Sunday, 31 October 2010

Challenge completed!

As we were going away for the weekend, it was looking as if I wasn't going to be able to achieve my goal of reading and blogging 100 books before the Second Cannonball Challenge ended. I've actually read 145 books and reread 23 book since November 1st, but I've mentioned before why I decided not to blog about all of them.

It sadly looks like there may not be another Cannonball Challenge next year, or if there is, it won't start tomorrow. They've stopped posting book reviews on Pajiba, and there is no mention of another challenge starting soon. Of course, most of the 100 participants don't appear to have even partially completed their reading assignments, or if they have, they've not been blogging a lot. We shall see, if they do another challenge, I shall participate. If they don't, I'll set my own challenge for next year.

Still, I've completed not only the 52 required books, but the 100 books set in the first Cannonball challenge, and I will try to keep going. I doubt I will number the rest of the books this year, though. I'll more likely start a new count after New Year's, to see what my tally for 2011 ends up being.

I've also got myself a new hobby that I may blog a bit about. Not being able to knit anymore, as it really aggravates the tendinitis in both my wrists, I have taken up crocheting instead. It is to quote my husband the "open g tuning of handicrafts", i.e. it looks as impressive as knitting, but is much faster to learn and way easier once you know what you're doing.

100: "Victoria" by Knut Hamsun

Publisher: Den Norske Bokklubben
Page count: 140 pages
Date begun: October 16th, 2010
Date finished: October 31st, 2010

Johannes is the miller's son, pining for Victoria, daughter of the local estate owner. The book starts when he is 14 and she is 10. A lonely child, Johannes wants to play with the rich children, but is normally only called upon to wait on them and row them around when they have guests from the city visiting. He spends most of his time alone, using his fertile imagination to invent solitary games and adventures.

When he is 18, and returns home from school in the city, he hopes he has finally been noticed by Victoria after he rescues a young girl from drowning, in front of Victoria and her rich friends. But she still seems more taken with Otto, a young soldier and friend of the family, and once again his hopes are dashed.

Johannes goes to university, and becomes a poet and a writer. After publishing several poems, he moves on to novels, all the while dreaming of Victoria. He is aware that they are from different social classes, but pines for her nonetheless. As his literary fame grows, he is accepted into higher layers of society, among them the home of the girl he rescued from drowning. He also sees Victoria again, but she appears to be engaged. Still, one evening, when he walks her home, she professes his love for him.

Knowing that her family would never accept his suit, Johannes writes several angsty romantic novels and moves abroad. When he finally returns, years later, he arrives back in time for Victoria's engagement party to Otto. Victoria's family are in great need of money, Otto's family have lots. Camilla, the girl he rescued is also there, and nearly 18, she is very infatuated with him. The romance between Johannes and Victoria seems more impossible than ever.

Victoria was written by Hamsun in 1898, and is apparently considered not only one of his most popular books, but one of the most beautiful and well known love stories in Norwegian literature. If so, the state of romantic literature in Norway before 1898 and since, is deplorable. While I understand what Hamsun was trying to do with his tragic romance, it is just not very effective. Mainly because Johannes is a total weenie and Victoria is given as much personality as a wet rag.

Why should Hamsun bother infusing the object of Johannes' affection and love with any sort of personality or character? The more important thing is the development of the young man and HIS feelings. Also, the lyrical descriptions of the Norwegian country side, those are important. This is period literature, and as a former lit student, I know I shouldn't be upset that writers who lived a 150 years are misogynistic or write only from the POV of the gender they know.

It's not like Jane Austen writes anything but the female point of view in Pride and Prejudice. But at least there is some substance in her books. In Victoria, the whole romance seems based on the characters interacting a few times when they were kids, then pining a whole lot for each other and constructing elaborate fantasies about the other party, a few short meeting as adults, where they have no chance to get to know each other more closely, a lot of angst from Johannes' side, then the book ends.

I read this mainly because we (the Norwegian teachers at the school where I work) are forcing the 10th graders to read the book so they have a literary classic to analyze for their final exam in the spring. I suspect that most of them are going to find the book both boring and deeply uninteresting, and I can't say that I blame them. This is the second Hamsun novel I have read now, and while his descriptions of the Norwegian nature are stunning, his plotting and so called romances leave a lot to be desired, and I don't know if I will read any more of his books unless forced.

99: "Storm Glass" by Maria V. Snyder

Publisher: Mira
Page count: 512 pages
Date begun: October 28th, 2010
Date finished: October 31st, 2010

Opal is a young glassblower who can infuse small glass statues with a spark of magic, allowing other magic users all over her homeland of Sitia to communicate with each other over long distances. As long as someone with magical abilities holds a glass animal she made, they can talk to another magic user holding another. Despite years of lessons at the magic academy, however, Opal doesn't appear to have any other powers whatsoever, and this causes other students to tease her and avoid her. Her role in helping Yelena Saldana (the heroine of Snyder's first trilogy) save the country from rogue evil magicians is well known, but she is disappointed that she seems unable to do more with magic than make communicator devices for mages.

Opal is charged by the academy's Master magicians to go to the Stormdancer clan and discover what is breaking their glass orbs and killing their dancers. The Stormdancer magicians can control the weather, and channel the energy from storms into special glass orbs that are then used as a type of battery. But if one of the orbs break, the dancer using it will die instantly. So far, two have died, and Opal and the youngest of the Masters, Sitara, have to figure out what is causing the orbs to break before more Stormdancers die and the storms in their area of Sitia run out of control.

Despite being doubtful of her abilities to help, Opal solves the mystery of the brittle glass and earns the respect of the Stormdancers, including the brooding Kade, whose sister was one of the dancers killed when an orb broke. On their way back from the Stormdancer clan, Opal is kidnapped. A group of renegades want to learn the Stormdancer secrets and are prepared to torture her to get them. She manages to escape, and discovers that she can channel another magic user's power into an empty glass orb while she is fleeing a magical attack.

Back at the Academy, the Masters are very interested in studying Opal's new powers. It is quite obvious that she is not the "one trick pony" the other students have been accusing her of being. But she is still in danger since she is one of the few who know the Stormdancer glass secrets, and she has to figure out her feelings towards two men, Kade the Stormdancer, and Ulrick, a young man from her home village who's come to the Acedemy to see if he too has magical abilities connected with glass.

I was a big fan of Maria V. Snyder's Study trilogy, especially the first novel, Poison Study. The other two books in the trilogy were neither as exciting or gripping, but Snyder created a fascinating cast of characters, especially Yelena and Valek, and the books were entertaining enough. Opal is a supporting character from the first series, and unfortunately, she is not as engaging a heroine as Yelena. She survived a pretty horrible ordeal in the previous series, and this has obviously affected her, but she seems rather stuck up and self pitying, and instead of being grateful for the magical abilities she does have, keeps wanting more and being sulky. She is also a bit of a pushover, and too easily led by others.

This does change a bit during the course of the book, but she still has a lot of growing to do as a a a character to stop being annoying. The vague love triangle in the book just did not hold my attention at all. Kade is interesting enough, tortured and broody, and with some very cool powers. But Ulrick was clearly just a whiny jerk, who while he'd been treated badly by his family was not really sympathetic at all, but overbearing, controlling and like a walking list of danger signs in a potential boyfriend. Even Opal doesn't really fancy him, just seems to settle on him because Kade isn't available to her.

Some of the supporting cast are good, but others are frankly as annoying as Opal's non-romance with Ulrick. Her sister Mara, in whose shadow Opal has always grown up, is supposedly pretty and talented and someone admired by everyone, but she just irritated me, and some of her advice to Opal was dreadful. The youngest Master Magician was promising as a supporting character, and I'm hoping that Opal may be developing a few friendships that can go good places, so that there is more of an appealing supporting cast in the sequels. Opal does discover some pretty cool powers, but the set up for the next book (which will be all about Ulrick the douche) didn't exactly fill me with excitement. Still, I bought the whole trilogy in a 3 for 2 sale, so will read them all. But probably not right away.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

98: "First Truth" by Dawn Cook

Publisher: Ace
Page count: 352 pages
Date begun: October 23rd, 2010
Date finished: October 26th, 2010

Alissa has never been accepted by the people around her parents' foothills farm, as her mother is from the plains, and her father from the foothills. There is fierce rivalry and much prejudice between the tradesmen of the plains and the farmers of the foothills and intermarriage between the peoples is frowned upon, and the offspring of such unions are treated as outcasts.

Alissa's father has been missing since she was five, and now, at nearly twenty, her mother is sending her away, claiming she needs to find the mystical Hold and learning to use her latent magical powers. Alissa doesn't believe in magic, and is crushed, but has no choice but to set off. She has to make her way through the mountains before the first snows fall, and see if the mythical Masters and Keepers of the Hold can shed some light on her father's disappearance and her own supposed heritage. Accompanying her is Talon, her tiny kestrel, who guards her fiercely despite her diminutive size and warns her of dangers.

Having fallen into a ravine looking for water, Alissa is saved by Strell, a wandering minstrel who has is trying to make his way to the coast. Strell is from the plains, and has been travelling for years, collecting stories and music. He discovers that his entire family has been wiped out in a flood five years earlier, and no longer has any true home or connection. At first, he is suspicious of the clearly half-blood foothills girl, and he and Alissa get off to a bad start. As they are going the same way, however, they decide to travel together and quickly become friends.

Alissa is unaware that the Hold is nearly empty, with only one crazy former Keeper having sent all the Masters on a pointless quest far away, and killed the other Keepers. Only one Master is left, trapped in the dungeons. Bailic, the ex-Keeper is an old friend of Alissa's father, and wants a legendary magic book, First Truth, which was given to Alissa's dad by his teacher. Bailic has dreams of world domination, and quickly realizes that one of the two strangers that show up to the Hold can help him find the book he needs to achieve his goal. But he is unable to figure out whether it's Alissa or Strell who have the latent magical abilities. Alissa and Strell need to try to find the book before Bailic gets to it, and stay safe during the winter, hoping Bailic doesn't kill them too.

I had read both of Dawn Cook's Princess books (The Decoy Princess, Princess at Sea) before I discovered that the author is also Kim Harrison, an author whose paranormal fantasy series I've been reading and loving for years. As far as I can tell, she started writing traditional, vaguely romantic fantasy and did OK, but never became particularly successful. Then she created her paranormal series under the pen name Kim Harrison, and became a several times bestselling author. Ace has recently republished her Truth books pointing out that the authors are one and the same, but the new covers are absolutely awful, and I'm glad I was able to get the classic covers.

The first book (in a series of four) is mostly setup, and the friendship between Alissa and Strell is slowly developing into something more romantic, but anyone wanting a passionate love story, should possibly pick something else. Nor is this a very epic fantasy story, but a nicely paced little adventure tale. I'm looking forward to reading the next three.

Friday, 22 October 2010

97: "Princess of the Midnight Ball" by Jessica Day George

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Page count: 304 pages
Date begun: October 21st, 2010
Date finished: October 22nd, 2010

The country of Westfalin (basically like 18th century Germany) has finally won a long and costly war against the neighbouring country of Andalousia (bits of Spain). Galen is the son of a soldier, whose mother was an army laundress. He grew up following the army, and lost his father, mother and little sister during the war. On his way to the capital, hoping to find his mother's sister, he meets an old lady and kindly shares his meagre provisions with her. She thanks him and insists on giving him three presents as thanks. He is given two balls of wool, one black "and strong as an iron chain", one white "like a swan, floating on water", as well as a magical cloak that can turn him invisible. He tries to refuse, but the crone claims his need is greater than hers.

When he arrives in the capital, it turns out that his uncle is prosperous, having made money during the war taking care of the late queen's precious garden. Galen is trained as an under-gardener, and soon meets the twelve princesses of the kingdom, who all love the garden too. While his uncle detests gossip, several of the other gardeners and palace servants tell him of the great mystery of the princesses' dancing slippers. Every third day the princesses are found in their rooms, exhausted, while all their slippers are worn through. Even though their bedroom doors are locked and guarded and they have maids in their rooms. The king is distressed at the extra expense of constantly buying his twelve girls new slippers, but none of his daughters will tell him why the slippers get worn out.

The first time Galen meets Rose, the eldest of the princesses (all named for flowers in the garden that Queen Maude loved), she nearly falls into a fountain, and gets rather wet. He is embarrassed at first, then distressed, as the princess falls ill, first with a cold, then with pneumonia. One by one, her sisters fall ill as well, and even when they are all sick, their slippers end up worn through. It takes the girls months to recover, as they are clearly exhausted by their late night dancing, yet none of them will tell anyone what they do at night.

At his wit's end, King Galen invites foreign princes to his kingdom, offering to let them solve the mystery of the princesses' midnight adventures in return for the hand in marriage of one of the girls. Yet one by one, the princes fail, get infuriated, leave Westfalin, and shortly after die in horrible accidents. As the months go on, and more princes die, the neighbouring countries start accusing the princesses of witchcraft. Galen, who has gotten to know all the girls, and who has befriended and then fallen for Rose, is determined to help the girls, and solve the mystery, before the country is plunged into another war, which would devastate the country.

Princess of the Midnight Ball is a retelling of the fairy tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses. In an interview included in the extras in the book, Ms George says she always wondered about this tale, thinking that if the girls danced their slippers through every single night, they must be exhausted and weary, and from this speculation, her story developed. Even with twelve different princesses, aged between 17 and 6, the various girls have distinct personalities, and it's rarely difficult to keep them apart.

Rose may be a princess, but she is troubled by the burden of taking care of all her younger sisters after their mother's death. While she would prefer to be carefree, she still shoulders the responsibilities given to her, acting as hostess for her father at social functions and surrogate mother. She is helped by her eldest sisters, but none the girls don't have it easy, forced to dance in the court of the King Under Stone first every third night, then every night, even when they are sick to death with flu. If they try to tell anyone what is going on, they are either unable to speak or spout silly nonsense, even when the situation gets serious and the clergy accuse them of witchcraft.

Galen may be of common birth, but he is loyal and resourceful and kind to those around him. As a true fairy tale hero, he is rewarded for his kindness with magical gifts, and these prove instrumental in helping save the princesses from the curse. He is fully aware of the impropriety of an under-gardener being friends with a princess, let alone loving her, but can't help himself, and becomes more and more fond of all the girls the longer he works in the garden. He decides to help the princesses not in the hopes of the king's reward, as he is convinced no king would want his daughter marrying a gardener, but he cannot stand to see the girls suffer any longer, and possibly get excommunicated and convicted of witchcraft.

The story has a mystical quest, helpful old people, an evil villain in a sinister underground kingdom, determined that the Westfalian princesses will marry his half-human sons. It has a brave hero who knits his own socks and scarves and is not afraid to get his hands dirty, and twelve lovely princesses cursed by the foolish decisions of their now-dead mother. I was delighted by Jessica Day George's last fairy tale retelling, Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, and this one was also excellent. It's also the first book I've read that contains knitting patterns in the back. I am very much looking forward to Day George's take on Cinderella, currently out in hardback, and will buy and read it as soon as it's out in paperback.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

96: "Maybe This Time" by Jennifer Crusie

Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Page count: 352 pages
Date begun: October 20th, 2010
Date finished: October 20th, 2010

Andie Miller is about to get married to a nice, reliable writer, the complete opposite of her ex-husband North Archer. She just needs to sever any remaining connection to him by handing back all the alimony checks she's received since their divorce ten years earlier. Then she can get on with her life. Of course, seeing North again brings back all sorts of memories, and he's a very hard man to say no to.

North Archer is responsible for two young children. His cousin died two years ago, and the kids were orphaned. Once their aunt died, the kids were left alone in a huge mansion in the countryside in Ohio, with only nannies and an elderly housekeeper to take care of them. The third nanny just quit, claiming the house is haunted. She tried to take the children away from the house, but the little girl had a near-psychotic break and the boy was expelled from boarding school for setting fires. He needs someone sensible, stubborn and capable to sort out the children, get their grades up to scratch, and convince them to move in with him. Who better than his ex-wife Andie, who could always sort out anything? That this will take her away from her fiancee for an extended period of time is really just a bonus.

As North offers her ten thousand dollars to spend a month in the old house, Andie really doesn't feel she can refuse. She starts to wonder if she shouldn't have asked for more money once she sees the house and meets the inhabitants, though. The house is an old Victorian mansion, moved brick by brick from England, with furniture and brickabrack included. The driveway is falling apart, the garden is overgrown. The housekeeper is absolutely ancient, has lived there for most of her life, clearly drinks too much and refuses to listen to a thing Andie says until she hears the name Archer, forcing Andie to pretend she is still married to North. Carter, the little boy, barely speaks. Alice, a tiny, scrawny waif is more like a wild creature than a girl, and carries a mouldy, creepy doll with her everywhere. If Andie tries to make her do anything she doesn't want to, she screams hysterically at the top of her lungs.

While Andie finds Archer House unnerving and creepy, she is a practical and educated woman, and refuses to believe in any ghost nonsense. Even when she keeps seeing things out of the corner of her eye, Alice is clearly talking to someone in her room at night, when the rocking chair by Alice's bed seemingly rocks by itself and she keeps hearing voices as she drifts off to sleep at night. She also can't stop thinking about North all the time, and being in the run-down house means she keeps having to contact him for help. Then, just as she seems to be making progress, an unscrupulous reporter arrives on the doorstep with her ex-brother-in-law and a cameraman in tow, wanting to make a news feature on the "haunted house" and the poor, terrified orphans who live there.

Andie is similar to many of Jennifer Crusie's other heroines. Smart, self-sufficient, curvy, and in no desperate need for children of her own. She works as a teacher, but has never settled long in one place, having moved every year or so since her divorce to North. They got married after one day, and the marriage only lasted a year, before Andie bolted, as North puts it. She claims she couldn't take his neglect any longer, never seeing him because he worked sixteen-hour-days at his family's law firm. Now she is ready to move on, and marry the dependable Will, she just needs to sort out the Archer House mess, as she refuses to back down from the challenge.

North did not want to divorce Andie, and only suggested it because she seemed so unhappy. Still not over her after ten years, he has to acknowledge to himself that he sent her to Archer House to keep her in his life for a little bit longer, hoping that maybe something would happen to keep her from marrying the other guy. He's not entirely sure that Andie will stay with the kids for a whole month, as his experience is that she runs when things get tough.

Maybe This Time is first and foremost a ghost story, inspired by Henry James' classic The Turn of the Screw. Anyone reading it hoping for a fun and light-hearted romance like many of Crusie's other books (which I tend to adore) will be disappointed, as the romance is decidedly secondary to the suspense and ghost plot here. The kids have lived in their creepy house for a long time, surrounded by things that grown-ups don't believe in. They are not happy and cheerful and well-adjusted, having been orphaned, neglected and left to fend for themselves for far too long. There are actual ghosts in the story, and the majority of them are not nice. It's a good book, but in a different tone from most of Crusie's previous work, and I think I prefer her more easy-going romances to this one.

95: "The Titan's Curse" by Rick Riordan

Publisher: Hyperion
Page count: 336 pages
Date begun: October 18th, 2010
Date finished: October 19th, 2010

WARNING! CONTAINS A SPOILER FOR THE SEA OF MONSTERS, THE PREVIOUS BOOK IN THE SERIES!

Another year, another adventure for Percy Jackson, demi-god son of Poseidon. He, his friend Annabeth (daughter of Athena) and recently turned back from a tree, Thalia (daughter of Zeus) are at a military academy on the lookout for two half-mortal kids they believe may be in danger. Shortly after finding the two half-bloods, Bianca and Nico, things go horribly wrong. A giant manticore tries to kill them, the goddess Artemis intervenes, and Annabeth falls off a cliff while fighting the manticore.

Artemis travels with a team of eternally adolescent young girls, who have all gained immortality in return for staying chaste and loyal to the goddess of the Hunt forever. Her second in command is a very hostile girl who Thalia calls Zoe Nightshade. Zoe and the rest of the hunters are ordered to go with Thalia, Percy, Bianca and Nico to Camp Half-Blood, while Artemis hunts a legendary monster that may bring about the end of the Gods. But before she leaves, Bianca joins her little crew of adolescent huntresses. Nico is too busy collecting Greek myth trading cards to really care.

The group have not been back at camp long before it becomes obvious that Annabeth is not the only half-blood to have disappeared recently. Percy is convinced she is still alive, as he keeps having dreams where he sees her in danger, just like he saw Grover in danger in the last book. After a few days back, they receive news that Artemis has been captured, and a quest has to be launched to save her. Zoe refuses to have any men with them, but the Oracle claims they have to bring both half-bloods and hunters, or the quest will fail. When at the last minute, one of the hunters can't come, Percy sneaks after the group wearing Annabeth's cap of invisibility. He knows that she is in the same place as Artemis, as he has seen them together in his portentous dreams.

The series really holds up, and is a lot of fun to read. It is clear that if Aphrodite gets her way, Percy and Annabeth are on their way to one heck of a tragic romance, not entirely sure if they want to play into her hands, although Percy is getting more and more taken with his friend. He is certainly very worried when he found out that she was considering joining Artemis' huntresses, thereby swearing off boys forever.

Even more Greek mythology is explored. As well as the manticore, there are pegasi, cow serpents, zombies made from dragon's (well, technically dinosaur) teeth, we find out more about Artemis and Apollo, the Hesperides, their father, and yet again Percy and his friends have to work to save the Greek pantheon and the world from destruction. The books follow a formula, but are enjoyable nonetheless.

Monday, 18 October 2010

94: "Tears of Pearl" by Tasha Alexander

Publisher: Minotaur Books
Page count: 352 pages
Date begun: October 15th, 2010
Date finished: October 16th, 2010

WARNING! CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS FOR A FATAL WALTZ, THE THIRD LADY EMILY MYSTERY!

Lady Emily Hargreaves, formerly Ashton, is on her honeymoon with her beloved husband, Colin. Having earned the disappointment of both Lady Emily's formidable mother and Queen Victoria herself after eloping to Greece to get married rather than have a lavish society wedding in the Queen's own chapel, the couple are enjoying a trip on the Orient Express when a British diplomat keels over at their dining table. The Hargreaves help him, and it turns out that he simply misjudged the dose of his sleeping medication, but he is nonetheless very grateful, and promises to help them when they arrive in Constantinople.

An avid study of ancient history and Greek, as well as an amateur sleuth who has solved two murders, including that of her first husband, the Viscount Ashton, Lady Emily wants to see Troy and Constantinople and other famous landmarks. Her husband, a trusted Intelligence Agent for the Crown, wants nothing more than to keep his wife out of danger and pamper her as much as possible. This proves difficult when on one of their first evenings in Constantinople, a harem girl is found murdered, and she is none other than the missing daughter of the diplomat the Hargreaves befriended on the train, stolen from her family by bandits when she was only three years old. The father, who has spent most of his life since her disappearance searching for her, is devastated.

As the girl is half-English, Colin Hargreaves is granted permission to investigate the murder. But as most of the suspect live within the Sultan's harem, Colin has no choice but to let Emily take part in the investigation. She can go where he cannot, and question those he will not be allowed access to. In the course of the investigation, Emily discovers that her preconceptions about life in the Ottoman empire are not at all what she was led to believe, but that there is still a lot of intrigue, and more than one person had a motive to kill the young woman. What at first appears to be sea-sickness may also turn out to be a natural result of her recent matrimony, but remembering her aunt's death during childbirth, and reading the letters from her best friend who is currently experiencing a very difficult pregnancy, Emily is not at all certain she is ready to become a mother. That is, of course, if she survives to unveil the killer.

The Lady Emily Asthon novels may seem very similar to Deanna Raybourn's Lady Julia Gray series, and on the surface, there share many things in common. Both are mystery novels, set in Victorian times, featuring daughters of Earls, who are both widowed in the first novel of the series. Both widows solve the murders of their husbands, and go on to find love with men who they share their investigations with. Yet the tone and style of the books are very different, and having read the fourth installments of both series back to back, I am struck by the difference between them as well. Colin and Emily do not have the stormy and tempestuous relationship that Julia and Brisbane have, theirs is a much more tranquil and in some ways more romantic partnership. While in Raybourn's books, Brisbane was reluctant to enter into a romantic relationship with Julia because of their difference in social status and wealth, it is Colin who pursues Emily for two novels before she finally accepts and becomes his wife.

Still, fans of one author will undoubtedly enjoy the books of the other. Any fan of historical mystery could do much worse than pick up the books of either Tasha Alexander or Deanna Raybourn, all four books in each of the authors' series have been excellent. Tasha Alexander's fifth Lady Emily novel is out in hardback in about a week, and I am not sure I can wait until it is released in paperback to buy it.

Happy anniversary, blog!

So as of today, my blog is one year and a day old. I wrote the first post on the 17th of October last year. This also happens to be the 101st post, which is also nice.

This year's Cannonball Read is nearly over. My goal, which I really hope I will reach, is to have blogged 100 books before the end of October (which is also the number of books Pajiba asked their participants to read and blog during the first Cannonball Read. I don't know if Pajiba are doing another year of the challenge, but I think I would be up for it if they do.

I have read much more than 100 books during the year of Cannonball, but have, as mentioned before, chosen not to blog all of them, mainly as I didn't think all of the reviews would be interesting for anyone but myself to read. I am still so jealous of so many book reviewers out there, most of the blogs or review sites I follow seem to have contributors who are much better writers than I. Normally I'm very good at starting things like blog plans, journal writing, promising to keep in touch with friends regularly by e-mail etc, and then dropping them after a month or two. But this was a challenge I set myself, and have managed to keep doing for a whole year (unlike the husband, whose last blog post was in April, I think).

So happy birthday to the blog! From now on, I think the blog will be not just my book blog, I may occasionally post more personal stuff, as well as short TV or film reviews. We shall see.

Friday, 15 October 2010

93: "Dark Road to Darjeeling" by Deanna Raybourn

Publisher: Mira
Page count: 400 pages
Date begun: October 13th, 2010
Date finished: October 15th, 2010

WARNING! CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SILENT ON THE MOOR, THE THIRD LADY JULIA GRAY NOVEL

This is the fourth Lady Julia Grey mystery by Deanna Raybourn, and as such it is impossible for me to review it without there being some spoilers for the plots of the earlier books. I will try not to spoil anything major in the plot for this one, though.

Lady Julia Brisbane, as she is now, after marrying Private Inquiry Agent Nicholas Brisbane at the end of the former book has spent the last nine months travelling around the Mediterranean on her honeymoon. The Brisbanes are intercepted in Egypt by Julia's sister Portia and her brother Plum (actual name Eglantine - all nine March siblings are named after Shakespeare characters). Portia needs them to go to India, where Portia's former lover Jane now lives, recently widowed and pregnant. Portia, having corresponded with Jane for months, is convinced that Jane's husband was murdered, possibly by someone wanting his estate, and that Jane may now be in danger, as she could be carrying an heir.

Marriage is not easy for Julia and Brisbane. Julia wants to be an active partner in Brisbane's investigations, he wants to keep her safe and out of harm's way. When he discovers that Julia kept pertinent facts from him regarding Portia's suspicions, they have a falling out, and Brisbane stays behind in Calcutta while Julia travels with her siblings to the tea plantation in Darjeeling where Jane now resides. Julia is determined to solve the murder of Freddie Cavendish by herself, to prove to Brisbane how useful she could be to him in his investigations.

Once she arrives, she realizes that there is no real proof that Freddie even died of unnatural causes, but closer investigation suggests foul play. The job of ferreting out the killer is not an easy one, there are many inhabitants of the small valley who have extremely likely motives for wanting Mr Cavendish dead - some of them known to Julia and Brisbane of old.

I am a great fan of Deanna Raybourn's previous Julia Grey novels, and was eagerly expecting the arrival of this one. I was delighted to see that while Julia and Brisbane are a married couple now, they are never boring and predictable. Julia is forced to realize some difficult things about herself and new role as a wife, and it takes her siblings to make her see that her point of view is not necessarily the right one. Brisbane is mysterious, and private and short-tempered, but has very good reasons for not wanting Julia anywhere near his work. Their relationship is so heartwarming and fascinating precisely because they care so much for each other, but sometimes have so much trouble communicating.

Another great thing in the book is Julia's relationship with her brother and sister. Portia has been an important supporting character throughout the series, and in this novel, the events started in the Silent on the Moor are finally resolved. I very much liked her and Jane as a couple, and wanted them to have a happy ending at last. Portia is such a tremendously important person in Julia's life, and has observed her relationship with Brisbane from the start. As a result, she can advise her sister, and tell her necessary, if unpopular truths. It was good to see more of Plum, as well, and I find the role being set up for him in later books an intriguing one.

There was one aspect of the ending which I felt was a bit hurried, and seemed a bit like tying off a loose end a bit abruptly, but I shall trust that Deanna Raybourn knows what she's doing, and already look forward to the next mystery the Brisbanes have to solve.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

92: "Scoundrel" by Zoë Archer

Publisher: Zebra
Page count: 370 pages
Date begun: October 11th, 2010
Date finished: October 12th, 2010


Bennett (yes, his mother is a huge fan of Jane Austen - guess what his brother is called?) Day is a cryptographer and solver of codes and riddles for the Blades of the Rose. He merrily travels the globe, working to protect the world's magic sources from abuse and exploitation from the Heirs of Albion and other similar organizations who would use magic for their own gain and to preserve the international dominance of England and the English. They want to use the magical sources around the world to subjugate non-English peoples and countries, while the Blades try to avoid exactly that. He thrives on action, adventure and danger and is indeed the scoundrel of the title, using his charm and dashing good looks to sweep women off their feet wherever he goes. In Greece, he has just escaped an enraged husband, when he meets what may well be his match in a marketplace.

Lady London Edgeworth Harcourt has been a widow for nearly 3 years. She has lived a sheltered life, pampered by her father and neglected by her husband, both Heirs of Albion, who believe that women are ornaments and possessions too delicate to trouble with the realities of the world. An unhappy daughter, then wife and widow, London has by necessity taught herself everything she has yearned for, including swimming and numerous languages, including ancient dialects hardly anyone masters. Once her father realizes that his daughter can decipher the archaic Greek dialect needed to decode a riddle on an old temple, he has no choice but to bring her with him to Greece. He wants to find Greek fire, a weapon that will make England near unstoppable, but does not in any way intend to tell London why the inscription needs decoding.

London sees her journey to Greece as a chance to finally break free and discover the world she has only read about. She is delighted by the country, and drags her maid all around Athens to see as many sights as possible before she must depart to translate the temple inscriptions. She is finally free of her widow's weeds and cannot wait to actually experience things, glad that her father values her linguistic abilities and actually needs her for something. She runs into Bennett in the market place, where he defends her from an angry street vendor who accuses her of sabotaging his business, when she dares to point out that he is selling bogus antiquities and refuses to believe she can actually read the language on the pottery shards. There is an instant attraction between the two, which is soon complicated when Bennett realizes that she is not only a linguistic expert, but the daughter of one of his worst enemies, and might help the Heirs find the source he is in Greece to protect.

Unsure of whether London is an evil temptress working with her father, or entirely innocent and unaware of the dealings of the Heirs, Bennett abducts her from her father's steamship and he and his friends quickly realize that she knows nothing of the Heirs of Albion or their plans. Bennett reveals the truth about magic, sources, the Blades and the Heirs, but London is reluctant to believe that her father, late husband and brother could be so evil and ruthless, and not sure she can trust the charming stranger she only just met. When she is recaptured by her father and confronts him, he not only confirms what Bennett told her, but reveals that Mr Day is the man who killed her husband. She also realizes that far from admiring and respecting her linguistic abilities, her father only wants her so he can locate another magic source, then he plans to marry her off to one of his toadying Heir lackeys and she will be forced back into her stifling and restrictive existence as trophy wife once more.

Very conflicted and confused, London has to choose if she is to help her father, who wants to use magic to subjugate and oppress people for the glory of England, or trust Bennett, the man who killed her husband, who gave her a false name when they first met, and who abducted her without any difficulty. Soon she finds herself on the run from her father's steamship, on the trail of a magical weapon with a breathtakingly attractive and clearly dangerous man. There is adventure, danger and several linguistic challenges in her future, and her life will never be the same again.

In some ways, I liked Scoundrel more than Warrior, in others, I did not. London is a a lovely woman, thirsting for adventure and very open to new experiences. Possibly too open, and sometimes even a bit rash. She is very quick to trust Bennett, even though he kidnaps her, has lied to her and she knows he hates her father, and made her a widow. She feels extremely attracted to him, and he clearly returns the feelings, and pretty much every lustful thought the couple feel when observing each other is described by the author. It is clear that London is very intelligent, she taught herself a buttload of languages, both modern and ancient, but she still seems almost stupidly trusting when she goes off with Bennett and his allies. I would have liked more exploration of London's (and Bennett's, for that matter) non-lustful thoughts.

Bennett is quite happy being a scoundrel, sleeping his way around the world while having adventures and fighting bad guys. He is impressed by London's linguistic abilities, and deeply impressed with her lust for adventure. Of course, it doesn't hurt that she is wicked beautiful. He doesn't want to settle down, and has never met a woman he was willing to give up his independence and bachelorhood for. At first, he is convinced that his passion for London will fade in time, just as with any other woman he's ever encountered. Unsurprisingly, the more time he spends with her, the more smitten he is.

There is a lot of action and adventure in this book, just as in Warrior. More of Catullus Graves' marvellous inventions are unveiled, we find out a bit more about the inner workings of the Blades, and while there may have been a bit more sex and lustfulness than I like on occasion, the book is still loads of fun, with some great supporting characters, and I'm very much looking forward to the next one, out in November.

Monday, 11 October 2010

91: "Warrior" by Zoë Archer

Publisher: Zebra
Page count: 370 pages
Date begun: October 9th, 2010
Date finished: October 11th, 2010

Captain Gabriel Huntley has spent almost half his life in the army. Just returned to England to possibly settle down with an office job in Leeds, he witnesses a man being attacked in an alley, and steps in to help. The man is brutally stabbed, and charges Gabriel to pass his dying message onto his friend....who is currently in Outer Mongolia. Gabriel, who was having doubts about a staid life in an office anyway, accepts the mission and travels to Mongolia to give the rather incomprehensible message to Franklin Burgess.

Mr. Burgess has a badly broken leg, but is a member of a secret organization, the Blades of the Rose, tasked with keeping magic safe and hidden from the population in general, and away from the unscrupulous hands of those who would use it only for their own gain. The message is a worrying one, meaning that the evil Heirs of Albion (a bunch of English noblemen bent on taking as much magic in the world for themselves and the good of the British Empire) are on their way to capturing a very powerful magic source in Mongolia. He has no choice but to send his daughter, Thalia, on the mission in his stead. Thalia is an unorthodox young lady, raised among Mongolian nomads, and has wanted nothing more than to prove her worth to the Blades since she was old enough to hear about the secret society.

While she is determined to manage the mission alone, accompanied only by a servant, it quickly becomes obvious that she will need help, and Gabriel is just the man for the job. He saves her from an ambush by two of the Heirs, and convinces her that it would be stupid for her to travel alone. At first, she refuses to tell him the details surrounding her mission, but it does not take long before she has to tell him the truth about magic, the Blades, the Heirs and her important task. Now the couple have to fight their attraction while they escape the clutches of the villains bent on killing them, and stealing the Mongolian magic source.

Warrior is the first of four Blades of the Rose novels, and to my joy the books will be coming out in quick succession between now and December. I already have the second book, Scoundrel, loaded onto my E-reader. The first book is a blend of historical romance, fantasy and adventure, reminiscent in tone of the Indiana Jones movies, with possibly a bit more focus on the romance. But the focus of the book is not just getting the couple together, but just as much the quest they are on, preventing the bad guys from gaining a weapon that could threaten untold thousands.

The characters are strong and well developed, and in an interview I read with the author, she talked about how important it was for her that the heroines be just as strong and capable as the heroes, maybe not physically, but holding their own, and by no means being swooning damsels that need rescuing and can't survive without a big strong man in their life. Gabriel is very clever, has years of battle training, can shoot and wrestle and excels at military tactics. But Thalia has been raised to think for herself, and can ride and shoot as well as, if not better, than a man. She is very intelligent, having been raised by her anthropologist father, and Gabriel is not intimidated by her brains, but rather finds this a very attractive feature in her. The couple have a good balance, and make an excellent team. I hope the rest of the series is as fun and exciting as the first book.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

90: "The Iron Duke" by Meljean Brook

Publisher: Berkley
Page count: 384 pages
Date begun: October 8th, 2010
Date finished: October 9th, 2010

Detective Inspector Mina Wenthworth is the daughter of the Earl of Rockingham, but she lives in a version of England that not long ago was enslaved by the Mongol Horde, and had been for centuries. The Horde infected the populace with nanoagents, and were able to control them with electronic frequencies, taking away their free will, and could even, during something known as the Frenzy, force them to become overcome with lust, mating with anyone close by. Mina is the result of such a Frenzy, when her mother was raped by members of the Horde. When she saw her child for the first time, the Countess of Rockingham gouged her eyes out.

England was saved from the Horde when the pirate captain of Marco's Terror, Rhys Trahaearn, sailed up the Thames and blew up the huge tower which controlled the infected Englishmen, popularly known as buggers. In the ensuing revolution, the Horde's control was lifted, and now the nanoagents no longer enslave people, but make them faster and stronger. Rhys was embraced as a popular hero and given the title Duke of Anglesey. He is popularly known as the Iron Duke

But Mina still looks like the Horde overlords that sired her, and this causes people to whisper behind her back if they are kind, and physically attack her if they are less so. She works hard as a Detective Inspector to help support her family, who while they are noble, are very poor. When she is called away from a ball in the Iron Duke's honour, to investigate the murder of a man literally dropped on the Duke's doorstep, her life changes forever.

Rhys has not had an easy life, and is not comfortable with the adulation of the people or the hero status he feels he is undeserving of. He is first annoyed that one of his staff called the police, as he would have preferred to sort out the murder himself, it is clearly meant as some sort of signal to him - but he is impressed with the Detective's zeal and determination, and the more intrigued he is by her, the more determined he is to add her to his possessions.

Mina, who has had to work three times as hard as anyone else because of her half-Horde heritage, and who constantly faces scorn and derision, is not about to become even more of a talking point and scandal by becoming the Iron Duke's plaything. But when it turns out that the Duke's former ship, Marco's Terror, where her younger brother Andrew is serving as midshipman, has been captured by enemies of England, she is forced to work together with him to try to save her brother. As they set out on a dangerous journey, it becomes obvious that not just the ship is in danger, but possibly all of England as well.

Mina is a really strong and unusual heroine. She has loving parents, but can never escape the knowledge that she is a result of rape, and her features cause her to be hated and feared almost wherever she turns. She is a dedicated professional, and has clearly earned the respect of her superiors and co-workers, but knows that she is unlikely to ever find a man who can accept her shameful origins, and any child of hers may inherit her Mongol features and face the same difficulties that she has had. She finds the Iron Duke intriguing and very attractive, but cannot let herself be tempted by him, as her reputation is all she has, and she cannot give any ammunition to the writers of the scandal sheets. She was also old enough to experience on Frenzy before the Iron Duke rid England of the control of the Horde, and fears losing control like that ever again.

Rhys is very strong and very dominant, and literally has bones made of iron. He escaped his birthplace in Wales early, and it is a mystery to most why the frequency of the signal tower failed to affect him. He did not want to be hailed as a hero and a saviour, but has reluctantly embraced his title and is trying to do the best he can for his people. He is fiercely loyal and protective of what he considers his, and does not hesitate to go after his ship when it's been captured. He pursues Mina with determination and aggression, but has to change tactics when he realizes that she cannot be bought or blackmailed into working for him, or sleeping with him. The more time he spends with her, the more fascinated he is, and he is determined to win her - whatever the cost.

The Iron Duke is the first book I've read by Meljean Brook, and I was very excited to read it, having read rave reviews in several places, and having gotten a taste for Steampunk in Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series. This is the first of new series, The Iron Seas, according to Ms Brook's website, and I am very excited. She has created a fascinating world, with mechanically enhanced humans, steam driven carriages, air ships, krakens and megalodons and some very well drawn characters. I will eagerly await new installments in the series, and probably go back and read some of her Guardian series as well.

89: "Naked Heat" by Richard Castle

Publisher: Hyperion
Page count: 304 pages
Date begun: October 5th, 2010
Date finished: October 8th, 2010

NYPD detective Nikki Heat is not having an easy time doing her job. Her face is on every newsstand in the city after Jameson Rook's article printed, and made her far more famous than she would like to be. She is trying to forget all about the writer and his feature article after their break-up, but this proves impossible after she arrives at a murder scene to find New York's most vicious gossip columnist dead, and Jameson Rook is the person who found the body. Cassidy Towne was the subject of his next article, and he wants to team up with Nikki once again, to solve the murder, finish his article, and maybe get back into her good graces.

It turns out that there is nothing simple about the case. On the way to the morgue, Cassidy Towne's body is stolen, she had numerous enemies and was writing a tell-all book about the death of a high profile movie star - Heat is under pressure to solve the murder quickly and wants to stay out of the limelight while doing so. She wants nothing to do with Rook, but needs his insider knowledge about the murder victim to solve the case. And new bodies keep turning up.

Richard Castle is a fictional TV character played by Nathan Fillion. I have yet to discover who ghost writes these books, but the first Nikki Heat novel, Heat Wave, was an honest to God New York Times Bestseller. ABC has done an incredibly clever thing by having the novels published along side the TV show. Naked Heat is even better than the first novel, it's fast paced and entertaining, there is great banter between the characters, just like on Castle, and while I had certain aspects of the story figured out in advance, the murderer's identity and motive came as a surprise to me. I really want to figure out who actually writes these books, as I would happily pay money for other novels the person writes as well.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

88: "Eat Pray Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Page count: 384 pages
Date begun: October 2nd, 2010
Date finished: October 5th, 2010

WARNING! CONTAINS SPOILERS!

Everywhere I turn recently, there seems to be some mention of Eat Pray Love. Elizabeth Gilbert has been on the Oprah show, it's been turned into a big movie with Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem. It's an international bestseller. One of my friends bought it to read on her very long plane ride to Peru this summer, thinking that it would be an easily disposable book - but ended up loving it, carrying it around with her on her three week trip, and took it back home with her. Having thought it was just the tale of one woman's trip round the world, I was curious, and decided I needed to read it for my blog.

I wanted to hate this book. Having seen the trailer for the movie, the whole thing seems so smug. To begin with, I really did hate the book, or at least Elizabeth Gilbert herself. She complains about being trapped in her perfect marriage with her understanding husband and their two homes in New York and I did not really see why I should be sympathetic to a person who leaves her husband to live with a younger actor, gets divorced, depressed and ends up ruining her relationship to both men. Needing to find herself and properly define herself as a person, Elizabeth Gilbert wanted to go to Italy to explore the art of pleasure, to India to explore spiritual devotion and to Bali to explore the balance between pleasure and devotion. Luckily, unlike lots of other women who suffer through gruelling divorces, her publisher paid her an advance, so she had the money to go off for a year and visit all these countries and do all these things.

She decides to spend four months in each place, and she wants to be celibate for the whole year, because sex messes things up and interferes with things. In the Eat part, she moves to Italy to learn Italian, and meets lots of nice people and eats and eats and eats and in the beginning pissed me off with her stories of how she loves travelling the world, but never uses guide books and seems proud to sort of stumble through things unprepared. She goes to a language school and does indeed learn quite a lot of Italian in four months, and manages to stop using anti-depressants because she has conversations with herself in a notebook.

Then, for the Pray part, she goes to India and lives in an Ashram and tries to find closeness with God. At first, she has trouble meditating and hates chanting and is unable to get into the whole spiritual release thing. She meets some straight talking man from Texas who refuses to listen to her self-pitying bullshit, and she eats vegetarian food and scrubs temple floors and in the end, obviously masters all the things she came there to do, and hugs trees and feels at one with the universe just in time for her to leave for Bali.

In Bali, she goes to find an old medicine man she met there years before. He read her palm and said she should come live with him, and he would teach her everything he knows. When she returns, he doesn't recognize her, because she's all happy now. He teaches her more meditation techniques and she sees how he heals people, and also befriends a lovely Balinese divorcee doctor, who has to move from place to place and struggles to take care of her precocious daughter and two adopted orphans. The lady becomes Liz' new best friend, and she manages to get all her friends and acquaintances to donate enough money that she can buy a house for the lovely doctor, and her endearing kids. She also breaks her vow of celibacy when she meets and falls in love with a Brazilian man 17 years older than her, and completes the Love part of the book.

I actually liked bits of the book a lot, but overall, this is the story of a smug middle class American woman who got to travel the world for a year on someone else's dime, and because she had to spend a lot of time alone and thinking about herself and her life, got over her divorce just fine. Some of the stories told in the book are very funny, and wryly and interestingly narrated. She describes things well and I really did find myself wanting to go to Italy and Bali, although the Ashram part didn't really grab me too much. Reading about someone else's spiritual enlightenment just isn't that interesting. The travelogue bits are much better. I am not sure why this book has become so very popular, but I suspect Oprah Winfrey's recommendation has something to do with it. It's not a bad book, by all means, but it's not a very good book either.

87: "Thorn Queen" by Richelle Mead

Publisher: Bantam
Page count: 480 pages
Date begun: September 28th, 2010
Date finished: October 1st, 2010

WARNING! CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR STORM BORN, THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES!

At the end of the last book in the series, Eugenie Markham, shaman and most-feared killer of faerie and other Otherworld beings, managed to defeat the not very nice King of the Alder Land, and through some trickery from Dorian, King of the Oak Land, became Queen of the now renamed and reshaped Thorn Land. Instead of a lush and medieval rural setting under the Alder King, the land shaped itself to Eugenie's whims and wishes, and is now a warm desert-like land, with cacti and high humidity, very different for all those living there. There is a prophecy that states that the heir to the daughter of the Storm King will wage a devastating war on the humans, and the gentry will defeat them. Eugenie's half-sister is on the run, more than happy to be the one who gives birth to said heir.

So Eugenie has to deal with her newly discovered half-fairy heritage, and that her father wasn't some run of the mill gentry lord, but the most powerful fairy king around, with amazing weather powers. She needs to find her half-sister before said sister gets herself knocked up and proceeds to give birth to some war chief, and she needs to get used to the idea that she is now a Fairy Queen. Kiyo, her half-human boyfriend, is not happy with her growing control of her rather scary weather magic, and the amount of time she has to spend in her Kingdom, which is directly affected by her moods and feelings. But since she IS queen, and discovers that her people are starving, unable to grow crops in their radically changed land, and that several girls have been disappearing, she has no choice but to spend more time in the Otherworld, and get more familiar with her duties. Besides, Kiyo has to spend rather a lot of time with his ex-girlfriend, who is expecting a baby.

Just because her sister is off somewhere willing to bear an heir, does not make Eugenie less desirable as a consort. She still has to fight off gentry who want to rape her, and there are powerful gentry who would like her as their lover, hoping to father the Storm King's successor. One of those men is Dorian, but Eugenie has trouble trusting him after he manipulated her into taking control of the Thorn Land. Yet with Kiyo gone a lot, a bunch of missing girls to find, and weather magic she needs to learn to control, it's hard for her to avoid him.

Things take yet a surprising turn towards the end of this book, and I will be very interested in seeing where Richelle Mead takes the story next. Eugenie, Kiyo and Dorian all continue to develop as interesting characters, and as the love triangle appears to be resolved by the end of this book, I'm pretty certain it's not going to be dragged out over the course of the series. The next book is out in March, and I look forward to reading it.

86: "Bayou Moon" by Ilona Andrews

Publisher: Ace Books
Page count: 480 pages
Date begun: September 28th, 2010
Date finished: September 29th, 2010

William Sandine is a changeling, raised in the Weird, a magical world where the geography in some ways mirrors our world, but things are very different and they have magic rather than technology. Being a changeling means he turns into an animal, in his case, a wolf. He is not a were-wolf, as such, he can't turn other people into shapeshifters by biting them, his changes are in no way controlled by the full moon, but the condition is hereditary. Having been raised a special ops soldier and an outsider, William has very few ties in the world. He is living in a trailer in the Edge, a semi-magical area in between the Weird and the Broken (basically our mundane world, where there is technology but no magic), collecting plastic action figures and working construction in the Broken.

He is contacted by what is basically the Weird-version of the CIA, and asked to go on a secret spy mission in a massive swamp area of the Edge known as the Mire. A crazy enemy spy master known as Spider, and his band of mutated agents are trying to get a special weapon, which would be disastrous for the Kingdom of Adrianglia. Since Spider hates changelings, and has a history with William, the Mirror are pretty sure he won't refuse the chance to get revenge and stop Spider once and for all. They're not wrong. William accepts the mission, and goes into the Mire, where he meets a young, seemingly homeless woman he has to make a deal with to get to his arranged meeting place.

The woman William affectionately names Queen of the Hobos, is in fact a young Mire noble named Cerise Mar. Her family has huge numbers and lots of land, but are very poor. The Mar family is in a feud with a neighbouring family, who has taken over one of their houses. Cerise's parents have gone missing, and that leaves her the head of the family. She needs to prove to the local authorities that her father didn't sell the house before he disappeared, and get the rivaling clan evicted. Then she has to locate her parents. She agrees to guide the strange Weird noble to make some extra cash, but had not expected to have to fight for her life to get them to their destination.

It soon becomes clear that Spider has kidnapped Cerise's parents, and tries to torture them to find the location of the hidden weapon William is also there to find. Spider wants to know why Cerise left the Mire so suddenly after her parents' disappearance, and figures he can also use her as leverage against her parents. When William realizes that Spider's mutant goons are after Cerise, he becomes even more determined to stay at her side, and the more time he spends with her, the more remarkable he discovers that she is.

Bayou Moon is the follow-up to Ilona and Gordon Andrews' On the Edge (they write all their novels under her name), but can be read completely independently, and works as a stand-alone novel. On the Edge is probably Andrews' best novel to date, it is certainly the one I love the most, and considering I adore ALL their books, that is great praise indeed. That one is completely self-contained, by the time they wrote Bayou Moon, they knew they had a series on their hands. As such, this one has a bit more of an open ending, but no edge of your seat cliffhanger that makes you curse the authors and tear your hair in frustration until the sequel comes out. Another thing that makes it obvious that the authors knew they were now writing a series, is the multiple story lines in Bayou Moon. There are a whole load of characters introduced, some not so very vital to the main plot, who I suspect will become protagonists in later stories.

William Wolf, as he is often called, first appeared in On the Edge, but everything you found out about him in that book is repeated here for new readers. He has always been a loner, born in a society that doesn't really accept changelings, abandoned by his mother shortly after birth, raised in a orphanage and trained from an early age to become a soldier and a killer. He feels that love and a family will always be denied him, and is therefore very conflicted when he meets Cerise and realizes that she is not repulsed or scared by him. He hides his true nature from her for a long time, afraid that he will lose her, but desperately wants a relationship with her.

Cerise has more family than she knows what to do with. A multitude of relatives, hardly any money, and heavy responsibilities on her shoulders. She has helped her father run the family finances for years, and when her parents suddenly disappear, she has to take the reins of the whole clan, and try to steer them right, in the midst of what looks like a very likely to be bloody family feud. She has also been trained to be the family fighter, and is not very amused when William assumes she needs protection, and can't take care of herself. As well as a brilliant manager, Cerise is a fierce fighter, and shows that she can cut freaky mutants in half with one sword thrust.

On the Edge is primarily the romance between Declan and Rose, with a secondary storyline about danger threatening the Edge and the surrounding world that needs to be stopped. In Bayou Moon, which I had been hoping would be the same, only with William and Cerise as protagonists, there are a bit too many story lines. There's a lot of time spent introducing Cerise's many colourful relatives and their various quirks, and there's the feud with the neighbouring family, and the spy subplot with Spider and his nefarious plans. The book has not one, but two climaxes, first the Mars have to fight their neighbours, and then they all have to take on Spider and his band of mutant spies to reclaim the mysterious and dangerous weapon, and free Cerise's parents.

Too many stories to keep track of splits the focus of the book, and makes it a less satisfying read. It's a shame, because I think Ilona and Gordon were trying for something more advanced and sophisticated with Bayou Moon, and I don't entirely think it worked. I did not in any way dislike the book, but I don't love it as much as I wanted to, and it did not live up to my (admittedly very high) expectations. I will still eagerly anticipate every new book written by the couple, though, and I am huge fans of their blog.

85: "Storm Born" by Richelle Mead

Publisher: Bantam
Page count: 512 pages
Date begun: September 26th, 2010
Date finished: September 28th, 2010

Eugenie Markham is a shaman, which means that she has powers to banish faeries, spirits, ghosts and other otherworldly beings to either the Underworld or the Otherworld. The faeries, or gentry, live in the Otherworld, where there are a number of different kingdoms. Eugenie has been trained for this since she was a teenager, by her stepfather, another powerful shaman. She uses the name Odile Dark Swan when she communicates with the non-human beings. But lately, more and more of the otherworldly beings know her true name, and a lot of them seem to be making really creepy come-ons to her.

She is hired by a rather mentally unstable young man to find his sister, who he claims was abducted by a powerful gentry. Since human girls captured by faeries are coveted for their fertility, and the girl is only a teenager, Eugenie reluctantly agrees to help the guy, even though he seems like a bit of a whack-job. She then finds out that the gentry that kidnapped the girl is a gentry king, and that her best chance to rescue the kid is by forming an alliance with Dorian, King of the Oak Lands. She is reluctant to trust anyone non-human, even more so when she finds herself really attracted to him. She also has to figure out the identity of the mysterious man she met in a bar and had a hot night with, and why the scratches he left on her back won't heal.

With the first book of the Dark Swan series, I have now tried all three of Richelle Mead's paranormal fantasy series. Her Vampire Academy books are a half-guilty pleasure of mine, and there's still enough that I enjoy about her Succubus books that I keep reading them, even when a couple have been a bit underwhelming. One of the things she does very well, is world-building, and the world she describes in this series is fascinating. Some of the story is set in the "real world", but it's the parts in the Otherworld that are particularly well done. With a number of different Fairy kingdoms, all with very different rulers, and a geography that seems to constantly change, not to mention the many interesting types of gentry there appear to be - this was a good read.

Eugenie is a strong and capable heroine, like so many others in paranormal fantasy. She is very good at her job, and not afraid to do unpopular things if it gets the job done. She has been raised with a very strong work-ethic by her stepfather, and feels very ambivalent about the gentry, especially after she spends more time in the Otherworld and gets to know more of them.

The supporting cast are all well done, as well. I especially liked Dorian, King of the Oak Lands, although Eugenie's room mate, who pretends to be a Native American, and Kiyo, the half-Hispanic/half-Japanese mystery guy she runs into, are also cool. I really enjoyed, but was not very surprised by, some of the revelations and developments in the books and will absolutely be picking up the second book in the series.

84: "The Folklore of Discworld" by Terry Pratchett and Jacqueline Simpson

Publisher: Corgi
Page count: 512 pages
Date begun: September 11th, 2010
Date finished: September 24th, 2010

The Folklore of Discworld is a reference book, co-written by Terry Pratchett and Jacqueline Simpson. Terry Pratchett talks about all the various aspects of folklore in his famous Discworld, while Jacqueline Simpson gives background on the folklore of our human world. Much of the folklore is mirrored or gently twisted in the Discworld. There is fascinating information on fairies, witches, trolls, dwarves, heroes, gods, magic and all sorts of things. The book pretty much does what it says on the tin. I would not recommend it as an introduction to general folklore if you have not read any Discworld books, as absolutely all the folklore discussed is covered from both our world and Discworld perspectives. But if you are a fan of Pratchett's Discworld, it's a great read, and inspired me to re-read most of his witches books while I also dipped in and out of this one.

83: "The Ruby in the Smoke" by Philip Pullman

Publisher: Laurel Leaf
Page count: 230 pages
Date begun: September 9th, 2010
Date finished: September 10th, 2010

Veronica "Sally" Lockhart is sixteen years old and recently orphaned. Her father's ship, the Lavinia, sank, and shortly after Sally received a mysterious note in the post. She goes to see her father's shipping partner about the contents of the note, but only gets to see his secretary. When she asks Mr. Higgs, the secretary, about Marchbanks and "the Seven Blessings", the man has a heart attack and dies. One of the office boys, Jim Taylor, helps her decipher bits of the oddly written note, and they figure out that this Marchbanks is a person, who lives in Chatham in Kent. They are unable to figure out what "the Seven Blessings" are or why it might scare a grown man to death.

It quickly becomes clear that there are mysterious events surrounding Sally's early childhood in India, during the Indian Mutiny, that she keeps having nightmares about. She gets a letter from Major Marchbanks, and when she goes to see him, he gives her a package containing a journal, and warns her that a Mrs. Holland is threatening him, and can be dangerous to Sally, as well. Sally sees Mrs. Holland following her on the way back to the train station, but is helped by a young photographer, Frederick Garland, who hides her from the nasty, old lady. Mrs. Holland wants a priceless ruby, and the journal Sally got from Marchbanks not only tells the truth about Sally's childhood in India, but the whereabouts of the ruby. Sally doesn't have time to read a lot of the journal before she falls asleep on the train - and when she wakes up, the journal is gone.

Sally moves out of her mean aunt's house once it becomes clear that her relative doesn't believe her about the events surrounding Sally's father's death. She is at a loss about where to go, until she remembers the friendly photographer she met in Kent, and goes to see him. Mr. Garland lives with his sister, an actress, and they are barely getting by, even though Frederick is a talented photographer. Sally, who was raised by her father, and may be lacking in traditional ladylike accomplishments, is a brilliant accountant, and is offered room and board with the Garlands in return for doing their book keeping. Now Sally just has to figure out why she keeps having horrible nightmares about a night in India long ago, avoid the murderous clutches of Mrs. Holland and solve her father's murder, as well as discover where all his missing money went.

Sally is a plucky and resourceful heroine. Her aunt disapproves of her because her father never sent her to school, but taught her himself. As a result, Sally knows how to shoot a pistol, keep books and read scientific and maritime texts, but has very little grasp of classical literature, embroidery and other things a well-brought up young Victorian lady should know. Sally's skills stand her in good stead when she leaves her aunt's house, however, and befriends the Garland siblings and moves into their colourful household. She has to escape murderous fiends, figure out her father's murder, and find her own way in the world after her father's death.

The book is aimed at a younger readership than Pullman's Dark Materials readership, and this book is a lot less complex than Pullman's most famous trilogy. But it's a fun adventure book for kids and Sally is a very admirable heroine and role-model. I look forward to reading about her continuing adventures in the rest of the series.

82: "Rosemary and Rue" by Seanan McGuire

Publisher: DAW
Page count: 358 pages
Date begun: September 6th, 2010
Date finished: September 8th, 2010

Private Investigator October "Toby" Daye is a changeling, a half-human, half-fairy woman, who feels out of place in both worlds. After a particularly nasty spell turns her into a fish for fourteen years, she has lost contact with her human fiancee and her daughter, no longer possesses a PI license, and is trying to lay low, far away from both fairy and human entanglements. This changes when her old friend fairy Countess Evening Winterrose leaves a message on her answering machine, charging her to solve her murder, and cursing her to make sure she cannot refuse. Toby will literally die if she is unable to solve Evening's murder in a certain amount of time.

So Toby has to come out of hiding, and start investigating. She needs to find out why Evening was murdered in the first place, and who could have been brutal enough to both shoot her with iron bullets and sever her throat with an iron knife. She has to get back in contact with a number of fairies, some less sympathetic to her cause than others, and solve the murder before the curse, or Evening's killer, catches up with her.

Toby is a cool heroine. It's easy to see why she would choose to isolate herself and try to stay far away from both fairies and humans who knew her, having been badly burned by both sides of her heritage. It is made very clear that the half-human changelings often have a hard time of it, never really being accepted fully in the fairy world. Toby had a surprisingly honoured position before she was turned into a fish on a mission, but feels she let her liege lord down, and has a hard time admitting that maybe she made some mistakes by cutting herself off completely from people who loved her upon being turned human again.

Unlike a lot of paranormal heroines, Toby is not that powerful. She has some magic due to her fairy mother, but it wears her out when she uses it, and isn't always helpful. She actually gets hit worse by Evening's curse specifically because she uses some of her magic, and most of the time she has to rely on brains and mundane weapons to fight her foes.

There are a number of fascinating characters in the book. Evening was clearly a very impressive lady, from what is revealed after her death. Toby also realizes that she only knew a tiny bit about her, and that she may have been overly judgmental about many things. Tybalt, the King of Cats, who loathes Toby because of her half-human blood, yet will keep his word to her anyway, was delightful, and the various fairy hideouts all over San Fransisco were very nice. Like Holly Black, Melissa Marr and a number of other writers of fairy-themed paranormal fantasy, McGuire manages to blend the Fay and Human worlds nicely, explaining why most humans never realize the supernatural world all around them.

The book was a bit slow at first, but as the action got going, I was hooked. I will be picking up the sequels to this to see if the series stays as good, or hopefully, gets even better.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

We have far too much stuff

Have just started my autumn holiday, a week off only six weeks after term started. In the olden days, this holiday was necessary so the children could help out with the harvest - now I suspect most of them play computer games and do very little useful.

I was wanting to spend the week being extremely lazy, catching up on my reading, going to the cinema a couple of times, finishing off my overdue correction work. However, my husband pointed out that our flat is unbearably cluttered, and we really, really need to deal with it before we get buried under all our stuff. As much as I prefer to live in denial of the fact that we are pretty much friends only to the pig and the rat when it comes to tidiness, and manage to overlook the issue that even when we have tidied and cleaned, most of the surfaces, corners and shelves in our flat are crowded with far too much stuff - I had to admit he was right.

So while he went off to play a Lovecraft board game with our friends (I really do not like board games, or any games that require more than me alone on a PC or games console), I plugged my Ipod into the stereo and got to work. OK, I got to work after several hours of aimless web surfing, having dinner, watching the latest episode of Castle and some reading. But once I got started, I really did get a lot done. As well as the 7 big standard bookshelves, we have a corner bookshelf, which has been mainly used to store all sorts of crap that doesn't fit anywhere else. The top shelf has been used to store various pictures, but the rest was really stuffed to the brim with books, magazines, old coursebooks, plastic bags etc.

The husband, who in the past year has got really into his cocktail making, not unreasonably requested that I clear out some space in the corner bookshelf, so he can store his wine and cocktail glasses somewhere other than in front of our books or cds, where they are currently spread out. Several hours later, our flat looks even more like a tip than it usually does, because it always gets messier before it gets better when one undertakes large cleaning projects such as these. In the process of clearing our corner shelf, and bits of the comics shelf, I have found many many things - and a whole load of rubbish.

Things I have found include:
Dune by Frank Herbert, which I thought I'd donated to charity ages ago. Now I'm giving it to the school library
8 notepads, pretty much unused
5 notepads, filled to a varying degree with work and/or old course notes
5 notebooks of varying quality, all unused (I have FAR too many unused notebooks)
3 shopping list pads
3 ring binders full of useless old lecture notes or course literature
6 printed volumes of old course texts
8 of husband's old Norwegian course books
2 course books I borrowed off a friend more than 5 years ago
6 pedagogy textbooks that I should probably take with me to work
A pair of fancy candle holders I got as a work Christmas present years ago
Piles and piles and piles of old course or work handouts
6 plastic files
4 old wedding magazines
15 paperback romances, translated into Norwegian, all going to charity
3 English language romances, also going to charity
My big box of colouring pencils
3 sets of knitting needles, 2 of which belong to my Mum
2 knitting pattern brochures
5 books belonging to my Dad
14 books belonging to my Mum
5 books I borrowed from a friend years ago and had completely forgotten I had
1 dress pattern for a medieval style dress
1 address book
2 old diaries, the oldest ended in 2001
3 audio books
A pack of forgotten duty free boiled sweets - still good!
2 large rolls of gift-wrap ribbon
1 Norwegian flag
A set of fancy stationary - don't think I've written anything non-electronic that wasn't a postcard in years
Many, many old postcards and Christmas cards
A complete 2007 Far Side Off the Wall calendar
Various self-help and diet books that don't work and need to get thrown out

As I was about to finish this blog post, the husband returned from his evening out, and he's very happy about the progress I've made. So that's good. And it does feel good to have a bit more space on the shelves. Not really looking forward to tackling the rest of the flat, though.