Ashe’s 2017 Reading List

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  • #203918
    Ashe Elton Parker
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    Well, 2016 was a spectacular flop in the reading realm as I focused more on my own writing to escape the hell of the political situation. Now all that’s settled, I’m hoping I’ll be able to enjoy others’ stories without the attendant inspiration to write on my own stories that fueled part of last year’s writing spree.

    I’ll list books I want to finish reading, and focus on those first (despite the siren songs of various new titles languishing on my ereaders).

    In no particular order:

    – [strike]Paid in Gold and Blood, fantasy mystery by Lazette Gifford (new read), trade paperback
    [/strike]- [strike]Throne of the Crescent Moon, fantasy by Saladin Ahmed (new read), ebook
    [/strike]- [strike]Call of the Herald, epic fantasy by Brian Rathbone (new read), ebook[/strike]
    Changeless, historical fantasy mystery/steampunk by Gail Carriger (new read), ebook
    Bones of the Past, fantasy by Holly Lisle (reread), ebook
    Heart Readers, fantasy by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (reread), ebook
    How to be a Victorian, historical nonfiction by Ruth Goodman (new read), ebook
    – [strike]Into the Forest Shadows, science fiction by J.A. Marlow (new read), ebook
    [/strike]- How to Write a Damn Good Mystery, writing how-to by James N. Frey (new read), ebook
    The Red Plague Affair, historical fantasy mystery/steampunk by Lilith Saintcrow (new read), ebook

    Okay, that should be it for now.

    (Edited to remove A Princess, a Boatman, and a Lizard, which I discovered I’d already read.)

    ETA:

    Not On List:

    The 33 Worst Mistakes Writers Make About Horses, nonfiction by Becky Burkheart (New Read), ebook.
    Things I’ll Never Say, gay romance short story by M.J. O’Shea (reread), ebook
    Unintended, gay romance by M.J. O’Shea (reread), ebook
    A Little Bite of Magic, urban fantasy gay romance by M.J. O’Shea (reread) ebook
    The Last Herald-Mage Trilogy Omnibus, fantasy by Mercedes Lackey (reread) ebook
    Second Hand, gay romance by M.J. O’Shea (reread) ebook
    The Arrows of the Queen, fantasy by Mercedes Lackey (reread) ebook (book 1 of The Heralds of Valdemar trilogy)

    .

    Ashe Elton Parker
    "There's someone in my head, but it's not me." ~ from the song Brain Damage by Pink Floyd
    ~*~
    Member since 1998.
    ~*~
    Look me up on Wattpad for some of my books!
    #252554
    Ashe Elton Parker
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    • Topics - 425
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    1. Call of the Herald epic fantasy by Brian Rathbone, new read (Book 1 of Dawning of Power)

    Cover Copy:

    Catrin Volker dreams of a peaceful life training horses. It’s not to be. Comets appear in the night skies, announcing the return of a goddess. While trying to save her friend from bullies, Catrin unknowingly triggers powerful, ancient, magic and fulfills a prophecy that says she will destroy entire nations.

    Review:

    I found this book to be somewhat slow-paced, but compelling. Rathbone writes a strong tale, manipulating the “farmchild given great powers” trope to great effect. The MC, Catrin Volker, is a believable heroine, whose struggles throughout the book are sensible and real–she does not come into her power too easily, or without the sort of struggle someone in her position should have; in fact, she manages to do the wrong thing as often as she succeeds in doing the right thing, usually at the same time.

    Typically, I like a book to be faster paced, but I found the compelling nature of this story to be a good substitute for a faster pace. No matter how long I was away from this book, I thought of it frequently and with a desire to get back to it. Rathbone, in this, has written a book that held my attention and made me want to see what happens next, with characters I cared about, and a solid plot that doesn’t get unreasonable or unbelievable.

    I could ask for nothing better in a book, and look forward to the next in the series.

    .

    Ashe Elton Parker
    "There's someone in my head, but it's not me." ~ from the song Brain Damage by Pink Floyd
    ~*~
    Member since 1998.
    ~*~
    Look me up on Wattpad for some of my books!
    #252555
    Ashe Elton Parker
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    2. Into the Forest Shadows science fiction by J.A. Marlow, new read (standalone)

    Cover Copy:

    A planet-wide conspiracy is waiting at Grandmother’s house…

    “Always wear the red hood and cape while you are in the forest,” Grandma admonished.

    For a teen with purple and red hair, and an attitude to match, the small claustrophobic city of Oburos grows ever smaller with Uncle Travis’s attempts to take over her and her mother’s life.

    An invitation to visit Grandmother’s house, nestled among the giant trees filling the planet, gives Kate a welcome respite. But, there is no time for rest. A conspiracy among the forest inhabitants, moving trees, and other mysteries await her at Grandmother’s house.

    Kate learns just how little she knew of the forests, much less its animals. To survive she must learn fast, and that includes trust and teamwork.

    And just where was Grandma, anyway?

    A Science Fiction novel retelling of the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood” by J.A. Marlow.

    Review:

    Once I relaxed into reading this book, it rather took me over. I could barely put it down for necessary things like fresh cups of tea. In fact, I read over 50% of this book from midnight until about 6:30 AM on the date I finished it. Could. NOT. Put. It. Down.

    I’m a very easygoing reader. I’ll let a protagonist with a bad attitude or bad behavior, or someone who seems weak in character some way, lead me through at least part of their story until I notice whether or not they’re actually growing over the course of the tale. That said, I must add that Kate O’Hanson starts off as a typical bratty teenager. What kept me reading was the fact I felt she had a good bead on her uncle at the beginning of the book, and I wanted to see how she’d manage to end his influence over herself and her mother. I’m pleased to say that she does grow as a character, though she never loses her spirit.

    This is the first of J.A. Marlow’s novels I’ve ever read, and I found it to be a compelling read. Marlow is skilled with building the tension, and as things picked up from chapter to chapter, I found myself less and less willing to stop reading, even for a moment. Her characters are well-developed, and they fit in their world well; none are superfluous. There are no plot holes in this book, and events follow upon each other in a reasonable manner without being so outrageous as to throw a reader out of the book. Marlow’s worldbuilding is flawless, and the story is populated by semi-sentient trees, groupmind animals, and antagonists who make sense in the universe; I’d really like to see more stories set on Orubos and in its universe.

    Marlow sets forth in this book a monumental challenge for her protagonist Kate: She must get into contact with a Watcher, or the Ancients, in order to prevent the destruction of the only human settlement on Orubus, as well as the wholesale murder of the world’s semi-sentient trees. A less skilled and experienced author would have made this too easy, but Marlow consistently makes things more and more difficult without losing the optimistic tone of her story. Kate never manages to defeat any challenges she faces with any particular ease, and she reaches her goal in a convincing manner that doesn’t seem unbelievable.

    This book is appropriate for a young reader, but I as a 40+ year old adult found it quite entertaining and would recommend this book to anybody interested in reading a good Science Fiction Adventure novel.

    .

    Ashe Elton Parker
    "There's someone in my head, but it's not me." ~ from the song Brain Damage by Pink Floyd
    ~*~
    Member since 1998.
    ~*~
    Look me up on Wattpad for some of my books!
    #252556
    Ashe Elton Parker
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    3. The 33 Worst Mistakes Writers Make About Horses nonfiction by Becky Burkheart, new read

    Cover Copy (from Goodreads):

    Avoid 33 common mistakes writers make about horses that drive riders crazy. This book answers key questions non-horseman don’t know they need to ask, offering clear answers for simple issues and research terms for more complex ones. Each of the 33 Mistakes are explained in clear layman’s terms in this quick and hard hitting 10,000 words. As both a rider and a writer, the author offers real world examples and conflicts rather than simply explaining what’s proper. Whether you write fantasy, historical or contemporary fiction, these simple points can easily add layers and depth, a line at a time, and help hook reading horse-lovers into your stories.

    My Review:

    I bought this book years ago, closer to its initial publication date of 2011 and then forgot about it.

    This book was a quick read, but informative. Becky Burkheart writes from a wide range of experience with horses in various types of situations. I’d have liked her to go into a bit more detail, but she provides a list of resources for further reading, which I intend to explore.

    One of the things I liked about this book is that Burkheart states, several times, that experienced riders can often disagree on various topics regarding horses, from what sort of feed to use, to training techniques. She also includes information on donkeys, because, apparently, writers treat them the same as horses in their writing, when they’ve actually got quite different base personalities. In addition, Burkheart explains how targeted breeding affects a horse’s ability to be versatile, and about coat colors, and about their lifespan, because apparently for this, authors believe that horses live around half their actual lifespan

    As a writer, it’s given me plenty to consider in my own work, and I expect to refer to this book and the other resources frequently as I write. I’d recommend this book to any writer whose characters employ horses.

    .

    Ashe Elton Parker
    "There's someone in my head, but it's not me." ~ from the song Brain Damage by Pink Floyd
    ~*~
    Member since 1998.
    ~*~
    Look me up on Wattpad for some of my books!
    #252557
    Ashe Elton Parker
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    4. Things I’ll Never Say gay romance short story by M.J. O’Shea, reread

    Cover Copy (from Goodreads)

    His best friend in the world is ditching him; moving out of state to go to college and leaving him behind with all the reminders of their childhood together. It hurts like hell but he doesn’t know how to tell Ryan that he needs him to stay… without saying too much.

    Ryan has no choice.

    He’s been in love with Sam for so many years he’s afraid if he doesn’t leave that he’ll spend his whole life alone in love with someone he can never have… but of course Ryan can’t tell his oldest and best friend that he’s in love with him. It would ruin the most important thing in his life.

    And then it happens. The amazing, wonderful, awful night that sends their relationship reeling – and ends in the worst way possible: with Ryan gone and Sam heartbroken and both of them miserable without the other.

    Sam and Ryan have to fix it; they need each other too much to let their relationship die. But to do that, they’ll have to find the courage to tell each other the truth about how they feel… to finally say those things they’ve kept to themselves for far too long.

    My Rating:

    ★★★★★

    My Review:

    Though this was a shorter read than I was expecting, I found it quite enjoyable. M.J. O’Shea created a pair of characters who are both unique and individual. Though I usually find “misunderstanding” romances a bit annoying, the fact the two MCs were so young and also going through their first love with each other made it palatable. It’s easy to misconstrue something that can have such a major impact on one’s life, especially when it’s first love.

    O’Shea manages to write a story about love-almost-lost without allowing the MCs’ separation from each other to become maudlin or too angsty or depressing. I like the fact that both characters remain active during their separation, making decisions and doing things to reestablish contact and their friendship. Neither just sits passively waiting for what they want to happen to do so–they both go out of their way to prove they love each other.

    As for the length, though I was expecting something longer, I feel it doesn’t need to be longer. O’Shea managed to pull off a story about the angst of separation from one’s first love with grace in this story; if it had been longer, it may have dragged down into something more depressing and much less fun to read.

    .

    Ashe Elton Parker
    "There's someone in my head, but it's not me." ~ from the song Brain Damage by Pink Floyd
    ~*~
    Member since 1998.
    ~*~
    Look me up on Wattpad for some of my books!
    #252558
    Ashe Elton Parker
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    5. Unintended gay romance by M.J. O’Shea, reread

    Cover Copy (from Goodreads):

    Taylor Quinn is in love. He never meant to fall for the hottest guy in school…or any guy at all for that matter. But he did.

    Alex Stewart is in love. He took one look at the adorable skater boy with the big lost eyes and was gone.

    They’re both happier than they’ve ever been, but can their fragile new love survive?

    Rating: ★★★★★

    Review:

    (Spoilers)

    In “Unintended”, M.J. O’Shea crafted what I found to be an light, sweet, enjoyable read. For this story, she switches between the MCs’ present day life and their past. Though I noticed other call these fhashbacks, I wouldn’t, mainly because those “flashbacks” seemed to carry the majority of the plot and story. The scenes with the chracters in present day are more along the lines of vignettes, a series of scenes shoing the characters settling into their new home and they don’t really have much plot.

    In the primary story, that of their last few months in high school, O’Shea tells a sweet tale of two young men meeting and falling in love. Some might call it a Gay For You story, but I dom’t see it that way. Taylor is young enough in this story that it seems reasonable to me that he simply never considered his relative lack of interest in girls as an indication he may be interested in guys–before he met Alex, he was content enough to go the straight route.

    This story is full of the blush of first love and Taylor’s self-discovery. The MCs’ struggles feel real and understandable, especially Taylor’s struggles to come out to his family. Alex’s reaction to Taylor’s struggle is completely reasonable and acceptable, as is his later effort to get back in touch with Taylor.

    O’Shea managed to give this story just enough angst and conflict to keep it interesting–while not dragging it down into a depressing tale.

    .

    Ashe Elton Parker
    "There's someone in my head, but it's not me." ~ from the song Brain Damage by Pink Floyd
    ~*~
    Member since 1998.
    ~*~
    Look me up on Wattpad for some of my books!
    #252559
    Ashe Elton Parker
    Moderator
    • Topics - 425
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    6. A Little Bite of Magic urban fantasy gay romance by M.J. O’Shea, reread

    Cover Copy (from Goodreads):

    In a family full of powerful witches, Frankie Vallerand is the black sheep. He doesn’t care about honing his magic. All he wants is to open up a restaurant and spend his days serving up delicious food. But when he sees a customer crying and wishes for her to be happy, he inadvertently transforms his old wooden soup spoon into a wand, and realizes that maybe a little bit of kitchen magic is just what his customers need.

    Addison Allbright is The Phantom Foodie, an anonymous food critic notorious for his scathing reviews. For most people, being paid to eat would be a dream job. Not for Addison. He doesn’t care for overpriced designer food. He’s a tea and toast kind of guy. Until both the food and the owner of L’Osteria Di Pomodoro sweep him off his feet and throw his neat, orderly life completely off-kilter.

    Frankie isn’t sure how to tell Addison he’s a witch, or that he charmed Addison’s food the night they first met, without sounding totally crazy. But little does he know that Addison has secrets too. Not only did he snark Frankie’s restaurant in his last review column, he’s also engaged to be married…to a woman.

    Rating: ★★★★★

    My Review:

    In this book, M.J. O’Shea builds an urban fantasy world that is believable and entertaining to read about. The addition of magic, even secret magic, in this story could have gone horribly wrong, but the author succeeds in keeping it from overwhelming the story, or making things too easy for Frankie.

    Both MCs are lovable and real. I really liked how Frankie’s magic wasn’t just set-dressing and had a way of working itself into the story in unexpected ways. Also, I enjoyed how O’Shea handled Addison’s struggles with his cookie-cutter life after he meets Frankie.

    I was initially disappointed in how quickly and easily the MCs accepted each others’ secrets (Frankie’s magic, and Addison’s job). However, once I read on, I realized why the author didn’t have the characters make a big deal out of Frankie’s powers. One reason was simply that Addison is not someone who goes off the deep end–he’s naturally level-headed and reasonable. The other reason was that Addison’s former cookie-cutter life basically haunts him throughout the book and hits in a big way later on.

    My only wish is that the story had been longer. I really hated when it ended.

    .

    Ashe Elton Parker
    "There's someone in my head, but it's not me." ~ from the song Brain Damage by Pink Floyd
    ~*~
    Member since 1998.
    ~*~
    Look me up on Wattpad for some of my books!
    #252560
    Ashe Elton Parker
    Moderator
    • Topics - 425
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    7. Paid in Gold and Blood, fantasy mystery by Lazette Gifford, trade paperback & ebook

    COVER COPY (from Smashwords):

    An angry goddess, a vengeful ghost, a spell that threatens the world, and one stranger who might set things right. . . .

    Katashan left the service of the gods he mistrusted and abandoned the magic gifts that had failed to help when he needed them most.

    The gods aren’t ready to let him go. At the end of a long journey to escape his past, Kat finds the body of a young woman who has been sacrificed before the statue of a benevolent goddess he once served. That goddess has made it plain she wants Kat to break this dangerous spell, no matter what the cost to him.

    RATING: ★★★★★

    REVIEW:

    Another nonstop read by Lazette Gifford. Once again, she treated me to a story that kept me entertained and made me want to know what happens next.

    The story opens with Katashan literally tripping on a sacrifice made at the feet of a benevolent goddess’s statue at the top of a mountain pass into a country where he hopes to forge a new future. Right away, he realizes the gods aren’t as finished with him as he was with them when he left his homeland. What he doesn’t realize is that the coming battle to save the world will also shift his perspective on his life, his past, and especially his future that he’ll actually have a chance to find the happiness he’s seeking.

    Katashan is a likeable character given a tough challenge. Plagued by the spirit of the sacrifice whose spell he disturbed, and stranded in a land where magic is feared, he faces challenges that are both realistic and difficult to surmount. He is a strong character, and the supporting characters are just as strong, and they all fit their world and the story well; no one is superfluous.

    This was a fun and at times intense read. I really worried for the characters, particularly Katashan, and wouldn’t mind seeing a book about the life he builds in his new home.

    .

    Ashe Elton Parker
    "There's someone in my head, but it's not me." ~ from the song Brain Damage by Pink Floyd
    ~*~
    Member since 1998.
    ~*~
    Look me up on Wattpad for some of my books!
    #252561
    Ashe Elton Parker
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    • Topics - 425
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    8. Throne of the Crescent Moon, fantasy by Saladin Ahmed, ebook, new read (Book One of The Crecent Moon Kingdoms)

    COVER COPY (from Goodreads):

    The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, home to djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, are at the boiling point of a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince. In the midst of this brewing rebellion a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. It is up to a handful of heroes to learn the truth behind these killings.

    Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, “the last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat,” just wants a quiet cup of tea. Three score and more years old, he has grown weary of hunting monsters and saving lives, and is more than ready to retire from his dangerous and demanding vocation. But when an old flame’s family is murdered, Adoulla is drawn back to the hunter’s path.

    Raseed bas Raseed, Adoulla’s young assistant, is a hidebound holy warrior whose prowess is matched only by his piety. But even as Raseed’s sword is tested by ghuls and manjackals, his soul is tested when he and Adoulla cross paths with the tribeswoman Zamia.

    Zamia Badawi, Protector of the Band, has been gifted with the near-mythical power of the lion-shape, but shunned by her people for daring to take up a man’s title. She lives only to avenge her father’s death. Until she learns that Adoulla and his allies also hunt her father’s killer. Until she meets Raseed.

    When they learn that the murders and the Falcon Prince’s brewing revolution are connected, the companions must race against time—and struggle against their own misgivings—to save the life of a vicious despot. In so doing they discover a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn Dhamsawaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.

    RATING: ★★★★★

    MY REVIEW:

    First thing I want to say is that though it’s made clear that this book is the first in a series, I think it stands well enough on its own. Saladin Ahmed manages to tie everything up neatly with endings that fit the different characters well. While I do wonder how their lives progress(ed) from the point where the book ends, I’m satisfied with how everything closed.

    Ahmed created some of the most distinct characters I’ve ever read. None of them are exaggerated, and they fit in the story and their world seamlessly. While each has a specific goal they each want to meet, how they come to work together to reach their individual goals, and thus defeat their *real* enemies, is completely reasonable and makes sense in the structure of the story and the world this writer has developed around them. They are all *part* of their world in a way that I don’t think I’ve seen in very many fantasy books, though I admit that may simply be because of the uniqueness of the world–it is *not* another all-too-common generic European setting here.

    No main character in Ahmed’s ensemble cast is left unchanged by their experiences either, something I like a great deal about this book. It’s often difficult for me to pinpoint in books I’ve read how a character has changed, so it was a pleasure to *see* the differences in these characters from beginning to end.

    Another thing I much enjoyed about this book was the political intrigue. The author leads the reader into it in a somewhat oblique manner, though now, looking back on the story since finishing it, I can see how he seeded signs of it in almost from the beginning. I’m laughing now because in retrospect it’s *obvious*, but I didn’t see it when I was in the process of reading the book. One thing I’d love to find out is how the new ruler fares both locally and at the interstate level of the empire, especially since gaining his new status was not as easy or pleasant as he thought it would be.

    I found the story itself compelling. Due to my own issues with the difficulties the characters faced, I paused in my reading more than once, sometimes for weeks at a time, but I thought of reading more daily because I wanted to know how the characters got through the difficulties I was afraid to read about. This balking at reading is all on me, though. Ahmed’s storytelling skill is not at all at fault here. In fact, that skill is the reason why I always eventually picked up the book again to continue reading. I *liked* all his protagonists, and didn’t want to see them hurt, and they all lost *something* of value to themselves, whether it was something material, physical, or mental/emotional.

    This is a book I’d recommend to anyone seeking a “first book” into fantasy. The unusual (for a fantasy) setting, the fundamental changes in the characters, and the author’s skill, for me, cobine to make an enjoyable, strong story that I’ll more than likely read again periodically.

    .

    Ashe Elton Parker
    "There's someone in my head, but it's not me." ~ from the song Brain Damage by Pink Floyd
    ~*~
    Member since 1998.
    ~*~
    Look me up on Wattpad for some of my books!
    #252562
    Ashe Elton Parker
    Moderator
    • Topics - 425
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    9. The Last Herald-Mage Trilogy Omnibus, fantasy by Mercedes Lackey, ebook, reread

    COVER COPY (from Amazon Kindle Store):

    The Last Herald-Mage Trilogy—three groundbreaking, Lambda Award-winning novels that established Mercedes Lackey as a fantasy tour-de-force and her Kingdom of Valdemar as a place millions of readers return to again and again.

    This Lambda Award-winning trilogy tells the story of Vanyel, persecuted and abused son of a Valdemaran noble, who finds acceptance at Haven when he is Chosen by the Companion Yfandes. Companions like Yfandes are magical horse-like beings with the power to communicate and bond with their Chosen, and trigger the potential for psychic abilities—and magic.

    But Vanyel discovers other things about himself at Haven as well…. He discovers love in an unexpected place, and loses it, and nearly his own life. With Yfandes and his aunt, Herald Savil, he will travel to the home of the mysterious Hawkbrothers in search of healing and training, and will grow from a troubled and heartbroken Trainee to become the most powerful Herald-Mage in the history of Valdemar—and the one hope for Valdemar against an implacable foe bent on eradicating magic from the Kingdom entirely.

    RATING: ★★★★★

    MY REVIEW:

    I first discovered this trilogy back in the early 90’s. At the time, I was in high school, a loner, and most of my friends were adults outside of school. These books–all three, but to a greater degree the first and third–captured my attention so well on my first reads through them that I came to fear that, like a broadcast TV show or movie in a theater, they were continuing without my attention. I absolutely hated closing these books to focus on class, and I could barely get my homework done for my need to read these novels.

    They have stayed with me ever since, and are books I read again almost annually. I have worn out countless copies of the individual paperback novels and always feared I’d not be able to find copies at the store when I had to get new copies. I was quite happy to discover this omnibus edition of the trilogy on Amazon after getting my Kindle, and it was one of the first books I purchased for it.

    I don’t think Lackey has, at least among the Valdemar books, written anything else I’ve found more personally powerful. The MC, Vanyel Ashkevron, is a strong character, even when he’s at his weakest (in book 1). His home circumstances are completely believable and the life he grows into after his potential is triggered is both glorious and heartbreaking. Vanyel’s strugles, to me, feel real and true, and still do even to this day, despite my familiarity with the stories. I can find few flaws in these books, and nearly every flaw I find is in my own perspective on the books, not in the stories themselves.

    While I sometimes come to believe I have outgrown Valdemar and its Heralds, I have never ever come to believe I have outgrown this trilogy. These are books I never fail to recommend to people who are looking for new fantasies to read, or who are seeking a first taste of the genre, and are, to me, timeless and will always be completely compelling, no matter how long I set them aside.

    .

    Ashe Elton Parker
    "There's someone in my head, but it's not me." ~ from the song Brain Damage by Pink Floyd
    ~*~
    Member since 1998.
    ~*~
    Look me up on Wattpad for some of my books!
    #252563
    Ashe Elton Parker
    Moderator
    • Topics - 425
    • Replies - 9,213

    10. Second Hand, gay romance by Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton, ebook, reread (a Tucker Springs Novel)

    COVER COPY (from Riptide Publishing):

    Paul Hannon moved to Tucker Springs for his girlfriend, but she’s left him with a house he can’t afford and a pantry full of useless gadgets. All Paul wants is to get back to normal, even if he’s not sure what that is anymore. When he wanders into Tucker Pawn for a gift to win her back, he meets El Rozal, pawn shop owner and all-around cynic.

    El Rozal doesn’t do relationships, especially not with clueless straight boys still pining for their ex. El may make his living dealing in castoffs, but that doesn’t apply to men. Still, when Paul starts clearing out his old life, pawning kitchen equipment he never wanted in the first place, El is drawn to Paul in spite of himself.

    Paul and El have nothing in common except a past full of disappointments. There’s no reason to believe the two of them could fit, but in El’s line of work, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. When it comes to love, El and Paul may learn that secondhand doesn’t mean second best.

    RATING: ★★★★★

    MY REVIEW:

    This is my favorite of the books I’ve read in the Tucker Springs Universe, the one I read pretty much every year, sometimes more than once. Told in El’s third person pov and Paul’s first person pov, the story alternates between the two in such a way that it creates a touching story that elicited more hope and fear and joy than any of the other Tucker Springs novels I’ve read has.

    I adore Paul, who is clueless about with whom he truly belongs without stretching the reader’s belief. His dreamy, oblivious-to-the-truth personality is one of the things I love most about this book. I’m touched, and amused, that everyone else can see the romances he’s party to, but he’s so totally blind to it that it’s still a bit surprising to him. I don’t know if the authors traded off by chapter, or by character, but Paul’s characterization, which is a linchpin of the plot, is handled far too deftly to come anywhere near being the catastrophe it could have been. Convincing cluelessness in a character, especially in first person, is very difficult for a lot of writers to achieve, so I’m always utterly amazed at how well Cullinan and Sexton depicted Paul in this story.

    I also love El, mostly because he tries so hard to be cynical and pessimistic about the whole situation with Paul, but fails utterly. What he tells himself is not what he really believes, and the authors do an excellent job of getting him to show just what he’s really thinking and feeling. El wrestles with himself and with where he knows he wants to take his relationship with Paul in such a way that I found myself fearing he wouldn’t be able to give himself to the romance as he showed he longed to in how he behaved. His complete awareness of where things—for him—are going, and the turmoil he suffers over Paul’s cluelessness in romance, only heightened the overall emotion of El’s part of the story.

    Another thing I liked is how both characters are given lives outside of their romance. So many romances, both het and gay, that I’ve read isolate the characters in their story to varying extents. This story was the first in a long time where I got a chance to read about characters who have other worries and concerns beyond their romantic lives. While these external-to-the-romantic-life lives are tied into the romance, they also serve to highlight the characters’ personalities better.

    Some readers may be frustrated or annoyed by how long it takes El and Paul to begin to get close after their initial introduction, but I felt their friendship developed naturally from that point. I think if they’d been in more frequent contact at first, the story would have felt forced and unnatural. Besides, it gives the readers more time to get to know the characters as individuals first, which I feel a lot of romances sometimes don’t quite allow. I enjoyed my anticipation of their next meeting to be as enjoyable as I found reading the interim scenes between those meetings, and I appreciate the additional insight to their individual characters because it gave me a firm idea of where each of them was coming from in this romance. I think less “getting to know you” time with each of them individually would have harmed my enjoyment of the book and made the story feel thin and somewhat holey.

    .

    Ashe Elton Parker
    "There's someone in my head, but it's not me." ~ from the song Brain Damage by Pink Floyd
    ~*~
    Member since 1998.
    ~*~
    Look me up on Wattpad for some of my books!
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    Ashe Elton Parker
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    11. Arrows of the Queen, fantasy by Mercedes Lackey, (reread), ebook (first in the Heralds of Valdemar trilogy

    COVER COPY (from Amazon.com):

    Follows the adventures of Talia as she trains to become a Herald of Valdemar in the first book in the classic epic fantasy Arrows trilogy

    Chosen by the Companion Rolan, a mystical horse-like being with powers beyond imagining, Talia, once a runaway, has now become a trainee Herald, destined to become one of the Queen’s own elite guard. For Talia has certain awakening talents of the mind that only a Companion like Rolan can truly sense.

    But as Talia struggles to master her unique abilities, time is running out. For conspiracy is brewing in Valdemar, a deadly treason that could destroy Queen and kingdom. Opposed by unknown enemies capable of both diabolical magic and treacherous assassination, the Queen must turn to Talia and the Heralds for aid in protecting the realm and insuring the future of the Queen’s heir, a child already in danger of becoming bespelled by the Queen’s own foes.

    RATING: ★★★★★

    MY REVIEW:

    This book was the 4th of Lackey’s Valdemar books I purchased, as soon as I could after finishing The Last Herald-Mage trilogy.

    I found Arrows of the Queen not to be quite as compelling as Vanyel’s story, yet I quite enjoyed it. Talia is a strong character whose quirks and personality drew me in.

    Though some readers may find the concept of Heralds and Companions a little saccharine, they are not without their challenges and difficulties. These are good people overall, but they do have flaws. One of Talia’s, related to her upbringing as Holderkin, only increases her difficulties once she arrives at Haven. That’s one thing I enjoy about Lackey’s writing and characterization, particularly with her MCs and important POV characters: She weaves their histories into their personalities in such a way that the former deeply play into the latter.

    Lackey’s worldbuilding is superb, if a little unimaginative as a typical European-type backdrop. Everything his vividly described, though, giving the reader an excellent picture of the characters’ surroundings. The author is neither purple nor miserly with these descriptions, often providing precisely enough to bring the surroundings just the right amount of clarity as the scene progresses instead of in gigantic clumps of exposition that detract from the story.

    I also like how Lackey in the course of this book sets up the basis of one of the primary conflicts in the next book. She does this so well, I didn’t spot what she was doing the first time I read the books. Everything Talia does and experiences as a Herald Trainee makes sense, is reasonable, and everything seems to be included. She’s too busy trying to survive harassment and gain access to Princess Elspeth to realize anything is wrong, and her mentors are understandably clueless due to their own busy lives.

    This is another book I’d happily suggest to someone seeking a “gateway” into fantasy. With its vivid worldbuilding, reasonable conflicts for the MC, and skilled characterization, it’s one of the best books I can think of for introducing a reader to fantasy.

    .

    Ashe Elton Parker
    "There's someone in my head, but it's not me." ~ from the song Brain Damage by Pink Floyd
    ~*~
    Member since 1998.
    ~*~
    Look me up on Wattpad for some of my books!
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