Friday, September 23, 2011


Holy. Living. Doggie Poo.  Everything in the store was 80% off.  I bought anything I was even remotely interested in.  Which kinda explains a lot of these reviews.  But still-seriously-if your Borders is open, get thee to it, because they’re going out whether you get the cool stuff or your neighbor does.  Surely a few books are better than Missoni for Target, right?  (Echoes . . .)

 The  Good:

One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire (Book 5 in the Toby Day series-do I really need to tell you to do it in order?)
Okay, so I got this at Barnes and Noble and paid full price.  But still.  Soooo worth it.  The author’s previous publishing schedule as been 1 book/6mo, but as of this release they’re going to 1 a year.  What I found the most surprising is that while I eagerly anticipate Ashes of Honor, this entry ENDED so firmly that I can be patient.  Hell, I may even need the breather.  This book wraps a lot of dangling plot threads, moves characters and over arching plots forward believably, and proves yet again that in McGuire’s world, no character is safe and death is forever.  This is far and away the most adult book in the series.  It also seems to catwalk along the line between the easy read of most Urban Fantasy and the depth and lyricism of more heavy weight literature.  For instance, I typically read at 100+ pages an hour for most UF/PNR, but at fewer than 75 for denser specimens (i.e. the Carrol, Harrison & Murphy below.)  I was closer to 75 with this, but it still kept me up and turning pages until 2am. 
If you haven’t met Toby, go now and introduce yourself.  She’s not like anyone else you’ve known.  Promise.

The Ghost in Love by Jonathan Carrol*
Carrol is the Tom Waits of literature.  (Weirdly two days after I wrote this initially, Tom guest posted on Carrol’s blog, which is worth following.)  What I mean is that once read, typically people fall rapidly in love or loathing.  Carrol struggles with endings.  I mean, seriously struggles.  Sisyphus-style struggles.  You learn to cope or bail screaming.  If you’re already a fan, this review is years too late.  Sorry. If you loathe him a priori, I doubt I’m the thing that flips you.  If, however, you’ve never come across him, think about setting aside some time.  The reason people sing the man’s praises is not just his turn of phrase, which is remarkable, or his plot ideas, which are jaw dropping, but the fact that he simply sees the world differently than anyone else ever.  He writes books that make me look at the world, my life and the events in it, both small and large, in a different light.  This is actually a pretty accessible book to start with.  The plot works better than Marriage of Sticks and the ending is less irritating than The Wooden Sea.  It still gets the minus for the ending-of course-but it is worth the journey.  Some things out value the cost. 

*Fringe fans, Land of Laughs, the book Peter forces Markham to pay better for, is Carrol’s premier novel and also fabulous.  The series writers owe a few ideas to him, including what heaven might look like w/o lame harps a la Sound of Music.  Oddly enough, as I saw the show out of order, I’d wondered if they stole that bit from White Apples before seeing the author get a shout out. 

The Course of the Heart by M John Harrison
I spotted this in Barnes and Noble when it came out, eons ago-or at least 2006-but didn’t pick it up.  Since then I’ve looked high and low, only to stumble on it in the melee of genre condensation* at the close out sale.  This isn’t Light.  With Harrison, I typically suspect that I’m simply not smart enough to keep up in at least three places per book.  And considering my IQ and education, damn.   His writing here is reflexive, cyclical and damn near hallucinogenic.  Images and phrases reoccur like early summer lightening bugs, a flashing pattern I can never quite discern.  That’s the good bit.  The less good truth is that the book was written in the 90’s and shows it.  The leads are all academics who’ve read books you’ve never heard of** 12 times in their youth and don’t seem to go to their jobs.  The plot reminds me of a number of others, Uncertain Places, that Elisabeth Hand novel whose title I cannot remember right now, White Apples to a degree, Indigo,  Little Big even, and Pam Dean’s Tam Lin.  For those wanting to mention Palimpsest, please recall that this one predates, and thus it must resemble this simply by virtue of Heart having been first.  The “crap we did in college came back to bite us” angle is common like fairy shit, as is the overeducated college demi-magic experience.  Which, The Secret History did do bestest.  But still.  It’s a slim book that really is bigger on the inside, and it’s a nice way to savor a sunny afternoon and a few pots of tea. 

 *Yes, this IS the word I want.  I like the image of books appearing from nothing, pulled like water out of cooling air in the shift of emptying out a bookstore. 

**I kinda hope some of them are made up.  Not just because this would make me feel better, but because it would add a layer of funny to the book and seems the sort of thing he’d code in for those willing to Google.  Wait, no Google in the 90’s.  Never mind then.  Sigh.

Napier’s Bones Derryl Murpy
Just when I’d decided that all good things are being published by Night Shade, along comes CZP, the world’s smallest and weirdest indi imprint.  At first I thought they just did horror, but last year almost all the trade papers I was tempted to blow full cover on were by them.  Murphy’s seems like an odd pick for me, as I’m math retarded, but I try to support new ideas with money, so . . . The trick here is the supposition that Math=Magic.  It’s not a revolutionary idea, but it’s the first t time I’ve seen it as the predicate for an entire novel.  Perhaps due to the challenging nature of his premise, Murphy keeps the prose simple and direct.  This is a very good thing.  While one might think that SF/Fantasy readers are by definition geekier than the rest of the world, the truth is still that almost everyone is defeated by figuring out a 20% tip, let alone calc 5.  So don’t be put off by the math angle; if I can follow it, anyone can.  I can barely add most days.  There are some struggles with pacing, and with tying everything down in a manner that gels, but overall it’s a satisfactory read that also makes you feel better about yourself. I read math good!

The Mediocre:

Black Wings/Black Night* by Christina Henry
The first novel is pretty  awkward.  I know there are a lot of positive reviews at the front of it, but honestly, much of the book is riddled with 1st novel flaws.  Character shifts come out of the blue, & the Hand of the Author is super visible in the plot.  But.  It only took me from 10 till 1am to read it, with watching the news in between, & I did want to finish.  Nothing earth shatteringly original or game changing, but still basically enjoyable.  The second is better.  The plot makes more sense, but lord does it still scream BECAUSE THE AUTHOR SAYS SO, with whip lash inducing wrap ups and dialogue that feels forced.  Sometimes acknowledging the elephant in the room is all meta and cool and sometimes it just serves to remind me that you’re not Joss Whedon, and yeah, doing it wrong.  This is a case of the latter.  A lot of it left me feeling like it tried to do too much too fast with too little control.  That having been said, I’ll still pick up the next one, but since Borders will be gone by then, it will be at the used book store.

Under Wraps by Hannah Jayne
This is Not an Endorsement: Pick up this book if you find it used.  Why pick it up if I don’t think it’s particularly good?  The villain (whom you will spot in his/her very first appearance) wears a snuggie in the climax.  And they talk about it.  It is awesome.  The rest of it, not so much.  1. I’m over angels, fallen or otherwise.  Bleech.  2. The attraction between leads is so forced I almost stopped reading at chapter three.  3. The plot tends to careen wildly, less in a fun way and more in a WTF way.  However, the characters in general are fun; I did enjoy the sense of humour (nephew Vlad was a nice touch, and done nicely) and it’s a fast read.  The author may find a grove on the next go round, or jump off the wrong end of the PNR believability cliff.  I may pick up the second book used just to see.

The Bad:

A Brush of Darkness* by Alison Pang
I picked this up because I thought it might be the next Sookie Stackhouse.  Fun, a little silly, a little girlie, a little ghoulish on the edges.  It was . . .not.  The horny unicorn is underutilized.  The oversexed succubus is overplayed and the whole thing feels half baked.  Especially at the beginning, the plot seems to move forward in a way the makes no sense and bears even less connection to any/all preceding events.  There is a strong resemblance to chicks in 70’s horror flicks “Why are you going into that basement? Are you trying to die?”  Character interactions are utterly unbelievable and inherently stupid, and let’s talk about the weird rape/dream scene?  WTF was that?  What on earth was the purpose, other than to put an icky obstacle between the romantic leads?  Gross.  Is it the worst thing I’ve ever read? No.  Will I buy the sequel? Unlikely.  Do I recommend that you buy it?  Sigh.  If you find it in a discount bin, or at a used bookstore, maybe.  If your thing is senseless sex, poor plotting, & sad attempts at screwball comedy that go nowhere, knock yourself out. 

*Both of these books contain bizarre rape hallucinations.  What is going on with PNR that this is a thing?  I am deeply uncomfortable with this being a thing, let alone a thing handled so poorly as by these two.  Yeeck.

A note on Grading: on my Scale A=I might buy the hardback; B=pay cover price; C=get it used or from the bargain bin; D=used if you’re in to self flagellation; F=what, are you stupid?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

CLEAN, Y'Hawr! . . .(mateys?)

Recently, I was trying to explain in a facebook chat why I loved Clean fragrances more than anything.  I said, “They smell like fresh laundry.”  Friend replied, “Why do you pay money for that?  Have you tried just doing laundry?” So I looked up their description on Sephora to help me explain the allure:
"Brazilian* Orange, Mexican Lime, Fresh Mown Grass, Cyclamen, Rose Otto, Night Blooming White Jasmine, Petals, Heliotrope, Musk."
All of them, Warm Cotton, Fresh Laundry, Skin, are like this.  Utter description fail.  I get none of that.  What IS Cylamen and how would I know if I smelled like it? 
Oh well, guess they couldn’t just say “Downy” because I’m betting that’s patented.  But seriously, Downy.**  It’s wonderful. 
And since recently there’s a Sephora in my new town (not just 1, mind, but 3 all at once) I can now return to my regularly scheduled program of buying these fuckers in bulk. 
Who needs to shower when you can bottle freshness***!

*Am I alone in seriously doubting that anyone, even freaky 1,000 watt sniff testers, can tell the difference between a Brazilian or a Floridian orange?  They both wear teeny weeny bikinis last I checked.

**Now I'm kinda wondering if I go to Downy's website, will their description include rose otto and/or night blooming white jasmine?  No.  But I feel that I should point up the fact that Clean Fragrances will not fight "pesky static cling."

***Note: please don’t actually do that. That is a crap plan. Not that it was your plan, I just don’t want to be the person you point to if called out on said hypothetical plan’s craptasticness

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Linguini with Turkey in White Wine

I like recipes to be simple, tasty and fast.  I'm cooking to keep left overs, so usally in batches large enough to feed a small horde or at least four as a main dish.  This one gives me a great bang for my buck because it's super fast and not labour intensive. 

1 pound linguine (I prefer black, but it’s not nesc.  at all)

1 tsp olive oil

¼ cup white wine ( I use Sutter Home Suavignon Blanc, as this is about all it's good for)

1 pound ground turkey

1 sm sweet onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp red pepper flakes

Cracked black pepper

1 tbs cappers

Boil linguine in well salted water until just shy of al dente, drain, reserving about a ½ cup of the pasta water.  Heat oil in a large sauté pan.  Caramelize the onion and garlic.  Add turkey and peppers and sauté until brown and fragrant.  Add capers, wine and pasta, stirring well.  If pasta absorbs too much of the wine too quickly, add reserved pasta water until a light sauce remains and noodles are al dente, 3-4 min.  Serve and enjoy.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Suckin' Seventeen

This is isn’t really a review of Smokin Seventeen by Janet Evanovich.  Hell, I’m not sure how to even review that.  Plot?  What plot?  Character?  See previous books, still the same.   Mostly it’s a jump point where I rant about series and when to say when.
I get that writing a long running series is hard.  Fans have expectations.  Critics have expectations.  And at some point the reality is that the author has used up all the initial plots that made her think these books were a fabulous idea.  I like and hate series because of this.  Increasingly, I’m starting to wish that more authors had the balls to go the Sandman route and END.   But that takes big cast iron balls if your books are bestsellers and your publisher maybe thinks they keep the market afloat.  Still.  End or be good.  STOP THE SUCKAGE.  And there is a lot of suck brewing out there in series land, folks.  Here is my run down on three of the biggest.

Stephanie Plum:  So, a brief review, no, it is too much, I will sum up:  Whole chunks of exposition & dialogue were lifted from previous books.  Not kidding.  Didn’t even bother to rewrite the gist of things, just chunked them in as they were originally.  Which is lazy to the nth degree, certainly, but what I do not get is that her readers have been along from the word go, right? So why would she assume we’d not remember those lines-classic lines?  Either we’re stupid or that’s what the author thinks we’re reading it for.  That’s right, I’m saying it.  I think the author truly believes that her readers give her $ so they can re-read vol 1-16 slightly remixed.  The standoff where bad guy one kills bad guy two, yeah, that’s happened before.  At least twice.  Steph bailing on Joe?  Yeaaaaah.  We’ve seen that before.  Vinnie/Lula/Mooner/Grandma  living in Steph’s apartment? Check.   All the inept takedowns where Ranger’s men save her butt &/or she gets covered in food?  Not new.  Killer inexplicably fascinated with Stephanie?  Every single time. The ending where she picks a guy out of a hat?  Saw that in, what, book 5?  The only surprise in this plotless wonder was that she had sex with Ranger (again) and I’m assuming that’s just pity fodder for die-hard Ranger fans thinking about giving up the ghost.  This was like those high school papers that get flagged for plagiarism because they just cut and pasted a few different papers on the net.  She just cut and pasted bits of her previous books and called it a new one.   And have I mentioned that the hardcover comes with stickers?  Because that’s just what you want in a book right? It comes with stickers, sold!

Verdict:  I stopped buying in hardcover and downgraded to pocket paper.  Then stopped buying new and started buying used.  Now I’m just debating buying at all.  Nothing ever changes!  (solid up until 12)

Anita Blake:  Full disclosure: I was in High School when I started reading these, and I started with Killing Dance, the book many think kicked off the downward spiral of (yes literally) death and sex.  I was obsessed to a frothing at the mouth degree, read all of the previous books, made many friends and frightened acquaintances start reading them and then . . .WTF?  I will stand up and say with certainty of conviction that LKH created the Urban Fantasy genre, as well as Paranormal Romance.  Yep, I know it predates her, but that kind of best seller status is what told publishers it was a marketable niche and by god did they market it.  But while that was happening Anita went from badass to sex fiend to whiny irritant.  I’m not against sex.  I’m not against multiple partner sex.  I’m against sex that swallows the plot, the point, and any semblance of sexiness.  I’m against talking about sex for 3 chapters prior to it occurring and whining about it for 6 chapters after.  Go, kill something.  Be snarky.

Verdict:  Stopped buying in hardcover after, I forget, Cerulean Sins maybe?  Tried to pick it up in paperback on Harlequin and just . . . couldn’t.  The language, the mopping, Richard, the lack of coherence and/or copyediting, let alone an editor willing to point up plot holes that I could build a house in.  I stopped, and sometimes I feel sad about that, but when I try to pick one up, I just feel . . . sticky*. (Solid up until Obsidian Butterfly, assuming you skip Blue Moon.)

Sookie Stackhouse:  Starting to fall victim to a few long term series woes.  One:  men like our heroine.  Sex, and sexual partner s are great, it’s just starting to seem odd how attracted to Sookie all preternatural males in the South are.  Just saying.  (LKH anyone?)  Two: drive by plot lines.  I liked Quin, Sookie liked Quin, and then he was arbitrarily bounced in favour of the long running Eric plotline.  Turns out he was just an obstacle to keep our hero and heroine apart for a few more books.  Erksome.  Three:  Lack of plot, whole books on character.  I love the characters, I do.  But I also want a viable mystery, not just emotional KP duty for 250 pages.  From Dead to Worse, I mean you.

Verdict:  Wavering.  Have stopped buying in hardback after aforementioned flop, but recently started buying the pocket papers used and Dead and Gone seemed much improved upon.  I’ll pick up Dead in the Family the same way, and if it’s still on a better track, buy the next at full cover—in paperback.  (Solid until All Together Dead.)

Random series notes: 

Raine Caine: Stopped after about 5, 6 maybe?

Kelley Armstrong:  Stopped after 3, still pick up the ones relating to the original characters though.

Patricia Briggs:  happy as a clam with these.  Still buying in hardcover.  Bring on the changes baby!

Marcia Muller:  I would have kept reading, but they got hard to find in publication.  Oddly, I thought the quality of these improved over time rather than went downhill.  This may be because she was willing to kill characters, change up location, and let old flames actually burn out and GO AWAY.

Newer, but still strong: Obsessed with (and in order of obsession) Seanan McGuire’s Toby Day Books (5 coming on the 6th of September, so  Happy Birthday me!)  Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels (at book 5) and  . . . nope, that’s it.  There a few good things at 2 or 3, but everything should still be good at that point.  It’s once you get past 6 that things typically start to slip.

*Why sticky you ask?  Because a book in her Merry Gentry series is actually called Swallowing Darkness.  One of her lead male characters is named Darkness.  Wait for it . . . Yeah.  I cannot even put that book in my hands.  It’s porn.  Bad, awkward, porn.