Tuesday, July 22, 2014

[Book Review] Reputable Surrender

Reputable Surrender / Riley Murphy

Lauren has given up on finding what she wants in a relationship and is throwing it all into her work.  She wants a bad boy dom, but she's afraid of getting close after several toxic relationships, and even more afraid of turning a good man bad.

Michael has made some mistakes in his inexperienced youth, but he has spent the intervening years growing past them and establishing his reputation as a man of good judgement, deliberation, and someone you can rely on.

Unknown to Lauren, they've met before, and neither of them can shake the memories of that unfulfilled night.  Now Michael has the chance to pursue the woman of his dreams, but the question is, will she let down her guard enough to be wooed?  Micheal's everything that Lauren is afraid of ruining in a man, can she live with herself if a relationship turns yet another man into a monster?

First off, this is the fifth book in the series, something I did not realize when I requested (and was approved for) a copy of this title.  Reputable Surrender assumes reader knowledge of character history throughout the book, and in ways that are at times quite confusing.  Much of the primary romance can be enjoyed without too much confusion, but major plot threads rely on events that took place in previous books, and they pop up with little introduction or context.  There is a huge villain reveal with a character who is a complete unknown if you have only read this book, but one who seems to be an established part of another couple's history.  The book largely ends with glimpses into the personal lives of several other couples who formed in the previous books, again, taking a reader who starts with Reputable Surrender, out of the main plot line into a different focus.

In many ways this is a book about Lauren coming to terms with her desires and how they can be met in a safe and mutually satisfying way.  It seems that the series overall has a theme of finding family, security, and community.  Lauren needs to learn how to face the skeletons in her closet, and learn to trust herself and others.  Ultimately she finds a way to be happy with another and pursue her career her own way.

Personally I object a little bit to the sheer amount of assumption of consent on the part of Michael, but the author makes Lauren's enjoyment and consent clear.  Most of my issues relating to Michael come early in the book (and early in the relationship).  I mean, who in their right mind thinks it's a good idea to steal a kiss from a company consultant when leaving a company gathering?  That's not just risking personal insult and ire, that's risking a sexual harassment lawsuit.  Also, in the prologue when Michael and Lauren first meet, he's working security for a kink event, and goes off to play with her.  How is that 'reputable'?  If you're working security you do not abandon your post to get your jollies off, particularly when one of your duties is to make sure that no one ends up violated or injured (outside of consenting parameters).

I find parts of the villain story lines to be a bit heavy handed in Reputable Surrender, but I do acknowledge that there are many manipulative bastards out in the world, as well as others who take someone's interest in consensual and controlled roughness as a license to injure with impunity.  The types of harassment that Lauren faces are not unimaginable, as is her misplaced guilt and sense of responsibility for the abuse.  I think this could have been better balanced had not the previously utterly unmentioned off-his-rocker villain simply not popped up in this book.

One thing that Reputable Surrender (and I assume the other books in the series) makes clear, is that the adults in these relationships are sane and consenting.  There is no "I'll endure this because he likes it," nor are the adults treated as 'damaged' for their desires.  This is a book focusing on adults who know their desires and are looking to fulfill them, both desires for their life overall and desires of a more intimate nature.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of NetGalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Monday, July 21, 2014

[Book Review] The Book of Life

The Book of Life / Deborah Harkness (Powell's Books)

I wasn't sure if I was going to like this book, but I was curious how the story started in A Discovery of Witches and continued in Shadow of Night.  I found the the story up till now interesting and compelling, but it serious pacing issues.  I spent the first two books with a feeling of "come on now, just get to it!"

The Book of Life picked up at with the tension built up at the end of Shadow of Night and ran with it.  The plot and story moved along at an engaging pace and I ripped through this 600+ page monster in a little over a day.  A fantastic improvement over the first two books, resulting in a book I greatly enjoyed reading.

Diana really blossoms in this book.  She has come into her power and grows from a witch without magic seeking to avoid any and all attention, to a personality to be reckoned with all on her own.  The relationship dynamics between characters are well done, with development and growth as they weather challenges.  Additionally growth and depth is added to characters we have encountered along the way as the threads of the story are woven together.

In The Book of Life we follow Diana and Matthew, along with their clan of friends and family, in their frantic search for the pieces of Ashmole 782 and for genetic clues in their own DNA.  This is a story of growth, of discovery, of closure, and of new beginnings.

Definitely read the first two books before picking up The Book of Life, this is a capstone, not a stand-alone novel.  Be warned that the first two books weigh in close to 600 pages each as well, heavy on meticulous detail and moment descriptions, but it all builds up to this solid conclusion.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of NetGalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Summer Reading

So, one perk of not working in a public library this summer is that I can take part in the Summer Reading program at the public library I borrow books from.  I'm a few weeks late, as Summer Reading generally starts in June and ends mid-August around here, lets go with it.  My local library's program has a reading challenge for adults, with 10 categories to fit books into, and a raffle prize for each.  10 books in a month should be doable.

The Challenge:
  1. Book into a movie
  2. Biography or Memoir
  3. Mystery/Horror
  4. Love story
  5. Outside the US
  6. Adventure Story
  7. Fantasy/Sci-Fi
  8. Classic
  9. Local Author
  10. Reader's Choice
I'd have the list half done or more if I included the books I read since the start of Summer Reading, but I want to keep it to books finished since I signed up.  In some cases the hardest part will be deciding which category to shove a given book into.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

[Book Review] The Steampunk Trilogy

The Steampunk Trilogy / Paul di Filippo (Powell's Books)
"An outrageous trio of novellas that bizarrely and brilliantly twists the Victorian era out of shape, by a master of steampunk alternate history

Welcome to the world of steampunk, a nineteenth century outrageously reconfigured through weird science. With his magnificent trilogy, acclaimed author Paul Di Filippo demonstrates how this unique subgenre of science fiction is done to perfection—reinventing a mannered age of corsets and industrial revolution with odd technologies born of a truly twisted imagination."

I'm not even sure how to start reviewing this book.  As promised, this is a collection of three bizarrely twisted tales.  I do not know enough about the author to agree that he is a "master of steampunk alternate history."

The Steampunk Trilogy is a collection of three stories more of an alternative history rather than specifically steampunk inclination.  Eldritch horror, interest in science, and spiritualists do not make the stories steampunk.

Victoria is a bizarrely round-about story involving carnal desires, the soon-to-be-crowned queen, and a royal doppelgänger that is a hybrid of woman and salamander.  The plot makes no sense once the reveal is made, there really was no point to it.  The Prime Minister had the power to get what he wanted without sending Cowperthwait on a wild goose chase, its not as if he wasn't going to learn the truth.  And the whole extra bit about the gentleman on the same search and how that fell out was utterly pointless.  The premise was interesting none-the-less, and the story was somewhat intriguing.

I couldn't finish reading Hottentots.  Ze german accent would have made an Indiana Jones Nazi proud, it was written out so thick and exaggerated to be near incomprehensible without sounding everything out.  That combined with incredibly heavy dwelling on the part of the narrator on the inferiorities and defects of the "lesser" races (plus things like mistaking the black woman who wakes him for an ape) just made the story unfinishable.  Had I continued, I believe I would have gotten into a story of eldrich horror, which I normally like, but I just couldn't stand the story enough to get to that point.  I assume the author was going for 'historical accuracy' with the scientist's obsession about race, but that doesn't make it any less overwhelming.

Now, maybe I'm overly judgmental of Walt and Emily simply because I grew up in Amherst, MA.  But sometimes it's the little things, like Emily wondering what life would be like "had the family stayed closer to town" (have you looked at a map of Amherst and the location of the Dickenson home?) or it's something bigger like the sheer overwhelming pretention of both Emily and Walt and the fact that they seem to only think and communicate in poetic prose, including to quote themselves in conversation.  Then again is the fact that the story is essentially Emily/Walt fan-fiction, with just as a consummation of lust that is just as bizarre as the rest of the story.

I suppose the whole book could be classified as absurdist.  It has elements of science fiction and fantasy, and the stories definitely take place in anachronistic historical settings, but I can't bring myself to consider the book standing out on its own as 'steampunk.'

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of NetGalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

[Book Review] Garlic: the Mighty Bulb

Garlic: the Mighty Bulb / Natasha Edwards (Powell's Books)

Is this the right book for you?
  • Do you like garlic in your food?
  • Do you like tasty, easy to make food (and easy to follow recipes)?
  • Do you want to know more about garlic?
 Any yes to the above is a good indication that you'll like this book.  I stumbled across this book when gathering titles for a cookbook display and had to borrow it.  The book has a bit of "everything you ever wanted to know about garlic" in addition to the recipes.  Garlic is wonderfully graphic, with photographs of mouthwatering food.  The recipes are very easy to follow, very straightforward and not intimidating.  So far I've cooked three of the recipes, and have copied out another seven to try soon.  The food has been delicious.

Friday, July 11, 2014

[Book Review] Space Opera

Space Opera / Rich Horton (ed) (Powell's Books)

"More than five-hundred pages, over one-quarter of a million words...

Space Opera spans a vast range of epic interstellar adventure stories told against a limitless cosmos filled with exotic aliens, heroic characters, and incredible settings. A truly stellar compilation of tales from one of the defining streams of science fiction, old and new, written by a supernova of genre talent.

Edited by Rich Horton with stories from Kage Baker, Elizabeth Bear, Jay Lake, Robert Reed, Alastair Reynolds and others."
This is a weighty tomb of fantastical science fiction.  In this collection you will find tales of human and alien diaspora, quests, madness, and larger than life settings.  There are some very interesting character devices, and imaginative settings.  I picked up this book recognizing only a few of the contributing authors, which I find is often a perk of short story collections.  Not all of the stories were to my taste, but others I greatly enjoyed. 

Within the wrappings of fantastical space travel and alien worlds there are some serious themes and undercurrents.  The stories themselves may be short, but they are not insubstantial.  I actually would like to re-read this book at a later date, as a print book and not a digital file (particularly not one with a time limit).  Some of these stories would benefit from a second reading, and give the stories that I did not fully engage with another chance.

It is worthwhile to note that this is not the first collection titled Space Opera curated by Rich Horton, and that the earlier edition has a different set of authors.

If you enjoy space operas you will likely find at least several stories here that you like, but I wouldn't recommend the book for those who are more interested in the harder science side of science fiction.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of NetGalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

[Book Review] Male Sex Work and Society

Male Sex Work and Society / Victor Minichiello and John Scott (eds)

When thinking of sex work, we often think of it as a female profession, but it never has belonged exclusively to women.  We rarely see male sex workers represented in popular culture, and we do, we often encounter either a sterilized, hetero-normative presentation.  Male Sex Work and Society attempts to fill the void in scholarly research and discussion of sex work by providing a number of in-depth inspections of different aspects of men in sex work in the United States and globally.  At over 500 pages, this is a hefty tomb of analysis, with subjects smoothly introduced by the editors, helping the reader establish a frame of reference as they transition between sections.  Male Sex Work and Society contains examinations of the field in a variety of contexts, including history, public health, sociology, psychology, social services, economics, geography, criminal justice, and popular culture.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of NetGalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.