52 Books 2014: Week 7

Oops, I forgot to actually put up a book review last week. I read a book and was thinking about the review, but I guess that’s as far as I got. (I also didn’t get my ROW post up. It was one of those weeks.) So now it’s delayed, but here’s the review anyway.

The Girl with the Iron Touch (The Steampunk Chronicles #3)
Kady Cross
(YA steampunk, historical fantasy)

This is the third book in a series, and it’s one of those series that I HIGHLY recommend starting at book one. It’s not the type that I think can easily be picked up part-way through. Not that the author does a poor job of summarizing past events, but because there’s so much more detail that you miss out when you get a summary. And in this series, those details can be very important to character development.

I also think it’s a series well worth picking up. I highly enjoy the characters and the plotline alike. The world is nicely developed too, with a good combination of realism and fantasy. It seems that the steampunk elements all have a purpose, and that purpose is more than “to look cool”. (I have some friends who complain about steampunk things whose only purpose is to look cool… I need to make sure they are aware of this series.)

This particular book does suffer one aspect of multi-book-series-syndrome: although it does resolve itself up at the end, there are still many things that are left unanswered and it’s painfully obvious that there will be at least one more book. The good thing, though, is it isn’t left on a cliffhanger. So while it’s something that I make note of, it isn’t anything that I ding the book (or series) for.

This series has a core group of characters, and each book in this series focuses more on one of the girls than the rest of the group. (You can tell which one by the title.) The girl focused on in this particular book, Emily, is probably the one I connect with the most. She’s the most “normal,” relying mostly on her brains to get her along instead of any special powers. (Granted, all of the main characters in this series have their normal abilities enhanced a bit by what is essentially magic, but the others seem to have more enhancements than Emily.) It’s really nice to see how she handles the situation she ends up in, because up to now she’s been mostly a background character. It’s also great to see more details about each character’s relationship with her.

Friday Reads ~ The Girl in the Clockwork Collar

The Girl in the Clockwork Collar (The Steampunk Chronicles #2)
Kady Cross
(historical fantasy, steampunk, light/YA romance)

This second book in the series follows immediately after the first, plot-wise. The major plot point dropped right at the end of The Girl in the Steel Corset – Jasper Renn being dragged off to America to stand trial for murder – is the central point behind this book. The main quartet from the first book (Finley, Griffin, Emily, and Sam) all travel to New York to locate Jasper and figure out if he is, in fact, guilty of the murder he’s been arrested for.

Over the course of their investigations, the four get into more trouble. Naturally. Most of that trouble is focused either on Finley or Griffin, which also makes sense as they seem to be the lead couple in the series.

Speaking of them as a couple – there is a little more progress on that front in this novel, too. At the very least, they both seem to have come to some decisions as to what they want out of it. Though, when you come down to it, there is no real competition for Finley’s attention in this book the way there was in the first one. It will be interesting to see the relationship develop once Jack Dandy is back in the picture.

In some respects I like this book more than the first in the series. The main four characters are all working together (mostly) in this one, rather than being at odds the way they were in the first. The relationships between them are developing, and I don’t mean just the romantic relationships. Parts of the plot are a bit more far-fetched, though, and the first book did have the charm of being the first in this particular world. In any case, I’m really looking forward to getting the third book when it comes out so I can see what comes next.

Friday Reads: Girl in the Steel Corset

The Girl in the Steel Corset (The Steampunk Chronicles #1)
Kady Cross
(historical fantasy, steampunk, light/YA romance)

This fabulous series is published as a young adult series, but is just as enjoyable to an adult (as long as you don’t mind reading about teenage characters, but given that this is set in an alternate Victorian England, teens are very nearly adults in a way they aren’t in modern society). The Girl in the Steel Corset is the first novel in the series, but there is also an ebook prequel available: The Strange Case of Finley Jayne. (Amazon & Barnes & Noble links). I read the prequel first, because I downloaded it when it was a free sample. (It’s no longer free, but the charge for it on either site I linked to is minimal, and worth the entertainment value.) I don’t think you would need to read the prequel in order to understand and enjoy this first novel in the series, however.

The basic premise is that a group of Victorian era teenagers have somehow ended up with these special powers, and find themselves investigating crimes committed by automatons which are acting against their programming. Because, oh yeah, this is most definitely a steampunk world. There are fantastical machines, some of which will sound very like steam-powered versions of things we have now, and some of which are advanced even beyond our technology. (Robot servants? Not in our households… yet!)

I loved the way everything was developed: the plot, the characters, the world, and all. Lovely. Fabulous. And oh so much fun. My one really noticeable issue was how attached Dandy was to Finley even though we don’t see a whole lot of the reason why, but I could pass that off as mostly due to her personality when he met her. It does make me wonder if he will continue to be as attracted to her as the series continues and she tries to develop her control. If his feelings don’t waver and we don’t get an explanation for it, I will complain then. For now, it’s a minor issue for me, though it has the possibility to turn into something bigger.

If you want to read a stand-alone book, consider waiting until the whole series has been released before picking this up. While it is a book you can read without having read the prequel, and while the plot of the first novel is  resolved in the book, there are still lots of things that are left open for the next book, or even later in the series. I’m glad that book two is out already, yet I suspect I’d be happier if I could buy the whole set at once, right now, and read them all back to back. Still, it’s a great book and the start to what’s shaping up to be a great series, so I do recommend reading it.

Guest Friday Snippet: The Native Star

We have a special Friday Snippet today! This one is from The Native Star, a newly released book by M.K. Hobson. I received an ARC of this book, and enjoyed it so much I asked permission to share a little snip with you, my blog readers.

(This has nothing to do with the fact that I’ve been gone more than I’ve been home lately, and haven’t done much of my own writing to share. Nothing at all.) (Actually, it does. I wanted to share a snippet of TNS with you anyway… but my current writing slump determined the timing.)

At any rate, I will be doing up a full review of The Native Star next week, and will be having M.K. Hobson to visit the blog the week after that. Also, the author has a giveaway over at The Book Pushers where you can win a signed copy of her book! The contest is open until next Thursday, so get on it! And in the meantime, enjoy the snippet!

“We have to block the entrance!” Emily said as they emerged into icy moonlight. She pointed at the rocks over the mine entrance. “Magic those rocks down!”

Stanton stumbled to a stop, his eyebrows knit mournfully.

“Miss Edwards, I just mortified two dozen rampaging zombies. I am in no position to magic anything right at the moment.”

“If we don’t get this opening blocked, there’ll be dozens more in Lost Pine before dawn!” But even as Emily said it, she knew what to do. Running to the foreman’s cabin, she threw open the door. In an open crate, sticks of dynamite lay buried in wood shavings. She grabbed a stick and reached for the spool of fuse cord.

Running back up the hill, she heard the shrieks of the undead echoing against the black forested hillside; they had reached the mine entrance. Stanton had picked up a heavy mossy branch and was holding them back as best he could, swinging the branch wildly at a clot of zombies that seemed to find this action extremely annoying.

The man could even annoy the undead! Despite herself, Emily found this rather impressive.

Week 33: Thirteenth Child

Here is this week’s 52 Books in 52 Weeks post…

Thirteenth Child (Fronteir Magic #1)
by Patricia C. Wrede

(YA historical fantasy)

This is the first in a (probable) trilogy about an alternate Wild West. In this fantasy, Christopher Columbus discovered a land populated by things like swarming weasels and steam dragons. The names of the continents and countries that we know are different (sometimes only in spelling, and sometimes drastically enough that I still don’t know what the names correspond to.

Like all the rest of Patricia Wrede’s books that I’ve read, I loved this one. She wrapped the magic up into the world-building so well that I believed it, even when she took an established part of my nation’s history and tweaked it. (There’s a scene where the magicians create an illusion of Washington crossing the Delaware. Wrede adds magic into even this basic image, and does so in a way that fits her world perfectly.)

If I have any complaints about the book, it’s that the narrative style lacks the immediacy that some of her work does. I know why – it’s because the narrator (Eff, short for… I forget what, because it’s only mentioned twice or so) is telling the story from the future, looking back. The “I didn’t know then, but I know now” tone can work, and Wrede is a good enough storyteller than she pulls it off. But even when it works, there is no denying that it puts more distance between the events in the story and “present day”. And that lessens the tension in places.

Don’t get me wrong: the book still works, and works well. I really do enjoy it. But while I like it better than most of the other books I’ve read in the last couple months, it’s not my favorite of Wrede’s books. (I think Sorcery & Cecilia, her collaboration with Carolyn Stevermer, will always hold that title.) For people who don’t like YA books, this one will probably not be for you. It is very much about the coming of age of a young woman on the American frontier. (Very “Little House”-esque.) But for YA fans, or fans of historical fantasy, this is a great read.

Grade: A-

Romance Top Thirteen

I’m stealing this idea from Shiloh Walker (who stole it as well)… Only I’m making it 13 instead of her 10 because it’s a Thursday 13 this way. (And because I can. So there.)

Now, these are not all “official” romance novels. But they all have a romance (to one degree or another) in them. So I think they count. Doesn’t matter to me if they don’t actually have a sex scene in them. (Some of my favorites don’t.)

  1. Sorcery & Cecilia by Patricia C. Wrede & Carolyn Stevermer
  2. Industrial Magic by Kelley Armstrong
  3. The Smoke Thief by Shana Abé
  4. Phenomenal Girl 5 by AJ Menden
  5. Heart’s Blood by Gail Dayton
  6. Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn
  7. On Fortune’s Wheel by Cynthia Voigt
  8. Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh (I like the whole series that I’ve read, but it’s so hard to pick a favorite so I’ll just go with the first one.)
  9. Ecstasy Unveiled by Larissa Ione (Again, I like the whole series — the last one is due out soon! — but in this case I’m going with the most recent instead of the first as a “top” pick.)
  10. Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George
  11. Last Girl Dancing by Holly Lisle
  12. Evermore by Lynn Viehl (as a representative of the Darkyn series)
  13. Dark Lover by JR Ward (not as a representative of the BDB series. I liked the first 2 a lot, and then the rest went downhill very quickly for me.)

So, what about you? What are your top 13 (or 10, or even 1) romance novels?

Week 29: A Matter of Magic

Here is this week’s 52 Books in 52 Weeks post…

A Matter Of Magic
by Patricia C. Wrede

(YA historical fantasy)

This book, while a new release, is actually an omnibus version of two previously released volumes: Mairelon the Magician and The Magician’s Ward. These books had been on my “to read” list for some time, but due to confusions at the library, I never got them in my hands to actually read. (Silly things like missing the book when it was on hold for me, or checking out the second one instead of the first…) At any rate, it took a while for me to get them, but once I did, I LOVED them. So much fun.

Patricia C. Wrede is one of the two authors whose “letter game” was published into a series of three books beginning with Sorcery and Cecilia: or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot (the other was Carolyn Stevermer). I was so pleased when I realized that A Matter of Magic was set in the same world, I’m surprised you didn’t all hear me laughing for joy. (I just hope that re-releasing them now means she has another book in this set planned… that would be nice, since these two are great but only whet my appetite for more.)

As to the story, we follow the street thief Kim as she gets caught up in Mairelon’s world of real magic and intrigue. I don’t want to go into the plot too much more, as part of the fun is discovering the things that aren’t really twists but also aren’t explicitly stated (at first) along with Kim. Suffice it to say that this is a very fun read, and that I will soon be buying it so it can live on my comfort reads shelf forever and ever. (Sorry. I’m really not regressing back to jr. high… but I have “Enchanted” on the brain, and so “forever” often turns into “forever and ever”… and none of this is really related to a book review. Right. Moving on.)

At any rate, this is a thoroughly enjoyable book, and if Mairelon is a bit reminiscent of The Odious Marquis (from Sorcery and Cecilia) or if the two men’s lady mothers are a bit alike, who really cares? I love this book, and the world it’s set in. Ms. Wrede has definitely got tastes like mine in mind when she writes, because I’ve not read anything of hers I didn’t enjoy.