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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Thinking About...The Professional by Kresley Cole

I've been going back and forth about what I want to write about this series since I finished installment three last Monday.  I hadn't even planned on reading this when it first came out back in December but ended up giving it a shot when a significant chunk of it was free from the author as a teaser.  I originally wasn't a fan of the serial release but the fact that holiday hysteria occurred in between the various release dates meant that the wait wasn't that much of an issue.  I was reasonably confident that I would at least enjoy the writing in this story, because I love both the IAD series and the author's previous historical releases, so I figured all would be well.

All was well, for the most part.  The classic Kresley Cole snark was present in force and it was fun to read it coming from someone who wasn't a thousand year old immortal.  The story was decent- the focus is definitely on the evolution of the relationship between the two leads with a little bit of Russian mafia whatnot thrown in to break up the sex scenes.  The sex scenes comprise most of the word count and are not for the faint of heart or fans of blush romances.  I've not read Fifty Shades or anything by Sylvia Day (hard to believe, I know) but fans of those series would find a lot to like here, I think.  Overall each installment brought a pleasant read and the price tag for each one ($1.99) was easy to handle.  Most of my famous authors have first release in hardback at this point so an inexpensive Kindle book is a fun event indeed.

And yet...there was something about this story that left me with a funny taste in my mouth at the end.  Not disappointment, per se, more...a feeling that the dust hadn't quite settled.  I was surprised- normally I finish a Kresley Cole book and I'm ready to stand up and shout hooray and go back and read everything I own from her backlist in one sitting without blinking.  I was puzzled, and it took a couple of days for me to put my finger on what the issue was for me.

Spoilers ahead.  Ye be warned.

The first person narrative in these installments was challenging for me- I admit I got a little tired of Natalie's me, me, me after awhile.  We didn't get the point of view of any other characters for comparison so I felt like a lot of other story elements were there to account for the fact that the sex between Natalie and Sevastyan wasn't completely 24/7.  There were a lot of other avenues I would have enjoyed exploring, and the descriptions of the settings were so lush and vivid that I wanted to know more about that stuff instead of dealing with Natalie's relationship problems.

I had issues with the addressing of Sevastyan's past history as well.  Here's where it's about to get really spoilery so you have absolutely no excuse if you keep reading.  It turns out that Sevastyan's childhood was even more horrific than we had imagined previously- physical/verbal/sexual abuse, homelessness, and eventually the event that saved him was being assumed into organized crime, where he's been ever since.  He has strong opinions about the implications of his sexual proclivities and we know from part 2 that he was reluctant to indulge in those proclivities with Natalie, even though she was raring to try them all out and it would have been completely consensual.  We knew he had issues- we didn't truly grasp how serious those issues were.  The climax of the story is a scene between Natalie and Sevastyan where he finally discloses all of these things to Natalie in an effort at full disclosure to save their relationship.  I wasn't cool with the fact that he disclosed these things under duress, from Natalie.  If the gender roles were reversed and he had pushed and pushed for Natalie to either disclose every detail about her past or face the fact that the relationship was over, I would have said he was an abusive misogynist and thrown the book across the room. I was pretty close to doing that here too.

The resolution of these issues is, for me, where the author's skill as a writer really shines through.  Right when I was about to get upset and disconnect from the story, Natalie realizes the position that she has put Sevastyan in.  It hits her like a bolt of lightning- what she's asking from him is huge, and forcing him into a corner isn't something that would make the basis of a good relationship. Even though the topic is something they would eventually have to explore, forcing someone to tell you about their past under duress isn't cool.  It's not enough that she's offered to let him know every detail of her past, because her past isn't all that scandalous. His is.  She also has to confront the reality that although she may have a lot of vicarious sexual experience and he has a lot of actual sexual experience, neither one of them knows jack squat about having actual, successful adult relationships.

Also, and it might have been explained in the story, I didn't get a clear picture of how long these two knew each other- I can understand attraction being immediate, but I wasn't sure if they had known each other all that long, and if maybe these big revelations would have come more naturally with a little more time or a little less stress, like fewer people getting murdered and all that.

Anyway, the big revelation for me as a reader was the realization that the author had done a really great job of portraying Natalie exactly as she was billed- 24 years old, not a lot of life experience, stepping into several totally new worlds all at once and realizing abruptly that none of those worlds is as it seems on the surface.  Natalie was very multifaceted and it was okay that there were facets that I didn't care for.  Real people are hard to classify as totally likable or totally unlikable.  It's easy to portray someone as a hero or a villain but harder to put them somewhere in the middle.

The door is definitely open for more books in this series so it will be interesting to see what develops from here.  I'd be open to possibilities, and the adventure of trying something new from an author I really love cemented for me the fact that I really love her writing.  Now, I can more clearly identify what it is I love about it.  What's not to like?

Have you read this series? What did you think of it?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Review: Dark Wolf

Title: Dark Wolf
Author: Christine Feehan
Page Count: 432 pages
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: paranormal romance
Copy for review was purchased by me

Back Cover Summary:
#1 New York Times bestselling author Christine Feehan now delivers her most eagerly awaited novel of all — ten years in the making.

In Dark Lycan, Christine Feehan journeyed into the heart of the Carpathians, and into the souls of two lifemates stirred by the flush of passion and the threat of annihilation. In Dark Wolf, the breathtaking story continues as the bonds of family are imperiled, and the fate of two lovers lies hidden in the seductive shadows between life and death.

Skyler Daratrazanoff always recognized the miracle that was Dimitri Tirunul, a man beyond any dream that had ever engaged her nights. But she was human. Vulnerable. He was Carpathian. Nearly immortal. She was nineteen. He was an ancient. Yet she held half his soul, the light to his darkness. Without her, he would not survive. Caught between the two warring species, Dimitri has spent centuries hunting the undead to keep his people free, and humans safe. He had survived honorably when others had chosen to give up their souls. But now, marked for extermination by the Lycans, Dimitri found himself alone, and fearing for his life. But salvation was coming…

No Lycan would ever suspect someone like Skyler to dare mount a secret rescue operation. A teenage girl. A human of untested abilities. But she had something no one else had. She was predestined for Dimitri—as he was for her. And there was nothing stronger for Skyler than her desire to see her life-dream come true. Whatever the risk.

Well, here it is.  The one we've all been waiting for.  I've run hot and cold on this series and am happy to report that I was pleased with this installment, easily the most anticipated for me as a reader and (I think) for many others as well.  Many, many Goodreads reviews of this story are told in GIF format, so I think I'll add one of my own to the conversation:

This was the make or break moment for the series.  If I opened the box, so to speak, and all that came out were bees, I would be sad, and also completely done with this series forever.  I would have my favorites to revisit and that's it.

Happily, this was a strong story, with a great leading couple, and a conflict that could evolve into something in the next volume.  That's probably what stood out the most for me as a reader- something actually happens in this series.  The past few volumes consisted of introducing more characters with a view factoids added in to sort of function as a plot, and here was the exact opposite.  For the first time in awhile I felt like the series has long-term direction again.

This book continued some positive trends that started in Dark Lycan:

The leading man isn't an asshole- Imagine that, a well-drawn male character that isn't gross! This makes two in a row for this series (three if you count Dark Storm, where regardless of the book's other failings at least the guy wasn't an ass) and while I have read every installment of this series I can easily say that Dimitri is my favorite.

Previous characters put in an appearance- Seeing Ivory and Razvan again was enjoyable for sure.  And for crying out loud, we're 25 books in at this point so there's plenty of material to work with.

The relationship between Dimitri and Skylar was center stage, and it was a healthy one.  I know some people out there in internet land were disappointed that we didn't see more of their developing years as actual storyline and not just offstage, but the strategy used in this book totally worked for me.  Skylar's early years were so traumatic and so bad that I think it would have been pretty much impossible to address them on stage without seriously offending someone.  Instead, the author used her power as the architect in this fictional world to make certain facts true.  We wanted Skylar to come into her own, so she did! We wanted her to be respected by her partner, and she is!  Because this is fiction, I'm totally okay with taking the author's word for it that these two had their issues but worked them out. I think dealing with these heavy things onscreen isn't a risk this series needed (or should have) taken at this point, and I'm glad it didn't.

The next book in this series comes out in September and is the final installment of this three book arc, and I'm comfortable at this point saying that I'm in for that.  I'm interested to see how this business with the Lycans works itself out, and I think Zev and Bronnie will make an excellent couple.


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Review: Dark Lycan

Title: Dark Lycan
Author: Christine Feehan
Page Count: 326 pages
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: paranormal romance
Copy for review was purchased by me

Back Cover Summary:
Tatijana of the Dragonseekers spent centuries encased in ice with her sister, trapped in limbo between life and death, never speaking to a soul other than those who tormented her. Now, she has been freed from her frozen prison by an unknown descendent. Awakened in human form, Tatijana yearns to explore the modern world in which she now lives—a world with more mysteries than she is prepared for.

Fenris Dalka has returned to the Carpathian Mountains after a long absence to be with his brother. He is scarred by centuries of battle, and every hard-won victory. But the real reason for his return home could prove deadly if discovered by the wrong man—or woman. Upon his arrival, he is compelled by a beautiful and enigmatic stranger who carries the scent of fresh earth, of forest, of the night itself.

In time Tatijana and Fenris will discover all that unites them—their secrets and pasts, their predators, and the hot flush of passion that stirs their souls. Yet just as surely, seduced into the silvery darkness of a full-moon night, they’ll also discover everything ancient and evil that exists to destroy them.

This is not a mistake- I am indeed reviewing another novel from the Carpathian series because I did indeed read the next one, even though I made all kinds of statements saying I was waiting for Skyler and Dmitri's book and that's that.  I know, I know.

Admittedly the first reason I succumbed and bought this one was the fact that Skyler and Dmitri's book is next.  Wouldn't it suck if I did all that waiting and all that griping and skipped this story only to find out it was important to the one that I was waiting for?

Well, not to be spoilery, but I'm glad I didn't skip.  I'm glad I dug out this series' number, so to speak, and agreed to a talk over coffee about our relationship.

This installment did a good job of getting us ready for the big shebang (Dark Wolf, due out January 7th.) Not only did we get to meet a thoroughly likable leading man in Fenris, Dmitri's older brother, but we also got to know a pretty important character from previous books- Tatijana, one of the aunts who was trapped in dragon form in the evil mage's cave.

I admit, at first, I had my standard reaction to a new Carpathian book, which is WHY ON EARTH DO WE NEED MORE CHARACTERS AT THIS POINT.  The cast is huge at this point, with people all over the world, fighting fights that are resolved and then never spoken of again; why do we need to add more to the fray?  In this case, I'm happy to report that getting to know Fenris meant we got to know Dmitri, and in a way, I think that will make Dmitri's book better, since we only got very brief looks at him in previous books that took place years ago, within the timeline of the story.  A lot has happened since then, and I'm kind of stoked that we'll be able to skip to the good stuff and see Skyler get the good things she totally deserves at this point without having to go through all the angsty drama that is pretty characteristic of this series at this point.

It's hard to spend too much time describing the plot here without getting spoilery but one thing I enjoyed about it was that elements from previous books were drawn on to weave the story, not just random things that had never been mentioned before (cough cough the weird sex flowers in the last book cough cough.)  It's a huge accomplishment to have a series that's 24 stories strong at this point but I feel like one of the challenges is to keep things fresh and cohesive at the same time.  It hasn't always been a perfect situation but I'm sufficiently pumped for the next book.  Maybe you'd noticed.

Overall Grade: A

Hello friends!

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving to those who partake, and to those who don't, welcome back! It's been awhile (again) and a lot has happened since my last apology for abandoning my blog to the internet wolves, so to speak, but the joys of the holidays means there's actually time to sit down and do things for fun. Hooray!

Anyway, as 2013 draws to a close, it's time to do the annual round of looking back and seeing how things went. For the first time in a long time, I will have read less than 50 books this year. That's a big change- for a long time I was averaging around 200 per year. I certainly miss having more free time!

Just like I did last year, I went back to see if I had written any goals for myself, since offhand I'm not able to remember what they might have been. I found my first post of 2013 and read my own words, saying I was going to focus on reading for fun and writing here when the mood struck me. Frankly, the mood didn't strike a lot this year.

I think that's because, for a long time, I was devoting a significant amount of time and energy to blogging and the blogging world, and recently I've found my interest to be shifting to other things. Running (I'm training for my second half marathon- eek!), crafting, and working on certification to become a BCBA have all claimed significant portions of my time, and I'm happy for that. It's good to have diverse interests.

Being able to leave WBiT? alone for so long and then come back to it has proven an important point for me. Reading has been something I've loved for as long as I can remember, and it's one of the best hobbies out there because there's nothing to practice and no skill to maintain, once you're proficient. I could walk away from books and stories and come back and it's like I never left. That's what happened this past year- every book I've read has been 100% for pleasure. For my record keeping, I only track new-to-me books for the purposes of my yearly total, but I've reread so many books, some multiple times. It was so awesome to go back and visit my favorite stories without any pressure to do otherwise.

The books I've read have followed two trends this year- they've either been dark horses, books I grabbed at the library because the cover was interesting or the blurb was intriguing, or they've been books by my go-to authors. It's safe to say I have definite favorite authors now, whereas before I think I would have waffled on that a little bit.

Over the next few days, I'll be posting the reviews of my favorite books I've read this year, the ones that stand out in my memory even if they were read months ago. I'm looking forward to doing more of the same in 2014. The point of this endeavor was and is to talk about books. I'm game to get back at it.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Emerging from the Time Warp...

No, not that one.

Anyway! I'm back! It's been a busy summer, filled with work, studying, and travel to interesting places.  Places like Wall, South Dakota, where they have a giant statue of a jackalope.  No, really.

Doing stuff and making things and generally being out and about means that I haven't been checking in here. I know right? Cue the dramatic noises! Time was I would have been really worried about this. Even though I haven't written anything myself I still check in with my feed reader on a daily basis and it seems like I'm not alone in this.  Will people stop reading if I stop writing?  Are they even reading anyway?

I digress.

The point is, I have been reading some excellent books lately, and I'll be doing another roundup of reviews.  I kind of like that format actually- checking in every five books or so and then you, dear readers, get a bunch of quick reviews all at once!  Plus with the impending start of the school year it's probably not a bad deal to have some kind of a plan for when I want to write about books but just don't have the time.  Plans are good, right?

Anyway, I didn't forget about you guys, and I'll have more to say in future posts.  Stay tuned!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Everyone Loves a Read-a-thon- Library Books Read-a-thon!

Summer vacation is off to a great start and after an extremely productive trip to the library yesterday I'm ready for the first read-a-thon of the summer! I'll be keeping track of my books here and am hoping to really dig in this weekend.  I'll be going out of town on the 26th and have a final exam to take before I go so I'll be frontloading this one for sure, but still!  Anyway, on to the good stuff:

Completed Books:
The Fleet Street Murders by Charles Finch

Currently Reading:
The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourn

Head over to Rachael Turns Pages to sign up!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Speedy Reviews: Time to Get Caught Up

The biggest downside of long breaks in between blog posts, other than the implication that there are lots and lots of other things going on that require my attention, is that when the dust finally settles, there are lots of reviews waiting to be written.  A lot of time has elapsed since I read the books though- what to do, what to do...

Anyway, here's the solution! Six books from my review queue, with brief thoughts.  Then, on to more recent, more detailed things.

Heart of Brass by Kate Cross (obtained from my public library)- The first in a steampunk romance, this is the story of Arden and Lucas.  Lucas has disappeared and everyone except Arden thinks he's dead; when he appears, brainwashed by the enemy and assigned to assassinate Arden (his wife,) things are, as they say on Facebook, complicated.  I think I would have enjoyed this book a little bit more if I hadn't been reminded of this:
Overall, not as much steampunk goodness as I would have liked, a decent romance and setup for the next book, generally an okay book.

Rating: 3/5

Wild Invitation by Nalini Singh (book purchased by me)- I will follow this series to the ends of the earth and this anthology was a good bridge between full length novels.  I had read two of the included stories already but it was nice to have my own copies.  The two new stories were excellent as well.  I loved it but I would totally start this series at the beginning and enjoy all that it has to offer.

Rating: 5/5

Gloomcookie Vol. 1 by Serena Valentino (obtained from my public library)- I don't read a lot of graphic novels but picked this one up after seeing it mentioned on another blog (I forget which, but I'll link up if I remember.)  I confess I wasn't really impressed with this story- I enjoyed the dramatic circusy artwork and the visual elements but the story didn't stay with me at all.  Maybe I've just officially become old and can't get into the OMG he likes you/no he doesn't/I hate you/you don't understand me element? Don't know, don't care, but I won't be continuing with this series.

Rating: 2/5

Geist by Philippa Ballantine (obtained from my public library)- This is the first book in this series, and honestly I think it suffers a little bit for that.  The characters come on too strong in some segments and washed out in others and I think it's because there's so much worldbuilding to be done in a really short number of pages.  There are lots of different genres making an appearence- fantasy, romance, adventure, steampunk- and I love genrebenders typically, but I think this book might have fared a little better if one had been a little more prominent than the others.  Not sure if I'll continue with this series or not.

Rating: 3/5

A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley (obtained from my public library)- I really enjoy this series and I think it's very telling that although I think this is the weakest book in the series so far, it's still outstanding and was a fun read.  Gypsies, town history, mystery, the antics of an eleven year old, and of course chemistry all come together to tell a fun and intriguing story.  I admit I wasn't quite as satisfied with the ending of this one as I had been with the past two books, it's a small quibble and I'm still a huge fan.

Rating: 4/5

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley (obtained from my public library)- Christmas, Flavia de Luce style!  This was an interesting book for the family dynamics of the de Luce clan- Flavia thinks her family pretty much wants nothing to do with her but certain things happen that make her question that assumption.  The financial troubles of Papa de Luce also take center stage, as without them there'd be no need for this story!  I enjoyed this book tremendously- Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Overall Rating: 4/5

And there you have it!  Six short reviews, with full reviews coming back in the next post. What have you been reading lately- good, bad, or indifferent?

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