Category Archives: bedside table

Books of 2015 #2: Tales from the SFR Brigade (Anthology)

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The Science Fiction Romance Brigade is a collective of SFR writers and recently published their first Anthology ebook. I’ve never read an Anthology before. But I don’t regret it, as it introduced me to some fabulous new writers, and that’s the point of it, isn’t it? Also, being a collection of shorter stories and novellas/novelettes, I had high hopes of not being glued to my ereader for a whole weekend. Well… that only worked partially. It certainly is easier to stop though.

I actually read all stories except one, but I plan to read it later. It just wasn’t what I was looking for in that moment. My favourite stories where “Imprint” by Pippa Jay, who I recently met on Twitter and already adore, and “Whiskey and Starshine” by Erica Hayes. “Nobody’s Present” (Marcella Burnhard) was also very interesting.

If you never read Science Fiction Romance before and are eager to try it out, this free little Anthology is great to test the waters. Lots of interesting conflicts and angles, scorching hot heroes and feisty heroines. And space ships, and space stations and science and… guh. Try it. It’s free!

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Books of 2015 #1: Neanderthal seeks/marries Human, Penny Reid

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My recent strategy of first befriending other writers on Twitter and then (eventually) reading their books isn’t a bad one. Penny impressed me with her humour, her thoughtfulness and simply with being a mother of two, working full time in clinical research (like me!) and still finding the time to write. Not mention that she’s one of those self-publishers, and even designs her own book covers. Which are by the way totally beautiful and professional. I have absolutely no idea how she does all this without burning out. She’s also one who understands how social media marketing works, so go, follow her on Twitter, she’s no shouty, link-spamming person at all.

The Neanderthal books were on my reading list for quite some time now, but I never got around to actually read them. So yesterday, on a whim and at midnight, I started the first one, “Neanderthal seeks Human” – and of course, I couldn’t put it down. I read until three in the morning, going to bed after the first kiss. I basically read all of Sunday, until I finished the second book “Neanderthal marries Human” at half past eleven PM. Yes, besides sleeping and reading I didn’t do much else. Penny labeled the books “smart romance” and yes, it’s not quite the usual romance. Both books are peppered with random scientific facts, which a) make you smarter and b) must have been taken a lot of time to look up, because I can’t quite believe that Penny knows all this on top of her head. But then, Janie does, so maybe Penny does too. I also like that the protagonists, Janie and Quinn, don’t fall head over heels for each other – or, rather the romance between them unfolds over several weeks, there is stuff they have to get through together – it’s actually quite an adventure. I’m a sucker for adventures. The books are also not only heartbreakingly romantic (1) but also hilariously funny (2).

The protagonists, Janie and Quinn, are no cardboard cut-outs, but feel like real people. This is important to me, but might not be for you. They both have interesting and believable character development arcs. Janie also drove me quite crazy at some points, but never so far that I disliked her. She’s quirky. That can get on your nerves. Quinn, on the other hand… he’s an alpha male done right. Meaning he’s dominant, but not a jerky, scary asshole (3). He respects Janie as a person. I don’t know if he and I would go along well, being quite the alpha myself, and I wouldn’t have tolerated a lot of the stuff he just naturally does. Like ordering food for Janie. But I can’t deny that he’s a fascinating man. We don’t learn a lot about him in the first book, which is only written from Janie’s point of view, but the second book remedies that.

Being a writer myself I often get annoyed with romance books because they are so predictable. Of course, the recipe has to be always the same (4), but that doesn’t have to mean I can make check-marks on my imaginary plot point list. Penny manages to not walk into this trap. In fact there are some twists in there I absolutely didn’t see coming. Of course there’s a black point, but I didn’t expect it to be what it was. I also love that in the second book the focus is on the development and deepening of their relationship, not an encore of pulling them apart and getting them together again. And I love it, I absolutely love it that Penny gives us the chance to see what comes after the “happily ever after” ending of book one. That even perfect book couples have to learn to get along with each other. I wish more writers would do this.

So 5 stars from me, and I urge you all to read Penny!

Neanderthal seeks Human (Amazon DE link)

Neanderthal marries Human (Amazon DE link)

(1) I cried, oh god, I cried. Especially at the end of book 2. And with that I don’t mean I had water in my eyes, no, I actually had to blow my nose because I was totally undone. So there.

(2) If I wasn’t crying, I was giggling, snorting, screaming with laughter. It’s a rollercoaster. An amazing rollercoaster.

(3) *cough* Christian Grey *cough*

(4) Get them together, get them apart, get them together again for good.

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Books of 2014 #4 – Barrayar; Lois McMaster Bujold

“Barrayar” is the second book of the Vorkosigan Saga, starting right where the first book “Shards of Honor” ended. I fell in love with Aral and Cordelia, and their unlikely love, during Shards and was dying to know how fate was going to treat them.

While Shards was a bonafide romance in a setting of two worlds at war with each other, Barrayar’s main theme is parenthood. There are a lot of different parents in there, from single and broken soldier dads to heteronormative parents, mothers who bear their child the natural way and mothers who use advanced technologies. This by the way made me realise that I wouldn’t mind being a mother, but the idea of being pregnant sort of gets me out of the deal. I would love to have one of those artifical uterus things the Betans invented. Anyway – another major theme is how a society treats the less healthy ones: be it disabled babies or soldiers wounded in battle.
This all weaves into a story of a planet trying to come to terms with progress, technological and social, told through the eyes of an out-worlder, from a way more “civilized” (or so it seems) world.

I enjoyed Barrayar immensely. Not only does it give you food for thought, it’s also beautifully written and features a lot of different characters, which I liked a lot. Especially the budding love between crippled Kou and valkyrie-like Drou had me in a constant panic that one of them would die. The relationship between Aral and Cordelia passed the test of time (the books were written eight years apart) and was still awesome. It’s so wonderfully sober and unromantic and yet written in sentences so beautiful that they punch you right in the guts. My favourite one: “Aral merely grinned, and made love to her as if she were spun glass.” Aaaaaaah, spun glass! SPUN GLASS!!! How gentle must he’ve been? I seriously wish she would write a bit more than single sentence sex scenes though, because she has the right words fo’ sure. On the other hand, being able to put everything into one sentence is the true art, so there…

As I loved Shards and Barrayar so much that I wanted to own them outside their Kindle prison, I had to realise that it’s not so easy to aquire books that came out some twenty years ago. But I succeeded in the end, and I’m looking forward to thumb through them and find my favourites scenes much easier from now on. The Kindle prooves again and again that it can’t deliver for me when it comes to that, to loving books and knowing where certains things hide inside.

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Books of 2014 #3 – Bloody Lessons, The Victorian San Francisco Mysteries Series

I stumbled across M. Louisa Locke’s first installment of victorian mysteries set in San Francisco – “Maids of Misfortune” – while I was looking for books about the city, preparing for my trip. I enjoyed the heck out of the adventure of unconventional (but historical accurate) widow Mrs Annie Fuller and her dashing lawyer, Mr Nate Dawson, and was delighted to learn a lot about San Francisco in the process. I was even more delighted as I found out that there was a second book, which I read after my journey. Fast forward to now, two years later, and I had the idea to check if there might be a third book, and lo’ and behold, there is. Needless to say it was on my Kindle instantly.

As with romance books, mystery books come with a sort of ‘rating’ as to what to expect. These are labelled ‘cozy mysteries’ – there’s nothing gory or upsetting in there. In fact, they remind me a lot of Agatha Christie’s books where you’re always trying to figure out who the culprit is, but there’s nothing extremely violent happening. (I could have used a bit more heat between Annie and Nate, but being victorian and acting historically correct you don’t get much besides sweet kisses.)

I like this series a lot for three reasons.
The first one: It plays in San Francisco, one of my favourite cities ever.
The second: The author is a retired history professor, the books are very well researched and cover a specific social issue or trend from the time. The first deals with the working conditions of domestic servants, the second dallies with séances and the third covers the educational system and the problems female teachers faced at the time.
The third reason: The characters. Besides Annie and Nate, there are a lot of recurring side characters, who are all as well thought out as the two main protagonists are. The author manages to make them relateable to modern day readers without ignoring the social standards and circumstances nor the consequences of what would happen if the character would stray away from the social rules. Hence no more heat between Nate and Annie, because her reputation as a respected boarding house owner and widow would be on the line.

The three books in chronological order are:
Maids of Misfortune
Uneasy Spirits
Bloody Lessons

And now I have my fingers crossed for a fourth one. There are also companion stories with the focus on some of the side characters, but I haven’t read those yet. I’m sort of partial to Annie and Nate.

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revisited: the kindle vs paper books

I own my Kindle now for roughly 1,5 years and I think it’s time for this avid paper book lover to evaluate this ride. Frankly, I don’t use it as often as I could, but that has more to do with me forgetting to read than anything else. I don’t read more paper books. Or less, because of it.

It took me a while to come to the conclusion that the media that contains and delivers a story, is totally irrelevant. Be it a paper book, a movie, a video game, a comic strip or a file on the Kindle, if it has a compelling story that grips me, it has fulfilled its purpose. The thing that is important is the story, not the media through which it is told.

What I like about the Kindle (and it’s associated iDevice apps) is the instant gratification. It is quite amazing to have access to the content of a book 2 seconds later. That totally floats my boat. The other thing I like: The price of the books. As I more or less exclusively read books in English, and these bookmarkets have different price politics, British and American ebooks come with a decidedly lower pricetag than their German counterparts.

Then the Kindle comes with useful functions like highlighting and notes and such, which is great if I read reference books. It has adjustable font sizes! And of course, the 47 books on it would take up quite a lot of real estate in my bookshelf.

And yet I prefer paper books. Not for the smell, their touch or other nostalgic nonsense. I prefer them because they are a work of art, put together by a handful of artists. First, the author, then the typesetter and the cover designer, then the printer and the bookbinder. Having encountered quite a lot of badly formatted Kindle books, I came to appreciate the work of somebody who knows how to set a page.

I don’t care if a 200 pages long romance novel comes on digital paper, but I doubt I would want to read those five volumes of Modesty Blaise comic strips I recently bought, on the Kindle. It would work, of course, but I won’t enjoy it that much. And I do read comics on my iPad, so it’s not that.

What I mean is: As a consumer I find it great to have so many options. Both have their merits and their downsides, but I find it stupid that for so many people it has to be “either or” – why not enjoy the heck out of both? Why am I supposed to chose a side? I refuse to do that. I like to collect paper books and I like to read my chick lit on the Kindle. I will buy a book in dead tree form because I loved the ebook version. It is great that self-publishing and ebooks allow for obscure niches to pop up, that it gives authors a chance that would never land a deal in traditional publishing. Who knew that dinosaur smut would find readers? And it’s equally nice to have curators who filter all those many stories and bring out what they believe are the best ones, through the traditional way.

Stories have existed before books, and they will live on in any form of media we put them in. And that’s a very comforting thought.

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Books of 2014: #2 Playing for Love at Deep Haven, Katy Regnery

So, the true first book of this year, which I somehow couldn’t finish. But now I have. To be fair, I think the book and I have met at the wrong time, which perfectly fits with its theme of second chances. I’m usually no romance reader, but for whatever reason, I read a lot of that stuff lately, and as Playing for Love at Deep Haven came along, it was like as if I’d eaten too much sweets.

Although it actually is a very nice story, and I think in comparison to By Proxy, Katy’s first book, it definitely wins. The relationship between Zach the hard rocker and Violet the poet has more layers and is not only deeper, but also more believable than Sam and Jenny’s. Zach and Violet have a shared history. Second chances, you know. Katy is a top-notch romance writer, and she certainly knows how to pen inner turmoil to the page. Her kisses are to die for. Her characters ring true, they live and breathe on the page.

But there’s a thing I had trouble with.

Other than By Proxy, Playing for Love features not only sweet kisses, but also sex. Lot’s of it. And I really don’t mind sex in books. Katy has taste, and she writes intercourse as well as she writes kissing. The problem for me was, that there was a bit too much of the bedroom shenanigans for me. Sex ate plot. For me at least.

Speaking of plot, it was a teensy bit forseeable what would happen. Not that so much happens in contemporary romances anyway, I mean, you have the meeting of the hero and the heroine, sparks fly, they kiss/fuck, navigate some minor disturbances, kiss/fuck some more, then you have the big bad black moment where all falls apart, you gnaw your fingernails until, tadah, there is a happy end. Yes, I’ve read a lot of this stuff lately, as I said, and being a former student of literature, structural similarities don’t escape me.

I think it will take some time until I pick up another romance book. I need a bit more plot. Some antagonists besides inner insecurities. A bit more action.

Verdict:
If you need a scorching hot rocker in your fictional boyfriend collection, Zach has you covered. If you need a nice romantic read for the weekend, this book is the right one for you. If you need a bit more plot than two people trapped in a beautiful house, go look somewhere else.

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Books of 2014: #1 – The Language of Dying, Sarah Pinborough

I found Sarah’s Twitter via Chuck Wendig (who I found via Tumblr, but that’s a different story), and it was one of those accounts I just had to follow, although I had never read any of her books before. She has the power of putting the saddest things into the most beautiful words, and they will haunt you for a long time. She is also very clever and very funny. Admiring her essays for a long time, I finally came to my senses and bought “The Language of Dying” today – during my lunchbreak. (The beauty of modern technology, really.)

I was running around that book for quite a while. People dying from cancer is, after all is said and done, part of what I work with daily. I wasn’t sure if I could stomach putting a story to all those anonymous little numbers I turn into pretty posters every day. But I’m glad I took the plunge. I’m not kidding you, this is a very sad book. It might be not right for you, if you’re in a place where your life comes apart at the seams. Or it might be right for you exactly because your life is coming apart. Just consider yourself warned, as it will tear your chest open and claw at your beating heart.

It is a story of a father dying and siblings trying to deal with it. And I can’t say much more, because I could spoil it for you. It wasn’t the first book I started this year, but the first one I did finish. After reading a handful of romance books lately, I felt like I had managed to overeat on candyfloss. I needed something raw. Really raw, and powerful. And this book delivered that. The language is heartwrenchingly beautiful, the images strong and I will think about it for a very long time. And I will definitely buy it in dead tree form too, because a screen doesn’t do it any justice.

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“Lead and Lace” by M. A. Grant

Yesterday evening the muse was not compliant. To get my brain some down time, I thought, “Hey, you haven’t read a book in a while…” Last week the very first issue of “Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly” was published, and it has lots and lots of book recommendations to my heart’s content: adventure, handsome heroes and fierce heroines. One of the book critiques was about “Lead and Lace” and it caught my interest.

After reading the very first paragraph on Amazon, I already had the first kiss and was wriggling on the bed with a fit of the giggles, and the book delivered that promise until the very last page. It had all I needed last night: witty dialogue, cabable heroine, gripping (oh, very gripping) storyline and some blazingly hot sex. It’s a romance after all.

The protagonists are Pierce, our handsome, but wasted and wounded ex-Lawman (some sort of Marine, i guess) and the sheltered, blue-blooded beauty Emmaline, who has more of a dark past than one would expect. I’m not going to give you the blurb, you can read it on Amazon here.

What I liked:
Pierce. Oh boy, that man. The classic alpha, the hunk, the teeth-gritting soldier who’s willing to catch a bullet for money… and thrown into the frying pan of desire by Emmaline’s innocent beauty. Which leads to some hilarious moments.
Emmaline. Besides being a sheltered, noble daughter with absolute no knowledge of the world outside her bubble, she is very adaptable and by no means the stupid ditz/ damsel in distress that would drive me up the wall.

What I didn’t like:
Sex equals love. Granted, it is a short novella and so there’s not enough time to develop a more in-depth relationship, but still, it irks me a bit.
Which brings me to my second point: It is too short. I’d love to see more of that interesting world Grant imagined, and Emmaline and Pierce have enough crackling chemistry between them to carry them through more story. We never learn where in the universe we are, how the planet looks like, why Emmaline’s mother died of Gamma radiation poisoning and what that mine was for.

What I found interesting:
How little description one does need to imagine a full-blown world. I think the only setting described in detail was Pierce’s appartment, where most of the story actually takes place. Although I’m a sucker for lavish descriptions (and I think it shows in the Apples of Eden) I had a nice dusty and dirty high-tech meets western town before my inner eye. Maybe somebody else sees a more Bladerunner-like setting, but yeah…

Feministic statistic:
Well, it passes the Sexy Lamp Test because you can’t leave the girl out of the romance equation, but don’t even try to look at the Bechdel Test. Emmaline is the only woman and opposite of her are Pierce, his two men Kai and Douglass, Emmaline’s father and the bad guy. That’s a ratio of 1:5.

Favourite scenes:
The one where Emmaline changes into pants and a tank top. Pierce’s reaction to her altered appearance is sooooo adorable. And very funny.
Also, the scene where he teaches her how to work on a car.

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on the bedside table: the art of the mass effect universe

20131017-213740.jpgThe sight of this book in my hands triggered a “You’ve got to be kidding me!” from my own handsome hero. Because, I don’t play video games. So what on earth would I want with a book like that? Although I don’t play them, I find video games fascinating – they are very interesting storytelling devices, and if it wouldn’t mean that I actually have to solve riddles and kill pixel people, I would love to interact with these stories.

I bought the art book for a different reason though. I wanted to see how they did put together a complex science-fiction universe – but I wanted one I had absolutely no idea of. Which ruled out Star Wars and Star Trek. The only thing of Mass Effect that I had known before was that there was a Commander Shepard in it, who people like to play in his female version. I had no idea what the story was, who the good guys were, and who the villains. I still don’t know, but the book might entice me to find it out.

I’m a sucker for “Behind the Scenes” stuff – it’s the first thing I watch if I get a new series. Yes, I watch making of’s before I watch the actual movie/episodes, because I just love to see how the dream comes alive. Same goes for concept art – which insect inspired this spaceship, from which cultural reference did they draw this costume, etc… And for that, this book is just perfect. They show you everything, the characters, the planets, the guns, the spaceships… often from more than one angle. It’s an awesome resource for cosplay, if you are into it, or just for inspiration, which was my goal.

The book itself is a wonderful hardcover production with high quality paper and binding, and certainly worth its money.

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On the Bedside Table: By Proxy

I usually do not read books with the label “Romance” – not because I’m opposed to cheesy love stories, but because I want a bit more plot. An adventure, a mystery, anything… and because my inner feminist gets all angry with stories that try to sell me that only men make girls happy.

Anyway, I couldn’t wait to read Kathy’s “By Proxy” – be it a christmas time romance or not. It is one thing to read any book, or a book that somebody you know wrote. And it is a debut novel! There was no question that I was going to read it the minute I got my excited hands on it.

What’s the story?
Boy meets girl, obviously. And you can put down a big fat checkmark into the box “Meet cute” – mandatory in any good romance. But did you know that such a thing like a double proxy marriage does exist? Well, I didn’t. I didn’t even know that proxy marriages exist, but then, I don’t live in America…

Ok, Sam and Jenny meet because they are the “proxies” in such a wedding. Needless to say, something goes wrong (Montana, snow… you get the picture) and they are stuck together for the weekend. Sam is the big city guy, Jenny the country girl, it’s christmas time… let the cuteness begin.

Feministic statistic
Wellll… it passes the Sexy Lamp Post Test, but not the Bechdel Test. But it is a romance, so all has to be about the guy, doesn’t it? Still, there are a heck of a lot of guys in there, with Sam the hero, Jenny’s three brothers, Paul the principal, Jenny’s dad… my inner feminist says: not enough girls.

Verdict
I blazed through it in something around 4 hours. Because it is gooooood. It made me giggle, it made me swoon, it made me cry. Which is why you read romance in the first place, yes? To escape for a few hours the drudgery that is real life (and real men). By Proxy does a very very good job with that. So, get yourself a copy if you are in need of some candyfloss, or rather gingerbread, in literary form. It will not let you down.

Thoughts
It is too short!

Favourite scenes
The kisses are very good and made me a bit upset that Sam and Jenny didn’t… well, you know what I mean.

I also liked the scene where Sam speaks to his mom about his feelings.

Oh, and the ending… that had me in tears, oh my gosh, all the feelings, all at once. I needed a moment after that. Seriously.

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