A Few Links for a Bank Holiday Weekend

And a very wet Bank Holiday at that!  Though it’s been a fairly productive weekend for me – I finally finished adding all my 2013 reads to Goodreads (yes, only eight months late – I think I just had a blogging slump during the middle of the year).

Some links I’ve been meaning to post for a while:

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My Day Out at LonCon3

LONCON3_logo_small_webSo you may have heard that the WorldCon (or the 72nd World Science Fiction Conference) was in London this year.  Probably because I didn’t have to commit to any major travel plans, I dithered a bit (okay, a lot) on whether to attend or not until the week before, when I finally decided that this would probably be the only time in my life where the WorldCon would be in my home city and I should really go.  So after studying the programme in detail, I handed over the money for a Sunday day admission – and was glad I did, because I probably would have died from envy while reading status updates otherwise…

I did swing past the Excel Centre (where the convention was being held) on the Saturday as Andrea K Höst organised a fan meet-up in one of the nearby cafes.  I was running late (thanks to me forgetting the DLR weekend schedule was slightly different to the weekday one) so I arrived midway through Andrea’s explanation of the world-building in her upcoming book, THE PYRAMIDS OF LONDON, I think!  But it was fun to talk books (and I also got to meet Estara in person, which was great).

On Sunday, I arrived at the Excel Centre more or less when planned this time around.  I thought the con was very well-organised – maybe because it was the fourth day, but I picked up my badge at the registration desk in about two minutes flat.  There were queues outside the more popular panels, but certainly the ones I attended were very prompt about ending 5-10 minutes early so that the next panel could start on time.

I had a few panels on my list to attend, and the first panel was “Authors Accept, Encourage, and Create Fan Works Too” – partly because of the authors on the panel (Seanan McGuire, Adam Christopher, Karen Miller, and Patrick Rothfuss, moderated by Karen Hellekson), but also because I was curious about their take on fanfiction (I’m not a massive fanfic reader myself, but have read and loved some).  This was held in one of the larger suites, so didn’t feel massively crowded – possibly 2/3s full at best?

Caveat: I wasn’t doing any proper note-taking, so I may have misquoted or misinterpreted panellists. 

My notes are rather scanty, as I’m really not at my best before noon on a Sunday.  The hour flew past – 60 minutes for a panel doesn’t feel long enough as by the time intros are completed and the panel has answered a couple of questions thrown out by the moderator, you only have time for a few questions from the audience.  For this panel specifically, I also had the impression that the panel wasn’t necessarily in agreement on certain topics, so it was a shame that there wasn’t enough time to explore what they agreed/disagreed on…

Not all the questions from the audience here felt particularly relevant to me, especially when one of the people chosen (I think he was an author too, but didn’t catch his name/recognise him) ended up stating his views on the topic as opposed to asking a question.  From memory, questions included the risk of losing copyright/trademarks (which led to the level of control that creators have over their universe – Karen Miller talked a bit about the restrictions of writing in the Star Wars universe) and whether actors should be allowed to add their own interpretation to characters as written by authors (there was a firm “no” from Karen Miller (I think!), though Pat Rothfuss hinted he disagreed).  Towards the end, Seanan McGuire (err.. I think again – good thing I’m not a journalist) made an eloquent argument about why “intent does not mean anything”, which I thought was fantastic – paraphrasing horribly, but it was along the lines of “it doesn’t matter what you meant when you wrote something, it’s about what the reader took away from it”.

I then went to the “Diversity Within Young Adult Science Fiction” panel, which was 90 minutes long and felt so much better-paced as a result.  Panellists were Mary Anne Mohanraj, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Mahvesh Murad, Kate Elliott, John Hornor Jacobs, and it was moderated by Marieke Nijkamp.  You’ll be glad to hear I had a few more proper notes from this one – so much so that the detail is behind the cut below, as this recap has turned out to be a bit of an essay…  Midway through this panel, the skies opened – possibly coincidentally, my note-taking application crashed (if I’d thought about this a bit more, I’d brought pen and paper really).  Which means my notes on book recommendations are rather sketchy – Kate Elliott talked up Malinda Lo’s books a lot though!

I took a break from the programming to wander through the dealers’ hall – there were so many secondhand mass-market paperbacks I wanted, but couldn’t really justify as I’ve the e-copies and no shelf space.  But still… I loved seeing all those retro covers, and would have probably caved had I been at the con for more than a day.  And I also bumped into Ana and Thea from The Book Smugglers while browsing through the books – they were just as fantastic IRL as you’d expect them to be.

I wanted to attend the “So Grim. Much Serious. Wow” panel, primarily because Tanya Huff was on the panel, but when I turned up about 10 minutes early, the queue for the room was massively long.  So I figured I wouldn’t get in and decided to go to Bryan Talbot‘s “How I Make a Graphic Novel” instead.  Bryan Talbot was one of LonCon3’s Guests of Honour and it was a fascinating hour or so.  I don’t really read graphic novels (but I’ve been trying to understand how to read one, if that makes sense!), so I suspect I didn’t get as much out of it as others would have, but I enjoyed listening to him talk through the actual process of writing one – usage of different grid-styles, pacing, page design etc – and left impressed with the amount of work and thought that goes into creating a graphic novel.

Final panel of the day for me was “My Opinions, Let Me Show You Them“, which was a bloggers’ panel (Foz Meadows (m), Thea James, Aidan Moher, Adam Whitehead, Justin Landon) – it was nice to see the faces behind the blogs.  I’ve to say the room was very very warm – it was one of the smaller suites, and it was packed – and I swear the man next to me was snoozing away.  He perked up as the panel was asked to talk about some of their controversial posts, and started googling the posts in question as the bloggers were speaking, which amused me!  One of the questions asked was whether the panel ever pulled their punches, which led to Foz Meadows (usual caveat of I think it was, anyway…) talking about punching up/down/across, which was also referred to in the Diversity in YA panel I attended earlier.

And that was it for me – I had to run unfortunately, so couldn’t go to the Hugos ceremony in the evening, but it sounded like it was good fun for those who went (winners and breakdown of votes).  Although I only spent a day (or eight hours or so, to be precise) at LonCon3, it was really refreshing to be in the same place as other people who love reading and SF/F as much as I do, and I can definitely see the attraction of con-attending (and I really want to attend a romance and/or blogging convention now).  I suspect my experience would also have been a lot different had I done the full weekend/staying on-site thing – maybe next time…

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Sarina Bowen’s THE UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE YEAR: Cover Reveal (& Giveaway)

It’s fair to say I rarely do cover reveals.  So rare that today’s post may actually be my first one.

Two, no, three reasons actually:

  • Firstly, I love Sarina Bowen‘s covers for her Ivy Years series (shallow, but sadly true) – I love the striking simplicity of the cover designs and the cohesive series feel
  • More seriously, I’ve read and enjoyed the first two full-length novels in her series – they’re inter-connected stories (with different protagonists) in a college setting.  I think I’ve talked before about how NA books were all starting to blend into one for me, and her books feel different – she doesn’t shy away from tackling tough issues, and they’re not the standard run-of-the-mill issues you find in NA books.  The first book, THE YEAR WE FELL DOWN, has Corey dealing with the life-changing results of a sports injury, while Scarlett has serious reasons for creating a new life for herself in THE YEAR WE HID AWAY.  I also have major love for the Harkness (a thinly-disguised Yale) college setting and the sports elements in these books (ice hockey, if you’re curious).
  • Finally, it’s an M/M new adult book – how rare is that?  (Possibly less rare than my cover reveals.)

So without further ado, here’s the cover for THE UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE YEAR, out Oct 1:

The Understatement of the Year coverThe Understatement of the Year (Ivy Years #3)
by Sarina Bowen

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Age category: New Adult
Release Date: October 1, 2014

Blurb:
What happened in high school stayed in high school. Until now.

Five years ago, Michael Graham betrayed the only person who ever really knew him. Since then, he’s made an art of hiding his sexual preference from everyone. Including himself.

So it’s a shock when his past strolls right into the Harkness College locker room, sporting a bag of hockey gear and the same slow smile that had always rendered Graham defenseless. For Graham, there is only one possible reaction: total, debilitating panic. With one loose word, the team’s new left wing could destroy Graham’s life as he knows it.

John Rikker is stuck being the new guy. Again. And it’s worse than usual, because the media has latched onto the story of the only “out” player in Division One hockey. As the satellite trucks line the sidewalk outside the rink, his new teammates are not amused.

And one player in particular looks sick every time he enters the room.

Rikker didn’t exactly expect a warm welcome from Graham. But the guy won’t even meet his eyes. From the looks of it, his former… best friend / boyfriend / whatever isn’t doing so well. He drinks too much and can’t focus during practice.

Either the two loneliest guys on the team will self destruct from all the new pressures in their lives, or they can navigate the pain to find a way back to one another. To say that it won’t be easy is the Understatement of the Year.

 

Warning: unlike the other books in this series, this heartbreaking love story is about two guys. Contains sexual situations, dance music, snarky t-shirts and a poker-playing grandmother.

A few Q&As about the series/book:

Q: Is Harkness College from the Ivy Years series based on Yale?

A: Heck yes! But it’s based on a Yale which has gone soft and fuzzy in my mind, in all the best ways. So I’ve fictionalized it to avoid the errors and inaccuracies that I’d be likely to make if I tried to get everything just right.

Q: Why did you decide to write a book about two guys?

A: In the first place, I didn’t really decide, so much as the idea for Graham’s struggle surgically implanted itself in my brain and would not let go. And when I pictured the two of them meeting up again in a locker room after five years of silence, I just got the chills. This became the book that I cheated on all my other books to write. (If my editors of other projects are reading this… sorry! I’ll get back to work now. Probably.)

Q: Why college hockey?

A. Because… duh! Hockey players are hot. And hockey is a fast-paced game where whining is categorically disallowed. Interestingly, fighting is not legal in college hockey, either. It’s all about the game. I love that!

Q: How many Ivy Years books do you have planned?

A: Five, if you’re counting the novella. After Rikker and Graham’s book, Bella is going to need her own book. What, you haven’t met Bella yet? You will on October 1st, when Understatement of the Year is published. She is a kick-ass chick in much the same way as Corey, Scarlet and Katie. You’ll love her. You can read a bit more about all the titles on The Ivy Years page on my website.

You can find and contact Sarina here: WebsiteFacebookTwitterGoodreads

Pre-order links: Amazon, Kobo (should be up shortly)

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And if you’ve made it this far, there’s a tour-wide giveaway for the cover reveal of THE UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE YEAR. You can win a signed set of paperback books which includes: The Year We Fell Down (Ivy Years #1), The Year We Hid Away (Ivy Years #2) and Blonde Date (Ivy Years 2.5). The giveaway is open internationally.

Finally – I’ve read an ARC of THE UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE YEAR and will post a review closer to the release date, but it’s a good one.

This cover reveal is organized by Lola’s Blog Tours.

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Books for August

A belated new releases post (and WordPress has changed their posts interface – help!).  Not that many new releases this month that I want, for a change…

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9627755Stephanie Perkin‘s ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER (YA romance): I fell in love with ANNA when it was released way back when, so am thrilled that we are finally getting the final companion novel in this loosely-related trilogy of books.

From the glittering streets of Manhattan to the moonlit rooftops of Paris, falling in love is easy for hopeless dreamer Isla and introspective artist Josh. But as they begin their senior year in France, Isla and Josh are quickly forced to confront the heartbreaking reality that happily-ever-afters aren’t always forever.

Their romantic journey is skillfully intertwined with those of beloved couples Anna and Étienne and Lola and Cricket, whose paths are destined to collide in a sweeping finale certain to please fans old and new.

Out Aug 14

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18398797Kelley Armstrong‘s VISIONS (UF): Her Otherworld books were auto-buys for me; I’ve been more on the fence about her recent releases, but I did like the first book in this series, OMENS, when I read it last year.  

As #1 New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong’s new Cainsville series continues, Olivia’s power to read omens leads to the discovery of a gruesome crime with troubling connections to her new hometown.

Omens, the first installment in Kelley Armstrong’s exciting new series, introduced Olivia Taylor-Jones, daughter of notorious serial killers, and Gabriel Walsh, the self-serving, morally ambiguous lawyer who became her unlikely ally. Together, they chased down a devious killer and partially cleared her parents of their horrifying crimes.

Their success, however, is short-lived. While Olivia takes refuge in the old, secluded town of Cainsville, Gabriel’s past mistakes have come to light, creating a rift between the pair just when she needs his help the most.

Olivia finds a dead woman in her car, dressed to look like her, but the body vanishes before anyone else sees it. Olivia’s convinced it’s another omen, a sign of impending danger. But then she learns that a troubled young woman went missing just days ago—the same woman Olivia found dead in her car. Someone has gone to great lengths to kill and leave this young woman as a warning. But why? And what role has her new home played in this disturbing murder?

Olivia’s effort to uncover the truth places her in the crosshairs of old and powerful forces, forces that have their own agenda, and closely guarded secrets they don’t want revealed.

Out Aug 19

19186417Lee Child‘s PERSONAL (suspense): The latest Jack Reacher is always on my to-read list, so no surprises here.  But I admit to liking the city-based Reacher stories more (yes, total city girl at heart!) and it looks like both Paris AND London make an appearance in this book.

Jack Reacher walks alone. Once a go-to hard man in the US military police, now he’s a drifter of no fixed abode. But the army tracks him down. Because someone has taken a long-range shot at the French president.

Only one man could have done it. And Reacher is the one man who can find him.

This new heartstopping, nailbiting book in Lee Child’s number-one bestselling series takes Reacher across the Atlantic to Paris – and then to London. The stakes have never been higher – because this time, it’s personal.

Out Aug 28

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20945757Ann Aguirre‘s I WANT IT THAT WAY (NA romance): It’s been a while since I’ve read an Aguirre, and the last one I read was her Sirantha Jax SFR series (which, come to think of it, I never ended up finishing).  But I like her writing, and this first book in her new series caught my eye. 

Nadia Conrad has big dreams, and she’s determined to make them come true—for her parents’ sake as well as her own. But between maintaining her college scholarship and working at the local day care to support herself, she barely has time to think, let alone date. Then she moves into a new apartment and meets the taciturn yet irresistible guy in 1B….

Daniel Tyler has grown up too fast. Becoming a single dad at twenty turned his life upside down—and brought him heartache he can’t risk again. Now, as he raises his four-year-old son while balancing a full-time construction management job and night classes, a social life is out of the question. The last thing he wants is for four noisy students to move into the apartment upstairs. But one night, Nadia’s and Ty’s paths cross, and soon they can’t stay away from each other.

The timing is all wrong—but love happens when it happens. And you can’t know what you truly need until you stand to lose it.

Out Aug 26

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Some Really Good Books*

I… have been reading some really good books.  I don’t even feel guilty (okay, I do, vaguely) about not putting up my August new releases post because I’ve just Been Reading.  And now I’ve to gush talk about them, possibly slightly incoherently, but, well.

9221793First was a bit of a glom for new-to-me author Cinda Williams Chima.  I’ve heard good things about her writing, and have had the first book of her Seven Realms YA fantasy series on my Kindle for ages.  But I was never quite in the right mood for it – and still wasn’t really.  It was just that I had a three hour train journey and wanted some fantasy.  So I chose a book at random, and I’ll be honest - THE DEMON KING didn’t grab me from the start.  I thought the first chapters were inclined towards over-exposition and was concerned that this would be fantasy dumbed-down for the teen market.  The alternating POVs struck me as a rather tired narrative device, the characters felt a bit generic-fantasy archetype (the streetwise ex-thief turned good, the rebellious princess, etc etc…), and the dreaded love triangle threatened.

I know.  Thank goodness for that three-hour journey because I continued reading.

And somehow I got sucked in.  The characters grew up and became three-dimensional – I liked them, I rooted for them, and I wanted them to win through even though it felt impossible at times.  The stakes for Raisa, Han, Dancer, Amon, Cat, and well, so many others, became higher over the course of the series and I was totally invested in the outcome.  The romance (of course there was romance) was of the sort that came ever so slowly to the boil and was oh-so-satisfying.  I surfaced from the world of the Seven Realms a while later, having gulped down the entire quartet in around three days.  It’s the sort of series where midway through the final book, I almost didn’t want to finish it because that would have meant the story was over.

So if you’re in the mood for fantasy with a healthy mix of court intrigue, magic, and romance, you could do worse than to check out this series.  And I need to have a look at Cinda Williams Chima’s other series, obviously.

And that’s not all.

16068905I finally caved and bought Rainbow Rowell‘s FANGIRL after the numerous fangirl (sorry) squeeing reviews about her books (and also because of the current bargain-ish price of  £1.59 for the Kindle edition on Amazon UK).  Plus I needed to switch genres as I suspected any other fantasy would pale compared to the Seven Realms books at the moment.

All I’m going to say is that I only put down FANGIRL last night because it was 2am and I had a 9am meeting this morning.  So excuse me as I’ve to find out how Cath is doing…

*You may have noticed I’ve run out of inspiration when it comes to blog post titles.

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Good Books

So that July new releases post I put up a week or so ago?  I’ve read three of them now – and loved all three.  Which is not always the case, let me assure you – I think I’ve had more misses than hits in 2014 so far.  But these three – let’s just say I resented having to put these books down when reading them (sometimes I feel like we should have “good book days” the same way we have sick days).

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16045306First up, Miranda Kenneally‘s BREATHE, ANNIE, BREATHE.  I first stumbled upon Miranda Kenneally’s books when I picked up CATCHING JORDAN almost two years ago now (time flies!).  They’ve been a bit uneven since, but I feel she’s really hit it out of the park with ANNIE (you can tell when I’ve read a Kenneally when I go for sporting metaphors).  Seeing that the main protagonist’s a teenager who’s training for a marathon in memory of her boyfriend, it would be easy for this story to veer too much into the territory of angst and depression.  But it didn’t – Annie’s not the only one with baggage in the book, but yet the emotions never felt overdone.  She felt real, as did Jeremiah – I loved their chemistry, the feelings, and I was with them all the way as they took tentative steps into friendship and then more.  I also loved that family – on both Annie’s and Jere’s sides – was so present and loving in this book, which is a bit of a rarity for a YA/NA!  And finally, while there are cameos by characters from previous Hundred Oaks books, I felt this one worked as a standalone as well.

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20426102I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting with Rachel Aaron‘s UF debut NICE DRAGONS FINISH LAST – I knew she could give good story after her SF Paradox trilogy (btw, did you read she’s writing another trilogy in the Paradox universe – more Sainted King!), but was slightly wary after reading her first (admittedly debut) fantasy novel way back and being all meh about it.  But I needn’t have been worried – I was caught up in the story from the first chapter onwards, and I suspect this would appeal to those looking for a slightly different UF series.  I mean, what other UF has a all-powerful dragon seer named Bob (okay, Brohomir, but he prefers Bob), who uses <3 <3 in his texts (and just generally takes the piss out of everyone)?  As you can gather, the book doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it’s a solid story with some very engaging characters.  Julius is the “nice dragon” of the title, but he’s no self-pitying pushover.  There’s fast-paced action mixed with humour and snark, and tantalising glimpses of the wider dragon community – and if they’re anything like the Heartstrikers clan members we’ve already met, we’re in for a ride.  I closed the book wanting more Heartstrikers now.  She mentions November as a possible release date for the next book, so fingers crossed!

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20822874And then KJ CharlesTHINK OF ENGLAND.  I had a feeling this was going to be it.  I mean, her Magpie Lord books were getting better and better, her romantic thriller NON-STOP TILL TOKYO drew me in despite violence not generally being my thing, but still, I was not prepared by how much I loved THINK OF ENGLAND.  Set in turn-of-the-century 20th-century England, the first thing that struck me was the period feel.  The usual tongue-in-cheek Samhain warning for this book read:

Warning: Contains explicit male/male encounters, ghastly historical attitudes, and some extremely stiff upper lips.

And all three were spot on.  I thought KJ Charles nailed the insular attitudes of the English upper class of that era, the country-house weekend (or fortnight, in this case) feel.  The story evolved so naturally, and before I knew it, Curtis was up to his ears with intrigue and deception.  And not knowing whether he was coming or going with Daniel… Their chemistry was off the page, and their interactions equally romantic and sexy.  As for the final suspenseful and action-packed chapters – well, let’s just say I couldn’t put the book down.  Unusually for an m/m historical, I closed the book thinking a HEA was actually possible, despite the challenges not getting hand-waved away or swept under the carpet.  I’m hoping this is just the start of a series, as I suspect any of Curtis and Daniel’s future adventures will be a joy to read.

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A This and That Kind of Post…

… reflecting my similarly unfocused state of mind – here are both links and recent reads.

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I grew out of my “classics” phase ages ago, but this post by Sherwood Smith on her latest re-read of George Eliot‘s MIDDLEMARCH had me running to manybooks.net to download the PD version.  I’ve never read MIDDLEMARCH before, but I want to now.  Hopefully I’m not in for a disappointment – thoughts, anyone?

Requisite tor.com post that I liked: This one about cover art for Orbit books.  If I’m honest, I hadn’t really thought much about Orbit covers having a certain artistic style, but some of their covers have been striking.

And because I link to almost every Courtney Milan post – she talks about her enhanced digital editions ($0.99 each for a short while, I believe) and how she was able to release her own version of the books she published with Harlequin.  Really interesting (or at least, I thought so!).

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Books I’ve read recently (I flirt with the idea of a weekly/monthly wrap-up, and then figure I’d never stick to a schedule):

A couple of new-to-me category authors (spoiler: I wasn’t wowed by either) – Joss Wood‘s MORE THAN JUST A FLING? and Jessica Gilmore‘s THE RETURN OF MRS JONES.  I picked up the Wood because it was on sale and Nath likes her writing, and the Gilmore because I read a review somewhere.  Unfortunately, I can’t remember where now, so shout if you’ve seen it reviewed fairly recently – it wasn’t an overly-glowing review, but I was in the mood for an exes reunited premise.

Plus and minus points for each (I know – call this a book blog…) – okay, I liked that both stories felt fresh (as opposed to how category romance can sometimes feel dated) and there was some sparkle, but pacing felt a bit slow in spots.  So while I’d probably read more by each author at some point, I’m not running out to get the rest of their backlists.

20878147KS Augustin‘s THE CHECK YOUR LUCK AGENCY (urban fantasy): I picked this up because of an interview Andrea K Höst did with KS Augustin a few weeks back – it piqued my interest in her writing and this book is (was?) free.  Slightly a bit too much info-dumping for me at the start, but that wasn’t a show-stopper.  I did like how the Malaysia/Singapore setting came to life and the book whiled away an hour or so on the train very nicely.  However, I felt the story read more like a series of episodes as opposed to a full novel, plus it ended very abruptly, which caught me by surprise.  Having looked up the series detail now, the “complete” version is a five-book omnibus – I’ll probably get that at some point.

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Non-books related: I’m not sure how or when I stumbled onto this site, but I am hooked on Ask a Manager (have I mentioned it before?).  Alison Green just talks plain common sense when it comes to workplace dilemmas – well, the answers are almost always obvious when you read her responses, but they’re not at the same time.  And it’s always nice to see that mine is not the weirdest office out there.

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Books for July

Between Wimbledon reaching its climax and the Tour de France kicking off in Yorkshire over the weekend, I almost felt as though I’d reached my sports (spectating) limit.  We’ll pass on the World Cup because, well, I’m not a massive football fan – I’m one of those who was only persuaded down to the pub after work last week with the promise of sunshine and a G&T.  I’m impressed by the number of USians who appear to have gotten into umm… soccer though.

But regardless of your chosen sport, there was certainly plenty to watch over the last couple of weeks (unless of course you’re just not a sports fan, in which case, ouch), which is my rather rambling lead up to why this July new releases post is closer to being a mid-month than start-of-month post.  So – new releases this month:

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20822874KJ CharlesTHINK OF ENGLAND (historical m/m romance): I’ve enjoyed KJ Charles’ ventures into both paranormal m/m romance and (straight) romantic suspense (haven’t blogged about it yet, but I thought NON-STOP TILL TOKYO was very good – violence galore, yes, but an amazing sense of place).  So if she’s decided to take a step sideways into the historical m/m romance genre, I don’t really care – I’m totally buying.

Lie back and think of England…

England, 1904. Two years ago, Captain Archie Curtis lost his friends, fingers, and future to a terrible military accident. Alone, purposeless and angry, Curtis is determined to discover if he and his comrades were the victims of fate, or of sabotage.

Curtis’s search takes him to an isolated, ultra-modern country house, where he meets and instantly clashes with fellow guest Daniel da Silva. Effete, decadent, foreign, and all-too-obviously queer, the sophisticated poet is everything the straightforward British officer fears and distrusts.

As events unfold, Curtis realizes that Daniel has his own secret intentions. And there’s something else they share—a mounting sexual tension that leaves Curtis reeling.

As the house party’s elegant facade cracks to reveal treachery, blackmail and murder, Curtis finds himself needing clever, dark-eyed Daniel as he has never needed a man before…

Warning: Contains explicit male/male encounters, ghastly historical attitudes, and some extremely stiff upper lips.

Out now

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18007521Mary Balogh‘s THE ESCAPE (historical romance): I admitted to being slowly won over by Mary Balogh’s historicals a couple of posts back, so it’s no surprise that I’ve her new release on my radar.

In this poignant novel of longing and salvation, a hopeful widow and a resilient war hero discover the promise of love’s magic and new beginnings.
 
After surviving the Napoleonic Wars, Sir Benedict Harper is struggling to move on, his body and spirit in need of a healing touch. Never does Ben imagine that hope will come in the form of a beautiful woman who has seen her own share of suffering. After the lingering death of her husband, Samantha McKay is at the mercy of her oppressive in-laws—until she plots an escape to distant Wales to claim a house she has inherited. Being a gentleman, Ben insists that he escort her on the fateful journey.

Ben wants Samantha as much as she wants him, but he is cautious. What can a wounded soul offer any woman? Samantha is ready to go where fate takes her, to leave behind polite society and even propriety in her desire for this handsome, honorable soldier. But dare she offer her bruised heart as well as her body? The answers to both their questions may be found in an unlikely place: in each other’s arms.

Out now

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16045306Miranda Kenneally‘s BREATHE, ANNIE, BREATHE (NA romance): I like how Miranda Kenneally’s New Adult romances focus on a different sport in each book (except perhaps THINGS I CAN’T FORGET, which had religion at its heart, IIRC), so yay for a new Hundred Oaks book.  I have to mention the multiple cover changes for this book here (scroll to the bottom of the linked post) – I was amused that three different covers came out in fairly quick succession, though I have to say I really like the final one they settled on.

Annie hates running. No matter how far she jogs, she can’t escape the guilt that if she hadn’t broken up with Kyle, he might still be alive. So to honor his memory, she starts preparing for the marathon he intended to race.

But the training is even more grueling than Annie could have imagined. Despite her coaching, she’s at war with her body, her mind—and her heart. With every mile that athletic Jeremiah cheers her on, she grows more conflicted. She wants to run into his arms…and sprint in the opposite direction. For Annie, opening up to love again may be even more of a challenge than crossing the finish line.

Out July 15

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20426102Rachel Aaron‘s NICE DRAGONS FINISH LAST (urban fantasy): After whizzing through Rachel Bach’s (a.k.a. Rachel Aaron) space opera romp in the Paradox trilogy, I’m giving her fantasy another chance.  This one’s a self-pubbed UF (she talks about the why of self-publishing here) and I have to say I love the cover.

As the smallest dragon in the Heartstriker clan, Julius survives by a simple code: stay quiet, don’t cause trouble, and keep out of the way of bigger dragons. But this meek behavior doesn’t cut it in a family of ambitious predators, and his mother, Bethesda the Heartstriker, has finally reached the end of her patience.

Now, sealed in human form and banished to the DFZ–a vertical metropolis built on the ruins of Old Detroit–Julius has one month to prove to his mother that he can be a ruthless dragon or lose his true shape forever. But in a city of modern mages and vengeful spirits where dragons are seen as monsters to be exterminated, he’s going to need some serious help to survive this test.

He only hopes that humans are more trustworthy than dragons.

Out July 15

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12119529Ilona AndrewsMAGIC BREAKS (urban fantasy): An Ilona Andrews is always an auto-buy for me, and this time, a new Kate Daniels!  I don’t really need to say much more, do I?

No matter how much the paranormal politics of Atlanta change, one thing always remains the same: if there’s trouble, Kate Daniels will be in the middle of it…

As the mate of the Beast Lord, Curran, former mercenary Kate Daniels has more responsibilities than it seems possible to juggle. Not only is she still struggling to keep her investigative business afloat, she must now deal with the affairs of the pack, including preparing her people for attack from Roland, a cruel ancient being with god-like powers. Since Kate’s connection to Roland has come out into the open, no one is safe—especially those closest to Kate.

As Roland’s long shadow looms ever nearer, Kate is called to attend the Conclave, a gathering of the leaders from the various supernatural factions in Atlanta. When one of the Masters of the Dead is found murdered there, apparently at the hands of a shapeshifter, Kate is given only twenty-four hours to hunt down the killer. And this time, if she fails, she’ll find herself embroiled in a war which could destroy everything she holds dear…

Out July 29

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22444651KellyHunter_honeymoontrap_eBook_final-200x300Finally, two novellas (both out now) – Kelly Hunter‘s THE HONEYMOON TRAP and Sarina Bowen‘s BLONDE DATE .  Am linking to Kelly Hunter’s blog as the book doesn’t seem to be on Goodreads (I know, that sounds impossible, right?) – anyway, there is something about her writing that just works for me, so this is a no-brainer autobuy.  Sarina Bowen’s novella  is part of her Ivy Years series (NA college-set romance, in case you’re wondering), which I’ve been quietly enjoying.

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Sarah Morgan’s SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER

21207141It’s fair to say that I was… less than impressed by Sarah Morgan‘s first O’Neil Brothers book, SLEIGH BELLS IN THE SNOW – unfortunately the heroine’s issues with Christmas struck me as ridiculously OTT, and while I developed a soft spot for Jackson’s family and enjoyed the (very) snowy Vermont setting, my inability to understand where Kayla was coming from meant that the romance never quite took off for me. But the O’Neil brothers sequel-bait scattered throughout the story did its job, and when offered the second book in the trilogy for review, I looked forward to seeing how Sean and Élise’s story would play out in SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER.

Fiery French chef Élise Philippe is having a seriously bad day. Not only have the opening day plans for her beloved café fallen apart, but Sean O’Neil is back in town, and looking more delectable than ever. Last summer, they shared an electrifying night together…and the memories have Élise really struggling to stick to her one-night-only rule! Her head knows that eventually Sean will be leaving, so all she can do is try to ignore her heart before she spontaneously combusts with lust.

Being back in Vermont—even temporarily—is surgeon Sean O’Neil’s worst nightmare. For Sean, returning home to the Snow Crystal Resort means being forced to confront the reasons and the guilt he feels about rejecting his family’s rural lifestyle years ago. But discovering that Élise has settled in Vermont and still sets his blood racing is a very welcome distraction! Thinking he can persuade her into a replay of last summer is tempting, but remembering how good they are together is going to make walking away more difficult than he could imagine…

SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER takes place a few months after the first book, I think, and as the title implies, it’s set at the height of summer so we get to see a completely different side to the Vermont resort.  Familiar faces are present and accounted for, but handled very deftly – while the extended O’Neil family played their role in the story and there was some groundwork laid for the next book, this one was very definitely Sean and Élise’s romance.

20937456And the two of them had chemistry that worked – it more than worked at times.  We started off with a messy back history and with both parties in denial about their feelings (just how I like my romances!), before the pair of them slowly opened up to each other over the course of the book.  Their competence in their respective spheres added an extra something as well.  Élise’s passion for ingredients and her eye for recipes had me wishing for Pinterest-style pictures of her delicious-sounding creations, and as for Sean’s steely confidence when it came to matters of blood and gore – well, I wonder if Sarah Morgan writes M&B medical romances, because I would be all over them.

However, like the previous book, sometimes things came across as slightly exaggerated – Élise verged on being a stereotype of the “passionate French chef” at times and the rift between Sean and his grandfather dragged on for a tad bit too long.  I thought some points were laboured, sometimes to hilarious effect (or I may just have an unfortunate sense of humour) – I felt for poor Élise, as everyone knew she dropped her h’s when stressed and kept on telling her that…  I read an digital version so I’m not sure what the page count was, but at times it felt as though there was too little story to fill the pages.

But overall a decent romance with some spark (with bonus points for those O’Neil brotherly dynamics) and despite my niggles, I kept on reading – so while I’m not yet 100% in love with Sarah Morgan’s writing, I’ll certainly be picking up Tyler’s story, MAYBE THIS CHRISTMAS, when it hits the shelves later this year.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

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Romance & Fantasy (yes, again)

It’s been the crazy-busy kind of week lately (as evidenced by lack of activity on this blog).  And well, Wimbledon starts this week, so I make no promises about posts in the next couple of weeks.

But it was one of those lovely lazy Sundays yesterday, and I spent some time posting on Goodreads about some books I read towards the end of last year (yes, only six months later – I’m catching up on my backlog…).  Here they are (with some additional thoughts in italics).

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Royal Airs (Elemental Blessings, #2)Royal Airs by Sharon Shinn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A decent read, but not one of Shinn’s best, IMO. The story was on the predictable side of things, and Rand/Josetta’s relationship felt a bit too much like insta-love. Having said that, I have such a soft spot for the world of Welce and its elemental blessings, and I’d love to see more in this world.

I wanted to like this more – a lot more.  Sharon Shinn’s previous books have set the standard in fantasy romance (see Samaria, Twelve Houses, etc) and the elemental blessings concept in this world appeals to my inner teen.  But the romance in this felt flat – not sure why. 

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I also raced through a trilogy that turned out to be one of my favourites of 2013.  I’d been meaning to read more of Martha Wells, and finally found myself with time on my hands, so I cracked open her Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy.  Totally satisfied my fantasy craving.  And it was one of those trilogies where the later books are full of twists and turns that make you see earlier events in a different light – I love those.

 

The Wizard Hunters (The Fall of Ile-Rien, #1)The Wizard Hunters by Martha Wells

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved the prequel, The Death of the Necromancer, but it took me a while to settle into this story. But once I did, it worked for me – well, strong fantasy with a subtle romance would obviously tick all my boxes. This was written almost ten years ago, and I thought its age showed slightly, but overall, good read.

 

The Ships of Air (The Fall of Ile-Rien, #2)The Ships of Air by Martha Wells

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For a middle book in a trilogy, this one held up very well – there were some major twists in the story… but all made perfect sense in hindsight. Needless to say, I dove into the third book, The Gate of Gods, straight after.

 

The Gate of Gods (The Fall of Ile-Rien, #3)The Gate of Gods by Martha Wells

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The third book in a trilogy usually has a lot of expectations attached to it, and I’m glad to say that this one delivered for me. It was one of those unputdownable books – I was totally caught up in the story and invested in the outcome. Having said that (and despite this being a rather action-packed book), I didn’t think the plot was particularly suspenseful – but it was emotionally satisfying. So the perfect ending to the trilogy for me – though possibly with the caveat that I think you get even more out of the story if you’ve read the prequel, The Death of the Necromancer, first.

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I then read two Diana Peterfreunds (one under her Viv Daniels pseudonym):

One & Only (Canton, #1)One & Only by Viv Daniels

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I admit it – I picked this up purely because it was Diana Peterfreund writing New Adult, and I loved her Secret Society Girl books so much. Else I probably would have passed because the premise didn’t really grab me – so the fact that the story ended up working for me says much.

There was a bit too much of the “Yes, I totally am in lust with you” followed by “No, we really shouldn’t” (rinse/repeat) throughout the middle section of the book, but I did believe in Tess/Dylan’s connection. And I’d have liked to have had more on Tess’s parents, which to me was the more fascinating and complex relationship, but maybe Hannah’s story, Sweet & Wild, will reveal more.

Yessss… I wasn’t wild about the “falling in love with my secret half-sister’s boyfriend” conflict, but like I said, Diana Peterfreund’s writing got me over that.  I didn’t love this as much as the SSG books (okay, unfair comparison), but I’ll be getting the next.  I loved the SSG dedication in this book though. 

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Across a Star-Swept Sea (For Darkness Shows the Stars, #2)Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I loved the companion book For Darkness Shows the Stars, but this one didn’t work as well for me – I can’t quite put my finger on why, but there was something lacking with my connection with the protagonists and the world-building didn’t feel as in-depth as FDSTS. Having said that, it was a cleverly-written story (with an excellent ending), and kept me reading through to the end.

With this retelling, I’m not sure if I’d enjoyed this more had I read THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL first – certainly part of what I loved about FDSTS was how Diana Peterfreund kept the essence of PERSUASION, while making the story feel fresh and different, so I enjoyed the book from two separate angles.  I only know the vague outlines of PIMPERNEL, so it’s possible that a lot of the allusions flew over my head.

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The Temporary WifeThe Temporary Wife by Mary Balogh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m not a massive Balogh fan – this was more of an impulse buy as the back cover copy appealed to me. And I’m glad I bought as the story ended up hitting the right spots for me – formulaic romance, yes, but with enough tweaks to make it different enough, and I liked the focus on family.

This actually kick-started my mini Balogh glom towards the end of 2013.  

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