June Reads, 2017

SilverSilence_SinghSilver Silence by Nalini Singh.  I loved this book! Hope we get to see a whole lot more of StoneWater. And add my vote for an Arwen/Pasha novella. Pretty please!  Lots of other story possibilities here.  Stasya and someone from BlackEdge, for instance.  Tanique and Leila.  I don’t think it’s time for Bo, because I really think he’s going to be paired with Miane.  And, of course, poor Lily.

About the Architect.  Shoshona would be way too easy.  But I have no doubt she’s involved, and no doubt thinks she’s the Architect!

Lady Susan by Jane Austen.  I very much enjoyed this early Austen work and don’t see why anyone thinks it needed a rewrite.  It didn’t take very long at all for me to have a serious hate on for Lady Susan Vernon.

DangerousDuke-London_HunterThe Most Dangerous Duke in London by Madeline Hunter.  Typical historical romance with an angry hero bent on revenge on the heroine’s family.  Enjoyable while I was reading, but not much stuck with me afterwards.  The heroine, Lady Clara, was a little unusual in that she was aware of this possible/probable motive for seduction.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen.  After reading and loving Lady Susan, I decided to read another Jane Austen work I hadn’t yet read.  I didn’t like it nearly as much.  Mostly, I think, because I didn’t warm to any of the characters.  No one stood out or inspired much emotion in me at all.  Very un-Austen.  The exception on the emotion front was Mr. Crawford.  I wanted to smack him.

Neanderthal_CameronThe Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron.  This was an enjoyable, imaginative read, but I think I would have enjoyed this book more without the trips into the modern world.  I realize that the comparison between Girl and Rose, between a Neanderthal and a modern human female, was one of the main themes of the books, but I would have preferred knowing how Girl interacted with the female who was and was not part of the families she meets at the end of the novel.

The Chosen by J. R. Ward.  The only thing of interest here, for me, was Lassiter’s change in station.  Layla and X’cor hold no interest for me, and, frankly, I’m getting a little tired of Qhuinn being an ass and Blay tragically suffering for it.  I think this marks the end of the BDB for me.  I’m even less interested in Assail than I was in Layla and X’cor.

Daughter of Albion by Ilka Tampke

To the rest of the world, this book bears the title Skin, and it is much more apropos.

Born to the skinless, or lost to their families before naming, the unskinned were not claimed by a totem.  Their souls were fragmented, unbound to the Singing…The passage from womb to world was only half a birth–the body’s birth.  Our souls were born when we were plunged, as babes, into river water, screaming at the cold shock of it, given our name and called to skin…Skin was our greeting, our mother, our ancestors, our land.  Nothing existed outside its reach.

Beyond skin there was only darkness.  Only chaos.

Because I was without skin I could not be plunged or named.  I was half-born, born in body but not in soul.  Born to the world but not to the tribe.  I could never marry lest skin taboos were unknowingly betrayed.  Deer did not marry well to owl.  Owl to oak.  At Ceremony I had to be silent, and keep to the edges.  For where would I stand?  What would I chant?

I lived with these losses, but the one that hollowed my chest was that I was not permitted to learn.  All learning began and ended with the songs of skin.

Left at the kitchen doorstep the Tribequeen’s dwelling as a babe newborn, cord still attached, Ailia was raised by the Cookmother. Being an orphan without known blood kin, she was skinless, outside the tribe.  Without skin she was forbidden to marry and permitted no knowledge.  Even something so basic as learning to swim was denied her.  And yet, the seeds of Knowledge were within her, fostered by the Mothers and they would not be denied.

In the first century A. D., Cunobelinos, King of the Catuvellauni, began to carve out the beginnings of an empire for himself in southeastern Britannia.  Conquering, first the Trinovantes, a tribe allied to Rome.  But the king chose his timing well, for the Romans were otherwise occupied following their shocking defeat at Teutoburg Forest.  He with his sons and his brother, would continue to expand their influence to Cantii and the Artrebates before his death in about A. D. 40.  One of his sons, Caratacos, completed the conquest of the Artrebates, and their king, Verica, fled to Rome, providing the Romans under Claudius just the excuse for which it had been waiting to invade Britannia for the second time.  The Romans are no respecters of skin.

Ailia finds herself torn between the two worlds.   When her skin is finally revealed, you kind of want to smack yourself because it was rather obvious with clues galore scattered throughout the book.

Skin/Daughter of Albion is a wonderful story about a young woman’s need to belong.  Her struggle for knowledge, for love, and for family.  Ilka Tampke’s world is richly imagined, drawn from our small knowledge of Druidic doctrine and the traditions of the Aborigines which, somehow, fit together seamlessly.  When the sequel comes out, I’ll definitely be reading it.

Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Allegiance of Honor by Nalini Singh

There may be a few minor spoilers, be warned.

Allegiance_SinghThe pacing was quite different from the other books in the series, so it took me a chapter or two to get into the rhythm, but after that, Allegiance of Honor was a treat for heart for all of us devoted to the characters of this series.  Ms. Singh describes this book as an ensemble cast, and it is, but there’s also a focus, though a soft one, on Lucas and Sascha.  On Naya.

But, as promised, there were scenes with just about everybody.  We got to meet the pupcubs and see Xavier reunited with his Nina.  Annie and Kaleb, finally, meet.  We see more of BlackSea, and of Faith’s brother.  I smell a romance there.  I’m also getting that vibe from certain members of BlackSea and the Alliance.  We’ll see. And, of course, there’s Anthony and Nikita.  Just what is going on there will be used to torture us for many books to come, I think.  The fun kind.

And, then there’s the Architect.  Who, by the way, I still think is Shoshana.  She’s been way too quiet for way too long not to be up to her neck in the Consortium.  And, as always, her overweening ambition is going come back and bite her in the ass.  The Architect has a rather long and bloody list of assassinations in their long range plans for world domination and, leaving aside the Changelings on that list, on the Psy will put her on the bad side of a particular powerful Clan and its extremely ruthless and cunning matriarch.  In the end, that final epic showdown, I think it might end up, at the heart, being Shoshona against Nikita.  There will be other players, of course, but they’ll be the epicenter.  Also, whether of not Shoshona is or is not the Architect, I have a feeling the Alliance chips are going to play into her Queen Bee delusion.  And isn’t it interesting that the Architect has so much respect for, and was so observant of, Zee Zen?  Truthfully, that part was just enough to poke a small hole in my Shoshona = Architect conviction.

I love this series and can’t wait for Wild Embrace in August.

Rating:  4.75 out of 5 stars

Written in Blood by Anne Bishop

I really liked this book.  The world Ms. Bishop has created is a fascinating one.  Leaving aside, of course, the YA-ish place names.  I found Tess and the Elementals especially interesting.  Tess is not someone, or something, I would ever want to meet.  The sensation I imagined with the phrase “raining inside her head” was really unsettling.  Freaky.  Creepy.

Written_BishopMy only real problems with this book revolve around the monumentally idiotic character of Asia Crane.  The sheer stupidity of this woman really irritated me.  Sure, she’s clever, but, when it comes to dealing with the Others, she was consistently stupid.

But she had never heard of Others named Ponygard, which meant the stupid ponies were just animals. They would be a distraction, a way to stir things up, nothing but collateral damage in the overall scheme.

The utter and complete idiocy of that left me gaping at the screen. Horses are prey. Would there be any horses working, calmly, among Wolves if they weren’t some sort of Other? And, later, after the exile scene with Simon, she’s more afraid of her “backer” and “the benefactor” than she is of the Others.

Another bit of stupidity that bothered me was Meg’s reaction to Asia. She kept getting tingles around Asia, but it never occurred to her that those tingles might be warnings.  Hell, everyone seemed to be getting tingles and “feelings” about Asia Crane and everyone shrugged them off.  When Meg, finally, put it together enough to have the Sugar Prophecy, I nearly shouted “Hallelujah!”  And did mumble “About, freakin’ time!”

Wonder if “the benefactor” realizes he’s a walking dead man with a life just waiting to be harvested?

I enjoyed this book very much and will definitely be reading Murder of Crows very soon.

Rating:  4.5 out of 5 stars

January Reads 2016

ReadingRoundup_dsI had three Five-Star Reads this month.  That’s amazing.  Usually, I’m lucky if I read one every two or three months.

I, the Sun by Janet E. Morris – I love Hittite history and Suppliluliuma is one of its most dynamic figures.  It was he who built the Hittite Empire, literally, from the ashes.  He brought the Great Kingdom of Mitanni to its knees and managed to expand his borders into the Levant without overly antagonizing Egypt.  Of course, that might have gone differently if anyone else but Akhenaten was Pharaoh.  The story of his reign also includes the mysterious disappearance of one queen, a shocking request from another, murder, and plague.  In other words, Janet Morris had a lot of raw material to work with in weaving a dramatic “autobiography” of Suppiluliuma.  So much that, if I wasn’t familiar with the history, I’m not sure if I’d have been able to keep everything straight.  Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

The Lady Queen: The Notorious Reign of Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem, and Sicily by Nancy Goldstone – The murder of Andrew of Hungary, Duke of Calabria, by his adulterous wife, Joanna, Queen of Naples, was one of the great scandals of the Middle Ages.  It was made even more so by her exoneration purchased by the enormous bribe of Avignon.  That, at least, is the version of the tale found in most books.  Goldstone, however, puts a different spin on it.  Or, to be more accurate, wades through centuries of spin to find the truth.  Joanna, it seems, was completely innocent.  And she didn’t sell Avignon to the papacy, she rented it to them at a steep discount.  But it’s still a thrilling, scandalous, story of family intrigue, treason, scheming, and murder.  Rating:  4.5 out of 5 stars

Duke of Scandal by Gaelen Foley – This is the first full length novel in Foley’s new Moonlight Square Regency series.  There’s a prequel novella called One Moonlit Night which I didn’t like at all.  It was boring.  But, since I like most of Foley’s books, I decided to give this one a go despite that.  And was surprised that I liked it.  Felicity and Jason were neighbors, growing up, and they have become more if not for the intervention of her overprotective big brother, who, of course, is Jason’s best friend.  Jason then becomes a manwhore and Felicity and prim and proper miss who prefers the shadows to the spotlight.  But, then, they realize they’re grown ups now and can be together.  Or Felicity does, and she’s not shy in going after who she wants.  Jason’s a little slow on the uptake, but men generally are.  This was a fun read.  Rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Janet Morgan – I adored this book.  It was hilarious and tragic at the same time.  Equally as likely to make cry with sadness as it is with laughter.  Rating:  5 out of 5 stars

The Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean – This first novel of Sarah MacLean’s new Scandal and Scoundrel series, begins with an awesome “You go, girl!” moment involving an ass (in two senses of the word) and a pool.  It was great.  I was very proud of our heroine, Sophie.  But then, she meets the hero and promptly loses several IQ points.  I enjoyed this book while I was reading it, that’s the power of MacLean.  Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Only the Stones Survive by Morgan Llywelyn – Blurbage is often misleading, but, not here. As skillfully as any ancient bard, Llywelyn takes the tales ofLebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland or The Book of Invasions), and weaves them together with wonder and ruin into a stirring, absorbing narrative of the epic struggle between the Children of Milesios and the Children of Light.  Amergin himself couldn’t have done better.  Rating:  5 out of 5 stars

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom – I loved this book, told to us by Music with music.  Be sure to read it with YouTube open so you can listen to the music as you read.  It really does enhance the experience.  Rating:  5 out of 5 stars

Where You Once Belonged by Kent Haruf – Somehow, I missed this one.  I always enjoy my visits to Holt, Colorado, and this was no exception.  The ending, however, is unsatisfying, to say the least.  Rating:  4.25 out of 5 stars

After Rome by Morgan Llywelyn – This was bit of a disappointment after the awesomeness of Only the Stones Survive.  I spent most of it wondering why Cadogan didn’t just sell Quartilla to the Pict.  She was annoying.  And what was with Dinas, Meradoc, and the flying horse prophecy thing?  Cadogan’s story was interesting, and I would have liked to see more of Saba and Pelemos.  Rating:  3 out of 5 stars

The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth – Anna is thirty-eight years old, and she as Alzheimer’s.  Luke is forty-one, and he has frontal-lobe dementia (trouble with finding the correct words and with the physical act of speaking).  Their story is sweet and tragic.  Keep a box of tissues close.  Rating:  4.5 out of 5 stars

 

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom

As befitting a book written by Music, The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto has a soundtrack.

Presto_AlbomOn an evening in the small Spanish town of Villareal, a young woman, heavily pregnant, enters a church to light a candle. Then the raiders come, followers of Franco, and her labor begins. In a hidden room attended by a single nun, her son, Francisco Presto, enters the world, grabbing a giant handfull of Music as he comes. In a desperate attempt to keep him quiet, his mother hums to him Francisco Tárrega’s Lágrima.  As the church begins to burn, the new mother, the nun, and the infant huddle together.  Only one of the women make it out alive.

Thus begins the life of musical legend, Frankie Presto who would die so spectacularly.  His life and music touched and was touched by so many.  Django Reinhardt, Duke Ellington, Elvis Presley, Lyle Lovett, Tony Bennett, and many, many more.

I loved this book, told to us by Music with music.  Be sure to read it with YouTube open so you can listen to the music as you read.  It really does enhance the experience.

Rating:  5 out of 5 stars

 

Only the Stones Survive by Morgan Llywelyn

Morgan Llywelyn weaves Irish mythology, historical elements, and ancient places Stones-Survive_Llywelynin the Irish landscape to create a riveting tale of migration, loss, and transformation.

And she does. Blurbage is often misleading, but, not here. As skillfully as any ancient bard, Llywelyn takes the tales of Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland or The Book of Invasions), and weaves them together with wonder and ruin into a stirring, absorbing narrative of the epic struggle between the Children of Milesios and the Children of Light.  Amergin himself couldn’t have done better.

For centuries uncounted, peace and beauty reigned on the island we now call Ireland.  The ancient Túatha Dé Danann lived as one with their adopted homeland and with its other inhabitants.  But then come the Gaels from Iberia, bringing war and death.  Chaos and destruction follow, but not all is lost, and not only the stones survive.

Only the Stones Survive is a riveting novel written with Morgan Llywelyn’s consummate skill.  I have her After Rome in my TBR pile.  It just got moved closer to the top.

Rating:  5 out of 5 stars

 

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

I loved this book.  It was a surprise to me how much.  An obvious parody, The Royal We is at once hilarious and poignant with life-sized characters.  Royal_Cocks-MorganYou can tell Cocks and Morgan had a great time making fun of the oh-so-English hyphenated surname.  Penelope Six-Names Something-Something, anyone?

The scenes with Emma were so said.  Bex and Nick are awesome and Freddie hilariously adorable.  I wanted Marta to adopt me.  With her for a mother, how did Eleanor turn into such a stick-in-the-mud?  Speaking of sticks, Lady Bea needed one yanked out of a certain orifice.  Or so I thought until the tree house.  I think I made a sound halfway between a snort and a snicker.  And don’t get me started on Richard.

Oh, and my mouth just about hit the floor during the phone call Bex got during that house party.  I so wanted her to tell him to f— off.  I even chanted it under my breath, but she, apparently, is more polite than me.

I saw the revelation about India coming a mile away.  It was almost as obvious as Gaz and Cilla.

Something not so obvious was the ID of the Royal Flush blogger.  Whoa.  That was a really shocker.  The way she and Nick handled it was tremendously satisfying.  I kind of wish they’d done something similar to Lacey.  She really need to be smacked, in my humble opinion.  I mean, their whole lives, she was the alpha twin.  Always in the spotlight.  Overachieving at everything.  Then, the one time Bex is the one garnering all the buzz, Lacey does her utmost to either shove her out or royally screw it up.  Geez, get over yourself, already… I may have shouted that out loud at some point.

The Royal We is an exhilarating read that has left me longing for a sequel.  Pretty please.

Rating:  5 out of 5 stars

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2015: Reading Year in Review

Watchman_LeeFor once, I agree with my fellow readers at Goodreads.  Without a doubt, the best book I read in 2015 was Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman.  It really resonated with me emotionally.  I sat there and sobbed through the entirety of Chapter 8.  It’s like I was Jean Louise, in those moments, drowning in a storm of grief and rage.  I still get a little steamed when I think about it.

My other top 10 reads for the year are:

The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion – I loved these books. Don Tillman, professor of genetics, and all around brainiac finds social interaction and emotional situations difficult to say the least. But he has decided it’s time for him to find a wife. He chooses to go about this using logic. That is a list of criteria, some of which he’s willing to be slightly flexible about, but which don’t take into account the fact the woman may have her own set of criteria. Emotion fits nowhere in this search. That is until he meets Rosie. Then everything changes and he has to find ways to adapt. This is often both hilarious and painful to watch. Even after he wins Rosie, Don continues to struggle, especially when others are added to the equation.

Souls_HarufOur Souls at Night by Kent Haruf – Haruf’s final novel gives us a last, wonderful visit with our  friends in Holt, Colorado. This one is about two older people, widowed, who come together in friendship in order to alleviate their loneliness. But this somewhat unorthodox friendship gradually grows into something more. However, others do not approve and try to tear them apart. Add in a neglected little boy and a dog and you have an emotionally wrenching read. Though I remember being not wholly satisfied with the ending.

The Truth According To Us by Annie Barrows – A thoroughly enjoyable second adult novel from the coauthor of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, The Truth According To Us takes us to a small town in West Virginia during the Great Depression where things are not what they seem. I couldn’t help but like and loathe the villain at the same time. The resolution of the conflict is rather obvious from early on, but the telling of it is vastly entertaining.

Honey_GanesanAs Sweet as Honey by Indira Ganesan – This story is told by Meterling’s young niece, Mina, as Mina and her cousins, all children, try to puzzle out exactly what’s happening to their beloved aunt in the strange world of adults.  An unusually tall South Asian woman, Meterling finds love long after she was considered to be “on the shelf” with a short, slightly rotund Englishman who promptly drops dead during their first dance.  Amidst the scandal of a pregnancy and a courtship, Meterling tries to find her place within two very different societies.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman – Elsa, a very intelligent almost-eight-year-old girl has been tasked with a difficult mission.  In a series of letters, her beloved Grandmother, who has recently died of cancer, asks her to apologize on her behalf to a number of people.  Grandma was, shall we say, unorthodox.  Some would say crazy.  My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry is a wonderfully sad, wonderfully hilarious read.

Upstairs_ZakariaThe Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan by Rafia Zakaria – This a story of separation. Of a marriage, and of a country. The Partition of India and Pakistan was a difficult, painful process that, in many ways, is ongoing. Then, when you add in the divorce between Pakistan and Bangladesh, it gets even more complicated. More messy. The joys and pains of these separations is mirrored in the marriage of Amina and Sohail. They don’t divorce, but he takes a second wife. Amina moves upstairs while the second wife takes the downstairs and Sohail splits his time between them in a weird kind of custody agreement with which no one is really happy or satisfied. The Upstairs Wife is a complex, emotional, story of a nation and a family.

2Y8M28N_RushdieTwo Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie – Based loosely on The Thousand and One Nights, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, is an epic ride from one of the masters of magical realism. With skill and imagination he tells us of the Strangenesses and the War of the Worlds which followed. How the Lightning Princess and the Grand Ifrits battled over the fate of our world while dead philosophers argued about faith and science, terrorism and logic in their graves. Dust arguing passionately with dust.

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks – The story of David, shepherd, warrior, poet, and king as told by Pulitzer Prize winning author, Geraldine Brooks. And, I must say, she does it with style and skill. I wondered what happened next, even though I know very well what, according to the Bible, happened next. If that isn’t a sign of a good book, then I don’t know what is.Bourbon_Ward

I’d say the award, if you can call it that, for worst book would have to go to J. R. Ward’s The Bourbon Kings.  What does anyone see in that book?  I can’t say I like anyone in that family or that I really care what happens to them next.  I was also hugely disappointed in Jacquelyn Frank’s Nightwalker.  It just kind of fell flat.  The epic battle wasn’t all that epic and, as an ending to a series, or three, it was unsatisfying to say the least.

How about y’all.  Read anything awesome in 2015?  Or just plain horrible?

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

One of the marks of a good book is when you turn that last page looking for more.  Asking, “What happens next?”.  And with Brooks’ The Secret Chord, you already know what happens next.  And, yet, still….

Chord_BrooksI remember the first time I actually sat down and read Samuel and Kings as an adult.  The David I met through the verses was a very different man from the prettied up version I was taught.  And, still, this book made me see the ancient tale with new eyes.

The desperate loneliness of a boy neglected and abused by his father and brothers, denied the love of his mother.  Then he finds affection, devotion, and deepest love in the family of a madman.  Only to have it all torn away by the madness.

You can’t help but feel Michal’s hopeless, helpless, rage at the neglect and abuse she suffered from her mad father and her oblivious husband.  At, finally, finding happiness and affection from someone, and having that torn away to appease that husband’s honor.  Batsheva’s fear of a king’s desire and her grief when, as a consequence, she loses her child.  David’s sorrow and grief as the four-fold punishment unfolds.  Tamar’s terror and the outrage of Maacah and Avshalom.

Then there’s Natan, at the center of things, yet outside them.  Knowing what is to come but unable to speak of it.  The scene where he utters his first prophecy, feet caked in the blood of his father, resonates.  Another chord, pulsing throughout.

On the flip side, the passages about David and Yonathan are achingly poignant.  Beautiful.  As was his relationship with Avigail.  And, of course, his gorgeous music and obvious love for and devotion to the Land and the Name.

At the end, as the joyous celebration resounds through the streets, David listens from his sickbed, and is comforted, while Yoav and Adoniyah, hearing it from their treasonous feast, are anything but.  Then it’s, “What happens next?”.

Rating:  5 out of 5 stars

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