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Gameboard of the Gods

Gameboard of the Gods

By Richelle Mead

Release date: June 4, 2013

I don’t like a lot of things.  This becomes apparent as I pick books to review.  And in the interest of not being one big vicious downer, I try to choose books worth talking about.  But still, sometimes I just like to complain.

 Often.  Just warning you.

 I have read most of Richelle Mead’s adult urban fantasy books.  I don’t own any of them.  On reflection, I wondered why that was when I started reading Gameboard of the Gods.  Her writing style is solid; her characters are very interesting.  Sure she writes teen paranormal romance…but I haven’t tried to read any, so it’s not like I can say that ruined everything for me.  (I work at a bookstore.  We all hate teen paranormal romance.  My one exception is Dia Reeves, and that’s because her stuff is crazy.  In a good way.)

 We follow two characters, Justin March and Mae Koskinen.  Justin is a disgraced former government worker who made his living debunking religious groups.  Mae Koskinen is a purebred Nordic super soldier.  Both are emotionally damaged.  Both are very compelling, likeable characters.  Mae is tough and capable without being two dimensional.  You know what type I mean: “Oh I am a Xena-clone warrior woman, hear me roar!”  She’s not.  Justin is a loveable rogue, and rather sleazy, but I didn’t feel dirty afterward, so that’s a good sign.  He’s built up as extremely competent and observant.  And now RUNA wants him back to solve a series of locked door murders with a potential supernatural bend.  Which is good, because Justin wants to go back.  And bad, because the supernatural doesn’t exist, does it?

 In addition, I liked Tessa, Justin’s teenage ward.  She provides the most identifiable voice.  She isn’t from RUNA, and she doesn’t understand all the rules/technology.  She’s believable, mostly likeable, and plays a larger role than the synopsis blurb mentions.

I liked the world too.  Disease, genetic mutations, and anarchy have led to the fall of the world as we know it.  But not everything is bleak and dystopic.  RUNA, the Republic of United North America, is comprised of parts of Canada and the former United States.  They have all sorts of shiny technology, clean streets, and no dominant religions.   Justin’s job was to prove certain religions were dangerous or in violation of the law and then to shut them down.  Therefore, there are lots of vague miscellaneous religions that don’t last very long, like Our Lady of the Key rather than Buddha, or Anansi, or Durga.  A neighboring country, the southern part of the United States, has become a hostile theocracy.  But Mead doesn’t really go into much detail.

 There is the issue is a virus called Mephistopheles, or colloquially, Cain.  It killed half of humanity, causing scarring, asthma, loss of fertility, and other fun things.  Diverse genetic backgrounds offered more resistance; so much of the populace has grab bag ancestry.  They’re referred to as plebians.  The castals are groups of varying specificity that claim ethnic pureness.  They have higher susceptibility to Cain, and special reservations.  Their “pureness” is varying from the Nordics and their multiple Scandinavian backgrounds to “Nipponese.”  Mead throws you in with little explanation of what some of the terms mean.  I thought I’d had a typo with Gemmans, another word for people from RUNA.  About a hundred pages in, things are explained.  But that leaves you with the traditional sci-fi opening feeling of “WTF is going on?”

 So the world is a playground.  The people aren’t boring.  Why don’t I love this?

 It was fun.  But flawed.

 Perhaps these things won’t bother you, and you will freely enjoy the book.  They bothered me a lot.

 Justin is built up as some kind of genius.  His exile is a silly punishment for the crime.  And it doesn’t really make sense.  Justin’s character is intelligent enough, but he doesn’t live up to the hype.  For example, I guessed, in the first chapter, what was going on with his…passengers.  He’s supposedly some kind of genius.  Focusing on religions. Possibly being used by something supernatural.  And he can’t guess who it is, despite having all that “genius” knowledge and free time for research.  He had to pretty much be told at the end of the book.

 So yeah, not that sharp.

 This detail is very very small.  Praetorian super soldiers like Mae don’t sleep.  Ever.  There is no explanation how they don’t go insane.  But seriously, prolonged sleep deprivation can cause drastic personality shifts, insanity, death…

 Final verdict:  Fun book, if you can overlook some of these details.  It’s been awhile since I read Mead’s other books, but I’m getting the feeling that I had similar issues.


Delsyn’s Blues – Lou Sylvre (4 Stars)

Delsyn's Blues Sonny James and Luki Vasquez are back for another adventure.  This time they’re working    their way into a relationship, trying to understand each other enough to be together and work through their problems.  Things never run smoothly though, which they find out the hard way.

I don’t want to give away too much of the story but I really liked this book, better than the first one even.  It’s not very often that I find myself crying over a character, especially within the first few chapters but I had to have a few tissues handy when I started this one and even in a few spots through the rest of the book.

Even with the sad start, I found myself enjoying the story.  Luki may have gone back to Chicago to work but when Sonny needs him most, he drops everything to be there for the man he loves.  Sonny is broken and trying to deal with his pain and with Luki’s help, he manages to.  I enjoyed seeing how the two men interact, dealing with their own problems and trying to help each other.  When someone from Sonny’s past shows up and throws more fuel on the fire, I worried that they couldn’t work things out but by learning to trust each other, they did.

The mystery is good, even if who the person trying to kill them is a bit predictable the why is a nice surprise.  It helped keep things flowing, adding tension and uncertainity into Luki and Sonny’s fates, and helped the boys on their road to trusting each other.  I really enjoyed this book and can’t wait for the next one in the series, which I hope comes out soon.

This book deserves a solid 4 stars and Lou Sylvre is becoming one of my favorite authors.

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Review – My Regelence Rake by J.L. Langley (3.5 Stars)

Before you find your prince, you have to kiss your share of rakes.

With his days occupied with duties as Captain of the Guard, and nights consumed with upholding his reputation as a rake, Lord Sebastian Hastings’s schedule is filled. There’s no extra time to be anyone’s bodyguard, but the royal family’s safety is a task he sees to personally.

Prince Colton Townsend has loved Sebastian for as long as he can remember, but he’s done pining for a man who has vowed never to remarry. So he consoles himself with the second love of his life—horses. Stable building and horse racing consume his every thought, at least until he’s stuck with Sebastian dogging his every step.

While looking over the prospects at an auction, Colton is trying to ignore his sexy, pesky bodyguard when he feels compelled to take on a bully to protect an abused horse. Sebastian is dragged into the fray, and their good deed sparks a string of nasty rumors.

There’s only one way to quell the political storm: marry. But instead of solving everything, Colton realizes his new husband is a bundle of secrets, none of which he’ll give up easily. Unless Colton makes one, last-ditch effort that could break his heart for good.

Warning: Contains an obnoxious filly, a love-struck prince, a meddling king, a matchmaking duke, vicious rumors and hunky ex Special Forces soldiers.

J.L. Langley was one of the first m/m writers I encountered, and is still an autobuy for me. She’s not terribly prolific, so it’s always a reason for celebration when one of her books comes out.

My Regelence Rake has been a long time coming—the previous book in the series, The Englor Affair, was published in 2008. I wish I could say that it was worth the wait, but of the three books in the series (begun with My Fair Captain) My Regelence Rake is easily the weakest.

Don’t get me wrong—if you like Ms. Langley’s writing, and I do, hence the autobuy status—MRR is still a fun romp through what is a cleverly built futurescape. The conceit of these books is that there are planets in the far future (the date of January 12th, 4831, opens the book) which have chosen to replicate the era of Waterloo, the Prince Regent, and Jane Austen. One of these planets is Regelence, where same-sex marriages are the norm, and young males as protected and hedged ´round with rules as young girls were in the original. (The other is Englor, and the second book takes place there; while it is also Regency in culture, same-sex marriages are not the norm, and the situation creates a different type of tension.)

The planet is ruled by King Steven and his Consort, Raleigh; they have five boys, each of whom (at least so far) gets his own novel in the series. My Regelence Rake tells the story of Colton, who is in love with Sebastian, Viscount Wentworth, the rake of the title, who has demons of his own to battle—although he is and always has been in love with Colton, he has a Past that makes him feel that he is not good enough for the young prince. Circumstances throw them together, of course, and between Sebastian being assigned as Colton’s bodyguard and the mystery of Sebastian’s past, the two find themselves in various predicaments.

Although there are plots and subplots in each of the books, they are linked by a common thread—another mystery, involving the intergalactic navy that protects the planets in the union of whatever part of the galaxy, and betrayals and kidnappings and all sorts of fun stuff.

In fact, I think that that was what disappointed me the most about this book. The other two played more with the intergalactic stuff, and that world-building and the interplay between the sci-fi elements and the Regency-like cultures made the stories fun. This book sacrifices that interplay to focus on the social constructs of Regelence culture. But the “historical” elements of the planetary societies are the barest minimum, basically what everyone “knows” about the period:  Tattersall’s, private clubs, gambling, balls. Nothing in depth, nothing that smacks of any real research, so while it might appeal to those with a Regency jones, it falls short of feeling real. The main plot is situational, based on Sebastian’s Past and his involvement with Colton; while there are occasional references to the intergalactic naval mystery, they don’t affect the story one way or another.

Another problem I had was with the relationship between Sebastian and Colton. Part of what I enjoyed in the first two books was the culture clash between Nate—a starship captain—and the prince Aidan, and Simon—officer of the more conventional Regency planet of Englor and heir to that throne—and first-time-away-from-home Payton. Here there is no such culture clash; it’s more of the traditional romance with difficulties thrown in, and there’s nothing of the sense of wonder and exploration and edginess that made the encounters in the previous two books so entertaining… and hot.  MRR is still pretty hot, but not up to the level of the first two books.

My Regelence Rake is still an entertaining book by anyone’s standards. If it had been the first book in the series, though, I might not have read the others. As it is, I have hopes for the other two brothers in the royal family of Regelence and really look forward to reading those. Hopefully in sooner than four years, though.

Review – Heat Rises

Heat Rises

By Richard Castle

Borrowed from a friend

This is the third book by fictional TV character Richard Castle from the show Castle.  Like the previous books, they pull situations and character relationships from the show into the novel.  There are inside jokes and funny bits that Castle manages to insert, sometimes making me roll my eyes at his zest for goofy, which is just like the show!   So if you like the show, and/or you like to read mysteries, you might like these books.

This is the most involved mystery yet.  A priest has been murdered in a bondage club and Nikki Heat and her team need to find the killer but her Captain is acting funny.  Is he involved?  Why is he keeping her from following every lead?  There is definitely something hinky with this case and Nikki is just the detective to unravel all of the clues.  Before too long, another person is dead, Nikki is stalked by highly trained gunmen and there seem to be tenuous ties to an old case.

Castle’s Rook and Heat steam off the page.  Their relationship works, it’s sweet and they make a good team.  The layers to the mystery are difficult to peel back as roadblocks are thrown at every curve but Heat and Rook dig deeper and call in favors from people they can trust.

It ends with a shootout and some arrests and Heat kicks booty.  But it is bittersweet as lives have been lost and people hurt.  I am excited for the next book to see how Castle handles interpreting Season 4 into his novel.  Good stuff.  Because I love the show and these characters and basically think anything Nathan Fillion is involved in is awesome, I give the book 4 stars.

Review – Clear Water by Amy Lane (4.5 Stars)

Okay, Isabel’s reviewing another Amy Lane book, but hey, the woman’s prolific, and I love her. I really do. Both as a writer and as a person—she’s really just as sweet and quirky as you’d imagine.

Her characters are quirky, too. Sometimes I wonder they’re that way because she is so imaginative, or if she’s consciously trying to not make them stereotypes. (Because, let’s face it, stereotypes are a serious danger in Romancelandia.) Either way, they’re usually memorable.

In Clear Water—a book I love and have read three times—it’s not just the main characters that are quirky. The secondary characters are quirky. The tertiary characters are quirky. Hell, even the fauna is quirky. There’s only one exception, and he’s glaring. But let me get to that organically.

Patrick is a young man who suffers from affluence and severe adult ADHD. While this does, indeed, make him quirky, it’s also a really accurate and painful depiction of the disorder—Ms. Lane obviously is familiar with it. Patrick is a sweet, intelligent boy whose neural misfires cause no end of distraction. His father, a wealthy, driven businessman, doesn’t understand him or the effects of the disorder, and writes him off as a flake.

He’s not a flake. He has real issues with self esteem, both because of the disorder and because of his father’s apparent indifference, but when he meets Whiskey, an ex-hippie scientist who lives on a decrepit houseboat in the river, he begins to display the depth of intelligence and practicality that his issues and his disorder mask. He finds a place assisting Whiskey and his partner-in-the-scientist-sense, Fly Bait, with their research, and eventually is pivotal in discovering the cause of the frog anomalies they’re studying. (See? I told you even the fauna was quirky!)

About the only real evidence of flakiness I found—I don’t count the erratic physical effects of the ADHD—is Patrick’s poor choice of boyfriends. And this was where my suspension of disbelief derailed—because Patrick’s boyfriend is such a stereotypical scumbag that I didn’t understand how a bright person like Patrick—self-image issues aside—couldn’t have figured out what he was up to. He was painted as so unpleasant and ugly that I couldn’t find what Patrick was attracted to. I think it would have been more believable if he’d been a little more slick—and not in the greasy way he’s described in the book. It was almost disappointing to see how predictably evil Scumbag Boyfriend turned out to be. I think I would have been more convinced if the Scumbag Boyfriend was a clean-cut businessman, to contrast with the scruffy Whiskey and make Patrick’s choice the more interesting.

But that was the only major quibble I had, and it really wasn’t that big a deal. The rest of the story is funny and charming and delightful. Fair warning—there is quite a bit of age difference between Patrick and Whiskey, and Patrick’s emotional innocence, as well as Whiskey’s role as Patrick’s protector and rescuer, makes that difference more noticeable. But it’s not squicky; Whiskey is very sensitive to it, but Patrick grows so much in the course of the book, that by the time the story ends, you can’t imagine one without the other. And to my mind, that’s exactly how a romance novel should end.

Big Cypress Crossroads – Bren Christopher (3 Stars)

Noah Taylor lives deep in the Everglades, coming out on the weekends to lead curious tourists through the beauty of the Everglades.  He unexpectedly comes across a hanging body in the Cypress trees and a mystery unfolds as to why the body is there and who put it there.

Scott Chandler is a detective with the Miami-Dade police department, shot in the line of duty and just recently allowed back in the field.  He’s been following a large drug cartel and the trail leads him to the Everglades and to Noah.  The two men end up working together and it’s not just the mystery that unites them.

Noah has had dreams since he was young and it wasn’t until he met Scott that he realized that he’d been seeing Scott in those dreams.  The two fall in love but is it enough to solve the mystery and can Noah keep Scott safe from what he sees happening in the dreams?

I liked this book, for the most part.  The mystery was intriguing and I loved the description of the scenery, it made me want to go down to Florida and see the area for myself.  Noah and Scott’s relationship was nice to see too, though it was faster than I like to read.  I know with books, you have to move things along but I wish there’d been a bit more of them trying to get to know each other.

There were some things that bothered me though.  The fact that Noah never really told Scott his involvement in things, especially since he loved Scott.  Noah always seemed to have some kind of ulterior motive and that at times, he was using Scott for his own revenge.  Yes, he did finally tell him but it was only after Scott had to drag it out of him.  Also, I can’t see Noah being allowed to be such a large part of the investigation.  Going off and doing things on his own, I could believe that, but not with the police allowing him in so close.  Scott’s attitude towards things irritated me also but not as much as Noah’s.

I did like getting the glimpse into Santeria.  It wasn’t the stereotypical thing that you see for the religion, it was more real and that was nice to see for once.

Overall, I give this book 3 stars.  The mystery was good and for the most part the characters were good.  I would’ve liked to have seen a little more of a build up between Noah and Scott but that could just be me.

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Blood Howl – Robin Saxon and Alex Kidwell (3 Stars)

ImageJed, a gun for hire, is hired to go and retrieve something for a client.  What he’s not expecting is that the object he’s to retrieve is Redford, a quiet and naïve young man.  Not liking the fact that he’s been put into a position that he doesn’t understand, Jed brings the young man back to his place to figure things out.

 That’s when things get interesting.  Jed starts to find an interest in Red but the young man seems to be insane.  Red keeps insisting that he’s a werewolf and they don’t exist, they’re just a myth.  When Jed finally realizes the truth, he’s not sure how to take it.

 I love the premise to this book; I just wish that there had been more to it.  How did the wolves live in the world, why were they after Red (yes, I know that some of that was explained in the end but not enough).  There were a lot of plot holes that happened that could’ve been explained if we had a bit more of a backstory about the world involved.

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Review – Across The East River Bridge – Kate McMurray

I have to admit to begin with that I was nervous of reading this book, even while I was excited to get my grubby little hands on it. I’ve spoken to the author a few times, and have gotten into one or two heated debates with her (as well as agreed with her on as many occasions), but also heard plenty about the book along the way, without really realising how good it was going to be.

I know very little about America, other than in a general sense, so I was afraid I wasn’t going to get it; but I did. It’s not a confusing novel for someone unfamiliar with the setting, in fact, it’s the opposite – the setting is woven well into the story, almost in the way it would be in a fantasy novel.

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Review – Bloody Queens – India Harper

I am easily distracted by shiny things, and this is a book full of glitter. There’s an ex-soldier, a character called Mordecai, and a historical setting. And theatre. This is a very good start, so this novella had a lot to live up to for me.

The best part is that it did so. It’s written, as my mum would say, so you can see everything that’s happening. It’s richly descriptive and maybe treads the purple prose lines a little, but I’m not going to complain about that, because I like it. Read the rest of this entry

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