Quickie Book Reviews

1. Sea Witch by Virginia Kantra. I loved this book. The selkie legend is fresh – not too overdone in today’s crowded paranormal market. I loved the heroine and the hero. There were no TSTL moments. Sex was hot. The emotion was real. The setting was three-dimensional Definitely loved it – I’ve bought the others in the series.

2. Making Waves by Tawna Fenske. This one has had a lot of press; I’ve seen it mentioned all over Twitter and blogs so I bought it. There are some cute lines – really cute lines – and it’s a cute, fast read. I thought it was perhaps a little too slight, though. I skimmed some of the last pages, and didn’t feel like I missed anything when I picked it back up at the end. I gave it three stars on Goodreads – it’s not my favorite, but this is a new author with a lot of promise. I’ll buy her next one.

3. Fade to Black by Shannon McKenna. I should preface this by saying I love Shannon McKenna’s books. I’ve read all of them, and I plan to continue reading them. That said, I want my money back for this book.

Before I get to the substantive stuff, I’ll point out that McKenna is in dire need of an editor. This book had typos all over the place. “Lights shown from his eyes.” “He as dead.” “Have gave.” “Incounter”. Are you effing kidding me? I paid $8 for this book – I expect it to be a little more polished than your average internet rant. Also, my version of the book isn’t listed on Goodreads – this was a mass market and it was 616 pages, about 200 pages too long.

Unfortunately the bad presentation could not be assuaged by an amazing book. The premise was wonderful and I loved the “idea” of the book. But the execution failed. There was a weird lack of heat between Edie and Kev. Normally McKenna’s sex scenes are scorching. Not so in this book. What really drove me crazy was the inconsistent characterization. Kev was an amazing character at first . He was gentler and more relaxed than his brothers from the other books. Not an alpha asshole hero. But then one time, he pulls that “I don’t want to have sex with you because I won’t be able to stop” crap and it just ruined it for me.

Their fights were ridiculous and stupid. Completely contrived to give conflict to the plot; I didn’t believe a word of them.

Ugh, I’m just so frustrated with this book. What happened to Shannon McKenna? Where is the Shannon McKenna of the almost perfect prose? The Shannon McKenna who grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go? The Shannon McKenna who makes you swoon? Where ever she is, she’s not present in this book at all.

I have Blood and Fire, the book after this, in my TBR pile and frankly I’m afraid to pick it up.

4. Ten Ways To Be Adored When Landing A Lord by Sarah MacLean. I fell in love with this series with Nine Rules To Break When Romancing A Rake, which was only the second five star rating I’ve given to fiction on Goodreads (the first was to 1984 by George Orwell.)

This sophomore book did not fail. As richly detailed as the first, Ten Ways To Be Adored absolutely delivers believable characters, a scorching hot romance, and shocking tenderness.

One particularly appealing aspect was though the characters from the first book made an appearance, it was not overdone. Nor was it the treacle we get from a lot of follow up books.

I could not have asked for more from this reading experience. It just totally works for me.

Eleven is in my TBR pile and MacLean’s next book (release date in April, I believe) has been pre-ordered. She is an auto-buy for me. Love her, love her, love her.

News Alert: OWS Protesters Devolve Into Zombies

In a shocking development, the Occupy Wall Street protesters were observed randomly attacking walkers-by and ripping them apart! Eye witnesses report that the protesters appear to be eating their victims, with an apparent preference for the unfortunate victims’ brains. Police and emergency crews report similar incidents at the sites of the “Occupy” protests throughout the nation.

When asked about this development, Geraldo Rivera, who has been covering the Occupy movement for Fox News, commented, “This explains a lot. The protesters have always been inarticulate, unable to explain themselves or even to mutter coherent sentences. They stink, and they congregate in hordes. I originally thought they were just on drugs, but I saw that they became more mindless and violent over time. Who could have guessed that they were actually turning into zombies!”

Sarah Palin, the popular ex-Governor of Alaska, told the press, “These people are a plague on our nation. They know nothing, and they have long been accomplishing nothing. They have always been intellectual zombies — now they are just becoming on the surface what they have always been inside.”

Charles Krauthammer, drawing on his background in psychology, put the developments into perspective. “Why is anyone surprised by this? These protesters resent the fact that there are people in the world who used their own brains to make themselves rich and successful. Because these rich people are unwilling simply to hand over their earnings to the protesters, the protesters are now turning into creatures who are willing to eat the brains of other people in their fruitless quest to find a shortcut to wealth that does not require them to perform actual productive work.”

Nancy Pelosi expressed a different view. “We should not be quick to judge these protesters. These people are just upset and expressing their discontentment with the disparity of incomes in this country. People like this are the backbone of the Democratic Party!”

Obama, still making speeches as he travels across the country in what he insists is not a campaign tour, commented, “This simply shows that we need much more stimulus money injected into the economy. If we simply tax the rich people enough, this problem will go away. While I personally don’t eat other people’s brains, we must protect the rights of people who choose to do so.”

Newt Gingrich offered a historical perspective, “The Liberals have already tried the vampire route — they have been sucking the lifeblood out of our economy for the past three years. I mean, just take a close look at Harry Reid — that man does not even try to camouflage the fact that he is a blood sucker. It was bound to happen that eventually the Liberals would devolve into the walking dead. While an individual Liberal may be pathetic and disgusting, it is only when they congregate in hordes that they become dangerous.”

For Sheila: The Road To Los Angeles

California State Highway 46 streaks eastward from the city of Paso Robles, near the northern edge of San Luis Obispo County, and cuts across gentle rolling hills and sweeping fields dotted with an occasional ranch. It is a desolate, windblown vista, broken only by the squatty, weather-beaten buildings that make up the hamlets of Whitley Gardens, Shandon, and Cholame.

Almost twenty-five miles from Paso Robles, and less than a mile east of Cholame, the highway cuts through a gap in the Temblor Mountains, so named because the San Andreas Fault runs at their base.

Here the highway splits: 46 continues eastward to Bakersfield, and its branch, Highway 41, turns northeast toward Fresno.

Today, February 17, 2001, the sky is a silken, sullen grey. The hills are a literal shade of blue and a distinct stillness has descended over the landscape, a quality of immensity that is difficult to recognize in one sweeping gaze. The intersection is sparse, completely unassuming except for the fact that on the south side of the street, a towering telegraph pole stands in rapt regard. I know this telegraph pole. I know it from photographs and stories. I swing my car into the parking lot of the Jack Ranch Café and look back at it, not even 100 feet away. It has the same quality of a memory: old, distant, but very real. It is the telegraph pole that James Dean crashed into at 87 miles per hour on September 30, 1955.

Imagine it: the downgrade from the pass runs straight as an arrow down to the “Y” intersection of Highways 46 and 41; a short distance beyond, the tiny town of Cholame is visible. It is 5:59pm, late summer, and his Porsche Spider is the colour of glass. Approaching the intersection from the opposite direction is a large black-and-white 1950 Ford Custom Tudor coupe.

Dean’s Porsche accelerates to 85 mph on the downgrade toward Cholame, flying from the low, sweeping curve just as the Ford veers over the center line.

Cholame, population five, consists now of a Chevron gas station, the Jack Ranch Café, and a tiny post office, virtually unchanged since Dean’s death. It is a quiet place to die.

I step outside my car into the cool winter air, in the dusty shale parking lot of Jack Ranch Café, noticing the silver memorial erected beside an old tree, a memorial for James Dean, who died so close to this spot that I can feel some sense of the loss even now – nearly fifty years later- the vacuum sense of some element missing. I walk over to the intersection, looking at the ground, imagining I can see the skid marks and grooves in the asphalt but in reality the road has been paved over. The telegraph pole stands there though and looks like it’s taken quite a few hits over the years. This stretch of road is called “Blood Alley”; there were 110 fatalities between 1996 and 1998 alone.

I stand beside the tree. Constant inland breezes rustle the leaves over my head. It stares back at the telegraph pole, tall sentinals on the lonely highway intersection.

Slowly, as if approaching a dangerous animal, I walk across the street. I stand at the telegraph pole, searching for some sign – a smear of red paint, a dent, something. It’s just a pole. It doesn’t remember the crash, it has no scars.

For the two hours I stand there, not another car passes. I think of that ad that James Dean did shortly before he died. “Slow down,” he says, “the life you save might be mine.” Or is it “the life you save might be your own?” I can’t remember now. That last moment is so vivid to me that tears form in my eyes. He is awake after the crash, stunned but alive, aware enough to understand what has happened to him. That acknowledgment – the last tussel of breath and then letting go.

The sun has begun to sink behind the California mountains, and the chill in the air is really starting to sting. I slump against the telephone pole and sigh, “Oh James.”

Slowly I trudge across the street to my own car and climb inside. I think of him in Rebel Without A Cause, a movie I have loved all my life. I think of his achingly tender kiss with Natalie Wood, and then later, when he stalks out of the Observatory after Plato is shot by the cops, screaming till his voice cracks, “I have the bullets! I have the bullets!”

We, all of us, lost someone special when he died out there on that lonely road, the same lonely road that unfurls through the mountains, taking me back to Los Angeles.

Late October Bookstack II

The second part of my order arrived today:

Late October Bookstack

I rather thought this delivery would bear more fruit. Alas, I’ve two more shipments en route for this one order. I love the cover of “A Lady’s Lesson In Scandal” by Meredith Duran. Very dramatic and lovely. The cover for “Eleven Scandals To Start To Win A Duke’s Heart” is a rather lurid shade of pink; I don’t think I’ve encountered hot pink on a historical romance before. The Carl Hiaasen is for comic relief; is books are always absurd and I love them.

Buying A Book

My system used to be easy. I’d buy on Amazon when I felt like it. B&N just never quite felt right to me, and I don’t know why that is. Maybe because when I shop at Amazon I have the option of also buying things I might need around the house. In my last batch of Amazon purchases, I bought two bottles of Cetaphil soap. But I don’t think that completely explains my preference for Amazon. Amazon’s recommendations feature has lured me into more purchases than probably any other factor. Even walking around a book store (which I still love to do), I don’t seem to find as much as I want to buy when I’m just browsing Amazon. I tend to collect things over a period of time, dumping them in my cart and waiting until I have enough (usually six to eight books, though I’ve bought as few as one and as many as twenty-two in one swoop).

Now ebooks. I’m so torn about ebooks. I love the convenience and the fact that they’re searchable. But the prices are just loco and I worry that because I’m buying a license – and not the book itself – I could get burned in the future.

I love owning books. Physical books give me a pleasure few other things do. I love the way they feel, I love the way they look in my house. I’m willing to sacrifice that enjoyment, however, if I can be promised that my ebook is really mine, and I can do with it what I want. Right now, that’s not the case. The different formats are confusing, and more worrisome, license agreements can be changed. Currently Amazon can remove books from your device – a possibility that angers me more than it should, considering right now I don’t own a device. I do use Kindle For Mac, and I am planning on buying a Kindle in the next thirty days, but this alone gives me pause.

My money is limited. My passion for books is not. I want my limited money to be spent on things that are mine into perpetuity.

Another mark against ebooks is the pricing. Many ebooks are the same price – or more! – than their mass market counterparts. As a consumer, I feel this unfair. There are no overhead costs for these books (except for marketing, cover, and editing; by overhead I mean printing, paper, ink, trucking, storage, returns, etc.) They’re much cheaper to create, and I want those cost savings reflected in the price.

As a writer, of course, I want the price to be high. But as someone who reads many more books than I buy, I’d prefer a lower price point, perhaps a dollar below the mass market point. I buy approximately 200 books a year. Sometimes more. If ebooks are the same price as mass market paperbacks or trade paperbacks, I’ll stick with the physical.

It occurs to me now I haven’t bought a hardback in ages. I will though. I plan to buy Joan Didion’s “Blue Nights” in hardback. So I’m not opposed to spending money on books. I just want the price to be fair, and once I buy it, I want it to be mine forever.

Amazon’s New Look

Wow, Amazon has a new look! I rather like it. Being able to see the contents of your cart while shopping is something I’ve wanted for a while, and now, voila!

I’m also dying to get my hands on the new Kindle Fire. I’ve been using Kindle for Mac to read ebooks, plus Adobe Digital Editions (for NetGalley books). I do not care for Adobe Digital Editions. I crave the simplicity and the easy-on-the-eyes format of the Kindle.

But for now, I’m sticking to dead-tree books. I really love Amazon, btw. It is one of those very few websites that I’ve used since the 1990s and can see using forever.

Book Review: Dearly, Departed by Lisa Habel

The only thing expected of Nora Dearly is that she comport herself as a proper young lady. As a New Victorian, she is expected to be quiet, sweet, and have impeccable manners. For sure, she has those qualities. But when the zombies come, her inner bad-ass comes out in a big way.

Because this book was amazing and there is much good to discuss, I will begin with the most obvious weakness: the multiple points of first-person POV were a little less than charming, and served to yank me out of the narrative. I also felt like Habel didn’t go full-throttle with the zombies. The first introduction of them was met with the appropriate terror and desire to kill them. But as the book wore on, they became almost wallpaper, they were experienced so casually.

That said, this book was a delight. I’ve not ventured into steampunk before, so this was a terrific introduction. I loved the idea of a modern Victorian society – Habel brought that vividly to life. Some of the descriptions were just balls-out amazing. The experience was fully immersive; I loved the war with the Punks, the specific details of the underground city, the parasols with the lights on them. These details really made the book come alive for me.

I adored Nora – but I especially liked to see her falling for Bram. Both were very distinct and fully formed characters. Even the minor characters were distinct. Pamela, for instance, was one of my favorites.

Nora and Bram’s relationship had some oddly touching moments (odd because…well… he’s a zombie and you know what happens to zombies.) Her relationship with Chas, a female zombie, was also quite touching.

I loved this book. It’s the first YA book I’ve read, and the first steampunk, and I’m sold. I eagerly await Lisa Habels subsequent books.

Book Review: Too Wicked To Wed by Cara Elliot

Too Wicked To Wed was my first exposure to Cara Elliot, and it was everything I’d hoped it would be. Fresh, charming, and lush, it had me by the throat from the first moment.

I enjoy heroines who don’t quite fit in, or who reject the conventions of the time, and Lady Alexa Hendrie did that for me. A country girl, Alexa is having her first season in London and feels completely out of place.

Connor Linsley, the Earl of Killingworth, known to his fellow Hellhound boon companions as the Irish Wolfhound, owns a brothel and gaming hall – and thus quite off limits to Lady Alexa. Not that it stops her from allowing Connor to kiss her a few times, sending her head careening and her heart pounding.

Alexa is tempted by her cousin to dress as a man and attend a gambling party. She succeeds a little too brilliantly when she wins half of Connor’s gambling hall and brothel. Only later does she realize that Connor is this close to poverty and his financial straits are the least of his worries since someone is out to kill him.

As they’re walking home from the house of ill repute one evening, an attempt is made on Connor’s life; he is shot in one of his ribs. Alexa, resourceful and practical, determines that with his life at stake, they shall head to Devon to hide at the abandoned home of one of Connor’s kin. There, the inevitable happens.

The prose was pitch perfect – very beautiful, very true to the time. I would read Cara Elliot’s grocery list if it were as beautifully put together as the prose she demonstrates here. So gorgeous, I just wanted to eat it up with a spoon.

However, there were some stumbling blocks. The whole idea of the Hellhounds rings a little contrived for my taste. There were frequent mentions of curs, dogs, pups, hounds, etc and it served to pull me out of the story. I would have preferred a little less of that.

The hero is very vivid – I loved his silver hair, which I thought was quite unique with historical romance heroes. Personality-wise, he was unique as well – not the “total package” hero – rich, fabulous, debonaire – we’re so used to seeing in historicals. For this reason, I adored him.

Lady Alexa, being a misfit, also appealed.

Altogether this was a wonderful book. I enjoyed their story and look forward to the other Hellhounds’. I just hope there aren’t quite so many dog references!

Zombies and Victorian Lasses, Oh My!

I’m thrilled beyond belief that I just got the ARC for Dearly, Departed, by Lisa Habel. Knowing my recent disappointments with a zombie book, this book sounds absolutely perfect for me. Check out the marketing copy:

Love can never die.

Love conquers all, so they say. But can Cupid’s arrow pierce the hearts of the living and the dead-or rather, the undead? Can a proper young Victorian lady find true love in the arms of a dashing zombie?

The year is 2195. The place is New Victoria-a high-tech nation modeled on the manners, mores, and fashions of an antique era. A teenager in high society, Nora Dearly is far more interested in military history and her country’s political unrest than in tea parties and debutante balls. But after her beloved parents die, Nora is left at the mercy of her domineering aunt, a social-climbing spendthrift who has squandered the family fortune and now plans to marry her niece off for money. For Nora, no fate could be more horrible-until she’s nearly kidnapped by an army of walking corpses.

But fate is just getting started with Nora. Catapulted from her world of drawing-room civility, she’s suddenly gunning down ravenous zombies alongside mysterious black-clad commandos and confronting “The Laz,” a fatal virus that raises the dead-and hell along with them. Hardly ideal circumstances. Then Nora meets Bram Griswold, a young soldier who is brave, handsome, noble . . . and dead. But as is the case with the rest of his special undead unit, luck and modern science have enabled Bram to hold on to his mind, his manners, and his body parts. And when his bond of trust with Nora turns to tenderness, there’s no turning back. Eventually, they know, the disease will win, separating the star-crossed lovers forever. But until then, beating or not, their hearts will have what they desire.

In Dearly, Departed, romance meets walking-dead thriller, spawning a madly imaginative novel of rip-roaring adventure, spine-tingling suspense, and macabre comedy that forever redefines the concept of undying love.

Oh my Gosh, I’ve gone to zombie heaven. I can not wait to read it and of course a full review will be forthcoming.

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