Sunday, 28 May 2023

CBR15 Book 20: "Miss Buncle's Book" by D.E. Stevenson

Page count: 304 pages
Rating: 4 stars

15-word review: Anonymous spinster Barbara Buncle writes a book to pay the bills, her entire village rages.

This witty novel, originally published in 1934, features rather plain and unassuming village spinster Barbara Buncle falling on hard times and writing a novel to make enough money to be able to pay her bills. She briefly considered keeping chickens but doesn't like birds. As Miss Buncle hasn't really been anywhere or experienced much outside village life, she uses her own neighbours and the village of Copperfield where she lives as her inspiration. It's only when her novel, "Disturber of the Peace" comes out, under the assumed name of John Smith, that the shenanigans begin. 

Once a couple of the villagers read the novel, and recognise themselves and others around them in the thinly veiled caricatures, the rumour mill starts and soon everyone needs their own copy. Miss Buncle's London publisher, who wasn't entirely sure if the book he agreed to publish is a brilliant satire or just a strange little tale about a seemingly innocuous country village, visited one night by a mysterious piper, who sets in motion a lot of life-changing events for the inhabitants, is delighted. It's quite clear that the scandalised villagers have no idea that with every copy sold, the mysterious "John Smith" makes even more money so they're rather playing into "his" hands with their outrage.

Several prominent villagers become determined to uncover the true identity of the author, leading to some truly amusing conversations and meetings in sitting rooms. Then, several of the events in the novel in fact seem to start happening in reality as well. A confirmed bachelor proposes to his neighbour, and they elope. Two confirmed spinsters leave town together to visit warmer climates (as one is rather in need of somewhere less damp than an English village). As the weeks pass and more and more of the villagers read the novel, the search for the identity of the author gets a bit out of hand. Meanwhile, Miss Buncle has been tasked with writing a follow-up to her debut, as "The Disturber of the Peace" is selling like hotcakes all over the country. 

This book felt extremely British to me, and to anyone who's watched Agatha Christie adaptations, or other pleasant stories set in quaint English villages shouldn't have any problem imagining the various characters who populate Copperfield. Stevenson manages to flesh out and bring to life a large cast of characters, some very sympathetic, others rather loathsome. There are very few irredeemable individuals in the story, in fact, there is a refreshing amount of complexity in the sprawling cast. Miss Buncle is a very likable protagonist, and the reader can't help but be amused as she not only overcomes her initial financial difficulties but comes to realise that her little book has made her quite wealthy. With the advice of some new friends, she allows herself to splurge a bit and give herself a makeover. Even with her new expenditures, no one in the village seems to figure out that she's "John Smith".

I think I first saw this book recommended on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and bought it in an e-book sale ages ago. In March, it fit into a number of my reading challenges, and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. Apparently, it's the first in a series. I'm not entirely sure I need to read the continuing adventures of authoress Barbara, however. This doesn't feel like it needed sequels. 

Judging a book by its cover: This cover is obviously not the original, and until I got to the latter half of the book, when Barbara finally gets to spend some money and gets a fashionable haircut and new clothes, the lady on the cover seemed stylish, but rather inappropriate in what was the story of a dowdy village spinster. I especially love the scarf blowing in the wind. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

Sunday, 14 May 2023

CBR15 Book 19: "To Sleep in a Sea of Stars" by Christopher Paolini

Page count: 880 pages
Audio book length: 32 hrs 29 mins
Rating: 4 stars

#CBR15 Passport Challenge - Different genres (Sci-fi)

15-word review: Kira touches the wrong alien artifact and things escalate wildly from there. Excellent audio book.

The audio book, which even listening at x1.5 speed felt like it lasted approximately forever, is narrated by Jennifer Hale and she does an amazing job. I was surprised to see, that with the exception of this and the upcoming follow-up (the book is set in the same universe, not sure if it's a sequel, prequel, or companion novel), she has only really narrated a few books (although she appears to have done voice acting in cartoons for years). I'm not sure I would have kept going with the book if not for her pleasant voice and ability to make the story come alive. Even so, when I had about 20% of the book left, I did the thing I often end up doing, which is read the rest myself, since I just want to get to the end.

Outland is the fantasy/sci-fi/all-thing-nerdy shop in Oslo where I help chair the monthly book club. This was the book selection for March, and it feels like I spent much of the month getting through it. I was rather skeptical to when it was first announced. Can't say I was terribly impressed with Eragon when I read it back in the long long ago (I don't seem to have a record of when I read it, but it will have been before 2007), and the book was also absolutely massive. Still, I was pleasantly surprised.

Was the book at least 150 pages too long? Yup. Did the spaceship crew that end up sort of adopting Kira feel like the cast of Firefly? Yeah, a bit. Was Gregorovich the ship mind the most awesome character in the entire story? You betcha. This is one of the areas where Hale's narration just elevated the story. Her depiction of Gregorovich is pretty much one step away from completely unhinged the whole time, and helped really establish him in my mind (which is ironic, since he's a disembodied voice on a ship). 

I didn't really think I'd enjoy this much, and am glad to have been proven wrong. I'll probably end up checking out the next Fractalverse novel as well. 

Judging a book by its cover: I like this cover, with the person looking like they're taking an elegant dive into water, but instead of water, she's surrounded by stars and floating in empty space. The neon blues also look really good. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

Friday, 12 May 2023

CBR15 Book 18: "Georgie, All Along" by Kate Clayborn

Page count: 366 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

15-word review: Trying to get some direction in her life, Georgie turns to a new-found teenage journal

Georgie is feeling adrift. She's worked as a personal assistant for a number of industry people in L.A, and was really good at it. Now, however, her former boss decided to retire to the countryside and doesn't need a P.A. anymore. Georgie is free to go home to her family to realise her own dreams, the only problem is, she has no idea what those are. She had hoped to help her best friend Bel get settled before having a baby, but discovers that with the exception of one room, her friend has a picture-perfect home and doesn't need much of anything from Georgie except her company.

As Georgie's parents are going travelling, she can stay in her childhood home and take care of their plants. Unexpectedly, her parents had also made an arrangement with Levi Fanning, former wild child, and current grouchy recluse, to let him stay at their place while his house is having the floors redone. Georgie, used to her parents being scatter-brained, takes the surprise house mate (and his dog) in her stride and they agree to share the space. 

While sorting through her Bel's one messy room, Georgie rediscovers an old journal, where she and Bel used to write stories about their dreams and goals in high school. Looking through it, she realises that she hasn't always been without plans or purpose and she becomes determined to complete a number of the goals in the book. Once Levi finds out about her quest (after rescuing her from a near-drowning attempt) he offers to help her achieve her goals. 

Kate Clayborn writes romances about complicated, messy people who feel entirely real and she makes you feel privileged that you get to spend time with them throughout their story. Georgie has had a loving and supportive upbringing, while Levi was literally cast out by his family and has worked very hard to overcome his teenage rebel reputation in his hometown. There is definitely some tension developed in the friendship/tentative romance between him and Georgie once he discovers that she's friends with his younger brother and sister, neither of whom he's seen for years. Things are further complicated when the truth comes out about Georgie's teenage crush on his brother, who is now the successful manager of the family hotel.

Georgie could have been an annoying character, but I feel like a lot of people today can identify with her seeming aimlessness. Society seems to expect that everyone has their lives planned out and clear goals for their future by the time people graduate high school, and that's obviously not the case for everyone. While she doesn't have a college education or a standard career path, Georgie is clearly a creative person who adapts quickly to new challenges and has been a very successful personal assistant to several demanding clients because she's really good at anticipating people's needs and shows a willingness to problem solve. Seeing the successes of Bel (beautiful new home, career, successful husband, baby on the way) makes it even more difficult for her to see that her life choices haven't necessarily been as poor as she seems to think they are.

Levi made some poor choices during his teenage years mainly in direct response to his overbearing father's unreasonable demands of him. His experimentation with drugs and alcohol led to a very unfortunate episode when his younger siblings were endangered, and since then, Levi hasn't had any contact with them, because his father sent him away. He assumes that his siblings resent him for what happened way back when, and has made no attempt to reconnect with them, even after moving back and taking over his mentor's construction business. Without any help from his family, he's had to remake his life on his own and find his own support network. It's clear that he doesn't always realise that he's done a remarkable job, because he works with manual labour rather than has a business degree, and his only family is his neurotic pitbull and the people who work for him. He's definitely thrown for a loop when he discovers that Georgie has been working part-time at his family's hotel, and that she may be more interested in his brother than him. 

As well as the romance between two vulnerable people, this book also focuses on the complicated friendship between Bel and Georgie. Having been each other's best friends growing up, it's clear that the women are now at different points in their life. Georgie seems to think that Bel has everything anyone could ever want, and how is there even space for Georgie in this life now? While she may not realise it, the reader can see that Bel's insistence on joining Georgie on a lot of her journal quests suggests that she may not be as content in her life as Georgie believes, it's clear that Bel is chafing a bit at her situation. It's another very relatable situation, friendships change as people themselves grow and change - but the obvious love between the two women is still very much present, and while they haven't been able to see each other as much during the past few years, Georgie is wrong to think that Bel has "moved on" without her.

This is probably my favourite of Clayborn's romances so far. She's only getting better with each new book. I look forward to seeing what we get next. 

Judging a book by its cover: I think this cover is lovely, and in a fairly different style from most cartoony covers on romances. The colour combination, the messy hairdo, and the woman's face hidden behind the book, it all works for me.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

Tuesday, 25 April 2023

CBR15 Book 17: "Chick Magnet" by Emma Barry

Page count: 302 pages
Rating: 4 stars

#CBR15 Passport Challenge - Different genres (contemporary romance)

Readers of my blog know that all my reviews are crossposted over on the Cannonball Read, which celebrates its fifteenth anniversary this year. I have been a participant since year two. To celebrate these momentous fifteen years, a comment diversion was suggested - where we were challenged to write fifteen-word reviews. No matter the length of the book, the review could only be fifteen small words. Now, long-time followers of my blog know that I have trouble writing a single sentence in fewer than fifteen words, let alone a full review. Nevertheless, I decided to use the comment diversion to try to help myself through my review backlog (which is now on 12 books and counting). So until I've caught up - my book summaries are going to be very short and succinct, and then I'll try to say what worked and possibly didn't work so well for me in the books.

Chick Magnet: Hot, but struggling small-town vet and earnest chicken influencer fall in love after the pandemic.

If you want a longer summary, there are over two hundred reviews of this on Goodreads. This book was recommended to me by my good friend and fellow romance aficionado Emmalita. There were so many parts of it that I liked, but I really couldn't get past what a central part chickens played in the story. I don't like birds. I have always found them pretty creepy. That I frequently got dive-bombed by seagulls every summer visiting my grandmother in the west of Norway probably didn't help. I'm very fond of eggs, they're very tasty, but I really don't like chickens. I find them unnerving. So the fact that Nic's whole life revolves around chickens was somewhat of a downside to me. Now, this is unlikely to be a big deal for most readers, but I still wanted to explain why this wasn't higher than four stars for me. 

Will is very handsome (described basically as a big, blond viking) and really loves the job he's doing as a small-town vet. However, with the pandemic massively reducing the number of clients his clinic receives and so many more customers ordering their pet supplies online, he's really having a hard time making ends meet. He feels awful about not being able to keep his business afloat or being able to afford to pay his employees. It takes him quite a while to face up to the depression that he's feeling as a result of this. While he tried to resist, he watched his new neighbour Nicole "Chick Nic" Jones' videos about chicken keeping and was taken with her beauty and charm. Her videos caused a lot of people to adopt chicks during the pandemic, and then get bored with them as they grew bigger and harder to take care of. Hence he's a bit judgmental and dismissive when he first meets her, and pretty rude when she comes to his clinic with a sick chicken. 

Nic has moved across the country to escape her emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend, who broke up with her in a video that went viral. His gaslighting and lies convinced even her best friend that Nic was the villain of the piece and she needs a fresh start. She meets Will when chasing an escaped chicken in the rain, and finds him rather attractive, but his rudeness when she's vulnerable and terrified for the health of her chicken makes him seem a lot less appealing. 

However, they live across from each other, and it's hard to avoid each other in a small town. They strike up a friendship and as they get to know each other better, they try to help the other, making their lives easier in whatever way they can. Nic is pretty nervous about getting involved with someone new, based on her previously very toxic relationship. Will is depressed enough and feels like so much of a failure that he doesn't seem to realise that he deserves to be loved. Neither of them is healed by the power of love, but both of them feel better when they spend time with the other person.

Emma Barry is a good writer and her characters feel like real people, even the ones who are less nice. While Will gets along well with his sister, he has a strained relationship with his father and brother, and as his clinic keeps getting closer to bankruptcy, family dinners get more and more difficult for him. Nic has chosen to move to the town where her beloved grandmother once lived but has no real connections there. Thanks to Will, she meets a lot of like-minded people and can work on setting down actual roots in her new hometown.

The author herself apparently keeps chickens, so I get why she writes so affectionately about the birds and keeping them. As I mentioned, this is unlikely to be a big issue for most people. This is a lovely book, which deals with several heavy topics in a sensitive way without ever making the book seem too angsty or challenging. 

Judging a book based on its cover: With cartoony covers still being all the rage in the publishing world, you don't see a lot of naked man chest anymore. So I appreciate this book doing its own thing and giving the female gaze some eye candy. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

Thursday, 13 April 2023

CBR15 Book 16: "I Love You, I Hate You" by Elizabeth Davis

Page count: 288 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Official book description:
Of all the decisions brilliant lawyer Victoria Clemenceaux has made in her life, an unforgettable one-night stand with her opposing counsel Owen Pohl is either the worst...or the best.

One thing is certain: these long-standing rivals aren't going to let their searing attraction stop them from winning the biggest case of their careers. Thankfully Victoria and Owen have someone to vent to about their nemeses. But they have no idea that their online 'friends', Nora and Luke, are the very people they hate in real life.

As Nora and Luke grow closer online, and Victoria and Owen find their undeniable attraction harder to resist, the lines between love and hate blur. When the truth comes out, will their online chemistry work in the real world, or will their constant rivalry sever their connection?

I seem to find myself drawn to enemies-to-lovers romances with a You've Got Mail influence, despite the fact that I don't particularly like the romantic comedy much. I've mentioned in reviews before that I find the emotional infidelity that Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks' characters commit while flirting and falling in love online, while both are still in committed relationships, icky. However, most contemporary romances (be they YA or not) take the communicating with someone online and developing a friendship/attraction with someone they loathe in real life (but secretly want to bang) aspect, and thankfully most have the protagonists be single while this happens.

In some enemies-to-lovers romances, there isn't all that much enmity. One party perhaps kind of dislikes the other, but the other actually always found the other one attractive. Or there's been some sort of misunderstanding that gets cleared up pretty quickly. In this book, the protagonists really do despise each other, stemming from a long-running professional rivalry (he's a prosecutor working for the public good, and she's the defense attorney for a large, soulless corporation) and constantly trying to one-up one another in court. Little do they know that they're each other's closest confidantes online.

The friendship on social media aspect of this book, reminded me a lot of the online friendship between Bee and Levi in Ali Hazelwood's Love on the Brain. The actual hate-f**king aspect of the book (because Victoria and Owen REALLY still hate each other the first few times they hook up) was very reminiscent of Kate Canterbary's The Worst Guy. Because the dislike between the characters is so genuine, the author has to do more work to convince the reader that all that hate is actually just sublimated lust and longing. It's not an easy feat, but I think Elizabeth Davis managed it well here. The fact that this seems to have been her debut novel (Goodreads tells me she's written short stories in the past) makes it even more impressive. Her next romance features a fake relationship between seeming opposites, and while I'm less fond of that trope, I'd be willing to give her a chance based on how well she pulled off enemies to lovers in this book. 

Judging a book by its cover: Not exactly fond of either the pink and blue background here or the rest of the cover design. Also, the little cartoon that's supposed to be Owen should have had redder hair. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

CBR15 Book 15: "The Worst Best Man" by Mia Sosa

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

When wedding planner Carolina "Lina" Santos was mere moments from her own wedding, the best man, the groom's younger brother came to tell her that his brother had cold feet and would not be showing up to the ceremony. Since that moment, Lina has kept a very tight check on her emotions and is now proud of her reputation as trusted, efficient, and very unflappable  She obviously doesn't want anyone to know about her own wedding disaster a few years back.  So it's not all that surprising that she panics a bit, when offered a very lucrative and potentially life-changing opportunity, and finds herself face to face with her former fiancĂ©e and his brother, the best man. She lies and claims never to have met either of the men before, and agrees to work with Max Hartley (the best man, she really can't even contemplate having to work with her ex) for the next few weeks. 

Max was looking forward to a chance to really show the client (the managing director of a very successful hotel chain) that he is better at marketing and promotion than his brother. For years now, Max has felt like he's basically doing all the work, with his brother keeps getting most of the credit, since their boss, who also happens to be their mother (no, it's not a good look), keeps insisting that they work together. So when their client insisted that she wanted two teams, with each of the brothers working separately to prepare a presentation with different wedding planners, it should have been Max' sure win. Except the person he has to work with to land the deal that might secure his career, is a woman who (quite rightly) hates him. 

Lina starts out determined to make Max' life difficult, but he seems to so gamely accept that it's her due to gently torment and blame him, and before long, she can't really make herself stay too angry with him. Once she discovers that Max isn't exactly his brother's biggest fan and that he feels awful about possibly having influenced his brother into jilting Lena, she tries her best to make their partnership work. Of course, the more time they spend together, the more their chemistry sizzles. Of course, Lena is determined to stay single, and she certainly has no plans to ever fall for a Hartley again, while Max, for all the attraction he feels towards Lena, can't forget that she was with his brother first, and can't stand the idea of being in his brother's shadow.  

After a promising start to my reviewing year, I'm now back trying to write reviews for books I read several months ago. Since reading this book, I've also read a LOT of romances, nearly all of them contemporary, so it can be a bit tricky to keep the various characters and plot lines straight in my head. This book purported to be about enemies to lovers (which is one of my favourite romance tropes), and while starting out, Lina absolutely considers both Max and his brother (I can't remember his name, and I certainly can't be bothered to look it up now - he's just the weaselly ex) her enemies. Max, on the other hand, always sort of liked Lina, and doesn't even blame her for her rather impulsive actions and pranks at the start of their partnership. Of course, he has a whole host of complicated feelings about his brother, so finding said brother's ex irresistibly attractive is a problem that he tries manfully to deal with until his and Lina's pants feelings take over and they can't keep their mouths and hands off each other anymore. 

What I remember liking:
- Lina's support network - her assistant and her family. They were fun and protective but never went too far.
- Lina and Max, separately and together. They feel like fully-rounded characters and the build-up of their relationship was good.
- The competence porn aspect. Lina and Max are forced to work together on a presentation that is extremely important to both of them. They have to set aside their differences and any old grudges because neither of them can afford for the other one to half-ass it. They are both dedicated to their work and good at what they do.

What I didn't like:
- Max' brother, Lina's ex. I get that Ms. Sosa possibly needed him to be extra weaselly so that there was no doubt that Lina wouldn't have any lingering feelings about him, and his actions would also cause Max to see that he wouldn't be overstepping by entering into a relationship with Lina - but the character didn't really work for me.
- I think I was annoyed at whatever third act obstacle that appeared in the path of our lovers' HEA, but having read so many romances in the past few months, I'm not entirely clear on the details of said complications.

This was a fun book that had been on my TBR for quite some time. I'm happy a couple of reading challenges finally gave me the push to read it. Ms Sosa has apparently written a follow up novel about Lina's cousin, involving another wedding. Not sure I liked this enough to check that out unless I find it in a sale, though. The premise doesn't sound as interesting.

Judging a book by its cover: Of course, it's another cartoony cover, that's just how romances look nowadays. At least this one is rather playful and funny. It definitely caught my eye and made me interested in the book in the first place. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

Sunday, 9 April 2023

CBR15 Book 14: "Legendborn" by Tracy Deonn

Page count: 544 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

Bree Matthews applied to an early admissions residential program at the same college that her mother attended, only to discover that her mother strongly objected to her going there. They had a blistering argument, and Bree's mother died in a car accident before they had a chance to settle things. Bree blames herself for her mother driving when angry. Her grief and guilt are overwhelming, so Bree hopes that being away from home is the best way forward. She has barely arrived at the college before witnessing a magical attack at a party. An imperious young man calling himself 'Merlin' attempts to wipe her memory, but fails to do so.

The incident instead makes Bree remember something strange from the night her mother died when she and her father were told the news in the hospital. Bree is certain that there was a Merlin (it's a title that all powerful wizards sworn to protect the Legendborn share) there as well, manipulating her and her father's memories. She becomes determined to find out what really happened to her mother, and if that means infiltrating the secret society calling themselves the Legendborn, then she'll do so. She discovers that Nick, her college-appointed tutor, has connections to the society and persuades him to help her get selected as an initiate. 

After being accepted as an initiate of the Legendborn, in part because of Nick's sponsorship of her (he's the son of the current leader, and his rejection of the group has long upset a lot of people) Bree discovers that magic is very much a real thing, most of the members of the Legendborn are descendants of the knights of King Arthur (Nick and his dad are apparently directly descended from King Arthur himself), and they are fighting a war to prevent demons from escaping from another realm to overwhelm the world and humanity. She also discovers that the reason she seems able to withstand the Merlin's mindwiping is that she comes from a long line of witches herself, and the root magic she has access to is very different from that of the Legendborn. Of course, the Merlin is convinced that she is possibly a demon herself and refuses to trust her. 

Having finished this back in February, there are quite a few elements of the story that are now a bit hazy to me. So I'm going to list what I liked and what didn't work so well for me.

I liked:
- This took a lot of the tropes of YA fantasy and in part subverted them, and in part just did something new and interesting with them. Yes, Bree is a lot more powerful than she initially seems and she has access to two different kinds of magic. She's also a very conflicted young woman who struggles with rage and grief and figuring out how to move forward after her mother's death. 
- The way the casual racism Bree has to deal with a lot of the time isn't brushed over or ignored. Also how the history of chattel slavery is explicitly tied into the various powers that Bree is discovering within herself. The flashbacks to her various descendants were very interesting, if rather harrowing.
- The whole 'descendants of King Arthur' have their own secret society and are protecting humankind from demons and evil was pretty well done.
- The reveal towards the end of the story absolutely makes me interested in reading more of the series. 
- This book gets rather violent in places and the danger the characters faced felt very real. Always good to see that not everyone is protected by plot armour.

What I didn't like:
- The insta-love between Nick and Bree. Come on, children, you've barely met. Even with the proximity to danger, you shouldn't head over heels that quickly.
- The inevitable love triangle. I like everyone involved outside of the forced romantic situation, but I don't really care who ends up with whom (although it would be very progressive and surprise the heck out of me if the other two parties decided to hook up and leave Bree as the forgotten party altogether). 

Having waited until book two was out, I now have to decide if I want to read book two and have to wait for heaven knows how long for book three to come out, or whether I'm going to wait patiently until the trilogy is completed. It worked out well for me with The Scholomance, so we'll see how it goes. 

Judging a book by its cover: I think this cover is stunning. Even if this book hadn't gotten very good reviews all over the place, this very spooky and cool cover (which captures Bree perfectly) would have made me pick up the book. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read