Posts Tagged Romance Saturday at SBR

Cordelia Rides Again in Lois McMaster Bujold’s “Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen”

It’s Romance Saturday at SBR!

And as everyone here knows, that means it’s time for a romance. So what could be better than the latest novel by Lois McMaster Bujold, featuring one of my favorite heroines ever, Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan? (For those new to her, Cordelia was featured in SHARDS OF HONOR and BARRAYAR — later collected as CORDELIA’S HONOR — and had much to say in several other novels in Bujold’s long-running Vorkosigan series, including MIRROR DANCE, MEMORY, and A CIVIL CAMPAIGN.)

Close this windowGENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN starts three years after Cordelia’s famous husband Aral Vorkosigan’s death. She is now the sole Vicereine of Sergyar, a colony planet of the Barrayaran Imperium, and while incredibly busy with a variety of issues — scientific, political, and economic, she finds herself at loose ends, romantically.

This was not a place she ever expected to be. She’s in her mid-to-late seventies, which for a Galactic is closer to mid-forties in health, so she has plenty of life left to her. Yet her husband, to whom she was devoted, has died…and there are additional complications for her in finding a romantic partner, as both she and her husband are/were powerful personalities with difficult and time-consuming jobs.

Fortunately, there is one man who understands that. His name is Oliver Jole. He’s an Admiral in the Barrayaran Naval Fleet stationed in Sergyar orbit, and he’s well acquainted with both Cordelia and her husband, Aral. (For long-term readers of the Vorkosigan Saga, Jole was a Lieutenant we barely saw in THE VOR GAME; Cordelia and Aral’s son, Miles, comments that Lieutenant Jole is blond and almost too good-looking to be borne — my best paraphrase, as I don’t have the book in front of me.) Oliver is nearly fifty, he has a similar background to both Cordelia and Cordelia’s late husband, is intelligent and funny, and hasn’t dated anyone in many years. And he’s fallen for Cordelia…but he doesn’t know how to get past her formidable reserve.

And on Cordelia’s part, she sees Oliver as attractive, but doesn’t realize he could be a possibility for her. They’ve been friends a long time, but Aral knew Oliver far better — and besides, Cordelia thinks Oliver is gay.

But Oliver isn’t. He’s bisexual.

This shouldn’t throw Cordelia half as much as it does, mind, as her husband was bisexual as well. But because she’s older than Oliver, and because of the history she has with Oliver, it takes her a considerable amount of time to realize that Oliver is indeed a match for her.

Complicating things markedly is the whole issue of biology. You see, Cordelia and Aral were only able to have one son, Miles, during Aral’s lifetime. (Their other son, Mark, was cloned from Miles illegally by an intergalactic criminal; once the family realized Mark was alive, they welcomed him with open arms, but Mark was not raised with Miles or by Cordelia.) However, Aral’s sperm and Cordelia’s eggs were frozen, and now Cordelia has to decide if she wants to bring more children — daughters, she’s decided — into this world.

(Minor spoilers ahead. You have been warned.)

How does Oliver come into this issue? Well, Oliver also had a close relationship with Aral, that Cordelia condoned. (You can see why Cordelia never expected to find something with Oliver now, yes?) This is why Cordelia offers Oliver some genetic material from both herself and Aral, so Oliver might be able to have children as well. (Sons, he thinks.)

Anyway, just as Oliver and Cordelia attempt to make a match of it, Cordelia’s son Miles shows up with his family. Along with all of the expected complications (it’s not that easy to explain to your fully grown son that you’ve taken up with a new, much younger man), Cordelia also has to explain her decision to have more children…and the material she’s donated to Oliver as well, so he, too, can have children of his own.

How will Miles take all this?

(Further reviewer sayeth not.)

This is a phenomenal novel that has it all. Growth. Loss. Grief. New love, all unlooked for. Romance — dear Gods, yes, romance.

I loved GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN, and think it is one of Bujold’s best novels — right up there with BARRAYAR, MIRROR DANCE, and A CIVIL CAMPAIGN.

Bottom line: What are you waiting for? It’s Lois McMaster Bujold at top form, and it’s excellent.

Grade: A-plus.

–reviewed by Barb

Advertisements

, , , ,

1 Comment

SBR 2-for-1 Special: “Station Eleven” and “Timebound”

Folks, I’m sorry about the length of time between reviews here at Shiny Book Review. There are a number of reasons for that, including a catastrophic hard-drive failure and putting the final touches on A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE while also trying to hash out editorial changes for CHANGING FACES. Both are due out within weeks of each other (no more than six weeks between them), so I’ve been completely focused on that to the detriment of much else — including book reviewing.

That’s why you’re getting a 2-for-1 special today. I’d hoped to review Emily St. John Mandel’s STATION ELEVEN on Thursday, but time did not allow. And I’d planned already to review Rysa Walker’s TIMEBOUND for our Romance Saturday at SBR promotion.

So, here we are…let’s get started!

Emily St. John Mandel’sStation Eleven STATION ELEVEN is a post-apocalyptic dystopia of an unusual type. Mandel postulates that a nasty flu, something thousands of times worse than the Swine Flu or even the Spanish Flu of 1918 has hit the entire world. This flu devastates the world economy, to the point that almost nothing can function. People are thrown back into barbarity, left without electricity, without phones, without computers. And must try to survive.

You’re probably rolling your eyes by now and thinking, “So, Barb, what’s so interesting about that? Other people have done that before. What gives?”

Well, Mandel uses an unusual device to structure her novel. She finds a way to revolve everything around one man — an actor, Arthur Leander. While he’s not the plague-carrier, and while he’s also not truly the protagonist, everyone at the heart of this novel knows something about him and are connected, in a weird way, to one another — whether they know it or not.

We start out in our world, as Arthur Leander is on stage for the very last time, performing as King Lear. The fiftyish Leander is about to have a heart attack — meaning he misses the plague and all its fallout — and several people try to revive him, including Jeevan Chaudhary. Jeevan comes into contact with a child actress named Kirsten Raymonde, who’s been standing by watching Leander die without anyone paying attention…then as we see Jeevan struggle to keep himself and his paraplegic brother alive during the next few desperate weeks, Kirsten fades to the background.

She’s next seen at the age of twenty-eight, still an actress, performing with the Traveling Symphony — a group of actors and musicians who travel about using horse-drawn wagons cannibalized from old pickup trucks. She’s grown old before her time, has lost teeth, has dealt with privation and even had to kill people who’d tried to hurt her or others in the Traveling Symphony. But she still believes in what she does, and feels it’s the only way she can make any sort of positive difference in the world.

See, in twenty years, the world has lost nearly everything. Medical care has devolved; if you step on a nail, you can die of lockjaw as no medicines are available to help you. If you get food poisoning, you probably will die, because you’re weaker than you should be due to the lack of decent food. If you have a fever, the only treatments that seem to work are holistic things like soaking rags in water (which maybe isn’t even cold, as most people can’t figure out how to make ice any more, absent electricity and refrigeration).

And groups like the Traveling Symphony are warmly welcomed as a way to break up the monotony.

Then Mandel shifts again to Leander and his three ex-wives. We see the first of them, Miranda, who’s an artist — it’s her graphic novel, not-so-coincidentally called “Station Eleven,” that Leander gives to Kirsten a day or two before he dies, as Leander was given it as a present by Miranda and he doesn’t know what else to do with it. And we view her life before and after Arthur — she becomes a powerful executive and dies in Malaysia of the plague.

And we see Leander’s best friend, Clark, who gets stranded in a regional airport in Michigan due to plague concerns, who eventually runs into Kirsten as well.

All of this sounds much more amorphous than it actually is. Mandel found a way to make this humane. She shows all of these people in a nonjudgmental way. They are all flawed, including Kirsten. But they all have their strengths, too — and what’s good about them, what’s creative about them, is what somehow survives despite the way the economy has collapsed and also despite the way many humans have actually seemed to embrace the barbarism.

Mandel looks at consumer culture — iPhones, laptops, even handheld book readers — with a jaundiced eye, but even there shows the good things about it. How it helps to connect us. How losing it suddenly actually makes the barbarism that follows even worse. And how some people in this new, post-apocalyptic world don’t even want their children to know just how far the human race has fallen — because they’re afraid if they admit it, they’ll have to deal with their own buried grief over what they have become.

All of this is told in a decidedly matter-of-fact way. This is just what life is, after the plague (a word Mandel doesn’t use by the way). This is how they all have to survive.

But the hope is that if some — like Clark, who’s decided to make a museum out of the airport and collects the non-working technology of the early 2000s to show people what life was once like — can remember well enough, perhaps at least some of the “old world” can be restored.

Or at least kindness can continue, in its odd and disparate ways.

STATION ELEVEN is a phenomenal novel. It is strong, it is uncompromising, and yet it is somehow very hopeful.

The only thing Rysa Walker has in common with Emily St. John Mandel is that they both were once indie writers. (Well, they’re also both very good writers — but I’ll get to that.)

TimeboundCover_smallWalker’s debut novel, TIMEBOUND, was originally published independently as TIME”S TWISTED ARROW. (But as I didn’t read it or review it while it was an indie — shame on me! — I’m only going to refer it as TIMEBOUND from here on out.) It stars Kate PIerce-Keller, whose real first name is Prudence — but of course she hates it. She’s sixteen, a prep school student in Washington, DC, and is told two things very early on: Her grandmother, Katherine, is dying of cancer. And her grandmother is a time-traveler, marooned in time due to some deliberate machinations by other time-traveling bad actors.

Of course Kate doesn’t want to believe this. But Katharine shows Kate a medallion which glows blue; her parents can’t see it, but Kate can. And once Kate is nearly dragged somewhere in time by the medallion, Kate believes that it’s definitely out of the ordinary.

Then something happens to alter the timestream. Her parents never met each other, and Kate should not exist; she does solely because she wore one of these medallions (called a “Chronos device”) around her neck when the timestream shifted. And the school she’s been going to doesn’t recognize her, either. Even Kate’s best friend, Charmayne, no longer recognizes Kate.

Obviously, Kate is in big trouble. Time-traveling malcontents are out to stop her, because they believe that she can somehow stop them from perverting the timeline and doing whatever they want. And she has next to no allies.

Then, a young man, Trey, fortuitously comes into Kate’s life. (Trey would not have met Kate except for the timeline being muddled by the others using the Chronos device for their own gain.) And he decides he’s going to help her, because despite it all, he believes that Kate is telling the truth even though he can’t see the glow from the Chronos device any more than her parents could.

Kate’s only other allies are her grandmother and her grandmother’s “research assistant” (a younger man who lives with Katharine and wants the original timeline restored for reasons of his own). This is useful, because it means Kate isn’t entirely alone — but only Kate can use the Chronos device due to being genetically suited for it.

Then an attempt is made on Katharine’s life. And Kate must go back to 1893 to stop it.

Will Kate manage to survive long enough to save her grandmother? And will her new boyfriend, Trey, remember her if she does?

Also, what’s going on with the mysterious Kiernan — a dark-haired, enigmatic young man who seems to know Kate, even though Kate’s never laid eyes on him in her life?

All of these questions will be answered. But of course they lead to even more questions…which is just as well, as there are a number of sequels (and prequels) yet to be read and savored.

TIMEBOUND’s a fun, fresh, fast-reading YA novel. It has romance, intrigue, derring-do, excellent characterization and plot up the ying-yang.

My recommendation? You should grab both of these novels and read them as fast as you can. Then turn around and read them again. And yet again.

Grades: TIMEBOUND and STATION ELEVEN both get an A-plus.

Go read these impressive novels already!

–reviewed by Barb

, , , , , , , , ,

3 Comments

Romance Saturday Returns with Victoria Alexander’s Latest “Scandalous” Adventure

It’s Romance Saturday at Shiny Book Review! So what could be better than a frothy little Victorian Era English romance by Victoria Alexander?

 THE SCANDALOUS ADVENTURES OF THE SISTER OF THE BRIDE stars Delilah, Lady Hargate, and American entrepreneur Simon Russell. Delilah, a widow, is attending the wedding of her sister Camille (note that Camille’s story was reviewed here), and so is Simon, who just so happens to be an eligible bachelor — and friend of the groom, to boot.

So what’s the problem? Well, Delilah and Simon shared one night of passion a few years prior to this wedding and didn’t tell anyone about it for obvious reasons. Making matters more dicey yet is the fact that both Delilah and Simon did their best to blur the lines of who they really were — Simon didn’t talk about his business doings, while Delilah simply called herself “Mrs. Hargate” and passed herself off as her sister’s long-suffering chaperone.

Now, they’re supposedly meeting each other for the first time, and sparks fly — but are flying for all the wrong reasons. Simon is angry that Delilah didn’t tell him that she’s a member of the nobility, and presumably wealthy in her own right, while Delilah is angry that Simon led her to believe that his business doings were far less than they actually are — and that Simon didn’t even tell her that he was a good friend of her sister Camille’s intended, Gray.

While Delilah’s extended family continues to be befuddled by Delilah’s seeming antipathy to Simon, Gray actually figures out that Simon and Delilah must know one another no matter what they’re saying. But, of course, he’s in the midst of planning his wedding to Camille. As Camille is a Bridezilla of the first water, Gray mostly stays above the fray and makes only a few, mild comments here and there.

Simon’s purpose in England isn’t just to attend Gray and Camille’s wedding, mind. He’s also there to look into “horseless carriages” — the ancestor of today’s modern automobiles — as there’s some interesting experimentation going on with Karl Benz (yes, the same Benz from the famous auto brand Mercedes-Benz), and now some French and English investors have decided to get involved as well. All of this is historically accurate, and it is sensible that Simon, who in our terms might be considered a venture capitalist, would take a liking to the various automotive prototypes available in the very late 1880s/early 1890s.

However, Delilah is a sensible kind of gal, and she does not like the idea of motor cars. They are dangerous. They belch toxic fumes — a lot. They barely work. And their steering apparatus (much less their primitive brakes) are no match for a competent horseman driving a traditional coach-and-four.

At any rate, the sexual spark is very strong between Delilah and Simon, so as you’d expect, they don’t refrain from sexual activity despite their strong disagreement about the merits of motor cars. But they try to keep the fact they’re sleeping with one another to themselves . . . and that doesn’t work too well.

Complicating things further, Delilah has a problem with her finances. Her late husband, Lord Hargate, wanted Delilah to remarry within two years. Her two years are nearly up, and because of that, she’s been cut off without a penny from Hargate’s fortune even though he had no known heirs at the time of his death besides herself.

Delilah comes to realize that she loves Simon — granted, she has to be dragged to this realization kicking and screaming, but still — but she refuses to marry for money. Instead, she’d rather drive Simon away . . . so she gets her second cousin to step in and pretend to be interested in Delilah so Simon won’t marry her out of pity.

So, will these two get together, or won’t they? (Hint, hint: bet on the happy ending. In fact, bet large.) And will the rest of the family be able to bear with Camille as she continues her “Bridezilla from Hell” routine? You’ll have to read the book to figure these things out, but you’ll mostly enjoy every minute of it.

Now, why did I say “mostly?” It’s simple. There’s some really poor editing here, which is unusual in a mass market romance. I saw numerous sentences with twenty-five or more words in them with zero commas.

Yes, I said zero.

This is something that’s hard to overlook for three reasons:

  1. To be accurate for the period, commas are needed to set off clauses. The Victorians were much bigger sticklers than I am about proper punctuation, so if you’re going to evoke the Victorian Era, you need to keep this in mind.
  2. It is nearly impossible to read a twenty-five word sentence (or longer) without commas. So for ease of reading alone, commas should’ve been inserted . . . but they weren’t.
  3. This particular romance had a big budget behind it and should’ve had proper editing as a matter of course. Why this book was so poorly edited is both inexplicable and inexcusable.

Look. I have dinged numerous self-published and small press novels for poor editing. So it’s only fair that I ding a big publisher — in this case, Zebra Books — for its own poor editing.

Because of the vagaries of the editing — almost nonexistent in spots — an otherwise A-minus read must be downgraded by one full letter grade to a B-minus.

Bottom line? This is a good, frothy romance with several laugh-out-loud moments. I liked the characters and believed the automobile subplot was plausible. But the editing was absolutely appalling — and I can’t pretend it wasn’t.

Recommendation: Get this one as an e-book, and hope the editing for the e-book edition is better by far than the mass market paperback.

Grade: B-minus.

–reviewed by Barb

, , , ,

1 Comment

Romance Saturday Redux: Stephanie Osborn’s “A Case of Spontaneous Combustion”

It’s Romance Saturday at Shiny Book Review! So what could be better than another romantic science fiction/mystery offering from Stephanie Osborn?

DDSpontaneous_CombustionTonight’s subject is book 5 in her long-running, popular Displaced Detective series featuring Sherlock Holmes and his wife, Skye Chadwick-Holmes, A CASE OF SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION. (Books one and two of the series were reviewed here; book three was reviewed here; and book four was reviewed here.) This time, Sherlock Holmes is summoned to merry old England without his wife, Skye, to consult on a perplexing case: the village of Stonegrange has died all at once, apparently of spontaneous combustion, and no one knows how or why. And for reasons of national security, Sherlock isn’t even allowed to wake her up to tell her what’s going on.

This is a problem, as Sherlock and Skye haven’t been married all that long (maybe a year, tops), and have just had a huge fight (as newlyweds the world over tend to do). The fight was over something minor, and if Sherlock had been able to tell Skye that he’d been summoned to England, it’s possible the two would’ve made up right then and there — but he wasn’t, and they’re both about to be in a world of hurt.

While Sherlock tries desperately to figure out what’s happened that’s caused Stonegrange to spontaneously combust, Skye is left at home in Colorado. Both are miserable, both try to write each other letters, but as their letters are considered classified on both ends, there are intermediaries between them and their letters to one another.

And their letters are not getting through, which adds immensely to their overall “frustration factor.”

Making matters even more dicey, the mystery of Stonegrange has a strong scientific component, so Sherlock needs Skye. And she’s not there, so solving the mystery is made that much slower and more complex, too.

Mind, Sherlock doesn’t know why Skye wasn’t sent for along with him. Neither do the people who guard Sherlock and Skye on a regular basis. And as the National Security Act has been invoked, it’s keeping them from talking with their counterparts as they normally would.

So that, too, is a mystery that both need to solve . . . but as they’re both extremely upset (Skye has fallen into a severe depression), it takes a bit more time than usual to get to the bottom of this problem.

Regarding Stonegrange, Sherlock goes undercover to find out who did this and why. He uncovers a few leads, but again realizes he needs Skye’s scientific expertise.

After quite some time, romantic and domestic matters are resolved and Skye’s back where she belonged. (So for romance readers, there is a “happily ever after” ending.) And a good thing, too, as Skye’s knowledge of physics is absolutely essential to the solving of this particular mystery.

As always with the work of Stephanie Osborn, her command of language is strong, while her knowledge of physics, England, and Sherlock Holmes trivia is excellent. Her pacing is good, the romance is outstanding, and the hard SF component (the physics involved) is explained well enough that I had no trouble figuring out what was going on.

The one quibble I had here is that the ending was a bit too gentle for my tastes. After all the sturm und drang Sherlock and Skye went through to get back into contact with one another, and then back to each other, I would’ve liked to see some retribution handed out to the person who kept them apart.

But everything else worked quite well.

Bottom line? It’s not everyone who can make cutting-edge physics comprehensible to the intelligent layman and write a kick-butt romance along with an absorbing mystery all at the same time, but Stephanie Osborn did just that in A CASE OF SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION.

One, final thought: If you love Sherlock Holmes as brought to the modern-day and haven’t tried Stephanie Osborn’s Displaced Detective novels yet, what’s stopping you?

Grade: A-minus.

–reviewed by Barb

, , , , , , , ,

1 Comment

Romance Saturday Returns with Stephanie Osborn’s Displaced Detective Series, Book 4

It’s Romance Saturday! And considering it’s been a while since we last checked in with Stephanie Osborn’s inestimable Displaced Detective Series, which features the great detective Sherlock Holmes as brought to the modern-day by hyperspatial physicist (and love interest) Skye Chadwick, what could be better than to discuss book four, THE CASE OF THE COSMOLOGICAL KILLER: ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS? (Note that books one and two of this series were reviewed here, while book three was reviewed here.)

During the previous book, THE RENDELSHAM INCIDENT, our Sherlock and Skye got married, went to England for their honeymoon, and did their best to figure out whether or not a UFO was truly involved in a perplexing incident. But they also were contacted by an alternate universe’s version of Sherlock and Skye, who have a rather difficult problem of their own to solve. Simply put: the cosmos appears to be falling apart at the seams, and because other-Skye lost most of her original team due to sabotage, only the other-Sherlock is left to assist her. And while other-Skye and other-Sherlock do have feelings for one another, they are currently not lovers — instead, their relationship is that of rather strained good friends, albeit with a whole lot of sexual tension between them.

Anyway, other-Sherlock and other-Skye need our Sherlock and Skye’s help to figure out whether or not other-Skye’s equations are correct. Because of a twist of physics (crudely put, you can see any time that’s in the past from your own, and universes don’t always match anyway, time-wise), other-Sherlock and other-Skye are actually four chronological years older than our versions of the same. Because of that time differential, they are able to give our versions of Skye and Sherlock some space to get up to speed on the equations.

During book four, ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS, our Sherlock solves what’s going on in the English countryside while Skye works with other-Skye and other-Sherlock to save the cosmos from complete and utter destruction. Which would make you think there’s no time left for romance . . . but actually, there is.

You see, our Sherlock and Skye are worried about other-Sherlock and other-Skye. The latter pair has been overworked and underslept for quite some time; further, neither of them is able to derive any comfort, physical or otherwise, due to all of the emotional baggage they both have picked up due to the disastrous events that took out nearly every member of other-Skye’s Project Tesseract team.

As our Sherlock and Skye just got married and are on their honeymoon, they obviously want to rectify this. But how can they do so without intruding on other-Sherlock’s legendary privacy and other-Skye’s tragic calm?

Anyway, even though it’s never fully stated in the text, the subtext is clear: our Sherlock and Skye do not want to see their other selves floundering like this.

So we have a triple-stranded plot going on. The first plotline deals with the wrap-up of the Rendelsham case. The second plotline deals with Skye’s efforts to check other-Skye and other-Sherlock’s physics equations (what I like to think of as “their homework,” in short). And the third, which overarches both of the other plotlines, is this: How can two extremely intelligent people like other-Skye and other-Sherlock, who’ve gotten off on the wrong foot romantically, make their relationship work?

One of the delights of ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS is in seeing these two strong characters be vulnerable in both sets of incarnations. Our Skye admits things to other-Skye she’s never said to anyone; ditto for our Sherlock and other-Sherlock. And because of this vulnerability, which is a direct outgrowth of their overall intelligence and strength, it’s possible for other-Skye and other-Sherlock to repair their relationship at the same time as they do their best to repair the cosmos itself.

And that, my friends, is exactly why ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS is such a delightful book from beginning to end.

There is only one quibble I had, though, and I needs must mention it: We don’t actually see what other-Skye and other-Sherlock do to fix the cosmos. We see all the preparation beforehand, yes. But we don’t see the actual events.

Mind you, it’s possible that it wouldn’t have made any sense to do so from an action-adventure perspective. (Which is why this is but a minor quibble.) Still, I would’ve liked to see a little bit more physics and a whole lot more of the sense of menace and danger while other-Skye and other-Sherlock actually fixed everything . . . and I didn’t get it.**

That being said, this is the best SF/mystery/romance I’ve read thus far in 2014. It has everything you’d want, and then some . . . and the romance between the two sets of incredibly intelligent people is to die for.

Bottom line? Anyone with a brain and a pulse who loves SF, loves mysteries, loves Sherlock Holmes and/or loves it when intelligent people find their true soul mates should adore this book.

Grade: A.

— reviewed by Barb

————————————-

**This, for the record, is the only reason ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS did not receive an A-plus.

, , , , , , ,

2 Comments