Why would you apologize for what you read for pleasure? Every book read for pleasure should be celebrated. And novels that celebrate love, commitment, relationships, making relationships work -- why isn't that something to be respected? - Nora Roberts

I Tweet not, neither do I Like.

Here we may criticize the book, but never the one who reads it.

Proud supporter of the Oxford comma, and any other comma I can wedge into a sentence.

Authors: You are welcome to comment here, on the review of your book or any other post.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Death Comes to Pemberley on TV PBS, BBC Oct 26?

You may want to check your local listings. Here in Iowa, my local public broadcasting TV station is showing Death Comes to Pemberley - based on the P.D. James P/P murder mystery novel, in two parts, starting tomorrow evening (October 26).

I found the novel mildly disappointing, and I don't think I even reviewed it. It suffered greatly - for me - from over-promotion. I think if I were to read it again, and I suppose I will now, I would approach it as high-grade fanfic rather than the latest mystery novel by an author I admire very much. I think the change in approach would allow me to enjoy the book more.

In any event, heads up. I looked at some of the sneak peeks on YouTube, and while I see that I will have to watch with the remote in my hand in order to mute Lydia's shrieking and Mother Bennet's presence in general, it looked like a decent way to spend a couple of hours.

YMMV, of course.

link to PBS webpage: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/programs/series/death-comes-pemberley-s1/

Friday, October 24, 2014

Blogger refocus.

So some of us are not reviewing books this week, switching our focus until Monday, as protest against the recent wild over-reaction and downright malfeasance of certain - very few - authors and publishing companies, redirecting our energies to the sheer pleasure of reading a good book. We're ignoring recent and upcoming publications and concentrating on beloved old books, dead authors (who will not stalk us and come to our house or call our employers in response to a negative review for the love of all that's holy, not even on Halloween), brownie recipes, letters of opinion, community of readers, and photographs of our pets being their adorable little furry selves.

As Sunita has said so eloquently (as always), some of us are re-evaluating our role as cogs in the publishing machine.

Because you can't serve two masters.

[At any rate, not in any of the erotica I've read to date, which is admittedly not a lot.]

My own experience with ARCs was largely not positive. Yes, I read some good books, and read them before they were published, and read them without paying for them. After awhile, I figured out (slow study, me, and reviewing even then not the focus of my life) that I got more books to read if I gave favorable reviews. (This is speaking generally, and not reflective of the behavior of all publishing companies.) Well, that's uncomfortable, isn't it? If I call La Nora, for example, on serious continuity problems in an In Death book, does that mean that I won't get an ARC for the next In Death book? And what's with the pressure to post reviews on Amazon?

Some people post only 4 and 5 star or A and B reviews. There's nothing wrong with that, but if I read a book that made my toes curl with poor formatting, impossible grammar, or absurd plotting, I feel duty bound to tell the world about my opinion. Books are expensive, and the time it takes to read one can never be recaptured. So you'll find plenty of F, fail, stupid, WTF, and DNF reviews here. Not because I'm mean, which I can be, but because I'm honest. To a fault, sometimes.

Oddly enough, I hear from people more often than I would have thought that they bought a book based on a negative review here, because things I found troublesome (forced consent, for example) are catnip to them. So there you are.

I enjoy author contact here. So far nobody has crossed a line. I've had authors comment to correct an error in my review - always appreciated, since I crank these things out early in the morning before coffee or shower. Sometimes they've suggested other books they think I might like, their books or others. They've offered recipes. They've prayed for my husband's health. Some have contacted me privately by email. Not one of them (so far) has been abusive, although a couple have been annoyed. Well, hell, I get annoyed, too. We'll be annoyed together. The next time you're in my city, email me and I'll meet you at Starbucks and we'll pound it out over coffee. If you can learn to live with the fact that I wouldn't know literary analysis if it rose up and bit me in the butt, maybe I can learn to live with the fact that you don't know the difference between "their" and "they're".

So there we are. I'll be posting my very own true Halloween story this weekend. But no book reviews until next week. Mine is a small voice, but I will not be silenced.

For more, take a look at the Dear Author blog, or read Sunita's very eloquent soul searching and boundary setting at her blog, which for now is still available to all to read, at http://vacuousminx.wordpress.com/2014/10/22/blog-blackouts-and-minor-adjustments-to-vm/#more-5689

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Christmas in The Duke's Arms, novellas by Grace Burrowes, Carolyn Jewel, Miranda Neville, Shana Galen (Regency novellas)

I said I was going to read a Christmas book and I did and I'm glad I did. This was a sweet change of pace. Christmas as a religious holiday is not prominent in these stories, but there's a lot of mistletoe gathering and time spent with friends and family. So a secular Christmas, no religion - for those of you who don't care to read such.

A Knight Before Christmas, by Grace Burrowes. I've said before that I love this author's voice and will excuse her anachronisms and 21st century relationships just to read the stories. And so it goes. Oh, I enjoyed this story, even though the author felt she had to explain things to me more than I care for (lady, I've got a brain). Penelope is a recent widow but because of an oddly-written will, she must marry in haste or else condemn her family of origin, parents and younger sisters, to near-poverty or worse. Her late husband's solicitor and friend, Sir Levi, is drafted to help her find a suitable mate. He has feelings for her but there is a serious impediment to his marrying Pen. She definitely has feelings for him but of course can't show this or say it because woman. Their internal monologues tickled me. Their journey toward one another made me smile. I loved the way they nurtured one another. Also, there's a cool pet rabbit who maybe gets a little bit more page time than is comfortable but it didn't bother me. The author's asides about lawyers and the practice of law tickled me no end (she is a practicing attorney).

In the Duke's Arms, by Caroline Jewel. We have here a different type of hero, one so socially isolated as a child that he's nearly non-functional in company and continues to isolate himself. He's abrupt to the point of rudeness and is seen as arrogant and autocratic. Edith has just come into a little money (I loved the way this happened and I won't spoil it for you) and has found a little property near the duke - security for her, oh, what a wonderful thing. She's nervous, however, about spending money at all (spendthrift family background) and the duke assists her in helping her feel more confident about her decisions. They become friends, but as the duke becomes more socialized, he wants more.  [I'm in error. The duke knew her from before, when she was companion to a relative, and he's been attracted to her for a long time. This is what I get for writing a review pre-coffee. My apologies for the inaccuracy.] Again, the thoughts of the characters made them very real to me. Lovely, lovely story and so well-written. Oh, I enjoyed this!

Licensed to Wed, by Miranda Neville. I've read a couple of Ms. Neville's books before, and while I appreciated the good writing, the humor that everyone raves about flew right past me, which is odd, because I do have - or did have - a pretty good sense of humor. She hit me with this one. I chuckled more than once, and smiled. Wyatt, a viscount, has been responsible for so many people and things for so long, and his sense of duty is so strong, that when he learns that childhood friend Robina is in trouble, well, she becomes one more thing on his daily To Do list (this list became pretty funny as the story progressed): Marry Robina. She does not want! She's got her pride (if not a whole lot else) and she's not about to end up with a little tick beside her name as a project completed. Another lovely story about people opening up to love. Real characters, good dialog, not one word wasted.

The Spy Beneath the Mistletoe, by Shana Galen. I confess I did not read the fourth story all the way. I tried, heaven knows I tried, but it's a spy story, and the multiple references to James Bond stories just made me nuts. I'm not crazy about spy stories anyway - overdosed on them years ago and now they make me cross-eyed - and the business of people named Q or Moneypence, and the other Bond references threw me out of the story before I could even get into it. Also, there's a series featuring this hero and heroine, and I haven't read it, so even though I tried, I couldn't care much about the characters. It seemed really well-written, though, and this author has devoted fans.

Kindle formatting fine, grammar fine. No real violence, although I did not finish the last story. Some moderate sex scenes, nothing too graphic, too long, or too purple. No kidnapping, fires, or pirates, although there's a recurrent thread about a highwayman. Stories loosely connected mostly by locale. Good stories that made me smile and let me sleep well. I will surely read this book again, probably before Christmas, maybe tonight. I'll make it a B.

Personal note: Mr. Bat is holding his own. He's definitely looking better since I retired. I think isolation and loneliness are very hard on older people. We're getting him into cardiac rehab this week and we'll see how that goes. He feels well, no pain, just tires easily. We spent a couple of hours yesterday out driving around in the country, looking at the autumn leaves and checking out the harvesting, which is a little bit behind due to wet weather. He enjoyed being the passenger with unlimited gawking ability. We picked up some tacos from a food truck and parked under a massive oak with the sun streaming down and lighting up the copper leaves, and the meadowlarks and brown thrashers singing, and the grasshoppers and other insects doing their late-fall buzz and hum, and the squirrels gathering up as many acorns as they could carry. Down the road a bit we saw a squirrel carrying three walnuts - in husk - in his mouth at the same time, and he couldn't see around them and was seriously front-loaded, so was walking a bit drunkenly. These are good days, and we give thanks.
Edited for correction 1109 10/22/14. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Lady of Ashes, by Christine Trent (Victorian, historical fiction, mystery-thriller) (long, get a cup of coffee)

Boy, did this book look good to me. Right down my alley. Woman who is an undertaker in mid-Victorian London. Said to be well-researched and accurate, and the mystery said to be an interesting one. Plus, I accidentally signed up for Kindle Unlimited, and I'm trying to cram as many books into my free 30 days as I can before I cancel, and this one was free for Kindle Unlimited.

Unfortunately, and this is not criticizing the book, in fact, in a way it is praise. The relationship of the main female character, Violet, with her husband, Graham, is so dysfunctional, and it struck so close to home (not my marriage, thank God, but that of someone I am close to) that it was extremely hard for me to read it. The opposite of love, we know, is not hatred, but indifference, and seeing Violet progress to indifference, watching the interactions between this man and this woman, well, it was just too much. So that colors my entire review, and you need to know that straight off.

Okay. Violet, age about 30, has been married to Graham for about eight years I think, and she married into the family undertaking business. She started helping him and has gradually taken over quite a bit of the business, including embalming (rare) and the laying out and arranging the funeral, while Graham becomes increasingly obsessed with some secret bit of business he is hiding from Violet.

Graham hates Americans, and this hatred was nurtured by his grandfather, who had been terribly mistreated as a POW during the War of 1812 [why don't we have a better name for that war?]. Graham and his loosey-goosey brother get involved in supplying the American South with goods. Sent over by the North's government to impersonate a Virginian with an interest in such matters is Sam (who becomes a bit of a love interest). As Graham becomes more and more distant, and more and more of a loose cannon, Violet goes on with the business, and is disturbed when several of the dead she is asked to lay out don't seem to her to have died a natural death. But she's a woman, what does she know.

There is a lot going on in this book. About 400 pages and subplots galore. There's just too much going on here. I appreciated the historical detail, from the clothing Violet wore to the funeral customs to the rarely-explored (in fiction) relationship between England and both halves of the US during our Civil War. But the detail got in the way of the story and should have been edited out.

For example, Violet adopts an orphan. I guess this is to show us her nurturing side. Violet's exasperating mother-in-law dies - from being gored by a rhino at the zoo. (What, cholera wasn't good enough for her?) Violet meets Prince Albert and ends up covering his funeral and becoming Queen Victoria's BFF for a time. Violet is in a terrible train wreck and has extensive burns to her arm but we don't hear how that may have restricted her range of motion or strength - or else I missed it. While we have detailed diary entries by the villain, we don't meet the villain until really rather late in the show. So I guess the mystery with Graham wasn't enough, we have to have a serial killer.

None of this hangs together well. It's as if the author read the London Times for every day from 1860 to 1865, and almost in a Forrest Gump-y way, Violet has to be involved somehow in all the worst of the stories. (Lemme tell you, there were a lot of ways to die in Victorian London. And we get to read about most of them.)

Graham is so unlikable that I never did figure out why Violet married him in the first place. We have a lot of historical figures - Albert and Victoria, the Adams family, Lincoln - inserted into the narrative, which I always find annoying. There are some words or phrases that I doubt were in use in that way at that time: being "tasked" to do something is the one that sticks in my memory, but there were others. (Language has evolved a good deal in my lifetime.) I keep coming back to the complaints that there was too much detail and there were too many plot lines going. Plus - you wouldn't believe the ending. I didn't. Way, way over the top.

Violet was never brought to life for me. (Oh, is that a bad phrase for this book.) She never seemed real and I never cared much about what happened to her or anyone else in the book. I was never sure whether I was supposed to admire her lack of housekeeping skill, find it amusing, or what. Something else I found annoying was - I don't know if there's a term for this - but at the end of some chapters, the author would give away, or partially give away, what was going to happen in the next chapter. Along the lines of: Violet walked home contented with her day, but little did she know that her world was about to change forever. I don't know what that's called, but it's annoying. I can deal with subtle foreshadowing, even appreciate it at times, but this was so clunky.

Kindle formatting fine, grammar fine. Some violence with respect to the murders and war, and there's some moderately graphic detail about various ways to die in a train wreck. The embalming and laying-out details may give some readers the squicks. There's no sex in the book that I recall. The murderer is a caricature of homicidal mania (murderer is also a historical figure, by the way). It was just such a salad of a book, with nothing to hold it together. There are sequels but I'm not going to read them.

I'm not going to grade it because I took an unfair and immediate dislike to it due to the marital situation. But trying to set that aside, I still wouldn't give this much above a D-plus because of the really excessive detail, the excessive plot lines, the lack of cohesiveness, the flat characters, the glacial pacing, and the Forrest Gumpiness of the heroine's scenes.

You know what I'm going to do? I am going to re-read some Christmas books. I want something sweet and light. I want to close my Kindle with a smile. Maybe some early Carla Kelly. Otherwise I'm going to have to break out the Ros Clarke or Courtney Milan I've been hoarding for some months against the hard times.

Cool cover, though:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Scandal and the Duchess, by Jennifer Ashley (part of the Mackenzie series … barely)

I don't know what's wrong with me. It's been ages since a book, any book, thrilled me. I suppose part of it is life circumstances, but I've read my way through and then past bad patches in life before, eyes and attention focused on something other than what's going on inside my own head. I just can't find anything that pleases me these days except non-fiction and my tried-and-trues. Even I can read Jane Eyre only so many times.

So forgive my jaundiced eye, please. I picked this up because I've enjoyed the Mackenzie series so much - oh, the first one, Lord Ian's book, mercy me! The series has been uneven but the latest installments have been iffy. This one might be the one that turns me off the series. [Edit to correct: This is not true. I was thinking of another series. Please forgive me. I am exhausted and distracted. I'll try to be more careful in the future.] 

Rose, who loves roses and uses rose cologne because of course, is a notorious widow. Journalists are having a field day with her life and her misfortunes. Without family or two shillings to rub together in her pocket, she somehow caught the eye of a middle-aged duke and they married. Happily, if perhaps a quieter life than Rose would have chosen. Briefly also, because he had a hidden heart problem and died soon after the wedding. The tabloids say that she married him for his money and then stressed him so much in bed that it killed him. There's an evil step-son, the new duke, who hates her because daddy never loved him, and he's spreading lies about her and tying up the assets so she can't get the little bit that was her dower right. He's keeping hunting dogs in the dower house, a touch of color I appreciated, having known of a similar circumstance in real life.

I'm not sure exactly how she's been getting along. She's living in the coachman's garage or something like that. It's been more than a year and she can't change out of her blacks because there's no money for clothes. Sounds pretty grim, if awfully vague. She has money to tip hotel staff, so I'm not sure what exactly her status is, other than uncertain.

One night our hero, Steven McBride, brother of one of the Mackenzie's brother's wives, Ainsley maybe, is out getting drunk while on leave from the military. He's barely knee-walking, estimated BAC over 400, when he runs into Rose - I never did figure out what she was doing out at night - who takes pity on him, thinking he is homeless, and brings him home to dry out. Right. The next morning, even though he is vastly hungover, he is studly and she wants his body (my experience with drunks the next morning is that they smell like a compost pile on a hot summer day, and they're cranky and self-pitying, and definitely not studly. But what do I know?) and she's so beautiful that he is instantly in lust and would definitely have had her on the spot if the bed hadn't been too narrow or something.

The journalists, beasts every one of them, have been keeping watch over her door by night and are all ready to write juicy gossip bits about her and a certain handsome military man who clearly spent the night with her. To spike their guns - pens? - Steven announces to them that he and Rose are engaged to be married. This will take at least some of the heat off Rose, and Steven has his own reasons for wanting to appear to be spoken for. Plus he can use his money and connections to clear up that pesky little problem of the will. They can always call the marriage off later - he'll see to it with his dissolute behavior giving her an excuse. (He drinks a lot and is hungover for much of the book. Yep, nothing sexier than a guy with a hangover.)

Well, at this point, it goes from unlikely to just plain silly, and I'm not going to waste my time or yours on details of the plot. Let's just say that there are secret passages in an outbuilding that lead to a fairy house in the woods, complete with caretakers, and an intelligent, faithful dog who disappears conveniently when his part in the plot is over. When I got to the part about the fairy cottage, I started praying for a kidnapping, fire, or pirates, but there was no salvation.

Historians, I have a question: I'm sure there were bed-and-breakfast establishments in England in the 1880s, but did they call them bed and breakfasts? Steven uses the phrase and it seemed out of time for me. Oh, also: did they have paparazzi in the 1880s? Would they have hounded a titled lady like that? I know there were scandal sheets, but this seems awfully aggressive.

There's some steamy sex - oh, doesn't every girl dream of having her first time with a new fella up against a wall by a chimney? I know I did.

One thing that was interesting was a few throwaway lines about Rose's reaction to Ian's behavior. Those of us who have read the series know that Ian has come a long way because of the love he and Beth share, and, well, he's family and we don't notice or take much account of some of his odd behavior. I thought it was well done of the author to give us at least some scraps of what an outsider might see in Ian's differentness, especially in a time when conformity was essential.

Kindle formatting fine. Grammar fine. There's a HEA, and now Rose has a family to care about her and protect her, although I've always thought that sheer sexual attraction alone was a lousy basis for a marriage. Lord Ian has a bit part that didn't amount to a hill of beans. Way short on characterization and backstory, even for a novella. No violence. Overall disappointing. What we saw of these characters had me thinking that they deserved a real story, a full story, not just a bridge to a different character's novel.

But, you know, it's getting rave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and other places. So maybe it's just me. Ugh - it's a D. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Not My Field, a short story by Ros Clarke (contemporary)

It's not news to anyone who reads this blog regularly that I'm a big fan of Ros Clarke's books. She hooked me with Twelve Days and reeled me in with The Oil Tycoon and Her Sexy Sheikh and then All I Want For Christmas. I like her characters: they're grownups. They make mistakes but they're honest mistakes, and they try to correct them. Also, the situations her characters find themselves in may be just the other side of everyday at times, but they are still believable, the kind of thing that might happen to someone you know. They might even happen to your very own self.

This short story - and it is short, about 40 pages - shows us the crisis point in a relationship between a pushing-fifty professor and a mid-forties dairy farmer. They live some distance from one another, so getting together in person requires effort and planning, especially for the farmer. Someone has to milk the cows twice a day. But they Skype and email and text, so in the ozone they're in one another's pockets all the time and have been for months. They are friends as well as lovers, even though they have spent precious little time in the same room physically.

She, Carla, has an opportunity, a solid opportunity, to get the job of her dreams … in Germany. Chances are if she takes the job, the relationship with Mike will fall apart, eventually if not immediately. Both characters have seen enough of life to know that long-distance relationships are difficult at best.

We watch Carla and Mike work this out. Should Mike sell the farm and follow Carla? Should Carla pass up this incredible opportunity? Is there a third option? Does Mike even care enough about Carla to make all this agonizing necessary? Would Mike know love if it bit him on the nose? Can Carla be straightforward about what she wants?

As much as I enjoyed the story, I felt as if I was reading selected excerpts of a larger, longer story. While this is a common feeling for me when reading shorts, it doesn't usually arise in one of Ms. Clarke's books, but it did in this one. There just wasn't quite enough here for me to care about whether Carla and Mike worked it out. I didn't feel their passion for one another, or their passion for their work. And yes, you can still have passion later in life, darlings, trust me.

Kindle formatting perfect. I appreciate the way Ms. Clarke does not clean away or translate every British reference. The conversations seemed natural, authentic. There's one very short and non-explicit sex scene. I don't like the word "clean" to describe romances, since the opposite is "dirty", and sex isn't dirty within the meaning of the word to be soiled, disgusting, wrong. Perhaps "gentle" is a better word. In any event, the sex in this story is so brief and quiet that one could almost label the story "clean" which is refreshing.

I just didn't get enough story here. I know Ms. Clarke can do it. I cared deeply about the characters in a couple of her other shorts. This one just seemed superficial and perhaps rushed.

Still, it's a pleasant little read that won't give you nightmares or keep you up worrying about the characters, and there are times and places for that kind of story. If you're a fast reader, you can get through it in a coffee break, or over your more leisurely lunch sandwich and apple, and then go back to work feeling that all is well with the world. I'd give it a high C if I were still grading (and I guess I am) in that it was worth reading but I doubt that I will read it again.

ETA: If you haven't read any of Ms. Clarke's work, you really should. They are reasonably priced and they are gems. My heart broke and then was repaired in All I Want For Christmas. I cringed (in a good way) and chuckled my way through Twelve Days, and you simply must read the Oil Tycoon - turns several well-known tropes on their heads. Others of her works are also highly satisfying but I just can't come up with the titles off the top of my slightly-depressed and tired head. Oh: Table For One - really well-done short story. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Let's hear it for authors!

I'm a fairly concrete thinker. Whether it's accessorizing an outfit or deciding what color to paint a wall or arranging a room, I have to see it. My brain is squarely in the Ain't Got No column for Imagination.

Listen to the basic plots - the premise - of some of the books I've read this past week. Where do authors come up with this? How inventive can a person be? I am in awe. (Now, execution is another matter, uneven, but gosh, these ideas are pretty doggone good.) Not one of these is a meet-cute. Applause, authors! Applause! 
  • A young Englishman refuses to help the adolescent daughter of a French noble family escape from France right before the Terror hits. She manages to elude Mme. Guillotine. Years later, she has an opportunity to exact the revenge fantasy that has kept her alive when she is positioned by circumstance to be able to poison him. (She fails to kill him, however, so we get a revenge/counter-revenge plot going.) [A Rose at Midnight, Anne Stuart] 
  • A very young half-English, half-French nobleman, raised in England, is caught in France on vacation as the Napoleonic war with England starts. Compelled to fight against his homeland, he becomes an interrogator of English soldiers caught behind enemy lines. The war over, he returns to his only family, an elderly aunt, in England and tries to rebuild a life despite being cut by the Ton and repeatedly challenged to duels by the surviving English soldiers, and despite his own feelings of guilt and his PTSD symptoms. Only his aunt's commoner companion sees and understands his pain. [The Traitor, Grace Burrowes] [ I know, I know, but I can't seem to quit her - I love her voice and this is really pretty well done except for the ending.] 
  • (early Victorian) Jilted by a young baron and drowning in her father's gambling debts, with her father no longer physically or mentally able to help her, a young woman lives as a man, and runs a printing press her father won. One of the things her press turns out is a weekly gossip rag that features, on its front page, the dissolute goings-on of the baron. Until he confronts the owner of the press and recognizes her as his old love. More in anger than in sorrow, he buys the press so he can control the output, and her. (Good luck with that, bud.) [Lord Gray's List, Maggie Robinson] 
  • (Regency) Poor relation, not well-treated, has learned to disappear into the wallpaper and to control her emotions and reactions completely. While secretly engaged to a cousin, she meets a nobleman who had to take control of the properties when he was only 15, and he is also consequently a master of self-control. When they are caught sharing a spontaneous kiss, they are forced to marry. What's going to happen with two people this controlled? [A Marriage of Inconvenience, Susanna Fraser] 
  • (Regency) Young woman, not pretty, is left penniless when her father dies unexpectedly. All she has is the deed to a castle, which she finds in ruins. Also inhabiting the castle is a wounded, disfigured, mostly blind nobleman who says he owns the place. They decide to live there together - chastely - until she can read through the mountain of correspondence he's been neglecting to see who owns the castle. (The thing I liked best about this book is the way it sends up, gently and lovingly, rabid fans of Star Trek, Star Wars - any group of rabid fans who dress up and act in character.) [Romancing the Duke: Castles Ever After, Tessa Dare] 
Personal note: Retirement is growing on me. Mr. Bat's recent testing shows about 10% improvement in his lung function, something that in his case is supposed to be impossible, but there it is. He tires easily and sleeps rather a good deal - about 13-14 hours a day - but when he's awake he is fully engaged, comfortable, and completely himself except for a weak, thin voice. We're looking forward to moving on Wednesday. We'll have a much better view - nearly unobstructed view east instead of looking out onto a hospital with no visible sky - and a brand new carpet for the cat to decorate with hairballs. Think I'd better start packing.

ETA: Titles and authors of the books.] 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Some drive-through reviews, two romance and one suspense/mystery (long post)

Newly retired, my book-buying days are over. I am now in the land of the Kindle freebie and I genuflect before the Free Library of Philadelphia and the fine taxpayers of that fair city, who for a pittance give me a year's free access to their electronic catalog. Hail, City of Brotherly Love! (That sounds a little flippant, but I'm sincere. FLP is a godsend for folks like me.)

First up is a contemporary and I hesitate to call it a romance, more like chick lit, maybe? It caught my eye because it was 1) well, yes, free, and 2) epistolary (sort of). The Sound of Crickets, by Melissa Farrar, sounded good: four women, strangers to one another, start a common blog, each one taking one week of the month, and their stories are told in the emails they exchange and their blog posts (with the comments, an interesting component and essential to the plot). Three of the women are married, one single. We follow them for about a year, I think, as they bond.

I once submitted an essay a professor called "a triumph of form over substance." This novel is well-written in that there are no errors in grammar that I caught, no huge holes in the plot, no Kindle formatting errors - it's technically well put together. My quarrel with the book is that I couldn't keep the characters separate, especially the three married women, who all merged into one whining blob at times. There were some good moments, too, though. One in particular I can't describe without spoiling, but if you've got a brain in your head, you see exactly where the plot is going at the second appearance of the character, and I found myself wanting to take the blogger by the hand and explain to her why taking that initial step toward what she was going to do was beyond stupid. So it was a whining blob I cared about (grin). As a nurse, there were some plot points that I would take issue with, but OTOH, every person is different and who am I to say that it couldn't go the way that it did.

If you cry easily, there will be tears near the end. I did enjoy the demonstration of the ability of women to bond nearly instantly - every woman a sister - which is something I've experienced repeatedly. So: if I were still grading, it would be a high D or a low C. Worth time if you're into chick lit but perhaps not money.

I also skipped through Written in My Own Heart's Blood, by Diana Gabaldon, the latest in the Outlander series of doorstops. It took me years, honestly years, to get through the first three books in this series, and I've read the rest of them primarily to catch up with Lord John, a character I fell in love with. I was surprised at how engaging this book was, even though half of it was about characters or situations I really don't care much about. The first, oh, third of the book is also quite amusing, to the point that I actually chuckled aloud, which I don't do often when reading. I picked it up primarily because - now, this can't be a spoiler when it's on the blurb - I wanted to see what happened next in Claire's situation. When we last saw Claire, she and Lord John thought Jamie was dead at sea, and John insisted on marrying Claire to protect her from a possible charge of treason, and then they (gasp!) actually consummated the marriage! On top of that, here rises Jamie, thin but alive, and royally pissed off at the whole situation. (All potential double entendres in that paragraph completely unconscious and I don't have time to fix them.)

Claire, of course, is still her unlikable self, still inventing penicillin and preparing to blow up houses making ether (nice recovery, author, to insert the fact that ether was available at the pharmacy in those days, news to Claire) but nearly clueless about American Revolutionary history except for which side won. (That's not a criticism of Claire, by the way. Why would a 20th century Englishwoman know siccum about small battles of a war fought overseas 200 years earlier? I don't know every battle of the War of the Roses, after all.)

Annoying to me was the appearance of real people, such as George Washington and other big wigs of history. (Oh gawd I just did it again.) I have never cared for the use of real people as characters in novels, and this one didn't change my mind. Although the most embarrassing use I can recall was in some thriller I read years ago that had Prince Charles and Diana billing and cooing their way through a death threat. I read the book after the divorce, and every scene was like biting down on a big piece of aluminum foil in my bite of baked potato. Clang. There were some excursions that existed primarily, I think, to show that the author had done her research, but every one of these books is bloated with that factor.

All in all, it wasn't a bad read, which is more than I can say for some of the other tomes in this series.

Finally, I read The Gods of Gotham, by Lindsay Faye, a thriller or mystery set in 1845 New York City, a setting about as grim as you can get, making Dickensian London's squalor look like a day at the beach. The author's stated purpose was to write a historically accurate novel about the first cop of the NYPD, starting with his first day. It was fascinating, and the mystery took turns and turns and turns until I didn't know which character to trust and at times wondered if I had an unreliable narrator. It is very grim, very dark, child prostitution and murder, bribery, racism, extreme poverty, disease, religious mania - you name the level of Hell, it's in here. Still, it made compelling reading. There's also a complex sibling relationship complicating everything.

Just don't read it before you go to bed if you get nightmares easily. Mercy! Ick factor fairly high at times, like a 7 maybe. 

Technically well done, and I appreciated the lack of info-dumps. I got very, very tired, however, of the slang. I know it's authentic, but jeepers, it gets old, especially when one particular word (kinchen) is on nearly every page. Also, the author has a nice turn of phrase, and some idiot has told her so, because at times the prose is really purple. Although that, too, is consistent with the time and place: witness the letters home written by Civil War soldiers whose reading material had been the King James Bible, Shakespeare, Defoe, and such.

There's a sequel and I'm not sure I'll read it because this was a very intense book and I'm not up for intensity just now. Maybe I'll give it a little time.

Personal note: Yes, I retired this week. I miss my job something awful, and honest to goodness I don't know how we'll manage, but we've managed before and know how it's done, so we'll adjust. We're moving to a different apartment in the same complex in about 10 days, a smaller place and we hope quieter setting. Mr. Bat is delighted that I'm home, and I'd move a mountain with a teaspoon to make him smile, so it's all worth it. But here we go packing again, when I really thought last November that my nephew would pack this place up someday when they carry me out feet first. Ah well, it will all be over soon, and it's a useful distraction from the pain of walking away from a job I loved. Feeling a little bit sorry for myself today, but so glad to be home with my best boyfriend, who is holding his own and finds joy in every day. Going to be very odd not to be one of the commuters out there on Second Avenue in the morning. 

Sorry, back to verification for comments for a time

Folks, I am truly sorry, because I know this is a serious pain in the neck, but I got flooded with spam yesterday and I need to corral it before something nasty happens here. I normally get 200-250 hits a day, so it's a pretty quiet blog. I've had thousands of hits the last couple days, all on one apparently random post, most of them from France (I live in the US and most of my hits are from the US normally.)

I hate those Captcha things. Half the time I can't read them. My only other choice appears to be to require people to sign in to a Google or Open Access account, and I don't like that choice any better.

I'm assuming that when they can't get in, or at least can't get in so much, they'll go rattle someone else's doorknob. I have an account at WordPress but have never gotten around to moving my stuff there. I understand it's pretty complicated and I'm not up for complicated just now. :-)


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Totally personal. Social media? Good idea for retired person?

Hi. This is totally personal, no review here. (Haven't read a single thing worth reviewing although one middle of the night I mentally composed a scathing unfavorable review, about 5 paragraphs of mean old bat putdowns, but decided against posting it. There's so much pain in the world, I can't see adding to it right now.)

I am retiring in September. I'm well past normal American retirement age and with Mr. Bat's very shaky health, well, I just want to spend some time with him before our time runs out. I worked oncology for many years, and it's true when they say that no person who is dying has ever said that they wish they had spent more time at work. The regrets that people express are almost always personal: letting a friendship fade away, holding a grudge for 40 years, that kind of thing.

There hasn't been an announcement at work yet that I'm leaving, but that place has a grapevine like you wouldn't believe, and so some people have stopped by to cry and hug and - you know the routine. I finally went out and got a box of the good Kleenex to have on my desk because the cheap stuff shreds.

Most people are suggesting that I join at least one social media ... thing ... as a way to keep in touch. I am probably the only person there who doesn't have a Facebook page. I work with a truly exceptional bunch of people, very diverse, very talented, very funny, very dedicated to doing a superb job every day. I'd like to stay in touch with most of them, a little bit, short of going to lunch with them, if that makes any sense. I can count three people I'll want to lunch with or see socially otherwise, but for the rest, casually staying in touch is enough for them and for me.

It was also suggested as a fast way to let everyone know when/if Mr. Bat's health changes suddenly. (I usually just send out a blast text for that.)

Facebook, then? Or Twitter? Some other thing I don't even know the name of?

Should I include my birth name (last name) or will that cause thousands of people I knew in 1966 to want to have coffee?

Is it better to simply get everyone's email address (I have this fantasy in which I catch up with all my emails from the past year ...) and let it go at that?

Can I sign up as Mean Fat Old Bat or do I have to sign up as Real First Name/Real Maiden Name/Real Last Name? My real name is quite common. Not quite Jane Smith but not far from it.

Do I absolutely have to give them my correct date of birth? What about identity theft?

I thought I'd hang out on Facebook for awhile and see what's there, but the personal pages - ones not associated with some business - seem to be set to private or at least to members-only. So I haven't learned much.

I don't want this to take over my life. I just want to know if someone is in the hospital and if Meghan had a boy or a girl, and have a way to wish Laurie a happy 50th birthday.

Thanks for taking Granny by the hand. I wish I had a grandchild here to help me, but I don't and that's the way it goes. Your input would be most appreciated!