Sunday 30 October 2011

CBR3 Book 83: "Chime" by Franny Billingsley (Read-a-thon 2011)

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 5 stars
Date begun: October 22nd, 2011
Date finished: October 22nd, 2011

This is the first book I read during this year's Read-a-thon, and I first heard about it and discovered Franny Billingsley's books through Raych, a fellow Cannonballer (whose reviews and blog I now follow slavishly).

Briony Larkin has a big secret. Briony is a witch. It's her fault that her stepmother died three months ago, and it's her fault that her twin sister Rose isn't quite right. Briony can see and talk to the Old Ones (spirits in the swamp around the village), and she mustn't let anyone know that she's a witch, or the town council will try her and hang her. She must above all, remember to hate herself, and not let anyone close, and she must always take extra good care of Rose, or her secret may be revealed.

Staying aloof and lonely proves more difficult when Elric Claybourne, and his father, a city engineer come to town. Elric has been thrown out of university, and will stay in the house of Briony's father. He's charming and handsome and oh so friendly, and doesn't seem to understand that Briony can't and doesn't want to have any friends. Rose has a terrible cough, and Boggy Mun (the leader of the Old Ones) say that she could die from the swamp cough, like so many of the town's children before her, unless Briony manages to successfully stop Mr Claybourne and the other engineers from draining the swamp and building a train line through it. How can she explain to the town council what the Boggy Mun has said, without revealing her secrets and risking her life?

Chime is the second Franny Billingsley book I've read this month, and I'm so glad I discovered her. The cover of the book is awful, and makes it look like some sort of turn of the century Gossip Girl rip off, which it so isn't! Like The Folk Keeper, Chime has a strong yet lonely heroine, who needs to learn to accept help and friendship from others to discover how awesome she is, and that she deserves happiness, joy and affection. While with a slight supernatural twist, Chime is mostly a historical novel, where the heroine has to go discover her true worth, and is rewarded with love as well. The budding relationship between Briony and Elric is very sweet, but I especially loved the depiction of Briony's relationship with her twin sister (who clearly has Asperger's syndrome), and both her deep affection for her and need to protect her and wanting her troublesome sibling to just drop dead. This is a wonderful book, who everyone should read, and I plan to buy any other book by Billingsley immediately upon release.

CBR3 Book 82: "Queen of Kings" by Maria Dahvana Headley

Publisher: Bantam
Page count: 448 pages
Rating: 2 stars
Date begun: October 17th, 2011
Date finished: October 21st, 2011

What if Cleopatra didn't die after Mark Anthony was defeated? What if she made a deal with a powerful goddess instead, and became an immortal, blood-sucking creature (who can shape shift into a giant serpent or a lion at will) determined on wreaking her vengeance on Emperor Augustus and the Roman Empire instead? Sounds like it should be a pretty fun book, doesn't it? Well, I'm sorry to say, Queen of Kings is not a lot of fun. It's an interesting idea, and Maria Dahvana Headley has obviously done a lot of historical research, but the book she's written is surprisingly dull, considering its subject matter, and I have absolutely no interest in reading any more in what promises to be a series, with the immortal Cleopatra as protagonist.

As I said, the premise is intriguing - when Mark Anthony's troops in Egypt are defeated, and he receives a message (sent by Octavian, the future Emperor Augustus of Rome) that Cleopatra is dead, he kills himself. Cleopatra, determined that Egypt will not be defeated, uses a dodgy translation of an ancient spell to summon Sekhmet, the lion-headed godess of cheerful things like slaughter, pestilence and chaos. In an attempt to save Mark Anthony and her beloved Egypt, she makes a pact with the goddess, but loses her soul and becomes a blood drinking monster, forced to do Sekhmet's bidding. Octavian/Augustus, who is both attracted to and despises Cleopatra, soon realizes what she has become, and turns into a paranoid lunatic to escape her vengeance. He takes her children with him to Rome, and hires witches and powerful spell casters to try to battle her.

The book is told from multiple points of view, from Cleopatra to Mark Anthony to Augustus to a whole bunch of other people, and sometimes switches around so fast that it gets confusing. I picked up the book because of the premise and the cover quote by Neil Gaiman (after all, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, also recommended by him, is all kinds of awesome), but finished it mainly out of stubborness and the hopes that it might get good as the story progressed. Really, she's a vengeful vampire who can shape shift, how do you make that boring? Tastes may differ, some people on Amazon at least seem to have really liked this book. I found it dreary, and would recommend others to stay away from this book. There's so much better paranormal fantasy out there.

CBR3 Book 81:"Cold Fire" by Kate Elliott

Publisher: Orbit
Page count: 528 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: October 10th, 2011
Date finished: October 16th, 2011

This book is the second in a series, set in a really intricate and complex world. I would therefore in no way recommend you start with this one, and if you haven't read the first book in the series, Cold Magic, skip this review entirely to avoid both spoilers and confusion.

In a very long blog post at the start of the year, I tried to outline as much about the world in Kate Elliott's Spiritwalker trilogy, and the plot of the first book in the series, without spoiling too much of the main events.

This is the sequel, and the first chapter actually recounts the events of the final chapter of Cold Magic, something I've seen other reviews complaining about. Myself, having not read the previous book since January, I was quite grateful to be reintroduced to the world and the characters without having to pick up and reread the whole previous book.

Catherine "Cat" Bell Barahal and her cousin Beatrice "Bee" Hassa Barahal are on the run from powerful mages and all sorts of people who want to get their hands on them. Bee has prophetic dreams, that can both provide useful information to a number of ambitious factions, including that of the deposed general Camjiata (a bit like Napoleon), but also marks her out as a target for the Wild Hunt, where creatures from the Spirit World hunt down and kill people in the normal world. Cat seems to have escaped her arranged marriage, just as she's discovered that she has the potential of maybe loving her haughty but brilliant husband, has the ability to walk as easily in the Spirit world as in the normal one, and needs to discover the identity of her real father. When she does, she sort of wishes she hadn't. He places a binding on her, so she can't tell anyone who he is or what he's asked her to do, and then sends her to find a powerful magic user, or he's going to kill Bee when the Wild Hunt next rides.

The previous book was set in an alternate reality version of Europe, Cold Fire explores more of the world map, and most of the action takes place either in the Spirit World, where Cat discovers more about her heritage, or in an alternate version of the Caribbean, where the powerful cold mages of Europe have no dominion, and there are zombie like victims of the salt plague, and equally dangerous, ambitious and powerful fire mages hold sway. Cat meets her husband Andevai again in the most unlikely of locations, and slowly, while trying to figure out a way of saving her cousin and outwitting her supernatural father, comes to know and understand him better. Much more of the various political factions of the world are explored, but not that much happens in this book. The action is slow to start, there is a lot of putting pieces into play, but I suspect Elliott is mainly establishing plot points to be finished off in the last volume of the trilogy. Because I'm interested in Cat, Bee and Vai as characters, I will read the next one, but I hope it has more plot, and less "look at this shiny world I built with all it's similarities, yet differences to the real historical world".

CBR3 Book 80: "The Folk Keeper" by Franny Billingsley

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Page count: 176 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars
Date begun: September 30th, 2011
Date finished: October 10th, 2011

Corinna Stonewall is prickly, aloof, stubborn and vindictive, her hair grows two inches every night, and she has many secrets. Raised in an unkind environment in a children's home, she cut off her hair, pretended to be a boy and learned the skill of the Folk Keeper, someone who keeps the cave-dwelling, fierce and destructive goblin like creatures from souring the milk, harming farm animals and making food rot. Only boys can be Folk Keepers, so Corinna has to pretend to be Corin to gain the power and independence she so desperately craves.

One day, the dying Lord Merton comes to the children's home, wanting her to take over the Folk Keeper duties at his estate at Cliffsend. At the estate by the sea, Corinna is irresistibly drawn to the ocean, makes friends for the first time, and finally discovers who she is, and why she's never really fit in anywhere else.

The Folk Keeper is not a very long book, and the whole thing is written as Corinna's journal, chronicling first her duties as Folk Keeper in a little town and revealing her miserable childhood and the reasons for her abrasive personality, and later her discoveries at Cliffsend, and the slow changes her new life brings out in her. Corinna is a wonderful character, even in the beginning of the book, and she is so strong and self-reliant that as the book progresses and she learns that she can occasionally trust and rely on others, and her personality gradually softens and her life becomes happier, you cheer for her.

There is a romantic element to the book, but the most important aspect is a young, lonely girls process of self discovery and finding a place of acceptance and belonging. It's recommended audience is from 10 upwards, and I wish I'd had wonderful fantasy stories like this when I grew up.

Sunday 23 October 2011

End of event meme

Which hour was most daunting for you?

Probably between 1 and 2pm, when I was getting really tired, and nearly fell asleep. 

Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?

Chime, Snuff and Daughter of Smoke and Bone are all excellent. 

Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?

I only really noticed all the stuff going on on the main website after the fact, as I am a newbie, so I haven't really had time to see all the stuff that's there. So no real suggestions. 

What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?

Again, didn't really do much but read, but will absolutely check out the hourly updates next year.

How many books did you read?

Three and a quarter

What were the names of the books you read?

Chime by Franny Billingsley
Snuff by Terry Pratchett
Unclaimed by Courtney Milan
A quarter of Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Which book did you enjoy most?

Of the ones I completed - Chime, but Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the one that's gripped me the most.

Which did you enjoy least?
I enjoyed all of them, but if I had to rate them, I enjoyed Unclaimed the least.

If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?
Didn't cheer, but the people who left comments on my blog were all nice and very supportive. I'll turn off comments moderation next year, so the comments appear right away, as well. 

How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? 

As long as my schedule permits it, I will totally be doing it again. I'm sorry I haven't before. 

What role would you be likely to take next time?

No doubt about it, I'd be a Reader. like this time. 

Finishing the Read-a-thon: Hour fifteen/twenty four

So, in total I've read for fifteen out of the last twenty four hours. I completed three whole books, and little over a quarter of the fourth one. It felt really wonderful to dedicate so much of my time to reading, and if time permits, I will absolutely be doing this again next year. Now I just need to knuckle down and review the books I read, as well as the other three I have back logged. I may wait until I've finished Daughter of Smoke and Bone though, which is hella compelling. I must admit, discovering Raych's blog has certainly enriched my life in terms of reading. Two of the books I read in this challenge, I picked up because she reviewed them and loved them. Through her blog I also found out about the Read-a-thon, so it's all good.

You should all check out her blog, she's funny and writes in a wonderful stream of consciousness way (which you'd think I'd hate, since I can't stand Modernist writing) and I'm in awe of her ability to stay up and read, especially considering she's pregnant.

Books read in the last hour and a half of Read-a-thon: 129
Pages read in total in the last 24 hours: 1332 (Wow, I'm impressed with myself)
Books completed: 3, all of them good!
Chime by Franny Billingsley
Snuff by Terry Pratchett
Unclaimed by Courtney Milan

Books partially completed: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (possibly the best of the lot)

Hour fourteen (or is it twenty three?)

Slept a bit later than planned. Up now, had my breakfast. Will probably not blog again until the challenge is finished at 2pm/14:00.

Reading my first multi word title of the challenge: Daughter of Smoke and Bone, a book I've been excited about since I read early reviews of it months ago.

Pages read so far this hour: Not many
Pages read in total: 1203
Books completed: 3

Hours twelve, thirteen and thirteen and a half

Off to bed now, I think, having just finished Unclaimed. That's three for three I've read today that I enjoyed. Reviews to follow tomorrow.

If all goes according to my plan, I'll be getting up in time to read for at least another hour and a half tomorrow, as the Read-a-thon won't officially end until 2pm.

Pages read in the last 2,5 hours: 273
Pages read in total: 1203
Books completed so far:
Chime by Franny Billingsley
Snuff by Terry Pratchett
Unclaimed by Courtney Milan

The Eleventh Hour (See what I did there)

People who know my husband (or fans of Doctor Who) will get the double meaning of the title. At this stage of the Read-a-thon, I'm feeling a bit silly. Still, reading along at a cracking pace. 

Liking Unclaimed so far, and I'm especially intrigued as to why the heroine is so reluctant to be touched by anyone. An unusual quality in a romance heroine. The book still isn't grabbing me as much as Unveiled by the same author did, but I like it.

Pages read in the last hour: 85
Pages read in total: 930
Total books read so far: 2

Hour the tenth

Just finished chapter four of Unclaimed by Courtney Milan, which looks to be an interesting read. Took a little break to browse the internets, and make myself a snack of carrots and dip. It's amazing how much faster certain genres are to read, though.

Pages in the last hour: 75
Pages read in total: 845
Books finished: 2

Saturday 22 October 2011

Hours eight and nine

My, I have been doing a lot of reading. It feels wonderful, especially after not having had a lot of time to read in the last few months. Finally finished Snuff, with a few minutes to spare before the new hour.

Pages read in the last two hours: 159
Pages read in total: 774
Books finished: 2
Chime by Franny Billingsley
Snuff by Terry Pratchett

Just starting: Unclaimed by Courtney Milan

Hours six and seven

Still reading Snuff, enjoying it. Vimes books are nearly always ace, this is no exception. Seems Pratchett has decided to explore the lives of goblins in this one.

Had my dinner, should be able to press on with reading more quickly now, as I have fewer interruptions.

Pages read in the last two hours: 106
Pages read in total: 615
Books completed: 1
Chime by Franny Billingsley

Hour the fifth

Still reading Snuff. Still a bit distracted by husband being Batman. He's going to a friend's for the evening, though, leaving me alone in the flat with the E-reader. So I should get more reading done in the next hour.

Pages read in the last hour: 80
Total pages read: 509
Books read in total: 1

Now I'm going to go make my dinner, and read while the pasta boils.

Fourth hour

Reading Snuff, trying not to get distracted by my husband playing Arkham City. Book is good so far.

Pages read this hour: 61
Pages read in total: 429
Books read: 1

Read-a-thon: First three hours

So the third hour of Read-a-thon is almost over. I must, in all honesty confess, that I did my first three hours of reading from 10am to 1pm (or 10 to 13, for those who understand that sort of thing), because I had to go to the gym today and do my zumba class. Yeah, if you'd told Malin of a year ago that she'd actually schedule reading around EXERCISE she would have laughed disbelievingly at you. But Malin of this year is a new and healthier person. Besides, my Saturday zumba class is the only exercise I've ever found that I actually find fun, so I wasn't going to give up on it, but I also didn't want to miss out on 3 hours of reading. The three hours, obviously, to get to the gym, do an hour of exercise, shower, run to the shops to stock up on snacks, and make dip.

I've finished my first book, the delightful Chime by Franny Billingsley. I absolutely loved it. Full review of all the books I read today will follow, along with a few books I've read in the weeks previously. Yes, I'm behind on my blogging. That's nothing new.

I'm just about to start Snuff by Terry Pratchett.

Pages read so far: 368 pages
Books completed so far: 1

Friday 14 October 2011

Coming next Saturday: Participating in Dewey's 24-hour Read-a-thon

While I know I still read a lot more than the average person (at least I'm frequently told that I do), I generally feel that since I started work again in August, I've had less time and energy to read, and this time last year, I'd read so much more. As my husband keeps pointing out that I should challenge myself more, I have decided to participate in a reading challenge - inspired by Raych on Books I Done Read (whose blog I love). Next Saturday, the 22nd of October, starting at 2pm (or 14:00, for those who use a 24 hour clock) I will take part in a 24 hour Read-a-thon, and devote as much of those 24 hours to reading as I can, while still not falling too far behind on sleep, as I do have work the following week, and can't really do all-nighters anymore without feeling seriously bad afterwards.

I'm in the process of compiling a list of books to read, and hoping to get through at least two or three in the assigned time, and still get some sleep in. I'm sure it comes as a surprise to no one that there will be fantasy and romance, we'll see what else catches my fancy.

Edited to add:

So far, I'm forcing myself to save these books until Saturday:
Snuff by Terry Pratchett
Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Unclaimed by Courtney Milan
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (if I've been able to get it by then)

I doubt I'll be able to read more than five books, but if I do, it's not like I don't have a huge shelf full of books I've yet to read.

So watch this space, I will update as the challenge goes on.


Sunday 9 October 2011

CBR3 Book 79: "The Wild Rose" by Jennifer Donnelly

Publisher: Hyperion
Page count: 640 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: October 2nd, 2011
Date finished: October 8th, 2011

The Wild Rose is the third book in Jennifer Donnelly's Rose trilogy, and while it can be read independently of the other two, it will be best appreciated if the reader has read the other two novels in the series, The Tea Rose and The Winter Rose, first. As these two books are among my absolute favourite books of all time, I advise everyone to run out and read them, then come back and read this review.

On the eve of the First World War, Seamus "Seamie" Finnegan is a famous polar explorer, and the toast of the Royal Geographical Society. He's been on expeditions with Shackleton and Amundsen, and his sister Fiona wonders when he will finally settle down. Yet Seamie can't seem to forget the woman he loved, and lost eight years earlier, when they attempted to climb Kilimanjaro together. Willa Alden, little sister to his best friend, nearly died, and ended up losing one leg just below the knee. She disappeared shortly after, and he believes she's never forgiven him for having her leg amputated. When he meets the charming and kind minister's daughter, Jennie Wilcott, who attends suffragette's marches with his sister, Seamie convinces himself that he loves her, and that she's the right person to finally make him forget Willa.

Willa is numbing the her physical and emotional pain with morphine in a little village at the foot of Mount Everest, dreaming of climbing it, and taking spectacular photographs of the landscape that she sends back to the RGS. She supports herself by guiding European explorers in the area, and tries to forget her old life as best she can. When she finally gets a pile of letters letting her know her father is dying, she has no choice but to return to England, and facing the family and the man she left.

The Wild Rose concludes the trilogy about the Finnegan siblings, begun in The Tea Rose. As well as the story of Seamus and Willa, the book features Seamie's older siblings Fiona and Sid, and their families, and chronicles their lives in the period just before, during and after the First World War. The main story line concerns Willa, Seamie and the German playboy and industrialist Max von Brandt, who also loves Willa. Seamie becomes a captain in the Navy, and Willa travels through Egypt and North Africa with Tom Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia.

To say that this book was eagerly anticipated by me would be an understatement. I absolutely adored the two previous novels in the series, and waited for years for this concluding volume to be released. The two previous books, especially The Winter Rose, engrossed me so much I would forego food and sleep to get through them, I loved the story and the characters so much. The Wild Rose was not quite so gripping, but it was still a very comforting read, and Donnelly is a wonderful writer. While I found Seamie's story the least exciting of the three Finnegan siblings, it was very nice to be able to see how the lives of Fiona and Sid and their families had progressed, and I'm glad the story was concluded in a satisfying manner. Like the previous novels, the book depicts life in working class London at the turn of the century excellently, and Donnelly clearly does excellent research, with her strong, capable heroines travelling to a number of exotic locations and living adventurous and interesting lives.

CBR3 Book 78: "Heat Rises" by Richard Castle

Publisher: Hyperion
Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: September 25th, 2011
Date finished: September 30th, 2011

NYPD Detective Nikki Heat is trying to figure out why a parish priest was brutally tortured and killed in a New York bondage club. Her investigation takes her into the path of South American guerilla freedom fighters/terrorists, drug dealers, vicious CIA contractors, and also seems to piss off her Captain, who is clearly troubled by some of her discoveries. Having taken the lieutenant's exam, and clearly done very well on it, there may be a promotion in her future, if only she can survive the hired thugs sent to kill her.

There are further deaths, and as the trail suggests involvement from the highest levels of the NYPD, Nikki finds herself stripped of her badge, and left out in the cold. Luckily, she has help from her boyfriend, the successful investigative reporter Jameson Rook, and together they're determined to crack the case, solve the crime and get Nikki her badge back.

This is the third novel by Richard Castle, protagonist of ABC's weekly drama Castle. No where on the internet does it seem to reveal who actually writes these novels, which is a shame, because I would totally buy more of that author's works. The Nikki Heat books are frothy, entertaining and fun, with some violence and grittiness thrown in, just like in the TV show, and they're quick, exciting reads. I was especially interested in the ending of this one, which takes the characters in an intriguing direction. I hope that there will be a fourth one coming out around the time of Castle's fourth season, cause I'm well and truly hooked.

CBR3 Book 77: "The Forgotten Garden" by Kate Morton

Publisher: Pan Books
Page count: 645 pages
Date begun: September 17th, 2011
Date finished: September 24th, 2011

In 1913, a little girl is found abandoned on a ship from England to Australia. All she has with her is a little suitcase and a beautifully illustrated book of fairy tales, and she remembers that a pretty lady called the Authoress told her to hide on the ship, but otherwise she has no recollection of who she is. In 1975, the little girl has a daughter and a grandmother of her own, but travels to Cornwall to discover the truth about her identity. In 2005, Nell's granddaughter Cassandra is devastated by the death of Nell, and surprised to discover that among the effects left to her in Nell's will is the deed to  a small cottage in England. She too travels to England to figure out why the cottage is significant.

The Forgotten Garden is the story of three generations and four women - Nell, her granddaughter Cassandra, and Eliza Makepeace, the mysterious Authoress and her beautiful cousin Rose Mountrachet. The points of view alter between Eliza, Nell and Cassandra, whilst the reader gets to know Rose through her letters, diary entries and through Eliza's eyes. Who is Nell really? Why was she abandoned on the ship to Australia? What was the significance of the book of fairy tales? What did Nell discover in England in 1975? Why did she leave the cottage in Cornwall to Cassandra?

Like in The House at Riverton, Morton deftly describes the lives of women spanning nearly a century and lives plagued with mysteries and secrets and melodramatic events. I still think this is the better book, though, and the alternating points of view as well as the interconnected time lines, interspersed with Eliza's fairy tales (I would give a lot to get a hold of a copy of the whole fairy tale collection, it's clearly marvellous), letters, diary entries and the like, really add to the story and kept me gripped. Had not my massive work load kept me from reading constantly, I suspect I would have finished the book in about two days. I'm very much looking forward to checking out Morton's next novel, The Distant Hours, when it's published in paperback.

CBR3 Book 76: "The Glass Demon" by Helen Grant

Publisher: Puffin
Page count: 416 pages
Rating: 3 stars
Date begun: September 15th, 2011
Date finished: September 25th, 2011

Lin Fox and her family are moving to Germany for a year. Her father is a history lecturer who dreams of a glamorous TV career, and is taking his family with him on a sabbatical year in Germany after he was passed over for a promotion. While driving to the village they're to live in for the next year, Lin and her family come across a dead body. An old man is lying in an orchard, with a head wound, surrounded by broken glass. Lin's father and stepmother are not interested in being questioned by the police, so bundles Lin and her sister into the car and drive off, letting someone else report the death.

Lin's father is in Germany to find a set of legendary and rumoured to be nearly priceless stained glass windows, made by an artist in the Middle Ages. However, the Allerheiligen glass is also rumoured to be haunted by a demon, and anyone connected to them dies horribly. If Doctor Fox can actually locate the glass in rural Germany, his reputation would be guaranteed, and his career secured. Most people seem to think the glass was destroyed centuries ago, though, and the German historian who contacted Lin's dad is dead, drowned in the bath shortly before they arrived in the village.

Most of the villagers are generally hostile towards the English family, and while Lin seems to have made an admirer, Michel, who offers to drive her to school, even he seems to think that Doctor Fox' quest for the glass is a wild goose chase. As more people turn up dead under mysterious circumstances, all surrounded by broken glass, Lin's sister seems to get more withdrawn and insecure, multiple attempts are made to scare the family away, Lin starts wondering if the stories about the demon's curse are actually true.

My enjoyment of heroine's name notwithstanding (as a history buff it amused me greatly, but I can see why she insists on going by simply Lin), I was about halfway into this novel before I realized that it was a mystery novel, and not a paranormal fantasy. Both the title of the novel, and the blurb of the book seemed to suggest that there were paranormal elements to the story. So when they didn't appear, I was puzzled and I suspect it's part of why I may not have been as taken with this story as I could have been. The publishers should possibly have marketed this book differently, as if you're expecting paranormal fantasy, straight forward mystery is not really the same thing, and seemed like a bit of a let down, really. Approaching this book with actual knowledge of the specific genre might add to the reader's enjoyment. The ending of the book was also a bit ambiguous, I'm unsure if the author is setting up for a sequel, or whether the story is complete the way it is written. Either way, I don't know if I'm eager to read anymore about these characters.

CBR3 Book 75: "Archangel's Blade" by Nalini Singh

Publisher: Berkley
Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 3 stars
Date begun: September 12th, 2011
Date finished: September 14th, 2011

This is the fourth novel in the Guild Hunter series, but can actually be read fairly independently from the other three. Still, for a more comprehensive understanding of the backstory of some of the characters, and a richer understanding of the world the story is set in, you may want to check out the three previous books, as well.

Dmitri is a vampire, and has been for nearly a thousand years. He's the archangel Raphael's right hand man, and controls the group of seven who guard and assist him. When the severed head of a newly turned vampire shows up with a mysterious, but distinctive tattoo, Dmitri knows that there is more to the case than just a simple scuffle. He needs help from the Guild of Vampire Hunters to decipher the symbols of the tattoo, however, and is intrigued at who they send to help him.

While a rogue archangel went crazy in New York, Honor St. Nicholas was kidnapped by a bunch of vampires and kept captive for months while they fed on her, tortured her and sexually assaulted her. She nearly died, but was saved by her colleagues in the Hunter's Guild, and has slowly been trying to build herself up again. Still scarred, both physically and mentally, she's not sure she's ready for an active assignment, but as one of the Guild's foremost experts on ancient texts and languages, she is the person Dmitri needs to identify the mysterious tattoo. Before her accident, Honor had a strange obsession with the powerful vampire, trying to find out as much as she could about him. Now she has to work closely with him, while trying to get over her fear of vampires.

Romances where the heroine is getting over a trauma are difficult. It's clear that at some point, the heroine needs to heal and get stronger, better and confident again, or there is no real chance of a Happy Ever After. Yet, hurry that recovery along too fast, and the story becomes unbelievable. Now, I'm not saying that I'm not willing to suspend my disbelief a bit when it comes to romance, far too many stories the couple fall madly and passionately in love and decide they want to spend the rest of their lives together in less time many would take to choose a room mate or select a new home, and because I'm entertained, and the story is well written, I'm willing to take that with a grain of salt. Here, however, quite a lot is made of the horrors that Honor experienced. She really did go through hell. She has trouble trusting anyone, even her closest friends. Yet a couple of meetings with Dmitri, and she's pretty much good as new, if not better than before. The main problem is that the story is set over too short a period of time. Had the story spanned several months, preferably longer, then yes, I might have been convinced that Dmitri could draw Honor out of her traumatized shell, and made her heal and realize that she was still strong and capable and that not all vampires and/or men were untrustworthy. This just went too fast.

There is also a subplot concerning Dmitri's long dead wife and family, and how remembering them is creating difficulties with regards to his attraction for Honor. I think the way Singh resolved this was a bit too "having your cake and eating it too", which felt like a bit of a cop out. I would have liked to see her be braver about the resolution of the romance, which would have made the ending feel stronger and more satisfying. All in all, this was an entertaining book, but clearly the weakest of the four Guild Hunter novels so far. I hope the next one is better.

CBR3 Book 74: "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" by Ransom Riggs

Publisher: Quirk Books
Page count: 352 pages
Rating: 3 stars
Date begun: September 5th, 2011
Date finished: September 7th, 2011

Jacob is a teenage boy who as a child was enchanted by all his grandfather's tales of the strange island where he grew up, and the many peculiar children he used to play with. His grandfather had a box full of old photographs of odd looking individuals, and would happily tell Jacob about them for hours. As Jacob grew older, he started realizing how far fetched the stories sounded, and how fake and clearly manipulated the photos were. Yet when his grandfather dies under mysterious circumstances, and Jacob thinks he sees a hideous slavering monster near his dying body, it's suddenly not so clear what is truth and what is fiction. Jacob's parents, and his very well-meaning therapist work as hard as they can to convince him that his grandfather's stories and the thing he saw were nothing but tall tales and hallucinations, brought on by stress and fear, but there is still a kernel of doubt in Jacob.

Having found a letter to his grandfather from a Miss Peregrine, the proprietor of a children's home on an island outside Wales, Jacob convinces his dad that they should go there, and find out more about his grandfather's past. On the remote island, it is clear that there was once an orphanage, but it's now a complete ruin, and has been abandoned since the Second World War. Jacob explores the bedrooms and basements of the crumbling house, and finds more pictures and evidence of his grandfather's tales. He discovers that the children his grandfather talked about may have existed, and there are signs that some of them may still be on the island, as unlikely as that may seem.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a picture book, where the many photographs collected by Ransom Riggs, make up an integral part of the story. There are countless photographs that help illustrate the narrative, and I don't think the book would have been as enjoyable without it. The book lags a bit in places, but once Jacob arrives on the island and starts really investigating, it becomes an entertaining read, and I'm curious to see where the story progresses, as there is clearly a sequel or sequels coming.

CBR3 Books 71-73. "The Unwritten vol 1-3" by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

Publisher: Vertigo
Page count: 462 pages
Date begun: September 7th, 2011
Date finished: September 8th, 2011

Book 71 - Vol 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity - 4 stars
Book 72 - Vol 2: Inside Man - 4 stars
Book 73 - Vol 3: Dead Man's Knock - 4 stars

Tom Taylor is the inspiration behind his father, Wilson Taylor's hugely successful fantasy series about Tommy Taylor (very much in the vein of Harry Potter). His father disappeared at the height of his success, and Tom makes a living appearing at comic book and fantasy conventions. He's bitter about the abandonment, and feels that the only thing his father ever gave him was a head full of useless trivia about literary geography. Tom's life takes a turn for the puzzling and strange, when at a convention, a young woman, Lizzie Hexam, claims Tom is not Wilson's real son, and that he is in fact an impostor.

When he goes to Switzerland, to the villa where his father wrote the Tommy Taylor novels, and where Wilson Taylor was last seen, he ends up being accused of murdering a group of mystery and horror writers, who had been attending a writer's convention at the house. Tom is sent to prison, not realizing that the brutal murders were committed by Pullman, a sinister man who can turn people or things into text by just touching them. In prison, he befriends Savoy, a reporter placed in the prison to write an insider's perspective on prison life and Tom. It is clear that there is a lot more to his father's disappearance, and his own identity than Tom first suspected. He's convinced he saw the flying cat from the Tommy Taylor adventures sitting in a tree when he was arrested, and occasionally,  the magical sigil that protects Tommy in the books, appears as a tattoo on his hand. Lizzie Hexam also clearly knows more than she lets on, and appears to be in contact with the missing Wilson Taylor. Who is Lizzie? Who is Tom really? Why did his dad disappear? Who is the shady organization that framed him for murder, and wants to get to his dad?

I've been a fan of Mike Carey's for a long time. I like his Felix Castor novels, I think his run on Hellblazer was very enjoyable, and I think Lucifer is probably one of the best Vertigo graphic novel series ever, after Sandman and 100 Bullets. So when rave reviews started coming in about The Unwritten, I was eager to check it out. So far, it's great, and while the first three trade paperbacks are thin (collecting the first 18 issues of the comic), there is a lot of story development. I like the riffs on popular young adult fantasy, with elements not just from Harry Potter, but all sorts of clever things. There's obviously a huge amount of literary references in the comic, not just to fantasy, and Carey has interesting things to say about the nature of fame and celebrity and how we interact with books and other media in this day and age. The covers to the comics are all gorgeous, and the art by Peter Gross is very suited to the book. I'm eagerly awaiting volume 4: Leviathan, and can recommend this comic to pretty much anyone interested in clever, entertaining storytelling.

CBR3 Book 70: "The House at Riverton" by Kate Morton

Publisher: Pan Books
Page count: 599 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: August 29th, 2011
Date finished: September 4th, 2011

During a lavish party on the grounds of Riverton Manor, the famous poet Robbie Hunter commits suicide in 1924. The only witnesses to the event, sisters Hannah and Emmeline Hartford, never spoke to each other again, and both women died within a year of the poet. Only one other person, Hannah's maid Grace, knows the truth about what really happened that evening.

In 1999, a film is being made about the tragic events, and the director is wanting to speak to Grace, the only surviving person from that night, to find out the truth of what happened. Grace is 98 years old, and living in a home, but all to clearly remembers her life at Riverton, from when she came there as a chamber maid in 1914. Talking to the director stirs up her memories, and as she doesn't want to die before confessing her secrets, she records her memories on tapes for her grandson, Marcus, wanting him to know the truth about her life and the events that led to Robbie Hunter's death.

The story switches between Grace's life in the past, starting in 1914, when she is hired as a maid at the manor. Grace's mother had previously been a maid there, and several of the staff fondly remembers her. Grace is well aware of her place, but is very taken with the three Hartford children, the grandchildren of the current earl. She observes them from afar, and develops a close bond with Hannah, the eldest of the Hartford sisters. Later, when Hannah gets married, she becomes her ladies' maid.

The other half of the story recounts Grace's current life, and gives glimpses into the life she lived after she stopped being a maid, got an education, got married and had a child of her own. Grace was never too attached to her daughter, but clearly loves her grandson very much. She is worried about him, and determined that he know all her secrets, so he can get a complete picture of where he comes from.

The House at Riverton is the first novel I've read by Kate Morton, but I can see why she's so popular. The intercutting of present and past in the novel keeps the reader interested. There's a definite touch of melodrama in the novel, with scandals, unfaithfulness, sibling rivalries, the after effects of the First World War, and of course, deep dark secrets. Some are not really supposed to be secret to the reader, there were at least a couple that were very clearly hinted at in the narrative, and only the slowest glue sniffing kids at the back would be surprised at the reveal of some of them (for instance the identity of Grace's father), but it was incredibly entertaining, and I can see why her novels are so incredibly popular. I will certainly seek out more of them.

CBR3 Book 69: "The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts" by Louis de Bernieres

Publisher: Vintage
Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars
Date begun: August 17th, 2011
Date finished: August 27th, 2011

This is the first of de Bernieres' Latin American trilogy, set in a fictional South American country, heavily resembling Colombia (but with elements from many other Latin American countries as well). The plot follows multiple story lines and protagonists, including several villagers in the town of ChiriguanĂ¡, who are terrorized by corrupt militia, and the selfishness of the local landowners, and eventually decide to fight back. Other parts of the story show the terrible corruption of the military, with thousands of ordinary citizens of the country disappearing without a trace, being tortured and killed in the hunt for dissidents and communists.

The story mixes horribly graphic descriptions of violence, rape, torture and death with humour, colourful descriptions and magical realism. During the course of events, the village of ChiriguanĂ¡ is suddenly overrun with huge amounts of black cats who grow to be the size of panthers. There's even occasions where donkeys and women give birth to black kittens. It's a wonderfully written book, but not exactly an easy read, and it took me longer to get through than I had expected, simply because the subject matter was both wonderful and horrible, and while fictionalized, clearly based on real events that have taken place in South and Latin America in the last half a century. I was planning on reading the trilogy in one go, but felt I had to space out my reading more after finishing this one. Can absolutely be recommended, but is not for the squeamish or faint of heart.