Sunday, 30 September 2012

84. "Gaudy Night" by Dorothy L. Sayers

Page count: 564 pages
Date begun: September 15th, 2012
Date finished: September 18th, 2012

Dorothy L Sayer's mystery novels tend to focus on her debonair aristocrat detective Lord Peter Wimsey, but in Gaudy Night, he takes on a more supporting role, and the object of his affection, Miss Harriet Vane, is the protagonist and takes centre stage, working to solve a series of very destructive pranks at her old Oxford college.

Harriet, like Sayers herself (it's widely believed that at least some aspects of Harriet are auto-biographical) is a successful mystery writer. She first appeared in Strong Poison, on trial for poisoning her lover, and Lord Peter unmasked the real killer and literally saved her life. He also fell in love with her and proposed, but Harriet refused for a number of reasons. Over the years, Peter keeps wooing and intermittently proposing to Harriet, they even work together to solve another murder mystery, but Harriet is ambivalent about her feelings about marriage in general and Peter in particular - so at the start of the novel, when they've known each other for five years, with Peter still proposing at least four times a year, Harriet is still uncomfortable about the state of affairs.

As well as being Peter's social inferior (she's a writer and the daughter of a country doctor, he's the second son of the Duke of Denver), she feels that they can never be equals in the relationship because of the impossible weight of obligation she feels towards him for saving her from execution. When factoring in the fact that even though she was acquitted of the murder, her name is still very much associated with scandal, and her previous bad luck with romantic relationships, and it's understandable why she feels they may not have a future together.

When Harriet is invited back to Shrewsbury College for a Gaudy (a formal dinner for former graduates), she's at first deeply hesitant, but is persuaded by old friends to come, and discovers how much she loves and misses the academic atmosphere. While in Oxford, Harriet finds an obscene drawing on the lawn outside the college, and a threatening note in the sleeve of her formal academic gown. As it's not an uncommon occurrence for Harriet to receive hate mail or threats, she thinks little of it, until she is contacted by the Dean and some of the senior staff of Shrewsbury some months later, begging her for assistance. The notes Harriet found are only two in a long series of offensive correspondence sent to a number of the students and staff. There's also been several acts of graffiti, vandalism and unexplained events at the College, and they're worried that the press or public at large will discover this, embroiling the little women's college in scandal.

Harriet feels her presence might do more harm than good, and tries to get them to hire professionals to look into the matter. As that proves impossible, she tries to ask Peter for help, but he's in Rome on a complicated diplomatic mission for the Foreign Office, and she reluctantly accepts that she's the only one who can help them. Taking up residence at Shrewsbury under the cover of researching a non-fiction book on Sheridan Le Fanu, Harriet tries to identify and unmask the "ghost". The mystery is not easily solved, however, as the college contains several buildings with winding hallways, there is a huge pool of suspects to begin with, and she has little to no help. After several months, the "ghost" is still unknown and at large, the pool of suspects has only been partially reduced, and an impressionable young student nearly drowns herself because of the series of harassing notes she's received. The case is becoming more desperate, and Harriet can't manage on her own.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, it's been said, and the time spent away from Peter in the comforting surroundings of her old college has given Harriet a lot of time to consider her ambivalence and feelings towards Peter. She sends a letter, imploring him for help, and he shows up in Oxford to assist her. Peter realises that Harriet has gathered all the information required to unmask the "ghost", but the fact that most of the evidence seems to point towards a woman she considers a friend, has made Harriet reluctant to take the final steps necessary to close the investigation. The arrival of the famous Lord Peter Wimsey adds further tension to the case, as the sinister "ghost" starts escalating the attacks. Will they be able to catch the culprit before someone dies?

Harriet is clearly a highly intelligent and admirable young woman, but in the very class-based system of 1930s England, it's impossible for her to forget that she is a figure of notoriety, and even though she was cleared of murder, she still receives hate mail and threats on a regular basis. Her previous romantic relationship ended dreadfully, and while she comes to realise that she's grown fond of Peter over the years, and might actually return his feelings, she's still deeply wary of committing herself. This is a time when women were subjugated by men in pretty much every arena, and as Peter is so much her superior in rank and status, it's natural for Harriet to be a bit cautious. Of course, there were several times when I wanted to reach into the book and shake her until her teeth rattled, as it was quite obvious to me as a reader (as I'm entirely sure Sayers meant it to be) that Harriet is being an idiot.

While understandably uncomfortable in the immediately following her murder trial, five years later, if a rich, charming, intelligent and extremely eligible man insists on courting you and proposing to you, if you actually like him back - trust his judgement and stop dawdling! Stop toying with the man's affection and accept his proposal, or make a clean break of it.

Sayers has been criticised for writing meandering stories, not always all that focused on the main mystery, and that's certainly true. She does by taking her time with setting the scene and having a number of story beats not directly concerning the solving of the crime, make the atmosphere of the books much more real and engaging, and she shows you the true personality of her characters brilliantly by showing them in a number of situations, rather than just as sleuths.

My only previous experience with her books is The Nine Tailors (which, in case you can't be bothered to check the link, I found rather dull). I'm so glad I was convinced to go back and try reading another one, because I enjoyed this a great deal. It helps that there is a romance element to the story, however anyone wanting passionate declarations and steamy sexy times will be deeply disappointed. Harriet and Peter's understated romance is nonetheless so incredibly satisfying because of the restraint and stiff-upper-lippedness of their manner with each other, and like in the books of Georgette Heyer, for instance, a lingering glance or small act can mean so much more than an overwrought love scene in another story. I suspect Sayers wrote this book partially to show her readers what a worthy match Harriet is to Peter, and now, having read it, I'm much more eager to read more of the author's work.

This is my second book read and reviewed for R.I.P VII.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

83. "Ashes of Honor" by Seanan McGuire

Page count: 368 pages
Date begun: September 11th, 2012
Date finished: September 12th, 2012

This is the fifth book in the October Daye series, and this review may contain spoilers for events in previous books. It's also not the best place to start the series, go read the first book instead: Rosemary and Rue. My reviews of the other books in this series can be found by clicking the character name tag.

Sir October "Toby" Daye, changeling knight and private investigator, retriever and rescuer of lost children, has been grieving for year, due to the losses she incurred towards the end of One Salt Sea. While seemingly getting by, on the surface, fulfilling her responsibilities, training her squire, paying the bills, Toby is acting more and more recklessly, and her friends and loved ones are getting worried. When another of Duke Sylvester's knights show up on her doorstep, begging for her help to find his changeling daughter, Toby wants to refuse, but understands that she's the only one who can help him.

The very proper and correct Sir Etienne hadn't even realised he had a teenage daughter until his ex-girlfriend called him up, furious because she believed he'd kidnapped her. Etienne can teleport, and his daughter has the same power. Normally changelings are closely monitored by Faerie. Chelsea has incredible powers and none of the control that other changelings are taught. She's not only opening portals across huge distances in the mortal world, but opening realms that were believed sealed off and forgotten ages ago. If Chelsea keeps on opening the portals, it'll cause rifts in the walls between the worlds, and can endanger not only Faerie, but the mortal world as well.

Tybalt, King of Cats, has been keeping his distance, but Chelsea's out of control teleporting is endangering his realm and family as well, and he needs Toby's help to sort things out. However, there's dissention in the ranks at the Court of Cats, and while Tybalt may have nine lives, he's going to have to be very careful not to lose all the remaining ones to rebels set on stealing his crown.

While it took me a while to warm up to Toby as a character, and to the October Daye series in general (I didn't really get into it properly until book 3: An Artificial Night). She's tenacious, stubborn and very determined, brave to the point of idiocy and far too liable to throw herself into life threatening situations at the drop of a hat. She's less charming than some of the other paranormal fantasy heroines that I'm fond of, and therefore (at least to me) took longer to grow fond of. Now I absolutely love her, with all her flaws (even though I frequently want to reach into the book and slap her resoundingly). She's come a long way in six books, has the lonely half human, half-very powerful fae. She's learning, through trial and error, love and loss, and countless near death experiences, that she may not have to fight ever battle by herself. She has friends, and allies, and people who care deeply for her. In this book, she actually thinks before she acts, and willingly consults her little group of compatriots, and the book is all the greater for it.

The supporting cast are also great. Seeing the always supercilious Sir Etienne forced to humble himself  to Toby, who he clearly doesn't always like that much and becoming a more well-rounded character as a result, was good. Quentin, Toby's squire continues to be a delightful side-kick, and it's obvious that while McGuire finished off several major plot strands and a big arc with the last book, she's setting up a whole new set of them with intriguing hints about the rapidly maturing boy's absent parents. Raj, Tybalt's nephew and heir, is also central to the plot, and McGuire writes the different youths with distinctive voices and presences.

Tybalt, my absolute favourite character, really gets to shine in this book, which of course warms my heart. Having started out as almost an antagonist for Toby in the first book, Tybalt has gradually become an important friend of Toby's, always there for her when she needs him the most, yet confusing her with his cryptic remarks and sudden disappearances. A third of the love triangle of the series for a while, Tybalt was disapproving of Toby's childhood sweetheart Connor for a number of reasons, and now, having patiently waited in the wings, is ready to take centre stage. He's clearly willing to risk everything for Toby, the question is what she really wants.

There's no question that this is my absolute favourite of the ever-improving series so far, and I'm really sorry that it'll be another year until I can read the next book. Fans of paranormal fantasy should definitely check the series out. It takes a couple of books to really hit its stride, but when it does, it grabs your attention and refuses to let go. You'll be hooked, and you won't regret it.

Being a mystery, and also a paranormal, this fits nicely into the R.I.P VII genres. This will be my first review for that challenge.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

82. "Archangel's Storm" by Nalini Singh

Page count: 352 pages
Date begun: September 7th, 2012
Date finished: September 10th, 2012

This book is the fifth in a series, and will most likely contain spoilers for previous books the Guild Hunter series. So avoid if you dislike that sort of thing. Also, this book refers back to a lot of characters and events in the previous four books, so it's probably not the best one to start with. The first one in the series is Angel's Blood.

Jason is one of the archangel Raphael's Seven, the angels and vampires who work for him and that he trusts implicitly with his business and security. Jason is his spymaster, and can literally fade into the shadows and move unnoticed in the places he visits, should he wish to do so. Jason also has a type of psychic power where he can hear whispers on the wind. He's quiet, deadly, and extremely aloof, unable to fully engage with the world around him, due to some seriously horrific experiences as a child. A lot of Nalini Singh's characters have troubled pasts, Jason's is worse than most.

At the wedding of another member of the Seven, hears a whisper on the wind alerting him that the archangel of India, Neha (who has the power over snakes and poisons), has lost her consort Eris, and it appears to be murder. Neha hates Raphael after her murderous daughter was caught breaking the laws of angelkind and executed - but she'd love to steal Jason away to her court, so when Raphael offers to send his spymaster to India to investigate the murder, Neha accepts. She wants Jason to swear a blood oath, ensuring he can't reveal any secrets of her household without forswearing herself. Being bound to Raphael, Jason refuses at first, but a compromise is made. Jason is to swear to princess Mahiya, Neha's niece, thus making it safe for him to explore Neha's palaces and grounds to find the killer, without betraying any of her business to Raphael.

Mahiya seems like a timid and weak angel, but Jason soon discovers that she has a quiet strength that has helped her endure centuries of her aunt's displeasure. The daughter of Neha's consort Eris and her twin sister Nivriti, Mahiya is a constant reminder to Neha of the betrayal of her most loved ones, and she's put the princess through all manner of torture, both physical and emotional. Mahiya has endured, silently, plotting quietly and planning to get away. She's afraid that the blood bond with the deadly spymaster will jeopardise her plans, but discovers that she may instead have found an ally. As the two work together to discover the identity of the murderer, who is not content to stop at one victim, Mahiya and Jason are drawn towards each other. But Jason has had all capacity for tender emotion burned out of him by the horrors in his past - is there any possibility of a shared future for them? And will Neha ever let Mahiya leave her court?

While I much preferred this book to the previous one, Archangel's Blade, I wish that Singh had focused entirely on Jason and Mahiya's story, rather than interrupting the main plot every so often with subplots having to do with Raphael or Dimitri (hero of the previous novel) and his preparations for turning his wife into a vampire. It added absolutely nothing to the story, instead it kept distracting me from the flow of the main plot, and I don't entirely understand why, if this was vital to the plot of the next book, the readers couldn't be let in on it in flashback then. Singh does really good flashbacks. From the prologue of the book, continued in little glimpses throughout, revealing a little bit more every time, we are shown why Jason has become the man he is, until he finally reveals it in the last third of the book. Both he and Mahiya have experienced terrible things, which makes it even more remarkable that Mahiya has retained hope and a stubborn insistence on forgiveness and softness, refusing to give in to hate and bitterness.

I liked the couple a lot, and their romance was slow to build. The murder mystery, however, I figured out a little bit too soon for my liking. I like when mysteries actually take a bit of figuring out, because if I can solve them so easily, why would it take the characters so much longer? If Jason's as capable and brilliant as he's said to be, it shouldn't have taken him so long to come to the same conclusion I did.

While I really liked the first two books in the series, I've had complaints with the last three, and if it wasn't for the excellent world building, and the fact that I really did enjoy this one quite a lot, I would be considering stopping. At this rate, I will give Singh one more chance to win her way back into my good graces (after all, I'm still reading Charlaine Harris), and hope that the next one is back to the form of the early ones.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

81. "Riveted" by Meljean Brook

Page count: 416 pages
Date begun: September 5th, 2012
Date finished: September 6th, 2012

Annika has grown up in a small secluded village in Iceland, populated entirely by women, who have kept it well-hidden through stories of witches and trolls in the area. She's been travelling for four years, trying to find her sister, who took the blame for Annika's nearly revealing the location of the town to the outside world, had a massive row with the elders, and left.

David Kentewess is a vulcanologist desperate to find the village Annika is from, as his mother's dying words was that he bury an heirloom necklace by the sacred mountain close to where she was born. When he meets Annika, he recognises her accent, and tries desperately to share her secrets. While drawn to David, Annika can't reveal the secrets of her home and the women there, whether threatened or cajoled. And before long, both Annika and David have much more to worry about than their growing attraction to each other and whatever promises they made to their families.

I will say this for Meljean Brook, after The Iron Duke and Heart of Steel, I thought I knew a little bit of what to expect. I was wrong. Well, I expected clever writing and interesting world building, and multi-faceted characters who I'd enjoy reading about, and I got all that. But story wise, this was completely different from the other two Iron Seas novels, and the start of the novel gave me absolutely no hints of where the story was going to end up. Suffice to say, Annika and David are absolutely nothing like the protagonists of the previous two novels Brook has written in her alternate history, pseudo-Victorian Steampunk world.

Annika has been raised purely by women, in a community where women either go off to get pregnant (some stay with their baby daddies if they have sons), or bring home foundling girls from other places. Same sex relationships are very common, to the point where Annika clearly feels slightly sad that she hasn't seemed to find a romantic relationship with any of the girls she grew up with. Nick-named "Rabbit" growing up, she still finds the tremendous courage to go off into the wider world to find her sister, visiting a number of new places on the airship where she serves as an engineer, and David is both amused and baffled by her lack of self-insight when he sees her many acts of self-sacrifice and bravery throughout the story.

David lost an arm and both his legs, and sustained a fair amount of facial scarring, in a horrible accident as a child, and his mother died to save him. He now has a mechanical eye-piece over part of his face, and mechanical limbs to replace the ones he lost. Most people naturally have trouble seeing past his artificial additions, and women especially seem either repulsed by him or excessively pity him. So when Annika, unused to men in general, treats him with kindness and openness, he's drawn to her even before he recognises her accent to be the same as his mother's. In no way an alpha male, David is deeply reluctant to pursue Annika, because of his previous bad luck around women.

The development of their friendship and later romance is a wonderful, slow and gradual process (frankly, both characters were almost too convinced of the other's disinterest and so reluctant to approach the other that I wanted to reach into the book and shake them both). Yet I'd rather the character have time to get to know each other properly before they declare they madly love each other than fall into instant lust and/or love.

As I've come to expect in Brook's novels, the world building is excellent, and while the first third of the story is very slow and sets up Annika and David's relationship and gives us their back stories, once the plot takes a sharp turn, it's frankly action and adventure and unexpected plot twists until the end. As in the other two Iron Seas novels, there are several breath taking action sequences that kept me at the edge of my seat, and once the story got going, I really didn't want to put the book down. While Heart of Steel is still my absolute favourite, this is a decent second, and I can't wait to see what Meljean Brook is going to give us next.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

80. "The Ugly Duchess" by Eloisa James

Page count: 384 pages
Date begun: August 30th, 2012
Date finished: August 31st, 2012

James Ryburn, Earl of Islay and heir to the Duke of Ashbrook is disgusted when he discovers that not only has his father squandered most of the family fortune, but he's also embezzled much of the money he was holding in trust for his ward, Miss Theodora Saxby (who happens to be James' best and dearest friend). The duke's solution to the problem is that James must marry Theo, or Daisy as James thinks of her as, before some other fortune hunter proposes to her, or Theo or her mother discovers the money is missing.

Theo is tall and skinny and not what anyone would call conventionally pretty. Yet Theo loves that the two people in the world who don't seem to see her as plain or even ugly are James and her formidable mother. Having grown up with James, she's only barely started considering him in a different light than the purely fraternal, when he first compromises her, and then very publicly proposes, in front of the Prince of Wales himself. The tabloids have a field day when the gorgeous and eligible earl marries "The Ugly Duchess". Despite the very romantic proposal and the glamorous wedding, they're convinced the wedding will last six months tops. As it is, James is granted only a few days of genuinely wedded bliss before Theodora discovers the truth behind her finances and his deception, and kicks him out in disgust, before he has a chance to tell her that he does actually truly love her and explain himself.

Nearly eight years later, James shocks London society to its core by walking into the House of Lords just as they are about to declare him legally dead after his long absence. The young, gentlemanly nobleman who left is now a sunburned, tattooed and fierce-looking privateer. Theo is no longer the ugly duckling, but an elegant swan, sought after for her fashion advice. Can James convince her that he always loved her, and win her back?

In When Beauty Tamed the Beast, the heroine was almost unbelievably stunning and had men falling at her feet because of her looks. Theodora is the exact opposite, young and lanky, with no curves to speak of and harsh, nearly masculine features (I suspect she'd be able to make a killing in today's society as a runway model). Yet James never sees her as anything but lovely, and when he realises just how upsetting it would be if the sarcastic and conceited young man that Theo is infatuated with actually were to propose and take his Daisy away from him, he has no choice but to carry out his father's plan. While he does deceive Theo, he also detests his father's wastrel ways, and is determined to rebuild the family fortunes and any money the Duke embezzled from Theo's inheritance. He even makes sure that Theo is granted equal rights in running the estate (which is ironically why she can turf him without a penny once she discovers what she believes to be the truth behind his proposal).

Theo is a driven young lady, with several brilliant business ideas that turn the Ashbrook estates into something very profitable. Betrayed by the man she trusted the most, she turns away from emotional entanglements and pours herself into the rebuilding of the family fortunes. As she becomes older, she also grows into her features more, and after a season in Paris, she returns triumphantly to London and becomes a trendsetter. As the years go by with no word of James, his cousin and heir, whose become Theo's closest confidant, wants her to declare him dead so she can remarry, rather than so he can become Duke. James has stayed far away from his loved ones exactly because he thought they (especially his beloved Daisy) were better off without him, yet after a near death experience, he realises that he has to win Theo back, no matter what the cost.

I liked the realistic, and rather awkward relationship between the young Theo and James (they're 17 and 19 at the start of the book). I wish Theo hadn't become quite so cold and reserved after the heartbreak she experienced, but can absolutely understand why she needed to build a protective shell around herself - considering the depth of the betrayal she felt, combined with the appalling treatment by the gossip sheets and society after her marriage. James' inability to see her as ugly, as well as his fondness for her even before he developed romantic feelings towards her was also very endearing. Plus, I'm a sucker for a good pirate story. I liked that James didn't hide the fact that pirates (or privateer, the "acceptable" form of pirates) aren't all that nice and kill people (although in this case, only other pirates who refuse to surrender). Of all James' fairy tale retellings in romance form, this has been my favourite.

Friday, 14 September 2012

79. "A Lady by Midnight" by Tessa Dare

Page count: 384 pages
Date begun: August 28th, 2012
Date finished: August 30th, 2012

Miss Kate Taylor has never really known who her parents are, and while she's found some sense of belonging among the many free-spirited ladies in Spindle Cove, working as a music teacher, she has always wondered where she comes from, and can't stop longing for a family to love. So when the strange and colourful Grammercy family come calling, convinced that Kate may be the daughter of a nobleman, she doesn't know what to think. Could she truly be a high born lady, not an unwanted by blow abandoned by her parents?

Corporal Samuel Thorne has kept a close eye on Kate since his militia arrived in Spindle Cove. Recognising her from her distinctive birthmark, he's vowed to keep his distance from her, yet he can't bring himself to stray to far away, driven by a fierce protectiveness that goes far back into a shared past Kate remembers nothing about. When the Grammercys come to town, determined to prove that Kate is a member of their family, he poses as her fiancee, in order to keep her safe. Until very shortly before, Kate had believed not only that Thorne was indifferent to her, but that he rather disliked her. Now she discovers that the gruff and distant man is deeply passionate and very attracted to her, he just hides it well. But Thorne is planning on leaving the militia, and moving to the United States. Will Kate have to choose between the welcoming family she always longed for, and the man who may be the answer to her dreams?

Having absolutely adored the previous two Spindle Cove books by Tessa Dare, it's safe to say that my expectations for this book were very high. I'm not sure any writer would've adequately been able to match them. Which is to say that I very much enjoyed this book, but I didn't love it to pieces, like I did A Week to Be Wicked. Kate was a great heroine, and Thorne is clearly the perfect guy for her, but their romance was a bit more restrained, and the huge cast of new supporting characters just screaming for their own follow up romances got a bit distracting. I also thought that Thorne's change of heart came rather suddenly, and the many fairly valid objections he had their long term relationship possibly going sour were quite valid, but were brushed under the carpet very fast indeed.

This is not to say that on the strengths of Dare's writing, I won't welcome the many romances I'm sure she's got planned for the Grammercys and possibly other Spindle Cove inhabitants (Minerva's older sister is still unwed, last time I checked). A solid novel, just not an amazing one.

78. "When Beauty Tamed the Beast" by Eloisa James

Page count: 384 pages
Date begun: August 24th, 2012
Date finished: August 24th, 2012

Miss Linnet Thrynne has to get married fast, after her obvious flirtation with a prince and an unfortunate fashion disaster has made the entirety of polite society convinced that she is pregnant. But what man would be willing to take a woman embroiled in scandal, possibly carrying an heir of royal blood?

Piers Yelverton, the Earl of Marchant, lives in a fairly remote spot in Wales, and has absolutely no wish to get married. He'd much rather practise medicine and let his formerly alcoholic father's bloodline die out without issue. Piers is a brilliant physician and also in constant pain due to a leg injury from his childhood (see bad relationship with his Dad). Yet when his father comes to visit, bringing the stunning Linnet with him, Piers can't help but be impressed, both with Linnet's physical charms, but by her sarcastic wit and refusal to be threatened or cowed by him. Used to bossing his junior doctors around and having everyone obey his every whim, he rather likes having Linnet around to talk back at him.

As the gorgeous Linnet and the crotchety Piers spend more time together, their attraction grows. But when an outbreak of scarlet fever erupts in a nearby village, their budding romance might come to a dramatic end.

Eloisa James freely admits that her hero, the Earl of Marchant is based on Dr. Gregory House, and that, as well as some of the wonderfully witty dialogue between the many different characters, is what really made the book for me. Linnet isn't a bad heroine, but no matter how witty, it's hard to fully sympathise with a character who's looks are constantly described as gorgeous, stunning and bewitching. Piers, with all this flaws, was a lot more appealing, and I admired his dedication as a physician, as well as understood his fraught relationship with his father - alcoholism really can and has destroyed many a happy family.

By no means one of my all-time favourite romances, the Regency version of Dr. House more than made up for some of the flaws the book had, and the book really is a lot better than the awful cover makes it seem.

77. "Thirteen" by Kelley Armstrong

Page count: 409 pages
Date begun: August 19th, 2012
Date finished: August 21st, 2012

This is the final book (at least so far) in Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series. This review may contain spoilers for previous books in the series, and anyone who hasn't read Kelley Armstrong before, would be better off starting with Bitten, Dime Store Magic, Haunted, Personal Demon or Spell Bound.

Thirteen starts pretty much immediately after the cliffhanger ending of Waking the Witch. Savannah Levine has rescued her half-brother from a renegade group of supernaturals determined to reveal their existence to the world. They've injected Savannah's half-brother with some something containing the DNA of several supernatural races, and it's making him really sick. Savannah and her friends need to make sure that the Supernatural Liberation Movement don't succeed in their plan, but with powerful forces involved, both on the demonic and angelic sides, the struggle could turn into an all-out war, and that would be very bad for humans and supernaturals alike.

As a fan of Kelley Armstrong since 2004, it was both nice and a bit strange to read Thirteen, the culmination of all her Women of the Otherworld books. Like the previous book in the series, this book features pretty much every major character in the series, both protagonists of previous books and a large cast of supporting characters. As such, I doubt it'll be very satisfying to anyone for whom this is their first foray into Armstrong's supernatural universe. Armstrong writes good heroines, and no one can say that she has cookie cutter characters. While the quality of the series has been a bit varied (I went off it for a bit, only to go back and rediscover why I loved it a few years back), this is a solid ending, and it was great to see all the former heroines and heroes working together towards a common goal.

Savannah, who started out as a supporting character in Stolen and Dime Store Magic wasn't always a very likable character, and even annoyed me quite a bit in the previous two books in Armstrong's final trilogy. Yet it was obviously carefully calculated by the author, to show just how much growing and development the character had left to do. I'd rather a character had too many flaws, rather than none and it's always nice when they develop and mature into someone better after a series of trial and tribulations.

If you've read some or all of Armstrong's other books in this series, then you'll probably enjoy this one a lot. If you haven't, do yourself a favour and check out one of the earlier ones I mentioned, they're some of the finest paranormal fantasy out there.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

76. "Leviathan Wakes" by James S.A. Corey

Page count: 504 pages
Date begun: August 2nd, 2012
Date finished: August 11th, 2012

Summary from Goodreads, because I'm feeling lazy, and I really need to get these reviews done:

Humanity has colonized the solar system - Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond - but the stars are still out of our reach. 

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations in the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, The Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for - and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why. 

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to The Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that the girl might be the key to everything. 

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations - and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe. 

I don't read a whole lot of sci-fi, but I don't want to find myself stuck in a rut either, limiting myself to only one of two genres of literature. So I try new things occasionally. I read sci-fi a few months back, when Felicia Day's Vaginal Fantasy Hangout featured two books I hadn't read before. They were more to my taste than this, which turned out to be a bit to spacey for me. I didn't hate it, by all means, but the story didn't really grip me either, and I kept making myself go back to the book to get through it. I don't like it when reading becomes a chore.

There's some very cool world building in this book, and the characters are nicely multi-faceted, it's not quite clear who's right and wrong. The story is told mainly from Holden and Miller's alternating POVs, and for the first part of the story, they're in very different places. There were some very cool concepts in the book, and certain sections are rather horrible, but creatively speaking very well done. While this book just doesn't seem to have it done it for me, I can see why it's popular, and why it was selected as a monthly pick in the Sword and Laser book club.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

75. "Gunmetal Magic" by Ilona Andrews

Page count: 433 pages
Date begun: July 31st, 2012
Date finished: August 1st, 2012

While this is sort of a stand-alone book, it fits into the larger framework of the Kate Daniels series, and as such, this book will be best enjoyed if you've read the previous 5 books in that series. Also, this review may and probably does contain spoilers for some of the developments in those books.

Andrea Nash lives in a post-apocalyptic version of Atlanta, where technology frequently is disabled when waves of magic sweep through the world, and it keeps things interesting, to say the least. Previously a valued member of the Knights of the Order of Merciful Aid, Andrea was retired when it came out that she is beast-kin, half human, half hyena (lower in status than a were-hyena). Shortly before she was kicked out of the Order, her romantic relationship fell apart, as her boyfriend didn't take it kindly when she picked the Knights rather than the shapeshifters in a city-wide crisis. So she doesn't have a whole lot left to lose, to say the least.

Now Andrea works with her best friend Kate (Consort to the Beast Lord, Alpha of all the shapeshifters in Atlanta and the surrounding areas, and generally a pretty scary lady) at Cutting Edge Investigations, trying to put her life back in order. She tends to wake up in the morning curled in the cupboard clutching some sort of weapon, plagued by nightmares about her really shitty past. When the head of Pack security asks Andrea to investigate mysterious deaths at a Pack construction site, she agrees, both because Cutting Edge needs all the business they can get, and because she needs to keep herself busy. The construction company with the dead shapeshifters is owned by Raphael Medrano, though, her ex-lover, and he appears to have moved on in a spectacular way, with a leggy, chesty, air-headed version of Andrea.

Shapeshifters are fiercely territorial and get crazy jealous, but Andrea has spent a lifetime trying to suppress her animal instincts and desperately trying to pass as a normal human. When she's forced to work closely with Raphael to solve the mysterious murders, however, it may be that she has no choice but to tap into her inner beast - both to solve the case, and win her lover back.

I love Ilona Andrews' books, pretty much without reservation. I was thrilled when I was actually in the US on release day for this book, and able to pick it up myself in a bookstore. While the book probably works fine for a new reader, to me, who's seen Andrea's development through the Kate Daniels books, I suspect that it's even more rewarding to get Andrea's full backstory and fight for her own HEA after getting to know her as a secondary character first.

There's been some talk on the internets of late about Strong Female Characters. The husband and wife team who are Ilona Andrews write PROPER strong female protagonists. They are capable, independent, fiercely protective and loyal to those they care about, not afraid to go out there and kick ass, but just as happy to stay at home and do girly things. Andrea has an exhaustive knowledge about weapons and firearms, and due to her incredibly awful time growing up, has taught herself to use said weapons expertly, so no one will ever mess with her again, and if they do, they're probably not going to live long enough to regret it.  But she also loves dressing up, doing her hair and reading romance novels.

As I said, this book gives us a back story to Andrea that it would have been strange to include in the main series. As the books are first person narrated, it was fun to see the world in the Kate Daniels books through someone else's eyes. I especially got a kick out of Andrea's description of her best friend Kate (who obviously doesn't spend a lot of time describing herself in the main series) and her mate Curran, the Beast Lord of Atlanta (who Kate obviously has different views about than Andrea).

Like all Andrews books, this novel is action-packed, sometimes terrifically violent, occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, has an amazing cast of supporting characters, as well as main characters you'd love to hang out with (and have on your side in a fight). I think it may be my second favourite book set in the Kate universe, which is very high praise indeed. If you like other books by Ilona Andrews, don't miss this one.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

74. "The Queen of Attolia" by Megan Whalen Turner

Page count: 362 pages
Date begun: July 12th, 2012
Date finished: July 13th, 2012

This review will contain spoilers for The Thief, so you may want to avoid it if you're bothered by that sort of thing.

Eugenides, official Queen's Thief of Eddis, is a thorn in the Queen of Attolia's side. Countless times he's broken into her palace, he even leaves little gifts for her. Even worse, after he managed to retrieve the legendary Hamiathes' Gift for his own queen, Attolia lost power and face. She wants revenge on Eugenides, and Eddis, and will ally herself with anyone who can help her. Patiently she waits for him to slip up, secure in the knowledge that one day her men will catch him, and he can haunt her no more.

Attolia does capture Gen, and seemingly exacts her revenge, but at what cost? Soon Attolia is at war with Eddis, with the more powerful Sounis trying to take over both countries. While no longer able to break into her palace, Eugenides haunts her thoughts all the more. To save Eddis from war with two more powerful foes, Gen has to recover from a grievous blow, steal a man, steal a woman, and possibly even steal peace. While he once claimed he could steal everything, such a task may be too challenging even for Eugenides.

Megan Whalen Turner's books may be young adult literature, but they don't pander to the reader. They are incredibly clever books that require patience and attention, but the reader is also richly rewarded. The Thief was pretty much a quest narrative. The Queen of Attolia has plotting, and political intrigue, a further exploration of the world first introduced in the first book in the series, and the story of how the Queen of Attolia became the cold and seemingly ruthless ruler that she has turned into. She has few that she can trust, and easily feels slighted. Bitterly jealous of the Queen of Eddis who doesn't have to be constantly vigilant to stay in power, she can't stand that the Thief of Eddis sneaks into her palace so frequently, taunting her with his easy access. She thinks she'll feel better if she teaches him a lesson, but discovers that revenge isn't all its cracked up to be.

Eugenides truly shines in this book, and manages amazing feats for someone so young. Most remarkable of all is the reason why he keeps breaking into Attolia's palace, and his plan for creating lasting peace between the countries, even after Attolia does something unspeakable to him. The Queen of Attolia is a wonderful book, and can be just as easily enjoyed by adults as teenagers. One of the best pieces of young adult literature out there, it is a joy to read.

73. "The Thief" by Megan Whalen Turner

Page count: 280 pages
Date begun: July 10th, 2012
Date finished: July 11th, 2012

In the kingdom of Sounis, the King wants an ancient artifact that could grant him power over the neighbouring kingdom of Eddis. He sends his Magus to retrieve the item, and with him, the Magus brings a small group of companions. As well as a guardsman and two young noblemen, they drag Gen, an arrogant young thief who claims he can steal anything, and who'd been thrown in the dungeons for stealing the King's private seal.

Skinny, extremely scruffy, rather coarse and deeply boastful, the Magus is not at all sure that Gen possesses the abilities necessary to retrieve the artifact that they seek. He attempts to gain a handle on the young thief, while continuing to educate the two noblemen in his charge. Will Gen really have what it takes to steal an item allegedly bestowed on humanity by a goddess? Will the Magus succeed in getting the item back to his King?

The first time I read The Thief I wasn't overly impressed, having heard good things about it, and knowing it had won a Newberry Award. The story starts slow, and Gen really is a surly and rather dislikable protagonist. I stuck with it because I liked the stories that the Magus and the others in the group told along the way, which were nice twists on ancient Mediterranean mythology. However, towards the end of the novels, the author's cleverness suddenly turned everything on its head, and the book became something else entirely.

Thus, re-reading it became a completely different experience. Because I knew more about Gen and his ultimate goals, as well as about the Magus and the two young men in his charge (some stuff is revealed later in the series), I was able to appreciate the story on another level and can absolutely see why it's become so critically acclaimed and lauded. Thus I would recommend you, if you pick this up for the first time and feel a bit bored - please stick with it. You will be rewarded in the end, and possibly tempted to start the book over from the beginning, just to experience the story once more.

72. "Grave Memory" by Kalayna Price

Page count: 348 pages
Date begun: July 5th, 2012
Date finished: July 9th, 2012

This is the third book in the series, and as such, this review can and probably does contain spoilers for the previous two books. So if you don't like that sort of thing, avoid this whole review, and start at the beginning with Grave Witch instead.

Plot summary from Goodreads:
When the dead need to talk, Alex Craft is always ready to listen...
As a Grave Witch, Alex solves murders by raising the dead - an ability that comes at a cost, and after her last few cases, that cost is compounding. But her magic isn't the only thing causing havoc in her life. While she's always been on friendly terms with Death himself, things have recently become a whole lot more close and personal. Then there's her sometime partner, agent Falin Andrews, who is under the glamour of the Winter Queen. To top it all off, her best friend has been forever changed by her time spent captive in Faerie.

But the personal takes a backseat to the professional when a string of suicides occur in Nekros City and Alex is hired to investigate. The shades have no memory of the days leading up to their brutal endings, so despite the very public apparent suicides, this is murder. But what kind of magic can overcome the human will to survive? And why do the shades lack the memory of their deaths? Searching for the answer might mean Alex won't have a life to remember at all...

Having eagerly anticipated this for months, ever since I finished Grave Dance, I must admit that the book didn't entirely live up to my expectations. I think this is partly due to the fact that the book starts very slowly, and the action part of the plot doesn't really kick in until about a third of the way through. What the readers do get in this book, is a lot more Death. More of his back story is revealed, and there's further developments in his relationship with Alex. Falin, on the other hand, barely makes an appearance, but the very end of this book suggests that book 4 is going to be a lot more focused on him. While I'm not normally a fan of the drawn out love triangle, I must admit that Price does a marvellous job of making me root for both guys, and making both options seem both extremely appealing, yet seemingly impossible for Alex. I can't wait to see where Price is going with this.

If you liked the first two books, you'll enjoy this one too, and I suspect that if I hadn't had my expectations turned up so very high, and if I'd known it was a slow starter, I would have been less impatient and enjoyed it more. You'd better believe I'll be getting the next one in the series, eager to find out more about Falin and the various Faerie courts.

71. "Timeless" by Gail Carriger

Page count: 416 pages
Date begun: July 1st, 2012
Date finished: July 5th, 2012

This is the fifth (and as of yet final) novel in the Parasol Protectorate novels about Alexia Tarabotti, and as a result, this review will contain spoilers for previous books in the series, and the book will not be as satisfying to you if it's the first one you pick up. Go read Soulless instead.

Book summary from the publisher, because it's been two months since I read the book: Alexia Tarabotti, Lady Maccon, has settled into domestic bliss. Of course, being Alexia, such bliss involves integrating werewolves into London High society, living in a vampire's second best closet, and coping with a precocious toddler who is prone to turning supernatural willy-nilly. Even Ivy Tunstell's acting troupe's latest play, disastrous to say the least, cannot put a damper on Alexia's enjoyment of her new London lifestyle.

Until, that is, she receives a summons from Alexandria that cannot be ignored. With husband, child, and Tunstells in tow, Alexia boards a steamer to cross the Mediterranean. But Egypt may hold more mysteries than even the indomitable Lady Maccon can handle. What does the vampire Queen of the Alexandria Hive really want from her? Why is the God-Breaker Plague suddenly expanding?And how has Ivy Tunstell suddenly become the most popular actress in all the British Empire?

My enjoyment of the various books in this series has varied. I adored the first one, thought the second one was dull and the third one rather dreadful, but book four was an improvement, and as a final book in the series, this was a worthy ending to Alexia's story. By now, most of the characters are fully developed in Carriger's world, and interact in amusing and sometimes surprising ways. Alexia has mellowed a bit, and is less prickly than in some of the earlier instalments. It's fun to see the "show go on the road" so to speak, and while in previous books the cast have been travelling in Europe, this time they go all the way to Egypt, home of the first vampires.

While certain things were left unanswered, to a large part, Carriger finishes off the major story strands with this novel. It's fairly clear to the reader what will happen in future with Alexia, her beloved Lord Maccon, Lord Akeldama, Biffy and Professor Lyall (two of my favourite characters), Floote, Madame Lefoux and of course Ivy Tunstell and her acting troupe. Never exactly groundbreaking and profound literature, this book was an entertaining light-hearted romp, and possibly my second favourite in the series after Soulless. 

Saturday, 8 September 2012

70. "Once Burned" by Jeaniene Frost

Page count: 346 pages
Date begun: June 27th, 2012
Date finished: June 27th, 2012

This is the start of a spin-off series from Jeaniene Frost's Night Huntress books. You don't have to have read any of them to understand these, though.

Leila is a human with very unusual powers, after having been badly injured in an accident involving a downed power line when she was 13. Now she can learn things about the objects she touches, and about the people who have held them before her. She pretty much has to be careful about touching people, though, because unless she unloads her power into lightning rods, she can badly shock anyone unlucky enough to get to close to her. Before her accident, she was a promising acrobat, now she does tricks at a circus with a vampire dwarf (he's able to handle her touch to a certain extent), who acts like a father figure to her.

When a group of evil vampires find out about Leila's powers, they kidnap her and try to get her to give them information about Vlad Tepesh (yes, that one - but he really doesn't like to be called Dracula), against whom they're clearly plotting something. When she tries to locate him in her mind  with objects the thugs have stolen, he instantly notices her presence, and tracks both her and her kidnappers down. As Vlad realises both what a danger Leila could pose to him in the hands of his enemies, and how useful her abilities could be for him, he refuses to let her go until they've tracked down the mastermind against the plot against him.

As Vlad has the power of pyrokinesis (he can control fire with his mind), and is completely impervious to fire and heat, Leila can also touch him without danger of hurting him. Even other vampires would eventually be affected by her strong electrical powers, but Vlad insists she use him as she would a lightning rod. He's completely unconcerned about her fear of him, and seems to encourage it, yet for all that he is clearly very dangerous and quite ruthless, Leila can't help but be attracted to the first man in her adult life that she won't have to worry about damaging with her powers. Vlad can also read Leila's mind (with occasional hilarious results) and cannot understand why she'd want to fight her attraction to him.

While I enjoyed the first few Night Huntress books, I haven't been that impressed with the later ones, and have usually enjoyed Frost's two standalone spin-off novels from the series more. Once Burned is the start of a series (I think it's a trilogy) and that means that while Leila and Vlad's relationship develops over the course of the book, they're by no means at their HEA yet, and there are more threats to both of them to come in later books. I very much enjoyed both the main characters (I always liked Vlad in his appearances in Frost's earlier books), as well as the supporting cast, and the further exploration of Frost's fantasy universe. While not the best paranormal fantasy I've read, I enjoyed it more than several of the author's more recent books, and will absolutely be checking out the next books in the series.

Friday, 7 September 2012

R.I.P. VII

Thanks to Raych on Books I Done Read, I discovered another Reading Challenge, which seems like a lot of fun to take part in.

Now in its seventh year, the R.I.P runs from September 1st (so it's already started) to October 31st. The goal is to have fun reading, and to share said fun with others. Participants read and/or watch TV and films they classify as:
Mystery
Suspense
Thriller
Dark fantasy
Gothic
Horror
Supernatural
Or anything else sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.


Peril the first involves reading four books that fit the genre criteria before October 31st. As a whole bunch of books on my reading list are in these genres, it should be fine. My four books will probably be:

  • Dreaming of Amelia by Jaclyn Moriarty (published as The Ghosts of Ashbury High in the US)
  • The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers 
  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
  • Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers
Peril on the Screen means I watch something scary or mysterious and blog about it. I'm not a huge fan of horror movies, but do like mysteries and gothic things, so I should be able to find something that fits without much trouble.

I may also take part in the October group read, which is Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book, which I've wanted to re-read. I may listen to the audio book instead, to give me a different experience from last time. So watch this space for reviews (I just need to catch up on my backlog of 12+ books first). 

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

69. "Scandal Wears Satin" by Loretta Chase

Page count: 384 pages
Date begun: June 27th, 2012
Date finished: June 27th, 2012

This is the second book in Loretta Chase's Dressmaker series. The book can be read perfectly independently from the first in the series, Silk is for Seduction, although the main couple in this book are introduced in the first book in the series. This review will contain spoilers for the first book in the series, so don't read on unless you want to find out who the central couple in that book are.

Sophy Noirot is the middle of the three dressmaker sisters determined to take London society by storm with their innovative designs and wonderful creations. While her older sister is the creative genius, and her younger sister is the financial whiz, Sophy excels at marketing and sales, and could probably sell sand to Bedouins. The Noirot sisters need wealthy patrons, but the scandal they caused when Marcelline Noirot married the Duke of Clevedon is not going to be easy to live down. However, the Clevedon's former bethrothed, Lady Clara, sister to the Earl of Longmore, is still their friend, and determined to wear the Maison Noirot designs even if her mother is threatening to disown her.

But then Lady Clara is compromised in a very public place, and rather than marry the scoundrel who tricked her, runs away. Sophy needs to get her back, even if it means working with the Earl of Longmore to do it. And while his mother may hate the Noirot sisters, Longmore is extremely taken with Sophy, and determined to spend as much time with her as possible.

I love Loretta Chase, but this is one of her weaker efforts. Over the course of two novels, not one, but two dressmakers from a rather dubious background end up with extremely high ranking members of the British nobility, and I have no doubt that the youngest Noirot sister will find herself a nobleman as well in "Velvet is for Viscounts"(wonderfully coined by Mrs. Julien) or whatever the book will end up being called. Unfortunately, Marcelline and Clevedon were a much more enjoyable couple to read about. I didn't particularly care about Sophy and Longmore, and Lady Clara, who I felt a lot of sympathy for in the previous book, mainly annoyed me in this one. Still, this was by no means a bad book, it still contained a lot of the sparkling dialogue that Chase does so brilliantly, and I wasn't actually bored, but I still hope that the final volume in the trilogy is of higher quality.

68. "Outlander" by Diana Gabaldon

Page count: 850 pages
Date begun: June 16th, 2012
Date finished: June 20th, 2012

I'm breaking one of my own rules here, by reviewing a book that I haven't just read once before. This is actually the fourth time I read Outlander, but as it stands up so well, and is still one of my favourite novels of all time, I pretty much had to review it on my blog. Besides, I've completed the main Cannonball Challenge for this year months ago, so I can do what I like!

Claire Randall, a nurse, is on a second honeymoon with her historian husband Frank Randall in the Scottish Highlands in 1946, shortly after the end of World War II. Claire spent the years of the war patching up wounded soldiers, and the couple have barely seen each other for the last five years. They're trying to rekindle the spark of their marriage, when Claire is unexpectedly thrown back in time to 1743, not the safest of places for an unaccompanied Englishwoman of mysterious origins.

Can Claire ever return to her own time? Can a lonely Englishwoman stay alive in the tumultuous time period that is Scotland shortly before the final Jacobite Rising? Claire's fate becomes intertwined with that of a young Scot by the name of Jamie Fraser, and the longer Claire stays in the past, the harder it gets for her to convince herself that what she really wants is to return to her own time, and Frank Randall.

Mrs. Julien, one of the wonderful contributors and regulars on Pajiba, discovered Diana Gabaldon's epic series a few months back, and proceeded to read the epic (so far seven book) series (none of the books are under 750 pages long) in little over a month and a half. Because she and many other book blogging Pajibans discussed the book at length on the Cannonball Blog and Facebook, I was inspired to re-read the book for the first time in what must be at least seven, maybe eight, years.

I adore this book. I discovered the books in 1998, shortly before I was about to graduate high school, and I still thank my lucky stars that there was a teachers' strike that year, so I didn't have to do my final exams, because I'm honestly not sure how well I would've done on them - I was so obsessed with the series (the fourth book had just come out in paperback). I can honestly say that they contributed to my studying Scottish history in my first year of Uni in St. Andrews, and thus saving my degree, as it turned out I was much better at writing History essays than English literary analysis ones.

I love the research that Gabaldon has put into the books. I love that an episode of classic Doctor Who gave Jamie his name and gave Gabaldon the idea for the time period she wanted to set her novels in (and when I first read these books I'd never heard of the show, or seen a single episode). I love the characters - even though Jamie Fraser's awesomeness throughout the series ruins you for all other men, fictional or real. Even the villains are wonderful - and Claire is an amazing heroine.

The book has been classified as many things. Science fiction (although apart from the fact that Claire is sent back in time, there is nothing much sci-fi about them). I frequently find them in the fantasy shelves in bookshops and libraries (I guess it's pretty fantastic that Claire travels back in time). Romance, obviously, it's impossible to deny that at the heart of the story is the absolutely amazing love story between Jamie and Claire. But I would still classify them as historical fiction first and foremost, as they give wonderful insight into a time in the past, and over the course of the series, Gabaldon really does get to show off her research skills. I've learned about a huge number of things from 18th Century Scotland and later other parts of the world (don't want to spoil it for anyone).

Do yourself a favour. Join the many readers of Cannonball who have either newly discovered or in the past enjoyed this book. It's an amazing piece of fiction.

Monday, 3 September 2012

67. "Becoming Bindy Mackenzie" by Jaclyn Moriarty

Page count: 496 pages
Date begun: June 20th, 2012
Date finished: June 21st, 2012

Because it's been nearly three months since I read the book, I'm going to include the book blurb from the author's own website:

The Motive
Bindy Mackenzie is the most perfect girl at Ashbury High. She scores in the 99.99th percentile in all her classes. She holds lunchtime advisory sessions for her fellow students. She keeps careful transcripts of everything said around her. And she has been Kmart casual Employee of the Month for seventeen months straight. No wonder somebody wants to kill her.

The Suspects
Bindy is horrified to learn that she must take part in the Friendship and Development project - a new class meant to provide a "life raft" through "the tricky seas of adolescence". Bindy can't see how airheaded Emily Thompson, absentminded Elizabeth Clarry, mouthy Toby Mazzerati, malicious Astrid Bexonville, silent Briony Atkins, narcissistic Sergio Saba and handsome, enigmatic Finnegan Blonde could ever possibly help her. (Well, maybe Finnegan could).

The Crime
But then Bindy's perfect life begins to fall apart. She develops an obsession with the word "Cincinatti". She can't stop feeling sleepy. She fails an exam for the first time ever. And - worst of all - she just doesn't care. What could be the cause of all these events? Is it conspiracy? Is it madness? Is it...murder?

The Truth
Lots of people hate Bindy Mackenzie - but who would actually kill her? The answer is in Bindy's transcripts. The detectives are the members of her FAD group. But Bindy has made every one of them into an enemy...and time is running out. 

Another great book in the Ashbury/Brookfield series, written entirely in diary entries, notes, e-mails and quite a lot of Bindy's insanely detailed transcripts. This may have been the hardest of the books for me to get into, because Bindy really is a rather unlikable girl, even though she is completely oblivious to the fact. However, Moriarty is a gifted storyteller, and soon, I couldn't help but feel sorry for Bindy and got caught up in the mystery at the centre of the novel. Is someone actually trying to kill Bindy? Or has the pressure of being the cleverest girl in school finally got to her, and she's losing her mind as a result?

Moriarty has done a brilliant job of continuing her epistolary style, while creating an engaging suspense/mystery novel for teenagers. Yet again she brilliantly depicts teenage life, and I'm so glad I discovered these books. I still have one more to go in the series, and I'm saving it until the days get long and dark, so I have something to comfort myself with.

66. "Magic Lost, Trouble Found" by Lisa Shearin

Page count: 352 pages
Date begun: June 9th, 2012
Date finished, June 12th, 2012

Ah, the joys of trying to blog about 3 months after I read a book. Will give it my level best try, nonetheless.

This is the first in a series of six. I've only read the first two, but the rest come highly recommended by my self-proclaimed Internet bestie Felicia Day (one of the books was featured in the Guild video Game On, and the final book in the series was a pick on her weekly vlog The Flog) and as I enjoyed the first third of the series a lot, I will get around to reading the rest at some point.

"But why in the world should anyone pick up a book with such a God-awful cover?" I hear many of you ask. It's a good question, faithful readers (if I have any left after my summer hiatus). Because, like so many other gems in the paranormal fantasy genre, this is really rather good, and very entertaining.

Raine Benares is an elf, and possesses a moderate amount of magic, perfectly adequate to do her job as a Seeker. She can find lost objects, and often aids law enforcement in recovering stolen property, or people who've gone missing. The fact that most of her family are likely to have assisted in the stealing of said property or kidnapping of said missing persons in the first place, sometimes helps, and sometimes complicates her job. Suffice to say, while Raine is a fairly law-abiding citizen, most of her family and acquaintances are not.

Raine's life gets complicated in a hurry, when her friend Quentin is hired to steal a very powerful amulet from the home of a very ruthless sorcerer. The amulet ends up with Raine, and all of a sudden there are a whole slew of people, including evil high priests, righteous paladins and various other characters wanting to get hold of her and the amulet. If she survives after they get their hands on the amulet, entirely depends on what group reaches her first.

Raine Benares is another snarky, fast-talking, independent and very capable female protagonist, I've actually lost count of how many first person narrated series with similar heroines I'm keeping up with at the moment. While good at her job, she's got shady connections a plenty, and one of the things I liked so much about this book and the sequel, were the supporting characters, all who were just as enjoyable to read about.

The world building is very well done, I liked the various peoples in the world Shearin created, especially goblins as a sort of dark (and very attractive) mirror to the beautiful elves. There is what looks like an inevitable love triangle set up, but as far as I can see from non-spoilery reviews of later books in the series, that's not central to the plot arc, for which I'm very grateful. I will, as mentioned, definitely be reading the whole series (which is now complete!) at some point.