Saturday, 28 January 2017

Book Reviews - What I read this week

In Australia, this week is the last of the Summer Holidays. To that end, I got a bit of reading done.

Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She's Dead (The Toad Witch Mysteries) by Christiana Miller.  The title alone sucked me in. The cover art is rather cartoon-style chick-lit, with a few too many elements (really, it would be better without the skull or the witch hat on the toad), but one can forgive cover art if the story's good enough.

This story is good enough. I got sucked in for the first paragraph, and it didn't let me go.

I must caution you, this is actually two books in the one volume. The first book is purely chick-lit, with our Heroine Mara dealing with life as she hovers at the poverty line. BFF Gus is there to be her helping hand and rescuer as she deals with lack of a job, pending eviction and general rudderlessness.  I confess, this is not the book I thought I would be reading.  Still, Miller has a strong voice and style, so I gave her the benefit of the doubt.  Yeah, Mara is a witch, and she does spellcraft, but there's no paranormal element to this first book.

The first book ends with a H-ish E.A. when the solution to Mara's troubles comes in the form of an inheritance. Yay. If you don't like paranormal, you can stop reading here, for this plot arc is complete.

Book two is the paranormal book the title promised me.  Mara, having inherited her late Aunt Tillie's cottage in Wisconsin, leaves California to have a look-see. From the moment she arrives, she learns about the strange mystery surrounding her aunt's rather impressive "cottage". It's been renovated and expanded and has all the  mod-cons a California Millennial could possibly want, including a few ghosts, some serious consequences, and an impressively good mystery.

Alas, the mystery could have been played out a little bit more.  Having main characters deliberately withhold information, or having main characters completely fail to ask the obvious question does not make a mystery stronger. It just annoys those of us who are familiar with how a mystery should be laid out. Still, the plot was built sturdy enough I didn't have to roll my eyes at it.

Recommendation:  Yeah, if you're into chick lit and paranormal. Smooth, readable style, complex enough plot, reliable narration, strong voice.

Will I read on?  Possibly. The author's voice is a hooky one and the Gus character is a hoot.


Our Little Secrets (Montana Romance) by Merry Farmer.  Yep, it's a mail-order bride romance set in 1895.

The blurb doesn't do this rather intricate plot any justice.  If plot is your thing, this has it in spades. Charlotte is fleeing Philadelphia to get away from an overbearing stepfather who's urged her to commit certain (non-sexual) crimes in the past. She procures enough funds to afford a few train tickets, and flees out to the Wild West in hopes of starting a new life.  Granted, that's about as far or as detailed as her plan gets. She shows up in a small Montana town called Cold Springs, mistakes Our Hero for a porter, and off the story goes.

Michael West has secrets of his own, and looks to be keeping the secrets of a few other people. It is fun when all these secrets come out, including a few that I'm not sure would have been admitted, or reacted to in the way portrayed in the book. The modern sensibilities are too strong.

One issue I had with this book was the dearth of setting. There simply wasn't enough of it. We really needed more, lots more. A few sentences here and there describes the town, but not nearly enough. I wanna smell the dust, feel the heat (or the cold), and get a real sense of being there.

Another issue I had was lack of historical accuracy. Cold Springs is a relatively new country town in the late 19th Century. Yes, the late 19th Century had electric lights and the telephone, but they were not ubiquitous. I know many country towns that didn't have electric lights to every house until as late as the 1930's.  Also, the presence of a telephone, while plausible, seems unlikely, given the historical setting. When Michael seeks to communicate with Philadelphia, for him to place a long-distance phone call would not have been possible. The US long-distance telephone network in 1895 only stretched from New York to Chicago--certainly not to Montana!  Telegraph would have been the way to go.  IF (and that's a big IF) Cold Springs had the telephone, it would only have serviced the local town. Seems like a frivolity, if that was the case.

If one is to write  historical fiction, one needs to do research for plausibility's sake.

Characters are a bit one-dimensional, but at least they all have an interesting backstory.

Recommendation:  Um, not sure. If you're not a stickler for historical accuracy, and you don't care about a rich setting, why not?  The plot is strong enough to carry the story, though it could have use some decent accessorising.

Would I read the next?  Probably not.


Daughter of Nothing (The Scion Chronicles) by Eric Kent Edstrom.  I'm not really into dystopian SF, but this book had a good voice and style that carried me, along with some rich character-building.

Jacey has attended the Caribbean-based Scion School, where she's been trained in subjects like Memorisation, Literature and Ballet.  Other students have specialised in Science or Martial Arts--subjects chosen for them, not necessarily what they are most interested in.  They've been told that the outside world has been devastated, and they're being trained up to enter it in positions of leadership, to help fix a broken world.

As this is a dystopian novel, you know that's not the truth.  Eventually Jacey and her mates figure this one out. What are they really being trained for?

The mystery played out in this novel is well-crafted. The encluing is subtly well-done, which I appreciate. A few things I figured out ahead of time, but other things were a complete mystery to me. Nicely done.

Cover art was nice.

The other novels are available on my preferred platform of Kobo, so I'll be adding them to my TBR wishlist.

Recommendation: Yep, if you enjoy Dystopian. Well-built plot, round characters.

Her Grace loves how she can classify reading as "professional development".

Monday, 23 January 2017

Book Reviews - Good stuff

I'm going to start with the more memorable ones, because they stuck out in my memory and made me want to read more. I remember their characters and plots and felt they did their job in letting me escape reality for a while.

Magic of Thieves: Legends of Dimmingwood series by C Greenwood.  This is your standard fantasy trope, which was something I desperately needed that day. I believe I picked this one up from Fussy Librarian. First book was permafree and sucked me right in. "Magic of Thieves" is the first book and tells the story of Ilan. Through Bad Things happening, she finds herself a member of a band of thieves, and thus grows up as one of them.

I found the voice and style smooth and easy to read. The characters were nicely rounded and interacted well. I only wish there had been more body to the plot.

Recommendation:  Yes, I'd recommend this. It was pleasant.  I'd like to read the rest of the series.

However... the rest of the series is exclusive to Amazon.  Many authors are doing this, and it's really annoying me. They'll throw up the first book on all platforms (including my beloved Kobo), but the rest of the series is only on Amazon.  And yes, while I could download a Kindle reader for my laptop, the whole reason I got an ebook reader was because it's easy on my eyes. I can only stand staring at a computer monitor for so many hours before I get headaches.  I've got to really, really like a book series to risk a headache so I can read it Amazon-exclusive.  (Zon, you have much to answer for for your stupid exclusivity practices, and your inability to only allow an author to set a free pricepoint if you're price-matching from another platform. Shame!)

Still, I am considering purchasing the rest.

Helga: Out of Hedgelands (Wood Cow Chronicles, #1)  by Rick Johnson. A fresh YA take on anthropomorphic animals. Helga is a Wood Cow who barely escaped slavers, and ends up growing up in a bayou. Eventually she's reunited with her father and brother, though mother was captured by slavers.   When her brother ends up giving the middle finger to the Hedgelands High One (aka self-centred king), said High One banishes her whole clan.  Another one selected from Fussy Librarian.

I liked this fresh read and had fun with the voice. The characterisation was deep and interesting. The plot, however, was rather episodic. While one tale tied in to another through various threads, there wasn't much of an uberplot. Most of the stories function very well as standalones. They are beautiful within themselves, and provided a pleasant thirty minutes of reading.  I loved the little stories, but if I were to read too many of them in a row without some sort of master plan, I might start finding them tedious.

It felt like this series was pantsed (aka organic, aka written without any prior plotting). The next book in the series sounds like there's more of an uberplot. I'm willing to give it a go. There's also a third and a fourth, should my plotty goodness wishes come true.

Recommendation:  Yes, quite. Recommended for readers who like characters with a bit of sass.  Also, extra blessings to the author for having the next few books available on Kobo.

The Midnight Sea: The Fourth Element series by Kat Ross.  This takes place during the Mediterranean Classical era when Alexander the Great conquers the world and Zarathustra was the Zoroastrian prophet. That said, this book had a delightful otherworldly feel, which I love in my fantasy.

Magical beings called daevas (djinni) are bonded to humans through enchanted cuffs (think sul-dam and damane), and together they hunt necromancers and demons and other nasties that an evil queen has sent to plague the kingdom.

This had a nice plot with a few twists and turns. I like that in my stories. Turn a few facts on their heads and I'm yours.

Recommendation:  Sure. But here's another one who's gone Amazon exclusive. Shame, as I really wanted to read "Blood of the Prophet", as this plot is upping its ante nicely.  If only my Kobo reader could handle .mobi. (It doesn't, alas.)

The Unflappable Miss Fairchild: Uncommon Courtships (or Rogues and Rakes, depending on your version) series b Regina Scott.  When I want true escapism with a clinical dose of optimism, I'll turn to trusty old Regency Romance.

Miss Anne Fairchild is a character that will go with the flow, does not feel constrained by societal mores, yet will not compromise her values easily. Chas Prestwick is a second son who acts a bit of the rake. When the two meet, they individually consider changing their ways.

I loved this story, for when a misunderstanding came up, the two of them talked it out, instead of doing the whole prideful hurt-ish silent treatment. That bodes well for me to believe their HEA will be truly E.A.  If the rest of the books are as well-thought-out as this one, I'm happy to read the rest of the series.

Now, when I say series, know that a series in romance is not the same as a series in Fantasy.  Pros: I am guaranteed a complete plot arc in a single book.  Cons: no sweeping three-book sagas giving me a universe in which I can lose myself for a week.

Recommendation:  Yep. This was a good choice. Am considering buying more of her books, though the price point is making me balk. At least she's got plenty of books available on Kobo.

Her Grace loves a well-written book. 

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Book Reviews 2017 - Intro

I need to post more book reviews. (Pretty much everyone needs to post more book reviews, but I'll leave that in your hands.)

I took December off from... well, everything. This gave me time to read some books. I had plenty, thanks to the beauty of an ebook reader (I'm a Kobo girl. More on this later), and did my best to get through as many as I could.

Thanks to BookBub and the Fussy Librarian, I receive daily notifications of any book deals going down. Also, I thought I'd take a punt and trawl through Kobo's bookstore, picking up any freebies I came across. If (IF) I can remember how I found the book, I may mention it.

Now my TBR pile is rather large, but I'm going to do my best to get through as many books as I can. I'll post my reviews here, and possibly to GoodReads and/or Amazon, depending. I intend to be honest in my book reviews, and sometimes that means I will lay it out as I see it. If I find a book hard to read or full of problems, I will mention that here. Also, I am under no obligation to finish a book if it can't catch and hold my attention. Other readers may feel differently.  Feel free to share your reasons in the comments, observing good manners and etiquette. You're free to disagree with me, but not to act like a jerk.

So, what has My Grace read recently?  I tend to enjoy Historical, Romance (all kinds except contemporary) and SFF.  Occasionally I'll pick up a book outside these genres, because it's healthy to read books outside one's preferred stomping grounds.

Let's have a look at what I've been reading lately.

Her Grace is looking for patterns.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

The Periodic Table of the Elements for Astronomers

TASE Day, as it's nearly the end of the [Australian] Summer Holidays, which  means if one is out observing the heavens, one is not having to worry about freezing one's patootie off, nor having to get up early for school.

Today I present you with...

Her Grace observes with a five-inch Celestron on an equatorial mount.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

No HEA for All Romance eBooks

Last week my publisher notified us of the closing of the distributor All Romance eBooks (ARe), especially how it was closing under terrible circumstances.

Part of the fiasco is that many loyal readers who kept their purchases stored on ARe have lost access to their collections. This is not cricket. I believe if you purchase a book, you should have access to it as long as you wish, even if it's an ebook. This means giving customers the opportunity (and time) to download and store their purchases locally. ARe did not do that. (Then again, there's a lot of things they're not doing that's got a whole lotta people upset.)

If you purchased any of my titles through ARe and were unable to rescue them before everything shut down, please contact me here.

Her Grace is off to adjust her website to remove the ARe link.  She encourages you to purchase her books through better-behaved sites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble or KoboBooks.