Sunday, September 30, 2018

Too busy to read

Reading takes time. It is relaxing, enjoyable time but it is still time spent not doing other things. September has been a super busy, super challenging month and I haven't been able to do much new reading. Mostly, I've been rereading snippets of favorite things for a few minutes before I fall into an exhausted sleep.
October is the month when I begin my long list reading for the Children's Literature Association of Utah's Beehive awards. I've got 56 books on a list and I'm responsible for getting votes for six of those titles. I need to read those six and as many of the others that I can. By January.
I also have a few things in my NetGalley account that I need to read and review. Probably sooner rather than later.
Reading is a job. Not a chore but it is definitely work and I've got to plan for it.
So be looking for more YA reviews, with a little romance over the next few months.

I've got two reviews to share today. One a sweet, light romance and the other a dark, but compelling paranormal romance.

Mostly Sunny by Jamie Pope

Sunny Gibson was abandoned by her mentally ill mother when she was just a child. Raised in the foster care system, she has found meaning in her life by working as a social worker. But when she suspects her newest charge might be related to her, she is determined to find the child’s mother. But for that she needs an attorney.

Julian King is a high-powered lawyer who knows nothing of family law. A former pro football player, he is determined to prove himself at his firm and make partner. He wants nothing to do with Sunny and her pro-bono case.

Of course, Sunny and Julian end up working together and they are drawn close to each other and discover they have some surprisingly similar experiences.

Mostly, this is a sweet romance. At first, Julian was rather unlikable but as his attraction to Sunny grew, he became a different person and the relationship and the reading became more enjoyable. The novel’s pace was a bit slow and at times it was difficult to engage with the search for the mysterious and elusive mother.

Overall, this was a pleasant read and I would recommend it to those wanting a light, sweet romance. 3 stars.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Phoenix Unbound by Grace Draven

Gilene has a rare, powerful magic. And she is compelled to exercise it annually to save the inhabitants of her village from the Empire’s cruel, living tithe. But this year, the unexpected will happen. When the Empire’s most famous gladiator, Azarion, sees through her illusions Gilene is forced not only to help him escape but reclaim his birthright. Will Gilene embrace her destiny or return to the Empire to burn once more?

The best thing about a Grace Draven novel is the richness – of setting, of character and of plot. The world of the Krael Empire is a harsh cruel place. And while the Empire is not examined in exhaustive detail, that is just fine because the real stars of this novel are the main characters. Gilene and Azarion are well drawn and compelling as they grapple with the choices they must make. They are each committed to their goals and watching them struggle on their journey is captivating. Their relationship grew slowly and realistically and was very believable. The trauma of the journey was nicely offset by the Gilene’s exploration and discovery of the Sky Below.

While I might have wished for more details on the spiritual aspects of the magic system and an ending that felt a little less rushed, the story and the characters were immensely satisfying. While I hope for a sequel, the conclusion was complete and I can envision a lovely HEA.

Highly recommend. 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Rock your reading world

I am a creature of habit. I like to get up at the same time. Eat the same things. It’s easier. Routine is important to me.

However, if you never deviate from your routine, life can get a bit stale. Every so often, you need to shake things up, do things differently. It keeps your mind fresh and energizes your life.

I tend to read similar books. In my own defense, I do buy romance professionally and I read a great deal of that genre for review. It’s easy and I like it. I also read quite a bit of YA professionally as well. YA is fun because the story moves along quickly and tends to be character driven. Romance, YA, rereading favorite books – in my busy workaday world these are my comforting habits.

But every once in a while, I mix it up. I choose something outside of my usual habits and it is a revelation.

Recently I read two books that are completely outside my normal zone. Mecha Samurai Empire by Peter Tieryas and State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.

Mecha Samurai Empire was the first book I was auto-approved for on NetGalley. I was so excited that I accidently downloaded it before I realized what that meant. And of course, since I downloaded I felt I had to read and review it.

Mecha Samauri Empire by Peter Tieryas

As a librarian, I always encourage people to take chances with their reading. Mecha Samauri Empire was definitely a step out of my comfort zone. And while it was not a typical read for me it was an adventurous and surprisingly thoughtful novel. This novel is a sequel to Tierya’s novel, United States of Japan but can be easily read as a standalone.

Makoto Fujimoto grows up a war orphan in California and dreams of becoming a mecha pilot. But with no parents to speak for him, no connections and a lackluster scholastic performance, his chance of success seems slim.

When a series of events sets Mac on a course to achieve his dreams, he has to consider if his dreams are worth the cost.

This alternate history novel supposes that Japan and Germany won World War II and established territories in the United States. While Germany occupies the Eastern half of the US, Japan rules most of the West. An uneasy truce exists between these super powers and society is organized around military might and sophisticated weaponry. Specifically the giant Mecha and Biomech fighting machines.

The pace of the book was a bit choppy punctuated by periods of intense action and battle mayhem with slower periods of suspense and philosophical musings. There is a strong message of the futility and waste of war and that politicians and military leaders aren’t concerned about the individuals.
The battle scenes were well choreographed and exciting but at times I felt like I was watching a cross between Transformers and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Gaming references abound. And lots and lots of references to Asian foods that I found a bit odd in an action novel. I think this is somewhat of a niche read but has enough action to entice a variety of SF readers. 3 stars.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

My library has a book club that meets six times per year so that means each staff member takes a turn and leads a discussion once annually. September is my month and the book I chose was Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder. I picked it because it sounded so interesting. I’ve read Patchett before and she is a lovely, literate writer who tells a good story.

State of Wonder was a bit of a challenge and required a good bit of patience. The novel had a very slow start and I was wondering when anything of significance would occur. But suddenly, in the last 150 pages all the action comes to a rushing and dramatic conclusion and everything alluded to in the first half of the novel makes sense.

Marina Singh is a talented pharmacological researcher. When news that her colleague, Anders Eckman has died while on assignment in the Amazon, she feels she owes it to his wife to go and find out what happens. She begins a long, frustrating journey and discovers things about herself and the research being conducted that she never imagined.

Even with the slow beginning, the novel is beautifully written—thrilling and poignant. I feel a novel is worthwhile when it causes me to stop and ponder, I find lots of phrases that resonate with me and if I cry. State of Wonder succeeded with all three.

Here are some favorite quotes:

“Hope is a horrible thing, you know.  I don’t know who decided to package hope as a virtue because it’s not. It’s a plague. Hope is like walking around with a fishhook in your mouth and somebody just keeps pulling it out and pulling it out.” 

“Questions are for the benefit of every student, not just the one raising his hand. If you don’t have the starch to stand up in class and admit what you don’t understand, then I don’t have the time to explain it to you.”

“He used to say we all had a compass inside of us and what we needed to do was to find it and to follow it.”

“Never be so focused on what you’re looking for that you overlook the thing you actually find.”

 “Rushing is the greatest mistake.”

I highly recommend this one. You won’t regret it.

State of Wonder with notes. It's always a good idea to not write in library books. It'll take me an hour to peel off all those post it notes!

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Urban Fantasy appeal

When I was in my first year of college, I took an introduction to film class. I enjoyed it hugely and was exposed to classic cinema I hadn't ever heard of but enjoyed immensely. I remember I was especially fond of the film noir. As defined, film noir is  a style (not really a genre) of cinematographic film marked by a mood of pessimism, fatalism, and menace. The Maltese Falcon, Public Enemy and Citizen Kane were a few of my favorites.

While I'm much more of a reader than a film buff, that early exposure stuck with me. A few years ago, one of the librarians asked me to read a book by author, Seanan McGuire titled Rosemary and Rue. It was the first book in her new October Daye series.  Toby is a changeling PI solving cases for Faerie in and around San Francisco. And since Faerie is active at night, these books have a dark, gritty, menacing mood that reminds me of film noir -- Faerie film noir if you will.

Urban fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy in which the narrative has an urban setting.  Works of urban fantasy are set primarily in the real world and contain aspects of fantasy, such as the discovery of earthbound mythological creatures, coexistence or conflict between humans and paranormal beings, and other changes to city life.  A contemporary  setting is not strictly necessary for a work of urban fantasy: works of the genre may also take place in futuristic and historical settings, actual or imagined.[1] 

Urban fantasy has great appeal in that the stories take place in the world we often recognize and feel we could be a part of. It's a fantastic escape in a familiar setting. The October Daye series is an urban fantasy and it's one of the best. Seanan McGuire is a smart, sharp clever writer who weaves complicated tales studded with faerie legends. And since that first novel I've read every book in the series. Recently, I had the opportunity to preview book #12, Night and Silence and it was a wonderful edition to Toby's story. Here's my review.

Night and Silence by Seanan McGuire

Dark, atmospheric and brooding. Those are my favorite words to describe the October Daye series. Taking place in modern day San Francisco, these fairy film noir novels are some of the best Urban Fantasy available.

Night and Silence is the twelfth installment and while the novel stands well on its own, the series is best read in order to enjoy the character progression and avoid spoilers.

All is not well in Toby’s world. After her mother’s last betrayal, Toby’s self-gathered family is in a state of crisis. She is worried and heartbroken and uncertain how to help her loved ones heal. What she needs is a distraction. What she gets is accused of the disappearance of her human daughter, Gillian and involved in trying to locate her.

What seems like a case of a missing college student rapidly devolves into a faerie instigated affair that will require all of Toby’s skills to solve.

As usual, McGuire’s writing is wonderful and the narrative is well paced. The story is full of surprising twists and turns and this novel will certainly turn October’s world all around. One of the best aspects of the story and of the series is traveling all over San Francisco with Toby and  her friends.

I’m a huge fan of this series and the author’s work.  I highly recommend this installment. 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

My most favorite romance novels

OK, if pressed I could probably come up with more favorite romance novels than the ones in this list. But these are my most favorite. Until something new comes along. I'm always reading. 😊

So here is the list I created for sharing with library patrons and also at the Orem Reads Kickoff and Provo Literary Ball. You can see me present on current trends in modern romance on Friday September 14 at 6 pm in the Brimhall Room at the Provo Library. Even if I don't see you there, I hope you find something on this list you find wildly romantic!

I’m Julie. I’ve worked at Orem Public Library for more than 25 years and I proudly bear the title of romance novel queen. I’ve always loved the fantasy that romance novels provide and my current assignment as the librarian who purchases genre romance allows me to indulge my interest in romantic tales of all kinds. While everyone reads for different reasons, I’m drawn to sympathetic characters and interesting stories. This very personal list highlights some of my most favorite romance novels. They run the gamut from sweet to steamy, from historical to Sci-Fi but there should be something for everyone.

Julie’s Favorite Romance Novels Ever (in no particular order)
Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte – classic—I hated it in 9th grade. It was a revelation when I was 25. This remains my favorite romance. Poor orphan with a can-do attitude falls for the dark, brooding older man. Passionate, supernatural, and oh so satisfying.
Persuasion Jane Austen—classic—I love every Jane Austen novel including her juvenilia and fragments but this story remains my favorite. Sweet Anne Elliot who is so loving and capable, lives a frustrated life full of disappointment until her past love reenters her sphere. Written when Jane Austen knew that no Mr. Darcy was coming for her, this realistic tale of older love is surprisingly passionate. Captain Wentworth’s letter brings me to tears every time.
Almost Heaven Judith McNaught—historical—A traditional romance with a sweet, generous heroine and a rather cranky hero. He is so cranky I am tempted knock him on the head in frustration but the ending is too tender for words. Although there are a few spicy scenes in this book, they are mild and the focus here is on the couple and the story rather than the bedroom antics.
Katherine Anya Seaton—historical—The best historical romance revolves around the lives of actual people. Such is the case of Katherine Swynford who survived the plague and became the mistress and eventually the wife of John of Gaunt. Rich in historical details and characters, Seaton brings the medieval period to life.
Thunder and Roses Mary Jo Putney—historical—The first book in one of Mary Jo Putney’s most beloved series, The Fallen Angels. This one is hard to find in print. I finally bought a digital version so I could have it in my collection. Clare Morgan, daughter of a Welsh Methodist minister, makes a devil’s bargain with the Earl of Aberdare, Nicholas Davies to save the impoverished citizens of her village. Along the way there is drama, mystery, gypsies, passion, and duels.
Borrowed Light Carla Kelly—Western historical, LDS—I’m not a big reader of LDS fiction but this charming tale is my favorite LDS romance. Twenty-eight year old Julia Darling has just returned to Salt Lake City from Boston where she completed a course at the prestigious Fanny Farmer cooking school. In an effort to escape a bad engagement, she accepts a position as a cook on a cattle ranch in Wyoming. Fantastic period details, good dialogue and interesting personal development of the characters make this one a winner.
An Arranged Marriage Jo Beverley—historical—My first Jo Beverley novel and it’s still my favorite. Eleanor Chivenham has been placed in a dangerous situation by her feckless brother and marries the mysterious Nicholas Delaney in haste. The novel is full of danger and intrigue and Nicholas’ mission on behalf of the government threatens to destroy any happiness the couple may have. This is the first title in Beverley’s very popular Company of Rogues series. Digital or used paperback may be the only option for this book.
Irresistible Mary Balogh—historical—Mary Balogh writes interesting, charismatic, and sympathetic characters. Sophie Armitage is plain and lives a humble existence. However, her hopes of a pleasant season chaperoning her niece in London evaporate when a threat from the past arises. When she meets her deceased husband’s comrades and develops feelings for Nathaniel Gascoinge, she fears what will happen if her secret is discovered.
Midnight Marriage Lucinda Brandt—historical—This tale is based on an actual historical events. At age 12, Deborah Cavendish is married off in the middle of the night and has no clear recollection of the event. Years later she encounters dashing Julian Hesham, her noble husband, in the forest. He is determined to have her love him for himself, not his title or his reputation.
Cry No More Linda Howard—contemporary romantic suspense—Milla Edge excels at finding lost children, but on a trip to Mexico, she discovers links that may uncover answers to tragic events in her past. She joins forces with James Diaz, known as the tracker, to solve the mystery. One of the first romantic suspense novels I ever read and one of my favorites. Drama, passion, heartache, and a bittersweet ending.
Trouble in a Pinstripe Suit Kelly Hunter—contemporary—Hunter is an Australian author who writes category romance for Harlequin. Often maligned, some of these short, formulaic romances are smart and fun and oh so enjoyable to read. Smart, successful Mia Fletcher has just inherited a hotel in Malaysia from the mother she thought had died when she was an infant. Her plan is to sell it but she falls in love with the historic building and with Ethan Hamilton. Exotic locale, great story. Digital or used paperback will be the best way to read this title.
Bride of the Lion Elizabeth Stewart—medieval historical—The secret to a great medieval romance is to use just enough language and period details to give the story an authentic feel. Elizabeth Stewart does a fabulous job with this story placed at the end of the struggles between King Stephen and Empress Maud. Jocelyn Montagne and valiant knight Robert de Langley come from families on opposite sides of the conflict, but to forge alliances, they may have to unite their houses. My most favorite medieval romance. Out of print. Only available as a used paperback.
Just this Once Rosalind James—contemporary—Hannah Montgomery, marketing exec extraordinaire, does everything for everyone else. She finally plans the vacation of a lifetime in New Zealand and a dangerous trip through a rip tide crosses her path with a handsome rugby player. A vacation fling with Drew Callahan turns into much, much more. I found this for free on Amazon and just really had fun reading this title and the rest of the series. You can get a paperback but digital is the best way to read it. This book is one of the reasons I planned my 30th Anniversary trip to NZ!
The Ugly Duckling Iris Johansen—contemporary romantic suspense—Nell Calder is sweet woman who survives a horrific trauma and is reborn from a plain to a beautiful woman. While she rebuilds her life, she is determined to find revenge. But while she prepares, her attacker is determined to finish what he started. Full of suspense and a twists, this was a very satisfying read.
Mrs. Drew Plays Hand Carla Kelly—historical—This is one of Kelly’s earliest historical novels. After her husband's death, Roxanna Drew is left with more beauty than fortune. Now, desperate to escape the perils of her past life, she must learn to trust the dashing Lord Winn—a broken man with a past of his own. Carla Kelly writes very realistic, sympathetic, and interesting characters.
The Admiral’s Penniless Daughter Carla Kelly—historical—Life has been hard to Sally Paul. She is down to her last penny and doesn’t know where to turn. Admiral Charles Bright is retired from the Navy and in need of a wife. A marriage of convenience might save both of them. I obviously like Carla Kelly. This novel was written for Harlequin Historical which means it’s a little spicier than her traditional regencies or western historicals.
Angel’s Blood Nalini Singh—paranormal—Never judge a book by its cover, right? Not true! I admit the reason I picked up this book was because of the cover. (This is also true of Patricia Briggs’ Moon Called but that is an Urban Fantasy and not on my romance list so I digress) Sometimes a fabulous cover is advertising a fabulous read. This is the first in Singh’s Guild Hunter series where Archangels rule the world with the help of their vampire servants. Hunters are those, trained and born, who can track rogue vampires. Hunter Elena meets Archangel Raphael and sparks fly. Things are a little gritty and violent but surprisingly fun in a comic book sort of way.
The Deception Joan Wolf—historical—I’m a sucker for a damsel in distress. Kate’s father is a talented Irish horse breeder and she has spent her life on the road schooling her father’s stock. When tragedy strikes, she is sent to live with her mother’s brother. For revenge, he arranges to have her compromised by war hero, the Earl of Greystone. A marriage of convenience turns into much more. I enjoyed the mystery, and I loved the horsey bits in this novel.
Burn for Me Ilona Andrews—paranormal—Ilona Andrews are a husband and wife writing team who write dark, edgy urban fantasy and paranormal romance novels full of great mythology and world building. Burn for Me takes place in a world that is ruled by powerful families with magical talent. When Nevada Baylor teams with powerful Connor Rogan to bring a mad man to justice, a dangerous plot as well as dangerous feelings, is uncovered. This romance is a slow burn, heavy on the paranormal activity and magical hijinks.
Silver Shark (novella) Ilona Andrews—sci fi—Claire Shannon is a powerful psycher with the ability to attack human minds and do battle in biological computer networks. And she has been used as a tool by the government for her entire life. When war ends abruptly, she must hide the power of her mind in order to avoid execution. Deported to a vivid new world, she gains employment with Venturo Escana, also a powerful psycher, who threatens to overwhelm her mind and body. This short novel is fun, smart, and entertaining.
Radiance Grace Draven—fantasy—Brishen Khaskem, prince of the Kai, has lived content as the nonessential spare heir to a throne. When a trade and political alliance between the human kingdom of Gaur and the Kai kingdom of Bast-Haradis requires that he marry a Gauri woman to seal the treaty, he agrees to the marriage. His bride is as ugly as he expected and more beautiful than he could have imagined. Ildiko, niece of the Gauri king, has always known her only worth to the royal family lay in a strategic marriage. She is horrified to learn that her intended groom isn’t just a foreign aristocrat but the younger prince of a people neither familiar nor human. Bound to her new husband, Ildiko will leave behind all she’s known to embrace a man shrouded in darkness but with a soul forged by light. Two people brought together by the trappings of duty and politics discover they are destined for each other.
I stumbled across this novel through a recommendation and was surprised how much I enjoyed the characters, world building and the story. A great rainy day read. You can buy a paperback but the digital copy is the easiest way to enjoy this one.
Outlander Diana Gabaldon—historical time travel—Smart, clever, WWII army nurse Claire Randall accidently takes a trip to 1740s Scotland. There she meets brave highlander Jamie Fraser and gets embroiled in dangerous mysteries, political uprisings and bittersweet romance. This novel is as compelling and gripping a read as it was when I first read it 20 years ago.
A Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy Sarah J Maas—fantasy—When Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, she finds herself confronted by a fierce creature who drags her across the wall to a magical kingdom she knows and fears from legends. Her captor is the once powerful Tamlin of faery and soon Feyre is emotionally involved in helping to right an ancient wrong. Full of strong characters, magical elements and a twisty plot, this is an engaging and edgy novel. A strong fantasy and first in a series that is much more adult than Maas’ earlier works.
And Only to Deceive Tasha Alexander—historical mystery—This is truly a mystery with just a whisper of romance. Lady Emily marries quickly to remove herself from her overbearing mother’s household and just as quickly finds herself a wealthy widow. When she discovers foul play may have been involved in her husband’s demise, she is determined to find the truth. Intelligent and well written, this novel is a delight.
Silent as the Grave Deanna Rayborn—mystery—Another Victorian mystery with a thread of romance. This time Lady Julia must solve the mystery of her husband’s death with the help of a dark and dangerous halfblooded gypsy who has a touch of the sight. A very engaging story and the beginning of a wonderful series.
Naked in Death J. D. Robb—futuristic mystery—Eve Dallas is a homicide cop. She is dedicated, driven and has a dark past. In the futuristic New York City of 2058 she catches a violent crime that pits her against ultra-wealthy, super sexy Roarke. They must work together to solve the case before time runs out. This is a dark and gritty mystery that is the first in a long and successful series. The first 10 or so are my favorites but I keep reading because I have such a soft spot for Eve and Roarke.
The Blue Sword Robin McKinley—YA fantasy—The death of her beloved father makes it necessary for Hari Crewe to relocate to the desert regions of Daria where her brother is stationed in the service. Tall, horse mad Hari doesn’t fit in any better here than she did at home. But the wild Darian magic calls, adventure sweeps her away and she has the opportunity to save the day and the country from an evil force. Strong female hero, swords, and horses, what’s not to like? I’ve been reading and rereading this book since I was a teenager.
The Blue Castle L. M. Montgomery—YA historical—Everyone knows Anne of Green Gables but very few have ever heard of Valancy Sterling, the main character of The Blue Castle. Valancy is 29, an old maid and horribly picked on by her mother and aunt. When Valancy gets some shocking news about her health, she decides she might as well really live and enjoy her life. Sweet, light, and charming this novel is a delightful romantic romp in north eastern Canada in the early 1900s. A perpetual favorite. A digital version is finally available.
Child of the Northern Spring Persia Wooley—historical, Arthurian—My big complaint about most Arthurian legends is that they portray Guinevere as a frivolous tart. Hello, how about a little judgement for the murderous, unfaithful knights? In any case this novel tells the tale of the meeting and marriage of Christian Arthur and pagan Guinevere. And it does it in a way that is rich and interesting and doesn’t make anyone look like a tart.
A Rose in Winter Kathleen Woodiwiss—historical—Kathleen Woodiwiss is an old standby and the author credited with spawning the modern romance genre. Of her 12 novels, A Rose in Winter is my favorite. It’s a colonial retelling of Beauty and the Beast and while at times the plot stretches credulity, I have a soft spot for the heroine.
Marianna Susanna Kearsley—historical, supernatural—Julia Beckett, freelance artist, stumbles upon an old farm house that she feels belongs to her. Before she knows it, she has purchased the farm, moved in, and embraced a rural lifestyle. However, strange events begin happening and she seems to be reliving another life in the past. As Mariana’s life becomes more and more overwhelming, Julia will have to learn to put the past to rest to move forward with love in her future. Wonderfully written and very atmospheric.
A Ladies Code of Misconduct Meredith Duran—historical—This was my favorite find of 2017—a historical romance that I really enjoyed. When Jane Mason is manipulated by family into an unwanted engagement, she desperately reaches out to one of the most dangerous men she knows—an unlikeable political genius. But when Crispin Burke is assaulted and left with a debilitating memory loss, Jane may hold the key to his survival and salvation. The characters here were a bit prickly but warmed up nicely and the story was interesting without being histrionic.
P. S. I Love You Cecelia Ahearn—contemporary—The ultimate tear jerker novel. I love it so much. It’s the sweet story of a husband who leaves a series of letters with assignments for his wife to help her recover from his death. I cried quarts while reading it. Seriously. Don’t bother with the US made movie of the same name, the story is changed to be almost unrecognizable. Stick with the novel. And keep a hankie handy.
My Ladies Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris—historical, humorous—A choose your own adventure novel. For adults. This is seriously the funniest, most tongue in cheek book I have come across in a while. You (the reader) play the heroine who is forced to support yourself as a companion to a vile older lady. While attending a ball in a foul frock, you meet some eligibles and have the opportunity to choose your destiny. Your choices, as a reader, determine the course of the story and reading out all the possible outcomes provides hours of entertainment.
The Lost Letter Mimi Matthews—historical—Mimi Matthews is another recent and wonderful discovery. She writes fantastically entertaining Victorian romances. Lovely period details and great dialogue make for an enjoyable experience. Her tales are sweet not steamy, yet the characters have very believable chemistry and aren’t insipid. A fabulous find. In The Lost Letter, beautiful but destitute Sylvia Stafford is asked to come to the aid of her former beau, who abandoned her. Colonel Sebastian Conrad has been scared and wants nothing more than to molder alone in the country. He certainly doesn’t want to entertain the frivolous beauty who rejected him. Can these two lost souls reunite and save each other? This short and sweet novel was a delight.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The agony and the ecstasy of the series

Often times, but certainly not always, genre novels are written in series. If you're a genre junkie like me, you probably have your favorite mystery, adventure, fantasy or romance series and eagerly await the publication of each new novel. And as the song goes, the waiting is the hardest part!

Series tend to fall into one of two camps -- episodic and progressive. An episodic series is basically static. You have the same character/set of characters who deal with issues or solve problems. Each story may be different but the characters are essentially unchanged from book to book. Progressive series involve the evolution of characters. These changes are permanent and effect the character/s and the story line.  Each book usually has its own story and that story contributes to an overall arc that eventually will end.

Both types of series have their own charms and challenges. Episodic can be a bit formulaic if you read too many in a row -- but the comfort and familiarity they provide make for dedicated readers and fans. Progressive series are exciting and emotionally engaging but readers spend time waiting for the next release and it can take years to completely complete a story --think of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series!

Today I give you the review to the concluding novel in one of my favorite urban fantasy series ever -- Kate Daniels by Ilona Andrews. I started reading Kate in 2007 when I was massaging my friend Susan, who was dying of cancer. I'd rub her feet and we'd talk books. She put the book in my hands three times before I got engaged and finished it. The first book wasn't awesome but I was drawn by the character and wanted to see where things would go. Each book in the series got better and better. And now, 11 years, 10 books and various novellas later, I've reached the end of Kate's story. I enjoyed the ride.

If you decide you want to visit Kate's magical world, please go back to the beginning and read Magic Bites first. This series is best read in order.

Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews

Kate Daniels has come a long way in post shift Atlanta. She’s gone from being a lonely mercenary keeping her head down to a powerful player with friends, allies and family. And now, an ancient enemy appears and Kate has to make dangerous alliances if she hopes to save not only Atlanta but the world.

This is the 10th and final book in the series and completes Kate’s story arc. As such, readers would enjoy this novel best if they begin at the beginning and read the entire series in order.

Magic Triumphs is a must read for fans of Kate Daniels. The novel has all of the authors trademark touches – marvelous mythology, fearsome monsters, epic battles, genuine emotional moments and just the right amount of humor and snark to break the tension. Particularly touching was getting to see Kate as a mother and watching her protect her child. Often times, action and danger don’t work when characters have children but the scenes are masterfully written here.

There were great references to earlier works in the series and very creative storytelling to bring Kate’s story to a believable and satisfying conclusion. It's amazing and surprising to watch as the authors take the narrative and the characters and turn them around in unexpected ways. As I read, it almost seemed to wrap up too quickly and I had a few questions about several characters that leave me hoping for a spin off series.

I must admit to being a long-time fan having been reading the series since the first book was published in 2007 and I thoroughly enjoyed the conclusion. A wonderfully written and highly recommended read. 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

As a bonus, here is review of another kind of series. The series romance. This is a bit more episodic. An author creates a series of characters who inhabit the same world-- former schoolmates or orphans or wallflowers. Each book deals with the romance and relationships of one member of the group. That couple's relationship is central but other characters from previous books may make a guest appearance. Mary Balogh's Survivor's Club is a great example.

The following book was a new author and a new series for me. It was a challenging read for me and I almost DNF several times. I persevered and it finished okay-ish but I probably wouldn't seek out further novels. Everyone reads for different reasons and this was just not a good fit for me based on my reading preferences.

The Duke with the Dragon Tattoo by Kerrigan Byrne

This historical romance revolves around sweet Lorelai and Ash, the poor unfortunate lad who is found beaten on the roadside, who she nurses back to health.

While the premise was intriguing the structure of the novel was confusing. After a long prologue the novel is divided into two sections, past and then 20 years in the future. While the past section is only four chapters long (it seemed longer) it is very important in setting up the remainder of the story. The characters early interactions are sweet but the themes of abuse are not.

When we jump into the future our returning hero is anything but heroic. While his rough life and damaged memory account for his altered personality, he is a truly awful and unlikeable character. His motivations were thin at best and when he threatened to rape the heroine, I very nearly decided not to finish. I pressed on and things improved somewhat but I had a hard time understanding how feelings between the H/h could grow in such circumstances.

The silliness of the story combined with the references to other characters made me feel like I was missing vital details – another earlier novel perhaps— and contributed to a less than enjoyable read.
This one is probably for fans of the author and this series. 2 Stars.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Are you a series reader? Which is your favorite and why?

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Romantic Suspense

Romantic suspense is a sub-genre of romance that I feel is quite popular but it's difficult to find a satisfying read. There are a plethora of frail females being protected by hunky ex-military types. It's all rather ho hum. There is lots of heat but the stories aren't very enjoyable. I make a serious effort to find decent romantic suspense for my collection with mixed results.

This month, I had the chance to read an enjoyable one, Desperate Girls by Laura Griffin. While I found the title perplexing the story was solid with a strong capable lawyer in peril by a dangerous killer who has escaped from prison and wants to punish those that put him there. Introduce a hunky ex-military body guard -- well we can't get rid of all the popular tropes -- and you've got an entertaining suspense with just enough heat to make it fun.

It's unusual that I'm not reading books 3 months ahead of publication but I stumbled upon this one just before it was actually released. So here is my review of Desperate Girls by Laura Griffin. If you're a fan of the genre, you might want to give this one a try.

Desperate Girls by Laura Griffin

Brynn Halloran is a defense attorney who is well known for her competence and confidence in and out of the courtroom. Professionally she is on the top of her game but her personal life is much less successful. She’s married to her job and that doesn’t leave much time or energy for relationships.

When a brutal murder occurs, it appears the culprit may be someone she helped put behind bars. He has a vendetta and may be seeking revenge on everyone connected to his case. Including Brynn. When she is saddled with a body guard from a top-notch security firm, sparks fly.

Erik Morgan, former marine and former secret service agent, is the consummate professional. He is determined to keep Brynn safe even if she fights him on every aspect of her security. But as the danger grows, so does their attraction and he will do just about anything to help Brynn win her case, solve her mystery and keep her safe.

Desperate Girls was a very engaging romantic suspense. Brynn was a strong, smart and likable character. Erik was intelligent, capable and loyal. They made a great, if slightly cool, couple and watching them fight their attraction in the midst of a trial and increasing danger made for an entertaining read. There was just enough peril to make the story hard to put down and the twist at the end was unexpected.

I like that the relationship was intense and sexy but the bedroom scenes weren’t over the top. They added to the story without distracting from it.

While I'm still puzzled by the title, this was a very enjoyable read that I would recommend to fans of romantic suspense. 4 stars.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

How hard can it be to buy romance novels?

Actually, buying romance novels is pretty difficult. I figured since I enjoy reading and have enjoyed romances all my life it would be a piece of cake. I couldn't have been more wrong.

The romance publishing market is HUGE with thousands of books published annually. According to Romance Writers of America (RWA) romance publishing has estimated yearly sales of $1.08 billion. ( That's a lotta books! And it's a lot of books to review and consider for purchase.

Prior to embarking on my romance adventures, I purchased for a non fiction collection. Fewer books were published and they were all much more expensive. I'd look in a some trade publications a few times a year and see what was generating buzz or looked interesting and buy it. I took care of updating key areas of the collection and managed my damaged books. Boom! Done!

Now, I have to actively scour sites and trade publications to see what is being published and when. Since so many books are published and so many authors have devoted fans, I have to really, really pay attention. I read many ARCs to see what might be good for my collection and its readers. I do my best to purchase something in each of the 5 sub genres I feel are most popular -- historical, inspirational, contemporary, romantic suspense and paranormal romance.

Today's review is the sequel to a book I highlighted earlier. I really enjoyed The Last Wolf by Maria Vale. It was unusual, smart and engaging. A Wolf Apart is also a wonderful read. If you like paranormal romance, I suggest you give these books a try.

A Wolf Apart by Maria Vale

For years, Elijah Sorensson has lived a successful life. He has sacrificed to manage the business affairs of his people at great personal cost to himself. He despises the man he has become and something inside him is dying. Until he meets Thea Villalobos, who calls to the wild in him as no one has done in years. Can she heal him despite his secrets?
This is the second installment in gripping and unusual Legend of All Wolves series by Maria Vale. And while Elijah is a prickly rather unlikeable character, he has a great vulnerability and loyalty that eventually redeem him.
I found the novel a great blend of suspense and romance. The relationship between Thea and Elijah was engaging and the story, while complete in and of itself, move the overall series arc along. A very fast and engaging read that is surprising thoughtful for a paranormal romance. One of my favorite aspects of this series is that the characters aren’t humans fighting their wolves but wolves who exist with their human selves. The pack structure and lifestyle really add to the world building and reading experiences. I enjoyed this a great deal and highly recommend this novel. 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

While I was at the beach in July, I read 6 novels so I have a few more reviews coming soon. Also, my favorite romance list will be ready soon

Too busy to read

Reading takes time. It is relaxing, enjoyable time but it is still time spent not doing other things. September has been a super busy, super...