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book reviews

Other People's Books

Book review: The Spymaster’s Lady, by Joanna Bourne

The Spymaster's LadyThe Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this one after seeing it lauded on Smart Bitches Trashy Books as a sterling example of an author portraying non-English dialogue very well. Since I’m a language nerd, this was highly relevant to my interests. Didn’t hurt that the plot sounded fun, either–I’m a sucker for the Napoleonic era in general, and this one was all about the spies. I’m finicky in my romance tastes, but historical is one of my go-to genres, and one of the fastest ways to get me to pay attention is to give me a plot involving spies.

In particular, we’ve got our heroine Annique Villiers, a.k.a. the Fox Cub, one of the most infamous spies in France. She starts off our story captured by some of her enemies, who have also captured a couple of British spies. She helps the Brits escape, only to find herself captured by them in turn. The Brits, you see, are every bit as eager as her enemies in France to get their hands on her–because Annique is thought to be in possession of the Albion Plans, a super-secret strategy for how Napoleon is going to invade England.

All very well and good, and at least out of the gate, we’ve got a lot of fun action as Annique, our hero Grey, and Adrian all escape France. But. I’ve got issues with how the story keeps telling us Annique is this awesome master spy–but actually showing us, on camera, a woman who’s continually thwarted by Grey and Adrian. Other characters keep talking about Annique’s intelligence–hell, even Annique herself remarks upon how clever she is a time or two–but what we see on camera is a woman who lets herself be captured twice by Grey. She also walks right into a trap set for her by her French enemies, and has to be rescued from same by the aforementioned Grey. Who, I might add, she does not recognize partway through the book, due to plot reasons that struck me as awfully convenient and kind of twee. (Suffice to say that I found the Annique at the beginning of the book way more interesting than the one we get halfway through.)

I’ve also got issues with the dubious tactics Grey and his people use to capture her, and how they treat her once they have her. Much is made over Annique’s evident youth, which, along with her on-screen behavior, contradicts this whole claim of her being a master spy. I’m not seeing master spy in her. I’m just not.

The last area I have issues with is the ending, and certain revelations that are made about Annique that I won’t get into because spoilers–but suffice to say that I found them actually a little disappointing, and again, ever so convenient.

And OH YES–others have commented on this, but I will too. The ebook edition has a spectacularly stupid cover, just a standard beefcake hero halfway through taking his shirt off. I very much wish that the ebook would have had the cover on the trade edition instead, the one with an actual woman on it, since that woman looked way more interesting and eye-catching to me as a character than your prototypical Yet Another Half-Shirtless Beefcake Romance Dude.

All of which, taken together, makes it sound like I didn’t like the book. Which is not precisely true. One big thing counterbalances all of the aforementioned issues, and that is this: I love, love, love the author’s ability to portray non-English dialogue in a story written in English. My ability to grasp French grammar is still pretty basic, but it is there, and I have enough of it to have totally heard the flow of the language in Annique’s dialogue whenever she was speaking French in the story. Even though her dialogue was written in English. It was all about the word choices and word placement, and it was a distinct pleasure to read. As an author with not inconsiderable interest in writing Francophone characters in the future, I’ll be learning from the book on how to do their dialogue effectively.

All in all, the things I didn’t like about the book are pretty evenly weighted by the glory that was Bourne’s language choices–and it all averages out to a not necessarily spectacular experience, but one which was pretty okay in the end. Three stars.

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Books

Book review: In the Black, by Sheryl Nantus

In the Black (Tales from the Edge, #1)

In the Black by Sheryl Nantus

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Disclaimer before I begin: Sheryl and I are both Carina Press authors, and she has been featured on my site’s Boosting the Signal column, promoting this very book! This book was not, however, received as part of that column promotion, and I’m reviewing it on my own recognizance.)

Sheryl Nantus’ Tales from the Edge series was pitched to me as heavily influenced by Firefly–and anything that invokes Firefly is a surefire way to get my attention. My Browncoat inclinations certainly see that influence right in the very title, since “the Black” is common parlance for space in that universe, and there’s also a Marian Call song of this title! (Which you should listen to. But I digress!) Certainly the scenario is Firefly-like, with the action being set aboard the Bonnie Belle, a so-called Mercy ship whose task it is to bring a crew of courtesans to a mining outpost so the miners there can have some hard-earned time with them. And if you know Firefly at all, you’ll also recognize the Guild that runs the Mercy ships as being reminiscent of the Companions, including giving the courtesans power to blacklist problem clients.

Nor did the book disappoint once it reeled me in. This is more or less SFR, but with rather less R than I expected. The primary plot is in fact a murder mystery, which erupts once the Belle docks at the mining outpost and one of the courtesans is discovered killed in her quarters. This gives the reader a rather tasty helping of intrigue as well, since there’s bucketloads of drama as to how both the Guild and the mining outpost will handle the ensuing investigation. Our two lead characters, Captain Sam Keller and Marshal Daniel LeClair, are not terribly complicated characters. But they’re likable and have good strong chemistry together, both from a romantic standpoint and from the standpoint of working together to investigate the murder.

I should also mention that while the worldbuilding was a bit light, just enough to give you the scenario with the Mercy ships and with military trauma in our heroine’s background, it was not non-existent. There’s a nice scene between Sam and Daniel when he’s telling her something of his own history, and he mentions growing up on Titan and swimming with other young people in a lake. Details were not heavily sketched in in this scene, but the simple fact that this was on Titan does raise rather interesting questions as to when Titan was terraformed in this particular universe.

And while there is indeed a romance between our two leads, it surprised me that there was actually no on-camera sex to be found–especially given that most of the action is taking place on board a Mercy ship. This is actually absolutely fine by me, because that’s actually exactly how I like to see a romance handled. So mad props to Nantus for that, because she certainly revs the imagination with what Sam and Daniel get up to off-camera. For me as a reader, leaving those shenanigans to the imagination actually makes them more fun.

I liked the supporting cast as well, though it was inevitable that I kept imagining the Belle‘s female engineer played by Jewel Staite and the ship’s medic played by Sean Maher. I also kept imagining the ship’s AI as voiced by Morena Baccarin and the senior courtesan in the crew as played by Gina Torres. Because what can I say? Browncoat.

And needless to say, I’ll be reading Book 2 in this series very soon, since the aforementioned medic does in fact star in that installment. For this one, four stars.

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Great Big Sea, Other People's Books

Book review: Where I Belong, by Alan Doyle

As I’d already posted, I pre-ordered Alan Doyle’s new memoir Where I Belong straight off of greatbigsea.com, and that book got here yesterday, woo! (Although I only wound up getting it out of the mailbox tonight, since I worked from home yesterday and forgot to check the mail.)

But in the meantime I also pulled down the ebook via Kobo, since I wasn’t about to try to take a signed hardback anywhere in my backpack. And I’ve gotta say, I was expecting the read to be delightful–but hadn’t really quite grasped how fun it would be to go through a few hundred pages’ worth of Alan essentially telling us all about the first half of his life.

I already knew the man has a command of language; I have, after all, been following his blog posts on greatbigsea.com and his own site for years now. And I’ve been to many a GBS concert in which he’s launched into amusing tales while at the mike. I’m very, very familiar with the cadences of his voice at this point, after 14 straight years of Great Big Sea fandom.

And reading Where I Belong pretty much was just like hearing Alan tell a very long tale at a kitchen party, I swear. His voice came right through into his writing, and it was made all the more delightful by assorted pictures of his young self and assorted family members. At the end of each chapter came an additional anecdote, often tying into Great Big Sea, that gave the overall narrative good structure and eventually brought us to the big turning point of Alan’s life: i.e., the founding of the band that would make him, S√©an McCann, Darrell Power, and Bob Hallett famous.

Some of this stuff I already knew, just from being in the fandom as long as I have. Some of it, though, I didn’t–particularly Alan describing the poverty of his early life. Boy howdy can I sympathize with that. And now that I’ve actually visited St. John’s, bits of the book kept resonating for me. Particularly Alan’s tale of the first visit he ever made to O’Brien’s–which has sadly now gone bankrupt. ūüôĀ I’ve been in that store. And I have a very healthy respect for the significance it’s had to the history of music in St. John’s.

Those of you who’ve read Faerie Blood and who will hopefully be getting Bone Walker by the turn of the year–you also know my Warder boy Christopher is a Newfoundlander. And reading Alan’s book, for me as an author as well as a GBS fan, kept triggering little moments of “ah yes, this would be important to Christopher and all of his family”.

So yeah. Absolutely required reading, if you’re a Great Big Sea fan. And I’d even recommend it if you’re not a GBS fan, just on the strength of Alan’s storytelling. The man does have a way with a word. And I’m hearing rumors he may be already thinking of writing another one.

To which there can of course be only one proper response: yes b’y.

And here: both of my copies of the book, the signed one from greatbigsea.com, and the ebook on my Nook HD!

Where I Belong, in Stereo

Where I Belong, in Stereo

Other People's Books

Book review: Luna: La cit√© maudite, by √Člodie Tirel

Luna: La cité mauditeLuna: La cité maudite by Elodie Tirel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s a challenge to properly review this on the grounds that I’m very new to the French language–and this was the first book I tried to read in order to practice my reading comprehension with Quebecois French! So I have to comment on this book with the caveat that my understanding of it is therefore decidedly imperfect.

But that said, I was very pleased to be able to follow the broad strokes of the plot even though I missed a lot of the detail. Right out of the gate we start with a prologue in which the elf Ambrethil, a slave of the drow, is giving birth to a child. She’s scared out of her wits that her child will be born half-drow and a girl, which will run a huge risk of the baby being raised in the evil cult of the spider goddess Lloth. Ambrethil will have exactly NONE of this, so she arranges to have her baby smuggled out of the drow city, Rhasgarrok.

Commence the A plot, fast-forwarding twelve years, to when our young heroine Luna is being raised by wolves. Like ya DO. Her only bipedal family figure is a solitary mage, Le Marécageux, who taught her how to speak, read, and write. When her adoptive wolf pack is attacked and apparently wiped out by a drow attacker, Luna learns the truth of her origins from Le Marécageux, and resolves to venture into Rhasgarrok in search of her mother.

Meanwhile, over in plot B, the warrior Darkhan is also infiltrating Rhasgarrok on a mission of his own. He’s promptly captured by the sorceress Olora√©, who forces him to become a gladiator. Again, like ya DO.

I was entirely unsurprised that plot A and plot B eventually intersected, but was pleasantly surprised by what transpired then. Luna, despite her initial introduction being quite cliched (because of course she’s unbelievably beautiful and looks exactly like her mother, yadda yadda yadda), was quite a bit more mature and clever than Darkhan was willing to give her initial credit for. Sure, the whole “oh this sweet innocent young thing I must protect from the awful things in this city” thing is another heavily used trope, but Luna and Darkhan both carried it out in a surprisingly likeable fashion. Which is the overall thing about this book; it uses a lot of heavily used tropes, but it does it surprisingly charmingly.

And, despite how my ability to follow the French was rough at best, I was able to pick up on how there’s some surprisingly grim bits with Darkhan in the gladiatorial bouts. My rough impression of the interactions between Darkhan and Olora√© suggested there was probably innueundo there, too. But overall this certainly seemed appropriately written for a YA audience.

So if you’re an Anglophone looking to practice your French, this would be a fun way to do it. I’ll be checking out more books in the series, since they’re digitally available to US customers on a few different sites. I’ll give this one four stars, mostly out of pleasure for the language practice, but also for finding it generally charming.

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To review or not to review

For those of you who may have missed it yesterday, it was my turn to blog on the Here Be Magic blog yesterday, so I chimed in on an interesting question that came up on the Carina authors’ loop: whether authors should review other authors’ work.

On a related note I’d like to call to your attention this post of Doranna Durgin’s, wherein she laments the most frustrating types of reviews she’s received.

Me, I’m still operating on a small enough level that I feel lucky to get ANY reviews at all, though I gotta say, I’d be right there with Doranna on being frustrated about ratings on a book that hadn’t even gotten read. I beg you, Internets: if you haven’t actually read a book yet, don’t rate or review it. It’s not fair to the author and it’s not fair to your fellow readers. And while I’m on the topic, I beg you as well to refrain from dropping poor ratings on a book for factors outside the author’s control. Like DRM or price points.

And also, I’d just like to note that A Feral Darkness does indeed remain my all time favorite Doranna Durgin book ever.