Chopsticks

Jun. 27th, 2012 02:35 pm
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ChopsticksChopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral.
This is a story told mostly in pictures which is curiously shelved as a regular novel rather than a graphic novel. That’s maybe because it’s told in photographs rather than drawings, though drawings and paintings that the characters make also show up. There are also programs, instant message conversations, homemade mix albums, and Youtube links (which I didn’t have time to look at), with just a touch of actual spoken dialogue. (If you buy it as an iPad app instead of a print book, the links are live and let you click right through.) In that way, it’s slick and modern and cutting edge of fiction, kind of. The story, though, is a twist on the age-old story of lovers whose families don’t approve. Glory is a 16 year old piano prodigy, famous for improvising mixes of classical pieces and modern rock on the stage. She is known, puzzlingly, as the “Brecht of the Piano” and has her first world tour lined up. But somehow, despite her father’s strict practice schedule, she finds time to fall in love with the boy next door, a new immigrant from Argentina called Francisco at home and Frank for Anglos. He’s an aspiring artist, but failing at school, mostly because he doesn’t care enough about America to put in the effort. With Glory, though, he is all sweetness and consideration. Glory’s father, however, sees nothing but a bum and tries to sever contact between Glory and Frank. The separation leads to madness – the less contact Glory is allowed, the less she can think about anything else. This directly impacts her on the stage, as she starts playing nothing but variations on “Chopsticks”. The tour is cancelled; she is sent to the Golden Hands Rest Home for Young Prodigies. The book begins with the ending: Glory has gone missing from the home, and no one knows where she is. It looked to me like she found a way to rejoin Frank, now 18 and able to return to Argentina. However, the back cover implies ambiguity and a potentially untrustworthy narrator. I’m not sure if that’s the authors being hopeful or me not having the patience to figure out puzzles, reading as I do in my chronically sleep-deprived state. I’d be happy to hear thoughts from anyone else who’s read this; otherwise, it’s an interesting scrapbook-style book that lets the reader put the story together.
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book coverHow to Knit a Heart Back Home by Rachael Herron. This is the second book in the Cypress Hollow Yarn series of knitting romances, after How to Knit a Love Song. This second entry worked much better for me on the romance level, and it was funny, to boot.

Lucy in her thirties and still not able to find a man able to match up to her memories of Owen, the bad boy she tutored in high school and who kissed her just once. Now, she owns the Book Spire bookstore, which she inherited from her grandmother, in a former chapel in Cypress Hollow. She’s also a member of the volunteer fire department. As the story begins, a car crashes into a pole outside Lucy’s brother’s bar, where she’s knitting and drinking with her best friend. She runs out and rescues the woman from the flaming car with the help of a man who’d just showed up. The woman is Abby from the first book, now pregnant with her second. The man, of course, turns out to be Owen. He’s back from the big city, forcibly retired from being a cop by an injury and come home to take care of his aging mother with Alzheimer’s. Owen comes over to her shop the next day, with boxes of ancient books that he’s hoping to sell her for the used-book side of her business. Once again, there are major sparks – but can they get past the obstacles in their way, including their pasts and Owen’s old bad boy reputation? Their journey towards romance is also a journey towards personal growth for both of them, and not just the accepting the need to love and be loved kind of personal growth. While there’s still a lot of physical attraction, Lucy and Owen seem to care more about each others’ eyes and smell than the shape of their rear ends, which also works better for me.

There are some great supporting characters here, too, mostly on Lucy’s side – her best friend, Molly, a daring Chinese medical interpreter and conquest-a-week type; her mother, Toots, an artist and free spirit just starting up a sex toys business to Lucy’s extreme embarrassment; the too-beautiful high school classmate who owns the nearby bakery; and the trio of old folks who nearly live in the book store. These side characters make the story both funnier and a spicier than it would be on its own, and might keep it from being appreciated it by more conservative readers. Lucy is of course a dedicated knitter. The yarny love in this book comes from her quest to recreate the worn-out hand knit yellow sweater her grandmother made that she always wears at the bookstore (pattern included) and (spoiler alert!) the cache of unpublished papers from (fictional) knitting guru Eliza Carpenter that Lucy finds in the boxes Owen gives her. This was an entirely satisfying romance on both the relationship and the knitting sides. Keep it up, Ms. Herron!
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Recently (and I don’t remember where) I read about what kinds of men are attractive to straight women. I think it talked about the reverse as well, but what I remember best is that while men seem to like women more intelligent than older stereotypes would have, women still pretty much go for big strong alpha males. Cowboys and Navy SEALs and that ilk. Neither of these types have ever done much for me, though I will admit a weakness for men in kilts. But this book is a romance featuring yarn and a very good-looking cowboy. I read about it on the Knitty blog, and had to get it through inter-library loan. Because of the yarn, not the cowboy.

book coverHow to Knit a Love Song by Rachael HerrickThis is a classical romance – meaning focus on the couple and the progress of their romance more than any other aspect of the plot. It features Plot Variation B, where the couple starts out hating each other as people, fighting a strong physical attraction. Abby, our heroine, is a young knitting designer of some renown. She was the protégé of Eliza C, an older knitting star, whose initials and advice quoted at the beginning of each chapter make it clear to those familiar with the knitting world that she is modeled on the incomparable Elizabeth Zimmerman, or EZ, all of whose works are still popular and in print decades after they were first published. Eliza has recently passed away, however, leaving to Abby the small cottage on her ranch, and to her nephew Cade, the current occupant, the house and surrounding land. Cade is furious at having the property split up, after his years of work making the ranch profitable. He’s especially furious because the cottage is uninhabitable, in poor repair and stuffed full of boxes, so that Abby has to stay in the house with him. Abby is fleeing a scary, stalking ex and is determined to make a fresh start here, no matter how unfriendly Cade is. There was just slightly too much description of the hotness of Abby’s figure from Cade’s point of view for my taste, but this was still satisfying overall on both the romance and the fiber-love aspects.
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book coverThe Iron Duke by Meljean BrooksThis is going further into my exploration of the steampunk genre. Once again, we are in quasi-Victorian England. However, no Queen Victoria, but a young king. England (and the rest of Europe) was, some time ago, taken over by the Mongol Horde, who used radio-controlled nanoagents to control the population. England is now free, however, due to the actions of former pirate and now Duke Rhys Trahaern. In the present time, the nanoagents are necessary for survival, as they clean the pollutants from the lungs in the heavily coal-operated country. Society is now divided into “buggers” and “bounders” – those with nanoagents and those who fled during the occupation and returned afterwards, sans nanoagents. Once again, my explanation might make it seem as if there is no action, but anything but. Our heroine, Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth, is in a somewhat precarious position as the daughter of nobility, but obviously born of a Horde-induced Frenzy, and thus subject to open hostility in the streets. As the story opens, she is called away from a ball to investigate a frozen body that has landed seemingly from nowhere on the front steps of Duke Trahaern. There is of course instant attraction followed quite some time later by Hawt Sex and novel description of steampunk-style personal pleasure devices. There is action and adventure involving chasing down airships and escaping from zombies. There is political intrigue and some reflection on how mores and the roles of women would be changed by generations growing up under the Horde Occupation. It is a darker steampunk world than usual – certainly lacking the lightheartedness of Soulless - but still absorbing, with enough action to satisfy those frustrated by pure romance and enough romance for those looking for that.

Crossposted to http://sapphireone.livejournal.com and http://library-mama.dreamwidth.org .

Steamed

May. 19th, 2010 10:40 am
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book coverSteamed by Katie MacAlister Jack is a computer-ish engineer in the modern era, at work a bit tired from going to a concert by the steampunk* band Airship Pirates the night before. His sister Hallie drops by to inform him that she’s auctioned off a date with him and manages to do something very bad with the materials in his lab. Shortly thereafter, Captain Octavia Pye is quite shocked when her first mate reports two apparently unconscious people in the hold of her airship. Naturally, there is instant attraction between Jack and Captain Pye. There is shock on her part and on that of her crew that he is wearing a shirt that proclaims him to be a pirate. There is disappointment on the part of Jack that, despite the beautifully tailored uniform, Captain Pye insists on wearing her corset underneath her blouse. There are a good number of explosions, chases and escapes relating to Octavia’s secret involvement in an organization trying to overthrow the Empire, all of which is somewhat trying to Jack’s Quaker beliefs. The point of view alternates between Jack and Octavia, Jack speaking in rather foul-mouthed modern vernacular and Octavia in formal Victorian-era language. This is a humorous and light, yet steamy romance, suitable for fans of steam of both the romantic and, um, punk variety.

*But why is it called steampunk? I have read a number of books now that could be classified as steampunk – Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn and Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom series come to mind – but while the steam-operated machinery is obvious, I don’t see anything to make it punk in any way resembling that of, say, cyberpunk.

Beauvallet

May. 5th, 2010 10:56 am
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book coverBeauvallet by Georgette Heyer Heyer has the reputation of being the mistress of romance, perhaps even the mother of the modern romance novel. I must confess that I’d not read anything of hers before now. This is quite different from the modern romance. The modern romance (as I alluded to in my last post about the genre) has very strict rules regarding the characters, the plot outline, and the ending. The point of the modern romance book is building a strong relationship, with setbacks and romantic interludes at regular points along the way. I would say that Heyer breaks nearly all of the rules, except that it’s more likely that they just hadn’t been articulated yet. It is a journey between two people who find themselves highly attracted to each other in the beginning. There is a happy ending. But the middle is quite different, and there are no love scenes.

So much for what isn’t there, and on to the book itself. The book opens with a sea battle between a Spanish merchant ship and an (in)famous English privateer. The Spanish captain has deliberately antagonized the privateer, Beauvallet, in hopes of impressing the beautiful and single lady whom he is carrying from the colonies to Spain, with her ailing father. Naturally, he fails. Nicholas Beauvallet meets the lady, Dominica Rada y Sylva. There are instant sparks which they both know to be inappropriate (so far following the Basic Plot). Beauvallet sets the rest of the Spanish crew of on a boat to the nearest island, but vows to carry Dominica and her party to Spain, despite the risk to his life. On the journey, they fall more deeply in love. Nicholas says that he will journey back to the heart of Spain to win her hand; Dominica says that he shouldn’t risk his life to do so, but that if he does get there, she will come back to England with him. All of this takes place at the beginning of the book. Then, Nicholas goes back to England to get permission from the Queen to leave the country again. The rest of the book is his Daring Adventure – alone but for his manservant – to make his way into Spain to kidnap the willing Dominica. Matters there have gotten more complicated as well. Dominica’s father has died, leaving her in the care of her noble but impoverished aunt. This lady plan for gaining Dominica’s fortune for her own use is to have Dominica marry her simpering son. The aunt is a delightful villain, lazy and agreeable. When Dominica tells her, for example, that she cannot marry the son because she does not love him, her aunt tells her that marriage will give her the freedom to take all the lovers she wants, but Dominica must marry her son. The whole story is told in beautifully flowery and authentic-sounding language, as like to what I’ve seen less skilled authors try as real fragrant roses are to plastic. On the whole, this is much more like The Princess Bride, with all the swashbuckling but a somewhat toned-down sense of humor than your typical romance book. Dominica manages to be high-spirited while retaining behavior believable to the time period, a very fine line that Heyer walks brilliantly. There manages to be a lot of romantic tension with nothing more than the occasional kiss exchanged, but this is almost more adventure than romance and enjoyable by fans of both genres.
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From time to time, when I’m feeling in need of particularly light and comforting reading, I will pick up a romance book. I don’t often review them here, as I’m not sure how many of my readers are interested in romance. I have a theory that the reason that romance tends to be looked down on has more to do with it being a female-only genre and less to do with it having formulaic plots. Yes, romances follow a formula. So do mysteries, thrillers and sonnets, and none of these forms are subjected to the scorn that romance is.

But I’ve also had mixed success with reading romances. Sometimes they are beautiful or funny, with a romance that feels believable no matter that the characters all turn out to be nobility in disguise. Sometimes they are silly, with hackneyed language, blatant ignorance of the historical periods they’re trying to portray, and truly impossible things happen physically or socially.

And sometimes they are offensive. “Ravish” is a synonym for rape. I don’t find it the least bit romantic to read that someone was ravished in any way. Nor do I like the common use of words like “own” and “possess” and “take” when it is always the woman being owned, taken and possessed, never reversed or mutual. Also, it’s very nice if the author sets up her heroine as being intelligent and verbal. But if all this is forgotten as soon as she’s trying to find the warm gooey heart that she knows is hidden in her man somewhere, if what she ends up needing to do is put on some more revealing clothing and use her wiles and gentle feminine goodness to rub the edges off that harsh male exterior – then we have not really made any progress in the last 150 years. I’m talking to you, Lisa Kleypas, and I don’t care if you are a best-selling author. I’m writing your name down here so I remember to look for someone else the next time.

How about you, gentle readers? Do you ever read romances? Do you want to see them reviewed here? Do you notice ownership or rape language in them, and if so, have you found authors who don’t use it? I want to hear from you!
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OK... this is a really happy day for me, except for the part where LJ is suddenly reading my html as plain text.  Why won't the pretty book cover show up?  [EDIT 11/9 - I finally got the picture to work.]
book coverCasting Spells by Barbara Bretton Here we have a delicious book for Library Mama – a romance set in a knitting shop in a magical town.  Chloe Hobbs is the 30-year-old orphaned daughter of a sorceress.  Unfortunately, she shows no signs of any magical powers herself.  A protective spell set by her ancestress keeps everyone in the town safe from accidents and from outsiders noticing things like no one in the town dying.  But the spell is obviously weakening – a woman who walks briefly into Chloe’s yarn shop is found drowned, possibly murdered, later that night.  Chloe needs to get her powers fast, and start reproducing to ensure that the Hobbs line continues.  Even before she gets her powers, she has to make sure that the police officer the county has sent in to investigate the death doesn’t find out too much – like that the people who pulled her body out of the water are werewolves.  Business at Sticks and Strings is booming, as the internet buzz is building for the yarn store where you always get gauge and the technique you couldn’t get at home always works.  While the bestseller The Friday Night Knitting Club assumed no knowledge of knitting, this book is written for knitters.  Instead of beginner info, it’s filled with tips on lace and sock knitting and sprinkled with references to Koigu and Cascade 220.  A magical never-empty basket of roving features prominently as well.  But back to the police officer – Luke MacKenzie sticks out like a sore thumb with the only Biblical first name in a book filled with mostly ancient pagan names.  Naturally, since it would probably strengthen the power of the protective spell for Chloe to fall in love with a sorcerer or a faery, she falls right for the one man who shouldn’t know anything about the magic.  It’s a delicious, enthralling yarn. 
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book coverStrangers in Paradise by Terry Moore Love, friendship and the mob mix in surprising and fascinating ways in this classic graphic novel. Katchoo and Francine are roommates. Francine is broken-hearted when her boyfriend leaves her after she refuses to sleep with him. Katchoo exacts a fearsome revenge on him, but refuses to tell Francine she’s in love with her. Meanwhile, Katchoo meets a persistent young man, David, at an art gallery. Even though she refuses the romantic relationship he wants, they develop a strong friendship. One might even go so far as to call it a love triangle. And then it turns out that Katchoo has old connections with the mob, and the mob is no longer willing to let them stay in the past. (I have to give a shout-out to my old library school friend Erica of Librarian Avengers, as I just realized after reading this book that her fabulous “Look it up” image comes from this book. Small revelations… moving right along here…) With realistic yet expressive illustrations and a new twist with every turn of the page, this is one to get lost in.
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The Masque of the Black Tulip by Lauren Willig Eloise is a Harvard graduate student, writing her dissertation on English spies in France after the Revolution. She's in England, worming her way into old family archives to find the truth behind spies who, unlike the Scarlet Pimpernel, were never unmasked during their lifetime. Her modern-day dilemmas are the frame for the story of the spies she's researching. In this second book of the series, our spies are Lady Henrietta Selwick and Lord Miles Dorrington. They are under great suspicion from France, as they are the little sister and best friend of Lord Richard Selwick, formerly the Purple Gentian. Either one of them could be or could lead the French to the Pink Carnation, the subject of the first book. In fact, the Pink Carnation is trying to get word to them that France has unleashed its deadliest assassin, the Black Tulip, on England. Both Hen and Miles are eager to help the Pink Carnation discover the identity of the Black Tulip. Miles is struggling with the realization that Henrietta is prettier than ever – and strictly off limits. It is equal parts intrigue and romance, with each cropping up at inconvenient moments for the other. The author, herself a Harvard graduate student, pays attention to historical accuracy, with a note at the back to explain where and why she changed things. This is delicious fun.
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Key of Light by Nora Roberts
Key of Knowledge by Nora Roberts
Key of Valor by Nora Roberts I picked this trilogy by the “best-selling women’s author of all time” because it claimed to be based on Celtic mythology and because the second book’s heroine is a librarian. These are romance-adventure books, where the adventure is deftly woven in with the traditional romance structure. The connection to Celtic mythology is, well, a little hazy. They mention some verifiable Celtic names when they’re doing research, but the gods of this book were not based on any actual gods, living or dead. That aside, here’s the basic notion: Three women who’ve never met before but have mysteriously all lost or nearly lost their jobs are invited to a fancy party at the big, possibly haunted house on the hill just outside of town. There they are treated fabulously and told a story of an old Celtic god-king who fell in love with a mortal woman. That was permissible, but taking her back behind the Curtain of Dreams with him to be his queen was not. In revenge, the king’s enemy, Kane, took the souls of his three teen daughters and locked them in a box with three locks. The keys were to be hidden in the mortal world. In every generation, three mortal women with the faces of the three sisters would be given the opportunity to find the keys. If they succeeded, the Box of Souls would be unlocked and the sisters released from their deathless sleep. If not, Kane would have proven that mortals really are worthless.

Malory, an art dealer, searches for the first key in Key of Light. They really mean Key of Beauty, but I guess that didn’t make for such a good book title. Dana, a tall and foulmouthed librarian, searches for the second key in Key of Knowledge, while Zoe, a hairdresser and single mother, searches for the Key of Valor. You might be wondering where the romance and women’s fiction comes into all of this. Wonder no more: finding each key involves each woman acknowledging a) that she is really good at what she does and b) that she can safely let into her life the handsome, wealthy and devoted man who is wooing her. (It’s romance, so we must allow the people to have problems even if they are all heart-stoppingly gorgeous and will have only temporary financial difficulties.) They all have different reasons for feeling they need to be single, of course, so completing the quest involves Personal Growth.

Roberts does a fine job of upping the stakes of the quest in each book, making each successive heroine work harder and be in more danger than the one before. All the characters appear in all of the books. The downside is that you know from book one which girl will end up with which guy, but on the plus side, the couple from book one isn’t just dropped after their book. Finally, there’s a strong element of women pulling together, as the three women are best friends almost immediately (but I’d have to say, if you believe the quest thing, best friends is pretty logical), working together not just on the quest but also helping with the romantic and job issues. I’d quibble with facials and toenail-painting as the most important method of female bonding, and I dislike the occasional use of words like “plunder” and “ravish” for consensual sexual activity. But all in all, this trilogy made for addictive reading.
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Remember when I wrote about A Kiss of Fate a while back and said it reminded me of a good book? This one is a really good book, and that’s saying a lot considering a premise that seemed pretty silly on the back cover.

Stolen Magic by M.J. Putney. Narrated by Simon Prebble. Simon Falconer (best friend to our hero from the previous book) is the magical law enforcer for the Guardians. When he tries to arrest the Lord Drayton, Drayton turns Simon into a unicorn. It’s a mythical beast even then, but Drayton wants to slay him by ritual magic so that he can take the horn to add to his personal power. Simon escapes, but is recaptured with the unwitting help of the ugly Mad Meggie, Drayton’s ward. They manage to escape again together, somewhat injured. When their blood mixes, Simon turns back into himself. Simon is able to find and release the spells on Meg, which kept her stupid, ugly, and unaware of her great magical power, which Drayton was drawing on to supplement his own meager strength. Naturally, this being a romance, they are powerfully attracted to each other. But Simon is still turning back into a unicorn pretty easily, and only Meg can turn him back – the going theory being it’s because she’s still a virgin. Also, Simon was only able to knot off, not cut, the energy cord tying Meg to Drayton, so she’s still in danger. The rest of the Guardian Council is finding Simon’s story about Drayton unconvincing, leaving him on the loose. He’s plotting shadowy evil things, still trying to get Meg and Simon back, and Meg thinks he has more energy slaves.

While the sexual tension stays high through the book, the plot and the subplot even have just as much. I admit that the references to the sweet purity and innocence of virginity make me a little itchy, especially coupled with “country girls think it’s natural, like the animals.” But the story kept me hooked, especially narrated by Simon Prebble’s slightly rough British accent. The romantic bones are better covered than in the last story, too, making this a good choice for those reading more for the magic than the romance.
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Well, the cover sure cued me in even if the title hadn’t… I picked up this book not for a romance, but because the series was in a short list in Booklist called, “Heroines Who Kick Butt.” And how could I resist that?

A Kiss of Fate by Mary Jo Putney Great Britain, early 18th century. Gwynne Owens is a young member of the secret magical group called the Guardians, who use their magic to preserve the peace as much as possible. She herself doesn’t have any sign of power, but is a librarian and a serious student of Guardian lore. When the action begins to heat up, she is a young and wealthy widow, living with her much older Guardian sister-in-law. Then she meets Duncan Macrae, a powerful Scottish weather mage. Their attraction is both powerful and frightening to Gwynne (nothing like a few lightening bolts to heat things up), and an early kiss leaves her with vivid visions of violent destruction. She wants to run the other way as fast as she can, but the Guardian Council senses that she will be crucial to balancing Duncan’s power during the gathering uprising in Scotland. After a hasty wedding, the pair is off on a short wedding tour on the way to the Macrae manor in the lowlands of Scotland. And now Gwynne’s power is awakened – truly high levels of seduction, charm, and persuasiveness, with some pretty good future reading to boot. Just quiet female powers, really, she thinks – will they be enough to keep Duncan from adding his power to the uprising and causing the rivers of blood in her visions? Though the Guardian premise seems promising to me, magic in Scotland during the ‘45 says Outlander to me. That series really sets the bar as far as combining adventure, romance and magic, even getting kudos for appealing to both genders, and this one can’t quite meet it. Kiss of Fate a fine book, a little heavier on the romance than the adventure, and a lot more sex than your average romance, due to the heroine’s special powers. It still has a scholarly and adventurous seductress, and a kilt-wearing man whose kisses cause storms. If these are up your alley, give it a try.
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This is a pre-pub book, coming out in October, which one of my colleagues brought back from BEA.

Demon's KissDemon's Kiss by Eve Silver Clea Masters always thought her parents died in a car accident twenty years ago. She doesn’t know why she survived. Ciarran D’Arbois, a sorcerer sworn to protect the boundary between the human and demon worlds, remembers the dying eight-year-old who managed to draw on his power to heal herself very well. The crack in the boundary she opened up left him with a demon permanently struggling to escape its prison in his left hand. He just didn’t know she would be so irresistible 20 years later, and still able to siphon of his power without knowing it. But now, someone has betrayed the Compact of Sorcerers. Someone seems to think that Clea is the key destroying the boundary and letting demons have free reign on earth. Meanwhile, Clea and Ciarran can’t keep their hands off each other. Will this dangerous attraction prove to be their salvation or their downfall? OK, so there were some parts of this that made me snort – our sorcerer has an evil hand, for goodness’ sake, and it seems to draw a bit uncomfortably on Renaissance thinking about sex to have our heroine just leach power from our hero. However, the plot is fun, our heroine smart and capable, the sex steamy, and the author an anatomist who does not feel the need to use silly phrases like “woman cleft”. If you want some hot lovin’ with actual sparks, this is a good choice.
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Scrambled Eggs at Midnight
Scrambled Eggs at Midnight by Brad Barkley and Heather Hepler
Cal (short for Calliope) has been traveling with her mother for several years now. Her mother is a professional wench, traveling to Renaissance fairs across the country. Eliott’s father is a born-again Christian whose latest venture is running a “Jesus Wants You to Be Thin” camp. This smart and tender romance features two teens who aren’t buying their parents’ answers to life or love, as they move away from letting their parents define who they are.
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This book is probably of limited interest to my readership (assuming I know my readership.) But – just so you know what took so very much of my reading time the past several weeks, here you go:

Homeschooling: a Patchwork of Days by Nancy Lande This book contains essays from 30 different homeschooling families, detailing one day in their lives. Usually, it’s also accompanied by some of their homeschooling and education theories, and a follow-up a year later. Read more... )

While interesting, the homeschool book took a very long time to go through, and I felt in need of some extra light reading to follow. This one, passed on by a friend, has already been promised to two others wanting to read it. Maybe I should print out a Book Crossing tag for it.

The Very Virile Viking by Sandra Hill The year is 1000. Magnus Ericsson is a simple Viking man who likes plowing both fields and, um, women. He’s not ashamed of either of those, but with 11 living children, he’s become a laughingstock. He decides to take his nine youngest children and head for the New World, where his two older brothers had gotten lost years earlier. Going to a land without women and taking a vow of chastity should keep him from fathering any more children. But while sailing through a fog, he sees a vision of an old woman with prayer beads, and ends up in a very strange place called Holly Wood. The first woman he meets is, alas, beautiful and wearing clothing a lot skimpier than Vikings are used to. The last thing Angela needs in her life is another creep like her ex-husband, but Magnus might just have a good heart buried under all that macho bluster. And the Blue Dragon, her family’s struggling vineyard is certainly in need of help – in fact, her grandmother had been praying for a man for Angela and lots of children. There might be a bit too much praise for Wal-Mart and order-in pizza, but the romance is sizzling and the story highly amusing.

Overdue

Sep. 12th, 2006 08:58 pm
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Two books I borrowed from a good friend a year ago and just now got to. Major blushes here...

The Green Path by Starhawk Why on earth didn’t this grab me the first time I tried it? Maybe the introduction is a little dry, but this time around, I was hooked. Starhawk’s passionate love for the earth is a bright flame in this book that manages to integrate science, daily life, spirituality and political activism. Aimed at Wiccans, Starhawk chides witches for claiming to worship the Earth without actually knowing Her. Then follows an element-by-element look at the Earth with calls for direct observation, meditation exercises, practical ways to help the earth, and yeah, ways to get involved politically. She covers Air, Water, Fire/Energy and Earth, as well as Patterns and the Center. I’m not even Pagan, but I found this book deeply moving and profoundly applicable. Where else could you find reflections on applying the physical movement of wind to your day-to-day personal relationships together with thoughts on permaculture and reducing energy usage? Read this book. You won’t regret it.

Magic in the Wind by Christine Feehan This is a lovely little paranormal romance – some magic mixed into a world which is more like an action movie than regular real life, a bunch of romance and some s3x. The feminist in me got frustrated at the otherwise powerful and competent female lead feeling “branded” and “possessed” during every s3x scene – man must assert superiority in bed, if nowhere else. Sigh. But the basic premise – a family of seven magical sisters, the oldest of whom falls in love with the Man with a Dark Past, literally followed by death – is fun.
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As a librarian, I am bound to respect all genres and to tell you that I will help you find whatever book it is that you want to read next. As a gift-giver, however, romance is a challenge: most romances are designed to be read only once, while I like to give books that can be enjoyed again and again. So, in choosing one for the previously mentioned Oldest Niece, we cheated, and gave her our favorite Sarah Zettel. It’s published by Harlequin, which makes it a romance, but there’s a whole lot going on outside of the romance than is typical for romances, and she doesn’t really follow the strict romance formula.

For Camelot’s Honor by Sarah Zettel This second book in Zettel’s Camelot series starts off a whole lot darker than the last one, as we begin with Elen being called off to Faerie and coming back to find that her home has been attacked and much of her family slaughtered. Her family holding is the entry point to Wales, attacked because they didn’t refuse to listen to Arthur’s ambassadors. As she rides off to Caerlyon to find help, she meets with a disguised Morgaine. Morgaine offers Elen power and training if she will follow her. As punishment for her refusal, Elen’s heart is put into a falcon, and both she and the falcon are given to Urien, the very man who slaughtered her family. Although she must obey whoever owns the falcon, Elen manages to send a dream to Merlin, asking for help. Geraint, who was one of the ambassadors, rides off with his brother Agravain to rescue her… and this is only the very beginning of the story.

Read more... )

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall This is the children’s book that I wanted to be able to give someone for Christmas, but alas! All of the nieces and nephews are now too old for this sterling piece of children’s literature. Four girls, Rosalind, Skye, Jane and Batty rent a cottage for a summer vacation with their widowed father and their dog, Hound. The cottage turns out to be on the grounds of a large mansion. The girls befriend both the teenaged gardener and eleven-year-boy whose mother owns the place. The mother, however, likes neither children nor dogs, so that all sorts of adventures occur as the children try to stay out of her way. The characters, from responsible Rosalind to the four-year-old Batty, who wears her fairy wings at all times, are all distinct and delightful. Unlike the many children’s books today that deal with serious and depressing issues, the perils of our heroines are usually resolved by the end of the chapter. I heard the author on NPR, who said that she wanted to provide the children of today the kind of refuge she sought from the real problems she dealt with as a child. This, my friends, is realistic yet escapist children’s fare at its best.
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You may wonder at my long silence, or you may think that I have been too busy with holiday preparations and a baby to read of late. And while I have indeed been busy, I have yet been diligent in seeking out yummy books for my friends and myself. My latest effort, as seen below, was well over 900 pages and thus took me nearly the entire three-week lending period to read.

A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon The saga of Jamie and Claire Fraser continues with this sixth book. As the story picks up, Jamie and Claire are living in their house on Fraser's Ridge in North Carolina, with their daughter Brianna, her husband Roger, and their son Jemmie. They are all transplants, Jamie from the Highlands and Claire, Brianna and Roger from the twentieth century. The year is now 1773, and the Revolutionary War is brewing. In the back of their minds, too, is the newspaper clipping that sent Brianna back, saying that Claire and Jamie Fraser were killed when their house burned down. Claire and Jamie have always had a powerful romantic relationship, and in this book, Brianna and Roger's marriage also comes into its own. Gabaldon manages to capture amazingly well the small details of eighteenth century life and the human relationships. The war comes into being in the small chaos and conflicts of local politics, the outcome known for certain only by our heroes. They are not permitted to watch from the sidelines, but suffer from multiple kidnappings, murders and robberies – a genuine roller-coaster ride before their invention. Since the genre-spanning series was first published as a romance because that was the best-selling of all possible genres, Gabaldon keeps romance clichés firmly in mind – at one point the kidnapped Brianna thinks that if this were a romance novel, she would lower herself out of the window with the sheet, except that the window is barred and they didn't leave her a sheet.

If you haven't read any Gabaldon yet, I'd recommend starting with the first in the series, Outlander. And don't be scared by the length of the books or the series – we're mostly following our characters and the progression of history here, not the progress of the One True Ring, so if you just want a taste, you can stop after the first one. On the other hand, since becoming a librarian, I've become the queen of reading only the first book of popular series, and I've read the whole series voraciously. If you've been following the series, too, you won't want to miss this one.

Romance! Action! Intrigue! Sex! Humor! Men in kilts! What are you waiting for?

And a brief mention of three fun books for children, which I picked up based on starred reviews in Booklist.

Once Upon a Time, the End: Asleep in 60 Seconds by Geoffrey Kloske. Illustrated by Barry Britt Once upon a time, a tired father was reading to his child, who wouldn't go to sleep without "one more story". So as time went on, the father started cutting bits out of the stories to make them shorter, so his child would go to sleep and he could go to bed himself. Goldilocks decides that her bed is more comfortable after all, Sleeping Beauty wakes up refreshed, and the fallen Goliath looks like he's sleeping. This one made all the staff in the break room giggle when I read bits of it aloud.

Winter Friends by Mary Quattlebaum. Illustrated by Hiroe Nakata This one (and the last one) In this series of linked poems, we follow a little girl on her journey through a snowy day trying to find the owner of a lost mitten. I'm not usually much for poetry, but the imagery here is just delightful – dawn comes up in a pink bathrobe and striped pajamas, and Mama's whistle is "a kiss that sings". Even Mr. Froggie Pants enjoyed the sound play of the words. The luminous watercolors tie the story together beautifully.

Three French Hens by Margie Palatini. Illustrated by Richard Egielski Three French hens are sent as a Christmas gift from a cat to her lover Phillippe Reynard. But the package goes astray; they find themselves in New York and track down one Phil Fox. He's alone and hungry and ready to dine on the three fat chickens on his doorstep – until they give him a Queer Eye-style makeover. Since dinner is now impossible, he invites them to join his Christmas celebration, only to find out that their holiday is Hannukah.
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A last “normal person” book before I embark on a slew of parenting titles… a book quite similar to that naughty little chocolate cake with the melted center that I had at the restaurant with my mother-in-law on Sunday.

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks This one came out as a movie this summer, though I only know this because we have a small poster hanging in the library. Nicholas Sparks is well known for writing feel-good novels, and this is indeed one. The story centers around Noah Calhoun and Allie Nelson. They fell in love as teenagers over the summer, but split up over objections from Allie’s upper-class family. Fourteen years later, Allie is engaged to a suitable man from her own class – will she stay with him, or go back to her first love, still waiting for her? And, in the frame story (OK, this answers the last question), 50 years later, Allie has Alzheimer’s, and Noah is reading her the story of their relationship. Will she remember him? It’s not long or deep, and if you try to talk about it too much, you might start recognizing brand names on the plot devices. But, if you just want a book to make you feel warm and gushy inside, this is a great one to go with. I listened to it on CD, and the slightly gravelly voice of the narrator was just perfect for it. It’s the same narrator who did American Gods, which did throw me for a bit, as Noah and Shadow are quite different characters. But still, highly enjoyable.

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