Shadow Woman by Linda Howard (January 2013, Ballantine Books) When Lizette Henry looks in the mirror and doesn’t recognize her own face, she at first searches for a logical explanation (illness, stroke) before jumping to the paranoid conclusion that someone is watching her, out to get her. However, as days go by, she recovers skills like super defensive driving, self-defense and knowledge of weaponry, she decides that something is definitely up. I’ve enjoyed Linda Howard before and she goes to great lengths to make the implausible appear to be just within the grasp of the imagination. She mostly succeeds with Shadow Woman as I spent quite a bit of time puzzling over Lizzette’s predicament and how she fit together with the handsome man who had a vested interest in seeing her live. The secretive nature of the intrigue, each of the main characters being largely insulated gave a lot of insight into how they operated and what made them good at their jobs, but ultimately detracted a bit from the story. More engagement between the characters, and having it occur earlier in the novel would have made this a less frustrating and more enjoyable read, though the premise was an interesting one.
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo ( June 2012, Henry Holt & Company) Alina Starkov has always been a scrawny orphan child, belonging to no one but Mal Oretsev, but even that begins to change when joins the army to defend Raskava, their once beautiful country that now lives in fear of a black and desolate space called the fold. After saving the life of her best friend from the deadly Volcra (really beastly, gross sounding creatures who fly *shudder*) Alina comes to the attention of the Grisha, the most powerful of whom is a beautiful man known only as, The Darkling. He whisks her away to the palace where she will be trained as Grisha, special warriors of the king who possess natural powers that harness the elements. It remains to be seen whether Alina can overcome the loneliness of her upbringing to find a place in her new world. Shadow and Bone is the first in a trilogy by author Leigh Bardugo. Many aspects – world building, cultural insight, and deep and sympathetic characters – make it a worthwhile read. Where Bardugo really gets me is in beautifully characterizing Alina and her relationships, and the careful way she tells the story of Alina realizing she has given away her power, and her fight to take it back. Readers who are reluctant to commit to a trilogy have no reason to fear this one. The second book, out in June, is even better than the first! Seriously. And I usually have issues that second book. Recommended.
Darius by Grace Burrowes ( April 2013, Sourcebooks Casablanca) Darius Lindsey receives a surprising and intriguing proposition from Lord Longstreet when he approaches him to impregnate his wife and sire his heir. Though he’s never gone this far, he’s no stranger to discreetly offering sexual favors in exchange for payment to other society ladies, which of course becomes a more complicated affair as he and Lady Longstreet become more and more smitten with each other. I haven’t come across a romance novel where the male so so explicitly exchanges sex for money, so in that respect alone, this was a departure. Usually a man will marry an heiress for money, but Darius has actually pimped himself out. There are allusions to an abusive father and difficult family circumstances as being possible explanations for Darius’s behavior, but for the most part this novel is of the tried and true romantic variety. Two people in impossible circumstances fall in love and long to be together, with a good dose of a man changing to be worthy of the love of a good woman. Told from two perspectives, the characters are charming, and I especially like that Darius in particular is open about his feelings and showing affection, and not withdrawn and needing to be hit over the head to admit his feelings. Darius is a pleasant diversion that will fit the bill for a light and enjoyable romance.
The Promise of Stardust by Priscille Stribley (February 2013, William Morrow Paperbacks ) The Promise of Stardust is Priscille Stribley’s heartfelt family drama exploring life support termination issues when a man loses the wife he adores and then has to fight her family, and his own, to save their unborn child. Though the narrative moves through Matt and Elle’s history in seemingly random fashion- both before and after she dies- it is always fascinating as it shines a light on their deep romance and love for each other. Theirs is a passionate relationship, but often troubled, dealing with illness, fertility concerns, and betrayal. Moral and ethical considerations, and legal maneuvering are given their due, but they never overpower what is essentially a tale of what happens when enduring love and familial bonds are tested under the weight of duty and grief. Recommended.