Review: The Nativity Collection by Robert J. Morgan

The Nativity Collection The Nativity Collection by Robert J. Morgan is a set of six stories beautifully packaged in a medium size gift book. Each story houses some gem of the true meaning of Christmas. That meaning which we seem to search for amongst the decorations, school plays, and snow every year. At first I thought the stories were going to be too Hallmark Moment as staged as the photographs that are sprinkled among the pages of this collection. But, the first one “Ollie,” about memory and compassion, brought a tear to my eye. The stories are very quick reads and you might even see the ending coming long before it get there, but they will still touch you. One of my favorites in this collection was “Nativity Seen Smiling” which has a touch of the Gift of the Magi about it. I’d recommend this book as sort of a pre-Christmas gift (there is a thoughtful inscription page at the front). The introduction said they were read by the author to his congregation, a new one every year. I think that and what it says about stories making up our lives is so true.

Review copy provided via the BookSneeze Program.

Review: Steamypunk #s 1-5 (adult)

Steampunk Challenge Review # 2

Steampunk challenge

Five cutely bound stories, like chocolate in a gift box, seem the perfect package for erotica. Each volume was published by www.steamypunk.net

I purchased these a while back, but only read the first one. Since I’m using this Steampunk Challenge to work my way through the TBR pile, I thought this was a great time to give these confections a try. They are quick and dirty for the most part. Grading Steampunk elements in such short pieces is a tad difficult. Is it really cool wallpaper, a mere mention, or part of the story?

Without further ado, the Steamypunk Collection recap:

#1 A Man of the Waste by Margaret Killjoy

#2 A Pirate of Both Day & Night by Margaret Killjoy

#3 Emerson & Adalia by Dimitri Markotin

#4 Chaos Theory by Dimitri Markotin

#5 Emerson & Adalia Rob A House by Dimitri Markotin

#1 A Man of the Waste — This story while it does not have a recognizable Victorian setting, but it has tons of atmosphere and steam and gears. A young man fresh from the Waste is propositioned by an intriguing woman who then vanishes with no explanation only to reappear later with still less explanation. I loved the world building here and wouldn’t mind seeing more of it. The sex was definitely steamy and the story ends with a note of snide humor which I liked. (Best Story in the Lot)

#2 A Pirate of Both Day & Night — This is a f/f story aboard a full automated steam-driven pirate ship. No mast required. The premise is a one woman crew, raids merchant vessels and liberates it merchandise and a female sailor.

#3 Emerson & Adalia — Steampunk references: airships; mysterious beauty comes shows up uninvited to a ball where the son of a lord is smitten. Sex and crime ensue.

#4 Chaos Theory — is m/m/f story about a penniless scholar and two lecturers who take him under their wing? This story was only okay. It has some Steampunk wallpaper — a scientific theory, the mention of a horseless carriage, and flight in a dirigible. But, they are sort of incidental. Kind of boring with a funny line about poetry.

#5 Emerson & Adalia Rob A House — m/f/f;  Steampunk elements:??? Emerson and Adalia add a friend Edith to their first joint venture into screwing & looting.

Overall I’d say the collection was a C- . I know there is a limited number of things you can do in stories this small and that by their nature sex was a big part, but I wanted a little more Steampunk.

Other Notes:

♦ A while back I mentioned a collection that I enjoyed called Like Clockwork, like in any collection some of the stories are perfect and some go just a little beyond the pale. But, if you are interested in the steamier side of Steampunk that might be a place to start.

♦ Lavie Tidhar also shares her thoughts on sex, science, and Steampunk at the Mad Hatter.

Victorian Fact ( or a line of random text):

“The dandy is fundamentally theatrical being, abjectly dependent on the recognition of the audience he professes to disdain.” p22 Dandies and Desert Saints: Styles of Victorian Manhood by James Eli Adams

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The Steampunk Challenge is run by Rikki @ The Bookkeeper.

Review: The Banquet of Esther Rosenbaum by Penny Simpson

The Banquet of Ester RosenbaumThe Banquet of Ester Rosenbaum by Penny Simpson

This is an odd novel, though I was fascinated by it. Time plays very funny within its pages and I don’t think I truly understood why until I got to the end. It was something I should have suspected from the beginning, but I guess I was a little slow. My whole approach to this book has been slow. I saw it first listing in the Advance magazine, then when I actually purchased it, I left it sitting on my shelf for exactly a year (the recipe was tucked into the front cover) before I every picked it up.

At the heart this seems to be a novel about story telling through many media. There are story-recipes, clock-work stories, ballads, plays, pamphlets, and love notes. There is all sorts of language in the book too, while written in English, it is peppered with foreign words German, Yiddish, and more. None of it will put off your understanding of the book, but it gives it texture and it adds to the sense of time and place.

This book is set during WWI-through the beginning of WWII, with its epilogue in 1946. The majority set in Berlin during the Weimar Republic. There is lots of talk of war and revolution, and every chapter give a year, but the history challenged you’ll have to piece the extra conflicts together yourself. There is mention of Bavaria, which I never could figure out if it was part of WWI or some separate conflict in this great time of turmoil.

Turmoil both internal and external is what sets these characters spinning. They are an eclectic assortment. Our narrator is a Jewish chef, who is 7th tall, with two different color eyes. She is often the subject of fear and superstition because of her looks, and later celebrated because of her talent with food. But, in these times attention is not always a good thing. There are her friends who are a used clothes seller, a seamstress, a Auntie Mame like woman who drives a motor car badly, gambles, and conspires with revolutionaries, there are more revolutionaries, playwrights, chefs, restaurateurs, artist, actresses, and clock-makers. They are all struggling against a world that doesn’t make sense anymore, and struggling with one another over love and fame and ideas.

The book moves fast and it as if you are just catching snatches, we’ve barely gotten over a fight and we’ve landed into something new. Having said that, it is not confusing. I’d have liked to read more of Esther’s cooking and less of Kaya and Thomas relationship, but it made sense giving how Esther was so emotionally tied to them.

As to the ending, well without giving anything away, all I can say is, I guess I was naïve to believe it could conclude any other way. There were clues right from the beginning, but I didn’t pick up on them. This book wasn’t a tear-jerker for me. There was certainly tragedy throughout, but there was distance in the writing. Not the kind of distance that is off-putting, but that made the action feel slightly less immediate. I understood at the end.

I recommend this book. It is different from my normal genre reads and given that my last venture into literary fiction was disappointing, I am glad this one was not.

 

side note: third book in a row to use the word ‘pinion’

Review: The Women of Nell Gwynne’s by Kage Baker

Steampunk Challenge Review # 1

Steampunk challenge

The Women of Nell Gwynne'sThe Women of Nell Gwynne’s by Kage Baker
Subterranean Press, 2009

This was a fun novella. A romp, if you will. Gothic estates, silly costumes, funny sex, cool Steampunk gadgets (that work within the plot), and a happy resolution. I purchased it from Amazon, and it sat on my shelf for over a year, because I tend to acquire books faster than I can read them. Like a hidden treasure, I pulled it from the shelf today and was entranced.

Lady Beatrice, suffered myriad atrocities and had the audacity not to die! Fighting her way home she found the only path open to her was that of a street-walker. Providence intervened and found her a ‘home’ at Nell Gwynne’s – a house (brothel) for ladies like her, to employ their talents in service of the crown. Supplied with the latest technological gadgets by their brother organization, The Gentleman’s Speculative Society, the ladies set off to locate a missing member of the GSS and to determine what a mysterious Lord is offering to auction off to the highest bidder.

It is a shame that I’ve discovered Kage Baker only after her death. I understand that her Company novels are very good and that the GSS, is supposed to be a precursor to them. This is a novella which craves a sequel and while I understand there will be a short something out at the end of this month, they’ve appended it to the paperback edition. I hate when they do that! There are some books I’m quite happy to buy over and over, and while I did enjoy this very much, it just isn’t a must have multiple copies type book.

This title was nominated for a Hugo and I believe that it won the 2009 Nebula.

Side note:

The word pinion, was used both in this book and in the Steampunk novella I read a few days ago. In both cases to mean, to restrain a person by binding their arms.  I haven’t seen the word much and then twice in two days!

Victorian Fact:

The Great Exhibition was Prince Albert’s idea, held in 1851, it was wildly successful. The building it was housed in, the Crystal Palace, was made in sections before hand and assembled on the scene which “anticipated many building methods later used throughout the 20th century,” according to The Victorians (Backgrounds to English Literature) by Aidan Cruttenden (page 12).

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The Steampunk Challenge is run by Rikki @ The Bookkeeper.

Review: The Thin Place by Kathryn Davis (SPOLIERS)

SPOILERS ahead…

I started this novel with mixed expectations, but I kept reading. I am fascinated by the concept of a ‘thin place,’ which the author says “is a term from Celtic mythology” and “is a place where the membrane between this world and the other – the world of spirit, that part of life we can’t see – is very, very weak.” (The Thin Place Reading Group Guide p5) This sounded like a world where our mundane reality and would mix with the world of myth and legend. There is mention of Inuit legends, a girl who brings people back to life, and the everyday goings on of a small town. There long meandering sentences that give you the world’s point of view. I like the chapters from Margaret the dog’s point of view, and from Helen the 90-year-old’s. But, the whole time I was reading I felt like every chapter was a puzzle piece and someone had put the wrong picture on the back of the box. I wanted it to make sense so much that I forced myself to the end. I put in all the work that I normally do with books that I like – writing down the words I don’t know or that are differently by the current text, and I copy out all the quotes I found fascinating. I turned the last page and I was disappointed. The last chapter was everybody’s deaths. No matter when or where or how they died, we had to read through everybody’s death. What was ‘thin’ about this place? The characters were close to nature whether they appreciated it or not. A few of them witness the miracle of resurrection. The church was the only place where almost all the characters cross paths, but it seemed more battle ground than a place of worship. I don’t know what I missed here. I am sure there was some greater point I was supposed to walk away with, but I didn’t get it. I didn’t enjoy the experience of getting there either. I just forced myself to do it. There was lots of pretty language, though.

“This is because souls are attracted to measuring devices, those places where things as purely noncorporeal as themselves, which is to say numbers, are made to serve material ends.” P175

Review: The Folk Keeper

The Folk KeeperThe Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley

This is the story an orphan girl who learned real early that boys get the better end of the stick. So she cut her hair, changes her name, and passes herself off as a boy. She also, through a mix of natural talent, gossip, and bribery won herself the position of The Folk Keeper. The one person who is in charge of keeping THE FOLK (faeries, brownies, hobgoblins, and the ilk) at bay down in the dark cellar. Suddenly, she is summoned to a strange old man who wants to adopt her. Still insisting she’s a boy, she agrees if she can be the new Folk Keeper of the manor. Looking to hold on to her vision of power by being the Folk Keeper at such a large estate, aspects of herself and her secret powers begin to change. Secrets to her past begin to unfold. It is interesting the way she comes into to her own. The whole story is told in a collection of diary entries.

I really liked this story. This novel takes place in a historical setting where the old magic was alive. The boy we meet at the beginning has quiet a ruthless in his out look on life and very defensive of his position as Folk Keeper. But, pride of position and a chance to increase the power he had created for himself leads him to accept a dying man’s offer. We soon learn that he is a she, hiding in a world that she has created. The boy is a cloak, the hardness a mask. I love the way this book was written. The diary entries serve as a place for Corin/Corinna to tell us about her the hard shell and illuminate the cracks as they appear for us to see and for her to discover. There is some stuff I could say here about lost bits, but I hate to give too much away.

“I tried to speak, but the furniture of my mind had all been rearranged, my words neatly folded and stored out of site.” P36

I really liked the language that Billingsley uses to build her world. Corinna’s got a really great voice and manner of writing for someone who had to bribe a fellow orphan to teach her to read and write.

“Like pieces of a Kaleidoscope, the ladies and gentlemen fell into patterns of color on the Ballroom floor.” P77

This is a great book and one I would recommend. I first heard about it at the Things Mean a Lot (check out her review) blog. Maybe I should say that is the first time it registered. I’ve passed the book almost daily on the book shelves, but never picked it up.

It’s A BOOK!

This book ROCKS! Talking about e-books vs. print these days is like just into the middle of a Creationism vs. Evolution debate. The response range from the ridiculous, to the heated, to the sublime.  Well, I’d like to add Lane Smith‘s It’s a Book to the sublime category in the e-book vs. print commentary.  With three characters inspired from a fairy tale, and simple illustrations ( he used a computer for because he’s not opposed to tech), he manages to stir up so much humor that I simply has to read the book aloud to everyone in the house.

I have my feet wet in the e-Book pool. I am a NOOK owner, but in my opinion, there is no way Smith’s It’s a Book could translate in that medium. It is priceless. Read it and then buy a copy for all the doom and gloom-er who feel that print will disappear. I like my NOOK, but I’ve some beautiful books and I don’t see how they could ever be reduced to 1′s and 0′s.

I will forever be thankful to the friend who gave it to me.

Poetry: Here by Wisława Szymborska

The first time I came across Wislawa Szymborska’s work it was in a title called Nonrequired Reading published in 2002, this would have been just after I started working at the book store. I was draw to this collection of prose pieces because the author’s random meditations on books that she read were similar to how I kept track of what I was reading. My journal was never a day-to-day account of my coming and goings, but my Book Log could tell you where I got a book and why and how I felt, and therefore was more personal to me.  So, in Nonrequired Reading I found a kinship with the author and from there began to explore her poetry.

Here is a new collection that will be out in October. I jumped at the chance to review it when I saw the title available on NetGalley.com. This volume of 22 poems is outstanding. I don’t think I read a single poem I didn’t like. Here is a bilingual volume, with the original Polish followed by the translation. It made me wonder about the translators themselves, surely they must be as much poets at the Nobel Prize winning author. (One of the two translators Clare Cavanagh was also the translator of Nonrequired Reading.)  I can remember reading Tangled Hair by Akiko Yosano, which I have in two different translations, and going back and forth wondering why the translator chose one word over the other and which I liked better. Since, I don’t have that option here I must accept the translators word as law.

I read and re-read these poems, offend paging back to check the title or read a phrase out loud. Szymborska lends beauty to abstracts, exploring the nature of here, space, and poetry.  I loved the line from the title poem, “and as an extra, added feature,/ you spin on the planet’s carousel for free.”  Don’t you just love that? All of us and are homes, vehicles, and whatnot can be the horses, tigers, and swans bobbing up and down as we go around and around.

Another interesting idea is the imagined meetings — one of her teenage self and the impressions each had of the other woman and girl, or that of a long gone poet bustling about in a crowded coach, each character sketched vividly into being in only a few words.

If you read poetry or even if you don’t, I suggest you add Here to your wish list. These are not the kinds so obtuse you walk away from thinking that you’ve failed to understand your own language. These are accessible things of beauty. Read a few out loud. Let your ear enjoy the sound.

Blood Soup by Kelly A. Harmon

Blood SoupBlood Soup by Kelly A. Harmon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“…he found the literature could sometimes take his mind off the pain.”

Now there is a true statement. You can always find them in good fiction. I had wanted to read Blood Soup since I saw it reviewed elsewhere on the web. Its cover look seductively creepy and the synopsis sounded cool so I put the book on my Wish List. I thought wistfully, “One day,” and then to my immense good fortune the author, Kelly A. Harmon, contacted me and I found myself in possession of a review copy. I got started reading right away.

This was a short novella of my favorite sort. I couldn’t see the conclusion from the opening, there was recompense paid at that end, and just enough open-endedness to let the imagination fly.

This novella covers a lot a time, but never feels fractured or too compressed. It also feels like it belongs to a different time. I don’t mean it’s the historical setting. Harmon’s story feels like it belongs to the myth and legend class of stories or maybe just a scary tale told in the dark. I loved its dramatic feel (in the theatrical sense).

I was completely shock during the second major scene, but I could tell the nurse maid (archetypal crone/witch) would have something in her basket. I really get a good picture of her in my mind.  Though, the Old King is most interesting character especially at the end. He’s the one whose decisions turn the plot. He challenged fate and lived to witness his consequences.   You must read it for yourself.

In one of those odd convergences of life, the son, Amal in this story has the same vibe as the petulant king Lionel in the audio book I’m listening to now. In the Accidental Sorcerer by K. E. Mills, the new King is also power-hungry and unwilling to take advice. I always think it is neat when this happens. Both violent brutes could almost switch places. Almost.

In a real world note: I never realize there were so may ways to actually make Blood Soup or so many foods in which blood was a main ingredient. Did I mention I also love books which inspire research!

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Maybe This Time by Jennifer Crusie

Maybe This TimeMaybe This Time by Jennifer Crusie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is Classic Crusie and it has been so long since we’ve had a single author book from her it was like drinking a cool glass of water ( or was it Amaretto, Andie prefers). I can’t really tell you how many times I laughed out loud! This book is Funny.

The whole time I was reading this book, I couldn’t help but feel the story was familiar. We had the creepy Gothic home, the weird Housekeeper, and the out-of-place nanny. The text mentioned Jane Eyre, but that wasn’t it.

I was enjoying all the colorful characters too much for it to bother me. After all, I was happy to be back with all the Crusie hallmarks. I think the only one missing was the dog, and who needs a dog when you’ve got ghosts! Andie and North had already been married to each other TEN Years before, but it crumbled after only a year. And when Andie goes visits him in order to return 10 years worth of uncashed alimony checks( it is obvious these two aren’t done), she somehow agrees to become a nanny to North’s inherited nice and nephew. Hijinks ensues.

When North’s brother Sullivan aka Southie enters the picture with a nosy reporter things get outrageous. She brings a medium and a skeptic. The the Ex-Mother in-laws show up to protect their interests and, their backstory is one I wouldn’t mind seeing. As if two troubled children, a wacko housekeeper, three ghosts, weren’t already enough the last guests arrive — Andie’s fiancé and North himself.

It is a volcano ready to blow and you will laugh and maybe even cry as this screw ball comedy works itself out. North, hasn’t a clue about ghost, but Andie’s in trouble so he’s going to fix it. There is also a guest appearance from Gabe McKenna that makes you want to go back and read Fast Women (also excellent, it you haven’t read it).

I really hope we don’t have to wait 6 years for another one and I hope we will get to see Southie’s story one day too.

The North and Southie and Lydia dynamic reminded me of Sabrina, but that didn’t fit with the Gothic setting. Since the stories echoes where still nagging at me, I visited Jennifer Crusie’s website and could have thumped myself. There on her home page where the words Turn of the Screw, well duh. This wasn’t a mash-up like all the zombie/vampire + classic literature books that are out now. This was a modern retelling like Dean’s Tam Lin, but with more out-and-out comedy.

I loved Maybe This Time. Hope you do to.

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