Thursday, January 30, 2020

Thursday Thirteen, Edition 37

I think it's 37, anyway.  We'll go with it.

Here it is Thursday again and I'm going to squeak in under the January wire with 13 books I'm looking forward to this year!  A lot of these are series-oriented, because once you start a good series, half the fun is the anticipation for the next book.  Without further ado, here is the list:


2020's Thirteen Most Anticipated Books:


  1. Crush the King, Jennifer Estep: the first two books in this series were amazing! Maybe I was just ready for some high fantasy, but I love these characters and the world-building.
  2. The Empire of Gold, S. A. Chakraborty: high fantasy in the swords & sorcery tradition, but rather than another Brit/Euro-centric take, this series is fueled by Arabian mythology.
  3. Smoke Bitten (Mercy Thompson) by Patricia Briggs. This series is an auto-buy for me.
  4. Harvest of Sighs, Sierra Simone: I binged this author so hard last year, and this series slayed me.  Cannot wait for more.
  5. Wicked Bite, Jeaniene Frost. This one released last week and features Ian, Bones' sire from the can't-get-enough Night Huntress series (also known as Cat and Bones, because Cat and Bones are amazing)
  6. Chaos Reigning, Jessie Mihalik: this space-opera romance trilogy took the Romlandia by storm, me included.  I love these smart, powerful women and how they triumph in a society that in spite of being centuries in the future, bears a marked resemblance to romance's beloved Regency era. Plus รงa change, and all that.
  7. Deal with the Devil, Kit Rocha.  First of all, Kit Rocha.  Second of all, post-apocalyptic mercenary librarians. POST-APOCALYPTIC. MERCENARY. LIBRARIANS. Need I say more? I think not.
  8. The Fiery Crown, Jeffe Kennedy: Last year's Orchid Throne was the start of a new world, and as much as I loved the connected Twelve Kingdoms/Uncharted Realms/Dasnaria books, this world is so rich and intriguing, I'm dying for the next installment.
  9. Wolf Gone Wild, Juliette Cross: I can't get enough of Cross's broody dark heroes, and this new series promises a little touch of humor which makes it even better.  Already out, I haven't got to it yet but looking forward to it!
  10. Alpha Night, Nalini Singh: The Psy-Changeling series is another auto-buy.
  11. A Heart of Blood and Ashes, Meljean Brook, uh, I mean, Milla Vane. I've been waiting so long for something new by this author! To be honest, I'm not sure how I feel about a barbarian hero, but I'm willing to find out.
  12. Dragon Unleashed, Grace Draven: I haven't liked everything I've read by this author, but I really loved Phoenix Unbound, the first in this sort of "alternate-history-Roman-Empire with magic" series; plus I was very intrigued by Halani's character.
  13. From the Grave, Kresley Cole: the conclusion to the only YA series I've ever loved, this book has been delayed several times.  The series has been suspended over a cliff for so long, I can't stand it! I have so many questions, it's hard to believe they can all be wrapped in one book, but if anyone can do it, it's Cole.

Bam.  Thirteen.  That should get your 2020 New Releases juices flowing.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Thursday Thirteen - 2020 style!

I am happy to report that the Thursday Thirteen Linkup is still alive and kicking! Let me start 2020 out on a roll with two posts in less than a week! Woo hoo!

January is all about lists.  Last weekend, I gave you my list of the best of 2019.  Here is a Thursday 13 rundown of other 2019 retrospectives in the #RomBkBlog world:

  1. Under The Covers
  2. Miss Bates Reads Romance
  3. Kini's list at Smexy Books
  4. Angela's list at Smexy Books
  5. Lots of SFF in the mix at Reading Reality
  6. Wendy The Super Librarian
  7. Ellie Reads Fiction
  8. Shallow Reader (don't believe the blog name!)
  9. Book Binge
  10. Ana's list at Love In Panels
  11. I Heart Romance
  12. Kaetrin's list at Dear Author
  13. And just to round things out, here is the GoodReads list for Romance.
I'm definitely seeing a few titles on repeat throughout these lists that I'll need to check out.  Also, how could I have missed Sapphire Flames on my own list?  Jeeze.

I hope you enjoyed this list! I recommend you head on over to this week's Thursday Thirteen linkup and check out a few participants.  This is not a book-focused meme (except here at Alpha Heroes!) so who knows what tidbits you'll pick up to brighten your week!

Saturday, January 4, 2020

2019 Look Back, 2020 Look Ahead

Ever since I started this blog, I have almost always managed an end of year post.  Despite the long silence this year, January always brings some optimism about re-invigorating the blog and this year is no different!

By The Numbers
I did a better job of tracking my reading this year, so I think the numbers are pretty accurate.

  • Total: 126 titles
  • Nonfiction, mostly audio: 11, with two DNFs
  • Bookclub books: 13, one DNF.  Considering I participate in 3 monthly bookclubs, this is kind of terrible, lol.  But two of the three did not manage to select 12 books for the year; and there were a handful that I chose not to even start on the basis of having zero (possibly negative) interest in.
  • Podcast reads: 13
  • Rereads: 12 (many for the podcast)
  • Novellas: 7
  • Diversity: 14, mostly authors of color, and two LGBTQ titles. I would like to do better in 2020.
  • Reedsy Reviews: 5
  • Total DNF: 6.  I do have 3 or 4 titles in progress that I haven't officially given up on.  They'll go toward my 2020 numbers.


Highlights:

  • Favorite new (to me) author: Sierra Simone! I had read the first American Camelot book previously and didn't like the cliffhanger ending, but A Lesson In Thorns blew me away.  Rereading the American Camelot series, I appreciated the Arthurian bits more.  I think Thorns is probably my favorite book of 2019. I also loved Tasha Suri's Empire of Sand.
  • Best non-fiction was definitely Born A Crime, by Trevor Noah.  I had been meaning to get to this one for a long time and I'm sorry I waited. Humorous, thought-provoking, and horizon-expanding for this mid-west US white girl.
  • Non-fiction runner-up: Educated, by Tara Westover.  I have read very few memoirs, but this was wonderful.  Engaging, even horrifying at times, with novel-like storytelling.
  • Some great new series:  Jennifer Estep's fantasy Crown of Shards series is amazing; third book due out in March (I haven't read her previous series, apparently I need to), and Jessie Mihalik's Consortium Rebellion series top the list.  In the mood for more romantic space opera, I gave Susan' Grant's Star series a go and it's awesome! Also, G.A. Aiken's title, Blacksmith Queen, is the first of a new series and I liked it very much. Oh, and unsurprisingly, Jeffe Kennedy's Orchid Throne, first in a new romantic fantasy series.
  • Binge: I've been catching up on the neglected Immortals After Dark series by Kresley Cole, which is just as good as I remembered. I've really been enjoying Cynthia Eden's Bad Things series -- I had read one of hers before and was turned off by the "medical experimentation" centered plot, which is just a personal squick, so I'm glad I gave her another shot.
  • Favorite titles: (in non-exact order)
    • A Lesson in Thorns, by Sierra Simone
    • Circe, by Madeline Miller
    • The Overdue Life of Amy Byler, by Kelly Harms
    • Lady Derring Takes a Lover, by Julie Anne Long
    • Kill the Queen, by Jennifer Estep
    • Polaris Rising, by Jessie Mihalik
  • Podcasts and TV: 2019 was the year I started watching TV again, and also found some podcasts I like.  I'm mostly watching Netflix, and my faves were Lucifer (OMG, he's pretty), the Cumberbatch/Freeman Sherlock Holmes, Lost Girl, and (surprisingly) iZombie.  Podcasts, besides ShelfAddiction where I guest host, I've been enjoying Craft A Life You Love, and The Good Life Project.
  • 3Bloggers1Series Weekend!  Since I wasn't able to go to any conferences this year, my awesome podcast partners came to Seattle over Labor Day weekend and we had an AMAZING time. Wine tasting, cheese eating, book shopping, Facebook Live-ing, and some great sightseeing. A big highlight for me!

Lowlights:
  • Well, blogging took more of a backseat than ever in 2019.  I returned to work at the beginning of March after five months of chemotherapy, and just didn't have the brain capacity to do much more than that.  I am expecting 2020 to be a better year health-wise, but I also have some ground to make up career-wise, so it's hard to say how the blog will fare.  
  • Speaking of cancer, one of my bookclubs chose a book that I absolutely hated while I was in the midst of treatment.  Every review called it funny/humorous; for example, "wildly funny;" "arch, achingly funny, and surprisingly heartfelt;"  "expansive, great-hearted and acidly funny;" It's a litfic story written in a weird POV (first-person plural) about the people who work for an ad agency.  The owner of the company gets a breast cancer diagnosis about 25% through the book, and has something of a breakdown over it.  Meanwhile, here's an example of how SUPER funny it was (and incidently, the place I called the DNF):


What's Next?
I think I am not going to tempt fate by making any promises about blogging more -- although I always hope to.  For reading goals, I have three ideas in mind:

1. Julia Quinn Bridgerton Re-read, in preparation for the Netflix production.  Unfortunately, I seem to have offloaded my paperbacks after reading them back in 2008? or so? so I will have to re-acquire them.  I'm undecided about whether I want to binge the series or just read the first book shortly before the first series debuts.

2. This shelf:

I want to put (gasp!) something other than books on it.  There are ~40 books on that shelf-- it's (part of) my Paranormal TBR.  Wish me luck!

3. Sherlock: As mentioned above, I really adored the Benedict Cumberbatch/Martin Freeman Sherlock Holmes series.  I read all of the original SH stories back in middle school, and I have a notion to re-read the ones that have corresponding episodes and noodle about them here on the blog.

Conferences in 2020:  I'm signed up for ApollyCon in Washington DC, March 26-29, and Avon's KissCon in Chicago, April 17-20.  If you're headed for either one, do hit me up and let's connect!

Link Up:
Do you have a 2019 roundup or 2020 lookahead to share? Post in comments and I'll edit it in!

Finally, I hope you all have a happy, healthy, prosperous new year, filled with awesome books!








Monday, May 20, 2019

Vampire Blood Series by Juliette Cross - on sale

If you like paranormal romance and you haven't discovered Juliette Cross yet, allow me to introduce you. I had the pleasure of reviewing this four-part series for RT. In addition to offering a fresh take on some favorite fairy tales (no really, everyone always says that but these really are fresh and twisty), and some dark vampire horror, the underlying theme of women demanding to be heard and recognized vibrates with right-now relevancy. All four titles are available at a great sale price right now, so it seems like a good moment to re-post these reviews.




But seriously though, what about those covers? I love that there is variety. And while I have zero -- repeat, ZERO-- issues with some naked male chests, I have to admit that Emerald there is my favorite. Mmm mmm.



THE BLACK LILY
Juliette Cross
Four Stars
HOT

Cinderella meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets revolution in this fresh take on familiar tropes. Cross debuts her new paranormal fairy tale series with a brave and clever heroine, a Grimm Brothers-esque mysterious forest—and vampires. The world that Cross builds is layered, and we get tantalizing hints about what the forest might reveal in future books, including a killer plot twist. The fairy tale trappings are familiar with a modern horror treatment. Marius’ altruism feels a bit stiff, which detracts a little from the chemistry, but overall a solid offering for fans of dark sexy vampires and fairy tales.

SUMMARY: As the leader of the rebellion against the vampire aristocracy, Arabelle cannot afford to fall in love with its youngest prince. Conceding that he may not be a mindless murdering monster goes against her entire life’s ambition. On Marius’ part, falling in love with and nearly being murdered by the same fascinating woman serves as a turning point. As he discovers just why she wanted him dead, he learns more than he bargained for about his life of privilege.


THE RED LILY
Juliette Cross
Four and a Half Stars, Top Pick
HOT

There's no sophomore slump in this dark fairy tale adventure series! When Red Riding Hood and her guardian wolves meet a renegade vampire who fights for the commoner, it's anything but a routine re-telling. Fans of Kelley Armstrong will find a similar blend of horror and legend, with a bonus complete romance. The connection between these two is strong and hot, and their mission is compelling. Layers of intriguing world-building are revealed and open up some great possible future directions - this series could go anywhere. Cross doesn't pull punches with the brutality of her war, so be wary about reading it at bedtime.

SUMMARY: Powerful magic grounds Sienna to the forest where she is protected, but greater need calls her abroad where she is vulnerable. She'll need a powerful protector, and Nikolai is just the vampire for the job. As they travel from town to town, recruiting for the army of the Black Lily and sowing insurrection against an incredibly strong, incredibly evil villain, they are in danger at every turn. But the greatest risk they'll face is to reveal their secrets - and their hearts - to each other.


THE WHITE LILY
Juliette Cross
Three Stars
SCORCHING

Readers who are coming back for more of the heat and passion found in the first two books of Cross’s fairytale/vampire mashup will be more than pleased with The White Lily. Passion takes the main stage between these two characters and their love scenes burn up the pages. But the characters lack a clear mission outside of Dominick wanting Brennalyn in bed, and Brennalyn wanting to take care of the seven orphans she’s collected. The vampire spin on Snow White lacks the magic and tension of the earlier offerings, but turns up the erotic content noticeably. A bit more of the White Lily’s insurrectionist activities on the page for the reader would go a long way to livening up her character as well as the plot.

SUMMARY: Dominick is a powerful vampire, descended from generations of cruelty. Brennalyn, abandoned for her infertility, is dedicated to protecting her adopted family, and providing a better future – even if it means revolution. When Dominick discovers that a rebel has put his dukedom in the crosshairs of a vengeful, cruel king, he knows he must find the White Lily before the king does. When it turns out to be the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen, he’ll question everything he thought he knew about how to manage his life.


THE EMERALD LILY
Juliette Cross
Four Stars
Hot

The Vampire Blood series peaks in this fourth book, bringing the war of the Lilies versus Queen Morgrid to a dramatic conclusion. While this book may be read alone, it will spoil the earlier books in the series, so reading in order is a good idea. Cross has built a world of good and evil, blood and cruelty, and the mysterious power of love. Mikhail is a worthy hero: focused, disciplined, and dedicated to the higher good, but Mina steals the show. Her story is one of realizing and claiming feminine power, as Sleeping Beauty awakes in more than one sense of the word. Her clarity of character, her drive and purpose embody the word “regal,” and this queen slays. It’s tough to pull off a series climax, but The Emerald Lily delivers the plot, the politics and edge-of-seat tension that this excellent paranormal romance series deserves. A number of scenes will recall the classic Sleeping Beauty of childhood, but Cross flips them and subverts them and makes them her own.

SUMMARY: Princess Vilhelmina Dragomir has defied the evil Queen Morgrid, and sentenced to a torturous vampiric coma of nightmare and starvation for her trouble. Powerful friends arrange for her escape, but the only way out of the bloodless sleep is by the blood kiss. Captain Mikhail Romanov will do everything he must to save her, but the indelible bond that forms when he gives her that kiss wreaks havoc on his duty and his mission to take down Morgrid. The most powerful kind of love is never convenient, but nothing else is strong enough to prevail over the evil threatening their world.


--------------------------------------------------------------
These reviews appeared previously in RT Magazine.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Sunday Soup - April 14 2019

In The Soup:  Starla Night, Kresley Cole, Talia Hibbert, Elizabeth Harmon, Jessie Mihalik, Reedsy, Shelf Addiction

Soup Dish: on my mind right now
✽ This goes back a little ways, but since I've been slacking on the blog, I hope you'll forgive me. Romance Novels Are Not Junk Food

Trying to read more diversely? There are lots of lists out there, but here is a great one: 80 Black Romance Novels

Not romance, but sort of anti-romance? I love a good take-down review: Psycho Analysis, on Bret Easton Ellis' latest.

This tweet made me laugh and laugh-- I love the word nerds in my timeline:
Link to tweet

Stalking Me: where else to find me
My recent Reedsy reviews: Secrets of the Sea Lord, by Starla Night (3 stars) and upcoming in about week look for a review of The Cemetary Circle, by I.L. Cruz.  Link to come.

On the podcast, Tamara released our #3Bloggers1Series discussion of Endless Knight by Kresley Cole. The podcast is pre-recorded, but we are doing live listen-along commentary on the Shelf Addiction Facebook Group, which is a ton of fun. The next one, for Dead of Winter, will be Wednesday April 24th, 6 pm Pacific.  I haven't done a Shelf Byte in a while, but Tamara's got a great one for Consumed by JR Ward (which I reviewed last fall, here).

Recent Reads:
I am having such a hard time NOT bingeing on the Kresley Cole Arcana series (it's no good to get too far ahead of our recording schedule) that I decided to catch up on the Immortals After Dark series. I don't know how I get so far behind on these things, but I am going way back to books 9 and 10, with Pleasures of a Dark Prince, and Demon from the Dark. Yumm. I'm on a wait list at the library for the next one, so I'm taking a probably-well-advised break for a week or two. Loved them.

Mating the Huntress, by Talia Hibbert. I am really loving Hibbert's contemporaries, so when I found out she had a paranormal romance out in the world, I had to snap it up. Really good, and I'm sad that she isn't doing more PNR. Among other things, it inspired a bit of a riff on Twitter (be sure to click into the replies ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) with the hashtag #HeSmelledLikeThreeThings:
...so maybe he'd always had this incredible scent, this heady mixture of power, fresh pine and midnight heat, and she'd never noticed. 
I read Pairing Off, by Elizabeth Harmon, who is an author I met through the Rust City Book Conference a year or two ago. I've never read a figure skating romance before, set mainly in Moscow, and I enjoyed those elements a lot. It wasn't overly jargon-y on the skating technicalities, but focused more on the emotional dramas and pressures between pairs partners, ex-partners, coaches, and family. There is a lot I liked about it, but I found it a bit draggy and just too long.

The biggest win of the last month was Polaris Rising, by Jessie Mihalik. This was a romance book club pick, and I was happy to give it a try, as it was getting so much good buzz from people whose recs generally work for me. Man, this was a five star read for sure, maybe 6 on a scale of 1-5. I loved it a lot, and I am not a space opera person. I am, however, a fabulously competent heroine on an epic adventure person, and this totally worked for me. Tech was perfectly on point, completely believable (I say this as a person who has worked in high tech for 20-plus years) and not boring. I'm already seeing some buzz about the sequel and I can't wait.

Well, it looks like these posts are coming more like monthly... that's not too bad, right?  What's going on in your reading world?

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Sunday Soup - 3/17/2019

In The Soup This Week: Katy Regnery, Alyssa Cole, Cynthia Eden, Stephen Lawhead, Jennifer Estep, Kresley Cole, Book Riot, Reedsy

Soup Dish: on my mind this week
✽ Love this article from Book Riot on why the word "clean" to describe books without explicit sex is problematic, as well as this good-natured response from Delilah Dawson:

Emerald City ComicCon is here again, and once again I have failed to take advantage of the lonnnng list of amazing authors who are here. Maybe next year I'll make my children the happiest of teens and set aside my introvert dread of crowds and do the thing.

I'm now reviewing for Reedsy, which is a new site that helps indie authors find a production team, and also offers reviews. It launched about two weeks ago, with some good publicity from Forbes, Good e-Reader, and The Digital Reader.  My first review is up, a contemporary by Katy Regnery, and can be viewed here.  I'd love to hear what you think of the site!

On the podcast: the sound of my voice
New Shelfbyte (5- minute review) of Kill The Queen, by Jennifer Estep (5 stars!)

Have you been following the #3Bloggers1Series podcasts? If not, catch up with us on Kresley Cole's YA post-apocalyptic fantasy series, The Arcana. We spoiler the heck out of these in our discussions so we recommend you read along and listen AFTER you finish the book. We have just gotten started on this series so catch up and join us!  If you like to listen real-time, we are hosting listen-along parties on Facebook for this series.  Join the Shelf Addiction Facebook Group to keep up on details.  Podcast link for Poison Princess by Kresley Cole.

Recent Reads
A Hope Divided, by Alyssa Cole. I loved the first in this series and I'm not sure why I waited so long to get going on this one. It's a wonderful story, but at times difficult to read. As a kid I used to enjoy stories of the Underground Railroad; the stories sounded exciting and adventurous, with heroic people along the way, helping slaves find their way to freedom. Cole reframes this narrative, elevating the "passengers" in a way I haven't seen before, and pointing out that by focusing on the "heroes," the escaping slaves are subtly dehumanized. Further dehumanized, that is. I would call this book, more so than the first, uncomfortable and important to read.

The Iron Lance and The Black Rood, by Stephen Lawhead.  I've read some of Lawhead's books before, in his Arthurian series.  At some point, I picked up The Iron Lance and while it's a bit of a slower read, hefty with a lot of history, I really enjoyed it. So I grabbed the second in the Celtic Crusades trilogy. The first follows a Scottish noble who chronicles the sacking of Jerusalem, which is surprisingly not something I've read about before. This book pulls no punches about how gruesome and dishonorable the event was.  The second book follows his son, who returns to the Holy Lands because he believes that he's been called to reunite the four pieces of the Holy Cross, which were split up in order to be able to motivate Christian armies in more than one direction.  If that makes sense.  Epic quests, with a touch of supernatural to them. I'll most likely pick up the third this summer. Very enjoyable.

Wicked and Wild, by Cynthia Eden. I believe I acquired this book as either a freebie or a 99-cent deal. I'm not sure why else I would have picked up number 7 in a series without reading any of the earlier ones, but I want to tell you all -- it works just fine. Yes, there are characters with history that make you go "oh, I should read their book too!" but not "well crap, I don't get what's happening here." Smart heroine with a great arc; I enjoyed the worldbuilding, and the plot had some good twists. I will most likely go back and start at the beginning of this series. Thumbs up from me.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Who Wants To Play?

Conference season is coming up! Need swag? Read on:

Sadly, I won't be able to attend any conferences this year (but maybe 2020). In past years, as an "official" blogger for some smaller conferences, I ran a game I called "Five Words." It's a fun progressive fiction game, with 4-8 or so players. I give the first player five words that they need to incorporate into their narrative, along with a couple of loose world-building rules, and then that player leaves 5 words for the next player to use. The idea is to make the words pretty awkward, and sometimes the stories take some crazy turns. Entries run from about 100-300 words each. I did the editing and formatting, and created physical chapbooks as swag for the conferences.

Here's what I'm thinking. If there are authors who would like to participate, I will do the same as before. But I won't be at any of the conferences to distribute them! My costs for printing and materials run to about $1 per book. So if participating authors want to chip in up to $20, I will make up to 20 books per author and mail them to you. No charge for my time and work, because it's fun for me ๐Ÿ˜Š.  Here's an idea of what they look like:





Interested?  Repeat offenders participants are welcome! Leave me a comment and/or contact me at nicola327 at hotmail dot com.

And here is how one story unfolded:


Part 1, by Laura Bickle
Part 2, by Calandra Usher
Part 3, by AJ Norris
Part 4, by Roselynn Cannes
Part 5: by Gina Conkle
Part 6: by Nancy Holzner





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