February Reads

I may just title these posts Monthly Reads and leave the exact month to your imagination ūüėČ

Here’s what I read back in February (I’ve almost finished logging my March books, though don’t hold your breath…).

***********

Mixed Magics (Chrestomanci, #7)Mixed Magics by Diana Wynne Jones¬†(children’s fantasy)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I fell in love with Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci books last year, and this collection of four short stories was the one remaining Chrestomanci book that I hadn’t read yet.

It’s a slim book, but with trademark DWJ story-telling and sly humour throughout – “Stealer of Souls” with Cat and Tonino was my favourite short because of all the previous characters who make an appearance, and yeah, it was just plain fun to see Cat and Tonino again.

***********

The Salisbury KeyThe Salisbury Key by Harper Fox (contemporary m/m romance)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Very good story that pushed the right buttons for me – I was completely engrossed from beginning to end.

I generally love Harper Fox’s stories, and this was another winner. It’s a lot of story to pack into one book, but she manages it rather well. You have the emotional arc – the book starts off with Daniel dealing with the suicide of his partner, working (very painfully) through the aftermath, fumbling through the start of a new relationship – combined with a rather complicated mystery plot (when Daniel’s lover’s legacy brings a decades-old cover-up to light), which in turn then kicks the action elements into full gear.

In style, this book was rather similar to Harper Fox’s Driftwood – lots of angst and emotion to start off with, before segueing into some rather OTT action scenes, and then a slightly prolonged ending, with the loose ends tied up just a tad bit too neatly and conveniently (though satisfyingly!).

I very much connected with Daniel – this book is in his first-person POV, and there is no getting away from the raw emotions evoked by his partner’s suicide. And Rayne, the uptight soldier who becomes an unexpected rock in Daniel’s grief, was incredibly appealing and engaging. The chemistry was there and very believable. And as with her other books, the Britishness of the setting comes to life.

One of my favourite reads for this year.

***********

The Warrior's Path (Sisters of the Sword)The Warrior’s Path by Maya Snow¬†(children’s)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked this up due to Thea’s review at The Book Smugglers. I probably didn’t love this book as much as Thea did, but it was an enjoyable read and I would get the next book, especially if the series grows in complexity.

I really liked the Japanese setting and traditions, which lent depth to the story. Kimi is a great heroine – I found myself rooting for her throughout – and I loved her relationship with her sister, Hana, as well.

Niggles I had: I hate foreshadowing, and this book does it in spades throughout (especially in the epilogue!). And there was possibly too much time spent on fighting scenes for me, but I can definitely see its appeal to younger readers.

***********

Tortall and Other Lands: A Collection of TalesTortall and Other Lands: A Collection of Tales by Tamora Pierce (YA fantasy)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A mix of previously-published and new stories from Tamora Pierce – of course I was going to buy this collection, being a long-time fan of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall stories.

I admit I was secretly hoping for an Alanna story, but oh well. We got Alanna’s daughter, Aly, instead – it was interesting to have a glimpse into Aly and Nawat’s married life and what happened after Trickster’s Queen.

Funnily enough, I think I liked the contemporary non-fantasy story, “Testing”, best. I’m not sure short stories are Tamora Pierce’s forte, but this was worth buying, and the sneak peek for her next novel, “Mastiff”, reminded me of how much I am looking forward to that coming out.

***********

The High King's Tomb (Green Rider, #3)The High King’s Tomb by Kristen Britain¬†(fantasy)

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I did finish this book, but it took a while. I was in the sort of reading mood where I just wanted to read a couple of chapters a day, and this probably suited the pacing of this book, because it was rather slow-moving all the way until the last few chapters.

Too many POVs meant I never really connected with the characters. The main character, Karigan, came across as a bit Mary Sue-ish and I don’t think she was charismatic enough to carry the book – much more a plot-driven than character-driven book, IMO. The most fascinating aspects of the world came at the end, when Karigan & co explored the underground tombs – this was possibly explored more in previous books, but I admit I can’t recall much about them.

All in all, the book suited my mood at the time, but I doubt I’ll pick up the next book in the series when it comes out.

***********

Barnburner (Jennifer Pierce Maine Mystery #1)Barnburner by Sharon Lee (mystery)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I loved the retro contemporariness of this book (yes, I just made that phrase up)… it’s set in the late 1980s and you have dial-up modems! Local BBSs! Cameras with actual film! Old-style computer menus!

Okay, I’ll stop now. That aside (though those details really made the book for me), this was an enjoyable mystery and I loved the fact that Jennifer was not a TTSL heroine. The resolution sort of snuck up on me – I was not expecting the (e)book to finish when it did as I was so busy taking in – and just plain enjoying – the small-town Maine setting and the characters.

And yeah, I bought its sequel Gunshy as soon as I finished.

***********

Speed Dating (Harlequin Nascar)Speed Dating by Nancy Warren (category romance)

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

One of the free reads offered by Mills & Boon/Harlequin, I downloaded this because I enjoyed Erin McCarthy‘s stock car racing books and was hoping this would be in a similar vein.

While I liked the initial setup (and having a heroine as an actuary), the romance lacked zing and I never connected with the characters. Quick way to spend an hour, but not really a memorable romance*.

*Obviously proven by the fact I said I hadn’t read a category romance in years when I posted last week.

***********

GhosTV (PsyCop, #6)GhosTV by Jordan Castillo Price (paranormal m/m romance)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the strongest PsyCop books so far, IMO – though not one to start off with.

I love reading series that have a long-running relationship over the course of several books as you get to see what happens after the initial HEA, which to me, is equally as interesting, if not more, than the initial attraction and falling in love part.

And we have this in GhosTV – Vik and Jacob’s relationship continues to develop, there’s still strong chemistry combined with vulnerability on both sides, which makes for great relationship dynamics. And of course, with Vik being an excellent protagonist of the smart-ass type, this makes for a wonderfully funny and satisfying read.

The mystery plot was strong too, and I have to say that I was still thinking about the PsyCop world a day later, which just shows how much this world has captured my imagination.

Around the Web

The 2011 Hugo nominations were released over the weekend, and I was really pleased to see Lois McMaster Bujold and Mira Grant (a.k.a Seanan McGuire) receiving nominations for Best Novel (“Cryoburn” and “Feed” respectively). ¬†I have the latter checked out from the library and really need to get around to reading it – despite me being a diehard Toby Daye fan, I am not into zombies at all, hence my reluctance to read “Feed”. ¬†But hey, this is the exact reason why it took me so long to read the first Toby book – I was adamant I wasn’t into faerie books either…

***********

Speaking of Seanan McGuire (yes, I’ve been speaking of her quite a bit recently, fangirl much?), here’s an interview with her at Fantasy Faction. ¬†She talks about the Toby Daye books, as well as a bit about her upcoming series, Incryptid, and the Sparrow Hill short stories (which I haven’t read yet either). ¬†I sometimes wonder how she has time to sleep. ¬†Or eat.

***********

Subterranean Press’s magazine,¬†Subterranean Online, has a special YA issue, and I’m looking forward to reading the stories that will be posted over the next few weeks – some excellent contributors including Sarah Rees Brennan. ¬†Two are already up, including one by Malinda Lo (I’ve been meaning to read her books for a while now).

***********

And finally, Smart Bitches Trashy Books has this fun thread about Victorian romances¬†– not Victorian-set romances, mind you, but romances written during the Victorian era. ¬†I’ve already picked up some recs and have downloaded Louisa May Alcott‘s “Behind A Mask” and Mary J Holmes‘ “Rosamond”. ¬†I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for old-fashioned novels.

Jessica Hart’s “Juggling Briefcase & Baby”

Jessica Hart‘s “Juggling Briefcase & Baby” (contemporary romance): It has been years since I’ve read a category romance. ¬†Seriously. ¬†And I was going to say I didn’t know where I first heard of this one, but I can see a Goodreads review from Nath, so it must have been at her blog – and then I spotted it on sale for only ¬£0.80 at Amazon UK (by the way, some really good prices for Kindle ebooks on Amazon UK now).

And *pauses for breath* I really liked this book, and it may be enough to get me back into the category romance habit again.

This is a sequel to Ms Hart’s “Oh-So-Sensible Secretary”, which I haven’t read, but I didn’t feel I was missing out on much – it’s very much a standalone. ¬†Alexander “Lex” Gibson is flying up to Scotland to close a business deal for his company, and Romy is a last-minute stand-in for the acquisitions director. ¬†With no time to make alternative arrangements, she ends up having to bring her baby, Freya, with her. ¬†Awkward enough, and made worse by the fact that Lex and Romy shared a week in Paris years ago, ending with Romy firmly turning down Lex’s proposal of marriage.

So standard category romance fare, but what I really liked was¬†how Ms Hart played around with the usual romance tropes. ¬†Yes, Romy has a baby, but it’s not Lex’s. ¬†You have the uptight corporate executive and the free-spirited temp, except their POVs reveal very different sides to their characters.

In fact, this story started off in Lex’s POV, which was a refreshing change (is this something that’s becoming common in category romances, by the way?). ¬†I¬†loved having both the hero and heroine’s POVs in this story – it certainly gave more insight into their feelings. ¬†There was angst aplenty, though I would say there was possibly one too many buried issues in both Lex’s and Romy’s pasts that were used to create conflicts.

As a counterbalance to the angst, you do have the fact Lex is very much not the paternal sort, in fact, he is very much averse to all things baby, which (a) makes for some rather hilarious scenes and (b) makes the inevitable realisation that he actually cares for Freya all the much more satisfying (this is obviously not a spoiler because it is a romance and there will be a HEA).

I liked the British setting, which went beyond mere mention of geographical place names – for instance, there was reference to the big four as competitors to Lex’s supermarket company, the secondary characters’ names that were “right” (okay, Lex and Romy aren’t exactly standard British names, but they get a pass as they’re the h/h) – and also how the corporate backdrop was realistic. ¬†You know how sometimes it’s blatantly obvious the author has no experience of a corporate environment and is just making it up? ¬†This wasn’t like that – sure, it wasn’t exactly your everyday working life, what with the private jet and all, but at the same time, it wasn’t an anachronistic view of an office environment. ¬†And when Lex decides to rescue Freya from the cr√®che¬†at work, he didn’t just walk out with her. ¬†Even though he’s the chief executive, there was still a phone call to Romy to get the mother’s permission first.

Combined with a believable romance, it was little touches like this that kept the story grounded in reality and feeling current (mixed in with the moments where you do have to suspend disbelief admittedly), which added to my enjoyment and kept me completely engrossed for an hour or so.

More Jessica Hart for me, I think.

Around the Web

I’m still here, really. ¬†Just… lazy. ¬†Lurking quite a bit. ¬†Okay, a lot.

Anyway, before my blog falls into disuse, here’s what I’ve picked up from my lurking around your blogs.

***********

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller have started releasing their Liaden Universe chapbooks as ebooks. ¬†I’m downloading them to my Kindle as soon as they appear on Amazon. ¬†As an aside, I have really upped my spending at Amazon ever since I got my Kindle. ¬†I used to buy from Amazon all the time back at university (those were the days when they offered free shipping above ¬£25, and I saved up for bulk ordering my books), but then slowly drifted away over the years. ¬†But the sheer convenience of buying ebooks via the Kindle has reeled me back in again.

***********

You’ve all seen Seanan McGuire‘s “One Salt Sea” cover by now, right? ¬†I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. ¬†I think it’s lovely, but it’s very different from the first three covers, style and atmosphere-wise. ¬†But it makes for a striking cover, and I think it gives us a more vulnerable Toby than we’ve seen before.¬† The picture Ms McGuire has on her blog is without the text, and makes it really clear it’s mermaid-Toby. ¬†Which is all kinds of fascinating. ¬†I cannot wait.

***********

And speaking of tantalising hints, Juliet Marillier blogs about writing from the POV of someone with a severe disability for her next book. ¬†Which means her next Sevenwaters novel has Maeve as the narrator. ¬†I’m looking forward to it.

And now I really should go and update my Goodreads account, which is at least two weeks behind.

Books for April

This month’s new releases that I’ve been anticipating…

Teresa Grant‘s “Vienna Waltz” (historical mystery): Technically a March 29 release, this book has been a long time in coming. ¬†I won’t go into the slightly convoluted history of why I’ve been waiting for this book for ages (mainly because it is of no interest to anyone but myself), but if this is in the same vein as her previous two books, it promises to be an excellent mix of historical intrigue and suspense, with some rather complicated romance.

Blurb:

Nothing is fair in love and war. . .

Europe’s elite have gathered at the glittering Congress of Vienna–princes, ambassadors, the Russian tsar–all negotiating the fate of the continent by day and pursuing pleasure by night. Until Princess Tatiana, the most beautiful and talked about woman in Vienna, is found murdered during an ill-timed rendezvous with three of her most powerful conquests…

Suzanne Rannoch has tried to ignore rumors that her new husband, Malcolm, has also been tempted by Tatiana. As a prot√©g√© of France’s Prince Talleyrand and attach√© for Britain’s Lord Castlereagh, Malcolm sets out to investigate the murder and must enlist Suzanne’s special skills and knowledge if he is to succeed. As a complex dance between husband and wife in the search for the truth ensues, no one’s secrets are safe, and the future of Europe may hang in the balance…

Out now (excerpt)

 

Erin McCarthy‘s¬†“The Chase” (contemporary romance): I can’t remember the last time I’ve been waiting impatiently for a contemporary romance to be released. ¬†But I was completely captivated by her previous three Fast Track novels last year and am very much looking forward to this one. ¬†I’ll be the first to admit that¬†not all of Erin McCarthy’s books have worked for me (there have even been some DNFs), but I loved how she brings together the testosterone atmosphere of stock car racing with some very steamy romance.

Blurb:

Kendall Holbrook is determined to make it to the top, even with the challenge of being a woman on the male-dominated racing circuit. She doesn’t have time for romance- especially not with racing rival Evan Monroe, the man who nearly crushed her dreams years ago. Forced into meeting up with him, Kendall is experiencing all those old feelings again- and she can’t deny that they still have more than enough chemistry to set fire to the track.

After getting dropped by his biggest sponsor, Evan is watching his racing season go up in flames. Now, the only replacement available is completely humiliating: a co-sponsorship for his-and-her deodorant with Kendall Holbrook- the girl who once broke his heart. Acting like Kendall doesn’t still get him all hot and bothered is bad enough, but the biggest challenge awaits him on the track- where Evan has to decide if a second chance at love is more important than making it to the finish line…

Out April 5 (excerpt)

 

Julia Spencer-Fleming‘s¬†“One Was A Soldier” (mystery): I¬†won (and actually reviewed) the previous book in this series, “I Shall Not Want”, when¬†Keishon hosted a giveaway back in 2008. ¬†I loved how the mystery was set against the backdrop of Clare’s faith and the small-town setting, and was also intrigued by the rather complicated relationship between Clare and Russ – and this book sounds as though things aren’t getting any easier. ¬†It’s been quite a long gap in between books, but this may be worth the wait judging from the online buzz.

Goodreads blurb:

Julia Spencer-Fleming’s debut novel, In the Bleak Midwinter, burst onto the mystery scene like a wild fire, snatching up almost every award imaginable. Since then, the series has only been picking up speed, the characters only digging deeper into our hearts. One Was a Soldier takes the suspense and heart-tugging to the next level, making for a truly devastating read.

At the Millers Kill Community Center, five veterans gather to work on adjusting to life after war. Reverend Clare Fergusson has returned from Iraq with a head full of bad memories she’s using alcohol to wipe out. Dr. George Stillman is denying that the head wound he received has left him with something worse than simple migraines. Officer Eric McCrea is battling to keep his constant rage from affecting his life as a cop, and as a father.

High school track star Will Ellis is looking for some reason to keep on living after losing both legs to an IED. And down-onher- luck Tally McNabb has brought home a secret‚ÄĒa fatal one. Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne just wants Clare to settle down and get married‚ÄĒto him. But when he rules Tally McNabb‚Äôs death a suicide, Clare sides with the other vets against him. Russ and Clare‚Äôs unorthodox investigation will uncover a trail of deceit that runs from their tiny Adirondack town to the upper ranks of the Army, and from the waters of the Millers Kill to the unforgiving streets of Baghdad.

Fans of the series have been waiting for Russ and Clare to get together, and now that burgeoning relationship is threatened in this next tantalizing novel by Julia Spencer-Fleming.

Out April 12 (excerpt)

 

Holly Black‘s “Red Glove” (YA urban fantasy): I’ve been meaning to read Holly Black’s faerie urban fantasy books for years, but never quite got around to it. ¬†Then last year, I read her first Curse Workers book, “White Cat”, which sucked me into a very cool and inventive world – so I’m all excited about the second book now.

Blurb (note this has SPOILERS FOR FIRST BOOK):

Curses and cons. Magic and the mob. In Cassel Sharpe’s world, they go together. Cassel always thought he was an ordinary guy, until he realized his memories were being manipulated by his brothers. Now he knows the truth‚ÄĒhe‚Äôs the most powerful curse worker around. A touch of his hand can transform anything‚ÄĒor anyone‚ÄĒinto something else.

That was how Lila, the girl he loved, became a white cat. Cassel was tricked into thinking he killed her, when actually he tried to save her. Now that she’s human again, he should be overjoyed. Trouble is, Lila’s been cursed to love him, a little gift from his emotion worker mom. And if Lila’s love is as phony as Cassel’s made-up memories, then he can’t believe anything she says or does.

When Cassel’s oldest brother is murdered, the Feds recruit Cassel to help make sense of the only clue‚ÄĒcrime-scene images of a woman in red gloves. But the mob is after Cassel too‚ÄĒthey know how valuable he could be to them. Cassel is going to have to stay one step ahead of both sides just to survive. But where can he turn when he can’t trust anyone‚ÄĒleast of all, himself?

Love is a curse and the con is the only answer in a game too dangerous to lose.

Out April 5 (though June 16 for the UK edition – sigh) – book site (I’m linking to the News page as opposed to the frontpage as video starts playing automatically)

 

Lisa Lutz and David Hayward‘s “Heads You Lose” (mystery): I am a BIG fan of Lisa Lutz’s Spellman Files books. ¬†They’re slightly loopy and incredibly funny, but leave you with a big smile on your face at the end of it. ¬†And while this is not a Spellman book and may have a bit of a¬†gimmick-y concept (okay, very), I’m curious and do know that Ms Lutz, at least, does good comedy, so I’ll be getting it.

Blurb:

From New York Times‚Äďbestselling author Lisa Lutz and David Hayward comes a hilarious and original tag-team novel that reads like Weeds meets Adaptation.

Meet Paul and Lacey Hansen: orphaned, pot-growing, twentysomething siblings eking out a living in rural Northern California. When a headless corpse appears on their property, they can‚Äôt exactly dial 911, so they move the body and wait for the police to find it. Instead, the corpse reappears, a few days riper … and an amateur sleuth is born. Make that two.

But that‚Äôs only half of the story. When collaborators Lutz and Hayward‚ÄĒformer romantic partners‚ÄĒstart to disagree about how the story should unfold, the body count rises, victims and suspects alike develop surprising characteristics (meet Brandy Chester, the stripper with the Mensa IQ), and sibling rivalry reaches homicidal intensity. Will the authors solve the mystery without killing each other first?

Out April 5 (excerpt)

 

And finally, two maybes for the month: Kelley Armstrong‘s “The Gathering” (out April 12), the first in her new YA trilogy and Alison Goodman‘s “Eona: The Last Dragoneye” (out April 19).

As much as I like Kelley Armstrong’s books, I’ve not fallen in love with her YA writing, and this may be a library borrow for me. ¬†As for Alison Goodman’s sequel to “Eon”, I liked the first (and love the cover of this one!), but may wait for the UK paperback release in August.