Friday 18 December 2009

CBR2 Book 13: "Garden Spells" by Sarah Addison Allen

Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks
Page count: 327 pages
Rating: 5 stars
Date begun: December 16th, 2009
Date finished: December 17th, 2009

Everyone in Bascom, North Carolina, knows there is something special about the Waverley women. The flowers in their walled garden blossom all year round, and if you eat an apple from the tree that grows there, you will see the biggest event of your life (this event could be good, or it could be hauntingly bad). Claire Waverley has lived alone in the big Waverley house since her grandmother died years earlier, shortly after her little sister Sidney ran off to New York. Claire runs a catering business specializing in edible flowers from her unique garden, and is much sought-after because of the little touch of magic the dishes contain. Claire's life of routine and predictability is suddenly turned on its head when in short order, a handsome stranger moves in next door, ivy creeps into her garden - and Sidney, with her five-year-old daughter Bey in tow - turns up on her doorstep with nowhere to go.

Sidney never enjoyed her legacy as one of the special Waverley women, and like her mother, never really felt she belonged in Bascom. Despite always being able to tell who a person truly is by the way they wear their hair, Sidney does not feel she has any of her family's abilities, and like her mother before her, tried to run away from the little town. She became trapped in a brutal and abusive relationship, where the only good thing she gained was her little girl. After several years of terror and abuse, she finally manages to flee her monstrous boyfriend and escapes to the only place she thinks she'll be safe. Her daughter Bey is a stoic and serious child, who always knows where things belong. She loves her mother, and comes to adore her new home in the big house with the fascinating garden.

Claire is not interested in a relationship with her neighbour, who despite all of Claire's culinary attempts to disuade him insists on still trying to court her. She is both glad and upset that her sister has returned after so long, but is also constantly terrified that Sidney and Bey will leave again. Sidney has to get used to living in the town she never felt she belonged in before, and meeting her old friends, most whom now shun her. She needs to learn to trust that the people around her won't hurt her or Bey, and that there are men out there who are not monsters.

Garden Spells is a book that features magical realism, and does it well. It never gets too kooky or twee. It reminded me of Joanne Harris' Chocolat and Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic (the book, NOT the awful film with Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman and that guy who replaced George Clooney as the hot one on ER). Both Practical Magic and Garden Spells feature two very different sisters with unusual abilities, at least one of whom is afraid of long-term commitment. Like Chocolat, this book features a woman who can do magical and remarkable things with the food she serves people, and whose presence in town changes the lives of those around her.

Garden Spells is a book about love. It features romance, but also the love between sisters, mother and child, and the close affections of true friendship. It's a sweet and uplifting book, which wouldn't have worked if it didn't also have some darkness in parts of the story. It celebrates the love of good food, of companionship and the need to find a place to belong. This novel is Sarah Addison Allen's debut novel, and based on her first book, I would very much be willing to read other books she writes, as well.

Thursday 17 December 2009

CBR2 Book 12: "Wondrous Strange" by Lesley Livingston

Publisher: HarperTeen
Page count: 345 pages
Rating: 2 stars
Date begun: December 12th, 2009
Date finished: December 16th, 2009

Kelley Winslow has moved to New York against the wishes of her eccentric aunt Emma, to fulfill her dream of becoming an actress. She works as a stage hand and understudy on a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and shares an extortionately expensive apartment with a model. Things seem to look up for her when the lead actress is injured, and she needs to step in as Titania, with only two weeks until opening night. Rehearsing her lines in Central Park one evening, Kelley's life starts changing for the stranger, as she meets a mysterious and handsome man, and nearly drowns when she tries to save a horse in a lake. A horse that shortly after turns up in her bathroom, and refuses to leave.

Sonny Flannery is a changeling, a mortal child stolen by the faeries and raised as a favourite of King Oberon of the Unseelie Court. Sonny is now one of the Janus, one of thirteen supernatural guards, tasked with the unpopular job of keeping the denizens of Faerie from escaping into the mortal world. The last remaining gateway between the two realms lies in Central Park - and it is normally only open on Halloween night. But every nine years, the gate is open for a full nine nights up to and including Halloween. Sonny and his fellow changeling guards have to deter and even kill all creatures who try to escape through the portal, and this year there seem to be more than usual, and fiercer and wilder creatures too.

Sonny finds himself strangely drawn to the girl he encounters in the park, and tracks her down with the help of the script she dropped. Kelley isn't sure why the handsome stranger keeps following her, and appearing as if by chance close to her. Sonny can't understand why he senses Kelley differently from other humans, and why she appears to be able to see through his Faerie cloaking veil. That several other faerie creatures, and Oberon himself seem very interested in the orphaned 17-year-old actress is also making him curious.

I'm a big fan of paranormal fantasy, whether it is aimed at teenagers or adults. In the past two years I have read some amazing Young Adult stories featuring faeries and faery/mortal romance, Holly Black's Tithe, Valiant and Ironside, Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely and Maggie Stiefvater's Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception probably being the most excellent examples. Wondrous Strange did not measure up to these. The formerly mentioned books enchanted and delighted me, even took my breath away a couple of times (a sure sign of a great read), this book was just ok.

Neither Kelley nor Sonny were particularly engrossing characters, and while I enjoyed the background characters and the outline of the world that Livingston has created, the protagonists' stories just did not hold my attention all that much. The plot had a bit too many handy coincidences tying the story together. This was by no means a bad or boring book, it just didn't live up to my expectations. I will probably still buy and read the sequels though, in the hopes of seeing more of Livingston's fascinating Faerie-world.

Sunday 13 December 2009

CBR2 Book 11: "Immortal in Death" by J.D Robb

Publisher: Priakus Books
Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: December 6th, 2009
Date finished: December 7th, 2009


Pandora, world-famous fashion model and the ex-girlfriend of the man designing Lt. Eve Dallas' wedding dress, is found brutally battered to death in the designer's fashion studio. Mavis Freestone, on of Eve's only friends, and the designer's current girlfriend, is discovered next to the body, with the victim's blood covering her hands and body. Eve is only a few weeks away from her wedding to Roarke - but is absolutely convinced of her friend's innocence and promises to do everything in her power to clear her name.

Once a dead informer turns up dead with a new, mysterious drug in his possession, and the body count keeps rising, it's up to Eve to figure out how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. At the same time, her gruelling nightmares occur more and more frequently, she has a wedding to the world's richest man to plan, an aide to train and an unwanted admirer to fend off.

The resolution of the mystery dragged a little in this one, and yet again, I figured out the killer's identity, but not until shortly before Eve herself did. Eve's continued emotional development, and her deepening relationship with Roarke was again very well written, and this book also shows Eve's friendship with Mavis and her starting camaraderie with Officer Peabody.

CBR2 Book 10: "Glory in Death" by J.D Robb

Publisher: Priakus Books
Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: December 5th, 2009
Date finished: December 6th, 2009


Lt. Eve Dallas has another complicated murder case on her hands. Prosecuting Attorney Cicely Towers has had her throat viciously slashed in a back alley. All her money, jewelry, as well as her expensive handbag and shoes were left at the scene, nothing is missing except her umbrella. No one can figure out why the victim was in the alley. Eve's boss was a close personal friend of the victim, and needs his best detective's help to solve the case.

Eve's job is complicated by her increased celebrity status, as Roarke's lover is a prized target for the journalists. That Roarke had a personal connection with the victim and her family makes the media even more eager - and when the second victim turns out to have a connection to him as well, the media circus is guaranteed.

Eve is also having trouble adjusting herself to her new romance, and is not entirely comfortable with Roarke's ability to express his strong feelings for her. She insists on keeping her own apartment, and refuses to acknowledge his affection to the point where he presents her with an ultimatum.

The second In Death book was better on some levels than the first, but I also had the murderer pegged about halfway through the book. Still, the character development continues in this book, and we find out more about both Eve and Roarke, as well as some of the many supporting characters. Eve's difficulites with juggling her private and professional life, especially when flashes of her traumatic past keep coming to the surface, are very well described. A very entertaining read.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

CBR2 Book 9: "Naked in Death" by J.D. Robb

Publisher: Piatkus Books
Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 5 stars
Date begun: December 5th, 2009
Date finished: December 5th, 2009

Naked in Death is the first in an ongoing series of so far 30 books (and some novellas and short stories) by J.D. Robb, a pseudonym for the already ridiculously prolific romance novelist Nora Roberts. The books are futuristic police procedurals with a core of romance at the centre. Lt. Eve Dallas is a driven and dedicated homicide detective who is called in when a young and beautiful licenced companion (read: prostitute - in the 2050s, prostitution is legalized and licenced) is brutally murdered. Her superiors are keen to have the case solved quickly and quietly, as the victim was also the granddaughter of a powerful US senator.

Under the murdered woman, there is also a note, suggesting that this murder is just the first of six. Lt. Dallas may be dealing with a serial killer. Her main suspect is the gorgeous, obscenely wealthy and extremely powerful Roarke, a self-made bazillionaire, and a friend of the murdered young woman's family. Normally, Eve has no problems staying focused on a case and utterly professional, but every time she and Roarke meet, sparks fly, and she is having trouble convincing herself that Roarke is bad news and should be best left alone.

I may be spoiling an important part of the book here - but anyone who bothers to find out about the series, will soon learn that Roarke is of course not the killer, and that he and Eve become one hell of an awesome couple, despite the many difficulties in their path, not the least of which is Eve's troubled past.

Reading Roberts/Robb's In Death books is a bit like watching an episode of Castle, if Castle was a bazillionare businessman instead of a crime writer, Beckett had an even more messed up past, and they were actually dating, instead of just flirting all the time. The actual mystery is not always the most interesting part (in 2 of the 3 books I've read so far, I've figured out who the killer quite some time before it is revealed), it's the way the mystery is solved, and the interplay of the characters and what they learn about each other along the way.

Stay tuned for my reviews of books 2 and 3 (yes, I'm a bit hooked on these at the moment).

Saturday 5 December 2009

CBR2 Book 8: "First Among Sequels" by Jasper Fforde

Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks
Page count: 404 pages
Rating: 2 stars
Date begun: November 30th, 2009
Date finished: December 4th, 2009

In this fifth book about Thursday Next, Fforde's unusual heroine has seemingly retired from her busy and dangerous career as a literary detective and enforcer of justice in the Book world. Her husband thinks she's working with her former colleagues in a carpet laying business, but of course, she is just as busy as before trying to sort out the many complications and problems that occur in literary fiction.

Reading rates in Outland, as the literary denizens like to call the real world, are falling drastically. The attention span of the common man is getting shorter and shorter, only very extreme reality programming such as Celebrity Kidney Swap seem to be holding their attention, and Thursday and her fellow Jurisfiction agents are not sure what to do about it. Sherlock Holmes appears to have been murdered. Bookworld beaureucrats want to turn Pride and Prejudice into a reality reading experience, where readers can vote off characters they don't like. One of Thursday's literary counterparts is trying to take her place, and her son Friday is failing spectacularly to live up to his future potential.

I really loved Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair when I discovered it many years ago. It was original, funny, clever and made me look at Jane Eyre in a completely different light. The second and third book in the series were enjoyable too, but as the series has progressed on, I'm not sure I'm as fond of Fforde's ideas anymore. It took me nearly a week to finish First Among Sequels, which is unusual, considering it's not a very long book. It also took me a year and a half from buying the book to actually reading it, because I just wasn't that bothered about finding out what happens to Thursday. What used to be funny and clever just doesn't seem as good anymore, and while Fforde's writing is still good, I may think about giving up on the series.

The action of the book is slow at first, but picks up towards the end. I may give the sixth Thursday Next book a chance, whenever it comes out, but if it fails to live up to my now-reduced expectations.

Friday 27 November 2009

CBR2 Book 7: "Bath Tangle" by Georgette Heyer

Publisher: Arrow Books Ltd.
Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars
Date begun: November 26th, 2009
Date finished: November 27th, 2009

For those who may not have heard of her, Georgette Heyer was a British novelist who in her long career wrote 30 historical romance novels and 12 crime thrillers. She was greatly inspired by Jane Austen, and is probably the reason why Regency romance is now a genre onto itself. Heyer's romances, unlike today's modern, quite often very raunchy stories, are more in the vein of Austen, in that the characters are created with wit and charm, and the dialogue sparkles. The hero and heroine may kiss at the end, but there is nothing even vaguely like sex scenes in them.
Bath Tangle
was written in the latter half of her career, and features, not at all unusual for a romance novel, a redheaded, fiery-tempered heroine, and a dark, swarthy, rich and arrogant hero. 25-year-old Lady Serena Carlow has just lost her father, the Earl of Spenborough. Her cousin inherits the estate, as her father left no sons, just a widow younger than his fiesty and strong-willed daughter. Lady Serena is shocked to realize, that her father has placed all her inheritance in trust, and her former fiancée Ivo Barrasford, the Marquis of Rotherham, is to be her guardian. She will only gain control of her fortune once she is married, and Rotherham has to consent to the union before such an event can occur.

Serena was engaged to Rotherham years previously, but broke it off with him a month before the wedding, because all they did was quarrel. She has known him all her life, and has great affection for him, but every time they are in the same room, sparks fly. This is partly due to the fact that Rotherham does not let Serena boss him around, as she is wont to do everyone else. He is greatly amused by the Earl's will and testament, but promises Serena he will be a sensible guardian to her.

After living with her young and lovely step-mother Fanny in the dower-house on the estate, the two young women realize that they are both bored to death, and decide to move to Bath, where there is more of a varied society, and Serena does not need to annoy herself over every change her cousin, the new Earl, is making to her former home. In Bath, Serena soon meets up with the only man she claims to have ever loved, a young army officer who after seven years has become a Major. Major Kirkby is stunned to have met his former love again, and seems just as much in love with her as before, only now their stations are not quite as far removed from each other as they once were. He becomes secretly engaged to Serena, who is quite happy with the idea of becoming his wife, until she discovers that Rotherham is engaged to a 17-year-old debutante.

Unusually in a romance, the hero does not feature all that prominently in the story at all. As in most romances, it is obvious from the start that Rotherham and Serena are meant to be, no two people argue that vehemently and passionately in romance without getting together at the end. Bath Tangle also explores a common fate of many women in Regency society - having to marry a much older man because family and society expects you to make a good match, no matter how big the age difference. Fanny keeps assuring Serena and everyone else that Spenborough was a most considerate husband, but she is clearly very distressed at the thought of an innocent 17-year-old marrying the much older Rotherham, obviously not out of love, but because of her ambitious mama's wishes. Serena's grief at her father's passing, and having to move out of the home she grew up in, simply because she is unmarried and her father did not provide male heirs, is also well written.

Bath Tangle will not go down as one of my favourite Heyer novels, but it was a quick and enjoyable read, as always.

Thursday 26 November 2009

CBR2 Book 6: "The Hero of Ages" by Brandon Sanderson

Publisher: Tor Fantasy
Page count: 748 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars
Date begun: November 20th, 2009
Date finished: November 26th, 2009


The third part of Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy starts a year after the end of the second book. At the end of the second book, Elend became Mistborn, and gained incredible powers, while Vin, thinking she was saving the world, instead released a malevolent force trapped in the Well of Ascension. Ruin is one of two cosmic powers, and strives only to destroy and create chaos. Released from its prison, it can manipulate events in the world directly, and the world, which was already turbulent after the fall of the Lord Ruler, is now moving towards certain destruction. The mists are out even in the daytime, and many people caught in them either fall sick or die. Plants are not getting the sunlight required to grow, both because of the smothering mists and the ever increasing ashfalls.

Vin and Elend, have found four great storage caverns under prominent cities in the Empire, but have to lay siege to the last remaining city, ruled by one of the late Lord Ruler's administrators, in order to get to it. Spook, one of the less prominent members of Kelsier's old thieving crew has been sent to spy in another of the cities, where a man calling himself the Citizen has taken control, determined to wipe out all nobles, and creating a world following all the most extreme ideas of Kelsier, the Survivor of Hathsin.

As with the second book of the trilogy, I didn't exactly dislike The Hero of Ages, but it took me longer to finish than many books do, because I just didn't care all that much. As with The Well of Ascension, the action picks up towards the latter half of the book, and some of Sanderson's ideas really are very original and creative. It's just that the book is far too long, and the plot drags out for hundreds of pages before you get to the really good bits. I have read books this size in a much shorter period of time, and several times this week had to persuade myself to read rather than do other things, which does not happen if I am reading a book I really love.

As a concluding part of a trilogy, it does tie up loose ends very neatly, and there are some cool revelations to previous storylines, but all of these things mostly come towards the latter half of the book. Of the trilogy, only the first book didn't really suffer from being overlong and having parts I pretty much skimmed through, in the hopes that something more interesting would happen soon. Like quite a lot of epic fantasy, the page count should have been reduced somewhat, making the books shorter and faster paced. All in all, the trilogy is a good read, but not a great one.

Thursday 19 November 2009

CBR2 Book 5: "The Well of Ascension" by Brandon Sanderson

Publisher: Tor Fantasy
Page count: 783 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: November 14th, 2009
Date finished: November 19th, 2009


Kelsier, "the Survivor of Hathsin" and Vin, both Mistborn, set out, with a band of thieves and conmen to overthrow the tyrannical Lord Ruler and free the Final Empire. They suceeded, but there was a cost. Kelsier sacrificed himself, and is now worshipped as a God in a slowly emerging new religion. Elend Venture rules Luthadel, the capital city, but there are two armies camped outside the city walls, one led by his own father - and a third army is on the way.

Vin and the rest of Kelsier's old gang are not sure what they are supposed to do now, as none of them expected to succeed, and establishing a democracy where there was previously a thousand-year long dictatorship is easier said than done. Especially with large hostile forces on one's doorstep. Vin is not entirely comfortable with being a ruthless weapon these armies can be threatened with, and the appearence in Luthadel of another Mistborn makes her more insecure. The mists have also started becoming more sinister, actually appearing in the daytime, and sometimes apparently killing people. Could it be that the mists are actually the legendary Deepness returning? Is Vin the prophesied Hero of Ages, and does she, her lover and her friends have more to worry about than impending warfare?

The second book in Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy fleshes out some of the characters from the first book more. Breeze and Ham, not to mention Elend, are explored in greater detail. The premise of the book: what happens when the rebels actually win, and defeat the Dark Lord? What happens afterwards? is an interesting one, but I also found the plot a lot more slow and plodding in this book. Both Vin and Elend spend a lot of the book being insecure and unsure of themselves and their feelings, and after the third or fourth time they kept agonizing over how wrong they were for each other, not to mention uncomfortable in their roles as King of Luthadel or worshipped Mistborn, it got a bit tiresome. For a very long time, while he is building up tension, nothing much actually happens, and I suspect Sanderson might have produced a better book if he'd cut the book by a hundred pages or so.

The book also explores some interesting political and religious ideas, but it felt like a lot of Sanderson's main messages got a bit dragged down by the long narrative. Still, the ending of the book is not bad at all, and makes me very curious about the conclusion of the trilogy.

Sunday 15 November 2009

CBR2 Book 4: "Mistborn: The Final Empire" by Brandon Sanderson

Publisher: Tor Fantasy
Page count: 647 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars
Date begun: November 11th, 2009
Date finished: November 14th, 2009

Brandon Sanderson was hired by Robert Jordan's widow to finish his sprawling and unfinished fantasy series The Wheel of Time, after Jordan died in 2007. Sanderson wrote the stand-alone fantasy novel Elantris in 2005, and followed this up with the trilogy Mistborn.

Mistborn: The Final Empire is the first part in the trilogy, but somewhat unusually for epic fantasy trilogies, has a self-contained ending, instead of ending with a cliffhanger, forcing the reader to continue to the next book in the series. If one wanted to, this book could be read in isolation, and one would still have a satisfying conclusion.

The Final Empire is a depressing place to live. Once, it is rumoured, the sun was bright and yellow, not a dull red. The fields, trees and plants were green, not a dull brown. There were even things known as flowers. Ash didn't constantly rain from the sky. Now the days are dark and gloomy, and at night the sinister and all-enveloping mists cover everything. A thousand years ago, the Lord Ruler saved the world from the Deepness. He has ruled the Final Empire ever since. Known as the Sliver of Infinity, he is immortal, both emperor and God. Society consists of a limited amount of Noble Houses, and the skaa, the down-trodden and oppressed serf-race. The skaa work on the plantations in the countryside, or do menial tasks in the cities. They have no rights, they can be killed on the whim of one of the nobles or clergy - and any skaa woman who is taken as a mistress by one of the nobility has to be killed before half-noble offspring can be concieved and born.

Some of the nobles possess the power to burn one of ten metals to give them enhanced powers. A few, very rare exceptions, are known as Mistborn. They can burn all ten metals, and hence can control all ten enhanced abilities. Vin, the street urchin who is the book's protagonist, is one of these Mistborn. She is one of the few half noble children who were never killed. Another of the Mistborn is Kelsier, a half-noble former thief and conman. If the skaa are lucky, they get a quick death if they earn their masters' disapproval. If they're less fortunate, they are sent to the Pits of Hathsin, a brutal mine where people first go insane and then die. Kelsier is the only man to survive and escape the Pit, but he lost his wife - and is out for revenge.

Kelsier, with the help of Vin, and his band of accomplices have a grand scheme. They are going to kill the immortal Lord Ruler, destroy the Final Empire and steal the treasury. Everyone is convinced that Kelsier is insane, that the plan is impossible to accomplish - but they're going to try anyway.

One of the best things about Sanderson's book is the magic system the Mistborn control. By swallowing fragments of metal, they are able to burn them to get various enhanced power, like strength, speed, vision, hearing etc. Various metals burn at different speeds, when they're used up, the powers fade. There are also consequences to using the powers, the users are not superhuman, and have limitations. The main characters are pretty well fleshed out and complex, however, some of the supporting cast are pretty one-dimensional. Still, Sanderson has created an interesting world, quite different from that of many other epic fantasy series. I had read several complimentary reviews of this book, and am glad to say that I was not disappointed.

Thursday 12 November 2009

CBR2 Book 3: "Soulless" by Gail Carriger

Publisher: Orbit
Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: November 09th, 2009
Date finished: November 11th, 2009

is the first of Gail Carriger's Alexia Tarabotti novels, and is described as "A novel of vampires, werewolves and parasols". In Carriger's Steampunk Victorian London, vampires, werewolves and ghosts live fully integrated in society, and is one of the things that have helped make the British Empire so very great. Queen Victoria has both a vampire and a werewolf advisor; vampires dictate popular fashion and werewolves help control the armed forces.

Carriger's heroine is the outspoken, independent-minded spinster Miss Alexia Tarabotti. She has the misfortune of having a father who was not only Italian, but is now dead. Her silly mother has remarried, and Alexia has to suffer the opinions of her and her frivolous and blonde younger sisters. As well as being in possession of a Roman nose, unruly dark hair and a skintone rather more tan than is considered fashionable (especially with vampires deciding what is truly chiq), Alexia's chief legacy from her dead father is her lack of a soul. She is a preternatural, a creature who can cancel out the powers of all the supernaturals in society. If she touches a vampire, their fangs retract and they lose their superhuman stength. She can even turn a werewolf entirely human, even during a full moon.

Because of her unusual powers, the Bureau of Unnatural Registry (or BUR as it's generally referred to in the book) has kept a close eye on Alexia since she was a young girl. The head of the BUR, Lord Connal Maccon, the Earl of Woolsey and alpha of the London pack of werewolves is not amused when he finds Alexia next to a dead vampire at ball. The fact that Alexia accidentally killed the vampire in self-defence, after the poorly-dressed and uncouth creature tried to kill her in the library, does not seem to make him any happier. Lord Maccon and Miss Tarabotti have clearly have frequent run-ins and disagreements over the years, ever since "the hedgehog incident" a few years back. Yet neither can help but be slightly pleased when they keep being thrown together in the course of the investigation of the strangely behaved vampire and the events that follow its demise.

Soulless, if one must classify it, is a Steampunk paranormal romance, written in a wry and witty style, reminiscent of P.G Wodehouse and Jane Austen - both of whom Carriger admits to admiring. Occasionally, Carriger would use a more modern or informal turn of phrase, which I found a bit distracting and annoying, but the book as a whole was very amusing, and the dialogue in the book (not just that between Alexia and Lord Maccon) sparkles. Alexia is a very formidable and capable heroine, and I am already looking forward to reading her and the Earl of Woolsey's continued adventures in Changeless, which is released early next year.

Monday 9 November 2009

CBR2 Book 2: "Tarnished Beauty" by Cecilia Samartin

Publisher: Washington Square Press
Page Count: 368 pages
Rating: 3 stars
Date begun: November 7th, 2009
Date finished: November 8th, 2009

My mother read this book translated into Norwegian, and recommended it to me. When reading books that are originally written in a language I do not read fluently, such as Spanish or Russian, I have no problem reading the book in Norwegian, and often prefer to, as despite living in Norway, and even teaching Norwegian in school, I tend to read nearly everything in English nowadays. The Norwegian title of the book is Senor Peregrino, making me believe the original novel was in Spanish. Once I realized it was originally written in English, however, I tracked down a copy on Amazon and ordered it for myself.

The title Tarnished Beauty refers to the protagonist Jamilet Juárez, a young Mexican girl cursed with a massive bloodred birthmark covering her back from her shoulders to her knees. Believed from birth to be associated with the Devil, as her virtuous and beautiful mother became pregnant through rape (although Jamilet's mother, grandmother and aunt keep telling her colourful, if differing stories about the violent and dramatic ways her supposed father died long ago), Jamilet leads an extremely sheltered life in the tiny Mexican village that was her home. She learns English during a year her mother works as a maid for an American family, and she is allowed to play with the daughter of the house. Once her mother dies, she has no choice but to travel to the US, as she is shunned by the villagers, and she hopes that in America doctors will be able to cure her of her terrible blemish.

In Los Angeles, she moves in with her drunken aunt, and after her aunt helps her get fake documents, she is able to get a job at the nearby lunatic asylum. She falls hopelessly in love with Eddie, a boy dating the girl next door, and dreams of him, while trying to cope with her duties taking care of the foul-tempered, if very clever Senor Peregrino in the asylum. Clearly not a normal mental patient, he has sumptous furniture and Jamilet's personal duties involve fetching his food, running his errands and cleaning his room, although she is under strict instructions not to involve him in conversations, or listen to his delusional stories.

After being attacked by the hospital janitor, Jamilet is saved by the strange, old man, but loses her documents, and strikes up a bargain to have them returned. She promises to listen to his story about the pilgrimage he took in his youth, to Santiago the Compostela in his native Spain, and at the end of the story, he will give her back her documents. As the mysterious Senor Peregrino tells Jamilet his story, they develop a close friendship, which will change both their lives.

The book is well written, and Jamilet's loneliness, kindness and sadness is very well rendered by the author. She pines for a boy she believes she cannot have, and dreams of having her birthmark removed, so she can live a normal life, and not have to cover herself constantly. The story drags a bit in places during Peregrino's pilgrimage tale, and the end is a bit aprupt and sudden (and I read other places online that a lot of people really did not like it), but I think the story wraps up on a very hopeful note, with the author leaving some things unanswered on purpose.

Friday 6 November 2009

CBR2 Book 1: "Bite Marks" by Jennifer Rardin

Publisher: Orbit
Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 2 stars
Date begun: November 3rd, 2009
Date finished: November 6th, 2009

Jasmine "Jaz" Parks is an assassin working for a special branch of the CIA. Bite Marks is the sixth book of Jennifer Rardin's paranormal fantasy series. In this book, Jaz finds herself in Australia. With her is her boss (and lover), the centuries-old vampire Vayl; her nerdy and brilliant former college roomate Bergman, who creates marvellous gadgets for her and her team; the ex-PI turned CIA-sniper Cole (who used to have a crush on her); and Cassandra, the gorgeous centuries-old seeress and former oracle who is now dating (and may be marrying) Jaz' brother Dave.

Jaz' mission in Australia revolves around saving NASA's Australian-based space complex from being sabotaged by evil gnomes. Said mission is complicated by the fact that Jaz seems to be possessed by the spirit of a malevolent Scottish warrior king, and because a very determined and ruthless demon has shown up to drag Cassandra to Hell.

Jennifer Rardin's Jaz Parks series is light entertainment fodder, and its heroine is the paranormal equivalent of Sydney Bristow from Alias. She's smarter than Sookie Stackhouse, a lot less annoying (and has vastly less sex) than Anita Blake, and has a fascinating cast of characters in her head to help her stay on top of her game. The books contain witty banter, sexual tension, gadged-filled undercover missions and action-packed set pieces. Like a James Bond-movie, each books features more or less the same cast of quirky characters, having to save the world from some paranormal disaster.

Normally, I find the Jaz Parks books and easy and entertaining read, but this time, the book was less engaging than some of the previous books in the series. I don't know if it was the lack of a proper villain, or that some of the excitement has gone out of the books now that finally Jaz and Vayl have given in to the sizzling sexual tension between them and become and item, but this book did not entertain and amuse me as much as some of the others have. Hoping for an improvement with book 7. As book 6 in a series, it is also not the best place to start, if one is interested in checking out Jennifer Rardin's writing - Once Bitten, Twice Shy is the first book in the series.

Monday 19 October 2009

Pre-Cannonball warm-up: Nation

Rating: 5 stars

Terry Pratchett is probably most famous for writing the now 37-long book series The Discworld, which includes such gems as Small Gods, Men at Arms, Hogfather and Nightwatch. He has also co-authored the wonderful Good Omens with Neil Gaiman.

Nation is not set in the Discworld. It is set in a world not that dissimilar to our own. In the Great Southern Pelagic Oceans, on a tiny island of the Mothering Sunday Islands - so tiny, in fact, that it doesn't appear on any naval chart - lies the Nation. Mau is on his way home from the Boys' Island, and when he returns to the Nation there will be a great ceremony and a big feast, and the sharp thing with the knife where you didn't scream - and then he will be a man.

Paddling home in his selfmade canoe, Mau is caught up in an enormous wave. When he makes it back to the Nation, he is the only one left. Now he is neither man nor boy (perhaps a demon ate his soul), the Grandfathers are constantly shouting in his head, and the only other living person on the island is a strange trouserman ghost-girl.

Ermintrude is a young lady, completely unaware that on the other side of the world, a terrible plague has killed the King and one hundred and thirty-seven other people, and her father is now king. She was on her way to meet her father, the governor of Port Meria (himself completely unaware that he know happens to be King), when the ship she was on was caught in the tidal wave which destroyed the Nation. She, and a terribly foul-mouthed parrot, are the only survivors on the Sweet Judy.

Mau is puzzled by the mysterious trouserman ghost girl. Ermintrude, who much prefers to be called Daphne, was brought up well, but has no idea what the etiquette for receiving a loincloth-clad savage to afternoon tea is, especially when the only chaperone she has is the dead Captain Roberts. Neither speaks the other's language, and there is great confusion.

Nation may well be one of the best books Pratchett has ever written, and it is likely to be one of his last ones, as he has now been tragically stricken with Alzheimer's. It's a novel about identity, about belonging, about questioning the Gods and about surviving. It's not as laugh-out-loud funny as some of his earlier novels, but explores difficult and important themes in an excellent young adult novel, that readers of pretty much any age should be able to enjoy.

Saturday 17 October 2009

The Cannonball Read

Last year, Pajiba, a website I read nearly daily, started a challenge among their readers. It was called The Cannonball Read, and the point was that all the participants were to read 100 books in a year. The books had to be at least 150 pages long, and the participants were also supposed to write a little about each book on their blog/website, so others could share in their experiences.

I did not actually join, but thought about it, and did, like in 2007, set myself the goal that I would try to read at least 52 new (by new I mean books that I have never read before, not new as in just published) books in a year. In 2007 I managed to hit that goal exactly. Last year, in 2008, I read a total of 140 new books, I reread 17 books, and in addition, I read 6 comic trade paperbacks. Since 2007, I have written down all the books or comics collections that I read.

This year, in 2009, as well as writing down the books and what date I finished them, I am also dividing my reading into months, and I write down the page numbers of the books. So far in 2009, I have read 99 books, and I'm currently reading book 100. I have reread 18 books, and I have also read the entirety of 100 Bullets, which spans 13 trade paperbacks, and more than 2200 pages in itself. I'm not sure why I've decided to myself that comics trades don't count. The rereads don't count as I strive to experience new books, but I will obviously add the page count of all the books and comics trades together at the end of the year in morbid curiosity of how much I actually do read.

This year, starting on the 1st of November - Pajiba are doing another Cannonball Read. This year, participants only have to finish 52 books in a year. I know I can do that part. My goal of reading 52 books this year was reached in the middle of May - I've now read nearly twice that. The challenge for me will be that they want people to blog about each and every book, posting a little review, of at least three paragraphs. I'm not good at sticking with a blog, and I prefer rating things with stars out of 5 rather than actually formulate my thoughts carefully in writing about the things I read or watch. Apparently, reviews of participants might be published on the Pajiba website. I don't know how I'd feel about that. I wouldn't mind my friends reading what I wrote, but complete strangers...

Still, because I read a lot, and because I think the challenge sounds fun, I will try to do this. Hence I have started this blog, where I will mostly write about books, but if I get round to it (extremely unlikely) may post about other things as well. I'm sure I will be able to read the 52 books demanded, and more, as my most favourite pasttime, and the thing that keeps me sane, is reading. We shall have to see about the reviews. I did notice they didn't specify that the reviews had to be very good. Wish me luck.