Monthly Archives: November 2012

Twice Tempted by a Rogue (Tessa Dare, Stud Club #2)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
The writing is crisp, clean and fluid, and the plot is quick and diverting — in many ways, this is an enjoyable read. I particularly like the female protagonist, who is a fully independent, sexually confident widow used to caring for her inn, her maimed father, and half the village. On the other hand, our hero isn’t just the tortured man full of angst, he’s had a full-on death wish for more than a decade. We start the novel after he’s discovered a newfound lease on life (or just that he’s given up passive suicidal ideation) and we don’t get the reason behind his death-wish for more than two-thirds of the novel (though it’s one of the easier plot points to guess, it was a little annoying to be purposefully in the dark while he brooded). Though there are references to how our protagonists knew one another when they were adolescents, most of the in-story development relies more on heady physical attraction, which isn’t my favorite… There’s also continual references to a murder that happened in One Dance with a Duke that feel very out of place — all of this adds up to this being a recommended, but fairly forgettable read, made up of nearly equal parts enjoyable and annoying.

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Posted in Romance

The Bridegroom (Ha Jin)

2 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Though there are a couple of brilliantly written stories in this collection, in general these stories seem to center around the setting rather than the characters, so that all of the conflict seems to come from living in Communist China, as opposed to within or between our protagonists. Many of our characters end up feeling flat, and sometimes seem pushed to have responses that make little or no sense, all of which undermines both the stories as well as his ability to portray to us the hardships of living under this regime. Too many of our protagonists feel helpless, which makes it harder and harder for me, as a reader, to stay engaged in their journeys.

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Posted in Literary Fiction

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (La Leche League International)

1 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Though there are some helpful, step-by-step instructions about breastfeeding, detailing different ways to hold your baby, how best to initiate breastfeeding, and what to do in terms of higher needs children and/or various problems that might come up while breastfeeding, overall, this book is very driven by the La Leche League International’s (LLLI) agenda.  The overall message (despite occasional wording about it being the mother’s choice) is that there are certain things that are just best for a child: a natural birth without pain medication, breastfeeding, and having a mother who stays at home the first few years.  While I agree that breastfeeding is important, and this might be a nice resource for women who want to know what the benefits of breastfeeding are, it is difficult to get around some of the other, more judgmental sections of the book, and ultimately, I think there are better resources out there for women who need lactation consultation and/or support.
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Posted in Nonfiction

Of Eternal Life (Micah Persell, Operation: Middle of the Garden, #1)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is totally not my style of romance — lots of action (quite a few people get killed), lots of fate and premonitions at work (both lead characters hear a mysterious “Voice” which seems to guide and even chat with them at times), and lots of intense sex (before they really know one another).  Yet, despite these caveats, many of which speak more to my taste than the author’s abilities, I enjoyed the book and found it to be a quick and fun read.  I truly waffled between a 3.5 and a 4 star rating here just because so many of the tropes are not my favorites, but gave it the higher rating because it’s creative and interesting enough that I liked it despite my preconceptions.  It’s obviously the first in a series of at least two, and I enjoyed this one enough to pick up the second, Of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
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Posted in Romance

Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel (Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris)

2 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
A victorian romantic man/woman buddy cop duo battle the forces of evil in this steampunk mystery thriller.  I really want to find something in this genre that is decent.  I went into this book full of hope that finally I would find something that would vindicate my attempts at finding any interesting fantasy set in this time period, but my hopes were dashed yet again by this tepid, unimaginative, uninteresting, generic fantasy.  This pretty much hits every annoying cliche you could dig up for things written in the genre, from constant descriptions of clothing to the inclusion of the mandatory purposeless sexual assault on the heroine.  The protagonists are uninspired, the villains are horrifically evil for no reason, and what should be the fascinating setting of Victorian London plays so little role in the story that replacing it with anything else would require at most a find and replace search of random Victorian elements they chose to include, like replacing carriage with taxi, flying sentient motorcycle, or harnessed animatronic manatee.  I would not recommend this book, and it further blunts my already much-diminished hopes of ever finding anything worthwhile in this genre.
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Posted in Sci-Fi/Fantasy

A Nest in Springtime: A Mandarin Chinese-English bilingual book of numbers (Belle Yang)

Recommended, Not repeatable

This is a nicely illustrated bilingual book with traditional Mandarin text on the left and the English translation on the right.  It’s a simple story with lots of counting (we count the goose eggs and, later, the baby geese) that is really appropriate for children and toddlers — probably one and above. Though there are only a few lines of text, and most are simple (counting and a common Chinese phrase for “busy, busy”), the sentence “wild geese come to nest” is actually a more difficult concept in both English and in Mandarin (not the simplest phrasing), and the drawings, while nice, aren’t visually as compelling as other books aimed at toddlers.  It’s still one of the better bilingual books I’ve seen, and because it’s a board book, it’s more durable.  It’s probably more appropriate for an older toddler as it doesn’t have either the story or the visuals to compel younger toddlers.

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Posted in Children's/Young Adult

Finity (John Barnes)

2.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This should have been a fairly deep, hard sci-fi treatment of alternate realities and identity in a universe where everything but the individual is constantly changing.  Unfortunately, the effect is ruined by boring disposable characters, a premise that isn’t self consistent, and a story that sort of meanders about with mostly unnecessary scenes that feels more like a travelogue than than the action-packed, exciting story the author is trying to write.  We are left with a decent attempt at high-concept hard sci-fi that explores some interesting concepts and is imaginative, but fails in execution.  I would not recommend it.
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Because You’re Mine (Lisa Kleypas, Capital Theatres #1)

2.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Because You’re Mine is split into two parts.  In the first half, we have wonderfully believable protagonists (an innocent, overly optimistic girl of eighteen and a famous jaded theatre actor) who meet, are drawn to one another, and fall in love.  The characters are well developed, the story is engaging, and there’s just the right amount of side plot and theatre details to fill out the landscape. Then comes the second half.  After a two month time lapse, our engaging characters have somehow morphed into moody, lackluster characters being manipulated by exaggerated plot twists.  None of the wonderful tension or development we’ve seen in the first half pays off, giving us an unsatisfying conclusion for a very promising beginning.
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Posted in Romance

The Blind Assassin (Margaret Atwood)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
A novel within a novel with little stories nested in between, this is an intricately woven tale about two sisters’ loves and lives, spanning over six decades. There are three distinct sections to this novel: a series of flashbacks by an octogenarian who initially claims she’s unsure who she is or why she’s cataloguing all of this, a series of local newspaper articles detailing the social events, political ambitions, and deaths of some of the more prominent characters, and a novel (also titled The Blind Assassin) that switches between detailing a love affair between a wanted man and a socialite and a fantastical science fiction story about an ancient destroyed world where virgins are still sacrificed and the woven blankets are measured by how many children lost their sight weaving them.  If I had to be picky, I would say that yes, some of the twists are a little predictable, but overall, this is, in my opinion, Atwood at her best — it’s thoroughly well-written, crafted, thoughtful, provocative, and masterful. Rereading it now, almost a decade later, it is still my favorite work by her.
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Posted in Literary Fiction

The Gift of Fear (Gavin de Becker)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Everyone should read this book, and not just because it might quite literally be life saving; it’s a fascinating read.  de Becker’s premise is that our intuition has evolved to send us signals which can keep us safe, and by listening to those signals, we can pay attention to fear when it is useful and be free from anxiety and worry when there is no true threat to safety.  The book is full of fascinating anecdotes from de Becker’s security firm and practical information about how to hone your intuition and keep yourself safe.
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Posted in Nonfiction