Branded by Fire by Nalini Singh (Psy-Changeling #6)

 

5628753Though DarkRiver sentinel Mercy is feeling the pressure to mate, she savagely resists when Riley Kincaid, a lieutenant from the SnowDancer pack, tries to possess her. The problem is not simply that he pushes her buttons; the problem is that he’s a wolf, she’s a cat, and they’re both used to being on top.

But when a brilliant changeling researcher is kidnapped from DarkRiver territory, Mercy and Riley must work together to track the young man – before his shadowy captors decide he’s no longer useful. Along the way, the two dominants may find that submitting to one another uncovers not just a deadly conspiracy, but a passion so raw that it’ll leave them both branded by fire…

Review:

This book, the sixth in the series, has the first same “species” pairing but I wasn’t sold on it.

The good:

  • Singh got this far because she’s a good writer, and the basics are taken care of here.
  • The world building continues, and the overall story arc is advanced some.

The neither here-nor-there:

  • There are so many characters, and I waited too long to read this after the last book. There are five HEA couples (and I’m pretty sure they all make cameo appearances), as well as heaps of other people. I had to give up remembering people perfectly, but hints in the text ensure that everything makes sense.
  • The cast expands out even more, probably to seed future installments. The heroine has three brothers, and two super hot guys from South America come to visit. How convenient.

The not-so-good:

  • The plot felt like a rehash of previous books, retreading the same tropes and themes. Terrorists are trying to hurt people, a changeling child is put in harm’s way, and two people with major differences end up falling in love.
  • But are they really all that different? Both Riley and Mercy hold similar leadership and enforcement positions in their packs. They’re both dominant, and Mercy especially has trouble walking the line of “I want someone strong, but not too strong.” Her leopard doesn’t watch a slouch, but neither does it want to give an inch.
  • This, along with Riley being a wolf, provides most of the relationship conflict. Sure, they’re from different packs, but they’re alliance partners so I didn’t buy this obstacle to their love.
  • Then, at 76%, the real difficulty is dropped and it makes perfect sense. Why didn’t Singh mention this important fact earlier? I would have been much more interested and invested.

Compared to the other books in the series Branded by Fire fell flat. The quickly expanding world feels like it’s only to justify more books, and the plot was nothing new. A meh installment, but I’m still invested enough to read on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey (Phèdre’s Trilogy #1)

22238208“When Love cast me out, it was Cruelty who took pity on me.”
In a kingdom born of angels, Phedre is an anguisette, cursed or blessed to find pleasure in pain. Sold to the Court of Night Blooming Flowers, her fate as a beautiful but anonymous courtesan was sealed. Her bond was purchased by the nobleman Anafiel Delauney, who recognized the scarlet mote in Phedre’s eye as the rare mark of one touched by a powerful deity. Under Delauney’s patronage she is trained in history, politics, language, and the use of body and mind as the ultimate weapon of subterfuge in a dangerous game of courtly intrigue. Guided into the bed chambers of Terre D’Ange’s most influential nobles, Phedre uncovers a conspiracy against the throne so vast that even her teacher cannot see the whole of it. Betrayed and blindsided by her own longings, only Phedre and her trusted bodyguard Joscelin are left to cross borders and warring armies in a race to stop the final blow from falling.

Review:

I’ve been meaning to read Kushiel’s Dart for a long time, but had trouble building up the nerve. It’s a big book – over 900 pages in some editions, and 656 in the oversized trade I read from.  There’s a map (what epic fantasy doesn’t have a map?) and a list of characters pages long.

I read the first chunk as part of a readathon, and that ended up being a good move. The beginning has a lot of names connected to shifting alliances to keep straight, and we’re introduced to the amazing world Carey has come up with. I can’t say I understood everything, but I felt comfortable enough to continue. The intrigue picks up in the middle, and before long we’re whisked to far off lands for adventure and so much more.

The worldbuilding is nothing short of amazing. There’s religion, politics, history, and current events that are both slightly familiar and quite alien. The characters are well drawn, flawed and believable.  The plot is truly epic, with travel and battles, allies and enemies, bonds strengthened and betrayed.

It must be said – S&M is not a small part of the plot. Phedre is cursed to feel pleasure from pain, and the sex she has may put off some people. Carey’s writing style is a bit flowery and while I enjoyed it, again, some people may not get along with it.

If you have any tiny like of fantasy, though, you must give Kushiel’s Dart a try – I’m not doing it justice here. A great way to end my reading year.

Claimed by Stacey Kennedy (Club Sin #1)

Synopsis:

17609863Presley Flynn is ripe to experience her secret fantasies . . . and Dmitri Pratt wants nothing more than to fulfill them. Once inside the elite Club Sin in Las Vegas, Presley is nervous but excited—and determined to surrender to her every desire. Dmitri is her Master, and his touch is like fire. With each careful, calculated caress, he unleashes her wildest inhibitions, giving her unimagined pleasure.

Presley is different than the other submissives Dmitri has mastered. The BDSM lifestyle is new to her, and so are the games they play at Club Sin. From the start, Presley stirs emotions in him far beyond the raw purity between a dom and the perfect sub. For the ecstasy they share goes beyond the dungeon igniting a passion that claims the very depths of the heart.

Review:

Claimed starts off with a disclaimer saying that this series of books is “not intended to be an actual portrayal of the BDSM lifestyle; nor [is it] meant to be a real representation of a BDSM club”. Kennedy could have just said, “This club is too good to be true and could never exist. Please don’t leave your husband and job to find it no matter how bad you want to kthx bye.”

Casino president Dmitri is a “true” ~eyeroll~ dominant. Without a fix in the bedroom his professional life goes to hell so he built a mansion with Club Sin in the basement. Membership is free (of course) as Dmitri is looking to help others with a love of dominance and submission while fulfilling his own need. Help is a big theme here – our heroine Presley needs help getting into the lifestyle and breaking free from her controlling ex, Demitri needs help so he can allow himself to love, someone else needs help moving on after her husband dies.

BDSM as healing or therapy or whatever isn’t new but it always strikes me as… odd. It’s like like saying writing is therapy – it can have a therapeutic effect but I’m not sure it replaces someone with a Ph.D and a funky couch. It seems to me that getting into the lifestyle can help you work through things, but maybe not in the “have this powerful/troubling scene, become enlightened, be ‘cured'” way Claimed and other BDSM erotica sets forth.

Anywho, the story follows Presley’s introduction to submission, from a trial period and contracts to finding her perfect dom. I found her journey to be believable – while she’s primed to be a sub she still has reasonable doubts and fears that have to be worked through. Sure, she landed in Club Amazing with Mr. Perfect, but the internal challenges are all there.

For external difficulties we have Presley’s cheating ex-boyfriend with stalker tenancies. Maybe I’m just sensitive because I’ve read two books with this type of character back to back but the ex as stalker/enemy/evil dude trope is starting to get to me. Perhaps this is why I read paranormal – it’s so much easier to write evil dudes when they can be devils or vampires or shapeshifters.

The oft-covered “submissive does not equal doormat” topic is done well here, with examples of women happy as bedroom submissives and sex slaves both.

When it comes down to it Claimed is a light, fun tale of wish/fantasy fulfillment. If you’ve been neck deep in depressing literary fiction or just want everything to go right for once you’ll enjoy this fast read.

When Death Becomes Life: Notes from a Transplant Surgeon by Joshua D. Mezrich

9780062656209_56b54At the University of Wisconsin, Dr. Joshua Mezrich creates life from loss, transplanting organs from one body to another. He examines more than one hundred years of remarkable medical breakthroughs, connecting this fascinating history with the inspiring and heartbreaking stories of his transplant patients. Combining gentle sensitivity with scientific clarity, Mezrich reflects on his calling as a doctor and introduces the modern pioneers who made transplantation a reality—maverick surgeons whose feats of imagination, bold vision, and daring risk taking generated techniques and practices that save millions of lives around the world.

When Death Becomes Life also engages in fascinating ethical and philosophical debates: How much risk should a healthy person be allowed to take to save someone she loves? Should a patient suffering from alcoholism receive a healthy liver? What defines death, and what role did organ transplantation play in that definition? Mezrich’s riveting book is a beautiful, poignant reminder that a life lost can also offer the hope of a new beginning.

Review:

Books by doctors who wield scalpels are some of my favorites, and Mezrich does a great job introducing the reader to the history and current practice of transplant surgery.

The good:

  • This is not a comprehensive history of transplantation, nor a memoir, nor a collection of patient stories.  It’s equal parts of each, allowing us to get an overview of the field in a personal, relatable way.
  • Transplant surgery is amazing, and Mezrich obviously loves his job and sharing that wonder and excitement with us.  It’s almost like he’s going, ‘Look!  Isn’t this cool?’ And it is.
  • The pioneers of the field, like most doctors in the 1960s and 70s, were men, so I appreciate that he takes the time to acknowledge a woman who is leading the field today and has some bad ass stories of her own.
  • The pacing is good and the switches between history, patient stories, and his training are well done.  I never thought, ‘go back!’ or, ‘ugh, history again’.  It all fits together.
  • Mezrich doesn’t shy away from ethical issues. Some of the first donors didn’t give consent, exactly, and organs were taken from people who died in prison as a matter of course.  When the field was first getting established there wasn’t even an accepted definition of brain death.  Not all the controversy is in the past – do you give a new liver to an alcoholic?  How much risk do you let a living donor take on in order to save their spouse?
  • Overall the tone is upbeat.  He doesn’t tear our hearts out or leave us in suspense about the outcome of a case, which I appreciate.  My eyes did leak a bit while reading the chapter about donors because the details are beautiful and touching. For example, before starting the operation to procure organs the doctors, nurses, ICU team, and other staff that took care of the patient will pause and say something about the donor.  Often they’ll read a poem or express thoughts from the family, and many will have tears in their eyes as they start.
  • There are no spiels about how everyone should donate their kidneys or anything like that.  He accepts organs as they come, and always with a sense of gratitude and respect for the donors.
  • The author seems like a nice guy which is saying a lot, because there are bunches of surgeons who write books that don’t seem like nice guys.  He acknowledges the rest of his team and thanks them often, as well as share funny, self-deprecating stories.

The not-so-good:

  • As much as I enjoyed this book (a lot!) I’m not sure it will stick with me.  It’s missing that ineffable something that screams four star read.  3.5 stars, though I may bump it up later.

If you like books about medicine, look forward to the Wellcome Prize longlist, or are just curious about transplantation, you’ll want to pick up When Death Becomes Life.

Thanks to Harper and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

Artificial Condition by Martha Wells (Murderbot Diaries #2)

36223860It has a dark past – one in which a number of humans were killed. A past that caused it to christen itself “Murderbot”. But it has only vague memories of the massacre that spawned that title, and it wants to know more.

Teaming up with a Research Transport vessel named ART (you don’t want to know what the “A” stands for), Murderbot heads to the mining facility where it went rogue.

What it discovers will forever change the way it thinks…

Review:

Murderbot, how I love thee!

That sounds so wrong but feels so right. Socially anxious and perfectly happy to escape the world via thousands of hours of video programming, our relatable narrator finds itself on a quiet transport ship that isn’t quite so quiet.

Being the second in a series I don’t want to say much, but I loved reading it’s next adventure. As much as I would have liked to see Murderbot continue on with the crew from the first book ART is a wonderful addition.

I wanted more from this book, but I think that’s just me being greedy. The plot fits the page count, we get to watch Murderbot evolve a bit, and the world is opened up to us oh so slightly. This series has become a comfort read for me. As much as I’d enjoy gobbling up the next two novellas I’m going to space them out – the next book, a full-blown novel, won’t be released until 2020. 😭

A Midwinter Night’s Dream by Tiffany Reisz

42903623Two days before Christmas 1871, the newly-minted Baron Marcus Stearns returns to London for the reading of his long-estranged and much-despised father’s will, fully certain he will inherit nothing but the title. He receives the shock of his life when he learns that he and his sister Lady Claire will only inherit their late father’s vast estate if he marries—immediately.

Kingsley, the Baron’s lover and devoted valet, offers a simple solution to a seemingly Herculean task—the Baron should simply marry his beautiful ward Eleanor. Yet while the Baron longs to do just that…he possesses a dangerous secret that threatens to destroy their marriage before it’s hardly begun.

Review:

Reisz releases a short story set in her Original Sinners universe every Christmas, but this year she followed a plot bunny and wrote an 85 page novella. I’m not complaining!  The main characters are reimagined in the Victorian era with Soren as a Baron, Kingsley his valet, and Nora his ward.

If you haven’t read the main Original Sinners series don’t bother with this – you’ll need to get through the first four books or so to understand and appreciate what’s going on here. The vibe is completely “what if”, centering on what it would be like if Nora and Soren actually got married. It’s fun, it’s a good kind of silly, and it has a couple of hot sex scenes. Soren and Kingsley’s bisexuality is discussed in an interesting way thanks to the setting. Reisz even takes a plot device I despise and makes it into something palpable.

Not bad for my first read of 2019.

Surface Tension by Valentine Wheeler

42674588Sarai ran away from home to find a new life on the high seas. But when a storm destroys her ship and her life aboard it, she’s stuck on land with only a days-long hole in her memory and the tattered clothes on her back. What could have happened beneath the sea? And can the strange new world she finds when she investigates help her save the world she left behind?

Review:

I picked up Surface Tension because it’s an f/f romance with bi rep that has mermaids, and I need more of that in my life. It’s inspired by The Little Mermaid but goes off and does its own thing.

The good:

  • The author is autistic and bi, making for own voices bi rep, yea!
  • Serai’s yearns to be out at sea and make her own life to get away from a less than ideal father, and she does it. The beginning, where she meets an awful storm with her crew mates on the high seas, drew me right in.
  • The Ariel-esque character has the same grotto and love of human objects that you would expect, but with a more scientific bent, which is neat.
  • All of the icky parts of The Little Mermaid story are taken out so no one loses their voice to get legs, etc.
  • The under sea sections have the germ of a good idea, but…

The not-so-good:

  • The setting isn’t fleshed out much. It’s your typical European fantasy setting – vaguely medieval with a town, castle, forest, and ocean. I wanted more, especially from the under sea sections.
  • The one side character with any teeth, Nicholas, could have served the plot better.
  • I’m not sure I understood the point of the mermaids having four tentacles.
  • The end smacks of colonialism, which I did not like or expect.

After such a wonderful beginning I was left disappointed.

Thanks to Nine Star Press and Netgalley for providing a review copy.

The Reading Year Ahead – 2019

New year, new goals…? Let’s start with a recap of last year’s Un-goals:

  • I will not set a hard number of books or pages to read.

Check! I changed my Goodreads challenge number as I saw fit, both up and down, and it felt great.

  • I will not update my Dewey Decimal and 20th Century lists monthly.

I haven’t updated my Dewey Decimal list at all, and the 20th Century list only when I get the urge. For the record, that’s only once every few months. 😉

  • I will not join any challenges that dictate what books to read.

I broke this one, joining some readathons on Youtube, but that’s okay! Because…

  • I will not hold myself to these goals if they’re not working for me.

I think this is my favorite goal. Flexibility does me good, and the success I had with these un-goals. I read 115 books, embraced my mood reading tendencies, and read a higher percentage of books by authors from marginalized groups. So guess what?

I’m doing it again this year. 😁

2019 Reading Un-goals

  • I will not set a hard number of books or pages to read.
  • I will not join any challenges that dictate what books to read.
  • I will not hold myself to these goals if they’re not working for me.

That being said, I will have some soft, “wouldn’t that be nice”-type sorta-goals I’d like to keep in mind.

First is continuing to read authors from marginalized groups. I broke 40% for the first time in 2018 and would like to do so again this year. Getting to 50% would be icing on the cake.

I’ve also signed up to be a judge for the Booktube Prize on Youtube. That will necessarily direct my reading at certain points in the year, so I’m working that into un-goal number three. Huzzah flexibility!

I may end up returning to more concrete goals in 2020 but for now un-goals are suiting me just fine. What goals and challenges are you looking forward to tackling in the new year?