Sunday, 25 June 2017
Rating: 3.5 stars
From Goodreads: Magic has broken free all over the Twelve Kingdoms. The population is beset by shapeshifters and portents, landscapes that migrate, uncanny allies who are not quite human...and enemies eager to take advantage of the chaos.
Dafne Maillouix is no adventurer - she's a librarian. But the High Queen trusts Dafne's ability with languages, her way of winnowing useful facts from a dusty scroll, and even more important, the subtlety and guile that three decades under the thumb of a tyrant taught her.
Dafne never thought to need those skills again. But she accepts her duty. Until her journey drops her into the arms of a barbarian king. He speaks no language that she knows but that of power, yet he recognizes his captive as a valuable pawn. Dafne must submit to a wedding of alliance, becoming a prisoner - a queen in a court she does not understand. If she is to save herself and her county, she will have to learn to read the heart of a wild stranger. And there are more secrets there than even Dafne could suspect...
This year, when selecting my choices to review for the RITA Reader Challenge, I made sure to choose books I actually own. I got this in one of many e-book sales, intrigued by the notion of a fantasy romance with a librarian heroine, not exactly something you see that often. It turns out that Dafne as well as being a devoted librarian and archivist is a scholar and a linguist, who delights in learning new languages. Her actual age is never mentioned, but it's clear that she's probably in her late thirties, possibly even early forties and has kept herself under the radar and voluntarily lived a sheltered life. She lost her entire family during the rule of the previous High King, a brutal and ruthless ruler, and feels the loss of siblings greatly. Now more or less acknowledged as an adopted sister to his daughter, the new High Queen (it's clear that she usurped her father in previous books), she is unaccustomed to with any kind of affection.
While this book is the first in a series called Uncharted Realms, it's part of a world already established by Jeffe Kennedy, referencing events and characters from The Twelve Kingdoms, so this book is both a stand-alone and part of a bigger whole. The beginning of the the book felt a bit like I was missing out on something and made me wish I'd read at least the book about High Queen Ursula of the now Thirteen Kingdoms, but once Dafne leaves the court and goes off on her journey, the book was a lot more engaging.
Again due to events that took place before this book started, the realm that these characters live in is now full of unexpected magic, which has affected not only the Thirteen Kingdoms ruled over by warrior Queen Ursula, but also the neighbouring Dasnaria, where her lover is from and a small island nation who are petitioning the crown for reparation from damages. Being the only one from her close circle that the High Queen can spare, she sends Dafne to be her ambassador. She's intelligent, speaks more languages than anyone in the palace and thanks to her extensive reading, knows a great deal about a lot of the strange things happening around the kingdoms. Ursula also sends one of her elite guards, a woman named Jepp, tasked with training Dafne in self defense and a shapeshifter from one of her sisters' courts who can be useful in information gathering. The three women, while very different, bond during their journey.
When they get to the island kingdom of Nahanua, things get complicated, however. The barbarian king mentioned in the blurb (think Pacific Islander warrior, I pictured Jason Momoa in my head the whole time), King Nakoa KauPo seems very taken with her from the first, and straight after their arrival on the islands makes her take off her shoes and stockings to walk barefoot on the volcanic rock the ground seems mostly made up from, then when her feet get to sore to walk, carries her up to the mouth of an active volcano, where there is some sort of mysterious ritual that brings a dragon out of the mountain, culminating in the burly native kissing our inexperienced virgin heroine. She's previously admitted to her female companions that while she's been kissed before, she's never really felt anything out of the ordinary and she's never felt anything close to desire enough to want to have sex. The island king, on the other hand, clearly affects her very differently and it's clear that the two are linked in some way after the kiss by the volcano.
Her feet are badly wounded by walking on the volcanic rock and she's tended lovingly by the women of the court, her chief attendant clearly the King's own sister. As the Nahanuans speak a language completely unfamiliar to her, so communication is extremely difficult, Dafne begins to realise that the ritual (which she was not in any way given a choice to take part in) led to her at least being the King's fiancee, or possibly even his wife. While he sleeps elsewhere while she recovers, she's quite clearly in King Nakoa's private rooms, and he keeps showering her with kindness and affection. As the stop at the Nahanuan islands was only supposed to be a brief one to try to negotiate an understanding between the High Queen and the islanders, before Dafne continued her diplomatic journey to Dasnaria, her bodyguards try to extract her, but find that the King has no intention of letting her go.
To avoid outright conflict between her companions and the King's forces, Dafne is forced to stay behind, sending her friends back to notify the High Queen of the new developments. She discovers that she was indeed married to the King in that strange ceremony and once she learns more of the language, that he believes them to be fated mates, having felt a link to her throughout her life. It's also clear that while Dafne initially tries her very best to fight her attraction to the imposing, yet seemingly very kind man who married her against her will, dissenting forces on the islands will challenge Nakoa's claim to the throne if the marriage is not consummated and the link to the dragon (which it seems their relationship can strengthen) further improved.
If you overlook the part where he pretty much abducts her from her people and marries her without her consent, Nakoa seems to be a pretty great guy. He's clearly a mostly popular ruler, even though he has one rival determined to steal his throne. He's deeply possessive and spends a lot of time carrying Dafne around (since her feet take quite some time to heal), but is always gentle and affectionate towards her. He tries to seduce her, but every time she needs him to step back and take things more slowly, he respects her boundaries. It's also clear that the marriage ritual to link him and Dafne was necessary to free the ancient dragon from it's volcanic mountain and secure the future prosperity of his nation, but it still left a bad taste in my mouth. Dafne also seems to accept that she's been forced into a marriage a bit too easily, probably because despite being described as intelligent and capable in the first half of the book, she becomes almost addled with lust for her new husband, and once they finally consummate the marriage, she certainly makes up for lost time with all the love making they engage in.
Even if she's very much in lust with Nakoa, Dafne is very reluctant to be referred to as his queen, and she feels torn in her loyalties to her High Queen. Even though it's quite clear that they share some sort of mystical bond, not just to one another, but to the dragon as well, Dafne is sure she will have to leave and return to her old home eventually. She therefore hesitates to commit fully to the relationship and this causes further tensions.
I liked the world-building of the book and will probably go back and read about Ursula and her two sisters in the previous three books by Kennedy. The next book in the series is about Jepp and the leader of the Dasnarian warriors that take Dafne to the islands, and that also seems intriguing to me. I really wish the central romance wasn't based on a forced marriage - while Nakoa is always very respectful and doesn't force Dafne into anything she's not ready sexually, he didn't give any indication of his intentions before carrying her up to the volcano, and it's revealed that he clearly conspired with the Dasnarians to get her to the islands in the first place. We are never really given an entirely satisfactory reason why an orphaned librarian and a warrior island king from quite a distance away from one another would be fated mates, either, but then I find the trope of the fated mate incredibly exasperating.
I loved that Dafne was a middle-aged virgin, a librarian and a scholar and that she uses her skills throughout the book to try to understand her new position and then to try to solve the riddle of the dragon and its supposed treasure. I liked that the hero, for all his heavy-handed, withholding information ways, was from a culture clearly based on those of the Pacific islands. I think we could have found out more about him, there is a lot more character development given to Jepp and the exotic shapeshifter Zynda, both supporting characters in the book, than to Nakoa (he's big, strong, handsome, possessive, has a lot of tattoos and is extremely good in bed, despite being a virgin like Dafne - having saved himself for her).
I didn't like that Dafne seemed to lose all her critical faculties because she was so overcome with lust. I didn't think the subplot with the challenger to the throne was dealt with all that satisfactorily. I think a bit too much of the start of the book should have been easier to get into for someone who had not read the previous books by this author. I'm still going to check out more of her work, though, and hope there's less of the fated mate and forced marriage stuff.
Judging a book a book by its cover: Dafne is described as quite plain and nearing middle age, so I think the cover model is both prettier and younger than she's supposed to be, but perhaps this scholar beauty with her hair flowing about her head as if by magic, with her billowing gown and the pages of the tome she carries fluttering in the wind, is supposed to be King Nakoa's image of her? While it doesn't entirely fit with the contents of the story, it's a striking enough cover that it made me take a closer look at the description when the book was on sale, and I ended up buying it, so I suppose the marketing department did a good job.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Rating: 5 stars
This is book 2 in a trilogy and if you've not read Burn for Me yet, that's where you really should begin. While you could begin the story with this one, you'll get a better introduction to the story, characters and world-building if you start with book 1.
It's been a few months since the events of the first book, and Nevada has been practising her abilities, learning more about what she can do and how she can control them. She insists makes Augustine Montgomery agree to let her question a suspected serial killer of little girls, in order to verify the location of his latest victim, and he agrees, against his better judgement. In return, Nevada agrees to see a friend of his, Cornelius Harrison, whose wife was recently murdered under mysterious and clearly magical circumstances. She knows that she and her family may not have the power or resources to help Mr. Harrison, but his grief is so palpable and she feels enough for him and his daughter to agree to take the case anyway.
They have not been investigating long when they discover that Mrs. Harrison's death was part of a bigger conspiracy, possibly connected to the events Nevada were involved in a few months ago. While she's tried her best to put Connor "Mad" Rogan out of her mind (not helped by the constant teasing and hinting from her family), they are soon reunited, as Connor is also investigating the event, having lost several of his people in the same incident. He persuades Mr. Harrison that it would be in their best interests to work together, and Nevada doesn't really have a choice but to respect her client's wishes.
The chemistry between Nevada and Connor is as strong as ever, and while to Nevada, it may have seemed as if he completely forgot about her after she rejected his over the top suggestion that she come away with him at the end of the last book, he's clearly just been biding his time, doing whatever he can to keep her and her family safe from any and all threats they might be facing. It becomes clear very quickly that a group of very powerful people are working together to create chaos and possibly destroy Houston and Nevada and Connor have once again made themselves their biggest enemies. Will they survive long enough to actually have a proper conversation about their attraction and the possible future of their relationship?
In Burn for Me we were introduced to Nevada Baylor and Connor Rogan and the alternate reality where there are any number of magic users all over globe and the more powerful, the higher the political power the families hold. Connor "Mad" Rogan was a bit too much of a careless and ruthless alpha male, so incredibly powerful that he was used to take what he wanted and act without long-term consequences. He has a lot of potential as a hero, but was clearly far too emotionally closed off and unstable to be a proper partner to the awesome Nevada, whose powers were clearly only hinted at in the first book. Here we get a lot more back-story into what made him the man he is (it's not exactly pretty) and Nevada gets a greater understanding of what she's going to have to face, if she decides that he is the right man for her.
It was obvious that Connor realised very quickly that Nevada was a Prime, even though she herself was unaware of the scope and extent of her abilities. Now she has started learning to use and control them, but she doesn't seem to realise how just how dangerous exposing her abilities to the world might be, and what long-term consequences it can have for her family or her potential relationship with Connor.
In this book, more of Nevada's awesome family get their time to shine. Her cousins, the computer genius Bern and his brother Leon, still so frustrated that he doesn't seem to have any special abilities in a family with so many gifted people (it turns out he isn't as much of a dud as he thinks, I suspect this will be a plot point in the third book); her wonderful and strong grandmother and mother, who both work so hard to help protect the family; and her younger sisters, Arabella and Catalina, who can both be infuriating teenage brats, but who won't hesitate for a second to help the family and do their fair share of protective detail if it's required. It becomes clear over the course of the book that the Baylors are a very gifted family, with Catalina and Arabella having Prime-level powers of their own. We see some of what Catalina is capable of towards the end of the story, but Arabella's powers are still mostly a mystery, but all the hints we have been given suggest shape-shifting of some kind, possibly into something large and formidable.
Cornelius Harrison, an animal mage, who made a minor appearance in the first book also becomes important here. Ilona Andrews excel at characterisation, even when it comes to teenage and child characters, and Harrison's four-year-old Mathilda is never just a plot moppet, although she is used very well to bring out the unexpectedly softer side to several other characters over the course of the story. Harrison's ability to control animals is used excellently several times, including one of my absolute favourite scene, involving cat-burgling ferrets wearing infra-red cameras and little harnesses full of useful tools.
Impatient readers also have to wait quite a long time before the central couple finally have a chance to consummate their relationship. There are a number of fairly scorching scenes in the build-up, but they always get interrupted by something inconvenient, like prying family members or near-death experiences.
While the stakes sometimes seem higher in this book than in the last, the resolution to their big problem seemed to almost go too smoothly. Having read the book twice over the course of a week, I find that even the somewhat weaker ending didn't ruin my enjoyment of the book overall, and at the moment, it's one of my very favourites of the many great paranormal fantasy books the Andrews have written so far. There seem to be two main threats facing the Baylors and Rogan in the next book, and I'm so intensely glad that I won't have to wait more than about a month to get my greedy hands on it.
Judging a book by its cover: I seriously don't even know where to begin with this cover. The really sad and awful truth is that THIS is what it looks like AFTER the marketing department actually edited it, managing to against all odds, make it worse than it was before. The original cover still had the implausibly muscular male model (who I'm going to assume is supposed to be Connor - note that it's a different dude from the cover of Burn for Me) and the Shakira-lookalike who I can only guess is supposed to be Nevada (again, completely different model than they used on the previous cover) in a very cheesy embrace, but there were not exaggerated and cartoonish-looking icicles all over the title font, nor was there the pastel nightmare that I think is supposed to show the ice cave our protagonists are trapped in at one point. The original cover was bad, this is so much worse.
To be fair, the actual scene in the ice cave would require a cover that is decidedly NSFW, hence both participant wearing at least some clothes here. It's still, without a doubt, the most eye-gougingly awful cover I think I've ever had the misfortune to see on a paranormal fantasy cover, and makes me very happy that I own the book in e-format, so I don't need to wrap my book in a bag when reading it on public transport.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Rating: 4 stars
Pretty much every night, Conor wakes up screaming from the same nightmare. So when the monster shows up in his garden, just after midnight, he's not as scared as you may have thought that he'd be. After all, he deals with some pretty unpleasant things on a daily basis. The bullies who pick on him in school. The fact that he seems to be falling out with his only friend. The teachers either ignoring him or being overly understanding and solicitous. His father, who seems to have forgotten about him and his mother after he moved to America and got a new family. His strict and demanding grandmother. The worry about his mother's deteriorating health and the worry about why the treatments are taking so long to work this time. It's going to take more than some monster to scare Conor.
The monster, which seems to be a walking version of the yew tree over by the church yard, that Conor can see from his window, and which his mother always comments on when gazing at the view. The monster claims it will tell him three stories, and once it's done, it wants something Conor is not ready or willing to give. It wants the truth.
Siobhan Dowd, who came up with the initial idea for this book, died from cancer before she had a chance to tell the story she wanted. Patrick Ness took her initial idea and developed it and turned it into something new, while still honouring Ms. Dowd's memory. This is a dark book, full of sadness, rage and grief. I don't think I'm really spoiling anything for anyone when I say that you probably shouldn't expect a happy ending to this tale, where a woman is slowly wasting away despite countless medical treatments, and her only son is desperately trying to deal with it the best way he knows how.
The stories that the big tree monster tells are allegories, possibly meant to help Conor deal with his anger and grief in some way. The monster claims to have lived a long life, helping many people when they needed it the most. None of its stories turn out entirely the way Conor expects, making him more angry and frustrated, because he wants predictability and solace from his stories, not difficult life lessons.
So many others have already confessed to crying when reading this book, and I was no different. Was it a good idea to read the final quarter of this book in a coffee shop, in full view of a lot of people? Possibly not. Did I do it anyway, and ugly-cry, to the likely embarrassment of many around me? You bet I did. I've heard very many good things about the recent movie adaptation, but I suspect I'm going to wait to see it until I'm in a more stable place emotionally, or it's likely to completely destroy me all over again.
Judging a book by its cover: My edition of this book is an illustrated paperback I was given for Christmas by my husband. The cover, and all the inside illustrations are done by Jim Kay in black and white and are wonderfully atmospheric and adds a lot to the tone and feel of the book. I really like the cover and the other illustrations and don't think the book would work as well without them.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Rating: 4 stars
Spoiler warning! This review is going to contain spoilers for earlier books in the series, and possibly some mild ones for the content of this book too. If you're not caught up, you probably want to skip this review for now. Come back when you've read the books, they're worth your time if you like action-packed fantasy.
The beginning of this book finds Fayre back at the Spring court, after Tamlin made a bargain with the the High King and had her bond with Rhysand broken. What only a select few know, is that Fayre is now High Lady of the Night Court and only pretending to have been spell-bound and traumatised for all her months away. She's back with Tamlin to gather as much information as possible about his alliance with the High King and the future invasion of Prythian and the human realm. Using all the cunning and guile she possesses, she slowly manages to undermine Tamlin's standing with his own men, in order to destabilise the forces of the Spring Court. She also ends up neutralising some rather unpleasant emissaries of the High King, before returning to her home at the Night Court to further plan for war.
Unless Fayre and Rhysand can rally more of the various Faerie courts to their side, they are badly outnumbered and in no position to save Prythian and the humans who are all facing destruction. The ruthless, uncaring and cruel facade that Rhysand has presented to the world for most of his adult life isn't exactly helpful in trying to curry favours and win allies. Even if the many different minor courts lay aside their differences and unite against the High King, they may be outclassed. To gain stronger supernatural allies, Fayre may need to risk her very sanity.
Fayre grows and changes so much over the course of these three books. She was always brave and tenacious, willing to risk herself for those she loves. In the first book, she learned that maybe not all fae are vicious, cruel and untrustworthy, she fell in love and had to go through hell, even sacrificing her own life to save the man she loved. In the second book, she learned that sometimes your first love doesn't last forever, and trauma and hardship can kill a relationship that isn't strong enough. She discovered supportive friendships and rebuilt herself into a stronger, more resilient person, learning to use her new and unexpected powers and growing comfortable with who she had become. She found a new, stronger love and a collection of people who were just as close to her as her human family had once been. In this third book, it's nice to see that no matter how far she's come, Fayre isn't always infallible and she makes a couple of judgement calls early on that come back to have serious repercussions later in the story. She's forced to admit that she was wrong and readjust her views accordingly.
In the second book, it is obvious that war is coming, but in this book, it's mostly all about how to fight it. As well as trying to help Rhysand and his inner circle gather allies, Fayre needs to tend to her sisters, who are deeply changed and traumatised by what happened to them at the end of the previous book.
After so much build-up, it felt a little bit convenient when the final battle was pretty much solved by a deus ex machina, with very little emotional or personal cost to anyone. While it wasn't that I desperately wanted anyone to die, it felt a little bit too convenient the way everything wrapped up. Apparently, while the main storyline of these three books is finished off in this book, there will be other books to follow, and since I'm very interested in seeing a lot of the supporting characters find their own HEAs, I suspect I will be reading them as well. As I mentioned in my last review, I'm enjoying these books so much more than the Throne of Glass books, and will happily revisit Prythian in future instalments.
Judging a book by its cover: I really like the shade of green they've chosen for the background of this book, but otherwise they've stuck to the central theme of having Fayre front and centre. Eagle-eyed readers may notice that her tattoo is on the other hand - which to those in the know is significant. Even wearing a fancy dress, this Fayre is not going to go about unarmed, hence the wicked-looking dagger.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Rating: 5 stars
Spoiler warning! This is book 2 in a series, and it's impossible for me to review this book without giving some spoilers for the book that came before. If you haven't read the first book, A Court of Thorns and Roses, you should maybe give this review a miss until you're caught up. There will also be some spoilers for this book, because it's impossible to talk about what happens in it without them.
Feyre is back at the Spring Court a vastly changed woman, after her trials at Amarantha's court Under the Mountain. While Tamlin and his court try to shield and shelter her from everything unpleasant, she's still plagued with horrible nightmares reminding her of what she had to do to survive, and getting used to her new fae body, with its added speed and strength is also difficult for her. It's very obvious that Tamlin and the others just want to forget what happened, and absolutely no one wants to talk about the horrors they experienced. Tamlin just ignores Fayre's obvious distress, hoping it will go away eventually. He wants her to think of pleasant things, like planning their wedding. He also wants to keep her safely locked away in his house, making sure nothing will ever hurt her again, even though just the thought of enclosed spaces makes Fayre frantic.
As her wedding day approaches, Fayre is filled with doubts about whether this is at all a good idea. How can someone as horrible and broken and tainted as her marry Tamlin and rule with him in the Spring Court? Her left hand and arm are still inked with the tattoo reminding her of her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the Night Court, but he's not come to collect on the promise that Fayre spend a week a month in his court. Until her wedding day, that is. Tamlin is furious, and Fayre isn't even ready to admit to herself even how relieved she is when Rhysand shows up to spirit her away.
Having seen his behaviour Under the Mountain, Fayre is not sure what to expect from Rhysand or his demands on her time. He doesn't seem to want anything but her company, and sometimes, not even that, leaving her alone for long stretches at at time when she visits. He insists that she rest and eat to build her strength up, seemingly worried about how thin she's grown and how exhausted she always seems. He understands about her nightmares, because he has them too, and has felt her distress through the bond they share due to their agreement. Every time she returns to the Spring Court, Tamlin carefully questions her to find out the secrets of the Night Court, and initially Fayre is quite happy to spy. As the months pass, and it becomes more and more obvious how differently the two men are treating her, Fayre begins to change her mind. When she went through the trials Under the Mountain to free Tamlin, she believed he was her true love. Could she have been wrong?
I really wasn't entirely sure what to expect from A Court of Mist and Fury, but I had heard some things that made me unhappy, especially because of all the hardship and pain Fayre went through in A Court of Thorns and Roses to both prove her love for and eventually rescue not only Tamlin, but all the faeries trapped by Amarantha's vicious rule Under the Mountain. That he now turn out to be an overly controlling jerk who completely disregarded Fayre's severe PTSD was not a direction I was happy for the author to take things.
What I had not expected was how much of the bigger picture Fayre was unaware of when going through her harrowing tests for the psycho faerie queen. It quickly becomes clear in this book that the way Fayre (and therefore the reader) saw Rhysand was a very carefully constructed mask, and that his true self had to be buried deep, so the evil queen who made him her lover didn't suspect that he was in fact helping Fayre all he could. He continues to help her in this book, understanding only too well the trauma she's gone through as he suffered similar things for fifty years, while Tamlin was only Under the Mountain for a few months. While Tamlin believes Fayre to be a fragile creature who should be honoured, protected and sheltered from all that is harsh and unpleasant in this world, keeping her locked away in his mansion so nothing will ever be able to hurt her, Rhysand believes she needs to train to feel strong and confident in herself and gradually face her fears so she can become sure enough of herself to beat her trauma.
I would not have expected the book to take the turn that it did, but found that I didn't actually mind it too much when it happened, as the first third, where the reader becomes all to familiar with Fayre's PTSD and anxiety is very hard to get through. Fayre keeps silently shouting for help, to proud to actually admit to Tamlin or anyone else at the Spring court that she's slowly falling apart. They all seem content to just ignore anything unpleasant, hoping it will go away by itself given enough time. So when Rhysand finally comes to spirit her away, after Fayre's been screaming in her mind for anyone to help her, it feels like such a relief. He clearly has no nefarious designs on her, just wants what's best for her.
While the first book introduced us to the Spring Court and the horrors of Under the Mountain, this book also shows us the Night Court, in all its fascinating variety, and later the Summer Court. Fayre realises that there is so much she didn't know about, living with Tamlin at the Spring Court. As well as conquering her fears and moving past her trauma, she needs to come to grips with the huge changes her body has gone through. Her body isn't just faster and stronger than it was when she was human, she appears to have strange gifts that no other faerie has, clearly a side effect of the ceremony that brought her back from death's door. Now she needs to learn to harness and control these powers, in order to help the fae and humans battle their next big foe, the Fae King himself. Amarantha was just one of his generals, her deviousness and evil is nothing compared to the King's.
I liked A Court of Thorns and Roses well enough, and found it an intriguing retelling of several fairy tales. I had very few expectations going into this book, and certainly didn't expect to love it as much as I did. This was such a page-turner and I was completely engrossed in the story from very early on. The characters, the world-building, the emerging romance, it all works for me. I debated whether giving it five stars was the right thing to do, but even weeks after finishing it, I'm thinking about it and I don't regret my choice. I only wish Sarah J. Maas' Throne of Glass books could be as well-written and engaging.
Judging a book by its cover: I actually really like the stylised drawings on these covers, with Fayre in a prominent position, her outfit giving some hints as to the contents of the story. Her left hand, covered in the intricate tattoo showing her debt to Rhysand, the hints of a city in the background and Feyre herself in a dress looking more like chainmail than anything else. Our protagonist is changing, and growing stronger.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Saturday, 24 June 2017
Rating: 3.5 stars
Madeleine has never left her house or been outside. She's got a rare auto-immune disorder and lives in a house hermetically sealed, with special filters making sure nothing gets in that could hurt her. The only people she sees regularly are her mother, whose a doctor, and her nurse, Carla. On very special occasions, when he's been decontaminated thoroughly, she's allowed to meet one of her favourite tutors, but Madeline's life is lived mostly vicariously through books and the internet, dreaming of the outside world.
Everything changes when Oliver, or "Olly" and his family move in next door. Olly is tall and handsome and wears all black. He and his younger sister try to give Madeline and her mother a bundt cake as a welcoming gift, but aren't allowed inside. Olly's inventive and does his best to get Madeline's attention. Soon they are exchanging messages, and he takes to calling her Maddy, because everyone should have a nickname.
The teens communicate through their windows and on messages, frequently late at night, as Maddy is pretty sure her mother isn't going to be enthusiastic about her new friendship. She confides in Carla, however, and eventually, the nurse agrees to let Olly in to visit.
Maddy has lived seventeen years in isolation. She knows that leaving the house could be disastrous, but she also wants to feel like she has actually lived. She concocts a wild plan and persuades Olly to go along with it, telling him she's been taking a new kind of drug that will protect her from all her allergies of the outside world. So Maddy and Olly go off together to Hawaii, where Maddy will walk on a beach, bathe in the ocean and really experience life. She's willing to risk her life to really live, if only for a few days.
The movie adaptation for this is in cinemas now, and I haven't made up my mind about going to see it or not. As a YA romance, I thought it was pretty sweet. Yes, Olly is probably the ideal first boyfriend and a bit too good to be true. He has some family troubles that give him just the right level of angsty and he's sweet, sensitive, funny and incredibly understanding. Any girl would fall for him, not just Maddy, who's lived an extremely sheltered life, reading books and dreaming of what other teenagers have.
A lot of romance is all about wish-fulfilment and I don't see why teenage girls shouldn't get some of that too. Yes, a lot of teenage boys are dumb, self-centred, immature and rude, but there are exceptions and it doesn't hurt to have books that tell young women what they should be aiming for in their first loves. Do I think Maddy and Olly will get married and live happily ever after? Probably not, they are just seventeen - but Olly certainly wouldn't be the sort of boyfriend you look back on with regret.
Maddy is a sweetheart. She refuses to let her illness or forced isolation get her down. She does her best with the hand life has dealt her, and only really starts to chafe when Olly and his family move in next door and she gets an idea of all the things she's really missing. While her actions are rash and incautious, I can't blame her for wanting to run away and have an adventure, even knowing it might have serious consequences for her health. As it turns out, it does, but not exactly in the ways you may have first suspected.
I probably should have foreseen the surprise twist during the last third of the book, but I actually didn't. I suspect a lot of other readers will see it coming, though, especially now that there are movie reviews out that may spoil things as well. I do wish this development had been dealt with in a better way, and it didn't really have a proper resolution. The love story between Maddy and Olly took centre stage and the final act reveal sort of got a bit lost in getting the separated lovers back together again.
By all accounts, the movie adaptation is supposed to be pretty good. I think I'd rather go see Wonder Woman again, but suspect that many of the young women I taught for the last three years (and possibly some of the boys) would enjoy it a lot.
Judging a book by its cover: While I thought the cover was a bit generic YA at first, I liked it better when I saw it had a connection to illustrations inside the book, all done by Nicola Yoon's husband, apparently. It's still not the most exciting of covers, but since it's part of a bigger whole, I'll allow it.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Rating: 4 stars
In the world of V.E. Schwab's Shades of Magic trilogy, in which this is the first book, there are parallel worlds. There used to be gateways between them, but now only the magical Antari (identified by having one normal and one fully black eyeball) are able to travel through to the various worlds, using their blood and magical ability. Young Kell, fostered with the royal family in Red London is one of these Antari. In each of the four worlds, there is a London, the geographical location of which overlaps. There is Grey London, which is the England of George III, where pretty much all the magic is completely gone and people live more mundane lives. There is Red London, where Kell is from, where magic flows freely. There is white London, where magic is greedily sought after or controlled with an iron hand by whomever currently rules there. And there used to be Black London, but something went badly wrong there, and it's now been completely sealed off to protect the other three worlds.
Kell travels back and forth between worlds as an ambassador. He also likes smuggling small items from one world to the other, selling them to those interested, not so much because he needs the money, but because he loves the thrill. This hobby of his eventually gets him into a lot of trouble, when someone asks him to take an item from White London to Red London, and it turns out he's being set up and suddenly rather a lot of people want to kill him. He flees to Grey London in the hopes of escaping his pursuers. This is where he meets Lila.
Delilah "Lila" Bard is a pickpocket who's been dressing up as a man and made quite a name for herself as a masked thief. She dreams of becoming the captain of her own pirate vessel and escaping her dreary life in London, when a mysterious stranger falls into her path, clearly near death. She steals from him, only to discover to her shock that he is able to materialise in her rooms, having used magic to track her. She ends up saving his life, but demands that he take her along to Red London so she can experience a proper adventure (also, she's pretty sure he's not going to survive his mission without her).
Although it should be impossible for anyone apart from the Antari to cross between worlds, the magical artifact Kell has found himself in possession of seems to help, and soon Kell and Lila are plotting to outsmart their pursuers, fighting to stay alive and racing against time to save all three worlds from magical destruction.
While this book is a bit slow in the beginning, I'd read enough positive reviews from people I trust to stick with it, and once the initial premise of the various Londons and the magical abilities of Kell and his fellow Antari were established, and things really started happening, I was pretty much hooked. It doesn't hurt that the chapters are short, so you keep being tempted to just read that little bit more.
Kell was a pretty cool character, and I would absolutely murder to have his magical coat, but Lila is the one who stole my heart from her very first appearance. She's just so ambitious and brave and morally ambiguous and adventurous. While she's a thief, she's unable to run away, leaving Kell to be killed. She knows that she may be attracting more danger by saving him, but feels she cannot walk away. Once she realises how serious a predicament he (and by association, she) has landed in, she forces him to take her along, fully realising that there's no way he'll manage to solve things on his own.
I found the glimpses of the various Londons rather fascinating, even if I wasn't overly fond of any of the villains. I wish that Rye's character had gotten a bit more page time, as even when he was in danger, it was difficult to care much, as the reader had not got a change to really relate to him. We were told that Kell cared for him, but this should have been shown.
This is a good start to a trilogy, and I'm certainly interested in reading more. I have my suspicions about Lila, there is clearly a lot more to her than initially meets the eye. I liked the hints of romance between her and Kell, but will be just as happy if they just stay friends in the books to come.
Judging a book by its cover: Black, white and red are always eye-catching colours to choose for a cover and I like the hints of Kell's magical multi-sided coat. The overlapping circles of various colours suggesting the various Londons and worlds that Kell can cross to - also a nice touch. It's a good fantasy cover, it makes you interested without being too much.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Friday, 26 May 2017
Audio book length: 11hrs 34mins
Rating: 4 stars
Sara Fielding and Derek Craven have a hell of a "meet-cute". While researching her future novel in one of the seedier corners of the East End, Sara comes across Craven being held down and attacked by two thugs. They've slashed his face open, and she intends only to fire a warning shot from her pistol (which sh obviously keeps in her reticule for defencive purposes), when she instead ends up killing one of the assailants. She discovers that the man whose life she saved is the legendary gambling club owner Derek Craven, and takes him back to his club to be patched up by his staff and a doctor. While Craven thinks Sara is a great fool to risk her life wandering about the East End unaccompanied, his staff are deeply grateful to her for saving their boss, and Worthy, Craven's factotum invites Sara to return whenever she pleases to visit the club for her research.
While Craven isn't happy about it, Worthy and the rest of the staff at Craven's worship Sara and let her roam wherever she pleases to do her research and even set aside space for her to work on her novel in the club. Derek wants nothing to do with the infuriating female, but can't stop watching her either. Sara, on the other hand, doesn't lie to herself and admits that she's attracted to the bitter (and now literally scarred) man. She tries to get him to kiss her (her overly proper suitor back home doesn't think such things are appropriate outside of marriage) and when he refuses, she conspires with Worthy and Derek's friend, the Countess of Raiford, to get dressed up as a proper temptress and attends one of Craven's one night wearing a mask. She manages to thoroughly enchant Craven then, and gets kisses and then some, but he is angry with her when he discovers her deception and forbids her to return to the club. Sara goes back home to Greenwood Corners and pretty much delivers an ultimatum to her suitor of four (!) long chaste years, Mr. Kingswood. If he doesn't propose very soon, their courtship is over.
Lily Raiford can tell that her old friend is falling for Ms. Fielding and fighting it all the while. She invites both of them to a house party at her husband's country estate in the hopes of furthering their romance. She had not counted on the nefarious spite of Joyce, Lady Ashby, Derek's former lover who is still furious that he broke things off with her (she's the one who ordered Derek attacked and mutilated in an alley). Joyce is determined that if she can't have Craven, no one else will either, and she's going to destroy anyone and anything he holds dear. Ironically, her evil plot is what actually compromises Sara to the point that Craven feels he has to marry her and Sara finally gets her man.
Craven's not one for romantic sentiments and declarations, though. While Sara has admitted to herself that she loves him, and it's clear to everyone around him that Derek is completely smitten with his new wife, he's led a hard life lacking in warmer sentiments and still holds himself back in the relationship. That is until Joyce Ashby strikes again, determined to get her revenge once and for all.
This is one of those romances that keeps popping up on "Best of" lists, even now, more than 20 years after it was written. I own the book in paperback and know that I read it back in 2008, also known as the year I rediscovered romance (and I haven't looked back since). Unlike those other books that I read back then, several of Julia Quinn's Bridgerton books, Loretta Chase's Carsington and Scoundrels books, as well as others, I seriously did not remember a single detail of this plot. Beyond remembering that I read it back then, this book felt like I was reading it for the very first time. I know this is a fan favourite of Kleypas', but the fact that I'd so utterly forgotten everything about it doesn't count in its favour to me.
I was also surprised to realise that of the two books in The Gamblers of Craven's series, I really preferred Then Came You, which while it had a completely bonkers plot, also had a couple whose romance affected me more. As a bonus, both Alex and Lily play quite prominent supporting roles in this book, so that was fun.
I can't really even put my finger on what it is that didn't really work for me and why I seem to have entirely excised it from my memory from the first time I read it. Sara and Derek are both memorable and interesting characters.
Sara has written two acclaimed novels, the second, Mathilda, being especially well-known. It's a recurring theme in the book that the people Sara meets believes that the prostitute she wrote about was in fact real, and many claim to know people who have met her, despite Sara's attempts to explain what a fictional character is. Sara was the late in life only child of a couple from the rural village of Greenwood Corners, where Sara's lived a fairly sheltered life until she started writing and travelled to London to interview street urchins, prostitutes and gamblers as research for her novels. As she explains to Craven as he is being patched up by the doctor, she has been courted by a young man, Mr. Perry Kingswood, for four years, and is pretty sure that his mother will relent and let him propose to her soon.
Derek Craven is a legend, not just in London, but in all of England. The son of a prostitute, he doesn't know his exact birth date or exactly how old he was. Abandoned in the gutter by his mother, he was raised by other prostitutes and made his way up through the London underworld with ambitions. Becoming the lover of wealthy noblewomen, he eventually acquired enough "patronage" that he got enough money to open his spectacular gambling club, where he has made enough money to rival the richest and most powerful men in England. He has more money than he knows what to do with, but doesn't let himself get overly attached to anyone. He had to become hard and ruthless to survive to adulthood and he certainly can't allow himself to fall for a mousy almost-spinster from the country.
While they are an interesting couple, Derek's complete reluctance to admit his affection for Sara grated on me. The biggest problem I had with this book, however, was the antagonist, Lady Ashby. While women can absolutely be as villainous as men and Kleypas could just as easily have cast Sara's village suitor, Perry Kingswood as some sort of obstacle to the couple. Instead she has this dangerously unstable noblewoman, who everyone apparently knows is completely ruthless (they certainly talk about her that way when she's mentioned) and who it's implied has done some pretty awful things in the past, but she's protected by her title and the wealth of her husband. She got more histrionic with each appearance, until her final act just went into implausibly mad. I get that it might have been necessary for Kleypas to separate Sara and Derek for a while, so Derek would finally admit his love for his wife, but it all became a bit much for me. Also, when SPOILER the heroine has to be rescued just seconds away from rape, it doesn't exactly set the most romantic mood.
I listened to this in audiobook, narrated by Rosalyn Landor (she does all of Kleypas' classic audios, as far as I can tell), who is very good. I'm still slightly puzzled as to how I could completely forget having read this back in 2008, but my meticulous reading records claim that I did. I can also see why it's become somewhat of a popular classic and especially why Derek Craven is a beloved romance hero, but I really felt a bit let down, probably because my expectations were so high in the first place.
Judging a book by its cover: My paperback copy of this has the classic Kleypas covers, where most of the book is in one colour, usually a delicate pastel (this book is in a creamy yellow). A band across the middle of the book shows some pastoral image, in this case some fancy country house, with a horse and carriage pulling away from it. I really don't think that's very representative of a book set mainly in London, in a gambling club. So the re-issues have this cover, with a lady in a fancy gown, skirts once again long enough to go on to eternity. I forget if Sara wears a red gown at any point in this, I know she wears a blue velvet one in a very memorable scene, but I can only assume the cover model is meant to be her. They should have given the model glasses.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Wednesday, 24 May 2017
Rating: 4.5 stars
Alice "Allie" McGuffey is the best radio producer WBBB in Tuttle, Ohio has ever had and it's pretty much the unspoken truth that she's the reason the radio station runs as well as it does. She loves her job and thrives on it, so when the radio station's current Drivetime star, Mark King, who up until two months ago was her lover, tells her that she's been moved to a different time slot, and from now on, he'll be using Lisa, her former intern as his producer, Allie is not happy. It's not like Bill Bonner, the radio station's owner would be fool enough to fire her (the place would go under), but she's been relegated to the 10pm-2am slot, previously occupied by a conspiracy nut who ended his career at the station two weeks earlier by shooting up the console. Angry and hurt, she walks into the local bar, determined to pick up someone, anyone who can make her forget about Mark.
Allie is not going to be broken. She has a plan. First she's going to find someone to sleep with, who will make her forget about Mark King once and for all. Then she's going to make her new DJ so famous that the station owner will beg her forgiveness and give her any choice producing gig she wants. Of course, the man she sits down next to and propositions is none other than Charlie Tenniel, the station's new DJ. Except, unbeknownst to anyone but Bill Bonner and his wife, Charlie has no radio experience whatsoever. He's there as a favour to Mr. Bonner because Charlie's father and Bill are old friends, and there have been some threatening letters sent to WBBB. Charlie is just going to pose as a DJ (borrowing the reputation of Ten Tenniel, his drug-dealing DJ brother) while he investigates the threats. He's unlikely to stay in Tuttle for more than about six weeks, and therefore isn't exactly looking to make an impression.
Yet Allie is so charming and determined, and after being invited to dinner with her and her gay roommate Joe, Charlie goes against his better judgement and agrees to stay on their sofa. And when Allie later at night asks him to seduce her, he initially tries to refuse, but when she persists, he doesn't resist for long. She also tells him about her plan to make him a big name in Tuttle, something he adamantly refuses to agree to. Nevertheless, despite his continued attempts to make bad and boring radio broadcasts, he keeps getting more and more listeners, and despite promising himself he's not going to stay on the sofa and not keep ending up in Allie's bed every night, the two continue their trysts. That is, until they inadvertently reveal their fledgling relationship on air, and make a public bet to stay celibate, both determined to prove that their gender is better at going without sex. They will need to spend their days keeping their hands off each other and their nights sleeping apart.
Of course, getting to know one another better, without allowing sex into the equation builds up the tension between them to an unbearable degree and makes them aware of how compatible they are on all sorts of other levels too. But Charlie was never meant to stay in Tuttle for too long, what will Allie do when and if he actually leaves?
This is yet another romance I got in an e-book sale absolutely ages ago and never got round to reading. Jennifer Crusie tends to write really enjoyable and fast-paced contemporaries, and I have yet to come across one I didn't enjoy. For someone who's struggling with involuntary infertility, it's nice to read books where there is no pregnancy epilogues, and in several of her books, the heroines aren't interested in ever having children. Her heroine are always smart and capable, and frequently not in the first blush of youth. Allie is 36, and actually two years older than Charlie, the hero. She's extremely good at her job, but not to an unbelievable degree and it's clear that she's had to make sacrifices along the way and that her best friend and roommate, Joe, is actually worried about how much of her self-worth and identity is tied up in her job at the radio station. She's clearly never had a particularly satisfying romantic or sexual relationship, and seems more upset about losing her job as Mark King's producer than by the fact that he dumped her two months' earlier. A little bit too career driven, she needs some distractions.
We're never given a clear back story for Charlie, except that he's not really one for settling down and seems never to stay in one place for too long. I don't think he's actually a detective, even though he's sent to Tuttle to help investigate a suspected threat, and it seems as if his nomadic lifestyle is quite a frustration to his parents. Strangely, his brother seems to be much more of a black sheep, having been arrested for drug-dealing and quite possibly also left a pregnant wife behind when he fled to whereabouts unknown. Quick to adapt and very charming, Charlie becomes a popular and proficient DJ, even though he tries his very best to remain unnoticed. He feels very protective of Allie and keeps doing his best to make Mark jealous, since the guy never appreciated her when he had her.
As is also the case with a lot of Crusie novels, there is a dog as part of the plot, in this case a tiny runt of a puppy, near death, who has to be hand-reared back to health by various radio station employees. While Charlie initially believes the puppy, Samson, to be a goner, he sees how invested Allie is in making it eat and survive and through the determined efforts of most of the various night time DJs and hourly feedings over several weeks, the puppy pulls through and becomes something of a mascot for Charlie and the radio station.
Crusie says in her introduction of the book that she wanted to see what a relationship that started with a one night stand and later became less physical might look like and in this book she basically has lovers to friends to lovers once more and manages it excellently. This is a really quick read, with a great main couple and a lot of fun and quirky supporting characters. I'm so glad I finally read it and really should do my best to chase down the rest of the books I have left unread in Crusie's back catalogue.
Judging a book by its cover: This book has a pretty cute and fairly simple cover. Two sets of lower legs and feet, belonging to people who are clearly snuggling up together. I'm going to assume that they're on some sort of giant blanket on the floor, because no bed I've ever seen has that much room at the foot of the bed once two grown humans are lying down on it. I'd say that perhaps they were half sitting, but the angle of the legs is all wrong for that. Still, as romance covers go, not bad at all.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Rating: 4 stars
Spoiler warning! This book has such a magnificently all over the place, crazy-sauce plot that it will be absolutely impossible for me to properly show my appreciation for the book without spoiling quite a lot of it. If you don't want to know details - keep an eye out further down.
Miss Wilhelmina "Lily" Lawson, also known in much of London as "Lawless Lily" is estranged from her family, but has been able to live independently due to a large inheritance from an eccentric aunt. When she's not shocking society with her wild antics, she's known to keep company with notorious gambling hell owner Derek Craven, and the most popular rumour is that she is his mistress. When Lily is visited by an old family friend, Zachary, Lord Stamford, she discovers that her gentle younger sister Penelope is engaged to marry the haughty Alex, Lord Wolverton, the Earl of Raiford. As Zachary is madly in love with Penelope, he begs Lily's help in stopping the marriage.
Lily tries to get an impression of what Raiford is like, and is first introduced to him during a hunt. What she doesn't realise is that Raiford's former fiancee, Caroline Whit-more, died two years ago in a riding accident, and Raiford therefore gets freaked out when women insist on participating in hunts. After Lily falls off her horse, she finds herself cradled in his arms and thoroughly scolded, and she pretty much concludes that he's a madman, who won't be marrying any sister of hers.
Lily shows up at Raiford House, where the wedding is being planned, ostensibly to grovel and be let back into her parents' good graces. She does whatever she can to sabotage the wedding plans. She pretends that Zachary is her suitor, in the hopes of making Penelope jealous and it seems to be working. While her parents appear taken in by her contrite and remorseful behaviour, Raiford isn't fooled for one second. It's not that he loves Penelope, in fact, after losing his beloved fiancee, he selected a kind and biddable young virgin specifically because she was the opposite of his headstrong former love, but he won't have his affairs meddled with, and certainly not by someone as scandalous as Lily Lawson.
As Lily's plans progress, Raiford becomes more and more frustrated, not least because he realises that the sister he truly wants certainly isn't Penelope. Once Lily ups the ante and starts to fight dirty, Raiford is forced to admit that his stellar reputation and pedigree isn't going to help him one bit. What's more, beating "Lawless Lily" at her own game might be one of the most fun things he's done in years.
I got this book years and years ago in an e-book sale and then promptly forgot about it. Since I've been trying to be better about reading things I actually OWN, my current comfort reading needs had me looking through my shelves for romance, and some previously untried Kleypas seemed to fit the bill. I had absolutely no idea what was waiting for me in this book. I had to resort to taking notes as I read, just to be able to remember everything afterwards. While there was some stuff that made me rather uncomfortable, most of it certainly kept me both entertained and surprised, and despite having finished the book nearly three weeks ago, I still keep thinking about it, so I can't possibly rate it lower than four stars. Before I basically reveal the whole plot further down, I can say that I highly recommend the book and Lily and Alex are now among my favourite Kleypas couples.
DO NOT READ PAST THIS POINT IF YOU DON'T WANT PLOT SPOILERS!
SERIOUSLY - JUST SKIP TO MY MUSINGS ON THE COVER.
Ok, if you're still here, there is nothing I can do. First of all, I want to address the things that really didn't work for me. First of all, Lily is apparently a very petite and delicate woman, but keeps being compared to a doll or a child. That is NOT ok when you're actually talking about a grown woman, the heroine in a romance novel, who in the latter part of the book especially, engages in quite a lot of steamy love scenes. Just a selection of phrases that really squicked me out. "You're so beautiful. Beautiful like a perfect little doll". "He lifted her like a toy" and "She fell asleep with the suddenness of a tired child". Oh, and just before her wedding, Lily looks in the mirror and thinks she looks like a 15-year-old. Urgh. These are just a few examples that I noted down AFTER I actually began taking notes because it was disturbing me so much. Grown women, no matter how petite, should not be infantilized, but Kleypas keeps doing it throughout.
Another scene that really did not work well for me, and that I suspect may not have appeared in a historical romance written now (this one originally came out in 1993) is the scene where after Lily has lured Alex to London, after pretty much abducting his younger brother and closest living relative, she knocks him out with a bottle and ties him to her bed. Once he is incapacitated and tied firmly to her bed, she proceeds to pretty much lie on top of him and make sexual advances at him, while he is helpless to resist. Just imagine if the roles were reversed in that scene. It would not be quirky or flirtatious, it would just be deeply inappropriate and borderline rapey.
Despite those things, this book is a lot of fun, and absolutely bonkers. There's our heroine, who seems to be accepted in much of polite society (possibly because all the men hope to make her their mistress). She has a (unbeknownst to petty much everyone) platonic friendship with a famous gambling house owner, one of the richest men in London. In the very first chapter, she throws her hat in the water during a boating party, and when none of the guys are willing to jump in the water to retrieve it, she does so herself.
She was jilted at the altar at twenty, and this clearly affected her deeply. She lived abroad for many years with an eccentric aunt, whose fortune she inherited. Her one sexual encounter with a creepy Italian nobleman put her off sex entirely and also led to her getting pregnant. Her tiny plot moppet, Nicole, has been kidnapped by the nefarious baby daddy, who is now blackmailing her, which is why she needs to gamble so much - her fortune is more or less gone. She's determined to break up her younger sister's betrothal to Raiford, so said sister can elope and marry Lord Stamford instead. In order to make this happen, Lily tempts Henry, Raiford's brother to come to London with her and deposits him at Craven's club. She then proceeds with the knocking unconscious and tying to a bed plot.
To get revenge, Alex shows up at Craven's and bets 15000 pounds for one night with her. She loses (of course she does) and our hero consequently wins the right to bed her in a card game. While Lily tries to get out of it, Craven insists that they "seal the deal", in his bedroom no less. It turns out that Lily doesn't hate sex, it was just that she had an abysmal first experience, and when she's in bed with an actually skilled and considerate lover, she enjoys it just fine. Not that she wants anything to do with Alex once their one night is over. He totally has other plans, however. During a masquerade at Craven's, where Lily is more or less half-naked, dressed as Eve, trying desperately to win enough money to pay off her blackmailer again, Alex shows up as Lucifer and ends up tossing Lily over his shoulder and carrying her off, causing a much bigger scandal than Lily ever managed on her own.
She believes he wants her as his mistress, he proposes marriage instead, and gives her the money she needs to pay off her blackmailer once more (he believes she's paying off a gambling debt). While Lily is off in the seedy part of London meeting with the creep who stole her virtue and her child, she also ends up buying a decrepit old bear to save it from a fighting pit. She's about to be attacked and sexually assaulted by some thugs, but her husband shows up and shows remarkable brawling skills for a nobleman.
Having kept her deep dark secret from everyone for two years, Lily finally tearfully confesses to her husband about her missing illegitimate daughter, but only after he's caught her IN the arms of her blackmailer at a society party. I want it noted that I kept wanting to shake her for most of the book for not coming clean sooner. Raiford, of course, has all sorts of useful connections, and within a few days of Lily telling her husband the truth, they have helped the authorities uncover a large child snatching ring in the the slums and reunited Lily with her child. All is bliss, and to top it all off, there is the near-obligatory pregnancy epilogue.
Seriously, the plot is all over the place, but I came to enjoy the central romance enough that I didn't even care about the constant reminders that Lily was delicate and slender and so dainty or that she pretty much commits sexual assault as well as kidnapping and the like. I could have done without the melodramatic plot moppet abduction, and Lily's TSTL attitude towards blackmail (of course he's not going to stop when you keep handing over thousands of pounds every so often in the desperate hopes that you may get your child back), but Lily and Alex's progression from antagonists to really very passionate lovers (the smexy times in this book are really quite something).
Kleypas gives us enough back story throughout the book to make us understand exactly how both Lily and Alex ended up becoming the people they are at the start of the book, and it's obvious that they are both so very good for one another. Alex needs to stop grieving for his lost fiancee and loosen up A LOT and Lily frustrates and challenges him in a way he really needs. Lily has had no one to rely on since her aunt died and her daughter was kidnapped years ago and is so very used to rescuing and taking care of others, without ever allowing anyone to see her weaknesses or letting herself be cared for.
The truly remarkable thing about Alex is that once he admits that he's absolutely crazy about Lily, he doesn't hide the fact. It's rare in romance for the hero to make his declaration of love first, and once Alex has embraced his feelings for Lily, he really does love her exactly the way she is. He doesn't really try to change or control her, he just wants to make sure that she doesn't rush headlong into danger, and he accepts the fact that she may never love him back. When he first proposes his absolutely outrageous bet at Craven's, he believes her to be Craven's mistress, yet wants her nonetheless. Once he discovers that she is in fact not only inexperienced, but had an awful first time, he does his best to be as considerate and caring a lover as any woman could hope for.
As I said, for all that there were bits of the book that rubbed me the wrong way, I also couldn't put the book down and my thoughts keep coming back to it and the lovely relationship that Alex and Lily build during the second half of the novel. Having also recently re-read the next book in the series, Dreaming of You, I ended up enjoying this book more overall and I was not expecting that.
Judging a book by its cover: Yet another romance cover with a not very period appropriate dress, with skirts that go on forever. Even with the yards and yards of skirt in the forefront of the cover, we still see most of the cover model's legs. That seems to require special effort. Since the lady on the cover is sitting down, it's difficult to ascertain if she's as petite as Lily is supposed to be (although maybe that's why her dress is too long, her modiste just forced her into a gown made for someone much bigger?) Yeah, let's go with that. At least her hair colour is correct, even though this lady appears to have her hair in an updo, and Lily's is cut fairly short.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Thursday, 18 May 2017
Rating: 4.5 stars
This book originally came out back in 2014, but was re-released earlier this year, after the two planned sequels took longer to produce than planned. The second book in the trilogy will now be out at the end of May, while the third and final book comes out in July. I'm giddy with anticipation and have already pre-ordered the sequels. My first review of the book can be found here.
Spoiler warning! This review will mainly deal with my thoughts of re-reading it, and where I hope the authors will take the series in upcoming books. So if you haven't read the book yet, get to your online book store of choice and get it NOW, as the book is currently on sale prior to the release of the sequel. My musings will absolutely feature some minor plot spoilers.
I really liked this book, but I know that for several other readers, Connor "Mad" Rogan and his domineering, alpha-hole behaviour in this book was a deal-breaker. My friend Erica was absolutely appalled by his complete disregard for Nevada's wishes in a scene about mid-way through where Rogan clearly pushes the boundaries of Nevada's consent and doesn't seem all that bothered by it, because she's clearly attracted to him, where's the harm? She found him dislikable enough that it just broke the book for her, and as far as I'm aware, it's one of her lowest-rated Andrews' books. She has no intention of reading the rest of the series, because she doesn't care to see Rogan redeemed as a hero.
While I absolutely see her point and agree that Rogan in this book is no where near the hero he needs to be, I've also probably read too many romances with alpha-hole heroes and frankly, when Ilona Andrews writes them, I find even the evil guys attractive. I'm giddy as a school girl about the fact that they're writing a book about Hugh de Ambray, the absolute psychopath who tried to kill Curran and steal Kate away from him in the Kate Daniels series. If they're writing a romantic trilogy with Rogan as the hero, I also have complete faith that while he starts out somewhat problematic, there will be a redemptive arc, and he will prove himself worthy of Nevada, who is already a wonderful and extremely likable heroine from the beginning. She spends most of this book fighting her attraction to Rogan because she knows it would be a terrible idea on so many levels to get involved with him, and she's right. The man he is in this book is absolutely not the right one for her.
The kindly authors recently posted two scenes from the book from Rogan's POV (almost the entire book is seen through Nevada's eyes) and it confirmed my initial theory that Rogan really isn't as bad as he wants the world to believe him to be. The first scene (when Rogan abducts Nevada from the park) can be found here, and the second (when he questions her at his house with magic) is here. No one with an internal monologue like that is a complete psychopath.
But the man I suspect the extremely talented Andrews couple will mould him into - now that's a different story. Just as it is really quite obvious that Nevada is a Prime in whatever strange and rare truth-telling magic she possesses (Rogan hints at having figured it out when Nevada rants about the arrogance of Primes in this book), so at least magically, she's perfectly suited to being a mate for someone as powerful and influential as him, it's also natural that Rogan has a lot of changing and evolving to do. From this book, it's obvious that the magically powerful families breed extremely selectively and care more for power and influence than about inter-personal relationships. So it's no surprise that Rogan has never really cared for anyone and since all his magical powers seem destructive on a terrifying scale, that's going to warp him a bit.
Since he's decided he wants Nevada, and she's strong and determined enough not to give into him, he will have to change to become worthy of her. I have absolutely no doubts that he will become a better person, although I suppose it's unlikely to think that he will beg forgiveness for the rather callous way he treated Nevada for much of this book. A girl can hope, though.
As soon as I finished re-reading the book, I read what little is available in previews for the sequel, White Hot, out on the 30th of May. I'm not saying I'm going to count the days, but the book has been pre-ordered for months, and I don't care how much work I may have left to do, I am completely clearing my schedule to make sure I can focus only on the book when it comes out. The only good thing with having to wait so long for the sequels is that now I get two new Ilona Andrews books before the summer is over, rather than just the one.
Judging a book by its cover: I hadn't started commenting on book covers when I first read this book, but oh man, is there a lot to take apart here. Ilona Andrews, amazing and talented fantasy writers whose work I adore and will buy and try to foist on anyone I meet who shows the slightest bit of interest, really have not been blessed by the cover design gods. With the exception of their self-published Innkeeper Chronicles books, where they get to commission their own artwork, all their books have varying degrees of bad covers. But none are as bad as the ones the Avon publicity team have managed to scrounge up for the Hidden Legacy trilogy. All three covers, in all their lurid glory, can be found on the authors' website. Three different female models, with varying degrees of blonde hair. Two different male models. Sooo much tackiness.
Seriously, there is so much wrong with the cover for Burn for Me. The way the blond lady, who's probably supposed to be Nevada is wearing what appears to be a shoulderless, sparkly evening gown. The way she is clinging like a limpet to the man she spends most of the book trying to keep away from her. The pouting pretty-boy model doing his best "Blue Steel" they've got to portray Rogan. You can tell that he's ex-military because of the dog tags. And while Adam Pierce, the man they are chasing for much of the book seems to have some sort of allergy to shirts, Rogan seems to spend most of the book clothed. The rubble and buildings coming apart in the background have plot relevance, I'll give them that. Also, while this is a bad cover, the one for the sequel is SO much worse. I'm going to have to save up all month to do it justice.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Rating: 4 stars
Jane Mason is an heiress, but her money is being slowly embezzled by her unscrupulous relatives to further her uncle's unscrupulous political career and she's being kept far away in the country, to make sure she can't meet anyone who might marry her. Her aunt and uncle plan to marry her off to her cousin, and eventually, Jane reluctantly agrees on the condition that she get a season in London first. She hopes to meet another suitable man she can convince to elope with her, offering him a share of her father's vast fortune as long as she is free of her relatives.
The only man not closely related to she's had much contact with during her near captivity in the country is Crispin Burke, another ruthless and self-serving politician, who nonetheless seems to be the only one to recognise that Jane isn't the meek and biddable young maiden she has pretended to be for years. He suggests that he may be able to help her procure a special licence, where she'd only have to enter the name of the groom to get herself a legally binding marriage certificate, but first he wants her to spy on her uncle for him.
When Jane discovers that her relatives want to move up her marriage to her spineless and cruel cousin, time is running out for her. She also overhears the news that Crispin Burke has been attacked and is unlikely to survive the week. He will therefore never be able to contradict her when she runs to his family and pretends to be his wife. Only, through some medical miracle (and to further the plot), Crispin survives and wakes from his coma, with amnesia. He doesn't remember the last five years, and when he is told by his family that Jane is his wife, he obviously believes them. Jane needs to stay "married" to him until her father's solicitors release her inheritance into her control, but lives in terror that Crispin regain his memory and discover the truth.
The weeks pass, however, and Crispin is still weak and disorientated because of his head injuries. He discovers that his "wife" is intelligent and well-informed on the issues he's been working on in parliament, and comes to rely on her completely to help him navigate both his private and professional life. Jane discovers that the post-injury Crispin is a very different from the cold, calculating man he was before, and can finally be herself, needed, valued and praised for her abilities, rather than having to swallow her pride and anger to avoid the abuse of her relatives. She knows that she is living a lie and that she will need to leave Crispin before he discovers the truth, but can't bring herself to leave or help herself from falling for her "husband".
With the notable exception of one book, I tend to really enjoy Meredith Duran's books. Her protagonists always tend to be rather flawed, and frequently often more morally complex than the characters you meet in other romances. There is usually a fair amount of angst involved before the couple gets their happy ending, but it feels all the more satisfying when you get to the end of the story.
Jane's father was involved in politics, but also made his fortune through excellent business sense and by taking good care of his workers and constituents. His brother, Jane's uncle, stepped into his political seat when he got ill and continued to hold it after Jane's father's death. Incensed that he didn't inherit much after his brother, thinking himself entitled to more after he gave his brother part of the initial investment he turned into his substantial fortune, he decides to get control of the fortune by keeping Jane away from society until she gives in and marries his son. Jane's parents were both progressive and believed in education for women. When she was sent to live with her aunt and uncle, Jane quickly learned not to speak her mind, or she would be badly beaten. She instead spends the next few years perfecting the persona of someone meek, bland and rather stupid, only concerned with her embroidery, while she plots for her escape.
Isolated on her uncle's estate in the country, the only unmarried man except her cousin that Jane ever meets is Crispin Burke, a young, handsome, but utterly ruthless politician, who will stop at nothing to to achieve his goal of becoming prime minister of Britain. When Crispin discovers Jane at an inn in the nearest village, where she was planning to meet an elderly groom she'd bribed to elope with her, he more or less blackmails her to spy for him, in return for him taking her back to her uncle's before anyone discovers she is missing. Realising that her life will be even worse if her uncle ever discovers the truth, Jane has no choice to agree, but once she's in London, she turns the tables on Burke and blackmails him right back, to get the special license she needs.
As she discovers once they are "married", Burke wasn't always a black-hearted villain and his family are appalled by his actions over the last few years. As he's trying to piece together his life over the years he's forgotten, he really doesn't like the person he's become, and he relies on Jane to help him undo some of the cruel and unscrupulous things he's been working on, beginning to work against his own proposed bill in parliament. Jane doesn't feel that she can lie about their feelings for one another, and claims their marriage took place shortly before his injury, and that it was one of convenience. She claims her fortune could help him further his career, a claim that is backed up by the many smug congratulations he receives from his former cronies, not to mention the enraged reaction of his former partner in crime, Jane's uncle.
The romance is a slow-burning one and Jane is more anguished by her actions the longer she stays in her sham marriages. Initially she fears what Crispin will do when he remembers because she fears he will report her to the authorities or force her back to her relatives, and as she begins to fall for him, she hates lying to him and fears that the truth will pain him.
Amnesia storylines, as everyone knows, are really rather silly, but there are so many ridiculous plot twists to make romances work that I didn't really care. Duran actually does spend quite a bit of time giving the reader enough back story into Crispin's past and family situation to see how he gradually became the really rather horrible individual we meet at the start of the book, so it's not as incredibly implausible that he's a completely different man afterwards.
Towards the last third of the book, I suspect Duran is trying to set up the plot of a book to come, when the story suddenly isn't so much about Jane and Crispin, or them trying to work together to undo some of the worst excesses of Burke's ruthlessness pre-injury, but starts being about a dark conspiracy, abducted noblemen and an implausibly evil villain who's behind all of it. She introduces the name of another man who I can only imagine will be the tortured and long-suffering hero of an upcoming book, but the whole thing felt a bit tacked onto the main story of this book. I did like what Crispin reveals to Jane once he finally admits he's had his memory back for some time, and confesses his love for her and they have the chance to have a proper future together, with all their dark secrets out in the open.
Check out my blog or Goodreads to find my reviews of Meredith Duran's previous novels. The only one I would strongly advise readers to stay entirely away from is At Your Pleasure, which is one of my least favourite romances of all time.
Judging a book by its cover: The designers of historical romance covers very rarely bother to check what era the book is set in, they just want a lady in a dress. This is really about as generic as romance covers get. In this case, a book set firmly in the Victorian era features a dress clearly from the Regency, which has one of those never-ending skirts that only romance heroines on covers wear. All I can say is, at least the back of her dress isn't half unlaced, displaying a sad lack of undergarments, which seemed to be so popular a while back.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Audio book length: 18hrs 31mins
Rating: 3.5 stars
This is book seven in an ongoing series. Not the place to start. The review will also contain spoilers for earlier books in the series. Begin with Dead Witch Walking, if you're interested.
For someone who was really rather sceptical to anything but earth magic, considering even layline magic a bit suspect at the beginning of this series, independent runner (think supernatural private detective/bounty hunter) Rachel Morgan has sure come a long way. Now she's not only a fairly adept layline witch, but her blood (thanks to a rare genetic abnormality) can kindle demon magic and because of this, she's got a standing appointment every Saturday as an apprentice to an actual demon. Having once shuddered at the mere thought of demon magic, she's now willing to use all manner of spells, so long as no one gets hurt in the process.
In this book, Rachel and her roommate Ivy finally have some new leads on the individual who killed Kisten Phelps, Rachel's ex-boyfriend and Ivy's best friend (excepting Rachel). They are determined to track down the guilty party and get their revenge. In addition, thanks to the FIB psychologist, who can sense emotions, the residents of the little church discover that they have a ghost, and Rachel figures out who's been haunting them for more than a year. Not Kisten, but Gordian Pierce, a witch who Rachel temporarily summoned when she was 18, and helped get revenge on a child predator vampire. He was buried in their backyard, and has been stuck in the church since he was dislodged from his resting place after an altercation Rachel had with Al the demon. Rachel discovers she can see Pierce when they're both in the layline in her backyard, but Al comes and snatches the disembodied ghost with him to the Ever After, to use as his familiar. Rachel is livid, and decides that she's going to try to recreate the spell from when she was 18, to summon Pierce back and show Al once and for all that she is not to be messed with.
The ladies (and their pixie associate Jenks) have other serious business matters to attend to as well, after discovering that their friend, FIB Detective Glenn, the son of FIB Captain Edden, has been hospitalised after a brutal attack. Further investigation into the case reveals that the guilty party is a banshee and her husband. Banshees are pretty much the most dangerous supernatural Inderlander, because they syphon off people's life force to stay alive. Mia, the banshee in question, has a baby that she is willing to go to any lengths to protect, ad the supernatural branch of law enforcement, the IS, will do nothing to stop her. To complicate matters further, Ivy has a former connection to the lethal creature, and suspects that one of her actions is what enabled Mia to marry and have a child in the first place. Both Rachel and Ivy are determined to bring the deadly couple down, but Rachel quickly discovers that a toddler banshee is even more dangerous than an adult one.
Trying to avenge her ex-boyfriend's murder, capture a banshee and her serial killer husband, plus summon a ghost to prove to her demon teacher that she can't be pushed around is made even more complicated for a weakened Rachel by the fact that she's been shunned, because the Witch's Council for Moral and Ethical Standards believes she deals in black magic and is a demon practitioner. This means she can't buy supplies anywhere but the black market and anyone connected with her could get shunned as well. Her brother is appalled, her mother is sympathetic and understanding, but nevertheless decides to move across country to live closer to Rachel's brother. Marshall, the handsome witch she's been going on a number of platonic dates with for a few months can't handle the pressure. There is so much to deal with for Rachel in this book, possibly too much. With so may different story lines to deal with, it becomes difficult to know entirely what to care about.
I still enjoy the characters a lot, and Rachel has come such a long way. It's good that she finally gets closure on Kisten, and while Marshall turns out not to be strong enough to handle the chaos that is Rachel's life, a new potential love interest is introduced - or has Rachel finally learned from the mistakes of her past and learned to stay away from dangerous, morally ambiguous guys? There is very little Trent in this book, but quite a bit of Al.
This book is one of the bridging ones between the first half of the series, where all the characters are introduced and the second, where Harrison begins to reveal her end game. It ties up more of the plot strands left hanging from the last few books, and hints at interesting things to come. It's not one of my favourites, but it's still a fun read.
Judging a book by its cover: I really don't see why they keep giving the cover model portraying Rachel a gun, she's a witch and the only weapon she ever uses except her magic is a splat gun. In this, at least she isn't dressed all in leather in this cover. Not sure why there are cutouts on her elbows, that seems like a particularly bad fashion choice, even for Rachel. The gloomy green lighting and the creepy fountain seem appropriate, though.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Wednesday, 17 May 2017
Rating: 4.5 stars
Bailey "Mink" Rydell and "Alex" have been chatting on a movie message board for months and both absolutely love classic movies. They have hit it off to the point where "Alex" invites "Mink" to his hometown to come see North by Northwest at an outdoor screening on the beach at the annual film festival being arranged in Coronado Cove.
Bailey's parents got divorced a few years back, and now that Bailey's mother seems to be divorcing her new husband as well, Bailey has chosen to go stay with her father, who coincidentally lives in the same little surfer town in California as her online friend, "Alex". While she really wants to meet up with the guy she's pretty much developed a crush on, Bailey isn't stupid, and knows that people you meet online may not always be who they appear to be. So she doesn't want to let him know she's in Coronado Cove and she intends to track "Alex" down in the months before the film festival, to make sure he's actually a good guy.
While still keeping up her online conversations with "Alex", never letting him know that she's moved from New Jersey to California, Bailey also gets a summer job at the local museum, a huge mansion devoted to Golden Age Hollywood memorabilia, where she makes a friend in Grace and an enemy in Porter Roth, the sarcastic security guard who seems to delight in making her life a living hell. While she wants to hate Porter, Bailey can't deny he's pretty hot, and as the weeks pass, their enmity seems to be turning into something else. In her free time, she's still trying to track down "Alex" based on clues she's gleaned from their online conversation, but as the summer progresses, her quest gets side-tracked as her relationship with Porter keeps changing into something a lot more interesting. What Bailey doesn't know, of course, is that her erstwhile tormentor and enemy turned enigmatic love interest and her online movie buddy are one and the same. What will she do when she discovers that Alex and Porter are in fact the same person?
This book takes inspiration from The Shop Around the Corner and You've Got Mail, with two people who are more or less falling in love online meeting in real life without knowing each other's true identities and initially absolutely hating each other. As the relationship progresses, they more or less feel like they're cheating on their online crush because of their real life romance, while in fact, it's the same person.
I've never seen The Shop Around the Corner. Unlike Bailey/Mink and Porter/Alex, I really am not usually a big fan of classic Hollywood movies. There are obviously exceptions, but I frequently find them frustrating and many of them have not aged well. I have watched You've Got Mail more than once, but am not a big fan, because while Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks may be worried about how they're sorta-kinda cheating on the person they're e-mailing with, they seem entirely unconcerned about the fact that they ARE cheating on their significant others. Both are in a relationship as the movie starts, and while they've never met the person they're so frequently corresponding with online, there is, to me, absolutely an element of emotional infidelity going on there. Then they meet in real life and start arguing, only to get more and more attracted to one another, just sort of ignoring their current partners. Plus there's the whole Tom Hanks is trying to run Meg Ryan out of business - it's not a great romantic comedy, guys. It's just not. While You Were Sleeping is tons better.
In this book, on the other hand, neither Bailey nor Porter are in a relationship, and Mink and Alex, while they've clearly flirted a bit while sharing their passion for classic movies have never made any declarations or promises to one another. Alex' invitation to Mink to come watch North by Northwest with him on a beech is clearly worded in such a way that Bailey/Mink knows it's intended as a date, all the romantic possibilities are sub-textual.
When they meet in real life, their initial animosity comes a lot from a series of misunderstandings and misconceptions about each other the first few times they meet. He believes her to be a privileged rich girl pretty much slumming it with her job at the museum, she thinks he's a bully and a thug, with some deeply unsavoury friends. Of course, her new friend Grace, who's known Porter for a long time, can tell that they're both off to a bad start and does her best to help clear up some of the skewed first impressions. Both realise that they may have been a bit harsh at first, and their relationship turns more friendly, and then begins to evolve into mutual attraction.
I read this book during the Spring Readathon, and it was a wonderful choice, as it was a fun and light-hearted read that kept me turning pages and kept me going late into the night. Each chapter starts with a quote from a film, and while I may not have the same movie tastes as Bailey and Porter, I very much approve of all the movies Ms. Bennett chose to include as chapter openers. So many of my favourites. Bailey and Porter are both good protagonists and seemed like pretty realistic teenagers to me. Both have some fairly traumatic events in their past, and one of the things Bailey, who calls herself the "Artful Dodger", needs to learn to deal with over the summer is how to actually communicate clearly. She has a tendency to just deflect when she's uncomfortable (which is also why she chose to move to her Dad's when her mother's new marriage was getting rocky). In the long run, that is clearly not a good coping strategy.
As well as giving the reader a very satisfying enemies to lovers scenario for YA readers, this book also has a good cast of supporting characters. Having moved several times since her parents' divorce, combined with the "Artful Dodger" thing that Bailey developed after the harrowing event in her past, means that she didn't leave behind any friends and hasn't really been close to anyone for a while, so getting to know Grace and Porter requires work and effort on her part, which again, seems very healthy for her. I really liked Grace, as well as the various parental figures (with the notable exception of Bailey's mum, who seems to completely forget about her daughter after she moves to California).
This book made me happy, but also a bit sad that they don't really make good romantic comedies anymore. As I said, I liked it a lot more than You've Got Mail, but if you are a fan of that film, you're sure to like this clever YA re-imagining. If you don't, well, this is way better, so you're likely to like this anyway.
Judging a book by its cover: Love the book, deeply dislike the cover, which just seems to portray a very impractical and slightly inconvenient way in which to view movies. Also, all those lights would make it impossible to see anything. I know this book is set in California, but at no point do people float around in a pool and try to share popcorn. Bailey and "Alex" have talked about meeting up for a film festival, where one of their favourite films is screened on a beach - that is NOT the same as this. I would hope both the film buffs in this book would reject the so-called movie watching experience on this cover.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.