Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

About Sunita

http://vacuousminx.wordpress.com

Sunita has been reading romances since she ran out of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse and Chalet School books and graduated to Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer. Other old favorites include Mary Burchell, Betty Neels, Elsie Lee, and Edith Layton. Among current writers, she reads and rereads Anne Stuart, Tamara Allen, Sarah Morgan, Marion Lennox, Josh Lanyon, and Susanna Kearsley. She blogs as VacuousMinx and tweets as @sunita_p.

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REVIEW:  Code Runner by Rosie Claverton

REVIEW: Code Runner by Rosie Claverton

 

Dear Rosie Claverton:

I read your debut Amy Lane mystery, and as soon as I was done I went to Netgalley and requested the next installment for review. Life intervened for a couple of weeks, but when I had a spare hour I started reading Code Runner. As I anticipated given my experience with Binary Witness, I had high hopes for this novel and I wasn’t disappointed. Code Runner is a very strong followup to the first book and I am firmly hooked on the Amy and Jason chronicles.

ACode Runner Clavertonmy Lane, computer hacker and agoraphobe, and Jason Carr, ex-con and cleaner/assistant, have settled into a comfortable relationship. Amy’s house and person are well cared for and Jason is enjoying having a proper job. But their new case puts Amy, Jason, and any number of other people close to them in danger, with several characters’ past and present lives colliding.

Unlike the mystery in the first book, this one finds Jason at the heart of the crimes, and even though he is a more or less innocent bystander, his ex-con background makes him an obvious suspect and he winds up back where he hoped never again to be: in prison, meeting old friends and enemies. As a result, the reader spends a lot of time with Jason, and Amy and Jason spend quite a bit of time apart. Jason engages in some behavior that verges on TSTL, although we can understand his motives. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but think that the actions that got him into trouble are *exactly* the kind of thing for which a heroine gets a ton of grief from readers. So I was glad to see that he had to pay the price, however painful it was to watch those consequences unfold.

I don’t want to say too much about the mystery plot because it’s hard to describe without giving away spoilers. I enjoyed it quite a bit, I didn’t guess the full story until almost the end, and I thought the pacing and overall development of the mystery arc was more successful than in the previous novel. The criminals and victims include present and former friends and associates of Jason as well as members of the police force, and we get to know more about Cardiff detectives Bryn and Owain, Jason’s sister Cerys, and Amy’s sister Lizzie.

The relationship between Amy and Jason continues to develop, and in this installment we get hints that each might be feeling more than friendship for the other. Nothing explicit happens, but in spite of that (or perhaps because of it), the few, fleeting moments when they share a sense of something that might happen between them are quite powerful. I hope Claverton doesn’t rush the relationship, because I love the way each is learning more about the other, and the dry, understated humor that often accompanies their observations provides a bit of relief from the ugly stuff. And I get a kick out of the role reversals:

Jason was cleaning the oven. Amy had learned swiftly that if Jason was cleaning the oven, elbow-deep in grease and melted cheese, he was incredibly pissed off. The first time had been the trashy tabloid article where some so-called journalist had scraped together every flimsy piece of “evidence” he could find and concluded that Jason was a dangerous criminal who police had pardoned to bring vigilante justice back to the streets. They’d quoted liberally from a number of anonymous sources—who refused to be named for their safety.

When Owain had apologetically drawn their attention to it, Jason hadn’t said a word. He had just retreated to the kitchen and scoured the oven from top to bottom for two hours. Meanwhile, Amy had launched a DDoS attack, exploiting an old botnet from her blackhat days to flood the tabloid’s antiquated servers with corrupt code. The site had been down for over twenty-four hours, and the creaking old system had never fully recovered. It had been exceedingly satisfying.

At the same time, though, I’m enjoying the possibility of seeing more romance develop over the course of the series.

As in the previous installment, the sense of place is effectively developed; this isn’t a story that could take place anywhere, but rather it is firmly rooted in its context. We travel outside Cardiff to the countryside and to the coast, and the different locations play critical roles in the story. The book is atmospheric without drawing attention to itself. The writing is still a bit rough in patches, but it suits Jason and several other characters’ relatively rough backgrounds and even Amy’s lack of social acumen.

There are no easy fixes for the difficulties the characters face. Amy is still agoraphobic, and although she takes a big step forward, there’s no guarantee she won’t retreat again. Jason’s past continues to shape his present and future despite his efforts to overcome the hurdles it creates. Code Runner provides the next step in the classic path that a good mystery series takes, and my biggest regret when I finished was that I don’t know when the next installment is due. At this point Amy, Jason, Cerys, Bryn, and Owen feel pretty real to me and I want to spend more time with them. Grade: B+

P.S. I don’t usually pay attention to covers, but wow, did you ever win the lottery on yours. I’d buy print copies just to be able to display them.

 

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Reading List by Sunita for September

Reading List by Sunita for September

While perusing Netgalley as well as recommendations from trusted sources, I discovered that a few of the books I was interested in were the second, third, or even later installments of a series. Then my list got longer when Carina Press put a slew of their mystery series’ first volumes on sale at $ .99. Being someone who likes to read in order, I went back to the beginning, and I had a great time.

 

Cornick Lady and LairdThe Lady and the Laird by Nicola Cornick

I reviewed and recommended one of Cornick’s other historical romances at the beginning of the year, and I finally got around to the first in her newest series. I’m mostly not reading Historical Romance for reasons I’ve written about elsewhere, but Cornick often works for me, especially her early 19thC-set books. This series revolves around the MacMorlan sisters, with the first installment featuring a marriage of convenience story. Lady Lucy MacMorlan finds herself blackmailed into marriage by Robert, Marquis of Methven, who needs a wife and an heir within a short period of time if he is to keep his inheritance intact. Both Lucy and Robert are scarred by tragedies in their past, and despite their long-ago attraction to each other, neither wants to marry. But marry they do, and the second half of the story has them learning to trust each other enough to love, facing the fears born of their pasts, and vanquishing a villain. Cornick does a terrific job of bringing to life a Scotland we see all too infrequently in Historical Romance: don’t be fooled by the tartan on the cover, this isn’t Ochlassieland, it’s Scotland. I liked both Lucy and Methven, although both do a couple of things that seem plot-driven and out of character with their otherwise intelligent portrayals, and the misunderstanding that stretches out the last third of the story is briefer and more organic than in the last book. Grade: B

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Claverton Binary WitnessBinary Witness by Rosie Claverton

I saw a cover on Netgalley that really grabbed my interest, but when I read the blurb I realized it was the second in a series. Mulling it over, I checked out the first book and discovered it was only $ .99. I downloaded it, started reading, and was hooked. Amy Lane is a computer whiz who helps the Cardiff, Wales police force in their investigations. She is agoraphobic, so her sister arranges for her to have a cleaning service. Jason Carr shows up to clean her house, she reluctantly lets him in and a tentative friendship begins. Jason is an ex-con who needs a job and Amy needs both a clean apartment and a leg man. When women start disappearing, Amy and Jason combine forces to investigate, using Amy’s computer skills and Jason’s knowledge of Cardiff. The style is occasionally bumpy; it reads like a debut novel. I’m not a big fan of serial killer or women-in-jeopardy plots and this one took a long time to unspool. But I liked Amy and Jason so much I didn’t care. There is no romance between them, but it doesn’t seem out of the question for the future, so I hold out hope! Claverton is a hospital psychiatrist and both the Cardiff setting and Amy’s condition seemed very well done to me. I’m really looking forward to the next book, Code Runner. Grade: B-

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Murder-by-the-Seaside lindseyMurder by the Seaside by Julie Anne Lindsey

This is another first in a series from Carina, also $ .99, and it is most definitely a cozy mystery. Patience Price is a Human Resources professional who has been laid off from her job at the FBI. She comes home to Chincoteague Island, where her hippie parents still live, to set up a psychology practice. Her arrival coincides with a murder and her high-school flame is the most obvious suspect. Despite still being furious with him for the way he left town after graduation, Patience agrees to help find out what happened. This puts her in constant danger but it also integrates her back into the town. The writing is smooth and assured, and Patience has a very enjoyable voice. There are not one but two romantic possibilities, each different from the other, and Patience’s parents and friends, as well as the townspeople, are sketched deftly and with humor. This is not a city-awful, small-town-wonderful book; Patience goes back because she’s broke, and there are both good and bad people to deal with. I don’t know that I could read a ton of these types of light cozy mysteries in a row; there an awful lot of eccentric people and crazy events. But I enjoyed this one and have already added the next installment to my TBR. Grade: B-

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Wells Presumed DeadPresumed Dead by Shirley Wells

This is the third of my Carina $ .99 specials for the month (just call me Pavlov’s dog). This was written back in 2010 and is the first of the Dylan Scott mystery series. Scott is a policeman who lost his job for using excessive force on a suspect and went to prison for it. His wife has thrown him out of the house and seems ready to make it permanent, his mother has moved into his tiny new flat, but at least his son still loves him and he suddenly has a job offer to find out what happened to a woman who went missing thirteen years ago. I found Dylan really annoying in the first few pages, as he mentally insulted women drivers and talked about his wife as if she were a stereotype rather than a person he knew intimately and loved. I almost didn’t keep going, but I liked Wells’s voice, and Dylan improved immensely. He’s a bit of a clueless type when it comes to women, but he respects them more than I initially thought. The mystery itself is interesting and the missing woman comes to life as a sympathetic person over the course of the book. Dylan’s impromptu partnership with a retired policeman was enjoyable, and I especially liked his relationship with his son (despite their love of Arsenal). Both Dylan’s mother and wife are revealed (to the reader and to Dylan) to be complex and layered by the end, and the door is open for a reconciliation. The Lancashire setting was well depicted, and I’m looking forward to the next in the series. Grade: B-

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The Year We Fell Down (The Ivy Years #1) by Sarina Bowen The Year We Fell Down by Sarina Bowen

I bought this book because I couldn’t resist Jane’s money-back guarantee, especially given how many of my other DA and Twitter buddies had raved about it. I thought that if any NA book could work for me, this one would. And to some extent it did. I can see what readers have loved about it so much. Corey and Hartley are completely appealing, and Corey’s matter-of-fact approach to her disability is a refreshing change from genre fiction’s standard treatment of such issues. I agree that for someone who was injured so recently and whose life was turned upside down, her equanimity seems a bit overdone, but I’d rather have that than the angst-fests and appropriation I more often see. The depiction of the unnamed Ivy League institution is very well done, as is the general feel and rhythm of college life. I’m glad I read the book, but I’m not going on to the next in the series. One reason is that I grew tired of the narrator’s voice even though I didn’t get tired of her, if that makes sense. There is an artlessness to the writing that made it almost monotonous to read. I rarely find myself wishing for more complex prose in genre fiction, but here I did. The second reason is not about the book, it’s about me. As a college professor, it feels voyeuristic to read about the personal lives of students who are all too similar to the ones I see every day, and I can’t get them fully out of my head when I should be immersed in the story. That said, it feels like a very good example of the genre. Grade: B

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