September Reading Wrap-Up

September was a month full of good reads. You know how you’ll go through a period in which nothing you read really seems to hold your interest? And you’re just not sure  what you’re really in the mood to read? I hate periods like that. September was the exact opposite — it seemed like almost everything I read was so good I had to force myself to stop reading and do other things.

More months like this, please. 🙂

Here are the books that kept me up past my bedtime last month:

The Handmaid’s Tale

91LKGqgWzYL._SL1500_This book. Holy shit, this book. I am actually annoyed with myself for not reading it sooner. I was pretty sure I had read it, and maybe I did pick it up in college at some point but I know for sure now that I definitely did not read it back then. This is the kind of book you just don’t forget. A future dystopia in which everything is neat and orderly and all the more haunting for it, because this dystopia is built fully on the backs of women. And now every time I see some asshat talking about regulating women’s bodies, I find myself thinking “do you want The Handmaid’s Tale? Because this is how we get The Handmaid’s Tale.

And then I realize that in many cases, they kind of do and then I want to hit things. And when it’s a woman saying it, I can only ever think of her afterward as a Serena Joy fuckwit.

Don’t read it if you are looking for something uplifting, is all I’m saying. But everyone should read it. Yes, everyone.

 

The Girl with All the Gifts

careyI never really got into the whole zombie thing. I think the only zombie book I read before this was Amanda Hocking’s Hollowland, so when I originally heard that this one was about zombies, I wasn’t interested. Then, people I know who have really good taste in books started talking about it. And then it was on sale pretty cheap on Amazon, so I decided to give it a try.

I was not disappointed. This book is full of action, characters you both love and hate (sometimes at the same time) and the kind of attention to detail that makes you feel like you’re living it. And now, even though I’ve never had any interest in zombie movies, either, I want to see the movie. Amazing book, but again… not at all a “gee, this makes me happy!” kind of read. Sometimes, those are just what you need, though. Highly recommended.

 

Trickster’s Choice

pierceTamora Pierce has been on my “why the hell haven’t I read any books by her yet?” list for a while now (what, you don’t have lists like that? Interesting.) so when I saw this one at my library, I grabbed it.

And now I will read everything I can find by Tamora Pierce. This is a YA fantasy novel about a smart, shrewd young woman who knows what she wants, and, maybe even more importantly, what she does NOT want. Her life is thrown into chaos when she finds herself captured by slavers and ends up in service of a household of royals. Where she goes from there is a tale full of twists and turns, gods and warriors, politics and betrayal. I have the second book (Trickster’s Queen) and am reading it now. Loved this book, and if you’re looking for a fantasy with a really well-written heroine and very little romance subplot, this is a good one to check out. (I was surprised how little the lack of romance bothered me. I usually love that stuff, but this book did just fine without a major romance plot.) Highly recommended.

Daughter of the Forest

forestI loved this book for the deep characterization and worldbuilding, and for the nearly impossible task the book’s heroine, Sorcha, undertook. Everyone loves an underdog, and Sorcha is most definitely that. You spend most of the book wondering how in the hell she’s going to manage what she has to do, especially when her life seems to never stop twisting and turning long enough for her to breathe, let alone try to save the people she loves most in the world. This was another book with a strong, intelligent heroine. As much as I loved it, I found myself frustrated at times because it felt like things could have moved along faster, but I also recognize that I prefer books with a fast pace, while others are perfectly happy with a book with a more sedate plot. The combination of mysticism and romance in this book was beautifully done, and I will definitely be reading more by Marillier. Definitely recommended.

Shadow and Bone

bardugoI picked this up because I was trying to distract myself during the long wait for the second of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows books, Crooked Kingdom. It was SO MUCH MORE than a distraction, though. I absolutely fell in love with this book and its heroine, Alina, who is intelligent, devoted, and love that about her. To me, there is nothing more unrealistic than a hero or heroine who always knows, for sure, that his or her path is the right one. I love that she doubted, and I loved that sometimes, she was wrong. I loved the Russian-inspired setting, the magic, the relationships that developed between the characters. I’m stuck waiting to read the second book in the Grisha series becuse my daughter is currently reading it. Said daughter is also reading Crooked Kingdom right now (she seems to inherited my tendency to read more than one book at a time) and so I am sitting here, utterly Bardugo-less.Yes, I said Bardugo-less. It is a sad state of affairs, but there it is. I knew after Six of Crows that she was an author I would read again, and now that I’ve read the first of the Grisha books, she has moved on to my automatic one-click authors list. (You have that list too, right?) 🙂 This was my favorite book this month. Very highly recommended.

Yes, I said Bardugo-less. It is a sad state of affairs, but there it is. I knew after Six of Crows that she was an author I would read again, and now that I’ve read the first of the Grisha books, she has moved on to my automatic one-click authors list. (You have that list too, right?) 🙂 This was my favorite book this month. Very highly recommended.

 

Heartless

renshawThis was the only romance I read this month (weird) and it was a really, really good one. Winter Renshaw did an amazing job bulding the realationship between her heroine, Aidy, who is a makeup artist, and her hero, Ace, a former baseball star who was forced to retire due to injury. It’s definitely an opposites attract, enemies-to-lovers type of story, both of which are among my favorite romance tropes.

While Ace was definitely a swoon-worthy hero, it was Aidy who made this book. Aidy had the kind of strong personality that, in less-skilled hands, might have come off as annoying, but the way Renshaw wrote her was absolute perfection. Aidy’s strong, free-wheeling, adventurous personality was the perfect foil for Ace’s more cynical, taciturn nature. I absolutely loved them together and I need to read more by Renshaw. Definitely recommended for lovers of contemporary romance.

That was it. I read a few nonfiction books in September as well, but these were the highlights. Have you read something amazing lately? Tell me about it, please, so I can have more months like September!

Friday Reads: Intisar Khanani, Grace Draven (Yep, again) and Strong Female Protagonist

This was a GOOD reading week. I mentioned last week on Friday that I had started reading Grace Draven’s Entreat Me.

Oh my Hades, you guys.

entreatmeIf you love Beauty and the Beast, and (even more) stories that re-imagine the tale, this book is definitely for you. Draven takes a familiar story and absolutely, 100% makes it her own, all while still managing to pay homage to the original. Here’s the blurb for the book:

“Afflicted by a centuries-old curse, a warlord slowly surrenders his humanity and descends toward madness. Ballard of Ketach Tor holds no hope of escaping his fate until his son returns home one day, accompanied by a woman of incomparable beauty. His family believes her arrival may herald Ballard’s salvation.

…until they confront her elder sister.

Determined to rescue her sibling from ruin, Louvaen Duenda pursues her to a decrepit castle and discovers a household imprisoned in time. Dark magic, threatening sorcerers, and a malevolent climbing rose with a thirst for blood won’t deter her, but a proud man disfigured by an undying hatred might. Louvaen must decide if loving him will ultimately save him or destroy him.

A tale of vengeance and devotion.”

Louvaen is one of my favorite heroines to date. Prickly, tough as hell, straightforward, and strong… yet incredibly sweet and generous to those who deserve it. She was immensely fun to read, and her devotion to her sister was very sweet. I have to confess to being frustrated with her and her staunch dedication to protecting her sister’s virtue — just as both the hero and her sister were. Draven did an excellent job of letting us see both sides of that situation, and it says a lot about her skill as a writer that we can easily empathize with both Louvaen’s desire to help her sister and her sister’s desire to be her own woman. Excellent.

And then there’s Ballard. Oh, man. Both monstrous and enticing, angry yet caring. When you first meet him, he’s described as monstrous, so deformed that even Louvaen’s sister can’t look at him. Yet, just as Louvaen comes to see his deformities as dear, so do we.

You can’t talk about this story without talking about the setting, and Ballard’s castle is both a warm home and a living nightmare. It all comes together in a story so full of romance, angst, loss, revenge, and love (both love for family and romantic love) that it is nearly impossible to put down. I read it in a day. 🙂

lgwifeboneknifeAnd then, not having had enough of Grace Draven’s work, I read her short story, The Lightning God’s Wife. You get a teensy bit of Silhara and Martise (from her excellent Master of Crows) but, more so, you get a peek at the mythology in that world, and the story is beautifully told. Highly recommended!

After that, I read a short story that Grace Draven (oh, let’s just make this the Grace Draven fangirl post, shall we?) recommended on her Facebook page, The Bone Knife, by Intisar Khanani — and I immediately ordered Khanani’s Thorn, which I hope to read next week. Here is the description:

“Rae knows how to look out for family. Born with a deformed foot, she feigns indifference to the pity and insults that come her way. Wary of all things beautiful, Rae instantly distrusts their latest visitor: an appallingly attractive faerie. Further, his presence imperils the secret her sister guards. But when the local townspeople show up demanding his blood, Rae must find a way to protect both her sister’s secret and their guest. Even if that means risking herself.”

This is a short story that feels so much bigger than its fifty-five pages would suggest. And Khanani’s writing is stunning. I cannot wait to delve into Thorn.

Finally, I was excited (see photo below — haha) to receive my copy of the Strong Female Protagonist book, which I supported via Kickstarter a while back. I have read it online, but it’s nice to have a paper copy in hand to leaf through. If you haven’t read it, it’s a really great webcomic by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag. You can (and should!) check it out here.

Photo on 10-24-14 at 10.09 AM #2

 

That’s it for this week! Have a recommendation for me? Tell me about it — PLEASE! 🙂

Friday Reads: Eve Langlais, Meljean Brook, Elizabeth Hunter, and Brian Michael Bendis

“Three of these things belong together,

three of these things are kind of the same. 

Can you guess which one of these doesn’t belong here?

Now it’s time to play our game…” 

Sesame Street lyrics just never quite go out of style, do they? 🙂

So in addition to writing a hell of a lot right now, I’m also on a pretty steady reading kick again, which makes me very happy. This week, I re-read a couple of old favorites by Eve Langlais, mostly because I needed a laugh and she absolutely delivers — If you haven’t read her Welcome to Hell series, it’s worth a look BUT only if you’re not bothered by twisted characters, lots of foul language and quite a bit of steaminess. Since I am a fan of all three, I am a fan of Eve Langlais. Her Furry United Coalition (F.U.C. — get it?) is also equally hilarious and sexy.

On Tuesday, the lovely Elizabeth Hunter released the second novel in her Cambio Springs series, Desert Bound, which I absolutely adored. If you’re interested (AND YOU SHOULD BE… ahem) you can check out my review here. Really, what you should do is go buy the book. Here (Amazon). Or here (BN). Or here (Kobo).

This week, I also had the pleasure of reading Meljean Brook‘s amazing fantasy romance, Frozen. Eventually, I will have to give this book a more thorough review, but for now all I can say is WOW. Little bit of Norse mythology, little bit of a “Beauty and the Beast” vibe, a hero and heroine with a bit of a past together that complicates the situation, and a whole lot of sensual writing. I highly recommend picking it up. I couldn’t put it down and read it in one evening.

I’ve mentioned before that I have an interest in writing comics, so I have a few “how to write comics”-type books on my shelf, and writer Brian Michael Bendis (Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, All-New X-Men, and about a zillion others) published his book Words for Pictures this summer. I’ve read through it a couple of times now, and definitely recommend it, not just for those interested in writing comics, but for those interested in writing any kind of narrative. I tend to “see” my books in pictures, so I guess maybe that’s why I find books like this so helpful, but he offers a lot of great general writing advice in addition to information about the business of writing comics.

Next from the TBR pile: I’m reading Grace Draven’s Entreat Me (and LOVING it so far!) and Marina Warner’s biography of Joan of Arc.

So… what are you reading? Give me something to add to my to-read list. PLEASE! 🙂

Book Review: “Desert Bound” by Elizabeth Hunter

UnknownLet’s be honest. If you know me at all via the blog or social media, you probably already know how this review is going to go (because you probably already know that I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Hunter’s work.)

So let’s get that part out of the way now:

I love this book.

I love Alex and Ted.

I love the setting and the romance and the mystery and Elizabeth Hunter is disgustingly talented.

You should buy this book as soon as you possibly can. 

All right. Now that that’s out of the way, here are some thoughts about WHY you should read Desert Bound (and the first book in the Cambio Springs series, Shifting Dreams).

I should probably start by saying that when Elizabeth asked if I wanted to beta read Desert Bound (yes, I am a lucky, lucky girl and I may have jumped up and down with joy when she asked…) I was a little burnt out on shifter romances. I had read several of them earlier this year and through the summer and I just wasn’t feeling the whole shifter thing (um, other than MY shifter, of course). But I knew that Elizabeth knows how to tell a damn good story, and I was excited to see what would happen with Ted and Alex.

Needless to say, this book made me appreciate shifters again. 

Ted is exactly what you expect an alpha female to be: strong-willed, independent, straightforward, and honest. And Alex is the best kind of shifter male: alpha in a true alpha way, meaning he can do the tough and gruff thing very, very well but rarely needs to because posturing is stupid when everyone knows he’s the big dog (er, wolf. You know what I mean.) I loved that not only was he NOT an asshole alpha, but he took his role in his pack and community very seriously. And that care and strength extended to his relationship with Ted.

The relationship was, of course, the core of the book, and it was very well done. Their relationship had an almost melancholy feel to it. These are two people who loved each other dearly, who had a whole lot of history between them, and it had all fallen apart somewhere along the way. Reading the way they worked through their past issues, and the way they both gave a little to make it work (and make it last!) was wonderful. The love scenes were very well written: steamy and sensual and Hunter does a fantastic job of making sex not just a plot point, but very much integral to the way their relationship evolved. Beautifully done.

I also enjoyed the way she handled the extensive cast of characters in Cambio Springs. Each one felt real, as if this was someone who could easily live next door to  you. I wanted to know more about each and every one of them (particularly a somewhat surly bartender.)

And, since this is a mystery, I should also note that the mystery element was very well done. I was worried at a point in the story, wondering how in the world Hunter was going to make it all work, and damn if she didn’t pull it off in a surprising, yet perfect way.

This book is just another example of Hunter’s ability to provide a story with amazing depth and living characters. I cannot wait to read more about the inhabitants of Cambio Springs.

 

Friday Reads: Master of Crows and Thor #1

Moc_med-210x300Book Review: Grace Draven’s Master of Crows

One of the things I want to do more often is showcase authors whose work I enjoy. Most often, they’ll probably be indie authors, because these are my people. 🙂 This week, I want to talk about Grace Draven’s Master of Crows.

*stares at you intensely*

You HAVE to read this book. Have to. Go get it. Now.

But then come back so I can tell you how amazing it is.

. . .

Okay. All set? Good.

I guess the first thing I have to say about Master of Crows is that I’m pretty sure Grace Draven is some kind of writing talent-enhanced cyborg. It’s really the only thing that makes sense. It is unnatural to be able to write this beautifully, to so perfectly capture a scene  that your reader feels like she’s right there with the heroine. Draven’s descriptive talent is inspiring, and makes Master of Crows one of those books in which, once you’ve set it down (or your Kindle battery has died on you), you feel as if you’re waking from a dream.

She doesn’t just say things like “the curtains fluttered in the breeze.” No, Draven makes you see it:

“Curtains of faded lapis and rust fluttered outward, snapping in the wind like a Kurman dancer’s skirts.”

Isn’t that gorgeous? Can you see it? I love the imagery there. And that is just one small example of the attention to detail shown throughout Master of Crows; details that make the story feel so alive and vibrant that you never want it to end.

As to the story, I can’t say enough good things (can you tell?) Draven loves her anti-heroes, and Silhara is a complicated, intelligent character. I love that we (as the reader) come to understand his character alongside Martise (the heroine), adding even more to the feeling that we’re there with them. As Martise comes to know him deeper, to learn about his code of honor and his history, we see a character who started the story very much as the villain become so much more. Silhara’s character development was exceptionally well-done.

Martise is my favorite kind of heroine: intelligent, resourceful, complex, and with plenty of backbone. Again, we see wonderful character development with her. I can confess to not feeling much for Martise either way as the book began. That changed fairly quickly, and, like Silhara, I came to appreciate her so much more than I thought I would.

And because Master of Crows is fantasy romance, the romance should really be discussed. It is intense. A slow burn, an enemies-to-lovers story that flows beautifully. It is the story of two people who really seem not to belong anywhere finding themselves, and then finding a place together. It isn’t instalove (or even insta-like, really) and they have to work their way to the realization that they care.

And when they do… remember how I said Draven is a master of description and detail? Her love scenes are to die for.

Master of Crows has everything: intrigue, anti-heroes, faithful sidekicks, romance, moody settings, beautiful writing… can you tell I loved it?

Grace Draven Online

Thor #1

4078196-thor_1_coverI know I have fewer comics fans, but if you are into comics, you really should take a look at Thor #1, which came out this week. To see my review, check out my Geekerella blog.

UPDATED with Winners! Review and Giveaway: Elizabeth Hunter’s “The Singer”

Update: Thanks for entering! The winners, via Rafflecopter’s random picks, are Lucy McNally and Misty Denton Witt. Ladies, please email me at email@www.colleenvanderlinden.com with your email address and whether you would like “The Scribe” in addition to “The Singer.” Congratulations!!

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000030_00047]There were two books coming out in 2014 that I was ridiculously excited about. Books that set my fangirl senses tingling, that made me practically salivate at the idea of reading more about characters I’ve come to love.

One was Marjorie Liu’s Labyrinth of Stars, which I am not allowed to read until Strife is totally done.

The second was Elizabeth Hunter‘s The Singer. Which would have been part of my “get your writing done, woman” reward system as well, except that the lovely Ms. Hunter asked me to be one of her beta readers and I had the honor of reading the book a couple of months before it was released.

I love my life.

And I can say, for sure, that The Singer more than lived up to my hopes. The Singer continues Ava’s story after the loss she experienced in The Scribe. It shows so much more about the complex history and society of the Irin and the Irina. You get a look at Irin politics, at the different factions within it. So. Much. History.

And you get your first real look at the Irina. I’m not going to spoil it, but the Irina were so not what I was expecting, and they ended up being one of my favorite parts of this book. Ava learns more about her powers, even as she and the Irin try to untangle the mystery of where her powers came from.

I don’t want to give away too much of the story in case I have readers who haven’t read The Scribe yet, but….wow. This book is just everything I could have hoped it would be. In my bulb for The Singer, I said:

“Passionate, spellbinding, and heartbreaking — The Singer is all this and so much more. Hunter is at the top of her game, drawing you into a story of love, loss, bravery, and redemption. If you loved The Scribe, you will absolutely adore this sequel.”

 

And it completely is. I loved The Scribe. I fell completely in love with Malachi in that book. I have to admit that while I liked Ava in the first Irin Chronicles book, The Singer made me love her. I think part of it is that whole idea behind that Eleanor Roosevelt quote: “A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” And seeing how Ava deals with everything her life has thrown at her made me root for her even more as the series has gone on.

This is a must read. You say you haven’t bought it yet? Or, you say you haven’t read The Scribe yet?

It’s okay. I’ve got you covered.

Today, I am giving away two Kindle copies of The Singer. If you win and haven’t read The Scribe yet, I’ll buy you a copy of that one, too. To enter, just leave a comment. If you tweet about the giveaway, you get an extra entry! Entries will close at 5:00 Eastern today, so, if you win, you can have your hot little hands on this awesome book by the time you get home from work. Happy reading! 🙂

Review: Elizabeth Hunter’s “The Bronze Blade”

bronzeblade_ebook

In my own writing, I try to remember this quote I’ve seen regularly on Tumblr:

Screw writing “strong” women.  Write interesting women.  Write well-rounded women.  Write complicated women.  Write a woman who kicks ass, write a woman who cowers in a corner.  Write a woman who’s desperate for a husband.  Write a woman who doesn’t need a man.  Write women who cry, women who rant, women who are shy, women who don’t take no shit, women who need validation and women who don’t care what anybody thinks.  THEY ARE ALL OKAY, and all those things could exist in THE SAME WOMAN.  Women shouldn’t be valued because we are strong, or kick-ass, but because we are people.  So don’t focus on writing characters who are strong.  Write characters who are people.

–via MadLori on Tumblr

In Elizabeth Hunter’s fantastic Elemental Mysteries series, my favorite character (sorry B) is Tenzin. And part of what I adore about this character is that she’s a legend, even, strangely enough, to those characters who know her. She’s larger than life. Feared. When Tenzin walks (or flies, as the case may be) into a scene, every character stands up and takes notice.

And I find myself doing the same.

It would be easy for someone like Tenzin to become a cardboard cutout, <insert asskicking female here> type of character. But she never feels that way. Her relationship with B (the main character in the series), as well as her actions in books three and four make it very clear that Tenzin is a multi-faceted, complicated woman, that as terrifying as she is, there’s tenderness there. It’s often buried so deeply it seems non-existent. But  it’s there, and that, more than her strength and ferocity, is why I love Tenzin.

So when Elizabeth Hunter announced that she was working on writing Tenzin’s origin story, I was honestly beside myself with excitement. I knew already (based on the bit of backstory we already knew about her) that Tenzin’s history was a dark one. And through the writing, Hunter mentioned several times that it was dark, depressing. Draining.

It was all of that, for me as a reader. And it was exactly what it needed to be.

My Review of The Bronze Blade

If you are already a fan of Hunter’s Elemental Mysteries, you will develop more of an appreciation for Tenzin, without a doubt. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself angry, maybe on the verge of tears. I had such a visceral reaction to this book, and I don’t know if it’s because I feel such a connection to Tenzin’s character, or if it’s just because Hunter is that damn good at creating a world that draws you into its depths. I have the feeling it’s both.

The Bronze Blade is not an easy read. It’s not a fast read. I’m someone who can sit and read happily for hours, but I had to take a few breaks in the reading of this book.

That is not a bad thing.

This book is full of darkness and violence. Abuse. Loss. Desperation. It stays with you. I found myself envisioning a few of the scenes long after I had finished reading. And, knowing what I know now, I know I’ll now look at every action Tenzin takes, as well as the ones she doesn’t take, in a new light.

I was lucky to receive an ARC of this book from Hunter, so it just made it into my 2013 reading list. As such, I can easily say that The Bronze Blade is one of my favorite books of 2013. Elemental Mysteries fans: this is a definite must-read.

The Bronze Blade is currently exclusively available as part of a fantastic bundled deal, which includes all four Elemental Mysteries books, as well as The Bronze Blade novella. You can buy it now on Amazon Smashwords ~ Barnes and Noble