No, I didn’t read a WOT book (Wheel of Time, for you non-fantasy readers) last month, but I did read a substantial chunk of Leigh Butler’s delighful re-read blog of the first eleven books in that series. And my partner thinks it’s funny when I use English slang spellings, because he is by birth an Essex boy. Go figure.
I read 15 books in October; it was a long month, and I’ve fallen behind on my grading. I should say that I attempted to read 15 books, because there are two DNFs in that count, as well as a novella that I quite literally finished in one sitting. Those three and one re-read are the only things I read on the iPad this month; I read a couple of older books that I bought used, one book from the library, and one book that I won in a contest (Gay Writes Week at Dear Author). Of the remaining, one was from my RomCon pile, but the others were all purchased new, in print — four mass market paperbacks, one trade paper, and two hardcovers. But there were reasons. Good ones.
As usual, I read a lot of historical romance this month, and there was quite a variety of quality, length and setting. There were also a number of historical romances with paranormal elements and vice-versa, so the categories are a little jumbled up at the end of this section.
The Taming of Mei Lin by Jeannie Lin. This is a Harlequin Historical Undone, which means short and pretty sexy. I was eager to read it because the heroine is the grandmother of An Li, the heroine in Butterfly Swords. Lin manages to evoke the wonderful Chinese setting even in this shorter form, and she manages interesting and relatively complex characters, too. I read this waiting for my son at his taekwondo class, and then I read it again when I got home. I hope there are more books set in China coming from this talented author. WIN
A Rake’s Guide to Pleasure by Victoria Dahl. This was a re-read, because I had it on my iPad, was stuck waiting somewhere, and I remembered liking it the first time I read it. I’m really glad I read it again. because this time I didn’t like it — I loved it. I don’t know what the difference was for me, but wow, it was great. I laughed, I cried, I — well, let’s just say that the romance is hot without being at all predictable or repetitive, even in the sex scenes. Also, this is the only book I’ve read in quite some time where I found myself longing for an epilogue. (I didn’t get one.) WIN
Wild Sweet Ecstasy by Jo Goodman. I reviewed this for the TBR Challenge here. WIN
Lord Ruin by Carolyn Jewel. Carolyn is a friend, as I have mentioned before, but this is one of her early titles that I didn’t own until recently. It’s a fun, involving story, but more than that, there’s some really astute observation here about the relationship between love, sex and gender. I expect that from Carolyn’s historicals, and it always makes me happy when I get what I want. WIN
One Touch of Scandal by Liz Carlyle. I was very curious about this book; I have liked the author’s two books just before this, which are the only ones of hers I’ve read, but I knew from on-line buzz that this book had a paranormal element, which the others did not. Not that I mind that idea, since many of my favorite books are cross-genre works, but I was curious to see how she would handle it. The book wasn’t bad, but the paranormal world-building didn’t work very well for me, and I didn’t find myself really invested in the characters or their story. PASS
Countess of Scandal by Laurel McKee. This is from my RomCon stash; I met the author in Denver and really enjoyed her company. This book also has a paranormal dimension, and that part was weaker for me than the rest of the book, but overall I found it a compelling read. It’s set in Ireland, with a hero and heroine on opposite sides of the “Irish question,” although they are of the same class and heritage. The historical dimension really came to life for me in this book; I’m eager for more books so that I can continue to follow the events as well as the characters. WIN
Bespelling Jane Austen by Mary Balogh et al. This properly belongs in paranormal romance, but it seems to fit here with the other historical/PNR cross-over books. I found the first story in this collection, inspired by Persuasion , to be creepy rather than romantic — reincarnated fated mates isn’t one of my favorite devices, and this story is exactly why. Even when beautifully written, as of course it is in Balogh’s hands, it can be hard for me to find the romance beneath the compulsion. The second story was a take on Northanger Abbey that I could not bring myself to finish; I found it to be silly, and not in a good way. I will attempt the other two stories someday, but for now this is DNF.
White Tigress by Jade Lee. This is my second attempt to read a book by this author, and I’m beginning to think she’s just not my type. In both books I have found the relationship to be exploitative rather than romantic, and thus I haven’t been able to invest in the couple or want them to be together. I can’t spend half a book screaming “run! Get away from him!” and then feel good about the “happy” ending. This book seemed to have paranormal elements in it, but whether they developed into anything more than delusion on the part of the hero, I don’t know. DNF
Paranormal Romance & Urban Fantasy
Only two books in this category, each second in a series where I loved the first book, both authors I met at RomCon.
Double Cross by Carolyn Crane. Like the book before it, this grabbed me and took me on a crazy roller-coaster ride, and I really wasn’t sure where we’d end up. Not at all where I expected — the author takes a HUGE risk at the end of this book, but I have high hopes it will pay off in the final volume, sometime next year. WIN
Archangel’s Kiss by Nalini Singh. This book is an excellent example of a necessary sequel; the world-building and character development in the first book just couldn’t fulfill their potential without more pages. I needed to see this character stretch her wings (literally) and to see that this couple could succeed in the changed circumstances created at the end of Angel’s Blood. She did, they could, and I am eager for the next one. WIN
I used to read as much or more fantasy by male writers as by female, but not lately. (I think the last one was Under Heaven, by the incomparable Guy Gavriel Kay.) I’m waiting on a number of BIG releases by BIG men in the field, and there are a couple in my partner’s hands that will eventually make their way into mine. But the fantasy ladies kicked butt this month! Most of these are alternate reality versions of our own world, historical or modern; those dratted genre lines keep tripping me up.
Dreadnaught by Cherie Priest. Oh how I love steampunk, and Priest does it sooooo well. I also love alternate Civil War history (check) and trains (check) and — well, much as I liked the other books in the Clockwork Century, this one’s my favorite. WIN
Ascendant by Diana Peterfreund. Killer unicorns, virgin hunters, complex ethical dilemmas — this book is even more gut-wrenching than the one before it. It really exploits what you can do with urban fantasy to illuminate issues relevant to our own not-so-fantastic world. Plus Peterfreund is a great storyteller. I’m wishing very hard for a third book to complete the trilogy. WIN
Five Odd Honors by Jane Lindskold. This is the third book of the Breaking the Wall fantasy series where the magic system is based on mah jong — or rather, in the world of the books, mah jong is based on this magic system. Lindskold is an excellent writer; I’m enjoying reading a series of her books and watching her develop characters over time. WIN
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal. Some books are just beautiful. This is one. Set in an alternate Regency England, where magic abilities are used to beautify lives and homes, and are thus another “accomplishment” to be considered in weighing a woman’s marital prospects, it’s a Regency fantasy that delighted me from beginning to end. And the romance is one that Austen herself could have written. WIN
Crossing Swords by Kirsten Saell. I won this book, as I mentioned earlier, in the Gay Writes Week giveaway at Dear Author. It was donated by author Jill Sorenson, and I was interested in it because it is fantasy with lesbian elements — not a combination I’ve seen much of. This is erotic fantasy romance; there’s a lot of sex, and it has the same sort of predictable variety that I find in most erotica (oh, we haven’t put that appendage in that orifice yet, must be time for it…). But it IS romance, so it doesn’t feel like gratuitous sex. It’s a short book, short enough that I thought the plot was a little rushed or predictable at times. But Saell writes well, I got involved in the characters, and the world-building had some interesting elements. There are two books after this one, following up with some of the same characters, and I liked this enough that I’ll be adding those to my list. It’s refreshing to see lesbian relationships depicted as romance, even though the main couple in this book is m/f. WIN
His Virgin Acquisition by Maisey Yates. This is a Mills & Boon Modern/Harlequin Presents, and those short books are usually problematic for me. I often feel that the relationship is rushed, as well as the resolution, and this book was pretty typical for me in that regard. In particular, I thought the hero didn’t have to work nearly hard enough to make up for his treatment of the heroine when he was suffering the obligatory misunderstanding of her motives and behavior. The bottom line of relationships for me as a reader is trust, and this short format rarely combines with the high level of drama these books require in a way that convinces me. That said, the writing is good, the characters have a level of reality about them that is sometimes missing among the tycoon set, and the heroine has real goals, skills and ambitions. Maisey is a delightful, energetic young woman with a very handsome husband (I met her on a recent road trip), and I’m looking forward to more of her books. PASS