Monday, 23 October 2017

#CBR9 Book 92: "A Kiss in Lavender" by Laura Florand

Page count: 321 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Lucien Rosier grew up in a very tight knit group of cousins, with a strong sense of family. So when at eighteen, he discovered that he was in fact illegitimate, and not actually a Rosier, he ran away and joined the French Foreign Legion, where he crafted himself a new identity and support network of fellow soldiers. Fifteen years later, a determined woman has managed to locate him and figure out who he once used to be. His great-aunt wants to give him a legacy and his cousin is getting married. Can Lucien return to his childhood home or is the past lost forever?

Elena Lyon always looked up to Lucien Rosier growing up. He once saved her from bullies, and growing up in a long line of foster homes, few of them very good, she saw her fair share of unsavoury and untrustworthy men. One of the exceptions is Antoine Vallier, who was in the foster care system with her. They did their best to protect one another. Now Antoine seems determined to protect her from Lucien - who he believes will break Elena's heart worse than any of her former foster experiences did.

All Elena ever wanted was a stable family to love her. She needs Lucien to see that no matter what his DNA might say, all the Rosiers, who he grew up among, are his true family and he'd be absolutely mad to give them up a second time. There was no rescue for Elena growing up, so she wants it for Lucien instead. Yet he seems determined not to give up his life in the Foreign Legion. Of course she can't help but fall even harder for Lucien than when she was a teen, but can she give up the home and stability she has painstakingly built for herself to be a soldier's wife?

Family is a central concept in this novel. Lucien, the hero, fled into the Foreign Legion and created a new kind of family for himself when he discovered that the man he believed to be his father was in fact not. His loss has been strongly felt among the remaining Rosiers in the south of France, and while they may not technically be his family by blood, he is clearly the only one who seems to have a problem accepting this. When he finally does return for a family wedding, his grandfather and cousins embrace him with open arms and do their best to try to figure out ways in which he can return to the fold once more.

Elena Lyon had a troubled childhood. Her grandmother was one of several Jewish children rescued from the Nazis by the patriarch of the Rosier family, along with his step-sister. She had a daughter, Elena's mother, but committed suicide, which in turn negatively impacted on Elena's mother's life. When Elena was young, she would end up in foster care when her mother was too strung out on drugs to take care of her. She would return intermittently to her mother, but never for very long. Some of the foster families were good, some were dreadful. Elena has suffered a lot of abuse, mostly emotional, but occasionally also physical. She loves her mother, but their relationship is strained. She sees Antoine Vallier as the closest thing she has to a brother, but it's not entirely clear if he views her with less than fraternal feelings. He's got some kind of complicated history with the Rosiers, and seems especially jealous of Lucien.

Her entire life, Elena has tried to be the most agreeable and lovable, so she would find a permanent home, only to find herself abandoned again and again. She tried to get a degree studying her Jewish ancestry, only to find it to emotionally wrenching. Now she works as a curator at one of the perfume museums in Grasse, when she's doesn't work on special assignments to locate missing heirs for the Rosier's great-aunt. Having already tracked down several young ladies (who each ended up with handsome Rosier cousins in earlier books), her last job involves tracking down Lucien and trying to lure him home.

There is an instant attraction between Lucien and Elena. In Elena's case, it's not all that surprising, since she had a crush on him as a teenager and idolised him after he rescued her from some bullies. While they have sizzling chemistry, their differing backgrounds make a relationship difficult. Even after Lucien begins to realise that the family he thought he lost was there all along, just waiting for him to return, he has a strong sense of honour and loyalty to his men in the Foreign Legion and can't really picture himself in any other life than that of a soldier. Elena has carefully constructed a cozy and comfortable life for herself in Grasse. She has a job she loves and quite a few friends, and has already spent a lifetime desperately trying to find love and security, trying her best to change to adapt to what she thought others wanted of her. Her future dreams and plans just don't seem compatible with those of Lucien, and one of them will have to change their hopes and expectations if they are to find happiness together.

This is the fourth in Florand's La Vie en Roses series, set in the flowering valleys of the south of France. Early in the book, Damien and Jess from A Wish Upon Jasmine get married, and there are also appearances by the other male cousins who have already found their happy endings. They are all ridiculously happy to have Lucien back in their midst, and frankly rather baffled that he felt the need to run away and disappear so completely for so long. While I suspect the book works fine as a stand alone, long time readers of Florand's books will probably enjoy it even more, as it builds on themes set up earlier in the series.

While Elena and Lucien's romance is obviously central, Antoine Vallier plays an important supporting role, and not really as the third in a love triangle. He has appeared in all the earlier books in his role as the eccentric Rosier great-aunt, Colette Delatour's attorney and it's clear that there is something complicated in his relationship to the Rosiers. In this book, that comes more to the fore front, and it's strongly implied that he is a long lost relation of some sort. If I am not mistaken, one of the future books in the series will be about him and will no doubt reveal his connection to the rest of the perfume producing family.

In August, about a month before this book was released, Laura Florand declared on her blog that she would be taking an extended break from writing and publishing, because since her career took off in 2012 with The Chocolate Thief, she's been publishing about two books a year without any breaks and she is understandably quite in need of some rest and relaxation. I know her brand of romantic escapism doesn't work for every romance reader, but I find her books (with very few exceptions) to be delightful and always look forward to her new releases. So it makes me sad that I have to wait for new books by her, yet it's not like I haven't waited for more than six years for some authors to produce new books (Patrick Rothfuss and George R.R. Martin, I'm looking at you). So I hope Ms. Florand enjoys her well-earned writing break and will just have to comfort myself by re-reading some of my favourites of her books until she's ready to give us more hunky French men and the women who love them.

Judging a book by its cover: There seems to be little to no cover continuity when it comes to the books in this series. Since Once Upon a Rose came out in early 2015, there have been at least three different styles of covers, none of which match up all that well. The previous book in the series, A Crown of Bitter Orange, was published in early January, and at least these two books seem to match each other (not that I'm wildly enthused about either cover). The couple kissing in the top half of the picture just seem so incredibly staged. At least here the lavender is actually appropriate to the plot (as opposed to on the last cover, where they really should have incorporated orange blossoms instead).

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

#Readathon - October 2017: Closing survey

I've probably read more in the last 24 hours than in all of October put together (that's how messed up my reading mojo is right now). Having not really had the time or even motivation to read, it was very good to be able to really take time away from everything else and just indulge.

Closing survey:
1) Which hour was most daunting for you?
Hour 13 (which is between 2 and 3am here), because I had to fight falling asleep while reading.

2) Tell us ALLLL the books you read.
Fortune Favors the Wicked - Theresa Romain
Passion Favors the Bold - Theresa Romain
It Had to Be You - Jill Shalvis
Giant Days, vol 1 - John Allison, Lissa Treiman and Whitney Cogar
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, vol 1: BFF - Amy Reeder, Brandon Montclare and Natascha Bustos
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, vol 1: Squirrel Power - Ryan North and Erica Henderson
A third of The Rebel Heir - Elizabeth Michels

3) Which books would you recommend to other Read-a-thoners?
Pretty much all of them, really, with the possible exception of The Rebel Heir, which was not really grabbing me (hence the switch to comic books). The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl was especially delightful.

4)What's a really rad thing we could do during the next Read-a-thon that would make you smile?
I really don't have any suggestions on how to improve an already excellently run event. I think all he hosts and mini-challenge givers are so creative and manage so well already. I'm sure it will keep being awesome, no matter what.

5) How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? Would you be interested in helping to organize and prep?
Well, by the April 2018 Read-a-thon I will have a baby to take care of, so I honestly don't know how much reading I'll get done. I'm going to try to participate, however (having once done it with mainly audio books due to a concussion) and even if I can't do much in the baby's first year, there will be other future Read-a-thons. Don't think I'll be much good at organizing it, though, sorry.

Pages read in the last hour: 99
Pages read total: 1628
Hours read total: 11 and a third (I love my Excel spreadsheet that works that out)
Books completed: 6 and a third - see list above
Snacks consumed: Feta-and- courgette burgers with aioli and sriracha for lunch, some paprika flavoured crisps, a lot of Coke, two snowball, home made pizza, quite a bit of water
Mini-challenges completed: Opening meme, Book and Beverage challenge#ReadmorewomenBookish Crossword puzzle10 years in 10 booksDecades of Reading challenge, Closing survey

#Readathon - October 2017: Hour 22 - Awake once more

Had a good night's sleep and am fit for fight again. The last romance I started wasn't really grabbing me, so I'm going to be reading graphic novels for the remainder of the Read-a-thon. I have a ton that's been on my TBR-list for far too long.

Pages read in the last hour: 240 (yay comic books!)
Pages read so far: 1424
Currently reading: Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, vol 1: BFF by Amy Reeder
Books completed: Fortune Favors the Wicked by Theresa Romain
Passion Favors the Bold by Theresa Romain
It Had to Be You by Jill Shalvis
Parts of The Rebel Heir by Elizabeth Michels
Giant Days, vol 1 by John Allison
Books completed: 4 and a bit
Snacks consumed: Feta-and- courgette burgers with aioli and siracha for lunch, some paprika flavoured crisps, four glasses of Coke, two snowball, home made pizza, quite a bit of water
Mini-challenges completed: Opening meme, Book and Beverage challenge#ReadmorewomenBookish Crossword puzzle10 years in 10 books, Decades of Reading challenge

#Readathon - October 2017: Hour 13 - time for bed

More than halfway done, and it's getting hard to keep my eyes open. Time to go to sleep for a few hours, so I can keep reading tomorrow morning.

Pages read in the last hour: 88
Pages read so far: 1184
Currently reading: The Rebel Heir by Elizabeth Michels
Books completed: Fortune Favors the Wicked by Theresa Romain
Passion Favors the Bold by Theresa Romain
It Had to Be You by Jill Shalvis
Books completed: 3
Snacks consumed: Feta-and- courgette burgers with aioli and siracha for lunch, some paprika flavoured crisps, four glasses of Coke, two snowball, home made pizza, quite a bit of water
Mini-challenges completed: Opening meme, Book and Beverage challenge#ReadmorewomenBookish Crossword puzzle, 10 years in 10 books

Saturday, 21 October 2017

#Readathon - October 2017: Ten years in ten books

Dewey's 24-hour Readathon is celebrating its tenth birthday, and they have a challenge to commemorate the event.

Recommend one book published for each year the Readathon has been around (2007-2017)

2007: The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss
2008: The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
2009: Fire - Kristin Cashore
2010: Magic Bleeds - Ilona Andrews
2011: The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern
2012: Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein
2013: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown - Holly Black
2014: The Girl with All the Gifts - M.R. Carey
2015: Carry On - Rainbow Rowell
2016: The Hating Game - Sally Thorne
2017: The Bear and the Nightingale - Katherine Arden

#Readathon - October 2017: Hour nine - a third of the way through

I'm a third of the way through, and have finished two books. I think I'm going to go for something more contemporary now, having finished two historical romances.

Pages read in the last hour: 105
Pages read so far: 708
Currently reading: It Had to Be You by Jill Shalvis
Books completed: Fortune Favors the Wicked by Theresa Romain
Passion Favors the Bold by Theresa Romain
Books completed: 2
Snacks consumed: Feta-and- courgette burgers with aioli and siracha for lunch, some paprika flavoured crisps, three glasses of Coke, a snowball, home made pizza
Mini-challenges completed: Opening meme, Book and Beverage challenge#Readmorewomen, Bookish Crossword puzzle

#Readathon - October 2017: Hour five - in which I make pizza

I enjoyed my first book enough that I decided to start the companion novel immediately afterwards. See, that's part of the joy of not having your entire reading list determined beforehand. Getting hungry, going to make pizza now. Hopefully won't take up too much of my time, as I did all of the prep work earlier today.

Pages read in the last hour: 83
Pages read so far: 456
Currently reading: Passion Favors the Bold by Theresa Romain
Books completed: Fortune Favors the Wicked by Theresa Romain
Books completed: One and a bit
Snacks consumed: Feta-and- courgette burgers with aioli and siracha for lunch, some paprika flavoured crisps, two glasses of Coke, a snowball
Mini-challenges completed: Opening meme, Book and Beverage challenge, #Readmorewomen

#Readathon - October 2017: Starting hour 3

It's been two hours of reading so far, and I'm enjoying my first book. Slight interruption when the husband called from London, he sounds like he's having a good time. Apart from that, I've been able to really immerse myself in reading.

Pages read in the last hour: 78
Pages read so far: 177
Books read: Currently reading Fortune Favors the Wicked by Theresa Romain
Books completed: Half a book so far
Snacks consumed: Feta-and- courgette burgers with aioli and siracha for lunch
Mini-challenges completed: Opening meme, Book and Beverage challenge

#Readathon - October 2017: Opening meme

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
As always - Oslo, Norway. I have cleared my schedule for the entirety of the 24 hours so I can really relax with my reading

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
This may be the first Read-a-thon where I haven't really given that much thought to what I am going to be reading. There are more than 600 unread books on my e-reader, I have a selection of audio books to choose from and a large stack of unread comics.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
I have all the ingredients ready prepped for home made pizza, that I will make later, when I need a break. I think of all the things I have lined up, I'm most looking forward to that.

4) Tell us a little about yourself?
I'm a secondary school teacher. My husband is currently away in England (less distractions). We have two cats and a baby on the way. In the last few months, I have not gotten to read as much as I wanted, and I'm really looking forward to getting some proper reading time today.

5) If you participated in the last Read-a-thon, what's one thing you'll do different today?
I've got a pretty good Read-a-thon routine down now. I try to read fairly quick and easy books, so I don't get bored. I have audio books for when I need to do stuff around the house (like make myself food) and when I start getting tired, comic books are a great way to get more reading done.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

#CBR9 Book 91: "Hate to Want You" by Alisha Rai

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Olivia "Livvy" Kane and Nicholas Chandler were teenage sweethearts, growing up as neighbours, heirs to the successful grocery chain their grandfather's worked together to found. Then a tragic car crash changed everything. Nicholas' mother and Olivia's father both died, and shortly after the funerals, Nicholas' father bought Olivia's mother's shares for far less than they were worth. Olivia's twin brother was arrested for suspected arson of the flagship store, and the Kane and Chandler families, who had been so very close  for three generations became bitter enemies. Nicholas broke Livvy's heart by breaking up with her, just as she was dealing with the utter chaos her life had turned into.

Not that Livvy has been able to forget Nicholas entirely. One night a year, on her birthday, they meet for one night of pure passion, never speaking of the gulf between them the rest of the time. Nicholas can't make himself tell Livvy that he clears his entire schedule and waits impatiently for her text message summoning him to each new encounter. Then, when Olivia turns thirty, there was no message. He waited in vain.

Now Olivia is back in town. Her mother is injured and Livvie is determined to do right by her, even if it means living entirely too close for comfort to Nicholas. He can't stay away from her, even as he knows his father will never accept them resuming their relationship. Can Nicholas atone for the hurt he caused Livvie in the past. Can the two work through their differences and rebel against their warring families' wishes to reconcile or are they both doomed to heart-break once more?

This contemporary romance take on Romeo and Juliet (with a decidedly better final outcome) has been very favourably reviewed on a number of romance sites I frequent online. It was a book club selection book at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books in August and is October's book club selection over on Heroes and Heartbreakers. Having never read anything by Alisha Rai before, I figured this might be a good starting point, and I was not disappointed.

Fair warning - while this book is very steamy (if the protagonists aren't having sex, or there are flashbacks to their previous encounters, they are probably thinking about having sex with the other person), there is also a serious amount of angst. This is a proper enemies to lovers story, where the couple were once so very in love, until their families' complicated intrigues caused them to be forced apart, leading to years of resentment and heartache. Apart from that one night of no-strings passion a year, there has been no contact between them until Olivia returns to her home town for the first time since shortly after her life imploded. For a number of reasons, it's not easy for her to be home, but she hides her pain behind a decidedly tough girl exterior. A talented tattoo artist, Livvie has been travelling the US and perfecting her skill in the past decade. She may seem like she's surrounded by an unbreakable shell, but if anyone can crack through her defences, it's Nicholas.

Nicholas is the chosen heir of a hugely successful business empire, feeling torn constantly between the loyalties to his grandfather and expectations of his domineering father. As both are the majority shareholders, who frequently disagree, Nicholas is caught in the middle, trying his best to keep the peace in the family. He's deeply protective of his younger sister and they both suffer through deeply uncomfortable family dinners weekly, hoping to avoid the worst of their father's angry outbursts. Nicholas doesn't know why his father approached Kane's widow and persuaded her to buy their half of the company for a pittance of what it was worth, neither does his grandfather. Nor do they entirely understand why Livvie's mother would give up her children's legacy without a fight. They are both trying to run the company in a way that honours both founders, even when this goes against the wishes of Nicholas' father.

As well as having a couple of protagonists with their fair share of complicated baggage and a family feud out of the most delicious soap opera, this book portrays depression very well. One of the secrets that Olivia was keeping from Nicholas, even before their youthful love was destroyed by the new rivalry was her occasional bouts of deep depression. After Nicholas broke up with her, she even considered suicide and the only one who knows the truth about this is her twin brother. It's clear that Olivia's mother is also a sufferer, and Livvie is convinced that her clearly incurable affliction is one of the things that makes it impossible for her to ever be with Nicholas, even if they do ever get over their families' objections towards the possible match.

I have mentioned Nicholas' sister and Olivia's twin, as well as their remaining parents. The family ties, although sometimes rather dysfunctional, are strong in this book. Olivia's older brother is dead, but his widow is Livie's best friend and she tries her best to be a presence in both her and her little nephew's life. She rarely has contact with her wayward twin, and her relationship with her mother appears to always have been strained, but Livvie is determined to forge a connection and make things work, now that she's back to help her mother recover from her injury.

Another thing that Ms. Rai does absolutely effortlessly is present a multi-cultural and interesting cast of characters. Olivia and her brother's are half Japanese, half Hawaiian. Her widowed sister-in-law is a Muslim. There are mentions of the grandfather being in internment camps during World War II. I am fully aware that I need to challenge myself to read more diversely and while romance, like most of the other literature I favour, has leaps and bounds to go, authors like Ms. Rai are taking the genre in the right direction.

This is the first book in a trilogy. The second book (out at the end of November - not long now!) seems to be about Jackson, Olivia's twin brother and their older brother's widow, which promises to be another rather dramatic pairing, while the third and final book is about Nicholas' little sister. Both of the books are on my TBR list and I am very much looking forward to both.

Judging a book by its cover: This is a very sexy book and it seems only suitable that it has a cover that really conveys the steaming hot passion between the protagonists. It's unusual to see a romance cover where the cover models seem to accurately reflects the description of the characters in the book, but Avon have done a marvellous job here, especially with the female cover model and her intricate tattoos (that I have to imagine are skillfully photo-shopped onto the lady's arm). Well done, cover department.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR9 Books 89-90: "The Brightest Fell" and "Of Things Unknown" by Seanan McGuire

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Spoiler warning! This is book 11 in the October Daye series, and because of this it is impossible for me to review this book without revealing spoilers for some of the earlier books. If you want to start at the beginning, the first book is Rosemary and Rue. If you're not entirely caught up, proceed at your own risk.

When the biggest of October "Toby" Daye's worries is whether she's going to be forced to sing karaoke during her bachelorette party, it's safe to say that things are so uncharacteristically calm and normal for her that danger must be right around the corner. Then her mother, Amandine the Liar, shows up on her doorstep imperiously demanding that Toby locate her missing half-sister, August, who has been missing without a trace for over a century. Toby refuses, at which point her mother seizes hostages to ensure Toby's cooperation, including Jazz, Toby's roommate and Tybalt, King of Cats and Toby's fiancee. Both individuals are shapeshifters and forced into their animal forms before the cruel Amandine cages them. Amandine claims she will keep her captives alive until Toby returns with August, but as her mother is not known for her kindness or mental stability and it's clear that Toby will need to act quickly, or risk losing the man she loves forever.

That August has been missing for over a hundred years certainly complicates Toby's mission, as does the fact that the only person who may have any ideas as to her whereabouts is August's own father, Simon Torquill, who is currently unconscious after being elf-shot. Simon is the elf who turned Toby into a fish for fourteen years, causing her to lose her human fiancee and daughter. He is also responsible for the abduction of his twin Sylvester (Toby's liege lord)'s wife and daughter and generally not a very popular individual in the faerie realms. Now Toby has to convince Duke Sylvester to allow her to wake Simon, to compel him to work with her to find August. Of course, she also has to overcome her fear and resentment of him for them to work together, as time is of the essence, and there is no telling how long Tybalt and Jazz will survive in Amandine's indifferent clutches.

Toby has managed the seemingly impossible several times before, but this time she really might be in over her head, and this time, it's not her life on the line if she fails.

I've been reading this series for a long time, and Toby has come a long way. Starting the series disorientated, confused and alone after a long involuntary enchantment, she has not only changed tremendously in a number of ways, but she's acquired a solid and very tight-knit found family. There's obviously Tybalt, King of Cats, who she's planning to marry at some point in the future. May, her Fetch (a former death omen) is now living with her, along with May's girlfriend Jazz. Bulking out the household is Toby's loyal squire Quentin, and more often than not, Tybalt's nephew and heir, Raj. While Toby's aunt, the extremely powerful sea witch, the Luideag, wants to seem ruthless and implacable, it's clear that she also holds incredible affection for Toby and would probably help her more if not bound by ancient promises and customs.

So having the antagonist of this book be Toby's actual family, her mother Amandine, is an interesting choice. The mysterious and powerful faerie has made brief appearances earlier in the series, quite often leaving Toby's life in more chaos than it was before, and Toby has gradually discovered more about herself and her mother, not always things she was happy about. For instance, it wasn't all that long ago that she learned that Simon Torquill, the man who turned her into a fish and left her helpless in the Japanese Tea Gardens in San Francisco for fourteen years, was in fact Amandine's husband and the father of Toby's half-sister August. In her previous appearances, it's been clear that Amandine and Toby don't exactly have a very loving or even close relationship, but when Amandine now comes barging into Toby's life, her absolute disregard for her youngest daughter's wishes and the lengths she will go to force her into doing her bidding is surprising.

Toby is left with no choice but to ask the closest thing she's ever had to a father figure to go against all his instincts. Sylvester has to help her wake his twin Simon from his enchanted sleep, letting the man who so utterly betrayed Sylvester and irreparably hurt his wife, daughter and Toby go free. Sylvester puts a geas, a magical binding, on his brother to prevent Simon from in any way causing harm (or allowing others to harm) Toby, but can't actually compel him to assist her. Toby, of course, has to fight against everything inside her that screams that trusting Simon is a huge mistake. If she doesn't find her half-sister as quickly as possible, both Tybalt and Jazz are likely to end up dead. While May is close to losing it, Toby has to hold it together and get the job done - no matter what the cost.

It'll come as no surprise that she sees new sides to Simon and learns to see his perspective on things during their quest together. I like that all of McGuire's characters are so multi-faceted and complex, there are none who are simply purely good or unforgivably bad. Simon had reasons for all his despicable actions, whether Toby likes them or not. Now that she's in danger of losing the man she loves, she has to ask herself what she would be willing to give up or do to ensure his safety, and it's not a comfortable line of thought.

I can't remember the last October Daye book that wasn't a thoroughly enjoyable and exciting read. This series is one of my absolute favourites in the paranormal/urban fantasy genre and I pre-order each book months before the release date. I'm already looking forward to the next one.

Of Things Unknown - novella: 3 stars

In this novella, included at the end of the book (probably to tempt fans into paying the increased price of the hardback), we get the POV of April O'Leary, who readers were first introduced to in book 2, A Local Habitation. She is something as unusual as a virtual dryad, transplanted by her IT genius adoptive mother inside a computer server after her original tree was destroyed. April's mother, January, lost her life to a serial killer in a series of rather bizarre and unusual murders (which Toby was called in to solve, and eventually did) and January's wife has done her best to raise the unusual young woman/entity since. Now April has been investigating and going through records and suspects she may in fact have discovered something rather remarkable, which would mean wonderful things not just for April and her step-mother, but several of the other individuals who lost loved ones to the serial killer. April just needs to call on Toby to help once more.

This was an ok little bonus story, and I suspect April's discovery might have repercussions later, but it didn't make all that much of an impact on me. I'm hooked enough on this series that I don't need added incentives to buy the books, but it was a nice gesture of Ms. McGuire to include it.

Judging a book by its cover: I normally really like the drawn covers for these books, but it appears they have a new cover model portraying Toby, who bears very little resemblance to the model on the last few books. While they've clearly changed the cover model's appearance in the past (just as Toby herself changes depending on whether her human or faerie background is more dominant in her genetic make-up), this woman looks like Natalie Portman wearing something resembling clown paint, which just seems wrong considering the contents of the book. The background is suitably atmospheric, but I the glossy-haired, overly made up "Toby" on this cover just doesn't work for me.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

#CBR9 Book 88: "Rebel of the Sands" by Alwyn Hamilton

Page count: 358 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Amani Al-Hiza is poor orphan, raised by uncaring relatives in a small desert town where most inhabitants work in the local mine. She knows that if she doesn't collect enough money to get out soon, she'll end up as third wife to her unpleasant uncle, a fate she would rather die than accept. One night, she disguises herself as a boy and enters a shooting competition at the local watering hole, trying to win enough money to finally leave. She's an excellent shot, and sure that she will win, until she meets the mysterious Jin and things escalate out of control.

A few days later, Jin and Amani are on the run, riding a mythical desert horse and fleeing the armed guards of the empire. Initially, Amani tries to go her own way, she wants nothing more than to get to the capital and reunite with her late mother's younger sister and hopefully stay hidden in the crowded city. Yet her path crosses with Jin faster than she thinks, and she finds herself wanted because of her association to him. They have no choice but to keep running. As they join a caravan to travel through the desert, Amani comes to discover that a lot of the mythical stories she grew up with have more than just a kernel of truth to them. She also grows closer to Jin as they travel, and finds that although she was quite happy to leave him when they first met, after facing dangers together, she will gladly risk her own life if it ensures his safety.

Can a book be classified as a Western if it's set in a distinctly Middle Eastern environment? Does that make it an Eastern instead? There are absolutely Western-like elements during the first half of the book. Amani grows up in a dusty little mining town, and is a crack shot with her revolver. The scenery described is pretty much straight out of a Clint Eastwood movie. But the myths and legends, as well as the geography is decidedly Middle Eastern, like something out of Arabian Nights.

This is a debut novel, and while there are a lot of interesting ideas, there is also a lot that will be familiar to YA readers here. Our heroine is an orphan, growing up with obvious hopes and dreams different from everyone around her. She clearly has unusual abilities and as she goes on her journey, she discovers how special she really is. The country is divided into factions, with the oppressive sultan being challenged by a rebel prince. There's a love interest with a mysterious background, who seems to be connected to the rebels somehow. Nevertheless, the elements were used well, and I found I didn't mind the formulaic aspects too much.

The plot takes quite a few twists and turns, and the story ended up in a very different place from what I was expecting. I've seen some reviews say that they found the book boring, predictable and that Amani and Jin had no chemistry. I disagree with all of them. Anyone expecting a passionate romance should probably look elsewhere. There is a slow-burning attraction here, but the main focus of the story is clearly Amani's both physical and emotional journey away from her origins. She changes and develops a lot as she travels, and learns that many things are different from what she was always raised to believe. She starts out as an outcast and loner, but finds friendship and allies in unexpected places, new causes to believe in and the possibility for a very different future for herself opening up.

I have seen several people compare this book to Walk on Earth a Stranger, probably because both have a female protagonist, Western elements and involve a journey of some sort. But apart from that, I really think it's quite unfair to compare them, and this book certainly features a lot more adventure and unexpected supernatural elements. The first was pretty much a straight up historical novel, this is a fantasy novel, with distinct mythological influences. While I thought the first half of the book was a bit slow-going, the second half picked up enough and went in a surprising enough direction that I am very eager to see where the story goes next. I hope Ms. Hamilton can deliver on the set-up she established in this book.

Judging a book by its cover: I really like the cover design for this book, with the dark desert landscape and the silhouetted rider moving across it at night, with an Arabic city in the background. The yellow and blue waves framing the image, the font chosen and the image invoking adventure and the Middle Eastern setting. Sadly, it looks as if the publishers have chosen a much more generic (and less good) cover design for the second book, which makes me sad.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Autumn reading challenge: Readers Imbibing Peril XIII (#RIPXII)

Every September through October for the last few years, I've been participating in a fun reading challenge that pretty much lets me get credit for reading a whole load of books I would probably be reading anyway.

The R.I.P challenge (Readers Imbibing Peril) is now in it's 12th year, now with new hosts, over on Estrella's Revenge. Genres included in the challenge are

  • Mystery
  • Suspense
  • Thriller
  • Dark fantasy
  • Gothic
  • Horror
  • Supernatural
There are several challenge levels, but since the most advanced one only requires you to read four books, I'm going to do what I always do, which is sign up for Peril the First (4 books), Peril the Second (2 books) and Peril the Third (1 book), making my grand total at least 7 books. I will easily cover that goal in the increasingly darkening autumn months and I like sharing my reviews with new people. So far, I've read three books in September that qualify for the challenge and have another few lined up.

Friday, 22 September 2017

#CBR9 Books 84-87: "The Neapolitan Novels" by Elena Ferrante

Total page count: 1700 pages
Rating: 4 stars

I'm going to begin by including a brief summary of each of the individual books in the series, before reviewing all books as a whole, as I don't think it's possible for me to talk about my reading experience and impression of these books individually.

My Brilliant Friend

We are introduced to the two protagonists of the series, in our narrator Elena Greco (also sometimes called Lenuccia or Lenu) and her best friend Raffaela (called Lena by most people, but Lila by Elena). As with the great Russian novels, I'm honestly not sure why the nicknames are so different from people's normal names. There's a huge cast of characters in each book, many with a whole host of different monikers. Thankfully there is a handy list at the start of each book so you can keep track.

Anyways, Elena and Lila are young girls growing up in a rough part of post-World War II Naples, a place of poverty and squalor, large families, not to mention organised crime and violence. Elena is the more quiet and nervous of the two, with Lila in some ways her complete opposite, confident and fierce. They start school together and while Elena loves books and learning and strives to apply herself so she'll be allowed to continue in school, Lila is the fiercely brilliant one, having taught herself to read before any of the other children and constantly impressing the strict teacher, even as she clearly makes no efforts to become well-liked. The girls' friendship is defined by their academic rivalry, and while Lila is initially clearly 'the brilliant friend' of the title, things change when her parents won't let her continue her education to secondary school because they need her help at home, while Elena is allowed to continue, as long as she excels.

Nevertheless, while she feels lucky and triumphant at this, Elena can't help but constantly comparing herself to Lila and now does what she can to pass on her knowledge to her friend, even as their paths seem to diverge more and more, changing their friendship as their spheres become ever more different. As they grow older and hit puberty, Elena once more feels overshadowed by Lila, who while a late bloomer becomes one of the neighbourhood beauties, while Elena feels gawky and unattractive. While she keeps struggling to stay in school, Lila is being courted by the most popular young men in the area and looks to be maturing away from Elena for good.

The Story of a New Name

Lila has gotten married to one of the richest young men in the neighbourhood and as a result changed the fortunes of her entire family, but Elena is deeply worried about her, and with good reason it seems. Married life is not at all what Lila expected and while she's able to live a life of leisure and glamour, she is clearly not very happy either. She uses the admiration of the powerful (and possibly Mob connected) Solara brothers to further her family's ambitions, even though neither her father nor her brother seems to have much in the way of actual drive or business acumen.

Elena, meanwhile, continues her education and starts considering a career as a writer, and pines in her infatuation of the older, intellectual Nino Sarratore. At times, she has barely any contact with Lila, but even as they stay competitive and occasionally jealous of each other, they share a bond that refuses to be broken, and whenever Lila really needs her, Elena can't help but return to aid her.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

This book is set in the 1970s and both our protagonists are now grown women. Lila has left her abusive husband and taken her son with her, living in a very rough area and working herself to the bone in a sausage factory. She's living platonically with one of her childhood friends, Enzo, who tries to support them as best he can as a labourer, while taking evening classes on computer science on the side. Elena, meanwhile, has finished college and published a novel to fair acclaim. She meets and marries a promising young university professor from an esteemed family, moving away from her family in Naples to settle in Florence, growing more separated from her volatile best friend. Even living in very different circumstances, in different parts of the country, their lives still connect and their bond remains, if fraught and threatened at times.

The Story of the Lost Child

The final book in the series sees Elena and Lila into middle age, with great changes having taken place in their lives. Having divorced her husband and left Florence,  Elena moves back to Naples to be with her lover, Nino Sarratore, despite his reluctance to actually leave his wife and commit fully to her. Lila, on the other hand, having taken night classes with her partner Enzo has surpassed even his skill with computers and programming and is now a wealthy and successful employer and entrepreneur in their old neighbourhood, now supporting not only her family, but her ex-husband Stefano, whose family fortunes are lost and seemingly having even the dangerous Solara brothers under her control.

Lila and Elena rekindle their sometimes very antagonistic, competitive and conflicted friendship as they experience pregnancy together and eventually, live as neighbours in the same building. When tragedy strikes for Lila, and her little daughter disappears, Lila and Elena's fortunes yet again seem to reverse, taking their relationship in new and unexpected directions.

My discussion of these books will contain some spoilers, because there was a major through line in the books that drove me absolutely mad, and I won't be able to give my honest opinion without discussing it. I will try to mark the relevant section carefully though, so it can be avoided by those who dislike such things.

These books have been translated into a number of languages and are lauded and praised by critics world-wide. While these books have a huge cast of characters and span decades, at the heart it chronicles the intimate lives of two women and I think it's

Judging the books by their covers: I don't really have a lot more to say than that I really like the covers for these books and their slightly nostalgic feel.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Monday, 11 September 2017

#CBR9 Book 83: "The Sun is Also a Star" by Nicola Yoon

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Natasha is desperately trying to keep her family from being deported, after her father, an illegal immigrant got a DUI and attracted the police's attention. She's been in the USA since she was six and barely remembers her life back in Jamaica anymore. She's doing well in school and loves science and technology. She certainly doesn't believe in love at first sight, or fated mates or fairytale endings. Even after she meets Daniel on a crowded New York street and he insists that they are meant to be.

Daniel's parents are immigrants from South Korea and he's never stepped a foot out of line, being the well-behaved younger son. Now he's on his way to an admissions interview to get into a college he doesn't really want to go to. He'd much rather live out his dream, writing poetry, but then his parents are likely to disown him. He sees Natasha in a crowd and is instantly struck by her. He insists he can make her fall in love with him over the course of a day, but that means they need to spend the whole day together.

I finished this book at the end of August, before my social media feeds and all the newspapers became full of the disastrous news that the Trump administration plans to terminate the DACA program. I read the book because it fit into my Monthly Keyword Challenge, but it turns out that I possibly couldn't have chosen a better time to read and review this book. Reading about the desperate plight of a daughter of illegal immigrants, who never had a choice about coming to the US, trying her very best to avoid being deported was affecting enough before I knew that hundreds of thousands of young people were facing the same terrifying fate.

Earlier this year, I read Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon and liked it, but this book deals with much more serious concerns. There is a bit of a fairytale quality to Natasha and Daniel's coincidental meeting and adventures on the New York streets - can two people actually fall in love over the course of a day and do they stand a chance when their families are clearly going to be against their relationship, even if Natasha actually does succeed and her family gets to stay in the country?

Yet part of what Yoon explores in this book is coincidences and the strange ways in which lives are connected in this great big universe. How lives touch each other in big or small way, and how one momentary decision or action can have wider repercussions for so many other people. As well as including chapters from Natasha and Daniel's points of view, we get the story of how Daniel's parents came to America, how Nathasha's father's life turned out completely different from what he expected. There are chapters giving us insight into the life of the security guard who Natasha has met multiple times when trying to get her case changed, and a number of other people, whose lives are in some way affected by either of the teenagers or people around them.

While this book absolutely qualifies as a romance, it covers a number of themes, one of the more serious of which is obviously immigration, both legal and illegal. Daniel's family don't need to worry about sudden arrest and deportation, but as the son of two ambitious immigrants, it's difficult for Daniel to forge his own path, without disappointing his parents, who worked so hard to give him the best possible life. There are Natasha's mother, who has to work two jobs to support her family, and Natasha's father, who dreams of being an actor and has had to realise that his dreams are unlikely to ever come true.

While I had little interest to see the movie adaptation of Everything, Everything, a quick internet search confirms that this book is also being adapted, and this is a story I think would work really well on the screen. Based on the two novels of hers I've now read, I am absolutely going to keep an eye on anything else Ms. Yoon publishes. She's an excellent YA author.

Judging a book by its cover: The cover image is actually made up of tons of different coloured yarn and made by designer Dominique Falla. As one of the underlying themes of the book is exactly how people connect and change impact on each other's lives in big or small ways throughout life, the web with so many different coloured strands is really cool and rather unusual. The colours chosen are all really vibrant and draw the eye in a good way as well.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR9 Book 82: "Dirty Dancing at Devil's Leap" by Julie Anne Long

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Avalon Harwood and Maximillian "Mac" Coltrane spent pretty much every summer together growing up, when the wealthy Coltrane family visited their giant mansion. First they were the best of friends, which developed into something more, until at seventeen, Mac broke Avalon's heart when she heard him talking dismissively about her to his father. They never saw each other again, until now.

In the intervening years, Avalon has developed a highly successful app and runs her own tech company out of San Francisco. Mac's father was arrested for fraud and embezzling and his family lost all their money. No one really knows what happened to Mac or his brother. After coming home unexpectedly and finding her boyfriend of several years sleeping with their intern, in their bed, Avalon goes home to her parents in Hellcat Canyon. While angry and grieving for her lost relationship, she discovers that the big Victorian mansion the Coltranes used to own is up for auction and she impulsively decides to buy it, only to find the price being pushed up constantly by some stuffy lawyer. Turns out the lawyer was working for Mac, who has been working as a caretaker at the house and was hoping to buy back the family house, only to be outbid by Avalon, the girl that got away.

Avalon has decided to refurbish the house and sell it to a San Francisco friend looking for a new location for corporate retreats. She hadn't quite expected that the house was going to cost her so much. She's also dismayed to discover that part of the land she remembers so fondly playing on growing up, including the hot springs and the bathing area over by Devil's Leap, are NOT included in the purchasing price. They belong to her neighbour, in fact, none other than the house's caretaker, Mac. He still wants to buy the house from Avalon and decides to do everything in his power to sabotage her sale to what he considers corporate hacks. Avalon refuses to be bested, and they begin a battle of wits and elaborate pranks, while fighting their mutual attraction.

One of my major gripes in previous reviews of Long's contemporaries is her complete failure to address safe sex, which is not really necessary in Regency historicals, but really should be a feature of all contemporary romance. It does not need to take up a lot of page real estate, but responsible couples, especially individuals who haven't seen each other for the best end of two decades, should probably have a brief conversation about being STD free, whether the woman is on the pill, or they should just use condoms as a default. In this book, there is at least one love scene where condoms seem to make an appearance, which is better than in previous books, but there are still several where apparently the couple just don't care about things like pregnancy or STDs. It really does make me annoyed.

While I'm a huge fan of many of Julie Anne Long's historical novels, her contemporaries have been a bit hit and miss and while I by no means disliked them, they've not exactly stayed in my memory and I certainly have never felt a need to re-read them, which I frequently do with my favourite romances. While a lot of romance bloggers have been raving about the previous two books in the Hellcat Canyon series, this is the first one I felt I could whole-heartedly give four stars to. It doesn't hurt that while Avalon and Mac were childhood sweethearts of a sort, the comment Avalon overheard made her hate him, and returning to fight for the house now makes them rivals. I'm a sucker for a good enemies to lovers story, especially if it involves the various parties trying to one-up one another with creative and not too harmful pranks. See also The Hating Game by Sally Thorne and Dating You/Hating You by Christina Lauren.

While Long is not back on my pre-order list (which she was for her historicals), she's now closer to "would possibly buy for full price" than she was based on her previous contemporaries. I thought this one was fun, and there were a lot of quirky elements, like a girl scout troop full of adorable young ladies, some goats, a fluffy dog and other things that amused me while reading. I wouldn't necessarily recommend you rush out and read the previous two books in the series, unless you get them from the library, but this one is worth your time.

Judging a book by its cover: I really don't particularly like the exaggerated poses of the couples on these Julie Anne Long contemporaries, and once again, I just think it's a bit much. The landscape in the picture is different from that described in the book, and I really just don't think people do embraces like that unless forced to. The whimsically tilted letter in the title font just makes my eye twitch. Please Avon cover designers, go for something a bit more sedate next time.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

#CBR9 Book 81: "My Kind of Wonderful" by Jill Shalvis

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Bailey Moore was given the all clear from the cancer which dominated every aspect of her life since she was sixteen, and now has a sort of reverse bucket list. While she was sick, she didn't really imagine much of a future for herself, but now there are just so many things she'd like to do. One of her first items is skiing in the Rocky Mountains, so she goes to the Cedar Ridge skiing resort, but mis-reads the map and ends up having to be rescued by ski patrol leader and co-owner of the resort, Hudson Kincaid. While she may need more lessons before she can properly enjoy elegantly sliding down the slopes, she's more than capable of handling the next item on her list - making a mural.

Hudson Kincaid is pretty much all about taking care of his ailing mother, his siblings and the financially challenged Kincaid family skiing resort. He's still feels like he drove his twin brother off after they had a big fight on their eighteenth birthday. His mother is fighting dementia, and will be crystal clear and lucid one moment, but most of the time still imagine him and his brother Jacob as young boys or teenagers. In one of her more lucid moments, she placed a call to Bailey and commissioned her to paint a big family mural for the Cedar Ridge resort. Hudson thinks it's a terrible idea, and tries to convince Bailey to go home, but is voted down by the rest of his siblings, who all think the mural could be great for business.

Bailey likes that Hudson doesn't treat her as fragile or breakable, even though it's quite obvious from her peach fuzz hair that she's recovering from long term illness. Because of her big list of adventures, she's not really looking to stay too long in one place, and Hudson has far too many commitments already to settle down with anyone. Having a passionate, yet short-term fling while Bailey works on the mural isn't going to hurt either of them, right?

Last summer, I read the first of the Cedar Ridge novels and enjoyed the family dynamics between the various Kincaid siblings who showed up as supporting characters. The eldest brother was already happily settled and in Second Chance Summer, second eldest brother Aidan reunited with his teenage sweetheart. While Hudson is the hero of this novel, and his brother Jacob doesn't really appear, he's mentioned so often and is constantly thought about by Hudson or their mother so frequently that it doesn't surprise me that he's the hero of the next book in the series.

This book was a quick read, and perfectly pleasant, but the so many of the major complications could have been solved by the protagonists sitting down and having a serious conversation or two about their expectations and thoughts. There's not really any doubt that Bailey is going to be accepted by the Kincaids, they all seem completely infatuated with her and are ready to welcome her with open arms, Hudson just takes a really frustratingly long time to realise that he's an idiot for not wanting a relationship.

This was a perfectly serviceable romance, given an extra half a star because I really like the setting and the supporting characters so much. I will probably be checking out further books in the series as well at some point, there are at least two Kincaid siblings yet to pair off.

Judging a book by its cover: Yeah, this is not a great cover. Random skier who looks nothing like the description of the hero looking off in the middle distance photo-shopped over what looks more like a drawing of a mountain top and a cabin than another stock photo. The guy is certainly fit, which is appropriate, as Hudson, the hero, spends his whole life doing physical things, but if this book hadn't been on sale and I hadn't enjoyed the first book, this cover would make me think twice about reading the book.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR9 Book 80: "Beauty Like the Night" by Joanna Bourne

Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Sèverine de Cabriallac was orphaned during the French Revolution and adopted by one of the foremost British intelligence agents, William Doyle. Her whole childhood was spent being raised, taught or entertained by various spies. During a youthful rebellion, Sèvie ran off to Spain and joined British Military Intelligence. She was in love with a French soldier, who died. No longer really interested in the spying game so many of her family are involved in, she works as a private investigator instead. One memorable night, a mysterious stranger appears in the bedroom of the inn she is visiting, brandishing a knife. He asks about a missing young girl and a stolen amulet, and seems to think Sèverine may know the whereabouts of both.

Despite the dire warnings of both her adoptive father and her brother-in-law, Adrian Hawkhurst, currently head of British Intelligence, Sèvie is intrigued enough to take the case offered by the enigmatic Raoul Deverney. He wants to find out who murdered his wife, stole the amulet that is a Deverney heirloom, and finally where his wife's (not his) daughter is. He claims that he and Sèverine have met before, many years ago in Spain, but Sèvie has no recollection of this. Raul is not entirely sure the legendary young woman isn't involved in the death of his estranged wife, but he figures she is his best way of tracking down the murderers and achieving justice.

As well as trying to track down murderers and a missing adolescent, Sèverine is helping her family foil a rumoured assassination attempt on the Duke of Wellington. Initially, it seems the cases couldn't possibly be connected, but as Sèvie's investigation continues and the pieces keep falling into place, the same individuals may be responsible for both.

This is one of the more low-key of Joanna Bourne's Spymaster books. While quite a lot of the previous novels take place during or in the immediate aftermath of the Napoleonic war, this one is set in the Regency era, after the various battles have taken place. Some of the book flashes back to Sèverine's spying career in war-torn Spain, where we find out how her and Raoul's paths first crossed. As is always the case in a Bourne novel, the protagonists are very well matched. Both have dark pasts filled with things they're not necessarily proud of. Both are extremely intelligent, observant and capable people, who find it hard to easily give their trust to someone else, because they've learned the hard way how easily such trust can be betrayed.

Sèverine was an excellent spy, having been raised in the craft as a child. She's also a diligent and efficient investigator, doing her best to help her clients in any way she can. She will occasionally help her family in matters of national security, because she cares about them, and while she doesn't want to actively spy, she enjoys the occasional mission. Raoul is also very good at what he does, which is rather more than being the wine merchant he openly claims to be. His marriage was one forced upon him and he never loved the woman, but feels he needs to bring her killers to justice both as a matter of family honour and to reclaim the family amulet. He is adamant that her young daughter is no real concern of his, but as he discovers just how badly the girl was neglected and mistreated and how much of the funds he sent to his wife for her upkeep were squandered, he begins to feel profoundly guilty about his own carelessness and ignorance of her situation.

The couple try to fight their mutual attraction for a long time, knowing it would be a very inconvenient thing for them to get romantically involved. Neither of them are looking to ever settle down with someone, yet they are so obviously made for one another. While there is a fair amount of unresolved sexual tension, there really isn't a lot in the way of love scenes, so anyone wanting more of that might have to look elsewhere. I don't know if Bourne is planning any more books in her Spymasters series, but if this is the final one, it's a very good conclusion to a very enjoyable set of novels. This book works as a stand-alone, but will probably be more emotionally satisfying if you've read some of the previous ones and know the supporting characters and their backstories better.

Judging a book by its cover: Now this is a beautiful cover. I love the use of colours, with the blue background and the red leaves in the corners. The cover model looks a lot like Sèverine is described, up to and including the red evening gown she wears in a very significant scene. I wish more historical romances had covers like this.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR9 Book 79: "The Duchess Deal" by Tessa Dare

Page count: 389 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

Miss Emma Gladstone was a respectable clergyman's daughter until a foolish indiscretion made her father condemn her and forced her to walk all the way to London during the winter. She lost a toe. Now she's making a living as a seamstress, but will be fired if she doesn't get paid for the extravagant and somewhat excessive gown she created for Annabelle Worthing, until recently betrothed to the Duke of Ashbury. To make sure she's taken notice of, she dons the over the top gown and visits the reclusive Duke in person to demand her money.

George Pembrooke, the Duke of Ashbury, known as Ash to the few friends he has left, was badly scarred in the Napoleonic wars. One side of his face and much of his upper body is ravaged by burn scars and the results of the army surgeons trying to save his life. With his engagement to Miss Worthing dissolved, he still needs to find a suitable wife to give him an heir. He takes his duties seriously and refuses to surrender his people and properties to his dissolute cousin. He's taken by surprise by the forthright Miss Gladstone and impulsively proposes marriage to her. She believes he is jesting with her and obviously refuses, but once he's settled on the idea, he decides that only she will do.

Once Emma realises that the Duke of Ashbury is entirely serious, she accepts, because she would be a fool not to. Becoming a duchess isn't a chance any woman should pass up, even if the duke is a self-loathing, brooding and rather imperious sort of man. While the scars are obviously impossible to ignore, Emma nevertheless finds Ash very attractive and suspects that she may find making an heir with him rather enjoyable. Ash has certain terms for the marriage. 1) They will be husband and wife at night only. 2) No lights or kissing. 3) No questions about his scars and 4) Once Emma is pregnant with is heir, Ash will send her to an estate in the country and she will never have to share his bed again. Miss Palmer, one of Emma's high-born customers at the modiste is pregnant, and terrified to tell her father. As Emma knows all too well how devastating parental disapproval can be, she promises to help, and if she gets pregnant quickly, she'll be able to invite Miss Palmer to come stay with her in the countryside until the babies are born, with no one being the wiser.

Of course, Emma refuses to live in an entirely emotionless marriage. She insists that she and Ash have dinner together every night and she refuses to take him too seriously. She brings a feral tomcat with her when she arrives, and Breeches, as she names the beast, proceeds to terrorise the household. Refusing to call her husband by his given name, George (it was also her father's name), Ash or the formal Duke, she proceeds to try every endearment and pet name under the sun, in order to tease him. She tries to keep herself from falling too deeply for her husband, not wanting to get hurt, but the meddlesome servants of the Duke's household do whatever they can to constantly throw the Duke and the Duchess together, desperate for them to fall in love, so Ashbury will lighten up a bit and stop making their lives more difficult with his brooding and self-pity.

Elyse over on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books described this book as "a fairytale Regency that blends Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella and Batman". She's not wrong! This book has all of those elements. The Cinderella element is obviously the seamstress becoming a duchess. Tessa Dare has a previous romance with a huge gap in social status between the couple, when she has a barmaid marrying a duke in Any Duchess Will Do. That book is also excellent and one of my favourites of her back catalogue. Without wanting to spoil too much, the Batman subplot comes into the story because cranky and brooding Ash tends to wander the London streets at night rather than allow himself to sleep next to his wife, and will frequently beat up muggers and other ne'er-do-wells who try to attack him or others to channel some of his aggression. There's even a lovably young lad who insists on becoming his loyal sidekick.

This is the first book in a new series for Dare, entitled Girl Meets Duke. As well as befriending and doing her best to help Miss Palmer, Emma also makes the acquaintance of four eccentric young ladies on the other side of the square, many of whom I suspect will be heroines in future adventures. Before this book came out, I was in really a rather serious reading slump. I had only finished ONE single book in all of August, as well as re-reading one. With The Duchess Deal, I could barely put the book down. I read until far too late into the night, making me seriously sleep-deprived at work the next day, and spent every available minute I had to spare reading more. I finished the book in less than twelve hours and was so thoroughly delighted and entertained by it.

Tessa Dare tends to have a lot of rather frivolous and unlikely plot elements in her historical romances, and I can understand that for some readers, some of the seeming anachronisms and silliness can get a bit much. I thought this was her best book in years and absolutely loved it. The 'Beast of Mayfair' storyline went on for a bit longer than I would have liked, and Ash really did take way too long to realise how lucky he was to have Emma, but I also loved that he only swore in Shakespearean quotes and the bit where his long-suffering butler, Khan, finally has enough and loses his temper was worth the price of admission alone. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants a quick, fun and diverting read. Even Mrs. Julien, who has previously occasionally found Tessa Dare's books to be too silly for her, liked this one a lot. I'm already looking forward to the next in the series.

Judging a book by its cover: I really can't remember which side of Ash is horribly scarred, but based on this cover image, it really can't be his left side, or there have been some serious omissions from the cover designer. I don't hate the cover, but I'm not sure I personally would have chosen what looks like a soft-focus stock photo from a slightly raunchy wedding shoot as the cover for a Regency romance. The dress the woman is wearing is far too modern for the time period, you can't just put the male model in a poofy shirt and expect that to be enough to signal "period clothing".

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR9 Book 78: "My One and Only" by Kristan Higgins

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3 stars

While others may describe divorce attorney Harper James as somewhat bitter, cynical and decidedly unromantic, she herself claims that she is realistic and practical and her job allows her to help her clients, usually in miserable relationships have the best possible lives after their divorces. Her mother packed up and left Harper and her father on Harper's thirteenth birthday, and Harper's own marriage didn't even last six months, but she doesn't really feel that those things in any way influenced the woman she is today.

Successful and good at her job, Harper has been dating a guy for several years now, and as she's about to turn thirty-four, the same age her mother was when Harper last saw her, she feels that now would be a good time for them to take their relationship to the next level. Sure, Dennis still lives with his parents, tends to call her 'dude', has a very annoying rat tail that he refuses to get rid of, but he's tall, extremely handsome and works as a firefighter, saving lives! Harper has even bought her own engagement ring and seems very surprised when Dennis appears reluctant to agree to her fine list of bullet points on why they should get married. Her rather awkward proposal attempt is interrupted by a phone call from her younger step-sister, joyfully announcing that she's getting married. In two weeks' time. As her sister's been married twice before already, Harper thinks this may be extremely foolish and impulsive, but nevertheless agrees to be the maid of honour.

Complications arise once they get to the Montana wilderness retreat where the marriage is taking place. It turns out the best man is Harper's ex-husband, Nick Lowery, because her little sister is marrying his younger brother, after they've barely had a chance to get to know one another. Harper obviously brings along her hunky boyfriend, but it's quite clear from the moment they meet again, that there is still tons of chemistry between Nick and Harper. While Nick may think Harper never really loved him and was determined to see the marriage fail from the moment they tied the knot, Harper did actually have her heart thoroughly broken and still feels that Nick was caring and attentive until he actually made her his wife, and then turned into a neglectful workaholic.

When it's time for everyone to leave, Harper's flight is cancelled due to technical difficulties, and she ends up accepting an offer from Nick to drive with him part of the way home, until they can get her on a plane back to Martha's Vineyard. During this several day road trip, they get lots of time to talk things through, and slowly start to find some common ground again.

There is a lot going on in this book, and Harper has a whole lot of emotional baggage to process before she is in any way ready for any romantic relationship, with Dennis (who, while cute, is obviously all wrong for her) or Nick. Nick really does seem like a good guy, but it's obvious that he's laying way too much of the blame on their brief and failed marriage at Harper's door. They were both very young when they got married, Harper pretty much let herself be talked into it, but her slew of complicated abandonment issues combined with his need for success meant the marriage never stood a chance. On this road trip, it's not just about Harper and Nick possibly working through their differences from last time, Harper also gets a chance to confront the parent who left her all those years ago.

This book is standard length for a romance, but it felt longer, because so much happened in it. Due to her constant fear of abandonment, Harper has a real problem disappointing other people. While she's an efficient and fairly ruthless divorce attorney, in her personal life, she will go out of her way not to say no to people, even when it can cause major problems. In the final section of the book, there is an implausible and very frustrating complication which could have been avoided with one simple no, but instead Harper goes on to hurt more people she cares about. I will say that she turns around and grovels rather spectacularly, after a heck of a grand gesture, but it this book was all a bit too much and I doubt I will ever re-read it.

As well as the all over plot, I was constantly annoyed throughout the book by Harper's "swearing". She says or thinks "crotch" instead of more traditional swear words, and on occasion will exclaim "holy testicle Tuesday". I get that some people get annoyed and offended by swearing, but I would much rather have had that than Harper's silly exclamations.

I have heard good things about Kristan Higgins' contemporaries, and while I didn't love this, I certainly didn't hate it either. I suspect, given my tendency to buy books pretty indiscriminately in e-book sales if they cost $3 or less, that I not only own several more books by her, but that I will end up getting more at some point in the future.

Judging a book by its cover: Open-top sportscar. Check. Couple sitting close together. Check. Tiny, cute dog. Check. All these elements are in the book and it's quite obvious that this is a romance novel. I don't exactly think it's a very exciting cover, but it does what it needs to and none of the major element on the cover seem out of place or inappropriate.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Monday, 4 September 2017

#CBR9 Book 77: "Strange the Dreamer" by Laini Taylor

Page count: 532 pages
Rating: 5 stars

From Goodreads:
The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around - and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he's been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever. 

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god?And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries - including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo's dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed?And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

I am reluctant to give more information about this book than the blurb already reveals, because as several other reviewers have pointed out before me, this book is a wonderfully immersive reading experience and the less you know about the details of the plot, the more lovely surprises there are for you along the way.

Anyone who's read anything by Laini Taylor before (and if you haven't, go check out Daughter of Smoke and Bone immediately. Don't worry, this review will wait) will know that she has a very rich prose, and is excellent at world building. She describes settings, experiences and characters so vividly and her books tend to completely engross me. This is absolutely the case here. She's also very good about writing complex individuals, there is very little black and white in her characterisation. Everyone is flawed in some way. Rarely is someone entirely good or wholly evil, but they are always interesting to read about.

The reader is taken into the story through the eyes of Lazlo Strange, an orphan who becomes a librarian and spends all his free time finding information about a mythical lost city. He vividly remembers the city having a different name at one point, but one memorable day in his childhood, it was as if it was stolen out of his mind, being replaced by the word 'Weep'. By the time he grows up, he almost doubts that there ever was a different name to it, but he still dreams. Lazlo is clever and humble, and a very good person. He will selflessly help others, even when it might lead to others exploiting his hard work and presenting it as their own. He is finally rewarded for his hard work when an exotic delegation comes to the library where he works.

There are so many other fascinating characters in this story as well, and so many different settings to explore over the course of the book. There are mysteries to be solved, and dreams that may or may not come true, and hints of romance, but also great loss and tragedy. It's also important to note that this book is NOT self-contained and ends on a heck of a cliff-hanger. There is as of yet no publication date for the sequel (I think this will happily only be a duology, so once you have the next book in your hot little hands, you'll get to read the end to the story), and if you hate unresolved endings and waiting for months or maybe years between books, maybe hold off until The Muse of Nightmares is released.

Judging a book by its cover: Both covers for this book are very pretty, but the edition I read had this, the UK cover, with the beautiful dark blue background and the stylised moth in the centre of the cover. I like that the faint patterns in the blue could be stars, or maybe tracings of a map, it's not entirely clear. Since the colour blue and moths are both very significant in the book, this cover seems wholly appropriate and the deep blue just soothes my soul.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR9 Book 76:" Wildfire" by Ilona Andrews

Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 5 stars

Spoiler warning! This is the third book in a series, and the review will contain spoilers for the previous two books. If you haven't read any of the books yet, start with Burn for Me. If you aren't caught up with the series, maybe come back for this review later.

Instead of being able to spend Christmas with her new boyfriend, Connor Rogan, one of the most powerful and magically gifted men in the United States, Nevada Baylor has to rush back to her family once they discover that her paternal grandmother, Victoria Tremaine, is coming for the family. Once back home, Nevada discovers added complications to her fledgling romance, when she finds Rynda Sherwood, nee Charles, Rogan's ex-fiancee, in her kitchen. Rynda's husband is missing and she's pretty much being shunned by all the powerful people in Houston after Nevada, Rogan and their allies killed Rynda's mother at the end of the previous book.

While several of the Baylor clan think it's a dreadful idea for Nevada to help Rynda, as she may lose Rogan in the process, Nevada feels obligated to help the distressed and desperate woman. She wisely points out that if Rogan is going to go back to Rynda, they're never going to have much of a future together, are they? She also needs to convince her mother, sisters and cousins that the best way to defend themselves against Victoria Tremaine is by forming a House of their own. This means coming out in the open with their powers, and being tested and proving their strength. If they register as a House, they will be protected for the next three years and evil grandma won't be able to kidnap them and use their powers for her own gain.

The stakes and danger have escalated with each book in this trilogy and with every book, the sinister conspiracy to create chaos and destabilise the city is revealed to be more far-reaching and powerful. While Nevada hopes that Brian Sherwood's disappearance has nothing to do with the plots she and Rogan have been uncovering in the previous two books, it quickly becomes clear that he's been abducted by someone who wants something left behind by Rynda's now dead mother. Probably evidence that could hurt the conspiracy, making it all the more important for them to find it before the kidnappers hurt Brian.

While Nevada believes their only chance to stay safe from the ruthless and wealthy Victoria Tremaine is by becoming a magical House of their own, her mother Penelope is dead against the idea and pretty much wants Nevada, her sisters and their cousins to pack up and flee. It's made clear that there's really nowhere they could hide for long, and that Victoria wouldn't hesitate to use one of the family to coerce and control the others if she could. When registering for a House, all the various members of the Baylor family would have to be tested, however, and in the case of the youngest sister, Arabella, it could cause widespread panic and end with the girl being locked up by the government for life if the range and nature of her powers are revealed.

Rogan is willing to support Nevada every step of the way, even as he is worried he might lose her forever. Her magical abilities and his are not even vaguely compatible, and Primes of influential Houses tend to marry and have children based on how well powerful their offspring will be. As Nevada discovers, Rynda's husband was deeply disappointed because their youngest son seemed to be entirely without magical ability. Will Rogan care about such things, even if he claims he doesn't?

I wasn't entirely happy with Rynda Charles Sherwood becoming a major character and occasional relationship obstacle for Nevada and Rogan in this book. While it's quite clear that Rogan broke up with her for a reason, and really isn't interested in her apart from feeling protective towards her since he's known her when since they were children, the woman is manipulative and annoying, and does her best to try to throw herself at Rogan and play on his sympathies for much of the book. Nevada admirably doesn't really give into jealousy, and once it becomes clear that she's a Truthseeker Prime to be reckoned with, she has suitors of her own to fend off. She's much more interested in following her heart, rather than making a strategically advantageous alliance with another compatible House. It takes her a little while to convince Rogan of this, but things work out in the end.

One of the things that becomes clear in this book is what a disadvantage Nevada and her family are in because of Penelope's insistence on hiding the true extent of their powers, in order to keep them hidden from Victoria Tremaine for as long as possible. It's only been a few months since Nevada really got involved in the larger world of the magic users of Houston, and she's had to try to teach herself through books given to her by Rogan, while other Primes are trained pretty much from birth. She's strong and powerful, but almost entirely untrained, and now that the Baylors are facing direct attack from several fronts, she needs finesse and to be able to access the full range of her powers. Her mother made that extremely difficult, which is why Nevada chooses to be honest with her cousin Leon about his powers when they start discovering the extent of them, even though they might not like what he chooses to do with them once he knows.

While this is the third book in the originally planned trilogy, not all the threads are neatly tied off at the end of the book, and there are absolutely things that are left unresolved. The authors have said that if the book sells well enough that Avon commissions more books, they'll be happy to write them, and either way, they may self-publish at least one more book in the Hidden Legacy universe. While Rogan and Nevada absolutely have a "happy for now" ending, I would love to read more about them, about Catalina, Arabella, Bern and Leon, as well as Cornelius and his daughter and their strange menagerie of animals. Three books simply doesn't feel like enough, and I am always happy to get more Ilona Andrews books.

Judging a book by its cover: I love the fact that due to the huge amount of protests about the truly diabolically bad cover for White Hot, the publisher actually gave the cover model portraying Rogan (not sure if it's the same guy as one the last cover) a t-shirt, rather than showing off his abs. The cover model portraying Nevada is definitely not the same as on either of the two other covers in the series, but what can you do, eh? Because the last cover was so awful, this doesn't really seem bad in comparison. There are some tornadoes in the background, that's sort of significant. I don't care for the blue fire effect around the title in the slightest. Ilona Andrews deserves better than this cover.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.