The Books that Fell Through the Cracks: The Year-End Grab Bag

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As happens every year, there is always a set of books that, for various reasons both valid and not-so-valid, I have chosen not to review at length. However, some of those books can be rather good – or rather bad, as the case may be – and it would not be right not to at least say something about them.

And so, in the interest of completeness, here are the books that fell through the cracks: honest reviews and all.

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The Romanovs: 1612-1918 – Simon Sebag Montefiore
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I first became interested in the Romanov family after watching the Anastasia animated movie, but I didn’t really think to look into the historical facts behind the movie until much later in life. From there, it wasn’t a very long leap from looking into the last Romanovs to looking into their ancestors, including Peter the Great and Catherine the Great. However, most of that reading was in the form of individual biographies of varying quality and readability, and it was hard to look into the lesser-known Romanovs, or to get a good idea of Romanov rule as a whole.

That is the gap Montefiore’s book fills. It is a sweeping overview of Russia’s last imperial dynasty, from its very beginnings to its very end, and looks not only at the public, but also the private lives of the ruling Romanovs and those closest to them. There is plenty of serious discussion of political policy, war strategy, and the consequences thereof, but it is spiced with the kinds of dirty little tidbits that make history so fun to read (for me, at least). It is a very long read, to be sure, but Montefiore’s narrative style makes it go by relatively quickly.

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The Witches of Lychford (Lychford #1) – Paul Cornell
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Now that novellas seem to be gaining popularity (at least in genre fiction), more and more of them are popping up everywhere, and I keep on mistaking them for full-length novels because they always have such lovely cover designs. That was the case with The Witches of Lychford, the first book in Paul Cornell’s Lychford urban fantasy series. There are some minor issues with it (mostly to do with character portrayal and plot development), but on the whole it is an eminently enjoyable story that goes by very quickly.

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Sin du Jour, Vols. #2-3 – Matt Wallace
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I read the first Sin du Jour novella earlier this year, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It took me a while to pick up the other two novellas in the series, but it was well worth the wait because these two were actually better than the first. Following the same cast of characters as those introduced in Envy of Angels, Wallace’s urban fantasy series remains as hilarious and as enjoyable as ever – though I must admit, I am especially fond of Lustlocked, if only because of the celebrity guessing game built into the story itself.

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The Highland Guard, Vols. 7-9 – Monica McCarty
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My estimations of this series hasn’t really changed much: it has its hits and misses, with some books being thoroughly enjoyable, and others being merely passable – or sometimes outright deplorable, as is the case with the novella The Knight, which goes between The Hunter and The Raider. Still, I think I will keep on reading this series until the end, since I only have a few books left until I get to the last one, and as far as I know the author isn’t going to add any more books to this series.

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Megane Collection, Vol. 5 – Shin Kawamaru
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Shin Kawamaru continues to feed my fascination with cute boys in glasses with this latest volume. The quality of the stories remains the same as in the first four volumes, though I am somewhat beginning to lose interest in these stories. I think I would much prefer an ongoing series instead, but I have looked at Kawamaru’s other works and haven’t found anything particularly interesting. This may well be the last volume I choose to buy – but since I am a contrary creature, that might not be true either.

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Nameless – Grant Morrison (writer) and Chris Burnham (artist)
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Under the normal the course of things, Nameless ought to be the kind of story I would enjoy. After all, I am a sucker for anything that plays with the Cthulhu mythos and Lovecraftian themes, and will happily try out anything that purports to play with such themes. However, Nameless was not one of those stories. It seemed solid enough at first, but everything – both in terms of story and art – collapsed in the latter third and I was rolling by eyes at the whole thing by the time I reached the last page. It is likely someone else will enjoy this more than I did, but for my part I am quite glad to put it behind me.

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Mahou Tsukai no Yome, Vols. 1-3 – Yamazaki Kore
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I vaguely recall seeing the very first chapter of this manga on Facebook some years ago, calling particular attention to the male lead and his, well, very unique looks. I fully intended to pick it up and read it as soon as the first volume came out, but it completely slipped my mind until recently, when I saw someone on Litsy actually reading it as well. It is about a girl named Hatori Chise, who sells herself into slavery and is bought at an auction by the wizard Elias Ainsworth, who wishes to train her to use her magical powers without eventually killing herself.

There is are very strong shades of Beauty and the Beast to this manga, which is probably why I was drawn to it initially, but by the end of the first volume I was drawn into the story and looking forward to reading more of Chise and Elias’ adventures. There are hints of a romantic attraction between the two as well, and I would be lying if I did not say that that element is also another major incentive for me to keep on reading this manga. The art, too, is quite pretty, even if there are times when the pages feel a mite too busy than I might strictly prefer. There are also moments when the story does not make quite as much as sense as I would like it to, but those moments are fairly few and far between, and are relatively easy to overlook.

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Archangel’s Heart (Guild Hunter #9) – Nalini Singh
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I’ve always enjoyed Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter series, though I admit to being a little picky about the books in the series that I enjoy. For the most part, as long as the story does not focus on Elena and Raphael, I am likely to enjoy it – which is rather odd, I know, because they are also the central couple. I’m just not fond of their relationship, since I know how it developed and I am not quite sure I like the whys and wherefores of how they got together.

However, I also knew that if I chose to skip this book I would miss out on some very important plot movements, and I was right: a lot of very big things happen in this book, things that will have a great deal of impact on all the other books further down the line, so it was an almost-necessary read if only for that. The portrayal of Elena and Raphael’s relationship also read a bit better this go-round, though that might be because the elements I disliked were toned down in favour of other things. Either way, I am definitely looking forward to the next book in the series, and finding out who of Raphael’s Cadre will find love next.

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The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England – Dan Jones
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After the Tudors, it might be argued that the Plantagenets are the United Kingdom’s most famous royal dynasty, not least because some of its most renowned – and notorious – monarchs are scions of the family. However, just as the Tudors are more than just Henry VIII, the Plantagenets are more than just Richard the Lionheart. Dan Jones takes a look at the Plantagenet monarchs from Henry II to Richard II, tackling their accomplishments and their failures, mostly political but also some of the personal.

This is an interesting book, though it is not quite as gripping as Montefiore’s book on the Romanovs because Jones’ prose reads a little drier than Montefiore’s. Still, Jones’ style is quite readable, and it is easy to get lost in the fascinating little details he relates about the Plantagenet kings. The one (admittedly small) disappointment I have about this book is that it does not cover the Plantagenet kings after Richard II, and I was looking forward to reading about Henry V. Still, that disappointment has nothing to do with the book overall, and I intend to remedy it by tracking down a more specific biography instead – or hope that Jones decides to cover the latter Plantagenets in a later book.

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Blood Vow (Black Dagger Legacy #2) – J.R. Ward
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I enjoy J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood novels, and this new side-series has proven to be just as fun to read. This book is almost as good as the first – but only “almost” because I felt that the story of the central couple was overshadowed by a plot line that is connected to the main series. While I like how these two series are interconnected, with events from the main series being referenced in this one, and some of the characters from this series being mentioned in the main series, I hope that Ward does not intend to tie them together as closely as she does in this book. Hopefully the next book will have a looser connection to the main series than this one does.

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