September 2013 wish list

>> Friday, August 30, 2013

This looks like a pretty good month.

Books I'm definitely getting

Her Favorite Rival, by Sarah Mayberry (Sep 3)

I love Sarah Mayberry, so I'm definitely reading this, but the plot description makes me go 'uh-oh!'. It's an office romance, and the cover copy explicitly talks about hero and heroine competing for a promotion, and that "only one of them can get ahead". It had better not be the heroine bowing out!

The Burning Sky, by Sherry Thomas (Sep 17)

This is Thomas's début YA. I love her historical romances, and am quite excited to see what she can do in a different subgenre. This sounds really intriguing, as well, with mages and battles against evil and even some romance.

Thankless in Death, by JD Robb (Sep 17)

I'm still going strong with this series. Several books back it felt like it was becoming a bit stale, but there have been several really strong titles since then. The plot of this one doesn't excite me particularly, but I know at the very least, I'm getting a solid procedural with my visit with beloved characters.

* Mirror, Mirror (inc Taken in Death), by JD Robb (Sep 24)

I'm not a big fan of the In Death novellas, but I've confessed it here before: I'm a completist, and therefore I will read them anyway (even though they stand completely outside the main narrative). At least the idea for this anthology sounds interesting; all the stories are based on fairy tales. Will I read any of the other stories? Probably not, but the idea still pleases me.

Books I'm keeping an eye on

Gentle On My Mind, by Susan Fox (Sep 3)

This is the third in a new trilogy that I completely missed. I loved some of Fox's books a few years ago, but her latest was not great. This trilogy sounds a bit... traditional, I guess, which is not necessarily my thing, but I'm willing to give it a shot.

The Messengers, by Edward Hogan (Sep 5)

This is a scary-sounding YA about kids who can predict accidents. Not really sure what to expect, but it sounds interesting.

Darkening Skies, by Bronwyn Parry (Sep 10)

Parry writes really dark Romantic Suspense set in Australia. I've liked what I've read of hers, and this one sounds good. The price for the kindle version (no print available that I can see) is completely ridiculous, so I won't be buying it until it goes down, though. I do have another title of hers to tide me over in the meantime!

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell (Sep 10)

I'm intrigued because the main character is someone for whom my instinctive reaction is disdain (I'm not proud of this), and I want to see if Rowell can make me understand her and care about her.

Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent (Sep 10 - Aug 29 in the UK)

This one comes out on August 29 in the UK, but since I didn't include it in my previous wish list post, and most of my visitors come from the US, here it is. It's literary fiction, but the plot seems to be a sort-of murder mystery set in 1829 Iceland and it's had great buzz.

The Deaths, by Mark Lawson (Sep 12)

Mark Lawson is one of the hosts of Front Row, an excellent arts programme on Radio 4 that I listen to faithfully every weekday. The book intrigues me; it seems to be social comedy, with a bit of a mystery mixed in.

The Clockwork Scarab, by Colleen Gleason (Sep 17)

This is a "Stoker and Holmes" novel, but it's not Bram and Sherlock, it's Evaline (Bram's sister) and Mina (Sherlock's niece). A couple of society girls are missing, and they feel they can find out what's going on. I like this idea, and while I've had mixed experiences with Gleason, I'm giving it a shot.

Run to You, by Rachel Gibson (Sep 24)

Hmm, I'm not completely sure about this, but I've loved some earlier Rachel Gibsons (I've disliked a few, as well), so I'll keep an eye on reviews.


And She Was, by Alison Gaylin

>> Wednesday, August 28, 2013

TITLE: And She Was
AUTHOR: Alison Gaylin

PAGES: 384

SETTING: Contemporary
TYPE: Mystery

On a summer afternoon in 1998, six-year-old Iris Neff walked away from a barbecue in her small suburban town... and vanished.

Missing persons investigator Brenna Spector has a rare neurological disorder that enables her to recall every detail of every day of her life. A blessing and a curse, it began in childhood, when her older sister stepped into a strange car never to be seen again, and it’s proven invaluable in her work. But it hasn’t helped her solve the mystery that haunts her above all others—and it didn’t lead her to little Iris. When a local woman, Carol Wentz, disappears eleven years later, Brenna uncovers bizarre connections between the missing woman, the long-gone little girl... and herself.
Brenna Spector is a private investigator who specialises in missing persons cases. Her own sister disappeared many years earlier, and that not only affected Brenna's career aspirations, but her very brain. Something changed in her, and since then, she's had something called hyperthymestic syndrome. Basically, she can remember every single detail of everything that's happened since then. This is useful for work, but since Brenna is not completely in control of it (anything in her current surroundings can pull her into a sort of fugue states, as it triggers an earlier memory) it can be havoc on her life.

As the book starts, Brenna is contacted by Detective Nick Morasco because her card has been found in the wallet of a woman who's gone missing. It's all tied into the disappearance of a little girl some years earlier, as the woman used to be the girl's neighbour and her wallet was found in her old house. And in turn, that little girl's disappearance had attracted Brenna's attention when it happened because one of the clues reported in the papers made her think it might be related to her own sister's disappearance.

Brenna is a really interesting character, and I liked Gaylin's portrayal of her. Her hyperthymesia is not just a convenient plot device, it's integral to her character and personality. It's always there, sometimes at the forefront, sometimes hanging in the background, but it's something that pervades all of Brenna's life and decisions. It affects how she conducts her work (she must be very careful to have something grounding her to the present, otherwise she might just get lost in memories at any time), and it affects her personal life, especially how she relates to her daughter and how she used to relate to her now-ex husband. But at the same time, Brenna is more than a woman whose memory works in a different way. She's a person, and a fully realised character.

So that was good. The thing is, the rest of the book wasn't up to that level. Oh, some things were good (the secondary characters are all interesting and non-clichéd, and Brenna and Morasco's investigation is sensible), but I found myself somewhat disappointed with the mystery.

The premise was fascinating. I really couldn't see what on earth could be going on, and I couldn't wait to find out. But after a while, the revelations started not to make that much sense, and in the end, the resolution felt a bit unsatisfying. It wasn't awful, it just didn't give me a sense of everything finally fitting in. It was an "oh, ok", instead of an "a-ha!".



The Rapture, by Liz Jensen

>> Monday, August 26, 2013

TITLE: The Rapture
AUTHOR: Liz Jensen

PAGES: 352
PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury

SETTING: Near future
TYPE: Thriller

In a merciless summer of biblical heat and destructive winds, Gabrielle Fox`s main concern is a personal one: to rebuild her career as a psychologist after a shattering car accident. But when she is assigned Bethany Krall, one of the most dangerous teenagers in the country, she begins to fear she has made a terrible mistake. Raised on a diet of evangelistic hellfire, Bethany is violent, delusional, cruelly intuitive and insistent that she can foresee natural disasters - a claim which Gabrielle interprets as a symptom of doomsday delusion.

But when catastrophes begin to occur on the very dates Bethany has predicted, and a brilliant, gentle physicist enters the equation, the apocalyptic puzzle intensifies and the stakes multiply. Is the self-proclaimed Nostradamus of the psych ward the ultimate manipulator, or could she be the harbinger of imminent global cataclysm on a scale never seen before? And what can love mean in `interesting times`? A haunting story of human passion and burning faith set against an adventure of tectonic proportions.
It's a few years in the future, and the effects of climate change have become more and more undeniable and ever-present. Extreme weather is much more common, and the changes have led to social movements, from an increasing "faith wave", to "Planetarians" who believe our time on this planet is almost done, and that this is as it should be.

In this world, psychologist Gabrielle Fox is dealing with problems of her own. She's still recovering from a car accident that left her paraplegic and killed her lover. In the wake of it, she's also made big changes in her life, moving to another city, where she knows no one, and taking a new job as an art therapist for very disturbed and dangerous teenagers.

Her most challenging case is Bethany Krall, a girl who murdered her own mother and who's more disturbed and dangerous than any of the other patients. She's receiving a regime of electroshocks, and she's become convinced that they allow her to predict the future. Gabrielle is prepared to treat this as your garden-variety delusion, right until a surprisingly accurate prediction makes her take notice and pay attention to the details of her rantings. When Bethany's next few predictions prove eerily exact, and Gabrielle's new friend, physicist Frazer Melville confirms they weren't just obvious guesses, Gabrielle is convinced. What to do, especially when Bethany's latest prediction is a world-changer?

My summary for this review is: mixed feelings. The Rapture has some great things going for it. It's a real page-turner, with a plot that says a lot about our current fears and anxieties (50-60 years ago this would have been about a nuclear apocalypse, 30-40 years ago it would have been about air and water pollution). It makes great use of Bethany's predictive powers, especially in how the scientists of the story deal with them, and it's the rare book set in the UK or the US where the rest of the world actually exists, and not just as somewhere for terrorists to come from. The characters are interesting and varied, and there is even a romance for Gabrielle.

The romance, however, brings me to the big problem I had with Gabrielle. In the first half of the book, she was a character I enjoyed. She's in a difficult situation, trying hard to hold on to her professionalism in an impossible situation, where it became increasingly clear that she had to choose between it and the lives of millions of people. At the same time, she's still coping with the mental turmoil of how the accident that put her in a wheelchair happened, and with the idea of what the rest of her life will be like. After a while, she's also coping with a new romance, her first since the accident, when she and Frazer, the physicist she consulted about Bethany's predictions hit it off. So, a lot on her plate, but she does the best she can, and I liked that she doesn't do so perfectly. She can be snarky and uncharitable and self-pitying at times, and that made her more interesting.

On the second half, however, she undergoes a personality transfer and becomes even more unhinged than Bethany. I found her selfishness and obliviousness, not to mention her utter stupidity, breathtaking. On suggestive but hardly conclusive, evidence, she jumps to the conclusion that her Frazer is cheating on her. When they speak she never actually tells him what she thinks has happened, she just continues to assume it. And then, for the next half of the book, as global catastrophe approaches and only Frazer and the people he's persuaded over to their cause can do something about it, the thick-as-a-brick nitwit is so completely wrapped up in her sexual jealousy that she's completely disengaged from it all and frankly unhelpful. She's more worried about how she's been betrayed, than about how the world is about to end. And all the while, she's all "if you don't know what the problem is, I'm not going to tell you". I wanted to slap her. More practically, I wanted to stop listening to the book, because I couldn't bear her as a narrator any longer, as annoyance was quickly turning into hatred. I only kept listening because I wanted to see what happened.

I don't know if I should have bothered. I've mixed feelings about the ending as well. It's properly climactic, but at the same time, it feels unsatisfying, because it leaves a bit too much up in the air (figuratively as well as literally). To be fair, I'm not too sure how else Jensen could have ended it without it being a cop-out or completely ridiculous, but what she did didn't quite work for me completely.

I should also mention the writing. I mostly liked it, but it got pretty melodramatic at times. Also, a big annoyance was how Gabrielle kept calling Frazer "Frazer Melville" or "the physicist" in her narration. It felt very awkward. Maybe it was meant to show how mentally she was trying to keep herself distant, out of fear, but considering her obsession with him later, that feels like I'm overthinking it.


AUDIOBOOK NOTES: The book was narrated by India Fisher, and she was very good. I especially loved the voice she did for Bethany. The text describes it as a bit hoarse and slightly babyish, and that was exactly right in Fisher's rendition. The tone of it was just right, as well, it made me want to slap her a good few times, which is exactly what was intended!


A Kiss For Midwinter, by Courtney Milan

>> Saturday, August 24, 2013

TITLE: A Kiss For Midwinter
AUTHOR: Courtney Milan

PUBLISHER: Self-published

SETTING: 1860s England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Part of the Brothers Sinister series

Miss Lydia Charingford is always cheerful, and never more so than at Christmas time. But no matter how hard she smiles, she can't forget the youthful mistake that could have ruined her reputation. Even though the worst of her indiscretion was kept secret, one other person knows the truth of those dark days: the sarcastic Doctor Jonas Grantham. She wants nothing to do with him...or the butterflies that take flight in her stomach every time he looks her way. Jonas Grantham has a secret, too: He's been in love with Lydia for more than a year. This winter, he's determined to conquer her dislike and win her for his own. It all starts with a wager and a kiss...
We first met Lydia Charingford in the first full-length entry of the Brothers Sinister series, The Duchess War, where she was Minnie's friend. Dr. Jonas Grantham met her a long time before that. He was a young trainee physician at the time, out on rounds with an old, established doctor, and they were called to see a pregnant 15-year-old girl of good family. The older doctor treated her with horrible disdain and judgment, and prescribed a substance that, as far as Jasper knew, was a danger to the child, if not to her own life. However, out of a mix of uncertainty in the face of experience and self-interest (he was due to take over the older doctor's practice), Jasper said nothing and has felt terrible about it ever since.

When they meet again, Jonas doesn't initially recognise Lydia. He seeks out an introduction purely because she's a beautiful, marriageable young woman and he's a man in a good position, looking to marry. She, however, does recognise him and assumes he does too. She assumes he thinks badly of her and feels threatened. And that sets the tone for their interactions. Jonas, who soon comes to admire and love Lydia, is perpetually on the wrong foot with her, as she always sees judgment and condemnation in whatever he says. His love of the truth, and his refusal to go into polite lies (influenced partly by what happened to her) don't help.

It doesn't sound great in the description, I'll admit. It sounds like the sort of thing where a reader would be screaming at the characters to just have a conversation, dammit, and stop assuming things. But with these two, it definitely is not that easy, and you get exactly why they can't communicate. It fits the characters and their experiences of each other, and the fact that their interactions are filled with love and guilt and fear, all at the same time. I had my heart in my throat whenever they were together.

There is a lot to love here. The romance is obviously wonderful, as are the writing and the characters. And then there's Lydia and Jonas' relationshps with their respective fathers. They both come from loving families, but that doesn't mean there isn't a lot of feeling, even pain there. There was a scene, late in the book, between Jonas and his father that had me in tears. I loved it, and I loved the novella.



Gossip From The Forest, by Sara Maitland

>> Thursday, August 22, 2013

TITLE: Gossip From The Forest: The Tangled Roots of Our Forests and Fairytales
AUTHOR: Sara Maitland

PAGES: 332

SETTING: Contemporary
TYPE: Non Fiction

Fairytales are one of our earliest and most vital cultural forms, and forests one of our most ancient and primal landscapes. Both evoke a similar sensation in us — we find them beautiful and magical, but also spooky, sometimes horrifying.

In this fascinating book, Maitland argues that the two forms are intimately connected: the mysterious secrets and silences, gifts and perils of the forests were both the background and the source of fairytales. Yet both forests and fairy stories are at risk and their loss deprives us of our cultural lifeblood. Maitland visits forests through the seasons, from the exquisite green of a beechwood in spring, to the muffled stillness of a snowy pine wood in winter. She camps with her son Adam, whose beautiful photographs are included in the book; she takes a barefoot walk through Epping Forest with Robert Macfarlane; she walks with a mushroom expert through an oak wood, and with a miner through the Forest of Dean. Maitland ends each chapter with a unique, imaginitive re-telling of a fairystory.
Maitland's thesis is that fairy tales and forests are intimately connected, with fairy tales clearly originating in forests, told originally by forest dwellers, and uniquely shaped by this. She makes some excellent points when comparing how fairy tales such as those collected by the Brothers Grimm's differ from traditional stories from other traditions, such as those from desert peoples or peoples who lived by the sea. I was convinced.

Gossip From the Forest contains 12 chapters, each covering a visit Maitland made to a forest, one per month. The chapters start by describing the wood in question and tying that to a certain factual theme, whether it's the history of afforestation (in the UK sense of converting land into Royal Forests), the tradition of Freeminers in the Forest of Dean or the activities of the Forestry Commission. That was all interesting enough (if a bit dry in a few cases), but then the fascinating stuff starts when Maitland begins to bring in fairy tales into the narrative, by relating each theme she develops to a particular aspect of fairy tales, whether it's the role of women, childrearing, or the perception of those who work in forest vs those who don't.

I absolutely loved that, but not as much as I loved the fairy tale retellings that follow each chapter. A couple of them are relatively straightforward, but the best were those in which Maitland takes a bit of an off-beat approach. we see Hansel and Gretel decades after they defeated the witch, still somewhat haunted by those events. We see that, seen from Rumpeltilskin's point of view, he's not the villain of the piece, and the tale of the little Goose Girl is much, much better when we see it retold from the point of view of the King who will then become her father-in-law.

Good stuff!



The Suitor, by Mary Balogh

>> Saturday, August 17, 2013

TITLE: The Suitor
AUTHOR: Mary Balogh


SETTING: 19th century England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Part of the Survivor's Club series, prequel to The Arrangement

Mary Balogh’s charming and warm-hearted eBook original short story is a testament to the steadfast devotion of true love, as a young miss on the marriage mart cleverly plots to claim her one and only.

If circumstances were different, Philippa Dean would be happy to fall in love with Viscount Darleigh. He is certainly the perfect gentleman and everything her parents want: titled, handsome, respectable. His blindness only reinforces his quiet power and strength. But Philippa does not love him. Her heart is already taken and there is only one thing she can do: Thwart the matchmaking plans.

Julian Crabbe is desperate to rescue the woman he fell in love with two years ago. Then, he was a reckless cub, justly earning Philippa’s parents’ scorn. Now, he is every inch a respectable suitor and determined to prove it before it is too late. Intrude on the viscount’s house party? Gladly. Interrupt the match of the season? Happily. For nothing can stop the power of a love that will not be denied.
This is a short story (about 60 pages, according to amazon) tied to the upcoming The Arrangement, the second book in the Survivor's Club series. The hero of that book is Vincent, Viscount Darleigh and The Suitor tells the story of Philippa Dean, the young woman whom his family try to match him with (unsuccessfully, of course).

Philippa is no more interested than Darleigh in the match. She's in love with someone else, a man she met two years earlier, and with whom she has been corresponding secretly ever since. Julian's kept out of the way all this time, trying to make himself into someone Philippa's parents would approve of (the first impression was terrible), but at the very time he's ready to come back to London to court her, Philippa's parents have decided Darleigh would be a great match.

I'm afraid this was one of the the worst Balogh stories I've ever read. She's usually great at short stories (her Christmas anthology stories are particular favourites), but this was boring, pointless, romance-free and a bit creepy.

There was no real conflict. Balogh half-heartedly tried to create some sense of risk by making the case that oh, no, if Darleigh proposed Philippa would have to accept, because it would be such a brilliant match! It would allow her to launch her sisters in style! Bollocks. Her parents love her and want her to be happy, and Julian is a perfectly good prospect. He's got money, and although he had a reputation as a terrible rake when they first met, he's been completely respectable and sober ever since. Philippa's parents might have been a bit disappointed if she told them she'd decided she and Darleigh wouldn't suit, but they really didn't seem the types to apply any real pleasure. They might have been a bit miffed for a few weeks, right until Julian started courting her. But instead of just doing that, Philippa plays games with Darleigh, in a way I (and actually, her) thought was pretty cruel. She didn't acquit herself well.

Julian seems like an ok guy, but he's pretty non-existent here. All we really know about him is that he fell violently in love with Philippa 2 years ago, and that it was such strong love that it inspired him to change his life completely. My only problem with that was that the Philippa he fell in love with was a 16 year old and, as he himself says, he's been waiting for her to grow up. Sorry, but that's just creepy. Yes, this is the 19th century, and yes, he was 22 at the time, but that's still creepy.

There are practically no on-stage interactions between Philippa and Julian in this novella. There aren't even flashbacks. We are told they fell in love 2 years earlier, we're told in the epilogue they courted for a few weeks before Julian proposed, and that's it. That's not romance.

Ugh, this is exactly what I hate about this trend of having prequel novellas for every release. More and more, there will be these things, where the author is just phoning it in, writing a story even though she doesn't have a story to tell, and stupid completists like me will buy them and be disappointed. Pisses me off.

MY GRADE: A D. I'm still going to buy The Arrangement and I fully expect to love it, but this was terrible.


Lick, by Kylie Scott

>> Thursday, August 15, 2013

AUTHOR: Kylie Scott

PAGES: 286

SETTING: Contemporary
TYPE: New Adult Romance
SERIES: 1st in the Stage Dive series

Waking up in Vegas was never meant to be like this.

Evelyn Thomas's plans for celebrating her twenty-first birthday in Las Vegas were big. Huge. But she sure as hell never meant to wake up on the bathroom floor with a hangover to rival the black plague, a very attractive half-naked tattooed man, and a diamond on her finger large enough to scare King Kong. Now if she could just remember how it all happened.

One thing is for certain, being married to rock and roll's favourite son is sure to be a wild ride.
Evelyn Thomas is in Las Vegas with her friends, celebrating her 21st birthday. She's planning to have fun, but she's not usually a big drinker, so she involuntarily overdoes it. She wakes up the next morning to discover that, sometime the previous night, she got married to the long-haired, tattooed and very good-looking man who's currently sharing a room with her.

Turns out the man's none other than famous rock star David Ferris, and he's mortally offended that she doesn't remember anything that happened the previous night, a night that was clearly very special to him. Their plans for a quickie, secret annulment are shot when the press find out about their wedding, and this throws them together for a little while. And as they spend time with each other, Ev begins to think being married to David might not be such a bad thing.

Yep, I suspected it. I've just gone to goodreads and indeed, there are loads of gif reviews. I think it was LizMc who mentioned it first, and she's right: when a book has lots of gif reviews, it's a sure sign it won't be my thing. And this wasn't.

I actually quite liked the beginning of it, the set-up of the romance. I liked the idea of two people having such a strong instant connection that marriage seems like a good idea, but then the next morning, one remembers that connection and the other doesn't. And yet they're married. It's sort of like one in the couple is in a love match and the other in a marriage of convenience, and it could have been quite interesting to explore.

The problem is that while this was the setup, it wasn't what the book was about. The book was about "OMG, I'm married to a stinking-rich, hugely famous and sexy rock god every woman in the world wants!". My theory is that there's two different raison d'êtres for romance novels. Most are about telling the story of two characters, but there are some which are all about fantasy fulfilment. The latter can be hugely enjoyable, but only if they fulfil a fantasy you happen to have.

Unfortunately, Lick was all about fantasy fulfilment, but it was not a fantasy of mine that got fulfilled, so it really didn't work for me. I'm probably a bit of a weird one, but I've never crushed on rock stars (I couldn't help but picture David as the guy on the cover, and that has absolutely no attraction to me). I don't like the music, I don't like the celebrity (neither celebrity culture nor the very fact that someone should be treated like a god because they make music people like) and I don't like the whole sex, drugs and rock and roll thing. So although David seemed like a very nice, decent guy (much too normal and centred for the lifestyle he's supposed to have), the gushing tone of the narration put me off.

Plus, the relationship between David and Ev felt a bit cringey. It all felt very immature, and I'm not having a go at NA here; I love NA. I guess it's just that I don't mind when characters who still have some maturing to do have a relationship that's age-appropriate. This felt like a much too mature relationship for these two to be attempting to have. It might have been the way Ev's kept referring to David as "my husband" in what felt like a really self-satisfied way.

Still, with all that, I didn't have trouble reading the first half, and zipped right along. The second half was much harder to get through. The whole focus is on this big fight that felt like a huge big deal made out of nothing, like a transparent effort to create conflict, even if it meant making Ev and David act like idiots. I lost all interest there, and had to force myself to finish the book.



Harvest, by Jim Crace

>> Tuesday, August 13, 2013

TITLE: Harvest
AUTHOR: Jim Crace

PAGES: 320

SETTING: Historical
TYPE: Fiction

On the morning after harvest, the inhabitants of a remote English village awaken looking forward to a hard-earned day of rest and feasting at their landowner's table. But the sky is marred by two conspicuous columns of smoke, replacing pleasurable anticipation with alarm and suspicion.

One smoke column is the result of an overnight fire that has damaged the master's outbuildings. The second column rises from the wooded edge of the village, sent up by newcomers to announce their presence. In the minds of the wary villagers a mere coincidence of events appears to be unlikely, with violent confrontation looming as the unavoidable outcome. Meanwhile, another newcomer has recently been spotted taking careful notes and making drawings of the land. It is his presence more than any other that will threaten the village's entire way of life.
It all starts at the time of the harvest in a tiny little village in the middle of nowhere. Smoke is coming from the two ends of the village. One is from Master Kent's dovecote, clear arson. The other is from a group of newly arrived strangers, clearly hoping to take advantage of squatters' rights which say that they're allowed to stay if they put up a house and light a fire. And just like that, the balance of the village starts to collapse.

I got really excited when I started reading this. The first half is amazing. It's an exploration of a really close-minded, insular community and what happens when the outside world comes calling, after years of isolation.

There's the strangers, and the villagers' treatment of them was truly stomach-churning. This wasn't because it was particularly brutal, or mean-spirited, exactly the opposite. It was because it was so easily justified by our narrator, Walt, a relative newcomer himself, who keeps reassuring himself that it's completely understandable that his neighbours would unfairly blame the strangers instead of one of their own -who wouldn't? And aren't the strangers getting off easily, given what might have happened in other places? Topical, much? Walter rings absolutely true as the established immigrant who, although his instincts are to want to help newcomers like him, feels the need to align himself with the community he's chosen to become part of, however unfair and even cruel they're being.

But it's not just the strangers, the outside world is coming in a more structural way. The forces of change in the outside world are reaching the tiny village. The master who cared about and for the villagers, who was perfectly content to leave them to their communal way, and to see himself as merely a steward of the land, there to serve it and the people who'd worked it for centuries, has been replaced by someone who sees the land he owns as a way to make a profit.

And this brings us to the second half, which is when I felt the book started to disintegrate. Whereas the first half was about the villagers, and was something I'd never read before, the second was all about the landowner and his henchmen doing evil things. It did show how the villagers, so powerful at the start, when it came to receiving or not the strangers, are completely powerless to the forces of the outside world, easy victims to lack of reason and senseless cruelty. It was still a bit disappointing. I thought the rest of the book was going to be about the gradual decay that would be produced by enclosure, and its effect on the community, but no, it was something I've read 1000 times before.

The writing also changes then. I really loved it at the beginning. It was lyrical and beautiful, but at the same time, it felt right coming from the mouth of the narrator, even though he's only slightly more educated than the illiterate villagers. That's because it's not high-falutin poetic, but earthy poetic, of the characters' world. But as the end approaches, it all becomes dreamy and vague, and neither the language or the action have the punch and impact that they did at the start.

I'm very glad I read it, but I wish it'd ended on as high a note as it started.



Guardian Demon, by Meljean Brook

>> Tuesday, August 06, 2013

TITLE: Guardian Demon
AUTHOR: Meljean Brook

PAGES: 576

SETTING: Contemporary
TYPE: Paranormal romance
SERIES: Last in the Guardian series

In this thrilling conclusion to the Guardian series, New York Times bestselling author Meljean Brook delivers another stunning page-turner, in which the fate of humanity depends upon a tortured warrior winning the trust—and heart—of the woman he wounded…

After a terrifying encounter in Hell destroys her trust in Michael, the Guardian’s powerful leader, former detective Andromeda Taylor is ready to call it quits as one of the angelic warriors and resume her human life again. But when demonic forces threaten her closest friends and she uncovers a terrifying plot devised by Lucifer, Taylor is thrown straight into Michael’s path again…

To defeat Lucifer, Michael needs every Guardian by his side—and he needs Taylor more than any other. The detective is the key to keeping his own demonic side at bay, and Michael will do anything to protect her and keep her close. And when Taylor manifests a deadly power, her Gift might tip the scales in the endless war between Heaven and Hell…or it might destroy them both with a single touch.
Much as I've enjoyed my reading in the last few years, it's been ages since I've been looking forward to a book so much that I actually considered taking a day off for it. We'd have to go back to the final Harry Potter, and now, Guardian Demon.

The Guardians series became, almost from the start, my favourite ongoing series, possibly my favourite series ever (again, only Harry Potter might rival it for the top spot). It's all been building up to the end, to Michael's book, and if it was going to be a fitting conclusion to it, it needed to be spectacular. Well, I'm very happy to report, it absolutely was.

Now, this is going to be a bit of a balancing act. The last thing I want to do is to spoil this for anyone, so since I'm posting this right on the release date, I'm going to keep this as spoiler-free as I can while explaining why I loved it so much, a bit cryptic at times. In fact, I'm not going to provide a plot summary at all. If you're reading this book, you should have read the previous ones, so all you need to know is that we get both a conclusion to the final confrontation between good and evil that's been brewing for so many books and Michael and Taylor's romance. The latter is definitely not an easy one, after some quite traumatic events at the start of the book which result in Taylor losing any trust in Michael.

Both are wonderfully done. One of the reasons I like this series is that the heroines are so complicated and strong in so many different ways, as beautifully explained by Brie in one of her Heroine Week posts. Andromeda Taylor certainly is that, but while in most of the earlier books in this series, I've felt that the heroines slightly edged out the heroes in sheer interestingness, in this one, Michael slightly edges it for me. He's just so amazingly and thoughtfully developed.

I actually never thought until a long way into the series, in Irena's book, that Michael would have his own story. He felt so inhuman, or more than human. And even after Demon Forged, when I went ohhh, I wondered whether we'd actually get his POV, or whether it would be a bit more old-school and have him be this mysterious, powerful hero. Well, we get to see inside his head, and I loved the way it was done. His humanisation was gradual and believable, I think because super-human or not, this is a man who really is involved in mankind.

In that sense, I couldn't help but compare Michael with Raphael, from Nalini Singh's Guild Hunters books. Raphael is another very well-developed so-old-he's-inhuman character, but he has become separated from humanity, passing judgment on humans and almost despising them. Michael is his opposite. After many years, he has developed a respect for humans and loves them, which is perfectly reflected in how his feelings for the Rules have developed over the centuries.

I thought his humanity was especially apparent in his relationship with Taylor. It's not so much the feelings he has for her, but how even though he's incredibly self-aware and painfully honest about himself, he can still fool himself. There's a scene with Lilith which particularly broke my heart. But his beyond-humanness was apparent in the romance as well, and it meant that his attitude towards sex feels absolutely right. Sex has long ceased to be a drive to Michael. His need for Andromeda is beyond sex. He wants her as well, but it's not about his own gratification, even if he does get gratification out of it. His love for Andromeda is about her essence, not so much about what she looks like. This made their relationship incredibly satisfying.

As the romance develops, and Michael is working hard to regain Taylor's confidence, things are also moving along on the plottier end of the scale, and the final confrontation comes even closer. There's tragedy even in the run-up to it, and it becomes obvious quite soon that this is not going to be an easy win. Brook makes you feel right in the gut that there are huge things at stake. And when the confrontation comes, it is epic and immensely satisfying.

And now I need to tread very carefully and be especially cryptic here. Let's just say that the only criticism I can make of this book is about the order certain things happen in the conclusion. I thought that if one particular area hadn't been resolved before the other, the emotional intensity and feeling of peril would have been even higher. As it was, resolving this issue filled the characters (and us) with a maybe a bit too much hope. I guess I think things would have been a lot angstier even more emotionally gut-wrenching if that hadn't been the case.

Still, I'm saying even more emotionally satisfying, because even with this criticism, I still thought the way things turned out worked amazingly well. I closed the book with a wonderful sense of satisfaction, and of a HEA very well-earned. There was also quite a bit of sadness that it was finally over, but that disappeared straight away when I turned right back to page 1 and started to reread it :)

MY GRADE: A solid A.


July 2013 reads

>> Friday, August 02, 2013

Yet another good month. My favourites were, in different senses, surprises.

1 - A Kiss For Midwinter, by Courtney Milan: A
review coming soon

Novella, probably one of the best I've ever read. The hero, a doctor, knows the heroine's deepest, most painful secret. He's desperately in love with her, but between her awareness of his knowledge and the fact that he's sarcastic and witheringly direct in their interactions, she thinks he feels the opposite for her. Wonderful, it made me cry and had my stomach in knots.

2 - The Cuckoo's Calling, by Robert Galbraith: A-
review coming soon

Audiobook. Yes, this is the mystery that was revealed to have been written by JK Rowling. The plot is nothing special: PI Cormoran Strike is hired to investigate the death of a model, which the police have ruled a suicide and the woman's brother is convinced was murder. What is special, though, is the way it's executed. The characters were great. Cormoran especially, but also his secretary, Robin, and all the people in the model's life. The storytelling flowed beautifully, and I was engaged right from the start.

3 - The Blood Detective, by Dan Waddell: B+
review here

Audiobook. Serial killer mystery, with a connection to a string of 19th century crimes that brings our main character into the case. He's a genealogist, and his work is crucial in solving the case. Excellently plotted, and I really liked the characters. The only thing keeping it from an A grade is that the end was unnecessarily graphic, I thought.

4 - The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie: B+
review here

Audiobook. Classic Christie. Village setting, locked room mystery, Poirot at the top of his game and the grandfather of all plot twists at the end. As often with the most intrincate of her puzzles, the psychological believability was a bit of an issue, but it's a great book.

5 - At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson: B+
original review here

Audiobook. Bryson wonders round each room of his house and uses them as starting off points for fascinating rambles into all sorts of subjects, some of which are only tangentially related to his home, such as the excesses of Gilded Age millionaires or sailors and scurvy. I didn't care, it was all fascinating, and Bryson is an engaging (if clearly not professional) narrator. A couple of issues, though. The last couple of chapters feel a bit too unrelentingly depressing and close the book on a bit of a downer. No reason some of this material couldn't have been presented earlier. Plus, at the end Bryson mourns the passing of the era of big landowners who were able to build and maintain huge country houses, and has a bit of a diatribe against death duties. Let's just say our politics are clearly quite different, so this infuriated me.

6 - The Norm Chronicles: Stories and Numbers About Danger by Michael Blastland and David Spiegelhalter: B-
review coming soon

You get exactly what it says on the subtitle. It's about how people perceive and react to risk, and what the risks really are, expressed in an easy to understand way. The different areas they look at are illustrated by stories about prudent Prudence, average Norm and reckless Kelvin. Would work well as a primer, but I didn't feel the stories added a great deal, and they felt a bit off, like they could have been done better to illustrate the points.

7 - Along Came Trouble, by Ruthie Knox: B-
review coming soon

Second in the Camelot series. What sparks everything off is the stormy romance between a famous pop star and a girl-next-door type pregnant woman. But this story is not about them, it's about the pop star's sister (neighbour to pregnant lady) and the security specialist hired to keep the paparazzi away. I liked a lot about it, especially how Ellen was so difficult (for very good reasons), but it took quite a while to get going.

8 - Crystal Gardens, by Amanda Quick: B-
review coming soon

Audiobook. Starts a new series (alas, still within the Arcane Society world) centred around a group of women who work for a sort-of detective agency which specialises in looking into the backgrounds of potential suitors. I liked the romance, thought it had some of the elements I loved so much in vintage JAK, and though the paranormal aspect was a bit ho-hum, it was toned down. Nice.

9 - Lick, by Kylie Scott: C+
review coming soon

After celebrating her 21st birthday in Vegas with a bit too much tequila, the heroine wakes up married to a famous rock star she doesn't even remember meeting. I liked the setup and the possibilities, but it wasn't really my thing, partly because a) this is not my fantasy, and b) the big fight that took up half the book seemed like much ado about nothing.

10 - Any Duchess Will Do, by Tessa Dare: C+
review here

Duke pressured into choosing a bride by his mother decides to choose the most inappropriate one possible: the tavern's barmaid. Dare is one of the very few authors who can pull off a preposterous, historically inaccurate premise, but it didn't completely succeed here, mainly because she kept violating the internal coherence of her fantasy Regency-land setting. The heroine was really cool, though.

11 - Untouchable (from Deep Kiss of Winter), by Kresley Cole: C
review here

Longish novella. Tells the story of the last Wroth brother, vampire Murdoch, whose Bride turns out to be both a Valkyrie and an Icere, an ice maiden. The twist is that she can't be touched without excruciating pain. Not great, it rambles too much and I didn't really see the chemistry between the two main characters.

12 - Forbidden, by Lisa Clark O'Neill: DNF
review here

I thought the hero's sexual advances towards the heroine crossed the line into creepy, and that she was a bit of a doormat. It just didn't engage me.

13 - Betrayed By Trust, by Ana Barrons: DNF
review coming soon

The heroine's sister, an politician's aide, has been murdered and the case has gone cold. She decides to go to DC and investigate, and needs the help of a journalist who's already betrayed her confidence. The heroine was annoying and judgmental, and there was a lot of narratorial victim-blaming. Not for me.

14 - Finders Keepers, by Linnea Sinclair: still reading
review coming soon

Space opera. The heroine is a small-fry independent trader who rescues a guy who turns out to be a Big Deal in his country, and who has a reputation for being cold and cruel and humour-less. I'm really enjoying it so far.

15 - Caballo de Fuego: París, by Florencia Bonelli: still reading
review coming soon

Romance written by an Argentinian author, so far it's a sort of cross between a sheikh romance (the hero is half Saudi, half Argentinian) and medical romance (the heroine is a pediatrician about to go off to Congo with a Médecins Sans Frontières-type outfit), with a heroine who, pediatrician or not, is horrendously Anastasia Steele-like in her childlike-ness and naiveté. Add to that a huge dollop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and this is like no romance novel I've ever read. The romance is vomit-inducing, but all the rest (and there is a lot) is strangely interesting. However, I've been stuck at about 10% (which, considering this is a loooong book, is about halfway through a normal-sized one) for about 2 weeks, with no desire to pick it back up. I'm not quite ready to press delete yet, but it might turn out to be a DNF.


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