Saturday, November 27, 2010

Gone Fishing, again!

I hope all those who celebrated Thanksgiving this past week had a wonderful day with their families. I had a terrific time with mine. It has been a busy week for me and as you may have noticed I haven't had much time for blogging or visiting friends.

I did make time for reading a few books, though. Before the holiday madness hit, I re-read a few holiday-themed and my Challenge books November. However, at this point, I'll probably be late posting them because although the holiday is over, my time off is not. I'm taking a few days and traveling down to Tennessee on a road trip with one of my nieces, so I won't be around for a few days.

See you all when I get back! Keep on reading. :)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Review: A Christmas Promise by Mary Balogh

Weddings are supposed to be joyous occasions—especially when a couple seems as well matched as Randolph Pierce, Earl of Falloden, and his bride-to-be, Eleanor Transome. Ellie brings to the marriage a vast dowry, while Falloden, though distant, is handsome, tremendously desirable, and possessed of a title most young ladies can only dream of sharing.

Yet Ellie is not most young ladies. She knows that she must honor her dear father’s dying wish for her to wed the proud earl, but she dreads a lifetime in a union without love—and how can Falloden claim to love her when he married her only for her fortune? As Christmas descends upon the Falloden manor, the warmth of the season may yet melt away the trappings of duty and wealth, leaving behind only a man and a woman destined for each other’s arms.
A Christmas Promise is a re-release of one of Mary Balogh's beloved Christmas Signet stories. This book was originally released in 1992, and I can't tell you how happy I am that it's finally available again. This is the first time I had the pleasure of reading it.

Raldolph Pierce, Earl Falloden inherited the earldom from a cousin who left him deep in debt. He is in love with Miss Dorothea Lovestone and cannot offer for her due to his dire financial situation. Joseph Talloden, a successful coal merchant and one of the Earl's debtors, purchased all of Falloden's debts and proposes that as an exchange for cancelling those debts, Randolph marry his daughter Eleanor, consummates the marriage and that they live together for the first year of their marriage. Talloden is dying and the wedding must take place immediately as he wants to leave his beloved daughter settled with the man he chose for her. Randolph is left with no choice but to marry Eleanor, a 'cit',  or go to debtor's prison. He accepts his fate, but is contemptuous of Eleanor for marrying a man for his title and position.

Ms. Eleanor Transome was educated as a lady, but as the daughter of a merchant -- a 'cit' -- has suffered plenty of humiliations from the aristocracy because of her background. Her only wish is to marry for love. Eleanor loved her second cousin Wilfred, but after receiving a letter from him dashing all hopes gives up her dream of marrying for love and accepts her fate. Eleanor will honor her father's last wishes and marry the Earl of Falloden. She, however, is contemptuous of a man marrying for money after having misspent his fortune on gambling and other pleasures.

An eventful wedding night surprises Randolph and Eleanor both as pleasurable and more than either expected. By next morning Mr. Transome is dying and Eleanor, numb with grief, is unwilling to seek solace or react in front of her aristocratic and unwanted husband. Her seemingly cold demeanor gives Randolph the wrong impression. Before he dies, Mr. Transome extracts a promise from Eleanor not to mourn for him and to celebrate Christmas with all its warmth and joys. But how can she? Her adored father is dead and she's married to a man who's in love with someone else, has a mistress, and married her for her money. Eleanor invites twenty of her Transome family members to their country estate Grenfell Park, prepares for rejection from her aristocratic husband and a less-than joyful Christmas.

Balogh begins A Christmas Promise with enmity between our protagonists and slowly develops the romance and a joyful and warm family story. There are quite a few conflicts to resolve in this novel: the marriage of convenience, the misunderstandings between the couple, grief, and the class differences. Mary Balogh weaves those conflicts into a magical family Christmas story.

Eleanor is defensive for much of the story and lashes out at Randolph. She always seems to expect the worst from him. This comes not only from her mistaken view of him as a spendthrift, but also from her previous experiences with the aristocracy. Her suppressed grief doesn't help. Randolph initially makes mistakes with Eleanor. However, he knows how to apologize and rectifies those mistakes quickly. He's initially snobbish about her background too, but slowly recognizes Eleanor as the lady she is and comes to appreciate her family's warmth and love. Surprisingly, Randolph is open to love and making their marriage work faster than Eleanor. I really liked him and yes, I loved the way they finally found their happily ever after.

This story is full of wonderful secondary characters. Both the Transome family and Randolph's aristocratic friends add much to this story. The ending to some secondary characters' story lines were a bit too perfect for me, but then again this is a holiday story. The atmosphere is joyful and warm and if you want the feeling of a family Christmas story, this is it. I couldn't help but be swept along with Randolph, Eleanor and the Transome family.

A Christmas Promise by Mary Balogh is a magical, sweet Christmas story. I enjoyed it and will read it again. Lovely.

Genre: Historical Romance/Holiday
Released: October 26, 2010
Grade: B+

Visit Mary Balogh here.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Review: Fair Game by Josh Lanyon

A crippling knee injury forced Elliot Mills to trade in his FBI badge for dusty chalkboards and bored college students. Now a history professor at Puget Sound university, the former agent has put his old life behind him—but it seems his old life isn't finished with him.

A young man has gone missing from campus—and as a favor to a family friend, Elliot agrees to do a little sniffing around. His investigations bring him face-to-face with his former lover, Tucker Lance, the special agent handling the case.

Things ended badly with Tucker, and neither man is ready to back down on the fight that drove them apart. But they have to figure out a way to move beyond their past and work together as more men go missing and Elliot becomes the target in a killer's obsessive game...
Elliot is a man who lets his job affect his personal life. Tucker allows his personal feelings cloud his professional judgment. These are flawed, human characters. Great characters, mystery and romance, that's what I've come to expect from a Josh Lanyon book. In Fair Game, he delivers.

I didn't necessarily like Elliot or Tucker immediately. Elliot is a man at a crossroads in his life. He lost the career he loved (and seemed to define him) as an FBI agent when his knee was blown out while on duty. Simultaneously, the sexual relationship with his lover Tucker ended on a sour note. Seventeen months later, Elliot is a history professor at Puget Sound University and lives a self-imposed isolated life where daily physical pain, boredom and depression seem to plague him. Elliot is asked to look into the disappearance of a young man, a PSU student, as a favor to a family friend. After there's an apparent suicide and another student disappears, the danger escalates, as Elliot gets closer to solving the crime and becomes a personal target in a deadly game.

At first, Elliot is reluctantly excited to use his investigative abilities again, it breaks the monotony of teaching. But Tucker is the lead FBI agent in charge and aside from the built-up anger and left over hurt from their break up, Elliot resents the fact he's really an outsider in the investigation. Elliot misses being an agent and is defensive and over sensitive about the physical limitations that prevent him from being one. The focus he places on those limitations and on his loss don't allow him to immediately realize that he still has a lot to offer those around him, including Tucker. His self-pity and doubts are understandable, frustrating and ultimately quite human.

Tucker? Well... Tucker is in love. The way he goes about showing that love is what really presents the conflict in this story when it comes to the romance and, to a certain extent, the criminal investigation. Tucker blames Elliot for their breakup and vice-versa, and neither is willing to give an inch. He resents the fact that Elliot is sticking his nose in the case and from the beginning refuses to take his suggestions or suspicions seriously. Tucker's lack of professionalism was frustrating at some points in the story as he allowed human emotions to cloud his judgment. But don't get me wrong; although he makes plenty of mistakes with both Elliot and the case, Tucker redeems himself quite well.

Lanyon applies tension, angst and hostility to build up and develop the relationship between Elliot and Tucker. Personally, I loved the sexual tension that emanates from those phone calls between the two men before they're together on the page. Once they are, it all escalates into some intense emotional and sexual scenes between them. There's lots of chemistry there. I loved the characterization and the way the romance was developed. And yet, I still didn't 'fall in love' with Elliot and Tucker because neither character is portrayed as the lovable type. Ultimately that's what I liked about them.

Tucker might have been negligent in his investigation but Elliot was relentless, and Lanyon builds up an excellent crime mystery drama in Fair Game. There were a few red herrings that actually worked to throw me off this time, as well as scary moments and action to keep me involved. The villain makes it into a personal and brutal game between himself and Elliot and the conclusion was quite dramatic. I had some suspicions about who dunnit but didn't figure it out until almost the end of the story, making this an enjoyable ride for me.

Fair Game had a good balance between the romance and the mystery crime investigation and I enjoyed both aspects of the novel. I admit that although Tucker and Elliot are not my very favorite Lanyon characters, there's something about them (perhaps it's the human frailties that are so well portrayed, the chemistry and interactions) that made them come alive for me. I re-read this book almost as soon as I finished it. That has become something of a tradition with Lanyon's books and an indication as to my overall enjoyment.

Genre: LGBT M/M Mystery Romance
Series: None
Released: August 2, 2010
Source: NetGalley/Carina Press
Grade: Solid B

Visit Josh Lanyon here.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Poetry: Robert Frost, November & A Walk

In 1992, I visited Robert Frost's farm in Derry, New Hampshire during an uncommonly cold and stormy August day. I remember thinking that it was the perfect day to trek through the trails that Frost walked. Autumn hit early that year while my husband and I drove through New England and witnessed nature and Fall in all its splendor, especially up north by beautiful Vermont.

Today we're experiencing a typical November day. It's very windy and there are storm clouds one minute and sun patches the next. Last night's rain storms washed away a lot of the leaves and all I can see out of my front window are a few yellow leaves hanging from the branches of giant trees. Days like these always make me reach for Robert Frost.

My November Guest

My Sorrow, when she's here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She's glad the birds are gone away,
She's glad her simple worsted gray
Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise.


A Late Walk

When I go up through the mowing field,
The headless aftermath,
Smooth-laid like thatch with the heavy dew,
Half closes the garden path.

And when I come to the garden ground,
The whir of sober birds
Up from the tangle of withered weeds
Is sadder than any words.

A tree beside the wall stands bare,
But a leaf that lingered brown,
Disturbed, I doubt not, by my thought,
Comes softly rattling down.

I end not far from my going forth,
By picking the faded blue
Of the last remaining aster flower
To carry again to you.

Taken from: The Poetry of Robert Frost: The collected poems, complete and unabridged edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Part I - A Boy's Will: 1913

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Review: The Lost Hero (The Heroes of Olympus, Book 1) by Rick Riordan

I read the Percy and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan last year and fell in love with Percy and his crew. The Lost Hero is the first book in The Heroes of Olympus series and a continuation of the those adventures. However, in addition to the already established characters and Greek mythology-based world, Riordan introduces new heroes and villains, quests, a new prophecy, a looming battle and adds Roman mythology to the mix.

Mr. Riordan begins this new adventure by introducing his central characters, Jason, Piper and Leo as they're on a field trip away from the Wilderness School for incorrigible teenagers and on their way to the Grand Canyon. Immediately we know there's something wrong when Jason wakes up in the back of the school bus and doesn't remember who he is or where he came from. He doesn't even recognize his girlfriend Piper or Leo, his best friend.

As our three friends work on essays or admire the views, strange weather turns violent and soon Jason, Piper and Leo find themselves under attack from dark forces or venti. Their teacher Coach Hedge comes to their defence saving their lives. After a quick and messy battle where Coach Hedge is lost, the three are rescued by Annabeth and taken to Camp Half-Blood for safety where they learn who and what they are.

While at camp, Piper and Leo are claimed by their respective god (parents) and mysteriously, Jason finds he has already been claimed and by whom. After a series of on-camp adventures, visions and prophecies, the three are sent on a quest to save the (not-so-likable) goddess Herra who has been imprisoned by an unknown evil. A month earlier Zeus closed off Olympus and no one has heard from the gods, so the three friends must succeed without help from the gods or even Annabeth who is off to find a lost Percy! The adventure begins and our heroes will meet cyclops, wind gods, giants, werewolves and more as they prove their loyalty and bravery to themselves and each other along the way.

Since the Lost Heroes is a continuation to a series, there's no worldbuilding to set up and secondary characters have already been developed, so the readers can get right into the story. However, Riordan does add newness to the worldbuilding by incorporating Roman mythology and weaving it with the Greek mythology introduced in the Percy series, giving this book a fresh feel.

Although Riordan stuck with three heroes and the same formula: two boys and a girl, the characters themselves also felt different and unique.

  • Jason is brave, a true hero and his powers are strong. But they are already developed even if he doesn't remember exactly how or where he learned them. He is also confused, depressed and leery for most of the story, something that sets him apart from the other two, even when he's there for them. He's still a bit of a mystery by the end.
  • Piper is distraught for much of the story and suffers from self-esteem issues due to what she perceives as her father's neglect or lack of love. She has to make some tough choices and that sets the tone for her character development. In Piper, Riordan gives us an ethnic heroine -- she's half Native American and her background and some of those myths are used in the story. Piper is not super duper smart, but she's strong and she knows how to use her powers of persuasion. I enjoyed her character growth from beginning to end.
  • Leo is undeniably my favorite character and provided those 'aww moments.'  He lost his mother as a young boy in a horrific 'accident.' But although he also suffers from guilt and loss, as opposed to his two friends, Leo knows what it is to be loved and his way of coping is through his sense of humor, mechanical know-how and loyalty. I loved his ingenuity and bravery. 

The story is divided by chapter with the titles Jason, Piper and Leo, but written from the third person point of view making this an easy read. Internal dialogues abound with most of the revelations happening in dream sequences and then related to others, slowing down the pace and isolating the characters in some sections. At times, the dialogue is somewhat stilted and lacks flow. And although the humor is provided mainly by Leo's character, there's not enough of a give and take from Jason and Piper to really make it pop.  Real action is slow to come, although once on their way our heroes encounter plenty of obstacles throughout their adventures.

I enjoyed The Lost Hero, it had plenty of strengths and some weaknesses. It was a quick and easy read with great action and new adventures. I loved the new twists and turns that Riordan added to the Olympus series by incorporating Roman mythology and look forward to the rest of the series. Plus there's definitely a bit of a cliffhanger there at the end, and I must know!

The protagonists in this book are teens, but these books are appropriate for (and I believe will be fully enjoyed by) middle schoolers. I do recommend that the Percy and the Olympians series be read first for a better understanding of the world and characters.

Category: Young Adult Fantasy
Series: The Heroes of Olympus, Book 1
Released: October 12, 2010
Grade: B

Visit Rick Riordan here.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Review: Wicked Intentions (Maiden Lane Series, Book 1) by Elizabeth Hoyt

I finally read Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt and loved it. From the beginning I was caught by the dark atmosphere, the grim setting and flawed characters. However, the story itself kept me turning those pages.

Ms. Hoyt sets Wicked Intentions in St. Giles, a poor, dirty, and grim section of London that we don't often see highlighted in historical romance novels. Our female protagonist Temperance and her brother Winter work in a charity home for the foundling children of whores, the poor and desperate. One evening on her way home from picking up just such a child, Temperance comes across a man in an alley standing over a dead body and to her consternation this man follows her home with a proposition.

Lord Caire is in St. Giles investigating the brutal murder of his long time mistress, but he doesn't know this section of London, and its inhabitants won't answer his questions or give him the time of day. The way he figures it the respectable and knowledgeable Mrs. Temperance Dews would serve as the perfect guide through the streets and alleys of St. Guiles. He'll pay her for her services, after all everyone has a price.

Temperance is not happy that this man followed her home and broke into her parlor, but she's not about to show her discomfort. She knows he's a Lord and listens to his proposition with an open mind. Being a realist and in need, Temperance proceeds to negotiate the best of terms with Lord Caire. She'll serve as his guide if he pays for her services, and introduces her to the appropriate set within the ton until she finds a respectable patron for the failing and bankrupt charity home. A deal is struck and they set off.

I really enjoyed Temperance and Caire's murder investigation. It took them to some of the darkest places in St. Giles, setting both tone and atmosphere by giving the reader a real feel for the place and its inhabitants. They encounter everything from gin whores and madams, to thieves and rogues and visit a mercantile, dark pubs and whore houses as they face the ever-growing dangers that await them as they navigate dark streets and alleys.

However, it is not all grimness and dirt, there are also balls and musicales included in this story. Caire keeps his part of the deal and by attending those events Temperance experiences a different lifestyle. In the process she finds that people are not so different after all, and that the glitter of the ton doesn't necessarily hide the ugliness present underneath some of its aristocratic members. Hoyt slowly develops the romance between Temperance and Caire during the murder investigation. However lust is another matter entirely, they both feel it and that's what Hoyt uses as a building block to the romance.

I was taken from the beginning by the sexual tension and chemistry, and eventually the heat that Temperance and Caire generated as a couple. Caire doesn't believe that he's capable of feeling emotion and he suffers pain when physically touched by others. Plus, he has the reputation of being sexually deviant throughout both the ton and St. Giles because of his peculiar sexual preferences. In Temperance, Caire finds a passion for life and a vibrancy that he can only envy and wants to absorb, even if it is only by being in her presence.

Temperance is a passionate woman who represses her emotions behind a mask of widowhood, dark clothing and plain looks. She hides passions, lust, guilt, secrets and self-contempt behind a façade of duty and self-confidence. Temperance is shocked when Caire sees through that mask and relieved when she can be herself with him. Temperance and Caire scorched the pages with their desire and yearning for each other. There's growth for both characters throughout the development of their relationship and romance. It was wonderful to experience how they came to terms with their weaknesses and finally found solace and love in the midst of all the grit and tarnished glitter.

Hoyt's characters are dark in Wicked Intentions and she exposes their foibles and sins. This includes the whole cast of characters, from central to secondary, some of which are quite fascinating. I was intrigued by some of the secondary characters and hope to meet them again as their stories were left a mystery or unfinished: Silence, Winter, Asa, O'Connor and the Ghost of St. Giles. There's a secondary story involving Silence and her husband that was both sad and engaging and one that I hope will be further developed.

I loved Wicked Intentions, the setting and atmosphere, central characters, romance, plotting and some of the unforgettable secondary characters. This is a series I will definitely be following in the future. Notorious Pleasures is already on my list of books to read in February 2011.

Category: Historical Romance
Series: Maiden Lane Series, Book 1
Release Date: August 1, 2010
Grade: A

Visit Elizabeth Hoyt here.

KMont's 2010 Year of the Historical Challenge - November Review

Friday, November 12, 2010

Review: The Search by Nora Roberts

To most people, Fiona Bristow seems to have an idyllic life-a quaint house on an island off Seattle's coast, a thriving dog-training school, and a challenging volunteer job performing canine search and rescues. Not to mention her three intensely loyal Labs. But Fiona got to this point by surviving a nightmare...

Several years ago, Fiona was the only survivor of the Red Scarf serial killer, who shot and killed Fiona's cop fiancé and his K-9 partner.

On Orcas Island, Fiona found the peace and solitude she needed to rebuild her life. But all that changes on the day Simon Doyle barrels up her drive, desperate for her help. He's the reluctant owner of an out-of-control puppy, foisted upon him by his mother. Jaws has eaten through Simon's house, and he's at his wit's end.

To Fiona, Jaws is nothing she can't handle. Simon, however, is another matter. A newcomer to Orcas, he's a rugged and in-tensely private artist, known for the exquisite furniture he creates from wood. Simon never wanted a puppy-and he most definitely doesn't want a woman. Besides, the lanky redhead is not his type. But tell that to his hormones.

As Fiona embarks on training Jaws, and Simon begins to appreciate both dog and trainer, the past tears back into Fiona's life. A copycat killer has emerged out of the shadows, a man whose bloodlust has been channeled by a master with one motive: to reclaim the woman who slipped out of his hands...
I read The Search by Nora Roberts when it first released back in July and it has taken me a long time to write the review, it kind of fell through the cracks. So instead of writing a summary of the book and events, I'm just going to write down my thoughts.

Simon is rude, direct and honest. I think those three words best describe Simon, except to that you add a dry sense of humor with a grouchy, grumpy exterior and you have the whole deal. I love the fact that Simon wins Fiona without having to use charm. He attempts to be domineering, but is willing to compromise when necessary and knows his faults.

Fiona is a strong, self-sufficient and loving female character. With her, it's all about the personality not the looks. Her insight comes from her deep understanding of animals or dogs in particular, a gift. When we meet Fiona she has already experienced personal growth through grief, loss and trauma, however new circumstances bring Fiona a new understanding, healing and finally freedom from those earlier experiences. She isn't intimidated by Simon's rudeness or grumpy exterior and wins him over with her self-confidence, direct manner, sense of humor and gift for understanding. I always enjoy this type of female protagonist in a contemporary romance, so this was a treat for me.

The dialogue is excellent, especially the give and take and interactions between Simon and Fiona. Simon tells Fiona she is not "his type" but keeps coming back for more, and Fee doesn't really care if she's not his type, she just laughs at him. Their scenes together are some of the best in the book and there are enough of them to justify the "romance" in the "romance suspense" label. These two make a great couple.

And what can I say? I love, love, love the developing relationship between Simon and his puppy Jaws from beginning to end... those are some of the best and funniest scenes. The dogs turn out to be the best secondary characters of the story -- don't they always steal the show? I particularly like the way Roberts uses the dog training to focus and develop the romance.

The suspense is well integrated into the story and I think that the development as well as the outcome makes sense. The whole suspense part of it is mostly about Fee healing and freeing herself from the past trauma and finding the strength to deal with the present. The situation with the search for the villain and figuring it all out definitely kept me interested. The climax to the suspense part is not action packed, but more or less expected. In this case, it worked quite well.

The research for this book is excellent, a Nora Roberts trademark. Fee's dog training and canine search and rescue scenes are quite detailed and extensive in parts. Although I enjoyed the scenes with Jaws and Fee's dogs, there's no question that my one quibble is the amount of dog training scenes included which, in my opinion, make the book a longer read than necessary.

There is excellent balance between the romance and suspense in The Search. I really enjoyed Roberts' last book, Black Hills, but enjoyed this one more and I think that's due mainly to that balance as well as to Fee and Simon's personalities. I loved the dogs as secondary characters and the way Roberts used dog training scenes to focus on and develop the romance, but think that those same details were too extensive at times making this an unnecessarily long read. The suspense made sense to me and I liked that the story didn't end with big drama but well enough taken into consideration the villain's nature and needs.

Category: Romance Suspense
Series: None
Release Date: July 6, 2010
Grade: Solid B

Visit Nora Roberts here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Green Books Campaign: Havana and Other Missing Fathers by Mia Leonin

This review is part of the Green Books campaign.Today 200 bloggers take a stand to support books printed in an eco-friendly manner by simultaneously publishing reviews of 200 books printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper. By turning a spotlight on books printed using eco- friendly paper, we hope to raise the awareness of book buyers and encourage everyone to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books.

The campaign is organized for the second time by Eco-Libris, a green company working to make reading more sustainable. We invite you to join the discussion on "green" books and support books printed in an eco-friendly manner! A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.

The book I chose to read for this campaign is printed on acid-free archival-quality paper containing a minimum of 30%  post-consumer waste (or recycled materials) and processed chlorine free.

Havana and Other Missing Fathers by Mia Leonin

Havana and Other Missing Fathers by Mia Leonin is a memoir published in 2009 by The University of Arizona Press as part of their Camino del Sol: A Latino and Latina Literary Series. I already own a few issues from the Camino del Sol series and when I decided to join this campaign and saw that this book was available, I couldn't pass it up.

In 1967, Norma drives away from her home in Kentucky and makes her way to Missouri to give birth and begin a new life. Sixteen years later that child, a daughter, learns that her life thus far has been based on a lie. Norma breaks down and tells her child that her father is not dead; indeed he's not her first husband Jerry, but a Cuban doctor -- a foreigner -- who is very much alive. Mother and daughter cry, wash their faces and go for ice cream.

Four years later at age 20, Mia lands in Miami Airport for the first time to meet her father hoping to find a place in his life, to understand the man and in the process parts of herself. She shares moments but no real intimacy with him, and his wife Zoraida seems to be too surprised at Mia's unexpected existence to show her true feelings. Unfortunately after that first meeting, she comes away with more questions than answers about the man, the father and a new culture that she's about to embrace.

Mia, on her father and language:
My father didn't give me explanations, apologies, or answers. He didn't "take responsibility" in any concrete way. He broke off language like pieces of hard candy that caught the light before dissolving in my mouth.
Even after a few years Mia's attempts to know and understand her father elude her, as the immutable Zoraida's resentment grows and prevents Mia from reaching him:
"Mi papa," I venture, "No lo conozco."
Conocer. The verb hangs in the air like the steel blade of a guillotine. Conocer means to meet and to know. Yes, I've met him, but no, I don't know him. How do I join the meeting and the not knowing of my father in one verb? It's more than a grammatical question.
This need for understanding and acceptance gives Mia the necessary impetus to go forth on a personal journey that will take her from Missouri to Miami, Florida to Bogotá, Colombia and eventually Havana, Cuba. Instead of searching for her roots, she finds herself in Havana exploring Cuban culture through the unique joys and sufferings of its people, their compulsive and sensual obsession with food, and the unique rhythms of its music and language. She falls in love with a man and the island's passions as she experiences highs and lows, glorious moments and betrayals, clarity, uncertainty and anguish along the way.
I thought I was just going to come here and "discover" my heritage or somehow feel connected to it, but this island doesn't merely give, it exacts a price for what you take from it. Not flowers or offerings of fruit, but flesh, memory, balance.
Ms. Leonin successfully uses a combination of dialogue and narrative to tell her story. Havana and Other Missing Fathers is a memoir, but it reads more like a novel with poetic overtones. The narrative switches from present to past in a flowing manner with few narrative interruptions as the story unfolds to its conclusion of partial resolutions and personal revelations.  The author writes in a lyrical style and uses language as the core to keep the reader engrossed and focused in the story. While the book is written in English, Ms. Leonin is particularly successful in the effective adaptation of Cuban Spanish, as she applies its unique rhythms, oblique meanings and double entendres to her exploration of roots and culture, both here and there.

Finally, I'll say that this book was an unexpected pleasure. Havana and Other Missing Fathers turned out to be a very personal and forthright journey where no one is spared, least of all the author. She captures the dichotomies in Cuban culture: intricacies and subtleties, beauty and unpleasantness, strengths and weaknesses. I connected with this story and was right there on that roller coaster ride of self-discovery and emotional upheaval with Mia. That's the highest recommendation I can give this book.

Category: Memoir
Series: Camino del Sol: A Latino and Latina Literary Series
Released: September 1, 2009
Source: Eco-Libris & The University of Arizona Press
Grade: B+

Visit Mia Leonin here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Memorable Characters: Simon & The Serpent Prince

There are certain books I remember fondly, not necessarily because the story was oh so grand, but because there was a memorable character or a moment that pulled me into the story. I tend to fall in love with characters and moments -- sometimes that does it for me.

Viscount Simon Iddesleigh from The Serpent Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt is one of those characters. Every so often I see the book on my shelf and smile. Ohhh, I liked him! He fell deeply and passionately in love with his Lucy almost on sight (ahh, her terrifying eyebrows!). Simon had absolutely no problem verbalizing the love or showing passion and he could liquefy a stone with all that dirty talk seductive dialogue. The scenes in the bedroom were hot, no question about it! Simon was a good/bad boy, doing bad things for a good reason. And isn't that always the case with heroes? Yes, I loved him for all those reasons, but I remember him most for that subtle macho/alpha attitude combined with the metrosexual fashion 'vibe' he had going on, his hmm... favorite shoes and the ohh soooo 'golden and gilded' sense of style!
Everyone swung around, and Lucy almost let her mouth hang open. The viscount was magnificent. That was the only word for it. Magnificent. He wore a silver brocade coat embroidered in silver and black on the turned-back sleeves, skirts, and all down the front. Underneath was a sapphire waistcoat with vining leaves and multicolored flowers lavishly embroidered all over. His shirt had falls of lace at the wrists and throat, and he wore a snow-white wig on his head.

"Late!" Papa exploded. "Late for my super! Sit down promptly at seven o'clock in this household, sir, and if you cannot..." Papa trailed off and stared fixedly down at the viscount's feet.

Lucy followed his gaze. The viscount wore elegant pumps with --

"Red heels!" Papa shouted. "Good God, sirrah, think you this is a bordello?"
Yes, those red heels are as memorable as are Lucy's terrifying eyebrows and Simon's angst and passion.