This past month I clocked in a fair number of hours on the couch, burning through the battery on my Kindle (and occasionally turning pages of a book). It was a mixed bag of reading, from Pulitzer winning authors to shapeshifting wolves (and I threw some ballerinas in there for spice).
I loved Anchee Min’s Becoming Madam Mao, and I’ve read every book she’s put out since then. But none have quite measured up to Mao for me, and her latest, Pearl of China, was no exception. The story of Pearl S. Buck’s life in China as told through the eyes of a childhood friend, I had high, high hopes. The time period is similar to Mao, and I’d enjoyed Buck’s The Three Daughters of Madam Liang (excellent book, if you haven’t read it yet). And there are aspects of Pearl that do not disappoint. Because of her immersion into village life, Pearl was very, very “Chinese”. Probably more so than American. But the biggest drawback to the book was how ambitious it was compared to its length. I applaud Min’s attempts to whittle an entire lifetime into such a short book (the paperback version is around 275 pages) especially since historical novels tend to be massive tomes. But in this instance I think added length would have helped, rather than hindered, the story. It moves so quickly through the different stages of Buck’s life that it’s hard to connect with the characters.
Despite my disappointment with Pearl, I decided to continue my Chinese reading by moving on to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. I know a number of people who read this in college or high school for one reason or another, and despite the Chinese history class I took in college, this wasn’t on the list. Sun Tzu’s philosophies read a lot like common sense (c’mon, protect your flank, man!) but it was still fascinating to read a text that warlords and army generals alike referred to for so long when it came to battle.
I was perusing Dear Author one day, and one of the flashy ads on the sidebar caught my eye. It was for Dana Marie Bell’s Hecate’s Own. So I headed on over to Samhain’s website and bought it. Then I devoured it. Zach’s a wolf whose magic is out of control. A witch raised in a family of wizards, he didn’t discover the true nature of his magic until recently, so he’s sent to the witch’s court to learn. Jo, his teacher, has never seen someone as bad at practicing magic as Zach. But it’s not his fault – he’s been hexed. The two of them work together to remove the hex, and then to pursue the man who placed it on him. And there’s a lot of sexual tension and some delicious bedroom romps along the way. You feel for Zach almost immediately. Everyone’s pretty much given up on him, labeled him as worthless as a magical practitioner, and no one believes in him. Not even Jo. I wanted to cry when he decides he’s had enough of the ill treatment he’s received from the other witches. Jo, for her part, once she realizes what Zach actually is (sorry, you’ll have to read the book to find out!) does a quick about face and becomes one of his staunchest supporters. A fun, sexy read that I happily lost myself in for a few hours, and then pouted when it came to the end and I realized the next book wasn’t available yet. Grr.
So I was in a good reading mood when I picked up Delilah S. Dawson’s Wicked As She Wants. Princess Ahnastasia was drained and left for dead in a valise, shipped to the ends of Sang and back. She comes to in a bar in London, discovered by Casper Sterling. Yes, that Casper Sterling. The delicious Maestro from Wicked As They Come. Ahna tries to kill Casper, then dupes him into helping her return to Muscovy, her home, where she’ll fight to depose the interloper who took her throne. Dawson’s world of bludmen and clockworks is an enjoyable one, but Ahna bugged the shit out of me for the first ten or so chapters. She’s a princess, set to be the next Tsarina, so yes, she’s allowed to be a bit imperial, particularly since in her land, the Bludmen rule and the Pinkies (humans) are servants. But she comes off as a brat, to the point of being a bitch. Her softening and ultimate transformation from snooty princess to something more humane that wasn’t as fleshed out and believable as it could have been. The few hints placed here and there morph into a full on attack of conscience that felt abrupt. However, Casper…oh, you broken, broken man. If you loved Casper in Wicked As They Come, you’ll want to cuddle him and take away all his hurts in Wicked As She Wants. Here’s a man who has lost everything, twice, and he’s still standing. Between his bouts of madness and anger is a charming Southern gentleman, and I loved seeing him get his happily ever after.
My TBR pile is dwindling…so what did you read this month? 🙂