library find

Patricia Briggs writes straight-up, old-fashioned fantasy in Raven’s Shadow

ravenRaven’s Shadow by Patricia Briggs
Ace, July 27th, 2004 (Fantasy)

My rating: Outstanding adventure!

From Briggs, one of my favorite authors of paranormal romantic fantasy a la Mercy Thompson, an incredible classic fantasy starring a family of individuals with unique strengths.

This novel opens with the first meeting between Tier, battle-weary soldier, and Seraph, young sorceress from a clan of wanderers. Tier finds her at the mercy of a village who have just burned her brother for being a Traveler – the common name for people of the clans. Seraph is a Raven, sworn to protect non-Travelers and Travelers alike from an ancient evil.

Part Two opens twenty years later, and Tier and Seraph have raised an unusually talented family on their farm. Every one of them belongs to an Order. That is, they each have a different set of magical abilities. On this day, Tier has gone missing, and Seraph and her children set out to rescue him.

(more…)

On the eleventh day of Christmas, we encourage you to get in the winter spirit with a wintery book

wolvesThe Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney
Simon & Schuster, July 10th, 2007 (Historical Mystery / Confronting the Wilderness)

My rating: Outstanding adventure!

Jaclyn might not agree with me, but I find a certain majesty and beauty in winter. Sometimes, though, I need a little bit of help to appreciate all this season has to offer.

I borrowed The Tenderness of Wolves from the library as a “winter read,” one that would help me get through the snowy wintery February doldrums.

I did not expect it to be one of my favorite books that year. This book is absolutely mesmerizing.

The main narrator (first-person), is a middle-aged adoptive mother of a troubled teenage boy. Other narrators (third-person) include a young, new Company (Hudson Bay) agent, the local magistrate, the boy himself, the clever daughter of the local magistrate, a dapper sexagenarian in search of a mysterious bone tablet, and a young Norwegian widow, who does not fit into the religious community in which she finds herself. All the narrators are compelling characters, but even non-narrating characters are compelling. Each has their own past, often troubled, and some which intertwine.

The story opens when the main narrator, Mrs. Ross, finds the body of one of her neighbors, the only French man in the town of Caulfield near Georgian Bay, in 1866. (more…)

On the sixth day of Christmas…we celebrate with…SPIES!

7720480The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig
Dutton, October 28, 2010 (Historical Mystery, Historical Romance)

The Mischief of the Mistletoe is book seven in Willig’s Pink Carnation series, and it just so happens to be my absolute favourite holiday read.

Arabella Dempsey is a young woman that has decided to take the post of teacher at a young ladies’ academy. She can no longer stay with her aunt and is needed to support her family. On her first day as an instructress she is forcefully reacquainted with Mr. Fitzhugh – also known as “Turnip.” I think you have to know right then that when your romantic lead’s name is “Turnip,” you’re going to have a pretty zany and fun read – and Mischief in the Mistletoe doesn’t disappoint in that arena.

Turnip is visiting his younger sister at the very girls’ school that Arabella will be teaching when he accidentally knocks Arabella to the ground. He’s not good with names, so he has no recollection of Arabella, but when a Christmas pudding carries a nefarious message, at least according to Turnip’s sister, Turnip decides that Arabella is just the person to assist in the mystery and keep his sister out of trouble.

While Turnip and Arabella join forces to prove Sally and her friends that there are no spies operating out of the ladies’ academy, it seems that they will be the one’s to be proven wrong. In fact there seems to be something “not quite the thing” at the ladies’ seminary, and it’s up to Turnip to save the day and convince Arabella that spies are indeed at work. He would also be happy if he vanquished the foe and wins the girl.

For me, the real highlight of this holiday read is Turnip. He’s just such an endearing character. He’s not your typical hero, he’s not particularly smart, he’s more brawn than brains, but his heart’s in the right place. The lengths he will go to protect Arabella are rather exuberant, but Arabella needs a little of this in her cautious life. And Turnip needs a little bit of Arabella’s steadiness in his. These two ultimately balance the other out and I found that to be most appealing in this short novel. You wouldn’t think Turnip, who readers have met in previous books in the series, could carry his own book, but I really was surprised at how much I liked this story. Like Arabella, you can’t help by love Turnip’s personality, it would be like kicking a puppy.

As for Arabella, she was a much quieter character. She’s had a harder time of things than Turnip. Her aunt married the man that Arabella thought to marry herself and she’s had to return home because of that. When she finds herself in cahoots with the handsome Turnip, she certainly expects nothing to come of it and worries that it may even tarnish her reputation at the girls’ school. Luckily for Arabella, these Christmas pudding carrying spies make it impossible for Arabella to make a clean break from Turnip.

While this is my favourite holiday read, I should mention that the Christmas theme is not overpowering in this book. The Christmas stuff that does happen is more historical in context, meaning that there are sleigh rides, yule logs, mistletoe and what sounds like an absolutely disgusting food: Christmas pudding. I loved these little details and I like the fact that Mischief in the Mistletoe was not overtly Christmas-ey – that way I can enjoy it all year round.

All in all, if you’re looking for a lighthearted holiday read, I highly recommend this book. It was funny, the mystery was light and the romance was very tame, and there were, of course, spies!. It’s the perfect read to read by the Christmas tree with your hot drink.

And finally, as a quick aside, Willig has also written a short sequel to Mischief in the Mistletoe, called, Away in a Manger. It’s free from the author’s website. And lastly, it seems that the next installment in the Pink Carnation series is to feature Turnip’s sister, Sally. Personally, I can’t wait to read that book, Sally is hilarious and I’m sure that she get herself into lot’s of trouble and I can only hope that her brother and Arabella will make a cameo appearance.

Happy Holiday Reading!!

Wagering on a Western: ‘The Texan’s Wager’

242344The Texan’s Wager by Jodi Thomas
Jove, October 29, 2002 (Historical Romance; Western)

Rating: Outstanding Adventure!

While I am generally a fan of Regency or Victorian era romances, I’ve had a sudden hankering for the American West. Especially, after reading Ellen O’Connell’s Eyes of Silver, Eyes of Goldwhich I found fantastic in an angsty, sickeningly sweet way . I’ve read a couple western romances in the past that have been hit or miss, but I decided to give Jodi Thomas a shot after seeing her name pop up on many lists for western romance, hoping for a winner, and find one I did. The Texan’s Wager is the first in a series and I totally loved it!

Bailee Moore has agreed to participate in the wife lottery in order to get out of jail. Bailee and her traveling companions have been locked up after possibly killing the man, Zeke, who attacked them. The sheriff decides that to deal with them, he’s going to have the men of the town enter a lottery for the ladies’ hand’s in marriage and handily resolve his problems. Carter McKoy, in a wild, instantaneous impulse, decides to put his name into the ring and by chance ends up married to the practical, spinsterish Bailee. Bailee’s not sure about Carter, her silent groom, but she wants to make the best of a bad situation. Slowly the two of them get to know one another, but trouble brews on the horizon when it seems the man Bailee and co. killed isn’t actually dead, and he’s looking for revenge.

I was totally in love with this book and didn’t put down after picking it up. It’s always fun to find a new author that you like, and I will definitely be looking for more of Thomas’ books, and reading the rest of this series. In the romance department, it was pretty tame, but I loved the relationship development between Carter and Bailee. Carter especially was a refreshing character. You just don’t see very many innocent-type heroes like Carter. After the murder of his parents, he’s basically been the town reclude, never speaking, and totally unfamiliar with the ways of the world. For example, at one point Carter advises Bailee that she could go and live at a “boardinghouse” and he’s got no clue that it’s a whorehouse. It was refreshing to have this kind of character and I liked the complications it brought to the romance.

My one complaint with the book would have to be the under explained events of Bailee’s past. She’s left her family behind to travel out West because she killed someone. This is briefly looked at near the end of the novel, but I kinda feel this is a big deal and I think it deserved some more focus. I would have liked to have found out all of the details for what led Baliee to kill, and I feel like I never got that here.

Overall, I highly recommend this one for fans of Western Romances, and also for fans of romances that focus on the sweeter side of romance. Some may call this “sickly sweet” but I can it awesome and it gets my seal of approval.

Up next on my Western Romance reading education list is Maggie Osbourne, another Western writer who I hear good things about – time will tell.

Similar Reads

Eyes of Silver, Eyes of GoldMountain Wild (Wild, #3)The Officer and the Bostoner

Eyes of Silver, Eyes of Gold: Like Baliee and Carter, Anne and Cord have a not so great start to married life, but the tough work is worth it in the end.

Mountain Wild: Maggie would be the female version of Carter. She’s innocent in many ways of the world, and it takes an unconventional guy to look past the outer trappings, just like Baliee had to look past Carter’s lack of words.

The Officer and the Bostoner: Allison and Wes marry by happenstance, and like Carter, Wes is hoping to do anything to keep Allison around. I’d say that Wes is the character most like Carter, so if you liked the beta type hero, you’ll likely enjoy this one (or any of Gordon’s books for that matter).

Happy Halloween with ‘Doctor Sleep’

16130549Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
Scribner, September 24, 2013 (Horror)

My Rating: Outstanding Adventure

I’ve been drifting through Doctor Sleep for a couple of weeks now and just finished it in time for Halloween; fitting, I think.

While this one did take me awhile to get through, it was not because I didn’t enjoy it. Stephen King is just one of those authors that I get engrossed in, set down and then don’t return to it for awhile. But, as soon I start back up, I’m sucked in. This was the case with Doctor Sleep. I would set it down, but would finish big chunks at a time.

As most people are aware (unless you’ve been living in a cave) Doctor Sleep is the sequel to King’s 1980 The Shining. In Doctor Sleep we return to little Danny Torrence who is all grown up and still trying to deal with his shining abilities. We are immediately aware that Dan’s not been so successful at dealing with the shining, in fact, he’s taken the same path as his father and has turned to alcohol to deal with the strange visions he experiences. Because of his dependence on alcohol, Dan’s done some not-so-good things over the years, and when he finally hits rock bottom in a small town, he vows to get sober with AA. Dan ends up settling in this small town and eventually starts working in a hospice where he helps the residents cross over; hence the nickname, ‘Doctor Sleep.’ Over the years he realizes that there’s a young girl, Abra, that also has the shining, and she periodically gets into contact with him. For the most part, Dan doesn’t really think too much about Abra, but understands that she’s significantly more powerful than he is. However, when a sinister group, The True Knot, set their sights on Abra, Dan has to make a decision and to contact Abra and her family. The True want Abra for her “steam” or psychic talents, which they can “consume” if they kill her and inhale her essence. They have been doing this to kings for a long time, and it’s given them longevity; however, they don’t count on Abra having help to defend herself.

There was a lot of stuff going on in Doctor Sleep and I really don’t think I can completely capture it in a short review. What I really liked was the contrast between the unnatural family of The True, and Dan and Abra’s makeshift family. On one hand, it’s very clear who the bad guys are. The True are killing kids and stealing their essences. That’s obviously a villainous thing to do. But what threw me off balance is the fact that The True are a family and they care about one another. We see their side of the story, and while it’s completely twisted, they still have those qualities that most families have. It was bizarre at times to see the villains thinking in a family-oriented way rather than being completely vilified.

Now for those who consider King merely a horror writer, I think you should reconsider. First of all, Doctor Sleep isn’t particularly scary. I personally found it sinister with The True’s creepy caravan of kidnappers, traveling across America in their RVs and murdering children. It was sinister because The True were hiding in non-threatening bodies as bad people so often do. To me, the characterization of The True as RV-goers was the real creepy part of the novel. Although, there were some cringe-worthy moments while I was reading. Anytime that Dan knew a person would die, flies would appear on that person’s face. There’s something about the way this is described that makes my skin crawl. So, if you’re worried about being scared, I wouldn’t say this book is “scary,” but it does have it elements of creepiness.

Overall, I thought this was an exceptional book and showcased a lot of elements that I like best about Stephen King. And make no mistake, King is a good writer – after all, Margaret Atwood says so.

My Favourite Stephen King Books (excluding The Shining, of course):

The StandUnder the DomeItPet Sematary

Seraphina: Dragons, adventure, intrigue and love (Oh my!)

seraphinaSeraphina by Rachel Hartman
Random House Books for Young Readers, July 10th, 2012 (YA Fantasy)

My rating: I’ll definitely go here again!

Dragon shapeshifters, interspecies tension, love, adventure, great characters, and intrigue. I loved this young adult novel about a young woman trying to come to grips with (and hide) her secret deformities and unusual abilities and to live a normal life.

Seraphina lives in a world of tentative peace. For decades, the dragons and the humans have held a truce, but mistrust still runs deep. To facilitate the peace and to learn more about the humans, dragons have developed the ability to change shape and walk as humans, and they visit the kingdom of Goredd as ambassadors, scholars, and teachers. The anniversary of the truce approaches, and the dragon general visits Goredd to sign the renewal of the treaty.

A member of the royal family is murdered in a mysterious way, so that it looks like the culprit was a dragon, which causes interspecies tensions to ratchet up. Seraphina becomes involved in the investigation, and with the studly captain of the Queen’s Guard, also known as Prince Lucian Kiggs, fiance of the princess (the same princess that Seraphina tutors in music).

As Seraphina and the court prepare for the dragons’ arrival, she, Lucian, her mentor, and a few other interesting and complex characters race to discover the conspiracy behind the royal death. Throughout it all, Serphina hides her secrets from everyone, including Lucian.

The gradual resolution of the mystery and reveal of Seraphina’s secrets keep the plot interesting. I really loved the dragons’ inability to feel emotion in their natural forms, and the confusion that caused when they shifted into human forms. Suddenly they feel anger, fear, an desire they’ve never felt before. In particular, the General’s coping with this phenomon added a delightful humanity to his originally fierce and forbidding character.

The magic, and Seraphina’s special abilities, are intriguing – I can’t wait to see them develop in future books. And then, of course, there’s the sweet romance between Seraphina and Lucian, as they get to know one another, deny their feelings, grow distant through distrust and secret-keeping.

All around a delightful, well-written novel, one I truly enjoyed.

Read-alikes

(click on the images to go to each book’s Goodreads profile)

Crown Duel (Crown & Court) Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass #1) Dealing with Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles #1)

Book Review: The Spirit Thief

The Spirit ThiefThe Spirit Thief by Rachel Aaron
Publisher: Orbit
Date: October 1st 2010
Genre: Fantasy
Series: The Legend of Eli Monpress #1
My rating: Vacation by the beach
This book is, as the blurbs suggest, a lighthearted romp through an interesting magical world.

In a twist on the common elements-that-relate-to-magic and/or magical talents, such as fire, earth, water, and wind, every thing in this world has a magical spirit. Universalism for magicians? At any rate, humans can enslave, bargain with, or make servants out of spirits of things such as rocks, sandstorms, wind, trees, birds, etc. Spirits can see each other, but humans are blind. The people best able to manipulate spirits are called wizards, and there are some political structures involved. Obviously, there are good wizard practitioners (spiritualists) and bad (enslavers). Wizardry seems to consist of asking or ordering spirits to perform their natural functions. E.g., a sandstorm is dangerous, fire burns, water douses, etc.

In this world, the plot follows a man who, for reasons that are vaguely explained, has the ability to coax just about any spirit to help him. He is a thief with an ambition: to become the best thief ever known. To do this, he steals not a priceless artifact or a treasury full of gold, but the king of a small nation. The story opens with the theft, and follows the thief and his companions, the wizard sent by the spiritualists to capture him, and occasionally the baddies. The thief’s scheme is ridiculous, and scoffed at by the other characters, but the danger is real, when a usurper uses the confusion to try to take the throne. A small, unimportant-seeming detail becomes the basis for a decent plot twist at the end, and the showdown between good and evil is satisfying.

I enjoyed this airy fantasy. The thief is delightfully talented and eccentric, the spiritualist sent to capture him is amusingly exasperated, and the thief’s companions are intriguing, and hint at darker aspects of the world (as in, spirit-eating demons) that keep this light novel balanced. The world-building is solid, if not detailed, and the characters’ interactions with animated “inanimate” objects are amusing (for other talking objects, read Piers Anthony). The tension between the main characters is good. I really enjoyed the final showdown between the thief, the government, and the wizard sent to capture the thief. The only thing I found distracting was the author’s tendency to switch between the thief/spiritualist perspectives to that of the thief’s swordsman companion.

Read-alikes

A Spell for Chameleon (Xanth #1)    Dealing with Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles #1)    The Dark Lord of Derkholm (Derkholm #1)

Classics: The Shadowy Horses

shadowyhorses The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley
Publisher: Jove
Date: March 1st 1999
Genre: Fiction / Paranormal
My rating: Outstanding adventure
This novel went way beyond my expectations, into “truly delightful” territory. I had expected something a little less fiction and a little more fluffy (Kind of like Elizabeth Lowell, who writes stories involving art history, book history, studies of artifacts, etc. – but whose writing is not nearly as good).

This novel has a perfect mix of history, romance, and mystery.

The plot begins immediately, with an archaeologist re-tracing her route on a bus after managing to sleep through her train stop. She’s received a teasing letter from an old flame about an amazing dig in southern Scotland, and is on her way to the Scottish borderlands to find out if she wants to work on it. The man financing and leading the dig has a reputation for being a bit mad, which she doesn’t find out until she meets him. It turns out he’s looking for the fabled Lost Legion, the Legio IX Hispana.

The author throws in a ghost – “The Sentinel” – and a psychic boy, which at first I thought I wouldn’t like. Fortunately, the supernatural stuff does not ruin the story or the characterization, both of which are compelling.

(more…)

Classics: On Basilisk Station

on basilisk station On Basilisk Station by David Weber

Publisher: Baen Books
Date (original): April 1993
Genre: Science Fiction / Space Opera
Series: Book One of Honor Harrington, Honorverse
Sequel: The Honor of the Queen
My rating: I’d go there again!

This space opera opens as Honor Harrington, a commander in the Manticoran Navy, transfers to her new command. Her ship is small and old, but still space-worthy, and she settles in to her new position optimistically, even though the ship’s armaments have been completely re-vamped, and not in a promising way.

Unfortunately, her ambition is blocked by an Admiral trying to avoid losing face after a radical but disappointing demonstration in the ship’s first wargames. Harrington and her ship get sent to the back of beyond, a place called Basilisk Station, which is the place Her Majesty’s Navy sends its screw-ups and oddballs to rusticate.

The plot thickens when Honor’s superior officer, nominally in charge of the fleet at Basilisk Station, excuses himself (and his ship) from duty on claims that his ship needs repairs. This leaves Honor with too many responsibilities and not enough hands to fulfill them. Nevertheless, she tackles the problems with determination and courage.

Basilisk Station, although neglected, is in fact a valuable hub for hyperspace travel, and the People’s Republic of Haven, a neighboring and warmongering system, is eager to find new sources of revenue. Fortunately for the Manticore system, Harrington is determined to do her job, and do it well, even though Basilisk Station has had a succession of incompetent and uninterested naval officers stationed there.

Harrington and her crew muzzle smugglers, conduct customs inspections, and work closely with the local government on station and on planet. The situation heats up when her vigilance leads to the discovery of a nefarious and mysterious plot.

The villains are never in doubt, not even in the characters’ minds, but this doesn’t harm the story. In fact, the mystery is in what exactly the villains have planned.

The story is so complex, with detailed intra-Manticoran and interstellar political intrigues that affect Harrington’s position and her ability to do her job, the plot development on-planet and on-station at Basilisk, the descriptions of space physics, that it is very dense reading. For all that, the book is well-paced with very few dull moments.

Additionally, the interpersonal conflicts and tensions, as Harrington struggles to lead a demoralized crew, are fascinating. In particular, the difficult relationship Harrington has with her first officer adds interest and draws sympathy from readers, but I found myself very interested in many of the secondary characters as well. Harrington herself is an impressive role model, only slightly imperfect (I love how the author, when using some of her crew as narrators, hints that they think she is perfect, and then when it switches back to Harrington’s narration, the reader sees how imperfect she thinks she is.)

The action builds smoothly to a page-turning chase scene climax.

Caution: the violence is graphic. Very gruesome, but very evocative of the dangers of (space) warfare.

Sometimes I found myself confused by the technical descriptions of the physics behind space travel, and the mechanical descriptions of malfunctioning ship parts. Otherwise, this book was exciting, well-written, and fascinating on so many different levels (politics, battle, interpersonal relationships). I look forward to continuing the series.

Read-alikes:

Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon  Primary Inversion by Catherine Asaro    Grimspace by Ann Aguirre    Gabriel's Ghost by Linnea Sinclair

Book Review: The Best of All Possible Worlds

best of all possible worlds The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord
Publisher: Del Rey
Date: February 12, 2013
Genre: Science Fiction / Romance
Rating: Outstanding Adventure

I did not imagine that The Best of All Possible Worlds would be one I couldn’t put down, but it was practically glued to my fingers for as long as it took me to finish it.

The story opens with the cataclysmic destruction of an alien planet, and is moved by the people’s search for a future and for the preservation/survival of their race and culture.

A group of Sadiri settlers (all male) arrive on Cygnus Beta, a planet made up of a hodgepodge of different humanoid species, a true mixing bowl. Sadiri are infamous for their sense of superiority (they have mastered using a greater percentage of their brains than any other species), and the potential for serious clashes between the two cultures arises. The mission of the Sadiri men is to find compatible females – namely, taSadiri – who are genetically linked to the Sadiri, with which to mate/marry/rebuild.

Dllenahkh is a Sadiri councillor who leads the search. He is partnered with a low-level government biotechnician named Grace Delarua, who narrates most of the story. They, along with a small team of experts, travel the world for a year to locate and present their plans for intercultural blending to various groups of taSadiri who have settled on Cygnus Beta in the past.

Dllenahkh is reserved, controlled, and intellectual, while Delarua is bubbly, funny, and energetic. I found her outlook on life incredibly captivating and often hilarious. In fact, I think one of the things that drew me in most was Delarua’s personality and narrative style.

One of the things the author does extraordinarily well is apply extremely diverse prose styles to Delarua’s and Dllenahkh’s narration. Each character is given a distinct, vivid voice, which is aptly portrayed in tone, pacing, and vocabulary.

I loved the slow build of the romance between the two main characters. Wow. It is so subtle and complete, and I loved that the courtship so exactly matched their personalities. As they navigate their cultural and personality differences, it becomes a true, affectionate and respectful, strong bonding based on understanding and consent.

But that’s not all! Two other things I want to highlight: The Universe, and the Anthropological approach.

Some may not appreciate the slow-moving, relatively uneventful plot. I was so engaged in the story and the characters and the cultures, I didn’t even notice. I loved discovering each colony that the main characters visited, and their different cultures and ways of living. None are perfect, some are strange, and some are bigoted. Each has a different social norm. The novel raises questions of boundaries, cultural incompatibilities, different moral compasses, and outside influence. When is it okay to intervene?

The Universe. Wow. I won’t go into detail, because it’s one of those things a reader should discover for him- or herself. It’s integral to the way the story just unfolded like an origami figure. However. I will say that I believe the novel may not actually be set in the future, time travel and space travel notwithstanding. For Earth is embargoed, and at one point the situation is explained to Delarua in such a way that it seems as though Terrans are not ready for interspecies interaction. Fascinating! I have so many questions about this, I would like to see them answered in another novel set in the same universe.

This book is about differences. It’s about survival. And it’s about the harmony that can result from a mix of peoples, cultures, and personalities. Of course, it’s also about travel (time, space, and planetary), adventure, and love.

Highly, highly recommended.

Read-alikes:

For a different approach to cultural and biological clashes, negotiations, and relationships, I would recommend C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series. Intense, thrilling, and laden with danger, a human negotiator manages interspecies relations with a culture based on assassination and retribution.

Foreigner

For a lighter take on interstellar cultural interactions (and manners!), definitely try Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s Liaden novels, beginning with The Dragon Variation. This series is also great for Austen lovers.

The Dragon Variation