Author: Christine (page 1 of 29)

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie BrennanA Natural History of Dragons (The Memoirs of Lady Trent #1) by Marie Brennan
Series: The Memoirs of Lady Trent #1
Published by Tor Books on February 5th 2013
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 334
Source: Purchased: ebook

Everyone knows Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world's preeminent dragon naturalist. Here, at last, in her own words, is the story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, prospects, and her life to satisfy scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the mountains of Vystrana, where she made discoveries that would change the world.

As part of my Once Upon A Time springtime festival, I decided to finish the Lady Trent series. This has been a favorite series of mine, although I fell behind after the second book. The fifth and final book in the series, Within the Sanctuary of Wings, will be released on April 25, which gives me the opportunity to basically read the series right through in the next month.

I started Once Upon A Time by rereading the first book and reacquainting myself with Isabella. A Natural History of Dragons covers Isabella’s childhood and her early obsession with dragons. It is told in retrospect, by Lady Trent as an elderly woman looking back over her life – this one represents the first in her series of memoirs. By the time she is writing this book, she is a grande dame of society, no longer subject to its strictures by dint of her accomplishments.

Brennan does a fine job establishing Isabella’s character as a child who is deeply attracted to biology, to dissection, to “natural history,” which is really the Victorian name for “biology” at a time when society frowned upon girls being interested in intellectual pursuits. While she has constructed an entirely fantasy world, it is firmly based in the history of this one, with Scirling as a stand-in for Britain, with all of the shibboleths of Victorian culture.

One of the complaints that I read in other reviews of this series was that it was slow-moving, and that there weren’t enough dragons. I understand that criticism. If the reader is looking for a series like Eragon, or even Temeraire, where there is dragon/human interaction and overt magical intrusion, this is not that series. Essentially, Brennan has taken a character like Freya Stark or Isabella Bird and transplanted her into a world where dragons are real. This book shares much more with Charles Darwin than it does with Harry Potter.

This first book in the series also describes Isabella’s first adventure to Vystrana, which is Eastern European in custom and description – a place like Hungary or the Czech Republic. Isabella is really hitting her stride during this expedition and maintains her adherence to many of the upper class customs and niceties of Scirling. She is under the protection of her husband, Jacob, and they are newly married, their explorations thus being both draconic and connubial. Isabella is not an easy wife, and Jacob is uneasy in his decisions. As was the case during that era, Isabella went directly from the protection of her father to the protection of her husband, and her unwillingness to be so limited is evident in both of those relationships.

I don’t want to spoiler too much, so I’m not going to say more in this review. Once I get to book 2, the major spoiler of this book will be revealed, but for now, I will leave it at this. This was a 4-star read for me.

Once Upon A Time: A Springtime Reading Festival

For many years, one of my favorite bloggers held a spring-time festival of all things fantasy, folklore, fairy tale and myth. He called it the Once Upon A Time Challenge, and it generally lasted between the first day of spring (the vernal equinox, which is today) and the first day of summer (summer solstice, June 20). Unfortunately, it seems to have gone by the wayside, since I went looking for it today and was unable to find any sign that it’s coming back in 2017! He also had some of the most wonderful images, which I am recycling for this post!

This is a major bummer for me. As fall, to me, is all about gothic literature, supernatural, terror, and crime, spring, to me, has developed into an opportunity to dive into epic fantasy and fairy tales. In spite of the fact that Once Upon A Time has been consigned, apparently, to the past, I’m going to move forward with the quest.

The Way of Kings/Words of Radiance: I’ve been holding off on starting Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive because I know that Sanderson is planning somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 more books, and therefore it will be frustrating, and I will likely shuffle off this mortal coil before he finishes. Nonetheless, the third book is planned for release in November, so I’m going to read the first two books for this project.

Lady Trent: I’m a huge fan of Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent series, which is all about combining intrepid Victorian lady explorers in skirts with dragons!. I’ve read the first two books, and the fifth and final book is going to be released on 4/25. I’m going to reread the two first books, and then continue on with the final three to complete this series!

Series Rewatch TBD: I’m vacillating here between Grimm and Once Upon A Time. I’ve watched more of Grimm than OUAT, but I’m way behind on both. I’ll advise once the decision is made. Suggestions are welcome.

Multimedia: I’ve been planning on re-reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell for a while, and while I am at it, I wouldn’t object to watching the companion series.

American Gods: I’ve owned this book for years, and haven’t ever gotten around to reading it. The series begins in April on Starz, and it looks amazing. I need to read this book, and I need to read it soon!

There will be more than this – fairy tales and folklore and fantasy will abound!

The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie

The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha ChristieThe Secret of Chimneys (Superintendent Battle, #1) by Agatha Christie
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. on January 1st 1970
Pages: 400

A bit of adventure and quick cash is all that good-natured drifter Anthony Cade is looking for when he accepts a messenger job from an old friend. It sounds so simple: deliver the provocative memoirs of a recently deceased European count to a London publisher. But the parcel holds more than scandalous royal secrets. It contains a stash of letters that suggest blackmail -- and lead to the murder of a stranger who's been shadowing Anthony's every move. Discovering the dead man's identity means retracing his steps -- to the rambling estate of Chimneys where darker secrets, and deadlier threats, await anyone who dares to enter.

You’ve already had the chance to read Obsidian’s thoughts on this Agatha Christie mystery. As she was reading, it was pretty clear to me that she wasn’t loving it, which caused me to try to reach back into my past to the first time I read this book.

Because this is one of my favorite Agatha Christie non-Poirot books, but I don’t think it was the first time I read it. What I like about it is its simplicity, which sounds really strange because the plot itself is quite convoluted. But the premise is simple: mysteriously attractive young man meets bright attractive young woman at beautiful country home, mayhem, murder, hijinks and romance ensue. The rest of it, to me, is just gravy. It is a first class romp, madcap and occasionally harebrained. It’s a grown up Nancy Drew mystery, with Virginia as Nancy and Anthony as Ned Nickerson, wandering about Chimneys in the dark with torches, running into umbrella stands and finding corpses.

I can’t take it seriously, but I can seriously enjoy it. I understand why it isn’t for everyone. Obsidian did such a good with the plot summary and analysis that I’m not going to bother with it myself. My review is about how this book makes me feel. Nothing she said is inaccurate – it is convoluted, obscure, occasionally silly, and the characters behave like ninnies from time to time. Inspector Battle is wonderful, but OB’s dig about his “twinkle” is well deserved.

It took me more than one reading for it to worm its way into my affections, and at this point it is a comfort read of the highest order.

Moonlight Reader: Sunday Update

Moonlight Reader: Sunday Update

Reading: Right now, I’m on a crime binge. I’ve been reading Peter May’s Lewis Trilogy, set in the Outer Hebrides, catching up on the happenings in Three Pines, Canada, and hanging out with Joanna Brady in Cochise County, Arizona.

Watching: Since I have already watched all of Poirot (at least once), I’d been looking for a new mystery series. I stumbled on Murdoch Mysteries, a series out of Canada, set in Victorian era Toronto. It is totally delightful, and I’ve watched the first five seasons. I also watched the first season of Bletchley Circle, which is only three episodes, and thought it was amazing. And, in honor of the current Russian spy scandal, I decided to watch The Americans. I’m only two episodes in, so I haven’t made any decisions.

Making: I’m stitching a Halloween sampler, and working on a quilt for my father-in-law!

Cleaning: I went into my son’s room armed with a shovel and dressed in a haz mat suit. Not really, but I did actually clean his room. It was disgusting. We had a long talk about hygiene, rodents, and filth.

Organizing: My craft projects. I’m getting ready to shift my craft room into one of the other bedrooms so we can update what is now the craft room with new flooring and paint!

Buying: I’m trying to avoid buying, actually! I did buy some candles from Bath and Body Works, since they were on sale. I have a Peach Bellini candle burning right now, and it smells wonderful!

Planning: A trip to Disneyland in June! Can’t wait!

Wanting: A new sewing machine. I have my eye on a Cotton+Steel edition Bernina. I’ve never bought a new sewing machine for myself.

Hoping: For a big tax refund. Or at least that I don’t owe several thousand dollars.

What’s up with you?

The Black House by Peter May

The Black House by Peter MayThe Blackhouse (Lewis Trilogy, #1) by Peter May
Published by Quercus on January 5th 2011
Pages: 401

A brutal killing takes place on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland: a land of harsh beauty and inhabitants of deep-rooted faith.
A MURDER. Detective Inspector Fin Macleod is sent from Edinburgh to investigate. For Lewis-born Macleod, the case represents a journey both home and into his past.
A SECRET. Something lurks within the close-knit island community. Something sinister.
A TRAP. As Fin investigates, old skeletons begin to surface, and soon he, the hunter, becomes the hunted.

This is the first book in a trilogy set on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. This series has actually been on my radar screen for a couple of years, but I hadn’t gotten around to it. Recently, I noticed that all three of the books had been released in the U.S. for kindle, so I decided to dive in. I’ve read the first two, and plan to tackle Chessmen some time in March.

Let me begin by saying that setting is really important to me in mysteries. It may, actually, be the most important thing that I look for when I’m choosing a mystery. I like my settings northern – I have a strong affinity to Nordic Noir and Tartan Noir, as well as books set in the U.S. in places like upstate NY, the upper peninsula of Michigan, Minnesota, and Montana. So when I saw that this book was set on an island in the Outer Hebrides, I was sold. I also strongly prefer police procedurals. I am not a cozy mystery reader – I like my mysteries more on the gritty side, and while I will occasionally read a book with a private investigator, I prefer legitimate law enforcement, and I generally dislike books where the amateur sleuth owns a cafe or a knitting shop, is a gardener, or where the author indulges in silly puns for his/her titles (i.e., “Sew Deadly” or “A Brisket, A Casket). Or that involve sleuthing animals.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, this book was right up my alley. Peter May’s sense of place is impeccable. The Isle of Lewis is, in many ways, a place out of time. Progress is a long time coming to a hardscrabble island that is home to crofters who farm using the same methods that their grandparents did. There is little industry, and a lot of religion. It is a harsh life, marred by alcoholism and abuse and poverty, lived out in long dark days and nights. The focus on the characters meant that the mystery took a bit of a backseat to both geography and ethnography.

If you want to see more picture of the Outer Hebrides, I’m linking to an article in The Daily Record. Quercus, the publisher of the Lewis Trilogy, published a companion photography book of the locations in the Outer Hebrides referenced in the Lewis Trilogy. The article has a slide show, and I strongly recommend clicking through, as the pictures are so beautiful that words really don’t do them justice.

May spent a lot of time on the Isle of Lewis integrating himself into the lives of villagers, gaining their trust and a more than surface understanding of their lives. It shows through in this book, as well as in the next, The Lewis Man, which is frankly even better. The sense of place is so vivid that I could picture it in my mind.

If I have one complaint about the book, it is the use of a particular plot device that I find unconvincing. I can’t explain more because a major plot point rests upon the device, and revealing it will spoil the book. Having said that, this is just a quibble. A plot preference that didn’t mar the overall experience of reading this book.


Apologies to my co-blogger!

One of the benefits of having a co-blogger is that there is someone to keep the blog moving forward when one plunges into one of those time periods where blogging feels like an unbearable chore. I’ve been in one of those periods!

However, new month, fresh attitude! Onward!

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday12/17/16: Ten Underrated/Hidden Gem Books I've Read In The Past Year Or So by Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme that was created by The Broke and the Bookish. Today's theme is Ten Underrated/Hidden Gem Books I've Read In The Past Year Or So (up to you if you want it to be those published in the past year or so or just ANY underrated book you've read recently).

Top Ten Tuesday

Ten Underrated/Hidden Gem Books I’ve Read In The Past Year Or So (up to you if you want it to be those published in the past year or so or just ANY underrated book you’ve read recently).

So I have a lot of books that I read the past year that I thought were fantastic. I am always so sad though if everyone else doesn’t have a clue about the books that I fell in love with.

So here are my top ten underrated/hidden gems books that I read in 2016:

  1.  Strangers in Death by J.D. Robb. This is one of my favorite “In Death” books. It has a great callback to Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train and the little clues that are dropped throughout give readers a great look at how the murder was carried out.
  2. Heartless by Marissa Meyer. I know a lot of people were not feeling this one. I get it. We all love the Lunar Chronicles, but I thought this one did a great job of giving us a YA perspective of the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland.
  3. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I am so happy that so many Booklikers read this short story during Halloween Book Bingo. The discussions about this book went on for a few weeks and I love it when a story can touch people in so many different ways.
  4. I Almost Forgot About You by Terry McMillan. I loved, loved, loved this one. I realized after the fact that not a lot of my African American friends even knew that McMillan had a book come out last year. This one touched me in a variety of ways. Since I didn’t really like the sequel to “Waiting to Exhale” I was so happy that this one resonated with me.
  5. Nuts by Alice Clayton. Sometime a girl needs a hot and sexy romance. That is all.
  6.  The Bone Collector by Jeffrey Deaver. I was so happy to read the first book in the Lincoln Rhyme series. This one had everything a history nerd and amateur criminologist (via fiction books) could love.
  7. Dawn by Octavia E. Butler. I know a lot of people don’t like these books because the topic of consent gets turned upside so many times it may make you uncomfortable as you read. I still found this and the other two books in this series to be great reads.
  8. In The County We Love by Diane Guerrero. This gives such a great perspective on the children of illegal immigrants who have come to the United States to make a life. You follow Guerrero’s family’s journey and the decisions they make along the way in order to try to stay together.
  9. Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee. This book took a historical event (San Francisco earthquake and fire) and had it take place in the city’s Chinatown. I loved everything about this book and hope for a sequel due to a lot of outstanding questions I had regarding what happens to the main character.
  10. The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey. I have told every friend of mine that I have about this awesome book. I loved it. Such a great read from beginning to end. The next book in this series (which apparently is not a sequel sequel) is coming out this year. I can’t wait.


Romance bingo Sunday update: Moonlight Reader

I have gotten off to a sloooooow start on the romance bingo card, knocking down only two categories so far!

1. Man in a kilt: Highlander Untamed by Monica McCarty (review here.
2. Love is murder: Death in Kenya by M.M. Kaye (review forthcoming).

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday1/10/17: Top Ten 2016 Releases I Meant To Read But Didn't Get To (But TOTALLY plan to read) by Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme that was created by The Broke and the Bookish. Today's theme is the Top Ten 2016 Releases I Meant To Read But Didn't Get To (But TOTALLY plan to)!

Top Ten 2016 Releases I Meant To Read But Didn’t Get To (But TOTALLY plan to)

Obsidian Blue:

Hmmm. There were a lot of 2016 books that I meant to read, and then I tend to get distracted by shiny book covers and forget all about them.

Here are my top 5 releases that I meant to read in 2016, but will read this year:

  1. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. I heard nothing but good things, but the main reason why I didn’t read this was that I didn’t want to shell out money to read a book by an author I have not read before. I always try to just get the book via the library first. Due to the popularity of the book, I have been on the hold list for a while (three months and counting).
  2. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  I read a sample, was interested in the book, bought the book at the National Book Festival, and it still sits on my bookshelf unread. I will get to it eventually, I just keep finding other books to read first.
  3. All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda. I have this book on hold (since November 2016) so am hoping that I get it soon so I can finally start this. It looks very interesting and I do love mystery novels.
  4. Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda. It’s Hamilton. Enough said.
  5. Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. I finally finally got this book via the library a week ago. I am so excited that I am going to start this book this week. I saw the movie on Saturday and was blown away by how good it was. My boss and his wife saw it too and he was enthusing all over the place this morning. As someone who still sees math as a foreign language, for the first time ever I saw how wonderful it is for those that speak math. The impossible becomes possible.

Highlander Untamed by Monica McCarty

Highlander Untamed by Monica McCartyHighlander Untamed (MacLeods of Skye Trilogy, #1) by Monica McCarty
Published by Ballantine on July 31st 2007
Genres: Romance
Pages: 382
Source: Purchased: ebook

Rory MacLeod is a bold and powerful Highland Chief with only one allegiance–to his clan. He vows revenge against the rival MacDonald clan, though duty demands a handfast marriage to Isabel MacDonald–a bride he does not want and has no intention of keeping. But Rory couldn’t have anticipated the captivating woman who challenges his steely control, and unleashes the untamed passion simmering beneath his fierce exterior.

Blessed with incomparable beauty, Isabel MacDonald is prepared to use every means possible–including seduction–to uncover her husband’s most guarded secrets. Instead Rory awakens Isabel’s deepest desires and her sweetest fantasies. Now Isabel has found the happiness she’s always dreamed of with the very man she must betray, and discovers that passion can be far more dangerous than revenge.

I read this one for the “Man in a Kilt” bingo square. I may have read it before – I honestly couldn’t say because I binged on Monica McCarty books a couple of years ago and they are all very formulaic, so I can’t necessarily identify it by the story.

It is enjoyable enough, such as it is. It is a fairly steamy – I’d say about a 7 on the steam scale (out of 10). There are graphic but not clinical descriptions of the sexual encounters between H & h. One of the problems with romance – for me at least – is that there are a limited number of ways to describe sex, so I get bored with sex scenes. McCarty’s are not worthy of eyerolling, but they are boring and repetitive. I skim.

The formula for a McCarty Highlander goes something like this: Hero and heroine are thrown together. There is some sort of obstacle that keeps them separated – warring clans, arranged marriage that one or both of them is angry about, kidnapping, whatever. They are incredibly attracted to one another because the heroine is so beautiful that the Hero gets an erection if she comes within four feet of him. This seems both unlikely and uncomfortable, but hey, I’m not responsible for this bit of silliness. They spat with one another and finally succumb to the mutual attraction. No matter where they are or what is going on – fleeing from enemies who want to kill you? Just released from having been captured with terrible injuries? These things do not stand in the way of the virginal heroine enjoying multiple orgasms the first time she has sex.* The obstacles are dealt with, H & h marry, H has been utterly conquered by love, and a bairn soon follows.

Anyway, Highlander Untamed is fine. It is plenty enjoyable if you keep your expectations moderate. There really isn’t much else for me to say about it.

*Yes, this is both unbelievable and preposterous. If you are looking for realistic treatment of relationships, I have other suggestions for you!

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