Diana Pharaoh Francis | Diana P. Francis | Diana Francis

Archive for the 'Reading' Category

Friday, October 30th, 2015
Book Review: The Seventh Bride, T. Kingfisher

I received this book from Netgalley.

Wow. I mean, wow. The Seventh Bride by T. Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon) is stunning. So freaking good. I’ve read three books so far this year that I think deserve big awards and this is one of them. The writing reminds me of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted and Cat Valente and Kelly Link. Kingfisher’s writing, however, is more pointed and observant, while being witty and delicious and funny and unexpected. I seriously love this book.

To begin, the description: bridecoverfinal-200x300

Rhea is an ordinary miller’s daughter, engaged to be married under suspicious circumstances to a man not of her choosing. He has unknown powers and a manor house full of mysterious women.

Rhea has a hedgehog. It claims to be ordinary, but normal hedgehogs don’t act like that.

It’s probably not going to be enough.

bridgeI don’t want to give away too much, but Rhea is only 15 when a noble asks for her hand in marriage. The asking is more of a telling, as she has no real opportunity to refuse or her peasant family will suffer significantly. So she reluctantly agrees. Very quickly she begins to suspect he’s a magician, though that’s not a terrible thing. What really bothers her is that he’s rather a shifty, mean-seeming sort.

He invites her (again, she can’t refuse) to visit his home and once there, she cannot leave. She discovers his terrible secrets and then must use her wits and her friendships to try to escape before very bad things happen to her.

The worldbuilding in this story is incredible. I loved the golem birds and I thoroughly enjoyed Rhea. She’s smart, observant, and while afraid, she’s courageous as well. Crevan was seriously obnoxious in the best possible way, and I loved the other inhabitants of the house and the quirky magic within.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a couple of things that niggle–a lot was made of Rhea’s name and I thought that would turn into more, and also, Rhea made some pointed observations and then didn’t go anywhere with them. Those were only a couple of things, though and the rest of the book was stunning and engrossing. One of those that I stay up stupid late to read because I can’t put it down. It’s coming out very soon, and you should preorder your copy. Seriously. Do it. You won’t regret it.

 

Tuesday, October 13th, 2015
Book Review: Wrapped in Red

Received from Netgalley.

This book is actually two novellas about Christmas, both contemporary romances. I don’t really have a lot to say about them. I found them fine, but not really all that appealing to me on an emotional level. I’ll go one at a time.

Tis the season for finding passion and rediscovering love…
wrapped
Mistletoe Mantra by Nana Malone

Returning to her Virginia hometown where her fiancé dumped her—years earlier on Christmas Eve—is making Nomi Adams croon the holiday blues. She needs to find the reclusive photographer who can advance her magazine career. However, Lincoln Porter’s on his own rescue mission this yuletide. Because during this season of love and renewal, Faith, Virginia, looks to be a place for second chances…

So to begin, the premise seemed a little forced to me. I just didn’t buy that the editor would put so much pressure on Nomi to find the photos. But okay, I can deal with that. Moving on, I thought that their romance was fine, but not particularly engaging. Things progressed in a normal manner. I did like Nomi and Lincoln, but I found the final difficulty between them artificial and manufactured rather than natural.
White Hot Holiday by Sherelle Green

A solo Caribbean vacation is college professor Sage Langley’s perfect escape from Christmas and all its merriment. But she has unexpected and thrilling company at Grayson Ellington’s luxurious vacation home: the sexy attorney himself! And her brother’s best friend—who has desired and longed for Sage for years—has fantasies and plans for a red-hot romance to chase away her winter doldrums.

This story was more fun for me. The set up was more believable. I liked Sage and Grayson, and while there wasn’t a lot of drama to the romance, it was fun read and light and quick.

Monday, October 12th, 2015
Book review: The Society Lilith Saintcrow

I received this book from NetGalley.

I enjoy reading Lilith Saintcrow. I was looking forward to The Society quite a bit and sadly found myself disappoisocietynted. It has a terrific premise, but it wasn’t executed as well as I hoped and then the big one for me . . . Well, I’ll get to that in a minute. First, the book description:

Will she be the Society’s salvation . . . or its downfall?

The black-ops government agency called Sigma broke Justin Delgado, trained his psionic talent, and turned him into a killer. Then he escaped and joined the Society, an underground resistance movement of psions determined to use their talents to bring Sigma down. Competent, cold, and cruelly efficient, he’s the best operative the Society has, a legend among the psions who fight a shadow war against an enemy that owns the courts, the press, and the police. Feared even by his own teammates, hunted by the government, and too damaged to feel anything but clinical rage, he is utterly alone—until he meets Rowan.

When Rowan Price stumbles across Delgado’s team in an abandoned house, he is assigned to make contact with her, bring her in, and keep her alive—because Rowan is one of the most powerful psychics the resistance has ever encountered. If the government gets its hands on her, she could very well mean the downfall of the resistance, because nobody, not even Rowan, is quite sure how far her talents extend.

The Society will welcome Rowan, if she can stay alive long enough to join them. Unfortunately, there’s a traitor buried in the ranks. If the Society goes down, Rowan is at risk. God alone knows what Delgado will do to keep her safe, because Rowan is fast becoming the only thing in the world he cares about . . .

I was looking forward to paranormal action and a thriller element and intrigue. I didn’t get a lot of it. The beginning was promising, with the meeting between Rowan and Justin. But the ongoing story felt like it dragged a bit and didn’t have that much action. A lot of that had to do with Rowan having to learn how to use her powers and to understand the world she’s come to live in. In the meantime, much of the interesting action happened off page.

Then we get to the romance element. It’s slow. And by slow, I don’t mean it takes awhile to build, I mean that it wort of plateaus and stops and then starts again without seeming to grow.

I wasn’t really clear on what Sigma or the Society were up to. I wanted to know more on all of that.

Even so, I was intrigued enough to want to keep reading. Until I got the end when the book just stopped. Not a cliffhanger. Just a stopping. It felt incomplete and unresolved on so many levels. I was disappointed at the end. No getting around it. I’d hoped to have a better experience.

 

Saturday, October 10th, 2015
Book review: Shadow Fall

I’m way behind on book reviews. Way behind. I counted. I have at least nine books that I’ve read and haven’t yet written my reviews. Some of the books were really good, some less so, some really less so. I’ll be working on getting those posted over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, I hope you’re reading some fantabulous books.

I received this book from NetGalley.

Laura Griffin’s Shadow Fall is the latest in a series that I really adore, and this one is no exception. shadow fallI can’t remember when I first started reading the series, and honestly, I began in the middle (these are stand alones even though some characters overlap and some history is recalled.) They are mysteries and romance. The women are smart, the men are smart, and the mysteries are smart. There’s not a lot of mansplaining or even as-you-know-Bob’s. I find that fairly unusual.

Here’s the description:

In the ninth romantic suspense novel in the New York Times bestselling Tracers series, author Laura Griffin brings back her elite cadre of forensic experts as they hunt down the most brutal serial killer yet.

Special Agent Tara Rushing arrives at a grisly murder scene and quickly discovers she’s got a serial killer on her hands. The killer is meticulous, making sure to wipe up even the smallest traces of evidence…but the Delphi Center experts are on the case.

The local sheriff has a suspect all picked out—ex-Marine and current security expert Liam Wolfe. Despite all her digging, Tara knows very little about Liam when she shows up at his sprawling Texas compound, which serves as headquarters for Wolfe Security, and she’s surprised by her intense physical reaction to him.

As she and Liam grow closer, Tara finds herself depending on his skills and expertise to help her track a killer. But when another body turns up, Tara must decide if she can trust the man who’s quickly stealing her heart.

I liked the romance in this book. Here’s why. I felt that it built naturally and not just insta-love without any basis in respect or knowledge of the other person. Don’t get me wrong. I believe in instant attraction, but to feed it, you need people who are interesting, likeable, and who you can believe match up. Tara and Liam both do.

The mystery was well done. It wasn’t obvious, but neither was it out of the blue. I hate WTF? mysteries where you never see it coming and you don’t believe that resolution makes no sense.

The tension isn’t just the romantic. There’s the difficulty of the politics of the town and of the law enforcement community. I love the density that gives the story and the way it completely weaves through the other two story lines. Griffin balances all the elements and then brings it all together in a natural crescendo that feels right without being predictable.

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015
All the Ways I Love This Book: Silver on the Road

First, a qualifier. I know Laura Anne Gilman and I got an advance reader copy of the book from her because I whined and moaned. I’d heard her read from it at an SFWA reading and I so wanted to have a chance at it as soon as possible. I wasn’t disappointed. In fact I already want to read it again.

What’s the book? Titled Silver on the Road, it’s the first in The Devil’s West series. silver on the roadHere’s description of it:

A heroic fantasy by an award-winning author about a young woman who is trained in the art of the sinister hand of magic, but at what price?

Isobel, upon her sixteenth birthday, makes the choice to work for the devil in his territory west of the Mississippi. But this is not the devil you know. This is a being who deals fairly with immense—but not unlimited—power, who offers opportunities to people who want to make a deal, and they always get what they deserve. But his land is a wild west that needs a human touch, and that’s where Izzy comes in. Inadvertently trained by him to see the clues in and manipulations of human desire, Izzy is raised to be his left hand and travel circuit through the territory. As we all know, where there is magic there is chaos…and death.

 

Now first, don’t go making the mistake that this is YA because Isobel is 16. It isn’t. It’s a coming of age story, a story of becoming (and not just for Isobel) and a story of change and exploration.

Set in The Territory, where magic is normal and the world is very dangerous, Isobel travels with her mentor, Gabriel, to learn about the territory and The Road. On their journey, they uncover something dangerous and evil and must attempt to deal with it, for Isobel is the Devil’s Left Hand, and while she doesn’t know what that means at first, she has to learn.

There’s so much I love about this book. The characters have such depth. The writing is deft and rich and I could smell and practically touch everything inside. It’s well researched, which you only notice because you can immerse so deep into the world and the story. The deftness of the story-telling left me a little breathless with envy. Especially conversations.

There’s not a lot of religion in the book, though the devil is there, as are some monks from Spain. It’s more about the west and the Territory’s own peculiar rules and habits. It turns history on its head and makes it both utterly familiar and entirely new.

I’ve read Laura Anne’s other books. I like them. A lot. But this is a whole new level of writing for her and it’s truly stunning. If I sound like I’m gushing, it’s because it’s one of those books that you want to pass around to everybody you know to read and you want to put it up for awards because it’s just that good. So do yourself a favor and get a copy. Read it. Savor it. I did. I will again. It releases on October 6th. So go get yourself signed up. I promise you won’t regret it.

 

Monday, August 10th, 2015
Book Review: Finding It by Leah Marie Brown

Book received from NetGalley

When I first got Finding It , I wasn’t sure what I was expecting. The cover and description said Chicklit in the traditional form, and I thought it would be a fun, light romance.

From the back of the book:

Anything can happen in a year! Unemployed, homeless, and left at the altar, Vivia Perpetua Grant could see her future as a flannel pajama wearing spinster—or worse, a bag lady shuffling around Golden Gate Park. But for a girl obsessed with rock music, Chinese take-out, and the color pink, misfortune is another word for opportunity. Vivia has found her niche as an international travel writer and the long-distance lover of Jean-Luc de Caumont, an über-hot French literature professor and competitive cyclist.

Still, even with so much going right, Vivia can’t help but wonder if something isn’t missing. The long distance thing is taking its toll on a girl who didn’t have that many tokens to begin with. And fate seems to be tempting her at every turn, first with a hunky Scottish helicopter pilot, and then with a British celebrity bad boy…Will Vivia continue to keep it real or will she discover some old habits die hard?

At first, I found the book to be glib and really silly. It was a little too over the top for my taste. As in Sex in the City meets Friends meets Bridesmaids. It seemed to lack any real character depth. I kept reading and what was lovely was that the characters developed far more deeply. There was romance in the story, and silliness and glitz, but it’s really about a woman deciding who she wants to be, and what is important to her, and how to have relationships with other people. Specifically, how to have friendships.

Though there’s a lot of silly moments, and a lot of funny scenes, at the same time, Brown turns those scenes into deeper explorations of the characters and their choices. I enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s well worth my time.

I recommend this book. I give it 4/5 stars.

Thursday, July 30th, 2015
Book Review: Needs a Little TLC, Ines Saint

I received the book from NetGalley.

Needs a Little TLC is a charming romance. I mean that in the best way. This is a contemporary romance, about Cassie and Sam. They were childhood sweethearts, but had a bitter breakup and Cassie left their small town. Now she’s returned as a realtor, wanting to market the thirty or so houses he’s been renovating. It’s a lucrative opportunity for both them, if they can work together.

One of the best things about this book is the down-to-earth reality of their lives. They each have scars, not just romantic, but from events in their pasts, and from difficult relationships with their parents. Both are genuine, nice people. I like that the difficulties of the romance were not manufactured out of irritating behaviors or convoluted problems. Both of them are not always easy to get along with, though neither is a jerk. It’s just that people aren’t always nice to one another.

The romance progresses naturally and they have to deal with figuring out who they are as adults, as well as who they were as children together. They are surrounded by friends and family who have known them for years, which both helps and hinders things. Both are driven by particular demons and in the end, they learn that asking for help and accepting help is not weakness.

I really appreciate that this book was not straightforward in some ways. This really was a journey for both leads, and both struggled. I like that Jake was not made of cardboard, and that Heather was not stereotyped. As a fan of HGTV and DYI, I also loved the house renovation stuff.

I really enjoyed this book and I recommend it. 4/5 stars

Monday, July 20th, 2015
Book Review: Jonathan Kellerman’s The Murderer’s Daughter
I received this ARC via NetGalley.
I just finished Joseph Kellerman’s The Murderer’s Daughter (which will come out August 18). It’s amazing.
From the back of the book description:
A brilliant, deeply dedicated psychologist, Grace Blades has a gift for treating troubled souls and tormented psyches—perhaps because she bears her own invisible scars: Only five years old when she witnessed her parents’ death in a bloody murder-suicide, Grace took refuge in her fierce intellect and found comfort in the loving couple who adopted her. But even as an adult with an accomplished professional life, Grace still has a dark, secret side. When her two worlds shockingly converge, Grace’s harrowing past returns with a vengeance.cover68324-medium
 
What I like about this book is the depth of characterization and the way all the characters resonate together along the same theme. The main character, Grace Blades,  is the daughter of a murder-suicide with both parents being truly terrible. Their deaths are merely the culmination of an awful early childhood.  She ends up in the foster system with a lot of shitty situations, arrives at a good one, and eventually it turns horrible, but not in the way you’d expect.

She ends up adopted by a couple who are very good to her, letting her become herself and encouraging her on every level. Grace is extraordinarily gifted mentally, able to zip through school with few real challenges. Before she’s thirty, she becomes a revered psychologist specializing in trauma victims. She’s very good, very empathetic, partly from her own background. But. She’s also very distanced and observational–almost living her live in third person. She’s extraordinarily self-aware on some levels, and on others, she’s oblivious. She doesn’t recognize as an issue the leftovers from her own traumas–from courting dangerous situations, to sucking her thumb, to being unable/unwilling to have real relationships of any nature.

One of her risky behaviors leads her to get mixed up in a murder, and soon she realizes she’s become a target of the murderer. Now she has to figure out who that is and why he wants her dead. Only, the why and the who are a lot more complicated than they seem to be.

The thing about Grace is that she’s unemotional and very focused. She’s also brilliant. She makes plans and executes them with determination and nerves of ice, breaking down only occasionally. She makes mistakes and figures out her next steps. She forges on, the need to survive driving her. She is a survivor. That truth is fundamental to who she is and takes precedence over almost every other aspect in her life.

The thing a reader has to be aware of is that Kellerman presents Grace as cold person. Readers may find even her repulsive, though she is skilled, empathic, and she genuinely cares about her patients and helping them through their traumas. But whether you like Grace, you can sympathize with her. Plus Kellerman builds the tension so that you have to keep turning pages. You want to know what is happening and who the players are and why the murders. For me, Grace is not unlikeable, but Kellerman definitely doesn’t give Grace a lot of soft, easy qualities. The book is told in a first person narrative, but despite that, the narrative is related in a distanced way. But that is the point. Grace is meant to be difficult to like, so that the book can investigate its main theme.

It’s clear to me that Kellerman suggests Grace is a sociopath, or at least, verging on one. We know this because she’s so cold-blooded in her observations and her choices, she’s manipulative–usually for good, and she’s unfeeling in many ways. The question is, was she born sociopathic or did she become that way because of her childhood? And how much does it matter? And is who you are about your choices or about nurture or about genes?

All the various characters represent different possibilities of Grace, different aspects of her. In the end, the reader decides if she is a valuable person, if her choices are right, if she’s good or evil or something else entirely.

The mystery is good, but I recommend this book because it does such an amazing job of exploring the nature of a sociopath, of what happens to children of abuse and trauma, how much genetics plays a role in who you become, and who you must be.

Five out of five stars.

 

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015
Book review: Sally MacKenzie’s What to Do With a Duke

I took the boy to his doctors appointments today. Knitted on the way up, then read this book while waiting, and got stuck in traffic on the way home (the man drove up, I drove home). Anyhow, I’m a sucker for regencies, so I was looking forward to this one.

Caveat: I received this from NetGalley.

The description of What to Do With A Duke intrigued me. The Duke of Hart is going to his family estates to find the next spinster to be installed in Spinster House. It seems that 200 years ago, the wealthy orphaned daughter of a merchant set up the house for a spinster from the village who needed a place to live independently. When the current spinster marries or dies, the Duke must choose the new resident from the candidates who present themselves. In the meantime, the same woman who founded the house, apparently has also put a curse on the Dukedom. Every duke will be doomed to die before his heir is born. So he marries and gets his wife pregnant, and before she can deliver, he dies. So far, five dukes have suffered that exact fate.

Enter Cat (short for Catherine) who is desperate to get away from her loud, boisterous family. At 24 years old, she never has room or time for herself, constantly helping take care of her many siblings. She has no interest in marriage and desperately longs to be installed at the Spinster House. Marcus, the current Duke, at thirty years old, is feeling lonely and wants a companion, though he believes in the curse and is certain that when he marries and gets his wife pregnant, he’ll die. All his friends and servants buy into the curse as well. Of course, when he and Cat meet, sparks fly and soon they find themselves drawn to each other, and uncertain anymore what they want or believe.

I loved the dialog in the book. It felt realistic and was witty and funny. The supporting cast were wonderful, from Cat’s family, to the village locals, to the duke’s servants, and his estranged mother. Their attraction to each other was startling to both and fun to watch grow. On the whole, I really enjoyed the book. I also loved the idea of the Spinster House, and the history of the curse and Isabella (the merchant’s daughter).

I did have a few issues, though. First, I had a hard time believing that Cat’s good friends, even jealous and angry with her, would do what they did (avoiding spoilers here, so apologies for the vagueness). Second, Marcus spends an awful lot of time thinking about his cock. After awhile, the word gets really repetitive. The thing I didn’t like the most was the curse. I had a hard time that Marcus believed it so strongly. The author reinforced it so much that it felt a little bit like “the lady doth protest too much.” I love the conceit, but I wanted to see more showing of how it affected his life and his choices, rather than having that summed up by his mother and by introspection.

I’d give this book a solid 3.5 /5 stars.

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015
Books I’ve been reading

I’ve read about five books in the last few weeks that I haven’t reviewed here. Mostly they didn’t thrill me and I didn’t feel like talking about them. They were okay, but not particularly good or bad. Well, one was kinda bad. Anyhow, if I didn’t get them from NetGalley, I don’t feel obligated to review them. And even then I don’t. If I don’t like it enough, I send a note the publisher saying so. Mostly I prefer to review books that I find meaty to review. By that I mean interesting problems, or damned good reads, or books that move me in some fashion. These others have simply been fine. Entertaining on some levels, but nothing I care to spend time on reviewing.

Tomorrow, or almost today, is a doctor day with the boy. I don’t have to drive this time, so I’ll knit on the way up, read through the two appointments, and knit on the way home. I hope I have enough yarn for these socks. I put a horrible little light blue cuff on the the top of the first one. The bind-off was too loose for my taste. It’s a short sock and very wearable, but I bought a book to learn how to do better socks. Anyhow, have to do the second sock of this pair first.

I need to figure out a good pattern for a baby blanket. Crochet or Knit. Haven’t found anything I love yet. Starting to think about making stuff for Xmas gifts. I know, crazy, but since it takes time, I figure I out to start thinking.

Still worried about dad. No real change yet. Spent the evening with the folks and that was nice. Tried to go out and see the Venus/Jupiter conjunction but couldn’t find it. I don’t know if we weren’t looking low enough on the horizon. Thinking about heading outside to try again. And then sleep.