Sunday, 1 September 2013

It's time to say goodbye...

It's time to say goodbye to Blogger but not to blogging. Portable Pieces of Thoughts are being officially moved to a new platform - Wordpress. Yes, Blogger, you had it coming.

Now Rameau and I would like to thank all the followers, commenters, readers and lurkers for their time and attention - without you this blog wouldn't exist and reading would be much less fun.

From now on you can find us here:

All the content of this blog has been moved there, including comments. I do hope we'll meet again soon to share many interesting books and movies! Keep in touch!
Anachronist & Rameau

Friday, 30 August 2013

Review: Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In 1810, a sister and brother uncover the fossilized skull of an unknown animal in the cliffs on the south coast of England. With its long snout and prominent teeth, it might be a crocodile – except that it has a huge, bulbous eye and a body with far more parts than your ordinary crock.

Remarkable Creatures is the story of Mary Anning, who has a talent for finding fossils, and whose discovery of ancient marine reptiles such as that ichthyosaur shakes the scientific community and leads to new ways of thinking about the creation of the world.

Working in an arena dominated by middle-class men, however, Mary finds herself out of step with her working-class background. In danger of being an outcast in her community, she takes solace in an unlikely friendship with Elizabeth Philpot, a prickly London spinster with her own passion for fossils.
Autograph letter concerning the discovery of p...
Autograph letter concerning the discovery of plesiosaurus, from Mary Anning. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The strong bond between Mary and Elizabeth sees them through struggles with poverty, rivalry and ostracism, as well as the physical dangers of their chosen obsession. It reminds us that friendship can outlast storms and landslides, anger and jealousy.

My impressions:

I took this one with me to the sea. I expected quite a lot from this book. I had every right to do so. After all we owe our knowledge of ammonites, bivalves, plesiosaurs,  and other aquatic beasts of the era to these remarkable women, both historical figures, who hunted for and preserved fossils along England's Dorset coast. Mary Anning was  more productive of the two as it was she who found the major specimens but it does not minimize the better-off Miss Philpot's many contributions, both emotional and financial, to the process. Overall those were two female fossil hunters in the early 1800s whose contributions to paleontology couldn't have been overlooked even by an extermely paternalistic society.  

As you delve into the book you realize how ground breaking the events of the novel were. If there were creatures buried in the earth that no longer lived on land that meant that God had made a mistake or created something not completely good! Or that Genesis as they knew it didn't make sense - if God made Heaven and Earth first and the animals after, how could there be animals buried in the earth? And for an uneducated, working class girl to be right in the center of all of this discovery, in an educated man's world, was equally surprising.

However, it was a slight disappointment, this one.  As it was presented, it was perhaps a solid, well-made entertainment, about a subject most of us have never given a lot of thought to, but nothing exceptional. 

Partially I blame the narration. The first person voice is perhaps ok but two first person accounts of two different women, more than two decades apart and coming from different walks of life, should have been as different as chalk and cheese, right? Only they weren't. From time to time you are gently reminded that Mary is a daughter of a simple carpenter from a small town near the sea - mainly when she remembers to butcher one sentence out of three or says 'verteberry' instead of 'vertebrae' -but it was too little. Personally I felt that, whereas the narrative voice of Elizabeth came quite naturally to the author, that of the Mary was overshadowed by the older, more mature and better educated Miss Philpot. In fact I suppose a third person limited narration would work much better, at least in my case. It didn't help that there were too few scenes showing the incredible interaction that must have been established between those two; instead we are given a love affair between both of them and Colonel Birch, a man who first preys on their skills and exploits their infatuation in order to gather a nice collection of fossils and then does something rather out of character, (I won't spoil you here), unbearably altruistic and completely spurious, at least in my view. 

The setting "Remarkable Creatures" is in the English town of Lyme Regis in the early 19th century.  You might remember this quiet resort village from Jane Austen's "Persuasion". I was rather happy to revisit it, especially that here Ms. Chevalier managed to present both sides of that town, that of a joyful summer resort full of happy holidaymakers and of a winter hell hole where it is difficult to earn your living and suffer cold weather, rather well.

Final verdict:

I wanted to read a story about fossil hunting which triggered the tension between religion and science and challenged biased attitudes towards women. I was given a story of female friendship, rivalires and the woes and tribulations of being a spinster told through the lens of fossil hunting. It wasn't very bad but it wasn't  brilliant either. The best part of the book in my opinion was the author's historical note at the end, telling us more about the later fates of her characters- rather remarkable in a negative way, isn't it? Meh, nuff said.

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Thursday, 29 August 2013

On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road when she was eleven, Taylor Markham 17, finally confronts her past. Hannah, the closest adult she has to family, disappears. Jonah Griggs, moody stares and all, is back in town. If Taylor can put together the pieces of her past, she might just be able to change her future.

On the Jellicoe Road I’m a plot girl through and through, but there are certain authors that can make me sit down and read a book that’s pure character study and absolutely nothing else. Melina Marchetta is one of those authors. I love how she manipulates words. Sometimes, I still feel like crying myself to sleep over The Piper’s Son and Froi of Exiles only improved on the second reading.

On the Jellicoe Road is a different animal.

The stories of Taylor Markham, Jonah Griggs, Ben Cassidy, Narnie, Webb, Tate, Fitz, and Jude never really came together for me. Marchetta does try to fit all the puzzle pieces together in this disjointed novel, but even the best explanation falls flat when the reader doesn’t care about the characters. Of a character driven story.

See what I did there.

When I’m reading a character driven novel I need to be able to connect with the secondary characters if not with the—unreliable—narrator. Every fragmented scene was merely an anecdote that had happened to someone else, to people I don’t know or wish to meet. It was all so far, far away from me. I’m not talking about the fact that I live in Northern Europe and the author with her characters lives in Australia, I’m talking about the emotional connection that never was.

I did not care.

On a technical level I can admire what Marchetta was trying to achieve by indulging in non-linear storytelling and I wish there were more books like this—only better—to challenge readers of all ages. The problem is she’s not good enough author to pull it off. Neither was Hal Duncan, come to think of it, no matter what the award committees might think.

If the soul of a book is sacrificed at the altar of writing craft, the book fails.

On the Jellicoe Road fails.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Review: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Book info:
Genre: paranormal thriller
Target audience: adults
Form: pdf e-book


The plot of this novel revolves around Charles Talent Manx, his enemy Vic (Victoria) McQueen and her family. Both Vic and Manx have the same gift – a very vivid imagination which allows them to create new worlds and move between them and reality, bending space-time continuum with the help of some special objects.  These objects include, but are not limited to, a vintage Rolls-Roys Wraith and a much humbler Tuff Burner bike. Of course it's not all. Charles can persuade anybody to do anything he wants as long as he gets them into his car. Vic can find any lost object or person she wants. Those two are soon on a collision course because individuals with unusual gifts attract each other's attention.

 Vic is aided from time to time by Margaret Leigh, a stuttering librarian who loves Scrabbles to no end and understands the gift like nobody else; Manx’s current henchman is a mentally retarded man with a criminal record called Bing. Both strive to protect what they love the best. In the case of Charles Manx it is a place called Christmasland and its inhabitants, the children he’d abducted, allegedly to protect them against their families and the ugly world around. In the case of Vic it’s her son, Wayne, and her partner, Louis.  The war between them will be long and bloody, especially after kidnapping  Wayne.  Still you must pay for every gift and Vic cannot fathom how steep price will be demanded of her.

My impressions:

My first general remark: any decent writer having so many good plot ideas would write a series – three books at least, perhaps even four or six if the first two got off financially. Joe Hill wrote one long, great novel and gained my admiration.

My second general remark: in this book I found one of the best baddies I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet in the literature. I loved to hate Charles Talent Manx, a man who would love to have Christmas every single day, all year round. He was three-dimensional and hideous and fascinating at the same time. He was a psychological vampire and it suited me to no end and his car…well, I love vintage cars so it worked exceedingly well, reminding me a bit about Christine by Stephen King. Still Rolls Royce Wraith was better. It was a real beast.

Vic McQueen was also a lovely heroine – a kick-ass girl who had her own demons and vulnerabilities which sometimes made her stronger and sometimes made her like a soft putty in the hands of her opponent. It also took her quite a long time to figure out how her gift worked and what it entailed. Here Manx had a clear advantage over her because he was way older and experienced.

Vic  and Lou’s romance…once again it worked and I couldn’t believe how well it worked for me. It was very moving, real and just fantastic. No, they didn’t marry because Vic didn’t believe in marriage (and small wonder, taking into account her family history) but the bond between them was stronger than the bond between many fictional married couples. Especially that both of them were hardly flawless – Lou was seriously overweight and adult Vic was both drug and alcohol addict.

Now the fictional world of magic and space-time tricks. Shorter Way Bridge (Vic’s way around) was good but Christmasland (Manx’s special kingdom of sorts) was mesmerizing – really one of the more original and scariest places I’ve ever visited while reading horrors/thrillers. It was very cleverly constructed, being similar to some places from my nightmare – allegedly harmless but with that atmosphere that sends chills down your spine and makes your hair curl. In fact I think such a place would be a dream come true to any thriller director – it can sell any movie in no time, especially during Christmas, to such weirdoes like me.

Final verdict: 

If you like thrillers, go read it. If you don't like thrillers, go read it.Yes, it was an awesome book, confident and at times ruthless, moving along at a determined pace, never looking back. I loved it.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Somebody Killed His Editor by Josh Lanyon (Holmes & Moriarity #1)

Thanks to an elderly spinster sleuth and her ingenious cat, Christopher Holmes has enjoyed a celebrated career as a bestselling mystery writer. Until now. Sales are down and his new editor is allergic to geriatric gumshoes.

On the advice of his agent, he reinvents his fortyish, frumpy, recently dumped self into the sleek, sexy image of a literary lion, and heads for a Northern California writers conference to try and resurrect his career. A career nearly as dead as the body he stumbles over in the woods.

In a weirdly déjà vu replay of one of his own novels, he finds himself stranded in an isolated lodge full of frightened women—and not a lawman in sight. Except for J.X. Moriarity, former cop and bestselling novelist. The man with whom he shared a one-night stand—okay, maybe three—long ago. The man who wants to arrest him for murder.

A ruthless, stalking killer, or a hot, handsome ex-lover. Which poses the greater danger? It’s elementary, my dear Holmes! 

Christopher Holmes is a writer who writes mysteries a la Agatha Christie’s Ms Marple. Or he used to, apparently they’re not selling anymore. This is why he’s taking a break from his reclusion and going on a trip to a writers’ conference hoping to reinvent himself just enough to sell another book. Well, no. The reinvention is his editor’s idea, who along with everyone else in the hotel becomes a suspect the moment Christopher stumbles on a dead body. Also, there’s a storm.

It isn’t much of a mystery but Lanyon successfully kept me distracted with gossip and Christopher’s reheated love affair with another mystery writer J.X. Moriarity. Yes, you read that right and no, that’s not a typo. Lanyon isn’t paying homage just to Christie but to Conan Doyle as well.

Somebody Killed His Editor is written in Lanyon’s usual style, in first person voice, and is full of witty remarks and the kind of gaslighting an unreliable narrator causes. There is an attempt to sketch a few of the secondary characters in more detail but not quite enough for proper characterisation. The object of Christopher’s desires is left aloof and only mirrored in his reactions to J.X. I’m guessing the rest of the specifics are delivered in the sequel.

Other than that, there’s very little to say about the book. I enjoyed reading it but it wasn’t anything special. Still, I wouldn’t call it a meh-book either.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Review: Threat of Darkness (Witches Knot 06) by Lauren Dane

Synopsis (from Goodreads): 

This book is a spinoff of the Witches Knot series, but can be read alone. 
 Mei is a Warrior for the Balance. She stands between good and evil. So when her boss tells her she's got to head to Tir na nOg to help the Fae she is most displeased. Mei's mother Aine, the queen of the Fae, betrayed and exiled her millennia ago. Or so she's been led to believe. But Aine was misled by her own sister, and suddenly everything Mei has thought was true for thousands of years falls down around her ears as she looks up to see the face of her husband. Her first husband, a man she'd thought was dead. Jayce MacTavish is surprised to find that his wife, thought millennia dead, is alive, but his joy is tempered by the realization that she's got another mate. Mei, Card and Jayce must find a way to be together as three while a threat from the Dark Fae and a new enemy darkens the horizon. 

"Publisher Note: This book contains brief scenes of male/male sexual enjoyment."

My note: just one kiss *snort*. Definitely not worth the publicity it received.

My impressions:

I started to read this novel while on holiday by the sea. I was feeling rather optimistic at the time - you see, it enjoys a pretty high rating average on Goodreads, 4 stars out of 5, nothing less. Why - my mind boggles. It was horrid. It was stupid. It was a fantasy book without one inch of imagination or, well, fantasy. The fact that your characters are fairies, demons, trolls and werewolves DOESN'T mean anything without the proper world build and here there was no such a thing. Still I was the first Goodreads user who actually has given it one star. There must be something wrong: with the universe, with me, with the books and the publishing industry, with the world at large. Horribly, terribly wrong. How cannot people notice? HOW?

It is a relatively short novel - just 133 pages. One third of it consists of sex scenes. Boring, repetitive and schematic sex scenes I must add. Any and every conflict is resolved by either sex or deus-ex-machina magic performed by some gods - Freia and Carl Donovan are among them. Carl Donovan a.k.a. the Donovan is really a strange choice of name for a divine entity but whatever - if you compare it to the fact that all characters of this beauty take the expression "too stupid to live" to quite an insanely low level one inappropriate name is really a minor glitch.

Ponder over this: Mei was imprisoned and tortured by some BDSM demonic afficionados for a millenium. Yes, a millenium of torture and rapes, you read it right. Nobody even thought of looking for her because everybody believed she had been killed in a battle. Why? Her aunt said so. Nobody found the remnants of Mei's body, nobody saw anything but all those great fairies, Mei's mother and her very loving husband, Jaice, among them, assumed that if Eire (the aunt) says Mei is dead then Mei is dead, end of the story. Irrefutable logic, right? 

Then Mei is freed from her prison by Card the half were half demon, soon to be her hubby number two;  after a period of recovery she returns home and she is said that Jaice is dead, her mom doesn't want to see her anymore, she is disinherited and basically she can go and jump to the lake, thank you very much for the visit, don't bother to show your face the second time. Yes, you guessed right: once again her lovely aunt was the source of those completely false revelations. Actually she sent one of Mei's mother flunkies to do the dirty job. What Mei, a clever warrior and a fairy princess several millenia old, does? She believes in every word of that flunkey - without even thinking of contacting anybody else. If you are said by a third party your beloved husband is dead and your mum hates your guts you should ALWAYS believe it straightaway, right? Even without any proof presented? *headdesk*

Then the novel went from bad to worse. Yes, I mean the baddies, whose characterization was non-existent. You see, they are bad because a) they are DARK fae (got it? DARK!!!) and b) they hate humans. Oh well, sometimes I am not so fond of humans either and I dress in black - I bet I am bad too, right? 

Not that the goodies were better, believe me, they were not. Both male interests of the main heroine  could be described very simply as a red-headed, long-braided Scot with great physique (Jaice) and a half-werewolf half-demon with yellow eyes and great physique (Card). Here you go - now you know everything there is to know about them. I bet plenty of male catwalk models show more of their personality during an average photo session than those two. Their main role is to satisfy Mei in bed (or anywhere else if the mood strikes) and generally take care of her.  If you are now wondering I rush to add the crucial bit of info: both do it at the same time. Mostly. In order to spoil you even further: they are her two husbands and they are fond of each other as well. How come? Magic! Nothing else is needed in a successful relationship, right? (btw thanks Tasha/heidenkind for that little beauty below!)

If only magic extended also to the plot, the dialogues and the overall writing quality...unfortunately the plot was HIGHLY predictable, I bet my dog would guess any major turn and twist without any problem, the dialogues were wooden infodumps full of cliches and maudlin love and/or independence declarations (independence so you knew Mei is kick-ass), some sentences were clearly grammatically incorrect and after reaching the half point I decided I really don't need to torture myself any longer so I dumped it. Still I amused myself with  checking the finale grande. Yes, I guessed EVERYTHING right.  What joy ;(

Final verdict:

So not for me that I can hardly contain myself, limiting the amount of expletives to zero. If you want to know how a fantasy erotica novel looks when gone completely awry, read this one but don't blame me afterwards - you have been warned.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Love Has No Boundaries: Short Stories & Short Reviews Part 3

These short stories were written as a part of the M/M Romance Group's "Love Has No Boundaries" event. Group members were asked to write a story prompt inspired by a photo of their choice. Authors of the group selected a photo and prompt that spoke to them and wrote a short story.

Deep in the CountDeep in the Count by Madison Parker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This came as close to perfection as I've seen a short story get in a long while. The plot and characterisations where there as were some of the details. I would've liked a bit more description, which I don't say often.

You Get Full Credit For Being AliveYou Get Full Credit For Being Alive by Cari Z.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

You wouldn't think that a retired assassin falling in love would make for a good story, would you? Of course it would and thank heavens I'm not alone in thinking that. I enjoyed reading the beginning of this novella even with the gruesome details, but as the story progressed other little details started gnawing at my enjoyment.

I didn't think the tools and skills of the assassin's trade—namely wiretapping—were believable. Neither did I enjoy the bits of French dialogue that read like something I'd get from Google translate. Clunky at best—and I only know the basics of the language. And then there was the ending, which I can see being pleasing others was far from satisfactory for my taste. Such a shame.

The Brat WhispererThe Brat Whisperer by J.A. Rock

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Somewhere between two and three stars. It's not a bad story at all, a character study of sorts with a dose of healthy BDSM. There's spanking and discipline, but those aren't really my thing and neither was there anything to elevate this above all the others. I'm tempted to round down due to that ending but I won't.

Dirty BoysDirty Boys by Kyle Adams

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

That was fun. Ridiculous but fun in a sweet, plotless, sex-addled-mind kind of way.

The Field of Someone Else's DreamsThe Field of Someone Else's Dreams by Amelia C. Gormley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

That was really good. A story about a college student and an injured baseball player drifting, trying to decide what he wants or even dares to expect from the uncertain future. There's a secret boyfriend and there are difficult parents. Read it.