Apologies for the three week hiatus--have been reading several things at once, and am now finishing them. Most recently I've finished Barrayar, the second book written by Bujold in the Vorkosigan series. As said earlier, the entries in the series have won several awards, and the whole thing is available for free on the site and CD referenced above. It's quite a treasure.
As for the second novel in the series--this entry, like Shards of Honor before it, features Miles Vorkosigan's mother Cordelia Naismith. The first two entries are more "galactic romance" novels (I recall first seeing the term used by Mercedes Lackey, but can't find that specifically) than hard SF. The first book definitely fits there, but this one has a bit more action. And the feminine view on it is very interesting--Cordelia basically gives up nearly all of her Betan values to save her son, and in the afterword Bujold frames this as a very natural thing to do. I'm starting to get more involved in the series. I have so far stuck somewhat to the series chronology, but will see whether I keep going that way--Bujold herself says she writes so that a reader can encounter them in "a completely random order", but I'm not so sure that makes sense.
Barrayar in itself is a fine action/romance novel, interesting and fun to read, giving an idea of how good the series should be once I get into it. But I'm going to be taking a break from it for awhile to read more of the award nominees from last year. Barrayar gets 3 stars