Thursday 31 October 2013

#CBR Book 130. "Love and Other Scandals" by Caroline Linden

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 2.5 stars

Miss Joan Bennet is dangerously close to being on the shelf, and the only thing close to romance she is experiencing is in literary form.  Her mother keeps dressing her in the height of fashion, yet her with her tall, curvy figure, she looks like an idiot. At social gatherings and balls, she's a constant wallflower. She'd love to be noticed, by anyone at all. Except possibly Lord Tristan Burke, her brother's best friend and a notorious rake. Lord Burke thinks Joan is a bossy Fury, who's made it her life's mission to torment her brother as much as possible. But when Joan's parents have to go to the seaside for Joan's mother to convalesce, and Joan's brother is sent away to see to repairs on the family estate, he asks Lord Burke to make sure Joan stays out of trouble.

Joan's eccentric and slightly scandalous aunt comes to stay with her, and soon Joan has a new and improved wardrobe which flatters her rather than makes her look like a gaudy umbrella. Lord Burke, who has already discovered that the best way to shut his best friend's bossy and opinionated sister up is by kissing her senseless, is suddenly starting to consider whether he may not have to change his mind about what a chore it is to have to entertain her while her family are out of town.

I really liked Caroline Linden's The Truth About the Duke trilogy, which I read earlier this year. Romance is also a good choice for the 24 hour Read-a-Thon, as the books tend to be frothy and easy to read. There just wasn't all that much to this book. Having finished this book about two and a half weeks' ago, I was actually having to struggle to remember the plot for the two paragraphs of summary. There is no great conflict. Joan and Tristan met for the first time as children, because Tristan is Joan's brother's best friend. Tristan was orphaned and raised by his horrible relatives, and has always envied the Bennet family their closeness. He's a rake, he doesn't think he wants commitment. Joan reads romance, in particular a smutty story in eagerly awaited instalments called 50 Ways to Sin (yes, exactly. See what she did there?) and thinks she knows what to expect from romance and sex because of it. They bicker, then Tristan kisses her once to shut her up (because that's always charming) and from there it's pretty much insta-lust.

There was nothing much to distinguish any of the characters or make me care about them and their romance. Caroline Linden isn't a bad writer, as such, so there were some fun descriptions and some witty banter on occasion, but every time I was starting to think that maybe the book wasn't so meh after all, up popped a mention of the 50 Ways to Sin again, and made me want to rage-quit the book. By no means a bad romance novel, merely mediocre, and really rather forgettable. If you want good romance to read, give this one a miss, and take a look at my Top 100 romances instead.

#CBR5 Book 129. "Adventures with the Wife in Space: Living with the Doctor" by Neil Perryman

Page count: 304 pages
Rating: 5 stars

Disclaimer! I was given an ARC from Faber & Faber via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and impartial review. I was absolutely delighted to get to read it before the release date (it's out now), but the husband and I had already pre-ordered a copy, which will hopefully be arriving in the post any day now.

From Goodreads, because it explains the premise of the book really well:
Neil loves Sue. He also loves Doctor Who. But can he bring his two great loves together? And does he have the right?

In January 2011, Neil Perryman set out on an insane quest to make his wife Sue watch every episode of the classic series of Doctor Who from the very beginning. Even the ones that didn't exist anymore. And so, over the next two and a half years, Sue gamely watched them all: William Hartnell (the Miserable Git);Patrick Troughton (the Scruffy Drunk); John Pertwee (the Pompous Tory); Tom Baker (the Mad One); Peter Davison (the Fit One); Colin Baker (the Court Jester); Sylvester McCoy (the Crafty Sod) and Paul McGann (the One-Night Stand). The result was a wildly successful and hilariously revealing blog called Adventures with the Wife in Space.

But the adventure continues. From awkward years at school, terrified of giant insects, Daleks and rugby players, to even more awkward years as an adult, terrified of unexpected parenthood and being called a Whovian, here Neil tells the all too true story of life as a Doctor Who fan. Funny, honest and surprisingly brave, he also captures perfectly the joys - and fears - of sharing the thing you love with the people you love.

Adventures with the Wife in Space is, at its heart, the story of Doctor Who, and its fans, seen through the eyes of two people - one who knows almost nothing about the programme and another who knows way too much. 

Like Sue Perryman, I too am the wife of a life-long Doctor Who fan. While now the show is so huge and popular that even Norwegian tabloids write stories speculating on the identity of the new Doctor, and now about the upcoming 50th anniversary special, and the teenagers I teach discuss the relative merits of Matt Smith, David Tennant, Amy, Rory, Rose and Donna, I had never heard of the show, until I went to university in Scotland. Several of my friends there liked it, and showed me episodes on grainy VHS-tapes. I didn't think it was bad, as such, but it was no Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Babylon 5.

Then I met my husband. We met, while still at St. Andrews, in 2000. Long before the show was relaunched so successfully in 2005. I didn't really hear all that much about the show until it was coming back, and the husband was full of anticipation and dread. What if it was as bad as the TV movie? When my husband (then still the boyfriend) moved to Norway to live with me in 2005, the first few episodes had aired. He was very enthusiastic and wanted me to watch them with him. I was sceptical, but quickly came around and am now a big fan of the newer series. The husband, like Neil and Sue, has watched every single episode of the old series, even the reconstructed lost ones, and literally cried tears of joy when the news broke about nine missing episodes being found and reconstructed. He can, and will, go on at great length about the show, and which episodes he'd recommend you start with and which episodes of the various Doctors are his favourites and so forth. He's shown me a wide selection of episodes of the classic series, and I've sat, half watching out of the corner of my eye while busy doing other things, countless others.

So when Neil launched the blog, the husband, already a fan of Neil's podcast work with Tachyon TV, started reading it aloud to me, as Neil and Sue watched their way through the series. He'd usually focus on their summaries of stories I'd seen, but I also got to experience some of the stories first through the eyes of the Perrymans. So when the book was announced, it was an obvious pre-order for us. I knew it was probably going to be entertaining, because the writing on the blog was usually very funny. I had no idea how laugh-out-loud hilarious much of it would be, though, and how sweet and honest and touching reading about young Neil's love for the show, and later his love for his wife. Obviously, having followed the blog, I felt like I knew a bit about them, but I suspect the book will be a great read to people who've never heard of the blog, or Neil Perryman, or frankly, don't know that much about Doctor Who. It's not so much a book about a nerdy TV show, as much as the story of a devoted fan of that show, and anyone who's really been a fan of something, should be able to identify at least partly with Neil and appreciate this book.

Even if you're not a passionate fan of something, but just share your life with one, because you will recognise your loved one in Neil's story of himself. I'm a big fan of Doctor Who, and am very invested in it being good, but it hasn't been an important part of my life since I was a child, and I can never know what it's like to have the same favourite show when you're seven as when you're in your thirties (or even older), and to have lived for years when it was off the air, and then seeing it resurrected to huge international popularity and acclaim, becoming the BBC's flagship and loved by new generations. My husband has that, and still gets a bewildered happy look when I talk about my pupils discussing the show on their lunch break. What I'm trying to boil this down to is: the book is great! I had high expectations of it, because the blog is also very good, but it surpassed all of them. I laughed, I was moved to hints of tears in parts of it, and if we hadn't already pre-ordered a copy, the husband and I would do so immediately after both finishing the ARC. I will buy it as gifts for several of our friends. That's how much I liked it, and I will recommend it to anyone who will listen.

Wednesday 30 October 2013

#CBR5 Book 128. "Dark Currents" by Jaqueline Carey

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Daisy Johanssen grew up in the town of Pemkowet in the Midwest. Her mother lives in a trailer and works as a seamstress, her father is an incubus accidentally summoned during an ill-advised Ouija board session when her mother was a teenager. Of course, you'd think being half-demon would make Daisy unusual in town, but there's all manner of supernatural beings in Pemkowet, and tourists travel from all over the country to see fairies and trolls and naiads and the like. Hel, the Norse goddess of the underworld keeps the supernatural element in check, and Daisy is her agent in the mortal world, as well as acting as supernatural liaison with the local police department.

When a young, wealthy college kid drowns and everything suggests supernatural involvement, the tourist trade could be seriously affected. The local police are under a lot of pressure, and Hel isn't all that happy with the situation either. Daisy has to work the case with Cody Fairfax, trying to hide the massive crush on him she's nurtured since high school. She also has to keep a lid on her volatile temper, as giving into the temptations from her demonic dad could set in motion Armageddon.

I'm a HUGE fan of Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy series (I especially adore the Phèdre trilogy and the final Imriel book), and while I wasn't as enthused about her attempt at young adult literature, Santa Olivia, I've long been curious about her foray into paranormal fantasy. I just hadn't got round to checking it out. So when Vaginal Fantasy Hangout selected the book as their main read for October, it seemed like the perfect time to give it a try. This was the first book I read for this autumn's 24 hour Read-a-thon, and it was a good choice to begin with - the book is an entertaining and moderately action packed read, with an interesting premise and a cool heroine.

Daisy has obviously never had any direct contact with her dear old Dad, but has a close relationship with her mother, who raised her and helped to make her the helpful and brave young woman she's become. Frequently paranormal heroines have horrible or even villainous parents, so it's nice to get an example of a healthy, supportive and functional mother/daughter relationship. The various female relationships in the book are very well done, actually. There's Daisy's "crazy aunt" of a sort, Lurline, and her best friend, Jen, who she has a major falling out with over the course of the book because they're both interested in Officer Fairfax (and I was so happy when this wasn't dragged out for too long and turned into major, bitchy backstabbing drama).

So yes, there are romantic complications in the book. Cody the werewolf keeps his supernatural identity secret, and is determined that he can never be with a non-werewolf, yet that doesn't stop Daisy and her friend from fancying him. Thrown into the mix there is also Stefan, the intriguing new leader of the local biker gang (who are all ghouls), who clearly wants to get to know Daisy better, and over the course of the book, she also runs into Sinclair Palmer, a handsome Jamaican guy who wants to run a supernatural bus tour in town. Yet considering the steamy nature of Carey's first three fantasy trilogies, even though there are three different love interests introduced, those who like a strong romantic subplot will be disappointed - you don't even get kissing in this book.

You do get promising world building, an interesting premise for a series and a decent gallery of characters. The writing style of this book is much more sparse than the lush, poetic style of the Kushiel books, but there is a lot of humour as well as the mystery that needs to be solved, plus some decent action set pieces. I will absolutely be checking out more books in the series, because I liked "hanging out" with Daisy (and I want to see which of the supernatural hunks she eventually ends up with).

Sunday 20 October 2013

Upon request: My top 100 romances

Every three years or so, romance review site All About Romance extraordinaire asks its reviewers and readers to submit their top 100 romances. At the point of writing this, there are three days left to submit your choices for this year's poll, if you are so inclined. I've already sent in mine. When they last did their poll, in 2010, I also submitted a list, but thanks to the tragic harddrive crash of about two years ago, I've lost the document and no longer have any idea what was on it. So I had to make a new list (yeah, terrible that). Going through Goodreads for my top rated romance novels, I made a massive list, and then had to go about trying to rank the books up against each other. If I made the list today, several choices would probably be different. The top 20 or so are pretty fixed, though. On the request of a few people, I now make the list available here.

  1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  2. Venetia by Georgette Heyer
  3. Unraveled by Courtney Milan
  4. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  5. Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
  6. The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
  7. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  8. Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale
  9. Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie
  10. The Last Hellion by Loretta Chase
  11. A Week to Be Wicked by Tessa Dare
  12. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
  13. Captives of the Night by Loretta Chase
  14. The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne
  15. What I Did for a Duke by Julie Anne Long
  16. A Kiss for Midwinter by Courtney Milan
  17. Heart of Steel by Meljean Brook
  18. Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer
  19. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  20. Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie
  21. The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
  22. Frederica by Georgette Heyer
  23. An Offer from a Gentleman by Julia Quinn
  24. Tempt Me at Twilight by Lisa Kleypas
  25. What Happens in London by Julia Quinn
  26. Your Scandalous Ways by Loretta Chase
  27. A Rogue by Any Other Name by Sarah Maclean
  28. The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
  29. The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan
  30. Bound by Your Touch by Meredith Duran
  31. His at Night by Sherry Thomas
  32. Sylvester by Georgette Heyer
  33. Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
  34. Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare
  35. I Kissed An Earl by Julie Anne Long
  36. The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn
  37. Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas (Currently number 2 in the AAR poll)
  38. Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase
  39. Written on Your Skin by Meredith Duran
  40. Ten Things I Love About You by Julia Quinn
  41. Faro's Daughter by Georgette Heyer
  42. It Happened One Midnight by Julie Anne Long
  43. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
  44. Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer
  45. Unveiled by Courtney Milan
  46. Wicked Becomes You by Meredith Duran
  47. One Good Earl Deserves A Lover by Sarah Maclean
  48. The Chocolate Kiss by Laura Florand
  49. Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas
  50. The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright by Tessa Dare
  51. Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah Maclean
  52. Something About You by Julie James
  53. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  54. Dare You To by Katie McGarry
  55. The Duke and I by Julia Quinn
  56. Secrets of a Summer Night by Lisa Kleypas
  57. A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare
  58. Not Quite a Husband by Sherry Thomas
  59. Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase (Currently number 1 on the AAR poll)
  60. Love in the Afternoon by Lisa Kleypas
  61. It's in His Kiss by Julia Quinn
  62. Three Nights with a Scoundrel by Tessa Dare
  63. Unclaimed by Courtney Milan
  64. Riveted by Meljean Brook
  65. The Perils of Pleasure by Julie Anne Long
  66. Lord Perfect by Loretta Chase
  67. The Duchess War by Courtney Milan
  68. How to Marry a Marquis by Julia Quinn
  69. Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas (Currently number 3 on the AAR poll)
  70. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  71. The Chocolate Thief by Laura Florand
  72. Love Irresistibly by Julie James
  73. A Lady's Lesson in Scandal by Meredith Duran
  74. To Love a Thief by Julie Anne Long
  75. Naked in Death by J.D. Robb
  76. Slightly Dangerous by Mary Balogh
  77. Scandal in Spring by Lisa Kleypas
  78. The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook
  79. One Night in London by Caroline Linden
  80. Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart by Sarah Maclean
  81. Like No Other Lover by Julie Anne Long
  82. Romancing Mr. Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
  83. This Duchess of Mine by Eloisa James
  84. And Then He Kissed Her by Laura Lee Guhrke
  85. Blue-Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas
  86. About Last Night by Ruthie Knox
  87. Last Night's Scandal by Loretta Chase
  88. Yours to Keep by Shannon Stacey
  89. Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers
  90. Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer
  91. Wallbanger by Alice Clayton
  92. Angel's Blood by Nalini Singh
  93. Never Lie to a Lady by Liz Carlyle
  94. The Forbidden Rose by Joanna Bourne
  95. Emma by Jane Austen
  96. Not Quite a Lady by Loretta Chase
  97. The Lost Duke of Wyndham by Julia Quinn
  98. The Ugly Duchess by Eloisa James
  99. The Chocolate Touch by Laura Florand
  100. Your Wicked Heart by Meredith Duran

Sunday 13 October 2013

#Readathon October 2013: Hour twenty-four - the finish line

Pages read in the last hour: 43 - book is really good, but so much stuff is happening, and I'm still tired
Pages read in total: 1198

End of event questionnaire:
1) Which hour was most daunting for you?
This time - hours 23-24. I was still rather tired, and kept almost nodding off. Not as much reading done during the final bit as I hoped.

2) Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for the next year?
If the Reader is a Doctor Who fan, they should absolutely check out Adventures with the Wife in Space by Neil Perryman. I loved it, but I'm not entirely sure it would hold the same interest for a non-fan.
Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone is excellent, but the writing is more complex and it demands a bit more of a reader, so it may not be the best for someone who wants light and easily processed books.

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

4) What do you think worked really well this Read-a-thon?
The posts in advance, "warming up", so to speak, were very good. As were many of the update posts on the main site during the event.

5) How many books did you read?
Four and a quarter

6) What were the names of the books that you read?
Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey - paranormal/urban fantasy
Adventures with the Wife in Space: Living with Doctor Who by Neil Perryman - non-fiction book about Doctor Who fandom
Love and Other Scandals by Caroline Linden - historical romance novel
Murder Mysteries by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell - graphic novel
A quarter of Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone - fantasy, possibly murder mystery as well

7) Which book did you enjoy the most?
Adventures with the Wife in Space. So glad I got granted an ARC from NetGalley

8) Which did you enjoy the least?
Murder Mysteries. Not sure I entirely got it

9) Do you have any advice to next year's Cheerleaders?
Same as always - keep up the good work!

10) Are you likely to participate in the Read-a-thon again?
Absolutely. I'm already looking forward to the April event. I will, as always, be a Reader. I'll also try to consolidate my posts more, so I don't spend so much time blogging instead of reading.

#Readathon October 2013: Hour twenty-three

Currently reading: Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone
Pages read in the last hour: 33
Pages read in total: 1155
Books completed: 4
Snacks consumed: Ham and cheese muffin, chocolate chip cookie, Coke Zero, water
Mini-challenges: None, need to read as much as possible to get to the finish line now.

#Readathon October 2013: Hour twenty-two

Currently reading: Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone
Pages read in the last hour: 73
Pages read in total: 1122
Books completed so far: Dark Currents - Jacqueline Carey
Adventures with the Wife in Space - Neil Perryman
Love and Other Scandals - Caroline Linden
Murder Mysteries - Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell
Mini-challenge: Turn the Page from Reflections of a Bookaholic

Turn to page 32 in the book you are/were reading. Find the most entertaining phrase to complete the following sentence:

"I would rather read than talk with you sometime later any day"

#Readathon October 2013: Hour fifteen - going to bed

Currently reading:  Nothing - going to sleep for a while, it's 5 am here
Pages read in the last hour: 73
Pages read in total: 1049
Books completed so far: Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey
Adventures with the Wife in Space by Neil Perryman
Love and Other Scandals by Caroline Linden
Snacks consumed: None
Mini-challenges: None this hour

The plan is to sleep for 5 hours or so, and then get up to do more reading.

#Readathon October 2013: Hour fourteen

Currently reading: Nearly finished with Love and Other Scandals
Pages read in the last hour: 73
Pages read in total: 976
Books completed so far:  Nearly three
Snacks: Just water and Coke Zero
Mini-challenges: Nope

#Readathon October 2013: Hour thirteen

Currently reading: Love and Other Scandals
Pages read in the last hour: 56
Pages read in total: 903
Books completed so far: Two and a two thirds
Snacks consumed: A ham and cheese muffin. Coke Zero
Mini-challenge completed:
Best of my reading year (so far) from Lisa's World of Books

Best Romance out in 2013: Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare
Best classical Romance: Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale

Best fiction: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Best YA: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black/Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

Best fantasy: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Best comic/graphic novel: Saga vol 1 and 2 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona K. Staples

#Readathon October 2013: Hours eleven and twelve

Reading now: Love and Other Scandals
Pages read in the last two hours: 150
Pages read in total: 847

Snacks consumed: Carrots and low fat dip
Pizza rolls

Mini-challenges: Mid-event survey

1) How are you doing? Sleepy? Are your eyes tired?
No, not yet, but in my experience it'll get harder to read and stay awake around hour fourteen or fifteen

2)What have you finished reading?
Dark Currents by Jaqueline Carey
Adventures with the Wife in Space by Neil Perryman

3)What is your favourite read so far?
Wife in Space

4) What about your favourite snacks?
The ham and cheese muffins I had during the first hours. They were amazing. So glad I have more!

5) Have you found any new blogs through the readathon?
No, I've not really done a lot of browsing this year, I'm pretty focused on reading. But I want to thank the cheerleaders who so far have commented on my blog. Thanks guys, it's appreciated!

#Readathon October 2013: Ten hours, baby!

Reading now: Love and Other Scandals by Caroline Linden
Pages read in the past hour: 79
Pages read in total: 697
Books completed: Dark Currents - Jacqueline Carey
Adventures with the Wife in Space: Living with Doctor Who - Neil Perryman
Snacks consumed: Just water
Mini-challenges: Still no new ones. I don't really watch book trailers, so I don't feel I can participate in the current challenge

Saturday 12 October 2013

#Readathon October 2013: Hour nine

Reading now: Adventures with the Wife in Space
Pages read in the past hour: 89 - it's a very quick and fun read
Pages read in total: 618
Books completed: Still just the one
Snacks consumed: None, need a bit of a break
Mini-challenges: None this hour - no way am I making a video of myself!

#Readathon October 2013: Hour eight

Reading now: Adventures with the Wife in Space - over halfway done!
Pages read in the last hour: 76
Pages read in total: 529
Books completed: Dark Currents - Jacqueline Carey
Snacks consumed: Jelly sweets
Mini-challenges completed:
Introductory questionnaire
Read-a-thon Mad-libs

#Readathon October 2013: Hour seven

Reading now: Adventures with the Wife in Space - Neil Perryman
Pages read in the last hour: 37
Pages read in total: 453
Books completed: 1 - Dark Currents
Snacks consumed: Handful of jelly sweets
Mini-challenges completed:
Read-a-thon Madlibs

The rules:
Pick a paragraph from the book you're reading. Remove most of the nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, and get a friend to fill them in for you.

My extremely altered paragraph:

Patrick's enemy hit me for six. I wasn't used to yeti leaving, and while I could vaguely recall their Toblerone, Deborah Hines, I had been too unexpected to recover any awesome fear to them. Patrick was my first exciting yeti. He was the scary web I never had, the one I wanted to listen to me.

#Readathon October 2013: Hour six

Reading now: Adventures with the Wife in Space by Neil Perryman
Pages read in the last hour: 90
Pages read in total: 416
Books completed: Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey
Snacks consumed: Dinner - leftover  Thai curry that I made yesterday. It was even tastier today, with the flavours having blended. More Coke, now with lemon. It's what keeps me going.
Mini-challenges completed: Nothing new so far

Have been reading for nearly six complete hours. Still feeling good and going strong.

#Readathon October 2013: Hour the fifth

Reading now: Still on Dark Currents
Pages read in the last hour: 71
Pages read in total: 326
Books completed: Nearly done with the first one
Snacks consumed: Danish pepper candy
Mini-challenges completed:
Still nothing new. Going to have dinner and read more

#Readathon October 2013: Hour four

Reading now: Dark Currents - Jacqueline Carey
Pages read in the last hour: 65
Pages read in total: 255
Books completed: None so far
Snacks consumed: Only Coke and water
Mini-challenges completed:
Introductory questionnaire - none of the others have caught my fancy yet

#Readathon October 2013: Hour the third

Reading now: Dark Currents - Jacqueline Carey
Pages read during the last hour: 66
Pages read in total: 191
Books completed: None so far
Snacks consumed: Homemade chocolate chip cookies. Water
Mini-challenges completed:
Introductory questionnaire

#Readathon October 2013: Hour the second

Reading now: Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey
Pages read during the last hour: 70
Pages read in total: 125
Books completed: None so far
Snacks consumed: Just half a glass of Coke
Mini-challenges completed: 
Introductory questionnaire

#Readathon October 2013: Hour the first completed

Reading now: Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey
Pages read during the last hour: 55
Pages read in total: 55
Books completed: None so far
Snacks consumed: Ham and cheese muffins, which were even tastier than I expected. Coca Cola with lime
Mini-challenges completed: 
Introductory questionnaire
Pictured at the right -->My nummy muffins. Highly recommended

#Readathon October 2013: We begin! (Start of the first hour)

Introductory questionnaire - same as always:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
Oslo, Norway

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
Probably Adventures with the Wife in Space, actually.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
The ham, cheese and scallion muffins I baked earlier. I also have pizza rolls, cookies, carrots and dip, soft drinks both sugary and diet and grapes.

4) Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I'm 34, a secondary school teacher. I have this review blog, which keeps getting more hits than ever. Reading is my favourite way to de-stress and relax. According to the counter on Goodreads, I've read 154 books so far this year. Some of those were novellas, and comic book trade paperbacks, though.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what's one thing you'll do differently today?
This is the first year I've also got an audio book lined up, so I can get even more reading out of the experience. ;)

#Readathon October 2013: Getting ready

It's that time of year again. When I get to devote an entire weekend, more or less, to just reading. This is the fifth time I'll be participating, and I love the preparation for it almost as much as I love the luxury of just getting to read and read and read.

Dewey's 24-hour Read-a-thon looks to have at least 400 bloggers signed up this year, so I'll be in good company. Thanks to a tip from Jenn Lawrence, a veteran of the Read-a-thons, I have read the first chapter or two of every book I was considering for my list, to make sure that they'll hold my interest.

The books I'm planning to read:

This month's pick for Vaginal Fantasy Hangout, and a book that's been on my TBR list for quite some time, because I love Carey's Kushiel books so much, and I'm a huge fan of all things paranormal/urban fantasy. That this book fits into several of my current reading challenges doesn't hurt either. I figured I'd start with this one.

My husband is a HUGE Doctor Who fan. He literally cried with joy because now there are nine more episodes in the world that he has yet to see of the show. Neil Perriman, though, is a bigger fan, and he had his wife Sue, who'd never watched any of the classic series (the show made before 2005), sit down with him and watch EVERY single episode. He also blogged about it, and some of those experiences, as well as a lot of other stuff relating to his fandom (if I'm to be believed) is contained in this book, which I was delighted to be granted an ARC of from NetGalley. I've already read three chapters, and laughed out loud several times, so I'm really looking forward to this one. I won't be reviewing it on the blog until November, as it's not released until November 7th.

Variety is the spice of life, isn't that what they say? I'm trying to make sure I don't get sick of a particular genre while I'm reading tomorrow, and have tried to put together a varied list. Having enjoyed Linden's The Truth About the Duke trilogy (all reviewed on the blog earlier this year), I got this when it came out in July, and then promptly forgot about it, probably because I was really busy trying to "win" to 104 on Cannonball, and then because there are so many other books out there, crying out to be read. Romance tends to be light, frothy and easy to read, and so this goes on my reading list now.

I was actually granted an ARC of this book when it came out in 2012, and it was glowingly reviewed by The Book Smugglers. Too much got in the way of my reading the book, though, so it languished on my TBR shelf. With death being one of the monthly keywords for October, and me just having bought this as an e-book on sale, it seemed like a sign that I really need to get it off my TBR list.

There are times when a girl has to be moving around (possibly going out for some air, or just taking a break from staring at the page, or e-reader screen). Those times call for an audio book. Because I really enjoyed listening to James Marsters narrate the previous Dresden Files instalment, I got this from Audible and loaded it onto my Ipod. As the whole book is 13 hours long, I doubt I'll get through all of it, but it'll feel as if I'm really utilising every minute of my Read-a-thon if I listen to a book even when I can't sit, lounge or lie and read.

Graphic novels and comic books are great for when you're getting tired, or just want to make sure you really hit a good page count. My husband got this one for his birthday, I've been wanting to check it out for a while, and as weapon is another keyword for October, it all works out just perfectly.

My husband gave me this book for Christmas in 2006. We weren't even married yet at that point. I still haven't read it. That's how long it's been on my TBR shelf. I'm not going to lie, I feel bad about it, but for some reason, I've just never got round to picking it up. So I'm determined, that no matter what happens, this is going to be one of the books I read tomorrow.

Books are essential, but so are snacks. So far I've made little pizza rolls (which got cooked a tad too long in the oven, because I forgot to set a timer, but still look delicious). I'm also going to make ham, cheese and scallion muffins and chocolate chip cookies to have enough to nibble on. The fridge is stocked with Coke Zero, and I'm sending the husband to the shop for an assortment of fruit. I think it's going to be a good day for reading.

#CBR5 Book 127. "A Study in Silks" by Emma Jane Holloway

Page count: 560 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Disclaimer! I was given an ARC of this book from Random House via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and impartial review. A Study in Silks is out now. The sequel comes out at the end of this month, and the concluding volume in the trilogy will be out in December.

Evelina Cooper is the niece of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes. Her mother ran off with a circus performer, and Evelina grew up in said circus. Her mother got sick and died, and eventually Evelina's grandmama Holmes tracked her down, fetched her home from the circus, did her best to gentrify Evelina, and sent her to a posh boarding school. There Evelina befriended Imogen Roth, daughter of Lord Bancroft, and although he doesn't really approve of his daughter's boon companion, the two girls are set to start their first Season together. Evelina just has to keep secret her interest in mechanics, as that's unladylike, and that she can do magic, as magic users are persecuted and arrested. Best case scenario after arrest is death, but they may also be sent to Her Majesty's laboratories, where very nefarious things might happen.

With me so far? Evelina is in love with Imogen's brother Tobias, Lord Bancroft's heir, but knows full well that he is far above her station. Also he's a total rake. Unexpectedly, her childhood sweetheart Nick shows up in her room. He still works at the circus, and has magic abilities of his own. Magic that when he and Evelina get close to each other spark so strongly that it would be impossible for them to ever hide it. Hence they are doomed as a couple too. A servant girl is murdered, and Evelina tries to investigate, hoping that the case might be solved before scandal befalls her friend's family. Lord Bancroft orders Tobias to seduce Evelina to keep her from investigating, but he refuses, because he genuinely likes her, and won't ruin her reputation.

This is not regular Victorian England, but a steam-punky version with unusual mechanical innovations, where the whole country is divided into regions controlled by the Steam Barons, who decide who's allowed steam, coal and gas and discourage any unauthorised mechanical development or independent inventions. Magic exists, but is feared and magic users are persecuted.

There is a lot of potential in this book. I'm just not sure that this book needed the protagonist to be Sherlock Holmes' niece. I get that he's the most famous Victorian detective, and currently extremely fashionable, with the films, directed by Guy Richie, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, the excellent modern takes in BBC's Sherlock, and (in my opinion, the not as brilliant but still very enjoyable) American Elementary. It still feels to me that if you're going to all the trouble of creating an alternate Victorian England, with very interesting magics and Steampunk and the power struggle between lords of industry and the actual nobles, you don't really need ties to other fiction. Couldn't Evelina just have been the niece of some fictional great detective?

Still, as I said, there is a lot to like. In the beginning, I found the book a bit hard going, because there is a vast gallery of characters, and many of them get a point of view in the book. There is a whole load of info dumping, while very well done, to make us realise that this isn't just regular Victorian England, and there's the murder mystery, and another complicated scheme involving one of the steam barons, and a stolen Greek artifact and it all seemed a bit overwhelming at first.

Once I got about a third of the way in, and everything was set in motion, though, I really enjoyed the book. The world building is very creative, and excellently done. Holloway has clearly done her historical research very well, and her cast of characters, while sizable, is nuanced and interesting. There is a strong and genuine friendship between Evelina and Imogen, and while I am normally wary of love triangles, both Tobias and Nick are undoubtedly very attractive young men, and it's understandable why Evelina would be drawn to both of them, yet distressed because neither of them, due to societal expectations, and her own forbidden magical powers, are a realistic option for her. I'm very much looking forward to how the story plays out in the rest of the trilogy.

#CBR5 Book 126. "Anna and the French Kiss" by Stephanie Perkins

Page count: 386 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Anna Oliphant doesn't want to go to school in Paris. She's not sure why her father (who basically seems to be a thinly veiled parody of Nicholas Sparks) has enrolled her in a boarding school there. She had perfectly nice life in Atlanta with her mum and little brother, a great best friend, a very promising crush on one of the guys she works with at the local multiplex. Now she's a continent away from everyone she loves, surrounded by clever and cool teenagers who all know the school really well. She doesn't even speak French! Then she meets Étienne St. Clair, who is helpful, generous, charming, smart and gorgeous. Of course, he has a girlfriend. And even if he didn't, her new friend Meredith also obviously has a crush on him. So Anna is unlikely to experience any French kissing from him, right?

Now, at the start of the book, I was torn between wanting to slap some sense into Anna, and give her a hug. Her excessive whining that her pompous, somewhat emotionally unavailable, but very rich father has see fit to send her to a posh boarding school in Paris, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, is pretty much what you'd find in the dictionary as an example of first world problem. Yet at the same time, she's never been away from home before and she's an insecure teenage girl, and now she's half a world away from everyone and everything she knows, in a foreign country full of culture and sophistication. It speaks to her dad's cluelessness that he'd send his daughter to a boarding school in a country where she doesn't even speak the language. As someone who voluntarily moved to Scotland to go to University when I was eighteen, and had some pretty big culture shocks, I can understand and symphatise, because Anna's situation is so much scarier.

Luckily, Meredith, the girl in the room next to Anna comforts her when she hears her crying through the wall, and Anna soon makes a group of very good friends, one of whom is St. Clair (no one really calls him Étienne). Realising that he's completely out of her reach, Anna denies her crush as much as she can, but they have undeniable chemistry, and the more time they spend together, the more obvious it is that he's not entirely uninterested in her either. Yet he seems completely devoted to Ellie, his girlfriend who graduated the year before. And Anna has Toph back in Atlanta, who she may have a chance of a real relationship with.

This is a great YA book, with a friendship turning slowly more and more romantic, full of awkward moments, embarrassment and near misses. For all that they are great characters, both Anna and St. Clair had me shouting at the book, because they keep doing the exactly wrong thing and sabotaging their happy ending. The description of a close friendship that turns into something more romantic is so very well done. I was very good friends with my now husband before I woke up one day, realising that I was in love with him, and it was nerve-wracking to think I might ruin our friendship if I told him I fancied him and he didn't like me back. Also, he'd been dating another good friend of mine for a week. As it turned out, she wanted to date someone else, and he did like me back and this is our thirteenth year together. But this book hit a lot of right notes for me.

It helps that the supporting cast of characters are so much fun too. Anna's friendship with her bestie in Atlanta, Bridgette, is complicated when she returns home for Christmas break, but she makes some great friends at the School of America in Paris. As is only appropriate in a high school setting, even though it's in beautiful Paris, there are also antagonists with bitchy mean girls and douchy guys to fully round out the setting. I've been seeing this book raved about on a number of review sites for years, and my beloved Rainbow Rowell rated it five stars. I'm glad I finally had a chance to read it.

Sunday 6 October 2013

#CBR5 Book 125. "The Native Star" by M.K. Hobson

Page count: 346 pages
Rating. 4 stars

In an alternate Civil War America where magic not only exists, but is changing the world. Warlocks train as elite enforcers for the government, and there are all manner of glorious new inventions helped along by magic. Miss Emily Edwards is a witch living in rural Sierra Nevada, trying to compete against the shiny promises of mail order patent magics. Her adopted father, who taught her everything she knows, is now blind, and they're facing starvation and possibly worse unless Emily comes up with something clever soon. In her desperation, she casts a love spell on the most prosperous settler in town, but it backfires badly, and when she finds herself with a magical stone embedded in her hand, she's forced to leave town quickly before she's driven out.

Reluctantly accepting the aid of the pompous and and condescending college-trained New York warlock Dreadnought Stanton (who was sent to Emily's little town for unknown reasons), Emily finds herself pursued by several different factions of warlocks, all wanting the magical artifact she carries. They travel from San Francisco across the country, with their straits becoming more and more dire and their enemies more ruthless the closer they get to New York.

September's alt pick in Vaginal Fantasy Hangout turned out to be a very enjoyable book, if somewhat less raunchy than some of the books selected in the book club. While the book is set in an alternate universe, which isn't so much Steampunk as Magic-punk, and in America, rather than in Victorian England, which is so often the case, there is a lot to enjoy for a reader of inventive historical fiction. Emily makes some questionable choices at the beginning of the book, but it's clear that she does so out of sheer desperation, and she certainly has a whammy of karmic backlash because of her rash actions. Of unknown parentage, she ended up in the tiny village of Lost Pine when her dying mother, fleeing from some unknown threat, left her there as a child. Adopted by the local warlock, she's not particularly worldly, and not at all bothered with all the points of propriety and etiquette a young unmarried woman should probably consider. Having grown up in a tiny mountain community, she's also rather ignorant and sheltered about the ways of others. When they encounter a tribe of native Americans, she's both fearful and downright racist at first.

She obviously shouldn't travel alone and unchaperoned with a near stranger, but needs must. The amazingly named Dreadnought Stanton is not exactly the travel companion she may have wished for, but he knows that the stone mysteriously lodged in her hand is important, and offers her money enough to help her father if she accompanies him to his mentor, so they can investigate the artifact further. Stanton starts the book as judgemental, supercilious, arrogant and condescending. He believes his own modern magical ways far superior to those of backwoods practitioners like Emily and Mr. Edwards. Despite his stuffiness and reserve, he clearly grows very protective of Emily, and determines to get her to New York safely, no matter what the cost.

For a debut novel, this has a very elaborate and well-plotted story, and the various magic systems featured over the course of the book were great. Neither branch of magic is presented as intrinsically worse than the others, although the evil warlocks seem to favour sinister blood magic and aren't afraid to kill to get what they want. I liked a post Civil War world where technology is being developed with the help of magic as well as science, and that there were factions within the book who equate magic with the Devil and want nothing to do with it. This is the first book in a series, so there are a number of mysteries, such as that of Emily's true parentage, set up. Not all of these things are resolved, but I'm assuming they will be later in the series.

Emily and Stanton travel across country, facing a great number of challenges, and obviously grow closer over the course of their journey. There is an underlying romantic subplot, but it's very gradually and so subtly developed, until the unresolved sexual tension is intense. It seems absolutely impossible at the start of the book that either main character would have any romantic interest in the other, but by the end of the book, it's quite obvious that they're a great match. I'd never heard of M.K. Hobson or her books before this, but will absolutely check out more books in the series, to find out what happens next.

#CBR5 Book 124. "The Dream Thieves" by Maggie Stiefvater

Page count: 416 pages
Rating: 4 stars

This is the second book in The Raven Cycle, which according to Stiefvater's homepage is going to be four books in total. This is not a series where the books stand alone, so if you haven't already read The Raven Boys, you should probably start there. My review of it is nice and non-spoilery, if you want to read why you should really give it a chance. If you haven't yet read it, you may want to give this review a miss, as I can't actually review The Dream Thieves without referring to some pretty spoilery things that happen during the course of the first book. So somewhere else - say a library, to find a copy of book one.

Still here? Then I'm not to blame if you get stuff spoiled. Stiefvater's Raven Cycle has a bit of an ensemble cast, really, and given the way this book was structured, I suspect that each book in the series is going to focus more on one or a couple of the characters, with the rest taking a backseat for a while. Let's recap - in The Raven Boys we were introduced to Blue Sargent, an independent teenager raised in a household full of psychic women, yet her only ability is to amplify their visions. She's known since she was little that if she kisses her true love, he will die. Not that she had anything to worry about, until she met the four boys from the preppy Aglionby Academy who have now become her good friends.

Gansey, Adam, Ronan and Noah. Richard Gansey III, the golden child scholar obsessed with finding the tomb of an obscure Welsh king. Adam Parrish, raised in a trailer, son of an abusive alcoholic, who holds down three jobs to afford the Academy, so he can become an important someone and get the hell out of Henrietta, and who struggles so desperately to hold in all his anger and avoid becoming like his own father. Noah Czerny, who's a ghost, and fades in and out depending on the power fluctuations in the little town. Last but not least, the vicious and volatile Ronan Lynch, whose father was brutally beaten to death, and who can reach into his dreams and bring things out of them, if he concentrates hard enough. Of course, not all of the things in Ronan's dreams are benevolent - some are nightmare visions with sharp teeth and claws and want to rend Ronan limb from limb.

We see and get to know more of Blue's eclectic family. Her mother Maura, her aunt Calla, her cousin Orla, the waifish Persephone. There's a mysterious and rather threatening new visitor in Henrietta - the Grey Man, who shows up on Declan Lynch (Ronan's older brother)'s doorstep and beats the snot out of him. The gang are still looking for Glendower, after performing the ritual to wake the ley line at the end of the last book, but Cabeswater, the mystical forest where they were looking, appears to have disappeared entirely. Adam is experiencing strange sensations after the ritual, and is growing more an more ambivalent about his relationship to Gansey. He loves his friend, but can't help but see what vastly different worlds they come from. While initially attracted to Adam, Blue is growing ever closer to Gansey, despite the ominous vision she had of him walking with the other ghosts on St. Mark's Eve.

Yet this book is Ronan's book. Such an angry, nearly feral boy, with such amazing abilities. Ronan has many secrets, not least the fact that he can be extremely generous when he wants to be. Blue, Adam and Gansey had centre stage in The Raven Boys, but here we really get to share Ronan's headspace, and that's not always a good place to be. His erratic and often startling behaviour becomes a lot more clear once you realize what sort of environment he grew up in, and how difficult it's been for him since his father was murdered. While I was unsure of Ronan in the last book, I now regard him with as much affection as I do the other four. I really hope poor Noah gets further exploration in a later book, as he's so far the one who's got the short shrift every time.

When Stiefvater is on form, she writes such great books. The first book introduced the characters and the paranormal fantasy world where magic is very much real. While I love Blue and her raven boys, the books are just as engrossing and fun to read when it focuses on the other supporting characters and takes the reader further into the strange and wonderful story, with mysteries and developments which just get more complex and enticing. The mysteries keep coming, and several of the characters seem like there is tragedy rather than a happy ending in their future. I'm gutted that I now have a whole year to wait to get the third book, and that I won't get to read the conclusion to this excellent series until 2015.

Saturday 5 October 2013

#CBR5 Book 123. "The Bitter Kingdom" by Rae Carson

Page count: 448 pages
Rating: 4 stars

This is the third and final book in the Fire and Thorns trilogy, and as such, it's not where you want to start reading the series. The first book, The Girl of Fire and Thorns is the place to begin. This review will inevitably contain spoilers for the previous two books in the series, and will also, in part, be my review of the series as a whole.

The Bitter Kingdom starts where The Crown of Embers ended, with young queen regent Elisa's kingdom on the brink of civil war, and her Captain of the Guard (and the man she'd finally admitted that she loved and decided to marry) taken hostage by soldiers from neighbouring Invierno, who want the Godstone in her belly and are using Hector as bait to get her to follow them into their country. Accompanied by only a former freedom fighter/assassin, her lady in waiting and a failed Invierno sorcerer, Elisa needs to catch up with the soldiers, rescue Hector, figure out what is actually going on with the Invierno sorcerers, and find a way to defeat the rebellious nobles who are trying to destabilise her country and usurp her throne.

When the trilogy starts, Elisa is sixteen, chubby, innocent, naive, pampered and has lived an extremely sheltered life. In one year she is married off to ensure a political alliance, kidnapped by rebels, becomes a guerrilla freedom fighter, falls in love, sees her beloved killed in front of her, is widowed, becomes Queen Regent for her young stepson, has to fight off hordes of pesky suitors, has to try to stem the civil unrest in her country, go on a quest to a possibly mythical, magic location, locate said location, and deal with the betrayal of a long-time family retainer. Then she decides to mount an invasion and rescue mission aided by only three others, all the while knowing that she may be losing her throne to a deceitful member of her Royal Council.

She's come a very long way, and changed a huge amount over the course of the year the books are set over. Because everyone around her tried to keep her ignorant and sheltered, she's become fiercely determined not to be kept in the dark, and does all she can to educate herself about her unusual situation. While completely inexperienced at ruling at first, she develops into a good scholar, skilled tactician, brave fighter, affectionate stepmother, beloved regent, shrewd negotiator and loyal and steadfast friend. Above all, over the course of the trilogy, we see these things happen gradually. Elisa is by no means a Mary Sue who starts out perfect and talented and beloved by all. She goes though a number of hardships and is tempered by them, emerging stronger with each new challenge. She's a good role model for young readers, both male and female. She doesn't wait around for others to solve her problems, or rescue her. She saves herself and those she loves, willing to risk her own life for others.

The supporting cast is well fleshed out, with a number of entertaining individuals with strong personalities and lives of their own. The world building is also done well, with the aspects of each new society slowly revealed with a number of nuances, so that even the initially evil and ruthless-seeming Invierno being shown as just another different culture with good motivations for their hostile actions. The various religious beliefs and the accompanying magic systems are also really fascinating. The Bitter Kingdom is a good and satisfying ending to the trilogy, and I can't wait to go back and re-read all three books as a completed whole.

Thursday 3 October 2013

Mount TBR Reading Challenge: Mountaineering Checkpoint #3

September is over and done with, and I've been taking part in the Mount TBR Reading Challenge for 9 months now. At the start of the year, I set myself the goal of reading at least 24 books from my To Be Read list - known as Mount Blanc. As my reading this year has gone beyond all my expectations, and I've really dug into my shelved books, I've managed a lot more so far than I expected, and I've been able to upgrade my goal not once, but twice.

1. How far up the mountain have you made it (how many books have you read so far?) At the end of September, I have actually so far read 49 books on my TBR list, meaning that I've not only completed my original goal of Mount Blanc (24 books), but my second goal of Mt. Vancouver (36 books), and amazingly enough, I've even cleared Mt. Ararat (48 books). If I keep going like this, I should be able to at least complete Mt. Kilimanjaro at the end of the year (60 books).

2. Who has been my favourite character so far, and why?
Victoria Wright from The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls was a wonderful character. While she's really quite horrible at the start of the book, you can't help but grow to like her as she goes on a very dangerous quest to save her best friend. Harry Rutledge from Tempt Me at Twilight is probably my favourite romance hero in a historical romance, whilst Beatrix Hathaway from Love in the Afternoon is most likely my favourite romance heroine. Taylor Markham and Jonah Griggs in Jellicoe Road are my favourite romantic couple, and probably my favourite YA characters so far this year.

3. What has been the most difficult book to complete so far, and why?
Without a doubt Anna Karenina, because it was so long and dense, and just different from what I was actually expecting. So much of the book has absolutely nothing to do with the doomed romance of Anna and Vronsky, and there are hundreds of pages devoted to reforms in farming, and stuffy political debates, and I only really finished it out of sheer determination to get it off my TBR list for good.

4. Which book read so far has been on your TBR the longest?
Anna Karenina is also the book that had been on my list the longest, as I first tried to read the book when I was about fifteen. I didn't buy the book myself until much later, having determined that I was going to read at least some of the great Russian classics. If I was less stubborn, I probably would have just decided to give it up, but now I can at least say that I've read it, and I never have to read it again.

#CBR5 Book 122. "Scoundrel's Kiss" by Carrie Lofty

Page count: 342 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Gavriel de Marqueda is trying to put his old life as enforcer, thug and hired killer for his ungrateful family. He's sought refuge with a monastic order, swearing vows of chastity, obedience and non-violence. He only needs to succeed in one last task to be accepted as a full member of the order. However, the test he is set might prove to make him break every one of his new vows.

Ada of Keyworth is far away from her English home. She's risking her position as translator to an influential Spanish noblewoman because of her all-consuming craving for opium. When Ada is about to be sold into slavery because of her debts, her young friend begs Gavriel and the other monastic brothers to save her. Gavriel's final task will be to wean Ada off her addiction. Ada resents him immensely, and is determined to escape his care. She also determines to ruin any chance he has of becoming a monk.

Set in 13th Century Spain during the Reconquista (the re-conquering of Spain from the Muslims), Scoundrel's Kiss has a vastly different setting from most romances out there on the market. Instead of Regency ballrooms during the Season, this book takes place mostly in the countryside and small towns of  Medieaval Spain. The heroine has a genuine and debilitating addiction which she's willing to do almost anything to feed, not caring whether it affects her work, her reputation or what it does to her friends. Any time she goes without for any period of time, she has horrible nightmares and suffers dreadful withdrawal. It's a weakness and a character flaw, but Lofty makes you see that there was little she could do to avoid the addiction, having started to take the opium for pain after being held captive and tortured. It also makes her determination never to be held against her will more understandable.

Unfortunately, while the above things were good and different, I didn't really emotionally engage with the book all that much. While Ada's character was somewhat unusual, and fairly well drawn, most of the supporting characters, to a certain extent Gavriel as well, remained more like ciphers. The villains, especially, were rather cartoonish, and both their motivations and their plotting towards the end of the book caused more confusion than tension. I also thought the romance developed in a rather haphazard way. Obviously, in the beginning Gavriel fights very hard to resist Ada, who in return is determined to tempt him into sin, first out of spite and later out of genuine attraction. His decision to abandon his sworn vows comes very suddenly, and seems a bit arbitrary, frankly. So despite the interesting premise and attempts at doing something different in the genre, this book really didn't work for me, and will probably be quickly forgotten.