On Being Positive

Generally, I think of myself as a pretty positive, upbeat person. I read mostly romance and fantasy fiction, because I like happy endings, good guys winning, and everything working out for the best — sometimes saving the world at the same time. Lately, between political campaigns and divisive social issues dominating my internet news and social networks, I’ve felt a lot of negativity coming at me. Today, I made the decision to make my speech, action and thoughts all positive. That proved to be extremely challenging and worth reflecting on.

The first challenge was the morning radio broadcast: a guy was being interviewed about education reform, and he insisted that what we need to fix schools is “teachers who want students to learn.” What the hell? Does anyone honestly believe that our public schools are full of teachers who DON’T want students to learn? Or who are indifferent? Maybe they are there for the vast respect and high wages that come with the profession? I turned that off, and put on some Robert Plant and Alison Krause instead.

On my way to campus, I stopped at Office Depot to buy supplies for my class. But they didn’t have what I wanted, so I felt like I had wasted my time. I had to work a little to be polite when I realized this. Then I got to campus and found that the teacher of the class ahead of me had promised her students extra time on their test — meaning that they were in the classroom through their own class time and into mine. My students were cranky about that and surprised that I wasn’t. Because I was staying positive!

Over the course of the day, I had students who didn’t have their work done and others who complained about the exercise I had planned for the day. I had drivers in front of and behind me who didn’t use turn signals, observe speed limits, or keep anything like a safe distance from my (recently repaired) bumper. I had poor customer service, disappointing professional news (delivered callously), and some inconsiderate treatment from people from whom I felt I deserved better. And it was a pretty typical day.

I was really surprised how many times today I started to say something negative — not snarky, not funny, just negative. Calling names, criticizing (not constructively) and complaining apparently make up a lot more of my daily discourse than I realized. While I don’t mind being called a “mean girl” for my occasionally blunt opinions and use of ridicule, I didn’t like finding out how hard it is for me to be basically positive about my life and day-to-day encounters and experiences.

I have a terrific life: I live in a free country; I have my basic needs fulfilled and money left over for some luxuries; I have healthy, smart, loving kids; and I share all that with a wonderful man who loves me more than I can possibly deserve, except that I love him just as much. I spend part of my free time talking with warm, funny, smart people on the internet, or meeting with some of them in person, and I have a large and loving extended family with whom to share life’s ups and downs. I’m a lucky lady, a happy lady, and it bothers me how easily I forget that when confronted with a stupid political ad or an inconsiderate driver.

Not that I’m going to try to never be negative again; I’m human, yo! But I am going to set myself a repeat of this challenge periodically, because it was good for me.   You’re never too old to learn something about yourself, I guess — how’s that for a positive thought?

Advertisements

TBR Review!

This review is for Keishon’s TBR Challenge; her suggested theme this month is Western, and I actually had one in my TBR heap.  Behold:I just have to include this cover in all its early 90s cheesy glory. I mean, it looks like sex on a tropical island, not winter in Colorado! Gotta love those covers.  Hey, the heroine’s hair is red, at least.

I enjoyed reading this book, and I’ve added the other books in this series (there are five Dennehy sisters, and they each get a book. Even the nun.)  I don’t think it is quite the quality of Goodman’s more recent writing, but that isn’t surprising — good authors get better, I think, and that’s not to say that this book isn’t good.  But the things I liked about it most are the things I see done even better in her more recent work (which is all I had read until this foray into the backlist).

Things I like include the setting; like some of Goodman’s more recent works, this book is set in the American West, and I love that.  There’s a different vibe than in English society. This book even has scenes back East, and I think Goodman captures 19th century America pretty well.

I like the heroine, Mary Michael.  She is very much a woman of her time, but she’s a woman with ambition — there had to be some of those, right?  I’ve always loved stories about the women in history who pushed for equality in various ways.  Michael (all five sisters are Mary-something, so they use their middle names) wants to be a newspaper reporter, and her scenes with newspaper men remind me very much of Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. I was almost sorry when the plot moved on from there, although the scenes of her working as a dance hall girl and barmaid were pretty entertaining.

The tension in the main romantic relationship is written well, and the reasons why they can’t easily trust each other are solidly established.  Goodman is very good at entwining an action plot with a romance so that they are fully integrated, each moving the other along.

What I most didn’t like about the book was the violence between the two main characters. He hits her TWICE, and even though it’s presented as necessary because of the masquerade he’s pulling off, I didn’t think he was sorry enough for it.  I also was bothered by their inability to be honest with one another — after surviving life-threatening circumstances by working together, I didn’t like that they could let pride and the fear of rejection keep them from demanding honesty.

I was glad that the story included the trial and punishment of the villains — Goodman always sees justice done in her books, which I appreciate.  But the last part of the book didn’t work as well for me, even as I was enjoying meeting the sequel bait sisters.  Part of that is my aversion to a particular plot device popular in Harlequin Presents.

Nonetheless, this was a WIN for me.

Boobies!

It’s October, so I need to post about boobs. Ta-tas. Bazoombas. Breasts. Those things that the boys always noticed, that I nursed my children with, and that some women whom I love and respect very much no longer have two of.

We’ve come a long way on the path of breast cancer awareness; we may be more aware of it than any other cancer. I remember when there was just “lung cancer” and “cancer,” and nobody ever got better. Now we talk about early detection, successful treatment, and survival. We’ve made huge advances, at least in wealthy industrialized nations, but until we have prevention and cure, we are not done.

My contributions to the cause tend to look like this:

That is a handcrafted prosthetic breast, a gift for a woman who needs a temporary cup-filler before reconstruction, who has a bad skin reaction to silicone, or whose medical insurance won’t cover a $400 prosthesis. It’s called a “knitted knocker,” although mine are crocheted because I don’t knit. I donate them to mastectomy patients through this wonderful program run by The Knitting Experience Cafe.

So touch them if you’ve got them (regularly!), and do what you can to support the women and men fighting this killer. Walk a few laps, give a few dollars, or knit a knocker.  It all adds up.

A Major New Release

Ever since I first heard about this book, and the Iron Seas series of which it is a part, I’ve been eager to read it.  For more than a year I have waited for it, read anything and everything I could find related to it, and talked about it. Ad nauseum, my family assures me. I also adored the story “Here There Be Monsters” that kicked off the series, making me anticipate the first full-length book even more.

So when I received an ARC from the author, I was thrilled — and yet, I was also suddenly anxious.  Would this book live up to my expectations of it?

On Twitter, Meljean Brook expressed the same concerns.  How could this book live up to its hype? She even held a contest asking people to come up with review lines that would help lower some of the expectations — some of the entries were hilarious, but I could tell that there was real concern behind all the joking.  This book is much anticipated, and no book pleases all readers.

I’m happy to say that I LOVED this book.  It is one of the best books I’ve read in a VERY LONG TIME. For me, it is almost the perfect blend of elements that I often have to seek in separate books: a unique and interesting fantasy concept, strong world-building, an exciting plot, complex and intriguing characters, and powerful romance.  This book has them all.

However, in the spirit of lowering expectations and acknowledging that not every book is for every reader, I’ve compiled this list of reasons why someone might not love this book as much as I do.

Reason 1: Complex, nuanced world building

As a long-time reader of epic fantasy, I can be pretty picky about this aspect of fiction.  In a fully realized fantasy setting, you get a sense that the author knows his or her imaginary world as well (or better) than you or I know our contemporary world: knows its history, its geography, its economy, its government(s) and the fabric of daily life there — what people wear, what they eat and drink, what choices they have, and the degree of variety in each of these things. However, as with good contemporary fiction, a good book in an alternate setting does not need to confront the reader with every one of these details all at once, or at a level that overwhelms the characters and story.  A good fantasy or historical setting (or in this case, fantasy history) gives the reader a good feel for the world and the rules that govern it that develops gradually over the course of the novel, with details added as needed that fit consistently into the picture of the whole.  This book does that — the world of the Iron Seas is rich and very different from ours, but I never felt like I was reading JUST information about the setting.  If you don’t like being transported someplace else that thoroughly, you won’t like this book.

Reason 2: Alternate History and Alternate Science

The basic premise of the Iron Seas books is alternate history, à la Harry Turtledove and many other fine writers of speculative fiction.  It posits a different event at some point in human history and then develops a world both different from and similar to our own, as it could have diverged from that historical point.  Some people don’t like history, or aren’t interested in thinking about how certain events in the past shape the future, and they might find it tiresome that this book gets you thinking along those lines.  Along with that is the different technological development that makes the machines, the transportation, even the people in this world different from our own — I’m a tech geek, and I love gadgets, airships, and flashily equipped sailing vessels in my fiction.  I also really enjoy how Meljean develops the social and ethical dimensions of the nanotechnology, artificial body parts, and other things made possible by the technology of this alternate world.  Technology is a two-edged sword, and this book embodies that without getting too preachy or overtly philosophical.

Reason 3: Complex Characters

Some readers like their good guys squeaky clean — and even more importantly, their good girls. Those people might not like this book.  All the characters have dimension; none of the central characters is flawless. They make mistakes, they have weaknesses, they change their minds and then change them again — you know, like real people.  At the same time, the central characters are heroic in that “bigger than life” and “committed to their principles” way.  Even the villains are believable and motivated, also bigger than life and committed to their way of doing things.  And there are all sorts of complicating factors, like the possibility of doing a bad thing in a good cause, or hurting someone you care about to save them from a greater hurt, that make the characters’ choices even more interesting.  But not easy, on them or on the reader.  There are also really wonderful secondary characters, about whom I cannot wait to read more — some readers don’t like that, I guess.

Reason 4: Powerful Romance and Hot Sex

I used to think I had to read one set of authors for romance and another for great fantasy world-building and stories.  With a few exceptions, the fantasy authors I read seemed to downplay romance, even if their books had a happy ending.  Let’s face it, Aragorn and Arwen don’t get much face time in The Lord of the Rings, and although I love Guy Gavriel Kay more than perhaps any other author writing today, every lovely romance subplot in his books is accompanied by a death or loss that makes the ending moving and poignant, but rarely fully happy. And don’t get me started on The Mists of Avalon, an amazing work of epic fantasy where couples just can’t make it work.

But the characters in The Iron Duke fall in love, and they have awesome (and yes, explicit) sexual feelings for each other, just like in a romance novel — because this IS a romance novel. So readers who want all the cool steampunky goodness of this setting, and the amazing adventure plot, and the complex characters, but who don’t want to read about people falling in love and having amazing sex, will not love this book like I did.

Reason 5: The Cover/Package

I have to admit, the PDF version of this cover than I’ve seen on various web sites does not do it justice. I’ve illustrated this post with a picture I took of my own shiny copy (yes, even though I have an ARC, I rushed right out and bought it), so that hopefully more of the detail comes through. Because it really isn’t a picture of The Hoff in a motorcycle jacket! That jacket is wicked cool once you see the detailing.  But some people won’t like the six-pack abs or the hint of man-titty, others won’t like the cool industrial skyline WITH ZEPPELIN behind him, and others might not like the shiny metal gears or embossed letters.  Then there’s the issue of price, because it is a trade paperback, listed at $15, and it’s $9.99 in e-book form. (Of course some stores have coupons and special offers, but frankly, I thought it was worth every penny. I used my Borders coupon on something else. It’s also 32% off at Amazon.com.)

So that’s it. I loved this book, it is on my keeper shelf already, and I plan to read it at least once more before the next book in the series comes out.  I think lots of other people will love it too — I know it got a huge consensus recommendation over at Dear Author.  But of course your mileage may vary, so I hope this description helps you figure out if this book’s for you.

A Scoundrel Is Released!

A warm and hearty welcome to the second book in The Blades of the Rose series, by Zoë Archer. It’s fun having these books released back-to-back, not having to wait too long before the next installment of the story. If you liked Warrior, the first book, then I think you’ll REALLY like Scoundrel. Or you can start with this one; it pulls you in fast, and I think the author does an excellent job of catching the reader up on the story if this is your first book in the series.

Bennett Day, the scoundrel of the title, made an appearance in the previous book.  We know he’s a charmer, a ladies’ man who plays the field and avoids long-term romantic commitments. He is a Blade, though, with a strong commitment to the cause of protecting magic sources and keeping them out of the hands of the Heirs of Albion.  He is the kind of hero you can’t help liking, but you also can’t help enjoying his change of worldview when he meets a woman to whom he wants to commit.

That woman, London Harcourt, is the daughter of the leader of the evil Heirs.  Not that she knows anything about what her father and his cohorts are doing, because the Heirs don’t involve women in their work — British women are to be protected, not treated as equals.  But London is a scholar, and she has skills that her father needs to figure out information about a source of magic in the Mediterranean, so she’s in the right place at the right time to meet Bennett and eventually join his cause.  London realizing her potential was one of my favorite aspects of this book; sometimes strong heroines seem born, not made, and watching this one evolve was a lot of fun.

One point that you have to keep in mind with these books is that they are fantasy.  Not just in their use of magic, although that’s a little stronger in this book than in the last one, but in the way that certain older books (Edgar Rice Burroughs comes to mind) and some adventure films are. Our heroic characters are smarter and faster than their enemies, and they perform amazing feats.  If your taste runs to gritty realism, these may not be the books for you. But if (like me) you enjoy heroic fantasy, these books are welcome and wonderful.  Because there’s not enough heroic fantasy where the heroes come in both sexes, and in these books they do.

Once again, the setting of the book adds to its appeal. The beauty of the Greek isles, their ancient ruins and mythology, affect the characters and the reader. The respect for different cultures, and the acceptance of a wide variety of legends, traditions and forms of magic, help make this series special.

What I Read in September

The count this month is 12 full-length novels and one children’s book. That’s not bad, I suppose, with the semester in full swing.  One of those was a re-read.

Historical Romance (This month there were some truly fabulous books in this sub-genre.)

A Season of Seduction by Jennifer Haymore.  I have posted some thoughts about this book already here. It is a lovely story, bringing threads from the previous two books to a happy ending and giving Rebecca the chance to choose her own future after the disaster of her marriage.  This couple has a lot to work through; I wasn’t sure I could forgive Jack for what he did, but the author made it work for me.  At one point I wondered what amount of groveling would be enough, and I even wondered, “what’s the step beyond groveling?” This book provided an answer to that question. WIN.

Trial by Desire by Courtney Milan.  I expected to like this book; Courtney is a smart, funny lady who pays attention to detail and writes really well. I was interested to see how she redeemed Ned, the hero, who in her earlier book was the cause of a lot of trouble for other people.  But I was really amazed by how unusual, brave and compelling his story is.  Ned suffers from depression, what we’d call today clinical depression, and he challenges himself to live well in spite of that, to conquer the darkness that makes him want to hide, give up, or even die.  Ned’s wife, Kathleen, was a weak young woman when they married, a social necessity due to being caught in a compromising situation.  But while Ned is away challenging himself in China for the first years of their marriage, Kathleen keeps busy running their estate and trying to improve the lives of those less fortunate. Specifically, she rescues women from situations of domestic abuse.  Neither of these characters knows what to expect of the other when they are reunited, and there were times in the book when I really wondered whether they could surmount the obstacles in their path.  I feared a magic wand or deus ex machina ending; instead, the “happy ever after” was brilliantly executed and wonderfully satisfying.  These characters are dealing, in a historical setting, with issues that still perplex and challenge us today; there’s a fine line an author has to walk to make that work for me, and this is a fine example of how good it is when that happens. WIN.

The Dangerous Viscount by Miranda Neville. I’ve written a separate post about this book, which was just released this week, because I think it was overlooked by a lot of readers. That’s a shame, because it is Ms Neville’s finest work to date, in my opinion, and a really terrific reading experience.  Details of my reaction here. WIN.

Confessions of a Little Black Gown by Elizabeth Boyle.  This was my first book by this author; I met her at RomCon, and she is delightful, fun and funny.  I was not surprised to find that her book was also on the light and funny side, although concerned with life and death, cloak and dagger events. At times I felt that I was missing something by not having read the previous books, but that didn’t keep me from following the story or enjoying it. This isn’t a book that challenged me, or that challenges the genre, but it was engaging and fun to read. WIN.

Paranormal Romance (Every new book I read in this category was by the same author; I glommed her books for about ten days solid. There was also an excellent re-read.)

Demon Moon, Demon Bound and Demon Forged, by Meljean Brook.  I read one book in this series in July; I acquired it at RomCon and was sending it to a friend. I enjoyed it and wanted to read more by this author, especially since I was waiting oh so anxiously for more of her steampunk world. I’m now fully hooked on the Guardian series. WIN. WIN. WIN.

Warrior by Zoe Archer. This was a re-read; I first read this book back in June in ARC form.  The published version has some small improvements, but it’s still the same great story.  I wrote in detail about it when it was officially released earlier this month. WIN.

Fantasy (I read three books from the sci-fi fantasy shelves this month. Two were eagerly awaited sequels.)

Naamah’s Curse by Jacqueline Carey.  Carey is a brilliant, talented author; this is the second book of her third trilogy set in this fictional world. As always, the characters are compelling and complex, the world building is rich and the story is engrossing.  I quickly run out of adjectives when I talk about this author’s work; she holds her own with the very best in the field of epic fantasy. WIN.

Blameless by Gail Carriger. I adore these books; the mix of adventure, romance and humor is really refreshing and different, as well as just plain entertaining. Without spoilers, I can only say that I was glad the book provided the necessary (to me) resolution of the dilemma left from the last book, while still providing possible directions for future books to take. Also, it was a ripping good read. WIN.

The Hotel Under the Sand by Kage Baker.  Kage has been one of my favorite authors since 1997, the year her novel The Garden of Iden, first of her fabulous Company series, was published.  She was also a fabulous person, and her death from cancer (last winter, shortly before my father’s) was a huge blow to me and to many others. I was delighted to find this charming fantasy for middle grade readers in my local bookstore; it was published in 2009, but I had never seen it.  Like all good children’s fantasy, it uses relatively simple language to explore complex (im)possibilities. WIN.

Steampunk Romance (I am giving this book its own category, because it deserves it. I have no idea where they plan to shelve it when it is released next week.)

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook. Although there are some steampunk elements in other books on this list, this book really IS steampunk. And romance, beautifully balanced. I raved in July about the novella that kicked off this series, and this book lived up to my expectations, which is saying a LOT. It’s dark and edgy in many ways, and the world-building is amazing. Plus the sex is smokin’ hot, the characters are multi-faceted, unique and interesting, and the plot takes amazing twists and turns that are always well crafted. I am eager for more. WIN

Contemporary Romance (Only one. I’m just not finding ones that interest me.)

Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie. I bought this book to reward myself for waiting for this author’s newest book to be available in paper or through my library, and it was a fun read.  As with some of Crusie’s other books, it pushes/stretches the bounds of plausibility in some places, but for a good cause. It’s funny, utterly romantic, and of course well written. I am glad I have spaced out my reading of her solo romances; there aren’t enough other authors writing contemporary this well.  WIN.