Monday, 15 December 2014

#CBR6 Book 135: "The Promise in a Kiss" by Stephanie Laurens

Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Sixteen year old Helena de Stansion, Comtesse D'Lisle, is spending Christmas Eve wandering around the gardens of the convent where her sister is recuperating from illness when a man suddenly drops down into the convent garden pretty much on top of her. Assuming the man is fleeing from something clandestine, she lies to the nuns and the guards when the approach her to ask if she's seen someone on the grounds. As a thank you for protecting him, the handsome stranger gives her a kiss.

Seven years later, while in England trying to find a suitable husband, Helena discovers that the man who kissed her is none other than Sebastian Cynster, the Duke of St. Ives. Helena's autocratic guardian has signed a document giving her permission to choose her own husband, should his title, wealth and landholdings be equal to or surpassing her own. Helena is determined to get away from the demands of her guardian and want someone as different from him as possible as her husband. A nice, kind man who won't try to control her. One short meeting with St. Ives, and it's obvious that he is just as controlling and arrogant as her guardian, if not more so. He has also sworn not to marry, but delighted to see her again, offers to help her find a suitable match. Helena is convinced that he has designs to be her lover, and if he aids her in finding a biddable husband, she will be more easily seduced.

St. Cyr hasn't really forgotten Helena either, and while he is not announcing his intentions to find a wife publicly, the machinations of his tiresome sister-in-law has made him reconsider his vow never to marry. When he discovers that the lovely girl he met seven years ago is now a beautiful and spirited young woman, with a temper and an iron will to match his own, he's pretty sure he's found the woman he wants to share his future with. He pretends he wants to help her find a match so he can spend more time with her and get to know her better. He finally manages to convince her that he wants her as a wife, not just as a mistress, when further complications occur.

It turns out that Helena's guardian and St. Cyr have a history, and that St. Cyr once won a valuable dagger in a wager. Now Helena's guardian wants it back, and he intends for Helena to steal it, or her sister will be in terrible danger. Helena has to decide whether she will betray the man she is growing to love or the sister she adores.

I've never read any Stephanie Laurens, but a quick Wikipedia search shows me that she has written a truly staggering amount of romances, mostly focusing on the romantic exploits of various Cynster family members. This book is chronologically the first in the series and as such set in Georgian times, rather than the Regency. Sebastian and Helena are a fun couple and in some of their interactions, they reminded me of Falconbridge and Genevieve in Julie Anne Long's What I Did for a Duke. I suspect older, worldly, archly sarcastic nobleman and younger spirited woman will always bring that to mind now.

I bought the book in an Amazon sale more than a year ago, probably on the recommendation of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (I buy a lot of romance that way) and promptly forgot about it until this month's Monthly Key Word Challenge, where it qualifies twice (promise and kiss). It's also set around Christmas, which made it impossible to pass up. It's a fun read, even though the main complication in the lovers' way involves a misunderstanding that could have been much more easily solved through simple conversation and honesty. Still, when the truth is out and all the cards are on the table, I will give Laurens thanks, because St. Cyr reacts in a very logical way to Helena's secrets and the resolution is both action packed and exciting. Possibly a bit silly and melodramatic, but I enjoyed it a lot. I'm not sure I'm going to be actively seeking out more of Laurens' books, but if they show up in another e-book sale, I'm not ruling out buying more.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

#CBR6 Book 134: "An Echo in the Bone" by Diana Gabaldon

Page count: 1126 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Disclaimer! If you haven't read the previous six books in the series, there will be minor spoiler in this review. Proceed at your own risk. 

Having finally completed my epic re-read of the previous books in the series at a page count total that is frankly obscene, I finally got to read a new to me Diana Gabaldon. When this book first came out in 2009, I just didn't have the energy to expend on re-reading the whole series to catch up and I decided to just put it off. With book eight in the series being published earlier this year, the very entertaining TV series making me remember what I love so much about Gabaldon's writing and the excellent online company/support group I am part of over on Facebook to discuss the books with, I was a lot more motivated to get through the series now. Yet it still took me more than a month to get through this. 

There is so much I love about Gabaldon's writing. Jamie and Claire have been part of my life for a very long time, and I generally find most of the stuff involving them very interesting. But since pretty much book 3, these books aren't really just the continuing adventures of Jamie and Claire Fraser in the 18th Century. There's Brianna and Roger and their kids, now back in Scotland in the early 1980s (which I'm freaking out about a bit, because that's within MY lifetime). There is Jamie's best friend, Lord John Grey, who, when he's not trying to figure out why his niece is pretending to be madly in love with his stepson and hell bent on going to America to be reunited with him, goes about doing not much of anything obviously important or interesting for two thirds of this book. There's said stepson, Jamie's illegitimate offspring, William, the Eight Earl of Ellesmere, who is now a soldier in the British Army. He gets recruited for spy missions, but doesn't seem very good at it. He travels to Canada and back. There are letters between him and his stepfather which may be super interesting for people who are a lot more into the American War of Independence than I am, but to me, it was the literary equivalent of watching paint dry. So much boring.

Jamie and Claire have decided to go to Scotland to fetch Jamie's printing press. Jamie absolutely does not want to get involved in the war, because doing so might mean that he will face his son on the battlefield. The Frasers bring along their nephew, young Ian MacKenzie, because Jamie swore to his sister that he would bring the lad home, and while it's taken quite a long time, and Ian has both been adopted by a Native American tribe, married, divorced and experienced the loss of a child in that time, it would still be good for him to be reunited with his parents. Many many complications arise on their way. It again takes them the best end of the book to actually arrive in Scotland, but because much of their story was action packed and dramatic, I have no real complaint about their sections.

In the future, Roger and Bree have bought Lallybroch and are trying to make a home there. Bree gets a job working for the Scottish hydro-electric board, and Roger debates whether he wants to become a minister after all. They have a stash of letters written to them by Bree's parents, so they can follow along in the continuing adventures of Jamie and Claire, while worrying because they keep ending up in historically significant places and close to or in the midst of important events. Roger is trying to put down everything they know about time travel in writing and their family are settling in nicely when they have a very unexpected visitor about the same time as it is obvious that someone in the village not only knows about the gold Jamie and Claire hid way back in the 18th Century, but are willing to go to rather extreme steps to get to it.

As I said, far more of the book than I cared about is devoted to young William Ransom and Lord John Grey. I love Lord John, he's a great supporting character. I laugh every time I think about how Bree tried to coerce him into marriage. Reading about him in London, talking to his brother about irrelevant family matters, or travelling to France to speak to uninteresting individuals or generally just worrying about the safety of his immediate or extended family was super dull. Reading about William was even more boring, and as this was the first time I read the book, I had no idea which bits I could skim or even skip (now I know). There are seriously multiple chapters devoted to William lost in a swamp, deliriously wandering. Not cool, Diana Gabaldon, not cool. He does eventually have his life saved by young Ian in said swamp, but really, there are better ways those two characters could cross paths.

Not content with a supporting character gallery into double figures already, Gabaldon also introduces some new individuals in this book. William's cousin Dottie seems pretty spunky, for all that she's the sheltered daughter of a Duke. It's very obvious to the reader early on that her and William's story about being madly in love is a clever fiction, but it takes much of the book for the reader to discover why Dottie would go to such lengths to get herself to America. Young Ian, who loved and lost his Native American wife, falls in love again with a Quaker, Rachel Hunter. She and her brother Denzell, who is a doctor, join the Continental army as healers and I very much enjoyed everything with them.

I would have rated this book 3 stars based on the first two thirds, but then things really start coming together and becoming super exciting in the last third. It's quite telling that it took me more than a month to read the first two thirds, and about two days to get through the last third. Jamie and Claire finally make it to Scotland. We get to see Jenny and Ian again, and young Ian is reunited with his family. William and young Ian are both clearly a bit in love with Rachel Hunter. There is quite a lot of interaction between William, Ian, Claire and even Jamie. The bits having to do with the Battle of Saratoga were actually quite exciting. While they're in Scotland, Claire discovers that one of Fergus and Marsali's children desperatey needs surgery, so she returns alone to America. There are heart-breaking confirmed deaths, dramatic presumed deaths, dangerous surgeries being performed successfully, lovers reunited, terrible vengeance nearly wreaked, surprise time travellers from the past, abductions, marriages of convenience, long kept family secrets revealed - so much awesome and drama in only a few hundred pages. Why did I have to spend so much time reading about William in a swamp, Diana, when you are capable of such great things? Why not edit your books more!?!

With so many characters and storylines, Gabaldon also gets to have multiple cliffhangers towards the end of her book, making me really very excited for book 8. I'm now glad that I waited as long as I did to catch up, because (once I am done reading the books I need to complete my various reading challenges) I can go straight into Written in My Own Heart's Blood, which has been rated very highly by those Cannonballers who have already read it, and also appears to be only about 850 pages long, so the shortest book in the series for ages. Due to the excellent ending of this book, I'm now all anticipation.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR6 Book 133: "The Blue Sword" by Robin McKinley

Page count: 256 pages
Rating: 5 stars

Having finally read The Hero and the Crown, it felt like it was time for a re-read of the Damar book I had actually read. The Blue Sword is set many centuries after Aerin the Dragon Slayer saved her kingdom from magical threat. Damarians now seem to be chiefly desert dwelling nomads and expert horsemen. They are now threatened both by magic wielding enemies to the north and ignorant colonists from the Homeland (read: Imperialist Britain). Corlath, the Damarian king tries to propose an alliance with the foreigners, but is ignored. He is surprised when his kelar, the magical gift (a bit like clairvoyance, but can also manifest itself in healing powers or destructive ability) all Damarian royals possess tells him that he needs to bring one of the Homeland females with him back to his people.

Burdened with the cumbersome name of Angharad Crewe, it's no surprise our heroine would rather go by Harry. Having come out to join her brother, a soldier stationed near the Damarian border after their father dies, Harry is not much like other the young ladies of gentle birth. She's tall and striking, rather impatient and more interested in riding and adventure than needlepoint and dancing. She finds the wild landscape of the desert beautiful and is just beginning to settle when she wakes up, discovering that desert warriors have abducted her and apparently intend to keep her as some sort of highly honoured hostage. Corlath treats her with every courtesy, she sleeps in his tent, eats her meals seated at his left hand and is allowed to take part in his counsels (not that she understands all that much of the foreign language in the beginning). When she drinks from the Damarians' special water, it starts to become clear why Corlath was compelled by his magic to take her from her own people - despite being a foreigner, she too has kelar and powerful enough that she can make others share in her visions of the future.

In one of her first visions, the legendary Lady Aerin appears to Harry and with threats looming at every turn, Corlath decides that a damalur-sol, a Lady Hero might be exactly what his people need to give them hope and aid them in their coming war. Harry learns to ride like the Damarians, controlling a spirited horse without bridle or stirrups. She becomes proficient with a sword and learns to speak the language. She befriends one of the big desert cats and gets to take part in the trials to find new King's Riders. During her stay with the Damarians, Harry becomes well liked and everyone seems impressed and genuinely pleased when she emerges the victor of the Rider trials (only unable to defeat a disguised Corlath himself). The longer she spends time with Corlath and his nomads, the more comfortable she becomes there. As attack is imminent, it becomes obvious to Harry that Corlath is ignoring a serious security breach and she may have to risk everything she's achieved and defy his will to ensure the safety of all the people she's grown to love.

If Aerin was a bit of an odd duck and outsider among her own people, Harry is much more so. Being quite the independent tomboy, she doesn't really fit in with her own peers and when she is abducted by Corlath, she is a literal Outlander, a stranger in a strange land. Unlike many of her fellow Homelanders, Harry is curious and open minded and with the exception of being magically drugged and spirited away from her bed in the middle of the night, she is extremely well treated by her abductor. Corlath only knows that he has to follow the calling of his kelar and when he discovers that Harry too is magically gifted, and rather strongly so as well, it becomes more clear to him why he was compelled to kidnap her. His country and people need her and being a clever leader and a good reader of people, he uses the opportunity Harry's visions of Aerin presents and has her groomed into a heroine and powerful symbol. Giving her Lady Aerin's legendary sword and making sure she is trained by the best, he helps to turn Harry into a motivating figure for his people.

Corlath might have been a dislikable character for kidnapping Harry, but it's clear that he has little choice in the matter when his hereditary magic takes control. The kelar that the leaders of Damar (as well as some of its other citizens) is gifted with can be as much a crippling curse as a gift. It's clear that ruling a dwindling kingdom threatened by foreign colonials and magically powerful enemies intent on conquest is no easy task, yet Corlath is beloved and respected, not just by his loyal Riders, but all his subjects. He never treats Harry with anything but the utmost respect and with the passage of time, they grow gradually closer.

Harry is thrown into a situation that might have made anyone freak out, but deals remarkably with it. Clearly an adventurous spirit, as soon as it's clear that she's in no danger with Corlath and his people, she tries to learn as much as possible about her new surroundings and the new culture she's become thrust into. She's polite, kind and works diligently to learn her new skills. When she arrives in the desert, she cannot mount a horse without aid, and some months later, she's good enough that she bests all the challengers and wins one of the coveted spots as King's Rider. She tries her best to fit in, but cannot ignore the lessons she's learned as the sister of a military man. Seeing that Corlath's enemies might gain a serious advantage if a strategic mountain pass goes undefended, she risks everything by going off alone to seek aid from the Homeland soldiers to secure the pass.

As well as being a wonderful adventure novel, there is also a subtle and slow-burning romance in the book which completely knocked my socks off the first time I read the book. For all that it's not really openly acknowledged by Corlath or Harry for much of the book, it's quite obvious that they are perfect for each other and it takes an excruciatingly long time before they admit their feelings to themselves or the other. I loved the book the first time I read it, and having now read the prequel, which gives this book even more depth, I am gratified that I enjoyed it just as much now as when I first discovered it. Such a lovely little book.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

#CBR6 Book 132: "Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover" by Sarah Maclean

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

Spoiler warning! It is actually IMPOSSIBLE for me to write about this book without spoiling some pretty major developments that involve all three former Rules for Scoundrels books. If you haven't already read No Good Duke Goes Unpunished, PLEASE stay away from this review and return once you're caught up. You'll enjoy this book so much more if you heed my advice.

The previous three books in the Rules for Scoundrels series told the story of the disgraced noblemen who opened The Fallen Angel, an exclusive and scandalous gambling club in the middle of Mayfair. All deferring to the founder, the mysterious and reclusive, Chase, three other notorious aristocrats are the public face of the club. The Marquess of Bourne lost his entire fortune in one card game and swore revenge on the man who cheated him of his inheritance. Cross, the Earl of Harlow (driven to destruction by the death of his brother) and Temple, the Duke of Lamont (accused of murdering his father's fiancee the night before her wedding) were rescued by Chase when about to be beaten and possibly killed by a London gangs for their rigged games. Over the course of the series, all three men have found redemption of a sorts in the eyes of society and are happily married to the women of their dreams.

Frequently, the final book in a romance series is saved for the darkest, most complicated and emotionally messed up characters, more often than not the hero, as romance heroines seem to be less prone to extremely emo behaviour. There are exceptions, of course Chase is certainly the most mysterious, and a fascinating and complex individual. What is revealed at the end of book three in this series, however, is that the founder of The Fallen Angel, the mysterious mastermind who controls three other powerful men, the reclusive genius who possesses all the secrets and blackmail material worth knowing, is in fact a woman. Both the daughter of and sister of a Duke, Lady Georgina Pearson lived a sheltered life, desperate for affection, until she believed herself in love with a handsome stable hand and became a scandal. An unwed mother at sixteen, she became a cautionary tale to others in "polite" society, gossipped about and shunned. Liberated from the strictures of the same society, Georgina didn't particularly mind so much until the gossip started hurting her beloved daughter. Motivated initially by a desire for revenge, she acquired the funds to start the club, recruited partners who had been as unfairly cast out and judged by the aristocracy as herself and over the course of six years, positioned herself to become possibly the most powerful influence in London.

In addition to her secret identity as Chase, Georgiana has a more public persona in the club, as Anna, the courtesan believed to be Chase's mistress, and a prostitute with very exclusive tastes. Hiding in plain sight, wearing bright colours, wigs, flashy makeup and flirting with the patrons, Georgiana is able to move about the club and interact with its members, who all believe her to be Chase's emissary. No one becomes a member of The Fallen Angel except by invitation and the only way to gain membership is with secrets. Georgiana and her partners have files on all the powerful and influential men and women in London and won't hesitate to use their secrets to devastating effects if the debts owed to the club are not paid promptly. They release juicy tidbits to Duncan West, newspaper magnate and self-made man, who increases his circulation because of the choice gossip.

After a malicious cartoon was published in The Scandal Sheet, the gossip magazine owned by West, Georgiana is forced to rethink her priorities. Caroline, her daughter, is nearly ten and Georgiana is worried that her scandalous past is going to keep her child from the life and opportunities that said daughter deserves. Whether it's being raised in the country by relatives or kept locked up in a London Casino, neither situation is ideal for a child. Every time they go out into Society, there is gossip, and people are rarely kind enough to shield the child from snide remarks. Even other children judge and condescend. As a result, Georgina has decided to find a titled husband. One whose influence will shield Caroline and give her the future she deserves. It needs to be a man satisfied with a marriage of convenience, as Georgiana has no intention of letting herself fall under the power of another man, ever again.

At a ball early in the season, after verbally eviscerating a young lady who not only dared insult Georgiana herself, but Caroline, Georgiana runs into Duncan, who apologises for the cartoon and wants to make amends by using his influence and his newspapers to make her a big hit in Society. He promises to help her land the husband she wants, because while he's instantly drawn to her, he knows he could never be a suitable match for her. Duncan West has secrets in his past he cannot reveal, and understands Georgiana's protective instincts because he too possesses them in spades. When he figures out that Georgiana and Anna are in fact the same person, he's convinced that the reason she lives this double life is because Chase must have a hold over her, and he becomes determined to free this fascinating woman from Chase's nefarious influence. If he can't have her, he wants to make sure she is married to a good man who will protect her and Caroline.

Once I finished No Good Duke Goes Unpunished back in November of last year, with what I'm quite sure was an audible gasp and some creative swearing, I went back and pored over the first three book in the Rules for Scoundrels series, checking every single scene where Chase appears, to see if Maclean even once slipped up with her use of pronouns. But cleverly, in every scene with Chase, no pronouns are used at all. There are only a select few characters in all the books that know that Chase is a woman, and as most of Society believe Chase to be male, they obviously use male pronouns. Once I went back and reread the books for clues, it became obvious to me that Anna was also clearly Chase, but it wasn't until the opening pages of this book that it was revealed that she was actually Lady Georgiana, first introduced in Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord, as a minor, but rather significant supporting characters in the final two books of the Love by Numbers trilogy. Maclean has clearly been planning this for a long time.

Georgiana, or Chase, is absolutely badass. She realises very quickly that having her reputation effectively demolished by her impulsive tryst is actually more a benefit to her, than a burden. She's not actually particularly bothered by all the malicious and often hypocritical things she overhears about herself. When it comes to her daughter, she's a lioness, however, and shows no mercy when it comes to wreaking her revenge. Chase has files on everyone, is owed favours by everyone worth knowing and knows exactly how to wield her influence to inflict the most damage. Georgiana doesn't actually want a husband, but feels that this is the only possible solution to ensure the appropriate future for her daughter. She never once stops to reflect on how happy she herself was to escape the strictures of being a Duke's coddled but emotionally ignored daughter. Behind the scenes as Chase, Georgiana is the most powerful person in London. She gets to enjoy the everyday life of her gambling club as Anna, protected from too many unpleasant advances both by the belief of most patrons that she "belongs" to Chase and because Bourne, Cross and Temple make very sure that men know that Anna is off limits. Marrying, even purely for convenience and to protect her child means she will have to cut down on the time she spends running her business empire. The thought doesn't sit well with Georgiana.

While she's convinced herself that she has to have a titled husband to secure Caroline's future, her bargain with Duncan West means she suddenly spends a lot more time around a man she's long found dangerously attractive. Having occasionally met with West in the guise of Anna, Georgiana has forced herself to stay professional around him, sometimes flirting, but going no further. Now, as she's set on marrying, she convinces herself that she may be permitted a brief fling before she actually settles down into her new life as an aristocrat's wife.

Duncan, who always found Anna alluring, but Georgiana irresistible is powerless to refuse her advances. He's furious because he believes Chase has a sexual and emotional hold over her, deeply jealous that she intends to marry another, yet his past and the secrets he hides makes it impossible for him to offer for her as he would wish. West is a suitable match for the formidable Georgiana. She's strong, fiercely intelligent, observant, driven and logical. West brings out her irrational, passionate side. He too is extremely smart and known as the "hardest working man in London". He was given a lucky break with his first gossip rag and made himself the most influential newspaper magnate in the city. He attends society functions, but always observes from the sidelines. He's deeply aware that he's not a gentleman and will never become one. He doesn't dance. He's as protective of his eccentric spinster sister as Georgiana is of her daughter. His drive to keep those he loves safe makes him blind to some of the truths he would have realised about Georgiana/Anna and everything she tells him about Chase, if he'd only been able to stay cool and objective. Chase is an alpha heroine, and could never settle for a man that was less than her. West is a very good partner for her, but they both share both admirable and annoying qualities. I'm glad Duncan figured out very early on that Georgiana and Anna were the same, but it takes a frustratingly long time for the full truth about Chase to be revealed to him (against the express advice and wishes of all of Chase's three business partners).

This book was very good and I laughed several times while reading it. There were absolutely steamy scenes and I enjoyed that while Georgiana and Duncan both have a wealth of secrets they are keeping from each other and the world, they are generally not all that emotionally messed up. I wasn't a big fan of the villain in this book and the final act of the story got a bit farcical. Parts of the resolution wrapped up a little bit too conveniently without any wider repercussions for the characters, but Maclean's endings are frequently the weakest parts of her stories. This is still a great romance and I suspect I will have to go back and read all six books that involve Georgiana to fully get an idea of how long a game Maclean has been playing. I'm also very much looking forward to her book The Rogue Not Taken, out sometime in the New Year.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Monday, 24 November 2014

#CBR6 Book 131: "The Hero and the Crown" by Robin McKinley

Page count: 225 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Disclaimer! This was granted to me by Open Road Integrated Media through NetGalley in return for a fair and unbiased review.

Aerin is the lonely, ostracised daughter of the ruler of Damar. She has pale skin and fiery red hair amongst a people who are bronzed with dark hair. She cannot even remember who first told her the story, but she has known for as long as she can remember that her mother was a commoner witch-woman who came from the North, who ensorcelled the king into marrying her, swearing she would bear him an heir. When she bore a daughter, she died of despair. While most of the common folk and the servants love her for her gentle, generous and unspoiled manner and the fact that she has taken upon herself to rid the countryside of the small, yet fierce dragons who threaten livestock and snatch the occasional baby to eat. The higher born, especially most of her royal cousins are deeply scornful of her, calling her names, mocking her and never letting her forget her half-blood status.

The one exception is Tor, the heir to the throne, one of her cousins. Since she was young, he has been kind to her, and he has taught her to ride, to use a sword and other soldierly arts. As she comes of age, it becomes very obvious to everyone in Damar that Tor is in love with the witch-woman's daughter. That she has managed to combine herbs to make a fire-proof ointment to help her hunt dragons or successfully trained the king's old, injured war horse back to health is turned into sinister and negative things rather than admirable and impressive ones.

There is more discord spreading in Damar, and the common belief is that all the problems would be solved if the ancient crown, lost some generations ago, was found. Even after Aerin is nearly killed, becoming severely damaged when single-handedly killing Maur, one of the enormous, ancient dragons, the popular opinion of the court is against her. While recovering, she has dreams about a mysterious man, who claims she needs to find him, so he can aid her further in saving Damar, and when she's at her absolute lowest, convinced everyone will be better off without her, she goes off to find him. Can Luthe, this stranger from her dreams, heal her and train her into facing her greatest fears? If she fails, it means the destruction of Damar and all the people she loves.

In late September, I started reading Robin McKinley's most recent book, Shadows, which I didn't even make it a third through before I had to abandon it. It was written in some made up teen speak and the characters and story was so unengaging that I just didn't have the patience to finish it. Now, considering the literary quality of some of the books I HAVE managed to read this year, this says a lot. So when I was offered one of her classic works through Netgalley, the prequel to possibly my favourite of her books The Blue Sword, which I will be re-reading as soon as I can dig out my paperback (as it sadly doesn't exist in e-book format yet), it seemed like a very good way of getting the figurative bad taste out of my mouth.

While Aerin has a pretty sucky childhood, growing up with only the older Tor or her maid as her closest friends, she seems to grow more confident, or at least less self-conscious and bothered about what others think of her and the possible motives of her long dead mother. She's brave, kind and persistent, with a gift for scientific thought that allows her, after years of trial and error, to recreate a long believed to be mythical ointment that is immune to dragon fire. Her patience and perseverance wins her the loyalty of her father's injured and anti-social war horse, who through the training that Aerin slowly coaxes him to do, eventually becomes almost his old self again.

Her father and Tor clearly love her, and it is made clear that many people in rural Damar see her as a hero. Yet Aerin cannot get over the constant digs and misgivings from those around her, and their malicious gossip is also what lets her fall under the spell of the evil dragon Maur, whose powers don't diminish even though he has been killed. Some enterprising people drag his skull back to the capital, and the dragon's malevolence, combined with the horrible burns (her ointment doesn't work against the fire of ancient dragons) and injuries she sustained, nearly kills her.

This is a great book, generally aimed for a middle grade to younger adult audience, I think. Aerin is a wonderful role model for young women. She's an outcast, but works to overcome her many challenges. She rarely masters something on the first try, all Mary Sue like, but practises and trains, using her perseverance and inner strength to succeed. She is loyal and brave, risking her life time and time again at thankless tasks, only to have most of those who should have been her strongest allies undermine her and gossip about her perceived evil intentions. While I didn't love it as much as some other McKinley books, I'm so glad I got a chance to read this, especially after Shadows turned out to be such a disappointment. Turns out that McKinley's early career is a lot more to my taste than her recent literary efforts.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

#CBR6 Book 130: "Yes, Please" by Amy Poehler

Page count: 288 pages
Audio book length: 7 hrs 31 mins
Rating: 5 stars

As far as I can tell, I'm the fifth Cannonballer so far to read and review Amy Poehler's new book Yes, Please. I'm a huge fan of Parks and Recreation and the episode where Ann and Chris leave nearly destroyed me, because Ann and Leslie's friendship in many ways reminds me so much of that between me and my best friend Lydia (who unfortunately lives across the Atlantic in New York City). I've liked Amy Poehler in Mean Girls and on  SNL, and I love her various hosting gigs with her friend Tina Fey, whose celebrity autobiography I read way back in 2011. I think Bossypants is funnier in terms of laugh out loud moments and hysterical anecdotes, but Yes, Please affected me more and seemed more honest somehow.

In a book that's part autobiography, part advice book, and in terms of the audio book that I got, part  humorous banter with celebrity guests (supposedly recorded in the audio booth Amy built herself, the book has audio cameos from Kathleen Turner, Patrick Stewart, Carol Burnett and Amy's parents, plus one whole chapter is read by Seth Meyers), Amy Poehler covers a lot of different things. The book is divided into three parts: Say whatever you want, Do whatever you like and Be whoever you are, which I think illustrates quite nicely what Amy Poehler wants for the lives of pretty much everyone, certainly herself. She's not afraid to be honest about the less admirable qualities about her personality here, and claims that despite what her public persona has led people to believe, she's really not all that nice, and she thinks that it's important that people, and especially women, are allowed to not always be quiet, polite and pleasant. The final chapter of the audio book is recorded live at a theatre, complete with the audience reacting enthusiastically to her reading.

While not all of the chapters were as funny, I still appreciated hearing all her various opinions, and as I said, of the various funny celebrity autobiographies I've read, this is probably the one that felt like it was the most relevant to me. I may not have laughed out loud as much while listening to this book, but I still think about parts of it now and come back to it, even weeks after I finished it. Amy Poehler is a brilliant woman, she has strong opinions and she's a staunch feminist without any of this becoming the focus of the book. She seems to be a devoted and hard-working mother, a loyal friend and a really fun woman to hang out with. I respect her greatly and wish she could be my friend.

Now, while there is no way I have the time and energy to complete a full triple of 156 this year, it feels good that this book is my 130th, which marks my two and a half Cannonball. Having reached this milestone also means that I will be posting  less frequently. I need to recharge a bit for next year. So with the exception of books so excellent I think the world needs to know about them, or the books I need to review to complete my various reading challenges, I will probably not be posting. This means that there may be another tend or so reviews, but unlikely more than that. Thanks for reading my reviews, commenting and cheering me on in 2014. Bring on CBR7.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR6 Book 129: "Blue Lily, Lily Blue" by Maggie Stiefvater

Page count: 416 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Blue Sargent's mother is missing, and it's quite clear that time passes differently where she's gone. This loss affects Blue deeply, although she has Mr. Grey around and her Raven Boys to take her mind off things. Blue, Gansey, Ronan, Adam and even Noah are still trying to find Glendover, looking in caves all over the area. They are told repeatedly that there are three Sleepers under the ground, and it is imperative that one of them not be woken. They now have the aid of Gansey's elderly British professor friend, Mr. Malory, who seems to find being in "the Colonies" fascinating.

Malory is not the only new arrival in Henrietta. Colin Greenmantle, Mr. Grey's former employer and a very dangerous man, is in town, keeping himself busy plotting revenge and destruction, while also teaching the Aglionby boys Latin. His wife Piper may seem vapid and distracted at first, but it becomes clear after a while why the two were drawn to each other. Ronan is determined to get Greenmantle somehow, and enlists the aid of Adam, whose affinity with Cabeswater is getting stronger, allowing him a wholly new perspective. Adam needs all the distractions he can get, he's about to face his father in court, and he's making very sure that none of his friends find out about it.

While it is always lovely to spend time in the world of Blue and her Raven Boys, this book, number 3 in The Raven Cycle is so clearly a bridging book. Unlike in books 1 and 2, where we were introduced to all the characters and a lot of dramatic things happened, most of the story is in a holding pattern here, slowly moving the pieces into place for the final act, which I'm hoping will be spectacular.

Colin Greenmantle is a chilling new potential villain, and all the ominous messages about the third sleeper promise more complications in the final book, which is out at some as of yet not confirmed point in the second half of next year. In The Raven Boys, Blue saw Gansey on the Corpse Road, and with each season passing, they are getting closer to his doom. In this book, the other boys discover that the women of 300 Fox Way have a book where they write down the names of everyone who will die in the coming year, and Adam is clever enough to figure out that Blue is so secretive about the book because one of their names is in it. She finally has someone to share her secret with, not that it makes the situation any easier.

Blue and Gansey are growing closer, but trying to hide it from the others, especially to avoid hurting Adam. Ronan and Adam conspire to remove the threat of Colin Greenmantle behind Gansey's back, as they know they're not going to be able to play by the rules, and their best friend would be deeply uncomfortable.

I love these books, but this is clearly the least engrossing in the series so far. I understand that not every book can have the intriguing setup of The Raven Boys or the thrilling revelations of The Dream Thieves, but it would have been nice if there was a little bit more development. Some pretty thrilling stuff happens in the last few chapters, but mostly this is just the literary equivalent of hanging out with friends you like.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.