Wednesday, 31 March 2010

CBR 42: "Silver Borne" by Patricia Briggs

Publisher: Orbit
Page count: 352 pages
Date begun: March 30th, 2010
Date finished: March 31st, 2010

WARNING! MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR OTHER BOOKS IN THE MERCY THOMPSON SERIES!

Mercedes "Mercy" Thompson is a car mechanic and a shape-shifter. Unlike werewolves, who have to turn into a wolf every full moon, Mercy turns into a coyote, and she can do so whenever she chooses, without the pain werewolves seem to experience. She also seems to be mostly immune to most magics. Not that this keeps her out of trouble. Mercy has attracted the attention of powerful vampires, bad faeries, rogue werewolf hunters, and would really like to just relax for a while and spend some time with her man, but that is easier said than done.

Mercy's roommate Samuel, and one of the oldest werewolves she knows of (and Mercy knows some very old wolves) seems sick of his existence as a lone wolf, and tries to commit suicide. His wolf takes control of the body, but by werewolf law, Samuel should be put down before he becomes a danger to others. Mercy has to try to keep this from her lover, Adam, who is the alpha of the local werewolf pack, as he is honour-bound to tell Samuel's father, the alpha of ALL the werewolf clans in America. Mercy is pretty sure she can help Sam, she just needs some time.

Mercy has recently bonded with Adam as his mate, something no one thought possible since he's a wolf and she's a coyote. Not everyone in the pack is happy about this, and someone seems to be trying to manipulate Mercy through the pack bond, so she'll drive Adam away. There are also mysterious fae after something Mercy borrowed from an acquaintance, and they seem to be willing to kill her or others to get it. Soon her pack is threatened, her home has been destroyed and her friend has been kidnapped...

Patricia Brigg's Mercy Thompson-books are among the ones I wait impatiently for with every new release. I've been reading them for nearly three years now, and am also a big fan of her loosely connected series, Alpha and Omega, which relates to Samuel's brother Charles and his wife Anna. Mercy is a wonderful character, strong and fiercely loyal to those she loves. She is dealing with the aftermath of something she experienced earlier in the series, and it makes her feel like a burden to some of the people close to her. She is determined to manage on her own, and doesn't want to cause any undue trouble for Adam and his wolf pack. She is also furious with Samuel for wanting to end his life, and refuses to let him die if she has anything to say about it.

It took quite a few books for Mercy and Adam to actually get together, and while this book was as exciting as the previous in the series, I wish Briggs would actually spend a bit more time developing Mercy and Adam's relationship, as every scene with the two of them alone together usually takes my breath away, and it makes me sad when too much of the story forces them to spend time apart. I can see why some readers want the action and the further exploration of Briggs' universe, but I'm hoping that the next book lets Adam and Mercy actually be a couple, while some supernatural danger threaten them. Silver Borne is good, maybe the third best in the series so far, but I want more romance in the next one.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

CBR 41: "Ravenous: The Dark Forgotten" by Sharon Ashwood

Publisher: Signet
Page count: 354 pages
Date begun: March 29th, 2010
Date finished: March 30th, 2010

Holly Carver is a witch living in the little town of Fairview. She comes from a long line of powerful witches, but damaged her own powers badly during a spell when she was little, and therefore uses what little witchcraft she has left to banish ghosts from old buildings in return for tuition money. She is helped in her ghost busting business by Alessandro Caravelli, a six centuries old vampire who clearly wants to be more than just a friend to her, but knows that if he ever bites her, his addictive venom will turn her into a mindless slave, not the independent and strong-willed woman he has grown to love.

Holly experiences a rough couple of days. She is nearly killed saving her professor boyfriend and some of his students from a sentient, evil house. Then said boyfriend asks her to sell her ancient house that has been in her family for countless generations, something she can't do, because the root of her (now limited) powers reside there. When she refuses, he dumps her, unable to deal with her supernatural abilities. Several students are found dead around campus, and a giant (nearly person-sized) mouse manifesting in Holly's house turns out to actually be a demon, who wants to take over Fairview, and from there, the world.

Alessandro, in return, has to deal with the return of his ruler, the vampire queen Omara. She's none too happy about his divided loyalties, but also wants to make sure Holly can help her banish her demon nemesis back to the supernatural prison it escaped from. An ancestor of Holly's helped her banish the demon once before, and while she is none too happy about Alessandro's affection for Holly, she will use it to get Holly on her side, if need be.

Ravenous: The Dark Forgotten is one of many paranormal books I picked up in a sale at my local fantasy/sci-fi bookstore, and it has languished on my book shelf for many months. The cover is, like on so many paranormal books, grossly misleading. I can only assume that the cover is meant to portray Holly, although she never wears anything even vaguely as skimpy and tarty as the top on the cover, but there is one mention of her ritual silver dagger, and she has dark hair, so I guess that's as far as the cover artist needed to stretch themselves. I'm assuming the title refers to the ravenous hunger felt both by the victims possessed by the demon Geneva - who seem to feel an all-consuming literal hunger after she kisses them, and that of the victims of the vampires, who once they experience a vampire bite become ravenous for sex, and will do anything the vampire who bit them wishes, submerging their own will to that of their vampire master.

The book can be classified both as a paranormal fantasy and as a paranormal romance, depending on whether the reader thinks the most important part of the story is the couple getting together, or their defeating the evil demon. I personally felt the romance aspect was secondary in the book, and most of the book is Holly coming to terms with first the limitations of her stunted power, then later the possibility of her full powers returning, and how she is going to support herself in the future rather than with whether or not she's going to find true love with Alessandro.

Sharon Ashwood's book was not the most groundbreaking paranormal fantasy I have read, but she creates a nice world, and sketches some good characters. I must admit that the revelation of some of the bad guys did not exactly make me gasp in surprise, it was all rather predictable, but I was never bored reading the book, and will probably pick up the sequels at some point. It appears as if Ashwood, like Kelley Armstrong, instead of writing all her books about the same characters, has new protagonists in each book, all loosely inter-connected in the same world. As far as I can see, her second book is about the cop who gets demon-possessed in this one, and the third appears to be about Holly's older sister. That can keep things from getting boring, so I will look out for her books, but I doubt I will rush out to buy them as soon as they are released.

Monday, 29 March 2010

CBR 40: "Don't Look Down" by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

Publisher: St Martin's Paperbacks
Page count: 384 pages
Date begun: March 28th, 2010
Date finished: March 29th, 2010

Lucy Armstrong is regretting letting her sleazeball of an ex-husband talk her into flying to Savannah to finish the last four days of filming some movie he's stunt coordinator on. She wanted to see her sister and five-year-old niece, but so far her sister Daisy seems worn-down and strung-out, and her niece Pepper is manically pretending that nothing is wrong with the grown-ups around her. The movie set is a mess, the previous director died, most of the crew have quit, the stunts Lucy is supposed to film don't seem to fit into the rest of the narrative at all, her ex seems to think this a good time to get back in her good graces, and the star has hired some ex-Green Beret, who no one else wants on set, to be his stuntman.

Captain J.T. Wilder thought being a stunt-man and a military consultant for a clumsy movie star would be easy money, after all, there's only four days of shooting left on set. Instead, he is recruited by the C.I.A to spy on the movie set, as the movie is apparently funded by an ex-I.R.A terrorist, who wants to launder money through it. Bryce, the comedian who wants to turn action star, seems to idolize him and wants to learn as much as he can. The stunt coordinator obviously hates his guts, the female star wants to get in his pants, the director's niece keeps ending up in life-threatening situations, and the director herself, while stressed and bossy, looks rather amazing in a Wonder Woman outfit.

Jennifer Crusie is the author of several best-selling contemporary romance novels. Bob Mayer has written a number of action-adventure, and sci-fi novels under his own and various pen-names. The two met during a writers' conference and became friends. This is the first of their collaborative novels (they've written two more - Agnes and the Hitman and Wild Ride), and it is, very fittingly, a mix between action-adventure and romance. According to an interview with the authors, most of the book was written via e-mail, where Crusie wrote Lucy Armstrong's scenes, and Mayer wrote J.T. Wilder's, then they cleaned up the manuscript together. Crusie also imagined Lucy Lawless as a model for Lucy Armstrong (which I did not know when I read the book, but which fits wonderfully, especially with all the Wonder Woman comparisons), while Mayer saw Wilder pretty much like Kurt Russell from Soldier.

The book starts very abruptly, and I would possibly have liked to spend a bit more time getting to know J.T. I definitely would have liked to know what his actual name was. The book is a lot more action-packed than Crusie's contemporary romances, and this is not a problem. My niggles with the book is more with the lack of characterization with some of the characters, as mentioned, the hero himself is fairly loosely sketched out. The pair's second collaboration, Agnes and the Hitman was both funnier and more satisfying, so I will be giving Wild Ride a chance. No writer (and certainly no two writers) write perfect books every time.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

CBR 39: "Dead Men's Boots" by Mike Carey

Publisher: Orbit
Page count: 544 pages
Date begun: March 25th, 2010
Date finished: March 28th, 2010

Felix Castor is an exorcist, and lives in a world where the dead started returning from their graves a few years back, so he can make a decent living by sending the dead back to their eternal rest. Due to events in previous books, he is currently nearly broke, living in temporary accommodation and most of his old friends are not speaking to him unless they absolutely have to. He has to attend the funeral of John Gittings, another exorcist, or ghostbreaker, and feels a bit guilty, as Gittings kept trying to call him before his death, and John refused to answer his calls.

When Gittings' widow asks him for help, Castor doesn't feel he can refuse, and is shocked to realize that Gittings, normally so placid when alive, has turned poltergeist after his death. He is also contacted by a woman whose husband is accused of murder, only the murder bears all the hallmarks of an American serial killer dead for more than 40 years. The lady wants him to prove that her husband is innocent, and that the ghost of the psychotic mobster killer committed the crime instead. On top of that, he has to keep his friend's demon-possessed body from being released into the custody of a ruthless scientist, and keep from getting killed by persons unknown.

I borrowed the first Felix Castor novels off a friend several years ago, and while they didn't exactly wow me, they were entertaining enough. My favourite character in the books is not Castor himself, who reminds me far too much of another character Mike Carey wrote (but doesn't own the right to), a Mr. John Constantine, of Hellblazer (Vertigo comic) or Constantine (dubious movie starring Keanu Reeves) fame. I also keep mentally comparing him to Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden, although the similarities are mainly that they are both male, both deal in the supernatural, and are rather sarcastic. No, the main reason I like these books is for the supporting character of Juliet, a succubus who tried to kill Felix in the first book, and has since decided to turn to ghostbreaking herself. She is not a very complex character, but is an interesting addition to the books, and entertains me greatly. She's also ruthlessly efficient in a fight, and I always liked women who could kick ass and dole out violence like a pro.

This book has been lying on my bookshelf gathering dust for at least a year and a half, and I don't know why I didn't get around to reading it sooner. It was a bit slow going for the first hundred pages or so, but then the plot started to thicken, mysterious people tried to kill Felix and I found that it was hard to put the book down. The plot is probably the most convoluted of the three books so far, but it comes together nicely in the end. Based on this book, I will probably be reading at least the next Felix Castor book, if not both, and I may not wait another year or so before picking one up.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

CBR 38: "Kitty and the Midnight Hour" by Carrie Vaugh

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Page count: 288 pages
Date begun: March 21st, 2010
Date finished: March 23rd, 2010

Kitty Norville works as a DJ during the night shift, and is getting bored taking the same old song requests. She is also a werewolf, and fully aware that there are vampires and other creatures that go bump in the night, so one night she engages one of her callers on supernatural matters. Very quickly, she has a popular call-in show called "The Midnight Hour", where she offers all sorts of advice to human and supernatural callers alike, and is being syndicated on a number of radio stations.

Not everyone is happy that Kitty is becoming popular and successful, however. The alpha of her werewolf pack is worried about the attention she is attracting, and one evening there is a werewolf hunter sent to kill her, live on the air. Her secret identity is rather spectacularly revealed, and she suspects the local vampire leader may have ordered the hit. She makes a deal with the hunter, and saves her life.

Once the police are forced to accept the existence of supernatural creatures, they call in Kitty to consult on a series of extremely grisly killings. It's obvious to Kitty's advanced sense of smell that the serial killer is a werewolf, and he is not one from the pack. This opens questions about whether the alpha's control is slipping, since he is unaware that a were has been killing young women. As well as helping the police try to catch a serial killer, Kitty has to deal with her pack not being happy about her getting more and more independent and figure out who paid a guy to kill her.

Amazon kept recommending the Kitty Norville books to me, based on the fact that I read a whole lot of other paranormal fantasy series narrated by a first person supernatural protagonist. A quick count reveals that not counting the Kitty Norville books, I'm reading 12 other series, and that's not counting some of the Young Adult books. So it's not surprising that Amazon thinks I might like it. Possibly because I read quite so many different series, and really do love some of them, this just fell a bit flat to me. Kitty was an ok character, and she's clearly still developing, still trying to get used to being a werewolf, establishing her identity in the pack and outside it - but I just didn't care that much about her, or the stuff that happened to her. Having browsed through the blurbs for the rest of the series on Amazon, nothing there interests me enough to make me want to continue the series. It wasn't bad, it just didn't make me want to add a 13th series to my reading list.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

CBR 37: "The Sugar Queen" by Sarah Addison Allen

Publisher: Hodder
Page count: 352 pages
Date begun: March 19th, 2010
Date finished: March 20th, 2010

Everyone in Josie Cirillo's little North Carolina home town knows her. After all, Josie's father, Marco Cirillo is the man who turned the sleepy little town into a popular winter resort, securing his own and all of the residents' economies. Most also remember her as a willful, extremely badly behaved child, and everyone seems to have a story about something little Josie did. Now 27, Josie is determined to never give her mother a reason to be disappointed in her again. She works so hard to please her mother that she never does anything for herself, and barely leaves the house if it's not to drive her mother somewhere or run her errands.

Then one day she finds local waitress Della Lee Baker hidden in her bedroom closet. She tries to get her to leave, desperately worried that her mother or their maid Helena will find her, or even worse, her secret stash of sweets and romance novels. Josie loves food and eating, but her mother never lets her forget that she is plump, and will look cheap if she dresses in red or wears make-up. Della Lee blackmails Josie into making her stay, and soon has Josie's life changing for the better.

Chloe Finley has just found out that her boyfriend, Jake, whom she loves passionately, cheated on her three months earlier. She's kicked them out of his flat, where they live, and is wondering how she will ever get on with her life without him. All her life, books have magically appeared to Chloe as she needs them. Tucked away in a storage unit she has hundreds of boxes full of books and the furniture she inherited from her grandparents, who raised her. Now she's stuck in a flat her boyfriend owns, surrounded by his things, and whether she wants them or not, self-help books on forgiving and keeping your man keep turning up around her. She can hide them or throw them away, but they return nonetheless, trying to make her forgive and forget.

Josie comes into her sandwich shop three days in a row, buying sandwiches requested by Della Lee (that she never ends up eating, leaving Josie to enjoy them instead), and the two women soon become close friends. Jake happens to be best friends with Adam, the mailman Josie has loved secretly since he started delivering their mail three years earlier. He's never really noticed Josie, until Chloe brings her to his attention, and Josie keeps turning up to keep the heart-broken Chloe out of trouble.

The Sugar Queen is the second of Sarah Addison Allen's books that I have read (and reviewed here on this blog). She is definitely an author I'm going to keep an eye on. While both had darker undertones and delighted me more, this novel was thoroughly entertaining. I wish more than anything in the world ever that I could have the same magical gift as Chloe. I would never have to buy another book in my life. There is nothing as sinister as domestic abuse in The Sugar Queen, but Josie has not had an easy life, and silently suffers under her mother's constant control and disapproval. She yearns to escape the little town where everyone knows her, and only Della Lee, and then Chloe sees the true her.

There is magical realism and supernatural elements in this novel, as well as various romantic subplots. Chloe had passionate love, and is now afraid it has been destroyed because of Jake's betrayal. Josie has always hungered for her mother's love and approval, and has loved Adam in secret for years, only ever seeing him for a minute every day when he delivers the mail. Margaret, Josie's mother, was married to the richest man in town, but was denied true love of her own. Della Lee loved the wrong man, and tries to make sure Josie doesn't pick a bad apple like she did. It was a lovely book, and I will be buying Allen's next novel as soon as it's out in paperback.

Friday, 19 March 2010

CBR 36: "The Dead Travel Fast" by Deanna Raybourn

Publisher: Mira
Page count: 400 pages
Date begun: March 17th, 2010
Date finished: March 18th, 2010

I absolutely adore Deanna Raybourn's three previous books: Silent in the Grave, Silent in the Sanctuary and Silent on the Moor. They are Victorian mystery novels with a romantic subplot, and delight me immensely. So when I heard that Raybourn had a completely stand-alone book out, inspired by Gothic novels and set in Transylvania, I had to put it on my pre-order list immediately.

The book arrived about a week back, and I'm assuming the big-busted lady on the cover is supposed to be the heroine, Theodora. When her grandfather dies, Theodora Lestrange saves her brother-in-law the trouble of having to decide what to do with his spinster, authoress sister-in-law by declaring that she will travel to Transylvania, to attend the wedding of her old school-friend Cosmina. Theodora has written some mystery stories and made a bit of money, and is sure that the evocative surroundings of her friend's exotic home will be the perfect place to write her full-length novel. She ignores the protests of her sister, brother-in-law and publisher/would-be fiance, packs up her meager belongings, and leaves Edinburgh to set off on her adventure.

Theodora's friend Cosmina is a poor relative of the Draculescu family, and was sent to school in Germany by her kindly aunt. Once Theodora arrives in Transylvania, she discovers that the Draculescus live in an imposing castle, towering on an inaccessible cliff. She is welcomed by an overjoyed Cosmina, the sickly, but benevolent Dowager Countess and the Count Dragulescu himself, Cosmina's intended. Theodora is instantly drawn to the handsome and imperious Count, but tries to ignore her attraction, as he is to be married to her friend. She is determined she will only observe him to use him to model a character in her novel. But when it is revealed, shortly after her arrival that the Count and Cosmina are not getting married after all, Theodora has a difficult time staying away from him.

Transylvania is a place full of ghost stories and superstitions. It is believed that several of the men of the village run off and become wolves in the woods around the full moon. There are whispered rumours about strigoi, or vampires, who haunt the Draculescu castle. Theodora is a practical and pragmatic person, who at first refuses to believe in the stories, but when a maid servant is found in the castle, with puncture wounds on her breast, apparently drained of blood, events start to take a more sinister turn, and it becomes more difficult for her to disbelieve the fantastic tales. The Count is mysterious, pale, brooding and mostly nocturnal. Could he really be a vampire?

While The Dead Travel Fast was an enjoyable read, it did not quite live up to the expectations I had, created because of the excellence of Raybourn's previous three novels. It was nice to read a self-contained story, though, which comes to a definite end - no pesky year-long waits for sequels. Theodora is a good protagonist, well-educated thanks to her scholar grandfather, determined to make her own way in the world with her writing, yet not anachronistically free-spirited or forward-thinking for her time, as is sometimes the case with historical heroines.

The book is told in first person, meaning we never get to see Andrei (the Count), or any of the other characters' points of view. It helps keep the events more mysterious and suspenseful, but does mean the reader does not really get a very good insight into why Andrei should be so very attractive to Theodora, or why we should care about whether she will end up with him in the end, unsuitably matched though they may be. I didn't dislike the book, and think it's nice when author's occasionally try to go different ways in their writing, but would like Ms. Raybourn to hurry up and write/publish the fourth Lady Julia/Brisbane book soon, now, please.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

CBR 35: "Impossible" by Nancy Werlin

Publisher: Speak
Page count: 384 pages
Date begun: March 16th, 2010
Date finished: March 16, 2010

Impossible is a modern fairy tale, inspired by the Simon and Garfunkel song Scarborough Fair. Lucinda "Lucy" Scarborough has grown up with loving and supportive foster parents, ever since her mother became stark raving mad shortly after giving birth to her, only 18 years old. When she goes to prom, her date is sweet and attentive, and per her parents' request, sober all evening. Yet at the end of the night, he rapes Lucy, gets in his car and drives into a tree, dying as a result. Lucy is afraid to tell anyone that he looked as if he were possessed when he assaulted her.

Only her foster parents and Zach, the boy from down the street who's been around her whole life, but who now stays with them, knows the truth about what happened to her on prom night. About a month after prom, it becomes obvious that Lucy is pregnant, even though she took the morning-after pill. Zach finds her mother's journal, written in the months before Lucy was born, and it seems to support what Lucy's foster parents always said, that Miranda (Lucy's mother) was not crazy before she gave birth. Miranda writes about a curse. She says that all the Scarborough girls are cursed. They get pregnant and give birth to daughters when they are 18, and unless they manage to break the curse, they go mad when the baby is born. All because long in the past, a girl named Fenella Scarborough rejected an Elfin Knight.

Miranda taught Lucy's foster parents a special version of Scarborough Fair, completely different from the Simon and Garfunkel song. Recalling an incident from her childhood, Lucy opens a hidden panel in her bookshelf, and finds a letter from her mother, outlining the curse, and how to break it. Lucy and Zach want to believe that Miranda was already mad when she wrote the letter to her unborn child, but once some research reveals that at least four generations of Scarborough women all gave birth at age 18, and then went insane, it seems like her story is scarily plausible.

To break the curse, Lucy will have to complete three tasks. She has to create a shirt with no seam, using no needle. She has to find an acre of land between the sea and the land, and plow it using only a goat's horn, then seed the whole acre with just one grain of corn. Unless she does this before her child is born, she is doomed to madness like all the Scarborough women before her. Soledad, Lucy's foster mother, remembers Miranda asking her about how one would go about making the shirt. While the entire family are convinced it's a little crazy, they throw themselves into the task of solving the riddles and completing the tasks to save Lucy and her baby. But the Elfin Knight does not play a fair game, and tries to throw obstacles in their way. In the end, only true love will save Lucy.

Impossible is a very well written book, and the story unfurls gradually, revealing to Lucy that her tragically insane mother that appears in her life at inconvenient moments is only trying to protect her and give her the chance no one else in their long line of doomed ancestors has had. In her journal and letters to the unborn Lucy, she has tried to put as much advice as she can, desperately hoping that the family curse be broken. Lucy has a limited time to deal with her magical tasks, as well as having to cope with a teen pregnancy resulting from rape.

Lucy is a sensible and pragmatic girl, who really doesn't want to believe what is happening to her until the evidence is irrefutable. She is a very engaging protagonist, and faces up to both the mundane and the supernatural challenges in a very believable way. She has the support and help of her very likable foster parents, her best friend from school, and most importantly, Zach. He initially blames himself for what happened to her at prom, as he had promised her parents to pick her up, but arrived just a little bit too late. Later, he realizes there would have been nothing he could have done to prevent her getting pregnant, but is determined to do everything he can to be there for Lucy during her pregnancy and beyond.

The plot's suspense increases gradually, as the end of Lucy's pregnancy nears its end. The fact that the sinister Elfin Knight makes his appearance occasionally, and that he has insinuated himself into her family's life without them knowing his true identity also adds to the tension. While not the best "evil faerie" story I have read, it was compelling enough that I finished it in one day, and put aside pretty much everything I needed to do so I could read it.

CBR 34: "Succubi Like It Hot" by Jill Myles

Publisher: Pocket Star
Page count: 368 pages
Date begun: March 14th, 2010
Date finished: March 15th, 2010

Jackie Brighton has a promising new job as an archeologist, and has come to terms with the Itch (the desperate need all succubi get to have sex every other day or so) because she has two gorgeous men with which to soothe said sex cravings. Then things start getting messy. Noah refuses to share her with Zane, and claims he wants them to not see each other until she makes up her mind. Someone has put a curse on her, meaning that the Itch comes every day instead of every other, and she can put a human in a coma by just touching them. She needs to get to New Orleans to talk to Delilah, a succubus who is also a voodoo priestess.

Remy has a new porn movie to promote, so suggests they take a road trip. Jackie is upset that Noah won't speak to her, but persuades Zane to come along, as she still refuses to have sex with anyone she doesn't have feelings for (unlike Remy, who will grab any guy who is conveniently nearby). Then Zane discovers that she's cursed and leaves her stranded at a rest stop. Remy keeps being intermittently possessed and craving blood (due to events at the end of the last book) and then people start turning up dead around them.

Jackie is a lot less annoying in this book, possibly because she isn't quite as painfully gullible this time around. Towards the end of the book, she even gets of of a fairly nasty situation all by herself, showing quick thinking and ingenuity. There is more development of the secondary characters, especially Noah, who becomes a lot more interested in helping Jackie once Zane has vanished. Of course, Zane is not as callous and selfish as it first seems (as he'd make a rubbish third in a love triangle if he was). I generally liked Succubi Like It Hot a lot more than the first book, and am now looking forward to checking out the third book in the series.

CBR 33: "Gentlemen Prefer Succubi" by Jill Myles

Publisher: Pocket Star
Page count: 368 pages
Date begun: March 12th, 2010
Date finished: March 13th, 2010

I was seriously debating whether to put the cover of this one up on my blog, as it is one of the most blatant examples of mantitty (TM Smart Bitches, Trashy Books) in my entire book collection. But it is only the second book I have won ever, and the first that I've won online, and I did actually promise the author (who arranged the contest) that I would review it here. And since I'm really quite OCD when it comes to sticking to the pattern I've established for the blog, I couldn't post about the book without the cover, so here you go. Mantitty in all its glory.

Jacqueline Brighton wakes up in a dumpster, and a tramp stole her handbag, claiming she was clearly dead, so it wasn't like she was going to be needing it. She appears to have lost an entire 24 hours, and has only very hazy memories of the night before her blackout. There is blood on her neck and spaghetti in her hair. Then she runs into a drop dead gorgeous guy, who seems to know her, and offers to buy her breakfast even though she is covered in dumpster debris. In flashes of memory, Jackie then remembers that she and Noah, who the hunky guy introduces himself as, had a very steamy date just before she blacked out. She accuses him of drugging her and dumping her after their date, but he explains that her life as she knows it (as a chubby, ever-dieting museum guide) will never be the same. The tramp was right. Jackie was dead. Now she is a succubus.

Noah explains that he is a fallen angel, and that Jackie probably ran into a vampire who drained her close to death before they hooked up. Apparently succubi are created if a vampire nearly kills a woman, and she then has sex with an angel. Jackie thinks Noah is crazy, but is persuaded to take his business card just in case. Within 24 hours of waking in the dumpster, she has lost 10 dress sizes, gained 2 cup sizes, her formerly mousy hair is a long, luxurious mane of red right out of a shampoo advert, and she desperately craves sex. She nearly assaults her doorman, before calling Noah for help.

He brings the only other succubus in town (who works as a porn star) to help her, and Jackie, who previously led a quiet and lonely life, is shocked to discover that she has to have sex every 2 days or she'll wither away and die. Apart from that, she's practically immortal. Soon Jackie has pissed off her boss who thinks she took time off to have breast implants, promised a non-fallen angel a small favour, which leads to Noah being taken hostage by the queen of the vampires. To save him, Jackie has to go on a quest for a legendary halo, accompanied by her new succubus friend Remy and the charmingly roguish Zane, who she is starting to suspect is the vampire who bit her in the first place. Being a succubus is much more complicated than Jackie was first led to believe.

I'm not going to say that I wouldn't have read Jill Myles' book if I hadn't won it, as she shares a blog with several authors whose books I greatly enjoy, and sooner or later I probably would have been curious enough to order it. I enjoyed it, but was a bit exasperated by just how naive and gullible Jackie is for most of the books. She really does cause a lot of her own problems, and I kept wanting to slap some sense into her. She's not quite TSTL (too stupid to live), but fell for the most obvious ploys I could see coming a mile away, and kept being surprised when they were traps. In a first-person narrative, the protagonist's stupidity is a flaw.

Still, the supporting cast are very enjoyable. Noah and Zane are both very gorgeous in each of their vastly contrasting of each other ways. Remy is a lot of fun, and can't understand why Jackie doesn't just embrace a life of vicarious promiscuity like she has. And while Jackie annoyed me, I did like the book enough to go out and get the sequel.

Monday, 8 March 2010

CBR 32: "Mother Tongue" by Bill Bryson

Publisher: Penguin Books
Page count: 270 pages
Date begun: March 1st, 2010
Date finished: March 8th, 2010

My review of Mother Tongue, (the American title appears to be The Mother Tongue) or proof to any readers who may have doubted that I read anything but paranormal fantasy and/or romance, that I do indeed, on occasion, read other stuff as well.

Bill Bryson writes not only non-fantasy and/or romance, but non-fiction. I have read several of his travelogues, and his musings on living in the U.K., the U.S. and was greatly entertained. As a language teacher and an eager student of languages myself, I honestly don't know why it took me so long to pick up his book about the English language, which is just as well written as the other books by him I have read. In Mother Tongue he covers most aspects of the English language, from the emergence of various Indo-European languages, to speculations on where and how English will evolve in the future.

I teach English as a foreign language to secondary school pupils (age 13-15). Many of them come from a large variety of ethnic backgrounds, but seem to find many of the same things very difficult when attempting to learn to read, speak and write English. In Bryson's book, he explores exactly why foreigners might and (probably should) find English such a difficult language to learn, as it is probably the most vocabulary-rich language used in the world today, and there is scarcely a word that cannot hold more than one meaning. Add to that the fact that many names, places and words are pronounced wildly differently from the way they are spelled, and that spelling itself can vary depending on whether you use British English or American English.

There's a fascinating chapter on the origin of words, which emphasized what I already know, that English will happily borrow and assimilate words from pretty much any language it encounters and make them part of an ever-increasing vocabulary, but also that many words that we use today originate from common misspellings, or were simply invented by clever people, like Shakespeare. I was, quite frankly baffled by how many words and expressions that are quite commonplace today were first used by Shakespeare. To mention a few: barefaced, critical, monumental, majestic, obscene, radiance, countless, excellent, hint, hurry and excellent. A quick search on the internet provides tons more. I always knew Shakespeare was a genius, but never realized how bland and colourless the language would probably be without him.

The chapters on spelling and pronounciation were probably not the most entertaining, but there are chapters on English names, on swearing in a variety of languages, on variations of English all over the world that not only really interested me, but taught me something new. I now need to figure out how to simplify some of Bryson's language a bit, in order to be able to use all the things I've learned in my own teaching.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

CBR 31: "Something About You" by Julie James

Publisher: Berkley
Page count: 336 pages
Date begun: March 3rd, 2010
Date finished: March 4th, 2010

Cameron Lynde is an Assistant D.A. in Chicago, and spends the night in a hotel while she has her hardwood floors redone. In the room next door, a couple appear to be having a marathon sex session, and as the walls are thin, she finally calls the management to have the situation dealt with. Just before hotel security arrive, she sees a man walking past her hotel room door and assumes the problem is solved. But her problems are just beginning. Hotel security finds a dead escort in the room, and the man she had the prolonged lovemaking with, is a married U.S senator. He is also, coincidentally, clearly not the man Cameron saw walking past her door.

Suddenly a key witness in a high-profile murder case, Cameron is less than thrilled to realize that the F.B.I agent in charge of investigating the case is Jack Pallas, the man who blames her for ruining his career three years earlier. He doesn't know that Cameron actually saved him from being fired, instead of just relocated, after he said some really unfortunate things about her on national TV. But even though he is furious to see her again, he is not about to let anything happen to his witness, and will do anything to make sure she is kept safe.

I don't tend to read a lot of contemporary romance, but had read several very glowing reviews of this on other review sites, and was so happy to discover that all told the truth - this book is greatly enjoyable, and feature a hero and a heroine who are both intelligent, reasonable, very good at their jobs and who communicate clearly and openly with each other. Their dialogue, from the first very tense scenes together, until the end, when their relationship has obviously changed, sparkles and is reminiscent of old-style romantic comedies.

The secondary characters are all great too, from Jack's younger partner, to the policemen on duty guarding Cameron, to her two best friends, one of whom just happens to be gay, but who's also a sports writer and blissfully un-stereotypical. There is no murder mystery, as it is revealed fairly early on who actually killed the victim, and why, and there is also, thankfully, no psycho internal monologue about the killer's motivations for the murder. Some of the reviews I read felt that the ending of the book dragged on a bit, but I didn't really mind, and will absolutely be looking out for more books by Julie James in the future.