Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Reading Roulette: Sixth Pick

I have been sidetracking myself with this project by reading entire series when one book was recommended (more on that in another post), but that didn't stop me from finishing everything from my last pick and spinning the wheel again!

A Fire Upon the Deep, Vernor Vinge (1993)

Thousands of years hence, many races inhabit a universe where a mind's potential is determined by its location in space, from superintelligent entities in the Transcend, to the limited minds of the Unthinking Depths, where only simple creatures and technology can function. Nobody knows what strange force partitioned space into these "regions of thought," but when the warring Straumli realm use an ancient Transcendent artifact as a weapon, they unwittingly unleash an awesome power that destroys thousands of worlds and enslaves all natural and artificial intelligence.

Fleeing the threat, a family of scientists, including two children, are taken captive by the Tines, an alien race with a harsh medieval culture, and used as pawns in a ruthless power struggle. A rescue mission, not entirely composed of humans, must rescue the children-and a secret that may save the rest of interstellar civilization.

Classic science fiction, here I come!

Hark! A Vagrant, Kate Beaton (2011)

Hark! A Vagrant is an uproarious romp through history and literature seen through the sharp, contemporary lens of New Yorker cartoonist and comics-sensation Kate Beaton. No era or tome emerges unscathed as Beaton rightly skewers the Western world's revolutionaries, leaders, sycophants, and suffragists while equally honing her wit on the hapless heroes, heroines, and villains of the best-loved fiction.

I had gotten this before and somehow never got around to reading it (although I've read individual strips online). I put it on my list to remind me to give myself a treat.

The Cardinal's Blades, Pierre Pevel (2007/2009) 

Welcome to seventeenth-century Paris, where intrigue, duels, and spies are rife and Cardinal Richelieu's agents may be prevailed upon to risk life and limb in the name of France at a moment's notice. And with war on the horizon, the defense of the nation has never been more pressing.

Danger is rising from the south—an insidious plot that could end with a huge dragon-shaped shadow falling over France, a shadow cast by dragons quite unlike the pet dragonets that roam the cities like stray cats, or the tame wyverns men ride like horses, high over the Parisian rooftops. These dragons and their descendants are ancient, terrible, and powerful ... and their plans contain little room for the lives or freedom of puny humans.

Cardinal Richelieu has nowhere else to turn; Captain La Fargue and his elite group of agents, the Cardinal's Blades, must turn the tide. They must hold the deadly Black Claw cult at bay, root out traitors to the crown, rescue prisoners, and fulfill their mission for the Cardinal, for their country, but above all for themselves.

It's death or victory. And the victory has never been less certain. (Translated from French by Tom Clegg.)

This one can be attributed to my childhood obsession with The Three Musketeers.

Why am I doing this?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Book Review: The Siren [2012]

Author Tiffany Reisz subscribes to "the erotica writer's creed: It's not erotica until someone gets hurt." While I disagree with her blanket generalization, she definitely put her principles into action in The Siren, the first book of her Original Sinners series. The book was recommended by six of the fifty sources I consulted as a Fifty Shades of Grey readalike, and in this case I ended up disagreeing. Mild spoilers follow.

Nora Sutherlin is a popular erotica author and professional dominatrix trying to break into the literary fiction market. Zachary Easton is an exacting editor who has left a fraught marriage behind in the UK to work at a publishing house in New York City. When Zach is assigned Nora's new book, he first refuses on the grounds that she's a trashy writer, then grudgingly accepts after meeting her in person. Nora lives with her teenage (but legal!) assistant Wesley, a virgin who is in love with and very supportive of Nora but doesn't approve of her continued ties to the world of BDSM and her former master Søren.

Nora still makes a significant amount of money from her A-list customers, a fact she continues to hide from Zach even as they grow more intimate. She wants to establish herself as a legitimate author so she can get out of the game, but there are still many things tying her to that community. Foremost among them is her complicated past with Søren, which she is mining for the new book. Along for the ride and attracted despite himself, Zach gets an education in the darker aspects of sexuality. While Zach struggles with his attraction to Nora and his lingering feelings for his wife, Nora tries to balance her feelings for Wes, Zach, and Søren, as well as finish her book by the deadline.

Grade: C

One of the reasons that The Siren is not a good readalike for Fifty Shades of Grey is because of the proliferation of love interests--Nora and Zach do spend some time paired together, but their relationship does not end in the happily ever after that I believe a 50 Shades fan would expect. A repeated theme in the book is that of lovers who are meant for each other but incompatible in some fundamental way and can't truly be together. The series continues through quite a few books, venturing off in different directions and focusing on previously minor characters in a way that does not suggest straightforward romance along the lines of what a typical 50 Shades fan would want. The narration is also not first-person, and shifts between Zach's perspective and Nora's.

Nora is a far cry from the virginal and innocent Anastasia Steele. In addition, the dominant male character in The Siren--Søren--is mostly a sinister offstage presence, and it is Nora that takes center stage. With all of Nora's manic, seductive, tormented, clever aspects (she is very clearly the titular "siren"), Reisz offers a more deeply realized female character than is often found in typical erotic romances. However, the characterization is such that it's hard not to wonder if Nora represents a rather extreme version of the author herself.

I don't think I'll be reading any farther, but I might recommend The Siren to a patron who is looking for erotic romance of a different flavor, especially one featuring a more experienced female lead. With a warning about the seduction of minors and the relatively heavy BDSM elements that Reisz explores.