James Hetley's The Summer Country comes with some high praise in its review blurbs, breaking out names like Charles de Lint to sing its praises--whichJames Hetley's The Summer Country comes with some high praise in its review blurbs, breaking out names like Charles de Lint to sing its praises--which is, I must admit, impressive for a debut urban fantasy novel. With that kind of cred out of the gate, I had high hopes for a substantial and entertaining read. I am not, however, entirely convinced that I got it.
On the one hand, I must give Hetley props for a highly flawed and very human heroine, as well as a certain primal flavor to the Summer Country and its inhabitants, the Old Ones. On the other hand--and this may be the jaded palette of a reader of many, many fantasy novels talking, but still--I half-felt like the characters were never entirely real to me, and that several of the conflicts set up between them never quite properly paid off. For example, there's a subplot involving the heroine being angry at her sister for "stealing" the man she was trying to work up the courage the romance--while all the while, the man really liked the sister instead, and both he and the sister were aghast that Maureen had been "psychotic" about obsessing about him. Yet they never actually confront her about this. A similar lack of substance was displayed by the bad guys as well; all we are told about them is that the Old Ones as a rule have no conscience and that they are perfectly willing to mess with each other as well as mortals. All well and good, but without some rock-solid individual characteristics to back that up, most of the time Dougal and Sean and Fiona came across to me as evil just because "the Old Ones are like that", which wasn't satisfying.
And yet, I felt like I saw enough there that I'd like to check out the second book, so I'll give it a go. For this one, two and a half stars....more
Crown in Candlelight, an older work by Rosemary Hawley Jarman, was recommended to me some time ago--but I only recently got around to trying to actualCrown in Candlelight, an older work by Rosemary Hawley Jarman, was recommended to me some time ago--but I only recently got around to trying to actually read it, once I realized I could score a copy from the local library. And even then it took me a while to get through, given that I initially got a hardback edition from the library, and those are always difficult for me to read and cart around. So I wound up laming out and having to check it out twice in order to have enough time to read it all. The second time through, I didn't even finish reading that copy since I just wasn't making the time.
But then I was able to get hold of a recent re-release of the book in paperback form, and that meant I was finally able to finish it. So the question is, was it worth it after all the effort to read the thing?
Yes and no. One of the main reasons it was so tough for me to get through was the language; Jarman's style here is very, very lush and very, very purple. This is a world where every action has an adverb, and every noun an entourage of adjectives. Even the seagulls have topaz eyes. After a regular diet of fairly straightforward and unadorned urban fantasy and SF, making my way through this was like trying to eat a seven-course meal of unfamiliar cuisine. In other words, tasty, but takes a long time to digest.
The book suffers for me as well with spending so much time on backstory. We meet our heroine, Katherine of Valois, daughter of the French king, when she's but a tiny child. Quite a few chapters are spent on her childhood and adolescence, but it can basically be distilled down to this: she's a gorgeous young thing, her father is batshit, and her mother is a scheming manipulator. And oh yeah, she's going to be married off to Henry V of England.
Our eventual hero Owen also gets quite a bit of backstory, albeit initially delivered through the point of view of Hywelis, a witch of Wales, who's in love with him and who risks her own power and standing with her noble father to help Owen go to war in support of King Henry. "You're destined for greatness," she tells Owen, and although she's madly in love with him, she's apparently resigned to the fact that she'll have to go a long time without ever laying eyes on Owen, much less having him back again.
Things don't really get interesting until the action shifts to France, and Owen's joined Henry's armies. He comes to the attention of the king, naturally, and winds up in his household as a bard and one of the servitors in charge of looking after the royal wardrobe. But the thing is, for most of this entire sequence, the interesting character is actually Henry, not Owen. And for a good chunk of the book, despite the fact that the cover blurb is all about the Katherine and Owen love story, we spend time first on the relationship between Henry and Katherine, and what happens when they get married. This for me was actually the most engaging part of the book. Henry as a character had far more depth and nuance than Owen, whose primary function in the story appears to be 'hang around, play music, look handsome, make a bunch of children with Katherine, and be angsty that he can't marry her.'
But eventually Henry dies, and the resultant politics and intrigue that spring up around who'll get to be the guardian and regent to his young son fill out the rest of the story. This is of course set against Katherine's illicit relationship with Owen, but for me that whole love story wound up being interesting only as part of the intrigue. Especially given that things end rather unhappily--and even though Hywelis makes another appearance at the very end, to pronounce how her prophecy about Owen will come true and he'll be the founder of the Tudor line, as a reader I was still left with a bit of a let-down feeling.
Overall not sorry I read it at all, even though it was tough to get through. This is definitely not a book you'll want to read if you're looking for a HEA historical romance. Three stars....more
Matt Ruff pulls off a Herculean task in Set This House in Order: telling a story that involves not one but two characters with MPD, and juggles the inMatt Ruff pulls off a Herculean task in Set This House in Order: telling a story that involves not one but two characters with MPD, and juggles the interactions between not only the front-facing personalities of both, but many of the other personalities in their heads as well. And the amazing thing is, he does this while not only getting the general way a multiple's head works right, but also walking a delicate line between having the trauma suffered by the characters in their pasts inform the story and having it overwhelm it.
Andrew Gage is the front personality of a stable collective in Seattle, with a life that's more or less in order, when his boss at the software company where he works hires a second person with MPD, Penny Driver--hoping on the sly that the two of them will click and that Andrew can provide guidance for Penny, who is only partially aware of her MPD. The first stretch of the book is about exactly this, with Andrew bringing Penny to his therapist and helping her get a handle on her own condition. But as he does, other events make Andrew have to confront parts of his own past--which has been obscured even from the older personalities in his collective.
This book is at times tragic, at others poignantly humorous, and especially in the second half, painfully compelling. I'll say right out that it's difficult to follow if you're not paying active attention; the reader must keep track of when Andrew's and Penny's respective personalities are out and when they're not, and which of them is interacting with which. There are questions of physical gender that confuse the issue as well (and which are nevertheless still entirely appropriate to how a collective may actually work). And for readers with any history of trauma of their own, it is potentially triggery. But I'll also say that the potentially triggery material is delicately and deftly handled. The ending is appropriate, upbeat without being overly sentimental. Five stars....more
In a genre oversaturated with the creatures, it is very difficult to do anything truly unusual with vampires. Jeri Smith-Ready takes a decent shot atIn a genre oversaturated with the creatures, it is very difficult to do anything truly unusual with vampires. Jeri Smith-Ready takes a decent shot at it, setting up a world where vampires are managed by a human agency that once hunted them. More intriguingly, they are mentally unable to break out the time period in which they'd been alive, leading to any number of tics and quirks as they have to force themselves to interact with the present. Six vampires have found the perfect way to do just that: by becoming night DJs at a radio station that lets them play the music of the periods of their former lives.
Problem is, the radio station is about to be bought out.
Into this comes Ciara, a con artist trying to go straight. Her idea to rebrand the radio station as WVMP and to tell the world that their DJs are "vampires" is genius--until older vampires bent on keeping their kind properly hidden go on the offensive against them.
It's a solid and entertaining scenario, never played too heavily nor too lightly. Ciara is likable as a heroine who's determined to use her (shady) talents for Good rather than Evil, and her relationship with the youngest of the station's vampires, Shane, is refreshingly understated as human/vampire love affairs go. The way they click over their mutual love of music is a nice touch, showing that they can like each other as people as well as lovers.
My only real disappointment with the book is that the Control, the agency that manages the vampires, didn't actually prove to be quite as shady as I half-suspected they would be, which might have added an interesting wrinkle to the overall plot. Still, though, a nice read. Four stars....more
LJ user cafiorello had recommended the Marcus Didius Falco series to me some time ago, but I only just recently got around to buying the first book--bLJ user cafiorello had recommended the Marcus Didius Falco series to me some time ago, but I only just recently got around to buying the first book--because it only just recently got re-released in a new edition. On the strength of her recommendation, for lo Cathy is cool, I happily picked it up and have finally read it. Short form, Marcus Didius Falco is an "informer" in ancient Rome, circa AD 70, in the reign of the Emperor Vespasian. In this first book he is pulled into what proves to be the most complicated case he has ever investigated when a beautiful young girl leads him to discover a plot to steal silver ingots (the "pigs" of the title) out of mines in Britain--and to ultimately threaten the Emperor and his sons.
In the initial chapters of the book I was a little put off by Davis' writing style. Like Robert Ludlum, she has a tendency to overuse italics and exclamation marks, which always reads badly to me and makes the prose feel forced, whether in character interactions or in narrative. I also initially found Falco, the hero, a bit too glib for my liking. (And the fact that he was named "Falco" kept making me want to sing "Rock Me Amadeus" all throughout the book.) But I have to admit that he grew on me, as did the amusing collection of colorful side characters.
Same deal, really, for Davis' writing style. She treats her setting pretty much as if she were writing a modern-day detective story, because that's really what this is, only set in ancient Rome. All the characters converse in what comes across as casual, modern-flavored dialogue, too. This may put one off; it did me, initially. But once the story really got its feet under it (and she backed off on the italics and exclamation marks), it stopped seeming out of place. So I was happy I gave it a chance.
All in all a likable read and I'll be checking out the next book in the series. Three and a half stars....more
Decided to give Julie Garwood a go since she'd been recommended to me, but apparently I picked the wrong book or something, because Slow Burn mostly jDecided to give Julie Garwood a go since she'd been recommended to me, but apparently I picked the wrong book or something, because Slow Burn mostly just came across to me as Slow Bore. The blurb was promising, telling me all about how Kate MacKenna was being hounded by things blowing up everywhere she goes, and how said explosions were going to throw her across the path of two different men. And certainly we started off well, with things going splody around Kate as promised.
Except that after two explosions, we got a long stretch through most of the latter half of the book of nothing but conversations, and boring conversations at that. I will give Garwood at least some credit for writing out the conversations in a way that people would likely actually talk, except that the problem with this is that if you're too realistic with your dialogue, including every little offhand comment that a character might say even if it's a bit of a repetition of things that have been said before, it will totally throw off your pacing. I don't need to hear every little word that characters say to one another, especially if I'm reading what's supposed to be a suspense novel about a chick getting stalked by a killer trying to blow her up. I want the characters to stop yapping, and I want to see some things BLOW UP.
Also, I just didn't particularly like the heroine, which took a lot of oomph out of the book for me regardless. She went through the fairly standard waffling about whether she was in love with the handsome dashing hero, up to and including the standard cutesy little things he does that make her think she's got a zillion girlfriends and getting jealous over that. She flat refused to tell the guy she had any feelings for him, of course, and was completely and utterly blown away when he expressed his own sentiments for her, of course. And the heroine and her sisters were all too good and brilliant to be true; this particularly stood out when in one paragraph Garwood has the hero stand back and ogle all three of the women. Multiple sentences all over the book are lavished on how gorgeous they all are, and hardly any at all on what makes these women individuals. I got barely a sense of either of the sisters, who were mostly there to chirp supportive commentary at Kate and to try to shove her at various men to spice up her love life. Last but not least, what Kate chooses to do at the end as a result of a certain plot point that falls into her lap rang absolutely and utterly saccharin to me, and way too much along the lines of "look how virtuous and selfless this person is". Bah.
By the time we got to the ending, what with all the yap yap yap, I was almost too bored to actually pay much attention--but to be fair, the pacing picked up again once we got to the threat of the final bomb and things started. So I will give it points for that. I'll also give it points for handling of sex scenes--while the first one didn't do much for me in general, I approved of not spending too much time on subsequent occurrences of Kate and her guy making love when it had no particular relevance to the action at hand. And there were halfway clever ways of cutting to black with those, too.
All in all, Elizabeth Lowell and Tami Hoag have both done this kind of thing way better. Two stars, and I'll give an extra half for picking up again at the end, so two and a half stars....more
This is a Fourth Doctor novel loaned me by LJ user spazzkat, and it was a quite enjoyable read since I've had only scattered exposure to the Fourth DoThis is a Fourth Doctor novel loaned me by LJ user spazzkat, and it was a quite enjoyable read since I've had only scattered exposure to the Fourth Doctor episodes--and hardly any of the ones in which Romana appears. It was therefore quite a neat change of pace to be reading all about the dynamic between the Doctor and Romana, wherein we not only have a Companion who's smarter than he is, but who's better at time travel too. ;) And, K-9 was a plus as well.
Anyone who had trouble following the tangled timeline of the second and third Back to the Future movies might find this book a bit of a rough go, since it's quite non-linear in plot structure. But it does a great job of introducing a lot of seemingly disparate plot threads scattered over two centuries and tying them up neatly in the end. There's a lot of homage to Douglas Adams in the overall style of the writing, not to mention a couple of the side characters, which added some amusement value--since Adams did work on the show in the Fourth Doctor era. And, space zombies. I mean, you don't get much better than space zombies! Four stars....more
My first Tenth Doctor novel, recommended to me by LJ user eveshka, started off a bit slow--but picked up considerably in the second half. It also hadMy first Tenth Doctor novel, recommended to me by LJ user eveshka, started off a bit slow--but picked up considerably in the second half. It also had the distinction of being the first Doctor story I can remember encountering that's set in actively ancient Earth history, which was a refreshing change of pace. Yet despite the historical setting, there's a nice twining in of futuristic technology as well, and I liked that the scope of this story was more of a "solving a time mystery" rather than "saving the world from imminent destruction". We've gotten quite a bit of the latter in the Ninth and Tenth Doctor episodes, after all.
Writing-wise, I liked this author better than Justin Richards, even if her prose came across a bit insubstantial for my tastes. But her pacing was good, her grasps of both Ten and Rose were overall splendid, and she had some nice touches as well with the brief appearances of both Mickey and Jackie. And for fangirls like me, her one or two light little touches hinting at the romantic link between the Doctor and Rose were sweet. Three and a half stars....more
This novel was recommended to me a while back by LJ user cafiorello, and Cathy, I must now thank you profusely for that recommendation. This was a kicThis novel was recommended to me a while back by LJ user cafiorello, and Cathy, I must now thank you profusely for that recommendation. This was a kickass novel.
Very gritty, almost brutal, with crosses and double-crosses all throughout its complex plot, Altered Carbon is a very violent sort of book set in an intriguing future where humanity has invented technology capable of storing your entire consciousness in a "stack"--and therefore rendering the physical body nothing more than a sleeve which can be changed. For most of humanity, this is a luxury they're lucky to afford once. For the rich and powerful, though, body sleeves can be changed as readily as their clothes. And for these people, death has been rendered effectively meaningless. For Takeshi Kovacs, former member of a paramilitary force called the Envoys and now a criminal sentenced to spend over a hundred years "on stack", waking up in a new sleeve comes with a hefty price: he has to find out why Laurens Bancroft, one of the most powerful men on Earth, was murdered. The police think he committed suicide. Bancroft, whose consciousness has been brought right back out of remote backup and installed in a fresh new sleeve, swears otherwise. He hires Kovacs to get to the bottom of it, and pretty much right of the gate, Kovacs starts cutting a swath through Bay City on his way to the truth.
I'm impressed as hell with Morgan as a writer--because while I never found Kovacs particularly admirable (certainly the man is damn near a psychopath himself and has a long and bloody history which comes back to haunt him at salient points in the plot), I still nevertheless was sucked into rooting for him as he got closer and closer to the truth. Furthermore, I damn near wanted to cheer that Morgan, even as he had his characters throw out random bits of slang dialogue in the course of their conversations, never once went out of his way to try to clue in the reader as to what these terms were supposed to mean. He does the reader the courtesy of assuming that she will be smart enough to figure it out. And I love that.
And the whole concept of moving a person's entire consciousness around between bodies was highly intriguing, too. Morgan does an excellent job of laying out how this has changed society, not only socially but in terms of religion as well. As a fan of the new BSG, though, I had to giggle and giggle at the very first chapter where he wakes up in his new body--because anybody who's seen the Season 2 BSG episode "Downloaded" will find the tank in which he wakes up very familiar. ;) "ZOMG HE'S A CYLON" kept going through my head through much of the book.
Highly recommended for a hard SF read. Four stars!...more
A while back it seemed like three-quarters of the book-related blogs I follow were a-twitter over Don't Look Down, the collaboration between JenniferA while back it seemed like three-quarters of the book-related blogs I follow were a-twitter over Don't Look Down, the collaboration between Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer. Apparently, the idea of a book written by a romance author working with a suspense author was a Shocking Thing, as if nobody had ever written a romantic suspense novel before. This is not to say the book wasn't good, because it was--I just didn't find it nearly as good as the last thing I read because of blog buzz, which was His Majesty's Dragon. ;) HMD felt really new and different to me. This didn't, certainly not after reading, oh, say, J.D. Robb or Tami Hoag or Elizabeth Lowell.
There were aspects of it that really showed the romance-novel half of the creation, and which annoyed me a bit--things like the repeated attempts of the side characters to sic the heroine on the hero, the obligatory Gay Male Best Friend, the obligatory Precocious Child. The kid in particular was unevenly written, with her schtick of overly precise diction and lack of contractions being inconsistent; only when the dialogue gave up on that for her did she actually feel like a real character to me. (And to be fair, she also has some good mileage towards the end where she contributes to the action and yet remains a believable child character.) The hero and heroine weren't anything terribly out of the ordinary, though J.T. is likable with the whole thing he has going on of "incredibly competent when he's in Special Forces mode, a bit awkward and clueless at all other times" thing, and Lucy at no point ever does anything stupid.
Decent enough fluff read, though I had to slog a bit through the kid's stuffier dialogue and the interminable conversations trying to throw Lucy at J.T. Three stars....more