Friday 31 December 2010

DIK Challenge - Death of a Pirate King by Josh Lanyon

So we come to my final review of the year - just squeezing in there. It's the fourth in the Adrien English series by Josh Lanyon - Death of a Pirate King. Two years have passed since the end of The Hell You Say. Adrien hasn't seen Jake, (though Jake has seen Adrien) and he is now involved in a relationship with Guy Snowden. Adrien's first book has been optioned for a movie and during a Hollywood party one of the guests is murdered. Adrien's life being what it is, of course Jake is one of the police officers called to the scene. And when producer Paul Kane asks Adrien to unofficially look into the case, Adrien finds he cannot refuse, even if it means being thrown back into proximity with Jake...

I now have to reorder my favourite Adrien English books. This still doesn't top A Dangerous Thing for me, which remains my favourite book of the series. But I think this comes in a close second. (Followed by Fatal Shadows and then The Hell You Say).

Adrien - his usual sarky, snippy self (I love how the opening paragraph gets you straight back into Adrien's head) - is a little more petulant in this one. Possibly because he's recovering from pneumonia and his heart is causing him more trouble than usual. I think on a re-read you'd definitely pick up on what's being said between the lines when Jake and Adrien are talking. In some cases it felt like Jake was saying one thing and Adrien was hearing what he wanted to hear. But considering how they left things two years ago, you can't really blame Adrien for the assumptions he's making.

Two years have passed and I think Jake has changed (I am kind of rooting for him, I know not everybody does). For instance he does say this (one of my favourite lines)
"Listen, I know you think I'm an asshole - I am an asshole..."
And I don't think he would have said that before.

Previously I think they had great chemistry but were not at the right places in their lives to meet up relationship-wise. Now although things have obviously changed in Jake's life, Adrien is not at the right place, I don't think he's forgiven Jake for what he did. He still thinks he's dealing with the 'old' Jake.
I wasn't in the mood for chitchat - and I didn't remember it being Jake's style either. At this rate he'd be asking about my mother and I'd bounce my juice glass off his head.
I think because of the way Paul Kane manipulates Adrien, he is more susceptible to making assumptions. Jake is in a way to blame as well because he chooses not to explain himself. Which is his right, he and Adrien aren't together, but I think if you hadn't read the previous three books it may leave you a little frustrated thinking - just talk to each other. Whereas being aware of their previous history you know where the attitudes are coming from.

I love how the Adrien's relationships with his now extended family are developing, and especially like the newest member of the group - the Book Store cat. (And Adrien's impromptu Dr. Seuss impression).

I thought towards the end, we slipped a little towards melodrama. But hey, a little melodrama never hurt anyone. And I think at the end the stakes needed to be raised really high. One of my favourite endings to a story this year. Kind of cliffhangery but also perfect.

Thursday 30 December 2010

Book of 2010 and Challenge Review

I read my book of 2010 way back in January. And it is...

Almost Like Being in Love by Steve Kluger

And looking back on my review, it makes me want to grab my copy and read it again. I think this was one of the best things about taking part in the DIK challenge, the opportunity to read books that might otherwise have passed me by.

On the challenge front, I haven't done so well.

DIK Challenge - 11/12 - currently reading my twelfth book for the challenge, review to be posted before the end of the year.

M/M Challenge - 15/20+ I think I was overambitious on my target for this one. (Have one more to add as my last DIK book is m/m but I'm not going to make this challenge.

52 Books in 52 Weeks - 35/52 - Again one more book to add, but I'm nowhere near hitting the 52 mark.

Will be doing the 52 book challenge again next year, hopefully will at least get more than 36 books.

Monday 27 December 2010

M/M Challenge, Lord of the White Hell (Book 2) - Ginn Hale

So Book 2 pretty much picks up from where Book 1 ended. Kiram and Javier resolve their differences and Kiram continues his efforts to discover a way to break the curse that pursues Javier's family. But 'the man on the hill' is not going to sit idly by whilst that happens, and soon Kiram's friends and family are put in danger, as Kiram and Javier make a final desperate bid to set things right.

Book 2 is quite unusual in a way, in its formatting. For quite a bit of the book we come away from the Academy and the need to free the Tornesal line from the curse, as Kiram's first year at the Academy comes to an end and he returns to his home. The pacing slows down as we learn more about Kiram's family and culture, and in some ways we lose sight a little of the evil forces acting outside the Anacleto district. It's almost like it's a little cocoon of safety, a brief respite from the evil. But that's all it can be, as the 'man on the hill' will not be satisfied until he's taken the white hill from Javier.

I think it would have been harder to make this work as one book (putting Books 1 and 2 together). The increase in tension in Book 1 is steady, then in Book 2 it drops away, only in the last part to come flooding back as events take on a momentum of their own.

One thing we do get here, because we are away from the Academy for a lot of the book is a deeper insight into Kiram as a person. Partly because we see him away from Javier, and also because we see him through the eyes of his family. I think in particular it is his older brother Majdi who sees Kiram most clearly.
Majdi sighed heavily. "Sometimes you're so smart that it makes you stupid."
Though Kiram may be able to fool the other members of his family for a while, Majdi sees straight through to what Kiram is trying to hide. I also thought it illustrated very well how young Kiram still is, even through all he's experienced. He's grown up a lot, but he's still a little too cocky at times and fond of making assumptions. I especially liked how Ginn Hale shows us that family dynamics can have the effect of reducing you to behaving like a child.

This could have been quite a dark book, which I think maybe is another reason we have the interlude in Anacleto (the Haldiim district). It gives us not only the opportunity to see how different Haldiim culture is to Cadeleonian culture. But also gives us some moments of humour and my favourite exchange between Javier and Kiram in the book.
"...ask him why he didn't leave anything for me." There was only a trace of hurt in Javier's tone but Kiram responded to it immediately.
"What? But I did - " Kiram stopped as he caught Javier's smug expression. He scowled at Javier. "I left a fart on your pillow."
In a way the relationship between Javier and Kiram doesn't feel as much the focus here. They are both going through their own crises, it would be nice to be able to see where they go from the end of the story. I have a feeling that both they and their relationship is going to have to mature very quickly. I wonder if we have Rafie and Alizadeh as a kind of example as to where Kiram and Javier will end up.

I must briefly mention the character of Elezar - one of the Hellions and Nestor's older brother. (Nestor being Kiram's best friend). He's quite a sad character. And Ginn Hale doesn't give us an awful lot about him, just these tiny little insights, for example when Kiram sneaks into his room to leave a Solstice present and we discover his secret. Elezar is not a subtle character, he is not a subtle man, but Ginn Hale is subtle in the way she reveals his feelings. And I do find myself wondering if Nestor knows, just something he said about his brother towards the end.

I think Lord of the White Hell (Book 1 & 2) is one of my favourite stories of the year. I love how Ginn Hale (in her writing) is able to make the story complete in itself and leave you satisfied with what happened, but she also leaves you ready to learn more. She leaves you knowing that there are other stories to be told, which I think is an incredible gift for any writer to give a reader. And I look forward to seeing what she will be doing in 2011.

Saturday 18 December 2010

Reading Challenges for 2011

There's still a few days of 2010 left so I'm not going to blog about my success (or lack of) with my 2010 challenges just yet. But I am thinking about the reading challenges I'm going to tackle for 2011.

I'm definitely going to try the 52 books in 52 weeks again. I think the chances of me getting there this year are slim, though I won't stop trying until December 31st. And it is a challenge I'd like to win at least once. If for no other reason than to get tackle my TBR pile.

Also if there's a DIK challenge for next year I'll be giving that one a go as well.

But the following are going to be new challenges for 2011.

Banned Books Challenge

I'm going to make a concerted effort to read more books from the banned books list next year. I say I'll do this every year and never do, so it's making the reading challenge list for next year. I'm doing it from the 2000-2009 top 100 most challenged list.

So far from that list I have read:-

Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
The Color Purple - Alice Walker
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

Not exactly a flying start. If I can get my total into double figures I'll be very pleased.

Series Completion Challenge

I'm not going to do a list here - I'm saving that for January - but my other big challenge for 2011 is to catch up with as many series as possible. This should certainly help with my 2011 52 books in 52 weeks challenge.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

M/M Challenge Review, Lord of the White Hell (Book One) - Ginn Hale

Blurb - Kiram Kir-Zaki may be considered a mechanist prodigy among his own people, but when he becomes the first Haldiim ever admitted to the prestigious Sagrada Academy, he is thrown into a world where power, superstition and swordplay outweigh even the most scholarly of achievements.

It's there that he meets Javier Tornesal, Duke of Rauma, the leader of a group who call themselves The Hellions. But Javier is no ordinary student. He wields a power known as the White Hell, and his family line is pursued by a curse that cannot be beaten. Kiram is drawn to Javier but a relationship between them is forbidden by Cadeleonian law. However, there are some things that are worth the risk.

I really like the way that Ginn Hale writes. Her worldbuilding is particularly beautiful, she has a way of making people and places come alive on the page. And I think she balances very well, the small touches of humour against other serious or saddening situations.

Kiram is interesting as a protagonist. He's seventeen years old, so especially at the beginning of the story, he still reads as a little young, a little immature, he's quite rigid in his beliefs.
"So long as he wasn't insane or sick with black pox I wouldn't be afraid to sleep in a room with any man," Kiram replied. It wasn't entirely true - certainly he wouldn't want to sleep in a room with a thief or murderer or, honestly, a man who stank terribly..."
He has these statements of certainty which he then is almost immediately qualifying in his own head.

It's very interesting to see how his character grows over the course of the book, how he moves from the certainty of innocence towards experience. I think he still has very strong beliefs but comes to see that there has to be some flexibility.

Javier on the other hand is almost a force of nature. A very nice contrast to the more reserved Kiram. Kiram tells it like it is, whilst Javier I think is a little more manipulative and he can get under Kiram's skin.
Kiram tried to sound firm despite his embarrassment. "I'm not one of the whores at the Goldenrod whose body you can buy with a few pennies."
"No, you charge much more and put out far less."
If Javier tells the truth it might not be the whole truth. And he can cut with his words.

I think one of the main reasons the book works so well is because Kiram and Javier don't exist in a vaccuum. The world feels real because all the characters feel like real people. Kiram's family - his uncle Rafie and his uncle's partner Alizadeh who represent the Haldiim way of life that Kiram has kind of become separated from. (I would love to read about their early experiences, I think there are lots of stories there).

Kiram's best friend Nestor - who might not be the best Cadeleonian student at the Academy, but he is a good and loyal friend to Kiram. The Hellions who hang about with Javier, and Javier's cousin Fedeles who suffers under the family curse. The relationship between Javier and Kiram develops with these internal pressures, both Kiram and Javier are cautious about the relationship in their own way and for their own reasons. Whilst Javier can be demonstrative when the two of them are alone, when they are out in public he cannot do that. But there are also external pressures, from society, family and friends. And Book One ends with these pressures having reached an almost inevitable crisis point. So I highly recommend, that, like me, you have Book 2 ready to go.

If I had any complaints it would be that in a few places the editing slips up a little. But that is such a minor complaint in the face of the overall story being so good.

I very much look forward to reading what Ginn Hale writes next, whether that's more from the world of Wicked Gentlemen or from the world of the White Hell.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

I Could Care Less

Just finished Lord of the White Hell Book One, which I loved. I'll be posting a review - hopefully tomorrow. However, on the last page there's a phrase that makes me wince a little. I guess it's a UK thing. Javier says
"You could give a shit about the academy."
Which immediately makes me think about a certain David Mitchell Soapbox episode which for your viewing pleasure I've attached below. :)

Sunday 12 December 2010

To Be Spoiled or To Not Be Spoiled?

Usually that would be a simple question for me to answer. I'd choose 90% of the time not to be spoiled. So 9 out of 10 times I choose to remain in blissful or not so blissful ignorance.

However I've just read the Dear Author review of the next Black Jewel's book by Anne Bishop - Twilight's Dawn.

Dear Author - Twilight's Dawn Review

And I think on the whole I'm glad I read it, I'm glad I got the heads up.

(I interrupt myself to add here that I enjoyed the recent novels that featured Lady Cassidy and I think I'd hoped there would be more books set in that situation, with maybe less focus on the main Black Jewel characters and more on the Shalador characters.)

Twilight's Dawn is an anthology along the lines of Dreams Made Flesh - one of my favourite comfort reads. But I don't think I'll be picking TD up. It sounds a little to me like the Black Jewels books have jumped the shark. I could be wrong, it's only one review and the book isn't released until March. Maybe I'll wait and see what other review sites have to say before picking up a copy.

But I'm glad that I haven't gone my usual route of pre-ordering the hardback.

Be warned if you read the review it contains MAJOR spoilers.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

A Local Habitation - Seanan McGuire

October (Toby) Daye is the only Changeling to earn a knighthood. Now her Duke (Sylvester) has asked her to go and check on his niece - Countess January O'Leary - who he has lost contact with. It seems like an easy enough job, but someone is killing the inhabitants of January's County. Getting into the County of Tamed Lightning is going to be much easier than getting out.

I loved this. Not quite as much as the first in the series, but it's definitely one of my favourite books of the year. October is an imperfect heroine. She makes mistakes, she's obtuse about some things. I think she wants to do the right thing, though, but she knows that that can come with a heavy price.

I don't think there are many books where you'll read the sentence.
California banned all smoking in bars while I was still busy being a fish.
So many things I love about the way this series is written. The unique setup, the way the Shakespearean elements are woven into the plot. Also this time a Wizard of Oz quote as well (I think).

Plus the relationship between Tybalt and October.
"You're drunk, October."
"And you're wearing really tight pants." I paused. That hadn't come out right.
Tybalt shipper here, I so hope that October and Tybalt are going to end up as one of my favourite UF couples. He is SO much smarter than Connor.

What I particularly liked about this book is how the world of Faerie is fleshed out more. We got a lot about October's personal circumstances in the first book. And I think here we pull back a little, but see the world through the particular microcosm of Tamed Lightning. There are rules for almost every situation e.g. if you name something it's yours, not saying thank you. We also see how the Fae don't think in the same way as humans.
"Where did you find her body?"
"In the cafeteria."
"The cafeteria. The cafeteria where you left us alone?"
And I think towards the end October comments how although the Fae are immortal, they are like children, always looking for the next game. That they never quite learn to be adults.

The mystery itself was intriguing. You want to know why these things are happening and why they're happening to these people. Plus I think it will hold up very well on a re-read, perhaps be even better on a second read through, because you'll pick up on the relevance of certain things that may not have initially seemed important. For example, the Luidaeg's warning at the beginning will make more sense and I think play more in the back of your mind.

Fair warning, have some tissues ready for the ending. It had me sniffling twice, both instances involving January's adopted daughter April.

I had a couple of little problems - and I'm probably going to be overly vague here but I don't want to spoil anything for anyone who hasn't read the book - they're really minor so feel free to skip this paragraph if you want. I felt that there was a question that October should have asked almost as soon as people started dying. But she didn't ask it until over half way through the book. Now I'm not sure if this was a politics thing - in that October couldn't ask the question until she did - but it seemed like an obvious investigative thing to do and she didn't do it. The other thing was to do with Colin the Selkie, it felt like there was a plot (not hole it wasn't that deep) depression and it just niggled at me whilst I was reading, I kept thinking but...but...but.

I already have An Artifical Night on my TBR pile. October Daye is one of my favourite urban fantasy series and I hope there are many more books to come.

Thursday 2 December 2010

Underground by Kat Richardson

Third in the Greywalker series by Kat Richardson, Underground finds PI Harper Blaine trying to find out why Pioneer Square's homeless are turning up dead. Or worse, why they are turning up as zombies. The deaths are not random, and finding the pattern that links them will lead Harper to a confrontation with an ancient monster that may be too much for her to handle on her own.

I think if this story had a theme it would be the difference between belief and appearances. It kind of runs all the way through the story. Not just the monster, but Harper, Quinton, the homeless people that Harper is trying to help, Albert the Ghost. They can all appear to be one thing but are something else.

I have to admit it's been a while since I read Poltergeist (Greywalker #2) but I do remember that I liked Quinton and hoped he would make a more significant appearance in future stories, and it seems I got my wish. And luckily for me the prologue pretty much takes care of the backstory. It's probably been even longer since I read a UF/PI book, so this makes a more than refreshing change.

Two things to mention here before I get on with the review.

  • This book has a Ferret score of 1

  • This book has one of the most frustrating (for me) things. And it seems trivial to mention it but it gets under my skin whilst I'm reading and annoys like a very annoying thing. Every time a character says 'Okay', it is typed OK. Maybe I find it annoying because capitalisation is associated with shouting?

Okay :), niggle over.

The Greywalker series is a little heavier than most of the urban fantasy I read. There's a distinct lack of light moments to balance the dark. It's quite melancholy storytelling and as a heroine, Harper comes across as a little cold, or maybe it's just that she sees the world in a completely different way to everybody else. This difference bleeds through in her attitude towards other people and Will her previous boyfriend isn't capable of handling it.

In fact she doesn't have the most welcoming of attitudes, so it helps that Harper is quite the sarcastic heroine and that Quinton (unlike Will) is not scared off by the appearance of zombies.
"I admit I hesitated. Once again, I'd have to deconstruct a zombie in front of a man I liked. The last one hadn't handled it very well..."
It's intelligent UF which I like but I don't think it's for everyone. If you like your heroines kickass and wisecracking every other paragraph you may not get on too well with the Greywalker series. Harper is more quietly caustic and she has a bum knee. That doesn't mean that she is in anyway a walkover, but she figures things out in her own way.

The mystery I think I would appreciate more on a second read-through. I think it would help to have a better idea of what was going on. To be more aware of the motivations of certain characters. This isn't a book I would recommend if you haven't read the previous two, I personally wish I had read it closer to finishing Poltergeist. It isn't my favourite of the Greywalker series, but it also hasn't put my off either. It's not so common to find a UF/PI story where the two genres are as well balanced as here. So this will definitely be on my Series Challenge list for next year.