Sunday 25 June 2017

#CBR9 Book 59: "The Pages of the Mind" by Jeffe Kennedy

Page count: 432 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

From Goodreads: Magic has broken free all over the Twelve Kingdoms. The population is beset by shapeshifters and portents, landscapes that migrate, uncanny allies who are not quite human...and enemies eager to take advantage of the chaos. 

Dafne Maillouix is no adventurer - she's a librarian. But the High Queen trusts Dafne's ability with languages, her way of winnowing useful facts from a dusty scroll, and even more important, the subtlety and guile that three decades under the thumb of a tyrant taught her.

Dafne never thought to need those skills again. But she accepts her duty. Until her journey drops her into the arms of a barbarian king. He speaks no language that she knows but that of power, yet he recognizes his captive as a valuable pawn. Dafne must submit to a wedding of alliance, becoming a prisoner - a queen in a court she does not understand. If she is to save herself and her county, she will have to learn to read the heart of a wild stranger. And there are more secrets there than even Dafne could suspect...

This year, when selecting my choices to review for the RITA Reader Challenge, I made sure to choose books I actually own. I got this in one of many e-book sales, intrigued by the notion of a fantasy romance with a librarian heroine, not exactly something you see that often. It turns out that Dafne as well as being a devoted librarian and archivist is a scholar and a linguist, who delights in learning new languages. Her actual age is never mentioned, but it's clear that she's probably in her late thirties, possibly even early forties and has kept herself under the radar and voluntarily lived a sheltered life. She lost her entire family during the rule of the previous High King, a brutal and ruthless ruler, and feels the loss of siblings greatly. Now more or less acknowledged as an adopted sister to his daughter, the new High Queen (it's clear that she usurped her father in previous books), she is unaccustomed to with any kind of affection.

While this book is the first in a series called Uncharted Realms, it's part of a world already established by Jeffe Kennedy, referencing events and characters from The Twelve Kingdoms, so this book is both a stand-alone and part of a bigger whole. The beginning of the the book felt a bit like I was missing out on something and made me wish I'd read at least the book about High Queen Ursula of the now Thirteen Kingdoms, but once Dafne leaves the court and goes off on her journey, the book was a lot more engaging.

Again due to events that took place before this book started, the realm that these characters live in is now full of unexpected magic, which has affected not only the Thirteen Kingdoms ruled over by warrior Queen Ursula, but also the neighbouring Dasnaria, where her lover is from and a small island nation who are petitioning the crown for reparation from damages. Being the only one from her close circle that the High Queen can spare, she sends Dafne to be her ambassador. She's intelligent, speaks more languages than anyone in the palace and thanks to her extensive reading, knows a great deal about a lot of the strange things happening around the kingdoms. Ursula also sends one of her elite guards, a woman named Jepp, tasked with training Dafne in self defense and a shapeshifter from one of her sisters' courts who can be useful in information gathering. The three women, while very different, bond during their journey.

When they get to the island kingdom of Nahanua, things get complicated, however. The barbarian king mentioned in the blurb (think Pacific Islander warrior, I pictured Jason Momoa in my head the whole time), King Nakoa KauPo seems very taken with her from the first, and straight after their arrival on the islands makes her take off her shoes and stockings to walk barefoot on the volcanic rock the ground seems mostly made up from, then when her feet get to sore to walk, carries her up to the mouth of an active volcano, where there is some sort of mysterious ritual that brings a dragon out of the mountain, culminating in the burly native kissing our inexperienced virgin heroine. She's previously admitted to her female companions that while she's been kissed before, she's never really felt anything out of the ordinary and she's never felt anything close to desire enough to want to have sex. The island king, on the other hand, clearly affects her very differently and it's clear that the two are linked in some way after the kiss by the volcano.

Her feet are badly wounded by walking on the volcanic rock and she's tended lovingly by the women of the court, her chief attendant clearly the King's own sister. As the Nahanuans speak a language completely unfamiliar to her, so communication is extremely difficult, Dafne begins to realise that the ritual (which she was not in any way given a choice to take part in) led to her at least being the King's fiancee, or possibly even his wife. While he sleeps elsewhere while she recovers, she's quite clearly in King Nakoa's private rooms, and he keeps showering her with kindness and affection. As the stop at the Nahanuan islands was only supposed to be a brief one to try to negotiate an understanding between the High Queen and the islanders, before Dafne continued her diplomatic journey to Dasnaria, her bodyguards try to extract her, but find that the King has no intention of letting her go.

To avoid outright conflict between her companions and the King's forces, Dafne is forced to stay behind, sending her friends back to notify the High Queen of the new developments. She discovers that she was indeed married to the King in that strange ceremony and once she learns more of the language, that he believes them to be fated mates, having felt a link to her throughout her life. It's also clear that while Dafne initially tries her very best to fight her attraction to the imposing, yet seemingly very kind man who married her against her will, dissenting forces on the islands will challenge Nakoa's claim to the throne if the marriage is not consummated and the link to the dragon (which it seems their relationship can strengthen) further improved.

If you overlook the part where he pretty much abducts her from her people and marries her without her consent, Nakoa seems to be a pretty great guy. He's clearly a mostly popular ruler, even though he has one rival determined to steal his throne. He's deeply possessive and spends a lot of time carrying Dafne around (since her feet take quite some time to heal), but is always gentle and affectionate towards her. He tries to seduce her, but every time she needs him to step back and take things more slowly, he respects her boundaries. It's also clear that the marriage ritual to link him and Dafne was necessary to free the ancient dragon from it's volcanic mountain and secure the future prosperity of his nation, but it still left a bad taste in my mouth. Dafne also seems to accept that she's been forced into a marriage a bit too easily, probably because despite being described as intelligent and capable in the first half of the book, she becomes almost addled with lust for her new husband, and once they finally consummate the marriage, she certainly makes up for lost time with all the love making they engage in.

Even if she's very much in lust with Nakoa, Dafne is very reluctant to be referred to as his queen, and she feels torn in her loyalties to her High Queen. Even though it's quite clear that they share some sort of mystical bond, not just to one another, but to the dragon as well, Dafne is sure she will have to leave and return to her old home eventually. She therefore hesitates to commit fully to the relationship and this causes further tensions.

I liked the world-building of the book and will probably go back and read about Ursula and her two sisters in the previous three books by Kennedy. The next book in the series is about Jepp and the leader of the Dasnarian warriors that take Dafne to the islands, and that also seems intriguing to me. I really wish the central romance wasn't based on a forced marriage - while Nakoa is always very respectful and doesn't force Dafne into anything she's not ready sexually, he didn't give any indication of his intentions before carrying her up to the volcano, and it's revealed that he clearly conspired with the Dasnarians to get her to the islands in the first place. We are never really given an entirely satisfactory reason why an orphaned librarian and a warrior island king from quite a distance away from one another would be fated mates, either, but then I find the trope of the fated mate incredibly exasperating.

I loved that Dafne was a middle-aged virgin, a librarian and a scholar and that she uses her skills throughout the book to try to understand her new position and then to try to solve the riddle of the dragon and its supposed treasure. I liked that the hero, for all his heavy-handed, withholding information ways, was from a culture clearly based on those of the Pacific islands. I think we could have found out more about him, there is a lot more character development given to Jepp and the exotic shapeshifter Zynda, both supporting characters in the book, than to Nakoa (he's big, strong, handsome, possessive, has a lot of tattoos and is extremely good in bed, despite being a virgin like Dafne - having saved himself for her).

I didn't like that Dafne seemed to lose all her critical faculties because she was so overcome with lust. I didn't think the subplot with the challenger to the throne was dealt with all that satisfactorily. I think a bit too much of the start of the book should have been easier to get into for someone who had not read the previous books by this author. I'm still going to check out more of her work, though, and hope there's less of the fated mate and forced marriage stuff.

Judging a book a book by its cover: Dafne is described as quite plain and nearing middle age, so I think the cover model is both prettier and younger than she's supposed to be, but perhaps this scholar beauty with her hair flowing about her head as if by magic, with her billowing gown and the pages of the tome she carries fluttering in the wind, is supposed to be King Nakoa's image of her? While it doesn't entirely fit with the contents of the story, it's a striking enough cover that it made me take a closer look at the description when the book was on sale, and I ended up buying it, so I suppose the marketing department did a good job.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR9 Book 58: "White Hot" by Ilona Andrews

Page count: 416 pages
Rating: 5 stars

This is book 2 in a trilogy and if you've not read Burn for Me yet, that's where you really should begin. While you could begin the story with this one, you'll get a better introduction to the story, characters and world-building if you start with book 1.

It's been a few months since the events of the first book, and Nevada has been practising her abilities, learning more about what she can do and how she can control them. She insists makes Augustine Montgomery agree to let her question a suspected serial killer of little girls, in order to verify the location of his latest victim, and he agrees, against his better judgement. In return, Nevada agrees to see a friend of his, Cornelius Harrison, whose wife was recently murdered under mysterious and clearly magical circumstances. She knows that she and her family may not have the power or resources to help Mr. Harrison, but his grief is so palpable and she feels enough for him and his daughter to agree to take the case anyway.

They have not been investigating long when they discover that Mrs. Harrison's death was part of a bigger conspiracy, possibly connected to the events Nevada were involved in a few months ago. While she's tried her best to put Connor "Mad" Rogan out of her mind (not helped by the constant teasing and hinting from her family), they are soon reunited, as Connor is also investigating the event, having lost several of his people in the same incident. He persuades Mr. Harrison that it would be in their best interests to work together, and Nevada doesn't really have a choice but to respect her client's wishes.

The chemistry between Nevada and Connor is as strong as ever, and while to Nevada, it may have seemed as if he completely forgot about her after she rejected his over the top suggestion that she come away with him at the end of the last book, he's clearly just been biding his time, doing whatever he can to keep her and her family safe from any and all threats they might be facing. It becomes clear very quickly that a group of very powerful people are working together to create chaos and possibly destroy Houston and Nevada and Connor have once again made themselves their biggest enemies. Will they survive long enough to actually have a proper conversation about their attraction and the possible future of their relationship?

In Burn for Me we were introduced to Nevada Baylor and Connor Rogan and the alternate reality where there are any number of magic users all over globe and the more powerful, the higher the political power the families hold. Connor "Mad" Rogan was a bit too much of a careless and ruthless alpha male, so incredibly powerful that he was used to take what he wanted and act without long-term consequences. He has a lot of potential as a hero, but was clearly far too emotionally closed off and unstable to be a proper partner to the awesome Nevada, whose powers were clearly only hinted at in the first book. Here we get a lot more back-story into what made him the man he is (it's not exactly pretty) and Nevada gets a greater understanding of what she's going to have to face, if she decides that he is the right man for her.

It was obvious that Connor realised very quickly that Nevada was a Prime, even though she herself was unaware of the scope and extent of her abilities. Now she has started learning to use and control them, but she doesn't seem to realise how just how dangerous exposing her abilities to the world might be, and what long-term consequences it can have for her family or her potential relationship with Connor.

In this book, more of Nevada's awesome family get their time to shine. Her cousins, the computer genius Bern and his brother Leon, still so frustrated that he doesn't seem to have any special abilities in a family with so many gifted people (it turns out he isn't as much of a dud as he thinks, I suspect this will be a plot point in the third book); her wonderful and strong grandmother and mother, who both work so hard to help protect the family; and her younger sisters, Arabella and Catalina, who can both be infuriating teenage brats, but who won't hesitate for a second to help the family and do their fair share of protective detail if it's required. It becomes clear over the course of the book that the Baylors are a very gifted family, with Catalina and Arabella having Prime-level powers of their own. We see some of what Catalina is capable of towards the end of the story, but Arabella's powers are still mostly a mystery, but all the hints we have been given suggest shape-shifting of some kind, possibly into something large and formidable.

Cornelius Harrison, an animal mage, who made a minor appearance in the first book also becomes important here. Ilona Andrews excel at characterisation, even when it comes to teenage and child characters, and Harrison's four-year-old Mathilda is never just a plot moppet, although she is used very well to bring out the unexpectedly softer side to several other characters over the course of the story. Harrison's ability to control animals is used excellently several times, including one of my absolute favourite scene, involving cat-burgling ferrets wearing infra-red cameras and little harnesses full of useful tools.

Impatient readers also have to wait quite a long time before the central couple finally have a chance to consummate their relationship. There are a number of fairly scorching scenes in the build-up, but they always get interrupted by something inconvenient, like prying family members or near-death experiences.

While the stakes sometimes seem higher in this book than in the last, the resolution to their big problem seemed to almost go too smoothly. Having read the book twice over the course of a week, I find that even the somewhat weaker ending didn't ruin my enjoyment of the book overall, and at the moment, it's one of my very favourites of the many great paranormal fantasy books the Andrews have written so far. There seem to be two main threats facing the Baylors and Rogan in the next book, and I'm so intensely glad that I won't have to wait more than about a month to get my greedy hands on it.

Judging a book by its cover: I seriously don't even know where to begin with this cover. The really sad and awful truth is that THIS is what it looks like AFTER the marketing department actually edited it, managing to against all odds, make it worse than it was before. The original cover still had the implausibly muscular male model (who I'm going to assume is supposed to be Connor - note that it's a different dude from the cover of Burn for Me) and the Shakira-lookalike who I can only guess is supposed to be Nevada (again, completely different model than they used on the previous cover) in a very cheesy embrace, but there were not exaggerated and cartoonish-looking icicles all over the title font, nor was there the pastel nightmare that I think is supposed to show the ice cave our protagonists are trapped in at one point. The original cover was bad, this is so much worse.

To be fair, the actual scene in the ice cave would require a cover that is decidedly NSFW, hence both participant wearing at least some clothes here. It's still, without a doubt, the most eye-gougingly awful cover I think I've ever had the misfortune to see on a paranormal fantasy cover, and makes me very happy that I own the book in e-format, so I don't need to wrap my book in a bag when reading it on public transport.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR9 Book 57: "A Monster Calls" by Patrick Ness

Page count: 215 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Pretty much every night, Conor wakes up screaming from the same nightmare. So when the monster shows up in his garden, just after midnight, he's not as scared as you may have thought that he'd be. After all, he deals with some pretty unpleasant things on a daily basis. The bullies who pick on him in school. The fact that he seems to be falling out with his only friend. The teachers either ignoring him or being overly understanding and solicitous. His father, who seems to have forgotten about him and his mother after he moved to America and got a new family. His strict and demanding grandmother. The worry about his mother's deteriorating health and the worry about why the treatments are taking so long to work this time. It's going to take more than some monster to scare Conor.

The monster, which seems to be a walking version of the yew tree over by the church yard, that Conor can see from his window, and which his mother always comments on when gazing at the view. The monster claims it will tell him three stories, and once it's done, it wants something Conor is not ready or willing to give. It wants the truth.

Siobhan Dowd, who came up with the initial idea for this book, died from cancer before she had a chance to tell the story she wanted. Patrick Ness took her initial idea and developed it and turned it into something new, while still honouring Ms. Dowd's memory. This is a dark book, full of sadness, rage and grief. I don't think I'm really spoiling anything for anyone when I say that you probably shouldn't expect a happy ending to this tale, where a woman is slowly wasting away despite countless medical treatments, and her only son is desperately trying to deal with it the best way he knows how.

The stories that the big tree monster tells are allegories, possibly meant to help Conor deal with his anger and grief in some way. The monster claims to have lived a long life, helping many people when they needed it the most. None of its stories turn out entirely the way Conor expects, making him more angry and frustrated, because he wants predictability and solace from his stories, not difficult life lessons.

So many others have already confessed to crying when reading this book, and I was no different. Was it a good idea to read the final quarter of this book in a coffee shop, in full view of a lot of people? Possibly not. Did I do it anyway, and ugly-cry, to the likely embarrassment of many around me? You bet I did. I've heard very many good things about the recent movie adaptation, but I suspect I'm going to wait to see it until I'm in a more stable place emotionally, or it's likely to completely destroy me all over again.

Judging a book by its cover: My edition of this book is an illustrated paperback I was given for Christmas by my husband. The cover, and all the inside illustrations are done by Jim Kay in black and white and are wonderfully atmospheric and adds a lot to the tone and feel of the book. I really like the cover and the other illustrations and don't think the book would work as well without them.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR9 Book 56: "A Court of Wings and Ruin" by Sarah J. Maas

Page count: 720 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Spoiler warning! This review is going to contain spoilers for earlier books in the series, and possibly some mild ones for the content of this book too. If you're not caught up, you probably want to skip this review for now. Come back when you've read the books, they're worth your time if you like action-packed fantasy.

The beginning of this book finds Fayre back at the Spring court, after Tamlin made a bargain with the the High King and had her bond with Rhysand broken. What only a select few know, is that Fayre is now High Lady of the Night Court and only pretending to have been spell-bound and traumatised for all her months away. She's back with Tamlin to gather as much information as possible about his alliance with the High King and the future invasion of Prythian and the human realm. Using all the cunning and guile she possesses, she slowly manages to undermine Tamlin's standing with his own men, in order to destabilise the forces of the Spring Court. She also ends up neutralising some rather unpleasant emissaries of the High King, before returning to her home at the Night Court to further plan for war.

Unless Fayre and Rhysand can rally more of the various Faerie courts to their side, they are badly outnumbered and in no position to save Prythian and the humans who are all facing destruction. The ruthless, uncaring and cruel facade that Rhysand has presented to the world for most of his adult life isn't exactly helpful in trying to curry favours and win allies. Even if the many different minor courts lay aside their differences and unite against the High King, they may be outclassed. To gain stronger supernatural allies, Fayre may need to risk her very sanity.

Fayre grows and changes so much over the course of these three books. She was always brave and tenacious, willing to risk herself for those she loves. In the first book, she learned that maybe not all fae are vicious, cruel and untrustworthy, she fell in love and had to go through hell, even sacrificing her own life to save the man she loved. In the second book, she learned that sometimes your first love doesn't last forever, and trauma and hardship can kill a relationship that isn't strong enough. She discovered supportive friendships and rebuilt herself into a stronger, more resilient person, learning to use her new and unexpected powers and growing comfortable with who she had become. She found a new, stronger love and a collection of people who were just as close to her as her human family had once been. In this third book, it's nice to see that no matter how far she's come, Fayre isn't always infallible and she makes a couple of judgement calls early on that come back to have serious repercussions later in the story. She's forced to admit that she was wrong and readjust her views accordingly.

In the second book, it is obvious that war is coming, but in this book, it's mostly all about how to fight it. As well as trying to help Rhysand and his inner circle gather allies, Fayre needs to tend to her sisters, who are deeply changed and traumatised by what happened to them at the end of the previous book.

After so much build-up, it felt a little bit convenient when the final battle was pretty much solved by a deus ex machina, with very little emotional or personal cost to anyone. While it wasn't that I desperately wanted anyone to die, it felt a little bit too convenient the way everything wrapped up. Apparently, while the main storyline of these three books is finished off in this book, there will be other books to follow, and since I'm very interested in seeing a lot of the supporting characters find their own HEAs, I suspect I will be reading them as well. As I mentioned in my last review, I'm enjoying these books so much more than the Throne of Glass books, and will happily revisit Prythian in future instalments.

Judging a book by its cover: I really like the shade of green they've chosen for the background of this book, but otherwise they've stuck to the central theme of having Fayre front and centre. Eagle-eyed readers may notice that her tattoo is on the other hand - which to those in the know is significant. Even wearing a fancy dress, this Fayre is not going to go about unarmed, hence the wicked-looking dagger.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR9 Book 55: "A Court of Mist and Fury" by Sarah J. Maas

Page count: 626 pages
Rating: 5 stars

Spoiler warning! This is book 2 in a series, and it's impossible for me to review this book without giving some spoilers for the book that came before. If you haven't read the first book, A Court of Thorns and Roses, you should maybe give this review a miss until you're caught up. There will also be some spoilers for this book, because it's impossible to talk about what happens in it without them.

Feyre is back at the Spring Court a vastly changed woman, after her trials at Amarantha's court Under the Mountain. While Tamlin and his court try to shield and shelter her from everything unpleasant, she's still plagued with horrible nightmares reminding her of what she had to do to survive, and getting used to her new fae body, with its added speed and strength is also difficult for her. It's very obvious that Tamlin and the others just want to forget what happened, and absolutely no one wants to talk about the horrors they experienced. Tamlin just ignores Fayre's obvious distress, hoping it will go away eventually. He wants her to think of pleasant things, like planning their wedding. He also wants to keep her safely locked away in his house, making sure nothing will ever hurt her again, even though just the thought of enclosed spaces makes Fayre frantic.

As her wedding day approaches, Fayre is filled with doubts about whether this is at all a good idea. How can someone as horrible and broken and tainted as her marry Tamlin and rule with him in the Spring Court? Her left hand and arm are still inked with the tattoo reminding her of her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the Night Court, but he's not come to collect on the promise that Fayre spend a week a month in his court. Until her wedding day, that is. Tamlin is furious, and Fayre isn't even ready to admit to herself even how relieved she is when Rhysand shows up to spirit her away.

Having seen his behaviour Under the Mountain, Fayre is not sure what to expect from Rhysand or his demands on her time. He doesn't seem to want anything but her company, and sometimes, not even that, leaving her alone for long stretches at at time when she visits. He insists that she rest and eat to build her strength up, seemingly worried about how thin she's grown and how exhausted she always seems. He understands about her nightmares, because he has them too, and has felt her distress through the bond they share due to their agreement. Every time she returns to the Spring Court, Tamlin carefully questions her to find out the secrets of the Night Court, and initially Fayre is quite happy to spy. As the months pass, and it becomes more and more obvious how differently the two men are treating her, Fayre begins to change her mind. When she went through the trials Under the Mountain to free Tamlin, she believed he was her true love. Could she have been wrong?

I really wasn't entirely sure what to expect from A Court of Mist and Fury, but I had heard some things that made me unhappy, especially because of all the hardship and pain Fayre went through in A Court of Thorns and Roses to both prove her love for and eventually rescue not only Tamlin, but all the faeries trapped by Amarantha's vicious rule Under the Mountain. That he now turn out to be an overly controlling jerk who completely disregarded Fayre's severe PTSD was not a direction I was happy for the author to take things.

What I had not expected was how much of the bigger picture Fayre was unaware of when going through her harrowing tests for the psycho faerie queen. It quickly becomes clear in this book that the way Fayre (and therefore the reader) saw Rhysand was a very carefully constructed mask, and that his true self had to be buried deep, so the evil queen who made him her lover didn't suspect that he was in fact helping Fayre all he could. He continues to help her in this book, understanding only too well the trauma she's gone through as he suffered similar things for fifty years, while Tamlin was only Under the Mountain for a few months. While Tamlin believes Fayre to be a fragile creature who should be honoured, protected and sheltered from all that is harsh and unpleasant in this world, keeping her locked away in his mansion so nothing will ever be able to hurt her, Rhysand believes she needs to train to feel strong and confident in herself and gradually face her fears so she can become sure enough of herself to beat her trauma.

I would not have expected the book to take the turn that it did, but found that I didn't actually mind it too much when it happened, as the first third, where the reader becomes all to familiar with Fayre's PTSD and anxiety is very hard to get through. Fayre keeps silently shouting for help, to proud to actually admit to Tamlin or anyone else at the Spring court that she's slowly falling apart. They all seem content to just ignore anything unpleasant, hoping it will go away by itself given enough time. So when Rhysand finally comes to spirit her away, after Fayre's been screaming in her mind for anyone to help her, it feels like such a relief. He clearly has no nefarious designs on her, just wants what's best for her.

While the first book introduced us to the Spring Court and the horrors of Under the Mountain, this book also shows us the Night Court, in all its fascinating variety, and later the Summer Court. Fayre realises that there is so much she didn't know about, living with Tamlin at the Spring Court. As well as conquering her fears and moving past her trauma, she needs to come to grips with the huge changes her body has gone through. Her body isn't just faster and stronger than it was when she was human, she appears to have strange gifts that no other faerie has, clearly a side effect of the ceremony that brought her back from death's door. Now she needs to learn to harness and control these powers, in order to help the fae and humans battle their next big foe, the Fae King himself. Amarantha was just one of his generals, her deviousness and evil is nothing compared to the King's.

I liked A Court of Thorns and Roses well enough, and found it an intriguing retelling of several fairy tales. I had very few expectations going into this book, and certainly didn't expect to love it as much as I did. This was such a page-turner and I was completely engrossed in the story from very early on. The characters, the world-building, the emerging romance, it all works for me. I debated whether giving it five stars was the right thing to do, but even weeks after finishing it, I'm thinking about it and I don't regret my choice. I only wish Sarah J. Maas' Throne of Glass books could be as well-written and engaging.

Judging a book by its cover: I actually really like the stylised drawings on these covers, with Fayre in a prominent position, her outfit giving some hints as to the contents of the story. Her left hand, covered in the intricate tattoo showing her debt to Rhysand, the hints of a city in the background and Feyre herself in a dress looking more like chainmail than anything else. Our protagonist is changing, and growing stronger.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Saturday 24 June 2017

#CBR9 Book 54: "Everything Everything" by Nicola Yoon

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Madeleine has never left her house or been outside. She's got a rare auto-immune disorder and lives in a house hermetically sealed, with special filters making sure nothing gets in that could hurt her. The only people she sees regularly are her mother, whose a doctor, and her nurse, Carla. On very special occasions, when he's been decontaminated thoroughly, she's allowed to meet one of her favourite tutors, but Madeline's life is lived mostly vicariously through books and the internet, dreaming of the outside world.

Everything changes when Oliver, or "Olly" and his family move in next door. Olly is tall and handsome and wears all black. He and his younger sister try to give Madeline and her mother a bundt cake as a welcoming gift, but aren't allowed inside. Olly's inventive and does his best to get Madeline's attention. Soon they are exchanging messages, and he takes to calling her Maddy, because everyone should have a nickname.

The teens communicate through their windows and on messages, frequently late at night, as Maddy is pretty sure her mother isn't going to be enthusiastic about her new friendship. She confides in Carla, however, and eventually, the nurse agrees to let Olly in to visit.

Maddy has lived seventeen years in isolation. She knows that leaving the house could be disastrous, but she also wants to feel like she has actually lived. She concocts a wild plan and persuades Olly to go along with it, telling him she's been taking a new kind of drug that will protect her from all her allergies of the outside world. So Maddy and Olly go off together to Hawaii, where Maddy will walk on a beach, bathe in the ocean and really experience life. She's willing to risk her life to really live, if only for a few days.

The movie adaptation for this is in cinemas now, and I haven't made up my mind about going to see it or not. As a YA romance, I thought it was pretty sweet. Yes, Olly is probably the ideal first boyfriend and a bit too good to be true. He has some family troubles that give him just the right level of angsty and he's sweet, sensitive, funny and incredibly understanding. Any girl would fall for him, not just Maddy, who's lived an extremely sheltered life, reading books and dreaming of what other teenagers have.

A lot of romance is all about wish-fulfilment and I don't see why teenage girls shouldn't get some of that too. Yes, a lot of teenage boys are dumb, self-centred, immature and rude, but there are exceptions and it doesn't hurt to have books that tell young women what they should be aiming for in their first loves. Do I think Maddy and Olly will get married and live happily ever after? Probably not, they are just seventeen - but Olly certainly wouldn't be the sort of boyfriend you look back on with regret.

Maddy is a sweetheart. She refuses to let her illness or forced isolation get her down. She does her best with the hand life has dealt her, and only really starts to chafe when Olly and his family move in next door and she gets an idea of all the things she's really missing. While her actions are rash and incautious, I can't blame her for wanting to run away and have an adventure, even knowing it might have serious consequences for her health. As it turns out, it does, but not exactly in the ways you may have first suspected.

I probably should have foreseen the surprise twist during the last third of the book, but I actually didn't. I suspect a lot of other readers will see it coming, though, especially now that there are movie reviews out that may spoil things as well. I do wish this development had been dealt with in a better way, and it didn't really have a proper resolution. The love story between Maddy and Olly took centre stage and the final act reveal sort of got a bit lost in getting the separated lovers back together again.

By all accounts, the movie adaptation is supposed to be pretty good. I think I'd rather go see Wonder Woman again, but suspect that many of the young women I taught for the last three years (and possibly some of the boys) would enjoy it a lot.

Judging a book by its cover: While I thought the cover was a bit generic YA at first, I liked it better when I saw it had a connection to illustrations inside the book, all done by Nicola Yoon's husband, apparently. It's still not the most exciting of covers, but since it's part of a bigger whole, I'll allow it.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR9 Book 53: "A Darker Shade of Magic" by V.E. Schwab

Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4 stars

In the world of V.E. Schwab's Shades of Magic trilogy, in which this is the first book, there are parallel worlds. There used to be gateways between them, but now only the magical Antari (identified by having one normal and one fully black eyeball) are able to travel through to the various worlds, using their blood and magical ability. Young Kell, fostered with the royal family in Red London is one of these Antari. In each of the four worlds, there is a London, the geographical location of which overlaps. There is Grey London, which is the England of George III, where pretty much all the magic is completely gone and people live more mundane lives. There is Red London, where Kell is from, where magic flows freely. There is white London, where magic is greedily sought after or controlled with an iron hand by whomever currently rules there. And there used to be Black London, but something went badly wrong there, and it's now been completely sealed off to protect the other three worlds.

Kell travels back and forth between worlds as an ambassador. He also likes smuggling small items from one world to the other, selling them to those interested, not so much because he needs the money, but because he loves the thrill. This hobby of his eventually gets him into a lot of trouble, when someone asks him to take an item from White London to Red London, and it turns out he's being set up and suddenly rather a lot of people want to kill him. He flees to Grey London in the hopes of escaping his pursuers. This is where he meets Lila.

Delilah "Lila" Bard is a pickpocket who's been dressing up as a man and made quite a name for herself as a masked thief. She dreams of becoming the captain of her own pirate vessel and escaping her dreary life in London, when a mysterious stranger falls into her path, clearly near death. She steals from him, only to discover to her shock that he is able to materialise in her rooms, having used magic to track her. She ends up saving his life, but demands that he take her along to Red London so she can experience a proper adventure (also, she's pretty sure he's not going to survive his mission without her).

Although it should be impossible for anyone apart from the Antari to cross between worlds, the magical artifact Kell has found himself in possession of seems to help, and soon Kell and Lila are plotting to outsmart their pursuers, fighting to stay alive and racing against time to save all three worlds from magical destruction.

While this book is a bit slow in the beginning, I'd read enough positive reviews from people I trust to stick with it, and once the initial premise of the various Londons and the magical abilities of Kell and his fellow Antari were established, and things really started happening, I was pretty much hooked. It doesn't hurt that the chapters are short, so you keep being tempted to just read that little bit more.

Kell was a pretty cool character, and I would absolutely murder to have his magical coat, but Lila is the one who stole my heart from her very first appearance. She's just so ambitious and brave and morally ambiguous and adventurous. While she's a thief, she's unable to run away, leaving Kell to be killed. She knows that she may be attracting more danger by saving him, but feels she cannot walk away. Once she realises how serious a predicament he (and by association, she) has landed in, she forces him to take her along, fully realising that there's no way he'll manage to solve things on his own.

I found the glimpses of the various Londons rather fascinating, even if I wasn't overly fond of any of the villains. I wish that Rye's character had gotten a bit more page time, as even when he was in danger, it was difficult to care much, as the reader had not got a change to really relate to him. We were told that Kell cared for him, but this should have been shown.

This is a good start to a trilogy, and I'm certainly interested in reading more. I have my suspicions about Lila, there is clearly a lot more to her than initially meets the eye. I liked the hints of romance between her and Kell, but will be just as happy if they just stay friends in the books to come.

Judging a book by its cover: Black, white and red are always eye-catching colours to choose for a cover and I like the hints of Kell's magical multi-sided coat. The overlapping circles of various colours suggesting the various Londons and worlds that Kell can cross to - also a nice touch. It's a good fantasy cover, it makes you interested without being too much.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.