Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Inventor's Companion (e-book) by Ariel Tachna

This is a steampunk m/m romance novel. It can be bought in paperback form, but you'll likely pay more than twice the price of the e-book for it.

This book has 129,862 words, which translates into 338 pages on my Nook, not counting the author bio and list of Tachna's other books at the end. According to Dreamspinner Press's website, the paperback is 350 pages, so I guess, at least in this case, one Nook page is approximately the same as one print page. Good to know.

Synopsis:

Gabriel Blackstone, an inventor, knows his friends meant well when they paid for a companion's time for his birthday. However, as a member of the Caste Equality movement, he decides that all he will do is have dinner and a pleasant conversation - he does not want to be yet another person taking advantage of a companion's lack of say in who he or she has sex with.

As a companion, Lucio has had little opportunity to meet inventors, who are usually too poor to afford his services. Although his time with Gabriel is brief, he's fascinated by this man who refuses to use him for sex, the activity for which he was bred and trained. He doesn't expect to meet Gabriel again, so he's shocked and excited to learn that Gabriel will be at an aristocrat's party, trying to drum up more business for himself.

Gabriel and Lucio realize that their attraction to each other is mutual, but, as a companion, Lucio can't have a lover, only clients. The two men find ways to meet that won't arouse the suspicion of Lucio's handlers, who could see him punished or sent to the breeding barns if his rebellion is discovered. Gabriel works hard to earn enough money to buy Lucio's contract, since that is currently the only legal way he and Lucio can be together for more than a few hours. Can he free Lucio before Lucio's handlers discover their relationship? And will a man from the merchant caste even be permitted to buy a companion's contract?

Review:

After reading the book's official description and excerpt, I think I expected Lucio to be something like Inara from the TV show Firefly: elegant, cultured, and relatively in control of his life. Maybe he didn't always like his clients, but he could choose to leave behind and never see again any client who really crossed the line.

Yeah, not so much. Over and over, readers were shown how awful Lucio's life really was under its pretty, cushy surface. As long as they were offered enough money, Lucio's handlers seemed less than concerned with his well-being. They arranged for him to meet a client they knew would brutalize him, and then they expected him to get back to work before he was fully healed. The book's first sex scene involved Lucio and one of his clients (who readers were later expected to think of as Gabriel and Lucio's ally) and focused on Lucio's feelings of degradation, which he had never felt so intensely prior to meeting Gabriel. Unless Lucio met with clients and did what they paid him to do, he wasn't given anything to eat. The details about the breeding barns were icing on the horrible cake.

I read this book shortly after finishing Meljean Brook's The Iron Duke, and I think The Iron Duke spoiled me. I was hungry for another exciting steampunk novel. What I expected was another book set in a vivid, rich, interesting, and probably gritty world. What I got was thin and not nearly as satisfying.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Psmith in the City (audio book) by P.G. Wodehouse, read by various people

I listened to this for free via LibriVox. The various readers are: Kristen McQuillin; Neal Foley, the Podchef; Kara Shallenberg; Chris Goringe; Aaron Andrade; Luke Venediger; Eileen; and Miette.

Synopsis:

Mike, whose first appearance was in Mike: A Public School Story, assumes his near-future is set: he will go to a university, where he will study and continue playing cricket. However, all of that becomes impossible when his father reveals that the family is having extreme financial difficulties. Mike will now have to work for a living.

Mike's first job is at the New Asiatic Bank, a place he doesn't really like but that he gradually grows accustomed to. It helps that his eccentric friend Psmith now also works at the New Asiatic Bank. Just as in Mike: A Public School Story, Mike is a good guy who doesn't always think through the consequences of his actions. He helps a supervisor he is fond of without considering what he will do if he is fired in that supervisor's place. When he finally succumbs to an unbearable temptation to play cricket rather than working at the bank like he should, it doesn't occur to him until it's too late that he will probably be fired for leaving work without permission.

In both cases, Mike is prepared to face the consequences of his ill-thought-out actions. However, luckily for him, he has Psmith for a friend. Usually, Psmith seems unfazed by life's problems - they are little more than amusements to him. When helping his friend, however, there seems to be no problem that Psmith can't somehow solve with quick thinking, a few skillful words, or even blackmail.

Review:

Although this book does feature some cricket, happily it does not feature nearly as much cricket as Mike: A Public School Story. Even more happily, it features quite a bit of Psmith. Although I think this book still followed Mike around more than it did Psmith, Psmith once again stole the show.

Psmith was just as awesome in this book was he was in Mike: A Public School Story. As I was listening to this book, it occurred to me that he and House (from the TV show House M.D.) are a lot alike. I think both characters view the people around them as either amusing, and therefore worth talking to, or not. Psmith is smoother and more diplomatic than House, but both characters have a tendency to act emotionally removed from those around them, and Psmith's friendship with Mike reminds me a lot of House's friendship with Wilson.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Duck! (e-book) by Kim Dare

I checked Resplendence Publishing's site, and, yes, they refer to this as an e-book. However, be warned, it's short: only 74,900 words, which works out to 169 pages on my Nook, plus 8 additional pages with information about the author, a coupon code for Resplendence Publishing's website, and short descriptions for a bunch of other works available from Resplendence Publishing.

Can you believe I didn't notice the creative placement of the title letters on the cover until I started writing this post?

Synopsis:

Ori grew up in multiple foster homes. He always believed he was human, but he found out several months prior to the start of the book that he was actually born an avian shifter.

Ori is 20 and won't find out until he's 21 exactly what his shifter form will be, but it seems most likely that he'll be a duck. Unfortunately for him, ducks are low in the avian hierarchy, and he's forced to do the bidding of every avian around him and take whatever abuse they dish out, too. Ori becomes so accustomed to this life that he's shocked and bewildered when Raynard, a hawk shifter, sees the kind of life he's living and takes him away to be a servant as his home instead. Although Raynard resists his attraction to Ori at first, Ori eventually becomes Raynard's submissive. The two are happy together, and Raynard decides he'd like to have Ori around indefinitely, but he has to wait until after Ori shifts for the first time.

Review:

I did not like this book. It's a BDSM story, which I already stated in my review for Katrina Strauss's Some Kind of Stranger is not something I generally like, so I've thought about whether my dislike stems from that or from other aspects of the story. I think I would have disliked this book even if it had not featured BDSM.

Raynard and Ori, especially Ori, were incredibly boring characters. When they were together, they were little more than a dominant and a submissive. When Raynard wasn't with Ori, he spent his time trying to put his late uncle's business in order, but none of that was ever shown. Prior to living with Raynard, Ori grew up in lots of different foster homes and eventually ended up at a club where other avian shifters verbally, physically, and sexually abused him, but, again, little was shown. I wanted to know more. Did Raynard have any friends? What kind of business did his uncle leave him? Did Ori ever leave Raynard's house for anything other than attending to his needs as an avian shifter or to run the occasional errand for Raynard? Did Ori ever think about anything other than Raynard and things related to Raynard? Did Ori enjoy anything besides cleaning Raynard's house and having sex with Raynard? (The answer to the last couple questions is probably “no,” which should explain why I thought Ori was the more boring of the two characters. He was so. Incredibly. Dull. Not unlikable, but dull.)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Iron Duke (book) by Meljean Brook

This is the first full-length book in Meljean Brook's Iron Seas steampunk romance series.

Synopsis:

Not long ago, the Horde controlled England. Via nanomachines, bugs, everyone unknowingly ingested along with their imported sugar, the Horde controlled human emotions until Rhys Trahaearn, the Iron Duke, destroyed the Horde Tower that sent signals out to the bugs. The Iron Duke's acts of piracy prior to destroying the Tower should have branded him a criminal, but instead he was hailed as a hero.

Two centuries of enslavement have taken their toll, however. In the book's present, buggers, those who were infected with bugs by the Horde, are still trying to get their feet back under them and adjust to life with their emotions back under their own control.

Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth is faced with the unenviable task of investigating a dead body found on the Iron Duke's doorstep. If Trahaearn killed the man, she'll be forced to arrest a national hero. Luckily for her, the evidence soon points away from him, and Trahaearn and Mina even begin to work together.

Mina fascinates Trahaearn, to the point that he's determined to possess her. Mina is attracted to Trahaearn, but she wants to be more than just a possession. When their investigation uncovers a weapon designed to kill every single bugger within 200 miles, their relationship problems take a backseat to saving most of England.

Review:

(Throughout most of the book, Mina referred to Rhys as Trahaearn. The bits from Rhys's perspective referred to him as Rhys, and Trahaearn is awkward to type, so I have chosen to call him Rhys in this review.)

This book confused me too much for me to say that I loved it without reservations, but I did enjoy the heck out of it and plan to read everything else Brook has written that's set in this world and to at least try Brook's Guardians series.

For some reason I had gotten it into my head that this was a YA series (I think I was confusing it with Cassandra Clare's books), although I quickly figured out that wasn't the case. That bit of confusion was my own fault, but it wasn't the last time this book confused me. I spent a good deal of time wondering how people could tell that Mina and others were part Horde – if an explanation was given, I must have missed it. Also, I was never clear on whether the Horde was human or alien. The way they treated the English made me think they were aliens of some sort, because it was hard for me to imagine that humans would do such things to other humans, but then, after finishing the book, I read Janine's review over at Dear Author, which indicates that the Horde was composed of humans from some country in Asia.

My confusion should have resulted in a dislike of the book, but the characters and fascinating world carried me forward. From comments I've read, I gather that some people really disliked Rhys. I wasn't sure how I felt about him at first, but gradually he and Mina started to remind me a lot of J.D. Robb's Roarke and Eve. Like Eve, Mina was devoted to her job (although Mina's greatest devotion was to her family, an option Eve didn't have). She was attracted to Rhys, but was at the same time a bit frightened of him. Mina seemed to me to be slightly more fragile and damaged than Eve, while Rhys was a bit like what I imagine Roarke must have been like when he was younger, harder, and less polished.

The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle: the Thing Beneath the Bed (book) by Patrick Rothfuss, illustrated by Nate Taylor

I found out about this book via a review over at Stainless Steel Droppings (warning: don't read the comments - the review is very good about not including spoilers, but I can't guarantee anything when it comes to the comments).

I'm going to do my best not to include spoilers in my post, because this is a work best read without knowing exactly what's going to happen. If you'd like to view some of the book's artwork, you can check out the publisher's page here.

The library copy I read had no book jacket, but I included a cover image anyway.

Synopsis:

This book is about a Princess who lives all alone in a marzipan castle with her teddy bear, Mr. Whiffle. She and Mr. Whiffle have many adventures together, and the Princess's life is fairly happy...except for the fear she has about the thing hiding under her bed. When the kitten the Princess received as a present goes missing, the Princess tries desperately to find him.

Review:

When I read that this looked like a children's picture book but definitely wasn't, I was intrigued and morbidly curious. What sorts of horrible things happened in this book? I wanted to know, but not enough to shell out $15-$20 dollars for it on Amazon, so I checked it out from the library. This is how I would recommend most people get this book. It's such a quick read that I would recommend buying it only if you decide you like it that much after having read it once already.

Short reviews, with longer ones (hopefully) coming soon

I'm still behind on my writing - I haven't posted anything for The Iron Duke or Rabbit Man, Tiger Man yet, and I've finished more things. Ah well, I'll do my best. I expect to have some longer posts out soon, but, for now, here are the short versions for things I've finished in the past week.
  • Psmith in the City (audio book) by P.G. Wodehouse, read by various people - There is much less cricket in this one than in Mike: A Public School Story, which I appreciated. Even better, this book contains much more Psmith. Psmith is awesome, although I have a feeling he views Mike more as an amusing pet than as a friend. I'm not sure Psmith is the sort to really have friends. In some ways, he reminds me a lot of House (from House M.D.). This was a lot of fun, and I can't wait to listen to the next book.
  • The Inventor's Companion (e-book) by Ariel Tachna - Steampunk m/m romance. This could have been a much shorter book. Tachna dragged things out by bringing up the same issues over and over again (Gabriel's jealousy, Lucio's horrible life, see how different Gabriel is from Lucio's clients, etc.). I liked Lucio well enough but tended to be annoyed by Gabriel, and I saw certain problems coming long before any of the characters did. While I'm not unhappy that I bought and read this one, I'm not sure I can recommend it. That said, if you do want to read it, All Romance Ebooks is currently offering a 25% rebate for all Dreamspinner Press books (meaning that you still pay the full price for the books, but 25% of that price is given back to you in E-book Bucks, which you can then spend on other things).

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

More L.J. Smith on TV

Although I never did watch much of the show (maybe the first episode?), I remember being excited when I first heard that there would be a TV show based on L.J. Smith's The Vampire Diaries books. Browsing a list of TV shows that will be premiering soon, I came across something called The Secret Circle. Sure enough, it's another TV series based on books by L.J. Smith. If possible, I'll try to watch at least the first episode, but I imagine it'll end up annoying me as much as The Vampire Diaries did.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Princess of Mars (e-book) by Edgar Rice Burroughs

I read this book for free via Project Gutenberg. It's also available as an audio book via LibriVox.

I would recommend not downloading the Project Gutenberg version of this book with pictures. The pictures increase the size of the file quite a bit and don't add much to the book.

Synopsis:

Burroughs presents this as a manuscript left to him by Captain Carter of Virginia, now deceased. At the start of the book, John Carter is left penniless after the Civil War and is looking for gold. Barely escaping being killed by Indians, he ends up in a strange cave where he leaves his body behind and wakes up on Mars. He is quickly captured by violent green Martians.

Although he is a prisoner, John Carter also attains grudging respect and status among the green Martians, due to the immense strength his human muscles have in this lower-gravity environment. He finds friends and protectors among Woola, an ugly, fierce, and loyal creature that is the closest thing Mars has to dogs, and Sola, a female green Martian who is surprisingly peaceful compared to other green Martians.

When the green Martians capture Dejah Thoris, a red Martian and the beloved Princess of Helium, John Carter finds himself entranced by her beauty. He becomes determined to protect and free her. Although he, Dejah Thoris, Sola, and Woola do manage to escape, John Carter becomes separated from the group. He later learns that Dejah Thoris has agreed to marry Sab Than, Prince of Zodanga, in order to ensure peace between Helium and Zodanga. Once again, he becomes determined to rescue her, but he has to be clever about it. If he kills Sab Than, cultural rules dictate that he can never marry Dejah Thoris.

Review:

As a whole, I wasn't wild about this book, but I have a feeling I'll at least try the next book in the series, The Gods of Mars, simply because of the aggravating way this one ended. Burroughs gives John Carter and Dejah Thoris a happy ending and shows them contentedly waiting for the hatching of their first child...and then he puts Mars in grave danger and ends the book without showing if John Carter ever managed to save everyone. Grrr.

Particularly in the beginning, I thought this book was a bit boring. When John Carter (I suppose I should call him John, but I think he's always referred to as John Carter, just as Dejah Thoris is always Dejah Thoris and not Dejah) is captured, there are so many paragraphs explaining Martian culture that it started to feel like I was reading an ethnography of Mars, rather than a story. It was a bit interesting, but what it all came down to was “The green Martians are warlike in every way, and their culture does not encourage things like love and friendship.” It didn't occur to me until nearly the end of the book that Burroughs was probably inspired by the name of the planet, Mars, being the name of the Roman god of war.

As is often the case when humans meet aliens in sci-fi novels, shows, or movies, John Carter manages to teach the Martians a few things. Being human, he knows the value of love and friendship and shows the green Martians that the animals they have domesticated are not naturally violent and uncontrollable, but rather can be quickly made gentle and loyal with good, kind treatment. John Carter is the first one to ever figure this out, even though the book contains at least three green Martians who are kinder and gentler than the rest of their people. Yes, I know, this is an older book, but I rolled my eyes anyway.

Mike: A Public School Story (audio book) by P.G. Wodehouse, read by Debra Lynn

This is yet another book I listened to for free via LibriVox. You can also read it via Project Gutenberg. The first part of this book was originally called Jackson Junior. The second part of this book was originally called The Lost Lambs. Also, The Lost Lambs has been republished in two parts as Enter Psmith and Mike and Psmith.

I considered adding the tag "young adult" to this post, since I think this book was originally intended for young boys. However, I decided not to include the tag, because it doesn't look like the book is currently being marketed towards children or teens, even on the UK version of Amazon.

Synopsis:

The first half of the book takes place at Wrykyn, Mike's first school. While attending Wrykyn, Mike becomes friends with a rule-breaking boy named Wyatt, pretends to hurt his wrist so that his brother, Bob, can play cricket in his stead, and butts heads with Firby-Smith, the team captain.

Mike is crazy about cricket, but much less enthusiastic about his studies. When his grades plummet, his father pulls him out of Wrykyn and sends him to Sedleigh instead. Mike, still a Wrykyn boy at heart, is determined to hate Sedleigh and not join its cricket team. He makes friends with a clever and eccentric boy named Psmith (Psmith renamed himself to differentiate himself from all the other Smiths, but the "P" is silent), and the two of them (plus a boy named Jellicoe) soon establish their place in the school.

Review:

Like the other P.G. Wodehouse books I've listened to, this is read by an American – if that's an issue for you, you may want to see if you can find it read by some other reader, or you may want to read it yourself. That said, I am very, very glad I listened to this rather than read it. I don't think I would have finished it, otherwise.

A large portion of this book, particularly the first half of it, is very cricket-heavy, and I don't know a thing about cricket. When Mike and the other boys played cricket, the events were described in detail, but the descriptions were jargon-filled and meant for those who had some understanding of the game. At best, I knew that one team was doing better than another, because Wodehouse said so.

With audio books, all you have to do to get through confusing or boring parts is sit there and keep on listening. I did that, and I tended to like Mike: A Public School Story much more when it had more to do with Mike and the other boys and less to do with cricket.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

As usual, I'm behind on my posting

Currently, I'm reading The Inventor's Companion by Ariel Tachna (m/m steampunk romance) and watching the second season of Rurouni Kenshin (historical action anime TV series). I'm mostly enjoying Tachna's book, but one of the main characters, Gabriel, occasionally makes me want to throttle him. Also, I'm a third of the way through the book, and the only sex scene is of the "my eyes, my eyes!" sort - it does not feature the book's romantic couple and is unpleasant, so I wish it had been less graphic. I've only finished one disc of the second season of Rurouni Kenshin, but it's going strong so far. However, the first season also started out strong and got less enjoyable as it progressed. I hope that won't happen with this season.

I finish books and DVDs faster than I write about them. Right now, here's what's waiting to be written about, not counting the manga volumes I finished and decided I'd write about after a future re-read.
  • The Iron Duke (book) by Meljean Brook - This steampunk adventure had a lot of moments and details that confused me. I enjoyed it anyway, although Rhys is not everyone's cup of tea. Rhys and Mina reminded me a bit of J.D. Robb's Eve and Roarke, and I found the world Brook built to be really interesting. I plan on reading more by Brook and hunting down her other stories set in this world.
  • Mike: A Public School Story (audio book) by P.G. Wodehouse - This is, I think, the very first British school story I've ever read/listened to, unless you count the Harry Potter books. I didn't know what I was getting myself into. Because I know nothing about cricket, the only reason I finished this was because I was listening to it.
  • Rabbit Man, Tiger Man (manga, vol. 1) by Akira Honma - Not for the kiddies, because it contains on-the-page sex, but also not very explicit. I'm still not sure what I think about this one. It had its amusing and cute moments, but am I rooting for the romance? I don't know. I'm also worried that, despite its humor, it's gearing up for a tragic ending.
  • A Princess of Mars (e-book) by Edgar Rice Burroughs - I think I might have enjoyed this more in audio form. At times, this book was a bit like an ethnography of Mars. I eventually realized that what really annoyed me about it was its severe lack of dialogue. It does have dialogue, but only rarely.
Hopefully I'll write more about all of these before the weekend is over, but now you have the gist of what I'm going to write. Maybe I'll do short, quick write-ups like this more often...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Rurouni Kenshin, Season 1 (anime TV series)

This first season is 27 episodes long.

I hate how the disc labels were done - each disc has a title ("The Legendary Swordsman," "False Prophet," etc.), but no clear numbering stating the order in which the discs should be watched. While there is some tiny product numbering ("RKDVD-2002", "RKDVD-2003"), I would have preferred larger, clearer numbers along with the disc titles.

Synopsis:

I can't remember if the exact year is given, but this series takes place sometime during the beginning of the Meiji era. During the Bakumatsu era (just prior to the Meiji era), Kenshin was "Battousai the Manslayer," a legendary Imperialist assassin. After the war, Kenshin becomes a wandering swordsman. Determined never to kill again, he wields a reverse-blade sword (a sword with the cutting edge on the wrong side).

Kenshin ends up living with Kaoru, an instructor in the Kamiya Kasshin style (she only uses a wooden sword, and her goal is to protect rather than to kill). The two of them are later joined by a boy named Yahiko, who becomes one of Kaoru's students, and Sanosuke, a (former) fighter-for-hire and a former member of the Sekihoutai, a group that was used and slaughtered by the Imperialists. Megumi, a doctor, also occasionally spends time with the group.

The beginning of this first season introduces the main characters and explains a bit about their pasts. Megumi's introduction to the series also includes Aoshi's first appearance and several battles with the rest of the Oniwaban group. Other episodes include: Yahiko protecting a pretty girl from a bunch of thugs who are trying to use her; a girl who has a circus/festival act as a human cannon ball; a person from Sanosuke's past; a Manslayer who tries to use Kaoru against Kenshin in order to force him to become Battousai the Manslayer again; an attempted train robbery; a greedy faith healer trying to destroy Megumi's credibility and get rich off the townspeople; Kenshin getting captured by a female pirate; and probably more I've already forgotten.

Review:

I loved the manga this anime was based on and was curious to see how I would like this story in anime form. I wish I were able to reread the manga while watching the anime (I only own one or two of the later volumes of the manga), because I suspect that this first season included quite a few stories, such as the one one with the cannon girl and the pirate girl whose episodes ended the season, that were never in the original series. Either that, or I just never noticed how lame some of the earlier Rurouni Kenshin chapters were.

I thought this season was at its best when it focused more on Kenshin or Sanosuke, particularly when they fought opponents who reminded them that their painful pasts were still a part of them. I also liked the episodes in which Kenshin and the others had to face opponents with crazy techniques for which supposedly logical explanations were given. The Oniwaban group contains several good examples of this sort of opponent, such as the guy who used optical illusions to make his arms appear shorter and the guy who breathed fire with the aid of a bag of oil in his belly. I enjoyed the episodes involving the Oniwaban group, the Manslayer who could freeze weaker opponents in place with his gaze, and the friend from Sanosuke's past. In general, I also liked the episodes in which each of the main characters were introduced.

Str8te Boys (e-novella) by Evangeline Anderson

Synopsis:

Maverick ("Mav") and Duke are best friends and roomies. They're both part of their college's soccer team - Duke is the team captain, and Mav is the goalie.

Both Mav and Duke are very competitive, which is where the game "gay chicken" comes in. The initial rules: get as close to each other as possible without kissing, the loser being the first one to pull away. Since neither one of them likes to lose, the game keeps getting ramped up, until Mav starts to wonder whether they've crossed the line from "gay chicken" into "we're gay."

When Duke starts talking about the two of them living together as a couple when they go off to grad school, Mav isn't sure what to do or say. He's never thought of himself and Duke as gay before, but if he doesn't sort out his feelings fast, he may lose his best friend forever.

Review:

I remembered reading a good review of this one a while back. It was on sale, I was curious, and it seemed like a sexy read.

Rather than starting off with sex and then leading into more sex, Anderson builds up to it. “Gay chicken” starts with kissing and goes from there – I think there are only one or two actual sex scenes in the novella (if one defines sex strictly), and only near the end. General steaminess is the main thing this novella has going for it, and the gradual ramping up of “gay chicken” helps build anticipation. It's not just “what Mav and Duke are doing right now” but “what are they going to do next?”

If all you're looking for is steamy m/m scenes, I'd say give this one a go. However, I need more than that.

I'm a very character-oriented reader. If the characters are interesting, if I like them and care about them for some reason or another, there's a good chance I'll like the story as a whole. Duke and Mav are nice guys, but...they feel kind of weak as characters. Okay, so they have goals: Mav wants to be a pharmacist and Duke wants to go to business school. They like playing college soccer and are really, really good friends. I think maybe if the novella had focused on Duke instead of Mav, I might have liked it more, although I probably would have found the premise even more unbelievable. Unfortunately, the novella focuses on Mav.

Mav is an idiot.

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