I've been traveling for the last month. In between seeing lots of awesome stuff, I also spent lots of time on planes, in waiting rooms, and lounging around on hotel patios. Which is to say, I got a lot of reading done. I hoarded new releases before I left. Books that could make me look forward to 10 hours in coach. But I ran through that little stash really quickly & rather than buying more books I decided to...read some books that I'd already bought. Books that I'd anticipated, paid for, downloaded and then cruelly ignored.
A lot of them were really good. That initial impulse to buy, it turns out, had not led me astray. Some of them were bad. You won't hear about those in this post. Either way, the Great Kindle Clean Up was a success--much as I love to keep up with the books that are new and exciting, it can be exhausting. Once the pile of unread books gets big enough, it's demoralizing.
So. Here you go. Mini-reviews of the best books I read last month, during the Great Kindle Clean Up.
Love Irresistibly by Julie James: Julie James is one of my autobuy authors because whatever she writes, I can count on it to be funny, smart, and just plain good. Her protagonists have careers they care about. They behave like adults. If they were real, you'd invite them out for drinks, just because they'd be fun to hang out with. So when they stumble on the way to finding love, the conflicts that keep them apart tend to be relatable (how to balance career and love?), spiced with a dash of high-stakes adventure (in this case: the hero approaches the heroine about helping the FBI plant a bug in a fancy restaurant, in order to bring a dirty politician to justice).
Eternally Yours by Cate Tiernen: This is the third and final book in Tiernen's Immortal Beloved trilogy, every installment of which I have loved. I suppose they're YA but I'm not sure why; all of the main characters are hundreds of years old & act like the adults they are. The series starts when the heroine, Nastasya, checks herself into rehab. Her zest for life has dwindled away and left her self-destructive, bored, and cruel. She recognizes that she has a problem and needs to change. The primary setting for the whole trilogy is the rehab facility, where Nastasya spends a lot of time mucking out stalls and baking bread, but I was riveted to every page. Change for Nastasya is a slow, laborious process but she's a charismatic and funny narrator, and I really rooted for her. Plus, there's a series-arc romance with an immortal former Viking, so bonus.
Untold (The Lynburn Legacy #2) by Sarah Rees Brennan: The plot of Untold didn't quite hang together for me, but I love the cast of characters and individual scenes were emotionally wrenching. I'm really curious to see where Brennan will go with the romance/central conflict, where the heroine, Kami, was born with a telepathic link to a boy she's never met. When they finally come face to face as teenagers, the chemistry is tremendous--but the intimate knowledge they have of one another cuts both ways, creating deep trust and also dangerous co-dependence.
Heroes' Reward by Moira Moore: The final installment in a fun fantasy series that starts with Resenting the Hero. The series is character driven & follows the developing relationship of a true odd couple, Dunleavy "Lee" Mallorough & Shintaro "Taro" Karish. Lee is staid and grounded, with a dry sense of humor. Taro is charming and extroverted. They're forced to work together, but in the process of saving the world over and over again, end up falling in love & hammering out a really lovely relationship. The publisher dropped the series & the author self-published this final installment; having been a loyal reader, I was glad to see the characters get the HEA they deserved.
Tempt the Stars: A Cassie Palmer Novel by Karen Chance: The Cassie Palmer books are like summer blockbuster action movies. Jam-packed with insane stunts that even the supernatural creatures peopling the series ought not to be able to perform--but they're also fun and smart, and the love triangle seems to be resolving in favor of the candidate I like best. Tempt the Stars came out after a long gap, so it was a pleasant surprise to jump back into the world without a hitch. Read it in one sitting, can't wait for the next in the series.
The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling: I read this because, hey, J.K. Rowling. Might as well see what there is to see. The Cuckoo's Calling isn't much like the Harry Potter series; I'd go so far as to say that it's aggressively unlike the Harry Potter series, featuring, as it does, messy relationships and imperfect marriages and recreational drugs and people who talk about their bowel movements. The Cuckoo's Calling won't satisfy a craving for Harry Potter, but I thought it was really good. I liked the detective, Cormorant Strike. I liked diving into his backstory, I liked his investigative style, I liked his developing relationship with secretary/sidekick Robin. I thought the big reveal was disappointing, but everything up until then kept me riveted. I'll keep reading this series.
The Siren Depths by Martha Wells: Final installment of the Raksura trilogy. I enjoyed each book in this series more than the previous, and I finished The Siren Depths so utterly content that I immediately picked up another Martha Wells book to read. The Raksura trilogy is about a young man, Moon, a sort of dragon shifter who's separated from his family and species as a child & wanders from town to town, trying to fit in and always failing because his winged, scaled form terrifies everyone he meets. As the series starts, he's finally reunited with his own kind & finds out he was born to a high rank--and his official, ordained role is to serve as a trophy spouse to the queen who claims him. But after decades of fending for himself, Moon doesn't know how to be a trophy spouse & he chafes against the restrictions. Moon finds his way, and meanwhile the worldbuilding is imaginative, lush, unexpected.
The Element of Fire by Martha Wells: Second of the three Martha Wells books I read during my trip. All three were excellent. The Element of Fire is a stand alone fantasy about a soldier, captain of an elite company and confidante of the Queen, struggling to save the monarchy during a very well organized coup. Very twisty story that combines action and cutthroat political scheming. Also includes a neat romance.
Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones: I have heard nothing but good things about Diana Wynne Jones and Howl's Moving Castle, so who knows why it took me so long to turn to the first page and give it a chance. And that's all it took--Howl's Moving Castle is an fizzy delight of a novel that hooked me with the first line. It's charming and clever and deft, silly at times but fun always.
Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster: This little novella was recommended to me a while back by someone who thought I resembled the protagonist, which, I can now say, was massively flattering because the protagonist of this epistolary novel, Jerusha, is an utter delight. She starts out like Jane Eyre, the model pupil of an orphanage who's aged out of her institution's care, bubbling with sly wit she's learned to suppress and joie de vivre that even a dreary orphanage can't crush.
She's selected by one of the trustees of the orphanage, a tall, spindly-legged man she refers to as Daddy Long Legs, for a special honor: a scholarship to college, including a stipend, so long as she writes the trustee a monthly letter about her progress. The letters make up the book, which was written in 1912. The May-December romance has the potential to be squicky but the language is fresh and delightful, and I loved every word. It's in the public domain and free to download on kindle--I recommend it highly.
World After (Penryn & the End of Days, Book 2) by Susan Ee: Reviews indicate that readers split over World After, the sequel to Angelfall. Personally, I loved it. I liked the expanding End of Days universe, and I was glad to see Penryn get some time to deal with her mother and sister, to re-evaluate place among other human beings, after the revelations of the last book. I was glad she had to chart her own course, separate from any romantic entanglements. Of course, I was also happy when Rafe finally showed up.
Untamed by Anna Cowan: The first historical I've read in way too long & it got me back in the mood. Sometimes the plot felt like a suspension bridge--little gaps between the steps where you could see just how outrageous the story really was, and worried that it would all fall apart--but somehow this only added to the novel's emotional intensity, which was nonstop and breathless in the way of a punch to the solar plexus.
The Arcana Chronicles #1 and #2 (Poison Princess, Endless Knight) by Kresley Cole: I'd describe The Arcana Chronicles as a mashup of The Hunger Games and the X-Men. Characters are avatars of cards on the Tarot deck, with corresponding superpowers. A global disaster precipitates the start of a game, at which point all the superpowered characters have to kill one another. The last one standing lives on, immortal, until the next game starts and the process repeats. This particular game kicks off with a solar flash that evaporates most of the world's water reserves, which makes for a really grim post-apocalypse.
The heroine starts out naive, having lived the life of a pampered southern belle with no knowledge of her dual nature, and has to embrace her inner warrior. She ends up in a love triangle, and each guy is a different flavor of high-handed jerk. However, I love a good high-handed jerk who falls in love despite himself, and I liked both of these guys.
So far, the series is fast-paced with inventive plotting, and nicely mixes the desperate circumstances with an atmosphere of freedom and recklessness.
The Prophet by Amanda Stevens: Third book in the Graveyard Queen series. I really like Stevens' ability to set a mood. Her heroine, Amelia Gray, can see ghosts & her 'talent' is convincingly and consistently shown to be a terrible burden, a danger that limits her options in life and brings her more fear than opportunity. The lush, decaying, Southern Gothic vibe provides a creepy backdrop to the mysteries that Gray investigates. Even the romance with a sexy, haunted cop is a little repulsive. I'm not clear if this is a trilogy that's ended or an ongoing series, which makes it hard to judge the book, but it's an interesting series. More light horror than proper paranormal, maybe?
The Tycoon's Convenient Wife by Ros Clarke: This novella was not what I expected, based on the title. It's more a second chance at romance story than a marriage of convenience plot. Yes, Guy is a wealthy tycoon who needs a sham engagement & Emily works at a village café, but they were close friends in college and drifted apart only when Guy's jealous first wife insisted that he cut ties. Emily's affection & support for Guy have been unwavering, a constant in his life, and circumstances give him the opportunity to appreciate it. It's a fairly quiet story, but easy to sink into and satisfying.
Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells: Another excellent stand alone fantasy from Martha Wells. I really, really learned to appreciate Martha Wells during the past month--her writing is smooth and so immersive that starting one of her books is like sinking into a feather bed. Her world building is rich and lushly imaginative--I've never wanted to visit a fantasy world so much as I'd like to visit Wells'. And Wheel of the Infinite features a really marvelous heroine, Maskelle, a 40-year-old priestess who wields immense magical power, who knows her own strength and never flinches from a confrontation, though she's world-weary rather than showy, sick with mistakes that she's made and too wise to repeat them.
Wheel of the Infinite made me long for more books about characters in their prime, not just because I liked Maskelle but because the potential for conflict is so great--any problem a smart, experienced, capable heroine like Maskelle can't deal with is going to be a doozy, a perfect set-up to a knotty, high-stakes nail biter.
Plus: neat romance.
What I Did For a Duke by Julie Anne Long: Another historical. Why have I been avoiding historicals? This was amazing. The hero, Moncrieffe, decides to seduce & abandon the heroine, Genevieve, in order to get revenge on the heroine's brother--causing him emotional distress equal to what Moncrieffe felt when he caught the brother in bed with his fiancée. But Genevieve has just had her heart broken, and in her grief she's not susceptible to Moncrieffe's charms. Wonderful mix of humor and drenching emotion, totally satisfying.
The Emperor's Edge #1-#6 by Lindsay Buroker (The Emperor's Edge, Dark Currents, Deadly Games, Conspiracy, Blood and Betrayal): So as my trip was drawing to a close and my kindle stash starting to look a little meager, I begged Twitter for recommendations. A couple of people suggested this series, the first book was free, so I gave it a try.
I proceeded to read the first six in the space of two days.
Mind you, one of those two days was an epic airport adventure that included 14 hours in a plane and 9 hours layovering in JFK.
By the time I got home, I had eye strain & had to put my kindle down for a few days. Still: I'm totally in love with this series. Steampunk fantasy that's a little on the fun & light side but the plotting is a mixture of action setpieces and scheming that keeps your heart in your throat, with an excellent protagonist and a series-arc romance with an assassin who's so satisfyingly assassiny.
Seriously, this assassin. He kills people. That's already a big deal, since lots of assassin heroes never kill anyone at all, or kill rarely, or suffer intense guilt about every murder. This guy just kills people. The protagonist, Amaranthe, tries to convince him to cool it with the murdering and he's annoyed. He's also emotionally unavailable and mistrustful.
The perfect candidate for a slow thaw!
Anyway. I'm not quite finished with the series, but I will be soon. Total winner.