Bloggiesta Update #2

Right, I’m calling it a day now.  After a rather late start and various distractions, here’s what I’ve done so far.

From my to-do list:

1) Sort out a new blog header: I basically re-ran my blog through Wordle, and picked out a new colour and font.  It’s much brighter than my old header – more spring-like, or so I like to think!  I’m going for the neon/neutral trend, which I really like.

2) Work on my Goodreads reviews: In progress – I’ve done about eight today, and have about 15 more to go if I want to finish off my 2011 books.  Yeah, I know.

3) Cross-post my Goodreads reviews over here: Also in progress – I’ve done a couple.  I think I’ll aim for two more.

4) Update my About Me page: Nope, untouched – one for tomorrow, I think!

5) Write some blog posts: Also one for tomorrow…

6) Twitter (possibly): I’m on Twitter (@meandmybooks) and trying to figure out what to do with it!  Tips, anyone?

And the mini-challenges:

So two to-dos and two mini-challenges done, three being done, and five still to start tomorrow.  Progress of a sort, methinks.  It would help if I actually got up earlier.

 

Bloggiesta Update #1

A bit of a late start to Bloggiesta for me – I was planning on doing something yesterday evening, but after a rather stressful week at work, all I wanted to was collapse on the sofa with a book.  So much for Friday.

I’m easing myself into Bloggiesta by scanning the list of minichallenges (seriously impressed, btw).

Here are the ones I want to try:

Okay, I may be a bit ambitious there… but there is so much excellent information in these mini-challenges.  Time to stop talking and start doing…

Bloggiesta-ing

Slightly late to the party, but spurred on by Janicu’s post, I’m going to take part in Bloggiesta next weekend.  I’ve been neglecting this blog somewhat and this feels like a good time to do a spring-clean!

Things I want to do:

1) Sort out a new blog header: I’ve used my current header for over a year now – time to update, I think.  I still like the Wordle-style design, but may play around with the colour and font.  And it’ll be interesting to see what are the words I’ve been using most often recently.

2) Work on my Goodreads reviews: While I would love to get my reviews up-to-date, it’s extremely unlikely I’ll manage to do all of them over one weekend.  I’ll settle for finishing reviews for all the books I read in 2011.

3) Cross-post my Goodreads reviews over here: I’ve slacked off recently on this, time to schedule some up.

4) Update my About Me page: It’s still basically the same page as when I started blogging, I may do a complete overhaul.

5) Write some blog posts: I’ve a couple of unfinished posts that have been sitting in the Drafts folder for a while.  I’ll either finish them or have a “what was I thinking”-type moment and delete them.

6) Twitter (possibly): Maybe I’ll even get as far as setting up a Twitter account.  Ummm.  It only took me a few years to join Goodreads and I’m loving it now.  No, I’m not an early adopter by any means.

Gosh, that feels like an ambitious list!  As long as I get at least half done, I’ll be happy.

Andrea K Höst’s TOUCHSTONE Trilogy

So, you may have gathered from my recent Goodreads updates that I’ve been somewhat preoccupied with this author called Andrea K Höst.  It was Estara who gently nudged me into reading  the Touchstone trilogy (STRAY, LAB RAT ONE, and CAZSANDRA), and I’m very glad she did, because I would have never have discovered Ms Höst’s writing otherwise.  And I’ve been reading little else over the past few weeks.

Andrea Höst’s books have been the sort that lingered in my mind for days afterwards, with the characters and their world feeling almost real.  There’s been passages I’ve re-read several times because, well,  just because.  And what I love is that each and every one of her stories has been refreshingly different from other books out there.

The Touchstone books would probably be shelved under YA SF, methinks – the protagonist, an Australian teen named Cass, stumbles into a portal to another universe and rapidly finds herself entangled in a battle to save the world…

Blurb from Goodreads:

Rescue is only the beginning…

On her last day of high school, Cassandra Devlin walked out of exams and into a forest. Surrounded by the wrong sort of trees, and animals never featured in any nature documentary, Cass is only sure of one thing: alone, she will be lucky to survive.

The sprawl of abandoned blockish buildings Cass discovers offers her only more puzzles. Where are the people? What is the intoxicating mist which drifts off the buildings in the moonlight? And why does she feel like she’s being watched?

Increasingly unnerved, Cass is overjoyed at the arrival of the formidable Setari. Whisked to a world as technologically advanced as the first was primitive, where nanotech computers are grown inside people’s skulls, and few have any interest in venturing outside the enormous whitestone cities, Cass finds herself processed as a ‘stray’, a refugee displaced by the gates torn between worlds. Struggling with an unfamiliar language and culture, she must adapt to virtual classrooms, friends who can teleport, and the ingrained attitude that strays are backward and slow.

Can Cass ever find her way home? And after the people of her new world discover her unexpected value, will they be willing to let her leave?

The story is told via Cass’s diary, a narrative device I did find somewhat forced in the first chapter or so – I mean, you’re stumbling half-starved and terrified through a strange forest, and you have time to record your thoughts in a diary?  Having said that, this did end up working for me once it became more realistic for Cass to be keeping a diary.  I thought  Cass had a great voice – sort of snarky, self-deprecating, and honest – and I liked how we got to know her, the other characters and the world via the diary.  I found this interview with the author where she talked about the choice of styles rather interesting:

When I started in on Cass’ story, I wanted to very strictly keep to the diary format – an entry for every day of her year, even the dull days! Fortunately I then set out to give Cass the least-dull year imaginable. Diary format puts the reader very strictly into Cass’ thoughts and opinions. If she doesn’t realise something, she won’t mention it. She has no ability to discern who is “important” to the story and so readily mentions all the people she meets, even if that’s the only time the reader will ever see them.

This resulted in a story which many readers find very ‘real’ and relatable, but at the same time assaults them with dozens of named characters, and offers pacing which does not match the traditional novel structure […] Cass is learning about the world she is in, and the reader only learns about what she chooses to write down – and she foregrounds early on that she is self-editing to a limited degree, leaving out some of her more miserable and upset moments.

Basically the story is about Cass making a space for herself in this very different world, helping to beat the bad guys, and oh yes, falling in love.  Ha – of course there’s romance.  It’s the sort of romance that sneaks up on you – from a slight impression (and not a necessarily favourable one at that) in the first book to an “actually, you’re pretty central in my world” feeling*.  That kind of organically growing attraction works so much better for me than a love/lust at first sight thing.   And I could not put my Kindle down until Cass’s romance reached its conclusion (second book, if you’re wondering).

Another part of the appeal of this book, I think, somewhat plays into the wish-fulfillment fantasy – who wouldn’t want to be the one special person who could save the world with a crack team of psychic space ninjas dedicated to keeping you safe.  This aspect could so have easily moved the story into pure Mary Sue territory, but for a couple of things: firstly, Cass’s pragmatic nature, she herself admits to how this could so easily be wish-fulfillment (yay for self-awareness) and secondly, it’s not easy for Cass.  Cass feels homesick, she struggles to adapt to the new world with language and cultural barriers, she’s not as physically fit as the Setari – so no, she’s not always having the time of her life.  Yet I think that’s what makes it easier to identify with Cass and root for her to win through.

I also love the world-building in this one – in fact, having read a couple of other Höst stories, I think that’s one of her strengths.  Creating unique worlds without masses of info-dumping, instead sneaking in bits and pieces of information until the reader gets it – that, and just being able to come up with something different.

There were some things that bothered me slightly – the first being more thematic, while the others were less important.  On the first, Cass ends up playing guardian to a couple of refugees and essentially setting up home – I did think Cass was a bit on the young side to take on that responsibility, but on the other hand, she (and the Setari) was in the process of saving their world, so I suspect age does not come into it that much.  Forever-type HEAs are problematic when the protagonists are teenagers**.

Other minor niggles: a few repetitious character descriptions throughout the books, though I give this a pass as I fell in love with the characters anyway, and also the numerous names.  Ms Höst gives her characters gender-neutral names which added to the sense of “otherness”, but it didn’t help me in keeping them straight, and this was made worse by the fact that the Setari tend to use different names on and off-duty.  I got the main characters straight, but ended up confusing the secondary ones. I also will say that the second and third book pretty much dive straight into the story without much background.  I normally expect more of a “story so far”-type recap in sequels – this particular quirk didn’t bother me as I was reading the omnibus version anyway, but be warned if you pick them up separately.

All in all though, this book – flaws and all – had that indefinable magic that puts it firmly on my keeper shelf.   I am now (happily) exploring Ms Höst’s backlist – which has veered more towards traditional high fantasy than Touchstone – but with the same storytelling flair evident in Touchstone***.  And oh, her Medair duology may even be better than Touchstone.

*****

* Slight spoiler: The relationship in this one reminds me of the sigh-inducing romance in Diana Peterfreund‘s Secret Society Girl series (which just happens to be one of my favourite ever relationships).

** Though having said that, I recently reread Sherwood Smith‘s A POSSE OF PRINCESSES (after Thea’s review @ The Book Smugglers) and thought that had a perfect yet realistic ending for a YA romance.

*** I should also note that there is a Touchstone epilogue titled GRATUITOUS EPILOGUE, which is just that – a freebie the author offers on her blog for those who want to know what happens after the trilogy’s conclusion.  The description sums it up perfectly.  I could have not read it, but well, I dare you to finish the Touchstone trilogy and not cave in.  And the tongue-in-cheek title works – gratuitious is the perfect description for this.

Books for March

I know.  This is really rather late for a new releases post.  But there are so many March releases that I have been anticipating – well, it’s been hard to drag myself away from the actual books.  Added to that is the fact I am totally glomming Andrea K Host‘s fantasy novels (I’ve just finished the last of her backlist *sigh*) – let’s put it this way, at least it still is March…

So the books I’ve been waiting for:

Patricia BriggsFAIR GAME (paranormal romance): Yes, me and everyone else.  It’s a toss up as to whether I like the Anna & Charles books better than the Mercy Thompson ones – and having read this one, I still can’t decide.  I like the Omega twist on the kick-ass UF heroine stereotype, and I love how Patricia Briggs gives us a very different relationship to the Mercy/Adam one.  But we’ve had three more books to get to know Mercy better and I feel more invested in her story… good thing I don’t actually have to choose.

Blurb from Goodreads:

They say opposites attract. And in the case of werewolves Anna Latham and Charles Cornick, they mate. The son-and enforcer-of the leader of the North American werewolves, Charles is a dominant alpha. While Anna, an omega, has the rare ability to calm others of her kind.

Now that the werewolves have revealed themselves to humans, they can’t afford any bad publicity. Infractions that could have been overlooked in the past must now be punished, and the strain of doing his father’s dirty work is taking a toll on Charles.

Nevertheless, Charles and Anna are sent to Boston, when the FBI requests the pack’s help on a local serial killer case. They quickly realize that not only the last two victims were werewolves-all of them were. Someone is targeting their kind. And now Anna and Charles have put themselves right in the killer’s sights…

Out now (excerpt)

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Seanan McGuire‘s DISCOUNT ARMAGEDDON (urban fantasy): It’s no secret that I’m a diehard fan of Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye books, and when she started talking about a new UF series, I was incredibly excited.  With the Toby books moving to a yearly release schedule (the twice-yearly releases were such a plus!), I’m hoping her Incryptid books fill the gap.  They do sound great and from the A-Z countdown posts on her livejournal, I’ve a feeling the world-building will be just as complex and thorough as the Toby world.

Blurb from Goodreads:

Ghoulies. Ghosties. Long-legged beasties. Things that go bump in the night… The Price family has spent generations studying the monsters of the world, working to protect them from humanity-and humanity from them. Enter Verity Price. Despite being trained from birth as a cryptozoologist, she’d rather dance a tango than tangle with a demon, and is spending a year in Manhattan while she pursues her career in professional ballroom dance. Sounds pretty simple, right? It would be, if it weren’t for the talking mice, the telepathic mathematicians, the asbestos supermodels, and the trained monster-hunter sent by the Price family’s old enemies, the Covenant of St. George. When a Price girl meets a Covenant boy, high stakes, high heels, and a lot of collateral damage are almost guaranteed. To complicate matters further, local cryptids are disappearing, strange lizard-men are appearing in the sewers, and someone’s spreading rumors about a dragon sleeping underneath the city…

Out now (book page)

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Naomi Novik‘s CRUCIBLE OF GOLD (historical fantasy): While I thought the previous Temeraire book meandered somewhat (that never-ending journey through the wilds of Australia!), there is something about the world and writing that always pulls me in as soon as I start reading.  More globe-trotting for Will and Temeraire – this time, they’re in South America.  It’ll be a whole new world for me as I’ve no idea what was happening there during this era in history – I’m looking forward to reading her take on it.

Blurb from Goodreads:

Naomi Novik’s beloved series returns, with Captain Will Laurence and his fighting dragon Temeraire once again taking to the air against the broadsides of Napoleon’s forces and the friendly—and sometimes not-so-friendly—fire of British soldiers and politicians who continue to suspect them of divided loyalties, if not outright treason.

For Laurence and Temeraire, put out to pasture in Australia, it seems their part in the war has come to an end just when they are needed most. But perhaps they are no longer alone in this opinion. Newly allied with the powerful African empire of the Tswana, the French have occupied Spain and brought revolution and bloodshed to Brazil, threatening Britain’s last desperate hope to defeat Napoleon.

And now the government that sidelined them has decided they have the best chance at negotiating a peace with the angry Tswana, who have besieged the Portuguese royal family in Rio—and thus offer to reinstate Laurence to his former rank and seniority as a captain in the Aerial Corps. Temeraire is delighted by this sudden reversal of fortune, but Laurence is by no means sanguine, knowing from experience that personal honor and duty to one’s country do not always run on parallel tracks.

Nonetheless, the pair embark for Brazil, only to meet with a string of unmitigated disasters that force them to make an unexpected landing in the hostile territory of the Incan empire, where they face new unanticipated dangers.

Now with the success of the mission balanced on a razor’s edge, and failure looking more likely by the minute, the unexpected arrival of an old enemy will tip the scales toward ruin. Yet even in the midst of disaster, opportunity may lurk—for one bold enough to grasp it.

Out now (excerpt)

*

Jordan Castillo Price‘s THE STARVING YEARS (m/m urban fantasy): Jordan Castillo Price is an autobuy author for me, even when the blurb sounds slightly out there.  That’s probably the definition of an autobuy author, isn’t it?  Blind trust that they’ll deliver the story…

Blurb from Goodreads:

Imagine a world without hunger. In 1960, a superfood was invented that made starvation a thing of the past. Manna, the cheaply manufactured staple food, is now as ubiquitous as salt in the world’s cupboards, pantries and larders.

Nelson Oliver knows plenty about manna. He’s a food scientist—according to his diploma, that is. Lately, he’s been running the register at the local video rental dive to scrape together the cash for his exorbitantly priced migraine medication.

In a job fair gone bad, Nelson hooks up with copywriter Javier and his computer-geek pal Tim, who whisks them away from the worst of the fiasco in his repurposed moving truck. At least, Nelson thinks the those two are acquainted, but they’re acting so evasive about it, he’s not sure how they know each other, exactly. Javier is impervious to Nelson’s flirting, and Tim’s name could appear in the dictionary under the entry for “awkward.” And with a riot raging through Manhattan and yet another headache coming on, it doesn’t seem like Nelson will get an answer anytime soon. One thing’s for sure, the tension between the three of them is thick enough to cut with a knife…even one of those dull plastic dealies that come in the package with Mannariffic EZ-Mealz.

Out now (excerpt)

*

Kaje Harper‘s THE REBUILDING WORLD (m/m romance): Kaje Hunter was a new discovery for me last year, and I think I’ve finished her (sadly short) backlist, so yay for a new release.

Blurb from Goodreads:

A few excruciating minutes pinned in a burning building cost Ryan Ward his job as a firefighter, the easy camaraderie of his coworkers, his girlfriend, and damn near cost him his left leg. Giving up, though, isn’t an option. Compared to the alternative, choosing a new profession, going back to school, and renting a room from the college groundskeeper are simple.

Until he realizes he’s falling in love with his housemate, and things take a turn for the complicated.

John Barrett knows about loss. After moving twice to stay in touch with his kids, he could only watch as his ex-wife whisked them away to California. Offering Ryan a room seems better than rattling around the empty house, but as casual friendship moves to something more, and a firestorm of emotions ignites, the big old house feels like tight quarters.

It’s nothing they can’t learn to navigate, though. But when dead bodies start turning up on campus—and one of the guys is a suspect—their first taste of real love could go up in smoke.

Out now (excerpt)

*

Nicole Kimberling, Josh Lanyon, Ginn Hale, and Astrid Amara‘s IRREGULARS (m/m romance): A shared-world anthology with some of my favourite authors?  I didn’t have to think twice.    I think this is Josh Lanyon’s only new release this year (sadface).  As for Ginn Hale, I’ve loved the novellas she’s written – I still have THE RIFTER serial and WICKED GENTLEMEN in my TBR pile (I know, I know – I really need to get to them).  And I read a couple of Astrid Amara’s books last year and moved her to my authors-to-keep-an-eye-on list.

Blurb from Goodreads:

It’s a secret international organization operating in cities on every continent. It polices relations between the earthly realm and those beyond this world, enforcing immigration laws, the transfers of magical artifacts, and crimes against humanity.

The agents who work for the NATO Irregular Affairs Division can’t tell anyone what they do, or how hard they work to keep us safe. It brings a colorful collection of men together:

Agent Henry Falk, the undead bum. Agent Keith Curry, former carnivore chef turned vegetarian; Agent Rake, Babylonian demon with a penchant for easy living; and Agent Silas August, uncompromising jerk.

Four cities, four mysteries, four times the romance. Is your security clearance high enough to read on?

Out now  (excerpt – PDF)

*

Suzanne Brockmann‘s BORN TO DARKNESS (romantic suspense): This is the first book in Suzanne Brockmann’s new series set in the near-future.   I had mixed feelings when she announced the Troubleshooter series was coming to an end and she was starting a new one with paranormal elements – while it was perhaps time to draw things to a close, I wasn’t quite sure on the need to introduce the woo-woo stuff.  But the short story prequel (SHANE’S LAST STAND) had the trademark Brockmann goodness, so I’m quite looking forward to this now.

Blurb from Goodreads:

Dishonorably discharged, former Navy SEAL Shane Laughlin is down to his last ten bucks when he finally finds work as a test subject at the Obermeyer Institute, a little-known and believed-to-be-fringe scientific research facility. When he enters the OI compound, he is plunged into a strange world where seemingly mild-mannered scientists—including women half his size—can kick his highly skilled ass.

Shane soon discovers that there are certain individuals who possess the unique ability to access untapped regions of the brain with extraordinary results—including telekinesis, super strength, and reversal of the aging process. Known as “Greater-Thans,” this rare breed is recruited by OI, where they are rigorously trained using ancient techniques to cultivate their powers and wield them responsibly.

But in the depths of America’s second Great Depression, where the divide between the haves and the have-nots has grown even wider, those who are rich—and reckless—enough have a quick, seductive alternative: Destiny, a highly addictive designer drug that can make anyone a Greater-Than, with the power of eternal youth. The sinister cartel known as The Organization has begun mass-producing Destiny, and the demand is epidemic. But few realize the drug’s true danger, and fewer still know the dirty secret of Destiny’s crucial ingredient.

Michelle “Mac” Mackenzie knows the ugly truth. And as one of the Obermeyer Institute’s crack team of operatives, she’s determined to end the scourge of Destiny. But her kick-ass attitude gets knocked for a loop when she finds that one of the new test subjects is none other than Shane, the same smoldering stranger who just rocked her world in a one-night stand. Although Shane isn’t a Greater-Than like Mac, as an ex-SEAL, he’s got talents of his own. But Mac’s got powerful reasons to keep her distance from him—and reasons that are just as strong to want him close. She’s used to risking her life, but now, in the midst of the ultimate war on drugs, she must face sacrificing her heart.

Out March 20 (excerpt)

*

Harper Fox‘s SCRAP METAL (m/m romance): Last but definitely not least, Harper Fox has a new release.  She does such great angst-y romantic relationships, and this sounds like no exception.

Blurb from Goodreads:

One year ago, before Fate took a wrecking ball to his life, Nichol was happily working on his doctorate in linguistics. Now he’s hip deep in sheep, mud and collies. His late brother and mother had been well suited to life on Seacliff Farm. Nichol? Not so much.

As lambing season progresses in the teeth of an icy north wind, the last straw is the intruder Nichol catches in the barn. He says his name is Cam, and he’s on the run from a Glasgow gang. Something about the young man’s tired resignation touches Nichol deeply, and instead of giving him the business end of a shotgun, he offers Cam a blanket and a place to stay.

Somehow, Cam quickly charms his way through Nichol’s defenses and into his heart. Even his grandfather takes to the cheeky city boy, whose hard work and good head for figures help set the farm back on its feet.

As the cold Scottish springtime melts into summer, Nichol finds himself falling in love. When tragedy strikes, Cam’s resolutely held secret is finally revealed and Nichol must face the truth. He’s given his heart away, and it’s time to pay the price.

Out March 27 (excerpt)

Right, that’s it – I am off to read now!  Have I missed any of your March must-gets?

What’s Occupying My Thoughts

It’s Read an Ebook Week, which means all sorts of ebook freebies abound.  The MobileRead forums are great at filtering the slush pile, so to speak, but here’s a good one: Kelly Hunter‘s offering her self-published novella WISH for free.  It’s no secret that I fell in love with her books last year (possible understatement there), so this is a great chance to try her writing if you haven’t already.

While on the topic of Kelly Hunter, her April release CRACKING THE DATING CODE is up on the M&B website for purchase – the only reason I’m holding off is because of the disaster I had the last time I purchased directly from M&B.  I couldn’t download the books despite trying for ages – finally got a refund and repurchased at Amazon.  Gah.  I may cave though, and see if it’s different this time around.

***********

If you’re following my Goodreads updates, you may have noticed I’m a tad bit preoccupied with this new author.  Just a bit.  Okay, I have totally fallen for Andrea K Höst‘s stories, so much so I may go as far as actually writing a post about them shortly.  The Touchstone trilogy pushed all the right buttons for me, while STAINED GLASS MONSTERS was the sort of YA fantasy I’ve been missing for a while.

***********

Free short story called ONE HELL OF A RIDE from Seanan McGuire, set in her new InCryptid world – I can’t wait to get my hands on this.  Speaking of which, there are so many new releases this month that I want – it makes up for the drought that was January and February.

 ***********

And… new Amelia Peabody!  Still a way off, but from Elizabeth Peters‘ website:

And I have started the next book. Tentative title is The Painted Queen, though that may change. It takes place during the 1912-13 season (more “keeping track” of the other books in the series). Give you three guesses as to who she is. I can’t promise when it will be finished – the mind works a little slower as time goes on! – but, I hope to turn in a manuscript this spring.

I have no words to express how thrilled I am.