Have Book, Will Read #12

August is at an end, bringing a promise of cooler days and autumn colors. I got through a surprising amount of books this month, considering I was working almost full-time on edits for my own novel. But escaping into someone else’s words at night can be a blessing when you need to get away from your own work for a while! Here are a few of my top picks…

Recent Reads: War – magical, civil, and interplanetary. And a dash of wandwork for good measure.

I caught up with the latest in the Pax Arcana series by Elliott James, In Shining Armor. In his fourth novel, tensions between the knights and their werewolf allies rise to boiling point when the Grandmaster’s granddaughter is kidnapped, and John Charming must find out who’s behind the whole mess before an all-out war breaks out.

I love Elliott’s characters; they always feel fresh and yet – at the same time – familiar, and starting a new Pax Arcana novel is a guarantee of a good time. If you’re an urban fantasy fan, I thoroughly recommend this series.

I’d been anxiously awaiting the release of This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, first in her brand new Monsters of Verity series. I liked the premise: a city overrun by monsters, and the story certainly didn’t disappoint. Her new world is bleak, but not horribly so, and her two protagonists are a delight.

This Savage Song tells the story of Kate, a human who wants to become as monstrous as her mobster father, and August, a monster who tries his hardest to be human and keep the darkness at bay. Set in civil-war-torn Verity, the tale has shades of Romeo and Juliet, but with Victoria’s unique spin.

Jo Zebedee’s Sunset Over Abendau had been sitting on my Kindle for a while, waiting for the right mood to strike. Jo’s work is always of the devour-in-one-sitting variety, and this one certainly lived up to her previous exciting reads.

This is the second installment of the Inheritance Trilogy, which follows the story of Kare Varnon and the battle to overthrow his mother, the tyrannical Empress. Sunset picks up ten years after the events in the first book, Abendau’s Heir and, different from the first, the entire story takes place over a brief, heart-thumping few days. A nice sequel, and I look forward to the last book, out later this year.

Of course, Summer 2016 wouldn’t have been complete without the latest Harry Potter installment, The Cursed Child. I know that the play by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany has been the subject of numerous heated internet debates, and that everyone is probably sick of hearing about it by now. But I found it an enjoyable read, and would love to see it brought to life by the actors. Scorpius Malfoy was a personal favorite among her new characters, and it was nice to get a glimpse of Slytherin as something other than Big, Bad, and Villainous.

Now Reading: To boldly go…down space wormholes and the paths of the dead.

I’m reading The Summoner, the first in Gail Z. Martin’s Chronicles of the Necromancer series. I’m really enjoying it so far, mainly because I like the main character, Tris, so much. The magic is really cool so far, and it’s refreshing to see a necromancer as the hero.

I’ve also started dipping into a brand new anthology from Woodbridge Press, Explorations: Through the Wormhole. This is a shared world collection, with all authors writing around a theme and setting. I’ve only read the first story so far, by Ralph Kern, and it sets the bar pretty high for the others, but I’m sure they’ll all live up to this great start.

To Read: Fae…In…Space! (okay, not really, but c’mon, Muppets references are always gold, right? Also, now I really want to read about space fairies.)

I have three books at the top of my to-read list. First is The Call, by Peadar Ó Guilín. This horror/fantasy YA intrigued me when I first heard about it a few months ago, and it just launched in the USA (UK launch is tomorrow). It has a sort of ‘Hunger Games in fairyland’ premise, and I can’t wait to dig in.

I also have a couple of military SF titles all lined up and waiting on my Kindle. First Comes Duty is book 2 in P.J. Strebor’s Hope Island Chronicles series – I’m looking forward to more of Nathan Telford’s saga. The other novel I have in my reading queue is Liberator, a brand new offering by Nick Bailey and Darren Bullock.

So, I think I have enough to keep me busy for most of September! How about you, read any good books lately?

 

 

Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch

I’ve had Ben Aaronovitch on my to-read list for a while. Somehow he kept getting pushed down the list, until the other day I spotted Rivers of London (Midnight Riot in the USA) at my local library and thought, ‘why not?’

I was hooked by the end of the first page.

I’d heard plenty of good things about Ben’s Rivers of London series, also called the Peter Grant books after the main character. I’d heard that they were well written. Fast-paced. Exciting. I certainly agree with all of those, but somehow I missed out on how funny they are. I wasn’t expecting funny. He had me constantly grinning as I zapped my way through his first, second, and third book in quick nail-biting succession.

In his first book, Rivers of London (Midnight Riot), we meet PC Peter Grant, a lowly constable in the London Metropolitan Police Service. Peter… Well let’s just say he isn’t headed for great things. In the words of his friend and co-worker PC May, he’s just too easily ‘distractible’. But distractible turns out to be a good quality when it leads to an interview with a murder witness…who just happens to be a ghost.

From here on, Peter’s life grows steadily weirder and more interesting, in equal proportions. Pretty soon he finds himself working for a secret branch of the police force under the supervision of England’s last official wizard, Inspector Nightingale. The plot jumps and leaps and twists between river gods and vengeful spirits bent on mayhem and murder in this absolutely delightful book.

I had to have more. Soon I was diving into Aaronovitch’s second book, Moon Over Soho. This one delves into the world of jazz with an investigation into the mysterious death of a number of musicians. Ben’s third book, Whispers Under Ground, takes us into the tunnels and sewers underneath London’s streets when a murder victim is found at the end of Baker Street tube station.

I finished the third in a bit of a fangirl daze, thinking why haven’t I read this before!!! Luckily for me, there are more published books in this great series, just waiting for me to pick them up.

If you like your supernatural police novels to have a decidedly cheeky approach to apprehending a number of not-your-usual sorts of suspects, then Ben’s work is definitely for you.

 

 

 

Have Book, Will Read #11

July already, and where the flip-flops has the year gone to? In June, I took a long break from reading and instead binge-watched Supergirl and Vikings between heated discussions of end-of-season Game of Thrones episodes. This means that lately I’ve been reading ALL THE BOOKS to make up for it. Here are a few…

Recent Reads: Love, life, death…and toilets.

Somehow I missed that Benedict Jacka’s latest Alex Verus novel came out in April. I’m a big fan of this series, so I quickly remedied this by rushing out to buy Burned and reading it in one afternoon.

In Burned, Jacka sets Mage Verus upon a dark path when a race to save himself and his friends from an execution order leaves Alex with no good choices to make, only ‘less worse’ ones. This was an exciting yet also heart-wrenching read, and it’s going to be a long year before the next book, Bound, is released in April 2017. If you like urban fantasy and haven’t tried the Alex Verus series, do yourself a favor and pick up the first book, Fated.

I spent a highly enjoyable evening reading Waters of Versailles by Kelly Robson, which takes us to an alt-world 1738 France where a former soldier tries to reach fame and fortune through the wonders of indoor plumbing with the help of a little water magic.

This delicious Nebula-nominated novella is short enough to slip in between your other summer reads and, seriously, toilet stories don’t get any more sweet or charming than this blend of historical fiction and magical realism.

The first two books in Claudia Gray’s Firebird trilogy had been sitting on my shelf for a while, and last week I finally picked them up. Them, plural, because I enjoyed the first, A Thousand Pieces of You, so much that I jumped straight into the second, Ten Thousand Skies Above You.

Pitched as ‘Orphan Black meets Cloud Atlas’, Gray’s dimensional travel tales have it all: intrigue, love, betrayal, heartache and adventure follow Marguerite as she dives into alternate realities and alternate versions of herself on a journey of revenge that becomes a mission to save her world and all others in the multiverse.

I’d heard good things about Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series, so this week I picked up the first book, The Raven Boys. It definitely lived up to the hype. The characters are gorgeous, the plot intriguing, and Stiefvater’s writing style an absolute delight.

Psychic’s daughter Blue has been warned that if she ever kisses her true love he will die. But despite her best intentions to stay away from guys, she can’t help being drawn to four of the ‘raven boys’ of a nearby private school, and before long she becomes involved in their quest to uncover a local ley line and the grave of an ancient king.

The last on my list is special… The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone is a contemporary novel, not a genre my sff-obsessed brain usually dips into. But this book and I go back a couple of years. When I first met Carrie she was at the agent query stage. Along with the rest of our writing group I’ve followed the submissions, the rewrites, the line edits, the excitement of the cover reveal. So I was thrilled to read the final polished version, released on June 6th.

And it was just as lovely as I remembered. A really fun read, though heartbreaking at times, and one that made me laugh and cry all over again as though I was reading it for the very first time. This is the story of seventeen-year-old Maddie, who accompanies her family on a death-with-dignity cruise at the request of her dying grandmother. Maddie’s family is a loud and wonderful splash of color, and Maddie gets a chance to make new memories, forge new friendships, and fall in love.

Now Reading: Deserts, deserts, everywhere.

I’d had China Miéville’s Railsea on my to-read list for some time, so when I won a flash fiction competition on the sffchronicles.com I claimed this book as my reward (thank you Brian Turner!). I’m not far in, and as with the other two Miéville novels I’d previously read, it’s taking me a while to immerse myself in his world. But that’s just fine. Some novels are for gulping down in one glorious race for the end, others are for dipping into slowly, and enjoying each page as a work of art.

I’ve also started reading Sunset over Abendau, the sequel to Abendau’s Heir in Jo Zebedee’s Inheritance trilogy. This somewhat dark space opera series will definitely appeal to those who prefer their happily-ever-after’s to have a large dose of fallout on the side. Jo writes excellent characters, and I’m enjoying being back in Abendau’s world.

To Read: The end of things.

I picked up a couple of library books this week, which by necessity have jumped to the top of my to-read list. Can’t keep all those other readers waiting! The first is one I’ve been meaning to get to for ages: Half a War, the last book in Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy.

The other is also, coincidentally, the last in a trilogy: Brian Stavely’s The Last Mortal Bond, conclusion to his Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne. I’ve enjoyed both of these trilogies so far, and it will be nice to see how they end.

So that’s it for July. Happy summer reading to those in the northern hemisphere. May your beach towels be sand-free, your pool chairs perfectly angled, and your picnic spots quiet and shady. To those down south, may your winter be mild and your blankets soft and cozy. Read on.

 

Have Book, Will Read #10

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May showers bring spring flowers, right? Connecticut has finally begun to sprout its seasonal green and, being the reluctant gardener that I am, nothing better than to put off the weeding with a good book or three. Here are some of my latest…

Recent Reads: Heart thumping, nerve jumping.

This month I finally got around to reading Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older, which has been on my list since it came out last summer. It was every bit as good as the reviews promised. Teenage artist Sierra Santiago discovers the secret world of shadowshapers and a family legacy she had no idea about. Her planned summer of friends, parties, and art becomes instead a race to end a plot against the shadowshapers before she and her friends get caught in the crossfire.

Shadowshaper is alive with art, music, and magic, and Daniel’s prose sweeps us right into the beat of the warm city nights, plunging us into the heart of Sierra’s world. And oh, that cover!

I really enjoyed Pierce Brown’s page-turner Red Rising. So I was pretty excited to get my hands on the sequel, Golden Son. The second book in the trilogy really kicked things up a notch by widening the plot to take in the broader Gold politics between the planets, Luna and Earth. Things get even bloodier in this one, and the death toll rises steadily.

However, with a cliffhanger ending (nooooo!), I was really glad that the last in the series was already out. Morning Star continues the wider plot of book two and brings it home to a nail biter of a climax. I did find, though, that picking this up straight after Golden Son meant I had to take a break halfway through, as the violence and deaths were getting to me. Pierce’s novels are excellent reading, but the pace is relentless and it got a little overwhelming. I definitely suggest mixing it up with lighter (aka less bloody) reading material!

Another book I finished this month was The Haunting of Lake Manor Hotel, a horror anthology by my own publisher Woodbridge Press. (Wow, it feels weird and cool to write that!) Now, I don’t usually read horror, but it was hard not to be enticed by Anna Dickinson’s delicious opening story, The Boy by the Lake, or the tagline: ‘13 Rooms. 13 Guests. 13 Stories.’

This shared world anthology is a great read, even for wimpy wussy types like me. It never got too heavy, so if (like me) you’re a novice horror reader, this is definitely one to try. The stories were nicely varied with something for everyone, from the creepily eerie, to the beautifully haunting, to the downright weird and wonderful. Eyeballs, anyone?

Now Reading: Imagined pasts and futures.

I’m halfway through another anthology, Kristell Ink’s Fight Like a Girl, which I’ve already mentioned a couple of times on the blog. A great variety of stories so far, and some really interesting takes on the subject. Definitely one worth checking out.

Because I like to mix up short stories with novels, I’ve just started Muezzinland by Stephen Palmer. I really enjoyed Stephen’s Beautiful Intelligence and the sequel novella No Grave for a Fox, and Muezzinland – although actually written long before these two – is a sequel in terms of the timeline of the author’s imagined future. I haven’t got very far yet, but it’s nice to be back in Stephen’s world.

To Read: Fate of worlds…

Up next on the to-read list is Sunset over Abendau, the sequel to Jo Zebedee’s excellent Abendau’s Heir. If you like your space opera a little on the dark side, this is definitely the series for you.

I just won a copy of A Thousand Pieces of You and the sequel Ten Thousand Skies Above You by Claudia Gray, courtesy of the author and The Pixel Project’s most recent campaign. The multi-dimensional travel plot sounds great, and I love the tag line: ‘A thousand lives. A thousand possibilities. One fate.’

Another book I picked up the other day is The Summoner by Gail Z. Martin, first in her Chronicles of the Necromancer series, which was highly recommended by a friend. The blurb sounds great, and I’m in the mood for a little traditional fantasy so this should do the job nicely.

With so many good things on my list, I think I shall continue to ignore the garden weeds. I’m calling it ‘organic reading’, and I can’t think of a better way to spend a May afternoon! Trowels down, and books up. And that’s the way I like it.

Have Book, Will Read #9

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Oh, hey! It’s April already. April means my birthday, which means books. Because a girl can always do with more books, right? And with so many recent releases I’ve been keeping busy. Here are some of my latest faves…

Recent Reads: On the road… Quests, journeys, escapes, and revenge.

I absolutely loved The Art of Forgetting: Rider by Joanne Hall. In fact, I liked it so much I went straight into the sequel and concluding novel, The Art of Forgetting: Nomad. I’m a sucker for a good coming-of-age fantasy tale, and this one takes interesting detours as it follows a boy’s journey to become a cavalry officer.

Hall’s prose is crisp yet flowing, and she does a masterful job of treading the line between overly sparse and heavily ornate description that so many epic fantasies have trouble with. Rhodri’s tale begins with the familiar setting of the military schoolground, but never quite settles into the expected, keeping us constantly on our toes. And when Rhodri eventually turns his back on everything he has worked for, Hall gives readers a refreshing shift in her main character’s viewpoint that sheds new light on the story.

Javelin Rain by Myke Cole was one I’ve been waiting for, ever since Gemini Cell arrived in 2015 and I devoured it in one day. And the sequel certainly didn’t disappoint. Those of you who read my blog will know I’m a big fan of Cole’s high-octane military fantasy novels. He writes incredibly fast-paced stories with great action sequences, but he also serves us well-thought-out characters with a lot of heart.

Javelin Rain begins exactly where Gemini Cell left off, with Jim Schweitzer on the run with his wife and small son. But escape is hard when you’re an undead former Navy SEAL being chased by a hoard of super zombies with a penchant for blood and carnage. And to make things worse, the man behind those zombies may have motives of his own for the actions he carries out in the name of his country. Sounds intense? It is, but at the same time Cole isn’t afraid to take a pause and give his readers touching and very human moments.

I bought Road Brothers by Mark Lawrence a while back, but it got buried under a pile of other to-reads and somehow I never got around to it. Making up for lost time, I ended up gobbling down the whole thing in two days. This one is a treat for fans of Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy: a compilation of short stories on Jorg of Ancrath and his band of outlaws.

I loved Prince of Thorns and the subsequent Broken Empire books, so I really enjoyed this opportunity to get a better look at some of Jorg’s crew. The stories bring us a mixture of exploits and backstory, and as a bonus feature they all end with a short commentary by the author on the character and why he chose that particular approach for that story. Written with Lawrence’s trademark poetic flair, the collection plays with different narrative styles so it never feels stale, and you never quite know what to expect as the author skips from one character to another. Well worth reading, but familiarity with the Broken Empire world is helpful, so if you haven’t tried Lawrence’s work I’d recommend starting with Prince of Thorns.

Now Reading: Shivers and shenanigans.

I’m halfway into a brand new anthology by the also brand new Woodbridge Press, The Haunting of Lake Manor Hotel. Now, horror isn’t a genre I’d usually read, but since I’m familiar with quite a few of the authors I was willing to lock away my usual fear of things that go bump in the night and try it out. So far, so good: I’ve already been blown away by the opening stories and I haven’t had to resort to a nightlight yet. Yet being the imperative word here.

To Read: Fight or flight…

Another recent launch on the anthology scene is Fight Like a Girl (Kristell Ink). Edited by Roz Clarke and Joanne Hall, this collection of short stories about female strength sounds amazing. With a great line-up of authors writing everything from space opera to urban fantasy, and a tagline on Amazon that says, “These are not pinup girls fighting in heels; these warriors mean business,” this has to be my kind of book. Oh, and it has an awesome cover, too.

I’m a huge Brandon Sanderson fan, and you can never have too much Wax and Wayne, so up next on my to-read list is Bands of Mourning, the latest in the Mistborn saga. I always enjoy Sanderson’s carefully constructed magic systems, and the swooping, soaring Wax and Wayne stories unite this with a certain element of lightness and fun that are a pleasure to read.

So that’s my roundup for April. I hope you’ve found some great reads of your own; with so many great releases this year alone, the tough decision is where to start!

Have Book, Will Read #8

There’s a steady March drizzle outside, but in here I have tea, books, and leftover Easter chocolate. Seriously, what more could a word-lover want? Here’s what I’ve been up to…

Recent Reads: Battles and books.

First up was Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs. My daughter’s been on at me for a while to read this, and after the gorgeous trailers came out for the movie adaptation directed by Tim Burton I thought it was about time I dipped into it’s rather mysterious waters.

The tale of a troubled boy who discovers his own powers along with a whole hidden world of wonder and threat, Miss Peregrine’s was everything my daughter had promised and more. It’s a slow-burning story, which eases you into its often cold and murky waters inch by inch while at the same time pulling you so deeply into its world that by the time things begin to happen you’re right in there with the main character, Jacob, ensnared and enthralled as he is.

My next read was Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Blades. I adored the first book in the series, City of Stairs, and thought there was no way he could top the charismatic Shara as a main character. But then he brought back a side character from the first book, General Turyin Mulaghesh, and I was smitten all over again.

Bennett is a master at producing original and unexpected protagonists. Mulaghesh is a stocky, aging, foul-mouthed, one-armed former war hero with a very dark past and a sense of right and wrong that goes above and beyond the call of duty. She is also deliciously stubborn, so when she is sent by the now Prime Minister Shara Thivani to investigate the strange substance uncovered in ruined and embattled Voortyashtan she resolves to get to the bottom of things no matter what it costs her.

After all the strange and divine powers of the last two reads, it was time for a little science fiction with Pierce Brown’s Red Rising. I’d heard this mentioned a few times but it had pretty much slipped under my radar until one of my town librarians suggested I’d enjoy it (hooray for librarians!).

Set on Mars, Red Rising tells a tale of oppression and the thirst for change, as lowborn miner Darrow infiltrates the elite Golds in the name of revolution. This one will definitely appeal to Hunger Games fans, and it’s not for the faint of heart as the battle scenes of the trials Darrow must go through to truly become one of the elite are pretty horrific. It’s incredibly fast-paced and I tore through the entire thing in one day, breathless and with nothing left of my poor, chewed-up nails.

Last on my list was Django Wexler’s The Forbidden Library, first in his middle grade series by the same name. It’s the story of Alice, who goes to live with her Uncle Geryon after her father dies in a shipwreck. An uncle she’s never heard about, who lives in a house full of mysteries. But the biggest mystery of all is the forbidden library. Until Alice creeps in at night and discovers magical powers she never imagined she had.

Alice shows us a world where books are a source of power – and also of grave danger. The creatures she finds inside them are no sweet fairytale things; they’re often nasty, vicious, and happy to kill. But Alice is both clever and fiercely determined to succeed. After all, if magic is real, perhaps her father is not really dead, after all?

Now Reading: Following the horse trail.

Loaded up on my Kindle and ready to go is The Art of Forgetting: Rider by Joanne Hall. All I’ve done so far is glance at the first page, so I’ll have to fill you in on this one next time round. A coming-of-age fantasy tale following a boy’s journey to become a cavalryman, it may be just what I need after all the strange directions my reading has taken me in lately.

To Read:

I have the first two books in Orson Scott Card’s Mithermages series on request at my library, so I’ll dive into those when they arrive. The Lost Gate and The Gate Thief tell the story of Danny North as he discovers his gate magic and the perils that follow.

I also have three novels on pre-order, all of them out at the same time at the end of March. I love the excitement of waiting for a new book to arrive! Myke Cole’s military fantasy Javelin Rain is the sequel to his excellent Gemini Cell. Sunset over Abendau is the sequel to Jo Zebedee’s dark space opera Abendau’s Heir. And The Adventures of Sir Edric, by Thaddeus White, is a fantasy comedy, with history’s most un-PC knight ever, the drunken, womanizing Sir Edric.

Words to read, worlds to explore. And my tea’s getting cold. Happy reading!

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Flesh and Wires by Jackie Hatton

From the moment I saw the blurb for Jackie Hatton’s Flesh and Wires I knew I wanted to read it. It just sounded so intriguingly different. Jackie’s novel is a post-alien invasion tale set in the not-so-distant future right here in the state of Connecticut where I live. I’ve driven the highways mentioned, seen the towns where the story is set. And that, I think, made the novel so appealing to me. The idea of these gentle New England locations twisted into a story of survival was a great hook.

Flesh and Wires (Aqueduct Press, 2015) takes us to the world left behind after a failed alien invasion, where the conquering Ruurdaans have died from disease leaving behind a sparse population of survivors. Most of these are technologically enhanced women, wired by the aliens to serve as slave labor for their colonization. Thirty years on, the enhanced women, along with the few remaining ‘naturals’ (both male and female), have gathered in small enclaves with dwindling fuel and energy resources. Society is at the same time sophisticated, with the scavenged remains of all the abandoned homes and mansions in the area, and frugally simplified, almost to pre-industrial levels, with scant long-distance communications abilities and trade as the only currency. Community is the key to endurance.

Contact has been made by yet another alien race, the Orbitals, who claim to want to settle in peace on Earth. Lo, leader of the small yet sturdy Saugatuck community, must decide whether or not she is willing to trust the Orbital ambassadors, and how to lead her town through the upcoming changes.

Jackie Hatton chooses an interesting direction to take her tale. Although there are plenty of plot twists and action sequences, ultimately this is a book about the consequences of war and the relationships born from a desperate need to survive. Most – if not all – the women in the story bear deep psychological scars and PTSD is a running theme all throughout. New forms of partnerships have emerged, and in the thirty years since the invading Ruurdaans died out society has transformed into something completely new. Many of the characters, such as Lo, acquired extraordinary powers and strength from their alien enhancements, but this has brought its own brand of hardship and grief. And when faced with a new ultimatum to break out of their self-imposed isolation and evolve once again as a society, Lo realizes her people are less united than she thought.

Flesh and Wires is at the same time a gently written soft-paced affair and an explosive, volatile story of survival. It’s the looming threat of a thunderstorm on a summer’s day, the danger lurking in a seemingly quiet pool of water. This is not a loud novel, but a chilling one in many ways, and it tackles big ideas and leaves a lot of noise in its wake. It’s the sort of story that leaves a mark, and keeps you thinking long after you’ve put it down.

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Love, Longswords, and Lightsabers

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With Valentine’s Day approaching, and a serious need to distract myself from all the chocolate treats on sale, I started thinking about romance in science fiction and fantasy. I’m not talking paranormal romance, oh no, that would be too easy. I’m thinking about all the love stories that hide under action-packed tales, weaving their way delicately through the adrenaline surges and the blaster fire, the sword-work and the combat spells.

Take a good look at your favorite novels and chances are there’s a love story in there, somewhere.

Why is love a recurring theme in fiction, even if it’s quietly hidden away under an adventurer’s cloak? For one, it helps ground your characters. Along with pain, fear, and other easily recognizable and relatable feelings, love helps us understand a character and gives that character extra dimension and realism. Even if they’re a magic space knight. An underlying ribbon of romance also provides a secondary plotline that can run alongside the main plot, adding both tension and depth.

Is romance necessary in a novel? Of course not. But sprinkling those action scenes with a little of that loving feeling can be a whole lot of fun. I’ve chosen five fast-paced books with great love stories in them for anyone looking for a Valentine’s Day read. The chocolate treats are optional.

 

Gemini Cell, Myke Cole

A fast-paced military fantasy novel with a killer love story to fuel it on, Myke Cole’s tale about a dead Navy SEAL who turns into an undead zombie warrior may not be an obvious pick for a romantic Valentine’s Day read. And yet the central core of the story is the death-defying love that Jim Schweitzer has for his wife and child. Full review here.

 

The Demon King, Cinda Williams Chima

YA is full of wonderful love stories, and The Demon King and the subsequent books in the Seven Realms quartet are a perfect example. Cinda Williams Chima serves up everything you could possibly want in an epic fantasy series: high magic, low magic, warcraft, sieges, court intrigue, international politics… And of course, a fabulous romance too.

 

Time Salvager, Wesley Chu

This one is a time travelling science fiction tale set in a bleak future. Sounds romantic, right? Not really? Wait until you meet James Griffin-Mars, a depressed chronman bent on self-destruction, who falls for a woman from the past and forfeits everything to be with her. Although Wesley Chu’s novel is packed with intrigue and exciting action sequences, at its heart it’s a love story.

 

Fade to Black, Francis Knight

How about adding a little fantasy noir to the mix? Francis Knight’s Rojan Dizon is a jaded, disillusioned P.I. with pain mage powers. But as he’s unwillingly dragged into a battle for civil freedom that he has no real wish to join, he finds love. Messy, unrequited, ill-fated love, but love, nevertheless. And this love is what keeps him going throughout this and the next two books in the trilogy, pushing him to make ever-harder choices and sacrifices.

 

The City Stained Red, Sam Sykes

Okay, you might say, now you’ve gone too far. Where, you might ask, in this veritable bloodbath of a novel, is the romance? But Sam Sykes does like a bit of loving, and he certainly doesn’t shy away from the sex scenes. Lenk and Kataria’s on-off flirtation is the one constant thing in this novel; whatever mayhem happens to be going on, we know that somewhere around the corner we’ll get another dose of the awkward love and even more awkward lovemaking that is part of the wonderful train wreck of their relationship.

 

Bonus title: The Princess Bride, William Goldman

Yes, I know you’ve probably watched the movie at least a couple of times, and can most likely quote from it with your eyes closed… But HAVE YOU READ THE NOVEL? Because, if not, get thee to a bookstore or library and please, please, please read this immediately. This is the ultimate swashbuckling, sword-toting, cliffhanging, magic-wielding love story: a quest for romance and the best kiss in all time. And it’s incredibly funny, too.

 

All that’s left to say is, enjoy!

*please consume chocolate products in moderation. or not. hey, it’s your call.*

Have Book, Will Read #7

It’s almost February which means that, given the wintery cold outside and my penchant for hot mugs of tea and sizzling plotlines, I’ve been devouring books non-stop (but not really, because digestion?). I read so many books that I’ve actually lost track of everything I picked up over the last month or two, so I’ve rather arbitrarily chosen three that were particularly enjoyable…

Recent Reads: Swords, spaceships, and science.

First up on the list is Andy Weir’s The Martian. My son watched the movie with friends and then requested the book. Since it was lying around the house gathering dust, I thought I’d take a peek, thinking I wouldn’t like it much as I’m not usually one for the harder sorts of science fiction. Boy, was I wrong!

It turned out to be a real page-turner of a book, where days and months blur together in the race to bring astronaut Mark Watney back from a disastrous mission that leaves him stranded on Mars, while at the same time Watney, a botanist and engineer with the ability to MacGyver the heck out of anything he finds, tries to survive long enough for help to arrive. I loved the way the author jumped back and forth between Earth and Mars, with the prose of his Earth-based POVs contrasting nicely with Watney’s log entries. And his main character’s sense of humor is a lovely counterpoint to the dryer science sections.

While my head was still in space, I turned to a brand new debut. Uncommon Purpose by PJ Strebor is the first of his Hope Island Chronicles, a series that tackles the war between the Athenian Republic and the Pruessen Empire, following Nathan Telford as he grows up and trains to fight against the cruel Empire responsible for enslaving his family in his youth.

Though a little dark and bloody at times, young Telford’s story is a gripping one and you can’t help but root for this determined young survivor. The last third is particularly exciting and I recommend reading it when you absolutely do not have to put it down. Because you won’t want to.

I recently discovered the Pax Arcana series by Elliott James, and read the third book, Fearless, over the winter break. This is urban fantasy at its best, with a great cast of characters and some interesting and unusual mythological creatures added to the mix.

In Fearless, werewolf and former Knight John Charming must infiltrate a secret supernatural fight club to save a blushing virgin from certain death – even though the virgin in question is a nineteen-year-old college boy. John is a great character, and the Pax Arcana stories are always fun and fast-paced, filled with great dialogue and terrific action.

Now Reading: Love me some Viking wrath…

On my Kindle at the moment is Path of Gods, the third and last installment of the Valhalla Saga by Snorri Kristjansson. I’m only a couple of pages in, but the first two books in the series were a bundle of blood, guts, and Viking glory, and this one promises to live up to the others and deliver a smashing great sword-shattering time.

To Read:

For once, despite my self-made promise never to let unread books gather, I actually have both a physical to-read pile and a digital one. Yikes! A few titles that have wriggled to the top of the pile:

Road Brothers by Mark Lawrence, because who wouldn’t want to read more about Jorg’s band? A short story collection that I’m looking forward to tackling.

The Art of Forgetting: Rider by Joanne Hall, a coming-of-age fantasy tale following a boy’s journey to become a cavalryman.

Flesh and Wires by Jackie Hatton, a post-alien invasion story set right here in my current home state of Connecticut.

So there, lots of books to read and lots of tea to drink while outside the frost sparkles and the cold gives me plenty of excuses to stay home with a blanket. If you need me, I’ll be the one keeping warm under all those words and worlds…

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Snow Dragon, because winter.

Books? What Books? 2015 Reading Highlights

This has been a great year for books. Many, many words have been devoured. I’ve discovered new authors, and caught up with my to-read-list. Well, partially, at least: that thing is a never-ending pit of doom and delight. Hopefully you’ve had a great year for reading too… But if you’re still looking for bookish inspiration, I’ve invited a few guests to share their reading highlights for 2015. Enjoy!

 

Jo Zebedee, author of Inish Carraig, Abendau’s Heir, and the upcoming (2016) sequels Sunset over Abendau and Abendau’s Legacy:

Mother of Eden, Chris Beckett – I really love this series, it’s probably one of my favourite sf reads for a long time. I wondered how Chris would balance the story moving so far forwards and new characters and what not, but he did it beautifully. Love it.

The Minituarist, Jessie BurtonReally enjoyed this. Very clever, very evocative of its time, nice central male character (I found the female ones a little harder to like but overall more intriguing). Well worth a look at.

The Woman who Stole my Life, Marian Keyes – Just finished this. Fabulous. Well worth a look at for use of a frame story and for how to keep the predictable will-they/won’t-they story fresh.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Becky Chambers – This is also nearly on my biggest disappointment list. I enjoyed it but it didn’t come close to the hype for me.

Marina, Carlos Ruiz Zafon – Sumptuous. Just sumptuous. And creepy.

Winter Ghosts, Kate Mosse – I’ve never been a huge fan of Mosse, but this I loved. Very evocative of the time and place.

Finally, one of my very favourite reads was a beta/first read of the Sir Edric books by Thaddeus White. I was begging for the next installment as fast as it could be written. Out next year from Tickety Boo Press and I’ll be getting the nice shiny new version the day it comes out!

 

Steven Pooreauthor of The Heir to the North and the upcoming (2016) sequel, The High King’s Vengeance:

All That Outer Space Allows, Ian Sales – Tour de force conclusion to the Apollo Quartet that ought to be an award-winner in any year.

A Darker Shade of Magic, VE Schwab – A gloriously fun start to a new series, told with pace, clarity and verve.

The Stars Seem So Far Away, Margret Helgadottir – Fractured stories of a fractured earth; as bleak as the tundra, and as deep as the ocean.

 

Jennifer Carson, fantasy author and editor, has worked for a number of publishers such as Simon and Schuster, currently an editor for Tickety Boo Press.

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline – I read this book at the nagging of my husband, and I have to admit, he was right. It was one of four books I read this year that put me in page-turner mode. Wade Watts is a teen who prefers to live in a Matrix-like construction called OASIS. When the OASIS creator dies, he leaves his vast fortune to the first person who win his easter egg hunt with only riddles to guide them. I’m usually quite put off by VR stories, but I loved this one. Mostly because I’m a closet geek, and I got 90% percent of the references and had played all the major games named in the story. I even out-geeked my true geek husband and got one of the riddles right away. He was floored. “How did you get that?” he asked. To which I replied, “How did you not? We spent our first date playing that game. You introduced me to PCs with it!” So if you love the oldies…or were there when those games were cutting edge (we won’t say which category Hubby and I fall into…but you can guess), this book is most definitely worth the read. The only negatives for me were that I wished the end had been a little stronger, and I don’t know if I would have enjoyed it so thoroughly had I not played these games. But if you like VR stories or video games, it’s certainly worth taking a look at the free download sample. I was hooked by the end of that!

Endeavour, Ralph Kern – This is the only project I’ve worked on that I chose to include. Why? Because in my thirty years of editing, this book was my favorite project. I found myself reading it when I should have been working on it. Even when I came to the end of my editing day, I would read just a few more pages ahead as a sneak peek for the next day’s work. I was quite happy to follow our intrepid explorers as they tried to answer the Fermi paradox: If space is so huge, where is everybody? As they search for extraterrestrial life, we watch the people of earth leap into the future and pass by our team who, as a byproduct of relativistic time issues, become one-way time travelers. The weakness of the book would have to be characterization. The characters are good enough to do the job of carrying their share of the story, but they aren’t deeply fleshed out. Rather, this book is a plot-driven story. I enjoyed how it took a mystery from the past in our real world and used it to generate a science fiction story that answered that mystery (But then, it was one I was always interested in, even did a book report on it in school). All in all, I really feel that Ralph has captured some of the flavor of the heyday of SF and the midcentury greats, then modernized it for today’s audiences. This is true hard science fiction, driven by story and science, and one very enjoyable read.

Dust and Light, book one of the Sanctuary duet, Carol Berg – Carol Berg is a favorite author of mine. I absolutely loved her Lighthouse duet and her Rai Kirah trilogy, so I was thrilled to find out she was doing a Sanctuary duet in the same world as the Lighthouse one. This story is about a sorcerer character whose talent is to sketch the truth of a man’s soul, and just how far others will go to keep those truths covered. Lucian pays the price for a talent he only fully comes to understand through the course of the book, and it costs him everything…family, liberty, even sanity. Angst-driven characters are a specialty of Berg’s, and this one was no disappointment. Following Lucian’s tortured journey kept me turning pages, though they are not necessarily for everyone. My husband doesn’t like the tortured-hero schtick as much as I do. He finds these characters to be downers. But if you like the suffering hero who endures and is transformed, a character who is reforged in the crucible of life, give this talented author a try. I still like the other two I listed above better, but this one did not disappoint. I can’t wait to dive into book two over the Christmas break!

 

Thaddeus White, author of Bane of Souls, Journey to Altmortis, Sir Edric’s Temple (to be re-released in 2016) and the upcoming Sir Edric’s Treasure:

Abendau’s Heir, Jo Zebedee – a deliciously dark tale of empire and family feud in space. It takes the reader into the hearts of its protagonists, and features a number of stellar moments, including a fantastically grim scene two-thirds or so into the book [the best fiction I’ve read this year].

The Greatest Knight, Thomas Asbridge – William Marshal was apparently the first man not a king to have his own biography, and this book reveals why. From being abandoned by his father and threatened with death as a child to rising to prosperity thanks to his military skill, Marshal served multiple kings during one of the most turbulent times in history, and this biography is well worth reading.

Ghost on the Throne, James Romm – when Alexander died his generals and relatives were thrust into a decades-long struggle for supremacy. Akin to a pack where every wolf considers himself (or herself…) alpha, the cadre of bold and clever men and women Alexander left behind engage in ferocious war for the ghost’s empire.

 

Nathan Hystad, author of many science fiction, fantasy and horror short stories and editor-in-chief at Woodbridge Press:

Fool’s Quest, Robin Hobb – She is my one of if not my favorite author, and though the book could have been condensed in the middle by a couple hundred pages, the ending was enough to push this to one of my top reads of the year. She is one of the authors I can’t wait to read.

Salem’s Lot, Stephen King – I am a huge King fan and since he has so many books, I have really only read maybe a third of them. This was a wonderful book, and it was hard to believe it was published fourty years ago. If you haven’t read this book…do it!

Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C Clarke – This was my first Clarke experience, and it was a great one. The sense of tension and build up was palpable. It ended slightly disappointing but the book was so good, it was inspiring. I also read Childhood’s End after it, and really enjoyed it too.

 

A big thank you to all my lovely blog guests and readers. Happy New Year, everyone, and may 2016 be a year of great stories!

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