Romance & Fantasy (yes, again)

It’s been the crazy-busy kind of week lately (as evidenced by lack of activity on this blog).  And well, Wimbledon starts this week, so I make no promises about posts in the next couple of weeks.

But it was one of those lovely lazy Sundays yesterday, and I spent some time posting on Goodreads about some books I read towards the end of last year (yes, only six months later – I’m catching up on my backlog…).  Here they are (with some additional thoughts in italics).

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Royal Airs (Elemental Blessings, #2)Royal Airs by Sharon Shinn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A decent read, but not one of Shinn’s best, IMO. The story was on the predictable side of things, and Rand/Josetta’s relationship felt a bit too much like insta-love. Having said that, I have such a soft spot for the world of Welce and its elemental blessings, and I’d love to see more in this world.

I wanted to like this more – a lot more.  Sharon Shinn’s previous books have set the standard in fantasy romance (see Samaria, Twelve Houses, etc) and the elemental blessings concept in this world appeals to my inner teen.  But the romance in this felt flat – not sure why. 

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I also raced through a trilogy that turned out to be one of my favourites of 2013.  I’d been meaning to read more of Martha Wells, and finally found myself with time on my hands, so I cracked open her Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy.  Totally satisfied my fantasy craving.  And it was one of those trilogies where the later books are full of twists and turns that make you see earlier events in a different light – I love those.

 

The Wizard Hunters (The Fall of Ile-Rien, #1)The Wizard Hunters by Martha Wells

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved the prequel, The Death of the Necromancer, but it took me a while to settle into this story. But once I did, it worked for me – well, strong fantasy with a subtle romance would obviously tick all my boxes. This was written almost ten years ago, and I thought its age showed slightly, but overall, good read.

 

The Ships of Air (The Fall of Ile-Rien, #2)The Ships of Air by Martha Wells

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For a middle book in a trilogy, this one held up very well – there were some major twists in the story… but all made perfect sense in hindsight. Needless to say, I dove into the third book, The Gate of Gods, straight after.

 

The Gate of Gods (The Fall of Ile-Rien, #3)The Gate of Gods by Martha Wells

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The third book in a trilogy usually has a lot of expectations attached to it, and I’m glad to say that this one delivered for me. It was one of those unputdownable books – I was totally caught up in the story and invested in the outcome. Having said that (and despite this being a rather action-packed book), I didn’t think the plot was particularly suspenseful – but it was emotionally satisfying. So the perfect ending to the trilogy for me – though possibly with the caveat that I think you get even more out of the story if you’ve read the prequel, The Death of the Necromancer, first.

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I then read two Diana Peterfreunds (one under her Viv Daniels pseudonym):

One & Only (Canton, #1)One & Only by Viv Daniels

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I admit it – I picked this up purely because it was Diana Peterfreund writing New Adult, and I loved her Secret Society Girl books so much. Else I probably would have passed because the premise didn’t really grab me – so the fact that the story ended up working for me says much.

There was a bit too much of the “Yes, I totally am in lust with you” followed by “No, we really shouldn’t” (rinse/repeat) throughout the middle section of the book, but I did believe in Tess/Dylan’s connection. And I’d have liked to have had more on Tess’s parents, which to me was the more fascinating and complex relationship, but maybe Hannah’s story, Sweet & Wild, will reveal more.

Yessss… I wasn’t wild about the “falling in love with my secret half-sister’s boyfriend” conflict, but like I said, Diana Peterfreund’s writing got me over that.  I didn’t love this as much as the SSG books (okay, unfair comparison), but I’ll be getting the next.  I loved the SSG dedication in this book though. 

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Across a Star-Swept Sea (For Darkness Shows the Stars, #2)Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I loved the companion book For Darkness Shows the Stars, but this one didn’t work as well for me – I can’t quite put my finger on why, but there was something lacking with my connection with the protagonists and the world-building didn’t feel as in-depth as FDSTS. Having said that, it was a cleverly-written story (with an excellent ending), and kept me reading through to the end.

With this retelling, I’m not sure if I’d enjoyed this more had I read THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL first – certainly part of what I loved about FDSTS was how Diana Peterfreund kept the essence of PERSUASION, while making the story feel fresh and different, so I enjoyed the book from two separate angles.  I only know the vague outlines of PIMPERNEL, so it’s possible that a lot of the allusions flew over my head.

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The Temporary WifeThe Temporary Wife by Mary Balogh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m not a massive Balogh fan – this was more of an impulse buy as the back cover copy appealed to me. And I’m glad I bought as the story ended up hitting the right spots for me – formulaic romance, yes, but with enough tweaks to make it different enough, and I liked the focus on family.

This actually kick-started my mini Balogh glom towards the end of 2013.  

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Books for June

It’s hard to believe it’s June already.  Though I probably suspect I feel like this at the start of every month.  I (sadly) don’t have a proper summer holiday planned, but that doesn’t mean I can’t put my summer reading list together!

So – June releases that have caught my eye:

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21798646Sarina Bowen‘s THE YEAR WE HID AWAY (NA romance): Sarina Bowen’s a new-to-me author who came to my attention when Diana Peterfreund did a cover reveal for the first in her series, THE YEAR WE FELL DOWN.  Which I read a couple of months back, and ended up liking quite a bit – I’ve a soft spot for the college setting (I get all nostalgic for my university days – it’s easy to remember just the good bits, isn’t it!), plus her characters grabbed my attention from the start.  So yes, I’m totally up for the second book.

She’s hiding something big. He’s hiding someone small.

Scarlet Crowley’s life was torn apart the day father was arrested for unspeakable crimes. Now the shock has worn off, but not the horror.

It’s a safe bet that Scarlet is the only first year at Harkness College who had to sneak past TV news trucks parked on her front lawn just to leave town. But college will be Scarlet’s fresh start. Clutching a shiny new student ID — with a newly minted name on it — she leaves it all behind. Even if it means lying to the boy she’s falling for.

Bridger McCaulley is a varsity hockey star known for being a player both on and off the ice. But a sobering family crisis takes that all away. Protecting his sister means a precarious living arrangement and constant deception. The only bright spot in his week is the few stolen hours he spends with Scarlet.

The two form a tentative relationship based on the understanding that some things must always be held back. But when grim developments threaten them both, going it alone just won’t work anymore. And if they can’t learn to trust one another now, the families who let them down will take everything they’ve struggled to keep.

Out now

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21523030Nalini Singh‘s SHIELD OF WINTER (paranormal romance): I dare you to name one PNR fan who’s not waiting on this book.  I’m actually really curious to see where she takes this series now, following the culmination of the main series arc to date in the last book.  And… I love the UK cover.

Assassin. Soldier. Arrow. That is who Vasic is, who he will always be. His soul drenched in blood, his conscience heavy with the weight of all he’s done, he exists in the shadows, far from the hope his people can almost touch—if only they do not first drown in the murderous insanity of a lethal contagion. To stop the wave of death, Vasic must complete the simplest and most difficult mission of his life.

For if the Psy race is to survive, the empaths must wake…

Having rebuilt her life after medical “treatment” that violated her mind and sought to stifle her abilities, Ivy should have run from the black-clad Arrow with eyes of winter frost. But Ivy Jane has never done what she should. Now, she’ll fight for her people, and for this Arrow who stands as her living shield, yet believes he is beyond redemption. But as the world turns to screaming crimson, even Ivy’s fierce will may not be enough to save Vasic from the cold darkness…

Out now (or June 5 for the UK)

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21849648SUMMER RAIN, edited by Sarah Frantz (romance): I’m not usually a fan of romance shorts (I find it difficult to believe in a HEA – or even a HFN – in the space of a short story), but this is for a good cause, and I’ve been meaning to read some of these authors (ahem – Mary Ann Rivers) for quite a while.

What happens when love gets caught in the rain?

In this romance anthology, RITA-Award winning author Molly O’Keefe shows us the power of a city thunderstorm from the top of a skyscraper, while Amy Jo Cousins soaks us in a rain in Spain. New York Times bestselling author Ruthie Knox’s heroine is devastated by a winter storm, while a summer thunderstorm grants Alexandra Haughton’s hero and heroine a second chance at love. Rain sparks self-awareness in the robot in Charlotte Stein’s story and allows Mary Ann Rivers’s heroine to fall in love with her hero and her own art. Rain causes romance between the college students in Audra North’s and Shari Slade’s stories, while romance causes rain in Cecilia Tan’s myth-inspired tale of a sacrifice to a demi-god. Nine romance novelettes, edited by Sarah Frantz.

All proceeds from the volume will be donated to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (www.rainn.org), the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the United States.

Out June 9

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18755531Johanna Lindsey‘s STORMY PERSUASION (historical romance): Remember when I talked about how Justine Davis’ THE SKYPIRATE was my gateway to romance (and you all totally made fun of Dax Silverbrake’s name)?  Well, here’s another of my gateway romance authors – I must have read Johanna Lindsey’s Malory books a million times, and now she’s releasing a new one.  Yes, I’m pretty sure I’ve outgrown Lindsey and this is not going to live up to my expectations… but I’m going to buy it anyway.

#1 New York Times bestselling author Johanna Lindsey returns to the dazzlingly passionate world of the Malorys, an aristocratic family of rakehell adventurers and spirited ladies, in a thrilling new tale of unbridled desires.

James Malory sets sail for America to honor a promise he made to his in-laws: His and Georgina’s daughter, Jacqueline, will have her come-out in America. Judith and Jacqueline Malory are not simply cousins; they are inseparable best friends. Refusing to miss Jacqueline’s come-out in Connecticut, Judith convinces her parents to let her delay her London debut by a few weeks so she can accompany her cousin. Neither girl intends to fall in love during her first Season. But Judith’s plans are overturned when aboard ship she comes face-to-face with the ghost who has been haunting her dreams.

Unknown to the Malorys, deckhand Nathan Tremayne is a smuggler with a noose around his neck. Determined to carry out a covert mission in America that could gain him a pardon, Nathan senses that beautiful Judith Malory is trouble. Somehow the minx knows his secret—and now she’s blackmailing him into doing her bidding. While passions can soar on the high seas, Nathan knows this aristocratic beauty is merely amusing herself with a scoundrel like him.

When the unthinkable happens in Connecticut and the elder Malorys’ hands are tied, Nathan takes command of a dire situation. Captaining his own ship, he turns the tables on Judith, as he steers them into some intense Caribbean heat where he will fight with all his mettle to win the right to her heart.

Out June 10

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19425258Diana Gabaldon‘s WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD (historical fantasy): Just how long has it been since a Jamie/Claire book?  That was rhetorical, by the way – it was 2009 according to Goodreads, which means it’s been five years or so since I had to prop up the latest Gabaldon tome on cushions in order to actually read it.  I’m so doing the Kindle version this time.   And no, I can’t really remember what happened in the previous book now – may have to go and search out spoilers.

WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD is the eighth novel in the world-famous OUTLANDER series. In June of 1778, the world turns upside-down. The British army withdraws from Philadelphia, George Washington prepares to move from Valley Forge in pursuit, and Jamie Fraser comes back from the dead to discover that his best friend has married Jamie’s wife. The ninth Earl of Ellesmere discovers to his horror that he is in fact the illegitimate son of the newly-resurrected Jamie Fraser (a rebel _and_ a Scottish criminal!) and Jamie’s nephew Ian Murray discovers that his new-found cousin has an eye for Ian’s Quaker betrothed.

Meanwhile, Claire Fraser deals with an asthmatic duke, Benedict Arnold, and the fear that one of her husbands may have murdered the other. And in the 20th century, Jamie and Claire’s daughter Brianna is thinking that things are probably easier in the 18th century: her son has been kidnapped, her husband has disappeared into the past, and she’s facing a vicious criminal with nothing but a stapler in her hand. Fortunately, her daughter has a miniature cricket bat and her mother’s pragmatism.

The best of historical fiction with a Moebius twist, WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD weaves the fibers of a family’s life through the tapestry of historical drama.

Out June 10

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22304800Julie Cross‘s RETURN TO US (YA romance): Her latest Karen/Jordan novella – always a fun read (why yes, I’ve finished this one).  Julie Cross has said she’ll be collecting the novellas to date plus one more (so four in total, if I’ve my maths right) to release as a collection, if you’ve been hesitating about buying the individual installments.

Summer is definitely heating up…

So yeah, that really happened. Karen’s fist connecting with TJ’s face.

Not only is TJ dealing with a decent sized bruise on his face where Karen gave her best attempt at a knock-out match, now he’s got some explaining to do after Jordan finds out what happened.

Karen’s not ready to forgive TJ for his tough-love tactics to help get her bar routine back in full swing, but she is ready to figure out how to get through to Jordan. He’s being a complete idiot, not dealing with his health issues, forcing her to keep things a secret from Coach Bentley.

With her teammate, Stevie’s, help Karen comes up with a plan to steer Jordan in the right direction—all she needs is a night alone with him and the hiking and camping expedition he promised her weeks ago might be the perfect opportunity.

Or her plan could backfire and he could slip further away from her.

While Karen and Jordan are out playing lumberjack couple in the Pocono Mountains, TJ is dealing with a stranger trying to give him advice on his tumbling, some pretty overt advances from one of Nina Jones’ gymnasts (aka: off limits), and a random hook-up that will most likely end up being a big mistake.

Out now

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20870070LB Gregg‘s SAM AND AARON (m/m romance): It’s been a while since a new LB Gregg, IIRC.  Her books have always been quirky fun, so I’m pleased she’s writing again.

With our family’s legacy, Meyers B&B, in the flailing hands of me, Sam Meyers, and my sister Wynne, we’re determined to revive the place. We’ve started a series of blind-date cooking classes, and taken on our first boarder. Granddad is even now rolling in his grave.

Signed up for the class is our new guest, Aaron Saunders, a Californian transplant who’s distractingly handsome and clearly up to no good. I can’t quite figure him out. He blew into town and has been relentless in his search for…something.

The sexy sneak is intriguing. And we’ve had a steamy moment. Or two. But now I can’t stop wondering why he’s searching in secret. From the library, to the historical society, to my own backyard, Aaron leaves no stone unturned or record book unopened. He’s definitely gotten my attention. But that might not be the only thing he’s after.

Out June 16

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Other books on my radar:

  • Meljean Brook‘s self-published novella, FROZEN, to tide me over until the full release of THE KRAKEN KING
  • Maybe the latest anthology edited by George RR Martin and Gardner Dozois, ROGUES – unusually for a Martin/Dozois anthology, the theme and contributors haven’t really grabbed me this time.  Still sounds good though.