Saturday, 24 June 2017

#CBR9 Book 54: "Everything Everything" by Nicola Yoon

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Madeleine has never left her house or been outside. She's got a rare auto-immune disorder and lives in a house hermetically sealed, with special filters making sure nothing gets in that could hurt her. The only people she sees regularly are her mother, whose a doctor, and her nurse, Carla. On very special occasions, when he's been decontaminated thoroughly, she's allowed to meet one of her favourite tutors, but Madeline's life is lived mostly vicariously through books and the internet, dreaming of the outside world.

Everything changes when Oliver, or "Olly" and his family move in next door. Olly is tall and handsome and wears all black. He and his younger sister try to give Madeline and her mother a bundt cake as a welcoming gift, but aren't allowed inside. Olly's inventive and does his best to get Madeline's attention. Soon they are exchanging messages, and he takes to calling her Maddy, because everyone should have a nickname.

The teens communicate through their windows and on messages, frequently late at night, as Maddy is pretty sure her mother isn't going to be enthusiastic about her new friendship. She confides in Carla, however, and eventually, the nurse agrees to let Olly in to visit.

Maddy has lived seventeen years in isolation. She knows that leaving the house could be disastrous, but she also wants to feel like she has actually lived. She concocts a wild plan and persuades Olly to go along with it, telling him she's been taking a new kind of drug that will protect her from all her allergies of the outside world. So Maddy and Olly go off together to Hawaii, where Maddy will walk on a beach, bathe in the ocean and really experience life. She's willing to risk her life to really live, if only for a few days.

The movie adaptation for this is in cinemas now, and I haven't made up my mind about going to see it or not. As a YA romance, I thought it was pretty sweet. Yes, Olly is probably the ideal first boyfriend and a bit too good to be true. He has some family troubles that give him just the right level of angsty and he's sweet, sensitive, funny and incredibly understanding. Any girl would fall for him, not just Maddy, who's lived an extremely sheltered life, reading books and dreaming of what other teenagers have.

A lot of romance is all about wish-fulfilment and I don't see why teenage girls shouldn't get some of that too. Yes, a lot of teenage boys are dumb, self-centred, immature and rude, but there are exceptions and it doesn't hurt to have books that tell young women what they should be aiming for in their first loves. Do I think Maddy and Olly will get married and live happily ever after? Probably not, they are just seventeen - but Olly certainly wouldn't be the sort of boyfriend you look back on with regret.

Maddy is a sweetheart. She refuses to let her illness or forced isolation get her down. She does her best with the hand life has dealt her, and only really starts to chafe when Olly and his family move in next door and she gets an idea of all the things she's really missing. While her actions are rash and incautious, I can't blame her for wanting to run away and have an adventure, even knowing it might have serious consequences for her health. As it turns out, it does, but not exactly in the ways you may have first suspected.

I probably should have foreseen the surprise twist during the last third of the book, but I actually didn't. I suspect a lot of other readers will see it coming, though, especially now that there are movie reviews out that may spoil things as well. I do wish this development had been dealt with in a better way, and it didn't really have a proper resolution. The love story between Maddy and Olly took centre stage and the final act reveal sort of got a bit lost in getting the separated lovers back together again.

By all accounts, the movie adaptation is supposed to be pretty good. I think I'd rather go see Wonder Woman again, but suspect that many of the young women I taught for the last three years (and possibly some of the boys) would enjoy it a lot.

Judging a book by its cover: While I thought the cover was a bit generic YA at first, I liked it better when I saw it had a connection to illustrations inside the book, all done by Nicola Yoon's husband, apparently. It's still not the most exciting of covers, but since it's part of a bigger whole, I'll allow it.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR9 Book 53: "A Darker Shade of Magic" by V.E. Schwab

Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4 stars

In the world of V.E. Schwab's Shades of Magic trilogy, in which this is the first book, there are parallel worlds. There used to be gateways between them, but now only the magical Antari (identified by having one normal and one fully black eyeball) are able to travel through to the various worlds, using their blood and magical ability. Young Kell, fostered with the royal family in Red London is one of these Antari. In each of the four worlds, there is a London, the geographical location of which overlaps. There is Grey London, which is the England of George III, where pretty much all the magic is completely gone and people live more mundane lives. There is Red London, where Kell is from, where magic flows freely. There is white London, where magic is greedily sought after or controlled with an iron hand by whomever currently rules there. And there used to be Black London, but something went badly wrong there, and it's now been completely sealed off to protect the other three worlds.

Kell travels back and forth between worlds as an ambassador. He also likes smuggling small items from one world to the other, selling them to those interested, not so much because he needs the money, but because he loves the thrill. This hobby of his eventually gets him into a lot of trouble, when someone asks him to take an item from White London to Red London, and it turns out he's being set up and suddenly rather a lot of people want to kill him. He flees to Grey London in the hopes of escaping his pursuers. This is where he meets Lila.

Delilah "Lila" Bard is a pickpocket who's been dressing up as a man and made quite a name for herself as a masked thief. She dreams of becoming the captain of her own pirate vessel and escaping her dreary life in London, when a mysterious stranger falls into her path, clearly near death. She steals from him, only to discover to her shock that he is able to materialise in her rooms, having used magic to track her. She ends up saving his life, but demands that he take her along to Red London so she can experience a proper adventure (also, she's pretty sure he's not going to survive his mission without her).

Although it should be impossible for anyone apart from the Antari to cross between worlds, the magical artifact Kell has found himself in possession of seems to help, and soon Kell and Lila are plotting to outsmart their pursuers, fighting to stay alive and racing against time to save all three worlds from magical destruction.

While this book is a bit slow in the beginning, I'd read enough positive reviews from people I trust to stick with it, and once the initial premise of the various Londons and the magical abilities of Kell and his fellow Antari were established, and things really started happening, I was pretty much hooked. It doesn't hurt that the chapters are short, so you keep being tempted to just read that little bit more.

Kell was a pretty cool character, and I would absolutely murder to have his magical coat, but Lila is the one who stole my heart from her very first appearance. She's just so ambitious and brave and morally ambiguous and adventurous. While she's a thief, she's unable to run away, leaving Kell to be killed. She knows that she may be attracting more danger by saving him, but feels she cannot walk away. Once she realises how serious a predicament he (and by association, she) has landed in, she forces him to take her along, fully realising that there's no way he'll manage to solve things on his own.

I found the glimpses of the various Londons rather fascinating, even if I wasn't overly fond of any of the villains. I wish that Rye's character had gotten a bit more page time, as even when he was in danger, it was difficult to care much, as the reader had not got a change to really relate to him. We were told that Kell cared for him, but this should have been shown.

This is a good start to a trilogy, and I'm certainly interested in reading more. I have my suspicions about Lila, there is clearly a lot more to her than initially meets the eye. I liked the hints of romance between her and Kell, but will be just as happy if they just stay friends in the books to come.

Judging a book by its cover: Black, white and red are always eye-catching colours to choose for a cover and I like the hints of Kell's magical multi-sided coat. The overlapping circles of various colours suggesting the various Londons and worlds that Kell can cross to - also a nice touch. It's a good fantasy cover, it makes you interested without being too much.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Friday, 26 May 2017

#CBR9 Book 52: "Dreaming of You" by Lisa Kleypas

Page count: 384 pages
Audio book length: 11hrs 34mins
Rating: 4 stars

Sara Fielding and Derek Craven have a hell of a "meet-cute". While researching her future novel in one of the seedier corners of the East End, Sara comes across Craven being held down and attacked by two thugs. They've slashed his face open, and she intends only to fire a warning shot from her pistol (which sh obviously keeps in her reticule for defencive purposes), when she instead ends up killing one of the assailants. She discovers that the man whose life she saved is the legendary gambling club owner Derek Craven, and takes him back to his club to be patched up by his staff and a doctor. While Craven thinks Sara is a great fool to risk her life wandering about the East End unaccompanied, his staff are deeply grateful to her for saving their boss, and Worthy, Craven's factotum invites Sara to return whenever she pleases to visit the club for her research.

While Craven isn't happy about it, Worthy and the rest of the staff at Craven's worship Sara and let her roam wherever she pleases to do her research and even set aside space for her to work on her novel in the club. Derek wants nothing to do with the infuriating female, but can't stop watching her either. Sara, on the other hand, doesn't lie to herself and admits that she's attracted to the bitter (and now literally scarred) man. She tries to get him to kiss her (her overly proper suitor back home doesn't think such things are appropriate outside of marriage) and when he refuses, she conspires with Worthy and Derek's friend, the Countess of Raiford, to get dressed up as a proper temptress and attends one of Craven's one night wearing a mask. She manages to thoroughly enchant Craven then, and gets kisses and then some, but he is angry with her when he discovers her deception and forbids her to return to the club. Sara goes back home to Greenwood Corners and pretty much delivers an ultimatum to her suitor of four (!) long chaste years, Mr. Kingswood. If he doesn't propose very soon, their courtship is over.

Lily Raiford can tell that her old friend is falling for Ms. Fielding and fighting it all the while. She invites both of them to a house party at her husband's country estate in the hopes of furthering their romance. She had not counted on the nefarious spite of Joyce, Lady Ashby, Derek's former lover who is still furious that he broke things off with her (she's the one who ordered Derek attacked and mutilated in an alley). Joyce is determined that if she can't have Craven, no one else will either, and she's going to destroy anyone and anything he holds dear. Ironically, her evil plot is what actually compromises Sara to the point that Craven feels he has to marry her and Sara finally gets her man.

Craven's not one for romantic sentiments and declarations, though. While Sara has admitted to herself that she loves him, and it's clear to everyone around him that Derek is completely smitten with his new wife, he's led a hard life lacking in warmer sentiments and still holds himself back in the relationship. That is until Joyce Ashby strikes again, determined to get her revenge once and for all.

This is one of those romances that keeps popping up on "Best of" lists, even now, more than 20 years after it was written. I own the book in paperback and know that I read it back in 2008, also known as the year I rediscovered romance (and I haven't looked back since). Unlike those other books that I read back then, several of Julia Quinn's Bridgerton books, Loretta Chase's Carsington and Scoundrels books, as well as others, I seriously did not remember a single detail of this plot. Beyond remembering that I read it back then, this book felt like I was reading it for the very first time. I know this is a fan favourite of Kleypas', but the fact that I'd so utterly forgotten everything about it doesn't count in its favour to me.

I was also surprised to realise that of the two books in The Gamblers of Craven's series, I really preferred Then Came You, which while it had a completely bonkers plot, also had a couple whose romance affected me more. As a bonus, both Alex and Lily play quite prominent supporting roles in this book, so that was fun.

I can't really even put my finger on what it is that didn't really work for me and why I seem to have entirely excised it from my memory from the first time I read it. Sara and Derek are both memorable and interesting characters.

Sara has written two acclaimed novels, the second, Mathilda, being especially well-known. It's a recurring theme in the book that the people Sara meets believes that the prostitute she wrote about was in fact real, and many claim to know people who have met her, despite Sara's attempts to explain what a fictional character is. Sara was the late in life only child of a couple from the rural village of Greenwood Corners, where Sara's lived a fairly sheltered life until she started writing and travelled to London to interview street urchins, prostitutes and gamblers as research for her novels. As she explains to Craven as he is being patched up by the doctor, she has been courted by a young man, Mr. Perry Kingswood, for four years, and is pretty sure that his mother will relent and let him propose to her soon.

Derek Craven is a legend, not just in London, but in all of England. The son of a prostitute, he doesn't know his exact birth date or exactly how old he was. Abandoned in the gutter by his mother, he was raised by other prostitutes and made his way up through the London underworld with ambitions. Becoming the lover of wealthy noblewomen, he eventually acquired enough "patronage" that he got enough money to open his spectacular gambling club, where he has made enough money to rival the richest and most powerful men in England. He has more money than he knows what to do with, but doesn't let himself get overly attached to anyone. He had to become hard and ruthless to survive to adulthood and he certainly can't allow himself to fall for a mousy almost-spinster from the country.

While they are an interesting couple, Derek's complete reluctance to admit his affection for Sara grated on me. The biggest problem I had with this book, however, was the antagonist, Lady Ashby. While women can absolutely be as villainous as men and Kleypas could just as easily have cast Sara's village suitor, Perry Kingswood as some sort of obstacle to the couple. Instead she has this dangerously unstable noblewoman, who everyone apparently knows is completely ruthless (they certainly talk about her that way when she's mentioned) and who it's implied has done some pretty awful things in the past, but she's protected by her title and the wealth of her husband. She got more histrionic with each appearance, until her final act just went into implausibly mad. I get that it might have been necessary for Kleypas to separate Sara and Derek for a while, so Derek would finally admit his love for his wife, but it all became a bit much for me. Also, when SPOILER the heroine has to be rescued just seconds away from rape, it doesn't exactly set the most romantic mood.

I listened to this in audiobook, narrated by Rosalyn Landor (she does all of Kleypas' classic audios, as far as I can tell), who is very good. I'm still slightly puzzled as to how I could completely forget having read this back in 2008, but my meticulous reading records claim that I did. I can also see why it's become somewhat of a popular classic and especially why Derek Craven is a beloved romance hero, but I really felt a bit let down, probably because my expectations were so high in the first place.

Judging a book by its cover: My paperback copy of this has the classic Kleypas covers, where most of the book is in one colour, usually a delicate pastel (this book is in a creamy yellow). A band across the middle of the book shows some pastoral image, in this case some fancy country house, with a horse and carriage pulling away from it. I really don't think that's very representative of a book set mainly in London, in a gambling club. So the re-issues have this cover, with a lady in a fancy gown, skirts once again long enough to go on to eternity. I forget if Sara wears a red gown at any point in this, I know she wears a blue velvet one in a very memorable scene, but I can only assume the cover model is meant to be her. They should have given the model glasses.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

#CBR9 Book 51: "Charlie All Night" by Jennifer Crusie

Page count: 304 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

Alice "Allie" McGuffey is the best radio producer WBBB in Tuttle, Ohio has ever had and it's pretty much the unspoken truth that she's the reason the radio station runs as well as it does. She loves her job and thrives on it, so when the radio station's current Drivetime star, Mark King, who up until two months ago was her lover, tells her that she's been moved to a different time slot, and from now on, he'll be using Lisa, her former intern as his producer, Allie is not happy. It's not like Bill Bonner, the radio station's owner would be fool enough to fire her (the place would go under), but she's been relegated to the 10pm-2am slot, previously occupied by a conspiracy nut who ended his career at the station two weeks earlier by shooting up the console. Angry and hurt, she walks into the local bar, determined to pick up someone, anyone who can make her forget about Mark.

Allie is not going to be broken. She has a plan. First she's going to find someone to sleep with, who will make her forget about Mark King once and for all. Then she's going to make her new DJ so famous that the station owner will beg her forgiveness and give her any choice producing gig she wants. Of course, the man she sits down next to and propositions is none other than Charlie Tenniel, the station's new DJ. Except, unbeknownst to anyone but Bill Bonner and his wife, Charlie has no radio experience whatsoever. He's there as a favour to Mr. Bonner because Charlie's father and Bill are old friends, and there have been some threatening letters sent to WBBB. Charlie is just going to pose as a DJ (borrowing the reputation of Ten Tenniel, his drug-dealing DJ brother) while he investigates the threats. He's unlikely to stay in Tuttle for more than about six weeks, and therefore isn't exactly looking to make an impression.

Yet Allie is so charming and determined, and after being invited to dinner with her and her gay roommate Joe, Charlie goes against his better judgement and agrees to stay on their sofa. And when Allie later at night asks him to seduce her, he initially tries to refuse, but when she persists, he doesn't resist for long. She also tells him about her plan to make him a big name in Tuttle, something he adamantly refuses to agree to. Nevertheless, despite his continued attempts to make bad and boring radio broadcasts, he keeps getting more and more listeners, and despite promising himself he's not going to stay on the sofa and not keep ending up in Allie's bed every night, the two continue their trysts. That is, until they inadvertently reveal their fledgling relationship on air, and make a public bet to stay celibate, both determined to prove that their gender is better at going without sex. They will need to spend their days keeping their hands off each other and their nights sleeping apart.

Of course, getting to know one another better, without allowing sex into the equation builds up the tension between them to an unbearable degree and makes them aware of how compatible they are on all sorts of other levels too. But Charlie was never meant to stay in Tuttle for too long, what will Allie do when and if he actually leaves?

This is yet another romance I got in an e-book sale absolutely ages ago and never got round to reading. Jennifer Crusie tends to write really enjoyable and fast-paced contemporaries, and I have yet to come across one I didn't enjoy. For someone who's struggling with involuntary infertility, it's nice to read books where there is no pregnancy epilogues, and in several of her books, the heroines aren't interested in ever having children. Her heroine are always smart and capable, and frequently not in the first blush of youth. Allie is 36, and actually two years older than Charlie, the hero. She's extremely good at her job, but not to an unbelievable degree and it's clear that she's had to make sacrifices along the way and that her best friend and roommate, Joe, is actually worried about how much of her self-worth and identity is tied up in her job at the radio station. She's clearly never had a particularly satisfying romantic or sexual relationship, and seems more upset about losing her job as Mark King's producer than by the fact that he dumped her two months' earlier. A little bit too career driven, she needs some distractions.

We're never given a clear back story for Charlie, except that he's not really one for settling down and seems never to stay in one place for too long. I don't think he's actually a detective, even though he's sent to Tuttle to help investigate a suspected threat, and it seems as if his nomadic lifestyle is quite a frustration to his parents. Strangely, his brother seems to be much more of a black sheep, having been arrested for drug-dealing and quite possibly also left a pregnant wife behind when he fled to whereabouts unknown. Quick to adapt and very charming, Charlie becomes a popular and proficient DJ, even though he tries his very best to remain unnoticed. He feels very protective of Allie and keeps doing his best to make Mark jealous, since the guy never appreciated her when he had her.

As is also the case with a lot of Crusie novels, there is a dog as part of the plot, in this case a tiny runt of a puppy, near death, who has to be hand-reared back to health by various radio station employees. While Charlie initially believes the puppy, Samson, to be a goner, he sees how invested Allie is in making it eat and survive and through the determined efforts of most of the various night time DJs and hourly feedings over several weeks, the puppy pulls through and becomes something of a mascot for Charlie and the radio station.

Crusie says in her introduction of the book that she wanted to see what a relationship that started with a one night stand and later became less physical might look like and in this book she basically has lovers to friends to lovers once more and manages it excellently. This is a really quick read, with a great main couple and a lot of fun and quirky supporting characters. I'm so glad I finally read it and really should do my best to chase down the rest of the books I have left unread in Crusie's back catalogue.

Judging a book by its cover: This book has a pretty cute and fairly simple cover. Two sets of lower legs and feet, belonging to people who are clearly snuggling up together. I'm going to assume that they're on some sort of giant blanket on the floor, because no bed I've ever seen has that much room at the foot of the bed once two grown humans are lying down on it. I'd say that perhaps they were half sitting, but the angle of the legs is all wrong for that. Still, as romance covers go, not bad at all.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR9 Book 50: "Then Came You" by Lisa Kleypas

Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Spoiler warning! This book has such a magnificently all over the place, crazy-sauce plot that it will be absolutely impossible for me to properly show my appreciation for the book without spoiling quite a lot of it. If you don't want to know details - keep an eye out further down.

Miss Wilhelmina "Lily" Lawson, also known in much of London as "Lawless Lily" is estranged from her family, but has been able to live independently due to a large inheritance from an eccentric aunt. When she's not shocking society with her wild antics, she's known to keep company with notorious gambling hell owner Derek Craven, and the most popular rumour is that she is his mistress. When Lily is visited by an old family friend, Zachary, Lord Stamford, she discovers that her gentle younger sister Penelope is engaged to marry the haughty Alex, Lord Wolverton, the Earl of Raiford. As Zachary is madly in love with Penelope, he begs Lily's help in stopping the marriage.

Lily tries to get an impression of what Raiford is like, and is first introduced to him during a hunt. What she doesn't realise is that Raiford's former fiancee, Caroline Whit-more, died two years ago in a riding accident, and Raiford therefore gets freaked out when women insist on participating in hunts. After Lily falls off her horse, she finds herself cradled in his arms and thoroughly scolded, and she pretty much concludes that he's a madman, who won't be marrying any sister of hers.

Lily shows up at Raiford House, where the wedding is being planned, ostensibly to grovel and be let back into her parents' good graces. She does whatever she can to sabotage the wedding plans. She pretends that Zachary is her suitor, in the hopes of making Penelope jealous and it seems to be working. While her parents appear taken in by her contrite and remorseful behaviour, Raiford isn't fooled for one second. It's not that he loves Penelope, in fact, after losing his beloved fiancee, he selected a kind and biddable young virgin specifically because she was the opposite of his headstrong former love, but he won't have his affairs meddled with, and certainly not by someone as scandalous as Lily Lawson.

As Lily's plans progress, Raiford becomes more and more frustrated, not least because he realises that the sister he truly wants certainly isn't Penelope. Once Lily ups the ante and starts to fight dirty, Raiford is forced to admit that his stellar reputation and pedigree isn't going to help him one bit. What's more, beating "Lawless Lily" at her own game might be one of the most fun things he's done in years.

I got this book years and years ago in an e-book sale and then promptly forgot about it. Since I've been trying to be better about reading things I actually OWN, my current comfort reading needs had me looking through my shelves for romance, and some previously untried Kleypas seemed to fit the bill. I had absolutely no idea what was waiting for me in this book. I had to resort to taking notes as I read, just to be able to remember everything afterwards. While there was some stuff that made me rather uncomfortable, most of it certainly kept me both entertained and surprised, and despite having finished the book nearly three weeks ago, I still keep thinking about it, so I can't possibly rate it lower than four stars. Before I basically reveal the whole plot further down, I can say that I highly recommend the book and Lily and Alex are now among my favourite Kleypas couples.

DO NOT READ PAST THIS POINT IF YOU DON'T WANT PLOT SPOILERS!

SERIOUSLY - JUST SKIP TO MY MUSINGS ON THE COVER.

Ok, if you're still here, there is nothing I can do. First of all, I want to address the things that really didn't work for me. First of all, Lily is apparently a very petite and delicate woman, but keeps being compared to a doll or a child. That is NOT ok when you're actually talking about a grown woman, the heroine in a romance novel, who in the latter part of the book especially, engages in quite a lot of steamy love scenes. Just a selection of phrases that really squicked me out. "You're so beautiful. Beautiful like a perfect little doll". "He lifted her like a toy" and "She fell asleep with the suddenness of a tired child". Oh, and just before her wedding, Lily looks in the mirror and thinks she looks like a 15-year-old. Urgh. These are just a few examples that I noted down AFTER I actually began taking notes because it was disturbing me so much. Grown women, no matter how petite, should not be infantilized, but Kleypas keeps doing it throughout.

Another scene that really did not work well for me, and that I suspect may not have appeared in a historical romance written now (this one originally came out in 1993) is the scene where after Lily has lured Alex to London, after pretty much abducting his younger brother and closest living relative, she knocks him out with a bottle and ties him to her bed. Once he is incapacitated and tied firmly to her bed, she proceeds to pretty much lie on top of him and make sexual advances at him, while he is helpless to resist. Just imagine if the roles were reversed in that scene. It would not be quirky or flirtatious, it would just be deeply inappropriate and borderline rapey.

Despite those things, this book is a lot of fun, and absolutely bonkers. There's our heroine, who seems to be accepted in much of polite society (possibly because all the men hope to make her their mistress). She has a (unbeknownst to petty much everyone) platonic friendship with a famous gambling house owner, one of the richest men in London. In the very first chapter, she throws her hat in the water during a boating party, and when none of the guys are willing to jump in the water to retrieve it, she does so herself.

She was jilted at the altar at twenty, and this clearly affected her deeply. She lived abroad for many years with an eccentric aunt, whose fortune she inherited. Her one sexual encounter with a creepy Italian nobleman put her off sex entirely and also led to her getting pregnant. Her tiny plot moppet, Nicole, has been kidnapped by the nefarious baby daddy, who is now blackmailing her, which is why she needs to gamble so much - her fortune is more or less gone. She's determined to break up her younger sister's betrothal to Raiford, so said sister can elope and marry Lord Stamford instead. In order to make this happen, Lily tempts Henry, Raiford's brother to come to London with her and deposits him at Craven's club. She then proceeds with the knocking unconscious and tying to a bed plot.

To get revenge, Alex shows up at Craven's and bets 15000 pounds for one night with her. She loses (of course she does) and our hero consequently wins the right to bed her in a card game. While Lily tries to get out of it, Craven insists that they "seal the deal", in his bedroom no less. It turns out that Lily doesn't hate sex, it was just that she had an abysmal first experience, and when she's in bed with an actually skilled and considerate lover, she enjoys it just fine. Not that she wants anything to do with Alex once their one night is over. He totally has other plans, however. During a masquerade at Craven's, where Lily is more or less half-naked, dressed as Eve, trying desperately to win enough money to pay off her blackmailer again, Alex shows up as Lucifer and ends up tossing Lily over his shoulder and carrying her off, causing a much bigger scandal than Lily ever managed on her own.

She believes he wants her as his mistress, he proposes marriage instead, and gives her the money she needs to pay off her blackmailer once more (he believes she's paying off a gambling debt). While Lily is off in the seedy part of London meeting with the creep who stole her virtue and her child, she also ends up buying a decrepit old bear to save it from a fighting pit. She's about to be attacked and sexually assaulted by some thugs, but her husband shows up and shows remarkable brawling skills for a nobleman.

Having kept her deep dark secret from everyone for two years, Lily finally tearfully confesses to her husband about her missing illegitimate daughter, but only after he's caught her IN the arms of her blackmailer at a society party. I want it noted that I kept wanting to shake her for most of the book for not coming clean sooner. Raiford, of course, has all sorts of useful connections, and within a few days of Lily telling her husband the truth, they have helped the authorities uncover a large child snatching ring in the the slums and reunited Lily with her child. All is bliss, and to top it all off, there is the near-obligatory pregnancy epilogue.

Seriously, the plot is all over the place, but I came to enjoy the central romance enough that I didn't even care about the constant reminders that Lily was delicate and slender and so dainty or that she pretty much commits sexual assault as well as kidnapping and the like. I could have done without the melodramatic plot moppet abduction, and Lily's TSTL attitude towards blackmail (of course he's not going to stop when you keep handing over thousands of pounds every so often in the desperate hopes that you may get your child back), but Lily and Alex's progression from antagonists to really very passionate lovers (the smexy times in this book are really quite something).

Kleypas gives us enough back story throughout the book to make us understand exactly how both Lily and Alex ended up becoming the people they are at the start of the book, and it's obvious that they are both so very good for one another. Alex needs to stop grieving for his lost fiancee and loosen up A LOT and Lily frustrates and challenges him in a way he really needs. Lily has had no one to rely on since her aunt died and her daughter was kidnapped years ago and is so very used to rescuing and taking care of others, without ever allowing anyone to see her weaknesses or letting herself be cared for.

The truly remarkable thing about Alex is that once he admits that he's absolutely crazy about Lily, he doesn't hide the fact. It's rare in romance for the hero to make his declaration of love first, and once Alex has embraced his feelings for Lily, he really does love her exactly the way she is. He doesn't really try to change or control her, he just wants to make sure that she doesn't rush headlong into danger, and he accepts the fact that she may never love him back. When he first proposes his absolutely outrageous bet at Craven's, he believes her to be Craven's mistress, yet wants her nonetheless. Once he discovers that she is in fact not only inexperienced, but had an awful first time, he does his best to be as considerate and caring a lover as any woman could hope for.

As I said, for all that there were bits of the book that rubbed me the wrong way, I also couldn't put the book down and my thoughts keep coming back to it and the lovely relationship that Alex and Lily build during the second half of the novel. Having also recently re-read the next book in the series, Dreaming of You, I ended up enjoying this book more overall and I was not expecting that.

Judging a book by its cover: Yet another romance cover with a not very period appropriate dress, with skirts that go on forever. Even with the yards and yards of skirt in the forefront of the cover, we still see most of the cover model's legs. That seems to require special effort. Since the lady on the cover is sitting down, it's difficult to ascertain if she's as petite as Lily is supposed to be (although maybe that's why her dress is too long, her modiste just forced her into a gown made for someone much bigger?) Yeah, let's go with that. At least her hair colour is correct, even though this lady appears to have her hair in an updo, and Lily's is cut fairly short.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

#CBR9 Book 49: "Burn for Me" by Ilona Andrews (re-read)

Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

This book originally came out back in 2014, but was re-released earlier this year, after the two planned sequels took longer to produce than planned. The second book in the trilogy will now be out at the end of May, while the third and final book comes out in July. I'm giddy with anticipation and have already pre-ordered the sequels. My first review of the book can be found here.

Spoiler warning! This review will mainly deal with my thoughts of re-reading it, and where I hope the authors will take the series in upcoming books. So if you haven't read the book yet, get to your online book store of choice and get it NOW, as the book is currently on sale prior to the release of the sequel. My musings will absolutely feature some minor plot spoilers.

I really liked this book, but I know that for several other readers, Connor "Mad" Rogan and his domineering, alpha-hole behaviour in this book was a deal-breaker. My friend Erica was absolutely appalled by his complete disregard for Nevada's wishes in a scene about mid-way through where Rogan clearly pushes the boundaries of Nevada's consent and doesn't seem all that bothered by it, because she's clearly attracted to him, where's the harm? She found him dislikable enough that it just broke the book for her, and as far as I'm aware, it's one of her lowest-rated Andrews' books. She has no intention of reading the rest of the series, because she doesn't care to see Rogan redeemed as a hero.

While I absolutely see her point and agree that Rogan in this book is no where near the hero he needs to be, I've also probably read too many romances with alpha-hole heroes and frankly, when Ilona Andrews writes them, I find even the evil guys attractive. I'm giddy as a school girl about the fact that they're writing a book about Hugh de Ambray, the absolute psychopath who tried to kill Curran and steal Kate away from him in the Kate Daniels series. If they're writing a romantic trilogy with Rogan as the hero, I also have complete faith that while he starts out somewhat problematic, there will be a redemptive arc, and he will prove himself worthy of Nevada, who is already a wonderful and extremely likable heroine from the beginning. She spends most of this book fighting her attraction to Rogan because she knows it would be a terrible idea on so many levels to get involved with him, and she's right. The man he is in this book is absolutely not the right one for her.

The kindly authors recently posted two scenes from the book from Rogan's POV (almost the entire book is seen through Nevada's eyes) and it confirmed my initial theory that Rogan really isn't as bad as he wants the world to believe him to be. The first scene (when Rogan abducts Nevada from the park) can be found here, and the second (when he questions her at his house with magic) is here. No one with an internal monologue like that is a complete psychopath.

But the man I suspect the extremely talented Andrews couple will mould him into - now that's a different story. Just as it is really quite obvious that Nevada is a Prime in whatever strange and rare truth-telling magic she possesses (Rogan hints at having figured it out when Nevada rants about the arrogance of Primes in this book), so at least magically, she's perfectly suited to being a mate for someone as powerful and influential as him, it's also natural that Rogan has a lot of changing and evolving to do. From this book, it's obvious that the magically powerful families breed extremely selectively and care more for power and influence than about inter-personal relationships. So it's no surprise that Rogan has never really cared for anyone and since all his magical powers seem destructive on a terrifying scale, that's going to warp him a bit.

Since he's decided he wants Nevada, and she's strong and determined enough not to give into him, he will have to change to become worthy of her. I have absolutely no doubts that he will become a better person, although I suppose it's unlikely to think that he will beg forgiveness for the rather callous way he treated Nevada for much of this book. A girl can hope, though.

As soon as I finished re-reading the book, I read what little is available in previews for the sequel, White Hot, out on the 30th of May. I'm not saying I'm going to count the days, but the book has been pre-ordered for months, and I don't care how much work I may have left to do, I am completely clearing my schedule to make sure I can focus only on the book when it comes out. The only good thing with having to wait so long for the sequels is that now I get two new Ilona Andrews books before the summer is over, rather than just the one.

Judging a book by its cover: I hadn't started commenting on book covers when I first read this book, but oh man, is there a lot to take apart here. Ilona Andrews, amazing and talented fantasy writers whose work I adore and will buy and try to foist on anyone I meet who shows the slightest bit of interest, really have not been blessed by the cover design gods. With the exception of their self-published Innkeeper Chronicles books, where they get to commission their own artwork, all their books have varying degrees of bad covers. But none are as bad as the ones the Avon publicity team have managed to scrounge up for the Hidden Legacy trilogy. All three covers, in all their lurid glory, can be found on the authors' website. Three different female models, with varying degrees of blonde hair. Two different male models. Sooo much tackiness.

Seriously, there is so much wrong with the cover for Burn for Me. The way the blond lady, who's probably supposed to be Nevada is wearing what appears to be a shoulderless, sparkly evening gown. The way she is clinging like a limpet to the man she spends most of the book trying to keep away from her. The pouting pretty-boy model doing his best "Blue Steel" they've got to portray Rogan. You can tell that he's ex-military because of the dog tags. And while Adam Pierce, the man they are chasing for much of the book seems to have some sort of allergy to shirts, Rogan seems to spend most of the book clothed. The rubble and buildings coming apart in the background have plot relevance, I'll give them that. Also, while this is a bad cover, the one for the sequel is SO much worse. I'm going to have to save up all month to do it justice.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR9 Book 48: "A Lady's Code of Misconduct" by Meredith Duran

Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Jane Mason is an heiress, but her money is being slowly embezzled by her unscrupulous relatives to further her uncle's unscrupulous political career and she's being kept far away in the country, to make sure she can't meet anyone who might marry her. Her aunt and uncle plan to marry her off to her cousin, and eventually, Jane reluctantly agrees on the condition that she get a season in London first. She hopes to meet another suitable man she can convince to elope with her, offering him a share of her father's vast fortune as long as she is free of her relatives.

The only man not closely related to she's had much contact with during her near captivity in the country is Crispin Burke, another ruthless and self-serving politician, who nonetheless seems to be the only one to recognise that Jane isn't the meek and biddable young maiden she has pretended to be for years. He suggests that he may be able to help her procure a special licence, where she'd only have to enter the name of the groom to get herself a legally binding marriage certificate, but first he wants her to spy on her uncle for him.

When Jane discovers that her relatives want to move up her marriage to her spineless and cruel cousin, time is running out for her. She also overhears the news that Crispin Burke has been attacked and is unlikely to survive the week. He will therefore never be able to contradict her when she runs to his family and pretends to be his wife. Only, through some medical miracle (and to further the plot), Crispin survives and wakes from his coma, with amnesia. He doesn't remember the last five years, and when he is told by his family that Jane is his wife, he obviously believes them. Jane needs to stay "married" to him until her father's solicitors release her inheritance into her control, but lives in terror that Crispin regain his memory and discover the truth.

The weeks pass, however, and Crispin is still weak and disorientated because of his head injuries. He discovers that his "wife" is intelligent and well-informed on the issues he's been working on in parliament, and comes to rely on her completely to help him navigate both his private and professional life. Jane discovers that the post-injury Crispin is a very different from the cold, calculating man he was before, and can finally be herself, needed, valued and praised for her abilities, rather than having to swallow her pride and anger to avoid the abuse of her relatives. She knows that she is living a lie and that she will need to leave Crispin before he discovers the truth, but can't bring herself to leave or help herself from falling for her "husband".

With the notable exception of one book, I tend to really enjoy Meredith Duran's books. Her protagonists always tend to be rather flawed, and frequently often more morally complex than the characters you meet in other romances. There is usually a fair amount of angst involved before the couple gets their happy ending, but it feels all the more satisfying when you get to the end of the story.

Jane's father was involved in politics, but also made his fortune through excellent business sense and by taking good care of his workers and constituents. His brother, Jane's uncle, stepped into his political seat when he got ill and continued to hold it after Jane's father's death. Incensed that he didn't inherit much after his brother, thinking himself entitled to more after he gave his brother part of the initial investment he turned into his substantial fortune, he decides to get control of the fortune by keeping Jane away from society until she gives in and marries his son. Jane's parents were both progressive and believed in education for women. When she was sent to live with her aunt and uncle, Jane quickly learned not to speak her mind, or she would be badly beaten. She instead spends the next few years perfecting the persona of someone meek, bland and rather stupid, only concerned with her embroidery, while she plots for her escape.

Isolated on her uncle's estate in the country, the only unmarried man except her cousin that Jane ever meets is Crispin Burke, a young, handsome, but utterly ruthless politician, who will stop at nothing to to achieve his goal of becoming prime minister of Britain. When Crispin discovers Jane at an inn in the nearest village, where she was planning to meet an elderly groom she'd bribed to elope with her, he more or less blackmails her to spy for him, in return for him taking her back to her uncle's before anyone discovers she is missing. Realising that her life will be even worse if her uncle ever discovers the truth, Jane has no choice to agree, but once she's in London, she turns the tables on Burke and blackmails him right back, to get the special license she needs.

As she discovers once they are "married", Burke wasn't always a black-hearted villain and his family are appalled by his actions over the last few years. As he's trying to piece together his life over the years he's forgotten, he really doesn't like the person he's become, and he relies on Jane to help him undo some of the cruel and unscrupulous things he's been working on, beginning to work against his own proposed bill in parliament. Jane doesn't feel that she can lie about their feelings for one another, and claims their marriage took place shortly before his injury, and that it was one of convenience. She claims her fortune could help him further his career, a claim that is backed up by the many smug congratulations he receives from his former cronies, not to mention the enraged reaction of his former partner in crime, Jane's uncle.

The romance is a slow-burning one and Jane is more anguished by her actions the longer she stays in her sham marriages. Initially she fears what Crispin will do when he remembers because she fears he will report her to the authorities or force her back to her relatives, and as she begins to fall for him, she hates lying to him and fears that the truth will pain him.

Amnesia storylines, as everyone knows, are really rather silly, but there are so many ridiculous plot twists to make romances work that I didn't really care. Duran actually does spend quite a bit of time giving the reader enough back story into Crispin's past and family situation to see how he gradually became the really rather horrible individual we meet at the start of the book, so it's not as incredibly implausible that he's a completely different man afterwards.

Towards the last third of the book, I suspect Duran is trying to set up the plot of a book to come, when the story suddenly isn't so much about Jane and Crispin, or them trying to work together to undo some of the worst excesses of Burke's ruthlessness pre-injury, but starts being about a dark conspiracy, abducted noblemen and an implausibly evil villain who's behind all of it. She introduces the name of another man who I can only imagine will be the tortured and long-suffering hero of an upcoming book, but the whole thing felt a bit tacked onto the main story of this book. I did like what Crispin reveals to Jane once he finally admits he's had his memory back for some time, and confesses his love for her and they have the chance to have a proper future together, with all their dark secrets out in the open.

Check out my blog or Goodreads to find my reviews of Meredith Duran's previous novels. The only one I would strongly advise readers to stay entirely away from is At Your Pleasure, which is one of my least favourite romances of all time.

Judging a book by its cover: The designers of historical romance covers very rarely bother to check what era the book is set in, they just want a lady in a dress. This is really about as generic as romance covers get. In this case, a book set firmly in the Victorian era features a dress clearly from the Regency, which has one of those never-ending skirts that only romance heroines on covers wear. All I can say is, at least the back of her dress isn't half unlaced, displaying a sad lack of undergarments, which seemed to be so popular a while back.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.