Sunday, 25 January 2015

#CBR7 Book 8: "The Duke of Dark Desires" by Miranda Neville

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

No one ever expected Julian Fortescue to end up becoming a Duke, least of all himself. But after a series of tragic accidents, illnesses and old age kills off most of his male relatives, Julian finds himself as Duke of Denford. As this book begins, he is also actually a wealthy man, having come to a settlement with all of his relatives that means he has the money to support himself in style. This doesn't escape the notice of his dear mother, who promtly arrives on the doorstep of his rather bare and understaffed town house with his three younger half-sisters in tow. Julian never got along with his mother's second husband (who was very religious and liked to beat his step-son), and so has barely had any contact with his mother or younger sisters. Now his mother has married an American sea captain, and emotionally blackmails Julian into accepting guardianship of the three girls.

Julian has absolutely no idea what to do with three young ladies. He's not exactly a great role model to them, with a history of womanising, gambling and drinking. While he may have become a Duke, he's not given up his former trade of art dealing, to the disapproval of much of the ton. He tries to get his neighbour's wife, Lady Windermere, to help him hire a governess, but she just laughs at him. So when the mysterious, but very sensual Miss Jane Grey shows up on his doorstep, wanting the position, and Julian instantly falls in lust with her, he hires her on the spot, figuring that she can tutor the girls by day, and warm his bed by night.

Jane Grey is in England for revenge, however. She is in reality Jeanne-Louise de Falleron, only survivor of the Falleron family, who were arrested and executed during the Revolution. She knows that a man named Fortescue was supposed to help her father obtain the correct papers to allow the family safe passage out of Paris, in return for a share in the family's priceless artworks. Instead the family were betrayed. Jeanne only survived because she had the papers for the family's governess, the actual Jane Grey and one of the soldiers arresting the Fallerons saw an opportunity to get a grateful mistress out of the bargain. Having been Jane for so long, doing whatever she needs to survive, Jeanne is a far cry from the innocent, pampered French girl she once was. Her thoughts of revenge are what has kept her going. She knows that Denford is the head of the Fortescue clan and figures that being in his household will be the best way to tracking down the man who betrayed her family, so she can kill him.

No longer a sheltered society virgin, Jane is used to men's desire and finds Denford as attractive as he does her. Sleeping with him will only complicate things, so Jane refuses to give in to his attempts at seduction, for a period at least. Of course she grows more attached to the girls she teaches with every day, remembering the younger sisters that she lost. She also spends every evening in companionable conversation with Julian in his library, under the guise of reporting on her work with his sisters. As the weeks pass, she no longer wishes to resist him.In her spare time, she tries to investigate the various members of the Fortescue family who may have been in France during the Revolution, and tires to ignore her fears that the man she's falling for, may in fact be the man she has sworn to kill.

The fourth and final book in Miranda Neville's Wild Quartet series is the one I've really been looking forward to, because the hero has been such a fun supporting character in the previous books in the series. Throughout the series, Julian's dark past and clear remorse about something that happened in Paris years ago has been hinted at, and it's been mentioned in more than one book that he is in possession of the Falleron collection. So to those readers, it's no surprise at all that Julian is the Mr. Fortescue that Jane/Jeanne is looking for. Of course, it's not exactly kept secret for new readers for long either.

Julian keeps his black hair long, despite the fashion for short hair in gentlemen. He wears unrelieved black and carries a silver-topped cane. He adores being seen as sinister, a bit cruel and uncompromising, and quite happily tried to steal his former best friend's wife away. Yet he's unable to turn his young sisters away and wants them to have the best care possible. He was young and a bit too naive when he was in France all those years ago, and he knows his carelessness was in part responsible for the Falleron family being arrested. He forced himself to watch the daughters being executed, and has never forgotten his complicity. He's not let it stop him from living his life, however. He plans to bring the Falleron collection from Belgium, where he has kept it safely hidden for years and use it to possibly win the favour of the Prince Regent himself. He's a known rake and because he has always been one of the black sheep of the Fortescue family, he feels no particular responsibility to take care of his many relations or take up the mantle of duty that comes with being a Duke.

Jane was promised to a French Duke before the Revolution and was raised in an aristocratic environment, aware both of the privileges and the duties of the nobility. She's shocked at how lightly Julian seems to take his title and how little he seems affected by the importance of his position. As she gets to know him better, she comes to understand that that coincidence, blind luck and the laws of primogeniture all led to him becoming a Duke and having had to struggle to support himself for most of his life, without much if any support from his many distant relations, he feels no particular fondness for any of them, and doesn't quite see why he has to care for them just because he happens to be the nominal head of the family. It would obviously be inappropriate for a governess to lecture her employer, but Jane nonetheless tries to make Julian see that his position in now one where he cannot entirely act solely as he wishes, and that his actions have weight and consequence in a way they didn't when he was one of many mere Mr. Fortescues.

While the relationship between the Duke of Denford and Miss Jane Grey could have been an uncomfortable one, considering that he is her employer, and has so much power over her. Yet because Julian is pretty up front about his desires and wishes from the start, and Jane is no innocent and frankly acknowledges the sexual attraction between them almost as quickly. Julian is very clear that he doesn't want anyone unwilling in his bed, and while he places Jane in the bedroom next to his, he also makes sure to give her the key to the adjoining door, so she will feel safe (and also because he realises how tempting having the key to his bedroom may be for her). It's quite clear to Julian that Jane is not who she pretends to be, and that there is something in her past she wishes to keep hidden. She claims to have worked as a governess for the governor of St. Lucia, but she speaks French like a pre-Revolutionary aristocrat, and their nightly conversations proves that she is far too knowledgeable in certain areas to be a common-born servant.

Jane fights her attraction because she knows she and Julian have no future. Her mission is to find one of his relatives, murder him and then try to flee to the Colonies, where she will hopefully be safe from prosecution. Even if she wasn't set on revenge on the shadowy Mr. Fortescue, Julian is a Duke and she is a morally compromised nobody, no matter how grand her family once was. Having submitted herself first to the soldier who saved her from the guillotine and later been the mistress of a rich merchant, she no longer has the exclusive pedigree required of a potential Duchess. Julian, used as he is at ignoring social conventions begins to consider Jane a suitable wife long before he discovers her real identity. He clearly has no problems with the idea of marrying his governess/mistress. She's excellent with his sisters and she makes him feel better, in and out of bed.

There is a lot more to this romance that I'm not adequately able to get across. Elyse over on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books does a much better job. It was her enthusiastic reviews of this book and Lady Windermere's Lover that make me pick up this series in the first place. While I wasn't quite as enthusiastic about the other three books, I'm glad I read them to get the background and history required to really enjoy this one. I shall keep a lookout for new books by Miranda Neville in the future.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

#CBR7 Book 7: "Lady Windermere's Lover" by Miranda Neville

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3.5 pages

On his twenty-first birthday, Damian, Viscount Kendal, drunkenly follows the advice of his friend Robert Townsend and gambles away Beaulieu, the estate he has inherited from his beloved departed mother, then he passes out dead drunk. Unfortunately, Townsend had even more of a drinking and gambling problem than Damian and promptly lost the property to someone else. Damian is forced to return to his father, hanging his head in shame, promising to do whatever it takes to reform and help re-purchase the property. He cuts off all contact with his dissolute school friends and throws himself into a career in the diplomatic corps.

Seven years later, having inherited his father's title as Earl of Windermere, Damian has tracked down the man currently holding the deed to Beaulieu. The merchant in question doesn't want mere money to relinquish it, however, he demands that Damian marry his niece, Cynthia, a young and awkward woman who Damian just assumes is as grasping and social climbing as her uncle. He makes absolutely no attempt to actually get to know his shy, inelegant wife, demands that she speak to him in French whenever they actually do spend some time together (she only learned French at Finishing School, so isn't exactly fluent). He resentfully consummates the marriage, but leaves on a diplomatic mission to Persia after only a few weeks. He leaves orders that Cynthia stay at Beaulieu and have it refurbished for when he returns.

So imagine his surprise when he arrives back in London, nearly a year later, having barely corresponded with his wife in the time apart, to discover that she's not following orders and languishing away in the countryside. She is no longer retiring, plain and socially awkward. She is an elegant and ravishing society beauty and currently spending an awful lot of time with his former best friend, Julian Fortescue, the Duke of Denford, whose town house is right next door to his. There are a lot of choice rumours, all of them suggesting that Lady Windermere has taken a lover while her husband was off serving his country. All signs point to Denford being said lover.

Damian's current orders force him to put aside his enmity with Denford and try to rekindle the friendship they once shared, as the a Prussian Prince wants his hands on an art collection Denford is said to be in possession of, and diplomatic negotiations demand that the Prince stay happy. While Damian is unwilling to risk his career, he is not at all happy with the amount of attention Denford is lavishing on Cynthia and becomes determined to win his wife back. He quickly discovers that he knew absolutely nothing about the woman he married and didn't care to find anything out before he abandoned her. She is rightfully deeply hurt by his treatment of her, and has no intention of giving up the company of friends she made while he abandoned her for the best end of a year. Can Damian grovel enough to ever gain his wife's forgiveness?

I have rated this book 3.5 stars, despite the fact that for most of the book, I wanted to punch Damian, erstwhile Viscount Kendal, now Earl of Windermere hard in the face, and then kick him in the balls. He is a complete d*ckbag, who takes his disappointment and resentment from fixing a mistake he himself made out on the innocent woman who is saddled with him in matrimony. Instead of giving his mother's property up as lost when he himself drunkenly gambles it away, with no care for the consequences, he instead not only cuts all ties to his best friend, Julian, who he blames for not being persuasive enough to drag him away from the gambling table before he lost his mother's estate in a drunken stupor. It also turns out he used his father's influence to sabotage a lucrative art transaction that could have been the making of Julian, to make really make sure their status as friends was well and truly over. For so much of the book, Damian is a self-centred idiot, completely incapable of taking responsibility for his many weaselly actions.

So how is it that I haven't rated the book lower, I hear you asking? Well, because Lady Windermere herself and the man she pretends to have an affair with, Julian Fortescue are both delightful and I liked all their interactions with each other, or others. Poor Cynthia was so infatuated with the handsome man her uncle wanted her to marry, and while she didn't have any of the greed or social aspirations that Damian imagined, the other alternative for a husband her uncle had suggested, the rapey manager of his many factories, was just not an option anyone in their right mind would pick. Her illusions about her handsome husband are shattered pretty quickly, with him treating her at best callously and at its worst abominably, but once he leaves for his diplomatic mission, Cynthia quickly realises that she can turn her status as a Countess into something good.

As her husband ordered her to redecorate Beaulieu, she reasons that she can't very well do that from the country and travels to London to find inspiration. Caro Townsend, from The Importance of Being Wicked hears that she is in town and quickly befriends her, telling her stories about what Damian was once like, when he was friends with Townsend, Lithgow and Fortescue. She also helps Cynthia find a decent dressmaker, and Cynthia begins to turn herself into the ultimate diplomat's wife, taking French lessons and striving to learn all the things her Finishing school didn't already teach her. As time passes and she spends more time with her new friends, Cynthia also grows a backbone and realises that she doesn't deserve the sort of treatment she's received.

She likes the idea of making Damian jealous, and what better way than to start flirting outrageously with his former best friend? She's fully aware that Julian has his own reasons to keep trying to seduce her, probably some kind of revenge for the slights he's experienced from Windermere. Of course, except one kiss, that makes her feel intensely uncomfortable, Cynthia never actually does anything with Julian. She just makes her husband think that she does. She also fills his town house full of atrociously ugly furniture and artwork, which she is purposefully overcharged for by a clever tradesman. The money she embezzles goes to fund a safe house for young women who've been abused by her uncle's foreman. Pregnant or with young children, they have nowhere to turn, and Cynthia has made it her mission to keep them safe.

It takes the best end of the book before Cynthia even deigns to consider her cad of a husband. I think she should have made him suffer a lot more, and grovel more comprehensively, but it is established that she is a deeply kind-hearted and generous woman, so it was probably never in her nature to be cruel to him in return. Miranda Neville's writing is good enough that I really liked this book despite the horrible hero. If there is ever a "years later" sequel written, I would not be unhappy if it turns out that Lord Windermere died in some sort of painful and horrible way. Cynthia may have forgiven him by the end of the book, but I haven't.

Friday, 23 January 2015

#CBR7 Book 6: "The Ruin of a Rogue" by Miranda Neville

Page count: 389 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Miss Anne Brotherton, supporting character of The Importance of Being Wicked and jilted once the Duke initially courting her fell head over heels for her widowed cousin instead, now has to fend off eager suitors everywhere she turns in London. Every man becomes a fortune hunter when faced with the ridiculous amounts of money, land holdings and estates that Anne, sole heir to the Earl of Camber brings to the marriage. Of course, while Anne is by no means poor, she doesn't actually have access to much of the money, and if she marries without her guardian's consent, she's likely to be left with only a tiny allowance. Not that that's looking like such a bad prospect.

All she wants is to find someone who might appreciate her for her intelligence and kindness. She's deeply passionate about ancient history and archaeology, but most people find it dreadfully dull. Not that any of her many would-be suitors would let her talk drive them off for long. So when she meets a handsome young gentleman who seems ever so interested in the same things as her, she can't help but be a bit smitten. Even when he warns her that he's by no means appropriate company for a proper young lady. Frankly, Anne is ready to spend more time in the company of someone a bit scandalous, hoping that the light tarnish to her reputation might at least dissuade some of the stuffier candidates vying for her hand.

Marcus Lithgow isn't lying when he says Anne should be careful to be seen in his company. A shameless rake, gambler and occasional thief, he has indeed singled her out to seduce her. For months, he's had absolutely no luck at the gambling tables, and he needs money, fast. He doesn't actually have marriage in mind, he just hopes that her guardian might pay him a generous sum to never set foot near her again. He reads up on all the topics she finds fascinating and orchestrates a number of chance meetings for them around London. Unfortunately, Marcus is staying with his old school friend Julian Fortescue, the Duke of Denford, whose house is right next door to that of Lady Windermere, Anne's current chaperone. When Anne hears the two men talking and realises what Marcus' devious plan is, she is determined to get her revenge. She starts forcing Marcus to accompany her everywhere, making him waste huge amounts of money he doesn't really have taking her to the most tedious of exhibitions. But then Marcus is told he has inherited an estate, and suddenly seems to lose interest in her entirely.

It wouldn't be much of a romance if the hero went off to his crumbling estate, leaving the heroine confused and slightly disappointed in London. There are Roman ruins on Marcus' land and Anne is absolutely desperate to be allowed to excavate them. Marcus, who at this point has grown quite fond of the place he has neither the money nor the staff to maintain (all the villagers refuse to work there because of rumours that it's haunted) strikes an unusual deal with Miss Brotherton. If she works as a maid of all work for an hour and a half in his house every day, he will allow her to excavate the ruins.

While romance titles are frequently absolutely nonsensical, this book actually has a title that cleverly works on two levels. The Ruin of a Rogue could refer to physical ruin , such as the ruin of a house Marcus inherits and the Roman ruin on his estate, or to the figurative ruin he experiences at the hands of Anne Brotherton, as he of course falls in love with her, and tries his very best to drive her away. After all, she is all that is good and kind and special, and is far too good for the likes of him, a scapegrace who's father dragged him around Europe teaching him all that was nefarious from the age of six.

Anne isn't actually the most interesting of heroines, initially, her cousin Caro was a lot more fun in the previous book, I thought. At the same time, she's been raised in near isolation on her grandfather's estate with nothing much but books for company and has clearly not been socialised all that much, so who can blame her for being a bit dull? She's clearly a very sweet person, and hates the burden that her ginormous inheritance presents. The way she goes about trying to punish Marcus is more childish than actually cruel and he certainly gets his own back at her when he forces her to do sweeping, mopping, dusting and cleaning in his run-down house where the only staff he has available to him is his insanely cheerful valet and a stubborn old man who works in the stables.

Marcus never really had a home to call his own after his mother died when he was about six. His father would not win any husband- or father-awards, and clearly only married Marcus' mother for her modest fortune, then got sick of her when the money was gone. Once she died, he dragged Marcus with him through England and Europe, scamming men and women alike, cheating and stealing his way from place to place, usually never settling long before having to go on the run. He clearly never had any affection for his son and it's obvious why Marcus doesn't mourn his passing. He does fear that he is doomed to follow in his scoundrel father's footsteps, however, which is why, when he discovers that he actually is developing feelings for Anne, he feels he must drive her away. Of course, by this point, Anne has seen how hard he's working to help the poor tenants on his lands and how much time and energy and dwindling funds he's putting into the estate he inherited from a distant uncle. A crumbling ruin he has to rebuild and clean himself is still a home to him, and he can't bring himself to sell it. Even to Anne, who magnanimously offers to purchase it just so she can get access to the Roman ruins. When Marcus flatly refuses to take her money, she is surprised and intrigued.

As with the first book in the series, Neville sadly isn't content to just have the story focus on Anne and Marcus' romance. Oh no, there has to be the quest for hidden treasure added into the mix. Marcus finds an old letter from his father speaking of a valuable nest-egg tucked away somewhere on the estate. At first he doesn't believe it exists, but as he finds traces of someone searching the house, and signs that the rumoured ghost has been cleverly created with chains in the attic and other paraphernalia, he starts to wonder if there might be some truth to the idea. Suffice to say, there is a treasure, there are bad people who want to get their hands on it, and the final act of the book got a bit farcical and possibly wrapped up a bit too quickly and neatly for my tastes. I still appreciate Neville's willingness to set most of her romance outside of the London ballrooms, though and the romance developed very gradually and believably. I wish she'd trusted that it was enough to carry the story.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

#CBR7 Book 5: "Ex Sanguine" by Tim Seeley and various artists

Page count: 110 pages
Rating: 2.5 stars

Ah, the joys of reviewing something you read in about an hour about two weeks ago and that didn't make that much of an impact. I'm sorry, but I have to once again resort to the lazy/forgetful reviewer's trick of using the Goodreads summary:

One's a natural-born killer - a remorseless hunter gleefully prowling the night for victims to quench an unnatural blood lust. The other's a vampire. His centuries of existence have left him world weary and detached, until one day his thirst i reinvigorated when the deadly and intricate work of the Sanguine Killer catches his eyes. 

Saul Adams is a vampire, whose long life means he doesn't remember anything he doesn't write down everything in a notebook he carries with him. He can turn into mist (which is convenient for getting into locked places) and he appears to actually be able to change his facial features if necessary. I really liked the detail about his memories fading.

 The big twist (which is revealed right there in the blurb) of this comic is that Saul is of course not the serial killer that the FBI are hunting. Someone is murdering people and leaving cryptic messages in code painted in the victims' blood at the crime scenes. The young female agent, whose past contains dark horrors, is convinced that there is a supernatural connection to the murders, and after they knock on Saul's door the first time, she is determined to prove his guilt.

Saul wants to track down the real killer, to see who appears to be setting him up, and ends up temporarily teaming up with the killer. Some might say there is a romantic subplot here, but I don't think there was much romance involved in a crazy serial murderer and centuries old vampire hooking up.

There were some interesting ideas about vampires and some fun plot twists (the reveal about the female agent's past was especially good), but the fact that I'm struggling to remember much about this comic less than two weeks after I read it means that even if this wasn't what appears to be a self-contained mini-series, I would be unlikely to track down any more of it. Not bad by any means, but really nothing remarkable either.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

#CBR7 Book 4: "The Importance of Being Wicked" by Miranda Neville

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Thomas Fitzcharles, the Duke of Castleton, is everything that is proper and dignified. The Dukes of Castleton tend to marry wealthy ladies of impeccable pedigree to enhance their holdings and fortune with each new generation. Thomas' father was an exception, marrying for love, and it's clear to Thomas that their marriage was not a success. As such, he is determined to win the hand of the eminently proper and extremely wealthy Miss Anne Brotherton, who thanks to being her grandfather, the Earl of Camber's sole heir, is the best catch of the season. He's surprised when he discovers that the demure Miss Brotherton is currently residing with her cousin, Mrs. Caroline "Caro" Townsend, possibly the least proper woman Castleton has ever met.

Having been raised nearly in isolation on her grandfather's estate, and until recently meant to marry a cousin who died, Miss Brotherton delights in being able to trick her fusty old guardians and escape to her cousin Caro's house in London. Caro, who fell madly in love with the reckless Robert Townsend at 17 and eloped with him, was disowned by the family as a result. Her marriage to Townsend was tumultuous and before he died, her husband had gambled away not only his fortune, but left his young widow in considerable debt. It doesn't mean that Caro has stopped supporting local artists, throwing lavish parties and generally trying to shock and scandalise the members of the Ton. Anne loves spending time with the colourful and different people she meets at Caro's, even though none of them seem to understand her passion for archaeology and ancient history. When Castleton arrives on their doorstep, to press his suit, Anne accepts that he will probably be exactly the sort of person her guardians want her to marry, but he doesn't really seem to have eyes for her whenever Caro is near. Could it be that "Lord Stuffy" (a nickname given to Castleton by Caro) is more driven by his emotions than he previously thought?

This is my first Miranda Neville novel. I can't say I'm a huge fan of the cover, but let's face it, it's actually the exception rather than the rule if I actually like a historical romance cover these days. There was a lot to like about her writing. I enjoyed that Caro was a widow, who despite the fact that her husband eventually descended into drunkenness and gambling addiction, still fairly happily recalled her marriage and mourned for her husband. I liked that Caro literally gave no fucks about the opinions of her relatives or most of polite society, but kept entertaining her friends because they were the ones who'd been nice to her when she was cast out in the first place, I also thought she did a pretty good job as a chaperone for her cousin, who was in no way compromised while in her care, while also making sure that young Anne didn't die of boredom. Having the heroine be a widow, and not of the "we never consummated the relationship" variety that seemed far too common in some Old School romances, and one who's experienced real passion, but also real heartache (she lost her child) was refreshing. Sure, Caro's financial practises aren't exactly the most sensible, she should totally stop feeding every starving artist who falls across her doorstep and make sure she can pay her debts, but she's also refuses to prostitute herself by becoming some man's mistress just to get enough money to pay said debts either. She has morals and principles, even if they're not exactly what a lot of the people judging her would like.

Castleton was a bit of a bore, it's true, but the fact that he's so aware of that himself makes it less of a flaw and more something to pity him for. His father was clearly extremely strict and refused to let young Thomas have many friends or any fun. Castleton has been bred for duty first and foremost and even when he starts falling for Caro, his main worry is that if he doesn't marry the stupendously wealthy Anne Brotherton or some other heiress, he won't be able to provide suitable dowries for his younger twin sisters. It's nice to read a romance that acknowledges that Dukes too could be in need of money, not just because of their reckless youths of promiscuity and gambling (which seems to be a common past time for aristocratic heroes). He doesn't feel a twinge of attraction towards Anne, and her passionate interest in archaeology bores him silly, but he's still determined to do his duty towards his family and his estates. He gradually lightens up the more time he spends with Caro, and has the tremendous grace to apologise when he realises that he's in the wrong. He tries to fight his attraction to her as long as possible, seeing as he's officially courting her cousin, but once he gives in, he does his best to convince her that he loves her just the way she is, scandal and all, and apart from becoming a bit more sensible with money, doesn't want her to change.

The main thing that detracted from my full enjoyment of this book was a subplot involving an expensive painting that Caro had in her possession. Several of her husband's old friends, all involved in art collecting in some way, are extremely interested in getting their hands on it, by hook or by crook. Caro refuses to sell it, because it's the last thing she has left to properly remember her dead husband by. There was a lot of silly plotting by people, first to figure out if Caro actually had the stupid painting, and then to try to gain possession of it. I didn't care for it, one bit. As this is the first book in a series of four, The Wild Quartet being Robert Townsend and his notorious school friends, several supporting characters in this book go on to become main characters later in the series. It was due to extremely glowing reviews of the last two books in the series that I decided to start at the beginning, and I found it a very promising start.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

#CBR7 Book 3: "Saga, volume 4" by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Page count: 144 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

So I've already raved at you here AND here about why you should be reading this comic. If you haven't read it yet (what is wrong with you, do you not like awesome things?), this trade is not the place to start. It collects issues 19-24 of an ongoing story. I'm going to try really hard to review it without spoiling anything major, but tread with caution if you're not caught up.

Marko and Alanna and their hunted little family are laying low on a fairy anonymous planet. Alanna is trying to support them as best she can by acting in a cheesy soap opera, while Marko is a stay at home dad, aided by his mother and Izabel. Alanna's job situation sucks, and Marko struggles with nurturing the demanding and energetic toddler that Hazel has become. Elsewhere in the Universe, Prince Robot IV is completely unaware that he has become a father and that dangerous dissidents are threatening his little family. The Will is comatose in hospital, while his sister, the Brand, is trying to figure out what actually to him. She tracks down Gwen, Sophie and Lying Cat, who are working hard to find a way to heal him.

I don't want to go into more detail, because part of the joy of Saga is discovering the twists and turns on the beautifully constructed plot yourself. Brian K. Vaughan's writing continues to be superb, interweaving the various story strands and characters effortlessly, constantly throwing new challenges in our protagonists' way, even when they seem to be living in a quiet part of the universe, able to relax. Fiona Staples' art is still breath-takingly good.

Because I get extremely emotionally attached to characters in stories I love, and oh do I love this comic, these issues were more difficult than some of the previous to read, as the characters go through a lot of emotional turmoil. When my beloved characters suffer, I suffer. I was also sad to see that the the Will, Gwen, Sophie and Lying Cat were only in one single issue in this trade, because over the course of the series, I've become just as attached to them as to Alanna, Marko and their family. The developments in the Robot Kingdom takes the coming story in an interesting direction and I can't wait (which unfortunately I will have to do, for months and months and months) to read what happens next.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR7 Book 2: "Say Yes to the Marquess" by Tessa Dare

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

For eight long years, Miss Clio Whitmore has been waiting for her betrothed, Piers Brandon, now the Marquess of Granville to stop travelling the globe and avoiding her. They've barely seen each other since they got engaged, and Piers has never even kissed her. Then there's the fact that Clio's frighteningly ambitious mother did everything in her power to make sure Clio was the perfect Marchioness and diplomat's wife, making sure that her entire life was a training exercise, to the point of starving her as she had the misfortune of not being as tall and svelte as her two sisters. Now Clio has inherited a castle and its surrounding lands and she's not about to be "Miss Wait-more" any longer. She just needs her fiance's younger brother to sign off on the annulment papers, and then she intends to support herself by starting a brewery.

Rafe Brandon is the black sheep of the family, and made his own way as a prizefighter after his father disowned him. After their father died, though, Rafe has done his best to take care of his brother's estates, lands and holdings to the best of his ability, even though he hates accounts, paperwork and is pretty sure all the staff look down on him. He's already guilt-ridden about their father dying while Piers was away on the other side of the globe somewhere, he's not about to let his brother's promised bride run off either. He's determined to change Clio's mind, even if he has to plan and arrange the wedding himself. As a result, he shows up at her castle, his personal trainer and Piers' ancient bulldog in tow. His plan involves dazzling Clio with the perfect flowers, decorations, cakes, not to mention an exquisite dress. He refuses to listen when Clio tries to explain that even if she were willing to marry Piers, she doesn't actually want a big elaborate ceremony.

Clio tries to persuade Rafe to sign the annulment papers. Rafe keeps trying to come up with new heights of wedding luxury to change her mind. Not helping matters are Clio's bitchy younger sister Daphne, clueless and insulting brother-in-law (their nickname for Clio is "dumpling"), nor Clio's socially challenged youngest sister Phoebe (nickname "kitten") who would rather be working on advanced mathematical equations or studying than acting as bridesmaid. The chief complication to Clio and Rafe's negotiations, however, is the sizzling chemistry and palpable attraction between them. The only thing worse than Clio dissolving the betrothal would surely be if Rafe fell for his brother's intended?

I've said it before, and will say it again. Tessa Dare writes wonderfully frothy and diverting romance. That's not to say that her characters don't have "hidden pain", much as Rafe puts it, it's just normally not the main focus of the novels. It's obvious that Clio has been beyond patient, and had it not been for the unexpected legacy of a whole castle, she might have stayed content to be ignored by her aristocratic fiancee. It's clear that Piers Brandon is off doing important work for his country, but it seems as if he could possibly have tried to encourage Clio's affections through correspondence, at least. Now Clio, practical-minded and determined to forge her own happiness, wants to make sure her inheritance pays dividends by starting a brewery.

She's not at all impressed with Rafe's convictions that she's shallow and vapid enough that the right flowers, cake and wedding dress is it will take for her to forget the EIGHT long years of being ignored and throw herself into wedding planning. At the same time, she doesn't want to cause an awkward scene with her family and announce that the wedding is off before the annulment papers are actually signed. Rafe is adorably flustered by the whole situation and mainly wants to focus on training himself back into a shape where he can reclaim his Championship title. Bruiser, his trainer, is wonderful comic relief, posing as a wedding planner mainly by trying to speak like a gentleman and using a quizzing glass. I thought the bits involving the dog were possibly a bit too far, but they didn't take away from my enjoyment of the story as a whole. Plus, that bit with the cake tasting was pretty spectacular. I really wish I'd had that many cakes available to me when planning my wedding.

If you have enjoyed the previous novels of Tessa Dare, I'm sure you'll find this one amusing too. While there are some story elements that border on too silly, I don't think it has anything that might completely break your suspension of disbelief, like Romancing the Duke did for my good friend, Mrs. Julien. Tessa Dare is one of the lucky few to be on my pre-order list, and based on this book, she's not likely to move off it anytime soon.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Monday, 19 January 2015

#CBR7 Book 1: "Rogue Spy" by Joanna Bourne

Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Disclaimer! I actually won a signed copy of this from Joanna Bourne's Facebook page (but by that point, I'd had the book pre-ordered for at least a month). I just want to assure everyone reading that my review is not in any way influenced by getting the free book. :)

This is the fifth book in Joanna Bourne's Spymasters series, but as the books are written out of chronological order historically speaking, and some overlap (for those who HAVE read the previous books in the series, there's a really interesting blog post here explaining where the various books fit into the historical time line), it's not actually that big a deal what order you read them in. If you haven't read any of the others, Bourne herself has suggested that readers will enjoy it more if they've at least read The Black Hawk, where you are given useful back story for the hero of this novel (it's also an amazing historical romance).

From the author's website:
Ten years ago he was a boy, given the name Thomas Paxton and sent by Revolutionary France to infiltrate the British Intelligence Service. Now his sense of honour brings him back to London, alone and unarmed, to confess. But instead of facing the gallows, he's given one last impossible assignment to prove his loyalty.

Lovely, lying, former French spy Camille Leyland is dragged from her safe rural obscurity by threats and blackmail. Dusting off her spy skills, she sets out to track down a ruthless French fanatic and rescue the innocent victim he's holding - only to find an old colleague already on the case. Pax.

Old friendships turn to new love and Pax and Camille's dark secrets loom up from the past. Pax is left with the choice - go rogue from the service or lose Camille forever. 

So Thomas Paxton, known to most of his friends as Pax, is a high ranking spy for the British Secret Service, but was actually trained as a child to be a deep cover spy for the French. The French trained dozens of Cachés, orphaned children and teens, indoctrinating them into following the ideals of the Revolution, and becoming secret agents, assuming the identity of dead (or murdered) British children so as to spread their agents throughout Britain. As many of the other Cachés, Pax hated the French agents who trained him, and did his best to escape the influence of his French masters quickly, by giving them irrelevant information and then disposing of his handler. At the beginning of this book, he has just confessed to his superiors in the Secret Service that he's a French spy and a traitor, and is expecting them to dispose of him.

Of course, Pax has proven himself an excellent spy for Britain, and his bosses don't really want to kill off such a useful asset. They do need him to prove himself loyal without question though, which could prove difficult as Pax recognises one of the faces from his past, another Caché agent, trained to assume the identity of Camille Leyland, niece of the two spinsters responsible for creating Britain's ciphers and cracking the codes of foreign correspondence. Camille has grown to love "the aunts" and when she is blackmailed, she goes to London to hopefully outwit and possibly murder whomever's responsible, to make sure they stay safe. Once she realises that the blackmailer actually has the real Camille Leyland and won't hesitate to kill the woman if Cami (or Verité as the Cachés named her) doesn't agree to his demands, she is forced to reevaluate her plans to make sure the Misses Layland get their real niece back safely.

Camille isn't aware that the man who is blackmailing her is a very dangerous Frenchman long believed dead. Pax recognises him and as their pasts are intertwined, much like Pax and Camille's, he vows to stop the Merchant once and for all, even if it means risking his future with the Service by disobeying direct orders. Working together with Camille for the first time since they were children, Pax discovers that he is developing feelings for his old companion, and will do anything to keep her safe.

I actually re-read The Black Hawk to remind myself of what happened with Pax and his revelations to his superiors about being a French double agent. The action of this book actually overlaps with the latter half of Bourne's first book in the series, The Spymaster's Lady as well. Hawker, hero of The Black Hawk and scene-stealing supporting character is all of the other Bourne Spymaster books, including this one, insists on helping his old friend, despite under orders to stay off active duty due to a recent gunshot wound. It's always fun to see Hawker from the many different points of view he's presented with in these books. Sadly, Pax is a bit bland in comparison. I never really cared about him as a supporting character in the other books, and while he was perfectly fine here, he didn't really wow me, so to speak.

Camille was a fun heroine, though. Bourne always writes very interesting women, who are just as capable as secret agents, if not more so, than the men. Unlike Annique, Maggie and Justine, who worked actively as spies for at least a while, Camille has not really ever actively worked in the field. She was placed in the Leyland household while she was still a child, and managed to escape the control of her French masters relatively quickly. She's lived a quiet life, using her intelligence to help her "aunts" create and crack codes, but has never been able to forget that hers is a stolen existence and one day it will be time to pay. She's willing to do what she has to in order to keep her loved ones safe, and is completely flummoxed by meeting Pax again and falling in love with him. During their joint quest to bring down the Merchant, Camille/Verité also reconnects with family she believed was lost forever. Instead of being a friendless orphan facing a possible treason charge, she has an extensive family in London, ready to fiercely stand for her.

While Pax wasn't the most charismatic of heroes, I always enjoy Bourne's stories and her beautiful way with language. She conveys foreign languages excellently, even when everyone on the page is speaking English. It was entertaining to see the established cast of spies, Doyle and Hawker included on a new adventure. As far as I can tell from Bourne's website, her next book is about Justine's little sister, who has seemed very intriguing in previous books.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Reading Challenges 2015: Reading Challenge Addict

Last, and really rather appropriately, I am signing up for the Reading Challenge Addict Challenge 2015, because anyone who's seen the absolutely insane list of challenges I'm planning on taking part in this year will have to agree that this is a challenge I need to be a part of.

There are four levels to ascertain how addicted you are:

Easy as Pie: 1-5 Challenges (Entered and Completed)
On the Roof: 6-10 Challenges (Entered and Completed)
In Flight: 11-15 Challenges (Entered and Completed)
Out of This World: 16+ Challenges (Entered and Completed)

Not counting the Cannonball Read where we compete to be the first to read and review 52 books, or this challenge, I am participating in a record 22 Challenges, so I will be going for the Out of This World level.

The challenges I plan to complete:
1. Alphabet Soup
2. What's an Animal VIII
3. Finishing the Series
4. Colour Coded Challenge
5. Historical Fiction Challenge
6. Lucky no 15
7. TBR Pile 2015
8. Monthly Key Word Challenge
9. Monthly Motif Challenge
10. The Eclectic Reader Challenge
11. What's in a Name?
12. 8th Annual Graphic Novel/Manga Challenge
13. Women Challenge 2015
14. Dive Into Diversity
15. New Author Challenge
16. New to You Challenge
17. Historical Romance Reading Challenge
18. Full House Reading Challenge
19. I Dare You To Goodreads Challenge
20. NetGalley/Edelweiss Reading Challenge
21. You Read How Many Books?
22. Let Me Count the Ways

Reading Challenges 2015: Let Me Count the Ways

Yet another fairly straighforward and simple reading challenge, the Let Me Count the Ways Reading Challenge asks you to keep track of the number of pages you read every month, so you can keep a tally of how many pages you've read over the course of the year. Unless I've completely mis-understood, the levels are for total amount of pages read in a year, not the amount of pages you sign up for per month (if it is, I shall have to edit this post and my reading goal).

Bronze - 0-2000 pages
Silver - 2001-4000 pages
Gold - 4001-6000 pages
Platinum - 6001-8000 pages
Diamond - 8001-10000 pages
Multi-diamond - 10001+ pages

As long as the goals are for pages read over the course of a year, I can't sign up for anything but the Multi-diamond level, as I will probably have read more than 10000 pages by the end of February, if all goes according to plan. If I have misunderstood, and the levels are pages per month, I shall sign up for Silver level.

Reading Challenges 2015: You Read How Many Books? Reading Challenge

The You Read How Many Books? Challenge, hosted by Book Dragon's Lair is probably the one of the simplest I've signed up for this year. The only requirement is that you read, which I certainly do a lot of. There are four levels:

Level 1: 100 books minimum
Level 2: 150 books
Level 3: 200 books
Level 4: 250 or more books

You're allowed to move up a level, but not down, so to be on the safe side, I'm signing up for level 1. Unless things go horribly wrong during the year, that is the absolute minimum of books I've set for myself anyway. I'm hoping to be able to pass the level 2 requirement, but one never knows. 

Reading Challenges 2015: NetGalley and Edelweiss Reading Challenge

Falling for YA is hosting the NetGalley/Edelweiss Reading Challenge 2015, and introduces it thusly:

Have you ever logged on to Edelweiss or NetGalley with the intention of "Just Looking" and then logged off having requested 5 new titles even though your TBR list is a mile long? This challenge will (hopefully) give you the incentive to tackle your review books, stumble on new ones, and get your NetGalley percentage to the desired 80%!

Bronze - 10 books
Silver - 25 books 
Gold - 50 books
Platinum - 75 books
Diamond - 100 books 

While I severely doubt that I'll be able to get my NetGalley percentage to 80% (it's currently on a measly 14%), I am going to do my level best at reviewing a few more of the books I'm lucky enough to be granted ARCs of. Hence I'm signing up for the Bronze level and commit myself to reviewing at least 10 books from my NetGalley hoard this year. I will try to do better, but know myself well enough not to overreach with this challenge.

Reading Challenges 2015: Full House Reading Challenge

I was sad to discover that the hosts of the Book Bingo Challenge that I've so enjoyed for the past two years had decided not to continue, and so I had to go searching for something else in the same vein. Because it turns out that I really enjoy filling out some sort of bingo card.

Some searching brought me to the Book Date and the Full House Reading Challenge 2015. It's fairly simple. You read a book for each of the squares on the card. As well as the square that gives you free choice, there is also one "free exchange" allowed, if there is something in square that you really dislike. I'm going to try to complete the card as it is, but it's nice to know that I have an option to skip something if it's proving impossible to find something matching a particular square.

The card:

To complete the whole card, I will need to read 25 different books, so about half of what the bingo cards (of which I completed two) required. I hope I can manage without having to use the exchange option.

Reading Challenges 2015: Historical Romance Reading Challenge

Herding Cats & Burning Soup (such a great website name, by the way) is not just hosting the New to You challenge, but the Historical Romance Reading Challenge 2015, which anyone who knows me or has ever followed my reviews will understand is pretty much a challenge made for me. At least a third of the books I read qualify for this challenge, AND I'm already signed up for a historical fiction challenge.

All historical romances over 80 pages count. (This is nice, because it means novellas are cool, too)
Anything prior to 1920 counts as a historical romance.
It can be a fusion book (like paranormal historical)

Level 1 - 6 books
Level 2 - 12 books
Level 3 - 24 books
Level 4 - 48 books
Level 5 - 100+ books

Now my good friend Mrs. Julien, who reads pretty much exclusively romance, could possibly sign up for level 5, but I am trying to branch out from reading tons of romance, and with the double figures of reading challenges I'm doing trying to widen my horizons, I'm going to sign up for level 4 - 48 books.

Reading Challenges 2015: New to You Reading Challenge

Much in the same vein as the previous challenge I posted about, the New to You Reading Challenge 2015, hosted by Herding Cats & Burning Soup is all about discovering new things. The challenge is really very flexible - discover something "new to you" and review it in 2015.

It can be a debut author.
It can be a brand new to you author.
An old favourites "debut" book
A new series
A first time reading a new genre (i.e. you read your first New Adult book)
Anything else new that crosses your path

Level 1 - 6 "New to You's"  
Level 2 - 12 "New to You's"  
Level 3 - 24 "New to You's"  
Level 4 - 36 "New to You's"  
Level 5 - 48 "New to You's"  
Level 6 - 72 "New to You's"  
Level 7 - 100+ "New to You's"  

I have decided to be a bit ambitious, especially since this challenge crosses over with several others, and will sign up for level 3 - 24 New to Me books/authors/genres in 2015. 

Reading Challenges 2015: New Author Challenge

I read a lot and I feel like I spend much of every year waiting for new books from my favourite authors to come out. There are some writers whose books I will pre-order months in advance, others where I will make sure to clear my schedule to make sure I can read their new release soon after the book comes out. But I also really enjoy discovering new authors, whose books can keep me company while I wait for the new releases of the writers I already love.

Hence the New Author Challenge 2015, hosted by Literary Escapism. There are no restrictions on choosing the novels, which can happily overlap with other challenges. However, the authors have to be new to you, and preferably from novels. Anthologies are a great way to try someone new, but only a third of your new authors can be from short stories/novellas or anthologies.

You can pick either 15, 25 or 50 new authors. If you reach your goal halfway through the year, don't stop. You can always try to reach for the next level.

As this is the first year I'm doing the challenge, and I have no intention of giving up my comfort reads by authors I already love in favour of just chasing down new reading experiences, I am starting gently, committing myself to 15-24 new authors this year. I will obviously keep going if I manage more, but I'm also not going to force myself.

Reading Challenges 2015: Dive Into Diversity

It's been pretty much impossible to be a reader of book review sites and blogs online for the past year without noticing the very incouraging #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, that was started in April 2014. I am really not as good as I should be about reading books that feature diversity. I was determined to find a reading challenge for 2015 which would make sure that I branched out and read more books with diverse protagonists, so I didn't just stay in my comfort zone of white privilege. Working as I do, in a schol with a great amount of diversity, it feels as if I should do my best to broaden my reading horizons too. The Dive Into Diversity Challenge is simple - read and review diverse books in 2015.

The definition of books that Reading Wishes and Rather Be Reading, the hosts of the challenge, use is taken from the We Need Diverse Books Tumblr: "We recognise all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of colour, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural and religious minorities".

While the challenge doesn't require you to sign up for any particular goal, I find it easier if I commit myself to something. Hence, I am declaring that I want to read and review at least 20 books featuring diversity in 2015. I may be able to top that (I hope so), but I will try to read books written by a more diverse selection of authors, featuring a more diverse spectrum of characters.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Reading Challenges 2015: Women Challenge

The goal of this challenge is pretty straightforward, to get people to read more books of any kind, written by women. (In my case, as I read paranormal/urban fantasy and romance, two genres dominated by female writers, I should possibly sign up for a man challenge instead). But hey, I like challenges that just reading whatever the heck I enjoy will allow me to complete too, sometimes not every single thing I do has to make me try new things. I am also going to make sure that I only add one book by each of the writers, and try to challenge myself to discover NEW female writers over the course of the year.

The levels are as follows:
Level 1 - BABY GIRL - read 5 books by a woman writer
Level 2 - GIRL POWER - read 6 to 15 books by a woman writer
Level 3 - SUPER GIRL - read 16 to 20 books by a woman writer
Level 4 - WONDER WOMAN - read 20+ books written by a woman writer

Again, for this to be any kind of challenge at all, I have to sign up for the highest level. So I will read at least 20 different books by 20 different female writers over the course of 2015.

Reading Challenges 2015: 8th Annual Graphic Novel/Manga Challenge

I really like comic books and graphic novels, and I've been feeling guilty during the last couple of years that I don't read enough of them. Especially because I keep buying trade paperbacks of comic books that I like, and with very few exceptions, they languish on my TBR shelf and get forgotten about. So I am signing up for this challenge in an attempt to actually force myself to read some of the many great books I have waiting for me, and it may also get me to discover new stuff as well.

The Goal of the Graphic novel/Manga Challenge is to sign up for a level and then read as many comic books, graphic novels, trade collections, comics collections or manga as is required. Anything with either frames or speech bubbles counts. You also have to review the books. You can't go back once you've signed for a level, but you can "upgrade" if you see that you can manage more than you first expected.

The levels:

Modern Age: Read and review 12 books during the year (that's only 1 book a month)

Bronze Age: Read and review 24 books during the year (Can you handle 2 a month?)

Silver Age: Read and review 52 books during the year (Are you up to a book a week?)

Because even 12 different graphic novels is more than I've done in the last few years, I'm initially signing up for the Modern Age. Then we'll see if I manage to do more as the year goes on.

Reading Challenges 2015: What's in a Name?

Because I do quite as many challenges as I do (so many more this year, I may have gone off the deep end a bit), I like to discover ones that aren't all that big, which gives me the tremendous satisfaction of taking part in a challenge as well as the gratification of finishing it without it being a gruelling trial all year long.

When searching and discovering new challenges, the What's in a Name challenge, hosted by The Worm Hole, looked like a lot of fun. The challenge requires one or more books read from each of the various categories.

A word including "ing" in it (The Time of Singing, Dancing to the Flute, Lex Trent Fighting with Fire) - Verbs may be the easiest, but other words are allowed too

A colour (The Red Queen, White Truffles in Winter, On Gold Mountain)

A familial relation (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Dombey and Son, My Cousin Rachel) By all means include in-laws, step and halves.

A Body of water (The River of No Return, Black Lake, Beside the Sea)

A City (Barcelona Shadows, Shanghai Girls, Under the Tripoli Sky)

An Animal (Black Swan Rising, The Leopard Unleashed, The Horse and His Boy)

  • Books can be any format (print, e-book, audio)
  • It's preferred that books don't overlap with other challenges, but not a requirement at all
  • Books cannot overlap categories (for instance, Black Swan Rising could be used for the category of "colour" OR "an animal", but not both
  • Creativity for matching the categories is not only allowed, it's encouraged!
  • You don't have to make your list beforehand, you can choose them as you go.
  • You don't have to read your chosen books in any particular order.

Reading Challenges 2015: The Eclectic Reader Challenge

As I'm sure you've realised by now, I'm a sucker for an interesting reading challenge, especially because so many of them overlap. When looking at websites late last year to see if the ones I'd enjoyed taking part in throughout 2014 would be continuing, I also found a whole bunch of new ones. I am weak, and at some point, I'm sure my sad addiction for reading challenges will abate. This is not that year. Book'd Out is hosting the Eclectic Reader Challenge, which looks like it will be a lot of fun.

The goal is to read 12 books from 12 different categories. The books can be print, e-book or audio. You can choose the books as you go (that's me) or plan the list in advance (although I will probably make up a list of potential candidates for each category). Where a book is identified by more than one genre, like historical romance, it may count as either historical fiction or romantic fiction, not both. You can read the titles and categories in any order, as long as the challenge is completed by December 31st, 2015.

1. Retellings (of fairytales, legends or myth)
2. A book set in a country starting with the letter S (eg. Sweden, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Slovakia - you get the drift)
3. PI Crime (fiction featuring a private investigator)
4. A Novel published before you were born
5. Contemporary romance
6. Fiction for foodies (fiction featuring food/food related business)
7. Microhistory (Non-fiction)
8. Science fiction set in space
9. Sports (fiction or non-fiction)
10. Featuring diversity
11. Epistolary fiction (fiction written in the format of letters/e-mails/diary entries)
12. Middle Grade/YA adventure         

Reading Challenges 2015: Monthly Motif Challenge

As well as hosting the Monthly Key Word Challenge, Kim over on Bookmark to Blog hosts the Monthly Motif Challenge. Each month is assigned a particular theme or motif, and the challenge is to read at least one book that fits with said motif. While some of it remains the same as last year, I can also see that there have been new motifs added, which keeps it fun and fresh. This is another challenge that allows me to make a list, planning my reading. I love that. 

The motifs for 2015:

January - Book to Movie or Audio
Read a book that has a movie or an audio based off it. For an extra challenge, watch the movie or listen to the audio book as well.

February - Award Winner
Read a book that has won recognition or a literary award.

March - Genre Jumble
Read a book in a genre you've never tried or that you are the least familiar with. For example, if you typically read romance novels, try a mystery this time. Ask your local librarian for suggestions on the genre you are least familiar with.

April - Murder, Mystery and Mayhem
Read a murder/mystery book, a book in which someone dies of mysterious causes, or a book in which the truth must come out.

May - Library Love
Show your library some love and visit your local branch. Pick a book that they have on display to read.

June - Take a Trip
Choose a book to read that takes place in a country different to the one you live in or choose a book by an author from a country different than your own (this is not going to be hard, what with being from Norway)

July - Standing Up
Read a book in which the main character stands up for themselves, stands against an enemy, or stands up for something they believe in

August - Alternate reality
Read a book that's set in the future, on another planet, in another dimension, or in an unknown world. A Dystopian book will count for this month as well.

September - Furry Friends
Read a book that includes an animal either as a main character or supporting character. Horses, cats, dogs, insects, birds etc. The book doesn't have to be about the animal, but the animal needs to play some sort of role in the story or be mentioned several times throughout the book.

October - Goblins and Ghosts and Ghouls, Oh My!
Cozy mystery ghost stories, paranormal creeptastic, funky fantasy creatures - it's up to you!

November - An Oldie but a Goodie
Pick a book published before 2000 that you've always wanted to read, but just never got to. Or pick a book set in the past, before 2000.

December - That's a Wrap!
Finish a series you've been meaning to finish or read the next book in a series you started but never finished. 

Reading Challenges 2015: Monthly Key Word Challenge

So many books to choose from, so many reading challenges to complete. I have really enjoyed the monthly key word challenge the last two years, because first of all, it allows me to make a long long list to plan my reading, and it in some ways helps me narrow down what on my massive TBR list I should tackle next. It tends to put into focus books that I might otherwise have forgotten about. I'm so glad Kim over on Bookmark to Blog is doing a third year. The task is to read at least one book per month that contains one or several of the key words on the list.

The key words for 2015:

January: Girl, Bird, Ever, Silence, Bad, Truth, End
February: Key, Water, Lie, Chase, Heir, Once
March: Kind, Face, Power, City, Blue, Night, To
April: Dream, Prince, Long, Wind, Rose, The, Rock
May: Ash, Rose, Thief, Bend, In, Far
June: My, Together, Whisper, Win, Soul, Sleep
July: Sun, Unto, Energy, Fate, High, Look
August: Fall, Boy, Glass, Heart, Lost, Now
September: Colour, Touch, Life, Day, How, Sweet
October: Ghost, Home, Beach, Away, Test, Number
November: Rise, Holiday, And, Little, Call, Dark
December: Space, Mirror, Over, Flower, Trap, Cold
  • The title you choose can be a variation on one of the key words, for example, your title could include the word "snowing" or "snowflake" even though the key word is "snow".
  • Key words can be tweaked. You could read "Cinder" or "Ashes" for the key word "Fire" and that would be just fine. If the key word is "Family", your title could include the word "sister" or "mother". If the key word is "food", then your title could include the word "cake". 

Reading Challenges 2015: TBR Pile 2015

As my TBR list keeps growing and growing at a speed faster than I doubt I can ever read, I pretty much HAVE to have some sort of TBR challenge among the many many that I take part in. This year, like last year, I will be participating in the 2015 TBR Pile challenge, hosted by Evie over on Bookish.

Any genre, length or format of book counts, including short stories and novellas, as long as the book has been sitting on your TBR shelf for some time. The book has to have been published in 2014 or earlier. No 2015 ARCs or newly released in 2015 books allowed. You have to post a review of your books.

Levels are as follows:

1-10 books: A Firm Handshake
11-20 books: A Friendly Hug
21-30 books: First Kiss
31-40 books: Sweet Summer Fling
41-50 books: Could This Be Love?
50+: Married with Children

Now, seeing as I was careful last year, and aimed low, but ended up with a completed list of 79 whole books off my TBR list (new record!), I'm going to try to aim ambitiously in 2015, going for the full 50+ books and my goal will be to complete Married with Children.

Reading Challenges 2015: Lucky No.15

Having greatly enjoyed the Lucky no 14 challenge last year, hosted by Astrid over on Books to Share, imagine my surprise and delight upon discovering that she's going to be hosting a new challenge for 2015 - the Lucky no 15 Reading Challenge. Some of the categories are the same as last year, but there are new and fun looking ones as well. I especially like the look of the Randomly Chosen one, I suspect that could yield some interesting results.

This year's categories:
1) Chunky Brick - Grab that book with more than 500 pages that you've always been afraid to tackle. You know you can do it!

2) Something New - Just purchased a book lately? Don't let it be buried in your stacks, read it now!

3) Something Borrowed - Read a book you borrowed from someone else. Don't make the owner wait forever for you to finish it (Books borrowed from friends, libraries, even rental places are allowed)

4) It's Been There Forever - Dig into your TBR pile and read a book that has been there for more than a year. It's time for you to appreciate it.

5) Freebies Time - What's the LAST free book you got? Whether it's from a giveaway, a birthday gift or a surprise from someone special, don't hold back any longer. Open the book and start reading it now.

6) Bargain All the Way - Ever buy a book because it's so cheap you don't really care about the content? Now it's time to open the book and find out if it's really worth your cents.

7) Favourite Colour - Pick a book from your shelf which has your favourite colour for its cover. Is it pink, red or black? You decide. (It's purple, actually)

8) First Initial - Read a book that has been written by an author whose first initial is the same as you (Example: My name is Malin, so I can read anything written by Melissa Marr, Maggie Stiefvater, Mike Carey, Mary Robinette Kowal, Meljean Brook etc.)

9) Super Series - Read one (or more!) books that belong in a series, it can be a duology, trilogy or anything.

10) Opposites Attract - Read a book that's been written by a writer whose gender is different from your own.

11) Randomly Picked - Ask someone else (a friend, your spouse, even your kids!) to randomly pick a book from your TBR pile. Don't complain, whatever they choose for you, just read it.

12) Cover Lust - Grab a book from your shelf that you bought because you fell in love with the cover. Is the content as good as the cover?

13) Who are You Again? - You've never read a book from this author, maybe you've never even heard his/her name before. But who knows? Maybe he/she will become your new favourite author!

14) One Word Only! - Read a book that only has one word for its title (numbers are allowed as long as it's still a one-word title, e.g: 1, 2, 11)

15) Dream Destination - Read a book that is set in a place you've never visited before - but would like to if you have a chance. Could be real places or even fictional!

To complete the challenge, you have to read at least one book for each category, so 15 books in total. The categories do not need to be read in any particular order. Any format is allowed (print, e-book, audio). You can of course read more than one book per category.

Reading Challenges 2015: Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

It seems that the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, which I've taken part in for two years so far, has a new host this year. Passages to the Past is now hosting it, but apart from a that, there appears to be little that has changed.

Any sub-genre of history is accepted (historical romance, historical mystery, historical fantasy, historical YA etc.)

The levels are as follows:
20th Century Reader - 2 books
Victorian Reader - 5 books
Renaissance Reader - 10 books
Medieval - 15 books
Ancient History - 25 books
Prehistoric - 50+ books

This year, like the year before, I'm signing up for the highest level - Prehistoric (I have after all read read four books that qualify so far this year).

Reading Challenges 2015: Colour Coded Challenge

I really enjoyed the Colour Coded challenge last year, even though some of the colours were a lot easier to find representative books for than others. To my delight I discovered that the challenge has become somewhat more flexible. The colour can appear as part of the title of the book OR it can be the dominant colour on the cover of the book. For instance, for "implies colour" the image implying colour should dominate the cover - a large rainbow, a field of flowers, the image of a painter. As this makes the list of potential titles so much bigger, I'm really very excited about it.

1. A book with "blue" or any shade of blue in the title or dominating the cover
2. A book with "red" or any shade of red in the title or dominating the cover
3. A book with "yellow" or any shade of yellow in the title or dominating the cover
4. A book with "green" or any shade of green in the title or dominating the cover
5. A book with "brown" or any shade of brown in the title or dominating the cover
6. A book with "black" or any shade of black in the title or dominating the cover
7. A book with "white" or any shade of white in the title or dominating the cover
8. A book with any other colour (grey, pink, purple, silver, orange etc.) in the title or dominating the cover
9. A book with a word that implies colour (plaid, rainbow, stripe, paisley, polka-dot etc.) in the title or dominating the cover

Friday, 16 January 2015

Reading Challenges 2015: Finishing the Series

When I went to sign up for the What an Animal challenge, I noticed that Socrates also hosts the Finishing the Series reading challenge this year.

This is a challenge to finish up all those unfinished series books.

1) All the books that are part of a continuing series qualify (i.e Debbie Macomber's Cedar Grove, Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum, James Paterson's Alex Cross etc.)

2) It doesn't matter if you have 1 or 10 books to complete it, it qualifies (i.e. if you only need to read one more Sookie Stackhouse book to complete the goal, that's fine). The goal is to complete a series from wherever you are up to until the last published book.

3) Books have to be read between January 1st 2015 and December 31st 2015 to qualify.

4) Any format of books count (print, audio, e-book)

Because I read a huge amount of books and have so many series that I've started over the years and could do with finishing, I am signing up for the hardest level, Level 4. This is apparently Expert Series Reader and requires me to finish up 4 series or more.

Series I would like to try to complete:
The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon - one book left (but it's a big one)
The Curse Workers series by Holly Black - two books left
The Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas - two books left
The Graceling series by Kristen Cashore - one book left

If I don't get round to reading these, I have more than a dozen series that I can choose from, so I don't think I will struggle to find inspiration.

Reading Challenges 2015: What an Animal VIII

When I signed up for the What An Animal challenge last year, I clearly underestimated myself and played everything very safe by signing up for level 2 (up to 12 books). I ended up reading more than twice that. As a result, I am upgrading and signing up for level 3 (13 books or more) right away this year. The books have to have one of the following requirements:

a) There is an animal in the title of the book
b) There is an animal on the cover of the book
c) an animal plays a major role in the book
d) a main character is (or turns into) an animal (define that however you'd like)
The animal can be any kind (real or fictitious) - dog, cat, monkey, wolf, snake, insect, bird, hedgehog, aardvark...dragon, mermaid, centaur, vampire, werewolf

Reading challenges 2015: Alphabet soup

I like a good A to Z challenge, and will this year, like last year, be taking part in the Alphabet Soup reading challenge, hosted by dollycas. The challenge is quite straightforward. Read one book staring with each book of the alphabet (articles like a/an/the can be excluded). In the case of Q, X and Z, the word with the challenge letter can be anywhere in the title. The books can be read in any order and can be any format: print, e-book, audio (which is good) because I read all three. Because I like to make the challenges a bit more interesting, I've set myself the rule that the books on the list also have to be by 26 different authors.

End of year review 2014

Another year of reading done. I wanted to get this posted just after New Year's, but work commitments and illness got in the way. Here it is at last, I'm sure you've all been waiting with bated breath. As has been obvious on the blog for the last few days of the year, I took part in, and completed, a huge amount of reading challenges in 2014. I completed my first Cannonball on May the 11th, and was the second person to make it to 52 this year. My double Cannonball was completed by the 22nd of September and in total I managed to blog 138 books. I also completed 12 other reading challenges, and spurred by my great success, not to mention finding so many new ones over the course of December, I suspect I will end up trying for even more in 2015.

I am of course going to take part in the Cannonball Read again, but have promised myself (and others) that I will try not to stress too much about being first to 52, or 104 this year. One of the good things I achieved through my many reading challenges in 2014 was trying new things and reading more diversely than in some previous years, I´m hoping that some of the new challenges I plan to sign up for will help me be even better at discovering new authors and titles. I want to read more comics and graphic novels, I want to read more books either featuring LGBTQ characters and persons of colour or written by non-white, non-straight authors.

It´s been another very good year for reading. My favourite book of 2014 was without a shadow of a doubt The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan, a book so engrossing I had to re-read it right after I finished it, because I was unable to concentrate on anything else until I did so.

My other top books from 2014 are published in the order I read them:
The Girl with All the Gifts - M.R. Carey
Cress - Marissa Meyer
Murder of Crows - Anne Bishop
Fool Me Twice - Meredith Duran
Saga, vol 3 - Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Dreams of Gods and Monsters - Laini Taylor
Skin Game - Jim Butcher
Landline - Rainbow Rowell
Magic Breaks - Ilona Andrews
The Winter Long - Seanan McGuire
Jackaby - William Ritter
Burn for Me - Ilona Andrews
Yes, Please - Amy Poehler
Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover - Sarah Maclean

Best of the books published before 2014:
The Golem and the Jinni - Helene Wecker
Changes - Jim Butcher
Cold Days - Jim Butcher
Creation in Death - J.D. Robb
Indigo - Beverly Jenkins
Across a Star-Swept Sea - Diana Peterfreund

Worst books read in 2014:
3. Spider´s Bite - Jennifer Estep
2. Somewhere I´ll Find You - Lisa Kleypas
1. This Heart of Mine - Susan Elizabeth Phillips - just thinking about it makes me stabby

Books I'm eagerly awaiting in 2015:
The Darkest Part of the Forest  by Holly Black - The Coldest Girl in Coldtown was one of my very favouritest books of 2013 and in this book Black is back to writing about sinister faeries, which she has done excellently in the past.

Trade Me by Courtney Milan - her first contemporary romance, and a New Adult book at that. I would read any book Milan wrote, even if she decided to write about spiders or cockroaches.

Vision in Silver by Anne Bishop - book 3 in The Others series. I think this may be the best paranormal/urban fantasy series I'm reading at the moment, it's certainly the most engrossing.

Black Dove White Raven by Elizabeth Wein - what's that? Another book featuring pilots and most likely extremely touching depictions of hardship and female friendship? I'm in.

Stiletto by Daniel O'Malley - the sequel to The Rook is finally coming out and I'm excited.

Armada by Ernest Cline - Ready Player One was all kinds of awesome, so I feel I pretty much owe it to Cline to buy and read this one.

Magic Shifts by Ilona Andrews - I will never not buy anything these authors decide to write. I can't wait to see how Kate and Curran's life has changed after the upheaval in the last book. I would also add the next book in their Hidden Legacy series to the list, but that sadly doesn't have a date yet.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell - why yes, I WILL buy and read Rainbow Rowell writing a whole novel of the fan fiction featured in Fangirl. See the above comment about Milan, spiders and cockroaches. The same applies here.

Winter by Marissa Meyer - the concluding volume in The Lunar Chronicles. It's nearly a year until it comes out, but luckily, there are so many other shiny books to distract me.

The number part of my end of year:

Total pages read: 56099 pages
Comic book collections:7
New (i.e. never read before) books:126

July was once again the month when I read the most, with 19 books and 7721 pages (not counting the re-read of Courtney Milan). November was the month I read the least - 8 books (2661 pages).

Genre breakdown:
Romance: 30.5 %
Urban/paranormal fantasy: 27.2 %
Young adult: 13.6%
Fantasy: 9.8%
Historical fiction: 8.4%
Contemporary fiction: 4.5%
Science fiction. 4.5%
Mystery: 3.9%
Horror: 3.2%
Non fiction: 1.9%

I still read mostly romance, but urban/paranormal fantasy is a closer second than in many previous years.

Books acquired in 2014: 171 - where 47 were gifts (34 bought with vouchers), one was a prize and 14 were audio books (one which I got in a giveaway). 
E-books: 73%
Dead tree: 18.7%
Audio books: 8.3%