Friday, October 5, 2018

Review: Fly Me to the Moon: Volume One

I have discovered a new genre in romance: historical stories with science, contemporary attitudes and consent, and I am here for it.

The three-novel Fly Me to the Moon set by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner combines my favorite things by setting the novels in the space race fever of the 1950s and populating them with strong, independent women. Each book focuses on a different character within the social structure of the first astronauts in a fictional version of NASA.

In Star Dust, divorcee’ Anne-Marie faces cultural and family disapproval as she starts a new life with her children, and that new life happens to be next door to the hunky, devil-may-care Commander Kit Campbell. She doesn’t want to complicate her family’s life with a new man in the picture, and he doesn’t want to be tied down, but the attraction is hot, sexy and irresistible. His friends think she’ll be an easy mark; after all, she is divorced, right? But Kit is intrigued by Anne-Marie’s fiery hair and personality. The sex scenes in Star Dust will steam up your Kindle screen, but you’ll get a chance to catch your breath before the happy-ever-after.

The next book, Earth Bound, may be my favorite because the two characters are very difficult people to love. Dr. Charlie Eason, a brilliant computer scientist, and engineer Eugene Parsons are not cuddly meet-cute types. They are both hard, driven people who literally devote nearly every waking hour to ensuring the first space launch goes successfully.  At first, their relationship is about lust and sexual fulfillment, and love finally enters a good five paces behind duty and respect. An interesting detail is that Charlie uses her makeup like armor; once the face is on, her fa├žade is impenetrable. The authors make these characters work for their happy ending, and it feels right. There’s no compromising Charlie or Eugene’s character in giving them what they want, and it’s a fascinating journey.

Wrapping up the trio is A Midnight Clear, a sweet Christmas romance between the unofficial head of the astronaut wives, Frances Dumfries Reynolds, and her husband Joe Reynolds. Set when they first met in 1948, it follows social norms closely while still giving Frances, an admiral’s daughter, her own agency. An admiral’s daughter, Frances insists she will never date any of the midshipmen crossing her path in Annapolis, Maryland. But Joe is determined to woo her and win her heart. The story is a bit more traditional, with only a kiss here and there until the two are married, and both are shy and confused virgins on their wedding night. The attention to historical detail is amazing, and the author’s notes on the research they did for all these books are catnip to history junkies like me.  I’m looking forward to more in this series.

The Fly Me to the Moon box set is available on Amazon.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Book Nerds Use Science to Decipher Ancient, Destroyed Scrolls

Every book nerd is still upset about the Library of Alexandria. But the library of Herculaneum might not be as lost as we thought. Mount Vesuvius did a number on the 1800 scrolls in 79 CE, and the library was buried under 80 feet of ash which hardened into stone. But, according to Jake Rossen of Mental Floss, researchers at the University of Kentucky are using CT scanners, computer modeling and artificial intelligence to unwrap and read two scrolls virtually. For the whole story, check out Mental Floss. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

New Book Store Planned for Southwest Missouri

Southwest Missouri will have a new bookstore to enjoy later this year, thanks to Jennifer Murvin and Kory Cooper, who recently purchased a historic home in Springfield and are converting that space into Pagination Bookshop. The home already boasts built-in shelving, and the new owners plan to decorate a cupboard under the stairs with a Harry Potter theme. Eventually, Murvin and Cooper will also open rooms upstairs as a bed and breakfast, and have plans for author signings and other events in the shop itself. Pagination Bookshop is located on East Walnut Street, near downtown Springfield.

More about the new venture at the Springfield News-Leader, or you can visit the Pagination Bookshop page on Facebook.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Review: Hope Never Dies

This book is the Magnum, P.I. remake we all deserved. Andrew Shaffer has taken the Obama/Biden bromance meme and turned it into a fast-paced mystery with humor and heart in Hope Never Dies.

After the 2016 election, Joe Biden feels that the world has forgotten him and moved on. That includes his BFF Barack Obama, who has been whooping it up with celebrities around the globe and not even kicking an occasional text to his former VP. But when Obama slips back into his life bringing news of a friend’s death, and the puzzling document found near his body that includes Biden’s address, Delaware’s favorite son has to know if this truly was an accident, or if it was something far more sinister. It’s time for mirrored shades, muscle cars, and getting down and dirty with the law.

Joe Biden goes full-on Jim Rockford complete with bang-ups, bruises, tight scrapes and near-misses to find out what happened to his friend. Obama, along with Secret Service Steve, provides backup when Biden needs it most, but even in the midst of barfights, greasy spoon meals and a trip through the underbelly of the East Coast’s opioid drug trade, Smilin’ Joe can’t seem to crack a grin with his former Commander in Chief. Can this relationship be saved? You won’t know until the very end, and there’s plenty of twists and turns along the way.  One thing is for sure: if you’re musclebound and into clean eating, don’t take an old man’s loaded hash browns. It doesn’t end well for you.

I’ve been a fan of Andrew Shaffer’s work for years, but this book is some of his best work yet in terms of voice and tone. The language in every chapter is a spot-on homage to old school pulp detective novels and TV shows, and Shaffer has captured the public image of Biden so well, my inner narrator read the whole thing in his voice.

If you’re looking for a fun, offbeat summer read, pick up Hope Never Dies.  It’s  a great escape revved up with weird like a Dodge Challenger. Hop in and go for a ride.

A free ARC was provided to this reviewer.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Review: My Lady's Choosing

If you’ve ever read a romance novel and suddenly screamed “Why would she DO that?” you need My Lady’s Choosing by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris.  This interactive Regency romance is a wonderful Valentine to the genre, paired with a wicked wink and a throaty chuckle. You are the main character, a penniless lady’s companion to the cantankerous old Lady Craven, and you decide which major decision to make throughout the book in true ‘choose your adventure’ style. 

 Along the way you meet several potential paramours, including the smart, sarcastic Sir Benedict Granville, the mad, bad Lord Garraway Craven, the poor but unbelievably well-built Captain Angus MacTaggart, and the adventurous Lady Evangeline Youngblood. The drama starts, as all good Regency books do, at the ball, and from there you can launch yourself in a multitude of directions. Do you follow hunky war veteran MacTaggart to help the children, or match wits with Sir Benedict? Don't worry, you can do almost all the men in the book, looping your steamy adventures into one wild experience. Of course, you can’t forget Lady Evangeline, either, if you take the right path through Egypt.  The variety of outcomes is truly impressive, including several Happily Ever Afters where you’re the main character, and a few where you’re the sidekick with a boring but sweet life. You can explore gothic or adventure timelines with vampires, werewolves, ghosts and macho desert ruffians or run away with the bad boys. You can even end up unattached with a successful career if you like. And then there’s lovely, awkward Nigel. Hot damn, Nigel!

As you may guess, there are sex scenes here. Some are simple, others are amazing, and many of them made me laugh because of terms like moonlight bouncing off your “womanly orbs” or “being able to make love as tender as it is violent while balancing on one leg and using a bust of John Donne for support.” There’s also a whole paragraph-long sex scene with postal puns, but you should find that one for yourself.  The sex scenes are done with over-the-top descriptive but not vulgar language, and if you’ve read a lot of romances (especially older ones) then these in-jokes are for you.

This is a joyful blast of a book you can read over and over again, never ending up at the same place twice unless you choose to do so. It’s the perfect remedy for any of those maddening books you throw against the wall.

My Lady's Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel will be available from Quirk Books on April 3.

A free ARC was provided to this reviewer.

Monday, February 19, 2018

#DollarReads Review: Farewell, Dorothy Parker

It’s rare to find a signed book for a dollar in a discount book bin, but even more so when that book turns out to be a great read. Author Ellen Meister had me at the title, and she continued her hold with a literary ride that was sweet, saucy and so much fun.

Violet Epps is a movie critic terrified of confrontation, so she’s saddled with a boyfriend she can’t dump, and may never get custody of the orphaned niece who needs a better life. The only place she feels confident is on the page, where her sarcasm reaches to the lofty heights of her hero, Dorothy Parker. When she and her boyfriend meet at the Algonquin Hotel and the manager presents the storied guest book for her signature, she receives a sharp-tongued, spine transplant in the form of Parker’s ghost. After a quick possession by Parker, she grabs the guest book and flees the scene once she tells off her worthless beau, and her life begins to veer far from the predictable, meek paths she usually follows.

Meister makes Violet a nicely rounded character with depth, showing how Violet’s present fears are rooted in her childhood relationship with her sister, Ivy. It turns out young Violet’s wicked wit was nipped in the bud by a sibling who had her own cruel ways of getting even, something Violet couldn’t heal from even when she and her sister grew close as adults. After the accident that takes her sister and brother-in-law’s lives, Violet tries to gain custody of her young niece Delaney, but her fear makes her have a meltdown at the custody hearing. Piled onto that is the new editor’s assistant at work who thinks she can re-write Violet’s columns without retribution. 

Good thing Violet has the ghost of Dorothy Parker now, and this is where Meister shines: she brings the daunting legend to full life, giving her great dialogue and showing that behind many sarcastic souls lie the tender wounds of childhood. Whenever the guest book is open, Parker is free to drink, smoke and throw shade at every oppressive corner of Violet’s life, sending her into new adventures with television appearances, blackmail opportunities, work smackdowns and even a hot tryst with her martial arts instructor. The entire plot moves as fast as Parker’s savage literary takedowns, and in the end, Violet learns how to stand up for herself and the ones she loves. She also helps Parker learn a thing or two, so the ghost can finally look straight into that bright light which beckons to her whenever she materializes. 

This book is smart, heartfelt and the perfect fantasy for any Dorothy Parker fan who always thinks of the perfect comeback after the argument is done.