Archives

All posts for the month April, 2014

The Importance of Braille

Published April 30, 2014 by Shannon

Braille has been a topic of intense discussion over on blind people Twitter. I was also interviewed today for a piece that will air on al Jazeera America sometime in the future about Braille, so it’s on my mind and I have all kinds of feels. Plus, this has been a topic I’ve wanted to bring up for a while and haven’t quite figured out how to frame it. Since most of my vocal readership is sighted, I’m hoping this will prove useful, or at least entertaining, and while I have no reason to believe that my interview will result in a terrible piece, when journalists talk with people with disabilities, the resulting stories are invariably fluffy and insubstantial, and this is important to me, so I wanted to make my position clear.

First, some background. I am in a position of privilege when it comes to Braille. My parents actively cared about my getting a good education. Thus, I started working with a teacher of the visually impaired when I was 18 months old. She taught me the basics of Braille at the same time my peers were taught the basics of print, so when I started school, I was able to keep up with my peers.

I was lucky in other ways. Not only did my parents do everything they could to make sure my education never suffered, up to and including moving to a better school district when it became clear my home school district wasn’t going to meet my needs, but–and here I am going to make a statement that will startle some of my sighted readers–I had no useable vision to get in my way. There was no alternative. I either had to learn Braille or be illiterate. I know of blind children who were never taught Braille because if they smooshed their faces right up against a closed-circuit TV, they could read large print. They might only be able to read six words a minute, but by Odin, they could read print so they didn’t need Braille. Some of these kids had to take up Braille out of necessity later in life. The people I’ve spoken to found it intensely frustrating, and while they might end up with a grasp of Braille, they weren’t ever likely to use it, let alone to enjoy reading for pleasure.

I, on the other hand, loved to read even as a kid, and somehow, the wiring clicked into place early in my brain that said that there were whole worlds to be discovered in books. I remember spending a summer at the local residential school for the blind and being fascinated by a copy of Little Women they had in the girls’ dormitory. For the next four summers, I tried to read that book, each year thinking I was a little older, so this time i would get it. I can’t remember if I ever finished it during those summers–I feel like I never did–but I wanted that adventure. I wanted the joy of cracking open the spine of some book I’d never read and discovering what lay within. My biggest disappointment about that residential school was how many Braille books there weren’t. I used to have dreams about being able to walk into a library and have floor-to-ceiling shelves full of books, all of which I could read. (This explains so much about the state of my TBR, but we’ll get there in due course.)

Fast forward through high school to college. in high school, all of my textbooks were available in Braille. I never read an audio textbook until I entered college, and it was an uncomfortable paradigm shift. Now I had to absorb everything through listening instead of through reading, and most of my text books came from a company called Recordings for the Blind, which has now rebranded itself as Learning Ally. (Which a number of screen readers think should be pronounced like “Learning Alley”, a minor detail I find both frustrating and amusing.) The textbooks were recorded by volunteers, none of whom had the skills to read aloud. At least, none of the volunteer readers I ever heard did. Many blind people I know have their RFB stories–listening to some book on Greek history, absorbing whatever nuggets of wisdom could be found, only to be jolted out of that frame of mind when the reader would let out a belch that never made it onto the cutting room floor. That happened to me, too, only the book was on domestic violence. I adjusted, though, and in the intervening 15 years i’ve come to rely on listening in order to take in new information. With the rise of digital technology, I can listen a lot faster than I can read. I even speed up my audiobooks as a matter of course, simply because I’ve learned to process what I’m hearing fairly quickly, and there are so many books, I don’t actually want to take 9 hours and 37 minutes to read something when I can finish it in five or six and move on to the next big thing.

I also stopped using Braille because it is bulky. Because Braille is a uniform size, and because it has to be rendered on thicker paper than does print, Braille books are divided into multiple volumes. To put this in perspective, the bane of my existence as a YA and a romance fan, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight clocks in at 544 pages in the paperback version. The Braille version is four volumes, each covering about 150 pages in print. So if you were a voracious reader like me who read a lot of doorstoppers, well, they had to go somewhere, and checking them out from the library for the blind meant they’d be mailed to your house, where you would have to find room to put all those bulky books. (And sometimes you might run into a mailman who rightly thought that he wasn’t getting paid enough to hand deliver all 12 Braille volumes of Stephen King’s It to your house, so your parents would have to pick them up from the post office.) And when I moved into my first apartment, there simply wasn’t that kind of room, and I didn’t have ready access to people who could drive me to the post office if the mailman got persnickety about delivering my books.

So I read on audio. When ebooks came along, I embraced digital first publishers because then I didn’t even have to wait for someone to record a book so I could hear it. I could read whatever books I was interested in on the same day as my sighted peers. In fact, it was the advent of digital first publishers that converted me into a dedicated romance reader, because romance readers made the switch to ebooks early and I did not want to miss that train. Now that Amazon and B&N have stepped up accessibility efforts with their various apps, I can read practically any ebook I want when my sighted peers can, and I cannot tell you how amazing that is. It’s one of the reasons I have vast quantities of digital books. I will never read all of them, but I can have them, and I can read whatever I want, whenever I want, and I don’t have to go through any gatekeepers to do it.

Even with ebooks, though, I was still relying on listening to the text. I thought that made me happy. In fact, I am sure I made some ill-informed dismissive comments about how Braille wasn’t useful or relevant anymore on various social media sites. Then I got my job at the library for the blind, which meant I now had access to Braille in great profusion again. Thanks to my job, I was also able to purchase a refreshable Braille display. I love my Braille Edge, and here is why: it is comfortable to read on. It’s easy to use, the braille is crisp under my fingers, and I can sit for hours and enjoy the reading experience.

Once I had my Braille display, I quickly realized how much I had missed reading for myself. This seems so simple when I say it, but I can read again. I am now able to slow down and process the text. I can give my own interpretation to the words and voices to the characters. I can learn how names are spelled. You can’t do that with audio. I remember being quietly overjoyed when I could call Meka and read aloud a favorite passage from a book I was immersed in.

These days, my reading is split fairly evenly between Braille and audio. If I know a book is going to take a while for me to read, and I want to spend that time, I read it in Braille. If it’s a smutty little novella I plan to read and then quickly move on, I’ll listen with text to speech. And I can’t entirely break the audio habit, so if a book is available on audio either through the National Library Service for the Blind, or through Audible, I’ll read it that way. It depends on my mood, really, how I read, and I like having the choice.

Unfortunately, Braille has fallen out of fashion. It’s easy to understand why. There are all kinds of devices that can render text to speech, and Braille is expensive to produce. Braille displays are not something just anyone can afford. Mine cost me $3600, and the state paid for it. When I need to replace it, I will probably have to take out a loan to buy another one. Luckily, this is feasible for me. But that wasn’t always the case. Braille is a specialized skill to learn, and the vast majority of blind people were not born to it like I was and may never develop it.

That said, it’s still important. For one thing, we would never say, “The Kindle has a text to speech feature. Why don’t we make all the sighted kids use that instead of teaching them their ABCs?” If people really put forth that argument, there would be a huge hue and cry about literacy, and rightly so. And that’s just it. Being a fluent Braille reader means I’m literate. As a literate person, I have more of a chance to get a decent job. I can write well and professionally. Hell, I can natter on about romance novels on this very blog. If I hadn’t been taught that essential life skill, I would do none of these things. So the people who think Braille is an outmoded crutch are flat-out wrong, and I don’t want to live in a world where literacy for someone like me is a concept that is out of fashion.

(Note: After writing this, I came across an NPR piece that gets at the worries concerning Braille in a way that was much more concise than this blog post. It’s worth a listen.)

#Readathon mid-event survey

Published April 26, 2014 by Shannon

My first post was getting way too long. I thought we were due for another one.
I just finished Deenie by Judy Blume. i’m not sure what’s on tap next. I have only one more Judy Blume book on my stack. Maybe I will switch it up and read Lloyd Alexander’s The Book of Three, which I had on my TBR stack already.

Anyway, here’s the mid-event survey.

Mid-Event Survey
1. What are you reading right now?

I’m in between books and haven’t picked my next read.
2. How many books have you read so far?

Four that I read today and one that I finished which I’d started yesterday.
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?

Since I’ve run out of my stack, the only one I’d really planned on reading was Tiger Eyes, also by Judy Blume, so… that one?
4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day?
Not really. I was supposed to get a hair cut this afternoon, but I forgot to make arrangements with paratransit, so I’m going to pretend like I did that on purpose.

5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?

Not especially. I’ve taken frequent breaks, but I live alone, so nobody is here to interrupt me.
6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?

I love the community spirit. I really didn’t think I was going to do the first couple of hours. And, really, I didn’t, but I at least poked my head in.
7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?

Not that I can think of. Seems like pretty smooth sailing here!
8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year?

Pick more books to have on hand. Find shorter adult novellas that could count.
9. Are you getting tired yet?

A little. But I’ve been trying to pace myself by taking frequent Twitter breaks.
10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered?

Children’s books are perfect. They make you feel accomplished. Considering that reading two books a week is rare for me these days, knowing I’ll read probably 7 today is pretty fantastic. Also, the sense of competition with myself is fun, because there’s no way I can lose!

Back to reading. I may update this post again later. And thanks to the cheerleaders who have stopped by. Team Wordsworth is pretty rocking!

*******************

It’s now 6:33 PST. I’m about halfway through The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander. The fact that ten-year-old me adored, say, Dorothy Gayle and not Eilonwy is a shame for which I won’t be able to forgive my parents for at least the next five minutes.

Anyway, I’m back to do a mini challenge. The idea is to put your name in titles of books you have. How hard can this be? Ha. Who am I kidding?

  • Silent in the Sanctuary by Deanna Raybourn
  • Heart of Myrial by Maggie Furey
  • At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon
  • The Night Drifter by Susan Carroll
  • Nine Tenths of the Law by L. A. Witt
  • OCD Love Story by Cory Ann Hadu
  • Nos4a2 by Joe Hill

Holy Hannah, that was really hard. i have all kinds of books with titles starting with P or M, but the n’s were hard to come by.

********************

8:40 PST: I have slowed down a lot. I did finish another book, The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander. I liked it a lot, and was delighted to read all the positive comments about it from my Twitter followers. I think I need to read The Black Cauldron. I was, however, a little sad I listened to this on audio, because I have no idea how to spell all those Welsh names. (I can barely spell English competently.) So if I said my favorite character was the half-man, half-dog-like creature with all his moanings and groanings that will suffice. And Eilonwy, whose name I only know how to spell because I used to follow someone on LJ who had that as her user name. Also, she is undiluted awesome sauce.

Anyway. My plan is to try for my last Judy Blume, and then call it a night. I have stuff to do tomorrow that requires some semblance of coherence, but I’m pretty proud of making it this far.

**********************

12:02: This is it. i made it roughly 20 hours into the Readathon and finished seven books, of which six were ones I’d already been reading. My last book for the evening was Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume, which seems like an under appreciated gem of hers. (My favorite part was the distinct lack of romance and that the potential love interest, even though it went nowhere, was someone who was sad in a sweet way rather than a bad-boy hiding-my-man-pain-behind-a-facade-of-assholery way.)

Anyway, I’ve got things to do tomorrow which require me being awake, so sleep is in the offing. But thanks for stopping by and thanks for reading.

Today is the #Readathon!

Published April 26, 2014 by Shannon

(Note: I wrote this last night so I could schedule it for 5 A.M. I’m pretty sure if I even make it to the first hour of the readathon, I will be completely incoherent. But I’m scheduling it for the start of the event because I live in hope.)

Every year, I tell myself I am going to do all 24 hours of the 24 hour Readathon. Every year, I don’t make it.

This year, I am going to make a concerted effort. I have a list of books, I have snacks, I have the means of procuring lots of caffeine, and I have a can-do attitude.

What’s on my TBR:

  • The Crying Child by Barbara Michaels: I’ve read most of this already, but finishing it in the morning will make me feel accomplished.
  • Double Indemnity by James Cain: Because it’s a classic. Also it’s short.
  • Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan: Because it is also short and I remember it fondly from my childhood.
  • Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume: I haven’t revisited any of Blume’s books as an adult. I’m curious as to how well they’ll hold up.
  • Deenie by Judy Blume: Because it’s the masturbation book!
  • Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume: I remember that I loved this book when I read it as a girl and that it was more sober and grown-up than a lot of her work.

I will probably read a few smutty novellas while I’m at it, too, but I figured a largish stack of short children’s books will keep my attention and provide plenty of places where I can stop to take breaks.

I’m probably going to keep modifying this post all day today, so that my regular readers don’t get spammed. So check back in for future developments.

Also, I did sign up to get cheered on via the blog, and I have to moderate all first comments. So if you’re my cheerleader, thanks in advance for stopping by, and your comments of cheering me on and encouraging me will be fished out of moderation as soon as I see them.

And now… let the reading begin.

****************

Added at 5:20 AM:

Here’s the intro meme.

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

Seattle.
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

Actually, all of the Judy Blumes. It’ll be fun to revisit her.
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

My snack options are fairly boring, but I do have a can of Pringles I’ve been saving.
4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

Right now the most interesting thing I can say about myself is that I would really like some coffee.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

I haven’t done one of these in a while. I am looking forward to seeing how much I read and how long I can make it. I’ve never had a full day clear to do this until today.

So I guess that’s that. I’m off to read. And get coffee. Mmm, coffeeeeeeeeeeeee!

*********************

7:02: I kind of cheated for the last hour. I went back to bed with a book on audio. It was the nonfiction book I’ve been reading for a while now. I’ll have to go back and find my place to figure out where I stopped, but I think I’m ready to try for some real reading. Or at least to finish my current book, which is Barbara Michaels’s The Crying Child, of which I have about two hours left on audio.

Catch you again in a while!

********************

8:12 AM: I finished The Crying Child by Barbara Michaels. I started it yesterday, but only had a bit left to go. I loved the gothic atmosphere, and I need to read more of her books, although I had to snicker at the heroine’s bitchy assessment of ’70’s chic.

Next up: Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.
*******************

It’s now 10:20 here in ;the Pacific Northwest. I finished my first full-length read of the day, Judy Blume’s Are You There, God, It’s Me, Margaret. I want to review it more fully when I have a few minutes, because it surprised me in good ways.

Next up is James Cain’s Double Indemnity. Oh and I remembered I have copy of The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander, which I’ve never tried.

Anyway… here is the hour 6 mini challenge.. It’s a survey, so here we go:

Best book of your reading year: It’s only four months in, so I have no idea what it will be.
Best romance of your reading year: Probably Nowhere Ranch by Heidi Cullinan.
Best YA book of your reading year: Ask the Passengers by A S King.
Best nonfiction book of your reading year: Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi
Best sci-fi book of your reading year: J Fally’s Bone Rider
Best Fantasy of your reading year: I don’t know if I should classify this as fantasy or SF, but I’m putting it here. The Steerswoman’s Road by Rosemary Kirstein.
Best fiction book of your reading year: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler.
Best main character of your reading year: It’s still Roe from Nowhere Ranch because he wrote an essay as a form of foreplay.
Best author of your reading year: It’s a tough call between Heidi Cullinan who gives me all the feels and Vivian Arend, whose books fall into that category of awesome things I like.
Best supporting character of your reading year: Bel from The Steerswoman’s Road. I love that she is both cheerful and bloody-minded.
Best character you love to hate of your reading year: I should put Rose from Suzanne RTindell’s The Other Typist, because that book, and Rose herself, filled me with such rage.
Best setting of your reading year: The Outskirts in The Steerswoman’s Road.
Best storyline of your reading year: I think I have to give it to J Fally in Bone Rider.
Best Indie author of your reading year: A lot of my authors are indie. This time I really will give it to Heidi Cullinan, though.

Right. I’ve frittered away enough time. Back to the books!
********************

12:48: I finished James Cain’s Double Indemnity. I think I wouldn’t have powered through it if it were any longer. I am really not a fan of unreliable narrators. But it was suitably short, which was a plus.

Next up, Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. Also a green bean casserole I made for lunch. I think I burned the fried onions, but it’ll still be tasty.

********************
1:34: Lunch was. Well, yeah, the onions were burnt, but what can you do? It was edible, and relatively easy to make. I want to experiment with casseroles more, because all you do is toss things in a pan and bake, and that’s about where my cooking skills are.

I read Sarah, Plain and Tall over my lunch. Why has no one written the adult version of this story, complete with angry sex? I wish someone would.

I might go with another Judy Blume book next. Deenie is next on my plate so we’ll start there. This whole picking short books thing is so working well for me. I know someone plowing through a J R Ward book this afternoon, and why she hasn’t been stopping to tweet snarky commentary is beyond me… except maybe that she has more ability to resist such things than I do.

Anyway. I’m doing OK. I haven’t gotten too tired yet, and the variety has been nice. Plus, I realized I have a couple of other short books in my TBR already, so when I run out of Judy Blume books, I’ll have a place to start.

Lastly, I bought Rhonda Vincent’s latest album via iTunes, mostly because of the title track, for which there is no youtube link, but it’s a duet with her and Willie Nelson, and the rest of the album is a great combination of country and bluegrass pieces. It’s pretty freaking fantastic.

Review: Promises to Keep by Charles de Lint

Published April 25, 2014 by Shannon

Promises to Keep (Newford, #21)

One of the reasons I began reading fantasy in earnest in my teens is that I love when a good fantasy novel invokes my sense of wonder. I want to be taken to a world where, even if you live in a cupboard under the stairs, maybe you’ll get a letter inviting you to wizard school, where you can shout a bunch of Latin and do cool stuff and have adventures with your best friends and help save the world. I want to feel like I could stand on the hot Hatching sands and know that as soon as the eggs hatched, there might be a dragon who would come for me and develop a close bond that would help us save the world. I want to imagine that, because I am a good-hearted person, I might one day be swepp up by a white horse with magical powers and taken to a city of people that are Just Like Me, and together with our horses, we could be a force for good in the world. And I want to think that somewhere, if I just look hard enough, I might stumble accidentally into another world.

This is why I read Charles de Lint. I discovered his books in my teens, starting with the fabulous The Little Country, which I have read in Braille at least three times. (I feel like we may be about to embark on time number four, because I see that the library here at work has it.) I then went on to glom a lot of his works, including many of the books in his Newford series.

I suppose you’d call the Newford books urban fantasy, but it’s not like the urban fantasy that’s proliferating a lot these days. There are strong, tough female characters, but generally they aren’t hardened and snarky, and they’re not trying to choose between the sweet but ultimately lame guy and the bad boy who may or may not really be evil. In de Lint’s books, setting is as important as character, and the settings are familiar. Newford seems like the sort of place you might actually find somewhere, ordinary but for the small glimpses of magic his characters stumble across.

“OK, Shannon,” you may be saying. “It’s fabulous that you have written a long-winded introduction to this book, but don’t you think you should get on with the review? Especially since you haven’t even provided a handy Amazon link to the book in question.”

I suppose I should. First, let’s start with the description:

After Widdershins, I thought I wouldn’t write at length about Jilly again. I’d promised one more short story about her for Bill at Subterranean Press, but that would be it. Having left her in a good place at the end of Widdershins, I didn’t want to complicate her life yet again, so I planned to set the story earlier in her life, during her first year as a student at Butler University. Except the story grew. I was having too much fun visiting with this younger Jilly, so I asked Bill if I could expand it to a short novel. He agreed, so now I m busily working away on this as-yet-untitled novella. It takes place in 1972 and begins with Jilly getting a surprise visit from an old friend–her only friend–from her runaway days. Interspersed with the main story that leads off from that meeting are flashbacks to pivotal moments in her life: time spent in the Home for Wayward Girls, her life on the street, meeting and working with the Grasso Street Angel, the first time she meets various familiar faces (Geordie, Sophie, etc.), and chronicles how the messed-up street kid she was grew a social conscience, and became the cheerful character we know from later stories. Although the book does deal with some serious subjects, the tone isn’t all doom and gloom. And while I hope that those of you familiar with these characters will enjoy this visit with their younger selves, I’m also trying to make it a friendly entry into Newford for new readers. Lastly, I’m delighted to say that Mike Dringenberg–an artist I ve wanted to work with for ages–will be doing the cover. – Charles de Lint

The story is simple. Jilly Coppercorn, one of de Lint’s most iconic Newford characters, runs across someone she was friends with back in her teenage runaway days. These days, Jilly’s an art student with a steady job and lots of friends and a relentlessly cheerful outlook on life. She wasn’t always like that, though. When she reconnects with Donna Birch, a girl she knew from her time in the Home for Wayward Girls, , Donna tells her she plays in a band and Jilly should come see them. From there, Jilly finds herself transported to a utopian city, where everyone, except for her, turns out to be dead. Everything is easy in this city, and Jilly has to come to a decision: should she stay here, where life is easy and she can have anything she wants, or should she return to the life she’s created for herself, where her happiness is something she works hard to earn.

What I loved about this book was how dark it wasn’t. De Lint explores Jilly’s past, though not to the extent that he has in previous books in the series, and that past is difficult. (Anyone who was a junkie and a prostitute is not going to have had an easy time of it.) But under the darkness, there is a current of hope. A lot of it comes from other people—Jilly ends up attracting several eccentric people who become her friends—but a lot of it also has to come from Jilly herself. This book is very much about Jilly’s struggle to figure out what’s important to her and what she wants to do with herself. It also talks a lot about the power of friendship in a way that was lovely and not overly cloying and saccharine.

The other thing I loved was that there were no real antagonists. Jilly has to battle some inner demons, but everyone else has some understandable motivations, and they’re all sympathetic and interesting characters, even the one overtly supernatural creature that shows up.

Here’s what didn’t work for me. The conflict comes up fairly quickly in the course of the book, but it’s pretty clear how it’s going to be resolved, given the fact that Jilly is going to star in several other adventures during the course of her life. This took all the air out of what might have been a suspenseful story. I knew exactly how it had to end, and there was a lot of the main story that I ended up powering through to get there. There were lots of interesting set pieces along the way, and there always are in a de Lint novel, but I wanted a little more uncertainty to keep things from stagnating. I pretty much read this in one sitting, and I suspect that if I hadn’t, I might have found the book to be not as easy to pick up again.

I do think this book stands alone well, but I suspect a new reader would be a trifle annoyed by the style, which is one part stuff that happens in the present day and one part flashbacks to Jilly’s past. The flashbacks introduce the reader to all of her friends, many of which are well-beloved Newford characters in other books. If you’re not invested in those characters, you might not find their inclusion necessary. But at least a new reader will appreciate their importance to Jilly.

This book is easily one you could polish off in an afternoon. It’ll give you warm happy feelings, and a sense of wonder. At least, that’s what it gave me. De Lint is one of my quintessential comfort authors, and this story was no exception. Maybe the conflict is a little flat, but the journey is well worth taking.

My grade: a B.

Review: A Hint of Frost by Hailey Edwards

Published April 24, 2014 by Shannon

A Hint of Frost (Araneae Nation, #1)

Fantasy romance is really, really hard to do well. Skimp on the world-building and it’s hard to buy the fantasy. Skimp on the love story and you piss off the romance readers, who, if they wanted to read some straight up fantasy, would have bought the Wheel of Time series. I think this is true for other sub genres of romance as well, but fantasy romance is one of my favorites, so it’s near and dear to my heart, and I am more critical.

When I began reading A Hint of Frost by Hailey Edwards, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew that Bree was a friend of hers, and Bree likes her some fantasy romance, too. I’m even sure she was the one who recced the book to me in the first place. I started reading with no knowledge of what I was getting, and found myself utterly delighted.
From Amazon:

When her mother is murdered in her nest, Lourdes has one choice: she must marry before her own nest is seized. All she needs is a warrior fierce enough to protect her city and safeguard her clansmen. Such a male is Rhys the Cold.

Rhys’s clan is starving, but their taste for the Araneaean flesh makes them unwelcome dinner guests. Yet Lourdes threatens to melt the cold encasing his heart. When her sister is captured, they pursue their enemies, where she will discover if she’s worth her silk or if she’s spun the thread by which her clan will hang.

If I’d gone into this book knowing the protagonists were spider people, I would not have taken it seriously. Because, yeah. The characters are human, but they have spider-like abilities. Each of the clans has various traits of different spiders. In a lesser author’s hands, the result would have been laughable. However, Ms. Edwards is matter-of-fact about it. When I realized I was literally reading about a character who could spin silk so strong it could withstand metal and could do so naturally, I was enchanted.

Lourdes is an awesome heroine. She’s strong-minded, not afraid to get her hands dirty, and trying to do the best she could under difficult circumstances. I liked her a lot, and I loved the pairing with Rhys. I got the sense that even from the beginning, Lourdes found him swoon-worthy, and, well, I did, too.

Rhys is one of my favorite hero archetypes. I don’t like protective alphas when they are more alpha than protective, and Rhys landed on the protective side of that line. (In fact, sometimes I wondered if Lourdes was going to forget how to walk what with all the times Rhys scoops her up.) He generally let Lourdes have her own agency, though, and respected her own strengths and abilities. When he didn’t, he learned that was a bad idea. He was also a real sweetheart, earnest and totally devoted to Lourdes.

The plot starts out simply. We have a marriage of convenience between the peaceful but wealthy clan of Lourdes and Rhys’s impoverished clan who are also cannibals. (No, literally. It was disgusting, but since Rhys never eats anybody, I thought the notion was awesome.) Immediately after the marriage, though, the book becomes a road romance, which allows Ms. Edwards to introduce her world building in a way that felt organic to the plot. The result is that by the end of the book, Rhys and Lourdes’s romance is resolved, but Ms. Edwards has laid the foundation for other stories and a continuing arc.

I have to mention one other thing about the romance. There really isn’t a lot of sex. The sexual tension is off the charts, but there were no moments of taking a break so the characters could make out. I loved this, because the one love scene we are given is made all the sweeter for my having to wait.

There were a few things that didn’t quite work for me. I was never quite sure about the passage of time. There were smaller moments I would have liked to have had expanded. (At one point Lourdes tells us she made clothes for Rhys, and I was thrown out of the story wondering when she would have had time to do all that, and then I was disappointed I didn’t get to witness Rhys’s delight at the gifts firsthand.)

All that aside, I did buy the second novel in this series, A Feast of Souls, and am looking forward to returning to this world.

Final Grade: B

State of the Shannon: Readathon, Hugo Awards, and a recent DNF

Published April 21, 2014 by Shannon

Sorry for the double post. I suppose I should let this go up tomorrow, but lazy blogger is lazy.

First of all, I signed up for the Dewey’s Readathon. It takes place this weekend, and I will probably make a few posts to let y’all know about my progress. I can’t do all 24 hours, because I do not love Internet fun events enough to get up at 5 A.M. on a day when I don’t have to. Also I have to get a hair cut, which I’ve been putting off. So I may do some reading on the road, or over lunch.

My plan is to put a couple of short books on the slate so that I feel like I’ve accomplished something. I know for sure that i want to reread Sarah, Plain and Tall because on audio it is barely an hour long and also there is a mail order bride. I’m also thinking about Double Indemnity because it clocks in at about three hours. And I’m sure I can find some smutty novellas to round out the slate. I’m definitely excited, and will need to make sure I have plenty of snacks for the weekend.

********************

So there were the Hugo Award nominations this weekend. I am actually considering buying a supporting membership to World Con so I can see how accessible the Hugos are to vote if you’re, you know, me. But then, I also considered actually tackling the Wheel of Time books, even though my wise and beloved Meka thinks this is a phenomenally bad idea that will result in me making rage faces at the Internet. She is probably right. That said, maybe this is the impetus I need to read Ancillary Justice and something by Mira Grant. Both of these things seem like they are bound to hit my sweet spots.
Also, the next World Science Fiction Convention is in Spokane. I want to go, seeing as it’s so close. I have to figure out how to make this work, though. Largely, this will involve finding con buddies, because there is no way I would make it through a whole entire convention center packed with people all by myself. I barely survive our convention of the Washington Council of the Blind without needing to curl up in bed and cry for my mommy by the end of the day because my introvert soul is screaming for SPACE! I need it! And that convention is a tenth the size of WorldCon.

The Hugo Awards weren’t without their controversy. I’m afraid I can’t separate artist from work when it comes to people who have been proven to spew racist vitriol over the Internet where anyone can read it. Some author behaving badly drama I can ignore, and generally an author’s place on my shit list or my “will never read this ever” list is malleable, depending largely on my mood. But I can remember why I’m not interested in reading Vox Day or Larry Koreia
rather vividly, and seeing comments left by their fans over the past few days have reinforced that this is a life choice I can live with. Besides, I like the kind of SF they don’t, so I’m sure they are not weeping overmuch into their beer at not getting to bask in my potential fandom, even though I am pretty awesome.
.**********************
I had to DNF a book today. I haven’t been noting DNF’s on the blog unless they were terrible, (see: this post.) But the other day I read Memory’s excellent review of Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen. I had that book on my TBR, and I tend to agree with Memory’s tastes.

I made it to 20 percent or so, before reaching a scene that I couldn’t get past. It’s not that anything was horrible. The writing is fine. Not particularly awesome, but it gets the job done. The premise was fascinating–girl gets kidnapped and has to marry the troll prince to fulfill a prophecy, except it doesn’t work–and the hero brought the swoon. I just didn’t like the heroine. I’m not sure I could tell you why, either. She is everything I supposedly want in my fantasy heroines–strong-willed, determined and fierce. Yet I didn’t warm up to her, and after the point where she starts throwing a temper tantrum, I was done. I wanted more of her backstory. I wanted her to stop and think and be devious and clever. She wasn’t. She was shrill and reactive. I totally understood her motivations for her behavior, but I still didn’t care to read it.

I have no idea what I’m reading next. I have been trying to delve into my TBR pile more and dig out older books, but nothing is really demanding that I read it. Except maybe the first volume of the Wheel of Time, just to see if it’s really that bad, though I suspect that it might well be.

Feel free to rec me awesome books in the comments. Or tell me what you’ve been reading lately.

Review: Nowhere Ranch by Heidi Cullinan

Published April 21, 2014 by Shannon

Nowhere Ranch

I know. It’s been a couple of weeks since we last explored the controversial topic of Heidi Cullinan, whose books long-time readers will know that I adore beyond all reason. However, I thought it was time I wrote another flailing review.
Nowhere Ranch features things I love: tough but taciturn cowboys, a story of people finding their way toward having a home and acceptance, and a sweet romance. It also features heavily a couple of tropes I wasn’t sure about–a first person narrator and some more kinks I would back away slowly from in the hands of another author. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Here’s the Goodreads synopsis:

Roe Davis is a man who works hard, keeps to himself, and never mixes business with pleasure — until he takes a weekend away from his new job at Nowhere Ranch and runs into the owner at the only gay bar for two hundred miles. Getting involved with the boss is a bad idea, but Travis Loving is hard to say no to, especially when it turns out their kinks line up like a pair of custom-cut rails. As Loving points out, so long as this is sex on the side, no interfering with the job, they could make it work.

The truth is, there’s good reason Roe never settles down and always spends his birthdays and holidays celebrating alone. Shut out in the cold by his family years ago, Roe survived by declaring he didn’t need a home. As his affair with Loving grows into more than just sex, Roe finds out what happens when he stays put a little bit too long: the past always catches up with you. Eventually, even a loner gets lonely, and home will grow up through whatever cracks you leave open for it — even in a place called Nowhere.

Publisher’s Note: This book contains explicit sexual content, graphic language, and situations that some readers may find objectionable: Male/male sexual practices, strong BDSM theme and elements, fetish play.

I shouldn’t have been shocked, but it turns out I loved this book. This is due in no small part to Roe, our erstwhile narrator. He is a perfect combination of tough yet vulnerable. His voice feels authentic, and I heard it as male in my head, which does not always happen when I read first-person male POVs written by women.

The thing that makes this book work for me is that it’s gritty. There is a lot of anger permeating the text, which Sarah F. highlights in this review. In addition, Cullinan doesn’t glamorize the lives of her characters. Ranching is difficult, and Travis Loving is not going to be a millionaire doing this work.

Lastly, there’s Roe. In the beginning, he’s kind of a dick. He keeps at a distance, even from the reader, and there were a few lines–particularly about how he despised women–that made me cringe. They were true to the character, though, and what Cullinan does to make this character into my absolute favorite of the men she’s written about so far is just lovely. I have to admit that the point at which Roe earned his place in my heart was when he used his newfound knowledge of good essay writing techniques to write an essay for Travis about why Travis should fuck him. So adorable, and it made my nerdy heart melt.

Lastly, I should talk about the sex. Again, Cullinan introduces me to kinks I’m not terribly comfortable with. I’m still not sure she managed to make me think they were hot, but I was shocked at how much I was rooting for there to be a certain fisting scene. (And put that on the books as the only time I have ever thought, ‘I hope there is a fisting scene’ in any work of fiction.) By the time we got there, I still felt uncomfortable reading it, but I was pulling for both the characters and I was glad they were enjoying themselves.

As for the romance itself, it was lovely. It starts out fairly understated, with Roe seeing Travis as little more than a convenient sex partner. Gradually, though, his feelings for Travis deepen, and Cullinan does a good job of letting the reader see that Travis has reciprocated those feelings in subtle ways. I also adored that Travis’s last name was Loving. He teaches Roe how to be a more loving person, and he clearly has a lot of love to give. The name was a nice touch. This is another book where the sex scenes felt integral, and even though they didn’t always work for me–because they’re not my kinks–I thought they illustrated the growing tenderness between the two men. And, oh, the ways that Travis is there for Roe make me so melty. There was one particular scene–nearly the black moment–where Roe realizes the depths of his feelings for Travis–that brought tears to my eyes.

There’s other great stuff, too. Again, Cullinan brings in a strong female character to be the foil for Roe. I liked Haley a lot, and loved that she was a positive force in Roe’s life.

I also loved the way Cullinan handled Roe’s family situation. It’s not good, and at the end, while things are better, I never felt like everyone had achieved true acceptance and forgiveness. They were working on it, but ultimately, Roe has to forge his own path, and I appreciated that.

So yes. This was another winner from Ms. Cullinan. I adored it, and think Roe will stick with me for a long while yet.

Final Grade: A.

Review: Unbound by Cara McKenna

Published April 20, 2014 by Shannon

Unbound

I have some mixed reactions to what I’ve read of Cara McKenna’s books. I approve of the fact that her books don’t take the conventional paths. I like that her heroines are self-aware and sexually adventurous. Her heroes are always interesting and multi-faceted. And yet, she hasn’t written a book that blows my mind. We’re going to get there someday, she and I, but we haven’t achieved book/reader chemistry just yet.

I came fairly close with Unbound. It’s got a lot of things I love in my romances,–cabin romance, a female dom/male sub role in the BDSM, and a broken hero, and ultimately I enjoyed reading it. I just wish I’d loved it like I wanted to.

Goodreads informs us:

An all-new novel from the author of After Hours.

She set out to find herself, and discovered the darker side of desire.

Merry’s lost a lot recently—first her mother, then close to a hundred pounds. Feeling adrift, she strikes out in search of perspective. A three-week hike through the Scottish Highlands was supposed to challenge her new body and refocus her priorities, but when disaster strikes, she’s forced to seek refuge in the remote home of a brooding, handsome stranger…

Rob exiled himself to the Highlands years ago, desperate to escape his own self-destruction. Haunted by regrets, he avoids human contact at all costs…but when Merry turns up injured, he can’t very well run her off. And as he nurses her back to health, Rob can’t resist his guest’s sweet demeanor—or her flirtatious advances. The igniting passion between them rouses a secret appetite Rob has long struggled to keep hidden. But Merry craves nothing more than to help Rob surrender to his desires, and the journey draws the lovers into an entirely different kind of wilderness.

As I said on Twitter, one of my major hangups with McKenna is that her heroines have the kind of baggage I wish I had. Merry is no exception. Having lost nearly 100 pounds, she’s trying to adjust to her new body and what that means. I enjoyed reading her thoughts on her body and the complicated relationship she has with food. I thought her insecurities were well-realized. And yet. I wanted more of a before. I wanted to get more of her continued struggles. I mean, you don’t go from being a compulsive overeater to a compulsive exerciser and then when you’re done, live your life as normal. (Or maybe you can. I don’t know. I just didn’t quite buy it.)

By comparison, Rob was incredibly vividly drawn, ugly flaws and all. He’s a sexy man, but he’s got a lot of demons, including alcoholism and a sexual fetish that has brought him nothing but shame. His struggles seemed more immediate and pronounced, and maybe that’s the other reason Merry didn’t work for me. When she enters his life, she becomes something of his Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She teaches him that life is worth living and gets him out of his self-imposed exile with her sweetness and charm and kindness. If that’s not a manic pixie dream girl, I’m not sure what is.

That said, I did like this romance far more than I usually like manic pixie dream girl story lines. It builds slowly, but when the two begin having sex, the scenes don’t feel forced or gratuitous. I liked that the couple spends a lot of time talking about what they need, and what they want, even if that conversation doesn’t come easily. I also enjoyed the fact that McKenna writes about kinks that don’t work for me–lots and lots of humiliation play and rope bondage–in a way that made me understand what the characters are getting out of the scenes.

The ending didn’t quite work for me. It’s more of a happy for now than a happily ever after, and even then I thought the HFN was a little tenuous. I’m not sure that McKenna could have ended the story any other way, but I wanted to be assured of just a little more permanence.

I’m not familiar with Lucy Rivers as an audiobook narrator. At first I was somewhat skeptical of her reading, because her voice is a little more breathy than I like. But the Tantor Audio production was no-frills, with no interstitial music or weird soundscapes, so it worked for me. After a while, I even settled into Rivers’ narration. I loved the voice she gave Rob, and the Northern English accent she used sounded authentic to my ear.
This review makes it seem like I didn’t enjoy the book. That’s not true. While I was reading, I was totally invested in the characters. It’s just not a book that holds up well for me upon reflection.

My final grade: Something like a B-.

State of the Shannon: The High on Cold Meds Edition

Published April 15, 2014 by Shannon

It’s spring here in the lovely Pacific Northwest, which I thought meant I was out of the woods as far as getting sick. Unfortunately, I thought wrong, and have spent the weekend in various states of comatose and/or highly medicated. I went back to work today, and took my boss up on her suggestion that I leave a little early and get a little more rest. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen so I’m writing a blog post instead.

Here are a few things that are on my mind recently:

  • There have been a couple of fascinating blog posts on the subject of whether or not romance novels should come with content warnings. I’m in the comments of the first post, and apparently I made sense there because there’s a link to my comment in the second post, which gave me a warm fuzzy. Anyway, the comment threads of both blog posts are worth reading. Ultimately, I think if anyone can avoid being triggered however that needs to happen, everyone’s life will be easier–the author of the potentially triggering book, the person who might be potentially triggered, and even just other people.

    I don’t have many triggers, if any. The closest I can think of is that I quit reading the Virgin River books at the one where Mel decides she’s getting fat because of all of Preacher’s cooking and it looked like she was going to blow a fucking gasket about it for the whole book. I wouldn’t say I was triggered exactly, but the whole thing looked to be badly handled because on the one hand you’ve got a woman being ridiculous about her body, but you’ve also got her husband being all, “Oh sweetie. Don’t you worry your pretty little head about anything.” I thought both characters were awful, it was also not even remotely their book, and I have refused to read another word of that series, because you know where I don’t need people preaching condescendingly about weight? My romance novels.

    I did appreciate the warnings on Heidi Cullinan’s latest book. She warns for hardcore BDSM, including water sports. I think if I’d been reading along and come to a scene of someone peeing on someone else, my happy id feelings would vanish really fast. Since she warned me to expect that, I’ll know not to be surprised, and I won’t feel betrayed because the author went down a darker path than I’m willing to go.

  • I do want to write sometime about consent in romance novels in general and my feelings on same. Surprisingly, they’re complicated and I feel like I’ve been wrestling with thoughts on those issues for years. I do know that I am one of the minority of women who would say that she doesn’t have rape fantasies of any kind, although with an author I trust I can enjoy the occasional, “My heart is saying no, but my body’s saying let’s go!” type scenarios. Also, I won’t lie. Sex pollen, we-have-to-fuck-or-the-world-will-end, or even Aliens Made them Do It scenarios get a pass from me. I also find slave scenarios really fascinating. But I have to keep all of them in the right perspective. I can suspend my disbelief for a master and slave falling in love in generic fantasy land, or a couple getting together because if they don’t, the world will literally end, but give me a book where the hero kidnaps the heroine and forces her to go on a journey of debauched shenanigans involving drugs, actual real-world sexual slavery, or whatever, then I can’t handle it. So I guess for me the key word in “dubious consent fantasies” is the “fantasy”.
  • Sunita’s post also makes me want to write more on disability in fiction. I don’t quite know how I want to frame that post, because I’ve written about my issues with disability tropes enough here that I’m sure you could all play Shannon’s Post mad libs and come to the right conclusions. I think the only thing I really want to say is that even though a lot of disability is handled so abysmally in fiction, we still need more of it, because eventually, someone is going to write stories with disabled protagonists who are neither fetishized nor used as pillars of inspiration. This has to happen, right? On the theory that if an infinite number of monkeys bang out at an infinite number of laptops, one of them is bound to write a disabled character I can personally identify with, right?
  • In completely unrelated news, I’ve been listening to podcasts over the last few days, because they don’t require the same amount of emotional investment as actual books. One of the things I ended up discovering was PRX Remix. They hand-curate segments from various podcasts and you can hear them at random. It’s so interesting, and has convinced me that my decision to subscribe to the Snap Judgment podcast was a good one. (The other reason is that the host of that show has a voice I could roll around in all day… a sentiment I have never thought about Ira Glass.)
  • One of my friends, also named Shannon, has begun doing audiobook reviews in various places. Her first review for All About Romance is here. She does an excellent job, and I’m proud of her, since as I’ve said, group reviewing projects don’t seem to work very well for me.)
  • Right now I’m reading Stephen Cjboski’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I know it’s a YA classic, and I should probably give up, because it’s been an exercise in me being unable to care at all about this kid long enough to keep going with the story. I also find myself annoyed that this is a YA classic, but if it had been about a girl navigating the waters of high school, first crushes and dealing with various related issues, it would have vanished into mid list obscurity. Which is where this book belongs, unless something changes in the next three hours of audio reading.

Review: The Mane Event by Shelly Laurenston

Published April 10, 2014 by Shannon

The Mane Event (Pride, #1)

Last weekend, my friend Meka came to my house and hung out. During that time, she was reading a book that made her laugh and laugh, loud, exuberant guffaws of laughter. When I asked what she was reading, she told me it was The Mane Event by Shelly Laurenston. I’d read Ms. Laurenston’s books written under the name G A Aiken, so when I was looking for something to read, it wasn’t much of a struggle to dredge it up from Mt. TBR.

Goodreads informs us:

One of the hottest new voices in paranormal romance, Shelly Laurenston knows how to do it all, delivering tales that are wickedly funny, action-packed, and scorch-your-fingers sexy. With The Mane Event, she proves just how delicious love can be once you unleash your inner beast…
Christmas Pride

How come all the good-looking ones are insane?
That’s what runs through NYPD cop Desiree “Dez” MacDermot’s mind the minute she hooks up again with her childhood buddy, Mace Llewellyn. It isn’t just the way he stares at her with those too-sexy gold eyes―as if he could devour her on the spot. Or the six-four, built-like-a-Navy Seal bod-o-death. It isn’t even that he sniffs her neck and purrs, making her entire body tingle. It’s more about that disconcerting, shifting-from-man-to-lion thing that unhinges her…and makes her want more.

Mace likes making Dez crazy. In fact, he likes her any way he can get her―in bed, on the desk, here, now, again. Together, they’d always been trouble, but Dez has no idea just how good trouble can feel…

Shaw’s Tail

Brendon Shaw, hotel owner and lion shifter, has seen better days. He’s been beaten, had a gun to the back of his head, and had to be rescued by a Pack of shape-shifting wolves. He didn’t think he’d survive the night, much less find the woman of his dreams. And he never thought the woman of his dreams would have a Tennessee accent and wear cowboy boots. Once he sets his sights on her, the predator in him is ready to pounce and never let go.

Ronnie Lee Reed is ready to change her life, and New York City is the place where any girl―even one who runs with a Pack―can redefine herself. First order of business: find a mate, settle down, and stop using men for sex. Even big, gorgeous, lion-shifting, oh-my-what-big-um-paws-you-have men. Then again…

I knew what to expect having read Laurenston’s dragon books. She’d give me a funny, over the top ride, with tons of characters and women who were possibly even crazier than their men. Sometimes I like that. I love that Laurenston is an example of someone writing very woman-positive romances. All of her heroines own their sexuality and aren’t afraid to go after what they want. There are strong friendships between various women in her books, and though the men are alpha, they invariably have to prove themselves to the heroines rather than vice versa.

That said, in this particular book, there was pretty much no substance to the stories. Sometimes that’s OK. I like fluff as well as the next girl, and sometimes you just need a book that you can read without thinking too deeply about. In another mood, it would have been exactly what I wanted, but I wasn’t in that mood and I found it… pretty much just OK.

My problem with the book was that both stories featured heroines who are basically cut from the same cloth. I’m not sure exactly what differentiated Dez from Ronnie Lee except for their stereotypical traits–Dez is a Bronx girl through and through, and Ronnie Lee comes from Tennessee, and pretty much any cliche you can think about involving rednecks and New Yorkers makes an appearance. The men don’t fare much better. They’re both lion shifters. They both have difficult relationships with their sisters. That’s pretty much it. That said, the second book features one of Ronnie Lee’s pack members, Bobby Ray Smith, so yay. I have more redneck stereotypes to look forward to.

As to the plots, I didn’t find either memorable. There was stuff going on around both sets of protagonists, but there was also a lot of butting heads followed by sex that was plentiful even if not all that engaging for me. I suppose no one else would put up with either set of protagonists, so both couples deserve each other, but by the time I was done I pretty much felt like the heroes spent all their time wearing the heroines down until they gave in.

I know some of the dragon books have had crazy sauce plots that have begun to detract from the romances. Honestly, I could use a little more of that, because neither romance did it for me in this book. I did have a few chuckles, and I admire an author who doesn’t seem to take her characters too seriously, but I wanted a little more substance than I got.

I listened to this one on Audible. I can’t seem to find something that will corroborate this, but the narrator is listed as Charlotte Kane, but she sounds exactly like Angela Dawe. I know I’ve encountered narrators using a pseudonym for their more erotic readings, so i wondered if that’s what happened here. I thought Kane’s performance was quite good, and I suspect that I would have found some of the stereotypes and cliches that passed for characterization much more grating had I read the text rather than listened to it.
Final Grade: C