Sunday, 28 April 2013

#Readathon 2013 Spring Edition: End of Event meme

Reading when event finished: Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede
Pages read during last hour: 82
Pages read in total: 967

End of Event meme:

1) Which hour was most daunting to you?

As I didn't do as much reading this year, I didn't really get as tired as I normally do. Every hour I got to spend reading was a luxury.

2) Could you list a few high interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen was excellent, but incredibly sad
Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede is an excellent fairy tale retelling, combining the traditional fairy tale with a historical account of Elizabethan England

3) Do you have any suggestions for how to improve Read-a-thon next year?
No, I think it's all working well now. I really appreaciated the many Facebook updates prior to the event.

4) What do you think worked really well in this year's Read-a-thon?
The website updates were great, as always. I'm glad I managed to get as much reading done as I did, considering how much I had to get done.

5) How many books did you read?
Two half ones and two complete, so three in total. :)

6) What were the names of the books you read?
I read the second half of Maskeblomstfamilien (The Dandelion Family - my own translation, the book is not translated into English) by Lars Saabye Christensen
The Shadow in the North by Philip Pullman
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
The first half of Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede

7) Snow White and Rose Red, because Briar Rose, while amazing, is all about the Holocaust, so not exactly an easy and fun read.

8) Which did you enjoy the least?
Maskeblomstfamilien - it was required course work reading, and a deeply unpleasant book. I pretty much loathed it

9) How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again?
I will absolutely be doing it again in October, as a Reader. I love these chances to really indulge in reading.

#Readathon 2013 Spring Edition: Final hour

Reading now: Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede
Pages read during the last hour: 56
Pages read in total: 885
Books completed: Maskeblomstfamilien
The Shadow in the North
Briar Rose
Snacks consumed: Chocolate chip cookie
Mini-challenges completed: 
Opening event meme
Book Cover Quiz
Mid-event survey
Nea's Share a quote
Turn the Page

#Readathon 2013 Spring Edition: Hour twenty-three

Reading now: Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede
Pages read during the last hour: 63
Pages read in total: 809
Books completed: Maskeblomstfamilien
The Shadow in the North
Briar Rose
Snacks consumed: Water
Mini-challenges completed: 
Opening event meme
Book Cover Quiz
Mid-event survey
Nea's Share a quote
Turn the Page

#Readathon 2013 Spring Edition: Hour sixteen (where I go to bed)

Reading now: Briar Rose by Jane Yolen (nearly finished)
Pages read during the last hour: 99
Pages read in total: 746
Books completed: Maskeblomstfamilien
The Shadow in the North
Snacks consumed: More Coca Cola
Mini-challenges completed: 
Opening event meme
Book Cover Quiz
Mid-event survey
Nea's Share a quote
Turn the Page

#Readathon 2013 Spring Edition: Hour fifteen

Reading now: Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
Pages read during the last hour: 85
Pages read in total: 647
Books completed: Maskeblomstfamilien
The Shadow in the North
Snacks consumed: Water
Mini-challenges completed: 
Opening event meme
Book Cover Quiz
Mid-event survey
Nea's Share a quote

#Readathon 2013 Spring Edition: Hour fourteen

Reading now: Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
Pages read during the last hour: 115
Pages read in total: 562
Books completed: Maskeblomstfamilien
The Shadow in the North
Snacks consumed: Nothing, really
Mini-challenges completed: 
Opening event meme
Book Cover Quiz
Mid-event survey
Nea's Share a quote

#Readathon 2013 Spring Edition: Hour thirteen

Reading now: The Shadow in the North
Pages read during hour the last hour: 94
Pages read in total: 453
Books completed: Maskeblomstfamilien
Snacks consumed: Water, Coca Cola
Mini-challenges completed: 
Opening event meme
Book Cover Quiz

Mid-event survey:
1) How are you doing? Sleepy? Are your eyes tired?
Getting a bit sleepy, but very determined to finish this book before I sleep.

2) What have you finished reading?
Only the one book, and I'd read half of it before I started today. But I'm about two thirds of the way through the book I'm reading now.

3) What is your favourite read so far? 
The Shadow in the North

4) What about your favourite snacks?
The prawns I had at my friend's birthday party were amazing. As were the cakes.

5). Have you found any new blogs through the Readathon?
Not really had time to browse any other blogs, no. 

#Readathon 2013 Spring Edition: Hour twelve

Reading now: The Shadow in the North
Pages read during hour eleven: 28
Pages read in total: 359
Books completed: Maskeblomstfamilien
Food consumed since last update:
Huge amounts of prawns on white bread with garlic dressing. Lots of Coca Cola, Chocolate cake. Carrot cake. 
Mini-challenges completed: Opening event meme
Book Cover Quiz

Had a lovely time at a great birthday party, where we (the husband and I) spent a fun evening with our friends. Hoping to get a few hours of reading done before I go to sleep, so I can get at least one more book done.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

#Readathon 2013 Spring Edition: Hour five

Reading now: The Shadow in the North
Listening to now: Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
Pages read in the last hour: I worked out that the section of the book I listened to amounted to about 65 pages
Pages read in total: 331
Books completed: Maskeblomstfamilien
Snacks consumed: Bits of chocolate cream cheese icing

Tasks completed while listening to audio book - cake liberally filled with raspberry jam. Chocolate cream cheese icing made. Present wrapped. Card written. I won't be reading for quite a few hours now, as I need to get ready for the party that starts at 7pm. I will try to get some reading done when I get back this evening though. 

#Readathon 2013 Spring Edition: The fourth hour (where I have to take a break)

Reading now: The Shadow in the North by Philip Pullman
Pages read in the last hour: 89
Pages read in total: 266
Books completed: Maskeblomstfamilien by Lars Saabye Christensen (I'd read half before I started today)
Snacks consumed: Still just Coca Cola
Mini-challenge completed: Opening event meme

I will now be taking a break from reading books, and switching to the audio book of Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson, while I get the cake ready for the party I'm going to this evening. Not entirely sure how I'll figure out page numbers yet...

#Readathon 2013 Spring Edition: Hour the third

Reading now: The Shadow in the North by Philip Pullman
Pages read in the last hour: 83
Pages read in total: 177
Books completed: Maskeblomstfamilien by Lars Saabye Christensen (I'd read half before I started today)
Snacks consumed: Just Coca Cola
Mini-challenge completed: Opening event meme

#Readathon 2013 Spring Edition: Hour the second

Reading now: Maskeblomstfamilien (The Figwort Family) by Lars Saabye Christensen
Pages read in the last hour: 94
Pages read in total: 94
Books completed: None so far
Snacks consumed: None
Mini-challenge completed: Opening event meme

#Readathon 2013 Spring Edition: Introductory Questionaire

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
Oslo, Norway

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
I've not really planned entirely what I'm going to read, as I'm on a tight schedule. I'm just going to be grabbing whatever I feel like. My TBR list is long and varied.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
Because I'm going to a birthday party later, I've not really stocked up on snacks. Am very much looking forward to the chocolate cake with raspberry filling I've made for the party, though.

4) Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Secondary school reader. Voracious reader. Part time book blogger. Big ol' nerd.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what's one thing you'll do different today?
This will be the first Readathon I take part in, where I can't read for the most of the 24-hour period. I should be able to get some hours in this afternoon, and tomorrow morning. It helps that in Norway, the reading starts at 2pm.

Spring Read-a-thon 2013: This time very abbreviated

It's that time again - when people all over the world read as much as possible for 24 hours. Of course, this year, I have about a million and one things I need to be doing, so I will not be able to devote more than a few hours today and tomorrow for reading. Still, a partial Readathon is better than nothing, and I do have some books lined up.

But I also have to make a cake, and wrap a present, get myself all prettied up and go to a birthday party and eat as many prawns as I possibly can. To try to maximize the reading, I will be listening to an audio book while I do most of the other stuff, but it's not the same as cozying up on the sofa with a book.

Friday, 26 April 2013

#CBR5 Book 44. "Song of Scarabaeus" by Sara Creasy

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Blurb from Goodreads, because I'm feeling lazier than usual:
Trained since childhood in advanced biocyph seed technology by the all-powerful Crib empire, Edie's mission is to terraform alien worlds while her masters bleed the outlawed Fringe populations dry. When renegade mercenaries kidnap Edie, she's not entirely sure it's a bad thing...until they leash her to a bodyguard, Finn - a former freedom-fighter turned slave, beaten down but never broken. If Edie strays from Finn's side, he dies. If she doesn't cooperate, the pirates will kill them both.

But Edie's abilities far surpass anything her enemies can imagine. And now, with Finn as her only ally as the merciless Crib closes in, she'll have to prove it or die on the site of her only failure...a world called Scarabaeus.

Song of Scarabaeus is the alt read in this month's Vaginal Fantasy Hangout, which is all about the sci-fi again. I wasn't particularly impressed with the main read, Ghost Planet, where I thought both the science fiction and the romantic elements of the story just didn't come together very well at all. So much promise, so little payoff. The science fiction part of this book are much better developed, to the point where the tech speak occasionally got so convoluted that I just had to skim bits. Long time readers of my reviews know that I'm not the biggest fan of science fiction literature, but I keep trying, hoping that some day I'll discover something I too enjoy. So far, that seems to be Ann Aguirre, with no real contenders so far.

I wanted to like this book, especially after Ghost Planet was such a let-down. Unlike the previous book, the potential set up in this book isn't squandered. Edie is a very clever tech with unique abilities, although the blurb lies about them being all that amazing. There's a whole lot of stuff she can't do, such as sever the link between herself and Finn, for instance. If they are separated by too much distance, he will be killed by a small detonation in his head. He can also sense Edie through the mental link, especially when she experiences heightened emotions. The blurb also suggests Scarabaeus is Edie's greatest failure, but we learn very early on that the reason the terraforming there failed so spectacularly, is because she sabotaged the seeds, wanting to preserve the world the way it was. When they finally return to the planet, she discovers that her sabotage has had extremely unexpected side effects, and that she didn't so much keep the seeds from sprouting, as make them mutate in really spectacular ways no one could have predicted.

The blurb of the book also led me to believe the story would set mostly on Scarabaeus, which is not the case. The majority of the story is on board the space ship, where the crew are mostly friendly to Edie, and extremely prejudiced and hostile to Finn. Anyone who rebels against the Crib empire is condemned to hard labour, and the serfs are treated as interchangeable and disposable slaves. It's clear Finn has a dangerous past, and he is mostly treated more like a wild animal by everyone but Edie. It seems really puzzling that everyone else is quite so hostile and dismissive to the various serfs, even though they are perfectly willing to rebel against the Crib authorities by kidnapping one of their chief bio engineers. All the serfs seem to be treated like scum, although it seems as if many of them may not have actually done anything violent or dangerous to end up where they are, they just tried to stand up to the Empire. Only Edie, having been treated as an outcast by her own people (because she's a half-breed), who are again put in camps and controlled by the Crib, seems to treat the serfs as human beings, and see them as different individuals.

Because there is so little nuance in the other characters, even though some are nicer than others, at least to Edie, she comes off as a bit of a Mary Sue, and on occasion, a bit too naive for her own good. While she's clearly very good at the bio programming stuff, she's also extremely passive, and with the exception of refusing to shock Finn with her mind when ordered to do so, she shows very little agency, and mostly waits around for others, mainly Finn to sort things out for her. She doesn't seem to feel strong emotions of any kind, she never gets too scared, or angry, or passionate about things. It makes it hard to relate to her.

Finn isn't exactly given the most complex of personalities, either, but at least he seems to actually have a full range of emotions. He does seem to pick the strangest times to try to provoke Edie, or test her reactions, though. For all the talk throughout the book at how efficient and dangerous a killer he is, we don't get to see much of that either. A lot of this book feels like it's setting up for more exciting things later, or waiting around to get to the planet.

Readers should also be aware, which I was not (they may have mentioned this on last month's video hangout, but if so, I missed it), that this book ends very abruptly, on a cliff hanger, and is more the first part of a complete story - the second book being Children of Scarabaeus. This may explain why so much of the book felt like it was setting up for later events, because all of the payoff is going to be delivered in the sequel. Luckily, I bought both books as a package deal, so I will read the conclusion of the story once I feel up to reading more sci-fi. Which isn't going to be straight away, as I'm moving into a period with a very heavy work load. Expect a lot of romance reviews in the weeks to come. :)

#CBR5 Book 43. "Love in the Afternoon" by Lisa Kleypas

Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Finally the time has come for Beatrix Hathaway's book. Of all the peculiar and eccentric Hathaway siblings, Beatrix is possibly the freest spirit, the one most unorthodox and unlikely to fit comfortably into the staid norms of polite Victorian society.  She rescues strays and injured animals and nurses them back to health, and if they can't be released back into the wild, then she adopts them as pets, to the mixed amusement and frustration of the rest of her family. Her mischievous ferret was partially responsible for the match her sister Poppy made with Harry Rutledge, and somewhat instrumental in the romance of her governess Catherine Marks and her older brother Leo, as well. Sensitive, philosophical and with a deep love of animals, Beatrix has always been able to charm men, but she is not what they would consider a good marriage prospect.

So Beatrix has pretty much resigned herself that she will become the spinster aunt, when she overhears her friend Prudence complaining about the dull letters from her suitor, Captain Christopher Phelan. One of the handsomest and most eligible gentlemen in Hampshire, Captain Phelan has been called off to fight the war in Crimea. Prudence finds his letters deathly dull, and being a vivacious and attractive beauty, she has many more suitors available to her at home. She has no real intention of writing a reply to Christopher. Beatrix, despite the fact that she overheard Christopher dismissing her as fit only for the stables at a picnic (a comment Prudence saw fit to share with as many people as possible, ensuring that most of the county knew about it too), realises that someone has to write to the brave young man, to comfort him in the hell he's living. She convinces Prudence to let her write a reply, then they'll sign Prudence's name to it, and no one will be the wiser.

Of course, Beatrix and Christopher's correspondence doesn't end with the one letter.  It's clear that the letters are the only bright spots in Christopher's life, and Beatrix can't make herself stop writing, even when she is forced to admit that she's falling in love with him. She finally makes herself to stop, hating that she is deceiving him. Of course, then the war ends, and Christopher comes home, broken in spirit, to find that his beloved older brother has died, leaving him his wealthy grandfather's only heir. He's determined to find Prudence and figure out why her last letter was so cryptic. Why does his widowed sister-in-law keep suggesting he reconsider his opinions about the strange Beatrix Hathaway?

When it comes to romance heroes, many of them are brooding and tortured in some way or other. There is usually only so many ways to explain why they are tortured. In Harry Rutledge's case, it's cause he had a truly awful childhood. On the odd occasion, it's cause some woman did them wrong, or they've lost everyone they loved previously under tragic circumstances,  but the most common cause of tortured heroes in romance is PTSD. They are former war heroes, always excellent soldiers and commanders, who went through hell on Earth while in battle, and now return to face the real world, where no one truly understands what they've gone through. I've seen this story done dreadfully badly, and I've seen it done well. This is definitely one of the best depictions of coaxing a shell shocked war hero back into a semblance of a normal life.

It helps that Beatrix is used to injured and frightened animals, who can't communicate in the same way as humans. When Christopher returns from battle, accompanied by his trusty, but badly behaved terrier, Beatrix treats him the way she would any skittish and traumatised animal. Having shared a tiny part of what he's gone through by reading his letters, she is deeply aware of how hard it is for him to return to Hampshire, where everyone wants to laud him as a conquering hero, and he can only dwell on the many men that he killed, and the comrades he frequently failed to save. There is of course the added complication that she's madly in love with him, and while terrified at how he'll react if he knows she wrote all the letters, she's also worried sick that he'll actually believe the vain and selfish Prudence wrote them, and marry her before he learns the truth.

I really enjoyed Beatrix and Christopher's romance, and a less talented writer would probably have inserted a lot more unnecessary drama into the situation before it was satisfyingly resolved. That's not to say that the road to their HEA is a a smooth and easy one, but the obstacles in their way are realistic ones, that they deal with together. There is no insta-fix here as soon as they acknowledge their feelings for each other. Beatrix has always been used to doing her own thing and having her own way, without having to answer to everyone. Her family have never forced her to give up on anything she enjoyed or stop doing things just because they might be seen as inappropriate. She's never had to compromise, and certainly never consider the feelings of a person who hasn't known her most of her life. Both Beatrix and Christopher have to grow and adapt to fit comfortably with each other, and it's so satisfying to see them manage it. Another highly recommended historical romance, and more evidence as to why Lisa Kleypas is one of the greats.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

#CBR5 Book 42. "Married by Morning" by Lisa Kleypas

Page count: 352 pages
Rating: 4 stars

WARNING! This book, being the fourth in the Hathaway series, contains certain spoilers for the third book in series, Tempt Me at Twilight. If you want to avoid them, skip this review until you've read that book, which you should go do right now, because it's excellent!

For nearly three years, the secretive Miss Catherine Marks has been the governess and companion of the two youngest Hathaway sisters. As the family is unorthodox and eccentric, and two of the sisters have married Gypsies, it's not the easiest task in the world for Miss Marks to instruct the girls on suitable behaviour, attire and conversation topics. She's grateful for the safety and comfort the position provides, but lives in fear that one day the dark secrets of her past will come out, and she'll be forced to leave them. The only fly in the ointment is Leo Hathaway, Lord Ramsey, a carefree and dissolute rake who takes great pleasure in needling and teasing her every time they meet. Lately, the teasing and barbs have changed in nature, though, and it seems as if there may be more than mutual loathing between the two of them.

Leo Hathaway never expected to become a Viscount, but when a distant cousin of the family died, he inherited the title and a large estate in Hampshire. After his fiancee died in the same scarlet fever epidemic that also nearly killed him and his sister Win, he became inconsolable, and spent several years drinking himself into a stupor or drugging himself into a laudanum haze. In time, the care and affection of his family helped him recover his spirits, and together with his brothers-in-law he worked to turn the ramshackle Ramsey estate into a prosperous enterprise. While not quite as scandalous and dissolute anymore, he's in no hurry to marry and settle down, until his family inform him that there was a condition in the former Viscount's will, stating that Leo has to marry and produce an heir before the end of his first five years as Lord Ramsey, or the Hathaways will lose a large part of the estate, including the house they've worked so painstakingly to restore and turn into a home.

After Leo observed the always proper Miss Marks in the garden with his new brother-in-law Harry Rutledge, in what was clearly an intense, and intimate conversation, they have a heated argument that ends in a passionate kiss. Catherine seems determined that they never speak of it again, but Leo can't get the governess out of his mind. So when his family inform him he has to find an eligible young lady to marry soon, he flippantly suggests he'd rather marry Miss Marks. After kissing her, however, he starts to get more and more comfortable with the idea of spending the rest of his life with her. Of course, he has to convince Catherine first, and that proves more difficult once a figure from her past returns, threatening to reveal who she really is.

In the earlier books, it becomes clear that the prim and proper Miss Marks has dark secrets, and that she's clearly hiding from something. In Tempt Me at Twilight, it was revealed not only that Catherine dyes her shiny, blond hair a dull brown, and spends a lot of time making herself look as plain and unattractive as possible, but that she's the younger half sister of Harry Rutledge, the wealthy and powerful hotelier that marries Poppy Hathaway. In this book, we finally find out exactly what nature her dark past takes, and what unpleasantness Harry rescued her from when she was fifteen.

Any reader who reads the Hathaway series in sequence, can see from pretty much Leo and Cat's first meeting that they are meant to end up together. Two characters who loathe each other quite so much, and spend so much time sniping at each other, are clearly meant to fall madly in love. In the previous book, their arguing was more like banter than biting snark, and in the epilogue, it became clear that something had happened to change their relationship further. That something is the kiss which takes place after Catherine and Harry finally have a chat about their estrangement, and settle into a more comfortable sibling relationship.

Once the truth about Cat's past is revealed, it's more obvious to the reader why she took such an instant dislike to Leo, whose public persona is that of a lazy, carefree rake, happily seducing women left, right and centre. As she sees him interacting with his family, and all the hard work he puts into improving his estate and bettering the lives of his tenants, she can't entirely dismiss him as a useless fop. Because of her upbringing, Cat has learned to distrust men, especially those bent on seduction. She's never really known the warmth and affection of a real family before she came to work for the Hathaways. She's terrified that her past will be revealed, and that the ensuing scandal will tarnish their already patchy reputation irreparably. Of course all of her worries are laid to rest, and the couple eventually whether all their challenges to find their happy ending.

I very much enjoyed seeing Leo's determined wooing once he made up his mind that Catherine was the only wife he wanted. His interactions with Harry Rutledge were fun in the last book, and are even better here. It's also lovely to see more of Harry and Poppy, who have now settled comfortably into marriage. One of my favourite things about this series is seeing the continued relationships of the Hathaway siblings whose stories were told in the earlier books. It's also why I'd recommend reading the books in sequence.

Monday, 22 April 2013

#CBR5 Book 41. "Tempt Me at Twilight" by Lisa Kleypas

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

Poppy Hathaway is the second youngest of the Hathaway siblings, and frequently wishes that her family weren't quite so unconventional and colourful. When her sister's pet ferret runs off with one of her love letters, while her family are staying at the fashionable Rutledge hotel, she is desperate to retrieve it, so the truth of her secret courtship with the promising young isn't revealed. She runs into Harry Rutledge, the enigmatic, powerful and reclusive owner of the hotel, who seems amuse and intrigued by her predicament.

While Harry may be a highly eligible bachelor, he hasn't seriously considered marriage until he meets Poppy. It doesn't take many meetings before he decides that he wants to have her, though, and he will use any trick necessary to win her, even if it means fighting very dirty indeed. Soon Poppy finds herself jilted by her gentle suitor, whose father has found out about their hopes, and not long after finds herself very publicly compromised by Harry Rutledge, who of course promises to marry her (despite assurances from her family that they'll weather the scandal and she needn't marry anyone at all), and give her everything she could have hoped or dreamed of. Except closeness and affection, as these are things Harry himself have never experienced either.

Tempt Me at Twilight is by far my favourite of the five books in this series. Harry is a wonderful anti-hero, almost, but not quite rivalling Kleypas' most wonderful villainous hero, Sebastian St. Vincent in Devil in Winter. Harry is ruthless, manipulative and brilliant, not caring one bit if he has to break Poppy's heart in order to win her hand. Successful at pretty much everything he turns his hand to, with a small army of extremely loyal staff, he get what he wants, through any means necessary. Poppy discovers the full extent to his perfidy shortly before she is about to walk down the aisle, but chooses to marry him anyway. Of course, she swears she'll never love him, but we all know how likely that is, right?

Of course, Harry is such a cold-hearted villain because his mother left him when he was four, and his father treated him like dirt. Having devoted himself completely to his work since he was old enough to strike out for himself, Harry is completely unprepared for what it's like to share his personal space with a wife, especially one who's used to a close, supportive and loving family. She completely refuses to listen to him when he forbids her to befriend the hotel staff and treat them more like friends than employees.

The main plot is obviously concerned with how Harry and Poppy find a way to make their marriage work, and a very enjoyable read, it is, but there is also a sub-plot involving the younger Hathaway sisters' governess, the mysterious Miss Marks, who has some sort of connection to Harry Rutledge (she's extremely against the match, and determined that Poppy not marry him). The antagonistic relationship between Leo Hathaway and Miss Marks seem to be escalating as the book goes on, and the epilogue makes it clear that they are the couple to find love in the next book. The only reason I'm not giving this book five stars is because Kleypas insists on inserting a really unnecessary kidnapping plot towards the end of the book, where Poppy has to work with her brother and the various hotel employees to rescue her husband from a nefarious scheme. While it was nice that the heroine gets to be the rescuer, for a change, the episode brings nothing further to the story, and I think the book would have been better off without it. 

#CBR5 Book 40. "Seduce Me at Sunrise" by Lisa Kleypas

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 2.5 stars

Kev Merripen has loved Winnifred "Win" Hathaway since the first time he saw her, when her eccentric family took him in after the Gypsy tribe his uncle was the leader of left him injured and dying. Having been trained to fight anything and anyone, and been treated no better than a vicious dog, Merripen is hostile and distrustful at first, but the care and kindness of the various Hathaways, especially Win, ensures that the family have his undying loyalty. As the years go by, everyone in the family know that Merripen and Win love each other, but their feelings go unspoken, mainly because Merripen is convinced that Win is far too good for him, and he would harm her if he was with her.

Before Win goes to France with her brother Leo (now a Viscount after a distant cousin died and left Leo the only heir) to France to a health clinic (having never recovered entirely from a bout of scarlet fever that killed Leo's fiancee which sent him into a destructive grief spiral), she tries to confront Merripen. They kiss, but he sends her away, heart-broken. She returns two years later, healthy and more beautiful than ever. Merripen has become cold and bitter, having used all his energies into getting the Hathaway estate into shape. He's not happy to see that Win has brought along the handsome and charming doctor who runs the clinic, and who seems quite determined to marry her, if she'll have him.

This is the second of the books in the Hathaway series, which each deal with one of the five Hathaway siblings. I read the first one, Mine Till Midnight, last year, but didn't review it. While the books in no way require you to have read the others, the story progresses throughout the series, and the characters keep recurring in each other's books. In this case, having the heroine in the previous book, the eldest Hathaway sister, Amelia, and her now husband, the half-Gypsy Cam Rohan, as well as the rakish Leo Hathaway as such prominent recurring characters, is probably what made me bother finishing this book at all, because Win and Merripen - I couldn't care less.

Their angsty relationship, with Merripen's haughty faux-Heathcliff brooding bored the socks off me. He and Win keep confronting each other, kissing passionately, then swearing off each other again and again and again throughout the book. The supposed mysterious family origins of both Cam and Merripen, despite the fact that they are both Gypsies, and both have the exact same tattoo (that is very unusual and that no one else they talk to seems to have come across on anyone else EVER) was another tedious sub-plot, and the reveal that SPOILER... they turn out to be brothers (gasp!) is something I called in the previous book, when it was first revealed that they both had the blasted tattoo in the first place. The further reveal in this book of who their father really was, and what they stand to inherit from him just made me roll my eyes more.

There's also a third sub-plot involving the sort of love triangle with the handsome doctor. He's never really set up as a proper rival, as it's quite clear that Win loves only Merripen, and as soon as she and her family can get it into his thick skull that they're meant to be together, it's clear that the doctor will have to go bye bye. But they have to complicate things with sinister rumours about him maybe killing his first wife, and a preposterous poisoning plot (although this leads to Win honest to God setting fire to a wardrobe with the doctor locked inside to get him to confess, which was insane, but sort of fun).

I would highly recommend anyone thinking of reading the Hathaway series to just skip this book entirely. In the later books, Merripen and Win are married. It's not worth suffering through the angst and drama to see how they got there, just move along to another Hathaway sibling instead.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

#CBR5 Book 39. "Ett öga rött" (One Eye Red) by Jonas Hassen Khemiri

Page count: 252 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Halim is a teenager in Stockholm, who feels as if he's in opposition to everything and everyone. When he's told the Arabic lessons in school have to stop because of funding cuts, he shows his displeasure by covering the school toilets in graffiti. His father, who runs shop selling a little bit of everything,  worries about his academic progress and stresses the importance of speaking good Swedish if he wants to make something of himself. Both feel the loss of Halim's mother, who died a few years back, greatly. They both try to be supportive of their friend, Nourdine, a washed up actor who's convinced he's just the right interview away from a big break.

Ett öga rött is one of the books I have to read for my Norwegian course, and it's an important and representative example of the sort of migration literature that second and third generation immigrants have written in Scandinavia in the last few decades. While this book is about a second generation teen in Stockholm, his struggle to reconcile the various sides of his identity, and figure out what he wants from life, is just as applicable to immigrants in Norway (which is why we're reading it for my course). A lot of the issues raised in this book are things I see several of my pupils experiencing as well.

Khemiri uses language very deliberately, writing in a broken Swedish that reflects the language and syntax Halim feels most comfortable with. The book is structured as a diary, written in a notebook Halim is given by an elderly family friend, who's the closest thing Halim has to a maternal figure, and who tries to encourage his patriotism towards all things Arabic. It's also made clear from parts of the narrative, that Halim could write syntactically correct Swedish if he wanted to, but he chooses to write the way he does in protest of the oppressive forces who are trying integrate him against his will, by serving fish sticks in the cafeteria, slanting the media against all things Arabic and blaming financial difficulties for the school's cut backs.

A very insightful and engaging novel, showing the development of Halim over the course of his final year of secondary school. His two closest male role models, his father and Nourdine, are both wonderful supporting characters. It's clear that a lot of the turmoil Halim feels, is because of the loss of his mother, and the fact that he and his father rarely speak about the things that really matter to both of them. It probably helps that the protagonist so closely reminds me of several of the boys I've taught over the years, and I recognise a lot of his attitude in the kids I see in my work. One of my favourite course books that I've read this year.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

#CBR5 Book 38. "The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls" by Claire Legrand (Illustrations by Sarah Watts)

352 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

Victoria Wright likes everything to be just so. She excels at pretty much everything. Her manners, appearance, her grades - spotless. She doesn't have time for mess, or distractions or nonsense. She doesn't really have time for friends. With the exception of Lawrence, who spends far too much of his time playing the piano. He's slouchy, always has his shirt untucked, there's a strange streak of white in his hair, and Victoria sees it as her duty to try to tidy him up a bit. He's sort of a project, really.

But one day, Lawrence just disappears. His parents have strange grins on their faces and claim he's gone to see his grandmother. None of the teachers at school seem concerned. Only Victoria is suspicious. It's not just Lawrence who's disappeared in the last few months either, although Victoria's head goes a bit fuzzy when she tries to remember the others. None of the grown-ups will answer her questions, they just grin wolfishly and tell her to mind her own business. All the clues lead towards the Cavendish Home, an orphanage run by the beautiful Mrs. Cavendish and her strange assistant/gardener, Mr. Alice. Everything seems warm and friendly and cosy when Victoria goes to check it out, but she also finds a paper air plane with the words "Help us!" written on it. Something sinister is clearly afoot, and Victoria is determined to get it sorted out.

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is a horror novel aimed at Middle Grade readers. It's without a doubt the creepiest book I've read in years. A lot of the book reminds me of Coraline, with elements from various Roald Dahl novels, but Victoria is a much less likable heroine than Neil Gaiman's Coraline. She's really rather unpleasant, to begin with, and you're not really sure why Lawrence is friends with her (although it's quite obvious that he's not exactly got a lot of other people lining up for the position of best friend). She's a perfectionist, bossy and demanding, constantly berating Lawrence for something or other. She's quite self-absorbed, and determined to be top of her class no matter what the cost. I think the book was even more enjoyable because Victoria is such an odious little know-it-all to begin with. Losing her only friend, and having to go through all manner of dangerous and horrible challenges to rescue him, helps her grow into a much better person.

She genuinely cares for Lawrence, of course, although she doesn't realise it until he goes missing, and she sees how empty her life of chasing grades and perfection is. Despite the warnings of all the various grownups of the Stepford-like town of Belleville, she keeps snooping, asking questions and investigating, even after it's quite clear that her search for Lawrence can lead to all sorts of unpleasantness, and does, once she's dragged into the orphanage by Mrs. Cavendish's crawly cockroachy minions. As someone who's not overly fond of insects at the best of time, the amount of creepy crawlies in this book absolutely added to the discomfort factor.

I don't normally read a lot of scary stories, and this book really is wonderfully unnerving. The atmosphere starts with everything in Belleville being just that little bit off, and ramps up the creep factor with cockroaches, missing children, dissenting teachers being possibly devoured and townspeople being brainwashed by mysterious means. Mrs. Cavendish claims to only take the children who don't fit in, who aren't quite right, the degenerates, and if they've improved by the time they turn thirteen, they get to go home. Of course, if she doesn't deem them good enough, they don't leave, and what happens to them is truly gruesome. As someone who really doesn't read a lot of horror, this was just the right amount of scary for me. The illustrations by Sarah Watts are wonderful accompaniments to the story as a whole. Highly recommended.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

#CBR5 Book 37. "The Handbook to Handling His Lordship" by Suzanne Enoch

Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Nathaniel Stokes became the Earl of Westfall when his cousin fell out of a boat in the Lake District and drowned. Before he was an earl, he was plain Nate Stokes, one of Wellington's most trusted spies, and he still can't seem to settle down and be a staid aristocrat. So no one will look to closely at him, or ponder why he was absent for so much of the war on the Peninsula, he cultivates a clumsy and bookish persona, wears fake spectacles and walks with a limp. He likes finding lost and stolen trinkets and artworks for his fellow peers, and is intrigued when the Marquis of Ebberling comes to him to find a governess that fled his home three years ago, who stole from him, and may have killed his wife. He's offering an obscene amount of money to get the job done quickly, and Nate likes the challenge of finding someone who disappeared without a trace so long ago.

Emily Portsman, as the girl is now known, found refuge at the scandalous Tantalus Club, a gambling establishment staffed entirely by well-born and educated young ladies,  run by Lady Haybury, the heroine of A Beginner's Guide to Rakes (and the first book in this series). She's not left the club for three years, for fear of Ebberling finding her. Twice a week, she has to dye her hair brown, and while she invites the occasional gentleman up to her rooms, she tries to stay unnoticed as much as possible. So when she overhears Nate at lunch, talking to his younger brother about locating a thief among the staff at the club, all her paranoia returns in full. Believing him to be a befuddled scholar, she invites him to her room to seduce his mission out of him, not realizing that she's playing straight into Nate's hands. As the two become closer, Nate becomes more and more convinced that Ebberling left several key points out of his tale, and that Emily is not the ruthless murderer he's been sent to find, at all. But how can they prove her innocence, against the word of a rich and powerful peer of the realm?

This is the fourth book in Suzanne Enoch's Scandalous Brides series. While all the couples from the previous books appear in this as supporting characters, it's also a pretty good book to start with, as it gives the reader all the information needed about the Tantalus Club and intriguing glimpses of the former couples, so that if you've not read the earlier books, you might be ore tempted to do so. It's probably also my favourite of the four, on a par with, and probably even better than the first one in the series.

The formidable Mrs. Julien has mentioned that she's partial to a big lug in her romances. While I don't mind them, I'm much more fond of the intelligent, slender and frequently sardonic hero, myself. Nate Stokes is just such a man, a war hero who can't boast about any of his achievements, because he's been a spy. He's had so many secret identities that he barely knows who he really is anymore, and he's certainly not comfortable with the Earldom that fell in his lap. He keeps himself busy finding lost trinkets for other peers, as well as teaching his younger brother how to be a responsible and trustworthy adult.

Emily (also known as Rachel, or Eloise) is a wonderful heroine. She's worked hard to get to where she is, getting an education and a higher position in society mainly by deceit and false references, and has had to hide, fearing for her life for years. She's proud of her abilities and enjoys her job at the club, making an honest living even though most of society scorns her and her fellow Tantalus Girls. She's refreshingly different from a lot of romance heroines in that she's not a virgin (none of the Scandalous Brides are, if I recall correctly), she enjoys sex and isn't afraid to admit it to herself or the hero. It's even more refreshing that the hero in no way judges her for it, or slut-shames her in any way.

Used to being the smartest person in any given situation, what Nate wants most of all, is to be surprised. Emily constantly ends up reacting in a different way than he expects, and he finds it wonderfully invigorating. The initial stages of the relationship, when the two of them are trying to subtly interrogate each other, while also trying to dupe the other from finding out their true intentions, is very enjoyable. I also liked that they came clean to each other before the situation got too much out of hand, and once they'd started being honest with each other, there was very little in the way of insecurities and melodrama, despite the two characters' gap in social standing.

While the resolution of the romantic plot line was fine, and seemed to be a lot more plausible than a lot of other historical romances out there (certainly a lot more than them just getting married and not caring what the consequences would be for their standing in society, Loretta Chase, you might want to take notes!), the resolution of the murder plot was utterly ridiculous. My disbelief can only be suspended so much, and I just see no way that Nate, highly valued agent of the Crown though he may be, would get that sort of assistance in clearing the name of his beloved, the employee in a gambling den. The rest of the book is delightful, though, so I will forgive the extreme implausibility of that bit of the plot. Be warned, if you're planning on reading this book, that it gets a bit silly there towards the end. Apart from that, I highly recommend it.

#CBR5 Book 36. "Ghost Planet" by Sharon Lynn Fisher

Page count: 352 pages
Rating: 2 stars

Elizabeth Cole is a psychologist who's just arrived on a recently discovered alien planet, where all the colonists have an alien tethered to them. The alien takes the form of a dead loved one, so the colonists call them Ghosts (even though they're corporeal and eat and sleep and have emotions and can even be injured) and Elizabeth's supervisor is to be Dr. Murphy, the man who developed the Ghost Protocol, which states that the Ghosts are to be shunned and ignored completely. Elizabeth and Murphy hit it off immediately, and even start to flirt briefly, before they discover that not only did Elizabeth die in a shuttle crash when arriving on the planet, but she's now Murphy's new Ghost. So they go from sexy banter to complete silent treatment, while Elizabeth has to process her own demise and new and unwanted situation.

Elizabeth, who was dubious about the wisdom of the Ghost Protocol even before she discovered that she herself was a Ghost, and thus on the receiving end of it. She refuses to be a biddable little shadow who doesn't speak and slowly wastes away while trailing her host, and instead spends much of her time doing research. Her unconventional behaviour starts influencing other Ghosts, and Murphy is having trouble following the protocol he himself devised, something that was never a problem when his ghost was an aunt he had no particular strong feelings towards. Soon his supervisors are warning him to get Elizabeth under control, or they might both be in danger.

Ghost Planet is Sharon Lynn Fisher's debut novel and this month (April)'s main pick in Vaginal Fantasy Hangout. It's been nominated for a Rwa RITA award for First Book, and seems fairly highly rated on Goodreads. The initial premise of the book is a good one. I was pretty engrossed throughout the first part of the book, and while there were niggles, it was easy to keep reading to see what would happen next. Unfortunately, it all started going downhill fast in the second half. By the end, I was less than impressed, and instead of living up to the promise showed in the beginning, the book sort of fizzled out and left me fairly indifferent to the whole thing.

An alien world where colonists are tethered to an alien that looks like a loved one is an intriguing one. Of course, it's established that Murphy and Elizabeth met once before, about a decade ago, when Murphy was guiding a tour group at Trinity College, Ireland, back on Earth, in which Elizabeth and her fiancee were two of the participants. There are also other characters where the Ghost turns out to be someone whom the host had only the briefest of connections before they were linked by the strange planet. I kept waiting for some explanation of the phenomenon to be offered, but it's never really explored in any depth, there's some hand-waving, and it seems that Murphy and Elizabeth are chiefly linked because the author needs them to be.

Considering most of the Earth colonists on the alien planet are scientists or researchers, they're also fairly dense about what's causing the worsening environment on the planet. Even before the author reveals that there are freak weather storms, earthquakes and that crops are dying, the Ghost Protocol, which states that the Ghosts (who the colonists have decided are dangerous parasites leaching onto them for nefarious purposes) are to be ignored and shunned completely, until most of them become miserable and biddable. The people who are unable to follow the protocol are counselled and treated with medication, and in the most situations, sent back to Earth, so the relationship with their Ghost is severed. The fact that none of the many scientists seem to connect the worsening and more hostile environment on the planet with the increased use of the Ghost Protocol just makes it seem as if they're all idiots.

While I liked Elizabeth and Murphy at first, they sadly aren't really developed that much as actual characters. Murphy is handsome, charming and has an Irish accent. He extremely quickly ditches his own protocol when he falls in pretty much instant lust with his sexy new Ghost. Elizabeth is supposedly very clever, and does a fair bit of research throughout the story, but her secondary superpower seems to be that all men want her. No fewer than three male characters claim that they're in love with her, and most of the other male characters either lust after her or want to rape her. She also ends up being girl hostage a whole lot. Then there are the villains, who are pretty much all of the evil scientist and/or moustache twirling variety. Le sigh.

The relationship between Elizabeth and Murphy starts with flirtation, and then switches quickly to the silent treatment when they discover that she's his Ghost. However, it doesn't take long for Murphy to 180 his decision, and want to skip straight to smexy times with his new involuntary roommate. Elizabeth, while she finds him attractive, has reservations at first, and points out that it's not like they can avoid each other if the relationship turns sour. All her reservations go straight out the window once they start being in danger, and once the two of them start doing it, it seems like they pretty much do nothing else but develop new and exciting super powers, and having more sex. I hate it when relationships are built mainly with successive love scenes. It would have been nice to have more scenes to show why they actually fall for each other, not just "Elizabeth doesn't blindly accept the status quo of the planet (mainly because she herself is adversely affected by it)" and "Murphy is such a good cook that he can charm the pants of women with it". There's no proper relationship development, just them jumping each other, regardless of whether they were about to be interrupted, or people could walk in on them (and do, at one point). This got boring really fast.

The second half of the book spirals out of control, and the end was far too convenient. Elizabeth and Murphy seem to develop new powers as the plot requires it. Ignoring the ghost protocol seems to give the colonists and their ghosts all sorts of convenient powers, but Elizabeth and Murphy get more than most, and are such special snowflakes that they can even cheat death, without any real explanation being given for any of it. I was sad that the initial promise of the book ended up being wasted. As this is a first book, hopefully the author will be able to follow through on her interesting concepts better in the future, though.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

#CBR5 Book 35. "Love Irresistibly" by Julie James

Page count: 304 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Brooke Parker has worked her way up from being a scholarship kid to working as General Counsel for one of the top restaurant chains in Chicago. She's proven to be extremely capable, but the job demands a lot of her time. So much so, that the hot doctor she's been dating, just dumped her, saying he never sees her, and it's like dating a guy. Pretty much the same story as with the last two guys. Having been dumped by three men in the last eighteen months makes her consider taking a relationship sabbatical.

Then assistant DA Cade Morgan walks into her office, needing her help to catch a dirty politician in the act. The DA's office and the FBI need to plant a microphone in one of the restaurants that Brooke's company owns, and she's the person who can make that happen. A former college football star and rising golden boy in the Chicago DA's office, Cade is used to attention. His last three girlfriends claimed he was emotionally unavailable, but he's not particularly bothered by his bachelor status. Sparks fly when he and Brooke face off against each other, and while they both try to deny the attraction, it doesn't take long before they're meeting for something more than business as well. Can two people who've been accused of working too much and sharing too little of themselves make it work?

What do you think? This is a romance novel. No one reads these for the surprise revelations. You read them for the meet cutes, the witty banter, the (if you're lucky) scorching smexy times and inevitable, yet satisfying happy ending. I mostly read historical romance, but Julie James is one of my exceptions when it comes to contemporaries. A former lawyer, James writes what she knows, her books all feature lawyers and/or the FBI agents who work along side these lawyers. Sometimes the books involve a secondary mystery/suspense plot too, but this one didn't. She writes one book a year, and is the only contemporary romance author on my auto-buy list.

The main story in this book, apart from Brooke and Cade banteringly discovering that they're perfect for each other and can't live apart any longer, is Brooke's slow realization that while she's happy with her professional achievements and where it has brought her, she's not ok with how much of her life her work is consuming. She barely has time for family and friends, let alone a relationship. While her friends claim her last three boyfriends were insensitive douches, she still suspects that there may be some truth in their accusations that she's too distant and focused on her job.

In addition to his high profile grand jury case to bring down the aforementioned corrupt senator, Cade has daddy issues, literally. Raised by a single mother, who was knocked up while still in high school, Cade only met his father once, when he was ten. Now a high school kid shows up in his office and announces that he's Cade's half brother. Having never suspected he had a sibling, Cade is reluctant at first, but also remembers the bitter rejection of his father never returning from the one visit, so agrees to spend some time with the kid, on condition that the boy not tell their father anything about it.

Cade and Brooke agree to keep their dating casual, but it doesn't take long before they're utterly besotted with each other. Julie James writes attractive and likable people, and as these two had some very good banter going, it was a fun ride to see them find their happy ending. The previous two books in this series were ok, but not up to the excellent quality of the first books of hers that I read, so it was a relief to see that she hadn't completely lost the magic.

One of the things that makes her books so enjoyable, is the cast of extremely sympathetic supporting characters that she surrounds her protagonists with. Cade's best friends are two of the FBI agents he works closely with, and Booke has Ford, her best friend since childhood, and his two flatmates. There are also appearances by characters from earlier books, which is a nice touch. New readers won't be bothered by it or care, but for recurring readers, it's nice to see a bit of what happens after their HEAs. The fact that her characters can have close friends of the opposite sex that they're not in any way sexually interested in is also a great feature, as I don't really subscribe to the When Harry Met Sally theory that men and women can't be just friends.