Saturday 30 March 2013

#CBR5 Book 34. "Få meg på, for faen" (Turn me on, damn it) by Olaug Nilssen

Page count: 192 pages
Rating: 2 stars

Maria, the eldest of eight daughters, is a sociology student in Bergen and works part time as a cleaner. She's due to make a big presentation as part of her coursework, and is certain that the way she shows the oppression and hardship that cleaners face every day will be so revelatory that all instances of the media will want a piece of her, and she will appear on news programs, talk shows radio shows and in the news papers. While cleaning classrooms and lecture halls, she dreams of the media attention. Of course, she has to write the presentation first.

Alma is fifteen, and completely consumed with lustful thoughts and desire. Every waking moment, she thinks about sex and fantasizes about having sex with pretty much everyone in her daily life. Her friend, her boss (the local shopkeeper), the boys in school. Her mother gets increasingly more upset, as Alma starts stealing booze, racks up a huge phone bill calling phone sex lines, shop lifts a porn magazine and seems to get more and more out of control.

Maria's mother, wife of the local shopkeeper (and mother to eight girls) is feeling increasingly more dissatisfied and unfulfilled. Her days consist of tending house, cleaning and cooking for her large family. She feels unappreciated and unnoticed by her family, and wants to get a job, and make a difference. When she hears that there is a chance the local turnip factory may be closing down (or perhaps just have to initiate some cutbacks), she packs a bag and goes to Oslo to stage a protest in front of the Parliament.

This was a decidedly odd book, but thankfully it wasn't very long, or difficult to read. The theme connecting the three women seems to be dissatisfaction with their lot in life, wanting a change, and wanting to be noticed. Maria is bored as a student and some time cleaner, Alma just wants boys to notice her (she's not one of the popular girls) and Maria's mother (whose never even given a name in the book) is sick of being a housewife and wants a change. The narrative changes very suddenly and unexpectedly from reality to fantasy, and to begin with, it was difficult for me to keep up with what was real, and what was flights of fancy.

The shortest section of the book, the one where Alma's story is related, also gets surprisingly graphic. With the amount of romance and paranormal fantasy I read, it's not like I clutch my pearls in horror or am even adverse to sexual content, but some of the things going through Alma's mind were pretty out there. Not entirely sure what the author was trying to do with that.

I'm also not entirely sure what the purpose of this book was, and what Nilssen is actually trying to say. There's bits that seem like she's trying to make some sort of social or possibly feminist commentary, but then there are also huge amounts of just absurdist fantasy. It's yet another book I can cross off my TBR list, and another course work text in the bag. I guess I'll just have to be thankful for that.

Friday 29 March 2013

#CBR5 Book 33. "Twice Tempted" by Jeaniene Frost

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

This is the second book in the Night Prince series, and as such, this review may (and probably will) contain spoilers for the first book, Once Burned, which I read, enjoyed and reviewed last year.

So the half-naked dude on the cover is basically supposed to be Dracula (although he gets really cranky when people call him that), and he's the hero of this trilogy of paranormal fantasy/romance. He can read people's minds, and is also pyrokinetic (hence all the flames on the cover). Leila, his girlfriend, is tired of his aloofness and the fact that while she's admitted openly that she loves him, he claims that she could never love the "real him" (what with all the centuries of killing, torturing and generally being a pretty ruthless SOB). So after a rather awkward formal ceremony where she thinks he's going to propose marriage, and he's "only" offering to turn her into a vampire, Leila has had enough, and decides that she needs to get out before he breaks her heart any worse than he already has.

Leila's not exactly a normal girl, after an accident when she was a teenager, she pretty much generates electricity and has learned to control it into a pretty fierce whip-like weapon. She has to wear rubber-lined gloves, or she can accidentally electrocute people. She can also gain psychic impressions from objects and people, but after a near-death experience at the end of the previous book, where Vlad coated her in his fire-proof aura to keep her from burning to a crisp in an explosion, that ability seems to have disappeared. Heart-broken and pissed off, Leila goes back to the US, where she intends to go back to her old, pre-Prince of Darkness' girlfriend life as a carnival acrobat. She barely has time to discover that her old partner thought she was gone for good, and has found a replacement in their act, before half the carnival is destroyed in a huge explosion.

Leila is saved by one of Vlad's henchmen (who totally has a crush on her), and because they're not entirely sure that Vlad didn't cause the blast because he was furious that Leila dared leave him, they decide that it might be best if Leila lets everyone believe she's dead, until they can figure out more about who caused the explosion. Leila tries to investigate, but as in the first book, isn't very good at being sneaky about it, and before she knows it, enemies of Vlad's have kidnapped her and intend to use her as leverage against him. Can she figure out who keeps trying to kill her? Will she get Vlad to actually admit his true feelings for her? Is her incredibly impulsive and reckless investigative techniques going to nearly kill her every single time? (The answer to all three is yes, by the way, sorry if that spoils some of the plot for you).

I really enjoyed the first book in the series, and this one was also a very fast and engrossing read. Vlad is a total alpha hero, who's used to unquestioning obedience from all his subjects. The fact that he can't control Leila, and that she constantly challenges him, not to mention defies his attempts to keep her safe and unharmed by getting herself into really quite impressively dangerous situations, time and time again, makes him furious. Their interactions are hugely entertaining, and there is some very good banter. I hope that Jeaniene Frost didn't intend for the "mysteries" in the plot to be very intricate, because I'd figured out exactly who was behind the attempts on Leila's life, and the motivations for it pretty much as soon as it became an issue. You don't read this book for the mystery, you read it because it features a super hot vampire, lots of action and some really quite scorching smexy times. Once again, I liked this a lot more than most of the Night Huntress books that are Frost's main series.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

#CBR5 Book 32. "Eleanor and Park" by Rainbow Rowell

Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

The year is 1986. Park doesn't fit in amongst the other kids in high school or in his own family. While both he and his brother are half Korean, you wouldn't know it to look at his already taller younger brother. Park listens to Joy Division, The Smiths and The Cure, and reads comic books reverently. He feels like he can never quite measure up to the expectations of his very manly father. He's not exactly popular, but he's not a complete outcast either.

Not like the new girl, Eleanor, who is chubby, with bright red hair, and dresses in strange combinations of goodwill clothes. Quickly gaining nicknames like "Bozo" and "Big Red", it's clear that Eleanor won't be winning any popularity contests, and Park isn't thrilled when she ends up sitting next to him on the school bus, and keeps showing up in his honours' classes. Slowly, but surely, a friendship blossoms, as Eleanor starts reading Park's comic books over his shoulder. Soon Park is silently lending her comics, and this leads to conversations, and further topics of conversations and mix tapes and soon, Park and Eleanor live for the moments when they see each other again on the bus or in class.

For Eleanor, the escape she finds in Park's comic books and the mix tapes is all that's keeping her going. Her home life is one of constant tension, sharing a tiny room with hardly any siblings. Her stepfather is prone to drink and violence, and has her mother and younger siblings cowering. Eleanor occasionally wonders if she should ask the well-meaning guidance counselor at school for a toothbrush, but knows that bringing any kind of unwanted attention to her home life is only going to end in misery. Having already been thrown out of the house once, living away from her siblings for nearly a year, she's desperate just to keep her head down and stay unnoticed.

Teenage romance is always fraught with drama, but with two protagonists who are so different from their peers, there are a number of obstacles, especially the fact that no one in Eleanor's family must know that Park even exists. The book is wonderfully written, with constantly alternating points of view from both Park and Eleanor. Rowell captures the joy and terror of first love, but throughout the book, I couldn't shake the underlying sense of impending doom, as glimpse by glimpse, the reader (and Park) is given insight into just how awful Eleanor's daily existence is, and horrible strain she's under at home.

Eleanor and Park are both wonderful characters, and you feel so deeply for both of them, crossing your fingers for their happy ending. I had very high expectations for this book, what with Attachments being one of my top three books in 2011. That book made me deeply happy, this is a darker and more challenging book to read. Because I tend to get so deeply emotionally invested in the books I read and the characters I care about, it was much harder for me to read this one. Eleanor and Park are exactly in the age group I teach now, and it scares the hell out of me that none of the adults in this book picked up on just how bad Eleanor's situation is. I'm also glad to say that bullying like she goes through would never be allowed in the school where I work, by teachers of the majority of pupils. I highly recommend this book, but be warned that it goes to some pretty dark places, and it made me cry towards the end.

Disclaimer! I recieved a review copy of this book from St. Martin's Press through NetGalley. I also liked the book so much I bought and paid for my own e-copy of the book. That should tell you how good it is.

Saturday 23 March 2013

#CBR5 Book 31. "The Chocolate Kiss" by Laura Florand

320 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Magalie Chaudron lives high in a tower over the tiny tea salon La Maison des Sorcières (the witches' house). In the window there is always a unique chocolate display depicting magical wonders, the walls are decorated with witches' hats and customers can buy divine hot chocolate that Magalie has stirred wishes of happiness and prosperity into. When world renowned pastry chef Philippe Lyonnais decides to open his most recent pastry shop just down the street from their salon, Magalie is convinced this will steal all their customers away and drive the aunts out of business. She goes to warn Philippe to stay away, but only succeeds in making him more determined.

Philippe is enchanted with the fierce woman who comes to his shop and tries to make him move his shop. He tries to placate her with a macaron made from his own hand, and she flatly refuses. In return, he refuses all of Magalie's attempts to try her hot chocolate, not entirely certain the little witch hasn't added poison to it, or whether drinking it will turn him into a toad. No matter how hateful she is to him, he is determined to win her over, becoming obsessed with discovering the perfect creation to make her fall for him, as he has fallen for her.

The Chocolate Kiss is a sequel of sorts to The Chocolate Thief, and feature cameos from Sylvain and Cade briefly, but the reader in no way needs to have read the first to enjoy the second. While The Chocolate Thief was a fluffy, light-hearted romp, there is more angst and a much slower build-up in this one. Magalie is a terribly stubborn and determined, and self-sufficient to the point of idiocy, with massive trust issues and a huge fear of commitment because her parents kept uprooting her throughout her childhood and adolescence, until she never had a proper home or anyone she could rely on.

She creates this perceived image of Philippe as a spoiled, arrogant fairy-tale prince, who will ride in to her fairy-tale existence on the Ilê de St. Louis in Paris, and lay waste to all she holds dear. She's convinced that if her aunt's cafe loses its customers, she will lose her safe haven and have to move yet again, and never stops to listen to her aunts when they tell her that they're quite happy for the tea shop to remain a secret, known only to some, and that they really don't need the revenue from it. As she keeps fighting her attraction to Philippe, her wishes seem to drive every woman who drinks a cup of her chocolate straight towards his pastry shop, until it drives him mad with frustration.

Philippe is not particularly spoiled, and has worked very hard to become as famous as he is. Like Sylvain, he can be seen as arrogant, because he knows he has no rivals in his field. A driven man, he has enormous self control, in all matters that don't concern Magalie. Because of his supportive family and thoroughly functional and happy upbringing, he is also patient and secure enough in his feelings for her that even when she tries her best to drive him away, desperately afraid that she'll get hurt, he endures Magalie's tantrums and insecurities, certain that with time, he can draw the witch out of her ivory tower and they will have their happily ever after.

On quite a few occasions while reading this book, I really did want to shake Magalie and tell her to snap out of it, and kind of thought that Philippe should probably move on and find someone who actually deserved his awesomeness, but at the same time, Florand takes the time to show why she has such a difficult time trusting people and opening herself up to others. It would have been a lot more unsatisfying and unrealistic if she jumped into Philippe's arms, ready for her HEA after one kiss and the slow build from antagonists to lovers was different from what I'd expected when reading The Chocolate Thief, but no less satisfying.

#CBR5 Book 30. "The Mislaid Magician or Ten Years After" by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

The Mislaid Magician is the third book in a young adult series about cousins Cecilia (or Cecy) and Kate, who live in an alternate Regency England where some people have magical powers. Over the course of the first two books, they meet their husbands, go on a Grand Tour of Europe, and solve various mysteries that are magical in nature. If you want to be entirely unspoiled with regards to whom the young ladies end up with, you might want to avoid this review. The book works fine if you haven't read the other books too, it's been nearly a decade since I read the first two, and I had no trouble following the plot.

The book is epistolary in nature, following the correspondence between Cecy and Kate, and between their husbands James and Thomas, while Cecy and James are off in the north of England investigating the mysterious disappearance of a German magician and railway surveyor on behalf of the Duke of Wellington, while Kate and Thomas take care of their four children at their estate. Kate's sister Georgy, the Duchess of Waltham unexpectedly comes to stay with them, giving no indication of why she's left her husband. After a dramatic turn of events, Kate's son gets spirited away in a gypsy carriage, and when they locate him, he is in the company of a young girl, whose identity is a further mystery to be solved. Her clothes are expensive and her manners impeccable, but as she refuses to speak for much of her early stay, it's difficult for Kate and Thomas, or the many children to ascertain whom her family are or where she belongs.

As I mentioned, I haven't read the previous two books in the series Sorcery & Cecilia or The Grand Tour for a very long time, and this is one of those books I've had on my shelf for years and years, and just never got round to reading. Still, I remember the first two books fondly, and the third book was a cozy and pleasant, but not exactly thrilling read. I suspect the book will be more enjoyable if you've read the earlier ones, and know the characters and their former adventures, but at the same time, each of the books work as self-contained units as well.

Thursday 21 March 2013

#CBR5 Book 29. "The Chocolate Thief" by Laura Florand

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Cade Corey, heir to a multi-billion dollar fortune, whose family makes the mass produced chocolate bars sold in every supermarket in America, wants to establish a gourmet chocolate line, and she wants the name of a top of the line French chocolatier to help her sell the enterprise. As Sylvain Marquis is the most sought after and famous French chocolate artisan, she offers him the chance to make a fortune, and he turns her down flat, outraged at her impudence. Having worked his way up to become the best, he will not sell out to some presumptuous American, whose family makes what can barely be called chocolate.

Not one to give up easily, Cade resolves to put the arrogant, but oh so handsome man out of her mind, convinced that her family's fortunes and the promise to make insane amounts of money will sway one of the chocolatiers of Paris to join in her business venture. Of course, forgetting Sylvain Marquis would be a lot easier if the flat she had rented didn't overlook his shop, and she didn't keep running into him in shops and restaurants in the area. Her father thinks she is foolish to be wasting time in Paris in the first place, her grandfather encourages her to conduct industrial espionage and steal Sylvain's secrets. So when the opportunity arises to do just that, Cade sneaks into Sylvain's labratoire to see what she can find. Her snooping doesn't go undetected, however, and soon the Internet food blogs are abuzz with rumours of a chocolate thief stealing the delectable Marquis chocolates in the dead of night.

I discovered this book thanks to the Dabwaha tournament, an annual March Madness style competition, run by Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and Dear Author. As the book was also fortuitously on sale on Amazon the other week, I jumped at the chance to try it (not just because reading about hot Frenchmen who can do wonders with chocolate is much more fun than doing correction work), and I'm very glad I did. It was a very quick read, and I'm sure that if I'd spent days over it, I could have found more flaws. But I didn't, and I don't want to pick holes in it.

Sylvain Marquis is a wonderful hero, at once both arrogant and self-assured about his professional expertise, yet surprisingly insecure and doubtful about himself and his ability to impress women. He knows he's the best at what he does in terms of chocolate, and he knows he can win practically any woman over with the promise of his sinfully delicious gourmet treats, but never having had any success holding on to women long-term, and having been a gangly teenager who kept getting friend-zoned, he's still terrified that Cade will leave him, like all the other beautiful women have.

Cade has never met anyone who isn't impressed with her family's money and influence, and is baffled when she comes to Paris and everyone seems to find her money vulgar and offensive. Even offering exorbitant sums of money won't get her a carton of milk at a café, and the Corey family name is certainly not something any chocolatier worth his salt in France will want to be associated with. Everyone assumes she's had an easy life because of her money, when in fact, her stay in Paris is the first time in years she's had any time to herself. She's used to people constantly asking for help to fund things, and aware that most men can't see past her vast fortune to see the woman she really is. She's hard working, diligent and very loyal to her family and all the people who depend on her in the business, but in Sylvain's labratoire  she experiences a magical world that she desperately wants to be a part of. That the owner of that world attracts her and infuriates her to no end, makes her livid, but she also finds it refreshing that he seems drawn to her despite her money, not because of it.

Florand clearly loves Paris, and chocolate, and chocolate making makes for a surprisingly sexy setting for a romance. It's probably not surprising that a gorgeous man who creates amazing chocolates makes for an attractive romantic hero, but it's his insecurities, and the fact that he's not actually very good with women that makes Sylvain so likable. He keeps screwing up and saying and doing the wrong things, and then he's not afraid to admit his mistakes and apologise, trying to make amends. While he's appalled by her attempts to buy his name for her company, Sylvain decides he wants to seduce Cade fairly early on, and he works very systematically and cleverly to do so. It takes a strong and stubborn woman to withstand his attentions for as long as Cade did.

There is apparently already another book in the series, which various review assure me is even more enjoyable than this one. So I will definitely be checking out more of Florand's books.

Sunday 17 March 2013

#CBR5 Book 28. "Luck in the Shadows" by Lynn Flewelling

Page count: 479 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Alec of Kerry is a teenage orphan stuck in a dungeon on trumped up charges of spying. He's worried that he's going to be killed when a mysterious stranger is thrown into the dungeon with him, and proceeds to not only free himself from  the shackles, but takes Alec along as well. Some horse thievery, swift thinking and a fair bit of hiding, and the two have escaped their pursuers.

Over the course of the next few days, Alec discovers that the stranger is able to assume a number of personas and identities without any trouble, and is actually a spy of sorts. His true name is Seregil, and after noticing how quickly Alec picks up new skills, he impulsively offers to take the young man on as an apprentice. Alec has never really known any other life than that of a trapper and hunter in the provincial north, so Seregil's tales of adventure, excitement, travel and exotic locations sounds mighty tempting indeed.

Of course, the covert life of espionage is a bit more dangerous than being a country hunter, and some of the people Seregil's in the area finding information about are entirely ruthless. When Seregil falls seriously ill while they're on the run, Alec gets the chance to save Seregil's life, using what he's learned and his quick mind to get them safely to the capital and Seregil's wizard friend.

They discover that there is a plot against the crown, and someone is trying to implicate Seregil with very clever forgeries. Alec needs to help his new friends figure out who is behind it, before it's too late.

Attentive readers of my blog may have noticed that I'm participating in a whole slew of reading challenges now. There's obviously the CBR5, but also the historical fiction challenge, the Mount TBR challenge, and last but not least, the monthly keywords. This book is a whopping triple whammy, as it's been on my bookshelf for so long that it precedes my habit of writing my name and the date when I got the book in the front. So we're talking late 1990s, early 2000s here. That's a heck of a TBR. It's also most certainly historical fantasy, and luck is one of the monthly challenges. Hence it was nice to finally read this.

I had not realised, however, that this is basically only the first half of the story. It ends after the first part of the story is concluded, but on a fairly abrupt cliffhanger, there's even a to be continued.  So for anyone who hasn't read the book already, there is a second part, Stalking Darkness, that finishes the story of Alec and Seregil and their main adventure.

The book took me longer to read than I'm used to, both because I've been busy with course work and correction in the last weeks, but also because it's fantasy written in a different style than what is mostly common now. The story builds in a much slower way, and while there is plenty of action scenes interspersed with the exposition to keep the reader interested, the exposition is a lot more gradual. It reminded me a bit of playing a computer game, where you start out with an inexperienced, low-level character. First you have to discover your surroundings, get some basic equipment, learn your basic skills, do the basic quests. Following Alec on his adventure with Seregil is reminiscent of that - he gets new stuff, learns new skills, and slowly but surely "levels up", getting more experienced and discovering more of the world and more dangerous things keep happening.

It's a fun book, and I will absolutely be reading the next book to see how young Alec's adventures proceed.

Thursday 14 March 2013

#CBR5 Book 27. "Sonen" (The Son) by Jon Fosse

Page count: Not sure, it was part of a collection of plays
Rating: 1 star

Jon Fosse is a contemporary Norwegian novelist, poet and playwright and his works have been translated into more than forty languages (which isn't shabby for a Norwegian). He is highly critically acclaimed both nationally and internationally and apparently considered one of the world's greatest contemporary playwrights.

In the play Sonen, or The Son, an elderly couple (most likely living somewhere in the picturesque but often sparse region in the West of Norway - because that's where Fosse sets a lot of his works) go about their daily life in the same monotonous routine as every other day. They keep repeating the same phrases over and over, lamenting the darkness outside (it's worth pointing out that in the winter time, much of Norway barely gets any daylight at all) and the increasing lack of people in their little village. The young people move away to the cities because there is nothing to do, the old people wither away and die. The only light they see is the window of their neighbour's house. They wonder about their son, who they haven't heard from in months.

It seems their widowed neighbour, who is prone to drunkenness, has heard their son was in prison for some unspecified crime. They're not sure what to believe, but as they haven't heard from their son, they are worried and uncertain. When the long lost son suddenly shows up for a surprise visit, they don't know how to relate to him at all. The drunken neighbour's presence doesn't improve things.

The best thing about this play, which is one of the many texts I have to read for my current course, is that it's short. I read it in less than an hour. Having listened to a very interesting lecture, and several of my fellow students discussing the play earlier today convinced me that I wanted to give it a try, even though my previous attempts at Fosse's literary output in assorted short stories left me decidedly unmoved and unimpressed. I doubt I would've bothered finishing the play if I hadn't already listened to a very engaging analysis about it.

Fosse is classified as a neo-Modernist, and there is a lot of things in the play that reminded me of Becket and Pinter, while the play is a lot less absurd than some of their output. Now, I absolutely loathe Modernist literature, and I didn't like the extremely minimalist style in which Fosse writes. Because he leaves immense amounts of things unsaid in every scene, it's up to the reader to interpret and draw his or her own conclusions. There are very sparse descriptions and stage directions, leaving a lot up to the reader (or viewer, in the case of the play). The characters are incredibly passive, and static. Fosse has stated that he cares very little for obvious themes or messages in his works, and that's painfully obvious here.

Very little actually happens in the play. The mother and father are colourless, inscure and spineless. The drunken neighbour is like a malevolent serpent spreading unsubstantiated rumours. One might have a bit of sympathy with the son, but at the same time, the young man has been gone for over six months without any communication with his parents, so no matter how neglectful and inept his parents may have been in the past (and again, most of this is left up to the reader to interpret for themselves), he seems a bit callous and heartless. Then again, if your parents would rather believe unsubstantiated gossip from an alcoholic rather than your word, maybe you'd want to disown your parents too? Based on this play, and the previous short stories I've read, I'm not really interested in exploring more of Fosse's writing. He may be one of the great Norwegian writers of right now, but it's clear it's not for me.

Friday 8 March 2013

#CBR5 Book 26. "Frost Burned" by Patricia Briggs

Page count: 352 pages
Rating: 4 stars

This is the seventh book in the Mercy Thompson series, and this review will probably contain spoilers for stuff that happened in earlier books. It's also not a good place to start reading the books. You want to start with Moon Called. The spin off series, starting with Cry Wolf, is also very good.

Mercedes "Mercy" Thompson Hauptman is out Black Friday shopping with her stepdaughter Jesse when she suddenly has a panic attack and crashes into the car ahead of her. It turns out that the reason she freaked out is because her husband, the alpha of the local werewolf pack, and all the werewolves of the pack have been subdued and kidnapped by shady, possibly government operatives. Only one of the wolves escaped, and he's in pretty bad shape. Realising that both she and Jesse are prime targets, Mercy has to act quickly to get them to safety and try to figure out how to save her husband and the rest of the pack.

Through the magical mate bond she has with Adam, her husband, she's able to ascertain that all the werewolves have been heavily drugged and are manacled somewhere dark and remote. A man calling himself "Mr. Jones" wants Adam and the werewolves to kill a prominent senator for him, and Mercy knows that if the thugs get their hands on her or Jesse, Adam will do anything to keep them safe, even if it means destroying the already patchy reputation that werewolves have since they became public knowledge a few years back. She does her best to get Jesse to safety, then gathers what few allies she has available to rescue Kyle, boyfriend to one of the pack werewolves.

Who has the resources to hire mercenaries powerful enough to take out an entire werewolf pack? Can Mercy gather enough allies to rescue her pack? Is the abduction in some way connected to the recent power play against local Vampire Queen Marsilia? And what will Marsilia do to Mercy once she sees the state her precious luxury car is in after Mercy is done with it?

While the last two books in the Mercy Thompson series were good, but not great, I was starting to worry that the quality of the books would be dropping. Fair Game, the most recent book in the spin off series (featuring the werewolves of the pack where Mercy was raised) was mostly excellent though, and the dramatic event at the end of that book made me very excited to read more. While the series can be read independently of each other, the books are set in the same world, there are mentions of the same set of characters, and they nicely complement each other. As well as featuring a return of a whole bunch of characters from earlier in this series, Frost Burned had a guest appearance from one of my favourite of the supporting characters in the Alpha and Omega books.

Mercy is a great character, and unlike a lot of paranormal fantasy heroines, she's not crazy powerful. Sure, she can shapeshift into a Coyote, and seems to be able to detect various kinds of magic, but she's not super strong, or fast or has amazing magical powers. She is, however, stubborn as a mule, and fiercely loyal to those she loves. This means that she has gained the trust and affection of a lot of powerful supernatural creatures, which comes in handy when the werewolf pack she is bonded to is taken out of commission.

Like in many of the earlier books, the plot twists and turns, and what may seem like the main part of the story is resolved about halfway through. That doesn't mean that the book ends, and unlike the past two books, that didn't engage me on as many levels as the earliest four in the series, this one had me fully invested and riveted all the way through. I'm glad to see that Patricia Briggs is back on form, and can't wait to read what comes next.

#CBR5 Book 25. "Pleasure Unbound" by Larissa Ione

Page count: 338 pages
Rating: 2 stars

Eidolon is a doctor at a secret demon hospital. Recently, there seems to be someone hunting down supernatural creatures and harvesting their organs. Eidolon and his brothers Shade and Wraith would really like to figure out who's behind this.

Tayla Mancuso (yes, all the names in this book are awful, I spent a LOT of time rolling my eyes) is a demon slayer, and a really fierce one at that. At sixteen, she saw her junkie mother repeatedly raped and killed by a demon, so she has absolutely no time for any of them. Of course, the group of demon slayers who trained her has never really figured out that just like there are good and bad people in the world, there are also good and bad supernatural creatures.

When Tay's partner is killed in a fight with a particularly vicious demon, because she has some sort of fit that meant she lost control and couldn't back her up, Tay is left for dead and brought into the demon hospital where Eidolon is Chief of Staff. Most of the staff are extremely pissed at seeing her there, and argue vocally that she needs to be killed, but Eidolon overrules them and patches her up. He discovers that while she may be a slayer, there is something seriously wrong with her insides, and it seems that Tay is slowly turning into the thing she hates the most - a demon.

Pleasure Unbound is this month's (March 2013) alternative pick in Vaginal Fantasy Hangout. It was picked because the main read is Daughter of Smoke and Bone, a YA novel, which is traditionally very light on the graphic smexy times. This was selected because of the high levels of smuttiness, which would balance out the lack in the main book. Sadly, while the sex scenes were plentiful (the first one is in the second chapter, while Tay is still in hospital and pretty much out of it) and graphic, bordering on the straight up porny, the plot and characterisation in this book left a lot to be desired (yeah, see what I did there?)

The large amounts of sex is explained by the fact that Eidolon and his brothers are incubi, sex demons who pretty much screw everything with a pulse. Apparently Eidolon is a lot more controlled than his two brothers and normally not as easily led by his libido. However, the sex demons go through a change when they turn a hundred, where they have to find a mate with whom to bond until death do them part, or lose control and give into the urge to impregnate any female they meet. As Eidolon is on the cusp of said change, he doesn't need much persuading to bonk Tayla, in her fricking hospital room, not caring if anyone walks in on them, even though he hates her and hasn't even made up his mind about whether to let members of the hospital staff dispose of her for the greater good. The fact that he, the mighty sex demon, can't bring her to orgasm because of her deep sexual hangups is an actual plot point.

Tay starts this book pretty much a total bitca, and her stupidity and knee-jerk prejudice pissed me off. Eidolon, who the reader is probably supposed to sympathise with more was pretty much just a sex obsessed jerk. While stories where the couple start out antagonistic can work really well, this one fell down flat for me because I didn't really care whether they ended up together or killed each other. I don't mind graphic sex in my fantasy occasionally, but if there isn't a decent plot and at least some likable characters, it just gets boring. It's one of the main reasons that Laurell K Hamilton never appealed to me  all that much. The book gets a bit better in the second half, which is why it's getting 2 stars. Larissa Ione has written a whole bunch of books, all fairly highly rated on Goodreads - there are four more in this series. I doubt I'll be checking out any more, though.

#CBR5 Book 24. "Undeniably Yours" by Shannon Stacey

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Guy meets girl when breaking her boss' nose. Guy gets girl fired. Guy meets girl again at his brother's wedding. They have a one night stand. A month later, girl shows up and tells guy she's pregnant.

Kevin Kowalski has women throwing bar napkins with lewd propositions and phone numbers at him, but the only woman he really wants is the one doesn't seem to be interested in a relationship at all, despite being pregnant with his child. Beth Hansen gets pregnant after a one night stand (turns out that even using a condom doesn't always keep you safe), and is stunned with Kevin not only doesn't freak out when she tells him the big news, but seems quite excited about becoming a father.

Having grown up an only child with over-protective parents, Beth doesn't like to stay tied down in one place for too long. She's fiercely independent, and extremely worried that taking her developing friendship with Kevin to the next level will blow up in her face somewhere down the line, dooming her child to a miserable life with parents who hate each other. So she insists that they just stay friends. Even when the giant Kowalski clan do their best to envelop her and make her feel welcome and supported, and she moves into a flat over Kevin's bar, right across the hall from him, and even, later in the pregnancy, accepts a job from him. Despite Kevin's best efforts to woo her, she will not be swayed, and there are still all those eligible ladies throwing their numbers at him. Is he really going to wait around forever?

This book was not as fun as Exclusively Yours and Yours to Keep, mainly because Beth kept being so incredibly insecure and stupidly stubborn, long after it was realistic. If Stacey had set up some sort of horrible relationship trauma in her past that made her so wary of committing again, it would have been more plausible, but even after living next to Kevin for eight months with him proving time and time again how totally committed he is to her, their future child and making her safe and happy, all she can do is whine about how she feels smothered because he keeps doing nice things for her and wanting a real relationship with the mother of his unborn child.

While she's right that they barely know each other when they have the night of passion that knocks her up, and he keeps being given bar napkins with random women's phone numbers, it's made quite clear over the course of her pregnancy and the months following it that he has no interest in ever acting on any of those offers, and instead keeps being supremely patient, waiting for her to wake up and smell the amazingly supportive baby daddy.

Still, the supporting cast of the various Kowalskis and the sweet secondary romance of Kevin's bar manager Paulie and her ex-fiancee, as well as some of the banter was enough to keep me interested. I really did want to reach into the book and shake Beth so her teeth rattled a bit though. Also, her constant diet of cheese burgers or chicken wings while pregnant set my own teeth on edge. Not healthy, lady. Not healthy at all.

Sunday 3 March 2013

#CBR5 Book 23. "Warm Bodies" by Isaac Marion

Page count: 356 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Meet R. He's a zombie. He can't remember the rest of his name, or even who he used to be, but it was someone who died wearing a suit and tie. He spends his days, along with countless other zombies, shuffling along in an abandoned airport. Every so often, he and his fellow zombies will shuffle into the city to find food, eating some of the desperate survivors hiding out in boarded up buildings. They eat the flesh, but the brains are the best part, as they allow the zombies a brief moment to relive the memories of the person whose brain it is.

R is a bit different from the other zombies at the airport. He keeps collecting things he finds when they're out hunting for food. Little trinkets he brings back to the 747 he's made his home. He likes to listen to music. He prefers vinyl because the sound is purer. One day, when he, his friend M, and a bunch of others are out hunting for food, R eats the brain of a young man called Perry, and when M tries to kill Perry's girlfriend Julie, R stops him. He finds himself inexplicably drawn to Julie, and takes her home with him to the airport.

Julie is understandably terrified, but quickly discovers that R really is different from the zombies she's been taught to fear. He promises to keep her safe, and saves her life more than once. He also seems to get more articulate the more time they spend together. Is it possible that zombies can be cured. Can they reclaim their humanity and give up their grisly diet of human flesh and brains? Will Julie be able to convince her father, the zombie-hating General Grigio, that R is not just a mindless killing machine?

This is my second attempt at reading a book featuring zombie romance. I'm still rather uncomfortable with the idea. I really loved the movie Warm Bodies, and Nicholas Hoult's (I'm still baffled by how handsome the funny-looking kid from About a Boy turned out) excellent performance as R the zombie mostly made me forget that he was an undead putrefying corpse who survived by consuming brains, and that he was falling in love with the girl whose boyfriend he KILLED and ATE. At least Angel in My Life as a White Trash Zombie only ate the brains of already dead people she found in the morgue. R actually kills and eats people. It's not his fault, he has to, to survive - but it's not particularly attractive in a guy. And no, I don't know why I can forgive and find Damon Salvatore on The Vampire Diaries so attractive, when he's a blood-thirsty vampire. I'm suspect it's the rotting flesh aspect that makes me more prejudiced against zombies.

 I also suspect I would have liked the book more if I hadn't seen the film version first. All through the book, I kept comparing the film and the book, and the book kept coming up short, every time. The book isn't bad, at all, and I really like the idea that there is no explanation as to why the zombie plague started in the first place, or any deus ex machina that triggers the cure in some of the zombies. I guess I just thought the film was funnier, and a bit more romantic, and took the potential that was in the book and turned it into something even better.

Disclaimer - I recieved a free copy of this book from Random House, via NetGalley.

#CBR5 Book 22. "Exclusively Yours" by Shannon Stacey

Page count: 352 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Keri Daniels, journalist in an LA gossip magazine, wants a promotion and it's almost within reach. Then her ruthless editor discovers that her high school boyfriend was Joseph Kowalski, reclusive bestselling author, and presents her with an ultimatum. Get an interview, or lose her job.

Joe Kowalski has never forgotten the girl who really broke his heart, by leaving him in the dust after graduation and never looking back. Now she desperately wants an interview with him, and while he's not really inclined to share his secrets, few as they are, with the world, by agreeing to answer her questions, he can spend some more time with Keri. If she comes with him on the two week Kowalski family camping trip, she will get to ask him one question for each day she survives. No phone, no computer, no social media of any kind - just Keri Daniels and the entire rambunctious Kowalski clan.

Keri can't really refuse, and the sexual chemistry between her and Joe is as potent as ever. Of course, Keri's former best friend, Joe's twin sister Terri, is not about to see her brother's heart broken again, and will do anything in her power to stop keep Keri and Joe apart.

This is the first of the many contemporary romance novels by Shannon Stacey, chronicling the lives of the many eligible Kowalski men. I've previously read the third in the series (there is really no need to worry about reading these in order), so when this was FREE on Amazon a while back, I jumped at the chance to get it. Stacey writes believable, engaging characters who clearly enjoy spending time in each others' company. She does a brilliant job of introducing a large cast of supporting characters, as well, without it feeling like obvious sequel bait, like some authors seem to.

In this case, Joe's formidable parents, his siblings and their many energetic kids are almost as much fun to read about as the former high school sweethearts finding their way towards their happy ending. Joe's twin Terri (Theresa Kowalski Porter) is probably the most important secondary character, as she's struggling to piece her own failing marriage back together and channels far too much of her anxiety towards Joe and Keri, determined to break them apart. Unsurprisingly, since this is a romance, no one ends up getting divorced, and Joe and Keri discover that while they didn't find their HEA straight after high school, it's never too late to rekindle that old flame. I will absolutely be checking out more of Ms. Stacey's books.