Reread Mode

I am currently on a rereading binge. But again, being the occasionally brainless person I am, I completely forgot how many books are in this series. Probably because I only have the first few in print and the rest are digital. I had wanted to get them all read again before the new book came out. I have just started on book 9 of 13 and the new book came out a few days ago so I am way behind.

Continue reading “Reread Mode”

Quietly Reading

While I have still been reading, I’ve just kind of been off to the side, doing it quietly.  Partly because there have been quite a lot of things going on that have kept me too busy and partly because I just haven’t had much to say about what I’ve read recently, no matter if it was really good or not so good.  I have still been updating my reading list on Goodreads with ratings, but I haven’t written any reviews recently.

I’m in kind of a reading funk lately.  It isn’t that I haven’t read anything good, but I want to find something new that really grabs me and I haven’t found that yet.  I have my handful of very favorite authors that I anxiously await anything new they put out because I know, without a doubt, that I’m going to love it.  Sadly, that is only a very small handful of authors that fall into that category.  I’d made it something of a goal last year to find a new one, but it didn’t happen, which I thought was really surprising as I figured it couldn’t be too hard with as much as I like to read.

Kind of like having a food craving, but not having the right food around to satisfy it, I’ve been reading all kinds of things to try and figure out what I feel I’m missing, even doing a bit of rereading a few books here and there.  There have been a few times I thought I’d touched on it, but it never really quite hit the mark.  Not sure if it is the sheer volume of books I read and I’m just getting bored or if it is that I genuinely want something I haven’t run across yet, but most of my reading hasn’t been all that satisfying lately, even if I have read some good ones.

I’ve even been shuffling books to the bottom of my reading list, or having to recheck them out later because I didn’t get to them in time, because even though I do want to read them, I’m just not in the mood at the moment for most of what is on my list.  Not a fan of the current slump, but it isn’t like it will be much of hardship getting over it, because… books, reading… yeah, not like you’ll have to twist my arm or anything.

Thoughts on Reading and Writing: What Are Your Favorites and Why

This post has been pestering me for a while, but I’ve struggled to get it written because there are just so many different things to say and ways to say it that its hard to narrow it down below a novel level.  I initially thought this would be more about authors’ writing styles and creation processes or about character building and development or what makes a great writer stand out from just a good writer, but you have to note all of those things and more to really get to the meat of the subject.

Almost all of my reading material comes from the library, usually Kindle or ePub versions and only a very few am I willing to spend money on from my limited book buying budget.  Those are books written by authors that have proven time and time again to be exactly what I love and crave in a great story.  If I bought every book I wanted to read, I’d read myself right into the poorhouse, so I only buy what I know I’m going to love.

I have found that I like a pretty large variety of subjects and genres (all within the fiction realm) when it comes to reading, but I rarely love anything to the point where I know I’m going to read it over and over again.  It takes an extremely special and unique combination set of things to push any book near that coveted Favorite rating for me.  I will give a book a 5 star/Excellent rating, but it still won’t make it onto my Favorites list but even that is a pretty rare occurrence.

If you look at that list, I have quite a few, but in comparison to the total number of books I’ve read over the years, it is an extremely small percentage.  What there is is almost exclusively books that fall into the Fantasy genre.  I really do love a great book that involves the impossible, magic and shifters and worlds that are not the one we live in.  Where people are capable of things that we can only dream about. There are a crap ton of books out there that have all those things in their stories, but the ones that are truly awesome are the ones that are capable of making all that impossible real.

I’ve read a handful of interview questions or FAQs from a variety of different authors over the years and I noticed something that seems to be a common thread among my all time favorite authors that doesn’t appear to be there for authors that don’t make that list.  That is that their characters are real to them.  They have lives.  They have opinions.  They have discussions with the author.  They will have an all out hissy fit if the author tries to push them in a direction the character doesn’t want to go.  They are, in essence, real.  In just about any other group of the population, if someone said that they have voices talking in their heads they’d end up medicated and in a hospital somewhere.

At one point, I kind of thought that was some serious crazy talk until I was forced to understand it after making several custom pieces for clients that, while not quite so out and out words and conversations with me, had some seriously strong opinions as to what they were going to be.  I finally, really, truly got it at that point because those ended up being not only some of my favorite pieces, but some of my best.

I’ve compared authors to artists before and that is what they are, their medium is the written word instead of paint or clay or metal or some other physical, tangible medium.  Like musicians use notes and instruments, writers use words to paint their pictures and the most talented ones pull you so thoroughly into their pictures that you are living them right beside the characters.  It isn’t just characters, though.  Those are vivid, vibrant, deeply layered and complex beings that you know exist even if they really don’t.  The worlds they live in are just as rich and cultivated that, as a reader, there is very little need to truly imagine it because it has been painted is such detail it is hard to miss.  When I read a book, that is what I want.  I want the full experience.  I want all of my senses engaged, not just my eyes and my imagination.

It has been something of an unofficial goal this year to find at least one new author to add to my Favorites list.  I have yet to find one because there are so very few that seem to write to that level that I’m looking for.  So many authors write for quantity rather than quality and there are so very many that are cookie cutter or formula writers that it is amazing there are any decent books at all.  They aren’t awful writers at all, don’t get me wrong.  They just are the bare effort, riding on previous success writers that aren’t willing to put in the extra needed to make something great.  They are okay with just being okay.

I can’t begin to tell you how many books I’ve read that were so obviously in that cookie cutter/formula crowd.  The first book or two by an author you read, you may not notice and it is easy to think that you might have found something good, but then you read a few more and realize how wrong you are.  At one point, I actually watched my percentage mark as I read and found that the author I was reading literally had points where certain things had to happen in their story.  20% would have the first sexual event, 50% would have say some major drama point, 80% would have the big misunderstanding/breakup/separation and 90% would have the miraculous make-up and lets live happily ever after before the end of the book.  The only real differences would be the basic specifics like names, places personalities and scenario details.  It was like reading some plug and play book.  Ever since then (and after having something similar happen several more times), I’ve become leery of reading what I call bulk authors.  Again comparing to other types of art, it is like seeing mass produced costume jewelry sitting next to a custom, handmade piece.  You are going to notice a difference.

While I get hugely frustrated that my favorite authors don’t produce at a higher rater, I’m also extremely glad that they don’t because that means I’m still going to get awesome when they do put something new out.  It usually takes time to produce something amazing.  Look at pregnancy and gourmet cooking and gemstones like diamonds, they don’t come quick and easy.  Like fast food and quick meals, as a reader I’ll read those mass produced authors because I like to read and sometimes something that isn’t quite so full and rich is called for, but that doesn’t mean those will ever be read more than once or earn a spot on the Favorites list.  I will keep looking as I do want a broader range of authors I wait rather impatiently for new material, the ones I’m willing to spend my very limited buying budget on.  The rest, I’ll see you at the library during those long waits.

Thoughts on Author Kristen Ashley

Reading Heaven and Hell, by Kristen Ashly opened my eyes to something that has been bugging me with the last several KA books I’ve read.  It took a while because I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but with this book, I finally figured it out.

While she writes these amazing, badass alpha males, they are all pretty chauvinistic.  It is most often done in such a way that they are still damn hot and sexy, which is one of the things that kept bugging me because I don’t find that kind of behavior sexy.  There are parts of all of these alpha males that I absolutely adore, but a lot of times, that gets pushed to the side because of the attitude.  The female characters also have their own issues that I don’t normally like and how they act and respond to those alpha males really emphasizes that chauvinism.

When taken as a whole, the majority of female characters in KA books, while spunky, quirky and, on the surface, pretty cool, they are also most often the stereotypical heroine that ultimately needs someone to take care of her and rescue her.  They also often seem like they are bordering shallow and flighty.  No matter what strengths she may have, she is rendered weak when put up against these serious alpha males.  They talk over the female characters, are almost always right and have some reasonable, rational, logical response to every concern that the females may raise, making them seem irrational, over reacting, or even bitchy and that makes those thoughts, feelings or concerns seem frivolous.

As a standard (and there are exceptions to every rule), the female characters are the ones to compromise or give in.  Heaven and Hell is a good example of that as really the only compromise the male character allows in the entire story is the biggie in the end.  Sure, it is huge and important, but the smaller, every day compromises are just as important as the biggies.  Again, not always, but so often these books seem to be carried on the solid personality of the alphas, even if they are chauvinistic, and only a bit on the quirky of the females.  There just aren’t that many female characters that come across as truly strong.

This creates a power imbalance in the relationships between the male and female characters.  Not once have I read a KA book where there is a true balancing of that power.  When it comes to the “man’s world” aspects of the relationships it is always the man’s way or the highway with zero room for compromise.  I am not usually a fan of this huge divide between men and women in romance.  I see no reason why you can’t have these amazing, protective alpha males that still balance and support the strengths of the females, making them stronger instead of making them seem weak and unable to stand alone while also not emasculating or lessening the power of that alpha male because she would in turn balance and support him.

So why is it that I have, and still mostly do, love Kristen Ashley?  In a lot of ways, it isn’t the characters, as I’ve seen often enough, there are lots of aspects that I don’t like about her characters, yet I still love them.  It is the way she writes them, infusing them with huge, gut snagging emotions that make them so incredibly real.  The histories she wraps those characters in and the fact that they are so far from perfect they can only be human makes it impossible not to connect with them.

It is because of the realism and beauty that she manages to weave into every story that I keep coming back and why I still love the stories even if I don’t always love the characters or what they represent which kind of makes me hate that I like them in the first place.  There is such a uniqueness to her style and how she writes that just draws you in no matter what.  That is kind of difficult for me to understand.  How can I love a story but not so much the characters, even sometimes when I feel like the story may be missing something?  It doesn’t seem rational or logical, but it just is.

The last several KA books that I’ve read have been really difficult for me to rate and review because there are quite a few things that I love and hate about them so it is incredibly hard to figure out where it falls in the grand scheme of things.  I’d have to say that I’d still rate Kristen Ashley as my favorite romance author because what she writes always hits strong.  I’d even say that a few of her characters are some of my favorites, but I don’t actually like her characters (at least parts of them) most of the time.

It’s kind of crazy, but even with the things that I’m not such a fan of, I’ve yet to find another romance author that I like they way I do Kristen Ashley.  It would be beyond awesome to get the kinds of characters I know I’d love wrapped up in the kinds of stories KA writes, they way she writes, but that is probably expecting something like perfection and not even our favorite authors are capable of that.

Thoughts on Reading and Writing: Male vs. Female Authors

Most everyone has preferences when it comes to reading.  Those may be the genres and subgenres they lean towards, paperback/hardcover vs. ebook, specific authors or even writing styles.  Another big preference potential is male or female authors.

Male and female authors very often write from differing or even contrasting world views.  As I mentioned in a previous post on perspectives, readers bring their life experiences into what they read.  Authors do the same thing when writing a book.  Since men and women have very different struggles and obstacles in their lives, their base level life experiences are going to be different, so how they approach the stories and characters they create are also going to be different.

It has been my experience that, as a woman, I struggle to connect with books that are written by male authors.  I can absolutely enjoy them and appreciate the artistry that is behind those stories, but I have yet to find a male author that inspires me to be watching impatiently for their next book release.

I have found that books written by male authors (though I must say that my sampling is on the narrow end and really only range in a few genres) tend to focus more on action than emotion.  The big, exciting parts of those books fall heavily into that range.  When there is an emotional context, it is often times harder to actually grasp the emotion the author is trying to impart because it comes from a different perspective than mine.  It is also more of a punctuation to different points of their stories rather than a threaded part of the cohesive whole.

A female author tends to have that emotional thread underlying and permeating everything.  When a reader sees a character developing, that character’s thoughts, actions and personality is woven in along with their feelings about themselves and everyone around them.  This applies to male and female characters.

Male and female authors usually portray their male and female characters differently.  What a woman sees as important or appealing aspects to her male and female characters is often going to be different than what a man sees for those same characters.  While both tend to either overtly or subtly objectify the opposite sex in their characters, women are more likely to emphasize non-physical or imperfect physical traits in their characters.  I think that they are also more willing to place both women and men on equal or at least balanced footing.

Author Kim Harrison posted similar thoughts on male vs. female author character representation on her FB page.

There will always be exceptions to every rule, but in the broader spectrum, these generalities tend to run true from what I’ve noticed.  I can admit that I’m biased here as I prefer a female author and often will skip even reading the blurbs of books that are obviously written by male authors.  I know that I have a better chance of connecting to how the female authors have written their stories and portrayed their characters as they are coming from a similar world view and life experience.  This absolutely is not always the case, but it is often enough to allow that to impact my reading choices.

That doesn’t mean that I am a staunch male author hater.  I will read something if it looks appealing.  I am always on the search for new favorite authors to add to my collection.  I just haven’t found one that gets to me yet.

 

Thoughts on Reading and Writing: Perceptions

It is easy as a reader to think that when you open that book, you are starting with this blank space that the book fills completely.  That the book will succeed or fail entirely on its own merits.  That is great in theory, but theory and reality rarely ever travel along the same path.  In this, the theory breaks because while the book may be a blank slate, the reader is not.

We each bring our own issues, experience and history onto that slate before we ever even glance at the cover.  Our own well covered slate has us beginning to form thoughts and expectations on that first glance before the spine is even cracked.  It is impossible to not let our slate color the slate of the book.

Our slates help us to form opinions and perceptions about what we are reading.  It is what helps us to like characters, plot elements, settings, everything that make up that book.  It is also what can make us dislike all those same things if they don’t fit into our personal version of the perceptions we form.

A book may connect on a seriously deep emotional level with a reader that has a personal experience that resonates with the subject in the book.  While that same book may be incredibly unemotional to a reader that their own history doesn’t give them the background to create any kind of a bridge between them and the book  to help them empathize.  The second reader may still be able to enjoy the book, but they just won’t be able to connect in the same way or on such an emotional level.

As  reader, I try to keep in mind what my own slate has written on it and attempt to understand how a person with a different history may view a story that I’m struggling to connect with.  There are times when my imagination just isn’t good enough to stretch that far, but sometimes, I can get a different perspective on a story and understand it on a different level.

I find it fascinating to look at how differing perceptions form peoples opinions with regards to books.  There are times when I’m floored after I’ve read a book that I thought was stunningly written only to then go read how other people have reviewed that book and find out that they completely hated it.  A lot of times, if the review is well articulated, I can totally understand how someone might feel that way.  I many not agree, but I can understand it.  Other times, I’m on the opposite end of that concept when I’ve found a book I really didn’t like that is heavily praised.

Understanding how my perceptions influence my opinion has also helped me learn to articulate what or why I like or dislike certain aspects of the books I’ve read.  It still isn’t always easy, not by a long shot, but it does help.  Eh… sometimes.

Coming in May and Update

Current reading stats
New: 138
Re-reads: 28

How I choose the next book to read often depends on how many books are on my To Read list.  The fewer I have available, the more time I have before they are due back (if they are checked out of the library) and I will often just pick the one I’m most looking forward to.  The more I have on that list, with some getting close to their due date for return, I will pick up the one with the closest due date.

After finishing a book the other day, I went to look at all the books I had checked out and on my To Read list to decide which one I wanted to start next. I had quite a few on that list and was really torn because the bottom couple just weren’t books I was all that excited about starting because I wasn’t thrilled by the previous book in the series.  I ended up just going with one that I was way more excited about, thinking I had a bit more time to get to the others before I had to return them.

After doing this a few times and looking at my Coming Soon list of books that are getting released in the next month, I realized that Michelle Sagara’s next House War book, Oracle,  was due out on May 5th.  It has been a bit since the last release in this series and I thought it might be a good idea to do some re-reading.  IF I could get my To Read list under control enough that I’d be able to have time to do that.

Unfortunately, I had a ton of books on that list and a whole crapton on my hold list that would be coming available at random times along the way.  I finally decided that if I kept skipping over those bottom list books, then maybe I should just not bother with them all right now.  I ended up returning a bunch of books to the library so I could focus on the ones I was actually really excited about.  If I get really bored, then I’ll consider checking them out again at some point in the future.  Then again, I may not.  Seems I’m having difficulty finding the time to read all the ones I’d really like to at the moment, so why waste that time with the ones I’m just not all that jazzed about?

Besides, a Michelle Sagara book will ALWAYS take precedence over any other book.  Well, unless it is an Anne Bishop book.  I honestly don’t have a clue what I’d do if those two authors ever released a book at the same time.  Fingers crossed that I’m never quite that lucky.

Even after pairing it down, I still seem to have too many on that list.  If I truly want to have the time to re-read all the connected books from the House War series (that is an awful lot of reading because it connects with both the Sacred Hunt books and the Sun Sword series), I’m going to have to pair it down quite a bit more.  I may have to settle for re-reading just the House War books for now.

No matter what I choose, there is going to be a lot of reading in my future.  As if that is any different than any other day.  😉

 

Key Essentials to a Great Romance Novel

A great romance novel is something that tugs at the heartstrings, yanks on the readers emotions and draws them into the story.  It is an escape and, in some cases, a hope that honestly great romances do happen.  There are several things that a story needs to have to become a truly great romance novel, essentials that really help connect a reader to the story emotionally.  Those essentials are some of the primary aspects that make a real romantic relationship work.

Honesty
Yes, authors often use secrets and the withholding of information as a way to create tension and drama.  As long as you give a strong reason why that honesty isn’t happening, then it can work.  It can also work if it is one of the struggles the characters are dealing with and trying to do better at.  If it is not present just because, as a whim or because the character is ignorant, oblivious or just completely insecure, you had better do a really good job writing a story that makes those issues work or the integrity of your characters can fall apart and end up seeming stupid or week.

Trust
Trust ties in closely with honesty.  If your characters can’t be honest with each other, then the trust is going to be really hard to work with.  Absolutely, trust should be earned.  When you don’t take the time to build and develop that in the relationship, then it doesn’t come across as believable.  The characters are either blindly trusting, which can make them seem painfully naive, or they just never trust at all.  When you have a character that is so completely unwilling to build that trust or is unbending in their distrust of their romantic partner, no matter the actions or honesty the other has displayed, then that makes your character seem harsh, cold, uncaring or even something of fool.

Equality/Balance/Compromise
What is good for the goose is good for the gander.  All parties in the romantic relationship should have the same rights and expectations of behavior, otherwise there is a huge double standard allowed and things can get really ugly.  If one part of the romantic couple gets upset about the behavior of the other, don’t have that one turn around and do the exact same thing and not allow the same kind of fallout to be addressed or dealt with.  All parties should have to compromise and develop or the relationship isn’t balanced and won’t appear very realistic.  You cannot have only one person expected to or be making all the changes or taking the difficult steps or having to deal with the difficult decisions.  That just isn’t that realistic.  Even though we are buying into the fantasy of the story, it still needs to feel possible.

Growth/Change
Any good story is going to have some conflict, even in a really lighthearted story.  You cannot expect it to all be rainbows and rose petals and utterly, completely perfect.  On the other hand, the flawed characters, have to have growth as well.  In their situations, their personalities, even how they view the world around them or their belief in how relationships should work.  If you get to the end of the book and the characters are still the same as they started, then part of the point of the story got missed.  That goes for all characters, that whole equality/balance/compromise thing.

If the issues and conflicts within the relationship are the exact same ones throughout the entire book with zero progress toward improvement or change, the reader is going to get frustrated really quickly.  In a real relationship, if one or another of those in that relationship continue to keep making the same mistakes over and over, or continue to hurt their partner over and over again, eventually that relationship is going to break.  If it doesn’t, it isn’t a healthy relationship and that kind of defeats the purpose of a good romance.  You also cannot have it be the same throughout the entire book to only have the characters have a miraculous epiphany in the last chapter and all those problems are magically resolved.  It does take a bit of time to deal with and go through those changes.

Strong Characters
Make them flawed.  Make them imperfect.  Allow them to make mistakes, even big ones.  Allow them to feel insecure.  Allow them to be a little broken. Give them great personality.  Allow them to have emotions.  Just don’t make them so much of any one of those things that they are unlikable or that their attitudes and behaviors are just painfully unappealing.

If your character is confident in who they are on page 50, do not make them suddenly, for no reason, feel differently on page 120.  Don’t have your characters hate each other in the beginning, then have absolutely nothing change at all but they suddenly have the hots for each other.  Have motivations and reasons for the personalities you create and make sure they work together.  Back up any changes with specific and clear reasons.  It doesn’t work for someone to be a total badass, but is unable to function without someone holding their hand or cries at the drop of a hat.  A character can be conflicted, that is fine.  Don’t make them seem like they have multiple personalities, unless you are actually writing a multiple personality character.

There are always exceptions.  Different scenarios can allow for these aspects to not necessarily all be prominent in a story or allow for exceptions, but you have to have some hint of them.  Either that or have a great reason to allow for those exceptions to make a story work well.  Sure, you can produce an okay or even a good romantic story without some of those aspects, but chances are you aren’t going to be able to pull off that really great one without them on some levels.  The biggest thing that is going to make the difference between okay and great is believability.  You don’t want your reader laughing at your characters like they are that bad horror movie actor that does that obviously stupid thing that everyone knows is going to get them killed (because, come on!  Everyone knows you don’t look under the bed).

Besides providing entertainment, romantic stories can also often be a launching platform for how expectations begin to form in younger generations.  It is something of a peeve of mine for a romance novel to set an extremely bad example of what is okay in a relationship.  No, not all romance stories showcase healthy relationships.  The ones that are well written make sure it is pretty clear that the story is about a relationship that isn’t healthy.  Others that aren’t so well written can send the wrong message altogether, allowing impressionable or inexperienced readers to get the idea that some incredibly unhealthy, even harmful behaviors, attitudes and actions are actually okay.  Not much will drop a book onto my Don’t Like list faster than books that don’t make it clear that certain behaviors are unhealthy or worse, promote those ideas and behaviors.

Safe sex falls into that category.  I’ve mentioned it before.  There is zero excuse for an author to not include safe sex practices in their writing, with a very, very few exceptions like authentic representation of a time period and the rare time when a story warrants it.  Most authors are good about making it clear when an unsafe sex situation has occurred that the characters should have been safe/made better choices, but not all authors do this.  I personally respect the author and characters a lot more when they take the time to be responsible.

Oh, and for me?  A real romance has a happy ending.  That can be approached from a lot of different ways.  It doesn’t always mean a traditional Cinderella, happily ever after.  As long as, in the end, the characters are happier in themselves and/or their relationships or better off overall then it qualifies.

 

 

Spider’s Bite: Elemental Assassin, Book 1

Spider's BiteAuthor: Jennifer Estep
Book Name: Spider’s Bite
Series: Elemental Assassin
Order: #1
Rating: Really Good
Genre: Fantasy

Blurb:  My name is Gin, and I kill people.

They call me the Spider. I’m the most feared assassin in the South — when I’m not busy at the Pork Pit cooking up the best barbecue in Ashland. As a Stone elemental, I can hear everything from the whispers of the gravel beneath my feet to the vibrations of the soaring Appalachian Mountains above me. My Ice magic also comes in handy for making the occasional knife. But I don’t use my powers on the job unless I absolutely have to. Call it professional pride.

Now that a ruthless Air elemental has double-crossed me and killed my handler, I’m out for revenge. And I’ll exterminate anyone who gets in my way — good or bad. I may look hot, but I’m still one of the bad guys. Which is why I’m in trouble, since irresistibly rugged Detective Donovan Caine has agreed to help me. The last thing this coldhearted killer needs when I’m battling a magic more powerful than my own is a sexy distraction . . . especially when Donovan wants me dead just as much as the enemy.

Review: I have run across this series several times, but for some reason I just never actually read it and I have no clue why.  For all those times I skipped over it, I’m now wishing I hadn’t because this is a really good book.  I absolutely love how the author builds her story and draws the reader in.  I thoroughly enjoyed her characters and that they were beautifully flawed in such ways as to make them feel more real.  When you can sort of fall into the flow of the story itself without having anything drawing you away or distracting you, then you know that the author is truly an expert in their craft.

While the story is on the darker side, the main character is an assassin afterall, it isn’t so dark and ugly that the story isn’t also balanced out by the more positive, hopeful aspects of life.  I really enjoyed how the darker and lighter aspects of this story played together, especially within the personalities of the main characters.  It is a huge reason as to why they, and their relationships with each other, are so believable and realistic.

From this first book, I can say that this looks like it falls right into the type of series I enjoy reading.  Those that have self contained stories in each book, but holding on to that larger thread that spreads across the series.  So far, I think I’m going to really enjoy this series and these characters.

I think the only reason this didn’t rate the favorite/excellent rating from me is because I wasn’t quite so wrapped in it all that I was not ready to be done reading at the end, though I’m not certain that isn’t so much the lack of desire to leave the story’s world as it is the author’s ability to finish the story well.  I can say that it is a very close margin there, so maybe that will change with future books.

Full Blooded: Jessica McClain, Book 1

Full BloodedAuthor: Amanda Carlson
Book Name: Full Blooded
Series: Jessica McClain
Order: #1
Rating: Really Good
Genre: Fantasy

 Blurb: Born the only female in an all male race, Jessica McClain isn’t just different—she’s feared.

After living under the radar for the last twenty-six years, Jessica is thrust unexpectedly into her first change, a full ten years late. She wakes up and finds she’s in the middle of a storm. Now that she’s become the only female full-blooded werewolf in town, the supernatural world is already clamoring to take a bite out of her and her new Pack must rise up and protect her.

But not everyone is on board. The werewolf Rights of Laws is missing text and the superstitious werewolves think that Jessica means an end to their race. When a mercenary who’s been hired by the vampires shows up to extract information about the newly turned werewolf only days after her change, they find themselves smack in the middle of a war and there’s no choice but to run together. When it’s up to Jessica to negotiate her release against her father’s direct orders, she chooses to take an offer for help instead. In exchange, Jessica must now swear an oath she may end up repaying with her life.

Review: While I did like this book and the general storyline behind it, there were several things that bugged me about it and kept it from being a much better book for me.  For one, the blurb itself, which is what you need to read to figure out if you want to read the book or not, is actually a pretty big spoiler to the plot.  If you are going to write a teaser, please don’t give away one of the big surprises of the story in that teaser.

Every book needs background basics for the reader to understand the current situation/world/character history, especially books that are the first in the series.  What they don’t need, at least not if you don’t want to bore your readers, is dry, essay like descriptions that get dropped into the story just to get it out of the way.  I felt like the first couple of chapters were so fluffed full of this level of background that it took away from a lot of what was going on in the plot and made it a whole lot less interesting.  There are ways to introduce that information and keep the flow going and make it interesting for the reader to discover along the way.  This book dropped the ball in that regard.

The last, big issue for me is more a personal taste thing.  I much prefer stories that are either self contained or are the type that have small stories that fall along a much larger story arc across a series.  I am so not a fan of books with huge cliff hangers.  That is exactly what this book is.  It opened up several different plot lines and none of them were resolved by the end of the book.  I find that hugely frustrating.  When you get to the end of a story, it should feel like a reward, even if it is a little one.  You want to feel as though you have accomplished something or resolved something by the time you get to the last page, even if it is minor and I didn’t get that at all with this.

As I said before, I did like the general storyline despite the things that annoyed or frustrated me and, because of that, I’ve rated this as Really Good, but it is borderline.  I do have the next book in the series on my reading list, so I’ll see if I still feel the same with the next installment.

Dead Heat: Alpha and Omega, Book 3

Dead HeatAuthor: Patricia Briggs
Book Name: Dead Heat
Series: Alpha and Omega (in the Mercy Thompson World)
Order: #4
Rating: Really Good
Genre: Fantasy

 Blurb: For once, mated werewolves Charles and Anna are not traveling because of Charles’s role as his father’s enforcer. This time, their trip to Arizona is purely personal, as Charles plans to buy Anna a horse for her birthday. Or at least it starts out that way…

Charles and Anna soon discover that a dangerous Fae being is on the loose, replacing human children with simulacrums. The Fae’s cold war with humanity is about to heat up—and Charles and Anna are in the cross fire.

Review:  I really kind of wish that in my theme of re-reading books this year, I’d taken the time to re-read the rest of the books in this series before I’d read this one.  It has been too long since I read the last one that it took me a bit here and there to remember some of the things that had happened in previous books.

For me, even though I really did enjoy this book, it felt a bit slow starting out.  I really kind of think that is on me rather than the book, though.  I had to stop a couple of times to either try to remember an incident from previous books, or go and read the burbs to refresh my memory here and there.  Finding the right balance in too much or too little previous history in a book can be a hard line to find.  I don’t think that is an issue here, it is more that I just really, really need to understand what is in front of me whether it is critical to the story or not.  I don’t think that most readers would find this as slow to start as I did.

As with all the rest of the books in this series and in the Mercy Thompson series, this is another great story.  I have loved the dynamics in the relationship between the main characters, Charles and Anna, and this book continues to keep those dynamics interesting in the process of still giving the reader a great story outside of that relationship.  For a lot of authors, that is something that is really difficult to accomplish.  Most can pull off one or the other, but rarely both.  That is not a difficulty Patricia Briggs has, not by a long shot.

I love that the story resolves the immediate issue that arises with the missing children (I hate full on cliff hangers), but gives the reader some great insights into what is going to be happening next in this world, both the Alpha and Omega series and the Mercy Thompson series.

As of right now, the next book in this world is in the Mercy Thompson side and isn’t due out until 2016.

 

March Update and Upcoming in April

As of right now, my current book count stands at 112 new and 27 re-reads.  Seems that I am continuing with my theme of re-reading some of my favorites this year.  This month, I re-read one of my all time favorite series, Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of ElantraI probably should have read House War (another favorite) first as that is the series that has the next book out (May5), but I’m sure that is going to be the next on the re-read list.

I’m doing a lot of re-reading because I am STILL struggling to find new authors to read that I love.  Heck, I’d be thrilled with even just one at this point.  Sure, I’ve found a couple of new ones that I like, but I don’t love them and that is getting frustrating.  I have grabbed more new books lately that don’t just jump out and grab me when I read the synopsis on the off chance that something will spark when I read the actual book.  That hasn’t quite worked yet, but I’m still holding out hope.

Something I realized the other day is that I’m not actually writing very many reviews.  While I think it is probably impossible for me to write a review for every single book I read (my current average is about a book and a half a day, so that would be a bit much), I do think I should probably be writing up at least a few more than I currently am.  I didn’t realize how difficult it might be to write up something on a book that isn’t either awesome or awful and since I haven’t found much in the first category and try exceptionally hard to avoid the second, that doesn’t leave me with all that much to write about, so I’m going to work on that for next month.

April 7th brings the new release in the Jane Yellowrock series, Dark Heir.  I’ve got that one on pre-order and cannot wait to get it.  The 7th is also the release day for Diana Rowland‘s latest in the Kara Gillian Series, Vengeance of the Demon.  This one I don’t have on my To Buy list, but I am on the waiting list through the library.  So glad that I know I’ve got some things on my upcoming reading list to really look forward to.

Vision in Silver: The Courtyard of the Others, Book 3

Vision in SilverAuthor: Anne Bishop
Book Name: Vision in Silver
Series: The Courtyard of the Others
Order: #3
Rating: Excellent/Favorite
Genre: Fantasy

Yet again, Anne Bishop has managed to bring us another stunningly rich book so full of character that you cannot help but be sucked in.  I cannot say enough good things about this new addition to the series.

Vision in Silver continues the story of the Others.  We get to see all our favorite characters along with meeting a few new ones, which is always fun because of how packed full of personality Ms. Bishop creates her characters.

For one of the main characters, Meg, we get to see her continue to learn how to interact and function in the world around her, emphasizing that even though she is extraordinary because she is a blood profit, she is also exceptionally ordinary and makes mistakes just like everyone else.  One of the things that I love about her is that while what she does and who she is has major impacts on the world around her, it is in a way that is indirect.  She isn’t out there fighting or killing the bad guys with her super awesome powers like you see in so many other books.  She does it by being an example to everyone around her of how to be a better person just by being who she is and what she does.  That aspect of her character really stands out in this book.

While we see a heightened degree of bitterness, ignorance and hatred from some humans towards the terre indigene and the humans that try to keep the balance and peace in this book, we also get to see the friendship between Meg and Simon continue to grow and evolve.  We are definitely left on something of a high note by the end of the story, but that high note is balanced on the edge of what is promising to be really ugly times ahead.

As is typical with an Anne Bishop book, I was so not ready for it to end by the time I’d finished reading.  I wasn’t ready to leave that carefully and beautifully crafted world.  I am beyond anxious to get to the next one, even though I don’t think there is even a title listed for it yet, so that I can sink back into it again.  This one most definitely is on my favorites shelf!

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Can’t Wait! and Update for February

March 3 is the release date for the newest book in the the Courtyards of the Others series by Anne Bishop, Vision in Silver.  I’ve already got this on pre-order and will be getting started reading it as soon as it shows up on my reader.  Still going back and forth on trying to decide if I want to re-read the other two books in the series before it comes out as a refresher.  Gonna have to give that some thought.

So far this year, my book count stands at 78 new books and 15 re-reads.  Apparently this is going to be my year to go back and read some of my favorites again as I still haven’t really found a new author to grab my attention.  Not that I have much problem at all re-reading my favorites, they are favorites for a reason.

Along the Anne Bishop theme, I’ve re-read all the books in the Black Jewels world.  I’ve actually had times where when reading a book again after a while I realize that I don’t actually like it as well as I thought I had.  That is so not the case with that series.  I have a feeling it will be the same with the new Others series, so maybe I will go through with the refresher read after all.

 

Jason: Anita Blake Series, Book 23

JasonAuthor: Laurell K. Hamilton
Book Name: Jason
Series: Anita Blake
Order: #23
Rating: Mediocre/Didn’t Like
Genre: Fantasy/Romance

I really debated on whether or not I actually wanted to write this review.  I dislike saying or writing negative things, especially when it comes to something I normally would be raving about.  In this case, I just couldn’t help but say something.

I really didn’t like this book.  For so many reasons.  It was a huge disappointment.  It just did not live up to the existing standards set by the rest of this series. While we got to see some familiar and well loved characters, there just wasn’t a story in there at all.

I’m all for hot and steamy love scenes, no matter what combination of men and women, no matter how many are involved and in most cases, not even the level of kinky, when it is wrapped inside a great story.  Sometimes I’m even good to read something that is nothing but those steamy love scenes, story or not, but please, do them well.  Don’t make them fumbling and awkward.  I get that in real life, steamy doesn’t always come across as smooth, but come on.  When I read a book, a big part of the reason to do so is to live a bit in the fantasy that the author creates.  If you aren’t going to make it so that a reader can get sucked into what you are writing without being thrown out of whatever mood you are trying to create, then what is the point?  I’m pretty sure that in some ways, awkward was the tone that was trying to be set, but it was so wrong and so didn’t work, that for the first time ever reading an Anita novel, I was really tempted to put it down and not finish.  When I finally did finish, I was still wondering why I even bothered.  If you have to force yourself to finish a book, then why even consider reading the next one?

As a whole, I have really enjoyed the series thus far, but with this addition and a couple of the other more recent shorts and additions that I’ve read, I’m wondering how long I’ll continue reading the Anita Blake series as what I’m seeing lately just isn’t all that entertaining.  Like I said, I’m all for steamy, no matter what my own personal preference is.  It is like any other kind of art, while I may not like it personally, I can totally appreciate what goes into it and how someone else might enjoy it and can enjoy it from that perspective. But apparently, even in my reading and enjoying the fantasy from that other perspective, I do have limits to what I can find sexy, even peripherally.  Up until this, and I have read more than my fair share of all kinds of steamy, I hadn’t found that boundary.  Apparently I have been pushed past that and just couldn’t find what I’ve been reading sexy or interesting or entertaining in any way.

The only reason I didn’t rate this book as garbage was because I have liked this series and the characters so far and am hoping that this isn’t an indication of where the series is going from here.  I will be waiting until the next book is in the library rather than spending money on something I’m not sure will be any better than this one.  I am glad that is how I read this one because I do feel like it would have been a waste of money.  I’m sad to say, that if the next isn’t any better, it may just be the last.

 

Lady Luck: Colorado Mountain Series, Book 3

Lady LuckAuthor: Kristen Ashley
Book Name: Lady Luck
Series: Colorado Mountain Series
Order: #3
Rating: Excellent/Favorite
Genre: Romance

This wasn’t actually a new read for me.  I read it last year for the first time, but it is absolutely one of those that demands more than one read.

I first ran across Kristen Ashley last year when my library added parts of the Colorado Mountain series to their digital library.  While the series and author quickly became one of my favorites, this book in particular hit the top of the list.

While Lady Luck contains all the hallmarks that makes the series excellent… super hot badass dude, quirky, smartass sassy chick, steamy love and intense drama… for me this book really did hit all of that perfectly.  From the first book, I have fallen in love with the men Kristen Ashley creates and how they become so very real I cannot seem to get enough of them.  In this one, for some intangible reason, I was totally sucked in, more so than any of the others in this series.

Not sure exactly where on the scale this would land, but it is definitely up there in my all time favorites of all the books I’ve ever read.

Broken Soul: Jane Yellowrock, Book 8

Broken SoulAuthor: Faith Hunter
Book Name: Broken Soul
Series: Jane Yellowrock
Order: #8
Rating: Excellent/Favorite
Genre: Fantasy

This was another excellent addition to a favorite series of mine.  Since I’m kind of an instant gratification kinda gal, I don’t always like cliff hanger types of books.  While the Jane Yellowrock series doesn’t exactly do that, it does somewhat continue a larger story arch across the whole series while at least resolving the most current drama in each book.  Broken Soul continues this pattern.  It also added some interesting layers to the main characters while giving insight into a few that had been more peripheral in other books.

I love the main character in this series and am glad to see something going her way relationship wise in this book.  I do hope it continues into the next one.  I don’t like seeing characters constantly battling and never getting a break or finding any level of happiness or heck, even a few seconds to just breathe.  So far, Faith Hunter has played with that a bit in previous relationships in this series, but has still kept it on the positive side.  I’m absolutely looking forward to the next book!

Dark Heir, book 9, looks to be due out in April of this year.

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How I Rate Books

There are several things that I believe will either make or break a book with tiny variations along the way being the only difference between a good book and one that is awesome.  Or… along the other spectrum, awful.

I categorize books based mainly on whether or not I’d be willing to spend the money on the book, or as is most often the case as I read the majority of books from the library, if it is worth re-reading (which that list has become incredibly narrow as of late). This type of book is one that I will read multiple times, has such great content that I find myself so absorbed in the story that I’m so disappointed when the book is over because I want more.  These are the books that are in my all time favorites list.  There is a big divide between this level and the next because there just aren’t many at all that will land in the top.

The next level is where a book is really good; excellent story/characters/world, but isn’t quite unique or special enough for me to want to take the time out of reading new material to want to read it again.  It would definitely be something I’d recommend to others if asked.

Editing is something of a peeve of mine and can actually make the difference between a good/mid-level book and a great book.  For me, if the story is excellent and I’m reading along and there is a glaring editing mistake, it trips me up.  I have to stop, usually re-read to try and figure out what was actually meant before I can move on.  This disrupts the flow of a book and bugs me to no end.  I don’t always know if those great books are just exceptionally well edited or if the story is just so amazing my mind skims over whatever mistakes are there, but the times it is noticeable can really effect where I place a book on my good/bad scale.

There will always be that mid-level book that is okay, but to me seems like a replay of every other storyline out there.  It may have mostly decent writing, but often one major aspect seems weak or not well thought out or fully developed.  I wouldn’t consider them a waste of time, but are right there on the border.  Cookie cutter writers eventually fall into this category, no matter how much I may have liked the first book or so.  There are only so many times you can read the same story with only slightly different characters/scenarios before it gets really old.  This level also covers books that just weren’t for me, now matter how well written they may have been.

The last group of books are those that I seriously question every single person involved in the process because that book was BAD.  Bad story, horrid characters, no way was there any editing involved, or any combination of those things.  An awful lot of times, these are the books that I may get a few chapters into and cannot force myself to attempt to plow through another sentence and are absolute and total garbage.

It may seem that there is a huge gap between those last two, but there really isn’t.  Most books that I’m not a huge fan of will fall in that second to last group.  Just because I don’t necessarily like or enjoy it doesn’t make it a bad book.

I guess if I had to put a label or name on those levels, they would be Excellent/Favorite, Really Good, Mediocre/Didn’t Like, Garbage.  Though I really hate using the last term for that label as I don’t like to slam anyone, but there really just isn’t a nice way of saying it when a book is actually that bad.

So Far – January 2015

As of today, I’ve already read 19 books.  For the most part, while I have enjoyed what I’ve read, I haven’t just loved it.  I think I’ve gotten to a point where I need to find a new author I love to add to my favorites list, though.

Last year’s new author was Kristen Ashley.  I still have quite a few of hers to read, but as most of them are not available through my library at the moment, I’m having to read those as they come.

Other than those books, I haven’t been absolutely absorbed by anything I’ve read in a while, so I think I need to do some research into some new authors that I have yet to read.  Finding the Goodreads site recently is probably where I’m going to start.

I was lucky enough to get a couple of gift cards over the holidays, so that opens  my options up a bit more, especially with as stingy as I’ve been when it comes to what I’m willing to actually pay for now that I’ve discovered the wealth of options available to me through the library’s digital content.  Unfortunately, that wealth of options also means I’m more willing to read all kinds of stuff whether I actually like it or not just because it is available, so I may have to seriously rethink that as well.

2014 Final Book Count & Looking Forward

I managed to get my database updated with the last few books I read in 2014 and was a bit stunned by my final totals.  I really didn’t think it was possible to read more books than I did last year, but not only did I do that, but I did it by quite a bit.

Last year I hit 465.  This year, I hit a whopping 509.  507 of those were new to me books and only 2 were re-reads.  I really think I had one or two more re-reads in there, but I didn’t get my database set up figured out to keep track of those until way later in the year.

And yes, I have a database that I built to keep track of my books.  I started with a notebook that I kept authors, books and series lists in, but quickly outgrew that when I had so many that it was hard to find what I was looking for.  I then went with a binder that I could keep more organized, but again seriously outgrew that when I wanted a quick and easy way to see totals.  I still keep the binder for a fast look-up when I’m not wanting to get on the computer, but I doubt I will be doing that much longer as I’m about to the point where I’m going to have to split the one binder into two.

The database started as a simple thing that just listed the author, book title, series and order (if there was one) and the year I read it.  It has grown over the last year to add in additional methods of keeping organized as there have been several times I wanted to look up a book but couldn’t for the life of me remember the book or even the author, but I remembered the general subject.  Now, I have a genre/subject designation, re-read options, a notes section and whether or not I own the book.  I now have the ability to actually go in and search for very specific information and not have to spend hours looking up the books that I think are possibilities and reading the summaries to figure it out.  Yes, I’m such a geek when it comes to stuff like that.

Hopefully with the better organized database (I still have a ton of genre entries to fix on the books that were already there), it will be a bit easier when I need to go find the next book in a series, especially as some authors just don’t have clean websites that lists that kind of information.

As for 2015, I’m not setting a reading goal.  I seriously doubt I will want, or even be able, to read more this year than I did in 2014, especially if I’m going to spend any time at all writing about what I read.  I’m sure I will still read way more than is probably healthy while getting very little else done.