Books

I have to admit, I was a little dubious when beginning On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves.  The premise struck me as a little bit…icky: a 30-year-old teacher and a 16-year-old student end up stranded on a deserted island together, and as the weeks and months pass they slowly fall in love.  It was being marketed as a romance, but if the genders were reversed, there is no way anyone would find this acceptable (although, it’s important to note, nothing happens between Anna and T.J. until after T.J. was of age).  Also, there’s the fact that someone, somewhere, at some time, must have pitched this book as Blue Lagoon meets The Graduate.  I mean, really, how could they resist?

If someone approached me and asked for a recommendation of an urban fantasy series to get them started into the genre, Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series might very well be the one I start with.  It represents all the things I love about the genre without the things I don’t like.  I have never been disappointed with a book in this series.  Ashes of Honor, the sixth book, is no exception—and, in fact, may be the best entry to date.

The description, courtesy of the Penguin website:

It’s been almost a year since October “Toby” Daye averted a war, gave up a county, and suffered personal losses that have left her wishing for a good day’s sleep. She’s tried to focus on her responsibilities—training Quentin, upholding her position as Sylvester’s knight, and paying the bills—but she can’t help feeling like her world is crumbling around her, and her increasingly reckless behavior is beginning to worry even her staunchest supporters.

To make matters worse, Toby’s just been asked to find another missing child…only this time it’s the changeling daughter of her fellow knight, Etienne, who didn’t even know he was a father until the girl went missing. Her name is Chelsea. She’s a teleporter, like her father. She’s also the kind of changeling the old stories warn about, the ones with all the strength and none of the control. She’s opening doors that were never meant to be opened, releasing dangers that were sealed away centuries before—and there’s a good chance she could destroy Faerie if she isn’t stopped.

Now Toby must find Chelsea before time runs out, racing against an unknown deadline and through unknown worlds as she and her allies try to avert disaster. But danger is also stirring in the Court of Cats, and Tybalt may need Toby’s help with the biggest challenge he’s ever faced.

Toby thought the last year was bad. She has no idea.

At the end of the last book, One Salt Sea, a lot of questions were left unanswered that seemed like they would have a greater effect on the series.  It wasn't a cliffhanger, but it did leave the reader wondering how it was going to develop in the grander scheme of things.  I thought when I picked up this book, it would immediately jump into those questions.  Instead, McGuire has put them on the backburner for now.  However, the plot is so engaging and moves so quickly that I didn't feel disappointed by the digression.

When this book begins, Toby is in a bad way.  The events of the last book have left her emotionally battered.  Although a year has passed, Toby is still isolating herself from the people who care about her and taking dangerous chances.

One of the things I love about this series is that it tends to be dark.  Faerie is a dangerous world, and people die.  McGuire is not afraid to “go there” and kill characters Toby—and readers—care about.  But it balances that darkness with hope and possibilities.

Unlike many other urban fantasy series, romance has never been the primary focus of these books.  However, for those fans who do like romance, there has been a slowly-developing relationship between Toby and Tybalt, the local king of the Cait Sidhe.  Fans of the series will be delighted to know that there is a lot of Tybalt in this book, and that Toby and Tybalt’s relationship grows and develops a lot.

I love this series.  I love that Toby is a strong, independent—yet still vulnerable—heroine.  I love that this is a world where people die, where consequences matter.  I love the complex world-building and mythology.  I love the almost film noir tone of the series.  I love that each book leaves me wanting more.

If you dig urban fantasy, this is one of the best out there.  If you’re looking to try the genre for the first time, this series could be the place to start.

 

I’m having a hard time figuring out how to write this particular review.

As a reader and fellow writer, I have to admire Saare’s willingness to take risks with her story and her characters.  Saare’s a brave writer, willing to take her books to new and dangerous territories.  On the other hand, as a fan of the Rhiannon’s Law series who has become quite emotionally invested in the characters…I’m a little bit heartbroken.

I’ve been debating whether I should write about this for a while.  It’s not really my usual book column fare, but—for better or worse—it has affected the way I look at book blogging, and the way I write my own reviews.

I’m talking about the authors versus book bloggers atmosphere that has arisen on the internet.

I have been a fan of Jackson Galaxy’s show on Animal Planet, My Cat From Hell, for about a year now.  Galaxy—a cat behaviorist by day, rock musician by night—helps families with problem cats.  He looks pretty much the opposite of what you’d expect from a cat behaviorist: a big, bearded guy covered in tattoos and piercings.  Yet he displays an understanding of cat behavior and psychology that can’t be disputed.

My own history with cats is somewhat complicated.  About five years ago, I was staying with my then-boyfriend’s brother and sister-in-law when I was attacked by their two Siamese cats while getting ready for a shower.  I won’t get into the graphic details of the scene, but let’s just say it looked like something out of a Hitchcock movie.  By the time someone came and opened the bathroom door to rescue me, I had scratches on my chest, back, hands, and legs.  Blood running down the shower drain?  Yep, I had that too. Needless to say, for several years thereafter, I was extremely skittish around cats.  A few years later, when I decided to get a pet of my own, I realized that a dog wouldn’t work well with my lifestyle.  (I live in a high-rise apartment building, and I couldn’t see myself going out in the rain and snow to walk the dog.  So I went to my local animal shelter and explained the situation, told them that I needed a cat who was very mellow and calm.

I wound up with Annabel, a dilute calico who may just be, in my humble opinion, the most ridiculously sweet, affectionate animal ever.  I’ve had her for two years now, and I love her dearly, but even now, I find myself getting fearful about certain things.  I take her to a groomer to get her claws clipped because I’m afraid to do it myself.   I won’t pick her up; instead, I have to try to lure her into my lap when I need to take her to the vet or the groomers.  (I can’t tell you how many appointments I’ve had to reschedule because of it.)  So even though I have a cat who is basically happy and healthy, I am still a person with cat problems.

So it is from that perspective that I read Galaxy’s book, Cat Daddy: What the World’s Most Incorrigible Cat Taught Me About Life, Love, and Coming Clean.  There was also a more basic reason: I’ve been in a pretty hard-core reading slump lately, and I’ve been looking for things to read that are different than my usual fare.

 

The description, courtesy of Amazon:

Cat behaviorist and star of Animal Planet’s hit television show My Cat from Hell, Jackson Galaxy, a.k.a. “Cat Daddy,” isn’t what you might expect for a cat expert (as The New York Times noted, with his goatee and tattoos he “looks like a Hells Angel”). Yet Galaxy’s ability to connect with even the most troubled felines—not to mention the stressed-out humans living in their wake—is awe-inspiring. In this book, Galaxy tells the poignant story of his thirteen-year relationship with a petite gray-and-white short-haired cat named Benny, and gives singular advice for living with, caring for, and loving the feline in your home.

When Benny arrived in his life, Galaxy was a down-and-out rock musician with not too much more going on than a part-time job at an animal shelter and a drug problem. Benny’s previous owner brought the cat to the shelter in a cardboard box to give him up. Benny had seen better days—his pelvis had just been shattered by the wheels of a car—and his owner insisted he’d been “unbondable” from day one. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

An inspiring account of two broken beings who fixed each other, Cat Daddy is laced throughout with Galaxy’s amazing “Cat Mojo” advice for understanding what cats need most from us humans in order to live happier, healthier lives.

 

So first things first: it’s a memoir.

It’s a memoir, and we all know how I feel about memoirs.

When I first heard about the book, I was expecting it to be a little more informative, sort of a cat how-to manual.  Even when I realized it wasn’t, I bought it anyway because I figured it would be a memoir about cats, which wouldn’t be so bad.  And it wasn’t.  Granted, Galaxy does go a little bit too much into the drugs-and-angst angle for my taste, but it gets better once Benny comes on the scene.

Benny, a cat who had been surrendered to the shelter where Galaxy worked with a broken pelvis, was labeled as “unbondable” by his owner.  And in fact, Benny was a very difficult cat, even for someone as skilled and knowledgeable as Galaxy: temperamental, stubborn, unyielding.  But the lesson Galaxy learns from Benny is ultimately one he uses with all the cats he works with: that we can’t expect cats to think like humans, so we humans have to think like cats; and that we need to work harder to empathize with our animals.

By far, the best part of this book is Galaxy’s description of the evolution of his relationship with Benny and the dynamic Benny had with the other cats in Galaxy’s household.  At times funny, at times tragic, it’s the cat-focused stories that push the narrative along.  I couldn’t relate when Galaxy talked about his struggles with drugs and anxiety.  But I could relate when he talked about how much he loves his cats.

The book is filled with tips and tricks for dealing with cats.  Unfortunately, I read the book on my Kindle, and what must have been text boxes in the original book showed up as random paragraphs in the electronic version.  It might be better just to invest in the hard copy.

In the end, Galaxy’s book was not enough to sway me on memoirs.  But it was enough to show me that my Jackson Galaxy fandom is going to continue for quite some time.

Batman and Psychology - LangleyFanboy Comics' Sam Rhodes interviews author Dr. Travis Langley at Comic-Con 2012.

At San Diego Comic-Con 2012, Dr. Travis Langley talks with Fanboy Comics Creative Director Sam Rhodes about his book, Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight. Dr. Langley also shares which other superheroes he wants to see on his couch, his predictions for the upcoming film, The Dark Knight Rises, and how Batman has his own unique super power.

 

 

 

Jeaniene Frost has been one of my go-to, comfort food writers since I started reading the urban fantasy genre a few years ago.  One of the more popular tropes in urban fantasy is to blur the line between urban fantasy (a fantasy taking place in a contemporary, usually urban, environment) and paranormal romance (a romance involving supernatural or paranormal creatures or happenings).  Frost does this more than most, with immensely fun, readable results.  Her Night Huntress series follows half-vampire Cat as she falls in love and saves the world with badass, 243-year-old vampire Bones.

In that series, we met Vlad Tepesh, the real-life vampire who inspired the legend of Dracula.  In the past several years, Vlad has become one of the most popular supporting characters of the series, and fans have anxiously been awaiting the release of his book—me included.  Well, we don’t have to wait anymore, because Vlad’s book, Once Burned, is here—and it was worth the wait.

I’ve been thinking about the romance book recommendations I made a few weeks ago, and I realized I should have included Nalini Singh on that list.

Monday, 11 June 2012 02:00

Literary Pet Peeves

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I spend a lot of time in this column focusing on the positive; I decided some time back that I would rather promote the books I like than rip apart the books I don’t.  But the fact is, I don’t like every book I read.  I read primarily for pleasure, and I’m usually pretty good at picking out books I’ll enjoy.  But sometimes, one slips by—and it often does so because it hits upon one of my literary pet peeves.

There are some things that, when they’re present in works of fiction, always manage to irritate the hell out of me.  I think every reader has them, and they’re unique and particular to each of us.  But you know, today I’m sick of focusing on the positives.  Today, I’d like to vent about the things that annoy me.

Last week, our TV Editor Phoebe Raven filled in for me and reviewed the Fifty Shades trilogy, the current erotic romance phenomenon.  She noted that she liked the story well enough, but she criticized the amateurish writing and weak characterization, especially when it came to Anastasia, the trilogy’s female lead.

I haven’t read the books.  After reading Phoebe’s review, I’m not anxious to do so.  But the growing popularity—and the growing criticism—of the trilogy makes me kind of upset.  It’s not that I don’t think the Fifty Shades trilogy likely deserves the criticism it’s getting.  But sometimes I feel like romance is treated like the redheaded stepchild of the literary world.  People often seem to think of it as inferior writing.  But having read a lot of romance, I know better.  Romance is like everything else: there’s a lot of crap out there, but there’s also a lot of really, really good stuff there.  So I decided to write a list of my own, personal, highly subjective recommendations.