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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Review: Death of the Mantis

Title: Death of the Mantis
Author: Michael Stanley
Page Count: 448 pages
Publisher: Harper
Genre: mystery
Copy for review obtained from my public library

Cover Summary:
In the southern Kalahari area of Botswana--an arid landscape of legends that speak of lost cities, hidden wealth, and ancient gods--a fractious ranger named Monzo is found dying from a severe head wound in a dry ravine. Three Bushmen surround the doomed man, but are they his killers or there to help? Detective David "Kubu" Bengu is on the case, an investigation that his old school friend Khumanego claims is motivated by racist antagonism on the part of the local police. But when a second bizarre murder, and then a third, seem to point also to the nomadic tribe, the intrepid Kubu must journey into the depths of the Kalahari to uncover the truth. What he discovers there will test all his powers of detection . . . and his ability to remain alive.

This is the third book in the Detective Kubu series, and I've read all three so far.  It's pretty rare for me to be able to say that I'm current in a series, but there you go!  I will say here at the onset that this isn't my favorite book in the trilogy so far, but it was still good and I enjoyed reading the story.

This series is set in modern-day Botswana, and the description of the setting is realistic, but not overdone; you can tell the writing team behind the books really loves the country and that love for the good, the bad, and the ugly comes across in the writing.  Each book addressed a different facet of life in Botswana (the first one dealing with the diamond trade and the second in the country's heritage as a former colonial holding) and this one is no different, with the focus this time being on the often strained relationship between the Bushmen (indigenous people) and the government of Botswana.

I admit that this book was a little slow to get started.  Detective Kubu is dealing with a case that's not really his to be dealt with, and the back and forth between the characters did seem to hold the story back in the beginning.  Things definitely picked up though, and by the end everything had come together nicely; I am a fan of this series so I was willing to invest the time.

I don't recommend starting here with the series just because the first two books were a little longer and so had more details and character development, but this book could be read as a standalone if one was so inclined.  It's a good in-between book, with an interesting setting and story. Good times!

Overall Rating:

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Review: Toads and Diamonds

Title: Toads and Diamonds
Author: Heather Tomlinson
Page Count: 288 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Genre: retold fairytale, YA
Copy for review obtained via my public library

Cover Summary:
Diribani has come to the village well to get water for her family's scant meal of curry and rice. She never expected to meet a goddess there. Yet she is granted a remarkable gift: Flowers and precious jewels drop from her lips whenever she speaks.

It seems only right to Tana that the goddess judged her kind, lovely stepsister worthy of such riches. And when she encounters the goddess, she is not surprised to find herself speaking snakes and toads as a reward.

Blessings and curses are never so clear as they might seem, however. Diribani’s newfound wealth brings her a prince—and an attempt on her life. Tana is chased out of the village because the province's governor fears snakes, yet thousands are dying of a plague spread by rats. As the sisters' fates hang in the balance, each struggles to understand her gift. Will it bring her wisdom, good fortune, love . . . or death?

Back in April, I heard about this book from The Book Rat as a part of Fairy Tale Fortnight and immediately wanted to read it.  I have, and I was pleased!  I was vaguely familiar with this story before I started reading but I loved the way that the story (two sisters go out into the woods and meet a divine being who bestows each of them with a "gift") was expanded into a full-on legend all its own.  There's a lot to digest in this story, but it's still very easy to read and I was engrossed from beginning to end.

Contrary to most fairy tales, there are no evil stepsisters here, nor are there 100% good sisters.  There are just two girls, trying to figure out how to live in the best way possible and make the best of their situation.  Both meet the same goddess in the woods, and one speaks jewels and flowers while the other speaks toads and snakes- it would seem that one is blessed and one is cursed, but the story isn't so straightforward as that.

Diribani (flowers and jewels) and Tana (snakes and toads) both have to live with the gifts and the danger that comes with them, and both of them see their kingdom from an entirely new perspective.  Both of them realize that the "gifts" will only go away when the goddess decides that they don't need them anymore so they'd better figure out what the goddess wants them to learn.  The fact that neither of them figures it out right away adds depth to the story and allows for plenty of themes to be explored.  This is one of those books where you could take something different away from it each time you read it.

Many of the themes addressed by this book deal with issues that are quite complex, such as issues of social justice, how to best use public funds, and who should decide what benefits a community.  The presence (or absence) of the snakes in this story also add the element of needing to see past immediate consquences of a decision to more long term ones.

If you're a fan of retold fairytales or just like YA books that steer clear of the paranormal and venture into the territory of fantasy and magic from a different perspective, give this one a try.

Overall Rating:

Friday, July 27, 2012

AAD Author Spotlight: Bronwyn Green!

Friday Friday Friday!  Folks who are going to Authors After Dark must be pretty excited by now!  This is the second to last author spotlight I'll be doing and I'm happy to say today's guest is Bronwyn Green!

1. Introduce yourself, Twitter style! Describe yourself or your books in 140 characters or less.

Quirky erotic romance author, procrastinator extraordinaire, lover of words, nature, crafts, shiny things and hot stories and a good HEA.

2. Tell us a little bit about your latest release, or your upcoming projects if you'd prefer.

My latest release is called Sensuous Summoning and it's the second book in my Witch Way series from Resplendence Publishing. Here's the blurb:

While casting a protection spell, Rowan Spencer gets the shock of her
life. The spell goes very, very wrong, and she accidentally summons an
ancient Celtic god.

A gorgeous, naked god.

Until Gwydion’s duty is complete, he’s bound to the human who summoned
him. But as the poisons of earth drain him, he finds binding Rowan for his
pleasure is sensuous task he’d enjoy for a lifetime—a lifetime that isn’t
theirs to have.

3. What books (your own or others) do you recommend most often?

My favorite genres are erotic romance and YA. For erotic romance I recommend Brynn Paulin, Abigail Barnette and Kris Norris. For YA, I recommend Maggie Stiefvater, Becca Fitzgerald and Suzanne Collins. I also love Charles deLint and M.H. Mead.

4. What part of Authors After Dark 2012 are you looking forward to the most?

I'm looking forward to seeing NOLA, visiting a Bourbon Street psychic, and old graveyards. I'm also super excited about seeing friends I don't see that often, hanging with readers and making new friends.

5. If you've been to AAD before, do you have any advice for first time

Take the opportunities to meet and talk with your favorite authors and bloggers. Go to the parties - mostly just have fun! And definitely come and check out the Resplendence Publishing authors' karaoke party! :D



Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review: Enemy Games

Title: Enemy Games
Author: Marcella Burnard
Page Count: 368 pages
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: science fiction romance
Copy for review obtained via my public library

Cover Summary:
Kidnapped while combating a devastating plague, Jayleia Durante fights to resist the attractive Major Damen Sindrivik, an officer from a rival government’s spy corps. But with her spymaster father missing, and mercenaries hot on her trail, Jayleia must join forces with the magnetic, charming and manipulative spy. She must see past her desire and remember that his single-minded agenda is for the protection of the empire - not her or her people.

Damen knows a shadowy network of traitors has allied with the violent Chekydran, and that Jayleia’s father holds the key to dismantling that web. She becomes his only lead in a circuitous round of hide and seek and despite their opposing sides, he can’t resist her. Too bad his instincts tell him Jayleia is lying to him.

Now Jayleia and Damen must find the love to match their passion and end the war or they’ll become the prey of the traitors they stalk, and one species’ civil war will consume the galaxy.

Whew! After I read, loved, and reviewed the first book in this series (Enemy Within- read my review here) I admit I was a little nervous that the second book in the series wouldn't live up to my expectations.  I was wrong, happily, and this book, while definitely different from the first one, was still a fun, hot science fiction romance that left me happy for the main couple at the end.

Jayleia's father is missing, and for the director of one of the top intelligence agencies in the galaxy to go missing means something is seriously wrong.  Naturally, everyone thinks that his immediate family would know where he is, and so everyone is gunning for Jayleia, not knowing that her relationships with her parents are distant at best and confrontational at worst.

Jayleia's spent her entire life trying to be her own person, but as the daughter of two famous people that hasn't been easy.  Now yet another person has waltzed into her life making demands, except this one she wants to eat up with a spoon- Damen Sindrivik.  She's not an idiot, though, and realizes that Damon has his own agenda and that she may or may not benefit from helping him achieve it.

Damen knows that he has to tread lightly with Jayleia, both to find out what he needs to know and to ensure that she doesn't hate him.  Still waters run deep with Damen, and as Jayleia finds out more about him he's worried that she'll be able to walk away and feel good about it.  That isn't going to work for Damen, and it was fun watching them realize that they had it bad for each other, and also to learn more about the other's past and find that they were willing to work through it together.

As it happens, there's more than meets the eye in many facets of this story- even the war with the Chekydran, who up until now were reptilian monsters with no redeeming features whatsoever who threatened everyone in the entire galaxy, no exceptions.  Come to find out, things are not what they seem there either, which causes a serious crisis of consciousness for all members of the cast that we've met so far.

There was no cliffhanger ending here, and with the elements of this story resolved I'm content to wait for the next installment (which hopefully, will be soon) and know that it will be worth waiting for.  It definitely has big shoes to fill!

Overall Rating:

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Title: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Author: Alan Bradley
Page Count: 374 pages
Publisher: Delacorte
Genre: historical mystery
Copy for review obtained via my public library

Cover Summary:
In his wickedly brilliant first novel, Debut Dagger Award winner Alan Bradley introduces one of the most singular and engaging heroines in recent fiction: eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison. It is the summer of 1950—and a series of inexplicable events has struck Buckshaw, the decaying English mansion that Flavia’s family calls home. A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath. For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”

To Flavia the investigation is the stuff of science: full of possibilities, contradictions, and connections. Soon her father, a man raising his three daughters alone, is seized, accused of murder. And in a police cell, during a violent thunderstorm, Colonel de Luce tells his daughter an astounding story—of a schoolboy friendship turned ugly, of a priceless object that vanished in a bizarre and brazen act of thievery, of a Latin teacher who flung himself to his death from the school’s tower thirty years before. Now Flavia is armed with more than enough knowledge to tie two distant deaths together, to examine new suspects, and begin a search that will lead her all the way to the King of England himself. Of this much the girl is sure: her father is innocent of murder—but protecting her and her sisters from something even worse….

Three cheers for me, I finally got around to reading this book! I'm glad I did, too- it was the perfect summer mystery, not too heavy, not too light, with lots of fun details and a totally unique detective.

I do mean totally unique- Flavia de Luce is eleven years old, and if you look up precocious in the dictionary, there she is. Her days revolve around the study of chemistry (her specialty is poisons) and tormenting her two older sisters, who give as good as they get. Close behind those things are avoiding eating the revolting concoctions served for dinner and staying out of her father's hair.

When a dead bird with a postage stamp stuck to his beak appears on the door step one morning, it's the start of a bizarre chain of events that end with Flavia's father being arrested for murder. Flavia sets out to prove her father's innocence and finds that there is a lot of history that she's not aware of- turns out her father is an excellent secret keeper.

I think my favorite thing about mystery novels that aren't in the CSI vein is that information is uncovered in a fairly straightforward manner. Example- when Flavia wants to know something, she goes to the library. When she's wrong or off track, she puzzles it out and figures out what needs to be done next. I've caught myself saying "oh, scissors!" (her favorite expression of dismay) in real life since finishing the book.

I also got the chance to learn a little bit about some topics I was unfamiliar with before- stamps and stamp collecting, chemistry- it was good fun! I think this book would be a fun one to experience as an audiobook and have added this one to my list of "audiobooks to get at some point in the future."

Lucky for me, there are several additional books in this series already out, and each one seems to be living up to expectations for other readers. I'm looking forward to judging for myself.

Overall Rating:

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Most Vivid Worlds/Settings in Books

Top Ten Tuesday is brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish!

This week's top ten list focuses on the best of the best in worlds and settings! I don't know about you, but the more realistic the picture in my head is as I'm reading a book, the more memorable and enjoyable the book is for me. I'm not saying there needs to be pages and pages and pages of details and no plot, sometimes minimal is best, but these are the books that jump out at me when I think of vivid worlds and settings.

Top Ten Most Vivid Worlds/Settings

Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews- I love the Kate Daniels series, and one of the reasons why is because of the great detail in setting the stage for each story, and the details of the creepy, creepy villains in each story.  On a semi-related note, I am so excited for Gunmetal Magic, whose release date is almost here!

Tinker by Wen Spencer- set in an alternate Pittsburgh where part of the elf domain overlaps the human one, it's the story of physics wiz Tinker and her friends and how she falls in love with an elf lord.  It's a fantastic story and one of my favorites!

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook- This is such a unique and fun series!  Full of romance and adventure and steampunk goodness, it's another book I find myself recommending over and over again.

The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers- I haven't read this book in a long time but it is zany and fun!  It's such a fun (and illustrated!) mix of elements that's hard to describe.  I'm feeling the need to reread and review so I can really discuss it properly.  Note to self!

Cold Magic by Kate Elliot- I love this series!  It's a fun mix of alternate history, adventure, romance, and mystery, and with the third installment in the trilogy on the way, I'm super excited.  This is how the author describes the series on her websiteRead an Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk Regency fantasy adventure with airships, Phoenician spies, the intelligent descendents of troodons, and a dash of steampunk whose gas lamps can be easily doused by the touch of a powerful cold mage.

Enough said.

On the Edge by Ilona Andrews- Yep, both series from this author make the list.  This series has a totally different feel from the Kate Daniels books but is awesome nonetheless.

The Psy-Changeling series by Nalini Singh (not all of which is shown here)- Good lord I love this series!  So much action and so many details, each one is a treat in and of itself, and taken together the whole experience is just...wow...I love how details from previous books come into play in later ones.  Keeps me on my toes!

The Immortals After Dark series by Kresley Cole (again, not all shown here)- As if the snark and romance in these books isn't enough, there are also a variety of really great settings that keep this series fresh but are also important to the stories being told- Scotland, tropical islands, demon realms, you name it!

A Hint of Frost by Hailey Edwards- Have I sung enough praises for this book yet?  Nope, I didn't think so either.  This book features a unique world where magic exists in a subtle way, but is still important, and where people and spiders share interesting characteristics.  It is SO HARD to wait for the next book in this series to come out.

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal- The setting and fantasy elements of this book are really what set this book apart.  Incorporating the weaving of glamour as essential training for young ladies of quality totally changed the tone of the story.  I highly recommend this one as well.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Audiobook Review: The Highlander's Touch

Title: The Highlander's Touch
Author: Karen Marie Moning
Length: 10 hours 51 minutes
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Narrator: Phil Gigante
Copy for review compliments of the public library

Cover Summary:
A warrior of immortal powers....

He was a mighty Scottish warrior who lived in a world bound by ancient laws and timeless magic. But no immortal powers could prepare the laird of Castle Brodie for the lovely accursed lass who stood before him. A terrible trick of fate had sent her 700 years back in time and into his private chamber to tempt him with her beauty - and seduce him with a desire he could never fulfill. For this woman he burned to possess was also the woman he had foresworn to destroy.

A woman caught in the mists of time....

When Lisa felt the earth move under her feet, the fiercely independent 21st-century woman never dreamed she was falling...into another century. But the powerful, naked warrior who stood glaring down at her was only too real...and too dangerously arousing.

Irresistibly handsome he might be, but Lisa had no intention of remaining in this savage land torn by treachery and war. How could she know that her seductive captor had other plans for her...plans that would save her from a tragic fate? Or that this man who had long ago forsaken love would defy time itself to claim her for his own?

I remember reading this one back in the pre-blogging days and enjoying the story well enough. I picked it up as an audiobook after reading how much Rachel at Parajunkee's View enjoyed it in the audio format.  Phil Gigante is one of my favorite narrators (SWOON) so the stage was set for a fun story.

The cover summary of the book sums things up pretty nicely and the story follows that path as expected.  Circenn and Lisa are a cute couple- Lisa is sweet and naive in a more or less believable way, and for a guy that's been alive for hundreds of years, Circenn is never to old to learn new things.  They have to figure out how to get along together and they fall in love in the process.  It's a good thing.

I had two issues with this book, but overall they weren't serious:
1. While I appreciated the fact that the narrator used a different voice for each character in the book, I found the voice he used for Lisa to be pretty grating after awhile.  Lisa has had a pretty limited set of life experiences to this point but she isn't a child by any stretch of the imagination- she needed a less timid voice.

2. Maybe it's proof that my tastes have adapted and changed over the years, but I felt like some of the naivety that was assigned to Lisa was a little hard to believe.  She has a nonexistent social life because she's completely devoted to taking care of her mother and making ends meet, but Lisa just came across as a lot younger then she actually was.  Although, this book was originally published in 2000, so maybe  times have changed? Who knows.

With all that said, this was a fun book and a good way to pass time while I was working on projects or cleaning.  I will definitely listen to the audio versions of the other books in the series.

Overall Grade:

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Review: The Agency: The Traitor in the Tunnel

Title: The Agency: The Traitor in the Tunnel
Author: Y.S. Lee
Page Count: 373 pages
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Genre: historical mystery, YA
Copy for review compliments of the public library

Cover Summary:
Get steeped in suspense, romance, and high Victorian intrigue as Mary goes undercover at Buckingham Palace - and learns a startling secret at the Tower of London.

Queen Victoria has a little problem: there's a petty thief at work in Buckingham Palace. Charged with discretion, the Agency puts quickwitted Mary Quinn on the case, where she must pose as a domestic while fending off the attentions of a feckless Prince of Wales. But when the prince witnesses the murder of one of his friends in an opium den, the potential for scandal looms large. And Mary faces an even more unsettling possibility: the accused killer, a Chinese sailor imprisoned in the Tower of London, shares a name with her long-lost father. Meanwhile, engineer James Easton, Mary's onetime paramour, is at work shoring up the sewers beneath the palace, where an unexpected tunnel seems to be very much in use. Can Mary and James trust each other (and put their simmering feelings aside) long enough to solve the mystery and protect the Royal Family? Hoist on your waders for Mary's most personal case yet, where the stakes couldn't be higher - and she has everything to lose.

Book three in the Agency series keeps up the interesting precedent set by the first two books in the series.  I was under the impression that this was going to be a trilogy and so I went into reading this installment expecting the whole shebang to be wrapped up at the end of this book.  Happily, I discovered that there will be a fourth book! This became even better news for me once I'd finished this book.

Mary Quinn is hard at work at the onset of this book, trying to figure out who's pilfering collectibles from Buckingham Palace.  It may seem like small potatoes, but the author does an excellent job of illustrating how an accusation of stealing against a palace servant or staff member would be devastating and render them pretty much unemployable.  The balance of power is nonexistent- the employer has the power and the employees are at the mercy of that power, full stop.

Mary isn't making much headway in her investigation and so she returns to the Agency to hopefully get some guidance.  She does get guidance, in a fashion, because her employers tell her that her ex-flame, James Easton, is the engineer who'll be working on the sewers that run under the palace and that it's entirely likely she'll run into him.  Mary had figured James was out of her life forever- this was one of the few times that Mary figured wrong.

Mary also grapples with the issue of her heritage, having recently discovered that her father was a Chinese sailor.  Much to her surprise, her father reappears in London, having been accused of murdering a young nobleman in an opium den in the presence of the Prince of Wales.  This event brings all of Mary's issues that had been simmering away to a full boil- she has to deal with her heritage if she's going to find a way to get her father acquitted, she has to deal with her feelings for James, and she has to deal with her job and making sure her cover isn't blown.  It's a tough order but Mary is up for the challenge.

James redeemed himself early on in this book for me, as he had kind of been an epic douchebag in the last book in the series.  Mary is very self aware and so she asks all the right questions of James- what changed his feelings?  James gives the perfect answer- he was a narrow minded ass and he realizes that now.  No qualifications, no exceptions.  It was excellent.

We also discover that the missing collectibles are the side show to the main event of happenings at Buckingham Palace.  The situation escalates quickly and there were lots of historical details that helped to keep the pace of the story cooking right along.

At the end of the book, Mary finds herself at an interesting crossroads.  Her two mentors from the Academy are parting ways- one wants to maintain the Academy as it's always been (a place where women from dire straits can find decent employment and a safe life and place to live and help solve mysteries) and one wants to go full force into forming a politically-based intelligence organization.  Mary is in the position of being able to determine her own life's path for the first time in her life, and I'm interested to see how her choices play out in the next book.

It's worth mentioning that the author's website, YSLee.com, has lots and lots of interesting facts and stories that stretch all the way back to the onset of the series.  I highly recommend checking it out.

You can certainly count me in for the next book in this series, and anything else from this author, frankly.  I'm definitely a fan.

Overall Rating:

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Review: Vienna Waltz

Title: Vienna Waltz
Author: Teresa Grant
Page Count: 436 pages
Publisher: Kensington
Genre: historical mystery/historical romance
Copy for review compliments of the public library:

Cover Summary:

Nothing is fair in love and war. . .
Europe's elite have gathered at the glittering Congress of Vienna--princes, ambassadors, the Russian tsar--all negotiating the fate of the continent by day and pursuing pleasure by night. Until Princess Tatiana, the most beautiful and talked about woman in Vienna, is found murdered during an ill-timed rendezvous with three of her most powerful conquests. . .

Suzanne Rannoch has tried to ignore rumors that her new husband, Malcolm, has also been tempted by Tatiana. As a protégé of France's Prince Talleyrand and attaché for Britain's Lord Castlereagh, Malcolm sets out to investigate the murder and must enlist Suzanne's special skills and knowledge if he is to succeed. As a complex dance between husband and wife in the search for the truth ensues, no one's secrets are safe, and the future of Europe may hang in the balance. . .

This was a fun book in a variety of ways- lots and lots of historical detail, an interesting puzzle of a murder mystery (with a killer that honestly came as a surprise to me,) an interesting examination of infidelity in marriages at the time period, and a starring couple that I'm looking forward to getting to know better in future installments in this series.

The Congress of Vienna is an excellent backdrop for a story like this- there are movers and shakers from all over Europe gathered in one, sparkling place, and they all know each other's dirty little secrets.  Princess Tatiana, the unfortunate victim of the murder, had played political games with aplomb for as long as anyone could remember, and then someone murdered her.  The situation is especially difficult because to level any accusations would cause an international mess of epic proportions.  Investigators need to tread lightly, and that's where Malcom and Suzanne Rannoch come in.

We meet Malcom and Suzanne after their marriage has already been established- they also have a young son.  Becase they were married so quickly, they don't truly know each other on the level that other couples might, and as a result Suzanne isn't quite sure what to think when the always-helpful grapevine claims that Malcom had been intimately involved with Tatiana in the past.  Folks aren't exactly totally discreet about their extramarital activities and people are generally sympathetic to Suzanne.

Revealing what, specifically, went on between Malcom and Tatiana would be a big spoiler and give away way too much of the twisty, turny plot, so I'll say that when you go into reading this, you always have to withhold judgment until the facts are totally on the table.  In Vienna, secrets are everybody's business, literally.  Another big part of the series revolves around Malcom having to decide whether or not he's going to be totally honest with Suzanne about his past and his current situation- they truly love each other but find that there's a minefield between them that neither had anticipated.

The examination of infidelity was done really well here as well- Tatiana is a famous courtesan who's been romantically linked to everyone at the Congress of Vienna- single, taken, old, young, they were all fair game to her.  She was a beautiful, intelligent woman who knew what she wanted and went after it without apology and without consideration for collateral damage, and ultimately her dedication to her own causes put her in the path of a murderer.  I shy away from saying that Tatiana was a bad person- she did what she wanted and was her own strongest advocate because she totally understood that nobody else truly had her back.  She was what circumstances had made her.

The descriptions of the various events of the Congress are beautifully detailed, and it totally sucked me right into the story.  Suzanne is a great character as well- she's devoted to her husband but she's seen horrible things in her life and knows not to take things at face value.  Her dedication and honest face make her an excellent detective, and she's able to ferret out information and ideas that Malcolm would never have been able to discover on his own.

My main issue with the book is mainly an issue of timing- apparently this is a sort-of-first book in a series.  What I mean by that is that it can be read as an introductory book, which is how I read it, but upon reading some other reviews and product pages for this book I discovered that this is also a continuation of ideas that were presented in a previous series by the same author.  Apparently there was a switch in publishers and therefore some names were changed, but the overall flavor was the same.  Because of that, there wasn't a ton of introduction to Malcolm and Suzanne and we're kind of flung into their relationship right at the moment that the curtain goes up.  Past events are hinted at but there isn't a ton of explanation; those things have to kind of be taken at face value so that the current story can get under way.  The timing felt just a tiny bit off at times, but not enough to keep me from enjoying the story- if anything I want to go back and read the books that were previously released.

Overall Rating:

Friday, July 20, 2012

Review Copy Cleanup- I'm In!

For awhile now I haven't been accepting books for review, owing to the fact that I have a small mountain of books waiting to be read from various sources and adding things to the pile wasn't going to make things any easier.  Well, I've decided it's time to do something about this, and so I'll be participating in the Review Copy Cleanup!  The point is simple- get the pile of review copies under control!  The event is hosted by Nyx Book Reviews and Books, Biscuits and Tea, and here are all the details:

The Guidelines
  • The challenge runs from 1 to 31 August
  • To sign up, just fill in the Mister Linky below. Link to your sign up post directly please! The Linky is the same for both our blogs, so you only have to sign up once
  • The sign up is open until 15 August 2012
  • When you post your sign up post on your blog, either include the challenge button with your post or link it back to this article so that people know where to sign up. Thank you! 
  • Every book you received for review counts towards the challenge, both ebooks and hard copies, including all genres and lengths
  • You don't need to follow the two hosts in order to be able to sign up for the event (although it's appreciated)
  • Feel free to use the #RCCleanup hashtag on Twitter for your RCC related tweets or join in the Twitter party at http://tweetchat.com/room/RCCleanup and meet lots of awesome bloggers (:
  • The dates of the readathons and Twitter parties will be announced closer to the RCC

I had made the hard decision to pass on reviewing the print books I received in order to try to get my TBR pile under control and my public library was VERY grateful to receive the donated copies (to be fair, many of these were unsolicited books that just showed up at my house.)  As I move forward I will be much, much pickier in the books I accept to prevent this backlog in the future.

Anyway, here are the books I'm hoping to have reviewed and posted by August 31:

-Bride of the Rat God by Barbara Hambly
-Dark Nights by Christine Feehan
-Imagine Childhood by Sarah Olmsted
-Deadlock by Moira Rogers
-Cipher by Moira Rogers
-Mieradome by Kate Hegarty
-Memory's Wake by Selina French
-Brightest Kind of Darkness by P.T. Michelle
-The Egyptian by Layton Green
-In the Bleak Midwinter by M.R. Sellars
-A Soul to Steal by Rob Blackwell
-Tantric Zoo by Rob Loughran
-Cedardale Court by Nathan Christensen
-Thursday Thistle by August Fahren
-Hammer Down by Moira Rogers
-When the Walls Fell by Monique Martin
-Creepers by Bryan Dunn
-Thief of Hope by Cindy Young-Turner
-Hunter's Prey by Moira Rogers
-The Hour of Predators by Lane Stark
-Merrick's Destiny by Moira Rogers
-Magnus Opum by Jonathan Gould

22 books total!  If I can manage this, it will reduce my review queue to ZERO.  That is INSANE!  I am going to try to get as many of these books read before the beginning of August so I can start the month right!  If you are participating in the review pile clean up, what is your goal?  Leave a link in the comments so I can cheer you on!

AAD Author Spotlight: Carolyn Crane!

Welcome to Friday everyone! It's been a busy week for me on this end, and I'm looking forward to spending the next couple of days wrapped up on my couch reading!  While I'm doing that, here's the skinny on this week's featured author- Carolyn Crane!

1. Introduce yourself, Twitter style! Describe yourself or your books in 140 characters or less.

140 characters? Noooo! Oh no, now it’s 98! Hi! I’m Carolyn Crane, UF and PNR author; this answer shows why I write novels instead of billboards.

2. Tell us a little bit about your latest release, or your upcoming projects if you'd prefer.

My urban fantasy trilogy, the Disillusionists, The Disillusionists trilogy follows the journey of Justine Jones and her friends—former losers, whose weaknesses were turned into crime-fighting powers—and Justine’s suitors: two flawed but brilliant men—one on a journey of redemption, the other descending into a pit of moral depravity. (the third book just came out in December, so it’s totally complete!)

3. What books (your own or others) do you recommend most often?

Well, as a gateway book, I’ll frequently recommend Bitten by Kelley Armstrong, or Outlander by Diana Galbaldon. Personal fave authors of mine include Kresley Cole, Megan Hart, and Meredith Duran.

4. What part of Authors After Dark 2012 are you looking forward to the most?

I love the downtime most! Hanging out with fellow authors and readers, and just meeting new and old friends! Talking books in elevators, grabbing coffee with people you feel friendly with for years on twitter…and I always learn something interesting in the panels.

5. If you've been to AAD before, do you have any advice for first time attendees?

Ooh! Well, get the hotel layout down the first day so you’re not confused about where you are the whole time like some people last year (ahem! me!) get that schedule app on your smartphone. Put your twitter pic on your namecard thingy if it is really memorable and not your face - more people will recognize you. And, beware of getting totally hammered - I’ve noticed most people who do that end up regretting it!

Carolyn’s author site: http://authorcarolyncrane.com/
More about Carolyn’s books: http://authorcarolyncrane.com/books
Twitter: @CarolynCrane

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The New B Word or, Stand By for Incoming Drama.

The title of this post may be misleading- the b word I'm talking about isn't new, but it certainly is getting a lot of attention lately.  I think you know the one I mean.

The word, of course, is bullying.  For those not aware of the cluster surrounding the Stop the GoodReads Bullies debacle, I leave you to your own Googling, but suffice it to say it's got a lot of people's blood up and frankly, for good reason.

I'm summarizing my feelings on the subject in a list, because it's painfully easy to go on and on about this situation at this point without getting to my actual reason for writing.

1.  It is never, ever okay to publish someone's personal information online without their direct consent. By doing this, you have crossed the line from having a point that some people may not agree with to engaging in reprehensible behavior.  It is not "giving someone a taste of their own medicine," because unless they posted your name, address, photo, and employment status for all to see, what you did is not the same as what they did.

2. Isn't it freaky how the internet lets people create a persona to disguise their real identity, but brings us into contact with more people than we could ever hope to meet in real life?  Go figure, not all of those people think we are awesome, and some of them aren't afraid to tell us!

3.  At the end of the day, there is a romance that exists that attempts to relegate books and stories to a category of consumable that's different from all others and therefore needs to be protected from criticism.  I totally understand that authors put a lot of personal effort and energy into their work and therefore are extremely emotionally invested in what other people think.  However, at some point the decision was made to publish that work for public consumption and to charge money for people to read it.  This changes things, people.

4.  Just because someone says something mean, does not mean you need to respond.  Over and over again we have seen that defending yourself, your work, your post, your blog, your whatever, has actually made the situation worse.  You had your say first thing out of the gate; engaging a venomous opposing party is making the situation worse and asking for it to get more attention than it deserves.  Remember: Thou Shalt Not Feed Trolls.  Be honest the first time around and you don't ever need to clarify.

My final feeling, and this is the one that resonates with me most strongly, is the ease with which the term "bullying" was thrown into the mix.  The peril of using that word so cavalierly is that the word loses meaning, and people who have legitimately been bullied have to fight harder to get help.  People don't take them seriously (which is wrong) because they have been desensitized to the issue and it all fades into the background.  This is a tragedy, and it shows the importance of choosing your words carefully.

I will personally consider it a blessing if I never have occasion to write a post like this again.  Is it sad that I'm not optimistic that this is the last time this issue will come up?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books for People Who Like The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

Top Ten Tuesday is brought to us by The Broke and the Bookish!

The theme for this week's Top Ten Tuesday is read-alikes- books that would appeal to fans of one already-published book!  I've been on a huge historical fiction kick lately, so I'll be featuring books that  would (in my opinion) appeal to people who liked The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig!  Obviously, you could put the rest of the series on that list, but that would be cheating!  Anyway, let's get down to it, shall we?

Vienna Waltz by Teresa Grant- I have a review forthcoming for this one, but all I will say now is wowwie zowwie!  Such detail and a political mystery all set against the backdrop of the Congress of Vienna.  Delicious!

And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander- I reviewed this one here and LOVED it- a recent widow discovers that, among all the other mysteries, her late husband actually really loved her! And that's just the start of the mess...

Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn- another fun historical mystery with a little bit of romance!  I reviewed this one here and have the rest of the series on tap to enjoy.

A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch- This is the perfect book to read on a cold rainy day as it just sucks you right in.  It's part of a series as well- yay! Read my review here.

The Spymaster's Lady by Joanna Bourne- I love going through my archives and finding gems I've read since I started blogging.  This is the first in a series and was completely engrossing- read my full review here.

The War Against Miss Winter by Kathryn Miller Haines- Here's another one from the archives!  One of my (many) favorite things about this book is that it's set during World War II- sometimes a non-Regency is just what the doctor ordered.  Read my review here.

India Black by Carol K. Carr- A notorious madam makes for an excellent narrator in this historical mystery.  Dare I detect a hint of romance in this one as well? Read my review here.

Firelight by Kristen Callihan- Kudos to every book blogger who wrote about how awesome this historical paranormal romance was, or else I totally would have missed out, having not heard about it anywhere else.  Thanks! Read my review here.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, read by David Suchet- I love audiobooks, and this is one of my favorites!  Although any Christie is good Christie in my opinion, I can definitely recommend this as a great place for a new listener to start.  Also, David Suchet is fantastic as Poirot (and episodes of the TV Poirot series with him in the title role are on Netflix, in case you're interested.)  Read my review here.

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal- An homage to Austen that includes magic, romance, intrigue, and amateur theatricals! Dive in and enjoy.  Read my review here.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Review: Shades of Milk and Honey

Title: Shades of Milk and Honey
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Page Count: 304 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: historical fantasy
Copy for review compliments of the public library

Shades of Milk and Honey is an intimate portrait of Jane Ellsworth, a woman ahead of her time in a version of Regency England where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality. But despite the prevalence of magic in everyday life, other aspects of Dorchester’s society are not that different: Jane and her sister Melody’s lives still revolve around vying for the attentions of eligible men.

Jane resists this fate, and rightly so: while her skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face, and therefore wins the lion’s share of the attention. At the ripe old age of twenty-eight, Jane has resigned herself to being invisible forever. But when her family’s honor is threatened, she finds that she must push her skills to the limit in order to set things right–and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.

I kind of make it a rule to stay away from Pride and Prejudice retellings- there seems to be kind of a lot of them out there and they may be really great books (having not read any I wouldn't know) but they typically don't seem like something I would enjoy. While I wouldn't place Shades of Milk and Honey in that camp by any stretch, I do recommend it to any fan of Pride and Prejudice and to any fan of historical fantasy in general.

The story elements here are familiar but are woven together in a fun new way- manipulating glamour means that young ladies of good breeding and family can create elaborate illusions of music and art that come alive for their audiences, with more elaborate manipulations requiring more energy and personal resources. Like its famous roots, it is a truth universally acknowledged that everyone in Regency England apparently needs to get married with the quickness, so Jane and Melody (the sisters who star in this story) are definitely interested in the opinions of the opposite sex.

Jane is a talented woman who feels, unfortunately, that not being a great society beauty means she's relegated to the shadows for the rest of her life, and her nitwit mother doesn't do anything to reassure her or convince her otherwise. Melody is the great beauty, but feels that her lack of other talents means people lose interest in her once they realize she has a pretty face and that's it. One of the main themes of this story is how judging yourself according to other people's perceptions is a fast trip to emotional chaos; Jane and Melody butt heads throughout much of the book but both are more alike than they think.

Obviously, it's not an Austen-esque story without memorable male characters and this is no exception- we have Mr. Dunkirk, the chivalrous neighbor with the vulnerable younger sister, we have Captain Livingston, the rapscallion nephew to the noble neighbors, and Mr. Vincent, the traveling glamourist with great talent who seems to always have a bone to pick with Jane. Everyone has their own motives, and Jane, in her constant practicality, sees people's ulterior motives and tries her best to protect her loved ones, but the mysterious Mr. Vincent puzzles her. Why doesn't he like her? Is that really the problem? Mr. Vincent was my favorite character by far and he and Jane's tangle is a good one.

The plot elements loosely follow those of Pride and Prejudice but it's not a retelling- instead, it takes familiar elements and uses them as a blueprint for a new story. The intricate and vivid details create an interesting world and the romance and pursuit of happily ever after are believable. I was content at the end of the story and looking forward to reading the next installment.

Overall Grade:

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Best of 2012...So Far...

Every summer I like to think back about the really excellent and outstanding books I've read so far this year.  They don't necessarily have to be books released this year, although I read a lot of new releases so that's kind of how it plays out sometimes.  My reading numbers are a lot lower this year than last year (life getting in the way will have that effect) but I still have some standouts from this year.  Life is too short to read bad books!

And so, I bring you The WBiT? Best of 2012...So Far...

Firelight by Kristen Callihan- This one was recommended to me by about a bazillion bloggers, and I loved it every bit as much as everyone said I would. The second book comes out on July 31st, so there isn't too much longer to wait! Read my review here.

The Shadow Reader by Sandy Williams- This book was so much fun!  It may be the first book with a strong love triangle element that I really, really enjoyed.  The next book comes out October 30th- hooray! Read my review here.

Something About Witches by Joey W. Hill- OH GOD THIS BOOK MADE ME CRY.  It was so emotional and intense and I loved the experience of reading it.  Even having read it a couple of times since that first one it still hits me on an emotional level every time. Read my review here.  As an aside, I also loved In the Company of Witches, but for whatever reason, just realized I haven't written a review of that one.  Oops!  I shall have to fix that.

Enemy Within by Marcella Burnard- Awesome sci fi romance!  This was the perfect blend of characters overcoming every obstacle to be together and creepy horrible bad guys and was just generally a great start to a series.  I need to get my butt in gear and read the next installment since it's already out! Read my review here.

A Hint of Frost by Hailey Edwards- This was an awesome series opener as well!  Smoldering with lots of great adventures and spider people and really awesomely written sexual tension blossoming into a great romance.  It was totally unique and I'm waiting anxiously for the next book to come out in December. Read my review here.

There are several runners up, mostly perennial favorites and authors that are on my permanent buy list, but these are the real standouts that definitely have me hooked.  What awesome books have you read so far in 2012?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Review: Cynful

Title: Cynful
Author: Dana Marie Bell
Page Count: 253 pages
Publisher: Samhain
Genre: paranormal romance
Copy for review was purchased by me

To save the woman he loves, he must push his gifts to the brink.

Halle Shifters, Book 2

Julian DuCharme, a rare Spirit Bear with legendary healing powers, is finally free from the threat of death, finally free to claim his mate—but she’s not having it. While his Bear screams it’s time to mate, the love of his life wants to date.

Holding his Bear in check while convincing her he’s not out to control her won’t be easy. She’s stubborn and a closeted geek—in other words, perfect for him.

Cynthia “Cyn” Reyes, owner of Living Art Tattoos, thinks Julian is the hottest thing on two legs. That doesn’t mean she’s going to roll over for his masculine charm. She watched her mother flounder when her father passed away, and she’s determined to never lose herself to someone else. Not even a man who would jump the moon for her, if she asked that of him.

When the women of Living Art are targeted by a killer, Julian doesn’t think twice about pouring out his last drop of power to keep Cyn safe. But it’s Cyn who’ll give up everything—her independence, even her humanity—to keep a terrifying vision
from coming true.

One of his death.

Warning: This novel contains explicit sex, graphic language, a tattooed heroine and the Bear who loves her. Maybe he’ll finally convince her to tattoo him with “Property of Cyn”.

I was super excited to finally get a release date for this book since it's been awhile since book 1 (Bear Necessities) came out and the pump was definitely primed for Cyn and Julian's story. I'm happy to say that I wasn't disappointed- I approached this book with a sense of fun and was willing to roll with the punches and was, I think, rewarded for my efforts.

Julian is an unusual character in that he's already head over heels in love with Cyn, and just needs to convince her that he's the real deal.  He's in it for the long haul and is frustrated because Cyn wants to take their relationship at a glacial pace, but interprets her reluctance as an indicator that he needs to try harder.  He's a sweet guy whose powers aren't the rock 'em sock 'em type- he's a healer and has, logically, chosen nursing as his career.

Cyn is the rebel here- she's the free spirit who's fought tooth and nail for her friends and her successful tattoo shop, and is afraid to have all that eclipsed because she's suddenly half of a couple.  She has to work up to the leap of faith of being in a permanent thing with Julian; lucky for her, Julian is a patient guy.

This would have been an okay story if the only plot elements had been the development of the relationship between Cyn and Julian and the good-natured ribbing and the pop culture references that get thrown around between the caste of characters in Halle.  I would have enjoyed the story anyway, but there were other elements at work here that will hopefully get a little more page time in future books.  There's a shooter on the loose that's targeting the girls that work at the tattoo shop, and my big criticism of the book is probably that the resolution of that plot line seemed kind of thrown in at the last minute, like all of a sudden it dawned on the characters that there was a maniac on the loose and they should probably do something about it.

My favorite element of the story? It's a tie between Cyn's journey to determine what kind of bear she's going to shift into and the last few pages of the book.  As a side note, I actually want to watch Sailor Moon now despite having never seen a single episode before.  Go figure.

Overall Rating:

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