Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Your Best Birth by Ricki Lake & Abby Epstein

Your Best Birth is about knowing your birthing options and not feeling pushed around by doctors who often seem to disregard maternity patients' wishes. Or at least, that's what the book says. I don't know what it's like to have a baby in a hospital in the US; I probably never will. But I know my own mom's experience (at least, when she had me) was less than satisfactory, and she's still a little bitter, I think, about the treatment of OB-GYN gave her. If she'd felt there had been other options, she might have tried them.

So, here's breaking the news: I am pregnant; I'm at the beginning of my second trimester. And I remember two people singing the praises of this book: Jenn at Devourer of Books, who had a baby last year, and Dooce, who also had a baby last year.

Now, of all my generation in my family--several cousins, a sister--only one of them hasn't had a C-section. I don't know the particulars about why all of them had C-sections (except my sister--my niece was floating around in her placenta, basically swimming laps, and wouldn't stay heads-down), but I don't want surgery. And I certainly don't want to be pushed into it because of hospital protocols, which is often, apparently, what happens. I am also in love with the idea of a birthing pool, ever since I read on Pacing the Panic Room about the birth of Tessa Tangerine. (I started following Pacing the Panic Room because I loved the pictures he was taking of his wife every week of the pregnancy.)

My sister says she hates books like Your Best Birth because their goal is that everyone has a totally natural birth and they make you feel guilty if you want pain meds or if you have a C-section--which is how her prenatal classes made her feel. My response was that, yes, Your Best Birth is really heavy on supporting the decision to have a drug-free labor, home birth, midwives, doulas, and all of that. But mostly, they just don't want you to feel pushed into having a less-than-joyous birth experience you didn't need to have; they want you to have more facts than you're likely to get from hospitals and doctors. They acknowledge that C-sections are sometimes necessary (though there are an alarming number of elective C-sections) and that after 24 hours of labor, you really might need an epidural to keep going. And that's FINE. What you need, you get. But they don't want you to be pushed into having an epidural by the nurses who pop in every half hour or forty-five minutes to ask if you're ready to have an epidural yet, or get jacked full of Pitocin on Tuesday by the doctor who really wants to go away Thursday night to start a long weekend instead of waiting for your labor to start/progress naturally.

Also, Lake & Epstein provide lists of questions for doctors, midwives, doulas, etc., as well as a history of widwifery (really interesting) and a general (if a little biased) overview of the birthing industry in the US. They also made a documentary, which I haven't seen but would like to, called The Business of Being Born.

Now, unfortunately, I don't think BC's health care--or the health care from my husband's employer--would pay for a midwife and doula for a home birth. In fact, I am pretty sure there aren't any truly qualified midwives in my town, and to get a midwife to deliver my baby, I'd likely have to go to Vancouver Island. So I think the homebirth in a tub is out.

Fortunately, my doctor says that here in BC, they approach pregnancy and labor a little differently, with as few interventions as possible. There are showers and tubs for laboring moms at the hospital and they won't hook me up to an IV--or even put a needle in, in case I need one later--unless it becomes absolutely necessary. And I can feel free to walk, squat, whatever positions I want. I feel much better knowing that.

Of course, I have yet to take a look at the maternity ward here. There's only one hospital in town, so I have pretty limited hospital options (again, unless I want to take ferry to Vancouver Island while I'm in labor). But I've heard nothing but good things about its maternity ward, and I find it pretty comforting that most women in town receive their prenatal care from their general practitioners rather than an OB-GYN. There's only one OB-GYN and he's the prenatal care for high risk pregnancies and otherwise, expectant moms only see him for emergency C-sections (though I'm told he's also skilled with forceps and can be called in for that as well).

I'm really glad I read this book, because I don't think I would have considered that there are options other than hospitalization to have a baby, or that doctors could have ulterior motives for offering epidurals or kick-starting labor, or that there are so many options even if you choose to go to a hospital. I strongly encourage other pregnant women to read this book--even if you've already had children. It's fascinating.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Blue Cotton Gown by Patricia Harman

Patsy Harman is not an unusual woman. She worries about finances. She gets irritated with her husband's ability to sleep no matter what their current crisis is. She feels the need to listen to her patients and colleagues, and is just as sensitive as any other woman you're likely to meet (even if she doesn't cry as much).

What makes Patsy Harman a bit of an anomaly is that she's a midwife in Appalachia, and she and her OB-GYN husband operate their own medical practice, even though they don't deliver babies anymore (obstetric malpractice insurance got ridiculously high). They've had a bit of bad luck with accountants, and Patsy finds it difficult to balance the problems of her patients and friends with those of her own life.

One of the early reviewers said that The Blue Cotton Gown (a memoir) reads like a novel--and it really does. I didn't want to put it down. I had to know how Patsy was going to handle the accountants, whether she was ever going to get to sleep on her own, whether her teenage patient who lost twins was going to see the light about the loser she was sleeping with--or her friend's daughter, who was having a similar problem in her love life.

I cheered her victories and good decisions and commiserated in her frustrations and worries (seriously, how many inept accountants are there?). She introduced me to the business side of medical practice, which I hadn't really considered before. As with all businesses, there's a fine line between solvency and bankruptcy, and the Harmans are walking it. But even the financial worries--they got a letter from a legal firm; are they getting sued? or how do they get the IRS to quit taking the money they no longer owe them?--are nothing like worrying about whether or not you have cancer, whether or not you'll have to have a hysterectomy, whether that kid's overdose was an accident or suicide. And Harman balances them all beautifully in this memoir, with a generous splash of humor and other bits of light-heartedness to keep you from losing sleep over her problems.

If there's one thing that didn't quite sit comfortably with me, it's that most of the time, I had no idea this book was taking place in Appalachia, which has its own distinct character. Harman's practice could have been in Idaho or Maine or Texas if it weren't for the occasional references to local geography or the very rare mention of an Appalachian trait of the locals. Maybe it's because Harman isn't from the area, but I think I would've appreciated a little more local color.

All in all, highly recommended. I really wish I could remember whose blog I read a review of this book on--whoever you are, thank you!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Dewey: The Small Town Library Can Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter

I'm a cat person. You must know this by now. I mean, our cat made international news last December (and we're still introduced to new people as "the people who's cat waited at the side of the road for them for two days after their accident in Wyoming--you saw it on the news, right?") and though I think our Wavey is every bit as remarkable as Dewey, I must admit, Dewey's story is pretty amazing. And he is one handsome cat.

I cried when I read about Myron taking him out of the book drop after the coldest night of the year, with his paws frostbitten and him so cold there was no heat coming from him. And I cried at a lot of other things in the book too. I, however, skimmed most of the bits about life in Spencer, Iowa (I come from an even smaller town in Ohio and highly doubt life is all that much different there) and rolled my eyes several times at Myron's insistence that Dewey's behavior was unusual for a cat (I often disagreed)--but there is no denying he was a remarkably well-suited cat for a library.

I loved the stories of specific library patrons and the statistics of how their patronage increased after Dewey became a fixture there, and the way stories of Dewey spread until people from all over the world were coming to Spencer, Iowa, just to see him. (I would've been one of those people who detoured a road trip to go meet Dewey.)

I would give this book to any cat person to read.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (HP#3, re-read)

I can't say I had any new revelations while I was re-reading HP#3. Again, I noticed that I remember the series of events in the movie better than the book's, but I like (of course) the book better. I wish we'd seen more of Lupin's classes. Knowing what comes next, I have a few character qualms, but re-reading #4 might resolve those. And (SPOILER AHEAD!) I'm getting a bit misty whenever Hedwig gives Harry an affectionate nip. I really like Hedwig, and I hate knowing her fate. I try not to think about it, but going LA LA LA LA while I'm reading doesn't exactly help.

But thinking about Hedwig brings me to a bit of a tangent. Every year at Thanksgiving, to kick of the Christmas season, my hometown of Pemberville, Ohio, has a festival of trees, and every year the theme changes. About five years ago, the theme was books, and my mom and sister immediately claimed Harry Potter.

And it was a rockin' tree. They made a lot of the ornaments and they borrowed my snowy owl to put underneath it, along with a bunch of HP-related things like magical-looking books, a broomstick and potion bottles, and the whole series (however many had been published at the time).* And of course, people come in to see the trees and vote for favorites, and there was one kid who was super excited about the Harry Potter tree. He told me he was voting for it because he wanted to win it because of that snowy owl underneath the tree. He really wanted that owl. My owl. My Hedwig.

I explained to the kid that the trees people vote on don't go home with "winners"--the ornaments and everything underneath the trees belong to the people who designed them and they were just sharing with the town for a while. It didn't occur to me at the time that he didn't need to be disillusioned--he'd probably just have assumed later that he hadn't won--that it was kind of mean of me to wreck his hope.

But it probably doesn't matter. I don't think he believed me.

I asked my mom to keep an eye on my owl anyway, just in case.

*I'll post pictures if I can get Mom to send me a few.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Hamlet & Ophelia by John Marsden

After reading Hamlet and Ophelia (which is titled just Hamlet in the US), I'm still not certain whether Hamlet loved Ophelia or whether he actually went mad or just pretended to. And I still don't have a really clear idea of Ophelia as a character. Since these matters have been the subject of academic debates since forever, I'm of two minds whether it means that Marsden did a really good job, and whether this modern narrative version's ambiguities are more frustrating than the play's.

Aside from some anachronisms, mostly character habits and language (example: one of the characters mentions hormones, which is a 20th century word), very little of this book doesn't come directly from the play. The former teacher in me was finding ways to incorporate it into a Hamlet unit, which would probably work well for a lower-level lit classes. The re-adaption lacks quite a bit of the wit of the original play (though some scenes incorporate it well--like the cemetery scene. "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him well."). Mostly, I really like the idea of the debates that could stem from the interpretations Marsden makes in contrast to how others read the play. Like Ophelia.

Ophelia's presence is a mystery. Supposedly she's a possible love interest for Hamlet, so Marsden takes a few liberties in trying to flesh out her character, but I found that to be even more confusing. He paints her as a little unbalanced from the beginning, which I don't recall any hint of in the play (but it has been a few years since I read it), and she lusts wildly after Hamlet, though she is mostly discreet about it. I've personally tended to infer from the play that Ophelia and Hamlet had a sexual relationship before his father's death, but in Marsden's interpretation, it's all lust. Descriptive lust.

I wonder how anyone who's never experienced the play before would feel about this book. Loving the play, I'm not totally crazy about it, but I certainly think it has its merits.
One perk is that I'm totally in the mood to go re-read the play.

I would without hesitation recommend it to high school lit teachers and it definitely belongs in high school libraries everywhere (assuming your local school library is still operational), though you can expect a few challenges from parents who take exception to Ophelia's allowing her fingers in close proximity to her thighs while she thinks about Hamlet.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (HP #2, reread)

I've reread HP#2 several times, and at this point, I assume that you all have too. If you haven't read it (and WHY not?!), beware forthcoming spoilers.

I love that Ginny joins the ranks of Hogwarts students and that though she doesn't pop up very often in the course of the book--till the end, of course--she develops a very distinct presence in the bigger picture. And who can't sympathize with a crush that huge? I look forward to seeing more of her character in the next books; I don't remember much about Ginny's role between this and the last couple books, except that she's present and that I think we'd notice if she weren't making regular appearances in the story.

Has anyone else found themselves rereading #2 and a little voice in the back of your mind screams, "Horcrux!"??? I'd almost forgotten that word.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (HP #1, reread)

I've re-read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone probably more than any of the others. Mostly this stemmed from an intent to reread the whole series before the next book came out, but sometimes it was just because. That might not seem strange to you, but frankly, this book is my least favorite of the whole series.

I'm looking forward to seeing, as I reread the rest of the series, how Rowling's writing improved, matured. I'm also remembering my first reactions to the movies, and I'm a little ashamed to say that I was surprised that I'd forgotten how different events actually happened in the book. Like the Devil's Snare after they get past Fluffy. I totally forgot how that all went down.

And more than ever, now that I'm rereading the series, I love (and want) these Harry Potter tattoos.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

"You are pure-hearted, Branza, and lovely, and you have never done a moment's wrong. But you are a living creature, born to make a real life, however it cracks your heart."

Tender Morsels is one of those books that makes you breathe, "Wow. . ." every now and then while you flip a page.

Liga is a young woman who finds herself in horrible situations which lead to her getting pregnant. The book opens with a miscarriage, which she doesn't identify as such because her father keeps her in sight and uneducated. (Yes, you probably just figured out horrible situation #1.) After the second horrible incident, she is desperate to escape the totally cruel world she has become subject to the whims of, and her escape turns out to be another world. She enters her own dreamscape, her heart's desire, which is as simple as a safe place to raise her daughters and to feel unthreatened by anyone or anything.

Liga and her daughters Branza and Urdda would have spent their whole lives in that haven, untouched by the true world, if a mud-wife (a witch) in Liga's hometown hadn't decided to fiddle with things and try to send a cruel little man to his own dream-space. Her meddling interferes with the boundaries (and internal clocks) of the two places and strange Bears find themselves in Liga's world, as well as the little man, both possibly posing threats to Liga's family. Eventually, Liga finds herself compelled to return to the cruel world of her youth with her girls.

Lanagan employs a folksy dialect for her characters--some of them say "babby" for "baby" and "leddy" for "lady," for example--which manages to add to the richness of both the characters and setting instead of being distracting to the reader. (In fact, it took me a while to catch on to what "leddy" meant--I was reading it as something like "goody" or "goodwife" for the first half of the book. It worked.)

Lanagan also plays, mostly successfully, with point of view. When the story is following any of the males, they are allowed to tell their own story in first person point of view, which is a little confusing at first when the reader realizes that the "I" isn't necessarily the same person the last "I" was, but once that becomes obvious, the narrators are easy enough to keep track of. When the story is following Liga, Branza or Urdda, however, the narrator is omniscient, which mostly serves to provide a little bit of distance between Liga and the reader; the narrator gets to choose how detailed Liga's story is. (Readers will be just fine with certain parts of Liga's story being glossed over or summarily mentioned after the fact.)

Highly recommended for anyone (grade 8 & older) who has ever appreciated the darker side of fairy tales. If you liked Deerskin by Robin McKinley, you'll want to read this.

I purchased Tender Morsels at Powells in Portland, Oregon. It's going to become part of my mostly-permanent collection.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Angelology by Danielle Trussoni

I finished reading Angelology with a distinct impression that Trussoni would like to be the next Dan Brown. And you know how I felt about The Davinci Code.

Despite my misgivings from early on (starting with the patronizing marketing letter), I did read the book cover to cover, and I enjoyed many bits of the story. However, overall, I felt the plot and characters were still very rough around the edges and that the manuscript could have used a few more thorough revisions. The puerile naming of the characters--Evangeline, Angelina, Seraphina, Celestine--was over the top and like Dan Brown, Trussoni has a tendency to spell things out for readers just in case they missed it the light veiling of facts the first two or three times.

What troubles me most has to do with Evangeline, who lacks depth and credibility. We are told she had an amazing relationship with her father, but it wasn't shown. She's unconvincing as a young woman in general, but I also can't buy that she's a nun. She lacks a certain conviction, which may have been sacrificed (if it existed in the first place) in trying to make this book appeal to a more secular audience.

Last, I was completely disappointed by the ending, which was too abrupt and resolved nothing (a sequel seems inevitable, but I won't be reading it), and seemed in direct opposition to the characterization of Evangeline and Verlaine (the academic romantic interest) up to that point.

I admire all the work that Trussoni must have done to piece such a promising premise together, but in the end Angelology falls far short of its potential.

This ARC was won in a contest through And yes, I was drawn to this book because of its wonderful cover.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran

Johanna Moran's father brought home an abstract he found in a law journal about a man in the early 1900's who was tried three times for bigamy, and Moran has spun the details of the abstract into a fast-paced novel that's very hard to put down.

Really, The Wives of Henry Oades is a strange, heart-wrenching tale (though if there were laws and precedents, maybe it wasn't so very strange at the time) about a man whose family is kidnapped by the Maori of New Zealand and he's compelled to presume them dead, so he moves to San Francisco and slowly starts a new life--which eventually includes a new wife. Except that his family isn't dead, just captive, and when the escape, they come to find him.

You can imagine the circumstances of his being charged with bigamy. In Moran's telling, Henry is a dairy farmer and when his first wife and their children show up, the self-righteous Bible-thumpers in town take up arms. And though I know of zealots of the time who would have persisted in their persecution of Henry and his wives with the same fervor with which they preached temperance, after all was said and done with the story, I did feel that something was missing. Henry was too likeable.

When I explained the premise of the story and the not-one-but-three bigamy charges and ensuing harassment of and threats against the family, he said, "Who do you suppose he pissed off?" Which totally makes sense to me--it's hard to believe that kind of relentlessness being pitched against the kind soul Moran describes.

I really enjoyed this book, but in the end it feels a bit sugar-coated. Things just couldn't have been that simple, and I wouldn't have minded a more complex book that detailed more of the setting and gave perhaps a less rosy presentation of the characters.

Many thanks to HarperCollins for this ARC.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

A weapon does not decide whether or not to kill. A weapon is a manifestation of a decision that has already been made.

You'd think The Cellist of Sarajevo, being set during the siege of the city back in the 1990's, would be a hard book to enjoy, but it's really not. The pages of the story pass easily into a few hours and the war setting is bearable because it's creating the characters, who are so easy to care about, so easy to empathize with.

One day a shell kills 22 people who were waiting in line to, they hoped, buy bread. The cellist from the Sarajevo Symphony was practicing by his apartment window and saw neighbors and friends killed, and determined that he would play in the crater the explosion made one day for each of the people killed.

This, of course, makes him a target for the forces holding the city, and so the city's defenders position a sniper of their own to protect him from the snipers their attackers would certainly send. Arrow is a young woman who is practically a legend in besieged Sarajevo. She questions, constantly, her motives for killing the enemy; one of her biggest fears is becoming like them.

But the story also follows a man fetching water for his family and his neighbor; he makes this dangerous trek every four or five days. And there is also a man who works in a bakery; he's one o the few men still employed in the city. He sent his wife and son to safety in Italy before escape was impossible.

I see why this book has received so much acclaim. Galloway takes great care to make readers feel as if they are there, describing the sections of Sarajevo and positions of buildings and bridges and frequented roads but managing not to overwhelm readers with the unfamiliarity of the place or irrelevant details .

Though in Galloway's afterword, he says that he "compressed three years into under a month" in his book, it didn't feel that way. Rather, it felt like was a few snapshots of sometime in the middle of the siege. Nothing about the beginning and end of the book indicate that the beginning or end of the siege is represented.

The Cellist of Sarajevo explores, above all, the identities of its characters. Are they victims? To what extent do their choices re-create who they are in this new, besieged city that no longer resembles the city they once loved? And to whom does it matter?

Highly recommended.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Fire by Kristen Cashore

I know everyone said they liked Fire as much as Graceling, but I was a little skeptical. I adored Graceling's characters and I wanted to read more about them, not other characters (well, one character overlaps the two stories) set in the same world (though a few decades earlier).

Fire, a monster human who can control people's minds--as can most monster creatures--is a young woman whose main goal in life is to not become like her monster father (monster in the traditional sense as well), and when she's called upon to help the king protect his kingdom from traitors, she consents--with many, many reservations.

Kristen Cashore, I eagerly await all of your forthcoming books; just let me know when to expect them. I'll make sure my bookstore gets them in for me on their release dates.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Twisted Heart by Rebecca Gowers

Unless she was positively unwell, Kit liked to rush down this staircase one step at a time as fast as possible, giving her a buzz akin to riffling her thumb through a 900-page paperback.

In a book, she thought, her decision not to go back to the dance club would be the hilarious prelude to her going back to the dance club. But not even in her worst nightmares did she behave like a girl from a hilarious book.

The Twisted Heart
happened to me at a most opportune time; I quite liked this quirky story of Kit, a reclusive English doctoral student at Oxford and her relationship with Joe, a man she meets at a dance club on a night that she decides to do something out of the ordinary.

If I had been reading this last week or maybe next week, certain elements might not have settled well with me--the lack of details about Joe and precisely what's wrong with his brother Humpty, or even Kit's background. This is a story that takes place almost exclusively in the present, and very little about pasts--or futures--is considered.

The dialogue in The Twisted Heart was similar to the dialogue that drove me so batty in The Truth About Love (and caused me to quit it). There was enough narrative to keep the dialogue from causing that level of irritation. I do feel I missed out on quite a bit of the humor because the book is so solidly British; it might have been easier to appreciate what I suspected were funny parts if I'd had this as an audio book.

Still, I enjoyed Kit's funny attempts at protecting her heart and stepping outside her shell. Like the heroines' of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane and Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Kit's embrasure of the academic endeared her to me. I expected her obsession with Dickens and Sikes's murder of Nancy in Oliver Twist would spin into something more insightful about her character, but neither hers nor Joe's character developed in leaps in bounds--just in ways subtle enough to keep my interest.

There was plenty of material left undeveloped to make me interested in a sequel, if Gowers were to write one.

Thanks to HarperCollins for sending me this one.

Now I'm being whisked off to a romantic Valentine's Day evening with my amazing husband, and tomorrow I'm leaving for Vancouver to take in some Olympic events.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Truth About Love by Josephine Hart

I'm sure there are people who will think The Truth About Love is wonderful. However, even at 80 pages in (about 1/3 of the way through), I had to do some heavy-duty self-convincing to pick it up (every time!) and while the German neighbor proves a little interesting, I can't say that he's interesting enough to make me want to keep reading.

The Truth About Love promises to be sad (it follows three people deeply affected by the death of a teenaged boy in the first chapter); Hart's story follows the boy's neighbor (The German), the boy's mother and the boy's sister. I didn't manage to get as far as the parts following his family.

I find the dialogue (not dialect) difficult to read, and though it may or may not be true to an Irish manner of speaking, the frustration of trying to follow it along--and how much of the book is dialogue--was the foremost reason for calling it quits.

Thank you to HarperCollins for sending me this ARC.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant

I can't say that I expected to love Sacred Hearts. And I don't. I'm not sure I could ever love a book set in a 16th century Italian convent, but I certainly wasn't expecting to find the setting or a few nuns so interesting.

It's no page-turner--I doubt anyone will want to read it in one sitting---but it is the story of a determined, love-struck young woman from Milan whose noble family compels her to take novice vows in a convent in Ferrara. It's also the story of the convent's dispensary mistress, who has been in the convent since her father, a renowned physician, died 16 years earlier.

Prior to reading this book, I'd had no idea that so many nobles' daughters were pushed into convents because dowries were too extravagant for even the rich to afford. Nor had I ever considered all the politicking that would go on inside a convent, almost more vicious than any modern campaign for office because they had to live, day in and day out, with each other.

I read one blogger's review (I forget whose) in which she insisted that nothing happened. It was a funny review--I liked it. I was only a few pages in at the time and wondered if I was going to be quitting the book in the next hundred pages. But I must disagree that nothing happened. Subtle things happened, and a few not so subtle things. If the setting had been anywhere else but a convent, the book wouldn't have been interesting in the slightest.

I haven't read Dunant's other books, so I can't express an opinion about how Sacred Hearts stacks up. Though it's not a book that I'm going to run around pushing into people's hands, it's not one I'd discourage them from reading, either.

Thanks to Random House for sending me an ARC!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan

Midnight Never Come is another book set in Queen Elizabeth's court--but not just Elizabeth's court. There is another queen in London, a kind of mirror court, the London Faerie court. Her name is Invidiana, and she's quite likely the most ruthless creature in London.

The characters we follow are Lune, a faerie courtier who has fallen out of favor with Invidiana and is desperate to find a way back the queens good graces. The opportunity becomes to gain access to Walsingham and his intelligence by pretending to be one of the ladies of one of Elizabeth's courtiers. Deven is one of the Elizabeth's guardsmen, working intelligence for Walsingham. He has ambitions--promotions and patrons--that eventually fall by the wayside (mostly) in favor of devoted service--and his love for Anne Montrose (Lune).

It's quite an undertaking, a book this ambitious. Trying to meld two political worlds--one historical and one fantastical--must have taken quite a bit of organization and imagination. The book was well-researched, but for all the gossip and politicking that we know was happening at the time, the two worlds simply didn't seem as enmeshed as they were supposed to be, and so in the end the book seemed a bit lighter in substance than it maybe should have been.

Still, for the most part I enjoyed the book and what it tried to do. It took me a month to read, with all the holidaying and road tripping (I could read while driving but I feel the compulsive need to be a second driver when I'm in the passenger seat--and my husband is always interrupting me when I try to read in the car, anyway) and all that, but in other circumstances I'm sure I would have breezed through it in a week or so.

Recommended for those who enjoy faerie stories and light historical fiction.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Firethorn by Sarah Micklem

Firethorn is a drudge. After her mistress dies, she flees the new master of the household and survives on her own for a year in the Kingswood--god-forged. She would have died, if not for the interception of the god Ardor.

When she returns to her town, she meets a young nobleman on his way to the king's war and he convinces her to come with him as his sheath--which means exactly what you think it does.

Firethorn (also called Luck) is a frustrating character. As a foundling, she is never sure of her parentage or where she comes from. She remembers almost nothing of her life before her time as the Mistress's drudge, but she never quite fits in the hierarchy--even though she is very aware of the hierarchy and how it works. As a female drudge, she is less valuable than any man on the road to war, in spite of her knowledge as a greenwoman. The only people who value her are the other women she encounters and the nobleman she follows--although his respect is earned on hard terms.

I liked Firethorn, especially in the beginning. Micklem's style reminded me of Robin McKinley's, except that it's not quite as developed (but this is her first book). One of the main elements and plot-movers of this book is sex. It's not particularly descriptive--there are no heaving bosoms or bodices torn asunder--but there's no avoiding it. Firethorn's character is considerably formed by her sexuality and a lot of the plot is dependent on the men in the camp wanting her. Underneath it all, though, it's about Firethorn's journey to a sense of self--which will be continued in the next book, Wildfire.

Days after reading the last page, I still wake up wanting to continue the story. I liked the world Micklem created--the complicated polytheism, the equally complicated caste hierarchy. At no point did I feel like Micklem let the characters do something uncharacteristic just to make the plot easier or to move it along, which would have been easy to do I think. I am looking forward to Wildfire.

Micklem's Firethorn & Wildfire site

Thanks to my library and their participation in interlibrary loans. Now if only there weren't that policy about books released within the year... I can't request Wildfire for another 7 months.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Seeing Redd (The Looking Glass Wars #2) by Frank Beddor

I was excited to get my hands on Seeing Redd so soon after finishing The Looking Glass Wars, but it left me a little disappointed. I had expected a book that had its own stories to tell, but its sole purpose seemed to be creating a path from book #1 to book #3.

Which isn't to say that I didn't enjoy it. Alyss's relationship with Dodge develops--at an almost painfully slow pace--and all the plot and subplot complications get beefed up; the last book in the trilogy might be an edge-of-my-seat read. Poor Alyss is learning painful lessons about putting her queendom ahead of personal affections. (I love this flaw of Alyss's, because she really resists this.) Hatter Madigan is perhaps the most developed character; he has a lot to do, and it's not all for Wonderland.

But I missed being delighted by surprises. Redd returns (although her return is kind of entertaining) and Arch wants to take over Wonderland--overall, it's pretty predictable. Dodge is still obsessed with The Cat (who has only one life left). Redd still wants to kill her niece and re-take control of Wonderland, which begs the question: Will Redd and Arch gang up against Alyss or will any cooperative relationship between Redd and Arch form fall apart before it can be useful to either of them?

So, the trilogy loses some steam in the second book, but it definitely builds up complexities that will need to be ironed out in the third book. Final verdict of Seeing Redd: Good, but not fantastic.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Unforgettable: Sex with Kings by Eleanor Herman

When I was in grad school, a friend told me I would get a kick out of this book she was reading, Sex with Kings. And I really did. It was most edifying. In fact, I want to reread it, and I wouldn't mind owning a copy.

I'd never thought much about royal indiscretions, but I learned a lot about royal life (and loneliness) from Herman's book. And since reading this, I've heard a lot of references to famour mistresses, like Madame Du Barry, who is one of the most famous royal courtesans ever. As I recall, the book only covers some of Europe's kings and their mistresses, and it opens the path to more research for other scholars.*

Because it's a scholarly monograph, it does get a little repetitive; good for researchers who will read only a chapter or two, but not as much fun for casual readers who just sit down and read it cover to cover. The non-chronological jumping around makes it a little harder to keep track of which mistress goes with which king and the time frames of all the reigns, so I highly recommend keeping a little notebook to jot down names and years--it may sound like a little more work than you tend to do when reading, but such notes will be very helpful.

A must-read for you fans of Phillippa Gregory and other royalty-based historical fiction.

*Herman has also written Sex with the Queen, which I'm adding to my wishlist right now.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodan

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn is the story of a girl (Eona) who has to pretend to be a boy (Eon) in order to reach her potential as a Dragoneye--one of the wielders of the dragon power. To allow females into the arena of the dragons would be unthinkable.

As Lord Eon, Eona will form a symbiotic relationship (of not a friendship) with the realm's prince. The politics run hot--the emperor's brother makes no secret of his intent to overtake his brother's role (or nephew's, as the case may be) and the Ascendant Dragon (leader of the Dragoneyes) has his own vicious ambitions, which he puts above all else.

And poor Eon/Eona is just a girl pretending to be a boy, trying to become as much like a boy as she can, to quash everything feminine about herself. But pretending to be a boy only intensifies all the insecurities Eona would have felt as a young woman if she'd been allowed to be one. On top of all her doubt of her skills and her true nature, and how much she's actually faking everything, if she's found out, she (and everyone who may or may not have known about this secret) will be killed. And yet she still manages to be a strong female character. Yes, it's very Mulan-esque--the real story, not the Disnification of it.

And Eona's isn't quite the only gender delineation being smudged. Though most of the gender roles in this book are very 18th-century traditional, there is Lady Dela, a transgendered member of the emperor's court (a Contraire, a twin soul) who not only encourages a broadening of readers' minds (you can't help but like her) but provides Eon with a new perspective of gender.

I really liked this book. In spite of how predictable most of it was, I held my breath, I trembled in anticipation and anxiety, and I stopped reading for almost a whole day because I wasn't ready to be done.

Just to clear up any potential confusion if you go in search of this book, it's actually been published under three titles, depending on who published it: Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, The Two Pearls of Wisdom, and Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye. It's also been published in French. And they all have fabulous book covers.

These are all the same book--just so you don't accidentally buy your niece or daughter (or self) two or three different titles because you think they're different books.

I'm waiting to hear about a release date for the sequel.