Saturday, 21 October 2017
As always - Oslo, Norway. I have cleared my schedule for the entirety of the 24 hours so I can really relax with my reading
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
This may be the first Read-a-thon where I haven't really given that much thought to what I am going to be reading. There are more than 600 unread books on my e-reader, I have a selection of audio books to choose from and a large stack of unread comics.
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
I have all the ingredients ready prepped for home made pizza, that I will make later, when I need a break. I think of all the things I have lined up, I'm most looking forward to that.
4) Tell us a little about yourself?
I'm a secondary school teacher. My husband is currently away in England (less distractions). We have two cats and a baby on the way. In the last few months, I have not gotten to read as much as I wanted, and I'm really looking forward to getting some proper reading time today.
5) If you participated in the last Read-a-thon, what's one thing you'll do different today?
I've got a pretty good Read-a-thon routine down now. I try to read fairly quick and easy books, so I don't get bored. I have audio books for when I need to do stuff around the house (like make myself food) and when I start getting tired, comic books are a great way to get more reading done.
Thursday, 19 October 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Olivia "Livvy" Kane and Nicholas Chandler were teenage sweethearts, growing up as neighbours, heirs to the successful grocery chain their grandfather's worked together to found. Then a tragic car crash changed everything. Nicholas' mother and Olivia's father both died, and shortly after the funerals, Nicholas' father bought Olivia's mother's shares for far less than they were worth. Olivia's twin brother was arrested for suspected arson of the flagship store, and the Kane and Chandler families, who had been so very close for three generations became bitter enemies. Nicholas broke Livvy's heart by breaking up with her, just as she was dealing with the utter chaos her life had turned into.
Not that Livvy has been able to forget Nicholas entirely. One night a year, on her birthday, they meet for one night of pure passion, never speaking of the gulf between them the rest of the time. Nicholas can't make himself tell Livvy that he clears his entire schedule and waits impatiently for her text message summoning him to each new encounter. Then, when Olivia turns thirty, there was no message. He waited in vain.
Now Olivia is back in town. Her mother is injured and Livvie is determined to do right by her, even if it means living entirely too close for comfort to Nicholas. He can't stay away from her, even as he knows his father will never accept them resuming their relationship. Can Nicholas atone for the hurt he caused Livvie in the past. Can the two work through their differences and rebel against their warring families' wishes to reconcile or are they both doomed to heart-break once more?
This contemporary romance take on Romeo and Juliet (with a decidedly better final outcome) has been very favourably reviewed on a number of romance sites I frequent online. It was a book club selection book at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books in August and is October's book club selection over on Heroes and Heartbreakers. Having never read anything by Alisha Rai before, I figured this might be a good starting point, and I was not disappointed.
Fair warning - while this book is very steamy (if the protagonists aren't having sex, or there are flashbacks to their previous encounters, they are probably thinking about having sex with the other person), there is also a serious amount of angst. This is a proper enemies to lovers story, where the couple were once so very in love, until their families' complicated intrigues caused them to be forced apart, leading to years of resentment and heartache. Apart from that one night of no-strings passion a year, there has been no contact between them until Olivia returns to her home town for the first time since shortly after her life imploded. For a number of reasons, it's not easy for her to be home, but she hides her pain behind a decidedly tough girl exterior. A talented tattoo artist, Livvie has been travelling the US and perfecting her skill in the past decade. She may seem like she's surrounded by an unbreakable shell, but if anyone can crack through her defences, it's Nicholas.
Nicholas is the chosen heir of a hugely successful business empire, feeling torn constantly between the loyalties to his grandfather and expectations of his domineering father. As both are the majority shareholders, who frequently disagree, Nicholas is caught in the middle, trying his best to keep the peace in the family. He's deeply protective of his younger sister and they both suffer through deeply uncomfortable family dinners weekly, hoping to avoid the worst of their father's angry outbursts. Nicholas doesn't know why his father approached Kane's widow and persuaded her to buy their half of the company for a pittance of what it was worth, neither does his grandfather. Nor do they entirely understand why Livvie's mother would give up her children's legacy without a fight. They are both trying to run the company in a way that honours both founders, even when this goes against the wishes of Nicholas' father.
As well as having a couple of protagonists with their fair share of complicated baggage and a family feud out of the most delicious soap opera, this book portrays depression very well. One of the secrets that Olivia was keeping from Nicholas, even before their youthful love was destroyed by the new rivalry was her occasional bouts of deep depression. After Nicholas broke up with her, she even considered suicide and the only one who knows the truth about this is her twin brother. It's clear that Olivia's mother is also a sufferer, and Livvie is convinced that her clearly incurable affliction is one of the things that makes it impossible for her to ever be with Nicholas, even if they do ever get over their families' objections towards the possible match.
I have mentioned Nicholas' sister and Olivia's twin, as well as their remaining parents. The family ties, although sometimes rather dysfunctional, are strong in this book. Olivia's older brother is dead, but his widow is Livie's best friend and she tries her best to be a presence in both her and her little nephew's life. She rarely has contact with her wayward twin, and her relationship with her mother appears to always have been strained, but Livvie is determined to forge a connection and make things work, now that she's back to help her mother recover from her injury.
Another thing that Ms. Rai does absolutely effortlessly is present a multi-cultural and interesting cast of characters. Olivia and her brother's are half Japanese, half Hawaiian. Her widowed sister-in-law is a Muslim. There are mentions of the grandfather being in internment camps during World War II. I am fully aware that I need to challenge myself to read more diversely and while romance, like most of the other literature I favour, has leaps and bounds to go, authors like Ms. Rai are taking the genre in the right direction.
This is the first book in a trilogy. The second book (out at the end of November - not long now!) seems to be about Jackson, Olivia's twin brother and their older brother's widow, which promises to be another rather dramatic pairing, while the third and final book is about Nicholas' little sister. Both of the books are on my TBR list and I am very much looking forward to both.
Judging a book by its cover: This is a very sexy book and it seems only suitable that it has a cover that really conveys the steaming hot passion between the protagonists. It's unusual to see a romance cover where the cover models seem to accurately reflects the description of the characters in the book, but Avon have done a marvellous job here, especially with the female cover model and her intricate tattoos (that I have to imagine are skillfully photo-shopped onto the lady's arm). Well done, cover department.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Rating: 4 stars
Spoiler warning! This is book 11 in the October Daye series, and because of this it is impossible for me to review this book without revealing spoilers for some of the earlier books. If you want to start at the beginning, the first book is Rosemary and Rue. If you're not entirely caught up, proceed at your own risk.
When the biggest of October "Toby" Daye's worries is whether she's going to be forced to sing karaoke during her bachelorette party, it's safe to say that things are so uncharacteristically calm and normal for her that danger must be right around the corner. Then her mother, Amandine the Liar, shows up on her doorstep imperiously demanding that Toby locate her missing half-sister, August, who has been missing without a trace for over a century. Toby refuses, at which point her mother seizes hostages to ensure Toby's cooperation, including Jazz, Toby's roommate and Tybalt, King of Cats and Toby's fiancee. Both individuals are shapeshifters and forced into their animal forms before the cruel Amandine cages them. Amandine claims she will keep her captives alive until Toby returns with August, but as her mother is not known for her kindness or mental stability and it's clear that Toby will need to act quickly, or risk losing the man she loves forever.
That August has been missing for over a hundred years certainly complicates Toby's mission, as does the fact that the only person who may have any ideas as to her whereabouts is August's own father, Simon Torquill, who is currently unconscious after being elf-shot. Simon is the elf who turned Toby into a fish for fourteen years, causing her to lose her human fiancee and daughter. He is also responsible for the abduction of his twin Sylvester (Toby's liege lord)'s wife and daughter and generally not a very popular individual in the faerie realms. Now Toby has to convince Duke Sylvester to allow her to wake Simon, to compel him to work with her to find August. Of course, she also has to overcome her fear and resentment of him for them to work together, as time is of the essence, and there is no telling how long Tybalt and Jazz will survive in Amandine's indifferent clutches.
Toby has managed the seemingly impossible several times before, but this time she really might be in over her head, and this time, it's not her life on the line if she fails.
I've been reading this series for a long time, and Toby has come a long way. Starting the series disorientated, confused and alone after a long involuntary enchantment, she has not only changed tremendously in a number of ways, but she's acquired a solid and very tight-knit found family. There's obviously Tybalt, King of Cats, who she's planning to marry at some point in the future. May, her Fetch (a former death omen) is now living with her, along with May's girlfriend Jazz. Bulking out the household is Toby's loyal squire Quentin, and more often than not, Tybalt's nephew and heir, Raj. While Toby's aunt, the extremely powerful sea witch, the Luideag, wants to seem ruthless and implacable, it's clear that she also holds incredible affection for Toby and would probably help her more if not bound by ancient promises and customs.
So having the antagonist of this book be Toby's actual family, her mother Amandine, is an interesting choice. The mysterious and powerful faerie has made brief appearances earlier in the series, quite often leaving Toby's life in more chaos than it was before, and Toby has gradually discovered more about herself and her mother, not always things she was happy about. For instance, it wasn't all that long ago that she learned that Simon Torquill, the man who turned her into a fish and left her helpless in the Japanese Tea Gardens in San Francisco for fourteen years, was in fact Amandine's husband and the father of Toby's half-sister August. In her previous appearances, it's been clear that Amandine and Toby don't exactly have a very loving or even close relationship, but when Amandine now comes barging into Toby's life, her absolute disregard for her youngest daughter's wishes and the lengths she will go to force her into doing her bidding is surprising.
Toby is left with no choice but to ask the closest thing she's ever had to a father figure to go against all his instincts. Sylvester has to help her wake his twin Simon from his enchanted sleep, letting the man who so utterly betrayed Sylvester and irreparably hurt his wife, daughter and Toby go free. Sylvester puts a geas, a magical binding, on his brother to prevent Simon from in any way causing harm (or allowing others to harm) Toby, but can't actually compel him to assist her. Toby, of course, has to fight against everything inside her that screams that trusting Simon is a huge mistake. If she doesn't find her half-sister as quickly as possible, both Tybalt and Jazz are likely to end up dead. While May is close to losing it, Toby has to hold it together and get the job done - no matter what the cost.
It'll come as no surprise that she sees new sides to Simon and learns to see his perspective on things during their quest together. I like that all of McGuire's characters are so multi-faceted and complex, there are none who are simply purely good or unforgivably bad. Simon had reasons for all his despicable actions, whether Toby likes them or not. Now that she's in danger of losing the man she loves, she has to ask herself what she would be willing to give up or do to ensure his safety, and it's not a comfortable line of thought.
I can't remember the last October Daye book that wasn't a thoroughly enjoyable and exciting read. This series is one of my absolute favourites in the paranormal/urban fantasy genre and I pre-order each book months before the release date. I'm already looking forward to the next one.
Of Things Unknown - novella: 3 stars
In this novella, included at the end of the book (probably to tempt fans into paying the increased price of the hardback), we get the POV of April O'Leary, who readers were first introduced to in book 2, A Local Habitation. She is something as unusual as a virtual dryad, transplanted by her IT genius adoptive mother inside a computer server after her original tree was destroyed. April's mother, January, lost her life to a serial killer in a series of rather bizarre and unusual murders (which Toby was called in to solve, and eventually did) and January's wife has done her best to raise the unusual young woman/entity since. Now April has been investigating and going through records and suspects she may in fact have discovered something rather remarkable, which would mean wonderful things not just for April and her step-mother, but several of the other individuals who lost loved ones to the serial killer. April just needs to call on Toby to help once more.
This was an ok little bonus story, and I suspect April's discovery might have repercussions later, but it didn't make all that much of an impact on me. I'm hooked enough on this series that I don't need added incentives to buy the books, but it was a nice gesture of Ms. McGuire to include it.
Judging a book by its cover: I normally really like the drawn covers for these books, but it appears they have a new cover model portraying Toby, who bears very little resemblance to the model on the last few books. While they've clearly changed the cover model's appearance in the past (just as Toby herself changes depending on whether her human or faerie background is more dominant in her genetic make-up), this woman looks like Natalie Portman wearing something resembling clown paint, which just seems wrong considering the contents of the book. The background is suitably atmospheric, but I the glossy-haired, overly made up "Toby" on this cover just doesn't work for me.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Sunday, 15 October 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Amani Al-Hiza is poor orphan, raised by uncaring relatives in a small desert town where most inhabitants work in the local mine. She knows that if she doesn't collect enough money to get out soon, she'll end up as third wife to her unpleasant uncle, a fate she would rather die than accept. One night, she disguises herself as a boy and enters a shooting competition at the local watering hole, trying to win enough money to finally leave. She's an excellent shot, and sure that she will win, until she meets the mysterious Jin and things escalate out of control.
A few days later, Jin and Amani are on the run, riding a mythical desert horse and fleeing the armed guards of the empire. Initially, Amani tries to go her own way, she wants nothing more than to get to the capital and reunite with her late mother's younger sister and hopefully stay hidden in the crowded city. Yet her path crosses with Jin faster than she thinks, and she finds herself wanted because of her association to him. They have no choice but to keep running. As they join a caravan to travel through the desert, Amani comes to discover that a lot of the mythical stories she grew up with have more than just a kernel of truth to them. She also grows closer to Jin as they travel, and finds that although she was quite happy to leave him when they first met, after facing dangers together, she will gladly risk her own life if it ensures his safety.
Can a book be classified as a Western if it's set in a distinctly Middle Eastern environment? Does that make it an Eastern instead? There are absolutely Western-like elements during the first half of the book. Amani grows up in a dusty little mining town, and is a crack shot with her revolver. The scenery described is pretty much straight out of a Clint Eastwood movie. But the myths and legends, as well as the geography is decidedly Middle Eastern, like something out of Arabian Nights.
This is a debut novel, and while there are a lot of interesting ideas, there is also a lot that will be familiar to YA readers here. Our heroine is an orphan, growing up with obvious hopes and dreams different from everyone around her. She clearly has unusual abilities and as she goes on her journey, she discovers how special she really is. The country is divided into factions, with the oppressive sultan being challenged by a rebel prince. There's a love interest with a mysterious background, who seems to be connected to the rebels somehow. Nevertheless, the elements were used well, and I found I didn't mind the formulaic aspects too much.
The plot takes quite a few twists and turns, and the story ended up in a very different place from what I was expecting. I've seen some reviews say that they found the book boring, predictable and that Amani and Jin had no chemistry. I disagree with all of them. Anyone expecting a passionate romance should probably look elsewhere. There is a slow-burning attraction here, but the main focus of the story is clearly Amani's both physical and emotional journey away from her origins. She changes and develops a lot as she travels, and learns that many things are different from what she was always raised to believe. She starts out as an outcast and loner, but finds friendship and allies in unexpected places, new causes to believe in and the possibility for a very different future for herself opening up.
I have seen several people compare this book to Walk on Earth a Stranger, probably because both have a female protagonist, Western elements and involve a journey of some sort. But apart from that, I really think it's quite unfair to compare them, and this book certainly features a lot more adventure and unexpected supernatural elements. The first was pretty much a straight up historical novel, this is a fantasy novel, with distinct mythological influences. While I thought the first half of the book was a bit slow-going, the second half picked up enough and went in a surprising enough direction that I am very eager to see where the story goes next. I hope Ms. Hamilton can deliver on the set-up she established in this book.
Judging a book by its cover: I really like the cover design for this book, with the dark desert landscape and the silhouetted rider moving across it at night, with an Arabic city in the background. The yellow and blue waves framing the image, the font chosen and the image invoking adventure and the Middle Eastern setting. Sadly, it looks as if the publishers have chosen a much more generic (and less good) cover design for the second book, which makes me sad.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Sunday, 24 September 2017
The R.I.P challenge (Readers Imbibing Peril) is now in it's 12th year, now with new hosts, over on Estrella's Revenge. Genres included in the challenge are
- Dark fantasy
There are several challenge levels, but since the most advanced one only requires you to read four books, I'm going to do what I always do, which is sign up for Peril the First (4 books), Peril the Second (2 books) and Peril the Third (1 book), making my grand total at least 7 books. I will easily cover that goal in the increasingly darkening autumn months and I like sharing my reviews with new people. So far, I've read three books in September that qualify for the challenge and have another few lined up.
Friday, 22 September 2017
Rating: 4 stars
I'm going to begin by including a brief summary of each of the individual books in the series, before reviewing all books as a whole, as I don't think it's possible for me to talk about my reading experience and impression of these books individually.
My Brilliant Friend
We are introduced to the two protagonists of the series, in our narrator Elena Greco (also sometimes called Lenuccia or Lenu) and her best friend Raffaela (called Lena by most people, but Lila by Elena). As with the great Russian novels, I'm honestly not sure why the nicknames are so different from people's normal names. There's a huge cast of characters in each book, many with a whole host of different monikers. Thankfully there is a handy list at the start of each book so you can keep track.
Anyways, Elena and Lila are young girls growing up in a rough part of post-World War II Naples, a place of poverty and squalor, large families, not to mention organised crime and violence. Elena is the more quiet and nervous of the two, with Lila in some ways her complete opposite, confident and fierce. They start school together and while Elena loves books and learning and strives to apply herself so she'll be allowed to continue in school, Lila is the fiercely brilliant one, having taught herself to read before any of the other children and constantly impressing the strict teacher, even as she clearly makes no efforts to become well-liked. The girls' friendship is defined by their academic rivalry, and while Lila is initially clearly 'the brilliant friend' of the title, things change when her parents won't let her continue her education to secondary school because they need her help at home, while Elena is allowed to continue, as long as she excels.
Nevertheless, while she feels lucky and triumphant at this, Elena can't help but constantly comparing herself to Lila and now does what she can to pass on her knowledge to her friend, even as their paths seem to diverge more and more, changing their friendship as their spheres become ever more different. As they grow older and hit puberty, Elena once more feels overshadowed by Lila, who while a late bloomer becomes one of the neighbourhood beauties, while Elena feels gawky and unattractive. While she keeps struggling to stay in school, Lila is being courted by the most popular young men in the area and looks to be maturing away from Elena for good.
The Story of a New Name
Lila has gotten married to one of the richest young men in the neighbourhood and as a result changed the fortunes of her entire family, but Elena is deeply worried about her, and with good reason it seems. Married life is not at all what Lila expected and while she's able to live a life of leisure and glamour, she is clearly not very happy either. She uses the admiration of the powerful (and possibly Mob connected) Solara brothers to further her family's ambitions, even though neither her father nor her brother seems to have much in the way of actual drive or business acumen.
Elena, meanwhile, continues her education and starts considering a career as a writer, and pines in her infatuation of the older, intellectual Nino Sarratore. At times, she has barely any contact with Lila, but even as they stay competitive and occasionally jealous of each other, they share a bond that refuses to be broken, and whenever Lila really needs her, Elena can't help but return to aid her.
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay
This book is set in the 1970s and both our protagonists are now grown women. Lila has left her abusive husband and taken her son with her, living in a very rough area and working herself to the bone in a sausage factory. She's living platonically with one of her childhood friends, Enzo, who tries to support them as best he can as a labourer, while taking evening classes on computer science on the side. Elena, meanwhile, has finished college and published a novel to fair acclaim. She meets and marries a promising young university professor from an esteemed family, moving away from her family in Naples to settle in Florence, growing more separated from her volatile best friend. Even living in very different circumstances, in different parts of the country, their lives still connect and their bond remains, if fraught and threatened at times.
The Story of the Lost Child
The final book in the series sees Elena and Lila into middle age, with great changes having taken place in their lives. Having divorced her husband and left Florence, Elena moves back to Naples to be with her lover, Nino Sarratore, despite his reluctance to actually leave his wife and commit fully to her. Lila, on the other hand, having taken night classes with her partner Enzo has surpassed even his skill with computers and programming and is now a wealthy and successful employer and entrepreneur in their old neighbourhood, now supporting not only her family, but her ex-husband Stefano, whose family fortunes are lost and seemingly having even the dangerous Solara brothers under her control.
Lila and Elena rekindle their sometimes very antagonistic, competitive and conflicted friendship as they experience pregnancy together and eventually, live as neighbours in the same building. When tragedy strikes for Lila, and her little daughter disappears, Lila and Elena's fortunes yet again seem to reverse, taking their relationship in new and unexpected directions.
My discussion of these books will contain some spoilers, because there was a major through line in the books that drove me absolutely mad, and I won't be able to give my honest opinion without discussing it. I will try to mark the relevant section carefully though, so it can be avoided by those who dislike such things.
These books have been translated into a number of languages and are lauded and praised by critics world-wide. While these books have a huge cast of characters and span decades, at the heart it chronicles the intimate lives of two women and I think it's
Judging the books by their covers: I don't really have a lot more to say than that I really like the covers for these books and their slightly nostalgic feel.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Monday, 11 September 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Natasha is desperately trying to keep her family from being deported, after her father, an illegal immigrant got a DUI and attracted the police's attention. She's been in the USA since she was six and barely remembers her life back in Jamaica anymore. She's doing well in school and loves science and technology. She certainly doesn't believe in love at first sight, or fated mates or fairytale endings. Even after she meets Daniel on a crowded New York street and he insists that they are meant to be.
Daniel's parents are immigrants from South Korea and he's never stepped a foot out of line, being the well-behaved younger son. Now he's on his way to an admissions interview to get into a college he doesn't really want to go to. He'd much rather live out his dream, writing poetry, but then his parents are likely to disown him. He sees Natasha in a crowd and is instantly struck by her. He insists he can make her fall in love with him over the course of a day, but that means they need to spend the whole day together.
I finished this book at the end of August, before my social media feeds and all the newspapers became full of the disastrous news that the Trump administration plans to terminate the DACA program. I read the book because it fit into my Monthly Keyword Challenge, but it turns out that I possibly couldn't have chosen a better time to read and review this book. Reading about the desperate plight of a daughter of illegal immigrants, who never had a choice about coming to the US, trying her very best to avoid being deported was affecting enough before I knew that hundreds of thousands of young people were facing the same terrifying fate.
Earlier this year, I read Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon and liked it, but this book deals with much more serious concerns. There is a bit of a fairytale quality to Natasha and Daniel's coincidental meeting and adventures on the New York streets - can two people actually fall in love over the course of a day and do they stand a chance when their families are clearly going to be against their relationship, even if Natasha actually does succeed and her family gets to stay in the country?
Yet part of what Yoon explores in this book is coincidences and the strange ways in which lives are connected in this great big universe. How lives touch each other in big or small way, and how one momentary decision or action can have wider repercussions for so many other people. As well as including chapters from Natasha and Daniel's points of view, we get the story of how Daniel's parents came to America, how Nathasha's father's life turned out completely different from what he expected. There are chapters giving us insight into the life of the security guard who Natasha has met multiple times when trying to get her case changed, and a number of other people, whose lives are in some way affected by either of the teenagers or people around them.
While this book absolutely qualifies as a romance, it covers a number of themes, one of the more serious of which is obviously immigration, both legal and illegal. Daniel's family don't need to worry about sudden arrest and deportation, but as the son of two ambitious immigrants, it's difficult for Daniel to forge his own path, without disappointing his parents, who worked so hard to give him the best possible life. There are Natasha's mother, who has to work two jobs to support her family, and Natasha's father, who dreams of being an actor and has had to realise that his dreams are unlikely to ever come true.
While I had little interest to see the movie adaptation of Everything, Everything, a quick internet search confirms that this book is also being adapted, and this is a story I think would work really well on the screen. Based on the two novels of hers I've now read, I am absolutely going to keep an eye on anything else Ms. Yoon publishes. She's an excellent YA author.
Judging a book by its cover: The cover image is actually made up of tons of different coloured yarn and made by designer Dominique Falla. As one of the underlying themes of the book is exactly how people connect and change impact on each other's lives in big or small ways throughout life, the web with so many different coloured strands is really cool and rather unusual. The colours chosen are all really vibrant and draw the eye in a good way as well.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.