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Sharon Shinn

What Janine is Reading — April and May 2012

What Janine is Reading — April and May 2012

My hot reading streak in February and March turned into a reading slump in April. For a little while there, I couldn’t get more than a few pages into anything I picked up. I couldn’t even tell you guys what I tried to read at that time, because I didn’t make it far into anything and everything seemed forgettable.

Eventually I had enough of that and decided to try to see if I could revive my enthusiasm for reading by rereading books that had been hard to put down in the past. I picked two of my favorite Nalini Singhs, Caressed by Ice and Archangel’s Blade, and while neither one was as enjoyable as they’d been the first time around, they were still fun enough to restore my enthusiasm for reading.

Back in my reading groove, I read the following books:

Rainshadow Road Lisa KleypasRainshadow Road by Lisa Kleypas

This was my first full-length Kleypas in years (I really need to backtrack and read her Travis series sometime). I had read Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, but before that, nothing since Devil in Winter. Rainshadow Road, the story of a glass artist dumped by her boyfriend for her younger sister and a commitment-shy vintner, was enjoyable and different, though not perfect.

I liked the quirky community in which the story was situated. Details like the bikers and their church, the house being renovated, and the heroine’s brusque innkeeper friend, made this book come alive in a way that many contemporaries don’t manage to do for me. I agree with those who said that the magical realism was not always well-integrated into the story, and I also felt the romance itself was rushed. On the whole though, this book was quite enjoyable. C+/B-

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The Shape of Desire by Sharon ShinnThe Shape of Desire by Sharon Shinn

I have a hard time articulating why, but I couldn’t progress more than a chapter or two into this book, and I am a huge fan of Sharon Shinn’s earlier works. This happened to me once before with another of her books, Fortune and Fate. If I had to pin down a reason, I would say it has a lot to do with both the characters, and the lack of a strong plot hook.

The Shape of Desire, Shinn’s first urban fantasy, opens with a reunion between Maria and her boyfriend, the shape-changing Dante. Dante, we learn, has no control over his shape changing and for that reason his life and Maria’s are far from normal. For most of the time Dante roams the wild, and Maria worries about him. He can’t hold a normal job, and she can’t introduce him to her friends. We also see Maria with those friends, discussing relationships.

I liked the friends and their lunchtime away from work milieu, but I didn’t feel a connection to Maria or Dante. They were nice enough people, just not interesting. They had some problems, true, but these were not serious enough to make me feel I should care. According to the back blurb a string of murders would make their problems worse, but there was not enough ominous sense of that in the writing. Maria’s happiness that Dante had resurfaced made it hard for me to feel worried for them or even uneasy, so I put this down unfinished. DNF.

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Gaijin by Remittance GirlGaijin by Remittance Girl

Set in Japan, Gaijin is the story of an English waitress kidnapped and raped by a Japanese mobster. The novella focuses on Jennifer’s captivity and her struggle to survive it. We had an interesting discussion in the comment thread when I reviewed it. Some readers were offended by the idea of such a story, but I felt it examined the fascinating issue of cultural differences and ethnocentrism without in any way justifying or romanticizing rape. Despite feeling more like a slice-of-life vignette than a full-fledged story, Gaijin has stuck with me. Review here.

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This was an enjoyable enough Spice Brief from Harlequin, but it didn’t stay with me. The heroine who works on Wall Street, arrives at the hero’s Mexican resort for a brief getaway. He observes her plagued by the phone, sends her a drink at the bar, and later seduces her, all without saying a word. But why won’t he speak?

It was interesting to read a story with so little dialogue and I could almost hear the silence myself. The characters were sympathetic and likable, the writing lovely at times but awkward at other times. This was nice, but not memorable, especially when compared to Hancock’s post-apocalyptic romance novella Ghost in the Machine. Review here.

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Dancing on the Wind by Mary Jo PutneyDancing on the Wind by Mary Jo Putney

Recently I reread Putney’s Thunder and Roses, and though I didn’t enjoy it, I decided to see if I could reread the rest of the Fallen Angels series. After all, I used to love these books and also, they’ve been rereleased in electronic editions. It would be good to review them, or so I thought.

Dancing on the Wind is the second book in the series, featuring Lucien and Kit, who meet while he is investigating a group called the Hellions (modeled after the Hellfire Club) in search of a traitor and she is doing the same in order to find her sister’s kidnapper.

I’ve been reading this book for a month and so far I’m at the halfway point. The problem is that as Kit keeps disguising herself and Lucien finds her again and again, each time in a new identity, and each time without pinning down how to find her again, so their relationship is proceeding at a glacial pace. On the upside, I like them both better than I liked the protagonists of Thunder and Roses. Review to come when I finish, or give up on finishing.

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Moon Over Soho by Ben AaronovitchMoon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

This is the second book in Aaronovitch’s delightful urban fantasy/police procedural series about Peter Grant, a London constable investigating paranormal crimes. In this one Peter is faced with the death of a string of jazzmen, just as his musician father decides to resume his jazz playing career.

Meanwhile, Peter gets involved with the former girlfriend of one of the dead men, investigates the violent death of a magical practitioner, trades witty quips with his supervisor and makes snarky remarks about London architecture and history. This series is adorable. If you haven’t tried them yet, what are you waiting for? Midnight Riot is the first book. As for Moon Over Soho, the review can be found here.

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Overseas by Beatriz Williams

This time travel was, as Jane has said, nothing if not romantic, but at the same time, it felt like a flight of wish-fulfillment fantasy. The pages turned very quickly as I kept reading to get to the bottom of the mystery of what was keeping the protagonists apart. I had a thoroughly enjoyable time but at the end, was left wishing for a little more substance and grounding in the World War I era.

Part of the problem was that the hero was just too perfect – a viscount, a brilliant student, athletic, gorgeous, chivalrous, a wall street titan, and a poet of literary greatness as well? Where do they make them like this, except in women’s fantasies? With all that going for him, it was difficult to understand why he fell so hard for the heroine. Still, he was lovely, and I like a Cinderella story as much as the next person. The romanticism and sheer fun of this book isn’t to be denied. B.

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Shadow and Bone by Leigh BardugoShadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

This historical fantasy set in an alternate Russia started off wonderfully. Alina, an orphan who was raised with her best friend Mal, is plucked from obscurity when it’s discovered that she is a Sun Summoner – the only person who can free her country from the dark and horrifying rift known as the Shadow Fold.

Separated from Mal and brought to the stronghold of the Grisha, powerful magic users, she is trained in using her abilities, a task made difficult by her own suppression of her gifts. Alina misses Mal horribly, and wonders if he’s forgotten about her, even as she’s drawn to the leader of the Grisha, a fascinating man known as the Darkling.

Bardugo has a very engaging voice and I was loving this book until two thirds of the way through when a turn was taken in the story that sucked a lot of the complexity out of it. I kept reading to the end, but wished this one thing could be undone because it was so disappointing and without it, the book could have been marvelous. Review here.

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Fire by Kristin CashoreFire by Kristin Cashore

Cashore’s follow-up to Graceling was less engaging than its predecessor. Whereas Katsa was an active character with a mission, Fire, the heroine of the novel of the same name, was more passive and aimless. True, she had interesting mental powers tied to her matchless beauty, a good backstory and a great deal of selflessness, but none of that was enough to make me turn the pages as fast as I did with Graceling, and reading the story made me feel melancholy and even morose. Cashore’s writing is lovely, but also has a youthful innocence to it that didn’t fit the subject matter well here. All in all, I could take or leave this one. C.

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Bitterblue by Kristin CashoreBitterblue by Kristin Cashore

This is the third book in the same YA fantasy series and I thought it was better than either Graceling or Fire. It’s the story of an eighteen year old queen trying to take control of her reign and heal her kingdom from the national trauma inflicted by her late father when he was king.

There’s also a romantic subplot — Bitterblue sneaks out at night and befriends two young men while pretending to be a baker girl. One of them is a thief whom she spies stealing one of her castle’s gargoyles. She starts to fall for him, but he doesn’t know who she really is and she doesn’t know if he’s an enemy of hers.

Bitterblue discovers in the process that someone is harming her kingdom’s “truthseekers,” people who want to uncover the truth about her father’s misdeeds, and there’s a mystery over who it is that is trying to suppress the truth and what that person has to hide.

The themes of truth vs. lies, memory vs. moving on, discoveries and concealments, and the healing power of storytelling were so well integrated into this book. The characters were sympathetic yet real and the mystery at the center of the plot was compelling. The melancholy was leavened with humor. It is one of the most impressive YA novels I’ve read. Review to come.

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What are you guys reading? If you’ve read any of the books I mention above, what did you think of them? And when you have reading slumps, what do you do to break out of them?

REVIEW: Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn

REVIEW: Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn

Dear Ms. Shinn,

I have long been a fan of your Samaria series (Janine introduced me to it), but hadn’t read any of your books in several years. When I saw that you had a new book coming out that wasn’t part of an existing series, it seemed like maybe it was time to get reacquainted.

Zoe Ardelay has  recently buried her beloved father and is existing in a haze of grief when an opulent carriage appears in her small village; it contains Darien Serlast, envoy to the king. Zoe is summoned to the capital city (a place her father and thus she were banished from years before) to be wed to the king. She will be his fifth wife.

Troubled Waters By Sharon ShinnThus begins an intriguing new series that focuses on a world where people are born with particular elements that determine their personality and their strengths and weaknesses. Zoe is coru - of water and blood. Darien is hunti – wood and bone. Her elements mean that she’s restless, mercurial. His make him blunt and unyielding. The other ruling qualities are elay (air and soul), torz (earth and body) and sweela (fire and mind). I liked this aspect of the story and the way each quality had a double meaning – one related to the body and one to the larger world.

The people of this world believe that the elements needs to be in balance in order  for there to be harmony. Zoe begins to get an inkling of the power she holds when the capital city, stricken with drought for several seasons, is deluged  with rain upon her arrival. The journey and Zoe’s return to the place of her birth snaps her out of the worst of her grief, and she impulsively slips away from Darien shortly after their arrival, before she can be brought to the palace.

The first half of Troubled Waters is quite slow going. Zoe finds a place to live (of sorts), gets a job, makes some friends. But she’s honestly in a waiting period, and it affects the tempo of the story. It’s only in the second half of the book (well, maybe the second two-thirds; the first third probably felt longer than it was)  that the story kicks into gear and I got really involved. Ultimately, there’s a lot going on in the capital city  of  Chialto; once the action switches to the palace events evolve at a quick pace, as Zoe learns some secrets, including the one that led to her father’s banishment, and begins to really recognize her own extraordinary power.

The kingdom of Welce  is ruled by King Vernon, but his rule is heavily influenced by the primes – heads of the Five Families (a name I disconcertingly associate with the Mafia), each of whom correspond to one of the five elements. This part I found a little confusing, because it seems to suggest that each family is specifically associated with one of the elements (making a person’s element essentially genetic), but this didn’t seem to actually be the case. As far as I could tell, a sweela and a torz could produce, say, a coru. So I’m guessing that the elements are associated with specific families, and then the primes (the choosing of whom  is a somewhat mystical process) from those families have that element as “their” element, but it doesn’t mean everyone in the family necessarily does.

Other than my confusion over this aspect of the story, I found the world building fairly simple and straightforward. Welce seems akin to a pre-industrial age  country in most respects; the only technology found are the recently invented elaymotives (also called smokers) which are essentialy fairly primative automobiles invented by the Dochenzas, who are the ruling elay family. There is little information about other kingdoms, except for the neighboring kingdom of Soeche-Tas, whose people are called Soechins and who seem to be pretty creepy. It’s King Vernon’s desire for an alliance with the Soechins that begins the dramatic dénouement of the story. Zoe’s actions at this point in the story seemed pretty extreme to me. Though in the end they made a certain amount of sense, and things worked out okay (perhaps rather unrealistically), I was still left with the sense that Zoe is the sort of person you wouldn’t want to piss off, lest she go all Sissy-Spacek-as-Carrie on you.

Speaking of Zoe, it took me a while to warm to her; she is pretty numb through the early part of the book and thus, while she’s a sympathetic character, she’s not hugely compelling. I really liked the way she developed and came into her own as the story progressed, though. I particularly liked the way she made peace with her father’s flaws, which were numerous (and some of which she only learned about in the course of the story). And while her power intimidated me a bit, I also admired it. Zoe ultimately ends up being a rather kick-ass heroine, and who doesn’t like a kick-ass heroine?

Darien is a more conventional romance hero in a sense; he’s the  strong, silent type who intrigues precisely because he is so mysterious. In the end, I wish he’d unwound a little bit more than he did, but that’s just my personal preference for sturm und drang coming to the fore. At times I shared Zoe’s frustration with Darien’s attempts to manipulate and control her, but ultimately he has good reasons for behaving as he does and he proves his devotion to her admirably.

The best of your Samaria books have a quiet intensity that I really love. Troubled Waters felt more quiet and less intense to me. It’s not really the action or the characters but a quality in the writing that makes the book feel this way to me. I’m giving Troubled Waters a straight B.

Best regards,
Jennie

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