Saturday, February 28, 2015

March's In the Queue

When it's cold and dreary read a book from March's In the Queue. These novels are sure to make your winter warmer and much more cheery! 


The Fifth Gospel by Ian Caldwell
A lost gospel, a contentious relic, and a dying pope's final wish converge to send two brothers on a quest to untangle Christianity's greatest historical mystery.

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
This riveting and unforgettable debut novel is an unforgettable story of marriage, fidelity, sex, morality and mostly self. It navigates between the lines of lust and love, guilt and shame and excuses and reasons,  Anna Benz is an electrifying heroine whose story reveals how we create ourselves, and how we lose ourselves and the sometimes disastrous choices we make to find ourselves.

Dead Play On by Heather Graham
Musicians are being murdered in New Orleans and Danni Cafferty and Michael Quinn are determined to find the murderer. They hope to find what the cops couldn't or wouldn't discover about the mysterious killer.  They discover that sometimes the line between passion and obsession is hard to separate. They must uncover the truth to save other musicians and themselves.

The Buried Giant: A Novel by Kazuo Ishiguro
This novel tells a luminous story about the act of forgetting and the power of memory, a resonant tale of love, vengeance, and war.

Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon
Alex Meier makes a desperate bargain with the CIA. He can earn his way back to America but he must spy on the woman he left behind, the only woman he has ever loved.  This is a compelling postwar espionage thriller and a love story that brings a shadowy period of history vividly to life.

Inspector of the Dead by David Morrell
David Morrell transports readers to the fogbound streets of London, where a killer is killing the upper echelons of society with the ultimate victim Queen Victoria.

Cuba Straits by Randy Wayne White
When a friend goes missing after delivering a valuable cache of letters, Doc Ford discovers that the letters may contain a powerful secret that someone does not want made public. 

A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear
Maisie Dobbs returns in a powerful story of political intrigue and personal tragedy: a brutal murder in the British garrison town of Gibraltar leads the investigator into a web of lies, deceit, and danger.

New Books by Best Selling Authors

Memory Man by David Baldacci
Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg
Wicked Charms: A Lizzie and Diesel Novel by Janet Evanovich
The Bone Tree by Greg Iles
Your Next Breath by Iris Johnson
God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
Miracle at Augusta by James Patterson and Peter de Jong
The Liar by Nora Roberts
Gathering Prey by John Sandford
Every Fifteen Minutes by Lisa Scottoline
Hot Pursuit by Stuart Woods

Heretic by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
The author makes an impassioned plea for Islamic Reformation and explores how Islam can be reconciled with modernity to end terrorism and the repression of women and minorities.

Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster): Life Lessons and Other Ravings from Dave Barry by Dave Barry
Barry's latest collection of previously unpublished writing is a quick, fun read that will keep you laughing from beginning to end.

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Live by Gretchen Craft Rubin
This outline is a fascinating study of the human mind and the process of change. Rubin uses real life examples and proved customizable strategies to help readers understand how to change their habits.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Not that kind of girl: Lena Dunham tells you what she's "learned"

Feminist lit seems to be topping the best of 2014 lists. Among the books to hit the shelves in 2014 was Not that Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham. Dunham modeled the book after Helen Gurley Brown’s book, Having it All—more in construction than message. Dunham leans a bit more to the feminist, coming-of-age bent than Brown did. I am not a diehard Lena Dunham fan, I have not watched Girls, and I generally have not enjoyed anything I’ve see her act in. However, she’s making news and is splashed across at least one major magazine cover every month. I am a fan of feminist lit, as this is touted, and I enjoy memoirs.

My perception of Dunham did not change much. She’s a rather whiny, over privileged girl from Soho. However, she disclosed in her book that she became aware of these things as she aged and tried to put things in perspective. According to her, not even the offspring of well-known artists have it easy when trying to break into the entertainment industry. Alongside the normal coming of age issues like flagging motivation and low self-esteem, Dunham has had to face sexism and age discrimination. Yes, women are still not treated fairly in the workplace (Patricia Arquette might have mentioned this recently, too.). Perhaps my favorite part of the book is Dunham’s proclamation that she will name names of the men who treated her poorly when she made it to Hollywood. She’s polite enough to wait until he’ll more than likely be dead and her career will be rock solid, but she will be telling all. I can't wait.
Lena Dunham’s book is great. A good solid read that sheds light on a new icon. If you've read other recent memoirs by female television or movie stars, such as Bossypants by Tina Fey or Yes, Please! by Amy Poehler, this would be a safe bet for your next read. Keep in mind, young women are tongue in cheek these days so don’t come expecting a lovely story about a chaste and well-mannered young woman. Life is messy and these women don’t sugar coat it. Young women, all women, should read their books and be proud of the advancements made, but also be aware  of what it took to get here and how much further we have to go.
And, just for another shameless plug, don't forget Caitlin Moran in your list of feminist reads. I recently read and reviewed How to Build a Girl, but if you're feeling particularly angsty, you should check out How to be a Woman, also by Moran.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Steampunk: a Blend of Action, Adventure, Science, and Magic

Steampunk is a type of science fiction/fantasy that often mixes the modern with the antique.  It originated in the 1980s and blends together a number of sub-genres such as: science fiction, fantasy, mystery, alternative history, and horror.  It's settings are usually Victorian-era Britain although some are set in the American Wild West or even a post-apocalyptic future.

While clockwork and steam-powered contraptions are a common steampunk theme, there may be others such as:  the pairing of hard science with magic or futuristic technology with mechanical machines.

So, try some of the following steampunk books--you'll be happy you checked them out.

Poison Fruit by Jacqueline Carey

The paranormal town of Pemkowet is led by Daisy Johanssen, agent of Hel.   But as a nightmarish monster racks up victims, someone else files a lawsuit against the town. If Pemkowet loses, the fate of the community will be at stake. 

The Shotgun Arcana by R. S. Belcher

Golgotha, Nevada. 1870. A haven for all including a fallen angel, a mad scientist, a pirate queen, and a deputy who is kin to coyotes, Golgotha has come through many trials, but now an army of killers is converging on the town, and its people will be tested as never before.

Gideon Smith & the Brass Dragon by David Barnett

Nineteenth century London is where Queen Victoria presides over three quarters of the known world.  The pirate Louis Cockayne has stolen a fantastical weapon-a great brass dragon. Gideon and his intrepid band give chase through the lawless lands of free Texas where life is cheap and honor cheaper. 

The Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato

Octavia, a young healer with incredible powers, is traveling to her first mission. Suddenly, she is caught up in a flurry of intrigue:  the steward may be one of the infamous Clockwork Daggers! The danger is only beginning and the conspiracy may reach to the crown itself.

The Return of the Discontinued Man by Mark Hodder

In 1860 London, a scientist conjures up Spring Heeled Jack, who is hunting Sir Richard Burton! Meanwhile, Burton is experiencing visions and now he must voyage through time into a twisted future ruled by a cruel intelligence.
The Executioner’s Heart by George Mann

Chief Inspector Bainbridge of Scotland Yard is called to a third, symbolic murder. Supernatural specialists Newbury and Hobbes conclude that the killings may be the work of the Executioner. Who will be her next target? 

Cold Copper by Devon Monk

In steam age America, lycanthrope Cedar Hunt and witch Mae Lindson set out on a mission. Taking refuge in Des Moines when a storm hits, they must stop the mayor’s plot to rule the world.

Fiddlehead by Cherie Priest

Ex-slave Gideon Bardsley is a brilliant inventor. To keep Gideon safe, Abraham Lincoln calls on Pinkerton "Belle" Boyd.  Can she keep the greedy warmongers from assassinating Gideon and extending the Civil War? 
The Ripper Affair by Lilith Saintcrow

An accident places Archibald Clare, a mentath in the service of Britannia, in the care of sorceress Emma Bannon. He needs rest to repair his abilities, but someone is murdering women of a certain reputation and threatens to bring ruin to the Empire. 

Also, try some of these stand-alone novels and series number ones:

Balfour and Meriwether in the Incident of the Harrowmoor Dogs by Daniel Abraham
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
Phoenix Rising by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
Doktor Glass by Thomas Brennan
Soulless by Gail Carriger
Half Made World by Felix Gilman
Mainspring by Jay Lake
God Save the Queen by Kate Locke
The Buntline Special by Michael (Mike) Resnick
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey Read-a-Likes

Read-a-like is library speak for a book or series that shares a commonality with another book that may appeal to the same reader. The book may have a similar tone, setting, characterization style or similar plot. A good read-a-like connects the elements a reader enjoys in a story with a new author or different book. For instance if you enjoy reading books written by  Robyn Carr, books which are compelling and have a heart-warming romance you will probably enjoy books by Merline Lovelace. If you enjoy light, breezy and upbeat romance novels that delve into adult human emotions and have a touch of sexuality you will likely enjoy novels by Susan Mallery or Jennifer Crusie. Although these novels often touch on serious subjects they possess a positive heart-warming feel.  

If you are like the myriad of readers who have enjoyed the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, here is a list of novels that have become quite popular since the interest in scandalous and titillating novels has grown. 

Sweet Surrender by Maya Banks
Police officer Gray Montgomery is searching for his partners killer. He finds a link between the killer and Faith, a beautiful stranger and decides if he has to get close to her to catch the killer, he will. 

Bared to You by Sylvia Day
Another beautiful and conflicted couple deal with their past history of sexual abuse as they strive toward 'normalcy'. "Gideon knew. He had demons of his own. And we would become the mirrors that reflected each others most private wounds and... desires."

Pleasure by Eric Jerome Dickey
Nia Simone Bijou 'has it all except the one thing which will give her the control she craves and the power she deserves: absolute, uninhibited sexual satisfaction.'

Never Too Much by Lori Foster
This contemporary erotic romance is smart playful and extremely sexy. Ben Baldwin sets his sites on Sierra Murphy when she pulls up to his restaurant. She rebuffs his advances and the chase is on, but Ben never expects he will fall in love.

A Kiss of Shadows by Laurell K. Hamilton
Meet Merry Gentry paranormal P.I. and Fae Princess. Enter a dazzling world full of danger, mystery and magic, when the Dark Queen sends her Darkness to bring Meredith back to the Fae.

Dangerous Pleasure by Lora Leigh
Abram el Hamid Mustafa has always appreciated Paige Galbraithe. She has been a constant source of comfort to him in his dark world. When his father kidnaps Paige, Abram must find the courage to save her as their secret dangerous desire pulls them together, while other forces try to tear them apart.

Never the Face by Ariel Sands 
The heroine in this story remains nameless throughout the book, but she is dissatisfied with love, bored with sex; in her experience all lovers are predictably dull,... until she rekindles a relationship with her old flame. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

We Are All Completely Fine

But are they really?

Welcome to Dr. Jan Sayer's "Very Special Trauma" group, whose members are all survivors of horrific and incomprehensible crimes. They've agreed to come together to help each other cope--at least, that's Dr. Sayer's plan. But when you've suffered as they have and seen the things that they've seen, is there really any hope for a normal existence? You be the judge. Take, for example, Stan, the oldest member of the group. He lost his limbs to the notorious Weaver family, otherwise known as the Arkansas Cannibals. Then there's Barbara, who seems the most normal of them all but who was once a victim of the Scrimshander, an entity that peeled back her flesh and left carvings on her bones. And what of Google Glass-wearing Martin, the youngest? He sees things through those dark lenses, bad things, and they're everywhere. Harrison, another group member, is well-acquainted with what Martin sees, for he is the so-called Monster Detective. As a teenager, Harrison once saved the town of Dunnsmouth from its doom--just barely, as he'd put it--but he now wants nothing to do with his monster-hunting past and spends his days in a drunken oblivion if he can help it. Rounding out the group is Greta, the tight-lipped, white-haired Goth girl, commune escapee and demon vessel.

Daryl Gregory's We Are All Completely Fine is a slim novel with a darkly entertaining narrative that will keep the pages turning. Really, half the fun is observing how these very different characters interact with one another throughout each therapy session, and how, when a group member is threatened, they finally come to trust and help one another. If you're looking for a quick excursion into the literary landscape Ray Bradbury once called the October Country, We Are All Completely Fine will get you there and back safely in a single afternoon. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale Of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is generally considered a grand, eloquent authority on the English language. While many other English dictionaries have been produced, the OED still stands with monolithic sureness and for good reason. The first edition was started in 1879 and not finished until 1927. It used twelve volumes to define 414,825 words and 1,827,306 illustrative quotes from literature to demonstrate both the origin and meaning of the words. In all, the hand-set type spanned 178 miles and used 227,779,589 letters and numbers (this does not include the myriad punctuation marks). In fact, the illustrative quotes, pulled from text all the way back to Anglo-Saxon England, are what set the OED apart and made it such a Brobdingnagian task for these quotes had to be found, compiled, and organized before the definition of the word could even be contemplated.

Professor Murray
This is where the story begins. Professor James Murray, a philologist and schoolmaster was tapped in 1879 by the Philological Society and the Oxford University Press to be the editor of the OED. His role largely consisted of overseeing the organizing, compiling, and processing of the thousands of small slips of paper that contained the illustrative quotes collected by volunteer readers throughout England and America. These slips were instrumental, but replying on volunteers proved to be problematic. Thankfully, Murray and his team noticed that one reader seemed to especially skilled and helpful. When asked, Dr. W.C. Minor, quickly and happily provided quotes from and impressive range of texts to assist Murray with troublesome words. Over time, Murray came to rely on Minor, but still knew little about him and had yet to meat him, despite an address so close to London, just and hour by train. The reason for this mystery is that Dr. Minor, an American Army surgeon, was actually living in an asylum for having committed murder. This book it the tales that lead these two together and to contribute so heavily to the OED.
Dr. Minor

Winchester’s style is impressive, some parts of the story read with a taste for the dramatic, others are the straight-forward, ease of good journalism. Each shift in style perfectly suits the change in the story and it is very easy to forget the intense effort it would have taken to research these men (to get a good sense of this, read the acknowledgements). This is a fascinating look at two men, their bond over their work, and their role in the creation of the OED and I would highly recommend picking it up.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

A coldblooded, brilliant general has to decide if her loyalty lies with her Empress or her people. An orphan has to come into her mother’s powers and decide how to use them. A young man inherits his sister’s throne and must lead a pacifist people into war. These, mixed with a world ending cataclysm, enchanted weapons, and mysterious immortals might seem like just another trope laden, fantasy novel with easily discernible good guys fighting the obviously evil bad guys. Yet, Mirror Empire breaks from this tradition, arguably set by Lord of the Rings, with a glorious, violent way.  Kameron Hurley’s take on fantasy inserts you into the middle of a world that is truly unfamiliar and menacing.
We come into the story on the eve of a reoccurring, world-shattering event, heralded by the rise of the dark star. As a relentless enemy ravages the lands in the north, Hurley’s characters have to navigate fractious politics, perfect assassins, ruinous betrayals, and the collision of worlds. Hurley does some excellent world building, creating a fascinating realm complete with sentient plants, bear cavalry, blood magic, and much, much more. As soon as you start to settle the rules and the situation in your head, she switches things around. But what makes Mirror Empire truly unique is the take on gender. The two main civilizations that you meet have vastly different conceptions of gender. One has four different pronouns while another has three, in each case, their application is not just societal, but personal. As if this gender fluidity was not enough, one of the characters gradually changes his/her physical gender characteristics.  While not for the faint-of-heart, this gritty fantasy novel is decidedly a good read and is definitely worth picking up.