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Thursday, June 02nd, 2011 | Author:

I always mean to write thoughtful, in-depth reviews of the awesome books I read – and then never have time, or when I do have time, I’m babying my wrists with a computer time-out because I just got off a writing binge. But I read two really good books lately, and by god, I’m gonna review them. With as much depth as I can cram into 200 words or fewer each.

Cast the Cards, edited by S.L. Armstrong:

This one has been on my list for ages, because it has one of my buddy Marie Carlson‘s stories in it. And it’s a story that I didn’t see any part of during the draft phases (unusual, for us), so I was looking forward to a nice surprise. I loved it, predictably. “Blazing Star” has had favorable mention in many reviews, for very good reason. Marie has a talent for writing short stories that are self-contained and satisfying, but take place inside what is clearly a richly layered, larger narrative. Whether she’s actually developed more stories in any given world or not, her attention to backstory and world-building is fabulous, and it’s easy to imagine that they’re out there, waiting to be told.

The other stories in the collection were solid and enjoyable, though mostly not to my usual genre tastes. I liked them all, but I suspect they’d resonate better for readers who enjoy contemporary (as in, modern and not heavily speculative-flavored) stories more than I do. The other standout for me was Janine Ashbless’s “The Grief of the Bond-Maid,” which turns out to be the awesome Viking-inspired, symbolism-rich fantasy short that I never knew I always wanted.

Unlocked, by Courtney Milan:

OMFG. To use my friend Marianne’s favorite descriptor: AMAZEBALLS. I often feel like historical romance novellas are either too short or too long – either things happen super-duper fast (instant love!), or else there’s enough material for a really excellent short story‚Ķand then a lot of extraneous stuff, too.

But Milan nailed the length perfectly with Unlocked. She chose backstory elements that are familiar enough that she could put the focus on the particular details pertaining to her hero and heroine, making them feel unique and well-developed while still leaving space for the events of the story. And, awesomely, some room for a little growth for background characters, as well. I really want to say more about how thrilled I was by one particular development, but it would be a spoiler, so I’ll desist. (Hint: it’s the last scene before the epilogue!)

Anyway, if you like historicals and enjoy a well-paced shorter read, get yourself a copy of Unlocked. So worth it.

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