Friday, 12 April 2019

#CBR11 Book 14: "A Study in Scarlet Women" by Sherry Thomas

Page count: 336 pages
Audio book length: 11 hrs
Rating: 4.5 stars

I keep struggling to summarise the plot in a good way, so I'll just let the blurb do it:

With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London. 

When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her.

But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.

True fact, with the exception of a couple of extremely abridged and adapted easy reader short stories that we've used as examples of classics when teaching my pupils (which I doubt are really very representative of the real thing, as both the plot and the language have been simplified to an utterly ridiculous degree), I have never read a single Sherlock Holmes story. I have watched both the Guy Ritchie directed movies, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. I watched the first three seasons of the BBC Sherlock, including the Christmas special, but steered clear of the disastrous fourth season, because the show's creators were clearly not taking the story or characters anywhere I was interested in going and life's just too short, you know? My husband and I have so far enjoyed the first five seasons of Elementary (or The Adventures of Mr. Elementary and Joan, as we like to refer to it, as its protagonists are quite a ways away from the original source material by now, and it's just another amusing TV procedural). I've read several YA books with teen sleuths inspired by Sir Conan Doyle's stories, and yet I have never felt the need to read one for myself. I find the concept of the Sherlock Holmes a lot more interesting and appealing than I suspect I would the actual character.

Now, Sherry Thomas, on the other hand, is an author whose career I've followed since she started publishing back in 2008. The only books of hers I haven't read by now are the last two in her YA Elementals trilogy, but I aim to get around to that too. So when she decided to stop writing excellent, if somewhat angsty historical romances, and decided to start gender flipping Sherlock Holmes, I knew I would have to read this books eventually.

For several months now, the pressures of my very time-consuming job and trying to cope with mothering a beautiful, cheerful, but absolutely demanding toddler has been wreaking havoc with my ability to concentrate. On bad days, I feel about two steps away from a complete burnout, and I seem to mostly just want to mindlessly scroll through social media on my phone, as it demands little to nothing of me. For most of my adult life, reading has been an escape and a means of relaxation for me, but since I returned to work in November, it's been hard to find the time, enthusiasm or energy for books. However, when I started the audio books for Ms. Thomas' Lady Sherlock books, I finished the existing three books in less than a week. I found myself making excuses, just so I could listen more and the books absolutely captivated me. As this is a rare feeling nowadays, it made me all the more grateful.

Now, having never read the actual source material, I can't compare it as a reimagining. I can just speak for what works remarkably well in Ms. Thomas' books.

All of the modern depictions of Sherlock Holmes (be it the ones set in actual Victorian times, like the movies, or in the modern era, like the TV shows) portray him as in some way neuroatypical. It seems likely, based on what we now know about the autism spectrum, that Sherlock Holmes is probably on it, if a very high functioning individual. Sherry Thomas' Charlotte Holmes is certainly not like other women of her era, and her portrayal fits into this same pattern. We are told that Charlotte didn't choose to speak until she was four years old, but when she did, it was to make a fairly astute deduction. Sherry Thomas has also chosen to give Charlotte Holmes an older sister, who is much more afflicted by ASD, and needs to be kept under constant supervision, as she cannot take care of herself. So neurodivergence is absolutely something of a theme in these stories.

When we meet our unusual heroine at the start of the book, she has just been publicly ruined and finds herself ostracised from polite society. Unwilling to deal with the scorn of her disappointed parents, Charlotte leaves home and tries to fend for herself. Her sister Livia worries terribly about her, and due to some uncharacteristic lapses in judgement, Charlotte almost finds herself desperate and destitute, when she makes the acquaintance of a widowed actress, Mrs John Watson, who is intrigued by her powers of deduction and observation and offers to hire her as a ladies' companion.

Even prior to her ruination, Charlotte had entertained herself by occasionally assisting the London Metropolitan Police with enquiries (aided by her longtime friend Lord Ingram), using the pseudonym Sherlock Holmes. Thanks to a series of murders being publicised in the press, the name of Sherlock Holmes has become well known, and Mrs. Watson proposes a clever scheme in which Charlotte can earn a living, without anyone discovering that she, a mere woman and publicly disgraced to boot, is in fact the master detective. The two women begin soliciting clients and meeting them in rented rooms, with Charlotte posing as the detective's sister (and Mrs. Watson occasionally pretending to be Mrs. Hudson, the housekeeper), claiming that the great man himself has been struck down by an illness and has to remain bedridden. Charlotte goes into the bedroom next door and "consults" for a few minutes, and then helps the clients. The business savvy Mrs. Watson makes sure the clients pay a suitable fee for the consultation.

The high profile murder case in question is one Charlotte is most eager to help solve, as it casts suspicion on both her father (his mistress is one of the murder victims) and her sister Livia, who was one of the last people to see one of the other victim's alive, and they were witnessed having an argument. With some help from Lord Ingram (who is still unhappy that Charlotte will not accept his protection directly), Charlotte is able to advise Inspector Threadles, the man in charge of the investigation. It turns out to be a much more complicated and involved case than it seemed at the beginning, uncovering some truly horrific secrets and conspiracies to cover them up.

There is so much to love in these books. While Charlotte is frighteningly brilliant and her emotional register is not the same as those around her, she's by no means unfeeling and is in fact capable of great affection and feelings of loyalty. She just doesn't outwardly show a lot of emotion and processes things differently than others. Outwardly, she looks deeply frivolous and silly, with golden ringlets, a propensity for ribbons, ruffles and flounces and a love of food, especially sweet things. She loves to eat, but knows she cannot support "too many chins".

These books are so very feminist, with capable and very different women in so many roles. There's Charlotte, her sisters Livia and Bernadine, there's the excellent Mrs. Watson and there are women in more villainous roles. There's Inspector Threadles' wife, whose father is a wealthy industrialist, but who married "down" because she loves him. I doubt women feature much in the original Sherlock Holmes stories, except perhaps as victims, which is another reason why I'm in no rush to read any of them.

Adding to my enjoyment of this book was Kate Reading's pitch perfect narration. I've heard her narrate a number of historical romances in the past, and her arch and proper tones suit this sort of material so very well. A lot of audio book narrators struggle with a large cast of characters, but Ms. Reading manages to give each character a distinct and believable voice, be they male or female, and her narration is now how I hear all these characters in my head. I highly recommend the audio books if you haven't already checked this series out.

Judging a book by its cover: I'm a sucker for a good Victorian dress, and this impressive red one is especially lovely. There seems to be quite a trend of Victorian-set, lady-led mysteries with similar covers, I seem to recall the first book in the Veronica Speedwell series featuring another beautifully attired woman moving away from the reader.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

#CBR11 Book 13: "Skinwalker" by Faith Hunter

Page count: 320 pages
Audio book length: 14 hrs 29 min
Rating: 3.5 stars

Jane Yellowrock is, as far as she's aware, the very last of her kind. She's a skinwalker of Cherokee descent and has never encountered anyone with the same powers as her. She makes a living hunting vampires, but finds herself in the unusual position of working for the vampire council in New Orleans, to track down a rogue vampire. Jane has ten days to locate the creature if she wants to get the exclusive bounty, but there are other individuals in the city who seem to be on the same mission. As her hunt intensifies, it seems as if the vampire doesn't just feed on humans, but other vampires, and has the ability to change it's scent - which just shouldn't be possible.

In my experience, it's a rare paranormal/urban fantasy series that has the perfect first book and just hooks you in right away. Most series tend to take at least a book or two (or until book 4, in the case of The Dresden Files) to really get good. Even my beloved co-writing team Ilona Andrews doesn't hit it right out of the park with their Kate Daniels books (but in later series, they had me hooked right from the start). Faith Hunter is a new author for me, but considering there are currently 12 full novels in this series, as well as a number of novellas, I'm guessing she's doing ok for herself and the books are popular enough to justify the extended series length.

While our kick ass heroine, Jane, projects a pretty serious loner vibe to everyone she meets in New Orleans, it's clear that she has a found family that she adores and misses. In the universe Faith Hunter has created, there are vampires and witches, but she hints at the existence of other paranormal entities like were-creatures and possibly fairies as well, plus there is Jane's possibly unique ability as a skinwalker (call me cynical, but I'm willing to bet that somewhere down the line of the series, Jane is going to discover that she's not as alone as she believes herself to be and that her heritage is more complicated than she realised - that's just storytelling 101 in a series like this). Jane's best friend is a witch, who has at least one plot moppet daughter who is apparently off the scale powerful (I did not enjoy the lisping way the narrator voiced the child AT ALL).

There are a bunch of vampire clans in New Orleans, and because they're paying her bills, Jane forces herself to set aside her aversion to them. Like most paranormal heroines on a mission, she doesn't exactly exude charm and make friends whereever she turns up. Jane manages to piss off several high ranking vampires, as well as members of the city's police force while she snoops around and unearths secrets. While there are some guys that Jane clearly finds attractive introduced over the course of the novel, no clear love interest has presented itself, which I like. Romance doesn't have to be a leading subplot for these books to work, and I would rather that the author take a bit longer to establish the world and her main character before introducing potential love interests into the mix.

This book entertained me enough that I will probably check out more in the future. With several of my long-running paranormal series completed in the last few years, I'm on the look-out for new examples of the genre. I didn't hate how Khristine Hvam narrated the book, but didn't love it either, so may read the next ones myself, rather than get them in audio.

Judging a book by its cover: While the cover model portraying our heroine no  doubt looks pretty bad ass, I'm not sure whose marketing decision it was to do the cover pretty much exclusively in shades of black and brown. It brings to mind smudging and dirt, and I'm not a huge fan. It's could also only be a more stereotypically paranormal/urban fantasy cover if the cover model was wielding a crossbow rather than shotgun.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Monday, 1 April 2019

#CBR11 Book 12: "Devil's Daughter" by Lisa Kleypas

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

This is the fifth book in the Ravenels series. While you don't have to have read the previous books in the series, it would probably enhance your enjoyment and make you more familiar with most of the cast of characters. While you also don't NEED to have read it, you really should read Devil in Winter, because it's a classic of the genre, and will give you more insight in some of the supporting characters here.

Plot summary from Goodreads, because I finished this book over a month ago:
Although beautiful young widow Phoebe, Lady Clare, has never met West Ravenel, she knows one thing for certain: he's a mean, rotten bully. Back in boarding school, he made her late husband's life a misery, and she'll never forgive him for it. But when Phoebe attends a family wedding, she encounters a dashing and impossibly charming stranger who sends a fire-and-ice jolt of attraction through her. And then he introduces himself...as none other than West Ravenel.

West is a man with a tarnished past. No apologies, no excuses. However, from the moment he meets Phoebe, West is consumed by irresistible desire...not to mention the bitter awareness that a woman like her is far out of his reach. What West doesn't bargain on is that Phoebe is no straitlaced aristocratic lady. She's the daughter of a strong-willed wallflower who long ago eloped with Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent—the most devilishly wicked rake in England.

Before long, Phoebe sets out to seduce the man who has awakened her fiery nature and shown her unimaginable pleasure. Will their overwhelming passion be enough to overcome the obstacles of the past?

Only the devil's daughter knows...

For the previous four books in this series, I have been rather impatiently waiting for Lisa Kleypas, writer of some truly classic historical romances, to deliver something even half as enjoyable as some of her best books. While Devil's Daughter by no means can compete with the best of Kleypas' back catalogue, it was a very satisfying read and I didn't want to spend most of the reviews nitpicking all the things that didn't work.

I liked the premise of headstrong, young woman finding herself reluctantly attracted to her husband's former bully. In West Ravenel's defence, a lot of teenage boys are exceptionally thoughtless and stupid, and his own social standing and family connections made him prone to lashing out at others, one hapless victim of which was Phoebe's sickly, now deceased husband. Considering the redemptive arc that Phoebe's own father had to go through in Devil in Winter and West seems like a choir boy instead.

West has been possibly my favourite supporting characters in the series so far. He's quite the worthless, drunken layabout at the start of Cold Hearted Rake, but over the course of the series becomes a truly changed man, devoting himself to land management and taking care of his family members, yet always feeling like he can't atone for his boorish and uncouth past. So when he falls head over heels for the beautiful Phoebe, he never believes himself good enough for her.

Phoebe married her sickly childhood friend, who lived long enough to give her two sons. The daughter of strong-minded and very formidable parents (so beloved by romance readers everywhere), she keeps repressing her passionate nature and inquisitive mind, devoting herself entirely to the raising of her two sons, while letting her husband's cousin deal with everything involved with her estate, even though both her father and brother feel she should take a more active role in caring for her sons' inheritance.

While she wants nothing to do with West, remembering all the bullying her late husband wrote to her about in his letters from school, her family members keep pushing her in his path, because he's clearly the best person to teach her how to properly manage her own lands. That everyone around them can see the sparks flying every time West and Phoebe are near each other, probably doesn't hurt either.

West is an excellent example of a properly reformed rake and while his own self image is wildly distorted, he eventually comes to understand how much good he could do for Phoebe. She needs time to properly come to terms with the loss of her husband, yet realise that she's still young, and deserving of love and some of the promises she made to her husband while he was dying were unreasonable in the extreme.

As I said, this is the first book in the series I would recommend without reservation and I'm now very intrigued by what I'm assuming will be the final book in the series (all the other Ravenels are now married off). Kleypas is good at making complicated and rather dislikable individuals into very interesting romance heroes, so I can't wait to see how she redeems Tom Severin next year.

Judging a book by its cover: All the books in this series have had absolutely awful covers, and while this one isn't great, it's not quite such an eye sore of anachronistic prom dresses as some of the previous ones. Considering Phoebe is still a widow in half mourning, the golden meringue monstrosity she's wearing on this cover seems deeply inappropriate (if not as bad as half undone, pastel pink tulle nightmare that the cover model wears on the cover of Cold Hearted Rake, where the heroine is a widow whose husband JUST died. She literally wears full black throughout the whole book!) Also inappropriate for a proper widow and mother of two is this lady's unpinned hair, which appears to be part tentacle - so when I feel this is the best cover of the series so far, it is not complimentary in the slightest to the four previous books.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR11 Book 11: "The Girl Who Drank the Moon" by Kelly Barnhill

Page count: 400 pages
Ratin: 4.5 stars

Because tradition dicatates it, each year on a certain day, the council of elders in the Protectorate take an infant and leave it in the woods as a sacrifice to the witch. Bad things will happen to the settlement if they don't (although no one is really clear what dire consequences there will be, because there has never been a time when they didn't place a child in the woods). Normally, the grieving family whose child has been selected meekly go along with the council's edict, but one year, the infant's mother rages, screams and tries to fight back (can't say I blame her). She's locked away in a tower, run by sinister nuns. Antain is a young apprentice elder, and he is deeply discomfited by the whole thing. Eventually, he quits the council and becomes a carpenter instead.

Xan, the witch in the woods, travels to the same spot in the woods each year, to pick up the poor, abandoned child left there. She feeds the babies starlight and finds them good homes in the cities on the other side of the forest, far away from the Protectorate. These star children are always deeply cherished and go on to lead especially successful lives. This one year, she's a bit late, and flustered, she feeds the baby moonlight instead of starlight. Moonlight gives the recipient magical power, and before Xan has a chance to rectify it, little Luna (as she names the girl) is clearly brimming with magical potential. Because of the accident, Xan can't give Luna up to another family and takes it upon herself to raise the girl herself. Aided by Glerk, a pessimistic, yet very poetic bog monster and Fyrian, a tiny, hyperactive dragon, she does her best to teach Luna, while hoping that she can prepare her properly for her magical gifts, that are likely to come bursting forth around puberty.

As Luna happily grows older in Xan's care, her mother sits locked up in a tower in the Protectorate, making elaborate birds from paper she seems to conjure out of nothing, longing for her lost child. Antain, horribly scarred after a meeting with the madwoman, becomes a very successful carpenter, marries and gets his own child. However, the Protectorate tradition has marked his unborn baby the next to be left in the woods. Antain decides he has to track down the witch and stop her once and for all.

This book has already been reviewed a bunch of times by other Cannonballers, and as far as I can tell, they all really loved it. That's because this is an absolutely wonderful middle grade book, which I would have adored if it had been available to me growing up. It's a different kind of fairy tale, and subverts the reader's expectations several times throughout the story. I loved the way magic seems to work in the story, and the way the story slowly unfolded, giving little glimpses of important backstory portioned out along the way, so it took quite some time to understand the whole picture.

I loved the found family of Xan, who end up raising Luna, despite being really rather unprepared for the task of bringing up a very magically gifted child. I felt immense sympathy for poor Luna's mother and think I may also have been driven utterly mad had someone stolen my child away from me. I was very glad when they were eventually reunited, even as I ached for all the years they had lost.

I saw a Goodreads review that complained that while there are a number of interesting and powerful women in this story, all the male characters are utter buffoons. I'm not entirely sure what book that person has read, because that is not my experience here at all. Yes, there are some male characters that are stupid, but others who are very heroic and capable, if misinformed for parts of the story.

This book won the Newberry Medal in 2017, as well as several others, plus it was nominated for a bunch it didn't win. It's a lovely story, which while sad at times, has a proper and satisfying resolution. I can't wait for my son to be old enough to read it for himself.

Judging a book by its cover: Such a sweet book, such a lovely cover. I love everything about it, from the glowing paper birds, to the tiny dragon, to the giant moon with the dynamic little girl in front of it. If I recall correctly, the cover is one of the reasons I wanted to pick up this book in the first place.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

#CBR11 Book 10: "Dare to Love a Duke" by Eva Leigh

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Thomas Powell has just become the Duke of Northfield and has to set aside his previously rakish ways to protect his father's legacy and ensure a good future for his younger sister. She's very much in love with the son of one of their father's most trusted allies in Parliament, who clearly expects Thomas to continue supporting him, whether Thomas actually agrees with his views or not. Torn between duty and his own conscience, Thomas is struggling. The one place he feels at ease, the Orchid Club, is a deeply inappropriate hang-out for a duke.

Lucia Marini has had to make her own way in the world. The illegitimate daughter of a wealthy Englishman and a poor Italian woman, she came to England when her mother died, only to find her grandparents refusing to take her in. Now she is known to all that visit the exclusive Orchid Club as "Amina", the beautiful and elusive proprietress. The Orchid Club takes visitors from all levels of society, and charges what the visitors feel they can afford. Everyone has to appear masked, and all the sexual acts are entirely consensual. The club was successful even before Lucia took over its management with some of her found family, but now they have received news that the club's noble patron has passed away, Lucia and the rest who work there are worried that they may find themselves homeless and without a way to make a living.

While Tom has been drawn to the beautiful Amina since he first visited the Orchid Club, he has never propositioned her in any way, quite happy for their friendship to be platonic (while they flirt shamelessly). Now that he knows he has to become all that is dutiful and responsible, and he comes to the club to say goodbye, he requests one night with her, before he and Amina go their separate ways forever.

I don't think I'm spoiling it for anyone who's ever read anything ever when I say that of course it turns out that the wealthy patron who died was in fact Tom's seemingly faultless father, and that now that Tom is his heir, he finds himself the unexpected owner of the sex club he's been visiting for the past year. His super conservative, family values father also had a pretty big secret, and Tom is rather shocked when he discovers it. Of course, it also means that he is Lucia's employer, which is very fraught for a number of reasons. They were only supposed to spend one night of passion together, but of course, as in all romance, that night was utterly transformative for both of them, and they're completely ga-ga for one another.

Even really rather disreputable dukes are unlikely to settle down and marry former sex workers, and the former Duke of Northfield was known as a pillar of propriety and Tom therefore has all sorts of expectations to live up to in society. He really does take his position seriously, and is extremely protective of his younger sister. He's quite willing to be utterly miserable, giving up any chance of his own happiness, if it means she gets to marry her sweetheart, even though said sweetheart's father is clearly an odious bully, whose political views are pretty much diametrically opposite to the progressive views Tom himself holds.

Family is an important theme throughout the book. Tom deeply loves his mother and sister, and comes to discover his father was a very different man than he believed. Lucia was rejected by first her father and her father's family and had to sell herself to survive, but has managed to find friends and confidantes who love her and care for her as much (or more) than an actual family would. They run the Orchid Club together, determined to make it a safe haven for people of all creeds and classes, and the main reason Lucia has for running the club is to make enough money to open a girls' school for poor and underprivileged girls, like she herself once was, vowing to give them lives better than she had when she arrived in England.

Does the storyline presented in this book require quite some suspension of disbelief? Yes, but no more so than in the majority of Tessa Dare's historical romances. Is it an entertaining read? Yes. Do Tom and Lucia work as a couple? Absolutely, they complement each other's strengths and weaknesses beautifully. Is pretty much all the supporting cast also fun to read about? Yes, I especially liked Tom's sister and the lesbian couple who Lucia run the club alongside. Does Tom's mother seem to accept her son's choice of bride, despite her 'colourful' past, unexpectedly quickly? Yup, but I didn't care.

Eva Leigh continues to write very entertaining historicals, and I'm excited to see what she's going to come up with next.

Judging a book by its cover: Not sure whether Eva Leigh has made some sort of unholy covenant, but the covers for her historical novels are pretty much always, without exception, gorgeous. The cover models portraying the heroines actually look like pretty much like the women inside the cover are actually described, and the dresses they wear are absolutely sumptuous. The utterly stunning blue dress on this cover takes my breath away.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR11 Book 9: "Wintersong" by S. Jae-Jones

Page count: 448 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Liesl dreams of becoming a famous composer, but is left to write compositions for her talented younger brother to play instead. Her beautiful younger sister is set to be married to the most eligible young man in the village, while Liesl helps her long-suffering mother and bitter father run their inn, their days of musical success and glory behind them. Jealous of her sister's beauty and brother's opportunities, Liesl becomes careless and suddenly, it seems her sister has been enchanted by the goblins, and taken away by the Goblin King. Even worse, no one seems to even remember that her sister has ever existed. Liesl has until the next full moon to figure out a way to retrieve her sister.

Once Liesl joins the kingdom of the goblins underground, she begins to remember more of her past, and her previous encounters with the Goblin King. As a little girl, she used to roam the woods, and play her music for a strange, pale boy, always slightly older than her. He kept asking him to marry her, and she would refuse. Growing up and being burdened with more responsibilities, becoming a supporting character in the lives of her more vivacious siblings, Liesl forgot all about the Goblin King. Tradition demands that he take a bride, however, and if Liesl won't come to him willingly, he will lure her there by threatening to take her sister instead. The Goblin King requires a mortal bride. Will it be Liesl, or her beautiful younger sister? And if she does decide to give in to the Goblin King, will Liesl really be fine with never seeing her family or the human world ever again?

This book, which is apparently Ms Jae-Jones' debut novel, was very favourably reviewed on several of the review sites I follow regularly, like Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and Forever Young Adult. This book isn't a retelling of just one story, but a bit of a mish mash of several familiar tales. As the Smart Bitches review points out, you can find elements of the Hades and Persephone myth in here, some Beauty and the Beast, some Phantom of the Opera and the Goblin King, or Erlkönig, is clearly visually modelled on David Bowie in Labyrinth. Even his eyes are two different colours.

The story is set in a historical Bavaria, around the 19th Century, where there are clearly faeries or goblins (complete with changelings and the like), who like to play mischief with humans. Over the course of the story, we discover that there have been a series of Goblin Kings, and that he has to have a mortal bride, or the seasons will stop turning. Liesl's childhood playmate is the last in a long line of Erlkönigs, and she is the last in a long line of mortal brides who have given up their humanity and entered into a marriage sure to end tragically.

Liesl's parents were both talented musicians in their youth, but time has taken its toll and her father's drinking has made it so that they have had to retire to a small village, running an inn and hoping their talented young son will be the next person to carry on the family legacy. That Liesl is clearly a talented composer seems to be entirely ignored. Always finding herself falling short in comparison to her brother's musical talents or her sister's beauty and charm, Liesl is quite the abrasive, jealous and bitter young woman. While she loves her family, and especially her siblings, she's also deeply envious of them and sick of having to sacrifice herself and her dreams in order to take care of them. She goes underground to retrieve her ensorcelled sister, but also to experience adventure and while she has to sacrifice a lot to become the Goblin King's bride, she also gets to be selfish. He clearly wants her, and she wants him back. She isn't choosing to stay with him out of selflessness, but rather to finally put herself first.

Liesl and her Goblin King don't exactly settle down into harmonious and happy domesticity, but Liesl does get the chance to truly devote herself to her music, and there is certainly passion between her and her supernatural spouse. I don't know entirely what I was expecting from this book, but the story took turns I was not expecting and the romance was a lot more thorny and challenging than I was hoping for. I liked the book, but I didn't love it and I'm not sure I'm in any urgent rush to read the sequel, for all that this one ends on quite the cliffhanger. It was a good book, but not quite the magical fairy tale I was hoping for. Maybe I was still working through my book hangover from The Winter of the Witch?

Judging a book by its cover: The cover is lovely, with the delicate rose preserved inside a snow globe. Not entirely sure what the cover is supposed to represent, as there are no snow globes of any kind in the actual novel, but it's a very arresting and inviting cover nonetheless.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

#CBR11 Book 8: "99 Percent Mine" by Sally Thorne

Page count: 368 pages
Audio book length: 11 hrs 23 mins
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb, because it's now a month and a half since I finished the audio book:

Crush: a strong and often short-lived infatuation, particularly for someone beyond your reach…

Darcy Barrett has undertaken a global survey of men. She’s travelled the world, and can categorically say that no one measures up to Tom Valeska, whose only flaw is that Darcy’s twin brother Jamie saw him first and claimed him forever as his best friend. Despite Darcy’s best efforts, Tom’s off limits and loyal to her brother, 99%. That’s the problem with finding her dream man at age eight and peaking in her photography career at age twenty—ever since, she’s had to learn to settle for good enough.

When Darcy and Jamie inherit a tumble-down cottage from their grandmother, they’re left with strict instructions to bring it back to its former glory and sell the property. Darcy plans to be in an aisle seat halfway across the ocean as soon as the renovations start, but before she can cut and run, she finds a familiar face on her porch: house-flipper extraordinaire Tom’s arrived, he’s bearing power tools, and he’s single for the first time in almost a decade.

Suddenly Darcy’s considering sticking around to make sure her twin doesn’t ruin the cottage’s inherent magic with his penchant for grey and chrome. She’s definitely not staying because of her new business partner’s tight t-shirts, or that perfect face that's inspiring her to pick up her camera again. Soon sparks are flying—and it’s not the faulty wiring. It turns out one percent of Tom’s heart might not be enough for Darcy anymore. This time around, she’s switching things up. She’s going to make Tom Valeska 99 percent hers.

Oh, Sally Thorne. You wrote my absolutely favourite book of 2016, a book I still comfort read every so often. It was always extremely unlikely that your second novel was going to surpass or even match The Hating Game in quality. Sadly, by including a little bonus epilogue for said novel at the end of this one, you just made it even more obvious to me that this book was a sad disappointment. I felt more satisfaction and joy reading that short chapter featuring Lucy and Josh than an entire novel about Darcy and Tom. So, thank you for that extra little glimpse into their world and relationship, but you didn't do yourself any favours.

If that's not become clear already, my expectations for this second romance from Sally Thorne were very high. At least one person I know online managed to score an ARC, and because her comments weren't exactly gushing, I tried to not get my hopes up unreasonably high, but even so, this book was not was I was wanting or hoping for. This is by no means a bad book. To someone who doesn't rate The Hating Game in their top 20 romances of all time (it may even be in the top 10, I haven't re-ranked my romance preferences in quite a few years now), this is probably a perfectly enjoyable and fun little book. I just loved Lucy and Josh and their journey from work foes to lovers so intensely. My reviews are subjective, your mileage may vary.

Unfortunately, to me, this book was merely OK. I struggled with Darcy as a protagonist and I really didn't think Tom was the perfect man, no matter how hard Darcy tried to tell me that he was. I suspect I may have liked both protagonists more if this entire book hadn't been from Darcy's POV (just like Lucy is the only POV character in The Hating Game.). If I had been able to see Darcy through Tom's eyes, and been privy to his thoughts and observations, not just Darcy's, I think the story may have appealed to me more. I generally always prefer the POVs of both sides of the couple in a romance, since it helps me get to know the characters better.

The character I liked the most in the book (barring Darcy and Jamie's now deceased grandmother, who seemed pretty awesome) was Truly, Darcy's best friend. Not sure I liked the reveal late in the story about her and some of the things she kept from Darcy, but she was sweet and interesting, and I would like to read a romance with her as the main character (as long as the love interest was not who it's sort of hinted at here).

While I found Darcy difficult to like, I actively disliked her twin brother Jamie, who is a forceful presence off screen for the first half of the novel and possibly even more annoying and supercilious when he actually appears. The revelation that Darcy's whole family would go off on vacations without her, leaving her with her grandmother, just because she had a heart condition, was just appalling to me. I pretty much hated Darcy's whole family, and cannot believe Tom had so much of his ideas of self and confidence tied up in what Darcy and Jamie, let alone their parents, might think.

While I occasionally read a novel where I find the hero unworthy of the heroine, here I found myself in the opposite situation. Tom would have been vastly better off without Darcy or Jamie in his life. It's been a month and a half since I finished this book, and I still feel sad and disappointed every time I think about the book. I know Ms Thorne suffered from writer's block for a while trying to write this, and it cannot be easy to write a follow-up when your first novel has been so widely embraced by a community as utterly awesome. While this didn't work for me, I also know a lot of people who still enjoyed it. I haven't given up on Sally Thorne, but will try to temper my expectations a bit more with her next novel. I also hope she'll allow herself to include the hero's POV there as well.

Judging a book by its cover: I know it's probably meant to be cute, but I find the almost cartoonish representation of the characters, with their vague and undefined facial and physical features to be a bit annoying. I think a drawn cover can work very well, and these depictions leave more to the imagination about the main characters' physical appearance than a photo would, but this seems almost too impressionistic. I like the cheerful yellow colour, though. That's nice.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.