Friday, August 22, 2014

Renee's Reading: 2014-08-09 through 2014-08-15

Book reviews are back! Some of these aren't, strictly speaking, from last week. It was a busy week getting "Fishwife" wrapped up and so I didn't have much time for reading. Plus one of the books I did read was longer than my usual fare. But I had all those books I read on my hiatus that I never got time to review, so I tossed a few of them in here to fill things out. After all, a blog post just isn't a blog post of mine if it isn't way too long. ;-)

The Saint, by Tiffany Reisz
Before she became Manhattan's most famous dominatrix, Nora Sutherlin was merely a girl called Eleanor. . .

Rebellious, green-eyed Eleanor never met a rule she didn't want to break. She's sick of her mother's zealotry and the confines of Catholic school, and declares she'll never go to church again. But her first glimpse of beautiful, magnetic Father Marcus Stearns--Søren to her and only her--and his lust-worthy Italian motorcycle is an epiphany. Eleanor is consumed--yet even she knows that being in love with a priest can't be right.

But when one desperate mistake nearly costs Eleanor everything, it is Søren who steps in to save her. When she vows to repay him with complete obedience, a whole world opens before her as he reveals to her his deepest secrets that will change everything.

Danger can be managed--pain, welcomed. Everything is about to begin.

I had a mixed kind of anticipation for this book. I've read the first four books in Reisz's Original Sinners series, collectively known as the Red Years Quartet. I really enjoyed some of those and other not as much. I've also enjoyed quite a bit of Reisz's short fiction set in this world. Being a curious person, I couldn't help being intrigued by the idea of an entire novel devoted to Nora and Søren's backstory.

At the same time, we got a lot of that backstory in the first four novels, particularly in The Mistress. Was there really enough new information to make a full novel compelling? Or would it just be repetitive? Heck, some of the flashbacks within The Mistress were repetitive and that really bugged me. Would this just be more of the same on an even bigger scale?

I was impressed with Reisz's handling of this particular balancing act. There was a lot of repetition. Quite a few scenes which had been described over the course of the Red Years Quartet were included in this novel. They were important fleurking scenes, so it's not like she could skip them. But the greater degree of detail given here kept them interesting. Also, the spaces between those scenes were wonderful. Eleanor's adventures are just as compelling as Nora's were.

But, speaking of Nora, this book is structured around one of my least favorite tropes ever. "Hello, new character. Sit down by the fire and I shall tell you my tales of yesteryear. . . " (I had this issue with The Mistress as well.) Rather than being a true prequel that is the story of how Nora and Søren got together, the whole book is Nora telling the story of how she and Søren got together to someone else. It's one big novel-length flashback, and the periodic check-ins with the "present" kept kicking me out of the story. As I said, I found Eleanor very interesting and, even with all the hot sexytimes, I started to resent the scenes with Nora and Nico for interrupting her story.

Objectively, I will say that as the flashback angle goes, it was probably done well, but flashbacks bug me. So that's a personal preference, this is just my opinion, your mileage may vary, etc.

Overall, I liked this book and I am looking forward to the release of The King in November. I like Reisz's writing and I love Nora, so I'll make my peace with the flashbacks.

Nice Dragons Finish Last, by Rachel Aaron
As the smallest dragon in the Heartstriker clan, Julius survives by a simple code: stay quiet, don't cause trouble, and keep out of the way of bigger dragons. But this meek behavior doesn't cut it in a family of ambitious predators, and his mother, Bethesda the Heartstriker, has finally reached the end of her patience.

Now, sealed in human form and banished to the DFZ--a vertical metropolis built on the ruins of Old Detroit--Julius has one month to prove to his mother that he can be a ruthless dragon or lose his true shape forever. But in a city of modern mages and vengeful spirits where dragons are seen as monsters to be exterminated, he's going to need some serious help to survive this test.

He only hopes that humans are more trustworthy than dragons.

When I read Rachel Aaron's 2k to 10k last year, a part of my brain wondered just what this extremely fast writing meant for her as it related to the glacial pace of the traditional publishing world. Soon after this random question popped up in the back of my brain, Aaron answered it in a blog post when she announced her upcoming Heartstriker series.

". . . the main reason I decided to self publish was a purely Rachel problem. See, I write fast. Like, really fast. And the cold hard truth is that New York simply cannot buy my books as quickly as I can write them. Self publishing provided me with a ready solution to this conundrum. . . "

Aaron has also said she set out to produce a self-published book of such high quality that her regular readers would not be able to tell the difference between it and her traditionally published works, which seemed like an interesting experiment to me. People routinely talk about how self-published novels just can't compete with their traditionally published counterparts in terms of quality, which I quite simply just don't believe. There's a spectrum, just like with anything else. But even with the best self-published novels, there are subtle differences sometimes. Could a traditionally published author, with the right knowledge and resources, make a seamless jump from one outlet to the other?

Well, the short answer is yes. I can tell you that I, a reader of Aaron's traditionally published works, did not see any difference in the quality of Nice Dragons Finish Last compared to the Eli Monpress novels or the Paradox trilogy she recently published as Rachel Bach. Now I read ebooks exclusively and I understand this was published as digital only, so print readers would obviously have had a different experience. But as far as I'm concerned, this was just another great novel by a writer I love, no matter what company was or wasn't listed on the copyright page.

On to the actual book review! As is pretty much becoming expected for me when reading Aaron's work, I loved this book. Aaron always writes a great mix of action and humor and this book is no exception. Between Julius's hunt for the missing dragon and Marci's trying to hide from the goons sent to kidnap her, there's never a dull moment. Aaron's depiction of the DFZ and the social and political consequences of magic were also very intriguing and made a great backdrop for the story.

Also, while I've never been drawn to futures with flying cars, I would line up in a heartbeat for a car that drives itself. I will gladly welcome our robot overlords if it means I don't have to pay attention in traffic anymore.

Julius wasn't quite what I was expecting. He was so passive at the beginning of the story and I guess I've grown accustomed to Aaron's main characters being a little more. . . confident. Even though I know I probably shouldn't, it's hard sometimes to avoid comparing an author's characters to each other. I remember thinking at one point "Dragon or not, Devi would eat this guy for lunch and pick her teeth with his bones." Not that this is a bad thing. It was, in fact, the whole point. Julius is a character who still has to find his way and I enjoyed the way Aaron evolved his character over the course of this story.

I liked most of the other characters too. Bethesda annoyed me. I'm hoping that at some point later in the series Julius's Mommy Dearest is going to fade into irrelevance and that day will be a very good one. Justin didn't do much for me, but I adored Bob. I love a good probably-not-actually-going-to-turn-out-to-be-a-very-good-guy-but-not-actively-trying-to-kill-the-good-guys-right-now-so-let's-at-least-enjoy-his-humor-while-we-can character. Marci is, I think, going to be interesting to watch and her and Julius stumbling around each other while trying to find a good balance was entertaining.

Overall this was a fun intro to what I think will be a great new series. In addition to telling a great story, Aaron has built a very interesting world here and a couple of very interesting characters for us to explore it with in later books. And hopefully, with her being such a fast writer, those later books won't be too long in coming.

St. Raven, by Jo Beverley
A Lady with a Quest. . .

Cressida Mandeville agrees to Lord Crofton's vile proposal, but secretly she has other plans. She will trick the loathsome man, find her father's hidden wealth, and save her family from ruin. All goes well, until a daring highwayman stops their carriage, whirls Cressida up onto his dark horse, and demands a kiss. . .

A Duke with a Conscience. . .

Tristan Tregallows, Duke of St. Raven, doesn't plan to rescue a damsel in distress, but he can hardly leave an innocent in Crofton's power. One kiss confirms his prisoner's innocence, but instead of grateful, she is furious. When he discovers that Cressida is on a quest, one that will take her into the darkest parts of Regency society, St. Raven knows he must become her partner and protector. But he doesn't expect the dangers to his heart. . .

I've been working my way through Beverley's Company of Rogues series over the last few weeks and even though there aren't really any Rogues in this one, it's still set in that world and so I guess it sort of counts. A few of the Rogues get mentioned anyway, though now that I'm thinking about it I can't remember if any of them actually put in an appearance.

St. Raven was a solid read. A little bit of intrigue, lots of heat, decent characters, and a good depiction of an orgy of all things. You don't see the main characters attending orgies very often in regency romance, so it certainly gets points for originality there.

I was disappointed by how much angst and moping there was in the story, particularly the second half. I know class distinctions were a big deal in that time period, but I get bored when the potential for scandal becomes the only thing keeping the hero and heroine apart.

Overall I liked this book but I didn't love it. It started out pretty strong but sort of fizzled by the end. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon, but I wouldn't recommend much more than that either.

Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
Claire Randall is leading a double life. She has a husband in one century, and a lover in another. . .

In 1945, Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon--when she innocently touches a boulder in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach--an "outlander"--in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of our Lord. . . 1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire's destiny in soon inextricably intertwined with Clan MacKenzie and the forbidden Castle Leoch. She is catapulted without warning into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life. . . and shatter her heart. For here, James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a passion so fierce and a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire. . . and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

I've discovered in recent years that I have some really random gaps in my genre reading. I read a lot and I try to read widely, but I often find myself completely unaware of books it seems like everyone else in the world has read. Outlander was one of those. Until everyone started talking about the television show, I had never even heard of it.

Yay for the television show! Not because I've watched it or have any plans to do so. I don't have Starz (I don't even have regular cable, let alone premium channels) and I don't watch much television these days anyway. But it did point me in the direction of a new book and I totally loved it.

I also understand why people I've heard talk about it have had so much trouble classifying it. The scope of the story feels like fantasy, with this richly detailed world and lots of history and politics and adventure. But then there's the fact that it's so very focused on Claire and Jamie and their relationship. Decidedly romancey.

Too big and in many places bleak to be romance, too lovey dovey to be fantasy. I can understand how some folks had trouble with that. If you really don't like one or the other, it would probably be very difficult to get into this book.

Luckily for me, I like both fantasy and romance and have absolutely no problem with mixing the two of them together. :-)

It also probably worked so well for me because I liked Claire very much. She's practical in the face of a completely impractical situation. Sucked back in time, embroiled in politics and intrigue she doesn't really understand, fumbling through a relationship she didn't expect, she could have turned into a complete raving loon. Instead, she just grabs hold of the situation and builds a new life for herself. I'm not saying there weren't times when she fumbled it and really annoyed me, but for the most part, I adored her.

At the same time, I really just don't know what to make of Jamie. I liked him, but I didn't really understand him a good deal of the time. Perhaps because I don't know much about Scotland or its history or culture or politics. I have no real frame of reference for this character. And I understand the circumstances that push him and Claire together, but I'm not sure I quite buy them as a good couple yet. I'm going to have to see where the next book goes.

I also really liked the quandary the time travel aspect of the story presented. Claire's choices there are interesting to watch and I'm curious to see what impact her actions have on the future, assuming Gabaldon comes back to that. (And really, why write a time travel book if you're not going to come back to that?) The timelines have to potential to get really twisted here, which has me curious.

Overall this was a great read, though longer than I'm used to lately. It's certainly not a book you can knock back in an afternoon! But the adventure was enough to hook me and the characters and premise were strong enough that I'm definitely going to read the next book in the series.

I've read a lot of really good books lately, so I'm glad to be back to blogging so I can share them with you. Have you read any of these? What did you think?

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