Quick one

>> Sunday, September 30, 2007

I'm about to leave for a day in Sherwood Forest, so just a quick update.

The suitcase finally reached me last week (without the plastic wrap I'd put on it at the airport, but otherwise intact), so I now have clothes, yay! Thank you all for the good wishes and the positive thoughts *g*

I've started classes already; not my regular lectures, which start on the 8th, but the presessional classes. Last week was Maths, next week is Econometrics, and thank heavens we're doing that, because spending 6 years in the workforce after getting my degree has driven all the mathematical and econometric knowledge I once had out of my brain. Well, not really driven it out, but buried it under other stuff, so this breakneck speed overview we're doing in the presessional classes is really helping me remember it all again.

As for extracurricular activities, I've uploaded a ton of pics to my photo blog, so go check them out!


The River Knows, by Amanda Quick

>> Monday, September 24, 2007

TITLE: The River Knows
AUTHOR: Amanda Quick

PAGES: 368

SETTING: Victorian London
TYPE: Straight romance
SERIES: None, stands alone

REASON FOR READING: JAK in all her incarnations is my consumate comfort read, so I turned to her when worried about my missing suitcase ;-)

The first kiss occurred in a dimly lit hallway on the upper floor of Elwin Hastings's grand house. Louisa never saw it coming....

Of course, Anthony Stalbridge couldn't possibly have had romantic intentions. The kiss was an act of desperation meant to distract the armed guard from catching the pair in a place they did not belong. After all, Louisa Bryce, in her dull maroon gown and gold-rimmed spectacles, was no man's idea of an alluring female. The only thing the two interlopers have in common is a passionate interest in the private affairs of Mr. Hastings-a prominent member of Society whom they both suspect of hiding terrible secrets. Now, brought together by their ruse, Anthony and Louisa are united in their efforts to find the truth.

Each has a reason for the quest. Anthony's fiancée was said to have thrown herself into the Thames-but Anthony has his own suspicions. Louisa-whose own identity is shrouded in layers of mystery-is convinced that Hastings has a connection to a notorious brothel. When Anthony successfully cracks Hastings's hidden safe-and discovers incriminating evidence-it appears that both their instincts were correct.

Yet Hastings is hiding far more than jewels and ledger books. Bringing him to justice will be more perilous than they anticipate-and their partnership will be more heated than either one expects. For it is not only Anthony's curiosity that Louisa arouses, and the two share something else: a thrilling attraction to danger...
THE PLOT: Louisa Burton faked her own suicide and disappeared when she had to kill a predatory nobleman in self-defense. The young, pretty shopkeeper took inspiration in the recent suicides of two society ladies who'd just thrown themselves into the river, and one of whose bodies had never appeared. Some time later, she's working as a companion to a very forward-thinking lady and writing hard-hitting articles for a journal, trying to get some justice against noblemen who think nothing about ruining and hurting people, as long as they are in a lower position in society.

Louisa and Anthony Stalbridge meet when both are going after the same man, Elwin Hastings. Louisa is investigating his involvement in a notorious brothel, while Anthony suspects him of murdering his fiancée, one of the women whose suicide gave Louisa the idea of faking her own. When they are forced to pretend to be involved so as to get out of a tight spot, an unlikely partnership emerges between them.

MY THOUGHTS: The romance was actually quite good, almost back to the JAK I love, the JAK of the mid 90s. Anthony's complete and utter need for Louisa was well rendered, as was the tenderness he felt for her. Their interactions were very enjoyable, with plenty of banter. Oh, and the love scenes were very nice.

I also really liked Anthony's very unique family and Louisa's free-thinking employer. They were very enjoyable secondary figures.

Too bad the very humdrum suspense subplot wasn't up to par. The undeniable reiterativeness of AQ's stories doesn't usually bother me, but it did here, at least in this aspect. The actual romance was fine and, though both Louisa and Anthony were familiar figures, their relationship felt plenty fresh enough. But the suspense? Oh, man. "Oh, here we're coming to the scene when they go interrogate someone, and when no one answers the door they break in and find him dead." That kind of thing.

MY GRADE: A B. The romance more than compensates for the weaker suspense.


More photos up, and some good news!

>> Friday, September 21, 2007

First the good news: it seems the suitcase finally turned up! My dad just called me (he's been nagging the Montevideo Iberia employees to death these last few days) and he tells me it never left Sao Paulo, in Brazil. Everyone kept telling me how it had probably got lost in Madrid, because everyone loses suitcases in Madrid, but I was sure the fuck-up must have happened in Brazil. We arrived such a long time before our plane was to leave that someone must have put them aside to send and then forgotten about it.

So anyway, I'm trying to be cautiosly optimistic at most now. I won't celebrate until it actually reaches me here in Nottingham. On the positive side, this annoyance has allowed me to see just how incredibly generous some of my fellow students are. Lots of people lent me stuff, and everyone kept asking me if they could help.

And now for the pictures: a couple of the university are here (including the one I posted here yesterday, so it's old news to you), and if you want a whirlwind tour of downtown Nottingham, click here.

And yep, that's Robin Hood on that poster stuck on the wall of the City Council!


Still alive

>> Thursday, September 20, 2007

Ugh, I didn't even have time to post "bye bye, I'm off". But I was off, and I'm now settling down in Nottingham. Well, not really settling down, because until Saturday, when I can move into my permanent residence, I'm staying at one of the residence halls on campus, but hey, at least I've been able to log on to the internet with my laptop!

The trip was horrible; long and tiring and damned Iberia lost my luggage, which still hasn't been found (positive thoughts are very welcome and very needed!), but the university is lovely and so are the people. I've got pics, which I'll be posting later, as it's late today. I did manage to post photos of the trip and the last goodbyes at my photolog, though, so take a look at them here.

I leave you with one of the photos of the university (which I haven't yet posted on my photolog, so you guys have got an exclusive, LOL!)

That's the Portland building, on campus, which I've been to a lot on these first couple of days. And as you can tell from my clothes, it's incredibly cold for the end of summer, at least by Uruguayan standards!


Hard to Guard, by Nina Mamone

>> Tuesday, September 11, 2007

TITLE: Hard to Guard
AUTHOR: Nina Mamone

COPYRIGHT: 2007 (comes out today)
PAGES: About 23,000 words, which I'd say is short story length in those regular 4-story print anthologies.
PUBLISHER: Samhain Publishing

SETTING: Contemporary
TYPE: Paranormal Romance
SERIES: No, but it will be part of an anthology called "I Dream of Dragons II"

REASON FOR READING: The author emailed me and asked me if I'd like an ARC, and after checking out the summary, I said "yes, please!"

Two guardians + long-denied passion + a quest to recover a kidnapped wyrm = spontaneous combustion

I Dream of Dragons II

A construction worker by day, a Guardian by night, Connor has had it with the irresponsible antics of the wyrms he vowed to keep secret from the human world. The only reason he keeps going is to be near the sassy, sexy, but totally out-of-his-league Sorcha. However, for the past five years, Sorcha’s not-so-subtle digs have convinced him that she only sees him as a stuffy, wet blanket.

Sorcha lusts after Connor and may even love him. But after five years of poking, prodding, teasing—anything to get some kind of reaction, even a frown—she’s given up hope of having a relationship with him. He has made it very clear that working with her to find a kidnapped wyrm is the very last thing he wants to do.

An unaccounted-for wyrm is a deadly wild card, and after a dangerous aphrodisiac appears on the streets, Sorcha and Connor will have to join forces to ensure the safety of everyone they care about.
THE PLOT: As Guardians working for the Directorate, Connor and Sorcha's job is to take care of wyrms, dragons who can take human form and live among humans. Wyrms aren't the most responsible of beings, and it takes a lot of effort to make sure they remain a secret from the world at large. It's a bit like being a babysitter, and both are tired of it. The only reason they don't quit is that each sees the job as the only way they can keep in contact with the other.

Connor and Sorcha have known each other for five years, since the day they started training for their job. From the very first, the strong attraction between them caused them to behave strangely, and the result is that each is very misguided about the other's feelings. Connor is convinced Sorcha thinks him a priggish stick-in-the-mud, while Sorcha is sure Connor disapproves of her and can barely stand her.

But when the kidnapping of one of the wyrms forces them to work together, it becomes much harder to hide their true feelings.

MY THOUGHTS: I'm very glad I accepted the author's offer, because this was a fun, sexy story, with plenty of tingly romance.

Romance short stories are not really my favourites, as they're so hard to do and you usually get what feels like the bare bones of a larger story. But the good news is that short was the perfect length for this particular story. It helped that the outside plot was quite simple really. The thing about the wyrms and their Guardians and how this all works was fun and original, but at the same time, it was quite straightforward, and there wasn't a too-complicated mythology that took up tens of pages being introduced. Furthermore, the story was more character- than plot-driven, with the outside plot only providing the background for the change in Sorcha and Connor's relationship, but never really coming to the forefront.

I also liked that the relationship was one that was already pretty established, so the author wasn't forced to cram the entire thing into a few short pages, from the first meeting on. No, Connor and Sorcha's feelings are already there, and we're given just enough background info to understand them and their history. This was excellently done, and in the first part, the feelings of yearning for each other but believing it's hopeless were just yummy.

What we see in full is the resolution of the conflict that had kept them separate, and this was good, a nice combination of sexy and sweet. Sorcha did go a bit nuts afterwards, creating a conflict that felt slightly forced, but it didn't bother me excessively, as she saw reason soon enough.

MY GRADE: A nice, solid B.


By Possession, by Madeline Hunter

>> Monday, September 10, 2007

With only a week to go before I leave for England and the preparations kicking my ass, if I want to write any reviews at all (which I do; I'm addicted to it), they're going to have to be itty-bitty-sized. So here we go.

TITLE: By Possession (read an excerpt)
AUTHOR: Madeline Hunter

PAGES: 371

SETTING: Medieval: 1326 England
TYPE: Straight romance
SERIES: It's Hunter's second published book, but chronologically, it's the first of her six Medievals. See here for more details.

REASON FOR READING: I'd been meaning to reread it for a while.

A Common Lady

For years she had thought he was dead. Yet when Addis de Valence strode into Moira Falkner's cottage, there was no mistaking the sharp planes of his face, and the scar she herself had helped to heal. The young squire who had once been her hero was now her lord, a hardened man who returned to claim the son she had raised as her own. But Moira couldn't deny that Addis roused a passion she never thought to feel--and a perilous hope for a future that could never be....

An Uncommon Love

Addis returned from the Crusades to find his lands usurped by his stepbrother, and his country on the brink of rebellion. Determined to reclaim his birthright, Addis could not afford to be distracted by a woman--even one as tempting as Moira. Yet the only living part of his contented past lay in Moira--and his desire for her was more dangerous than his deadly battles with the king's men. By law, Moira belonged to him...but possessing her heart might be far more difficult.
THE PLOT: When Addis de Valence returns from the Crusades, he finds his lands usurped by his step-brother, with the full connivance of the King's friends. All that's left is a manor brought by his late wife... and Moira Falkner, serf from that manor. Moira claims to have been freed by Addis' father-in-law before he died, but Addis refuses to lose her, too, and won't believe her claims.

As Addis fights and manouvers to recover his holdings, he and Moira struggle as well, as each becomes more important to the other but the power issues between them keep them apart.

MY THOUGHTS: This was a very good read. I loved what Hunter did with the tension that arises from the issues of power and inequality and possesion and injustice that separate Moira and Addis. The tension is both between them and inside Addis, because he knows very well that it is an injustice, that Moira is indeed telling the truth about having been set free from her bond. It's just that Addis can't tolerate the thought of not having her beside him, because she's the only thing in the world that gives him a measure of peace. He must keep her with him, by whichever method he finds to do so. It works, because Moira keeps her pride and though she does warm to Addis, she never gives in to what she knows would be wrong for her. When they do come together completely, they do so as equals, in spite of the difference in their stations. In the end, I believed their love completely.

What was less successful was all that about the past history between them that Addis can't remember at first. That felt strange and improbable, and it didn't feel particularly necessary to the story, either. But all right, it didn't bother me all that much.

As in all of Hunter's books, this is an excellent historical romance. The history comes alive and plays a huge role, but it doesn't overwhelm the story. It just shapes it and gives it a vivid backdrop and makes it all the more enjoyable. This is how historical romance should be done.



Hands down, the best way to read...

>> Sunday, September 09, 2007

is half-buried in cats!

This is me a few weeks ago.


Dark Moon Defender, by Sharon Shinn

>> Thursday, September 06, 2007

TITLE: Dark Moon Defender
AUTHOR: Sharon Shinn

PAGES: 448

SETTING: The land of Gillengaria
TYPE: Fantasy romance
SERIES: Third in the Twelve Houses series, coming after Mystic and Rider and The Thirteenth House.

REASON FOR READING: I've loved everything I've read by this author, and this series has been excellent so far.

The Rider Justin is sent to the small town of Neft, so he can spy on the nearby Lumanen Convent where the Daughters of the Pale Moon reside. He quickly learns that Coralinda Gisseltess, the leader of the Daughters, is indeed persecuting mystics and the people who shelter them. Even more quickly, he falls in love with Ellynor, one of the convent's novices.

But the courtship is perilous in the extreme. Not only does Coralinda hate the king and the King's Riders, but Ellynor is from the Lirrenlands, where women are not allowed to take lovers outside of the close-knit clans. If her brothers find out about Justin, they will insist upon an duel to the death... and if Coralinda finds out that Ellynor is a mystic, Ellynor's own life will be instantly at risk.
THE PLOT: When Rider Justin is sent undercover to the small town of Neft, to spy on the Daughters of the Pale Mother, at the Lumanen Convent, he's not particularly happy about it. He hates leaving the friends he made in the earlier books (his makeshift family, really) behind, and he feels isolated.

Things change when he meets and falls for Ellynor, a novice at the convent. Their relationship develops amid much danger, as Justin discovers just how bloody and murderous the Daughters' campaign against mystics has become, and Ellynor realizes what the convent is really about. But that's not all; there's even more danger for each of them. Ellynor turns out to be a mystic herself, and she's from the Lirrenlands, too, where customs determine that relationships between Lirren girls and outsiders almost always end in tragedy.

MY THOUGHTS: As the series has progressed, I've become fonder and fonder of Justin. He started out in M&R as a character I saw as somewhat rigid and prejudiced, but as I continued reading, I came to understand him much better and appreciate him. In DMD, Shinn pairs the man who comes from no family at all and who has had to build his own with a woman who has a surfeit of it, for whom her extended family is the building block of her entire life.

It's a relationship that seems impossible from the start, what with Ellynor being in the worst possible place and the danger from her family hanging over them the whole time. But these two do fall in love, in spite of everything, and it's a sweet, caring relationship. I liked Ellynor quite a bit (in spite of the couple of moments when she seemed purposely blind), but it was Justin I kept reading for. The real, inner Justin is a vulnerable man who feels he's not deserving of the love of someone like Ellynor, and seeing him understand that he is, indeed, loved, and not just by Ellynor, but by his friends, was lovely.

It seems from the setup of the book that we'll be focusing just on Justin and not see the group of six friends from the earlier books together, as they seem to be scattered all over the place. But never fear, the six do get together again, and we are treated to some more fascinating family dynamics. Justin's relationship with Kirra had been a very interesting element of the previous book, and it remains so here. They're really brother and sister now. And we also get updates on how Kirra and Donnal are doing (which is a good thing, after how little we got of that in TTH, and really set my mind at ease), as well as Senneth and Tayse (I love those two, their relationship is wonderfully romantic, in a totally non-saccharine way).

Oh, and I mustn't forget the outside plot. The probable upcoming war continues to simmer here, and though not much actually happens here, it was still excellently done and interesting. We come to understand more about Coralinda Gisseltess and her Daughters of the Pale Mother, which was great, as they'd been a bit shadowy in earlier books. With what we see here, Shinn makes the stakes feel even higher, because this is quite a terrifying sect. I wonder whether the next book, Reader and Raelynx (coming out in November, and hey, look, you can see the cover now at amazon!) will be the last one? If so, we should get all the answers there. Whatever it is, I can't wait.

MY GRADE: An A-. Shinn keeps getting better and better.


Caressed by Ice, by Nalini Singh

>> Saturday, September 01, 2007

TITLE: Caressed by Ice (read excerpts)
AUTHOR: Nalini Singh

COPYRIGHT: 2007 (it will be out next week, on September 4th)
PAGES: 368

SETTING: An alternate version of Earth in the late 21st century, with shapeshifters and psy, a race which has special psychic powers.
TYPE: Paranormal romance
SERIES: Book 3 in the Psy / Changeling series. It definitely shouldn't be read before the first book, Slave to Sensation, since it will spoil the plot of that one. In fact, this review shouldn't be read before reading STS, either!

REASON FOR READING: I love this series. Slave to Sensation was my favourite book last year, and the second one, Visions of Heat, was almost as good.

Explore new heights of sensuality in this return to the world of the Psy-where two people who know evil intimately must unlock the good within their icy hearts…

As an Arrow, an elite soldier in the Psy Council ranks, Judd Lauren was forced to do terrible things in the name of his people. Now a defector, his dark abilities have made him the most deadly of assassins-cold, pitiless, unfeeling. Until he meets Brenna…

Brenna Shane Kincaid was an innocent before she was abducted-and had her mind violated-by a serial killer. Her sense of evil runs so deep, she fears she could become a killer herself. Then the first dead body is found, victim of a familiar madness. Judd is her only hope, yet her sensual changeling side rebels against the inhuman chill of his personality, even as desire explodes between them. Shocking and raw, their passion is a danger that threatens not only their hearts, but their very lives…
THE PLOT: When he lived among the Psy, Judd Lauren was an Arrow, part of a top-secret group of assassins who enforced the Psy Council's directives. When he felt there was a threat on his family, he used his considerable powers and intelligence to find a way for all of them to drop out from the Psynet, which they did, the very first Psy to handle it.

The Laurens found refuge among the SnowDancer wolf changeling clan, but while over the years everyone else in the family have slowly started to let emotions in, Judd remains as cold and emotionless as ever. Unlike them, he will never be able to remove his mental blocks on feeling. The extensive training to become an Arrow, which took place since he was very young, placed some very real and dangerous tripwires on his mind, which any kind of feelings will activate.

And it's very strong feelings that dealing with Brenna Kincaid threatens to cause. If you've read Slave to Sensation, you'll remember Brenna as the last young woman taken by the Psy serial killer in that book. She was rescued before he killed her, but not before enduring weeks of horrific torture, both mental and physical. This has left her with some very serious sequels, and it doesn't help that everyone in the SnowDancer clan seems to now see her as some kind of fragile victim. It's only with Judd that she feels more comfortable, more like a survivor, rather than a victim.

Ever since she returned to her family, Brenna has been having very disturbing, violent dreams. They seem to be just natural results of her experiences, but when a murder is discovered in SnowDancer headquarters, Brenna realizes that her dreams are something else. Did the Psy psychopath succeed in turning her her mind into something dangerous? She can trust only Judd to help her figure out the truth, as well as evade the increasing danger it becomes clear she's under.

MY THOUGHTS: Wow. Just... wow. As I've repeated ad nauseam, I absolutely adored STS, but I'm hard-pressed to decide if I liked it or CBI better.

As in the other books in the series, Singh's created a complex, original, truly fascinating world, and one that feels more deeply developed as the series advances. I love that while there's a complete-feeling story and romance in each of the books, there's also an overarching storyline about the evolution of Psy/changeling/human relationships. There's a sense of big, important things going on and progressing, and that each of the stories told are contributing to it.

But as much as I love the universe Singh sets out, it's the romances that are the true hearts of the books for me, and CBI is no different. I was looking forward to seeing what a relationship between a male Psy and a female changeling might be like, and it was even better than I could have expected. The relationship between Judd and Brenna is amazing, full of passion and a sense of both inevitability and yearning, because having love developing between them seems as necessary as it is impossible.

That was one of the things I loved best about the book, the way the obstacles to a happy ending seemed insurmountable, and how they really, really had to work at them, even having to work through the hopeless feeling of thinking there's no way to solve things. The main obstacle was Judd and both the way his mind was originally and what it had become under Silence. I was impressed by how real the obstacles were in Visions of Heat for Faith abandoning Silence, but that was child's play compared to what Judd has to go through here.

See, there's a double block on his feelings. Judd's mind has been programmed so that any feeling will cause excrutiating pain in his brain, even causing very real injuries. Small ones, caused by small losses of control, he can fix himself, but if he were to really let go, he'd turn his brain into mush. But even if that problem were solved, there's also the knowledge that before Silence, people with his abilities always ended up losing control of them, at some point, and murdering the women they were close to.

So the conflict inside Judd is tremendous. He can't be with Brenna, but he can't not be with Brenna, because the link between them is much too powerful. The scene with the flying furniture was unforgettable! Anyway, I won't reveal how this was all solved, only that it was immensely satisfying and well done.

Something else I loved was Brenna's characterization, most especially the uniqueness of her being a changeling. So far in the series, we'd only really seen male changelings. I mean, we've met females, but since it was the heroes of the last two books who were shifters, we only really delved into how a male changeling relates to the animal inside him. So it was especially interesting to see this aspect of Brenna. It's a very interesting relationship she has with what's inside her, and even when it's lacking the last step for her, as it is at first during this book, when she's having trouble shifting, it's clear that it still shapes her personality. And it does in a way that is recognizable and yet subtly different to that of the males.

All in all, a fantastic read, and one that's right up there with the best I've read this year. I'm going to have such a hard time deciding my best book of 2007!

MY GRADE: An A. Fortunately, the long wait for Mine to Possess will be made shorter by the release of the An Enchanted Season anthology on October 2nd.


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