Thursday 29 December 2011

CBR3 Book 106: "Unraveled" by Courtney Milan

Publisher: CreateSpace
Page count: 274 pages
Rating: 5 stars
Date begun: December 19th, 2011
Date finished: December 20th, 2011

Unraveled is the third and final novel in Milan's trilogy, and can be read independently from the others, but to get full enjoyment out of it, as several minor unresolved story threads introduced in the previous two books, are resolved in this one, I would recommend reading books 1, Unveiled, and 2, Unclaimed, first.

The three Turner brothers had an awful childhood. They all have dreadful names, basically long verses of Scripture, because their mother was deeply religious, and their father was not around to stop her from naming them whatever the heck she wanted. Nor was he there to protect his children from the abuse they suffered from a woman who was clearly crazy. All three men have psychological and emotional scars, which affect them in different ways. Despite their awful past, two of the Turner brothers found love and happiness in the previous books in the series. In Unraveled, it`s the middle brother, Smite's turn.

Smite (trust me, the line of Scripture he's named for is too long to be quoted here) possibly had it worst of the three boys. His eldest brother, Ash, left to make money to support his family, and Smite protected his younger brother, Mark, from the worst of their mother's crazy excesses. Cursed with a photographic memory, he is unable to forget any of the things he endured, although as an adult he puts his perfect recollection to good use as a judge in Bristol. His accurate memory for all the laws and his strict, but coldly fair judgement have earned him the nickname "Lord Justice".

Because of his perfect recall, he recognizes Miss Miranda Darling the minute she sets foot in his courtroom, disguised as a farmer's daughter, bearing witness in a minor case. As she appeared with a different name and appearance nearly a year earlier, Smite knows she is risking perjury, and he follows her home after the session in court. He warns her never to bear false witness in his courtroom again, or he'll make sure she's thrown in jail. Miranda's worried, as the reason she is pretending to be other people and witnessing in minor felony cases, is that she's made a deal with the shadowy underworld figure known as the Patron, who tries to secure justice for the lower classes in Bristol (most of the judges are not as law-abiding and principled as Smite).

Miranda is struggling to make a living by making and selling wigs. She's also supporting Robbie, a young boy who was abandoned with the acting troupe of Miranda's parents. While Miranda's childhood was a happy one, her life changed when the acting troupe fell apart due to her father's crushing depression after her mother's death. Trying as best she can to keep Robbie out of trouble, and away from a life of petty crime, she has to take the occasional "acting job" on behalf of the Patron. Now that Smite has proven that he can recognize her no matter what she's wearing, wigs and all, she wants to change her arrangement with the Patron, but this proves more difficult than she thought.

Smite is seen as cold, odd and unfeeling by everyone around him, and seems to care only for his dog. Yet he feels drawn to Miranda, and as his life seems brighter and more bearable when she's around, he proposes an arrangement that can benefit both of them.

Of all of Milan's Turner brothers, damaged and vulnerable in different ways, Smite was absolutely my favourite. He's plagued by recurring nightmares, can't bear the sound of running water (his mother nearly drowned him once), he can't stand to have his face touched, and he allows himself a maximum of 30 minutes of sentimentality per day. No wonder the world sees him as a cold, unfeeling automaton, dedicated only to justice. Miranda refuses to be scared by Smite, and quickly realizes that there is a lot more to the man than his ceaseless pursuit of duty. She refuses to take him seriously, and teases and berates him in a way only his brother Mark has ever dared. Miranda may have been raised by actors, but she is still rather innocent. Intelligent, witty, resourceful and adventurous, she accepts Smite's offer to become his mistress, both because he offers her a sum that will secure her for life, but mostly because she's strongly attracted to him.

This is my absolute favourite of the trilogy, and once again, Milan impressed me by having the characters communicating openly and honestly with one another. There are no big misunderstandings, or lies to protect the feelings of someone else, or going behind someone's back. Miranda and Smite are a wonderful couple, and it was good to see a resolution to the whole story. Highly recommended - Milan is now on my pre-order list.

CBR3 Book 105: "The Scorpio Races" by Maggie Stiefvater

Publisher: Scholastic
Page count: 482 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars
Date begun: December 12th, 2011
Date finished: December 15th, 2011

On the small island of Thisby, off the coast of either Ireland or Scotland (it's never specified), men compete in the deadly Scorpio Races every November, riding the vicious and blood-thirsty capaill uisce, the water horses.

Sean Kendrick lost his father to the races, but has worked with horses since he was ten. No one has better control over horses, normal or from the sea, and he has won the races four years in a row, on Corr, his red water stallion. Sean doesn't require metal, charms or bells to control his horse, he loves the horse, but knows that if he's not careful, the call from the ocean could tempt the stallion to turn on him to return to the sea. Yet despite the close bond, Sean doesn't own Corr, he works for the largest horse breeder on the island, and saves up a little more money each year, hoping for independence. He makes a bargain, that if if wins the race this year, he'll finally get to buy his beloved horse.

Kate "Puck" Connelly is an orphan. She lives with her two brothers, trying to make ends meet in their tiny cottage after water horses killed their parents in a boat accident the year before. Puck loves to ride her sturdy little island pony, Dove, but fears the capaill uisce, knowing the devastation they can cause. When her eldest brother announces that he is leaving Thisby, because there's not enough for him left on the island, Puck announces that she will ride in this year's race, hoping that the prize money will pay off the debts they have on the cottage, and her brother will stay. But women have never competed in the Scorpio Races before, and every year, a large part of the contestants die.

The book has alternating points of view, from both Puck and Sean. Hence the reader gets to know both of them, their hopes and fears and what drives them. Both have to win the race at pretty much any cost, and both are fully aware of the dangers of racing. Puck's in additional danger because she's the first woman to compete, not news well received by the traditional men on the island. She also insists on riding her pony, when all the other riders will be on deadly water horses.Sean has a dangerous rival in his employer's bastard son, Mutt, who believes that his father cares more for Sean, and is jealous of his previous victories in the races. Mutt constantly tries to humiliate and endanger Sean, and this year he's determined to get control over Corr, possibly over Sean's dead body.

I absolutely adore Lament, and am also very fond of Ballad, both by Stiefvater, yet this book didn't really engage me, despite the desperate situations of both Puck and Sean. The plot dragged a bit, and the book takes a good while to really get started, and while I see why so much of the descriptions of the life on the island and the slow buildup to the race was included, but I just didn't care all that much. The concept of the vicious, flesh-eating water horses was very cool, though.

Wednesday 28 December 2011

CBR3 Book 104: "Rules of Civility" by Amor Towles

Publisher: Sceptre
Page count: 352 pages
Rating: 3 stars
Date begun: December 9th, 2011
Date finished: December 11th, 2011

In the book's prologue, the protagonist of the story, Katey, is in an art gallery with her husband in 1966. They're looking at photographs taken on the New York subway in 1937-38. In two of the photos, she recognises an old friend, Tinker Grey, in vastly different circumstances, despite the photos being taken less than a year apart. In the first, taken in 1937, he's clean-shaven, snappily dressed and obviously wealthy, whilst in the photo from late 1938, he's scruffy, wearing a threadbare coat and clearly much more down on his luck. Seeing the pictures, makes her think back to her youth, 25 years ago.

Katey Kontent (originally Katya - daughter of Russian immigrants) is young and optimistic as the year nears its end in 1937. She's an accomplished typist, commended by her superiors, and shares a flat with her best friend Eve, a beauty from the Midwest. In a jazz club on New Year's Eve, the two of them meet Tinker Grey - a young, handsome investment banker. Both girls are smitten with him, but before either of them get a proper chance with him, their lives change dramatically one evening early in 1938. They're in a car accident and Eve is seriously injured. Tinker insists that she recuperate and heal in his lavish flat on the Upper West Side. Katey and Eve grow ever more estranged, and Katey gives up Tinker as lost.

Over the course of the year, many things change for Katey. She starts moving up in society, making influential friends. She changes careers and learns a lot about reinvention, both of her own and others' identities. By the end of 1938, she's learned that one cannot trust outward appearances, both in positive and negative respects.

The book is wonderfully written, with beautiful observations on Jazz Era New York. I've read several reviews that compared it to The Great Gatsby, but unlike  that book (which bored me senseless), I actually enjoyed this one. The main reason for that is Katey, who's a wonderful heroine and I kept reading to see how her life developed. She's witty, clever, ambitious and observant, yet both she and the reader are forced to reevaluate their opinions on most of the events and characters in the story There are a number of twists, and just as you think you have a clear picture of what's going on, Towles turns the tables once more. This is his debut novel, and I will absolutely be looking for more of his books.

Saturday 17 December 2011

CBR3 Book 103: "Attachments" by Rainbow Rowell

Publisher: Dutton
Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 5 stars
Date begun: December 7th, 2011
Date begun: December 8th, 2011

Attachments is set around the turn of the 20th Century, when e-mail technology was still fairly new, and a lot of companies were worried about the effects of Y2K. Lincoln works nights for the newspaper The Courier, hired to monitor the employees' e-mail correspondence, where a filter flags e-mails containing inappropriate terms or topics. Lincoln is shy and quite nerdy, and doesn't really like his job much. He hates the feeling of spying on others, but the job pays well, so he sticks with it.

Beth, the Courier's film reviewer, and her best friend Jennifer, who works as a copy editor, spend a lot of their work days e-mailing each other, blithely ignoring the office rumours that their correspondence is being monitored. Jennifer's unsure whether she wants a baby, but her husband Mitch is extremely ready for one. Beth's younger sister is getting married, while Beth's been in a relationship with her rockstar boyfriend for years, patiently waiting for him to propose to her. The two women discuss all aspects of their lives with each other, and because Lincoln didn't send them a warning when their first e-mails got flagged, he really can't bring himself to do it once time passes, and he gets more and more caught up in their lives. While he's never met them, he starts thinking of them as friends, and even starts to develop feelings towards Beth.

Of course, Beth is in a relationship, and doesn't even know he exists, let alone that he's being paid to spy on her most private and personal conversations with her best friend. Even if she were to become available, and they were to meet, how do you tell someone that you fell in love with them through spying? Can you fall in love before first sight?

Attachments is part normal narrative, following Lincoln's life, and part the e-mail correspondence between Beth and Jennifer. This is yet another book that I discovered through Raych's excellent blog, and I'm so glad I found it. It's a delightful and very engrossing read, and the friendship between Beth and Jennifer is so touching, realistic and comforting. The whole book is like a great romantic comedy in book form, and while what Lincoln is doing should be creepy, you can't help but root for him, because you, the reader, get drawn into the women's lives and troubles and want to be their friends too. He's also a kind, caring, considerate and loving person, feeling constantly guilty for continuing to read their e-mails instead of just deleting them, but he just can't help himself. I read it in a day and a half, and if I hadn't had to work, I would probably have forgotten everything around myself and devoured it in one sitting. Hugely recommended, probably one of my absolute favourites this year.

CBR3 Book 102: "An Artificial Night" by Seanan McGuire

Publisher: Daw
Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: December 4th, 2011
Date finished: December 7th, 2011

In An Artificial Night, Toby Daye, half-human changeling and faery knight, has to face Blind Michael, the leader of the Wild Hunt, one of the oldest and most dangerous of faeries. Every hundred years, his riders go into the world and gather new recruits, stealing children from faeries, changelings and humans alike (the faeries to ride, the humans to be mounts). Toby's best friends call her in a panic when their two youngest kids go missing and their middle daughter won't wake up from a mysterious sleep. Tybalt, King of Cats, informs her that several of the cait sidhe children and changelings have gone missing too. He promises that her debt to him will be cleared if she finds his missing subjects.

Luna, Duchess of the Shadowed Hills, has a mysterious past Toby never even guessed at, as Toby discovers when she goes to tell her liege lord what has happened. She tries to warn Toby to let the issue go, as it's nearly impossible to get to Blind Michael's realm, and to enter it means either eternal enslavement or death. Toby is determined to save the children, though, and with the help of Luna, and the Luideag, the ancient and powerful sea witch who is Toby's friend and Blind Michael's sister, she is put on one of the three paths to his realm, with a magic candle and 24 hours to complete her mission.

If Toby seemed to blunder around and get herself into mortal danger a lot in the previous book, things escalate massively in this one. Even though the mission means near certain death, Toby is determined to complete it. She cannot allow the children to become the twisted members of Blind Michael's Wild Hunt, and she thinks nothing of risking her life to save them. Suffice to say, before the book is over, Toby will have been on all three of the roads to Blind Michael's realm, and I was actually amazed at how much she was able to endure in order to save not only the children of her friends, but as many other of Blind Michael's victims as she can.

While she may seem bullheaded and too foolhardy for her own good, An Artificial Night also shows all of Toby's very admirable qualities. She's brave to the point of idiocy, and determined to see her mission through, no matter what the personal cost to herself. It's easy to see why her diverse group of friends (Luna, Quentin, Duke Sylvester, Tybalt, the Luideag) are desperate to try to save her from Blind Michael, and herself. As in the last book, I thought parts of the story dragged, but the cast of characters is compelling enough that I will keep reading, if only to find out whether Quentin becomes Toby's squire, and therefore a more permanent sidekick, and also to see whether Tybalt is actually going to become a proper love interest, instead of just a frustratingly enigmatic charmer.

CBR3 Book 101: "A Local Habitation" by Seanan McGuire

Publisher: Daw
Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: December 1st, 2011
Date finished: December 3rd, 2011

A Local Habitation is the second book in the October Daye series, and while it will make sense on its own, I would recommend reading the books in order.

October "Toby" Daye is a changeling, half human and half faerie. Unlike many other changelings, her magical abilities are quite weak, and it takes most of her energy to just maintain the glamour to hide her faerie appearance. She does, however, possess the same blood magic as her mother, enabling her to read a faerie's whole life in a drop of their blood. This helps her when she's working as a private detective, specializing in helping changelings and faeries. She's the only changeling faerie knight, and always feels like an outsider, but swears fealty to the Duke of the Shadowed Hills. So when he calls her and asks her to go to  the little county of Tamed Lightning, to check up on his niece, she can't really refuse.

Along for the trip comes Quentin, a young faerie fostering with Duke Sylvester, who's in training to become a squire. Toby believes the visit will be a brief one, but once she arrives in the little faerie county, it quickly becomes obvious that something is badly wrong. In the interchangeable corridors of the strangest IT company you'll encounter, the employees, all faeries or changelings, have been dying. Most of the staff have left, afraid that they'll be next. Duke Sylvester's niece, January, has been trying to contact her uncle for weeks, but none of the calls get through. As people keep dying, Toby and Quentin have to try find the murderer before January and her core staff get killed too.

I enjoyed the book, but Toby really doesn't strike me as that good a detective. She mainly stumbles around, nearly getting herself killed a lot, and more or less found out the identity of the killer through a process of elimination. When there are barely any people left in the company, one of them is pretty obviously going to be the killer.

The relationship between Toby and Quentin is an interesting one, and I'm assuming that McGuire is establishing a friendship that will lead to him becoming her squire in some future book. He's very eager to learn from her, sheltered and innocent in many ways, being a full blooded faery, who's not experienced the human world as much. My favourite character, Tybalt, a cait sidhe (cat faery) also makes an appearance. Toby is confused by his enigmatic behaviour, as before the events of the last book, he used to be deeply antagonistic towards her, and now he's positively friendly, and even quite protective of her. Whether this is just because she owes him a debt, and he wants to keep her alive until it's repaid, is uncertain.

So far, the October Daye series doesn't grip me as much as several other paranormal fantasy series that I'm following, but McGuire has created a very interesting world. While the stories don't always compel me as much as those of Ilona Andrews, Patricia Briggs or Nalini Singh, the cast of characters and skillful world building is enough to keep me curious to see how things develop, and I will keep reading them for a while yet. Reviews of future books on the internet seem to imply that the series gets better as it progresses, and that bodes well.

Friday 16 December 2011

CBR3 Book 100: "Fate's Edge" by Ilona Andrews

Publisher: Ace
Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 5 stars
Date begun: November 29th, 2011
Date finished: November 30th, 2011

Fate's Edge is the third and penultimate book in the Edge series, and while the previous books could be read more or less independently of each other, this one is more of a straight sequel to book 2, Bayou Moon, and while it will make sense, won't be half as satisfying. As a consequence, this review will also contain minor spoilers for books 1 and 2, and if you haven't read the series, stop reading this and go read On the Edge instead.

Audrey Callahan comes from a family of con men and grifters, who have benefitted greatly from her magical ability to unlock anything, but sick of being used, Audrey cuts all ties with her family, and determines to stay on the straight and narrow. She wants to use whatever tricks she used pulling cons to aid her in her new, respectable career as a private investigator. When her father shows up on her doorstep, suggesting one last heist, so they can get her older brother into rehab (again), she reluctantly agrees, on the condition she never has to see or hear from either of them again.

Kaldar Mar is an all-round scoundrel, and uses his good looks, guile and intelligence as a spy, working to get revenge on the Hand, the ruthless organization that wiped out his former home and much of his family. He's tasked with tracking down the powerful object that Audrey helped steal, and believes he can easily charm Audrey into assisting him. Audrey may look gentle and innocent, but she calls Kaldar on his game immediately, and leaves him tasered and tied to a chair in her office within minutes of meeting him. She knows he's bad news for her, and her law-abiding and normal existance, and wants nothing to do with anything he's proposing.

The Hand are after the object her family stole, however, and their agents don't care who they have to torture and/or kill to get it back. Once Audrey realizes how many people her theft may have endangered, her conscience won't allow her to turn her back on Kaldar's mission, even though all her instincts tell her to stay far, far away from the dangerously charming man who not only can keep up with her and her schemes, but whose skills possibly even surpass her own. A charming ladies man like Kaldar would never be happy tied down to just one woman, so she'll need to keep her wits about her to avoid heartbreak and rejection once the mission is over.

Ilona and Gordon Andrews are husband and wife, and co-write all their books. As well as the Edge series, they also write the paranormal Kate Daniels books, which I also adore. With a few exceptions, all their books are brilliant, and they are now on my pre-order list, no matter what books they produce. The Edge series books are a bit more focused on romance than the Kate Daniels ones, with a central couple getting their HEA over the course of the story. In Bayou Moon, Kaldar's cousin Cerise finds her match in the werewolf William, and both characters appear over the course of this book as supporting cast. As do Jack and George, the younger brothers of the heroine in On the Edge. That's why it makes a lot of sense to have read both the previous books in the series before starting this one, quite a lot of essential back story is given there.

The main plot is not a romance, though, it's more a mix of a quest and a heist movie. If you like Ocean's Eleven with the clever protagonists and the witty banter, and characters constantly working to outsmart and one up each other, this should be right up your alley. Audrey and Kaldar are both very guarded and have dark pasts, and both are used to being the smartest person in the room. In some ways, they're almost too perfectly matched. The banter between them is a joy to read. The supporting cast, pretty much all comprising (as mentioned earlier) of characters introduced in the former two books, are all excellent too, and I laughed out loud several times over the course of the story.

The villains of the story are really very brutal, and there are some scenes of quite graphic violence. So be warned of that if you have weak stomach. While they are seemingly ruthless, they also have a clearly stated purpose, and they don't perform their gruesome acts randomly and without reason. That possibly makes them even scarier.

Generally, while the central romance in this moves more slowly and is in some ways less compelling than in the previous Edge books, the action and adventure plot is excellent, and this may be my favourite of the series, and also, one of my favourite Ilona Andrews novels, so far. As far as I could gather, they are only planning one more book in this series, to center around Kaldar's brother Richard, but if they were planning a spin off set some time in the future, I would love a book focusing on Jack and George when they've had a chance to grow older and even more awesome than they are in this book.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

CBR3 Book 99: "The Windflower" by Sharon and Tom Curtis

Publisher: Fanfare
Page count: 502 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: November 25th, 2011
Date finished: November 29th, 2011

The Windflower keeps appearing on All About Romance's Top 100 Romances, and is raved about on so many different romance review sites on the internet that I decided enough was enough, and went on Amazon Marketplace to track down a copy (the book was published in 1984, the book I have is from 1994, and the book's been out of print for ages).

I now see why it's so popular. This book has pretty much everything you'd want from an old fashioned romance novel - the heroine grew up with a spinster aunt, lived a terribly sheltered life style, and has barely looked at a man before she's suddenly snogged by a dashing pirate when helping her brother try to identify British spies in some little shack not far from where she grew up.  Some months later, when her English spinster aunt is taking her back to England (although the heroine is American, and terribly patriotic at that), she is abducted by ruffians and ends up on the pirate ship belonging to the half-brother of said dashing pirate who snogged her all those months ago. He thinks she's the mistress of his worst enemy, she thinks he wants to hurt her brother, who is working for the American revolutionaries.

As well as forced abductions, there are surly teenage pirates who turn out to have hearts of gold, an extremely manipulative pirate captain who knows more than anyone else, and clearly uses his pirate ship as some sort of unorthodox finishing school for the odd nobleman's son here and there, a varied band of pirates who while totally apparentl ruthless, within about a week are all willing to die for the heroine's sake.

 Merry, the heroine, veers between being very believably freaked out with the whole kidnapped by pirates thing, especially since her inexperienced little self barely knows how to react to the seductive tendencies of Devin, the pirate captain's mysterious brother, and being borderline TSTL, especially in her attempts to escape. So much badness happening to one young chit, you'd think she'd learn after the second escape attempt, when she's nearly killed from malaria!

In a romance novel written today, the hero would be a lot less douchy to the heroine. He really is very mean to her for most of the book, and keeps threatening to do horrible things to Merry, and seems vaguely puzzled when she's then terrified of him and actually believes he'll carry out his threats. Of course, the main couple would also have been having sex all over the place, while here Devin just tries to unsuccessfully seduce a woman he's pretty sure is an experienced strumpet, yet he can't bring himself to rape her, and Merry really has WAY more will power and resistance than any modern heroine - they always seem to waver a suitable amount of time before being overwhelmed by their desires and falling into bed with the hero. Merry holds out until she's married, even though Devin's proposal rivals that of Mr Darcy (the first one, NOT the second one, which is lovely) and Mr Rochester for total sucky unromanticness (it's a word - I'm an English teacher, I've decided).

A bit slow to start, the book is incredibly entertaining, and worth reading not even mainly for the main couple, who as mentioned before are a sheltered virgin and an imperious douche, but for the supporting characters, who are complex and conflicted and oh so dashing. It doesn't seem as if Tom and Sharon Curtis have written any romances about Devin's pirate captain half brother, Rand Morgan, or about Cat or Raven, two of the angsty, yet amusing teenagers aboard the ship. I'd read those books in a heartbeat.
This is a great book, well worth tracking down, even though it's out of print.

CBR3 Book 98: "The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger

Publisher: Vintage
Page count: 528 pages
Rating: 5 stars
Date begun: November 21st, 2011
Date finished: November 24th, 2011

Clare is 6 when she meets Henry for the first time, he is 36. Henry is 28 when he meets Clare for the first time, she is 20. Henry is a time traveller. Not in a cool Doctor Who sort of way, where he can travel where ever he wants in time and space. He keeps finding himself thrown either forward or backwards in his own lifetime, always ending up naked, and can stay in the other time for a few seconds, or several days, depending on circumstance.

Hence Clare is delighted when she finally runs into Henry at the library where he works. He's younger than she has ever seen him, she's known him and met with him countless times over the years, growing up. He gives her a list of all the dates when he will appear in the meadow behind her parents' house, so she can have clothes waiting for him in the woods. He helps her with her homework, listens to her troubles, even helps her get back at a douchy boy who hurt her, trying not to reveal to her too early (worried that he will warp her childhood irreparably) that in his present, she is his beloved wife.

The Time Traveler's Wife is obviously not a narrative with a linear plot, it jumps around a LOT. Sometimes there is more than one Henry in the story at the same time. Henry learns all the useful tricks and survival tactics he needs to get by from an older version of himself. I adore this book. I loved it the first time I read it, years and years ago, and decided to reread it to blog it for Cannonball Read. It's still great.

I don't care if the time travel plot device doesn't appeal to some readers, or that it may not consistently make sense within the narrative (a criticism I've read several places). I don't really care WHY or HOW Henry time travels, the important part is the beautiful portrayal of Henry and Clare and their heart breaking and wonderful love story. The first time I read the book, I cried buckets. This time, I managed to get by with just a sniffle, but the ending still gets me. Read the book, avoid the film adaptation like the plague. It sucks, and is just awful.

CBR3 Book 97: "The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern

Publisher: Harvill Secker
Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars
Date begun: November 17th, 2011
Date finished: November 19th, 2011

The Night Circus arrives unannounced, and without warning, the black and white striped tents appearing as if by magic. It's only open at night, and closes at dawn. Within the monochrome circus are the most amazing wonders imaginable - acrobats, trained animals, contortionists, fortune tellers, fairground rides where the animals you ride on seem to move, illusionists and more. Le Cirque des RĂªves, once experienced is never forgotten.

Unbeknownst to most people, even the inhabitants of the circus, there is a magician's duel taking place behind the scenes. Celia and Marco, both trained from childhood, are magically bound to compete, with the circus and its members as their arena, until one of them emerges victorious. Neither of them chose this themselves, Celia's father and Marco's mentor have had magical battles through proxies multiple times before, but both are bound, long before they even know the rules, or where or how the battle is to take place. They finally meet, and fall in love, making their duel all the more difficult.

Yet The Night Circus is not really a romance. The main focus of the book is absolutely the circus itself, and the story of Marco and Celia's contest is only part of it. The circus becomes their magical playing field, where they strive to outdo, and later, to impress and express their feelings for each other. However, the book is about the people that founded the circus in the first place, about several of the people who are affected by it all over the world, about the extraordinary twins born within the circus on its opening day, and about one young American man who is particularly affected by it.

The Night Circus is a magical and lovely book which entertained me greatly, but I suspect it is not for everyone, and some people may find it overly twee and very annoying. It's set in Victorian times, but is obviously full of magic. The writing is almost lyrical at times, very poetic and descriptive, especially when it comes to describing the atmosphere of the circus itself. Don't read it if all you want is an epic romance, you will be disappointed. If you liked The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell by Susanna Clarke, then you may also like this. If you hated them, or weren't able to finish them for one reason or another, I would read something else instead.

CBR3 Book 96: "Lioness Rampant" by Tamora Pierce

Publisher: Simon Pulse
Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: November 5th, 2011
Date finished: November 14th, 2011

This is the fourth and concluding book in the Song of the Lioness series, and it really doesn't make a lot of sense or have much emotional impact if you read it without having read the previous three books, so I would recommend against it.

Alanna of Trebond is a knight, and has defeated her worst enemy in single combat. She's still a bit worried about using her magic because of the way the battle went, and things are somewhat awkward between her and Prince Jonathan, so she sets off to become a knight errand and do good deeds for the good of the kingdom. Once on a quest for the Dominion Jewel, a magical gem that can give limitless power to its owner (being all noble and selfless, Alanna is obviously going to give it to Jonathan), she meets a number of new allies and friends, and proves her heroic worth by achiving near impossible things.

Back in Tortall, Alanna's brother has raised the dead in an experiment gone badly wrong, and Jonathan has to prove his claim to the throne. George's reign as King of the Rogues is threatened by a deadly usurper, an old enemy of Alanna's. Alanna is needed by both of them, and faces great loss and huge challenges upon her return from her quest.

Ok, trying to recap the story without spoiling anything makes the book seem more lame than it is. As the final chapter in Alanna's story, I actually really liked Lioness Rampant and as the series started with her childhood, this is the book where Alanna becomes an adult in every sense of the word. She proves herself, to both those around her, and more importantly, to herself. She gains a confidence she previously lacked, and a much clearer idea of what she wants from her life and her future. She decides who her heart belongs to, but isn't entirely sure that she ever wants to settle down in one place for very long.

The supporting cast are in no way ignored by Pierce, and there are new additions that Alanna meet along the way who help her grow as a knight and as a woman. All the various story lines from previous books are tied off in a very satisfactory way, although Tamora Pierce has written other series in the same universe. I will have to check them out at some point as well, for now, I think I've covered my young adult fix for a little while.