Hot Blooded ~ Amanda Carlson

  • Title: Hot Blooded
  • Author: Amanda Carlson
  • Series: Jessica McClain #2
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Net Galley ARC
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 2 out of 5

Description:  It hasn’t been the best week for Jessica McClain.

Her mate has been kidnapped by a Goddess hell-bent on revenge — but Jessica is playing for keeps.

Because she’s the only female werewolf in town…it comes with its own set of rules…and powers.

Aided by two vamps, two loyal Pack members, and one very reluctant human, Jessica must rescue her man while coming to terms with what being a wolf really means.

All in a day’s work for a girl.

The second novel in the Jessica McClain series is a full on action adventure featuring one angry Goddess and plenty of monsters, demons, and a few newly risen beasties…


Review:  Hot Blooded picked up right where Full Blooded left off. It kind of had to, since Full Blooded ended somewhat abruptly with no firm conclusion. The greatest incentive that I had to give the second book a shot was not so much that I was eager to find out what happens next, but rather that I was granted a free advanced review copy by the Publisher via Net Galley.

Once again, Carlson’s concept was good, but the execution was not. For example, the main character, Jess, was maybe a little too powerful. This appeared to be a go-to plot device for the author. The characters were in a no-win situation, no problem! Jessica would mysteriously discover yet ANOTHER inexplicable super power. Maybe I would have bought into it more if there had been some sort of logic behind the powers, but there was not.

Another over-used trope in this book was that all of the villains adhered to the Scooby Doo school of pontification. “Well, now that I’ve captured you, let me gloat and fill in details so that you can find a chance to defeat me and escape.” Ugh. The hero characters plainly walked into danger half cocked, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would not have been better for the bad guys & gals to shut up and kill them already!

Speaking of half-cocked, I found Jessica to be more annoying in this book. On top of her ridiculously emerging powers, she took head strong to the level of hard headed. Bad decisions made under the guise of being tough are still bad decisions. Rinse, lather, and repeat over and over and the result was one stupid heroine.

The one good side of the heroine rushing head first into danger was that it resulted in a lot of action. The battle scenes were not bad at all and quite frankly, they were what kept my attention and allowed me to finish the book. Well, that and the hope that the world-building potential might just solidify into something decent.

What finally made me bump my rating down to just two stars was the cliff hanger ending. It was pointless that a completely new plot line opened up and was tacked on to the the end of the book. Why do some authors seem to think that they this is the way to make sure readers purchase their next book? Isn’t just simply writing a compelling story enough???? This tactic so annoys me that if I had not already received a free advance review copy of the next book I would drop the series cold. As it stands, this series has two outs with no one on base. We’ll see if the third books strikes out.

**Disclaimer: Reviewer was provided with a digital advance review copy of this book by the publisher via Net Galley.

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The Rosie Project ~ Graeme Simsion

  • Title: The Rosie Project
  • Author: Graeme Simsion
  • Genre: Mainstream
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  An international sensation, this hilarious, feel-good novel is narrated by an oddly charming and socially challenged genetics professor on an unusual quest: to find out if he is capable of true love.

Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. So when an acquaintance informs him that he would make a “wonderful” husband, his first reaction is shock. Yet he must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner. She will be punctual and logical—most definitely not a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver.

Yet Rosie Jarman is all these things. She is also beguiling, fiery, intelligent—and on a quest of her own. She is looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might be able to help her with. Don’s Wife Project takes a back burner to the Father Project and an unlikely relationship blooms, forcing the scientifically minded geneticist to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that love is not always what looks good on paper.

Review:
I loved this book, loved everything in it: from its rosy title (pun intended) and its vulnerable protagonist to the subtle, slightly twisted humor, simple plot, and complex psychology.

The novel starts with the hero Don preparing a lecture on Asperger’s syndrome. According to his research (and mine), most of Asperger’s symptoms are “simply variation in human brain function that had been inappropriately medicalised because they didn’t fit social norms—constructed social norms—that reflected the most common human configurations rather than the full range.”

The deviations have to do with the social milieu. Simply put, Aspergers are dismal at social interactions. Their empathy is askew, and as a result, many consider them odd and undesirable as companions. Aspergers don’t fit in almost any company, and neither does Don. He knows he is inept at communications and dismal with women, but despite being a brilliant genetics scientist and an extremely smart person, he doesn’t recognize Asperger’s in himself. He just knows that he is different and lonely and he wants to share his life with a good woman.

Alas, dating has never worked for him. He’s never even had a second date, so instead he decides on the scientific approach: he constructs a 16-pages questionnaire of multiple choice questions and posts it online, hoping that at least one suitable applicant will answer all his questions correctly. He calls it a “Wife Project.”

Then Rosie enters his life. She is a psychology student and totally unsuitable, according to his questionnaire. Her every answer is wrong, she is opinionated and sarcastic, chaotic and emotional. And she smokes. Nonetheless, Don feels happy whenever he is with her. Unfamiliar with the feeling, this usually detached man stumbles like a toddler, breaks all his routines, belatedly learns to navigate the emotional landscape, and fails again and again. And still he wouldn’t give up.

Don’s personal journey is sad, poignant, and uplifting, almost painful in its intensity and honesty, but the book is so full of humor, so light and hopeful that reading it feels like flying. You’re dizzy from the quick visceral transitions, from the juxtapositions of the incomparable. One moment, you laugh hysterically, riding the mirth wave, the next you swallow a lump in your throat, plunging into Don’s despair.

Sometimes, both feelings interweave and you can’t separate them: like when Don practices cha-cha dancing with a skeleton, on loan from the Anatomy department. Or when he practices sex with the same skeleton, exercising different positions from an illustrated manual.

When his friend Gene talks to Don about sex, you wince and laugh and shake your head and squirm with pity for the poor schmuck. That twisted Asperger’s chemistry in his brain is really screwing his life.

‘You have had sex before?’
‘Of course,’ I said. ‘My doctor is strongly in favor.’
‘Frontiers of medical science,’ said Gene.
He was probably making a joke. I think the value of regular sex has been known for some time.
I explained further. ‘It’s just that adding a second person makes it more complicated.’
‘Naturally,’ said Gene. ‘I should have thought of that.’

Don’s intelligence and erudition are amazing, but his inability to discern symbolism, to identify colloquialisms is equally astounding.

‘If I find a partner, which seems increasingly unlikely, I wouldn’t want a sexual relationship with anyone else. But I’m not good at understanding what other people want.’
‘Tell me something I don’t know,’ said Rosie for no obvious reason.
I quickly searched my mind for an interesting fact. ‘Ahhh…The testicles of drone bees and wasp spiders explode during sex.’

No wonder, he is stuck on sex theme. The guy is head over heels in love with Rosie but doesn’t know how to express himself. His psychological deficiency hampers him, makes him socially and emotionally lame.

I know the feeling; it resonates with me. When I read about Don’s bumbling romance, the zing of recognition was very loud. Like Don, I have Asperger’s. Like him, I’m schooled in self-damnation: ‘Nothing would change the fault in my brain that made me unacceptable.’ Those are his bitter words, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them. Those are my words too.

The love story of Don and Rosie is written beautifully, without melodrama or clinical aloofness. The writing flows like a stream and carries you along the ups and downs of Don’s life. The plot moves fast, and the characters are all 3-dimentional. But Don stands out among his book-mates. He is the real hero, and his courage in overcoming his affliction, in ‘rewiring’ his brain, makes this multilayered book much more than a comic romantic caper. It’s also a tale of his profound transformation, a painful quest to find his place among all of us… and keep it.

This was one of the best books of the past year. Highly recommended.


Rosemary and Rue ~ Seanan McGuire

  • Title: Rosemary and Rue
  • Author: Seanan McGuire
  • Series: October Daye #1
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Audio book
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Description:  October “Toby” Daye, a changeling who is half human and half fae, has been an outsider from birth. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the Faerie world, retreating to a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, the Faerie world has other ideas…

The murder of Countess Evening Winterrose pulls Toby back into the fae world. Unable to resist Evening’s dying curse, which binds her to investigate, Toby must resume her former position as knight errant and renew old alliances. As she steps back into fae society, dealing with a cast of characters not entirely good or evil, she realizes that more than her own life will be forfeited if she cannot find Evening’s killer.

Review:  Rosemary and Rue is the first book of the October Daye urban fantasy series. It is also the first time I’ve experienced any books by author, Seanan McGuire. For a first book, it holds a lot of promise.

The story follows reluctant fae investigator October “Toby” Daye. She is a changling, half fae, who has tried to distance herself from her heritage and hide away from her problems in the human world. Unfortunately, she is compelled to investigate the murder of a close friend and member of the fae royalty or risk her own life.

Toby’s character fits into the fragile strength mold. She is wounded and flawed, but her intelligence and resourcefulness carry her through. The author keeps her focused on the mystery at hand, although she does occasionally drift off into the land of woe is me. While she is not a stand-out character, she has enough potential for the reader to root for her.

In addition to Toby, we are introduced to entire of ensemble of vibrant characters, who I suspect will turn up in future books. Many of these characters are cast with ambiguity, leaving a lot of room for the world to grow and blossom. She also casts many of the fae in a very anthropomorphic fashion. Take for example Tybalt, Lord of the Cats, a character for which I have a particular fondness. His self-interest manifests itself in a fashion totally fitting feline fashion, as do his speech patterns and mannerisms. I sense this cat-like character has at least as many hidden layers as a cat has lives.

The world building uses the basic framework of fae mythology and then diverges into McGuire’s interpretation. She focuses a lot of attention on the challenges faced by the changlings who fit into neither the human nor the fae realm. Again, there is nothing particularly striking about this world, but it has potential.

There is enough adventure in this book to make it fun. Plus, McGuire does a good job of weaving in elements of future intrigue. It is enough to throw the reader off the trail to solve the mystery at hand, yet not so much that it leaves one frustrated by lack of closure at the end. There is clearly more story to be told, as you would expect with the start of a series.

Hollow World ~ Michael J. Sullivan

  • Cover of Michael J. Sullivan's Hollow WorldTitle:  Hollow World
  • Author:  Michael J. Sullivan
  • Genre:  Science Fiction, Dystopian
  • Format:  eBook
  • Source:  NetGalley
  • Reviewed by: Sonja
  • Rating:  4 out of 5

Description:  The future is coming…for some, sooner than others.

Ellis Rogers is an ordinary man who is about to embark on an extraordinary journey. All his life he has played it safe and done the right thing, but when faced with a terminal illness, he’s willing to take an insane gamble. He’s built a time machine in his garage, and if it works, he’ll face a world that challenges his understanding of what it means to be human, what it takes to love, and the cost of paradise. He could find more than a cure for his illness; he might find what everyone has been searching for since time began…but only if he can survive Hollow World. 

Welcome to the future and a new sci-fantasy thriller from the bestselling author of The Riyria Revelations.

Review:  I freely admit that I loved Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations and I was excited to find this new and different novel up on NetGalley for a review. I snapped it up and the ideas it presents have been racing through my brain ever since.

Hoping to find a cure for his illness, Ellis plans to jump ahead 200 years. Instead, he actually jumps ahead 2000 years. What he finds when he gets there is . . . grass. Fearing he has traveled to a time where he has the world to himself, and knowing he didn’t bring the proper tools to forge shelter for himself, he follows the river to see what he can find. What he finds is a murder – and a bunch of naked people who all look identical.

As I read this book, the voice in my head sounded very much like a performance of The Time Machine by Leonard Nimoy and John De Lancie I heard years ago. The same kind of eerie, echoing music played in the background of my head as Ellis slowly progresses through the world by himself. It seemed fitting. Even when he finds others, I still had that sound track echoing through my brain.

There isn’t a lot of action in this story – and what does happen does so in short spurts and it really isn’t until that last few chapters that things start moving at a break neck pace. So, there was no sense of urgency as I read but, rather, a sense of peace. It wasn’t a book that urged me to turn the page to see what happened next, yet I couldn’t put it down either. Instead of action, what we have here is a bunch of thought provoking nuances. And, make me think it did.

It also isn’t your typical dystopian world where one group has enslaved another. Instead, the world has evolved via science – to make everyone identical, because that is what was best for society. Or so it thought. And, because global warming has decimated the planet, they have all moved into the core of the earth – hence, Hollow World. Now, the science involved here, in time travel, in forming identical people, in ‘hollowing’ out the world, is not quite believable. But, you aren’t supposed to believe, you are supposed to accept and think ‘what if?’ And, that is something Mr. Sullivan does quite well – make you think.

In this world, there is no religion. No religion, no war, and no love. (Every stop to think how many wars are brought on by differences in religion?) Everyone is identical, so there are no comparisons. Everyone has a ‘maker’ (and how this comes about is very reminiscent of the Linux world) so everyone can have anything one wants. There are no genders or races or castes, no reason to be at odds with each other. So, what do people do? They seek out individuality – the seek tattoos and clothing and other things to make them stand out from the crowd. They seek new ideas (read religion and war) to advance civilization. I mean, really, where is there to grow?

The characters very search for individuality and God made me think about everything in my life. As a Christian, it made me seek God. But, both sides are presented here. There is no club over your head going – believe in God! Or You are a ninny if you believe in God! It is up to the reader to arrive at his own conclusion.

Love. Love is also an interesting thought process here. With no genders, how and who do people love? (There is an ‘app’ for sex . . .) Why do we love? How do we love? What is love? It made me appreciate the people in my life and appreciate what I have – even though I would be quite poor next to these folks.

I don’t believe there is any greater complement to a story than “It made me think.” I continue to adore Michael J. Sullivan. I adore his writing style. I adore his work ethic. I adore his publishing stance. I think he is a ground breaker and a genuinely good man. None of this made me like this book any more, but it made me more willing to pick it up – something outside of his typical book. I enjoyed the fact that instead of bloating the series he has already written for monetary gain, he sought readers and all of us stepped outside of our comfort zone to share in this new story. I hope that this will encourage other authors to come up with new worlds and new series instead of dragging down the ones we already love. Not that it isn’t possible to continue series in a good and polished manner, but an author should not be forced to do so either.

I give this one a solid 4 stars. It was an intriguing story in a different style written in a soothing manner. It is not action packed and there is no sense of urgency but, rather, a story full of ideas that will increase the wonder of the world around you.

Heirs of the Body ~ Carola Dunn

  • Title: Heirs of the Body
  • Author: Carola Dunn
  • Series: Daisy Dalrymple, #21
  • Genre: Cozy mystery
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  The Daisy Dalrymple series continues. When one of four potential claimants to the title of Lord Dalrymple dies a sudden, nasty death, the question on everyone’s mind is, “was it murder”?

In the late 1920s in England, The Honourable Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher is recruited to help her cousin Edgar — i.e. the Lord Dalrymple. About to turn fifty, Lord Dalrymple decides it is time to find out who would be the heir to the viscountcy. With the help of the family lawyer, who advertises Empire-wide, they have come up with four potential claimants. For his fiftieth birthday, Edgar invites those would-be heirs — along with Daisy and the rest of the family — to Fairacres, the family estate.

In the meantime, Daisy is asked to be the family’s representative at the lawyer’s interviews with the claimants. Those four are a hotelier from Scarborough, a diamond merchant from South Africa, a young mixed-raced boy from Trinidad, and a sailor from Jamaica. However, according to his very pregnant wife, the sailor has gone missing.

Daisy and Alec must uncover a conspiracy if they are going to stop the killing.

Review:  The latest installment in the Daisy Dalrymple series, this cozy murder mystery was a delight to read. As always, Daisy and her husband Alec Fletcher, the DCI from Scotland Yard, are in the thick of it, but this time, the action takes place too close to Daisy’s heart – in her ancestral home Fairacres. After her father and brother’s death, the estate now belongs to a distant cousin Edward, but unfortunately, he and his wife are childless.  

As Edward’s 50th birthday approaches, his lawyer starts looking for an ‘heir of the body’ to ensure primogeniture. Four contenders show up, each with his own story and the supporting set of documents, and all are invited to Edward’s birthday celebration.

Daisy is there too, of course, and the deadly game commences, starting with trifling accidents and escalating to murder. Someone is set on eliminating all the heirs, or maybe all but one? Daisy and Alec investigate.

Daisy is her own charming self, compassionate and acute. She notices the details others might overlook, but her kindness moves her sometimes in unexpected directions. It’s hard to write about her after 20 previous novels. I don’t have any new insights to offer, but I was glad to read her new story. Like an old friend, Daisy comes into my life only occasionally, but with every new book, she becomes more and more familiar, and she never fails to make me just a little bit happier for meeting her.

The book is fast, light, and original. Daisy’s interactions with her disgruntled mother, the Dowager Lady Dalrymple, provide some humorous dialog snatches, while the bountiful red herrings kept me guessing the identity of the culprit to the very end.

I’m accustomed to finding unfamiliar words in Dunn’s novels. This one was no exception.      
Celerity – swiftness in acting or moving
Snook – the gesture of thumbing one’s nose in defiance or derision. Cock a snook at – used to indicate contempt by this gesture

 

Author Interview ~ Fran Clark

Today SSV welcomes Fran Clark, a professional singer and songwriter, and now the author of Holding Paradise – a novel of mother, daughter, and their search for connection. Fran was born and currently lives in West London. She is studying for a Creative Writing MA at Brunel University. Recently, she released her second album of original songs. She is now working towards the completion of her second novel. Fran talked to me about her novel and her writing.

~*~*~

Fran, please tell us about your book and where you got your inspiration for it? Why did you feel you had to tell this story?
Holding Paradise is about love, trust, betrayal. It explores relationships and takes us from the Caribbean to London and back again. I was inspired by my mother’s stories about life in the Caribbean that I compared to that of someone raised in London, as I was. That sparked an idea about the lives of two women from different worlds.

What did you enjoy the most about writing it?
I think the thing that was most satisfying was my relationship with the characters. They lived with me for almost three years – the time it took me to write it. I watched them grow and they helped me move the narrative along into places I may not necessarily have planned.

Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or is it all imagination?
In some respects, there are similarities, but I would have to say that it was important to infuse more imagination into the story than real life. Who wants to read about real life anyway? Most of us are pretty boring. A novel is a place to escape real life.

What do you think about research? Did your book require lots of it? How do you research?
I recently wrote a post about research. I think it is absolutely necessary if it adds to the authenticity of your story. As writers we need to achieve a believable sense of time, place and setting. Imagination alone is not always going to get you there. If historical detail is needed then you need to get your facts straight. Holding Paradise did not need a lot of research, and I was able to find answers by talking to family and reading up on the time the novel is set. Research can be very exciting but you don’t want your fiction to sound like a history book. Making the researched material flow into the narrative is important.

Have you ever hated something you wrote?
Well hate is a strong word but I certainly disliked many attempts at writing along the way. I write short stories and some of them should never see the light of day. I have two novels filed away on my laptop that I’m sure I will never resurrect although I may borrow some of the better ideas within them some day.

What are some things you learned from writing this book?
Mostly I learned that I love to write. I haven’t always wanted to be a writer. I am a singer-songwriter, and music has always been my passion. I’m happy when I’m making music and can’t imagine my life without it. And that is exactly how I feel about my writing now too.

What do you think about editors: writers’ best friends or necessary evil? What was your experience with editors?
Yikes – don’t get me started.  Pretty sure I’ve written a post about this on my blog too! Firstly I have to say editors are completely necessary. All top writers have them and so should all the rest of us. I get tired of reading awful grammar and typos in books. Those writers who feel they don’t need them are mistaken. Writing is a lonely job but to make your writing really work you need to bring in expert help. I didn’t always see eye to eye with my editor about some of the changes he wanted to make but with compromise we worked it through and he absolutely improved on a few aspects of my writing.

What’s next? What are you working on now?
I’m in the middle of writing my second novel. Unfortunately it is taking a bit of a back seat because of family commitments and the heavy workload from my Creative Writing MA. But I intend to finish it this year. Lots of research is needed for this story, so I need to get stuck in and get it written. I’m really looking forward to completing it – having a second novel will make me feel truly initiated into the title of writer.

What is your writing environment (a quiet room, a coffee shop, loud music, etc)?
I usually need as much quiet as I can get. I sometimes write late at night when everyone else is tucked up in bed or in the early hours of the morning when everyone else is still asleep. As a bad sleeper this tends to work for me. But it must be said that I can lose myself in my writing and whether I have music playing softly in the background, or the television is loud in the room next door, I can click away at the keys and not notice anything else.

When did you first tell yourself: I’m a writer?
That didn’t happen until I let other people read my work. The feedback I got from the first readers of Holding Paradise was very encouraging but it wasn’t until I paid for a professional critique. After I read the report I thought, ‘Hey, a professional has read this and didn’t laugh out loud.’ It was a positive report and to have someone I didn’t know speak about my work like that made me want to pat myself on the back: I had arrived.

Are you scared of sharing ideas – so nobody could steal them?
That has never really occurred to me. It is often said that there are no new stories or plots and in many respects that’s true. The important thing is the telling of the story and that’s what sells books. I focus on my storytelling and making sure I’m writing something that is worth reading. That’s all I can do. If someone has to steal ideas, then that’s pretty sad, don’t you think?

What do you do when a new idea pops up in your head while you’re working on something else?
Notebooks. The writer’s friends. Jot all your ideas down. You can come back to them anytime and by recording it you’ll never forget the idea. But there is no problem with writing more than one story at a time. Some writers prefer to work that way while others find they have to focus on one. I’m a multi-tasker but I don’t think I could work on two novels at once. I can fit in the odd short story and my assignments for University but that’s about all. That’s more than enough if you want to do your writing justice.

What tips do you have for aspiring writers?
Just start. Be dedicated and persevere. There will always be difficult times and times when you feel you are writing rubbish. But that’s what editing is for. As long as you are passionate about your story then the ideas will come. See if you can finish the whole piece, that is do a complete first draft, without the input of others. When you get to second draft stage, then get opinions as those can sometimes help you improve your writing. Trust your own opinions too. Don’t assume that because someone doesn’t like something about your story that it is wrong. Writing should never feel like hard work. I’ve spent some really happy times just tapping away on my laptop.

 

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Holding Paradise

On a grey and miserable morning in 2008, London businesswoman Angelica Ford boards a plane and flies off to the blues and greens of her mother’s island in the Caribbean. Angelica is desperate. She is looking for a way to save her marriage and win back her daughter. A web of lies has torn a hole into her seemingly perfect world and she is convinced that only her mother, Josephine Dennis, can help her turn her life around.

Josephine Dennis arrived in England by ship on a cold winter morning as a young mother joining her husband. She weathers a lifetime of secrets and betrayal, as she raises her family in 1960s London. A matriarch with strong family values, she told her children colorful stories to guide them through life. It is the wisdom of one of these stories that Angelica seeks. Josephine has one last story to tell – the story that could change both of their lives.

~*~*~

Fran will have her online book launch on Friday April 25 on her website, from 9am to 9pm GMT. See details on her blog to sign up for the party and a chance to win a copy of Holding Paradise. You can also view the book trailer on Youtube.