Sunday, January 25, 2015

"The Spook Lights Affair: Carpenter & Quincannon #2", by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini

The Spook Lights Affair (Carpenter and Quincannon, #2)The Spook Lights Affair by Marcia Muller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It takes a solid grasp of a historical setting to impress me, and these authors do exactly that and more. Add to that a perplexing suicide/murder/or?, a hunt for missing Wells Fargo money, and assorted other mysteries that may or may not be related, and you have an interesting tour of 1895 San Francisco and environs. This is so nicely put-together that I wasn't even aware that I was reading the second in a series until I checked the cover/title about a third of the way in. The authors weave in 19th century idiom and conversational style without it seeming forced or flowery, the principal characters are believable and engaging, and the conclusion satisfying without being melodramatic. Good solid mystery writing in the vein of Conan Doyle meets Dorothy Sayers.

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"Rogue's Honor", by Brenda Hiatt

Rogue's Honor (The Saint Of Seven Dials, #1)Rogue's Honor by Brenda Hiatt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this charming, and occasionally steamy, Regency romance as I'm a very tough audience when it comes to the romance genre and historicals in general. Nicely realized setting, interesting arcs for the characters, plenty of bumps in the road to happiness without being overly frustrating, and a satisfying set of conclusions that don't come off as contrived. I love a strong heroine and Pearl is stalwart without coming across as bitchy, in fact I would love to have had a girlfriend like her in my early twenties. Very minor "technical" issues with how horsemanship is presented; nothing egregious, just the same old misconceptions about use of reins and legs, and for all I know this was common equitation in the early 19th century. Again: very minor.

Don't let the "Dread Pirate Roberts" cover put you off. Looking forward to reading more by this author.

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Sunday, January 18, 2015

"The Banishment", by M.C. Beaton

The BanishmentThe Banishment by Marion Chesney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hunting around for an audio book on my library's web site, I stumbled upon this little gem. A big fan of Beaton's Hamish MacBeth series, I thought I'd give it a go. What a treasure! Beaton may have out-Regency'd Georgette Heyer. I would like to have been a bit more deeply "inside the head" of any of the POV characters, but this is a minor complaint. This would make a charming feature film to rival anything made from Austen's work in the last few decades. Thank goodness Beaton cranked out piles of historical romances before she made it big with MacBeth. I'm looking forward to exploring them all.

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Sunday, January 11, 2015

"A Heartless Design": why is this not alt-history?

A Heartless Design (Secrets of the Zodiac, #1)A Heartless Design by Elizabeth Cole

This may be a good story. I don't know, because I didn't make it past the first few pages. The cover is pretty and vaguely Regency despite the bad/21st century hair on the model (not the author's fault), so I was guessing this was a historical romance. After a few paragraphs I was confused and thought maybe this was supposed to be alt history or Steampunk, and since I was reading an e-version had to look up the blurb online. Nope. It's listed as a "Regency romance". What with there being a steel (sic) ship with a mechanical drive system powering a screw, and all of it designed by a woman in the first decade of the 19th century, I would not consider it historical. Iron (not steel) cladding wasn't used for another fifty years, not to mention steam propulsion. Hopefully Cole makes a big deal of the designer being female, because that would have been huge back then, too. I'm not saying there weren't women designing things in the early 19th century (Ada Lovelace!), but it was not commonplace and they would have had huge social and commercial obstacles to surmount. Anyway, I couldn't continue with that much askew right out of the gate.

I can't give it a serious rating of any kind since I didn't read it.

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Saturday, January 10, 2015

"The Martian", by Andy Weir: This is sci-fi

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is sci-fi at its best. Utterly compelling, technologically interesting, populated with believable characters, and edge-of-your-seat thrilling. Truly awesome.

Yes, I liked it.

I've looked at a few one star reviews that complain about it being overly technical or bloated with "too much math". Folks, this is a gripping blow-by-blow story of an astronaut...stranded on Mars. What were you expecting? The sheer amount of research that went into writing this is mind-boggling on its own. If you don't like hard sci-fi, then this one is not for you. I myself hate math and I LOVE this book. I have nothing but admiration for the kind of brains it takes to do what this protagonist does. He's a true superhero and this is the kind of science fiction I adored as a kid. Two space thumbs up, Mr. Weir.

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