July wish list

>> Saturday, June 30, 2012

I'm the organised type, the sort of person who adores spreadsheets. I carry that over to my reading and book-buying, and have a running wish list, where I keep track of books I'm definitely getting in each month, as well as books that have caught my eye and I might buy if the reviews are good. This is what I've got for July:

Books I'm definitely planning to get



Ravishing the Heiress, by Sherry Thomas (Jul 3)

Thomas is an autobuy author for me, and I've just finished and absolutely adored Beguiling The Beauty, the first in this series. There is quite a lot there setting up RTH, and though I wasn't crazy about what I've seen thus far (hero and heroine have been in an unconsummated marriage of convenience for years, she's in love with him, he's apparently in love with someone else and has been having affairs with other women throughout), I trust Thomas enough to think there might be more there than meets the eye, and that even if there isn't, she's such a good writer that she'll make me like it anyway!




The Great Escape, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (Jul 10)

I haven't read Call Me Irresistible yet (I really have to be in the right mood to stomach an SEP heroine treated unfairly and humiliated by a whole town), but this one sounds like I might be able to read it more easily, and possibly without the need to catch up first, even though the two are related.







The Bride Wore Pearls, by Liz Carlyle (Jul 31)

The last couple of books by Carlyle have been disappointing, and I'm not too hot on her addition of the paranormal (including a secret society!) to her historicals, but she's written such amazing books before that I live in hope.




Books that interest me and I'll keep an eye on




Fire Kissed, by Erin Kellison (Jul 1) - Heroine sounds like some sort of paranormal mercenary. Haven't read Kellison before, but have heard good things. Not sure if it stands alone, though?





God Save The Queen, by Kate Locke (Jul 3) - Steampunk, 1st in a series. The description reminded me a little bit of Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series.





Off the Menu, by Stacey Ballis (Jul 3) - Purely because of the heroine's job: she works behind the scenes in the restaurant industry, as the culinary assistant of a celebrity chef. There seems to be some sort of love triangle there, as well.





The Darkest Day, by Britt Bury (Jul 3) - Just because Jane said it reads a bit like Kresley Cole's early Immortals After Dark books, which I really like.





The End of Everything, by Megan E. Abbott (Jul 7) - The premise of a 13-year-old girl investigating the disappearance of her friend interested me. Also, it doesn't sound like YA (I don't read much of that).





Shadow of Night, by Deborah Harkness (Jul 10) - I still haven't read the first one, A Discovery of Witches, but I have it, and I mean to.





Forever a Lady, by Delilah Marvelle (Jul 24) - A heroine who's a rich widow with a deteriorating reputation, a hero who's a "mysterious, Irish-American gang leader", according to the summary. Sounds interesting!





Haven, by Kay Hooper (Jul 31) - This is "a Bishop/SCU Novel". I read a few of them a while back and liked them. I'm not quite sure why I haven't read Hooper for a while, it might be time to see what she's up to.





Can’t Hurry Love, by Molly O’Keefe (Jul 31) - Can't remember who it was who mentioned on twitter that they'd loved this one and O'Keefe's June 26th release, Can't Buy Me Love. I've liked this author (before, and the reviews of Can't Buy Me Love have been so good that I've already bought it, so I'll probably be getting this one as well.





Night Forbidden, by Joss Ware (Jul 31) - More taking note that the 5th book in the series is out, than anything else. I've got the first one still to read, quite like the idea of post-apocalyptic paranormal romance.

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Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

>> Thursday, June 28, 2012

TITLE: Ready Player One
AUTHOR: Ernest Cline

COPYRIGHT: 2011
PAGES: 384
PUBLISHER: Broadway

SETTING: 2044 US
TYPE: Fiction
SERIES: None

It's the year 2044, and the real world has become an ugly place. We're out of oil. We've wrecked the climate. Famine, poverty, and disease are widespread.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes this depressing reality by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia where you can be anything you want to be, where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade is obsessed by the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this alternate reality: OASIS founder James Halliday, who dies with no heir, has promised that control of the OASIS - and his massive fortune - will go to the person who can solve the riddles he has left scattered throughout his creation.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that the riddles are based in the culture of the late twentieth century. And then Wade stumbles onto the key to the first puzzle.

Suddenly, he finds himself pitted against thousands of competitors in a desperate race to claim the ultimate prize, a chase that soon takes on terrifying real-world dimensions - and that will leave both Wade and his world profoundly changed.
It's the near(ish) future and everything has gone to hell. In an effort to escape a real world that, for the great majority, is ugly and unforgiving, people spend most of their lives plugged into a virtual world called OASIS. Wade Watts is one of them. About to finish high school, Wade has no real prospects, other than his determination (well, obsession) to find Halliday's egg.

So what's this business about eggs, you ask? Well, before he died, the reclusive creator of OASIS, James Halliday, programmed the ultimate easter egg into his universe. The first person to solve his riddles and find three keys that could be hidden anywhere at all in this massive universe, gets to inherit his megarich company.

It's been years, and although thousands have spent all that time obsessively studying up on all of Halliday's 80s-centric interests, no one has been able to even come close to finding the first keys. Not normal people, and not the minions of evil corporation IOI, whose bosses are determined to take over the immensely profitable OASIS in the only way they can.

Until Wade suddenly 'gets' it, and finds the first key. And before long, the once-blank scoreboard starts to fill up, and the hunt becomes really serious.

I'll say this: if you were alive in the 80s and are the slightest bit geeky, you must read this. You don't have to be the type that still wears leg warmers and shoulderpads, either. I'm not one for 80s nostalgia, but I still had a ball with this, and its homage to all that was good and fun about the 80s in America. And this was even though I probably only knew and could properly appreciate a tiny bit of this nostalgia-fest (I'm the right age for this, but from the wrong place). If you're my age and American, you'll probably like this even more than me (which means it will probably go on your 'best books ever' list).

In essence, this is a treasure hunt. There's stuff going on around the pure quest element (more on these later), but this is a book that would succeed or fail on the treasure hunt. And to me, it succeeded because that was brilliant. It's all very, very cleverly done. It's not repetitive, each puzzle is different and works great in the context of the story, and Cline manages to maintained the tension with barely a lull.

I did think it dragged a tiny bit in the middle section, maybe in between the first key and things starting to happen again on the Scoreboard, but this was only a small bit. There was also a bit of an infodump at the beginning, but it was all so fun and interesting, that I didn't mind much. And then things really go off! I basically read this in two evenings, and both times I ended up staying up really late. I just could not put it down.

As he hunts for the next key, Wade is not isolated (at least, not in the mental sense). He develops relationships with the other gunters ('egg hunters', get it?) who manage to get to the top of the scoreboard, and those were fantastic too. There's rivalry and respect and fondness there, as well as a bit of romance which was really sweet. And most of all, there's friendship and trust, all developed while playing the game.

These relationships bring up some really interesting issues about identity. Basically, how does living such a huge part of your life on a virtual world affect your real self and your relationships? Are you more you on OASIS or less you? Based on what I saw here, I'd lean to the first, in fact, and I was pleasantly surprised by how there wasn't a big moralistic message that OASIS was unhealthy and people need to go live in the real world. In his ending, Cline seems to propose a balance, and acknowledge that relationships created in OASIS can be just as strong and real as those created off-line, which I liked.

But even as their friendship helps Wade and the other gunters, they all have to contend with the evil IOI, which is willing to take the dirty tricks out of the virtual world. This ended up being a really good conflict. The whole thing could have come across as petty. What's at stake here, after all? Just a corporation taking on a company that runs a simulated world. But Cline manages to convince us that this is a really, really horrible outcome, worth the sacrifices that are made to prevent it.

This is not the first book that I've read recently presenting a corporation as the ultimate villain, and an apocalyptic vision of the future characterised by extreme privatisation. I find that a really interesting reflection of the general mood.

MY GRADE: An A-.

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Possession in Death, by JD Robb

>> Tuesday, June 26, 2012

TITLE: Possession in Death (from The Other Side)
AUTHOR: JD Robb

COPYRIGHT: 2010
PAGES: 90
PUBLISHER: Jove

SETTING: 2060s New York
TYPE: Romantic suspense short story
SERIES: Comes after the 32nd book

'The devil killed my body. I cannot fight, I cannot find. I cannot free her. You must. You are the one. We speak to the dead.'

Immediately after hearing these words, uttered to her by an old Romanian woman bleeding to death in the street, detective Eve Dallas begins to notice that her latest case has come with a number of interesting side-effects: visions of the deceased, instant familiarity with rooms she's never seen before, and fluency in Russian. Likewise, there appears to be a force inside of her, a spirit other than her own, that won't let her rest until she's found Beata, the old woman's great-granddaughter, whose disappearance two months prior remains a mystery. Desperate to be free of her new 'gifts' , Eve pursues the facts until she discovers a link between Beata's disappearance and the disappearance of eight other young women, all of whom attended the same dance classes, none of whom were ever heard from again.
In this short story, which takes place right after the 32nd full-length entry in the series, Indulgence in Death, Eve stumbles upon an old Eastern European woman who's clearly just been stabbed. Preocupied about keeping her from bleeding to death, Eve doesn't quite understand what the woman is on about when she asks her if she'll take her in and finish the mission of finding her great-granddaughter. But soon, Eve can't help but notice that something weird is going on, when she seems to just know stuff she shouldn't (like how to speak Russian, or how to make goulash, much to Roarke's amusement), and that's when we get just why this story is called Possession in Death.

The case here was actually really interesting, and although the investigation was abbreviated, the police procedural element was satisfying and well-done. It's not obvious at all, and the red herrings seem believable and are genuine possibilities. When Eve hits upon the results, it's based on solid police work and a dollop of her intuition, but just the right combination of the two.

What I really did not like was how... definite, I guess, the paranormal elements are here. A lot of the previous short stories in this series have introduced the possibility of something paranormal going on (ghosts in one, say, or vampires in another), but in the past those have been a bit more ambiguous. Eve is left wondering whether there might be something to all that woo-woo stuff that Roarke is much readier to believe in, but that's it.

Here, there's no doubt, and that creates several problems. Eve accepts it all much too easily for the woman we know her to be. Yes, she'd have to be very stubborn and hard-headed to deny some of the things going on, but the thing is, the character Robb has developed so painstakingly over dozens of books would be stubborn and hard-headed about this sort of thing. She'd immediately speculate that her father might have had some Russian mafia cronies and she might have overheard them speak as a baby, or that she must have somehow absorbed what's in goulash, that sort of thing. But no, she just accepts it here, and that felt wrong.

The other thing that annoys me to no end is that all this new character development doesn't seem to carry over to the main books at all. I mean, finding proof that the paranormal exists in such a way is pretty huge. Once you realise that it's possible for people to possess others, then you have to wonder if that's what's going on when you see someone behaving strangely! But no, the Eve in the full-length books doesn't seem to have incorporated this new awareness into her world-view at all, which feels wrong. If Robb is going to do these short stories, they should be fully part of the series, otherwise, what's the point?

MY GRADE: C+ (since the case was really good, and I liked some of the other character stuff).

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Revealed, by Kate Noble

>> Sunday, June 24, 2012

TITLE: Revealed
AUTHOR: Kate Noble

COPYRIGHT: 2009
PAGES: 400
PUBLISHER: Berkley

SETTING: Early 19th century England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: None

Phillippa Benning is the unrivaled beauty of the Season. But when another lady challenges her for a marquis’s attentions, Phillippa entices him to a secret rendezvous—only to stumble upon The Blue Raven, England’s most famous spy, lurking at the site of her planned tryst.

The Blue Raven has uncovered an enemy plot directed at upcoming society functions, but he’s unable to infiltrate London society. Phillippa makes an offer: in exchange for entrée among the ton, he agrees to have his true identity revealed at the Benning Ball—guaranteeing her unrivaled notoriety. As the danger draws closer, the mysterious spy and Phillippa give in to mutual desire. But when the game turns deadly, betrayal waits around the corner, and Phillippa must decide once and for all—is it the myth that captured her heart, or the man?
I wasn't too impressed by the first book I read by this author, but Revealed was -to go with the obvious joke- a revelation.

The heroine, Phillippa Benning, was a character who had me practically jumping for joy. She is a ton leader, the most beautiful woman in Society and an arbiter of taste. And she isn't in that position involuntarily, through the radiant goodness of her character. Nope, Phillippa works hard to be there, and takes pleasure in beating her rivals. At long last, a heroine who's well aware of her popularity and, what's more, really enjoys it!

The hero is Marcus Worth, who comes across as an unassuming nobody. Marcus is pleasant-looking and quite respectable, but a mere younger son, and is not some macho, dashing millionaire. He does some work for the Government around spying, but isn't a master spy, or anything like that. However, Phillippa thinks he is, and they end up working together, with Phillippa helping Marcus infiltrate top ton parties, which means spending a lot of time in close proximity...

I loved this. I finally get why Noble's compared with Julia Quinn. Revealed is funny and charming, and features a truly lovely romance. These two start out dismissing the other. Phillippa doesn't think there's anything special about Marcus, while Marcus doesn't think Phillippa is particularly intelligent or deep. Noble shows us how they gradually get to know each other better, and how their opinions change. The attraction is there from the start (even if Phillippa can't understand why she's started to feel so attached to someone as average as Marcus), but the beauty of this is seeing the increasing fondness and liking for each other develop, and how these two really get each other completely.

This is a character-driven romance, with the external plot there just to set things off on their way. The spies and stuff are a bit blah (the main reason this is not an A), but the romance is the main thing here, and it's soooo good.

MY GRADE: A B+.

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Phantom Evil, by Heather Graham

>> Friday, June 22, 2012

TITLE: Phantom Evil
AUTHOR: Heather Graham

COPYRIGHT: 2011
PAGES: 368
PUBLISHER: Mira

SETTING: Contemporary New Orleans
TYPE: Paranormal romantic suspense
SERIES: Starts the Krewe of Hunters series

A secret government unit, a group of renegade paranormal investigators…and a murder no one else can crack.

Though haunted by the recent deaths of two teammates, Jackson Crow knows that the living commit the most heinous crimes.

A police officer utilizing her paranormal intuition, Angela Hawkins already has her hands full of mystery and bloodshed.

But one assignment calls to them too strongly to resist. In a historic mansion in New Orleans's French Quarter, a senator's wife falls to her death. Most think she jumped; some say she was pushed. And yet others believe she was beckoned by the ghostly spirits inhabiting the house—once the site of a serial killer's grisly work.

In this seemingly unsolvable case, only one thing is certain: whether supernatural or all too human, crimes of passion will cast Jackson and Angela into danger of losing their lives…and their immortal souls.
As I was looking at the list of new July releases at Dear Author (fantastic resource, by the way!), Heather Graham's latest caught my eye. According to the blurb, The Unspoken has a mystery from long ago and a related one in the present day, both seemingly something to do with some sort of curse of the Pharaohs. It sounded like fun, but I saw it was part of an ongoing series called the Krewe of Hunters, so I thought I'd check out the opening book in the series (which my library happened to have) first.

Phantom Evil has similar elements to what had attracted me to The Unspoken. No, no pharaohs, but the mystery concerns a house with a gruesome history, and a supposed suicide in the present day that our protagonists and their newly formed team of paranormal investigators are looking into.

I loved the idea of it, both of the mystery itself and of the team, which was a quite intriguing combination of cops and more atypical members such as a musician and a filming expert. The execution, though... argh!

Graham has been writing for years, and she's got dozens of books to her credit. I hadn't read her before, but with an author like that, I would expect at least competent writing. I'm sorry to say, I did not get that here. It was bad. The dialogue, especially, was excruciating: clunky, boring and, too often, nonsensical. I kept stopping and going "huh??".

I pushed through for a while, reading almost a hundred pages, but in addition to the bad dialogue, the characters were flat, the attraction between the main characters was all tell and no show, and everything seemed really shallow, with the author completely glossing over things like the heroine suddenly grabbing a pickaxe and digging up an old skeleton from the basement. It was all just so matter-of-fact that it just drove me crazy. I mean, whoa, she just somehow knew and grabbed a pickaxe and went at it, and no one seems to have much to say about it?

Worst of all, pickaxes, skeletons, ghosts and all, I was bored. Oh, well, scratch that one from my wish list.

MY GRADE: DNF.

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An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green

>> Wednesday, June 20, 2012

TITLE: An Abundance of Katherines
AUTHOR: John Green

COPYRIGHT: 2006
PAGES: 228
PUBLISHER: Speak

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: YA fiction
SERIES: None

When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton's type is girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact. On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washedup child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a bloodthirsty feral hog on his trail, and an overweight, Judge Judy-loving best friend riding shotgun-but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and finally win him the girl. Love, friendship, and a dead Austro-Hungarian archduke add up to surprising and heart-changing conclusions in this ingeniously layered comic novel about reinventing oneself.
In An Abundance of Katherines, Colin Singleton, a former child prodigy, decides to go on a road trip with his best friend, Hassan, after being dumped for the 19th time by a girl named Katherine (we're talking about 19 different Katherines here, not about a single Katherine dumping him 19 times, which would have been bad enough). They end up in a place called Gutshot, in Tennessee, which you'd expect to be the worst possible place they could end up. You'd be surprised.

This was quirky and funny and I enjoyed it. Colin's a bit of a dork and he can get annoying, but I get the feeling Green knows that perfectly well, and he makes sure we readers never get too much of the self-absorbed sulking. How? Well, the fantastic, amazing Hassan, with his Dingleberries and his Thunderstick (you'll have to read this). He was hilarious, and in a way that had me laughing with him, not at him.

I also liked that the people of Gutshot were refreshingly non-stereotypical. I mean, if I tell you: Gutshot, Tennessee, population 800+, what do you assume? Racist rednecks? So do Colin and Hassan, actually (so much so that part of Hassan's introduction with the first few people he meets is "I'm not a terrorist"). But this is absolutely and completely not the case, and the locals turn out to be very non-rednecky (well, except for the hog hunting, which was hilarious). People are mostly nice, actually, maybe except for the jerk jock character, but that's believable enough.

This is not really a plot-driven book. It concentrates fully on our characters, which I didn't mind at all. It's also very dialogue-intensive, something I found enjoyable, except for the coupld of instances when I had trouble identifying who was talking.

The only weak spot is that I didn't completely buy Colin as a genius. His eureka moment (from the appendix "that relationships can be graphed, that graphs come from functions, and that it might be possible to study all such functions at once, with a single (very complicated) formula, in such a way that would enable him to predict when (and more importantly, wether) any prospective Katherine would dump him") was a bit silly and the idea nothing new. I have absolutely nothing against expressing daily life in equations - in fact, that's what microeconomics has become lately. I've spent my entire university career expressing real life in formulae, doing just what Colin was attempting to do, so this not only didn't impress me, it sounded like quite a silly example of what can be quite a useful tool.

Still, all in all, a fun, quick read.

MY GRADE: A B.

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Lover Mine, by JR Ward

>> Monday, June 18, 2012

TITLE: Lover Mine
AUTHOR: JR Ward

COPYRIGHT: 2010
PAGES: 542
PUBLISHER: NAL

SETTING: Contemporary New York state
TYPE: Urban Fantasy / Romance
SERIES: 8th book in Black Dagger Brotherhood series

In the darkest corners of the night in Caldwell, New York, a conflict like no other rages. Long divided as a terrifying battleground for the vampires and their enemies, the city is home to a band of brothers born to defend their race: the warrior vampires of the Black Dagger Brotherhood.

John Matthew has come a long way since he was found living among humans, his vampire nature unknown to himself and to those around him. After he was taken in by the Brotherhood, no one could guess what his true history was- or his true identity. Indeed, the fallen Brother Darius has returned, but with a different face and a very different destiny. As a vicious personal vendetta takes John into the heart of the war, he will need to call up on both who he is now and who he once was in order to face off against evil incarnate.

Xhex, a symphath assassin, has long steeled herself against the attraction between her and John Matthew. Having already lost one lover to madness, she will not allow the male of worth to fall prey to the darkness of her twisted life. When fate intervenes, however, the two discover that love, like destiny, is inevitable between soul mates.
I just realised I never posted this review, even though I've already read and reviewed the one that comes after it. Anyway, since I actually had this pretty much written and it only needed a bit of tidying up, here we go.

SPOILERS for the last book ahoy, so stop now if you haven't read it!

At the end of the last book, Xhex was taken prisoner by the evil Lash, son of the Omega, who had become fascinated by her. John Matthew, long crazy in love with her, although lately feeling betrayed and fighting it, is determined to rescue her. There, that's probably all the set-up I need, considering this is NOT the book to start with in this series, and anyone reading this will probably have read the previous ones.

The romance shaping up between John Matthew and Xhex has been a powerful lure throughout the previous, sometimes a bit blah books in the series. I haven't liked everything Ward has done with these two (for instance, there were a couple of things Ward had John do in the previous book that annoyed the hell out of me). However, I really, really wanted to read this. Part of it is that there just aren't enough romances out there with a nice boy hero and tough bitch heroine combination, and this was shaping up to be a brilliant one. Because when Ward does something, there are no half measures, she really, really goes for it (does she ever!), so good boy John was always incredibly, amazingly sweet, even after turning into a towering hunk of muscle, and bad girl Xhex really did do some horrible stuff. No fake bad girl here!

What I got in Lover Mine was a good story, but not as good as it could have been. I liked that Xhex is no maiden in distress and that she basically escapes herself, and I liked that she wasn't defanged, as I said earlier. But the dynamics of the relationship between her and John were incredibly tedious and disappointing, and they drove me crazy. It was just way too much back and forth that didn't really come from real character development. Love you, love you not. Be mine forever, we'll break up once we kill Lash. On, and on, and on. And on. Argh!!! I wanted something much better for this two, especially given how much angst there has been here, and therefore, how much I wanted a satisfying payoff.

I was also expecting a lot more difficulty on Xhex's part in entering her new life, but there wasn't much of that at all. I felt her character development was given short thrift. The woman had ISSUES in previous books, but here it's pretty much, hey, presto, I'm fine! I didn't really see any difficulty controlling her sympath nature. You know, the one that took painful cilices worn practically permanantly before? Yes, that one. It was a bit like Bella Swan turning into a vampire.

There's quite a lot of stuff on Blay and Qhuinn, a storyline I'm actually really interested in. However, I'm getting pissed off with Q. There's one point where he goes all "like he would want to be serious about someone who'd get naked straight away with a stranger", and then tries to excuse himself and claim he hasn't double standards because he rates himself just as low as them. Sorry, doesn't compute, if that was true you wouldn't think you deserve anything "better". His dilemma doesn't really gel for me. Plus, his reaction when it looks like Blay might actually stop pining for him and go for someone else, is classic dog-in-the-manger. Still, I'm willing to stay with these two and find out what happens.

And of course, there are loads of other things going on. There's stuff about the lessers (pretty blah), a couple doing ghost-hunting who run into something unexpected (didn't mind that subplot at all), and more. I really didn't mind having so many storylines knocking about. I've actually come to like that about this series, and kind of missed it in the previous book in the series and the one that starts her other series, where I really had a bit too much of the hero.

MY GRADE: A B.

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Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch

>> Saturday, June 16, 2012

TITLE: Rivers of London (aka Midnight Riot in the US)
AUTHOR: Ben Aaronovitch

COPYRIGHT: 2011
PAGES: 384
PUBLISHER: Gollancz

SETTING: Contemporary London
TYPE: Urban Fantasy
SERIES: Starts the Rivers of London series

Probationary Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he’ll face is a paper cut. But Peter’s prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.
Peter Grant is a probationary constable about to get his first proper assignment in the London Metropolitan Police. He'd be the first to agree that he's not the perfect cop (too easily distracted when he finds something interesting), but he's still not happy about being assigned to the Case Progression Unit ("we do paperwork so real coppers don't have to", as he puts it).

But when he discovers he can see ghosts, at the scene of a bizarre beheading near Covent Garden, it turns out there's another career path open to Peter: that of apprentice to the wizard who makes up the only police unit dealing with the paranormal. Because to investigate the wave of strange and bloody murders taking place all over London, of which the beheading was only the start, as well as dealing with all sorts of gods and goddesses and other supernatural entities, Peter's fascination with details and ability to consider what isn't there to others, is an asset.

There is a lot to like here. Aaronovitch creates a very original and intrincate world, one that I've never seen before and that feels fun and really atmospheric. The river goddesses and gods, especially, were brilliant, just the right combination of normal, modern people and eerie inhumanity to be funny, and yet ring true. I never knew what Aaronovitch was going to come up with next, and that was fantastic.

I also liked... no, loved Peter. He's a really great narrator. I especially liked his sense of humour, it's very deadpan and witty, and I also liked how that carried over to his attitude to all the extremely weird things suddenly happening all around him. He not only does not freak out, he takes it all in stride and starts applying the logic that made him enjoy science as a schoolboy to his supernatural work. He could have felt maybe a little too unflappable, but I was fine with this, because there were plenty of moments where you realised that he had doubts about what to do and about whether he could handle things.

I also liked that Peter had an immigrant family background (his mum is from Sierra Leone), and the way Aaronovitch handled that and the fact that he's mixed-race. It's not the focus of the story: Peter is not a mixed-race detective, he's a detective who happens to be mixed-race, if that makes sense. It's something that makes him who he is, though, in subtle and interesting ways.

So, as I said, lots to like. Unfortunately, I didn't unreservedly love the book. Much as I loved Peter, I thought all the other characters were a lot harder to care for. It's strange, because Peter quite obviously cares for some of them (like Leslie, his friend and fellow probationary constable, as the book starts), but even though we're in his head all through the book, Aaronovitch didn't succeed in making me care. There is also a little bit of a romance thread introduced, but that felt fairly ineptly done, and never goes anywhere, which was frustrating.

The most frustrating element, however, was the police procedural aspect. Now, I loved the idea of having something that's very much a police procedural, but in this new world. However, I didn't feel that was completely successful, mainly because the logic of the investigation sometimes came across as a bit muddled. Part of it was that Peter's plans are sometimes kept hidden from the reader (even though he's the narrator), to generate a bit of suspense, I guess, which is fair enough, but it was more than that. A lot was about how certain deductions were made, when, to me, the evidence wasn't really there. And even now that I've finished the book, I've still got a lot of unanswered questions, especially about the villain's motivations and how certain things worked. Either I'm stupid and missed the obvious, or there's something missing. The whole thing just didn't make sense to me in a satisfying way.

Still, I'm very glad I read this, and I will probably read the next book in the series.

MY GRADE: A B.

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Soulless, by Gail Carriger

>> Thursday, June 14, 2012

TITLE: Soulless
AUTHOR: Gail Carriger

COPYRIGHT: 2009
PAGES: 384
PUBLISHER: Orbit

SETTING: Alternate version of Victorian England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 1st in the Parasol Protectorate series

Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she's a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire -- and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London's high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?
Soulless is set in a steampunk + paranormal version of Victorian England. It's a world with your typical steampunkish advanced technology (think dirigibles), but also a world where vampires and werewolves and ghosts not only exist, but are accepted in society (they've even got their own regulatory body, the Bureau of Unnatural Registry).

In this world, Alexia Tarabotti is somewhere in the middle between human and supernatural, as she has no soul. Because of the way things work and what is needed to transition between human and supernatural, this basically means she has the power to nullify a supernatural's power. She's therefore very dangerous to them. Due to her soullessness, Alexia has always found herself apart from society. It doesn't help that, in addition to her lack of soul, she also inherited her "unfeminine" looks from her Italian father.

Anyway, plotty things happen which throw Alexia into contact with Lord Maccon, the head of the Bureau, who happens to be a sexy werewolf, and as they spend time together investigating what the hell's going on, their adversarial relationship turns into something more.

Oh, this was fun! It felt fresh and original, and at the same time, pleasingly familiar. It feels a bit like Amelia Peabody and Emerson vs the supernatural (which, to be fair, they have done already. Kind of). Seriously, the heroine is Peabody-like down to the parasol (which makes me pretty certain the author meant it as a conscious homage), and the hero has Emerson's temper!

Carriger balances the very strong romance with a fascinating world, which I thought was really well-constructed. There are plenty of fun secondary characters and although we get our HEA here, there clearly is more story to come (and I would have known so even without knowing that there are 4 more books in the series out already!).

MY GRADE: A B+.

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Resenting the Hero, by Moira J. Moore

>> Tuesday, June 12, 2012

TITLE: Resenting the Hero
AUTHOR: Moira J. Moore

COPYRIGHT: 2006
PAGES: 304
PUBLISHER: Ace

SETTING: Fantasy
TYPE: Fantasy (romance?)
SERIES: 1st in a series

In a realm beset by natural disasters, only the magical abilities of the bonded Pairs—Source and Shield—make the land habitable and keep the citizenry safe. The ties that bind them are far beyond the relationships between lovers or kin—and last their entire lives…Whether they like it or not.

Since she was a child, Dunleavy Mallorough has been nurturing her talents as a Shield, preparing for her day of bonding. Unfortunately, fate decrees Lee’s partner to be the legendary, handsome, and unbearably self-assured Lord Shintaro Karish. Sure, he cuts a fine figure with his aristocratic airs and undeniable courage. But Karish’s popularity and notoriety—in bed and out—make him the last Source Lee ever wanted to be stuck with.

The duo is assigned to High Scape, a city so besieged by disaster that seven bonded pairs are needed to combat it. But when an inexplicable force strikes down every other Source and Shield, Lee and Karish must put aside their differences in order to defeat something even more unnatural than their reluctant affections for each other…
When I started this, I was not quite sure what I was getting. I must have read a review some time ago to make me pick it up, but all I read before starting it was the blurb. I knew it was fantasy, and from the sound of the plot, I thought it would be a sort of traditional fated mates story (which I wasn't crazy about). It wasn't at all.

The setup reminded me a bit of some of JAK's Jayne Castle books. Earth colonists find another planet to settle in, but they find more problems than they'd expected and end up isolated. Their technology is useless in their new world, and after a while, some of them develop psychic abilities.

In this case, the problem is that they land in a world where natural catastrophes are frequent and devastating. But after a while, a small number of people start developing the capacity to detect those natural disasters as they are about to happen, and defuse them. Unfortunately, doing this blows their minds and they die, but then, after a while, another small number of people develop complementary abilities, and are able to shield the first group while they head off disaster, ensuring they're not killed.

The action of the novel is set centuries after that, and all sorts of traditions and bureaucracies have developed around Shields and Sources, including them functioning only as bonded pairs. Our narrator, Dunleavy is a Shield, and she's been trained in a special academy since a very early age. We meet her right before the ceremony where Sources and Shields who are not yet bonded are paraded before each other, to see if any pairs bond. Dunleavy is hoping for a particular source, a woman with a reputation for stability and calm. Instead, she bonds with Lord Shintaro Karish, a man with a reputation for being wild and charming and irresistible.

As I mentioned, this is not a typical fated-mates story. For starters, the bond is not a sexual or even necessarily emotional one. You could turn out to be bonded with someone you like and get along with fine, but you could also end up with someone you can't stand, just because your talents are compatible. And Moore doesn't sugarcoat the potential hell of having this sort of bond that you don't choose and you can't reject, as well as the problems that can arise. Clashes of personalities and temperaments, conflicting priorities, the unfairness of having the consequences of one person's actions fall on both... the lot. I thought that element of it was well done, and it was one of my favourite things about what was really a quite fresh and interesting world.

The issues between Dunleavy and Taro are not the worst we see, but to say they don't take to each other right away would be an understatement. Dunleavy, especially, seems determined to not warm up to Taro, no matter how many overtures he makes and how many times he demonstrates he can be trusted. She's decided based on his reputation that he is untrustworthy, and that is that. I found her quite frustrating, as you might imagine.

As I mentioned earlier, I liked the world-building, and I also liked the idea of the story. However, the execution of the actual story and characters weren't up to that standard. It's not just Dunleavy being bone-headed, it's also that the whole thing felt pretty shallow emotionally. For instance, there's a point when something really bad and huge and completely mysterious happens, and Moore just completely skims over the next few days, no real exploration of what really should have been a terrifying time. Loads of people she knows and likes have died, and yet Dunleavy doesn't seem to be particularly fussed. We're told she's sad, and all that, but it just doesn't feel real. And then they don't seem to spend much time trying to understand what happened. It's kind of like "oh, that was weird", but no real speculation, contrasting of how the event (which was felt on the psychic plane) felt to each of them, nothing like that. Maybe we're supposed to assume it happened off-stage, but that just didn't work for me. And this was how a lot of the second half of the book felt, it was very distancing.

Additionally, there's the issue of expectations. I was expecting fantasy romance (not sure if fairly or unfairly), but although there's a bit of a beginning of something here, and Moore even kind of sets up a love triangle for a while, there's no romantic tension at all, and I never believed any of these characters were attracted to the other.

Much as I liked the world here, I don't think I'll be continuing with this series.

MY GRADE: A C.

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Depression-era romance and space travel

>> Sunday, June 10, 2012

TITLE: If It Ain't Love (free download)
AUTHOR: Tamara Allen

I've always meant to try Tamara Allen, and this short story, currently free in e-format, sounded good. It's set in New York, during the worst of the Great Depression, a setting you don't see often (well, ever). Journalist Whit has lost his mojo. He used to write Pulitzer-winning stories, but he hasn't been able to turn in anything of even adequate quality for a long time. As a result, he's homeless and peniless. One night, while getting ready to go to sleep in a flophouse, he meets the suspiciously well-dressed Peter. Peter it turns out, is about to be evicted from his lovely big house in the best part of town. And he's clearly got secrets.

I really enjoyed this. I was a bit doubtful about the setting, but even though Allen pulls no punches and really shows the misery such a huge number of people were living in, she manages to make her story hopeful, rather than depressing. She does so while being believable, as well. And I liked the sweet, tender romance, but it wasn't perfect. Allen left me wanting more, and with unanswered questions about the main characters. Still, I really liked this, and will definitely read more.

MY GRADE: A B.



TITLE: Packing For Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
AUTHOR: Mary Roach

Roach takes a humorous and fascinating look at space travel. From the first animals in space to the possibility of setting up in Mars, she looks at it all. I was especially struck by the chapters in which she examines the practicalities of living in zero gravity. I've never thought about it much, really, but pretty much everything is affected: bodily functions don't work as they do on Earth and things that would normally be a tiny annoyance, at best (like crumbs), become a hazard. Those chapters were definitely my favourites, even if with some of them, I had to be very sure I wasn't eating while I was reading!

It's quite a funny book, although Roach's voice is one you need to get used to. I didn't completely love it, and I think it might have grated a bit on a longer book, but it worked out ok. She's got some really fascinating-sounding books, and I liked her mix of nitty-gritty, science, history and quirky anecdotes, so I think I'll be picking those up.

MY GRADE: A B.

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One Dance With a Duke, by Tessa Dare

>> Friday, June 08, 2012

TITLE: One Dance With a Duke
AUTHOR: Tessa Dare

COPYRIGHT: 2010
PAGES: 400
PUBLISHER: Ballantine

SETTING: Early 19th century England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 1st in the Stud Club trilogy

In One Dance with a Duke—the first novel in Tessa Dare’s delightful new trilogy—secrets and scandals tempt the irresistible rogues of the Stud Club to gamble everything for love.

A handsome and reclusive horse breeder, Spencer Dumarque, the fourth Duke of Morland, is a member of the exclusive Stud Club, an organization so select it has only ten members—yet membership is attainable to anyone with luck. And Spencer has plenty of it, along with an obsession with a prize horse, a dark secret, and, now, a reputation as the dashing “Duke of Midnight.” Each evening he selects one lady for a breathtaking midnight waltz. But none of the women catch his interest, and nobody ever bests the duke—until Lady Amelia d’Orsay tries her luck.

In a moment of desperation, the unconventional beauty claims the duke’s dance and unwittingly steals his heart. When Amelia demands that Spencer forgive her scapegrace brother’s debts, she never imagines that her game of wits and words will lead to breathless passion and a steamy proposal. Still, Spencer is a man of mystery, perhaps connected to the shocking murder of the Stud Club’s founder. Will Amelia lose her heart in this reckless wager or win everlasting love?
It's a typical scenario in historical romance: a heroine from an impoverished noble family, a thoughtless younger brother who acts as if money wasn't an issue, and the heroine having to ask the hero for mercy and forgiveness of unpayable debts. That's the situation Lady Amelia d'Orsay is in when she forces herself to rise above her shyness and approach the mysterious Duke of Morland, Spencer Dumarque, at a ball.

While they're talking in the garden, two men show up with bad news. Like Spencer, they're members of the Stud Club, and it turns out the founder of the club has been killed. Amelia, who knows the man's sister well, insists on coming with them to break the news. And hey, presto, heroine compromised, marriage of convenience coming up.

Now, do any readers really like the plot device of having the heroes belong to a ridiculously named "club"? Well, surprisingly for me, in this case, I did. The Stud Club (and names don't often get more ridiculous than that), actually has a point. It has a history, and a founder who was after something a bit more meaningful than "we won't ever marry, woohooo!", and what's more, it sets out what I thought was a really intriguing mystery that will run through this trilogy.

That said, the mystery doesn't really get much advanced here, only set up, with his fellow club members suspecting Spencer because he's determined to have the horse that's at the centre of the Club. The whole thing then disappears for long stretches, and the focus is fully on Spencer and Amelia getting acquainted, and adding love and passion to the liking and respect they originally feel for each other.

Objectively, Amelia is one of those idiot heroines who sacrifice everything for a selfish, wastrel brother who neither appreciates nor is grateful for their pains. I hate those. I should have hated Amelia, too, but I realise that what I really hate isn't the heroine herself who does that, it's the fact that most books present such idiotic behaviour as proof that she is just what a woman should be... family is everything, and a good heroine must do everything for hers, no matter how undeserving. This is not how Amelia's behaviour is portrayed here. She knows she's being an idiot, she knows she shouldn't do it. It's presented a bit like a character flaw, and it made me like her. It made me understand her and enjoy the romance.

Spencer is a bit more of a mystery for most of the book, but as his relationship with Amelia progresses, we get to know him better. But the man has secrets! And to be honest, I had a bit of difficulty understanding, even after the explanations, why he was so obsessed with getting that horse he's after. Still, that wasn't a huge issue.

Interesting start, I'll be reading the rest of the series soon.

MY GRADE: A B.

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Can't Stand The Heat, by Louisa Edwards

>> Wednesday, June 06, 2012

TITLE: Can't Stand The Heat
AUTHOR: Louisa Edwards

COPYRIGHT: 2009
PAGES: 368
PUBLISHER: St. Martin's

SETTING: Contemporary New York City
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 1st in the Recipe for Love series

SHE'S HUNGRY FOR EXPERIENCE.

For sharp-tongued food critic Miranda Wake, the chance to spend a month in Adam Temple’s kitchen to write an exposé is a journalistic dream come true. Surely Miranda can find a way to cut the hotshot chef down to size once she learns what really goes on at his trendy Manhattan restaurant. But she never expected Adam to find out her most embarrassing secret: she has no idea how to cook.

AND HE KNOWS JUST HOW TO SATISFY HER CRAVINGS...

Adam’s not about to have his reputation burned by a critic who doesn’t even know the difference between poaching and paring. He’ll just have to give the tempting redhead a few private lessons of his own—teaching her what it means to cook with passion…and doing more with his hands than simply preparing sumptuous food.
Miranda Wake is a feared food critic. When she attends the opening of a new restaurant which is big on its principles (knowing exactly where its produce comes from, etc.) she's not too excited. Too often, places like that are big on the talk, boring on the food. And for a while after she gets there doesn't seem to be any food around, though the really nice cocktails are flowing freely.

By the time owner and head chef Adam Temple gets over his nervousness at having to make a speech, his guests, including Miranda, are all plastered. Which leads him and Miranda into a bit of a confrontation. Feeling goaded, Adam dares Miranda to work in his kitchen for a month. And rather than feeling intimidated, as Adam had hoped, Miranda jumps on the opportunity. She's been dreaming of writing a book for a while, but hasn't had any luck getting publishers interested. Surely spending some time in the trenches will help?

Unfortunately, the publishers aren't interested in the serious book she wants to write. All they're willing to publish is shit-stirring gossip, and convinced that Adam is a pretentious fake, anyway, Miranda agrees. But as she starts spending more and more time with Adam, both in the restaurant and outside, she begins to regret her decision.

C reviews can be because the book is mediocre or because the bad balances out the good. This C review is of the latter type. There was a lot to like here. The restaurant setting was fun and really exciting, and the food itself sounded divine. Edwards clearly knows what she's writing about, and I really appreciated the glimpse behind the scenes.

Another great thing about it was that Adam was a wonderful hero. He doesn't particularly like Miranda when he meets her (and Edwards gets a couple of cheap digs at critics/reviewers there), but once he has her in his kitchen, he's more than fair to her. He's perfectly happy to get to know her better, and once he does, to like her. In fact, he falls for her like a ton of bricks, and I liked the combination of protectiveness and respect he has for her.

I also liked the secondary romance, which features Miranda's younger brother, Jesse, who gets a job as a waiter in Adam's restaurant. Jesse's gay, which he hasn't told Miranda, and he falls for one of the chefs in the restaurant, a guy with a reputation for being more than a little bit wild and sleeping with everything that moves. Their romance is really sweet, and I enjoyed it.

What I didn't like at all was Miranda's behaviour. I didn't like her decisions, I didn't buy her motivation, and what she was doing didn't even seem realistic. It's all about that stupid tell-all book she's determined to write. First of all, she's supposed not to like the idea of such a book at all, but does it because she needs the money. But Edwards never made me believe she really did. She wants it to pay for Jesse's uni, when he's expressly told her he is perfectly happy to take his time and work his way through uni, just as she did. I know she's supposed to be determined to give Jesse the life her parents would have wanted for him (their parents died when he was very young and she finished raising him), but we're talking about something that is supposed to be morally problematic for her, so I needed something stronger to believe she would put her morals aside.

Or maybe not, because those morals didn't seem to be particularly strong, which is yet another problem. There's a point where she makes a really, really ugly decision, which I don't believe anyone with the morals she's supposed to have would make. Yes, she's angry about something Adam's done when she does it, but to me it was such a betrayal of him and of people who'd done absolutely nothing to her (in fact, had always treated her with respect), that there was no excuse for what she did. It's not even about Adam having been guilty of what she though he'd done, even if he had, there was no excuse. He forgives her, but I didn't. I wanted Adam to find someone better, not this horrible person.

I also mentioned earlier that the whole gossipy book didn't seem realistic, anyway, which was yet another WTF. The supposedly scandalous gossip sounded like much ado about nothing. I just didn't quite get why Miranda thought what her horrid source was telling her about Adam's staff and their pasts (one's had an ugly divorce! One is an ex con! Adam financial backer is his ex!) was so scandalous. Really, you think that in Manhattan people are going to care that one of the cooks in a restaurant kitchen has a bit of a past? Would this really sell a gossipy tell-all book? That was a load of shit, if you ask me. Plus, Miranda, supposedly a journalist, does not fact-check anything. So in addition to being a horrible, dishonourable person, she's a rubbish journalist, and irresponsible to boot.

So, definitely not a successful read, but for all that I despised Miranda, I think there was enough there that I liked that I would be willing to try Edwards again.

MY GRADE: A C.

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To The Moon And Back, by Jill Mansell

>> Monday, June 04, 2012

TITLE: To The Moon And Back
AUTHOR: Jill Mansell

COPYRIGHT: 2011
PAGES: 416
PUBLISHER: Headlines

SETTING: Contemporary
TYPE: Women's fiction / Romance
SERIES: No

The hardest part of love is moving on...

It's been a year since Ellie Kendall's husband, Jamie, was killed in an accident, but she's still haunted by his memory. In fact, she finds herself talking to him regularly. At the urging of Jamie's successful actor father Tony, Ellie moves to London's glamorous Primrose Hill, where nobody knows her past...

But even in her new home-and with her hardworking new boss, Zack McLaren; and Jamie's best friend Todd to distract her-Ellie can't seem to leave Jamie behind. Will Ellie stay stuck in the past? Or will she realize the man of her dreams is flesh and blood-and right in front of her eyes...

Discover why readers across the globe can't get enough of Jill Mansell's poignant, funny love stories. You'll laugh and cry-at the same time!
A year an a half after her husband's death, Ellie Kendall is still grieving. It takes her father-in-law's intervention to get her out of the flat she shared with him (the building has really gone downhill since Jamie's death), and into a lovely new place in Primrose Hill. And once she has started making changes, Ellie keeps going. She becomes good friends with her neighbour, Roo, the flaky but goodhearted former member of a girl band, and finds a new job close to home, working for sexy entrepreneur Zack McLaren.

To The Moon And Back has quite a strong romance, but I think it fits best under the women's fiction umbrella, as the emphasis is on Ellie coming back to life. For a lot of the book, she really is not in a place to go into another relationship. I mean, for much of the book, Ellie has long conversations with Jamie. As in, she speaks to Jamie, and Jamie answers back. This could have been much too weird, but it just wasn't. Ellie is well aware at all times that she's making up all these conversations, as a sort of security blanket, so there are no delusions involved. But that she needs this security blanket makes it very clear that she's not ready to move on just yet. She makes a half-hearted attempt at one point, but it doesn't work out.

Now, Zack is crazy about her for the entire time they know each other, but the timing is never right for him to make his move. Either Ellie has just started seeing someone, or he thinks she's seeing someone, that sort of thing. It should be as obvious to Ellie as it is to the reader, but she just doesn't see it, isn't ready to see it. She appreciates intellectually that he's a very handsome, sexy man, but just can't mentally make the connection of feeling attracted to him. Until she is ready, and then it's lovely. Because of the time it takes for them to finally connect, by that time, they've become true friends, and this made the romance really nice and satisfying.

In addition to Ellie's story, there are also some nice secondary plotlines. There's Roo, who's lovely and determined to change her life as much as Ellie is changing hers, there's Jamie's former best friend, Todd, but my favourite was Tony, Jamie's famous actor dad, who falls in love with a woman who's not quite free to love him back, much as she'd like to. That was extremely touching, and it made me a bit weepy.

I enjoyed this very much. My only criticism is that it felt a bit too long, but that wasn't a huge problem. It was charming, and had very nice, gentle humour. I've seen Mansell compared to Katie Fforde, and I guess I see why. They've both got that "feels like slipping into a warm bath" element, but Mansell felt a little bit more modern. I'll have to try more of hers and test this out!

MY GRADE: A B.

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May 2012 reads

>> Saturday, June 02, 2012

A pretty good month!

1 - Her Best Worst Mistake, by Sarah Mayberry: A-
review here

Violet has never liked her best friend's fiance, and the feeling was mutual. But then the best friend dumps him, and it turns out that dislike wasn't dislike after all. Loved, loved, loved this, and not just because the premise of a stuffy hero thawed out by the "wild" heroine is one I like. This had that, plus characters I love.


2 - The Proposal, by Mary Balogh: B+
review here

Start of a new series. The hero is a war hero who rescues the heroine from a mishap. They don't like each other at first, but soon start seeing below the surface. They have plenty of issues to deal with before their HEA (including Hugo's chip on his shoulder about his middle class origin, when Gwen is an aristocrat), but they actually deal with them sensibly. It's not a particularly exciting book, but it's solidly enjoyable, nonetheless.


3 - Mystic & Rider, by Sharon Shinn: B+
original review here

Reread of an old favourite, the start of the Twelve Houses series. This is the book that sets it all up: the mixed group of friends (including both the mystics and King's Riders of the title) the unrest and persecution of the mystics, Cammon's developing powers. It was interesting to read it knowing what is coming up... for instance, the mistrust between them at the beginning seemed shocking, knowing how much they trust and rely on each other later on. Really good, and the romance between Tayse and Senneth is definitely the best in the series.


4 - Packing For Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, by Mary Roach: B
review coming up

Roach takes a humorous and fascinating look at space travel. From the first animals in space to the possibility of setting up in Mars, she looks at it all. I was especially struck by the chapters in which she examines the practicalities of living in zero gravity. I've never thought about it much, really, but pretty much everything is affected! Good fun.


5 - If It Ain't Love, by Tamara Allen: B
review coming up

Short story, set in New York during the worst of the Great Depression. Journalist Whit has lost his job and is now homeless and penniless. In a flophouse one night he meets Peter, who, it turns out, is about to be evicted from his lovely big house in the best part of town. It's a sweet romance and a haunting setting, but Allen left me wanting more. It's free in e-format, definitely worth a try.


6 - The Walker in Shadows, by Barbara Michaels: B
original review here

Reread of one of my favourite Barbara Michaels ghost stories. The heroine is a recent widow who lives with her teenage son in an old house in Maryland. The long-abandoned house next door is a twin to hers, and it comes alive with a vengeance when a new neighbour moves in with his teenage daughter. This is a 1979 book, and a lot of it feels quite dated, but even in her 1960s books, Michaels writes with a feminist sensibility which I love. So the characters and interactions were great, but this time around, I found the ghost story and the investigation of it a little bit less satisfying than I remembered.


7 - The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson: B
review coming up

Read for my book club. This book has entered our collective consciousness to such an extent that I thought I knew quite a bit about it, but then actually reading it surprised me. It was quite different to what I expected. I liked the reading bit well enough, but what was best of all was the discussion at book club, which was fantastic.


8 - Half-Blood Blues, by Esi Edugyan: B-
review here

In occupied Paris in 1940, a young black German trumpetist is arrested by the Nazis, never to be seen again. By 1992, he has become a legend. And then two of his fellow band-members receive some unexpected news. A really fresh and original premise and setting, and I loved that element of it. The characterisation, however, was disappointing, and kept me from really enjoying the story.


9 - Can't Stand the Heat, by Louisa Edwards: C
review coming up

When new restaurant owner Adam is goaded into daring food critic Miranda to work for a month in his kitchen, Miranda jumps on the opportunity. She dreams of writing a book, and hopes all she will learn will help get it published. But the publishers seem interested only in gossip, and Miranda must decide if she goes for that, or allows her developing relationship with Adam to distract her. This was a mix of great (Adam, the food and restaurant stuff, the secondary relationship) and really ugly (Miranda's utter lack of honour). Left a bad taste in my mouth, but would still be willing to try another by Edwards.

10 - Resenting the Hero, by Moira J. Moore: C
review coming up

Fantasy, set in a world where bonded pairs with special abilities are able to head off natural disasters. The heroine bonds with a man with a bit of a reputation... everyone loves him, and his nickname is "The Stallion". She doesn't want to like him and doesn't trust him, but it seems he might be a better person than she thinks. I liked the world-building very much. It's fresh and interesting, especially the bonded pairs thing, which isn't your typical romance-novel fated mates cliche. The execution, however, it's not great. It's just a bit shallow. Plus, mistaken expectations. I thought this was fantasy romance, but didn't get practically any romance at all.

11 - Decent Exposure, by Phillipa Ashley: C-
review here

After her PR career blew up, Emma has moved to the Lake District to take up a low-profile job at the tourist board. In her free time, she decides to help the local mountain rescue team do some fundraising for a new base. Her idea? A naked calendar. Will, one of the volunteers, is not amused. Promising start, but it ended up being a bit of a mess. Emma and Will's relationship was frustrating, mostly because I just couldn't figure out Emma. She was all over the place.


12 - Firelight, by Kristen Callihan: DNF
review here

Disappointing. I love gothics, and this one seemed promising. A young woman marries a mysterious masked man she doesn't know anything about, and who soon after the wedding becomes an unofficial suspect in a gruesome murder. There's a hint of the paranormal as well, since both she and her new husband have got powers, and neither one wants the other to know. It just dragged... took me three weeks to read about a quarter of it, and I just couldn't be bothered.


13 - Ride With Me, by Ruthie Knox: still reading
review coming up

Alex Marshall needs a partner for a cross-country bike ride (too risky for a woman to camp out on her own for months), Tom Geiger's sister offers him up without his knowledge. Tom isn't happy at first (he's been a loner since his life went to hell a few years earlier), but he soon warms up to Alex. Loving it so far. The cycling is really fun, and Tom and Alex have got loads of chemistry.

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