This is the first book of a series which, unfortunately, I started in the middle. You may remember my review and short rant about High Heels and Homicide when I read it, only to realize that events in that book occurred somewhere later in a series. Fortunately for me, I did finally manage to find the rest of the books in the local library system. I did have to drive across town – nearly into the next town, to be honest – and I still want them in my own library, but hooray! I got my hands on the first two books earlier this week and blazed right through them!
[Sidenote: I blame all typos on the exceedingly affectionate kitten in my lap. He's using my wrist to pet himself.]
Maggie Kelly, formerly a Regency romance writer, has recently made a career change and has begun writing a best-selling historical mystery series under the pen-name of Cleo Dooley. (She thought all the “O”s would look good on the cover.) Her main character, the Viscount Saint Just and his companion, Sterling Balder are a sort of Sherlock-and-Watson duo that solve murder mysteries. She is working on her latest manuscript when Kirk, the owner of her publishing company (also ex-boyfriend ), knocks on the door, interrupting her train of thought and generally making a nuisance of himself by refusing to acknowledge that their personal relationship is over. A few minutes of douche-baggery later (my term, not hers) Maggie shuts him out of her apartment only to here a voice behind her congratulating her on getting rid of Kirk.
Seeing as Maggie roommates are two cats named Napoleon and Wellington, she is frightened and busily starts unbolting her front door. Only to realize that the voice sounds somehow familiar… When she finally turns around she is reluctantly introduced to a figment of her imagination. Viscount Saint Just AND Sterling Balder have appeared in her apartment. The disturbing part is that after about two days of steady denial, Maggie realizes that her two main characters are really here and, to top it off, they’ve taken her ideas for her next book with them!
As Saint Just and Sterling try to adjust to modern-day Manhatten, Maggie is battling Kirk’s persistent and unwanted advances. After agreeing to have dinner with him at her place, so she can finally tell him that it’s OVER and make him believe it, Kirk is poisoned and dies. Seeing that Maggie is Suspect Number One, Saint Just – now just plain Alex – steps in to solve the mystery and clear Maggie’s name. Maggie, who feels guilty over Kirk’s death, even though he was a total jerk, reluctantly goes along with this because frankly, going down for murder is nobody’s idea of a good time. Especially when the real killer is probably lurking about nearby.
This book is, unfortunately, out of print so any copies left reside in hard-to-find ebook formats, local libraries, and the world of Amazon. (Or used book stores, I suppose.) It may not really be worth an extensive search, but if you are fortunate enough to get your hands on a copy…SEND IT TO ME! Okay, fine. Read it. It’s good light reading, a fairly decent mystery, and it’s amusing to see Maggie deal with her fictional characters come to life. Saint Just is an amusing character, since we get to see his point of view and Sterling is exactly what Maggie (via Kasey Michaels) wrote him to be: sweet, not-too-bright, exactly the right balance to the seriousness of a murder, and the sometimes outright grumpy hostility of Maggie and Alex. I can, sadly, see why this book is no longer in circulation, but it’s still a good story – better than some of the crap I’ve seen published lately – and I do plan to get my hands on the series for my personal library as soon as I can.
Heartless is the fourth book of the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger. In the previous books, we’ve discovered that Alexia Maccon (previously Tarabotti) is a preternatural. This means that, like her father before her, Alexia has no soul. Knowing this, Alexia has done her best to develop sound ethics and cultivate good manners. She has to keep her lack of a soul from many people, but fortunately not from her husband, a werewolf pack Alpha or one of her dearest friends, the loner vampire Lord Akeldama. The rest of the world, including Alexia’s mother, half-sisters, step-father, and her friend Ivy must remain in the dark.
Over the course of the last three books, Alexia was married to Lord Maccon, and shortly thereafter was offered a position working for Queen Victoria. This position has enabled Alexia to get into quite a bit of trouble and, incidentally, save Britain once or twice. Now, in book four and in the last months of Alexia’s pregnancy, she discovers that there may be a plot to kill the queen. With the help of her husband and friends, Alexia intends to uncover the plot and save the queen from danger. In doing so, however, she may open up some old wounds for her husband and the pack since there appears to be a link between this most recent attempt on the queen and the last – which was instigated by Lord Maccon’s former pack. After all, it is an Alpha’s job to keep the pack in line and hatching plots to poison the queen is not considered good behavior among a pack of werewolves, for a variety of reasons. Even if they are in Scotland.
I was prepared to be sort of put off by Heartless because, well, how many pregnant heroines does one encounter in literature? Especially in a Victorian-era steam-punk mystery. Right. Probably this would be the first. However, I was wrong to expect disappointment. Even with all the references to the pregnancy (which were actually pretty funny) this turned out to be just as good as the last three books. The plot, in hindsight, seemed a little weak because Alexia is looking in the wrong direction to solve the mystery for a good half of the book. But – and this is a big but – what she does uncover while chasing after the wrong angle is a bit of information that could easily play a larger role in the next book. Or even in the next several books. It was sort of disappointing, though, to realize I’d read all that to come to the conclusion that it had nothing to do with the situation at hand.
There does seem to be an interesting development with Alexia’s baby, too. In the last book it became clear that someone – and we’re pretty sure we know who – is intent on seeing that the baby does not live. Alexia’s death seems to be considered collateral damage, but since she is the only thing keeping the baby alive until he or she is born… But a solution is presented in the beginning of the book which will theoretically take care of the whole people-trying-to-kill-Alexia-and-the-baby issue. The solution itself seems like an invitation to comic relief and so it proves to be in various places throughout the book.
All in all, this was another enjoyable addition to the series, though I wasn’t quite as enthralled by it as I was by the previous three. (Then again, that’s 3-to-1 odds.) I am definitely looking forward to book five of the series, and I’m hoping to see more of the subplot of this book in the next. I’m hoping that Carriger wouldn’t just dangle a morsel like that in front of reader only to yank it away! Still…I’m stuck waiting a year or so for the next book, aren’t I? That should be torture enough.
I am not a fan of much in the world in Sci-Fi. I mean, I love the original Star Wars trilogy – episodes 4,5, and 6 – and Firefly is surely one of the quickest ways to my heart, but when it comes down to a choice between reading a science fiction novel and watching paint dry I’m more likely to be found staring at the wall the next couple hours. I have read only a limited amount of science fiction and most of that was not by choice. However, I’ve been thinking lately that I need to stop reading the same fantasy and historical romance novels over and over again just to be sure that what I’m reading is “safe.” So, I picked up a science fiction novel entitled Foreigner. What drew me to this book?
For one, it was on sale because Borders was finally down to 90% off its stock in the last few days of its demise. Two, the cover of one of the later books in the series caught my eye and the storyline, as outlined in the little blurb on the cover, seemed even more promising. Three, I had decided to challenge myself, right? But why not challenge myself with a book that seemed to be a series? I enjoy reading a series for one very simple reason: I read very, very quickly. If I read standalone stories I’m done in a day and disappointed that it’s over. I didn’t want to take the chance that I might like the book and find that there was no continuation of the story.
As it turns out, I did like the book and I’m thanking my lucky stars that it’s only the first of the series. I will admit that I was put off at the beginning of the book. Not only does the story seem to start in media res, but it also starts with two seemingly disparate pieces of a timeline. Book 1, only a few chapters long, documents the event that leads to a vessel full of humans being lost in an unknown part of the universe. The error that led them there is never pinned down by the crew of the vessel, and a very distorted account leads us to believe that they make one last ‘adjustment’ to save the lives of the humans aboard. Book 2 is similarly short and tells us that humans have made it down from a space station to the earth-like planet below. It is approximately 200 years from when they were first stranded in space. They know that the planet is inhabited by intelligent life-forms, and initial contact is made – an overture by the natives to the planet rather than by the humans.
Book 3 is where the story actually begins. In fact, I think it’s possible to skip the first two and still have a complete story. It is approximately 500 years since the first group of humans were lost in space. The survivors, generations later, have made arrangements with the natives to live on their own island separate from the ‘alien’ society that they don’t quite understand. The only human allowed onto the mainland with the native race is a sort of ambassador and translator. He is never allowed to be armed, and his job is to be a sort of mediator between the races and a scholar to study the language and culture of the ‘alien’ race. Low-profile is they way the role is carried out. Advise, yes. Sit in on meetings and discuss political issues or scientific advancement, but don’t become a public figure.
Which is sort of thrown out the window when an assassin appears in the private apartments of the human ambassador (called paidhi) and said human shoots said assassin. With a gun from between his mattress…that he was never supposed to have. The tricky part is that, when guards come bursting in, he explains that the gun was a gift. He was told to “keep it close.” He never thought he’d need it, or use it. Now, he’s used the firearm to defend himself and he has to wonder how much the people around him know, since they obviously had the foresight to arm him.
It can be a little confusing, and the plot is a little elusive since we see this all from the only human point of view and he is mostly left in the dark about what is happening. What made it readable and interesting for me was that it focuses very much on social interactions and questions of motivations. What motivates humans, what humans feel, and think, and how humans act is a foreign concept to the race that surrounds our lone human character. They can’t understand human thoughts, feelings, and motivations and humans can only try – sometimes futilely – to understand the atevi that inhabit, and rule, the planet. Atevi solve disputes more often than not through legal assassination. Humans are more likely to argue, debate, and take things to court. Humans are isolated on their island with human government and human mores. The idea of assassinating someone over a dispute is foreign to them. Assassination is treachery, and humans find treachery distasteful…
So the question becomes this: What fundamental difference between humans and atevi has lead to a misunderstanding so profound that someone is trying to kill the only human – a mediator and interpreter; a peacekeeper - allowed into atevi society?
I have recently been plowing through the House of Night series by P.C. and Kristen Cast. The first thing that strikes me about the series is the feeling of “Oh. Great. Another vampire series. Whoop-dee-doo.” The language and storytelling aren’t bad, though, so I kept reading after the first book thinking that this could get good. And it did. Sort of. Without giving anything away – and really I’m not even going to discuss much plot – I have to say I am sort of disappointed after all.
The story has some intriguing points – it’s set in Oklahoma, which isn’t “vampire story” territory for many authors, and it also creates an alternate reality where becoming a vampire is a whole different process from what is traditional in literature – mainly in that vampires are pretty commonplace in society, through they do sort of self-segregate when they are making the transition from human to vampire. Part of that is going to the nearest House of Night – a move that saves the “fledglings” a painful death from the lack of closeness to a vampire who has fully changed.
What I dislike is that this book is marketed “Young Adult” or “Teen” and the subject matter quickly becomes far too mature for that age group, in my not so humble opinion. My husband and I had a talk about the fact that many authors writing for the teen audience say that the stories get blatantly sexual, or otherwise age-inappropriate because “that’s how teens really are.” Um, well, not really. No. I remember being a teen not so long ago, and I know a few teens and trust me while there have been and always will be “wild” kids who do go out and do indulge in questionable behavior, it’s not as commonplace as one would think. It may, however, become commonplace when the kids who read have role models who go around making bad choices.
Don’t get me wrong, main characters shouldn’t be perfect little angels, but they should show the same amount of common sense and judgement that I would expect to see from a normal teen. Social gaffes? To be expected. Miscommunication and trust issues between friends? Heck yeah. Normal teen behavior. Cheating on your boyfriend, with whom you’ve remained chaste, by having sex with a teacher ( to cite an example)? Um. Red light. Even if the world tilted on its axis and vampires were real this would not be “normal” teen behavior. The proof is in the way the media, schools districts, et al go up in arms over the sex-with-students issue. It’s not a commonplace behavior. It’s not appropriate for teens to read that junk, and I see no reason such a – we’ll say mature for lack of a better term – subject should ever make it into fiction targeted for anyone under 20. (If I had my way it’d be like 40 or something, but maybe that’s ’cause I plan to have kids in the future and I wouldn’t want my daughters – or sons - reading that kind of smut.)
I will grant that it’s portrayed as a bad move, and the character involved in this little affair pays a price, but despite the moral “justice” involved I just don’t think sexual themes should be in fiction aimed at our youth. It’s not just the House of Night series, either. There have been several so-called “teen” books that I’ve picked up and then gotten rid of because, let’s face it, there was more smut in those books than in any of the racier romance novels I’ve come across. And yes, I do read romance novels that have sex in them (mostly ’cause I can’t find them without sex scenes), but people I’m old enough to know what the heck is going on with my own sexuality, and I don’t have a raging batch of hormones and teen drama encouraging me to rebel and otherwise get myself into improbably sticky situations.
I’m not a raging conservative, but I can’t condone have sexual themes – or just outright sex – in books aimed at kids between the ages of 12 -17+. (And believe me, 12 year old kids have probably come across this stuff because it’s not sorted into sections that give age ranges like 12-14, 15-17, 18+ or anything – thought maybe they should be sorted that way.) At this point, I don’t know what the authors are thinking, why the editors are letting this stuff stay in the books, and why publishers are getting away with sending out such a vast quantity of low-quality print.
There are good teen books out there, and some of them are even enjoyable for the older teens. None of them need sex, drug abuse, alcohol, or even the high-school-kid-at-a-frat-party to make them good or enjoyable reads. One thing I can assure you is that, for the safety of my children (assuming I have any) and for the sake of instilling in them some sense of moral compass, I will be reading any book they pick up in the “Young Adult” or “Teen” section before they get the OK to read it.
As for the House of Night series…it’s not a bad set of books – not groundbreaking, but good. I just wouldn’t want it in the hands of anyone under 21. No kidding, folks. I hate to say it, but when it comes to issues of age-appropriateness some books should be either censored, or moved into the Adult section. Even in fiction, one has to consider the real world implications of a character’s choices. We use literature as a vehicle for learning, exploration, and self-discovery. For young minds (especially those that are laden with hormones, social issues, and other concerns) we should not market misbehavior and sexual themes as appropriate reading for either enjoyment or learning.
As a final note: all comments must be approved before they’re posted. Any foul language or anything that qualifies in my opinion as outright stupidity will be banned. I am the autocratic dictator of this blog and will weed out comments, or publish comments as I see fit. So if you’re just here for a fight, go elsewhere. If you’re here for a discussion, we’ll discuss.
Filed under: Discussion on August 25th, 2011 | Comments Off
For those of you who have been visiting NeoLibrarium for a while, you may recognize this look as the original layout for the site. I’m actually not planning to keep it, which may be sad for those of you who liked this theme, but I’m planning to try and update WordPress soon – which is the way I manage the site, if you aren’t already familiar with it – and I think the simplified page will help detect any nagging issues that may occur when I can finally make the changeover.
Also, I’m going to say – again – that life has really gotten in the way of me updating. I know this is more for my non-book-related blog, but the story is this:
I’ve also discovered that, though I enjoy being a housewife, it takes a lot of effort and management to keep even our small household running. Every day there’s the cooking, the cleaning, feeding the cats – which results in cleaning the litter boxes, looking over our budget, etc. Somehow when I lived alone all these things took up only a few minutes of my day, but then when I lived alone I was also sort of a slob. I’ve been surprised to find myself still in the middle of cleaning the apartment when my husband gets home from work (probably ’cause I like to “deep clean” once a week, and “maintenance clean” every day), and I haven’t taken a break to read, or nap, or anything, but now it’s time to make dinner! WAH!
Anyway, I have been sneaking in more “me” time and reading time, and I imagine the inspiration – such as it is – to review some of my recent reading exploits will return, but for now expect radio silence. I know this isn’t a heavily trafficked blog so I’m probably not disappointing the masses – but for those of you who do stop by I recommend the archives for now. I’m not sure when I’ll have the time to update again, but I don’t plan on abandoning Neolibrarium, either. So, please don’t totally give up on me!!!
Well, folks, the new kitten did slow me down quite a bit. It also turned out that my adult cat was having some problems with his front paws due to an autoimmune problem. Add to that the fact that I’ve been having to go to the Chiropractor for my back and neck with regularity, and I am the one who manages our household, and you’ve got yourself a fairly busy Poobah.
I have been reading. Truly. I just finished an Agatha Christie mystery yesterday. I’ve also been re-reading quite a bit, which means that I’ve already reviewed much of the material I’ve had my hands on in the past few weeks. I almost always re-read old books when I’m busy, because when I have a new book I hate not being able to sit down and read it through without interruptions. Lately, life is chock-full of those. Pesky life, getting in the way of my reading, and blogging again. I’ve even seen sunlight every single day for the past two or three weeks, it seems. (And it’s been over 100 degrees (Fahrenheit) outside every day, too.)
I will promise you this: since I have been reading, I will sit down and make some notes on what I’ve got in my mental catalogue here and I will ask my husband to get me at some point to stop reading, or coding, or cleaning, or whatever it is I’m occupied with so I can sit down and write about what I’ve read. I miss the reviews. I do. I promise I haven’t totally blown off NeoLibrarium. I’ve just been so darned preoccupied.
So…that’s where I am right now: Busy. I hope to soon be busy, but with reviews in addition to everything else. It’ll be good for all of us, right? Right. That’s what I thought you’d say. Thank you for agreeing with me.
So, manga is a new set of material for me. I can’t decide if it qualifies as “books” or not, but hey since they come in bound covers and I find them in bookstores, let’s say yes to that question, eh? My newest “oh-if-I-only-had-more-money” obsession is the Fruits Basket series, which is a fairly long-running manga from what I can judge. Each volume has four or five chapters or so, and I even found a Fruits Basket anime on Netflix that seems to have a pretty good adaptation of the first few volumes.
The basic premise is this: Tohru Honda (I’ve seen a variety of spellings for all the names, so just go with it) is a fairly normal girl, who was recently orphaned. She was living with her paternal grandfather, but when he decided to remodel his home to accommodate some other relatives, Tohru was asked to stay with friends for the time it took to do the renovations. Unable to stomach the idea of burdening her friends, Tohru decided to live in a tent to avoid troubling anyone, and as a sort of test run for being independent.
Soon after that, her camping spot is found by Yuki Sohma – a boy who lives nearby and is also in the same class in high school as Tohru – and she is invited to live with Yuki and his cousin Shigure in their home until it’s time to go back to her grandfather’s. The catch is that the Sohma family is under a curse – when they are hugged by a member of the opposite sex, or when they are under too much strain, the members of the family under the curse transform into one of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac. Yuki turns into the rat. Shigure is the dog. Kyo, who appears early on in the series and also moves in with Shigure, is the cat – the unofficial 13th member of the zodiac.
According to the folktale, the Cat was tricked by the Rat into not attending a banquet for all the animals, which is why the cat is traditionally excluded. Kyo, who is hot-tempered and resents being excluded, often blames Yuki – the rat – for the misfortunes he has suffered. Yuki, who has had his own share of misfortune despite the supposed good fortune of being a rat, dislikes Kyo’s attitudes and resents that Kyo is allowed to live his life relatively free while Yuki is often the center of attention for the zodiac members. After all, the rat is supposed to be special – which has led to Yuki being chained to Sohma house and, like with Kyo, resented by some of the other zodiac members who don’t realize his “privileged” status isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Tohru takes everything in stride, all considered, and is sworn to keep the secret of the curse. As time goes by, she meets more zodiac members and learns that there my be more to the curse than just transforming into animals. Still, Tohru also seems to be a good influence on all of them – her optimism and kindness relieve some of the stress and tension that the others feel from living under the curse and keeping the Sohma family’s secrets to themselves. With Kyo, she manages to ride out his temper and help him see the better side of things. With Yuki, she helps him overcome his shyness and lack of self-confidence. With Shigure – well, he’s a different sort of character between the anime and the manga – but Tohru seems to give Shigure some hope for the younger members of the zodiac. She means different things to different zodiac members, but for each of them she has some sort of good effect, it seems.
However, without realizing it, the Sohmas are doing something for Tohru, too. Not only have they given her a place to live, but they have allowed her a place where she feels like she can finally fit in. The story Tohru tells, in the anime version, explains it all at once – she recalls a game called “fruits basket” they played as kids. Each child would be assigned the name of a fruit, and as a fruit was called out then that child could get up and play with the others. Tohru, being sort of slow sometimes, was told she was an onigiri (a rice ball). She should have realized, she says, that a rice ball doesn’t belong in a fruits basket. So when Yuki, Kyo, Shigure, and the others like her and accept her for who she is, it’s a unique and special thing to Tohru.
I know I’ve given away quite a bit of story here given my usual policy of keeping that hush-hush so as not to ruin any plot, but it’s just too hard to describe the characters and story without the background, so forgive me! I promise I have left you some mysteries to explore if you decide to read the stories or watch the anime.
There’s quite a bit of humor, and as the story progresses the secrets of the Sohma family seem to be increasingly complicated and rather dark, but it’s enjoyable and I’m also enjoying having a “picture book” that isn’t something like See Spot Run.
Now, for a final reference, the cover characters are: Vol. 1- Tohru, Vol. 2 – Yuki, and Vol. 3 – Kyo. I wanted all three of them up because they are the core characters for the series. Anyway, if you’re looking for something different, I would recommend this series. One word of caution, though: if you read as much as I do, you’ll blaze through the manga fast and need the next volume quickly, which can be a problem because they’re a bit pricey.
We may have a slow down on posts since today we adopted a shelter kitten! A very tiny shelter kitten with – we’ve discovered – a little separation anxiety. He squeaks (it can’t really be called a meow) every time he’s alone in his room. We’re working on names for him (right now we call him Squeaker or Chibi-kitty) and once I know he’s cool with our existing cat then I can get back to routine – and routine posts, I hope!
I may be able to keep up anyway, but I thought I’d let everyone have a heads-up in case I get behind! Aaannd…picture time!
Like the last Krentz book I reviewed, this one falls sort of in the mystery category, but at the end of the book it’s still a romance. I picked this one up at the library – a place that I really shouldn’t visit when I have a stack of new books here at home – and when I got home I was shocked to find that I’d read this book before. Then – relief – I figured out I’d only read the first few pages. They rest of the book was new to me, which is good because I couldn’t figure out how I wouldn’t remember reading this!
The title, Light in Shadow, is actually one of the most useless titles I’ve ever seen. Usually, her books have titles that seem to make sense in some way, but in this case I never made the connection between title and plot. It just doesn’t seem to be there. So, speaking of the plot, I guess you’re curious, right? This is supposed to be a book review and all that. I guess I should get past the cover…
Zoe Luce is able to sense things in the walls. Mostly, violence, fear, pain…so her job as an interior designer is somewhat complicated when she runs across a room in which the walls seem to scream. In this case, she runs across such a room in a potential client’s bedroom. He claims he’s getting divorced, and that his wife took the bed with her, but all the pieces don’t quite fit. He has painted the walls a stark white color – which could just be indicative of poor taste – and Zoe notices several other things that don’t quite make sense if things are as her client has said. Plus…the evidence that nobody will really understand. Zoe can sense recent violence and pain in the walls of the room. She has a strong hunch that the Mrs. is not among the living.
However, it’s not like she can call the police. Imagine that conversation over the phone. “Oh, yes, Officer, well I just felt that the room had been filled with violence recently and…hello?” Yeah. Zoe is not going to give up on finding the truth, though. If her client did murder his wife, then he’s dangerous and he could hurt her, too. So, she decides to hire a private investigator to look into the matter. It’s simple: if the client’s former wife is living a life of ease off somewhere else then all is right with the world and she can continue her job without any complications. If not, then she may have to turn the job down and call in an anonymous tip.
Unfortunately for Zoe, at the same time that this investigation is going on, she is being investigated by some shady figures from her past. She’s succeeded in escaping that past, with the help of a good friend of hers, but when she ends up having to face down those demons she may just need the help of her own private investigator – who also happens to be her new romantic interest. But how do you tell a guy, “Oh, well you see I can feel things in the walls…” not to mention the rest of the story.
Filed under: Romance on June 18th, 2011 | Comments Off