Review: Heartmate by Robin D. Owens

From the blurb: All his life, Rand T’Ash has looked forward to meeting his HeartMate, with whom he could begin a family. Once a street tough, now a respected nobleman and artisan, he has crafted the perfect HeartGift, which, in the custom of the psychically gifted population of the planet Celta, is the way a man finds—and attracts—his wife…Danith Mallow is irresistibly drawn to the magnificent necklace on display in T’Ash’s shop, but she is wary of its creator, despite an overpowering attraction. In a world where everyone is defined by their psychic ability, Danith has little, placing her at the opposite end of the social spectrum from T’Ash. But T’Ash refuses to accept her rejection and sees it as a challenge instead. They are HeartMates, but can T’Ash persuade his beloved to accept her destiny by his side?

My thoughts: A slight disclaimer, I have read this book over 10 times now, as each new book comes out I refresh my feelings of wonder with this series and renew my acquaintance with the wonderful world of Celta.  This first one started all the love for me, with wonderful settings, an awkward hero and a heroine just looking for the love of a big family.

The author starts us off by throwing us directly into this wonderfully imagined world.  Celta is a human colony, settled for many hundreds of years but the humans are not doing so well here, and many families have low birth rates, and some have died out.  On the opposite spectrum, humans can live for over 150 years and have ‘Flair’ the author’s word for psy powers.  The society is extremely class driven, but although most of the character’s points of view are from the higher classes we do get the occasional viewpoint of the lower classes and to them, the ‘GreatLords and GreatLadies’ are just plain weird with all their unusually strong Flair.

Confused already?  Don’t be.  The author throws you in headfirst but if you keep kicking you will find your way, and the rewards are worth it.  If this wasn’t a romance, then this world would have great opportunities for adventure stories, murder mysteries, the list goes on.  *in fact I feel some fan fiction gurgling away as we speak*

The basic premise of this story, and indeed most of the other books in the series, is that some lucky people discover during their ‘Passage’ (bouts during childhood, adolescence and young adulthood where a person’s flair finally breaks free and is fully controlled) that they have a Heartmate.  A Heartmate is the more visceral version of a soulmate.  They literally die without the other once they are bonded.  (While I think the idea of a heartmate is romantic – I think it would be scary to know that once your partner died that was it for you)

T’Ash, our hero of this book, is the last of his line.  His family was destroyed by an enemy when he was a child and he grew up on the streets.  He eventually clawed his way out of the gutter and got his revenge.  He is now an established jewellery designer and craftsman and his dream of finally meeting his heart mate are about to be realised.  But Danith, his heart mate, has other ideas as she is hoping for a marriage proposal from her current boyfriend who is from a large and boisterous family, which is exactly what she wants, she being an orphan.

There are many obstacles to this relationship which should have been smooth sailing, but T’Ash bungles things and Danith lets fear rule her, and it is not until they admit to themselves what they really want that things work out.  (I hope I didn’t ruin the ending for you, but you know if it is a romance then there is a happy ending)

The romance itself was competently done, although soul mate romances can be a little trite, and the tension is a bit lower as you know nothing will keep them apart forever, but I think what did it for me, was the setting, the intense amount of research that has gone into the religious practices of this world as well as the telepathic cats!!  Zanth was a highlight of this book for me, an ugly tomcat who speaks in short sentences and is supremely selfish, as all cats are, while being a very loveable creature as well.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough but I must warn some readers.  It hasn’t appealed to a lot of romance readers because of the highly complex nature of the setting, and it hasn’t appealed to some SF readers because of the romance focussed storyline, so if sf romance is your thing then this is the book for you.  Lucky SF romance is my thing.

The Novice: Book 1 of Summoner by Taran Matharu

The Blurb:

Fletcher was nothing more than a humble blacksmith’s apprentice, when a chance encounter leads to the discovery that he has the ability to summon demons from another world. Chased from his village for a crime he did not commit, he must travel with his demon to the Vocans Academy, where the gifted are trained in the art of summoning.

The academy will put Fletcher through a gauntlet of gruelling lessons, training him as a battlemage to fight in the Hominum Empire’s war against the savage orcs. Rubbing shoulders with the children of the most powerful nobles in the land, Fletcher must tread carefully. The power hungry Forsyth twins lurk in the shadows, plotting to further their family’s interests. Then there is Sylva, an elf who will do anything she can to forge an alliance between her people and Hominum, even if it means betraying her friends. Othello is the first ever dwarf at the academy, and his people have long been oppressed by Hominum’s rulers, which provokes tension amongst those he studies alongside

Fletcher will find himself caught in the middle of powerful forces, with nothing but his demon Ignatius to help him. As the pieces on the board manoeuvre for supremacy, Fletcher must decide where his loyalties lie. The fate of an empire is in his hands …

My thoughts:

I don’t know what it was about this that appealed to me, but I devoured it like a starving wolf at a butchers shop.  There were several cliched tropes here.  Orphan hero finds out he has mysterious powers to summon demons, could be the son of a nobleman, wins out against all odds.  It should have been a tired story that only mildly interested me, but by golly I loved this.  I couldn’t get enough of the hapless hero Fletcher who always seemed to rub his enemies the wrong way.  When he comes across an old scroll he reads it out only to find that he has summoned a demon.  Now in this world, demons don’t seem to be evil, they are more the extension of their summoner, so if the summoner is a douche, then they are too.  Fletcher’s little demon is Ignatious, a Salamander, and I loved the little critter.

What follows is a series of adventures where Fletcher learns the extent of his powers (not a superman thank god) and the friends he makes.  It was a lovely tale for middle schoolers and aside from a few dodgy moments there isn’t anything too horrible in here that would frighten a younger reader either.  The characters are likeable and the pacing is strong.  I would have liked a bit more originality with the other races, we have elves, dwarves, and orcs, standard fantasy fare but I couldn’t complain about it too much.  Deals with issues of racism and greed for power as well as having several bad guys to contend with.  it also would have been nice to have at least some of the nobles to be nice, it was pretty black and white commoners against nobles.  Even with all its problems, this book was captivating, and dang it, it finished on a cliffhanger, my least favourite ending!!

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas: Review

Blurb on book:

Feyre is a huntress. She thinks nothing of slaughtering a wolf to capture its prey. But, like all mortals, she fears what lingers mercilessly beyond the forest. And she will learn that taking the life of a magical creature comes at a high price . . .
Imprisoned in an enchanted court in her enemy’s kingdom, Feyre is free to roam but forbidden escape. Her captor’s body bears the scars of fighting, and his face is always masked – but his piercing stare draws her ever closer. As Feyre’s feelings for Tamlin begin to burn through every warning she’s been told about his kind, an ancient, wicked shadow grows. Feyre must find a way to break a spell, or lose her heart forever.

My thoughts:

I was quite impressed with Sarah J. Maas’ debut novel Throne of Glass so I was expecting good things from this first in a new series.  I was not disappointed.  Maas impresses with her lyrical style and the vivid descriptions of the Spring court where our heroine Feyre finds herself bound.  This is an alternate take on the Beauty and the Beast fairytale, and I for one, have never read anything like it.  Yes the author has sampled from fairy mythology quite heavily but she has put an original take on it by setting it in a completely different yet strangely familiar world.  Once I worked out it was based on Beauty and the Beast (that only took until someone translated Feyre’s name to mean Beauty) I was impatiently waiting for the denouement where she declared her love for Tamlin.  The author keeps you hanging, and although my hunger for the end made me rush through certain parts, I did the book and injustice by that, as the beautiful descriptions of Feyre’s struggle with her lifelong hatred of the Fairies and her guilt at killing one of them were wrenching.  Time and again, you both wanted to strangle her and cuddle her, as she hadn’t had a great life.  Still, the series of trials at the end of the book were perhaps my least favourite part.  I enjoyed most those halcyon days at the Spring court, where Feyre learns about herself, learns tolerance and discovers beauty, before it is wrenched away from her.

I recommend this one to lovers of fairytales, Sarah J Maas fans and for examples of how to convert a tired old fairytale into a beautiful tale.  Thoroughly enjoyed this.

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Considering how long it’s been since I’ve visited my own blog, that means that this book had to be something special.  I gave it five stars and a little blurb on Goodreads, but sat here (at my uncomfortable computer desk so feel honoured Mr Aaronovitch) thinking that this book deserved more than just a quick link on Goodreads.  More people will probably read that little blurb on Goodreads than would possibly read this, but the urge to splurge some words hit me, and what is a blog for anyway, but to blurt out our innermost thoughts and feelings, no matter who or what might read them.

As a wannabe writer, my dream is to publish a reasonably well-written tale that is somewhat witty, and clever, and will make people sit up and take notice (and buy it).  I have become a critical reader now, looking for mistakes in others so that I may learn from them and not repeat those mistakes, but after a while, it sort of defeats the purpose of writing, which is to, well, write.  But sometimes, you read something so clever and witty and well-written, that you have to sit down and take your metaphorical hat off to them, because this book is one of those books.

Rivers of London starts off like this:

“It started at one thirty on a cold Tuesday morning in January when Martin Turner, street performer and, in his own words, apprentice gigolo, tripped over a body in front of the West Portico of St Paul’s at Covent Garden. Martin, who was none too sober himself, at first thought the body was that of one of the many celebrants who had chosen the Piazza as a convenient outdoor toilet and dormitory. Being a seasoned Londoner, Martin gave the body the ‘London once-over’ – a quick glance to determine whether this was a drunk, a crazy or a human being in distress. The fact that it was entirely possible for someone to be all three simultaneously is why good-Samaritanism in London is considered an extreme sport – like base-jumping or crocodile-wrestling. Martin, noting the good-quality coat and shoes, had just pegged the body as a drunk when he noticed that it was in fact missing its head.”

I knew from the moment I read that first paragraph that I was on to something special.  I can’t believe it took me four years to find this book.  Imagine my utter joy when I realised that there are four more books in the series, already published.  That is the best thing about discovering something late.  You don’t get the angst of waiting.  Don’t get me wrong, sometimes waiting is a good thing, but sometimes, you just want instant gratification.  That’s why I always wait for the full season of Game of Thrones to air before i watch the first episode.  That was beside the point.

This book is narrated by PC Peter Grant, a young constable in London, who encounters a ghost at the scene of a grisly murder (that would be the aforementioned headless body).  His paranormal encounter begins an adventure into a life that was hardly what he was expecting, having been told by his supervisor that he was destined to be a glorified clerk.  Aaronovitch’s witty style and grace and gorgeous attention to detail make this book an absolute pleasure to read.  The best part though, is the feeling of place while you read it.  I experienced London as if I was there again, even though I haven’t visited for over ten years. It all came flooding back, and the nostalgia was almost tangible.  I’m not sure how people who’ve never visited London will react to the book, but for me, this was the best part.

I recommend this book to lovers of paranormal fiction, crime fiction, fantasy fiction, fiction, non-fiction, the written word.  Basically, anyone who can read.

A salute to bloggers – Feed by Mira Grant

If ever there was a book to make a blogger feel good about themselves, that they can make a difference, it is this book by Mira Grant.  Feed is a post Zombie Apocalypse story with a twist, and the main characters Georgia and Sean Mason are bloggers who get chosen to follow a presidential candidate on his journey to get elected during the ongoing zombie apocalypse, where your best friend could soon be your worst nightmare. It is obvious Grant has thought hard about the psychological effects of a worldwide outbreak but rather than go the total dissolution of society like most, she has gone for probably a more realistic approach, where life goes on, you just deal.

Zombies have affected the way people cope with large crowds, and the popularity of bloggers has soared due to the mistakes made by regular news during the initial crisis. The Kellis Amberley (not sure of spelling as I listened to this) virus has caused all these problems and everybody in the world is infected. What that means is that although you will never get a cold or cancer again, at any moment you might go into spontaneous amplification and become a zombie. Puts a new spin on life doesn’t it?

Our heroine Georgia, is a newsie, and her brother Sean is an Irwin (one of the cutest things I’ve seen – naming a risk taker after Steve Irwin), and their third blogger in the group is Buffy, a fictional. Together they are following the campaign of the Republican delegate race.

There is a lot of interesting stuff in this book. It has an interesting twist which I kind of saw coming but it still shocked me. I heartily recommend this book to others and the main reason I read it was because book 2 is a Hugo nominee and I wanted to read it with some sort of context. The fact that they have both been nominees says a lot about the quality of these books and I have no reservations recommending it.

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher – Spoilers galore!!

I’m sure there have been many books written from the point of view of a dead protagonist.  That stalwart of chick shows Desperate Housewives is narrated by a dead person, most vampire fiction is from the point of view of the vampire who is, technically, dead.  But I can’t remember a time when I last read a book where the protagonist dies at the end of the previous one and then the next book is from the Point of View of their ghost.

That is the premise of Ghost Story (well it seems obvious now from the title that that was going to be the stor, der!!).  Now I am going to assume that if you are reading this review you are totally caught up on the whole Harry Dresden series and have either already read Ghost Story or are about to and don’t mind me spoiling the ending because that is what I am going to do here so no complaining in the comments!

At the end of the last book Changes, our intrepid hero Harry Dresden, finds himself finally rescuing his daughter and returning to Chicago where he has to hang out on his brother Thomas’ boat because his place was firebombed by the Red Court and no longer stands.  He has finally said to Murphy that they should get together (booyah I say!) and is waiting on the boat for her to arrive when bam! he is shot and falls into the depths of the lake and it all fades to black.  Now Butcher does not out and out say that he dies but it is pretty much implied.

The screams were heard for miles as we had to wait a year for the next installment and Ghost Story is it.  It takes up (we think) where it left off, with Harry thinking he is in Heaven or the other place H E Double Hockeysticks and he is soon disabused of that notion, being told that he has to go back to the mortal plain to find his killer.  The lives of three of his friends depend upon it.  Sigh, a wizards work is never done so of course Harry agrees, I mean, after all he’s been through it would be too much to ask to enjoy his afterlife wouldn’t it?  (Of course that would be a very boring book so no dice there)

When Harry gets to the mortal plain he finds that as a ghost he cannot affect anything except other ghosts, and his magic has deserted him.  Considering that the thing I like most about the Dresden books is when Harry goes all ‘Forzare’ on the bad guys I was a little sceptical that this would have the same impact as the other books.

I do think this is a good book but I think this is more for the true fans of Harry, who like some back story.  I particularly liked where we see some of young Harry and how he was betrayed by Justin.  It satisfied something in me which I didn’t know I was missing.  The action heats up more in the second half of the book when his friends can see and hear him through the help of some magical creations and a couple of people who can naturally hear ghosts.  Then it gets back to some classic Dresden with the wisecracks and the quips flying in the usual style.

There are a couple of pop culture references (usually prevalent but in this instance very pivotal) to Classic Trek and Princess Bride which resonated quite deeply with this particular fan girl so it was comforting to know that Butcher too is a fan boy.

After going on at the top about spoilers, I won’t go into the ending too much, but needless to say that the general ending was pretty much how I thought it would go but the method was all I was missing.  Very entertaining but again a cliffhanger ending.  I have got to wonder just how long this series is going to last.  13 books so far and the story doesn’t appear to be close to ending.  And when is he going to get rid of those swords?  Sorry, now I am just fan girl ranting.

I recommend this book for fans of the Dresden Series.  I don’t know what you would think coming into this fresh without all the background information.  You would most likely be totally lost in the first chapter and give up in disgust.

The Anticipation is Killing Me

Well, I finally got the notice from the library yesterday the Ghost Story by Jim Butcher was ready to be picked up.  I have been dying to read this ever since it has been published but being on a savings kick and only allowing myself a certain amount of dollars to put toward my reading addiction, I certainly could not afford a hardcover edition (not at Australian prices anyway)

So I put my name down for the book at my local library (yay Moonee Valley council – you rock) as they have a great range of SF/F and generally get the latest books in pretty quickly, but shock horror, I was number 5 on the list.  When you multiply that by 3 weeks each person, it is generally a long wait to read it.

Instead of getting frustrated by just going out and buying it, which I nearly did but stopped myself in a dramatic moment online (well it was dramatic for me and I stand by that tale) I decided to reread the series from the beginning.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Dresden Files series, Jim Butcher has written one of the most wonderful Urban Fantasy series I have read in a very long time.  Ever since I picked up the first novel at Borders (back when they had cheap SF and were still open) I have been obsessed with this series.  Fortunately Jim Butcher is quite prolific and there is generally less than a year to wait for the next book.

It is also quite a long series, with Ghost Story the 13th book released.  It is quite a task to go back and reread the whole series and I bogged down at book 4.  Don’t get me wrong, I was still enjoying them, but I kept getting distracted by shiny new books that I hadn’t read before, and I kept telling myself that my booking of Ghost Story was ages away so I had plenty of time to get the rest read.

Well, I have it now, and I can’t decide whether to jump to the book preceding it and read that first or just go ahead and start it.  The second one I hear you all calling out, why would you bother rereading something?  The thing is, I read so fast and so many books, that a lot of it doesn’t really stick the first time out.  I do like to revisit books, especially those I loved, and I continually find new and interesting things about the characters and the worlds the author has created.

This has been very much the case with the Dresden Files.  Everytime a new book comes out I find myself revisiting the whole series.  Maybe in this case, the anticipation will get the best of me, plus I only have the book for 3 weeks and if I don’t read it now I will find myself running out of time and not finishing it before it needs to be returned.

That’s it, I’m decided, I am reading it now, anticipation be damned!

The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

I mentioned in my last post that ‘The Last Werewolf’ was going to be the next book I was reading.  As my previous review was for a teen werewolf romance Juliet Marillier commented that readers should be aware that this book is definitely not for teens.  All I can say is boy was she right!

At first I did not like this book.  I couldn’t work out what it was I didn’t like.  It was well written, although, again, another first person point of view (which in a recent writing workshop I was told never to write in as it doesn’t sell).  It was intriguing, with a rich mythology and a cast of interesting characters.  It was bittersweet, the death knell of the last of his species, the culmination of 200 years of monsterhood.  But finally I worked out why I was having trouble liking it, it was written for adults.

For the last few months I have been reading a lot of YA fiction.  Whether it be supernatural romance or high fantasy, it seems most of the fantasy fiction being released at the moment is aimed at the YA audience.  There is nothing wrong with that and in fact a lot of what I read was incredibly good and some of them are favourites of mine but there is something about a book written for adults.  The no holds barred approach to morality and the adult concepts are certainly missing from YA fiction.  After I realised that what I was reading wasn’t making any presumptions about me, about needing to put issues in the book, about worrying whether a school library is going to purchase it, the result is quite freeing.

Again, a warning, the content of this book is not YA.  It is a dark relentless, ride of a book, with no care whether you like the protagonist or not.  It is written diary style, with the protagonist Jake Marlowe learning that he is the last werewolf.  He has lived for 200 years and has had enough.  He learns that WOCOP (World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena) is gunning for him, and he is quite okay with that, thinking that it was time to die.  He decides to let them kill him, but his nemesis, Grainer, wants him to put up a fight so puts various obstacles in his way to make the final showdown a fight to the death.

The book starts off a little slow but after a few chapters the action hots up and things start moving quickly.  I can recommend this only to adults.  There is strong language, dark themes and high level sex scenes.  Just the thing for a night in!

A Review of A Wind in Cairo by Judith Tarr

In one of my previous blogs I was going on about old favourites.  One of the books in my bookshelf that has survived numerous moves and several overseas trips is ‘A Wind in Cairo’ by Judith Tarr.  My copy, printed in 1989, was bought then as well.  It is a small book by today’s doorstop standards with only 268 pages.  It is also a standalone, another rarity it today’s world of prequels, sequels and series.

I think that is one of the main reasons why I return to it so often.  I don’t have to reread a whole series, just the one little book.  It pulls me in and grabs me from the start, not letting me go until the finish.  It doesn’t matter how many times I have read it, it doesn’t matter that I know the ending already, it stands the test of the reread with flying colours.  I always find something new to discover every time I pick it up.

I starts out with Hasan, a spoiled prince of the blood of the Prophet.  He is a wastrel, a gambler, a womaniser and a drunk.  His father despairs of him ever changing and gives him an ultimatum that he is sending him to his friend, a Bedouin Sheikh to make a proper man of him.

I his disbelief and despair, Hasan goes on one last bender and offends a magi, the premier magician of Cairo.  He is cursed into the shape of a stallion and to be owned by a woman, something forbidden to his faith.

Hasan, as you can guess, is quite a handful to his new owner Zamaniyah, but she doesn’t give up on him and they become a great team.  As with all love stories, you can predict the ending almost from the start, but it never matters.  The journey is everything, rather than the destination.

You begin to fall in love with Hasan, even though he is a spoilt pampered prince and you hope it will all turn out well in the end, even though things look grim.

Judith is well known for her historical fantasies.  She combines a fantastical world with meticulous research into many different time periods.  In this one, it is set during the crusades but from the Arab point of view and that is a wonderful twist.  The fact that the main protagonist is a horse is beside the point, he still has a mind and his love for Zamaniyah is no less potent for being of the mind only.

I just checked Amazon and you can still buy this book.  I don’t know if it has been in print continuously all this time but that is pretty impressive and a testament to the quality of Judith’s writing.  I encourage everyone to check out her books, especially this one.

Review of Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

Well now I finally understand the massive lines for John Scalzi’s autograph at Aussiecon 4.  I must say that I am a latecomer when it comes to his books.  Before Aussiecon 4 I hadn’t heard much about Scalzi’s books although I had heard his name in passing.  I am not a great reader of Science Fiction per se, preferring the sweeping epics of fantasy or the torrid paranormal romances that are taking over the shelves at the moment.

After starting this blog I started reading a lot of other blogs about reviewing books.  It came to my attention that the majority of these blogs rated Old Man’s War in their Top 10 books.  That grabbed my interest as most of these people had very different tastes.  Another reason it grabbed my attention was that someone mentioned it had been optioned as a movie so I wanted to read it before someone could ruin it by making a movie out of it.

So while browsing my local library I saw a copy on the shelf and immediately grabbed it.  Instead of getting several books at a time like I normally do, I limited myself to just this book so I could have no reason to delay reading it.  (Sometimes I do that, I don’t know why but I often really want to read a book but delay reading it so long I have to take it back to the library because someone else has booked it.  Mine is not to reason why)

I had guests staying with me this week (my parents so you have to be a good host) so my usual reading speeds were well down.  It took me 5 days to finish this book.  If I hadn’t had guests this weekend I think it would have been a single sitting.  I absolutely loved it!  It brought me faith that no matter how many books I read there will always be something good that I have missed.

The premise of the book is that in the future humans have colonised space and have come across innumerable alien species who also want the same planets that humans do.  Earth has been isolated from the rest of the known galaxy by the Colonial Defense Forces.  So the only humans who go into space are from the densely populated countries mostly in Asia.  Those others who want to go into space must go through the army.  There is no lack of volunteers for this army for the simple reason that recruits must be aged 75 and they know that somehow when they join they will be made young again.

The story is in first person from the point of view of John Perry.  It starts like this:

“I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday.  I visited my wife’s grave.  Then I joined the army.”

We follow John’s adventures as he discovers new friends, goes to exotic locales, meets new aliens, and kills them.  John’s experiences throughout his life and his wry outlook on life help him through some very tough moments.

Scalzi’s style throughout this book is quite gentle considering the subject matter.  In one scene, John is experiencing a crisis while fighting another alien species all of one inch tall.  He breaks down after being told to stomp the little aliens to death.  You are so absorbed with John’s suffering you don’t really comprehend that they are basically going Godzilla on these aliens.  Until John points it out.  And then you feel a bit queasy, like he does.

This tale gently moves from his friendships forming, to being in battle, to a final twist which brings the story to a satisfying conclusion.  While it isn’t particularly fast moving at times, that didn’t bother me much as the writing was excellent and the simple interactions between characters was interesting and pertinent to the story.

I recommend this novel for both lovers of pure sf and also those who are interested in stories that favour characterisation.  I am glad I have come to this late as I noticed there are a couple of sequels already published.  I am looking forward to them very much.