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October was a month for reading material with fantastical elements. All three of the works I read were promising, but only one ended up satisfying me.
White Cat by Holly Black
My husband and I started reading this contemporary YA paranormal, which Jia reviewed favorably awhile back, after it was recommended by a friend. We started reading it, but it went back to the library unfinished. I can see why other people enjoyed it – it’s got a twisty plot, solid prose, complex yet consistent worldbuilding, and an intriguing premise. But neither of us connected with Cassel, the main character – a teenager from a family of con artists.
The other problem (for me anyway) was that it was clear from the beginning that things weren’t what they appeared but it was so difficult to know what was actually going on in the story. I mean, when every significant character in the book is a con artist or criminal of some kind, and even the narrator may be under a spell that makes it hard for him to know what is real or unreal – whether he’s playing a con or being played himself — well, as clever and cool as all that sounds, it also makes it hard to know what we readers can believe, and when I can’t believe or trust anything, I can’t make myself care about it, either. DNF.
Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon
This was another Jia recommendation, and one that worked better for both of us. We picked this up because I was intrigued by the setting, a fantastical place modeled on China in a historical era I couldn’t identify. Silver Pheonix turnedout to be as much about its milieu as anything.
After a leering merchant tries to force her to become his fourth wife, our intrepid heroine, Ai Ling, embarks on the journey to the emperor’s palace, in order to retrieve her missing father. Along the way she makes some friends, including the serious and brave Chen Yong, whose history is connected to hers, unbeknownst to either of them. As they battle various threats, Chen Yong remains steadfastly at Ai Ling’s side, and she falls for him, but it’s unclear what his own feelings are.
Although the romance was subtle and the characterization wasn’t that deep, this story was very enjoyable at the level of an adventure story. Based on Jia’s review of the sequel, I’m not sure whether to continue with the series, but this book had a great setting and was fun to read. B-.
Witches’ Blood (Installment #4 of The Rifter) by Ginn Hale
Back in August, Sunita and I reviewed the early installments of Ginn Hale’s ten-part fantasy serial, The Rifter. Sunita reviewed installments 1-5, and I reviewed 1-3. The Rifter excited me not only because of its intriguing premise, its detailed worldbuilding , and its appealing main characters, Kyle and John, but also because of its structure.
The early segments contained shifts not only in POV and setting, but also in time. What I mean by this is that as we switched back and forth from John to Kyle and back, we learned that although they no longer occupied the same point in time. This device allowed the author to show not only events as they unfolded, but also their consequences years later, and not always in that order.
Right or wrong, this set up an expectation in me that the book would continue in this fashion, and we would shift back and forth in time and POV in each installment. Installment #4, though, was set completely in the same time and place that we had already visited in #3, the Rahtal’pesha monastery. This made Witches’ Blood feel static to me, and it didn’t help that event-wise, not much that was pivotal happened in this installment.
Rathal’pesha is an austere setting, and John finds himself persecuted at times, so Witches’ Blood felt oppressively dark to me. Since I didn’t anticipate having to wait to wait so long to return to Kyle’s POV and time frame, I felt frustrated by the slow pacing of Witches’ Blood, especially when it came to things like descriptions of food. Despite the consistently good chararacterization, language and worldbuilding, my main thought was that I wanted the story to move forward more.
I really wanted to love Witches’ Blood, especially after waxing enthusiastic about the first three installments of The Rifter. Instead, it took me a couple of months to read this installment, which was only 100 or so pages long. C+.
The Rifter at Blind Eye Books
What about you? What did you read in October? And if you’ve read any of the books I mentioned, what did you think of them?
Courting the Enemy by Renee Ryan – I liked the first book in this inspie WWII series but even 1/3 of the way through this one still hadn’t got off the ground for me. When I read a book about espionage and spies during wartime, I expect some action. Perhaps I didn’t wait long enough but the part I did read was all multiple pages of characters wondering about each other followed by boring dialogue then more think, think, think time. The final nail in the coffin was a scene in which the heroine turns into an angst bunny and boohoos to the hero, whom she just recently met, about how she thinks she responsible for her cheating husband’s death. They had accidentally met at a nightclub and she could just *see* in his eyes the sudden realization that he was cheating on her which then drove him to get upset which caused him to crash his car. No sweetie, I’m sure he already *knew* he was cheating on you while he was boinking his mistress. DNF
Spellcast by Barbara Ashford – Despite the tart humor – which I loved – and the insights into theater and summer stock – which I also enjoyed – this one started to flag when the romance and PNR elements got ramped up halfway into it. It sank further as the heroine becomes a Mary Sue who turns out to be *the one* of all the people the hero’s known over lengthy years, who will break a curse. Sorry but I never got why *she’s* special enough to achieve what must be achieved. Plus by the end I felt I was being conked over the head with all the parallels between her life, the other cast members/staff and the musicals being staged. By the last third of the book, the actions of the staff became smothering in a creepy way. Then comes a revelation about the relationship between two of the characters which is ghastly. The ending happens as it seemed destined to but, though I can understand that, I wanted even a glimmer of a romance on the horizon for Maggie. Oh, and the last 30 pages of the book seemed like endless plot point wind up time. D
40 Tons of Trouble by Connie Flynn – I picked this Harlequin Treasury book up because it’s got a trucker heroine. Make that an 18 wheeler (long haul) trucker heroine. Lots of info about that but, man alive, is this woman stubborn. She needs to be in this he-man’s world but she also needs some sense knocked into her at times. Full review to follow.
Fool’s Paradise by Tori Phillips – This is another Harlequin Treasury – this time from the Historical line. I had heard this author’s name mentioned in the late 90s/early 2000s as one who used Renaissance settings and had always wanted to try one of her books. The Tudor setting is well utilized but “Everybody Loves (the heroine) Elizabeth.” I mean just about every male in the book falls under her spell. Plus I had hoped the book would end with the commoner hero remaining just that – a commoner. Alas not. Full review to follow.
What’s up for me next? Well I’ve got a contemporary about matchmaking, another about two doctors in a small town, a third with an HIV positive hero or a historical set in Africa to pick from. Stay tuned for the results.
The Singing Revolution – this is about how Estonia was a free nation before WWII and how the aftermath of the war put an end to that for 60 years. Each year a vast number of its citizens meet for a national singing festival that exemplifies their heritage and pride in their country. When Glasnost opened the door to possibly overthrowing their Soviet overlords, regular citizens banded together, dared to dream and boldly pushed for their freedom. I will admit to having only cursory knowledge about Estonia before watching this documentary but profound admiration for them after finishing it.
Stephen Fry in America – this is a two disc trip with Fry as he drives through (though he flies to Alaska and Hawaii) each US state. I think it’s a good thing to occasionally see your own country through a foreigner’s eyes and Fry is a delightful traveler. With only about 6-8 minutes to spend on each state, some of them unfortunately get shortchanged – especially as he spends 14 minutes each on Alaska and Hawaii for some reason – and the things he picks to see are strange in some cases – all of Ohio’s time is spent on the Kent State shootings – but I like that he is so open to everything he sees and the people he meets. He wants to enjoy it all though he doesn’t hesitate to say when he finds something disappointing. Each disc is almost 3 hours long but the time seemed to fly.
Pageant – this is another documentary. Seems I’ve rented a lot of those lately. Watch 50 men don their best wigs, dresses and makeup as they vie for the Miss Gay America crown. One interesting fact I learned is that the contestants don’t actually have to be gay to enter. o-O Anyway, the time and effort they spend on their costumes – and makeup – is nothing short of amazing while the talent part of the evening is fabulous. This is an event none of them take lightly and all of them passionately want to win.
A Town Called Panic – this is a Belgian animated film and I won’t even attempt to try and describe the plot. “Tag along for the small-town adventures of plastic toys Cowboy (voiced by Stéphane Aubier), Indian (Bruce Ellison) and Horse (Vincent Patar) when they buy 50 million bricks, setting into motion a crazy chain of events at their rambling rural home. Now trekking across distant lands, they end up in another world pludged under water in this film based on the Belgian television series of the same name.” It’s a charming film though I didn’t understand the plot past the half way point. The animation is cute and the exasperated friendship shared by the three toys and their fellow townspeople is infectious.
Space Slugs by Frances Pauli – What starts well doesn’t necessarily end well. There are tons of plot threads that are tossed in then left and the world building needs help. See posted review.
Unnatural Fire by Fidelis Morgan – I picked this one up and enjoyed it though I didn’t love it like a long lost rich relative. See posted review.
Swept Off Her Feet by Hester Browne – This one hit all the right notes for me and makes me determined to see what else this author has already out there. Second or maybe third generation Chick Lit style with Scottish reeling! See posted review.
A Catered Affair by Sue Margolis – A bit different in story timeline than I was expecting and not in a good way. The heroine also didn’t work for me until too late to believe her sudden change. Full review to follow.
Cafe du Jour by Lillian Darcy – I think this will be a love it or leave it book for most. The writing style and “feel” of the book worked for me as one woman’s exploration of her life and her sister’s recovery from a horrific road accident. Though a romance is promised, it comes way at the end and felt like a tack on to me. Full review to follow.
Make Me Believe by Crystal Jordan – hot hair dresser is herded together with hot firefighter by paranormal forces for lots of hot sex. My interest in the story was to see how the author would get two romance gun shy characters together. With lots of sex, that’s how. Full Review to follow.
Confetti – this is a mockumentary of themed weddings and the need for couples to have that unique wedding that sets them apart from all others. Sometimes the simplest weddings are the best. I think this would be enjoyed by people who’ve liked “Waiting for Guffman” or “Best in Show.” I saw lots of UK actors I like and had a great time. Warning – one of the couples practice “naturalism” and there’s tons of full frontal here.
Sanjuro – I went ahead and changed my mind, as I warned I do, and watched this as my next Kurosawa film. Though I’d read how much more of a comedy this is than Yojimbo, I actually found it a bit darker in the plot and ending. In Yojimbo, both sides the ronin was playing off each other were bad which made him the only good guy and I didn’t feel that it would be wrong for either side to lose. Here the sides were good vs evil and a family was at stake. The final fight only brought home the wise words the older woman stated earlier in the film which I will paraphrase as: powerful warriors need to be careful as when they unleash their killing skills, people die.
Mrs Miniver – Someone – forgive me I can’t recall who or on what Friday Movie thread – recommended I try this one. I think this one stands as a testament to how life was in England at the time – boy have things changed – and as an example of the “chin up, we can do it” type of films being made to lift spirits and keep the home front bravely supporting the troops during WWII. It also shows its age and not in a good way at times.
The Harmonists – this is about an six man all male singing group in Germany during the turbulent late 1920s and early 1930s. Half the group is Jewish so we see how the changing politics affected the country through their experiences. It has lovely period costumes, lots of music (I think original recordings were used) but the film has the feel of being almost totally shot on a soundstage which gave it a very artificial feel to me.
- Archangel’s Blade by Nalini Singh, recommended by Jane, Shuzluva, and Janine
- Demon Marked by Meljean Brook, recommended by Jane
- Isle of Night by Veronica Wolff, recommended by Jaclyn and John. This is a YA title. (review soon)
- The King’s Courtesan by Judith James, recommended by Janet aka Robin
- Kissing Comfort by Jo Goodman, recommended by Jane
- Snapped by Laura Griffin, recommended by Jayne and Jane.
- The Stolen Bride by Abby Green, recommended by Jane. This book features a Bollywood actress and seems authentic to the region. (review soon)
- The Big Guns by HelenKay Dimon, recommended by Sunita (review soon)
- The Doctor and the Runaway Heiress by Marion Lennox, recommended by Sunita (review soon)
- I Just Play One on TV by A.L. Turner, recommended by Sarah F. (review soon)
- Enemies and Shadows (Rifter #7) by Ginn Hale, recommended by Sunita (review soon)
- The Shattering by Karen Healy, recommend by Jia
In the reading world I’m more of a turtle than a greyhound. During the past two weeks, I read two books. Here’s a recap:
Archangel’s Consort by Nalini Singh
I picked up this third novel in Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter series in preparation for book four, Archangel’s Blade, which I had committed myself to reviewing. Since Jane has reviewed Archangel’s Consort I won’t regurgitate the plot. Suffice to say that though I liked the book less than Jane did, it wasn’t a bad way to pass the time.
As others have said, the ongoing conflict between Raphael and Elena was somewhat repetitive. Those parts of the book didn’t engage me as much as others. Also, I find some of the graphic violence in this series very hard to read, but I thought that in this book it wasn’t quite as gruesome and disturbing as in book two,Archangel’s Kiss.
What I liked a lot was the conflict between Elena and her father, Jeffrey. Their scenes together have riveted me since book one. There are times I wish that complex family dynamics got a little more attention in the romance genre so I was pleased to see that was the case in this book. I also love the vivid descriptions of the angels in these books, and the aerial love scene was something. Still, Angels’ Blood (#1 in the series) remains my favorite of the Elena/Raphael books.
Archangel’s Blade by Nalini Singh
Who would have thought that I could come to care so much about Dmitri? He’s been a complete jerk to Elena for three books, but as soon as Honor St. Nicholas showed up on his turf, I was 110% engaged with this dark and sometimes painful story, and couldn’t put it down.
Ultimately, though it wasn’t perfect, I ended up liking Archangel’s Blade a whole lot more than Archangel’s Kiss or Archangel’s Consort. It’s probably my favorite of all the Guild Hunter books thus far. This may be partly because I prefer books that introduce me to a new couple and resolve their romance in one book to books that drag a relationship out for multiple installments. But another part is simply that this story was deeply emotional – even haunting and touching.
Since I have a review of the book in the pipeline, I will endeavor not to repeat my thoughts, but I did want to discuss something that interests me about my own emotional response to this series. As in Archangel’s Kiss (#2, my least favorite) there is quite a bit of violence here – including brutal violence against children. I won’t say that this aspect of Archangel’s Blade didn’t disturb me, but I was able to tolerate it much better than I did in Archangels’ Kiss.
Perhaps my greater ability to bear it was because the nature of the violence against children was less gruesome, though no less horrific. I felt there was somewhat less focus on the physical details, and much of the impact came from the emotional effects of these acts on the characters. But it may also have been due to my being more caught up in this story, more interested in Dmitri and Honor than I had been in Raphael and Elena by their second book.
What about you, readers? What have you been reading lately? Have you read Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter series and if so, what are your thoughts on these books? Do you ever find reading about violence, in this series or elsewhere, disturbing? Do you ever tolerate equally strong violence more in one book than another? Why or why not?