Theresa Rizzo’s HE BELONGS TO ME

17795416I’m always on the lookout for new-to-me authors and was in the mood for contemporary romance, so when Theresa Rizzo‘s self-pubbed debut HE BELONGS TO ME popped up in my inbox, it grabbed my attention.  I liked the excerpt (and loved the cover – yes, shallow…), and so accepted a review copy.

He Belongs to Me is a love story . . . a tale of betrayal and deception and of a young mother’s determination to recover what belongs to her.

Forced to leave her baby and tricked into relinquishing her parental rights, four years later Catherine Boyd is back and she’ll do anything to regain custody of her son–even reconcile with the husband falsely accused of killing their son’s twin.

All in the name of love for a little boy, generations of pain and tragedy are exposed in a courtroom drama.

I have a soft spot for the lovers reunited trope, and this certainly qualified. After Catherine’s parents trick her into giving up custody of her young son, Catherine and her estranged husband, Thomas, are forced to pretend they’re back together so that she can regain custody.  Obviously, they’re still carrying a torch for each other, and just as obviously, their make-believe reconciliation becomes a real one.  Their romance mostly worked for me, but it did sometimes veer on the side of more tell than show – I think because the story unfolds over a number of months, but is covered in a relatively short number of pages.

I liked the shades of grey in this story – it would be easy to paint Catherine’s parents as the no-holds-barred villains of this story, but Ms Rizzo kept their portrayal on just the right side of realistic.  The multiple POVs helped here, though I think they ended up promising a bit more drama than actually delivered.  However, the other secondary characters were a bit more two-dimensional, and a number of events felt as though they were there just to set up the final courtroom battle.

Speaking of which, the author certainly came across as knowing her legal stuff (disclaimer: I know nothing about the legal system/process so could be completely wrong here) and the courtroom scenes, especially towards the end, were filled with tension.  Conversely though, I felt that the level of detail sometimes got in the way of the story – it’s a fine balance between keeping the plot believable without slowing down the pace, and I think the latter won on occasion.  The ending, however, was satisfying with enough redemption on all sides, and generosity in victory closing the story on a feel-good note.

I went into this story expecting some rather angst-y romance based on the blurb – however, HE BELONGS TO ME turned out to be more sedate despite the high stakes at risk, with the promise of major drama left somewhat unfulfilled.

Review based on an ARC courtesy of the author/NetGalley.

Victoria Fox’s WICKED AMBITION

17404691I’m slowly being tempted back into the chick-lit* genre by Sophie Kinsella’s recent books, but it’s been a very long while since I’ve read what’s now called “bonkbusters” (is this a uniquely British term, by the way)?  The latest one making headlines is from Victoria Fox – the cover of her new book WICKED AMBITION appears to be everywhere nowadays, so I decided to take up an offer to find out what today’s bonkbusters are all about (as an aside, that term makes me laugh – can’t believe I’m actually typing that on my blog).

If not victory, revenge!

Some will do anything for fame.

Others will do anything to bring the famous down.

Three superstars. Three secrets.

For Robin, Turquoise and Kristin, the spotlight shines brightly. They’ve reached the glittering heights of stardom, and are adored the world over. But in the shadows lies the truth… An expose could be their end.

Because not everyone is happy about their success. Not everyone wants the best for them. Some people want to reveal the real stories behind the luxury parties and gorgeous men, and bring their dazzling worlds crashing to the ground.

Who will fall first?

So a bonkbuster obviously opens with a bonking scene (okay, I’ll stop now – sorry!), and the story takes off at full speed from there.  Victoria Fox’s main characters are loosely based on real-life celebrities, with just enough hints that you think you know who she’s using as inspiration, but not enough to guess for certain.  Or maybe I’m just not up to speed with the latest going-ons in Heat magazine (which is more probable, I admit).

Despite the alternating POVs and the fast-paced plot, I had no issues distinguishing between the characters or keeping up with their drama-filled lives.  This is not a subtle book – Victoria Fox doesn’t hold back when it comes to unveiling dark secrets and their consequences (cue the occasional dropped jaw), and everything (and everyone) is full-on.  Obviously, there is some very satisfying comeuppance for the villains in the end, but I admit to feeling faintly dissatisfied when I closed the book – the very black-or-white approach to characterisation meant that the story lacked a certain something, and despite Robin, Turquoise, and Kristin triumphing in the end, I felt that the women lacked empowerment for much of the story.

Perhaps I was expecting a bit too much from this – if you’re looking for something with substance, this won’t be one for you.  Having said that, WICKED AMBITION kept me entertained over a long train journey, and I suspect it’ll fit the bill perfectly if you’re into bonkbusters and want an escapist holiday read.  

Review based on an ARC courtesy of the publisher/NetGalley.

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*Are Sophie Kinsella’s books chick-lit? What is chick-lit nowadays anyway?

Richelle Mead’s GAMEBOARD OF THE GODS

13477883It feels as though it’s all about the Vampire Academy YA series when it comes to Richelle Mead nowadays – but IIRC, my first encounter with her writing was via her Georgina Kincaid adult UF series.  While the pacing could be uneven at times, Georgina/Seth’s on-off relationship and the ever-higher stakes kept me hooked and *whispers* I actually preferred it to the VA series/spin-offs.  So when I heard that Richelle Mead was kicking off a new SFF series aimed at adults, I was all excited about the first Age of X book, GAMEBOARD OF THE GODS.

In a futuristic world nearly destroyed by religious extremists, Justin March lives in exile after failing in his job as an investigator of religious groups and supernatural claims. But Justin is given a second chance when Mae Koskinen comes to bring him back to the Republic of United North America (RUNA). Raised in an aristocratic caste, Mae is now a member of the military’s most elite and terrifying tier, a soldier with enhanced reflexes and skills.

When Justin and Mae are assigned to work together to solve a string of ritualistic murders, they soon realize that their discoveries have exposed them to terrible danger. As their investigation races forward, unknown enemies and powers greater than they can imagine are gathering in the shadows, ready to reclaim the world in which humans are merely game pieces on their board.

Gameboard of the Gods, the first installment of Richelle Mead’s Age of X series, will have all the elements that have made her YA Vampire Academy and Bloodlines series such megasuccesses: sexy, irresistible characters; romantic and mythological intrigue; and relentless action and suspense.

First up, fair warning.  I found GAMEBOARD incredibly confusing to get into.  And I say this as someone who hates infodumps upfront – I love books that force you to figure out how the world works as you read, instead of explaining every nth detail in the first chapter.  But GAMEBOARD defeated me and after the first couple of chapters, I looked up Age of X’s history and background on Ms Mead’s blog.  I’m cutting some slack due to the whole first book-in-series thing, but still – I shouldn’t have to.

17926850As for the main characters, I took a while to warm up to both Mae and Justin.  Neither are shown in their best light at the start of the book, partly as they’re presented as diametrical opposites to maximise conflict, I’m guessing – but the slow reveal of their backstories gave them more dimension, and it’ll be good to see how they (and their relationship) develop.  Slightly ironically, seeing that I was looking forward to reading Mead’s adult POVs, Tessa, the teenager “adopted” by Justin, stole the show in this book for me, even if Justin’s sponsorship of Tessa came out of nowhere (or maybe I missed the reasoning while trying to puzzle my way through the first few chapters).  Apart from the fact that Tessa was portrayed the most sympathetically out of the three, she was also new to RUNA, and seeing the world through her eyes helped me understand it more.  The cast of supporting characters – Mae’s praetorian friends, Justin’s sister – added some light humour to the book – and oh, did I mention Justin’s invisible ravens?  I loved them.

Once I figured out how the pieces all fitted together, the story really got moving for me.  It’s a murder mystery/whodunnit at heart (one of my favourites!), wrapped up within an intriguing SFF hybrid setting.  Ms Mead’s futuristic world explicitly touches on racial identity (genetic mixing was enforced to deal with a virus that almost decimated the world) – it’s a brave play and I hope she doesn’t shy away from tackling the obvious questions around this in future books.  Religion, or rather, the official lack of, is also front and centre in this book, and sets the stage for some potentially interesting exploration.  There’s some fast-moving action towards the end of the book as the various strands come together, and it ended on a satisfying note with just enough questions to set up the next book.

Despite some patchy world-building, GAMEBOARD OF THE GODS worked for me and I closed the book looking forward to finding out what happens next.

Review based on an ARC courtesy of the publisher/NetGalley.

Mini-Linkage + Surprise Encounter

There are lots of adverts on the Underground, which I tend to ignore (head buried in my newspaper/e-reader/random reading material) – imagine my surprise when I looked up and saw this:

CNV

CNV2

I’m obviously talking about the huge CODE NAME VERITY poster on the right, though it’s nice to see other books getting some love – here’s another pic (apologies for my lack of camera phone skills – click for larger versions).  I didn’t recognise the new paperback cover at first, but I quite like it – shouts historical fiction, doesn’t it?  Also note the last quote is from Ana @ Things Mean a Lot‘s review of CODE NAME VERITY – very cool.

FYI the Kindle version of CNV is £1.09 on Amazon UK right now if you’re interested – and the companion book ROSE UNDER FIRE has just been released (in the UK).

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Sarah Rees Brennan posts Part 1 of a free short story “The Turn of the Story” (I think, not entirely sure as to the title – it’s a belated Christmas present!) – I cannot wait for Part 2.  You know any story that starts with the following sentence has to be good:

So far magic school was total rubbish.

And it is.  It’s all kinds of SRB goodness, alternating between subversive humour and laugh-out-loud funny.

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17203923Angie posted her review of Allison Parr‘s NA debut RUSH ME and explains exactly why it’s a good one (apart from the fact there is much swoon).  I’m slightly relieved as I did recommend the book strongly – yes, I do the “hate the book, not the recommender” mantra (the book-ish version of “don’t shoot the messenger”?), but let’s face it, it’s so much BETTER when other people get exactly why the book worked for you too.

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I found Judith Tarr‘s Escaping Stockholm post @ CE Murphy‘s website interesting, although it’s primarily aimed at writers – she talks about the changes in the publishing industry since the early 80s based on her personal experience.  It’s fascinating how much the agent/publisher/author dynamic has changed over the past few decades – and will probably continue to evolve rapidly over the next few years.

Books for June

There are quite a few June new releases on my radar, and they’re all due to be released in the first week of the month (according to Goodreads, anyway).

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17701728Nalini Singh‘s HEART OF OBSIDIAN (paranormal romance): The big build-up to the reveal of The Ghost’s identity in this 12th Psy-Changeling book was punctured when spoilers started floating around the interwebs – and yes, I was inadvertently spoiled.  At first, I was all %^^&*, but then I realised I didn’t really care.  The identity of the hero isn’t exactly a spoiler as to the plot, is it?

While we’re on the subject, Nalini Singh is doing a London signing (June 14th @ Forbidden Planet, if you’ve missed the news) for this book – I’m on the fence as to whether I’m going or not.  On one hand, it’s extremely rare that an author I love actually makes an appearance in my home city; on the other, I remember my pathetic fangirl showing when Kelley Armstrong did a signing here – I turned up at the bookstore, saw the (very) long queue, and promptly decided that I had better things to do that evening.  I know.

Step into New York Times bestseller Nalini Singh’s explosive and shockingly passionate Psy-Changeling world…

A dangerous, volatile rebel, hands stained bloodred.
A woman whose very existence has been erased.
A love story so dark, it may shatter the world itself.
A deadly price that must be paid.
The day of reckoning is here.

Out June 6

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12591719James SA Corey‘s ABADDON’S GATE (SF): James SA Corey is the pen name for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, and it’s a pretty seamless pairing, writing-wise.  I’ve enjoyed the first two books in their space opera series (trilogy, possibly?), and I’ll be surprised if I don’t end up saying the same about the third book – they do that page-turning kind of story-telling rather well, and the second book ended on an interesting note.

For generations, the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt – was humanity’s great frontier. Until now. The alien artefact working through its program under the clouds of Venus has emerged to build a massive structure outside the orbit of Uranus: a gate that leads into a starless dark.

Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are part of a vast flotilla of scientific and military ships going out to examine the artefact. But behind the scenes, a complex plot is unfolding, with the destruction of Holden at its core. As the emissaries of the human race try to find whether the gate is an opportunity or a threat, the greatest danger is the one they brought with them.

Out June 4

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13477883Richelle Mead‘s GAMEBOARD OF THE GODS (SF): Richelle Mead sets out in a new direction here, switching from urban fantasy to something a bit more futuristic.  I’ve actually liked her adult UFs better than her previous/current YA books, so I’m looking forward to this one.

In a futuristic world nearly destroyed by religious extremists, Justin March lives in exile after failing in his job as an investigator of religious groups and supernatural claims. But Justin is given a second chance when Mae Koskinen comes to bring him back to the Republic of United North America (RUNA). Raised in an aristocratic caste, Mae is now a member of the military’s most elite and terrifying tier, a soldier with enhanced reflexes and skills.

When Justin and Mae are assigned to work together to solve a string of ritualistic murders, they soon realize that their discoveries have exposed them to terrible danger. As their investigation races forward, unknown enemies and powers greater than they can imagine are gathering in the shadows, ready to reclaim the world in which humans are merely game pieces on their board.

Gameboard of the Gods, the first installment of Richelle Mead’s Age of X series, will have all the elements that have made her YA Vampire Academy and Bloodlines series such mega-successes: sexy, irresistible characters; romantic and mythological intrigue; and relentless action and suspense.

Out June 4

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15702280Wen Spencer‘s EIGHT MILLION GODS (UF): I’m a big fan of Wen Spencer’s writing, although I don’t talk about her books a lot here (she’s not a massively prolific author, which may also play a part) – I like how her stories are distinctly different to other UFs out there.  This one is a standalone UF set in Japan, and I’ve already read it (as Baen releases the e-version the month before) – like all her other books, she drew me into her world from the start and I finished the book in a couple of sittings, though I thought the side-romance verged on the insta-love side of things.  The setting certainly felt authentic to me, but I admit to not knowing very much about Japanese culture, and I will be very curious to read reviews from Japan-based readers to see if they think it’s an accurate reflection.

A contemporary fantasy of mystery and death as American expats battle Japanese gods and monsters to retrieve an ancient artifact that can destroy the world.

On Saturday afternoon, Nikki Delany thought, “George Wilson, in the kitchen, with a blender.” By dinner, she had killed George and posted his gory murder to her blog. The next day, she put on her mourning clothes and went out to meet her best friend for lunch to discuss finding a replacement for her love interest.

Nikki is a horror novelist. Her choice of career is dictated by an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that forces her to write stories of death and destruction. She can’t control it, doesn’t understand it, but can use it to make money anywhere in the world. Currently “anywhere” is in Japan, hiding from her mother who sees Nikki’s OCD as proof she’s mentally unstable. Nikki’s fragile peace starts to fall apart when the police arrest her for the murder of an American expatriate. Someone killed him with a blender.

Reality starts to unravel around Nikki. She’s attacked by a raccoon in a business suit. After a series of blackouts, she’s accompanied by a boy that no one else can see, a boy who claims to be a god. Is she really being pursued by Japanese myths—or is she simply going insane?

What Nikki does know for sure is that the bodies are piling up, her mother has arrived in Japan to lock her up for the rest of her life—and her novels always end with everyone dead.

Out June 4 (ebook already available @ Baen Ebooks)

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15714476Cassandra Rose Clarke‘s THE PIRATE’S WISH (YA fantasy): This is the second in a duology – I read and liked the first book THE ASSASSIN’s CURSE last year, though I obviously haven’t blogged about it.  Anyway, based on my notes, I really liked the heroine (ticked the bright, independent, and brave boxes), the hero got on my nerves occasionally (intriguing, yes, but also verging on too-petulant at times), and although I thought the last third of the book dragged somewhat, I was looking forward to seeing their story wrapped up.  Plus, I like duologies.

After setting out to break the curse that binds them together, the pirate Ananna and the assassin Naji find themselves stranded on an enchanted island in the north with nothing but a sword, their wits, and the secret to breaking the curse: complete three impossible tasks. With the help of their friend Marjani and a rather unusual ally, Ananna and Naji make their way south again, seeking what seems to be beyond their reach.

Unfortunately, Naji has enemies from the shadowy world known as the Mists, and Ananna must still face the repercussions of going up against the Pirate Confederation. Together, Naji and Ananna must break the curse, escape their enemies — and come to terms with their growing romantic attraction.

Out June 4

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Other June books I may get:

  • Sarah Dessen‘s THE MOON AND MORE (YA romance): I loved the first Dessens that I read, but they lean towards the formulaic side (to be fair, similarities probably jump out more when you read five or so in a row, say).  Probably a library reservation for this one.
  • Kaje Harper‘s SOLE SUPPORT (m/m romance): I will probably buy this (unless reviews are totally meh). I enjoy her Life Lessons series, but her non-LL books haven’t really worked for me.

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17907041ETA: Elizabeth Wein‘s ROSE UNDER FIRE (companion to CODE NAME VERITY) is also out in the UK (June 3). Very much an auto-buy – CNV was a winner.

Rose Justice is a young American ATA pilot, delivering planes and taxiing pilots for the RAF in the UK during the summer of 1944. A budding poet who feels most alive while flying, she discovers that not all battles are fought in the air. An unforgettable journey from innocence to experience from the author of the best-selling, multi-award-nominated Code Name Verity. From the exhilaration of being the youngest pilot in the British air transport auxiliary, to the aftermath of surviving the notorious Ravensbruck women’s concentration camp, Rose’s story is one of courage in the face of adversity.