Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Powerful Message

I've said it before and I'll say it again because it can never be said too often: never forget to fight for equality in all things!

(hat tip: American Irish)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Laura Kinsale - The B and C Teams

It's back to All Kinsale All the Time, folks! Huzzah!

Today we'll debut the B and C Teams. Lest we forget, there's no such thing as a bad Laura Kinsale book! The Kinsale awesomeness, it overflows, but it was requested that I rank them in some manner and so I chose to do teams. Click here if you missed out on the A Team.

For clarification I'll explain how a book might not end up on the A Team (you know, those bundles of perfection in book form:). I put any book on the B Team to which I had some sort of reaction that took me out of the story. I don't feel like this is a reflection on the book but on myself as a reader. I put any book on the C Team that I felt had a minor flaw** in craft that took me out of the story.

**flaw in a Kinsale novel???? sgwordy, surely you jest!!!! ^^

And now to the teams:

The B Team (listed in no particular order):

Uncertain Magic - Roderica can read minds which makes her family a bit wary of her and makes her a bit wary of crowds. She's led a relatively sheltered life due to this and is convinced she will follow in the footsteps of her forebears that have had this gift/curse and live isolated with her family. At a horse race she meets the "Devil Earl" and is tickled pink when his mind is closed to her. He's got a reputation to make Lucifer squick but Roderica feels it's her only chance at a family of her own. The "Devil Earl" can't believe a (really! rich) heiress will have him with his reputation but he's jumping at the chance before she can change her mind.

This is a great pairing of protags and Kinsale perfectly captures the doubts these two would have in each other. I really enjoyed watching them develop trust for each other and how hard they worked to rebuild his manor. In fact, I enjoyed the manor building bit so much that the challenges they faced in that became just as heartbreaking for me as the tension between them personally. What took me out of the story is totally spoilerish so highlight if interested: "Devil Earl's" mom was definitely intriguing to me - and I thought made for a great history with the mystery regarding his father - but that she then spent the rest of her son's life following him around causing his blackouts and then pinning nefarious deeds on him was a bit much for me.

My Sweet Folly - Despite herself Folie falls for Robert via their correspondence while he is in India. They have never met in person and it is only by chance that they begin to write. When she is left a widow she has hopes for a possible future with him but there is more to Robert than the whimsy of his letters.

If for no other reason this book must be read for the letters. Holy heroin, they be some major crack! (and the epilogue - sigh:) And I quite enjoyed the mystery of just what the shit was going on with Robert. Folie has a great sense of, well, life really and has such a fun outlook on things that I almost always smiled while she was making her observations on what went on around her. I really liked getting to know more about Robert as he had encounters with the people from his past but the wild plot connections took me out of the story. They weren't contrived, just really ambitious and for some reason weren't smooth for me.

The Hidden Heart - Tess is making her way back to England after years with her father in the Amazon. She's returning to fulfill the promise she made to him before he died of making a good marriage. Captain Gryph is to transport her and her samples home and, bizarrely, is tasked with keeping an eye on her suitors for eligibility. Gryph is a little torn on this as he's quite taken with Tess himself but does not feel he can court her himself. Their friendship grows but is tested when Gryph discourages a match between her and a man Gryph knows to be psychopathic fuckwit.

This is an absolutely sweet love story and I love Tess's determination. Gryph is more inclined to passively take what comes his way but Tess works pretty hard to get what she wants. It's fun to watch her interact with Gryph since they approach situations so differently. What took me out of the story here was Gryph not using his spine when it came to telling Tess about the aforementioned fuckwit. I mean, seriously, this guy was bad news and Gryph let what I would consider a misunderstanding of decidedly non-epic proportions completely floor him when he should have explained about the psychopath.

Shadowheart - The intriguing Allegreto from For My Lady's Heart is back. He's exiled from his home but about to make an aggressive return. Into his path is thrown the Princess Elena. Through her he makes an even bolder claim to his homeland. It turns out Elena is much more than a pawn to be used in political games, she's a woman more than willing to make plans of her own and do whatever it takes to enact those plans.

This book is a total mind-blower. Holy shitballs it will throw you for a loop, and just when you've got your stomach settled it's time for a few more loops. Buckle up, folks, it's safer if you do. I would never have thought there could be a match for Allegreto but Elena is incredible. In fact, there's too much to say about these two so I'm going to let them have their own post (and the illustration of the value of the feminine AND masculine working together in this book is so fucking awesome that that will be part of the other post as well) so for here I'll just say this book only very barely didn't make the A Team. It's a 100% failing on my part as the reader because Kinsale hits it out of the park with the awesome writing and characterization here. Anyway, it was the BDSM that took me out of the story. I didn't think it was offensive or anything, in fact, it was so totally dead-on for the characters that I can't imagine the book in any other way but it still bumped me out of the story.

The C Team:

Midsummer Moon - Absent-minded Merlin is a genius inventor and only wants to be left alone to work on her flying machine. Ransom is one pompous Duke in His Majesty's service with very specific instructions where Merlin is concerned. Merlin really couldn't give two shits for what Ransom says she has to do but after some funny "salt" leaves them in a compromising situation Ransom now has two reasons to officiously order her about.

This is a lighthearted book with, again, two well-matched protags. Their interactions are hilarious and fun, even if the Duke has a corn cob up his butt most of the time. I love how he is constantly ordering Merlin about and she is constantly ignoring him. And the hedgehog pet that Merlin keeps is worth his weight in comedic gold - and might just be the best "hero support" of all time. The supporting characters are fantastic and interesting additions to the story. There's also some wonderfully quotable lines in this book. Merlin has this tendency to make direct and honest observations that really make you stop and think. She's so much fun (I think she and Folie would have been great friends). For all this yumminess, though, the book is too long. Comedy is so much harder to sustain than drama (so extra kudos here for making a comedic romp work) and if the book had been shorter it would have been absolutely bang-up. However, the length makes the plot drag a bit so you want to start skipping to the end.

The Dream Hunter - Zenia has been raised by her eccentric English mother in the desert. She dreams of a home in "green" England and hopes to go there after her mother's death. Without resources she ends up having to guide Lord Winter deep into the desert, somewhere she really doesn't want to go again, in exchange for passage to England. Lord Winter isn't a total dick, Zenia's dressed as a "Bedui boy" as a disguise and so he thinks he's taking a boy of the desert as a guide.

I like Lord Winter as a hero and I think his character is a very interesting contrast with Zenia and his family in England. It's incredible to see the way he faces things in the desert in comparison to how he faces up to his filial obligations at home. Zenia never evened out for me. I found her to be passive with incredible endurance in the desert but when in England she became belligerent and shrill. I couldn't reconcile her earlier passivity with her later obstinacy. Her behavior constantly took me out of the story [Further comments spoilerish so highlight if interested: It's quite possible if she hadn't been so shrill and so damn batshit crazy about the child I might not have found such fault with the inconsistency but batshit crazy due to child is one of my least favorite tropes. Also, her suddenly turning into her mother didn't work for me as an explanation because it had so often been described earlier that she was conditioned to serve due to her upbringing. I think the batshit crazy due to child was supposed to have affected the change but I just didn't buy it].

Sadly, that's the lot of them. *sniff* It's hard to be out of Kinsale... but I can always re-read and her newest, Lessons in French, will be out in February. Can't wait!
[ETA: Actually, I think this will be out the end of Jan so even better!]

I'd also like to take just a moment to send out a cyber THANK YOU to Kinsale for all the hours of enjoyment I've had with her books!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Tales of Vesperia

As Mr Musacha and I navigate the twisting turns of political intrigue in the latest Tales installment my response thus far can be summed up in one sentence:

sgwordy says... "I'm trying to be indignant but I'm so fucking bored."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Laura Kinsale - The A Team

It's a good day, People. I'm wrapped in my Christmas quilt - sipping a Dark and Stormy - while the tree lights twinkle on a mild evening. Could anything make this day better? Oh, it appears I'm surrounded by piles of Laura Kinsale books, so yes!

After many requests from Mr Musacha I'm finally getting to my mass review of Kinsale novels. Since I've spent the last two months completely immersed in reading and rereading (and rereading) her titles it's about time I got around to saying a few words.

First off, there's no such thing as a bad Kinsale book. These things are like crack and just when you think you're free it's suddenly "holy shitballs I didn't notice that the first time around!" I really think it takes two readings to truly understand her characters and sometimes three. It's part of the crack - you're reading going WHY WHY WHY is this character doing that and then it finally comes clear at the end and you have to start reading all over again so as to analyze what you missed the first time around now that motivations have become clear. Ah, lovely!

Within the awesomeness, though, there is a bit of variation. So to divide the novels (and this post) up in a manageable way I'm doing A, B, and C Teams. (anybody else having a flashback to middle school sports?) So without further ado let's get started on the largest of the teams:

The A Team (listed in no particular order).

Flowers from the Storm - A rake of a Duke with mad math skilz suffers a stroke-like ailment resulting in loss of physical coordination and possibly his sanity. In the hospital, Maddy - who has a previous connection with the Duke through the mad math skilz of her father - becomes his nurse. When his family is ready to give up on him she believes he can recover and works hard to assist him in that.

I love these two characters and their relationship with each other. Kinsale portrays the helpless frustration of Jervaulx to such a degree that I felt my limbs stiffening in sympathy when he was trying to perform simple tasks. Further, Maddy's struggle to reconcile her Quaker upbringing with her feelings for the Duke (and his lifestyle) is easily understood and, more importantly, maintains a believable tension between our protags. It's easy to see how the two would see problems in a totally different way and so imagine completely different solutions for those problems. Watching them find a middle ground upon which to connect has brought me back a few times for a re-read.

This book also has one of my all-time favorite lines (quoted loosely): Christian smiled. This was something perfectly familiar - a woman who ought not but very likely would.

The Prince of Midnight - Leigh has lost her family and seeks the skilz that will help her exact revenge. To this end she seeks out the Prince of Midnight, a famous highwayman of the Robin Hood variety. Unbeknownst to her he has suffered a debilitating injury leaving him depressed and isolated. Despite his injury, and Leigh's obvious scorn, the PoM is determined to help her.

I love this book because I fell for the PoM right away - and damn hard - and couldn't figure out what the fuck was up with Leigh. How could she resist this guy? In fact, I was so hardcore fawning over this dude that upon the first reading I felt Kinsale was making Leigh start fights just for the sake of some tension. But that's the beauty of Kinsale, what is sometimes not clear right away to the reader becomes clear as you get to know the characters better. Leigh is way smarter than me! I was totally taken in by the image and the dream world that the PoM maintains but Leigh was one smart cookie. She knew what kind of man he was and the life he would choose over his declarations of love. But since this is the romance world and we know we're getting our HEA, rest assured that our hero comes to see the unsustainability of his dream world. [Spoilerish, highlight if interested: And I love what Leigh needs from our hero. When she asks at the end for him to give her joy again I had a huge smile. It seems like such a small thing but Leigh was so torn after losing her family and the PoM was just the person to revive her joie de vivre].

Seize the Fire - Olympia, raised in England, is the rightful heir to a small kingdom whose people seek independence from the monarchy. She's happy to abdicate her throne but wants to ensure the freedom of her people rather than a family member from taking over the throne. As luck would have it, an acclaimed navy captain has returned home and is her neighbor. She goes on a visit to ask for his assistance, little does she know that he's dead broke, not much of a hero and has no scruples about swindling a princess.

This book is 500 kinds of intriguing because our hero insists on acting decidedly unheroic. He's seen more battles than he ever wished to, knows them for the ugly things they are, and is suffering from PTSD. In fact, he spends most of his time trying to avoid trouble (like a revolution sponsored by the individual being rebelled against) which becomes difficult when Olympia, who is completely naive about the world, trundles after trouble with the innocence of a baby going after shiny objects.

One could argue that our heroine is not much better. She's pretty meek and her naivete makes her gullible but she has a goal and the ability to observe what is going on around her. She is so out of her element that she makes plenty of mistakes and learns slowly but when able she will try to seize a moment to her advantage.

I love this book but I find it a hard read. The weighty subject matter and the challenges our protags face (not least of which are internal) make my little heart ache at times. But the special chemistry between Olympia and Drake make it worth it and I can't stop reading because I just have to get to the HEA.

For My Lady's Heart - Lady Melanthe is trying to orchestrate a daring escape. She's playing her greatest enemies against each other, lying to them both and just trying to reach her home alive. The Green Knight is an accomplished fighter and admired by those around him. When Melanthe sets him against his liege lord he is torn between the loyalties he has set for himself. Banished by his lord, he now finds himself tasked with Melanthe's safe travel but he has no knowledge of her dangerous plans.

Getting to know the Green Knight is an especially compelling part of this book. He seems quite the simpleton compared to the complexity of Melanthe's life and history. But as we get to know him his life and history are as intriguing as that of Melanthe but in a completely different way.

There's nothing fantastical about this book but it holds the most fairy tale like aspect for me of all of Kinsale's books (even when compared to Uncertain Magic - I know, riddle me that!). The English dialogue incorporating Middle English whenever possible lends quite an atmosphere to the reading. Additionally, the Green Knight's code of chivalry puts me in mind of fairy tales and knightly deeds. And now I need to go dig out my copy of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight for a reread.

The Shadow and the Star - Leda's got a bit of a problem. She's an orphan who was taken in for a gently-bred raising but now finds herself without money or the ability to find a respectable job. Luckily (?) an enigmatic gentlemen (who's done a little creepy night prowling) offers her a job as his secretary. She's aware of the endless opportunities for improper interactions and works very hard to avoid them (as she knows full well her erstwhile guardian would have expected) but Samuel practically thumbs his nose at propriety consistently making Leda uncomfortable.

Even if this book wasn't awesome in all ways it would still launch immediately to the A Team for the simple fact that our hero is a Whitey McWhiterson NINJA in Victorian England. NINJA! in Victorian. England. And it works! How is that even possible? Oh it is!

Samuel's history makes for an extremely hard adulthood. He has immense shame over his past and the way he envisions "making up" for something that is not his fault is a little bizarre. He's world-weary and completely naive all at the same time (and a ninja, don't forget that). Wonderfully contrasted by this is Leda. I've heard a lot of people don't care much for Leda as a heroine but I think she kicks all kinds of ass. Her determined straightforwardness and infuriatingly strict etiquette made me laugh out loud more times than I can count. On the surface this makes her pretty simple but like all good romances she's the perfect - the only - heroine that can match our hero. She's loyal, steadfast, observant, sympathetic, loving, honest, and surprisingly flexible when it comes to those around her. You wouldn't think it at first due to her Miss Manners attitude but it's absolutely true. I can see how these characteristics might not come through as the most exciting but if you remember Sammy from The Hidden Heart you know that Leda is exactly what he would need.

And that's my A Team. Check back for the B and C Team post and, in the meantime, find yourself a Kinsale novel to read; it's time well-spent!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


This article waxed a bit poetic for my taste but I loved the section on verbs:

The passive voice in particular was a crisis. “Was” only told you that something existed—this was not enough. And on this topic, I remember one of her fugues almost exactly:
You want vivid writing. How do we get vivid writing? Verbs, first. Precise verbs. All of the action on the page, everything that happens, happens in the verbs. The passive voice needs gerunds to make anything happen. But too many gerunds together on the page makes for tinnitus: Running, sitting, speaking, laughing, inginginginging. No. Don’t do it. The verbs tell a reader whether something happened once or continually, what is in motion, what is at rest. Gerunds are lazy, you don’t have to make a decision and soon, everything is happening at the same time, pell-mell, chaos. Don’t do that. Also, bad verb choices mean adverbs. More often than not, you don’t need them. Did he run quickly or did he sprint? Did he walk slowly or did he stroll or saunter?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Great Debaters

Another successful foray into cinema for sgwordy - huzzah! The Great Debaters was inspired by the true story of the debate team at Wiley College in the 1930s. Their coach was Melvin B Tolson, an American poet, and they became famous for crossing racial lines by debating - and winning - against prestigious white schools.

I thought the movie was really well done. I give it a very high recommendation not only on its merits as a movie but as an introduction to an important part of American history. I say introduction because, like many other movies based on real events, the Great Debaters parts company from true history for inexplicable reasons. The essence of the story is there but for whatever reason the movie makers decided to make changes that I saw no need for. It's interesting to me when this happens because it's often something that seems to make very little difference. It would be just as interesting and easy to tell the true story but instead changes are made. Hollywood! I'll never understand it.

Regardless though, it's a movie worth seeing and a topic well worth researching. Also, I had not heard of Tolson before and I look forward to looking into his writing.