More Now Now Now, Please! :)

29 03 2012

“Whatever You Love” by Louise Doughty is one of these books that makes me want to read the author’s back list NOW NOW NOW. The book does have its weaknesses, but boy, oh boy, Doughty has the right (write) stuff. And it doesn’t hurt the story is set in England.

My biggest beef, I think, is that the blurb is misleading. Here it is: When a hit-and-run car crash claims Laura’s daughter Betty, her life is turned upside down. But when the courts rule the death an accident, the lines dividing justice from punishment will blur as Laura embarks on her own quest for vengeance.

Not much is actually focused on the vengeance, and more should have been for sure. Maybe the last fifty, sixty pages focused on vengeance, and in a delicious twist, it’s not really vengeance against the person we think it’ll be. And the ending is open as to whether vengeance WAS achieved.

Doughty writes beautifully, but like with a book I reviewed recently, the writing sometimes gets in the way of the story. (I love beautiful writing but not for the sake of beautiful writing that otherwise does nothing for the story.) So, yeah, I skimmed or outright skipped large swaths. But even so, there’s plenty that made me want to keep going. You can tell just how much of a good voice Doughty has because right near the beginning, she delves into a huge chunk of back story. She writes it so well it doesn’t really come across as back story.

This is a definite recommend from me.

 

 





In “Pennance,” a Star Is Born

23 03 2012

One of the best (and somewhat rare) feelings I get when I read a book by a first-time published author combines my author/editor/reader personas. It’s this feeling: “Wow. This person will be a star someday.”

How can I tell? Voice. Turn of phrase.  Writing style. Differentiation. It’s simple to explain yet complex, too. Pretty much any book has flaws, and it’s very telling (to me, anyway) when the above four characteristics rise to the top despite the flaws.

I had this “oh yeah!” feeling the other day when I started “Pennance” by Clare Ashton. I must admit to having a small bias here, though. The book is set in England, and I love British stories, British mysteries, British character-driven tales. Think Elizabeth George and Ruth Rendell, for example. Plus, it just seems to me that many British stories do a great job of making the setting a true character in the story. This is definitely the case with “Pennance,” which is set in a town of the same name.

Here’s the blurb of the book from Amazon: Lucy is haunted by the death of her partner, Jake, and lives in paranoid fear and reclusion. She lives in a small, introverted village in Cornwall called Pennance, and is surrounded by Jake’s family and memories of him. She feels intensely guilty about his death and thinks someone is out to get her in retribution. Relief appears to come when a new neighbour, Karen, enters her life, but is that when the real threat begins?

Pennance is a creepy, odd character, and when the story opens, it has shaped Lucy into what basically amounts to a shell of a person. The story takes its time unfolding, which mirrors life in Pennance. By the 1/4 point, the central conflict has yet to appear, which may turn off some readers. It’s a tradeoff that seems to have paid off for Ashton, though. We see Lucy make her once-weekly trip to the store, we see her avoid her dead  boyfriend’s mother, we see her shrink in fear at visitors, we see her interact with the ghost/presence of her dead boyfriend. That’s Lucy’s life, and while she isn’t happy, she deals with it and has made her lot with it. The appearance of Karen, a new neighbor (and who is also a new love interest) and her children changes everything.

There is no doubt Ashton can write, and she’s bursting with potential. I fully expect some issues with first-person POV to be resolved for her future books. One example: “Pennance” has an overuse of “I felt,” “I wondered,” “I imagined,” etc. This plays with the flow of the story and makes the journey to the real conflict feel slower than it should. Lucy, especially at the beginning, is a character who very much lives in her head and who doesn’t interact much. “I felt sick” is also overused, and I was not clear on HOW Lucy was sick. Saying “The walls squeezed in” or “Nausea stung my throat” instead of “I felt sick” would have been more demonstrative plus would’ve made for less “I” subjects. This is a pretty easy thing to correct for future works.

Despite the bumps in “Pennance,” Ashton’s talent is evident. I will most definitely be checking out her future books. She’s a star in the making.





Decent Mystery, Decent Protagonist with an Unusual Memory Twist

18 03 2012

“And She Was” by Alison Gaylin is billed as a novel of suspense (on its cover, anyway), but it doesn’t quite fit that billing. Nevertheless, it’s a satisfactory enough read. Gaylin can write. That’s never in doubt. She turns many phrases beautifully but sometimes to the point where the language detracts from the story.

A little background: the story is basically about PI Brenna Spector investigating a years-old disappearance of a child named Iris and a modern-day disappearance that may be connected. Add to that the fact Brenna’s sister disappeared when they were kids, Brenna was a witness and the trauma caused Brenna to have a condition in which she remembers everything perfectly. So, a lot of the book is filled with flashbacks triggered by a certain sight, smell or taste. Yeah, it’s annoying. It disrupts the flow. But that’s kinda the point, isn’t it? This is what Brenna has to live with, and it’s disruptive as all heck for her.

So, anyway, a bit more on the bad: I didn’t particularly care about many, if not most, of Brenna’s flashbacks. Skim land there. This also  happened for other swaths of the book (especially where there was some fancy language, the only point of which was to show Gaylin can write). The mysteries also get too convoluted about 3/4 through.

The good stuff: Brenna has an awesome assistant named Trent. He’s like a kinda intellectual “Jersey Shore” person. He shines. He leaps off the page, more than anyone else. I wanted more Trent! The resolution of the Iris mystery (the whodunit) was also satisfactory. I was glad to see none of the convolutions came into play there.

There’s a sequel planned in winter 2013. I’m not sure if I’ll read it. Maybe I will if I come across it, but it’ll be nothing I put on my advance reading lists. It promises to follow up on the disappearance of Brenna’s sister, but quite frankly, I never much cared about it in “And She Was.” I wanted more on the cases Brenna was investigating, and her sister’s disappearance, in my opinion, felt like filler.

Three stars: decent mystery, decent protagonist with an unusual memory twist.

 

 

 

 





Trafficking in How People Think

4 03 2012

“Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What This Says About Us)” by Tom Vanderbilt is ostensibly a book about traffic, but it is really a (very fascinating) book about why people act the way they do. Traffic is merely used as a behavioral prism. Many overarching themes come to the forefront, themes such as humans are social animals and what is more dangerous may actually be safer and that safety measures make something more dangerous.

Humans as social animals: cars and many traffic setups don’t foster socialization. That’s why many people’s personalities change when they’re behind the wheel. The roads are flat, uniform, charmless, choked with signs, impersonal. People are not seeing these other drivers again, so, sure, cut in front, give the finger, yell curses. Knock yourself out. And how dare that pedestrian or cyclist try to mess with the system? I’m trying to get somewhere, and these people are streaming across the crosswalk! Oh, the humanity.

Which do you think is more dangerous: a wide, straight road where all buildings and sidewalks are set way back from the road OR a narrower, jostling street where children and pets play near the road’s edge? How about an intersection versus a roundabout? The answer to both questions is the second choice. Why? Humans are AWARE of the risk and so act more safely. They must socialize with other drivers/pedestrians/cyclists to maneuver the road or roundabout.

Basically, humans have a risk threshold. Safety measures sometimes backfire because they then lead drivers to feel safer and therefore, drivers act less responsibly (examples: talk on cellphone, drive faster). Also, signage often isn’t necessary. People in fancy department stores don’t need signs telling them not to spit, so let’s give ourselves a little credit and follow the example of these localities that cut down on signs and therefore, on traffic wrecks and fatalities.

The book offers a neat parallel of the risk concept to climbers of Alaska’s Mount McKinley. There were no fatalities in the first ten years of the 20th century among the mountain’s 47 climbers. What happened after climbing went high tech and climbers knew they could be rescued if they got into a pickle? Yep. Dozens of deaths each decade.

A false sense of security is dangerous. Our brains need to work. They need to be engaged. Otherwise we’re just gonna speed up, put makeup on, pop large bubblegum bubbles, babble on our cellphones and fumble for a magazine. BAD IDEA.

This is a book all drivers should read as a condition of getting their licenses. (Whether/how to evaluate if people actually read the book is a different matter, but some people reading the book is better than none.)

Other interesting aspects of this book discuss late merging (good), driving and culture/country and fatalities/accidents as they relate to a country’s GDP and/or corruption index. (The more corrupt a country, the more likely it is to have bad accident and fatality numbers.)

The book’s writing style is engaging. The concepts are easy to grasp and eye opening.

 

 





Pieces Form the Whole — a Review of “Sistine Heresy” by Justine Saracen

27 02 2012

This is a review of “Sistine Heresy” by Justine Saracen, but a little background first.  I’m an author as well as a reader (hmm, it should be understood that all authors are readers! 🙂 ), and I posted a review of “Third,” my most recent release, on Facebook. Justine Saracen, whom I’d really had no dealings with up to that point, commented on the review. We got to talking about how sales of both our books were on the low side. Reasons could be aplenty (for example, “Third” is quite cross-genre: lesbian fiction, nontraditional romance as in polyamory, time travel and historical fiction),  but Justine said historical fiction, including her book “Sistine Heresy,” tends to not sell so well in lesfic. We made a deal that we’d buy each other’s books. I love the Borgias, so I was eager to read the book (see a review I did here on a couple of Borgia books).

So, fast forward a few weeks later. “Sistine Heresy” is a great book, actually a bit (or a lot) of an anomaly from lesfic publishers, and I decided I’d review it for this blog. That fact alone says a lot, because I’m usually hesitant to review lesfic books on this blog. I’m a lesfic author myself, and I don’t want to risk alienating anyone by saying something the least bit negative. I was a bit off about one thing, though. “Sistine Heresy” really isn’t a Borgia book. Borgias are tangential, and while one of the main characters is a Borgia by marriage, she’s fictional. She never existed. This isn’t the book to read if you’re craving Borgia yumminess.

OK, so here’s the “Sistine Heresy” blurb on its Amazon page:  Eros, art, and gorgeous blasphemy… Adrianna Borgia, survivor of the Borgia court, presents Michelangelo with the greatest temptations of his life while struggling herself with soul-threatening desires and heresies. Her growing passion for the painter Raphaela Bramante mirrors the sculptor’s damnable interest in a castrato in the Sistine choir and in the ideas of secular humanism. Claimed as the epitome of Christian inspiration, Michelangelo’s ceiling is revealed as a coup of Eros upon religion, a gorgeous blasphemy and a paean to forbidden love in the very heart of the Church.

So, it’s pretty  obvious the book isn’t a romance. Also, while Bold Strokes Books puts out gay men’s fiction, it’s known primarily as a lesfic publisher. “Sistine Heresy” is just as much, if not more so, a gay men’s story than a lesbian story.

“Sistine Heresy” isn’t an easy book, and I mean that in the best way because it comes together in the end to reveal the purpose of all the individual pieces that may have seemed extraneous. For example, the book is told from many, many points of view, although the POVs of Adriana Borgia (a fictional woman) and of Michelangelo help anchor it (Adriana is a bit more dominant POV-wise than Michelangelo). There are scenes, such as a meeting between Pope Julius II and Alfonso d’ Este, Duke of Ferrara, that had me puzzling over their points. Why bother to show these scenes?

“Sistine Heresy” is a book, but in many ways, it’s like a giant painting. I have to think the author did this on purpose because of the book’s subject matter. Purposeful or not, it’s a brilliant move. If you look at only one piece of a painting, you might not understand that piece’s point until you’ve looked at the painting as a whole. The pieces come together, the purpose is clear, everything clicks. This could also be an allegory for people who believe in God; He behaves in mysterious ways. You don’t know His purpose because you’re only such a tiny part of the whole.

If you like costume dramas (think “Rome,” “The Tudors” and the two Borgia shows), you’ll probably like this book. It reads in many ways like a TV show: the multiple POVs, for example, and the vast lineup of characters. “Sistine Heresy” reminds me most of “Rome” because “Rome” had a lesbian subplot (a nice one that surprised me in a good way, because I hadn’t known it was coming), but the subplot was only one cog in the machine.

“Sistine Heresy” isn’t a lesbian book or a gay book, although many of its characters tilt that way. It’s really a book about people trying to reconcile their physical desires, their faith in God and a corrupt church. Both Michelangelo and Adriana, in the end, find their ways to do this, but in vastly different methods. For Adriana, slow and steady wins the race. It takes a great tragedy for her to wake up to what she needs to do.  Would’ve been nice if she could’ve done it without the tragedy, but it is what it is.

Just a few quibbles with this book: there’s a bit too much “As you know, Bob” dialogue, and okay, heck, yeah, I wanted to see more “relations” between Adriana and Lucrezia Borgia. 😉

This book gets my recommendation fo’ sho.
** Edited to add another quibble: yeah, the celeb walk-ons did seem unnecessary.





Dive Into Another World

31 01 2012

I’m thirty-two years old, and I love history. Old history, that is. More-recent history, such as WWII, WWI, Vietnam and so on, doesn’t have the same allure for me as the Civil War, Roman history, British history, Egyptian history, etc. do.

Well, heck. That has changed because of one book, “Shadow Divers” by Robert Kurson. Did you know that during WWII, German U-boats snuck up in American waters and some got so close to the shore that the crew could smell U.S. trees, listen to U.S. radio? Many of these U-boats were sunk in waters around the United States coast and are still there. I’d had no idea. Ignorant me had this misconception of WWII being fought way over there, there being Germany, Japan, England, wherever. Hawaii was attacked, yeah, but Hawaii isn’t mainland U.S.

When I saw the U-boats fact mentioned in the book’s blurb, I knew I HAD to get this book. And it’s a treat. It’s a must-read for anyone. It has mystery, suspense, intrigue, honorable men, rapscallion men, the bad boys with hearts of gold and the women who love them, and death. Lots of death but an uplifting ending. It’s nonfiction but is better-paced and more suspenseful than most fiction I have read.

Kurson basically follows a group of divers as they discover a sunken U-boat  and the group’s struggle over several years to identify which boat it is. The divers end up changing recorded history. Kurson provides a fascinating and sometimes heartbreaking look into diving culture.

I have no quibbles with this book, but I did wonder about some of the divers. They did what is an honorable thing, at least on first glance. They found bodies in the wreckage, lots of bodies. Well, not bodies. Skeletons and bones are more accurate. The divers refused to ransack the bones in order to identify the U-boat. Respect for the dead, respect for their families. The divers didn’t want to have to tell the families that they had to paw through their loved ones’ pockets to find a tag to identify the U-boat.

That’s great. All well and good.

Except what happens? The divers can’t find ID elsewhere. Several years go on. Still they refuse to riffle through the bodies/clothes on the bodies. I dunno. It seems presumptuous of them to assume what the families would have wanted. If I had lost a loved one at sea, I’d like to know where he was, even if that meant someone had to go through his pockets for a tag. The divers had a pretty good idea which U-boat this was, so why didn’t they just ask the families what they preferred instead of assuming for them?

Anyway, that was a bit maddening but is no reflection on the author. This book gets five stars out of five. Once you start reading, be prepared to be immersed in claustrophobic and thrilling situations for hours.

 

 

 

 

 





Nancy Drew for Lesbians

16 01 2012

Who doesn’t know Nancy Drew, right? She’s that blond detective so many girls (me, at least) loved to read about when we were kids. My inner little-girl lesbian kept wanting Nancy and George to get together, and from what I gather, I was not the only one.

I am an adult now (though always a kid inside), and I don’t read Nancy Drew any longer. Side note: I do have an ex who still reads Nancy Drew. She gets the books in lots really cheap on eBay. No, that wasn’t why we broke up. Anyway, I digress 😉

I was happy to read a book the past couple of days that is basically Nancy Drew for lesbian adults. The adults part comes in because of the language (cursing characters) and because of lust and sexual desire. Letting teenagers read this book is probably OK, though.

Thankfully, some of the annoying staples of the Nancy Drew series are gone, such as ending every chapter with an exclamation point! Like this! Annoying! Yes!

Even better, there is a gender-bender character named George. And by George, George gets the girl!

The book is “The Secret of Lighthouse Pointe” by Patty G. Henderson. It’s set in the early 1800s as the U.S. heads into the Revolutionary War.  Henderson labels it as a Gothic romantic suspense, so it fits a particular framework. Like with the Nancy Drew books, the bad guys are baddies. Period. They collude a certain way, they use secret passageways, they cackle.

Constance Beechum is the lead character, and she’s sent to care for a dying woman whose family is less than loving. Constance fends off advances from the women’s two sons while trying to solve a mystery. The solution to the mystery is pretty obvious, but the point is the journey. It’s like in a romance book; we know the couple will end up together. But how do they get there? How does Constance fend off these slimy men, does the dying woman live, and does Constance get her love? The journey here is worthwhile.

It seems Henderson used an editor for this book (one is listed, in any case). However, the book could have used another go-over by a different editor. “Gerard’s” is used both as a plural possessive (should be “Gerards’ “) and as a plural (should be “Gerards” with no apostrophes anywhere). Other basic editing errors, such as adverb overuse, are especially apparent in the first quarter or third of the book but go down as the book progresses. (These adverbs may be part of the particular framework for the book, though.) The editing probably won’t bother other people to the extent it did me (I am a professional editor).

The ending leaves room for a sequel, or sequels. This would be awesome. Constance and George have lots of potential for sleuthing together. Who needs Bess, right? 😀