Monday, July 28, 2014

Charming by Elliott James

Many of us benefit from a change every now and then, and if you've been reading what feels like the "same old, same old" in the urban fantasy genre, I encourage you to give "Charming" by Elliott James a try. The lead character, John Charming, isn't a run-of-the-mill romantic hero. Although he comes from a long line of Charmings, they're not exactly the storybook princes one might expect. In fact, they're Knights Templar, whose job it is to maintain the barrier between the supernatural races and the mundane world. And although vampires and werewolves, arguably overused in recent years, are among those supernatural beings, so are others whom I haven't encountered in quite a while, if at all.

That variety was one of the things I enjoyed most about this book. I welcomed the chance to meet new types of characters — and even the vampires, the primary baddies here, had a different feel to them. Since Charming is living the racially-lengthened life of a kind of enforcer, he knows a lot about the backgrounds of assorted races and how they interact, and that information is shared with the reader. While some may not care for the "world-building", I found it interesting, like snippets from a good (and very wry) documentary. It often explained things that many authors gloss over. If it's really not your style, don't worry, it's only support structure, not the main focus. You can skip some of it if you absolutely must, just make sure you pay attention to the concept of the Pax Arcana.

If I were to pick my favorite aspect of the book, it would be how authentic Charming sounded. I admit to having gotten a bit disenchanted lately (small pun intended), feeling that a fair number of the first-person narrators I'd been reading sounded interchangeable. Worse, the snarky attitudes that many authors were trying to convey simply sounded labored and affected. Not here! Charming sounds like an actual person, not a construct. If he makes a snide observation, there's a good reason for it, and that reason isn't because an author is struggling to make a character seem "cool". What's more, Charming talks and thinks like a man, not like a masculinized woman. I'm reluctant to attribute that to the fact that his author is also male (if his brief, pseudonymous bio is to be trusted), in contrast to the more numerous female authors of urban fantasy whose work I've read, but I may possibly have to concede that point. At any rate, I found Charming's voice to be delightfully recognizable, slyly funny, appropriately gritty, believably incisive, and consistently genuine. What a pleasant and refreshing surprise.

While I was reading the book, I had a reaction that demonstrated to me how real that voice had become. Charming was facing a dilemma and had determined that a certain course of action was the way to deal with the situation. I instantly thought, "That means he's going to do such-and-such instead" (I don't want to give it away), and on the very next page, he did precisely what I had guessed. That's when I knew I was living in his head. Or perhaps he was living in mine. Either way, it's been a long time since I felt I knew a character's personality so fully.

The nature of the fantasy genre these days, whether urban or otherwise, frequently means that titles are published as part of a series. I have found myself getting more selective about which series I pursue beyond the first book. The time factor alone may cause me to cut candidates as if they were underperforming athletes on a professional sports team. There is no hesitation for me in this case, however. I am absolutely looking forward to reading the sequel, "Daring", which is due this September.

Incidentally, although our book group is "ladies only", I'd venture a guess that men can safely read and enjoy this selection without being embarrassed. With equal opportunity for equal fun, all are invited to have a Charming time.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Recommended Summer Reads from NYOBG Members

I’ve been hearing some great recommendations from our NYOBG members over the summer, so I asked them to share their recent favorite reads and why they liked them.

Hope you’re having a wonderful summer!

Whiskey Beach by Nora Roberts  

This is a romantic suspense set in an old family beach home in Massachusetts.  There’s a bit of romance, mystery, intrigue, and even a treasure hunt.  NR has a special way of drawing you into her characters, and she really hits the mark with this one.  This story begins with Eli Landon, a former lawyer suspected of killing his wife, going back to his childhood summer home in Whiskey Beach to rebuild his life.  Bluff House is owned by his tenacious grandmother, but she recently fell down the stairs in a “suspicious” accident and is recuperating with Eli’s parents.  There wasn’t enough evidence to convict Eli of his wife’s murder but that hasn’t stopped the investigating officer from hounding him.  For Eli, an empty Bluff House is the perfect place to regroup after a tragic year. 
I think what drew me in the most was Eli, because his character is so broken when you first meet him.  Abra, the love interest, is his grandmother’s house cleaner at Bluff House.  Abra has her own ugly past and now does an assortment of odd jobs that make her happy, from cleaning, to teaching yoga, to massage, to waitressing.  She wears yoga pants, T-shirts, and Crocs, and it was difficult not to like her.  Slowly, she brings Eli around to the living world once again, amongst more murders, someone digging in the basement, and the cop that refuses to search for the real killer of Eli’s wife. 

It was a thoroughly enjoyable read from beginning to end.

Chili Pepper Rating:


Heart of Obsidian by Nalini Singh

This is a paranormal romance and the twelfth book in Singh’s Psy-Challenging Series.  We read Slave to Sensation quite a while ago, and I read a few more in the series and then moved on to other books because there’s so many out there that I have to read!  But I've been hearing raves about this one, so I gave it a try.  I could tell there were some Psy-Net events that I missed, and a few characters that must have had their own story, but I didn't feel like I needed to read each book before this one.  Singh did a good job with small details without overstating everything. If you've read the first few and know the world you’ll be able to dive right in.
 So, with that said---I couldn't put this book down! It was incredible, the kind where you tell the hubby to order take-out and the kids to leave you alone--because mommy’s reading and she doesn't want to be disturbed.
It has a psy-fi feel like the rest of the series.  You meet the heroine the day she’s been broken out of a mental holding facility.  She’s rescued by the hero, of course.  J  You learn she has powers that even the Psy Council fears.  You learn that she created a labyrinth in her brain so that their torture wouldn't break her, and that she mentally rigged it to unravel as soon as she felt safe.  The reader gets to take her journey of confusion to revelations of who she is, who the hero is, and what their past relationship was---and WOW, what a journey!
This book is simply wonderful. Just read it. If I hadn't downloaded this to my Kindle I would've given it to Sarah as she’s given me so many awesome books.

Chili Pepper Rating:


Dangerous in Diamonds by Madeline Hunter

Every once in a while I need my historical romance fix.  Do they have a predictable happy ever after? Absolutely, but I’ve found that Hunter’s has some real historical meat in there as well, as do Jane Feather’s books, who also has a new series out that I must try.  Dangerous in Diamonds is Hunter’s fourth book in her Rarest Blooms series, but they all can be read separately, though they’re all enjoyable so why not start from the beginning?  (I believe Ravishing in Red is the first installment.)  Castleford is the hero in Dangerous in Diamonds, and a bit of a rascal.  The banter between him and Daphne, the heroine, was witty and fun, while she had some real fears and challenges to overcome, so there is depth to this story as well.  It brings you into the lives of the less wealthy, and their precarious positions in this society.  It’s a fun book with poignant moments, and the reader gets to escape into a romantic world for an evening.  A lovely summer read. 
Chili Pepper Rating: