Category Archives: books

Feeling ambivalent

An author who pulled her RPF fic, added a sex scene, and did a search and replace to publish is now publishing a sequel.  The sequel, I assume, is not something that had previously been published as fan fiction.  Yet I’m still seriously squicked by the whole process for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the wooden writing, over-reliance on jargon, and mechanical, boring sex.

Unrelated, I now have six 66 qt and seven 56 qt plastic bins full of books in my basement.  Plus two more boxes to donate to the library.  Even so, anyone visiting my home for the first time would think I had a lot of books in my living space:  four full book cases scattered through the living room and spare room, plus my current stack for the 50-page test.  They accumulated over time, some I’ve had since childhood, bit by bit and book by book.  Although I knew I had a lot of them but didn’t realize how many.


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August’s reading

Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews.  Urban fantasy, spin-off of the Kate Daniels series, set in the same world.  Liked the different perspective on the Kate Daniels world, although I don’t like Andrea as narrator as much as I like Kate.  I am not sure I buy her transformation, to be honest.  In a more general observation about both series, I have a lot of questions about the world building, in part because the use of technology seems to be increasing in comparison to the early Kate books.  Is that a function of character? Or slight bending of original set up to serve plot?  I’ve noted in earlier comments that there is some wonky grammar and writing, which kind of surprises me given the editor of this series.

Lord John and the Private Matter by Diana Gabaldon.  Historical mystery.  DNF.  I liked Lord John Grey as narrator, but the whole plot felt Byzantine.  Also, bored and put off by the mooning over Jamie Fraser, whose appeal utterly escapes me as a reader.

The Last Run by Greg Rucka.  Spy thriller.  Third Tara Chace novel, and what appears to be the last with her as an active operative.  Enjoyed it.

When in Doubt, Add Butter by Beth Harbison.  Disappointing, trite, and predictable. Guessed the love interest at the outset, because it was clear that this was really just chick lit with a heroine who is more WF-aged (37). The heroine felt more like a 21 year old than an 37 year old, with a lack of plan for her professional life and disastrous personal life.  Not impressed at all.

Kill You Twice by Chelsea Cain.  Mystery/thriller/procedural.  As I mentioned earlier, not a bad book but the end of the series for me.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling.  YA fantasy, reread.

He Speaks Dead by Adrienne Wilder.  Urban fantasy, gay fiction.  (I hesitate to call it a romance.)  Mentioned earlier here.

But My Boyfriend Is by K.A. Mitchell.  M/m contemporary romance.  Liked it.

Broken Harbor by Tana French.  Mystery/procedural.  Beautifully written but I feel ambivalent about the plot.  Trying to articulate why, which may end up being posted.


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Call Me Princess by Sara Blaedel

Translation (c) 2011 by Erik J. Macki, Tara F. Chase

Published in the US by Pegasus, a Simon & Schuster imprint

Wandering around Barnes & Noble over the weekend, I gathered up several books to check out and possibly buy.  Most of the books I picked up were on my “check out” list, but the cover and title of this one caught my eye.  Even before I read the summary, the quote from Camilla Lackberg sold me on the book.  (It just happens that this is the only book I bought — the others are going to be library books.)

An online flirtation can have horrific consequences, as Detective Inspector Louise Rick discovers when she is called to an idyllic Copenhagen neighborhood where a young woman has been left bound and gagged after a profoundly brutal rape attack.  Susanne Hansson met her rapist on a popular dating website; reading the assailant is trolling the site for his next target, Louise is determined to cut hi off at the pass.  But then a new victim is found — dead this time — and the case becomes even more complex when Susanne attempts suicide.  From scanning seemingly innocent singles’ profiles to exploring a digital window on the city’s dark and dangerous nightlife, to understanding a troubled mother-daughter relationship, Louise races to uncover the shocking truth behind the crimes.

Call Me Princess is an enjoyable, quickly-paced procedural novel.  It’s a thriller, in the sense that rapist-killer is being hunted, but it didn’t feel oppressive in the way that thrillers often can.  The material — violent rape and the ramifications, along with the difficulty of investigating and prosecuting the crime — is heavy and dark, yet the books doesn’t ever bog down.  Blaedel balances Rick’s personal observations and involvement in the case with the procedural aspects, along with what’s going on in her personal life.

I thought the subject matter was very timely and current.  Most people I know, single, divorced, widowed, everyone who has been uncoupled for any period time in the last decade or so, has eventually tried online dating; among the women, security/risk of it is something they are extremely conscious of, especially after reading horror stories in the news (because of course the Very Bad Dates get press but the average or good dates do not).  Blaedel uses Rick’s personal life as a reflection point for the dating scene generally — she feels safe, but is she? — and also the online dating experience of another character as a foil to the victims’ suffering and the online trolling Rick does in a professional capacity.  It works very well, I thought, the triangulation of the failed online date, the apparently successful online date, and the apparently successful not-online relationship.

Blaedel’s website (in Danish) includes a booklist that places Call Me Princess as second in the Rick series, so I’m curious about the degree of involvement/development of other characters in the first and subsequent books.  The other book available in English, Only One Life, is actually the third book of the series.  I hope all the books get translated eventually, particularly the first one. (Why do publishers translate and publish series out of order?  It’s frustrating for mildly OCDish people like me who really need to read series in order.)

I’ll definitely be reading more from this author, as quickly as it’s translated and published in English.


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Cost per word

Yesterday, after reading a positive review of an ebook in my feed reader, I hied me off to Amazon to buy a copy.  The title is a fairly common one and that particular book isn’t available for Kindle yet, but I clicked on a similarly titled book and was taken to what amounts to written porn (that title/setting is apparently a popular one for porn, who knew?).  I have no objection to porn, and might actually have bought a copy until I read in the description that the collection included “over 15,000 words” — as if that is a high word count — for only $6.99.

Okay, let me put that price in context.  A Harlequin Presents category clocks in at ~180 pages and 50,000 or so words, and is priced at $3.29.  So Amzn and/or the publisher want me to pay twice that for a quarter of the, er, output?  I don’t think so.

Now, I know that the romance publishing industry and the porn publishing industry are not synonymous, although arguably there is some overlap in light of the popularity of erotic romance and erotica.  But are the price points that different?  Is $6.99 for what amounts to about 30 pages the standard?

Are books commodities to be weighed by word or sold by the pound?  As a consumer, is it fair for me to treat the purchase of a book, the distillation of an idea into a package, the same way I treat the purchase of other goods?  Maybe not, but there has to be some sort of benchmark for what I’ll pay and what is too much.

Certainly in the context of other goods and services I’m willing to pay more for what I perceive as quality or simply a taste or style that suits my taste, otherwise why would I buy Diet Coke rather than generic diet cola?  Or prefer one type of oatmeal to another?  I pay more for hardbacks for certain authors than I’m willing to spend on others; some books I’ve got in more than one format (ebook, mass market, trade, *cough*The Curse of Chalion*cough*).  But I’m not at the point where I’m ready to pay $7 for a very short bit of wank material that appears to be poorly edited based on the sample I downloaded.

On this same subject, I tweeted the other day about another a 66 page book (length given in the publication information) priced at $3.99.  Vacuous Minx noted that she might pay that much for the work of an author she trusted; it’s a reasonable position and I agree.  But in that case, there were direct address commas missing and punctuation and spelling errors in the sample, which had me deleting the sample and clicking away from the buy button.

Where is your line in terms of price and book length?


And on a similar note:  making a sample available for download that includes ABSOLUTELY NOTHING except the copyright information and author bio is totally fucking useless as a PR or marketing move.  To me as a reader in terms of judging the quality of the writing as a basis for then buying the book, it is an utter failure.  In fact, I’ll decide NFW and spend my book budget elsewhere.

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Some people are never satisfied

And I am one of them when it comes to book gluttony, it seems.

Despite the fact that I have several books in various stages of reading, I still want more.  (I’m sure there’s a lolcat to match the sentiment but I’m too lazy to look for it.)

Currently reading:

“The Millers Tale” in Ackroyd’s retelling of The Canterbury Tales

Devil’s Punch by Ann Aguirre (really like this series)

The Insurgency in Chechnya and the North Caucasus by Robert Schaefer (Vacuous Minx is such an enabler)

Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World by Michael Lewis (courtesy of Angela James, who tweeted when other books by the same author – of Moneyball fame – were on sale)

Homage to Catalonia and Question Mark have been abandoned, one temporarily and one permanently (post to follow about that possibly).

Books waiting on the coffee table to be added to the mix (as opposed to being stacked in myriad piles in front of bookcases, with the rest of the TBR):

Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason (mystery), recommended by Keishon

Drift by Rachel Maddow (nonfiction)

Shine by Lauren Myracle (YA)

Books I want:

New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction: Critical Essays, edited by Sarah S.G. Frantz

Tinderbox:  How the West Sparked the AIDS Epidemic and How the World Can Finally Overcome It by Craig Timberg

The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in 20th Century Spain by Paul Preston (reviewed by The Economist)

Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

What’s noticeable on my wishlist is the lack of fiction.  The few genre offerings I’m looking forward to are already pre-ordered, otherwise nothing I’m seeing reviewed right now really intrigues me.  But I’m sure more new releases will be added to the pipeline and that will change.  /whine

The big question is: will any of these books be in stock at B&N this weekend?  I’ve got a gift card and a coupon burning a hole in my pocket.


~ Check out Karen Knows Best’s review of that fan-fiction turned bestseller.  She read it, so you don’t have to.  (I was never going to read it anyway 😉

+ Courtesy of Joe.My.God:  an atheist veteran’s response to the religiosity of some presidential candidates and their churches.  (Also, the video for Wank Fest 2012 cracks me up; yes, sometimes I’ve got the sense of humor of a teenaged boy.)

~ Dear Paris: please stop tempting me with low(ish) airfare for April/May. I’ve got potential jury duty and work travel, plus my travel budget is fully allocated for the year.  Also, we have a date next June.  Love, moi.

–  The Department of Education has released a study on arts education in public schools looking at periods pre- and post-NCLB.  It’s discouraging, especially for any art exposure for poor school districts, and in general for arts other than music and visual arts.  (Courtesy of Americans for the Arts.)

+  Three people from my old division have told me this week that I look much happier and relaxed.  I suppose that says it all about the old job vs. new.  I have been asked if I would be interested in going back; I would but not to that specific position and not without a promotion or raise, which aren’t on the table.  So it’s just as well that I’m enjoying the new job.

ETA – one last link, this one courtesy of Courtney Nguyen’s Daily Bagel at SI’s Beyond the Baseline:  2012 MLB preview based on mascot cuteness.  The Oriole!  So cute it’s ridiculous.  Opening Day is tomorrow, and it ought to be a holiday IMO.  It’s the 20th anniversary of Oriole Park at Camden Yard.  Of course, it’s the opening of a new season after 13 losing seasons, so I’m not sure how cheery I should be as a fan.  And yet…

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SBD: two mysteries read

On the reading front, I finished not one but two mysteries in the last couple of days.

The first book was Laurie R. King’s The Language of Bees, a Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mystery.  This is not a series I’d read before and I had no idea what to expect of it.   My takeaway:  the series is not for me.  I was vaguely squicked when the narrator revealed her age (24) and Holmes’ (mid 60s), after noting that she first met him and was an apprentice of sorts from the time she was 14 or 15.  Okay, I’m sure the earlier books walked through the development of their relationship in a way that assuages any concern, yet I felt disturb by the pairing given the age gap.  Beyond that, the book was grindingly dull.  The pacing was extremely slow, and the narrative full of telling rather than showing.  The ending (cliffhanger + series bait) was disappointing as well.  Are readers supposed to find Mary Russell to be an intrepid adventurer?  Maybe, but she seemed somewhat Mary Sue-ish to me.

Followed by Camilla Lackberg’s The Stonecutter.  This is a Sweden-set mystery first published in 2005, translated to English and published in the UK in 2010. (Coming to the US in 2012.)   A child is found drowned in the small community of Fjallbacka, and detective Patrik Hedstrom is assigned to find the killer.  The narration is all third person, with different POV threads, including a thread from the 1920s following the titular stonecutter, which for some time does not seem to have relevance to the plot.  (It does, of course.)  I liked this book, and guessed whodunnit fairly early on despite not really understanding the relevance of the historical snippets threaded through the book.  Maybe not as much as I like Jo Nesbo’s work, but I would definitely read more from Lackberg.



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March in books

1.  Blackout by Rob Thurman.  Urban fantasy.  This isn’t the newest release, which came out in March, but the one before.  I’m not sorry to have read this installment, but am also not in a rush to read the new book.  Really enjoy the characters and worldbuilding, but the author is about as subtle as a hammer with her use of themes.  Mentioned at the end of this post.  B-

2.  Fair Game by Patricia Briggs.  Urban fantasy.  Eh, I’ve become progressively less enchanted by Briggs work on her two related UF series.  Possibly in part because I don’t think the work has managed to stand up to the significant increase in price since the jump to hard cover.  More here.  C/C+

3.  Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik.  Alternate history, fantasy.  So much better than the last book.  I’ve especially enjoyed Temeraire as narrator, which developed only with and after Victory of Eagles.  Mentioned here. B+

4.  Scandalous Women by Elizabeth Kerri Mahon.  Nonfiction.  Meh.  C-

5.  The Rebuilding Year by Kaje Harper.  M/m contemporary.  This felt like an over-wrought, underpolished Harlequin SuperRomance with a heaping scoop of Gay4U on top.  Mentioned earlier here.

6.  Moving in Rhythm by Dev Bentham.  M/m contemporary.  Another HSR that was painfully slow and boring but at least didn’t suffer from the G4U.

7.  Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson.  Nonfiction.  Written about here.

8.  Born to Darkness by Suzanne Brockmann.  Paranormal.  Enjoyed the book more than the last several Troubleshooter books by the same author.  Liked the worldbuilding.  Think it suffered to some degree from the same problem as earlier series:  too many storylines and threads crammed into a single book.  The ending seemed rushed and sort of series-bait-ish.

9.  The Kid:  What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant by Dan Savage.  Nonfiction, memoir.  Both snarky and sweet, recounting the open adoption process Savage and his now-husband went through in order to adopt.  The book is a little dated (I think (c) 2000), and I’m very curious about the success of open adoption generally and the status of gay parents in the adoption arena today; given the political convulsions going on right now, I don’t know if I should expect it to be better or worse.

10.  Frat Boy and Toppy by Anne Tenino.  M/m contemporary.  Sweetish coming out story.  Very little conflict, poorly developed conflict at the end.  Not bad but not particularly memorable or striking either.  B-

11.  Bitter Harvest by Kim Knox.  M/m SFF, futuristic.   The SFF was pretty shallow and poorly developed.  The relationship had absolutely no development; the MCs seldom actually talked about anything except sex…which is talked about a lot but appears on the page relatively infrequently.  The MCs have sex and save humanity.  Seriously, that’s about all I can say happened:  there’s no explanation of how or why it works, and just a lot of telling about how they are attracted rather than showing.  C-/D+

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It’s only Tuesday?

Finished Brockmann’s new paranormal action adventure book this evening.  Am not entirely sure what to think of it.  In some ways, it was very much like her earlier series in terms of style.  But it was a combination of futuristic urban fantasy and paranormal with action/adventure or suspense mixed in.  It was…busy.  And yet the ending felt rushed and incomplete.  Series bait?  Maybe.  I might need to let the book rest and then do a re-read in a week or so to figure out whether I’m interested in reading more set in this world.  (Yes, I’m assuming more books are planned.)

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SBD: blah

If I’m reading but not romance, is it really a slump?  Maybe not.  But I’m missing that feeling that I get when I read a romance novel and then feel the need to blog or tweet about it immediately, to squee to other readers that they have got to read this book right now!  The books I’ve read weren’t bad but they just didn’t inspire me as a reader.

The Rebuilding Year by Kaje Harper is a m/m contemporary that feels a lot like a Harlequin Super Romance except with two heroes rather than hero and heroine.  It fits a lot of HSR’s parameters:  slightly older characters, settled in their lives and/or rebuilding, at least one divorced with children and a custody issue.  There’s a suspense subplot tacked on in a really awkward way:  it contributes little or nothing to the story, and takes page space that might better be devoted to resolving the family issues or addressing the Gay4U issue…because both men are ostensibly straight into their thirties until they meet up.  TRY isn’t badly written, it just feels sort of unfinished or unpolished.

I’m sorry to say that almost any romance novel I pick up lately leaves me feeling bored.  Am I romanced out?  I hope not, but in the meantime, nonfiction is working much better for me.  Maybe it’s just working as a palate cleanser and after a few books on linguistics and history, I’ll rebound to romance and other genres with romance threads.  And even if not, I’ve got several Nesbo books TBR, along with two Sarah Tolerance books and several others.

Also on the reading front, I’m somewhat surprised that I managed to pick the final eight books, despite doing pretty poorly in the early rounds of the DABWAHA tournament.  I picked K.A. Mitchell’s Bad Boyfriend to win it all.  Perhaps not a realistic choice, but I picked books I liked (or titles I recognized, since I’d read about 25% of the brackets) rather than going with the conventional wisdom and picking a more mainstream novel.  Maybe I’ll be more pragmatic when picking my second chance tourney brackets…or maybe not.

My translation of the Altair magazine on Peru is going slowly.  It’s a lot simpler to read and comprehend something written in another language than it is to translate it for someone else to read.  Of course, it would go faster if I spent more than ten minutes at a time on it.



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What I’m reading right now

My genre fiction reading has hit a slump. And I’m working my way through a nonfiction book on linguistics, Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, Ackroyd’s translation of The Canterbury Tales, and Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare. The last has me thinking of the War of the Roses and the Lancasters and Yorks, who all ended with the Tudors.


Stained glass window of Henry VI's chapel, The Tower, taken November 2009

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