Around the Web

I’ve been madly busy this week, am so glad it’s the weekend!

A couple of (old-ish) updates…

Sharon Shinn has a May update on her News page.  Interesting bits: 

  • She has a new YA book called “Gateway” coming out in fall 2009.
  • She has a short story in a new fantasy/mystery anthology “Powers of Detection II” coming out sometime this year.  I remember reading the previous one (Anne Bishop and Charlaine Harris were also contributors, IIRC), and liking it).
  • The anthology she mentioned previously (with stories set in her various worlds) is tentatively titled “Quatrain” (v cool title, IMO) and is scheduled for fall 2009 as well.

Marg & co are running a Georgette Heyer season over at Historical Tapestry – lots of reviews on Heyer’s books (and cover pics), guest posts, and book giveaways.

And Eloisa James has a couple of excerpts from her upcoming book “Duchess by Night” on her website.

Way Back When…

This is going back quite a few years, but does anyone out there remember LJ Smith

She wrote urban fantasy aimed at the teenage crowd, and this was before urban fantasy became the next big thing.  Before it was even called urban fantasy.  I’m talking 1990s here.  I was completely in love with her trilogies, “The Secret Circle” and “Dark Visions”.  When one of my friends borrowed and lost my third Dark Visions book, I think I gave her the cold shoulder for a week.

Then LJ Smith started writing this new series called “Night World”.  Oh, she was so ahead of her time – I mean, read the blurb below (and remember that the first book was written in 1996):

The Night World isn’t a place.  It’s the world of vampires, witches, and shapeshifters who live in the human world—by their own rules.  And the first two rules of the Night World are simple: 1) Never tell any human about its existence, and 2) Never fall in love with a human.

Anyway, I devoured every book in her Night World series, which was meant to conclude with the tenth book, “Strange Fate”.  Which somehow never ever was released.  This was the days before the internet so I’d no idea how to find out what was happening. 

Out of curiosity, I googled her name the other day – and guess what??? Lisa Jane Smith is back writing and “Strange Fate” is scheduled for a 2009 release.  And she has free stories on her website. 

Simon & Schuster is re-releasing her backlist and I’m not surprised.  Her books fit in perfectly with the teenage audience that Stephenie Meyer has tapped, and I may be mistaken, but I seem to remember they were darned good books. 

I’m definitely going to get all of them – I’ve no idea where my original books (less one) are, probably packed up in a box somewhere in my parents’ house.  Is it wrong to get so excited about an author you loved during your teenage years?  😀

The TBR Pile Grows

Now that I’m trying to buy more books in ebook format, I’d half-forgotten the thrill of having parcels of books arriving on my doorstep (yes, I’m sad).

Amazon and The Book Depository kindly sent my orders at the same time, so sitting in front of me now are:

  • Eva Ibbotson‘s “The Dragonfly Pool” (children’s), which I mentioned here
     
  • Stephenie Meyer‘s “The Host” (SF), which everyone must have heard of by now
     
  • Eric Berlin‘s “The Puzzling World of Winston Breen” (children’s), which I saw mentioned on a blog somewhere but can’t remember which now (anyone??).  Anyway, the cool part of this book is that there are puzzles and brainteasers scattered throughout the book.  One of the cover blurbs describes it as “…a Da Vinci Code for the Harry Potter set…”.  I couldn’t resist.  Website here, if anyone is interested.
     
  • Mary Stewart‘s *okay, deep breath here* “Madam, Will You Talk?”, “Airs Above the Ground”, “The Moonspinners”, and “Nine Coaches Waiting” (romance), titles mostly chosen at random based on what The Book Depository had in stock.  I say mostly, because I love the title of the first one and I’m a sucker for the dancing Lipizzaner horses, hence the first two choices.

 Not a bad haul, methinks!

Review – Diana Peterfreund’s “Secret Society Girl”

I’ve just finished a book that I really really loved *happy dance*  And to make it even better, it was completely out of the blue…

I received the Bantam Dell June Sneak Peeks newsletter yesterday, and quickly scanned it to see if any authors I knew had books coming up.  There weren’t any books that I was interested in, but right at the bottom was a title that caught my attention – “Secret Society Girl” by Diana Peterfreund.  I read the short blurb…

Crackling with wit, here is the smart, sexy introduction to the adventures of Amy Haskel, a perfectly normal Ivy League coed who just happens to be a member of one of the most notorious secret societies in the world.

… and thought “Nah, not really my thing” and hit Delete.  Then I started reading blog posts on Bloglines and found this post reviewing the very same book – with the sentence “This book almost got me hit by a car”.  Thought “Hang on a sec”, went back to the email in my the Deleted Items folder, and clicked on the “Read Chapter One” link.  Five minutes later, I was at Fictionwise downloading the book.

Amy Haskell is a undergrad (okay, I will get tripped up on the differences between the British and American university systems, but am giving this a go) – she’s a junior at Eli University, a (fictional) Ivy League university.  This is the time of year when juniors get “tapped” to join secret societies, and being the editor of the campus Lit Mag, Amy expects to be invited to join the not-so-secret Quill & Ink society.  But for some reason, her society interview doesn’t go as planned – err… could it be because she’s actually been tapped by the ultra-prestigious Rose & Grave society instead?

Back cover blurb here:

Elite Eli University junior Amy Haskel never expected to be tapped into Rose & Grave, the country’s most powerful—and notorious—secret society. She isn’t rich, politically connected, or…well, male.

So when Amy receives the distinctive black-lined invitation with the Rose & Grave seal, she’s blown away. Could they really mean her?

Whisked off into an initiation rite that’s a blend of Harry Potter and Alfred Hitchcock, Amy awakens the next day to a new reality and a whole new set of “friends”—from the gorgeous son of a conservative governor to an Afrocentric lesbian activist whose society name is Thorndike. And that’s when Amy starts to discover the truth about getting what you wish for. Because Rose & Grave is quickly taking her away from her familiar world of classes and keggers, fueling a feud, and undermining a very promising friendship with benefits. And that’s before Amy finds out that her first duty as a member of Rose & Grave is to take on a conspiracy of money and power that could, quite possibly, ruin her whole life.

I will admit I probably wouldn’t have bought the book based on the blurb (no, not even the HP reference) – it was the first chapter that made me want more.

Ms Peterfreund has written a book that is just so compulsively readable.  For a book with zero paranormal elements, I thought it was incredibly imaginative.  She hints in this interview that a lot of the rituals and activities are inspired by real-life secret societies.  Amy’s Eli University is a collegiate university, with all its attendant traditions, which is why this book almost feels like a peek into an alternate world (and also, I imagine, why Harry Potter was referenced in the blurb).

This book had a YA feel – as Amy is a junior, I’m assuming she is 19 or 20?  It’s first-person narration, and Amy’s voice feels authentic.  She’s funny, slightly snarky, and honest.  She’s an appealing heroine.  The secondary characters are less well-rounded, but that is probably partly due to the fact we are seeing them from Amy’s perspective.

I scribbled down two words as a reminder for when writing this post – “messy” and “lust”.  LOL.  Well, messy, because life and relationships aren’t always neat and tidy, and this book reflects that.  Lust – because Amy’s a normal red-blooded woman.  Err… not a slut by any means, but she obviously notices the cute guys around campus!  Which adds to the teenage feel of this book.

This is not a romance, btw (though I admit that I have hopes for the follow-on books).  This is more a coming-of-age story and about finding your place in the world.  And yes, the good guys win at the end. 

It’s not a deep book (and doesn’t pretend to be), but it’s been a while since I’ve been so drawn into a fictional world.  Heck, I found myself thinking about the Rose & Grave at odd times throughout the day, and I’ve just bought the second book, “Under the Rose”.  I have to say that “Secret Society Girl” is an A read for me and I’m excited to have found a new-to-me author.

Oh, and to wrap up, this is also exactly why I have mixed feelings about ebooks.  On the one hand, I read the blurb, loved it, and had the book five minutes later.  On the other hand, I can’t pass this book on to my sis and friends, and say “Read this!”.  Which is what I really want to do. 

TBR Day: Linda Lael Miller’s “Shotgun Bride”

This is posted as part of Keishon’s TBR Day challenge, which is aimed at encouraging us readers with the towering TBR piles (you know who you are) to start tackling the books that have been languishing in there for eons.

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Book: Shotgun Bride

Author: Linda Lael Miller

Copyright Date: 2003

Why did I buy this book?  You know how sometimes you just feel like reading a particular genre?  Well, I was browsing Amazon one day, and was trying to make it to the £15 threshold for free shipping, and I thought “Oooh, it’s been a while since I read a Western…”.  Linda Lael Miller is probably the first name that comes to my mind when I think of Western historicals – I’ve read a couple of Julie Garwoods and Mary Jo Putneys with this setting, but no one else really.

Why did it sit in my TBR pile for so long?  Because by the time the Amazon delivery arrived, I didn’t feel like reading a Western.  Yes, I am fickle.

What is it about?  This is the second book in this particular series – I checked Ms Miller’s website and she actually writes about the McKettrick family a lot.  Anyway, the patriarch has to decide which son gets to inherit his ranch, and so sets up a competition.  No, the winner isn’t the first son who gets married (because that would be too easy – and this is a series, after all), instead the winner is the first son who gets married and produces an heir.  To complicate matters, in the first book (I think), a previously-unknown fourth son turns up and promptly buys a rival ranch…

So this is Kade McKettrick’s story – he’s annoyed because his elder brother has beaten him to the punch and gotten married (also, he had a bit of a thing for his now sister-in-law).  Somehow or other, he’s also ended up with a whole gaggle of mail-order brides – but does he fall for one of them?  Of course not.  His heroine is “Sister Mandy”, a woman disguising herself as a nun for some mysterious (and he suspects dubious) reason…

So what did I think about it?  The primary reason I read Westerns is because I like the setting – I love the frontier atmosphere, the pioneering spirit of the people, a look at what it was like trying to set up a whole new community from scratch.  And this book did deliver on these.  I will say that this is not a gritty realistic story, instead it’s a cleaned-up sanitised view of what it may have been like back then. 

For a second book, I didn’t feel lost at all – Ms Miller filled in the background very nicely.  I’m normally quite anal about reading a series in order, but I didn’t really mind not reading the first book in this one, but more on that later… 

Ms Miller writes sweet romances, with humorous touches.  I loved the interplay between the brothers, and how Kade slowly gets to know his newfound brother a bit better – as you can imagine, he’s not been welcomed with open arms.  There are also some sad scenes in this book and I admit I sniffled a bit at certain parts!  The villain was a bit obvious, and probably a bit too blatantly evil.  But they generally are in Ms Miller’s books, IIRC.

However, I’m trying to decide why this book wasn’t really a keeper for me, and the best I can come up with was that it just felt bland.  I liked Kade and Mandy, but I never felt completely invested in their relationship.  It wasn’t a struggle to finish the book, but equally, I could have happily closed the book halfway and not finished it.  I said earlier that I didn’t really mind not reading the first book in the series, and I think part of that has to do with the fact I didn’t think I was missing a must-read.  Although it is debatable whether I would have enjoyed this book a bit more if I had read the first one?

My conclusion?  This book’s a B for me, because it was pretty much what I expected from a Linda Lael Miller.  Not more and not less.  While I’m not going to rush out and get the other books in this series, I will probably return to this series when I feel like another historical Western.  I probably want to read Holt’s story (he’s the fourth son), because I suspect there will be a lot of angst in that one…

What I’ve Been Doing

Reading:

  • Ilona Andrews‘ “Magic Burns” (urban fantasy) – Everyone’s been saying this is better than the first book and I agree.  B
     
  • Mary Stewart‘s “Thornyhold” and “Rose Cottage” (romance) – I preferred “Rose Cottage” to “Thornyhold”, but both were good.  I really liked the sweet subtle romance of these books, also the post-war settings, and am definitely going to get more of her books.  B and B+ respectively (and thanks Jennie for the rec!)
     
  • Linda Lael Miller‘s “Shotgun Bride” (Western historical romance) – I don’t read a lot of westerns, but sometimes I just feel like one, and I usually pick up a Linda Lael Miller.  This was the second in a trilogy, I’m guessing (there are three brothers, and the first has been married off), and was a good read – just what I wanted!  B
     
  • Robyn Carr‘s “Virgin River” (contemporary romance) – I’ve seen a lot of good reviews on this one, but it didn’t really work for me.  I liked the frontier feeling of this book, but the relationship didn’t hold my interest and I struggled to finish the book.  Then again, I’m not a huge contemp fan.  C+

 

Re-reading old favourites:

  • Lois McMaster Bujold‘s “Brothers in Arms” – Inspired by Thea’s review of “The Warrior’s Apprentice”. 
  • Georgette Heyer‘s “False Colours” – Inspired by Jennie’s review.

 

And buying:

  • Tanya Huff‘s “Blood Bank” – The collection of Vicki Nelson short stories that I mentioned here
  • Karen Rose‘s “Nothing to Fear” and “Die for Me” – I’ve never read her before, but I stumbled across this twinpack when doing my grocery shopping.  It’s a lot more exciting than detergent.

Way Too Hot…

It’s 27 degrees outside (that’s Celsius, btw – don’t ask me what it is in Farenheit) and not much cooler indoors.  This is madness for May weather.  It’s not so bad at the weekends when I can just sit outside on my balcony and not do much (okay, not do anything), but getting to work and back tomorrow is going to be a nightmare.  London transport is not built for hot weather.  Just thinking about it depresses me.

Anyway, I finished reading the new Sookie Stackhouse.  It’s a longer book than I expected it to be – not sure if that’s necessarily a good thing.  One thing I’ve noticed about Charlaine Harris is that she’s not afraid to take irrevocable decisions with her characters and plots.  I’m trying to figure out if that’s a good or bad thing.

That’s all I’m going to say at the moment – it’s too hot to actually think.

More Web Links

If you’re in the mood for fantasy, Eos is offering Sara Douglas‘ “The Serpent Bride” as its free ebook for May/June.  I’ve never read any of her books before, though I have heard of her.

Anne Bishop has posted the cover blurb for her upcoming Black Jewels novel “The Shadow Queen” (March 2009).  I’m thinking this one sounds promising!

Around the Web

The Times today had a review of Eva Ibbotson‘s new YA (children’s?) book “The Dragonfly Pool”.  I wasn’t that interested, but I am now after reading the review.  Here’s the back cover blurb:

Tally Hamilton is furious to hear she is being sent from London to a horrid, stuffy boarding school in the countryside. And all because of the stupid war. But Delderton Hall is a far more unusual and interesting place than Tally ever imagined, and she soon falls in love with its eccentric staff and pupils. Now she’s even organizing an exciting school trip to the kingdom of Bergania …although Tally never expected to meet the prince. Prince Karil hates his life at the palace and he is only truly happy when he escapes to the dragonfly pool, a remote spot in the forests of Bergania. Then Karil meets a feisty English girl who brings the promise of adventure. But his country is under threat, and the prince soon looks to his new friend Tally for survival as well as friendship…

If you’re a Paddington Bear fan, the Times also had an interview with the author, Michael Bond, with an extract from the new book.  I was never that into Paddington (think I only read the first one way back when) but it’s a amusing extract.

Moving on, here’s an interview with Lois McMaster Bujold at the Star Tribune newspaper website – it’s interesting reading.  She also provides a summary of the universes for her different books.

Finally, if you loved Eloisa James‘ “An Affair Before Christmas” (which I did), here’s a bonus chapter on her website (you have to register to read, but it’s free and quick).  I’m loving her Desperate Duchesses series and can’t wait for “Duchess by Night” to come out.

Books for May

Okay, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I will be able to post covers properly for this post.  I’m not liking the WordPress upgrade much. (ETA: No, I still can’t insert pictures directly – this is driving me mad!)

Anyway, May books I’m looking forward to:

Charlaine Harris‘ “From Dead to Worse” (urban fantasy) – I’ve been a big fan of the Sookie Stackhouse series since Day 1, so definitely am getting the 8th book in the series.  But OMG.  Look at the UK cover (left).  Is that Sookie to you?  Yes, she’s blonde and if I think about it, I can’t pick out anything that contradicts the books.  But I guess I’m just not used to actually seeing Sookie as a “real” person – err… that would be as opposed to the cartoon-like characters on the US covers. 

Excerpt here (out May 6).

 

Julia Quinn‘s “The Lost Duke of Wyndham” (historical romance) – A brand-new Julia Quinn!  And I mean properly new (that is, not a rewritten older book).  The sequel to this is out in September, btw, and apparently is the story of the existing Duke of Wyndham.  The one who could be replaced by the hero of this book.  I’m looking forward to seeing how she handles this story.  The cover’s interesting – it’s mimicking the look of a TV/movie book adaptation.

Excerpt here (out May 27).

 

Stephenie Meyer‘s “The Host” (SF) – Ms Meyer’s first grown-up book.  I’m thinking lots of teen readers who loved “Twilight” will be picking this one up.  I really have no idea how this one will be received.  Heh – just went over to her website, and the tagline is “science fiction for people who don’t like science fiction”.  I like SF, but SF thrillers aren’t quite my thing.  I’m planning on getting this as I loved Ms Meyer’s writing and “Twilight” (though by the third book, Bella was really starting to grate on me).  I haven’t been looking for reviews on this, but I’m surprised I haven’t happened across any by accident yet.  I’ve seen quite a few ARCs of these on auction sites.

Excerpt here (out May 6).

 

Laurell K Hamilton‘s “Blood Noir” (urban fantasy) – I’m such a sucker for Anita Blake books – this is the 16th, I think?  The last one (“The Harlequin”) started out promisingly but sort of fizzled out halfway.  I’m hoping this one is better.  The UK cover is more consistent with previous books in the series (for some reason, the model reminds me of Angelina Jolie in the Tomb Raider movies – err that would be Lara Croft then).  The US cover, as has been mentioned elsewhere, is a radical departure from previous covers. 

Excerpt here (out May 27)

 

Tanya Huff‘s “Blood Bank” (urban fantasy) – This is a collection of the Vicky Nelson/Henry Fitzroy short stories, previously published in an omnibus version together with “Blood Debt”.  Vicky’s a PI and Henry’s a vampire – I know you’re thinking standard urban fantasy, but the first of these books was published back in 1991, so way before the current UF trend.  I suspect I’ve probably read some of these short stories already, but still…

No excerpts (out May 6).

 

That is pretty much it for this month.  I’m most excited about the Charlaine Harris book.  I’ll also probably get the Jes Battis book I mentioned in my post below.  Amanda Quick also has a new book out (“The Third Circle”), but it’s hardcover and I still haven’t gotten hold of her last release “The River Knows”.