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27. Proof of Seduction – Courtney Milan (Romance)
28. Trial by Desire – Courtney Milan (Romance)
29. Unveiled – Courtney Milan (Romance)
30. Unlocked – Courtney Milan (Romance)
31. A View to a Kiss – Caroline Linden (Romance)
32. His Every Kiss – Laura lee Guhrke (Romance)
33. Divergent – Veronica Roth (YA Dystopia)
34. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs (YA Fantasy)
35. Ghost Story (Dresden) – Jim Butcher (Fantasy)
36. Blackout – Connie Willis (Scifi)

27. Proof of Seduction – Courtney Milan (Romance)
Jenny Keeble is scrimping a living out of being a fortune teller, when Gareth, Lord Blakely, the socially inept elder cousin of her best customer, Ned, decides to out her as a fraud through a series of provable tests. Jenny says nuts to that because she’s trying to hold on to her career and also because she feels some responsibility for Ned, who is both childishly naïve and prone to bouts of crippling depression, and tries to devise a plan to get her out of the jam she’s in. It goes about as well as expected. Ned finds out about Jenny, accidentally compromises the season’s shining star, and kinda goes off the deep end. Gareth and Jenny hook up, but Jenny doesn’t want to be a kept woman and Gareth is reluctant to offer more. It all eventually works out, but there’s quite a bit of drama in the interim.

I snagged this because Gareth was described as a socially inept scientist and it had gotten generally good reviews. I’ll go with the socially inept part, dude is a cold fish through a lot of it, but the science stuff is mostly window dressing, which was disappointing. Jenny is for the most part a fairly strong character and doesn’t wait to be saved by the hero. Ned needs a therapist. Still, it was a shockingly good read for a Harlequin.

28. Trial by Desire – Courtney Milan (Romance)

SO! Ned, having compromised a fairly desirable young woman in the previous book of this series, has found himself leg shackled and he and the missus seem to be getting reasonably well when he decided he needs to Prove Himself As A Man and ships off to China for three years. His wife, Kate, who was not actually unhappy to have found herself married to poor, flustered, puppy dog Ned, is understandably put out, and throws herself into one of her life’s missions – helping battered women escape their spouses. Unfortunately when Ned unexpectedly returns, the woman she’s trying to help is the wife of one of Ned’s best friends.

My enjoyment of this one was utterly wrecked by the change in personality exhibited by Ned upon his return. I mean, OKAY, the kid was an undeveloped wreck when he left, but he returns and is COMPLETELY different both physically and in terms of his confidence and demeanor. It’s like Ned’s been completely recast, and there’s very little personality-wise that seems to connect the old and the new, and it’s off putting. Additionally, Gareth and Jenny show up and do very little to recommend themselves to the reader. In fact, had I not read the previous novel, I probably would have disliked them. If this is something you can work around, it’s a solid little story otherwise.

29. Unveiled – Courtney Milan (Romance)

Same author, new series! Ash Turner, self-made man, has just captured himself a dukedom. Well, almost. He’s gotten the children of the previous Duke declared bastard, and as the nearest living legitimate relation, he’s next in line for the title when the loathsome old man kicks it. Which should be soon. If he prevent the newly bastardized children from pushing an exception through the courts that would re-legitimize them. And he doesn’t count on falling for the daughter of the man he despises.

The description sounds stark, but truly the bad blood between the old Duke and Ash (and his sons and Ash’s brothers,) does make his actions understandable, if not entirely supportable. The characters were well drawn and entertaining, Ash tends to fall in one of my preferred molds (think Derek Craven,) and I liked the romance between Ash and Margaret. My only wish is that Milan had fleshed out exactly what crimes son Richard had committed that were so heinous that he needs to be completely destroyed, but I suppose she’ll get to that when she writes about Ash’s younger brothers. There are two. Anyway: recommended.

30. Unlocked – Courtney Milan (Romance)

Novelette, really, in the same universe/series as Unveiled. Spinster tormented by society suddenly finds herself being courted by her remorseful chief tormenter. I… You know, if I hadn’t been on the receiving end of the kind of bullying described in this story I would probably be more sympathetic to the hero and possibly find it all kinds of romantic, but I was, so I’m not.

31. A View to a Kiss – Caroline Linden (Romance)

Commoner-turned-spy Harry Sinclair accidentally falls in love with the daughter of the aristocrat he’s been charged with shadowing, and romancing her from the shadows. Lady Mariah seems to be ridiculously receptive to it, even when he shows up in her bedroom in the middle of the night unannounced, despite the fact that she’s supposed to be all kinds of virtuous. It’s not that I necessarily object to virginal young ladies having secret assignations all over the place (I mean, Hi, I read romance novels, it’s kinda the reason for being for a good chunk of them,) but Mariah is just so freakin’ naïve. Um, there’s a strange man in your room. Maybe you wanna yell for help? Anyway, She falls in love right back, but doesn’t know who he is, there’s something fishy with Harry’s assignment, not to mention Harry shouldn’t be doing this in the first place, and oh, there are costumes. But everything works out and they live happily ever after.

Readable, but not particularly memorable.

32. His Every Kiss – Laura Lee Guhrke (Romance)

Brilliant aristocratic musician has an accident, loses his ability to compose and is only prevented from killing himself by a mysterious young woman with a violin. Who promptly disappears, which is a major problem because apparently only she can bring the music back. The only work Dylan’s been able to compose is inspired by her. Five years later he discovers her playing in a quartet at a ball and insists on whisking her away to be the governess of his newly discovered illegitimate daughter. Who is also a child prodigy.

Grace is less than amused at being swept up to be the inspiration for Dylan’s art – she knows that the governess thing is just a pretext to have her readily at hand she’s done the muse thing before in a disastrous marriage to a scandalous but famous French painter. She’s trying to lead a nice, quiet life. It’s not working out. Anyway, Dylan and Grace fall in love, Dylan writes music, Grace’s past is revealed, Dylan freaks out, Grace is exiled, overly wise and mature child is overly wise and mature, Dylan realizes he’s been a dumbass, and they live happily ever after.

It’s cute, if not terribly original.

33. Divergent – Veronica Roth (YA Dystopia)

Post-apocalyptic Chicago. You are born into one of five ‘factions,’ groups of individuals who devote themselves to a set of ideals and beliefs. At sixteen you are allowed to choose to stay with your faction or switch to another one permanently. For Tris, who was born into the Abnegation faction, a group that devotes themselves to serving others, this is her chance to find something that fits, and she jumps. But the new faction she joins isn’t all that it seems from the outside, harder crueler, and deeply involved in something sinister.

Divergent has been getting a lot of laudatory praise in the YA blogosphere, and I can see where it’s coming from. It’s a dense, fast read with well defined characters. Things happen, and quickly. People die. There is an encroaching sense of danger pervading the book from the beginning. I liked the story, but I never really connected with the characters. Tris serves well enough as a narrator, and actually does remind me of Tally Youngblood from the Uglies series in parts, but once the fighting began I just…didn’t really care what happened to her.

In the current dystopian (dystopic?) YA sweepstakes, I’d place it lower than The Hunger Games, but much higher than Matched, mostly because for all the world-building that goes on, there is still this huge gap as to why the world is the way it is. What happened? Why is Chicago the only city we hear about – is it for narrative reasons? Is it the only one left? Has it isolated itself so that it can’t be accessed by others? When did the event that caused the disaster happen? It can’t be that long ago – Navy Pier is still fairly functional if largely abandoned (I mean, maybe they’re maintaining it, but it seems unlikely), but it looks like we’re at least two generation into whatever this is at this point. The lack of even a lightly sketched history and timeline was very distracting. I had no real frame of reference for before and after or the intervening years.

Divergent is the first part of a trilogy. Recommended, because I think it’s a good book and would appeal to a number of readers, it just didn’t work for me particularly.

34. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs (YA Fantasy)

I liked it. There are peculiar, ageless children in pocket dimensions, bog men, soul-sucking monsters, and the promise of time travel. There’s also some interesting things done with vintage photographs for illustrations. What’s not to like? Part of a series, not sure how many books.

35. Ghost Story (Dresden) – Jim Butcher (Fantasy)

Oh, my golly. Where to begin?

So, Harry’s dead. And he’s a ghost. Except instead of having unfinished business to attend to, he gets recruited by the Purgatory Police (I’m not wrong on that) to solve his own murder and thereby help protect three of those closest to him. So he pops up back in Chicago six months after his death and proceeds to get embroiled in the usual Harryesque misadventures.

There’s a couple of things going on in the story at this point, once you get through the comedy routine of convincing Murphy et al that Harry is Harry. The first is getting to the understanding that Harry’s elimination of the Red Court in Changes did not necessarily make things better in the world. In fact, it might have made things worse. With the Reds gone, there was an immense power vacuum formed where they had been. Now everyone in the underworld, supernatural or not, is scrambling to fill it. Harry’s demise has also left something of a power vacuum in Chicago, and between the two the city is taking something of a beating, despite the best efforts of Harry’s allies. In the middle of this, you have a new Big Bad who is doing SOMETHING with the ghosts in the Chicagoland area, (bad news for Ghost Harry,) and they’ve got an evil Bob-clone (bad news for everyone.) So that definitely needs to get sorted. And Harry, at least initially, has lost his powers.

I don’t really want to spoil this for people but, I personally found the Big Bad to be kind of disappointing. I never found them to be particularly menacing. Better choices could have been made there. Loved the use of Butters and Bob. The supporting cast was fairly well used, I thought. I was on board with it right up until like the last few chapters, really, and then it got a bit more deus ex machina than I can reasonably be expected to deal with.

I also hated the ending. Hated. hated, hated. I hated it like it was the epilogue of HP7. It was the kind of exposition-y epilogue that really should have been reconfigured and saved for the beginning of the next book so this could have ended on a cliffhanger. Because seriously? That did not leave me howling for the next one. (Actually, I’m kind of going, ‘Ugh, [redacted for spoilers].’)

So, yeah. Not the stunning kick in a new direction that I was pretty much expecting, but there was enough shuffling and interest that it’s not a complete loss. I’m going with reasonably entertained, but disappointed. Three out of five.

36. Blackout – Connie Willis (Scifi)

Have I mentioned recently that I love Connie Willis? I love Connie Willis. I was fortunate enough to see her speak several years ago at one of the Library of Congress Bookfests*, and she’s simply delightful. Funny, intelligent, and charming. And she writes fantastic things. Mostly about time travel, which I love, but she other works? Just as brilliant. Man, Passage screwed me up for a while.

Anyway. I’d somehow missed that she put out a two part epic last year in Blackout/All Clear. It’s published as two volumes, but really it’s just one really massive story. Oxford is still at it, sending historians through time to observe history as it happened, and a group of enthusiastic young men and women are eagerly preparing to visit London during World War Two, but the drops – the portals that allow for passage through time - are experiencing irregularities, and soon our young heroes unexpectedly find themselves abandoned in the middle of the Blitz with no way of getting back to 2060.

The multiple points of view become more than a little confusing at times until you get them straightened around. There are characters, Eileen, Mike, Polly, who are central to the plot and who appear regularly, but others do so with less frequency and their threads are not quite as easy to follow as you're trying to remember what happened the last time you saw them, but overall the richness of their characters, the touches of humor, and the detailed, intertwined plots draw you in.

Blackout ends on a somewhat somber note partway through the story, necessitating that readers immediately run panicked over to their nearest literary crack dealers to acquire the next volume.

Which I am reading RightNow. Thank [redacted] for my Kindle.

*That year is still my favorite out of all the ones I was able to go to. They had a pavilion that was strictly scifi/fantasy with Willis, Stephenson, Gaiman, and Pohl speaking, among others, and it was just fantastic. Haven’t seen them do anything quite like that since, and it’s a crying shame.

Next up (for realsies): All Clear, Clementine (Boneshaker universe), and the next one in the Iron Duke universe that I can't remember the name of and won't be out until maybe September.


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February 2012

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