Saturday, 31 December 2016
Rating: 4 stars
I know I said yesterday that number 134 was going to be my last review of the year, but that was before I remembered that there was a Rainbow Rowell short story out there in the world that I hadn't read. Also, it has it's own entry on Goodreads, so even though it's part of a bigger anthology, My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories (eleven of which I have yet to read), I don't feel reviewing it is cheating. 135 is a nicer, rounder number to end the year on.
Margaret "Mags" and Noel meet at a New Year's Eve party at Mags' friend Alicia's in 2011. Margaret doesn't really know anyone else there and is feeling a bit left out when a tall boy comes over and chats with her. He explains how he's allergic to any number of things, including tree nuts, and therefore feels that Mags may in fact have saved his life by alerting him to the fact that the dip had pine nuts in it. We meet the couple again the next New Year. Noel is still the socially outgoing one and well-liked by everyone. Mags observes everything and everyone from the sidelines. Noel considers Mags one of his best friends, but as she points out, he has lots of best friends.
We see a number of parties at Alicia's, where Noel is charming and tries to get Mags to dance with him. He gives her so much attention, but always ends up kissing someone else at midnight. Come 2014, Mags is seeing most of her friends for the first time since they went away to college, Noel included. Mags got a scholarship to a school in Omaha, so she's the only one who hasn't gone anywhere and experienced new things. She can't take the idea of seeing Noel kiss another girl when midnight comes, so she hides outside.
Rainbow Rowell is one of my favourite writers. I cannot think of a book or story she has written that I haven't absolutely loved (seriously, the lowest rating I've given to any of her books is 4.5 stars). The only reason this is now my lowest-rated of all of her works is that one thing has to be, and this is so very short. It has that wonderful Rowell wit, great characters who you make a connection with instantly, even if you've barely had any time to read about them. She paints a very vivid picture of the setting in very few words, and even this 15-page story has a recurring cast of characters that she develops the lives of cleverly, off-page. We only see them in little glimpses every New Year's Eve, in the same location, but we are given hints of how their lives have changed since the last time. As with Kindred Spirits, the little novella she wrote for World Book Day earlier this year, there just isn't enough here. I get all the things I associate with a great Rowell story, but with only 15 pages to spend time with these characters, I'm left unsatisfied and wanting MORE!
There is also no longer anything out there in the world published by Rowell that I haven't now read. I really hope she's working on something new, and I can't wait until I get my hands on whatever it is.
Judging a book by its cover: This story doesn't have any cover of its own, I've used the cover for the short story collection where it's included. As far as I can tell, the cover has all the various protagonists from the stories ice skating on a pond. I couldn't begin to tell you which little cartoon people are supposed to be Mags and Joel. It's a pretty cute cover for a short story collection, though.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Rating: 4.5 stars
Spoiler warning! This is a direct continuation of part one of The Belhaven series, How Not to Fall, and while the reader is given enough context to understand what happened in the previous book, it will not make as much sense or have the emotional resonance for the reader unless you have read the first one. Seriously, these books are two halves of a whole story. Also, you will probably get spoilers for the first book in the series in this review. So maybe skip it until you've read part one. It's a really great start to a romance, and I promise you that the second part gives the story a satisfactory ending.
At the end of an extremely steamy month of physical intimacy, medical student Annabelle "Annie" Coffey can't help but fall in love with her intense lover, Dr. Charles Douglas, only to be told that due to the horrible abuse he watched his family go through at the hands of his father, and the extreme emotional strain this has had on him, Charles isn't capable of returning her feelings. Their arrangement was always meant to be one month of no strings attached sex, before they went their separate ways, remaining friends. Utterly heartbroken, Annie is in no fit state to maintain any sort of friendship. She leaves Charles without even saying goodbye and goes home to her parents, hurt and devastated, to slowly put herself back together. The couple meet briefly a month later, at Annie's best friend's wedding, and Charles is mortified at how much he has hurt her.
They don't have any contact or see each other for nearly a year. Having worked closely together for years before they started their sexual relationship, both deeply miss the company and professional input of the other. Annie keeps writing long e-mails to Charles, but never sends them. She knows he will be at a big conference in London, where she will be presenting, however, and having spent their time apart trying to come to grips with her feelings for him, and recalibrating them, so they might have a chance at a friendship, she reaches out and asks to meet Charles when they are both in England.
Back in London for the first time in four years, Charles also has to face his family again. His genius computer programmer brother and his long-suffering, abused mother. When the airport is closed down suddenly as Annie is due to fly back to the US, she ends up staying over at Charles' brother and gets to meet and see for herself just how monstrous his father actually is. She begins to see the challenges Charles struggles against and what is he fighting so desperately not to become.
While at least the first two thirds of How Not to Fall is all laughter, intimacy, getting to know each other better, the flutterings of infatuation and a LOT of smexy times, the last third shows that in the face of severe psychological damage, the love of a good woman and an amazing physical connection isn't enough to magically heal.
In How Not to Let Go both Annie and Charles have to change and redefine their relationship. Annie has to get over her initial heartbreak and figure out if her heart has lied to her, or if Charles is worth loving and keeping in her life, even if she can never be his partner. It takes her a year of processing and soul-searching before she's ready to consider a friendship with him, despite their continued physical attraction. Charles, on the other hand, is gutted that he ever caused Annie a moment of pain and has spent a year just trying to be worthy of her respect. Through a lot of gruelling therapy, he's started mapping out exactly how messed up his psyche is and how many protective layers there are, keeping him from being able to allow himself to get close to or trust anyone.
There is a LOT of pain in this book and several rounds of gruelling emotional exploration. It's quite clear that both Annie and Charles are better together than apart, but Charles has such a long way to go before he can return Annie's love and his family situation really is so very messed up. While the first book was told entirely from Annie's point of view, this one has more or less alternating chapters from Annie and Charles, so the reader gets to fully see inside Charles as he works his way up from the pit of despair, through the swamp and wasteland, up rage mountain to battle the metaphorical dragon, before he can begin to break down the walls surrounding his inner self.
With How Not to Fall, I had trouble putting the book down, and kept reading long after it was entirely sensible. I find Annie and Charles such incredibly compelling characters and kept wanting to read more about them. In this book, I occasionally had to take a break, though, as their emotional journey was absolutely exhausting to me. While the first book focuses mostly on Annie, the second book is probably more Charles'. We get to meet Charles' family, his anorexic little sister, who has no end of imagination games to parse out people's inner psyche; his extremely brilliant and sensitive younger brother, who seems to express himself best through piano playing; his lovely mother and see the joy they can share when Charles senior, Lord Belhaven is nowhere near them. We also get to see the contrast in Annie's home life with her incredibly loving and supportive parents.
The first book ends on a cliffhanger, when Annie leaves Charles. The second book begins at the same place. Neither book will be entirely satisfying without the other, they are really two halves of a whole story. While some romances get the couple together quickly and spend very little time actually having them get to know each other, the opposite has to be said for Emily Foster. By the end of the book, Annie and Charles have known each other for about four years, and have had their "Thing" for the best end of two. The course of their true love certainly doesn't run smooth, and there is a lot of pain to work through and a whole lot of metaphorical dragon slaying to do before they can have a chance at their HEA.
I have no idea if Foster intends to write any more about the younger Charles siblings, but based on their appearances in this book, I would absolutely love to see a book starring Charles' younger brother Simon as a hero, or his wounded but snarky younger sister Elizabeth as a heroine. Preferably both. I know that she primarily writes scientific non-fiction, but based on these two books, it would be a terrible shame if she didn't continue writing realistic and very satisfying romance as well.
And with this, I post my final book review of the year. Cannonball 9 starts on January 1st. Anyone interested in participating can sign up here.
Judging a book by its cover: How Not to Fall had a couple embracing and kissing in the rain, here the weather is a lot more sunny (possibly indicative of the brighter times faced by the couple towards the very end of the book). It may just be me, but the male cover model reminds me a lot of Ryan Gosling. Charles does not. I forget exactly how Annie is described in the book, but I'm pretty sure the female cover isn't a very good match for her. Nonetheless, it's a sweet and romantic book cover. Doesn't quite match the emotional turmoil of the contents, but there IS a happy ending, so maybe I'm just being overly critical.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Rating: 4 stars
According to history, when King Edward VI, Henry VIII's son died young and childless, certain noblemen who wanted to make sure a ruler of the Protestant faith ruled the country put his young cousin Lady Jane Gray on the throne. She ruled for nine days, before Mary Tudor arrived with her armies, removed the poor girl and had her beheaded. This book bears a vague resemblance to that story.
In the England of this story, the conflict in England isn't between Catholics and Protestants, it's between non-shapeshifters, also known as Verities, and shapeshifters, better known as eðians (pronounced eethians). King Henry VIII himself turned into a great big lion, on occasion, but even so, the eðians are generally hunted and distrusted by the populace in general. Princess Mary is staunchly against them and want them all killed, while young King Edward and his best friend and cousin, Lady Jane Grey read everything they can about them and would like nothing more than to discover eðian abilities of their own.
Sadly, Edward appears to be dying. He has been told by Lord Dudley, his chief adviser and his physicians that he's suffering from "the affliction" and that he is unlikely to have long, certainly not long enough to marry and produce a male heir. Luckily Dudley has a plan to secure a succession that will make sure an eðian-friendly ruler ends up on the English trone. He suggests that Edward change the line of succession to ensure that his cousin Lady Jane's heirs inherit. Of course, Jane needs to be married to produce heirs, but Dudley has just the candidate. His younger son, Gifford. There is the minor difficulty that Gifford Dudley is an eðian and spends every day from sunup to sunset as a magnificent stallion, but any heirs would be conceived at night anyways, so Dudley is sure Jane wouldn't mind too much.
When the extremely intellectual Jane finds out that she's to be married off within a few days, she travels to the Dudley estate (carrying with her a suitable supply of books to entertain her) to meet her intended. Unfortunately, because of some rather shameful nightly pursuits, Gifford (just call him G) has let it be known that he's a rampant womaniser. It's more socially acceptable than what he gets up to. Hence his older brother mistakes Jane for one of his younger brother's many suspected floozies and Jane believes her impending husband is a lecherous libertine (he's not, he's actually a poet). Nor does anyone deem it appropriate to tell her about her husband's eðian status, so she has quite the surprise the morning after her wedding, when the groom turns into a big horse in the middle of her bedroom.
As Edward takes a rapid turn for the worse shortly after the wedding, his sister Elizabeth warns him that he mustn't trust his physicians and he realises that Dudley is up to no good, and that Jane may be in terrible danger as well.
This is a delightful farce of a book, where we follow the points of view of Edward, Jane and G (he never liked the name Gifford) as the story progresses. Since there are three authors, I suspect each of them took one character and wrote their sections. Having loosely based the first half on actual historical events (if you ignore the shapeshifters), the second half is pure fantasy and a lot of fun. The book is clearly inspired by The Princess Bride, with the narrators occasionally interrupting the narrative to address the reader directly. Readers will recognise that most of Gifford's poetry is strikingly similar to that of one William Shakespeare. There is humour reminiscent of Monty Python and Blackadder, while at least one plot development brings to mind the lovely Ladyhawke, one of my favourite eighties movies (I'd love to get a version with a non-synthy soundtrack).
I've seen this book included on several best of 2016 lists, and while I'm not sure I enjoyed it enough to include it in my top ten of the year, it's a very enjoyable romp from start to finish. My one complaint is that the book is a bit long and I think some of the parts in the second half could have been edited a bit more. As a huge fan of Tudor history in general, and having always been sympathetic to poor Lady Jane, the nine days queen, who really didn't have much choice in the matter and was a political pawn her entire life, it was nice to see a story that reimagines a much happier ending for her. Possibly not the book for you if you take your history very seriously, but highly recommended for anyone who wants a fun, creative and irreverent reimagining of history.
Judging a book by its cover: While on first look, this may seem like any old historical novel, with your red-headed girl in Tudor era clothing and a big red font bringing your attention to the title, you need only take a closer look to see that there's more here. In little "hand-written notes" and arrows pointing to the girl on the cover, the writers explain that "Sometimes history gets it all wrong". The other notes say "It's not easy being queen" and "Off with her head".
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Rating: 4.5 stars
Spoiler warning! This is the third book in The Innkeeper Chronicles and as such, this review may contain spoilers for previous books in the series. It's also a series that is best read in order, so if you are unfamiliar with the books, go start at the beginning, with Clean Sweep.
While Dina Demille may seem like a fairly ordinary young human woman, she is in fact an Innkeeper, and within the bounds of her inn, she is almost unbelievably powerful. Her broom is a deadly weapon. She can rearrange the rooms and gardens to suit any guest, she can open portals to other worlds and planets in the universe and she can mount a pretty comprehensive defence if someone is threatening the safety of her guests. The only permanent resident of her inn is the ruthless Caldenia, wanted across most of the known universe because of her many atrocities. There is also Dina's dog, Beast, who on the surface looks like a fluffy Shih Tzu, but may feature a lot more teeth than your normal dog. In her kitchen, Orro, her temperamental and brilliant Quillonian chef rules. He stays out of sight from the neighbours as he looks like a six-foot tall hedgehog.
Dina's chief concern is the comfort and safety of her guests, and making very sure that everyone in the quiet little place she lives doesn't realise that there is anything peculiar about the old Victorian building where she houses her other-worldly guests. She is still recovering from the strain of having hosted a large intergalactic peace summit and trying to figure out where exactly she stands with her handsome neighbour Sean (who also happens to be an alpha-strain alien werewolf who survived countless campaigns in a hostile environment that killed others of his kind pretty much instantly) when a particularly noisy and inconspicuous alien messenger brings word that her sister is in danger. Dina calls in favours where she can and soon she, Sean and Arland, a vampire warlord with whom she's had previous adventures are on their way to the universe's version of 19th Century vampire Australia to locate Dina's sister and her niece.
Maud, Dina's sister, is the widow of a disgraced vampire warlord and her daughter is half vampire. Once her idiot husband got himself killed, Maud and her child waged a six month revenge raid against the people who killed him, but Maud's at the end of her reserves when Dina and her twosome of powerful, very deadly men show up. While Maud has sworn off vampires forever, Arland is instantly smitten and does whatever he can to impress the extremely deadly lady, not to mention her semi-feral daughter. He even insists that he has to stay at Dina's inn for an unspecified amount of time, for an extended vacation. That he'll be close to the lovely Maud is probably just a side benefit.
Of course, having several highly trained warriors at her inn turns out to be good for Dina, as she ends offering asylum to an unusual alien, the Hiru, whose race has nearly been hunted to extinction by another, called the Draziri. They apparently ensure eternal salvation of their entire clan if they kill a Hiru. While helping the Hiru is almost certainly going to end badly, they offer her aid in locating her missing parents, something she cannot refuse, even if she didn't feel sympathy for their plight. Soon she has to use all her ingenuity and drain the inn's defences as they are facing an all-out assault from what is basically an alien gangster cartel who will stop at nothing to kill the Hiru and anyone else at Dina's inn.
Ilona Andrews started The Innkeeper Chronicles back in 2013 and has published each of the books in more or less weekly instalments on their website. They then take the finished product, clean it up, try to iron out any plot inconsistencies (which can easily sneak in as they are writing from week to week), add some scenes to make the story flow more smoothly, and self-published the results. This is the third book in the series, which by now has a small cast of recurring characters in addition to our heroine, Dina. As the series has progressed, the world-building gets more complex, the characters get more developed and the reader gets a clearer picture of where the authors may be going with this.
I always follow the story religiously while the authors post their instalments during the first part of the year, but enjoy re-reading the book when it's a finished product that they published. In One Fell Sweep, for instance, there is less violence and certainly a fairly PG ending, as the authors are aware that anyone can read the story when they come across it on their website. The book has an extended final chapter, where readers who want a more satisfying romantic ending with some decidedly more adult content should be happy with the result. There are also little scenes added throughout the book to help build Dina and Sean, and Maud and Arland's relationships. As a huge fan of Arland's since the first book, I was delighted to see them find him a suitable partner, as it's been obvious since book one that he didn't really have a chance with Dina.
While these books are somewhat less "meaty" and substantial than Ilona Andrews' other output, I still greatly appreciate what they are doing. There is no obligation to the fans to keep publishing stories for free throughout the year. Because these books are written in quick bursts from week to week, there may be less complex story and character development, but there tends to be a lot of breath-taking action. This instalment also had a truly heart-breaking chapter towards the end, which a lot off readers said beautifully captured the feel of truly crippling depression.
It makes me very happy to read that this book was number 2 on the New York Times E-book bestseller list, and 18th on the combined list the week after release, as well as number 2 on the Wall Street Journal's bestseller list I will buy anything the Andrews' publish, and their continued success brings me joy. I hope they continue the adventures of Dina and her inn for many years to come.
Judging a book by its cover: I know the authors hire an artist (I forget her name and was unable to find it in my quick Google search) to do the cover art and inside illustrations. While I'm not wild about Dina's cloak in this one, I like the little glimpse of her energy whip and her fairly casual outfit otherwise. I generally really like these covers and the artist's various character renderings inside the book. The one of Dina's sister Maud and her niece Helen is excellent.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Friday, 30 December 2016
Rating: 3.5 stars
Kelsea knows that when she turns nineteen, it is time for her to take her rightful place as Queen, like her mother (who died when she was a baby) and grandmother before her. She has been raised far from civilisation, by two loyal servants, who did their best to prepare her in every way they could for the duty she would be facing. What they have not done is socialise her in any way, she's barely seen another living soul since she was little, and they've refused to tell her anything about her mother or her mother's reign. So while she has a lot of theoretical knowledge about her realm, the Tearling, and its surrounding neighbours, she has little to no practical experience and is in for a sharp learning curve once some of the remaining members of the queen's guard come to pick her up to take her back to the capital.
The road back to her palace is fraught with danger, as her uncle, the regent, has sent assassins to dispatch Kelsea. He doesn't want to surrender his power, and there is more than one attack on the princess and her guards on their way to the capital. Along the way, Kelsea is rescued from an attack by hired killers by the Tearling's most wanted, a legendary outlaw calling himself the Fetch. This man and all his compatriots wear masks while they dispatch Kelsea's attackers, but later, when she spends some time in their camp, she gets to see him unmasked. He clearly has sinister plans for her uncle and is very curious about what sort of ruler Kelsea is going to be. She refuses to show fear and promises to rule the country to the best of her abilities. This seems to satisfy the bandit leader.
Once she returns to her palace, Kelsea discovers how her mother made peace with the neighbouring country, ruled by a powerful and seemingly ageless sorceress after an invasion several decades ago. Suffice to say, Kelsea is appalled and by her first actions, she sets in motion events that may very well trigger a new invasion. Shortly after, there is another assassination attempt on her while they are trying to get her crowned. It becomes obvious to Kelsea that her long-dead mother was a vain, weak and fairly useless queen who quite happily sold out the freedoms and rights of her people to keep herself safe. Her brother, Kelsea's uncle, has continued the mismanagement of the realm and most of the people are suffering badly. If she can survive, she has a hell of a job ahead of her, righting the wrongs of her predecessors. Luckily, she appears to have some sort of magical abilities too, bestowed on her by the royal sapphires that all heirs to the Tearling wear.
I've seen a lot of people give this book incredibly low ratings, probably because it seems that when the book was first released it was marketed as "Game of Thrones meets the Hunger Games". Clearly this was invented by someone who threw darts on a large board full of things that sold well in the publishing industry. "What if Hermione Granger was the heir to a really down-trodden, pseudo-medieval but somehow also set in our future kingdom, where the biggest danger was the evil sorceress in the next country over" would be a better description. Note that I didn't pick Hermione completely out of the blue. Emma Watson has apparently bought the adaptation rights and wants to star as Kelsea. I'm assuming that if that is the case, they're going to have to uglify her but good, as just in case you forget it, every third chapter or so, the author reminds you how plain, unassuming and dumpy Kelsea is. You are never really allowed to go long without being told how the new queen is rather ugly. So I can't really say that my mental image of her was Emma Watson, and also, I really felt that the girl had more important things to worry about than her appearance, but what do I know? I've never had to rule a fantasy kingdom that's pretty much been colonised and run into the ground by another.
The world-building is strange. There are references to America and England, and some generations ago, a man called William Tear apparently gathered all the scientists, doctors and learned people on ships to sail away to a new continent (no hints as to where this is), but a lot of their technology and medical expertise was shipwrecked on the way. So while there are knights and sorcery and people riding horses or using carts, and mostly very downtrodden serfs rooting around in the mud (it all got a bit Monty Python and the Holy Grail in the descriptions of the countryside and the populace, as far as I could tell), this is somehow set in the future. Also, the Red Queen who rules the neighbouring kingdom (I could look it up, but I can't be bothered to dig out my e-reader) seems to have lived for at least a century, clearly through nefarious magical means.
Kelsea has a sapphire around her neck that apparently cannot be removed until she is dead, as well as a second one that will belong to her heir. This one the Fetch could take from her though, and he gives it back to her later in the book when he feels that she has proven herself worthy to rule. Said necklace seems to be trying to communicate with Kelsea and can bestow her with magical powers. She also has a servant who appears to be a psychic of some sort, but only in the sense that she gets premonitions about bad things about to happen, she can't give specifics (that would be far too useful). Oh, and Kelsea has grown up reading and loving books because her guardian had lots of shelves worth, but in the rest of the kingdom, books are super rare and no one knows how to print them anymore or seems to care about relearning this skill (this is my nightmare).
For the first third or so, the book didn't interest me much and I actually put it down and read a bunch of other books in between. Then she finally arrived at her palace and discovered just how messed up a situation she was faced with as queen (I don't want to go into specifics, but trust me, it's pretty bad) and I started getting interested. This book is clearly just establishing the beginning of Kelsea's reign. Since each new chapter seems to contain excerpts from books written much later in Queen Kelsea's lifetime, possibly even after her death, I was never overly worried that she wasn't going to make it though to the end of the book (also, this is book one - I suspect she may survive until book three).
The tone of the book is also a bit strange. This is totally YA, and nowhere near George R.R. Martin territory (nor are there anything vaguely resembling Hunger Games - seriously publishers, did you read the wrong book before you sent out the press release?), but there are some scenes of pretty graphic violence and while there isn't a lot of sexual content, the Red Queen clearly isn't big on consent and doesn't care who she takes her pleasure with, and neither does Kelsea's weaselly uncle.
I've seen complaints that Kelsea is a special snowflake of a character, I didn't really think so. She is young, and has a lot of book smarts, but clearly needs to learn to rule properly, and has impulsively made decisions that are going to come back and bite her in her royal behind later. She seems to nurse an ill-advised crush on the Fetch, but there isn't really anything romantic hinted at with anyone. There are a lot of factions who want to oppose her, and she will clearly face a lot of challenges in the next two books before I'm sure she becomes triumphant and takes her people into a new golden age or something. As long as she makes sure there are books, I'll be happy.
It's a decent enough beginning to a fantasy trilogy. I'm really curious as to where exactly these books are set, as unless the ships mentioned were actually spaceships, I'm unsure where the Americans and English of old actually sailed to. As long as I'm entertained, and it doesn't play too important a part, I'm willing to turn my brain off in that particular respect. Since the trilogy is now completed, it seems likely I'll be reading the rest of it in the next year or so, but it's not like I'm impatient to pick up the next book either. I hope Kelsea stops moaning about how ugly she is in book two, though. Looks aren't everything, girl.
Judging a book by its cover: I've seen several covers for this book, the one that comes with my edition evokes a volume of fairy stories to me, with the red background and the black, swirly embellishments. In the centre "cutout", there is a palace on a hill, so you can probably guess from both the title and the image that this is a fantasy story. It's not the most exciting of images, but it's not bad either.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Wednesday, 28 December 2016
Rating: 3 stars
When Evangeline Canterbury meets the gorgeous, intriguing doctor next door, all she wants from him is a bit of distraction, to help her get over a few rough days.
Her one-night stand, however, has other plans: He needs an accomplished and presentable girlfriend to bring before his parents - and for six months of her time, he is willing and prepared to spend an obscene amount of money.
Nothing but trouble can come of such an arrangement. But can Eva stop herself? Or will she fall headlong in love with a man who will leave her when their contract expires with a smile, a check and hardly a backward glance?
I really like Sherry Thomas' historical novels. Her characters tend to be complex and quite frequently quite wounded individuals, who have trouble forming loving bonds. The stories are frequently quite angst-ridden and there is a lot of heavy emotional territory that needs to be negotiated before the parties can find their happy endings. This is Sherry Thomas' only contemporary romance to date, and since she's currently busy writing gender-swapped Sherlock Holmes fan fiction (which I'm very much looking forward to reading, by the way), I doubt she'll be going back to this genre any time soon.
I really don't know exactly what I think about this book. At the start of the book, it purports to be a very different story than it ends up becoming. Bennett, the hero, initially seems very manipulative and rather off-putting, while it's clear that the heroine, Eva, has a lot of emotional issues to deal with, not least her fears about her mentally unstable, bipolar step-mother, Zelda, with whom she also shares a flat.
Back when Eva was a teenager, her father and Zelda took her to Paris, to a prestigious socialite ball, where she was supposed to be escorted by the son of friends of Zelda's. He never showed up, due to some scandal, and shortly after the ball, Zelda had a massive breakdown and extended hospital stay, after which she divorced Eva's father. Eva, who loves her step-mother fiercely, believes that if the "Somerset boy" had just showed up, Zelda might never have had said mental collapse and their lives might all have turned out differently. She keeps dreaming of this mysterious "Somerset boy" and never really allows herself any long-term relationships, because she's worried what might happen to Zelda if she's not there to take care of her.
Will you be surprised if I tell you that the gorgeous, fantabulously wealthy doctor that Eva has a one-night stand with, who later offers to pay her half a million dollars to pose as his girlfriend for six months, our hero Bennett, is none other than that mysterious Somerset boy? Of course you won't. He was pretty much always going to be. The scandal he was involved in way back then was considerable enough that his family broke all ties with him, and now he wants to mend fences and reunite with them. Showing up with Eva on his arm, a beautiful and very accomplished scientist with many lucrative patents and a career in her own right, who just so happens to be the girl they once tried to set him up with? They'll surely have to accept him back with open arms.
Yet Bennett's reunion with his family is not the whole story here. Eva has trouble trusting Bennett, for all that she becomes slightly obsessed with him and the way he can make her body feel. Even though he seemingly has a lot of less desirable qualities, he is always scrupulously honest with Eva about his past, the reasons he became estranged from his family and the many not so honourable things he did when trying to provoke his father over the years. Eva is completely incapable of opening up in return.
Around the half-way point of the book, it became clear that Thomas was telling a different story from what you are first expecting. When Bennett revealed the full truth, I suddenly saw him and his previous actions in a completely new light, and instead Eva became the problematic character. Her many complex hang-ups and her absolute unwillingness to open up or in any way attempt to change made me want to both shout at her and shake her. I loved her relationship with her step-mother, and the very realistic portrayal of what living with someone bipolar is actually like, but it wasn't enough for me to warm to this as a romance.
For the first half of the book, Bennett sort of gave me the creeps as a hero, and for the second half of the book, I wanted Bennett to go off and find someone more worthy of him, because Evangeline was a rubbish heroine. It obviously all ends up working out in the end - it is a romance, after all, but this is by far my least favourite of Thomas' novels to date. I suspect that I would probably like it more upon a re-read, but it seems unlikely that I'll pick it back up again any time soon. Nonetheless, this book has words in the title that have made it a possible read in FIVE separate months this year for my Monthly Key Word Reading Challenge. It's also been on my TBR list for more than a year. I pretty much had to read it before the year was out.
Judging a book by its cover: My feelings about the cover for this book much reflect the feelings I have for the actual novel - largely indifferent. Beautiful scenery, I'm assuming it's the Italian coastline. Generic couple smooching. *shrugs* I find the choice to have one and my in the title italicised. It doesn't so much emphasise the words as make the cover look slightly off somehow.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Sibylla "Billie" Bridgerton has always been a tomboy. As a girl, she ran wild with the neighbouring Rokesby children, and it's been long expected that she'll end up marrying either of the younger sons, Edward or Andrew. She's doesn't really mind the idea herself, but marriage is the furthest thing from her mind, even after her best friend, Mary Rokesby goes off to marry her eldest brother George's best friend. After all, if Billie gets married, whose going to oversee the running of the Bridgerton estate? Her brother Edmund is still away at Eton, far too young to take charge. The only Rokesby Billie doesn't really get along with is the heir, George Rokesby, Viscount Kennard. He's always so serious, clearly disapproving of her un-ladylike ways.
So when Billie falls out of a tree, twists her ankle badly and ends up stranded on a deserted cottage roof, having tried to rescue a stray cat, she really wishes that anyone else in the neighbourhood except the supercilious George is the one to come to her rescue. Things do not improve when circumstances cause the ladder he's used to get up on the roof to fall over, stranding them both. While no one in their right mind would think that George Rokesby had compromised Billie Bridgerton on a roof in the middle of the countryside, propriety would demand that the Viscount offer for her hand if they are stranded there for too long. Luckily, Andrew Rokesby, home on leave from the navy with a broken arm, comes along and rescues the two of them, but is very amused by the predicament they've found themselves in. George also insists on chivalrously carrying the wounded Billie back home, and after their little adventure, the two suddenly see each other differently.
As the son and heir, George has never been allowed to go off and see the world. His brother Andrew is in the navy, while Edward is over in the Colonies, scouting in the Revolutionary War. As the eldest, he has always observed his younger siblings and the vivacious eldest Bridgerton daughter run around and cause trouble. Even now, although Billie is universally loved in the neighbourhood, she has a tendency to get into unlikely scrapes, and it annoys George immensely. Almost as much as the thought that she may some day end up marrying one of his brothers. After their little interlude on the roof, George suddenly finds himself very bothered by the idea of Billie marrying anyone...except him. Could he be falling in love with the exasperating Miss Bridgerton?
While most of Julia Quinn's books are set in the Regency era, this new series is set a generation before her most famous Bridgerton books, in the Georgian era, but do in some ways still involve Bridgertons, as the title suggests. Billie Bridgerton is in fact the aunt of all the various Bridgerton siblings, whose father Edmund, Billie's younger brother, never actually appears in the series, except in the heroes and heroine's memories, as he died tragically before his youngest daughter was born. He's only mentioned in passing here, as he's away at school, but it seems likely he may make an appearance in later books. There is certainly another Bridgerton sister to marry off, as well as two Rokesby brothers, one of whom is missing in the Americas in the midst of the Revolutionary war for much of the plot of this book.
I've said in previous reviews that the best Julia Quinn novels don't have overly complicated plots or outside forces trying to get between the lovers. She's really not very good at writing villains. Happily, this is one of the books where the only thing keeping our couple apart is their preconcieved notions of one another and the fact that they've just not realised that they've got their perfect partner a few miles away, on the neighbouring estate. Billie and George just need to forget the impressions they made of each other growing up, and see each other as the adults they've become. Their families are clearly perfectly happy for them to end up together and it's quite sweet how they scheme to throw them together.
I wish I could say that this is Julia Quinn's triumphant return to truly great romance, after her previous years' efforts have mainly been rather forgettable, but I can't. I absolutely enjoyed this book, and appreciated that it didn't feature a lot of complicated drama, just two people learning to see the other in a new light and falling in love. Yet I doubt it's going to be one of the Quinn books that people remember in years to come, and it's certainly not a timeless classic like some of her Bridgerton novels. I don't regret buying it when it came out, but I suspect I will wait until her books are on sale before getting more of them. The next book in the series, involving lost brother Edward, set in Revolutionary era wartime America, will be an interesting departure from her previous books, though, so I imagine I'll be reading it, just to see her do something different.
Judging a book by its cover: There's a lot I like about this cover. The gorgeous green of the gown. The fact that it's only saucily slid off one shoulder rather than all undone in the back with anachronistic lack of undergarments. The cover model's little smirk in the mirror. The crossed fingers behind her back. There's also things I don't like. The cover model is way too old to be a 23-year-old Billie Bridgerton. This book is set in the Georgian era. That is not a period appropriate dress! Great for Regency, wrong for the previous generation.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Glory Hallelujah (yup, that's actually her name) Greenleaf is the only one in her family who's never broken the law or deviated from the straight and narrow. Unlike most of her other family members, who only seem to leave Hellcat Canyon to go to prison or when they die, Glory was going to become a star, using her songwriting and singing talent to make it big. Of course, then her brother Jonah was arrested for meth dealing and she had to use all her savings to help pay her mother's mortgage, and now she's still impatiently cooling her heels, trying to make ends meet by waitressing badly.
Deputy sheriff Eli Barlow has loved Glory since he was twelve years old, but any chance he had of winning her heart was crushed when he had to arrest her brother, his best friends, for meth dealing. He can't entirely understand what she's still doing in town, considering she had several demo tapes recorded and was all set to leave to get herself a music career. He hates that he had to break her heart (and his own) by arresting Jonah, and desperately wants to make things right between them. When Hollywood talent comes to town and takes notice of Glory's talent, Eli realises that the best way to win this woman's heart is to make sure she can leave Hellcat Canyon forever.
Julie Anne Long will always have some leeway with me, having written one of my favourite romances of all time, What I Did for a Duke. I can respect that she wants to try new things, having written historical novels for most of her career. I thought Wild at Whiskey Creek worked moderately better than her first attempt at contemporary romance, Hot in Hellcat Canyon, although she still has quite a way to go to reach the levels of quality or entertainment value of her best historicals. In her biographical information for this book, Long reveals that she herself wanted to become a rock star and did both singing and guitar playing, but writing became her career choice instead. She certainly seems to know what she's talking about with regards to songwriting and composing (I know nothing about guitar playing, and only barely learned to strum a few chords during whatever basic lessons they gave us in music class in secondary school). I will also give her this, the earworm indie hit that is referenced throughout the story ended up getting stuck in my head as I read the book, despite the fact that it was a fictional song, that I'd never heard. I still ended up reciting the catchy chorus in my head. So kudos to you for that, Ms. Long.
Couples who have loved one another since they were children can be a tricky thing to pull off, but Ms. Long manages pretty well here. Since Eli and Glory's brother Jonah were best friends and grew up inseparably together, it seems natural he would also have spent a lot of time with Glory during that time. It's established that neither Eli nor Glory are silently and celibately pining for the other, they both date and have other relationships, but share one scorching and very memorable kiss when they are both single. Sadly, this is just before the bit where Eli has to arrest Jonah and send him to prison for years, making the fiercely loyal Glory shun him like the plague. Eli hates that he had to hurt her, and hates the reckless Jonah quite a bit as well, for giving the law-abiding Eli no choice but to do his job.
After pretty much rudely telling everyone in town where to stick it before her brother got arrested, because she was getting out and becoming a big singing star, Glory has been forced to apologise to a lot of people and help support her widowed mother and assorted hard-up half-siblings by waitressing. The arrival of Hollywood TV crews, filming new historical prestige show, set during the California Gold Rush, also brings handsome television and movie actor Franco Francone to town. He pisses off Eli by joyriding his Porsche way above the speed limit through town, and making the moves on Glory, who is clearly the most interesting of all the single ladies in Hellcat Canyon. She's amused by his attention, but mainly flirts with him to make Eli jealous. Eli, on the other hand, has been set up with one of the makeup artists on the show, and tries his best to forget his impossible infatuation with Glory, who he's always known is meant for far better than him and the little mountain region they're from, no matter how lawless and hopeless most of her family members are.
Because they've grown up together, there is no need for Eli and Glory to get to know each other. They have a shared past and just need to get past the conflict caused when utterly decent and law-abiding Eli arrested Glory's beloved, but rather careless brother. It's quite clear that Glory has a lot of talent, and needs to get her chance to show the world. So they need to figure out how they can reconcile their romantic feelings for one another, when Eli doesn't really have any plans of leaving Hellcat Canyon, while Glory wants nothing more than to get away.
Having written eleven Regency novels set in the little English town of Pennyroyal Green, Julie Anne Long is good at creating a cozy setting for her books. The towns of Hellcat Canyon and Whiskey Creek clearly have their fair share of colourful supporting cast that help populate the stories, many of whom the reader was already introduced to in the first book in the series. You by no means need to have read the previous book to enjoy this one, but it's quite clear that several of the secondary characters here will feature more prominently in future books.
Sadly, while these books are perfectly entertaining as you're reading them, they're not very memorable. I read this at the beginning of December, and already I'm having trouble remembering specific details about the plot, except that Glory's younger half-brother and his clueless selfishness really annoyed me, plus there was a little too much of the romance plot that was Eli or Glory jealous of the other, but not actually talking to each other. Oh, and Ms. Long needs to realise that now that she's writing contemporary romances, she NEEDS to acknowledge that in the modern world, couples use some form of protection and talk about it before they fall into bed with one another. Really, it doesn't need to take up a lot of page space, but the fact that in both this and her previous contemporary, there is no talk of condoms, other contraceptives, the possibility of STDs or pregnancy. It's a minor point, but I saw it referenced in another review of this book as well, and I absolutely agree.
This book was on Kirkus Best of 2016 list of romances. They clearly have very different taste in romance from me, since the excellent The Hating Game wasn't even on the list, while several romances that I found entertaining, but really nothing special were represented. While this was a better contemporary than her previous one, Julie Anne Long will have to do better to truly impress me, and I'm not going to rush out and get her next book.
Judging a book by its cover: Woman in a denim miniskirt stands in a meadow with her back to the camera, holding an acoustic guitar over her shoulders. am assuming this is supposed to be Glory, but based on her description in the book, I don't think it fits her at all. She doesn't seem like the sort of person who would wear pink, for one thing. I'm also really annoyed by the askew "k" at the end of "Creek". I'm sure it's supposed to be playful and whimsical, but it just sets my teeth on edge.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Tuesday, 27 December 2016
Rating: 4 stars
Wanting to prove to herself that she can manage on her own, Roxie Callahan moved all the way across the country, away from her somewhat flakey, alternative diner-managing mother and her constant string of usually unhappy infatuations. Roxie has put herself through culinary school and is working hard to establish herself as a private chef to wealthy Hollywood wives. But when a moment of distraction means she screws up with a very important client, it seems as if most of her client base are happy to drop her like the proverbial hot potato. So when her mother calls her and begs her to run the family diner for the summer, while her mother and aunt go off around the world, competing in "The Amazing Race", Roxie doesn't really have a lot of alternatives and returns to the little town in upstate New York where she always felt like a bit of an outcast.
Roxie is determined that she's only staying around for the summer, but finds that there are many positive changes to the place she grew up. The quarterback she had a massive crush on is still handsome as ever, but has moved back to town with his equally attractive husband. The two happily take Roxie under their wing and do whatever they can to throw her in the path of local farmer Leo Maxwell, whose farming co-operative is supplying the town and surrounding areas with fresh fruits, berries, vegetables and produce. It's clear that Roxie's interest in the smoking hot Leo is very much reciprocated, and a scorching summer fling would absolutely make her days running the diner into less of a chore. Leo is clearly quite happily settled in town, though. What happens when the summer is over, and Roxie is going to return to LA?
I've only read one previous romance by Alice Clayton, the first book in her Cocktail series, Wallbanger. It was amusing enough, if a bit long overall and there was a drawn-out love scene involving way too many foodstuffs and dirtying of kitchen surfaces to my taste. This book is the first in her new contemporary romance series, entitled Hudson Valley, inspired by the sustainable food movement, organic farming, slow foods and the recent trend in local farming and wanting to know where your food comes from. The hero is a Manhattan playboy turned hipster farmer and the heroine is the local girl who returns to her hometown to discover that the things she's been running from for years might not be so bad after all.
Raised by a hippy dippy single mother who took over the local diner, and witness to her mother's many dramatic love affairs, Roxie has always had to be the practical, pragmatic one, who made sure the bills were paid and their little family could actually make ends meet, even when her mother was in one of her heartbroken periods. Always fascinated by gourmet cooking, she never really fit in among her peers and only found happiness when she went to culinary school far away, on the other side of the country. Making a living by herself in Los Angeles is incredibly hard, however, and when most of her revenue stream dries up because of one unfortunate cooking mishap, she's left with no options but to return home to run the family diner for a summer.
The local land surrounding the town has been owned by the wealthy Maxwell family for generations, but Roxie is surprised to discover that there is now a large and prosperous farming cooperative being run there, by none other than one of the sons of the Maxwell family. Maxwell Farms, apparently based on the Stone Barns Educational Centre in upstate New York is much more to Leo's taste than taking up the family legacy of big business banking. It's clear that every single woman in town has her eyes set on Leo, but according to Chad Bowman, Roxie's former quarterback classmate and new bestie in Bailey Falls, he's not shown any interest in anyone for years. Until Roxie shows up, that is.
Always careful to never get emotionally entangled in her hook-ups, having seen her mother crash and burn romantically too many times, Roxie makes it very clear to Leo that she's only there for a few months and that theirs will be a purely physical relationship. He seems more than happy to agree, and soon the two of them share more than one steamy evening together. As the summer progresses, Roxie discovers that keeping things completely casual with Leo may be harder than she thought, especially after she discovers some of the things the rest of the town apparently knew about his past, that she, the summer fling, has been unaware of.
After finishing The Count of Monte Cristo, I really wasn't up for reading anything long, complicated or demanding, meaning I pretty much settled for romances in December. This is the second one I read, and it was a lot more satisfying on all levels than Managed. By no means perfect, I liked the setting of Bailey Falls, two protagonists who are both very good at what they do and passionate about it, while bantering amusingly and sharing some believable chemistry on the page. Frequently in these stories, the element thrown in about two thirds of the way through, meant to cause complications for our lovers before everything is resolved to the reader's satisfaction can feel contrived and be quite annoying. I thought the elements of Leo's past that were introduced were well-done, and the complications came more from Roxie's insistence on emotional distance than from his having kept secrets.
The supporting cast, Chad Bowman and his husband, Roxie's mother, some of the colourful townsfolk, as well as Roxie's BFFs in New York, who are clearly being set up as the heroines of the next two books of the series, were also fun to read about. I don't mind sequel-bait if it's done well enough, and since the next hero is large, taciturn brooding dairy farmer neighbour (apparently Clayton's mental image of him is Jason Momoa - I can work with that!), I will probably be checking out the sequel early in the new year.
Judging a book by its cover: Ah, abs. ridiculously sculpted and toned muscles. and some walnuts, just so you understand that the title isn't just a rude pun, but sure, you're supposed to think that too. Since both Leo's ridiculously toned body and his food produce play important parts in the book, I suppose the cover is strangely fitting.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Rating: 3 stars
Sophie Darling (sadly nowhere near as awesome as my favourite romance heroine with Darling as a surname) is on her way to a job interview in London and unexpectedly and happily finds herself upgraded to first class. Her joy is somewhat lessened when very handsome, but supremely grouchy Gabriel "Scottie" Scott is seated next to her, outraged that one of the two seats he's purchased has been allotted to someone. Nonetheless, cheerful and mischievous Sophie decides to try to crack handsome guy's crabby demeanour (at this point she doesn't know his name) by both flirting and teasing him and once she discovers that he's clearly deeply uncomfortable on planes, she does her best to distract him, so he doesn't have such a bad time of it.
Before they arrive in London, they discover that the interview Sophie is on her way to is as social media rep for the rock band Kill John, which Scottie manages. So indirectly, if she gets the job, he will become her boss. Obviously, he can't get involved with one of his employees, so any flirting between them has to stop right there. Once Sophie does meet the band, there is a brief conflict involving her paparazzi past, but she gets the job, and will now be going on the European tour with the band.
In "could only happen in a romance novel" plotting, both Sophie and Gabriel have trouble sleeping and it's making them both irritable and less than efficient. They discover, through plot contrivance that only when in the same bed can they get a good night's sleep. So Gabriel proposes that Sophie start sleeping in his bed, totally platonically, of course, even though everyone with eyes in their head can tell that both he and Sophie are absolutely gone for each other, and Scottie's famed iron control is about to crack every time some other guy so much as glances in Sophie's direction.
Emmalita, one of my fellow romance enthusiasts over on CBR, absolutely hated this book and Gabriel in particular. I can agree that Gabriel isn't the most likable of heroes, but I read him as a lot less emotionally manipulative and controlling than her. Like so many alphahole romance heroes, there are issues in his past that have led to him becoming an icy control freak and he's terrified of letting loose or letting anyone get close to him. He clearly has massive abandonment issues and believes that as long as he doesn't let anyone get close (be they a romantic interest or his friends/found family, the band and Brenna), he will never be left alone again. He also clearly has some serious anger issues that he takes out with no holds barred fights for money every so often. Does he behave like a stuck-up d*ck for a lot of the book? Yup. Did I see what Sophie saw in him? Nope, not really. Did I hate the book? Not even slightly.
Sophie is a lovely character and I liked that she was working hard to make up for a past in which her life choices both with regards to career and boyfriend made her do some pretty rotten things. The third act complication where her sleazy ex suddenly enters the picture again and creates tension between her and Gabriel felt incredibly unnecessary and made me roll my eyes. Still, I liked her, and this book passed the time just fine. Can I clearly remember the plot now, three weeks after reading the book? Nope. Do I regret paying money for it? Not really, as Callihan self-publishes these and I have very much enjoyed her Game On books enough that she gets a chance or two extra because of them.
It's a perfectly forgettable book. If you want to read a really good book involving a heroine surnamed Darling and a guy with a lot of control tendencies, read Courtney Milan's lovely Unraveled instead. Smite is a million times better in the hero department than Gabriel is. For better Callihan books, check out her Game On series. Based on this, I doubt I'll be paying any more money for future instalments of the VIP series, unless they are very reduced or free.
Judging a book by its cover: While the previous book in the series, Idol, had brighter, sharper colours on the covers, this one is in more muted pastels, showing what I'm assuming is supposed to be Gabriel sitting around waiting for the band to finish, or something? It's not a very exciting romance cover, but then again, neither was the first one in the series. Callihan is clearly not going for steaming covers for these self-published books.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Rating: 4.5 stars
Young sailor Edmond Dantés is well-meaning, kind and really rather naive, wanting nothing more than to make enough money to take care of his elderly father and marry his beloved Mercedes. There are other, less well-meaning people in his life who want what he has and are prepared to frame Dantés for treason to get these things. While celebrating his engagement to Mercedes, Dantés is arrested, charged with aiding in a plot to restore the exiled Napoleon to the throne. The anonymous scheming may have come to nought, except a letter in Dantés' possession frames the father of the judge who hears his case, and said man decides that the best thing to do is burn the letter, and lock Dantés away, before the precious judge is implicated in the scandal. So thanks to a drunken, malicious prank and an unscrupulous judge, Dantés is locked up away in a dark dungeon for fourteen years, where he nearly goes mad, while his father dies alone and destitute and his Mercedes marries another.
Dantés probably would have lost his mind if not for the friendship with another prisoner, the Abbot Feria, who, when trying to dig an escape tunnel, instead ends up in Dantés' cell. The two strike up a friendship and Feria, a very learned man, teaches the fairly inexperienced sailor everything he knows. He listens patiently to Dantés' story of how he ended up being imprisoned, and explains exactly how he will have ended up being framed, turning Dantés' thoughts immediately to escape and revenge. Initially, the two are planning to escape the prison together. But the Abbott is old and sick and dies before they have a chance to get out. He tells Dantés of a great treasure, hidden away on the island of Monte Cristo. Once Dantés escapes, he goes there, and discovers riches beyond his wildest dreams. After fourteen years, with everyone who ever knew him believing him long dead, Dantés can start truly plotting his revenge.
Ten years after the escape, the mysterious and brooding Count of Monte Cristo appears in Paris and soon the lives of three prosperous and successful gentlemen start falling apart completely.
I'm convinced that it is more than twenty years since I first read this book, when I was still young and patient and felt that the longer the book, the better, frankly (this was back when I also happily read my mother's three volume edition of Les Misérables in about four days while stuck at my gran's in the west of Norway, a book I only got about a third of the way through once I tried re-reading it a few years back. To be fair, this was a time long before wifi and smart phones, the only thing to do when in the west of Norway was to read. What else was I going to do, hang out with my douchy cousins, or worse yet, my little brother?) When the Cannonball Book Club poll for Classics ended up picking the LONGEST book of all of the ones nominated (I want to point out that I picked The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton - at a neat 350 pages), it wasn't like I had a choice but to read the book, and I certainly wasn't going to opt for some abridged version. That would be cheating. This is also why this book will now forever be known to me as the book that ate November.
I actually started it in mid-October, but it became really obvious that as long as I was allowing myself to read other books as well, I was just never going to get through the nearly thousand pages of 19th Century French adventure fiction. Hence the only books I finished in November except this, were the ones I listened to in audio. In the end, I completed the book on November 30th, the day before our book club discussion. The Norwegian translation I read was done in the 1950s, but was thankfully not too difficult to get into, once I got used to some of the more old-fashioned terms. The first third or so, until Dantés finally escapes prison and goes to the island to find the treasure, moves along at a fair clip and is quite exciting. The problem came when he returns after ten years, and Dumas spends a lot of time re-establishing all the characters (who obviously no longer go by the same names they did at the beginning of the book, that would be far too easy) and setting the stage for Dantés' truly masterful revenge scenario. Once the book really gets going on that, it's all pretty thrilling, right up until the end.
It's not for nothing that this is known as one of the great revenge stories of all time. It was also, obviously written in a time when books like this, sold in instalments, were the big network entertainments of their day. Over the course of eighteen months, people would only get sixty pages at a time. That's a long time to wait to see how Dantés deals out righteous vengeance on the guys who did him wrong and made themselves rich and successful thanks in part to his misfortune. I wish I could say that I read it, considering where the instalment breaks would have been and fully aware of how the entertainments of our day have changed (all points covered in our excellent book club discussion), but I totally didn't. I mainly just forced myself through it, in between correcting a LOT of essays and audio book listening, wanting to get through the early Paris sections, where I had to use Wikipedia to help me keep track of the names of all the various parties, their many family members and how exactly they were soap operaishly connected to one another through double dealing, scheming and adultery, so I could understand everything fully once the Count's plan really kicked into gear.
While I don't love it as much as I did when I was a teenager, it's still a great book and for a book written in the mid-19th Century, it has an interestingly varied portrayal of both male and female characters. I was especially excited to see that Dumas apparently thought nothing of having Eugénie Danglars, the daughter of one of the men who wronged Dantés, escape the whole sorry revenge plot by running off with her companion on what I'm assuming will be one heck of a lesbian bohemian adventure. Valentine Villefort, one of the other prominent ladies, is so good and kind and true she makes your teeth hurt, but a lot of the other ladies, not least Mercedes, Dantés' lost love, are very impressive in their own right, this is not just a book about dudes.
While I was initially despairing, as it felt like that my November was pretty much this and correction work, I'm very glad that the Book Club pick did end up being this book, so that I got a chance to finally re-read it. I'd kept telling myself I was going to, and then never getting round to it, because it's sooo long. I also have plans to watch the TV adaptation starring Richard Chamberlain (clearly the go-to actor for Dumas adaptations in the 1970s - as well as playing Dantés, he was Aramis in the Musketeers movies directed by Richard Lester and he also starred in the dual role in The Man with the Iron Mask), but as New Year's is rapidly approaching, I needed to get these reviews completed - no time to watch movies before I blog. I honestly don't know what the abridged versions of the novel leave out, it seemed to me that once you with hindsight can see what is being set up, even the parts of the novel that dragged while reading them were really quite important. I would therefore recommend that you allow yourself the time to read the full version if you try the book. It's worth the effort, I promise.
Judging a book by its cover: For years and years and years, I've been a member of what is called the Norwegian Book Club, which is more of a subscription service for books than an actual club where people get together to read the same book every month and discuss it. It should also be noted that because a) Norwegian hardback books are terribly expensive and b) I barely ever read Norwegian books, I automatically cancel the books of the month every single time. I get the e-mail, I go to the website, I cancel the books. Very occasionally, i use the accompanying website to buy presents for people. All of this is to explain that my two volume edition of Greven av Monte Christo (which is the Norwegian name for the book) is one that I got when I became a member many many years ago, and the cover is nothing very exciting. A silhouette of a man. The background on volume one is dark blue, the background on volume two is golden yellow. Apart from that, they are identical.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Monday, 26 December 2016
Audio book length: 7 hrs 22 mins
Rating: 4 stars
I wasn't initially going to get this book. While I've seen Mrs. Doubtfire and Matilda, possibly the two films that Mara Wilson is most famous for, I haven't really watched any of the others she was a child star in, nor do I follow her Twitter or writing career as an adult. It just didn't seem like this would be all that interesting to me. Nonetheless, this book got a lot of positive write-ups from people with good taste, including Patrick Rothfuss and Wil Wheaton (himself a child star once upon a time) and several of my Goodreads friends. I do like an entertaining audio book, so I changed my mind and used a credit on it. Now I'm glad I did.
As with a lot of celebrity autobiographies, Ms. Wilson reads the book herself, and she has a very wry and self-deprecating way of telling the stories about herself. As she reveals later in the book that one of the things she does for a living now is storytelling, it should come as no surprise that this is a well-told book. The book is an anthology of observations, many dealing with Ms. Wilson's childhood, not just as a child actress, but also dealing with her anxiety and OCD, the death of her mother and how and why she made the choice to give up acting when she became a teenager. There's an open letter to Matilda, the character she is most famous for, and there are stories about her college years and her writing as an adult. The chapter dealing with her mother's death and how it feels growing up without a mother, even though she seems to have a lovely stepmother; the one where she talks about determining the fairly severe levels of her OCD, not to mention the one where she talks about Robin Williams and learning about his death were probably the ones that affected me the most.
The reason this book doesn't quite get one of my highest rating is that it really is quite short. I was surprised at how quickly it was finished, and some of the stories are just not all that interesting and felt a bit like filler. This book was written before Ms. Wilson came out openly as bisexual, and as others have already pointed out in their reviews, I suspect some of the chapters would may have been written a bit differently if this was public knowledge. It's a good book, and Wilson is a witty story teller. While not on the same level as Craig Ferguson's or Amy Poehler's books, it was stil a good read.
Judging a book by its cover: It's a fairly simple cover, and shows Mara Wilson as she is probably most well-known and recognised. As a little girl, from her role as Matilda. I suspect most people don't know what Wilson looks like as an adult (I had to do a Google image search), so putting one of her most iconic images on the cover of a book that deals with her life as a child star, and has several chapters dealing with Matilda, it seems like good marketing strategy. I know she says in the book that she hates being called cute, but she really was.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Audio book length: 18hrs
Rating: 4 stars
Spoiler warning! There will be some spoilers for Six of Crows and Ruin and Rising, the final book in Bardugo's Grisha trilogy in this review. There will also be some spoilers about the ending of this book, which means it's best to avoid this whole review until you've read both these excellent books (and possibly the Grisha trilogy as well.)
Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn't think they'd survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they're right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and left crippled by the kidnapping of a valuable team-member, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz's cunning and test the team's fragile loyalites. A war will be waged on the city's dark and twisting streets - a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of magic in the Grisha world.
While they pulled off the impossible and managed to get out of the Fjerdan ice court alive, with the only possible source of the dangerous superdrug jurda parem in their custody, Kaz Brekker and his little band of outlaws didn't get to retire with their unbelievable wealth, celebrating their victory. The brilliant Kaz was in fact outsmarted and out-manoeuvred by the deceitful Councilman Van Eyck, and now his beloved Wraith has been abducted and the gang have less than a week to rescue her and orchestrate their revenge. If their previous mission was dangerous and hard to complete, this one is possibly going to be even harder. They have no money, no allies, there are a number of hostile parties trying to kill some or all of the group and time is running out.
The action of Crooked Kingdom takes the reader back to Ketterdam, where Kaz, Matthias, Nina, Jesper and Wylan have to work together against steep odds to outsmart Van Eyck and their other enemies, rescue Inej, make sure the only living source of jurda parem gets out of the city safely and finally get paid the money they were promised. As in Six of Crows, the action takes place over a short space of time and everything that could go wrong, seems to have turned against our heroes and heroines. These two books should ideally be read together, as they don't work seperately and the stories complement each other so well.
I bought this audiobook on Audible pretty much the second I'd finished Six of Crows, as I had to find out what happened immediately. The book is even longer than the first, and yet I listened to the whole thing in less than three days. In this book, Wylan also gets his own chapters, and his narrator on the audio didn't entirely work for me. It was especially the way he made Kaz sound (as in Wylan hearing Kaz talking). He made his sound far too nasal and high-pitched, like a strange parody version of Wallace Shawn doing Vizzini in The Princess Bride. It was distracting and took me out of the story a little bit.
I mostly really loved this book, and I especially loved the way it tied everything together with Bardugo's first trilogy with some very cool cameos. I must admit that I liked a certain privateer character a lot more in his appearance here than I did in the Grisha trilogy. He fit better, somehow. The one thing I didn't like was the choice Bardugo made close to the ending. I think the only reason she did it was to try to inject even more darkness and grittiness to the story, which really was not necessary if one considers how dark the books already go in depicting Kaz's past and how he lost his brother, Inej's separation from her family and forced prostitution, what Wylan discovers about his parents, Matthias' time in prison, how Nina had to survive in Ketterdam and so on. What she chooses to do in the final act of the story feels cheap and actually robs the story of something, and it made me absolutely furious.
Vague spoilers for Ruin and Rising and also this book. At the end of this book, a character is actually pretty much resurrected with magic, from the point of actual honest to god death, just so our heroine can have a happy ending of sorts. This storyline actually makes the huge sacrifice of said character mean a lot less and while it would have been a bit of a bummer ending for the book, it would have felt appropriate with what happens earlier in the plot. Instead we get a "everybody lives" situation, and the characters haven't actually sacrificed much of anything, they end up exactly where they'd be happiest.
I have a theory that Bardugo possibly regretted this ending somewhat, and therefore decided to prove that she could be ruthless and there could be personal loss and despite the character's saying of "No mourners, no funerals", she wanted them to have to say goodbye to one of their own. It's a very Joss Whedon-y move, offing one beloved cast member just so the others will be extra sad, and it annoyed me as much here as it tends to do in Whedon's work.
Bardugo's choice, which I think seriously takes away from my enjoyment of the book, makes me deduct one star from the total rating. Nonetheless, this is the end of an excellent duology and the promise that Bardugo showed in her first three books has developed even further into a great pair of books. As well as continuing the plotting and scheming with a new and different heist, all the romantic promise in the first book comes to fruition in this book, with three amazing couples, all of whom I loved to read about and spend time with. These characters are all, in their way, so damaged and broken, they have such pain in their pasts and need each other so very much. For characters so young, they have lived through so much pain. By the end, there is a promise of a better life for them, and I really hope that if Bardugo continues to write books from her Grishaverse, we meet some of them again in future instalments.
Judging a book by its cover: Another cover combining towering buildings and a dark and ominous crow. I don't really have another way of saying that I love these covers, so I'll just leave it at that.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Audio book length: 15hrs 25 mins
Rating: 4.5 stars
Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price - and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can't pull it off alone...
A convict with a thirst for revenge
A sharpshooter who can't walk away from a wager
A runaway with a privileged past
A spy known as the Wraith
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes
Kaz's crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction - if they don't kill each other first.
Kaz Brekker, teenage criminal mastermind, is offered an unbelievable sum of money to retrieve a scientist from the impenetrable and fiercely guarded Fjerdan Ice Court. The mission is pretty much an impossible task and almost certainly a suicide mission. He gathers a crew of other teenage outcasts, but just pulling the crew together and getting out of Ketterdam involves a prison break, multiple disguises, near-death experiences and explosions.
Even as though it got better with each book, I was not as impressed with Leigh Bardugo's Grisha trilogy as some seem to have been. I never really invested all that much in the characters, the attempts at romance fell flat for me, but I did very much like the world building and magic systems established. In Six of Crows Bardugo takes everything that worked in her first trilogy and expands on it, showing us not only alternate fantasy versions of Russia, but of a sort of 19th Century Netherlands, as well as showing us the Fjerdans, who are pretty much really magic-hating Scandinavians. In addition to exciting new locations, she creates a thrilling and extremely intricate plot and populates it with an amazing cast of characters. This book has six protagonists, and five different main narrators (Kaz, Inej, Nina, Jesper and Matthias), plus some additional points of view in the prologue and epilogue. In the audio book, the narrators are all very distinct, which helps you follow the labyrinthine plot.
A good heist plot is a wonderful thing and this book has been compared with Oceans 11 by a lot of people. The first third of the book establishes the mission and has Kaz assembling his band of criminally minded misfits, then it moves at break-neck speed onto the heist itself, where the stakes are high, every member of the group has their own agenda and there are a number of rival factions who may beat them to their prize.
I got this audiobook last year, in a Daily Deal, but made myself wait to listen to it until after I'd finished the Grisha trilogy. There are minor references to Bardugo's first series, but nothing that is essential and all the Grisha magic is still nicely explained, so you can easily follow the story even if you haven't read the trilogy. Even if it's a long book, I got through it relatively quickly and listened to it every chance I got. I can highly recommend the audio and if you like good, action-packed, adventure fantasy, you should absolutely check this book out.
Judging a book by its cover: When I reviewed the final two books in the Grisha trilogy, I was very enthusiastic about the covers. I'm not sure exactly what sacrifices Ms. Bardugo has done to the gods of cover design, but they have heard her loud and clear. The beautiful silhouette of a city, while also showing a flying crow's wing and a sky full of stars, it's so beautiful and I want to own these books, not just as audio or in e-format, but in physical paper copies so I can admire the covers fully.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Friday, 23 December 2016
Rating: 2.5 stars
I read this TWO months ago, and need to get through this ever-increasing review backlog, hence resorting to the blurb once more:
During the rule of her murderous Dark Fae uncle, Thistle "Tricks" Periwinkle found sanctary among the Wyr in New York. Her ethereal beauty and sparkling personality won the hearts of the public, but after her uncle's death, there are those who don't want to see her ascend to the throne.
Able to wield thunder and lightning, Wyr sentinel Thiago Black Eagle has ruled the skies for centuries. His massive build and thunderous power makes him one of the Wyr's best weapons. And he's sent to protect Tricks when she's almost assassinated in Chicago.
Soon, both Tiago and Tricks will fall prey to the stormy hunger that engulfs them - a passion that will shake the very foundation of all the worlds.
Last year, I read and really enjoyed Dragon Bound, the first of Thea Harrison's Elder Races paranormal romance series. This book, which features some of the supporting characters of the first book, Tricks, the petite and outgoing fae PR representative for Dragos, the super-Alpha dragon shifter whose the hero in book one, and Thiago, one of his main security guys, who happens to be a Thunderbird shifter and immensely powerful and so on and so forth. In Dragon Bound, there is a conflict with the ruler of the Dark Fae that ends in his death. Once he's killed, it is revealed that Tricks is in fact his long lost niece, the only surviving member of the original royal family, who were murdered when her evil uncle usurped the throne. She's been hiding with Dragos and the other Wyr shapeshifters in New York under her assumed identity. Now a delegation of Dark Fae are asking her to return and take up her rightful place as queen.
Others are less enthusiastic, and video where Tricks cuts down her would-be attackers in an alley in Chicago goes viral, while Tricks is nowhere to be found. Dragos sends his best tracker, Thiago, to locate and protect her. While the two seem not to have spent all that much time together in the past two centuries while they've been working for the same dragon, apparently taking up bodyguard duty, shielding her from new dangers and spending a lot more time in close confines for the reluctant Tricks makes Thiago realise that she is his fated mate. The various Elder Races have their own territories, and are not supposed to intermarry. The Dark Fae will not accept a queen mated to a Wyr, and Thiago becoming Tricks' consort could be seen as a dangerous power bid. Of course, all of these complications will be irrelevant if they don't figure out who is trying to assassinate Tricks before she can even make it to her home territory to take up her title.
This book was moderately entertaining while I read it, but I can now barely remember any of the details and mainly the bits that annoyed me, at that. Harrison makes no great attempt at actually establishing why Tricks and Thiago may suddenly be falling for one another, she basically just tells us that it's so. Fated mate storylines rarely work for me, because they just seem a bit lazy. Why bother showing us the characters getting to know one another and falling for each other when you can just make them meant to be? They have no control over their choices or actions, they are just destined to be compatible because...reasons? Also, this being a romance, the whole "oh noes, my people will never accept our union" seemed a bit contrived, as they are obviously going to stay together. Finally, it was painfully obvious to me who the person scheming to kill Tricks was from the moment said character was introduced. There was very little tension there.
Add to that the fact that it seems like for at least a quarter of the book, Harrison was mostly busy establishing the two characters who currently have an antagonistic relationship but are clearly fated to be together, neither of whom I was particularly excited about, and this book was a big disappointment compared to the first one. I'm hoping later books are better, but based on their introductions in this book, I may skip the next one too. I don't know if I care about the inscrutable vampire queen and the next of Dragos' many security officers.
Judging a book by its cover: Well, your eyes are certainly drawn to the abs, aren't they? Unlike the cover model for the last book, this one doesn't actually get a face, to leave more to the reader's imagination? I don't exactly think this cover is very exciting, but then the contents were pretty underwhelming too, so at least it's not trying to oversell the story? I've got nothing.
Crossposting on Cannonball Read.