Friday 27 October 2017

#CBR9 Books 93-97: "Black Magic Sanction", "Pale Demon", "Ever After", "The Undead Pool" and "The Witch with No Name" by Kim Harrison re-read

So I've been doing a re-read of all of Kim Harrison's The Hollows books in audio since March this year. This is my review for the latter part of the series (with the exception of book 10, A Perfect Blood, which seems impossible to get in audio book format, either on Audible or in any library I've got access to. So with that one, I skim-read the relevant Rachel and Trent parts and moved quickly on to the next in the series. I have reviewed all of these books before, so if you want plot summaries, you can find my original reviews by searching my blog or Goodreads. These will be my observations from my revisiting of the books. Also, there will be spoilers!

Black Magic Sanction
Page count: 546 pages
Audio book length: 19 hrs 6 mins
Rating: 3 stars

This book is pretty much the definition of bridging or filler book. I started listening to the audio book in May and finished it in September. The plot just isn't all that engaging or exciting, hence my decision, upon which I clearly got distracted by other things and just forgot about it for a few months. Even when I picked it back up and managed to finish it, I was surprised at just how inconsequential the story was. Yes, we're introduced to the Coven of Ethical and Moral Standards, who seem hell bent on locking Rachel up and lobotomising her, so she can't do magic anymore. Nick shows up and is untrustworthy and becomes even more weaselly with each new appearance. Trent acts like he knows better than anyone else. Al wants Rachel to come live with him and the demons in the Ever After, since the humans don't appreciate her.

The only major thing that happens is the death of an important supporting character, which has an impact on several of the main cast and was still very sad to read about. But on the whole, there was nothing very memorable about this book (I'd forgotten most of the plot and was surprised when it ended without anything major really happening over the course of the book. Having now re-read the whole series, this is by far the weakest book.

Judging a book by its cover: Well, there's no doubt that this is an urban/paranormal fantasy book, is there? Full moon, gargoyle, lady who's likely wearing leather and holding a dagger. There is ominous mist obscuring the face of the cover model, probably so readers won't have to have their mental image of Rachel disturbed. The book isn't all that exciting, neither is the cover.

Pale Demon
Page count: 496 pages
Audio book length: 17 hrs 54 mins
Rating: 5 stars

What a delightful change this book is from the last one. Probably helped massively that some of the things that play out in this book were set up in the previous, not very exciting one (one book is all set up, this is pretty much all satisfying pay-off). Rachel has to get to the West Coast for her brother's wedding and Coven trial. Trent has to get to the West Coast for...reasons. Reasons he won't tell anyone the details of. Except Quen can't come with him, and wants Rachel to be his security. Rachel isn't allowed to fly, so they have to go on a road trip. They have three days to cross the country. Ivy and Jenks are along for the ride (because what would be the fun if the whole gang wasn't there? Partway through their journey, they are joined by Vivian, one of the Coven witches, and Pierce, sent by the demons to babysit Rachel and keep her safe. Let's just say, the car gets pretty crowded.

I don't know what it is about road trip stories, but they always tend to work out well and be very entertaining. It's probably putting people in close quarters in what is generally a rather tiresome and rather stressful way to travel, forcing them to spend time together and bond, sometimes against their will. This is the book where Harrison is clearly starting to map out her end game with regards to Rachel's happy ending. Only a few books earlier, she loathed Trent and wanted him locked up forever. Being forced to drive cross country with him, chased by elven assassins, hunted by a crazy demon and generally facing a number of challenges together, makes her see him in a new light and starts to trust him for the first time.

This book introduces Ku'Sox, the completely unhinged super-demon, who can walk in the sun and generally be controlled by no one, and while I don't like him much (he's just too over the top crazy), he makes for a good antagonist for a book or two. I love the reason for Trent's quest, I love that he and Jenks decide to work together and do it well. I like Rachel and Trent's changing perception of one another. It was especially fun re-reading this book, knowing where they would eventually end up. While Rachel's mum isn't in the book much, she's always a delight, as well.

Judging a book by its cover: The white leather dress the cover model is wearing is actually a match to one that Rachel wears in the book, while fighting a demon, so kudos to the cover designers for going with something less generic and more specific for this book. I'm not a huge fan of any of the covers in this series, they get a bit too "genre typical" for me, but in the grand scheme of things, this is probably one of the best.

Ever After
Page count: 516 pages
Audio book length: 18 hrs 36 mins
Rating: 5 stars

Two excellent books in a row, so while I might not like Ku'Sox as a character much, he certainly brings out the best in my other favourites, when they have to work together to deal with him. The Ever After is shrinking and all the lay lines have been corrupted somehow. Rachel is being blamed for it and Ku'Sox is trying to convince the other demons that the only way to fix their own lay lines and stop the shrinking is by killing Rachel. There is also someone kidnapping babies with the Rosewood syndrome, and it's highly likely that the cases are connected. When Rachel's friend and goddaughter are kidnapped to emotionally blackmail Rachel into giving herself up, things take a turn from very bad to pretty much disastrous. While she normally has many people to turn to for help, in this book, she's more or less on her own, with the few demons on her side being either incapable or unwilling to help her, Trent neutralised because his daughter is in danger and there being very few other magic users powerful enough to assist her, as she fights for her own life and to rescue innocent babies, on top of everything.

There is so much going on in this book, and pretty much all of it is gold. After their road trip, and the conclusion of the last novel, Trent and Rachel are now in a place where they trust one another and that builds in this story, as Trent's daughter is kidnapped and he has to rely on Rachel to make sure he gets her back safe. Since Rachel has to spend quite a bit of time in the Ever After, and do lay line magic, Jenks and Ivy are not the best people to help her, and subsequently take a bit more of a back seat. Not that they both don't get a few memorable scenes. We find out more about gargoyles, and after barely being present in the last book, Al returns with a vengeance when someone is framing his itchy witch. Not that he, or even Newt, are able to do all that much to help Rachel, it seems. She's short on time, and allies, but has come such a long way from the slightly klutzy, fly by the seat of her pants ex-runner she was in the beginning of the series. This Rachel is a force to be reckoned with, but she doesn't triumph without some casualties along the way. There is more than one death in this book and things get pretty dark and desperate for our heroine before they start getting better.

Judging a book by its cover: In all the early books in the series, the cover model's face was obscured, letting the reader make up their own mind about what Rachel looked like. Here we see her facing forward, and I'm not sure I'm a big fan. While the colour scheme of the cover is nice, the main image is rather generic and a book as action packed and exciting as this deserves a better cover design.

The Undead Pool
Page count: 528 pages
Audio book length: 16 hrs 13 mins
Rating: 4 stars

Magic is behaving unpredictably and even causing dangerous accidents all over Cincinnati. The undead vampire masters are all falling asleep, and leaving their living vampire charges unattended and unchecked. Things are getting chaotic pretty fast. Rachel has been acting as Trent's main security, and spending a lot of time with him. She's not looking forward to Ellasbeth, his soon to be fiancee, returning from the West Coast. Neither the elves nor demons want Rachel and Trent together and it would be both politically and financially damaging for Trent to reject the alliance with the West Coast elves that marrying Ellasbeth would provide. When Rachel unwillingly becomes a focus for a lot of the uncontrolled elven magic that is causing all the chaos in the city, and as a result becomes a desirable target for those plotting to kill all the master vampires and create a war with the elves, Trent needs to really take a long, hard look at his priorities and plans for the future.

Harrison's world building, creating an alternate US timeline in a world where supernatural creatures exist, and eventually learn to live more or less peacefully side by side with humanity, has always fascinated me. In earlier books in the series, we've seen more of the internal power structures of the werewolves and vampires, we've seen how pixy families can grow and thrive and how demon society is structured. In this penultimate book, we get a closer look at the elven power hierarchies, and while Trent is well on his way to becoming a decent person (with a lot of help from his friends), a lot of the other elves don't seem all that sympathetic.

Judging a book by its cover: On this book, we not only see a female model portraying Rachel, but a male one portraying Trent. Firstly, I really hate the outfit given to Rachel, which in no way reflects on anything she wears over the course of the story. Secondly, see my complaint above about seeing the characters' faces. I like being able to make up my own mind. That is not at all what Trent and Rachel look like to me.

The Witch with No Name
Page count: 510 pages
Audio book length: 17 hrs 28 mins
Rating: 4 stars

Considering this is the final book in the series, I really wish Ms. Harrison had written a more engaging, and less messy plot. Much of the main story is head vampire of Cincinnati, Rynn Cormel, threatening Ivy's life because he wants Rachel to figure out a way to save the vampires' souls when they die. Working with Trent and with some help from the demons, Rachel finds out where vampire souls go when they die, and there's a whole load of magical complications where undead vampires are reunited with their souls, but kind of go crazy with the guilt of all the bad stuff they did as soulless bloodsucking creatures.

Landon the weaselly elf priest makes his return and is no less unpleasant in this book. Ellasbeth is trying to ruin Trent financially and destroying his remaining political power, so she can get sole custody of the little girls and Rachel spends much of the book being convinced that Trent's going to dump her at any and go off and make some sort of marriage of convenience. This keeps on at tedious length, despite him clearly having already risked his name, fortune and reputation to be with her, and it's obvious to anyone that he's so much happier not being under public scrutiny with some sort of grand elven crown prince legacy.

The epilogue of the book, set about twenty-something years later is very sweet and closes off the series in a lovely way. I still wish less of the actual book had been about boring vampire stuff.

Judging a book by its cover: The white, gold, black and red colour scheme is pretty good. The cover designers still insist on dressing Rachel in corsets and mini skirts, despite the fact that she barely ever wears such things over the course of the series. Leather pants or jacket, yes. Thigh-high mini skirts and bustiers - no. At least she's facing away on this cover, no full frontal view (possibly because they got a different female model again).

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Monday 23 October 2017

#CBR9 Book 92: "A Kiss in Lavender" by Laura Florand

Page count: 321 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Lucien Rosier grew up in a very tight knit group of cousins, with a strong sense of family. So when at eighteen, he discovered that he was in fact illegitimate, and not actually a Rosier, he ran away and joined the French Foreign Legion, where he crafted himself a new identity and support network of fellow soldiers. Fifteen years later, a determined woman has managed to locate him and figure out who he once used to be. His great-aunt wants to give him a legacy and his cousin is getting married. Can Lucien return to his childhood home or is the past lost forever?

Elena Lyon always looked up to Lucien Rosier growing up. He once saved her from bullies, and growing up in a long line of foster homes, few of them very good, she saw her fair share of unsavoury and untrustworthy men. One of the exceptions is Antoine Vallier, who was in the foster care system with her. They did their best to protect one another. Now Antoine seems determined to protect her from Lucien - who he believes will break Elena's heart worse than any of her former foster experiences did.

All Elena ever wanted was a stable family to love her. She needs Lucien to see that no matter what his DNA might say, all the Rosiers, who he grew up among, are his true family and he'd be absolutely mad to give them up a second time. There was no rescue for Elena growing up, so she wants it for Lucien instead. Yet he seems determined not to give up his life in the Foreign Legion. Of course she can't help but fall even harder for Lucien than when she was a teen, but can she give up the home and stability she has painstakingly built for herself to be a soldier's wife?

Family is a central concept in this novel. Lucien, the hero, fled into the Foreign Legion and created a new kind of family for himself when he discovered that the man he believed to be his father was in fact not. His loss has been strongly felt among the remaining Rosiers in the south of France, and while they may not technically be his family by blood, he is clearly the only one who seems to have a problem accepting this. When he finally does return for a family wedding, his grandfather and cousins embrace him with open arms and do their best to try to figure out ways in which he can return to the fold once more.

Elena Lyon had a troubled childhood. Her grandmother was one of several Jewish children rescued from the Nazis by the patriarch of the Rosier family, along with his step-sister. She had a daughter, Elena's mother, but committed suicide, which in turn negatively impacted on Elena's mother's life. When Elena was young, she would end up in foster care when her mother was too strung out on drugs to take care of her. She would return intermittently to her mother, but never for very long. Some of the foster families were good, some were dreadful. Elena has suffered a lot of abuse, mostly emotional, but occasionally also physical. She loves her mother, but their relationship is strained. She sees Antoine Vallier as the closest thing she has to a brother, but it's not entirely clear if he views her with less than fraternal feelings. He's got some kind of complicated history with the Rosiers, and seems especially jealous of Lucien.

Her entire life, Elena has tried to be the most agreeable and lovable, so she would find a permanent home, only to find herself abandoned again and again. She tried to get a degree studying her Jewish ancestry, only to find it to emotionally wrenching. Now she works as a curator at one of the perfume museums in Grasse, when she's doesn't work on special assignments to locate missing heirs for the Rosier's great-aunt. Having already tracked down several young ladies (who each ended up with handsome Rosier cousins in earlier books), her last job involves tracking down Lucien and trying to lure him home.

There is an instant attraction between Lucien and Elena. In Elena's case, it's not all that surprising, since she had a crush on him as a teenager and idolised him after he rescued her from some bullies. While they have sizzling chemistry, their differing backgrounds make a relationship difficult. Even after Lucien begins to realise that the family he thought he lost was there all along, just waiting for him to return, he has a strong sense of honour and loyalty to his men in the Foreign Legion and can't really picture himself in any other life than that of a soldier. Elena has carefully constructed a cozy and comfortable life for herself in Grasse. She has a job she loves and quite a few friends, and has already spent a lifetime desperately trying to find love and security, trying her best to change to adapt to what she thought others wanted of her. Her future dreams and plans just don't seem compatible with those of Lucien, and one of them will have to change their hopes and expectations if they are to find happiness together.

This is the fourth in Florand's La Vie en Roses series, set in the flowering valleys of the south of France. Early in the book, Damien and Jess from A Wish Upon Jasmine get married, and there are also appearances by the other male cousins who have already found their happy endings. They are all ridiculously happy to have Lucien back in their midst, and frankly rather baffled that he felt the need to run away and disappear so completely for so long. While I suspect the book works fine as a stand alone, long time readers of Florand's books will probably enjoy it even more, as it builds on themes set up earlier in the series.

While Elena and Lucien's romance is obviously central, Antoine Vallier plays an important supporting role, and not really as the third in a love triangle. He has appeared in all the earlier books in his role as the eccentric Rosier great-aunt, Colette Delatour's attorney and it's clear that there is something complicated in his relationship to the Rosiers. In this book, that comes more to the fore front, and it's strongly implied that he is a long lost relation of some sort. If I am not mistaken, one of the future books in the series will be about him and will no doubt reveal his connection to the rest of the perfume producing family.

In August, about a month before this book was released, Laura Florand declared on her blog that she would be taking an extended break from writing and publishing, because since her career took off in 2012 with The Chocolate Thief, she's been publishing about two books a year without any breaks and she is understandably quite in need of some rest and relaxation. I know her brand of romantic escapism doesn't work for every romance reader, but I find her books (with very few exceptions) to be delightful and always look forward to her new releases. So it makes me sad that I have to wait for new books by her, yet it's not like I haven't waited for more than six years for some authors to produce new books (Patrick Rothfuss and George R.R. Martin, I'm looking at you). So I hope Ms. Florand enjoys her well-earned writing break and will just have to comfort myself by re-reading some of my favourites of her books until she's ready to give us more hunky French men and the women who love them.

Judging a book by its cover: There seems to be little to no cover continuity when it comes to the books in this series. Since Once Upon a Rose came out in early 2015, there have been at least three different styles of covers, none of which match up all that well. The previous book in the series, A Crown of Bitter Orange, was published in early January, and at least these two books seem to match each other (not that I'm wildly enthused about either cover). The couple kissing in the top half of the picture just seem so incredibly staged. At least here the lavender is actually appropriate to the plot (as opposed to on the last cover, where they really should have incorporated orange blossoms instead).

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday 22 October 2017

#Readathon - October 2017: Closing survey

I've probably read more in the last 24 hours than in all of October put together (that's how messed up my reading mojo is right now). Having not really had the time or even motivation to read, it was very good to be able to really take time away from everything else and just indulge.

Closing survey:
1) Which hour was most daunting for you?
Hour 13 (which is between 2 and 3am here), because I had to fight falling asleep while reading.

2) Tell us ALLLL the books you read.
Fortune Favors the Wicked - Theresa Romain
Passion Favors the Bold - Theresa Romain
It Had to Be You - Jill Shalvis
Giant Days, vol 1 - John Allison, Lissa Treiman and Whitney Cogar
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, vol 1: BFF - Amy Reeder, Brandon Montclare and Natascha Bustos
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, vol 1: Squirrel Power - Ryan North and Erica Henderson
A third of The Rebel Heir - Elizabeth Michels

3) Which books would you recommend to other Read-a-thoners?
Pretty much all of them, really, with the possible exception of The Rebel Heir, which was not really grabbing me (hence the switch to comic books). The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl was especially delightful.

4)What's a really rad thing we could do during the next Read-a-thon that would make you smile?
I really don't have any suggestions on how to improve an already excellently run event. I think all he hosts and mini-challenge givers are so creative and manage so well already. I'm sure it will keep being awesome, no matter what.

5) How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? Would you be interested in helping to organize and prep?
Well, by the April 2018 Read-a-thon I will have a baby to take care of, so I honestly don't know how much reading I'll get done. I'm going to try to participate, however (having once done it with mainly audio books due to a concussion) and even if I can't do much in the baby's first year, there will be other future Read-a-thons. Don't think I'll be much good at organizing it, though, sorry.

Pages read in the last hour: 99
Pages read total: 1628
Hours read total: 11 and a third (I love my Excel spreadsheet that works that out)
Books completed: 6 and a third - see list above
Snacks consumed: Feta-and- courgette burgers with aioli and sriracha for lunch, some paprika flavoured crisps, a lot of Coke, two snowball, home made pizza, quite a bit of water
Mini-challenges completed: Opening meme, Book and Beverage challenge#ReadmorewomenBookish Crossword puzzle10 years in 10 booksDecades of Reading challenge, Closing survey

#Readathon - October 2017: Hour 22 - Awake once more

Had a good night's sleep and am fit for fight again. The last romance I started wasn't really grabbing me, so I'm going to be reading graphic novels for the remainder of the Read-a-thon. I have a ton that's been on my TBR-list for far too long.

Pages read in the last hour: 240 (yay comic books!)
Pages read so far: 1424
Currently reading: Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, vol 1: BFF by Amy Reeder
Books completed: Fortune Favors the Wicked by Theresa Romain
Passion Favors the Bold by Theresa Romain
It Had to Be You by Jill Shalvis
Parts of The Rebel Heir by Elizabeth Michels
Giant Days, vol 1 by John Allison
Books completed: 4 and a bit
Snacks consumed: Feta-and- courgette burgers with aioli and siracha for lunch, some paprika flavoured crisps, four glasses of Coke, two snowball, home made pizza, quite a bit of water
Mini-challenges completed: Opening meme, Book and Beverage challenge#ReadmorewomenBookish Crossword puzzle10 years in 10 books, Decades of Reading challenge

#Readathon - October 2017: Hour 13 - time for bed

More than halfway done, and it's getting hard to keep my eyes open. Time to go to sleep for a few hours, so I can keep reading tomorrow morning.

Pages read in the last hour: 88
Pages read so far: 1184
Currently reading: The Rebel Heir by Elizabeth Michels
Books completed: Fortune Favors the Wicked by Theresa Romain
Passion Favors the Bold by Theresa Romain
It Had to Be You by Jill Shalvis
Books completed: 3
Snacks consumed: Feta-and- courgette burgers with aioli and siracha for lunch, some paprika flavoured crisps, four glasses of Coke, two snowball, home made pizza, quite a bit of water
Mini-challenges completed: Opening meme, Book and Beverage challenge#ReadmorewomenBookish Crossword puzzle, 10 years in 10 books

Saturday 21 October 2017

#Readathon - October 2017: Ten years in ten books

Dewey's 24-hour Readathon is celebrating its tenth birthday, and they have a challenge to commemorate the event.

Recommend one book published for each year the Readathon has been around (2007-2017)

2007: The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss
2008: The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
2009: Fire - Kristin Cashore
2010: Magic Bleeds - Ilona Andrews
2011: The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern
2012: Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein
2013: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown - Holly Black
2014: The Girl with All the Gifts - M.R. Carey
2015: Carry On - Rainbow Rowell
2016: The Hating Game - Sally Thorne
2017: The Bear and the Nightingale - Katherine Arden

#Readathon - October 2017: Hour nine - a third of the way through

I'm a third of the way through, and have finished two books. I think I'm going to go for something more contemporary now, having finished two historical romances.

Pages read in the last hour: 105
Pages read so far: 708
Currently reading: It Had to Be You by Jill Shalvis
Books completed: Fortune Favors the Wicked by Theresa Romain
Passion Favors the Bold by Theresa Romain
Books completed: 2
Snacks consumed: Feta-and- courgette burgers with aioli and siracha for lunch, some paprika flavoured crisps, three glasses of Coke, a snowball, home made pizza
Mini-challenges completed: Opening meme, Book and Beverage challenge#Readmorewomen, Bookish Crossword puzzle

#Readathon - October 2017: Hour five - in which I make pizza

I enjoyed my first book enough that I decided to start the companion novel immediately afterwards. See, that's part of the joy of not having your entire reading list determined beforehand. Getting hungry, going to make pizza now. Hopefully won't take up too much of my time, as I did all of the prep work earlier today.

Pages read in the last hour: 83
Pages read so far: 456
Currently reading: Passion Favors the Bold by Theresa Romain
Books completed: Fortune Favors the Wicked by Theresa Romain
Books completed: One and a bit
Snacks consumed: Feta-and- courgette burgers with aioli and siracha for lunch, some paprika flavoured crisps, two glasses of Coke, a snowball
Mini-challenges completed: Opening meme, Book and Beverage challenge, #Readmorewomen

#Readathon - October 2017: Starting hour 3

It's been two hours of reading so far, and I'm enjoying my first book. Slight interruption when the husband called from London, he sounds like he's having a good time. Apart from that, I've been able to really immerse myself in reading.

Pages read in the last hour: 78
Pages read so far: 177
Books read: Currently reading Fortune Favors the Wicked by Theresa Romain
Books completed: Half a book so far
Snacks consumed: Feta-and- courgette burgers with aioli and siracha for lunch
Mini-challenges completed: Opening meme, Book and Beverage challenge

#Readathon - October 2017: Opening meme

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
As always - Oslo, Norway. I have cleared my schedule for the entirety of the 24 hours so I can really relax with my reading

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
This may be the first Read-a-thon where I haven't really given that much thought to what I am going to be reading. There are more than 600 unread books on my e-reader, I have a selection of audio books to choose from and a large stack of unread comics.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
I have all the ingredients ready prepped for home made pizza, that I will make later, when I need a break. I think of all the things I have lined up, I'm most looking forward to that.

4) Tell us a little about yourself?
I'm a secondary school teacher. My husband is currently away in England (less distractions). We have two cats and a baby on the way. In the last few months, I have not gotten to read as much as I wanted, and I'm really looking forward to getting some proper reading time today.

5) If you participated in the last Read-a-thon, what's one thing you'll do different today?
I've got a pretty good Read-a-thon routine down now. I try to read fairly quick and easy books, so I don't get bored. I have audio books for when I need to do stuff around the house (like make myself food) and when I start getting tired, comic books are a great way to get more reading done.

Thursday 19 October 2017

#CBR9 Book 91: "Hate to Want You" by Alisha Rai

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Olivia "Livvy" Kane and Nicholas Chandler were teenage sweethearts, growing up as neighbours, heirs to the successful grocery chain their grandfather's worked together to found. Then a tragic car crash changed everything. Nicholas' mother and Olivia's father both died, and shortly after the funerals, Nicholas' father bought Olivia's mother's shares for far less than they were worth. Olivia's twin brother was arrested for suspected arson of the flagship store, and the Kane and Chandler families, who had been so very close  for three generations became bitter enemies. Nicholas broke Livvy's heart by breaking up with her, just as she was dealing with the utter chaos her life had turned into.

Not that Livvy has been able to forget Nicholas entirely. One night a year, on her birthday, they meet for one night of pure passion, never speaking of the gulf between them the rest of the time. Nicholas can't make himself tell Livvy that he clears his entire schedule and waits impatiently for her text message summoning him to each new encounter. Then, when Olivia turns thirty, there was no message. He waited in vain.

Now Olivia is back in town. Her mother is injured and Livvie is determined to do right by her, even if it means living entirely too close for comfort to Nicholas. He can't stay away from her, even as he knows his father will never accept them resuming their relationship. Can Nicholas atone for the hurt he caused Livvie in the past. Can the two work through their differences and rebel against their warring families' wishes to reconcile or are they both doomed to heart-break once more?

This contemporary romance take on Romeo and Juliet (with a decidedly better final outcome) has been very favourably reviewed on a number of romance sites I frequent online. It was a book club selection book at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books in August and is October's book club selection over on Heroes and Heartbreakers. Having never read anything by Alisha Rai before, I figured this might be a good starting point, and I was not disappointed.

Fair warning - while this book is very steamy (if the protagonists aren't having sex, or there are flashbacks to their previous encounters, they are probably thinking about having sex with the other person), there is also a serious amount of angst. This is a proper enemies to lovers story, where the couple were once so very in love, until their families' complicated intrigues caused them to be forced apart, leading to years of resentment and heartache. Apart from that one night of no-strings passion a year, there has been no contact between them until Olivia returns to her home town for the first time since shortly after her life imploded. For a number of reasons, it's not easy for her to be home, but she hides her pain behind a decidedly tough girl exterior. A talented tattoo artist, Livvie has been travelling the US and perfecting her skill in the past decade. She may seem like she's surrounded by an unbreakable shell, but if anyone can crack through her defences, it's Nicholas.

Nicholas is the chosen heir of a hugely successful business empire, feeling torn constantly between the loyalties to his grandfather and expectations of his domineering father. As both are the majority shareholders, who frequently disagree, Nicholas is caught in the middle, trying his best to keep the peace in the family. He's deeply protective of his younger sister and they both suffer through deeply uncomfortable family dinners weekly, hoping to avoid the worst of their father's angry outbursts. Nicholas doesn't know why his father approached Kane's widow and persuaded her to buy their half of the company for a pittance of what it was worth, neither does his grandfather. Nor do they entirely understand why Livvie's mother would give up her children's legacy without a fight. They are both trying to run the company in a way that honours both founders, even when this goes against the wishes of Nicholas' father.

As well as having a couple of protagonists with their fair share of complicated baggage and a family feud out of the most delicious soap opera, this book portrays depression very well. One of the secrets that Olivia was keeping from Nicholas, even before their youthful love was destroyed by the new rivalry was her occasional bouts of deep depression. After Nicholas broke up with her, she even considered suicide and the only one who knows the truth about this is her twin brother. It's clear that Olivia's mother is also a sufferer, and Livvie is convinced that her clearly incurable affliction is one of the things that makes it impossible for her to ever be with Nicholas, even if they do ever get over their families' objections towards the possible match.

I have mentioned Nicholas' sister and Olivia's twin, as well as their remaining parents. The family ties, although sometimes rather dysfunctional, are strong in this book. Olivia's older brother is dead, but his widow is Livie's best friend and she tries her best to be a presence in both her and her little nephew's life. She rarely has contact with her wayward twin, and her relationship with her mother appears to always have been strained, but Livvie is determined to forge a connection and make things work, now that she's back to help her mother recover from her injury.

Another thing that Ms. Rai does absolutely effortlessly is present a multi-cultural and interesting cast of characters. Olivia and her brother's are half Japanese, half Hawaiian. Her widowed sister-in-law is a Muslim. There are mentions of the grandfather being in internment camps during World War II. I am fully aware that I need to challenge myself to read more diversely and while romance, like most of the other literature I favour, has leaps and bounds to go, authors like Ms. Rai are taking the genre in the right direction.

This is the first book in a trilogy. The second book (out at the end of November - not long now!) seems to be about Jackson, Olivia's twin brother and their older brother's widow, which promises to be another rather dramatic pairing, while the third and final book is about Nicholas' little sister. Both of the books are on my TBR list and I am very much looking forward to both.

Judging a book by its cover: This is a very sexy book and it seems only suitable that it has a cover that really conveys the steaming hot passion between the protagonists. It's unusual to see a romance cover where the cover models seem to accurately reflects the description of the characters in the book, but Avon have done a marvellous job here, especially with the female cover model and her intricate tattoos (that I have to imagine are skillfully photo-shopped onto the lady's arm). Well done, cover department.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR9 Books 89-90: "The Brightest Fell" and "Of Things Unknown" by Seanan McGuire

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Spoiler warning! This is book 11 in the October Daye series, and because of this it is impossible for me to review this book without revealing spoilers for some of the earlier books. If you want to start at the beginning, the first book is Rosemary and Rue. If you're not entirely caught up, proceed at your own risk.

When the biggest of October "Toby" Daye's worries is whether she's going to be forced to sing karaoke during her bachelorette party, it's safe to say that things are so uncharacteristically calm and normal for her that danger must be right around the corner. Then her mother, Amandine the Liar, shows up on her doorstep imperiously demanding that Toby locate her missing half-sister, August, who has been missing without a trace for over a century. Toby refuses, at which point her mother seizes hostages to ensure Toby's cooperation, including Jazz, Toby's roommate and Tybalt, King of Cats and Toby's fiancee. Both individuals are shapeshifters and forced into their animal forms before the cruel Amandine cages them. Amandine claims she will keep her captives alive until Toby returns with August, but as her mother is not known for her kindness or mental stability and it's clear that Toby will need to act quickly, or risk losing the man she loves forever.

That August has been missing for over a hundred years certainly complicates Toby's mission, as does the fact that the only person who may have any ideas as to her whereabouts is August's own father, Simon Torquill, who is currently unconscious after being elf-shot. Simon is the elf who turned Toby into a fish for fourteen years, causing her to lose her human fiancee and daughter. He is also responsible for the abduction of his twin Sylvester (Toby's liege lord)'s wife and daughter and generally not a very popular individual in the faerie realms. Now Toby has to convince Duke Sylvester to allow her to wake Simon, to compel him to work with her to find August. Of course, she also has to overcome her fear and resentment of him for them to work together, as time is of the essence, and there is no telling how long Tybalt and Jazz will survive in Amandine's indifferent clutches.

Toby has managed the seemingly impossible several times before, but this time she really might be in over her head, and this time, it's not her life on the line if she fails.

I've been reading this series for a long time, and Toby has come a long way. Starting the series disorientated, confused and alone after a long involuntary enchantment, she has not only changed tremendously in a number of ways, but she's acquired a solid and very tight-knit found family. There's obviously Tybalt, King of Cats, who she's planning to marry at some point in the future. May, her Fetch (a former death omen) is now living with her, along with May's girlfriend Jazz. Bulking out the household is Toby's loyal squire Quentin, and more often than not, Tybalt's nephew and heir, Raj. While Toby's aunt, the extremely powerful sea witch, the Luideag, wants to seem ruthless and implacable, it's clear that she also holds incredible affection for Toby and would probably help her more if not bound by ancient promises and customs.

So having the antagonist of this book be Toby's actual family, her mother Amandine, is an interesting choice. The mysterious and powerful faerie has made brief appearances earlier in the series, quite often leaving Toby's life in more chaos than it was before, and Toby has gradually discovered more about herself and her mother, not always things she was happy about. For instance, it wasn't all that long ago that she learned that Simon Torquill, the man who turned her into a fish and left her helpless in the Japanese Tea Gardens in San Francisco for fourteen years, was in fact Amandine's husband and the father of Toby's half-sister August. In her previous appearances, it's been clear that Amandine and Toby don't exactly have a very loving or even close relationship, but when Amandine now comes barging into Toby's life, her absolute disregard for her youngest daughter's wishes and the lengths she will go to force her into doing her bidding is surprising.

Toby is left with no choice but to ask the closest thing she's ever had to a father figure to go against all his instincts. Sylvester has to help her wake his twin Simon from his enchanted sleep, letting the man who so utterly betrayed Sylvester and irreparably hurt his wife, daughter and Toby go free. Sylvester puts a geas, a magical binding, on his brother to prevent Simon from in any way causing harm (or allowing others to harm) Toby, but can't actually compel him to assist her. Toby, of course, has to fight against everything inside her that screams that trusting Simon is a huge mistake. If she doesn't find her half-sister as quickly as possible, both Tybalt and Jazz are likely to end up dead. While May is close to losing it, Toby has to hold it together and get the job done - no matter what the cost.

It'll come as no surprise that she sees new sides to Simon and learns to see his perspective on things during their quest together. I like that all of McGuire's characters are so multi-faceted and complex, there are none who are simply purely good or unforgivably bad. Simon had reasons for all his despicable actions, whether Toby likes them or not. Now that she's in danger of losing the man she loves, she has to ask herself what she would be willing to give up or do to ensure his safety, and it's not a comfortable line of thought.

I can't remember the last October Daye book that wasn't a thoroughly enjoyable and exciting read. This series is one of my absolute favourites in the paranormal/urban fantasy genre and I pre-order each book months before the release date. I'm already looking forward to the next one.

Of Things Unknown - novella: 3 stars

In this novella, included at the end of the book (probably to tempt fans into paying the increased price of the hardback), we get the POV of April O'Leary, who readers were first introduced to in book 2, A Local Habitation. She is something as unusual as a virtual dryad, transplanted by her IT genius adoptive mother inside a computer server after her original tree was destroyed. April's mother, January, lost her life to a serial killer in a series of rather bizarre and unusual murders (which Toby was called in to solve, and eventually did) and January's wife has done her best to raise the unusual young woman/entity since. Now April has been investigating and going through records and suspects she may in fact have discovered something rather remarkable, which would mean wonderful things not just for April and her step-mother, but several of the other individuals who lost loved ones to the serial killer. April just needs to call on Toby to help once more.

This was an ok little bonus story, and I suspect April's discovery might have repercussions later, but it didn't make all that much of an impact on me. I'm hooked enough on this series that I don't need added incentives to buy the books, but it was a nice gesture of Ms. McGuire to include it.

Judging a book by its cover: I normally really like the drawn covers for these books, but it appears they have a new cover model portraying Toby, who bears very little resemblance to the model on the last few books. While they've clearly changed the cover model's appearance in the past (just as Toby herself changes depending on whether her human or faerie background is more dominant in her genetic make-up), this woman looks like Natalie Portman wearing something resembling clown paint, which just seems wrong considering the contents of the book. The background is suitably atmospheric, but I the glossy-haired, overly made up "Toby" on this cover just doesn't work for me.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday 15 October 2017

#CBR9 Book 88: "Rebel of the Sands" by Alwyn Hamilton

Page count: 358 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Amani Al-Hiza is poor orphan, raised by uncaring relatives in a small desert town where most inhabitants work in the local mine. She knows that if she doesn't collect enough money to get out soon, she'll end up as third wife to her unpleasant uncle, a fate she would rather die than accept. One night, she disguises herself as a boy and enters a shooting competition at the local watering hole, trying to win enough money to finally leave. She's an excellent shot, and sure that she will win, until she meets the mysterious Jin and things escalate out of control.

A few days later, Jin and Amani are on the run, riding a mythical desert horse and fleeing the armed guards of the empire. Initially, Amani tries to go her own way, she wants nothing more than to get to the capital and reunite with her late mother's younger sister and hopefully stay hidden in the crowded city. Yet her path crosses with Jin faster than she thinks, and she finds herself wanted because of her association to him. They have no choice but to keep running. As they join a caravan to travel through the desert, Amani comes to discover that a lot of the mythical stories she grew up with have more than just a kernel of truth to them. She also grows closer to Jin as they travel, and finds that although she was quite happy to leave him when they first met, after facing dangers together, she will gladly risk her own life if it ensures his safety.

Can a book be classified as a Western if it's set in a distinctly Middle Eastern environment? Does that make it an Eastern instead? There are absolutely Western-like elements during the first half of the book. Amani grows up in a dusty little mining town, and is a crack shot with her revolver. The scenery described is pretty much straight out of a Clint Eastwood movie. But the myths and legends, as well as the geography is decidedly Middle Eastern, like something out of Arabian Nights.

This is a debut novel, and while there are a lot of interesting ideas, there is also a lot that will be familiar to YA readers here. Our heroine is an orphan, growing up with obvious hopes and dreams different from everyone around her. She clearly has unusual abilities and as she goes on her journey, she discovers how special she really is. The country is divided into factions, with the oppressive sultan being challenged by a rebel prince. There's a love interest with a mysterious background, who seems to be connected to the rebels somehow. Nevertheless, the elements were used well, and I found I didn't mind the formulaic aspects too much.

The plot takes quite a few twists and turns, and the story ended up in a very different place from what I was expecting. I've seen some reviews say that they found the book boring, predictable and that Amani and Jin had no chemistry. I disagree with all of them. Anyone expecting a passionate romance should probably look elsewhere. There is a slow-burning attraction here, but the main focus of the story is clearly Amani's both physical and emotional journey away from her origins. She changes and develops a lot as she travels, and learns that many things are different from what she was always raised to believe. She starts out as an outcast and loner, but finds friendship and allies in unexpected places, new causes to believe in and the possibility for a very different future for herself opening up.

I have seen several people compare this book to Walk on Earth a Stranger, probably because both have a female protagonist, Western elements and involve a journey of some sort. But apart from that, I really think it's quite unfair to compare them, and this book certainly features a lot more adventure and unexpected supernatural elements. The first was pretty much a straight up historical novel, this is a fantasy novel, with distinct mythological influences. While I thought the first half of the book was a bit slow-going, the second half picked up enough and went in a surprising enough direction that I am very eager to see where the story goes next. I hope Ms. Hamilton can deliver on the set-up she established in this book.

Judging a book by its cover: I really like the cover design for this book, with the dark desert landscape and the silhouetted rider moving across it at night, with an Arabic city in the background. The yellow and blue waves framing the image, the font chosen and the image invoking adventure and the Middle Eastern setting. Sadly, it looks as if the publishers have chosen a much more generic (and less good) cover design for the second book, which makes me sad.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.