Wednesday, 16 September 2020

#CBR12 Book 58: "Bellweather Rhapsody" by Kate Racculia

Page count: 352 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

#CBR12 Bingo: No Money (in fact, won in the prize raffle for the first annual CBR Bingo)

Official book description:
Fifteen years ago, a murder-suicide in room 712 rocked the grand old Bellweather Hotel and the young bridesmaid who witnessed it, Minnie Graves. Now hundreds of high school musicians have gathered at the Bellweather for the annual Statewide festival; Minnie has returned to face her demons; and a blizzard is threatening to trap them all inside. When a young prodigy disappears from infamous room 712, the search for her entwines an eccentric cast of conductors and caretakers, teenagers on the verge and adults haunted by memories.

As I mentioned above, I won a signed (!) copy of this a few years ago in the first Cannonball Bingo raffle. It's also been favourably reviewed by a bunch of people I trust, and so it felt appropriate to read it for this year's bingo. 

Because I never seem to learn, I'm back to reviewing things I read about two months ago, and despite promising myself that I will be good and take notes while reading and especially after finishing a book, I never do. It's not like I'm lacking in pens or notebooks (I have SO many!), I just can't seem to find the time or energy to actually sit down and jot down my thoughts upon completing a book. So this review will be a bit of a jumble of things I remember liking in the book.

As I'm sure you can guess from the book description, this is a mystery novel featuring a large and eclectic cast of characters in an old, rather spooky hotel. There are strong personalities both among the teenage and adult cast, there are mysterious disappearances, there are unreliable narrators, strange coincidences, and unexpected connections between individuals who initially seem to have nothing whatsoever to do with one another. 

We meet the wonderfully named Hatmaker twins, Alice and Rabbit, who are both going to the now pretty delapidated Bellweather hotel (think the hotel from the Shining) for a weekend retreat for talented young musicians. Alice is ambitious, outgoing and despite wanting to be a star actress, struggles with empathising with anyone else. Her twin Rabbit is introverted, reserved, nerdy and devoted to his instrument. He also very much wants to come out to his sister at some point during the weekend, but has no idea how to begin approaching the subject. 

There's also the Hatmaker's chaperone, a woman with a lot of buried trauma and violence in her past. There's Alice's roommate, a child prodegy with a very contentious relationship to her icy and controlling mother, the eccentric conductor of the student orchestra (a former prodigy himself), the aging concierge at the hotel who wants everything to run smoothly and fondly remembers the hotel's glory days, as well as the mystery guest with her emotional support dog who shows up right as things start getting really dramatic.

All the characters felt wonderfully real and complex. Some of them are deeply dislikable, but they all seem like actual people, and just seeing the various ways in which they interacted would have kept me turning the pages, even if there wasn't a mystery to be solved. There are a lot of twists and turns. I think I'd figured out a couple before they were actually revealed, but mostly, I was frequently surprised and entertained by this story. I can see why so many people have rated it highly.

Judging a book by its cover: The cover of this unusual mystery might not make a lot of sense until you've actually finished the novel. The big hotel in the background, all the snow, and the lonely grand piano, with the knocked over piano stool. The choices the cover designer has made make more sense after you've finished the story. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

#CBR12 Book 57: "Daring and the Duke" by Sarah Maclean

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Official book description:
Grace Condry has spent a lifetime running from her past. Betrayed as a child by her only love and raised on the streets, she now hides in plain sight as queen of London’s darkest corners. Grace has a sharp mind and a powerful right hook and has never met an enemy she could not best, until the man she once loved returns.

Single-minded and ruthless, Ewan, Duke of Marwick, has spent a decade searching for the woman he never stopped loving. A long-ago gamble may have lost her forever, but Ewan will go to any lengths to win Grace back… and make her his duchess.

Reconciliation is the last thing Grace desires. Unable to forgive the past, she vows to take her revenge. But revenge requires keeping Ewan close, and soon her enemy seems to be something else altogether—something she can’t resist, even as he threatens the world she's built, the life she's claimed…and the heart she swore he'd never steal again.

Spoiler warning! I don't think I'll be able to properly review this book without going into quite some detail about what I think worked, and in what ways the story just didn't deliver for me. So if you haven't read the book and would prefer to remain unspoiled about plot specifics, probably best if you skip this review.

Still here? Cool cool. Daring and the Duke is the concluding volume in Sarah Maclean's Bareknuckle Bastards trilogy. The man the rest of world knows as Robert Matthew Carrick, the Duke of Marwick and his half-brothers and the woman he loves knows as Ewan, has been the villain in the preceding two novels in the series, trying his very best to ruin his two half-brothers both financially and personally while trying to track down the woman they consider their sister and he, Ewan, loves obsessively. When told in Wicked and the Wallflower that she had died, Ewan's shattering grief turned to rage and he became unhinged and deeply destructive. By the end of Brazen and the Beast, Ewan's quest for revenge against the two men with whom he shared a father, who he had trusted to keep his beloved safe and then was fooled into thinking had failed at that task, had ended up costing six people their lives and his half-brothers a considerable amount of money.

But of course, Grace, the illegitimate daughter of the former Duchess of Marwick (presented as a baby the world as Marwick's son and heir and her true identity hidden) never died. Along with the two men she's chosen to consider her brothers, she rules Covent Garden as Dahlia, the owner of an extremely profitable pleasure house catering to women. She's observed Ewan's increasingly more out of control attempt to find her and later to avenge her apparent death, and she's unimpressed. She intends to show him once and for all how little he means to her, crush his spirit and send him packing. But first, she personally nurses him back to health after the explosion he caused on the docks, which nearly killed Grace's brother's fiancĂ©e. Once he's strong enough, she stages a public boxing match, where he refuses to fight back as she beats him up. 

She believes him to be gone for good and tells herself that this is fine. Of course, about a year later, he's back in London, claiming to be looking for a wife. He arranges a grand ball, with the sole intention of luring Grace into his presence once again. She lies to herself that as long as she's masked and disguised, hooking up with him won't be a problem. He shows up in Covent Garden with a big chest full of money to pay reparations to the families of the men he killed and starts doing manual labour on the docks for Whit's wife, to show that he's a changed man now and wants to make amends for all the damage he did.

This is the second of Maclean's romance trilogies where a really shitty duke needs to make amends and grovel on an epic scale to be a satisfying hero in the final volume. While the duke of Haven in Day of the Duchess caused less death and destruction overall, I still found him even more loathsome than Ewan (who is at least super messed up because of the continual torture he was subjected to by his father throughout his life). I did not, however, feel that Ewan's grovelling and atttempts to make up for his former actions were enough to redeem him. I also found Grace's plan of first tenderly nursing him back to health only to beat him up publically to be deeply unsatisfactory. I will say that Ewan's final plan for getting rid of the family legacy he so detested to get his happy ending with Grace was pretty hardcore. 

The reason this book is three stars is that I really enjoyed the presence of Devil, Beast and their interaction with the families they've now established. Otherwise, it's unlikely it would have gotten more than two and a half stars. Once upon a time, Maclean was an auto-buy and pre-order author for me. Now she's on "buy on sale", which makes me sad. I still like her championing the romance genre publically as much as she does, but it's been a long time since she wrote a book I loved as much as One Good Earl Deserves a Lover

Judging a book by its cover: I know some people really like these covers, I find them way too anachronistic. On this one, I love the cover model's stunning red hair (like our heroine Grace/Dahlia sports), but the dress is simply all wrong. First of all, I would have loved to see a cover model wearing what Grace/Dahlia wears for most of the book, tight breeches, leather boots, elaborate silk corsets with a fancy overcoat. If Avon felt they had to put the cover model in a dress, they could have at least tried to find something that didn't look like a prom dress made from a rain slicker. Grace/Dahlia does wear a GOLDEN gown at one point in the book, but it looks nothing like the dress portrayed on the cover, nor is it bright canary yellow. Yellow and gold are NOT the same colour!

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Monday, 7 September 2020

#CBR12 Book 56: "I Hope You Get This Message" by Farah Naz Rishi

Page count: 432 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Official book description:
Seven days. Seven days. The Earth might end in seven days.

When news stations start reporting that Earth has been contacted by a planet named Alma, the world is abuzz with rumors that the alien entity is giving mankind only few days to live before they hit the kill switch on civilization.

For high school truant Jesse Hewitt, though, nothing has ever felt permanent. Not the guys he hooks up with. Not the jobs his underpaid mom works so hard to hold down. Life has dealt him one bad blow after another — so what does it matter if it all ends now? Cate Collins, on the other hand, is desperate to use this time to find the father she’s never met, the man she grew up hearing wild stories about, most of which she didn’t believe. And then there’s Adeem Khan. While coding and computer programming have always come easily to him, forgiveness doesn’t. He can’t seem to forgive his sister for leaving, even though it’s his last chance.

With only seven days to face their truths and right their wrongs, Jesse, Cate, and Adeem’s paths collide even as their worlds are pulled apart.

This was yet another of the book club suggestion for our June CBR book club, with the theme The Future is Queer. I had nothing to go on except the book description but thought it sounded interesting and the short chapters and multiple POVs made it a relatively quick read. 

So the premise of this book is that it turns out Earth and all the people and creatures living on it is basically some big science experiment for a bunch of aliens, who now deem the project a failure (mostly because humans have bollocksed things up pretty badly at this point) and want to basically press the big red destruct button which will end all human life on the planet. However, the proper procedure has to be followed, and there are those who are for full-scale destruction of the humans and those that feel it would be unethical and wrong. So they send a message that Earth has seven days to get its affairs in order, so to speak, before the final verdict will be delivered.

Naturally, not everyone believes in the aliens, but the vast majority of people do and naturally start panicking. We follow three teenagers in the week that leads up to the final decision. Jesse lives in Roswell, New Mexico and decides to help his struggling single mother get enough money to pay their bills by setting up a fancy-looking device and claiming he can send messages to the aliens. The people flocking to Roswell seem more than willing to pay, even the ones who suspect it's most likely a hoax. Cate is forced to watch her schizophrenic mother turn herself over to the authorities to be committed and decides to go looking for her missing father. Along the way, she starts travelling with Adeem, a young man looking for his sister, who left without leaving any forwarding address after coming out to the family as gay.

A lot happens over the course of the seven days with each of the three characters. While Jesse's story is more separate, Cate and Adeem go on quite the road trip together, getting into increasingly worse trouble until they manage to reach their mutual destination, Roswell, and eventually also interact with Jesse. Obviously, for a story where each of the protagonists (as well as everyone around them) are forced to contemplate their own mortality and the very short time they may have left, there is also a lot of introspection and internal development for each of them. 

Of the two new books I read for June's book club, this was probably the one I liked the best (I would rate The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet - yet another of the selections, which I read back in 2018, highest of all). So far, this appears to be the author's only novel, but I shall keep my eye out for anything new she releases. 

Judging a book by its cover: I like to be able to use my imagination when picturing the characters in the books I read. So having all three protagonists portrayed on the cover art, especially because I don't really think they match what I have in my mind's eye, is a bit distracting. I did like them all sort of randomly posed on a big radio antenna (radio plays a big part in the story), with a cityscape in the background, though. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday, 6 September 2020

#CBR12 Book 55: "Ayesha at Last" by Uzma Jalaluddin

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Official book description:
Ayesha Shamsi has a lot going on. Her dreams of being a poet have been overtaken by a demanding teaching job. Her boisterous Muslim family, and numerous (interfering) aunties, are professional naggers. And her flighty young cousin, about to reject her one hundredth marriage proposal, is a constant reminder that Ayesha is still single.

Ayesha might be a little lonely, but the one thing she doesn't want is an arranged marriage. And then she meets Khalid... How could a man so conservative and judgmental (and, yes, smart and annoyingly handsome) have wormed his way into her thoughts so quickly?

As for Khalid, he's happy the way he is; his mother will find him a suitable bride. But why can't he get the captivating, outspoken Ayesha out of his mind? They're far too different to be a good match, surely...

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen must be one of the most popular classic novels to retell by modern authors. There are contemporary retellings, like Bridget Jones' Diary (the more comical), Eligible (the serious literary take), there are YA versions, like Pride and Prom and Prejudice. There are fantasy versions, like Heartstone or horror ones, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Then there are the contemporary retellings set in different cultures than the original, like Unmarriageable; Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors, and this one. 

Uzma Jalaluddin has set her modern retelling of the classic romance in Canada, with the headstrong and loyal Eliza Bennett becoming the hardworking Ayesha Shamsi, whose family (consisting of a grieving mother, ambitious programmer brother, and Ayesha) living with loving grandparents and feeling indebted to their richer relatives who helped them move to Canada after the unfortunate death of Ayesha's father. Because of both the financial and emotional debt to her aunt and uncle, Ayesha has trained as a teacher and is determined to make this career work, even though she struggles as a substitute teacher and her true passion is beat poetry. Having seen how much her mother still grieves the death of her father, Ayesha's not sure she ever wants to get married, but she can't help but be a bit jealous of all the attention her younger cousin (the Lydia character) is getting with her multiple suitors. 

Through a series of coincidences, Ayesha ends up being mistaken for her younger cousin when volunteering for a project at the local mosque. That's also the second time she meets Khalid, who upon their first encounter seemed cold, judgemental, and condescending. As in the original novel, the couple's first encounter is very unfortunate, and then they gradually warm up to one another once they get to know each other better. The fact that Khalid doesn't actually know Ayesha's real name and believes her to be her younger cousin definitely creates some complications as the story progresses, as does the fact that his ambitious, snobbish mother manages to manipulate the situation so that Khalid ends up engaged to Ayesha's actual cousin. 

This works well as an #ownvoices story, as Jalaluddin herself is Muslim, with great familiarity with the various cultures and traditions she's describing. She hasn't kept all of the story beats, nor all the same characters from the original novel. Ayesha has just the one brother, no sisters. The Lydia character is her rebellious cousin, not her sister. There is a Wickham parallel, who is pretty much as dastardly as his classic counterpart. The closest we get to Lady Catherine de Burgh is Khalid's mother. 

I think this book works better precisely because it doesn't try to retell Pride and Prejudice exactly, just moved to a modern, mostly Muslim environment. Jalaluddin's novel also looks at different views of what it means to be a good and dutiful daughter, the expectations of Muslim society on both men and women, the cultural clashes between different cultures in a modern city, the racism and intolerance still present towards Muslims in certain circles of Western society. 

This is Jaluluddin's debut novel, and Goodreads tells me she has a new 'rom com' loosely retelling You've Got Mail out next year. Based on this, I'll absolutely put it on my "To check out" list. 

Judging a book by its cover: I think this cover is really pretty. The golden background, the purple hijab, flowing over the page like a river, the pink lips which look good with but isn't exactly the same as the headscarf. The font used for the title. I prefer it to the alternate cover, which is pale blue. It also has a woman's head in profile, but as a dark silhouette, but neither the colour choices, nor the layout appeal to me as much. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Monday, 3 August 2020

#CBR12 Book 54: "Take a Hint, Dani Brown" by Talia Hibbert

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 5 stars

#CBR12 Bingo: Yellow

Official book description:
Danika Brown knows what she wants: professional success, academic renown, and an occasional roll in the hay to relieve all that career-driven tension. But romance? Been there, done that, burned the T-shirt. Romantic partners, whatever their gender, are a distraction at best and a drain at worst. So Dani asks the universe for the perfect friend-with-benefits—someone who knows the score and knows their way around the bedroom.

When brooding security guard Zafir Ansari rescues Dani from a workplace fire drill gone wrong, it’s an obvious sign: PhD student Dani and ex-rugby player Zaf are destined to sleep together. But before she can explain that fact, a video of the heroic rescue goes viral. Now half the internet is shipping #DrRugbae—and Zaf is begging Dani to play along. Turns out, his sports charity for kids could really use the publicity. Lying to help children? Who on earth would refuse?

Dani’s plan is simple: fake a relationship in public, seduce Zaf behind the scenes. The trouble is, grumpy Zaf’s secretly a hopeless romantic—and he’s determined to corrupt Dani’s stone-cold realism. Before long, he’s tackling her fears into the dirt. But the former sports star has issues of his own, and the walls around his heart are as thick as his... um, thighs.

Suddenly, the easy lay Dani dreamed of is more complex than her thesis. Has her wish backfired? Is her focus being tested? Or is the universe just waiting for her to take a hint?

While this is the second book in the Brown Sisters series, you don't strictly speaking need to read Get a Life, Chloe Brown in order to understand or enjoy this one. It works perfectly well on its own, but the first book is also a very sweet and enjoyable romance, which I would also highly recommend. 

It's so much harder to review books that you really love, isn't it? I can't even put into words entirely why I adored this book, maybe it was just the right book at the right time for me? Nonetheless, I will try to put down some bullet points about why I am certain this book is going in my top 10 at the end of the year, and quite possibly in my top 3.

Things I loved:
  • Zaf. Zafir "Zaf" Ansari used to be a professional rugby player (not like national level or anything, but he still had a promising career ahead of him). Then his father and beloved older brother died in a car accident, and Zaf's world imploded. The press got wind of the accident and the extra attention combined with his crippling grief caused him to spiral into anxiety and depression. Now, years later, Zaf is trying to use his knowledge both of mental health issues and athletics to teach young athletes to get in touch with their softer side and combat toxic masculinity. His sports charity isn't exactly going too well though, as Zaf could be better at social media than he is, and he's also deeply reluctant to advertise his past as a professional player, worried that his tragic back story is going to be brought up again. As well as being a super guy who volunteers to work with angry youths, Zaf is a loyal friend, great son, brother-in-law and uncle (I adored the relationship he had with all of them) and he reads romance novels in his spare time! He's also tall, and strong and fit and has a gorgeous beard. How can you not love a hero like that?
  • Dani. While Danika "Dani" Brown is a much harder nut to crack, being super focused on her research, her Ph.D and her goal to becoming a professor. When she's focused on work, she can forget to sleep or eat, and certainly about things like a significant other's birthday or anniversaries and such. Due to a series of bad relationships, Dani has become convinced that she is utterly unlovable and that she has neither the time for or need of softer feelings like love and affection (despite the fact that she clearly loves and is deeply loved by her two sisters, her grandmother and her best friend Socha). She wants a no-strings-attached, purely sexual relationship with someone, but nothing involving mushy things like hand-holding, cuddling, spending the night together or the like.
  • The various friend and family relationships in this book, both on Zaf's and Dani's side. There's an amazing cast of supporting characters here. With the exception of Sorcha, Dani's best friend, I'd "met" all of the ones on Dani's side before, in Get a Life, Chloe Brown. Dani's older sister Chloe; Red, Chloe's boyfriend; Eve, Dani's younger sister and their rather eccentric grandmother all appear to lend support at one point or another. On Zaf's side, there is his lovely mother, his best friend Jamal, his sister-in-law Kiran and his snarky niece Fatima (who is also one of Dani's students). These characters felt completely real to me. There's a tiny secondary romance happening behind the scenes between Jamal and Kiran, which I would also happily read a whole book about.
  • The relationship between Dani and Zaf, even before they agree to 'fake date' and are just flirting and trading quips every morning. The way Dani is concerned about Zaf and his feelings, even when she claims not to care about anyone else. The way Zaf is utterly fascinated by all of Dani's knowledge and academic expertise and not at all threatened by the fact that she is brilliant and driven and has very clear career plans. The scenes where they are forced to play a 'newly-weds' type game on the radio, unexpected, and discover just how much they know about each other, even though they're only pretending to be a couple, is lovely and very funny.
  • The grand gesture that Dani performs in order to prove to Zaf that she actually cares about him (and the secret she reveals that she's been working on in the epilogue - such squee!)
  • Slightly spoilery - NO pregnancy epilogue, because for a lot of people, having babies is NOT the goal!
I love this book so much and while Eve, the youngest sister, sort of annoyed me in the first book (she has a tendency to use the wrong word for things and get annoyed when others try to correct her - it drove me mad), I am now really excited and hopeful about her book as well. Based on the first two books in the series, Talia Hibbert has my complete trust and I'm so glad I've discovered another contemporary romance author to enjoy.

Judging a book by its cover: While I'm normally not the greatest fan of the cartoon cover trend, for some reason I'm charmed silly by the ones on Talia Hibbert's books. The little cartoon Zaf carrying Dani, with her bright pink hair, and the little pile of books in the background, it all works for me. I also really like that while the first book in the series was a pretty boring white, this is a cheerful and distinctive bright yellow.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday, 2 August 2020

#CBR12 Book 53: "The Ten Thousand Doors of January" by Alix B. Harrow

Page count: 385 pages
Audio book length: 12 hrs 20 mins
Rating: 4 stars

#CBR12 Bingo: Debut

Official book description:
In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artefacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

Little January Scaller is fully aware that even though she gets to wear fancy dresses and take trips to foreign locations with the rich Mr. Locke, her father's employer, she doesn't really belong in his big, sprawling mansion in Vermont. He's an old, white man, she's a little girl with dark hair and skin a brownish coppery hue. Her mother is dead and her father travels the world, risking his life and acquiring exotic treasures for Mr. Locke's collection, but is hardly ever back long enough to spend any time with his little girl. The only friend January has is the grocer's boy, Samuel Zappia, who sneaks her adventure stories to read and who she manages to get away to play with on weekends. But as Mr. Locke's ward, January is expected to behave well, and not "consort with the help". 

While on a journey with Mr. Locke to sell some artifacts, January finds a strange door in a field and manages to open it by writing about it in her journal. The door opens to a beautiful seaside village somewhere obviously different, and January finds a foreign coin, before Mr. Locke discovers her and burns both the door and her journal. He hires a strict governess to take care of January and admonishes her that she needs to stop being so wild and start behaving properly. When she's seventeen, January finds a strange book called "The Ten Thousand Doors" and the book makes her realise that she didn't imagine the incident with the strange door when she was younger, and there's a lot more mystery and adventure in the world than she imagined.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a remarkable debut that has been nominated for pretty much all the major genre awards (the Nebula, the Locus, the Hugo, the World Fantasy Award) and while it's a bit slow to start, it tells a story of travel and adventure, portals to other worlds, friendships, love, but also dark forces with the wish to colonise, subjugate and control, taking riches and resources to enjoy as your own. I enjoyed the book a lot, but with every piece of foreshadowing, I found that I had figured out where the story was going long before the actual reveal. There were very few real surprises for me over the course of the novel. Considering the book is about portal doors between our world and various exciting fantasy worlds, I wish we'd gotten to explore and see more of the various other worlds than we did. Some of the supporting characters, like Samuel and Helen, January's loyal friends and helpers, could also have gotten a bit more characterisation. 

Still, it's a good read with an interesting message about family and belonging, as well as condemning colonisation and the appropriation and subjugation of foreign cultures to gain wealth and riches. I liked it a lot, but I didn't love it. I'm nevertheless very interested in seeing what Alix B. Harrow writes next.

Judging a book by its cover: I'm not entirely sure what I think of this cover, it gives you very little idea what the book is about or what you might expect to meet between its pages. There's a number of colourful flowers, with elaborate keys hanging from them, and what appears to be a keyhole, or maybe a portal doorway. Considering most of the Doors in the book don't require keys of any kind, I'm not entirely sure what the cover designers were going for. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Friday, 31 July 2020

#CBR12 Book 52: "Call Down the Hawk" by Maggie Stiefvater

Page count: 480 pages
Audio book length: 13 hrs 45 mins
Rating: 4 stars

#CBR12 Bingo: Orange

This is the start of a new series, so it stands alone. You don't have to have read Stiefvater's Raven Cycle series, starting with The Raven Boys, but it gives a lot of useful background to Ronan and the other Lynch brothers. 

Official book description:
The dreamers walk among us . . . and so do the dreamed. Those who dream cannot stop dreaming – they can only try to control it. Those who are dreamed cannot have their own lives – they will sleep forever if their dreamers die.

And then there are those who are drawn to the dreamers. To use them. To trap them. To kill them before their dreams destroy us all.

Ronan Lynch is a dreamer. He can pull both curiosities and catastrophes out of his dreams and into his compromised reality.

Jordan Hennessy is a thief. The closer she comes to the dream object she is after, the more inextricably she becomes tied to it.

Carmen Farooq-Lane is a hunter. Her brother was a dreamer . . . and a killer. She has seen what dreaming can do to a person. And she has seen the damage that dreamers can do. But that is nothing compared to the destruction that is about to be unleashed. . . . 

In this new Dreamer trilogy, Maggie Stiefvater takes some of the characters from her Raven Cycle, like the deeply spiky and hostile Ronan Lynch and his boyfriend Adam Parrish and writes a new story, which also gives more room and development to some who were very peripheral supporting cast, like Ronan's brothers Declan and Matthew. She also introduces a number of new characters, like the talented art forger Jordan Hennessey, who hides the fact that all the women she lives with, are in fact, copies of herself that she dreamed into being. Women who will become comatose shells if she ever dies - and with each dream where she brings forth a copy, she comes a little bit closer to that point. There's also Carmen Farooq-Lane, who works with a group of people determined to track down dreamers, and either make them stop dreaming (which is impossible, then they'll eventually die) or kill them. There is a dangerous prophecy, you see, that one or more dreamers will bring forth the end of the world. While she's unhappy about her assignment and haunted by the fact that she had to help bring down her own brother, she really doesn't feel she has a choice. She's helping to stop Armageddon. 

Ronan and Declan, always at odds, are both haunted by the legacy of their father, the charming, but dangerous Niall Lynch. He was killed very suddenly, and clearly didn't have the time, or possibly just didn't have the inclination, to teach his son the art of dreaming safely. Adam, Ronan's true love, has gone away to college, and due to the dangers that Ronan can manifest when he dreams, he cannot move from the family home, and unfortunate and difficult to explain away things happen when he goes to visit Adam at school, effectively banning him from campus. Now he basically starts having guest appearances in his dreams from another dreamer, who keeps setting him tasks and leading him on a merry chase, for reasons unknown. 

Declan, the eldest, left with the legal responsibility for his brothers when their father died, and their mother, a dream creation of his, drifted into sleep forever, tries desperately to appear as normal and inconspicuous as possible. He dresses to be non-descript, he makes sure to make himself invaluable to his employers in Washington D.C, but not so much so that he might get promoted into a position where people might take a good look at him or his family. Declan has trouble eating and sleeping and worries constantly, something neither of his brothers seem aware of at all. Declan comes to discover that there are more secrets in his past than even he suspected, and he and Ronan will need to find a way to work together to figure them out.

Sweet, good-natured Matthew Lynch has absolutely no idea that he isn't actually one of Niall's three sons, that he was dreamt into creation by Ronan as a child, and raised alongside the two young men he considers brother. If Ronan and Declan are united in anything, it's that Matthew is to be kept safe, and unaware of his own true nature. But something is up with Matthew. He keeps leaving his fancy prep school and running off to look at a particular river - and it may prove difficult to keep the truth from him for much longer.

As well as the Lynch brothers, we have Hennessey and her unfortunate dreamt sisters, whose doom is approaching all the quicker if Hennessey doesn't learn to control her dreams more. While Ronan learned little from his own father, Hennessey learned even less from her famous artist mother, who committed suicide in front of her. She sets a timer to keep herself from falling asleep for more than a few minutes at a time, knowing that each time she dreams properly, she brings out another copy of herself from the dreams, and comes one step closer to her own death.

There is also Carmen Farooq-Lane, who has to babysit a surly, German, teenage visionary, trying to figure out where the dreamer who is going to doom them all is located. She's dutiful, yet conflicted and frequently feels frustrated about her mission brief. 

I remember thinking that The Raven King, the fourth and concluding volume in the Raven Cycle wasn't everything I wanted it to be, and was a bit let down by the ending and pacing of the book. In October 2019, Maggie Stiefvater posted a lengthy, very honest blog post, explaining just how little of the book she actually remembers writing, because she was struggling with really debilitating health problems at the time, and nearly died before they figured out what was wrong with her. So it seems the fact that it works as well as it does is remarkable. 

Now that Stiefvater is healthy again, she writes as lyrically and vividly as always. She's hidden that Ronan is one of her favourite characters, and that there is a lot of her in him. He's a character who it's difficult to like, because he's so angry and defensive and sharp, but you can't help but love him. I really liked learning more about his brothers, and hope the family dynamics become something closer and healthier in the coming books, after some of the revelations in this one. 

I was glad to revisit characters I already knew, and it's always good to meet more of Stiefvater's creations. She writes so well, and I'm glad she's healthy and thriving and writing a new series of books for me to enjoy. Neither the title nor the release date for book 2 is out yet, so I shall just sit, impatiently waiting, for more about the Lynches, and Jordan and Hennessey and Farooq-Lane. I suspect they are all going interesting places. 
 
Judging a book by its cover: This is one of those books that I ended up owning both in paperback and audio format. The paperback I have is the UK edition, where the hawk on the cover (and of the title) looks a bit more stylised and the colour scheme is more peach than orange. Nevertheless, the audiobook cover is the US one, with a lot of orange both in the font used for the title and in the background for the swooping hawk. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.