Owl Dance by David Lee Summers

Why I Read It: A good chunk of this book takes place in the desert Southwest, like my life so far.

Where I Got It: Courtesy PDF ARC from the author (thanks!)

Who Do I Recommend This To: If you like your genres all mixed up with steampunk, cowboys, & attempted military take-overs, then this is for you.

Publisher: Flying Pen Press (2011)

Length: 270

Series: Book 1 (I hope, with reason – see author’s Web Journal)

In David Lee Summers seventh novel, Owl Dance, he explores the American Southwest in a crazy 1800s Wild West Steampunk adventure. This was the perfect brain candy for me and diving into the first chapter, I felt right at home. Ramon Morales, a Mexican-American sheriff, and Fatemeh Karimi, a Persian healer, are our two main heroes. Throughout their travels across NM, AZ, and CA, they come across a variety of delightfully unexpected characters – from the gun-slinging kid Billy to entrepreneurial scientist Maravilla, to the California Coast inventor-turned-pirate Cisneros, to General Sheridan.

Ramon and Fatemeh have to avoid several trips and falls of life, such as being burned at the stake, or killed by miners, or shot, or blown up, or captured by bounty hunters. But their greatest challenge doesn’t come from the Southwest. No, there is something much more ominous brewing in Mother Russia. A land dispute between resident Russian descendants in CA and a powerful rancher sparks off the drive for Russia to grab some land in the American West. But this time, they are aided by an unlikely source…..which I will leave for you to discover.

Clockwork wolves and owls, cutting edge submersibles, dirigibles, and one Persian lady who whistle-talks to owls. It’s a great ride. If you’re looking for a good read and satisfying adventure, jump into Owl Dance.

What I Liked: Multi-cultural book; alternate history is always fascinating; a touch of steampunk never goes amiss; owl- whistle talking.

What I Disliked: Pretty much just 1 main female character surrounded by lots of male main characters.

Note: This review was originally published on Darkcargo.com on 11/22/2011 and republished, and reformatted, here with permission of Lady Darkcargo.

The Little Stranger Read Along Part II

Welcome back all to the second, and concluding, part of the read along of The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. Once again, this most awesome pick was the choice of the folks of The Estella Society, so make sure to wander over there and sample their take on this book.

The Little Stranger Read Along Part I

There Be Spoilers! You have been warned.

OK. So, everyone has some tragedy haunting them in this book. Dr. Faraday never met the woman of this dreams and had a family; Caroline is so plain and ordinary, she couldn’t really hope to attract a love match and once she had found a place in life as a war nurse and escapes her family, she got called back to nurse her injured brother; Mrs. Ayres lost her first child, daughter Susan, to diphtheria and found that she never loved anyone quite the same again; Roderick had his war accident that left him scarred and a little crippled.

So, with that as our starting point, this old once-majestic house seems to be haunted. At first, we can’t tell whether or not there is an actual paranormal presence or merely a variety of abnormal human behavior. In fact, this book had me flip-flopping back and forth until the end. I loved that about the story. There’s the eerie little fires that eventually lead up to a true midnight nuisance that almost kills Rod and is the final straw that sends him and what little is left of his psyche off the mental hospital. Next, the servants and Caroline are plagued by calls at the most inconvenient times followed by the summoning bells and whistles (those noisemakers used to summon servants to any part of the house to carry light-weight objects from one side of the room to another). This silly game finally culminates in Mrs. Ayres in the old nursery, trapped behind a locked door, desperately wanting out, breaking the glass on the window, and ending up severely lacerated. Throughout it all, Dr. Faraday maintains that there is nothing with ectoplasm running about the house. He maintains this when even greater tragedy occurs – Mrs. Ayres taking her own life.

As the story moves forward, Dr. Faraday and Caroline become engaged. Yet, it is such a hesitant engagement on Caroline’s part – she shows no interest in the arrangements, the clothes, the date, the decorations, the food, etc. Granted, she has grief and hardship on her mind. The family was in financial straights before Rod went off to the institution and the house was gloomy and sad before the tragedy with Mrs. Ayres. So it wasn’t until somewhere in the last 2 CDs that I started to really worry for Caroline – Why wouldn’t she marry? If she doesn’t marry, what will happen to her and Hundreds Hall? Would Dr. Faraday’s heart be irrevocably broken and would he make a scandal and fuss over it?

But then Caroline becomes the hero of the story, flying in the face of then societal expectations. She makes the momentous decision to sell Hundreds Hall and leave the country, possibly planning to go to the Americas. Awesome! Oh, but she won’t be marrying Dr. Faraday, and in fact never loved him, just kind of had it all muddled up inside her head. All this only like 2 weeks before the wedding. I think my heart broke a little bit for Faraday over that scene. Still, Caroline had it right in that marrying out of gratitude and staying at Hundreds Hall could have ended up being the greater tragedy.

So let’s talk about that ending. Caroline dies on what was to be her wedding night in an empty house, falling from an upstairs landing as Betsy the servant watches in surprise and dismay. Faraday spent that night in his car, in that lonely still glade where he and Caroline parked and had the most regrettable first tryst. He yearned so greatly for the life he was to have with Caroline – living at Hundreds Hall chief among them. Of course, there was the legally required inquest in which her death was ruled a suicide while she was not herself. After that, the rumors fly about the Hall being haunted. This leads to difficulties with it selling and it becomes even further run down. Faraday is the only one who visits the Hall on a regular basis, tending to it as he can.

The ending lets the reader decide if there was a phantasm, or ghost, or spiritual energy and I admire the craftsmanship that went into this novel. For me, I believe the unexplained and unfortunate events were the work of Faraday’s deep longing to be a part of Hundreds Hall. I also like how that kind of ending gives symmetry to the story: Faraday is a firm believer in the tangible and science and not in the paranormal.

So, what say you?

Do you believe that our deepest yearnings, hopes, dreams, wishes, and prayers can affect the world around us? Perhaps even manifesting unknowingly in a negative manner to get what we desire?

In the Shadow of Swords by Val Gunn

Why I Read It: Assassins and Legendary Books – Who could pass this up?

Where I Got It: Review copy from publisher (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: Need a fast-paced fantasy set in an medieval Arabic world? Then this is for you.

Narrator: Clive Catterall

Publisher: Iambik Audio (2011)

Length: 10 hours and 14 minutes

Series: Book 1 in series

This book was a treat, full of intrigue and the quest for vengeance. Val Gunn provided a lush background for his murderous spies and devious assassins to carry out their deeds. Marin isn’t just an accomplished tracker, spy, and sword-swinger, but also a grieving widow. She wants a man’s head on a spike, and not just any man’s. Hiril Altair has a djin curse upon him that makes it impossible to resist his master’s bidding. But he wasn’t bidden to fetch the Legendary Books of Promise. Tsk, tsk…..This sets up the story for lots of conflict, and sharp-tongued remarks tinged in dark humor.

In a world of ghuls and other demon-spawned beasties, these humans must muddle through for my entertainment. And I was indeed mightily entertained. In fact, when this book ended, I was tempted to give it another go. The sequel isn’t out there yet, which is a bit of a (calculated?) torture. The beasties were real beasties, slaughtering without concern for age or gender or armament. Some of the descriptive scenes of destruction and death really drove home the darker side of this tale.

Clive Catterall was the perfect voice for Hiril Altair, our main assassin, providing a somewhat gravely, world-weary voice. He also did a decent female voice for Marin. His character voices were distinct for each person. Just a note here: When I had a snag with an incomplete track, I contacted Iambik and it was fixed in less than 24 hours. Excellent customer service response.

What I Liked: Lots of action; a touch of horror; strong female character; not based in a European fantasy land; no one gets exactly what they want in the end.

What I Disliked: Only 1 main female character; I had a little trouble keeping the cast of characters straight as I had difficulty imagining how to spell some of the names.

I am counting this as a Dark Fantasy for Stainless Steel Droppings’ R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril (which is a lot of fun and you can still play along if pop over there).

The American Way of Eating by Tracie McMillan

Why I Read It: I am perpetually fascinated by industrialized food.

Where I Got It: The library.

Who I Recommend This To: If you enjoyed Michael Pollan‘s  or Morgan Spurlock‘s works, this would be another good book for your shelf.

Publisher: Scribner (2012)

Length: 319 pages.

In this non-fiction account of America’s long-standing love affair with quick and easy food, Tracie McMillan takes us on an unbiased ride through grape fields, store produce departments, and the food assembly lines of sit-down chain restaurants. In each case, she took the time to live alongside those she worked with, struggling on a minimum wage (or less) paycheck.

I enjoyed this book mostly for the look at the migrant workers that are employed to harvest the majority of produce that fills our grocery stores. McMillan spent time harvesting grapes (having to remove the unacceptable ones), garlic harvesting, and peach picking. In each instance she was one of the few females and the only Caucasian; her Spanish came in very handy. Moving from there to being employed at Walmart in the produce department, I was surprised to learn that the Produce Manager had no real training or knowledge in fruits and veggies (such as shelf life and how best to store what). At Applebee’s, she worked in the kitchen on the finishing line, ensuring the plates of food looked pleasing and had all the correct accoutrements. Essentially, food was assembled in the kitchen, nearly all of it having been pre-processed (some of it to the point where it needed just to be heated before going to a customer).

One of the many things that I learned from this book was that organic crops can be sprayed with organic pesticides, insecticides, and fungicides. This seems to be going against the purpose of labeling something ‘organic’. Basically, this book reinforced my belief that unless you grow it and cook it yourself, you don’t truly know what you are getting. While this was a great informative book, there were certain spaces in which the story lagged, being filled with statistics.

What I Liked: Information dump; unbiased reporting; the author’s dedication to live alongside those she’s working with; this book increased by Spanish vocabulary; this was my introduction to the term ‘food desert’.

What I Disliked: Sometimes the stats became too much for me – I need numbers to have a frame of reference to have any meaning for me.

The Little Stranger Read Along Part I

Hello everyone. Welcome to the read along of The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. This read along is the brainchild of those lovely, quick-tongued, and highly entertaining folks over at The Estella Society, so make sure to stop by and enjoy their site. As stated on their site, this is kind of a loosey-goosey read along, aiming for the midpoint today (Sept. 10th) and to be completed Sept. 17th. As of posting this, I haven’t seen a midpoint post at The Estella Society. If I see one go up, I’ll put in a direct link to it as we wouldn’t want to miss the fun. (P.S. the midpoint post went up Sept. 11th).

This is my first time reading anything by Sarah Waters. Her clear writing style and knack for including small mysterious or quaint detail drew me in straight off. The Little Stranger is set in rural Warwickshire, England, post  World War II. We first meet Dr. Faraday as a young boy sneaking peaks at a fancy party at Hundreds Hall where his mother works as a maid. The story then moves forward ~30 years or so and Hundreds Hall has faded greatly in grandeur. The Ayreses (Caroline, Rodney, and their mother) try to keep the place up with their own hard work.

I decided to check the audioversion, read by Simon Vance, out from the library. There are 13 discs and I am on Disc 7. Without spoiling any of the story, I just wanted to chitchat about a few points that have made this story interesting so far.

1) Rodney and Caroline are adult children and, based on their physical efforts to keep up Hundreds Hall, perfectly employable. So I had to wonder why at least one of them didn’t go get a job? Can that truly be any less ‘noble’ than milking the cows or doing the cooking? And the answer simply, is Yes. Based on the time and culture, it would have been next to unthinkable for landed nobility to go out and get an office job, rubbing elbows with the unwashed masses. Truly, the family would have been ostracized from high society. Yet, how it is now, the family rarely has peers over (due to the dilapidated state of their Hundreds Hall) and rarely are invited out by their peers (again, what would they wear?).

2) I love how the author made Caroline a sensible woman and very plain in appearance instead of making Caroline a financially poor belle of the story. I found myself relating to her from the first few encounter with her. I love how she cleans, gathers berries, milks cows, and cooks. She is also practical in footwear and her lack of stockings for day-to-day antics.

3) Based on this book being part of Stainless Steel Droppings’ R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril, I am guessing there is a supernatural element to this story. Yet, as the reader, being ~halfway through, I am still not positive. I am thoroughly enjoying how the author has woven the story so that all unfortunate events to this point can be described by abnormal human behavior.

4) Class difference keeps raising it’s ugly head. The story is told through the eyes of Dr. Faraday, a man whose parents poured everything they had into his education and who himself has worked hard to obtain and maintain his local practice. While his profession is often referred to as noble, there are still the small societal slights, on both sides, concerning him spending so much time with the Ayreses. I find this interesting as it is not something I personally have bumped into, having spent most of my life in the desert Southwest USA.

For those of you reading along, or having read Sarah Waters’ works before, what has drawn you in? What has kept you hooked?

Emperor: The Field of Swords by Conn Iggulden

Why I Read It: Books 1 & 2 were excellent, and I love this time period.

Where I Got It: paperbackswap.com

Who I Recommend This To: Roman Empire enthusiasts, and Gaulish warriors aficionados.

Publisher: Dell Books (2005)

Length: 594 pages

Series: Emperor Book 3

Once again, Conn Iggulden has kept me up late, distracted at work, and spouting Roman marching commands in my sleep. Naughty author. Book 3 picks up right where Book 2 left off, with Julius Caesar in Gaul, conquering as far as he can see through battle and road building. Marcus Brutus is still his right-hand man, Octavian grows into a very capable horseman and soldier, and Marc Antony becomes a growing presence in Julius’s life. Back in Rome, Crassus and Pompey must match wits and resources with some less-than-savory rising powers of the city, Milo and Clodius.

So far in the series, I think this is the best novel. Iggulden switches smoothly between the two main locations, but also smoothly between the main characters, showing the rift building between Caesar and Brutus over years, the friendship growing between Marc Antony and Julius, the wrangling back and forth (with mutual respect) between Crassus, Caesar, and Pompey. I also like how the cultural arrogance of the Romans was captured: The mighty civilized Romans bringing trade, roads, light, and civilization to the heathen Gauls. Iggulden does this without passing a judgement on the rights or wrongs of the supposed moral superiority of the Romans, but simply telling it in context. The interactions with Vercingetorix, king of the Gauls, were true to form.

There’s plenty of action and intrigue to move this story forward, but it is well balanced with insights into the motivations of the characters and nuggets about life at that time. While there are few ladies and all of them secondary characters, Servilia (Brutus’s mother), Alexandria (the goldsmith), and Julia (Caesar’s daughter), they have full lives and depth of character.

What I Liked: Straight-forward writing; character-building; the way Caesar absorbed Gauls into his armies; Pompey and Crassus have to learn to rule Rome without Caesar; left in a bit of cliff-hanger (looking forward to next book).

What I Disliked: No main character women.

Giraffe by J. M. Ledgard

Stout, empty food dish, & silly human-book antics.

Why I Read It: Honestly, it’s because of the cover.

Where I Got It: paperbackswap.com

Who I Recommend This To: Folks interested in communist Czechoslovakia or early zoo giraffes.

Narrators: Pablo Schreiber & Jamie Heinlein

Publisher: Penguin Audio (2006)

Length: 6 CDs

This was a tough book to finish; not because it lacked beauty, or purpose, or simplicity. In truth, it was difficult for me to finish this book because of the ending. Once I saw where it was headed, the little kid in me wanted to set aside the book while both giraffes and humans continued on in somewhat blissful communist 1975 Czechoslovakia. Yet I didn’t. The story was too compelling.

If you’ve read the synopsis, then you know that J. M. Ledgard brought us a fictionalized account of a mystery: In 1973 the largest herd of captive giraffes were transported from Africa to Czechoslovakia, only to disappear in 1975 under mysterious circumstances. The account is filled with snapshots of beauty in a background of communist grey dreariness. Emil Freeman is a hematologist, studying blood flow in giraffes to better understand what happens to cosmonauts at high Gs. He travels back from Africa with the large herd; everyone has a special eye for Sniherke (‘Snow’ in Czech, and please forgive my spelling if I have it wrong) who has a gentle nature and a white belly, which is not common in giraffes. In Czechoslovakia, she becomes a leader of the herd, often the first out of the enclosure in the morning. The zookeeper and a young lady, Amina, both find stillness and friendship in the giraffes, which allows them to find each other.

All the descriptive language was made up of elegant, simple lines. From the portrait in words of the giraffes to the description of work in a Czechoslovakian Christmas ornament factory, there was beauty throughout this book. I especially enjoyed Amina, a young woman orphaned when her parents died in a vehicle accident, she lives alone and is a sleep-walker, traipsing about at night through snow and rain, often waking up with grass stains on feet and clothes. If you feel up to a beautiful tragedy, then this could be a good read for you.

Our narrators Pablo Schreiber and Jamie Heinlein performed in clear lines, giving the book a crisp feeling. Heinlein performed the voices of Sniherke and Amina, as the same voice. Oddly enough, Schreiber, who had the numerous male voices, often used the same voice. While I enjoyed the performance for it’s simple elegance and excellent pronunciation of the Czechoslovakian, German, and Russian words, I had to pay close attention to which character was talking.

What I Liked: All the quirky facts about giraffes that sprinkle this book; Amina’s namesake; the parallel between humans and giraffes; the humanity of all involved in the ending; true to life.

What I Disliked: While I believe this is a story that deserved telling, the ending was still hard to hear, being true to life; it was sometimes difficult to discern which character was speaking because the voice actors pretty much used 1 voice for all the parts they performed.

BTIBMTGT: David Lee Summers & Johan Harstad

Space Pirates on my exercise equipment!

Books That I’ve Been Meaning to Get To (BTIBMTGT) is an idea from the depths and crannies of Lady Darkcargo (check out her stuff at Darkcargo.com). On a random basis, I plan to bring you a post about 2 or more books that have been on my TBR Mountain Range for longer than I like to admit. In that spirit, check out these other bloggers and their TBR lists.

Lady Darkcargo

Chuck Parker

Paula S. Jordan

David Lee SummersThe Pirates of Sufiro (1995) has been on my list since I met My Main Man (M3) back in 1997. M3 and his family has been friends with David and his wife Kumie and their kids for years. While I myself have only met David twice, I have enjoyed some of his later works Like Owl Dance (2011). So, yes, this signed book has been kicking around my house since the glory days of college. This past week, I sat and read the first chapter, all in one sitting, easily ignoring one of my favorite action movies (Salt with Angelina Jolie). If this pirate scifi book can distract me from Jolie being a badass, then it has got something going for it. I fully intend to finish this one, so be on the look out for a forthcoming review.

172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad is a hardback I recently won in a giveaway. In the first chapter, the story is well set up: mysterious coverup by the government, mystery on the moon, and a plan to revitalize the space program – a lottery draw to send youngins up in the next ship. Yep, teenagers in space. So far, everything intrigues me except the teenagers bit. I can see great potential for this book if the highschool shenanigans don’t take over on the moon – and end up saving the day. Will keep you posted.

So what’s been sitting on your cushioned, coddled, dusty, shadowy TBR pile?

UPDATE:

Review: The Pirates of Sufiro

Review: 172 Hours on the Moon

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII

I’ve decided to join the fracas over at Stainless Steel Droppings, where some of the best fracases have been. This particular one will involve the spooky, the mysterious, and the frightening for the next two months (through Halloween). I’ll let Stainless Steel Droppings fill you in on the details (and remember to stop by over there if you want to play too):

The purpose of R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII is to enjoy books and movies/television that could be classified (by you) as:

Mystery.
Suspense.
Thriller.
Dark Fantasy.
Gothic.
Horror.
Supernatural.
Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.

My goal will be to read 2 scary RIP selections over the next two months and to also join in the two read-alongs that will be happening.

The Estella Society will be hosting the read-along of Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger from September 1-17.

Stainless Steel Droppings will be hosting the read-along of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book starting October 1st.

If you want to join in any or all of this, it is not too late to check out Stainless Steel Droppings and The Estella Society. Enjoy!

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan C. Bradley

Why I Read It: Recommended to me by knitting circle.

Where I Got It: The library.

Who I Recommend This To: Mystery lovers, poison aficionados, and fans of precocious kids with English accents.

Narrator: Jayne Entwhistle

Publisher: Random House Audio (2009)

Length: 10 CDs

Series: Flavia de Luce Book 1

This was one of the most delightful mysteries I had read in some time. Set in 1950s England and told from the view point of the master slueth Flavia, an 11-year old girl, the reader is taken on bicycle rides, assists on chemistry experiments, and of course, solving a murder. Flavia is fascinated with chemistry in general and poisons in specific. Her knowledge of both drives this mystery and, without surprise, is key in solving the murder.Tormented by older siblings, ignored by most adults, motherless, and far too smart for her own good, Flavia steals the show. The mystery is centered on a small group of academics and philately (the study of stamps). And yes, there is pie. This book was fast-paced and over too soon. Luckily, there are more Alan C. Bradley mysteries waiting for me at the library.

The narrator Jayne Entwhistle did a marvelous job; I truly felt she was a kid again reading this book. I especially love how she made Flavia’s voice revel in the downhill bikerides and slip into seriousness over her chemistry or perk up at the thought of some mischievousness.

What I Liked: The poisons; the heroine is a well-grounded 11-year old girl; there’s stamp collecting; mystery kept me in suspense and guessing.

What I Didn’t like: Flavia’s choice in candies.

Note: This review was originally published on Darkcargo.com on 04/20/2011 and republished, and reformatted, here with permission of Lady Darkcargo.