Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Regency Resurgence - Book of the Week - Sometimes a Rogue by Mary Jo Putney

I've read two excellent Regency era romances in the last week and have a few more on the TBR tower. I'm hoping they herald a resurgence in the publication of the genre. The most recent incarnations of the Regency feature heroines with skills and fortitude and add dimension by incorporating diversity.

Just finished reading Mary Jo Putney's latest Regency era romance, Sometimes a Rogue. It is the fifth book in her Lost Lords series and every bit as enticing as its predecessors. When Sarah's identical twin, Mariah, Duchess of Ashton, goes into labor while on an outing, they find refuge in a small church while waiting for the groom who was driving their curricle to return with help and a suitable conveyance. When a band of coarse men shows up Sarah hears them talking about kidnapping the Duchess. Ushering Mariah to safety in the crypt, Sarah takes on Mariah's wedding ring and identity convincing her captors she is the Duchess. Quickly whisked away to Ireland she doesn't know that the Duke's friend, Rob Carmichael, a Bow Street Runner is on the way to rescue her. There are many climaxes in this novel, many places that it could have ended satisfactorily but Putney keeps building the suspense, the relationships, and deepening the characters as this delightful story moves along. Putney takes the Regency romance to a new level with the Lost Lords series. Rob is the classic "bad boy" devilishly handsome but like the lost lords in the rest of the series, he was educated at a Westerfield Academy, an unique boarding school for badly behaved sons of the nobility. Disinherited by his profligate sire, Rob wants nothing to do with his old social class except for the lasting friendships forged in school. When Rob and Sarah are shipwrecked fleeing from Ireland they make their way to a manor house where Rob collapses and they both discover that Rob is now the Earl of Kellington.

Beautifully drawn characters with realistic flaws and strengths make this a riveting read. It is sensual without being overly descriptive. The emergence of the character's character skillfully unfolds. The setting, away from the ton in London or Bath, bereft of balls and assemblies feels authentic. The cold discomfort of Sarah's captivity and escape are real and her ability to step up in dangerous situations and use the tools at hand (love the skillet to the head) make her more real. The nitty gritty details of managing an estate are interesting. All of these things work together in making Sometimes a Rogue emotionally satisfying.  I did find myself thinking of Winston Graham's classic series, Poldark, when reading this even though this was not as dark.

Watch for a contest to win a copy of Sometimes a Rogue. Details soon.

While this is part of a series and some of the characters have been met in earlier books, all the books in this series stand alone and can be read without having read others in the Lost Lords Series. It is really nice to pair with Loving a Lost Lord the story of Mariah Clarke, who grieving the loss of her gambler father and trying to avoid marriage to the man who had previously owned her home, prays to her Gypsy grandmother and suddenly finds a man, more dead than alive, in the sea. Rescuing him she takes him home and begins calling him Adam even though he has forgotten his name as well as his entire life history. Needing an excuse to dissuade her persistent suitor she claims Adam is her husband. As Adam recovers he discovers he knows how to run a farm, ride a horse, and restore a derelict garden. Parts of his past haunt him in dreams but until he is found by three loyal friends who were at school with him he doesn't know who he was. His mixed heritage has resulted in him being very private but he was able to inspire such intense loyalty in his friends that they had gone looking for his body when a boiler he had engineered sunk his ship. Putney's Regency era romances are always a joy to read.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Romances, the Rita Awards, and YA Publishing

The nominations for the Rita Awards are up and give me more ammo for my argument that YA/Teen has become a category widely read by adults. My favorite YA romance last year, My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick, is a finalist in the Best First Book category.  The nomination list is a great place to find a good romance read and new authors.

My reviews of My Life Next Door and Grave Mercy (finalist in the YA Romance category) follow this post.

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

I read a ton of YA novels last year when I was on the BFYA committee but out of the four Rita finalists in the Young Adult Romance category I only had read one. Interestingly enough my favorite YA romance novel of the year was not a finalist in this category but it is in the Best First Book category.

Ismae hopes that the arranged marriage her father, a turnip farmer in medieval Brittany has contracted for her, will be more pleasant than the abuse she has endured so far in her life. Instead she has gone from the flying pan into the fire. When her loutish new husband sees that she bears the red stain indicating she is actually the child of the ancient god of death, he beats her and locks her in the cellar so he can fetch the authorities who will see her burned or drowned. Rescued, she is taken to the convent of St. Mortain where she is schooled in the art of the assassin. Her first assignment, at the court of the young Duchess of Brittany, throws her into an uneasy partnership with Gavriel Duval, the duchess's bastard brother. A touch of the paranormal, political machinations, an interesting evocation of the time and place, a satisfying romance, a flawed kick-ass heroine, and a convent that trains assassins combine for a terrific read.

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Here is my review from December 2012. I'm posting now in honor of it being named a finalist for the Rita Award for Best First Novel. It also was named to YALSA's (ALA) Best Fiction for Young Adults list.

The best YA romance I've read all year. Samantha reminded me of a friend I had my freshman year of high school who seemed practically perfect -- gorgeous, talented, smart, well dressed -- but seemed to be aloof. She presented a composed gracious presence but didn't really share herself with others. Samantha, in this novel, is beautiful and smart. She has secretly for the last 7 years or so, observed the raucous goings on of the prolific Garrett family who had moved in next door. Samantha's mother, a politician and the original Mrs. Nothing-Out-of-Place, has disliked the Garretts from the day they moved in with their many children, toys in the front yard, and unmowed lawn. When Jase Garrett invades her roof top observation point, Samantha begins to fall for him. Even though Samantha has plenty of money due to her mother's trust fund, she works two jobs during the summer -- waitressing and lifeguarding. As she draws close to Jase she develops a true affection for many of the members of his huge family while still holding everybody, even her best friend an arm's length away. The characters are amazingly real, multidimensional personalities.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Reading Plans and Book Binges

As a reader's advisor, I find reading plans extremely helpful to keep me reading widely and to see trends as they emerge. I never want to get over my love of reading and sticking to assigned (even if I assigned it myself) reading can be deleterious to the enjoyment of books.

For every book I read in my reading plan, I probably read ten or so books that have caught my fancy.  I don't finish every book I start. If it doesn't grab me in the first 40 pages, it is history.

Sometimes I go on book binges. Right now I'm on a romance binge having just read Homecoming Ranch by Julia London and The Arrangement by Mary Balogh. I have the new Mary Jo Putney book, Sometimes a Rogue, next in my queue  and will be giving away a copy of it to some lucky reader. The next one in line is Diane Gaston's A Reputation for Notoriety.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Just Finished Flight Behavior

I just have a minute now so my full review will come after I ponder a bit on this extraordinary novel.  Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver is about a young woman, a wife and mother, living on a rural Tennessee farm that is visited by a community of Monarch butterflies. It is full of ordinary things that become magic through the way Kingsolver tells the tale. In the interest of full disclosure, I have been a big fan of hers since Bean Trees and I have a signed poster promoting Animal Dreams hanging on my dining room wall. She is on my list of five favorite authors.

Monday, May 20, 2013

eBooks and Libraries and Open Road

Just ran across digital review copies published by Open Road so I went looking for info about them because I had completely missed mention of them in the past. Here is what I found at NPR. Turns out they are doing something that, as a reader, is important to me. They are publishing electronic editions (on several different platforms) of books, many of them 20th century classics, that were originally published before ebooks were written into contracts. This is bringing thousands of terrific books back into print. Looks like they were concentrating on the "big authors" to begin with. The book I downloaded to read in the Bluefire app on my iPhone is Sarah Zettel's 1997 novel,  Fool's War.

I would really like to see all the wonderful genre midlist books, the great books that weren't bestsellers but had strong followings, back in libraries. I would love to see all the out of print books by members of  SFWA, Sisters in Crime, HWA, MWA, RWA, and the other genre writers' organizations, available in ebook format for library users. As a reader, it is frustrating to find a terrific book in a series and then be unable to find other in the series. Orania Papazoglou's smart Patience MacKenna series illustrates this for me, checking WorldCat Sweet, Savage Death is not in any Colorado Libraries but three libraries (all more than 200 miles away from where I live) have Once and Alway Murder. Unfortunately it was the last one published in the series so isn't going to find many readers who would be willing to not start at the beginning.

Double Crossed by Ally Carter

This entertaining novella featuring characters from the Carter's best selling Gallagher Girls series and her Heist Society series is a quick, compelling read. It is a great way to introduce readers to her books. Right now it is also free. I downloaded it from NetGalley and it was perfect to read on my iPhone when waiting in line or waiting in the car. The cover calls it a Spies and Thieves story which hopefully portends more stories about the conjunction between her series characters.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Amity and Sorrow by Peggy Riley

Amaranth flees her husband, a cult leader who has 49 other wives. She takes her two teenage daughters, Amity and Sorrow,  along. They have never known any life outside their strange religion and the compound that housed it. They have no concept of the 21st century world. It reminded me somewhat of Linda Crew's historical YA novel, Brides of Eden, where the cult uses motion as prayer and perverts sexuality. Amity & Sorrow gets off to a great start with a car wreck, when Amaranth after driving for four days, fearful her husband will find them. Her two daughters were tied together at the wrist, the why slowly unfolds as the reader finds out what led to her fleeing with her daughters.

Mainstream Fiction * General Fiction

Reading Plan and Book of the Week - Horror - The Tomb by F. Paul Wilson

Horror is one of my least favorite genres and if I were not reading according to a reading plan, I would probably never read horror. It is important to me to be a well rounded and well read reader's advisor so I do follow a reading plan. 

The reason I don't usually like horror is because I experience books with all my senses and very frequently horror novels or stories stink! Not the writing, not the characters, not the plot; it is the smells described that really get to me as well as the freaked out feelings. When I read Stephen King's Christine, I had to drive with all my windows open in the dead of a Colorado mountain winter with temps in the negative numbers because of the horrible corpse smell in the book. Also, I am susceptible to nightmares.

I had avoided the Repairman Jack novels by F. Paul Wilson because I was scared to read them. I didn't even read the YA prequels but now I want to. The purpose of horror is to scare the reader. It gets the heart pumping in fear. Because the aural import of books to my brain doesn't affect me as much or as intensively as reading, I've found audio books the best way for me to read horror.

In The Tomb, first in the Repairman Jack series, Jack who fixes things, sometimes with fatal results, is introduced. He lives completely off grid in the "John Twelve Hawks" sense of the phrase; fake IDs, no bank accounts, no credit cards, no written contracts. His ex-girlfriend Gia asks him to look into the disappearance of one of her elderly great-aunts-in-law. While not the type of case he usually takes on he agrees because he still loves Gia and her young daughter, Vicky. The same day he is contacted by an Indian diplomat who wants him to recover a necklace stolen from his elderly grandmother who is in the hospital dying. Jack explains it's not the type of case he works on, the man offers him a princely sum just to attempt it and a matching sum if he can do it before midnight. 

Jack, for all his ruthlessness, strength, daring, and street smarts is amazingly a character who seems real and more than the sum of his parts and is even vulnerable, in a manly way. Wilson made me really care about the characters and I was not happy to finish the book because I wanted to spend more time with them. 

While this was horrifying with plenty of carrion stench and monsters both human and demonic, everything meshed and made for a great story with meaning rather than shock for shock value. The look into how actions a hundred and fifty years in the past in India impacted the present in New York added interesting facets and depth to the story. 

I'm glad I follow a reading plan because it made me read a book I would not have ever otherwise picked up and made me think about what a genre I ordinarily avoid could offer to readers.

The Tomb has been recently published in audio format. I'm looking forward to reading more books in the series.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Reading on Vacation

Usually when I go on vacation to a tropical paradise like Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, I take 14 to 20 books because that is about what I can read in seven days when I'm away from the internet and not writing reviews, just reading for pleasure.

This vacation isn't a week away from the world. It is a week spent with very important people with whom I want to spend lots of time, my daughter, her husband, and their daughter, my delightful Hazel.

Hazel is 2 years and 10 months old. Like her cousins, Jack, Mark, and Patrick, she adores books. It makes my heart happy to hear her saying "Grandma, read to me." She likes to hear books over and over again.

Today we took in a very nice ocean themed story time at Ormond Beach Library. Back at the house we read books Hazel picked out; Chamelia by Ethan Long, Brownie & Pearl Take a Dip by Cynthia Rylant, I'm a Big Sister by Joanna Cole, Leap Back Home to Me by Lauren Thompson, Which Is Round? Which Is Bigger? by Mineko Mamada, Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman, and last but not least, Eric Carle's Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See? 

My personal reading on this trip is far less then usual. I did finish Rose Harbor in Bloom by Debbie Macomber to review in Booklist and am now reading Shallow Pond by Alissa Grosso.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

YA Locus Finalists

Wow! What a wealth of terrific YA SF in 2012.

Todd Mason regularly posts award winners and nomination lists to Fiction_L. I'm on the road right now so I may have missed the Locus Poll Finalists so I'm grateful for Todd's post.

Young Adult Book

I read all of these last year except for Valente's. Unfortunately I didn't write reviews for everything I read last year. 

I am a big fan of Paolo Bacigalupi and had teens who were so anxious to read it I passed it on to them right away. I remember feeling wet and miserable while reading this apocalyptic novel and liking the aspect of a genetically engineered character and the feelings of desperation in the protagonists. While it has been called a sequel to Ship Breaker it has different protagonists and stands on its own. 

Terry Pratchett may be the most loved SF author (as in speculative fiction, encompassing science fiction, fantasy, and horror). Dodger as on the Artful Dodger of Oliver Twist fame was thoroughly enjoyable and added some interesting twists. Wonderful human and engaging characters.

Railsea, China MiĆ©ville 
Mieville is brilliant at conjuring up strange and intricate worlds. I could see the endless rails, the wrecks, and the variety of horrific beasties. There is so much here to like but I never really felt like I knew the characters. I never connected with them.

Pirate Cinema, Cory Doctorow 
I can't say that Doctorow is my favorite author or that I love his characters. I love his books because he speaks up for justice, acceptance of differences, and appreciation of art no matter the medium.  I love what his characters do, grabbing life by the horns and fighting for what is right. I was really surprised by how much Trent/Cecil's scavenging and life at the ???? (shoot, left the book in the car) zero something so closely resembled my life in Gunnison in the early 1970s. I'm going to have to write something else up about that but we had very much the same lifestyle. Most of our food came out of the dumpsters behind Safeway supplemented from hundred pound bags of onions from a truck that crashed on Monarch pass, pizza misorders, and the egg man. Anyway, i was so surprised that a future seventeen year old was as compelled by his art in a near future as I was by my art in the distant past at age 17 to do what it takes. The things Doctorow says about copyright, creativity, and corporate power are things that everyone should read. 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Yay! Genreflecting 7th Is Out!

The seventh edition of Genreflecting is now available. This edition is a truly collaborative venture. Cindy Orr was the driving force on this edition. I would hire her any day to herd cats or any other tough task that requires mastery of a labyrinth of details. An expert readers' advisor and collehe also wrote the first two sections of the guide - "Readers' Advisory Service in the Library" and "Readers' Advisory Service Basics."  Several other stars in the constellation of expert readers' advisors contributed chapters. New for  Genreflecting is a chapter on Nonfiction penned by Sarah Statz Cords, the co-author of The Real Story and Now Read This. Mysteries and Thrillers are split up with Lesa Holstine, award winning mystery reviewer contributing the chapter on mysteries and Andrew Smith on Thrillers. Sarah Johnson, the author of Historical Fiction and book review editor of the Historical Novels Review. Sections on Christian/Inspirational Fiction (by Terry Black), Graphic Novels (by Abby Bass and Jack Baur) , and Urban Fiction (by David Wright) are included. Hannah Parker contributed the chapter on Mainstream Fiction. Maura Heaphy contributed the chapter on Science Fiction and Kelly Fann the one on Horror. John Charles and Shelley Mosley, two of the editors of Romance Today: An A-to-Z Guide to Contemporary American Romance Writers penned the Romance chapter. Rebecca Vnuk contributed the chapter on Women's Lives. Lynn Wiandt and I wrote the Fantasy chapter, and last (but not least of the genres) I took on the Western chapter, the genre I've been told was Betty Rosenberg's favorite.