4.5 star review

December TBR Challenge 2016 Sky Raiders by Michelle Diener

TBR Challenge 2016

Topic: Holiday Themes

Sky Raiders.jpg

If you are reading this, there will be no public shaming this month. But, because I am a Scrooge and tend to despise holiday stories, there will be NO holiday story. Bah-humbug! In fact I have completely gone off the map, this is a very new story, and it wasn’t even on my TBR because I didn’t even know it was coming out until it was released. SO I am reviewing it, because screw you 2016, you suck and I am going to do what I want.

Without further ado, here’s my pick for the final TBR challenge of 2016, Merry Christmas to ME!

First they flew their mysterious sky craft through the skies of Barit. Then they started attacking. Finally, they began to raid.

Garek’s one year of duty as a guard walking the walls of Garamundo was extended to two when the sky raiders appeared. Two long years away from home and his lover, Taya. When he finally returns, the town is empty. While Garek was protecting Garamundo, the sky raiders were taking their victims from his hometown.

Taya can’t bear looking into the night sky. All she can see is Barit, her home planet. Impossibly, the sky raiders have brought her and their other victims to Shadow, the planet that shadows her own, and looking up makes her aware of everything she’s lost. Garek is out there somewhere. She knows he’ll look, but he’ll never find her.

She and the other captives have to find a way to escape. Without the food and clothes the sky raiders bring them from their raids on Barit, they’ll starve on the almost barren wastes of Shadow. And when they’ve given the sky raiders enough of what they want, that’s exactly what the sky raiders will leave them to do.

She does have an idea of how she can break free–the sky raiders have brought them to Shadow to mine for ore. A very special ore which Taya has worked out is as dangerous to the sky raiders as it is valuable.

What she doesn’t realize is she’ll have some help with her plan. Because Garek isn’t giving up. And he’s even more resourceful than she could ever have imagined.

Nothing is going to keep him from Taya. Not even space itself.

I am not sure what I expected when I started this. I mean it was an autobuy because it is Michelle Diener and she hasn’t hit a wrong note with me yet. I didn’t even really read the blurb, I just one clicked when the release day email came. I’ll just start by saying I found myself raising my eyebrows a little once I started. Not what I was expecting after the previous books I’d read would be an understatement.

But here is what we have. On a foreign planet where there is significant civil discord, sky raiders have taken to, well…the raiding of both personnel and resources. We have two young lovers who have been parted first by the civil discord, and next by the raiders. As the story progresses we alternate between Taya, a forthright women who stands up for and to people, and her love-Garekek. They are a good match for one another, and you can see it by how they each respond to the events in their respective story lines, but I’ll admit I found it a little disconcerting for their stories to play out so much apart (almost half), no matter how each thought of the other, but because of their long-standing history, it did work for me.

But on the plus side we got to see a strong female friendship develop between Taya and a woman named Min (she seems like a sharp cookie, and a sweet lady), and that is always a favorite for me. And there was an almost as well-developed male friendship with young aristocrat Aidan. So yeah, the main characters developing relationships outside the one between them is almost always a winning combo for me and these were charming.

This book is the start of a series, so there is quite a bit of info woven into it to set it up for future stories. There are certain powers involved that I won’t disclose because I expect it might be considered spoilerish, and we start to see the clash of cultures and policies that field the civil discord. While there’s action and intrigue to go along with our love story, there is also a ton of politics that sets the stage for future books. Your mileage may vary, but I enjoy politics when it isn’t the near apocalyptic horror we have encroaching on our daily lives like current events, so we’ll just say I found it interesting and enough to hold the threads of future tales together.

As for this particular story, not just how I see the series going, I enjoyed it a lot and will probably re-read it. But, the ending felt a little rushed, and it wasn’t as tied up as I tend to prefer my love stories. But, I am avidly looking forward to future stories in the series and hope to see more of Min, Aidan, and a young man named Dom (a really interesting character but to tell more I would have to spoil things).

Sky Raiders (Sky Raiders, #1)

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News, Thoughts and Opinions

September TBR Challenge 2016 –

TBR Challenge 2016

Topic: Random Pick (a built-in off-theme month – go where your mood takes you!)

If you are reading this, this is my public shaming that I did not follow through on my TBR Challenge 2016.

The mood in all honesty took me no where. I am completely floundering this semester. Readers may have noticed from my blog blurb that I am an audiologist. What you might not know is that I am an audiologist who works at a University and am on the Graduate Faculty. Traditionally I have seen patients, managed scheduling, coding, contracting and billing, as well as supervising students in clinical service provision, and teaching labs. This year due to a retirement, my teaching load has increased significantly, as well as increased research…on top of my traditional duties/ On the positive my students say I am doing well and they seem to be enjoying my class despite the fact it is extremely intense, and 3 publications I am involved with are going through the reviewing process. Should i get published I might just share it on this blog. On the negative, I can’t remember when I was last so exhausted (happily so, but still), and this is all on top of personal health issues, family health issues, and just innumerable other things. Anyway, I am doing quite a bit of rereading. And like I have told my students in the past, eventually you will get used to your new schedule….I just hope I haven’t been lying to them all those years.

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3 star review, DNF

August TBR Challenge 2016 Double Header – Defy Not the Heart by Johanna Lyndsey & Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

TBR Challenge 2016

Topic: Kicking It Old School (publication date 10 years or older)

Defy Not the Heart

Reina seethes with rage over her fate: taken captive by the knight Ranulf — a golden giant of a man — who has pledged to deliver her to the nuptial bed of the despised Lord Rothwell. She will never accept such bondage — and Reina offers herself to her kidnapped instead, offering to make Ranulf a great lord…if he agrees to wed her.But the brave knight desires much more than a marriage of convenience from this proud, headstrong lady who treats him with scorn yet makes his blood run hotter than liquid fire. She must come to him of her own free will — or Ranulf will take her. For the passion that consumes them both cannot long be denied — even though gravest peril surely awaits them on the heart’s trail to a destines and turbulent love.

This one has been on my TBR for some time, and it seems to be one of the few Johanna Lindsey books I can not remember having read during my teen Lindsey binging period. It has been published and then republished (multiple times) since 1989-so it fits comfortably in the TBR Challenge parameters. And just this past fall it was brought to my attention again, and once again slipped off my radar-I even had it checked out from the library and forgot to read it. I was going to do a different book for this challenge, but I figured NOW is the time.

This should have been my jam. Heroine starts out in armor defending her home. Hero has a cat. I hear good things. But alas, by the 5th chapter I was STILL trying to force myself to read it. Even reading the last chapter didn’t entice me to continue reading. I didn’t even get to any of the good parts when I had to quit. Something about the was the author used language just put me right off and had me crinkling my nose and curling my lips into a sneer.

I tried, really I did. I don’t remember if this is the way Lindsey has always written, or if this is unique to this particular book, but it really didn’t entice me to go back and reread anything. And pleasure reading really shouldn’t be this hard, so I finally gave up.

Defy Not the Heart (Shefford's Knights, #1)
But, since I got an early start on this one and had the time, i went ahead and tried for a second one.
Cold Comfort Farm

This was another recommended read, it is the oldest book on my TBR (published in 1932), it was immediately availalble from the library, and I was hoping a change was as good as a rest.

When sensible, sophisticated Flora Poste is orphaned at nineteen, she decides her only choice is to descend upon relatives in deepest Sussex.

At the aptly named Cold Comfort Farm, she meets the doomed Starkadders: cousin Judith, heaving with remorse for unspoken wickedness; Amos, preaching fire and damnation; their sons, lustful Seth and despairing Reuben; child of nature Elfine; and crazed old Aunt Ada Doom, who has kept to her bedroom for the last twenty years.

But Flora loves nothing better than to organize other people. Armed with common sense and a strong will, she resolves to take each of the family in hand. A hilarious and merciless parody of rural melodramas, Cold Comfort Farm (1932) is one of the best-loved comic novels of all time.

I don’t know exactly what I just read, but it was unexpectedly delightful. Somehow much of it puts me in mind of my childhood memories of the Anne of Avonlea series…though I read those so long ago anyone with current experience could likely rightfully dispute me. The rest of the book is filled with onomatopoeia and ridiculousness. Half the words aren’t really words, and the rest of the words don’t often make sense when put together….if you stop and think about it. So whatever you do, don’t think about a bit of it and let the imagery the paint pictures in your mind.

So what that the cows might lose legs, and hooves, and their horns? Just enjoy how Flora cheerfully goes about managing everything in her midst until everything is just so. She plots and maneuvers with the best of intentions until everything falls perfectly into place, and then is left lonely and bereft. So what is a managing female to do but fall instantly in love with the man who won’t tolerate her managing, and him with her?

I suspect that there is much I am missing in this. But it seems the type of thing one can either read surface or deep, and enjoyment is possible at either level. I am not in raptures over it as some seem to be, but it was cute. And while I won’t likely be re-reading it, I do think I will recommend it to others. It is definitely unique if nothing else.

Cold Comfort Farm

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4 star review

July TBR Challenge 2016 – Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase

TBR Challenge 2016

Topic: Award Nominee or Winner

Lord of Scoundrels

DETERMINED LADY

Tough-minded Jessica Trent’s sole intention is to free her nitwit brother from the destructive influence of Sebastian Ballister, the notorious Marquess of Dain. She never expects to desire the arrogant, amoral cad. And when Dain’s reciprocal passion places them in a scandalously compromising, and public, position, Jessica is left with no choice but to seek satisfaction …

LORD OF SCOUNDRELS

Damn the minx for tempting him, kissing him … and then forcing him to salvage her reputation! Lord Dain can’t wait to put the infuriating bluestocking in her place — and in some amorous position, And if that means marriage, so be it! — though Sebastian is less than certain he can continue to remain aloof … and steel his heart to the sensuous, headstrong lady’s considerable charm.

This particular month’s challenge was RITA Award Winners and Finalists, and it turns out I actually had several to choose from on my TBR.

This particular book has been on my TBR since I discovered Doc Turtle’s analysis at SBTB. This won’t be my first Loretta Chase, as that honor goes to Mr. Impossible, which was fantastic. I was actually fortunate enough to get this book digitally from the library, so whoohoo for saving money (and it turns out it is available from Open Library), but Lord of Scoundrels is actually the third book in the series, and I do not have time to read the others first, so I am jumping in and hoping for the best. It is a generally well liked book so I’ve got my fingers crossed, and since it is so well and often reviewed, and more than 20 years old, I shan’t apologize for any possible spoilers, you have been warned.

The story starts with a rather unhappy marriage and an even unhappier young Sebastian. Seriously, there ought to be a law against some people procreating. So he grows up hard and crude, and stunted emotionally. He has no faith in women or love and is basically an awful, awful person with a ton of self loathing.

Jessica Trent on the other hand is what turns this book from historical to wallpaper historical in my opinion. She is simply out there. Basically Chase plopped a contemporary (albeit slightly insane) heroine into a historical, AND I JUST DO NOT EVEN CARE! Seriously, Jessica is a trip and makes the story. She’s acerbic and strong willed, devious, and supremely competent. She’s runs circles around her brother Bertie, bowls over the hero, and takes the insults and stupidities of Sebastian’s rakish friends like Vere Mallory in her stride. And she doesn’t belittle herself for being a normal human being. In short, she’s my idea of delightful.

And their “courtship” can best be summed up in their most common phrase to one another “I should like to see you try.” Irresistible force meets unmovable object doesn’t even begin to cover it. It is a series one one ups and misunderstandings that are epic in their proportions. Meanwhile, they are both actually being very upfront and vulnerable to each other, though they each suspect the other’s motives and can’t see that fact.

Their “courtship” culminates with Jessica shooting Sebastian, so naturally enough he HAS to marry her, there is no other way for him to top that. At which point our protagonists finally get some extended time to work through their issues, and Sebastian in particular starts seeing the world and himself through a very different lens, which changes everything. And naturally they fall in love and live happily ever after.

So what if that sounds trite, it isn’t, and it is seriously delightful. My only issue I think comes from jumping into the series at a mid point, because it seemed as though there were characters that I should already know. However, going back and reading the blurb for Captives of the Night (book 2), it looks like that actually happens AFTER Lord of Scoundrels, so I am a little confused. In any event, following completion of LoS, I immediately checked out books 2 & 4, so I should get that all cleared up in my mind fairly shortly.

Lord of Scoundrels (Scoundrels, #3)

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1.5 star review, Miscellaneous

June TBR Challenge 2016 – River of Eden by Glenna McReynolds, Tara Janzen

TBR Challenge 2016

Topic: Favorite Trope (a favorite theme – amnesia? secret baby? fairy tale? friends-to-lovers? etc.)

River of Eden

A LOST WORLD
In the heart of the rain forest lies a prize Dr. Annie Parrish is willing to risk her life for, an extraordinary orchid known to the Indians as “The Messenger.” With her resources dwindling and time running out, only one man comes cheap enough and is skilled enough to take her deeper into the savage reaches of the Great Green Hell known as the Amazon.

A ROGUE SCIENTIST
William Sanchez Travers has macaw feathers tied in his hair, a week’s worth of beard, and a shaman’s crystal hanging around his neck, convincing Annie that even the wildest stories she’s heard about him don’t tell the tale. A Harvard-trained botanist, the once world-renowned professor lost his reputation – and some say his mind – when he vanished from his camp on the Rio Cauaburi and disappeared for a year in the forest. Now he’s back, in a seedy waterfront bar with a beer in his hand and a mulatto woman doing the lambada on his lap – and against every ounce of common sense she has, Annie’s about to make him a deal.

ONCE THEIR JOURNEY BEGINS, THERE’S NO TURNING BACK
The last thing Will needs is a woman whose secrets run as deep and dark as his own. A renegade in her own right, the legendary Amazon Annie is a magnet for trouble – and he’s already got plenty. He’s out to destroy a devil named Corisco Vargas, before the twisted army major can unleash his nightmarish forces on the whole of the Amazon. Trapped between a shaman’s mystical visions and the violence of the real world, their journey quickly becomes one of desperate danger. But which force will rule their fate – justice, vengeance, or a power as potent and seductive as the Amazon itself?

OK, so I like the academic vs wild man trope. It probably comes from my early obsession with Sean Connery in Medicine Man and was honed by Linda Howard’s Heart of Fire (which I think I am going to have to go back and re-read now). And I am not entirely sure how it first came to my attention, but I slapped it on my Amazon wish list, and ran it through ereaderiq, and when it popped up for free I snatched, and it has languished on Mt. TBR of Doom since….01/30/2015, which granted isn’t as much as I am sure some books have been on, but still, pretty disheartening. Where does the time go?

Anyway, this one could also have gone for the >10 years challenge as it was originally published in 2002, but I was drawing a blank when it comes to a favorite trope, I don’t think I really  have one. In any event,this was published almost a decade after Howard’s version, though you might not have known it from the casual use of the term mulatto and the misogynistic way Will thinks of and speaks to Annie. In that manner it felt very old skool 80’s.

The book is weird though. There is a surprising paranormal element full of mystical Amazon rain forest mumbo jumbo. I wasn’t expecting it to be honest. And while I do enjoy a good paranormal, it felt off here.

Will and Annie though have plenty of adventure, and danger, and chemistry. And despite the oddball paranormal elements and some significant pacing issues, I was rocking along with it until something I find skeevy, the hero had sex with a not really awake heroine. Blergh, I am not a fan. And to add insult to injury there isn’t a  bit of thought to pregnancy or birth control. A cardinal sin in my eyes.

As far as the plot itself, it was initially meh, rollicking adventure on the amazon, a villain or two to beat, and the hero and heroine butting heads. There were some early plot holes that I was initially willing to accept, but by the time the last chapters had come around those holes were plot craters and the ending was a lopped off, dues ex machina, no explanation, no relationship after-care, basic mess. It was like the author didn’t know how to resolve the action or develop the happily ever after so some awkwardness was tacked on to give some facsimile of an ending.

I don’t know how better to explain it. This just didn’t work for me. The characters grated, the story dragged when it wasn’t dumping you in plot holes, there were cardinal sins, and it didn’t resolve into anything that left me feeling happy or satisfied. I hate to just eviscerate something, but this I can’t really scrape up enough good to balance it out. I was giving it a solid 3-3.5 until about halfway, and then it dropped like a stone.

River of Eden

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3.5 star review

May TBR Challenge 2016 – Uprooted by Naomi Novik

TBR Challenge 2016

Topic: Something Different (outside your comfort zone, unusual setting, non-romance etc.)

Uprooted

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

150 year old hero with teen girl, yeah, that is outside my comfort zone, and I rarely read straight fantasy except for a few authors I’ve kept around for a long time. And NA/YA rarely goes well for me. But this was so well reviewed by people whose opinions I usually agree with, that it has been languishing on my pile. But then I came across another review last month, that left me feeling blegh about starting this one. And on top of my current slump, I approached it with some trepidation.

Warning: There will be spoilers. I don’t feel bad because this book has been out for a good long while.

But it was, well it was in turns delightful and horrid really. For the first third of the book there were no romantic urgings or longings, no heat or tension between the two main protagonists, just one young girls’ journey of self discovery-love, hate, jealousy, need, and personal growth. And the magic, both technical and lyrical in its turns kept me captivated. But if you need a well-defined magic system in place this may not work for you, here-at least the way Agnieszka does it, it is more art than anything else.

That’s not to say that it was perfect. Besides the grossly May December romance that was blooming, there was something in the voice of the novel that I just couldn’t quite like. You know how Katniss’ voice in the Hunger Games was somehow a step remote and cold? This was about two steps farther than that. And the way Sarkan treated her was abominable and never really reconciled. The way the initial scene with Prince Marek where he attempts to rape Agnieska and when she successfully defended herself Sarak got bent out of shape AT HER, and his solution was to let the would be rapist think he’d succeeded, that rankled entirely throughout the book. I was also set to be upset about how her “womanly” magic was so often denigrated throughout the story-but the longer I looked at it the more it seemed that the rest of them were so bound by rules that it showed more a lack in them than in her, so that worked out okay in the end for me.

But still, it kept me hooked so I almost didn’t care that I was perturbed at the voice and some of the characters. But most lovely thing of all, for my piece of mind, the one thing that kept me from being completely irate, the moment the tension did appear between our two protagonists, they separated. And Agnieszka was left to fumble, and fight, and learn her way through the next half of the story. And she received her own autonomy and freedom by being put on the lists in her own right. There’s adventure, death, and betrayal that she makes her way through before the two are reunited. Basically she did some much-needed growing up, so that I thought her less of a child, and this is key-was no longer in any way under Sarkan’s power. And in many ways I was able to see Sarkan more as a lonely stunted man. This is a fairy tale, so of course they were going to end up together. And I could have done without that aspect to be honest, but at least it didn’t squick me out as much as it might have.

But the reason for the sorcery and The Wood, and the way it all played out? That was, if not entirely to my liking (it was almost inexpressibly sad) it was entirely engrossing and not at all what I was expecting. And THAT was the happy(ish) ending that really worked for me. Girl getting guy? Yeah, somehow that part of the ending left me feeling a trifle saddened in a way that I am finding difficult to articulate. I think I honestly didn’t want them together. Don’t get me wrong, they meshed in a way that I think set a foundation that will last. But female friendship and love that lasts through every hardship and even seeing the ABSOLUTE worst in the other, that is the kind of priceless I don’t often get and was what made it work for me.

So, do I recommend it? That is hard to say. I overall enjoyed reading it and don’t feel it was a waste of my time. But I am glad to have been able to check it out of the library rather than spending money. And despite the fact that I am a massive re-reader, I doubt that I will re-read this one. Though I do I agree with others that it may actually be worth rereading, that there are layers yet to be plumbed. So it is a tricky one. But in general I think yes I would recommend it, with the caveats that if you want any of the following then this isn’t the book for you: real romance, real YA/NA, a really wrong hero groveling, or a strong and consistent magical system. Otherwise, if the idea of a fairy tale sounds like it might hit the spot, this might be a good choice.

Uprooted

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