Monday, 22 September 2014

#CBR6 Book 104: "The Witch with No Name" by Kim Harrison - DOUBLE CANNONBALL!

Page count: 512 pages
Rating: 4 stars

This is the thirteenth and final book in the Hollows series, and as such, a really very stupid place to start reading. Start at the beginning with Dead Witch WalkingI also shouldn't have to tell you that this book will most likely contain spoilers for previous books in the series. You have been warned. Proceed at your own risk.

Rachel Morgan's life hasn't exactly been peaceful since she decided to become an independent runner and start her own business with her vampire friend Ivy and the pixy Jenks. There's been a lot of water under the bridge, extensive property damage, loved ones lost, secrets uncovered, truths discovered, villains vanquished and new alliances made. Rachel is an entirely different person, much more skilled in her magical abilities. She's found happiness with the man she once considered her worst enemy and while she fears that happiness is temporary, even though he's pretty much sacrificed much of his wealth and reputation in order to be with her, she is willing to take what she can get for as long as she can get it.

Of course, she's not going to live much longer if she doesn't figure out a way to save the souls of the vampires in Cincinnati. Rynn Cormel, leader of the vampire faction, is sick of waiting for Rachel to find a magical solution and threatens not just her life, but that of her best friend, Ivy, if she doesn't come up with a fix. The demons who she could once have counted on helping her are shunning her, and Al, her former mentor has threatened to kill her because he feels she has betrayed him by choosing Trent. To make matters worse, Ellasbeth wants custody and is willing to ally with Landon, weaselliest of all the elves to achieve her goals. In order to gain control over the elven council and wrest power away from the vampires for good, Landon may do something drastic enough to destroy all magic. Sorting all of this out is all in a day's work for Rachel Morgan.

I've been reading this series since 2005. It's one of the first paranormal series I can remember really being hooked on. It was such a lovely surprise to discover that while book 12, The Undead Pool, was released on schedule in February, I didn't actually have to wait a whole year to read the conclusion of the series. Of course, I also dreaded the ending, because these characters have been part of my world for such a long time.

I love how far Rachel has come and how, through it all, she's stayed true to herself. One of the reasons I've liked her so much as a protagonist is that she isn't perfect. She's brave, and stubborn and loyal to a fault and will frequently throw herself into insanely dangerous situations if it means protecting one of the people close to her. She's had to learn that there is more between heaven and earth than used to exist in her philosophy and she's become a better person with it.

There are so many things Harrison needs to finish off in this final book, and I sort of wish she'd managed to do it with a plot that didn't feel so messy. There is a lot going on here, and I didn't actually care all that much about quite a lot of it. There were a lot of threats to characters that I cared about, but the resolution of some of the plots felt confusing and a bit haphazard. I'm not sure exactly what I was hoping for or expecting, but while the book was good, it sadly wasn't great. I'm not going to complain, too much though. It's not like Rachel ended up with Sam in the end, just because he's the only dude she hasn't hooked up with. Endings are always tricky. You need to tie up all the story lines and try to satisfy all the readers who have followed your books for years and years. I thank Kim Harrison for the years she's devoted to these characters and this fascinating urban fantasy world. It's going to be fun to re-read the whole series from the beginning.

And with that, I complete my double Cannonball.

#CBR6 Book 103: "The Winter Long" by Seanan McGuire

Page count: 358 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

This is book eight in the October Daye series, and as such, NOT a great place to start reading the books. If you want to start at the beginning, Rosemary and Rue is the book you're looking for. It is also, by this point, completely impossible for me to review the book without some spoilers for earlier books in the series. You may therefore want to skip this review until you've caught up, if you're worried about that sort of thing.

You'd think things would finally be looking up for October "Toby" Daye, changeling knight, rescuer of lost children. There is finally a Queen of the Mists that actually likes her, she's discovered the true identity of her squire and her relationship is just getting stronger. Then the man she's feared and hated ever since he abducted her liege lord's wife and daughter and transformed her into a fish for over a decade, ruining the life she once had, turns up on her doorstep and claims he needs her help. She also discovers that Simon Torquill is a much more significant person in her life than she ever imagined, and that he believes he was saving her life by merely making her a carp in the Japanese Tea Gardens. His mysterious employer actually wanted him to kill Toby.

Toby wants nothing to do with Simon Torquill and is terrified that his return means that her liege, Sylvester, or his family are in danger. As it turns out, unless she manages to identify who Simon's sinister employer is, all those she loves might perish. Her enemy is someone from her past, but much more dangerous and ruthless than Toby ever imagined.

In the acknowledgements at the beginning of the book, Seanan McGuire confesses that this is the book the entire series has been building towards. This is the first book in the series she had fully plotted, and all that's gone before has been leading to this point. It therefore has much of the same feel as Changes by Jim Butcher or Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews. So many characters and plot lines that I thought were finished long ago suddenly take on new significance. I actually managed to figure out who the villain was just a tiny while before it was revealed, but only because I racked my brain by going through all possible suspects.

I've always liked the covers for the October Daye books, and hadn't realised just how appropriate the cover for this book is until after I finished actually reading it. Fans of the series will know that Toby's clothes rarely survive for long without being soaked completely in her own or someone else's blood, and if you look closely, her t-shirt isn't actually naturally red. A gruesome and very accurate detail, in a genre where the covers are often cringe-worthy in their badness.

With every new book, Toby discovers more about herself and who she is. Her mother has never exactly been a steady presence in her life, but here Toby realises that there are more family secrets buried than she ever could have imagined. When members of her actual family can't be relied on, it's a great comfort to her to have her chosen family around her, in Quentin, May, Tybalt, Raj and the Luidaeg. It's obvious that while the series as a whole has been leading to this book, this is by no means the end, and it's going to be very interesting to see where Seanan McGuire takes her characters in the coming books.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

#CBR6 Book 102: "Hounded" by Kevin Hearne

Page count: 304 pages
Audio book length: 9 hrs 43 mins
Rating: 4 stars

I'm sorry, but if I'm ever going to reach my double Cannonball, I'm going to have to cut corners somewhere:

Atticus O'Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbours and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old, when in actuality, he's twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: he draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword, known as Fragarach, the Answerer.

Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he's hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down, and Atticus will need all his power - plus the help of a seductive goddess of death, his vampire and werewolf team of attorneys, a bartender possessed by a Hindu witch, and some good old-fashioned luck of the Irish - to kick some Celtic arse and deliver himself from evil. 

Having at long last caught up with the Dresden Files and with others of the current paranormal series that I've been following for years already finished (the Southern Vampire Mysteries/Sookie Stackhouse books although Lord knows it was hard going to hang on till the end) or about to finish (Kim Harrison's the Hollows series - review of final book to follow soon), I felt the need to try out some new paranormal/urban fantasy books, and this is one I've seen mentioned in positive terms by a lot of people on the internet that I trust. Since I also have more Audible credits than I know what do do with now that I'm no longer downloading a Jim Butcher book a month, I decided to get Hounded as an audio book, even though I was also given the paperback as a gift for my birthday last year. The good thing about that is that I get the correct pronunciation of all the Celtic/Gaelic names, which tend to be spelled one way and pronounced wildly differently. I liked Christopher Ragland's narration style, but he's not as excellent as James Marsters on the Dresden books.

But what did you actually think of the book, I hear my readers complain? As the first instalment of an urban/paranormal fantasy series, it really was a lot better than many others that come to mind. As fellow readers of this genre are probably aware, it can take anything from one to three (or in the case of the Dresden Files - four) books for the characters, world building and story to be fully established and the series to get really engrossing and entertaining. Unless the books are very frustrating indeed, I'm always willing to read at least two in a series to see if I'm going to stick with it. Kevin Hearne managed to get me, if not hooked, certainly interested enough to keep reading. It wasn't even Atticus as the main character, although he is a lot more likable than say Harry Dresden, Kate Daniels or Toby Daye in his first book. What really got me curious to try more books was the rich gallery of supporting characters, including Oberon the hilarious wolfhound, the Morrigan and the little old lady (who's name slips my mind) who Atticus helps do yard work.

As far as I can see, there are seven books so far in the series, all rated higher than 4.0 on Goodreads. While that doesn't always mean all that much (after all, Edenbrooke, the worst book I read in 2012, is rated 4.35 and This Heart of Mine, the worst book I've read this year, is rated 4.12), I choose to see it as a promising indicator of the quality of the series. I'll try to portion the books out slowly, so I don't catch up with the series too fast. I already spend way too much of my time waiting for new installments of my book series to come out.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR6 Book 101: "The Silver Metal Lover" by Tanith Lee

Page count: 291 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Jane lives a pampered and privileged life, the only child of a wealthy and influential woman. She's lonely, insecure and immature. She has no real friends, just people who mainly seem to take pleasure in bullying her. One day, she encounters a robot minstrel, one in a new line of highly realistic, artificially intelligent androids and her life is never the same. Though she is initially frightened by the robot, she's also fascinated by him and can't put him out of her mind.

She runs away from home, giving up everything just to be with Silver, as she names her robot lover. She learns to fend for herself and makes a life on her own. She refuses any contact with her mother or former "friends" and begins to discover a wholly different, much happier existence. Yet the factory who first created Silver wants all the advanced robots destroyed and they are searching for Jane and Silver. How long until their happy romance comes to an end?

The Silver Metal Lover was written in 1981 and for as long as I've been reading young adult fiction with any sort of romantic element, this book has been on my radar. It appears on countless lists of romantic YA and has clearly meant a great deal to a lot of readers over the years. Yet the book never seemed to interest me all that much, probably because science fiction is not a genre I read all that much and robots are a lot less appealing to me than vampires, werewolves, faeries and witches. When this was the alt book in Vagina Fantasy book club in August, and the book also fit with my Monthly Key Word AND Monthly Motif reading challenges, I decided to check it out. I suspect that it would have made a much greater impact on me if I read it when I was actually a teen in the mid-90s than it did now.

First of all, Jane really is somewhat of an exhausting protagonist. She cries ALL the damn time. She cries so much she even points out that it's amazing she doesn't dehydrate herself from all of it. She's lived a sheltered and not very exciting life, so it's not actually surprising that she has the personality of a wet sponge, I just really didn't like her much at all. Even when she developed the backbone to run away to be with her robot lover, I didn't like her all that much. The best thing she had going for her was that every single character in the book, with the exception of Silver was so much worse than her.

Silver was pretty cool actually. I prefer my robots more of the Terminator variety, frankly, but as sentient robots go, he wasn't bad. I'm sure he could have done better than Jane though. Their romance didn't really work for me, as I found Jane dull as dish-water. The book had an interesting concept, but there are just so many better YA sci-fi romances out there now, and while it was a perfectly ok book, it didn't wow me in any way. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR6 Book 100: "Across a Star-Swept Sea" by Diana Peterfreund

Page count: 464 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

Set in a different part of the same post-apocalyptic world as For Darkness Shows the Stars, this book is more of a companion novel than a sequel. The two islands of New Pacifica are Albion (think a futuristic pacific islander England) and Galatea (sci-fi revolutionary France). In Albion they have democracy and happily genetically alter their bodies to be their very best selves. Princess Isla is the regent of Albion until her toddler brother comes of age, because while they are big on genetic engineering, they also seriously underestimate women and still believe in primogeniture. In Galatea, the general population rebelled against their tyrannical despot of a queen and are currently subduing all of their former nobility with drugs that pretty much chemically lobotomise them. Unfortunately, as Revolutions are wont to do, things are starting to go a bit pear-shaped, with those in power Reducing (giving the drugs to) anyone not entirely agreeing with their point of view. The leaders of the glorious revolution have become as bad as the leader they initially rebelled against.

The Wild Poppy is an Albian spy who through a series of rescue missions liberate Galatean citizens, taking them to safety in Albion. Because everyone is incredibly sexist and no one believes that women are any good at anything, it is assumed that the Wild Poppy is a man. This suits Lady Persis Blake perfectly, as no one would suspect that the vapid, teenage socialite and best friend to the Princess Regent of Albion is in fact the most talked about spy in New Pacifica. Along with some of her friends, she risks her life repeatedly to rescue Galateans from the Reign of Terror they are under. Making very sure that no one remembers that a few years ago, Persis Blake was one of the most brilliant and promising young minds in Albion, Persis instead acts like every single fashionista party girl you can imagine. She's princess Isla's BFF and fashion adviser, throws the best parties and knows all the good gossip. She's also brave, excellent at disguises, brilliant at deflecting unwanted attention and a loyal friend to the beleaguered young queen.

Justen Helo is a Galatean medic who is deeply disenchanted with the direction the revolution is taking. He wants to defect to Albion and help find a cure for the all the people who have been chemically Reduced. Princess Isla wants it publicly known that Helo has defected from Galatea and decides that he and Persis should pretend to be an item, something neither of the two are all that happy about. Yet the princess gets what she wants, and Persis and Justen have to pretend to be madly in love. He believes she's a narcissistic socialite with nothing more serious on her mind than what she's going to wear next, never realising that she's the genius hero behind all the daring rescues. He wants to find a cure for the chemical Reduction which his guardian, the head of the Galatean revolution is responsible for, as well as rescuing his sister who is still in Galatea. As they spend more time together, they banter and argue and obviously grow more attracted to one another. Persis knows that Justen despises her chosen persona, but can't risk showing him her true self.

There are so many excellent female characters in this book. Persis is an amazing heroine, all the more remarkable because she's just seventeen. Her friendships with princess Isla and Andrine, another of the members of the Wild Poppy league are realistic and nuanced and it's great to see these young women taking advantage of the prejudices of the society they live in, in order to make the world a better place and save lives, without ever asking for credit or glory. While I didn't like her much (she is one of the villains, after all) Vania Aldred, Justen's foster sister, is also an impressive and strong female character trying to prove herself in the Galatean army but constantly being underestimated and accused of only gaining her position thanks to nepotism. Justen's sister Remy, while young, clearly also wants to make a difference and make a name for herself, even if she has to risk her life to do so.

Peterfreund's world building is a thing of beauty and I am simply not doing the plot or the richness of the environment these books are set in justice in my review. I love The Scarlet Pimpernel and this was such a cool gender reversed science fiction re-imagining of it. Lady Persis Blake is in many ways even more of an impressive hero than Sir Percy Blakeney, because he was a very wealthy and fully grown man. Persis is rich, to be sure, but she's also just a teenage girl, running a spy ring consisting mainly of other teenagers. It makes her feats even more impressive. Of the two books, this was absolutely my favourite. I'm so glad I finally got round to reading these books.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

#CBR6 Book 99: "For Darkness Shows the Stars" by Diana Peterfreund

Page count: 416 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Laziness makes me resort to the Goodreads synopsis once again:

It's been several generations since a genetic experiment gone wrong caused the Reduction, decimating humanity and giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed most technology.

Elliot North has always known her place in the world. Four years ago Elliot refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, choosing duty to her family's estate over love. Since then the world has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists are jumpstarting the wheel of progress, and Elliot's estate is foundering, forcing her to rent land to the mysterious Cloud Fleet, a group of shipbuilders that include renowned explorer Captain Malakai Wenthforth - an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliot wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot exactly what she gave up when she let him go. 

But Elliot soon discovers her old friend carries a secret - one that could change their society...or bring it to its knees. And again, she's faced with a choice: cling to what she's been raised to believe, or cast her lot with the only boy she's ever loved, even if she's lost him forever.

Inspired by Jane Austen's Persuasion, For Darkness Shows the Stars is a breathtaking romance about opening your mind to the future and your heart to the one person you know can break it. 

I bought this book in an e-book sale a while back, based on the enthusiastic review on Forever Young Adult. Then, as so often is the case, I forgot all about it. This summer, my fellow Cannonballers scotsa1000 and bonnie both reviewed it excellently and reminded me that I owned it and should probably do myself the favour of reading it.

I suspect the book works well as a piece of dystopian young adult even for readers that have never read Persuasion. It may possibly also tempt younger readers to check out Jane Austen's classic novel. Ever since her mother passed, Elliot has been working herself nearly to death, trying to take care of the workers on her family's estate, while her father and sister ignore their increasingly dire financial situation and live a life of indolence and leisure. Elliot's father thinks nothing of exploiting his dependents or destroying a field of valuable crops to build himself a race track. When the famed admiral of the Cloud Fleet offers a substantial amount amount of money to rent her grandfather's home and ship yard, she has no choice but to agree.

She never expected to see the boy she loved all grown up into an imposing and famous man, now a lauded and wealthy explorer. Born on the same day, Kai and Elliot became friends as children, despite the difference in their stations and Elliot's father's objections. Kai initially only wanted to become the estate's mechanic, but developed more radical ideas as he grew older, finally running away in search of a better life when his life on the estates became too stifling. Not realising that Elliot rejected him not because she didn't love him, but because she knew the estate and all the people on it would be doomed if she left, the returned Malakai treats her coldly and tries to avoid her as much as possible.

My main complaint with this novel is probably how reticent and self-sacrificing Elliot stays throughout the story. She's clearly strong, responsible, loyal and brave, but I desperately wanted her to speak up and fight for herself and her happiness. Of course, Anne Elliot doesn't confront Wenthworth in Persuasion, but pines dolefully, so it's not surprising that Elliot never shouts angrily at Kai to make him realise why she couldn't go with him and why he's being so unreasonable towards her. Peterfreund never entirely convinced me as to why Kai was a worthy romantic hero. Kai acts cold and unpleasant for so much of the book, with less than entirely believable characterisation or exposition showing why Elliot loved him so much.

The world building of the book is excellent, though. A world where scientific experiments and genetic engineering has pretty much wiped out humanity is an interesting concept as was the social order established afterwards. It's quite clear that the pretty much feudal society here needs to evolve and change, though and Kai and his new Post-Reductionist friends show the fascinating possibilities the future might hold, if people are brave enough to try to change.

My next review will be of the companion novel to this book - based on another of my favourite classics - The Scarlet Pimpernel. I'm now also very interested in checking out other of Peterfreund's books.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

#CBR6 Book 98: "Isla and the Happily Ever After" by Stephanie Perkins

Page count: 352 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Isla has been in love with Josh since their first year together at the American boarding school in Paris, but he's been unattainable for most of her time there. Instead she's been pining for him from a distance, hanging out with her platonic BFF Kurt (who has Aspergers' Syndrome). Now in their final year together, it looks as if all of Isla's dreams are coming true. Josh not only notices her, he wants to be her boyfriend! True love's path doesn't exactly run smoothly though, and when Josh gets expelled and sent back to New York, Isla and Josh discover that they're really going to have to fight for their Happily Ever After.

This is the final book in the Anna and the French Kiss trilogy. All three books can easily be read without any prior knowledge of the other books, but this book may be more satisfying if you've read at the other two, as the main characters show up as supporting cast during parts of the story.

The son of a successful senator and an aspiring graphic novelist, Josh Wasserman isn't really happy at his posh boarding school in Paris (I really want to smack all these ingrate kids who don't realise how good they have it). As a result, he's been acting out a lot over the years, which comes to a head after he convinces Isla to break school rules and go to Barcelona with him for a few days. As she's got a fairly spotless record, she just gets a month's detention, but he is fetched home by his furious mother.

Isla is very smart, but clearly deeply insecure about her relationship to Josh. She's a very good friend to Kurt, but she can be quite self-centred at times, and while she's very close to her older sister, she clearly pretty much completely ignores and/or underestimates her younger sister for much of the book. While Josh has all sorts of hopes and dreams for the future, Isla keeps working for that perfect grade point average, but doesn't actually have any idea what she wants to do with her future. She is entirely directionless and it scares her. She's also completely convinced that she's not really worth loving and when things start getting tough between her and Josh, she seems to think that sabotaging the relationship before things get more difficult is the way to go. Silly girl.

Of all of Perkins' heroines, Isla is probably the one with the most character growth over the course of the story (and all three girls do a fair bit of growing up) and she discovers that in order to have a proper HEA, she doesn't just need to make things right with Josh, but make herself happy in other areas of her life. While Isla has a very close friendship with Kurt, she clearly underestimates his ability to socialise with others and has to face up to the harsh truth that she may be the reason they have very few friends at school, not Kurt and his Aspergers'. The reason her younger sister is such a brat may be because Isla never takes her even a little bit seriously.

Josh is sweet, but he can't compete with Cricket as my favourite of Perkins' heroes. I also found his way of dealing with his dissatisfaction with school annoying. His parents really don't seem like bad people and it seemed strange to me that he didn't try to communicate with them more, but then, he is a teenager, and they are not always rational or sensible.

What I do like about the book is that it really does show both sides of a relationship, not just the happy flush of first love and infatuation, but that some couples really have to work to find lasting happiness and long distance relationships are not just fun and games. I will keep an eye out for Perkins' next book and hope it's as good as her first three.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.