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Good and bad and temptation

In reverse order:

The temptation.  Audible.com is having a sale on classics through September 30th:  two books for one credit.  I bought copies of Don Quijote, Middlemarch, A Passage to India, and North & South.  I’ll have audio material for ages now, although I feel vaguely guilty about buying yet another version of DQ (5th – ebook and 2 editions in English, 1 edition in Spanish, and now the audio English).  Actually, in addition to the bargain price of the books, the narrator was the draw for two of them.  Juliet Stevenson did a fabulous job with Persuasion, and she narrates Middlemarch and North & South.  I’m going to end up buying audio versions of all Austen’s work…and A Room of One’s Own…and Lady Windermere’s Fan. Oh gods, my budget.

The bad.  I downloaded Chaser by Rick Reed; I can’t remember who recommended it originally, but the blurb was kind of interesting, in part because it had an overweight hero, which is as rare in m/m as an overweight heroine is in het romance, if not more so.  The writing wasn’t terrible, in terms of mechanics, although I did highlight some weird phrasing and punctuation.  But the stereotypes!  The manipulative, exploitative, sexually-overdone, shallow, cosmetically and gym enhanced BFF.  The hero who let his BFF walk all over him, who was ashamed of who he was attracted to, who jumped to conclusions at the drop of a hat, and engaged in diva-ish behavior.  The other hero could’ve been interesting, but he was just a straw man.  After two hot nights of sex, he was motivated to change himself for his One Tru Wuv (to whom he couldn’t actually talk about his body issues or the big changes he was making in his life), but there was no foundation for who he had been before or why he was changing other than to appeal to the other MC.  Who was, basically, an asshole who couldn’t face his own fetishes even in the safety of a therapist’s office and never bothered to mention that he liked large men but then got pissed off when his two night stand lost a bunch of weight.   This could have been a great story, but ended up being a shrill, gay version of all the het romances in which characters only get an HEA or HFN if they are buff and gym-polished.  F to the nth degree.

The good.  The End of Nowhere by Elizabeth George.  Really enjoyed this book and have things to say about it but want to reread it before attempting what will likely be a spoilerific review.  This is George’s YA debut, and her afterword notes how much her editor had to guide her and how steep her learning curve was for this new genre.  Which makes me wonder:  another big name author jumping on the bandwagon of YA in light of its recent popularity?  Back at RWA2009, one of the panels I attended was about how to write YA.  One of the key points of the panel was that things that work in adult fiction do not work for YA fiction and not all authors can or should attempt to publish in the genre.  On one hand, this read as YA, not adult fiction edited into YA format or wedged into its constraints.  On the other hand, at some point the YA market will be saturated; as much as I like YA, I like adult fiction more and am not willing to read ever increasing amounts of YA as former adult fiction authors transition to the current money maker.


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Seen at The Strand Bookstore

In addition to visiting Flushing Meadows to watch supremely athletic people smack around  innocent, little, yellow tennis balls, I saw some theater and visited The Strand this week.  No trip to New York is complete without a visit to the bookstore.

I wound up with a copy of Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson, a Native American narrative set in Southern California after the Mexican-American War, two of Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant urban fantasy/mystery/procedural books, and Garcia Marquez’s The Story of A Shipwrecked Sailor.  Am tearing through Midnight Riot right now, love it.

In the half-price mass market paperback bin, I was tempted by a copy of Jennifer Probst’s The Marriage Bargain.  It looked worth the price point (half of $7.99), and I’d heard good things about it, but in the end it didn’t appeal as much as the other books in my basket, and I had a self-imposed limit of four books.  I noticed on my way out, though, a stack of trade paperback editions of The Marriage Bargain.  Someone in a hurry would see those first, and end up paying the slightly discounted tpb price of $11.69 over the $4 bargain bin price.  I guess it pays to be a bargain browser.

Also in the half price mmpb section were a bunch of YA paranormal and urban fantasy books, including nearly all of Tamora Pierce’s backlist dating back to the Alanna books…which I read and loved; I can remember checking out The Woman Who Rides Like A Man from the school library in hardback. (It was a favorite, along with L.M. Montgomery’s Anne books, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and Across Five Aprils.) Made me wonder if someone had cleared out a kid’s bedroom bookshelves after she headed off to college.

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Read/reading now

I’ve recently read a few things that I’m not going to review in full or even in brief but I do want to mention them.

Kill You Twice by Chelsea Cain.  Book 5 of the Archie Sheridan series.  I commented over at AvidMysteryReader‘s blog that this is it for me with this series.  I started out loving the utterly twisted dynamic between Archie Sheridan and Gretchen Lowell, the serial killer who tortured him but chose not to kill him, because it was so different from anything else I had read in mysteries/thrillers.  It’s dysfunctional and fascinating but is growing stale for me as a reader:  I want the narrator/protagonist to progress as the series progresses, and it feels like Archie really isn’t, and that he doesn’t want to.  And at this point, I don’t trust that Cain will let him, because Gretchen as arch-nemesis sells books.  Beyond that, most of the major plot points felt extremely coincidental and/or utterly predictable and disappointing.  Not badly written, but not up to the standards of HeartSick.

He Speaks Dead by Adrienne Wilder.  M/m paranormal/horror.  The narrator is dead.  He’s a ghost, in love with a live guy who is psychic, and they have sex by taking possession of horny drunks, which seriously squicked me; not because of the sex but because the mental/ghost possession felt like a brain or psyche rape to me.  And their excuses parallel those of date rapists — she wanted it.  I found narrator pretty unsympathetic on the whole and the entire relationship seemed profoundly unhealthy — falling in love with a dead guy you never knew while he was alive?  The other hero needed serious therapy for a variety of things, not the least being his choice in lovers.   And the ending was a complete cop out.  If this had been a paper book, it would’ve hit the wall.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling.  This is the first Potter book that I read immediately upon publication, since I came to the series fairly late.  I haven’t re-read this book since it was published, and upon re-read the storytelling stands up but the writing does not.  Rowling could have stood a firmer editorial hand with this book, as well as the next two probably.

I’m working my way into Tana French’s new mystery, Broken Harbor.  I’ve never read her before.  Love the writing and the narrator’s voice, but I haven’t felt compelled to sit down and read the book cover to cover.  Perhaps this was the wrong place to start?



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Lines that drew me in

Alma Katsu’s The Taker is YA paranormal, or the blurb reads as such. The cover is pretty standard for YA PRN, too. Yet I bought a copy. Because of one small part of a paragraph. Context: teen girl has just kissed an older boy in early 19th century northern Maine:

I stood there for a second, shocked. I was confused, still possessed of the phantom traces of his desire, his kiss and the memory of his hardness in my hand. In any case, he’d misunderstood me: I hadn’t given myself to him. I had declared he was mine.


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Making me cry: The Fault in Our Stars

I didn’t *love* Will Grayson, Will Grayson, a collaboration between John Green and David Levitan, I liked Green’s portion enough to be willing to try something else he’s written.  Yes, yes, he’s apparently a Big Deal in YA but I’m fairly disconnected from YA and also from a lot of other genre fiction.  His new book is The Fault in Our Stars.

It made me cry.

I seldom cry.

And I could not tell you when a book (or film) last made me cry or even feel a little misty-eyed.

Hazel Grace is a sympathetic narrator: she has accepted that she’s living on borrowed time* and even though she recognizes the unfairness and gets angry, she just keeps living.  Community college, favorite TV shows, keeping up an awkward friendship with an ex-classmate, going to Support Group.  She’s smart and snarky and a little bit unbelievably mature and verbose for her age, but still a great character.

And then there is Augustus Waters.  He steals the book from her.  Also smart and quirky and funny and an utter boy (although also a little too mature and well-spoken for his age, but forgiveably so).

While there is a very tender (and sexy) love story in TFiOS, this is absolutely not genre romance.  There is no HEA; Grace reminds readers constantly by her very presence and the medical equipment she drags along behind her that there will be no ever after.

I’m not entirely certain what to think of the drunken, reclusive author who has a major role but only a small speaking part in the book.  He’s a monumental jerk to Hazel and Augustus, but he also highlights the end point and limitation of works of fiction.   Because fiction isn’t real, and even though a reader can imagine “what happens next”, it’s the author’s prerogative to write (or not) whatever the next is.  And in his case, there was no next, despite how his opus ended.

In his author note at the outset of the book, Green warns readers not to read his personal life into the book, which I have not done.  But the fiction within the fiction made me wonder about Green’s position on fan fiction and its role in his popularity (or not).



*In this, she reminds me of Cazaril in The Curse of Chalion, who when reminded by another character that he was carrying a demon within and would likely die soon, remarked that this made him no different than anyone else since life was uncertain and they could all die at anytime, his death was just a little sooner and more likely than those around him.


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Read and seen (too often) lately

Starting with what I’ve seen too often lately:  the James Patterson commercial for his new book and the Nook reader.  Yes, he’s a writer, not an actor, but he’s so wooden that it’s painful to watch.  Also, is anyone at all talking about the author insertion or acting as a character with respect to Patterson?  In the commercial, he’s dressed in a trench coat, he kicks in a door, and later he appears to be abducted by masked men, which suits what his protagonists might do but has nothing to do with his reality as an author.  It makes me cringe as much as romance author imitations of their heroines does.

What I’ve read is much more interesting for the most part 🙂

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta — This is slightly older, Australian set YA fiction.  Aside from setting, it’s fairly average in a lot of ways (teenager dealing with first love, change of schools, family issues) but the writing was engaging and it was a very fast read.

The Evolution of Ethan Poe by Robin Reardon — YA GLBT fiction.  I saw this on a Best of 2011 list and it appeared to have been nominated in multiple categories.  IMO it deserved the nominations.  The protagonist is a gay teenager, and that’s one of the story arcs, but the more central arc is a local school board election in which evolution and intelligent design proponents clash.  Excellent, excellent book, will be on my personal list of Best of 2011.


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SBD: what have I read lately?

It’s Monday! Time for SBD!

One of my goals for the year was to SBD at least twice a month, but I’ve been slacking on that for a variety of reasons, mostly because I’ve been struggling with the reading. March is almost over and I’ve read a grand total of five books. Five! Despite having almost 2 hours of guaranteed reading time while on the train! One of those books was Brockmann’s Breaking the Rules (meh) which I wrote about last week, and another was an earlier SBD, Anna and the French Kiss. A third was good enough, River Marked, and merited a post on cover art. Which leaves two last books for discussion: I am J by Cris Beam and Why I Love Geeks by T.A. Chase.

I Am J was an impulse buy for in-flight reading. It is a YA GLBT book: its protagonist, J, is a transboy, born a girl physically but struggling with his gender identity. The book is well-written and appears to be well-researched, and it was worth the cover price. It gave me a glimpse in the the angst of a teenager whose typical adolescent issues are amped up by a factor of 1,000 because of the feelings of being in the wrong body and not fitting in. The book ends with the protagonist in a relatively safe and good place, looking forward to college and whatever might come next. But I doubt I’ll re-read it, and I’m not sure why, other than to say that I didn’t fall in love with the narrative. Solid B.

Why I Love Geeks was another impulse buy, and it was a rip off. The price ($7) was ridiculous — the word count was less than that of a Harlequin Presents ($4.50). In terms of the ebook editing or formatting, there were a variety of typos in which similarly spelled (but WRONG) words were used. The prose read like fan fiction: not particularly polished. In fact, I’ve read much more lyrical fan fiction, thx. The suspense plot was unbelievable and over-complex, involving Chinese business, Russian spies, and an improbable pharmaceutical that makes people invisible. [Don’t even get me started on the biochemistry. Even as a science idiot, I had to roll my eyes. I’m sure if The Biochemist attempted to read any of the “sciency” sections, she’d have a coronary. Because biochemistry is all about fast results and jewel-colored liquids bubbling in beakers.] One of the heroes was supposed to be a cute geek; his cuteness was exemplified by his filterless babble, which was apparently endearing. Or so readers were told repeatedly. Because there was a lot of telling and very little showing. The other hero was a cliche — a taciturn, macho cop, from a long line of cops, with a big, nosy, interfering family. Seriously, I want my money and the two hours I spent trying to read this mess back. F.


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SBD: this and that

Happy Monday!  I’m happy because I’m off today…which sort of makes up for the fact that I spent ten hours at the office yesterday.  But not really, since even on my day off I had to call in for a conference call.  (What’s the point of a 9/80 work schedule when I end up working 10/95?)

Anyway, it’s time for SBD!

I’m reading Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss, a YA book about a girl who is sent to boarding school in Paris for her senior year of high school.  In the fall, this book got lots and lots of review blog attention, but I didn’t pick up a copy until January (courtesy of  — thank you!).  And after that, it sat in the TBR for a bit.  

In many ways, there’s nothing new or different about this YA book.  There’s an uncertain heroine who has been essentially abandoned by her family (although being left at a spendy boarding school in Paris isn’t exactly a hardship, or as bad as being forced to live in the cupboard under the stairs and work as a house-elf); a potential love interest; learning about her new environment; building a new circle of friends while not completely losing the old; etc.  But Perkins is doing a pretty good job of reeling me in as a reader.  Even though I’m guessing that Anna Banana Elephant Oliphant will end up having a good year, I still want to follow along as it happens.

This description of Anna’s father is such a clear dig at several authors who shall not be named, that it just tickles me.  Because I hate that they are considered mainstream "romance" instead of the utter schmoop that they are.  (There’s nothing wrong with schmoop, but if you’re going to make a living at it, own it, don’t pretend it’s high art.)  

…[H]is dream of being the next great Southern writer was replaced by his desire to be the next published writer.  So he started writing these novels set in Small Town Georgia about folks with Good American Values who Fall in Love and then contract Life-Threatening Diseases and Die.

I’m serious.

And it totally depresses me, but the ladies eat it up.  They love my father’s books and they love his cable-knit sweaters and they love his bleachy smile and orangey tan.  And they have turned him into a bestseller and a total dick.

Also, I was fascinated by his clear decision about what he wanted to write.  There are genre romance authors who have made the same analysis, and who chose to write romance not necessarily because they think it’s high art or even their preferred reading material but because it is an area in which aspiring authors can actually make a living, compared to other (more respected, socially accepted, pretentious) genres. 


At the store today, in the book/magazine aisle, I noticed that there’s a graphic novel version of Twilight.  Really?  Was that necessary?  And sitting right next to that was The Harvard Lampoon’s parody, Nightlight.  I was almost tempted by the parody.  But not quite.


Um, other than that, not much on the reading front.  Except I’ve got two paper boxes of books to donate to the library.  Anybody want some of them?  Most of them are books I read and enjoyed but am never going to re-read; some had been keepers but have fallen off the list; others I’m not sure how I acquired them at all because the blurbs are not at all appealing.  But if you’re looking for some free books (and you are someone who has commented here before, please), drop me a line and I’ll either send a list for you to choose from or do a random selection, your choice.  The books range from m/m to urban fantasy to category to historical to suspense.


On the fandom front, I have to say that it drives me crazy to read blue-collar American characters using British slang in their every day language.  The canon is clear — Generation Kill could not be more working class and middle class American if it tried.  And still the characters sometimes use mobiles, or wear jumpers, or live in flats in fan fiction.  No.  Okay?  Just no.   A middle class Catholic boy from Baltimore would put on his sneakers or tennis shoes, not trainers; a dirt poor kid from Missouri would use a wrench, not a spanner.  That would be like having Dr Who talk about putting stuff in the trunk rather than the boot: not quite right and enough to drive a British reader crazy.


The US won its Davis Cup tie, and Spain won its tie.  Meaning they’ll meet in the US for the quarter finals in July.  Potential sites under consideration by the USTA (?) are in Albany, San Antonia, and Austin.  I have family in Austin and San Antonio, and I’ve heard good things about Albany.  Road trip?

Okay, back to reading about Anna’s year abroad.


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The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell

Title:  The Vespertine
Author:  Saundra Mitchell
Publication Date:  March 7, 2011
Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Source:  eARC via Net Galley

It’s the summer of 1889, and Amelia van den Broek is new to Baltimore and eager to take in all the pleasures the city has to offer. But her gaiety is interrupted by disturbing, dreamlike visions she has only at sunset—visions that offer glimpses of the future. Soon, friends and strangers alike call on Amelia to hear her prophecies. However, a forbidden romance with Nathaniel, an artist, threatens the new life Amelia is building in Baltimore. This enigmatic young man is keeping secrets of his own—still, Amelia finds herself irrepressibly drawn to him.

When one of her darkest visions comes to pass, Amelia’s world is thrown into chaos. And those around her begin to wonder if she’s not the seer of dark portents, but the cause.

Why this book?  The setting caught my attention:  late 19th century Baltimore?  I’m in.

Amelia is sent to Baltimore to stay with cousins, essentially to find a husband.  After living under the thumb of her brother, August, she relishes the freedom to be had in the Stewarts’ household, and the companionship of her cousin, Zora.  At dinner one evening, Amelia "sees" the future — her cousin in a dress not yet made, dancing with a young man.  When she first mentions it to Zora, they both treat it as a joke:  Zora has a dress being made, but her young man never dances.  But eventually the vision comes true.  And then another.  And soon Amelia is receiving calls from many people who want to know their futures.  

In addition to popularity via prediction, Amelia meets a mysterious young man, Nathaniel Witherspoon.  Poor and working class, he’s inappropriate as a suitor by her family’s standards, but she doesn’t care about that.  She does care and is fascinated to learn that he has a paranormal gift, one quite different from hers:  he can travel by wind and be called when she whispers his name to the wind.

Sadly, some of Amelia’s predictions rebound upon her, ending with her exile.  (I don’t think that’s a spoiler, given the information revealed in the first paragraph of the book.)

What did I think of the book?  I enjoyed it, and I think anyone who likes YA paranormals or Anna Godberson’s The Luxe series would probably appreciate the book.  The narrator is impulsive and self-indulgent, which is to say she is a teenager and acts like it.  She sees things, dreamlike, in the twilight, hence the name of the book.  The book had a sort of frothy gothic feel to it.  

Liked the use of the Baltimore "hon", arabbers, and the mention of different neighborhoods, although I do wonder if the Inner Harbor was called that back in 1889 — at that time, it was still a light freight and passenger port, not a location a young lady would expect to inquire about or visit unless in the company of her family for some business purpose.  

Random editing comment:  Mademoiselle Thierry would be abbreviated Mlle. Thierry, not Mme. Thierry, which is short for Madame.


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SBD: more Austen fan fiction

For SBD, I’m sharing a vacation read.

Title: I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend

Author: Cora Harrison

© 2010 MacMillan

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single girl in possession of a journal must write all her secrets in it.

Meet Jenny Cooper: shy, pretty cousin of clever, sparky Jane Austen (who has lots of handsome brothers and a vivid imagination).

These are Jenny’s secrets:

• She has never gone to a ball.
• She hates her school.
• She longs to wear a new gown and flirt with a handsome naval officer.
• She wishes real life could be more like a novel.

A delicious dance between truth and fiction this is a thrilling story of a moonlight flit, a dashing young man, and two girls in search of a hero.

Why this book? Because I was wandering around the bookstore at Dublin Airport, searching for something to read, and the cover caught my eye. As a general rule, I’m not a particular fan of Jane Austen fan fiction, but I was in a rush and needed something new to read.

What did I think? Well, it’s YA fiction, which I often enjoy, but it felt very…juvenile.

The book is loosely based on reality, in that Jane Austen did have a cousin named Jane Cooper who lived with the Austen family at Steventon for a time. Jane becomes Jenny, for ease of reference in the book. Otherwise, it is basically a mishmash of characters and plot lines from Austen’s books.  Jenny and Jane spend a lot of time doing teenaged girly things, talking about boys and family and what they want from their futures.  Jane’s not the most likable person, really, and Jenny is a bit of a twit, although they are both products of their time and social position.

I don’t know, it wasn’t terrible, as JA fan fiction goes.  Neither does it stand out as being particularly well-written or original.

Keep or pass on? Passing on.

Read this author again? I wouldn’t go out of my way to read her other books, assuming that she’s written any.

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