Monday 15 August 2011

CBR3 Book 68: "Since the Surrender" by Julie Anne Long

Publisher: Avon
Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3 stars
Date begun: August 13th, 2011
Date finished: August 14th, 2011

Captain Chase Eversea is an acclaimed war hero, but feels restless and without purpose since returning home after Waterloo. When he is sent to London to acquire a new vicar for Pennyroyal Green, his paths cross with the woman he's never been able to forget, Mrs. Rosalind March. While she was married to his commanding officer during the war, Chase and Rosalind let passion take precedence over honour and shared one searing kiss.

Now Rosalind is a widow, and her sister has gone missing after being arrested for petty theft. Rosalind turns to the most capable man she knows to get help in finding her. Chase is ashamed of his past indiscretion, but still finds Rosalind enchanting, and can't resist her pleas for assistance for long. He plans to sail to India to join the East India Company in two weeks, but offers her whatever help and protection he can in the meantime.

While Rosalind and Chase were both engaging characters, their romance just didn't interest or hold my attention in the same way as most of Long's other couples have. Add to that the fact that the plot in many ways reminded me of the far more entertaining story of Chase's younger brother Colin (The Perils of Pleasure), yet had a much less satisfying conclusion - the reveal of what has happened to Rosalind's sister just falls a bit flat for me. Still, I didn't actively dislike it or anything, and one less great book in a series of so far five books is not bad.

67. "Like No Other Lover" by Julie Anne Long

Publisher: Avon
Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: August 8th, 2011
Date finished: August 9th, 2011

When Miles Redmond first set eyes on Miss Cynthia Brightly, he was instantly smitten, yet his attraction waned when he overheard her tell a friend that she would never set her sights on a mere second son. Two years later, Miles is the heir to the huge Redmond fortune, thanks to his brother Lyon's disappearance. Cynthia is attending a houseparty at their home, and needs to find a rich husband quickly, before word gets out about the scandalous way in which her betrothal to the heir of a Duke was dissolved.

Miles tries to tell himself that he feels nothing for the stunning and opportunistic Cynthia, and wants to get his own back at her for the slight he suffered years earlier. He offers to give Cynthia useful information about the various eligible men at the party so she can make a match in two weeks, in return for one kiss.

Of course Cynthia is a lot less shallow and materialistic than Miles first believes, and of course one kiss is not enough. During the course of the two weeks, it becomes more and more difficult for Miles to help Cynthia find a husband, as he wants her for his own. But as the heir to the Redmond fortune, Miles can't make a match with a penniless woman with a scandalous reputation, even when she takes his breath away.

Yet another very fast and entertaining read. I've been reading a lot of romance over the last month, since my mind is bombarded with so much misery on the news, and Long's books are a wonderful escape from reality. She always writes engaging protagonists and brilliant dialogue. While this book didn't make me make the Good Romance Novel Noise (TM Sarah Wendell at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books) in the way Long's two latest did, it was very good, and I can see why she's so popular.

Sunday 14 August 2011

CBR3 Book 66: "The Perils of Pleasure" by Julie Anne Long

Publisher: Avon
Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: August 9th, 2011
Date finished: August 12th, 2011

Julie Anne Long has written five books in her Pennyroyal Green series so far, and I obviously started at the wrong end, with book 4, I Kissed an Earl, and book 5, What I Did for a Duke. Not that you in any way need to read these books in order, they are all self contained, but it was fun to get minor background details on characters I'd already read about and had seen get their happy endings.

Colin Eversea is about to be executed for killing a man in a bar. Always the scoundrel of his family, with many notorious exploits to his name, he nonetheless did not commit the crime he's accused of, and the only witness to the event has disappeared without a trace. In five days' time, his older brother Marcus is set to marry the girl Colin has loved most of his life. So when he cheats death thanks to a daring rescue operation, he is determined to clear his name and travel back to Pennyroyal Green in time to stop the wedding.

Madeline Greenway is a beautiful widow who makes her money planning and carrying out difficult operations for anyone willing to pay the price.  Snatching Colin Eversea from the gallows is her proudest achievement so far. Shortly after the rescue, however, instead of the payment she's expecting, someone tries to shoot her. Colin saves her life. Having bought a farm in America, ready for a new life, Madeline needs the last payment for the rescue to fund her passage across the Atlantic. She reluctantly agrees to help Colin clear his name as he promises his family can pay her more than her missing fee.

Together Madeline and Colin travel through London, always one step ahead of the authorities hunting him. With the reward for Colin's recapture set at a hundred pounds, there are many who would want to get their hands on the charming and handsome Mr. Eversea. During the course of the story there are duchesses, footmen, grave robbers, shifty fences, and obviously blossoming romance between the couple.   A very entertaining read, highly recommended for anyone wanting a quick, frivolous adventure/romance.

CBR3 Book 65: "Stolen: A Letter to My Captor" by Lucy Christopher

Publisher: Chicken House
Page count: 304 pages
Rating: 3 stars
Date begun: August 7th, 2011
Date finished: August 8th, 2011

British sixteen-year-old Gemma is travelling with her parents in Asia and waiting for a transfer at Bangkok airport. Here she is drugged and abducted by Ty, a twenty-something-old man who takes her to the Australian Outback, far away from civilisation and everything she knows. As the book progresses, Gemma realizes that Ty's not selected her at random, he's been watching her and planning for years. He doesn't hurt her, or molest her, but claims he loves her, and that she'll spend the rest of her life in the wilderness with him.

Stolen: A Letter to My Captor does, as the title suggests, take the form of Gemma's letter to her abductor. We follow her from what she believes is her first encounter with Ty at the airport, where the handsome young man ("I didn't want to repulse you") buys her a coffee. The book has no chapters, and is a very compelling, if at times, uncomfortable read. Ty is a very intense young man, with a difficult background. He may be a stalker and a kidnapper, who claims to love Gemma with a scary intensity, but he never makes any sexual advances towards her, and treats her with quiet solicitude. He sees the Outback as a paradise, and most of his experiences with city life are negative. He can't see why Gemma won't see the beauty of the rugged and lonely landscape and realize how lucky she is to stay there with him. His thought is clearly that as long as she gets used to it, and him, she'll happily share a life with him there.

Gemma, of course tries to escape, only to have to realize that she is too far away from anywhere. As her time in captivity passes, she reluctantly gets to know Ty better, and starts to sympathize more with him. Is this the start of an unusual romance, or just Stockholm Syndrome?

Stolen is an unusual book, and while uncomfortable in places, I also found it hard to put down. I read started it late at night, and pretty much read it in one sitting the next day. Christopher's description of the Australian landscape and her characters is excellent, and the subject matter is certainly something out of the ordinary (it came out the year before Room and while both are about abductions, I think they're very different books). I can strongly recommend it.

CBR3 Book 64: "The Throne of Fire" by Rick Riordan

Publisher: Puffin
Page count: 451 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: August 6th, 2011
Date finished: August 7th, 2011

This is the second book in the Kane Chronicles, and this review may therefore contain some spoilers for the previous book, The Red Pyramid. You probably want to go read that one first, although it's by no means a requirement. You get the events of the previous novel neatly summarized in case this is your first meeting with the Kane siblings.

It's been a few months since their last adventure, and Sadie and Carter Kane now have a whole slew of students at their headquarters in Brooklyn, dedicating themselves to various Egyptian gods and slowly learning to control their own magical powers. Yet again, the siblings have to set out on a quest with a very tight deadline, as Apophis, the embodiment of chaos, is about to escape his prison in four days' time, and when he does, he will swallow the sun and cast the world into chaos. The only way to prevent this, is for the Kanes to locate the three parts of the Book of Ra, so they bring the old king of the Egyptian pantheon back to fight Apophis.

Cue another quest, with many exciting action sequences, multiple international locations, among them St. Petersburg. The Kane siblings split up more in this book, and as always, the narrative alternates between Carter and Sadie. While looking for the Book of Ra, Carter keeps receiving warnings that bad things will happen to Zia, the girl he fell in love with in the previous book. He's obsessed with finding her, and Sadie has her own troubles, with her thirteenth birthday ruined by a giant vulture and baboon chasing her and her friends through London, and her adolescent heart torn between one of the new trainees, Whit, and the immortal Anubis.

Like the last one, this book introduces its readers to a whole host of Egyptian gods, both minor and major and explains several rather difficult concepts while still being entertaining action romps. I suspect these books may appeal to a slightly older age group than the Percy Jackson series, as there is more ambiguity and more complex issues are adressed in them. I certainly enjoyed it, although it does drag and can get a bit repetitive at times with the "new location, danger, kids get out of danger". I also discovered, during my browsing of the Internets, that there is just one more volume in this series. Having assumed that it was going to run to five books, like the Percy Jackson books, I'm delighted that I'll be able to read the conclusion to the trilogy some time next year.

CBR3 Book 63: "Spell Bound" by Kelley Armstrong

Publisher: Orbit
Page count: 352 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars
Date begun: August 4th, 2011
Date finished: August 6th, 2011

This is book 12 in the Women of the Otherworld series, and while Kelley Armstrong's books previously have been pretty stand alone from each other, this one will make little to no sense unless you've read at least Waking the Witch, and preferably also Personal Demon, No Humans Involved, Broken and Haunted. So there will absolutely be spoilers for the previous book. If you haven't read it, skip this review, and go read Armstrong's back catalogue instead. It's pretty much all excellent.

Savannah Levine, daughter of a very powerful witch and a sorcerer, has lost all magical ability, and is unsure of how to handle herself, having always relied on her magic in all aspects of her life, especially when working for her guardians' investigation firm. There's a witch hunter after her, who doesn't realize that Savannah is powerless now, and Savannah wishes she'd paid more attention to traditional self defence and investigation technique. Her various supernatural friends cannot find a reason for her sudden loss in powers, and once it turns out that the witch hunter is the least dangerous of the ones wanting their hands of Savannah and several of her friends, she'll need to figure out how to get her magic back, so she can help out in what looks to be a supernatural war.

Savannah has been a supporting character in several of Armstrong's earlier books, and got her first "starring role" in last year's Waking the Witch. While she's 21, Savannah is also self-centered, immature and quite annoying at times. Considering the very privileged life she has led, she should be a lot more grateful, and less of a spoiled brat. This is clearly intentional, as Armstrong has not one, but several other characters tell Savannah to get the heck over herself and start growing up in this book. Which she appears to be doing, with minute baby steps.

For long time readers of Armstrong, this book pretty much features every single character who we've met in her universe before: Elena, Clay, Jeremy, Jaime, Paige, Lucas, Cassandra, Hope, Karl, and of course, Adam. Most of them have little more than cameo appearances, several of them feature much more prominently in Industrial Magic, for example. Still, this story is clearly mainly about Savannah, and her development into one of Armstrong's strong and admirable heroines. This book is clearly also the middle installment in what will be a trilogy. It starts immediately after the end of the previous book, and ends with most of the threads introduced in this book unresolved. According to the internet, the concluding book, not just to the trilogy, but to Armstrong's entire Women of the Otherworld series, will be out next year. As someone who's followed her series for nearly a decade, I will be reading that one as well, even if this was one of the less engaging of the installments.

CBR3 Books 60-62: London's Greatest Lovers trilogy by Lorraine Heath

60. Passions of a Wicked Earl - 4 stars
61. Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman - 3.5 stars
62. Waking Up With the Duke - 4 stars

Publisher: Avon
Total page count: 1152 pages
Date begun: July 29th, 2011
Date finished: August 4th, 2011

Lorraine Heath's London's Greatest Lovers trilogy feature the three sons of the scandalous Duchess of Ainsley. Her eldest son is the Earl of Westcliffe, her middle son is the honorable Stephen Lyons and her youngest son is the Duke of Ainsley.

Passions of a Wicked Earl

Morgan Lyons, the Earl of Westcliffe, has been estranged from his wife Claire for three years. On their wedding day, he found her in the arms of his younger brother Stephen, and he has never been able to forgive her. He exiled her to his country estate, and has become infamous for his love affairs in the years since. Now he's starting to consider divorce, so he can marry his current mistress.

Claire was barely eighteen when she married Westcliffe, in a marriage arranged since she was a girl. Nervous about her wedding night, she went to her best friend Stephen for advice, and seeking comfort in his embrace went badly wrong for her. Now she wants to give her younger sister a season, determined that her sister get to choose her own husband. She shows up on Westcliffe's doorstep, ready to finally be his wife, and is not at all pleased that he wants to end their marriage before they've even had a chance to have a proper one. She gets him to agree that she can stay in the house for the Season, and needs to seduce her husband in order to save her marriage.

I really liked both protagonists in the book, especially Claire. My biggest problem with the book was the continued presence of Westcliffe's mistress. While he doesn't sleep with her after Claire comes back into his life, there are multiple scenes with her, and it's difficult to really like and sympathise with a man who's so blind to what a complete shrew this woman is. I get that she needs to be unsympathetic, to act as an antagonist to Claire, but the scenes featuring her were all tiresome and boring, and took away some of my enjoyment of an otherwise good romance.

Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman

As the only son of the Duchess of Ainsley without a title, being the second son of an Earl, Stephen Lyons was always determined to at least be better at lovemaking than either of his brothers. Regretting the estrangement he caused between his brother Westcliffe and his dear friend Claire, he decides to redeem himself by joining the army. He proves to be a courageous soldier, but is badly injured, and is brought home two years after he went off to the Crimea with an aching leg and complete amnesia about those two years. So he has no memory of the lovely woman who shows up on his family's doorstep with a baby she claims is his.

Mercy Thompson was a nurse who travelled to the Crimea with Florence Nightingale to make a difference. When she returns home with a baby, her reputation is ruined and her father wants nothing to do with her. Believing Stephen, the soldier she admired and fell in love with after one life changing night, to be dead, she wants his family to at least have his son as a reminder of him. So her shock is great when he turns out to be alive, yet he clearly doesn't remember her or anything about his time in the army.  Her father demands that Stephen do the right thing, and restore his daughter's honour by marrying her. Yet Mercy hasn't told Stephen the whole truth about their night together, and while she loves him, she is worried about basing their marriage on a deception.

While a perfectly ok read, Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman was the least enjoyable book in the trilogy, probably because Stephen was the lesser of the three brothers. Always his mother's favourite, and given free rein to do whatever he wanted, while his two brothers tried to be responsible, he just seemed a bit spoiled and self-centred. As the book commences AFTER his time in the army, his bravery becomes a matter of "tell, not show". All the stories of his exploits are told to him by other people. He spends far too long agonizing over his missing memories, and risks his happiness and marriage to regain his memories. Also, when he does find out what Mercy has been hiding, he acts like a complete dick, and frankly, I think she could've done much better than him.

Waking Up With the Duke

The improbably named Ransom Seymour, the Duke of Ainsley, owes a debt to his cousin, the Marquis of Walfort, after a drunken carriage ride two years earlier landed the latter in a wheelchair, while Ainsley escaped with barely a scratch. In the distressing time after her husband's accident, Jeyne, the Marchioness of Walfort, lost the child she carried.

Lady Jayne (yup, the heroine is ACTUALLY called Jeyne Seymour) hates Ainsley and blames him for the accident, her childlessness and the lonely existence of duty and self sacrifice her marriage has become since her husband became paralyzed from the waist down. Now the Marquis has decided that Jeyne would clearly be happier if she had a child, something he can't give her. So he wants Ainsley to father the child instead.

The plan is that Ainsley and Jayne spend a month together, and make love enough times to ensure she gets pregnant. Ainsley is shocked by the proposal, but very attracted to his cousin's wife, so he doesn't protest that much. Jeyne is absolutely appalled, but after a bout of emotional blackmail, pretty much, agrees to the crazy scheme. No points for guessing how long she manages to sustain her hatred for Ainsley after they spend they spend a month together in the countryside.

While the premise for the novel is almost preposterous, and Jeyne does get won over by Ainsley's charm and sexual prowess very quickly, I liked both the protagonists, and was interested in seeing how the plot was going to develop. I also really liked the secondary plot, with Ainsley's mother. I can see why some Amazon reviews question the inclusion of this plot, but if you read the books as a trilogy, you get to know her quite well, and observe her romance with a younger portrait artist. Seeing the culmination of this relationship was very satisfying to me, and since I DID read the whole trilogy, I think the subplot was justified and added to my enjoyment of the third book.

59. "The Winter Sea" by Susanna Kearsley

Publisher: Sourcebooks
Page count: 544 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: July 27th, 2011
Date finished: July 28th, 2011

Carrie McClelland is a bestselling author, who while visiting her agent north of Aberdeen, is strangely drawn to Slains castle in Cruden Bay. She's recently started a book about the 1708 Jacobite rebellion (if you don't know Scottish history, google it, I'm not going to explain it here), and decides to rent a cottage in the village near the castle, to get further inspiration for her writing. Unlike her previous novels, her new book seems to flow off the page, almost as if she's not having to craft the story, but writing about something she herself experienced.

The Winter Sea was first published in the UK as Sophia's Secret. It contains two parallell narratives; the story of Carrie, writing her novel in the Scottish countryside and trying to discover more about her ancestors during the early 18th Century, and Carrie's novel, about young Sophia Paterson, who arrives at Slains castle in 1708 and gets involved in the Jacobite rebellion. Both narratives are very well written, with very engaging protagonists, and while it's a fairly big book, I could barely put it down. It helps that the suspense is kept high as the narratives alternate. Part of what makes this book so compelling is Kearsley's way with words and how good she is at describing the setting. You get a very distinct feel for the little village where Carrie comes to stay, and for the life at Slains back in the early 18th Century. You can almost feel the wind whistling past the windows and cottage corners and smell the ocean nearby. Anyone interested in well written and entertaining historical fiction, especially with a romantic element, should give this book a chance.

Saturday 13 August 2011

CBR3 Book 58: "Yours to Keep" by Shannon Stacey

Publisher: Carina Press
Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: July 25th, 2011
Date finished: July 26th, 2011

Sean Kowalski has just come home from the army and has no particular plans for the future. He's going to stay above his cousin's bar for a while, until he figures out what he wants to do. When Emma Shaw knocks on his door and asks him to pose as her fiancé, because she already told her grandmother that he not only asked her to marry him, but that she's made up this elaborate story that they live together, he thinks she's insane. Hot, but completely crazy.

Emma Shaw lives alone, and runs a landscape design company. Her grandparents raised her after her parents died, and now her grandmother has moved to Florida and is very happy there. However, her grandmother also worries about Emma, alone in the huge house, running a company by herself, so Emma made up a boyfriend to keep her happy. She used Sean's name, as she'd heard her best friend (married to Sean's cousin) mention him, and his exploits in Afghanistan. As her elaborate lie grew, she even photoshopped pictures and sent to her grandmother, her imaginary boyfriend moved in with her, and finally asked her to marry him. Of course, now grandma is coming to visit for a month, and wants to meet the man she's heard so much about, and who she thinks has been living with Emma for over a year.

After some thinking, having consulted with his cousin and his wife (Emma's best friend, remember), Sean is convinced that Emma is not actually crazy, just very worried about hurting and disappointing her grandmother. As he needs a job, and Emma's offered to pay him to work for her landscaping firm while he lives in her house and pretends to love her, and he starts feeling sympathetic to her plight, he agrees. Now the couple, who have known each other for less than a week, have to convince her grandmother that they're deeply in love and planning a wedding.

Yours to Keep is part of a series about the various Kowalski men. I haven't read any others in the series (which I suspect are about two of Sean's cousins, who both seem to have recently married), but it works fine on its own. While the premise of the book seemed a bit ridiculous, and I didn't really see how it would work, it turned out to be a very entertaining book, in part because the people around Emma and Sean have so much fun playing along with their charade. As the book was so much fun, I may well check out more Kowalski family romances in future.

Sunday 7 August 2011

CBR3 Book 57: "The Dark Enquiry" by Deanna Raybourn

Publisher: Mira
Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: July 23rd, 2011
Date finished: July 24th, 2011

This is the fifth book in a series, and the review may contain spoilers for earlier books in the series. Standard advice on skipping this if you're worried about such things. The first book in the series is Silent in the Grave, if you're interested in starting at the beginning.

After an extended honeymoon, Lady Julia and her husband, the Private Enquiry Agent Brisbane, are back in London, trying to establish a joint household. Brisbane has finally had to reluctantly agree that Julia can join him in his investigations, he also employs her brother Plum. Julia's most recent hobby of trying to replicate a type of gunpowder is driving Brisbane's housekeeper to distraction (because she keeps blowing things up), but all in all, they are finding some semblance of domestic bliss.

Julia discovers that her older brother, Lord Bellmont, a very proper member of parliament for the Conservatives, has consulted Brisbane about a matter, and is shocked when she realizes that the case could harm not just her brother's reputation, but could affect the whole government. A spiritual medium has been murdered, and the case may be connected not just to blackmail, but international espionage.

The Lady Julia books by Deanna Raybourn are very similar to Tasha Alexander's Lady Emily books, both featuring Victorian noblewomen who solve murder mysteries. But while Tasha Alexander's latest book was a great disappointment, Raybourn continues to entertain and amuse. While both series have a couple arguing over the role the woman partner should take in dangerous murder investigations, Julia and Brisbane deal with the issues in a more constructive and entertaining way. Raybourn depicts both the not always peaceful home life of her characters, as well as the challenges they face trying to work together.

The supporting cast of characters, chiefly Lady Julia's large and colourful family, is one of the reasons the books are so delightful. Her eccentric father, her sister Portia, now trying to raise a child, her many different brothers. The banter between Lady Julia and Brisbane, or between her and her family is wonderful. It's perfectly clear why Brisbane wants to keep her far away from danger, but also understandable why Lady Julia refuses to sit at home, being a quiet housekeeper. While they have their disagreements, they also communicate in a satisfying way, so that this book, which deals with many of the same issues as Dangerous to Know makes me eager for the next Raybourn novel (when Julia and Brisbane go to Rome), while I'm very dubious about the next Tasha Alexander book.

Saturday 6 August 2011

CBR3 Book 56: "Heartless" by Gail Carriger

Publisher: Orbit
Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: July 21st, 2011
Date finished: July 22nd, 2011

This is the fourth book in a series, and this review will undoubtedly contain spoilers for earlier books. If you mind this, skip the review, and begin the series at the beginning, with the delightful Soulless. Book 2 in the series is reviewed here and book 3 here.

Lady Alexia Maccon, neé Tarabotti, is back in London, back in the good graces of Queen Victoria and the rest of society, having proven that her current pregnancy, extremely unlikely as the conception was, is not the result of an affair. The vampires are still extremely worried about the nature of Alexia's future child, however, and keep trying to assassinate her. With the help of her husband's second in command, Professor Lyall and her good friend, the very influential vampire Lord Akeldama, she manages to figure out a solution that ensures the safety of her unborn child (not to mention herself), and results in her and Lord Maccon, Alpha of the Woolsey werewolf pack being next door neighbours with Akeldama.

While everyone urges her to rest and stay calm so close to her confinement, Alexia is warned by a ghost that someone is trying to kill the Queen, and is obviously determined to thwart the attempt. Despite warnings from various friends and acquaintances not to delve into the past, Alexia keeps digging and investigating, and finds out interesting things about the previous attempt to assassinate the queen, and links to her husband's former werewolf pack. Alexia's younger sister is suddenly a suffragette and insists on staying with her, her brilliant inventor friend seems out of sorts and keeps trying to avoid her. Biffy, the most recent addition to the Woolsey werewolf pack is having trouble adjusting to his new life, and if he doesn't learn to adjust to pack life, he could become an unprotected loner or worse, fade away to die. Alexia's life is certainly never restful.

In this book, Carriger is back on form, and the book was delightful and very entertaining. There are dirigible chases, zombie porcupines, a giant mechanical octopus, ghosts, werewolves, vampires, dastardly plots, abductions, explosions and a lot of witty banter between the various characters. I really hope Carriger can keep this up for the next one, which I think may be the last in the series, at least for now.

CBR3 Book 55: "A Dance with Dragons" by George R. R. Martin

Publisher: Harper Voyager
Page count: 1040 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars
Date begun: July 12th, 2011
Date finished: July 20th, 2011

This review may contain some spoilers. It's the fifth book in a series, it makes absolutely no sense if you've not read the others in the series. If you've lived in a cave during the last few months, and not realized that the series is also being adapted into a very successfull HBO series, the first book is "A Game of Thrones".

Like many others, I waited six years for A Dance with Dragons. His previous book, A Feast for Crows was really only half a book, split off and published five years after the third book in the series. It covered about half the cast of characters in Martin's epic saga, but many of the most popular ones would not appear again until this one. As well as showing what the other half of characters in Westeros and the surrounding countries were up to, it ties all the threads together, so that all the characters in both books 4 and 5 will start from the same point in time when book 6 finally arrives.

So, was it worth waiting 11 years to find out what's happening with Bran, Danaerys, Tyrion and Jon Snow, as well as a multitude of other characters, some familiar, some new? I'm far too much of a fan girl to say no, although I'm not going to pretend Martin's writing is flawless. The book is monstrously big, and would absolutely have benefitted from tighter editing, however, that would probably have delayed its publication by at least another six months, maybe a year. So I can see why they decided to just get the thing out there, before the fans grew even more rabid. In many ways, Martin's prose has improved since he first started writing the books. This book has less of the never very well written sex scenes of the previous books, but there is still horrific violence.

As well as revealing what happened to Tyrion once he fled Westeros, now a wanted man, the book shows us Danaerys trying valiantly to do the right thing for all her followers, while unsure of who to trust. Jon Snow has many unpopular decisions to make, trying to appease one of the many contenders to the Iron Throne, while trying to figure out how to staff the Wall and find enough food, supplies and weapons to last them through the long winter, that's just around the corner. Bran travels with his companions in the hostile wilderness beyond the Wall, trying to find a mystical creature who can help him interpret his strange visions and hoping for the return of his legs. There are several groups of people travelling towards Mereen, wanting to woo the young Targaryen queen and gaining her dragons. Quite a few new points of view are introduced, some minor characters possibly believed dead are reintroduced, and it's clear that Martin has grand plans for his series.

The muliple points of view has always been a strength in Martin's series, allowing the reader to see a situation from different angles, and allowing Martin to show what is happening in various locations at the same time. Unfortunately, in this book, he occasionally shows the same event from up to three points of view, which gets a bit tiresome, and due to the lack of editing, more than one character recollects events not just in previous books, but earlier in this same book. When the flashbacks are coming from withing the episode, so to speak, it's time to tighten up the writing, George. He did not need to go so much into detail as he frequently did, and I hope that he manages to make the next book more focused and writes it faster, as some of the repetition took away from my enjoyment.

If you're a fan of Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, you will enjoy this book as well, and as I said, many of the flaws are understandable, considering how fast they rushed the publication. I just hope that Martin has plotted the remains of the series carefully now, and that the remaining books in the series arrive before I have kids not just in nursery, but primary school.