"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened
and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you
and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse,
and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."
Ernest Hemingway

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Read Harder Challenge (Part Eight)

This week, I'm just barely eking by with my Read Harder Challenge.  After reading these last books, I have officially finished my list:
  1. Read a book that is set in the Middle East
  2. Read a nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes
  3. Read a food memoir
Little, Brown and Co.
To start off, I finally finished reading I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai.  It only took my 6 months, but I finished it and, honestly, I'm glad I did.  It's a fascinating story that's both heartbreaking and incredibly informative, offering insight into the various cultures and relations of Afghanistan.  Although her story is grim, it's simultaneously uplifting.  Personally, I enjoyed reading about her and her father's endeavors to bring education to local children--and particularly to the young women of the community.

Malala is a skilled narrator.  She's bright, she's hopeful, she's very detailed and she's very intelligent.  Although her book is a translation, which is sometimes apparent, I felt like I could read and relate to her feelings.  She does a fine job of connecting to her readers, detailing her thoughts and feelings--and making her voice heard.  She makes a compelling argument for education, for giving women equal education opportunities.  Truthfully, you can see why Malala Yousafzai is a Nobel Prize Laureate.

I also had the opportunity to read a short (and rather famous) essay by Virginia Woolf:  A Room of One's Own.  As an avid reader and, ahem, English major in college, you would think I'd have taken the opportunity to read A Room of One's Own, but, until this year, I had yet to make more than a cursory acquaintance with Woolf's work.  Unfortunately, I wasn't enamored by her essay.

Image result
Harcourt Inc.
A Room of One's Own makes some very valid points.  It's important to read and, after reading it, it's something that all young women should have a chance to read at least once in their life.  However, I had a hard time reading Woolf's essay, because I just couldn't seem to focus on one thing before it jumped to another.  For instance, in the first few pages when Woolf described Oxbridge and her experiences at the esteemed university, I thought it took quite a long time to get to the point--and, confidentially, I found myself growing a little bored as I waited for her to come to a conclusion.  Not that her writing is bad, mind you; I just struggled to stay committed given her style of writing, so I'm not sure if that's so much her failing as my own.

The point is, I finished reading A Room of One's Own and I have a new appreciation for Woolf.  She's a talented writer, but, personally, I'm not so sure she's the writer for me.  I appreciate her work and I appreciate the significance of her essay, but I don't think she's the one and only feminist writer for me.

Last but not least, I read Julie and Julia by Julie Powell.  It's riotously funny, yet strangely poignant.  Oddly enough, it reminds me of Jenny Lawson and her memoir, Furiously Happy--yet just a tiny bit less chaotic.  Not by much, considering Julie Powell undertakes to make 524 different recipes, many of which take hours to prepare, in just one year in a crappy little apartment in Queens.  It's astonishing the things she (and her marriage) manages to survive, including:  biological clocks, frozen pipes, disastrous dinner parties, inane dead end secretarial jobs, break downs, Blanche days, and celebrity crushes.

Hatchette Books
It's really a pretty amusing book, especially if you decide to listen to it as read by the author (which I did); however, it's not quite the food memoir I expected.  In fact, Julie and Julia is more memoir than food.  Julie is hellbent on recreating all of Julia Child's recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol. 1 and, in her journey, she learns how to make a variety of dishes and confronts some of the most trying times of her life.  While it features a lot of cooking, Julie and Julia feels like it's more about the experiences of cooking and the results, specifically what happens to the author as she slogs through more than 500 French recipes, than the actual cooking, but I can't say I minded.

Julie and Julia is strangely heartwarming and incredibly amusing.  To me, it strikes just the right balance that makes it a memoir worth reading, especially if you have the chance to listen to the author tell her own story.  It makes it memorable.  However, I will note that while I was listening to the audiobook I discovered I borrowed the abridged version.  I don't know if the audiobook had the full text, but I do know I missed a few things that might otherwise have filled in details or fleshed out the characters involved.  It was my only disappointment in an otherwise wonderful book.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Beloved Poison

Pegasus Books
Beloved Poison
E.S. Thomson

The Summary
"Set in a crumbling 1850s London infirmary, a richly atmospheric Victorian crime novel where murder is the price to be paid for secrets kept.

"Ramshackle and crumbling, trapped in the past and resisting the future, St. Saviour's Infirmary awaits demolition.  Within its stinking wards and cramped corridors, the doctors bicker and backstab.  Ambition, jealousy, and loathing seethe beneath the veneer of professional courtesy.  Always an outsider, and with a secret of her own to hide, apothecary Jem Flockhart observes everything but says nothing.

"And then six tiny coffins are uncovered, inside each a handful of dried flowers and a bundle of mouldering rags.  When Jem comes across these strange relics hidden inside the infirmary's old chapel, her quest to understand their meaning prises open a long-forgotten past--with fatal consequences.

"In a trail that leads from the bloody world of the operating room and the dissecting table to the notorious squalor of Newgate Prison and the gallows, Jem's adversary proves to be both powerful and ruthless.  As St. Saviour's destruction draws near, the dead are unearthed from their graves while the living are forced to make impossible choices.  And murder is the price to be paid for secrets kept."

The Good
When I picked up Beloved Poison, I read the blurb on the back of the book written by Janet Ellis, author of The Butcher's Hook.  It said:
"Beloved Poison is a marvellous, vivid book with a thoughtful, engaging protagonist at its center--and a fascinating story to tell.  It's immaculately researched and breathtakingly dark.  Elain Thomson's descriptive powers are so great that I was surprised to see twenty-first century London rather than grimy, smelly St. Savior's around me when I--eventually--looked up from its pages."
I felt a familiar jolt of recognition that told me this would be a good book--nay, a great book.  And I was right.

Richly atmospheric, as the book jacket promises, Beloved Poison is a wonderfully descriptive novel that plumbs the depths of London's dark heart.  It sheds light on a horrifyingly brutal series of murders that will rock the denizens of St. Saviour's to their core, tearing back the veil on the social conditions of the poor and highlighting the grim realities of 19th century medical science.  Secrets, lies, and murder will abound.  It's all very horrible.

And yet I enjoyed it.  I enjoyed it very much.

Jem is one of the more intriguing characters I've read.  She's daughter to St. Saviour's apothecary, but she's been raised as his son--and no one, except a very few who may have their suspicions, knows of her identity.  She keeps her hair cut short, she walks and speaks as a man might, she wears clothes as a man would wear.  She's been given a startling taste of independence and, yet, she knows she would be condemned for her abnormal behavior.

Jem is a thoughtful, insightful narrator.  She's conflicted, she's intelligent, and she's unique for her ability to understand the minds of both women and men--as she has lived as both in her lifetime.  She's absolutely fascinating, and I was eager to learn more about her.  In my own way, I grew to love her and her story.  I couldn't wait to read more.

Although her investigation takes center stage, I found myself just as curious about her and her world as the identity of the killers.  Jem, like the coffins she discovers in the old chapel, is a puzzle.  She's complicated, yes, but I liked that Jem had so many layers to her character.  I liked that she was so continuously conflicted by her identity and her struggles as she straddled the world of both men and women.

As you read, you discover she must keep her gender a secret:  she hides behind her marvelously dark birthmark and a caustic wit, she masks any touch of femininity in her character, she learns to act as a man might and treat others as a man would.  She grapples daily with her own doubts and fears, facing the somber reality of Victorian social expectations and her unconventional upbringing.  She's often left wondering whether she's been ruined for her "unnatural" habits--or has she been given an unexpected taste of independence?

I loved it.  I loved the whole book.

The Bad
No complaints.

The Ugly
Although I loved this book, I did not love the violence or carnage or gore.  Or the sexual abuse and exploitation.  Or the callous disregard for human life.  Or, you know, the general uncleanliness practiced by medical professionals of the day.

Moreover, it's quite distressing to read about a man having his leg amputated without any anesthetic or hearing, in detail, about a necropsy. Or, and here's a familiar scene, watching a man inject himself with syphilis.  I remember witnessing something similar in The Anatomist's Apprentice by Tessa Harris and, you'd think, I'd be used to it by now.

But, no, it's no less jarring in Beloved Poison.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

God in Pink

Arsenal Pulp Press
God in Pink
Hasan Namir

The Summary
"A revelatory novel about being queer and Muslim, set in war-torn Iraq in 2003.  Ramy is a closeted university student whose parents have died, and who lives under the close scrutiny of his strict brother and sister-in-law.  They exert pressure on him to find a wife, leaving him anguished and struggling to find a balance between his sexuality, religion, and culture.  Desperate for counsel, he seeks the advice of Ammar, a sheikh at a local mosque, whose tolerance is challenged by the contradictions between Ramy's dilemma and the teachings of the Qur'an, leading him to question his own belief system.

"Alternating between quiet moments of beauty and raw depictions of violence, God in Pink poignantly captures the anguish and the fortitude of gay Muslims in Iraq."

The Good
God in Pink is an intriguing novel.  It's a powerful book full of tragedy, but similar moments of beauty.  It strikes a chord, I think, because it depicts a time of turmoil that I never saw or never remembered--and it isn't afraid to broach the subject of sexuality.  It takes on the hard subjects, it shows readers the violence that homosexuals faced in Iraq in 2003 and beyond.

It's one of those books that serves to kick you in the chest and leave you reeling.

The Bad
I did not like the ending of God in Pink.  I can't say I quite understood Ammar's change of heart, perhaps because I did not see the signs or, more notably, I did not understand the character from the very beginning; moreover, I was very disappointed with the fate of Ramy.  It kind of broke my heart that he couldn't be himself, that he couldn't fall in love with who he wanted--that he wasn't free to be who he wanted to be.

It broke my heart.

I understand why the story ended as it did, even if I didn't quite understand what happened to Ammar--what changed him in the first place that his true colors showed in the final chapters.  I understand why Ramy had to keep his feelings under wraps, but I wasn't pleased with it.  God in Pink is meant to make you think, to feel something powerful; however, it's also a tragic story with, in my opinion, a disappointing ending.

The Ugly
I struggled with this novel, because I was not comfortable with all the depictions of heinous violence and wanton savagery.  I understand that mindless cruelty, thoughtless barbarity is simply a fact; I understand that it happens, that it's not something you can ignore if you live on the planet Earth.  I know it exists, but it's still hard to read about terrible things happening to other people.

I didn't hate this novel, but I hated the cruelty and gratuitous violence.  It made me physically sick and, even though I was only a few pages from finishing, I had to put the book aside for a couple of days just to recuperate.

This is a magnificent book depicting life in war-torn Iraq for a gay Muslim man.  It's poignant and it's guaranteed to make an impact, but, at the same time, it will tear out your heart.  I recommend reading it with great caution, like I would for books like Native Son by Richard White, Beloved by Toni Morrison, or The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

Read it, but be prepared for acute emotional turmoil.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Bonus: Once Upon a Winter's Eve

Once Upon a Winter's Eve (spindle cove) by [Dare, Tessa]
Samhain Publishing Ltd.
Once Upon a Winter's Eve
Tessa Dare

The Summary
"Violet Winterbottom is a quiet girl.  She speaks six languages, but seldom raises her voice.  She endured bitter heartbreak in perfect silence.  The gentlemen aren't beating down her door.

"Until the night of the Spindle Cove Christmas ball, when a mysterious stranger crashes into the ballroom and collapses at Violet's feet.  His coarse attire and near-criminal good looks would put any sensible young lady on her guard.  He's wet, chilled, bleeding, and speaking in an unfamiliar tongue.

"Only Violet understands him.  And she knows he's not what he seems.

"She has one night to draw forth the secrets of this dangerously handsome rogue.  Is he a smuggler?  A fugitive?  An enemy spy?  She needs answers by sunrise, but her captive would rather seduce than confess.  To learn his secrets, Violet must reveal hers--and open herself to adventure, passion, and the unthinkable...love."

The Good
Violet is a rather clever heroine.  Intelligent, unexpectedly witty if painfully shy, she's full of surprises.  Granted, it seems like a stretch for her to go from the timid wallflower in the first chapter to an outgoing, vivacious young woman primed for a wonderous London season, but I actually enjoyed following her growth as a character.

I liked her, quite more than I anticipated.

The Bad
Another Spindle Cove story!

Not that that's a bad thing.  I confess, I'm kind of committed to the series now.  I'm curious to see what becomes of all the Spindle Cove ladies I've had the pleasure to meet and, after enjoying A Lady by Midnight and When a Scot Ties the Knot, I found I was rather eager to read more.  Once Upon a Winter's Eve, however, feels a little different.

Different in that it just seems to fall flat.

Oh, I liked Violet, but I didn't care much for the "Mysterious Stranger."  You find out his identity later, but, even then, I still wasn't impressed.  Mr. Dangerously Attractive is not what he seems (obviously) and, despite his rugged good looks and charm, he strikes me as being terribly foolish--I like the term "addled"--or incredibly unreliable.  He irritated me, like more than I expected and I found myself hoping Violet would simply send him packing.

Overall, I was frustrated by Once Upon a Winter's Eve rather than enchanted.  The story felt like utter hogwash, ridiculous and contrived; the dynamic between the characters felt all wrong, weak and flimsy, like paper; and the construction of their relationship seemed tenuous, at best.  I might have enjoyed it more if I'd felt more invested in the characters, or if I'd had more of a story to go on; however, as it stands, I didn't care much for this latest novella.

The Ugly

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Superman: Birthright

DC Comics
Superman:  Birthright
Mark Waid
Leinil Francis Yu
Gerry Alanguilan

The Summary
"The whole world knows that Superman fights for truth and justice...but why does he?  What drives a farmboy from Kansas to divide his life between posing as a mild-mannered reporter and embarking on a career as a super-hero?

"Superman:  Birthright tells the exciting origin of the Man of Steel, incorporating his vast and colorful legend into a brand-new epic tale...a battle to save both the legacy of Krypton and the future of Metropolis!"

The Good
When I see Mark Waid listed as one of the writers on a comic, I almost automatically pick it up.  I instinctively know his work will be great--and, truthfully, Superman:  Birthright doesn't disappoint.

Although I found it a bit surreal to dive into Superman's--ahem, Clark Kent's--past, I was fascinated by the story.  Lex Luthor and Clark go way back--and I mean way back--which I found surprising, and I find it intriguing that Superman wasn't widely accepted as a hero.  There's a lot of distrust toward him, especially after Lex gets his hands on pieces of Kryptonian technology.

I loved that Waid and company added so many layers to Clark and his character.  Superman has been labeled a Boy Scout for much of his career, so I loved seeing a different side to him.  I liked seeing him as a person, not as a caricature.  He could be hurt.  Not physically, of course, but emotionally.  He has been shaped by his experiences and yet he still chooses to do good, he chooses to be good.

I liked that about him.

Moreover, I liked his new powers.  Oh, he has all the same ones that everyone knows:  he can run faster than a speeding bullet, he can fly, he's indestructible, he can leap tall buildings in a single bound.  He's the same superhero everyone knows and loves, but he has the added benefit of being able to see life.  I don't just mean recognize it and/or treasure it; I mean, he can literally see the life force in living creatures...and he can see it leak away when they die.

Superman's vow to protect people takes on a whole new meaning when you realize he's able to detect the exact moment someone or something dies.  He sees a void where something bright and beautiful had once been, and he can't bear the idea of seeing it happen when he knows he can do something about it.  It gives his promises a lot more meaning, in my opinion, and it makes more sense why he can push himself to protect people even when they don't believe in him, even when the easier course would be just to give up.

I enjoyed Superman:  Birthright.  I can honestly say it's my favorite Superman comic.  Don't get me wrong, I still love Red Son which has, heretofore, held the top place in my heart when it comes to Superman; however, for a comic book that's actually canon--i.e. not an alternate reality--I have found the absolute best in Birthright.  I can't wait to read more.

The Bad
No complaints.  Overall, it's a fascinating exploration of Superman's origins and his struggle to become a superhero in the face of Lex Luthor's treachery.

The Ugly
The usual: blood, gore, violence.  It's to be expected in most comic books where the supervillain has absolutely no qualms about crushing (literally) the little people he perceives as beneath him.  However, I was a bit surprised by the feelings of sympathy I had for Lex.

I would say he's not as bad as you think he is, but he actually is as bad as you think he is.  Worse, even.  However, Superman:  Birthright does humanize him.  It makes him more understandable, it makes him a more sympathetic character, because, as much as I hate to admit it, I did feel bad for the guy.  No one deserves to be bullied like that.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Batman: Year One

DC Comics
Batman:  Year One
Frank Miller
David Mazzucchelli
Richmond Lewis

The Summary
"In 1986, Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli produced this groundbreaking reinterpretation of the origin of Batman--who he is and how he came to be.

"Written shortly after The Dark Knight Returns, Miller's dystopian fable of Batman's final days, Year One set the stage for a new vision of a legendary character.

"This edition includes the complete graphic novel, a new introduction by writer Frank Miller and a new illustrated afterword by artist David Mazzucchelli.  Completing this collection are over 40 pages of never-before-seen developmental material such as character and layout sketches, sample script papers, sketches, and more that provide a glimpse into the making of this contemporary classic."

The Good
I really enjoyed Batman:  Year One.  Unlike The Dark Knight Returns which feels grim and gritty...and just counter intuitive to the Batman I know and love, Year One feels so new and fresh and yet familiar at the same time.  It has the same hard edges, the same dark heart you expect of Gotham, but I loved seeing the origin of Batman.

I liked seeing how Batman learned and changed, how he grew into the cowl and made mistakes; I also liked learning about Gordon, seeing him change from the squeaky clean officer to the hard-boiled lieutenant with a family and a city to protect.  As I read, I felt like I was growing up with these characters and I felt like I was getting to know the real Batman--the real Gotham.

I loved it.

Plus, I loved the detail in the art.  Frank Miller makes an excellent story, but David Mazzuchelli really brings it to life.  Year One is dark and frightening, it conveys the sinister aura of Gotham without compromising the beauty of the artwork.  Like Long Halloween and Dark Victory, there's something beautiful about the shadows and the dark part that help to set the tone for the story and give it depth.

I feel like Batman:  The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, both of which I adored, take their cues from Frank Miller's original story.  It has the same dark ambiance, but young Bruce is all grown up and Gordon had grown a little grayer and new characters have arrived on the scene.  Year One feels like a completion of the the story.  It helps to flesh out Batman's story, give new depth to Gordon and Gotham--and I couldn't be more pleased.

Year One is an excellent addition to any Batman fan's collection.

The Bad
I didn't always like the narration.  It was illuminating, and it was fascinating to be able to see in Gordon's and Batman's minds; however, I didn't always care for it.  I don't know why.  It wasn't bad, exactly, but it wasn't exactly an endearing quality in Year One.

Otherwise, no complaints.

The Ugly
Batman is dark and grim.  That doesn't change.

So expect the usual murder, mayhem and corruption.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Now That It's You

Image result for now that it's you
Montlake Romance
Now That It's You
Tawna Fenske

The Summary
"Meg wanted closure.  She found her ex's brother instead.

"Talented chef Meg Delaney hasn't spoken to her cheating ex-fiance, Matt Midland, for two years.  Ditching him at the altar after blurting out 'I can't' instead of 'I do' would sour any relationship.  But now, just as Meg is finally ready to bury the hatchet, she learns closure is permanently off the menu.  And the kicker?  Matt's brother, Kyle, is back in her life, stirring up feelings that are equal parts guilt and lust.

"Meg was the best thing that never happened to Kyle.  He couldn't make a move on his brother's girlfriend--even if Matt didn't value her nearly enough.  The situation is even more complicated now that Meg's bestselling aphrodisiac cookbook has spawned a legal battle with the Midlands.  Maybe he should stay away.  But love, like family, plays by its own rules.  And the one woman he shouldn't want might be the only one who's perfect for him."

The Good
I don't think I've ever laughed so hard with a book, and then felt my heart breaking in my chest within the same hour.  Now That It's You led me on a roller coaster ride of emotions, moving from resentment to grief to love and laughter and back to grief.  And it kept me in stitches for most of the time with it's incredible humor.

I absolutely adored Tawna Fenske's novel.

In some ways, it reminded me of Happiness for Beginners.  For instance, you have a heroine who's looking to turn over a new leaf, a romantic interest who's bound to surprise you (plus, he's rather adorable), and a wild, wacky adventure (that may or may not involve "magical" marshmallows).  It has many of the same qualities that I loved about Katherine Center's novel:  humor, endearing characters, hints of romance, complex romantic and familial relationships, and transformative journeys.

I loved everything about Now That It's You.  I enjoyed the humor, the sweetness, and even the awkward moments.  However, I was probably hooked very early on after an incident with a group of LARPers (Live Action Role-Players) in the local park.  Personally, I think that was my favorite part:  a trio of friends dressed in fantasy gear suddenly pulling Kyle and Meg into an unexpected game involving an invisible dragon named Fallopian and marshmallows-turned-thunderbolts.

It was great.  I don't think I could have stopped laughing if I'd tried.

The Bad
No complaints.

The Ugly
A few moments in this novel broke my heart.  Like well and truly shattered it, and I couldn't help feeling almost as distraught as Meg did.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Batwoman: The Unknowns (Volume 6)

DC Comics
Batwoman:  The Unknowns (Volume 6)
Marc Andreyko
Georges Jeanty
Karl Story
Guy Major

The Summary
"Clayface:  a desperate man driven to madness and monstrosity by a magical artifact that transformed him into a shapeshifting killer.

"Ragman:  a guardian of Gotham City whose supernatural suit is woven from a thousand lost souls.

"Etrigan the Demon:  a prince of Hell bonded to a human host a millennium ago, desperate to free himself ever sense.

"And Batwoman:  a crimefighter whose alter ego, Kate Kane, maybe have just lost the love of her life, only to find passion in the arms of a creature of the night.

"Heroes, villains, something in between--to each of them, the others are a complete unknown.  But an ancient evil has returned from beyond the grave:  Morgan Le Fey, the mad witch who destroyed King Arthur's Camelot and would do the same to all civilization.  It's an evil this fearsome foursome can only stop together--if they don't tear each other apart first..."

The Good
I was intrigued by this volume collection.  After the cliffhanger leftover from Batwoman:  Webs (Volume 5), I was desperate to get my hands on the next installment of Batwoman's adventures.  What would happen between Batwoman and Nocturna?  And I couldn't help but be drawn in by the cover.  I recognized Clayface and Etrigan, but where were the other two--and what kind of threat did they pose?

I had to find out.

Although The Unknowns feels like it branches away from the familiar artistic style and general feeling crafted by J.H. Williams III and W.H. Blackman, it's still an excellent volume.  Marc Andreyko and his team seem to take Batwoman in a different direction, crafting something new and equally appealing.

The artistry is simplified.  It's beautiful, don't get me wrong, but it's much more straight-forward.  It's filled with all the beautiful detail and art that originally attracted me to Batwoman, but it's easier to distinguish the movement of characters and the direction of panels.  It has changed, but it's not a bad change.

Moreover, the story seems to take a different direction.  It's still dark on an emotional and visual level, but it simply feels different.  Kate's still faced with the same complicated relationships, still faced with the same violence and depravity for which Gotham is known, but she seems to face it with a bit more humor.  And her story has a different flavor to it, a subtle shift in her demeanor or a change in the direction of her story that makes it feel different, but easily likable.

Overall, I enjoyed it.  I liked the characters--Ragman and Red Alice were probably my favorites, aside from our leading heroine, of course--and I liked the story.  Granted, I'm a bit tired of Morgan Le Fey.  I've seen enough of her in literature and the DC Universe to know I'm getting a bit sick of her interference; however, I think it was a well-done story and I liked getting to know Etrigan again, as well as some new "heroes."

The Bad
I did not care for the book end chapters of this volume.  I didn't need Kate's origin story rehashed in Secret Origin, and I wasn't exactly thrilled with Batwoman:  Future's End.  The first, I didn't like the repetition; the other, I didn't like the way it ended.  It left me wondering if this really was Batwoman's fate in five years, or if it was just a one-shot just-for-fun issue that creators are wont to do.

Honestly, I can't tell.

But I know I probably won't be reading it.  It's bad enough that Kate is manipulated by Nocturna; it's worse that they turn her into a vampire.  I'm still a little confused on that, honestly, and I'm not sure I'm a big fan of the whole thing.  It confuses me, rather than amuses me.

The Ugly
Blood.  Gore.  Violence.

You know, the usual.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Bonus: When a Scot Ties the Knot

Avon Books
When a Scot Ties the Knot
Tessa Dare

The Summary
"On the cusp of her first London season, Miss Madeline Gracechurch was shy, pretty, and talented with a drawing pencil, but hopelessly awkward with gentlemen.  She was certain to be a dismal failure on the London marriage mart.  So Maddie did what generations of shy, awkward young ladies have done:  she invented a sweetheart.

"A Scottish sweetheart.  One who was handsome and honorable and devoted to her, but conveniently never around.  Maddie poured her heart into writing the imaginary Captain MacKenzie letter after letter...and by pretending to be devastated when he was (not really) killed in battle, she managed to avoid the pressures of London society entirely.

"Until years later, when this kilted Highland lover of her imaginings shows up in the flesh.  The real Captain Logan MacKenzie arrives on her doorstep--handsome as anything, but not entirely honorable.  He's wounded, jaded, in possession of her letters...and ready to make good on every promise Maddie never expected to keep."

The Good
I really liked When a Scot Ties the Knot.  Like A Lady by Midnight, it was a pleasant surprise.

I can't say why, but I enjoyed watching their affections grow and change as they slowly learned more about one another.  When Captain MacKenzie suddenly shows up on Madeline's doorstep with every intention of asking her hand in marriage, even if he has to blackmail her to do it, their relationship gets off to a rough start.  They don't exactly like each other:  she's affronted by his blatant attempts at coercion; he's offended by her presumptuousness to kill him off.

And yet their story is unexpectedly endearing.

Madeline and Logan couldn't be more different in their backgrounds.  He's a Scottish soldier freshly home from war; she's an English spinster who spends her days drawing illustrations of the natural world.  However, they somehow manage to bumble their way through the first days of their "marriage" to find a natural affinity for one another.  Moreover, they come to respect one another for their talents and accept their myriad of faults.

It's not love, exactly; at least, not at first.  Their romance is slow to blossom.  There is sexual tension, of course (I've come to expect nothing less of Ms. Dare and her romance novels), but there exists a complex undercurrent of emotions, like respect and trust and worry and affection and longing.

For instance, as Madeline learns more about Logan, she comes to understand his background and, more to the point, she begins to notice the scars, figurative and literal, he wears.  Likewise, Logan learns to appreciate Maddie's intelligence and her unexpected wit, and he helps her to combat her mortal fear of crowds.  In many ways, they help to support and bolster one another, while simultaneously showing affection--and I liked that about them.

And, speaking of Madeline, I really liked her.  She's a woman ahead of her time:  intelligent, forthright if overly shy, talented and ambitious when it comes to her illustrative work.  Thanks to her fake Scottish sweetheart, she's managed to acquire a small castle in the Scottish Highlands--a gift from her godfather--and make a living for herself through the land and her incredible illustrations for various naturalists.

She's happy with her life and, moreover, she's entirely independent.  I can appreciate a heroine like that.

The Bad
I didn't care for the letters at the beginning of the story.  Granted, I know they're meant to help readers put a finger on the past; however, I just skimmed over them.  I really only paid attention to the last letter, which detailed Madeline's final letter to Captain MacKenzie and, regrettably, how she had to "kill him off" and move on with her life.

The Ugly
Violence, and explicit material.  Otherwise, it's pretty tame.

Oh, and lobsters molting.  For some reason that just grosses me out.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Archie: The New Riverdale (Volume 1)

Archie Comic Publications, Inc.
Archie:  The New Riverdale (Volume 1)
Mark Waid
Fiona Staples
Annie Wu
Veronica Fish

The Summary
"Welcome to the new Riverdale!  America's Favorite Teenager, Archie Andrews, is reborn in the pages of this must-have graphic novel collecting the first six issues of the comic book series that everyone is talking about.

"Meet Riverdale High teen Archie, his oddball, food-loving best friend Jughead, girl-next-door Betty and well-to-do snob Veronica Lodge as they embark on a modern reimagining of the Archie world.  It's all here:  the love triangle, friendship, humor, charm and lots of fun--but with a decidedly modern twist.

"Brought to you by some of the masters of the comic book genre, including writer Mark Waid and the all-star lineup of artists:  Fiona Staples, Annie Wu, and Veronica Fish, the first volume of Archie presents readers with a new take on the beloved Archie Comics concepts while retaining the best elements of the company's 75 years of history."

The Good
I have to admit, I have never been a fan of Archie.  Despite recommendations from friends and hand-me-down comics, I just couldn't seem to enjoy Archie all that much.  It seemed so old-fashioned and well, boring.  Besides which, I didn't care for the ridiculous love triangle between Betty, Veronica and Archie (is he really such a catch?) and I didn't like the art.  It was cartoony, but not in the way I liked.

However, I have to admit that I enjoyed reading Archie:  The New Riverdale.  Maybe, it's because Mark Waid is involved--and I have quickly become a fan of his work with Kingdom Come and, of course, Daredevil--or, maybe, it's because I liked the art and the modernized content.  I'm not sure which I enjoyed more; regardless, I have a lot more respect for Archie and his Riverdale crew than I did previously.

I especially liked Betty and Jughead.  Betty is a tomboy who knows how to fix cards, and she's Archie's sweetheart for nigh on forever; Jughead is a serious foodie (he's especially serious about his hamburgers), and he's Archie's best friend.  In Archie, they seemed a little more fleshed out and a little more detailed.

For instance, I would never have thought about Betty struggling with her own self-image.

She's smart, sweet, and confident, and she's an old hand at rebuilding engines; however, she sometimes struggles to feel like a "girl"--with makeup, dresses, heels.  You know, the whole nine yards--and she worries she isn't pretty enough.  Like most girls, she battles with how her peers perceive her, how she sees herself, and how she really looks.  Her issues are grounded in real life.  She feels real, which I appreciated.

This latest incarnation of Archie is both humorous and fun, paying homage to the original series while creating a brand new world with intricate relationships and infinite new complexities.  Overall, it's entertaining and humorous and lots of fun.  I'm beyond pleased to know that Archie and his pals are in Mark Waid's capable hands.

The Bad
I honestly have no complaints.  I liked just about everything in Archie and, truthfully, I will probably follow up with subsequent volumes.

The Ugly
I still don't like love triangles.  I have never liked love triangles, but I think that Waid and his team do a great job tastefully incorporating the complex relationships involved in Riverdale.  Yes, there's still a love triangle; yes, Veronica and Betty are still competing for Archie's heart; yes, Archie is still caught between them.

But it's not as silly as I once imagined.

Betty and Veronica are fully fleshed out characters, not the caricatures I'd always imagined them; moreover, Archie is more of a lovable goofball, rather than the obnoxiously oblivious dope as I always characterized him.  Betty is struggling with her feelings for Archie, while simultaneously battling with her dislike of Veronica...and her willingness to be a good person.

They're conflicted.  Things are complicated.  And it's messy.

But that's just the way real life goes.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Breaking Cat News

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Andrews McMeel Publishing
Breaking Cat News
Georgia Dunn

The Summary
"This just in:  Three adorable house cats are reporting the most hilarious breaking news!

"Cynical, no-nonsense Elvis and shy, sweet, sensitive Puck are the reporter kitties in the field, while the adventurous jokester Lupin serves as anchor cat.  Together they break headlines on the food bowl, new plants, mysterious red dots, strange cats in the yard, and all the daily happenings in their home."

The Good
Oh my gosh, I absolutely loved reading Breaking Cat News.

It's an adorable collection of comics by Georgia Dunn that follows the adventures--or, more accurately, the misadventures--of a quirky feline trio.  There's sweet, lovable Puck; adventurous and gregarious little Lupin; and loyal, if perennially grumpy, Elvis.  Together, they--along with Tommy, the cat from the backyard, and the "Ceiling Cats" (i.e. the cats that live on the floor above), and the other outdoor cats--make up Breaking Cat News, reporting on news that matters to cats.

The report on new toys, packing peanuts (a favorite), the mysterious Red Dot, empty food bowls, cooking bacon, the "July Bug," and, most importantly, the Biannual 2 a.m. Running of the Cats.  Without a doubt, Breaking Cat News is one of the cutest comic collections I've had the pleasure to read.

Like my coworkers (who convinced me to read it), I appreciated the touches of humor and heart that made me feel as warm and fuzzy as the blankets the cats adore.  Plus, I loved the variety of characters that made an appearance, loved the ways the cats interacted and communicated.  I especially loved Tommy and the "Ceiling Cats," Tabitha (who is positively fearless--and, moreover, has caught the Red Dot) and Sir Figaro Newton.  They were a delightful addition to the cast, and I laughed over their regular encounters with Elvis, Lupin, and Puck.

Truthfully, this is a wonderful collection and I can't wait to read more from Georgia Dunn.

The Bad
It's too short.

Luckily, there's more on Breaking Cat News.  I can't wait to read more about Puck, Lupin, and Elvis's adventures as they report on all the news that's important to cats.

The Ugly
Not a thing.  Breaking Cat News is utterly adorable and probably the most fun I've had since Election Day.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Unfinished, Six

I didn't get very far with Them Bones by Carolyn Haines.  I picked it up as an ebook and started reading it on my tablet, but I couldn't stay with the story.  It intrigued me, I won't deny, but I couldn't seem to invest myself in the plot or even enjoy the characters.  For some reason, it just didn't seem right for me and, honestly, I didn't feel like trying to force myself to fall for a book that obviously wasn't for me.

I don't think I even managed to make it past the first chapter, so I don't have much to say about it.


I am an avid reader of Jana DeLeon.  I've read almost everything written in the Miss Fortune Mystery series (which includes Louisiana Longshot, Lethal Bayou Beauty, Swamp Sniper, Swamp Team 3, Gator Bait, Soldiers of Fortune, and Hurricane Force) and a handful of other novels; however, I think I'm finished with Fortune Redding.  At least, for the time being.

Jana DeLeon
I tried to read Fortune Hunter, but after binge reading the Miss Fortune Mystery series, I can't say I was excited to return.  Fortune Hunter, like it's predecessors, is good, mindless fun.  It's a thrill-a-minute joy ride that takes you across the bayous of Louisiana at breakneck speed and it doesn't stop.  It's hilarious, it's fun, and it's packed with interesting--I'm being diplomatic here--characters.

Honestly, I had fun with Louisiana Longshot and I really enjoyed Gator Bait (it's probably my favorite), but I just can't take more of the sheer absurdity.  It's fun and it's funny, but, after a certain point, I just need a break from the insanity of Gertie, Ida Belle, and danger-prone Fortune Redding.

I might come back to the series one day.  For now, I just need some distance--and, maybe, an infusion of something more series.  Like Tolkien.  Or Tolstoy.


Feiwel & Friends
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente was an interesting book.  September, a very ordinary girl living in Omaha, Nebraska, finds herself transported to a mythical fairy world and throw into a not-so-ordinary adventure.  As I read the book jacket, it struck me as a fascinating story, especially when I heard about the villainous Marquess and the book-loving Wyvern and an array of strange, delightful creatures and characters, like the Green Wind.  I was uncommonly excited to read Valente's novel.

And then, suddenly, I wasn't.

I don't know if it just wasn't the right time for me to read The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making or if I was simply distracted by all the other novels I had in my TBR.  Regardless, I couldn't disappear into the world of Fairy, like September does, and I didn't find myself enchanted by the wondrous things she saw.  I couldn't stay committed to the story, so I simply put it aside to read another day.


I started Perfume:  The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind with every intention of finishing it; however, it turned into a bit of a nonstarter, like Them Bones.  I didn't get very deep into Perfume, before I put it aside, but, honestly, I don't know why I did.  I mean, yes, it's a bit grisly at the beginning (and I don't imagine it gets any better), but, for some reason, I thought it had the most beautiful language.

That is, the most beautiful language considering it's about the makings of a homicidal maniac.

If I hadn't had such a massive TBR (and another book on the back burner that I really wanted to finish) and if I hadn't had a due date, I might have spent a little more time getting to know Perfume.  Something about it enchanted me, something about the language and the dismal streets of eighteenth century Paris that had me hooked; however, I made the mistake of putting it down...and I didn't pick it back up.

It's a bit like Game of Thrones in that respect.  It's wonderfully detailed, it's fascinating, it's well-written, but I just can't seem to keep my attention focused on more than one book at a time.  One always ends up suffering.  In this case, it was Perfume.

I will note that I have every intention of finding Süskind's novel once more, after I finish reading I Am Malala and Julie and Julia and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry...among others.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Bonus: A Lady by Midnight

Avon Books
A Lady by Midnight
Tessa Dare

The Summary
"A temporary engagement, a lifetime in the making...

"After years of fending for herself, Kate Taylor found friendship and acceptance in Spindle Cove--but she never stopped yearning for love.  The very last place she'd look for it is in the arms of Corporal Thorne.  The militia commander is as stone cold as he is brutally handsome.  But when mysterious strangers come searching for Kate, Thorne steps forward as her fiance.  He claims to have only Katie's safety in mind.  So why is there smoldering passion in his kiss?

"Long ago, Samuel Thorne devoted his life to guarding Kate's happiness.  He wants what's best for her, and he knows it's not marriage to a man like him.  To outlast their temporary engagement, he must keep his hands off her tempting body and lock her warm smiles out of his withered heart.  It's the toughest battle of this hardened warrior's life...and the first he seems destined to lose."

The Good
I was surprised by this novel.  Not in a bad way, I assure you.

I went into A Lady by Midnight with the same expectation I had with much of Dare's work:  explicit romance peppered with hints of absurdity and unlikely coincidences.  (I've read enough of the romance genre to pick up on that.)  And yet, despite these qualities that might ruin another novel, I found myself slowly being enchanted by Kate and the chilly Corporal Thorne.

Thorne is brooding, cool and chilly, like the ice to which Kate compares his eyes; however, as time goes on, he's strangely protective of Kate and he goes to great lengths to see that she's happy, even if it's a detriment to his reputation as a stone cold commander.  She humanizes him in some way, and he is the solid foundation in her life, the constant she can rely upon.

And I found myself strangely drawn to them, hopeful for their calamitous relationship.

But I think the best thing about this novel was the epilogue.  It made my heart melt, until it was just a pool of jelly.  I know I probably sighed in contentment and wore that starry-eyed look that some people get when they've just finished a lovely book, when things work out as they should.

(Yes, I'm a sap.  I can't seem to help myself.)

The Bad
Some coincidences are just a little too convenient, but I'm willing to suspend disbelief, because I couldn't help but fall in love with Kate Taylor and Corporal Thorne.  I wanted so badly for them to be together.  I was willing to overlook a few moments of silliness and melodramatic seriousness for their sakes.

The Ugly
PTSD.  Abandonment.  Neglect.  Abuse.  Abject cruelty.

It's rather sad all the terrible things both Kate and Thorne had to endure to reach this point.  I especially feel for Thorne, who endured years of imprisonment and suffered unimaginable hardship on the streets, on the front lines of the Napoleonic Wars.  He's marked by his experiences and, personally, it's wonderful to see the ways Kate is able to help heal some of those hurts.