Saturday, July 28, 2007

Book Review: Dancer's Delight by Anny Cook

Dancer’s Delight
Anny Cook
Cerridwen Press
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Dancer’s Delight is the story of a man whose life in an interesting contradiction. The face he shows to the world is that of Devereaux, a virtuoso violinist. But the reality is beneath the tux and carefully controlled persona is Dancer, who like his brother the Traveller, is an assassin, one who just found out the very people he worked for may have destroyed his family. As if that weren’t enough, Dancer has a mysterious woman named Eppie who seems to have a strange psychic link to him. They can communicate in their minds and Dancer has come to actually like her sweet and peaceful voice in his head.

Eppie was born and lived her entire life in Mystic Valley. Her soul sought out her bond-mate, only to find he was an out-valley man. Now as Dancer draws ever closer to her and the place he doesn’t realize he’s searching for, her only hope is that he will find his way to her valley in time. For if he doesn’t, if she does not mate with him soon, she will die.

Anny Cook has created a rather complex character in Dancer. So complex that it took this reader a while to get a read on his voice. Why was he reacting as he did? Why was he so angry? This seeking isn’t a bad thing. Cook has not taken the simple and one dimensional approach to her hero, but makes him stand there, glaring at you with smug indifference almost daring you to try to figure him out.

I read through this in one day because I didn’t want to put it down. To be honest the compulsion didn’t have to do with the main characters. Eppie and Dancer’s story is compelling and well detailed and the plot of this story wonderfully developed but the love between the two was so obvious it was a foregone conclusion they’d have a happy ending. I found myself drawn to the side characters as strongly as her hero and heroine. How their lives would weave around the pair and how the inevitable spilling of secrets would impact them was a powerful draw. Dancer’s brother Traveller is a fascinating character, brutal and ruthless, but with a sense of honor that is obvious. He’s one bad boy I’m hoping Cook revisits soon. The story of Eppie’s brothers Llyon and Tyger is touching and sweetly painful to watch unfold. While it’s hard to push aside social mores, it is obvious that this is a bonding of souls that defies convention.

So many threads left untied, but not in an unsatisfying way. Oh no, these threads leave us asking what about Traveller and Wrenna? What part is Bishop going to play in all this? What about Arano and Silence? And what will happen to Arturo? And most importantly, when do we get the next installment?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Book Review: A Dangerous Love

A Dangerous Love
Bertrice Small
New American Library

A Dangerous Love tells the story of Adair Radcliffe, a young English lass who was born on the wrong side of King Edward IV is orphaned by one of the last battles of the War of the Roses when Lancastrians slaughter her Yorkist parents. Now the Countess of Stanton, she flees to her sire’s court where she is taken in and raised amongst her half sisters and brothers as the King keeps his promise to acknowledge and provide for her. She is doted on by her Uncle Dickon (Richard, Duke of Gloucester). At the age of fifteen it is decided she must have a husband. Her King father wishes her to marry a Tudor, she flees to avoid the marriage, but discovers later the King has had his way by simply marrying her by proxy. The young boy, barely 14, dies at the point of a Scottish raider’s sword.

Her second marriage is acceptable to her but also arranged, this time by the Duke of Gloucester. Andrew is kind and the Duke’s man. When history unfolds and the then Richard III lies dead, Henry Tudor, Henry VII, strips Adair of her titles and lands as punishment for her husband’s treason. Left on her own with no protection she is captured by Scottish raiders and sold into slavery. Sold to the laird of Cleit, Conal Bruce. The rough, simple laird thinks to take her to his bed, but ends up taking her into his heart, and winning hers as well.

The best thing about this story was the heroine Adair Radcliffe. Though Small occasionally forgets she’s writing a strong and clever young woman and has her say and do incredibly stupid things, for the most part she is a delightful character that will keep you reading. The laird of Cleit is also an interesting man and quite the appealing rough, rugged, can’t articulate his feelings but damn he feels them mightily kinda hero.

There are two downfalls to this book. First, while yes, we needed Adair’s history, Small takes so much time getting us through it that the book is half over before our hero ever makes his appearance. And a good deal of it is not necessary and rambles a good bit as if she’s trying to fill space.

Secondly, the language used for the abundant sex in this story…and I have no problem with its abundance, is down right silly. Manroot? *snort* seed sac *snicker* Adair: “It has made me feel very lustful.” *groans* Conal: “Be mindful of your teeth. For he’s a delicate lad.” *lol* I fail to see why the author was okay with having the characters constantly refer to the act of sex by the f word “I want to [*] you now.” “Do you want to [*]?” but resorted to such silly euphemisms for the human body. If the intent was to aim for a historical context it simply didn’t translate well to this reader.

The story was fair and Adair is certainly a strong enough character to keep most people reading. The view of Richard III as not the hunchbacked demented monster that Shakespeare and Tudor historians have drawn him, but as loving Uncle Dickon who was ever loyal to his brother the king, desperately in love with his wife Queen Ann and heart broken by her death is an interesting take that is appearing more and more often as historians revisit this interesting man.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

This is a review of Harry Potter, Book 7 it contains spoilers.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
J. K. Rowling
Scholastic Books

Book 6 essentially set the plot for this last book. Harry, Ron and Hermione must find the Horcruxes created by Lord Voldemort and destroy them so he can be vulnerable to distruction. They must battle he and his Death Eaters and save the Wizarding world. Yeah.

Problem is, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was targeted for Juvenile readers. That means up to 13 years of age in most cases. Though the stories have been getting darker and more adult, they really haven't crossed the line of appropriate, just the line of comprehension and vocabulary. Until now.

This last book in the HP saga is not for the age group to which Harry Potter has traditionally been marketed. In fact, parents might want to exercise caution in giving the book to their kids under 13. There are elements of this final battle that are not appropriate for children. The story packs a good deal of sexual innuendo from Bellatrix and the Dark Lord, Harry and Ginny and most disturbing at least two allusion to rape or sexual assault: One of Dumbledore's young sister and a very sexually charged discussion between Death Eaters about what to do with Hermione when she's captured.

Add to this the fact that the violence goes far beyond that in the past. This is not typical fantasy violence with faceless hoards engaged in war. There are disturbing scenes of torture and an astonishing death toll. War means death, and yes we get that, but the deaths of loved secondary characters (numerous ones) in which young readers are invested were pointless and did nothing to advance the general plot.

And the killings were essentially cruel including the murder of two characters who had just gotten married and had a small infant son, now orphaned to Rowling's needless body count. Even the expected deaths (come on we all know a certain former Hogwart's Professor was flapping about on borrowed time) were not noble or redemptive, but senseless.

The action scenes were well done and paced and several loose ends were tied up, but many more were glossed over in an unsatisfying manner. Te epilogue was saccharine sickening and worthy of a 14 year-old writing a really bad, cliched fanfiction.

Overall, I have to say I nearly put the book down at one point, permanently. The final chapters ruined the magic and redemptive spirit of the first books. It feels very much like Rowling closed this saga by sucking the magic out of the world.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Book Review: The Lightening Thief

The Lightening Thief
Rick Riordan
Miramax Books

This book showed up on my radar this past spring when one of my students asked for permission to alter a project assignment to allow him to read books by Rick Riordan. Since I teach middle school and Riordan is an adult author (or rather was) I was hesitant and told him I’d allow it as long as he brought me a note from home. When he showed me The Lightening Thief I was intrigued. Soon the book was passing around among my seventh grade boys like trading cards. I’d not seen this level of interest since I’d shelved a bunch of Deltora Quest books and the conversations in the hall came down to “Hey do you have #3? I have #4, I’ll trade you.”

So this summer I picked up the tale of Perseus (Percy) Jackson. Percy is a troubled kid attending a school for troubled kids. His ADHD, dyslexia and moodiness don’t make him the ideal student or prospective hero. After being attacked by a Fury disguised as his algebra teacher, he finds out that his best friend Grover is actually a satyr sent to protect him, his cool wheelchair-bound Latin teacher is actually Chiron the centaur and he’s the son of Poseidon.

Sorta cool until he realizes the Zeus’ thunderbolt has been stolen and guess who everyone thinks did it? Him. So with Grover and another half-blood he faces a quest complete with the Oracle’s warning that one who calls him friend will betray him.

The story has action and adventure so it’s easy to see the draw for my middle school boys. It was fun read if predictable from an adult standpoint. One thing that did strike me was how well Riordan integrated the Olympians and their lore into the contemporary world. The book is an excellent tool for anyone who wants to introduce young people to Greek mythology. The mentions of heroes and gods will have the kids asking for more.

Percy is likable and sympathetic. The very predictability of the plot is one of the things that made this popular among my reluctant readers, but it might be a turn-off for adult readers.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I'm fairly notorious for having too many irons in the fire. In literary terms tha means having too many WIP or Works in Progress. Some writers have short stories stockpiled or begun, but I have a tendency to start developing stories that will develop at least to a novella length before I finish the one I'm working on. I'm afraid my plotbunnies start hopping and just keep mulitplying.

I blame this on the way I write. I don't actually write stories, I take dictation. To a non-writer it may sound insane...okay, it may sound insane to most people, but inside my head are characters, people who have stories that need to be told. That's how it always starts. With a character.

He or she...and usually it's he, starts to form in my mind. I can see him, hear his voice. In a slow process that's sort of like a cross between painting a portrait and giving birth, he comes alive inside my head. And he talks to me. The character tells me his story. Not all at once mind you, but in pieces. Sometimes a character will be dying to chatter my ear off and then disappear. One of my current WIP's is like that.

He came to life almost four years ago and started to tell his story. I wasn't ready to hear it then because I wasn't writing. I didn't believe in it anymore at that time. So soon he got very quiet and just sat there. Well, now Caelin has waited and waited and it seems his turn is here. It won't be easy. His best friend has started talking to me and Dane has already managed to drop several bombshells into the works. Just when I think I got a handle on it, Dane drops by and goes..."Oh, by the way did you know that..." and sends me in a tailspin.

But they aren't the only ones. In a Summer Camp for writers I'm participating in the task was set recently to invite your character to lunch. In my usual over achieving, in over my head way, I ended up with more than just one fellow making an appearance. You can find the story at the link below.

Lunch With The Boys