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REVIEW: Driven by Eve Silver

It’s Grim Up North – Driven by Eve Silver
Driven by Eve Silver
 One of the things I’ve been impressed by in my tour through Romancelandia is the sheer cracktastic insanity of some of the books I’ve read. I’m not sure that Driven quite beats Angel’s Blood for sheer weirdness, but I think “post-resource-depletion trans-Siberian trucker dystopia” might just get the prize for “setting I was least expecting to see in a Romance novel.”

As always, spoilers ahead.

Driven tells the story of ice trucker Raina Bowen who, while racing to transport a cargo of genetically modified grain across dystopian future Siberia, encounters a man named Wizard. It soon becomes apparent that Wizard is not entirely normal – he survives a savage beating entirely unscathed, can see in the dark, has preternaturally keen vision and hearing, and estimates probabilities to the nearest fraction of a percent.

Despite being an indestructible ninja badass, Wizard scores pretty low on the alpha dickhead front. He tends to let the heroine have her space, trusts her judgement, and respects her right to make her own decisions. He’s protective of her, but in a “don’t want you to get hurt” way, not a “I will actively prevent you from doing things I don’t want you to do” way. He talks like a computer in a 1980s cartoon series (the guy actually says “affirmative”), and there’s something strangely endearing about his stilted, off-kilter way of expressing himself. He does a pretty good job of being a credible romantic lead despite ostensibly having no emotions, and his arc parallels Raina’s nicely (they both start off as isolated and somewhat paranoid, and ultimately learn not only to care for each other, but also to feel part of a wider community in the Wastes).

About halfway through the book, Raina abandons the delivery job (which turns out not to have been what it seemed) and settles in with a ragtag band of rebels holed up in the frozen north. I always appreciate it when a romance recognises that lovers aren’t the only important people in your life, and Raina’s developing relationships with the various members of the rebel band serve as an important counterpoint to her relationship with Wizard, and to the overarching plot about the evil trucking magnate. I was very, very slightly disappointed that when Raina discovered that Wizard and rebel leader Yuriko had some kind of personal history, she jumped immediately to “they’re dating” rather than – say “they’re comrades in arms”, but that’s a minor quibble.

The plot mostly revolves around the struggle between Raina (and Wizard, and the Rebels) and the aforesaid evil trucking magnate, the fabulously named Duncan Bane. Duncan Bane is basically everything you want in a villain. He’s ruthless, wealthy, sadistic, cacklingly insane, and wears an eyepatch like a scary pirate. The man shows a truly commendable commitment to his role as designated villain. For example, the genetically engineered grain that Raina is delivering at the start of the book is part of some kind of competition that Bane has set up, with a prize of fifty million interdollars. Bane is trying to rig the competition so that an employee from his company will win. He is not doing this because he wants to keep the money, or as far as I can tell because he wants to make the company look good. He is doing this because he plans to have the winner murdered in order to get his cash back, and he wants to kill off one of his own men while he’s doing it so that he can get rid of the guy before his family qualifies for any kind of benefits.

This is a man who would make Darth Vader say “look, it isn’t really any of my business, but you might want to have a serious think about your management style.”

I’ve got to admit that I got a little bit fixated on Duncan Bane. Not in an edgy, slightly emo, oh-but-the-villains-are-always-so-fascinating way, just in a “seriously, how does this guy get through a day” way. By the end of the book I was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to eat breakfast without trying to have the eggs assassinated, the bacon flogged and the hash browns stripped, beaten and sent to his bedchamber that he might revel in their suffering. He ostensibly runs a trucking company, but he’s apparently also some kind of major player in something called the New Government Order, and more or less single-handedly rules the entire Northern Waste. Naturally, his primary goal in the book – and the one to which he devotes pretty much his whole fortune and entire private army – is abducting and raping the heroine.

To give him his due, I can see why he’s got such a personal vendetta against her – she managed to cut his eye out the last time he tried to rape her, back when she was twelve (and there’s part of me here that’s going … dude … you couldn’t take her when she was a kid what the hell chance do you stand now). That said, I’m not quite sure why it’s taken him this long to come after her in force (there’s some discussion of the fact that he’s coming for her now because her dad has just died, but since Bane basically rules the north I really don’t see how one dude – who isn’t a genetically engineered supersoldier – would be able to stand in his way).

I think my issues with Bane were part of a wider set of confusions about the worldbuilding. There’s a lot going on in Driven, and a lot of quite detailed implied backstory – right down to specific bits of in-world legislation (like the “Blood-borne Pathogen Act of 2087”). But there were times when I couldn’t quite tell if it all hung together in a sensible or coherent way. There are a lot of references to specific historical events, like the Second Noble War (which kind of implies a First Noble War) which led to the fall of the Old Dominion and the rise of the New Government Order, but it was quite hard to see how it all fit together. Like if laws made in 2087 are still in effect, that would seem to imply that the NGO was already in power by that point (unless they held onto a lot of Old Dominion legislation), but that means that we somehow get from the present day, through not one but two different world governments (unless the “Old Dominion” is supposed to be the current world, but people tend to talk about it like it’s one institution) in about seventy years.

In a lot of ways, the vagueness works quite well. It creates the sense of a believable world without getting too bogged down in the details of how that world is supposed to work. The flip side of this, however, is that sometimes it’s hard to see … well … how the world is supposed to work.

Coming back to Duncan Bane, I spent quite a lot of time struggling to work out exactly where all of his money and power are supposed to come from. I mean, I get that he’s powerful in the North because he controls the supply lines, but I don’t really understand how that makes him rich or powerful on a larger scale. As far as I can see, there is literally nothing of value in the Wastes, so while being the only man who can bring food and supplies into the frozen North gives you a lot of scope to dick with people’s lives, I don’t really see how there’s money in it. These people, after all, have nothing. A fairly major feature of the setting is that it’s a post-resource-depletion society, so there can’t be any fuel reserves or anything like that. I suppose there could be some kind of minerals or precious metals that people mine, but we don’t see any evidence of that either. As far as I could tell, Bane operates in an entirely evil-based economy. Like he seems to make his money primarily by being a dick to people. I get that the notion is that he gets to charge monopoly prices in the North, but surely that only works if people actually have something to trade. I mean I could be totally wrong about this, but I’m pretty sure that if you went on Dragon’s Den and said that your business plan was to buy goods from a place where everybody was rich and sell them at a markup in a place where everybody was poor you’d be told that you needed to seriously rethink your strategy.

Worldbuilding nitpicks aside, I did really enjoy Driven. It had a good mix of romance and action, and I thought it did a good job of integrating its love story into its wider plot. I think here it helped that the protagonists were mostly reacting to an overwhelming external threat, rather than something they could pro-actively pursue in their own time. When you’re basically hunkered down waiting for the next attack, you kind of might as well focus on your love life. I think it helps that Wizard and Raina aren’t just compatible romantically, they also ultimately have quite similar goals, and so it never feels like one of them is a passenger in the other’s plot. They’re both basically loners who have difficulty navigating their mutual attraction, but they’re also both survivors, basically moral people, and of course they both want to murder Duncan Bane’s face off. The plot moves naturally from Wizard and Raina’s first meeting, to their flight from Bane’s goons, to Ice Pirates, to rebels, to more ice pirates, to the final confrontation, with plenty of room for shagging in the middle.

Much like its worldbuilding, the central story arc of Driven is high on allusion and short on details. Raina is being pursued by Bane, Bane used to be part of some kind of military thingy in the Second Noble War, and this military thingy found a secret laboratory full of genetically engineered superkids, one of whom grew up into Wizard. It turns out that Raina’s emotionally distant, sort-of abusive father was also part of said military thingy, and that Bane’s entire vendetta against her has its roots in the military operation that uncovered the superkids. There isn’t really much sense of what was going on at the time, what this military thingy actually was, what the war was or who it was against. And as with the worldbuilding this is a mixed blessing. Ultimately these kinds of mysteries seldom have satisfactory solutions – Bane, Raina’s father, the New Government Order, the Old Dominion and the War are all such big presences in the text that actually trying to explain them would be both time consuming and a bit pointless. That said, it also means that the reader is left a little light on detail.

I found this particularly difficult when it came to Raina’s father, Sam Bowen. Sam – despite being dead – is an important feature of the narrative. Initially we only hear about him from Raina’s perspective, and he comes across as having been, not to put too fine a point on it, an abusive asshole. It’s tricky, because the Wastes are clearly a very hostile environment populated almost entirely by psychopaths, and so raising your kid never to trust anybody or to care about anybody except herself is probably quite sensible, but actively beating her just to toughen her up crosses a line for me from “making the best of a bad situation” to “just not okay.” Later in the story, we hear about Sam from Wizard and Yuriko’s perspective, and they clearly see him as some kind of hero. This was intriguing for a while, but I never felt we got enough detail about Sam for me to really feel there was anything heroic about him. I mean yes, he saves the superkids (in a sense, he basically delivers them from one prison to another) but that’s one nice thing. I’d been vaguely hoping for some kind of remarkable double life or a deep-seated connection to the rebels rather than a single encounter two decades ago.

I think what most bothered me about Sam was the revelation late in the day that because of something something genotype blood something something antigens, Raina had acquired some of Wizard’s ability to adapt to physical hardship. So when Sam was whacking her around the head to try and make her stronger he was, well, sort of right. I think strangely, I could cope with the setup as I originally understood it – that Sam was low-key abusive because he was a hard man who lived in a hard world, and that was just the way it was – because I felt like it was supposed to be ambiguous. It seemed like Raina learned a lot from Sam that kept her alive, but that he also kind of messed her up. By the end, it felt more like Sam was supposed to be an unambiguously good man who was applying a difficult but necessary regimen of physical training in order to put his daughter in peak physical condition. It lost a lot of the ambiguity for me, and in a strange way made Sam’s character less interesting.

Overall I really liked Driven. The plot, the setting and the characters came together really well for me. It was well paced, had lots of explosions and a completely over-the-top villain. Pretty rad.

Everything I learned about life and love from reading Driven: In the future, tattoos will be illegal but personal plasma rifles will not. The exhaustion of our fossil fuel reserves will in no way impact the road haulage industry. If a girl cuts your eye out, you should probably let it go. What does not kill you makes you stronger, but only if you’ve had your genome resequenced.

30 Comments

  1. Joopdeloop
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 12:34:23

    This is the first book you’ve reviewed that I haven’t read or even heard of, but that almost makes it a purer experience. If I ever had buckets of money, I would love to hire you to be my personal reader. You know, like those high-end department stores (Needless Markup) that offer personal shoppers? I think you raise the entertainment factor to an nth degree, I am almost scared to read this book in case its is not as great as reading your review. Thanks for the regular Friday pickup, even better than caffeine

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  2. Cindy
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 12:39:16

    I gotta say I really enjoyed this review AND I’m so curious about Duncan Bane that I just went rummaging in my TBR…er, what’s it called when it’s in E? Anyway, it’s getting shifted to the reader tonight.

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  3. hapax
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 12:44:20

    Hurrah, it’s Friday, another AJH review!

    I rather adored this book, but in a big summer blockbuster way — I sorta turned my brain off and reveled in all the pretty explosions.

    The companion book — HIDDEN, which stars Tatiana, another of the superkids — does flesh out the backstory of the worldbuilding, but I won’t pretend it makes any more sense. I did enjoy it enough to hope for another title in the series, but it seems that Silver has abandoned this storyline.

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  4. Leah Hultenschmidt
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 13:13:49

    Love, love, love this review! I’m so glad this book is widely available again–definitely one for the keeper shelf, IMO.

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  5. Tina
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 13:18:33

    I was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to eat breakfast without trying to have the eggs assassinated, the bacon flogged and the hash browns stripped, beaten and sent to his bedchamber that he might revel in their suffering.

    This line is giving me LIFE!

    I have read Eve Silver before and she does make her villains pretty bent, but I have never heard of this one. This review makes me want to read this one very much.

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  6. Donna Thorland
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 13:20:43

    I love Eve Silver’s early gothics. Vivid writing and hold-your-breath danger. I think most of them have been re-released for Kindle. Definitely intrigued by this one too!

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  7. Eve Silver
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 13:39:11

    Just an FYI for anyone who is interested…DRIVEN is on sale for 99 cents until midnight Aug 3rd for Kobo and Kindle.

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  8. library addict
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 13:45:31

    I was one of the people who suggested you read this book, so glad you enjoyed it.

    I bought the revised digital book when it was published but haven’t had the chance to “reread” it yet. I read the paperback years ago (back when Borders was still around). I enjoyed this one more than the sequel, but am still hoping she’ll write the third book (which she wasn’t able to do originally as the Shomi line closed).

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  9. Deljah
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 13:57:57

    I started reading this book, but DNF. I got as far as when Raina and Wizard had gotten to Yuriko’s camp, and Raina was all in her feelings due to her assumption that Yuriko and Wizard were past lovers. By this point in the story, I was tired of Raina’s self-deluding internal monologues about how she really didn’t want Wizard, wasn’t attracted to him, didn’t lust for him, etc, etc. The story wasn’t holding my interest or engaging me that strongly, so I set it aside.

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  10. DS
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 13:59:47

    You almost make me want to read this, which is a miracle since I really did not enjoy the only other book I’ve read by the author. I may take advantage of the 99 cent sale just to see if my opinion is still the same.

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  11. Carrie G
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 14:16:50

    I enjoyed Driven and the second book. I’m just sorry we didn’t get the story of the third sibling.

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  12. Kathy
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 14:24:09

    Thanks for another great review. I haven’t read Driven; but I will take advantage of the $.99 price just so I can read about Bane who’s so evil even harmless breakfast foods are all a-tremble. And because it sounds a bit like “Mad Max”.

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  13. Estara
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 15:04:20

    By the end of the book I was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to eat breakfast without trying to have the eggs assassinated, the bacon flogged and the hash browns stripped, beaten and sent to his bedchamber that he might revel in their suffering.

    Just interrupting my read of the piece to say thank you for giving me my LOL mental image of the day…. ummm night, technically, as I’m reading this at 10 pm.

    … I’ll resume my read now ^o^/

    ETA: To add something constructive to the discussion, I’d like to point out that this book first came out from Dorchester’s romantic sf&f imprint SHOMI – which is why I own the book with that cover which I still really like (but then I also read comics and manga).

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  14. Mishel
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 15:56:04

    @Estara:

    Glad someone else mentioned SHOMI =) I was so excited following the line of books back in 2008 and was pretty bummed when it dissolved. I too own the book with the animated cover =) Although I do like it’s pretty new cover.

    AJH – A most splendid review! I remember Driven being fast-paced and a little jam-packed but overall quite fun. I also remember how many times Raina said “frig” *shudders* I almost gagged…That aside your review has definitely made me want to re-read my copy =)

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  15. AJH
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 16:05:11

    @Joopdeloop:

    Thank you, it’s good to know that if my current job falls through I’ve got a backup. Maybe I could have a little corded off section at the back of Blackwells. With champagne. And a chaise longue.

    Also, there should totally be a shop called Needless Markup.

    As someone says below, DRIVEN is kind of like an action blockbuster – so if you’re in the mood for that, it’ll definitely be better than the review.

    @Cindy:

    TBR … folder? I have a scary collection on my Kindle (containing about 87 books) called TBR.

    Hope you enjoy the book.

    @hapax:

    Big summer blockbuster is about right – it’s all explosions and punching and sex scenes, but in a cool way.

    I saw from the sample chapter at the end of the book that HIDDEN was going to be about Tatiana. On the one hand, I was intrigued to find out more, on the other I was still a little annoyed that she basically doesn’t show up in the first book at all, despite looking for Tatiana being a major motivating factor for Wizard, at least towards the end.

    I’ll probably try to check it out, you know, 87 books in the future.

    @Leah Hultenschmidt:
    Thank you – so glad you enjoyed the review.

    I actually had a bit of trouble finding this one because somebody had recommended me a book called DRIVEN but I got a bit lost between the various Eves.

    @Tina:

    Thank you :)

    It’s a fun read, so I hope you enjoy it. The villain is so completely ludicrously over the top crazybeans that he sort of works. And it’s quite an extreme book in a lot of ways so it all fit together for me.

    @Donna Thorland:

    I didn’t realise she’d written gothics as well, but it makes a weird amount of sense. Everything in DRIVEN is so turned up to eleven, I could see that style working very well in the gothic mode. I must investigate further, and I’m not actually sure I’ve got many (any?) gothics on my list.

    @Eve Silver:

    Thanks for stopping by – always good to know about a deal.

    @library addict:

    Thanks for the rec – I really enjoyed the book.

    Just out of interest, what’s supposed to be different about the revised edition, compared to the original? I guess I read the revised version, since I bought the digital copy.

    (I weirdly miss Borders, even though I much prefer e-books to hard copies these days – we used to have one in town that was open til 11 and, as a student, I used to wander restlessly around in it until they threw me out.)

    @Deljah:

    I can see how you might have that kind of reaction. To me, it didn’t read as self-deluding so much as trying to convince herself not to do something she knew was a bad idea.

    Assuming that Wizard and Yurkio were lovers did bug me though, particularly since Raina’s assumption was that they’d been lovers in the past, in which case, well, so what? You can’t help who people slept with once upon a time.

    @DS:

    For 99c you don’t really have anything to lose.

    Obviously I’ve no experience of Silver’s other works so I have no idea the things that bugged you in the other book you read would bug you in this one.

    @Carrie G:

    Yeah, that’s a shame. I’m quite looking forward to catching up with HIDDEN.

    @Kathy:

    I confess I haven’t watched “Mad Max” in years and I think I’ve only seen three, but it has sort of a similar wasteland heavy vehicles explosions thing going on. So, I guess if you like those things you can’t really go wrong here :)

    @Estara:

    Thanks – glad to provide your daily LOL :)

    That cover’s kind of cool. It looks a bit less, well, professional but, on the other hand, it has a lot more character. On the other hand it says action romp more than romance novel.

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  16. kamlin
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 16:45:58

    Good review.funny too.i loved reading this book.reommend it.its like reading an action movie…..with great romance..

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  17. Cindy
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 18:11:31

    I’m not sure what to call my TBR e-mountain since, well it’s on 28 CD’s and DVD’s (so far) and according to my Shelfari account, between e and the print mountain, it encompasses over 14000 books…and I bought 4 more today, lol. *such an addict*

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  18. library addict
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 19:15:20

    @AJH: Hmm, I thought the description on her website used to have a bit about the changes. From what I remember having asked the author when the new version came out is that there’s a deleted scene as bonus material at the end and some slight changes throughout the book as well a few new scenes. About 5000 words were added.

    I have both the Dorchester version (it was the first book I bought at the Sony Store when I got my PRS650) and the revised self-pubbed version in digital. The Dorchester version is 224 pages and the revised version 242.

    Aha, I found the note at the end of the self-pubbed version (knew I had read it somewhere). The Dear Reader letter starts

    The digital edition of Driven includes new scenes incorporated in the story and bonus content of a love scene that was deleted from the book for its original publication in 2007.

    As I haven’t read the new version I can’t say exactly what the additional scenes are.

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  19. Darlynne
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 19:34:38

    I’ve had this book on my reader forever and always thought it involved race car driving. O_o Thanks for clearing that up.

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  20. CD
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 03:00:31

    Ice pirates?! SOLD!! Was there anything else important in your review?

    “The exhaustion of our fossil fuel reserves will in no way impact the road haulage industry.”

    Phew – that’s a relief. I can cancel my Greenpeace subscription then.

    PS. You think 87 books on your TBR list is scary? You poor deluded dear…

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  21. Susan
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 04:09:00

    Great review!

    Like some of the others, I’ve read a number of other Eve Silver titles but had never even heard of this one. It’s possible it showed up in my recs, but if it was part of that SHOMI line I would have ignored it. I didn’t know what the heck that stuff was about and was confused about why Amazon was trying to sell me manga. For 99 cents, and based on your review, guess I need to check it out now.

    FYI–Needless Markup is the not-so-affectionate nickname for Neiman Marcus department stores.

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  22. AJH
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 04:53:29

    @kamlin:

    Thank you – that’s pretty much how I saw the book as well.

    @Cindy:

    Oh my god.

    That’s a lot of, um, stuff.

    I’m starting to feel better about my mere 87.

    @library addict:
    Oh yes, now you mention it, I remember there being a deleted love scene at the back. I confess, I didn’t read it for pretty much the same reason I don’t watch the deleted scenes in DVDS. Generally, I just come away thinking “yes I see why they deleted that.”

    @Darlynne:

    I can see how you might have got that impression. Before I started I kind of expected it to be some kind of romantic The Fast & The Furious.

    @CD:

    Was there anything else important in your review?

    Basically, no.

    And, yes, I’m starting to realise how piffling a mere 87 books is…
    @Susan:

    Thank you.

    I am a little bit confused about the SHOMI imprint. What market was it going for? Cross-over manga/romance reader (not that there aren’t plenty of those, I’m sure). There’s nothing that struckme as … well … manga-y about DRIVEN, not least because manga is a drawn medium. I’m just not sure it’s possible to write a text only novel that is simultaneously manga, any more than it’s possible to write a book that is simultaneously a movie.

    Hope you enjoy the book.

    Thank you for the clarification on Needless Markup :)

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  23. Estara
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 06:07:47

    @AJH: I went on a bit of a resarch on the idea behind the SHOMI line because both the Dorchester as well as the SHOMI site are resting in peace these days. These links also provide a bit of insight into the mangaesque covers:
    http://juno-books.com/blog/?p=494
    http://io9.com/5028320/show-your-book-trailer-to-movie-audiences-+-and-stephen-king

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  24. Estara
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 06:10:43

    @Cindy: And I was getting worried with my roughly 1000 books TBR (all the print ones I haven’t read since I went into getting mostly ebooks when my eye sight went bad in 2009 + all the freebies, cheep tries, rebought comfort reads which I haven’t gotten around to reading yet… now my eyes are better again, I’ve gotten into casual gaming and even some real egaming – NWN2 FTW – and that eats into my reading time).

    So thank you for calming my worries, I still have a ways to go to get to 14k TBR.

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  25. Cindy
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 06:21:01

    *blushes* Now admittedly, a few of those are craft/cooking/reference books that I added before realizing there was an own button and that I didn’t need to press to be read. But yeah, I’m a still shell shocked. I’ve been making a spreadsheet of my want list and I won’t mention the number that’s at so far…nor that I have things I haven’t added on there yet because for about a year I couldn’t log into Shelfari, lol.

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  26. farmwifetwo
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 06:28:54

    There’s only 2 books in this series. Driven was free in “e” at the time (think, because she now mentions it’s 99cents but I’ve had it a while) and the other I got at the UBS. I discovered them initially through the library.

    Wish she’d write more of them.

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  27. Darlynne
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 11:40:32

    @Cindy: Cindy, you’ve provided an invaluable public service, not to mention relieving much of my reader’s guilt over the 600 titles in my Calibre collection. I felt recovered enough to buy Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men from Amazon this morning because, clearly, the print and audio editions weren’t enough. Thank you most sincerely.

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  28. Cindy
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 13:10:41

    @Darlynne Darlynne, always my pleasure to be of assistance :D

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  29. e_bookpushers
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 14:40:42

    I was so sad when the SHOMI line was closed. I am still hoping that Silver will decide to write the third book because I found the world with its flaws very fascinating. I had a great time reading this review.

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  30. AJH
    Aug 05, 2013 @ 14:26:16

    @Estara:

    Thanks for the links – that’s, actually, slightly bizarre. Maybe they wanted to push the speculative angle of speculative romance.

    @farmwifetwo:

    I’m sort of torn on that one. Part of me says that the world and the wastes felt like there was a lot of space to explore a lot of things and tell a lot of stories. And part of me says that there, well, wasn’t. Obviously, I’ve got no idea but I suspect outside the genetically engineered superkids, there might not have been that much going on in the setting.

    @e_bookpushers:

    Thanks E :) Glad you liked the review.

    The SHOMI line sounds really interesting, it had completely passed me by up until now. I’m quite looking forward to reading HIDDEN.

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