Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Review: Notorious Pleasures

Notorious Pleasures (Maiden Lane, #2)Notorious Pleasures by Elizabeth Hoyt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There's a moonshiner up in the hills, and he falls in love with the sister of a revenooer--oops, sorry, I mean there's a Lord who is really distilling gin in St. Giles which is apparently borderline-illegal or something, I don't know my 18th century liquor laws as well as I ought, but it does seem as if gin was the first distilled liquor that was ever affordable to the common people and thus immediately became a huge social problem, and our hero! is right in the middle of it. However, he falls for an upright and upstanding lady, patroness of a foundling home, who just happens to be engaged to his almost-upright estranged brother. And she's also sister to the duke (10 points!) who is, of course, going after these (quasi-?)illegal gin stills. And she falls for him, too. How fraught! Classic Hoyt, very enjoyable.

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Review: Among Others

Among OthersAmong Others by Jo Walton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Possibly the best book I have read this year. Mori's mother is an evil witch, and Mori and her twin sister, together with the fairies, fought her to save the world--and won. But Mori's sister was killed in the final battle, and Mori was left with a crippled leg. And that's just the back-story...

It's 1979 and Mori has escaped from her mother and is now living with her father in England, far from the Welsh valleys where she has friends and extended family. She has to go boarding school for the first time--and her boarding school isn't anywhere near as fun as Harry Potter (which hasn't been written yet. But Mori, like me, read the Bagnold boarding school books, which make boarding school sound kind of fun, IF you're really athletic and social). A science fiction/fantasy fan, and crippled, Mori doesn't fit in with the class-conscious sporting crowd at school, spending the 3 hours a day that the girls spend in "games" reading in the library. She befriends other outcasts simply because they are other outcasts, not because she has anything in common with them. And her mother seems to be oppressing her in her sleep. This leads her to cast a small spell for protection. She also casts a spell for a group of friends who are also kindred spirits.

The interesting thing about this book is that it works on so many levels, both as fantasy and literary fiction. The type of magic Mori works is "deniable" magic--that is, it could be coincidence that it "works." Is it magic or wishful thinking? Are the fairies real or hallucinations (and if so, why do some other people claim to see them)? Is her mother really an evil witch, or just a madwoman? And if so, has Mori inherited her mother's insanity? What was and is the relationship between Mori and her twin, who appears as a ghostly figure several times? Does magic corrupt? Mori is cautious of the use of magic, because it can only really be used to manipulate people and situations without their knowledge.

And this doesn't even begin to touch on the part of the book that really resonated with me, personally: being 15, being a bookworm, unathletic, and the odd girl out in a world that seems populated with people who do not share your interests at all, in those days before the Internet could hook you up with anyone anywhere--and FINALLY finding people--not only one, but a whole club!-- who share your interests. A whole crowd of them. For Mori, that shared interest is SF/fantasy (as it was, in part, for me also). There is also a great deal here about working the interlibrary loan system, which Mori puts through its paces, and boy do I wish I had known about that as a teen (I should have. I spent enough time at the library)! _Among Others_ is not only an excellent literary fantasy, it is also a coming-of-age book for teenage nerds everywhere. Read this book. You won't regret it.

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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Review: Marry Me

Marry Me (Reidsville, #2)Marry Me by Jo Goodman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Far be it from me to accuse anyone writing romance of a formula, especially Jo Goodman (whose books I adore). Nevertheless, last year, after reading about 8 of her books in the span of a few months, I did find a common pattern to many of them:

$HEROINE is the walking wounded, a victim of $ONE_SICK_PUPPY who has raped, tortured, or blackmailed her. At the opening of the book, $ONE_SICK_PUPPY is not obviously present, but nevertheless he is present somehow. $HEROINE is so damaged and Goodman is so determined to reveal her secrets later in the book, that $HEROINE appears somewhat of a cipher to the reader. $HEROINE meets $HERO, a nice guy who may be initially unfairly judge the heroine but generally falls for her pretty hard. $HERO begins the rescue of $HEROINE with his tender care and wang of mighty lovin'; she then reveals the perfidy of $ONE_SICK_PUPPY. $HERO uses spy or other hero-like skillz to defeat / kill / institutionalize $ONE_SICK_PUPPY and save $HEROINE and possibly assorted dependents.

I should mention, I think this pattern is full of win.

This book has certain elements of the identified pattern, but in other ways is absolutely unique. The heroine, after aforementioned (yet surprisingly spoilery) damage, finds herself recovering in the household of the Reidsville, Colorado town doctor (a recent transplant from New York), eventually employed at looking after the house and the doctor's vivacious yet scarred younger sister. The relationship between the hero and heroine is a lot more straightforward than the secrets of the heroine's past, which keep emerging to shock the reader at every stage, and eventually intertwine with the doctor's medical investigations when an epidemic breaks out. Unlike the previous book in the series, Never Love A Lawman, the final confrontation isn't action-packed, but the conclusion is satisfying nevertheless. An excellent book, highly recommended.

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Review: Love at First Flight

Love at First FlightLove at First Flight by Marie Force

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Problematic contemporary romance about 2 people who meet on a plane. They are flying from Baltimore to Florida to visit their long-distance relationship partners. In Florida, they both break up their relationships, go back to Baltimore on the same flight together again, her car breaks down in the airport parking lot, he sees her home, <insert magical handwaving here> they're in looooooooove with each other, and his trial (he's a prosecutor) of some mobbed up types creates a suspense subplot that resolves before the romantic plot does.

The problem I have with this book is that both the "hero" and "heroine" are such despicable jerks to their other partners (you know, the ones at the beginning of the book) that it makes them totally unsympathetic. The heroine dumps her ex twice! Once because he mentions that he has wondered what it would be like to be someone else, and the second time because he has a moment of jealousy--this would be a person that the heroine acknowledges was with her, sometimes the only one to love her, through thick and thin for 10 years. He was portrayed as a sweetie and totally deserved better than that. The hero is similarly assy to his fiancee--granted she was turning into a bit of a bridezilla and her parents were overbearing, but rather than try to work things out he dumps her in the middle of their engagement party, refuses to work things out, and later (even though she does something to him that I think is absolutely reprehensible) he refuses to take her seriously when something really important happens.

So, this book just didn't work for me. Luckily, it was a free offer so I don't feel like I wasted my money so much as my time. It gets the second star because the author actually writes rather well; if she could summon up some sympathetic characters I might try something else by her.

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Review: Unveiled

Unveiled (Hqn)Unveiled by Courtney Milan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ash Turner would do anything for his brothers. So when their cousin the Duke (10 points!) refuses assistance and leaves his brothers destitute and his sister to die, Ash vows revenge. And revenge he gets, when he discovers the Duke was a bigamist, leaving his sons unable to inherit-- and Ash as the heir presumptive. But the Duke also has a daughter, a daughter who's acting as and has disguised herself as his nurse...and whose loyalty to her family comes into question when she not only falls for Ash, but discovers he's far nicer, actually, than anyone in her family. This is probably my favorite of Milan's novels to date, but _This Wicked Gift_ (from The Heart of Christmas: A Handful of Gold\ The Season for Suitors\ This Wicked Gift) still remains my #1 favorite of hers.

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