Tuesday 24 May 2011

CBR3 Book 43: "The Vampire Dimitri" by Colleen Gleason

Publisher: Mira
Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3 stars
Date begun: May 20th, 2011
Date finished: May 21st, 2011

Dimitri, the Earl of Corvindale became one of the Dracule to save the woman he loved at the time, and has regretted his decision for nearly a century. Unlike many of his fellow Dracule, he doesn't really enjoy a life of decadence and debauchery, he isolates himself, studying ancient texts to try to find a way out of his demonic bargain. He's not at all pleased when his associate, the vampire hunter Chas Woodmore goes missing, taking the evil Cesare Moldavi's gorgeous vampire sister Narcise with him into hiding. Bound by a promise to Woodmore, Dimitri has to act as guardian to his two younger sisters, Maia and Angelica, and protect them against the vengeful wrath of Moldavi.

Maia Woodmore is not pleased about the arrangement either. She is to be married to a promising young gentleman as soon as he returns from the Continent, and feels that packing up all their possessions to stay at Corvindale's dark and dusty old manor is entirely pointless. Yet she will respect her brother's wishes. Then her sister Angelica gets herself involved with the disreputable Viscount Dewhurst, and despite Maia's many useful suggestions, Corvindale just doesn't seem interested in listening to her. She keeps having disturbingly erotic dreams about a man biting her neck, and there seems to be no end of dangerous thugs lurking around the place trying to get to her and her sister.

The Vampire Dimitri did not take as long to get properly started as The Vampire Voss, but did repeat a number of scenes that had already been explored in the previous book from a different point of view, in some cases in a little bit more detail than entirely neccessary, in my opinion. The fact that both Dimitri and Maia are more engaging characters, and that quite a lot of the worldbuilding has now been established, so there's less need for expositiony passages that explain about the Dracule or the relationships between various factions, also helps a lot. I did find Maia's character a little bit inconsistent, she's prim, proper and very decorous one minute, then give her a glass or two of champagne punch and she'll snog any random handsome stranger who approaches. I get that she's supposed to have hidden depths of passion that just need to be unlocked, but there could have been a bit more persuading going on before she threw caution to the wind.

I've heard that the third and final book in the trilogy is supposed to be less of a retread of already established plot, and am hoping that Gleason exploring a female Dracule might lead to the best book of the lot. This book was fun, but The Regency Draculia is nothing close to as good as her first series.

CBR3 Book 42: "The Vampire Voss" by Colleen Gleason

Publisher: Mira
Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 2.5 stars
Date begun: May 8th, 2011
Date finished: May 14th, 2011

Voss, Viscount Dewhurst is one of the Dracule, a vampire who became such after selling his soul to Lucifer in return for an eternal life of wealth, decadence and pleasure. He makes his living selling information, and as such, is not super popular among the other Dracule of the London set. He's recently returned from the Colonies, and is trying to find useful information about Napoleon Boneparte and the war between France and England. He knows that one of the Woodmore sisters (wards to another Dracule, Dimitri, the Earl of Corvindale) has psychic powers, and his plan is to seduce useful information out of her.

His job is hampered by the fact that the Woodmore sisters are being hunted by Cesare Moldavi, an evil vampire who's furious that Chas Woodmore, their brother (and a famous vampire hunter) has absconded with his precious sister Narcise. So Dimitri is keeping careful watch over the Woodmore sisters, and once Voss finally gets close to Angelica (the one with the Sight), it turns out that she is immune to his vampire thrall, if not to his looks and charm. A notorious womanizer, Voss is taken aback when he finds Angelica so irresistable, and for the first time in over a century of debauchery, he feels compelled to change. Will the love of a good woman save him from his bargain with the Devil?

I very much enjoyed Colleen Gleason's previous paranormal series, The Gardella Vampire Chronicles, which combined adventure, romance and vampire slaying in a Regency setting. In those books, all the vampires were evil, in this new series (which seems to be set in the same universe, due to cameo appearances by familiar characters), it seems that there are different kinds of vampires, and some are less bad than others. The Dracule are men (or women) who bargain their soul to the devil, and in return get eternal youth. They do have to drink blood and avoid sunlight, and apparently all have a unique weakness that can incapacitate them (the first thing they lay eyes on after becoming Dracule).

The vampire mythos is quite interesting, and the book was not bad after the first hundred pages or so. But to begin with, it was dreadfully slow going, and the reason it took me over a week to finish it, is that I kept putting it down to read something else. Once the action actually gets going, the book is quite enjoyable, although neither Voss nor Angelica are great characters, and I found myself a little bit indifferent to whether they would get their happy ending or not. Still, I feel that I may as well commit to the rest of the series now too, in the hopes that the following books in the trilogy get better.

Sunday 22 May 2011

CBR3 Book 41: "Dead Reckoning" by Charlaine Harris

Publisher: Ace
Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 3 stars
Date begun: May 8th, 2011
Date finished: May 10th, 2011

This is the eleventh book in the Sookie Stackhouse series, and it will make very little sense to anyone who hasn't read book 10 and quite a few of the others in the series. Standard warning about possible spoilers for previous books in the series.

 Sookie is still working as a waitress at Merlotte's, even though the business is not thriving, with a roadhouse opening up nearby, luring away many of the customers. It doesn't improve matters when someone attacks the bar and firebombs it. Everything happens very fast, but Sookie is pretty sure whoever attacked was two-natured.

Eric is distracted, and clearly has some kind of confict with Pam. Sookie can feel that he's upset through the blood bond they share, and Pam clearly wants to talk to her, but is forbidden to do so by Eric.Tired of not knowing whether her feelings for Eric are actually real, or brought forth by the blood bond between them, and the constant peril they keep experiencing, Sookie invites her witch friend and ex-roommate Amelia to come visit to see if the bond can be broken. However, breaking the bond could put Sookie in further danger from Victor, the newly installed regent in the area, who wants nothing more than to provoke Eric into doing something rash, so he can be removed once and for all.

Sookie finds out more about her heritage once she clears out a bunch of old furniture, and a cupboard contains a secret compartment with a mysterious fairy artifact and a letter from her grandmother. After talks with an old aqcuaintance, she even discovers where her telepathy came from. Now, she just has to survive Eric's power struggle with his boss, the plots of her fairy relatives, avoid a former adversary out for revenge, figure out how to help Sam get his business back on track and plan her friend Tara's baby shower.

Dead Reckoning was better than Dead in the Family, where I thought nothing much happened at all. I'm not entirely sure what Harris has planned for Sookie and the rest of the characters, there are clearly things set up in this book that will play out later, but she doesn't seem to be in a hurry to get there. Considering Sookie's life is threatened several times during the course of this book, it still seems to pass fairly slowly, and there seems to be very little of actual importance happening.

Certain parts of the plot completely messed up the continuity of previous books, and I think I will just ignore those, as either Harris is confused about what she previously wrote, or she's just committed a very unsuccessful ret-con. I'm not entirely happy with the direction she's taking Eric and Sookie's relationship, and after spending quite such a long time getting them together, she needs to decide if she actually wants them to ba a couple, or if she's just going to keep messing with them. She also needs to decide whether Sookie is ditzy and silly and impulsive to the point of being TSTL, or whether she's actually clever and resourceful, if somewhat weary of what her life since she was introduced to the supernatural world has become, because in this book she jumps between the two, and it gets confusing and frustrating. 

I didn't by any means hate the book, but the series is nowhere near as good as it was in the beginning. It seems as if Harris is just writing on autopilot, throwing inlife-threatening danger for Sookie in each book. In the first few, there was a central mystery to be solved, and each book ended with most of the story-strands tied up. Now each book ends in a much more open fashion, the focus is much more on vampire and faery politics, and I wish I had more confidence in Harris ending the series in a satisfactory way. Still, with only one book a year, I'll probably stick with it until the end.

Sunday 8 May 2011

CBR3 Book 40: "Mine to Possess" by Nalini Singh

Publisher: Gollancz
Page count: 352 pages
Rating: 3 stars
Date begun: May 5th, 2011
Date finished: May 7th, 2011

This is the fourth book in the Psy-Changeling series, and the normal spiel about there being possible spoilers for previous books in the series applies, as always. This book, more than any of the preceding three does not make a lot of sense unless you've read at least some of the others, so if you haven't, go start at the beginning with Slave to Sensation.

Clay Bennett is a half-human leopard changeling who searched for acceptance until he found he found a place with the Dark River leopard clan. Talin McKay is human, and still marked by the horrors of her childhood. Abused and nearly killed by her sosiopathic foster father, she was saved by her best friend, the teenage Clay, who lost control of his inner cat and tore the man to pieces. He was sent to juvie for the crime, and believed that Talin died in a car accident shortly after.

Hence his shock is great when his Tally turns up very much alive twenty years later, begging him for help. Employed by the Shine foundation, a charitable organisation which helps gifted street kids, Talin is desperate to find out who is kidnapping and killing the children under her and her colleagues' protection. She turns to the strongest person she knows, even though a part of her is still terrified of him.

Clay struggles to get over the betrayal he feels that Talin committed by faking her own death. It's obvious to him that she's scared of him, even though, as children, all he ever felt towards her was protectiveness. Now, when both are adults, his fierce need to protect is reawakened, coupled with intense feelings of attraction. He agrees to help Talin find the children, both because the changelings value the young, and to ensure that she stays around long enough for him to convince her that she must never leave again. But Talin has a secret that she's keeping from him, and she's reluctant to get too close to him, even as she feels as drawn to him as he is to her.

As well as the romance between Clay and Talin (the first completely human protagonist of the Psy-Changeling novels so far), Mine to Possess continues the underlying plot line of the Psy wanting to increase control of the Silence (the process by which they are sealed away from all human emotion, and run on pure logic and intellect) and are working on an implant to ensure complete compliance from all Psy from childhood. The missing children are being used in experiments, but not all the Psy agree that the new protocol is the way forward. There is further sabotage from rogue Psy, and at least one plot line is set up that will continue in future books.

The book also features many of the characters from the previous books, and the day to day life of the Dark River changelings and their pack structure is further explored. I must admit that Clay and Tally's story didn't grab me as much as the continued plot line of Changelings vs Psy in this, and I'm more interested in seeing where things are going with the overarching plot arc in Hostage to Pleasure. 

CBR9 Book 39: "Princess of Glass" by Jessica Day George

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Page count: 272 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: May 3rd, 2011
Date finished: May 4th, 2011

Princess of Glass is a sequel of possibly accompanying novel to Jessica Day George's Princess of the Midnight Ball. This review may therefore contain mild spoilers for that book, and anyone wanting to avoid said spoilers, should skip this review and read that book first.

Poppy, one of the twelve princesses from the country of Westfalin (Germany) has been sent to one of the neighbouring countries on a diplomatic exchange. She keeps being invited to balls, but due to a life-time of having to dance nightly due to a now broken curse, she prefers gambling at card tables instead. She is still having recurring nightmares about the years she and her sisters had to dance at the court of the evil King-under-Stone, and misses her family. She enjoys making new friends, though, especially her growing closeness with another visiting royal, Prince Christian of the Danelaw (unsurprisingly, Denmark), yet even he can't tempt her into actually dancing.

During one of the many royal balls arranged in Prince Christian's honour, a mysterious and beautiful young lady appears, dressed impeccably, covered in jewels and wearing delicate glass shoes, charming all the men. Yet she seems especially determined to monopolize as many dances as possible with Christian. Poppy recognizes the enigmatic Lady Ella as Ellen, the extremely clumsy maid in the household where she's staying. Ellen is the orphaned daughter of a local nobleman, forced into domestic service after her father lost all his money and had to sell off his estate. There is clearly magic involved with Ellen's sudden make-over, and Poppy suspects there is something sinister behind Ellen's godmother's determination that she marry Prince Christian. She will need to figure out what magical influence this so-called Fairy Godmother wields, and how to break it.

Princess of Glass is another delightful fairy tale retelling, this time a very interesting twist on Cinderella. Based on this, and her previous novels, I will absolutely be on the lookout for any others she writes, whether they're about other Westfalian princesses or something entirely different.

CBR3 Books 36-38: "The Love by Numbers trilogy" by Sarah MacLean

36: Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake - 4.5 stars
37: Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord - 3.5 stars
38: Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart - 4 stars

Total page count: 1200 pages
Date begun: April 28th, 2011
Date finished: May 2nd, 2011

Sarah MacLean sure has long (and rather silly) titles for her books, but don't let that put you off. If you like historical romance, with a good deal of emotional development, these are very enjoyable books, each in their way.

36: Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake
Gabriel St. John is the Marquis of Ralston, and has a reputation as a rake, a libertine and a bit of a rogue. He and his slightly younger twin brother Nicholas, are both tall, dark, rich and handsome, and have trouble trusting women after their faithless and scandalous mother left their father when they were ten, and ran off to Italy. There she married an Italian merchant, had a daughter, and promptly ran off again, leaving Miss Juliana Fiori unaware that she had older half-brothers until her father dies, and she is instructed to go seek them out in London.

Neither Gabriel or his brother are prepared to foster an orphaned young lady and bring her out into society. Added to their own rather dubious reputations is the fact that Juliana is not titled and can quite possibly be considered illegitimate. The gossips of the ton could eat her alive, unless the St. John brothers find the perfect allies. As luck would have it, Lady Calpurnia Hartwell turns up on Gabriel's doorstep late one night, and the two strike a bargain.

Callie is sick to death of being a wallflower and spinster of impeccable reputation. While her younger sister has just secured the proposal of the season to a man she adores and will soon be Duchess, Callie has spent eight long years on the marriage market, never stepping a foot out of line, approached only by fortune hunters and undesirable men interested in her dowry. She's made a list with nine things that she wants to experience to fill her life with adventure, and the first thing she wants is a proper kiss. Who better to get it from than London's most notorious rake, and the man she has always fancied?

In return for a truly spine-melting kiss, Callie agrees to sponsor Miss Juliana's entry into Society. Her job is made easier when the two women like each other immensely upon meeting each other. But instructing the opinionated young woman on the finer points of manners and dancing means spending a lot of time in Gabriel's town house. During the course of ticking off the points of her list of adventure, she keeps running into him a lot, and the Marquis is surprised that the prim and proper, and rather plain Lady Calpurnia deep down has hidden depths and is clearly an adventurous and spirited woman, who he can't seem to get out of his mind after kissing her.

37: Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord
Lord Nicholas St. John may not be titled, but he's as rich and handsome as his Marquis brother, and they can be told apart by the scar Nick has on his cheek, which he sustained thanks to a treacherous lady during a campaign in Turkey. A seasoned solidier, adventurer and trained archeologist and scholar, Nick is desperate to escape London after a popular ladies' magazine votes him one of the city's most eligible bachelors. When his old school friend, the imperious Duke of Leighton, asks him to use the skills he learned in the army to track down the whereabouts of his younger sister, Lady Georgiana, who's gone missing. Happy to avoid the grasping clutches of the young ladies of the ton and their match-making mamas, Nick agrees, and sets off to the north of England accompanied by Rock, his huge Turkish former comrade-in-arms.

In a crumbling manor house in Yorkshire, Lady Isabel Townsend has just been told that her father, the wastrel Earl, has died, leaving her and her younger brother, the new Earl, completely penniless. Isabel has to find the money to fix the leaky roof, send her brother to Eton and feed and clothe the two dozen women under her roof. Isabel wants her ten-year-old brother to have a proper education so he can become a proper gentleman and raise himself and the Earldom above the reputation their father left. She is also running Minerva House, a refuge for abused, battered and helpless women from all over the country. Their newest arrival, Lady Georgiana, is pregnant and desperate, and despite the warnings from her various members of staff (all former Minerva House refugees) about this likely leading to trouble, Isabel determines that the young lady gets to stay.

In order to get money, Isabel resolves to sell off the large collection of marble statues she inherited from her mother. Though she loves the collection, her need for money is greater. Imagine her luck when famous archeologist and expert in antiquities, Nicholas St. John turns up in her village in Yorkshire, saving her from being trampled by a carriage and offering to appraise her valuables for her.

Nick is less than impressed with the willful and stubborn Lady Isabel, who while very pretty, insists on courting danger by stepping in front of speeding carriages and balancing on crumbling manor roofs. As the village near her manor is the last place Lady Georgiana was seen, he figures that he may as well use the excuse of the marbles to gain entry into her house. Little does he know that while he though he'd escaped match-making, Isabel's all-female staff are avidly reading ladies' magazines and feel that Isabel marrying the rich and handsome lord would be a much better solution than selling her beloved marbles.

38: Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart
Miss Juliana Fiori keeps trying to behave impeccably in the stifling London society, but everywhere she goes, there is malicious gossip about her, her brothers and most of all, about her scandalous mother. Possibly even more damaged by their mother's faithlessness than her brothers, Juliana constantly fears that sooner or later, blood really will tell, and she will prove to be just like her mother. After all, she kissed Simon Pearson, the Duke of Leighton, just to provoke a reaction from him at the Royal Art Exibition, and he's been cold and utterly disdainful since he discovered her identity.

Juliana doesn't realize that Simon holds so rigidly to correct manners and propriety, not just because of his lofty title, but because he knows that scandal will inevitably erupt around him once society discovers that his younger sister, Lady Georgiana, is hidden away in Yorkshire having a child out of wedlock. He needs to work damage control, and ally himself with a family of impeccable taste and reputation, before everything blows up in his face. So he will marry a young lady of good breeding, even though his heart beats faster every time he sees or speaks to the vibrant Juliana.

When she makes him a wager that she will prove to him in less than 14 days that a life without passion is not worth living, he knows he should refuse, but is powerless to resist. Soon the icy Duke of Disdain will discover that when it comes to a stubborn and fiery Italian beauty, he doesn't stand a chance.

The first and the last book in the series are absolutely the most enjoyable of the two, with a lot more happening and a greater sense of adventure. Nick and Isabel's book takes place over a very short space of time, confined to the wilds of Yorkshire, and not that much actually happens in it. It is still a useful book to have read for further insight into the characters, and especially to give backstory to Simon, the seemingly extremely stuck-up Duke of Leighton. All three books can be read independently of each others, but work very well as a series, and I will absolutely be checking out any new novels Sarah MacLean writes.

CBR3 Book 35: "Finding Sky" by Joss Stirling

Publisher: Oxford University Press
Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: April 27th, 2011
Date finished: April 27th, 2011

I have a weakness for young adult books with pretty covers. It was what first drew me to Twilight, and it has led me to pick up and purchase a number of novels, some of them excellent (Wicked Lovely, Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception), some of them absolute dreck (Hush Hush, Fallen). Finding Sky does not quite reach the dizzying heights of brilliance of the former books, but it's also a far cry from the latter, and the author is clearly trying to do something new, while still cashing in on the extremely lucrative angsty teen romance market.

Found abandoned at a petrol station as a child, Sky is bounced from foster home to foster home until the artistically inclined Brights adopt her. Yup, the heroine's name is Sky Bright (the lameness of her name is pointed out frequently in the novel, so it's not like the author isn't aware of it). Her parents get a grant to go to the US for a year, and Sky has to adjust to an small town American high school, nervous that it's going to be like all the stereotypes she's seen in the movies. After just a few days in school, the resident bad boy, Zed Benedict, catches her eye. So far, so Twilight. While Zed isn't a sparkly vampire, he does come from a family with unusual powers, and once he gets closer to Sky, he claims that she's his soulfinder (pretty much fated mate) and that she too has unusual abilities that she just needs to get in touch with.

Zed's the youngest of seven brothers, and his entire family, including his parents, has abilities like telekinesis, mind reading, healing and even mind control. They use their powers for good and try to help the authorities solve crimes. This isn't always popular, and they have dangerous enemies. These enemies realize Sky's somehow connected to the Benedict family and she is abducted to be used as a bargaining chip. If the Benedicts refuse to comply, she may be brainwashed, or even killed.

As I said, to begin with, this book seemed to be a fairly standard Twilight-rip off, but Stirling has some interesting ideas, and the concept of soulfinders, and certain people with supernatural abilities (that can be used for good or evil) was an intriguing one. Once one of these soul finders find their mate, their powers compliment each other so the couple become a stronger whole, but they can go their entire life without finding them, and can thus lose control and turn bad.

Sky is nothing like Bella Swan, she's insecure from having been abandoned as a young child, and having been in foster care for years before being adopted, but she's opinionated and self-sufficient and tries very hard not to be a damsel in distress, even when faced with some pretty terrifying kidnappers. She resists Zed at first, and while his change from surly and stand-offish at the start of the book to charming and romantic is explained, the romance does develop rather quickly, in my opinion. Not that there is a lot more to the romance than the occasional kiss, so this can safely be read by quite young readers without any fear of inappropriateness.

The Benedict family seem very cool, and as it's clear that Stirling has a book in mind for each of the seven brothers, I'm glad that they were all interesting and complex characters, and that the world she's created is an intriguing one. I will absolutely be checking out Stealing Phoenix when it comes out.

Saturday 7 May 2011

CBR3 Book 34: "Bossypants" by Tina Fey

Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books
Page count: 288 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: April 24th, 2011
Date finished: April 26th, 2011

I picked up Tina Fey's autobiography after reading very positive reviews by fellow Cannonballers. I don't read a whole lot of non-fiction, but as a big fan of Mean Girls and 30 Rock, I was pretty sure I'd like this, even before I read the glowing reviews.

Bossypants is not a very long book, and anyone expecting great revelations about Tina Fey and her life may be in for some disappointment. While Fey reveals a lot about herself through stories of her adolescence, insights into her honeymoon, tid-bits about working for Saturday Night Live, creating 30 Rock and even trying to arrange her daughter's birthday party while getting ready to parody Sarah Palin on SNL and having Oprah guest on her sit com, most of the book is observational comedy, not a tell all book about the life of a female writer and sit com creator.

It is a very funny book, however, and I frequently laughed out loud, both on public transport and in the comfort of my home (much to the annoyance of the husband, who kept having to have jokes that may not be that funny out of context explained to him). If you find Liz Lemon on 30 Rock amusing, you'll probably like this book, as it seems Tina Fey has put a lot of herself into her TV character.

CBR3 Book 33: "Portrait in Death" by J.D. Robb

Publisher: Piatkus Books
Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: April 18th, 2011
Date finished: April 20th, 2011

A young woman is found murdered and stuffed in a dumpster. Star reporter Nadine Furst has been sent photos of the victim, and clashes with Lt. Eve Dallas when it comes to reporting on the crime. There are a number of photos of the victim, obviously taken before the crime was committed, without the girl being aware she was being stalked. There are photos of the dead girl, posed, as in a portrait, after her death. None of the victim's friends or family can help determine a motive, and then a second young victim is found, facedown in a fountain, with further pictures being sent to Nadine. Eve is determined to track down the killer before he kills again, but it's not easy finding the links between the dead, and she will have to manage without help from Roarke on this case, as he is preoccupied with other things.

While Summerset, Roarke's faithful butler (and former foster father) and Eve's household nemesis, is convalescing from a broken leg, Roarke receives some troubling news about his past. He reacts badly, trying to shut Eve out, and travels to his old hometown of Dublin to dig up the truth behind the rumours. Eve realises that her husband, despite all his outward strength and confidence, is vulnerable too, and that his dark past is as troubling to him as hers is to her.

Several of the supporting characters take more of a back seat in this one, and more is obviously revealed about Roarke's childhood in Dublin and his family life. Eve and Summerset are forced to form an alliance to get through to the man they both love, and work together to get him through a very difficult time. Another very enjoyable read in the In Death series.