Tuesday, January 29, 2013

To Read: Jan/Feb 2013 SFF Releases & More

Lately I've read and reviewed more science fiction books than usual. I've also browsed through catalogues checking out new or old SFF books and as a result have been inundated with recommendations. A few of the new releases by new-to-me authors caught my eye and have been added to my "to read" pile.

In Print:

The Kassa Gambit by M.C. Planck
Release Date: January 8, 2013

Centuries after the ecological collapse of Earth, humanity has spread among the stars. Under the governance of the League, our endless need for resources has driven us to colonize hundreds of planets, all of them devoid of other sentient life. Humanity is apparently alone in the universe.

Then comes the sudden, brutal decimation of Kassa, a small farming planet, by a mysterious attacker. The few survivors send out a desperate plea for aid, which is answered by two unlikely rescuers. Prudence Falling is the young captain of a tramp freighter. She and her ragtag crew have been on the run and living job to job for years, eking out a living by making cargo runs that aren’t always entirely legal. Lt. Kyle Daspar is a police officer from the wealthy planet of Altair Prime, working undercover as a double agent against the League. He’s been undercover so long he can't be trusted by anyone—even himself.

While flying rescue missions to extract survivors from the surface of devastated Kassa, they discover what could be the most important artifact in the history of man: an alien spaceship, crashed and abandoned during the attack.

But something tells them there is more to the story. Together, they discover the cruel truth about the destruction of Kassa, and that an imminent alien invasion is the least of humanity’s concerns.
Ice Forged (The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga #1) by Gail Z. Martin
Release Date: January 8, 2013

Condemned as a murderer for killing the man who dishonored his sister, Blaine "Mick" McFadden has spent the last six years in Velant, a penal colony in the frigid northern wastelands. Harsh military discipline and the oppressive magic keep a fragile peace as colonists struggle against a hostile environment. But the supply ships from Dondareth have stopped coming, boding ill for the kingdom that banished the colonists.

Now, as the world's magic runs wild, McFadden and the people of Velant must fight to survive and decide their fate ...

From Gail Z. Martin, author of the beloved series THE CHRONICLES OF THE NECROMANCER and THE FALLEN KINGS CYCLE, comes a new fantasy adventure for the ages.

Welcome to the end of the world.
Welcome to the beginning of THE ASCENDANT KINGDOMS SAGA.

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff
Release Date: January 8, 2013

The city of Ludlow is gripped by the hottest July on record. The asphalt is melting, the birds are dying, petty crime is on the rise, and someone in Hannah Wagnor’s peaceful suburban community is killing girls.

For Hannah, the summer is a complicated one. Her best friend Lillian died six months ago, and Hannah just wants her life to go back to normal. But how can things be normal when Lillian’s ghost is haunting her bedroom, pushing her to investigate the mysterious string of murders? Hannah’s just trying to understand why her friend self-destructed, and where she fits now that Lillian isn’t there to save her a place among the social elite. And she must stop thinking about Finny Boone, the big, enigmatic delinquent whose main hobbies seem to include petty larceny and surprising acts of kindness.

With the entire city in a panic, Hannah soon finds herself drawn into a world of ghost girls and horrifying secrets. She realizes that only by confronting the Valentine Killer will she be able move on with her life—and it’s up to her to put together the pieces before he strikes again.
In my Kindle:

The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke
Release Date: January 29, 2013

“Cat, this is Finn. He’s going to be your tutor.”

Finn looks and acts human, though he has no desire to be. He was programmed to assist his owners, and performs his duties to perfection. A billion-dollar construct, his primary task now is to tutor Cat. As she grows into a beautiful young woman, Finn is her guardian, her constant companion… and more.

But when the government grants rights to the ever-increasing robot population, however, Finn struggles to find his place in the world.
On Pre-order in Print:

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
Releasing: February 5, 2013

You, dear reader, continue at your own risk. It is not for the faint of heart—no more so than the study of dragons itself. But such study offers rewards beyond compare: to stand in a dragon’s presence, even for the briefest of moments—even at the risk of one’s life—is a delight that, once experienced, can never be forgotten. . .

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.
2013 Sci Fi Experience
All the above books caught my interest for different reasons, but I absolutely LOVE the delicacy and beautiful details found in Todd Lockwood's illustration of the cover for A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent.

On the other hand, the book summary that just calls to me is that of The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke. That little sentence underneath the title,"A Tale of Love, Loss and Robots," sold me! That means that I will probably read this book first. 

Note I say probably above because with me you never know! The Kassa Gambit and Ice Forged look to be great adventures, and Paper Valentine a quieter mystery but totally out of my usually reading scope since it falls under young adult also looks great. I might just pick that one up first. Who knows? I will let you know soon. :D

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Human Division #2: Walk the Plank by John Scalzi

Wildcat colonies are illegal, unauthorized and secret so when an injured stranger shows up at the wildcat colony New Seattle, the colony leaders are understandably suspicious of who he is and what he represents. His story of how he came to their colony is shocking, surprising, and might have bigger consequences than anyone could have expected.
The second installment of John Scalzi's The Human Division serial Walk the Plank is quite different from the first, The B-Team.Scalzi sets this rather short piece (90 pages) in the wildcat colony, New Seattle where a young man and the rest of his shipmates land after having been made to "walk the plank" by space pirates.

This short story is set up to read like a transcript with four characters and the young man narrating events while the unauthorized wildcat colony leader makes decisions about the man's immediate future. Walk the Plank reads like a chapter in a book that will probably advance the overall storyarc, but doesn't necessarily stand well on its own, lacking the excitement and completeness of The B-Team. However, it gives the reader an idea of what to expect when it comes to ruthless actions and characters to be found in this world. I know that I'm already speculating about where Scalzi is going with this story and can't wait to read the next installment.
2013 Sci Fi Experience

Category: Science Fiction
Series: The Human Division
Publisher/Release Date: Tor Books/January 22, 2013
Grade: C

The Human Division #1: The B-Team


The Human Division is John Scalzi's new thirteen-episode novel in the world of his bestselling Old Man's War. Beginning on January 15, 2013, a new episode of The Human Division will appear in e-book form every Tuesday. Each episode is 0.99 cents.

Look for the new episode releasing tomorrow, January 29th. The Human Division #3: We Only Need the Heads.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Review: Unforgivable by Joanna Chambers

Unforgivable by Joanna Chambers
A notorious rake is about to make the ultimate faux pas—fall in love with his own wife.

Gil Truman has eyes only for the beautiful Tilly—until he is forced to marry plain, sickly Rose Davenport to reclaim the lands his father foolishly gambled away. After a disastrous wedding night tainted with his bitterness, he deposits Rose at his remote Northumbrian estate, soothing his guilt with the thought that she need never lay eyes on him again.

Five years after the mortifying wedding night that destroyed all her romantic fantasies, Rose is fed up with hearing second- and third-hand reports of Gil’s philandering ways. She is no longer the shy, homely girl he left behind, but a strong, confident woman who knows how to run an estate. And knows what she wants—her husband, back in their marriage bed.

Gil doesn’t recognize the bold, flirtatious woman he meets at a ball, with or without her mask. Yet he is bewitched and besotted, and their night together is the most passionate he has ever known.

But when he confesses his sins to the beautiful stranger, the truth rips open the old wounds of their blighted history. Threatening any hope of a future together.
I loved Joanna Chambers' debut novel The Lady's Secret where she managed to give that old cross-dressing heroine trope a new fresh twist, so I looked forward to reading her second foray into historical romance. In Unforgivable Ms. Chambers again tackles a well-known trope, this time it is the marriage of convenience.

Gil Truman's father gambles away the family's lands and properties, forcing Gil to marry the sickly and very young Rose Davenport to save them from ruin. Gil loves Tilly but marries Rose and after a terrible night together bitterly rejects and leaves her at his Northumbrian country estate for five years. During those five years Rose grows from an insecure young lady into a strong, beautiful woman who makes the best out of a raw deal. She is admirable, if too soft and easily forgiving of Gil. Gil, in the meantime, becomes a philanderer known throughout London for his multiple affairs and beautiful mistresses.

Rose wants a real marriage and decides to confront Gil personally in London, but when they first meet at a masked ball and Gil doesn't recognize her, Rose lies about her identity. Gil falls hard for this beautiful woman and the two have a short, passionate affair. Hurt after some truths surface, Rose retreats to the country without telling Gil the truth. Soon after Rose contacts Gil with news that brings him rushing to the country estate where he finds out that the woman he fell in love with was his own lying wife. After five long years, this neglected marriage finally gets a second chance, but can they get over the hurt feelings and bitterness?

I like Joanna Chambers' writing style and hope to enjoy more of her historical novels in the future. As a matter of fact, Unforgivable is a well executed romance. Unfortunately, I couldn't enjoy parts of this romance because of a personal disconnect with the unsympathetic male protagonist that did not change at the end. The female protagonist is portrayed as a woman of strength and a sympathetic, emotionally available character. I connected with her although under the circumstances I found her to be much more forgiving than expected.

Unforgivable is a quick read with excellent flow, and truthfully I read it in one sitting because I wanted to know what Gil was going to pull next. Gil is a superficial fool who initially has valid reasons to be bitter about how things turn out for him but errs by placing the blame on the wrong person, Rose, and unfortunately as the story moves along compounds that error with continuous bitterness and actions that make it tough to sympathize with him. It's interesting because this behavior continues even after he falls in love with Rose! Rose is forgiving and takes too much responsibility for the situation between them, particularly since Gil is pretty much intractable. Frankly Gil is more than a flawed character, he becomes irredeemable almost to the very end.

Unforgivable is a well written historical romance with a sympathetic heroine and what I think of as an "irredeemable" hero. The story is riddled with lots of angst and conflict and a too easy resolution with passion found in the middle of it all.

Category: Historical Romance
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Samhain/January 15, 2013
Grade: C+

Visit Joanna Chambers here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Human Division #1: The B-Team by John Scalzi

Colonial Union Ambassador Ode Abumwe and her team are used to life on the lower end of the diplomatic ladder. But when a high-profile diplomat goes missing, Abumwe and her team are last minute replacements on a mission critical to the Colonial Unions future. As the team works to pull off their task, CDF Lieutenant Harry Wilson discovers there's more to the story of the missing diplomats than anyone expected...a secret that could spell war for humanity.

The B-Team is a solid beginning to John Scalzi's latest episodic series The Human Division, based on his Old Man's War world-building. Earth has separated itself from the Colonial Union and human colonies are now vulnerable. There is even a possibility that without Earth's resources humans might become extinct. The Conclave or alien's own union is now a reality and ambassadors and negotiators instead of soldiers and armies become key at this point in the game. But there is someone out there who wants to prevent those negotiations from going forward and when an A+ diplomat's team and her ship are blown to smithereens there's no solution but to call in a B team to finish the job. Ambassador Ode Abumwe accompanied by CDF Lieutenant Harry Wilson and the rest of their team readily accept the danger-riddled job.

Scalzi imbues this installment with excellent science fiction atmosphere, peppers dialog with his signature snappy humor, danger, and some great little details that engage the reader throughout this episode. The Old Man's War world is immediately recognizable to those who have read that series as is recurring character CDF Lt. Harry Wilson. Overall characterization is a bit predictable at this point, and although there is an immediate payoff and exciting resolution to the conflict in this installment, the overall storyarc is just beginning. I can't wait to read the rest.
2013 Sci Fi Experience

Category: Science Fiction
Series: The Human Division
Publisher/Release Date: Tor Books/January 15, 2013
Grade: B


The opening episode of The Human Division, John Scalzi's new thirteen-episode novel in the world of his bestselling Old Man's War. Beginning on January 15, 2013, a new episode of The Human Division will appear in e-book form every Tuesday.

Look for the new episode releasing today. The Human Division #2: Walk the Plank

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Review: Taking the Reins by Kat Murray

Taking the Reins by Kat Murray
Taking the Reins by Kat Murray in a contemporary romance set in a ranch with a feisty heroine and a loner for a hero. This is my kind of romance.

Peyton Muldoon has been working the M-Star all her life. She inherits when her mother dies only to find out that her long absentee siblings Trace and Bea each co-own one-third of the ranch. She must get in touch with them to make big decisions but needs a horse trainer now. Redford Callahan is that man.

Red's reputation with ranch owners as a horse trainer is impeccable and now that he is free to accept a new contract he can pick and choose. His head tells him that accepting a job at the badly mismanaged M-Star is a mistake and shouldn't even consider it, not with the beautiful Peyton as its manager, but when Peyton personally offer him the job, his gut tells him otherwise. Red accepts, but knows he is in for a bumpy ride.

Peyton is one of those feisty heroines with a stubborn streak a mile long. She carries lots of personal baggage caused by neglect from a mother with a reputation too busy sleeping around with anything wearing pants and no knowledge of how to run a ranch, and a loving father who died too soon. To Peyton the ranch and family always come first and her needs come last, if that. She is attracted to Red big time! And slowly that attraction turns to lust and need. But she's not willing to trust or better yet place her reputation and that of the M-Star on the line for whatever it is that is going on between them. The ranch comes first.

Red on the other hand can't help but admire Peyton's hard work and business sense as well as her beauty. He lusts after her, yes, but everything about Peyton seems just perfect to him, even her feisty and sometimes over the top pride and stubbornness. Red falls in love with Peyton. He is a sweet and sexy man memorable for his patience and heartwarming nature -- because believe me, Red had to be patient with Peyton! The thing is that while working the ranch Peyton is the boss who rules (sometimes she's a bit too insecure about this point), but in bed Red and Peyton together are hot! I like how by the end this relationship slowly balances itself out in and out of bed.

Murray's conflict in this romance is mostly internal between the two protagonists, but aided in part by external circumstances. The internal conflict is excellent, creating the necessary push and pull or tension that makes the happy ending worth it at the end of a romance. The external conflict although used as a device to advance the storyline seemed weaker throughout with a predictable resolution.

Murray creates great atmosphere in this story by providing the necessary ranching details that place the reader right there on that barn with the horses. I really enjoyed that aspect of this novel. The secondary characters are also a contributing factor, although they do not take the focus away from the main couple. The ranch hands become more than just characters as do some of the townspeople, and Peyton's siblings Trace and Bea are key figures in this story that stay enough of a mystery in preparation for their own upcoming romances.

Taking the Reins by Kat Murray is a solid contemporary romance read. I enjoyed the pacing and writing style, but most of all the atmosphere and characters that Murray creates in this romance. Now I'm really curious to find out how cowboy Trace really ended up as a single father, and why Bea left behind her career as an actress and is now sneaking out on those midnight rides!

Category: Contemporary Romance/Western
Series: Roped & Wrangled #1
Publisher: Brava/January 1, 2013
Source: Kensington Publishing
Grade: B

Visit Kat Murray here.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Review: Wool Omnibus by Hugh Howey (Wool #1-5)

Wool Omnibus by Hugh Howey
Kindle Edition
Hugh Howey's Wool Omnibus contains five books or novellas from his Wool series. This is one of those books that lingered in my Kindle since last year but that happily turned out to be a great post-apocalyptic science fiction read. I devoured this book, over 500 pages, in a period of two very busy days! It was that engaging.

But what are these books about? They are all about life as it happens in an underground silo centuries after a catastrophic event prevents men from living above ground and the society that developed in this restricted space by using ingenuity and imposing restrictive laws. In this one silo you will find the wonder of humanity with all its cruelties, strengths, frailties and joys. Can you imagine maintaining a civilized society in such a restricted dark underground space? What rules do they have to follow to keep it that way?

I visualized this silo as a stationary space ship, underground instead of traveling through space, with a Mayor instead of a Captain, a Sheriff and Deputy instead of Security, and the head of IT instead of Systems. They are equipped with everything needed from the Supply department to food from farms, to a nursery for children and Mechanics to keep the silo functioning at full capacity. The details that Howey supplies about the running of the silos, without resorting to info-dumping, are fantastic.

There is order and there are rules for everything, from supplies requisitions to who is chosen to have children, to how funerals are conducted, and although 'outside' can be viewed by everyone it can never be mentioned or speculated about. Shhh.... talking about outside can get you thrown out of the silo to "clean." Cleaning is Howey's version of getting "spaced," except that the bodies disintegrate where everyone inside the silo can view the remains of the dead along with the dark, dusty tornadoes and the black clouds that hang over the old decaying city that hangs like a dead spectre on the background behind the small hill that faces the silo. Those bodies are a permanent reminder of what can happen if silo citizens wish or hope for more, what happens if they don't follow the rules.
After much deliberation, Mayor Jahns selected a pair of needles. She always chose carefully, for proper gauge was critical. Too small a needle, and the knitting would prove difficult, the resulting sweater too tight and constricting. Too large a needle on the other hand, and it would create a garment full of large holes. The knitting would remain loose. One would be able to see straight through it.  [...] she didn't even understand her own knitting, how if you made a knot, and if you did it right, things just worked out? Would she tell them it only took one snip for it to unravel? One cut, and you could pull and pull and turn that garment into a pile? -- Proper Gauge 
It all begins with the fantastic little novella, Wool. This novella about Sheriff Holsen and his wife Allison is what I think of as the "hook." It leaves the reader wondering. Why? It gives the reader a taste of Howey's post-apocalyptic world-building and it also grabs the reader by establishing an emotional connection with his characters. I never stopped feeling Holsen's presence, grief, love, hope and even my own fury as I read the entire book, not just this first novella. Featuring Mayor Jahns and Deputy Marnes, Proper Gauge serves to give the reader a real understanding of how the silo functions physically and hints at politically based undercurrents that may lead to a power struggle. Howey continues to build those emotional connections with his characters and features a subtle if heartbreaking and emotional star-crossed love story. I particularly love Howey's usage of knitting metaphors within the narration of Proper Gauge that carry on to subsequent installments and titles.

Here comes Juliette! A mechanic from the Down Deep turned Sheriff, Juliette knows nothing about dispensing justice. Juliette quickly becomes the catalyst of this piece as she digs for dangerous information and her curiosity leads to disaster. Casting Off is one of the best installments of this series and begins what I think of as the action, meat, and reveal segments of the series. This is where Howey's world-building expands to reveal what is festering in silo-world. Following, The Unraveling delivers and in some ways exceeds expectations. Juliette is a fantastic protagonist and in The Unraveling she not only continues as the heroine of the piece but I didn't want her off the page. It is tough trying to give you an idea of what happens here without giving away information that would spoil this series, but know that these episodes are the core of the series and for me, the best.

The Stranded is all about revelations. The revelations are significant, appalling, and make sense. It is in the execution of this last installment where I had a bit of a problem with the choppy narrative flow. Regardless, that is a small complaint on my part since the content is all that I expected and in some cases more. The ending is satisfying but, well... no ending. Howey leaves plenty of space for more Wool stories and further development of this world and these characters. At least I hope so!

CONCLUSION: Overall the Wool Omnibus is a great post-apocalyptic science fiction read. There is something to be said about reading these stories continuously so that they flow as one book instead of separate novellas, and there is a sense that this is one book. When it comes to content, I love the atmosphere created by Hugh Howey as humanity not only lives but thrives within the confined space of the silo which contrasts heavily with a sense of claustrophobia and horror heightened by the vast devastation and starkness when the 'outside' comes into view. Howey also highlights those contrasts by giving the reader a view of a human society that survives for centuries by feeling 'lucky' as the chosen while conforming to rules that have kept them living in ignorance and fear in a place where strength of character, hope, ideas, or differences are viewed as dangerous and criminal.

2013 Sci Fi Experience
I enjoyed the quick pacing, action, and mystery as it unravels, the combination of (what I think of as) almost regressive and advanced science fiction details that turn out not to be beyond a modern reader's understanding, as well as characters that come alive on the page. Most of all I appreciate the strong emotional connection that Howey establishes between the reader and those characters. Recommended.

Category: Science Fiction/Post-Apocalyptic
Series: Wool (#1-5)
Publisher/Release Date: Broad Rich Publishing/ January 25, 2012
Overall Grade: B+

Visit Hugh Howey here.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Book Discussion: Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey (Parts III & IV)

We had an absolute blast during the first part of our Group Discussion of Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey. I loved everyone's different perspectives as well as our shared views of the questions provided by our host Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings. Most of all I love everyone's enthusiasm! Here is the conclusion to our discussion.

1. The Threads are further explored and become very much the focal point in parts 3 and 4 of Dragonflight. What are your thoughts on the Threads in general and how do you feel these worked as an enemy vs. the traditional enemies you see in SFF novels?

Threads are and are not what I expected. They provide a bit of that science fiction flavor that I missed during the first section of the novel, and as an alien enemy Threads are not what I think of as traditional. I think of them as a silent, non-aggressive or non-threatening enemy that in the end proves to be deadly to the planet's environment and therefore to its people. In a way they remind me of acid rain (remember acid rain?).

I'm still hoping that the why behind the Threads or the reason they fall on Pern from the Red Planet will be explained at some point in this trilogy.

2. The science fictional concept of time travel becomes an important device in the later half of Dragonflight, how do you feel McCaffrey did in working time travel into the plot?

Now, the time travel device really caught my attention in this second half of the story. I love how McCaffrey takes that one moment, a discovery made as a result of a mistake, and develops it into a thread with such grand possibilities! It absolutely works for me. There was fear on my part that McCaffrey would come up with a deus ex machina type of solution to resolve the Threads crisis faced by Pern and Weyrleader F'lar, but I found her solution to be both creative and well woven in with the world-building.

3. Of the new characters introduced in this second half of Dragonflight, who did you like/not like and why?

My favorite character(s) from the second half of Dragonflight are Masterharper Robinton and Mastersmith Farandel. They both contribute much as secondary characters to this section of the story. Robinton won me over with that speech to the Holders during the Counsel meeting and Farandel's single minded focus on finding an answer to the demise of the fallen Threads was both amusing and admirable. F'nor, however, continues to be an overall favorite character for me. His loyalty and willingness to do whatever is necessary for the Weyr and F'lar further won my admiration, as did his warmth and connection with Lessa.

4. We talked about it in the first discussion and there is no way we can get away from it in Part 2: What are your feelings on the progression of the relationship between F'lar and Lessa throughout this second half of the book?

I can't help but admit that even through much of this second half of the story I still had issues with F'lar's character. I think that has a lot to do with the "mating" scene featured in the first half of the book which, although quickly glossed over by McCaffrey, has a strong 'no-consent' bitter flavor. Having said that, there is measurable growth for F'lar and Lessa as characters as well as in their personal relationship.

Lessa learns how to use her strength of character and power to become an intrinsic part of the Wyer and a contributing partner to F'lar as they each separately and together figure out how to fight the threats expected by Pern, and F'lar learns how to accept and appreciate Lessa as a smart, viable partner. They both come to love each other as mates and lovers exhibiting passion and tenderness. This surprised me a bit after the beginning of the relationship, but in the end it worked.

5. And finally, what is your overall assessment of Dragonflight? How does it measure up against other classic science fiction you've read? Would you recommend it to modern readers, why or why not?

Dragonflight has a bit of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde feel to it. The first part is quite spare in characterization and world-building, with a lack of flow and cohesiveness alleviated as the story moves along, and gender issues that push buttons and then some, while the second half of the story is all action adventure, bright and shiny with action. The world-building is expanded and the characters grow enough, with those worrisome gender issues shrinking until there is hope and an expectation of more from the author in the second book. As I mentioned in my first post, I do believe the fact that the first part of Dragonflight was first edited as a novella and later incorporated with other novellas to create this book has a lot to do with this inconsistency.

As a classic science fiction yarn with gender issues specific to the times Dragonflight was written, it is always tough to judge how modern readers will interpret a book like this one. It all depends on the reader. I personally find the book light on the science with more of its strength geared toward fantasy. Regardless of its weaknesses and/or strengths, I do believe that the old world atmosphere of Pern with its dragons, dragonriders, and craftsmen is one that appeals to me today, and I believe will continue to appeal to modern readers in the future.

Book Discussion: Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey (Parts 1 & II) 

Thank you Carl for hosting this fun discussion. I've had a wonderful time reading the book and participating in the discussion.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

TBR Review: Within Reach by Sarah Mayberry

There are many 2012 releases gracing my TBR at the moment. At this point, quite a few of them make up what I'm calling my "regrets list" -- books I regret not reading last year. Well, Within Reach by Sarah Mayberry, a book I purchased as soon as it released but for some reason never read, is definitely one of them. Was it that very bland lavender looking cover? Or was it the predictability of the blurb that did not set this book apart for me?

Being a single dad was never on Michael Young's agenda. Yet with the sudden loss of his wife, that's exactly the role he has. On his best days, he thinks he can handle it. On his worst... Luckily, family friend Angie Bartlett has his back, easily stepping in to help out.

Lately, though, something has changed.

Michael is noticing exactly how gorgeous Angie is, and how single she is. She's constantly in his thoughts and he feels an attraction he never expected. Does he dare disrupt the very good thing they have going? If they have a fling that goes nowhere, he stands to lose everything - including her. But if they make it work, he stands to gain everything!
Whatever the reason, I should have known better from my experience with Sarah Mayberry's writing style and enjoyment of her SuperRomance stories, not just those from Harlequin's Blaze line. I know that she has the ability to turn a long-used plot device that reeks of predictability into an emotionally charged contemporary story about people -- friends, family, and lovers -- that become more than two-dimensional caricatures on the page. I absolutely love that aspect of Mayberry's writing, particularly since she can achieve this... "magic" in a short format.  Of course, that's exactly what happens in Within Reach.

The story's main plot device is riddled with a big romance taboo -- the best friend who falls in love with her dead friend's husband and vice-versa, and the reader gets to meet this best friend in all her glory before she dies. A no-no if I ever heard of one. Angie Barlett's BFF Billie dies suddenly leaving two small children and a heartbroken and grieving husband behind. Ten months later Angie realizes that Michael's grief has taken a turn into such a deep depression that the children are also affected. Billie would not have wanted that at all, so Angie takes charge and with a loving but tough hand tells Michael he needs to shape up fast.

Michael is a great father and reluctantly takes her advice. The two slowly become real friends fond of each other, backing each other up in times of need and talking about their daily concerns. Michael in particular comes to depend on Angie as she makes herself available to help with the children's care when he returns to work. In return, he helps Angie by providing a space in his home when she needs a studio for her jewelry-making business. But all that close contact leads to Angie slowly becoming aware of Michael as a man, and eventually Michael begins to see Angie as a woman. They are both horrified and initially deny the attraction. Angie feels like she is betraying her best friend and Michael feels like he's cheating on his wife just by looking at Angie. They pull back from each other, but when the attraction turns to passion, will Michael forgive himself? Will Angie? Can they keep their friendship? What if it's more than passion?

This was such an emotional read! First because Mayberry actually introduces the readers to Billie and then because Michael and Angie's grief is palpable throughout the development of the romance. When I first began reading this romance and met Billie I didn't think there was any way that I would be able to connect with Angie as Michael's romantic partner, but Mayberry works this relationship beautifully by digging deep into these two people's grief and then developing a true friendship, so that eventually the passion and love that emerges becomes inevitable and acceptable to the reader. There is just no other answer but for Angie, Michael and his children to become a happy family.

Did I mention passion? I couldn't believe how carnal and steamy this romance becomes in the midst of all the emotional and guilty baggage that Michael and Angie carry around. Steam, heat and chemistry abound once this couple gets together and yes, this is surprising particularly for an angsty SuperRomance.

Problems? Yes.... I did have a nagging problem at the end there. I loved that Angie and Michael found happiness together, a love made up of true friendship and passion where Billie's memory could live without being ignored or resented. But.... as much as I loved Billie, I wish (and this is my personal preference) that Michael and Angie had time to enjoy more of that romance, that passion and love without Billie's ghost haunting them. The book ends when that lovely relationship is about to begin... a much deserved happy ever after.

Within Reach is a beautifully developed, meaty contemporary romance with some amazing character development and a subject matter that may push buttons, but that Mayberry works with a deft touch. If you haven't read it yet, please don't wait, it's worth the read.

Theme: Shorts
January 2013
Category: Contemporary Romance
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Harlequin SuperRomance/August, 2012
Grade: A-

Visit Sarah Mayberry here.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Andre Norton: Storm Over Warlock (Forerunners, Book #1)

"Storm Over Warlock"
Digital Edition
Storm Over Warlock by Andre Norton (1960) is the first book in the Forerunner series.

Shann Lantee is an undersized young Terran who clawed his way out of poverty and an abusive society in Tyr to make the Survey Corps. His lack of education leads to what most team members think of as a menial job in Survey, that of taking care of the genetically altered animals traveling with the team as they prepare planet Warlock for settlement by humans. Lantee, however, sees his role in Survey as a step up, and just being at Warlock is a matter of personal pride. Warlock is the second planet in the Circe star system, surrounded by the Witch and Wizard planets, both uninhabitable to men because of their environment.

Norton begins this adventure with danger and action as Lantee helplessly witnesses how the beetle-like Throgs, attack and wipe out all men at Survey's camp before they are able to place a security net around the planet, leaving him as the sole human survivor. Lantee left camp during the night to track down his ever-exploring wolverines, but now he's both scared and frustratingly furious. The survival instinct kicks in as he and his wolverines go into the Warlock wilds. Lantee's childhood experiences serve him well when forced to use survival instincts and abilities and his confidence soars, but soon he encounters his idol, Survey Officer Ragnar Thorvald, who made his way back onto the planet for reasons of his own, and all that confidence vanishes. Lantee, Thorvald and the wolverines set off toward the sea, but between the Throgs' relentless pursuit and those dreams plaguing both men, will they survive the trek? What about the rumors about an indigenous population? Could they be true?

This story with two men and a couple of genetically enhanced wolverines as sidekicks surviving the elements and fighting enemy aliens on an unknown planet, while exploring a new unknown alien culture definitely falls under the young adult space adventure category for me. This being a Norton young adult novel, I'm finding that it has something in common with the few I've read so far. The young man central to the story sets out to find the truth about the planet and in the process ends up finding the truth about himself.

The uber-alien Throgs are portrayed as a race of thieves and killers who cannot produce their own technology so they kill men to obtain theirs. There is also no negotiating with Throgs, so that having no redeemable qualities these aliens are therefore deserving of nothing less than total annihilation. This is a familiar thread found in military sci fi from earlier years but I'm not surprised to find it here. On the other hand there is mention of another alien race that stands out in my mind for several reasons. This section was complex and well executed by Norton, but unfortunately I can't say more about it without giving away spoilers.

Original Print Cover -- Ace 1960
I really enjoyed the wolverines, and the flora and fauna details included in the novel are just excellent. Written in 1960, this young adult story has males as central characters and a dated atmosphere (needle point rocket as a space ship for men and plate-like for the aliens), and although there is a lot of action, for some reason this story did not keep me engaged for long periods of time. Lantee's back and forth between adoration and resentment of Thorvald became a bit exhausting, as did Thorvald's outward contempt and lack of recognition of Lantee's abilities. Did these two ever really bond? They did, but how did they get there? Sometimes I wondered. . . but you'll have to read the story to find out.

Covers: I really like the cover used for the digital collection Visions of Distant Shores featuring a female robot with a wistful expression on her face. However, I couldn't pass up featuring the original colorful illustrated print cover with the handsome young man pointing his blaster and holding a wolverine, the pointy rocket taking off on the background and the menacing bug-like Throg and elongated figure further back. That cover was just perfect for this story.

Best Quote: "The improbable we do at once; the impossible takes a little longer." Ragnar Thorvald. 

Forerunner Series:
Storm Over Warlock (1960)
Ordeal in Otherwhere (1964)
Forerunner Foray (1973)
Forerunner (1981)
Forerunner: The Second Venture (1985)