Friday, May 29, 2015

[Book Review] The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray

The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray / Robert Schnakenberg (Powell's Books)

An unauthorized reference book of everything you every wanted to know, and possibly everything you never knew you wanted to know, about Bill Murray.

Think encyclopedia rather than biography, with alphabetically sorted entries on everything from movies featuring Murray, to people he has known, drink and cigar preferences, movies he was not featured in, and more.  Content bordering on the obsessive, particularly considering the lengths that Murray has taken to largely remove himself from the public eye (beyond a penchant for surprise guest appearances and photo-bombing).  Not what I expected from a "critical appreciation of The World's Finest Actor."

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

Sunday, May 24, 2015

[Book Review] Stripped with the Vampire

Stripped with the Vampire / Jax Garren

Five years ago, Charlie ended his relationship with Vince, feeling betrayed on learning that Vince made a living as a stripper.  Vince regrets lying about his work, but still feels the sting of Charlie's rejection.  When Vince is drawn into plots of the chaotic Liberi vampires and a crazed priestess of an Aztec god, he runs to Charlie out of desperation.  Now Charlie must make a stand not only for Vince, but for himself in vampire society, with far more than just his love life at risk.

Stripped with the Vampire knocked it out of the park, and I totally didn't expect it.

I picked it expecting a pretty standard-fare paranormal romance, focus on the burning attraction with a sprinkling of urban fantasy peril and the scars of previous relationships clouding the present.  The fact that it happens to be a MM I didn't expect to change much, except for perhaps a better balance of the "alpha male" trap that particularly plagues paranormal romance/urban fantasy.  After all, vampire novels have a long established history of being thinly veiled erotica skirting the censors by passing as "horror."

Instead the author confronts issues of prejudice within the context of a culture of beings that live for hundreds of years, while still delivering and action packed steamy romance.  The characters have good interpersonal relationships, well defined personalities, and experience growth.  I love the twist that allowed them to escape from the final conflict, it was unexpected and entertaining.

Definitely clear set up for further stories in the series focused on different characters introduced in this book, though I would be surprised if the other stories focus on same sex relationships.

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

Saturday, May 23, 2015

[Book Review] Going Through the Change

Going Through the Change / Samantha Bryant (Powell's Books)
Going through “the change” isn’t easy on any woman. Mood swings, hot flashes, hormonal imbalances, and itchy skin are par for the course. But for these four seemingly unrelated women, menopause brought changes none of them had ever anticipated—super-heroic changes.

Helen discovers a spark within that reignites her fire. Jessica finds that her mood is lighter, and so is her body. Patricia always had a tough hide, but now even bullets bounce off her. Linda doesn’t have trouble opening the pickle jar anymore…now that she’s a man.

When events throw the women together, they find out that they have more in common than they knew—one person has touched all their lives. The hunt for answers is on. 
I love the premise of this book.  Lets be honest, how often do we have action stories centered around menopausal women, especially when its the women who are doing the action.  The idea that for a handful of women "going through the change" involves the gain of powers and transformations of the comic-book superhero type is novel.

The story itself is simple, with enough characterization to give everyone their own individual personality and relationships.  The protagonists are more developed than the antagonistis, with Cindy Liu and Helen becoming a bit one-note in their monomania.  The other characters have interesting relationship developments and growth, particularly Linda in her adjustments to a new physical gender.

I wish the commonality, the person who has "touched all their lives," was less obvious from the start.  There was no surprise at the factor and mind behind their changes.

Overall, Going Through the Change is a light and unique read.

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

Monday, May 18, 2015

[Book Review] The Hookup Hoax

The Hookup Hoax / Heather Thurmeier

Sawyer doesn't do relationships.  He's tried them in the past, but his workaholic tendencies led to the catastrophic end of his last serious relationship, and playboy takes care of that itch just fine.  Then he discovers that his grandparents who raised him are looking to give their lakeside home to either him or his cousin, and his cousin is the one with the family and kids, with the best potential to pass the home down through the family.

When his best friend's little sister shows up - back in the country after five years of traveling the world and in need of a job and an apartment, well, maybe they can help each other out.  Even better, she's not too keen on a relationship either, so playing a part gives her a nice buffer from interested parties while starting her new life.

Except, things don't stay quite as platonic as intended, with growing affection and some incurable lust.

The Hookup Hoax delivers exactly what you expect.  Gorgeous leads, lusty thoughts, and possibly unnecessary complications of their own making.  The story is sweet and a little frustrating (but then, I'm a little over the "overly protective big brother" concept everywhere, not just in romance novels), and leads to a happy ending.

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

Saturday, May 16, 2015

[Book Review] A Darkling Sea

A Darkling Sea / James L. Cambias (Powell's Books)

A Darkling Sea is a book that rose to my attention repeatedly with compelling reviews on the strength of the plot and storytelling.  A novel about conflict on the edges of civilization and exploration, in a universe where distance and wealth of planets invalidates the standard cause of wars over land and resources.

Ilmartar is a cold planet, its surfaced covered by ice kilometers thick, surrounding dark oceans kept thawed by the heat of the planet's core.  A human crew lives in a submerged station, studying the native environment and life, but is charged with non-interference with the dominant intelligent species.  When attempts at closer observation lead to the loss of one of the crew and discovery by the Ilmartaran's, the Sholen investigate the human presence on the alien planet.

Other reviews:
This was the April pick for Virtual Speculation.  Having made the pick solely based on reviews, I'm quite happy with this selection.  A hard science fiction novel of first contact and ideology.  I didn't generate a sizable list of discussion questions, but that wasn't due to any lack of interesting ideas.  I thoroughly enjoyed the read.

Discussion Fodder
  • Did the Ilmartarans' treatment of Henri Kerlerec surprise you?  Did it seem alien or strangely familiar?  Should Rob Freeman done more?  Whether to prevent the expedition or to save Henri?  Was Henri foolish or just idealistic in how he thought first contact interaction would go?
  • Tizhos reflects that "Everything the humans did seemed to be the result of competition or rigid logic."  What do you think of this assessment, and for exceptions that we can see as humans could an alien interpret them within Tizhos' framework?
  • Gishora is attempting to play a balancing game of politics, one where his motives and intentions are entirely unknown to the humans whom his actions effect.  If Gishora had been transparent in his intentions (had he been able to), do you think things would have played out the same?  How did he handle the situation properly, how did he mishandle it?
  • What do you think of the Sholen social and political structure?  Isolation verses exploration, consensus, sexual bonding to reinforce hierarchy?  What about the Ilmataran divisions?  Landowners, apprentices, outlaws, and children?  What about their cannibalism or concepts of murder?
  • Does the organization of words have meaning?  What is the power of the written word over speech?  What do you think of the interpretation of spoken word as "writing with sound"?
  • The humans are identified as intelligent by the Ilmartaran's by the fact they build, communicate, eat.  What do you consider the hallmarks of intelligence?
  • Irona's approach may be extreme, but is he wrong?  Is the only way to prevent "contamination" as he sees it to destroy the lives of those who have had alien interaction?  Or is it a fruitless endeavor?  Is it wrong for an alien race to introduce higher technology to a more "primitive" culture?

Friday, May 15, 2015

[Book Review] 50 Shades of Pink

50 Shades of Pink / K. T. Grant

K. T. Grant gives a condensed lesbian spin on 50 Shades of Grey, with youthful Lindsay Pinke snared in the mechanizations of Colette Durate in her pursuit of Victoria Nox.  Colette has a past with Victoria, one that she relishes and wishes to regain, and one that Victoria has long kept locked away.

Having read 50 Shades of Grey, I expected the plot to work a little different, at first thinking that Colette was the Christian Grey analog.  Grant has taken some of the characters and in effect combined them.  Rather than Leila Williams, Elena Lincoln, and even Jack Hyde, we have the single character of Colette Durate.  The relationship between Victoria and Lindsay develops through a combination of lust, attraction, and uncertainty with the expected missteps and misunderstandings, but without emotional abuse of each other.  Decent characterization, and good re-imaging of key moments and plot points of the material it draws from.

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

Saturday, May 9, 2015

[Book Review] Becoming a Jett Girl

Becoming a Jett Girl / Meghan Quinn

Goldie works hard for the money, and she has to because she has a whole lot of debt thanks to Katrina and school loans.  She works at a strip club on Bourbon St as a waitress, but dreams of taking the stage.  Then a mysterious man makes her an offer that ultimately she cannot refuse, become a dancer at the secretive Lafayette Club and share the bed of only the equally secretive proprietor, Jett Colby.

So, apparently everyone loves this book.  I mean it has 4.21/5 stars on GoodReads with 416 ratings.  The reviews are raving.

I couldn't stand it.  The characters were abrasive, the dialog crude, the plot jarring, and the eroticism strained.

So, some of my issues.

The first chapter left me wondering if I should start keeping a tally of the times the female lead called the women she worked with whores (and why is she calling them that as an insult when prostitution is how she makes ends meet?).

Goldie has a lot of debt, and I get it, student loans suck.  Epically.  But you know what you do if you aren't making income?  You call your loan holder and look into options (as someone with a lot of student debt this is something I'm very familiar with), the amount she's taking home her payments under an IBR would be next to nothing.

Moving on from that, if you're want to work the stage at a strip club, and the manager has denied this to you for nine years... you aren't going to get on the stage at that club.  A quick search via Google Maps (oh, the things I do to my search history for reviews) shows a good 10 strip clubs within a few blocks of each other on or around Bourbon St - so finding a new club to work at shouldn't be a challenge (especially with her supposedly killer moves and body):

The idea behind the Lafayette is great - Jett is going to use his ridiculous fortune to rescue girls off the street (be it abusive strip clubs or the street corner itself).  In fact, he founded it after his mother passed away, sort of in her memory, which I try not to think about too much considering it's a high-end gentlemen's club and all the dancers are his exclusive harem.  Then of course comes the fact that he's "rescuing" these girls from prostitution... to be exclusively his bed partner as repayment for the opportunity he provides for them to better themselves.

I'm not going to spoil what convinces Goldie to take the offer, but we'll leave it as problematic.  We'll leave it as for multiple reasons she was rightfully creeped out and disinclined to take the offer.

Of course, everyone wants a piece of Goldie, who apparently screws like a succubus and seduces like Aphrodite.  There's not really any chemistry between her and any of the main warring interests.  Just obsessive infatuation and lust masquerading as feelings.  Actually, there might be some decent chemistry between her and Kace, but he's pretty much sidelined.

There is a lot of lust and sex, so if you're looking for that you won't be disappointed.  I found the quality of it all to be questionable, but obviously lots of other readers loved it.

If you decide to give this book a shot and like it, Becoming a Jett Girl is the first in a trilogy.

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

Link Smorgasbord, April 2015

BDSM and beheading videos: The evolving role of the librarian
"Libraries change, but librarians keep helping people find the weird information they need."

Ursula Le Guin talks Sci-fi Snobbery, Adaptations, & Troublemaking
Ursula K. Le Guin almost always has something to say that I love listening to.

Not the affirmative action you meant, not the history you’re making
Worth a read.

Amazon gets green light from U.S. regulators for new drone tests
And everyone was mocking me for taking their idea seriously?

Robert Gray: Expletives Undeleted
Reflecting on the Clean Reader app

Guest Post Roundup
A listing of some really excellent guest posts on Jim C. Hines' blog focusing on diversity in SF/F.

Monday, May 4, 2015

[Book Review] Crave (Undone #1)

Crave (Undone #1) / Jennifer Dawson

Layla was on her way to the perfect life with her loving fiance.  Home, kids, dog, and a loving husband were on the horizon (plus a health dose of kinky sex, but I suppose that's not normally part of the American Dream).

Now 18 months later, Layla is still reeling from grief at the the death of her beloved.  Avoiding friend's who won't mention John, family who look at her with pity, and certainly avoiding anything resembling the emotional intimacy of a relationship.  Instead she holds out as long as she can, until distraction, memories, and pure carnal need send her scouting for a rough one-night stand to take the edge off, letting her return to her guise of a normal life.

And then she meets Michael - arresting, dominant, and determined to be more than a meaningless one-night stand.  Being with him even once means breaking her own rules, risks letting him in, and can she still be true to John while healing and moving on with her life?

This book is hot.  Steaming, naughty, erotic romance.  Michael is pushy, but he also steps carefully.  He recognizes that she's gone though serious emotional trauma, and let's her set the limits even while he's prying her out of her shell.  This book is about Layla's healing, her survivor's guilt, and her finding joy in life again.  And throughout all of that is rampant, wild, rough sex.

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

Sunday, May 3, 2015

[Book Review] Harrison Squared

Harrison Squared / Daryl Gregory

Harrison Squared is the YA/Middle Reader prequel to Daryl Gregory's wonderful tale of horror and madness, We Are All Completely Fine.  As indicated by the previous sentence, I really enjoyed We Are All Completely Fine.  It hinted at horrors survived and explored living with the lingering trauma, and the struggles of seeing the world so clearly everyone thinks you are insane.  In this context we meet Harrison Harrison, known to his mother as "Harrison Squared," and known to the world through a fictionalized retelling as 'the boy who kills monsters.'

Don't get me wrong, the events of Harrison Squared definitely count as horrific in their own right, and certainly would be devastating to a teen boy, but they are definitely of a level of existential horror aimed at a young teen reader.  After reading We Are All Completely Fine I was left with a feeling of "that's all?"

The characters are a little old by Middle Reader standards, but this would be a great book to give to a Middle Reader who likes horror.  Entirely appropriate for teens, but I recall most of my teenage associates making the jump directly to Stephen King, so this might be a little light on the horror for high school horror fans.

A well written book, just one that is hard to push aside expectation for when primed with We Are All Completely Fine.

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

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Unintentional Radio Silence

So having a full time job is amazingly awesome.  I love not having to worry if I will earn enough to cover my basic cost of living.

But, me being me, just because I started a full time job doesn't mean I feel that I should (or need) to end my various part-time employment work.  After all, no website work had come up in months, and the work at the bookstore is only 15-20 hours a month.

And then I got pulled into a huge website project that's projected to last through June, and am doing a good 20+ hours for that every week on top of my full time job.  Life's a little crazy.

I've got loads of books to finish, reviews to write, and some beer to bottle.  In theory somewhere in all of this I'm going to start being more active, with the target goal of fixing that whole "can't run for shit" problem.

More content will be forthcoming, and maybe I'll learn a lesson about moderation and scheduling in all this.