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 😊.  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





Saturday, February 16, 2019

Shelf Bytes!

Can you spot the new tool in my blogging arsenal? If your eye went to the headset, good job!

It's not news that I've been guest-hosting on Tamara's #3Bloggers1Series podcast feature for a little more than a year now. It is so much fun! I can talk for hours with Tamara and Casey about books, and we often do -- but we try to keep the actual podcast part to an hour or so.

At the beginning of the year, Tamara decided to launch a super-short feature - the Shelf Byte, a full book review in five minutes or less. I thought that sounded super-fun so she is letting me do a few of these for her too. These are a great gateway if you're still on the fence about podcasts (I was for a long time), as 5 minutes is pretty low-commitment. Or if you're already a podcast addict and need some bite (byte) -sized 'casts when you don't have 30 or 60 minutes for a longer listen.

I thought I'd do a quick link-up here. Watch this space for future Shelf Bytes!

Check this page to stay up to date for all of the podcast goodness at ShelfAddiction.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky Shelf Byte (Tamara)
Diamond Fire Shelf Byte (Nicola)
His Package Shelf Byte (Nicola)
Two Girls Down Shelf Byte (Tamara)



Tuesday, January 15, 2019

2018: Numbers and Highlights

I'm always a little bit slow with these round-up posts, but for those of you who are interested, here is a 2018 lookback.  In total, I read (or attempted) 108 titles in 2018, although I'm not the best record-keeper so there may be a few physical books in there that didn't get counted.

The Breakdown: 
  • Novellas: 4
  • DNF: 11
  • Total bookclub reads: 14 (3 DNF)
  • Podcast reads: 11 
  • Reads for RT reviews (RIP, RT Book Reviews ): 7
  • Books by authors of color: 17
  • Nonfiction on audio: 3
  • Nonfiction ebooks: 2

Some highlights:
  • I discovered Elizabeth Vaughan's Warlands series and it was amazing. Definitely my favorite binge of the year. 
  • Lexi C. Foss's Immortal Curse series.  Complex world building, cool magical powers, old enemies and shifting alliances -- you never know who to trust in this series and the plot twists are Machiavellian. 
  • Jeffe Kennedy makes regular appearances in my reading. 2018 was a particularly prolific year for her and features some really lovely additions to her portfolio. 
  • A nonfiction title blew me away this year!  Please immediately acquire The Order Of Time by Carlos Rovelli, specifically the audio version, narrated by none other than Benedict Cumberbatch. I promise you it is a mind-bending experience.
  • Tiffany Reisz' The Red. Beautiful, haunting, erotic, and a little disturbing. This is her best work yet, IMO.
  • I'm pleased with the percentage of authors of color that made it into my reading this year. I've said a number of times over the life of this blog that I miss the "globe trotting" historical romances of old-skool days, though often part and parcel with a lot of problematic content.  It turns out that getting some fresh perspectives and new settings is as easy as seeking out more diversity in the authors I'm reading. Worth the effort.

Lowlights:
  • Anne Bishop's Others series -- quite the disappointment, although it started out strong. Have a listen to our podcast series for more details (while the books disappointed, the podcast will not!) (Written in Red, Murder of Crows, Vision in Silver, Marked in Flesh, Etched in Bone)
  • Several of my bookclub reads were DNFs. This isn't really surprising. The bookclub I belong to through work rotates through all different genres and it turns out that I know my preferences pretty well -- there's a reason I don't read much lit-fic.  I'm giving them a good try, because 1) I enjoy the conversation; 2) it's a good brain-stretch exercise; and 3) every now and then I find a really awesome one that I would otherwise not have tried. So I'm pretty happy with finishing 10 out of 12 titles.  The third DNF was from my romance bookclub and was mainly due to health issues. Although it is true that the book wasn't exactly my cup of tea, I probably would've finished it if it hadn't landed in the midst of a flurry of doctor visits.
  • I was sad to see the end of RT Book Reviews. I had been reviewing for them for about three years, and very much enjoyed the conferences in the years I was able to go. I won't be able to try out the BookLoversCon this year, but if the feedback is good, maybe next year.

Looking forward:  
  • On the Blog: I have a few modest blog goals this year. I'd like to post a minimum of two reviews a month, and get back in the habit of a weekly reading roundup.  I'm making an effort to read the physical books that are on my shelves. 
  • If you enjoy Twitter, please keep an eye out for my live-tweets, usually tagged with #amreading. I try to remember the #bkbrk (book break) tag as well.
  • Finally, I'm very much enjoying my role as guest-podcaster with Tamara at Shelf Addiction. We are continuing the #3bloggers1series read-alongs (I'm super excited about the series that we'll be starting after the 3rd title in the Grisha trilogy), and I'm doing some mini-reviews in the new "Shelf Byte" feature that Tamara kicked off this year.  So if podcasts are your jam, please check this one out. 

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Sunday Soup: December 2, 2018

In The Soup This Week... Oliver Willis, Chuck Wendig, Sam Sykes, Rachel Caine, JR Ward, Ilona Andrews

Soup Dish:  personal dish; on my mind; good links
It's been a while since I dished, so I'll take a few minutes to catch you up on what's going on with me...

I'm in the midst of a temporary health challenge that has me off work for several months. I have lots of time for reading and reviewing, though the illness comes with some challenges to energy and focus. So far I think I can say the blog is coming out a little bit ahead on the equation. 

If you've been reading here for awhile, you might recall that I've been trying to get myself to read a bit more (some? any?) non-fiction, and it's been quite the uphill road. I've figured out the solution: audiobooks. Generally I do not like listening to talk radio, or talking-head TV. I never thought I'd like audiobooks, but it turns out that a good narrator is able to bring non-fiction to life in a way that my inner reader-voice cannot. I don't really want to dilute my brand here on the blog so when I choose to review those, I'm putting them over on Goodreads.


So I mentioned before, I had been reviewing for the last few years for RT Book Reviews.  With their closing,   I'm selectively choosing a few books off of Netgalley and other sources for review, but my self-discipline has never been great.  I am forcing myself to review everything I have open there before picking new ones.  So you're going to occasionally see reviews for older releases, but hey, why not.

I wrote this bit (slightly updated) almost a year ago and never posted, but the links are worth checking out if you haven't seen them: Twitter is evolving. There have been threadrolls and Storifications and so on before but I've never seen anything quite like what Oliver Willis has done, and it is insanely good (the whole project is available as a novella on Amazon - I recommend it, assuming your politics align). However, before Willis launched this masterpiece, we had Yo Can You Help Me Out from Sam Sykes and Chuck Wendig, which I 100% adore. I was not the only one, so there have been a few more of these epic dialogs unfold, like the Lovecraftian Hey How's It Going; a hellish goat pyramid scheme in "Yo Hey You Busy."


What I'm reading
I just can't get enough Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance lately. Having some trouble getting into historical or contemporary-- bring on the werewolves, vampires, witches and magic! 

Rachel Caine's Weather Warden series. I've had a number of these paperbacks around for a couple years now and I decided to get serious. I binged the first 5 books but got a little stuck on the 6th. Probably just needed a wee break. I'm enjoying them and hoping to write up a series review when I finish them.

Jeffe Kennedy's Dasnaria Chronicles. The third in the trilogy, Warrior of the World, is due out in early January. Look for a rave review from me as we get closer, but I've enjoyed the whole trilogy (oh hey, looks like the first in the trilogy, Prisoner of the Crown, is on sale for $0.99 -- do yourself a favor and snap it up), as well as the latest in the Uncharted Realms series, Arrows of the Heart.

I went back to my PNR roots and grabbed the most recent Black Dagger Brotherhood book, The Thief (when I noticed the price had come down). I liked it, but I felt a little let down with Sola's character. I liked her so much in the early parts of their arc but she didn't quite hit the high notes for me overall. The Jane and V arc worked fine for me, though I'm finding these original-brothers'-marriages-in-crises arcs to be getting a little stale/repetitive.


Last but definitely not least, I grabbed the latest Hidden Legacy (Ilona Andrews) book, a novella titled Diamond Fire, about Nevada's younger sister Catalina. Predictably, I loved it a lot and it inspired a re-read of the whole preceding trilogy. These are so, so good.



That's it for this week. Happy reading!

ps -- apologies for the wonky font situation. My HTML is befuckered and I have run out of patience trying to deal with it.  Sigh.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Consumed, by JR Ward - Review


Title: Consumed
Series: Firefighters (book 1)
Author: J. R. Ward
Publisher: Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster)
Release Date: October 9, 2018
Reviewing: e-ARC via NetGalley
Reason for reading: With JR Ward, hope springs eternal
The Short Answer: 
Consumed brings in the best of the Black Dagger Boys in a contemporary, non-paranormal context. Danny reads a little bit like a less-damaged Butch, and the boys in the firehouse are deftly set up for the next JR Ward Dude Group. The characters are diverse and down-to-earth; more blue-collar and less blue-blood; struggling with the real-life baggage that tends to get in the way of a healthy relationship. The suspense plot keeps it from being too angsty and Ward's hallmark storytelling is on point.
The Blurb
Anne Ashburn is a woman consumed...

By her bitter family legacy, by her scorched career as a firefighter, by her obsession with department bad-boy Danny McGuire, and by a new case that pits her against a fiery killer.

Strong-willed Anne was fearless and loved the thrill of fighting fires, pushing herself to be the best. But when one risky decision at a warehouse fire changes her life forever, Anne must reinvent not only her job, but her whole self.

Shattered and demoralized, Anne finds her new career as an arson investigator a pale substitute for the adrenaline-fueled life she left behind. She doesn't believe she will ever feel that same all-consuming passion for her job again--until she encounters a string of suspicious fires setting her beloved city ablaze.

Danny McGuire is a premiere fireman, best in the county, but in the midst of a personal meltdown. Danny is taking risks like never before and seems to have a death wish until he teams up with Anne to find the fire starter. But Danny may be more than a distraction, and as Anne narrows in on her target, the arsonist begins to target her.

From the creator of the bestselling Black Dagger Brotherhood, get ready for a new band of brothers. And a firestorm. 
The Longer Answer 
Ward doesn't pull any punches in this book. Bad stuff happens to her characters, and miracles don't save them.  There's a brutal edge to the plotting that feels true to the style she has developed with her various paranormal books. (I confess I did not finish Bourbon trilogy, so there may be echoes there as well, but I can't comment.)

One of the threads that I really enjoyed is that as a firefighter, Anne is the only woman in her precinct, and as much as she wants to be treated as one of the guys, she gets a certain "little sister" treatment. While her work is respected and she isn't coddled, it's more about her place in the social constellation of her team. I thought Ward did a great job of threading that needle.  Anne's status changes after the "risky decision" mentioned in the blurb, and the way she adjusts is one of my favorite things about the book.

Danny... well, Danny. Readers who are allergic to the physically uber-alpha should know by now to give anything by J. R. Ward a pass, and Danny is no exception.  He's physically tough, ridiculously stubborn, carries a bunch of family baggage, and loves with his whole heart or not at all. And by "not at all," I mean "turns it into a stream of self-loathing." Usually I feel like Ward's books are all about the hero with the heroines hovering in "accessory" territory, but it's reversed in Consumed. Danny is a worthy foil and gets a decent hero's arc, but Anne is for sure the star.

I've noticed a definite trend in Ward's book about characters seeking therapy for their issues and I think that's a great thing. Love cannot conquer all, and the rise of the angsty hero also created this trope where the expectation of the Happily Ever After kind of included some magical love-heals-all-wounds subtext.  I'm glad to see explicit inroads on that subtext. Love doesn't mean finding the perfect person, and love can be healing for sure, but finding a partner does not equate to fixing a person, and that's a message that deserves repeating.

I think this author is incapable of writing a book without multiple arcs, and in my opinion, it's very well done in this book, though there is plenty of disagreement across the reviews on that point. There's a mystery, a complicated romance, family baggage galore, an ensemble cast being introduced, and they all get a decently tidy wrap-up in this book. I look forward to getting to know the rest of the cast and their stories.

Around the Web
Book Binge didn't like it all, and makes a fair point about some questionable decisions on Anne's part (this is why I don't read other reviews before I do mine, heh)
The Reading Café - Two for the price of one reviews! Generally positive
Romance Reader liked it too.
Random Book Muses - short and sweet


Thursday, September 13, 2018

GIVEAWAY and Review for Phoenix Unbound, by Grace Draven


Title: Phoenix Unbound
Series: The Fallen Empire (1)
Author: Grace Draven
Publisher: Ace (Penguin)
Release Date: September 25,2018
Reviewing: eARC
Reason for reading: I'm on a fantasy romance binge right now, and I really enjoyed Draven's holiday novella last year, part of a limited edition collection entitled "Amid The Winter Snow."

The Short Answer

If you love a slow burn, enemies-to-lovers road romance, with mayyyybe a couple who will bring down an empire to be together, this is the fantasy romance you've been waiting for. Wanna read it for yourself? Penguin is offering a massive fantasy romance giveaway ! The only way to join is to click through. I've read every single book on this list and they are amazing! if you're not hooked on fantasy romance, you will be before you're done with that list. It's worth noting that the other five titles I would call more urban fantasy. Draven's contribution is a little different, being more in the tradition of swords-and-sorcery. Good luck! (and if you win, please come back and tell me!)

The Blurb
Every year, each village is required to send a young woman to the Empire's capital--her fate to be burned alive for the entertainment of the masses. For the last five years, one small village's tithe has been the same woman. Gilene's sacrifice protects all the other young women of her village, and her secret to staying alive lies with the magic only she possesses.

But this year is different.

Azarion, the Empire's most famous gladiator, has somehow seen through her illusion--and is set on blackmailing Gilene into using her abilities to help him escape his life of slavery. Unknown to Gilene, he also wants to reclaim the birthright of his clan.

To protect her family and village, she will abandon everything to return to the Empire--and burn once more.

The Long Answer

To be perfectly honest, I tried an earlier Draven title and wasn't into it. Radiance involved an interspecies political marriage and I just can't. However, as I mentioned above, this author combined forces with a few of my favorites last December for a holiday anthology and I loved it a lot. Combined with some buzz on this title, I was keen to get my hands on it.

And I'm so glad I did! All the sweep and grandeur of your favorite epic fantasy, and none of the misogyny, although I'll add a trigger warning for rape. (It happens, but it is not a key part of the plot and is not described graphically.)

This hero surprised me a little. Tortured and abused for ten years in an arena strongly resembling gladiatorial Rome, he escapes with a mission, with ruthlessness, and yet also with empathy and tenderness, while Gilene is locked down under a tougher shell. Arguably, she has had an easier time, surviving an annual ritual that leaves her scarred, sick, and battered. But in between, she has a family, a home, a community, and work creating dyes (is it wrong that I want to hear more about this? I'm kind of a low-key textiles nerd). The difference is, she has no future that she can imagine, other than continuing this annual hell until she is too scarred and worn out to continue. She never expects to marry, or to bear children, and her role makes her othered in the community, with few friends. She has no hope.

What pulled me in was the gradual way that Azarion showed her a possible future. With a community that would respect and honor her gift, rather than one that would literally use her up with it. But she is the only one who can survive the annual tithe... so if she leaves her village behind for love, she is condemning her neighbors and family to death. Some reviewers have found the pacing slow, with the love between Azarion and Gilene taking a good part of the book to develop. To me, that gave some credibility to the enemies-to-lovers arc, and I enjoyed the worldbuilding so much that I didn't find pacing a problem.

There are a couple of really pivotal scenes that the author did an outstanding job on. One was a battle to the death involving feats of horsemanship, swords, and an eventual beheading. The other was a scene of intense magical power, and I won't say more to avoid spoilering, but my reaction to it was WOW!! Not every author can pull off those sorts of climaxes. I was never thrown out of the story and never lost my suspension of disbelief for a second.

Gilene and Azarion's happily ever after was hard-fought and well-earned. This book appears to be the first in a new series, but I have no insights on whether future books will feature the same couple or different ones. I have some hopes: I hope to read Halani's story, and perhaps Tamura's. Halani, a woman of uncanny healing skills, travels with a merchant's caravan reminiscent of the Romany, led by an uncle of dubious morality and including her mother, who has some sort of mental or neurological delays. Tamura is the hard-riding, hard-fighting sister of Azarion, in love with the headman's wife. None of the male secondary characters jumped out at me, but I am really, really crossing my fingers for Halani. There's also a super-creepy haunted village, a wounded but surviving super-villain, and some mysterious hints about dragon blood. There's DEFINITELY a setup for future books here, and I can't wait.

Around the Web
SuperStarDrifter
Shelf Rated
Book Twin Reviews
Books of My Heart

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