Thursday 30 November 2017

#CBR9 Book 106: "The Rebel Heir" by Elizabeth Michels

Page count: 416 pages
Rating: 2 stars

Spoiler warning! This review will contain plot spoilers, because for me to be able to work through my various thoughts and feeling about the plot (which was quite dumb), I will need to spoil bits of it. You don't actually want to read this book anyway, I promise, so view the spoilers as more of a favour than a problem.

Ashley Claughbane is the fourth son in a noble family from the Isle of Man (or Wight - I don't entirely remember, and I can't be bothered to look it up - it's one of those wind-blown islands off the coast of Britain somewhere). He is in no way the heir to anything at all - so the book's title is wildly misleading. While some of his actions might be seen as rebellious, he appears to have two healthy brothers between himself and the eldest, who is in fact a duke. Ash (he hates being called Ashley) has sworn revenge on Lord Rightworth, the man who apparently ruined the family fortune a decade or so back. He promised his mother on her deathbed (or something to that effect) that he would not rest until he had made the man pay. For reasons that aren't entirely clear, he's been preparing for this revenge by travelling around much of Southern England, selling worthless potions and conning stupid nobles out of money. During one of these encounters, he met Evangeline Green, shared a kiss with her and then disappeared without a trace.

Now a year later, Evangeline recognises Ash at a ball, currently posing as Lord Crosby. He now has the backing of a group of gentleman known as "The Spare Heirs Club", although what exactly these dudes do is a mystery to me, even after finishing the book. He wants to con Lord Rightworth and a bunch of other people out of a large amount of money by having them invest in a "portable steam engine", but keeps being distracted by the lovely Evie. Who of course is Lord Rightworth's youngest daughter. There's a whole thing where Evie's mother has grand plans for her daughter's match (after becoming estranged with her eldest daughter after having tried to get Evie matched with the guy said daughter married - I'm hazy on the details) and spends much of her time torturing her daughter to make her be the perfect debutante. She coaches her in what to wear, how to walk, what to say and if she feels her daughter isn't slim enough, she keeps her from eating and forces the maids to tighten her corsets even more.

Anyways, Evie and Ash obviously fall for one another, and as they get to know each other better, Ash discovers that the Evie is in fact the reason that her father, Lord Rightworth claimed all his outstanding debts with Ash' father in one fell swoop, causing the Claughbane family to be temporarily ruined. That his brother is now a duke and has made a successful go of recovering the fortune their father squandered, and doesn't in any way wish for Ash to go through with his idiotic revenge scenario doesn't seem to matter. I never understood why, if Ash really wanted to strike a blow at Lord Rightworth, why eloping with his youngest daughter (whom Ash is in love with, and who seems to love him back even knowing 1) that he's a con man who's swindled people all over England and 2) wants some kind of revenge on her dad) wouldn't in fact be the perfect way to enact said vengeance? It would cause a scandal for the Rigthworths, Evie would be free of her horrible mother and Ash would have both his long-sought revenge and the woman he loved.

Of course that's not what happens. No, there's a whole big scene during Evie's engagement ball (to a nobleman of her mother's choosing) where a bunch of nobles from Bath and other Southern towns come to confront Ash, just as one of the Spare Heir guys produces his pet inventor, who has, based partially on the ideas laid forth by Ash earlier, miraculously managed to invent the very steam engine that Ash has been claiming they can invest in. He's not a fraud after all, but a successful entrepreneur who will be making tons of money. Yay? Also, Evie has (in ways that are never explained) managed to contact every single servant that her mother has fired over the years, and convinced them to show up at the ball carrying trays of daisies (because those are Evie's favourite flower) and after Evie causes a massive scene where she publicly explains to everyone how her mother has been treating her, she tears off her jewelry and throws it and a number of choice words at her mother, and proceeds to empty a whole vase of flowers over her mother's head. This deeply anachronistic display, that would be likely to get Evie committed to an asylum in the Regency era, is instead applauded by everyone there.

Evie's mother is packed off to the countryside, Lord Rigthworth had apparently never bothered to find out how his wife treated their daughters and Ash, who is now no longer a con man, but has the promise of a huge fortune and is, if you remember, the brother of a duke, can marry Evie to his heart's content.

Yeah, there was far too much in this book that didn't make sense to me, and that conclusion was a total mess. While Evie seemed sweet enough, the way her sister refused to have anything to do with her, even though it's clear the sister must have known their evil mother's machinations was the reason Evie had ever shown an interest in her suitor was sort of baffling. There was also a confusing subplot with twin sisters who were friends of Evie's, where one was in love with another of the spare heirs, but due to a confusing series of events involving a fire, the other twin was compromised by him and they were forced to get engaged. Evie spends a whole lot of the novel being either very upset with Ash, only to turn around and forgive him for everything - rinse, repeat.

This is one of those times when Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, whose reviews I can normally trust, especially if they're by Redheadedgirl, let me down. To be fair, I got this book for free at some point, but wouldn't actually have gotten it or read it if it hadn't been given a B rating on a site I trust. It has an average rating of 3.49 on Goodreads, which is frankly higher than it deserves.

This is the first novel by Elizabeth Michels I have read, and based on several of the anachronisms, the confused and rather silly plot, not to mention the fact that it took me about a week and a half to finish it (which should NOT be the case for a romance novel), I will be avoiding her output in the future. Even if the books are in fact being given away. 

Judging a book by its cover: Where do I even begin with this cover? The guy's hair looks like it belongs on a Lego figurine, that helmet-like solid mass that you can just snap into place. There's copious amounts of man-titty, which would totally make sense if you're just standing around in what looks to be an empty ballroom? Of course your shirt would be unbuttoned to the waist (yet still tucked into your oh-so-tight breeches). Then there's the fact that his chest and abs (very impressive-looking) appear to have been both waxed and oiled, not exactly historically correct either. The guy looks like a total sleaze-ball and while I wasn't overly enthused about the story, this cover may be my least favourite thing about the book. It's no White Hot (NOTHING is that bad), but it's not good either.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Wednesday 29 November 2017

#CBR9 Book 105: "Murder on the Orient Express" by Agatha Christie

Page count: 274 pages
Audio book length: 6 hrs 37 mins
Rating: 4 stars

Internationally famous private detective Hercule Poirot is on his way back to England after solving a mystery in Syria. He decides to take the Orient Express for part of his journey, only to discover that despite the train normally being quite empty during the winter season, it's so fully booked in first class that he has to stay the first night in a second class cabin. Poirot is approached by one of the passengers, a Mr. Edward Ratchett, who claims he has many enemies and that his life is in danger. He wants to hire Poirot to protect him. The little Belgian detective turns him down.

The second night on the train, when Poirot has been moved into a first class cabin, there are several strange occurrences, and in the morning, the passengers discover that not only has the train stopped entirely, due to large amounts of snow on the tracks, but Edward Ratchett has been murdered during the night. No one could have got onto or off the train, so one of the passengers is the likely culprit. Poirot is tasked with identifying the murderer before the train starts up again and the guilty party can escape.

Murder on the Orient Express is one of Agatha Christie's most famous crime novels. It's a wonderfully clever take on the "locked room" mystery and has been adapted into both film and TV more than once. I honestly can no longer remember if I read the book before watching the 1974 adaptation, starring Albert Finney along with a remarkably star-studded cast. I discovered Ms. Christie's mystery novels when I was around 11 or so, and proceeded to read my way through pretty much all the books I could get at my local library, first in Norwegian translation and later in the English originals. It turns out, by the way, that Agatha Christie's writing is not necessarily the easiest to get through when you're still learning English as a second language (it is, however, a great way to expand your growing vocabulary as long as you are diligent with a dictionary).

Fun fact - when asked to write an in-depth term paper on the topic of our choice in 9th grade (I will have been about 13), I ended up writing probably 40 pages on Agatha Christie - her life and literary career - and probably bored my fellow classmates, almost, but not as much, as the pretentious guy who chose Watergate as his subject. We also had to make a presentation on said term paper as well, and a nearly hour-long presentation about the intricacies of the Watergate scandal is not going to go down well with your average 13-year-old. Especially when most of the others wrote/talked about horses, their favourite sports, a pop group or similar. So while in my mind, they were much more interested in Agatha Christie than Nixon's corruption, hindsight forces me to admit that yeah, they were probably dead bored by my topic as well.

After giving you that charming insight into nerdy Malin's adolescence (I was just never going to fit in with the popular kids in school), back to the book review proper. I had considered re-reading this before the release of the new Kenneth Branagh adaptation currently in cinemas, and when a couple of my fellow Cannonballers revealed that the wonderful Dan Stevens narrated the book, I used one of my carefully hoarded Audible credits to get it right away. Not only do I find Dan Stevens extremely attractive (even when done up in CGI as the Beast), but he really does have a wonderful voice and I loved his narration of Frankenstein when I listened to that a few years ago. In this story, he has to voice a large number of characters of different ages and genders, and I generally think he did a very good job.

This is not a very long book, and if you have somehow been able to remain unspoiled for the solution to a mystery written in the mid-1930s, it's a really fun reveal once all the suspects have been carefully questioned and all the clues are examined. As the Branagh movie has gotten pretty middling reviews (I was somewhat sceptical after seeing Branagh's moustache in the promos), I doubt I'll actually spend my hard-earned pennies to see it in the cinema, but I'm glad I revisited the book.

Judging a book by its cover: I listened to this in audio book, so it's not like it strictly speaking has a cover, but the one that showed on the Audible website is this one, which seems to be one of the modern design covers for the book (at least it's not the movie tie-in version - shudder!) Is it strange that I think this could just as easily be a children's book cover? The train that magically made red balloons? It's more whimsical than suspenseful.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday 26 November 2017

#CBR9 Book 104: "The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, vol 1: Squirrel Power" by Ryan North and Erica Henderson - DOUBLE CANNONBALL

Page count: 128 pages
Rating: 5 stars

Meet Doreen Green, aka Squirrel Girl. She's been living in the attic of the Avengers headquarters, but now she's ready to go to move out and go to college. Accompanied by her trusty squirrel sidekick, Tippy-toe, aka Tippy, she's ready for the challenges of higher education and keeping her super-identity secret. Her new roommate Nancy Whitehead seems mostly interested in knitting and her kitten Mew. Even before she's had time to get properly settled, Doreen has to save the campus from Kraven the Hunter, and shortly after, she's alerted by her squirrel friends that Galactus is on his way towards Earth, and she has less than two hours to stop him. Luckily, by borrowing some Iron Man suit parts from her old pal Tony Stark (who doesn't seem all that happy about it) she manages to make herself a suit. Now she just needs to make Whiplash go away and persuade Galactus that he needs to take his business elsewhere. Doreen's biggest challenge at college so far, though? Talking to cute boys.

Before reading this, I vaguely knew that there was a superhero in the Marvel Universe by the name of Squirrel Girl. As mentioned in my review for Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, my husband is a much bigger classics comics fan than I am, be it Marvel or DC and he's a huge fan of the many creations of Steve Ditko. I think I'd seen pictures of the famous panel where Squirrel Girl defeats supervillain Doctor Doom by having him overrun with her squirrels, but until I read the bonus issue included at the end of this collection, I'd never really experienced the awesome confidence of this rather off-beat superheroine. The modern reinterpretations of Doreen and her squirrels is much more to my liking, but it was fun to see her "origin story", so to speak.

Seriously, this comic was utterly delightful from beginning to end. Doreen's theme-song (which heavily borrows from the Spider-Man theme), her secret powers, the running meta-commentary at the bottom of each page, the fact that Doreen's roommate loves cats and knitting (and has a gift for snark), the letters pages (which I normally like something that should just be skipped), the writing, the excellent art - I am completely won over and adore this comic. I think I love The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl more than Ms Marvel, and that's a pretty impressive feat after just one volume. My Christmas wish list this year will absolutely be featuring more of Doreen's books, because in this super bleak world we're currently in, I need all the colourful, funny and happy comics I can get. Highly recommended!

Oh yeah, I finally completed my double Cannonball! Honesty forces me to admit I finished this comic more than a month ago, I just seem to have lost the ability to make myself to do anything other than binge watch Parks and Recreation or constantly update my Twitter feed, it seems.

Judging a book by its cover: Erica Henderson's art is SO good throughout this comic, and the cover shows you a little tast of that. I adore that Doreen, aka Squirrel Girl isn't built like an emaciated supermodel, but looks like an actual person and is cutely quirky at that. Having Doreen and Tippy on the cover, with Doreen dreaming of all the adoration she'll recieve from her fellow superheroes seems extremely fitting, she's certainly extremely awesome and deserves wide-spread fame and praise.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR9 Book 103: "Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, vol 1: BFF" by Amy Reeder, Brandon Montclare and Natacha Busos

Page count: 160 pages
Rating: 4 stars

From the back blurb:

Lunella Lafayette is an Inhuman preteen genius who wants to change the world! That job would be a lot easier if she wasn't living in mortal fear of her latent inhuman gene. There's no telling what she'll turn into - but Luna's got a plan. All she needs is an Omni-Wave Projector. Easy, right?

That is, until a red-scaled beast is teleported from the prehistoric past to a far flung future we! Together they are the most Marvellous Team-Up of all - the Inhuman Moon Girl and time-tossed Devil Dinosaur! But will they be BFFs forever, or just until DDs dinner time?

And Lunella soon learns that there are other problems with having a titanic T. Rex as a pet in the modern-day Marvel universe. School, for one. Monster hunters are another - especially when they are the Totally Awesome Hulk! Then there's the fact that everyone's favourite dino didn't journey through time alone. Beware the prehistoric savages known as the Killer Folk - New York City's deadliest tourists! Can Lunella handle all this turmoil...and keep herself from transforming into an Inhuman monster?

To begin this review, I think it's helpful background to say that my husband is a HUGE fan of everything Jack Kirby. This is not all that unusual, Jack Kirby is an undisputed genius when it comes to comics creating, and while Stan Lee is still alive and gets to gurn his way through obligatory cameos in every single Marvel movie, Kirby's legacy isn't always addressed in the same way. Of all the Marvel movies put to screen so far, it's probably the Thor movies that have incorporated the most of the Kirby aesthetic, and brilliant New Zealand directer Taika Waititi has gone the furthest to fully embrace both the design and sometimes full on nutty plot shenanigans of Kirby on screen, with Thor: Ragnarok. My husband was beyond delighted, that's for sure.

Now, I don't really like Kirby's stuff as much as my husband, possibly because I'm really just not that big a fan of the grand Silver Age of comics (and all the DC stuff with the Fourth World just mainly bores me - although I acknowledge that DC's Darkseid is a much cooler villain than his obvious Marvel rip-off Thanos, and Big Barda kicks ass, no matter how boring her husband is). One comic of his that just delights me no end, however is the original Devil Dinosaur. The plot is so so, I am just completely taken with the big red dinosaur and his adventures with the clever Moon Boy. That I'm a fan of Devil Dinosaur should not be a surprise to anyone who has seen my avatar in a number of places - it's that fierce lizard stomping in a very memorable fashion.

So I was always going to want to read this re imagining of Devil Dinosaur, pairing him not with another male side-kick (because Moon Boy is most certainly the side-kick), but with a fiercely intelligent girl of colour. Marvel has been kicking ass all over the place in terms of representation for various minorities for years now (Miles Morales as Spider-Man, Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel, Sam Wilson as the current Captain America, Black Panther, the newest Iron Man being Riri Williams, a teenage girl of colour, to name but a few). As Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur seems clearly geared towards a slightly younger audience than some of their other comics, making the heroine both a budding super scientist (with a secret lab deep under her school) and black is a big deal. For a lot of young women of colour, that sort of representation matters a lot (this reviewer says sagely from her extremely privileged middle aged white cis-gendered perspective).

For all that this is a comic possibly aimed at more middle grade readers, there was some surprising violence within the pages. Devil Dinosaur's original sidekick, ol' Moon Boy is disposed of in a rather gruesome fashion (RIP Moon Boy - long live Lunella, the Moon Girl), which seemed almost needlessly harsh to me. There's a lot of themes that should be recognisable to teens - overbearing and overprotective parents, teachers who just don't understand, classmates who are prone to bullying - Lunella has a lot to deal with, even before she gets a rampaging T. Rex to take care of.

Now, I really know little to nothing about Marvel's Inhumans (and the dire reviews of the current TV-series has not in any way made me tempted to use that as a way to find out more). I know that some of them have appeared briefly in the pages of Ms Marvel (who is also Inhuman, I think?), but I honestly am not sure why Lunella lives in such constant terror of having her latent gene activated. Some of them go bad or monstrous, I guess? If Kamala Khan is in fact one of the Inhumans, they seem pretty cool to me, but Lunella's driving force throughout this whole first collection of comics is to figure out a way to stop herself from becoming Inhuman, while also befriending the time displaced Devil Dinosaur, and eventually taking on the equally displaced prehistoric bullies The Killer Folk (who adapt from the Stone Age to modern day New York admirably quickly).

This was a fun comic, and I am absolutely going to want to read more, especially to get my fix of my favourite big red lizard. I love that guy.

Judging a book by its cover: The cover is fairly minimalistic, as comics covers go. Just super cute Lunella in her school gear, and Devil's giant head. Now, some might say that Lunella is bending forward to give Devil Dinosaur a kiss, but that seems very unlikely with our unsentimental scientist heroine. Most likely, she's just trying to observe something on his nose up close.
  Crossposted on Cannonball Read

Saturday 18 November 2017

#CBR9 Book 102: "Giant Days, vol 1" by John Allison, Lissa Treiman and Whitney Cogar

Page count: 128 pages
Rating: 4 stars

From the back blurb:
Susan, Esther and Daisy started at university three weeks ago and became fast friends. Now, away from home for the first time, all three want to reinvent themselves. But in the face of hand-wringing boys, "personal experimentation", influenza, mystery-mold, nu-chauvinism, and the willful, unwanted intrusion of "academia", they may be lucky just to make it to spring alive. Going off to university is always a time of change and growth, but for Esther, Susan, and Daisy, things are about to get a little weird. 

I think this comic book came to my attention when my book twin on the internet, Narfna, started reading them and giving them very enthusiastic write-ups. During last summer's visit to New York, I picked up the first volume, fully intending to read it and then it got shelved and I sort of forgot about it (this happens FAR too frequently - once I own a book, the rush to read it fades quickly). I wasn't really sure what to expect, but the slightly off-beat adventures of these three young women at university was certainly entertaining.

My main gripe about this collection is that you only get four measly issues in one book. Comic book trade paperbacks are not cheap, and the least they could do is give you five or six stories, not a paltry four! This merely whetted my appetite. It sets up a lot of stuff, but gives absolutely no pay-off. It's like some sort of clever scam, make you hungry for more and then make you pay to get further satisfaction. *grumble*. Allison and Treiman's collaborative work is good enough that I will absolutely be reading more. I can always hope for more comic books for Christmas.

Judging a book by its cover: The cover is very simple as graphic novels go. I like the warm and very bright yellow, and Lissa Treiman's art and way of depicting the characters is awesome. Just Esther sitting on her duffel bag, looking at her phone. Nothing fancy, just giving you a little hint of the contents inside.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR9 Book 101: "It Had to Be You" by Jill Shalvis

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Ali Winters discovers in short order that the lease to the house she was living in with her boyfriend has not been renewed, that her boyfriend has already moved out and doesn't seem to want her to continue being with him, in fact he has been cheating on her for some time. She's discovered in a state of partial undress by the actual owner of the house, while she's leaving a very strongly worded voice mail on her boyfriend's answerphone. When she's also accused of stealing a large amount of money from her boyfriend's office, her life really seems to be unravelling at the seams.

Luke Hanover is a San Francisco police detective and has returned to his hometown of Lucky Harbor for a much needed vacation. After an extremely high profile murder case went horribly wrong, the detectives involved in the case are under a lot of media attention and Luke just needed to get away from it all. He returns to the house he inherited from his grandmother and finds a half-naked woman in it, yelling at someone on the phone. After hearing Ali's story, he takes pity on her and agrees to let her stay for a day or two, until she can find somewhere new to rent. That she seems very adept at scaring away the reporters who keep calling is a handy bonus. Then Ali is accused of stealing a large amount of money, from an office she had access to and a man she had a very real and understandable grudge against. The evidence against her is not looking good, but Luke is pretty convinced she's innocent. Of course, he's on vacation and has no intention of getting involved in any sort of new investigation, even to help someone as cute as his new temporary roommate.

While I've read a few Jill Shalvis books before, this is the first one I've read set in Lucky Harbor. I read it during October's 24-hour Readathon and it was a fairly quick, entertaining and easy read - but honesty also forces me to admit that about a month later, I can barely remember any significant details about it, be it about the plot or the finer sides of character development. Ali and Luke go from strangers to friends to lovers really rather quickly, which is never one of my favourite story lines, but at least they are thrown together and get to know one another while involved in some pretty dramatic stuff, which romance would have me believe frequently heightens and increases passionate emotions.

This is book 7 in an ongoing series, but there seems to be little continuity from book to book and the town is clearly a very picturesque and quaint setting for a romance series. There's a number of colourful locals to fill out the supporting parts and I'm sure several of the people mentioned were quite probably featured in earlier books. There's also quite obviously sequels being set up, with one of Ali's best friends (who runs the local bakery) and a firefighter (who is one of Luke's childhood buddies). It would not surprise me that one of the women who it turns out Ali's douchy ex had been sleeping with, but who over the course of the book becomes a tentative friend to her will also have her own book later.

While I am fuzzy on specific details, I can tell you that this is not a bad way to spend a few hours. The setting is nice, the protagonists have good chemistry and some good banter (although I seem to recall Luke taking far too long to come to his senses about Ali and his feelings for her). Both protagonists are good at their jobs, the hero is protective, but not an alpha douche. There's a fun cast of supporting characters, and reading this book made me interested in checking out further Lucky Harbor books, which has to be a good thing, right?

Judging a book by its cover: The cover seems pretty much like a generic contemporary romance cover to me (and I can't remember the physical descriptions of either of the protagonists, so I can't tell you if they look like the cover models - although I think Ali was supposed to be rather petite?) Although the cover designer has put what looks like the shopfront of a flower shop in the background, which is appropriate, as Ali works in a flower shop when she's not teaching ceramics at the community rec centre.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Friday 17 November 2017

#CBR9 Books 99-100: "Fortune Favors the Wicked" and "Passion Favors the Bold" by Theresa Romain

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Benedict Frost is a celebrated lieutenant in the Royal Navy, but is forced to leave his naval career after an illness leaves him incapable of serving on a ship. He's hoping to supplement his not very generous pension by having a book of his memoirs published, but that proves more difficult that he initially thought. He wants the money to provide a dowry for his younger sister, so when he hears that a large shipment of gold from the Royal Mint has gone missing, and there is a sizable reward offered, he decides to use the skills at his disposal to try to locate the missing treasure.

His hunt leads him to Derbyshire, where a high born friend has given him a letter of introduction to stay with the local vicar. He meets the mysterious and charming Charlotte Perry, who turns out to be rather more than the proper and demure vicar's daughter she presents herself as in the village. Charlotte is also looking for the missing gold, intending to use the gold to secure a respectable future for herself and her niece. While she and Benedict begin as rivals, they quickly figure out that it will be much easier if they work together, using Charlotte's local knowledge and Benedict's experience from his travels to locate the treasure.

I have read a number of novels by Theresa Romain, and while they've all been perfectly ok, none of them have really stuck in my memory for very long. I'm happy to say that this is the first book of hers that I was really impressed by and I was thoroughly entertained throughout. While the treasure hunt is the device that brings them together, the romance between Charlotte and Benedict is clearly the most important plot element here and they're such an interesting couple. Benedict was forced to leave the navy after he was struck blind after an illness. He's only been blind for about four years, and has clearly worked very hard to compensate for his lack of sight since he was forced to retire. Due to his changed circumstances, he gets a fairly small pension and lives in tiny quarters as a Naval Knight in Windsor Castle. He's done independent travel since he was blinded, and hoped to publish his memoirs, but is told by the publisher that unless he publishes his book as a work of fiction, it's not going to sell. No one would believe a blind man went on the adventures he's been on. He needs money to provide for his younger sister, who is about to turn twenty-one and is currently living on the charity of relatives in the living quarters of the book shop their parents owned before they died.

Benedict first runs into Charlotte in the local pub in the village where she grew up. She's heavily veiled in a corner, and he is intrigued by her presence and the clearly assumed name she gives him. They are both there to listen to the ever more dramatic tales of a young barmaid who was given one of the missing gold sovereigns as a tip. When Benedict comes to stay with the local vicar, he's surprised to discover that Charlotte is in fact their spinster daughter, who has been away for much of the last ten years "doing virtuous works". The truth is that after Charlotte fell in love and was ruined by a young man, she went to London and made a very lucrative career as a sought-after courtesan, La Perle. Rather disillusioned with this life, she needs the money to retire somewhere comfortable and take care of her orphaned niece, currently being raised by Charlotte's parents. Charlotte is obviously trying very hard to not have the respectable vicar's daughter connected to the infamous courtesan, a task made more difficult because of an arrogant noble patron determined to track her down.

While neither Charlotte nor Benedict are much into their thirties, it was still nice to read about characters who had some actual worldly experience and who felt a lot more mature than a lot of the normal protagonists you find in romance. They communicate very well together from the start, and there was surprisingly little drama between them, even as they are struggling to figure out a way to reconcile their wishes for the future. The book also briefly introduces both of the protagonists of the companion novel - Benedict's good friend, Lord Hugo Starling (who writes him the letter of introduction to Reverend Perry, with whom he's been corresponding for years) and younger sister, Georgette, who is a bit sick of feeling like a financial burden to all her relatives and is more than ready to go off to make her own way in the world.

Judging a book by its cover: I think this cover is pretty great, actually. The cover model is clearly not in the first blush of youth, which would have been very inappropriate anyway. The dress she's wearing is gorgeous, just look at that embroidery! The rural landscape she's standing in also feels very on point - and there are no partially undone laces, or skirts that go on for days or any of the rubbish that you so often see on historical romances. Just a pretty lady in a pretty (and period appropriate dress).

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Georgette Frost's parents are dead, and though the bookshop they ran when they were alive was sold to some cousins, it was stipulated in their will that Georgette be allowed to live there until she turned 21, an event that is only a few weeks away. Helping out in the bookstore and trying her best to help raise all of her cousin's many children isn't exactly anyone's dream, and when Georgette gets a letter from Derbyshire from her brother, and figures out that he is off hunting for the missing gold and the Royal Reward, she decides that living on the charity of relatives is all well and good, but making your own way in the world is better.

She disguises herself as a boy and intends to go find her brother, but is quickly found and intercepted by Lord Hugo Starling, her brother's best friend. Lord Hugo is the younger son of the Duke of Willingham and met Benedict Frost when they studied medicine together in Edinburgh. While a duke's son being a doctor is unusual, Hugo rejected family and society expectations to become one after his twin brother died tragically several years ago. Hugo is convinced his brother could have survived if he had a properly trained doctor, not just the most prestigious and recommended by other nobles. He is more or less estranged from his family, and struggling to find funding for a new and innovative London hospital. Hugo wants to leave Georgette with his mother, but she promises she'll just run away again. She also persuades him that if he's involved in finding the missing gold sovereigns, the publicity he'll get will no doubt help him secure the funding for his hospital.

Hugo therefore reluctantly agrees to escort Georgette to Derbyshire, as he can't let her travel alone. They haven't been long underway when they discover that the gold has clearly been divided up, as there are rumours of unusual gold transactions as far north as Northumberland. Posing as husband and wife, Hugo and Georgette, pursued by a dogged Bow Street Runner named Jenks end up on the estate of a rather befuddled baronet, who Georgette has claimed is her uncle. Sir Frederic Chapple doesn't really like the nosy Jenks, and is rather bored, so happily plays along when Georgette implores him not to give up their true identities. While staying on his lands and trying to figure out where the gold is hidden, Hugo offers up his medical knowledge to the local tenants, and Georgette acts as his nurse and assistant.

As with every single story involving a couple pretending to be married, Georgette and Hugo obviously fall madly in love with one another. Georgette has always desperately wanted somewhere to truly belong, even when her parents were alive, her scholarly parents were so engrossed in each other and the books they sold, that they barely noticed her. Her older brother was always away at sea, and after he was blinded, he mostly stayed away. She wants to be part of a proper family unit and seen and appreciated, even loved for herself. Having grown up in a book shop, she's intelligent and opinionated and even against his better judgement, Hugo is always persuaded by her in the end.

Hugo lost his beloved twin brother and feels both guilt and anger because of it. He's a living reminder to his parents (and himself, every time he looks in a mirror) of what was lost, and he cannot forgive his father for not listening when Hugo insisted the doctors were less than useless, and possibly even hurried along his brother's death with their antiquated methods. He refused to join the clergy, as expected of him, and trained himself to be a modern and progressive doctor. Hugo wants to build the hospital in London to care for patients of all classes, not just the wealthy (which is why he's finding it so hard to find funding). Tending to the various patients in Northumberland, he also comes to discover how nice it is to help people at a local level, and begins to doubt whether his hospital is the best way to move forward.

Once again, this was a Theresa Romain book that I genuinely enjoyed, and the treasure hunting plot is really just the maguffin that throws the couple together. Part road trip, part detective story, the main focus is again the couple spending lots of time together and as a result, falling for each other. As in the companion book, set at roughly the same time, the protagonists are both really nice people who suit each other well. While there are external complications and even some danger, there is very little drama between the two of them, and it feels very satisfying when they realise their feelings for the other.

I now feel somewhat bad that these two books have languished on my TBR shelf for so long. I'm very glad I finally read them, and will no doubt revisit both in the future.

Judging a book by its cover: Once again, a fairly simple cover. Pretty cover model in a rural landscape. I really like the outfit, which fits the description of one Georgette wears over the course of the story, having tied a yellow shawl around her dress to make it more colourful and vibrant. The publishers have once again found a model that at least vaguely looks like the character inside, and there isn't a lot of fuss and muss, just an elegant Regency lady and some lovely nature. I wish more romance covers took this approach.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

Thursday 16 November 2017

#CBR9 Book 98: "A Curious Beginning" by Deanna Raybourn

Page count: 352 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Orphaned Veronica Speedwell has just buried the last of the two spinster aunts who raised her. She is looking forward to making her own way in the world now, exploring the world while catching butterflies, and possibly allowing herself a dalliance or two with a dashing foreign gentleman. She is shocked to discover an intruder in her home and is shortly thereafter approached by a distraught German baron who insists he has information about her past, and the she is in terrible danger. While Veronica is pretty sure the man is exaggerating his claims, she happily accepts his offer of escorting her to London.

When the baron and Veronica arrive in London, she is promptly deposited in the rather ramshackle warehouse where an associate of the baron's, known only as Stoker, performs his own scientific endeavours, he's a taxidermist. Stoker appears to owe the baron a debt of honour and while he's not happy about it, has to promise to keep Veronica safe. Before she finds out any more clues about her parentage or really has a chance to get settled with her rather taciturn and eccentric new host, they discover that the baron has been murdered.

Stoker believes Veronica is the reason the baron was killed, and therefore refuses to let her out of his sight while they go on the run (Stoker is a prime suspect in the murder) and try to figure out exactly why the baron was killed and by whom, so that Stoker can clear his name and Veronica can (hopefully) discover more about her mysterious past (and why someone might kill to ensure it stays hidden).

While the last few books in the Lady Julia Grey mysteries get a bit less exciting, the three first in that series are still very enjoyable and a fun read. I am also very fond of Ms. Raybourn's three loosely inter-connected romantic adventure/mysteries set in the 1920s, with determined young heroines and the men who fall for them. It's impossible not to draw comparisons between the Lady Julia books and this new series, about Veronica Speedwell, as both are mysteries set in the late Victorian era, with female protagonists (and a dark and broody love interest).

While Lady Julia is the daughter of an Earl and was raised to privilege, Veronica Speedwell is an orphan of unknown parentage, who has always assumed she was illegitimate. She was raised by two rather strict ladies, and they never stayed too long in one place. Veronica is a natural scientist and passionate lepidopterist. Even though it distressed her aunts, she has been on several expeditions around the world and while she refuses to indulge in romantic affairs while within the borders of Britain, she's clearly almost anachronistically open in her attitudes to sex and has had several lovers while abroad on her expeditions. In contrast, Stoker, who we discover is of noble birth, but disgraced because of all manner of dark things in his past (many of which will likely be revealed in later books, as we are clearly just scratching the surface of all his angst in this book) is rather proper, much more traditionally Victorian and rather shocked by Veronica's brazen attitude.

Parts of the book is a road trip of sorts, while they are forced to go on the run together and end up with a travelling circus, posing as newlyweds. The Lady Julia books had a very slow build-up of the romantic relationship between the two main characters, not really giving the readers what they truly wanted until towards the end of the third book of the series and she's clearly going to do something similar here. While I'm all for a long, slow burn if it's done well, it frustrated me that while there is clearly all manner of unresolved attraction between Veronica and Stoker, they don't even kiss over the course of the story. A slow burn is all well and good, but it's nice to have something to whet the appetite, so to speak.

I don't entirely know if I think Veronica is a bit too forward, opinionated and open-minded for a Victorian heroine. I liked Stoker and his moodiness, and him being a natural historian and taxidermist is pretty cool. It's hinted that he has rather the melodramatic past, and I just hope that nothing too silly is revealed in the books to come. There is also the fact that the murder mystery after a while most certainly takes second place to the search for Veronica's background, and I'm really not all that enthused about the truths that were revealed. Not sure how much of a part it's going to play in future books, I'm hoping it doesn't become a major thing.

A promising start to a new series. I like Raybourn's writing and will happily support her as long as she entertains me.

Judging a book by its cover: I like the beautiful outfit that the cover model is wearing, the red is certainly very eye-catching and seems extremely like something our heroine would actually wear. I'm not entirely sure what I think of the rest of the background, with the strange lighting making the houses appear odd colours and all the smoke in the background (although that at least may have some basis in the plot). Still, the red-clad figure in the foreground catches the eye, and that probably helps bring in readers.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.