Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I need to read more

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The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Top Ten Authors I’ve Only Read One Book From but Need to Read More.

My usual modus operandi, when I find an author I like, is to immediately run out and get all their other books that I can from the library and binge. I had a year that was mostly Murakami, a year that was mostly Nabokov, (a number of years that were mostly pretentious…). Anyway, what I mean to say is that this list is hard, because I just don’t work that way. Usually, if I’ve only read one book by an author that means I’m not ever going to touch them again. But there are a few exceptions.

Robin LaFevers- I recently finished Grave Mercy and while I wasn’t completely blown away, it was good enough that I want to check out the rest of the series.

Nicola Griffith- Hild was one of my favorite books of 2013. I’m a little apprehensive looking at Griffith’s backlist, and nothing has really appealed to me yet, but I want to try more.

Scott Lynch- One of these days I am finally going to sit down and finish the Gentleman Bastards. Really truly.

Jim C. Hines- I enjoyed Libriomancer, but I just haven’t made it to the sequel yet.

Adam Johnson- I don’t even know if he’s written another book, but The Orphan Master’s Son is another one of my favorites from the last year or so.

Helene Wecker- Her debut novel was exquisite, I need more like yesterday.

Truman Capote- I’ve always meant to read Breakfast at Tiffanys, but I’ve never gotten to it.

Jeff VanderMeer- I’m getting there, but not quite yet.

Leigh Bardugo- I wasn’t really into the first Grisha book, but everyone seems to go so gaga that I’m wondering if I should give it a second try.

Sarah J. Maas- Same as above. I can’t quite decide if I was in the midst of an old lady, YA sucks phase or if Throne of Glass really was that bad.

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Mini Reviews- Romance

Through NetGalley and Goodreads I’ve ended up reading a lot of romances over the past few weeks, so it seemed like a good time for some mini reviews! Also, Pandora decided to just start playing “I Want to Know What Love Is”, so, um, thematically appropriate?

cover51532-mediumIn The Raw by Eileen Griffin and Nikka Michaels. I enjoy pretty much everything I’ve read from Carina Press, especially their m/m titles. This one was full of everything I love–bad boy and goodie-two-shoes, food (why do I love contemporary romances about cooking so much?)–but it felt a little overstuffed to me. There are too many conflicts going on. You don’t need a coming-out/evil homophobe parents conflict and a bullying classmate and rich boy/poor boy drama and a competition over the same scholarship. Plus, how do you have a pierced and tattooed bad boy and then almost never use that? I definitely needed some more tattoo action going on. 2.5 stars.

 

Hunting the Spy by Tyler Flynn. cover50483-mediumAnother Carina Press title, this one a m/m historical. Nathan Kennet is a spycatcher for the Crown who has to face the possibility that his former lover, Sir Peter Ross, might be a killer and a traitor. This one was really fast paced and fun. Nathan had an almost terminal case of the stupids some times, and at some of the plottier parts my eyes glazed over, but Peter was completely adorable and for the most part I liked how the relationship developed. 3.5 stars.

 

156565The Leopard Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt. I have no idea why Goodreads was giving away a seven year old title, but I was really excited about it. I like Elizabeth Hoyt and the tagline– “The one thing a lady must never do is fall in love with her servant”–really drew me in. With historicals, you tend to get an overabundance of dukes, earls, and marquesses, and when someone is of a different class, it’s usually the woman–a prostitute, a poor relation, etc. So I was really, really excited to see a romance between a lady and her land steward.

Only, it didn’t really turn out to be that. Harry is as much of an arrogant, entitled asshat as any good regency Duke. He doesn’t actually do any land stewarding because he’s either haring around the countryside in pursuit of a murderer, or stomping around with widdle hurt feewings because his lady said something that he took out of context. Georgina, the lady, starts out pretty cool, but by the end she is making just as many stupid decisions as he is (Need to fix all your problems? Run away from them and marry a gay man, natch.) And the class conflict I wanted was virtually nonexistent. George’s family pretty quickly come around, and while Harry pouts a bit about George having the money and people perceiving him as a “man-whore,” it all feels like hollow whining instead of valid concerns. Most of the conflict comes externally, from the most mustache-twirlingly, vile, gross villain I have read in a good long while.

This book sounded so cool but when I sat down to read it every single thing about it rubbed me the wrong way. 2 stars.

The Hidden Blade by Sherry Thomas. 22751852Lastly, we come to a romance that isn’t really a romance at all. A prequel to Thomas’s My Beautiful Enemy, (which I have not yet read), The Hidden Blade sets up the backstories of the protagonists, but they never meet. In Peking, Ying-ying, the daughter of a beautiful courtesan, finds out that her father is a “foreign devil,”(an Englishman) and, not sure what sort of future this gives her, begins to secretly train in martial arts. In England, Leighton faces virtual imprisonment by his awful uncle after his father’s suicide, and he works hard to both protect his family and escape and return to them. So much terrible stuff happens in this book, and it happens to children. It was actually kind of rough to read, at points. But Leighton and Ying-ying were both fascinating characters, and I kind of can’t wait to see how they react to/interact with each other. Being a prequel, it ends unsatifyingly and feels unfinished, but there’s a lot to like about this book. Non-white characters and non-Western cultures that don’t feel like caricatures or pandering. A homosexual relationship that admittedly ends in tragedy but isn’t based on stereotype. A badass ninja battle. All in all, it was a pretty cool read, and I don’t think you have to be a romance reader to enjoy it. 4 stars.

One interesting note is that all of these books have homosexual characters. Okay, two of them are explicitly m/m titles, but seeing gay characters in otherwise “regular” historical romances made me quite happy. Romance, like most genres, needs a lot more diversity in terms of color, creed, orientation, etc. History wasn’t all white, straight people, and I love to see authors acknowledging and exploring that.

I think I’ve gotten romance out of my system for a while. Time to get back to fantasies.

 

 

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Short Story Sunday: “Ushakiran”

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“The earliest movements she knows are not her mother’s movements but the sea rocking her mother, who lies unconscious on the ship’s deck, rescued.”

Ushakiran” by Laura Friis, published by Lightspeed magazine.

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Review: The Secret Place by Tana French

20821043Title: The Secret Place

Author: Tana French

Rating: 4 stars

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.

It is amazing to me that  a year ago I didn’t know who Tana French was. And yet. The first time I heard of Tana French was opening up my Secret Santa package from The Broke and the Bookish. A fellow book blogger (who’s name I have shamefully forgotten) gave me The Likeness, which I looked at, shrugged, and stuffed on my TBR shelf to get to whenever. BAD CHOICE. The Likeness, when I finally got around to it, was a book that completely astonished me, and I devoured it, and then every other book in the Dublin Murder Squad series. Now that I’ve read The Secret Place, French’s latest, I am almost bereft. I’m all caught up until she writes more. What am I supposed to do now?

The Secret Place focuses on Detective Stephen Moran, last seen in Faithful Place. He made a career mistake, then, but he’s ambitious and patient, and is biding his time in Cold Cases until he can get onto the Murder Squad. When Holly Mackey approaches him with evidence regarding the year-old murder of a teenage boy, he sees his in.

All of the Murder Squad novels are variations on a theme, but this one was a departure in a few ways. Up until this book, French has only written in the first person, but about half of The Secret Place is given to a close third-person, present tense POV that alternates around Holly’s group of friends. At the sentence level, French’s writing is as lush and gorgeous as ever, but I have to say that I kind of missed the first person. I didn’t feel as close to Stephen as I did to any of French’s other protagonists. On the one hand, I don’t need everyone to have some monumentally tortured back-story or skeletons in the closet, but on the other, Stephen’s main characteristics seemed to be: a) he’s ambitious and b) he has no close friends. That’s it. He was a sketch of a person that I kept waiting to get filled in, and he never really did.

Another interesting choice is that the main, present-day action took place over a single day. The card shows up in the morning, the case is cracked by midnight. It led to the plot feeling really tense and tight, which I loved, but it was also exhausting. 

Psychologically, the viciousness and cliquishness of teen girls was not something I was particularly clamoring to read about.”If I’ve learned one thing today, it’s that teenage girls make Moriarity look like a babe in the woods,” Stephen says on pg 317, and that could sum up the whole novel in one line. But I’ve been there, and I had no need to go there again. It was interesting, and I think French executed the teen girls and all their tangled motivations beautifully, but I don’t think it’s the kind of book I would have picked up if it was written by anyone else.

There was one element of the book that left me with a big old huhand almost threw me completely out of the story. It’s massively spoilery, so all I’ll say is I probably would have been ok with it in literally any other book, but in my crime fiction: get out. I’m glad I got past it in the end, though.

If you’ve never read Tana French, I wouldn’t recommend starting  with this one. Her books don’t absolutely have to be read in order, I didn’t read them that way, but I don’t think this is the best example of what she can do. Still, even not-her-best Tana French is better than almost any other writer I can think of. I can’t wait to find out what comes next.

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Short Story Sunday: “Gimpel the Fool”

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“I am Gimpel the Fool.”

Gimpel the Fool” by Isaac Bashevis Singer.

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Review: How to Ruin a Queen by Jonathan Beckman

20448531Title: How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette and the Diamond Necklace Affair

Author: Jonathan Beckman

Rating: 4 stars

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.

During the last years of Ancien Regime France, a conwoman is obsessed with the rights supposedly due to her as a descendant of the house of Valois. She wants money and power and the ear of the Queen, and when she cannot have them through legitimate means, she lies. A lot.

Meanwhile, a cardinal from another old, aristocratic family has been spurned by Marie Antoinette and has been trying to get back into her good graces for years. Otherwise, he is sure, he will never gain the prominent political place he feels sure he deserves. He latches onto the conwoman, who is first his lover, and then his dependent. And one day, she tells him that she has secret messages to him from the Queen.

How to Ruin a Queen is a difficult story. There are a lot of pieces, and those pieces often don’t make a lot of sense. How an opportunistic ploy for the conwoman, Jeanne de La Motte, to get her hands on a diamond necklace (that she could then dismantle and sell in pieces) turned into a trial about slandering the Queen’s royal name and became one of the precipitating events of the French Revolution is complex and confusing. I’m still not sure I understand it all. But I’m also not sure that it matters.

Beckman is a very engaging writer. How to Ruin a Queen frequently reads like a novel, and it’s worth checking out for the characterization of these people alone. Beckman also provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of the late eighteenth century, from the culture of letter writing to the birth of freemasonry. It’s not a time period or setting I am overly familiar with, so I appreciated how vividly it was brought to life.

I felt that Beckman was a little too sympathetic to and forgiving of the cardinal, Rohan, characterizing him as bumbling and gullible throughout and excusing away most of his actions. Jeanne, meanwhile, came across as a vicious, greedy huckster. The perceptions of both often felt a little unbalanced, a little extreme, though I had no previous  knowledge of their history and of course can’t say for sure either way. But I think the truth of Jeanne and Rohan lies somewhat more in the middle ground, that Beckman probably exaggerated them. That makes for better drama but potentially detracts from the history. I really enjoyed the story, but I’m not sure how swayed I am by Beckman’s analysis of it.

Still, particularly if you are interested in the Revolution, you will find a lot to like in How to Ruin a Queen. It’s accessible even when it’s confusing, and offers a fascinating look at a footnote from history.

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Short Story Sunday: “Love is a Component of This Story”

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“Love is a component of this story.”

Love is a Component of This Story” by Liz Argall, published by Daily Science Fiction.

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Writing Wednesdays: Writing Longhand

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And we round out August with Writing Wednesdays. I’m not sure I’m going to continue this as a hugely regular feature–it may end up being something I just come back to once in awhile. But for now, let’s talk about writing longhand.

Used to be, I would sit in my room for hours and fill up spiral notebook after spiral notebook with “novels”–long, complex epics that move from black ink to blue ink to purple ink in one long, continuous chain. (As you can I’m sure guess, I was a hugely popular teen). We were late getting a computer, so for years I would write everything longhand and then transcribe it all into my mom’s electric typewriter. In a way that I didn’t understand at the time, it really connected me with the words coming out of my brain.

I lost that when I started writing on the computer. Not at first–at first the computer was this amazing new tool, where I could finally write fast enough to keep up with my brain. But a lot of what I was writing started to feel empty. Flat. And then that cursor started blinking at me, and sometimes, for the first time, I couldn’t find any words at all.

Recently, I’ve started writing longhand once again. At first it was just notes, character lists, random lines and title ideas. But then I started writing full scenes. And then I started writing flash fictions. And it’s turned out to be pretty amazing. The physical act of writing down words has helped me focus again. The act of transcribing helps me edit. And getting stuck with my nose in a composition notebook (side note–how come they don’t make real composition notebooks anymore? All I can find are cheapo glued ones with weird, decorative covers) means that I don’t get on the internet every five seconds to check Twitter or fall down the Wikipedia black hole. It’s fantastic. I don’t know if I’ll have the patience to write a full length story out longhand anytime soon, but I’m currently using my notebooks to write up a storm, and I love it.

So: longhand or typed? Do you have a preference? Do you think in different ways if its a pen in your hand, or a keyboard under your fingers? And do you know where I can get my hands on a composition notebook?

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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Really Want to Read but Don’t Own Yet

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The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Top Ten Books I Really Want To Read But Don’t Own Yet.

OK, first off, people, go the fuck to the library.

Now, that’s out of the way. Of course, being a book lover, there are some books I just have to own. Almost all books I read through the library first, but I do have some insta-buy authors and books I just want to have all to myself. Most of these, alas, aren’t out yet. The rest I’m waiting for paperbacks or affordable ebooks. (I know, I know, I’m the worst, but I absolutely cannot justify spending 10 dollars on an ebook. Unless I get a gift card, it ain’t happening.)

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1. David Mitchell- The Bone Clocks

2. N. K. Jemisin- The Fifth Season

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3. Marissa Meyer- Cress

4. Tana French- The Secret Place

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5. Rainbow Rowell- Fangirl (a few paychecks down the road, I plan to go on a Rainbow Rowell buying spree)

6. Jim C. Hines- Codex Born

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7. Jhumpa Lahiri- The Lowland

8. Jeff Vandermeer- Acceptance

9. Justin Cronin- The City of Mirrors

10. George R. R. Martin- The Winds of Winter. (When, George? WHEN?)

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Short Story Sunday: “Detours on the Way to Nothing”

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“It’s midnight when you and your girlfriend, Elka, have your first fight since you moved in together.”

Detours on the Way to Nothing” by Rachel Swirsky, published in Lightspeed magazine.

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