Saturday 20 December 2008

Breakout Author for 2008

So it's coming up to that time of year again, and as I don't think I'll be finishing any more books before 2009, I'm going to post my 2008 breakout author(s).

For anyone new to the blog here's a little reminder of the breakout authors from previous years.

2005 - Elizabeth Vaughan for Warprize and J.R. Ward for Dark Lover.

2006 - Nalini Singh for Slave to Sensation.

2007 - Ilona Andrews for Magic Bites, Jeri Smith-Ready for Eyes of Crow and Jennifer Rardin for Once Bitten, Twice Shy

These are authors that caught my imagination and pulled me into the world they created. They wrote books that I didn't want to end, and left me desperate to read more. They weren't necessarily new authors, just new to me.

2008 has been a tricky year. Nothing has stood out amazingly for me in Urban Fantasy, there have been books I've really enjoyed but they didn't quite make me go wow!

So my breakout authors for 2008 both wrote m/m and they are R.W.Day for A Strong and Sudden Thaw (republished January 2009) and Ginn Hale for Wicked Gentlemen.

Just bubbling under were Elizabeth Hoyt for The Raven Prince - I have finally found a historical romance author that I can read! And Larissa Ione for Pleasure Unbound, I think my favourite new urban fantasy author of the year.

Thursday 18 December 2008

TBR Wednesday 2008 in Review

So way back in March I took up the TBR Wednesday challenge as set up by Avidbookreader. To read and review a book that had been on my TBR pile for the third Wednesday in every month. Books had to be published in 2007 or earlier. And I did it! Even managed it the month I got my third Wednesday's muddled up...just.

March - Bloodring by Faith Hunger - B-
April - Lady of Mercy by Michelle Sagara West - A
May - Poison Study - Maria V. Snyder - B+
June - No Rest for the Wicked - Kresley Cole - B+
July - Wicked Deeds on a Winter's Night - Kresley Cole - A-
August - The Raven Prince - Elizabeth Hoyt - A
September - Claimed by Shadow - Karen Chance - A
October - The Road to Hell - Jackie Kessler - A-
November - The Taste of Night - Vicki Pettersson - B+
December - Voice of Crow - Jeri Smith-Ready - A

What if anything have I learnt from this challenge?

That I am trying to follow waaaayyyyy too many series? That I get easily sidetracked by new stuff, and occasionally forget what's on my TBR pile because the pile of books is that massive. Well...yes.

But I've also learnt that I have some hidden gems in there. I wasn't disappointed by any of the books I picked and I gave over half of them A grades. I finally found an hisotrical romance author I can read - Elizabeth Hoyt - and managed to get two books closer to catching up on the Immortals After Dark series. I'm not saying I'll ever overcome the lure of the new book - maybe that's the fear I'll be missing out on something - but I do need to take a much better look at my TBR pile and what's hiding there.

I'm not reading as much as I used to, but I'm going to try and make a better effort at keeping up with the series I'm following. I know if I get too far behind it can be difficult to work up the momentum to catch up again.

Anybody else pulled a great TBR book out of the pile this year and wondered why they hadn't read it sooner?

Wednesday 17 December 2008

Voice of Crow - Jeri Smith-Ready

Voice of Crow by Jeri Smith-Ready

This was published in October 2007 and is the second in the Aspect of Crow series. I absolutely loved the first book in the trilogy so I'm not really sure why I didn't get onto this one straight away. I think it just ended up slipping down my TBR pile by accident. Also I was quite affected by the first book and I sometimes find when this happens that I need a little space before continuing on with an author or series.

Voice of Crow picks up where Book 1 Eyes of Crow ends. The reprieve from the onslaught of the Descendents begun in Book 1 is only temporary. They return with a vengeance here, striking at the heart of the Kalindon and Asermon communities. Separated by the conflict Marek and Rhia pay a high price to keep their son safe. And at the end of the book, more than ever, it's clear that this is not a conflict that will be easily won, that in the future further sacrifices are waiting to be made.

The story doesn't suffer from middle book syndrome, that sense that some second books have of being nothing more than a bridge. Although Voice of Crow moves the reader from point A (the end of book 1) to point B (the start of book 3), it's very much about the journey and not the destination.

There are two stories told here. One is the continuing story of Marek and Rhia and I do like that we get to follow their relationship beyond the intial get together. We follow Rhia's pregnancy, the birth of her son and the separation of the family following the Descendent insurgency. This is quite a bleak part of the story, and what happens to Marek is heartbreaking, it's almost like it kills something inside of him. Indeed for a time it seems it has. Beautifully written, don't get me wrong, but when you are so involved with the characters and their some places it becomes difficult to read.

So in a way, thank goodness we have a slightly lighter storyline to follow as well.The developing relationship between Alanka the Kalindon wolf and Filip the Descendent prisoner of war. They are able to confide in each other in a way that is impossible for them with anyone else.

I love that they initially come together whilst both suffering from foot in mouth disease. Theirs is an unlikely relationship and it's thanks to the brilliant story telling of Jeri Smith-Ready that you wholeheartedly believe and root for them as a couple. And it also serves to illustrate the guilt that comes with finding happiness when all around you is sorrow.
He stroked her hair, wondering how, at a moment like this, he could dare to feel so happy.
But it is mainly I think through Filip's eventual acceptance of the Asermon and Kalindon culture that we find hope, that maybe all the people of this world can be reconciled. His acceptance of his Guardian Spirit's (Horse) gift - the ability to hear animals speak - makes him a bridge between the two peoples. He is part of the hope for the future - the possibility realized.

I must quickly mention the animal's voices. I always find it a worry when there are talking animals in a story, it can completely pull you out of the world you're trying to get into.
"This place smells strange," the mare thought. "The grass itches, and my feet are sinking."
But JSR pulls it off. She makes each animals voice unique and doesn't credit them with more intelligence than seems feasible.

There is a lot about acceptance in this story, and this is not always a benevolent thing. Sometimes it's more an acknowledgement of the reality you find yourself in. Filip accepting that his Guardian spirit is the Horse. The dead accepting that it is their time to leave and let go. Rhia accepting the burden that knowledge of the future brings. Marek accepting that in order to survive he has to do whatever it takes.

Jeri Smith Ready was one of my breakout authors for 2007 and I can't believe I waited this long to read this book. I won't be waiting as long to read the final book in the trilogy.

Book 1 - Eyes of Crow
Book 3 - The Reawakened

Sunday 14 December 2008

Urban Fantasy - UK vs US Book Covers

Or - why are some UK covers so darn ugly? And I know it's not all of them. It just seems that a lot of the series I like that end up getting published in the UK then end up with some of the most awful covers, to the point where if I'm iffy about continuing with a series it can be the final nail in the coffin.

Some evidence below. In all cases the US cover is on the left, UK cover on the right.

The US covers for the Mercy Thompson series are gorgeous. I know there are people who like the UK covers, but to me when compared to the stunning US ones they are kind of yuck. As I love the series I have to find the US covers. Some of the UK urban fantasy covers are just so ugly and rather generic.

For the Kim Harrison series when the books started being published in the UK I kind of stopped getting them. Seriously, I think if I'd still been able to get hold of the US covers easily I would probably have continued with the series. As it is I think I stalled out at book 4. That book is still on my TBR pile, but I've kind of never got round to reading it and book 5 languishes on my Amazon wishlist.

This doesn't just have to do with the book covers, though when they are that yellow it doesn't help. When you're in the UK and are into a US series, when a UK publisher comes along and buys the series you're happy that it's good news for the author. But in general the publisher then f*cks up the relationship the reader has with the series. The number of series I have stopped reading because a UK publisher gained the rights - Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series, Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse, the above mentioned Kim Harrison's series. :sigh: but I guess that's a post for another day. Back to the yucky covers.

The Working for the Devil cover illustrates what I mean by generic. If you removed the author's name from the cover, this could easily be a UK cover for a Kim Harrison book.

And, okay, I get it, they've given urban fantasy an identity on the bookshelf at Borders. But it's such an ugly one.

Compare the three US covers, they are all unique. And whilst the Working for the Devil cover is not one of my favourites, I'd take it over the blah blah look of the three UK covers any day.

But, I admit, there are always exceptions to any sweeping generalizations I may make. :) I love Kelley Armstrongs UK covers. They've given the series a strong identity, but are individual to each book and not blah.

And for gorgeous painted covers, you can't get much better than the UK Gollancz covers for the Warprize series by Elizabeth Vaughan. I do like the US cover but the UK one is just beautiful.

Anyone have any others they'd like to share?

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Angel of Mercy by Toni Andrews

Angel of Mercy is the second in the Mercy Hollings series by Toni Andrews. Picking up from where Beg for Mercy ended, it finds Mercy trying to resume her life following the traumatic events of the previous book. It's slightly difficult to summarize the plot of this one - more of that later - but a lot of the story is concerned with Mercy trying to help out at a battered woman's refuge and how once again her use of the 'press' has unforeseen consequences.

I didn't like this book quite as much as the first for some reasons and slightly more than the first for other reasons. I know that doesn't make much sense now, but hopefully I'll explain myself during the review and by the end it will.

On the liking of the book first. I think Mercy is one of the few UF heroines who has a normal human friend. Someone who's there to slap her upside the head when she's doing something stupid. It makes a refreshing change. This is one of the things that raises this series for me, the fact that Mercy has relationships with people - not just people who want to have sex with her, or who want to control her power or use her, but actual relationships. I like that she has a rottweiler called Cupcake which she owns on a part-time basis with Sukey her best friend.

Sukey really starts to come into her own in this book. She acts as a foil to Mercy, her cheerful and sunny personality contrasting with Mercy's more dark and sombre one. Their experience with Dominic has left them with a telepathic connection which Sukey thinks is cool, but Mercy isn't so sure.
Sukey grinned like a happy six-year old. "Can we do an experiment? I have some ideas."
I'd bet she had.
Sukey gives Mercy a link to her humanity and keeps her grounded. I love that she spends most of this book teaching herself how to be a detective from a book titled - The Exciting World of Private Investigation.

Meanwhile, Mercy's relationship with Sam comes under strain.
Something in his tone made me look at him - really look at him. Wow, he's really pissed.
She is unable to tell him her secret and discovers that he has also been keeping secrets from her. You slightly want to scream at them to 'talk to each other!'. You understand her reasons for behaving the way she does, but she could handle it better.

Having seen off Dominic in the previous book she is the only supernatural creature about. I count this as another plus. Rather than having a story over-run with every creature going - and there's nothing wrong with that - we have a very tight focus on Mercy, her relationships and her problems both with her powers and with her life. It makes for a very different UF read. (Slightly bummed that Dominic won't be coming back by the way, he was one of the best bad guys I'd read in a while).

Toni Andrews makes it clear that the power of the press - the ability to force someone to do something - is both a blessing and a curse. The wrong words said in haste can have terrible repercussions, but Mercy is only human - she gets angry, she gets upset, she reacts without thinking and then tells herself she's never going to do it again. (Yes, if you haven't guessed, she suffers from the traditional UF heroine fault of not listening to her inner voice, even when it's screaming at her not to do something.)

Bearing all that in mind, the main problem I had with this book is the plot structure. If you read the blurb it sounds like Mercy's intervention at the battered women's refuge will be the main focus of the plot, but this storyline is wrapped up with about 50 pages to go. We then end the book with Mercy (with encouragement from Sukey and help from The Exciting World of Prifvate Detection) pursuing information that may shed light onto Mercy's past - who she is, what she is. That is maybe Mercy's main goal in this book, trying to answer the question of whether she's human. But because that story is running parallel to the story about Anna and Grace, the ending is a little bit mishmashy, and kind of just peters out.

I'm going to stick with this series as it is different to the other UF stuff out there. But I hope there's a little more focus on the plot in the next one.

Book 1 - Beg for Mercy
Book 3 - Cry Mercy (June 2009)

Wednesday 3 December 2008

10 Things Every Potential UF Heroine Needs to Know

So this post comes with thanks to KMont over at Lurvalamode who told me I should write it. :) It's slightly tongue in cheek and based on sweeping generalizations. So here are 10 things every potential urban fantasy heroine needs to know.

1) Make sure you have good posture, as it's most likely your back that will be gracing your book cover. Tattoos would be a nice touch.

2) If you are beaten, mugged, murdered or otherwise assaulted do not be surprised if you wake up in the hospital with hitherto unrealized supernatural powers.

3) You will have no girlfriends. All the women you meet will either be a) passing acquaintances, b) bitter enemies or c) so powerful, you have no common point of reference. If you do have a girlfriend, she'll shortly be leaving to start a UF series of her own or worse see #10.

4) Do not be judgmental about the sexual practices of others. Chances are that at some point you'll find yourself:- a) with a harem or b) engaging in sado-masochistic acts with a demon. And no one likes to hear the words - "I told you so."

5) That vampire/werewolf/weird creature that you can't stand, but are strangely attracted to in Book 1 will be your husband/partner/significant other by Book 3.

6) You are not always right. You do not always know what is best for others. Decisions made when you think these thoughts are almost always destined to end badly. (This also includes the times you tell your allies that you aren't going to do anything, but are secretly planning to follow your own ideas anyway.)

7) If your vampire/werewolf/weird creature (see #5) has an ex-wife, either deceased or just out of the picture. He will NOT have gotten over her. Even if he says he has, there will be some sort of unresolved issue.

8) Be prepared because said wife will undoubtedly make a reappearance at some point in the series, and it won't be to wish you joy in your new relationship.

9) If you have not developed supernatural powers by your 24th birthday. Do not worry. Bestowal of said gifts often coincides with your 25th year and may not necessarily involve being beaten, mugged or murdered. (Though that isn't guaranteed.)

10) If you have a human boyfriend in Book 1. He will probably end up resenting you and running off with the woman you thought was your best friend. (see #3). Or become suspicious and resentful because you never tell him the truth and keep secrets. He'll decide to give you some space and you'll never see him again. Though he may miraculously reappear at the same time as the ex-wife (see #8).

Anyone got any others to add?

Monday 1 December 2008

Possession by Jennifer Armintrout


Have you ever bought a book, wondered why on Earth you bought it, put it on your TBR pile, forgotten about it, then finally read it and wondered why on Earth you'd waited so long to read it?

Or does that just happen to me?

Don't get me wrong I really liked the first book in the Blood Ties series. I think one of the things I liked most about it, was that Jennifer Armintrout's vampires are predators. Too often it seems that vampires end up being watered down to the point of being completely unscary.

I like the second book even more. Mainly because parts of it were very funny - usually the parts involving Max, who I think is now my favourite character. But there's a balance here, terrible things are still happening, there's angst and heartbreak, but there are also moments of joy and happiness in the sorrow. A little slow in the beginning, so probably why I kept picking it up and putting it down, by the time you get to the middle the story is fairly racing along.

Possession picks up not long after the end of The Turning. Just as things seem to be returning to normal, things go to hell - as they often seem to in UF. Carrie's second sire Nathan is possessed (hence the title) and he kills an innocent human being. A big no-no for the Voluntary Vampire Execution Movement, who promptly send out an assassin to kill him. But Nathan is being tormented by the Soul Eater who it seems has plans to become a God. Carrie has got an awful lot to do, if she intends to sort this mess out and stay alive (undead) whilst doing it.

Okay, up til now it's been spoiler free. So you can still turn away at this point.

Still here? Don't say you weren't warned.

Cyrus is back. Now this isn't really too big a spoiler as such, because he's back by page 8, possibly as far as you'd get if you browsed in a book store. I mention it now, because I don't think I can get through the whole review without letting it slip, one way or another. (Just want to say that he now reminds me slightly of Sylar in Heroes Season 3). He is somewhat redeemed here, for his actions in the previous book. Or at least you appreciate, that in different circumstances, he would have been a different man.

Will quickly mention here the character of the Oracle, I thought she was a great character (slightly reminiscent of the precogs in Minority Report only a lot older, a lot scarier and with a lot more blood) and even though she only made a brief appearance, it was a powerful one.

There are initially two stories here - the resurrection of Cyrus and the possession of Nathan and what Carrie intends to do about it. Later on we have a third subplot added where Max gets a point of view. All these story threads eventually intersect, as our good guys do their best to save Nathan.

Carrie is not a perfect heroine. She makes mistakes. Some of her mistakes end in tragedy. She also has the UF heroine flaw of thinking she knows what's best/what's right/what needs to be done. But her intentions are usually in the right place. She's reliant on herself for a lot of this book. Nathan has gone awol, the VVEM is baying for blood and if her instincts get her into unusual situations, she's usually able to get herself out of them. The scene in the brothel is one of my favourites.
"...I've been doing some research," I explained, feeling like a hopeless dork. Then I wondered why I cared if some random male prostitute thought I was a nerd.
My favourite plot of the book without doubt though, is the developing relationship between Max the vampire, and Bella the werewolf. It provides a lot of the humor in the book as we get to see Max going from a werewolf despising vampire to one who thinks this particular werewolf is pretty okay. What makes it even better is that we get to hear his internal monologue, as what he says to Bella and what he thinks (as he gets to know her) bears little resemblance.
Shaking his head, Max groaned. She was not beautiful. He was just horny. He'd find a way to make that her fault - not in the obvious way, because bestiality wasn't his thing - later.
Anyone who dislikes Bella as much as Max does, has to be a little attracted too. It's like he has to continually reinforce why he doesn't like her, otherwise he just might succumb to her werewolfy charms. I could quote and quote his dialogue and fill up the review. He probably has most of the best lines, and he's not afraid to say what he thinks.

So I have to get the next books in the series now. Though my fingers are triple crossed (not really, that's just an expression) that Max makes a big appearance in the upcoming books. He made this book for me and while I want to know what's going to happen next with Carrie and how she intends to ultimately sort out the situation with Nathan and the Soul Eater. I want to know what's going to happen with Max as well.

The Turning - Book 1
Ashes to Ashes - Book 3
All Souls' Night - Book 4