Mini-Reviews – Or What I Read Last Year, Part II

Maybe I should speed  up my Goodreads cross-postings?  It’s a mixed batch this time – some long-time favourites (I need more Skolian books), a couple of new-to-me authors, and some former autobuy authors.

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Diamond Star (Saga of the Skolian Empire, #13)Diamond Star by Catherine Asaro (SF)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I started reading this way back when it was first released (yes, we’re talking 2009 here) and then stopped halfway – not entirely sure why now, but I think it was to do with the fact I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go where I thought the book was going (and hopefully that makes sense to you – I’m not sure it makes sense to me!). Anyway, as the next book in the series, Carnelians, had been released, and I’ve an aversion to reading books out of order, I bit the bullet and picked up DIAMOND STAR again.

With the caveat I started reading from where I stopped, as opposed to restarting the whole book, I ended up really liking DIAMOND STAR. The story wasn’t as dark as I thought it was going to be, but perhaps not everything was fully resolved.

I have a very soft spot for the SF world that Catherine Asaro has created, and so while the bubbles and colours (and incestous relationships) feel slightly dated, I can’t help but give them a pass because I love the Skolian universe so much.

This book is not one for new readers to the Skolian series, but if you’re a long-term fan, it was satisfying to see more of the tangled family relationships resolved, and particularly Del stepping out of his family’s shadow and making his life his own.

All in all, DIAMOND STAR is a slightly heavy-handed coming-of-age story, but I’m glad I finally got around to finishing it, and now I’m looking forward to reading the next one.

I’m kind of surprised I haven’t cross-posted this review before (or if this sounds familiar, maybe I have!).  Catherine Asaro’s Skolian series is one of my favourite space opera series, and although some elements do feel dated, they’re ultimately comfort reads for me.

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Carnelians (Saga of the Skolian Empire, #14)Carnelians by Catherine Asaro (SF)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s a good thing I read this straight after finishing the previous book, Diamond Star. It’s definitely not one for readers new to the series, and without a knowledge of the story so far, I think the key moments would lack impact somewhat.

I loved this book – I stayed up very late to finish it, and it totally delivered on the satisfaction front. It’s not a technically perfect book, but that emotional impact thing? A million times yes. [Click through to GR review for spoiler]

This book wraps up one of the main arcs in the series – all I can say is when is the next book coming out?

I obviously jumped straight to the next Skolian installment, which turned out to be one of my favourites of 2012, IIRC.  Catherine Asaro said she signed a contract with Baen for SF mysteries set in the Skolian Empire universe – I cannot wait.

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The Next Always (Inn BoonsBoro Trilogy #1)The Next Always by Nora Roberts (contemporary romance)

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It’s been a while since I read a Nora Roberts (I think) and this book didn’t really make me regret not picking it up sooner.

This came across as a quiet-ish romance, with a slightly OTT stalker plot that felt a bit out of place. I liked the relationship between Beckett and his brothers – one thing Nora Roberts does very well, I think. And Claire’s kids were fun, if a little on the overly-sweet side. A bit too much page-time was spent on the inn construction (and in a way, it was weird knowing the inn and the bookstore were real-life places). And unfortunately, the ending [click through to GR review for spoiler] made me roll my eyes.

I used to haunt the bookstore for the new Nora Roberts release.  Now – well, it’s a possible library borrow if I see it on the shelves.  I suspect it’s a “me, not you” thing – I’ve grown too familiar with her writing style, characters, and plots, and they don’t feel as fresh or exciting anymore.

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Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #1)Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor (YA fantasy)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was both great story-telling and writing. Karou’s story felt so immediate, keeping me on the edge of my seat, and the setting was so different and imaginative. While a bit predictable towards the end (and I wasn’t expecting the abrupt ending), I was completely drawn into Laini Taylor’s world and am looking forward to see how the story continues.

Oh, there was a lot of hype around this one.  I didn’t fall in love, but there were a lot of good things here.

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The Sleeping Beauty (Five Hundred Kingdoms, #5)The Sleeping Beauty by Mercedes Lackey (fantasy romance)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I stopped reading this series a while ago, but was persuaded to pick this one up because of good reviews. And this was generally a good read.

I do like Mercedes Lackey’s take on The Tradition – it’s clever and delivers an entertaining twist on the traditional fairy tale, while the same fairy tale elements somehow means I can give the “too-perfectness” of the protagonists a bit of a pass, because it fits the worldbuilding (whereas the same aspect just tends to frustrate me in other recent Lackey books). Having said that, I found it difficult to differentiate between the heroes/heroines, and as a result, never really empathised with the characters. A good, if not memorable, read.

That Nora Roberts bookstore haunting thing I used to do for new releases? 10x that for a Mercedes Lackey release.  Reading a Lackey is usually a nostalgic thing for me nowadays. 

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Hot Head (Head, #1)Hot Head by Damon Suede (m/m romance)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked this, but did not thoroughly get (or connect with?) the main characters. Maybe the plot driver behind h/h getting together (i.e. the posing for the gay website) didn’t work for me. However, I loved the friends-to-lovers part.

New-to-me author – again a lot of buzz around this release, IIRC.  I was not entirely won over (one day, I’m sure I’ll be telling you about a new release that lived up to the hype for me!).

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Samantha Ann King’s WAITING FOR TY

I don’t really pay much attention to traditional publishers (I could not tell you whether an author was published by NAL or St Martin’s Press or Berkley, say), but when it comes to digital-first publishers?  I pay a lot more attention to the publisher – maybe because I use that as a (very) rough gauge as to quality.  Not so much quality of writing (that’s all down to the author, IMO), but of editing.  It may be all in my mind, but I have the impression that certain digital-first publishers are more consistent in terms of their output compared to others.

18053974So – that was a very long-winded (and slightly off-tangent) way to ease into saying that I’ve liked (and even loved) a lot of the Carina Press books I’ve read, so when offered the chance to read new-to-me author Samantha Ann King‘s m/m romance WAITING FOR TY, I read the hinting-at-so-much-more excerpt and accepted a review copy.

Let’s face it, I’m a sucker for a good friends-to-lovers story, especially if it’s all about suppressed feelings and denial.

Tyler Coil doesn’t do men. But it’s harder to remember that each time he visits his best friend, gorgeous Landon Burke. As a political reporter, Ty is good at reading people, and he can tell the lust is mutual. But giving in to it could mean alienating his ultra-conservative family.

Landon never desired a man badly enough to explore that side of his sexuality—until he met Ty. He’s waited four long years for a sign that Ty wants him too, and he can’t deny his needs much longer. So when a career opportunity arises out-of-state, Landon wonders if maybe it’s time to move on.

Then Ty crashes at Landon’s while working on a story—and a searing kiss ignites a night of mind-blowing sex that’s better than their most erotic fantasies. Forced to face his feelings, Ty must decide if love is worth the risk after all—before he loses Landon forever.

Unfortunately, WAITING FOR TY never quite got off the ground for me.  It started well, with Ty and Landon’s full-of-awkwardness reunion, but then turned into more of a tell-not-show kind of story.  The plot itself felt a bit bumpy, with several plotlines that had to be resolved within a relatively short word count.  We ended up whizzing through Ty and Landon’s and their respective coming outs to their families very quickly, and as a result, I felt a bit short-changed on the emotional connection front.  I’m wondering if I would have had more of an appreciation for Ty and Landon’s backstory had I read the first book in the series (Hilcia @ Impressions of a Reader thought that one worked better), but I did get the impression it was a fairly self-contained read.

So pleasant enough, but the promising setup didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

Review based on an ARC courtesy of the publisher 

Romance, Mystery, and a Bit of Fantasy

I’ve been pretty bad at cross-posting my Goodreads reviews here – I think I heaved a sigh of relief when I finished with my 2011 reads, and then promptly forgot to continue cross-posting.  Here’s what I read in January 2012 (talk about a trip down memory lane) – additional thoughts in italics.

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Sleeping Partner (Modern Romance Series Extra) (Modern Romance Series Extra)Sleeping Partner (Modern Romance Series Extra) by Kelly Hunter (contemporary romance)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A sexy, sweet, yet sentimental romance – what more could you ask for? The humorous banter between Mia and Ethan made me laugh, and I loved the side interactions between Ethan and his father. The setting was fantastic – the local colour provided additional depth to the story, which was really all about complicated messy family ties and love.

The last of my Kelly Hunter backlist glom, IIRC. Her next release (finally!) is out in November 2013 – she posted a teaser scene on her blog and is calling WHAT THE BRIDE DIDN’T KNOW a “…friends-to-lovers, fake marriage amnesia story”.  How many more tropes can you pack into a category romance?  Obviously, I cannot wait. 

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Naked Once MoreNaked Once More by Elizabeth Peters (mystery)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this book compulsively readable, just like all my other Elizabeth Peters – there was a lot of “just one more chapter” bargaining with myself.

As Jacqueline Kirby, the protagonist, is an author, I inevitably spent some time wondering how much of the publishing industry experience described is true and how much was just loving(?) parody. Jacqueline is the sort of person you either love or hate – I think I would detest her in real life, but as a heroine in a book, she is hilarious and her self-confidence rather impressive!

There were enough twist and turns in the plot to completely bamboozle me, and while I lost track of who was who occasionally (there is, or it feels as though there is, a cast of thousands in this book), it all came together in the end. And while there are also some side plots that don’t contribute very much to the main story, they just made this book all the more entertaining.

This was my last unread Elizabeth Peters mystery.  Jacqueline Kirby is no Amelia Peabody, but this mini-series of four books is still fun.

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His Untamed InnocentHis Untamed Innocent by Sara Craven (contemporary romance)

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was an impulse purchase – I liked the premise and recall liking some of Sara Craven’s previous books. While the setting felt current enough, Marin came across as being too much on the naive side, and I never got into their romance. Nothing wrong really with this story, but it doesn’t deliver anything fresh either.

I don’t really remember very much about this book unfortunately.  Standard category romance fare.

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The Iron Duke (Iron Seas, #1)The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook (steampunk romance)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am very late to the party on this one judging from the number of GR reviews. I’m not quite sure what took me so long to pick this up, but winning the second book Heart of Steel in a giveaway hosted by the author finally prompted me to start reading THE IRON DUKE.

And you know what? I really really liked it.

I loved the incredibly imaginative, in-depth, and consistent world-building. There wasn’t just a passing nod to steampunk – instead, everything, including the mindset and behaviour of the characters, came across as note-perfect, making this alternate-history world feel real and believable.

The plot itself is not a complicated one – it’s a murder mystery with political undertones, combined with some old-school romance. But combined with the refreshingly unique backdrop, this was an thoroughly entertaining and satisfying read.

I know this book generated some controversy, which I do want to mention [click through to GR review to see spoiler].

I’m glad I have HEART OF STEEL in my TBR pile, because I need to know more about this world.

I never quite got into Meljean Brook’s Guardians series (read the first, stumbled to a halt halfway through the second, and am pretty sure I still have the third (and possibly the fourth – what can I say…) in my TBR pile somewhere) but THIS – I love her Iron Seas world.

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Heart of Steel (Iron Seas, #2)Heart of Steel by Meljean Brook (steampunk romance)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Meljean Brook has probably done the impossible with this series – that is, I’m actually reading (and loving) zombie books. To be fair, it is more that I’m reading books that just happen to have zombies in them, but still, that’s more than any other author has done.

After the first book, The Iron Duke, I admit to secretly wanting to see more of alternate-world England in HEART OF STEEL. While I was initially disappointed that this was not to be the case, Yasmeen and Archimedes made such a fitting h/h pairing and I was rapidly caught up in their story. I liked that the author did not shy away from the more difficult parts – Yasmeen would not have become a mercenary ship captain by being all sweetness and light, and Meljean Brook showed the brutality that Yasmeen would have had demonstrated over her career. And yet somehow, there was still humour and charm in this story, and I was firmly rooting for Yasmeen and Archimedes to get their HEA.

This is such a fantastic (and fantastical) world, and I’m excited about the next Iron Seas book.

*In the interest of transparency, note that I won this book in a giveaway hosted by Meljean Brook. I can safely say this hasn’t influenced my review or rating (though I do get a feeling of glee when I look at my personalised copy).

Ummm… giveaways work?  Seriously, I’m glad I entered (and won), else it would have probably taken me a couple of years more to stumble upon this series.

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Majesty, Mistress...Missing HeirMajesty, Mistress…Missing Heir by Caitlin Crews (contemporary romance)

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked this one up after hearing good things about the author. The Yorkshire setting appealed and I liked how she played around with the accidental pregnancy plotline. Having said that, I never really connected with the h/h, and it ended up being a so-so read. I did like Caitlin Crews’ writing and I would probably try another of her books though.

Another middle-of-the-road category romance.

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Affairs of Steak (A White House Chef Mystery, #5)Affairs of Steak by Julie Hyzy (mystery)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve had both hits and misses with this series, so was slightly cautious when I started this book, but ended up liking it overall.

I was glad that we got to see a different side to Sargeant, who has been a pretty one-dimensional villain in previous books (though Virgil now appears to have taken his place!). There was some genuinely suspenseful moments in this book, and all in all, it was a pretty good story. As usual, I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes peek into the running of the White House and Secret Service. And Ollie’s new romantic interest is slowly starting to grow on me.

These books tend to be released around January, so they’re starting to signal New Year to me.  Probably the only cosy mystery series I’m following now.  

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February ThawFebruary Thaw by Tanya Huff (fantasy)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love that Tanya Huff has been re-releasing her short story backlist, and I enjoyed every single one in this collection (which, trust me, is a rather rare occurrence).

Standouts for me were A Midsummer’s Night Dream Team (a hilarious take on what happens when elves decide they’re interested in the Olympics!) and February Thaw (a marital falling out between Hades and Persephone), but the other five shorts were good reads too.

I’m not quite sure when Tanya Huff turned into an auto-buy author – I think she kind of snuck up on me.  I’ve read her books since forever, I think, but it’s only fairly recently I’ve started stalking out her new releases page.  

Books for September

Just where did summer go??  I can’t believe it’s September already.  And references to Christmas are starting to pop up.  Ack.

BUT – I am really excited about these September releases, so I can’t complain too much about seeing summer in the rear-view mirror…

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10184403Seanan McGuire‘s CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT (urban fantasy): It has been way too long since we last met up with Toby.  Way too long.

Things are starting to look up for October “Toby” Daye. She’s training her squire, doing her job, and has finally allowed herself to grow closer to the local King of Cats. It seems like her life may finally be settling down…at least until dead changelings start appearing in the alleys of San Francisco, killed by an overdose of goblin fruit.

Toby’s efforts to take the problem to the Queen of the Mists are met with harsh reprisals, leaving her under sentence of exile from her home and everyone she loves. Now Toby must find a way to reverse the Queens decree, get the goblin fruit off the streets–and, oh, yes, save her own life, since more than a few of her problems have once again followed her home. And then there’s the question of the Queen herself, who seems increasingly unlikely to have a valid claim to the throne….

To find the answers, October and her friends will have to travel from the legendary Library of Stars into the hidden depths of the Kingdom of the Mists–and they’ll have to do it fast, because time is running out. In faerie, some fates are worse than death.

October Daye is about to find out what they are.

Out Sept 3

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18368204Eileen WilksRITUAL MAGIC (urban fantasy): I’ve always loved this series, but Chachic’s recent series glom (complete with Goodreads status updates) has whetted my appetite even more for this 10th installment in the series (which, based on the back cover blurb, sounds both intriguing and terrifying in equal measures).

 In Eileen Wilks’s new Novel of the Lupi, FBI agent Lily Yu is about to confront a power even darker than magic…

On her 57th birthday, Lily’s mother suddenly loses all memory beyond the age of twelve. Lily knows her mother was attacked by something more than magic. More . . . and darker.

When Lily and Rule discover that others suffered the same, mysterious loss—at the same time on the same night—their investigation into the darkness begins. Joining them is someone Lily never thought she’d see again: Al Drummond, who once tried to destroy her. He also happens to be dead. But the mysterious attacks were caused by a power strong enough to affect matters beyond the world of the living.

With some victims losing years of memory and others their lives, Lily must discover what on earth—or beyond—connects them.

Out Sept 3

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18048366Tamora Pierce‘s BATTLE MAGIC (YA fantasy): Speaking of a long wait, the last new Tamora Pierce feels like ages ago.  She’s always an autobuy for me, and this excerpt has made me even more excited.  Boo to the fact no UK publishers picked this up though (seriously??!).

On their way to the first Circle temple in Gyongxi, mages Briar, Rosethorn, and Evvy pay a visit to the emperor’s summer palace. Although treated like royalty when they first arrive, the mages soon discover that the emperor plans to invade Gyongxi, posing a fatal threat to the home temple of the Living Circle religion. Accompanied by one of the emperor’s prize captives, the three mages rush to Gyongxi to warn its citizens of the impending attack. With the imperials hot on their trail, Briar, Rosethorn, and Evvy must quickly help the country prepare for battle. But even with the help of new allies, will their combined forces be enough to fight the imperial army and win the war?

Out Sept 24

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17665110Sherry ThomasTHE BURNING SKY (YA fantasy): I’ve not read any Sherry Thomas novels before, though I’m pretty sure her debut historical romance novel is lurking in my TBR pile (okay, I know it is).  But her new YA fantasy sounds amazing – elemental mages, prophecies, and romance – what’s not to love?

It all began with a ruined elixir and an accidental bolt of lightning…

Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she’s being told. The one prophesied for years to be the savior of The Realm. It is her duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the greatest mage tyrant the world has ever known. A suicide task for anyone let alone a sixteen-year-old girl with no training, facing a prophecy that foretells a fiery clash to the death.

Prince Titus of Elberon has sworn to protect Iolanthe at all costs but he’s also a powerful mage committed to obliterating the Bane to revenge the death of his family—even if he must sacrifice both Iolanthe and himself to achieve his goal.

But Titus makes the terrifying mistake of falling in love with the girl who should have been only a means to an end. Now, with the servants of the Bane closing in, he must choose between his mission and her life.

Out Sept 17