Reading List by Sunita for October and November
Make My Wish Come True by Fiona Harper
I was a big fan of Fiona Harper’s categories in the Harlequin Romance line, but then I kind of lost track, Harper switched to other lines and I stopped reading her regularly. But when I saw that she had a Christmas novel for HQN I bought it without paying much attention to what it was about, except that it involved sisters and Christmas stressors and trading places at the holidays. That was good enough for me. Make My Wish Come True turned out to be part women’s fiction, part romance, part holiday story, and almost wholly satisfying for me. Juliet is a recently divorced mother of three who is determined to create the perfect Christmas for her children, even if it kills her. Gemma, her free-spirit sister whose film company jobs take her all over the world, rarely makes it home in time for the holidays and never to help. This December, after a worse-than-usual sibling blowup, Gemma insists that Juliet and she switch places, with Gemma giving the children a traditional Christmas and Juliet spending two weeks in the Caribbean. There are romantic entanglements for both sisters that go in somewhat unexpected directions, and while there is an HEA for one of the sisters, this is as much Juliet’s journey as anything. Harper is skilled at balancing humor with darker emotions and she comes through here; the longer format lets her explore all the characters in greater depth. An unusual, unexpected holiday story that won me over. Recommended. Grade: B+HQN
Maybe This Christmas by Sarah Morgan
Jayne reviewed this last installment in Morgan’s Vermont trilogy and found it a mixed bag for reasons that make total sense to me. But for me it provided a highly satisfying end to the trilogy, not least because friends-to-lovers is one of my favorite romance plots. Tyler balances being totally committed to his daughter Jess with being commitment-phobic when it comes to potential love interests, and Brenna manages to sustain a lifelong unrequited love for him without turning into a limp noodle. I agree with Jayne that there was a lot of series-rehashing with other couples in the first part, but because the characters were familiar to me I passed over most of it and concentrated on the Tyler-Brenna, Tyler-Jess, and Brenna-Jess bits. I love the way Morgan added a plausible teenager into the usual romance mix without stinting on the romance bits. And when everything came together at the end, I really did buy into it. Tyler’s big moment was important not just for Brenna’s ability to believe in him but for him to believe in himself. And as one of those rare readers who doesn’t really like a major grovel, I thought Morgan’s alternative worked really well. It was a real, earned HEA, not just for the main couple but for their larger family, and it’s a great end to the series. Recommended. Grade: A-HQN
On A Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard
I’ve eyed this novella for months but didn’t pull the trigger and buy it until I started deliberately searching out SFF written by (and about) members of underrepresented groups. The story is set in Bodard’s Xuya universe, in which she creates an SF version of a Dai Viet empire. It’s about war, family, honor, duty, and respect for ancestors; and it also has grand space culture and artificial intelligence, and a terrific, unusual exploration of gender roles. The plot revolves around an insurgent leader who takes shelter on a space station that is straining under the demands of a long war, but it’s much more than that. It’s not a romance and it doesn’t have an HEA/HFN, although I found the resolution emotionally satisfying. I immediately gave it to my husband to read and he found it a bit depressing but wants to read more in the world. It’s unlike anything I’ve read in the past year and now I want to read everything this author has written. Talk about a revelation. And if my unqualified rave isn’t enough, this was a finalist for the Hugo, Locus and Nebula awards for best novella. Recommended. Grade: AHQN
Think of England by KJ Charles
I read this because so many of my DA and Twitter buddies raved about it but it didn’t work for me. I don’t find Charles’s books as fresh and innovative as a number of romance readers, perhaps because I’ve read quite a few early 20thC mystery and adventure novels. Both The Magpie Lord and Think of England feel like pastiches of those types of stories (which isn’t bad, just familiar). I discussed my issues with the book in the comment thread below Willaful’s review of it, so I won’t rehash that here. I found the romance implausible, largely because men like Archie (unreflective, hail-fellow-well-met cheerleaders for late-Victorian Empire attitudes and ideology) aren’t romantic to me in the least. I would have expected someone with Daniel’s background and experiences to run a mile and was surprised he didn’t. That said, there’s clearly a readership for a slightly modernized, sexed-up Richard Hannay type. Grade: C+HQN
Fair Play by Josh Lanyon
An unexpectedly satisfying sequel to a favorite story which I had thought stood just fine on its own. Elliot and Tucker are back, working out their relationship and investigating who is trying to keep Elliot’s 60s-era radical father, Roland, from publishing his memoirs. I really liked the mystery in this one; the combination of old and new puzzles using the backdrop of 60s radicalism and contemporary law enforcement felt fresh. And I always like spending time with Elliot, however annoying he can occasionally be. As I said in my full DA review, “Lanyon’s skill in creating a rich, plausible world is on full display here. I loved the scene in which Elliot has to remind himself that it’s a different semester and so the young woman in front of him isn’t Mrachek, Leslie (from Fair Game) but Miller, Liane.” Recommended. Grade: B+
Spook Country and Zero History by William Gibson
Gibson’s long-awaited new book, The Peripheral, was just released, but I didn’t want to read it until I had caught up on the Bigend trilogy. These two books follow Pattern Recognition and also have Hubertus Bigend as a major character, but they are more closely tied to each other than to the first book. All are adventure/caper stories, but filtered through Gibson’s inimitable lens. The two main recurring characters apart from Bigend are Hollis Henry, a former rock band singer turned writer, and Milgrim, a Russian translator and drug addict. These aren’t SFF exactly, more like commentaries on the near future. Spook Country was published in 2007 but feels as if it’s talking about today, while Zero History is set in its present (2010). Gibson explores the connections between art, fashion, technology, and our 21stC version of the military-industrial complex. They feel depressingly on target, especially in terms of what the world is like today for creative people, but they’re not depressing, if that makes sense. Spook Country has three characters whose storylines don’t converge until the midpoint of the book, while Zero History has a more unified narrative. No one tells stories like Gibson, whether you’re reading his 1980s cyberpunk or his 21stC stuff. Recommended. Grade: A-/A-.HQN
If I wanted to try Gibson would you recommend these books or something else as a first sample of his work? Thanks :).
Adding the Harper to the Christmas TBR list. I like to save up those stories for the time between Christmas and New Year.
@Sirius: I would start with either Neuromancer or Pattern Recognition. Neuromancer is the model for so much cyberpunk that followed, from Neal Stephenson to the Matrix movies. It might feel dated or familiar, but it’s more or less the original. Pattern Recognition is terrific in the way it explores the intersection of art, technology, and commerce. You can’t go wrong with either.
@Ros: It’s a little bittersweet, but I think you’ll enjoy it. I hope you will!
I’ve been curious about Aliette De Bodard since a RL friend recommended her Obsidian & Blood series, which are mysteries set in a fantasy Aztec-type world. Then I saw her Hugo win and got even more interested. So it’s really great to hear you liked On a Red Station, Drifting.
Fair Play is my favorite Lanyon standalone, so I too was curious and a little apprehensive to learn he was writing a sequel. I’m glad to learn that it’s a worthy one.
@lawless: I hope you enjoy it!
@Janine: It’s a bit melancholy, and sometimes I had to just go along because I didn’t entirely get what was happening, but I thought the ending really worked.
Sunita, I looked at your review “On a Red Station, drifting”, saw an A, saw scifi and pretty cover, bought it and devoured yesterday. OMG fantastic. It was definitely depressing for me, but also as you said emotionally satisfying (not sure if it was satisfying for the same reason for me as for you – I kind of felt that Linh did what she was supposed to do at the end, if she did anything else I would be angry at her).
@Sirius: Oh, I’m so glad you liked it! I found the ending satisfying for much the same reason: everyone followed through in ways that made sense for their characters.
@Sunita: Thanks. I might have to save it for when I’m in the right mood for something a bit melancholy, but I’ve bought it.