Thursday, November 22, 2012

Would You Eat Your Dead Dog? And Other Books I've been Reading

I have been reading not just until the cows comes home, but until they are mooing, sitting in my lap, and proclaiming (in Cow-ese) "If you don't TCOB, bitch, I'm going to make you VERY sorry."

So, I'm finally getting around to reviewing some of the many fabulous books I've read in the last few months.

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Until My Soul Gets It Right - Karen Wojcik Berner (Women's Fiction)

Our heroine, Catherine Ebert, has always been "bigger" than the small Wisconsin farmtown in which she grew up - at least, in her own mind. She landed the part of "Ado Annie" in the local high school production of Oklahoma, but her straitlaced forbid her to take such an "immoral role."

She escapes to Portland, Maine, just because she saw it on TV, and later, to San Diego, but her life is based upon running from and rebelling from her parents; then upon a wealthy husband. How does Catherine sort out who SHE is, amongst all the rebellion?

The Bibliophiles is a series Ms. Berner is writing, based upon different characters who attend a suburban Illinois readers' group. What's here (in the series, so far) is slow, character growth,  not a tremendous amount of external conflict or decision-making. No guns are fired (at least, not yet), nothing blows up,  but there is a great deal going on under some still waters.

For myself, I enjoyed  "Soul" more than "Whisper," but they are both interesting books.

 A Whisper to a Scream  - Karen Wojcik Berner (Women's Fiction)

Annie has always wanted children, and has married into a family whose abundant fertility taunts her at every holiday gathering. Sarah has two children she loves dearly, but the lack of focus, of purpose, of anything except being a mommy is slowly driving her insane.

What I loved: the characters are beautifully drawn, the reader can totally relate to the pain and frustration of each woman, the whole "grass is always greener syndrome," as well as showing how silly the whole "Mommy wars" are.

What slowed me down: they aren't stories, per se, with a beginning, middle, and end, more a pastiche of these women's lives. And though they are connected via their shared readers' group, there isn't an "a-ha!" moment where each realizes the grass ISN'T greener on the other side.

An interesting debut book from an author I am sure will continue to offer interesting work as time goes on.

Would You Eat Your Dead Dog?

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt (non-fiction, psychology)

These kind of questions do get your attention - whether, if the family dog was struck by a car and killed, and the family decided to eat it, rather than dispose of the body in a more traditional way - and nobody knew - is that really "wrong"?

How do we measure morality, in different cultures and economic classes? What is the moral basis of the positions that liberals take, vs. conservatives, vs. libertarians?

Although sometimes it got a little wonky, all in all it was a page turner and offered some fascinating information and ideas. It will certainly help me approach discussions with people of opposite religious and/or political viewpoints from a different direction and with a better understanding of where they may be coming from.

How to Knit a Wild Bikini  - Christie Ridgway (Contemporary Romance)

So, basically I attacked these books backwards. It's a series of three; I read the last, first; then the second, then the first.

Each works fine as a stand-alone (something much easier acknowledged than carried out), but this was the genesis of the series. Nikki has been a chef, but her knee injury is making it impossible to continue in her chosen profession. So serving as private chef to magazine editor Jay Buchanan seems like the perfect opportunity to rest her knee while still saving funds in hopes of a knee operation, someday...

So what if Jay is something of a professional bachelor? The sparks between these two are hot, the backstory that holds these characters apart is plausible, and the sex scenes are delightfully steamy.  It's a very fun read, but not devoid of serious issues regarding men, women, rape, and the effect of family upbringings.

Cover for Demon Hunt by Christine AshworthDemon Hunt - Christine Ashworth (Paranoramal Romance)

Just when you thought it was safe to lust after demons... turns out they're not so wonderful, after all.  At least, the full demons being brought over into the Human Plane, are not so much fun (unless you like having your leg ripped off at the knee, the better to have your toes consumed by a scary, four-armed demon).

Now, tribred (demon, fae, and human) Gregor Caine is another breed, indeed. Yummy, caring, but afraid of "letting go" to either his daemon or fae side.  Helping to draw him to embrace his fae side is utterly embraceable warrior fae Serra Willows.  Yes, we don't think of fairies as warriors (even clad in Village People style boots) but slender, beautiful Serra kicks a-- with the best of them, something that is difficult at first for Gregor, inclined to be a smidge of a chauvinistic protector-type, to accept.

I love that Serra is a skilled warrior, and that Gregor learns to value this side of her.  The action is compelling, the sexual tension (and activity) is hot, and the ending, where both partners MUST work together, is completely satisfying. Love this book, can't wait till the next.

Desire's Edge - Eve Berlin (BDSM Romance)
I went into this expecting to LOVE it, since I adored Eve Berlin's Pleasure's Edge , and I did enjoy it, tremendously... but I didn't love it as intensely. I've been struggling, since, to figure out why.

Maybe I'm just suffering water-envy. Set in Seattle, there's a lot of waterplay in the shower. For myself, living in SoCal, which is perennial drought territory, you would no more think of endless sexplay while RUNNING WATER in the shower than you would consider eating a kitten for breakfast. So I know, I had this big cultural taboo "thing" to try to get past that was bigger than any of the other BDSM issues. Tie me up, spank me, bring out a crop, sure, but leave the water running in the shower? What kind of sick pervert ARE you?

I loved the sex scenes between Kara and Dante, but I didn't feel the barriers between them were big enough/believable enough. Which sapped some of the tension and the satisfaction level of the ending.

That said, both were interesting characters, and the sex scenes were hot, hot HOT. I'm still a major fan of Ms. Berlin and her work, and this is a book well worth reading.

I Never Thought It Would Happen, Either

File:Ebcosette.jpgI did it!!  I finished Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (classic lit'rature), in under 3 hours like Paul Ryan on his marathon. (Just kidding!)

Okay, realistically, it took me FOREVER.  (And the time seemed much, much longer. Just like a marathon.)

I do recommend reading at least a few smidgens of this book, which will make anyone and everyone appreciate the value of EDITORS.  Holy underground plumbing, Batman, you place two of your main characters into the sewers of Paris with the soldiers in hot pursuit, and then digress into the care and feeding of sewers in ancient Rome? And the way the sewers were at the time the novel was actually written, and then, eventually, dozens of pages later, wander back into the way sewers existed  at the time our peeps were hiding out in them.

This after there is basically a bullet by bullet description of Napoleon's last stand (one of them, anyway) in some obscure little town, of which the salient facts are this one guy kind of sort of saved this other guy's life, not on purpose, but because Guy A was looting Guy B's person.  Pages and pages of philosophy, anecdotes which have nothing to do with the price of cheese or bread... Apparently  Hugo poured brain vomit onto page after page until he ran out of paper.

Mon Dieu! A pen, a pen, my kingdom for a red pen!

All in all, Les Mis is a worthwhile read because it shed immense light on the way true drama and character are timeless, and also, on the way writing and editing have changed over the course of time. But be warned; it's a slog.  Unabridged, it's something like 1500 pages.

A Week to be WickedA Week to Be Wicked (Spindle Cove)  - Tessa Dare (Regency Romance)

Tessa Dare won the 2012 RITA® for her novel A Night To Surrender. I have to admit, I am a newfound Tessa Dare fan, and I really liked A Night To Surrender, and also, A Lady by Midnight. Will review on Amazon & GoodReads sometime soon.

But I LOVED A Week To Be Wicked. Seriously, a geeky girl with glasses, hooks up with THE hot guy in town?

"I demand you ruin me. As a point of honor."

Hilarious, all the way through... Our bespectacled heroine, Minerva is a serious geologist, for pity's sake; our hero, Colin, seems to be a heartless rake but has unexpected depths.  The tension between these two is HOT; the sex even steamier, but there is so much humor mixed in that there isn't a single page of filler. Together their goal is to get the plaster cast of Minerva's astounding discovery of a fossil footprint (nicknamed Francine) to the meeting of the Royal Geological Society of Scotland, so there's a ticking clock. 

If you enjoy laughing and steamy, sexy romance, buy this book.

North Africa is Calling

The Belly Dancer mmp book coverThe Belly Dancer  - DeAnna Cameron (Historical Romance)

Society bride Dora Chambers is participating as a "Lady Manager" of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. I loved the idea of entering this world; there are many Regency or earlier historical novels, but very few in either this time period or this locale.

I eventually liked Dora as a character, but felt she developed... choppily. She was hard to hook into, at first, a bit of a helpless victim, and it seemed that, once she did begin learning to dance, it transformed her almost too quickly. Her extramarital love affair also felt rushed, and her partner a little too... liberal? undemanding? The husband was too unsympathetic... when she made her final decision, it wasn't as if she was breaking with anything good or lasting.

The details of the dance were excellent, and I loved that Egyptian dancer Amina took Dora in and mentored her. I will be returning to this world.

The Sheikh's Redemption (Harlequin Desire Series #2165)The Sheikh's Redemption - Olivia Gates (Series Romance)

We start with an abused child, brutally trained by his mother not to trust anyone, ever. So while it may be somewhat hard to relate to alpha male Haidar, at first, we can remember the hurt child.

Despite his conditioning, he'd fallen in love with Roxanne, and she with him. Thanks to Mommy Dearest, their romance ended, years back,but when she returned to the small desert kingdom of Azmahar, the sparks fly again. She's there to help Haidar's estranged twin brother, her best friend Jalal, press his claim to the throne of Azmahar.

Exotic location, alpha male, strong female, sizzling romance - what's not to love?

This was a sexy, tasty, fast read. 

The Bird Sisters  - Rebecca Rasmussen (Lit'rary Fiction)

The writing itself is lovely. We start with two elderly sisters, who nurse wounded birds back to health. There's much symbolism in the idea that once a bird lost its ability to fly, there wasn't much to be done with him.

There was a sense of slow unfolding, as the story of the summer of 1947 is told in flashback; the sisters' parents troubled marriage, their slightly older cousin Bett staying with them for the summer, Milly's blooming romance with Asa. The scenery is gorgeous; I could almost smell the pond they swam in.

I liked it, and yet, something felt unfinished. Milly and Twiss as elderly women didn't seem to either have made full peace with their lives, or be holding onto resentment about the way events turned out so differently, and that seems... unlikely.

Burn Me Up, Buttercup

Danger Zone coverDanger Zone (Adrenaline Highs)  - Dee J. Adams (Romantic Suspense)

This is the second book in the series, but while we get to brush up against the characters we loved in Dangerous Race, this book works beautifully as a stand alone.

Ellie Morgan is a professional stuntwoman at the top of her game - except for one teensy handicap, that her best friend Ashley has helped her cover up since high school. She. Can't. Read. She's dyslexic, but nobody figured it out, just passed her along, while managing to trash her self-esteem by taunts and scoldings about how stupid she was.

When Quinn Reynolds comes onto her latest set, he makes an ass of himself. Later, there's incredible heat between the two of them, but... he's returning to England in two weeks, and Ellie doesn't do casual sex.

But when it seems someone is trying to kill him - or is it her? They find themselves thrown together in those adrenaline high situations that lead inevitably to bed. And love, even if that wasn't on the agenda, either.

This book moves, it includes some exciting stunts and very steamy sex between two people who find a way to make it work in the end.

Book CoverChasing Fire - Nora Roberts (Romantic Suspense)

This book brought back home to me why I generally don't like murder mysteries. Either they play by the rules and introduce us to the murderer in the first few chapters, then try to convince us that s/he was too nice/helpful/religious/clean-and-neat to be the murderer, OR it's a total stranger or aliens from the planet of WTF. I knew in this book who the murderer was pretty much from the get-go. And as people are getting picked off one at a time, pretty soon you've only got a couple people it could be, anyway.

That said, it was an interesting look at the whole Smoke Jumping profession, if bogged down a bit with too much minutiae.  I appreciate that the research was so extensive, but every single fire-fighting factoid did not need to make it onto the page.

Rowan was a bit of an ass - there was no good reason for her either to resist getting involved with Gull, or to suddenly change her mind and start banging him at every possible moment. (And did both of them have to have goofy names?) I did like the romance between her father and the schoolteacher, that felt very real.

Roberts is a great writer, in terms of everything flows, characters are well drawn, scenes are laid out nicely, but... sometimes less is more.

Paranormal Creatures Need Therapy, Too

Coveted - Shawntelle Madison (Urban Fantasy)

Natalya is a Jersey Girl, a werewolf, and a hoarder of holiday ornaments. Yes, a hoarder, as in boxes up to the ceiling of the unlivable living room, hoarder.

Cast out from her pack as the weak link, she has uncertain allies in her family, in her former boyfriend Thorn, and her goblin boss, Bill. Plus her old/new best friend, Aggie. Against her - against her pack, though she's an outcast - is the Long Island pack, ready to move in on the South Toms River territory.

There were many, many things I loved about this book. Natalya's sprawling Russian family. Her parananormal therapy group, including a hoarding wizard, a mermaid who's afraid of the water, a Muse, and other supernatural beings - loved, loved, loved.  The beginning scene with her and Thorn was steamy goodness.

But... too many things unexplained. The Long Island pack is not well fleshed out, they're just the baddies that want to take over.  Thorn is still hanging around and being protective of Natalya, even though he's been ordered not to - why? What is he risking? Why does he simply lurk and not kiss her?

Natalya's illness is described as OCD, but having lived with a hoarder who was OCPD, plus having many friends in those communities; her symptoms (ordering, perfectionism, cleanliness obsession) seem to match up more closely with OCPD (+ hoarding), than OCD. It's one of my/our pet peeves, when OCPD is described as OCD, because although they can be co-morbid, they're very different mental illnesses, and OCPD is vastly underdiscussed and undertreated.

Still a very interesting read, and I will certainly look for more by this author.

Left on my TBR list from December:
Les Miserables - Victor Hugo  Bitch, you are done!

Daisy Miller - Henry James
Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert

Added to my TBR list, already on my Kindle or bookshelf:

A Heart to Mend - Myne Whitman
The Doctor's Lady - Jody Hedlund
Dev Dreams - Ruth Madison
My Cheeky Angel - Mimi Barbour
Katie's Hellion - Lizzy Ford
Romance Novel - PJ Jones
Living in Gratitude - Angeles Arrien
Bossypants - Tina Fey
Train Your Mind, Change Your Life - Sharon Begley
Water - Terra Harmony
The Cowboy's Pride - Charlene Sands
The Bird Sisters - Rebecca Rasmussen
Mercury Rising - Daisy Harris
The Brenda Diaries - Margo Candela
Hollywood Ending - Lucie Simone
Are You There, Vodka?  It's Me, Chelsea - Chelsea Handler
Melt - Natalie Anderson
Beauty and the Werewolf (A Tale of the Five Hundred Kingdoms)  - Mercedes Lackey
Beloved - Toni Morrison
The Awakening - Kate Chopin
His Strength - Kiru Taye
Just The Way You Are - Barbara Freethy
Bloodchild and Other Stories - Octavia E. Butler
Hunchback of Notre Dame - Victor Hugo
Twelve Times Blessed - Jacqueline Mitchard
Danger Zone - Dee J. Adams
The Possibility of You - Pamela Redmond
Daughter of Fortune - Isabel Allende
Alpha Wolf - Linda O. Johnston
Asphodel (The Underworld Trilogy) - Lauren Hammond
Unbroken - Laura Hillenbrand
Witches of East End - Melissa de la Cruz
The Comic Toolbox - John Vorhaus
A Week to  Be Wicked - Tessa Dare
The Belly Dancer - DeAnna Cameron
Caught in the Act - Jill Sorenson
Elizabeth I - Margaret George
How to Knit A Wild Bikini - Christie Ridgway
Somewhere in Time - Richard Matheson
Flirt - Laurell K. Hamilton
Fired Up - Jayne Ann Krentz
Fragrance of Violets - Paula Martin
Can't Buy Me Love - Maggie Marr
Colters' Wife - Maya Banks
The Jungle - Upton Sinclair
Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
The Prince - Niccolo Machiavelli
Common Sense - Thomas Paine
Lady Susan - Jane Austen
The Heir - Grace Burrowes
Seeing Spots - Ericka Scott
Dating My Vibrator - Suzanne Tyrpak
The Backworlds - M. Pax
Leistra's Rhapsody - RYJC

Are there any books you're moved off your TBR pile so far this year?  
Have you read any of the books I read?  
What did you think?