Two Great Reads

I try to wait until the clock strikes midnight on Dec 31 before naming my favourite books of the year, on the off chance I come across a gem in the last two weeks of the year.  Which isn’t such an impossibility because it’s the holidays, and I get time to laze around and read.  Bliss.

And this time?  Totally vindicated in my delay, as I have read, not one, but two books which left me with a big smile on my face.

I’ve been stingy with the A grades* these year.  What I consider to be an A read is pretty hard for me to define.  It’s one where the reading experience doesn’t end with the final page; it’s captured my imagination to the extent I’m thinking about the characters and their story at random intervals throughout the day.  One where I have to go back and re-read certain passages just because.  Umm… maybe one that inspires me to actually blog about it?  Because my delight in these books needs to be shared.

 

41K28wvJBOL._SL160_ The first is Kristin Cashore’s “Fire”.  I can almost hear the chorus of I-told-you-so’s mingled with the what-took-you-so-long’s.  Mea culpa.  I enjoyed Ms Cashore’s debut novel “Graceling”, but the blurb for “Fire” didn’t quite appeal.  I mean, a heroine named Fire?  Who just happens to be irresistibly beautiful?  Who can control minds? Did someone just say Mary Sue?

So despite the ever-increasing pile of glowing reviews, it took me a while to buy “Fire”, and then it languished on my TBR pile for a good couple of months before I finally picked it up yesterday.

And I loved.  So much so that I’m struggling to actually figure out why.  You know when a story just hits all the right buttons for you?  “Fire” was one such story for me.  It’s such a magical, imaginative world, and the characters so beautifully drawn, even the secondary characters.  Most of the book is seen through Fire’s eyes, and I was with her every step of the way.  The word “strong” is perhaps overused when talking about female heroines in fantasy, but I don’t think there’s any other way to describe Fire.  She grows up, she takes tough decisions, and she deals with the aftermath.

The romance is wonderfully subtle and sweet, without verging on the saccharine (and I think I’ve developed a thing for heroes with grey eyes).  Also, it’s one of the books where a plot twist comes up, and you think “oh, very neatly done”.  And you just have to applaud the author.

Kristin Cashore now is very much on my must-read-immediately list, no matter what she writes.

 

the_dark_tide Moving on to my next book, I pretty much bought and read it as soon as it hit the (virtual) shelves: Josh Lanyon’s “The Dark Tide”, the conclusion to the Adrien English mystery series. 

After dipping my toe into the m/m romance genre last year, I glommed the whole of Josh Lanyon’s backlist – his writing gets me every time.  Not just the way he effortlessly sets the scene and sketches in the details, but also how he turns his characters into real people who you root for and want to get their HEA.  And none more so than Adrien English and Jake Riordan in this series.

Adrien’s a mystery bookstore owner, who, in the past four books, has been involved in several murders (innocent bystander, mind), nearly killed himself, and is now recovering from heart surgery.  And Jake?  A newly ex-police detective who’s been forced out of the closet, resigned from the force and gotten divorced.  A bit of a toss-up really, as to who has had it worse over the course of the series.  And I’ve not even touched on their yes-it-is-no-it-isn’t relationship, which is full of angst and oh, so much history.

Reading the final book in a series you have absolutely loved is one of those bittersweet things, and I soaked up every last page of the “The Dark Tide”.  It was completely satisfying, seeing Adrien work out what he wanted (really slowly and painfully as only Adrien can), and dealing with a very different Jake to the one we met in the first book (“Fatal Shadows”) way back when.

This is turning into a massively long post (I was only going to do a couple of paragraphs on both books – hah!), and I’m going to cheat and link to Mandi’s review at Smexy Books, because she says everything I wanted to say about “The Dark Tide”, and more.

 

Two more days of 2009 to go, and I’m wondering what other hidden gems are there in my TBR pile.

 

***************

* Probably more to come on my grading system and possible changes.  At some point.  The New Year would probably be a good time to make changes, huh?

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A Serious Book Haul

I haven’t been buying much at Fictionwise recently – a combination of my Buywise Club membership expiring (one of those annual subscription things giving you additional discounts) and those pesky geographical restrictions appearing on quite a few books I was interested in.

However, they’ve been having some massive offers recently and I finally caved in.  Not only was there a 100% Micropay rebate on the Buywise membership (Micropay being store credits basically), but they were also offering 25% off all ebooks (coupon code jk25 and valid until the end of the year).  And that’s on top of the current discounts across the store.

So I decided to grab the books that have been sitting on my “Must Check Out” list for ages and bought … *deep breath*…

“The Fixer Upper”, “Deep Dish”, “Hissy Fit”, and “Savannah Breeze” by Mary Kay Andrews (contemporary romance): I’ve enjoyed the two books I’ve read from Ms Andrews’ backlist so far (light funny romance with a touch of mystery, set in the southern US), and was reminded of this when Nath asked for recs recently.  So I took the opportunity to get the rest of her backlist – annoyingly, there was one book with geo-restrictions (“Little Bitty Lies”).  The inconsistency frustrates me.

“Once Dead, Twice Shy” by Kim Harrison (YA urban fantasy): I read the short story that set the scene for Ms Harrison’s debut YA series in the “Prom Nights from Hell” anthology, and thought it felt like the first chapter in a book.  Imagine that.  Anyway, I decided to give this one a go.

“Zero at the Bone” by Jane Seville (romantic suspense m/m): It’s been on my radar ever since LesleyW mentioned it back in the summer, and then Renee loved it when she read it in November.  I can take a hint.

“Rosemary and Rue” by Seanan McGuire (urban fantasy): I was intrigued by The Book Smugglers’ review, despite being slightly UF’d out by the glut of urban fantasies being published lately. 

“Skin Game” by Ava Gray (paranormal romance): I’m a fan of Ann Aguirre’s romantic SF Jax Sirantha series, so was always going to get this November release sooner or later.  It turned out to be “later” in this case, as I still have her “Doubleblind” (under the Ann Aguirre name) in my TBR pile, and I try to limit myself to one unread book per author.  Not very successfully, admittedly.

 

And… that’s not all!  I stopped by the library today, and came away with three books I’ve also been meaning to read:

Juliet Marillier’s “Wildwood Dancing” (YA fantasy) because I’ve “Cybele’s Secret” (its sequel) sitting unread at home, and I’ve been told I really should read them in order.

KE Mills’ “Witches Incorporated” (fantasy) because I’ve never read anything by Karen Miller and have been wanting to try her books for ages.  This is the second book in her Rogue Agent series (using the pseudonym KE Mills), but the library didn’t have the first book on the shelves.  Her website does say they’re “…self-contained adventures featuring continuing characters” so I’m thinking it’s not going to matter much.  I hope.

Terry Brooks’ “A Princess of Landover” (fantasy):  I was a big fan of his Landover novels when I was a teenager, maybe even more than his Shannara books, but the last was written back in 1995, so I was pretty surprised when I heard he was releasing a new one.  It’s been a while since I’ve read anything by Mr Brooks, and I couldn’t really justify getting the hardcover for something that may not have worked for me at all.  So yay for libraries!

 

And that’s it.  I really don’t think I’m going to be running out of books to read anytime soon.

Romance v. Reality

Ah, Christmas time.  Snowflakes gently falling as you wander down Piccadilly, stopping by Hatchards to browse through the latest book releases, before admiring the Christmas windows at Fortnum & Masons and going inside to get their mincepies as a special Christmas treat.

Reality?

Umbrella up to protect yourself from the snow that transforms into sleet as soon as it hits street-level, all attention focused on dodging muddy puddles on the pavement, your left foot soaking wet and freezing from that puddle you didn’t see in time, and oh my, the queues.  Everywhere.

Urgh.

It was pretty, though.

Around the Web

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I was reading the Tor Forge blog and sometimes a book title just catches your eye – Lawrence Watt-Evans’ “A Young Man Without Magic” is one of these.  Even better is the title of the sequel, “Above His Proper Station” (out November 2010).  These titles have a Regency-era fantasy feel to them, and I think the watercolour style used for the cover of the first book fits the title beautifully.

Unfortunately for me, the first book has just been released in hardcover and I can’t justify spending the money on it – will have to wait until it’s released in mass-market paperback.  I am very tempted by that cover though.

Blurb from Amazon:

Anrel Murau is a scholar, a young man with no magical ability even though he is the son of two powerful sorcerers. Anrel’s lack of talent bars him from the ruling classes, but he is content to be a simple clerk.
Upon returning to his childhood home after years of study in the capital, Anrel finds his friends and family held under the thumb of the corrupt local lord. When this lord murders a dear friend, Anrel finds that although he’s not a sorcerer, he is not without other means to demand justice.

If he can survive life on the run, that is.

Carrying only his sword, a few coins, and his wit, Anrel must leave behind everything he has ever known, trust himself to unexpected allies, and outmaneuver leagues of enemies who will stop at nothing to keep his dangerous ideas from ever being heard. Magic and intrigue collide in a swashbuckling tale of daring escapes, beautiful witches, and one quiet young man’s rise to hero—or traitor. Nothing will ever be simple for Anrel again, as his personal quest may provide more peril for those he holds dear.

 

Has anyone read this (or any other books by the author)?

A Realisation and Some Blog Housekeeping

I have been updating my woefully-neglected list of books read this year and realised that I’ve only just hit the 100 books mark.  This time last year, I was forty books ahead. 

Oh well.  I’m not massively surprised.  I certainly felt that I hadn’t been reading as many books this year than I have had in previous years.  Partly because I have been rather busy (also reflected in my blogging activity), but also because I have been reading more short stories and novellas (which I don’t usually count – not consistently though) or magazines, as opposed to full-length books.

It was a bit of a massive update because I hadn’t added books to my master list since September.  Instead, I’d been adding notes to a Google Docs document (in lieu of an actual notepad), which actually worked quite well in terms of reminding me of my reads.

How do you keep track of books you read?  Or rather, do you track them in the first place?

Books for December

A post slightly on the late side, but that’s probably because there aren’t that many December releases on my To Get list.  Umm… three if you want to be exact.  And I’ve read one of them already.

51tQt3vs5tL._SL160_ First up is Jim Butcher’s “First Lord’s Fury” (fantasy), the sixth and final in his book in his Codex Alera series (and the one that I’ve finished reading). 

Previous books in this series have delivered consistent entertainment, and “First Lord’s Fury” was no exception.  Tavi’s all grown-up now and returning to his homeland to defend his people from the evil Vord.  There was full-on action from the word go, with battle scenes galore, and trust me, Mr Butcher excels in this.  Yes, it’s predictable in the “good guys are going to win” sort of way (which is not necessarily a bad thing, I like happy endings), and like his Dresden Files series, it’s a lot more plot-driven than character-focused.   However, I thought it was a fitting conclusion to a pretty good fantasy series and I spent a few hours happily absorbed in this book.

Excerpt here (out now)

 

515Wv6GPzKL._SL160_ Next is Mercedes Lackey’s latest Valdemar anthology, “Changing the World” (fantasy). 

What can I say?  I’m a sucker for Valdemar stories.  I was such a massive Lackey fangirl in my teens (I mean, speaking white horses, wow) and it’s a habit I can’t shake.  Yes, last year’s “Foundation” wasn’t vintage Lackey, but I am so going to get this anyway.  Apart from Ms Lackey herself, contributors include Tanya Huff, Judith Tarr, and Mickey Zucker Reichert, from what I can gather.

No excerpts available (out now)

 

the_dark_tide And last, but certainly not least, Josh Lanyon’s “The Dark Tide” (m/m mystery), the final book in his Adrien English series.  I stumbled across these books last year, and Mr Lanyon immediately jumped onto my auto-buy list.  I adore his writing, and the characters – ah, the angst.  I don’t even care about the main mystery plot in this one, I just want Adrien and Jake to get their happy-ever-after.

The blurb:

Like recovering from heart surgery beneath the gaze of his over-protective family isn’t exasperating enough, someone keeps trying to break into Adrien English’s bookstore. What is this determined midnight intruder searching for?

When a half-century old skeleton tumbles out of the wall in the midst of Cloak and Dagger Bookstore’s renovation, Adrien turns to hot and handsome ex-lover Jake Riordan — now out-of-the closet and working as a private detective.

Jake is only too happy to have reason to stay in close contact with Adrien, but there are more surprises in Adrien’s past than either one of them expects — and one of them may prove hazardous to Jake’s own heart.

And you know, just in time for Christmas.  Perfect.

Excerpt here (out Dec 22)

More Books for the TBR Pile

The upside of having unreliable post is that you forget what you’ve ordered and then when it does arrive, it’s like an early Christmas present. 

51921cI86bL._SL160_ Which was what happened with my not-so-recent purchase of Ellen Emerson White’s “White House Autumn” and “Long Live the Queen”.  I ordered them after I finished “The President’s Daughter” (thank you Angie for the rec!), which I read back in October.  And like all of Angie’s recs, it was a good one! 

41cTc9KizIL._SL160_ I don’t think I’ve mentioned this book on the blog, but I did like many elements of the story, not least the peek into life on the campaign trail and in the White House.  Obama’s presidential campaign this time last year caught my imagination, and I admit that certainly contributed towards my fascination with this book.  I have to say that EEW came across as knowing her stuff very well; while I don’t claim to be an expert on politics, the endless press coverage of the US elections meant that we all pretty much became armchair pundits and all the tidbits of political info rang true to me. 

411i9cGvZoL._SL160_One of the things that did throw me though, was that I opened the book knowing it was written back in the 80s, and then suddenly there was talk of the internet.  I figured out pretty quickly that the book had been rewritten to make it less dated, but this actually disappointed me slightly because one of the things I love about reading older “contemporary” books is absorbing the accepted norms and behaviours of those times.  I would love to know what changes EEW made, and would do a re-read if I could get my hands on the original version.

I am all excited about diving back into Meg’s world and finding out how she grows up in the public spotlight – another two books go on my reading list for the Christmas holidays!

First Week of December…

smugglivus09finalmed Thea and Ana at The Book Smugglers have kicked off their annual Smugglivus extravaganza with guest posts and giveaways galore.  It’s only the first week and they’ve already had some very interesting posts.  I can’t wait to see what else they have planned for the rest of the month.

Speaking of which, two more working weeks until the holidays!  Well, until my holidays start, anyway.  I am counting down the days.  And it may be slightly sad, but one of the reasons I am so looking forward to the holidays is that I will finally have enough time to read the recent Diana Gabaldon. I know it came out back in September and I was so excited about it, but it is one hefty tome, and I just haven’t found the time to sit down with it.  So that is definitely on my list of holiday reads – I haven’t planned what else I’ll be reading though.  Any suggestions?

And finally, Juliet Marillier has confirmed that the title of her next Sevenwaters book (squeee) will be “Seer of Sevenwaters” (the working title was “Song of the Island”).  And the heroine will be Sibeal.  It’s due out December 2010 – that will be an excellent Christmas present for next year.