Monday 31 March 2014

#CBR6 Book 28: "Between the Devil and Ian Eversea" by Julie Anne Long

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Miss Titania "Tansy" Danforth is all alone in the world. Her beloved brother was a soldier who died in the war of 1812, and her parents died in a carriage accident. Now she's had to leave the home she knew in New York to travel back to England, where she hasn't lived since she was a little girl. Her father's will states that she'll not have her fortune released until she marries a man approved by her new guardian, her father's cousin, the fearsome Duke of Falconbridge. Preferably someone rich in his own right and suitably titled. Tansy knows she's very beautiful and wields her charm like a weapon. She's determined that every man in Sussex will fall at her feet, but the one man who truly takes her own breath away, seems to be completely unmoved by her.

Ian Eversea has never really been able to settle down after the war. He's plagued by nightmares and restlessness and hopes that maybe exploring the world will solve some of his worries. He has about a month left until he leaves for his great journey when Tansy Danforth arrives in Pennyroyal Green, as his brother-in-law, Falconbridge's ward. A woman Falconbridge sees fit to warn Ian to stay specifically away from, or there may be dire consequences. Well aware of his checkered past where Falconbridge is concerned (see What I Did for a Duke, number 15 in my top romances of all time), Ian promises to leave the girl alone. It's not like she needs any more male attention, with most of the single, and quite a few of the married, men of the region making complete fools of themselves for a flattering glance and a kind word from the girl. Is Ian the only one who notices how rehearsed and forced Tansy's charm and flattery is? What is the woman really up to?

Tansy is achingly lonely, and knows that her chief asset is her stunning looks. She's deeply vulnerable and insecure, and in making the men around her fawn over her charm and beauty, she at least gets to be the centre of attention at social gatherings. She's an orphan, not even allowed to choose her own husband, lest she risk losing her fortune if she picks the wrong man. Her childhood home in Sussex is for sale, she's had to leave the only home she knows in America. Her new guardian is terrifying and has a scary reputation, yet is clearly disgustingly happy with his own young wife. When the Everseas, who have so kindly taken her in, all clam up about the rascal brother Ian, she becomes desperately curious, and when they finally meet, he makes her go clumsy, tongue-tied and flustered, pretty much the way the majority of men act around her, in fact. As he displays so little interest in her, she's all the more determined to find a way to charm him.

Ian is a rogue and a ladies' man, quite happy to stay unattached. He never makes women promises or feels the need to secure their affection with gifts. The war scarred him, both physically and emotionally and he's just biding his time until he can set off on his round the world journey. Accidentally assigned the room next to Tansy's, he's able to observe her, without her seeing him, on her balcony at night, and he sees a very different woman from the one most of the world is witness to. He's quite happy to respect Falconbridge's wishes and stay away from the flirt, until her ruthless charm offencive threatens to hurt his beloved sister. He calls Tansy on her recklessness and her studied flirtations, only to discover that she sees right through his defencive behaviour too.

Julie Anne Long is quite happy to let the reader believe, as Ian and several others around him do, that Tansy is a vain and shallow flirt with nothing on her mind but turning men's heads. She only gradually reveals Tansy's loneliness, the suffering she's gone through, and her knowledge that her parents always preferred her brother to her. For more than half of the book, I really wasn't sure what I though of her, or if she had much of a personality at all. It seemed that Tansy's main character trait was that she was stunningly gorgeous, which in the grand scheme of things didn't seem all that impressive. Yet at the reader, along with Ian, gets to know Tansy, it's clear that she is, as I've mentioned, lonely, quite insecure, adrift in a new country and desperately looking for love, security and a home she can call her own.

Another thing I loved in this book was the return of the Duke of Falconbridge, and his young wife Genevieve, from What I Did for a Duke. Despite there being a nearly twenty year age difference between the two, they are among my favourite couples in romance, and seeing them again, some time after their HEA has been established was great fun. I loved that although happily married, the duke is still seen as stern, scary and generally, as Mrs. Julien put it, "magnificently disagreeable". Only after several nerve wracking interviews with him does Tansy discover that the man may in fact have a wicked sense of humour and that there are good reasons why he and her father were so close.

I don't really want to spoil anything regarding Ian's history with Falconbridge, and you certainly don't need to have read any of Long's earlier romances to enjoy this one. However, it is an absolutely amazing book, so you may want to consider reading it before picking up this one, just because it will give you a complete picture of the complicated family relationships here, and show just how far Ian has developed as a character over time.

There is also a minor subplot involving Ian's sister, Olivia Eversea, which keeps running throughout Long's Pennyroyal Green books. One part in a star-crossed romance with Lyon Redmond (the other prominent family in the little village), the last few books seem to suggest that she may be moving on with her life. As Long herself has said that Olivia and Lyon's story will be the last one she tells, I'm going to be interested in seeing how far this develops before that book comes out.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Friday 28 March 2014

#CBR6 Book 27: "The Secret History of the Pink Carnation" by Lauren Willig

Page count: 464 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Eloise Kelly is an American history student trying to find material for her dissertation in England. Enamoured with the dashing gentleman spies of the late 18th and early 19th Century, like the Scarlet Pimpernel and his successor the Purple Gentian, what Eloise really wants to do is unmask the identity of the most elusive spy of all, the Pink Carnation, who is rumoured to have stopped Napoleon's invasion of England in 1803.

When Eloise is allowed to browse through a cache of letters and diaries belonging to a descendant of the Purple Gentian himself, a Mrs. Selwick-Alderly, she's pretty sure she's hit the jackpot. The documents tell the story of Miss Amy Balcourt, half French and determined to join the league of the Purple Gentian. When her brother, a member of Napoleon's court, invites her back to Paris, Amy is sure that she will finally get her chance to be a spy and help the dashing Gentian foil Napoleon and restore the French monarchy. She travels to France with her brilliant cousin Jane and the formidable Miss Gwen, their chaperone.

On the boat to Calais, she meets Lord Richard Selwick, who the reader already knows is the Purple Gentian. Having grown up on a neighbouring estate to Sir Percy Blakeney, Selwick succeeded the Scarlet Pimpernel as England's most famous spy when Blakeney's true identity was revealed. His cover is that of an expert in antiquities, curating Egyptian treasures for Napoleon, usually boring anyone suspicious of his activities to tears with his dry and long winded lectures. Amy, very well versed in the classics and history herself, is fascinated with Selwick's stories at first, but becomes appalled when she realises he works for Napoleon. She considers him a traitor, and vows to avoid him as much as possible.

Of course, Selwick and Amy keep running into each other. Selwick is soon forced to admit that he's falling in love with Amy, who in turn is infatuated with the Purple Gentian. Selwick is his own rival. Meanwhile, because his feelings for Amy are making him careless, Delaroche, determined to unmask and arrest the Purple Gentian, is getting closer to achieving his goal.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation is the first of what appears to be a fairly long series of books about flower-monikered spies trying to stop Napoleon in the early 19th Century. It's a mix between contemporary chick lit and historical adventure romance, and the combination works better than I thought it would. The framing device is Eloise's quest to find primary sources for her dissertation, but most of the book is the story of how the Lord Richard Selwick, the Purple Gentian, is unmasked because his love of Amy Balcourt, and how the Pink Carnation, a new spy on the scene, foils Napoleon's plot to invade England.

Willig herself admits to taking some pretty big liberties with the historical details in the afterword of her book, so if you're a stickler for accurate details, then you may want to avoid these books. If you, like me, adore books like The Scarlet Pimpernel and care more about being entertained by a good adventure story than whether certain historical details are a bit fudged, you should possibly check the book out. Especially if you think that The Scarlet Pimpernel would have been an even more awesome book if Marguerite actually had a more pro-active role and didn't just end up being girl hostage.

There are some great female characters in this book, not just Amy and her cousin Jane. Selwick's mother and sister are also hilarious. The men are not the only ones allowed to perform daring acts of espionage and adventure here. Level headed women are essential in saving the day. The framing device with Eloise was probably my least favourite part, with her butting heads with Colin Selwick, Mrs. Selwick-Alderly's nephew, a handsome but arrogant man determined to keep her from finding out his family's secrets. Of course he's gorgeous, and it's obvious to me that Eloise is going to fall for him in later books. Still, I'll happily read through a few chapters of the modern framing story if it gives me more adventures in 19th Century France. I'd seen the books mentioned on a number of romance review blogs like Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and All About Romance in the past, but never really felt like trying them until now. I'm very glad I finally did. The next book appears to focus on Richard's younger sister Henrietta and one of his best friends, Miles. They had some pretty awesome banter going in the first book, and I can't wait to see how they go from friends to lovers.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR6 Book 26: "Turn Coat" by Jim Butcher

Page count. 545 pages
Audio book length: 14 hrs 37 mins
Rating: 4 stars

This is the eleventh book in the Dresden Files. You don't want to start with this one, there's far too much in the book building on stuff already established. I'd recommend anyone new to the books to start with book 4. The first three were a complete slog to get through for me. The audio book versions, read by James Marsters, are all highly recommended. 

Harry Dresden is extremely surprised when Morgan, the wizard whose probably shown the most animosity towards Harry in the past, shows up at his doorstep and asks for his help. Morgan has been accused of murdering one of the wizards on the senior council. He was found over the murder victim with the murder weapon in his hand, and there was six million dollars wired into his account just before the murder was committed. He knows no one would suspect him of asking Harry for aid, and he also knows that Harry may be the only one who can help him track down the real murderer.

Harry is hesitant to help Morgan at first, after all, the man has tried to kill him several times. He realises that for Morgan to have been framed, there must be a traitor high up in the ranks of the White Council and that's going to have farther reaching consequences than just Morgan being executed for a crime he didn't commit. Of course, by sheltering Morgan from the White Council, Harry is risking his own life, and that of Molly, his apprentice.

The idea that there are a number of supernatural entities and wizards who have set themselves up as an opposing force to the White Council has been slowly building over the course of several of the previous books in the series. Harry has taken to calling them the Black Council. With Morgan being framed for murder, it's clear that the Black Council have people infiltrating the higher ranks of the White Council and it's becoming harder and harder to know who to trust.

As well as trying to keep Morgan hidden from the White Council while he's attempting to clear his name, Harry also has to fight a scary Native American Skinwalker who has arrived in Chicago. When aided by his werewolf friends, the fight with the malevolent shapeshifter takes a terrible toll and later in the book, the creature captures Thomas. Harry has to ally with Lara Wraith to try to get him back.

I like that Butcher gave Morgan a bit more nuance, without changing him too much from the rigid and suspicious man we've met in earlier books. Always one for following the rules, even at great cost to himself, Morgan's outlook is pretty much the direct opposite of Harry's in many ways. It's also made clear to Harry, over the course of the book, how some of his actions the last few years and events in the previous few books might have been interpreted by others. He suffers losses in this book, some not as easily brushed off as others. Things are changing in Harry's world, becoming less black and white and a whole lot more complicated. I hope not all of the changes are permanent, that would make me very sad indeed.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Thursday 27 March 2014

#CBR6 Book 25: "Stay with Me" by Elyssa Patrick

Page count: 276 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Disclaimer! I was granted a copy of this through NetGalley. I have not recieved any kind of compensation for this review.

Hailey Bloom has been a movie star and a recording artist since she was a child, but has finally torn herself away from her controlling, manipulative, fame hungry mother and is pursuing her own dream of going to college. Not one of the really big famous ones, where she might still get lots of attention, but a small one in Vermont. She wants to stay out of the limelight, manage on her own and discover what she actually wants to do with her life. She's finding college more difficult than expected, and several of her professors seem to just be waiting for the spoiled teen starlet to fail. She's not having an easy time making friends.

She meets hunky Caleb Fox at a party, and he seems completely unphased by her fame. While Hailey doesn't really want any romantic entanglements, after a few run-ins with him, it's obvious that she can't stay away. His friends and room mates are handsome, charming and good natured, and welcome Hailey into their circle happily. Caleb's younger sister also proves to be both a good friend to her, and helps her out with tutoring so she can actually pass all her classes. But Hailey knows that her mother is unhappy about her decision to break away, and fears she may contact the press with juicy secrets that might make Hailey's life difficult indeed. Will Caleb still love her if he finds out her deepest, darkest secret?

The blurb for this book makes it seem a lot angstier and conflict filled than it is. I'm not going to spoil what Hailey's deep dark secret is, but I was pretty underwhelmed when it was finally revealed, considering how much agonising she'd done about it being revealed. Also, even if this wasn't a romance, with a guaranteed happy ending, Caleb would have had to be the world's most insensitive, dumbest and generally supremely unworthy of the hero tag to reject Hailey after the secret is revealed. Cause it's really not that big a deal, I promise.

It also seems as if the deep dark secret is in the book at all for the author to have some sort of tension in the relationship and the story, and as it is, it blows over instantly. I have no idea why Hailey's so worried. Caleb and all his friends seem to adore her and welcome her into their social circle with open arms. His youngest sisters are huge fans of hers but never behave obnoxiously towards her. His parents are warm, super supportive and invite her to family events like Thanksgiving and Christmas. She may have a harpy of a mother, but Hailey sure strikes gold when she goes to college. Apart from some slightly harsh comments from fellow students or lecturers who doubt her commitment to her education, everyone seems almost unnaturally nice at this little Vermont college. I wish I'd gone there. I was never a child star or celebrity with a deep dark secret, but feel that my time at University was more fraught with difficulty than what Hailey goes through here.

This story is basically girl with issues that are hinted at, but not really developed well enough by the author meets hunky, sensitive awesome guy with a great group of friends and an even greater family. They fall in love. They have quite a bit of sex. That's all there is here. It's not bad, but it's not exactly profound either. Because I really liked Caleb's little sister, Daphne, I may check out the next book in the series, where I'm assuming she will get together with Caleb's best friend. She pretty much stole every scene she was in, and I'm hoping that her story may have more to it than Hailey's.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR6 Book 24: "Hero" by Alethea Kontis

Page count: 304 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Saturday Woodcutter believes she is the only one of her many siblings without any magic, until the day when she throws a mirror out of the window in a rage, and conjures an ocean in the backyard. Because one of her brothers has run away and Saturday believes her ocean may have drowned him, she grabs her trusty axe (which has decided to change shape into a sword for the time being) and sets sail on her sister Thursday's pirate ship in order to try to locate him again. She's abducted by a giant bird and taken to an icy cave, towards the top of the highest mountain in the world. The blind witch there isn't actually all that skilled at magic and was attempting to kidnap Saturday's eldest brother, the adventurous Jack Woodcutter, who's the man who stole the witch's eyes in the first place.

Saturday is advised to keep silent about her true identity by Peregrine, a cross-dressing young man also trapped at the top of the mountain. The witch believes him to be her daughter, after the foolish young noble accepted a wish from what he thought was a kindly fairy. The wish was in fact a curse, and it allowed the witch's daughter to escape her mountain home, forcing Peregrine to take her place instead. He's lost track of the years he's spent there, trying to foil the witch's many plots. Peregrine dreams of breaking free of the curse and going back to his betrothed, who he believes he's seen in visions through much of his time in captivity. Imagine his surprise when he realises that the fearless warrior woman he's seen in visions and dreams is in fact Saturday.

Saturday, in turn, doesn't see why romance needs to have any part in her adventure, although she can't deny that she likes kissing Peregrine. To rescue him, and escape the mountain, it looks like she's going to have to kill the witch, who's dangerously close to opening a portal to a hell dimension. Of course, killing the witch may wake the slumbering dragon on the mountain top and kill them all. What's an adventurous young lady to do? It's not easy being a hero.

This is a sequel to Enchanted, where we first meet the Woodcutter family, and Saturday's youngest sister Sunday falls in love with a frog prince. Alethea Kontis doesn't really retell just the one fairy tale, instead mixing all sorts of elements from fairy stories, mythology, folk lore and adventure stories in a blender and throwing the results together into exciting young adult fantasy stories. While Sunday's story was sweet, I think I liked Saturday's story even more, as the gender reversal of the characters in this book really appealed to me.

Saturday is tall, and not particularly feminine, and comes from a family blessed with a number of magical gifts, without believing herself to have any. She's got an enchanted axe, and has been working with her woodcutter father and brother in the woods for much of her life. With a brother whose legendary for his quests and adventures, several sisters married to royalty and one who's off on the high seas being a pirate, Saturday never really imagined she'd get to leave on an exciting journey on her own. She's pragmatic and sensible, and not prone to daydreaming. She certainly never expected to find a man in a skirt, posing as a witch's assistant on the top of a mountain, confessing that he's dreamed about her since very likely decades before she was actually born. That's going to flummox the best of people.

As Saturday discovers on her adventure, you don't always choose to be a hero, sometimes circumstances just force you into it. She's a great character, as is Peregrine, who is a wonderful example of a beta hero, not at all concerned with the idea that Saturday is physically stronger or a more skilled fighter than he is. The curse the witch's daughter cast on him keeps him from aging while he's trapped, and gave him a much more feminine appearance than he was born with. He's learned to adapt to his long hair (which grows back if he tries to cut it) and being forced to dress in skirts, but has hidden every mirror he can find and tries to avoid reflective surfaces. His captivity is a fairly lonely one, especially after Jack Woodcutter managed to escape, having stolen the witch's eyes. His only friend is Betwixt, a chimera also captured by the witch, who's forced to change shape every time the witch does magic, unable to choose his own shape until the witch dies. The two make a wry and humorous odd couple, keeping each other company and trying to foil the witch as best they can.

I applaud Alethea Kontis' imagination and creativity and hope she keeps publishing at least a book a year. There are clearly more books coming in this series, and I hope that while sequels possibly also focus on other members of the Woodcutter family, this is not the the readers see of Saturday, Peregrine and Betwixt.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR6 Book 23: "Princess of the Silver Woods" by Jessica Day George

Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 3 stars

This is the third book in a series, which began with Princess of the Midnight Ball. While you don't really need to have read the second book in the series, Princess of Glass to fully appreciate the book, you should probably have read the first one (or at least be more than passingly familiar with the fairytale of The Twelve Dancing Princesses) to get the full experience of this book, as there are a lot of references to the events of the first book. There will also be mild spoilers for the first book in this review. You have been warned. 

Princess Petunia is the youngest of King Gregor's twelve flower-monikered daughters, and spent the first few years of her childhood dancing every night in the shadowy realms of the King Under Stone. The curse was broken when her eldest sister Rose's now husband Galen figured out a way to defeat the King Under Stone and trap those of his twelve sons that survived in their underground kingdom. Lately, Petunia and her sisters have been having nightmares where they're back, forced to dance with their terrifying suitors. Several of the princesses are wasting away under the strain, and it's obvious that there is still a curse hanging over them.

Petunia is on her way to the estates of a neighbouring Grand Duchess, who seems to want to make a match between the young princess and her grandson, Grigori. On the way through the woods, Petunia's carriage is attacked by highwaymen dressed in wolf masks, and Petunia is abducted once she sees the face of one of bandits. It turns out that the bandits are in fact run by a young Earl, whose lands were lost after the recent war and who's been forced to turn outlaw to support his dependants. Young Oliver knows that he's playing a dangerous game, he's now convinced he's going to be executed, having kidnapped a member of the royal family. Petunia, however, is appalled that her father has just abandoned the Earl and his people, and promises to argue his case, as long as they take her to Grand Duchess Volenskaya as quickly as possible.

Once Petunia arrives at the kindly old grandmother's house, however, it becomes quite obvious that the old lady's benevolence may be masking something more sinister. Shadowy figures roam the gardens and flock around Petunia's window at night. Petunia contacts her sisters, they will have to work together to defeat the new King under Stone and his evil brothers once and for all. Oliver must travel to King Gregor to alert him of the danger to his youngest child, even if it means risking imprisonment and even execution for his crimes.

Princess of the Midnight Ball was a creative retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, while Princess of Glass borrowed heavily from Cinderella. As may be obvious to the reader from the cover, with Petunia in her lovely red cloak, the fairy tale that Princess in the Silver Woods is indebted to, is Red Riding Hood. There's the young girl on her way to a grandmother, who encounters a wolf of sorts in the woods, but those are as far as comparisons can be drawn, really. There are a number of other fairy tale elements in the book, though. There is the dastardly King Under Stone, heir to the original, and his brothers who are still intent on forcing the twelve princesses into marriage, no matter that some of them have husbands in the real world whom they love dearly. There is a wise old crone and enchanted rose bushes and a curse that must be broken. It qualifies nicely for my Monthly Motif Challenge, which this month focuses on fairy tale retellings, but it wasn't, on the whole, one of the most memorable books I've read.

The target audience for Jessica Day George's Princess books is obviously in the lower end of young adult, so they're not meant to necessarily thrill me. I still found both the previous books more entertaining than this, and here parts of the storyline felt a bit stretched, as if the author didn't quite have the idea for a full book, but went ahead and wrote it anyway, to finish off a trilogy. The characters are sweet enough, but I mainly finished this book out of a sense of completion. Hoping that the author does something new and exciting next.

Crossposted at Cannonball Read.

Monday 24 March 2014

#CBR6 Book 22: "When the Marquess Met His Match" by Laura Lee Guhrke

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Lady Belinda Featherstone was a young American heiress whose marriage didn't exactly work out splendidly, with her husband both blatantly cheating on her and squandering as much of her money as possible before having the good grace to die and leave her a widow. Now supporting herself as a matchmaker for other young American heiresses wanting to make a successful match into English nobility, Belinda is determined that none of her charges ever end up making as disastrous a match as she.

So when she is approached by handsome as sin Nicholas Stirling, the rakish Marquess of Trubridge, who is perfectly forthright about his need to marry an heiress, and preferably as quickly as possible, his father having cut off all his funds, Belinda flatly refuses to aid him in any way. She's convinced that Nicholas is as unscrupulous and dissolute as her husband was, and she's not going to help him break the heart of some wealthy young woman. Instead she vows to make his quest for a wife as difficult as possible. Nicholas, baffled at the devious lengths Belinda is willing to go to in order to foil his courtship plans, determines to fight just as unfairly and sets his sights on the young heiress who's currently Belinda's main charge.

Laura Lee Guhrke is absolutely in the third tier of romance authors whose works I enjoy. She writes perfectly enjoyable books, with the occasional more memorable exception, but there is nothing particularly remarkable about them, and she's certainly not one of the authors whose books I pre-order and wait impatiently for. This book started out amusing as the protagonists determined to fight each other, but Nicholas is more interested in seducing Belinda than really quarrelling with her, so the actual adversarial portion of their relationship is over relatively quickly.

The main obstacle to their future happiness is that he needs a rich wife, and believes her to be destitute, while she's determined never to marry again, certainly not to an unscrupulous and charming fortune hunter. Being a shrewd business woman, Belinda is actually ridiculously rich, and Nicholas' dreadful reputation as a rake and a bounder is mostly fabricated to frustrate, goad and provoke his horrible father as much as possible. I did like that once Nicholas discovers the truth about her finances, he's even more determined to prove to her that he can make his own money, and that he's not interested in her for her fortune. One of the things I enjoy with Victorian-set romance is that the nobleman heroes tend to need to diversify and find gainful employment. This is the first in a new series focusing on American heiresses in London, and as this was entertaining enough and I liked the appearance of the woman set to be the next heroine, I will probably be checking it out eventually.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday 23 March 2014

#CBR6 Book 21: "Murder of Crows" by Anne Bishop

Page count: 448 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

This is the second book in the series of The Others. While you get enough information to read it without having read the first one, you should really do yourself a favour and start with Written in Red. It's the best paranormal/urban fantasy book I read last year, and deserves to be read by as many people as possible. This review will also contain minor spoilers for the first one, so you may want to come back and read it once you've finished book 1.

Having survived the assault on the Lakeside Courtyard, and saved the lives of many of the Others living there, Meg Corbyn is now even more beloved of the creatures who live there. They are fiercely protective of her, none more so than the leader of the supernatural creatures, Simon Wolfgard. Their changing relationship is confusing both Meg and Simon, although most of the other inhabitants of the courtyard find it amusing to watch them try to figure each other out. The Lakeside Others and their Meg aren't out of danger yet, however.

Two new drugs are being distributed in towns across the country, with the intent of harming the Others, and further research seems to suggest that they are both manufactured from the blood of cassandra sangues, blood prophets like Meg. There are attacks against shapeshifting Crows in several towns, and Meg keeps having visions about worse to come. The sinister Controller, who used to hold Meg captive wants her either returned to him, or eliminated entirely, to prevent her visions from aiding the Others in any way. The other blood prophets around the country, all captive and exploited for their prophetic ability, seem to see chaos and destruction as a result of the increased hostility from humans towards the supernatural creatures. The Others of Lakeside realise that unscrupulous humans cannot be allowed to control and take advantage of these special young women any longer, and steps must be taken to liberate them.

As I mentioned in my spoiler warning at the top of the review, Written in Red was by far the best paranormal fantasy I read in 2013 and to say that I was excited to read the sequel is an understatement. I can't quite put my finger on why I didn't love this as much as the first one in the series, but for reasons that are too vague for me to be able to properly articulate (real helpful, I know), I don't feel like I can rate the sequel a full five stars. That doesn't mean that Murder of Crows isn't a great book, and I suspect it will be in the top three paranormal books I read this year, depending on how well other favourite authors of mine, like Ilona Andrews and Seanan McGuire, deliver on their next books, coming out later this year.

The very interesting dynamic with the supernatural predators of the world being by far the strongest majority in Bishop's alternate version of North America continues to fascinate me. Making the reader sympathise and side with dangerous, fairly ruthless shapeshifters, vampires and elementals against the humans is a wonderful twist. Not all the humans are bad, of course, there is far more nuance and complexity here. Most of the police officers in Lakeside are willing to go above and beyond the call of duty to keep the peace with the Others, if nothing because they have seen firsthand the devastation that the elementals and creatures like Tess can wreak if the humans keep upping their hostilities and attacks on supernaturals in other parts of Thaisia. While the first book was mainly confined to the Lakeside courtyard and the adjoining town, this book lets the reader get glimpses of the wider world, and the increasing tensions between the humans and the supernatural creatures. It's also obvious that most humans are unaware of that the Others don't just consist of shapeshifters and vampires, but also pretty much all the elemental forces you can imagine, and therefore have no idea what peril they are courting by provoking a war with them.

My favourite parts of these books are probably the smaller, quieter moments of the books with Meg learning to fit into the wider world, making friends with human women and Others alike, or trying to figure out why it's fine for Simon to share her bed as a wolf, but scary and unnerving to her when changes into his human form. There is clearly a romance building between the two, but it's a very slow burning one, with the relationship changing in small increments. Simon is confused and somewhat troubled about his attraction to a human, while Meg, having lived locked up and sheltered for most of her life, abused by her handlers, is having trouble even understanding why being close to Simon's human shape is more difficult to her than his wolf shape. She has so many new things to experience and become accustomed to, attraction just confounds her further.

I haven't been able to find out from Anne Bishop's website or other places online how many books she's planned for this series, whether it's a trilogy or if she has something more elaborate planned. All I know is that I'm completely hooked, and will be pre-ordering the next one as soon as it becomes available.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR6 Book 20: "The Secret Life of Bees" by Sue Monk Kidd

Page count: 375 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Lily Owens grows up isolated, neglected by her father and lonely on a peach farm in Georgia in the 1960s. Her only friend is the woman who acts as her nanny, Rosaleen, a former field hand who's taken care of her since Lily's mother died in a tragic accident when Lily was little more than a toddler. When Rosaleen is forced to flee town after accidentally insulting some white men while on her way to registering to vote, Lily insists on coming with her. They decide to go to Tiburon in South Carolina, as one of the few things Lily has left after her mother is a small icon of a Black Madonna with the place name scrawled on the back.

As they make their way to Tiburon, Lily and Rosaleen discover that the Black Madonna is the logo of the honey produced by the three Boatwright siblings, who take the two in without asking too many probing questions. It is obvious that there is some kind of connection between the Boatwright sisters and Deborah Owens, Lily's mum, but it takes quite some time for Lily to gather up the courage to ask, afraid she'll be disappointed once more.

I was given this book as a birthday gift in 2005, and it's been languishing on my bookshelf ever since. Several friends have borrowed it, even, I just never got round to reading it. So when "life" was one of the key words for February in the Monthly Key Word Challenge this year, and with the book fitting into a whole slew of my other challenges, it felt like it was finally time to pick it up. It was a perfectly inoffensive little book, I just don't entirely think it was what I was in the mood for, and as such, I'm unable to rate it any more highly than I have.

Lily is understandably a character with a lot on her plate. Her mother died when she was little, and it seems clear from her hazy recollections of the event, that Lily is actually the one who accidentally killed her. Her father ignores and neglects her at the best of times, and straight up abuses her at the worst (making her kneel on corn grits until her legs bleed being a favoured punishment). She so desperately wants affection and a place to belong. When she finds the Boatwright sisters, who show her kindness and let her stay with them, she lies and claims to be an orphan, terrified that they're going to send her back to her father.

Lily is only 14, and as such, some of the things that annoyed me about her make perfect sense. Teenagers are frequently irrational and annoying, I should know, I work as a secondary school teacher. I still think her going from being curious about August's nephew to "ZOMG, I love him so much!" in the space of an afternoon a bit sudden, and I think some of her petulance and truculent attitude in the latter half of the book, once she discovers more about her mother, went on for too long and got exasperating. It's a perfectly sweet book, but it wasn't right for me during a rather stressful period. I certainly didn't like it as much as Genericwhitegirl, one of my fellow Cannonballers. I can't say whether the movie is a good adaptation or not, as I haven't seen it, but it looks to have a decent cast.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Saturday 1 March 2014

#CBR6 Book 19: "The Undead Pool" by Kim Harrison

Page count: 512 pages
Rating: 4 stars

This book is book 12 and the penultimate in The Hollows series, with several story lines that have been building throughout the series. It's absolutely NOT the place to start. If you haven't read these, start with Dead Witch Walking. Frankly, if you don't know the series, you'd probably be best just skipping this review.

Rachel is working security for Trent while Quen is on the West Coast. Despite her many former misgivings about working for and with the billionaire, she's been enjoying herself, possibly a bit too much. She's keeps fighting her increasing attraction to Trent, he's engaged to someone else, and would risk losing everything if he broke the alliance off. When a spell badly misfires while they're out on the golf course, Rachel gets worried that there is something wrong with her magic, or that her ley line is badly affected again. It turns out that her exploding the golf ball headed for Trent's head is just one in a long series of magic mishaps all around Cincinatti. Whatever is making the magic react unexpectedly and dangerously, is also affecting the vampire masters around the city and chaos is starting to erupt.

Having investigated, it appears Rachel's ley line is indeed involved, and somehow leaking wild magic, the magic normally only controlled by the elves. It also appears the wild magic is being syphoned off by rogue vampires, in some sort of conspiracy to kill off all the undead vampires in the city. There could be a war brewing between the vampires and the elves, and Rachel and her friends need to stop it.

The last few books of Harrison's Hollows series have focused more on Rachel accepting her identity as the only day walking demon and realising that being a demon doesn't mean she has to be evil or damned. The previous book, Ever After, featured Al, Newt and the other demons quite prominently. In this book, they take more of a back seat, with vampires, elves and werewolves taking centre stage. With the undead vampire masters asleep, their living vampire minions start exploiting their sudden freedom and there is a rogue group calling themselves Free Vampires want to kill off all the old undead masters. They've figured out a way to use wild magic to their advantage, and as wild magic is the kind controlled by the elves. The fact that Trent hasn't heard anything shows how much his recent dealings with Rachel have put him out of the confidences of the power factions among his own people.

It was nice to see supporting characters like Ivy and David featuring more prominently again, as well as Captain Edden. I also liked finding out more about the elven hierarchy and religion, but the best part of the book to me is, without a doubt, the changing relationship between Rachel and Trent. Trenton Aloysious Kalamack (I love the middle names Harrison gives her characters) has come a long way from the ruthless and unscrupulous villain who kept Rachel trapped in a cage (she was a mink at the time) in the first book. He's always been an interesting character, prone to steal every scene he's in, this series has been just as much about Trent redeeming himself, as it's been about Rachel growing up, discovering who she really is and how her unique heritage makes her so important to several of the supernatural races.

Over the course of the previous eleven books, Rachel's had several love interests, but her chemistry with Trent, even when they were bitter enemies, has always been undeniable. Yet it wasn't until they were forced to spend three days together on a road trip in Pale Demon that it was obvious that the two were perfect for each other. Yet it's quite clear that a lot of sacrifices will have to be made for them to have a chance together.

By the time Charlaine Harris got to her book 12, I was desperately ready for her to finish the series, and pretty much just stuck with it to see how it would end. Harrison has had some ups and downs in her series too, but generally, I've always at least enjoyed the books, and at best, absolutely loved them. My annual visit to the Hollows, hanging out with Rachel, Jenks, Ivy and Trent is something I look forward to. I'm sad that there is only going to be one more book until these characters hopefully all survive and get their happy endings (Harrison has in several interviews promised HEAs for all those who are alive at the end, making me worried about which of them who aren't going to make it through).

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.