Brothers in Arms, by Lois McMaster Bujold

>> Tuesday, March 03, 2015

TITLE: Brothers in Arms
AUTHOR: Lois McMaster Bujold

PAGES: 352

SETTING: Futuristic
TYPE: Sci-fi
SERIES: 6th full-length title in the Vorkosigan series

If his enemies would just leave him alone, Miles Vorkosigan (alias Admiral Naismith) decided bitterly, the Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet would collapse all on its own. But his enemies were plotting a more deadly fall.

For some unexplained reason the Dendarii payroll is missing and the orders from the Barrayaran Imperial Command are being delayed by Miles's superior, Captain Galeni. What connects the impeccable insufferable Captain Galeni and the Komarran rebel expatriates on Earth anyway? But the most deadly question of all before Miles is more personal: are Miles's two identities, Admiral Naismith of the Dendarii and Lieutenant Lord Vorkosigan of Barrayar, splitting apart along the lines of his divided loyalties? And who is trying to assassinate which version of him?

When Miles unravels the answers, then the complications really begin.

Right, let's catch up with the Vorkosigan books. I'm up to Memory now and probably won't be able to hold on much longer before reading even further, so best post a couple of reviews before they all become muddled in my mind.

It's not long after the rescue mission told in the wonderful Borders of Infinity, and Miles and the Dendarii mercenaries decide to make a pit stop on good old Earth. There are some necessary repairs to be made, plus, Miles thinks it's a good idea to be somewhere he can keep away from the Cetagandans.

Turning back into Lord Vorkosigan, Miles reports to the Barrayarran embassy. He just needs money from ImpSec for repairs and to pay his people, but the highest-ranking ImpSec officer, who happens to be a Komarran, isn't particularly impressed with him. The payroll, which Miles expected would be there soonish, is taking much longer than it should, and Miles suspects shenanigans.

And, this being Miles, he's constitutionally unable to just wait quietly. Before long he's managed to get into the public eye and is having to come up with a story to explain just why Admiral Naismith looks so similar to Lord Vorkosigan.

This was great. It's a bit of a farce, with people (not quite literally, but almost!) going out one door and in through another, mistaken identities and ridiculous plots and mad chases. And this starts a run of books that deal with the issue of identity in a way that I found fresh and very thought-provoking. The schizophrenic nature of Miles' dual identity comes to the forefront here, and the most implausible tall tales come true in a delicious way. I don't want to give away anything, but this starts a relationship that I've loved in the following books, and that succeeded here in being really intriguing and having great potential. And in addition to identity (or rather, as an extension to identity), Brothers in Arms has some interesting things to say about fathers and sons and how the former can shape the latter. This is when this light romp becomes something a bit weightier, and it works.

What else? Oh, we get some great scenes. There's Miles out-bullshitting a journalist, Miles on Fast-Penta, Ivan bamboozled, and we also find out some more about the complicated history between Barrayar and Komarr, last seen by readers in Aral and Cordelia's books. We now see more about what's been going on since, with Komarr being part of the Barrayarran Empire but many people there still considering Aral The Butcher of Komarr. Again, more on this in later books, and this lays the base very nicely. Oh, and we're introduced to Miles' Komarran commanding officer, Captain Duv Galeni, who is a particularly good character here and only becomes even better later.

We also get a nice romance between Miles and Elli Quinn here. Miles had previously succeeded in staying away from her (non-fraternisation rules seemed like a good idea when he came up with them), in spite of her obvious interest, but things change here. I like Elli Quinn very much and obviously, I love Miles, but the two of them as a couple don't really do a huge deal for me. I mean, they are clearly fond of each other, but it's just as clear that this isn't a huge, life-long love, no matter how much Miles tries to tell himself otherwise.

I highly recommend this one. Just one thing: be very cautious when reading descriptions of the Vorkosigan books, especially this one and the ones after. Too many people who love these books seem to think that no one's reading the series for the first time, so spoilers are just fine. And big spoilers, too. Even the blurbs are sometimes an issue.There's a big thing we find out here that I would have loved to have been a surprise, but no such luck (someone posted a review of an earlier book that said "of course, Miles' so-and-so hasn't yet shown up here". Cheers for that!). It didn't ruin the reading experience, or anything, but it would have been nice not to know!

MY GRADE: A very strong B+.


February 2015 reads

>> Sunday, March 01, 2015

The list this month looks a bit longer that it really is. I'm still reading a fair few, plus I had a couple of DNFs. An ok month, no more.

1 - Out of Control, by Suzanne Brockmann: B+
review here

Reread. I picked it up after struggling with a few too many ho-hum books that I was having to push myself through, and it delivered exactly what I wanted. There's exciting action, as our protagonists get stranded in the jungle and must get to safety, and some lovely romance. Romances, actually, as we get several different plot threads simultaneously.

2 - The Queen of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner: B+
review coming soon

When the kingdom of Eddis goes to war with its neighbours, due to Attolia's mistreatment of the Queen's Thief, he must decide whether he can still do his job. This was much bigger picture than the first book, and I loved it just as much. I had no idea where it was going.

3 - I Want It That Way, by Ann Aguirre: B
review here

New Adult. I liked it because it had regular people dealing with regular (but interesting!) issues. It also had a great cast of secondary characters.

4 - As Long As You Love Me, by Ann Aguirre: B
review coming soon

Second in the series, the heroine has some issues that mean she can't cope with college, so she goes back to her home town, where she gets close to her best friend's brother. I'm really enjoying these books. Again, we're talking regular people with regular issues.

5 - The Dancing Floor, by Barbara Michaels: B
original review here

Reread of an old favourite. The heroine is doing a tour of old English gardens as a sort of homage to her late father, with whom she'd originally planned the trip. There's one that's not open to the public and her request to see it is turned down, so she decides to have a peek over the fence in the early morning. She ends up falling through the foliage and invited to stay and help the new owner with the project to restore the garden. She accepts, but immediately gets the feeling that there's stuff going on below the surface. It's very gothic, but in a modern way, and with the trademark Barbara Michaels humor and interesting characters.

6 - A Right Honourable Gentleman, by Courtney Milan: B-
review coming soon

This is an anthology with loads of stories, but I only read this one. It's typical Milan, so I liked it, but it did feel a bit too short.

7 - Famous Last Words, by Katie Alender: C+
review coming soon

YA. Willa's mum has married a big-shot Hollywood director, and they move into his LA mansion. It turns out to be haunted, but only Willa sees the vision, which seem somehow related to a serial killer currently operating in Hollywood and targetting actresses. Interesting premise, but the execution was a bit clumsy and predictable.

8 - Radio Silence, by Alyssa Cole: C
review coming soon

Post-apocalyptic romance. It's merely weeks after the lights have mysteriously gone off, and the heroine and her best friend take refuge at his family's isolated house. His hot doctor brother and teenaged sister are there. It sounded good (not least because it's an interracial romance, with an African-American heroine and a Korean-American hero), but it didn't work so well. The chemistry was all tell and no show, and the tone felt weird and a bit off.

9 - Scandal of the Season, by Christie Kelley: DNF
review here

Random historical from my TBR. Big pile of WTF, with ridiculous plot points and a hero I detested.

10 - The Huntress, by Susan Carroll: DNF
review coming soon

Continues on from the Silver Rose, which I read ages ago. Everyone's out to get a young girl with the potential to be a super-powerful witch, and mercenary Catriona O'Hanlon is sent to protect her. But her father doesn't think he needs any help. Great sense of place, but the romance and characters felt so old-fashioned that the story just didn't engage me.

11 - The Dark Heart of Italy, by Tobias Jones: still reading
review coming soon

A collection of essays about different aspects of Italian life. Not an idealistic, sun-drenched portrait, but more focused on the dark underbelly. Interesting so far.

12 - Beautiful Game Theory: How Soccer Can Help Economics, by Ignacio Palacios-Huerta: still reading
review coming soon

The author uses data from football to test economic theories and insights. So far it's a lot more technical than I expected, so I'd only recommend it to football lovers with some formal economics training.

13 - The Young Elites, by Marie Lu: grade
review coming soon

Paranormal YA, set in a Renaissance Italy-inspired world. The premise is that the survivors of a dangerous "blood fever" some 15 years early have developed dangerous powers. They are now persecuted, and have created a sort of secret society. I'm not loving it so far. It feels very melodramatic.

14 - The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell: still listening
review coming soon

Fiction set in 18th century Dejima, a little island off Japan where the Dutch East Indies Company was allowed to operate. Loving it so far; Mitchell's writing immediately draws me in every time.


March 2015 wish list

>> Saturday, February 28, 2015

Not a huge number this month, but a couple I really, really want to read.

Books I'm definitely planning to get

Vision in Silver, by Anne Bishop (Mar 3)

I find the books in this series (this is the 3rd one) strangely compelling, just like the worldbuilding.

Shadow Scale, by Rachel Hartman (Mar 10)

I read the first one in the series (Seraphina) recently and loved it. It's fantasy, with dangerous dragons and a heroine who's part human, part dragon, something that's not supposed to happen. It was recommended as appealing to those of us who loved Addison's The Goblin Emperor, and Megan Whalen Turner's and Kristin Cashore's books, and that was spot-on.

Sweet Agony, by Charlotte Stein (Mar 26)

I love Charlotte Stein's closed off heroes.

Books that interest me and I'll keep an eye on

Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein (Mar 5)

I haven't yet read Wein yet (I have Project Verity in my audio TBR), but I've heard such universally positive reviews that I'm noting this one down.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson (Mar 10)

I quite liked Larson's The Devil in the White City, and I'm interested in the subject matter here. I'll see what reviews look like.

Shooting for the Stars, by Sarina Bowen (Mar 16)

I'm not a huge fan of the whole "my best friend's sister is off limits" plot, but I liked Blonde Date well enough that I'm willing to give Bowen a few chances.

Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard (Mar 26)

I'm not sure about the plot (there seem to be some logic issues), but I think I'm being seduced by the cover!


The Winter King, by CL Wilson

>> Thursday, February 26, 2015

TITLE: The Winter King

PAGES: 613

SETTING: Fantasy world
TYPE: Fantasy romance
SERIES: Starts a series

An epic new fantasy romance from New York Times and USA Today bestselling author C. L. Wilson

After three long years of war, starkly handsome Wynter Atrialan will have his vengeance on Summerlea's king by taking one of the man's beautiful, beloved daughters as his bride. But though peace is finally at hand, Wynter's battle with the Ice Heart, the dread power he embraced to avenge his brother's death, rages on.

Khamsin Coruscate, Princess of Summerlea and summoner of Storms, has spent her life exiled to the shadows of her father's palace. Reviled by her father, marriage to Wintercraig's icy king was supposed to be a terrible punishment, but instead offers Kham her first taste of freedom—and her first taste of overwhelming passion.

As fierce, indomitable Wynter weathers even Khamsin's wildest storms, surprising her with a tenderness she never expected, Kham wants more than Wynter's passion—she yearns for his love. But the power of the Ice Heart is growing, dangerous forces are gathering, and a devastating betrayal puts Khamsin and Wynter to the ultimate test.

I loved CL Wilson's Tairen Soul series. It felt big and epic, interesting fantasy with a satisfying romance. Since I finished it I've been keeping an eye out for a new book by this author, and was really excited when I heard she had another series coming out.

Unfortunately, this didn't feel like a book written by the same author. The world-building felt silly and obvious, and the characters infuriated me. I read quite a bit, about half the book (and it's long), but I was so bored I gave up.

The story is that there are two kingdoms, Wintercraig and Summerlea (yes, that's how sophisticated the world-building is). They have been at war for a few years, since the heir of Summerlea stole a bride and priceless treasure from Wynter, the king of Wintercraig, and killed his young brother. The war is now at an end, and Wintercraig has won. Wynter shows up at the palace of Summerlea and lays down his conditions. The King of Summerlea must give him one of his beloved daughters as a bride. If after a year she's not pregnant, she will be sent to "face the mercy of the mountains", and Wynter will take another of the princesses as his bride. Rinse and repeat.

But the king of Summerlea has just the way to get one over Wynter. He has one daughter he hates, because her weather-mage powers killed her mother (the king's adored Queen) during childbirth. Khamsin has been brought up hidden away from the court, so most don't know she exists. So with the use of veils and scents, she'll take the place of her sister, punishing both her and Wynter at the same time.

Wynter is furious when he finds out about the substitution, especially because he'd previously encountered Khamsin in the castle pretending to be a servant, and he'd found himself dangerously attracted to her. But what's done is done, and she must make a life for herself in cold, forbidding Wintercraig, where everyone hates her.

This felt very old-school, particularly Khamsin. Her default setting is feisty, and she's defiant for no reason, in sometimes almost suicidal ways. She will constantly risk a hell of a lot for reasons which felt flimsy, and then just completely fold like a wet tissue as soon as Wynter kisses her. She’s got her weather-mage powers, which are supposed to be considerable, but they are nothing compared to Wynter's. He just brushes any of her efforts aside like not-even-particularly-bothersome gnats. That’s not even considered an issue in the book... as in, this is not something Wilson takes seriously and explores; it’s just presented as the way things are supposed to be and unremarkable. That feels very old-school as well.

I also despised Wynter, and thought he was a misogynistic asshole. I deplored his “peace” conditions. The idea that he'd basically fuck a woman for a year and send her to die if she's not pregnant, and start again with her sister... that just felt beyond the pale. Because of course, it’s not conceivable that Wynter might have fertility issues; it MUST be the woman’s fault. Asshole. I could have just about tolerated this if it had been just a plan made in the heat of battle, something that he realised once he met the real persons involved that he wouldn't be able to take forward. But it’s not. There’s a scene when Khamsin confronts him with the fact that he plans to kill her if she doesn't get pregnant and the vile asshole just says “I must get an heir quickly”. I hated him for that. He KNOWS Khamsin has been mistreated by her father and his court, so he can’t really blame her for the actions of the Summerleans, but he still doesn't give a shit and is happy to terrify her.

And that idiot Khamsin, even knowing this, is still perfectly happy to have hot sex with Wynter whenever he wants. I would have respected her if it had been a conscious, survival decision. Like, make sure your potential murderer sees you as a real person so that he’s less likely to actually kill you. And of course, the more sex they have, the more likely she is to get pregnant and actually survive. But no, it’s simply presented as that her body just can’t resist him and she can’t help but develop feelings for him. The man who’s made a serious-as-a-heart-attack threat to kill her! Ugh!

Turns out the "facing the mercy of the mountains" thing is not quite as bad as it sounds. I -and Khamsin- assumed it meant being sent out to the mountains to die. Turns out villagers will show mercy to people they think deserve it, so it’s not necessarily a death sentence (although it could be!). And Wynter expects to be dead before the end of the year, anyway. But the fact that he feels the way to treat his wife is to instill fear in her made me hate him.

In the end, I just got bored. I just didn't care about these two idiots and the nasty, catty women in court and the judgemental men. I might have pushed on if the book had been shorter, but it was ridiculously and unnecessarily long, and I didn't care to spend that much of my time on it.



The Infinite Sea, by Rick Yancey

>> Tuesday, February 24, 2015

TITLE: The Infinite Sea
AUTHOR: Rick Yancey

PAGES: 320
PUBLISHER: Putnam Juvenile

SETTING: Near-future US
TYPE: Sci-fi
SERIES: 2nd in a trilogy, follows The 5th Wave

How do you rid the Earth of seven billion humans? Rid the humans of their humanity.

Surviving the first four waves was nearly impossible. Now Cassie Sullivan finds herself in a new world, a world in which the fundamental trust that binds us together is gone. As the 5th Wave rolls across the landscape, Cassie, Ben, and Ringer are forced to confront the Others’ ultimate goal: the extermination of the human race.

Cassie and her friends haven’t seen the depths to which the Others will sink, nor have the Others seen the heights to which humanity will rise, in the ultimate battle between life and death, hope and despair, love and hate.

The Infinite Sea picks up right where The 5th Wave left off, so if you haven't read that one, you probably don't want to read this review. Spoilers ahoy, plus, it might not make much sense.

So, plot? Well, Cassie and Ben's team (including Sammy, whom Cassie was so determined to rescue) survived the escape and as the book starts, they are holed up in an abandoned hotel, figuring out what to do next. Cassie is convinced Evan survived as well and will return to them, so she wants them all to stay put a bit longer. The others aren't as convinced. Ringer leaves to reccy some nearby caves where they could find safer refuge, and things go wrong. Meanwhile, Evan has indeed survived and has been rescued by Grace, another Silencer he knew from before the attacks started. She's very curious about his actions, clearly wondering what's going on. And things go from there.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like this one nearly as much as I did the first one. It suffers from middle-book syndrome, in that we're basically just in a holding pattern, waiting for the big conclusion. Nothing much happens, really, in spite of the non-stop action. The only development of the larger plot is that we find out something mildly surprising about the Silencers and something happens physiologically to Ringer. Compared to book 1, where the revelations came fast and furious, that’s nothing, and it made this feel a bit boring and pointless.

The structure is also strange. I really liked the split structure with alternating stories in book one, but this didn't work nearly as well. The split structure is there, but not so much alternating. We have a bit of Ringer at the beginning, then she and the rest become separated and for half of the book we stay with Cassie and Ben and the others. Then the second half goes back to Ringer, and these two halves never really marry up. In fact, we leave the larger group at the halfway point in what seems to be the middle of things. At least book 1 had some sort of natural closure.

Leaving Cassie and the others wasn't a problem, though, because I would have DNFd this if I'd had to spend more time with Cassie. I really liked her in book 1, even though at times she was needlessly, stupidly sarcastic, but I couldn’t stand her here. Her snarkiness gets even more extreme here, plus she’s added a nice side of slut-shaming and cattiness. She just hates any girl who’s better-looking than her, and boy, her inner monologue does not let us forget it. She's just unforgivable to Ringer, who's done nothing to her, and when they run into Grace, the female Silencer, instead of worrying about the fact that this woman has a really good chance of killing them all, Cassie starts obsessing about the fact that she looks like a supermodel. On and on and on and ON and it was then I very, very nearly decided to make this a DNF. I was much happier with Ringer, really.

The other issue I had was that the writing style drove me crazy here. It's not hugely different from what it was in book 1, but it felt like Yancey amped it up here, and it became over-the-top. It’s much too heavy on the laboured metaphor and the inane, quasi-deep cod-philosophical bullshit.

Now, I did like some things about the book. It’s still very dark and goes places I didn't expect, and the little bits we got about Poundcake, the recruit we met in book 1 who does not speak and is a bit pudgy, were really touching and well done. And yes, I do want to know what happens in the end (even though there was a big fucking anvil of a clue dropped here… either that or it was a huge AK 47 that was hanging on the wall in the first act and never fired). I will be reading book 3 when it comes out, but I probably won't be as excited about it as I was about this one.



Out of Control, by Suzanne Brockmann

>> Sunday, February 22, 2015

TITLE: Out of Control
AUTHOR: Suzanne Brockmann

PAGES: 470
PUBLISHER: Ballantine

SETTING: Contemporary US and Indonesia
TYPE: Romantic suspense / thriller
SERIES: 4th in the Troubleshooters series

Savannah von Hopf has no choice. To save her uncle’s life, she goes in search of Ken “WildCard” Karmody, a guy she barely knew in college who is now a military operative. She must convince him to help her deliver a cache of ransom money into the hands of terrorists halfway around the world. What she doesn’t expect is to end up in WildCard’s arms before she can even ask for his help.

WildCard has always had a soft spot for beautiful women. But when he discovers Savannah’s hidden agenda, he is determined to end the affair. But Savannah is bound for Indonesia with or without his protection, and he can’t just walk away. When her plan goes horribly wrong, they are trapped in the forsaken jungle of a hostile country, stalked by a lethal enemy. As time is running out, they scramble to escape, risking their lives to stop a nightmare from spinning even further out of control...

I decided to reread Out of Control after a run of a few books I had to push myself to continue reading. I wanted something that would engage me, and I remembered exactly just how much these early books in the Troubleshooters series had done that. I remembered that so clearly that I was surprised to realise I haven't reviewed this one. OOC has stuck in my mind enough that I was sure I'd reread it recently, but the first one in the series I have a review of is Into the Night, read in December 2002.

OOC does that typical Brockmann thing from that time of having lots of simultaneous storylines and moving between them constantly.

The main one is the romance between Savannah von Hopf and Ken "Wildcard" Karmody, a character readers of the series would have already known well. He's the off-the-wall, think-outside-the-box guy without a filter who's part of SEAL Team 6. As the book starts, Kenny is still a bit bruised after his girlfriend of over a decade left him. They'd had a long-distance on-again, off-again sort of relationship, very unhealthy and high-maintenance, but Kenny thought he genuinely loved her. Now he feels used.

When a gorgeous woman has a flat tire in front of his house and his offer of help turns into dinner by his pool and mind-blowing sex, he's in heaven. She's amazing and clearly wants him like crazy, so before long he's convinced himself he's madly in love with her. Until he finds out Savannah knew exactly who he was. In fact, she knew him (and had a huge crush on him) when they were in university, as she's a distant friend of Kenny's ex. She has travelled all the way to San Diego with the explicit purpose to ask for his help. Her favourite uncle has just called from Indonesia, completely out of the blue, asking Savannah to bring him a quarter of a million dollars. Savannah is understandably nervous, and thought she would approach Kenny, whom she knows is a SEAL, and hire him to escort her.

Of course, given what happened the night before, Kenny assumes she tried to manipulate him with sex and is majorly pissed off. (BTW, Brockmann makes it believable and understandable -though clearly a Bad Idea- why she didn't say anything at the time). He ends up agreeing to go with Indonesia, although making it very clear he despises Savannah. But as soon as they land in Jakarta things go wrong, and they end up stranded in the jungle in a faraway island, trying to avoid all sorts of armed bands and get to safety. And as Kenny spends time with Savannah and gets to know her, he begins to realise he might have misjudged her.

Also on the Indonesian island are missionary Molly Anderson and pilot and black-marketeer Jones. Jones is not the conscience-less, only-out-for-himself guy he tells himself he is, and Molly is the only one who sees it (and calls him on all his bullshit). After they begin a relationship they each realise they are crazy for the other, but it's a relationship that has no future. Molly is about to head to her next mission in Africa, and Jones has major baggage, including a very high price on his head.

Brockmann always included a WWII story, and the one here involves Savannah's grandmother, Rose, who is a huge war hero. She was a double agent and was involved in really influential missions, and she has now written up her story in a bestselling book. We get sections from it, as pretty much all the characters are reading it, and those mainly cover her relationship with Heinrich von Hopf, an Austrian prince who, we know from the start, became her husband.

Rose has quite a bit of influence, so as soon as it becomes clear her son, and then her grandniece, are missing, she makes sure she's involved with the American team trying to rescue them. And of course, which team would that be but Max Bhagat's, which includes Alyssa Locke. And SEAL Team 6 is involved as well, since Kenny's also missing, and Sam Starrett is there too.

We basically rotate between all these threads, getting a scene from each. I remember that with the early books in the series it was always the case that I was more interested in one of the minor threads than in the main romance. I don't know whether that was the case when I first read the book (I was pretty involved with the Sam/Alyssa relationship then), but this time it was Kenny and Savannah I kept wanting to go back to. Sam and Alyssa were interesting, but nothing much happens here. And Molly and Jones didn't particularly appeal to me this time. Their thread is fine, but I wasn't dying to get back to them. As for Rose's story, I did like that quite a lot. She's one cool woman, and I loved her resourcefulness and the way Heinrich adored her for it.

There's a lot of action, but also plenty of emphasis on the romance. I liked both elements and thought both were really well done and perfectly integrated. The book certainly kept me turning the pages like crazy. However, I had some issues with both, which I don't think were a problem when I read the book

On the action side, I got a bit annoyed with the rah-rah attitude towards SEALs. They're the bestest most wonderfulest people ever, and no foreigners can beat them. And they and the FBI basically go around taking over all over the world, because they're clearly so much better than the locals, that the latter can't but bow to them and let them run things. Sigh.

As for the romance, Brockmann is good at going straight for the gut. She still got me this time, but as I was enjoying it, I still found it ever-so-slightly cringey. Kind of in a similar way that JR Ward's book are cringey, but not quite (nowhere near as shameless!).

Still, I enjoyed the hell out of this book. I might well go back and reread the series from the start.



Scandal of the Season, by Christie Kelley

>> Friday, February 20, 2015

TITLE: Scandal of the Season
AUTHOR: Christie Kelley

PAGES: 353

SETTING: Eartly 19th century England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 4th in the Spinsters Club series

A Daring Charade...

For ten years, Anthony Westfield, Viscount Somerton, hasn't been able to forget the woman with whom he spent one scandalous night. When their paths cross again, he's shocked to discover Victoria Seaton is an accomplished pickpocket. But Somerton leads a double life of his own. Working on an undercover assignment, he makes Victoria a proposition: pretend to be his mistress or risk ruin. Yet soon he's tempted to turn their charade into reality--and surrender to an explosive passion. . .

A Holiday To Remember...

Victoria can't believe the man who almost destroyed her life a decade ago is now threatening to unravel her secrets. But posing as his mistress at a holiday country party is a game she can play well. For just one look into Somerton's eyes still weakens her with lust. And with Christmas fast approaching, every kiss they share under the mistletoe only makes Victoria fall more deeply in love...

Another of my random picks from old stuff in the TBR. I'm starting to think I should maybe just delete anything that's been there for a few years, because I really haven't had much success.

The first scene has our hero, Anthony, drunk and being dragged along to a whorehouse by his friends, who are determined he should lose his virginity. He virtuously thinks he doesn't want to, and that some of the women might not be there willingly, but oh, well, he's horny, so maybe best not to think about icky things and just have a nice time. He only deflates when he comes face to face with the madame, who turns out to be his mother (!). His father had said she was dead, but instead there she is, running the most exclusive brothel in London. Angry Anthony refuses to listen and runs out, where he meets the pretty orange seller he's been ogling for days. He kisses her.

10 years later, scandalous rake Anthony, who also moonlights as a spy (that bit's not even surprising), is still looking for the orange seller. It seems like the forced kiss we just saw turned into sex against a wall, and he remembers the encounter as rape and wants to apologise (because why even consider whether the woman is at all interested in reencountering the man who raped her; Anthony's conscience will feel better, and everyone knows a man's conscience trumps a woman's potential terror). To find the mysterious woman, he's enlisted the help of his secret half-sister, who's a psychic (!). At a party, sis tells him she's finally found the woman and she's right in the next room! Hmmm, none of the servants look like the woman he remembers. But there's something familiar about the mousy vicar's daughter who's a friend of the hostess...

And then he gets home and someone's stolen the rubies he had in his pocket. He remembers the vicar's daugther bumped into him at the party. Aha, she's the former orange seller, and she's a pickpocket! (Don't worry, she's only a pickpocket to fund an orphanage she's founded). He must get the rubies back. And he's been given a new super-special spy mission, to steal a letter a nobleman will receive where someone else has thoughtfully written down all the details of a plot to assassinate the Prince Regent. This will all happen at a house party thrown by a very jealous host. Best bring a mistress with him! But he has no official mistress, and asking one of the many women he randomly fucks will give the silly woman ideas beyond her station. Oh, of course! What better idea than to blackmail the woman to whom he was just about to apologise for raping her into pretending to be his mistress? Because there's no reason she might feel uncomfortable about spending some private quality time with her rapist...

Ugh, what a mess of WTF. It's a cracked setup, plus, this is book 4 of a series, and it shows. Maybe some of the whatthefuckery would make a bit more sense if I'd read the previous 3 books... I'm guessing some of those elements must have been introduced with a bit more care. Here, they're just plunked down. Long-lost mum who runs a brothel! Psychic sister! Harebrained spy plots!

We also have a truly entitled, obnoxious hero I wanted to smack several times. What elastic morals he's got! I got to about 12% on this gem. It might have calmed down a bit after that, but I wasn't going to hang about to find out.

MY GRADE: A DNF, but the bits I read I would probably rate an F.


The 5th Wave, by Rick Yancey

>> Wednesday, February 18, 2015

TITLE: The 5th Wave
AUTHOR: Rick Yancey

PAGES: 480
PUBLISHER: Putnam Juvenile

SETTING: Near future US
TYPE: Sci-fi
SERIES: Starts a trilogy

Took out half a million people.

Put that number to shame.

Lasted a little longer. Twelve weeks . . . Four billion dead.

You can't trust that people are still people.

No one knows.

But it's coming.

On a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs. Runs from the beings that only look human, who have scattered Earth's last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan may be her only hope.

Now Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

When the aliens arrived, people didn't know what to expect. They didn't have to wait long to find out: the intended destruction of all humans. The waves of attack came fast and furious, the 1st an electromagnetic pulse that destroyed all electronics (and a fair few people, in things like plane crashes), the 2nd a huge earthquake, followed by a resulting massive tsunami, the 3rd a deadly avian flu, the Red Death. Billions died.

It was the 3rd wave that killed Cassie's mum, but her father and little brother were fine. They managed to get out of the city and clustered in a camp with other survivors, far away from the cities. And then came the 4th wave. The people you thought were human and like you are not, and they will kill you. They came to the camp to take the little kids (including Cassie's brother, Sammy) to safety. Then they massacred everyone else (including Cassie's father). Cassie managed to escape, and now she's alone. She's only got her rifle and her determination to somehow rescue her brother.

And then she's not alone any more. Evan rescues her from a very tight spot and takes her to recover at his family's now-empty farmhouse. But Cassie continues to be just as determined to rescue Sammy, and Evan has some inside knowledge that can help.

The 5th Wave was one tense, fast-paced read. It was quite tough and bleak. Yancey doesn't pull his punches, and if you can't stand to have children in peril, you really want to stay far, far away from it, but for me, it worked.

I think what I liked best were the characters and that they didn't seem to be taking the typical character arcs. I'm really not sure what's in store for them. Cassie, for instance, gets a romance, but that's not the point of the book. She remains committed to rescuing Sammy, and then there are twists in her relationship with Evan that were really interestingly done. Cassie was a really good character, as well. There were a couple of instances when the snarkiness just felt unnecessary, but on the whole, she was great. Completely focused on her mission, but without losing the humanity that separated her from the aliens and that was what she was fighting for.

I also liked the structure and how that propelled the plot forward. Cassie is our first-person narrator from the start, but she's not the only POV character. We also get a couple of others, including her little brother. Cassie's story alternates with that of Ben, her former high school crush, who ended up almost dying in the 3rd wave right outside a big military base. Ben was then taken in by the military and put in an intense training programme together with kids as young as 6. This superarmy made up of kids will bring the aliens down, helped by technology found by the military when they recaptured the base from aliens disguised as humans. Those sections were just heartbreaking, and I became very attached to the people on Ben's team.

So anyway, we see things from both those perspectives, therefore knowing a bit more than each of the individual characters about what's going on and how things are coming together, but not enough to stop this from being surprisingly. It made the tension almost unbearable.

This is a trilogy and obviously there is a lot yet to be resolved at the end of the book. However, there is some closure, enough for the book to feel satisfying even if you don't have the next book available straight away (which I didn't when I read this, as this was a few months before the second book came out -and yes, I've read that one now, review soon!).



Twisted, by Laura Griffin

>> Monday, February 16, 2015

TITLE: Twisted
AUTHOR: Laura Griffin

PAGES: 400

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romantic suspense
SERIES: 5th in the Tracers series


Motive, opportunity, and no alibi—rookie detective Allison Doyle knows it’s as close to a slam dunk as most investigations get. But even though her small-town Texas police department has identified a prime suspect in a young woman’s vicious murder, she can’t rest easy. And when legendary FBI profiler Mark Wolfe shows up with a startling new theory, all her doubts are amplified. If Wolfe is correct, the real killer is an elusive psychopath who has left a trail of bodies behind him. And he’s just days away from his next kill. . . .

Allison was supposed to be Wolfe’s way into the case, nothing more. But she’s ambitious, stubborn, and far too tempting. With the help of her contacts at the Delphi Center crime lab, Wolfe is within striking distance of the monster he’s pursued for ten years. Except the closer Allison and Wolfe get, the more reason there is to fear. Because with a predator this brutal, every thread of evidence can make a difference between hunting a madman—and becoming hunted yourself.

I have tried Laura Griffin again and again and I always end up disappointed. I keep trying her because everyone seems to love her books, so I feel I must be missing something, but I think this was my last.

The plot concerns a serial killer. Detective Allison Doyle works for a small-town police department. She's one of the least experienced detectives and mainly does grunt work. The most recent case her department is investigating is the murder of a young woman. They think they've got a pretty good suspect, the woman's ex boyfriend.

But then FBI profiler Mark Wolfe turn up, convinced that the murder is actually the work of a serial killer, one he's been pursuing for years. Allison's boss is not convinced, but Mark's theories are enough to get Allison suspicious and start looking at the evidence again.

There's nothing wrong with the basic plot here. It could be done really well and be the basis of a great book. It just isn't. It's boring. The case is kind of interesting, but nothing particularly novel or great. But it was the characters that bored me to tears.

Allison and Mark never completely clicked for me as individuals, and there were a washout as a couple. There was utter and complete lack of chemistry between them. The romance just never took off for me, I never cared, and mainly I thought it felt inappropriate, like they should have been concentrating on the case rather than angsting about having sex.

Also, I've noticed in the few books I've read by her that Griffin’s heroines always feel like they get put at a disadvantage. Allison starts out that way, by embarrassingly being caught off guard during a hold-up, right at the beginning of the book, and having to be rescued by Mark. She never really recovers. She does notice a few clues and does all right in that, but mainly she’s constantly doing stupid/foolhardy things, and that annoyed me. There was the scene in the jail, when an unarmed prisoner gets the drop on her, then the end, where the killer captures her (twice, really). I found it extremely annoying.

This series was originally built around the Delphi Institute, a private forensic lab that engages in cutting-edge science and helps outclassed police departments. That element is interesting enough, but it's quite peripheral here, in a way that's typical of a late entry in a series. While in early books it has been a main player in the way the stories have developed (usually one of the protagonists works there), here it felt kind of shoehorned in.




The Girl With All the Gifts, by MR Carey

>> Saturday, February 14, 2015

TITLE: The Girl With All the Gifts

PAGES: 416

SETTING: Near future in what's now England
TYPE: Horror / speculative fiction

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her "our little genius."

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh.

The Girl With All the Gifts is a groundbreaking thriller, emotionally charged and gripping from beginning to end.

When I posted my favourite books of 2014 a few weeks ago, several people whose tastes tend to be similar to mine shared their own top reads. The Girl With All the Gifts featured in several people's choices. Turns out my book club had just chosen it for our January read, and even though I couldn't make this meeting (I was in London having dinner and rhapsodising about the Vorkosigan saga with CD instead! *g*), I read the book anyway. And I was wowed!

The book starts with a little girl called Melanie. Melanie lives in a cell and knows about the world she lives in only through what she learns in class. She knows the place where she and the other children in her class live is surrounded by "Hungries", but she's never seen them. She knows about flowers and animals and the population of Birmingham, but she's never seen any of these either. All she remembers is her current existence, spending most of her time in her cell, except for when she's wheeled out, limbs and head strapped to the chair, to class or to the weekly feeding. It's an existence where she's never, ever touched.

We, of course, know that Melanie and her classmates are Hungries themselves, but of a different kind from the mindless, lumbering majority. And when things happen and Melanie's world widens, we find out a whole lot more about what's out there.

And that is all I will say about the plot, because the originality of this book makes it all the more enjoyable. I find that more and more, I really like reading books and having absolutely no idea where they are going. I still like the certainty of romance novels, but these days I crave unpredictability. But it has to be unpredictability with all characters behaving like real human beings, where the motivations make sense. If you get your unpredictability from making characters behave in unbelievable ways, you've lost me. Carey never lost me.

Melanie felt real, as did the people who become her companions. Dr. Caldwell is a driven doctor, determined to understand the infection that turns people into hungries if it's the last thing she does (and no matter whom she needs to sacrifice or endanger). Miss Justineau, Melanie's beloved teacher, is idealistic and moral, but in a way that sometimes leads her to act in self-destructive ways. Sergeant Parks is determined to keep those around him safe, and just as determined to see Melanie as a monster. And Private Kieran Gallagher is just heartbreakingly young.

It's an incredibly compelling, compulsive read. It can be tough, it can be tender, it's always surprising. And the ending was one of the most brilliant endings I've ever read. It makes complete sense, and it was still a surprise. And the way it brings things full circle feels strangely satisfying. I know it won't work for everyone (one of my friends at book club hated it), but to me, it felt just right. It felt like it was actually a happy ending, of sorts. The world itself has been redefined, why not happy endings too?



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