Sunday 24 May 2015

New Top 100 Romances - as of late May 2015

With each year, the community over on Cannonball Read becomes bigger and more people join to add their reviews and chat and comment about books. More people also seem to be openly reading romance, and my previous Top 100 list, from 2013, has been linked a bunch of times. It's a fine list, don't get me wrong, but as I read a whole load of romance, it really isn't representative of all the books I've read, and now, a year and a half later, there are so many books that I wanted to add to it. As expected, I've also changed my mind about the positioning of a load of the books as well (and if I did this list next week, there would be additional changes).

Having to rank my favourite romances, that are from soo many different sub-genres is extremely hard. To some people (especially if you generally like and agree with my reviews and ratings), this list may serve as a handy "what romance is good to start with" guide. Others may hate a whole load of the books on it. If so, there are loads of other handy guides out there on the interwebs.

  1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
  2. The Suffragette Scandal - Courtney Milan
  3. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë
  4. A Kiss for Midwinter - Courtney Milan
  5.  What I Did for a Duke - Julie Anne Long
  6. Welcome to Temptation - Jennifer Crusie
  7. Outlander - Diana Gabaldon
  8. Kushiel's Dart - Jacqueline Carey
  9. Venetia - Georgette Heyer
  10. The Winter Rose - Jennifer Donnelly
  11. Unraveled - Courtney Milan
  12. The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
  13. The Queen of Attolia - Megan Whalen Turner
  14. The Black Hawk - Joanna Bourne
  15. Dragonfly in Amber - Diana Gabaldon
  16. The Last Hellion - Loretta Chase
  17. On the Edge - Ilona Andrews
  18. A Week to Be Wicked - Tessa Dare
  19. Heart of Steel - Meljean Brook
  20. Flowers from the Storm - Laura Kinsale
  21. One Good Earl Deserves a Lover - Sarah Maclean
  22. Fool Me Twice - Meredith Duran
  23. Captives of the Night - Loretta Chase
  24. The Blue Castle - L.M. Montgomery
  25. The Luckiest Lady in London - Sherry Thomas
  26. Bound by Your Touch - Meredith Duran
  27. Frederica - Georgette Heyer
  28. The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright - Tessa Dare
  29. What Happens in London - Julia Quinn
  30. Fate's Edge - Ilona Andrews
  31. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown - Holly Black
  32. Devil's Cub - Georgette Heyer
  33. It Happened One Wedding - Julie James
  34. Unveiled - Courtney Milan
  35. The Viscount Who Loved Me - Julia Quinn
  36. Your Scandalous Ways - Loretta Chase
  37. North and South - Elizabeth Gaskell
  38. The Chocolate Touch - Laura Florand
  39. It Happened One Midnight - Julie Anne Long
  40. Night of a Thousand Stars - Deanna Raybourn
  41. Trade Me - Courtney Milan
  42. The Chocolate Kiss - Laura Florand
  43. The Governess Affair - Courtney Milan
  44. Crocodile on the Sandbank - Elizabeth Peters
  45. The Duchess War - Courtney Milan
  46. Devil in Winter - Lisa Kleypas
  47. An Offer from a Gentleman - Julia Quinn
  48. Any Duchess Will Do - Tessa Dare
  49. Secrets of a Summer Night - Lisa Kleypas
  50. Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover - Sarah Maclean
  51. Dare You To - Katie McGarry
  52. Tempt Me at Twilight - Lisa Kleypas
  53. Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell
  54. Faro's Daughter - Georgette Heyer
  55. Gunmetal Magic - Ilona Andrews
  56. Mr. Impossible - Loretta Chase
  57. The Countess Conspiracy - Courtney Milan
  58. Attachments - Rainbow Rowell
  59. The Tea Rose - Jennifer Donnelly
  60. Play - Kylie Scott
  61. Bet Me - Jennifer Crusie
  62. Indigo - Beverly Jenkins
  63. Ten Things I Love About You - Julia Quinn
  64. Sylvester - Georgette Heyer
  65. Crash Into You - Katie McGarry
  66. The Friend Zone - Kristen Callihan
  67. The Fault in Our Stars - John Green
  68. A Rogue by Any Other Name - Sarah Maclean
  69. Naked in Death - J.D. Robb
  70. Three Weeks with Lady X - Eloisa James
  71. His at Night - Sherry Thomas
  72. Fingersmith - Sarah Waters
  73. Say Yes to the Marquess - Tessa Dare
  74. Dreaming of You - Lisa Kleypas
  75. Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake - Sarah Maclean
  76. It's in His Kiss - Julia Quinn
  77. Something About You - Julie James
  78. The Chocolate Temptation - Laura Florand
  79. Lord of Scoundrels - Loretta Chase
  80. The Spymaster's Lady - Joanna Bourne
  81. The Duke and I - Julia Quinn
  82. Unclaimed - Courtney Milan
  83. A Lady's Lesson in Scandal - Meredith Duran
  84. To Love a Thief - Julie Anne Long
  85. How to Marry a Marquis - Julia Quinn
  86. Written on Your Skin - Meredith Duran
  87. Vixen in Velvet - Loretta Chase
  88. Not Quite a Husband - Sherry Thomas
  89. Like No Other Lover - Julie Anne Long
  90. Smooth Talking Stranger - Lisa Kleypas
  91. Along Came Trouble - Ruthie Knox
  92. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
  93. Slightly Dangerous - Mary Balogh
  94. Flirting with Disaster - Ruthie Knox
  95. Romancing Mr. Bridgerton - Julie Quinn
  96. Blue-Eyed Devil - Lisa Kleypas
  97. The Iron Duke - Meljean Brook
  98. The Chocolate Rose - Laura Florand
  99. Love Irresistibly - Julie James
  100. About Last Night - Ruthie Knox

Sunday 3 May 2015

#CBR7 Book 56: "Texts from Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favourite Literary Characters" by Mallory Ortberg

Page count: 240 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Oh people, how do I even start reviewing this book? I'm pretty sure I devoured the whole thing in less than two hours total (in between running errands, meeting up with friends, working and other stuff). I can tell you that for the bits that worked for me (about 75% of the book), I laughed so hard on occasion that my abs hurt.

I kept quouting bits out loud at my husband, demanding that he also load this onto his e-reader, so he can read the whole glorious thing. I have long been a huge fan of a lot of the things on The Toast, my favourite thing of theirs is probably "How to tell what novel you're in" feature, although there's so much that makes me laugh and/or nod my head in recognition. The single post that felt more than all the others I've ever seen on the website as if it was aimed directly at me was this, and I wasn't even vaguely surprised to see that Mallory Ortberg wrote it. Chances are, if I really laugh at something on that website, it's been written by Ms. Ortberg. Some of the text exchanges featured in this book have been posted on the website previous.

I don't know if this book would work for everyone. It probably helps if you like reading, and a bit more varied than one genre at that. Failing that, a knowledge of classical literature and the "greats" of British and American literature, as well as some historians and philosophers won't hurt. There's text conversations between Medea and Glauce, Achilles and his men, William Blake (and I assume his poor wife), characters in King Lear, Hamlet, Don Quixote, Emma, Oliver Twist, Pride and Prejudice , Moby Dick, Gone with the Wind, Little Women, the Great Gatsby, Peter Pan, Jane Eyre (obviously, what with the book being named for them) from Wordsworth, Coleridge, Plato, Lord Byron (oh God, the texts from Byron), Emily Dickinson, John Keats, as well as more recent stuff like between the characters in Sweet Valley High, the Outsiders, the Baby-Sitters Club, Atlas Shrugged, the Hunger Games and Harry Potter, to name a selection.

Each chapter is short and it's a super quick read because it's literally just text conversation. It shows such a clever insight into a number of stories, without mocking the characters or stories too much. This whole review could basically just be me quoting my favourite bits, but I really don't have space for that, so I selected one of the bits that made me laugh the most.  If you like books, and/or The Toast, you should try to get your hands on a copy of this book. You may want to borrow it from the library until it's out in paperback, as the hardback price can be too high for some.

I leave you with this exchange from Pride and Prejudice: 

"And you must see to it that your sister invites Mr. Bingley, Lizzie"

"He isn't here, Mother"

"Isn't he?
he must be here
the ball is in seven days
and if he is not here then how will we convince our Mr. Darcy to attend?"

"Mr. Darcy isn't here either"

but I thought he was in London
for business
and would return in time for the ball"

he is not in London
he is on a ship
he is going to war"

"but this is terrible news"

"there is an actual war on right now
against Napoleon"

"how could this have happened??"

"he was commissioned months ago"

"And Mr. Bingley?"

"He is also there
He is also at the war that is happening now"

"Oh my god
we are going to have to put off this ball"

"Probably yes"

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR7 Book 55: "Strangers in Death" by J.D. Robb

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3 stars

 As this is book 26 in the In Death series (and probably somewhere in the mid-thirties in terms of Eve and Roarke stories if you count novellas as well), I shouldn't have to tell you that it might be best if you start at the beginning, with Naked in Death. Although since these books play pretty much like a any murder of the week procedural on telly, and none of them tend to require you to jump in a the beginning, you'll be able to pick up what you need if you decided to start here too.

Successful and well-liked sporting goods mogul Thomas A. Anders is found in his bedroom, tied to the bed and strangled with velvet cords in what appears at first to have been an adventurous sex game gone wrong. Even at first glance, some of the details don't add up, and Lt. Eve Dallas is suspicious.Closer investigation proves that the victim was heavily sedated when the rope went around his neck and he strangled slowly. There are absolutely no signs of another person in the room, which seems strange if the victim was involved in extra-marital sex play while his wife was away on a weekend trip with friends. There are no signs of a break-in. The security codes of the house were known to only three people, one of whom was the victim. The other two, one of whom was the widow, are solidly alibied.

Lt. Dallas and her partner, Peabody, hone in on a suspect fairly early on, but since everyone connected with the victim have iron-clad alibis, it becomes a game of cat and mouse for the dedicated investigators to prove how a murder could have been committed when all the suspects are accounted for.

Just like the mystery procedurals I mentioned earlier, the In Death books vary in quality somewhat. Not every "episode" is as thrilling and engrossing, but I always enjoy spending time with the characters and seeing how their lives are progressing. In this mystery, the guilty party is identified fairly early on and most of the book becomes about Dallas and her co-workers, frequently aided by "Expert Consultant, Civilian" Roarke, proving the how and the why. If you like this series, this is a perfectly solid if not remarkable instalment. If you've not yet read the books, this is not the one I'd recommend as an introduction to the world of Lt. Eve Dallas and her billionaire husband.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR7 Book 54: "The Royal We" by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Page count: 464 pages
Rating: 4 stars

It seems very appropriate to post my review of the Fug Girls' most recent book (their baby, so to speak) on the same day that the Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to her second baby.

This book starts the night before American Rebecca Porter is about to marry the heir to the British throne, as she's trying not to freak out about the fact that she's being blackmailed and her twin sister isn't speaking to her at all.

Cut to many years previous, when she arrives in Oxford in the rain, and the handsome young man who opens the door for her and helps her with the luggage turns out to be none other than Prince Nicholas, eldest grandson to Queen Eleanor and heir to the throne of Great Britain. Unlike her twin sister, Lacey, who used to dress up as a Disney princess and who obsessively reads gossip magazines for royal gossip, Bex (oh dear Lord how I hate that nickname) was never all that concerned, and despite sharing a corridor with Nick (or Steve as he is called when supposed to be incognito) doesn't impact her life overmuch in the beginning. She does realise that with the exception of his loyal inner circle of friends, most people are trying to gain something from their association wit the prince and his loyal friends frequently plant fake stories with different people just to see who can't be trusted not to blab to the press.

When Night Nick (the prince has insomnia) and Rebecca (I REFUSE to call her Bex) start bonding over the supernatural soap opera Devour (which I need to become a real thing in the worst way. My life is empty and meaningless without it), they gradually grow closer, until the weekend when Rebecca visits Windsor Castle where Nick has recreated her mother's Thanksgiving dinner exactly, so she won't feel so homesick, and they fall into each other's arms. Of course being the girlfriend to the heir to the throne, especially when you're an American to boot, isn't easy, and for years there is a lot of sneaking around in secret, until they are caught on camera by a paparazzi. Then things get even more difficult.

Since the book starts with Rebecca about to marry Nick, it's really not a surprise to the reader that although their romance is far from easy, and they even spend quite some time broken up, they are eventually going to get back together, and Rebecca will clearly be accepted by the Royal family - or there would be no wedding. I'm not sure if the authors intended the identity of the blackmailer to be a surprise, it seemed pretty obvious to me from fairly early on who it was going to be.

I read this book during the Spring Read-a-thon, and I suspect reading it over so many hours made me more a bit more frustrated with some sections of the book than if I'd read it over a few days. The extended section where Rebecca and Nick are broken up, and Rebecca goes on an extended bender got boring pretty fast and the complications that lead to Rebecca being blackmailed in the latter half of the book felt very forced to me. I'm not sure if that subplot was entirely necessary and it weakened the ending of the book for me.

Mostly, this was a highly entertaining romp, even more fun than the Fug Girls' YA books Spoiled and Messy. I must admit that their Royalty coverage is among the posts I skip during my weekly visits to the Go Fug Yourself website, because the older I get, the more convinced I am that monarchy should be abolished and that the royals are useless parasites draining an obscene amount of taxpayer money in the countries that they represent (including my own home country and that of my birth). I also had the dubious pleasure of going to St. Andrews university when Prince William enrolled there in my fourth year, so housing prices in town rose virtually overnight, due to the huge influx of rich Americans and Europeans enrolling at the Uni to get a glimpse of his highness. Now, a decade later, there are little signs up all over the place purporting to be coffee shops or pubs where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge spent time.

While I think the monarchy is an outdated idea, it doesn't mean that I can't enjoy this book which is pretty much Will and Kate fan fiction. Playboy prince Freddie and the more and more preposterous names of his many girlfriends - a true delight, as are most of the supporting characters in Rebecca and Nick's circle of friends (my favourite may have ended up being Bea, Lady Bollocks herself). I suspect Rebecca is a more down to earth and grounded person than the woman she's modelled on (because while she may be a commoner, her father was one of the richest men in England even before his daughter married a prince) and from some of the stories I heard from friends and acquaintances, Nick in his student days kept a MUCH lower profile than William did. If you like celebrity gossip, pretty clothes, soapy intrigue, a modern fairy tale romance between a girl from Iowa and the heir to the British throne might be just what the doctor ordered. Personally, I'm going to try to figure out how to convince Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan to pitch Devour to the CW so it can become a real thing. Vampires, witches, minotaurs, werewolves, shapeshifters, a private investigator who can smell the future, and panthers who seem like they know to much - how is this not on my TV already?

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR7 Book 53: "All for You" by Laura Florand

Page count: 297 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Growing up in the very rough suburbs to Paris, Célie was always determined to make something of herself, unlike her drug-dealing low-life of an older brother. Apprenticing herself to a baker, the brightest part of her day was always when her brother's friend Joss came to walk her home. Pretty much at the moment Célie had worked up the courage to confess her massive crush on him, Joss broke her heart into a million pieces by going off to join the French foreign legion.

Five years later, trying to tell herself that she's completely over Josselin Castel, Célie is the right-hand woman and head chocolatier to Dominique Richard. She has a creative and demanding job that she adores, she has friends and a great boss who has taken the place her biological brother was wholly undeserving of. Then Joss walks back into her life, tall and tan and larger than life and she falls completely to pieces for a little while. Having moved on and up in the world, forcing herself to forget him, Célie is not ready to just forgive the heartache he caused her and welcome him back with open arms.

Fully aware of the crush Célie had on him, Joss was determined to change his life, to make himself worthy of her. Having lost his job as mechanic because of his association with Célie's criminal brother, Joss didn't really see that they had any future unless he made himself into something better and more capable. He wanted to be able to offer Célie something real. Of course, leaving her without a hint of what he was planning, without a word to even let her know that he was alive or dead, might not have been the best idea either. Having survived not only the initial, excruciating training for the foreign legion, but going on to become the best of the elite soldiers, a paratrooper, Joss, never a man of many words, believed that it was better if he not try to explain himself to Célie. After five years as a super soldier, he's done with the Foreign Legion, back in Paris and ready to lay all his accomplishments at the feet of the woman he loves. That she's become an accomplished and successful woman with a life with no place for him never crossed his mind. Winning the girl of his dreams over may be a bigger challenge than he had expected, but for a man who survived years in the Foreign Legion, what's another obstacle or two to win his true love?

I was actually lucky enough to be sent an ARC of this from Laura Florand, but by the time I had time to settle down and read it, the book was out in wider release, and as I had already pre-ordered the book ages ago, my review has in no way been influenced by the free copy. This is the first book in a new series, spinning off from her Amour et Chocolat books, and possibly connecting with her series set in the south of France, La Vie en Roses. With the exception of The Chocolate Heart, where the main couple are simply too angsty for me to fully enjoy the story, I either really like or absolutely adore Ms. Florand's novels. One of the things I loved in this book was that I got to see the protagonists from one of my favourites, The Chocolate Touch, as supporting characters in this. Dom and Jamie, still not married, and constantly teased by Dom's employees, are very worried when Joss' return makes the normally so cheerful Célie break down in tears and Dom would like nothing but to beat the snot out of the man whose hurt his chief chocolatier. 

Célie actually spends a worrying amount of time crying over the course of the book, but the fact that it seems to be excessive is addressed as part of the plot, which makes it fine in my book. When she's not crying, she's quite possibly fiercely yelling at Joss because of he has trouble getting things into his thick head, so it's not like she's a complete cry-baby. While I understand and sympathise with her upset, I'm also glad that while it takes her some time to properly forgive Joss, she doesn't deny her attraction to him (so much stronger when he returns as a muscular and super fit 26-year-old than when he was a gangly 21-year-old) or her feelings for him.

 Joss is extremely goal-orientated and now that he's achieved the first part of his plan to make himself the mate that Célie deserves, he was hoping to sweep her off her feet and take her off to some exotic location with him. Since she seems to be really very happy with her career and new found family in Paris, he sets out to get her the perfect home there instead. Frustratingly for both the reader and Célie, he doesn't consult her on her wishes, just proceeds with what he assumes she wants, because clearly presenting her with the perfect end result must be better than letting her be part of the decision-making process, right?

There is normally a strong fairy-tale aspect to Florand's contemporary romances, more overt in some than others. In this, she's not gently twisted one specific fairytale, but there are enough aspects there, with Joss imagining Célie as the princess on the glass mountain that he needs to scale and rescue, the brave knight who has quested to be worthy of her. He's certainly more than capable at scaling, at one point climbing up the wall of her building to arrive on her balcony (on the sixth floor, I believe) and another time into the lab of the chocolate shop (on the second floor) where Célie works (after a scene involving such egregious waste of expensive chocolate that I literally squeaked). As also often the case in Florand novels, it takes the protagonists most of the novel before they are able to clearly communicate their thoughts and wishes to one another, but the despite the occasional frustrations along the way, most of the book is frothy and delightful and had me laughing out loud more than once. The cross-over with previous Amour et Chocolat books was fun, and I also really liked the connection to her other new series, the Vie en Roses books, where Joss' commander from the Foreign Legion is clearly going to turn up in a future novel (I'm going to guess the final one, as he is clearly the darkest and most messed-up of the cousins). Florand has long since earned herself a spot among my auto-buy authors, and this book just confirms that she deserves to stay there. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

#CBR7 Book 52: "They Came to Baghdad" by Agatha Christie - Cannonball, people!

Page count: 364 pages
Rating: 5 stars

In this book, we meet the adventurous Victoria Jones, a young woman with a knack for lying frequently and convincingly, who shortly after being fired from her most recent position as a mediocre shorthand typist, meets a handsome and charming young man in the park. They strike up a conversation, he confides that he is about to go to Baghdad and asks to take a couple of photographs of her as a memento. Victoria is smitten, and as the young man she's fallen head over heels for is going to be in Baghdad, she needs to go there to. A few days later, her contact at the employment agency calls to confess an American woman needs a companion to accompany her on her journey to the self-same city and Victoria can't believe her luck.

Unbeknownst to Victoria, who just wants to reunite with Edward, the young man in the park, there is a secret international diplomatic summit planned in Baghdad and there are sinister forces who are trying to sabotage it. A heavily disguised agent named Carmichael is dodging assassins all over the Iraqi countryside trying to get proof to his superiors about the conspiracy. An efficient and mysterious young woman named Anna Scheele surprises her American employer by asking for time off to go to England to visit her ailing sister. Richard Baker is an officious archaeologist on his way back to the archaeology dig of the illustrious Dr. Pauncefoot-Jones. Mr. Dakin is the official trying to ensure that the summit goes off without a hitch. He knows that there are a number of security risks and is hoping for the safe return of his agent Carmichael.

 Once in Baghdad, Victoria's brain is working overtime to figure out how she's going to manage for money when her job as companion for Mrs. Clipp is ended. On  one of her first nights in Baghdad, a wounded man staggers into hotel room and dies in her bed after whispering a few seemingly unconnected words. This man turns out to be none other than Carmichael, and  his death in her room puts Victoria in the centre of a dangerous conspiracy. When she uses her wits and what little information he gave her to track down her beloved Edward, she starts to suspect that he may not have been entirely truthful when he claimed during their brief meeting that he'd love for her to come and see him, and that there are a number of young women in the organisation he works for who don't look kindly on their new rival for Edward's affection.

Soon Victoria finds herself abducted and abandoned in a house in the Iraqi countryside. Ever resourceful, Victoria gets out of the house where she's been locked, but is stuck wandering far from civilisation.  Her little white lie that she's Dr. Pauncefoot-Jones' niece, in Baghdad to join him on his expedition come back to haunt her when she's rescued by none other than his assistant, Richard Baker, en route to the expedition in question. Will Victoria's gift for lying get her out of another sticky situation? Will she be able to figure out what the dying words of Mr. Carmichael meant, and help Mr. Dakin stop the shadowy conspiracy threatening the peace summit?

This book is much less of a murder mystery than it is a suspenseful adventure novel. Unlike the many more traditional Agatha Christie novels, where Miss. Marple or Hercule Poirot gather a number of assorted suspects in the drawing room of a country house (or train carriage, or fancy ship or whatever exotic location Christie decided to place them in for variety), this book mainly follows the brazen Victoria as she lies her way from a boring typist's job in London to being an essential, if somewhat unwitting part in an international conspiracy. While some might find her quite an unlikable heroine, I found her delightful. She's not so much a compulsive liar as a very good actress who thinks swiftly on her feet and improvises skillfully. She also doesn't really seem to lie to directly swindle people, just to take advantage of things she might not have otherwise, such as impeccable references or pedigree. She's a bit too impulsive than is healthy, but she discovers that herself when she reunites with Edward in Baghdad and starts suspecting that he may not be as smitten with her as she was with him.

When she ends up at the dig of Dr. Pauncefoot-Jones, she is lucky that the old archaeologist is extremely absent-minded and scatter-brained, wholly focused on his dig, so he can barely remember whether he has a niece at all, mistaking Victoria for an anthropologist scheduled to arrive at the dig some weeks later. Richard Baker, on the other hand, knows something is up with the strange woman he found wandering in the countryside. He just can't figure out why she would pretend to be his boss' relative, wildly fabricating her knowledge of archaeological artifacts.

Most of my favourite Agatha Christies are the stand-alone ones, often featuring a romantic subplot while there's murder mysteries and adventure. Books like Why Didn't They Ask Evans? (the first Christie mystery I ever read), The Man in the Brown Suit and this. I hadn't read this book for nearly a decade, when I decided to re-read it so it could be my 52nd book of the year. While the book started more slowly than I remembered, introducing the various minor players in the bigger game, to a reader who has no idea how they all connect, it gets moving plenty fast enough once we get introduced to Victoria. I only half remembered the ending, so watching all the pieces coming together towards the end of the story was almost as enjoyable as reading the book for the first time. I'm glad it still holds up. So with that - Cannonball!

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Saturday 2 May 2015

#CBR7 Book 51: "The Lost Hero" by Rick Riordan

Page count: 577 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Jason has amnesia. He wakes up on a school bus on the way to the Grand Canyon with what appears to be his very confused girlfriend (Piper) and a bemused, slightly disbelieving best friend (Leo) who both seem very surprised that he can't remember spending the last few months together at the "Wilderness School", a boarding school for juvenile delinquents. Not that the field trip to the Canyon makes things better. One of the other school kids sprouts wings, and tries to kill Jason and his friends. The coach turns out to be some sort of half-goat-man and to top it all off, Jason appears to be able to fly, as he discovers when he has to hurtle down into the Grand Canyon to save, Piper, his supposed girlfriend.

By the end of their VERY eventful day, Piper, Leo and Jason find themselves in upstate New York at Camp Half-Blood being told that they are demi-gods and the reason that Piper and Leo can remember a whole semester with Jason is because the magical mist that clouds the minds of mere mortals from the existence of the supernatural basically rewrote their memories when Jason appeared out of nowhere. In short order, Leo Valdez, whose been an orphan since his mother died in a mysterious fire in her mechanical workshop, discovers that he's a son of Hephaestus, the Greek god of fire, whilst Piper McLean, a tomboy if ever there was one, discover that her long lost mother is Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love, and that the cabin she belongs seems to consist mainly of Barbie and Ken-doll-alikes. Jason's parentage takes longer to be revealed, but a lot of people get very flustered by his arrival at Camp Half-Blood and this is clearly connected with his sudden amnesia.

Camp Half-Blood's most famous demi-god, Percy Jackson, is missing without a trace, and his girlfriend Annabeth is not happy. When there is a prophecy revealing that Hera, wife to Zeus and queen of the Greek pantheon has been kidnapped and that she needs to be rescued before the Winter Solstice or all hell will pretty much break loose (someone is opening the doors to Tartarus, the Greek underworld), it seems impossible that the two events are not connected and that Jason's amnesia and sudden appearance on the school bus with Piper and Leo is not coincidental either. Piper and Leo get called to go on the quest with Jason, whose father is revealed to be none other than Zeus himself.

Leo realises from a vision of Hera that she's been appearing to him since he was a child, and that his half-blood heritage is the reason his mother died. Piper goes along on the quest, even though she believes herself doomed to betray her friends, as she's keeping a secret from them. Her father, a famous movie star, has been kidnapped as well, and is being held hostage. If Piper doesn't trick Leo and Jason to their deaths, her father will be killed instead.

While Jason's friendship with Piper and Leo may have been a mist-conjured illusion, as they fight a number of mythological challenges on their way to complete their quest, they learn to trust each other and work as a team very fast indeed. Will they manage to save Hera before it's too late? Will Jason recover his memories and figure out why to him it seems more appropriate to refer to the gods by their Roman names?

Oh Rick Riordan, not content with one series of books where you utilise absolutely everything relating to Greek myth, followed by one where you do the same with the Egyptian pantheon, now apparently you're introducing the Roman pantheon, while deviously explaining why it's close to, but not quite the same as the Greek. There's a formula here, and it may not work for everyone, but I find that it does for me. More like the Kane Chronicles with the alternating POVs than Percy Jackson's first person narration, this book switches between Jason, Piper and Leo, usually giving them a couple of chapters in a row before switching to one of the others. It allows us to get to know all three characters better.

Because of his amnesia, Jason is absolutely the character that's the hardest to get a handle on. We don't really know who he is, any more than he does. He's clearly had rigorous training his entire life though, and seems very skilled with a number of weapons. Being the son of Zeus, or Jupiter, he seems to have the ability both to fly and call down lightning. This comes in handy when fighting vengeful mythological giants determined to incite some sort of massive-scale conflict with the Greek pantheon. It becomes clear that his amnesia is caused by Hera stealing his memories and she claims to have a very good reason for it. He's also most likely grown up in a place not dissimilar to Camp Half-Blood, if a lot harsher on its recruits.

Piper McLean was at the Wilderness School because she asked a car dealer for a BMW and he agreed. She's always had the power to get people to give her things and persuade them into doing what she wants, and discovers at Camp Half-Blood that this is called "charm speaking", a gift from her mother. Unfortunately, once the people who've given stuff away wake up from their compulsion and contact the police, Piper would end up in trouble. Piper has Native American heritage on her dad's side, although her father seems to try to distance himself completely from it. She desperately wants to be home schooled, so she can spend time with her famous dad, but he mostly seems far too busy for her. Nonetheless, she's desperate to save him, even though doing so may put her friends in terrible danger instead.

Leo Valdez was diagnosed with ADHD at an early age and has always had a knack for fixing things. Fiddling and constructing things when he's nervous, even before he discovered that he was a demi-god, he knew he wasn't like other kids. Jason not only appears to be completely fire-proof (the clothes he wears as well, conveniently), but can actually summon fire if he concentrates. Hera, who he thinks of as a sort of demented grandma, kept appearing to him as he was growing up, making portentous comments about his future, but he always just thought she was a nut. Now he discovers that not only is he the son of a god, but that there's clearly some sort of grand destiny in store for him.

The first book in a series of five, it's clear that these books are going to reunite readers with some of their favourite demi-gods from the Percy Jackson books (because I have no doubt that while he's missing in this book, he'll turn up before too long), while introducing a bunch of new demi-god teens to root for, some of whom appear to have parents from the Roman pantheon as well. It seems that the Roman gods are more warlike, serious and business-like than their raucous Greek aspects. I like a good YA adventure, and will probably blaze through the rest of these over the summer.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.