Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Chronicles of the Warlands by Elizabeth Vaughan

Warprize - A-  This is a fantasy romance about Lara of Xy, a royal daughter and Keir, Warlord of the Plains.  Lara is given as "warprize" to Keir as part of a peace deal between he and Xymund, King of Xy (Lara's half-brother). Xymund tells Lara she must be Keir's slave in order to ensure peace between the two peoples. Lara, despite being a princess, is also a sworn Healer and it is in her nature therefore to seek peace - not without some trepidation, she nevertheless goes to Keir, prepared to sacrifice herself for her people.
At heart, it is the story about the clash of two cultures and how they, through Lara and Keir find some common ground and a way forward together.  The People of the Plains (called "Firelanders" by the Xy) are horse people and live a nomadic existence - (I imagined a Genghis/Attila type arrangement here, with a bit of Native American thrown in also).  The Xy are city-dwellers - similar to medieval England but a bit more advanced.  Unknown to Lara, Keir has a dream of uniting the two cultures for mutual benefit.  Lara's understanding of the term "warprize" is incorrect - because the story is told from Lara's 1st person perspective, this "big misunderstanding" didn't bother me - in fact I was grateful for it.   If Lara's understanding of the situation had been correct, it would have been very difficult for me to like Keir.  However, his treatment of Lara is always honourable and I was very happy there was no "forced seduction" in this book.    The story itself takes place over only a matter of days but this didn't really occur to me until after I'd finished reading the book - despite the short time frame, I did buy the feelings Keir and Lara had for each other and their HFN (I say HFN, because I knew there were other books featuring this couple and logic therefore tells me that there would be some future conflict to be resolved).  The only thing that really bothered me was that there were occasionally words used which I felt didn't fit my image of the setting of the book - for example, when Lara says "I feel fantastic", it felt, to me, like those words didn't belong in the time period of the story - so there were a couple of occasions where I was thrown out of the story by the apparent anachronism.  Of course, this is a made up world so Ms. Vaughan can use whatever words she chooses - they cannot be historically inaccurate. Still, there were a few times when I felt it jarred.  It was something that I noticed (albeit with decreasing frequency) over the whole series.

Warsworn-  B+.  I'd call this book part 1 and Warlord part 2.  I think I would have been really annoyed if I hadn't had the next book to go on with immediately.  At the end of Warprize, Keir is returning with his warprize to the Heart of the Plains.  By the end of Warsworn, they haven't even go their yet.  So, where I expected to be, as set up by book 1, was not where I was, until the end of book 3.  Keir and Lara continue to develop their relationship with each other and learn about one another's cultures.  On the journey to the Heart, they come across a Xy village which has been ravaged by disease - such is unknown to the people of the Plains - it is an unseen foe and death from disease is not the honourable death of battle.  Nevertheless, the Plains warriors soon find themselves in a battle against a deadly disease and not everyone will survive.  I found the events of this book emotionally compelling, especially as I'd become quite attached to some of the secondary characters I'd met in the first book. 

Warlord - B+/A-.  Keir and Lara finally make it to the Heart of the Plains in this book, and must face opposition from the Council of the Elders and the Warrior-Priests to Lara's installation as Warprize.  We find out more about Marcus, Keir's token-bearer and his bonded mate - I'm so looking forward to the (let's hope HEA for these two!).  As much as I enjoyed it, I did feel there were a couple of conversations missing in the book - where, for example, was the conversation about babies with Keir?  Where was the conversation about what happened to his other children?  Still, I like Keir and Lara very much and was engrossed the whole time.
Warcry - A-/B+  This is the newest release - and instead of being a 1st person story told from Lara's perspective as the others had been, this one is in 3rd person, and is mainly the story of Heath and Atira.  There is plenty of Keir and Lara for fans of the couple, but the perspective broadens in this one.  Because I read the series back to back, it took a little getting used to but I came to appreciate the different perspectives - there was even a little from Keir's point of view!  Lara and Keir have returned to Xy for the birth of their first child and there, they face continuing opposition to the alliance between the two peoples.  I suppose there's not much different here in terms of story arc from the first book, but I was so happy with the characters and seeing Xy from Atira's point of view, I didn't feel a lack.

I'm so hoping there will be more to this series!   I have questions - What will happen to Liam and Marcus?  What was the light from the Heart?  How is Simus? Will Keir become Warking?  So, as much as I have enjoyed this series, I am left wanting - there must be one or maybe two books left for the story arc to be told, don't you think?

(ETA: I emailed Elizabeth Vaughan and she tells me there are 2 more books planned - one for Simus and one for Joden - one hopes that Liam and Marcus' story will be included in there somewhere too! Unfortunately, I don't think they've been written yet, so we have a bit of wait.)

Chronicles of the Warlands Series (to date) grade - A-

Friday, July 8, 2011

June Reads

On Paper/eBook

Kiss of Snow by Nalini Singh - B/B+  see full review here.

Whispers of Sin by Nalini Singh (from Burning Up anthology) - C+.  Set in 2072, some years before Slave to Sensation (book 1 in the Psy-Changeling series), this is Ria and Emmett's story. It's funny to see Dorian so young! I thought it had an excellent start but it kind of fizzled a little for me by the end - I wonder if it's because the story, due to it's length, couldn't be fleshed out enough to satisfy - I wanted more Emmett!

 Magic Bleeds by Ilona Andrews - B+ I'd only listened to the audio version but decided to read the book in the lead up to the release of Magic Slays.  Very, very good.  I love this series.  Curran.  Rowr.

Magic Slays by Ilona Andrews B+/A- see full review here.

When Tony Met Adam by Suzanne Brockmann C+/B- Well, the good news is that the bedroom door was open this time! :)  I really enjoyed the beginning of the story but I felt it ended very abruptly and didn't give me the closure I wanted and the belief in the HEA.  I know, from reading Hot Pursuit, that they were together some time later as Tony and Adam hooked up in New York (off page) during that book.  For a story which was celebrating the end of Don't Ask Don't Tell, I thought it was odd that the celebration part was *mild spoiler* one paragraph stating that the characters were getting married after the policy was revoked.    I liked it but ended up wanting more to really satisfy. 

We're Both Straight, Right? by Jamie Fessenden - B+ I picked this up after reading Chris's review on Goodreads.  Thank you for the rec Chris! :D  What a funny little story!  I'm sure it's all sorts of politically incorrect and there were niggles about some aspects of the story but overall, it was a sexy and LOL short about 2 straight college roommates - one hears that they can earn big $ doing gay porn and then, of course, they have to practice.  In the end, I enjoyed it so much, that I was prepared to ignore my slight niggles and just go along for the ride.  Really fun.

Breaking Point by Pamela Clare - B+ The risk with a much anticipated book is that it will not live up to expectations.  This is even more so if one has gorged on glowing reviews all over the interwebs before actually getting to the reading part.  Perhaps that is why I still rate Naked Edge as the best in the I-Team series and Gabe as my favourite hero.   Or not.  I enjoyed the bromance between Julian and Marc. I enjoyed the time Natalie and Zach spent in the desert (well, apart from the tarantulas - so not ever going to the Sonoran desert and also, could not watch a movie version) - I think I was expecting that part of the book to be much longer.  Once they got back to "civilisation" I thought the book was a little weaker.  I also wondered at Natalie's career decision at the end of the book.  Not the decision itself - but more that there hadn't seemed to be any set up for it and it just kind of plopped in there at the end.  However, that may sound like I didn't enjoy the book - not true.  I did.  Quite a bit in fact.  But, Gabe's still my favourite :) 

Unlocked by Courtney Milan - B+ Self publishing authors take note - this is a very good example of how to do it right.  I picked this one up after all the hype over at Dear Author and Smart Bitches.  I'm happy to report that the hype was largely deserved.  While I wouldn't gush quite as much, there was a lot to like in this novella. I very much liked the prose and the way Milan captured the genuine guilt and remorse of the hero.
But this notion that all the hurt he'd caused could simply disappear because he wanted it to - that had been the last childish dream he'd held on to.  He let go of it now.  What you did when you were young could kill you. It just might take years to do it.
And, I liked the way Evan had to work (and work hard) for his redemption.  It wasn't one kiss and all is forgiven.   I have Unveiled on my TBR.  I may have to push it up the list now (of course, I say that about so many books that it doesn't really change anything but...)

Trinity by Lauren Dane - C-  Maybe if I'd read any of the previous Cascadia Wolves books I would have enjoyed this one more.  I didn't really understand the mythology - I don't think this is a good book to start the series.  We commence with Renee (a witch) and her mate Galen (a jaguar shifter) all happy together.  Then they meet Jack (a wolf shifter) who recognises Renee as his mate. It turns out that both Galen and Jack have been with males before and all three end up in a menage - so there's m/f and a little m/m too. The sex is hot and there is some nice prose in the writing in parts but overall I felt the story was disjointed and uneven.  Galen courted Renee for a number of months and they didn't just fall into bed together.  Contrast this with Jack - they're all getting it on very quickly.  Too quickly for me to really believe I'm afraid.  I would have liked the m/m aspect explored more as it seemed uneven to me.  The men were both in the relationship for Renee and the only way both could be mated to her was to have a tri-mate relationship.  The m/m sex was just icing I think.  By the end of the book the guys are saying they love each other too but it is a pale thing compared to what they feel for Renee.   The suspense subplot which runs through the book is UNRESOLVED. (Argh!) I wish I had've known that going in.  Apparently it will be completed in the next book but I don't think I'm likely to read it unfortunately.

Bad Company by KA Mitchell - C+ An enjoyable enough story but not, I think, as strong as previous books by this amazing author.  I think part of my problem was the set up of the story - childhood friends who'd had a major falling out and had lost tough.  Rich friend turns up on other friend's doorstep and says, I'm trying to piss daddy off - can I move in and pretend to be your boyfriend - because daddy is a massive homophobic prick.  Unfortunately, the set up made it hard for me to like the characters at first and just when I was starting to like them, the story was ending.  The sex was hot and there were some amusing parts of the book about the gay lifestyle and gay sex (rich friend is not afraid to ask questions!).  I heard the author is working on a book called Bad Boyfriend.  I wonder if it will feature the same characters?

On Audio

Reunion in Death by JD Robb, narrated by Susan Ericksen - B+ Continuing on my JD Robb audio glom, this is another solid offering in the series.

 Purity in Death by JD Robb, narrated by Susan Ericksen - B+ Ditto!  (Also, some nice stuff with McNab and Peabody and Mavis is "knocked up".)

Raziel by Kristina  Douglas (aka Anne Stuart), narrated by Karen White and Paul Costanzo - Story B- , Narration B stars - Karen White B+ , Paul Costanzo C-. This is the first book in a new PNR series so there's a fair bit of world building to do which means that the romance doesn't take up as much page time as in say, a straight contemporary or an historical.  I found the romance between Raziel and Ally didn't really get going until about 2/3 the way through the book and, I felt just when I was really getting in to it, the story ended.  I still have some questions which hopefully will be answered in the next book - eg what happens to the angel's wings?  The concept is interesting and I'm interested in continuing the series but it took some time for me to connect with the romance aspect of this one.
Raziel has a dual narration - Karen White reads the female POV and Paul Costanzo reads male POV - the story is told in alternating first person, mostly from Ally and Raziel's POV.  This was my first experience with both narrators.  Karen White reads with great expression and I thought she conveyed the... not abrasiveness... but something a bit nicer... of Ally very well.  Her male voices are more by way of tone rather than a deepening of pitch but it was easy to tell the difference between Ally and Raziel. Differences between the other Fallen were harder to pick and I relied dialogue tags (and sometimes there weren't any so I had to guess) in those circumstances.  Overall, I was quite happy with Karen White's narration and I probably would have enjoyed the book better if she had done all of it.  Because, I didn't think all that much of Paul Costanza's frankly.  This was a first person book, when Raziel is talking about strong emotions, I expect to hear that emotion in the voice, but Mr. Costanzo's narration was very removed and mostly, for me, emotionless.  Funnily enough, the emotion he did manage to convey came mainly when he was doing Ally's voice, which was a bit "draggy" but not too bad (it's really hard for men to do a good female voice I think).  It was almost impossible to tell the difference between Raziel and the other Fallen's voices and given that Mr. Costanzo got most of the scenes where they were interacting, it did make things difficult.  I'm hoping that Mr. Costanzo's narration will either grow on me or will get more "connected" to the characters in the next book.

Visions of Heat by Nalini Singh, narrated by Angela Dawe B+ The narration was okay (maybe a C+/B-) but the story is just so good I really enjoyed this one anyway.  With an okay narrator an excellent story is still very good.  With an excellent narrator and excellent story is AMAZING - see below.

** pick of the month **
Maybe this Time by Jennifer Crusie, narrated by Angela Dawe - A.
Same narrator, totally different result for me.  Dawe's narration style suits the contemporary (well, 1992) setting and the snap and zing of Crusie's dialogue and general writing style.  Sure, Dawe has pretty much only 1 male/hero voice but wow, this was a big win for me.   
I like second chance at love stories and this one was one of the best of its type I've read in a long while.  Andi and North have been divorced for 10 years, having been married for only 1 year (and after a 12 hour courtship).  Andi visits North to return 10 years worth of alimony checks and to tell him she's getting engaged (to Will).  North's cousin (?) died a while back and left him the guardian of 2 minor children who live in an actual castle in Southern Ohio with a weird housekeeper - their Aunt (on the other side of the family) died a few months prior and a series of nannies have quit/been driven off - could Andi go and help out for a month, help get the children ready to move to Columbus and get them ready to start school?  He'll pay her $10,000.  So, that's the basic set up.   

The children are well realised - Alice is high maintenance and highly strung.  Carter is very quiet and closed off.  Mrs. Crumb, the housekeeper is creepy and the castle is haunted.  Yup.    By the final stages of the book, we have a medium, a skeptic, a reporter, Andi's hippie/flaky mother, North's uptight mother, North's brother Southie, the children and Crumb all at the castle trying to get rid of the various ghosts.  So, it's partly a farce.  But it's also a love story as North and Andi reconnect and actually deal with what went wrong 10 years before so that it won't happen again.  And there's the love story between Andi and the children.  I really liked Andi and I really liked North.  I thought Crusie did a great job of showing the  differences between the two characters, their attraction and how and why things went awry and then giving them a believable second chance.    And Alice won my heart. That's why this one is my   **pick of the month**.

Just the Sexiest Man Alive by Julie James, narrated by Karen White, C-. Funny thing about narrators.  I loved Angela Dawe's narration of Maybe This Time but thought is was okay but not great in the Psy/Changeling series (so far).  I love Susan Ericksen's narration of the In Death series but found it hard to translate that same enjoyment to Anne Stuart's Ruthless which she also narrated.  Similarly, I really liked Ms. White's narration in Raziel (see above).  It didn't work for me so well here.  I read the book a while back and thought it was a solid B read.  It's a snappy contemporary with smart, quick dialogue and sizzle between the main characters.  I could totally see it as a romantic comedy at the movies.  I felt the pacing of the narration was slow and Jason and Taylor came across as snide, superior and sarcastic - the whole way through the book - it made it hard for me to like them.  When I read the book, Jason starts off as a bit of an asshat but he redeemd himself by the end of the book.  Taylor is quick with the comebacks and doesn't take any shit but I didn't think she was superior and snobby.  But that's how I felt about her when I listened.  
So, that's my take.  I am however, an outlier.  I know of many others who have listened to and enjoyed this one way more than me - some even saying that they liked the audio better than the book.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Kiss of Snow by Nalini Singh

Why I read it:  I was fortunate enough to score a review copy on behalf of ARRA (the Australian Romance Readers Association) which only meant that I read it a bit early as I'm a fan of the series and I would have been reading it anyway.

What's about:  It's Hawke's book people!  :)    Seriously though, this is Book 10 in Singh's wonderful Psy-Changeling series.  While it is mainly Hawke and Sienna's book, there is also a nice secondary romance between Lara, the SnowDancer healer and  Psy/SnowDancer Walker Lauren.  And, it's all set against the background of a coming battle with Pure Psy directed against DarkRiver, SnowDancer and Nikita Duncan and Anthony Kyriakus (members of the Psy Council who understand Silence has failed).

What worked for me: I had wondered if the age difference between Hawke & Sienna would bother me but really, it didn't. Sienna, while only aged chronologically 19, had to grow up very quickly - she was taken from her family by Ming LeBon when she was only 5 and, given the nature of her powers (she's a Cardinal X-Psy), was forced to learn iron control at a very young age.   Hawke is 35 (or maybe 34) so there is a significant age difference - it is one of the factors which Hawke uses to try and keep Sienna at a distance.  Of the barriers in their way, this was the one that was the most believable to me.  The other Pack members and DarkRiver leopards all accept the Hawke and Sienna pairing long before Hawke does and the book does a great job of showing the intense chemistry between the two so, it's just obvious that they belong together.
What didn't:Which brings me to the other main barrier to their HEA - Hawke's childhood love for Rissa, who died at age 5.  Hawke knew that Rissa would be his mate and when she died, he believed he could never share the mating bond with any other - because wolves mate for life and there is only one.  I always had a bit of a problem with this - Hawke wasn't actually mated to Rissa, so where's the problem?  Also, in other books, the mating dance seems to occur without any conscious initiation from either party, so how could Hawke be so sure it would not start with Sienna?  It felt a bit like Singh had painted herself into a plot corner and the getting out of it, was for me, not as successful as I had hoped.
This was a lengthy book for the Psy-Changeling series, coming in at just over 400 pages and a lot happened in it - the secondary romance was given a reasonable amount of page time (I think I could have happily read a whole book of Lara and Walker actually) and there was the whole battle thing which the previous book (Play of Passion) in particular had led up to.  Toward the end, I think Singh ran out of room. Finding the Pure Psy weapons cache, for example,   and what could have been a quite interesting part about an assassination attempt on a couple of Psy Council members were dealt with in one or two sentences only and in the context of the book and the series as a whole, these things would usually have been given more page time.

What else: The chemistry between Sienna and Hawke was palpable and the love scenes were sizzling.  Hawke starts off trying (and failing miserably) to stay away from Sienna and there was a frustrating push/pull until they decided to embark on a relationship.  The next part of the book was the most enjoyable for me because I was fascinated by the how of their relationship - I knew, had known for a very long time, that they would be together and so I didn't want to spend a lot of time getting there - in many respects, I had spent the previous 9 books getting there (!).  How Sienna was going to handle the Alpha Wolf was the part I was most looking forward to and the scenes where they "play" (and no, I'm not being euphemistic here) were, for me, some of the best in the book.  Any, may I say - Walker Lauren - who'd have thought he was a sex god?!
How Singh resolved the Cardinal X factor was, I thought, very cleverly done even though to some extent I'm still trying to put it all together (science-y type things not being entirely my thing).  Singh has created such a fascinating world in this series and it's one I really enjoy visiting.  I'm still trying to work out who the Ghost is and what part Kaleb Krychek will play - will he get his own book do you think? and I can hardly wait until Ming LeBon gets his full comeuppance.

There was one other very special thing in this book - Sascha and Lucas had their baby!  Awww!  If you want to know gender/name etc - Read the Book!! :)

Grade: - B/B+

*please note a slightly cut down (due to a word limit)  version of this review was posted on the ARRA (Australian Romance Readers Association) blog on 22/06/2011 here