkling in historic details without inundating us with information, she has created a world where the magic just works. I'm not talking about works as in you say a spell and wow a light goes on, or even that it's successful in that something magical happens, I'm saying in the way she has created how magic is done just makes sense. The way magic resides in the ether out of the visible range and is brought forth and woven into something visible, either temporary or lasting, just works, it makes sense. Not just that, but as an artist myself, the way you think creatively, the way work takes a toll on you physically and mentally, Mary just nails it. There is such a simpatico going on between me and Jane with our feelings and our physical beings that I am right there with her every step of the way. While yes, there is this part of me going, Jane is me, there's a happier part of me going Jane is Jane. In the previous book, Without a Summer, I felt that Jane's voice was lost a little. She became more wishy-washy. She was constantly in doubt and lacked a spine. Here she doesn't just have a spine, she has spine enough for both her and Vincent, supporting them through their trials and hardships, making plans, taking names, befriending nuns, it's just perfect.

Speaking of those nuns... they are just one of the many aspects that made this book so awesome. The blurbs comparing this new installment to Ocean's Eleven aren't wrong. Only I would personally choose Ocean's Twelve, having seen it twice in theatres it's a better movie for many reasons; it has an awesome soundtrack, has a part in Italy, has an amazing Chachi joke, makes more fun of itself with meta humor, and has Eddie Izzard. Here we have glamourists, nuns, pirates, puppet shows, disguises, the Eleventh Doctor, breaking and entering, there is just so much awesome that it's hard to pinpoint what makes it work so well unless you count the fact that everything works so seamlessly together. The thing is you don't really think of heists starting before this past century. Sure their were pirates and brigands and all number of baddies who did all number of innumerable nasty things, but the heist feels like a more modern invention. In fact the definition of heist shows the word being an Americanism from the twenties and even references cars to define it. Aside from Michael Crichton's The Great Train Robbery, while being Victorian in conceit, but still very much a product of the seventies, I can't think of a successful book that combines a 19th century setting with an elaborate heist. For this alone Valour and Vanity should be held extraordinary and a must read, if not for every other reason I mentioned. Oh, and of course, me being a pusher for this series. Go on! You know you want to read it...

Monday, April 28, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal
Published by: Tor Books
Publication Date: April 29th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Mary Robinette Kowal's Valour and Vanity is a Regency version of a heist movie with a healthy dose of magic sprinkled in.

After Melody's wedding, the Ellsworths and Vincents accompany the young couple on the their tour of the continent. Jane and Vincent plan to separate from the party and travel to Murano to study with glassblowers there, but their ship is set upon by Barbary corsairs while en route. It is their good fortune that they are not enslaved, but they lose everything to the pirates and arrive in Murano destitute.

Fortunately, one of the gentlemen from the ship is a local banker and arranges for a line of credit and a place to live. Relieved, the Vincents begin the work for which they have come to Italy.

All is proceeding apace until a solicitor arrives at their house and charges them with illegal trespass. Jane and Vincent produce letters from their banking friend, but they are all forgeries, and worse, he has used their forged letters to clean out their funds in England. Now, Jane and Vincent owe money to a number of people in town and are forbidden from travel. They manage to find some small work, but it is obvious to both of them that this path will not maintain them for long.

Instead, Vincent hatches a reckless plan to get their money back. The ensuing adventure is a glorious envisioning of all the best parts of heist narratives, but in a Regency setting with magic."

SO AWESOME! Just read this whole series STAT.

Silver Mirrors by A.A. Aguirre
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: April 29th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"As powerful magic comes creeping back, dangerous days are dawning…

Criminal Investigation Division inspectors Janus Mikani and Celeste Ritsuko were lucky to make it out of their last mission alive. Since then, strange troubles have plagued the city of steam and shadows, apparently as a result of magic released during the CID inspectors’ desperate interruption of an ancient ritual. The fabric of the world has been unsettled, and the Council has assigned Mikani and Ritsuko to investigate.

They soon discover that matters are worse than they imagined. Machines have developed minds of their own, cragger pirates are raiding the seas with relentless aggression, and mad elementals are running amok. As the chaos builds to a crescendo, Mikani and Ritsuko must fight a war on two fronts—and this time, they may not be able to turn the deadly tide…"

Droog on the cover... I'm down with that... even if it wasn't meant to be a droog...

Friday, April 25, 2014

Book Review - Wendy Holden's Azur Like It

Azur Like It by Wendy Holden
Published by: Plume
Publication Date: January 27th, 2004
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
Rating: ★
Out of Print

Kate Clegg dreams of no longer being trapped in a job whose prospects are ever dwindling in her small hometown of Slackmucklethwaite. The local newspaper she works for, The Mercury, has been nicknamed "The Mockery" since it was bought out by a dubious businessman and now concentrates it's energies on advertising and flattering puff pieces. But Kate's horrid new boss has a sexy son, Nat, who is to work alongside her and before long she's lying between the sheets with Nat and spilling her dreams of being a world class journalist covering the Cannes Film Festival while also writing racy romances on the side. Nat claims that he can get his dad to agree to Cannes if she will only pay for the two of them to go, he of course in first class and she in cattle class. Wiping out her savings they head to Cannes where she looses Nat and realizes that he didn't arrange anything and it was all a ruse for her to cough up the money for the plane ticket. Without a job to go back to or any savings or even hope, Kate finds that she's relying on the new people she's met in the small town of Ste. Jeanne, from the displaced wife of a tabloid columnist, to the taciturn staff at her hotel, to the elegant octogenarian Odile, to the dipsomaniac reporter Crichton, to the talented and sexy artist Fabien, she might have more then she thought she had.

I remember back when I first started picking up Chick Lit books at Barnes and Noble that Wendy Holden's books seemed to saturate the shelves with her mildly witty titles like Farm Fatale and Azure Like It. Looking at the shelves nowadays she is noticeably absent and after reading Azur Like It after it languished on my shelves for almost ten years I can say I am not in the least surprised that this and many of her other books are out of print, that's if this one is anything to go by. It wasn't just that the book goes for the cheap laugh or that I had no way to connect to any of the characters, it's mainly that Wendy Holden doesn't grasp that a book needs to be definable not such a mish mash of genres that you want to shake it to see if it can somehow be knocked into shape. But predominately the lead was so unlikable that I wouldn't have minded if she had had an accident on those lovely hairpin turns that litter the south of France.

Let me start with Kate's stupid and hateful nature. There's stupid and then there's stupid. Kate just might actually be so stupid that she is beyond this scale and in her own "special" category. How can someone be so naive and dumb, she's a gorram idiot! Firstly, the fact that she is in bed with her boss's unlikable son within five minutes of meeting him and then, despite the fact that he's supposedly rich, is gladly giving him money for him to head to Cannes... how, just how!?! Angry, rage, building in me. If she was someone I knew I'd drown her out of the goodness of my heart. How does she not see through Nat. No seriously, how!?! He says he can't call her because his father took his phone and then he's always texting in front of her? Say what? That lie right there should have triggered all her warning bells, which she obviously doesn't have. Then there's the whole, she lost her job because of him, because she blindly trusted someone for no reason other then he's hot. WTF! Then there's her dream of wanting to go to the Cannes Film Festival but once there her complete ignorance of anything to do with the festival. Seriously, what was the author thinking?

At first I might have felt a little, tiny, gnat sized iota of sympathy for Kate, because attraction and sex make us do stupid things, but then I realized she's just a hateful person. She blindly trusted Nat and I don't know if this made her hate everyone or if Nat was some aberration, but she is downright cruel to nice people. She thinks Odile is crazy and deluded and could never have been a beauty, whereas Odile has had a stroke so therefore her appearance has changed. The there's Ken, she treats him like garbage despite his always being nice and taking care of her friend. Also the cruel nicknames she gives people make me want to punch her. Kate is a hateful little bitch who just distrusts and dislikes everyone and I just want her to die. I'm not sure I've actually wanted to harm someone so much who is the heroine of a book in all my years of reading. Needless to say this book is quickly being sold, it would be burned in a ceremonial pyre, but I don't believe in book burning.

Then there's the genre issue. Yes, books can mix and mash genres. Genres aren't a hard and fast rule, but when you start throwing in so many that it makes the book bloated and convoluted, well, you have a problem. The genres that I was able to pick out where: romance, expose, celebrity parody, roman à clef, thriller, Gothic horror, and espionage... in fact, Chick Lit seems to not even be in there. It tries to be everything and ends up being nothing. But the straw that broke the camels back was when it decided to go into Gothic horror. When Kate is in bed and sees a hooded monk with a skull head she seriously just hides under the covers? Firstly, this isn't scary or funny, secondly, why did she never connect the skull to the skull in pretty boy's studio upstairs? Well, that's just her stupidity again and I just realized she's pissing me off so much I'm making exasperated hand gestures while writing this review. And why wouldn't you tell anyone about seeing a scary skull monk? It doesn't fit with anything before or after and is just a stupid plot device, like everything else in this book.

In summarizing this book that is not surprisingly out of print I have to just touch on the plethora of stupidity that fills it's pages. Kate is obsessed with condoms. Any person in this day and age who doesn't practice safe sex is an idiot but the fact that the safe sex is laboriously pointed out... um, no, and ew, in fact ew to all the sex in this book. Next, Celia, she says she deserved being beaten by her husband? WHAT!?! Ok, there is a victim's mentality, but no one should ever say they deserved this, especially in a book I picked up to be a fun and light read, just dropping in the fact that domestic abuse is ok, well, that's par for the stupidity of this book. The Bond jokes, including the title of the book are just groan worthy. And finally the painting! Fabien had painted a portrait of Kate years before he met her. Say what? Did he see her somewhere, have a vision quest, have an old picture of Kate's grandmother from during the war? Anything would have been better then no explanation and it just emphasizes the laziness of the writing in this book. Just one more thing to chalk up against this book which I shall now stop talking or writing about because it's making me cranky. Where's my old person stick to wave a whippersnappers?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Book Review - Katie Fforde's A Perfect Proposal

A Perfect Proposal by Katie Fforde
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: April 9th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Sophie Apperly is the odd one out in her family. They are all academic and artistic, whereas she's more of a homebody who likes to upscale thrift store finds into interesting creations. Therefore as far as her family are concerned she's a bit dumb and a bit of a dogsbody. To that end they volunteer her to take care of their Uncle Eric in the hope that this little gesture will make the horrid old man remember them in his will. Of course things don't go to plan in that Sophie and Eric get on like a house on fire and she finds out about a lost family trust to do with an oil well. Sophie decides to try to help her ever skint family by investigating this trust and to that end she gets a short term job in New York and goes to visit one of her two best friends. It's Sophie's dream come true, she's always wanted to go to New York, so when the job falls through, well, it's sad, but then there's more time to play the tourist on her very restricted budget.

At a gallery opening the helpful Sophie comes to the aid of the elderly Matilda. They instantly hit it off and soon Sophie is going to Connecticut to spend Thanksgiving with Matilda, who's grandson, Luke, looks on Sophie as a gold digger. Matilda and Luke himself are both rather wealthy. Yet Sophie has a heart of gold and, though she may be almost flat broke, she would never take advantage of this situation fate has landed her in. A situation that might help both her and Matilda, as Matilda sends Sophie back to England with a request, to find the house Matilda spent her holidays in as a youth. This might seem like a wild goose chase, but it's quite fun, and with Luke coming along for the ride, maybe something more then an old house will be found?

Three years ago I picked up my first Katie Fforde book and it was instant dislike. Love Letters struck all the wrong chords in me and made me swear off Katie Fforde. Of course I am a fickle person and I felt bad for having sworn off an author with only reading one of their books. I mean, shouldn't I at least give that author a second chance? Therefore I could look back without regrets having given said author the benefit of the doubt. As it so happens A Perfect Proposal had electronic galleys through Net Galley and I thought, if they approve my request, here is the perfect opportunity as it where to see if my first impressions were wrong. I thank the stars, and the e-galley gods, that I gave Katie Fforde a second chance. A Perfect Proposal was just the book I needed to brighten my days during a bleak time. This book is funny and witty with characters I connected to. I am hoping that Love Letters was the aberration in Fforde's writing career and not A Perfect Proposal so that I have tons of new books to look forward to. It's just such a wonderful surprise to find an author that you feel you can embrace.

You know how in some books they just drop everything in your lap from page one, here is everything and everyone, wham, girl, guy, situation, lots of complications till they are together, the end, or till they go at it, whichever comes first. A Perfect Proposal though does the exact opposite. We meet Sophie and are given the time to connect to her. We learn about her quirky dreams about customizing vintage and thrift clothing. How she's always loved the ocean. We feel for her because her family takes her for granted and think her a little daft, and who amongst us can't relate to that? There was a wonderful luxury in getting to know someone before they were thrust into this romantic situation. Not only that, but how often is it that someone so fundamentally good is the heroine? She has flaws, but she has such a big heart, she helps people who need it, is willing to give back without taking, has morals and is virtuous, but not in a goody two-shoes way. This lent the whole book a Jane Austen vibe in my opinion. There was the good poor girl who we've come to love and then her helpfulness puts her in the path of the aloof rich boy whose heart she will eventually melt by her sweetness. A modern Lizzy and Darcy if Lady Catherine decided to play matchmaker instead of heartbreaker. Sigh. I kind of wish the book hadn't ended so I was still in this world.

But no book is 100% perfect, there is always the things the niggle me, even in my most favorite of novels. The first is I didn't feel like the author had ever actually been to the United States. First that people from Maine were picking Sophie up in New York... um... I've driven that distance... it's like ten hours, not a short little jaunt. For Sophie not to know this it's excusable, but for the people she works for not having her fly there, that's weird. Sophie never using the internet, that's just odd. But New York being all wrong really got to me. Firstly, not knowing how big New York state is, forgivable, messing up distances within New York City, no way! She did a full days walk in weird opposite directions in hours, and then there's The Frick. I have been to The Frick many a time, and well, it's small, so easy to see everything in a short amount of time, an hour would do you easy, but Matilda makes it sound like it's the size of the MET! Also, the timezones are all off, England is five hours ahead of New York, no more, no less. Just little things an editor should have picked up on... which looking at my review of Love Letters, that was my main complaint, a lack of an editor...

Yet what I really want to know is what is up with this trope of Chick Lit and holidays? So I did inadvertently do Chick Lit month around Easter, chicks, see, it's funny right? But so many Chick Lit books throw in holidays. Bridget Jones's Diary is all about the holidays, bonfire night, Christmas... same with Confessions of a Shopaholic, oh, and Going Home which I just read too was all about Christmas. And that's not even taking into account girly movies like The Holiday and Love Actually, which I actually really hate. Is there an unwritten rule that makes holidays a must for declarations of love and hookups? Personally I think it's a little tacky, but that's just me.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: April 22nd, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Venice, a long time ago. Three prominent Venetians await their most loathsome and foul dinner guest, the erstwhile envoy from the Queen of Britain: the rascal-Fool Pocket.

This trio of cunning plotters—the merchant, Antonio; the senator, Montressor Brabantio; and the naval officer, Iago—have lured Pocket to a dark dungeon, promising an evening of sprits and debauchery with a rare Amontillado sherry and Brabantio's beautiful daughter, Portia.

But their invitation is, of course, bogus. The wine is drugged. The girl isn't even in the city limits. Desperate to rid themselves once and for all of the man who has consistently foiled their grand quest for power and wealth, they have lured him to his death. (How can such a small man, be such a huge obstacle?). But this Fool is no fool . . . and he's got more than a few tricks (and hand gestures) up his sleeve.

Greed, revenge, deception, lust, and a giant (but lovable) sea monster combine to create another hilarious and bawdy tale from modern comic genius, Christopher Moore."

Um, I'm a sucker for anything Venetian... 

Deception's Princess by Esther Friesner
Published by: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: April 22nd, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Some lies lead to true adventure. . . .

Maeve, princess of Connacht, was born with her fists clenched. And it's her spirit and courage that make Maeve her father's favorite daughter. But once he becomes the High King, powerful men begin to circle--it's easy to love the girl who brings her husband a kingdom.

Yet Maeve is more than a prize to be won, and she's determined to win the right to decide her own fate. In the court's deadly game of intrigue, she uses her wits to keep her father's friends and enemies close--but not too close. When she strikes up an unlikely friendship with the son of a visiting druid, Maeve faces a brutal decision between her loyalty to her family and to her own heart.

Award-winning author Esther Friesner has a remarkable gift for combining exciting myth and richly researched history. This fiery heroine's fight for independence in first-century Ireland is truly worthy of a bard's tale. Hand Deception's Princess to fans of Tamora Pierce, Shannon Hale, and Malinda Lo."

I've always been interested in Friesner's books, but one in Ireland? Totally 100% sold!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Book Review - Melissa Nathan's The Learning Curve

The Learning Curve by Melissa Nathan
Published by: Arrow
Publication Date: September 4th, 2006
Format: Paperback, 464 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

Nicky Hobbs loves her job teaching school, even if she often dwells on the fact that her life at thirty is far different from the life she dreamed she'd have when she was twenty three. Well, only her ex Rob knows she wanted to be married by now with three kids... too bad she's working with him, and soon closer then ever. Rob and Nicky are appointed deputy heads of the school which it turns out is a way to test their suitability to see who would be the ideal headmaster or mistress when the current Head, Miss James, retires. Rob really wants the job and is willing to manipulate Nicky into rethinking her life and into feeling the tick of her biological clock. Nicky doesn't realize the extent to which Rob is willing to go to get this job and thinks that maybe he has turned over a new leaf, much like the new employee at the school, Mark Samuels. Mark Samuels is the father of Nicky's favorite student, Oscar. Mark Samuels is the absentee parent from hell who Nicky decides to throw the gauntlet at. Mark picks it up and by the time they are working together he is a new man... could he even be Nicky's new man? But Nicky is so confused that by the end of the school year she won't even know which end is up or what her future might hold.

Melissa Nathan ranks right up there in my mind as the pinnacle of Chick Lit. She was one of, if not the first Chick Lit author that I fell hard for. I remember being in Barnes and Noble and picking up Pride, Prejudice and Jamsin Field off one of their featured tables down the middle of the store. Besides the premise of a theatrical production of Pride and Prejudice, I had more then a little cover lust because it totally looked like Caroline Bingley (aka Anna Chancellor) with one of her hats from Four Weddings and a Funeral and yes, I really am that easily sold on a book. Because she was a British author with only one book released stateside (sometimes American publishers baffle me), Amazon UK became my drug dealer, getting me all her new releases as soon as they came out until her untimely death of Breast Cancer right around the publication of The Learning Curve.

It was a sad sad day for Chick Lit when Melissa passed. Based on the quality of her work what might she have gone on to do? And now I've turned my review into a total buzzkill. Hey, at least I didn't reprint her forward to the book which had me in floods of tears. With only five books to her name I was extra hesitant to read the final unread book I had on my shelf, The Learning Curve. Once I finished this book, well, there would be no more. I kind of wish that I hadn't read it. The happy anticipation that there would always be another Melissa Nathan book out there for me to read has been replaced with the sad reality of how awful this book was. Sometimes looking forward to something is so much more satisfying then the reality, and the reality of this book is painful.

Before ripping apart The Learning Curve for it's themes, I have to tackle something that just drove me round the bend. This book was riddled with inconsistencies, not to mention an unwieldy cast of characters you have to memorize in the first two pages. Now, I don't know if this was because Melissa was pushing through to get this book done that they didn't bother with any kind of continuity editing, but it is a disservice if this is the case. Seriously, edit this book and get it back to me without the days of the week being helter skelter, with Friday occasionally being followed by Monday, and there once in awhile being a few extra days between Monday and Thursday. Seeing as we all live by the calendar, the least this book could do is follow said calendar.

But the temporal issues are nothing compared to clothes magically changing from leaving for school till arriving at school. Shoes being high heels then flats. But worst of all, in the beginning of the book Oscar's camera phone is a big plot point and then when he's spying on teachers during the school trip he has to use a crappy disposable camera? Um, us the freakin' phone! OK, I've got to stop being nitpicky about this, and other little things like how plodding the pace is, how I dislike every character, how sometimes it all just goes a little creepy with blackmail and inappropriate student teacher relationships, how is Nicky at thirty even qualified to be a headmistress, and how crap Johnny English is so stop using it as the only movie mentioned, and move onto other things. Ok, I think I got the rant out. All these problems could have been fixable but the truth is it wouldn't have fixed the book.

Through the entire book there are strained relationships between the males and females. I wouldn't even say strained covers it, it has such an antagonistic dynamic that when it even turns a little violent in the last few chapters I can't say I was surprised. There was anger and tears and recrimination behind this battle of the sexes. It all boils down to the age old question of men being the ones with the jobs and women being the ones rearing the children. With Nicky we get almost 600 pages of her griping about children/career/children/career/children/career/children/career. There is no progress with this internal and external dialogue, there is just the dialogue. Nicky is baby crazy but can't justify giving up her career to have kids and therefore bemoans this for hundreds and hundreds of pages. I think she really needs some psychological help.

Of course it doesn't help that her supposed best friend who happens to be her ex is playing on these doubts. But seriously, there was never any furthering of the dialogue or a change to it, just a broken record going over and over and over the same bloody tune till I hated this book and the read rage fully embraced my soul. Just writing this review I want to take this book and hurl it out a window. You can usually tell how much I care for a book by the treatment I give it. Those I love and cherish don't have creased spines or loose pages... this one looks like it was run over by a truck, which then backed over it again and again... besides breaking the spine I think I loosened the pages enough that if I were ever to try to read it again in some masochistic torture, well, they'd all fall out. Right now I'm wondering if book burning is a good idea... I'm a little cold and this book is quite thick... stop it brain, just stop it. Constructive criticism. Legitimate reasons for the hate, don't rant, critique.

But the heart of this book I think is the sad truth that Melissa Nathan knew she was dying. Look at the story, not Nicky's, but Mark's. Mark is a single workaholic father who lost his wife when his son Oscar was four. Melissa's husband Andrew lost her when their son Sam was three. So there's a part of me that doesn't want to criticize this book. There's a part of me that thinks perhaps this book was cathartic, that Melissa needed to write it. She was writing a story to tell her husband that he could move on as long as what he did was doing what was best for their son Sam. That it's not about being trapped in the past but knowing that life goes on. This then becomes such a personal book it's almost too sad to bear. Maybe she should have just gifted it to her husband and not put it out there in the world. It's a jumbled mess of unlikable characters and mixed messages and in the end, a dying woman's message to her husband of hope and love. This sad yet kind of creepy revelation makes me feel like a peeping tom that has just written a scathing review of someones innermost thoughts. Perhaps it's for the best that she can never see this review.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book Review - Sophie Kinsella's The Undomestic Goddess

The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella
Published by: Dial Press Trade Paperback
Publication Date: April 25th, 2006
Format: Paperback, 400 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Samantha Sweeting is on track to be the newest and youngest partner at the law firm of Carter Spink. She's given everything since she was twelve to keep on track with this path for her life and she's about to succeed. On the day of the big partnership announcement in the clutter of her desk she finds something that could ruin everything. Instead of doing the right thing she just walks away. She ends up on a train and gets off in the middle of the country not even knowing where she is. Drunk, tired, and delusional, she stumbles into the house of Trish and Eddie Geiger where they are holding interviews for a new domestic. At first Samantha doesn't realize what is going on and just goes alone with their assumption, but when she realizes that this is a job interview, one that isn't going well, well her need to succeed rears it's ugly head and she ends up getting the job as the Geiger's housekeeper.

Samantha, a girl who doesn't clean, doesn't know how to cook, can't even find out how to turn on her own oven, has just taken a job where she knows nothing and where in a week she is not even making her hourly rate at Carter Spink. If it wasn't for the gorgeous gardener Nathaniel and his mother helping Samantaha out she doesn't know what she would do. But Samantha is smart, some might say a genius, and it doesn't take her long to conquer this new world she's run away to. When her old world comes knocking will she want to stay in this new happy and peaceful life she's stumbled into or go back to the career track that has been her lifelong goal. She knows which one her mother and colleagues want her to choose.

While being a fan of the chick lit genre there was a part of me that never really bothered to seek out new authors. I preferred to have new books and authors to come to me as if by osmosis. Some sort of magical power whereby they caught my eye and bam, instant attraction... now that I think of this, there's some disturbing parallels to my love life... so now's the perfect time to mention Hugh Dancy. I have been in love with Hugh Dancy for over a decade now ever since Daniel Deronda. Because of this love I have seen a plethora of bad movies, the top three being Ella Enchanted, Arthur, and Elizabeth I, with Elizabeth I taking the crown for horridness. My love for him meant that I was intrigued by this movie he was going to be in called Confessions of a Shopaholic. Upon seeing that it was based on a book, away to Barnes and Noble I went, picking up the tie-in edition, which sadly didn't have Hugh on the cover... seriously, know your audience publishers!

I enjoyed Confessions of a Shopaholic enough to pick up the next few books in the series and a few of Kinsella's other books published under her real name, Madeleine Wickham, as well as her Kinsella pen name. I was never really blown away by her writing and as the Shopaholic series continued I became more and more angry with Becky Bloomwood and her never changing consumption habits. You'd think after six books she'd mature a little, but no. Every big revelation at the end of one of the books is followed by a quick slid into old habits by the start of the next. This lead to me not picking up any of the other Kinsella books I had lying around the house. One of the reasons I decided to do a Chick Lit themed month on my blog was so that I would finally pick up books I had bought that were creating a large backlog to my "to be read" pile. So I finally pick up The Undomestic Goddess. I should have never judged Kinsella on Becky Bloomwood! She created such a wonderful, relateable, fresh, and funny heroine in Samantha Sweeting, that I forgive that other alliterative heroine of hers for her flaws. Kinsella has been wrongly judged by me and I admit that perhaps Kinsella just doesn't excel in series and that stand-alones is where she shines. This book shone and made a bleak weekend fun.

I connected to Samantha on so many levels, but what really got me was her work ethic. Samantha's work ethic is 100% 24/7. There is no give, there is no outside life, there is the job, and only the job. Samantha is lucky in that until the events that unfold in the book she has never had a crash or come down. We live in a culture where to succeed means that you work too hard, you are literally willing to kill yourself to make it to the top. There is quite literally no off switch, no balance, no break. This is so me it's kind of scary. I'm the person who believes that doing anything less then the best you can do is unacceptable. There is nothing below first place, which will preferably leave those in second and third in the dust. In downtime between classes while in school I'd compare anti anxiety meds and stress induced ticks with fellow sufferers. If I was working on a job I'd work 24/7 until it was done. What is 9-5, that is absurd, there are so many hours in the day that are being unutilised with this way of thinking. But as Samantha comes to learn, this isn't a life.

I've had a harder time teaching myself this as well. It wasn't a mistake that flipped my switch off but my own body betrayed me. First there were some rashes, hive like bug bites, then I had a "lovely" nervous tick in my eye, seriously, don't discount how annoying these are till you have one. If I pushed myself too far on a project my body took to giving me a lovely cold after I was done because my body was so wrung out, and in one memorable case pneumonia. I have forced myself to change. I refuse to work on the weekends, where previously I didn't believe they even existed, just call me the Dowager Countess of Grantham. I try to spend more time with friends and have a book club. I have changed. Yes, I do backslide a little, but I have not backslide in Becky Bloomwood style. And from now on, Samanatha Sweeting is my role model for finding that balance in my life. As much as I hate the phrase, she found her bliss.

One of the things I kept thinking about as I was reading this book was how would this look from a women's lib standpoint. A high profile career woman basically goes back to the kitchen. Even if at first she doesn't know what to do in that kitchen, the fact that she's basically going from breadwinner to homemaker is a big change and could be construed as a step backwards. I like that when Samantha's secret comes out that the newspaper reporters who are hounding her bring up this exact argument, making me glad Sophie Kinsella was obviously aware of this statement she was making or, as I like to think, subverting. Yes, you could say this is all retro thinking, but think of the genre we are in. Chick Lit is a genre that is a touchstone for today's women. This genre gives us a mirror to our lives while also incorporating an element of wish fulfillment. Who wouldn't want to leave the stress behind and find themselves a nice gardener? But there's an empowering message in Chick Lit as well, it shows women working out the problems of their lives, it shows women, flaws and all. So I look at Samantha and don't see a women stepping into the role her female ancestors would have accepted as their lot in life, I see Samantha choosing the life that's right for her. Women can be whatever they want to be, a partner in a law firm, a housekeeper, a mother, the possibilities are endless, and Samantha has made her choice and I hope I've chosen as wisely as her.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid
Published by: Grove Press
Publication Date: April 15th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Internationally best-selling crime writer Val McDermid has riveted millions of readers worldwide with her acutely suspenseful, psychologically complex, seamlessly plotted thrillers. In Northanger Abbey, she delivers her own, witty, updated take on Austen’s classic novel about a young woman whose visit to the stately home of a well-to-do acquaintance stirs her most macabre imaginings, with an extra frisson of suspense that only McDermid could provide.

Cat Morland is ready to grow up. A homeschooled minister’s daughter in the quaint, sheltered Piddle Valley in Dorset, she loses herself in novels and is sure there is a glamorous adventure awaiting her beyond the valley’s narrow horizon. So imagine her delight when the Allens, neighbors and friends of her parents, invite her to attend the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh as their guest. With a sunny personality, tickets every night and a few key wardrobe additions courtesy of Susie Allen, Cat quickly begins to take Edinburgh by storm and is taken into the bosom of the Thorpe family, particularly by eldest daughter Bella. And then there’s the handsome Henry Tilney, an up-and-coming lawyer whose family home is the beautiful and forbidding Northanger Abbey. Cat is entranced by Henry and his charming sister Eleanor, but she can’t help wondering if everything about them is as perfect as it seems. Or has she just been reading too many novels? A delectable, note-perfect modern update of the Jane Austen classic, Northanger Abbey tells a timeless story of innocence amid cynicism, the exquisite angst of young love, and the value of friendship."

At first hearing about this Austen Project where modern authors re-interpret Austen's classics, I was like, whatever, and then I heard of the Northanger Abbey Val McDermid pairing, and, wow is what I have to say. Seriously, two of my favorites in one! Huzzah!

Aunt Dimity and the Wishing Well by Nancy Atherton
Published by: Viking Adult
Publication Date: April 15th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Cozy mystery lovers’ favorite paranormal sleuth is back with her nineteenth otherworldly adventure

When a strapping young Australian named Jack MacBride arrives in Finch to wrap up his late uncle’s affairs, heads turn in the sleepy English village. But when Lori volunteers to help Jack clear out his uncle’s overgrown garden, they discover something even more shocking than a stranger turning up in Finch.

After Lori laughingly tosses a coin into the garden’s old well and makes a wish, she is baffled to find that the wish seems to have come true. Word spreads, and the villagers turn out in droves to make wishes of their own. But as they soon learn, one person’s wish is another person’s worst nightmare and the village is thrown into chaos.

As more and more wishes come true, Lori resolves to find out what’s really going on. Is handsome Jack somehow tricking his neighbors? Or are they fooling themselves? With Aunt Dimity’s otherworldly help, Lori discovers that the truth is even more marvelous than a magical wishing well."

Aunt Dimity going strong, despite, you know, being dead...

Friday, April 11, 2014

Book Review - Harriet Evans's Going Home

Going Home by Harriet Evans
Published by: Downtown Press
Publication Date: January 1st, 2005
Format: Paperback, 448 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Lizzy has had a rough year of it, but little does she know that things are about to get a whole lot worse. Going back home for Christmas to her family's rambling home, Keeper House, she has to deflect questions about why she and David broke up. Lizzy doesn't want to get into the details with her family, but when he turned out to be a cheating bastard, well, you usually don't stay together. Thankfully the eventful arrival of her Uncle Mike with a new American bride draws the attention away from her and David... the David who just showed up. Luckily the Christmas traditions of the family serve to create a kind of normality when everyone is acting against type. Then everything goes into free fall when Lizzy's father tells them all that Keeper House has to be sold and there will be no discussion about why. The fact must be accepted, that is all.

Back in London, Lizzy's life has no anchor without Keeper House. She has done what her family has asked and posed no questions. Like most crises in her life she just ignores them and moves on. Her job with Monumental Films is going surprisingly well. She has a new boyfriend who happens to be a screenwriter for the company and her life has developed a new routine, one that avoids all thoughts of Keeper House. When an opportunity to transfer to the LA branch of the company arises Lizzy seriously thinks it over. Her life in England has been changed forever with Keeper House being taken away, so perhaps it's time for her to get a new one... unless a miracle happens.

Over the holidays I was looking for something Christmasy to read. I was in desperate need of some holiday cheer. For me I have a very odd sense of what I view as Christmas fare, I mean, seriously, I view LA Confidential as a Christmas movie. In fairness, it did come out around Christmas and the beginning does take place at Christmas... it's just not so much your Rosemary Clooney singing about snow and more noir and death. So I wanted some more traditional Christmas cheer. Seeing as I plan way way ahead of time I knew that April was going to be focusing on Chick Lit on my blog and when doing a goodreads search for Christmas books this came up I knew I had to read it... at least I can say that it got the Christmas vibe right... other than that, well... there was a lot that I felt was wrong.

The fact that Lizzy's life outside of Keeper House reminded me overtly of another book I didn't like, The Bronte Project, probably wasn't the best of starts. Not to mention that all the characters seem like stock characters, just cardboard cut outs of real people, it left me not caring about any of them. And as for Lizzy's cousin Tom... well, when you're going to just take a character straight out of someone else's book, maybe it's best to choose another genre then ripping him of from the queen of Chick Lit, Helen Fielding. Yes, Tom from Bridget Jones's Diary is oddly one of the main characters in this book.

But it's these stock character's flaws that just made me want to crawl into the pages and smack them upside the head. What I'm talking about is the fact that every single person loves to bury their head in the sand and live in ignorance. In my mind there's a clear division of knowing what is going on and avoiding it because you don't want to deal with it and not wanting to know anything at all. Lizzy is perfectly content to live in ignorance. We live in a world where ignorance, to me, is not acceptable. Her willfully refusing to even pose a question made me hate her to the very fibres of my being. She was like a two year old sticking her fingers in her ears and yelling at everyone that she wasn't listening. This is no way to live. Yes I know Chick Lit is supposed to be fun and funny and we relate and laugh at the foibles of the heroine, the misunderstandings that arise... but when that heroine is a willfully ignorant one, well, I'm going to hate her.

This ignorance on the part of Lizzy is coupled with the obviousness of the plot. I mean within ten pages I knew how everything was going to play out and that does not a fun read make. Though I'm not sure as to why the plot was so obvious, it could have been purposeful or not. The question all comes down to did the character flaws force Harriet Evans to have to write a more obvious plot so that we as readers wouldn't toss the book out the window because we were forced into the same dark ignorance as the characters, or was it just a narrative flaw on her part and had nothing to do with a willful choice... it's hard to tell. One makes me just hate the story, the other makes me hate the author. At least having read one of her later books first I know that she gets better than this first endeavour... because if I didn't have this foreknowledge, I might never pick her up again... like I am with Katie Fforde, she is dead to me because of Love Letters. Dead to me.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Book Review - Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding
Published by: Knopf
Publication Date: October 15th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Bridget Jones's life might just be getting a little better. Things have been hard since her husband Mark Darcy died. Being left a single parent was something she never thought she'd be faced with. Her kids have no father and she has lost the love of her life. Yet after a few years of just trying to do her best she realizes that perhaps her friends are right, perhaps she needs to get back out in the dating world. Thanks to modern technology, aka Twitter, she soon as a young boy toy, Roxster, who is just about to turn thirty and loves Bridget's "experience." She's back in the game and the envy of her friends. But can someone so much younger then her be willing to be with her as she gets older? Or is the delectable Mr. Wallaker, her son's PE teacher, a better option? Whatever happens, it could only happen to Bridget.

When the initial reviews started pouring in I was more then my fair share of nervous. Bridget had been off the scene for years, and while Helen Fielding may have started this subgenre, she has some stiff competition these days. Thankfully all my doubts were cast aside and Helen Fielding threw down the gauntlet and showed me that not only has she still got it, but there's a reason all other authors want to emulate and be her. She is the queen of Chick Lit, long may she reign! She has obviously grown and matured as an author, her dialogue is wittier, if sometimes a bit crasser, but priceless when the children speak, her situations more humorous, I now rate everything in my life by the standard of, if I haven't eaten a page of grated cheese for a meal, my life is good, and she made a book that switched up Bridget's life but evolved her while still being the same girl we loved. Though I won't forgive Helen Fielding for all the head lice in this book, my scalp is still itching!

Now to tackle the elephant in the room. The spoiler that broke and had fangirls weeping and angrily taking to twitter. Mark Darcy is dead. When I heard this I was willing to hold my comments till I had actually read the book. I remember years back when the second Bridget Jones movie came out, yes, the atrocious one that makes me cringe to even think about it, and they asked Colin Firth about the possibility of a third movie. His comment was perhaps the germ that planted Darcy's death in Helen Fielding's mind. He said that "really puncturing the fairy tale completely might be a way to take it." Not having things work out, not having a happily ever after per se for Bridget and Mark is how Colin saw success for the franchise, and you know what? He was right. Bridget and Mark as a couple would have been a book that wasn't true to Bridget. He was her rock, her center, her everything. Bridget was a different person with Mark. But take Mark away... and we have the Bridget we've always known and loved. A little sadder, a little older, but still Bridget. This could not have been possible without Mark's death. Darcy had to die.

Though the death of Darcy has led to one issue I do have with the book. Everyone in Bridget's life feels so bad for her because of Mark's death that they've kind of let her slide as a parent. Bridget really is an atrocious mother. Me judging her is, I know, a bit hypocritical, because a) I don't have kids and b) all parents are just making it up as they go along, like everyone with their own life, only parents have more lives to manage. Oddly enough the humor factor and the joy I got out of this took the sting out of her bad parenting, I'm just glad that she isn't my mother or like any of my friends who are mothers.

I think that is why the ultimate love interest works, because Mr. Wallaker constructively helps and knows, because of his own suffering, that Bridget can get through this. As for the happily ever after, while I still find it a little odd that the HEA was pulled off at the last minute, much like the first book, and they haven't spent much time together, much like the first book, and they are in love out of nowhere and it's Christmas and it's the end, much like the first book... it all works out. I really hope that this is Bridget Jones's final happily ever after. It ended well, it ended right, and I don't really want to see Bridget Jones the geriatric years... though if this book has taught me anything it's not to doubt Helen Fielding. Though if they do make this into a movie, don't cast Daniel Craig as Mr. Wallaker... that just seemed like too much wishful thinking that was placed in the book specifically for when it hits the big screen... because obviously Bond can replace Darcy... not in my book. Get someone like Philip Glenister, that would make my day. Sigh.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor
Published by: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: April 8th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 624 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In this thrilling conclusion to the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, Karou is still not ready to forgive Akiva for killing the only family she's ever known.

When a brutal angel army trespasses into the human world, Karou and Akiva must ally their enemy armies against the threat--and against larger dangers that loom on the horizon. They begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves--maybe even toward love.

From the streets of Rome to the caves of the Kirin and beyond, humans, chimaera, and seraphim will fight, strive, love, and die in an epic theater that transcends good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy."

FINALLY! It's been too long waiting for the epic conclusion to this awesome series.

Miss Julia's Marvelous Makeover by Ann B. Ross
Published by: Viking Adult
Publication Date: April 8th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Miss Julia masterminds a makeover in New York Times bestselling author Ann B. Ross’s latest installment in her popular series.

It’s summer in Abbotsville, and Miss Julia has visions of enjoying a life of leisure. But before she can even sip some iced tea on her front porch, a letter from her long-lost cousin Elsie informs her that Elsie’s granddaughter is on a bus headed to Abbotsville that very day. Reminding Miss Julia of an old family debt, Elsie proclaims that she is sending Trixie to Miss Julia’s to learn to become a lady. The nerve of some people! When the rude and unkempt Trixie arrives, even Sam and Lloyd agree that Miss Julia faces quite a challenge.

Meanwhile, Sam has decided to run for state senate. But when he has a fainting spell and has to go into the hospital for tests, who will run his campaign? Is his no-good rival going to cakewalk into office? No sir, not if Miss Julia has anything to say about it—and indeed she does, including up on the stump.

In this marvelous addition to the popular series, Miss Julia is sure to have a summer that she—and Abbotsville—will never forget!"

Turtle Recall: The Discworld Companion... so far by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Briggs
Published by: Harper
Publication Date: April 8th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 464 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"For every Pratchett fan, the must-have fully updated guidebook to Discworld!

The Discworld, as everyone knows, is a flat world balanced on the backs of four elephants which, in turn, stand on the shell of the giant star turtle, the Great A'Tuin, as it slowly swims through space.

It is also a global publishing phenomenon with sales of nearly 85 million books worldwide (and counting). With 39 books in the canon, not including the various guides, maps, diaries, and other tie-in volumes, there's a lot of Discworld to keep track of—more than most fans can manage without magic.

Turtle Recall is the ultimate authority on probably the most heavily populated—certainly the most hilarious—setting in fantasy literature and includes a guide to Discworld locales from Ankh-Morpork to Zemphis, as well as information to help you distinguish Achmed the Mad from Jack Zweiblumen and the Agatean Empire from the Zoons. Plus much, much more.

Covering everything from The Colour of Magic, the first Discworld novel, through Snuff!, Turtle Recall: The Discworld Companion . . . So Far is the most up-to-the-minute encyclopedia of Terry Pratchett's extraordinary universe available."

Finally a definitive edition of the Discworld companion AND available stateside!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Book Review - Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (Bridget Jones Book 2) by Helen Fielding
Published by: Penguin
Publication Date: 1999
Format: Paperback, 338 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition then one reviewed)

Bridget Jones might finally have the man of her dreams, but Bridget is still Bridget and a happily ever after ending is hard to achieve when you are very good at self sabotage. Quickly loosing Mark Darcy and one again becoming a love pariah is exactly what you'd expect Bridget to do, and she does it with style. But luckily while her love life might be taking a hit... was that the evil Rebecca with Mark? Bridget's job prospects might be on the rise with a potential interview with none other then the "real" Mr. Darcy, Colin Firth! In Italy of all places! Well... he does live in Italy, but still, it seems so romantic and surely once he's met Bridget he will see that he has found his soul mate... now if Bridget could just get his shirt moistened. Though a vacation that turns into an international scandal might be just what's needed to get Bridget and Mark back together again.

Back to that fateful weekend when I started to devour the Bridget Jones oeuvre (read previous review for the background). I remember driving to Borders to pick up the book and having a run in with the manager. I had had the shit kicked out of me by Samuel Beckett and the manager there, well, he was a pompus jackass if ever their was one and I wasn't going to take his shit. The only joy I get out of Borders going out of business is seeing him sometimes around town in menial positions far below his "highness" at Borders and smiling... yes, sometimes right at him. The fight was a fight I had been having with him for awhile. It's corporate policy and city policy that non-service dogs can't be in stores that sell food, like Borders does with it's cafe. I should note that I have nothing against dogs, aside from severe allergies, but when you're in a bookstore and want to get that copy of Edge of Reason and there's a guy with his dog with a bag of dog poop in one hand and a book in the other... well, you complain. And then you storm out without getting the book... and yeah, things escalate quickly. So besides having the shit repeatedly kicked out of me, getting a copy of this book was an adventure in itself. There were tears.

Bridget herself had an ill advised adventure in Edge of Reason too. That first time I read this book the whole Bridget being arrested for drug possession in Thailand and then becoming queen of the prison overshadowed everything. Well, that and the fact that in the book it says that MI-5 helped Mark... well, MI-5 is for domestic not international disputes, so, this error really really annoyed me. In fact, this scene, which upon re-reading is so short and brief, I can't come to terms as to why it bothered me so much. Maybe it's just the quintessential Britishness of Bridget and her being in Thailand seemed out of place. Or over the years the mildly related second movie has so eclipsed the book in it's badness that upon picking up the book again I realized how fresh and funny it was, unlike the movie which just might be the worst film ever made. It also helps if you are trying to avoid reading the worst Doctor Who book ever written, just saying...

Taking it's plot from Jane Austen's Persuasion, the misunderstandings and the reconciliations hang off this basic spine, but it's the little things I love. The battle with the construction worker, and who hasn't had a worker show up and destroy your house and then disappear into the aether? That Colin Firth interview, seriously, that would be me interviewing Colin Firth! Also, the movie he's promoting isn't actually that bad, a little weird and it was renamed My Life So Far if you want to check it out, you'll learn a lot about curling and sphagnum moss. But it's Bridget's just, well, not obtuseness, but, she's a romantic, so she lives in hope but it is in fact her hopelessness that makes this book such a fun read. Also the whole taking self help books as spiritualism... it really is quite clever and it is a new religion. Long live Bridget Jones, the girl able to turn her problems into a system of belief.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Book Review - Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary

Bridget Jones's Diary (Bridget Jones Book 1) by Helen Fielding
Published by: Penguin
Publication Date: 1996
Format: Paperback, 288 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Bridget Jones lives the typical life of a singleton. She drinks too much, eats too much, smokes too much, worries about dying alone, worries about not having a boyfriend, has smug married friends who are no help at all in the self esteem department, and parents that are forever causing issues. If she could just get her act together and find a nice sensible boyfriend. Though that hardly looks to be the case for this year as she has just started seeing her boss, Daniel Cleaver, who is the exact person she meant to stop fantasizing about this year... then there's Mark Darcy, the man her parents wish she would start dating. A man she finds quite odd and off putting, at least at first. With emotional ups and downs like her yo-yoing weight, Bridget has her year cut out for her.

Back in 2001 things for me were rough. They were going to get far worse that summer, but at the time I didn't know that. I really needed an escape and Colin Firth was about to show me the way. The movie Bridget Jones's Diary might not have ever registered on my radar if not for Mr. Darcy. Knowing that it was based on a book, and you all being familiar with my tendencies, I just had to read it and picked up the tie-in. The book sat languishing for a little while. I was in the middle of a theatre production of Endgame that was about to end very dramatically with the Beckett estate shutting it down and confiscating the playbills, photographs, scripts... you see, Beckett has some very sticky rules that you have to abide by his vision, so no cross gender casting, no "interpretations," it's as he wrote it or you'll find yourself never getting to see your name in a playbill as "properties master" for the first time. The weekend that was to be our big opening instead became a bit of a wake and I needed something, anything, to distract me. I picked up Bridget Jones's Diary.

I powered through the first book, ran to Borders, powered through the second book and then took to the internet to learn more about this new genre I had just stumbled on, Chick Lit. It was kind of an avalanche after that, with me ordering Helen Fielding's other books, looking at the Amazon recommendations, finding other authors, you get the picture. Helen Fielding, besides being deemed the progenitor of this literary subgenre by others, was quite literally the starting point for me as well. If you don't view Helen Fielding as the doyenne of Chick Lit, we might just as well stop talking right now. With the newest installment of Bridget's adventures about to hit shelves this past fall I knew that it was time to reacquaint myself with Miss Jones. What's interesting is that, well, I didn't love it as much as I did. Perhaps it's just that others have taken off from where she started and done bigger and better since, so therefore this was a bit flat. Also, is it just me or is Daniel Cleaver a real dick? I wonder if somehow over time Hugh Grant and his ability to be a letch with also still being cute has worked it's way so far into my mind that I forgot the truth of the book. Daniel Cleaver is a dick.

I think in fact that the movie is the more successful of the two incarnations of this story, which is the exact opposite for the second. The movie hammered out issues and some of the unrealistic situations. That is what strikes me most as annoying in the book, things that are unrealistic, but not funnily so. Bridget's mum and her men. Bridget and her unrealistic weight issues. Now here I want to be clear, it's not the struggle with her weight I object to, nor her horrific eating habits, but the fact that using a BMI index, Bridget would have to be shorter then 5'4" (which is oddly how tall Renee Zellweger is) to be fat for the weight listed... do I think she's that short? No. I think that Helen Fielding needed to do her research here a little better. That or she totally has some sort of eating disorder herself and has bizarre expectations, which I think is best summed up when Tom asks Bridget that doesn't she need 2,000 calories a day to live?

Also, the deus ex machina of Bridget and Mark. They barely have contact or talk in the book and at the end he swoops in, fixes everything and they whisk off to a hotel and declare their love for each other. Excuse me? I know this whisking of to a hotel and happily ever after is kind of a trope of the genre, it even happens in the first Shopaholic book by Sophie Kinsella... but there needs to be some development to get to that point. Sure we KNOW they are destined to be together, that doesn't mean that you just put them together at the end because it's the end... sigh. I think I'm going to go watch the movie again instead of thinking about this anymore.

Actually, one more thing... the graphic designer in me CAN NOT be silenced. I bought this lovely Penguin edition, because, I mean, seriously, this is a lovely cover, even if Bridget is a little too svelte in my mind. But there's a big problem with how the front flap's illustration looks when you're reading. A picture is worth a thousand words... so here's a picture...

Here's the cute illustration, love the banner of "No Emotional Fuckwittage."

Now here's what you see when you're reading... yes, it does look like a boob is starring at you. It's very off putting. Now I have nothing wrong with boobs, I have two of them. But do I want one starring at me while I'm trying to read? No thank you. Also, now my mom won't stop laughing after I showed her this as the definition of bad illustration placement...

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Book Review - Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
Published by: Tor Fantasy
Publication Date: April 1st, 2014
Format: Paperback, 502 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Maia never expected to be Emperor. Forth in line for the throne, the half goblin son of the Elvish Emperor Varenechibel IV has spent his life in exile with an abusive cousin. When his father and elder brothers all die in an airship crash Maia is plunged into a world of court intrigue he was never prepared for. Maia has a good heart and has had a lonely life; he finds the transition to court almost unbearable. He doesn't know who to trust and those he does are to be viewed as servants not friends. Then there is his remaining family, people he has never met and who make it clear they are not happy with his rapid and unexpected ascension. The earnest youth has to deal with plots and plans and the startling knowledge that the airship crash that changed his life was sabotage and that his family didn't die because of an unfortunate accident, they were murdered. As Maia tries to find out the truth his own life might very well be in danger. After all, in an elvish realm who wants a goblin as emperor?

I don't lightly contemplate giving up on a book. Once I pick it up I am in it for the long haul. I am there to the bitter end. Like Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory contemplating adding a new television show to his life, no matter what happens or how bad it gets, we are committed and can't back out; it's a facet of our personalities, though I'm not fictional. Therefore when I got about sixty pages into The Goblin Emperor and started seriously thinking of backing out, well, you can get an idea as to how I feel about this book. Seeing as this book was a selection for my book club I stated my feelings on our Facebook page and was strongly encouraged to carry on. I waited about a week and started the book over again. I struggled and I cursed, I occasionally chose sleep over reading, I had panic attacks that I would never finish, and then, I stumbled into the finish line abruptly. Occasionally I glimpsed the greatness that caught my friends imaginations, but overall this book failed to achieve even the most basic needs of a book, legibility.

The Goblin Emperor is full of dense almost impenetrable text. If you can get past these trappings there is a story with a very slight narrative in there, but if you don't look closely you might miss it. Katherine Addison has created the most convoluted language with unpronounceable titles and honorifics possible. At times I thought that she just literally hit keys at random on her keyboard to come up with some of the names of her characters. In her "Handbook for Travelers in the Elflands" she oh so kindly points out that "there are no silent letters in Ethuverazhin." Oh, so all those random consonants and vowels, I say them all? OK, let me just mentally rename all the fifty million characters in the book to something legible to preserve my sanity. And then Addison has some fun with masculine and feminine names and does some slight Scandinavian manipulation so that husbands and wives have different surnames! And all these woman have the same-ish title, which could for a couple hundred pages be mistaken for their forenames, of dach'osmer, or dach'osmerrem, or even dach'osmin! Rarely does a book make me feel stupid. This book made me feel stupid.

I struggled so much that at times I was brought to tears and conversely I was occasionally brought to the edge of panic with my heart racing as it felt like it was climbing into my throat. The only time of the day I found it mildly productive to read this book was when I was half awake. In this almost dream state I just didn't care enough to have my ire raised. But if I was fully conscious; well that's another matter. Here's the thing about creating a world with a different language; it might be helpful if that different language has some basis in, oh, any language on earth. The reason a fantasy writer like Tolkien is embraced is because as a historian of dead languages he was able to create languages that had the same basis as our own. The names and words made sense. Got that? You can't just make up an entire new language with no touchstone to reality. There's a reason language formed as it did over time, we can speak it! We understand it! We don't look at it and go, what they hell is this!?! That is what I spent the majority of this book doing; ripping out my hair and saying what the hell is this!

Addison spent so much time creating this made up etiquette and title system she forgot that worldbuilding is more then just made up words and it's generally a good idea to have a plot. Even if we were to take the theory that this was a character study... well, no one but Maia is more then two-dimensional, some barely make it that far, being just signifiers of emotion. All I kept thinking while reading this book and looking askance at the rave review on the front cover from author Scott Lynch guaranteeing court intrigue was that someone, ie Addison, needs to bone up on their court history or read Patrick Rothfuss's A Wise Man's Fear to see a successfully executed fantasy court. Because really, strip this book down, strip the stupid Ethuverazhin language, strip the emotive ears, strip out every time someone says "Serenity" (that alone should make the book two hundred pages shorter) and what do you have? Literally Queen Victoria's ascension to the throne, which is milquetoast to the Medici's! Seriously, all this book is is a kernel of real history tarted up with all these fantastical and nonsensical trappings and spewed back at us with no depth and no umph. Everything is surface.

I know this review might cause uproar, and it probably will make some of my friends wonder how we are friends with such different tastes in reading material, but I just couldn't like this book. I begrudgingly gave it two stars because Maia does have a good heart and it is rare to have someone kind and thoughtful and not at all malicious or vindictive as a hero, but think how much better this book would be if Addison could write? Because that is my biggest take-away from this book. Addison can't write. She can spew nonsense, she can write impressive lists of horrendously annoying made up names, she can spend hours going on and on about Maia's clothes, but she can't write. I so wanted this book to be good if just to thwart those Sad and Rapid Puppies out there who got this book a Hugo Nomination most likely because of the anti gay societal values, but alas, it isn't so. And as a parting salvo, I want to ask, who the hell thought to categorize this book as Steampunk? Pneumatic tubes and airships do not a Steampunk book make. You might be able to argue that it fits in Baroque Punk... but like my overall opinion of this book, um no.

An Excess of Chicks: Chick Lit Month

When I was trying to define Chick Lit for myself awhile back, this is what I came up with:

chick lit [chick lit] – noun
  1. a genre of fiction concentrating on young working women and their emotional lives
  2. addresses issues of modern womanhood, often humorously and lightheartedly
  3. Bridget Jones is every woman, so where’s my Darcy?
  4. perfect for a theme month on my blog
So, while #3 is most important to me personally, I'll be addressing #4 here. That's right, Chick Lit Month is here! Why do a month to Chick Lit? Well, really, why not? In fact, why haven't I before is the real question of the day... The truth is, whenever I've been down and need a book that will wrap me in a warm duvet and take my cares away while spooning ice cream into my mouth, I have turned to this genre as a comfort read. Too much reality, too much bringing me down, where's Bridget Jones. Been on a glut of reading science fiction and fantasy and want something more like a contemporary fantasy, Chick Lit is there! From Helen Fielding and Bridget Jones to Sophie Kinsella and Becky Bloomwood, there's a world of ladies out there to entertain and enliven our lives while taking us out of our own for awhile. You'll learn how a failed theatre production lead to me meeting Bridget Jones (cough, read the Bridget Jones's Diary Review tomorrow, cough.) This meeting was fate. Bridget opened me to a whole new world of literature and set me firmly on the path to the bibliomaniac that I am today. Bridget changed me, and this theme month is the least I can do in tribute. But seriously, where has my Mr. Darcy gotten to?

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