Sunday, January 29, 2012

This 'n That: Blogger Friend & LGBT News + Reading Update!

What has everyone been up to this past week? I've had one of my disabling migraines, believe it or not, and have been bedridden for most of the week. I guess stress and everything else got to me, finally! Thankfully, I'm up and running again.

A few things happened this past week that made me happy though, and I'd like to share them with you.

Did you all know that our old blogger friend and all around great reviewer Brie dusted off Musings of a Bibliophile and she's back after a long hiatus? If you didn't know, well... now you do! Go on over and give her a big welcome back! I know we all missed her insightful and thorough reviews. From me to you:

Welcome back, Brie! 


Then there's the release of the 2012 Over the Rainbow List. This is a list of 74 books chosen by the GLBT round table of the American Library Association. Here's a quote on their mission:
"The committee's mission is to create a bibliography of books that exhibit a commendable literary quality and significant authentic lgbt content and are recommended for adults over the age 18."
Now, I love this list because I can gather titles that I missed reading last year -- I'm always gathering titles. However, I was also rather happy that I not only recognized a few of the titles in that list as books read, but three of those titles made it to my top 10 LGBT books of 2011: The Abode of Bliss by Alex Jeffers, The German by Lee Thomas, and Wilde Stories 2011 edited by Steve Berman.

There are two other books in that list that I read. The young adult graphic novel a+e 4Ever by Ilike Merey was honored as one of the ALA's top ten favorite LGBT books. I read and chose to highlight instead of reviewing this graphic novel about young adults dealing with gender identity and sexuality issues. However if you check out this book, I'm sure you'll find that it has been garnering excellent reviews. And for those of you, who like me, loved A Companion to Wolves, its sequel The Tempering of Men by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear was also chosen under Speculative Fiction! So if you're interested, take a look at the whole list. I've already made my list. :)


I'm also happy to report that January has been a great reading month so far. Even with last week's bout with migraines. I read three science fiction novels and four science fiction novellas! With one exception, the rest of them were by John Scalzi, an author that I've been putting off reading for quite some time. So now that I've cleaned out some of his books from my TBR, I'm ready to begin reading the very popular Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold. I'll be concentrating on that series in February. So bear with me and my science fiction obsession for one more month.... *g*

What am I reading at the moment? Right now I'm reading a book for the Internet Book Club I joined with Mariana and a few others, The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman (Practical Magic... remember that movie?). So far so good! I have a few books by Hoffman in my TBR, but decided to recommend one of her 2011 releases.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Review: The Summer Garden (Chesapeake Shores #9) by Sherryl Woods

Falling for "Maddening Moira" O'Malley was the unexpected highlight of Luke O'Brien's Dublin holiday. So when she pays a surprise visit to Chesapeake Shores, Luke is thrilled…at first. A fling with this wild Irish rose is one thing, but forever? Maybe someday, but not when he's totally focused on establishing a business that will prove his mettle to his overachieving family.

Given Luke's reaction, Moira has some soul-searching of her own to do. Scarred by her father's abandonment, she wonders if Luke, with his playboy past, is truly the family man she longs for. Adding to her dilemma, she's offered an amazing chance at a dream career of her own.

Deep down, though, Moira knows home is the real prize, and that love can be every bit as enchanted as a summer garden.
The Summer Garden is the final book in the Chesapeake Shores series by Sherryl Woods. I imagine that fans and lovers of the O'Brien family are sad to hear about this last release. Fortunately for them, Sherryl Woods makes it a great ending.

During the O'Brien's trip to Dublin at Christmas time, Luke met "Maddening Moira." He's back home and making plans for a future, hoping to prove himself to his family by making a success of the pub he plans to open at Chesapeake Shores. Moira is in thoughts, but she's back in Ireland. He's in for a surprise though, Moira is about to land on Chesapeake Shores with her grandfather Dillon. Gram invited the love of her life to visit and these two are not only planning to spend time together rekindling their own romance, but they're hoping that Luke and Moira's romance will take a positive turn.

Moira isn't the sweetest girl in the world, and the O'Brien's as a family didn't fall in love with her while they were in Ireland. She's moody and has a bit of a temper that Luke has the knack of defusing with charm and understanding. He likes her direct manner and fell for her in Ireland. Luke is very happy to see Moira again, but he's distracted and quite busy trying to get his new business going too. He has a plan and a timetable to keep, and a deeper relationship with Moira is not part of that timetable at the moment. Maybe in the future.

Moira on the other hand is ready for Luke now! She's not exactly sure what she wants to do with her life and dithers back and forth between her newly discovered talents as a photographer and her secret wish for a family, with Luke. Moira is not a patient woman and let's Luke know what she wants, but when he doesn't exactly react the way she expects him to right away her insecurities take over and... well... the drama begins, particularly when the meddling O'Brien's get involved!

There's a lot of meddling in this story by the O'Briens. They are a chaotic crew! The whole clan makes an appearance in this story, and all have something to contribute as they get involved with Luke's new business at the pub, his mistakes with Moira, Moira's overreactions, and let's not forget Gram and Dillon's rekindled romance! Luke is used to his family, and Moira quickly learns to appreciate them and falls in love with the whole clan in the process, just as they begin to fall in love with her. Gram knows how to put her family, especially Mick, in their place, and is not above meddling either. She gives plenty of advice and knows how to set things up for herself and the younger couple without making it look like manipulation. I really liked Gram!

Sheryl Woods created a wonderful family in the O'Briens. They are chaotic, meddling, loving, competitive and the reader can't help but fall in love with the whole family as the drama and the chaos escalates. I love Gram and Dillon's "at last" type of romance. It is sweet and it seems to me quite realistic in that they both just want to spend whatever time they have left with each other. Lovely.

Luke and Moira's romance I think needed more time to brew. This is a young couple that finds each other just as they are figuring out exactly what it is that they want out of life. Neither is really sure what that is at the moment, and they both vacillate back and forth about the future. As beautiful as the whole story turns out in the end, I couldn't help but feel that with a bit more time they (Luke in particular) would have come to the right conclusion without all the pressure exerted by Moira, family members and circumstances. But well, maybe that was the point... they would have been perfect in the end anyway?

There is a beautiful epilogue that ties up this story and the whole series with Grams thoughts at the end. I think that fans of this series and of the O'Briens will love it!

Category: Contemporary Romance
Series: Chesapeake Shores
Publisher/Release Date: Mira/January 31, 2012
Source: ARC Planned Television Arts, Ruder Finn
Grade: B

Visit Sherryl Woods here.

Chesapeake Shore Series:
The Inn at Eagle Point, #1
Flower on Main, #2
Harbor Lights, #3
A Chesapeake Shores Christmas, #4
Driftwood Cottage, #5
Moonlight Cove, #6
Beach Lane, #7
An O'Brien Family Christmas, #8
The Summer Garden, #9

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Review: Head Over Heels (Lucky Harbor #3) by Jill Shalvis

Breaking rules and breaking hearts

Free-spirited Chloe lives life on the edge. Unlike her soon-to-be married sisters, she isn't ready to settle into a quiet life running their family's newly renovated inn. But soon her love of trouble--and trouble with love-draws the attention of the very stern, very sexy sheriff who'd like nothing better than to tame her wild ways.

Suddenly Chloe can't take a misstep without the sheriff hot on her heels. His rugged swagger and his enigmatic smile are enough to make a girl beg to be handcuffed. For the first time, instead of avoiding the law, Chloe dreams of surrender. Can this rebel find a way to keep the peace with the straitlaced sheriff? Or will Chloe's colorful past keep her from a love that lasts . . . and the safe haven she truly wants in a town called Lucky Harbor?
I enjoyed the first book in Jill Shalvis' Lucky Harbor series and loved the second. The third installment Head Over Heels, is a great follow up to those two first books.

Chloe is the youngest of three half-sisters who inherited the Lucky Harbor Inn. She's also the one who seemingly inherited some of their mother's free spirit and love of adventure. Her biggest struggle so far has been committing to living in one place, and although she loves the town and is helping her sisters get off to a good start by renovating the Lucky Harbor Inn, she still takes off whenever the bug hits. Chloe's other problem is that she loves to get involved in troubled situations, and in a small town like Lucky Harbor trouble means face-to-face time with sexy sheriff Sawyer Thompson.

Something has been brewing between Chloe and Sawyer ever since the sisters came to town. Sawyer knows Chloe can't pass up a challenge or a scrape, and by now he knows her pretty well since he has been keeping a close eye on her. Maybe too close an eye. Chloe's personal challenges and adventurous spirit call to the straitlaced sheriff's own dark, wild side, and the chemistry and sexual buzz that surrounds every encounter between them is driving Sawyer to distraction.

As in most of Shalvis' contemporary reads, Head Over Heels oozes sexual tension. Chloe and Sawyer's relationship is certainly built on a sizzling chemistry from the beginning that goes on to drive both of them crazy -- and the readers to want more of the same. Excellent. The romance or love between them is another matter altogether, that is slower to develop and tougher for either of them to admit.

On the surface the conflict between this couple is one of "we don't fit," but beneath that surface the real conflict is, "we are not good enough." Why? Yes, it's true that they seem to be different: she's wild and he's the law. However, truthfully once all the cards are on the table, they're a lot more alike than either of them want to admit. They both struggle with insecurities and/or past histories to come to that all important happy ever after.

Throughout the story some of Chloe's behavior comes off as immature due partly to her insecurities, and the over protective behavior by her two sisters comes off as over the top. Her sisters' reactions to her business proposal are understandable to a certain point, and thinking about Chloe's past deeds as the "wild child," also understandable to the reader. However, it still bugged me that Chloe's sisters had such little faith in her, particularly since she had been keeping up her own business all along. They couldn't see past the "wild," or the "child."

Sawyer on the other hand shows his protective side to Chloe without making her look or feel like a little girl. He treats her like a woman all the way. The sheriff is a man with a past history of wild behavior who has worked hard at redeeming himself by strictly following the law, but although he doesn't like to admit to it, he also knows how to show love and compassion.

I enjoyed the romance and the chemistry between Chloe and Sawyer in Head Over Heels. Sawyer is an excellent, passionate lover who cares about his partner and turns out to be a lovely, lovely man. He particularly shows this side of himself in the way he treats Chloe's chronic asthma.  Actually one of the things I liked most about Sawyer is that he loves Chloe just the way she is -- free spirited and adventurous. And Chloe? She loves her straight laced, passionate sheriff (and his handcuffs) just the way he is too. These two people are both understanding, passionate, and more lovable that either believe they can be.

The sisters and Sawyer's friends, Jax and Ford, return as secondary characters in this story. The guys have a great relationship full of fun, "guy-like" moments. The townspeople again play a peripheral role that adds to the romance, however, for some reason as a whole their contribution did not strike me as amusing or well rounded as in the previous stories -- and I missed Mia as an important part of the family. There is a secondary storyline with a drug investigation that involves Sawyer and in the end Chloe, plus a personal thread relating to Sawyer's personal relationship with his father. I found both to be appropriate to Chloe and Sawyer's conflict and need for a resolution.

I enjoy Jill Shalvis' contemporary romances and Head Over Heels is no exception. It's a great addition to the Lucky Harbor series. I look forward to reading the continuation to this series.

Category: Contemporary Romance
Series: Lucky Harbor
Publisher/Release Date: Grand Central/November 22, 2011 - Kindle Ed.
Grade: B+

Visit Jill Shalvis here.

Simply Irresistible, Book #1
The Sweetest Thing, Book #2
Head Over Heels, Book #3
Lucky in Love, Book #4 - Coming up June 1, 2012
At Last, Book #5 - Coming up July 1, 2012
Forever and a Day, #6 - Coming up August 1, 2012

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Overview: Old Man's War Series by John Scalzi (Old Man's War #1, The Ghost Brigades #2)

John Scalzi's first novel Old Man's War was first published in 2005 and made it as Hugo Award Finalist in 2006. The sequels followed in order, The Ghost Brigades in 2006, The Last Colony in 2007, and Zoe's Tale in 2008. There are also two novellas set in the same world, The Sagan Diary (written before The Last Colony) and After the Coup.

Old Man's War - First Edition Cover

In Scalzi's world humans finally figured out interstellar space travel and have moved on to colonize other planets. The problem is that humans are in competition with a vast amount of hostile alien races for the same pieces of real estate (planets), and war and conflict are constant and inevitable as there are only a limited amount of planets that are livable. Negotiations are limited to land-grabbing by way of war as they race through the known universe expanding and colonizing. Humans are represented by the powerful and controlling Colonial Union (CU) and the Colonial Defence Force (CDF) is out there to help protect human colonies.

Colonial Defence Force: The CU recruits their CDF soldiers from planet Earth. These old men and women have accumulated a lifetime of knowledge and skills that saves the CDF time while training. The idea also is that the life-time experiences will help these future soldiers make the correct decisions while in battle, and having had an emotional connection with family and loved ones throughout their first lifetime, these soldiers will stay sympathetic to the human cause throughout the upcoming years of war and death. Plus, these old people have nothing else to look forward to but the pain of old age and death -- they make perfect recruits. They are offered a future as soldiers by way of a two to ten year contract, and once finished with their service, if they survive the wars, a new life in a colonized planet.

Special Forces: The CDF also has their own Special Forces. These soldiers are not recruited. Special Forces or Ghost Brigade soldiers are made from the DNA of dead humans and different alien races, and using the BrainPal technology (see below) they are given a consciousness which allows them to function as humans -- albeit with super-human capabilities -- but with the specific purpose of being a soldier. However, they are not readily accepted by other humans and as a result they keep to themselves. They are the Frankenstein monsters of the CU.

Space Travel and Technology: To travel through space, humans use the Skip Drive. Scalzi goes into detail about the extent of what humans know about this technology, as well as its limitations. Besides the Skip Drive, there are other key technological advances that humans developed and saved their attempts at colonization. The two most important are the ability to successfully grow an engineered matured human body in a matter of months, and the ability to transfer consciousness from one body to another as long as the two brains are identical. These two developments combined allowed humans to successfully "produce" super soldiers (CDF and Special Forces) that could then do battle against hostile alien forces.

The two other key technological developments are the BrainPal and nanotechnology. The BrainPal is an neuroimplant that allows CDF and Special Forces soldiers to send information directly to each other -- from one BrainPal to another -- as well as to download information instantly as needed, i.e., translating alien languages, etc. The soldiers are not only able to communicate with each other through the BrainPal, they can also see through each other's eyes, and even feel each other's emotions. Nanotechnology is used everywhere. As examples: Nanobots are used to make the soldiers unitards and used like armor, the soldiers' blood (SmartBlood) is composed of nanobots, the soldiers' bodies self-heal and re-grow lost limbs, and even their weapon (MP-35) can self-repair.

Alien Races: There are many alien races introduced by Scalzi throughout the story. However, there are only a few that are slightly developed -- none with real depth: the Consu, Rraey, and the Obin. The Consu are the most advanced and complex race in the known universe and although they do battle with humans, their motivations remain a mystery. The Rraey are cannibalistic, acquisitive and aggressive but less techno-savvy than humans and the Obin are technologically advanced, but possess no consciousness or awareness. All three are at war with humanity as are the rest of the aliens in this series.

Old Man's War (Book #1)

In his first novel, Old Man's War, Scalzi begins by introducing his main character, John Perry and setting up the world building. When John Perry and his wife Kathy were 65 years old they signed a letter of intent to join the CDF, however his wife died and on his 75th birthday Perry visits his wife's grave and then goes on to join the army. Perry figures the odds are not so bad, if he's going to die anyway, he might as well die young and doing something worthwhile.

I liked the premise. The first part of the book is the best in my opinion. This is where Scalzi introduces the main character John Perry, the cast of secondary characters that later on become important to him throughout this story, and where you'll find the first blocks for the world building. I loved John Perry's sense of wonder and naivete as he and his new friends take a leap of faith and go on to an unknown future. The sense of freedom and vitality that seems to overcome the geriatric volunteers, combined with excitement and fear as an unknown future looms ahead of them, is intoxicating to them and makes the reader want to know what lies ahead.

The second section of the book is where I began to have problems with the story. After Perry undergoes his transformation, he begins the all important military training and eventually goes on to war. The military training section is brief, lacking in in-depth detail, and I thought it at best quite sketchy. As the action and the story continues, and there is plenty of action, I became torn. It is a fast paced story, with a nice flow and a central character whose actions we follow from beginning to end, but it just seemed to me that although there are plenty of details at the beginning of the book: the skip drive, nano technology, etc., when it comes to developing alien hostile races and secondary characters, true depth is sacrificed to both the action and pace.

I enjoy military science fiction, and that's exactly what Old Men's War is. Of course there's also the moral ambiguity as a central theme. Scalzi doesn't over-philosophize in Old Men's War though, he has an easy-peasy, flowing writing style that is quite reader friendly, and in this first book he gets his point across without beating the drums to a pulp. 

The Ghost Brigades (Book #2)

The Ghost Brigades is the second book in the Old Man's War series, and although it's set in the same world, very few characters from the first book make an appearance. This story focuses on the Special Forces soldiers and how they are "produced," how they function and how they feel about their roles as soldiers.

Jared Dirac is made, not born. The difference between him and other Special Forces soldiers is that he is a superhuman hybrid made out of the dead scientist Charles Boutin's DNA and consciousness. The scientist was a traitor to humanity who gave away key information to three hostile alien races who are now allied and planning to attack the Colonial Union. Jared is an experiment and if that experiment works then Boutin's motivations for betraying the Colonial Union will be known; if the experiment doesn't work, then this superhuman hybrid will be given to Special Forces as a soldier. There's no loss for the CDF, right?

The Ghost Brigades begins with plenty of moral ambiguity as you can see by my summary. It actually goes on to become even more so as the story moves along. The experiment doesn't really take at first and Jared Dirac is relegated to Special Forces. The reader goes through the whole process of experiencing life and events for the first time with Jared. That's the focus of the story, Jared's experiences, his loses and where they eventually take him as a "person" and a soldier. The consequences of the experiment and who pays the final price.  The question of the individual's rights, choices, and consciousness are all touched upon in the Ghost Brigades. Scalzi gives most of his focus to this subject.

Don't misunderstand me, there's plenty of action in The Ghost Brigades, and as in Old Man's War you'll find battles, war and carnage. Under Jane Sagan's command (Old Man's War), he experiences both loss and pain and eventually Boutin's memories begin to surface. As they battle the aliens to break the alliance, and Jared fights his and someone else's emotions and memories, finding the answer to whose consciousness makes the person becomes the key to this puzzle.

Scalzi has that flowing style that makes a long book go in a flash. My biggest problem with this particular story was the lack of connection I felt with most of the characters, and again the lack of depth and certain background detail that well... just left me wanting more. Plus, the fact that the action, Jared's character development, and the mystery are not woven well, instead they are separated into sections.

The 2012 Science
Fiction Experience
Conclusion: I'm not going to make any specific comparisons as I'm sure those have been done to death by now, but I do have to mention that although Old Man's War is very much Scalzi's, it is also obvious that it's a tribute to Heinlein (Starship Troopers) and Haldeman (The Forever War). This month I actually read the first three novels, including The Last Colony, plus The Sagan Diary and After the Coup, but decided to just focus this post on the first two books.

The first two books in this series are the best ones in my opinion. Although I'm sure for hardcore science fiction readers out there these stories don't sound fresh, Scalzi's style certainly made me appreciate them as such. That first section of Old Man's War is an absolute winner. I loved his take on the Skip Drive and how that works, as well as his attempts at explaining how consciousness can be transferred onto an engineered body. I loved that the soldiers are green and there are plenty of battles and fights to go around. Plus I certainly enjoyed Scalzi's flowing and fast paced writing style.

Unfortunately, there's also those other details such as characterization and developing background stories that were left hanging that I missed. A missed opportunity in my opinion are the hostile alien races which are pretty much two dimensional and left unexplored for the most part throughout the series. Characters also came to what seemed to be deep realizations throughout the course of events and then dismissed those conclusions without a second thought -- I didn't get that. And although Scalzi gives John Perry a strong female love interest, and follows through on that relationship in The Last Colony, I found the dialogue and interactions between those two wooden and lacking emotion.

Finally, overall this was a fun series even with its weaknesses. I loved the space opera military battles, the gruesome deaths, (one inch aliens, really? really?) and the sense of wonder that humans experience when out in space for the first time, mixed with all the rest of the techo-babble... it was a wonderful adventure.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Review: Drown by Junot Díaz

Originally published in 1996, Drown by Junot Díaz is a book composed of ten short stories, some of them previously published in literary magazines and other venues. Junot Díaz won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and is better known for his work on the novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in the United States, Diaz follows in the footsteps of other Latin American writers with this collection of short stories. His voice is strong and he obviously knows the subject matter.

In Drown, Díaz focuses on the struggles, frustrations, anger and needs faced by poor immigrant Dominican boys, young men, and adult males, both in the Dominican Republic and in New Jersey. And yes it's important to note that he does focus on the male experience and point of view.

Some of the stories are connected and follow a family, a mother and two boys, from the Dominican Republic to New Jersey after their father sends for them: "Ysrael," "Fiesta 1980," "Aguantando," "Negocios." Other short stories are ambiguous in that the main characters are unnamed and could be attributed to other immigrant young men. "Aurora," "Drown," "Boyfriend," "Edison, New Jersey," "How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie." and "No Face," in my opinion the weakest story of the bunch, is related to the short story Ysrael but only because the main character Ysrael is the central focus, but he is not related to the family in the story with that title.

There are a couple of stories that really did it for me, but Drown is the one story that really grabbed me. The unnamed young man in this story avoids a childhood friend returning to the neighborhood, not only because of ambiguous sexual feelings, but also because he feels a failure. Díaz captures a sense of nostalgia and longing as the young man remembers his childhood days with his friend Beto, all mixed up with a sense of failure. The young man's sense of responsibility for a mother who is a ghost of herself, dreaming of being with a man who betrayed her, combined with his need to escape the neighborhood and feelings of entrapment are almost suffocating. Excellent.

For the most part the short stories flowed to create a cohesive whole, although Díaz tended to go back and forth between the Dominican Republic and the US. The one story that really disrupted the flow for me was No Face. I think in this short story about Ysrael, Díaz failed to really touch the reader with this character -- at least he failed to touch me. I see the problem as one of misplacement. This short story really didn't seem to "belong" where it was placed for some reason, and it interrupted the flow of the book for me. Radically so.

Although Drown is a collection of short stories that focuses on the Dominican immigrant's experience, I believe that these short stories also apply to the immigrant experience as a whole, and in that respect it is about immigrants and assimilation. He focuses those stories on how tough it is to emigrate and the difficulties faced while assimilating to a new culture for first and second generations, particularly when in many cases those immigrants wind up in ugly or pretty ghetto style neighborhoods.

These neighborhoods are places that after a while those same immigrants can't seem to leave even as they dream of doing so. The claustrophobia of those places, the hold, the pitfalls, how the whole family can be affected, how the American dream can tarnish by desperation, poverty and poor, uneducated decisions. Díaz touches on all those points. However, he doesn't include success stories in this collection, at least his main characters are not a success. In that sense there is a lack of balance, but then I think that his purpose in Drown is to show the struggle and not necessarily the success.

That lack of balance is also seen when it comes to the female's point of view, as females are portrayed from a distinct male perspective. They are portrayed as either women who somehow remain in a traditional female role even as they struggle against it, or women who are easily seduced. Females are often described as sexual objects or in sexual terms. I found it interesting that as the women aged in these stories they went from being highly sensual creatures who needed their husbands to protect them, to mothers who needed to be protected by their sons. In my opinion, a generalized machista and unrealistic portrayal of women as a whole.

Even with the few problems I had with this book, I believe that for the most part Díaz achieved his goal and he did so with that strong voice I mentioned above. I read Drown for my internet book club, and the discussion was quite interesting. Most of us disagreed rather forcefully with Díaz's portrayal of women in this book. Others disagreed with what was seen as his negative portrayal of the Dominican immigrant and the lack of balance in his portrayal between the struggles and the success. Yet others disagreed that the collection could really be interpreted as the struggles of immigrants as a whole and that it should be seen as focused solely on the Dominican experience. Agree or disagree, reading and discussing Drown with a group was a wonderful experience.

December 2011
Book Club Read
Category: Literary Fiction
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Riverhead/May 16, 2007 - Kindle Ed.
Grade: B


About the Author:
Junot Díaz is a contemporary Dominican-American writer. He moved to the USA with his parents at age six, settling in New Jersey. Central to Díaz's work is the duality of the immigrant experience. He is the first Dominican-born man to become a major author in the United States.

Díaz is creative writing professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in 2008. He was selected as one of the 39 most important Latin American writers under the age of 39 by the Bogotá Book Capital of World and the Hay Festival. In September 2007, Miramax acquired the rights for a film adaptation of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Friday, January 20, 2012

This 'n That: Reading Update, Romance & Scifi

Happy weekend everyone! I'm back at work and well... working! Already missing my wonderful, lazy, vacation days and very glad that the weekend is finally here.

My blogging has been spotty these past couple of weeks due to all the beginning of the year craziness, but I have found time for reading. And what have I been reading? Lots of science fiction! Yes... By participating in Carl V's 2012 Science Fiction Experience I've developed a craving for all things sci fi, and I'm the type of reader that obsesses. Sci fi and/or Fantasy can do that to me. :)


So far this month, I've read lots of Scalzi! From the Metatropolis anthology edited by John Scalzi, I read his novella, "Quiritationem Suis." I also read Scalzi's first novel Old Man's War, and the second book of the Old Man's War trilogy, The Ghost Brigades. I followed that up with a novella set in this same world, After the Coup. Right now I'm reading The Sagan Diary in preparation for the third and last book of the original Old Man's War trilogy, The Last Colony. After I finish that book, I'll write up an overview about the trilogy. What I can tell you is that so far the first book is my favorite, it is definitely quick paced military science fiction with great action and flow. Scalzi also gives the reader something to think about without beating him/her over the head with a hammer, and yes... there's actually a love interest in there! Can you believe it? :)


Also as a follow up to reading Leviathan Wakes in December, I read the novella The Butcher of Anderson Station: A Story of The Expanse by James S.A. Corey. This novella focuses on an incident that defined the career of (and eventually the man) one of the characters that plays a key role in Leviathan Wakes. Fred Johnson is the leader of the OPA (Outer Planets Alliance) by the time we meet him in Leviathan Wakes. Throughout the book he was referred to as the Butcher of Anderson Station, however that was never explained.

This story goes back in time and focuses on that story, giving the readers and fans of this new series a terrific first person account of exactly what shaped this character. It also gives the reader further insight into how Earth viewed Belters and why Fred eventually turns from hero to traitor. The story feels rather incomplete, though. By the end there's a sense that there's more to Fred, or that there should be more. The political implications are touched upon lightly in this novella, and I'm hoping that the second book of the trilogy will give us more Fred. Of course, to me this was just an appetizer before the main course. That would be Caliban's War (Expanse #2), coming in June 2012.


And sticking with the subject of sci fi, if you like old style pulp sci fi, you need to check out Carl V's post on Hunt the Space Witch! by Robert Silverberg. I haven't read anything by this author and after reading that post of course I immediately purchased the book. I love pulp, plus hmm... check out that cover!

I also joined the 2012 TBR Challenge, hosted by our Super Librarian Wendy. However, between the Science Fiction Experience and Wendy's TBR Challenge, so far this year I've added more to my reading pile than I've read! How is that helping me? Well, hopefully it will help me gather some great titles instead of duds. Right? Isn't that a wonderful way to rationalize my recent book-buying spree? Check out my recent additions:

After reading Scalzi's Old Man's War I experienced a bit of nostalgia, so to re-read a couple of books I no longer own, I also purchased in ebook format two old classics:


In other news, I broke the sci fi spell I was under by reading a couple of contemporary romances. One of those books was by Emily March. She's a new-to-me author and for some reason I kept looking at her latest release Lover's Leap: An Eternity Springs Novel and going back to it, until I bought it and read it this last week.

This book is part of a series, but it's pretty much a self-contained romance, so it was not too tough reading it and getting into it. It's basically a story about second chances at love, errors in judgment, redemption, and forgiveness. It's an interesting series, although there's something 'quirky' about it. A lot of talk about the 'angel inside' and 'miracles.' I wasn't too taken with this aspect of the book... plus there's this character, Celeste who comes off as kind of "new-agey," who seems to be the center of the whole series. I know there was something about her that I missed. Definitely. For me, it was an okay contemporary romance with a couple of frustrating moments provided by one character that turned out to be particularly immature. Has anyone read the other books in this series? I'm curious because I liked some of the secondary characters.


I read a few other books, including Head Over Heels by Jill Shalvis, but I'll be reviewing those books later on. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

TBR Review: Light the Stars (Cowboys of Cold Creek #1) by RaeAnne Thayne

Wade Dalton was having a very bad day.

His five-year-old had accidentally set the kitchen on fire. His daughter was surly, as usual. The baby hadn't been fed yet. And his mother--aka "The Childminder"--had eloped...with a scam artist. Could it get any worse?

Turned out it could. Because the annoyingly beautiful daughter of said scam artist was now at the door, batting her doe eyes at him and proposing that she be his temporary nanny while awaiting the newlyweds' return. Could he trust her to be under his roof? Could he trust himself with her under his roof?
I've enjoyed reading RaeAnne Thayne stories these last few of years. In 2009 I read Dancing in the Moonlight, Book 2 of the original Cowboys of Cold Creek trilogy, and soon thereafter I purchased and read most of Thayne's back list. I still have a couple of them in my TBR. Light the Stars, Book 1 of the trilogy, was one of them.

I really like the way the story begins. It kept me reading:
On his thirty-six birthday, Wade Dalton's mother ran away.

She left him a German chocolate cake on the kitchen counter, two new paperback mysteries by a couple of his favorite authors and a short but succinct note in her loopy handwriting.


Happy birthday. I'm sorry I couldn't be there to celebrate with you but by the time you read this we'll be in Reno and I'll be the new Mrs. Quinn Montgomery.....
Wade Dalton owns and runs the Cold Creek Ranch, on top of that he's a widower with three children. His mother eloping with a stranger is a big concern, but having to care for the house and three small children on top of the ranch responsibilities leaves him angry, confused and feeling more than a little helpless. His mother has been taking care of his children for so long that Wade is clueless about them or how to care of them.

In comes Caroline Montgomery, the new groom's daughter. Caroline was Marjorie Dalton's life coach. Unfortunately, Marjorie somehow met Caroline's scheming father and the two eloped together. Hoping to stop the marriage and what she suspects is another grift planned by her father, Caroline rushes from Los Angeles to Cold Creek, but arrives too late to stop the elopement.

Instead she finds a furious and suspicious Wade Dalton as he tries to deal with two little boys and a crazy situation. Feeling guilty over her unwitting role and her father's possible actions, Caroline basically pushes her way into Wade's life and volunteers to take care of the children until Marjorie returns. After much ado, he agrees and pretty soon she's close to the children and tempting Wade out of his celibate status.

The relationship between Wade and Caroline begins with suspicion oozing from Wade and guilt from Caroline. As they share family moments, Caroline realizes that Wade doesn't really know his children and as she makes him aware of these facts their attraction for each other grows. Wade reluctantly admits the attraction, basically because he has only been in love once and that was with his now deceased wife. He uses his suspicions of Caroline to keep a distance between them and goes the distance to the end. On the other hand, initially Caroline is giving with Wade and the children out of guilt for what she sees as her role in her father's possible future criminal plans, and pretty quickly falls in love with both the children and the father.

There's very little warmth to Wade since he spends most of the story coming off as an angry bear, and although there's plenty of warmth to Caroline, she somehow comes off as pushy particularly since their time together is so short. The timeline doesn't help to make this relationship really workable or believable. The connection between these two characters is tenuous and that's probably due to Wade's angry personality and the fact that he suppresses and negates his feelings for most of the story.

I really enjoyed the ranch setting and the wonderful extended family. Wade has two brothers, Jake and Seth, and his children who play an integral role in this story are quite cute, particularly the two little boys. The Daltons had an interesting childhood and that is touched on in this first book of the trilogy. Secondary characters are kept to family members and they play peripheral roles in this story, so the focus stays firmly on the couple and the family.

The stories I've read by Thayne have had some depth to them, and although in this instance I still enjoyed the writing style, Light the Stars is not one of those stories, and in that respect it was disappointing. This is an enjoyable read up to a point, but it turned out to be standard fare with an aggressively suspicious hero, and a heroine that's not only quite forgiving of his crankiness and unfair behavior, but actually seemed to yearn for it once things came to a head between them.

I think it is fortunate that I read the second book of this trilogy first. Regardless, having read Thayne's other works, I still look forward to reading Seth's story, Dalton's Undoing, the 3rd book in this trilogy -- another book that I also have in my "to be read" pile. Maybe this year!

Theme: Category Romance
January Review
Category: Contemporary Romance
Series: Cowboys of Cold Creek
Publisher/Release Date: Harlequin/May 24, 2010-Kindle Ed.
Grade: C-

Visit RaeAnne Thayne here.

Original Cowboys of Cold Creek Trilogy:
Light the Stars, #1
Dancing in the Moonlight, #2
Dalton's Undoing, #3

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sunday Feature: The Thorn and the Blossom: A Two-Sided Love Story by Theodora Goss

The Thorn and the Blossom is the story of two star-crossed lovers.

Evelyn Morgan is a young American student studying at Oxford when she walks into Thorne & Son, a bookstore in the Cornish village of Clews. Little does she know, but she is about to meet the love of her life. And when Brendan Thorne hands her a medieval poem called The Book of the Green Knight, he doesn't know that it will shape his future forever. After that first meeting, they don't see each other for years -- yet neither ever stops thinking about the other. It's as if they are the haunted lovers in the old book itself.
I was offered The Thorn and the Blossom by Theodora Goss for review and frankly, besides the fact that this is a story about star-crossed lovers with a mystery, the format really caught my attention. This is a two sided story printed in an accordion-fold binding. The story is told from Evelyn's perspective on one side of the book and as you turn it around, you can read the story from Brendan's perspective on the other side. You can see how that works here. The result is quite interesting.

The book itself is gorgeous. It comes in a hard slip case (the cover you see above), and I think it would make a beautiful gift or just a great keeper for your bookshelf. I love it. Reading it was a bit awkward at first because the book doesn't have a spine and it has to be held a certain way, but after a while I found a way and it worked fine, particularly because the book is not heavy.

Although this novella is short (38 pages for Evelyn's story and 39 for Brendan's) I loved the fact that, using this method, by the time the end comes around both characters' motives or motivations are well-known to the reader even though both sides of the story mirror each other. Using that different perspective and developing each character in depth makes a big difference to the reader's experience. I began the book from Brendan's point of view and then went on to Evelyn's, but I do wonder how it would be to begin the story the other way... would the experience be different? Interesting.

The story itself is beautifully written by Theodora Goss. This is a combination of the contemporary and the mythological, as Evelyn and Brendan's story seems to mirror that of Sir Gawan and Elowen which is found in the medieval poem The Book of the Green Knight, simultaneously giving the reader a sense of a concrete present and a magical atmosphere. It's a wonderful combination. Goss packs a lot into this little book, yet I couldn't help but wish the story had been just a little bit longer.

The Thorn and the Blossom by Theodora Goss is a beautiful little book with an interesting format that works quite well with Evelyn and Brendan's sweet and magical love story.

Category: Fantasy
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Quirk Books/January 17, 2012
Source: ARC Quirk Books
Grade: B+

Visit Theodora Goss here.

About the Author: Theodora Goss won the World Fantasy Award in 2008 for her short story "The Singing of Mount Abora." She has been a finalist for the Nebula, Crawford, Locus, and Mythopoeic awards and has appeared on the Tiptree Award Honor List. Her writing has been showcased repeatedly in "Year's Best" anthologies. She lives in Boston, where she teaches literature at Boston University.

Review: The Proposition by Judith Ivory

No man, gentleman or otherwise, has ever looked at Lady Edwina Bollash the way the brash, handsome man standing before her is doing now. Edwina has accepted the challenge to transform incorrigible Mick Tremore into a gentleman in just six weeks. And although the linguist is sure she can rise to the task, she isn't at all certain she won't swoon under his frankly sensuous gaze before her job is done.

Mick has lived outside of London society long enough to know that appearances can be deceiving. Edwina might look all buttoned up—the perfect English lady—but there is unleashed passion existing just below her placid facade (not to mention a great pair of legs!). And as she prepares him to take his place in society, Mick prepares Edwina to take her place in his heart...and in his bed.
Published in 1999 by Avon, The Proposition by Judith Ivory is one historical romance, that in my opinion no matter the current trend in romance preferences, stands the test of time and will always find new fans.

Why is that? Well, she came up with two unusual protagonists, particularly our hero. First we have Mick Tremore, a rat catcher. He's handsome, fun, funny, brash, raunchy, uneducated (but highly intelligent), and not unhappy about his situation. Instead he's quite proud of himself and of what he has accomplished throughout his life. Although obviously poor, Mick's rat catching business is successful and has allowed him to take care of what's important to him -- he is good at his job. Mick is a lovely man. Of course you know I fell in love with Mick, his personality, and the outward symbol of his virility -- his beautiful mustache.

Then we have Lady Edwina Bollash. Like Mick, Edwina is also highly intelligent, except that she is a lady whose means have been reduced by circumstances and being considered plain in appearance by society has little to no chance of finding a husband. She certainly thinks of herself as unattractive. Now she's the tough to nut to crack, and the character with the contradictory personality in this story. I say contradictory because Edwina is an independent woman who makes a living as a linguist and outwardly seems knowing and confident, but as we slowly find out turns out to be insecure about her looks and a product of the times and her environment. Mick describes her as a "good girl who always wants to do the right thing to please others." That's exactly who Edwina turns out to be when we first meet her and before Mick works his magic on her. And magic he is.

Our story begins in a dressmaker's parlor with a mouse, a rat catcher and a pair of long beautiful legs peaking from under a dressing room. Our rat catcher is crude, dirty, but very handsome under all that grime. The ladies, from the maids to the posh ladies at the dressmakers, are taken by Mick's charm and handsome looks, and unfortunately (or fortunately) for him, his day quickly takes a turn when the maid's family catch her in the midst of seduction. A melee ensues and our heroine Edwina ends up saving Mick by translating the barely understandable language he uses to communicate, a mixture of Cornish and something else entirely.

Judith Ivory uses Pygmalion as the central basis for romance in The Proposition. Basically Edwina and Mick accept the proposition as set by two gentlemen who bet that Edwina can or can't transform the crude and rough Mick into a gentleman in six week's time by changing the way he speaks and behaves. The big test comes at the end of those six weeks when he's supposed to attend a ball to fool society. What happens during those six weeks is a beautiful thing. When I finished reading the story I wondered who exactly transformed whom in this romance. Mick's passion for life and seductive personality have as much of an influence on plain, naive, snobbish Edwina, as Edwina's vocal exercises have on Mick. It's a mutual transformation.

Why not an A then? Well there's the ending and a fairy tale aspect introduced into the story that well... I don't want to spoil for those who have not read this book yet. But, although this segment of the story made it all work out beautifully for Edwina and Mick and gave them both a wonderful happy ever after, in a way it was kind of a let down for me. I was hoping for that section of it to be just as different as the rest of the story and characters, and it turned out to be predictable. Regardless, I enjoyed Mick and Edwina's journey so much that by the end I was quite happy with their story. Tra la la...

Favorite scenes: The opening scene. The plant song scenes. The leg scene in the library. All the scenes where Mick's mustache is featured! Edwina's dancing scene. :)

The Proposition by Judith Ivory. Why did I wait so long to read it? It's a wonderful romance with memorable characters and moments, beautiful writing and for me it's a definite keeper.

Category Romance: Historical Romance
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Avon/December 8, 1999 (Digital edition available)
Grade: B+

Visit Judith Ivory here.