Sunday, April 27, 2014

[Book Review] The Profesional

The Professional / Kresley Cole (Powell's Books)

After reading and reviewing Parts I and III, I finally was able to both review Part II and read The Professional in completion.
The highly anticipated complete novel of The Professional—the first installment in #1 New York Times bestselling author Kresley Cole’s scorching Game Maker series, an erotica collection that has readers asking: How hot is too hot?
I'd say The Professional could be considered rather hot, though for some reason I thought it was an incredibly racy romance novel rather than straight up erotica.  I guess that wins the book points for plot?

Natalie Porter is an intelligent and lovely woman, juggling three part time jobs while working on her PhD in history.  Men, dating, and drama?  She does not have time for that (and besides, thanks to the growth in women-positive porn and sex toy shops, she can take care of that basic itch on her own).  She works hard, and while occasionally lonely for an intimate companion, she's largely happy with her life.  Except for one nagging question, who are her biological parents?  Little does she know that her inquiries have born fruit... and raised some flags.

Enter Aleksei "The Siberian" Sevastyan, sexy and dangerous, who's descriptions bring to mind someone like Vinnie Jones crossed with an underwear model.  He catches Natalie's eye, and unlike the other men in bar, she can't get a good (or scathing) read on him.  All she knows is this man who makes her panties melt with a look seems disgusted with her interest.  Confused and frustrated she makes her way home, only to shortly encounter Sevastyan again, when he reveals he has been shadowing her for a month, and he's there to take her to Russia to meet her father immediately.  And no, Natalie doesn't have any say in this.

Their chemistry is scorching, with Natalie eager to experience what Sevastyan has to offer.  Unfortunately things aren't that simple, her father is a poweful man and Sevastyan has a dark past and "dark" desires (ie. he's into BDSM).  Natalie's father has his loyalty and his loving respect, and as the daughter of a mafiya boss Natalie is pulled into a set of rules where her affections could cause a power play.  Sevastyan wants Natalie like he's never wanted anyone before, and wants to do things with her that he thinks she should be ashamed to desire.  She's nothing like the women he's been with before, challenging him at every turn, not letting him deny the very obvious attraction to her and the enjoyment they both experience.  When he reacts angrily to what she wants, what she enjoys, with "It made you happy, to be used by me?"  She responds with "I orgasamed three times; you did once.  Who's using whom, Siberian?"

But wealth and power are not enough to keep them safe, and Natalie is again pressed into Sevastyan's care as they escape from an attack that takes her father's life.  It's not only Natalie's safety and their home that must be assured, but their passion that must be navigated.  Natalie knows what she wants and knows that Sevastyan can provide, but he resists giving into his desires and fears her reaction if he opens himself emotionally until he nearly loses her.

So, some thoughts on the book - first off let's here it for women who like sex.  Seriously, Natalie may start the book as a virgin, but that doesn't mean she's innocent.  I hate the magically extraordinary innocent troupe in romance novels.  She's aware of her sexuality and aware of at least her potential proclivities.  Not only that, but her best friend is highly sexual and proud of it.  I don't think Jess would recognize someone slut shaming her if they tried.  She does tease Natalie about her virginity, but Natalie returns in kind and isn't upset about it, so it feels more like the type of raunchy humor between close friends than specifically a stigma against her lifestyle.  Then once Natalie locks on to Sevastyan she is very clear to him about what naughty thoughts are going through her head.

There are some problems with Sevastyan's concept of consent and negotiation of limits.  That being, said, Sevastyan generally has problems with showing any vulnerability outside of aftercare, which is the source of difficulty in their relationship (namely, that a relationship needs more than mind-blowing sex).  On the flip side, Natalie lets the reader know her enjoyment, even when he pushes her limits, and when he gives her an option to tap out she resolutely stays in.  Whenever he makes an assumption about her desires she challenges it and doesn't back down.  Sevastyan may be possessive of Natalie, but she has her own power over him, and she uses it when he's crossed the line to let him know that he's going to lose her.

In addition to being smutty, the book made me laugh.  The story itself leans more towards drama (and wild monkey sex), but there are still moments of friendship, humor, and sassy.  Overall, The Professional made for steamy read that engaged for more than just the sex.  But if you want to read it just for the sexcapades, you won't be disappointed.

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

Saturday, April 26, 2014

[Book Review] Cipher

Cipher / S. E. Bennett (Powell's Books)

Cipher Omega is brilliant, but her curiosity, dyslexia, and ability to experience the full range of human emotions, including anger and aggression, mark her as a failure among the community of clones she lives within.  Extraordinary by any other standard, she alone dreams of life above, pictured only through the limited feeds shown to the residents of the Basement, the world that benefits from the technology and scientific advances developed by the docile but brilliant clones.

Then one day the feeds are hacked, showing a masked man talking about the lies of the government instead of the happy families and green fields, followed by the literal explosion of the only world Cipher has ever known.

She wakes up in a hospital, reeling from shock and agoraphobia, suddenly famous as the only survivor of community that no one new existed.  The world that she has arrived in is nothing like what she was shown, and she doesn't know this world's rules.  People look at her and see a sheltered young girl or a cloned tool to be owned and used, failing to recognize the intelligence and determination she possesses.

Upsetting norms and challenging standards, Cipher finds herself embroiled in a conflicts between factions in power and between the powerful and the disenfranchised.  Simply by existing she causes conflict in the system, and by action they increase dramatically.  Not only that but for the first time she begins to grow emotionally and as a person, in a world where aggression is expected not bred away, and forming family bonds with the friends she has chosen.

The story has good pacing and character growth, exploring internal and external conflicts as Cipher goes from a reject to the most dangerous girl in the world.  The technology is well integrated into the narration, using exposition only as necessary and without fancy labels simply to show that the level of technology is higher than now.  Minimal romance, existing more as part of emotional growth than a driving plot point and the unfamiliarity of the environment that Cipher now inhabits.  The ending is written in such a way that a sequel would be unsurprising, but the story stands without requiring one.

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

[Book Review] Jacob Smith is Incredibly Average

Jacob Smith is Incredibly Average / Erin Hayes

Jacob Smith truly is an average boy.  He's not really horrible at anything, but never really shines.  No matter how hard he studies he never manages to be more than a B student.  His skills at football will never stand up to the extraordinary talent of dedicated athletes.  Even what he likes can be considered average.  Life's still has its ups and downs, the joys of teenaged hormones and high school bullies in particular stand out, but nothing exciting or out of the ordinary happens in Jacob's life.

Then the dreams start, nothing too weird, but enough to leave Jacob unsettled, and what follows is a cascade of changes turning Jacob's life upside-down.  It turns out that a race of aliens have plans for Earth, plans that do not fare well for the survival of humanity, and the key to their machinations is a specific human specimen, the most average person in the world.

Suddenly being average is not quite so average anymore.

Jacob Smith is a pretty average read, but still fun.  The threads of the story suffer a little due to Jacob Smith's worldview, such as a creature/device that is identified to him with the nickname "Mr. Ed" comes up at later times as various characters' "version of Mr. Ed."  The plot proceeds at a decent pace, with character growth as Jacob confronts both new challenges and everyday life.  Probably best for readers around 9-10.

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

Saturday, April 19, 2014

[Book Review] Fool's Assassin

Fool's Assassin (Realm of the Elderlings: Fitz and the Fool Trilogy) / Robin Hobb (Powell's Books)

For those who know FitzChivalry Farseer, this novel is a must.
FitzChivalry—royal bastard and former king’s assassin—has left his life of intrigue behind. As far as the rest of the world knows, FitzChivalry Farseer is dead and buried. Masquerading as Tom Badgerlock, Fitz is now married to his childhood sweetheart, Molly, and leading the quiet life of a country squire.

Though Fitz is haunted by the disappearance of the Fool, who did so much to shape Fitz into the man he has become, such private hurts are put aside in the business of daily life, at least until the appearance of menacing, pale-skinned strangers casts a sinister shadow over Fitz’s past . . . and his future.

Now, to protect his new life, the former assassin must once again take up his old one. . . .
Fitz has grown up from the boy we first meet in Assassin's Apprentice, and has left the life he lived in the following novels.  To the world FitzChivalry Farseer is dead, and he is merely another holder of no notable birth with a wife and children who he loves deeply.  Now, perhaps, Fitz has a chance at normalcy in his life.

Unfortunately, things are not that simple for any Farseer, even one living incognito.  Escaping the past takes more than a new identity, and Fitz has long served as a catalyst, both deliberate and incidental.  Then, when his wife Molly bears him a strange and precocious child, no one could foresee how their lives would change as the past comes crashing into the present bringing upheaval, mysteries, and peril.

Read an excerpt at

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

Friday, April 18, 2014

[Book Review] Mistress of Night and Dawn

Mistress of Night and Dawn : An Eighty Days Novel / Vina Jackson (Powell's Books)

When encountering a novel that is touted as "Bared to You meets The Night Circus" I expect beautiful poetic prose, magical romance, and some raunchy smut.  Let's modernize some D. H. Lawrence and go wild.

The prose was lovely but also confusing, passages made obtuse through questionable word use (for example, "As if aspirated by their wake, Ange felt obliged to follow them").  The sex failed to leave an impression.  I know there were acts that titillated the characters and made them feel strong longing, arousal, passion, mind-shattering orgasms.  But I have to actually think to come up with scenes with explicit descriptions of the carnal acts the participants engage in.  A number of scenes left me trying to figure out the physical mechanics and unable to think of a way that people could actually accomplish the acts described without the ability to phase shift.

Mistress of Night and Dawn is a sexual fantasy, where cunt and prick are ever ready regardless of setting or ability to consent, but it never seems to decide if it really wants to dive into the fantastic and magical, or just dip its toe in the waters.  I wanted romance and got... something, I'm not sure what to call it.  Spiritual bonding through vaginamancy maybe.  There is celebration of debauchery and hedonism, but not exactly enjoyment of it, more the participants are pawns swept along in a bacchanalia whether they wish it or not.

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

Friday, April 11, 2014

[Book Review] Losing It

Losing It : How We Popped Our Cherry Over the Last 80 Years / Kate Monro (Powell's Books)
In an increasingly sexualised world, how we lose our virginity remains an untold story. Inspired by her Cosmopolitan award-nominated blog, The Virginity Project, Kate Monro sets out to ask men and women from every walk of life, how did it happen for you? Losing It brings together an astonishing collection of stories.

From the experiences of Edna, who lost her virginity in 1940 aged 25, to Charlie, a young, disabled punk rocker whose first-time experience many able-bodied people would envy, Kate reveals the poignant, funny and often surprising truth about other people’s most intimate sexual stories.
Reminiscent on some level of My Secret Garden, Losing It tells stories of discovering sexuality and intimacy over the years.  The chapters are loosely categorized into different scopes of experience and discussions of virginity, in particular the range of what people define as loss of virginity and the reasons that individuals have kept or given up their v-card.  Losing It also stands out in the stories of sexual discovery among early teens, perhaps long standing at an age that most adults are uncomfortable with.  The stories are more intimate than erotic, with an emphasis on the whys and thoughts and not just the act itself.

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

[Book Review] The Truth About Alice

The Truth About Alice / Jennifer Mathieu (Powell's Books)
Everyone knows Alice slept with two guys at one party. When Healy High star quarterback, Brandon Fitzsimmons, dies in a car crash, it was because he was sexting with Alice. Ask anybody.  Rumor has it Alice Franklin is a slut. It's written all over the "slut stall" in the girls' bathroom: "Alice had sex in exchange for math test answers" and "Alice got an abortion last semester." After Brandon dies, the rumors start to spiral out of control. In this remarkable debut novel, four Healy High students tell all they "know" about Alice--and in doing so reveal their own secrets and motivations, painting a raw look at the realities of teen life. But in this novel from Jennifer Mathieu, exactly what is the truth about Alice? In the end there's only one person to ask: Alice herself.
The Truth About Alice tells a story about adolescences and rumors.  We learn Alice's story through the experiences of her classmates as stories and events are shared and snowball out of control.  The narrators show flaws and the myopia of youth, each with a distinctly different voice and experience.  Piece by piece we learn the truth about the rumors, but never from Alice herself.  I found the story uncomfortable to read but not due to flaws in the writing style.  Rather the treatment of Alice herself and the propagation of misinformation gives the story its dissonance.

The Truth About Alice will resonate with those familiar with The Scarlett Letter or with the movie Easy A.

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

Saturday, April 5, 2014

[Book Review] Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore

Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore / Walter Mosley (Powell's Books)

I'm left feeling conflicted about this book, and I can't say whether I liked it or not.  There is nothing wrong with Mosley's prose or his pacing.  The exact passage of time is a little difficult to follow, but since we're following the story of someone in a state of emotional shock and turmoil, this lack of temporal grounding fits.

Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore evokes memories of the "golden age of porn" - thoughts of Debbie Does Dallas rise to the surface just from the title, and a director named Linda Love makes one think of Linda Lovelace in a moment of painful irony.  The problem is that these names come with expectations and that have little to do with the story beyond a connection to pornography.  As a reader I found this dissonance jarring and distracting from the story itself.

Then comes the concept of Debbie Dare herself, a veteran of adult films at 31, and with over a decade in the industry.  I believe her concept as a person, but not as the porn icon.  Making it as a household name in porn, particularly for such a long period of time and past the age most glorified in pornography and images of beauty, is hard.  Some women have done it, Jenna Jameson for example has built herself a media empire, and they have done so through hard work and brilliant marketing and diversification.  Think and try to name 5 to 10 women who have made a real name for themselves and occupation in pornography outside of a short window, Annie Sprinkle, Tristan Taromino, Nina Hartley come to mind, all of whom have built a career expanded beyond fornication in front of a camera.

Debbie's life in the sex industry is to perform her scenes on set, appear at the occasional expo, and collect her pay.   She "stands out" as a dark skinned woman who wears blue contacts, keeps her hair platinum blond, and sports a small "tattoo" on her cheek.  While the combination is striking, contacts and wigs (or dye) are easy to come by, particularly in an industry where performers spend hours being remade before a shoot.  I haven't done any searches on porn sites, but I'm pretty sure I could easily find a handful of women with dark skin and blond wigs/hair in without trying very hard.  I could also be wrong on this, but I'm not sure quite how much her eye color is really noticed by people watching her films.

The story of Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore is that of a woman dealing with grief and emotions, some of which have been held in check for 15 years, as she attempts to change her life from porn star to "normal" in the wake of her husband's death.  Not because she feels what she has done is wrong, but because a catalyst of events have changed how she views herself and her life.  Debbie suffers from depression without knowing or understanding the emotional fugue she wades through, re-establishing and re-defining relationships in the aftermath of her upheaval.  In many ways, at 31, Debbie is finally growing up.

The supporting cast vary in depth with no relation on their place in the story.  We meet alienated family, caring friends, petty thugs, and dangerous men and women.  The conflicts vary in depth of connection as well, including one premeditated crime of passion (I can't think of any other way to describe it) that seems a bit extreme and that exists as a literal and figurative severing mechanism between Debbie's old and new lives.

The book is reflective and introspective, a good read for those who like stories of personal resolution and change.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Doubleday, a division of Random House, LLC; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Friday, April 4, 2014

[Book Review] The Fan Fiction Studies Reader

The Fan Fiction Studies Reader / Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse (eds.)

The Fan Fiction Studies Reader is a scholarly look at the who, what, and why's of fan-fiction.  The authors look at reasons fans create these works, be it reflections of gender politics, personal expression, or literary explorations.  Even beyond that the authors look at the development and growth of fan fiction, and the relationships between the fans, the shows, and the producers.  The authors touch on different areas of fandom, but most commonly discuss the body of work of Kirk/Spock fan fiction.

An interesting read, both for those curious about fan fiction and those part of fan fiction communities.

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

Link Smorgasbord, March 2014

Should You Sue Your eBook Reviewers?
I mean besides the gut response of "no" or "are you shitting me?" in response to that question, the article itself is pretty well written.  In the past year I've begun following a number of reviewers who have sharp wit and don't pull their punches when reviewing books.  During this time I've come across some incredibly poor behavior on the parts of authors who attack these reviewers for their very well thought out and explained reviews.  There are now a number of authors I don't intend to read because of their behavior in this regard.  Yes, getting negative reviews sucks, but calling someone a troll for a reasoned review does not end well, and I find that reading the negative reviews to often be just as informative as the positive ones.

The Rebranding Of SOPA: Now Called 'Notice And Staydown'
I'm not sure if anyone is surprised that they're trying again.

After Building A Powerful Recommendation System For Netflix, This Guy Wants To Help You Find Your Next Favorite Book
So, I don't know about you, but while Netflix does have some cool stuff, and some hilariously specific sub-sections, I don't find it all that great for finding my next favorite movie or TV series.  Either I go to Netflix with something specific in mind or I browse through the "thirteen channels of shit on the T.V. to choose from" (thank you, Pink Floyd) with a minimal success rate.  Maybe I'm just picky.  With that in mind, this quote made me snicker a bit uncharitably:

"And with the number of books Entitle customers sift through in search of their next great read, why not use a computer to help you eliminate irrelevant stuff you don't like?"

However, I'm interested in seeing what is built.  There are some interesting recommendation engines out there.  Amazon's is probably the most famous, but they're not the only one.  Of course, as a librarian I often act as a living recommendation system, but that's a different story.

Gender-specific books demean all our children. So the Independent on Sunday will no longer review anything marketed to exclude either sex 
The title gives a pretty good idea of what this article is about, but it is still a great read.  When books are labeled "for boys" or "for girls" there is a whole range of assumptions being made and ultimately the child as a reader is injured.  The gender of the main character doesn't make the book only appeal to one gender, and for how many years now have we been fighting gender stereotypes that women are only happy in the kitchen (and that men never are)?  Kids know what they're into (and based on my time in school libraries, Star Wars ranks pretty high on that list), so if a boy wants to read a books about dinosaurs or trucks they'll look for those.  If a child wants to read a book about an undervalued child who learns tricks to overcome hurdles, then Matilda fits pretty well even if publishers are pushing a bright pink covered version "for girls."

There is also an awesome follow up to that announcement by the literary editor based on the various questions submitted to them here.

Doge Decimal Classification
This is making me laugh way more than it should, but I can't help it.

Switch Basics: On Windows, I used to...
I largely use Windows, I really want to explore more in some of the Linux distros, and then every now and then I have to use a Mac and remember how to work around a single button mouse and dragging a drive to the trash bin to eject it.  Here's a nice document provided by Apple for things you may have no clue how to do when switching from Windows to iOS.

Dropbox clarifies its policy on reviewing shared files for DMCA issues
This article is worth taking a look at even just for information about what scanning of files Dropbox is doing.  The short story is your files might not exactly be yours, and that your expectation of privacy is shaky.  For people who use Dropbox and are concerned about some of the things they are doing there are other options, but there's no guarantee that the alternatives won't change how they play the game as well.

Spyware increasingly a part of domestic violence
Somehow the use of spyware in domestic violence never occurred to me, and it's an important concern to keep in mind along with all of the other vulnerabilities out there.

What happens with digital rights management in the real world?
A well written, articulate article on DRM and security.