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Books, You Guys!

I read a lot of everything. Mostly fantasy and sci-fi, or speculative fiction or Slipstream or New Weird or whatever we're calling it now, some comics, some literary fiction, mysteries, la dee da. And...well. I do like a kissin' book.
Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier - Tom Kizzia This is a good one. A really fascinating look into not just the Pilgrim family, but the history and land politics of frontier Alaska. Kizzia is a thoughtful and compassionate storyteller, and makes the reader feel the plight of the Pilgrim children without ever veering into luridness or exploitation.
A Load of Old Balls: Ranking of Men in History - Jo Brand I picked this one up because I love Jo Brand on QI. It's pretty dated, but I got some good laughs out of it. It would make a good bathroom book!
Miss Wonderful - Loretta Chase This is the best romance I've read in a long time. The hero and heroine are both compelling and relatable, the romance and all of the obstacles in its way are convincing, and there's even a dash of suspense in the last act. Plus it's packed with witty banter, fun side characters, well-researched historical details, and lyrical description. If a few things seem too easily wrapped up (Gordy!), well, that's all right. It's a romance, after all. I can't wait to read the next book in the series!
Untie My Heart - Judith Ivory There's a lot to like here. Judith Ivory is a very capable writer, and she told an interesting (and slightly kinky!) story while dodging most of the more annoying romance cliches. I wasn't sure I could like the hero after the awful way we were introduced to him, but he won me over with his honesty and self-awareness. The heroine made some decisions that seemed to make no sense, but she was so lovable that I'll forgive it. The last third or so lost me a bit, with some forced angst and an ending that felt rushed and tied up a bit too neatly without really delving into how they were going to make things work, but those are minor quibbles. It was a very good read!
What Happens in London - Julia Quinn Julia Quinn is always a good time! This is definitely one of her fluffier, more lighthearted stories. The romance was sweet and low on angst, and the hero and heroine we both very level-headed and likable. Plus there were plenty of treats for longtime Quinn readers, like the Smythe-Smith musicale and the always hilarious Miss Butterworth. Just a really fun read.
Scandal - Amanda Quick I didn't enjoy this book at all. The hero was a jerk, the heroine was intensely stupid (despite how frequently we were told she was supposed to be smart), and neither one of them had believable personalities or motivations. The dialogue was painfully clunky and repetitive, and the plot was a snooze. If I'd had another book with me, I wouldn't have even bothered finishing it.
Darkhouse - Karina Halle I didn't love this book as much as everyone else seemed to. It was fun, but also somewhat amateurish and stuffed to the gills with YA cliches. The plot was also kind of a mess. I was intrigued enough by where it was going to pick up the second book, though, and that was a big improvement. So I shall keep going!
Case Histories - Kate Atkinson A literary, character-driven mystery tale that's just as good as everyone says it is. The various plots are handled very well, the family drama is compelling and never overwrought, and it's a total page-turner.
Unlacing the Innocent Miss - Margaret McPhee I expected not to care much about this one, but it turned out to be one of the best in the Silk & Scandal series. The hero and heroine are both complex and well-drawn. The conflicts that come up to block their romance seem far less contrived than the usual romance novel fare, and they deal with them in ways that are mostly intelligent and not maddening. And I do love a good abduction story, and this one has plenty of grumbling and growling and threatening to truss a lady and throw her over the back of a horse, etc. The sex scenes are well-written and unobtrusive, if a bit snoozy.This book feels a little detached from the main series mystery, but has a supplemental one that is very nicely plotted. The secondary villain is very slimy indeed, and managed to get me to second-guess my initial suspicion of him several times before revealing himself. Overall, it's a great standalone and a worthy entry in the series.
Taken by the Wicked Rake (Harlequin Historical) - Christine Merrill The Silk & Scandal series is good enough for me to give the conclusion four stars just on principle, but I think this book earns them on its own as well. The hero benefits a great deal from being having been a major figure in the previous seven books, and is easily the most complex and fleshed-out character in the entire run. It makes it much easier to get invested in the romance, which is a tasty bit of Gypsy kidnapping fun. The heroine is brave and true, and doesn't spend a whole lot of time dithering about and feeling sorry for herself. The romance itself is handled a little differently from the rest of the books, and I was glad for it. Not so much of the old "we're going to misunderstand each other for one hundred pages and then wrap it all up by confessing our feelings for five minutes" nonsense that plagues the rest of the series. And I was thrilled to see Magda again!There's not much suspense, as any reader with keen eye would have spotted the villain by the second or third book, but it's still a satisfying conclusion. The overarching mystery is the series' biggest strength, and is very well-plotted. Really just a good time!
The Viscount and the Virgin (Harlequin Historical) - Annie Burrows Easily my least favorite of the Silk and Scandal series, which is quite good overall. The hero begins the story as a complete jerk, and doesn't make it much farther than well-meaning idiot by the end. The heroine seems like she could have been fun, but she's so easily beaten down and confused that it's hard to appreciate her wit and sense of adventure. The both of them spend so much time misunderstanding each other and doing irrational things that it's more than a bit annoying when everything is fixed by the two of them taking a couple of pages to just STATE THEIR FEELINGS, which they could have been doing all along.The sex is incredibly boring, which is a fault of the entire series--it feels like we're reading the same snoozy love scenes again and again, only with different names and hair/eye colors. This was the book where I started skimming them. I know it's a Harlequin Historical, and I shouldn't have expected too much heat, but sheesh. Change it up a little!Still, it was nice to see Stephen/Stephano again and get a bit more of his perspective. Definitely whetted my appetite for book 8! And it's short enough and has enough movement on the series' overarching mystery that I didn't feel I had wasted my time on it.
The Lord and the Wayward Lady (Harlequin Historical) - Louise Allen The starting book and one of the better entries in the very enjoyable Silk & Scandal series. The heroine is likable and easy to respect. The hero is dashing, if a bit irritating in his need to constantly jump to incorrect conclusions. Louise Allen has a great voice, and I found myself chuckling throughout. The romance is wrapped up satisfactorily, but be prepared for the central mystery not to be. There are still seven books to go, after all! My only real complaints: the sex was pretty boring (This is unfortunately true of the whole series. By book 5 I was skimming over just about every sex scene.) and everything felt a bit rushed. Understandable, I suppose, given its length and nature--it's a cut above most Harlequins, but it's still a Harlequin--but it did feel a bit shallow. Still, I'm definitely not sorry I read it!
The Man Who Knew Too Much - G.K. Chesterton This book was the best kind of surprise. I was expecting a much more straightforward detective novel, so I was initially thrown by the format and tone. But once I adjusted my expectations I had a great time!The stories themselves are uneven in quality and start to feel formulaic after you've been through a few, but they're all fairly quick and the good ones are worth sticking it out for. And while I can understand how one might not find Horne Fisher's cynical worldview very fun, I thought it was pretty refreshing to read a few stories where the wrongdoer doesn't necessarily get punished and things don't get tied up in a neat bow.If you're very bored by history and politics, you might want to steer clear. But if you like locked room mysteries or you're ready for something a little different, this is a great collection. I'm definitely going to hunt down the Father Brown stories!
The Red House Mystery (Dover Mystery Classics) - A. A. Milne This is a brisk little country house mystery with low stakes but a pretty satisfying solution, likable characters, and plenty of humor. My ebook copy wasn't clearly labelled, so I didn't realize it was by A.A. Milne until I'd already finished it, but I wasn't surprised. It's obviously a more adult story than any of Pooh's adventures, but there's a certain wry but affectionate tone that feels very familiar. The exchanges between Milne's Holmes stand-in and his extremely game "Watson" had me chuckling from beginning to end.
The Spellman Files - Lisa Lutz This one was my fault, for not really researching the book before I started it. I thought I was reading a mystery, but it was actually chick lit.As far as chick lit goes, though, it's not bad. The characters are satisfyingly complex, even if I didn't find any of them very likable (except Rae & Inspector Stone). The story focuses much more on family dynamics than romance, which is refreshing--and a relief, in this case, because the primary romance has zero heat. It's also very funny, and that'll keep me going through almost anything.My biggest beef is with the pacing. The book drags pretty badly in the middle, and the "mystery" is not even a little compelling. It's not a mystery novel, but still. I almost put it down and didn't come back, which would have been a shame because the last third is probably the strongest part of the book!
Uglies - Scott Westerfeld Well. It's better than The Knife of Never Letting Go, but nowhere near as good as The Hunger Games. :PThe plot was quick and engaging, and there was a lot of great world building. But the characters were very shallow, and I felt like there was a lot of telling instead of showing in what characterization we got. For instance: at one point we're told that two characters spent a whole night talking about everything, "but especially" their childhoods. Yawn. Instead of telling us they had a conversation, why not just show us a part of it? Just one exchange about their childhoods would have gone miles towards giving us characters, instead of cyphers.I intend to continue the series right away, though, so there's that!