Still Here, Really

So summer rolls around, good intentions disappear, and I find myself writing blog posts like this one…

It’s a combination of reeeallly long hours at work (less said, the better) and now the tennis season is in full swing (yes, I’m keeping an eye on the French Open as I write this), I’ve just about enough time to lurk on other people’s blogs.

I’ve been reading though.

I stayed up way too late this week reading Ellen Emerson White‘s “Long May She Reign”, the fourth book in her President’s Daughter series.  I read the first three books a couple of years ago now, and while I’d been meaning to get the fourth for ages, I never got around to it until now, which was rather silly of me.  I finished it in one go, and it’s not a slim book by any means.

But.

The reason why I’m still pondering my final feelings about this book is perhaps the overall tone and subject matter – LMSR essentially deals with the impact of the previous book’s traumatic events, and not just how they affected Meg, but also the fractures created in her family as a result.  So it’s not always an easy read, but it was incredibly well-written and, I think, realistic – I felt as though I was there with Meg and I loved her wry sarcastic voice (I have to say at times, I was reminded of Ms White’s very different “Romance is a Wonderful Thing”).  I closed the book believing Meg would triumph, partly because she (and her parents, brothers, and friends) had started to heal – but also because I had to, the alternative would have been too difficult to imagine.

I’ve also been reading James Anderson‘s country-house mysteries (“The Affair of the Bloodstained Tea Cosy”, “The Affair of the Mutilated Mink Coat”, and “The Affair of the 39 Cufflinks”) and I’m sad there’s only three of them.  Lovely 1930s set whodunnits with an incredible number of red herrings, with the end solution brilliantly deciphered by the self-deprecating Inspector Wilkins.

And finally, on a completely different note, I read an article about reader doorways which fascinated me (apologies, this is not the actual article I first read and I (obviously) can’t remember who originally linked to this concept).  The summary is that individuals are generally drawn to one of four aspects of a book (character, story, language, or setting), which act as their doorway to the book.  Understanding your primary doorway is the key to figuring out what other books you would like (and possibly why you just didn’t get a book someone else loved – you just have different doorways).

You can identify your doorway by thinking about how you describe a book – for instance, do you start by talking about the sense of place (setting)?  Or the prose used and the flow of language (language)?  Or the plot (story)?  You get the idea.

I’m starting to think my primary doorway is setting, with character as a close second, which is making a whole load of sense.  I used to think I was all about the characters, but when the world-building and background details are just right, I’m hooked.

March Reads

Books I read during March – copied over from Goodreads.

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Breaking the Rules (Troubleshooters, #16)Breaking the Rules by Suzanne Brockmann (romantic suspense)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

BREAKING THE RULES is the last full-length novel in the long-running Troubleshooters series, and while I’ll miss these books, I would agree it is possibly time to wrap up this series.

BREAKING THE RULES probably isn’t one for new readers, as the romance angle is focused on two longer-running relationships. The storyline isn’t as addictive as previous books (on the other hand, what could beat the Alyssa/Sam romance?), but the book’s still jam-packed with action and romance, though I found a few of the sex scenes slightly superfluous. And oh, the angst. If you’re not a fan of angst, you may find this book slightly painful – me, I liked it 😉

I have to mention topical issues as well – Suzanne Brockmann is definitely an “issue” author, and in BREAKING THE RULES, she packed quite a few in; we had gay rights, domestic abuse, alcoholism, child sex trafficking… and I probably missed some. It’s something I expect when I pick up a Brockmann book, so the preaching didn’t bother me massively, but it certainly isn’t a subtle thing.

This was a very long book – twice the length of my other recent reads, according to my Kindle – and while it isn’t amongst my favourite Troubleshooter books, I still finished it in one go. I’m curious to see what Suzanne Brockmann tackles next.

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Late Eclipses (October Daye #4)Late Eclipses by Seanan McGuire (urban fantasy)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I LOVED. The series just gets better and better with each book.

Having said that, this is not the book to start the series with, and if you didn’t like the previous books, I don’t think this would change your mind about the series.

I really liked finding out more about Toby’s heritage, and mystery-wise, I thought the plotting was tighter – even though a new character with the right skillset appeared rather conveniently to help with the reveal. And we got more Tybalt…

I will say that considering some rather devastating events happened in this book, I didn’t feel as emotionally raw as I thought I would.

But all in all, an excellent installment and I cannot wait for One Salt Sea.

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Anna and the French KissAnna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins (YA contemporary romance)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So much hype around this book… and yeah, totally well-deserved.

It’s a feel-good book that avoids being too fairytale-like, because the characters are just, well, real. I liked how both Anna and St Clair had had flaws, and I think that made the story more believable – things aren’t always black-and-white in real life either.

I thought the voice and the setting was spot-on – it very much reminded me of my college/university days (though sadly without a St Clair). So that was a bonus, as I obviously identified with Anna’s fish-out-of-water feelings and rooted for her as she settled into her new life.

I have to say St Clair’s “sexy” British accent threw me, as I couldn’t quite place it and it kept on taking me out of the story. And the British swearwords – umm, they verged on the rude side! I’m sure the equivalent American swearwords were not used. I think.

But moving on… there was some excellent chemistry between Anna and St Clair, and the falling-in-love part was done beautifully.

Oh, and the ending? Perfect.

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A Secret Affair (Huxtable Series)A Secret Affair by Mary Balogh (historical romance)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This caught my eye when I was browsing the New Releases shelves in the library – and I decided to borrow it when I found myself still standing in front of the shelves and two chapters into the book.

This was my first Balogh (I know, where have I been…) and I was pleasantly surprised. Possibly too much introspection on the part of the characters – I admit I skimmed some passages – and the falling-in-love part happened a bit too quickly for me, but I liked the interaction and interplay between the heroine and hero. I do think I would have found this book more satisfying had I read previous books in the series (there was definitely some backstory that I missed out on), but it worked pretty well as a standalone.

I loved the ending, and I definitely would pick up more books by Balogh.

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River Marked (Mercedes Thompson #6)River Marked by Patricia Briggs (urban fantasy)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

All the Mercy Thompson books have been consistently good, and RIVER MARKED was no exception.

RIVER MARKED reminded me of why I love reading series that focus on a single couple – you get to see their relationship grow and change over time, and I enjoyed seeing Mercy and Adam grow more comfortable in their relationship and, well, *learn* each other.

This time around, Patricia Briggs gave us a fascinating take on Native American legends, which I really liked, especially with Mercy learning more about her own heritage.

Oh, and the last page reduced me to tears (in a good way, I hasten to add).

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With Abandon (With or Without Series, #4)With Abandon by J.L. Langley (m/m paranormal romance)

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Quick read, but the romance didn’t quite work for me.

The relationship didn’t feel consistent with the world-building or the characters. It came across as though the romance was being told independently of who the characters were – for instance, we had Aubrey falling in love, and while we were told he was the alpha of the pack, I didn’t *believe* he was. And the “fated mates” plotline happens to be one of my least favourite tropes, so, oh well.

Good writing and I did want to know how the story would ended, but ultimately not a winner.

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Gunshy (Jennifer Pierce Maine Mystery #2)Gunshy by Sharon Lee (mystery)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m still loving the “retro-ness” of this mystery series.

What surprised me with this book is that the mystery sneaks up on you, unlike the first one Barnburner, where the resolution snuck up on me.

I would really like more in this series – I would totally love to see the relationship between Jennifer and Fox develop. There is so much potential there…

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Five Flavors of DumbFive Flavors of Dumb by Antony John (YA)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A really satisfying read – my attention was first caught by the fact it had a deaf protagonist, and the first chapter reeled me in.

I’m doing a buddy review with Nath for Breezing Through for this one.

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Just Patty and When Patty Went to College  by Jean Webster

My rating:  4 of 5 stars and 3 of 5 stars respectively – I posted about these books when I read them back in March.

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Gale Force (Weather Warden #7)Gale Force by Rachel Caine (urban fantasy)

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I really liked the Weather Wardens series way back when, but stopped reading because of the [insert adjective of choice here] cliffhanger endings, which I completely detest. Now that Rachel Caine’s finished writing the series though, I decided to borrow GALE FORCE from the library and see whether I wanted to continue reading the books.

GALE FORCE was a quick read, but nothing out of the ordinary IMO. I like how Joanne and David’s strong relationship was portrayed, but the story-telling itself wasn’t engrossing enough – I admit to skimming in parts. The overall atmosphere was all doom-and-gloom as well, with nothing ever going right for Jo. The “what’s the worst thing that can happen to XYZ” kind of plotting usually makes for great stories, but here it was just rather depressing.

And yes, there was a cliffhanger ending. Gah. I’m not invested enough to get the final two books in the series.

Around the Web

Links galore!

I stalk quite a few authors, but I don’t often go to their home pages, normally clicking through directly to their blog etc.  For some reason, I did go to Ilona Andrews‘ home page, and found this wonderful post* describing “Magic Slays” (out this month!) and how it’s about what happens after the Happily Ever After.  Love.

*I can’t find a permalink, so I’m assuming it’s only there until their next book release.

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Sarah Rees Brennan‘s put up a short story (in two parts) to celebrate the release of her second book, “The Demon’s Covenant”, in the States.  It’s set just before the first book (“The Demon’s Lexicon”) and it’s slightly spoiler-y if you haven’t read either book yet.  It’s just made me even more impatient to get my hands on the final book “The Demon’s Surrender” when it comes out in June.

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Also on the subject of Sarah Rees Brennan and short stories, I mentioned earlier she had a short story in Subterranean Press online magazine’s special YA issue.  Well, “Queen of Atlantis” is now up.  It’s fantasy set in a completely different world from her Demon books.  I’m not usually a massive fan of short stories, so if I say I was pulled in right from the start and finished reading with a lump in my throat – well.

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An advantage of adding upcoming releases to my Goodreads shelf is seeing new covers pop up.  Here are Tamora Pierce‘s “Mastiff” (Oct 2011) and Holly Black‘s “Black Heart” (April 2012 – and that has to be Cassiel and Lila).

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Finally, Macmillan obviously thought their SF/fantasy oriented site, tor.com, was a success – they’ve rolled out a romance-focused site, Heroes and Heartbreakers, a couple of months back, and have now launched a crime & mystery one, Criminal Element.

I subscribe to the RSS feeds of all three, and occasionally click through to read articles that interest me, but I’m curious – what do you think Macmillan’s getting out of these?

I’m not sure about the latter two, but I believe tor.com is more publisher-agnostic, i.e. it doesn’t necessarily stick to promoting Tor books and authors.  So I’m slightly puzzled as to what’s in it for Macmillan, especially as I suspect there’s been substantial investment in starting them up.

Me and Goodreads

It’s been around four months since I’ve started using Goodreads properly – verdict?  I really like it.

I’ve made my profile public by the way – whoops for not realising that you could only see what I was reading if you were a Goodreads member yourself.

Since some of you have been kindly answering questions on how you use Goodreads etc when I first started, here’s how I’ve been using Goodreads.  Be warned, a fair bit of navel-gazing ahead:

  • I’ve always jotted down what I thought on books I’ve read over the course of the year, but since logging them on Goodreads, I’ve spent more time thinking about what I’m writing – Goodreads feels more public than a Google Docs spreadsheet linked only from my blog (err… that’s because it probably is *rolls eyes*).
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  • I’ve started copying over my Goodreads reviews (or thoughts?  I hesitate to call some of my notes reviews really) over here on a semi-regular basis, as you may have noticed.  That’s because I want them on my blog somewhere.  I feel as though I should apologise for the duplicated content if you’re following me on Goodreads and reading my blog, but I figure you can just skip over the blog posts as they’re not very often (umm… only two so far, in actual fact).  Does it really bother anybody?
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  • I like the update feed on my home page when I log on – it gives me a feel for what everyone’s reading.  I’ve actually added my Friends feed as an RSS feed in Google Reader as well, for a quick skim every now and then.  And I like being able to comment/respond on individual books.
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  • I love that Goodreads makes it so easy to search for a particular book and add to your books.  It has been super-easy keeping track of the monthly new releases (though I will say the publication/release dates can be a bit iffy at times) and getting covers/blurbs for my posts.  I am all for time-saving tricks.
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  • The rating system… Goodreads has the 1 to 5 star system (1 = didn’t like, 5 = it was amazing) which I’ve been using.  As always, my ratings are skewed towards the positive – my average is 3.3 for 33 books as of today.  I haven’t yet used the 1 star rating (as I doubt I would finish the book if I really didn’t like it, though never say never), but have a number of 2 stars (it was ok).  I’ve avoided getting into the 0.5 ratings (slippery path, that…), but what I’ve (ahem… sneakily) done is use the favourites shelf – not all my 4 stars (really liked) are on my Favourites shelves, though all my 5 stars are.  So you could argue I sort of have a 4.5 rating.
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  • I have been trying to get my shelves to reflect how I want to view my books – this is probably still a work-in-progress.  Apart from Favourites and the usual genre tags, I have Series, 2011 New-to-me Authors, and Short Stories shelves.  The first two were things I captured in previous years, while the third is a new category because I haven’t previously kept track of short stories I’ve read.  I’m also using the standard To Read shelf for upcoming releases, but may split this at some point between the actual upcoming releases and already-released books I just want to read.  And I have a Maybes shelf, which is sort of self-explanatory.
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  • I’ve still not really explored the groups feature – the only group I’ve joined is the Karen Chance fans one, and that because I received an invite – and I don’t really say no to anything 😉

If you’re on Goodreads yourself, does the above sound familiar?  Totally different to how you’re doing things?  I’m curious.

Books for May

I can’t believe it’s May already – on the other hand, yay for the May releases finally arriving!

Ilona Andrews“Magic Slays” (urban fantasy): Well.  Insert inarticulate gurgling noises here.  Yeah, I’m madly excited about this one, could you tell?  I love this UF series, it’s up there with hmmm… Seanan McGuire‘s Toby Daye and Patricia Briggs‘ Mercy Thompson and Alpha & Omega books for me.  Have you read the Curran POV for the last scenes in “Magic Bleeds” on the authors’ blog, by the way?  It’s whetted my appetite very nicely for this.

Blurb:

Plagued by a war between magic and technology, Atlanta has never been so deadly. Good thing Kate Daniels is on the job.

Kate Daniels may have quit the Order of Merciful Aid, but she’s still knee-deep in paranormal problems. Or she would be if she could get someone to hire her. Starting her own business has been more challenging than she thought it would be—now that the Order is disparaging her good name, and many potential clients are afraid of getting on the bad side of the Beast Lord, who just happens to be Kate’s mate.

So when Atlanta’s premier Master of the Dead calls to ask for help with a vampire on the loose, Kate leaps at the chance of some paying work. Turns out this is not an isolated incident, and Kate needs to get to the bottom of it—fast, or the city and everyone dear to her might pay the ultimate price…

Out May 31 (excerpt)

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Nalini Singh‘s “Kiss of Snow” (paranormal romance): Second set of inarticulate gurgling noises.  And if you’re going “Huh?”, you obviously haven’t been reading the Psy/Changeling books.  We finally get Sienna and Hawke’s story, and I cannot wait to see how their romance plays out – they have pretty much stolen all the scenes where they’ve made an appearance in previous books.

Blurb:

Since the moment of her defection from the PsyNet and into the SnowDancer wolf pack, Sienna Lauren has had one weakness. Hawke. Alpha and dangerous, he compels her to madness.

Hawke is used to walking alone, having lost the woman who would’ve been his mate long ago. But Sienna fascinates the primal heart of him, even as he tells himself she is far too young to handle the wild fury of the wolf.

Then Sienna changes the rules-and suddenly, there is no more distance, only the most intimate of battles between two people who were never meant to meet. Yet as they strip away each other’s secrets in a storm of raw emotion, they must also ready themselves for a far more vicious fight…

A deadly enemy is out to destroy SnowDancer, striking at everything they hold dear, but it is Sienna’s darkest secret that may yet savage the pack that is her home-and the alpha who is its heartbeat.

Out May 31 (excerpt)

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Charlaine Harris“Dead Reckoning” (urban fantasy): It’s the eleventh book in the Sookie Stackhouse series, and well, I’m still reading.  IMO, the last three or so books have been slightly uneven, but there’s something about Sookie’s world that reels me in.  I am loving the quirky and charming US cover art as always, and will probably go out of my way to get my hands on this edition – I don’t think I have yet bought any of the UK editions (which feature the “True Blood” cast).  Also, did Ms Harris say she was wrapping up the series soon, or did I just make that up?

Blurb:

With her knack for being in trouble’s way, Sookie witnesses the firebombing of Merlotte’s, the bar where she works. Since Sam Merlotte is now known to be two-natured, suspicion falls immediately on the anti-shifters in the area. But Sookie suspects otherwise and she and Sam work together to uncover the culprit – and the twisted motive for the attack. But her attention is divided. Though she can’t ‘read’ vampires, Sookie knows her lover Eric Northman and his ‘child’ Pam well – and she realises that they are plotting to kill the vampire who is now their master. Gradually, she is drawn into the plot -which is much more complicated than she knows. Caught up in the politics of the vampire world, Sookie will learn that she is as much of a pawn as any ordinary human – and that there is a new Queen on the board . .

Out May 3 (excerpt)

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Julia Quinn‘s “Just Like Heaven” (historical romance): A new Julia Quinn is always something to look forward to, and I admit that part of me is happy she’s returning to her Bridgertons world.  Or okay, officially this is the start of The Smythe-Smith Quartet.  I was going to have a moan about the UK version (cover on the right) being out later, and then realised it was only a couple of days (May 31 v. June 2 for the UK edition) – yeah, need some sleep.

(Cute) blurb:

HONORIA SMYTHE-SMITH IS:
A) a really bad violinist
B) still miffed at being nicknamed “Bug” as a child
C) NOT in love with her older brother’s best friend
D) All of the above

MARCUS HOLROYD IS:
A) the Earl of Chatteris
B) regrettably prone to sprained ankles
C) NOT in love with his best friend’s younger sister
D) All of the above

TOGETHER THEY:
A) eat quite a bit of chocolate cake
B) survive a deadly fever AND world’s worst musical performance
C) fall quite desperately in love.

It’s Julia Quinn at her best, so you KNOW the answer is…

D) All of the above

Out May 31 (excerpt)

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And my maybes for May – Kevin Hearne‘s “Hounded”, which I heard of when Nath added it to her wishlist, and Thea Harrison‘s “Dragon Bound”, which has had the romance blogosphere buzzing.