Sunday, May 5, 2019

Catching up with lots and lots of book reviews

When I started this blog, my goal was to write something about my reading experiences at least once a month. I did really well at first. Then the seasons changed and my Mom got sick and I got very involved with assignments for the Children's Literature Association of Utah. I have been reading (lots of YA) and have had many ARCs that have been neglected on my Kindle. Finally, I've caught up and feel like I want to share what I've been reading, clean the slate and move forward. So here is a review dump of a variety of romance, paranormal and urban fantasy that have kept me busy.
I'll be posting some YA reviews soon as well as some new books as soon as they are published.

One Thing I Know by Kara Isaac

Rachel Somers is America’s best loved advice columnist but no one knows. While Rachel writes the books, her aunt is the public face of “Dr. Donna.” Working together has met many needs for both of them and they have put a great deal of effort into maintaining the charade. However, burnout has raised its ugly head and the muse has fled. Rachel and Donna embark on a grueling publicity tour that requires working closely with late night radio host Lucas Grant. For some reason, women love to call Lucas’s sports program and ask for relationship advice. As Rachel and Lucas work together, she fears he might discover her secrets. And Lucas has secrets of his own that might ruin their budding romance.
This was a cute, breezy contemporary romance that focused more on the characters and situations and less on intimate scenes. I liked Rachel and Lucas but found them both at times quite frustrating. And the secrets that they were hiding didn’t seem worth all the angst they generated. Maybe I was frustrated because the characters, like real people, could have made their lives so much easier if they just dealt with their issues.
The novel was enjoyable even if the pace and plotting seemed a bit off towards the end.  When we finally got there, the resolution seemed a bit rushed without giving the characters enough time to really process feelings and situations. Even so, a solid read and I would recommend it. 3.5 stars.
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Highland Crown by May McGoldrick

Isabella Drummond is a rare woman -- beautiful, intelligent and a trained physician. She is wanted by both the government and the Scottish rebels. Her only hope lies in hiding in the highlands until she can get passage to Canada.
Cinaed Mackintosh was rejected by his family as a child and has made his reputation and fortune at sea. When bad weather and injury casts him ashore, Isabella saves his life and entwins their fate.
Now a race in on to hide Isabella and Cinaed will do anything to protect her, including returning to Dalmigavie Castle and the Mackintosh kin who cast him off as a child.
Highland Crown is an exciting historical novel. The highlands of Scotland are always a big draw for readers and an intelligent female physician is a compelling element. Throw in a handsome, mysterious and dangerous Scot and you’ve got the makings of a great read.
The story mostly delivers. After an awkward prologue in the form of a letter from Robert Burns, Isabella’s story begins to unfold. The beginning action is dark and exciting. As Cinaed and Isabella travel and try to find sanctuary there is plenty of drama and tension. The last third of the novel falters a little bit. Some of the plotting seems unrealistic and the rapidness that endangered Isabella develops trust is not believable.
The story was bit long but I was cheering for a happily ever after and it was quite the surprise to discover there was a sequel. The story felt a little unfinished to me.
Overall, Highland Crown was an enjoyable read and is sure to appeal to fans of Scottish historical romances and the  Outlander series by Gaboldon.. A solid story I would recommend. 4 Stars.
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

Dark, complex, complicated and engrossing. Middlegame by Seanan McGuire is a brilliantly constructed and deeply engaging novel.
Roger is a genius with words. He lives in Boston. His twin Dodger is mathematically brilliant and lives in California. Separated at birth, they manage to reach out and find each other over and over again.
Roger and Dodger have been created by a brilliant, powerful and extremely scary alchemist James Reed. He has plans for his creations unless they can figure out their destiny and seize control of it first.
For fans of Seanan McGuire, Middlegame is longer, complex, stand-alone novel.  The story took a little bit of patience. Told out of sequence, the reader is carried along for the ride as our main characters learn to understand themselves. I love a novel that forces me to pay attention and pick up clues along the way. Roger and Dodger were oddly likeable characters and I enjoyed watching each of them relate to each other and the world around them. Despite some very gruesome and heartbreaking scenes, I was very invested in the story and anxious for the conclusion.
I really enjoyed this novel and highly recommend it. I can’t wait to suggest it to my library patrons. 5 stars.
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

Khai Diep has never been like anyone else. He is ruthlessly controlled and seemingly without emotions. His life is organized to avoid entanglements of all kinds and he especially avoids romantic relationships. His family knows he is caring and that being on the Autism Spectrum means he processes emotions differently. Frustrated by Khai’s refusal to date, his meddling mother takes matters into her own hands and brings home a bride from Viet Nam for him.
Esme Tran is smart and hard working. But as a mixed-race girl living in Ho Chi Min, it is hard to rise above her circumstances and better her life and that of her family. When an opportunity to travel to America is presented, how can she refuse the chance? Seducing Khai is complicated and she falls for his kind, caring self. But can she convince Khai he does have feelings for her?
This was a sweet, story and made more enjoyable because it was obviously an important story for the author herself. It was interesting to read a romance novel that was told as much from the hero’s point of view as the heroines. I liked Esme – it was hard not to root for her. But Khai was a little bit of a tough nut to crack. I felt his emotional distance. Watching both characters conquer their demons was satisfying but I felt the ending was rushed and some story elements --Esme’s father and introducing her daughter for example-- were wrapped up too quickly. Living with an OCD spouse, I know that people with mental health challenges can overcome and change deeply ingrained behavior patterns. However, I also know that it takes a great deal of time and patience. The pace of storytelling in romance novels is compressed and that compressed pace made the resolution of the story feel a bit too rushed to seem realistic.
At the end of a day, I want a romance novel to leave me feeling happy. Despite some issues at the conclusion, The Bride Test was a fun read and I finished with a smile on my face. A solid read I would recommend. 4 stars.
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Storm Cursed by Patricia Briggs

When Mercy Thompson declared that the Columbia Basin Pack would take care of the citizens within its borders, she changed the balance of the supernatural community. Now, politicians and Grey Lords are coming to their safe zone to make deals. And other less desirable folk have come to town with no intention of honoring the peace.
Storm Cursed is book #11 in the long running Mercy Thompson series. As a reader, I’m always glad to visit the world and reconnect with the characters. However, once a series reaches this length, there are usually some stories that are good and some stories that are great. Storm Cursed is one of the great ones, causing me to read from cover to cover in one sitting and finish at 2:00 am.
What I really enjoyed about this installment was the way elements from Burn Bright were woven into the novel. It makes sense since it is the same world, but the interaction of the goblins, Grey Lords and witches made for an engrossing read. I enjoyed the revelations, was saddened by the trauma and was genuinely tense during the climax of the story. Zee and Tad as a fighting team was amazing. And the miniature zombie goats were fantastic!
A must read for fans of the series. Very enjoyable and highly recommended. 5 stars.
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay

Madeline has it all. A high-powered career as an attorney in Chicago, a chance to make partner and a beautiful condo full of gorgeous antiques. But then her estranged aunt dies and she inherits her book shop along with its debt. It's the beginning of a series of events that will upend her life and force her resolve long standing personal issues with herself and her relationships with others.
Told in three alternating voices, that of Madeline and the bookshop's two employees Janet and Claire, the novel weaves through the women's lives and loves.

This was a sweet, gentle story and while the plot and resolution were somewhat predictable, the journey was enjoyable and emotionally satisfying. Initially, having three narrators was a bit overwhelming and it took some time to sort out the different voices and stories. Having the action take place primarily in the small town of Eagle Valley and the Printed Letter Bookshop was delightful and created a yearning for small town life. And watching the characters grow and change by reading the personal booklists left for them by Maddie was a treat. In the end, the novel was uplifting and a very pleasant read. Anyone who loves books, and libraries and bookstores will enjoy this novel. And, the list of books referenced in the novel is a gem for any reader.

I will definitely recommend this title to my library patrons. 4 stars

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

Say You’re Sorry by Karen Rose

If you like romantic suspense that is heavy on the thrills and suspense and light on the romance, Say You’re Sorry might be the novel for you.

Daisy Dawson is a sweet, creative recovering alcoholic who is trying to get her life back together. She has returned to Sacramento and some family friends, the Sokolovs, are helping her to get on her feet. She is working, attending AA meetings and making friends.

Until she is attacked and her life is turned upside down. Her friend, Rafe Sokolov, is a police detective and introduces her to FBI agent Gideon Reynolds who becomes interested in her case because it links to his own past. Daisy is now a target and her life becomes more harrowing and dangerous with each passing day. Gideon is instantly drawn to her and becomes her protector.

This novel suffered a bit from too many plot elements. Recovering alcoholic with a service animal and a father with PTSD who hides his family at a ranch to protect them. FBI agent who escaped from an abusive cult and desperately wants to find the group who ruined his life and killed his mother. Loving Russian family who wants to help everyone. Every current topic from pet adoption to service animals to LGBTQ characters to cheating spouses made for a tale with diluted focus.

But, the most difficult aspect of the book was the serial killer plot. There were so many murders. Getting to see inside the killer’s head, getting to know his victims and as the story advanced watching him indiscriminately kill so many people was just disturbing and upsetting. I almost didn’t finish. The action and pace, not just the killing, picked up towards the ending and the second half of the novel was a bit better.

Admittedly, I thought this was romantic suspense and so was unprepared for a thriller. For fans of that genre, I think this would be a solid read. I would have enjoyed this one more if it had more focus on the relationship and less focus on the killer. 2.5 stars.

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

Monday, January 21, 2019

Breaking up with a series

As previously stated, I’m a genre junkie. There are a number of series – romance, fantasy and mystery that I follow quite religiously. The genre appeal differs by reader but for me I love the familiarity with the characters and the world they inhabit. Opening the pages of another book in a series continues a story in which I have been previously engaged and reading about the characters is like coming home to visit old friends. It’s comforting.

Having said that, there are times when it is time to part ways with a series and move on. Again, that point is different for every reader. I’m usually done when the author makes narrative choices that make me deeply unhappy or the characters are stagnant and tell the same story over and over again with no growth or development. I recognize writing a novel is an author’s creative expression and they have the right to do as they wish with their story. But, when they take the story places that don’t make for the satisfying read I am craving, I say good bye, wish them well, and go off in search of other reading adventures. A few series that I have loved and lost are Outlander by Gabaldon, Stephanie Plum by Evanovich and Anita Blake by Hamilton. I respect these authors and their talent. I fondly remember the earlier novels in the series but I’ve not been able to continue for a variety of reasons.

As genre readers, I think we all get to choose when we are done with a series and move on to greener literary pastures.

Today I’m sharing a few reviews of series I am still enjoying. While they may not be a sparkling and engaging as the first book or two, I still find them a grand escape.

Leverage in Death by J. D. Robb

As 47th in a long running series, there is a certain familiarity to an Eve Dallas novel. We know Eve will be professional, work until she exhausted and care passionately about the victims she stands for. Her husband Roarke will be on the sidelines buying the known universe and using his high tech toys and expertise in helping solve the current crime. Along the way there will be a familiar cast of characters to add humor, camaraderie and reflection. I freely admit to loving the first 12 books in the Even Dallas series – they are dark, gritty and surprisingly passionate. The stories, while maybe not the best written, are interesting and engaging. And unpeeling the characters of Eve and Roarke is half the fun. After the first dozen, they are a mixed bag. Some are too violent, some are predictable or unimaginative. Yet others are interesting, intense and compelling. I continue to read them because 
J. D. Robb (a pseudonym of Nora Roberts) has made characters in whom I have become deeply invested over the years. Whatever the story brings, I want to check in with Eve and Roarke.

Leverage in Death is one of the better installments in the series. When an executive walks into a merger meeting strapped with explosives and blows up himself and half the staff in attendance, he causes chaos. And while death and destruction make headlines, Dallas quickly discovers he was protecting his family. With the help of Roarke, ; mso-bidi-font-family: Calibri; mso-bidi-theme-font: minor-latin;">Eve must untangle the reason for an inexplicable act of terror, look at suspects inside and outside both corporations, and determine whether the root of this crime lies in simple sabotage, or something far more complex and twisted.

Overall, this was an engaging read. The story was interesting if a bit predictable and I enjoyed the unraveling of the mystery. I recommend this one but encourage new readers to go back to the beginning of Eve and Roarke’s journey and decide how far they want to travel with the couple.

Archangel’s Prophecy by Nalini Singh

Elena Devereaux is unique among angel kind. She is a mortal made immortal. And with her glorious wings and natural Hunter abilities, she is a fit consort for an Archangel. But now, her wings are beginning to fail and she is becoming more mortal and more fragile. As other calamities ripple throughout the world, a furious battle is being fought for her very survival.

Archangel’s Prophecy is the 11th installment in Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter series. Although the book tells a complete story on its own, readers will enjoy this one much better and avoid spoilers if they have read the previous books in the series.

Elena and Raphael are compelling characters and while all the stories in their world are fun to read, the novels where they are front and center are the best. While Elena struggles to understand what is happening with her newly immortal and increasingly fragile body, strange occurrences are happening worldwide. These incidences seem to suggest Cascade events are dangerously on the rise. Most of the novel almost feels like a mystery or police procedural as various characters try to discover what is going on all over the world. But by far the most compelling element is Elena’s mysterious sickness.

Archangel’s Prophecy was a highly entertaining to read and the cliffhanger ending similar to the first novel, Angel’s Blood, will surely frustrate fans and leave them clambering to know how these beloved characters have evolved. A fun paranormal romance and highly recommended for fans of the series.
4 stars.
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Someone to Trust by Mary Balogh

It’s all just nice. Colin Handrich, Baron Hodges is nice. He’s the brother of Wren, recently married Countess of Riverdale. Elizabeth, Lady Overfield is nice. She is the widowed sister of the Earl of Riverdale. Both of these nice people meet at a family Christmas gathering at the Earl’s seat, Brambledean Court. Colin is ready to take up the reins of the family estate he inherited at the age of 18. Elizabeth is ready to remarry and perhaps move on from her disastrous marriage. Colin and Elizabeth are friendly and attracted to one another but can see that a relationship between them would be impossible given the difference in their ages. They strike up a friendship and agree to dance one dance at every ball they are both attending during the upcoming season. It’s all very nice.

Once in London, Colin prepares to find a bride on the marriage mart and Elizabeth enters an engagement with a nice man who offered for her several years earlier. And then social disaster happens and Elizabeth is faced with ruin and Colin wants to rescue her. Additional peril faces the couple and with the help of their family, they overcome. It’s all very nice.

Honestly, I really enjoy Mary Balogh’s works. She has wonderful characters and charming stories. I enjoy the Wescott family series. Someone to Trust is a fine and pleasant story. However, I felt that the characters lacked great passion and were harder to connect with than others in the series. Also, the peril seemed a bit contrived and lacking in, well, peril.

Fans of the series will want to read this installment. 3 stars.

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

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?

Catching up with lots and lots of book reviews

When I started this blog, my goal was to write something about my reading experiences at least once a month. I did really well at first. The...