Monday 30 April 2012

CBR4 Book 45: "Cinder" by Marissa Meyer

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: April 21st, 2012
Date finished: April 21st, 2012

Cinder is probably the best mechanic in New Beijing. She's also a cyborg. As cyborgs are generally shunned in society, she tries to hide this fact from as many as possible. The kind man who adopted her years earlier died shortly after, leaving her the ward of his cold and uncaring wife. She expects Cinder to work to support her and her two daughters, never showing the "unnatural" girl any appreciation or affection. Cinder is surprised to find the Prince Kai, heir to the Imperial throne, at her booth one day, urging her to fix one of his androids, but reluctant to share why it matters so much to him.

Scientists are working ceaselessly to find a cure for the deadly plague that's affecting the population, and when Cinder's stepsister is suddenly taken ill, her stepmother "volunteers" her for medical testing. Drugged and taken away in restraints, Cinder tries to escape the testing facility, but is with a strain of the disease, and shortly after released by the head medical expert. He reveals that Cinder is immune to the plague, and makes her promise to help him find a cure. As the stepsister who's ill is pretty much Cinder's only friend in the world, Cinder readily agrees. Working with Dr. Edlund, she keeps running into Prince Kai, whose father, the Emperor, is also ill with the plague, and eager for the doctors to find a cure.

Dr. Edlund agrees to pay Cinder for her assistance, and with the money Cinder plans to refurbish an old car, grab her sidekick android, and escape her stepmother's reach once and for all. Her growing feelings for Prince Kai are definitely complicating things, especially when Kai asks her to be his date to the annual ball at the palace. Dr. Edlund is acting strangely, and clearly knows more about her than he's willing to reveal. Why is he so determined that she stay far away from the palace when the Lunar Queen is visiting? Why is Cinder immune to the plague?

I love fairy tale retellings, and while I normally don't read a lot of sci-fi, this book was difficult to put down. The concept of Cinderella as a cyborg was a really cool one, and the futuristic world conjured up by Meyer is really well rendered on the page. The supporting characters are all well developed too, and I was genuinely affected when good (and bad) things happened to them. Cinder's a wonderful character, although I suspect only the really slow kids at the back will be genuinely surprised at the shocking revelation of her true identity (this is NOT a spoiler - Meyer leaves anvillicious hints throughout the story).

My main gripe is that the ending is rather sudden, and very open ended, and the next book isn't out until next year. As far as I can tell online, there will be four books in total in The Lunar Chronicles, and as far as I can tell each new book will be another fairy tale retelling. Not sure how she's going to tie each new book into the current story line, but with such a promising beginning, I'm choosing to be hopeful that it'll work out.

CBR4 Book 44: "One Dance with a Duke" by Tessa Dare

Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars
Date begun: April 21st, 2012
Date finished: April 21st, 2012

Spenser Dumarque, the fourth Duke of Morland, has the entire ton gossipping about his custom to show up at society balls at the strike of midnight, dance one set with a lucky young woman, escort her to dinner, and then leave. Every eligible young debutante wants to be the next lucky lady he selects, but so far none seems to have caught his eye.

Lady Amelia D'Orsay is old enough to be considered pretty much on the shelf by polite society, so she tries to stay away from gossip, and is certainly not interested in fighting the other young ladies for the "Duke of Midnight"'s attention. When she finds out from her scapegrace younger brother Jack that he now owes the Duke 400 pounds, and that this debt means that the family cottage (where Amelia spends every summer) will have to be let, she decides to confront the Duke, and persuade him to forgive Jack's debt. Spenser is flummoxed at being directly approached by the opinionated lady, and has no choice but to dance his customary midnight dance with her, to avoid losing face in public.

What no one in society knows, is that his midnight ritual has nothing to do with finding a suitable bride, but to control his massive fear of crowds, and to stave off anxiety attacks. By arriving precisely at midnight and making a brief public appearance, Spenser fulfils his social obligations, but can leave before the crowds become to overwhelming, and no one's the wiser. Dancing with the pushy Amelia, he's suddenly overcome with a panic attack, and as she refuses to be abandoned on the dance floor, he has to drag her with him out onto the balcony. She realises that something is not quite right, but before she can enquire further, Spenser is approached by two acquaintances, Rhys St. Maur (the Earl of Ashworth and a war hero - also the hero of the second book in the trilogy) and Julian Bellamy (rake, dandy, scoundrel and hero of the third book), announcing that Leo Chatwick, the founder of the exclusive gentleman's club in which all three are members has been murdered, and they need to break the bad news to his twin sister. Amelia insists on coming along, as Lily is an old friend of hers.

At the end of the night, having had a rather bad time of it, Amelia is shocked when Spenser proposes marriage to her in order to save her from any ton gossip (he did after all, drag her from a crowded ball room and disappear with her for most of the night). Even though the thought of becoming a wealthy Duchess is appealing to her, it's only after Spenser convinces her with some pretty head-turning kisses that he's genuinely attracted to her, that she accepts.

A few days after their first dance, Amelia is married to a man who is mostly a stranger to her. It doesn't make it easier that Julian Bellamy crashes their wedding to accuse Spenser of having murdered Leo Chatwick. While drawn to her husband, she makes him promise to prove his innocence before they consummate the marriage. Spenser promises reluctantly, and as he's more and more sure that his decision to marry Amelia impulsively was a good one, sets out to seduce his wife good and proper.

The romance in One Dance with a Duke is delightful, and while Spenser can seem domineering and aloof and frequently seems to say exactly the wrong and insulting thing in any situation, there are good explanations as to why he's like that. The gradual way in which Spenser and Amelia get to know each other and fall in love with each other is great. Unfortunately, however, there are two other subplots running throughout the book, both of which get seemingly forgotten about for huge stretches at a time, only to be reintroduced just as the main romance plot is getting really good.

First there is the murder investigation, where Spenser, St. Maur and Bellamy try to figure out who killed their friend (this plot is not resolved until Three Nights with a Scoundrel), and then there is the subplot of Amelia's wastrel brother Jack, who keeps getting himself further into debt and expecting Amelia to bail him out. Every time he showed up, I just wanted to scream and put the book away, and Amelia's refusal to see what a complete leech he was made me want to slap her. Apart from that, Amelia's a really nice character. I suspect the Jack subplot was supposed to show how kind and loving and all about family Amelia was, loyal to a fault to her brother, even when he kept disappointing her. Instead, it just made her look like an idiotic sap, and I absolutely sided with Spenser in all their arguments. The subplots also make the structure of the book a lot more loose and meandering, and detracted from my enjoyment of it. So in conclusion, a good book, but less focused on the main romance than I would have liked.

CBR4 Book 43: "Doctor Who and the Daleks" by David Whitaker

Page count: 192 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: April 21st, 2012
Date finished: April 21st, 2012

First published in 1964 with the title Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks (a title they really should have kept, in my opinion), this is the first Doctor Who serial to be turned into a novel. The book was written by one of the head screenwriters on the show,  in a time when it was not common to repeat television, and before Doctor Who was the long running cult (and now mainstream) television series that it is today. For many people, it was the first introduction to the story of the time travelling Doctor and his companions, and Whitaker was free to adapt and even alter the story from the television series.

In terms of the TV show, the seven episode run of The Daleks follows on from the very first episode of Doctor Who, An Unearthly Child, where viewers were introduced to the strange and brilliant school girl Susan, her teachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, and her eccentric and mysterious grandfather, known only as the Doctor. At the end of the episode, Ian and Barbara are whisked away in the Doctor's time machine, the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space) and in their first adventure on an alien planet meet the terrifying cyborg race known as the Daleks (long before these creatures became known as the Doctor's most feared enemies).

Whitaker starts by rewriting the events of An Unearthly Child somewhat, with Ian never having met Susan and Barbara before he finds them at the scene of a car accident, but the end result is still the same. He and Barbara, trying to help Susan, meet her seemingly misanthropic Grandfather, and end up in his wonderful space craft, kidnapped by the Doctor, so they can't reveal his or Susan's existence to the authorities. The story is told entirely from Ian's point of view. Ian is a trained scientist, and while he  is initially convinced that the TARDIS is some elaborate set, and the Doctor and Susan are delusional, he can't ignore the evidence in front of him as they arrive on and start exploring the alien home planet of the Daleks.

The Doctor, always interested in exploring alien civilisations, deftly sabotages his own ship, and the travellers have no choice but to explore the city they see in the distance in order to find mercury to fix the TARDIS' fuel supply. Ian is pretty sure he's being manipulated, but doesn't really have a choice but to go along if he wants to leave the planet again any time soon. He certainly doesn't want to send a woman and a young girl along with a bossy old guy who he's still not entirely convinced is completely sane. So off they go, through the strangely ravaged country side, to a city where the streets are paved with metal. Susan and Barbara start feeling ill, and soon the whole group are captured by the little robot creatures known as the Daleks.

The planet's atmosphere is slowly poisoning the humans, and Susan is sent off alone to find an antidote for Barbara and the others (left outside the TARDIS earlier). While away from the Dalek city, she encounters one of the Thal, a race of peaceful humanoids inhabiting the planet. He explains that there used to be a terrible civil war that left most of the planet scorched and petrified, but that the Thals only want peace and to be left alone by the Daleks. The antidote Susan has to find was created by the Thals, who can't breathe without it, and Susan promises to plead the Thal case to their Dalek captors.

While it seems as if the Daleks are receptive to a peace agreement with the Thals, just before the Thal delegation are set to arrive, Ian and the others discover that the Daleks plan not only to ambush the Thals, but their ultimate plan involves taking over the whole planet, killing off the Thal race completely. The Doctor and his companions escape the Dalek city with the surviving Thals, and try to assist them in setting up a rebellion against the ruthless Daleks.

Doctor Who and the Daleks is a book aimed for children, but is action packed, well written and surprisingly violent (at least to anyone who hasn't seen classic (or even current era) Doctor Who). Ian and Barbara are given a lot more characterisation than in the early episodes of the show, because in a novel that's much easier than on TV. There is also more of a romantic tension between Ian and Barbara than what is shown in the TV episodes, but as the series progressed, it was obvious that the two were meant to be together, so I think Whitaker was only hurrying along the inevitable.

The benefit of a novel over the TV series, is that in a book the author can conjure up exciting set pieces without having to worry about a budget. My husband, a massive fan of the show, confesses that having read the book as a boy, he was a bit disappointed when finally seeing the actual episodes, as the exotic and alien locations, characters and various action sequences were described so vividly in the book, and weren't quite as faithfully rendered on screen (no wonder, as the TV show came first, the book just elaborated on what had already been shown). It's a fairly short, and very exciting story. One of the most interesting aspects is the strange experience of Ian and the others trying to convince a pacifistic, harmonic people that they need to learn to fight and in effect resume a civil war, rather than continue their peace loving ways and be exterminated by the ruthless Daleks.

A very good choice for my first Read-a-thon book this spring, it can be read in a couple of hours, and gives a nice introduction to the first Doctor and his companions for new fans, or an interesting contrast to the TV series for existing fans. Well worth a read.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

CBR4 Books 40-42: "Empowered vol 1-3" by Adam Warren

Total page count: 664 pages
Rating - All three volumes - 4 stars
Date begun: April 17th, 2012
Date finished: April 22nd, 2012

The somewhat ironically named Empowered is a C-list superhero whose powers are given to her by her ultra skintight supersuit (so much so that she can't wear underwear underneath it and even has to have very careful personal grooming so that nothing shows when she's wearing it). While the suit is intact, she's strong enough to lift and throw cars and even zap people from a distance, but the suit is also ridiculously fragile, prone to ripping if she catches on a nail, thorn, tack or say, gets shot at. The more the suit tears, the faster she loses a her powers, leaving her frequently captured, bound and gagged (in ridiculously skimpy, yet conveniently strategically covering tatters) by various super villains. Her team, "The Super-homeys" rarely take her seriously, and she's most frequently used as bait. She's blond and buxum, but has terrible self-esteem issues and is convinced that her butt is too big.

The first volume is pretty much a series of short vignettes, interrupted by fairly meta chapter breaks where  "Emp" explains her origin as a bondage prone sketch Adam Warren would draw for fans at conventions, then flesh out with a back story and turn into a surprisingly sweet and very clever satire on sexy superhero comics. Over the course of the first volume, Emp (her real name isn't revealed until volume 3) meets her boyfriend, a sometime super villain henchman, and her best friend, Ninjette (who is unsurprisingly a ninja), and ends up sharing a flat with the "Caged Demonwolf", a cosmic beast entrapped in alien bondage gear who lives atop her coffee table (possibly my favourite character). In volumes 2 and 3, the stories are longer, and continue to explore the world of Empowered, the Superhomeys, the various rather ridiculous super villains they fight, and the myriad ways in which  poor Emp can be captured, humiliated, bound and gagged.

While the art is very sexy, and Emp is frequently more unclothed than not, there is never any complete nudity, the book is very good about equal opportunity cheesecake art, with Emp's boyfriend Thugboy frequently shown just as scantily clad as her. It's clearly a aimed at an adult audience, with quite a few sex scenes in especially volumes 1 and 3 and quite a lot of violence (in a very manga style) in all 3 volumes. Refreshingly, as a female comics reader, I never felt this comic is as insulting to or exploitative of women as several more mainstream superhero comics. For all it's near nudity and bondage prone heroine, the main premise of the comic is sweet. I very much agree with this article on Comics Alliance, that Empowered is a comic that gets sexy superheroes just right. I will absolutely be getting more, as soon as my budget allows it.

Tuesday 24 April 2012

CBR4 Book 39: "The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms" by N.K. Jemisin

Page count: 432 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: April 16th, 2012
Date finished: April 20th, 2012

Some months after her mother's death,Yeine Darr is summoned to Sky, the capital of the sprawling empire known as the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by her grandfather, who is head of the Arameri clan, and the realm's undisputed ruler. Yeine the only daughter of his beloved daughter and former heir, who he disowned when she chose to marry Yeine's "barbarian" father. To Yeine's shock and the surprise of the court, he names her one of his heirs, and expects her to fight for the position as the next Arameri ruler with her cousins, his ruthless niece and nephew.

Brought up far far from Sky, in the simple northern province of Darre, a formerly matriarchal society of which Yeine was supposed to become the next chieftain, she is completely unprepared for the vicious machinations and power games at her grandfather's court. She also discovers that no one expects her to emerge victorious in her cousin's inheritance struggle, but has no choice but to adapt quickly. The Arameri have terrifying resources at their disposal, among them four of the realm's former gods trapped in human form.

 In a world where there were once three main gods, two male, one female (the God of Day, the God of Night, and the Goddess of Dusk and Twilight - or light, dark and all the shades in between). The priests would have it that Enefa, the goddess, rebelled against the god of Light, and was aided by the god of Night and various minor godlings. She was killed for her betrayal, and Nahadoth, the god of Night, and three of their children, were condemned to live forever chained and controlled by the Arameri, who can use them as weapons of mass destruction. Yeine is forced into an uneasy alliance with the four gods after it's clear that her fate is closely tied up with theirs, and their aid may be the only hope she has of coming through the bitter struggle for the throne without her home and life being completely destroyed.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is N.K. Jemisin's debut novel, and a very impressive book, in that regard. The world she's created is fascinating, and I especially enjoyed the theology and mythology with the three gods and their conflict. The concept of gods trapped and forced to do ruthless rulers' bidding was also an intriguing one. In flashbacks the reader clearly sees what terrible power this bestows on the Arameri rulers, and how a slightly mis-spoken command can give them free reign to level whole civilisations.

Anyone expecting an epic and convoluted power struggle like that shown in George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire or similar fantasy epics will be disappointed. While there is political intrigue and difficult choices to be made, the book has a relatively small cast of significant characters, and the whole story is really about Yeine trying to figure out who killed her mother, why her grandfather has suddenly decided to use her as a pawn in his power games, and ow her fate is connected with that of the trapped gods. While there are hints about the wider world of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the main story is set in the capital, Sky, and the closer details of even that society are not explored.

The story is told from Yeine's POV, in a sort of flashback, and she frequently interrupts herself, to go off on apparent digressions, and occasionally even seems to be arguing herself. This narrative device may annoy some readers, but I found that it made Yeine more relatable, and the somewhat disjointed style of narration becomes clear towards the end of the novel, when the full story is revealed. I enjoyed the book, and will absolutely be picking up the rest of the trilogy at some later date.

Sunday 22 April 2012

End of event meme

1. Which hour was the most daunting for you?
Probably the last few, when I was quite tired, and had to struggle not to nod off. Reading light and fun stuff was a good idea.

2) Could you list a few high interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
I liked all my books. The Doctor Who book would entertain any fan of the TV series, I think, even if they're not used to the classic series. One Dance with a Duke by Tessa Dare is a nice romance, if a bit heavier on the angst than some of her other ones. Cinder by Marissa Meyer was a fun reimagining of the classic Cinderella story, and as long as readers don't mind that it's the first in a series (which won't be completed until 2015 at the earliest), it's a good YA sci-fi story. 

3) Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
Not really. I thought it was pretty good both last year and this time. Possibly a clearer schedule of when all the various time zones are supposed to start. 

4) What do you think worked really well in this year's Read-a-thon?
The hourly updates on the blog were really nice. I'm glad I checked them this year.

5) How many books did you read?

6) What were the names of the books you read?
Doctor Who and the Daleks (originally titled much more awesomely Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks) by David Whitaker
One Dance with a Duke by Tessa Dare
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Empowered volume 2 by Adam Warren
Empowered volume 3 by Adam Warren

7) Which book did you enjoy most?
Cinder by Marissa Meyer

8) Which book did you enjoy least? 
One Dance with a Duke, but that's not saying much, as I enjoyed ALL the books this year.

9) If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year's Cheerleaders?
I was just a Reader, but would just like to encourage the Cheerleaders to keep up their good work.

10) How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
I'm absolutely going to participate again. I hope there's another one in October. I'd be a Reader, because I love the absolute indulgence of devoting that much time to reading. 

Hour twenty-four: ok, I'm done

So it appears that due to daylight savings time stuff etc, I started the 24-hour Readathon an hour early. But that means I also get to complete my reading an hour early, and I am done now.

I have correction work to do, and I have to go to the gym, and judging by how tired I still am, I need to nap a bit as well. Still, I really enjoyed my reading experience, and will of course be doing it again in October, as long as my schedule permits it.

Pages read in the last hour: 136
Pages read in total: 1348
Total books read so far: 5!
Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks by David Whitaker
One Dance with a Duke by Tessa Dare
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Empowered volumes 2 and 3 by Adam Warren

Snacks consumed: More Coke

Hour twenty three

Read more Empowered. Trying valiantly not to fall asleep on the sofa. Less than an hour to go now, though...

Pages read in the last hour: 152 (Gotta love comic books)
Pages read in total: 1212
Total books read so far: 4,5
Currently reading: Empowered volume 3 by Adam Warren
Snacks consumed: None, but I think it's time to break the Coke out again, so I can stay awake another hour.

Hour twenty-two (of which I read for about half)

Ok, so I slept longer than planned, but when I have work tomorrow, it's important that I don't get too sleep deprived on weekends. Pondered reading a "real" book, but decided I wanted something light-hearted and easy on a Sunday morning.

Pages read in the last hour: 128
Pages read in total: 1060
Total books read so far: 3,5
Currently reading: Empowered vol 2 by Adam Warren
Snacks consumed: Big glass of water. Left over jelly men

Hour thirteen-fourteen and a half

Being quite tired now, I decided to knuckle down and finish Cinder, so I had three completed books, and can go to sleep for a while. My plan is to get up bright and early tomorrow to get a few more hours of reading done before the end of the Readathon.

Pages read in the last hours: 206
Pages read in total: 932
Total books read so far: 3!
Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks by David Whitaker
One Dance with a Duke by Tessa Dare
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Snacks consumed: More chips and dip. Coke. Now to brush my teeth thoroughly and sleep for a while. 

Hour twelve

It's amazing how much more reading one can do when left alone in a quiet flat. Made some good progress in the last hour. Really enjoying the book. Also snacked quite a bit.

Pages read in the last hour: 103
Pages read in total: 726
Total books read so far: Almost two and a half
Snacks consumed: Crisps and dip, Seigmen (delicious Norwegian sugar covered jellymen)

Hour eleven

Didn't get that much reading done in the last hour, as I completed a more time consuming mini challenge on Noumena12 Book Blog about reading habits and e-books. Because I'm slightly obsessive about monitoring my reading, and I have my big notebook of every single book I've read and re-read since 2008,  it was fairly easy for me to check just how many books I'd read every year. But then I had to work out how many of them were e-books (increasingly more for every year) and how many were audio (hardly any). And do maths and work out percentages and oh my. Plus, I just wanted a bit of a breather from reading for a bit. Still, I'm enjoying the book, even though I'm pretty sure I've already figured out the big plot twist already.

Pages read in the last hour: 23
Pages read in total: 623
Total books read so far: 2,2ish
Still reading Cinder
Snacks consumed: None, although I suspect that will change in the next hour. 

Saturday 21 April 2012

Hours eight to ten: Still going strong

It took a while, but husband finally got showered and primped and went out with his buddies to a club night. I decided to ensconce myself on the sofa and really read, so I could get at least one more book under my belt before updating again. Mission accomplished. Also made dip, but have yet to peel or chop any veg to go in it. Did a couple of mini-challenges.

Pages read since last update: 171
Pages read in total: 600! Nice round number there
Total books read so far: 2
Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks by David Whitaker (A very easy and fun read)
One Dance with a Duke by Tessa Dare (good, but not as delightful and quite a bit more angsty than her Spindle Cove books)
Currently reading: Cinder by Marissa Meyer - Cinderella's a cyborg in the future!
Music choices: Haven't been listening to music
Snacks consumed: Not much. Alternating between Coke and water

Hour seven

Ate more torta. It really is very tasty. Pondered preparing vegetables and dip for later.

Pages read in the last hour: 56
Pages read in total: 429
Total books read so far: Same as before
Snacks consumed: More torta

Hour the sixth

Spent more of the last hour than I probably should've larking about on the internet, browsing Facebook and the like. Husband is still in attendance, throwing ridiculous guitar shapes and being a general distraction. I can absolutely see why people either recommend going away for Readathon, or sending spouses away. Still enjoying the heck out of the book.

Pages read in the last hour: 57
Pages read in total: 373
Total books read so far: Nearly one and a half
Music choices: Currently being annoyed by my husband's guitar playing along to Rolling Stones' Some Girls
Snacks consumed: Just Coke and water. 

And then there were five...

Woke husband up, valiantly tried not to pay attention to the South Park episode he was watching (that didn't go so well, hence the low page count). Got myself something to eat. Completed the "Turn to a page" mini-challenge on Reflections of a Bookaholic. Sighed with delighted pleasure as our intrepid heroine is kissed by the arrogant Duke who just proposed to her (that's how you know you're reading a good romance, when you sort of swoon from the first kiss).
Pages read in the last hour: 45
Pages read in total: 316
Total books read so far: 1 and a bit
Same ones as before
Music choices: Currently Natasha Bedingfield - Piece of your heart
Snacks consumed: One wedge of the super delicious torta I made last night. It's awesome, and the best part is that we have enough for several meals. 

Fourth hour

It's official. The fickle deities that control our internet connection clearly don't want me to complete the introductory challenge on the Readathon blog. Tried it for a second time, and just like last time, the internet connection failed when I tried to submit the comment. So it's not to be. About to wake my husband up from his nap. Hoping he won't be too much of a distraction before he goes out for the evening.

Pages read in the last hour: 58
Pages read in total: 271
Total books read so far: 1, 25

Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks by David Whitaker
Currently reading: One Dance with a Duke by Tessa Dare
Music choices: Currently listening to Time after Time by Cyndi Lauper
Snacks consumed: None, but I'm getting hungry. May be time to cut into the giant torta waiting in the kitchen. 

Third hour

Checked out the blog and initial challenges at the Readathon blog, and filled out. I'm not sure if my answers were registred, as the internet is being patchy and annoying again. Will have to go back and check later.

Pages read in the last hour: 66
Pages read in total: 213
Total books read so far: 1
Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks by David Whitaker
Currently reading: One Dance with a Duke by Tessa Dare
Music choices: Still random playlist. Now playing: R.E.M - Orange Crush
Snacks consumed: Finished my Coke. Am pondering biscuits

Second hour

Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks is a very apt title, and the book is very entertaining. Glad my husband recommended it. Haven't really done anything this hour but update for hour one, bathroom break, and more reading.

Pages read in the last hour: 78
Pages read in total: 147
Total books read so far: About three quarters of one
Music choices: Random playlist on my Ipod. Listening to Acrylic Afternoons by Pulp right NOW.
Snacks consumed: Drank some more of my bottle of Coke.

Read-a-thon spring 2012: Let's get this party started

So I got started a little bit late, having spent the morning at an Egyptian breakfast type thing with my husband's boss, which was very nice, but did mean that we weren't back until about 10 past the hour. I've got my food prepared, my reading list all stocked up. I've got snacks and sweets and a fridge full of Coke, really looking forward to the reading challenge. I've started Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks by David Whitaker, and am enjoying it a lot so far.

Pages read in the last hour: 65
Pages read in total:65
Total books read so far: Little over a third of one
Music: Nothing voluntary, my husband played a Rolling Stones song I hate on the guitar for a while, then went to bed to nap.
Snacks consumed: Cinnamon bun with custard centre. Coke.

Wednesday 18 April 2012

24 hour Read-a-Thon - Spring 2012 edition

Just a quick post to announce to my faithful readers (of which I appear to have several - very daunting) that this Saturday I will be taking part in my second 24-hour Read-a-Thon, as I had such a blast doing it in October. I'm currently planning both what food I need to make in advance, to prevent time wasting while still keeping myself nourished - and most importantly, of course, my reading list.

My husband thinks it would be a blast if I read one of the Target novelizations of Doctor Who adventures, and I will therefore be reading the very first one, Doctor Who in Exciting Adventure with the Daleks (later renamed boringly Doctor Who and the Daleks). I will also be reading volume 2 and 3 of Adam Warren's superhero comic Empowered, because it will be nice light entertainment in between my other "proper" books. Which, let's face it, will probably be fantasy and/or romance. Because I'm nothing if not predictable. I will, like last year, try to update once an hour with my progress, and after the Read-a-Thon is complete, I will obviously review and blog all the books I got through (which will add to my total Cannonball count as well, always a nice bonus).

Tuesday 17 April 2012

CBR4 Book 38: "Poison Study" by Maria V. Snyder

Page count: 416 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: March 30th, 2012
Date finished: April 16th, 2012

Having awaited execution in a prison cell for nine months for killing a general's son, Yelena is given a reprieve when she is offered the position of the Commander of Ixia, Ambrose's new food taster (the last one having died in the line of duty). Ixia used to be ruled by a corrupt king, most people agree that the strictly ordered society imposed by the Commander is better. Of course, having gained power through a military coup, the Commander has his enemies. That's where the food taster comes in.

Valek, the Commander's chief of security (and spy master) trains Yelena, and ensures that she can't run away by feeding her Butterfly Dust, a poison that will kill her painfully within 24 hours, if she's not given the antidote daily. She's given nice rooms in the palace, she slowly starts regaining strength and confidence, and even slowly begins to make friends. She can never relax, though, as the general wants revenge for his only son (she had a very good reason for killing him), and if she's lucky enough to escape his murder attempts, she might die if someone tries to poison the Commander.

While being trained by Valek, first to detect any number of poisons, and later to defend herself so she's not helpless against the occasional thug sent by General Brazell, she finds herself reluctantly growing closer to the man responsible for her continued captivity.  As rebel factions plot to overthrow the Commander's rule, and General Brazell steps up his revenge plans, how can Yelena survive without allies?

This is actually the second time I'm reading Poison Study and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the book stands up well to re-reading. Snyder has created a very interesting society and a slew of great characters in this book, and Yelena is a very engaging and likable heroine. While you find out at the start of the book that she's in prison for killing a man, it's slowly revealed why she was forced to take such action, and it's fascinating to see her use her determination to prove Valek and all the various palace officials wrong in their initial opinions of her.

There's also a minor romantic subplot, as Yelena is more and more drawn to Valek, even though he holds the power of life and death over her, and is, in some respects, her captor. Yet it's clear that he's risen to his position of trust and power with the Commander through skill and careful observation, and he can quickly tell that there is more to the story of Yelena's murderous tendencies than the irate General Brazell wants him to think. He keeps encouraging Yelena to challenge herself and makes sure she's trained in self defence and given added responsibilities around the palace, even though she's a self-confessed murderer.

The book is just as good as I remembered it being, and can be recommended. The two sequels are unfortunately not quite as gripping, with a tendency by Snyder to introduce to many supporting characters rather than focusing on the ones introduced in this book. Still, it's not a bad fantasy series, and the strong characterisation of Yelena and Valek make up for a lot.

CBR4 Book 37: "The Magician King" by Lev Grossman

Page count: 416 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: April 13th, 2012
Date finished: April 15th, 2012

This book is a sequel to The Magicians, and will contain some spoilers for that book, so you may want to skip to the end if you want to avoid such things.

Quentin Coldwater is now a king of the fantasy land of Fillory, ruling with his friends Elliot, Janet and Julia. Although never one to be happy with what he has, no matter how great, Quentin is getting bored. He decides he needs a quest, and he and Julia (along with the greatest swordsman of the realm, an admiral, a sloth and a surly teenaged mapmaker) set off to one of the more distant islands of the realm, to collect long overdue taxes. Once on the island, Quentin hears the story of seven magical golden keys, and his thirst for adventure leads them even further east.

However, the magical golden key opens a portal that deposits Quentin and Julia back in the real world, on Quentin's parents' doorstep. Desperate to get back to Fillory, he is forced to rely on Julia, who was rejected from Brakebills Academy, and denied the exclusive and prestigious boarding school education, was forced to teach herself the dark and twisted magic arts of the hedge witches through any means possible instead. As Quentin and Julia struggle to make their way back to their fantasy kingdom, Julia's past is slowly revealed, and it becomes obvious that previous events in her life are now affecting the present, both in Fillory and elsewhere.

Reading The Magicians, I was torn, because I enjoyed Grossman's world building and writing style, but really couldn't stand Quentin (and to a lesser extent his school friends Elliot, Janet and Josh). Generally, I thought becoming king of his favourite fantasy realm was a way better fate that he deserved. So it was no surprise to me that sooner or later his tendency towards discontent and depression, no matter how cool his existence, would set in, as it does in this book.

However, this book alternates between telling the story of Quentin and Julia's quest in the present and recounting the story of what happened to Julia after she failed the Brakebills entrance exam, and slowly felt her nice, promising future unravel. Becoming aware that magic is a very real thing, and that she is to be denied learning how to use it makes her go nuts for a while, and then with grim determination she sets out to teach herself everything she can. As Julia is every bit, if not more, clever than Quentin, she is able to use her genius to quickly advance on the underground magic circuit, until she finds a community of like-minded self trained scholars in the south of France.

A lot of the things she has to go through to get there are pretty grim and depressing, but they just made me like Julia more (and her story is such a contrast to whiny, self centred Quentin's). On the whole, I enjoyed The Magician King a lot more than The Magicians, as it combines Grossman's mostly excellent and often darkly comic writing with a more engaging story and switches the focus more away from Quentin. It helps that Quentin actually develops and over the course of the story starts caring about something apart from himself and his own self-fulfilment. By the end, I almost felt genuinely sorry for him, which I hadn't expected.

 Because I liked this book so much more, I was especially disappointed with the final chapter in the Julia flashbacks, where Grossman uses one of my most hated storyline tropes, which just felt wholly unnecessary, especially considering everything else he made her go through to become a bad-ass sorceress. I'm not sure what I think about the actual ending of the book either, which enables Grossman to take the story in all sorts of different directions next time. So in conclusion, I absolutely prefer this to The Magicians, but I'll have to see if I want to keep going with the series.

Tuesday 10 April 2012

CBR4 Book 36: "The Magicians" by Lev Grossman

Page count: 496 pages
Rating: 2.5 stars
Date begun: April 4th, 2012
Date finished: April 8th, 2012

Quentin Coldwater is used to being smarter than everyone he knows. Like many other clever, precocious teenagers, he's convinced that there must be something more out there than the dreary existence he faces every day. On his way to a college interview, he discovers that there is, in fact. He ends up at a secret and very exclusive college in upstate New York, where he discovers that magic is not only real, but he can perform it. Magic is not necessarily easy and fun, however, it takes years of gruelling training, study and practise.

Quentin finds himself surrounded by students just as brilliant as he, and for the first time, has to face up to the fact that there may be others out there smarter and better at things than he is. By working very hard, he gets through his four years at Brakebills Academy (with a semester abroad in Antarctica). Yet even learning magic, making like minded friends and getting a girlfriend doesn't bring Quentin happiness. He stays insecure, discontent, self-centred and sceptical, always searching for more.

After graduation, he and several of his friends go on to live a life of indulgence, decadence and genial boredom in New York, until a fellow Brakebills graduate shows up on their doorstep to announce that Fillory, the Narnia-esque fantasy world they all read about as kids (and which Quentin has always dreamt of) is real, and he has a way to take them there? Will going for a quest in Fillory finally bring Quentin the fulfilment and adventure he's always sought?

The Magicians seems to be most often described as "Harry Potter for adults". It's not a bad description. In many ways, Grossman's description of what would happen if a load of highly clever, discontented teenagers discovered that they were indeed not only smarter than everyone else, but had magical powers, is very plausible. They'd be unbearable. As most of the characters in this book are. Quentin is a self-centred, miserable, depressive and self indulgent little twit, who despite being taught to do magic, accepted to a highly exclusive school, getting an awesome girlfriend and generally being damn lucky, never, even for a second, counts his lucky stars and snaps out of it. Most of his friends are just as spoiled, self indulgent and douchy as him.

I really liked Grossman's world building, and kept reading mainly to find out what would happen next. Both the spin on the Hogwarts-like Brakebills Academy, and the clearly riffing on Narnia-esque Fillory were very well done, and I especially liked the very real and scary dangers facing the young magicians once they start exploring Fillory. Unfortunately, Quentin really did annoy the heck out of me, and as most of his other companions were just as loathsome, it was hard to really like the book. I have, however, from the many reviews I've read, seen that The Magician King focuses a lot more on Quentin's friend Julia, who he ditches when he gets accepted to Brakebills, and will therefore give it a chance.

Thursday 5 April 2012

CBR4 Book 35: "About That Night" by Julie James

Page count: 304 pages
Rating: 3 stars
Date begun: April 3rd, 2012
Date finished: April 3rd, 2012

This is the third book in a series, but works fine without any previous knowledge of the preceding books.

Kyle Rhodes is the brilliant computer programmer son of IT billionaire Gray Rhodes. When his supermodel girlfriend cheats on him very publicly with a movie star and dumps him on Twitter, Kyle gets monstrously drunk, and hacks into Twitter determined to remove all traces of the video the model posted, not to mention the humiliating break-up message. He goes a wee bit further as well, and shuts down Twitter for 48 hours, then absconds to Mexico. Upon his return to the US, he's arrested, labelled an online terrorist, and sentenced to 11 months in prison. He's released after four months, thanks to a deal his twin sister makes with the FBI (see A Lot Like Love).

Assistant District Attorney Rylann Pierce has recently moved back to Chicago after ending a seven year relationship (She thought he was about to propose, he wanted them to move to Rome). Nine years ago, while still at college, she and Kyle Rhodes met in a bar and shared some witty banter, and a sizzling kiss after Kyle walked her home. They were supposed to go on a date the next evening, but Kyle's mother was killed in a car accident, so they never saw each other again. Until they face each other in the courtroom, where Rylann has to finalise the DA Office's deal, and release Kyle from prison.

Having been forever stamped as the "Twitter Terrorist", Kyle is naturally not on the best terms with the Chicago DA's Office. Yet he too remembers the night nine years ago, and when Rylann approaches him a few days after his release, needing him as a witness in a murder case she's prosecuting, he's unable to refuse. Especially if it means spending more time with her, even though their conversations are mostly strictly professional. As the new girl in the Chicago office, Rylann is determined not to screw up, and she certainly won't risk her reputation by dating a witness in a case she's prosecuting. But what happens once the case is over? Can she resist Kyle Rhodes' manifold charms? Will they finish what they started one night nearly a decade ago?

I don't read a lot of contemporary romance (I'm a sucker for history, me), but Julie James has written several that I greatly enjoy, and one that I absolutely love. In her previous two books, as well as romance, there is a criminal case, and a fair bit of suspense. That is not the case in this book, and the main conflict (can Rylann get over the fact that Kyle is an ex-con - what will her colleagues and family say?) is a bit unengaging.

Kyle freely admits that he made a huge drunken mistake. The DA's Office admits that Kyle was given a much harsher sentence than he deserved, and that the "terrorist" moniker was grossly inappropriate. He's charming, handsome, generous and kind, not to mention a brilliant, wealthy businessman (not just because his Dad is rich - he made his own money). He shut down Twitter - he didn't destroy people's lives. I thought Rylann's reservations were a bit rubbish, but hey, girl comes round in the end. The previous two books in this series (dealing with Rylann's boss Cameron Lynde, and Kyle's twin sister Jordan, respectively) were better, but this still had enough witty banter, a very charming and sexy hero, and some very steamy love scenes. Not bad at all, but not up to the high quality I've come to expect from James either.

CBR4 Book 34: "A Week to Be Wicked" by Tessa Dare

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 5 stars
Date begun: March 31st, 2012
Date finished: April 1st, 2012

Colin Sandhurst, Lord Payne, desperately wants to be anywhere but Spindle Cove, overseeing the militia after his cousin, the Earl of Rycliff, got married. One rainy night a surprising opportunity presents itself in the form of bookish spinster Miss Minerva Highwood, knocking on his door with an unusual proposition. Minerva needs to get to Edinburgh to attend a geologists' symposium, and she's willing to pay Colin to pretend that they've eloped together. Colin tries to dissuade her by naming a number of conditions to secure his agreement (such as Miranda having to share his bed every night), but Miranda is determined to go, with or without him.

Having paid her membership dues and corresponded with a number of members of the Geological Society (none of the other members know she's female, of course), Minerva wants to go to the symposium to present a large fossilised footprint she's found in a cave in Spindle Cove. She's sure that with her findings, she can win the 500 guinea prize, and she's willing to give Colin the entire sum, if he will just escort her to Edinburgh. She has two ulterior motives to asking Colin - she wants him away from Spindle Cove to prevent him from proposing to her sister, and she (although she's loathe to admit this, even to herself) has been infatuated with him for months (even though he doesn't even seem able to remember her name).

Colin's parents were killed in a horrible carriage accident when he was a boy, and he was trapped in the carriage with their dead bodies for hours, and nearly savaged by wild dogs as well. He's still plagued with nightmares, only kept at bay with huge amounts of alcohol, or if he shares his bed with someone. Hence Colin has quite the reputation as a dissolute rake, and will not have access to his inheritance until he turns 25, or marries. Since Mrs. Highwood (Minerva's mother) would love to have a viscount as a son-in-law, she's been throwing her eldest daughter Diana at him at every available opportunity. No one thinks the intellectual, bespectacled Minerva will ever make a suitable match. Normally Minerva is completely tongue-tied around Colin, yet when she presents her findings and explains her plan to him, he's stunned by her passionate interest - and rather than let her go off alone, being exposed to God knows what dangers, he reluctantly accompanies her.

The journey from the south coast of England to Edinburgh is long, and the couple are beset by a number of difficulties. Over the course of the week they pretend to be missionaries, siblings, long-lost royalty, Colin gets kidnapped by highwaymen, Minerva has to pretend to be Colin's mistress (and possibly an assassin spy). Over the course of their adventures, they share a lot of confidences, and naturally grow more and more attracted to each other. Colin is determined that Minerva reach Edinburgh with her virtue intact, but that proves more and more difficult as the journey progresses.

While I liked A Night to Surrender a lot, I absolutely adored A Week to Be Wicked. Of course the dedication page didn't hurt: "For all the girls who walk and read at the same time.". I would absolutely be one of those. Minerva is a heroine who can't help but strike a chord with geeky, nerdy romance readers. Overlooked because she's interested in intellectual pursuits, wears glasses and is less conventionally pretty, the reader cheers her on when she finally stands up for herself. That she's fiercely loyal to her loved ones, and while generally insecure and gawky, yet supremely confident in her findings as a geologist doesn't make her any less awesome.

Colin is absolutely a dissolute rake, but as the reader discovers, there are reasons he drinks and gambles and prefers to share his bed with a woman every single night. As he confesses to Minerva, most of the time he'd prefer to just sleep, but with his reputation, he feels certain things are expected of him. He has a strict moral code, and tends to stick with unhappily married women or widows. He's determined not to seduce Minerva, but is hard pressed to resist her when she pretty much throws herself at him, wanting to explore the sensual arts with scientific curiosity.

Minerva and Colin are great as individuals, and an absolute hoot as a couple. Their "road trip" to Edinburgh is full of amazing banter, laugh out loud moments, some very sizzling chemistry and a lot of genuinely touching moments. The only bits that I felt dragged a little bit were the ones where Dare took us back to Spindle Cove to show the reactions of Minerva's family and friends to her "elopement" and the scenes obviously meant to set up the couple for the third book in the series. While I appreciate that they needed to be included, I wanted as little time as possible away from one of the cutest couples I've come across in romance in a long time.

Wednesday 4 April 2012

CBR4 Book 33: "A Night to Surrender" by Tessa Dare

Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars
Date begun: March 30th, 2012
Date finished: March 31st, 2012

Spindle Cove is a quiet seaside town populated almost entirely by women. A holiday village which offers refuge to the sickly, shy, scandalous or unusual young women of the ton, amply entertained and taken in hand by Miss Susanna Finch, daughter of the local baron, a pioneer within weapons development. There's no tavern, only a tea room, and the only available men are either children, fishermen or farmers. Hence Victor Bramwell, wounded in the Napoleonic wars in Portugal, faces a challenge when he, as newly minted Earl of Rycliff, is tasked with creating a local militia. Shot in the knee, he's been deemed unfit to return to service. He's determined to prove his worth to the War Office, but discovering the dearth of fit and able bodied men in Spindle Cove, he realises that the task can prove nearly impossible.

Things are certainly not made easier by Miss Susanna Finch, who wants the handsome war hero, his dissolute nobleman cousin and their stone faced, rugged corporal out of her safe little town as quickly as possible. Having discovered first hand how difficult it can be for women who don't fit into society, she's worked hard to create a safe haven for well-bred young ladies, where their confidence can be boosted, their skills and intellect can be encouraged, and those who need it can get enough rest and relaxation to regain their strength, without invasive procedures like blood letting, leaches, excessive medication and such.

Susanna and Bram are obviously attracted to each other from the start. Susanna, while pretty, is taller than your average Regency woman, and obviously a bluestocking. She's never met a man she couldn't manage with ease. Bram, very tall himself, finds her intelligence and  outspokenness refreshing, but realises that seducing the daughter of his father's close friend is a huge mistake. Bram is frustrated by the lack of suitable recruits for his militia, and everywhere he turns, he is told to defer to Miss Finch's judgement or advice. Every time the two meet they argue, and then usually fall into each other's arms.

Can Susanna keep Bram and his militia from ruining the idyll of her little town? Can she keep her heart safe from the dashing war hero? Can Bram actually train the ragtag bunch of males available to him into a credible militia? Can he keep his mind on the mission and off Susanna Finch?

This is the first Tessa Dare novel I've read, and it was utterly delightful. For the most part cheerful, funny and frothy, it's got everything I really want from light-hearted romance, and in many ways reminded me of Julia Quinn's better novels. Yet interspersed with the wonderful banter is great characterisation, and both Susanna and Bram have issues in their pasts that they need to work through. Their romance faces challenges as their hopes and dreams seem so different, yet their romance resolves beautifully in the end, without anything feeling oversimplified or like cheating. The supporting cast is also very well depicted (several characters are clearly going to have their romances in later books), and it's like a wonderful gift to discover a new author whose style I enjoy. I can't wait to read both her past and future books.

CBR4 Book 32: "The Surrender of Miss Fairbourne" by Madeline Hunter

Page count: 352 pages
Rating: 3 stars
Date begun: March 26th, 2012
Date finished: March 29th, 2012

Miss Emma Fairbourne is determined to continue running her father's prosperous auction house after he dies. A few years back, a ship with her only brother on it sank, but Emma's father always assured her that he was still alive somewhere, and she's determined that the auction house will be there for him when he returns. Of course, as a woman, she can't run it openly, but she schemes with her wealthy friend, and with a trusty employee as a front man, she is sure that she will be able to assure the various collectors and customers of the auction house.

However, Emma is unaware that her father had a silent partner. Darius Alfreton, the arrogant Earl of Southwaite. Southwaite shows up to assist her in the sale of the auction house, sure that a grieving gentlewoman will be no match for his powers of persuasion. Instead, he ends every meeting confused and flummoxed by Miss Fairbourne, and finds himself agreeing to let her arrange a final, spectacular auction. His suspects that the auction house was used to occasionally sell items for less than respectable contributors, and that Emma's father may have died doing something illegal. As there is clearly an attraction between them, he decides to try a more sensual approach to convincing her to sell.

This novel is set during the French revolution, when the English were still unsure of whether the French might actually invade. Southwaite and his friends are patrolling the coast, trying to intercept French spies, and there is suspicion that the auction house was used to sell smuggled goods from France, among other things. Emma is forced into a difficult situation by the same men who had a hold over her father, and as she gets more involved with Southwaite, gets more and more distressed.

The book was well written, but just didn't wow me or entertain me as much as some of Hunter's earlier romances. Based on this one, I doubt I'll be checking out any more in her coming series.

Sunday 1 April 2012

CBR4 Books 29-31: "The Ash trilogy" by Shiloh Walker

Total page count: 1177 pages
Date begun: March 17th, 2012
Date finished: March 24th, 2012

The Ash Trilogy:
1. If You Hear Her - 3 stars
2. If You See Her - 4 stars
3. If You Know Her - 3.5 stars

If you're only interested in romance, these can be read independently, as all three books contain a couple getting together at the end. However, all the couples get together while investigating a brutal murder and trying to catch a devious rapist/serial killer, and the killer's identity is not revealed until midway into the third book. So if you want an answer to the mystery/suspense part of the series, you're going to have to read all three.

There are three couples in these books, and most of the major players are introduced in the first book. We get points of view from the serial killer (who's clearly been going undetected for years), but all we know is that he is a local in the little town of Ash, Kentucky and that he lives a normal life, unsuspected by all around him, when he's not kidnapping, raping and killing young women. In the first book, his plans start going wrong. One of his victims briefly escape, and while he initially enjoys the brief diversion of hunting and then recapturing his victim - the woman's screams as she's running through the woods are overheard.

Lena Riddle wakes up and hears the terrified woman screaming. Lena is blind, and living alone though, so she obviously can't see anything to help the local sheriff's department. They look in the woods close to her house, but it's been raining, and there's no trace of anything suspicious. While Lena is blind, she's certainly not powerless. She lives alone with Puck, her trusty seeing-eye dog, and works as a chef at the local inn. Because she was woken up by the screams, several men at the sheriff's department want to brush off the incident as a dream.

The only one who seems to believe her is Ezra King, who's in Ash on leave from the State Police. A few months ago, he was nearly killed by a gunshot wound to the leg. The wound still pains him, but not as much as his missing memories from the night when he discovered that his partner (and sometime lover) was dirty, and he ended up killing her in the gunfight that nearly finished him off too. He and Lena went on one date, before Ezra realised he was still too messed up by his past, and certainly not ready to deal with the strong feelings he's feeling towards Lena. When he overhears her at the sheriff's department (he's there reporting some vandalism on his property), he can tell that she's distressed, and when investigating around his properties, all his instincts tell him that something is off in town, and he decides to help Lena get to the bottom of it. In the course of investigating the screams Lena heard, the two grow closer, and start a relationship.

The second couple, who find each other over the course of the second book, are Hope Carson and Remy Jennings. Hope is introduced in the first book, coming to Ash to help her (and Lena's) friend Law Reilly, as his personal assistant. Law has lived in Ash for nearly a decade, but hardly anyone in town knows what he really does for a living. They know that he's wealthy, prefers to keep to himself, lives on the edge of town and doesn't seem to go to work like regular people, but only a select few know that he's a famous crime writer. Law, Hope and Hope's ex-husband Joe Carson grew up together, and Law blames himself for not realising that Joe was bad news. Joe and Hope got married shortly after high school, and because she and Law lost touch, he never found out how abusive and controlling Joe got. As the star football player, later a police officer and a golden boy in their little town, no one believed Hope's side of the story, and she was driven to try to commit suicide and later involuntarily institutionalised by her husband, before finally managing to escape him and get a divorce.

Law is the only man she trusts, and she's alone in his house (he's away to attend an author colleague's funeral) when the killer decides to shift suspicion onto Law by dumping his most recent victim's corpse in Law's shed. Unaware of Law's absence (fully alibied because he's surrounded by lots of credible witnesses) and that Hope witnesses his dark clad form dumping the body, the killer's plans are further complicated, rather than helped by this turn of events. He decides to get rid of Hope and Law, by making it look as if the two killed a sheriff's deputy, then Hope beat Law to a pulp with a baseball bat, and proceeded to slash her own wrists. Unfortunately for the killer, Ezra and Lena find both Hope and Law before either of them die.

Remy Jennings is one of two District Attorneys in Ash, brother of the Mayor, related to at least a third of the town, and Ash's golden boy in the way Joe Carson was in Hope's home town. It's his job to prosecute Hope, but it quickly becomes obvious that Hope in no way could have carried out the attack, but her medical records show that she has a history of mental instability and suicide attempts, so it's not that easy for her to convince the sheriff and Remy that she didn't try to kill herself. Remy's biggest problem is that he was instantly attracted to Hope the first time he saw her in town. Now she's either the aggressor, or victim, in one of the most complicated cases ever in Ash. Getting involved with her would be deeply unprofessional, and it's obvious that she has a lot of emotional baggage.

The third book centres on Law Reilly and Nia Hollister. Nia is the cousin of the poor woman who was found in Law's shed. The first time the two meet, Nia (having heard wildly incorrect rumours in town) shows up on his doorstep with a gun, determined to get vengeance for her beloved cousin. She threatens Law and Hope, but almost instantly realises that neither Hope nor Law had anything to do with the abduction, abuse and murder of Joely Hollister. Law and Nia (like all the other couples in this trilogy - I suspect there must be something in the Ash water supply) feel an instant attraction to each other, but don't meet again until about nine months later, when Nia arrives in town convinced that her cousin's killer isn't really dead (as it was meant to look at the end of book 2). She's put her career as a photo journalist on hold to investigate her cousin's death, and finds similarities to her cousin's murder when reading about a victim in Chicago. As this took place six months after the killer supposedly was killed in Ash, it may mean that the killer is still on the loose, and that the inhabitants of Ash are completely unaware of the fact. Her explosive chemistry with Law ignites as soon as she's back in town.

Ezra King is now sheriff in town, and married to Lena King. Hope and Remy are engaged to be married, and Law is trying to be happy for his friends. Neither Law nor Ezra were entirely happy with the solution presented to them by the sheriff's department at the end of book 2, but until Nia shows up with new evidence, there is little they can do. The killer, thinking he's now safe and clear, has realised that he needs to stop his "game" for the foreseeable future, as he only got away through pure luck last time. He's not at all happy to see Nia back in town, poking her nose into places it doesn't belong. He can't remove her, as her disappearance would make everyone suspicious, and has to settle for trying to drive her out of town. However, his luck is about to run out, and the three couples join forces and resources to finally unmask and identify him.

In many ways, I think Walker's Ash or If you trilogy work better as suspense novels than romances. All three romances, while different, are a bit too similar. All three couples more or less fall in love at first sight, even in the unlikely case where Nia points a gun at Law, and Hope, and instead of being afraid or angry, Law's reaction is pretty much being turned on. It requires more suspension of disbelief than I am comfortable with. I also think Walker could have introduced more suspects with regards to the killer. It turned out to be pretty much exactly who I thought it was, without having really given the matter any conscious thought. In a suspense story, it would've been a bit more satisfying if we'd had more suspects and red herrings.

Hope and Remy's story was my favourite of the three. Everything from the introduction of Hope into the story and her past and vulnerability, as well as the way she develops, learns to trust her own strengths and abilities was really well done, and I just liked her and Remy as a couple more than the others. This trilogy was a perfectly diverting read, but nothing mind-blowing, and I certainly don't agree with the many superlatives I've seen it garnering on various review sites on the Internet. 3 stars to book 1 and 3, and 4 stars to book 2.