Julia Spencer-Fleming’s “I Shall Not Want”

51aRekSbCbL._SL160_ I’m trying to reduce the number of posts I have in Draft status, and it’s way way past time I should be posting this.  Keishon generously ran a giveaway some time back (okay, a very long time back) for Julia Spencer-Fleming’s “I Shall Not Want”, the sixth book in Ms Spencer-Fleming’s Russ Van Alstyne and Clare Fergusson books, and I won one of the copies.  And I did read it as soon as it arrived… yes, this post has been sitting in the Draft queue for quite some time.

I’ve read the very first book in this series before (“In the Bleak Midwinter”), I didn’t think I had but as I continued reading, some details sounded very familiar, and it suddenly clicked.  Having said that, since I didn’t realise that until some way into the book, this book reads very well as a standalone with one caveat (more details at the end of this post).  Also, note that there are probably spoilers for the previous books in this post – I haven’t read them all, so I probably don’t know what is a spoiler or not (though there is a fairly obvious one).

Ms Spencer-Fleming’s website has the tagline “Novels of Faith and Murder for Readers of Literary Suspense”, which is a fairly spot-on description for these books.  Russ is the police chief for the small town of Millers Kill, while Clare is the reverend for the local Episcopal Church.  There is quite a bit of history between them, and their rather conflicted relationship plays as much part in this book as the external drama relating to the migrant community and a potential serial killer.

The book starts with a bang, with the first pages featuring an action-packed scene, before flashing back to events occurring a few months previously.  Not a device I normally like, but I can honestly say after a few chapters, I completely forgot my reservations and became completely engrossed in the unfolding storyline.  And at the end of the book, when the first chapter flashed up again, but from a different perspective, it actually took me a couple of pages before I thought “haven’t we been here before?”.  Very nicely done.

Despite the seriousness of migrant rights issues and the political undertones of this topic, I have to say this didn’t detract from the sheer readability of this book.  For the romance reader, there is satisfaction as well – you have the long-running Russ and Clare relationship, and also a lighter secondary romance.  Ms Spencer-Fleming sneaks in some sly humour now and again, and there was a Stephanie Plum reference towards the end that had me laughing out loud. 

I liked the small-town feel to these books, and also the church angle.  I’m not particularly religious myself, but I thought Clare’s faith added an extra depth to the book.

Will I read the previous books?  Okay, this may be slightly weird, considering how much I enjoyed ISNW, but I don’t think I will.  In this book, there are hints as to what Russ and Clare went through to get where they are now, and I don’t feel like reading about that journey.  Because they’re in a such good place now, I don’t know if I want to read about how they got there, especially since I just know it was a painful journey. 

And this is the caveat I mentioned at the beginning – I can see how longtime readers of this series possibly found this book even more satisfying and fulfilling than I did, because they’ve been with Clare and Russ through the low points.  But for me, I don’t know if I would get that same sense of satisfaction even if I read all the previous books – I would rather just leave with the high from this one.

This was a strong B+ read for me and I will definitely get the next one in this series – it will be interesting to see what happens to Clare and Russ next!

Other notes:

  • I popped over to Ms Spencer-Fleming’s website, and she’s posted a bonus short story, which, while written slightly differently to the books (i.e. in present tense) , nicely captures the feel of this series, IMO. 
  • Excerpt for ISNW is here.
  • And the cover above is the UK one, which strikes me as being more old-fashioned than the US one.
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New Valdemar Book…

51BjZRoEORL._SL160_ I used to be a diehard Mercedes Lackey fan in my teens, especially when it came to her Valdemar series – the Last Herald-Mage and Arrows of the Queen trilogies being particular favourites and pretty much read to pieces.  I think I had pretty much every book she wrote back then.

I’ve been more lukewarm with her more recent books (I remember struggling to finish Exile’s Valor, the most recent Valdemar book released back in 2003) and am not too fussed either way about the 500 Kingdoms books she writes for Luna.  I think her books now have a lot more telling than showing, and the protagonists tend to be very similar in each book (or maybe it’s because I’ve read a lot of them!).  S/he is almost always too good to be true, while being downtrodden and completely misunderstood by family and friends at the start of each book.  All of these aspects were probably present in the early books, but I think Ms Lackey has become more heavy-handed with them with the later ones.

So why did I almost choke on my tea when I saw she has a new Valdemar book coming out in October?  Lord only knows.  But I am tempted.

“Foundations” is the first in a new series called “Collegium Chronicles” and sounds as though it’s set way in the past, when the Heralds’ Collegium is just being established.  Back cover blurb:

In this chronicle of the early history of Valdemar, Mercedes Lackey’s bestselling world, a thirteen year- old orphan named Magpie escapes a life of slavery in the gem mines when he is chosen by one of the magical Companion horses of Valdemar to be trained as a Herald.  Thrust into the center of a legend in the making, Magpie discovers talents he never knew he had—and witnesses the founding of the great Heralds’ Collegium.

Sigh.  Should I?  It’s a hardcover unfortunately.  But I loved (and still do) the early Valdemar books, and still re-read them from time to time.  And the Collegium is one of my favourite parts of her series.  I somehow think I’ll be shelling out for this next month.

TBR Day: India Grey’s “The Italian’s Defiant Mistress”

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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51ZUCDyoG6L._SL160_Book: The Italian’s Defiant Mistress (contemporary romance)

Author: India Grey

Copyright Date: 2007

Why did I buy this book? I heard good things about India Grey’s debut novel on the various review sites, so added it to my Amazon cart when shopping one day.

Why did it sit in my TBR pile for so long? The only Mills & Boon’s author I read with any regularity is Lynne Graham – for some reason, I’m a sucker for her stories.  So Ms Grey’s book kept on being pushed to the bottom of my TBR pile… until I needed a slim book for TBR Day (yes, this is a very last-minute thing).

What is it about?  Standard M&B back-cover blurb:

The Italian billionaire’s inexperienced mistress Eve Middlemiss has come to Florence desperate for information.  And only darkly good-looking multimillionaire Raphael di Lazaro, heir to the Lazaro Fashion House, holds the answers she’s searching for.  Surrounded by glamour and decadence, Eve is totally out of her depth – until she realises she is the one Raphael wants! If becoming the Italian’s mistress is what it takes to find out the truth about her family, Eve realises she must feign the sophistication and experience she’s sure Raphael is accustomed to – but that means making herself available to his every desire…

So what did I think of it?  Standard M&B title, standard M&B back cover blurb, standard M&B characters and plotline?  Pretty much so – Eve is an inexperienced virgin who just happens to be incredibly sexy and beautiful, Raphael a drop-dead gorgeous Italian billionaire.  Having said that, I think when you pick up an M&B, you expect a certain type of story, and this definitely ticked all the boxes.

My main bugbear with this story was the plot.  I hate the Big MIS plot device, which provided the main conflict in this story – Eve thinks Raphael is a drug-dealer, while Raphael thinks Eve is a not-to-be-trusted journalist.  And towards the end, even more misunderstandings ensue.

However, I thought Ms Grey’s writing was strong and I loved the background and settings.  I thought it had a very British feel to the story – it’s hard to pin down exactly why, but I definitely knew Eve was British.  Not knowing many Italians myself, I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the Italian characters and settings, but certainly they felt real to me!

My conclusion?  Despite using the Big MIS plotline, I thought the writing was strong and the characters believable.  I’m always impressed by how much story M&B authors manage to cram into a 200-page book.  All in all, it was an enjoyable quick read and I will probably be looking out for Ms Grey’s next books.

Yet More Free Books

Publishers are really jumping onto the free ebooks bandwagon as a way to promote new releases.

If you have a Sony Reader or Kindle, you can currently get Tess Gerritsen’s “The Surgeon” for free (at the Sony eBook store and Amazon respectively).

And if you’re into suspense, Bantam Dell is offering David Hewson’s “A Season for the Dead” online (with an author interview here):

A SEASON FOR THE DEAD introduced Detective Nic Costa. The series includes The Garden of Evil, The Seventh Sacrament, The Lizard’s Bite, The Sacred Cut, The Villa of Mysteries and coming in March 2009, Dante’s Numbers.

In the heat of a Roman summer, Nic Costa, a young, optimistic detective is faced with a crime that reaches deep into the heart of the Vatican.

I think Ms Gerritsen has a new book out now, and I’m betting Mr Hewson has one too.  I’ve never read either author yet, so these work for me – I’m such a sucker.

Around the Web

Diana Gabaldon’s posted an excerpt from “An Echo in the Bone”, which, fingers and everything else crossed, will be released in the fall of 2009.  I really really want.  Another recent post of hers touched upon scene-building – a peek into how she writes, which is fascinating indeed.

And while we’re on the subject of author blogging, Diana Peterfreund wrote about the author’s contract with the reader a while ago, specifically series conclusion.  Which was, oh, a bit of a hot topic sometime back  😉   I think she makes a lot of sense, and this bodes well for the conclusion of the Secret Society series.  The fourth and final book is titled “Tap and Gown”, btw, and comes out next summer.  I love the title (heck, I love everything about this series) and can’t wait to read it.

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Btw, I’m trialling Google’s Chrome beta browser, and wow – it’s fast.  I normally use Internet Explorer (even though I’ve Firefox on my machine as well, which is supposed to beat IE hands down) but am reluctant to go back to it after just two days of using Chrome.  And seriously, before I downloaded Chrome, I would never have said that speed was a deciding factor at all.

I’ve read about the privacy concerns, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t really care what info Google holds about me.  I figure I use Google as my main search engine so often anyway that they probably know all there is to know about my online habits!

The bits I’m not so happy with:

(1) I would love to be able to change text size.  In IE, you just click the magnifying glass at the bottom right of the screen, but it’s not possible in Chrome.  I may actually have to go back to IE for websites with small text.

(2) I don’t like tabs, and I wish there was a way of having new windows open by default instead of tabs.  Oh, and I don’t like how the new window opens almost directly on top of the original one when you right-click and select new window.  More offsetting please.  Err yes, I’m picky.

But so far, so good, and it is only a very early beta.  Here’s hoping they release more features soon!

Another Ebook Post

Neil Gaiman is offering the chance to read “Neverwhere” for free for the next thirty days or so.  I really liked “Stardust” when I (finally) got around to reading it a few weeks ago, and Thea suggested that I try "Neverwhere” next.  I love happy coincidences like this.

The not-so-great part?  It’s in Adobe Digital Editions format, and the downloaded copy will expire in 30 days’ time.  So I better get around to reading it soon.

The tech-y bit?  You need Adobe Digital Editions installed on your PC to read the book.  Or if you’re a Sony Reader owner, the good news is that the recent firmware update means that you can now read Adobe DE books on the Reader.  I’ve just downloaded “Neverwhere” and it appears to have transferred safely to my Reader, so I don’t have to read this on my laptop (good thing too, because it just wouldn’t happen).

I remember Mr Gaiman did a similar thing with “American Gods” some time back, but that really didn’t work for me because you had to read the book online, using HarperCollins’ BrowseInside feature, which was massively slow – I wonder how many readers actually managed to read the whole book.

Oh, btw, you can still read “Neverwhere” online using BrowseInside, but I highly highly rec you download it instead.

Waterstones and Ebook Pricing

Waterstones have launched the Sony Reader in the UK!

Quick look at the pricing using two random books:

John Scalzi’s “The Ghost Brigades” (SF) is priced at £4.76 for the ebook version and £6.99 for paper.  However, Amazon has it for £4.28 (paper). 

Laura Lee Guhrke’s “The Wicked Ways of a Duke” (historical romance) is £4.79 at both Waterstones (ebook) and Amazon (paper). Waterstones is selling the paper version for £5.99.

Doing a price comparison against US sites – hmm… Fictionwise doesn’t have “The Ghost Brigades”, so obviously not a good example  😀

TWWoaD is being sold at Fictionwise for $6.29 if you’re not a Buywise Club member – roughly £3.55 (*sigh* it would have been around £3.20 several months ago – sign of the ever-weakening pound).  Or $5.35 (~£3) if you’re a Buywise member (Fictionwise prices also include rebates).

So based on my very unscientific survey and sample of one, my conclusions are:

  • UK ebooks are cheaper than their paper counterparts instore (good)
  • UK ebooks are about the same price as paper books from Amazon (bad, but I would argue that instant gratification makes the difference)
  • UK ebooks are more expensive than US ebooks (bad, but not wholly unexpected)