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Dark Country, by Bronwyn ParryDark Country

The second title in a planned trilogy set in the Australian Outback, Dark Country takes the reader back to the small town of Dungirri. Kris Matthews, the heroine, was first introduced in the course of the previous novel, As Darkness Falls (review here). The hero is bad boy Morgan “Gil” Gillespie, son of the area’s drunk.

Here’s the pretty accurate back cover blurb (from the author’s website):

Most people in the small town of Dungirri have considered Morgan ‘Gil’ Gillespie a murderer for eighteen years, so he expects no welcome on his return. What he doesn’t expect is the discovery of a woman’s tortured body in the boot of his car, and new accusations of murder.

Wearied by too many deaths and doubting her own skills, local police sergeant Kris Matthews isn’t sure whether Gil is a decent man wronged by life, or a brutal criminal she should be locking up. But she does know that he is not guilty of this murder – because she is his alibi . . .

Between organised crime, police corruption, and the hatred of a town, Gil has nowhere to hide. He needs to work out who’s behind the murder before his enemies realise that the one thing more punishing than putting him back in prison would be to harm the few people he cares about.

Kris is determined to help him, but will their search for the truth make her the next target?

My beloved Issek and I had the opportunity of reading this book together recently… (he received a copy, gratis, from the author, and I received an ARC, idem) so, after much cajoling and begging (and perhaps just a wee bit of pouting) he agreed to do another joint review with me.

warning: long conversational review ahead! 😉

(more…)

Wanderlust, by Ann Aguirre

The second novel set in the Grimspace universe, Wanderlust starts a few days after the last events narrated in Grimspace. Like Grimspace, Wanderlust is narrated in first person, present tense by the heroine, Jax. While much more self aware at the beginning of this book than she was initially during the previous one, Jax is still very much inherently selfish and a loner by nature. Getting used to caring, and getting used to her own reactions to those feelings for others, take some doing.

Not that there is much space or time for introspection during the chaos that seems to follow Jax wherever she goes.

Sirantha Jax doesn’t take chances… she jumps at them.

Sirantha Jax is a jumper, a woman who possesses the unique genetic makeup needed to navigate faster-than-light ships through grimspace. Jax has worked for Farwan Corporation her entire career. But now word’s out that the Corp deliberately crashed a passenger ship, and its stranglehold on intergalactic commerce has crumbled—which means that Jax is out of a job.

She’s also broke due to being declared dead a little prematurely. So when the government asks her to head up a vital diplomatic mission, Jax agrees to do it. Her mandate: journey to the planet Ithiss-Tor and convince its inhabitants to join the Conglomerate.

But Jax’s payday is light-years away. First she’ll have to contend with Syndicate criminals, a stormy relationship with her pilot, man-eating aliens, and her own grimspace-weakened body. She’ll be lucky just to make it to Ithiss-Tor alive…

Without further ado, here’s the transcript of Issek and myself’s discussion of Wanderlust. (more…)

So I have converted my significant other to romance novels. Of course, he was open minded enough to give them a chance, but hey, I started the process. Just recently we read the In the Garden trilogy out loud to each other *pause for incredulous stares* Yes, we do this. We read alternate chapters to each other. Deal.

Anyway. I had read the books when they came out first, and had re-read the first two a few times since, but this was the first time I read the three of them one after another. And of course, I had a terrific idea: a joint review of the trilogy.

Please brace yourselves, as it’s a tad longer than usual–after all, it’s three books. Have some coffee, and enjoy.

In the Garden trilogy (Blue Dahlia, Black Rose and Red Lily), by Nora Roberts

The In the Garden trilogy by Nora Roberts centers around Harper House – a stately mansion in Memphis that has been in the Harper family for more than a century – and those who live in it. The novels mix contemporary love stories with the Southern belief in the supernatural as well as the charm, connections, traditions of more genteel times. Each novel follows the development of the love story between two main characters, while advancing their quest to discover the full story of the entity known as The Harper Bride, who has shared the house and grounds with the Harpers for at least a century.

Three women meet at a crossroads in their lives, each searching for new ways to grow—and find in each other the courage to take chances and embrace the future.

Part of the hallmark of Ms Roberts’ writing is her ability to create a sense of community by introducing characters and allowing the reader to participate in the evolution of their relationships—be these friendship, romantic, working relationships, what have you. These three books show the reader how a disparate cast of characters develop into a family in the best sense of the word.

In order to write a cohesive, comprehensive and coherent review of the trilogy as a whole, we will first offer a brief overview of the three novels, followed by a more detailed discussion of each character, overall plotting, pacing, and writing style. At the end we will both give our grades for each book and for the trilogy. (more…)

Our gracious hostess, Karen, has offered to host my review of Ann Aguirre’s Grimspace which will be released on Feb 26th by Ace. I was lucky to win an ARC and read it before the general public and, people, I love it! Love it, love it, love it!

So without further ado, here it is:

Grimspace, by Ann Aguirre

This science fiction/fantasy/adventure/romance novel is Ann Aguirre’s print debut. However, she already has four titles published electronically under her Annie Dean pseudonym.

From the back cover:

By all accounts, Sirantha Jax should have burned out years ago…

As the carrier of a rare gene, Jax has the ability to jump ships through Grimspace—a talent which cuts into her life expectancy, but makes her a highly prized navigator for the Corp. But then the ship she’s navigating crash-lands, and she’s accused of killing everyone on board. It’s hard for Jax to defend herself: she has no memory of the crash.

Now imprisoned and the subject of a ruthless interrogation, Jax is on the verge of madness. Then a mysterious man breaks into her cell, offering her freedom—for a price. March needs Jax to help his small band of rogue fighters break the Corp monopoly on interstellar travel—and establish a new breed of jumper.

Jax is only good at one thing—Grimspace—and it will eventually kill her. So she may as well have some fun in the meantime…

To start this review I have to offer a caveat. This book is written in first person point of view and in present tense. In a lifetime of reading voraciously, I can count with one hand the number of books narrated in first person that I’ve liked—with fingers left over. And the idea of present tense throughout the full 300+ pages? Ack!

I kept thinking it was going to be nigh impossible for me to finish the book, let alone like it.

Then I read an excerpt, and was intrigued. I told myself, “This doesn’t seem too annoying (which has been my chief complaint on first person narrative), it shouldn’t be too hard to give it a fair try.”

And then I got the book, and we were off to the races. I read this book in one sitting, while suffering the mother of all headaches; that’s just how gripping the story is. Of course, I had to read it again once I felt better—I had to make sure it wasn’t painkiller induced hallucination, you know. And I’m very very happy to say it wasn’t. This book rocks.

Fans of Firefly and Serenity will find a few familiar plot devices: a ragtag crew traveling in a rundown spaceship, trying to outrun the bad guys to do some good. The gifted girl, the heroic captain, the talented medic, heck! there’s even the intrepid female ship mechanic! There’s a conspiracy and pretty much nothing is what it seems. There are narrow escapes, and life and death situations.

It’s not the novelty that grabs you when reading this book (after all, it’s not as if Joss Whedon, as much as I love him, had come up with any of these himself). It’s the execution. The plotting, the pacing, the characterizations, the world building—they are all first rate, and all come together to create a compelling story that grabs you from the beginning and doesn’t let you go until the very last word. And even then, you want more.

The main characters are extremely well realized.

Jax is not the most likable person you’ve ever met, but she is a real person. More, she is self aware enough to allow the reader to follow her growth through the book without annoying the ever loving daylights out of you. When we meet her, her world (in the sense of awareness of things and people around her) is so very small that she doesn’t even realize how skewed her perspective is. As a result of this emotional isolation, her initial interactions with March and his crew are more than a bit antagonistic in nature.

Her reactions and rationalizations during and after various do-or-die episodes ring true to the end—there is no magic change from flawed to perfect, but rather as the story unfolds, there’s a series of changes and self-discoveries leading to a better self. Jax is still Jax, to the last page. She’s only a more mature woman. It is particularly interesting to see, through her own eyes, how her perspective on her circumstances, her life, and those around her, change as events unfold. Even more interesting is to see her react without thinking in ways that, occasionally, contradict who she has always believed herself to be.

March, the captain (and eventually her love interest) is complex in a way that few heroes are, with both a unique gift and a dark past which color who he is and what he does. His sense of honor and his ultimate goal are, again, not standard hero issue, and his is no selfless “let’s save the universe and improve the quality of life for every poor sod alive, out of the goodness of our hearts!” mission. He is in this for his own reasons, which he doesn’t feel the need to advertise. As far as he’s concerned, any general good to come out of it is a nice side benefit but most definitely not a requirement. All of this doesn’t make him any less likable or appealing, but it humanizes him for the reader.

As far as the secondary characters (Dina, Saul, Loras, Mair, Adele, Velith, etc) are concerned, Aguirre brings them to life for the reader with a few broad strokes, and lets their successive interactions with Jax fill in the details. Perhaps the most surprising of these is Velith—bounty hunter and antagonist, and quite the surprising character, to say the least.

The world building is careful and consistent—which is extremely important for this reader. Nothing will yank me out of a story faster than an author who writes him/herself into a corner and then pulls a Deus Ex Machina to solve the situation. Instead, Aguirre uses the rules she’s set up, both as part of the crisis and the solutions. The dangers are real, and survival is by no means guaranteed. The science is neither explained to within an inch of its metaphoric life, nor is it left vague enough as to qualify as magic.

Through out the novel, the reader knows only what Jax knows. We see the action and her world through her eyes. For this reason, there are several important facets of the universe that turn out to be different than what she originally thought they were. This change in perspective also changes the stakes for her, and for the reader.

This one is a solid 8.5 for me.

If you are still not sure, go read the excerpt here. I promise you’ll be hooked. And the best news is that there’s already a sequel—Wanderlust, coming out in September *happy dance*