Friday, 28 December 2018
Rating: 3 stars
Miss Poppy Bridgerton is visiting a cousin at the coast when she stumbles upon a strange cave, which happens to be full of smugglers' goods. When she's shortly after discovered by two of the smugglers, she finds herself drugged and abducted onto a ship, where the very handsome captain tells her that she can't be released until after the ship has been to Portugal and back. Poppy is none too happy about this, obviously, but doesn't really have a choice. She just has to hope that her reputation isn't completely in tatters by the time she returns.
While he has to present himself to Poppy Bridgerton as a privateer, Andrew Rokesby used to have a career in the navy, and now secretly works for the British Government, ferrying secret messages to exotic locations. Not even his own family knows what he really does, and while he's not happy about the idea, he can't have the stubborn Miss Bridgerton revealing to anyone what she has found in the cave, so whether he wants to or not, she has to be his unwilling passenger to Portugal and back. He only hopes he can complete his mission swiftly and return her to England before anyone realises she's been gone - or he'll most likely have to marry the infuriating woman.
This is the third book in Julia Quinn's prequel series to her extremely popular and successful Bridgerton novels. With each book, I keep hoping that she'll return to the magical storytelling of her earlier books, and with each successive book, I keep being let down. This book is fine. Poppy Bridgerton is independent, headstrong, much more intelligent than is seen as entirely attractive in a woman in the Georgian era, and mourns a dead brother. Andrew Rokesby is the younger of several sons and wants to serve his country, but chafes at the fact that he has to keep the truth hidden from his family in order to do so. Oh, and at some point in the story, Quinn decides that he clearly wants to be an architect instead, so she throws in this scene where he nerds out about building techniques and the special ways to construct some house in Portugal, just so Poppy (and we, the readers) can see how wrong it is for him to even be a sea captain, let alone a clandestine diplomat.
Set aside the hugely problematic "meet cute" of this novel - that the heroine is literally drugged and abducted by the hero's crew members, and then she's held prisoner in his cabin for over a week, and there is some good banter and flirting here. But in every interaction, it was difficult for me to remember that Poppy was not on this exciting ocean adventure by choice, she was abducted. Doesn't really matter how handsome the hero is, or how infuriating he finds the situation, he still went along with kidnapping a young woman away from her family.
There's also the fact that apart from the initial abduction, very little happens. Poppy complains about having to be cooped up in the captain's cabin. They flirt. She befriends the boy who brings her food. She and the captain flirt some more. He keeps saying he needs to keep her confined - then takes her up on deck to show her the stars. He needs to keep her on the ship when they get to Portugal, but goes against his better judgement and takes her on a tour of the city. Then they BOTH get abducted, by villains wanting ransom money.
As I said, some of the dialogue and banter is rather cute, if I could have forgotten that our dashing captain was also a kidnapper! His worry that he might end up married to our heroine was difficult to sympathise with, since he was the one who was responsible for completely crushing her reputation, by whisking her on a several week long journey on a ship without a chaperone. He's lucky he fell in love with her, as he would have been honour bound to marry her no matter what.
I should probably just give up on these books, and wait until online reviewers tell me Quinn is back to her old sparkling self again. But I love her earlier novels so much, and keep hoping that her books will be really great again. This book is merely ok, which is sad, as it's the last book I'm likely to read this year, and it's only the second book I managed to finish in all of December. (I may be broken, you guys). I would have liked to end the year on a more satisfying note. Alas, it was not to be.
Judging a book by its cover: There's really not much to say about this cover. There's a cute young woman, in a pretty dress. There's a ship in the background. Happily, the woman's dress is not unlaced most of the way down the back, showing her mysterious and anachronistic lack of undergarments, nor is she showing off most of her legs by lying draped awkwardly over furniture in some way. So I guess I should be thankful for small mercies.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Audio book length: 21 hrs 41 mins
Rating: 4 stars
Khai was destined from birth to become the Shadow of the Sun-blessed princess Zaryia. Both born during the same eclipse, Khai was the child who caught the hawk's feather thrown by the selected priestess, thus confirming that he was the chosen one. Raised by warrior priests deep in the desert, Khai is trained in all the deadly arts of stealth and fighting, and gets his first chance to kill a man at age nine. He hones all his abilities to become the very best Shadow to his soul's twin, destined to guard and protect her against all evil. Yet when he nears puberty, Khai makes a startling discovery, and needs to reassess everything he previously believed about himself and his identity.
When Khai passes the trials necessary to confirm him as the Sun-blessed princess' Shadow, he makes his way to the court of the king and finally meets Zaryia. The soul twins both feel like they've found the missing piece of themselves, and together have to navigate the gossip and deadly intrigue of the royal family. Zaryia is a scholar and dreams of being a prophecy hunter, but that seems unlikely, living the sheltered life in court that she does. Unexpectedly, however, while preparing for Zariya's betrothal, the princess and the young warrior find themselves and their lives taking an entirely new path - one of adventure and mystery, danger and fellowship.
The dark god Miasmus is rising in the west, and Zaryia and Khai are two of the individuals destined to help stop him from covering the world in death and destruction. If the prophecy hunters succeed, the stars could return to the heavens once more. If they fail, the world will end.
Kushiel's Dart, Jacqueline Carey's debut novel, is still one of my favourite fantasy novels of all time. So the discovery that her most recent novel was a completely stand-alone fantasy, a full book, no interminable waiting for sequels for years and years, was very welcome. The non-western setting of this book was also a pleasant surprise, and the identity crisis our protagonist Khai has to go through over the course of the novel was also interesting.
I listened to this book in audio, and according to Goodreads, it took me about five months to get through the book, so it's difficult for me to say exactly how long the various parts were. The early parts of the book, Khai's upbringing in the Fortress of the Winds with the Brotherhood of Pahrkuhn was all very engaging, if somewhat slow at times. The section at the Court at Merabaht and the backstabbing and intrigue there was probably the least interesting. It felt like the book spent too long dealing with Khai's childhood and every single detailed aspect of his training, then there was a lull when he got to court, only for the plot to get almost too hurried towards its conclusion and the big "saving the world" conclusion. We don't really get a chance to properly get to know the band of adventurers that Zaryia and Khai are destined to fight Miasmus with. Their whole quest happens too quickly and because we've spent too much of the book in the desert, or with the decadent court in Merabaht, we also don't invest enough in the various characters who find themselves in danger, nor care when some of them inevitably perish before the quest reaches its conclusion.
While I really like Khai, and the various Brothers of Pahrkuhn, I found Zaryia and her many excessive endearments a bit grating. Seriously, she calls everyone "my darling", as is pretty much everyone, from the servants to casual acquaintances, to her close and actual beloved family. I think I also would have preferred it if the relationship between her and Khai remained extremely close, but platonic - the romantic development felt forced and a bit tacked on.
As always, the world-building is excellent and as I mentioned earlier, I really liked that the book takes place in a non-western setting, with a middle eastern/islamic feel to the first half, and the bits at sea taking place in what I imagined to be a sort of Pacific island style place. Sadly, because the final third or so, when they go on their adventure, is so hurried, a lot of the later locations aren't given their proper due, the reader doesn't get the same detailed feel for them as the earlier settings in the desert and the court.
This wasn't a bad book, by any means, and I am deeply thankful that the story was wrapped up in one book, no matter how rocky some of the structuring and characterisation was. It kept failing to really hold my attention, though, which (coupled with the fact that I've had a lot on my plate for the latter half of the year) probably accounts for the fact that it took me just so long to get through the audio. I was enjoying the book when I actually listened to it, but never felt any compelling need to pick it back up again and progress, so it took months and months to get though. I may have liked it more if I'd read it in a more compressed time line. Still, it gets four stars for the ambitious world-building and the strides it makes for non-traditional representation. The characters are people of a variety of nationalities and colour, there's various gender identities and sexual preferences among them, one protagonist is disabled (and doesn't get magically healed at any point in the book, either). Well worth a read, if not as gripping to me as the Kushiel books.
Judging a book by its cover: The cover is pretty, and allows the reader to project a lot of their own ideas onto it. There's a number of falling stars, lighting up the sky in the background and falling to the dark earth below. In this book, the gods are physical entities who appear among people. They were once stars in the heavens, but fell (I don't remember entirely why). The skies are dark, except for the sun and the multiple moons. An ancient prophecy speaks of how the stars may be returned to the heavens - that's part of what this book is all about.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Wednesday, 26 December 2018
Rating: 4 stars
Felicity Faircloth may be the daughter of an Earl, but she is now on the fringes of society and her family desperately need her to land a rich husband, sooner rather than later, please. She's not at all happy to discover just how dire the family's finances are (and that they've kept the truth from her for over a year), but she may have just doomed them all, but telling a very inconvenient lie at a ball held by the reclusive Duke of Marwick. The lie - that she's in fact already betrothed to marry him.
Imagine her surprise when a scoundrel shows up in her bedroom after the ball, promising her that she can, in fact, land the Duke if she makes a deal with the Devil of Whitechapel. Felicity misses the time when she was part of the popular crowd and wants to save her family's reputation, so she agrees, but she also wonders how in the world this Devil will convince the Duke to agree to marry a woman he's not even met, and what this mystery man's motives are for "helping" her.
Said Devil of Whitechapel is in fact one of three bastard sons, born to the former Duke of Marwick on the exact same day, to three different women (this is the sort of implausible coincidence you just have to roll with). There is in fact a fourth child sharing the same birthday, the Duke's daughter Grace (who ironically is NOT his legitimate child either). The three boys were brought to his estate as children and forced to compete in horrific challenges to see who would become the Duke's heir. They swore a pact that there would never be any actual heirs - and since Ewan (now the Duke) seems to be breaking that promise, by trying to find a wife and possibly sire children, his half-brothers Devil (real name Devon) and Beast (Whit) are determined to stop him.
Devil/Devon plans to help Felicity snag him, get publicly engaged, then seduce her, so she can't marry the Duke because of the ensuing scandal. Beast/Whit thinks this is a rubbish plan, and can clearly see that his brother is far too besotted with Felicity to ever use her to gain revenge over their other brother. As it becomes very obvious from early on that Felicity returns Devon's attraction, and doesn't really care one whit for the Duke, the plan goes awry pretty quickly. Yet she's unlikely to regain her position in society if she spurns a handsome and eligible duke in favour of a shady underworld smuggler.
I really don't like revenge plots where some dude is going to get back at another dude by using a woman. Thankfully, Sarah Maclean has Felicity be a heroine who refuses to be used in anyone's game, and who is far more interested in the supposedly dangerous and double-dealing underworld crime boss than the handsome Duke she initially lies and says she is to marry. She's far too good for Devon/Devil (such a dumb nickname), but not really because she's the daughter of an earl and from high society, while he's illegitimate and fought for most of his life to establish a criminal empire with his brother and foster sister. He wants to use Felicity to thwart Ewan, the bastard who became the Duke's heir. Ewan, in turn, wants to use Felicity to get to Devon, because he desperately wants to find Grace, the Duke of Marwick's actual heir (although the Duchess of Marwick had been just as unfaithful as her husband), whom he is obsessed with.
Felicity wants adventure and to be loved, she wants the Duke, but only if he'll fall passionately for her. At the start of the book, she longs to return to the centre of the ton and be popular, but as the sordid scheme progresses, she realises that she wants something else, and she just needs to make the stubborn ice smuggler understand it. She also discovers that while she loves her family, she's sick of being used by them, and is done trying to appease them and sacrifice herself to bail them out.
As with Tessa Dare's novels, Sarah Maclean's romances need to be read with a healthy suspension of disbelief. Really, throw your disbelief out the window. At the same time, there is an almost fairytale like feel to this new series. You have the four children, born on the exact same day, all connected to a very wicked man who made their childhoods hell. There is Felicity Faircloth, with a name like a fairytale heroine (and Devon keeps referring to her by her full name, which starts out sort of charming, gets annoying and kind of goes back into charming again because of the repetition), who ends up not just saving herself, but the stubborn man she falls for. While Whit (the hero of the next book) is clearly the strong, silent type), the two most intriguing supporting characters are probably Ewan (who is sort of nominally the villain of the piece) and Grace/Dahlia. Ewan is clearly unhealthily obsessed with his foster sister - it is said that he loved her once, but Devon and Whit are clearly willing to risk their lives to keep her from him, and because her very existence threatens Ewan's title and wealth, his need to find her at all costs is definitely cast in a sinister light.
None of the books of the Scandal and Scoundrel series really worked all that well for me (and the whole Kardashian thing in the Victorian era didn't really stick the landing), so I was reluctant to start this one. I waited nearly six months to start it (after I got it on sale) and was really very pleasantly surprised at how much fun it was. Maclean is still not back at "buy at full price", but then, so very few authors are nowadays, but she has earned herself a reprieve, and I'm more excited to read the next book in the series now than I was before I finished this one.
Judging a book by its cover: Oh mercy me, do I hate this cover. I'm pretty sure that it would have been difficult, if not impossible for that colour of lurid fuchsia to be produced in the Victorian era. Then there's the fact that the cut of the dress is wrong for the period, not to mention the horrible mini-skirt effect they're trying to achieve, which makes my eye twitch. I have loathed this cover since I saw it revealed many months ago, and it was a contributing factor to me waiting so long to pick up the book.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Tuesday, 25 December 2018
Rating: 4.5 stars
Spoiler warning! This novella takes place after the events of Wildfire and this review may spoil things for any reader who has not finished the original Hidden Legacy trilogy. Proceed at your own risk.
Nevada Baylor is marrying Connor Rogan, and that means a huge society wedding with countless guests, including many of Rogan's family members from all over the world. After the bride runs off numerous wedding planners, her sisters Catalina and Arabella decide to take over the wedding planning duties. It turns out that dealing with her older sister's increasingly erratic demands is child's play compared to some of the other challenges Catalina suddenly faces. Rogan's mother lets her know that a priceless family tiara, which Nevada is supposed to wear to the ceremony, has been stolen, most likely by one of the relatives from out of town. In addition, it seems someone is trying to poison the wedding cake.
Catalina has always been reluctant to use her magic, because it's never brought her anything but trouble and grief. To track down the culprit behind the tiara robbery, not to mention revealing the identity of the person willing to kill one or several of the wedding party, she will have to bury her misgivings and start using her gifts.
This novella starts with Nevada's POV and shows the readers how Nevada, the main character and heroine of the first three Hidden Legacy books finally meets the mother of her fiancee, who turns out to be just as formidable as you might imagine Connor "The Scourge of Mexico" Rogan's mother to be. It then cuts to two months later, where we see the rest of the story through the eyes of Catalina, her younger sister, Nevada's maid of honour and wedding planner. As there will be a new trilogy, starring Catalina, and set some years in the future of this story, the readers get a taste of what's to come and what Catalina can actually do with her rather mysterious powers. This is a bridging story and it works very well indeed.
The Rogans have a ton of relatives come over from Europe and while some are lovely, there are others who are utterly horrible. Catalina faces the difficult task having to figure of which of the groom's relatives are duplicitous and may have committed theft to sabotage the ceremony, as well as having to identify who is crazy and angry enough to try to poison the wedding cake. She's only eighteen and due to her powers, has kept herself a lot more isolated than her two sisters. Nevertheless, she loves her sister more than anything and with the help of her family members in Baylor Investigations, not to mention Rogan's many security operatives, she is determined to make sure Nevada has the wedding of her dreams.
Nevada is a much better investigator than her sister, as well as older and more experienced, but the main point of this story is clearly to show Catalina having to push herself out of her comfort zone and coming to terms with what she's capable of, so she can become a worthy heroine in the next trilogy. It doesn't mean that it's not very entertaining following her (as well as all of the colourful family members of the Baylor clan who we've already come to know) in this story and pretty much the only reason I'm not rating the novella five stars is that it felt too short, and I wanted more.
Sapphire Flames, the first book in Catalina's full trilogy, is out on August 27th (my 40th birthday!) and I can't wait to see what my favourite paranormal fantasy writers have in store for her.
Judging a book by its cover: I have talked about the myriad awful book covers that Ilona Andrews has had in the past, compared to many, this isn't actually too bad. Not a huge fan of the pink and purple pastel, and the torso on the cover model seems weirdly elongated and out of proportion somehow, but considering this is a novella in the same series which includes White Hot (also known as possibly the worst cover art of any book I own), this cover is just fine.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Saturday, 1 December 2018
#CBR10 Book 104: "Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It". Edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O'Shea
Rating: 4 stars
#CBR10Bingo: Two Heads Are Better Than One
So my final review of #CBR10Bingo requires some assistance, and I will be joined by my husband Mark ("Hello!"), who also gave me the book we're co-reviewing. I figured I should start with some background. I hadn't watched any of the now hugely popular children's television program Doctor Who until I went to University in Scotland in the late 1990s, early 2000s. Of course, this was because at that point, the show wasn't actually on the air, and anyone who wanted to watch it, or get other friends interested in it, probably had to own the show on VHS.
Some of my Scottish friends did their best to introduce me to a bunch of sci-fi. Before going to St. Andrews, I'd really only watched Babylon 5. (They managed a lot better with Doctor Who than with Star Trek. Even being showed a bunch of episodes of both The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, I wasn't really all that interested). If memory serves, I was shown Spearhead from Space with Jon Pertwee, the Third Doctor and The Curse of Fenric with Sylvester McCoy, the Seventh Doctor (there were probably more, but those are the two I can clearly remember). Nevertheless, I hadn't really watched all that much of it before it was relaunched in 2005, even though it was one of my then-boyfriend, now-husband's favourite shows. As well as being a huge fan of the modern show, in the 18 years my husband and I have been together, I've now also watched a lot of the classic series (but by no means all, probably not even half). I also really enjoy the Verity! podcast - Lynne M. Thomas, one of the contributors to that show, co-edited Chicks Dig Time Lords, and the anthology also features essays from several of the other "Verities". I should probably let my husband contribute a bit, though, shouldn't I?
(Right. This is on now, right? Is this on? Can you hear me at the back? Yes? Good)
OK. So, my Good Lady Wife asked me how long I have been a fan of the Popular British Children's Television Programme Doctor Who. The answer is...quite a while. Yessirreee. Several of your Earth whiles, plus a few more. Since the mid-1980s, to be specific, then a bit more in the 1990s. I can politely but firmly assure you that being a Doctor Who fan during the '90s, when the show wasn't even on the air, was not a surefire way of winning friends. But I stuck with it, thanks largely to a comprehensive lack of anything better to do, and my patience was rewarded in 2005 when the show finally returned to the airwaves. Only this time around, I had a proper, human female, girlfriend to watch it with. The novelty still hasn't entirely worn off.
Is that why you gave me this book for Christmas last year? You wanted me to share in the geeky experiences of long time fans of the show, many of whom are either people whose voices I've heard on podcasts, or authors whose books I've read and enjoyed?
Well, "share in the geeky experiences" is definitely a nicer way of putting it than my usual choice of "bathe together in the stinky nerd-mud of mutual shame", so thanks for that. But...well, sort of yes, and sort of no. After nearly two of your Earth Decades together, we've bonded over our mutual nerdery in many ways, and our respective fondness for The Popular British Children's Television Programme Doctor Who is only one of them. But it's still a biggie, as witnessed by your earlier reviews of Doctor Who In An Exciting Adventure With The Daleks, Adventures With The Wife In Space, and The Dying Days (which I just went back and verified was my first Cannonball for CBR2!) . And given how much we both enjoy the Verity! podcast, and its still-more-noteworthy-than-it-really-should-be emphasis on a female perspective on this show we both love, I thought this might appeal to you.
Plus, you know, I wanted to read it myself. But not in a Homer-buying-Marge-a-bowling-ball sort of way. Honest.
I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. The book is an anthology containing essays, articles and interviews, and being mostly a fan of the new show, and not super involved in all levels of the fandom (fan fiction, the comics, the fanzines, podcasts, conventions etc.), there were absolutely some bits that didn't really resonate with me, simply because I had very little frame of reference for them. I think the entries that worked the best for me were the ones that talked about sharing the show with family, like those of Carole E. Barrowman (John Barrowman/Jack Harkness' sister), Amy Fritsch (who talks about introducing the show to her daughter, named for actress Elisabeth Sladen, and taking her to conventions). My favourite essay in the whole collection is probably the one by Verity! contributor Lynne M. Thomas, who talks first about how she married a huge fan, and discovered just how warm and accepting the Doctor Who fandom is when they had their disabled daughter). That contribution genuinely had me in tears, I was so moved. Deborah Stanish, another Verity! wrote a good one, and I also enjoyed some from famous fantasy/sci-fi writers Seanan McGuire (who was apparently in love with Adric as a teenager, not to mention thinking the show was a documentary for a while, because it ran on PBS) and Mary Robinette Kowal.
There were quite a few entries I was mostly indifferent about, or that didn't interest me all that much because I've never, for instance, read fan fiction of any kind (so essays covering that were unlikely to thrill me). There are several interviews, which seemed a bit like filler to me, but my least favourite essays were probably the one by Jackie Jenkins about a Bridget Jones type character included in Doctor Who Magazine and Kathryn Sullivan's essay about fanzines (soo dull). What about you, husband o' mine?
Well, I'm grudgingly forced to publicly acknowledge our mutual compatibility - and we both know how much I hate doing that - by admitting that Lynne Thomas' essay was probably my favourite thing in the book too, for reasons relating largely to its obviously heartrending loveliness. I also shared your disinterest in the "Jackie Jenkins" piece (although when it comes to that one I may have to play the "NO GREATER NERD" card and point out that I was failing to be amused by JJ's "what if Bridget Jones But a Doctor Who Fan" gimmick long before you even met me). But yes, Lynne's piece was absolutely lovely - now that the two of us are BONDED FOREVER by our parental duties to a child who will, with any luck, grow into a formidable Doctor Who fan in his own right, it resonated with me in ways that may not have been quite so powerful a couple of years ago.
I also thoroughly enjoyed Verity! host Liz Myles' essay on the experience of being a Doctor Who fan both pre- and post- the 2005 revival, which resonated with me in ways that I suspect largely passed you by. Although Liz and I obviously differ on many specifics - why would anybody, however tentatively, even try to ship the 5th Doctor and Tegan, for example, when the manifestly superior pairing of Tegan/Nyssa is right there, leaping out of the screen and begging to be noticed? - I nonetheless recognise a great many of my own experiences in her story, in much the same frustrating-but-familiar way I experience whenever I'm shouting at the radio in furious agreement with her contributions to the Verity! podcast (Oh, Liz. How dare you be so obviously right, in such an ever-so-slightly wrong way/so obviously wrong, in such an ever-so-nearly-right way! It makes me SO MAD).
So in conclusion, while the husband may in fact have bought me the book as a Christmas present at least 50% because HE wanted to read it (and considering when he went out for the last presents last year, something like 10-15% desperation, just needing to find something appropriate for my last present), I was actually happy to receive it, interested in reading it and ended up very much enjoying most of it. Sadly, the essays only cover the modern series up to the announcement of Matt Smith as the newest Doctor, there's nothing about his era on the show, Peter Capaldi, or obviously the current Doctor, Jodie Whitaker (whom I love, even if the quality of the show in general right now is...questionable). If Mad Norwegian Press were to publish another anthology with similar essays for the Steven Moffat years, I would love to read it.
Hey, does this mean I get the last word? Awesome. I want it to be "bogeys".
Also, while I obviously wholeheartedly deny any implication of desperation attached my purchase of this present, I'm very glad you enjoyed it as much as you apparently did. Given that this book ends on a note of what I would politely suggest may be termed "unwarranted optimism" regarding the potential feminism of the then-impending Steven Moffat era (while I think there are more credible feminist arguments to be made in defence of Moffat's writing than are sometimes acknowledged, I also think it's worth admitting that...well, there are also some good reasons why "defensiveness" might be considered the default stance on that front), I'd also be interested in reading the sister book Chicks Unravel Time, in which several of the same contributors (and a few others of considerable interest to you, not least Diana "those books about that sexy Highlander and his marginally-less-sexy time-travelling wife you love so much" Gabaldon) continue to get their collective Who geek on, alongside you at some point. But don't worry, I'll buy that one for myself. Or let you buy it for yourself. Whichever happens first.
Oh, and "bogeys". Always, and forever, "bogeys".
Judging a book by its cover: The cover is very cute, with a ton of geeky Doctor Who references, obviously. I really like the art style. The title is on the psychic paper, the girl is wearing the old fashioned 3D-glasses used by the Tenth Doctor, and obviously she's got one of the long knitted wool scarves made so famous by the Fourth Doctor. Finally, she has a TARDIS key on a string around her neck.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.