book review

Review: Into the Dreaming, Karen Marie Moning

Title: Into the Dreaming (Bonus Edition)

Author: Karen Marie Moning

Publication: Random House , 2012

Pages: 272

Genre: Time-Travel Romance, Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 Stars

A really, really great little book highly recommended to all fans of Karen Marie Moning. Despite its small size, quite a lot is crammed in here, and it’s definitely not to be missed.

The first section is a simple re-print of Karen’s novella Into the Dreaming. It’s just under 120 pages and tells the story of Jane, a modern-day romance author, and Aedan, a cursed Highlander from 10th Century Scotland. With the help of the Faerie Queen, Jane and Aedan meet and fall in love in the Dreaming, a realm between worlds. When Jane is transported to medieval Scotland to save Aedan from being forever cursed by the Unseelie King, she uses her dream memories to bring him back from the brink. Obviously, not a whole lot can happen in such a short story, but Karen still works her magic and makes me fall in love with her characters.

At the end of the novella, Karen adds a truly heartfelt Afterward that talks about her own struggles as an author, and how the pressure to write what’s “popular” can be completely overwhelming, especially when you’re just beginning. She encourages writers to stay true to their own stories, no matter what the cost, because there will always be someone to take a risk on you. It might just take a little longer. I find Karen to be an extremely inspirational woman, and she’s VERY open with her fans in general about her writing process, so thoughts like these are always really great to read.

The next section includes a formal proposal for a novel that was never written, entitled Ghost of a Chance. I was actually a little nervous about reading this, because I was afraid it would sound SO GOOD, and I’d be dying to read it even though it didn’t exist. However, even though it DID sound interesting, and I’m sure I would have loved it had she written it, I can kind of see why she abandoned it. The characters didn’t grab me the way they normally do, and the plot didn’t seem as strong, at least in the conceptual stage.

The third section contains a deleted scene from Karen’s third book, Kiss of the Highlander, which won’t make much sense if you haven’t read that novel. Fans, however, will appreciate this alternate look at the relationship between the main characters, Drustan and Gwen, two of my personal favorites. While I completely agree that the published version was better, I’ll never say no to more of these two! Plus, it was really interesting to follow Karen’s thought process and see what other roads she was considering during the initial draft. It’s a bit like watching bloopers for a movie, though obviously less funny.

My personal favorite section was the next part, entitled Dark Highlander Lite. Apparently, Karen was two-thirds of the way through her fourth novel – a month before it was due to her publisher – when she realized she was writing, as she called it, the wrong book. It hadn’t come out in any way, shape or form the way she wanted, and she was determined to start over. Her publisher had a meltdown, but they compromised. Karen would start over, and send the first 50 pages of each book for editing, and if the second version was better, she’d get an extension. Karen agreed, but then burned all but those first 50 pages of the original book to ensure she’d be able to write her new version. Luckily, the publisher agreed the second version was much better, so she got her extension anyway. But can you imagine the nerve it took to literally burn her bridges??? All because she knew her own story and this wasn’t it.

Reading these first 50 pages, I have to agree. It’s a perfectly fine book, one I’d definitely want to read, but it wasn’t right for the story she wanted to tell. My respect for her pretty much doubled after reading this, if such a thing is possible.

The next section includes the first chapter of Darkfever, the first in her latest five-book urban fantasy romance series, which is really nice for those of her fans who adore her traditional Highlander romances and just aren’t sure about making the jump to something darker. (That would have been me five years ago, by the way!) And finally, she includes both black and white and full color illustrations from her upcoming graphic novel Fever Moon. I’m still on the fence about this, as I really REALLY dislike Western comic animation, but I’ve never NOT bought something written by Karen, so….

In any case, highly recommended to both old and new KMM fans! This little book packs quite a punch!

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Review: The Pleasure of Your Kiss, by Teresa Medeiros

Title: The Pleasure of Your Kiss

Author: Teresa Medeiros

Publication: Pocket Star Books, 2011

Pages: 506

Genre: Historical Romance

Rating: 4/5 Stars

I absolutely adore Teresa Medeiros. She’s absolutely everything a romance author should be. Her plots, while uncomplicated, still make the reader feel as though she’s getting more out of the novel than a smut-fest, her characters are wonderful, and I never leave her books without feeling like love truly does conquer all. This is the 10th book I’ve read by her, and I think only one really failed to meet my expectations. She focuses mainly on historical fiction, which is one of my favorite romance sub-genres, but I found her through one of her few time-travel stories, which is my absolute favorite type of romance. I’ll read almost anything you put in front of me.

I think what makes Teresa stand out more than other romance authors is the care she takes with her characters, and I do mean all them. She fleshes out even the most minor of her players, given them individual personalities and motivations. If the person has a name, they have a story, even if it’s just a small one. No character feels useless, and I really, really enjoy that.

The Pleasure of Your Kiss focuses on Clarinda, a Regency heiress on her way across the ocean to be a director of the East India Company. Along the way, her ship is attacked by corsairs, and she and her companion are sold into a sultan’s harem. Desperate to rescue his bride, her fiance, Max, hires his rapscallion brother, Ash, to save Clarinda from the clutches of the lecherous Arab. Ash almost refuses, wanting nothing to do with the woman who broke his heart years before agreeing to marry his brother, but he can’t just sit by and let her waste away in the harem.

During the story, we learn about Ash and Clarinda’s past, discover that the sultan isn’t precisely the ogre he is assumed to be, and Clarinda faces a difficult choice between two men who saved her life and the one man without whom her life has no meaning.

A romance in the most traditional sense, I fell in love with Ash and Clarinda, and I eagerly await Teresa’s next novel, which focuses on Max.

If you’re a romantic at heart but this doesn’t sound *quite* like your cup of tea, I’ll highly recommend my two absolute favorites of Teresa’s books: Breath of Magic, which tells the tale of a Salem witch who travels through time and shows a cold-hearted businessman who doesn’t believe in magic that love is the most powerful spell of all, and The Bride and the Beast, a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast in 1600s Scotland. Both are absolutely fantastic!

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Review: Ilium by Dan Simmons

Title: Ilium

Author: Dan Simmons

Publication: HerperTorch,2005

Pages: 752

Genre: Literary Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 Stars

I like reviewing good books. Spreading my love and appreciation for an excellent novel just gives me warm fuzzies. I’m not a huge fan of reviewing bad books, simply because I know how difficult it is to write, and I dislike coloring an author’s success with lots of negativity. (Unless it’s Twilight, and then I just don’t care.) On the other had, I feel it’s a sort of duty to warn fellow readers that this book is perhaps not worth their time and effort when there are so many other amazing books out there, so I still feel like a less-than-positive review is worthwhile.

But it’s been a long, LONG time since I’ve finished a book and honestly not known whether it was good or bad. Ilium by Dan Simmons is such a book.

The novel’s description intrigued me from the moment I spied it on the shelves. A futuristic society has re-created the events of Homer’s Iliad on Mars, complete with enhanced “post-humans” buffed up with special technology to become gods. They’ve also resurrected historians from the late 20th and early 21st centuries who studied the original Iliad, their jobs being to report to one of the muses on whether or not this version follows the story’s path. Greek mythology and science fiction? Sign me up! Unfortunately, that’s only one of three concurrent plotlines, and trying to understand them all – much less put them together – is almost enough to drive one mad.

There are two things you need to know before going into this novel. The first is that Simmons explains nothing. NO-THING! As the book progresses, you start to be able to fill in some bits and pieces, but you won’t ever get all the answers (or even understand all the questions.) My husband read a few books from his most famous series, Hyperion, and this is apparently a common trait for his works. You’ve been warned.

The second thing you need to know is that this book is categorized as “literary science fiction” for a very good reason. If you want to have a fighting chance of keeping up with the plot, you need to have at least some basic knowledge of the following:

– Greek mythology
– Homer’s Iliad and, to a lesser extent, Odyssey
– Shakespeare’s The Tempest (and even better if you’ve read some of the literary commentary)
– Shakespeare’s sonnets, especially those that pertain to the Dark Lady and Young Man
– Marcel Proust (This isn’t as necessary, but it’s helpful in keeping up with banter between two of the characters)

There are smaller references, such as a group of “old style humans” being called eloi in honor of H.G. Wells, but those are the main ones.

Having an interest in science fiction is also a must, but don’t be too worried about whether or not you’re scientifically inclined. Since hardly any of the techno-babble is explained, it’s not like you’re missing anything!

If all of that sounds good to you, you’re ready to start the novel. I’ll try to avoid spoilers here, but some of it is so convoluted that it’s almost questionable what’s too much information and what’s simply inexplicable!

As I mentioned before, the book follows three storylines. What I consider the “main” one deals with the re-created battle between the Greeks and Trojans from Homer’s Iliad. The major character is Thomas Hockenberry, an historian who as been brought back to life as a “scholic” to observe the war. He compares current events with those from the story, and he reports any differences to his Muse. Unfortunately, things get complicated when Aphrodite pulls him aside and gives him a new task: Kill Pallas Athena. Armed with the Hades Helmet of Invisibility and a quantum transporter device, Hockenberry spies on the gods long enough to realize his is a suicide mission, and decides to take matters into his own hands…even if that means changing one of the most famous wars in literary history.

The second plot focuses on “old style humans” in the distant future, I’m guessing somewhere around the 30th Century or so. This Earth is carefully controlled by enhanced or “post-humans” who limit the population to an even million. Everyone lives for Five Twenties (or 100 years) and then ascends to a higher plane to join the post-humans. When that happens, another child is allowed to be born to replace the missing person. These humans lead extremely simply lives, do not know how to read or write, and spend most of their time transporting or “faxing” to one another’s homes for parties. Their every need is taken care of by robotic servants, and if they die unexpectedly, they are reconstructed and returned home. But Harmon, a man one year away from his last Twenty, longs for something more, and he and two companions come across the mysterious Savi, a woman who survived the destruction of the rest of the human race 1400 years prior. Together, they embark on a search to discover what became of those humans, and what they discover leads to a radical restructuring of their identity, to say nothing of their lives.

The final plot deals centers on two sentient automatons called moravecs – basically super intelligent robots with human-like thoughts and feelings. The two main moravecs, Mahnmut and Orpho, are particularly interested in human literature and spend a lot of time bantering back and forth about the merits of Shakespeare and Proust. They are ordered to embark on a mission to Mars, where excess quantum teleporation has been disrupting the fabric of time and space, and while there they encounter a slew of gods who want them killed, a scholar trying to alter the destiny of the entire Greek and Trojan armies, and a host of statues that somehow resemble Shakespeare’s character Prospero.

The plot sounds awesome, doesn’t it? I certainly thought so. But Simmons seems to almost take pride in his lack of explanations. Perhaps he’s just a huge fan of Clarke’s Law, but some background would be nice! I’m fine with being thrown into a world as long as something about it begins to eventually make sense, but that’s really not the case here. It’s been a really, really long time since a book has confused me so much. Half the time I don’t even know what planet the characters are on, thanks to all the teleporting!

Strangely enough, however, I already want to read the second book, which concludes the series. Based on reviews I’ve read, I don’t expect to find too many answers, which is unfortunate. But the book ended right on the cusp of a new war, with the entire plot of the Iliad suddenly thrown out the window, and I’m too much of a lover of Greek mythology not to want to know how it turns out. It’s just hard to slog through 700 pages when you don’t understand three-quarters of what’s going on XD Part of the appeal might simply be its uniqueness. I’ve certainly never read a book even remotely like it before. And a few of the characters do grow on you after a while. I found Hockenberry in particular to be endearing, and his dry wit and sarcasm is rather infectious.

I honestly don’t know if I’d recommend this or not. I suppose fellow lovers of Greek mythology would probably enjoy it, but I just can’t make any promises.

If you’ve made it this far, I thank you! Hopefully all future reviews will be much more coherent!

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