Sunday, March 31, 2013

Bunny's Easter Egg by Anne Mortimer

Bunny has spent a long night hiding Easter eggs, and now it's time to get some rest. But when she burrows down to sleep, something disturbs her, and everywhere else she tries to nap just isn't right.

She tries the old oak tree--too noisy!

She tries a little boat on the lily pond--too wet!

She tries the greenhouse--oh no!

Where will Bunny go?

Anne Mortimer's charming story is just right for Easter-time sharing.
Bunny's Easter Egg is a children's book with some gorgeous illustrations and a cute little story, just right for the little ones in your family. Recommended. Preschool to Kindergarten.

Happy Easter!  

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Queen, The Cambion, and Seven Others by Richard Bowes

Myth is the sea on which the Fantasy story floats.
Legend is the wind that drives it.
Its place of birth is the Fairy Tale.
So begins The Queen, The Cambion, and Seven Others by Richard Bowes, a beautifully illustrated little book containing eight stories ranging from modern fairy tales and fantasy, to variations on myth and legends. The afterword by Mr. Bowes, "A Secret History of Small Books," enhances the overall reading experience.

I read this magical little book and enjoyed all of Mr. Bowes' stories. Of course I have a few favorites, including "The Queen and the Cambion" in which Bowes takes events from the life of a historical figure, Queen Victoria of England, and incorporates a character from Arturian legend to create a magical modern fantasy tale. There is "The Lady of Wands" a magical fantasy with a fantastic narrator as the central character, and a whodunit with twists, turns and political undercurrents that can only take place when a story is set in the land of fairies. And the fantastic "The Progress of Solstice and Chance" with its soap opera style plot where the King of Winter and Queen of Summer marry and their child Solstice falls in love with Chance. I recommend all the stories, but today I'm going to focus my post on one story, a single Fairy Tale.

Illustration by Gustave Dore, 1867
The book begins with "Seven Smiles and Six Frowns" a fairy tale. It goes something like this. On a summer's evening the Witch of the Forest of Avalon gathers the children on her porch to tell them a simple tale about Prince Alaric who is beloved and gifted by his father the King and the Fairies with all types of magical presents. When the time comes for Alaric to marry, he is not satisfied with the princesses presented to him, but while traveling through the forest, a beautiful maiden uses cunning and magic to divest him of the magical items that make Alaric special until all he has left to win her is himself. There is a happy ending of course, but, what happens after that is what makes this a striking and unique piece.

Bowes' simple fairy tale gains complexity as the Witch invites her future apprentice to return the next day, alone, so she can tell her a different version of the fairy tale, one that is based on 'truthful' events. After the apprentice becomes the Witch, she in turn makes further revelations to her own apprentice and the reader. By the end, what began as a simple Fairy Tale with a handsome Prince and a happy ever after evolves into "a tale that not only entertains but teaches." Bowes' "Seven Smiles and Six Frowns" is an excellent example of the evolution of a fairy tale where modern insights are used by the narrator to enhance the listener's understanding but retaining the magic remains essential to complete the experience.
The collection includes “Seven Smiles and Six Frowns” a story of the evolution of a Fairy Tale; “The Cinnamon Cavalier,” a Fairy Tale variation a critic has called, “The Gingerbread Man, writ large,” and “The Margay’s Children” a modern take on a “Beastly Bridegroom” tale; “The Progress of Solstice and Chance,” with its complex sexual relations and invented pantheon of gods, the outrageous situation and characters of “The Bear Dresser’s Secret,” and the “The Lady of Wands,” set in a fairy/mortal demi-monde; and two Arthurian tales, “Sir Morgravain Speaks of Night Dragons and Other Things” and “The Queen and the Cambion” in which the eponymous queen, though famous, is not Guinevere.
Once Upon A Time VII
Category: Fantasy/Fairy Tales
Series: Conversation Pieces
Publisher/Release Date: Aqueduct Press/February 26, 2013
Grade: B+

Visit Richard Bowes here.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Joining: Once Upon A Time VII

(Art by Melissa Nucera)

Hosted by Carl V from Stainless Steel Droppings, the Once Upon A Time VII challenge is a yearly reading and/or viewing event that highlights four categories: Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythology. I am a few days late joining, the challenge began on March 21st and ends on June 21st. Participants are given choices to make this a fun event: they may read one book, one book from each category, 5 books from a chosen category, fulfill all of the above, and/or join the Quest on Screen where they can discuss television and films that fall under the required categories.

Since this is my first year participating in the Once Upon A Time Challenge, I decided to begin small and chose to join The Journey. This choice gives me the freedom to read one book from any of the four different categories, but if I choose or have the time to read more, then that works out too!

I'm shooting for a Fairy Tale. :)

Minis: Ruthie Knox, Courtney Milan

Lately, I've read a few enjoyable books. These fall under the short format category ranging from a 100 page novella to a 230 page book. I chose to read works by Ruthie Knox and Courtney Milan. Ruthie Knox is an author that fellow blogger Nath has been recommending to me for a long while, and by now everyone has heard praises about Courtney Milan's writing and works, right? Well, here are my quick impressions.

About Last Night by Ruthie Knox

I decided to give Ruthie Knox's work a whirl and picked up her contemporary romance About Last Night. I love that this romance is set in London, but the most attractive aspects of this novel are its characters and my reluctance to reduce this story to a specific trope. My one quibble is a rather rushed ending that needed just a touch to make this book the perfect contemporary romance read for me.

Nev, or City as Cath call him, is an excellent example of a male beta character. He is giving and loving without coming off as a pushover. Nev is in control when need be, but gives Cath the space she needs to work out personal insecurities. Does he push? Yes, but Cath needs a little push in order to see herself for the woman she has become despite the multitude of challenges she has faced in her life. This is not a one way relationship though... Cath helps Nev come to terms with what holds him back from achieving true happiness.

Initially, there doesn't seem to be much depth to Cath as a character except that she's trying to be a 'good girl' after having been a 'bad girl' in the past. However as the romance moves along, there are layers and layers to this woman. I really love how Knox uses humor, personal angst, sensuality, and passion to reveal this character. Cath doesn't come off as a brooding, broken, or depressing character.

The tattooed American girl from Chicago and the wealthy buttoned-up Brit may seem like they don't fit, but in the end they are perfect for each other. About Last Night by Ruthie Knox is a lovely and a passionate romance with a great balance between humor and heavy conflict, a rather imperfect and unique heroine, and a gorgeous beta hero whose passion and love win the day. Grade: A- 

Ride With Me by Ruthie Knox

After finishing About Last Night I just had to pick up another contemporary romance by Ruthie Knox and settled down with Ride With Me. This romance involves Lexie, a female cyclist who wants to ride cross-country from Oregon to Virginia and needs a male partner to accompany her. Tom is set up to ride with an unwanted partner by his sister, and doesn't find out Lexie is a female until they are about to take off. Needless to say, their first meeting is not a good one. He's a grumpy man with a complicated past and just wants to be left alone to enjoy the road at his own pace. She is pretty much a happy-go-lucky woman with a  set path and just wants to enjoy the ride and meet people along the way.

Lexie and Tom's road trip romance was fun, hot and really enjoyable. I love the growing sexual tension that builds between these two, the fun, fun moments on the road, as well as reading how Tom's grumpy personality slowly melts and changes into that of a man that Lexie considers a viable partner. Lexie's own change from an uptight woman to one who enjoys the moment is also a wonderful experience. In this romance, I love the fights between Lexie and Tom just as much as the hot and passionate love-making. Another lovely contemporary romance by Ruthie Knox. Grade: B+

The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan is currently being offered free of charge and it is only 100 pages long, so why not read it? What a gorgeous little novella this one turned out to be!

Serena Barton is a governess who lost her position when she was compromised by the Duke of Clermont when he visited her employer's home. She decides to seek compensation from the sleazy Duke even if she has to sit in front of his London residence until everyone who matters notices. Hugo Marshall, also known as the Wolf of Clermont, is the Duke's man of business. An ex-pugilist, Hugo is also known for his ruthlessness in dealing with those who dare cross the Duke. What happens when the ruthless Hugo and the determined Serena meet? There lies the conflict and the romance.

Oh Hugo! I fell a little in love with this ruthless man who turns into a passionate bit of mush after he meets Serena. He's an 'ordinary' man with ambitions and a keen mind, but what a soft touch! And Serena is damaged, but she's a stubborn, determined woman who refuses to stand down. Hugo's soft touch combined with his honesty wins her over, just as Serena's backbone and admirable stand win him. I loved them both. Milan gives both Hugo and Serena backstories -- a lovely surprise in this quick 100-page romance. This is a short historical romance that I will probably re-read in the future.

Favorite Moments: The sexy hairpin exchange bedroom scene, and the letters and notes exchanged between Hugo and Serena. Grade: A-

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

TBR Review: Bone and Jewel Creatures by Elizabeth Bear

The theme for this month's TBR Challenge is Series Catch-up. Recently, I found out that the novella Bone and Jewel Creatures by Elizabeth Bear, originally published in 2010, is connected to Bear's Eternal Sky fantasy world. However, I purchased this novella before I realized that connection, it has been in my TBR for a while. With the second full-length novel of the series Shattered Pillars releasing on March 19th (yesterday), I thought this month's TBR Challenge theme presented the perfect opportunity to read this piece.
Dark magic is afoot in the City of Jackals...

Eighty years Bijou the Artificer has been a Wizard of Messaline, building her servants from precious scraps, living with the memory of a great love that betrayed her. She is ready to rest.

But now her former apprentice, Brazen the Enchanter, has brought her a speechless feral child poisoned by a sorcerous infection. Now, Messaline is swept by a mysterious plague. Now the seeping corpses of the dead stalk the streets.

Now, finally, Bijou's old nemesis--Bijou's old love--Kaulas the Necromancer is unleashing a reeking half-death on Bijou's people. And only Bijou and her creatures wrought of bone and jewels can save the City of Jackals from his final revenge.
It is often the case with Elizabeth Bear's books that the covers don’t do justice to the fantasy she conjures in her stories, or to my imagination for that matter -- the exceptions are the two Eternal Sky novels. That is the case with Bone and Jewel Creatures, having said that, the summary is quite accurate. After having read so many of Bear's works I'm fairly familiar with her style, so why did it still surprise me that at the end, this 133-page fantasy novella felt as if I read a full-length story with all the bells and whistles, or in this case, all the necessary jewels and bones?

Messaline, the City of Jackals, is a far away place that lies southwest of the Land of Eternal Skies and just south of the Uthman Caliphate on the map provided at the beginning of Range of Ghosts. It is a city where the Old Bey rules and Brazen the Enchanter flourishes while both Bijou the Artificer and Kaulas the Necromancer decline. The decline of Bijou and Kaulas are at the heart of this piece as is the feral child with a poisonous wound that Brazen brings to Bijou's door to save or die.

Bijou saves the seemingly mute, feral child she names Emeraud, but soon finds herself inundated by walking corpses and infected animals poisoned in the same manner. It quickly becomes obvious that Kaulas the Necromancer, Bijou's old love, is the culprit. A wizard's war is at hand, but can Bijou and her Artifices made out of bone and jewels hold out against the stench of death that fills the City of Jackals?

This is such a well-written novella. Bear's gorgeous prose combined with the excellent magical atmosphere, fantastic characters, and some rather gruesome moments made this novella memorable for me. Bijou's Artifice creations are colorful and intricate, and I love the contrast between the world that exists inside Bijou's isolated little shop and Bear's descriptions of Messaline. The story is told from three points of view, that of Bijou, Brazen, and Emeraud. The shifts flow well, and as a result the characters become alive to the reader – particularly Bijou and Emeraud. I actually got lost in the magic and atmosphere of this place and these characters.

As to how this story relates to the Eternal Sky series, so far the only real connections I found between them is that Messaline is in the map mentioned above, making the City of Jackals a part of this world and the necromancy that ties in to the legend of the Carrion King. Hopefully the culture and its inhabitants (I'm thinking Emeraud) will play a role in future tales.

Bone and Jewel Creatures is what I hope to find when picking up a novella. The prose, world-building, atmosphere and characterization are excellent. The plot is good enough to keep me turning those pages until the very end and leaves me satisfied, but wishing that there's a follow-up book somewhere that will transport me to the same magical place again. Recommended.

Theme: Series Catch-Up
March 2013
Category: Fantasy
Series: Eternal Sky (#0.5)
Publisher/Release Date: Subterranean Press/March 31, 2010 - Kindle Ed.
Grade: B+

Visit Elizabeth Bear here.

Range of Ghosts, #1
Shattered Pillars, #2 (Released March 19, 2013)

ETA: Bone and Jewel Creatures can be read on its own or as part of the series. Having read Range of Ghosts a year ago, I'm sure that I missed some obvious connections to the Eternal Sky series, but hope to find more after reading Shattered Pillars. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Review: Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire

Midnight Blue-Light Special
Cryptid, noun:
1. Any creature whose existence has been suggested but not proven scientifically. Term officially coined by cryptozoologist John E. Wall in 1983.
2. That thing that's getting ready to eat your head.
3. See also: "monster."

The Price family has spent generations studying the monsters of the world, working to protect them from humanity--and humanity from them. Enter Verity Price. Despite being trained from birth as a cryptozoologist, she'd rather dance a tango than tangle with a demon, and when her work with the cryptid community took her to Manhattan, she thought she would finally be free to pursue competition-level dance in earnest. It didn't quite work out that way...

But now, with the snake cult that was killing virgins all over Manhattan finally taken care of, Verity is ready to settle down for some serious ballroom dancing—until her on-again, off-again, semi-boyfriend Dominic De Luca, a member of the monster-hunting Covenant of St. George, informs her that the Covenant is on their way to assess the city's readiness for a cryptid purge. With everything and everyone she loves on the line, there's no way Verity can take that lying down.

Alliances will be tested, allies will be questioned, lives will be lost, and the talking mice in Verity's apartment will immortalize everything as holy writ--assuming there's anyone left standing when all is said and done. It's a midnight blue-light special, and the sale of the day is on betrayal, deceit...and carnage.
I loved the world that Seanan McGuire created as a setting for her InCryptid urban fantasy series. Verity as the central figure of the first book Discount Armageddon was a refreshing delight and her adoring colony of Aeslin mice, particularly memorable. I couldn't wait to get my hands on the second book of the series Midnight Blue-Light Special, and read it as soon as it released.

This adventure begins when Verity's Covenant sort-of-enemy with benefits Dominic De Luca warns her that the Covenant of St. George is sending agents to evaluate how ready New York City may be for a cryptid purge. He wants her to run, but she's not about to leave people she has come to love behind! She's a Price girl and Price girls don't run. Instead, Verity, Sarah, her cryptid friends and Uncle Mike who travels from Chicago as backup get ready for war and probable death. In the process Verity discovers who her friends are, that monsters are not always cryptids, and that family can sometimes be a real pain the neck!

In Midnight Blue-Light Special, Verity continues to be the kick-ass heroine of the piece with the delightful narrative voice that I loved in the first book even when the situation gets really hairy. She is young, fun, and bright. Verity is smart but there is a lightness about her character and the narration from her point of view that makes me smile. The same can be said for the much of the dialog that takes place between her and some of the secondary characters in the story. For example, we have Kitty, a bogeyman(woman) who owns the club where Verity works. She is a tough, scary negotiator, but wears fuzzy slippers and cartoon pajamas, and Istas, a waheela who loves to wear frilly clothes from top to bottom and talks of nothing but her love of carnage. And of course we have the Aeslin mice whose dialog consists of coming up with the best of Hails!
"Since Dominic's been sleeping with me, the mice have been trying various labels on him, looking for the one that fits. My personal favorite was the week they spent calling him "the God of Absolutely Never Smiling, No, Not Ever." 
Ahh, Dominic. In my review of Discount Armageddon, one of my niggles was the lack of in-depth information about Dominic's character and the speed with which Verity trusted him, particularly since he is a member of the Price's nemesis organization, the Covenant of St. George. In Midnight Blue-Light Special, Dominic's character plays a major role in what happens to Verity and in the outcome of the story. However, his page time is limited and I'm afraid that for me his character just never took off! There is growth to Dominic's character that the readers experience from Verity's and Sarah's perspectives. Unfortunately, I only connected with him on a superficial level.

That might have something to do with the fact that Verity shares much of this adventure with her cousin Sarah, the cuckoo. So, instead of focusing on Dominic, insight and characterization are focused on her. The story shifts to Sarah's point of view at about 60% of the book for a few chapters and then returns to Verity. Frankly I was not enamored of Sarah's narrative voice (probably due to the fact that for much of that time Sarah is panicked and unsure of herself), and feel that this shift interrupted the flow of the story. Don't get me wrong Sarah is nice, but she's no Verity.

The war between Verity, her crew, and the agents from the Covenant of St. George is well done and not over-the-top. McGuire's Covenant agents as villains are an interesting bunch. They believe they are doing the right thing in the name of God, while in reality their beliefs are a combination of bigotry and religious zealotry. They are willing to commit genocide (kill the 'monsters') to rid humanity of all those who are different, and 'monster-lovers' like the Price family become traitors to humanity. This straight forward us against them type of human conflict works well with this light series. It also provides the action and necessary, contrasting dark moments to make this urban fantasy piece work.

Regardless of my niggles, I enjoyed Midnight Blue-Light Special. Verity and her amazing cast of cryptid and human secondary characters are a joy and yes, I finished the book with a smile on my face. If you are ready to enjoy a fun, angst and emo free urban fantasy series, then this is it. The next two books of the series will focus on Alex, Verity's brother. I can't wait to meet him!

Category: Urban Fantasy
Series: InCryptids
Publisher/Release Date: DAW/March 5, 2013 - Kindle ed.
Grade: B

Visit Seanan McGuire here.

Discount Armageddon, #1
Midnight Blue-Light Special, #2

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Red-Inked Retablos by Rigoberto González

Red-Inked Retablos by Rigoberto González
Cover Illustration:
The Song that Traverses a Tenebrous World
(oil on wood 10" x 16", 2008)
by Tino Rodriguez
In the Mexican Catholic tradition, retablos are ornamental structures made of carved wood framing an oil painting of a devotional image, usually a patron saint. Acclaimed author and essayist Rigoberto González commemorates the passion and the pain of these carvings in his new volume Red-Inked Retablos, a moving memoir of human experience and thought.

This frank new collection masterfully combines accounts from González’s personal life with reflections that offer an in-depth meditation of the develop of Chicano literature, gay Chicano literature and the responsibilities that being a Gay Chicana/o writer carries.

Widely acclaimed for giving a voice to the Chicano GLBT community, González’s writing spans a wide range of genres: poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and bilingual books for children and young adults. Introduced by Women’s Studies professor Maythee Rojas, Retablos collects thirteen pieces that together provide a narrative of González’s life from his childhood through his career as a writer, critic, and mentor.

In Red-Inked Retablos, González continues to expand his oeuvre on mariposa (literally, “butterfly”) memory, a genre he pioneered in which Chicano/a writers openly address [non-traditional] sexuality. For González, mariposa memory is important testimony not only about reconfiguring personal identity in relation to masculinity, culture, and religion. It’s also about highlighting values like education, shaping a sex-positive discourse, and exercising agency through a public voice. It’s about making the queer experience a Chicano experience and the Chicano experience a queer one.
The thirteen essays included in this collection are presented as retablos that frame different periods of González's life and where his passions and beliefs are conveyed through prose. Red-Inked Retablos by Rigoberto González is a creative nonfiction piece that draws the reader with its honest narrative style.

In his introduction, González states: "My purpose is not to claim Truth, but to provide perspective -- mine -- and invite a response to that flawed, imperfect point of view. In the end, that is what nonfiction writing, like a cherished retablo, does best: inspire contemplation." Throughout the book, González struggles with, and confronts that imperfect point of view and flawed memory, and through his own observations and experiences invites the reader to his/her own contemplations.

González begins the first section of the collection, "Self-Portraits," with five essays based on intimate family and personal details that formed the man, organically moving on to those that formed the poet and writer in "Studies," and in "Speeches" we meet the defined gay Chicano activist and educator. The excellent conclusion to the collection, "Trinity," is an homage to the mariposa memory genre -- its past, present, and hopeful future. This section only contains one essay, "Toward a Mariposa Consciousness," divided into three parts, Butterfly (A)jar, Mariposa Lit, and Mariposa Prayer.

As a Latina who grew up as part of an immigrant family, I found myself connecting with Mr. González's experiences and thinking deeply about the "bi" of all things -- the duality that comes along with 'the bilingual and bicultural' for a young immigrant -- and the sense of not belonging here nor there. The long search for a place to belong to a place where the self feels grounded and not as if it were the eternal foreigner or passing tourist standing on the outside looking in, trying but unable to find the heart of a place instead of the superficiality that feeds a tourist's disorientation. Searching for understanding and connection through study.

It was easy then for me to understand and/or connect González's immigrant experience (and my own search for personal identity) with his passion for expanding the mariposa memory, as well as his passion for promoting education and responsibility among the Chicano/Latino and LGBTQ Latina/o communities of writers and educators to continue to use their voices. "For González, mariposa memory is important testimony not only about reconfiguring personal identity in relation to masculinity, culture, and religion. It’s also about highlighting values like education, shaping a sex-positive discourse, and exercising agency through a public voice. It’s about making the queer experience a Chicano experience and the Chicano experience a queer one."

There is little else that can be said about Red-Inked Retablos and Rigoberto González that hasn't already been said in the extremely accurate and detailed summary quoted above. I can tell you that in his collection of retablos, González's journey is written in such an honest, 'tell-it-like-it-is' style that it inspires the reader to both action and contemplation.

Category: Literary/Creative Nonfiction
Series: Camino del Sol: A Latina and Latino Literary Series
Publisher/Release Date: UA Press, March 14, 2013
Source: ARC from UA Press
Grade: B+

Visit Rigoberto González here.
To give you an idea of a few books within the mariposa memory genre category so passionately promoted by Rigoberto González, you can find my reviews and/or impressions of 4 books listed in his essay "Toward a Mariposa Consciousness", Part II. Mariposa Lit. (Click on titles to read posts)

From Macho to Mariposa: New Gay Latino Fiction ed. by Charles Rice-González & Charlie Vázquez
Chulito by Charles Rice-González
We the Animals by Justin Torres
Slow Lightning by Edward C. Corral

Friday, March 15, 2013

For D.

"Ojo" ink on paper ©H. Suarez

Remember your name, the miracle
of laughter. Bring pleasure to the sad gods,
though you leave this world to grieve,
to replace your intricate streams of blood
with methanol and formaldehyde.
          November 8 by Douglas Ray

For D, our beautiful, talented boy.

 Excerpt, November 8 poem taken from He Will Laugh © Douglas Ray

Friday, March 8, 2013

Week in Photos: Happy moments...

On Sunday, March 3rd, my niece Natalia turned 4 months old. She tends to give everyone a happy, wicked look with those big round eyes. I call her my "ham sandwich" because she loves it when we take pictures of her, and she's looks good enough to eat! I love this picture of her modeling a headband with a fashionably big blue daisy.

On Tuesday, March 5th, my boss brought her BFF Yorkie to visit the office. This girl is a great little thing... the best! I snapped this picture as she made herself comfortable on top of my desk and modeled for me.

And today was supposed to be our big snow day! But, although Wednesday and Thursday were both really cold and windy, the snow storm warning for our area of New Jersey turned out to be "much ado about nothing." Before leaving for work this morning, I snapped these two pictures from my second floor front window. The Catholic convent's yard looks peaceful and pretty with a dusting of snow, doesn't it? I love the lack of color in both pictures. :)

Happy weekend, everyone!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

February 2013: Books Read Recap + Minis

February was a short, rather complicated month. Somehow, however, I managed to read quite a few excellent books. I do believe that because it was such an emotionally stressed sort of month, I indulged myself by reading books that fitted my mood. So if you look at my list you will notice that there is only one (ONE) mainstream romance in there.

The end of February also marked the end of my participation in the highly enjoyable 2013 Science Fiction Experience. Although I didn't get to half the books stacked on my coffee table, ALL those books I planned to read, with a total of 14 books read and 11 posts, it was a satisfying year. You can read my wrap-up post here.

Here are my total numbers for February.

Total Books Read: 20
--Historical Romance: 1
--Science Fiction: 3
--Poetry: 1
--Speculative Fiction: 1
--Non-Fiction: 1
--LGBT: 13 (Gay Fiction: 1, Gay Urban Fantasy/Romance: 7, Gay and/or Erotic Romance: 5)

A = 4
B = 9
C = 7

Favorite Reads of the Month:
1.   The Rest of Us: Stories by Guy Mark Foster: A-
2.   In Search Of an Others by Will Ludwigsen: A-
3.   Criss Cross (PsyCop #2) by Jordan Castillo-Price: A-
4.   Secrets (PsyCop #3) by Jordan Castillo-Price: A-

Balance of Great February Reads:
5.   The Natural Takeover of Things by Tim Z. Hernandez: B+
6.   Among the Living (PsyCop #1) by Jordan Castillo-Price: B+
7.   Hermovore by Jordan Castillo-Price: B+
I loved the different take on vampires -- the virus -- and the details that JCP provides to make the world of vampires and non-infected humans come alive in Hermovore. Her characterization is also excellent and Mark's voice as the human narrator is fabulous. Jonathan as the secretive vampire love interest comes off as a sex bomb turned sensitive macho love bucket. I don't know who I liked best; Mark's snarky, biggest-queen-in-the-world attitude or Jonathan's sexy, secretive persona. The story's pacing is a bit inconsistent, with some too-slow portions and other action-packed spaces, but overall a very good read!
8.   Lord of Darkness (Maiden Lane #5) by Elizabeth Hoyt: B
9.   The Human Division #3: We Only Need the Heads by John Scalzi: B
10. The Human Division #4: A Voice in the Wilderness by John Scalzi: B
11. Body & Soul (PsyCop #4)by Jordan Castillo-Price: B
12. Camp Hell (PsyCop #5) by Jordan Castillo-Price: B-
13. GhosTV (PsyCop #6) by Castillo-Price: C+
14. On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington #1) by David Weber: C+
15. Trick of Time by J.L. Merrow: C+
I like J.L. Merrow's m/m romance stories. I've enjoyed them primarily because her characters never seem to fit the usual A&F mold. Instead her characters are, for the most part, unusual and/or unique. The two main characters in Trick of Time don't necessarily fit the mold either, so why didn't I enjoy this story more? This is a time travel story that shifts between contemporary and Victorian London and the execution of this particular storyline didn't quite work for me. I kept picking at the time travel aspect of it and finding too many holes, so that took me out of the story. Additionally, the time in which the two main characters develop a strong attachment to each other is very short! So, where did that leave me? After suspending disbelief, I enjoyed Merrow's turn of phrase, the unique characters she created and the emotion that she always seems to pour into those characters.
16. Striking Sparks (PsyCops #2.1) by Jordan Castillo-Price: C+
17. Many Happy Returns (PsyCops #2.2) by Jordan Castillo-Price: C+
18. In The Dark (PsyCops #6.1) by Jordan Castillo-Price: C+
19. The Stroke of Midnight (PsyCop #3.1) by Jordan Castillo-Price: C
20. Red-Inked Retablos by Rigoberto Gonzalez (Upcoming Review)

That's my recap for February and on to March! I already have a few new releases I've been looking forward to reading AND some old books that caught my eye too! Let's see if I can get through all of them.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Review: Lord of Darkness (Maiden Lane #5) by Elizabeth Hoyt

Lord of Darkness by Elizabeth Hoyt

Lord of Darkness (Maiden Lane #5) by Elizabeth Hoyt is the fifth installment in one of my favorite historical romance series. All the previous installments have been winners for me so far, let's see how this book fares.

We last left Godric St. John when he is blackmailed into marrying Griffin's sister Margaret who's left pregnant and unmarried when her lover is killed in St. Giles. Fast forward and Hoyt begins Lord of Darkness with a scene where Godric meets Margaret in a St. Giles alley while she is attacked by footpads, and while trying to save her realizes that she is bent on shooting him! Godric's immense admiration for Margaret's passion, courage and beauty dominates this short action scene and sets a precedence for the rest of this romance. Godric was previously married to the sickly Clara whom he loved with all his heart and whose ten year illness and death left him with a withered soul. Now, after two years of absence, Margaret, or Megs as she prefers to be called, comes barging into his life without warning and wants something from him that he may not be able to grant -- a consummated marriage.

Megs doesn't want Godric's love, but he is her husband. What is so unreasonable about wanting to consummate their marriage? She came to London with two goals in mind: to avenge the death of the man she loved, and to fill those little empty spaces in her life by getting pregnant. She needs a baby! As her husband, Godric is the only who can do this for her. However, as she gets to know Godric, Megs realizes there is a difference between planning to bed an unknown two-dimensional man and having a vital, passionate man in her bed; one who she quickly learns to admire for his physical assets, courage, loyalty and kindness. While this emotional turmoil takes place, Godric continues to don the Ghost of St. Giles' mask, placing his life on the line more than once, saving more than a few innocents, and killing a few villains in the process.

My favorite aspects of this novel are the likable characters and how well the development of the relationship is executed. I really like this couple together. Godric thinks of himself as the "Lord of Darkness" with his less than optimistic outlook, while it quickly becomes obvious to the reader that on the inside he is a romantic, beautiful, giving man. Megs on the other hand is a beautiful woman with an outwardly happy soul that brings light, hope and the type of mischievousness that Godric needs in his life. Megs, however, carries an emptiness inside placed there by a loss that manifests itself in two ways: a need to be fulfilled as a mother, and a need to avenge an innocent man's death.

As a couple Godric and Megs are honest with each other even when at times that honesty is downright hurtful, but I love that there's no long-term resentment on either side. They understand, get to know and work to make each other happy even as they believe the relationship is temporary. Megs' obsession to avenge Richard's death and her fear of letting him go are the biggest conflicts in this romance, more so than Godric's attempts to rationalize his feelings for Megs vs. his feelings for Clara. I actually found that a well done, interesting twist. Why? Well, Godric's was a long term relationship that ended in slow increments, if painfully. Megs' on the other hand was a short-term relationship that ended in a sudden burst of violence that left her without any real sense of closure. Additionally, in the process, she lost more than a lover.

There are some gorgeous sexual scenes in this story. Yes, they are sexy and passionate but what I find so beautiful about them is the fact that Hoyt imbues them with emotional intimacy, and each scene becomes highly relevant and furthers the relationship. Many of Megs' doubts are expressed during some of these scenes, and Godric's and Megs' moments of clarity also happen in the bedroom, both in and out of bed.

The weakness in this historical romance came from Godric's involvement as the second Ghost of St. Giles. Mind you, there are good reasons for Godric's role as the Ghost. A role primarily used as part of his character development and to drive Godric's growing relationship with Megs. For me, however, Godric's involvement in the continued investigation of an already explored situation addressed in the last book felt like a rehashed thread; particularly since I already knew who the villain was going to be! There was no suspense and frankly some personal disappointment in that aspect of the story. Additionally, at this point aristocratic characters abound and the series has been taken away from the heart of St. Giles, as a result some of the dark, gothic(ky) atmosphere that I love so much is sorely missing from this installment.

Overall, Lord of Darkness is a solid addition to the Maiden Lane series. I found that despite minor plot weaknesses and loss of atmosphere, there are excellent elements to be found in the romance. I am now looking forward to reading the Duke of Wakefield's adventures and his journey to happiness in Duke of Midnight. After that, I hope Hoyt returns to Maiden Lane and maybe to the other seldom mentioned, but rather intriguing, Makepeace brother. Yes?

Category: Historical Romance
Series: Maiden Lane
Publisher/Release Date: Grand Central Publishing/February 26, 2013
Grade: B

Visit Elizabeth Hoyt here.

Wicked Intentions, #1
Notorious Pleasures, #2
Scandalous Desires, #3
Thief of Shadows, #4
Lord of Darkness, #5

Sunday, March 3, 2013

In Search Of and Others by Will Ludwigsen

In Search Of and Others

Do you think of romance when you hear the term speculative fiction? There is a kind of romance that goes along with reading speculative fiction. It's true. I believe it happens because readers, or fans like me, fall a little in love with the what ifs and why nots, the unexplained, the unexpected, the twists and turns that sometimes push edginess into the weird. The wonder.

The title of Will Ludwigsen's collection, In Search Of and Others is a take on the 1970's television program In Search Of hosted by Leonard Nimoy. That program specialized in debunking myths and legends, in other words as Ludwigsen says in his foreword, they in fact specialized in killing the imagination. However, this collection is his answer or the antithesis of all that: "What am I "in search of"? I'm looking for any signs of imagination in the universe, and if I don't find any, I'm willing to create some of my own. The truth that paralyzed me twenty years ago has come full circle: you don't find magic but make it." When I began reading this collection of 15 stories, I went in my own "search" for magic, the unexpected, those what ifs and why nots that keep the romance of speculative fiction alive and kicking for me.

In his first story "In Search Of," Ludwigsen creates his own version of the television program where he goes from giving general answers to well known events shifting to personal, more intimate moments and building tension until it ends with an edge. The collection continues with "Endless Encore," a fun story with a somewhat predictable outcome, followed by the brilliantly executed "The Speed of Dreams" which has one of those stop-on-your-track endings, and "Nora's Thing" with its excellent plot and beautifully organic finish. As I kept reading, I found that with stories about moving old houses, rednecks, canny realtors, and clowns, this collection just kept getting better and more consistent as it moved along.

At the back of this collection there is a short section where Ludwigsen explains what inspired him to write each story. In his witty explanation as to what inspired him to write "Universicule," he uses the phrase "coaxing meaning out of meaninglessness" while referring to language. This phrase brought to mind how we, as readers, bring our own baggage and imagination to the table, and sometimes "coax meaning" out of stories that may in fact have an entirely different meaning or no meaning at all to someone else. This is true of all stories, but then again that is the beauty of reading. In this case, what I found in Ludwigsen's stories seemed to touch on the personal.

For example, in reading "The Ghost Factory" I made an immediate connection between the eerily fictional circumstances presented by Ludwigsen and real life past job experiences, giving this piece a significance that goes beyond the obvious. This is a story set in a mental health institution narrated by an unethical psychologist. The narrator shifts from events that took place in the 1990's to his present position as the only resident at said institution. The one passage that made this story gel and snap for me is: "The whole world's a ghost factory. We all fade like the paint on these buildings, sometimes from too much sun, sometimes from too little. We blur and blend to the murky shades left behind when something vivid dies." At times the atmosphere in this story is oppressive and immediate which Ludwigsen juxtapositions quite effectively against the coldness of his disconnected characters, and at other times the sense of disconnect and distance is all encompassing. This excellent story is precise in its execution.

"Universicule" on the other hand provided me with quite a few chuckles regardless of the ending and great passages interspersed throughout the text. "[...] but here in person, smelling this loamy garden of a book --- God, you could plant seeds inside it and they'd grow trees of glass with absinthe fruit." In this story, a bibliophile writes letters to Charlotte to keep her informed of his progress as he obsessively studies and attempts to decipher the contents of a rare book. It builds to an unexpected ending, but in reality this story is an elaborate farce. "They miss the fluidity of language qua language." Hah! Written in letter form, Universicule is creative in writing style, development and content. I absolutely loved it.

"She Shells" is a great example of the diversity of stories found in this collection because this story borders on the creepy-horror category. It freaked me out! Again, this could be interpreted as a personal reaction since I suffer from deep-water phobia. I always blame my personal fear on the movie "Jaws" and that awfully effective music (not true, but it sounds better than the truth). In this story, Ludwigsen uses a seemingly simple narrative style and a very short story format heavy in atmosphere to great effect.

And the excellent "We Were Wonder Scouts" brought back memories of days when as a girl my imagination was the best entertainment and I believed in such places as Ludwigsen's fictional Thuria, and of one particular moment when cold reality interfered. But, there is always a place for Wonder Scouts like Harald; boys and girls who are willing to explore and look for the unexplained and the unexpected, the what ifs and why nots. I love that even after reality creeps into this story, Ludwigsen imbues it with enough imagination that the magic lingers to the end.

If you haven't figured it out yet, then I will tell you. In reading In Search Of and Other Stories, I found that Mr. Ludwigsen was quite successful in "making his magic." He took me along for a ride of the imagination and I loved every minute of it. Highly recommended.

Category: Speculative Fiction
Publisher/Release Date: Lethe Press/March 1, 2013
Source: ARC Lethe Press
Grade: A-


About the Author: Will Ludwigsen's fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Asimov's Science Fiction, Weird Tales, Strange Horizons, and many other magazines. His first collection of short fiction, Cthulhu Fhtagn, Baby! and Other Cosmic Insolence, appeared in 2007. A 2011 MFA graduate from the University of Southern Maine's Stonecoast program in popular fiction, he teaches creative writing at the University of North Florida. He resides in Jacksonvile, Florida, with writer Aimee Payne.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Completing: The 2013 Science Fiction Experience

Wow, February is over already? The month just flew by and that means my participation in The 2013 Science Fiction Experience hosted by the gracious and enthusiastic Carl V from Stainless Steel Droppings is over too.

I had a fantastic time during January and February indulging my love of science fiction. It's unfortunate that my month of February was such that I was not able to read and/or review all the books on my list. Like last year, I ended up wishing for just one more month. . . this has become such a fabulous experience that I just didn't want it to end. But, there's always next year, right?

Here's a list of all reviews and related posts:

Andre Norton: Sargasso of Space (Solar Queen #1)
Group Read: Dragonflight (Pern #1) by Anne McCaffrey (Parts I & II)
Group Read: Dragonflight (Pern #1) by Anne McCaffrey (Parts III & IV)
Sci Fi Books Old and New: When the price is right
Andre Norton: Storm Over Warlock (Forerunners, Book #1)
Plague Ship (Solar Queen #1) by Andre Norton (Not reviewed but recommended)
Review: Wool Omnibus (Wool #1 - #5) by Hugh Howey
The Human Division #1: The B-Team by John Scalzi
The Human Division #2: Walk the Plank by John Scalzi
To Read: Jan/Feb 2013 SFF Releases & More
This n' That: Scalzi, Guy Mark Foster + Updates
On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington #1) by David Weber

Thanks to Carl V and all my fellow participants. I had a fantastic time visiting, discussing books and authors these past couple of months, and more importantly adding more books to my ever-growing pile of books. Thank you all!