Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Blue Castle: Review

Book: The Blue Castle
Author: L.M. Montgomery
Series: Stand Alone
Category: Romance, 1920's
Sensuality: Kisses

The Blue Castle had been sitting, unread, on my book shelf for close to a year before I finally cracked it open. Had I known what a beautiful story awaited me between the covers, I would have read it a long time ago.

Valancy Stirling has just reached her 29th birthday and has nothing to show for the years she has lived. She is unmarried, lives with her widowed mother and meddlesome cousin, bows to the whims of her overbearing extended family, and suffers a life of monotony. Her only retreat is into the day dreams of her Blue Castle, a place where Valancy is something more than dutiful daughter, cousin, niece, where she is happy and full of life, and she always has a beau, though his face has changed over the years. But outside of her Blue Castle dreams, Valancy mutely accepts that she will be alone forever and doesn't push her own boundaries, out of fear of upsetting her family.

Then her whole life suddenly changes when it rains on the day that Valancy is supposed to attend her Aunt's engagement picnic. This natural occurrence leads to a dramatic shift in Valancy's life. She decides to shirk responsibility to her clan and throw caution to the wind. Her actions shock her family and lead Valancy into a life that she had only dreamed of.

To say I loved this book would be putting it lightly. The Blue Castle was awesome! In the beginning chapters I was a little more than upset with Valancy for letting everyone around her treat her so badly. It is not that she is abused, but she is continually taken for granted, and looked at as a sort of blot on the family since she has never managed to find a man. Valancy has to deal with everyone fawning over her pretty cousin Olive, she has to laugh at her uncle's bad jokes, she must endure her mothers strict demands that are stifling the life out of Valancy, she must answer to a nickname that she hates but her family refuses to quit calling her by... When Valancy finally takes control of her life and says what she is really thinking to her family members, I cheered her on. Her family was left dumbfounded by this odd change in Valancy. "She's dippy--I tell you she's gone dippy," Her uncle declares at one point.

Valancy's family is left unsure of whether to commit her or to just wait it out and pray that she would come to her senses. Meanwhile, Valancy has gone off and started living. She leaves her mother's home for the first time, going to live with the town drunk and his dying daughter. She falls in love with the town mystery man, Barney Snaith, who is whispered to be every sort of evil known to man kind. He was the one main character that the reader never gets in the head of, so he is left a little ambiguous, but he is just so great. Barney is a woodsman who takes great pleasure in time spent outside exploring the forest. He admits that he doesn't love Valancy the way she loves him. This could deaden a story in one second flat, but the way Barney does it is just so darn endearing.
"Valancy," he said, trying to speak lightly, "of course I'm not in love with you-never thought of such a thing as being in love. But, do you know, I've always thought you were a bit of a dear."
Ms. Montgomery's description of Barney was so striking that it stuck with me long after the story was over. His mismatched eyebrows and the way he sat with his hands in his pockets and his chin on his chest. I smile just thinking about it. The montage scenes where Barney is opening Valancy's eyes to the world around her were just beautiful. The island and Mistawis Canada come to life as the story unfolds and one can almost smell the pine trees and see the purple lake mist surrounding Valancy and Barney's island.

Gosh, this story was fantastic. It was great following Valancy on her adventure into life. Reading about her finding her inner strength, and eventually, her Blue Castle, was just magical. I've never read any L.M. Montgomery books before this one, and don't know if I will read anymore, but I will forever have a special place in my heart for The Blue Castle. Grade A+.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Completed NaNoWriMo!

Today I finished the 50,000 word goal for NaNoWriMo! I still have a little more to add to my story, but at least I met the goal! I did not do it alone, though. I had a lot of online support from NaNo Live Journal, and from the Hawaii NaNo Region. Katiebabs encouraged me to add some sheep to my story on Twitter, Ann-Kat gave me good insight through email, and many of you left encouraging comments. Without all this I probably would have never made it. So, thank you all!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tagged: Page 56, Sentence 5

I've been tagged by Ann-Kat from Today I Read to participate in this MeMe.

1) Open the closest book to you, not your favorite or most intellectual book, but the book closest to you at the moment, and turn to page 56.

2) Write out the fifth sentence, along with the following two to five sentences.

3) Pass this along to five blog friends.

The closest book to me, which also happens to be the one I'm writing a review on right now, is The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery.
Olive always told Valancy all the details of her love affairs, from the days when the little boys in school used to "persecute" her with love letters. (sentence 5)

Valancy could not comfort herself by thinking these affairs were mythical. Olive really had them. Many men had gone mad over her besides the three fortunate ones.

"I don't know what the poor idiots see in me, that drives them to make such double idiots of themselves," Olive was wont to say. Valancy would have liked to say, "I don't either," but truth and diplomacy both restrained her. (The next 5)
I'm not tagging anyone right now, because I'm short on time. But if you'd like to join in, feel free!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Silent in the Sanctuary: Review

Book: Silent in the Sanctuary
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Series: A Lady Julia Grey Mystery, Book 2
Category: Mystery, Historical
Sensuality: Kisses

After reading and loving Silent in the Grave, I could only hope that Silent in the Sanctuary would live up to the first. I was not disappointed.

A year has passed since Lady Julia Grey, with the assistance of private investigator Nicolas Brisbane, solved the murder of Julia's husband. She has joined her brother's Plum, Lysander and his new bride, Violante in Italy to recover from her ordeal. Though she loves the warm beauty of Italy and is enjoying time spent with her brothers and their handsome friend and guide Alessandro, Julia yearns for something more. The investigation into her late husbands death has left her with a heart for intrigue, and she finds that watching life happen and not taking part in it does not have the same luster it used to. When Julia and her brother's are summoned home by their father, demanding that they return to England immediately for Christmas holidy, she could not imagine just how much action would await her.

A house party hosted in her fathers home is in full swing when Julia and company arrive at Bellmont Abbey. Among the guest list is Nicolas Brisbane and his new fiance, Charlotte King. Julia, who holds an affection for Brisbane after their work together to find her husbands murderer, is shocked at this latest news. She doesn't think that Brisbane's fiance, Charlotte King, is a woman that he would marry, let alone pursue. Julia is suspicious of them right away and decides that she will get to the bottom of this sudden match, but first she has to deal with temperamental family members, a handsome suitor, and tensions within the house. Her plans are further thwarted when a house guest is found dead in the Abbey's sanctuary, bringing the holiday festivities to a halt. On top of the latest tragedy, a snow storm has blown through, trapping everyone inside of the Abbey with a killer on the loose. Julia and Brisbane form a duo and set out to find the killer. What comes next is an intriguing tale of espionage, thievery, attempted murder, family secrets and more.

I really loved this second installment in the series centered around Lady Julia Grey. Julia has come a long way since Silent in the Grave. She has become headstrong, stubborn and smartly independent, while still retaining her endearing wit. Really, she is a great protagonist. The host of characters that play a role in the story are immense, and yet all are masterfully characterised and vividly displayed. The mystery plays out like a game of clue, placing suspicion on each of the characters at some point, leaving the reader guessing as to who is the culprit of any given crime. In the end, all of the threads to the many mysteries surrounding the house party are tied up nicely, with a few shocking revelations that make for a satisfyingly, eye opening ending.

Though Silent in the Sanctuary is not as dark as Silent in the Grave, it is just as strong. I will admit that I wanted the mystery to come in to play sooner, as the first 200 plus pages were devoted to catching up with Julia and meeting new characters. Still, I never found myself bored, just a little impatient for the real fun to begin. And while this is the second book in the series and the events of book one are alluded to here and there, the answer to that mystery is never given away so the books could be easily read out of order. But I think that reading them in order makes Silent in the Sanctuary a more fleshed out read.

As far as follow ups go, Silent in the Sanctuary is a very worthy one. It brings us up to date with Julia and her eccentric family. It shows a little movement between Julia and Brisbane, and reveals more about Brisbane's past. I'm just awed by Ms. Raybourn's knack for characterization and attention to detail with the plot. Even the most minute of details end up playing a large role in the overall mysteries. Well, I guess I've gushed enough about Silent in the Sanctuary. I look forward to reading the the third installment, Silent on the Moor, when it is released in March. Grade A-.

On a vain note, I'm not really liking the new cover art for the series. It lacks the mysterious feel of the other covers.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Honesty

Suggested by JM:

I receive a lot of review books, but I have never once told lies about the book just because I got a free copy of it. However, some authors seem to feel that if they send you a copy of their book for free, you should give it a positive review.

Do you think reviewers are obligated to put up a good review of a book, even if they don’t like it? Have we come to a point where reviewers *need* to put up disclaimers to (hopefully) save themselves from being harassed by unhappy authors who get negative reviews?
No, a review should be true to the readers experience. It is a huge disservice to the author and the review readers to give a positive review just because it is an ARC. Reviewers owe it to those who read and trust their reviews to give them honest commentary, regardless of whether the book was a review copy sent by an author or not. Any author requesting that a reviewer read their books and share their feelings about said book on a blog, message board, in a book club, or any other review outlet--should be fully prepared for all feedback, good or bad.

As for disclaimers. In the end it is up to the individual as to whether or not they want to post a disclaimer. I don't think that it is necessary (for all of the reasons I stated above), but if they want to that's fine.

More Booking Through Thursday-ers

Monday, November 17, 2008

Good Books I'm Not Reading

Recently, I was sorting my books into neat little categories like: read & keeping, read & donating, and, the ever growing pile of to be read. As I separated the books I found that a lot of them weren't fitting into any of my three categories and I had to create a new one labeled, half read & still need to finish. I ended up with more half read & still need to finish books than I had keepers or ones that needed to be donated.

I was a little miffed at myself over this. How could there be so many books that I have started and not finished? What was it about these books that didn't hold my interest?

I figured that they must have been bad--I mean, why else hadn't I kept on reading them--but to be sure, I began looking through them in an attempt to figure out why I didn't stick it out to the end. A few, I decided, were DNF's. But way more were books that I liked, but didn't stick with for reasons now beyond me, though, I'm sure at the time I had made sense out of putting a half read book down. Below are a few books from my enormous pile of reading neglected books.

Demon Angel by Meljean Brook:

At 97 pages in, Demon Angel has all of the elements that I need to enjoy a book. Great writing, interesting characters that I can grow to care about, an intriguing premise, etc. And still I gave up on it.

Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair:

At page 265, I'm more than halfway through Games of Command. Like Demon Angel, it has everything I need in a book, but I haven't been able to get passed the middle hump to finish out the story.

Heir to the Shadows by Anne Bishop:

Another book that I'm more than halfway through. Unlike the first two, I do know why I stopped reading Heir to the Shadows. It was because I became a little annoyed with Janelle. She was bordering on Mary Sue territory when I closed the book at the halfway point. BUT the story is good. I loved the first book in this series and I want to finish this trilogy.

Does this happen to anyone else, or am I on an island alone with starting and not finishing books? Are there any good books that you are not reading?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Mini Celebration

I just wrote my way to the NaNo halfway point and wanted to celebrate! Yay me! I might actually finish this. For a while I thought that I would never make it this far, and now things are going really well. Fingers crossed that I can keep it going.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Sharing Knife (Legacy): Review

Book: The Sharing Knife (Legacy)
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Series: The Sharing Knife Volume 2
Category: Fantasy Romance
Sensuality: Warm

Warning! This review contains some spoilers that relate to Volume 1.

After reading Beguilement, the first volume in Lois McMaster Bujold's Sharing Knife series, I was eager to start this second volume. I jumped right into Legacy and hit a road block, the story just wasn't pulling me in the way first book had. But after getting through the first few chapters things picked up and I was able to sink in to reading it.

Legacy picks up directly where Beguilement left off. Fawn and Dag have just left Fawn's parents farm as newlyweds, and are on their way to Dag's Lakewalker family in hopes of finding out the mystery behind the mis-enchanted sharing knife. After a leisurely travel to Hickory Lake Camp, they are immediately faced with unease about their marriage. The Lakewalkers, especially Dag's family, are up in arms over the two, being that they do not believe that Lakewalkers should marry Farmers. While attempting to deal with the rising tension, a malice attack occurs in a distant camp and Dag is called away to help. This leaves Fawn behind in Hickory Lake to deal with adapting to a new place where she is looked at as an unwanted outsider.

The glimpse into Lakewalker life that Beguilement gave has turned into full on understanding. The Lakewalkers, much like Farmers, are very much set in their ways. They believe the way they go about life to be the right one and aren't up much for listening to the other side or open to change. While living with the Lakewalkers, Fawn continues to learn and prove herself, even if most are reluctant to recognize her strength. Dag is very much the same patient, thoughtful man that he was in the previous book and it is interesting to see his interactions with his family. Both Fawn and Dag stay very much in character, never doing or saying something that I wouldn't expect them to for the people they are.

Something that I appreciate about this series is that the info about the world is doled out slowly so that you never feel like the details are being bombarded upon you, rather being shown as the story unfolds. Interestingly enough, there are moments when explanation about some occurance is required, these were the only points where I did have moments of confusion. The most notable was pertaining to the sharing knife and its role in this volume. I had to reread some passages on it a couple of times to get the full grasp on what was happening, and I'm still not totally sure I got it. Still, the overall world building is rich in complexity and easy to understand.

The quiet and detailed prose that captivated me in Beguilement has carried over to Legacy. And even in times of disquiet the writing is subtle, never boastful. Ms. Bujold uses her descriptive voice in a way that is utterly transporting, as illustrated below.
Rounding a tangle of wrack and cattails where red-winged blackbirds traded barking chirps and hoarse whistles, they came at last upon a broad open space crowded with flat lily pads, their white flowers wide to the sun. Thin, iridescent blue dragonflies, and thicker scarlet ones, stitched the air above the marsh, and rows of turtles sunned themselves on logs, yellow-striped necks stretched out, brown backs gleaming like polished stones.
The dialogue is also another area where the writing shines. During their continual fight to be together, I especially enjoyed the passages where Fawn and Dag were able to relax and just have fun with each other. Below is one of those times.
"I still don't agree. I'd want my trousers. In fact, if I were waked up out of my bedroll in a night attack, I think I'd go for them before my boots or my bow."

"But Patrollers sleep in their trousers, in camp," she objected. "Although not in hotels," she allowed in a tone of pleasurable reminiscence.

"That gives you a measure of importance, then, doesn't it?" He batted his eyes at her. "I can just picture it, a whole patrol riding out armed to the teeth, all bare-assed. Do you have any idea what the jouncing in those saddles would do to our tender bits? We'd never make it to the malice."

"Agh!" Now I'm picturing it!" She bent over, laughing. "Stop! I'll allow you the trousers."
I think what I liked the most about Legacy was the same thing I liked most about Beguilement and that is the strength in the relationship between Dag and Fawn. Though they are faced with opposition every step of their relationship, they don't let that get between them. They fight to be together and at the same time love each other enough to realize that if it comes down to it, they will let each other go for the greater good (if that makes sense).
She raised her face to meet his beautiful eyes square, and went on, "So I just want you to know, if you have to choose the patrol--I won't die for it. Nor be worse off for having known and loved you for a space. I'll still be richer going down the road than when you met me, by far, if only for the horse and the gear and the knowing. I never knew there was much knowing as this to be had in the whole world. Maybe, looking back, I'll remember this summer as a dream of wonders...even the nightmare parts. If I didn't get to keep you for always, leastways I had you for a time. Which out to be magic enough for any farmer girl."
After not being grabbed by the very beginning of the book, I'm glad to say that I ended up liking Legacy a lot. I'm interested in seeing where the next volume leads Dag and Fawn on their journey to unite the cultures of their world. Grade B+.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Eyes of Crow: Review

Book: Eyes of Crow
Author: Jeri Smith-Ready
Series: Aspect of Crow Trilogy, Book 1
Category: Fantasy
Sensuality: Hot

Lately I've been in the mood for fantasy, but not just any fantasy. I've wanted something with a strong protagonist (female), understandable mythology, a little romance, some action, and a good book--all wrapped into one. Mostly, I've come across books with some of those qualities but not all, until Eyes of Crow.

In a world with a culture somewhat reminiscent of early Native American, where animal aspects are bestowed upon each of the people of this culture, Rhia of Asermos has been given the rare aspect of crow. Rhia's aspect is a hard one to bear, for the crow ushers in death. Rhia has a hard time dealing with her aspect and she struggles with knowing too much about the eventual deaths of those around her. This takes a toll on her and Rhia delays her bestowing and the first phase of her gift, fearing what full use of her powers will entail. But when her decision proves to be a hurtful one, Rhia realizes that she has to now face her bestowing and all that will come with it in order to be helpful to her people.

Since the crow aspect is rare and there are no other crows in Asermos to train her, Rhia has to travel to Kalindos to learn under the tutelage of a third phase crow woman. This change isn't that easy for Rhia, as the cultures of the Ascermons and the Kanindon's differ vastly, but she is able to find a friend and lover in Marek, a troubled wolf aspect. Still, it is Rhia alone who must face the gift she is reluctant to embrace. And with the foreign Descendants preparing for war against her people, Rhia and her gift are needed now more than ever.

The world that Jeri Smith-Ready has created is wonderfully realized in Eyes of Crow. Intricate in detail, yet still easy to understand, the mythology comes together flawlessly, lending to the story in rich detail. The relationships between the characters, especially those between Rhia and the men in her life--her brothers, father, her childhood sweetheart, and the poignant romance between Rhia and Marek--all leap from the pages. Though the third person narrative is inclusive to only Rhia, none of the other main characters come off as less than three dimensional.

Eyes of Crow is very much about Rhia's journey in finding herself. She starts out timid and afraid of her aspect and as the story progresses she becomes stronger and more self assured. Through reading about Rhia, her fears became my own, as well as her achievements. I wanted her to succeed and find strength in her aspect. As I clung to the book hoping for an outcome worthy of the character Rhia grew to be, I was not disappointed.

The book ends on a bittersweet note that fit in line perfectly with the story as a whole. Eyes of Crow was a fantastic Fantasy Romance, one of the best I've come across. Grade A+.