To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Wills
A devilishly clever, intricately designed romp of a book. Time travel with a mystery and a bit of romance. I found it fun rather than moving, smart rather than affecting. But it was a good, engaging read.
The setup is this: time travel has been discovered and perfected but has no commercial uses, so it's now the domain of underfunded academic departments. The book moves between a timeless Oxford of the distant future--the protagonist, Ned Henry, is a scholar of some kind--and early 20th century rural England.
There's a fair bit of history-Ned is afraid that by disrupting the courtship of a very silly girl he's accidentally changed the course of World War II for the worse. I was glad I'd just read a book about Churchill, because when Wills started talking about the butterfly effect of altering this or that bombing raid, I understood what she was talking about. I might have been lost otherwise.
His goal, therefore, is to correct the timeline and make sure the silly girl gets engaged to...the right guy. If they can figure out who that is. It's a little mysterious. Events tumble along at breakneck speed and the final edifice is almost dizzyingly complex--minor events in the early twentieth century that determine important historical events in the mid twentieth century that ultimately affect the hero's happiness and well-being in the far future.
It's a virtuoso performance, but it's also fun and lighthearted. A book soufflé--difficult to make well but airy on the tongue.
The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan
The permafree novella that starts Milan's Brothers Sinister series & it's both an origin story and a wonderful, unusual romance.
There's a duke in this novella, but he's the villain. Useless and venal. The hero is the duke's employee, an ex-boxer trying to make his way in the world as a man of business. The heroine is a young woman, gently bred but poor, who was hired as a governess by the duke and then raped.
Now she's pregnant and she wants money. The hero is tasked with the job of sending her away with nothing, because the duke is just that much of an asshole.
It's a brief romance but really intense, sharp with real anguish. The decisions that the characters make are hard. And at the end, in the epilogue, the duke's legitimate son--raised in an unhappy household--meets the duke's illegitimate child--raised in a very happy household. They hate one another on sight...but soon become friends.
And so the series is born.
From a strategic/marketing point of view, it's brilliant. From a genre point of view, it's fresh and daring (I felt guilty about my love of historical dukes after reading it). From a reader-satisfaction view, it's perfect.
Some Ongoing Series....
Jim Butcher's Skin Game. Good. I think Butcher is a master craftsman and I'm with Dresden till the end, but this series doesn't excite me the way it used to. I think my head is in a different place these days.
Patricia Briggs' Night Broken. Enjoyed. I know this book was divisive for a lot of readers--I avoided spoilers and now it's too late to go back, but I'm guessing that having Adam's ex-wife show up and try to shoehorn herself back into his life put people off. Using an ex to add conflict is one of my least favorite tropes, and this ex is especially pernicious: needy, hyper-feminine, selfish and irresponsible. So that didn't win points from me. On the other hand, I appreciated the way that Mercy dealt with the situation--I am pretty sure that in a previous book she had an issue with jealousy, so this was her chance to NOT be jealous and act like a mature adult who doesn't want to make things worse for the awesome step-daughter that she loves. I saw some real growth there. Otherwise, I'm still pretty invested in the big world-building conflicts, I still really like the characters, I'm still into this series.
Jenn Bennett's Banishing the Dark. The last in the Arcadia Bell series, which I have loved from the beginning. The supernatural drama in this series never riveted me, but the characters did. I loved Cady and Lon and Jupe and I wanted to spend time with them. I didn't really care what they got up to; the quiet, domestic scenes were always my favorite. The final book pulled a trick that could have gone so wrong and instead struck me as the perfect finale--Arcadia loses all her memories of Lon during a spell & she falls in love with him again during high-pressure hunt for clues to save her life. It's occasionally hilarious (Lon still has his memories, and he has a strong reason not to trigger Cady's), but also really affirming--sort of a resume of the whole series that promises us, at the end, that yes, Cady would choose him again and again because they really belong together. It's neat.
Fortune's Pawn and Honor's Knight, books 1 and 2 of the Paradox Series by Rachel Bach
I found out about these when someone recommended them to Ilona Andrews as "Kate Daniels in space". She read them, enjoyed them, found the description accurate enough to repeat, and I found it tempting enough to give the series a try.
It's not a bad description. And Devi Morris is, like Kate Daniels, a kickass, take-no-prisoners master of ultraviolence. But while Kate Daniels spends her series slowly building a community for herself, learning to trust and love other people, Devi spends her series finding out that there is no community in the entire universe worth her trust. Or her sweat, or her blood--which she's spilled freely, full of faith in her king (she's a mercenary, not a soldier, but very much a patriot).
I gobbled these two books up back to back. They are fun and action packed and full of crazy twists and turns. There's even a neat romance. But I still haven't read the last of the trilogy because as thrilling as these books are, by the end I was truly heartsick. I felt awful for Devi--I think I felt more disillusioned than Devi herself; she is way tougher than me--and although I doubt this trilogy will turn out to be a tragedy, I'm going to give myself some time to recover before I pick up book 3.
That being said, totally recommended.
Stephen King's On Writing
I've been reading more craft related books than usual lately. I think because I don't live within driving distance of three different RWA chapters anymore, so I'm making up for the shortfall of craft presentations by reading books.
I read Blake Snyder's Save the Cat a little while back. Despite having had almost the entire book explained to me by different people at different times, I found plenty to like.
On Writing is part memoir, with King looking through his life from childhood on and describing incidents that chart his growth as a writer, or shaped him as a writer. And there really is something in the book for every writer, at every stage of his or her career.
Beyond Shame by Kit Rocha
This turned out to be totally not what I expected. I knew, going in, that it would be dystopian erotica. I had the impression that it would focus on a community with really open sexuality and few boundaries. All of that was true.
But it's not an angsty tragic series--not like those orgies people would have during the Black Plague, living it up because death is around the corner. It's about a bunch of survivors accepting one another exactly as they are, because necessity has forced--or allowed--them to.
So, weirdly, instead of being a high-emotion read for me, it was more of a comfort read? Sort of reassuring like--no matter how bad things get, there will still be good people and sex.
Anyhow, I bought book two.