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

Ginn Hale

What Sunita was reading in February

What Sunita was reading in February

January was kind of a bust for me, but I caught up in February. I’ve been trying to read further afield, going past the usual m/m and category and trying more historical romance. They didn’t all work perfectly, but I’ve no regrets in this batch.

Twice Fallen: Ladies in Waiting by Emma Wildes. I discovered Wildes when she was writing for smaller presses and really liked the relationships and the type of sensual/sex scenes she writes. I tried one of her major-publisher releases a while back but it didn’t work for me. This one did, for the most part. Wildes’ historical milieu is somewhat superficial, but she stays out of mistorical terroritory. This book is part of a series but I found it easy to read as a standalone. There are two romantic storylines, one between an unmarried Earl’s daughter and a Duke’s younger son, the other between the heroine’s cousin James and his mistress, who is an artist, an older woman, and illegitimate. There are a lot of standard romance ingredients in this novel, but Wildes does interesting things with them. For example, Lord Damien is a spy and Lord Lillian has a scandal in her past, but both plot points develop somewhat unexpectedly. There’s a mystery, but it doesn’t overwhelm the romance. Full review to come.

AmazonBNSonyKobo

Irregulars, by Nicole Kimberling et al. This is a paranormal anthology comprising four novellas that are set in the same universe, with characters that overlap slightly. The Irregulars are members of a NATO investigative division that keeps track of other-worldly beings who are on Earth out of choice or necessity. The stories, by Kimberling, Josh Lanyon, Astrid Amara, and Ginn Hale, feature goblins, elves, demons, humans and combinations thereof. Each story revolves around a mysterious death (or deaths) and a pair of protagonists who solve them, and they all have HEA or HFN endings. The worldbuilding is excellent across the board, and the characterizations are equally strong. The settings range up and down the West Coast, from Vancouver to Mexico City. For fans of these authors and of well-written gay romantic fiction more generally, this is a must-read. Full review to come.

AmazonBNSonyKobo

Sydney Harbor Hospital: Lily’s Scandal, by Marion Lennox. As readers of DA know, Marion Lennox is an autobuy for me, but this story didn’t work as well as hers usually do. The book is the first of the new Sydney Harbor continuity series in the Medical Romance line, and it has to introduce a lot of characters, including the recurring characters Finn Kennedy and Evie Lockheart. This installment centers on the romance of Luke Williams, a plastic surgeon, and Lily Ellis, a temporary nurse at the hospital. Lily is fleeing the fallout from her mother’s latest scandal, while Luke is avoiding romantic entanglements altogether after an unhappy marriage that ended in tragedy. They are thrown together in their work and personal lives, and they slowly, reluctantly fall in love. It may be that I’ve read too many Lennox romances in a row, because the characters felt overly familiar to me, and the writing style felt choppier and less compelling than usual. If you haven’t read Lennox as often, you are likely to enjoy it more. Luke and Lily are both engaging, realistically drawn characters, and the supporting cast is well done. I’m definitely reading the next installment in the series. Grade: B-

AmazonBNSonyKoboHQN

Dauntsey Park, by Nicola Cornick. I bought this when it was first published as The Last Rake in London and dug it out of my TBR after the Downton Abbey discussion. I really wanted to like it, and the Edwardian setting seems very well done as far as I can tell. Unfortunately, I had a number of problems with the characters and the storyline. The heroine, Sally Bowes (I had a difficult time not picturing Liza Minnelli in Cabaret), runs a gambling house and takes care of her no-good younger sister and her perpetually broke suffragette sister. The hero, Jack Kestrel, confronts Sally when he’s looking for the Miss Howe who is blackmailing his seriously ill uncle. The pair go from insta-lust to fake engagement to insta-love in about three days, and there is way too much telling through internal monologues. Sally is a martyr who defends her sister beyond any reasonable point, Jack is only mildly rakish on the page, and the supporting characters are predictably stock. I liked the setting so much, but I wanted to knock sense into both the leads. Great idea, disappointing execution. Grade: C.

AmazonBNSonyKobo

Once a Ferrara Wife, by Sarah Morgan. Another autobuy author, but this time the story lived up to my expectations. From the first scene you know this is going to be an angsty ride, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I’m not big on full-on angst, but it is well motivated here; this is a marriage in trouble book and the storyline is about their paths back to each other. Laurel Ferrara and her billionaire hotelier husband, Cristiano, have been estranged for two years. When they meet again at his sister’s wedding, they are forced to revisit both their unresolved conflicts and their reignited attraction for each other. Laurel still hasn’t forgiven Cristiano for the crisis that drove them apart, and watching him comes to grips with what a true apology is, not to mention accepting responsibility for his mistakes, is something to behold. But Lauren isn’t blameless; she has to overcome her inability to trust anyone, even those she loves. Cristiano’s billions and Lauren’s business success are almost beside the point as we watch them try and forge a healthier relationship (although the usual Presents accoutrements certainly help the background scenery). The scenes where Cristiano thinks he is making huge strides while we (and Laurel) know they are inadequate are especially effective. My least favorite aspect of the novel was the epilogue, especially considering what had caused the rift in the first place, but I give props to Morgan for making it less predictable than usual. Grade: B

AmazonBNSonyKoboHQNARE

Dark Soul, Vol. 2 by Aleksandr Voinov. I wasn’t sure what to expect after the thrill-ride of Volume 1, but Voinov maintains the intensity and the emotional complexity he established in the earlier episodes. These comprise two short stories that move both the plot and the relationship between Silvio and Stefano forward. The first story is basically an extended phone-sex episode between Silvio and his mentor/lover, Gianbattista, but that bare description can’t do justice to the emotion. The reader suspects this relationship is over, but there is still a strong attachment between the men, and the conversation and the sex are suffused with a bitter melancholy. Reading it is arousing but so very sad. The second story shifts gears and is more plot driven, as the Russians who have been threatening Silvio show up to challenge him. There is plenty of on-page violence and mayhem, expertly depicted, and the fallout from the confrontation has consequences for all the major and minor characters in the story. Silvio and Stefano share an intimate scene toward the end, about which I have mixed feelings. I think this is an It’s Not You It’s Me issue, but it didn’t work for me as well as everything else in the novella. Not that that stopped me from moving directly on to Vol. 3. Grade: B

AmazonBNSonyKoboARE

REVIEW: Broken Fortress & Enemies and Shadows (Rifter Parts 6 & 7) by Ginn Hale

REVIEW: Broken Fortress & Enemies and Shadows (Rifter Parts 6 &...

[Spoiler alert: I think I've managed to avoid direct spoilers for these two installments, but it's almost impossible to talk substantively about the series without referring to events that occur after the first installment, The Shattered Gates. Proceed at your own risk.]

 

Dear Ms. Hale,
Broken Fortress Ginn HaleYour Rifter series has been a revelation to me this year. It is one of the most compelling things I’ve read in recent memory, and I find the installment aspect fascinating. I look forward to each month’s release, but I almost never read it when I receive it. I circle the new installment like a dog with a new and obviously delicious bone: I read the summary at the beginning, then I put it aside; then I read the first few pages, then I stop and put it down; and then, finally, I clear a couple of hours and sit down and read the whole thing in one sitting. Slowly. And then I try to find people to converse with about it. The Rifter sucks me in, it makes me think, and it regularly surprises me.

It is also immensely frustrating to review, because between the incompleteness of the monthly installment and the spoiler problem, the gap between what I want to say and what I can say feels almost insurmountable. How do I convey my enthusiasm without spoiling the series for other readers? In our earlier joint review Janine was vigilant at maintaining the balance, but here I have to find a way to do it on my own.

First, a very brief overview of these two installments. They are set in the same time period, and the main characters are closer to the Kyle and John we met in The Shattered Gates. Both men have experienced a great deal, but the time jumps that occur regularly throughout the series have put them together here. John is firmly entrenched in his role as a divinity, while Kahlil is still somethign of an outsider, to Basawar and especially to the Fai’daum. Kahlil and John have arrived at this point in time through different journeys, but they recognize each other, and Kahlil wants to stay with and serve John/Jath’ibaye. This choice settles him into Fai’daum society, where he is viewed with some suspicion at first, but he finds several roles which help to integrate him into the community.

Meanwhile, Jath’ibaye is managing the complexities of being a leader and divine being in Basawar even as he continues to feel mortal thoughts and emotions. These emotions have far greater power in Basawar than they did in his homeland, and controlling and channeling them takes enormous energy. In addition, John/Jath’ibaye has a fuller understanding of events that have occurred in the past than Kahlil does, which means that while on some levels they are able to meet as near-equals, on others Jath’ibaye is burdened with both power and knowledge. For his part, Kahlil has to deal with his imperfect and shifting memories:

“I try not to think about the past too much.” Kahlil shrugged. “You’d be surprised by how little you have to know about yourself to just get through the day.”

“Sounds like hell,” Jath’ibaye replied.

“When I first arrived it was, but lately …” Kahlil sighed. “I don’t know. Either I’m getting used to it or my memories are beginning to settle out.”

“Settle out?” Jath’ibaye asked.

“I can think about the past a little more easily. There are still two histories, but instead of just crashing into each other, it’s more like …” Kahlil tried to think of a way to describe the interplay of the two sets of memories in his mind.

“You know when you look out this window,” Kahlil said at last, “there’s the view outside but there’s also your reflection in the glass. You can watch everything going on outside, but the reflection is always there. And every now and then you notice it, and the entire view outside goes out of focus. But if you shift your focus, the view comes back. That’s kind of how it is for me.”

These two installments fuse the more standard plot developments of a Fantasy novel with the romance between Kyle/Kahlil and John/Jath’ibaye. But they also foreground the parallel individual experiences and challenges each faces as a being who is something more than mortal. We first met them when Jath’ibaye was John Toffler, graduate student, and Kahlil was Kyle, milkman and other-worldly being. Now the roles are reversed, as John is a god and Kyle may no longer be a Kahlil. Yet each retains aspects of those lives and their memories, and each negotiates the contradictions inherent in his transformation.

As a result of fully becoming the Rifter on Basawar, Jath’ibaye has enormous power and responsibility, and he doesn’t fight this role; sometimes he seems resigned at best, while at others he appears to embrace it. Kahlil feels more mortal and even wearied by the constant need to reconcile his imperfect memories of the past with the difficulties of of his present existence, but he still has crucial and rare abilities.

In both cases, the portrayal of the tension between strength and privilege on the one hand and the sorrow for what is lost on the other is one of the more nuanced depictions I can remember reading in a Fantasy series. They aren’t heavy-handed in any way, but they enrich my understanding of the characters, and they add a poignancy and depth to the romance. This is particularly impressive because the romance is an important component of the series but it necessarily shares a lot of page time with the complex plot.

By the end of Enemies and Shadows, the suspense has been ratcheted way up and the reader is left teetering on a very scary cliffhanger. Newly introduced characters have become critical players, long-established characters’ arcs have taken new directions, and the gentle passages between Kahlil and Jath’ibaye have given way to violent and traumatic events that make an optimistic ending seem further and further away. And since there are only three installments left to go, you don’t have many pages in which to bring it about. Somehow, though, I think you’ll pull it off.

Grade: A-

~ Sunita

 Buy the serial at Blind Eye Books.