Friday, August 02, 2019

Melanie's Month in Review - July 2019

I can't believe July is over. The month has evaporated just like all the water I keep putting on my tomato plants (lets just ignore the fact that my tomatoes keep turning black!) Unlike my wilting toms I have been quite productive and read a couple of really good books. I am 'booking reading smug' this month as I got through more books then I expected. I am one of the Qwillery's agents for the next SPFBO and I wasn't sure that I would get much read but I managed to read some of my own books and some of the SPFBO books. Hurrahs!

First up is Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan. I have to admit that I listened to the audio version rather than read it. The characters really come to life through the narrator Billy Howle. If you are still aren't sure about audio books then this is a safe bet.

The story is set in an alternate 1980's England with a backdrop of the Falklands war. The main character, Charlie has so far successfully avoided having a real job and drifts through life following the news about the Falklands and secretly pining over his next door neighbour Miranda. When Charlie inherits some money he decides to buy one of the very first synthetic humans - a male named Adam. Despite designing Adam's personality with Miranda it's not long before Charlie is relegated to the third wheel when a love triangle starts to form. It's not long before Charlie starts to regret his impulse purchase. The story really starts to evolve when a secret from Miranda's is exposed which tests her relationship with Charlie and leaves Adam grappling with the morality of the situation.

For me, the story had two main themes. The obvious one - whether a machine, regardless of how human it appears, can truly think and act like a human. This was a question that Charlie regularly tried to grapple with and something that becomes Miranda's undoing. The second theme was the different types of love - romantic love, love for a friend, love from a child, love for your parents/family. McEwan explores these different types of love through the lens of the machine - Adam. Again, another exploration of whether a machine can love or understands what it means to love. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. McEwan is a master at creating characters that you don't always like but can always relate to. The science was plausible. You could also believe, based on McEwan's, prose that you were reading non-fiction rather than fiction in his explanation of how technology evolved to create a living, breathing android. Adam puts Star Trek's Data to shame. If you need a book that gets you thinking then I highly recommend Machines Like Me. This is going to be in my top books of 2019!

My next two books are courtesy of the publishers via NetGalley. I used to get the majority of my books from NetGalley but I haven't had much luck finding anything I want to read that wasn't a 'wish for it'. First up is Thea Harrison's American Witch. Molly Sullivan's life has turned upside down. On the same day she discovers her husband has been unfaithful, again she also discovers that she has new powers awakening. Josiah Mason, a very powerful witch and leader of a secret coven has offered to help Molly manage her powers but can she trust him? Molly finds she doesn't have a choice when both her husband and her divorce attorney are brutally murdered. A deadly secret links Molly's husband and Josiah's sworn enemy. They decide to join forces to bring down someone who hides in the shadows and who is merciless and cruel. Its not long before what draws Josiah and Molly together isn't just the hunt for the killer but their explosive mutual attraction. Will they survive long enough to see if their romance has a chance?

I didn't realise when I requested this book that it was also in the same world as the Elder Races although none of the characters from that series popped up. My disappointment was that I was really hoping for something completely new. Overall, the story was a bit of a re-hash of Harrison's other novels - boy meets girl, boy and girl don't get along, boy and girl become attracted against all odds and despite immanent threat to their 'persons', boy and girl fall in love for ever and ever. Molly does in the end stand up for herself and become a power in her own right. The love interests were just a bit too one dimensional for my like. If you are looking for something to read at the beach then this may be a book to consider.

Book number 2 from NetGalley is The Blacksmith Queen by G.A. Aiken which is the first instalment in The Scarred Earth Saga series. The story starts out with lots of violence that follows the death of the old King where his sons go on a rampage of killing each other and anyone loyal to them in order to gain the throne and the power that it represents. However, a prophesy tells of a queen who will ascend the throne ....a daughter of a farmer. As the different factions fight it out the story switches to Keeley Smythe, the big and powerful blacksmith who likes nothing more than working her forge and loving her family. When a band of kilt wearing mountain warriors come to her small village she doesn't at first realise how much she will depend on their help and protection. Especially from the gruff but hunky Caid. When the prophesy seems to point to Keeley's bookish sister Beatrix as being the intended queen she has no choice but to defend her family from the royals who don't want to see a farmer's daughter on the throne. Luckily she has some help because she is going to need it.

The Blacksmith Queen is written in a similar style to Aiken's Dragon Kin series with fun loving characters, strong female heroines, and super natural beings. Keeley is fun, strong (both physically and mentally) and knows her power. The romance really didn't make an appearance until near the end of the book which was refreshing and the sex scenes weren't as 'detailed' as in some of Aiken's other books. What is also different is that there are chapters from Caid's POV which gives a different perspective and works well when Keeley wasn't able to be part of the scene (no spoilers here). There is also a very good twist involving one of the baddies that I wasn't expecting and makes me really want to see how this character gets their comeuppance. I am very likely going to continue with this series and if you are a fan of her other books I suggest you give The Blacksmith Queen a go.

The final book I am going to tell you about - a novella really - is Sweep of the Blade by Ilona Andrews. This is a novella and part of the Innkeeper Chronicles series. The story is told, this time, from Maud's (Dina's sister) POV. Maud has travelled with Arland to his home world along with her daughter Helen. There is a big wedding planned between two, former rival vampire Houses which House Kaur are hosting. In the backdrop of Maud's reluctant romance with Arland there is something much more sinister at play and it's up to Maud to uncover what the other Houses are really up to and to protect her daughter and Arland's family in the process.

If you follow my posts you will know that I have already read Sweep of the Blade when it was released as a serial. I love this series and especially Dina, the Innkeeper. I have to admit that I didn't enjoy this serialised short story as much. I thought the plotline and the prose were tightened up from the serialised story to the book which made for a much sharper and enjoyable story line. There are also a few of the gorgeous drawings throughout the book which have been one of my favourite parts of reading these books. Even if you have already read the serialised version I urge you to give the published version a go. I am confident you will love it.

That is all for me for July. I hope you have had as many good books to read as I have had. Keep your fingers crossed that I have as many reviews in August for you. Until then Happy Reading.

Machines Like Me
Nan A. Telese, April 23, 2019
Hardcover and eBook, 352 pages

New from Ian McEwan, Booker Prize winner and international bestselling author of Atonement and The Children Act

Machines Like Me takes place in an alternative 1980s London. Charlie, drifting through life and dodging full-time employment, is in love with Miranda, a bright student who lives with a terrible secret. When Charlie comes into money, he buys Adam, one of the first synthetic humans and—with Miranda’s help—he designs Adam’s personality. The near-perfect human that emerges is beautiful, strong, and clever. It isn’t long before a love triangle soon forms, and these three beings confront a profound moral dilemma.

In his subversive new novel, Ian McEwan asks whether a machine can understand the human heart—or whether we are the ones who lack understanding.

American Witch
American Witch Trilogy 1
Teddy Harrison LLC, April 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 476 pages

From New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Thea Harrison comes the first in a new spellbinding trilogy…

Power can change a person…

For months Molly Sullivan endures the inexplicable: electrical surges, car breakdowns, visions. She even wonders if she might be the cause… and wonders if she might be crazy. Then she discovers her husband has cheated on her. Again. Now Molly realizes she is a newly awakening witch and a woman pushed over the edge.

Revenge can shape a person…

Josiah Mason is a Powerful witch and the leader of a secret coven with a shared goal: to destroy an ancient enemy who has ruined many lives. Josiah lost years to this man, and his sole focus is revenge. He’s prepared for every contingency—except encountering a beautiful new witch who understands nothing of the immense Power building within her or the attraction she wields over him.

Danger can bring them together…

When divorcing her husband, Molly uncovers a dangerous secret he’s willing to kill to protect. She turns to Josiah for help, and they discover a connection between Molly’s husband and Josiah’s enemy.

As they work together, a spark ignites between them that threatens to become an inferno. But Molly is done compromising herself for any man, and Josiah’s mission is his top priority. And the enemy is cunning, cruel, and drawing ever closer.

As the danger escalates, so does the tension between them. Is a lasting relationship possible? Will either of them live long enough to try?

The Blacksmith Queen
The Scarred Earth Saga 1
Kensington Books, August 27, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 304 pages

When a prophesy brings war to the Land of the Black Hills, Keeley Smythe must join forces with a clan of mountain warriors who are really centaurs in a thrilling new fantasy romance series from New York Times bestselling author G.A. Aiken.

The Old King Is Dead

With the demise of the Old King, there’s a prophesy that a queen will ascend to the throne of the Black Hills. Bad news for the king’s sons, who are prepared to defend their birthright against all comers. But for blacksmith Keeley Smythe, war is great for business. Until it looks like the chosen queen will be Beatrix, her younger sister. Now it’s all Keeley can do to protect her family from the enraged royals.

Luckily, Keeley doesn’t have to fight alone. Because thundering to her aid comes a clan of kilt-wearing mountain warriors called the Amichai. Not the most socially adept group, but soldiers have never bothered Keeley, and rough, gruff Caid, actually seems to respect her. A good thing because the fierce warrior will be by her side for a much longer ride than any prophesy ever envisioned.

Sweep of the Blade
Innkeeper Chronicles 4
NYLA, July 16, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 314 pages

Maud Demille is a daughter of Innkeepers—a special group who provide ‘lodging’ to other-planetary visitors—so she knows that a simple life isn't in the cards. But even Maud could never have anticipated what Fate would throw at her.

Once a wife to a powerful vampire knight, Maud and her young daughter, Helen, were exiled with him for his treachery to the desolate, savage planet of Karhari. Karhari killed her husband, and Maud—completely abandoned by his family—has spent over a year avenging his debts. Rescued by her sister Dina, she's sworn off all things vampire.

Except... In helping Dina save the world, she met Arland, the Marshal of House Krahr, one of the most powerful vampire houses. One thing led to another and he asked for her hand in marriage. She declined. Arland is not used to hearing the word ‘no;’ and try as she might, Maud can't just walk away from Arland. It doesn't help that being human is a lot harder for Maud than being a vampire.

To sort it all out, she accepts his invitation to visit his home planet. House Krahr is extremely influential and Maud knows that a woman—a human, with a very questionable past—who's turned down a proposal from its most beloved son won't get a warm reception. Maybe she’s not sure about marrying Arland, but House Krahr isn’t going to decide for her. Maud Demille has never run from a fight, and House Krahr will soon discover that there's a lot more to Maud than they’re expecting.


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