Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Master of None—Sonya Bateman

"If it comforts you, dear lady, I can assure you that your sister is not feeling any pain at the moment. Nor will she ever again."
"Trevor, you disgusting—" The phone shook in Jazz's hand. "She wasn't a threat to you. To anyone. How could you?"
"Bring Mr. Donatti and his resourceful friend to me. It's your only change for survival."
"Kiss my ass."
In that instant, I knew I loved her. (121)

Thief Gavyn Donatti is not having the best luck recently. He completed a job for a psycho, but unfortunately lost the item that he was procuring for said psycho (a.k.a. Trevor). Obviously, Trevor doesn't take kindly to this loss. While on the run from Trevor's goons, Gavyn doesn't get far, and is only slowed down further by the appearance of a man who seems to know an eerie amount about him...Turns out the mystery man is a djinn (or as we sometimes call them, genies) because of course he is. Even more than that, Gavyn is part of the djinn Ian's bloodline, with about four hundred years between them. Ian needs Gavyn to help him defeat the evil factions of djinn that are currently occupying space on our plane, as well as prove to the leader of the djinn world that there is actually a threat to manage. To pile onto this already overwhelming amount of new information for Gavyn, when he calls an old girlfriend to help drive he and Ian away from Trevor's thugs, he finds out that he has a two year old son. Now everyone Gavyn knows is in danger, as Trevor mows down anyone in his way to get what he wants.

I was surprised to find that there was a male protagonist in this story, given it's presence on the Vaginal Fantasy list. Not upset, just surprised. Usually the VF picks are female protagonist driven. Regardless, Gavyn was such a relatable character to me. He's skilled, but he doesn't have all of his shit together, he doesn't have it all figured out. But he's also a good improviser and problem solver, which is helpful when you are one of those people who doesn't have it all figured out. And although he's a thief, he has a moral code, which is just another facet of his story that makes you root for him.

Ian's story was heartbreaking, having been separated from his wife and constantly under threat from other djinn factions. He's also the only remaining djinn of his kind, which is always a tough lot in life. Jazz was badass and snarky, but not at the expense of every other personality trait, which is sometimes the case for "strong female characters" in books like this. Jazz's struggle to protect her son from a situation which she's involved in merely because she happened to know a guy once (and okay, he's her baby daddy, but that's incidental) makes the stakes all that much higher. As if preventing the evil djinn from taking over this world and the djinn world weren't high enough stakes.

I thought this was an interesting take on the genie story, especially with the different djinn "families" and their shapeshifting. I've never seen those two concepts—genies and shapeshifters—in the same book before. It totally made sense in the context of the book as well, and didn't seem needless. The whole mythology of the djinn in this story was very well articulated in what was really a small amount of space. The idea that the Roman and Greek gods were djinn is not a completely outlandish claim, and I actually love when stories integrate historical moments.

I did think it was a little weird that Gavyn suddenly had these magical powers, but it seemed as though that was explained with the concept of needing/willing things to happen; if you don't even fathom that's a skill you might have, why would you ever will something to happen in that way? Even with that explanation, he did learn remarkably quickly for someone who didn't even know that real magic existed until a few days earlier.

There was some romance, but not any sexy times, which I was totally fine with. I liked the relationship between Gavyn and Jazz, and it wouldn't really have made sense in my mind for them to have been like, "Oh hey, we're on the run and possibly our lives are threatened if we let our guards down for one second, but do you want to bone?" Not to mention that Jazz was sheltering in the djinn world for a significant portion of the book.

Twelve down! Twenty to go.
The VagFan ladies didn't talk about this book during the Hangout, although it was mentioned at the very end. Still a fun conversation.

The New World—Andrew Motion

It was the simplest picture, which I had seen every morning for months on end, and never thought would serve as the beginning of our farewell. But that is what it became: the gentlest of separatinos, with the women kneeling as they swept their wet hair from their eyes, and the water-drops sliding from elbows and fingers, and the river crinkled by the breeze, and the vast and level country stretching beyond, and the rust-red sky, and the thin straight line of charcoal along the horizon. (144)

In this sequel to Silver (which is itself a sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island), we pick up right where we left off, with Jim and Natty shipwrecked after a huge storm destroyed their ship and killed all of their shipmates. Turns out they washed ashore on the coast of Texas; the year, 1802. After being picked up and held captive by Indians, certain that they are going to be eaten, they escape, stealing the chief Black Cloud's treasured silver necklace in the process. While fleeing they find an Indian community that keeps them safe and becomes their family, most especially their friend Hoopoe, who speaks English. Content to remain with this tribe, it is only when Black Cloud starts chasing them again, pursuing his necklace, that they must leave the people they have come to know and love, and restart their journey back to England.

The EarlyReviewers description didn't indicate that this was a sequel to Silver—rather than a direct sequel of Treasure Island—which felt a bit like false advertising. But I ended up reading Silver, and am glad that I did so, because I'm sure that this story makes a lot more sense as a result. As I mentioned in my review of Silver, that book is clearly meant to be an adventure akin to its predecessor Treasure Island, but fell short of the mark for me. The New World felt like much more of an adventure story. I do think there were still slow moments, and that there could be some trimming done, but overall I enjoyed taking the journey through "the new world" with Jim and Natty. Altogether more well-rounded storytelling than in Silver, in my opinion.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Silver: Return to Treasure Island—Andrew Motion

When the tide was full, and the gullies brimmed with water, and the earth became too spongy for me to walk across it, I was like Adam expelled from his garden. (6)

I received the sequel to this book, The New World, through Librarything's Early Reviewers program. When I requested it, I didn't realize it was a sequel, and thought it was just the next part of the story after Treasure Island itself. I think that I probably would have been okay to just start reading The New World, but it was nice to have the context of this one before jumping into its sequel.

Jim Hawkins the younger, son of Treasure Island Jim Hawkins, has spent his life hearing stories about his father's adventures. When a mysterious girl shows up outside his window along the Thames and tells him that she's Long John Silver's daughter, and that they should go back to Treasure Island to get the rest of the silver, Jim is instantly smitten and more than that, itching for an adventure of his own. Jim leaves with her, without saying goodbye to his father, and absconding with the map to Treasure Island that his father had kept safe since his own return. Natty, Silver's daughter, takes Jim to meet her father, who has degenerated mentally a bit in his old age. But he's still present enough to have hired a captain and ship to take Natty and Jim back to Treasure Island—with Natty in disguise as "Nat," the son of Silver. But when they arrive at Treasure Island, it is not quite as abandoned as they imagine. While they find the silver, and eventually free many of the slaves and escape the slavers who now occupy the island, they lose their captain in the process, as well as many of the slaves. Then to add insult to injury, just when they think they are home free, a hurricane shipwrecks the Nightingale, leaving only Natty and Jim alive.

I haven't yet read Treasure Island—I don't know how I missed that during my adolescence—but I do know Muppet Treasure Island almost line for line, so, I'm basically an expert...I do wish that I'd realized the Kindle version of this book (which I was reading) actually includes a copy of the original Treasure Island, but by the time I noticed, I was already halfway through this book, so it seemed a bit silly at that point to go back and read it. Although I do want to read it at some point in my life. Also, David Tennant, of Doctor Who fame, narrates the audiobook, which is pretty cool.

My biggest issue with the book is that its clearly meant to be an adventure, but it doesn't feel like one. I'm totally fine with "slice of life" OR books that actually have a discernible, purposeful plotline. But this book couldn't seem to decide which it wanted to be. I found myself asking "why" so often, and not in a good way. For example, when Natty and Jim are journeying from England to the Caribbean, there is a crew member Jordan Hands who is Israel Hands' nephew. (In Treasure Island, Jim's father killed Israel Hands.) Within something like ten pages of the start of the journey, Jordan Hands wants to take revenge upon Jim for his father's actions, so he kills another unrelated crew member, and then when they tie him up and plan to turn him into the authorities, he jumps off the ship rather than wait to stand trial. Like, what purpose did that serve, other than to have another unnecessary tie to Treasure Island itself? Andrew Motion is obviously a superb writer, having garnered a multitude of accolades and well-known in his native England, but the story fell flat for me.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Kiss of Snow—Nalini Singh

"I'm fine." White grooves bracketed his mouth.
"How bad," she said, "would it suck to have 'stupid moron died of shock' on your gravestone?" (167)

Thoughts on Slave to Sensation, Psy-Changeling #1

Thoughts on Visions of Heat, Psy-Changeling #2

Kiss of Snow is the tenth book in the Psy-Changeling series, focused on Hawke and Sienna, who we got a glimpse of in the first book. Sienna is (once-again) a type of psy that we haven't seen before and about which the world at large knows little to nothing. The wolves and Sienna's psy family are trying to covertly find a study that was rumored to have been done decades earlier about the X-psy, but to no avail. (Although we, as the reader, get snippets of it.) While dealing with how to contain burning up from the inside out, Sienna also has to manage the distant but still jealous stylings of Hawke, the wolf pack alpha. He thinks he can't be with her because his one "Mate" died when he was ten and she was five. (It's totally cool, guys—they didn't consummate their Mate-hood, just reveled in the fact that it was coming down the pike the second they're of age.) Of course, the day is saved! At the last minute, they save Sienna from destroying everyone with her near atomic-bomb energy and even help them evade an evil faction of Psy. Huzzah!

I somehow got myself into reading like seven Nalini Singh books in a row—I think they all happened to be available at the library at the same time—which is not necessarily a bad thing, but they do tend to have male leads who I'm not fond of, so...

Regardless, I liked this one better than the other two in this series that I read. This is actually number 10 in the series, so I skipped ahead quite a bit. Fortunately—or unfortunately—I feel like that didn't impact my comprehension of this story at all. Also, that is not the cover that was on my version of the book, but I liked it better than what I think was a naked man torso so I used it instead. Sometimes a girl likes a little mystery, boys.

Sienna was so much closer to being realistically snarky and standing up for herself against Hawke, at least compared to the other two heroines that I've experienced in this series. There's a point where he comes to basically throw her over his shoulder angrily and cart her away from the bar that she's dancing on, and he basically berates her for acting sexually with what are essentially animals. (Changelings. Same thing.) They have this exchange:
"So you knew that, and still you amped up the sexual energy in the room?"The truck was suddenly too small, too confined, Hawke's hotly masculine scent seeping into her very pores, touching parts of her no man had ever stroked. "It wasn't my responsibility."
"No." A sudden crash of anger. "I'm not accountable for everyone..." (65)
So I appreciated that she stood up for herself, especially about this particular subject.

Hawke was kind of meh stereotypical possessive, changeling male for me. He did have the subplot of having lost his Mate and thinking that he wouldn't be able to offer anyone anything like that relationship. (This ends up being an erroneous conclusion.) He mentions that Sienna smells like spice twenty times in the book. (Thank you, Kindle search feature.) But there wasn't anything spectacular or particularly compelling about Hawke to me. Which was interesting, because when I read the first book, they teased Hawke and Sienna and they are the couple I most wanted to read about. I can't remember exactly why that was...

I loved that there was more going on in the book than just the drama with Sienna and Hawke's relationship. We see Lara and Walker (a changeling and psy, respectively) acknowledging their feelings for each other, we find out more about the political machinations that are happening in the psy world, we hear about some of the featured characters from other books. Overall, the worldbuilding just felt more well rounded in this one than in the two that I read before, which both focused almost exclusively on the budding relationship.

I mean, I didn't necessarily understand the conflict. Hawke had feelings for Sienna, but felt he couldn't act on them because he couldn't give her all the things that went along with being his Mate. But at some point, Sienna realizes that Hawke is thinking about his long-gone mate: "But for the first time, Sienna didn't turn away, didn't yield to a ghost—she'd listened, she'd learned, so she knew that while it was harder than in a mating, changelings could and did have children in long-term, committed relationships." (201) Like, how is that different from a Mating? Because you're not cosmically connected? Ugh.

There were also some interesting/strange language things. Like at one point, Hawke's hands tighten on the "manual steering wheel." Um, as far as I know, there's a manual transmission vehicle, but no vehicle with a manual steering wheel. Or rather, they're all manual steering wheel unless you have one of those Google cars that drives itself. There was also a moment where her boots are described as "fuck-you boots" and I've always heard of them as "fuck me boots." So that was a little weird.

I just read the first book in Singh's Guild Hunter series, Angel's Blood, and in general like that one much better at first interaction than I did this series, so I'll probably abandon this one (at least for a while) and read those books. And the million others that are on my TBR shelf. Le sigh.

Angel's Blood—Nalini Singh

"Here's a tip—you want to call me your toy, go ahead. Just don't expect me to be one." (261)
Vampire-hunter Elena Deveraux is just trying to go along her merry vampire-hunter way—being disconnected from her family, dealing with her traumatic past—when an archangel summons her. Well, to be fair, he is paying for her services as a vampire hunter. In Elena's world, vampires are created by angels, and she serves as a kind of bounty hunter to return vampires who have become unruly and escaped their angel overlords' reign. But archangels are a whole other bag. Elena would really prefer to not get involved. But that's not really an option with archangel Gabriel, who is recruiting her for her hunter-born skills at vampire tracking—but to track a creature that is not merely vampire, nor angel, nor human. And maybe having some sexy times with an archangel along the way. Whatevs.

I've read three books in Nalini Singh's other Psy-Changeling series, and didn't like those three collectively as much as I liked this one. Perhaps it was because I found this worldbuilding more compelling? I don't really know. Just when I think I'm done with vampires, somebody throws a twist on the whole mythology and draws me right back in. In this urban fantasy, basically modern day world that Singh creates, vampires are made by angels. It's a long waiting list, people trying to be Made, and not every person is compatible with whatever process the angels use to Make them. In turn, though, those who are Made are then tied to that angel for what is basically indentured servitude for a hundred years. Elena hunts those who have scurried away before they've completed their hundred years, basically contracting with the angels. But even though there's this whole guild of Hunters, and it's a pretty mundane thing to interact with angels, there's a kind of ethereal and menacing nature still surrounding archangels.

Anyway, I was sucked in right away. I really liked Elena. I like that she stood up for herself, I like that she didn't take Gabriel's shenanigans, even though he can basically destroy her immediately. I liked that she was a badass fighter and could defend herself. I appreciated that she had female friendship (although they weren't really fleshed out much). Gabriel was mysterious, and that's always intriguing and appealing. For the most part, he wasn't the stereotypical alpha male where he ordered her around, until you got to the point where they started being intimate. I just think they were well-matched. Also, who doesn't love wings and the idea of flying? It's such a common dream, and the way that Singh describes them...I was jealous of Elena at the end, when she got her wings.

I actually think that was my least favourite part of the book, is when Gabriel and Elena have some sort of cosmic connection which allows him to make her an angel (instead of a vampire). It's an interesting thing that it irritates me so much, because I'm not averse to "chosen one" type books. Maybe it's the idea of "chosen couples" or chosen pairing that really irks me.

The writing did get a bit repetitive. For example, one of the archangels is super old. Like, beyond anyone's reckoning, so that she's almost become another kind of entity. But I counted five times in the book where someone said that she was "no longer of this world" or something using almost exactly that wording. I always feel like when authors do that it's either poor editing, or they think their reader is an idiot and is not going to remember that particular thing I said before, so I'll just say it again. That was a bit frustrating, but not enough to deter me from wanting to read the other books in this series. But maybe I'll wait a couple of months until I'm not romance'd out...

Thoughts on Slave to Sensation, Psy-Changeling #1

Thoughts on Visions of Heat, Psy-Changeling #2

Thoughts on Kiss of Snow, Psy-Changeling #10 (Yes, I skipped. That's the only time in my memory, since I started reading at three, that I've done that with a series. But I'm not ashamed.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake—Sarah MacLean

"Lord Ralston," Callie said, eyes flashing with unbridled anger, "you appear to be laboring under the misapprehension that I am in some way beholden to your whims. Allow me to set you to rights. You may be able to direct your servants and your family as you see fit, but I fall into neither of those categories. And while I may be a plain, missish, passive creature, I am through with being ordered about by you. I am leaving." (223)

Part of Vaginal Fantasy Rewind

I had to take a little break from the VF Rewind books to read something else, because I was just getting so frustrated with every scenario—it was definitely a sign to pause for a minute.

But I'm back!

In this period romance, Calpurnia Hartwell is a spinster at twenty-eight (of course), who decides that she's finally going to stop focusing on her reputation and live a little. Callie creates a list of nine things that she wants to experience, and number one on the list is be kissed passionately. And she knows exactly who she wants to help her with that particular task—Gabriel, the Marquess of Ralston, who she's been in love with since he was kind to her during her first season in society, lo those ten years ago. Not above a little quid pro quo, Ralston concedes to her unconventional request if she agrees to help sponsor and train his newly found half-sister Juliana to be ready to be introduced to society. Callie's reputation and esteem are exactly what Ralston needs in order to help Juliana be accepted. What Ralston doesn't count on is that he will develop even stronger feelings for Callie, much to his chagrin considering his general aversion to the idea of love as a result of watching his parents relationship crash and burn.

Oh boy. This is definitely a bodice ripper, if ever I've encountered one. There were some very racy scenes, for sure. And just look at this image on the inside cover.

But beyond that, and despite the cheesy title, I actually liked it.

I've read a lot of other female protagonists in books like this that I didn't find nearly as charming as Callie. I appreciated that she called Ralston out when he was being demanding or dictatorial (although I did sometimes find her a bit more forgiving than I would have been). It was nice to see a kind of subtly feminist character, especially one who is just discovering what freedom means for her, and how freedom is different for men and women of her society. I think it made Callie more realistic that she wasn't entirely self-possessed all the time. She had doubts, and she didn't always hold herself in high esteem. Who among us has not suffered thus?

Ralston was jealous but not overly possessive. I didn't love him as a character, and was overall more compelled by Callie and Mariana and Juliana and Nick. But he was indulgent of Callie and seemed to understand her and appreciate her for all that she was, even though it wasn't what society deemed acceptable or what he had thought he would be interested in.

I do find the whole miscommunication or misunderstanding thing overdone in books like this. I mean, do people have miscommunications or misunderstandings that completely mess things up in real life? Absolutely. I just find they're rarely things as trivial—that are massively exaggerated—as they are in books like this, merely to create conflict. I think there are other avenues to creating conflict. Or maybe that's just wishful thinking, and I hope that people are more communicative and open with each other in real life.

Also, I don't know if this is true for all versions of this book, but the copy I got from the library has an excerpt for this book IN THE BOOK. Classic.

Moving right along! Eleven down, twenty-one to go!!
The ladies didn't talk much about Nine Rules...during the Hangout, since it was the alt pick. (Desperate Duchesses was the main.) But amusing as always, nonetheless.

Have you read any books in this genre with obstacles or conflicts that were completely inflated in what seemed a ridiculous manner? Or am I too optimistic about our communication skills these days?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Grimspace—Ann Aguirre

First time we talked about commitment, he said, "I don't believe in that, Siri. People stay true as long as they want to, regardless of spoken promises or legally imposed obligations. But we're good together, and I want to be with you as long as you want me back." (172)
Part of Vaginal Fantasy Rewind

Grimspace jumper Sirantha Jax has been accused of crashing a Corp ship on purpose, and is subsequently captured by the Corp in order to be interrogated about the incident. She remembers little about the crash, except that she lost her lover and pilot, Kai. Luckily, Sirantha is rescued by a motley crew who are hoping to counter the Corp's squadron of grimspace jumpers with their own independent academy of jumpers; they're counting on Sirantha to help them recruit and train the next generation. Of course, now that they've rescued Sirantha, she's considered a fugitive and the Corp is hot on their trail.

Grimspace was the alt pick during the month when Gabriel's Ghost was the main. It wasn't much of a contest, but this one definitely surpassed Gabriel's Ghost in my mind.

I don't know that I can even articulate what I found so compelling about this book, but I do know that I didn't even stop to write down potential quotes, barely even stopping to bend the edges of two pages with ones I liked. Usually I have a lot of options to choose from when I'm reading. Sometimes it seemed like things happened too quickly and came completely out of nowhere, but for the most part, the pacing suited me well as a reader.

I really like Sirantha. I found her relatable—minus the whole space travel thing, obvs—and completely separated from many stereotypical traits which are common in this genre, particularly with female protagonists. One of the most realistic points for me was when she got overwhelmed with the whole mission and just kind of took off. (I mean, she said good bye to the rest of the crew, but still.) I know that I've certainly been at points in my life where I can't deal with something, and the instinct and inclination to take a break from that particular situation can be overwhelming. She's a strong personality, but she can also feel the pressure, which kept her from falling into Mary Sue territory.

I probably would've had the same issue warming up to March as Sirantha did, even with the little that we know about Kai. The pullquote above is his, and it is clear he is a man after my own heart; that's almost exactly how I feel about relationships and commitment. (Although, to be fair, I am a commitment-phobe, so that may play a factor in my feelings...) But once she did warm up to March, I could see that, too. He was a defender but also allowed himself to be vulnerable and emotional, something that we don't normally see of typical alpha, aggressive males. That was a nice change of pace from some of my recent reads.

Loras' sacrifice was lovely and touching, as I'm sure it was meant to be. Even though I appreciate stories that reflect the reality of death—i.e. actual death versus magical resurrection—I secretly hope that Loras comes back somehow.

Although there wasn't a lot of exposition about the universe that these characters are living in, I didn't feel as though I had come into the series at a weird point, like I did with Gabriel's Ghost. The plot line was much more about the relationships of these characters, and their particular mission, that the setting of that was incidental; it almost could have just as easily taken place in a completely different setting entirely and been essentially the same story. Would I have liked to know a bit more of the minutae? Sure. I'm hoping that some of that will happen as the story continues in further books. But if that doesn't happen, I'll probably still continue reading the series.

One thing I didn't understand was how and/or why relationships seemed to form very quickly. I can understand to an extent how Sirantha and March had such raw emotional attachment, because Sirantha talked a bit about the connection between a jumper and their pilot. But then at the end, when Dina tells Sirantha that she's Dina's best friend...like, what? Only because you don't have any other friends, maybe.

I would love to learn more about the whole gang, and will probably pick up the next books in the series when I get a chance. But it's not a series that I feel immediately compelled to continue.

Alright, ten down!! Only 22 more to go.
The ladies didn't really talk much about Grimspace but they DID get very distracted by the Google Effects feature of Hangout during this month, which at that point was brand new. As Bonnie said, I was actually totally fine with the lack of sexy times (although they weren't completely absent) because I enjoyed the story and character building so much.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Only Woman in the Room—Eileen Pollack

I'm feeling conflicted about this book. I honestly think that if I'd had a more clear picture of what the book was about going into it I might not feel as disappointed as I do. Then again, I also probably wouldn't have requested or read it in the first place.

I'll start with the things that I liked, which was basically the final third of the book. I appreciated hearing from other women struggling to survive in the sciences, especially the voices of women who are undergrads or graduate or PhD students. These women are clearly right in the thick of it, and this section helped to legitimize the anecdotal "evidence" that comprised the first two thirds of the book.

As several other reviewers have noted on both LibraryThing and Goodreads, the title and the subtitle are incredibly misleading. First, the title implies that Pollack is the only woman in the room, which seems to imply a present tense, when in reality Pollack is not even in science anymore. Second, the subtitle makes it seem as though it's going to be a thorough, researched examination of why women have a hard time breaking into the boys' club of science, when two-thirds of the book is more an autobiography of Pollack.

Not only is the title misleading, but so is the description, at least to me. The description included in the Early Reviewers batch info was this: "Why are there still so few women in the hard sciences, mathematics, and engineering? Eileen Pollack sets out to answer this question by interviewing dozens of women, drawing on the latest research, and telling her own story about giving up on a promising science career after being one of the first women to graduate with a B.S. in physics from Yale. A personal investigation for women in the hard sciences, engineering, computer sciences, and mathematics—especially those who know firsthand the limitations of academic studies on women and science."

To me, the order of the list implies order of importance/focus. So when I saw that the description first said Pollack set out to answer the question by interviewing dozens of women, I thought that would be the primary focus. Overall, I probably would have respected the book and hypotheses included within the book if that had been the case. In my mind, if somebody is trying to answer the question to a systemic problem, the most helpful thing to do is to get as much data as possible in order to be able to adequately extrapolate a possible cause. This is especially true when Pollack's experiences—the majority of the content in the book—are nearly thirty years old, taking place during her time as an undergrad at Yale studying physics. How much can the world change in thirty years? Not to mention, the book seemed full of humblebrags interspersed with whining about how nobody recognized quite how special she was. For example, when she relates how she missed getting a perfect score on her AP exam in English because she misspelled boulevard, and then excuses herself by asking, "But where would I have seen the word? Liberty [her hometown] had avenues, and streets, but not a boulevard." Excuses, excuses. It's called studying. The nature of the book had me asking myself if I would think the same thing if the same words came from a male author; overwhelmingly, I found myself answering yes.

To some extent, I can understand where she's coming from. Societal structures are set up to create a system where, generally, men feel confident enough to not feel validation. But at some point, as a woman, you can't expect to always get praise and support and encouragement. Or you have to learn how to specifically ask for what you need, instead of assuming that it's not being given to you because it doesn't exist.

I actually found Pollack herself sexist and demeaning and stereotypical at times. She seems to tear down other women, most often those who decided to pursue Bachelor of Arts degrees, which Pollack deems as "cheating." Pollack seems to only remember the instructors who she had a "crush" on (her exact words, when she can't recall much about a particular professor because he was the only one she didn't have a crush on), which only serves to perpetuate the stereotypes about women in science.

It was frustrating to read this book, which may be taken by many at face value, as I initially took it; women obviously do experience this systemic sexism, as relayed in the last third of the book, but the often whiny, entitled autobiographical content that precedes it may turn many off to the legitimate struggles that women still face in the STEM fields today.

It was quite poignant to have finished reading this about the same time as the backlash after a Nobel-prize winning scientist, Sir Tim Hunt, remarked that women scientists don't belong in labs because three things happen: the men fall in love with the women, the women fall in love with the men, and when you criticize the women they cry. This is the perfect epitome of what I imagined the book was going to examine, on a large scale—rather than the incredibly micro scale that was offered. If you're interested, you can find out more about the backlash on social media following Sir Hunt's remarks here.

(I received this ARC through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program in exchange for a review.)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Eternal Craving—Nina Bangs

His lips moved hard over hers at the same time his tongue demanded unconditional surrender. He tasted of mint toothpaste and aroused male. Her favorites. (171)

Jenna Maloy travels to Philadelphia to check in on her sister, Kelly, who has been whisked away by her new husband. Jenna has some suspicions, since Kelly only knew her new man for less than a month before they got hitched. In Philadelphia, Jenna meets Al—one of the Eleven—who she finds out actually has the soul of an Allosaurus. Because of course he does. Kelly hasn't actually told her sister anything about the new "family" that she has joined, so Jenna makes all the same mistakes as Kelly and gets into even more dangerous situations. But wouldn't you know it, Jenna happens to be one of the "keys" to defeating the big bads who are trying to eliminate humankind. But the stakes are much higher for her when she realizes that she is falling for Al, dinosaur soul and all.

This is the second book in the Gods of the Night series. I read the first, Eternal Pleasure, for VF Rewind since I missed it the first time around. Coincidentally, VF is also reading this book this month. Huzzah!

And dinosaur tears, if it wasn't as superbly terrible as Eternal Pleasure. I mean, just look at that cover art. Guess what year this book was released based on the cover? If you guessed early '90s, as I did, you're wrong. It was 2009!

I literally have nothing to say about the characters. They were not distinct or interesting enough to want to pay any attention to, and one of the Eleven even died, but because the books are really about the "love" story, with the story story secondary, I felt no attachment to the one who died.

When Jenna first arrives, somebody is trying to tell her the cover story for the group being in Philly, and then this happens: "Yeah, right. Jenna's bullshit hat was planted firmly on her head." (28) I'm sorry, what? Her bullshit hat? I hope that is a hat literally made of bull shit, because I will accept nothing less.

And the book is full to the brim of nuggets just like that.

Like this one, when they finally get down to the intimate moments and Al goes to enter her. "Nudging wasn't needed, because the door was wide open and the welcome mat already spread out." (266) SEXY. Now, I'm all for the use of metaphor and simile and hyperbole as writing devices, especially since that's their purpose. This just doesn't seem the right moment to utilize a metaphor. Any time in the other 250 pages when action is taking place or exposition is happening.

This sequel had the added benefit of being super repetitive, which I didn't notice in the first one. There were even points where literally the exact same words were used in the same order mere pages later, including the concept that Jenna and Al and his dinosaur soul would make an "uncomfortable threesome." Ah, just savor that mental image for a moment. I don't know why I expected the writing to be better than that, considering all of the evidence to the contrary.

But considering the alt for this month in VagFan is a 17-page ebook that is ACTUAL dinosaur erotica (like, dinosaur entering cavewoman), this sadly might be the better of the two...

Eternal Pleasure—Nina Bangs

As he stepped onto the balcony, she silently chanted the rules of the civilized: Thou shalt not make love on a balcony even if it's thirty-something stories up because someone might see you. Thou salt not make love with a dinosaur no matter how sexy he is. Thou shalt not make love on a balcony when a werewolf is in the room, even if said werewolf is asleep. (148)
Part of Vaginal Fantasy Rewind

Do you love Ocean's Eleven? Ever wanted to read a version comprised of godlike men who have the souls of dinosaurs? Then this is the book for you! Eternal Pleasure is the first in the Gods of the Night series by Nina Bangs. (A pseudonym, in case you hadn't realized.) The Eleven have had their original dinosaur souls reinstalled in (all-male) bodies in order to save the human race from certain destruction. Their evil counterparts are trying to convene supernatural beings city by city to come to the dark side, and the leader of the Eleven, Fin, has had visions of "keys" who can defeat them. I'll give you three guesses what, or rather who, those "keys" are. The first of those keys is Kelly Maloy, who is working as a driver for the Eleven and picks Ty up from the airport with his newly minted old soul. (Once again, three guesses as to which dinosaur soul Ty contains.) Kelly happens to catch a glimpse of Ty's soul, which emerges from him as a kind of translucent offensive and defensive shell when he's engaged in a fight, and realizes she's getting more than she bargained for with the whole job. As the gang learns more about their mission, Kelly and Ty get closer. Much closer. Like, the closest two people can be.

The sequel to this, Eternal Craving, is the main for this month of Vaginal Fantasy—in honor of the release of Jurassic World—so it seemed the perfect time to read this one next in my VF Rewind. It was kind of a two-fer.

This book is such a gem. I just don't even know where to start. Maybe with the fact that most of us don't need to remind ourselves not to make love with a dinosaur, as our female protagonist does in the above pullquote.

There was little to no actual character development. Ty is a tyrannosaur, Kelly is a music student who is working as a driver to try and secure some extra dough for when she goes back to school. He is driven by his dinosaur urges, because he's not really used to his human body yet. She gets swept up into the nonsense because all of the Eleven are basically irresistible Adonises. He doesn't have a lot of backstory to learn because his soul has been on ice for 65 million years, and before that he was a dinosaur. She has the minimal backstory, where we find out she in fact has a mom and a dad and even a sister (who becomes the female lead in Eternal Craving, of course). Oh, and she plays music. Certainly all that you could ever need or want to know about either of them.

Here's a list, though certainly not comprehensive, of the absolutely absurd happenings.

  • In addition to the reincarnated dinos, there are werewolves, vampires, sorcerers, ghouls, demons, fae, and changelings. The book is 308 pages long. This is an overload.
  • The leader of the Eleven has given them all super creative names. Like Ty for a tyrannosaur. Or Al for an allosaurus. Or Utah and Rap and Tor for three brothers who are...shocker, Utahraptors!
  • The leader also gave them all a Chuck-like upload once their souls were in the new body models in order to update them on the essentials of the mission and what they missed for the previous eons. Oh, and he picked really hot bodies for them all so that they wouldn't struggle to catch women and could thus be focused on the big picture because their basic needs would be met. Because he's a thoughtful guy like that.
  • The cover story for all of these super hot men needing drivers and congregating together is that they're missionaries. Of course.
  • One of the other human drivers—because obviously the dinos can't drive themselves, they don't have the knowledge for that, having been nonexistent for millions of years—gets turned into a werewolf.
  • Kelly is a key because her brain waves are music. They have to be mapped, and then translated into a music score, which she then has to play on her flute in order to defeat one of the big bads. But she actually doesn't have her flute when the time comes, so she instead just sings it. Like, WHAT?! In a less insanity-laden book, this might have been an interesting idea, but...
  • While Kelly is doing her "key" thing, Fin (the leader of the Eleven) is opening a hole in the earth, causing the Astrodome to implode with the big bad inside, and closing the earth back over the rubble.

When Kelly decides that she loves Ty and that she wants to stay with him, Fin reveals to her the birds and the bees of being with one of the Eleven. You see, when a man (er...dinosaur) and a woman love each other very much, the woman can magically penetrate the weird soul projection that the man creates, walking through it to his corporeal human body, simultaneously being shown the entirety of his 200 million year history. And then she becomes immortal. Because obvs.

Surprisingly enough, apparently Nina Bangs' publishers decided that they didn't want to continue with the series after book three, so I will never know more about Fin or Seir (Fin's brother? who is a demon?), who are really the only characters that I found compelling and non-stereotypical at all.

Read my thoughts on the sequel, Eternal Craving. You can also read about my Vaginal Fantasy Rewind.

Even though the book was gloriously awful, the Vag Fan conversation about it was one of my favourites in memory. It's true that the first thing that came into my mind when we learned that Fin's hair was silver (not grey, not white, but actually shiny silver) was tinsel; whether that was because I remembered this Hangout or because that's the first shiny silver thing that popped into my head we'll probably never know.

If you found out you were a reincarnated dino soul, which dinosaur would you want your soul to have been? I think I'd probably go with triceratops, but I'm open to other ideas.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

This Is What Happy Looks Like—Jennifer E. Smith

If someone had handed him a script with this exact story line, he'd have told them it was completely unrealistic. (44)

I recently read The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith and made a comment about how I appreciated the consistent cover art of her books, and how I had seen the cover of This is What Happy Looks Like. Then I remembered where I had seen the cover: on my own bookshelf. One of the problems I have as a bibliophile is that sometimes I forget which books I own, which books I got from the library, which books I knew that I wanted to get at some point but haven't yet; it all sort of blends together at some point. I've tried to sort that all out by inventorying them and putting them on sites like LibraryThing and Goodreads, but it still happens occasionally.

I digress.

When Ellie receives an email clearly not meant for her, she responds to the sender to let them know they've got the wrong email address and they start corresponding. Little does she know the sender is Graham Larkin, famous teenage movie star. Also unbeknownst to Ellie, Graham arranges for the movie he's filming to shoot on location in Ellie's hometown.

I actually liked this one better than The Geography of You and Me (henceforth known as TGOYAM). At least once I got past the inanity of the whole idea. The characters even acknowledged it (see above pullquote). Graham accidentally emails Ellie when he's trying to email his pigsitter. (He has a pet pig called Wilbur, obvs.) Never mind how that's unlikely to happen because, these days, when you've emailed someone once, their email address autofills when you start a new message to them. After this chance email from Graham—who she doesn't know is Graham—Ellie continues to converse with this stranger. Internet Safety 101, girl. Then Graham, not doing any more investigating into this person than the conversation they're having via email, convinces the crew of his movie to film in her small, sleepy Maine town. Never mind how a 16-year-old actor has no impact whatsoever on the decisions of where location filming occurs. Graham trusts that the person on the other end of the email chain is actually the teenage girl they purport to be, rather than a complete Catfish situation. So, yeah, it's a completely ridiculous premise, but beyond that...

I did think that Ellie could be a bit irksome at times. When she's struggling to figure out how to pay, she thinks about perhaps just not going. "But she dreaded having to give up her spot in the course to some trust-fund kid who'd spent her summer lying by the pool at a country club." (59) That's pretty presumptuous. Maybe it's another kid just like her who is waiting anxiously for a spot to open up.

I also really liked the complicated dynamics between the lead characters: Ellie as the teen girl next door, Graham as the newly-rich teen movie star, how their lives are so similar in so many ways, and so different in many others. Ellie's backstory made the story more compelling and added more depth to her than either of the characters in TGOYAM, and maybe even more than I remember of the characters in her other book, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. A cute story with a cute couple. Just cute.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Daughter of Smoke and Bone—Laini Taylor

For the way loneliness is worse when you return to it after a reprieve—like the soul's version of putting on a wet bathing suit, clammy and miserable. (21)
"I don't know many rules to live by," he'd said. "But here's one. It's simple. Don't put anything unnecessary into yourself. No poisons or chemicals, no fumes or smoke or alcohol, no sharp objects, no inessential needles—drug or tattoo—and...no inessential penises, either."
"Inessential penises?" Karou had repeated, delighted with the phrase in spite of her grief. "Is there any such thing as an essential one?"
"When an essential one comes along, you'll know," he'd replied. (22)
Part of Vaginal Fantasy Rewind

I skipped ahead quite a bit in my rewind for this one, because I was looking for something immediately available from my library via ebook while I was out of town and this was the first one I found. Boy am I glad I skipped ahead, because I LOVED this one. I'd been not impressed with several books I'd read in a row, so I really needed something like this.

Karou is just a normal teenager living in Prague. Well, normal except that she can make wishes and travel through doorways to other cities and has unconventional friends. But she's always felt that something is missing. Suddenly, something happens that separates her from the entire life that she's known and all of the beings who have been her family. She tries to find her family, all while dealing with a stalker angel who can't seem to leave her alone. She has no idea of the scope of what she will uncover in the process.

Guys, I loved this book. LOVED. I loved this book so much, I want to take it out behind the middle school and get it pregnant. (That's a 30 Rock joke, if you didn't know.) The past few books that I've really liked, I've gobbled up the proceeding books in the series almost immediately. This one I'm actually waiting to read the next book because I don't want the story to be over so soon.

The writing was superb. There were some passages that I just stopped and re-read a few times because I liked them so much. Like this description of Prague:
The streets of Prague were a fantasia scarcely touched by the twenty-first century—or the twentieth or nineteenth for that matter. It was a city of alchemists and dreamers, its medieval cobbles once trod by golems, mystics, invading armies. Tall houses glowed goldenrod and carmine and eggshell blue, embellished with Rococo plasterwork and capped in roofs of uniform red. Baroque cupolas were the soft green of antique copper, and Gothic steeples stood ready to impale fallen angels. The wind carried the memory of magic, revolution, violins, and the cobbled lanes meandered like creeks. Thugs wore Mozart wigs and pushed chamber music on street corners, and marionettes hung in windows, making the whole city seem like a theater with unseen puppeteers crouched behind velvet. (24)
So beautiful.

The worldbuilding was so intricate and complex, weaving basically the world that we know with an alternate world full of hybrid beasts fighting wars against angels, where souls can be harvested and reinstalled in new bodies constructed from strands of teeth. I mean, where does this stuff even come from? Some books you read, and you think, "I could have come up with this" or "this is fine, but it's already been done before." This was something completely different from anything I've read, and I've read a lot.

Karou was everything that I want to be. She was badass, she had trained in martial arts so she could defend herself, she speaks over twenty languages as a result of wishes, she can make wishes to turn her hair blue and to add tattoos to her collection and to fly. She's snarky and smartassy in all the right places. She can go into Brimstone's shop and walk out the same door in a completely new location. Her small flat in Prague had an entire wall dedicated to books. Basically, I want to be her. Does all of that perfection make her a bit of a Mary Sue? Well, maybe. If so I do not care.

Akiva was meh for me. I didn't find him irresistible as a male lead, and didn't find myself caring much about his backstory or why he felt such a driving need to follow Karou around. I really wanted to know more about Brimstone and Issa and Kishmish and the other entities who had been a part of Karou's life and also knew about Madrigal as well.

I had literally no idea what was going on through most of the book, in absolutely the best, most intriguing way. Sometimes the data dumps could be a bit much, but other than that, I felt compelled to keep reading to figure out all of the mysteries surrounding Karou. Although it was a bit jarring, I actually found that I liked the essential split of the book when we find out what Karou's history is, and then a kind of flashback to that history. I actually thought the construction was superb, with the gradual reveals, and with one piece of information imparted to the reader, substituted by three more questions.

My one complaint is that I actually could have done completely without the romance. I was so in love with the world and lore that Taylor created, I knew that a romance would get in the way of my further exploration of those facets. I was really interested until it seemed like it was going to be a soul mate, two halves to a whole type thing. Once again, I don't love those whole "fated for each other" kind of romances. Granted, this one was a bit of a twist in that they had actually been together in Karou's previous life as Madrigal. And Karou's feeling of being incomplete was more about not remembering her past, rather than necessarily about not remembering her love for Akiva. But when you get right down to it, it ended up being about them and their crazy love, as exemplified in this quote: And yet, something tie them together stronger than any of that, something with the power to conduct her blood and breath like a symphony, so that anything she did to fight against it felt like discord, like disharmony with her self. (234) I want to read more about Karou/Madrigal and her search for Brimstone and his compatriots rather than the love story, so I'm hoping that's what's on the docket next.

I both cannot wait and am holding out as long as possible to continue reading in this series.
The ladies got WAY off track during this Hangout, but in the most delightful way. The only thing I really remember about this particular one from the first time watching it was their discussion about what animal attributes they would want if they were allowed to pick, like a revenant in the book.

I agree with their opening thoughts, and was pleased that everyone seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. It always feels gratifying to not be alone in one's opinion.

Monday, June 8, 2015

A Kiss at Midnight—Eloisa James

Talking to her stepmother, to Kate's mind, was like peeing in a coal-black outhouse. You had no idea what might come up, but you knew you wouldn't like it. (7)

In this fractured fairy tale version of Cinderella, Kate Daltry is cajoled into disguising herself as her younger stepsister, Victoria. Victoria has recently been bitten in the face by one of her tiny dogs, at exactly the same time she's meant to accompany her fiance Algernon to meet his uncle Gabriel, a prince, in order to get permission for them to actually get married. But Victoria can't possibly meet her fiance's uncle with the dog bite so Kate reluctantly agrees to go in her stead and pretend to be her. Little does Kate know what kind of shenanigans she'll get herself into, with both her rediscovered godmother and Gabriel, soon to be Prince of her heart. Even after revealing her true identity to Gabriel, she knows that they can never be together because he is a prince and she is just a poor orphan. Not to mention the fact that he's already engaged.

The VagFan ladies—especially Kiala—have talked about Eloisa James a lot, so I looked to see which ebooks of hers might be available through my local library and this was the only one. I am getting ready to read Desperate Duchesses for my VF Rewind, but got this one a few weeks before I even started that, so I went through it first.

I actually really liked it. Number one—and I've said it before—I love fractured fairy tales. Gaga for them. Second, the whole masquerading as someone else was very Shakespearean, although at least here Gabriel realized that Kate couldn't be who she was pretending to be. I thought Kate and Gabriel were very well matched. They were both witty and quick, and she actually challenged him when he tried to push her. Here's an example of that:
"It may be rubbish to you," Kate said fiercely. "But I told you my reasons and you—you simply rode over them roughshod, because you think that anything you do is acceptable."
He blinked at her words, sinking in.
"Don't you?" she demanded. "In your narrow, arrogant little world, you can snatch a woman's wig simply because you want to, and you could tear off butterfly's wings too, no doubt, and father children on milkmaids, and—"
"For Christ's sake," Gabriel said. "How did we get from wigs to milkmaids and butterflies.?"
"It's all about you," she said, glaring at him. (190)
I appreciated that she called him out on his privilege. Not a lot of heroines do that in lady lit, and especially not in period lady lit. There was also a point at which he went off to deal with an issue and asked her to stay where she was, and she responds by saying, "Sod that," and walking in the opposite direction. A girl after my own heart. I'm contrary too.

I LOVED Henry, Kate's godmother. She was the perfect blend of snark and godmotherly advice and matronly inappropriateness. It seemed a little farfetched to me that she would have allowed so long to pass without being around Kate as her godmother, but it didn't make me pause long because I was excited to keep reading.

This book was one in a long series of ones that I read back to back that had male leads who had shoulder-length luscious hair. Like I said in my review of Visions of Heat, I love a shaggy man as much as the next girl, but there just aren't that many men that look good with long locks.

I didn't care for the constant emphasis on how unattractive Kate was, in general and in relation to her sister. It seemed unnecessary.

But the two big issues I had with it were 1) the whole "I'm turning twenty four in a few weeks and then I'll officially be over the hill." For real, that's not that old. Even in the Regency era. It made me feel, as a twenty seven year old single woman, like I should just pack it in right now. And 2) the fairy tale tongue-in-cheek references. At first it was cute that they were playing it up and mentioning fairy tales, but at a certain point, I thought to myself, "I GET IT! Stop hitting me over the head with the fairy tale thing!"

Despite those few irritations, I recommend it, and am looking forward to reading more in this series and more from Eloisa James.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Visions of Heat—Nalini Singh

How old were you when they started training you?" he asked his Psy. He'd found her first. Therefore, she was his. It was the cat talking and Vaughn didn't feel like arguing. (46)

I have to use the description of this book straight from its Goodreads page, because it is gold. Especially the last sentence. "Used to cold silence, Faith NightStar is suddenly being tormented by dark visions of blood and murder. A bad sign for anyone, but worse for Faith, an F-Psy with the highly sought after ability to predict the future. Then the visions show her something even more dangerous - aching need & exquisite pleasure." Faith NightStar, a new Psy character for the audience, pursues Sascha to try and find out how she managed to escape from the Psy, and meets Vaughn, who we met in Slave to Sensation. Pretty much insta-lust for him, and immediate possessiveness. Faith takes a bit more time getting into the relationship because of the typical Psy obstacles of not experiencing feelings. But when she finally gives in, look out.

This is the second in the Psy-Changeling series, the first of which—Slave to Sensation—was the third-ever Vaginal Fantasy read. I don't know why I thought that this one would be better than the first one. It wasn't. If anything, it had more of the same issues I had with the first book, most notably for me the domination and covetousness from the male lead (see above pullquote). I understand that they're Changelings, which means they're basically part animal, which means they feel the inherent desire to mark their territory and defend it; I think it's the idea that a person becomes their "territory" to be defended that rankles me.

In addition to that, perhaps my biggest problem with Vaughn was that he didn't respect Faith's boundaries at all. She asked him not to touch her because it was sensory overload, and he presumed to know what was best for her and what she could handle, even though he'd met her five minutes before. I read this line, "He paused, 'You're stronger than this.'" (58) and noted, "Dude you've known her for three seconds and you know absolutely nothing about her. It's not even like she knew Sascha before and you've heard a lot about her and have made these determinations. She's a complete stranger to you." This lack of respect for Faith's limits even manifests in a moment where she's basically begging him to leave her alone or she's going to have a seizure, and he doesn't, and she proceeds to indeed have a seizure. You would think Vaughn would learn from that, but he doesn't. He continues to push her. It's all well and good to have a partner who challenges you to be better, but if that challenge comes in the form of potentially life-threatening behavior, it may be time to rethink that partnership.

Faith was a bit Mary Sue for me. She can see the future, and she also has a high degree of technical ability—including knowing how to hot-wire a car—because she's been so isolated and had to fill up her time with something. I noted this passage, after Faith has escaped the compound where they'd kept her alone for most of her life and comes upon a lonely car: "She opened the door and slid in. Bending forward, she pulled open the control panel in order to bypass the computronic security. This wasn't something her ability had told her she'd need—it was a hobby, something that kept her mind occupied in the hours she spent alone. As a result, she could bypass most computronic hardware in seconds." (27) Of course she could. Of course.

I noticed during this book the trend with romance books that male leads have Fabio-like hair. I mean, that was all fine and good in the 80s and early 90s, but I just don't know that many men who can rock shoulder-length hair. It seemed like this book, and the three books I read on either end of it all had male leads with long hair. I like a shaggy man as much as the next girl, but come on.

I also didn't really understand why Singh would have done back-to-back female Psy/male Changeling storylines. There are obviously lots of romantic iterations possible using the characters she introduced in Slave to Sensation, but because they were essentially the same obstacles on the female end and animal possessiveness on the male end, I felt kind of bored.

One thing I actually really enjoy about these books is the world and the development of it. Singh did a lot more of that in this book, as we find out more about types of Psy who are different from Sascha (the female protagonist in Slave to Sensation). In addition to learning more about Faith and her future-seeing abilities, we also got to see more of the political machinations present within the Psy community, which was probably the most interesting part for me. I'd actually read a whole book focused on that without romance, but I imagine that the chances that will actually happen are slim.

I never do this, because I'm a completionist and compulsive about series, but I think I'm going to skip to number ten in the series. It's about Hawke and Sienna, and they were the couple I most wanted to see more from after Slave to Sensation. Then maybe go back and read the other ones. But maybe not. Or maybe. I don't know. They only take a few hours to read each, so I guess I just have to decide if the payoff of the romance scenes are enough to counterbalance how abysmally I feel about everything else. I am going to check out Nalini Singh's Guild Hunter series, because Felicia Day mentioned in the VagFan video about Slave to Sensation that it is better. Fingers crossed.