the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘romance

Masks and Shadows, by Stephanie Burgis

published April 2016

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher

 

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I’ve been reading a lot of “thinky” books lately,  books that whether or not they were meant to drill into my brain and set the neurons a light all over the place, that is exactly what they did.   I was looking for something lighter, an easy read.

 

Stephanie Burgis’s Masks and Shadows has been sitting in my ARC pile for over a year. It received a lot of attention when it came out last year, and garnered many positive reviews. The cover art is super pretty!  The concept of the book sounds right up my alley – historical fiction with lots of romance, intrigue, and magic! But it never quite got my attention enough to pick it up.  I like political intrigue, and I usually enjoy historical fiction / historical fantasy.  I’ve been known to enjoy stories with some romantic subplots. And I was in the market for a lighter read. So I picked it up. If the author’s name rings a bell, it’s because she is famous for the mid-grade fantasy series Kat, Incorrigible.

 

The year is 1779, the location is the opulent Esterhaza Palace in Hungary. As you do when you’re a royal who just built your own version of Versailles, Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy hosts nobles and royals for months at a time, including a famous castrato singer, Carlo Morelli.  The Prince’s mistress, Sophia, has invited her recently widowed sister Charlotte von Steinbeck to stay at the palace as well.  In the first handful of chapters, we are very quickly introduced to a very large cast of characters – Charlotte and her spoiled sister Sophie; Charlotte’s young and naive maid Anna; Carlo Morelli the famous singer;  Herr Hadyn the famous composer;  Franz,  a singer in the Prince’s opera troupe; the rest of the singers in the troupe, van Born the alchemist;  Mr. Guersney, who claims to be an English writer; and Friedrich von Hollner, Sophie’s long suffering husband.  It was a lot to keep track of, to the point of distraction.

 

The plot settles into and handful of intertwined plots including the widowed Charlotte and Carlo having immediate romantic chemistry between each other,  Franz and Friedrich getting involved in some kind of mysterious political maneuvering, Sophie being needy and petty to the point of ridiculousness, Charlotte’s maid Anna becoming a singer with the Prince’s opera company,  demonstrations of the paranormal at the palace, and Morelli’s inward depression and being a plaything of the nobles.

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outlanderOutlander, by Diana Gabaldon

published in 1991

where I got it: purchased new

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As much as I love speculative fiction, sometimes I want something a little different. As much as I usually eat food that’s pretty healthy, sometimes I just wanna eat Arby’s curly fries.

And I am now part of the Outlander cult. One book in, and I’m all about drinking the kool aid and fangirling all over the place. This book was curly fries, really good potato chips, and salted caramel ice cream all rolled into one. It was all my guilty pleasures bound together into a doorstopper of a book that was a surprisingly fast read. Reading this book was like the best hand-to-mouth snacking ever.

And yes I know it is a TV show now. I haven’t seen the show.

Some of you are saying to yourselves “she’s finally read Outlander!”, and others are wondering what the hell the rest of us are going on about. For those of you in the second group, Outlander is a portal historical romance. It’s 1945, the war is over, and Claire and her husband Frank are enjoying a much deserved romantic getaway in Scotland. It’s the perfect location for Frank to research his family tree, for Claire to talk to the locals about herblore and local medicinal plants, and for the two of them to get some mental distance from everything they experienced during the war. And then one night, Claire touches something in a stone circle and finds herself hurled back two hundred years.

She doesn’t yet know when she is, but she knows where she is, and since she’s been listening to Frank drone on about his family tree, she knows his many-times-great Uncle Jonathan Randall is floating around here somewhere. She’ll just find a Randall, and all will be good, right? Oh wow, so wrong.

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Parks-Recreation-NBC

I’ve been binge watching Parks and Recreation lately. I’m not usually one for the standard sitcom, but I really like Amy Poehler. And apparently I really like the guy who plays Ron Swanson. And I think I’m developing a crush on Aubrey Plaza. Parks and Rec is the perfect show for when my brain is fried after a crazy day at work. It’s funny, I like the characters, it’s got a long running story arc, characters change and grow. Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope is so cheerful and positive, that if I knew her in real life I’d probably want to punch her. But on TV, I want to root for her. I want things to go well for her. Also, “Knope” is the best sitcom name, ever.

 

If you don’t know this show, it’s a mockumentary of a Parks and Rec department in a small Indiana town. Small town politics, office comedy, romantic comedy, weird bosses, awkward relationships, crazy ex-wives, semi-homeless guys, and lots of genius writing.  there are very few bad episodes of this show.

 

I’ve been watching a few episodes here and there for maybe 6 months, and I’m currently most of the way into  season three.  A while back, while channel surfing at a hotel, I got a season 6 episode, and found out that Leslie and Ben become a couple. So ever since Ben of the awesome  hair showed up somewhere near the end of season two, I’ve been waiting for those two to start dating. But, of course they can’t, because Ben’s boss Chris (Rob Lowe, in what is literally, my favorite part he’s played, ever) forbids people who work for each other to date. And technically, Leslie works for Ben, since he oversees the budget of her dept.  But, oh my god, the sexual tension between those two.  It’s as unbearable as it is adorkable. They obviously like each other, but neither of them want to break any rules, and they both don’t seem to realize that the other one likes them too (wow,that was a grammar fail!). Knowing that they get together later makes all this waiting for them to hook up even harder to bear! I read somewhere that ladies like plot-heavy and fore-play heavy porn, and dudes prefer porn that gets right to the sex.  Whatever network originally ran this show, did they realize the sexual tension between Ben and Leslie was basically  porn for women?  Because it is.

That is some David Tennant 10th Doctor epic hair.

That is some epic David Tennant 10th Doctor hair.

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51FDYgEMAsL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_This Gulf of Time and Stars by Julie Czerneda (Reunification #1)

publishes Nov 3rd, 2015

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (thanks DAW!)

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If you’ve been following Julie Czerneda’s writing career, the phrase “a new Clan Chronicles novel!” is music to your ears. I discovered Czerneda through her Species Imperative trilogy, and quickly fell in love with her invitingly conversational  writing style, her characterization, and the way she writes alien species. Seriously, this woman is the ultimate master of writing convincing alien species. Formally trained as a biologist, Czerneda’s plots touch on evolution,  biology, ecology, and how it’s all related.  She’ll introduce you to an alien civilization and then prove their population isn’t living on their planet of origin, she’ll give a species a strong evolutionary process and then prove that it doesn’t quite work as planned. It’s true, physics and math will get us to the stars, but it’s biology that will give us the answers to whatever and whoever we find living out there.

I think the biggest question surrounding This Gulf of Time and Stars is can readers new to this series jump in here? The answer is it depends on the reader. If you don’t mind feeling a little in the deep end (some of my favorite authors have thrown me into the deep end, to fantastic results – looking at you China Mieville and Iain M. Banks!), or you’re willing to take 5 minutes to do a little research by reading Czerneda’s informative and entertaining Big Idea post over at Scalzi’s Whatever, you’ll do fine. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers to have everything explained right off the bat, you may prefer to start earlier in the series. Generally speaking, Czerneda is the kind of author who simply doesn’t explain things right away – part of her character’s journeys involves discovering for themselves what’s going on, and how, and why. and when I say “discovering for themselves”, I don’t mean coming of age (although some of her novels would qualify as coming of age), I mean discovering genetic secrets and information that  could tear apart an entire society and species. We’re talking big picture here.

This review does have SPOILERS for the first books in the series, and some SPOILERS for This Gulf of Time and Stars.

Here’s the very quick and dirty background of the series, the characters, and the world, in which I have grossly simplified everything in the name of brevity:

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Brides Story 5 6 coverWith much thanks to Orbit and Yen Press for providing review copies of A Bride’s Story, our joint review series continues! And by joint review series, I mean who better to review a series about getting married than two love fools (that would be my husband and I), and by continues, I mean check out our review of volumes 1 and 2 here, and volumes 3 and 4 here.

Quick sum up for those of you just joining the fun: A Bride’s Story is a gorgeous manga series by Kaoru Mori (creator of Emma and Shirley). The story takes place in Central Asia in the early 1900s, and follows young women who have either just gotten married, are about to get married, or need/want to get married.  The artwork is amazing, the story is compelling the characters have depth, and there’s plenty going on behind the scenes too.  The title of the series directly translates to “Brides’ Stories”, but to avoid confusion, i’ll be referring to it as the translated title “A Bride’s Story“, so you know exactly what you’re looking for at the bookstore.  😉

As we’ve done before with this series, the review is a discussion between my husband Michael and myself. We both wanted to focus on different things that caught our attention, so our review is basically us peppering each other with questions.  Let’s get to it!

the equally lovely back covers of the Manga

the equally lovely back covers of the Manga

Michael: So this time we are reviewing two very different volumes.  Volume 5 is the twin’s wedding and associated hijinks, while volume 6 is back to Amir and Karluk and a more dramatic, thoughtful story.

Andrea: Yeah, volumes 5 and 6 don’t really go together, because they are so different! Poor planning on my part! The twins wedding does have some laugh out loud moments, but I was really happy to get back to Amir, because she’s my favorite character. Not only is she awesome, but she’s got the best clothes!

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best of all poss worldsThe Best of All Possible Worlds, by Karen Lord

published in 2013

where I got it: purchased new

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When I was a kid, I’d Ooh and Aah over the ladies dresses at the department store. My Mom very quickly figured out that I preferred the more simple styles, what she called “elegant”. No ruffles, no bows, none of that foofy stuff. It was explained to me that the more elegant dresses were more expensive because there was nothing (like a ruffle) to hide the flaws under, so a more skilled person had to make the dress. If there is a most perfectly, stylishly elegant dress in the universe, The Best of All Possible Worlds is the book version of that dress. Elegance, humor, and confidence, simplicity.  No where for the flaws to hide, and Lord writes with a confidence that says what you may see as a flaw is a design element, meant to draw your eye.

 

On Cyngus Beta, it’s fun to make fun of the Sadiri. After all, the Sadiri have a major superiority complex. Let me back up just a tiny bit.  Cygnus Beta is an open colony planet. Anyone can show up and ask for a homesteading. The citizens would never describe it as such, but it’s a last resort. You go to Cygnus Beta if you have nowhere else to go. You build a house, you start a farm, maybe the remnants of where ever you came from start a village, and you are left alone to live as you wish. It becomes your home, and you become fiercely protective of it, happy to punch anyone who calls Cygnus Beta “a last resort” right in the face.

 

It’s not that the Sadiri have a superiority complex, it’s that everyone thinks they do. The Sadiri are not loud, or brash, or at all openly emotional. Their body language is subtle, their communication is private. Because of their silence and what appears to be disinterest in others, many cultures think the Sadiri are snobs.  It’s too bad that’s such an easy mistake to make. After the destruction of their home planet, the Sadiri find themselves enroute to Cygnus Beta.

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Scale-Bright - Benjanun SriduangkaewScale-Bright by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

published August 2014

where I got it: received review copy from the author (thanks!)

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Niall Alexander’s recently reviewed Scale-Bright on Tor, and  he suggested reading the accompanying and related short stories first. Benjanun Sriduangkaew recommends reading Scale-Bright first.  I followed both of their advices.  I read the short stories first, but I’ll review the novella first. Check back next week for a review of the short stories that are published along side and birthed Scale-Bright, because they are glorious all on their own, in a completely different way. Let me give you a little teaser right off the bat: if you like Catherynne Valente, you’re gonna love Benjanun Sriduangkaew.

 

Those familiar with Chinese mythology will recognize characters and words, will smile out of the corner of their mouths because they know what’s coming. Woefully ignorant (yet less so, now) of Chinese mythology, all these characters and words were new to me. Wikipedia answered my most basic questions about Houyi and Chang’e, but the words I didn’t know, words like banbuduo, mowhab and daihap, had to be figured out contextually. Those were the words that tasted the best.  For those readers who would prefer some background before diving in, Sriduangkaew wrote a great guest post over at SFSignal that is a cheat-sheet of sorts.

 

The stories she was raised with are real if not always told correctly, and the movies and plays only told the tiniest part, and Julienne, a mortal woman in Hong Kong, has been invited into mythology. Orphaned and then found by her aunt Chang’e and Chang’e’s wife Houyi, Julienne knows no one would believe her if she said her aunts were Immortals.  It’s a tenuous yet amusing dynamic between the three women – Julienne is a little embarrassed about what she sees as her personal failings, and her aunties are fiercely proud and protective of her.  They give her the tiniest of sacred protections, and she unknowlingly helps them navigate the concept of “family”.  There is more than the barest undercurrent that this is the first time in Julienne’s life that her sexuality has not been questioned or judged, that she’s being completely and unconditionally accepted for who she is.

 

Julienne knows she is on the edge of mythology, that her aunties are the women to whom these stories actually happened to, that to them they are not stories but history, that Houyi is still paying for the crime of shooting down the suns, that Chang’e is making up for all the time she lost when she was imprisoned on the Moon. But  I’ll talk much more about those two ladies later, as Scale-Bright is Julienne’s story.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.