Monday, February 25, 2013

Review - India Black and the Shadows of Anarchy by Carol Carr

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  In Victorian London, India Black has all the attributes a high-class madam needs to run a successful brothel--wit, beauty, and an ability to lie with a smile. Luckily for Her Majesty's Government, all these talents also make her a first-rate spy...

India Black, full-time madam and occasional secret agent, is feeling restless, when one of Disraeli's men calls on her to meet the prime minister--alone. Even though all her previous meetings have been organized by the rakishly handsome spy French, it's been decided this is a mission India must attempt on her own.

Revolt has spread across Europe and reached the shores of England--anarchists have begun assassinating lords and earls, one by one. Now India must infiltrate the ranks of the underground group responsible for those attacks, the sinister Dark Legion. To stop their dread plot, India will go from the murkiest slums of London to the highest levels of society, uncovering secrets that threaten her very existence..

And here's what I thought:    This is the third book in the India Black series, and I was happy to find that the author has not slowed down one bit.   As you can see from the above summary, India, herself, hasn't slowed a bit, either ---- she's primed and ready for more adventures in espionage.

Part of what I enjoy so much about Carol Carr's series is that she gives us a great main character with India Black.  India's smart, and she's got a sharp wit (and sharp tongue).  One might say she's a tart tart .... and I like that about her.    What I also like about Carr's books is that she works in a number of accurate historic details, with her setting and some of the characters.  London is clearly painted, and it's easy to immerse yourself in the time period.  During this particular time period, there was a lot of change happening with industrialization, and that meant not only change economically, but socially, as well.  While I don't know if in real life, Disraeli would have worked with a woman like India, the way that Carr writes things, it's actually somewhat believable.  While India's a bit on the headstrong side, and may be somewhat caught up in her own goals, I like that she's consistent.   I might want to shake her at times, but I never stop believing in her real-ness; she never does a complete turn-around and expect a man to come in and rescue her while she faints dead away.  I call this From Russia with Love syndrome: girl starts out strong, and then once James Bond enters the picture, turns into an annoying sop. 

This story had a great pace, intriguing and entertaining story, and wonderful characters.  I've come now to expect nothing less from Carol Carr, and am already looking forward to the next book in the series.  

First lines:  "It's a damned shame," proclaimed Lord Wickard, Earl of Ebbechester, and a power in the land, "when a feller can't feel safe in his own country."  He glared at his companions, who, having just finished an eight-course dinner by Francois, the Frog chef at the Albion Club, were now meditating upon the mellowness of the port and the age of the Stilton provided by the same establishment.  The earl drew vigorously on a Romeo y Julieta and breathed smoke on his fellows.

Note -- I read this on NetGalley, courtesy of an invitation from the publisher.  Because I read a galley, there may be changes upon final publication.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wordless Wednesday - poppet

Poppet with small mushrooms-Arb-Oct 2012.JPG I'm in a Spring-thinking kind of mood today. See more Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Wordless Wednesday - face

Dekum Bldg face 5.jpg The Dekum Building, Portland, OR.

See more Wordless Wednesday and Wordless Wednesday Bloggers.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Review: Blood Oranges by Kathleen Tierney (Caitlin Kiernan)

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  My name’s Quinn. 

If you buy into my reputation, I’m the most notorious demon hunter in New England. But rumors of my badassery have been slightly exaggerated. Instead of having kung-fu skills and a closet full of medieval weapons, I’m an ex-junkie with a talent for being in the wrong place at the right time. Or the right place at the wrong time. Or…whatever. 

Wanted for crimes against inhumanity I (mostly) didn’t commit, I was nearly a midnight snack for a werewolf until I was “saved” by a vampire calling itself the Bride of Quiet. Already cursed by a werewolf bite, the vamp took a pint out of me too. 

So now…now, well, you wouldn’t think it could get worse, but you’d be dead wrong.(

And here's what I thought:  There's a quote on the back of this book from Neil Gaiman, that says:  "Deeply, wonderfully, magnificently nasty."   I definitely agree.

This book is funny, and raw, and the main character is full of flaws ... and I completely enjoyed it.  As you can see from the summary, Quinn is an ex-junkie who wound up being not only bitten by a werewolf, but then turned into a vampire.  Double-cursed, she winds up discovering that she's now enmeshed in a power struggle, and it's hard to tell who to trust and who's telling the truth.   And speaking of telling the truth, Quinn is an unreliable narrator; sometimes, she goes back and tells you that what you just read isn't the truth, but here's what really happened.  So, you spend a lot of the book not knowing if she's giving you the whole story, or taking you for a ride.   I found her to be refreshing, actually.  Lately, it seems that a lot of the fiction I've been reading where the main character is female has her be: nice, pretty, smart .....   and frankly, I wanted a change.   Let me put it this way: if you know Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and you like Faith way more than Buffy, you'll probably like this book.   Personally, Buffy got on my nerves a lot, and I always thought Faith was more fun.

The author does work in some familiar details from other lore, like vampires and such, but she makes them very realistic.   For example, on p 39, when Quinn kills a vampire, "Oh, and she didn't go poof like in some of the movies, and she didn't burst into flames, and she didn't dissolve into a green puddle of goo.  She just looked surprised, then died.  Well, died again, or died the rest of the way.  Whatever."    There's a matter-of-fact sensibility that runs through this book.

Which leads me to mention something I don't usually bother mentioning: language.   As I've said, Quinn isn't a nice girl, and that means that she doesn't always speak like a cultured lady.  That is, there's some foul language sprinkled throughout this book.   While that doesn't bother me, and in fact, makes me feel like the character is very realistic in the world that the author has created, I know language can be an issue for other readers.   So, if strong language (a/k/a use of the F-word) bothers you enough that you don't enjoy books that contain it, I'd recommend maybe taking a pass on this one.  

I've enjoyed other books by Caitlin R. Kiernan, and it's interesting to see her take a different turn with this book, writing as Kathleen Tierney.  

First lines:  First off, taking out monsters absolutely doesn't come with a how-to manual.  F____ that s___ you see on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.     And yes, I think we all know what words fit in those blanks --- while I don't have any issue with those words being in a book, or even using those words, or that expression, I know some readers would rather not encounter them.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Review: Beta by Rachel Cohn

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  Elysia is created in a laboratory, born as a sixteen-year-old girl, an empty vessel with no life experience to draw from. She is a Beta, an experimental model of a teenage clone. She was replicated from another teenage girl, who had to die in order for Elysia to exist. 
Elysia's purpose is to serve the inhabitants of Demesne, an island paradise for the wealthiest people on earth. Everything about Demesne is bioengineered for perfection. Even the air induces a strange, euphoric high, which only the island's workers--soulless clones like Elysia--are immune to. 
At first, Elysia's life is idyllic and pampered. But she soon sees that Demesne's human residents, who should want for nothing, yearn. But for what, exactly? She also comes to realize that beneath the island's flawless exterior, there is an under-current of discontent among Demesne's worker clones. She knows she is soulless and cannot feel and should not care--so why are overpowering sensations clouding Elysia's mind? 
If anyone discovers that Elysia isn't the unfeeling clone she must pretend to be, she will suffer a fate too terrible to imagine. When her one chance at happiness is ripped away with breathtaking cruelty, emotions she's always had but never understood are unleashed. As rage, terror, and desire threaten to overwhelm her, Elysia must find the will to survive. 

And here's what I thought:  While I liked some of the ideas in this book, I just didn't feel connected to the main character at all.  I felt like she was .... flat.   I understand that as a clone, her reactions to the people and the world around her are based on the fact that she doesn't really have any life experience.  The author does a good job of getting that across, and making Elysia learn and grow as the story progresses.  Some of her reactions to her experiences were well-written (like her first taste of chocolate).  However, I just never felt like she was completely realistic.   Her reactions to things, especially as the story continues and she becomes more self-aware, sometimes seem forced.  

And speaking of characters, I also felt like the supporting characters were flat.  There are two other girls (non-clones) who are different, but they both felt unrealistic.  The male characters weren't any better -- and there's a plot turn involving one of them that was pretty awful.  I'm not putting any spoilers in here, but what I will say is that when that plot turn occurred, I felt like it was predictable, based upon the boy's previous behavior and personality.  When the incident occurs, it felt like the author was just forcing another element into the story to give Elysia a big push into doing something drastic .... but it didn't feel natural to the story.

What I did find interesting was the author's approach to cloning, and also, the world that she created in this story.  It's a cool concept to have this luxurious, exclusive island for the wealthy, complete with clones as their servants.  It's a good setup to have this, because it makes you think about the moral implications of not only cloning, but of how in this story, the clones are made into servants.  The clones also are not supposed to have souls, which is an interesting idea all by itself.  After all, who can tell what comprises a soul?   However, this is a science fiction novel where the science isn't really explained fully or supported, which left me with a lot of unresolved questions.  While I don't mind having some questions, or things to think about in a story, in this book, it just felt like it was a bit unfinished.    I think I wanted to like it a bit more than I did, and while there were some interesting concepts here, it wasn't enough to make the book that great of a read for me.

First lines:  It's me she wants to purchase.  The fancy lady claims she came into the resort boutique looking to buy a sweater, but she can't take her eyes off me.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Review - The Comfort of Lies by Randy Susan Moore

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):   Five years ago, Tia fell into obsessive love with a man she could never have. Married, and the father of two boys, Nathan was unavailable in every way. When she became pregnant, he disappeared, and she gave up her baby for adoption.

Five years ago, Caroline, a dedicated pathologist, reluctantly adopted a baby to please her husband. She prayed her misgivings would disappear; instead, she’s questioning whether she’s cut out for the role of wife and mother.

Five years ago, Juliette considered her life ideal: she had a solid marriage, two beautiful young sons, and a thriving business. Then she discovered Nathan’s affair. He promised he’d never stray again, and she trusted him.

But when Juliette intercepts a letter to her husband from Tia that contains pictures of a child with a deep resemblance to her husband, her world crumbles once more. How could Nathan deny his daughter? And if he’s kept this a secret from her, what else is he hiding? Desperate for the truth, Juliette goes in search of the little girl. And before long, the three women and Nathan are on a collision course with consequences that none of them could have predicted.

And here's what I thought:  I enjoyed reading this book, and in truth, partly because it's like being a voyeur into the lives of someone else (or, in this case, three other people).  I liked that the three women, Tia, Caroline, and Juliette, were all very different, but their lives all became tied together.  The author does a nice job of developing each character, and making them well-rounded; I never felt like I didn't have a complete picture of any of them.   I had clear insight into each of them, which I appreciated.  While I don't think I really identified myself with any of the characters fully, I did find them all interesting, and realistic.   I think I especially liked Juliette, who I didn't think I would, at first --- but she turned out to be wryly funny at times, and that made me like her.

The characters aren't perfect, and that's what's refreshing --- they all have flaws.  There's no one woman that you can point to in the story and feel like she's doing a great job with her life, all the time.  And they all have their issues.  Obviously, Tia's got an unresolved obsessive love with Nathan, who is married to Juliette.  Caroline has adopted Tia and Nathan's child, even though she didn't really want children.  Juliette thinks she's got the perfect marriage until she finds out about Nathan's affair, and now has spent the last five years with a veil of suspicion hanging over things (and fuming on the inside about how much Nathan takes her for granted).  

The book has an even pace, and I found it to be a page-turner.   It's got some thought-provoking elements in it, too, that made me consider what I'd do if I were each of these women.   I'm sure we'd all like to think that in certain situations, we'd behave gracefully, but when actually faced with something, perhaps it wouldn't go so well.  All in all, an enjoyable book.   I had read and enjoyed the author's other book, The Murderer's Daughters, so it was great to have an opportunity to read this new one from her.

First lines: Happiness at someone else's expense came at a price.  Tia had imagined judgment from the first kiss that she and Nathan shared.  All year, she'd waited to be punished for being in love, and in truth, she believed that whatever consequences came her way would be deserved.

And another note:  The authors will donate a portion of the proceeds from this book to the Home for the Little Wanderers, which is a non-profit child and family service agency.
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