hearth/myth: Rursday Reads

A place for me to talk about the books - mostly indie books - that I've read and enjoyed. Looking for a weekend read? Here you go.

The Grandmother (Babicka) - Bozena Nemcova

The Grandmother: A Story Of Country Life In Bohemia - Božena Němcová, Frances Gregor

When I was young, my favorite book was Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. Alcott's tale about Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy went a long way toward forming my ideas about fairness, kindness, and how to get along in life. The Grandmother serves the same purpose in the Czech Republic. Published originally in 1853 -- 15 years before Little Women -- The Grandmother tells the story of an elderly country woman in northeast Bohemia who comes to live with her daughter and her daughter's family on a noblewoman's estate. Mr. Prosek, the son-in-law, works for the noblewoman, you see -- the house is part of his living expense. Grandma is immediately pressed into service as babysitter for the couple's children. But the old lady doesn't mind; in fact, she thrives on teaching the children everything from Christianity to superstitions and folk remedies. Everyone in the neighborhood loves her, of course -- even the noblewoman, who comes to believe that Grandmother is not only the epitome of Czech peasantry, but full of good ideas, to boot.

The novel is beloved in the Czech Republic, but I suspect most modern-day Americans would find it tedious. There's no plot, really -- just a series of vignettes following the Prosek family through the course of a year. I found it interesting because of my heritage, and because I was looking for examples of how pagan practices had survived in Bohemia. But there's very little action, and only a little conflict among the characters.

 

The biggest revelation is perhaps the story of Victorka, a madwoman who lives in a cave near the family's home. She went mad after conceiving a child out of wedlock, and the most interesting thing about it is how no one in the village condemns her -- either for becoming pregnant (rather than scolding the girl for her loose morals, the villagers consider the father a demon!) or for her treatment of the baby (which she delivers alone, and then throws in the river). Victorka's story is told with typical Czech practicality, and none of the melodrama that someone like Dickens would likely have employed.

If you have an interest in historical accounts of idyllic 19th-century family life, or of old Czech customs, I'd recommend checking out The Grandmother for its place in Czech literature alone. The rest of you should probably give it a pass.

Source: http://www.rursdayreads.com/2016/07/the-grandmother-babicka-bozena-nemcova.html

Our Lady of the Ice - Cassandra Rose Clarke

Our Lady of the Ice - Cassandra Rose Clarke

It's the time of the year when I look at my TBR pile of dead-tree books and realize I only have a few months to get through it before I get another book bag at this year's World Fantasy Convention. So I may be reviewing more trad-pubbed books than usual over the next few months.

Our Lady of the Ice is steampunk, I guess. Around the turn of the 20th century, developers built a weatherproof dome in Antarctica and put an amusement park under it. They also built a city under the dome for the people who would work in the park, and called it Hope City. But they also built robots, some more humanoid than others, to work in the harsh climate. As the novel opens, it's been several decades since the park was shut down. The infrastructure may (or may not) be decaying, and many people want only to escape to the mainland. That's the dream of Eliana Gomez, a female private investigator -- but she hesitates because it would mean leaving her boyfriend, Diego Amitrano, behind. Diego works for the gangster who controls much of the city, but Eliana wonders how deep Diego is involved. At the same time, a society woman named Marianella Luna has teamed up with a city council member to champion a proposal to grow crops under the dome, thereby making Hope City less dependent on the mainland. But the androids in the park are gaining sentience, and they have their own agenda. And Marianella harbors a secret that could bring ruin to everyone.

I enjoyed the book. Eliana and Marianella are appealing characters, each in their own way. And Sofia, an android and another point-of-view character, was well done. My favorite character, though, might be Luciano, another of the androids, who is not as far along in his development as Sofia in some ways, and yet farther along in others.

The book has a noir feel to it, what with the gangsters and the winter darkness. The dome frames the story: it keeps everyone alive, but it also traps the characters and their corrupt society.

I would recommend Our Lady of the Ice to readers who enjoy alternate history, noir fiction, and androids.

Source: http://www.rursdayreads.com/2016/07/our-lady-of-ice-cassandra-rose-clarke.html

Being Travis (No Time for Travis Book 2) - Melissa Bowersock

Being Travis (No Time for Travis) (Volume 2) - Melissa Bowersock

I enjoyed Finding Travis, Bowersock's first installment in this series, and was pleased to hear that she had written another book with the same appealing characters. I am happy to report that Being Travis did not disappoint.

This book picks up some time after the end of the first book. To recap, Travis Merrill was volunteering as an army surgeon in a reenactment at Camp Verde, Arizona, when he was somehow whisked back in time to the real camp. He managed to pull off pretending to be a real doctor, with the assistance of one Corporal Riley. Now, Travis and Riley have both mustered out of the Army; Travis has married Phaedre, a woman he met at the camp, and is setting up a homestead not far away, with Riley's assistance. As time goes on, Travis discovers it's becoming harder to keep the secret of who is is and when he's from -- especially from his wife.

This is one of those stories where you just want to take the main character and shake some sense into him. Riley, of course, has some inkling of the truth, but all Phaedre knows is that Travis is hiding something from her, and that's not a good foundation for any marriage. Travis did a pretty good job of screwing up his life in our time, and this reader would really hate to see him screw things up in the past, too.

Bowersock has included some intriguing subplots, including one in which a notorious historical figure stumbles across Travis's neighborhood. I hope we've seen the last off that fellow, but the writer in me wonders whether he won't come back for an encore in the next book.

Which is to say that I hope Bowersock writes the next book in this series soon. I would highly recommend both books in this series for readers who enjoy historical fantasy.

Source: http://www.rursdayreads.com/2016/07/being-travis-no-time-for-travis-book-2.html

A Killing Truth (Leine Basso Thriller Prequel) - D.V. Berkom

A Killing Truth: (A Leine Basso Thriller Prequel) - D.V. Berkom

For the Indies Unlimited Reading Challenge this month, I'm supposed to read a book in a genre I don't usually pick up. Thrillers qualify, for sure; usually I find them violent for the sake of being violent, and lacking in character development.

With D.V. Berkom's work, however, I don't have either problem. This is the second of her books that I've read, and I've enjoyed them both.

A Killing Truth is a prequel to Berkom's series featuring Leine Basso, a kickass operative for a shady U.S. anti-terrorist agency. When she's not picking off bad guys, she enjoys time with her young daughter. And she has a boyfriend, Carlos, who shares her line of work. When Leine nearly gets killed on assignment, she writes it off as a bad job -- but Carlos thinks their boss might be trying to eliminate them both. Then Carlos goes missing -- and the boss sends Leine on a crazy mission that's sure to get her killed.

Leine is a no-nonsense professional and a deadly adversary -- and as usual with Berkom's work, the excellent editing and taut pacing kept me on the edge of my seat to the very end.

As A Killing Truth is a prequel, you don't need to have read any of the other books in the series to enjoy this one. Highly recommended for readers who like their crime novels with tough female heroines.

Source: http://www.rursdayreads.com/2016/07/a-killing-truth-leine-basso-thriller.html

Pierced by the Sun - Laura Esquivel

Pierced by the Sun - Jordi Castells, Laura Esquivel

Laura Esquivel is best known as the author of Like Water for Chocolate. In her new book,Pierced by the Sun, the magic realism is less overt, but it's there nonetheless.

Lupita is a Mexican policewoman who witnesses the murder of a local politician in broad daylight on a city street. His death throws her back into the self-abusive practices she had used before -- drinking and drugs. At the same time, the local political machine marks her for death. She inadvertently escapes into the succor of indigenous spirituality, and in so doing, finds a way out -- not just for her personal dilemmas, but maybe for her nation, too.

Esquivel does a fine job weaving together the various threads that make up the tapestry of modern Mexico -- Catholicism and indigenous religion, political corruption and the drug trade, and people just trying to live their lives. The trope of the modern woman who finds her way again by adopting ancient ways is somewhat hackneyed, but at least the author doesn't make it the focus of the book. She does, however, have an overt agenda, or at least a moral to her story; it's clear that Lupita is a stand-in for Mexico herself, as evidenced by the story's final sentence:

 

Most importantly, if Lupita -- who had collected so much pain, who had experienced so much anger -- could heal and connect to The Whole, so could Mexico.

 

I picked up Pierced by the Sun for free as part of Amazon's Kindle First program. If you're looking for another Like Water for Chocolate, you'll be disappointed. But if you can stand a little morality play with your magic realism, you may enjoy Pierced by the Sun.

Source: http://www.rursdayreads.com/2016/06/pierced-by-sun-laura-esquivel.html

Catering Girl - Laurie Boris

Catering Girl: A Novella - Laurie Boris

Catering Girl is a prequel to Boris's first novel, The Joke's On Me! The main character in both books is Frankie Goldberg, a nice Jewish girl from the East Coast who has made her way to L.A. to try to make it as an actress, or a comic, or both. Instead, she's working for a catering company on the set of a film starring Oscar-winning starlet Anastasia Cole. Anastasia is a diva with a reputation, but Frankie happens to deliver her cappuchino when she's having an identity crisis -- and before long, Frankie finds herself wheeling and dealing on Anastasia's behalf. But how long will Anastasia continue to need her? And what if, in the process, Frankie loses herself?

I love Frankie. Her snarky attitude just barely covers her major self-esteem issues. And Boris has given her a great foil in Anastasia, the not-quite-brainless beauty who essentially hires Frankie to be her best friend.

I would highly recommend Catering Girl to anyone looking for a quick, fun summer read -- and if you find Frankie as appealing as I do, you'll be glad to know you can segue right into the rest of her story.

Source: http://www.rursdayreads.com/2016/06/catering-girl-laurie-boris.html

Ashes and Rain (Ahsenthe Cycle #2) - Alexes Razevich

Ashes and Rain: Sequel to Khe (The Ahsenthe Cycle Book 2) - Alexes Razevich

Part sci-fi and part fantasy, Ashes and Rain picks up where Khe left off -- and does a wonderful job of furthering and enriching the original story.

As this book opens, Khe knows she has changed, and she is becoming aware of how much her efforts, and those of the doumanas she assisted, have changed their world. They have overthrown the lumani, the shadowy race that ran the doumanas' society -- but now that no one is telling them what to do, the doumanas don't know how to make their own decisions. Because of that, many doumanas distrust Khe, and she finds she literally cannot go home again.

But more changes are in store, for both Khe and for all of her kind. The road to get there will be rocky, but it must be traveled. The question is whether Khe is up to the journey.

Many times, a follow-up book suffers in comparison to the first -- but that is not the case here. Razevich's doumanas are wonderfully drawn, and Khe herself is an amazing character. I was thrilled to be in her world again. Highly recommended.

Source: http://www.rursdayreads.com/2016/06/ashes-and-rain-ahsenthe-cycle-2-alexes.html

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicles #1) - Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicle, #1) - Patrick Rothfuss

Why, oh why did I wait so long to read this book?

The Name of the Wind was first published in 2007, and friends who are fans of epic fantasy have been talking about how great it was. But I was reading other stuff, and, well, time gets away from one.

I finally got around to reading it recently, and I very much enjoyed it.

A more-or-less itinerant Chronicler stumbles into an inn in the middle of nowhere one night, and finds himself face-to-face with a legend: Kvothe, the most amazing wizard (among other things) of all time. But here, Kvothe is known by another name, and he's running this inn with his loyal assistant, Bast. All is not what it seems, of course; Kvothe is Bast's teacher, and Bast himself is...perhaps not entirely human. And there's a monstrous evil thing that has begun attacking people not far from the inn. It's clear Kvothe will soon need to come out of hiding -- but first, he agrees to tell the Chronicler his life story. The Name of the Wind, the first installment of that tale, details Kvothe's early years, from his life with his parents in a performing troupe to his years at the University in Treban.

Rothfuss is a fine storyteller, and he's picked a unique way of telling his story: Kvothe tells his life story in first person, but the present-day frame for his tale is in third person, and I thought the choice made perfect sense. I found Kvothe to be an appealing hero, and his mysterious love interest intrigued me. Of course, this book has been compared to everything from Lord of the Rings to Game of Thrones to Harry Potter, but it's different from each of these. In all, a fine start to the series. You can bet it won't take me another nine years to read the next book.

Source: http://www.rursdayreads.com/2016/06/the-name-of-wind-kingkiller-chronicles.html

Life Memories - Jacqueline Hopkins

Life Memories - J.R. Hopkins
For this month's Indies Unlimited Reading Challenge, I'm reading a memoir by an author who cared for her mother during the last two years of her life.
 
The subtitle of this book is, "A memoir of surviving life and preserving memories!" and Hopkins has done a pretty good job at both. 
 
In this book, Hopkins talks about how her life, and her mother's, were upended when the older woman began developing dementia. Peggy Hopkins, the author's mother, was living in the family home in Alaska when her memory began to deteriorate. At the same time, the author's husband was leaving Alaska for North Dakota to find a better job, and she intended to follow him. So the family closed up Mom's house, and the author brought her mother along with her to the Lower 48. 
 
My mother also suffered from dementia during the last years of her life, so I could empathize with Hopkins. Her frustration with the medical establishment, in particular, rang true for me.
 
But the author's stated purpose in writing the book was to document not just the frustrating and overwhelming times, but the more pleasant -- and even funny -- times, too. She was determined to remember the good things as well as the bad, and that's perhaps the most valuable takeaway from this book.
Source: http://www.rursdayreads.com/2016/06/life-memories-jacqueline-hopkins.html

Rainbow's Edge - Leland and Angelo Dirks

Rainbow's Edge - Leland Dirks, Angelo Dirks

Rainbow's Edge is about family, and secrets, and redemption.

The book opens with a Nebraska farmer rushing to the hospital to see his youngest son, who was severely injured in a car accident, and from whom he has been estranged for some time. When he arrives, he finds Buddy in a coma. But the two men discover a mental connection that allows Buddy and his dog from childhood to take the father on a trip down Memory Lane. During that week, we learn the reason for the estrangement (it's not a spoiler to tell you that Buddy is gay), and Dad has the opportunity to rethink some things -- and maybe even come to a greater understanding about his own life.

I've been a big fan of Leland Dirks's writing since I read Jimmy Mender and His Miracle Dog, and I've read several more of his books since then. This one felt a little rushed to me. A great deal of the book is, of necessity, dialogue, and of course it's not taking place in a physical space, so some of the things an author might use to help with pacing aren't plausible -- body language, for example. Still, I wished for a momentary pause now and then.

But that's a minor quibble. Dirks handles a difficult topic with his usual stellar sensitivity. And I learned a few things about rainbows along the way. Recommended.

Source: http://www.rursdayreads.com/2016/05/rainbows-edge-leland-dirks-and-angelo.html

Shaman Rises (Walker Papers #9) - C.E. Murphy

Shaman Rises (The Walker Papers) - C. E. Murphy

I'll get to the review in a minute. But first, a story: I discovered the Walker Papers series at about the same time as I discovered urban fantasy as a genre. I've now sampled several series, but the only ones I've stuck with until the end are Carrie Vaughn's books starring Kitty the werewolf, and C.E. Murphy's books starring Joanie Walker the reluctant shaman. When Mountain Echoes came out in 2013, I devoured it, and made a note to grab the next book in the series as soon as it came out. And then I forgot about it. It wasn't until earlier this year that I said to myself, "Hmm, I wonder if that final book ever came out?" And lo and behold, it had...in 2014. This, Dear Reader, is what a diet of mostly indie novels does: when readers are conditioned to expect a new book from their favorite authors every few months, a sequel that won't be available for a whole year is easily forgotten.

Anyway, to the review.

As Shaman Rises opens, it's been a year since Joanne Walker first realized she had shamanic powers. Back then, she was the girl mechanic in the Seattle P.D. motor pool, running from her past and secretly in love with her boss, Capt. Morrison. By the time we get to this book, she has quit her job; she has learned of her mother's magical power in Ireland and her father's shamanic power in North Carolina and integrated them both into her own; and her relationship with Morrison is progressing nicely. Now she's drawn back to Seattle and into the final battle with the Master. She's strong, but he's ancient, and she has a lot to lose -- her friends, her lover, her city, and her life.

If you haven't read the earlier books, don't start with this one. Murphy makes very little effort to catch up readers to what's going on. Then again, she doesn't have time. This book starts off with a bang and doesn't let up; Joanie herself hardly gets a chance to catch her breath.

I love this series for its blending of Native American and Celtic beliefs. And when it comes to the pagan stuff, Murphy gets that right, too. Kudos to Murphy for that, and for bringing her series to a breakneck close. Recommended -- but read the earlier books first!

Source: http://www.rursdayreads.com/2016/05/shaman-rises-walker-papers-9-ce-murphy.html
Finding Travis (No Time for Travis Book 1) - Melissa Bowersock

Life is not going well for Travis Merrill. He has pursued, and abandoned, several careers without really finding his niche. Now his wife has left him. Just about the only good thing he has left in his life is his volunteer work at Fort Verde, a rebuilt frontier encampment in Arizona. 

One night, as he's portraying the cavalry surgeon during a holiday event at the fort, he dozes off in a chair in the surgeon's quarters -- and wakes up in 1877.  As luck would have it, the fort -- then known as Camp Verde -- doesn't have a surgeon in residence. So Travis passes himself off as an Army surgeon from back East, and tries to make it look good by relying on the little bit of medical knowledge he gained during one of his abortive career attempts. As time goes by, Travis begins to realize he may be stuck in 1877 forever.

I always enjoy Bowersock's books; she has a talent for working a paranormal angle into just about anything, including historical fiction. Fort Verde is a real place, and Bowersock has clearly done her homework on the fort and her chosen time period. Travis is an appealing character, but my favorite might be his assistant, Riley -- a finer stoic Irishman you won't find anywhere.

Kudos to Bowersock for this wonderful start to her new series. Highly recommended.

 

***

I received an Advance Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review.

Source: http://www.rursdayreads.com/2016/05/finding-travis-no-time-for-travis-book.html

Emotion Amplifiers - Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi

Emotion Amplifiers - Becca Puglisi, Angela Ackerman

It's the first week of the month, which means it's time for a review for the Indies Unlimited Reading Challenge. This month, I'm supposed to read a nonfiction book. I've chosen Emotion Amplifiers by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

The subtitle suggests this short book is a companion guide to The Emotion Thesaurus, which is already a Rursday Read, and I'd say that's the best way to look at it. In The Emotion Thesaurus, the authors give you ways to indicate your character's emotional state while not coming right out and saying which emotion he or she is feeling. It allows the reader to identify with your character more easily, and so draws them further into your story.

Emotion Amplifiers is a book to turn to when you want to up the ante. Your character's sad or angry? Well, he might go out and get drunk. Turn to the section on inebriation and you can add a few details to your scene that will indicate just how drunk he is. Then you can set up a situation that requires sober judgment, and see whether he's up to the challenge.

Now, most of us have probably been inebriated at one time or another, and could therefore fill in the blanks without a guide. But what if your character is dehydrated? Suffering from heat stroke? Exhausted? All of these states of being can make a character feel his or her emotional state more deeply. And it's at this sort of deep state that your characters can fight their internal demons, and maybe -- just maybe -- win.

Emotion Amplifiers is free for Kindle. If you've found The Emotion Thesaurus useful, I'd recommend you pick up this companion book. If nothing else, it can serve as fodder for plotting your next novel.

Source: http://www.rursdayreads.com/2016/05/emotion-amplifiers-angela-ackerman-and.html

Then and Now: The Harmony of the Instantaneous All - Randy Attwood

Then and Now: The Harmony of the Instantaneous All - Randy Attwood

It's been said that if you remember the 1960s, you weren't really there. In Then and Now, Attwood captures the mood of that turbulent time with a protagonist who writes down his memories of his college years to try to make sense of them.

Stan Nelson is middle-aged now, but in 1969 he was a graduate student at the University of Kansas. As he pieces together his memories, his story's narration shifts viewpoint to various people he knew there. Among them: Peter Thomas, who staged and directed an avant-garde production of the Greek tragedy Oresteia in which Stan improbably landed a part; Melvin Washington, originally from Trinidad, who found himself as angry as any native-born American black man; Yen Li, the Chinese woman Stan fell for; Charlie Wilson, the drugged-out non-student; Betty Reed, who would rather live on a farm without electricity than spend another night under the roof of her father, a racist cop.

Interspersed with their stories are Stan's updates on how they turned out, and how their memories of the events of '69 and '70 compare with his. As for Stan himself, he has built a tea house on a hillside to learn the Tao of tea.

My own college experience began several years later, but I had very little trouble recognizing the character types. (We even had our own Charlie Wilson, in a way; the late Leon Varjian made a name for himself at my alma mater, Indiana University, before going on to become a legend at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.) The difference for us was that the draft was no longer hanging over the heads of male students.

Anyway. The episodic nature of the narrative gives the book a feeling of being a little rough around the edges. But then, the late '60s were like that. If you're interested in what it was really like back then -- or if you find yourself struggling to remember -- I'd recommend Then and Now.

(The author gave me a copy of this book without requesting a review. The decision to review it is mine alone.)

Source: http://www.rursdayreads.com/2016/04/then-and-now-harmony-of-instantaneous.html

The One Grapes: Addressing Hospital Food with Crude Doodles - Joseph Picard

The One Grapes: Addressing Hospital Food With Crude Doodles - Joseph Picard
It's time for this month's entry in the Indies Unlimited 2016 Reading Challenge. For April, I am reviewing a humorous (or is that humourous?) book.

Author Joseph Picard is a paraplegic. In early 2015, he developed a pressure wound that landed him in the hospital for two months. So he had a lot of time to, um, appreciate the food -- and to ponder the meal order slips that the kitchen always attached to his tray. Early on, one of those slips listed, "1 EA GRAPES". As a creative kind of guy, Picard couldn't let that slide. So he doodled One Grapes having an existential moment and sent it back down with the empty tray. He heard the ladies in the kitchen liked it. So he started doing doodles on every slip, and snapping a photo of each one with his cell phone before his tray was whisked away.

With that much material, The One Grapes was practically inevitable.

I found the sketches witty enough for at least a chuckle and their descriptions charming. Picard's narration features a self-deprecating style that springs from a kind heart. Must be because he's Canadian.

If you've ever been hospitalized, you'll appreciate this book. If you know someone who's in the hospital -- or, hey, someone who works in a hospital kitchen -- this would be an awesome gift. Highly recommended, in other words, for just about everybody.
 
Source: http://www.rursdayreads.com/2016/04/the-one-grapes-addressing-hospital-food.html

Dance of the Heart (Moments of the Heart #1) - Susan Berry

Dance of the Heart (Moments of the Heart) (Volume 1) - Susan Berry

I am not a huge fan of sweet romances. It's not the lack of sex that bothers me; it's the conspicuous consumption -- the big houses, the luscious food, and so on. Just not my thing. But lots of readers like them, and they may very well like Dance of the Heart.

Our heroine is Maggie Campbell, who fled home after her mother's death, and who has been enticed into returning by the prospect of her beloved grandmother's 90th birthday. Upon Maggie's arrival, she discovers that a handsome fellow by the name of Desmond Kinsley has somehow wormed his way into the bosom of her family. Everyone seems to love him -- including her grandmother. Maggie smells a rat, especially after learning how entwined Desmond is in her family's financial affairs. When her grandmother falls ill, Desmond once again makes himself indispensable to her family. And even as Maggie falls for him, she can't help but wonder whether they're all making a big mistake.

The plot is fine, and so are the characters. Maggie is adorably klutzy when necessary; Desmond is the wealthy man of mystery who may or may not be romantically available. The supporting cast was pretty well fleshed out.

However, I saw some continuity problems. For one thing, as Maggie entered the ballroom for her grandmother's birthday party, I didn't realize the room was already full of people until the crowd reacted to Desmond's entrance. Then later in the book, a number of scenes take place in her grandmother's house, but often I wasn't clear which one the author meant -- whether it was her actual house, or Desmond's carriage house where she was convalescing. Also, distances seemed somewhat elastic. I didn't have a good sense of how close all of the houses were to one another. Some indication along the lines of "Grandmother's house was X minutes' walk from Desmond's" would have helped me a lot.

And there were quite a few typos in the version I read, as well as some repeated text that should have been excised in the editing process. Overall, I'd suggest another round of edits would strengthen the book.

***
I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Source: http://www.rursdayreads.com/2016/03/dance-of-heart-moments-of-heart-book-1.html