Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Farewell, 2013!

The end of a really good book provokes nostalgia in many readers. As we turn the final page, we look back on the paper-and-ink road that led us there, remembering the adventures we have had. We wave goodbye to characters who have grown dear to us. The hypnotic cadence of the author's voice falls abruptly silent, and we return to ourselves with a jolt.

We heave a sigh of mingled contentment and regret. Then we pick up the next book.

You can see where I'm going with this, dear readers. (And a happy new year to you, too.)

To be entirely honest, The Year Of Our Lord 2013 had very little in common with a good book, insofar as I experienced it. It was not a good year for me. It was a really terrible year. If it were a book, I'd recommend it to no one. I'd give it one out of five stars, perhaps 1.5 for certain artistic ironies. Dorothy Parker would tell us not to set it aside lightly, but to throw it with great force.

And yet, at the close of the year, Book Grumps is approaching its three-month birthday. There are seventeen full book reviews posted here and more waiting in the wings. Blogger reports almost 1k pageviews--not counting my own. For a baby book blog, that's pretty good. I'm very proud of it.

And then there's you, dear readers. Without you I wouldn't be grumpy. Hold on, that's neither true nor complimentary...

Thank you all for reading my sourpuss book reviews. Those of you on Facebook, thank you for all the times you have reshared or commented on the link, and thank you for every single "like." Those of you who hang out with me in meatspace, thank you for arguing with me face to face about ratings. Thank you for listening to me yell about spoilers from books you haven't yet read.

Thank you for the books you have recommended or loaned to me. Thanks for being so forgiving when I turn around and trash your favorite tale. Thanks for laughing at my bad jokes.  Thank you for your brave attempts to save books from merciless dog-earing on my part. (Mouschka, whenever you see this, the bookmark was very well chosen.)

Turning my grumpiness about books into "Book Grumps, The Blog" was one of the best parts of 2013. I count it among the few qualities that made the "book" of this year not an utter waste of time. I could never regret the experience of sharing my thoughts, and my love of stories, with all of you.

Fortunately for all of us, a year is not a book.  The chiming of the clock isn't a closing cover, cutting us off from the story of what has already been done. When we crack open the brand-new spine of 2014, we find that we have not said goodbye after all. This is not an ending. This is only the beginning of the next chapter.

There we go--I've fulfilled my yearly hackneyed metaphor quota, right on schedule. Here's to 2014 and the books ahead!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

From The Appendices: "Jane Eyre" Explained

Welcome, dear reader, to the brand-new Appendices, where I will take the occasional break from book grumps to ramble less formally about this-and-that.

After I referenced the "mad wife in the attic" in my grump for The Thirteenth Tale, my friend made the mistake of asking me what Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre was about, exactly.

Please note: the following summary is written purely from memory, and may be entirely inaccurate. Students writing papers on the book should not consider this a valid source of information.


This is actually from Jane Eyre.
 No other image for the rest of this post
will be, no matter how I label it.
So we have our heroine, Jane Eyre, who's an orphan. She lives off the so-called charity of her evil aunt (and uncle??) who likes to stand on beaming while her terrible children hit Jane and throw things at her and maybe burn her books. They do fun stuff like lock Jane in Rooms Where People Have Died and sic priests on her to tell her that she's an incurably wicked eight-year-old and is definitely gonna burn in hell, to which Jane has the awesome reply GUESS I'D BETTER NOT DIE THEN. Jane's afraid of pretty much nothing except for maybe ghosts.

Anyway. They hate her. It's terrible.

Eventually she gets sent to a convent or something where other incurably wicked girls learn to be productive members of society, and it's terrible there too, and she makes ONE FRIEND who then dies of tuberculosis or consumption or syphilis. (Probably not syphilis.) Along the way Jane grows up and learns to be a governess.

And who should be looking for a governess but the brooding, bad-tempered and swoonworthy-if-you're-into-that-sort-of-thing Mr. Rochester, whose first name I forget! He needs a governess for his little girl, who isn't actually his, but the bastard of the ballerina(??) he used to date. By another guy. Rochester just kind of shrugged and went with it because I guess the ballerina died. He needs someone (i.e. Jane) to keep the child out of his hair.

Very little of the story has to do with Mr. Rochester's not-child. A lot of it has to do with Rochester being a great big bully and Jane having none of it and Rochester going "whoa, are you actually sassing me, you tiny goblin woman?"

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Review: "Old-School Comfort Food" by Alex Guarnaschelli

I've said before that no one will ever love me as much as I love food.

I love eating food. I love preparing food. I love shopping for groceries to make food. I love copying out recipes for exciting new food I haven't tried to make before. I love watching shows about people who have way more skills than I do making (and then eating) food.

My favorite food show is Chopped, in which pro and semi-pro chefs are handed a basket of mystery ingredients and challenged to whip up an appetizer, entree, or dessert before time runs out. Invariably, the basket contains something weird and terrible like squid brains or a bag of gummy bears.  I've learned a lot about cooking from watching these chefs tear through the kitchen, turning disaster into deliciousness.

(If you haven't ever been forced to watch Chopped with me, dear reader, you can watch a few full episodes here to get the idea.)

On this my favorite show, I have a favorite judge: celebrity chef Alex Guarnaschelli. Alex (to use the familiar form of address) is a little grouchy and a little ridiculous. She likes her food to be "whimsical" and has a very disconcerting habit of staring unblinkingly at a contestant while she lifts a forkful of food to her mouth. (She also apparently has a 'thing' for burly firemen, but one must watch a lot of Chopped before that become clear.) As the executive chef at two top New York restaurants, and the daughter of another famous cookbook editor, she released her own cookbook earlier this year--entitled Old-School Comfort Food: The Way I Learned To Cook.

On Christmas Eve I read this cookbook cover to cover. I texted my favorite lines to fellow Chopped lover Traci of Traci J. Brooks Photography, who had given me the book as a present. I snapped phone photos of the food and of Alex's goofy illustrations, which I suppose is the foodie equivalent of sexting. And I cried a little bit, but that might have just been the Christmas Eve talking.

Food is love, isn't it? I bet every chef has talked about food being love (and love being food) at some point in their life--whether in their kitchen or in their cookbook, in an interview or on a TV show about stealing blenders, or in a dim booth in some late-night dive over one too many glasses of whatever fancy-schmancy wine chefs are supposed to drink.

(As I type this, I'm imagining some outraged chef, red-faced and spittle-flecked, pounding the table and insisting that food is food and nothing else, and also that love is a lie. Then my imaginary outraged chef begins crying into a beurre blanc, whatever that is. It's Christmas Eve for him inside my head, too.)

But I digress.

Yes, food is love. If you take the much-discussed Five Love Languages, you'll find that they are about food, too. Food is time; food is a gift; food is an act of service. Food is about touch, intimately so: the sizzling touch of meat to a hot pan, the delicate touch of a knife blade against the fragile skin of a tomato, the seductive touch of caramel melting over the tongue.

And food is definitely about words. From "I'll have the soup of the day" and "What's the recipe for this" to "Brown already, the guests are almost here" and "Please don't be burned, please don't be--AUGH" and lastly, the three most sublime words in the English language: "om nom nom."

Even in solitude, food is love.

While I'm cooking alone, it's an act of generosity to myself. I want to take care of the body that putters around all day. I want to treat my palate to the flavors it likes best. (Sometimes that's nothing more than ramen noodles with eggs stirred in. Other times, I'll go for broke and make cider vinegar steak with roasted asparagus and goat cheese-stuffed mushrooms on the side. This love is unconditional.)

While begging the egg whites to just turn to stiff peaks already before my hand gets a cramp, I'm thinking about the friends to whom I'll be serving those meringues. I think about the time I made them from memory for my grandfather, who passed earlier this year, and the rum balls one of my aunts brought to the same Christmas. As the cookies go into the oven I dwell on the memory of that lovely time.

While meticulously copying out recipes from cookbooks to put into my file, I look for gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free treats I can share with the people who matter most to me, whose allergies make cooking for them a challenge. It's a challenge I want to rise to meet, because cooking for them is--here we go again--a labor of love.

So food is love. Let's take that a step further and say that love is family.

Family is a concept that has a much broader embrace than we usually think. It's grandmothers and grandfathers, parents and children, but it's also that small family of two lovers hand in hand. It's the boss who has your back and the friend who brings you soup when you fall ill. It's the barista who recognizes you and slips you a free drink. It's the online buddy who sends you care packages when your beloved cat dies.

On Chopped, the great majority of the contestants list their family as both the reason they started cooking and the reason they want to win. They tell stories about the girlfriend who postponed grad school in order to support her partner's cooking career. The children whose favorite dish is the very same one the chef has just offered for the judge's critique. The grandmother in Guatemala, whose delectable recipes comprise the chef's earliest memories, never written down and now lost to time.

The memoirs of cooks are never a listing of what dishes they served at which restaurant. Instead, they talk about the great chefs who trained them, and the people who worked on either side of them in the steaming hell of a line kitchen. That is a family of a sort, too: a temporary one, where blood is shared (remember: the worst accidents are caused by a dull knife) even if genes are not. These memoirs are punctuated by the food they ate with this white-hatted family; each dish mentioned has a human story behind it. The food is the memory, and the memory lives on in the food.

Food is love, and love is family. Why not take it full circle to say that family is food? Family, whatever its shape in your life, is what fuels you. It gives you strength to get up out of bed. Family is the flavor that sets your people apart from the faceless crowds of the world. Family is sweet, overpowering, sour, smoke-filled, cold, comforting, full of zest... all in turn and all in time.

Food is love, and love is family. and family is food.

Now, about the cookbook in question: Alex Guarnaschelli wrote a really good cookbook. It's full of funny anecdotes and Alex's little cartoons of food (the sad parsnips were my favorite.) She offers recipes that are delicious without being absurdly complicated, and doesn't have her knickers in a twist about storebought ingredients. Her approach to flavors uses a lot of "brightness," which I like in my own food--bringing the flavors out of a dish with just a touch of acidy citrus, or a dollop of sour cream, or a splash of vinegar. I'm a big fan. It's a good book. The end.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Review: "The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield

The famous writer Vida Winter is renowned for the outlandish histories she makes up for interviews. Each one has been a lie. Now an old woman, dying of cancer, she wants to lay certain ghosts to rest before she joins them.

As far as Winter is concerned, biographer Margaret Lea is a blank slate: unfamiliar with her works, untouched by preconceptions. But while Margaret listens to the old novelist's confession, she finds that not all of the ghosts are silent--and that some are calling her own name.

  4 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Borrowed Barnes & Noble Grump: "9 Signs You Might Be Living In A YA Novel"

For reasons of its own, my computer has ceased to play by the rules of normal computer functionality, so my next proper book grump may be a bit delayed. In the meantime, dear readers, I have learned that Barnes & Noble has its own blog, where one of their columnists is pitching quite a grump of her own about too-common stereotypes in YA literature.

Here, I'll let her do a bit of grumping in my stead.
Something strange is going on. Animals are looking at you sideways. Things fall off desks when you walk by. You have a sudden hankering for red meat, and you wake up with muddy feet. Did you recently have a birthday? We bet all this funny business started right after that. 
Look in the mirror: Do you have green eyes? If not, does your crush? While less than 2% of the population has green eyes, independent studies have revealed that 90% of them are currently living in a YA novel. 
You have next to no adult supervision in your life. Whether your adult guardian (there’s probably only one) is missing, working long hours, off fighting werewolves, or just plain clueless, you’re left to your own devices most of the time. This leaves you free to do activities including but not limited to marrying a ghost, overthrowing a postapocalyptic government, and driving a pickup truck while texting, clutching a giant iced coffee, and thinking soulfully about souls. 
Within the past few weeks, two hot, adoring guys have come into your life. If one is a dark-haired bad boy and the other a mischievous yet trustworthy blond, just accept that you’re living in a YA novel now, and cross your fingers it’s a series. 
You or someone you know is named Cam, Cameron, or Cammie. Also watch out for names that can be shortened to Kat. 
Your world’s looking a little bit…whitewashed. And if you do know someone of color, they likely have skin that one might compare to a cafe au lait, mocha, or other beverage currently sold at Starbucks. (Note: If people are looking even whiter than usual, you may be living in a YA novel about vampires. Or zombies. I’m sorry.) 
You have an archnemesis. We hate to break it to you, but most people don’t have to deal with someone who is single-mindedly devoted to ruining their life. This goes double if you were inadvertently responsible for your archnemesis becoming a mutant/losing control of their space colony/falling out of their dress at prom. 
You just found out you’re descended from a race of creatures that has something to do with souls. Or angels, or demons, or vampires, or seeking, or protecting, or vengeance, or gods. If your family photo album is actually a skin-bound Necronomicon you found in a cave, you’re probably living in a YA novel. 
Your friends keep saying things like, “Either I send him south in handcuffs or in a Chicago overcoat.” Wait a minute…you might actually be living in a noir. Lucky!
From "9 Signs You Might Be Living In A YA Novel" by Melissa Albert

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Review: "Ship of Fools/Unto Leviathan" by Richard Paul Russo

The Argonos has been lost in space for so long that its intended destination, like its port of origin, has been forgotten. The beacon from the planet Antioch is the first hint of civilization it has encountered in decades. But when Bartolomeo and the exploration team land planetside, they find only corpses.

Despite Antioch's disturbing mysteries, the underclasses enslaved by the Argonos view it as a chance at freedom. Their desperate attempt to escape the ship ends in catastrophe. Bartolomeo, caught in a political struggle between the ship's captain and its bishop, is cast as the leader of the mutiny and thrown in the brig.

While the imprisoned Bartolomeo questions his place on a ship that despises him, the Argonos returns to its solitary voyaging. For the first time in memory, though, it has a direction. Clues on Antioch lead them into the black of space--where a vast structure, not built by human hands, waits to be found.

  3 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Three-For-One Review: The "Symphony of Ages" Trilogy by Elizabeth Haydon

Rhapsody, a gifted singer and Namer, is on the run from the demons of her past. A far more literal demon pursues the two half-monster warriors Grunthor and Achmed. When Rhapsody’s power of Naming Naming frees Achmed from his curse, the monstrous pair drag the singer along on a desperate race to outrun the coming apocalypse.

The escape leads the three on a surreal journey through the fires at the center of the earth. They emerge into a transformed world, separated from the one they knew by hundreds of years. But not all has been destroyed. Amid the wonders and mysteries of their new world, familiar nightmares survive to haunt and to hunt them--as well as sweeter dreams long since given up for lost.

Fantasy Adventure: 4 out of 5 stars
Romance: 1 out of 5 stars

(grump below the cut)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Review: "Duma Key" by Stephen King

Successful entrepreneur, beloved husband and father--Edgar Freemantle had it all. An accident on a construction site robs him of everything, and takes his right arm along the way.

Now crippled, divorced, suffering constant pain and struggling with memory loss, Edgar is a wreck of the man he was. To dissuade him from suicide, his psychologist prescribes a "geographic cure"--a change of scenery. Edgar takes up residence on isolated Duma Key off the coast of Florida, where the sunset bleeding into the Gulf and the shells whispering in the swell of the tide stir a hunger in him. For the first time since childhood, Edgar picks up a paintbrush and begins to create.

But as Edgar's eerie paintings increase in skill and beauty, nightmares stir under the clear waters of the Gulf. A ghost ship against a scarlet sky appears over and over in his art, its bow turning toward the shore. Something which has been sleeping for a century begins to wake, and reaches out to the world once more. 

  5 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Not Dead!

Hello dear readers!

This is just a PSA that I'm not dead. I've been very busy with work, and I haven't read anything really rant-worthy for a bit. I do still have a stack of recommendations some of you have offered me, which I'm looking forward to reading. More grumps will be forthcoming over the Thanksgiving weekend, I hope, or failing that, in December. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Review: "Nine Goblins" by T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon)

Only an utter lunkhead wants responsibility, which is why goblin commanders are traditionally chosen for their stupidity. Unfortunately, Sergeant Nessilka is just clever enough to know that she's in way over her head. Keeping the Nineteenth Infantry safe from elven warriors, poison ivy, and poorly-constructed goblin machinery is a 24/7 job, without vacation days or a dental plan.

A wizard's spell gone awry lands Nessilka and the Whinin' Nineteenth miles behind enemy lines. What's worse, the forest stinks of elves and the human farmlands lie abandoned in that eerie fashion that typically begins a ghost story around the campfire. Getting her nine soldiers home will take Nessilka far more wit and luck than any goblin commander has.

The elven veterinarian Sings-To-Trees isn't terribly concerned about the goblins in his zucchini patch. After a few decades of delivering baby unicorns, patching up trolls, and taking the hands-on solution to eggbound cockatrices, little disturbs him. But with the goblins comes a whiff of strange, dark magic, and visions of ghastly creatures even he has never seen. He can't say for certain whether Nessilka and her goblins are to blame--but if they don't figure it out fast, all of them could be in much bigger trouble than anyone bargained for.

  4 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Review: "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn

On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy Dunne disappears from their Missouri home--and her husband, Nick, looks like the reason.

Nick scrambles to find a suitable alibi, desperately redirecting the investigation towards any suspect but himself. Meanwhile, Amy's diary entries reveal a portrait of a marriage gone sour. Gracious wife, beloved only child, the inspiration for an award-winning book series--it is unthinkable that anyone could wish harm on such a lovely woman.

But Nick has harbored resentment against his bride for years, envious of her inherited wealth, exasperated by her city-girl lifestyle. As his excuses run thin and his secrets come to light, all the signs point to his guilt.

But no one can answer the question: what happened to Amy?

  4 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Review: "Shards of Honor" by Lois McMaster Bujold

This was the only reasonable cover
I could find. The worst offenders
are displayed for your amusement
below the cut.

When Commander Cordelia Naismith's survey expedition is massacred in a Barrayan attack. Stranded in an alien wilderness, she joins forces with the enemy: Admiral Captain Vorkosigan, left for dead by a mutiny within the Barrayan forces. The history of war between their cultures is long and ugly--but the partnership forged over their long trek to safety is stronger still.

Now a prisoner of the Barrayans who rescued Vorkosigan, Cordelia is divided between her duty to her people and her personal loyalty to the man who crossed a planet with her. Intrigue and treason threatens Vorkosigan from his own people. Meanwhile, the survivors of Cordelia's crew team up with the mutineers in a desperate attempt to rescue her.

As far as the warlike Barrayans are concerned, the astrocartographer is no threat: she's no fighter, she's a woman, she's an unarmed prisoner. From where Cordelia stands, though, she holds the power of life and death: for herself, for Vorkosigan, and for both of their ways of life.

  4 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)

Friday, October 25, 2013

Review: "Bloodhound" by Tamora Pierce

(Bloodhound is the second book in a series. I reviewed Terrier, the first book , here.)


Beka Cooper has survived her training year in the Provost's Guard--but those who said the work would get easier with time were lying. Her ruthlessness in pursuit of justice has won her a number of enemies, both among the criminals of the Lower City and among her fellow Dogs.

Rejected by a string of partners, Cooper teams back up with her old mentor Goodwin. The pair leaves Corus for Port Caynn on a top-priority mission for the Provost himself--to track down the culprits behind a spate of counterfeit silver coins that are ruining Tortall.

They find Port Caynn in the grip of the underworld's Rogue, who isn't half so kindly disposed towards Cooper as the Rogue of Corus. Cooper and Goodwin are on their own in a city full of strangers while the lower classes turn to riot, with false money crashing the market and food running scarce in a bad season.

  4 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Filing Systems and the Mystery of "Mystery"

After doing a bit of research on other book review blogs, I cleaned up the tags system and added a "file by label" system (over there to your right.) This way, dear reader, if you're interested in reading my grumps just in a certain genre, it's easy to find. Perhaps in time I'll add a "file by star rating" list as well.

While reassigning labels to these book grumps, I got stuck on how many of them can be called "mysteries." Even without the trappings of trench coats and forensic kits (or, depending on your taste in mysteries, cats), whodunits are found in absolutely every genre.

I now propose my own version of the "only [n] plots in the world" theory: there are three.
  • Get the thing
  • Defeat the thing
  • Find out who did the thing
For fairness' sake, I'm only going to use the "mystery" tag if the book specifically describes itself as such.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Review: “Heat” by Bill Buford

Bill Buford is successful and happy in his career as a reporter when he befriends the famous New York chef Mario Batali. What was meant to be a simple interview spins out of control as Mario invites Bill to work for him. Untrained but eager, Bill begins work as a lowly assistant in the kitchen of Mario’s three-star Italian restaurant.

A classic comedy of errors ensues--but Bill’s perseverance and maniacal need to Understand Food sees him rise in skill and rank through the kitchen. He is sanctified (as it were) by the hellish fires of the grill.

Mario contemplates setting up the onetime reporter with a restaurant of his own, but Bill has caught the cooking fever. New York is no longer enough for him. He wants to go to Italy and learn where Italian food began. There are little old women in the hills with pasta-making secrets no one else remembers. There are butchers whose handling of meat is said to be operatic. Bill trades the typewriter for the filleting knife--perhaps for good.

  5 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)

Monday, October 21, 2013

My Own Favorites

It occurs to me that while I've been posting all these grumpy reviews of new books I've found, I haven't talked about the books that I already love, the ones which cancel out all the grumps.

 For the record: my absolute favorite, Best Beloved, accept-no-substitutes book is The Once and Future King by T.H. White.

 The rest follow in alphabetical order.
  • Margaret Atwood: Cat's Eye
  • Peter S. Beagle: The Last Unicorn 
  • Isabella Bird: A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains
  • Ray Bradbury: The Martian Chronicles
  • Gillian Bradshaw: Imperial Purple
  • Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre
  • Bill Buford: Heat
  • Novella Carpenter: Farm City
  • C.J. Cherryh: Foreigner
  • C.J. Cherryh: Rider at the Gate
  • Evan Dahm: Rice Boy
  • Tom DeHaven: Sunburn Lake
  • William Goldman: The Princess Bride
  • Joanne Greenberg: I Never Promised You A Rose Garden
  • Kim Harrison: The Hollows
  • Stephen King: Hearts in Atlantis
  • Stephen King: Lisey's Story
  • Rudyard Kipling: The Jungle Books
  • C.S. Lewis: Til We Have Faces 
  • James W. Loewen: Lies My Teacher Told Me
  • George R.R. Martin: A Song of Ice and Fire
  • Geraldine McCaughrean: Peter Pan in Scarlet
  • Patricia McKillip: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld
  • Robin McKinley: Spindle's End
  • Hayao Miyazaki: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
  • Patrick Ness: Chaos Walking
  • Naomi Novik: Temeraire
  • Mervyn Peake: Gormenghast
  • Julie Ann Peters: Far from Xanadu
  • David L. Robbins: The War of the Rats
  • Craig Thompson: Blankets
  • Megan Whalen Turner: The Queen of Attolia
  • Catherynne M. Valente: The Orphan's Tales
  • Elizabeth Warnock Fernea: Guests of the Sheik
  • Daniel Woodrell: Winter's Bone
  • Patricia C. Wrede: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles
Feel free to share your favorite books in the comments!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Comments Reminder

Hey everyone!

Thank you so much for all the feedback y'all have given me on this blog and the books you've recommended for my (dis)pleasure.
Food critic Anton Ego says hello again

For those who aren't familiar with Blogspot, you don't have to wait until the next time you see me in person or catch me online to talk to me about books or grumps! The comments system is set up so that anyone can reply without having to sign up for this (or any) site.

Please feel free to post your remarks or complain about my font choices--or possibly vent your wrath at my misappraisal of your favorite book. I'd love to hear whatever you have to say.

Looking forward to it!

Review: "Fitcher's Brides" by Gregory Frost

The Charter girls' new stepmother is a very religious woman--and her religion of choice is Elias Fitcher, whose prophecies schedule the end of the world for October 1843. Whether they want it or not, Vernelia, Amy, and Kate are going to be among the saved--and the married--on that day.

While their hapless father mans the turnstile allowing penitents into Fitcher's commune, the charismatic preacher courts each of his daughters in turn. But life as the bride of God's final prophet is far from heavenly. A darkness hides inside the walls of Harbinger House, and in the marriage bed.

  2.5 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Review: "Clockwork Heart" by Dru Pagliassotti

That's "clockwork," not "cleckwerk."
Good job, typographers.
High above the streets and smoke plumes of Ondinium, Taya soars on silver wings. In a city driven by the beat of the great engine at its heart, only the icarii couriers move freely among the castes. Taya has been training for years in caste-appropriate protocols, hoping to earn her place in the elite diplomatic corps.

On the eve of her sister's wedding, Taya is in the right place at the right time to save one of the city's Exalted from a sabotaged cable car. She learns it was the wrong time, when the rescue entangles her in a web of intrigue and terrorism.

Across the bounds of caste, the Exalted Alister--a genius programmer--reaches out to Taya for help. But while Alister tries to protect Taya from a string of murders and bombings, his misanthropic brother, an outcast from Exalted society, looks more and more like the culprit. Someone is trying to destroy the computational machines that keep Ondinium alive, and they could use a good pair of wings--even if it means stealing them from a dead icarus.

  4.5 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Review: "Across the Universe" by Beth Revis

Not pictured: The Beatles.
Amy Martin gives up a lot when she agrees to join her parents on their expedition to colonize the newly discovered planet in Alpha Centauri: her friends, her boyfriend, her plans for a normal life. Instead, she will spend the next three hundred years in cryogenic freeze, traveling across the universe in the Godspeed. She is "nonessential cargo" compared to her brilliant scientist parents. But in a terrible accident, Amy wakes fifty years too early--without her parents, lost in the cold black of space.

Elder was set apart from birth to lead the crew of the Godspeed. Yet he is also the youngest and most misfit member of the ship's homogenous and rigidly controlled population, shaped by centuries of space travel. Elder's supposed mentor refuses to teach him anything about the ship. Amy is the first person Elder has ever known his own age; the first person who doesn't take a life of lies and confinement for granted; the first person who has walked on real earth and felt the warmth of a real sun on her skin.

For Elder, just knowing Amy is happiness enough. But Amy, once deemed "nonessential," is now considered a freak. She is disturbed by what humanity has become aboard the Godspeed, and wants to know who woke her, and why. More frozen passengers are found thawing ahead of schedule--and don't survive the process. With mind-altering drugs in the water and a killer on board the ship, only the misfits are asking why.
  2 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Review: "Shine" by Lauren Myracle

For three years, Cat Robinson has kept the world at arm's length. At sixteen years old, she is haunted by the hard truths that people you've known all your life can hurt you—and that the ones who claim to love you best won’t come to rescue you.

The walls of Cat’s self-imposed prison crack when her onetime best friend is found in a coma, badly beaten and scrawled with hateful slurs. She is determined not to fail Patrick the same way her family failed her. But Cat’s search for the culprit hits a roadblock at every turn.

The small community of Black Creek, North Carolina is rocked by the attack on one of their own. Some believe that Patrick brought the attack upon himself; others pray for his salvation and swift recovery. What no one wants to believe is that someone in their midst is capable of such violence. It is so much easier to blame faceless out-of-town thugs than to accuse a neighbor or a relative; that friend, that fishing buddy, the mayor’s son.

Don’t look, don’t ask, don’t talk about it—that is the command Cat is given at every turn. For Patrick’s sake and for her own, though, she must press on. Her solo quest for justice stirs up family secrets, drug deals, and her own buried memories... everything but the answer she needs.

4 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Review: “A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains” by Isabella Bird

To escape the unhealthy climate of her homeland, English writer Isabella Bird travels the globe, from Hawaii to Tibet, Australia to Turkey. When she visits the mountains of Colorado in 1873, she is already a fearless veteran traveler.

In the newly settled state, there are a hundred miles of untamed wilderness for every town, and hotels are an even rarer sight than English gentry. Her letters to her sister describe a world rough-hewn and ungentle, populated by desperadoes and consumptives. The bleakness of human life is placed in sharp contrast to the timeless magnificence of the Rocky Mountains that surround them.

But the staggering radiance of the landscape is not the only source of beauty that Bird discovers on her journey. In the lonely sanctuary of Estes Park, human generosity reaches a sublime state. By necessity, doors are thrown open to the traveler, for a night or for a month. Here is a world with no space for tourists, only participants.One's neighbors are one's lifeline, and bitter feuds and intense rivalries are laid aside in the face of the mutual need to survive.

Bird plans to visit Colorado only for a short time, but her departure is delayed at every turn. In an economic downswing, the frontier banks refuse to cash her English banknotes, leaving her dependent upon the charity of her newfound friends. Thunderous winter storms close the mountain passes for weeks on end while supplies run scarce. Her hosts, initially dubious of this well-bred foreigner, recognize Bird's skill as a rider and employ her on the roundup of their far-ranging mountain cattle. Meanwhile, the notorious outlaw "Mountain Jim" Nugent, a fellow Englishman in exile, courts Bird with magnificent style, desperate to keep her near him.

Bird describes her time in Colorado in vivid detail, from the shifting colors of the sunset on Long’s Peak to the firelight on Mountain Jim's scarred face, her eyelids freezing shut on a snowy night and  her ride of eight hundred miles in the dead of winter. She writes with keen criticism of human folly and foibles, but also with compassion and wonder. She punctuates it all with that particular dry English humor that makes her tale a delight to read.

4 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)

Monday, October 7, 2013

Review: "Tigana" by Guy Gavriel Kay

To avenge his son’s death, the Ygrathan sorcerer-king Brandin laid a curse on the land of Tigana like no one had ever known—one that erased its very name. Only a generation after Tigana’s fall, few people in the peninsula of the Palm remember that such a province existed.

But even the worst tragedies leave survivors. A scattered handful of exiles remember Tigana and beautiful Avalle of the Towers, the birthplace of the Palm’s greatest music and arts, its noblest leaders and heroes. They do more than simply remember—they are determined to rise up and break the curse.

Devin d’Asoli, a traveling singer of rare talent, learns that his destiny holds more than concerts and pretty women when the truth of his own heritage is revealed. In league with Tigana’s outcast prince and a motley crew of other avengers, he embarks on a quest to unravel the sorceror’s magic, throw off the conqueror’s yoke, and make Tigana’s name heard in the Palm once again.

  2 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Review: “Terrier” by Tamora Pierce

Against bitter odds, Beka Cooper has survived a harsh childhood in the slums of Corus. Now she enlists as a protector of those same streets in the uniform of a city guard, colloquially known as “the Provost's Dogs.” As a trainee, Cooper is assigned to shadow the experienced team of Goodwin and Tunstall, who aren’t too sure they want a puppy getting underfoot.

Cooper keeps meticulous journal entries as she trains to be a better Dog--stopping crime, breaking bones, and taking bribes. Her wits, her tenacity, and her strange talent of hearing ghosts guide her through a corrupt and brutal city, trying to bring justice to the ugly society that raised her.

While Cooper, Goodwin, and Tunstall track a trail of blood to a mysterious surge in the opal market, children go missing and their parents look the other way. Meanwhile, Cooper’s new housemates turn out to be rising stars in the criminal underworld. They could either bring her the secrets she needs to find the killers, or bring her down with them.

4.5 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)

What's On The Menu?

Food critic Anton Ego from Pixar's "Ratatouille"
I'm not like that food critic in Ratatouille, who remains skeletally thin because he will not so much as swallow food that does not meet his exacting standards. I am critical about my books--hence the name of the blog--but I love them.

So what is it that I look for in a book?

I look for heart. I look for authors who use language like a scythe. I look for well-built worlds, where the setting lives and breathes alongside its inhabitants. I like stories about women, people of color, marginalized people getting their own voices. I like unusual corners of history, fantasy, sci-fi, and other places and times not too much like my own (on the surface, anyway.) I have a funny soft spot for evocative memoirs and authors who wax poetic about food.

I'll grump more than usual if I read a book whose plot hinges on cheap coincidences, or one populated by bland dude protagonist types coming of age in the exact same way that all the other bland dude protagonists have come of age. But I don't waste time grumping about books I didn't like at all (unless they were so terrible that I want you, dear reader, to be spared my suffering.)

On my previous blog, I was told that I write more about the negatives in a book than the positives. Part of that is because it's more fun; it's also easier to talk about what went wrong than to describe what went right.

Another reason is because I don't like to "spoil" books for new readers, particularly those I am recommending. Very often, the best parts of a book--the ones that make me sit upright in my chair and start gleefully reading aloud to my roommate--are the well-crafted plot twist, the revelation, the emotional crux of the story. How could I rob you of the joy of those discoveries? I'd never forgive myself.

I have a small backlog of reviews to repost, and a few library books on the shelf waiting to be read and reviewed in turn--a mix of historical fiction, sci-fi, and fantasy. Otherwise, I am always happy to hear recommendations for new books! You can post them in the comment section on any post, or email them to me.

I think, for an introduction, that will suffice. Time to serve up some book grumps!

A Fine and Private Place... To Grump About Books

[Thanks to Peter S. Beagle for the post title!]

Hello, and welcome to the most recent--and hopefully the last--of my blogs.

I've been reading since I was five, blogging since fourteen, and blogging specifically about reading books for about the past three years (in various places on the internet, now lost to the pixelated sands of time.) Credit or blame for this blog goes to the friends who told me to just go ahead and make a website specifically for book reviews.

"But I want to be a published author myself. It would be rather tacky to grump about other people's books in the same place as I try to promote my own," said the Voice of Reasonable-Sounding Excuses To Procrastinate.

"Then make that a separate blog," said the Voice of Wisdom.

So here we are. The personal writing blog will happen another time. For now, there are plenty of books already written and demanding my attention. I aim to introduce them to you, dear reader--to find for you diamonds in the published rough, and to warn you away from narrative wastelands where ne'er heart was stirred by story--and to hone my critical skills along the way. I hope you enjoy reading my book grumps.