Good Books

So that July new releases post I put up a week or so ago?  I’ve read three of them now – and loved all three.  Which is not always the case, let me assure you – I think I’ve had more misses than hits in 2014 so far.  But these three – let’s just say I resented having to put these books down when reading them (sometimes I feel like we should have “good book days” the same way we have sick days).

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16045306First up, Miranda Kenneally‘s BREATHE, ANNIE, BREATHE.  I first stumbled upon Miranda Kenneally’s books when I picked up CATCHING JORDAN almost two years ago now (time flies!).  They’ve been a bit uneven since, but I feel she’s really hit it out of the park with ANNIE (you can tell when I’ve read a Kenneally when I go for sporting metaphors).  Seeing that the main protagonist’s a teenager who’s training for a marathon in memory of her boyfriend, it would be easy for this story to veer too much into the territory of angst and depression.  But it didn’t – Annie’s not the only one with baggage in the book, but yet the emotions never felt overdone.  She felt real, as did Jeremiah – I loved their chemistry, the feelings, and I was with them all the way as they took tentative steps into friendship and then more.  I also loved that family – on both Annie’s and Jere’s sides – was so present and loving in this book, which is a bit of a rarity for a YA/NA!  And finally, while there are cameos by characters from previous Hundred Oaks books, I felt this one worked as a standalone as well.

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20426102I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting with Rachel Aaron‘s UF debut NICE DRAGONS FINISH LAST – I knew she could give good story after her SF Paradox trilogy (btw, did you read she’s writing another trilogy in the Paradox universe – more Sainted King!), but was slightly wary after reading her first (admittedly debut) fantasy novel way back and being all meh about it.  But I needn’t have been worried – I was caught up in the story from the first chapter onwards, and I suspect this would appeal to those looking for a slightly different UF series.  I mean, what other UF has a all-powerful dragon seer named Bob (okay, Brohomir, but he prefers Bob), who uses ❤ ❤ in his texts (and just generally takes the piss out of everyone)?  As you can gather, the book doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it’s a solid story with some very engaging characters.  Julius is the “nice dragon” of the title, but he’s no self-pitying pushover.  There’s fast-paced action mixed with humour and snark, and tantalising glimpses of the wider dragon community – and if they’re anything like the Heartstrikers clan members we’ve already met, we’re in for a ride.  I closed the book wanting more Heartstrikers now.  She mentions November as a possible release date for the next book, so fingers crossed!

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20822874And then KJ CharlesTHINK OF ENGLAND.  I had a feeling this was going to be it.  I mean, her Magpie Lord books were getting better and better, her romantic thriller NON-STOP TILL TOKYO drew me in despite violence not generally being my thing, but still, I was not prepared by how much I loved THINK OF ENGLAND.  Set in turn-of-the-century 20th-century England, the first thing that struck me was the period feel.  The usual tongue-in-cheek Samhain warning for this book read:

Warning: Contains explicit male/male encounters, ghastly historical attitudes, and some extremely stiff upper lips.

And all three were spot on.  I thought KJ Charles nailed the insular attitudes of the English upper class of that era, the country-house weekend (or fortnight, in this case) feel.  The story evolved so naturally, and before I knew it, Curtis was up to his ears with intrigue and deception.  And not knowing whether he was coming or going with Daniel… Their chemistry was off the page, and their interactions equally romantic and sexy.  As for the final suspenseful and action-packed chapters – well, let’s just say I couldn’t put the book down.  Unusually for an m/m historical, I closed the book thinking a HEA was actually possible, despite the challenges not getting hand-waved away or swept under the carpet.  I’m hoping this is just the start of a series, as I suspect any of Curtis and Daniel’s future adventures will be a joy to read.

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A This and That Kind of Post…

… reflecting my similarly unfocused state of mind – here are both links and recent reads.

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I grew out of my “classics” phase ages ago, but this post by Sherwood Smith on her latest re-read of George Eliot‘s MIDDLEMARCH had me running to manybooks.net to download the PD version.  I’ve never read MIDDLEMARCH before, but I want to now.  Hopefully I’m not in for a disappointment – thoughts, anyone?

Requisite tor.com post that I liked: This one about cover art for Orbit books.  If I’m honest, I hadn’t really thought much about Orbit covers having a certain artistic style, but some of their covers have been striking.

And because I link to almost every Courtney Milan post – she talks about her enhanced digital editions ($0.99 each for a short while, I believe) and how she was able to release her own version of the books she published with Harlequin.  Really interesting (or at least, I thought so!).

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Books I’ve read recently (I flirt with the idea of a weekly/monthly wrap-up, and then figure I’d never stick to a schedule):

A couple of new-to-me category authors (spoiler: I wasn’t wowed by either) – Joss Wood‘s MORE THAN JUST A FLING? and Jessica Gilmore‘s THE RETURN OF MRS JONES.  I picked up the Wood because it was on sale and Nath likes her writing, and the Gilmore because I read a review somewhere.  Unfortunately, I can’t remember where now, so shout if you’ve seen it reviewed fairly recently – it wasn’t an overly-glowing review, but I was in the mood for an exes reunited premise.

Plus and minus points for each (I know – call this a book blog…) – okay, I liked that both stories felt fresh (as opposed to how category romance can sometimes feel dated) and there was some sparkle, but pacing felt a bit slow in spots.  So while I’d probably read more by each author at some point, I’m not running out to get the rest of their backlists.

20878147KS Augustin‘s THE CHECK YOUR LUCK AGENCY (urban fantasy): I picked this up because of an interview Andrea K Höst did with KS Augustin a few weeks back – it piqued my interest in her writing and this book is (was?) free.  Slightly a bit too much info-dumping for me at the start, but that wasn’t a show-stopper.  I did like how the Malaysia/Singapore setting came to life and the book whiled away an hour or so on the train very nicely.  However, I felt the story read more like a series of episodes as opposed to a full novel, plus it ended very abruptly, which caught me by surprise.  Having looked up the series detail now, the “complete” version is a five-book omnibus – I’ll probably get that at some point.

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Non-books related: I’m not sure how or when I stumbled onto this site, but I am hooked on Ask a Manager (have I mentioned it before?).  Alison Green just talks plain common sense when it comes to workplace dilemmas – well, the answers are almost always obvious when you read her responses, but they’re not at the same time.  And it’s always nice to see that mine is not the weirdest office out there.

Books for July

Between Wimbledon reaching its climax and the Tour de France kicking off in Yorkshire over the weekend, I almost felt as though I’d reached my sports (spectating) limit.  We’ll pass on the World Cup because, well, I’m not a massive football fan – I’m one of those who was only persuaded down to the pub after work last week with the promise of sunshine and a G&T.  I’m impressed by the number of USians who appear to have gotten into umm… soccer though.

But regardless of your chosen sport, there was certainly plenty to watch over the last couple of weeks (unless of course you’re just not a sports fan, in which case, ouch), which is my rather rambling lead up to why this July new releases post is closer to being a mid-month than start-of-month post.  So – new releases this month:

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20822874KJ CharlesTHINK OF ENGLAND (historical m/m romance): I’ve enjoyed KJ Charles’ ventures into both paranormal m/m romance and (straight) romantic suspense (haven’t blogged about it yet, but I thought NON-STOP TILL TOKYO was very good – violence galore, yes, but an amazing sense of place).  So if she’s decided to take a step sideways into the historical m/m romance genre, I don’t really care – I’m totally buying.

Lie back and think of England…

England, 1904. Two years ago, Captain Archie Curtis lost his friends, fingers, and future to a terrible military accident. Alone, purposeless and angry, Curtis is determined to discover if he and his comrades were the victims of fate, or of sabotage.

Curtis’s search takes him to an isolated, ultra-modern country house, where he meets and instantly clashes with fellow guest Daniel da Silva. Effete, decadent, foreign, and all-too-obviously queer, the sophisticated poet is everything the straightforward British officer fears and distrusts.

As events unfold, Curtis realizes that Daniel has his own secret intentions. And there’s something else they share—a mounting sexual tension that leaves Curtis reeling.

As the house party’s elegant facade cracks to reveal treachery, blackmail and murder, Curtis finds himself needing clever, dark-eyed Daniel as he has never needed a man before…

Warning: Contains explicit male/male encounters, ghastly historical attitudes, and some extremely stiff upper lips.

Out now

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18007521Mary Balogh‘s THE ESCAPE (historical romance): I admitted to being slowly won over by Mary Balogh’s historicals a couple of posts back, so it’s no surprise that I’ve her new release on my radar.

In this poignant novel of longing and salvation, a hopeful widow and a resilient war hero discover the promise of love’s magic and new beginnings.
 
After surviving the Napoleonic Wars, Sir Benedict Harper is struggling to move on, his body and spirit in need of a healing touch. Never does Ben imagine that hope will come in the form of a beautiful woman who has seen her own share of suffering. After the lingering death of her husband, Samantha McKay is at the mercy of her oppressive in-laws—until she plots an escape to distant Wales to claim a house she has inherited. Being a gentleman, Ben insists that he escort her on the fateful journey.

Ben wants Samantha as much as she wants him, but he is cautious. What can a wounded soul offer any woman? Samantha is ready to go where fate takes her, to leave behind polite society and even propriety in her desire for this handsome, honorable soldier. But dare she offer her bruised heart as well as her body? The answers to both their questions may be found in an unlikely place: in each other’s arms.

Out now

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16045306Miranda Kenneally‘s BREATHE, ANNIE, BREATHE (NA romance): I like how Miranda Kenneally’s New Adult romances focus on a different sport in each book (except perhaps THINGS I CAN’T FORGET, which had religion at its heart, IIRC), so yay for a new Hundred Oaks book.  I have to mention the multiple cover changes for this book here (scroll to the bottom of the linked post) – I was amused that three different covers came out in fairly quick succession, though I have to say I really like the final one they settled on.

Annie hates running. No matter how far she jogs, she can’t escape the guilt that if she hadn’t broken up with Kyle, he might still be alive. So to honor his memory, she starts preparing for the marathon he intended to race.

But the training is even more grueling than Annie could have imagined. Despite her coaching, she’s at war with her body, her mind—and her heart. With every mile that athletic Jeremiah cheers her on, she grows more conflicted. She wants to run into his arms…and sprint in the opposite direction. For Annie, opening up to love again may be even more of a challenge than crossing the finish line.

Out July 15

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20426102Rachel Aaron‘s NICE DRAGONS FINISH LAST (urban fantasy): After whizzing through Rachel Bach’s (a.k.a. Rachel Aaron) space opera romp in the Paradox trilogy, I’m giving her fantasy another chance.  This one’s a self-pubbed UF (she talks about the why of self-publishing here) and I have to say I love the cover.

As the smallest dragon in the Heartstriker clan, Julius survives by a simple code: stay quiet, don’t cause trouble, and keep out of the way of bigger dragons. But this meek behavior doesn’t cut it in a family of ambitious predators, and his mother, Bethesda the Heartstriker, has finally reached the end of her patience.

Now, sealed in human form and banished to the DFZ–a vertical metropolis built on the ruins of Old Detroit–Julius has one month to prove to his mother that he can be a ruthless dragon or lose his true shape forever. But in a city of modern mages and vengeful spirits where dragons are seen as monsters to be exterminated, he’s going to need some serious help to survive this test.

He only hopes that humans are more trustworthy than dragons.

Out July 15

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12119529Ilona AndrewsMAGIC BREAKS (urban fantasy): An Ilona Andrews is always an auto-buy for me, and this time, a new Kate Daniels!  I don’t really need to say much more, do I?

No matter how much the paranormal politics of Atlanta change, one thing always remains the same: if there’s trouble, Kate Daniels will be in the middle of it…

As the mate of the Beast Lord, Curran, former mercenary Kate Daniels has more responsibilities than it seems possible to juggle. Not only is she still struggling to keep her investigative business afloat, she must now deal with the affairs of the pack, including preparing her people for attack from Roland, a cruel ancient being with god-like powers. Since Kate’s connection to Roland has come out into the open, no one is safe—especially those closest to Kate.

As Roland’s long shadow looms ever nearer, Kate is called to attend the Conclave, a gathering of the leaders from the various supernatural factions in Atlanta. When one of the Masters of the Dead is found murdered there, apparently at the hands of a shapeshifter, Kate is given only twenty-four hours to hunt down the killer. And this time, if she fails, she’ll find herself embroiled in a war which could destroy everything she holds dear…

Out July 29

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22444651KellyHunter_honeymoontrap_eBook_final-200x300Finally, two novellas (both out now) – Kelly Hunter‘s THE HONEYMOON TRAP and Sarina Bowen‘s BLONDE DATE .  Am linking to Kelly Hunter’s blog as the book doesn’t seem to be on Goodreads (I know, that sounds impossible, right?) – anyway, there is something about her writing that just works for me, so this is a no-brainer autobuy.  Sarina Bowen’s novella  is part of her Ivy Years series (NA college-set romance, in case you’re wondering), which I’ve been quietly enjoying.

Sarah Morgan’s SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER

21207141It’s fair to say that I was… less than impressed by Sarah Morgan‘s first O’Neil Brothers book, SLEIGH BELLS IN THE SNOW – unfortunately the heroine’s issues with Christmas struck me as ridiculously OTT, and while I developed a soft spot for Jackson’s family and enjoyed the (very) snowy Vermont setting, my inability to understand where Kayla was coming from meant that the romance never quite took off for me. But the O’Neil brothers sequel-bait scattered throughout the story did its job, and when offered the second book in the trilogy for review, I looked forward to seeing how Sean and Élise’s story would play out in SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER.

Fiery French chef Élise Philippe is having a seriously bad day. Not only have the opening day plans for her beloved café fallen apart, but Sean O’Neil is back in town, and looking more delectable than ever. Last summer, they shared an electrifying night together…and the memories have Élise really struggling to stick to her one-night-only rule! Her head knows that eventually Sean will be leaving, so all she can do is try to ignore her heart before she spontaneously combusts with lust.

Being back in Vermont—even temporarily—is surgeon Sean O’Neil’s worst nightmare. For Sean, returning home to the Snow Crystal Resort means being forced to confront the reasons and the guilt he feels about rejecting his family’s rural lifestyle years ago. But discovering that Élise has settled in Vermont and still sets his blood racing is a very welcome distraction! Thinking he can persuade her into a replay of last summer is tempting, but remembering how good they are together is going to make walking away more difficult than he could imagine…

SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER takes place a few months after the first book, I think, and as the title implies, it’s set at the height of summer so we get to see a completely different side to the Vermont resort.  Familiar faces are present and accounted for, but handled very deftly – while the extended O’Neil family played their role in the story and there was some groundwork laid for the next book, this one was very definitely Sean and Élise’s romance.

20937456And the two of them had chemistry that worked – it more than worked at times.  We started off with a messy back history and with both parties in denial about their feelings (just how I like my romances!), before the pair of them slowly opened up to each other over the course of the book.  Their competence in their respective spheres added an extra something as well.  Élise’s passion for ingredients and her eye for recipes had me wishing for Pinterest-style pictures of her delicious-sounding creations, and as for Sean’s steely confidence when it came to matters of blood and gore – well, I wonder if Sarah Morgan writes M&B medical romances, because I would be all over them.

However, like the previous book, sometimes things came across as slightly exaggerated – Élise verged on being a stereotype of the “passionate French chef” at times and the rift between Sean and his grandfather dragged on for a tad bit too long.  I thought some points were laboured, sometimes to hilarious effect (or I may just have an unfortunate sense of humour) – I felt for poor Élise, as everyone knew she dropped her h’s when stressed and kept on telling her that…  I read an digital version so I’m not sure what the page count was, but at times it felt as though there was too little story to fill the pages.

But overall a decent romance with some spark (with bonus points for those O’Neil brotherly dynamics) and despite my niggles, I kept on reading – so while I’m not yet 100% in love with Sarah Morgan’s writing, I’ll certainly be picking up Tyler’s story, MAYBE THIS CHRISTMAS, when it hits the shelves later this year.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher