December 11, 2010

Stone Kissed by Keri Stevens

Stone Kissed

Keri Stevens

Grade: D

The story's blurb:

When Delia Forrest talks to statues, they talk back. She is, after all, the last of the Steward witches.

After an arsonist torches her ancestral home with her estranged father still inside, Delia is forced to sell the estate to pay his medical bills. Her childhood crush, Grant Wolverton, makes a handsome offer for Steward House, vowing to return it to its former glory. Delia agrees, as long as he’ll allow her to oversee the restoration.

Working so closely with Grant, Delia finds it difficult to hide her unique talent—especially when their growing passion fuels her abilities.

But someone else lusts after both her man and the raw power contained in the Steward land. Soon, Delia finds herself fighting not just for Grant’s love, but for both their lives...

The blurb for Stevens' debut appealed to me, partly because I've long been a fan of the ancient Greek Pygmalian myth. Again, though - and I feel rather like a broken record for trotting this complaint out so very often - the story's execution did not come close to meeting its promise. Why? I just couldn't get behind the idea of a man loving a woman he believes is either a thief or delusional. Frankly, it was easier to get past the idea of his loving a thief because I've read and enjoyed romances with sticky-fingered heroines. But falling in love with a nut and believing that by living in an isolated part of Virginia and maintaining a low profile, he can keep her craziness contained, seemed delusional to me. Add to that the idea that he'll have children with her and I was thoroughly creeped out. One does not perpetuate the genetics of mental illness, particularly when it occurs on both sides of the family tree. So, ew.

And that's not all...the author tells us Grant and Delia are in love, but outside of an intense physical response to one another, she doesn't show it, or prove it. Again, the falling in love with a nut-job impinges upon this, but not only from Grant's side. Delia spends the vast majority of the story angry with Grant - because he's single-minded in taking her legacy away from her and because he is high-handed - and sad because he doesn't believe that she can communicate with statues. They are on a most uneven footing because of many things - money, status, but mostly power. The author tries to even things out by ceding emotional control of the relationship to Delia, but she's too insecure about herself for this to work.

As far as the villainous sub-plot, I actually liked it, both for the graphic depiction of violence, and the over-the-top evil. Stevens demonstrates a strong ability to write this sort of material, which at moments reminded me of Anne Rice in Queen of the Damned and Pandora, which is high praise indeed. And as a result, rather than earning an F, the story instead earns a D.

Stone Kissed will be published late in the month; I read an advance copy provided by the publisher.


December 10, 2010

About to Make a Life Change

Almost a year ago I accompanied my daughter on her college interviews. When asked what she planned to study, she chose a predictable major because it was the safe answer. She and I had many a discussion about using college to explore all possibilities, and I mentioned that had I to do it all over again, I would have chosen a different path entirely. I am happy to report that when it came time to declare her major recently, she followed my advice; at least for now she is a philosophy major.

Two careers and a job later, as a result of those discussions, I realized I have been a frustrated librarian for most of my life. As a life-long “bookie,” I wish I had known about library science when I was in college, earning a B.S. in Political Science, then a Master’s in Public Administration, so that I could have focused on reading and sharing my love for reading and gaining knowledge with others. That’s not to say my first two careers didn’t bring unwanted skills because both in municipal management and as the publisher of a book-related website I’ve gained skills that will no doubt ease my transition back into academia and onto a new career path.

My first career, as a collections manager for the City of Dallas, taught me how to manage people under considerable pressures from citizens and elected officials, enhanced my writing skills, and introduced me to both mainframe and personal computers at a time when the latter was a brand new innovation. My husband and I were the first people we knew with a personal computer, and I was one of the “go-to” staff for other managers in my department when it came to setting up computerized spreadsheets; I also learned how to set up rudimentary databases, all on a computer I’d rescued from the trash-bin after another department with a bigger budget got new computers.

My second career, as the founder in 1997 and publisher of an extremely popular book-related website (All About Romance), enhanced those management skills – of approximately 20 volunteer staff world-wide at any given time - and brought on a new set of self-taught skills, including html and graphics/flash design. I learned how to build web pages, first from hand and later with an html editor, set up templates for others to use, and created advertising campaigns for authors, publishers, and other advertisers. It was trial by fire to learn how to handle an entirely different kind of “customer” through interaction with thousands of readers who visited the site on a daily basis, and how to write, not for city managers and an elected council, but in an entertaining way for our readers. I established and moderated forums during a time when few “home-grown” sites were interactive, and as the site grew to include more than 5,000 reviews, hired a company to help me create a complex database with a dozen search options. Setting up and maintaining internal controls, multiple levels of editing, as well as dealing with difficult artistic personalities and conducting daily statistical analysis challenged my brain in entirely new ways, all because of the breadth and depth of the site’s original content, which included commentary, polls both small and large, Reader’s Advisory lists, dozens of “special title listings” focusing on specific premises and/or character types for readers, author interviews, and nearly a hundred articles on history (primarily European) for an Historical Cheat Sheet.

Early on I also began to review for Publishers Weekly magazine. I continue that part-time position for two editors – mass market and hardcover fiction – thirteen years and close to 300 reviews later, honing my skills in a third, “staff” type of writing less theatrical and more disciplined than my online writing.

Toward the end of 2008 I left All About Romance. The site continues, better than ever, with several of my former staff in charge. After more than a decade I needed to leave my study and get back into the world, so I started working part time at a local Barnes and Noble. I’m the store’s number one hand-seller because there is little I love more than matching books to people, and I’m totally devoted to giving the best service to every single customer I encounter. Recently I’ve become part of the store’s Nook team, not only because I’ve been reading digitally since before e-book devices went wireless, but because I love technology and new challenges.

Everything I’ve learned and gained confidence in – management, writing, research, organizing data, serving customers, adjusting to changing technologies and taking full advantage of them, and translating a love of reading into a vocation – led me to discover my desire to become a librarian. Although it’s a scary prospect to consider going back to school and a new career, I’m a firm believer that it’s never too late to start something new, and I look forward to the challenge of obtaining a second Master’s degree and beginning the next phase in my life.

I wrote and submitted that essay last month to the College of Information at the University of North Texas and the Department of Library and Information Sciences, along with letters of recommendation and my undergraduate and graduate school transcripts. Half an hour ago I received my acceptance and plan to begin my coursework for a Master's in Library Science in January.


December 9, 2010

Torn by K.D. King


K.D. King

Grade: C

The story's blurb:

Anaria Okam breathes war. She lives for vengeance. Wekari, an enemy planet, took the most precious thing from her –her mother. Though her mother lives in body, she is broken in spirit. Since the time Anaria could understand words, her father, ruler of the planet Loden, instilled in her the need to seek vengeance and destroy Wekari.

While trading goods on the neutral planet of Atlzo she spots the enemy, Marshall Kalil Umba, leader of the Wekarian armies. Seizing an opportunity, she follows him. As she gets close to him, her body lights with need. Then the embers of desire cause her whole body to glow.

Kalil, of the space ship Destruction has finally found his mate. He realizes she is a warrior from the enemy planet of Loden. He captures her. Now he must make her trust him, love him, and leave everything she has ever known.

The premise of K.D. King's SF/Erotic short story, Torn, intrigued me: High-born enemies of an intergalactic war glow in each other's presence, indicating they are mates. The hero captures the heroine, intent on forging her trust and her love, particularly after he brings her to his home planet so that she may learn the truth about the feud.

If only the execution worked as well as that thumbnail sketch. Unfortunately, the author fails to connect the story's preface with the rest of the story. While I picked up the author's clues and realized that what the heroine believed about her life and family was predicated on a lie, I remained unable to connect the dots between the preface and the lie, and as a result, was as shocked as the heroine was, later on, when reality was revealed. My guess is that the author intended otherwise, but a lack of precision in her writing resulted in an unintended, unwanted result.

The romance between hero and heroine worked far better, particularly toward the end when the trust issue turned on its head, but there was nothing memorable about the story's erotic component. On balance, then, I'm not at all torn about Torn, an average read at best.

Torn was published earlier this month by Red Sage.I read a digital copy provided by the publisher, but it does not appear to be available for Kindle at Amazon.


Life, Liberty, & the Pursuit of Sausages by Tom Holt

Life, Liberty, & the Pursuit of Sausages

Tom Holt

Grade: C+

When I saw the following snippet for Tom Holt's Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Sausages on NetGalley last month, I requested a copy for my Kindle:

Polly is a real estate solicitor. She is also losing her mind. Someone keeps drinking her coffee. And talking to her clients. And doing her job. And when she goes to the dry cleaner's to pick up her dress for the party, it's not there. Not the dress - the dry cleaner's.

And then there are the chickens who think they are people. Something strange is definitely going on - and it's going to take more than a magical ring to sort it out.

From one of the funniest voices in comic fiction today comes a hilarious tale of pigs and parallel worlds.

I read it over the weekend, and while at times I flashed to Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth, Christopher Moore's Fluke, and the claymation movie Chicken Run - all of which allowed me as an adult to re-experience sheer child-like wonderment - at other times I got lost in a book that featured one too many sub-threads and one moment in the narrative for which there was no logical rationale. Even absurdist fiction, after all, follows a logic of its own, and because Holt otherwise adhered to his own warped premise so well, the one time he failed to do so stuck out like a sore thumb.

Because so many sub-threads make up Holt's book - and because it won't be released until February, 2011 - I don't feel comfortable revealing much about the plot. Polly, a lawyer, believes she must be losing her mind; somebody's drinking her coffee, taking care of items in her files, and then her dry cleaner disappears as though it never existed. She seeks advice from her jingle-creating brother, who deduces, using thoroughly modern means, that magic exists in the world after he wishes his upstairs neighbor away. He and his sister try to make sense of a world gone run more and more amok, discovering along the way an entire "underground" economy devoted to fixing this sort of craziness.

How it all relates to the sow who went out into the world determined to discover the fate of her twelve piglets is something that is revealed only after the introduction of a series of anomalies and strange characters. Because unlike Juster's classic this is a story for adults and not children, readers will need to stay on top of their game throughout the read. Even if they do, though, they may conclude that Holt spun out his story slightly too far, with one too many sub-threads, and with one plot point involving a phantom train that doesn't track back logically (no pun intended).

Holt deserves major kudos for his imagination and often lively story-telling, but I believe his cleverness got the best of him more than once. As a result, the sum of the book's strongest parts do not add up to as strong a whole, which disappointed me. I'm fairly certain others will enjoy Life, Liberty, & the Pursuit of Sausages more than I did, but I'd recommend Fluke (or any number of other Christopher Moore novels)...or The Phantom Tollbooth before recommending this one.

Life, Liberty, & the Pursuit of Sausages will be published in February; I read an advance copy provided by the publisher.


December 5, 2010

Possession in Death by J.D. Robb

Possession in Death as part of The Other Side anthology

J.D. Robb

Grade: C+

As I wrote in my Amazon review of Indulgence in Death, I believe that J.D. Robb is at the tipping point in her long-running In Death series. Reading Possession in Death did nothing to dissuade me from that belief. Those who prefer the procedural aspect of the series, or Eve Dallas' occasional forays into the paranormal, may enjoy this one better than I did. For me, though, the lack of interplay between Eve and her intimate circle of friends, as well as the author's failure to exploit the push me/pull you connection between Eve as cop and Roarke as ex-criminal caused the book to fall relatively flat for me. There was even a moment when I waited for Roarke to tell Eve she was insulting him because she relied on him to think like a cop...I'm still waiting, sad to say.

Even so, I found the whodunit component of the story compelling, which is why the story earns a C+ rather than a straight C. I still plan to give Robb one last shot with her next full-length book in the series, but if Treachery in Death fails to fully engage my imagination, I think I'm giving up on the In Death series.

I have no plans to read the remainder of The Other Side anthology, so when I link here from Goodreads, it'll be from the audio version of this short story on its own as the print version of this short story is not a stand-alone.


December 2, 2010

Griftopia by Matt Taibbi

Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America

Matt Taibbi

Grade: B+

"Follow the money" has long been my mantra, and Matt Taibbi's cogent reporting does the best job describing various economic crises of the last fifteen years of any that I've read, peeling away each level of complexity in a way that the layman reader can easily understand our world turned upside down as a result of greedy financiers and their collusion with the government. He details the creation and bursting of the bubble, the 2004 energy crisis, and the 2008 economic collapse, and like the prosecutor in a Mafia trial, lays out a scathing indictment of Wall Street and those who set monetary policy in the U.S., starting with Alan Greenspan, whose Ayn Randian views continue to pervade economic policy long after her death in the early 1980s.

Read this Amazon Vine review in its entirety at Amazon.