Book Revew: Redshirts by John Scalzi

redshirtsRecently Eris and I were talking about dealbreakers, things that ruin a story for us and make us drop a book. One of the things she mentioned was pointless death being something that made her run for the hills.

Appropriate, I suppose, that right before that conversation I had started reading Redshirts, a book wherein the “pointless” deaths are actually the entire point of the plot.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the terminology, a “redshirt” is “a stock character in fiction who dies soon after being introduced. The term originates from the original Star Trek (NBC, 1966–69) television series in which the red-shirted security personnel frequently die during episodes. Redshirt deaths are often used to dramatize the potential peril that the main characters face.” (thanks, Wikipedia!)

It is almost impossible to talk about this book without spoiling the hell out of it, because so much of what makes it work is essentially a giant plot spoiler. However, I will do my best, because Redshirts is one of the funniest, most entertaining science fiction books I’ve had the pleasure of reading.

Continue reading

Book Review: Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger

Author’s note: I won an ARC for this book earlier this year. The book itself comes out in hardback tomorrow, November 5.

Also, if you’re here for the #WriteMotivation update, I’ll be posting mine on Thursday this week.

curtises-and-conspiracesI’ve mentioned before that I kind of adore Gail Carriger’s novels, and while I’m patiently (okay, not so patiently) awaiting the Parasol Protectorate Abroad, I’ve been happily enjoying her venture into YA with the Finishing School series.

Curtsies & Conspiracies is the sequel to Etiquette & Espionage, about Sophronia Temminick and her stay at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. For the first time in recent memory, the dirigible school is making its way to London, which is very exciting. However, the trip itself is more than what it seems, and Sophronia is just the person to get to the bottom of it.

Sophronia was, once again, a delight to read about, and in this book we really get a chance to see her character grow in unexpected ways. That was easily my favorite part of the book: not the plot itself, but seeing how Sophronia faced the challenges the new semester threw at her, and more importantly, seeing how she dealt with the consequences of her actions.

I wish I could say more about it, but so much of that is near the end of the book and tied up in the story that it would be a major spoiler to discuss, and it was so, so wonderful to discover it along the way. I loved how it brought home that all these characters operate in the varying grey areas of morality. They make decisions and make mistakes and they have very good reasons for doing what they do, even if what they do isn’t the right thing by any stretch of the imagination.

Plus, there was this bit, near the end, that sums up Sophronia so succinctly I might have hugged the book:

“Why is it always your problem to fix?”
“Because I see that there is a problem when no one else does.”

That, I believe, is why Sophronia will be my favorite character forever: because of how much she sees and how willing she is to actually get involved. She’s brilliant, and I’m so excited to see how she’ll continue to grow over the course of this series.

For fans of the Parasol Protectorate series, going to London means getting the chance to see some of the other characters we already know and love. The roles they play within this story are important, so they’re not just tossed in as Easter eggs for fans, but it still made me squeal with glee.

I enjoyed the plot, though not quite as much as the character development we see from Sophronia, and a sort-of love triangle was introduced, which I still haven’t decided how I feel about it. I did like getting to see a little more from Vieve, and I loved the friendship that’s building up between Sophronia and the other girls in her age group, but particularly Dimity.

Curtsies & Conspiracies is a great follow-up to Etiquette & Espionage, and I really can’t wait to follow this group of characters into book three.

Book Review: The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan

After reading several books in a row that ranged from mediocre to DNF, I picked up Courtney Milan’s newest book, The Heiress Effect. Milan is, hands-down, one of the best writers I’ve ever read, so I was hoping her newest would be good.

It wasn’t just good. It was fabulous, and I couldn’t put it down. In fact, my friends probably got to hear me read aloud half the book because every time something awesome happened, I hugged my Kindle and squealed, and then had to explain why.

the-heiress-effectSynopsis:

Miss Jane Fairfield has made a career of social disaster. She wears outrageous gowns and says even more outrageous things. The only reason she’s invited anywhere is because of her immense dowry–which is all part of her plan to avoid marriage and keep the fortune-hunters at bay.

Mr. Oliver Marshall is the illegitimate son of a duke. His acceptance in society is tenuous as it is. If he wants any kind of career at all, he must do everything right. He doesn’t need to come to the rescue of the wrong woman. He certainly doesn’t need to fall in love with her. But there’s something about the lovely, courageous Jane that he can’t resist…even though it could mean the ruin of them both.

I was really looking forward to this book because I liked Oliver, the hero, from Milan’s previous stories. I loved his relationship with Robert, the hero from The Duchess War, and I couldn’t wait to see Oliver as the hero in his own story.

However, Jane stole the entire freaking show and I loved every second of it.

By the end of the first chapter, you’re firmly in her corner. You completely understand why she’s trying her hardest to drive off any suitors. She’s brave and bold and brash, and even when she’s afraid, she doesn’t back down. You’re cheering for her every single step of the way.

Jane isn’t just bad with manners. She’s downright rude, saying things that don’t just toe the line of social rules; they jump screaming past them. “Outrageous” is quite possibly the kindest way to describe her dresses, as the first one she wears features four different kinds of lace. She came to the conclusion a long time ago that she would never fit in, so she’s going to stand out in the worst possible way to keep herself absolutely unmarriageable.

It’s hilarious to read about, but when she’s no longer playing for a crowd, Jane drops the act and we see how desperately lonely she is. And with Oliver, Jane has the first person, aside from her sister, that she can consider a friend.

Because of the circumstances of his birth, Oliver has spent his entire life with a foot in two worlds, and one of those worlds tries its best to keep him down. If he wants to accomplish anything, he has to play by the rules set out by those who came before him. And so he has, biding his time so that he can make the political changes he needs to.

However, there comes a point when the line between “biding your time” and “cowering” blurs, and that’s part of what Oliver has to deal with in his own arc. I loved him as well, loved watching him grow thanks to (in a large part) the women in his life—Jane, as well as his aunt and sister—and his final confrontation with Bradenton (one of the villains) is a sight to behold.

And I loved, loved, loved that Jane owned herself. She was never a damsel in distress, not really. She could and did take care of herself and handle her own problems. When she turned to Oliver it was not because she needed saving, but because she wanted the reminder that she wasn’t alone. Their relationship had balance.

Then, there was this line, which is one of the best lines I have ever seen a romance heroine utter EVER:

“I’m not a gift,” she said. “Or a prize that you’ve won. I’m a woman, and I want you because it will give me joy.”

Do you have any idea how rare it is to see that explicitly stated in fiction, to see a woman owning her desire and her sexuality without any kind of shame about it? Holy shit, that line might be one of the sexiest things I’ve ever read.

And this was one of the parts that made me shriek with incoherent glee:

“Do you think you’re squabbling with him [Bradenton] over me?” She smiled more brightly. “Oh, no, Mr. Marshall. You’re wrong. I’m squabbling with him over you.”

GO KICK HIS ASS, BABY; I’LL HOLD YOUR FLOWER.

Seriously, Jane was a thousand different kinds of amazing.

I adored the secondary romance between Emily and Anjan. Though it was shorter than the main story, it could easily have been its own book, but it worked very well as it was. My only issue was that I wanted more from Anjan’s viewpoint, because he was just great. One of his last scenes is easily a highlight of the novel.

Words cannot adequately express how much I loved this book. Everything about it was fantastic, and my nerdy little heart just absolutely adored it. While it is second in The Brothers Sinister series, you don’t need to have read the first book to enjoy this one.

Go pick it up. Now. It is worth every penny you will spend and then some.

Book Review: His Bride By Design by Teresa Hill

Earlier this year, my grandmother started giving me books. And by that, I don’t mean the occasional bag of half a dozen paperbacks; I mean thirteen grocery sacks of books at a time. It’s a wonder my roommates haven’t killed me yet for having random sacks of books strewn about the house.

Because of this, I’ve acquired a number of books I wouldn’t normally pick up on my own, including enough Harlequin category romances to supply my own used bookstore. I know a lot of people tend to stick up their noses at Harlequin, but I’ve found some gems there before, and I love romance anyway. So I was kind of excited at my haul.

Alas, the first book I picked up to read, His Bride by Design, wasn’t really worth it. It was a disappointment, because I had recently read a couple of fake-relationship stories that I really enjoyed, and I was looking forward to finding another one.

bride-by-designSynopsis from the back of the book:

Wedding-dress designer Chloe Allen had it all—her first celebrity client, a debut New York fashion show, even a happy engagement…her third, but who was counting? Then a catwalk catfight revealed her fiance’s cheating ways, and the media had a field day. To be painted as unlucky in love was a curse in her profession.

As brides-to-be rioted to return their Chloe originals, Fiance No. 2 rode to her rescue. Financier James Elliot IV couldn’t let her—or his secret investment in her business—suffer. They would play up a reunion romance for the cameras and get Chloe back on track. He had it all sewn up—but would their tabloid tableau vivant turn into the real deal?

Now, if you’re guessing that Chloe’s man was cheating on her with a model, you would be correct. What you might not guess is that he was cheating on her with a male model, which was a giggle-worthy twist since Chloe was kind of slow on the uptake.

What bothered me was how it was handled afterward. A blog (in the book) said “It’s the other men modern-day brides have to worry about,” which made me raise my eyebrows, as guys sleeping with other guys is not exactly a modern development.

On top of that, other brides actually were terrified their grooms were sleeping with their groomsmen, which also had me rolling my eyes. While I can kind of understand the superstitious aspect of it, this seemed like a weirdly specific fear that I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief enough for.

Then this conversation happened, after James found out someone’s put the video of Chloe finding out about her cheating boyfriend on YouTube:

“People are online watching a video of the brawl at Chloe’s show?”

“More than a hundred thousand people so far,” Marcy said.

James grimaced. “Someone’s keeping a count?”

“Of course. At the rate the video’s being downloaded, it could go viral at any time.”

A hundred thousand views in less than two days? I hate to break it to you, but that video’s not “about” to go viral; it has gone viral. Also, most people don’t actually download videos from YouTube. There’s no built-in functionality for that. And considering every YouTube video ever uploaded has its number of views just beneath it, “keeping a count” isn’t exactly difficult.

This kind of stuff frustrates the hell out of me. I don’t expect everyone to know the difference between HTML and CSS, but if you’re supposedly Internet-savvy, as Marcy is, I would hope you know how YOUTUBE WORKS.

However, even I can admit inaccuracies like that are usually minor issues in a story, and if the rest of it is good enough, I can forgive them. In this case, the rest of the story really wasn’t good enough to outweigh these mistakes.

I couldn’t get behind Chloe as a heroine. I liked her initially, but she was just so…wimpy after everything went down. She was so dependent on her assistants and then on James to do anything, it seemed.

I didn’t buy her as a woman who owned her own (successful) business. She didn’t even have any kind of plan for dealing with the fallout. Then, when James offered her a way to mitigate the problem, she burst into tears at the thought of doing it. She didn’t come across as strong enough to do what needed to be done to save what she cared about.

Then, they were kissing only thirty pages in. Which just never, ever works for me. Part of the fun of the romance is the journey in getting the characters from “Hello” or “I hate you” to “I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” After thirty pages, I’ve barely gotten a chance to know these characters; I’m not even rooting for them to get together yet. It’s like everything’s happening way too quickly.

I was excited for a reconciliation romance on top of a fake relationship, but after about the first four pages of the book, it just kind of meandered downhill. It didn’t dive straight into crazy-terrible, which might have been entertaining in and of itself for the WTF level, but just kind of settled at “not good enough for me to justify continuing to read.”

Between the heroine I didn’t like, the mediocre writing, and the Internet-related inaccuracies, I just didn’t care enough to finish the book.

Two in One Book Review: The Strange Case of Finley Jayne and The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross

The ebook version I got of The Girl in the Steel Corset came with the prequel novella, called The Strange Case of Finley Jayne. Oddly, I think if I hadn’t read the prequel first, I may have enjoyed the actual novel more.

strange-case-of-finley-jayneBut as it was, while I really liked The Strange Case of Finley Jayne, I couldn’t finish The Girl in the Steel Corset.

In The Strange Case of Finley Jayne, we meet Finley just as she has lost her position in an aristocratic household. Not just for punching the governess, but because Finley did so hard enough to shatter the woman’s teeth and send her flying across the room. Not exactly something a teenage girl ought to be able to do.

Finley is worried about losing her job, worried about telling her parents, and worried more about this strange “darkness” that seems to overtake her whenever she gets frightened or angry enough. It makes her stronger, faster, and enhances her senses, but it also makes her bolder and more violent. She has no idea what’s wrong with her, but it terrifies her.

The very next day, however, Finley is offered a position as a lady’s maid in Lady Morton’s household. The job seems too good to be true, but curious, Finley accepts anyway. It turns out the lady is well aware of Finley’s more violent tendencies, and is hoping to use them to protect her daughter, Phoebe.

I really liked this novella for a number of reasons. For one, the story perfectly fit the novella format, which is a lot harder to do than it sounds. Sometimes authors try to do too much for a short format, but this one works.

Finley’s dual nature is interesting, though sometimes it was difficult to tell which version of her viewpoint we were supposed to be in. It still very much feels like it’s the same person whether her darker nature or her more timid nature is in control.

Plus, even if Finley’s darker nature is more violent, it’s also very protective. She essentially acts as a bodyguard for Phoebe, and does a phenomenal job of it. She punched the governess at the beginning of the story because the governess struck a young boy for trying to take a treat off a cart. It’s great when she’s in that mindset, because she’s bolder and brasher, but not stupid about it. I loved watching Finley investigate the mystery.

I also really liked Lady Morton. She really wants nothing more than to protect her daughter and make sure she’s happy, and she’ll do that by whatever means necessary. She knows something’s not right, but she also knows she’s not in a position to fix it. That’s where Finley comes in.

We don’t get a whole lot of worldbuilding in the novella, but there’s enough that the steampunk aspects don’t feel entirely like window dressing. There’s a great scene with two runaway mechanical horses that was easily my favorite in the entire novella.

There was one little part from the villain’s viewpoint that felt really extraneous—Finley figured out the information shared in that scene in the very next chapter and it didn’t add anything else except perhaps to confirm that said villain was, in fact, a villain.

But really, that scene was the only serious misstep. Other than that, The Strange Case of Finley Jayne was a solidly entertaining novella.

And I enjoyed it enough that I was looking forward to reading The Girl in the Steel Corset, which started off well. Once again, Finley is facing trouble at her job, but this time it’s from the young lord of the house, who is trying to force himself on her. With the help of her darker nature, Finley beats him into unconsciousness and then runs away—straight into the velocycle (motorcycle) of Griffin King, the Duke of Greythorne.

girl-steel-corsetWhat Finley doesn’t know is that Griffin and his friends have special powers, much like her, and for the first time, Finley starts to feel like she might be able to belong somewhere. However, a devious criminal mastermind called the Machinist threatens to tear their group—and England—apart.

The novel starts off great. I loved the scene at the beginning between Finley and Lord Felix, their fight, and the terror and excitement warring within her. Unfortunately, as soon as that scene is over, the story seems to dive right into solidly mediocre territory and stay there.

My biggest problem with the novel came because of the apparently fluid nature of Finley’s darker side. In the novella, Finley gets violent, but not murderously so. She never hurts Phoebe or Lady Morton, and only neutralizes people she perceives as threats to those she cares about. And she’s much the same way in The Girl in the Steel Corset, only she’s protecting herself.

So it really surprised me how quick others—and even Finley herself—were to accuse her of murder. It just seemed so at odds with how she’d acted, even when her darker half was in control, that I couldn’t really reconcile it.

Then there was the standard love triangle with Finley, Griffin, and an underground crime lord named Jack Dandy that I think was supposed to illustrate the difference between Finley’s two natures and what they found attractive, but really just made me roll my eyes.

Honestly, none of the viewpoint characters were really that interesting to me and the ones that were—like Emily—weren’t on the page enough to make me feel like reading was worth it.

Then I had a number of issues with the writing itself.

Problem the First: Finley’s dual personas
Once again, there wasn’t a marked difference in narrative between Finley’s split personalities. While that wasn’t as big of a deal in the novella, in the full novel, it’s an issue, particularly since reconciling Finley’s dual natures is a plot point.

Her darker nature didn’t seem to be awful enough for me to understand why she was so upset about it, particularly since she’d made it work for her so well in The Strange Case of Finley Jayne. It’s almost like she takes a step backward as a character by the beginning of the novel.

Problem the Second: Plot and character inconsistencies
There also seemed to be a lot of inconsistencies between the prequel novella and the novel. For example, in The Girl in the Steel Corset, Finley thinks, regarding a ball:

She’d never been to one before—not as a guest. She’d sat in a stupid room with other ladies maids and tapped her foot to the music while sipping warm lemonade, but never had she been one of the dancers or a debutante in a beautiful gown.

However, in The Strange Case of Finley Jayne, Finley attends an engagement ball not as Phoebe’s maid, but posing as her cousin from the country. Considering that scene and that plot point are such a huge part of the novella, you’d think Finley would have remembered. That kind of character and story inconsistency is, sadly, prevalent throughout the entire novel.

I can totally understand the prequel novella was most likely written second. But in that case, you really ought to make sure that the character and their life story syncs up with where they are at the beginning of the actual novel.

Problem the Third: Pete and repeat were on a boat…
Cross tends to repeat herself in the narration, so certain paragraphs or exchanges feel twice as long as they should be.

Jasper made a face at his mention of the subterranean railway. The cowboy didn’t like tight spaces any more than Griffin did.

“No,” Griff remarked with a small smile. “I don’t like it either.”

How is “The cowboy didn’t like tight spaces any more than Griffin did” any kind of necessary if Griffin is going to tell us in the very next line that he doesn’t like the subway either?

This kind of repetition is annoying as hell to read, and it happens multiple times throughout the book. It’s almost like another editing pass could probably have cut another thousand words out just by removing superfluous sentences.

Problem the Fourth: Whose head are we in?
Cross occasionally has some absolutely wonderful lines, like this one at the beginning of chapter 5:

If the city of London was a body, Whitechapel would be the groin; a great unwashed area that only showed itself under the cover of darkness, and only for the most salacious of entertainments.

Unfortunately, this is then tempered by the fact that it then takes three pages to get to whose viewpoint we’re in (there are three different viewpoint characters), so by the time I found out it was Finley, I had already spent two paragraphs thinking it was one of the guys. It was jarring to realize I was wrong, which threw me out of the story.

Finally, at chapter 14, when I realized I was reading more out of duty as opposed to getting any real enjoyment out of it, I called it quits. It wasn’t necessarily bad, per se, but overall it seemed to be solidly mediocre, with enough irritating bits that the few good things couldn’t quite compensate.

Book Review: Mine to Possess by Nalini Singh

I’ve been slowly making my way through Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series since last year, which is a really interesting paranormal romance series with some fascinating worldbuilding. I picked up book four, Mine to Possess, along with book five at the used bookstore earlier this year. I’ve really been looking forward to getting through more of the series.

Alas, while Mine to Possess had a lot of the good that I’ve come to expect from Singh, I had such a problem with the hero, Clay, that it really dampened my enjoyment of the story.

mine-to-possessClay is a leopard changeling and a sentinel with the DarkRiver pack, a group that controls a large part of the San Francisco area. He wasn’t raised with the pack, though; he was raised in the city with his human mother, and was forced to keep his leopard half subdued for most of his childhood.

Talin, the heroine (and the first human main character to show up in the books so far), is a friend of Clay’s from childhood. She’s stayed away from him for the better part of twenty years for a number of reasons, and now she works for a group called the Shine Foundation, helping troubled kids get their lives back on track.

However, someone is kidnapping and killing Talin’s kids, and she goes looking for Clay to help her find out who’s responsible and stop them before they can kill again.

Now, the actual story of this book? Absolutely fantastic. Singh does a great job with the suspense and the mystery and balancing that with the romance. Plus, I love the futuristic world she’s built up here, which we’re introduced to in the first book, Slave to Sensation, and learn more about with each subsequent novel.

We have three major races: the Psy, who have a number of diverse psychic abilities, the Changelings, who are shifters, and regular old humans. The Psy have instituted a policy called Silence, which teaches young Psy not to feel any emotion, in an effort to curb the number of Psy who were going insane. It’s worked for about a hundred years, but things are starting to crack, and it’s at the beginning of this period of change that the books actually start.

I love this world, and I love what she’s done to build up the differences between the three major races while still creating romances that bridge those gaps. I love that she makes an effort not to cast all Psy as villains or all Changelings as perfect, but points out that there is good and evil on each side. (In some books, this is handled better than others.)

And for most of the book, I loved Talin as a heroine. She had a horrific childhood, was abused by her adoptive father. She got out of that situation, but throughout her teens and early adulthood, she didn’t make a lot of good decisions and has had a lot of trouble letting people in. Since then, she’s gotten better and is now trying to help kids who were in the same position she was. She’s fiercely dedicated and cares deeply about these children who have nowhere else to turn, and I really admired that.

And Clay himself was not bad as a hero. He’s clearly devoted to Talin, determined to protect her and equally determined to help her. The changelings in this world are generally very protective and possessive, which overall seems to work.

However. (WARNING: RANT INCOMING.)

One of the things Talin did, in her era of bad decision-making, was sleep around. She explains why, and while I don’t necessarily condone what she did, I get it. Besides, she was a consenting participant in all of it. She regrets it, but she doesn’t shame herself for those decisions, if that makes sense.

When Clay finds out she’s slept with other men? He flips OUT. He just cannot fathom why she would sully herself like that. (And yes, that is the DEFINITE impression I get from his thoughts: that sleeping with a lot of men has sullied her.)

And every time I saw that thought in his head, it took everything in me not to strangle him.

What fucking right does he have to get all judgmental about this? It all happened in the past, after they’d been separated and WELL before they get together again during the course of the story. It’s not like she was cheating on him. And it’s not even her reasoning behind it that seems to drive him crazy (although that is part of it); it’s the fact that she allowed any other men to touch her at all.

And I’m just like…dude. She was supposed to psychically know at age EIGHT that you two were going to be bonded, and thus to keep herself pure and virginal until you were both old enough to consummate the relationship? What the everloving HELL?

It just infuriated me to read. Because it was almost like if she’d been having sex because she genuinely enjoyed it, he’d still be pissed that she let other men touch her.

If Talin had, at some point, called him out on being a judgmental ass about it, I probably wouldn’t have had nearly the problem I did with it. Or if Clay had done more groveling than just a very, very little bit at the end. But that didn’t happen. In fact, at one point, Talin actually excuses his behavior because he is a changeling, and mentions that she would have put up more of a fuss about his attitude if he had been human.

And that just drove me absolutely nuts to read.

I don’t mind dominant heroes. I don’t even mind possessive heroes. But that has to be tempered with a heroine who can call them out on their bullshit, who’s strong enough internally to stand up to them. And that just didn’t come across to me.

That, combined with the overall feeling that this book was kind of a bridge book, setting up the next major conflict between the Psy and the DarkRiver pack, left me feeling kind of unfulfilled by the end of it.