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Book Review, Nora Roberts, Stars of Fortune (The Guardians Trilogy #1)

I admit to being a sucker for a good Nora Roberts trilogy, even though I was less than enamored with her last two (Cousins O’Dwyer and Inn Boonsboro). I’ve been worried that Roberts is off her game, particularly as her books are starting to read like pastiches of her past writings. I haven’t been able to get through one of her hardcovers since Blue Smoke, but the J.D. Robb novels are still working for me.

It was with some trepidation that I picked up the first book in her new Guardians Trilogy (published on November 3, 2015), particularly as it appeared to be yet another trilogy involving magic and characters searching for long-lost mystical items (Smart Bitches Trashy Books labels these “ParaNoras”). I was pleasantly surprised, however, to see that there are some new elements here—for one thing, the book is set in Corfu, rather than Ireland or the rural U.S.

As for the plot, there be spoilers below, so beware…

The basic plotline follows six individuals who have been chosen to find and return the three Stars of Fortune to the “Island of Glass” before Nerezza, an evil sorceress, takes their powers and destroys the world. The first book, Stars of Fortune, follows artist Sasha Riggs, who is a seer, to Corfu, where she meets Bran Killian, the hero and a magician, and the other four who are searching for the Fire Star. Without getting too specific, the book describes the search for the Fire Star and the group’s early confrontations with the villain. There is a lot of exposition here, which Roberts handles well, given that she has to introduce six characters and their mission. The downside of this is that the romance between Sasha and Bran felt rushed (Roberts attempts to compensate by having Sasha “see” Bran in her dreams months before she travels to Corfu).

I enjoyed the fact that the characters weren’t the usual bunch of Roberts heroes and heroines—no one, for example, is spending their time obsessively running a business (although I did groan when Sasha drew up an illustrated training schedule late in the book and Bran’s medicine making was described in meticulous detail). The cover design here is far better than in the Cousins O’Dwyer books (which had odd Photoshopped animals), although someone at the publisher needs to do some better editing, as I found several typos. There was also the usual variation on the line “take what I give,” which, as I’ve mentioned in another review, tends to show up in Roberts’ love scenes: this novel’s version was: “This time you’ll take, and taking, you’ll give.” (p. 174)

If you are familiar with Roberts’ books, you already know that she often throws in geeky references to various sci-fi shows into her novels. There are an awful lot of them in this one, and it got to the point where I was assigning characters to their counterparts: Bran as a combination of Harry Potter, Severus Snape, and Roarke from the In Death novels, Riley as Lara Croft, Annika as Luna Lovegood/Wonder Woman, and Doyle as The Highlander. Sawyer also had a compass that acted like a combination Time-Turner/Portkey, and the human villain (barely mentioned until the end of the novel), came off like Lucius Malfoy.

In the end, this felt like an improvement over the previous two trilogies, and I’ll be very interested to see what Roberts does with the rest of the series.

Source: Copy from my public library.

Book Review, Jim Butcher, The Aeronaut’s Windlass (The Cinder Spires #1)

I have long been a reader of Jim Butcher’s books (The Dresden Files, Codex Alera), and was excited to hear that he has been working on a new steampunk series. The Cinder Spires series starts with The Aeronaut’s Windlass (published September 29, 2015), which takes place far into the future in a world where humanity was forced to abandon the earth’s surface for a series of constructed “spires” that range far into the skies. The world is vaguely future-Victorian, with airships and a class-based social structure. Without giving away too much, the book focuses on an emerging conflict between the spires (and, no surprise, the sense that there may be larger forces at work).

So here’s my caveat. While I am all in favor of the steampunk genre being incredibly expansive, I tend to like my steampunk ensconced within the Victorian era, or (as with something like Kate Locke’s The Immortal Empire series) a closely Victorian-inspired alternate universe. So Butcher’s book didn’t quite do it for me as steampunk, despite the airships and noble houses. The book started out incredibly slowly, and if it wasn’t for the talking cats, I probably wouldn’t have finished it. I also wonder if the perspective may have been an issue—what holds the Dresden series together, for example, is Harry’s first-person snark. The constantly shifting POVs in this book got old fast, as did the overly-detailed airship battle descriptions. The plot did pick up enough for me to give it three stars on Goodreads (which in my personal ranking system is “decent but nothing to squee about”). The vibe was a sort of mashup between Terry Pratchett and George R.R. Martin (hell, even “Earth: Final Conflict” if you count the gauntlets), so if that is your cup of tea by all means go for it!

Will I pick up the next book? Yes, but thus far this series has turned out to be something I can pick up and put down at random, rather than the all-night-read-until-your-eyes-burn-fest that Butcher’s other books have been for me.

Source: Copy from my public library

In Which I Get Some Stuff Done

We’ve been enjoying some gorgeous weather for November…seventies and sunny. I managed to get outside to clean out the flower boxes and dismantle our garden, especially as the weather is starting to shift back toward the rain and cold, and the last thing I want to do is prep my bird feeders and garden paraphernalia to move in lousy weather. I have made no attempt at the leaves as yet. Part of me almost doesn’t want to bother this year as we’re moving. I haven’t put the Thanksgiving decorations up yet either. I think this year I may just skip ahead to Christmas at the new house.

Normally at this time of year I’m attempting NaNoWriMo, but this year I actually forgot. And somehow I don’t really mind, which is interesting.

I’m knocking items off of my to-do list pretty quickly, and am surprised I’m not as satisfied by that as I thought I would be. I keep having this low-level buzz of anxiety, even though I now wonder if I’m anxious because I have a lot less to be anxious about these days. Is anxiety actually now a habit?

Ironically, I’m now writing a section on the nervous diseases, anxiety, and neurasthenia in my dissertation. Life. Art. Imitate. Whatever.

In Which The Day Was Sunny

It is a gorgeous November day here in Cleveland, sunny and warm. Given that we often have rain and snow and cold and mud by this point in the year, I’m loving it!

Spent the morning catching up on election returns…I admit the election this year felt pretty anticlimactic, as I voted by mail about a week ago. No real surprises, although I was happy to see the marijuana issue fail (the last thing Ohio needs is yet another constitutionally-sanctioned monopoly, given how mediocre the casinos have been). I finished reading Jim Butcher’s new book, The Aeronaut’s Windlass (more on that in another post), and have been slowly working my way through a tricky section of my fourth dissertation chapter. There’s some yardwork and laundry also waiting for me, although I admit to being less than enthused about that, especially as I picked up two Stephanie Laurens (blink and there’s another Cynster finding love!) novellas and the new Nora Roberts (Stars of Fortune) from the library this morning.

I’ve also been working on a cross stitching project (from this book), the first I’ve attempted in about three years. I’ve forgotten just how much I liked doing cross stitch, actually. I feel like I keep rediscovering parts of me lately now that I’ve been less stressed. Exciting, that!

The Bloggess does it again…these are hysterical and will make you feel better about any faux pas you may have made, ever.

Source: And then that one time on twitter we all just became human and I laughed until I gave myself a headache.

Another Scandal in Romancelandia

Yet another plagiarism scandal (as well as yet another news story that fails to take Romance seriously as a genre) has hit Romancelandia, where I spend a great deal of my free time. Current roundup and links from SBSarah can be found at Smart Bitches Trashy Books.

In Which I’m Still Here, Imperfectly

A great deal of change has come my way this year. My mother-in-law passed away in August. We lived with her and were acting as her caregivers. I have never been very comfortable with writing about this part of my life, I think because I was always ashamed of it. I never thought I handled it well. I hated how the situation seemed to hold me back. I hated not knowing how to make things better. I secretly ranted and raved and blamed God, the Universe, and Everybody for my pain. “It’s not fair,” and “everything should be different” were my mantras.

So here I sit, a couple of months later. I no longer have to worry about Mom’s health and safety anymore. We’ve bought a new home (we move next month), so “I live with my in-laws” is no longer a useful excuse. I am only just now realizing just how little living I’ve been doing for the past four or five years.

I sit here at the crossroads and there are many possibilities. I have no idea which way to choose, however. This is not an uncommon human dilemma, but I find myself having to be especially careful not to go down the usual road of trying to fix all of my mistakes. Of telling myself I’m broken or unworthy.

I already have everything I need. I hope to one day get to the point where I can believe that even the sad parts of life are part of the larger path. That the dark and the light are both equally wonderful. I’m still not sure I believe that failure can be okay. That unexpected changes are often the best opportunities.

I am home alone a lot now as both kids are in school this year. This has been both blessing and curse. While this time has made a lot of things logistically easier, it has also given me too much time to think.

I berate myself for not having the “right” emotional responses. I don’t mourn the way I think I should. I’m angry most of the time over how things have turned out. I can’t even get that excited about our impending move, even though a home of my own has been a cherished dream for years. I’m convinced that all my past mistakes will follow me and continue to repeat because I’m “so stupid that I can’t break the cycle.” I spend more time yelling at myself than anything else.

I keep forgetting that I’m already enough. That all is actually well.

Degree or not, this will be my last year at my university, given dissertation clock deadlines and funding constraints. This deadline feels liberating but is also daunting, as it is clearly time to move on to something new. In the meantime, I’m trying to finish a dissertation project that seems to consist largely of writer’s block punctuated with occasional periods of semi-lucid analysis. And trying not to quake in my boots about putting myself out into a job market that I’ve never really had much interaction with.

While most of my reading lately has been either romance or mystery series, I have also been working my way through Barbara Stanny’s Sacred Success, which takes a spiritual approach toward women’s financial issues. Her major point is that the relationship between women and money is usually not about money, but about the expression and claiming of power. It occurs to me that a lot of what is holding me back is my fear of being visible, of incurring others’ ill-will or dislike.

So in the interest of visbility, I give all this to the Internet, warts and all. I’m on a journey, and it no longer serves me to pretend to be perfect.


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