Thursday 23 June 2011

CBR3 Book 50: "Something Deadly This Way Comes" by Kim Harrison

Publisher: HarperCollins
Page count: 256 pages
Rating. 3 stars
Date begun: June 18th, 2011
Date finished: June 19th, 2011


This is the third book in a series. To get an impression of the general plot of the books, go read my review of book 2 in the series here, or start at the beginning with Once Dead, Twice Shy.

Madison is still struggling to get to grips with her role as the dark Timekeeper, and trying to prove that people's lives can be changed, and that the Dark Reapers don't have to kill a person to save their soul just as soon as their lives take a wrong turn. She has a vision that a teenage girl, Tammy, will lose her will to live and doom her soul once her brother dies in a fire, and goes to California with Nakita and Barnabas, her two Reapers, to convince her to stay home, but just appears to make things worse, at least to begin with. If she doesn't convince Tammy that her life is worth living quickly, she may be dooming her to die at the hands of another Dark Reaper.

Madison is also trying to learn how to control her amulet, and deal with her visions of the future of potentially cursed souls. She discovers that there may be a way of having her actual body back, but will also have to make the decision of whether she wants to continue as the Dark Timekeeper and keep trying to make a difference, or go back to being a normal teenage girl, with a normal life.

As Kim Harrison has now pretty much established the world of the Madison Avery books in her previous novels, she can focus on the main plot in this one. There's not that much added character development for Madison in the book, but we find out more about Barnabas and Nakita, and come to understand why they're not entirely thrilled with the idea of Madison finding her body and possibly giving up her duties as Timekeeper. It's a short and breezy read, if you've read and enjoyed the previous two books. There are some changes made towards the end of the book, that promises interesting developments in future installments.

CBR3 Book 49: "Graveminder" by Melissa Marr

Publisher: HarperCollins
Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: June 16th, 2011
Date finished: June 17th, 2011

The town of Claysville is a quiet place, and not entirely like other towns. People born and raised there, tend never to stay away for long, no one ever seems to get sick or addicted to anything, and they have strange funeral practices, where the bodies of the Claysville dead have to be buried within the town limits, and interred within 48 hours of death. Rebekkah Barrow's grandmother, Maylene, went to every funeral, drank three sips from a tiny silver flask with whisky and holy water, and bad the dead to "Sleep well and stay where I put you." She would also visit the graves of the recently dead, tending to their plots and pouring offerings of tea or whisky.

Rebekkah has been staying away from Claysville for a long time, running from the strange pull she always feels to return to the town, and her feelings for Byron, her dead stepsister's boyfriend. Now her grandmother has been murdered in a savage attack, and she has no choice but to return. She soon finds out that there are reasons why the residents of Claysville stay healthy, but rarely leave town, why her grandmother performed the same ritual at every funeral, and why she can't stop longing for Byron, whether she feels guilty about her dead sister or not. Rebekkah has to take over Maylene's duties as Graveminder, or the entire town could be in terrible danger.

I have yet to read the two final books in Melissa Marr's young adult Wicked Lovely series, since the third book didn't grab me all that much, and there always seem to be so many other shiny and interesting books out there. Having read the blurb for Graveminder, her first book for adults, I was intrigued, and once I started reading, I was reluctant to put the book down again (curse work and social commitments!). The story shifts in perspective from Maylene in the prologue, to Rebekkah and Byron and occasionally other town residents, and slowly the mystery of Claysville and Maylene's death unravels. The town founders made a bargain a long time ago, and it's very satisfying to discover just what the bargain entails, and how it came to pass, even while one feels very sympathetic towards Rebekkah and Byron and the enormous burdens that are placed upon them as a result of this bargain.

I would classify this as a paranormal mystery/fantasy rather than a romance, although there is definately romantic tension between the two protagonists, and their relationship develops in a very natural and satisfying way as well. I read on Marr's website that there'll be a short story about one of the more fascinating supporting characters in the book coming out in July, and that she also plans to write a sequel next year. As I'm quite hooked on the world that she's created, I will be eagerly anticipating both.

CBR3 Book 48: "Imitation in Death" by J.D. Robb

Publisher: Piatkus books
Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: June 13th, 2011
Date finished: June 15th, 2011

A brutal serial killer is hunting women in New York, killing them in the style of famous former murderers, such as Jack the Ripper and Ted Bundy. He leaves letters addressed to lieutenant Eve Dallas at the crime scenes, taunting her and her associates. Eve manages to keep the media buzz to a minimum, but all the main suspects are either foreign diplomats or high profiled celebrities, and it's not an easy job. Add to the fact that catching a killer based on the exclusive stationary he prefers, is not a walk in the park.

She also has new nightmares, starting to remember her mother. Her domestic nemesis, Roarke's butler Summerset, is due back from vacation and her trusty aide Peabody is stressing out over her impending Detective's exam, worried that she'll fail, and in the process let herself, her family and most of all, her trusted superior, down.

As always, it's a joy to read about Roarke and his darling Eve, not to mention Peabody, McNab, Mira and all the other regulars. The series of murders in this installment are particularly grisly, and, as always, Eve is determined to stand for the dead, and get justice for the crimes committed against them.

CBR3 Book 47: "Elantris" by Brandon Sanderson

Publisher: Tor Fantasy
Page count: 656 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars
Date begun: June 3rd, 2011
Date finished: June 9th, 2011

Elantris was the legendary capital of Arelon, populated with radiant, magical, nearly godlike beings, selected from all levels of society by a process known as the Shaod. If a person got selected by the Shaod, he or she would get the telltale silvery hair and skin of an Elantrian, and could pretty much live forever in prosperity and wealth. Yet ten years ago, disaster struck, and what used to be a blessing, is now a curse. Elantris is mostly abandoned, covered in slime and muck, the buildings are crumbling and all the magic is lost.

In Arelon's new capital, Kae, prince Raoden is deeply beloved by the people and trying to affect lasting social change against the wishes of his father. All his plans are ruined when he wakes up one morning, skin mottled with black spots, hair falling out, the Shaod having struck him in the night. As is the custom, the people are told that he is dead, and he is ushered into Elantris to be forgotten.

Princess Sarene arrives from neighbouring Teod, ready for her marriage to Raoden, only to find herself a widow before she even got to have a wedding. Due to the wording of the marriage treaty, the wedding is considered valid whether one party dies before the ceremony, so she is now part of the Arelon royal family. She quickly finds out that her new mother-in-law is a complete airhead, and her father-in-law clearly assumes and expects all women of his court to behave like her. Shrewd and highly intelligent, Sarene can tell that not everything is what it seems, and she is worried about the state of Arelon's political stability (they have no standing army), especially on the arrival of an agressive and highly militant preacher.

Hrathen is a high priest from another neighbouring nation, Fjordell, ruled by a very powerful God-Emperor. Hrathen's been given three months to convert Arelon or the country will be invaded by the armies of Fjordell. Sarene decides to use her position as part of the royal family to oppose Hrathen as much as possible, while also trying to find out what happened to prince Raoden, little realizing that he's still alive, and having to adapt to a new and frightening existence in the crumbling ruins of Elantris.

Elantris is a completely stand-alone fantasy novel, something quite rare in this day and age. The book follows the points of view of Raoden, Sarene and Hrathen, where Raoden tries to get the shambling inhabitants of Elantris to rise above their depressed states and form some sort of civilized society, Hrathen tries to convert as many people in Arelon as possible in a short period of time, and Sarene tries to oppose him in every way possible and mobilize the nobility against the threat of Fjordell invasion. As the book progresses, the three storylines meet up more and more, to converge towards the conclusion. It's not a flawless book by any means, but it's remarkable for a debut effort, and I enjoyed it a lot. In addition, I met Brandon Sanderson at a book signing here in Oslo, and he's super nice, and I feel that he deserves as wide a readership as he can get, for his own writing, rather than because he's finishing The Wheel of Time series for the now deceased Robert Jordan.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

CBR3 Book 46: "Just Like Heaven" by Julia Quinn

Publisher: Piatkus Books
Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars
Date begun: June 2nd, 2011
Date finished: June 2nd, 2011

Long time readers of Julia Quinn's romances know that the annual Smythe-Smith musicales (where gently bred young ladies of the Smythe-Smith family play classical music, usually dreadfully) feature in a lot of the books, usually sources of many witty discourses and much suffering from the brave attendees.

Just Like Heaven is the first of Quinn's Smythe-Smith series, and Lady Honoria Smythe-Smith is the heroine. She plays the violin very badly during the musicale, with several of her unmarried cousins (once a girl gets married, she is replaced by another single cousin, which probably acts as yet another incentive for the young ladies to catch a husband as soon as possible.) Honoria is the youngest in her family by quite some years, her older sisters are all married, and her beloved older brother was forced to flee abroad after a scandalous duel, and is unlikely to return any time soon. She's in her second season, and starting to get a bit desperate. She is determined to find a suitable husband by the end of the season, lest she be forced to take care of her mother as a spinster companion for the rest of her days.

Honoria doesn't realize that one of the reasons she has yet to be offered any proposals, is that Marcus Holroyd, the Earl of Chatteris and her brother Daniel's best friend, has been scaring away any men he deems unsuitable (so far, all of them). Before Daniel had to flee the country, Marcus promised to watch over Honoria and take care of her, but he's been very good about hiding the fact from her. However, when one of her schemes for landing herself a husband back-fires, and Marcus gets injured, and later sustains a very dangerous infection, Honoria and her mother travel to his estate to nurse him back to health, and the two suddenly spend a lot more time in each other's company.

Julia Quinn has written a number of wonderful romances that I adore, several that are very enjoyable and diverting, but don't make me sigh with pleasure, and only one so far that I've found actively dreadful (Miranda Cheever, I'm looking at you). Just Like Heaven was a fast, entertaining and very sweet reading experience, but it's not one of the ones I'm going to keep picking up and rereading every so often, just because I love every aspect of it. While it was fun to see behind the scenes, so to speak, at the Smythe-Smith musicale rehearsals, the bits where Honoria interacts with her musically challenged cousins were a lot less fun than her banter and developing romance with Marcus. A fun read, but nothing mind-blowing.

CBR3 Book 45: "Magic Slays" by Ilona Andrews

Publisher: Ace
Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars
Date begun: May 31st, 2011
Date finished: May 31st, 2011

This is the fifth book in the Kate Daniels series. This review will contain minor spoilers for previous books in the series, because at this point it's actually impossible to avoid them. If you want to avoid them, skip this review, and go start reading the books instead. They're awesome, I promise. Overlook the dreadful covers. Start with Magic Bites. Go on, you won't regret it.

Kate Daniels has quit her job with the Knight of Merciful Aid, and set up her own business as an independent agent. She has her own office, but business has been decidedly lacking, possibly because her former employer hasn't exactly been glowing in their recommendations. So when Ghastek, the foremost Master of the Dead calls her to capture an escaped vampire, she jumps at the chance. Shortly after, a former acquaintance, an elite bodyguard, shows up at her office, needing help to track down the inventor of a mysterious device who's gone missing. As Kate gets deeper into the case, it turns out that the escaped vampire and the missing inventor are connected cases.

Kate is also trying to get to grips with her new status as female alpha to the Pack of Atlanta. As Curran's mate and consort, she has to have the welfare of the huge shapeshifter community in mind, something that is very alien to a woman raised to avoid personal connections and close relationships. Her ward, Julie, has run away from school, again, and she needs to figure out what to do with the girl. In the course of her investigation, she goes to visit the witch coven, and learns more about her mother, and Voron, the man who raised her, which forces her to reevaluate a lot of what she thought she knew about herself and her life.

I eagerly await each new book written by Ilona and Gordon Andrews, and clear my entire schedule when I get one of their books, so I can do nothing but immerse myself in the book and truly savour it. Of all the books in the Kate Daniels series, Magic Slays is the best so far, which is no mean feat. It can probably be read independently of the others in the series, but would then completely lack the emotional impact the reader gets from seeing just how much Kate has developed and grown since the first book. Starting out hard and ruthless loner, Kate now has a mate, a family, friends, and a number of people who rely on her, and who can also come to her aid in times of need. She is forced to take a close look at her life as she's know it, and realize that things are not necessarily as she was raised to believe they were.

Kate is a strong and fascinating character, and the supporting cast of the novels are just as good. The dialogue is often laugh out loud funny, and the continuing development of Kate's relationship with Curran is wonderful. Both are such stubborn and demanding personalities, forced to learn to adapt and compromise because of the person they love. This is by far my favourite book in the series so far, it had me in turns laughing out loud and gasping in suspense, and the last pages promises that the next novel may be even better.

CBR3 Book 44. "Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel

Publisher: Fourth Estate
Page count: 672 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: May 23rd, 2011
Date finished: May 30th, 2011

Now regular readers of this blog might be forgiven for thinking that I pretty much exclusively read paranormal fantasy, or romance, or paranormal romance, with the occasional foray into young adult fiction. They would not be wrong. As a teacher, I find it extremely satisfying and diverting to read various types of genre fiction as my main form of relaxation. With teaching, correction work and lesson planning going through my mind, I find I don't have the patience with heavy intellectual tomes a lot of the time.

There are exceptions to the rule, however. I don't think anyone would classify Wolf Hall as light weight (it's a huge brick of a book, for one thing). It won the Man Booker Prize in 2009, and it covers a fairly complex time in history. As a medieaval historian, I love me some Tudors. I wrote essays on them at university. I find Henry VIII and his offspring fascinating. This book chronicles the fall of Henry's advisor, Cardinal Wolsey, and the subsequent rise to power of Thomas Cromwell, the son of a brutal Putney blacksmith who became the king's first minister, and eventually, the first Earl of Essex.

A brilliant statesman, Cromwell steps in when his mentor, Wolsey, loses favour with the king, and helps secure Henry's divorce to Catherine of Aragon and his marriage to Anne Boleyn. He loses his own wife and daughters to the sweating sickness, but keeps rising in the ranks of the court, until he is indispensable to the king and the new queen.

The book is not actually a very difficult read, considering the weighty subject matter. It starts in the late 1520s, when Wolsey is still Henry's chief advisor, and covers the next ten years or so of the Tudor king's reign. Every so often, it flashes back to Cromwell's childhood or early life, and this can get a bit distracting. The book also goes into a little bit too much detail about Cromwell's inner musings on occasion, and drags in parts, but is for the most part, a very entertaining read and gave me a lot more insight into the life of a very important and often overlooked man in English history.