Thursday, September 24, 2020

Dead Man in a Ditch by Luke Arnold: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Dead Man in a Ditch by Luke Arnold

Dead Man in a Ditch, the second book in Arnold’s Fetch Phillips Archives, takes much longer to get going than the first. Fetch takes on regular detective cases one after another that he solves pretty fast, if not always accurately or the way the client assumes. It isn’t until well past half-point that a plot begins to emerge, which ties in the first half of the book little by little. The story picks up pace towards the end, and with a few twists the book becomes unputdownable.

To his bewilderment, Fetch has gained a reputation in Sunder City as someone who is looking for the lost magic. As the person responsible for its loss, he knows that it can’t be revived and to believe otherwise gives people only false and dangerous hope. Yet he comes across events and items that seem to argue otherwise. There might still be magic in the world. Then he stumbles on a plot involving Sunder City and the well-being of its citizens and he realises that there are things more important to fight for than the past and the lost magic, even if it means going against those he loves.

Fetch is slightly less hopeless and a bit more determined man in this book. He spends less time drunk and more time doing impossible things. But he still suffers from the guilt of what he’s done, and he still yearns to be accepted by those he loves and respects, which causes him to do things he later regrets.

The narrative is more focused in the present than in the first book. I missed the flashbacks into Fetch’s past, but the few there were deepened the plot. The language isn’t quite as descriptive and rich than in the first book, and there are fewer insights into human condition, but it’s still a pleasure to read. The book is a little too long, but that’s all forgotten once the endgame starts. All in all, a good follow-up for an excellent debut.

I received a review copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

The Last Smile in Sunder City, The Fetch Phillips Archives 1, by Luke Arnold is marketed as Peter Grant meets Discworld, and whoever came up with that is doing the book a great disfavour. Yes, there’s a private detective in a world full of fantastical creatures, but that’s the only thing they have in common. I wouldn’t necessarily even call it urban fantasy, despite it mostly taking place in a large city. Post-apocalyptic fantasy or grimdark might fit the bill better. Perhaps for the fans of Daniel Polansky’s Low Town series, or Robert Jackson Bennet’s The Divine Cities trilogy.

The book is set in a unique fantasy world populated by every possible magical and fantastical creature the fantasy genre has ever come up with. Unfortunately for them, there has been a war with humans six years earlier that has wiped away all magic from the world, breaking it irrevocably and rendering the magical creatures and the very nature husks of what they used to be. The change is so recent that the people are only now starting to build their lives again, with some clinging to what they’ve lost and all blaming the humans. There is some technology, like phones and carsthough both have been adapted to operate without magicbut mostly it feels like a pre-technology world.

At the heart of the story is Fetch Phillips, a man for hire who is feeling permanently sorry for himself for his role in the loss of magic. At first I thought he was merely taking a general blame of a former soldier, but it turns out he actually is to blame. So he spends most of his time drunk. He’s hired to find a vampire who by all accounts is a model citizen and adapted to his new life without magic and with a certainty of an imminent death. The case takes Fetch all around the city and gets his arse kicked more often than he should’ve been able to recover from, and in the end turns out to be more than he imagined it would be. As he investigates, he takes a stock of his life so far and how he became the destroyer of magic.

I found the backstories infinitely more interesting than the investigation, which was done in a rather haphazard fashion. They were insightful and told a lot about Fetch and the human condition. They are also what make the book more a fantasy, or even epic fantasy, than urban fantasy. The rich world-building and the story of its fall are not what urban fantasy is usually about. The book also lacks the humour and the optimism of most urban fantasy that I’ve read. It’s cynical and dark, and to the very end rather hopeless. The book even argues for the danger of hope in making a beast of a man who would otherwise be content with his lot.

This was an excellent book, even if it was a somewhat heavy reading at times. The language is rich and interesting, and Fetch is a complex man who has a long way to redemption, if that is ever even possible for him. The side characters are all more or less bastards, with a couple of exceptions whom I hope will become series stables. I have the next book already lined up and I have high hopes for it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

First up: if you’re expecting unique sci-fi like Yoon Ha Lee’s brilliant The Machineries of Empire series, this is not it. It’s not sci-fi at all, but historical fantasy that is perfect for the fans of R. F. Kuang’s The Poppy War series. However, even if you’re a diehard sci-fi fan, I recommend you give this book a chance. If for nothing else, to see how an author can pull off such a different genre and writing style so brilliantly. I received a free review copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Phoenix Extravagant is set in a country that resembles turn of the twentieth-century Korea; mostly sticking to its traditions, but with cars and electric light. It has been invaded a decade earlier by a country with different but similar traditions (i.e. Japan) and has since settled into an uneasy relationship with the conqueror that consist of conforming and rebelling.

Gyen Jebi is the sole point of view character. They are an artist and they only want to paint, even if it means working for the invaders. They are ready to conform in other ways too; they have learned the invaders’ language and officially changed their name to fit in bettera decision that causes a break-up with their sister. But when it turns out that what they paint directly helps the enemy to not only oppress their people but to destroy the country’s cultural heritage too, they start having second thoughts. Their journey from an observer to an active agent is fairly fast, but the outcome isn’t entirely what they expected.

Jebi is an interesting character. They don’t identify as a man or a woman but as not gendered. No attention is drawn to this, apart from the pronoun ‘they’ with which Jebi is referred to. There are other people like Jebi and people recognise them for what they are without them having to ever mention it. It doesn’t cause them any grief, nor is it something they have to think about. The author doesn’t tease readers with hints of what they may have started as and there is no explanation given to why such choice was madeor if it was a choice at all. I would’ve liked to know if this stems from actual Korean tradition or if it’s something the author created for this book, but all in all, it worked well, even if it was an unnecessary detail in the character’s development and how the story played out.

The world-building is great. The traditional Korean culture comes alive in small details that are treated as natural facets of Jebi’s life without unnecessary explanationsthough they are explained better than the alien cultures in the Machines of the Empire series, making it easier to understand. The fantasy elements are fairly light and woven into the narrative so seamlessly that the reader doesn’t necessarily even notice them. There are automatons, mechanical humanoids that are given life with magic. There is a huge dragon automaton too, the key to the story, as Jebi is tasked with creating the correct magical sentence structure that would operate it. In the end, Jebi learns this magic so well that they become instrumental in a rebellion against the invader. And the poetic ending brings home for good that we’re not dealing with reality after all.

The pace of the narrative is fairly fast. Since this a stand-alone novel and not the first in trilogy, it takes no time at all before Jebi finds themself trying to rebel against the invaders. The story is easy to followagain, much unlike the Machines of the Empireand interesting. There’s drama and tragedy, but good and sweet moments too. All in all, it’s excellent historical fantasy.

 

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

The Seventh Perfection by Daniel Polansky: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

The Seventh Perfection by Daniel Polansky

Daniel Polansky’s books have been a hit and miss for me over the years, and after Those Below I decided I’d approach his works with great caution. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found myself requesting his upcoming book, The Seventh Perfection, from NetGalley. And since I was granted an early copy, I actually had to read it too.

I’m glad I did.

The Seventh Perfection is fantasy written in a style that I’ve only ever encountered in short stories before. Then again, the book almost falls into that category at only 160 pages, and I was able to read it in one sitting. The narrative consists solely of conversations the main character has with an array of people, but with a twist: her side of them has been removed completely. The reader is perfectly able to infer that she’s there from how the people talking to her refer to her presence. They comment on her questions, refer to something she does or says, or describe her looks or mood. And the whole time she remains silent.

I feared it would be difficult to get the hang of the story, but already by second page I was perfectly able to follow what was going on. It takes a while before there is enough information about the main character to form a picture of herif I hadn’t read the back copy I wouldn’t even have known she’s a womanbut all in all, the story was easy to follow.

Manet is seeking to unravel a mystery of a woman whose picture she has been sent in a locket by an anonymous person. Why her identity compels her isn’t made clear, and for the first half of the book I assumed she was on an official government business, as she is constantly referred to by her title amanuensis. Little by little, it becomes clear that she’s on a personal mission, that the woman’s identity matters to her, and that the God-King she serves isn’t happy about it. Mostly, because along the way, she learns the truth about how the God-King came to ascend in the first place.

The book is set in a world that is a mixture of fantasy and technology, but it’s only ever hinted at. There are no descriptions of surroundingsor people, for that matter. For some reason I kept imagining the town of Polansky’s Empty Throne duology, which worked fine, even though the towns aren’t all that similar. There are beings other than human that Manet encounters during her quest, and towards the end the interviews aren’t even with humans anymore. So, despite the lack of descriptions, the world emerges as rich and complex.

We learn a surprisingly lot about Manet, despite the fact that only the second to last chapter gives her voice. She emerges as a rather unlikeable personshe manages to anger almost everyone she encounters, her friends includedbut extremely determined. There is nothing she wouldn’t do to learn the truth. She is one of the few people who have learned the art of seven perfections, a discipline of body and mind, the seventh of which is a perfect memory. While this was interesting, the narrative style that erases her from the picture made her special skills go unused and unnoticed. It’s therefore slightly unnecessary that she is such a unique person. She could’ve been anyone, really.

The Seventh Perfection is an excellent book. It gets four stars for the story and the world, and an extra star for pulling off the chosen style with such skill. If you’re looking for a quick and surprisingly immersive read, I warmly recommend this one.

 

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Architects of Memory by Karen Osborne: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Architects of Memory by Karen Osborne

Architects of Memory is a sci-fi novel by Karen Osborne and it starts the Memory War series. I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was really eager to read this book. Unfortunately it didn’t match my expectations and turned out to be an incredibly frustrating read. The plot takes forever to unfold and the reader isn’t helped along the way to figure out where it might take them. It takes them to a really unexpected place; in itself a good thing, but the lack of directions made me feel blindsided. Also the title of the book made me expect a completely different story. It took me over a half the book to realise that there will be no architects of memory and that memory manipulation doesn’t play any role in the story. Memories become erased, yes, but nothing new comes out of them. The series title, Memory War, is a more accurate guide for readers’ expectations.

The plot, once it unfolds, is fairly simple. The story is set in a future spacefaring world that is ruled by profitmaking corporations. It’s close enough to present timeline and earth that many cultural aspects from earth survive. People are either born as citizens of these corporations or they indenture themselves to them to earn a citizenship. Needless to say, this is fairly impossible and they are basically slaves. The corporations are at constant war with each other over resources, but it has come to a brief halt before the book begins because of a war with an alien race. The war is over, but when a powerful alien weapon is discovered, all the corporations want it, ostensibly to defeat the aliens. The plot is basically about the corporations fighting over the weapon.

The main point of view character is Ashlan. The book begins with an emotion dump about everything that is wrong with her life. In a couple of pages we learn that she’s dying, but she wants to make into a citizen before that, which makes her take risks. Her fiancé has died of the same illness a year earlier. She’s since fallen in love again with her captain, but she’s dumped her for fairly vague reasons. Then Ash finds the weapon and it turns out she’s uniquely connected to it.

Ash is a character with practically no agency over her story. She goes where she’s told to, reacts to events around her, and whines about her fate. It isn’t until the very end that she tries to take matters to her own hand, only to be frustrated time and again. Her solution [SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER] is to kill herself. I kid you not. The book ends with thisthough with a twist that she doesn’t actually die. That’s where the inner logic of the book’s science finally failed me, not that I’d been terribly convinced by it along the way.

I didn’t like Ash at all, though part of it could be that I didn’t want to become emotionally attached to someone who might not be around for long. The rest of the characters weren’t any better. Maybe the attempt was to create nuanced characters, but the execution was so clumsy that they came across as sociopaths with zero control over their emotions. At one moment they were friendly, at next they were genocidal killers because of a past trauma, and back to likeable again. It was impossible to tell how any of them might react to any given situation or why they reacted the way they did. It was easier to not become attached to any of them. That included Captain Keller, the other point of view character. Both Ash and Keller claimed to be motivated by their love to each other, but since that had happened before the book began and the only interaction between the two was a fight before they became separated for most of the book, I found it a very unbelievable motivation.

A smoother narrative and better descriptions along the way, both the world-building and the characters’ emotions, might have made this a better read. In addition to these, the language was clunky at times, which I hope is only an issue with the early copy I read. But there are numerous ways with which to describe great thirst other than saying the ‘mouth was a desert’ over and over again, or describing nausea as ‘gulping the acid’. These may seem like small things, but they repeated so often that I started to pay attention. The ending reveals that the book has aspirations. I wish it could have achieved them too.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Don’t Hex and Drive by Juliette Cross: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Don't Hex and Drive by Juliette Cross

Don’t Hex and Drive is the second book in Stay a Spell series by Juliette Cross, and I received an early copy from NetGalley for reviewing. The series follows six sisters in New Orleans who are all witches with their special skills. The world also has vampires, werewolves and mysterious grimms, all living in secret from most of the humanity; though how that’s possible in the modern world of social media, I’m not sure.

I read the first two books back to back. Wolf Gone Wild is a nice paranormal romance, but not a very good book, as it has practically no plot and is filled with empty scenes that serve the romance but aren’t terribly exciting. Mateo is unable to shift into a wolf and suspects he’s been hexed and asks Evie to break the curse. But no one even investigates who’s cursed him and why. As a result, it’s the villain who gets to set the pace. The baddie shows up out of the blue in the last chapter and the entire story is acted out there. But I gave it three stars because I liked Evie and Mateo.

Wolf Gone Wild by Juliette Cross

In comparison, Don’t Hex and Drive is a much better and more interesting book. It has a proper plot that not only drives the actions of the characters but influences the romance as well. The book doesn’t seem like it’s been filled with empty scenes that only serve to inflate the word count. The mystery of women being kidnapped by vampires isn’t terribly mysterious and is solved easily in the end, but since this is a romance anyway, it doesn’t matter all that much. And the character motivations that drive the couple apart stem from their lives and are believable.

Isadora is a nice person, a witch with a great ability to heal and a tendency to keep herself in the background. But like with Evie in the first book, I had really hard time remembering that she’s in her late thirties and not early twenties. Devraj is a vampire tracker and a Bollywood star, an odd combination for someone who not only needs to keep his vampire side a secret, but has to go on missions that might take months. How the stardom came to be isn’t mentioned. He’s very charming, but I didn’t like him at all at first. He comes across as a bully who wants to push himself into Isadora’s life against her wishes. He turns better though, and I was able to enjoy their romance. And I think he redeemed himself in the end. There’s more sex in this book than the first one, but the scenes are well written and they fit the story well. And I’m really starting to like the Savoie sisters and will happily follow their stories.

 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Who Wants to Marry a Duke by Sabrina Jeffries: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Who Wants to Marry a Duke by Sabrina Jeffires

When it comes to historical romance, I tend to be set in my ways. I have a couple of favourite authors, like Suzanne Enoch, and I’m reluctant to try new ones. They disappoint too often. I hadn’t read Sabrina Jeffries before, but when I spotted her book at NetGalley, I decided to give her a chance.

Who Wants to Marry a Duke is the third book in a series called Duke Dynasty. Each book tells the love story of one of the siblings of a large family, on top of which there’s a continuous story of a murder investigation. I haven’t read the first two books, but it didn’t matter at all. The characters of the earlier books are introduced well, and the murder investigation doesn’t really kick in until here.

The main couple of this book is Olivia Norley and the Duke of Thornstock, or Thorne. (He does have a real name, but it’s never used and came as a bit of a surprise when I checked the book description just now.) They have a bit of past together. He has been forced to propose to her ten years earlier, but she’s refused. For some reason he’s held grudge for it ever since.

The murder investigation brings them together again. Olivia is an aspiring chemist, beggaring belief in those of us who want some historical accuracy (the book takes place in 1809), but it’s done well enough and I could let it stand. She’s hired by Thorne’s brother Grey to investigate the body of Grey’s father for traces of arsenic. Thorne wants to keep an eye on her, because he doesn’t trust her. But of the two, he’s the one who’s keeping secrets.

Olivia is a forthright character who is curious about everything new, including romance and sex. Thorne is slightly annoying with his hot and cold act, and the grudge he holds seems a little contrived and manufactured for the sake of drama. And when his secret is revealed, the following fight seems out of proportions for the transgression. They make up easily enough afterwards. But they’re a good couple together, Thorne especially grows as a person, and the naughty scenes are satisfying. All in all, a nice romance.

The murder investigation is the weakest part of the narrative and doesn’t really have much of a role despite starting the events. There’s a lot of conjecture about the identity of the villain(s) and their motives, but nothing concrete. The villains aren’t characters in this book, and despite some mayhem caused by them, there’s no suspense. And the murder isn’t even solved in the end.

What made me give only three stars, however, is that the book is one act too short. The last twist, the final push and test of the couple and their love never takes place. It’s even set up perfectly. There’s a probable threat to Olivia’s life, a mirror of an earlier attack, and Thorne rushes in to warn and protect her. But the attack never happens and the book just ends, followed by an epilogue that rehashes the murder investigation, lessening the emotional impact of the last chapter. So, a bit of a let-down in the end. But I liked the writing style well-enough that I’ll likely read the last book in the series, if only to find out who is offing the dukes and why.

 

Monday, August 10, 2020

Summer reading roundup

I took a few weeks off from this blog for a summer vacation and so haven’t updated anything since June. I didn’t stop reading though. On the contrary. Here’s a quick recap.

False Security by Lindsay Buroker

False Security by Lindsay Buroker continues her exciting UF series Death Before Dragons. In this fifth book, vampires are going missing, including Val’s vampire friend; Val accepts a job as a bodyguard to a tech billionaire, Zav takes her to the realm of elves to see her father, and Val ends up with roommates—and a new house too. For a woman who’s kept people at arm’s length, she’s building a nice new family for herself. Zav talks a lot about vigorous mating, now that he’s officially claimed her, but nothing really happens. There’s a lot of action, like always, and the final battle has bears and naked vampires in it. You don’t want to miss it. (4/5 stars on Goodreads)

Twisted Twenty-six by Janet Evanovich

Twisted Twenty-six is the latest in Janet Evanovich’s long-running Stephanie Plum mystery series. The series has felt tired for quite long now, but here it returns to its old form—to an extent. The stakes are genuinely high, violence has consequences, and humorous incidents don’t dominate everything else. Stephanie takes stock of her life, giving an impression of continuity between the books, which is usually lacking. Lesser side characters, Connie and Stephanie’s parents included, have actual roles. And the ending hints at the same story continuing in the next book. I’m really looking forward to it. (4/5 stars on Goodreads)

False Value by Ben Aaronovitch

False Value is the eight book in Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch, and it doesn’t let down. I had a brief scare at the beginning that Peter wouldn’t be his usual copper self, but luckily that didn’t turn out to be the case, as he’s undercover. The first part of the book was slightly different than usually, as it was told in alternating chapters in the present and the past to set up the reason for Peter’s latest assignment. Once that was over, the story advanced in the usual meandering manner where the reader isn’t entirely sure what’s going on until it’s all over. There was a bit more Beverly in this book than before—she is pregnant after all—and she is becoming a real person, but the other side characters remain a bit two dimensional. This includes the staples like Nightingale and Sergeant Guleed. There was some mayhem at the end, but Peter managed not to destroy half of London this time round. I’m not sure if I’m disappointed or not about that. (4/5 stars on Goodreads)

Engagement and Espionage by Penny Reid

Engagement and Espionage is a spinoff of Winston Brothers series by Penny Reid and starts a new Solving for Pie series. It features Cletus, the devious mastermind in hillbilly’s body, and his betrothed Jennifer the pie queen, and it’s a mystery, not romance—most of the time. The mystery of strangled chickens wasn’t terribly difficult to solve, but Jenn’s strained relationship with her parents took some work. And the two of them just couldn’t catch a break, mostly because Cletus couldn’t see past his romantic machinations. It was fun and emotional, like Ms Reid’s books usually are. I’ll definitely read the next book. (4/5 stars on Goodreads)

Queen’s Gambit by Karen Chance

Queen’s Gambit continues Karen Chance’s Dorina Basarab UF series. It’s the fifth book, but as the series is parallel with Chance’s other, longer series, it feels like Dory’s been around forever. The book has a promising start: a sneak attack separates Dory and Dorina, giving the latter a body of her own. From there, we follow two separate adventures, as they both try to figure out what has happened, why and by whom, and how to get back together again.

Unfortunately, instead of a proper plot, we have endless battles in both storylines, some of which don’t really have anything to do with the actual aim of the book. And then the book ends without any conclusion to either story. Dory ends up where she began, practically none the wiser, and Dorina’s story ends with a kind of a cliff-hanger.

Of the two stories, I liked Dorina’s better, as she has for the first time a chance to reflect her weird existence within Dory. Dory’s storyline evolved into endless discussion about her marriage with Louis-Césare, which got old after a while. The only good thing I can say about it is that they managed to talk things through and reach some sort of understanding.

This was not my favourite in the series by any means. But these books have had greatly uneven quality before, so I’m not giving up yet. And the way Dorina’s story ended, it gives me hope that the two series will connect properly for the first time in the next book. We’ll see. (3/5 stars on Goodreads)

The Enforcer Enigma by G. L. Carriger

The Enforcer Enigma is the third book in San Andreas Shifters M/M paranormal romance series by Gail Carriger, writing as G.L. Carriger. It’s been a while since I read the previous book, but it felt like coming home, warm and cosy. The characters and the entire pack are coming together nicely and they’re not constantly on defensive anymore, which changes the dynamic of the story.

Perhaps that’s why it felt like the love story of Colin and Judd took a backseat to the main plot. It was a nice mystery plot that was solved really fast, but I really would’ve liked to read more of the lovely pair. That said, the two stories went hand in hand, there were really good moments between the pair and it felt believable all the way. Colin opened up nicely and Judd finally found his home in Colin. On top of that, Trick was a great new addition to the group and I’ll definitely read how it’ll turn out with his bear in the next book. (4/5 stars on Goodreads)

On top of these books, I read a few I’d received free from NetGalley. I’ll write separate reviews of those later.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Neanderthal Box Set by Penny Reid: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

The Neanderthal Box Set by Penny Reid

I’ve previously read and loved the Winston Brothers series by Penny Reid, so I jumped to download this box set when it was offered for free a while ago. It contains books 1 and 1.5 from her Knitting in the City series, three follow-up novellas with the same characters, and a couple of preview chapters from Reid’s other books. So it’s well worth the expense, even if you pay for it.

The first book, Neanderthal Seeks Human, introduces the main couple, Janie and Quinn, plus all the other characters in the series, a group of women that belong to a same knitting group in Chicago. It’s a fun and not entirely typical romance. Reid has a great knack with writing characters that tend towards unique way of thinking and regarding the world with understanding and love, and making the other characters accept them just the way they are.

Janie is a math-wizard with a habit of collecting data and blurting it out in stressful situations with absolutely zero filters. Sometimes they relate to the situation, but most of the time the workings of her brain baffle people around her. Quinn is different though and he finds her mind fascinating. A great basis for their romance.

Quinn is a head of a private security firm and insanely wealthy. He becomes Janie’s boss, but for the better part of the book she has no idea of it and believes him to be a regular security guarda plot-line that dragged on a bit too long. The Neanderthal mentioned in the title is Janie, who sees herself as one, because she’s larger than other people with an odd mind. It’s not until the second book that we really learn the reason for her habit. It’s an emotional coping mechanism she’s learned in childhood to deal with physically and emotionally absent parents.

It’s a good book, but long. Really long. According to the author’s own notes, it’s over a hundred thousand words, which is about twenty thousand more than a regular romance novel. It would be fine, if there were side plots to fill the pages, but it’s really just the two of them working towards the happily ever after. There are several side characters introduced, but despite the length of the book(s), they remain distant and two-dimensional. Some of them get their own books later in the series, but Steve the co-worker would’ve deserved a better treatment than he got.

The second book, which is marked as an in-between novel, is equally long. Neanderthal Marries Human starts with Quinn proposing to Janie and then follows the subsequent wedding planning. The actual plans are in the side-lines though. It’s more about family bonds and healing. Quinn has been cast out by his family, so Janie sees the wedding as an opportunity to bring them back together, and maybe gain a family that she’s never really had. It’s sweet and touching at times, butagainreally long.

The three short stories at least live up to their name. First one is about the honeymoon, where Janie decides to rid the tropical island of invasive toad species, much to Quinns bemusement. The other two are about Janie getting pregnant and the latter stages of her pregnancy. I haven’t read the other books in the series, so I don’t know if the child is ever born during the course of it, but that might be an amusing story too.

All in all, this was an entertaining package. However, I don’t feel the need to follow it up by reading the rest of the series, with maybe the exception of the last book that has Quinn’s best friend as the hero. I liked him. But there’s a Winston Brothers spin-off coming soon with Cletus as the main character. I’ll definitely read that.


Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Alpha Night by Nalini Singh: review (plus some other books)

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Alpha Night by Nalini Singh
It’s been three weeks since I updated this blog the last time, so this is going to be a long post of everything I’ve read since.

I’m not sure why I bother reviewing Nalini Singh’s books anymore. They’re all great. Five stars. Even if the plot in some is slightly thinner than in others, she has the amazing ability to write unabashedly emotional characters who manage to convey their emotions straight to reader’s heart. Alpha Night is no exception.

It’s the fourth book in the Psy-Changeling spin-off series called Psy-Changeling Trinity. It’s again set in Russia, this time with a wolf pack there. Selenka is the alpha of the pack and Ethan is a damaged Arrow (as if there were any other kind). The book starts with a mating bond forming between the two at the first sight, and takes the romance from there. Obstacles on their path rise from Ethan’s mental damage that can only lead to death, on top of which the enemies of Selenka’s pack move in on them. And then there’s the larger plot of the psy-net unravelling, which may lead to the death of the entire psy-race. There are high emotions and a great reward at the end. All in all, a perfect romance novel.

The Graveyard Shift by Darynda Jones

It’s not the only book I’ve read since my last blog post. Darynda Jones published a short romance set in her Charley Davidson world. The Graveyard Shift takes place a few years after the final book in the series and features Garrett Swopes, a PI friend of Charley’s who has one task: keep Charley and Rey’s daughter safe. And then she disappears. Out of options, he seeks help from the mother of his son, whom he resents for various reasons. It’s an opportunity for a second chance romance for them. However, the book is curiously thin on romancethough there’s of course a happily ever after ending. The main focus is on Beep, the daughter, and what happens to her during her absence. Basically, the book sets up the next phase in the series. So, even if the romance is a bit dull, the book is essential reading for anyone who wants to keep reading the series.

The A.I. Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole

The A.I. Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole is a delightful love story between two people who are both recovering from an accident that has affected their memories, but with a twistrevealed in the titlethat one of them is a biomechanical human, basically a replicant from Blade Runner. It’s set in somewhat dark future, after WW3. America is run by an organisation called Hive that controls people, or at least its employees with AIs, robots and fear. The focus is on the love story though, emphasised by the fact that the two never leave the apartment complex where they live. There’s a mystery unfolding on the background that upends both their lives when its revealed, done well-enough that I never even suspected it. Quite a lot was left unexplained in the end though, so I assume there will be a series focusing on other characters mentioned in this book. I’d read them.

Firelight by Kristen Callihan

Firelight by Kristen Callihan was a disappointing historical fantasy romance that I gave only three stars to. Two people with curses they want to keep hidden from the world and each other fall in love and then have to save the world from the Big Bad. There was a bit too much artificially forced secrecy between the two, and the falling in love seemed to happen outside the narrative and was simply given to the reader, but the plot was interesting and the solution to the curse was unique. I liked Archer and Miranda, didn’t instantly guess who the baddy wasor whyand approved the way the day was saved in the end, but the narrative dragged and the outside threat to the couple never felt immediate. The main character of the next book was introduced in this one, but I didn’t like him and I probably won’t read his story.

Changeling by Molly Harper

Another historical fantasy I read is Changeling by Molly Harper. It’s a delightful middle grade story of a servant girl who learns she can do magic in a society sharply divided to haves and have nots based on their ability with magic. It has everything such a book needs: a rags to riches story, adventure, making new friends in a boarding school for witches, and even a little romance. Sarah/Cassandra is a good-hearted girl who learns to survive in her new reality with the help of a magical book and her two new friends. I’ll definitely read the next book too.

Elven Doom by Lindsay Buroker

On top of these romances I read Elven Doom by Lindsay Buroker, a fourth book in the Death Before Dragons urban fantasy series. It’s yet another solid four star book from her: action packed, funny and romantic. Val and Zav’s romance should’ve moved to a new level, but things are ruined by Zav’s sister. Also the dark elves are ready to destroy the world. The book has a slight wrapping-things-up feel to it despite leaving much unsolved, but I hope this isn’t the last we hear from these characters. Things are just getting interesting. I also read a collection of short stories and scenes written from Zav’s point of view called The Forbidden Ground, which was a nice addition to the series. I’m not sure if it’s on sale yet, as it was a newsletter gift from the author to her readers. 

These books were joined by three I received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. And, honestly, two of them weren’t anywhere near being published yet. Calypso’s Heart by M.C. Solaris resulted in my first ever one star review on Goodreads (I usually never write a review if it’s going to be that bad) based on the eight chapters I managed to read before giving up in rage. Paradise Rising by P.G. Shriver got two stars, but only because I actually finished it. Into the Black was a fairly interesting sci-fi mystery/romance I gave three stars to. Nothing terribly wrong with that one, but it failed to properly engage my interest. You can read my Goodreads reviews by clicking the name of the book.

All in all, a busy and interesting month of reading. NetGalley has definitely broadened my reading habits with books that I might not otherwise choose to read. If I’m not always happy with them, I at least learn a lot from them for my own writing. And that can only be a good thing.