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. OK, so now I Tweet. So sue me.

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.

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Monday, June 29, 2015

A Sherlock Holmes Devotional: Uncovering the Mysteries of God, by Trisha White Priebe

First, I received a copy of this ebook from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This is the last free book I will review. I'm not playing that game anymore.

You need to know that I am, more or less, a Christian, non-affiliated but with a rich background in scripture and ritual, and one of those people who prays a lot. If you ask me to pray for you and I say I will then I will. Faithfully. I'm also one of those people who just talk to God on and off all day, being grateful for a close parking place, asking for grace for someone who is out of patience with their toddler, appreciating the peonies, that kind of thing. I keep a prayer diary. When I had paper books, I had a six-foot shelf full of devotionals and books on prayer. I talk to God a lot, even during those times when I doubt his existence or relevance. 

You also need to know that a book of Sherlock Holmes stories was the first grownup book I read when I was a kid, and I'm a big fan. Long ago, I was even on a LISTSERV of Holmes fans for several years. You might say I'm devoted. 

So of course I broke my own rule about never reviewing another book obtained from a publisher or author, and asked for a copy of this. How would the author tie Holmes to devotional readings?

Barely, that's how. With a fair amount of visible strain.

The devotions themselves are unobjectionable. Nothing new here. Your basic generic conservative evangelical Protestant Christian devotions. Some of them are a little bit long.

The author seems to have written the devotions first and then gone back to the Holmes canon to find something that could possibly be considered relevant. We are Watson, fumbling and bumbling and stumbling in the dark of our limited understanding, and God is Holmes, an intelligence and personality we can learn from but never equal or fully understand. That kind of thing.

I'm sure the author has a good heart and is hoping that this may win some Holmes fans for Jesus, but there was not one single new thought in this book for me. Perhaps I've read too many devotionals over the many years of my life. It may be that someone with a different background would find the book inspiring or see a new way of looking at things in the devotions. But this is my honest opinion: I did not find it worth the time. I DNF'd at the two-thirds mark, unable to take any more.

It might also be a good purchase for someone with an extensive Holmes collection, someone who wants to diversify or complete a collection.

Here's an Amazon link, non-affiliate: Amazon link

Here's a link to the publisher's page. Publisher website link  They have a free chapter, but I don't know if that's the same thing as the Kindle sample.

It will be available July 1. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Widow of Larkspur Inn (Gresham Chronicles #1), by Lawana Blackwell (Victorian, Christian inspirational)

I don't normally read inspirational romance novels, but this was free (rare enough for Bethany Publishing) and it has a vicar hero. I love vicar heroes. So I bit, and it finally came to the top of my Kindle.

First: This is a Christian inspirational romance. If such a thing not only bores you, but offends you, then please wander off with my good wishes and I hope we'll see you again another time. This book had a very inspirational-lite first half followed by serious Bible thumping in the second half. So.

Julia, protected all her life, is the very new widow of a physician. She lives a comfortable life with her three children ages 13, 11, and 5, has a nice house with servants, plenty of pretty clothes, a social life that includes the theater and balls, jewelry, and all that. Not ton, but nice, you know? No material worries and few non-material worries. Her staff look after the kids. If her husband was gone a lot of the time, well, she knew that would happen when she married a doctor. He was a bit older and dropped dead of a heart attack after treating a patient, quite a shock.

She has been mourning him for several weeks, going through the motions of life only for the sake of the children, staying in bed a lot. The only person she relates to is a maid, Fiona, an Irish immigrant with an iffy background, who is devoted to Julia.

Reality hits and bites when she learns that her husband was a compulsive gambler, up to his eyes in debt, and they are about to be thrown out onto the street with only their most personal belongings and the clothes they stand up in. The bankers who come to see her aren't bad people. They're family men. But the house Julia is living in has been in foreclosure for over a year, and the banks just can't wait any longer. Up to this moment, she has been without a single clue that this was happening.

There is a glimmer of hope. There's an old country inn in a quiet little town that her husband wasn't able to mortgage or sell, first because the railroad has directed traffic elsewhere and also because it's in no fit state. It's been empty and abandoned for eight years. But, hey, it's a roof over their heads and a place to go. So she and the children and Fiona go.

Julia thinks they can turn it into a boarding house. With a loan from the butler (!), who has never liked her but becomes all sweet and loving after she stands up for herself for once, they go to this old inn and fix it up and make friends with the natives and have minimal difficulty fitting in. They actually get a nice number of applicants for lodging and everything goes swimmingly. Fiona is promoted to housekeeper. The kids do well in school. They get a cat.

Julia has never been more than a Sunday-goer to church but Fiona is devout and helps Julia to see the hand of God in all this.

Then a new vicar comes to town. Strong, compassionate, passionate, he is dealing with his own grief over the loss of his cherished wife, not to mention the change from city to country town and dealing with some difficult parishioners. But when he meets Julia, who is still in her first year of mourning, he's definitely attracted. (It was kind of endearing the way he kept putting his foot in his mouth and managing to look awkward when around her, just like in high school.)

And it goes from there. If I gave you a cast list, you could probably draft out the basics of the plot. Everything is fine in the end, and I think there are two more novels in the series to tie up all the loose ends of the multiple plotlines.

Kindle formatting was iffy. Broken lines, mostly. Some words italicized for some reason. I've seen worse. Still, they're normally selling this book for $5 and you'd think they'd have more pride. A few word choice problems but no errors in grammar than I noticed. (I've given up on "can't help but".) It's very clean, with only a few kisses at the end and no description of that. There's a mention of spouse abuse, but only once, and no details at all. No real violence at all.

There are multiple plot lines, a huge cast of characters, and at least three romances in this book. It's a pity, because for me it took away from the heroine's romance, which is given not a lot of description, and ends abruptly.

There are things that bugged me, even with my limited command of history. Class attitudes, for one huge thing. Julia interacts with all and sundry on a completely egalitarian (middle class 20th century American) level. Her best friend is her Irish immigrant maid. She takes advice - and money - from her butler and they become BFF. Same with the cook, the gardener, the lodger who is an actor, everybody. Simply referring to people consistently by their title with last name is not enough to be consistent with Victorian class structure.

Plus, the Christianity that is put forth in this book is awfully 20th century American conservative Protestant, too. The first half wasn't so bad, learning to lean on your faith in good times and bad, setting up a dialog with the Eternal in order to find your way in the world and get some peace. The second half was nearly unrelenting sin, forgiveness, and conversion experiences, and I'm not into that. At all. You might note that bipolar disorder is not curable by conversion to Christianity, despite the things this novel implies. YMMV, of course.

Consistent with this is the way women are seen as incomplete (mostly) without a husband or other man to guide them. It wasn't constant or terribly overt, but it was there. Plus, everyone speaks standard 20th century American English, even a little bit of slang. It makes for easy reading, I suppose, but it struck me as inaccurate and a bit off-putting.

But there were parts that I liked. Julia is far stronger than she knows, and I like seeing an intelligent woman come into her own by her own hard work and determination. I liked that part a lot. The children were mostly accurately portrayed, neither angels nor demons, but they kind of showed up in the plot only as necessary. Probably more about them in the sequels (which I will read only if they're free, too). The story did hook me easily, as poor Julia, in the fog and near-insanity of new grief, slowly figures out how her supposedly loving husband betrayed her (although she sees compulsive gambling as a disease, very 20th century).

If you like inspirational romances, you'll probably enjoy this book, especially if you can overlook the anachronisms. It was a quiet, gentle read, except for the times when I wanted to throw it at the wall. Sometimes a person needs a gentle read enough to overlook a lot. 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Update on The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying

I've tried the author's folding method for about three weeks now and it's not working all that well for me.

First, it takes quite a bit more time for me to fold clothes her way than to do them my way, whether folding or hanging is my usual way.

Second, I don't see it saving very much drawer space, which is what I was after. The closets in the new condo are tiny, so I was hoping to free up drawer space and perhaps fold some of the things I now hang. Oh well. 

It may very well be that because my clothes are so very big and also long (I buy the longest t-shirts and shirts I can find, also nightgowns, and I prefer loose clothing) that there's just too much bulk here for me to smooth and fold, smooth and fold, smooth and fold. I wear a 3-4X in plus sizes (told you I was fat!) and it may simply be too much fabric.

I have tried variations, such as folding the t-shirt in half from hem to neckline first before forming the little rectangles, but it doesn't seem to help.

By the way, there are excellent YouTube videos showing how to fold things her way, and you may find them helpful. This is one on folding t-shirts and socks: Folding socks and shirts

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo (non-fiction, quite a bit of personal background)

The book review starts about halfway down, if you want to skip the background.

You may know that we did significant downsizing about two years ago when we sold our big ol' four-bedroom house with the attic and basement and garage and two pantries. We had the accumulated goods of our more than forty-year marriage packed away in that house, plus stuff from my childhood, my parents, my aunt, my uncle, neighbors and relatives who moved away or died years ago, and Jimmy Hoffa's remains for all I know. I'm not a hoarder in the sense that I don't have 100 packages of toilet paper in the garage, and I throw ordinary things away quite easily. I don't hang on to pizza boxes or gimme caps or old calendars. Bills and paper records are scanned, backed up twice, and shredded. I don't buy magazines. Catalogs are recycled at the mailbox. Unless it's clothing, or something that belonged to someone important to me, sentimental items. Or books (then -- now I'm exclusively ebook due to vision.) Those I tend to keep. Forever. 

We downsized and threw away or gave away at least half of what we owned when we moved. Except for what was in the garage, basement, and the larger kitchen pantry. We ran out of time when the closing date was moved up by a week, Mr. Bat fell and broke a rib and was in terrible pain for the last week before we moved, and I simply pooped out, working full-time and trying to do all the packing and lifting and moving and cleaning.

So when we moved here, we moved approximately 75-100 of those massive Rubbermaid storage containers into the storage unit here and the closets. Some were packed by one of my friends who came to help us out at the last minute. Those bins are not labeled. The labels have fallen off many of the other bins. I'd say about 2/3 of the bins contain only God knows what, and He's not telling.

Some of it is sentimental stuff. Things that belonged to family, or things from my single days. We have lived here about 18 months and I have yet to steel myself to go down to the storage area and pick up one or two or a dozen boxes and sort through them. Yes, Mr. Bat's health and all that, but we lived here for two months before that went pear-shaped, so I really have no excuse. When I retired, I thought, okay, now I'm going to tackle those boxes and throw stuff away. That was last September. They are untouched. I have no excuse.

Now we're looking to move, and I really don't want to move all those boxes. In the first place, I'm trying to lighten my load in general. And then the place we are likely to move to has next to no storage space. Tiny closets, small rooms, no storage area. It's 25% smaller than our current digs. Lord, we'll be lucky if our bedroom furniture fits in the bedroom, and we know we'll have to give away our sofa and some rocking chairs and two tables … . We'll have to rent a storage unit about a 20 minute drive away, and they're pricey.

Now, the way I sorted through much of what I did get through in 2013 was to pick the item up, hold it, and ask myself if it gave me joy, or if I would buy it again today. For many things, there was no more joy. Those clothes that fit me for about 15 minutes one day 10 years ago after I'd been on some dumb ass diet that nearly killed me but dropped me 6 dress sizes. The dress I wore to my father's funeral (oddly enough, the one day in my life that I looked pretty damned good, even my hair, and he wasn't there to see it). My wedding dress (friends made it into a quilt for me, wasn't that nice?). Paperwork from Dad's estate (it was complicated due to stepmother being either early dementia or simply insane). Paperwork from when I was writing an oncology nursing textbook (in the end was not published because reasons). Paperwork from when I taught oncology nursing. Tax forms back to 1964. Receipts for work done on a house we sold in 1993 (before I had a scanner for such things). Exercise equipment. Material for dresses never made. Office supplies (including hundreds of pens and pencils). Approximately 25 bundles of telephone line from dial-up internet days. Also some gifts, a lot of what we call dust-catchers: little pretties you put on side tables or use in centerpieces on the dining room table or top of the piano. VCR tapes.

I asked myself if there was joy there, and mostly there was not. Clothing, gifts, movies, office supplies, material, and books donated. Paperwork shredded.

But there's so much more to do, and so much of it sentimental, so I checked this book out from the library. I was hoping that there would be some clues for me for an easy and relatively pain-free way to sort through whatever the heck is down there in those bins, including the family and sentimental items.

ACTUAL REVIEW STARTS HERE. The author is Japanese, and there's a definite Japanese air to her assumptions and advice. [ETA: No foolin', Marilyn, just look at the title.] I think she also comes from, if not wealth, then at least financial comfort. Still, she has a cute sense of humor and some perspective, and while she's pretty rigid about the rules, she is not judgmental. She tells you all of the methods she tried that didn't work for her, and why.

She thinks that it's best to do the sorting in a marathon: put every piece of clothing you own - Every piece! All of it! Don't forget the entry closet! - on the floor. Item by item, pick it up. Does it spark joy? Then keep it, assuming it fits and is not worn out. Otherwise, donate or otherwise discard. The same thing with all your possessions: everything of one type on the floor all at once, pick up an item, joy?, decide, next item. You start with the least emotional things - clothing generally - and work through the house to the sentimental things. By the time you get down to sentimental things, you are starting to trust your judgment and feeling more peaceful.

She gives a lot of specific, practical suggestions based on her experience. Don't let your mother go through the garbage bags, and use opaque garbage bags. Otherwise, your mom or your kids will start pulling stuff out of the garbage to be used "someday".

She has similar, very specific rules for storing items, which is done only after all the sorting is done. Even on how you fold your underwear.

Done properly and completely, a person has the exact right amount of possessions, all stored properly, and peace and serenity result. No wasted time looking for something. No feelings of chaos or dissatisfaction. A place for everything, and everything in its place. Every minute of every day, everything in its place. She says that this results in peace for the mind, body, and soul. Harmony.

Now, I do feel better when things are neat and tidy. My desk is normally nearly clean, and the items it must have on top of it are all squared up, all the time. Same with my dresser drawers and linen closet, and my side of the clothes closet, my bedside table, my bookshelves. (Himself, well, not so much.) I am already doing quite a bit of what she says to do, especially about storage.

Where she lost me is in a cultural thing. She has been a Shinto maiden, and she anthropomorphizes everything. Is this sweater happy being folded up in a drawer? Have you thanked your purse today? Unhappy possessions give off negative vibes (my wording, not hers), and it's not fair to your socks for them to be unhappy. I get it, and I respect it and similar beliefs, but that part is not for me. Although I admit that I have, on more than one occasion, said something like, "Good-bye, old friend, and thanks for all the [item-specific benefit]" when discarding something. But she has taken it to what feels to me to be an extreme. Your mileage may vary.

Some people are a lot more tuned into their atmosphere and selves than others. If you're a Highly Sensitive Person (not sarcasm, this is a real thing), I can see how this order and method could quiet and calm your environment (and therefore you), making it less "noisy" and so make it easier and less exhausting just to live.

I think most people would have to take a couple of days of vacation from work to do this kind of marathon tidying/sorting/storing. Marathons are not for the old, the disabled, or people with limited energy. Also, I can't imagine doing it while caring for very young children who need a lot of supervision without hiring a babysitter or sending them to the grandparents for a long weekend.

I think also this could be dangerous for a person for whom perfectionism is not healthy. This system teeters very close to the edge of perfectionism. There's healthy perfectionism and there's unhealthy perfectionism, and the DMZ between is narrow as heck. If this is a problem for you, stay away, and use another system. Seriously.

I think her system would work and I wish I'd read this book when I was in college or when I was sufficiently abled to do the sustained activity required. If you have trouble throwing things away, if your possessions, your stuff, are taking over your space, your life, then you might give this book a look and see what you think. If we do move to that much smaller space, I may start folding my underpants the way she specifies :) and take another good look at some of her recommendations.

6/4/15: ETA: I meant to put this into the original review and forgot. There are three quotes from book I think may be valuable:
Because I was poor at developing bonds of trust with people, I had an unusually strong attachment to things. I think that precisely because I did not feel comfortable exposing my weaknesses or my true feelings to others ... .
But when we really delve into the reasons for why we can't let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future. (...)
The things we own are real. They exist here and now as a result of choices made in the past by no one other than ourselves. It is dangerous to ignore them or to discard them indiscriminately as if denying the choices we made. This is why I am against both letting things pile up and dumping things indiscriminately. It is only when we face the things we own one by one and experience the emotions they evoke that we can truly appreciate our relationship with them. (...)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Well, jeez, this is embarrassing (Romain's Takes Two to Tangle) (personal, mostly)

So there I was, waxing happy this weekend on Twitter about a book I read a few days ago, Theresa Romain's It Takes Two to Tangle, a Regency that is witty but also addresses the changes that war imposes, creates, on people involved in war, whether soldier or civilian. I enjoyed it. Some good writing, nice turns of phrase, a couple of good characters, several really good scenes. It took me a bit to get into but then became a page turner.

I knew there were some things that felt familiar: the use of oil paint color names to describe things, the way the duel scene was handled, some other things. But I've read a lot of romance in the last four years, reviewing perhaps one book in ten that I've read, and, believe me, just about everything feels familiar nowadays, so I didn't worry about it, I just read and enjoyed.

So I sat down this morning to write a review, but when I got to writing, I had to stop and, oh boy. Oh brother. I read and reviewed this book almost exactly a year ago. I had completely forgotten.

Now, in my own defense, I will say that at that time I had recently returned to work at a very demanding job after being off for several months taking care of my husband, that my husband's health was quite precarious and we were both adjusting to that new and scary circumstance in our lives, that I was getting by on maybe 2-3 hours of sleep a night and that with nightmares. I was worn out and worried beyond my experience when I read the book last year.

But I have to say that I feel a bit like an idiot. And sloppy to boot.

My memory has always been quite good. I can tell you the dates of birth of nearly all of my 70-some grade school classmates. Most of their middle names, the names of their parents, and most of their addresses. I joke about not being able to remember my own phone number, but I do, really, back to my first one: 319-353-2382. I know all of my husband's future medical appointments without having to look at our calendar. I can still recite the periodic table as it was when I was in college (symbol, name, weight).

So there's nothing wrong with my memory. Or is there?

I did this with another book recently, one of Joanna Bourne's. Read and reviewed it without remembering that I'd read and reviewed it before.

I still know the difference between my car keys and my toothbrush, and I don't get lost when driving, and I don't forget that I have something cooking on the stove, but I have to say that this is both embarrassing and a little bit scary. Maybe I should institute some kind of backup system for the important things. What's that old country song? Of all the things I've lost, I miss my mind the most. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

To Have and To Hold, by Patricia Gaffney (romance?) (long, get a drink)

You are warned: rape, sexual abuse of other kinds, emotional abuse, imbalance of power, imprisonment - could be triggers.

I cannot tell you how many people have told me about this book, which is the middle book of a trilogy. It seems to be polarizing. People love it or hate it and not much in between and seem to feel the need to explain their response to it. I was in the mood for something meaty, something not fluffy, something well-written, and - frankly - something I might have a strong opinion about. Everything I read these days tastes like oatmeal. Nothing wrong with oatmeal but it needs something to make it more assertive. I'd like to feel something other than this constant sadness and low-level background dread all the time.

So without even sampling, heaven help me, I downloaded the Kindle version. Well.

For the three people in the universe who haven't read the book, here's the blurb from Google: Rachel knew all about helplessness and sexual degradation. Her husband's death had freed her from that nightmare, but 10 years in prison for his murder was only another form of torture. Now, a jaded viscount [Sebastien] was offering her freedom, but at a price--a cynical, unkind bargain. Neither of them guessed how the tables could be turned.

First, Sebastian is not a rake. He's a predator. Serious family of origin issues have contributed to his being a cynic who sees the world and the people in it as existing only for his amusement. Still, there are glimpses of another, better person in there. He is unkind to his mistress but draws the line at blatant cruelty. He finds himself mildly interested and mildly concerned about the ancestral pile he's come into and the people who depend on him. We've all read worse men, far worse. But the cold calculation with which he sizes up Rachel, standing accused of vagrancy when she can't find a job after being released from prison, made me blink a couple of times. He sees her as strong, but fragile withal, brittle perhaps is a better word, and he wonders just exactly what it would take to make her shatter like old glass. How interesting, how very amusing it would be to break her entirely. He will take his time about it, savor it. He will learn all he can, listen carefully, as a predator knows his prey well before he strikes, and a catlike predator will strike a little and back off, strike a little and back off, before the blow that finishes. Good entertainment. (Although he wonders a bit at himself over this, disapproves of it, but shakes it off.)

So when he sees Rachel about to go to jail and from there to the workhouse (nightmares both, and Rachel has promised herself the release of suicide if she has to go back to prison), Sebastian offers her the job of housekeeper at his run-down home, making it clear from his gaze that there will be special benefits for him if she accepts. Rachel has pretty much nothing left to lose, and accepts the job. She was raised a lady. She's done bookkeeping. She'll … deal. Can't be worse than prison, can it?

It is a sign of her deadness to herself that she doesn't think, well, maybe I'll just endure and save my wages and move to the West in a few years like my brother did to start over. She just … goes along, 99% of her not really caring what the consequences may be.

Sebastian plays with her for weeks. He is turned on by her past and her numbness. Meanwhile, Rachel begins slowly to come back to life. I cried when she saw her new room, with a window to open and close when she wanted, a fireplace to give her heat if she wanted, clean sheets on a soft bed, a chair, a bowl for flowers or fruit if she wanted. Choices: glorious but unexpectedly hard to make after years of no choices. After years at Dartmoor, forbidden to look up or to talk, treated very harshly, simple fresh air coming through the window is a wondrous thing. She learns her job. She waits for what she knows will come, and keeps ready that cold place inside where she can hide when it does. She knows how to disappear inside herself. But she senses that he wants more than just her body. He's after her soul, in his way. 

There were three scenes that made my stomach turn over. Sebastian decides that it's time to cash in on the sexual benefits of having a slave, and there is a long and detailed scene- oh, called it forced seduction if you want to, I call it rape - which he enjoys, both for her helplessness and her unwillingness to respond emotionally or fully physically, and for the opportunity it gives him again to ask her what, exactly, did her husband do to her, please give details and discuss. There are ways of being brutal that have nothing to do with bruises or blood, you know?, and this is brutal, this invasion of her mind as well as her body.

Later, some of his - good Lord, unsavory! - friends come by for a little vacation at his place, and he insists that Rachel attend dinner and the evening entertainment. There is another scene of rape, this time solely of Rachel's mind, her life experiences made objects of fascination and titillation for the group. Sebastian is complicit in this game of interrogation, giving his non-verbal approval, not stopping it. I nearly vomited.

Both of these scenes are all the more abhorrent -- can't think of a different word, repellent maybe -- because the writing is really quite spare. No hysterics. No sensational language. Not really a lot of description. Just a telling of how it went down. This is what happened. Just the facts, ma'am.

In any event, this scene and the one that follows it cause Sebastian to have a come to Jesus experience. He gets thoroughly drunk and stays that way for some days. He sees himself reflected in the behavior of his friends and he is sickened. He does not want to be that person. He has a non-religious conversion experience, one he has been edging toward during the entire book, and vows to be the person he knows he can be, throwing himself into improving the place and the lots of the people who depend on him, and trying, in his way, to woo Rachel now. He gives her presents. He gives her a bubble bath. He gives her a puppy, for all that's holy (this made my eyes roll, but it does demonstrate that he listens when she talks, a rare quality). He plans to attach a greenhouse to the house, because Rachel used to dream that her cell was a greenhouse. He continues to approach her sexually, intent on giving her an orgasm.

And you know, that's real nice and all very well and good, but he's still trying to control her. He still wants to be the author of her happiness (instead of her misery), source of all good in her life. I suppose I should calm down and just accept the story, but dammit, it really rubs me the wrong way when people seek happiness outside themselves, or seek to be the other person's reason to be. But that's is putting late 20th century psychology onto a story that takes place in mid-Victorian England, and may not be fair. I'm not sure.

Eventually they do fall in love. Oh, how I wanted to give them a gift certificate for five years of weekly marriage counseling, because they're going to need it. Rachel finally - when Sebastian betrays her once again (the third scene that made me sick) - sees him for the coward that he is, and takes off. Things happen and the wording at the end is that they will have their HEA. Well, probably no more dysfunctional than most marriages, I guess. Neither one of them has a pattern of happiness in marriage to follow, but perhaps their friends the vicar and his wife will model for them, mentor them.

There are some small points that bothered me: how the heck rich is Sebastian anyway? He settles **100,000 pounds a year** on his mother and sister when his father dies. That would be millions of dollars now [an inflation widget says current value would be 110 million pounds]. A year. He must be like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet combined. We do see that he is careful about finances and that his current wealth is self-made through good investments. Still, jeepers! If I had that kind of money and a crumbling house, I'd use some of the money to fix the damned roof, you know?

Another thing was the murder of Rachel's husband. I can't believe she was found guilty of this when the perp was obvious from their first appearance in the book, and even the why was moderately obvious. Then we learn that someone had known all along who the murderer was, but sat on that knowledge for a decade while an innocent person went to prison. I had a problem with this.

I couldn't figure out the source of Sully's animosity.

But, oh, the writing. This is good writing. I could smell the flowers. Not too descriptive, no poetry, no flights of fancy, no details about her dresses or hair to the point that I fell off my perch. It's … claustrophobic, a bit. Not only the prison description, but this is a very small world, and the author makes us feel it, feel the walls, so close, the judgment of others, so close, the potential for true disaster, so close. He stands so close to her, constantly invading her personal space both physically and mentally/emotionally, whether he's trying to break her or woo her.

It's almost two books, definitely two halves. The first half is just brutal. The second half evolves (devolves?) into what's almost a standard romance as he woos her (still selfishly, until the last scene, selfishly, me-centered).

There are OCR errors or typos in the Kindle book, some missing words, a few wrong words. Nothing that threw me out of the story, but still, sloppy. This was just released in ebook form a couple of years ago, so lazy editing and sloppy. Even for my $4, I expect better nowadays. It ends at the 95% mark with samples from the two other books in the trilogy. I did not see any errors in grammar. Nothing bad happens to the dog, who makes his appearance to show a point and then pretty much disappears.

Well, you could write a book about this book. The whole idea of power, class power, male power, power of the community, for example. I wish I knew whether this was a standard romance for the genre 20 years ago. I rather get the feeling that it was not, since I see people talking about it turning the genre upside down. Perhaps in reference to the male main character's actions? We could talk for days about consent in sexual relationships, whether this was rape or only questionable consent (I say rape). The way the book changes halfway through. Is it a even romance at all (it has a HEA, but …)?

I do want to read the first book in the series, since it has as its hero a vicar and I do love a good vicar hero. All that strength, intelligence, integrity, awareness of self and others, bone-deep decency. Yowsa, catnip! I don't hear people talk much about the third book.

But now I'm going to read a cozy mystery or something I can feel superior to understand more easily to restore my balance and try to get that interrogation scene out of my head.

ETA 5/25/15: I have now read some other reviews of this book and had some Twitter conversations. Please see this excellent post at Something More/My Extensive Reading, and be sure to follow the links, and if you're really interested, read the comments for truly enlightening discussion. Something More:

Also, I may have given the impression that I didn't like the book. While I found the book so uncomfortable to read that I'm resisting the desire/need to read it a second time, I'll go on record as saying that this would definitely be in my list of top 100 best-written fiction I've ever read, and honey, I've read a lot in my seven decades. It is masterful writing. It is amazingly subtle writing. I cannot imagine forgetting the book, and how I felt when I was reading it. I could talk about this book more or less endlessly because there is just that much to it. But I'm going to try to shut myself up. :-) 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Frederica, by Georgette Heyer (second time of asking) (Regency)

OK, so I haven't been blogging because I was/am simply overwhelmed by … stuff … life. (There are those ellipses again.) But I made a commitment to do the TBR Challenge wendythesuperlibrarian.tbr-challenge, and I do try very hard to keep my promises. Which is why I'm generally pretty careful about what I promise.

This month's TBR challenge is Old School romance, a book at least 10 years old. I had a Barbara Cartland freebie (The Saint and the Sinner) that had been languishing on my Kindle for almost 3 years, so I thought that might fill the bill, but honest to Pete, the heroine was so barking stupid and the pace so slow that it was heavy going, and the way the author constantly interrupted the heroine's speech with hyphens, as if she had a terrible asthmatic condition, drove me right up the wall. A review of the book would have been something like "Pandora, orphaned, growl, snap, bite, pansy eyes, room temperature I.Q, snarl, evil aunt." It would not have been pretty.

[insert mental image gif of Taz from Looney Tunes here] [The growling, snapping one, not the one where he's kissing Ms. Taz.]

So, motivated by the ongoing Twitter joke about Restorative Pork Jelly, which I apparently am not going to understand to its hilarious fullness unless I read Heyer's Frederica all the way to the end, I returned to this DNF feeling hopeful, resigned, and slightly sulky [the facial expression for this combination is on the final exam at The Actors Studio]. You all have read the book so I'm not going to do a big plot summary.

Alpha male arrogant marquis, perfect in every possible way except for his notable self-centeredness and cynicism, always has the last word, and is bored (I could relate). Nothing entertains him for long, unless it's twisting the tails of his nasty rotten selfish sisters. Of course, he has a hidden heart of gold. Of course he does, or there would be no book. In comes shirt-tail relative, on the shelf, full of common sense, completely oblivious to thought processes not her own, has managed the family for years but needs help launching her young incredibly beautiful (and stupid, and by the end of the book tiresome) sister. Hero thinks helping heroine will irritate his sisters most entertainingly (to him), so he agrees. Lots of things happen, hero and heroine become friends, and by the end of the book, they're in luv. HEA ahoy.

OK, fine. I like it when there is not instant love/lust. I like it when we can get past page 50 before H/h start setting the sheets on fire. I like a gradually growing relationship. I like a stately pace, really, I do. I don't mind the hero being significantly older than the heroine, as long as she is an adult. I don't mind kids in the story, and these were interesting kids, pretty well done. But there were things about this book that just annoyed the heck out of me. Let me count the ways.

The biggest pain was the abundance of Regency cant/slang. I'm reasonably well-read and can generally figure out things by context, but gosh, this was annoying. Nearly every sentence has slang, some sentences almost nothing but slang. I don't mind informal speech; probably this blog is about as informal as I get, but I am capable of having entire conversations without using slang, and I'll just bet that Regency people were able to, also. I agree that it's irksome when Regency characters use "okay" or say that they were "tasked" to do something, using 21st century speech. But jeepers. This reminded me of the scene in the movie Airplane in which the lady intervenes to interpret a conversation from the Jive.

It strikes me a bit like being around a person who is insecure in their intelligence or education. They have to keep impressing you with their knowledge. They have to be the authority on every darned subject that arises. They correct your pronunciation and your opinions. Not from a desire to help, but because they're terrified that someone in the room is smarter. I figure that you don't have to flaunt it. If you're bright, people notice. You don't have to hit them over the head with it.

I found the excessive use of Regency slang offputting to the point that it soured the whole book for me. It was as if the author had to make sure that I knew that she had done the research. Showed her work. Look, I don't want to see the stitches, okay? I don't want to see this particular type of sausage being made. Anne Perry used to annoy the daylights out of me when she would stop the plot to do four or five pages on how laundry was done in 1888. This was similar, except salted throughout rather than served in slabs. It's a pity, too, because the non-dialogue writing was quite good.

Something else that got on my nerves was this: Hero admires heroine's resourcefulness and strength, so he can't wait to rescue her so that she never needs to be resourceful or strong again. Huh? It's like: I love your beautiful long raven hair, so let's cut it off and dye it red. Add to that some truly unpleasant, one-dimensional characters (those sisters, my lord!), and … well, I just didn't have a good time.

On the other hand, there were scenes that I am sure most people would find amusing. I didn't, but I could see the intent. The main characters are complex. Ms. Heyer shows a good understanding of the vagaries of adolescent behavior. I especially liked the way that the hero's love for the heroine did not cause him to do a 180 degree change: he still is who he always was, warts intact, but has learned to love and to think about someone other than himself. And this is very much the hero's book.

But the dialogue style just was too much for this old philistine to tolerate. I read fiction in order to relax, and that's true now more than ever. The story was nice, but there are nice stories being published every day that are a lot easier to read.

Please note, on this blog we may criticize the book but never the one who reads it. I'm delighted that so many people enjoy this prolific writer's output. One reader rejoices in the pleasure of another reader. But it's like one of my friends who thinks that all opera is just a fat lady screeching. You can play her "Au fond du temple saint" from The Pearl Fishers and she'll think it's a fat woman screeching. We all have our blind spots. So I think this may be a parting of the ways for Ms. Heyer and me. Honestly, Ms. Heyer, it's not you, it's me. Or maybe it is you, I don't know. But we'll be happier apart. Far apart.

Personal note: Mr. Bat is slightly stronger. He was able to walk about 200 feet (about 60 m?) the other day, although it wore him out to do so. He's not quite as short of breath. He can get up out of a chair without help, a great blessing. His kidneys have still not recovered from the contrast given to him 6 weeks ago, and the delay in recovery is worrisome, but he is contented and in no pain. He even made a mild joke today, something he hasn't done in months. The cat Henry is very funny, extremely active, and, well, a handful. Silly me, I thought a 6+ year old cat would spend most of his time sleeping in the sun, not climbing Mt. St. Refrigerator and doing NASCAR in the hallway at 3:00 a.m. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Blog hiatus - again (not a review)

Folks, it's been a heckuva year. In talking the other day with a friend I haven't seen in years, I started listing the losses/changes we've had in our lives in the past three years, and I guess I can see why I'm tapped out mentally, physically, emotionally.

I have reached last straw stage. It's almost funny. We adopted - over the phone and via third party - so I'm very much at fault here - what we thought was going to be a 6 month old stray kitten, healthy. It turned out to be a 1-2 year old feral cat with some treatable health problems. (At least it didn't turn out to be a rabid porcupine.) I do not have the energy to socialize a feral just now. I helped a friend do it some years back and know how much work it is. It's not a matter of letting them find their way, it's much more complex than that if it's to be successful. Cat is still under the bed, 24 hours without water intake or litter use, growls and tries to bite if approached.

This became my last straw and I had a complete meltdown last night. Couldn't think, couldn't reason, couldn't stop crying.

But it's been coming on for awhile. I find that I can't think straight half the time, can't remember things, can't find my way through simple problems. My I.Q has fallen by 80 points. Part of this is sleep deprivation. I'm lucky to sleep three hours a night. Mostly though I'm just so damned tired of being brave all the time. I have no more energy to be cheerful and optimistic when every aspect of my life has imploded.

This is carrying over into my reading. I can't seem to finish a book. I've been re-reading some books but find myself skimming even old favorites. I don't have an opinion about the books I have finished. It's all - oh Jesus I almost said shades of gray. Yikes.

I'm not depressed, not hopeless or helpless, but I am very, very sad, and just worn out. I'm used up. What energy I have needs to go to Mr. Bat, who is ... well, he's dying, but his quality of life is improved now, a bit. He still needs care 24/7 and can't be left alone. Pretty soon I'm going to have to see if someone from palliative care can spell me two hours a week so I can get a haircut or see the dentist.

So once again I'm going on hiatus. From blogging, from Twitter, from a few websites and blogs I still follow. For his sake, I'm walking away. I cannot continue to scatter my limited resources.

Your friendship and support have meant the world to me. You got me through some very dark and scary days. Thank you for listening to me bitch and moan and whine. Thank you for your prayers and positive energy. But I'm just ... tapped.

May your next book be a keeper.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Call Me Saffron, by Talia Surova (contemporary with erotica elements, short novel)

This is for Super Librarian Wendy's TBR challenge Wendy's TBR Challenge which for April is a contemporary. I intended to read and review Sweet Dreams (Colorado Mountain Series Book 2), by Kristen Ashley because I liked the premise (older woman starting over after nasty divorce) but we'll file that book under Not For Me. The hero's attitude and actions sent up way too many red flags for this old nurse who used to work with battered women, which was the primary reason I DNF. The writing was also problematic for me. I know she has a lot of fans and she won't miss me. :-)

So I was casting about for a contemporary that I could afford and not finding much. Waiting lines at the library were too long, and I don't have any unread contemporaries on my Kindle. I'm not a huge fan of contemporaries. Then Cecilia Grant mentioned on Twitter that Call Me Saffron was selling for 99 cents, and while she had not read enough of it to actually recommend it, what she had read she found interesting.

I looked at the blurb and I was hooked for one reason: I had a roommate in college (only for two semesters) who was a grad student working her way through by being a call girl. The setup in this book involves a call girl roommate. Sold.

Here's the premise: Samantha is a young architect, just getting started in her career. She carries with her the burden of family of origin issues (no childhood sexual abuse) with sudden death, trauma, suicide, and emotional neglect. She says she does not do relationships but also does not like one night stands. Her roommate, Jeanine, is about the only person she lets in to her life. Jeanine is working on her grad degree in psych and, oh BTW, is working her way through as a call girl. She's careful and selective. Jeanine, being the nurturing person she is, would like to see Samantha have a real relationship with a man instead of her drawer full of vibrators.

One night Jeanine has an appointment with a well-to-do new client, but she is sick as a dog, and she talks Samantha into taking her place. (Yeah, I know, but go along with it.) Purpose is solely to have sex, hot sex, good sex. No attachments, no dating, no commitment, no emotions involved. Just good sex. Samantha is nervous but allows herself to be talked into it. After all, she has nothing against sex, just relationships.

The client, Dylan, is (of course) gorgeous and intelligent and really somebody special. He's never done this before, turns out he's coming off a very bad divorce, but they have a spectacular night together. Fireworks, unicorns flying over rainbows, earth shifting on its axis, and unexpected emotional closeness as well. It's the emotional closeness that scares the living daylights out of Samantha, and early in the morning she takes off while he's in the bathroom. End of story, she thinks. She'll forget Dylan in a few days. It was nice, but it was just sex, after all. She goes back to her life but she does continue to think about Dylan, the sex, but also the emotional connection.

Six months later, who walks in to the firm where Samantha works but Dylan. He's a successful businessman (not a billionaire, thank you very much) and needs to have some storefronts redesigned. He is astonished to see Samantha, but he clearly hasn't forgotten her, either. They end up having a quickie in an empty office (and how she managed not to get fired over this is absolutely beyond me) and Dylan wants Samantha to be assigned to the project. (Blondie singing "One way or another" going through my head during this part of the book. There's today's earworm for you. No, no, don't thank me. All part of the service.)

You can imagine where it goes from there. A lot of push-pull. Dylan does not want to let her go, knowing there is something special here, or something that could be special. Samantha is not about to give even a tiny corner of her heart to someone who will eventually just leave her. After all, everybody leaves her. Everybody. She edges closer and then runs away, repeatedly, but every time a little closer. They become friends, sort of.

Don't read this book thinking that there is going to be any realism about being a call girl. The ones I've met, both through my roommate and the ones I worked with as a direct or indirect result of their profession carried their own baggage and knew that being beaten up or having some non-consensual aspects to their "date" every now and then were part of the package, no matter how careful or selective they were. I found the portrayal of Jeanine to be too cheerful, too easy. But -- that may be taking this book more seriously than it is meant to be taken. After all, it's a love story, not a documentary.

Once you get past the original premise, it's really a fairly standard love story with the expected HEA. There's a lot of sex in the book - well, of course there is -- but the sex scenes, while detailed, were not clinical. They were as much about emotion as mechanics. One was even mildly amusing.

I liked Samantha and Dylan. They're good people, and like virtually every person in the world, they have their burdens and their hang-ups. They're honest about them, as honest as you can be when you're too close to see well. They care about their work. They care about other people. They've been hurt and struggle not to let their pain rule their lives. Most authors can't do a whole bunch of backstory and explanation in this short a piece, and I found that I wanted more backstory. [ETA: One of the things I liked in this book is how seriously Dylan takes Samantha's work. He respects her talent.] 

Kindle formatting fine. Told in the first person. There may have been one or two objective case pronoun problems but my reading of this was interrupted many times so I can't be certain. There wasn't anything that set my teeth on edge. The characters had chemistry. There are some secondary characters who no doubt will have their own books later on, and they seemed interesting. There was a good bit of character development. There is one short scene in which Dylan is drunk as a skunk (after something has caused him to finally see his ex-wife for what she is) and gets a little bit pushy, but nothing really bad happens and it did not trigger me, although it did make me wonder a bit about him. I know some people would see this mini-scene as evidence of his feeling all masterful and possessive, or simply the result of being drunk after a painful episode, but. Well, there it is. I didn't get the feeling that he would have hurt Samantha. Both Samantha and Dylan make their share of mistakes in building this relationship. You can see that it's not going to be an easy road for them, but it will be worth it.

Although this type of book is not my cup of tea, Call Me Saffron was worth the time I invested in it.

Personal note: Mr. Bat's kidneys took a serious hit from the contrast material used during his procedure last week and we're still dealing with that. We're adjusting meds daily and remaining optimistic that this will all be worth it, at least for a time. Please forgive me for not responding to your comments. He's needing care pretty much 24/7 right now and time is hard to come by.  

Friday, April 10, 2015

First Grave on the Right (Charley Davidson #1), by Darynda Jones (PNR? UF?)

[Trying to get back to normal here. Trying.] Not a big fan of paranormal romance, and I'm not sure if this is PNR or a paranormal with romance elements, or maybe it's urban fantasy with comic aspects, but several people recommended it and it was available for Kindle through the library, so I thought I'd try it. Bit of a gamble, given that Mr. Bat and I are doing our own little dance with Death right now, so far being able to hide behind the potted palms, but my rather dark and snarky sense of humor (what's left of it) has been one of my best lifelong coping mechanisms so why not.

Charley is a Grim Reaper, a person through whom the recently dearly departed are able to see the Light and then go to it. She's like catnip: nearly all the souls are irresistibly attracted to her. Assuming all works as it should, and heaven knows Murphy's Law applies to nearly every situation. Sometimes people get stuck and they want Charley to do something before they'll go to the Light. Sometimes they simply refuse to believe they're dead. She does her best. Bit of a drag, and she sure didn't ask for this, but there it is.

She's also a private investigator, mainly domestic things I gathered. Her father is retired from the police force, and her uncle is still a police officer. She has helped both of them in their murder cases to the point that they rely on her sub rosa. As they said in those old Looney Tunes cartoons, "Well, it's a living." One of her uncle's colleagues is deeply suspicious of her and all her works and all her ways, while at the same time being obviously sexually attracted to her. Ditto a young police officer who has a jealous and protective child ghost following him around.

Recently Charley has been, not troubled exactly, but challenged and intrigued by some vivid erotic dreams featuring the same man whose face she never sees but she gets the full impact of the rest of him, believe me. And we get to hear about it. Kind of a lot. The dreams are nice in their own way, but also disconcerting, and then of course there's the sleep deprivation to deal with. Then the guy starts following her into the shower, and gets in the way of interactions with live humans when she's awake, up against the wall with a bang in the living room. [I used to tend bar, and after Harvey Wallbangers came along, there were drinks like Sloe Comfortable Screw Up Against the Wall with a Bang as alcohol moved on from basic Mad Men type Manhattans and Martinis to drinks that taste like pop. But I digress. Again.]

I wasn't very far into the book when I realized that it's primarily a setup for remaining books. Too many characters, too many plotlines. I've spent way too much time here repeatedly typing and deleting a summary of the plot but it's all over the place. Basically we have the murder of three lawyers (cue the standard lawyer jokes, starting with Shakespeare, I kid you not) possibly related to an old murder that was supposedly committed by someone Charley knew briefly who is doing life for it but now he's comatose on life support that's going to be shut off in three days so she has to hunt down his sister to block that, and he may be the guy who is in her dreams, but he also may be something else, and what about this blurry figure that has saved her from death several times, and whose side is her uncle really on, and … oh, I almost forgot, we have human trafficking and a woman Charley tries to help escape an abusive husband. I'm sure I'm forgetting something. Oh, yeah, the ghosts that won't go to the Light. Including an elderly aunt of Charley's who fixes her pretend-coffee every morning. And there's an evil stepmother. Well, it's complicated. There's more plot but as Mick Jagger said in a completely different context, my tongue's getting tired.

As I recall, the Kindle formatting was okay and the grammar wasn't terrible, nothing I made note of anyway. Charley is a smart aleck and wisecracks her way through the book but the jokes are mostly so corny and old I remember them from my childhood. But then, everything old is new to someone, so maybe the recycling is okay. Her constant sarcasm and "kiss my ass" got real old. Enough already. So you're kick-ass and smarter than the average bear and you're your own woman and we got that right away, now just … enough already. Point made and pounded in. She names her body parts. Srsly, her breasts and ovaries have names. Now, you're either going to find that hilarious or you're going to roll your eyes so far back that they get stuck that way, just as your mother told you they would.

There's a good plot buried (whoops) in this mess. The idea is good and the writing, while all over the place and a bit clich├ęd at times, is not terrible. The idea is intriguing. Props for that. Props for a kick-ass woman who owns her sexuality. [I'm coming off a string of Kindle freebies with writing so bad it makes one weep.] At times I felt some echoes of the early Queen Betsy books or the better Stephanie Plum books: that slightly tilted worldview, fast action, heat level.

Sensitive readers should know that there is a rather unexpected very short scene in which rape is threatened in order to intimidate Charley. The reader knows, and Charley kind of knows, that the threat is only for show, well, probably only for show, but there is some rough touching and the threat. It did not bother me, not enough to trigger an unpleasant response from me, but YMMV.

I also had a problem in that Charley's gift supposedly is a Big Dark Secret but then she goes around telling everyone, and it's pretty obvious that she helps her uncle find dead bodies and gives him details of the murder, so … what?

At the end, there's a Big Reveal about the dream lover. I saw it coming a mile away but again, I've read a lot in a lot of different genres and they all get predictable by the time you're my age. The Big Reveal turned me off entirely. It does set up a plotline for Good vs. Evil in subsequent books, if that appeals to you.

Oddly enough, the bits about death (not capitalized) did not bother me or make me feel sad. Most of that part of the plot was written with some sensitivity, with a cheerful matter of factness and even optimism that made me smile. So I wouldn't shy away from the book for that reason, and if you're up for a multi-book series with some near-cliffhangers and multiple plotlines, and you like snarky if slightly corny humor and a reasonable amount of sex, and you like PNR or urban fantasy-lite with murder mystery aspects, this book may be a decent read for you. I did finish it, and after my recent string of DNFs, I guess that's saying something. I have now looked at other reviews, and about 75-80% of them love this book, so there's that.

ETA 4-26-15: This was a 2012 RITA award winner for best first book. So there you go.