Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Harlequin Black Friday Deals

  • What: Early Black Friday sale
  • Discount: 50% off select titles (print & ebook!)
    • Includes recent releases such as No Limits by Lori Foster and Looking for Trouble by Victoria Dahl
  •  Run time: now – November 27
  • Number of titles on-sale: 30
  • What: Black Friday Sale
  • Discount: Site-wide, 40% off (list price) on all titles, print and ebook
  • Run time: November 28, 12amET-11:59pm ET
    • Use coupon code BF2014 at Checkout
Recommended Reads:
Anything by Jeannie Lin (Especially The Lotus Palace and The Jade Temptress if you like intrigue)
Anything by Maria V. Snyder (Especially with Shadow Study coming out...)
the Soul Screamers series by Rachel Vincent
The Lost by Sarah Beth Durst (review here)
The Sullivans books by Bella Andre

Monday, November 24, 2014

Book Review: The Lost

It was only meant to be a brief detour. But then Lauren finds herself trapped in a town called Lost on the edge of a desert, filled with things abandoned, broken and thrown away. And when she tries to escape, impassable dust storms and something unexplainable lead her back to Lost again and again. The residents she meets there tell her she's going to have to figure out just what she's missing--and what she's running from--before she can leave. So now Lauren's on a new search for a purpose and a destiny. And maybe, just maybe, she'll be found...

Against the backdrop of this desolate and mystical town, Sarah Beth Durst writes an arresting, fantastical novel of one woman's impossible journey...and her quest to find her fate.

When I first picked up this book I was reminded of the cover to another book I enjoyed, SISTER EMILY'S LIGHTSHIP by Jane Yolen.  Its in fact a collection of Yolen's shorter fiction and as part of the hardcover artwork there's a quote that reminded me of his book. "I lost a word the other day, has anybody found? You'll know it by the row of stars around its forehead bound" 

Have you ever lost something?  Sure you have. Toys, clothes, socks, and office supplies. But what about something less material and more of a...feeling almost.  More insubstantial and possibly not as easily noticed.  In the town of Lost everybody has lost that something insubstantial.  Some have lost their "good luck", others have lost their feeling of family and belonging, while still others have lost their belief in something.  The Missing Man can help you once you've figured it out, but that's the trick.  When its intangible how do you figure out what you lost that was so monumental that you wound up in a town called Lost?

I wasn't sure I'd like Lauren at first.  Oh she's a fine enough person, but what she was running from--her mother's illness and impending death--I couldn't fathom ever feeling that way.  I'm an emotional coward, don't think otherwise, but that's a responsibility and I've never run from that. Not when it matters at least.  So I had trouble connecting with her and her constant "I need to get home", but then refusing to handle what that would mean.  

Peter, aka "The Finder", is manic and crazy and scattered with logic that defies convention and scruples predicated mostly on if he thinks you're interesting enough to bother with.  Luckily with the help of Claire--who I spent most of the book picturing looking like a Little Sister from BioShock--Peter finds Lauren interesting enough to invest time in.  Which is doubly good since the town's savior, the Missing Man, gave Lauren the literal cut direct in front of the entire town.  And when the savior of the town is like "Don't want!" and disappears you can be damned sure the town will turn feral and attempt to kill you.  A lot.

Durst, who has exploded the airy floaty from one thought to another thought blend of narrative before, follows a story path that's at first hard to get a handle on.  Lauren weaves in and out of her memories before/during/after her mother's diagnosis with very little warning, much like in life when something hits you and reminds you strongly of a memory without warning.  It can get a bit vexing, since most of Lauren's memories are then added with "I can't lose her" denial or her mother's gallows humor that Lauren didn't appreciate.

The ending comes at you in a rush.  Things are resolved, broken, ended and found all in rapid succession as the choices Lauren makes effect everyone around her in not always great ways. She seems a half step behind on all her decisions, making the right ones at the wrong time.  

Also this book is the very definition of "framily".  You'll see what I mean.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

COYER Winter Challenge

Challenge Signup Post

As many of my friends know I buy/download free/cheap ebooks like insanity on Kindle.  If the cover catches me, if the synopsis catches me...hell if the title catches me I'll download it.  As a result I have somewhere around 5000 kindle books.

Yeah its a bad habit (to be fair I do this with print books as well...just its a bit harder since print books tend to never be free outside of conferences).

So this challenge is right up my alley.  And I'm going to drag my friend Jenn in on it too because she has an even worse problem then me.  Go check out the details and if you do sign up, be sure to indicate that I sent you on the linky, where it says “Who referred you?” so I can win $5 to Amazon!

Challenge Length: 12/20 to 3/6

  • Read electronically! - read any e-books I have that were free (Kindle, NetGalley, Edelweiss, otherwise) or nearly free!
    • Nearly Free - here's a handy chart to determine if the book was nearly free:
  • Review - Any review books I received (Edelweiss/NetGalley) I'll review as normal.  Any free Kindle books I'll either review as normal or during my weekly challenge wrap-up post I'll talk about why I didn't enjoy the book(s).  Any books I paid for that weren't free will be subject to my normal policy of I'll review it if I like. 
  • Have fun!

  • Read/Start at least 2 books a week - I know that a fair amount of the free/cheap Kindle books I got won't be to my liking (for various reasons), so I should be able to achieve this goal.  And starting in January I'm doing the "50 Page Tuesday" weekly post so this will give me a good pile to go through!
  • Be Social - I'm really bad at this?  I go through phases when I remember and then I forget.  I'm much better at twitter, but I'm going to make it a concerted effort to go to other blogs!
  • Participate in Challenges - this will be a toughie for me.  I love challenges, but at the same time the next few months at work are going to be onerous so my mind won't be in that mindset.  
Come and join us :D

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Recent DNF Books

I've had a couple of...bad experiences with books lately.  Books that really didn't hold my attention.  And that's actually a worse crime then something that holds my attention, but for bad reasons (see: Sara Craven GR shelf...which I am a sucker for punishment I plan on reading more of her stuff.  I mean it can't get worse.).  You can see my (surprisingly small) DNF shelf on GR here, but here's the most recent things to disappoint me. 

Murder at the Book Group (Hazel Rose Mysteries)
This hasn't been published yet, so I read an e-arc for it.  Last year I had read a book called "The Agatha Christie Book Club" - which, much like this one, was about a book group who found themselves embroiled in a real life mystery.  While I ultimately found that book rather melodramatic at times, it was engaging and entertaining.  I was hoping for much the same from this.  Instead I think I stumbled into an Golden Girls-esque soap opera. I couldn't finish it and stopped around 37%.

Shadow on the Highway (The Highway Trilogy, #1)
My sister actually convinced me to drop this one pretty swfitly (see what I did there).  She's a pretty decent gauge of what I like an don't like so I trust her opinion. Aside from which by about 10% through it (before she told me) I had put it aside six separate times for something a bit more interesting, so I didn't see a reason to go on.  A pity since it sounded like something I would have jumped all over normally.
All Fired Up (DreamMakers, #1)
Unlike other reviewers the sudden inclusion of multiple partners didn't upset me (I sort of expect that from either author honestly), what did upset me was the overwrought emotional rollercoaster that felt so forced and so contrived.  Romance readers say all the time that a little communication would solve most romance novel problems (thus ending the story too soon), but in this case a little communication would have solved ALL the problems and there would have STILL been enough left over story to keep reading.
I have an actual DNF review written for this one!  Basically this comes down to EVERYTHING IS SO BORING.  No one is dynamic. No one has personality. No one's drama really mattered to me.  Then for the ending to occur, it was like a slap to the face (spoiler: I skipped to the last chapter after reading about halfway through...)
Trial by Fire (Worldwalker, #1)
I should have known better since I didn't enjoy her other series so much, but I am a sucker for a book about a girl who suffers from almost as many allergies as I do (because let's be serious, the world is out to get me).
Blackfin Sky

I feel rather awful about this book (also here's a DNF review) because me and my friend Jenn spent all over BEA looking for this book.  Couldn't find it.  Got a review request from the publisher, got super excited...got super bored and confused.
Date with a Vampire (Tempted Series, #1)

A secret romance trope of mine is the "reality show" romance shenanighan's.  I love them.  Toss in a vampire as well? All over it. Except this book managed to make me want to throw my tablet out the window. I stopped at the point where Theo (the male lead's "darker" brother) decided to basically mind rape Melody (our heroine) into submitting to him (though thankfully not in SEX just in the game).  Melody's response once Guystoff tells her?  "It felt like a fog!". nope. Sorry.  not gonna happen.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

eBook Review: Bring Me a Dream

The madman and the nightmare…

Vincent Blackman is a little…unhinged. He recently fought a nightmare from the world Darkside and won. Now he fears nothing and wants revenge on the man who had his father brutally murdered. And how convenient to find an ally in Mirren Lambert, his enemy’s gorgeous and sexy daughter. Unfortunately, she’s made a few enemies of her own.

She might be a nightmare, but she’s also his ultimate fantasy.

Mirren was born half human, half nightmare. She was on the run from her ruthless father, but when he abducted her young son, she knew he had to be stopped once and for all. Dangerous Vincent is just who she needs to help her, though she has a perilous part to play as well, infiltrating her father’s circles to discover his secrets. They learn something dark is stirring in the dreamwaters, and it’s reaching toward the waking world. Vincent might be holding on to the last of his sanity, but that’s okay, as long as he holds on even tighter to her.

Vincent, who was introduced to the series as trying to manipulate Jordan in the first book to save his father (and paid the price for it, of which we saw the result of in the last book) and Mirren who was introduced in the last book as manipulating Rook (and by default Jordan) to save her son, have come together to cut out the middle man and take care of business themselves.  The business? Ridding the world of the menace known as AtreidesDidier Lambert, Mirren's father and the architect of what the world knows as the Reve.

He also happens to be a meglomaniac with a God Complex willing to sacrifice anybody to "The Sandman" in his bid for world domination.  But that's the least of his flaws where Mirren and Vincent are concerned.

I gotta admit I didn't much like Vincent until he mentally broke.  Mirren notes that "waking" Vincent is just a little too perfect, a little too Hollywood and that sums up my issues with him in the first book.  He was aware of the fact as well, but now that he's fought nightmares and survived he's a wonderful kind of unbalanced that fits with Mirren's own madness well.

In odd ways this is one of the most functional relationships I've read about in a while.  These two are unfailingly honest with each from the start, support each other through everything, have faith the other is working towards goals of mutual interest and hide nothing.   It was honestly refreshing for to read.  If either had doubts they talked about it together, how it would effect them both, how they could find a solution for it together.

Meanwhile Coll manages to be his own somewhat insufferable self and Masie pops up to remind everyone she's a creative badass so don't forget it.

Didier...he was...its hard to really get a feel for this guy.  He's a larger then life prescence in the other books - omnipotent, deadly and a menacing figure.  This book picks up right where the last one left off, so we get to see Vincent's confrontation (spoiler: it doesn't go exactly as planned) and Mirren's conflicted feelings.  (which again, she talks to Vincent about and they discuss what that means for the two of them together with no additional drama. In fact at one point Vincent's like "I'm killing your father, is that okay with you?" and after a moment of soul searching Mirren replies "That's between you and him, I won't interfere." THANK YOU MIRREN FOR YOUR LACK OF MELODRAMA)

I'm not sure how long this series is going to go for, but at this point it just keeps getting better.  Next installment we get to watch everyone deal with the fall out from revelations about "The Sandman", a couple deaths and Masie on a roadtrip. Which...that can't possibly go well for anyone.

Monday, November 10, 2014

eBook Review: Gunpowder Alchemy

In 1842, the gunpowder might of China’s Qing Dynasty fell to Britain’s steam engines. Furious, the Emperor ordered the death of his engineers—and killed China’s best chance of fighting back…

Since her father’s execution eight years ago, Jin Soling kept her family from falling into poverty. But her meager savings are running out, leaving her with no choice but to sell the last of her father’s possessions—her last memento of him.

Only, while attempting to find a buyer, Soling is caught and brought before the Crown Prince. Unlike his father, the Emperor, the Prince knows that the only chance of expelling the English invaders is to once again unite China’s cleverest minds to create fantastic weapons. He also realizes that Soling is the one person who could convince her father’s former allies—many who have turned rebel—to once again work for the Empire. He promises to restore her family name if she’ll help him in his cause.

But after the betrayal of her family all those years ago, Soling is unsure if she can trust anyone in the Forbidden City—even if her heart is longing to believe in the engineer with a hidden past who was once meant to be her husband…

Steampunk! Politics! Opium! Romance! Engineering I don't understand! Guys welcome to Jeannie Lin's new series the Gunpowder Chronicles.  Before I go further and so we're all clear on this, unlike her other books with Harlequin, this series is less about the romance and more about everything else.  Though to be completely fair her books have always been about balancing both sides of the story, so one foot more away from romance not that big a stretch.  As a sidenote I think she's officially become one of the most tagged author in my blog, at least insofar as reviews go.  Sweet!

So your father is executed for failure, your mother has become an opium addict, your meager existence isn't even of interest to the mice...and the only token you have of your happier memories turns out to be next to worthless.  What do you do?

If you're Soling you agree (in mild desperation) to help recruit your father's former allies in helping to conceive a way to win back their lands from rebels and outsiders alike.  Even though you don't trust the monarch, his henchmen or even your one time fiancee.  And did I say mild desperation? How about this is really the only chance she has at maybe keeping her family from starving to death.

This is a fast paced story.  From when the Crown Prince's lead henchman nabs her to leaning some startling truths about what it can mean to have no other choice, Soling isn't given very much time to ponder things.  For part of the book she is basically forced along by other people's whims and dictates, unable to really direct her destiny even as they require more and more from her.  She struggles at times, both unable to truly reject the Empire that destroyed her family and equally unable to trust that same Empire and those who swear loyalty to it.

Throughout Soling's trust and loyalty is essentially pitted against the survival of her family.  She's confronted with people she knew as a child of 10 who she now meets as an adult.  Her "Uncle" Yang Hanzhu, who she used to follow around and idolize.  A man who showed her tricks and nurtured her curious mind.  Now a man living in exile on the sea, forsaking the "Flower" Empire in irreparable ways.  A man who sees a dark secret in what the foreigners have done and will do anything to find a way to end it.

Her one time fiancee Chang-wei, a man she never met, but heard stories of and had girlish daydreams about.  Now a man who found himself once more working for the Empire who killed his colleagues and mentors a decade before.  A man who speaks the foreigner's tongue fluently and is frequently seen with them, making him an outcast amongst his peers.  A man who sacrificed everything to learn how to defeat those foreign invader's and doesn't regret those actions.

I admit I know very little about more modern Chinese history, such as when this book takes place.  The "Opium Wars" and the "Heavenly Kingdom Rebels", my history classes in school focused more on American history then world history at least after America was formed.  Even though this is obviously a world that flourished differently in the sciences (let's go steampunk!), these are both real world occurrences that Lin incorporates into the story in Soling's journey.

Sideline, when I heard Soling's mother had disguised herself as a man and gone on to ace the Imperial Entrance Exams once upon a time I was like WEI WEI (from THE LOTUS PALACE and THE JADE TEMPTRESS), but I'm not sure I want to think about Wei Wei becoming an opium addict...

This is only the first book in the Gunpowder Chronicles and unlike Lin's previous novels, the next book will once more have Soling narrating (which is good, I liked her narrative tone). I'll be interested to see what happens next, as in the end Soling is much too embroiled in the events to back out and live the quiet life again.  

Friday, November 7, 2014

eBook Review: Phoenix Chosen

When a spell saves her life by sending her to her mother's homeland, Estyria finds herself in a world she'd believed to exist solely in bedtime stories – a realm where gods walk the earth, magic is real, and political intrigue strikes close and hard.

As Scion to a noble House and caught in a competition for the throne, she has mere weeks to learn to navigate the murky waters of court and tangled loyalties.

More than a crown and the well-being of a country is at stake. Two men are bound to her by destiny and their fates depend upon her choices. Sethalor, who holds secrets and memories lost to her, vows to defy the very gods to keep her safe. Aedrian, who agreed to protect her out of love for his prince, but comes to see in her a ruler he would give his soul to protect.

Through assassinations, poison and shifting alliances, can Estyria keep the realm, her heart and the people she loves safe?

I found this book by accident.  I follow author Jeannie Lin on twitter (amongst other places), and she tweeted about finding this book thanks to the author tweeting about Lin's book (we're going deep here guys).  Now anyone who knows me knows of my love of asian dramas, in particular the sub genre known as "wuxia"...or honestly any asian drama that involves gorgeous clothes, historical time period and at least ONE kick ass chick who slaps around the male love interest.  I blame Michelle Yeoh for this by the way.

As the author notes PHOENIX CHOSEN is not a wuxia - this isn't a martial arts fantasy.  This is straight up fantasy.  Which hey not complaining about that at all.  In terms of comparison this is more akin to Juuni Kokki (or The Twelve Kingdoms) in that it focuses on a young girl, tossed into the political intrigue and violence of a Kingdom searching for its leader, who previously was (at best) mediocre at all things.  Through quick wits, a touch of recklessness and some damn loyal compatriots, things sort of kind of work out in her favor.

If you blink and look sideways.  There will be more books soooo we'll see how long that works out for Estyria.

Estyria, affectionately known as Phoenix, is having a rough run of luck.  Her life is pretty aimless, her love life is non-existent and she just got hit by a mini van...who's driver sped away pretty quickly.  She awakens to a world straight out of some Chinese drama, next to a guy who she doesn't know and soon falls unconscious after another guy threatens her life. 

All in all its not what you'd call a stellar first impression of things.

Really she takes things very well considering.  Once its all laid out to her she becomes pretty determined and while she holds it against Sethalor and Aedrian, that's hardly her fault.  One seems to alternately despise her and be attracted to her, while the other definitely is attracted to her, but is almost resentful that she can't remember what they may mean to each other.  And that's before she decides to take on the only option she has to get home, which is to enter into candidacy for the throne of a land that exiled her family.

In the beginning there's a lot of confusion as Estyria attempts to navigate everything.  The position her grandparents hold requires a lot of etiquette and very careful consideration of everything she says or does.  Regardless of her parents' exile, Estyria is now bound to the traditions and sanctions of the land and as such needs to learn real quick how to fit in.  This isn't without its own troubles; Sethalor and Aedrian prove to be hard to decipher, while she doesn't entirely want to trust the grandparents who seem content to let their daughter be tossed out.  Not to mention her own trust issues spilling over from a trauma in her past that she hints at, but doesn't want to examine.

Sethalor, or Seth, is everything that is respectable, refined and elegant.  He's nominally in charge until a new ruler is chosen (by Heaven), but he hates the court and everything it has taken from him.  He's adept at keeping his emotions in check, but at the same time he's reckless when those he cares about (Aedrian or Esytria) are in trouble.  I got a bit tired at his wounded lover looks towards Estyria though, as several characters point out its not helping anyone so he needed to focus more on the present.

Aedrian. Oh Aedrian.  Let me just hug away all your troubles dear one.  He's brash, aggressive and blunt to the point of insolence at times.  His own mixed up feelings for Seth tend to make him act first, so when he restrains himself its impressive.  He starts out the story extremely hostile and antagonist towards everyone except Seth which doesn't really change by the end (now that I think about it).  BUT as the story unfolds its becomes obvious that these two have faced a lot together so maybe its justified.

In terms of world building--its lush and beautiful and detailed.  Some of it is really complicated (I'm still a bit loosey-goosey about the political climate and how it connects to our world) and some of it I think will be expanded upon in the next book, since much of the background took back seat to the current problems at hand (ie: saving the land from starving and thus being invaded).  What I liked was that while if the reader was well versed in asian culture(s) there's a lot to take away from the story, if they're not Xia does a wonderful job examining and explaining the culture without ever dropping heavy pieces of info-dumping. 

I've already blathered on a lot longer then I meant to, but the bottom line is that I can't recommend this loudly enough.  For fantasy fans looking for something not anglo-influenced, for fans of political intrigue or readers who enjoy watching a female main character take charge of her fate, this is perfect.