Thursday, 16 February 2017

Book Reviews - Japanophile and her Sci-Fi

Last week I acquired "Removed" (The Nogiku Series Book 1) by S. J. Pajonas as a perma-free promotion from one of my book deal mailing lists (BookBub?).

Please be advised that I mention plot spoilers. If you don't like spoilers, go read the books then come back here. The first one's a perma-free. If you don't like it, that's okay. Come back here, save yourself some time and read these spoilers.

But me, I enjoyed the first book enough I went and bought the omnibus. Glad to say this series gave me a week's cheerful reading. Check your brain in at the door and enjoy.

Removed is, essentially, a Japanese-inspired Science Fiction city-in-a-bubble story.  Nishikyo is a city in northern Canada that must exist under a dome, as the Earth's biosphere is pretty much hashed. While this is mere worldbuilding in the first novel, and not much about this comes to play here, I'm mentioning it now, because throughout this series of four books, in every book stuff gets ramped up big-time.  But for now, just know that Our Heroine lives in a dome city that's 75% Japanese, located in northern Canada.

Half-Japanese Sanaa Griffin is an engineer who likes her job, has a friend-with-benefits and lives with her lesbian aunts after being orphaned as a toddler.

Then the middle-aged Mark Sakai comes along and essentially forces a job transfer on her. She's now shoved in some room doing surveillance video analysis.  Who are all these people on Big Bro Cam and why is she watching them and plotting their every move?  Because politics.

But why her?  All Sanaa wants to do is go to her old job, pal about with her besties and dream of love (as every twenty-year-old Japanese girl is supposed to do).

At least Mark Sakai hasn't completely isolated her from the world. That would be creepy. Instead, he introduces her to cute and sexy Jiro, who teaches Sanaa martial arts and self-defence.

So, what is all this for?  Surprise, Sanaa is actually the last surviving descendant from Japan's Last Emperor, and apparently the Empress-to-be of what's left of Japan in Nishikyo. [Whoa! Level up!] No wonder she's gotta bone up on her politics and the Clans.

Her mother, it turns out, was assassinated, and it was believed Sanaa had also died at the same time. But thanks to Mark Sakai, Sanaa was really switched out with her cousin (who did die), thus hiding her from those who would seek to kill the last empress.

So, now that she's a legal adult, she's come out as the empress, and certain clans are unhappy. So much so, they attempt to assassinate her during an earthquake at the kabuki theatre. (Remember that damaged biosphere? Causes issues.)

But Sanaa's a tough bird, and rescues herself from her would-be assassin by cutting off her own hair (because he was using it as a leash) and then cutting off his head with a sword. Bad-ass.

The plot of this book was thick and well-paced and the voice was easy to read.  I had to read the next one.

Released, book 2, starts with Sanaa in isolation while she heals from her ordeal. Her emergence had led to a bit of an escalation in political tensions, especially as many people died in the ninja attack on the kabuki theatre.  Sanaa was not raised to be empress. Her aunts raised her to have a normal life, even going so far to live in a non-Japanese neighbourhood. She is not ready to deal with the emotional baggage of being an empress.

The only steady influence in her life is her boyfriend Jiro. He's solid and unwavering.  Even Mark Sakai, who's taken on a strange sort of head-of-the-clan uncle type, is untrustworthy; he holds too many secrets.

When Sanaa gets out of isolation-hospital, she returns to Nishikyo to a chilly reception. A lot of people blame her for the ninja attack that killed many family members. Everyone's intertwined in one way or another, and family deaths hit them hard.

Also, clan loyalties waver and lots of Old Business comes out.

But she's gotta pull it together and she's got to use her natural charm to help restore peace among the clans. This is very necessary, as there's a desperate need to leave Earth. For decades there's been a plan to evacuate earth for a habitable world known as Yusei. Politics happen, and the coordinates for Yusei got changed. (But nobody questions this, or asks WTF. They just go along with it, trusting that they're told this planetary candidate is viable, and a better option than the other one.)

Sanaa manages to get her act together enough to get the clans to a standstill enough for the first wave to board the starships and take off for this new world. [Whoa! Level up!]   Bye, Earth.

The third book Reunited ups the ante. When the immigrants arrive, they discover the planet Yusei is already inhabited by previous Japanese spacefarers, who left earth over three hundred years ago. [Whoa! Level up!]  A few people knew about this secret, knew exactly which planet the previous travellers had left for, and a couple of the clans knew exactly where they were going, and were hoping to ally themselves with the luddite Fujiwara clan who lived on Yusei. This is so they can finally overthrow Sanaa as empress and get on with their lives.

Also, Sanaa's B/C implant failed, and she's knocked up. Yay, this is what she wanted.

So, the traitorous clans kidnap Sanaa and sell her to Fujiwara, who don't intend on killing her, but "breeding the gaijin out of her bloodline", and thus place her descendants under Fujuwara control.

Lots of people, including Jiro, think this is a bad idea, and they break her out of there before son-of-Fujiwara can get over his brewers droop and his FA preferences.

Alas, with the stress of her rescue, and issues with high metabolisms and imperial stress, Sanaa loses the baby. For this, and other reasons (like misogyny), Sanaa decides Fujiwara's gotta go.  Meanwhile, a local ally's horse seems to like her very much.

Secrets she learns:  Mark Sakai once had the hots for Sanaa's mom, but her mother chose an English gaijin to father her child. Mark then goes off with Sanaa's paternal aunt, fathers the cousin that died when her mother was assassinated, and does his best to make up for past mistakes. Regrets abound.

The last book, Reclaimed, is where Sanaa realises she needs to overthrow the Fujiwara clan and deliver the world back to true and good citizens everywhere. Too many people are dying in the conflict and laying the blame at her feet. But with so many clans against her, she's got to find her allies elsewhere. And those allies are....

...the animals.  Turns out, the previous settlers of Yusei genetically engineered the animals to be able to technologically converse with certain people who had a mind-meld chip. But they also genetically altered the animals to be able to recognise the genes of the emperor's line.  Turns out, Sanaa has the ability (once she gets the chip implanted) to talk with all animals. [Whoa! Level up!] At this point I was seriously questioning my suspension of disbelief, but thought, I'm this far, and I'm reading this for escapist purposes, so I choose to accept this and go with the flow.

Sanaa's ability to communicate with all animals is unique, but not unusual. Lots of other people are able to sync up with a certain type, say, cats, or horses. It's this animal network that provides a planet with severely limited techonology a way of communicating across long distances without having to reply on Imperial post.

There's a big battle at the end, with all the bad guys intending on taking over a tiny little town of artists, because it's a good place to gather armies and plan their major (and final) assault on the empress' city.

Sanaa and her mates sneak into town ahead of the baddies, and spring an ambush on them (with lions and other wildlife assisting) before they can get their act together.  Chalk up a win for the good guys.


So yeah, this series is plot-heavy, though sometimes I think the reasoning behind the plot is stretching it. I read this because I wanted to go on a fun ride, and I got it.

Recommendation:  Yeah. If you like stories heavy with Japanese influences and a surprising amount of Fantasy in your Sci-Fi, you may enjoy this. (Never hurts to try the perma-free.) I do recommend you suspend your disbelief for a lot of stuff.  Don't think too hard about this one. This is brain candy, this is the cupcake in your reading diet.

Will I seek out more from this author? Probably will, but after having indulged in four books over the week, I need a palate-cleanser.

Her Grace thinks the perma-free model is a great way to draw in new readers.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Happy Palentine's Day!

Yeah, you heard me. Pal-entine's.

Far too many people feel angst at a day where the blatant celebration of romantic relationships is rather painful.

Don't get hung up on thinking that Romance = Woe-mance and Eros is the only love god. If you think 14 Feb is only for people bumping uglies (or attempting to), then you're shortchanging yourself.

Love exists in all forms. The wise woman realises this and celebrates the love she does have in her life, however it appears.

Celebrate your pals (friends) and any other relationships you've got that brings enrichment to your life.

What I did:

1. Brought valentine heart candy for my co-workers at the Day Job. We spent some time talking about what we liked about our jobs (such as the geographical convenience, and we don't have any weird dysfunctional co-workers).

2. Gave Their Ladyships a box of chocolates. Sharing is a kind of love.

I wish I had the wisdom to celebrate Palentine's Day when I was young and (sadly) single. I would have been much happier with myself if I had known this.

Her Grace will still continue to write Romance novels, not so much for the celebration of love, but the celebration of happiness.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Tuesday's Tale--What Rock?

After three weeks of ghosting, Brody txt'd me to meet him at Java Jive. Maybe now I could get some answers.

He was late, as usual, not that I was surprised. I'd already grabbed a mocha so I didn't look lame sitting at a table with nothing in my hands. Nothing like a cuppa to excuse away public solitude. Even sat at one of the window tables to keep an eye out for him covered for me as "people-watching".

I nursed that sucker for fifteen minutes until he slid into the seat opposite me. Didn't meet my eyes, didn't even have a frappuccino to keep his nervous hands busy.  "We gotta break up," he muttered.

I blinked at him. "What?"

"Sorry," he mumbled, then slid out of his seat. Head down and tail tucked between his legs, he left Java Jive. Through the window, I watched him approach the car that had been out there for ten minutes. How stupid of me not to recognise it until now. I knew what his mother looked like. Why didn't I spot her before.

Duh, my radar had been trained for Brody.

As Brody slid into the passenger seat, I flew after him, knocking on the car window.  "Hey," I shouted through the glass. "What's up with this."

The automatic window rolled down, but not by Brody.  His mother, who I had only met once and I thought I had liked, leaned over. "Haven't you done enough damage already?"

Excuse me?

"I'm sick of all the midnight calls. I've thrown away everything you've left on the porch and we've already reported the rock through the window and the thefts to the police."

Rock? What rock?  All I could do was stand there, mouth agape. Thefts?

Brody shaded his eyes. I don't blame him. "Mom, can we just go?"

But his mother wasn't finished. "You're the reason we pulled him out of school and sent him to another." Not that I would have noticed such a thing. We went to different schools.  "I've already spoken to his new principal. If you attempt to transfer schools to get near him again, Donna, I'm taking this matter straight to the police."

At her final words, I leaned on the window, then flicked Brody hard on the ear. What I wanted to do was pull him from that vehicle and pound his face into the sidewalk. "Mrs Allen, I'm not Donna. My name is Brenda. And I can assure you that you nor your son will ever see me again."

I turned to him. "You're right, Brody. We're breaking up. You've been cheating on me. Good luck with Donna."

I had a mocha to finish.

Her Grace is just as astonished to have written a contemporary YA tragedy. Such a change from a frothy HEA Romance.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Lovely review of "The White Feather"

Mosey on over to Cupcakes and Popcorn to see their lovely review of "The White Feather".

Part I like the best:

"With no small amount of witty dialogues – courtesy of our dear ghost – and beautiful, innocent romance, this book is certainly something else. While ghost romance has become quite popular recently, I found this one to be a much better choice than other titles of this kind I’ve read."

My thanks to Anastasia and Lydia for this happy review.

As for the rest of you? Have you read it yet? If you have, do me a solid and post your honest review to Amazon, Goodreads or wherever you prefer to review.

Haven't got your copy yet?! (Surely not! Time to rectify.)

Amazon |  B&N | KoboBooks | TWRP

Also available in paperback for those who like heft.

Her Grace plans on having more witty dialogue in "The Charm of Truth", out soon.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Book Reviews - What I read this week

In Australia, this week is the last of the Summer Holidays. To that end, I got a bit of reading done.

Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She's Dead (The Toad Witch Mysteries) by Christiana Miller.  The title alone sucked me in. The cover art is rather cartoon-style chick-lit, with a few too many elements (really, it would be better without the skull or the witch hat on the toad), but one can forgive cover art if the story's good enough.

This story is good enough. I got sucked in for the first paragraph, and it didn't let me go.

I must caution you, this is actually two books in the one volume. The first book is purely chick-lit, with our Heroine Mara dealing with life as she hovers at the poverty line. BFF Gus is there to be her helping hand and rescuer as she deals with lack of a job, pending eviction and general rudderlessness.  I confess, this is not the book I thought I would be reading.  Still, Miller has a strong voice and style, so I gave her the benefit of the doubt.  Yeah, Mara is a witch, and she does spellcraft, but there's no paranormal element to this first book.

The first book ends with a H-ish E.A. when the solution to Mara's troubles comes in the form of an inheritance. Yay. If you don't like paranormal, you can stop reading here, for this plot arc is complete.

Book two is the paranormal book the title promised me.  Mara, having inherited her late Aunt Tillie's cottage in Wisconsin, leaves California to have a look-see. From the moment she arrives, she learns about the strange mystery surrounding her aunt's rather impressive "cottage". It's been renovated and expanded and has all the  mod-cons a California Millennial could possibly want, including a few ghosts, some serious consequences, and an impressively good mystery.

Alas, the mystery could have been played out a little bit more.  Having main characters deliberately withhold information, or having main characters completely fail to ask the obvious question does not make a mystery stronger. It just annoys those of us who are familiar with how a mystery should be laid out. Still, the plot was built sturdy enough I didn't have to roll my eyes at it.

Recommendation:  Yeah, if you're into chick lit and paranormal. Smooth, readable style, complex enough plot, reliable narration, strong voice.

Will I read on?  Possibly. The author's voice is a hooky one and the Gus character is a hoot.


Our Little Secrets (Montana Romance) by Merry Farmer.  Yep, it's a mail-order bride romance set in 1895.

The blurb doesn't do this rather intricate plot any justice.  If plot is your thing, this has it in spades. Charlotte is fleeing Philadelphia to get away from an overbearing stepfather who's urged her to commit certain (non-sexual) crimes in the past. She procures enough funds to afford a few train tickets, and flees out to the Wild West in hopes of starting a new life.  Granted, that's about as far or as detailed as her plan gets. She shows up in a small Montana town called Cold Springs, mistakes Our Hero for a porter, and off the story goes.

Michael West has secrets of his own, and looks to be keeping the secrets of a few other people. It is fun when all these secrets come out, including a few that I'm not sure would have been admitted, or reacted to in the way portrayed in the book. The modern sensibilities are too strong.

One issue I had with this book was the dearth of setting. There simply wasn't enough of it. We really needed more, lots more. A few sentences here and there describes the town, but not nearly enough. I wanna smell the dust, feel the heat (or the cold), and get a real sense of being there.

Another issue I had was lack of historical accuracy. Cold Springs is a relatively new country town in the late 19th Century. Yes, the late 19th Century had electric lights and the telephone, but they were not ubiquitous. I know many country towns that didn't have electric lights to every house until as late as the 1930's.  Also, the presence of a telephone, while plausible, seems unlikely, given the historical setting. When Michael seeks to communicate with Philadelphia, for him to place a long-distance phone call would not have been possible. The US long-distance telephone network in 1895 only stretched from New York to Chicago--certainly not to Montana!  Telegraph would have been the way to go.  IF (and that's a big IF) Cold Springs had the telephone, it would only have serviced the local town. Seems like a frivolity, if that was the case.

If one is to write  historical fiction, one needs to do research for plausibility's sake.

Characters are a bit one-dimensional, but at least they all have an interesting backstory.

Recommendation:  Um, not sure. If you're not a stickler for historical accuracy, and you don't care about a rich setting, why not?  The plot is strong enough to carry the story, though it could have use some decent accessorising.

Would I read the next?  Probably not.


Daughter of Nothing (The Scion Chronicles) by Eric Kent Edstrom.  I'm not really into dystopian SF, but this book had a good voice and style that carried me, along with some rich character-building.

Jacey has attended the Caribbean-based Scion School, where she's been trained in subjects like Memorisation, Literature and Ballet.  Other students have specialised in Science or Martial Arts--subjects chosen for them, not necessarily what they are most interested in.  They've been told that the outside world has been devastated, and they're being trained up to enter it in positions of leadership, to help fix a broken world.

As this is a dystopian novel, you know that's not the truth.  Eventually Jacey and her mates figure this one out. What are they really being trained for?

The mystery played out in this novel is well-crafted. The encluing is subtly well-done, which I appreciate. A few things I figured out ahead of time, but other things were a complete mystery to me. Nicely done.

Cover art was nice.

The other novels are available on my preferred platform of Kobo, so I'll be adding them to my TBR wishlist.

Recommendation: Yep, if you enjoy Dystopian. Well-built plot, round characters.

Her Grace loves how she can classify reading as "professional development".

Monday, 23 January 2017

Book Reviews - Good stuff

I'm going to start with the more memorable ones, because they stuck out in my memory and made me want to read more. I remember their characters and plots and felt they did their job in letting me escape reality for a while.

Magic of Thieves: Legends of Dimmingwood series by C Greenwood.  This is your standard fantasy trope, which was something I desperately needed that day. I believe I picked this one up from Fussy Librarian. First book was permafree and sucked me right in. "Magic of Thieves" is the first book and tells the story of Ilan. Through Bad Things happening, she finds herself a member of a band of thieves, and thus grows up as one of them.

I found the voice and style smooth and easy to read. The characters were nicely rounded and interacted well. I only wish there had been more body to the plot.

Recommendation:  Yes, I'd recommend this. It was pleasant.  I'd like to read the rest of the series.

However... the rest of the series is exclusive to Amazon.  Many authors are doing this, and it's really annoying me. They'll throw up the first book on all platforms (including my beloved Kobo), but the rest of the series is only on Amazon.  And yes, while I could download a Kindle reader for my laptop, the whole reason I got an ebook reader was because it's easy on my eyes. I can only stand staring at a computer monitor for so many hours before I get headaches.  I've got to really, really like a book series to risk a headache so I can read it Amazon-exclusive.  (Zon, you have much to answer for for your stupid exclusivity practices, and your inability to only allow an author to set a free pricepoint if you're price-matching from another platform. Shame!)

Still, I am considering purchasing the rest.

Helga: Out of Hedgelands (Wood Cow Chronicles, #1)  by Rick Johnson. A fresh YA take on anthropomorphic animals. Helga is a Wood Cow who barely escaped slavers, and ends up growing up in a bayou. Eventually she's reunited with her father and brother, though mother was captured by slavers.   When her brother ends up giving the middle finger to the Hedgelands High One (aka self-centred king), said High One banishes her whole clan.  Another one selected from Fussy Librarian.

I liked this fresh read and had fun with the voice. The characterisation was deep and interesting. The plot, however, was rather episodic. While one tale tied in to another through various threads, there wasn't much of an uberplot. Most of the stories function very well as standalones. They are beautiful within themselves, and provided a pleasant thirty minutes of reading.  I loved the little stories, but if I were to read too many of them in a row without some sort of master plan, I might start finding them tedious.

It felt like this series was pantsed (aka organic, aka written without any prior plotting). The next book in the series sounds like there's more of an uberplot. I'm willing to give it a go. There's also a third and a fourth, should my plotty goodness wishes come true.

Recommendation:  Yes, quite. Recommended for readers who like characters with a bit of sass.  Also, extra blessings to the author for having the next few books available on Kobo.

The Midnight Sea: The Fourth Element series by Kat Ross.  This takes place during the Mediterranean Classical era when Alexander the Great conquers the world and Zarathustra was the Zoroastrian prophet. That said, this book had a delightful otherworldly feel, which I love in my fantasy.

Magical beings called daevas (djinni) are bonded to humans through enchanted cuffs (think sul-dam and damane), and together they hunt necromancers and demons and other nasties that an evil queen has sent to plague the kingdom.

This had a nice plot with a few twists and turns. I like that in my stories. Turn a few facts on their heads and I'm yours.

Recommendation:  Sure. But here's another one who's gone Amazon exclusive. Shame, as I really wanted to read "Blood of the Prophet", as this plot is upping its ante nicely.  If only my Kobo reader could handle .mobi. (It doesn't, alas.)

The Unflappable Miss Fairchild: Uncommon Courtships (or Rogues and Rakes, depending on your version) series b Regina Scott.  When I want true escapism with a clinical dose of optimism, I'll turn to trusty old Regency Romance.

Miss Anne Fairchild is a character that will go with the flow, does not feel constrained by societal mores, yet will not compromise her values easily. Chas Prestwick is a second son who acts a bit of the rake. When the two meet, they individually consider changing their ways.

I loved this story, for when a misunderstanding came up, the two of them talked it out, instead of doing the whole prideful hurt-ish silent treatment. That bodes well for me to believe their HEA will be truly E.A.  If the rest of the books are as well-thought-out as this one, I'm happy to read the rest of the series.

Now, when I say series, know that a series in romance is not the same as a series in Fantasy.  Pros: I am guaranteed a complete plot arc in a single book.  Cons: no sweeping three-book sagas giving me a universe in which I can lose myself for a week.

Recommendation:  Yep. This was a good choice. Am considering buying more of her books, though the price point is making me balk. At least she's got plenty of books available on Kobo.

Her Grace loves a well-written book. 

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Book Reviews 2017 - Intro

I need to post more book reviews. (Pretty much everyone needs to post more book reviews, but I'll leave that in your hands.)

I took December off from... well, everything. This gave me time to read some books. I had plenty, thanks to the beauty of an ebook reader (I'm a Kobo girl. More on this later), and did my best to get through as many as I could.

Thanks to BookBub and the Fussy Librarian, I receive daily notifications of any book deals going down. Also, I thought I'd take a punt and trawl through Kobo's bookstore, picking up any freebies I came across. If (IF) I can remember how I found the book, I may mention it.

Now my TBR pile is rather large, but I'm going to do my best to get through as many books as I can. I'll post my reviews here, and possibly to GoodReads and/or Amazon, depending. I intend to be honest in my book reviews, and sometimes that means I will lay it out as I see it. If I find a book hard to read or full of problems, I will mention that here. Also, I am under no obligation to finish a book if it can't catch and hold my attention. Other readers may feel differently.  Feel free to share your reasons in the comments, observing good manners and etiquette. You're free to disagree with me, but not to act like a jerk.

So, what has My Grace read recently?  I tend to enjoy Historical, Romance (all kinds except contemporary) and SFF.  Occasionally I'll pick up a book outside these genres, because it's healthy to read books outside one's preferred stomping grounds.

Let's have a look at what I've been reading lately.

Her Grace is looking for patterns.