A Victorian-era historical romance, and the second full-length book in the Brothers Sinister series. In this one, the woman has a traumatic past and the man is threatened by scandal! It's almost an inversion of the roles in the previous books I read by this author. (But not really. The man isn't on the verge of being destroyed by his horrible past: more like 'political ambitions would be thwarted if he doesn't conform to social expectations'.) It's a good read; I particularly enjoyed some of the minor characters. Milan does a good job with making even bit players have their own motives and reasons for the things they do, even when the protagonists don't realize it. I give it an 8.
The Countess Conspiracy, by Courtney Milan
Third Brothers Sinister book. There's a scene in the middle of Heiress using the protagonists of Countess that was so WHAT that I felt compelled to get this one to find out more. (Though it turned out the teaser for this book that was at the end of Heires would've answered my main question.) Like the other books in the series, a fun read. Milan doesn't exactly deliver on some of the the particular things I want in a romance -- I like a long leisurely exposition where the characters talk about their feelings, for instance -- but she writes consistently solid stories with entertaining characters and deft use of the occasional counter-trope. I'll give this an 8, too.
After reading three romances back-to-back, I felt that I really needed to read something Not Romance. I'd downloaded a ton of free books from Apple's "First in Series" promotion, so I started to look through those. This became something of a slush-pile reading experience. I don't normally write about books I didn't finish, but I'm going to touch briefly on these before I get to the last book I did finish. The process of deciding not to read several books in a row was interesting to me.
Carpe Demon, by Julie Kenner
iBooks on my phone put this in the "Fantasy, Futuristic & Ghost" category. I think the store had it as "romance", but "paranormal urban fantasy" seems more like it. The premise here is something like 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer grows up, retires, becomes a soccer mom, then gets dragged back into demon-hunting'. It's written for humor; the first 15% or so covers the protagonist trying to host a dinner party without giving away that she's already killed and hidden the body (badly) of one demon and suspects that one of her guests is another. It's very "how do I conceal this from the mundanes?" The writing is fine, and I may come back to this at some point. But I am pretty turned off by everything in the "must conceal paranormal/magic stuff from everyone I know" genre these days. So I moved on.
Dimensions Saga, T. M. Nielsen: This was under "fantasy". It looks like epic fantasy of some kind? The first page included the sentence "Beautiful women were sold as wives or bartered for the lives of the family", and let me know that the beautiful female protagonist was a former slave on the run from the "Shadowmere Consortium". I decided I was not in the mood for this. I probably never will be. NEXT!
Troll Mountain, Episode 1 Matthew Reilly. Under "Action & Adventure", but seemed to be fantasy. 10-15% of the way through this short story/novella, I still hadn't been introduced to a character. It was all exposition. About how much life in this valley sucked and was mostly about dying. NEXT!
Agent I1: Tristan, Joni Hahn. Under "Adventure". The first page featured the invisible protagonist reveling in watching an unwitting woman get dressed. OH JONI HAHN NO oh so much NEXT.
(I actually skimmed the first chapter and a couple of pages of the second, mostly in the vain hope that the woman would get the chance to deck the creeper protagonist. No, instead the creeper protagonist kidnaps her at her brother's request, presumably 'for her own good', and when it switches to her perspective, she marvels at how hot he is. I believe this is an sf romance. Even were I in the mood for romance, it is not my kind of romance.)
Apocalypse, Kyle West. Under "Adventure". The first few pages suggested this was a variation on the zombie apocalypse theme. Nothing against it specifically, but I wasn't in the mood.
Pennsylvania 1, Michael Bunker. Under "Adventure". This one was about an Amish youth going to join a space colony. I thought the premise here was promising, actually. But 10% of the way through, I was still reading the same scene of the same two characters doing an "as you know, Bob" exposition about the teen's plans to join a space colony, and I was kind of bored. I might give it another try later. But: NEXT.
At this point, I remembered I'd bought a copy of:
Rise of the Spider Goddess, by Jim Hines
So I gave up on finding a good book and read one that the author himself described as bad.
The genre here is best described as "MST3K". In 1995, a college-age Jim Hines wrote a short novel based on his D&D character. In 2014, he decided to intersperse mocking commentary with the otherwise unedited manuscript and self-publish it.
The original 1995 manuscript is a pretty terrible epic fantasy. It's about an elf druid/thief named Nakor, a random handful of adventurers who come along with him for no discernable reason, and their quest to destroy the evil goddess Nakor accidentally helped free two years earlier. If I've made it sound promising somehow, it's not.
Jim Hines' 2014 commentary on the manuscript gives it the skewering it deserves. I laughed out loud many, many times while reading it. The phrase "elf-pain" even now makes me giggle. I went to look for some good quotes from it, and cracked up all over again at it. Two excerpts:
(Original MS, discussing Nakor's pet owl): “His name is Flame,” Nakor said. “His parents were killed by poachers while they were hunting.”
(Commentary): Even the bird has a tragic backstory.
(original MS, monk talking to a vampire): "Even your curse is not evil in itself. Look at the good that has come of it.”
(2014 commentary) Sure, your husband was murdered and you’ve become a blood-drinking killer and sunlight will turn you into instant barbeque, but on the bright side, there’s only 43,000 words left in the book!
The downside here is the same as with MST3K: you do have to suffer through the original awful story in order to appreciate the jokes. One advantage it does have over MST3K is that you needn't feel bad for laughing at someone else's beloved creation, because the writer himself is encouraging you to do so. If you like this kind of "so bad it's funny" humor, it's well worth the read. (Heck, it may be worth the read even if you don't: I often don't, but enjoyed this. Though it may help that I'm a writing nerd and so jokes that rely on knowing good writing habits work fine for me.) If there'd been a higher commentary/story ratio, I'd give it a 9. As it is, there was a little too much story unleavened by humor. So, an 8.