Friday 28 December 2018

#CBR10 Book 108: "The Other Miss Bridgerton" by Julia Quinn

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Miss Poppy Bridgerton is visiting a cousin at the coast when she stumbles upon a strange cave, which happens to be full of smugglers' goods. When she's shortly after discovered by two of the smugglers, she finds herself drugged and abducted onto a ship, where the very handsome captain tells her that she can't be released until after the ship has been to Portugal and back. Poppy is none too happy about this, obviously, but doesn't really have a choice. She just has to hope that her reputation isn't completely in tatters by the time she returns.

While he has to present himself to Poppy Bridgerton as a privateer, Andrew Rokesby used to have a career in the navy, and now secretly works for the British Government, ferrying secret messages to exotic locations. Not even his own family knows what he really does, and while he's not happy about the idea, he can't have the stubborn Miss Bridgerton revealing to anyone what she has found in the cave, so whether he wants to or not, she has to be his unwilling passenger to Portugal and back. He only hopes he can complete his mission swiftly and return her to England before anyone realises she's been gone - or he'll most likely have to marry the infuriating woman.

This is the third book in Julia Quinn's prequel series to her extremely popular and successful Bridgerton novels. With each book, I keep hoping that she'll return to the magical storytelling of her earlier books, and with each successive book, I keep being let down. This book is fine. Poppy Bridgerton is independent, headstrong, much more intelligent than is seen as entirely attractive in a woman in the Georgian era, and mourns a dead brother. Andrew Rokesby is the younger of several sons and wants to serve his country, but chafes at the fact that he has to keep the truth hidden from his family in order to do so. Oh, and at some point in the story, Quinn decides that he clearly wants to be an architect instead, so she throws in this scene where he nerds out about building techniques and the special ways to construct some house in Portugal, just so Poppy (and we, the readers) can see how wrong it is for him to even be a sea captain, let alone a clandestine diplomat.

Set aside the hugely problematic "meet cute" of this novel - that the heroine is literally drugged and abducted by the hero's crew members, and then she's held prisoner in his cabin for over a week, and there is some good banter and flirting here. But in every interaction, it was difficult for me to remember that Poppy was not on this exciting ocean adventure by choice, she was abducted. Doesn't really matter how handsome the hero is, or how infuriating he finds the situation, he still went along with kidnapping a young woman away from her family.

There's also the fact that apart from the initial abduction, very little happens. Poppy complains about having to be cooped up in the captain's cabin. They flirt. She befriends the boy who brings her food. She and the captain flirt some more. He keeps saying he needs to keep her confined - then takes her up on deck to show her the stars. He needs to keep her on the ship when they get to Portugal, but goes against his better judgement and takes her on a tour of the city. Then they BOTH get abducted, by villains wanting ransom money.

As I said, some of the dialogue and banter is rather cute, if I could have forgotten that our dashing captain was also a kidnapper! His worry that he might end up married to our heroine was difficult to sympathise with, since he was the one who was responsible for completely crushing her reputation, by whisking her on a several week long journey on a ship without a chaperone. He's lucky he fell in love with her, as he would have been honour bound to marry her no matter what.

I should probably just give up on these books, and wait until online reviewers tell me Quinn is back to her old sparkling self again. But I love her earlier novels so much, and keep hoping that her books will be really great again. This book is merely ok, which is sad, as it's the last book I'm likely to read this year, and it's only the second book I managed to finish in all of December. (I may be broken, you guys). I would have liked to end the year on a more satisfying note. Alas, it was not to be.

Judging a book by its cover: There's really not much to say about this cover. There's a cute young woman, in a pretty dress. There's a ship in the background. Happily, the woman's dress is not unlaced most of the way down the back, showing her mysterious and anachronistic lack of undergarments, nor is she showing off most of her legs by lying draped awkwardly over furniture in some way. So I guess I should be thankful for small mercies.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR10 Book 107: "Starless" by Jacqueline Carey

Page count: 592 pages
Audio book length: 21 hrs 41 mins
Rating: 4 stars

Khai was destined from birth to become the Shadow of the Sun-blessed princess Zaryia. Both born during the same eclipse, Khai was the child who caught the hawk's feather thrown by the selected priestess, thus confirming that he was the chosen one. Raised by warrior priests deep in the desert, Khai is trained in all the deadly arts of stealth and fighting, and gets his first chance to kill a man at age nine. He hones all his abilities to become the very best Shadow to his soul's twin, destined to guard and protect her against all evil. Yet when he nears puberty, Khai makes a startling discovery, and needs to reassess everything he previously believed about himself and his identity.

When Khai passes the trials necessary to confirm him as the Sun-blessed princess' Shadow, he makes his way to the court of the king and finally meets Zaryia. The soul twins both feel like they've found the missing piece of themselves, and together have to navigate the gossip and deadly intrigue of the royal family. Zaryia is a scholar and dreams of being a prophecy hunter, but that seems unlikely, living the sheltered life in court that she does. Unexpectedly, however, while preparing for Zariya's betrothal, the princess and the young warrior find themselves and their lives taking an entirely new path - one of adventure and mystery, danger and fellowship.

The dark god Miasmus is rising in the west, and Zaryia and Khai are two of the individuals destined to help stop him from covering the world in death and destruction. If the prophecy hunters succeed, the stars could return to the heavens once more. If they fail, the world will end.

Kushiel's Dart, Jacqueline Carey's debut novel, is still one of my favourite fantasy novels of all time. So the discovery that her most recent novel was a completely stand-alone fantasy, a full book, no interminable waiting for sequels for years and years, was very welcome. The non-western setting of this book was also a pleasant surprise, and the identity crisis our protagonist Khai has to go through over the course of the novel was also interesting.

I listened to this book in audio, and according to Goodreads, it took me about five months to get through the book, so it's difficult for me to say exactly how long the various parts were. The early parts of the book, Khai's upbringing in the Fortress of the Winds with the Brotherhood of Pahrkuhn was all very engaging, if somewhat slow at times. The section at the Court at Merabaht and the backstabbing and intrigue there was probably the least interesting. It felt like the book spent too long dealing with Khai's childhood and every single detailed aspect of his training, then there was a lull when he got to court, only for the plot to get almost too hurried towards its conclusion and the big "saving the world" conclusion. We don't really get a chance to properly get to know the band of adventurers that Zaryia and Khai are destined to fight Miasmus with. Their whole quest happens too quickly and because we've spent too much of the book in the desert, or with the decadent court in Merabaht, we also don't invest enough in the various characters who find themselves in danger, nor care when some of them inevitably perish before the quest reaches its conclusion.

While I really like Khai, and the various Brothers of Pahrkuhn, I found Zaryia and her many excessive endearments a bit grating. Seriously, she calls everyone "my darling", as is pretty much everyone, from the servants to casual acquaintances, to her close and actual beloved family. I think I also would have preferred it if the relationship between her and Khai remained extremely close, but platonic - the romantic development felt forced and a bit tacked on.

As always, the world-building is excellent and as I mentioned earlier, I really liked that the book takes place in a non-western setting, with a middle eastern/islamic feel to the first half, and the bits at sea taking place in what I imagined to be a sort of Pacific island style place. Sadly, because the final third or so, when they go on their adventure, is so hurried, a lot of the later locations aren't given their proper due, the reader doesn't get the same detailed feel for them as the earlier settings in the desert and the court.

This wasn't a bad book, by any means, and I am deeply thankful that the story was wrapped up in one book, no matter how rocky some of the structuring and characterisation was. It kept failing to really hold my attention, though, which (coupled with the fact that I've had a lot on my plate for the latter half of the year) probably accounts for the fact that it took me just so long to get through the audio. I was enjoying the book when I actually listened to it, but never felt any compelling need to pick it back up again and progress, so it took months and months to get though. I may have liked it more if I'd read it in a more compressed time line. Still, it gets four stars for the ambitious world-building and the strides it makes for non-traditional representation. The characters are people of a variety of nationalities and colour, there's various gender identities and sexual preferences among them, one protagonist is disabled (and doesn't get magically healed at any point in the book, either). Well worth a read, if not as gripping to me as the Kushiel books.

Judging a book by its cover: The cover is pretty, and allows the reader to project a lot of their own ideas onto it. There's a number of falling stars, lighting up the sky in the background and falling to the dark earth below. In this book, the gods are physical entities who appear among people. They were once stars in the heavens, but fell (I don't remember entirely why). The skies are dark, except for the sun and the multiple moons. An ancient prophecy speaks of how the stars may be returned to the heavens - that's part of what this book is all about.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Wednesday 26 December 2018

#CBR10 Book 106: "Wicked and the Wallflower" by Sarah Maclean

Page count: 416 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Felicity Faircloth may be the daughter of an Earl, but she is now on the fringes of society and her family desperately need her to land a rich husband, sooner rather than later, please. She's not at all happy to discover just how dire the family's finances are (and that they've kept the truth from her for over a year), but she may have just doomed them all, but telling a very inconvenient lie at a ball held by the reclusive Duke of Marwick. The lie - that she's in fact already betrothed to marry him.

Imagine her surprise when a scoundrel shows up in her bedroom after the ball, promising her that she can, in fact, land the Duke if she makes a deal with the Devil of Whitechapel. Felicity misses the time when she was part of the popular crowd and wants to save her family's reputation, so she agrees, but she also wonders how in the world this Devil will convince the Duke to agree to marry a woman he's not even met, and what this mystery man's motives are for "helping" her.

Said Devil of Whitechapel is in fact one of three bastard sons, born to the former Duke of Marwick on the exact same day, to three different women (this is the sort of implausible coincidence you just have to roll with). There is in fact a fourth child sharing the same birthday, the Duke's daughter Grace (who ironically is NOT his legitimate child either). The three boys were brought to his estate as children and forced to compete in horrific challenges to see who would become the Duke's heir. They swore a pact that there would never be any actual heirs - and since Ewan (now the Duke) seems to be breaking that promise, by trying to find a wife and possibly sire children, his half-brothers Devil (real name Devon) and Beast (Whit) are determined to stop him.

Devil/Devon plans to help Felicity snag him, get publicly engaged, then seduce her, so she can't marry the Duke because of the ensuing scandal. Beast/Whit thinks this is a rubbish plan, and can clearly see that his brother is far too besotted with Felicity to ever use her to gain revenge over their other brother. As it becomes very obvious from early on that Felicity returns Devon's attraction, and doesn't really care one whit for the Duke, the plan goes awry pretty quickly. Yet she's unlikely to regain her position in society if she spurns a handsome and eligible duke in favour of a shady underworld smuggler.

I really don't like revenge plots where some dude is going to get back at another dude by using a woman. Thankfully, Sarah Maclean has Felicity be a heroine who refuses to be used in anyone's game, and who is far more interested in the supposedly dangerous and double-dealing underworld crime boss than the handsome Duke she initially lies and says she is to marry. She's far too good for Devon/Devil (such a dumb nickname), but not really because she's the daughter of an earl and from high society, while he's illegitimate and fought for most of his life to establish a criminal empire with his brother and foster sister. He wants to use Felicity to thwart Ewan, the bastard who became the Duke's heir. Ewan, in turn, wants to use Felicity to get to Devon, because he desperately wants to find Grace, the Duke of Marwick's actual heir (although the Duchess of Marwick had been just as unfaithful as her husband), whom he is obsessed with.

Felicity wants adventure and to be loved, she wants the Duke, but only if he'll fall passionately for her. At the start of the book, she longs to return to the centre of the ton and be popular, but as the sordid scheme progresses, she realises that she wants something else, and she just needs to make the stubborn ice smuggler understand it. She also discovers that while she loves her family, she's sick of being used by them, and is done trying to appease them and sacrifice herself to bail them out.

As with Tessa Dare's novels, Sarah Maclean's romances need to be read with a healthy suspension of disbelief. Really, throw your disbelief out the window. At the same time, there is an almost fairytale like feel to this new series. You have the four children, born on the exact same day, all connected to a very wicked man who made their childhoods hell. There is Felicity Faircloth, with a name like a fairytale heroine (and Devon keeps referring to her by her full name, which starts out sort of charming, gets annoying and kind of goes back into charming again because of the repetition), who ends up not just saving herself, but the stubborn man she falls for. While Whit (the hero of the next book) is clearly the strong, silent type), the two most intriguing supporting characters are probably Ewan (who is sort of nominally the villain of the piece) and Grace/Dahlia. Ewan is clearly unhealthily obsessed with his foster sister - it is said that he loved her once, but Devon and Whit are clearly willing to risk their lives to keep her from him, and because her very existence threatens Ewan's title and wealth, his need to find her at all costs is definitely cast in a sinister light.

None of the books of the Scandal and Scoundrel series really worked all that well for me (and the whole Kardashian thing in the Victorian era didn't really stick the landing), so I was reluctant to start this one. I waited nearly six months to start it (after I got it on sale) and was really very pleasantly surprised at how much fun it was. Maclean is still not back at "buy at full price", but then, so very few authors are nowadays, but she has earned herself a reprieve, and I'm more excited to read the next book in the series now than I was before I finished this one.

Judging a book by its cover: Oh mercy me, do I hate this cover. I'm pretty sure that it would have been difficult, if not impossible for that colour of lurid fuchsia to be produced in the Victorian era. Then there's the fact that the cut of the dress is wrong for the period, not to mention the horrible mini-skirt effect they're trying to achieve, which makes my eye twitch. I have loathed this cover since I saw it revealed many months ago, and it was a contributing factor to me waiting so long to pick up the book.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Tuesday 25 December 2018

#CBR10 Book 105: "Diamond Fire" by Ilona Andrews

Page count: 160 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

Spoiler warning! This novella takes place after the events of Wildfire and this review may spoil things for any reader who has not finished the original Hidden Legacy trilogy. Proceed at your own risk.

Nevada Baylor is marrying Connor Rogan, and that means a huge society wedding with countless guests, including many of Rogan's family members from all over the world. After the bride runs off numerous wedding planners, her sisters Catalina and Arabella decide to take over the wedding planning duties. It turns out that dealing with her older sister's increasingly erratic demands is child's play compared to some of the other challenges Catalina suddenly faces. Rogan's mother lets her know that a priceless family tiara, which Nevada is supposed to wear to the ceremony, has been stolen, most likely by one of the relatives from out of town. In addition, it seems someone is trying to poison the wedding cake.

Catalina has always been reluctant to use her magic, because it's never brought her anything but trouble and grief. To track down the culprit behind the tiara robbery, not to mention revealing the identity of the person willing to kill one or several of the wedding party, she will have to bury her misgivings and start using her gifts.

This novella starts with Nevada's POV and shows the readers how Nevada, the main character and heroine of the first three Hidden Legacy books finally meets the mother of her fiancee, who turns out to be just as formidable as you might imagine Connor "The Scourge of Mexico" Rogan's mother to be. It then cuts to two months later, where we see the rest of the story through the eyes of Catalina, her younger sister, Nevada's maid of honour and wedding planner. As there will be a new trilogy, starring Catalina, and set some years in the future of this story, the readers get a taste of what's to come and what Catalina can actually do with her rather mysterious powers. This is a bridging story and it works very well indeed.

The Rogans have a ton of relatives come over from Europe and while some are lovely, there are others who are utterly horrible. Catalina faces the difficult task having to figure of which of the groom's relatives are duplicitous and may have committed theft to sabotage the ceremony, as well as having to identify who is crazy and angry enough to try to poison the wedding cake. She's only eighteen and due to her powers, has kept herself a lot more isolated than her two sisters. Nevertheless, she loves her sister more than anything and with the help of her family members in Baylor Investigations, not to mention Rogan's many security operatives, she is determined to make sure Nevada has the wedding of her dreams.

Nevada is a much better investigator than her sister, as well as older and more experienced, but the main point of this story is clearly to show Catalina having to push herself out of her comfort zone and coming to terms with what she's capable of, so she can become a worthy heroine in the next trilogy. It doesn't mean that it's not very entertaining following her (as well as all of the colourful family members of the Baylor clan who we've already come to know) in this story and pretty much the only reason I'm not rating the novella five stars is that it felt too short, and I wanted more.

Sapphire Flames, the first book in Catalina's full trilogy, is out on August 27th (my 40th birthday!) and I can't wait to see what my favourite paranormal fantasy writers have in store for her.

Judging a book by its cover: I have talked about the myriad awful book covers that Ilona Andrews has had in the past, compared to many, this isn't actually too bad. Not a huge fan of the pink and purple pastel, and the torso on the cover model seems weirdly elongated and out of proportion somehow, but considering this is a novella in the same series which includes White Hot (also known as possibly the worst cover art of any book I own), this cover is just fine.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Saturday 1 December 2018

#CBR10 Book 104: "Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It". Edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O'Shea

Page count: 186 pages
Rating: 4 stars

#CBR10Bingo: Two Heads Are Better Than One

So my final review of #CBR10Bingo requires some assistance, and I will be joined by my husband Mark ("Hello!"), who also gave me the book we're co-reviewing. I figured I should start with some background. I hadn't watched any of the now hugely popular children's television program Doctor Who until I went to University in Scotland in the late 1990s, early 2000s. Of course, this was because at that point, the show wasn't actually on the air, and anyone who wanted to watch it, or get other friends interested in it, probably had to own the show on VHS.

Some of my Scottish friends did their best to introduce me to a bunch of sci-fi. Before going to St. Andrews, I'd really only watched Babylon 5. (They managed a lot better with Doctor Who than with Star Trek. Even being showed a bunch of episodes of both The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, I wasn't really all that interested). If memory serves, I was shown Spearhead from Space with Jon Pertwee, the Third Doctor and The Curse of Fenric with Sylvester McCoy, the Seventh Doctor (there were probably more, but those are the two I can clearly remember).  Nevertheless, I hadn't really watched all that much of it before it was relaunched in 2005, even though it was one of my then-boyfriend, now-husband's favourite shows. As well as being a huge fan of the modern show, in the 18 years my husband and I have been together, I've now also watched a lot of the classic series (but by no means all, probably not even half). I also really enjoy the Verity! podcast - Lynne M. Thomas, one of the contributors to that show, co-edited Chicks Dig Time Lords, and the anthology also features essays from several of the other "Verities". I should probably let my husband contribute a bit, though, shouldn't I?

(cracks fingers)
(Right. This is on now, right? Is this on? Can you hear me at the back? Yes? Good)
OK. So, my Good Lady Wife asked me how long I have been a fan of the Popular British Children's Television Programme Doctor Who. The answer is...quite a while. Yessirreee. Several of your Earth whiles, plus a few more. Since the mid-1980s, to be specific, then a bit more in the 1990s. I can politely but firmly assure you that being a Doctor Who fan during the '90s, when the show wasn't even on the air, was not a surefire way of winning friends. But I stuck with it, thanks largely to a comprehensive lack of anything better to do, and my patience was rewarded in 2005 when the show finally returned to the airwaves. Only this time around, I had a proper, human female, girlfriend to watch it with. The novelty still hasn't entirely worn off.

Is that why you gave me this book for Christmas last year? You wanted me to share in the geeky experiences of long time fans of the show, many of whom are either people whose voices I've heard on podcasts, or authors whose books I've read and enjoyed?

Well, "share in the geeky experiences" is definitely a nicer way of putting it than my usual choice of "bathe together in the stinky nerd-mud of mutual shame", so thanks for that. But...well, sort of yes, and sort of no. After nearly two of your Earth Decades together, we've bonded over our mutual nerdery in many ways, and our respective fondness for The Popular British Children's Television Programme Doctor Who is only one of them. But it's still a biggie, as witnessed by your earlier reviews of Doctor Who In An Exciting Adventure With The Daleks, Adventures With The Wife In Space, and The Dying Days (which I just went back and verified was my first Cannonball for CBR2!) . And given how much we both enjoy the Verity! podcast, and its still-more-noteworthy-than-it-really-should-be emphasis on a female perspective on this show we both love, I thought this might appeal to you.

Plus, you know, I wanted to read it myself. But not in a Homer-buying-Marge-a-bowling-ball sort of way. Honest. 

I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. The book is an anthology containing essays, articles and interviews, and being mostly a fan of the new show, and not super involved in all levels of the fandom (fan fiction, the comics, the fanzines, podcasts, conventions etc.), there were absolutely some bits that didn't really resonate with me, simply because I had very little frame of reference for them. I think the entries that worked the best for me were the ones that talked about sharing the show with family, like those of Carole E. Barrowman (John Barrowman/Jack Harkness' sister), Amy Fritsch (who talks about introducing the show to her daughter, named for actress Elisabeth Sladen, and taking her to conventions). My favourite essay in the whole collection is probably the one by Verity! contributor Lynne M. Thomas, who talks first about how she married a huge fan, and discovered just how warm and accepting the Doctor Who fandom is when they had their disabled daughter). That contribution genuinely had me in tears, I was so moved. Deborah Stanish, another Verity! wrote a good one, and I also enjoyed some from famous fantasy/sci-fi writers Seanan McGuire (who was apparently in love with Adric as a teenager, not to mention thinking the show was a documentary for a while, because it ran on PBS) and Mary Robinette Kowal.

There were quite a few entries I was mostly indifferent about, or that didn't interest me all that much because I've never, for instance, read fan fiction of any kind (so essays covering that were unlikely to thrill me). There are several interviews, which seemed a bit like filler to me, but my least favourite essays were probably the one by Jackie Jenkins about a Bridget Jones type character included in Doctor Who Magazine and Kathryn Sullivan's essay about fanzines (soo dull). What about you, husband o' mine?

Well, I'm grudgingly forced to publicly acknowledge our mutual compatibility - and we both know how much I hate doing that - by admitting that Lynne Thomas' essay was probably my favourite thing in the book too, for reasons relating largely to its obviously heartrending loveliness. I also shared your disinterest in the "Jackie Jenkins" piece (although when it comes to that one I may have to play the "NO GREATER NERD" card and point out that I was failing to be amused by JJ's "what if Bridget Jones But a Doctor Who Fan" gimmick long before you even met me). But yes, Lynne's piece was absolutely lovely - now that the two of us are BONDED FOREVER by our parental duties to a child who will, with any luck, grow into a formidable Doctor Who fan in his own right, it resonated with me in ways that may not have been quite so powerful a couple of years ago.

I also thoroughly enjoyed Verity! host Liz Myles' essay on the experience of being a Doctor Who fan both pre- and post- the 2005 revival, which resonated with me in ways that I suspect largely passed you by. Although Liz and I obviously differ on many specifics - why would anybody, however tentatively, even try to ship the 5th Doctor and Tegan, for example, when the manifestly superior pairing of Tegan/Nyssa is right there, leaping out of the screen and begging to be noticed? - I nonetheless recognise a great many of my own experiences in her story, in much the same frustrating-but-familiar way I experience whenever I'm shouting at the radio in furious agreement with her contributions to the Verity! podcast (Oh, Liz. How dare you be so obviously right, in such an ever-so-slightly wrong way/so obviously wrong, in such an ever-so-nearly-right way! It makes me SO MAD).

So in conclusion, while the husband may in fact have bought me the book as a Christmas present at least 50% because HE wanted to read it (and considering when he went out for the last presents last year, something like 10-15% desperation, just needing to find something appropriate for my last present), I was actually happy to receive it, interested in reading it and ended up very much enjoying most of it. Sadly, the essays only cover the modern series up to the announcement of Matt Smith as the newest Doctor, there's nothing about his era on the show, Peter Capaldi, or obviously the current Doctor, Jodie Whitaker (whom I love, even if the quality of the show in general right now is...questionable). If Mad Norwegian Press were to publish another anthology with similar essays for the Steven Moffat years, I would love to read it.

Hey, does this mean I get the last word? Awesome. I want it to be "bogeys".

Also, while I obviously wholeheartedly deny any implication of desperation attached my purchase of this present, I'm very glad you enjoyed it as much as you apparently did. Given that this book ends on a note of what I would politely suggest may be termed "unwarranted optimism" regarding the potential feminism of the then-impending Steven Moffat era (while I think there are more credible feminist arguments to be made in defence of Moffat's writing than are sometimes acknowledged, I also think it's worth admitting that...well, there are also some good reasons why "defensiveness" might be considered the default stance on that front), I'd also be interested in reading the sister book Chicks Unravel Time, in which several of the same contributors (and a few others of considerable interest to you, not least Diana "those books about that sexy Highlander and his marginally-less-sexy time-travelling wife you love so much" Gabaldon) continue to get their collective Who geek on, alongside you at some point. But don't worry, I'll buy that one for myself. Or let you buy it for yourself. Whichever happens first.

Oh, and "bogeys". Always, and forever, "bogeys".

Judging a book by its cover: The cover is very cute, with a ton of geeky Doctor Who references, obviously. I really like the art style. The title is on the psychic paper, the girl is wearing the old fashioned 3D-glasses used by the Tenth Doctor, and obviously she's got one of the long knitted wool scarves made so famous by the Fourth Doctor. Finally, she has a TARDIS key on a string around her neck.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Thursday 29 November 2018

#CBR10 Book 103: "Attachments" by Rainbow Rowell

Page count: 357 pages
Rating: 5 stars

#CBR10Bingo: So Popular!

This is my second re-read of Attachments. I first read it back in 2011, and my original review can be found here. Considering how much I loved the book back then (and still do), it's a fairly short and unenthusiastic review. But it'll give you the basics of what the book is about.

When it came to selecting a book for the "So popular!" square, all ten choices (among the most reviewed books of the ten years on the Cannonball blog) were ones I'd already read at least once. Some, like Divergent, The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl, I really just didn't feel like reading again. Some, I'd already read more than once, and it seemed unnecessary to revisit them. I had decided to reread Eleanor & Park, the only Rainbow Rowell novel that I've only read once before. However, only about fifteen pages in, the main reason why I've never really wanted to pick it back up (and why it's my lowest rated of all of her books) started upsetting me too much (Eleanor's incredibly horrible home life, especially her awful stepfather) and I realised that I just had to pick one of the other books on the list if I was to be able to complete my bingo card.

Hence I picked up Attachments once more. Goodreads helpfully showed me that it's been more than five years since I last read it and I was interested in seeing if I still loved it. Short answer, yes. I am a huge fan of the romantic comedy as a genre and am so very ready for it to come back into popularity (Netflix seems to be doing what they can to help, I am grateful). This book would make a great film, as long as it was adapted by the right people. I'd be terrified that they'd mess something up and ruin it, but recently, there's been a lot of good romantic book adaptations, so with any luck, I'd end up with something that was possibly EVEN better than the source material (like Crazy Rich Asians or To All the Boys I've Loved Before)

This was Rowell's debut novel, and when I read it, I had no idea that she would become one of my favourite writers, with each and every new book just resonating with me on a special level. In each and every one of her books, there seems to be scenes that speak directly to me, and in some, I possibly identify a little bit too much. The book where this most holds true, is Fangirl, but with this book, I see so much of myself and my best friend Lydia in Beth and Jennifer's friendship. While they e-mail each other daily, she and I became friends through letters (because this was in the before times, when the internet was not readily available and we had to wait weeks for a letter from the other one). Now of course, we have not one, but two different Facebook chats going (one also includes our husbands) at any given time and we try to video chat at least once every week or so. Technology is a wonderful thing. If we worked in the same place, though, we would totally be sending the sort of e-mails that Beth and Jennifer exchange, and you'd best believe we'd trigger any filter that looked for inappropriate words or content.

I absolutely adore this book, and the fact that I can still be friends with Lydia, even if she found the book "just ok" is a testament to the length and strength of our connection. Cause not loving Rainbow Rowell should quite possibly be some sort of deal breaker. Are Lincoln's actions in the book a bit uncomfortable? Yes. This is addressed within the story. Is the fact that he falls in love with Beth without even knowing what she looks like still super romantic? Yes. Does it all possibly end a little bit too conveniently? Probably, but that's a staple of the romantic comedy genre.

Rereading Attachments made me feel the need to immediately listen to my audiobook copies of Fangirl and then Carry On right after. I have no intention of reviewing either of those books again, because frankly, having just returned to work a little over a week ago, I'm pretty much constantly tired and it's a miracle I'm getting any reading, let alone blogging done. Suffice to say, I still love them just as much as before too. I will at some point be at a place where I'm mentally and emotionally strong enough to tackle Eleanor's home life in Eleanor & Park again and then I will reread that too. But I'm not there yet.

Judging a book by its cover: I have the UK paperback of this book, and much prefer it to the original American edition with the paperclips and empty office chairs. I like the bright colours and the little silhouettes, although I'm not entirely sure why the little man character is wearing a suit, something I'm pretty sure Lincoln never had to do, working the night shift and mainly reading other people's e-mails.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Monday 26 November 2018

#CBR10 Book 102: "Pretty Face" by Lucy Parker

Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

This is a re-read of one of my favourites. My original review (which is quite lengthy) can be found here.

We're pretty much in the coldest and darkest part of the year here in Norway now and it gets harder to motivate oneself for anything except hibernation, really. So with an ever more attentive and demanding baby and preparing to go back to work as a teacher for the first time in over a year, I'm not really up for anything very challenging to read in my spare time. Hence the need for comfort reading.

As I mentioned in my review of The Wedding Date, neither 2017, nor 2018 have been especially great years for romance, but Pretty Face, released early last year, was absolutely one of the exceptions. I remembered it being very good, and re-reading it, I started wondering whether I should actually change my rating to a full five stars. Having thought about it some more, I'm going to leave my rating the same, mainly because great as it is, I would have preferred a bit more time reading about Luc and Lily as an established couple before the book ended, not just the very sweet epilogue.

In her London Celebrities series, Lucy Parker is working her way through her favourite romantic tropes. In the wonderful Act Like It, she covers the "fake dating" trope, in this, she covers "the age gap", which can be extremely tricky to manage properly. Romance with a substantial age difference is difficult to write convincingly, because done badly, this trope can be reading about a guy having a midlife crisis with someone young enough to be his daughter, or some slightly damaged woman with daddy issues trying to work through them with someone inappropriately old for her.

Interestingly, while Luc is certainly going through something resembling crisis (trying to refurbish the family theatre, having recently very publicly broken up with his famous partner), he's in no way having a midlife crisis. Lily certainly has a complex emotional relationship with regards to her father, considering she's the product of his adulterous affair with her mother, and while she knows deep down that he loves her, she's never really been welcome in his home while her stepmother was there and frequently, her father puts himself and his business ventures ahead of spending time with Lily. As does Lily's mother, and for a time, Lily's ex-roommate Trix. Yet it never feels like she's throwing herself at Luc, she is in fact trying very hard to fight the attraction, for a number of reasons (see my original review for her three relationship rules).

Having revisited this, I'm very excited that Lucy Parker has another novel out next year (starring Freddie Carlton, Lily's co-star in this book), but also sad that it's not out until April. That's a long time to wait for what I am hopeful is going to become another favoured comfort read in years to come.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday 25 November 2018

#CBR10 Book 101: "The Wedding Date" by Jasmine Guillory

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Alexa Monroe is in San Francisco to celebrate her sister's promotion when she gets stuck in an elevator for an extended period of time with an attractive stranger. Naturally, they strike up a conversation and Alexa learns that the hot guy, Drew Nichols, is a paediatric surgeon, in town to go to the wedding of his ex-girlfriend and one of his best friends. Obviously, he's not exactly thrilled, and the woman supposed to be his plus one cancelled on him. While they eat some of Alexa's purse snacks (she has cheese and crackers in there to bring to her sister's room), Alexa is persuaded to be Drew's fake girlfriend for the weekend.

While they barely know one another, it's clear that Alexa and Drew have chemistry in spades. After the wedding, they hook up, but rather than go their separate ways the morning after, they spend the day together and agree to keep seeing one another. Alexa works in Berkeley, as the Mayor's chief of staff, while Drew works at a hospital in Los Angeles. So they can only really see one another on weekends, when either one can afford to fly to see the other. Alexa really likes Drew, but he made it very clear at their very first meeting that he doesn't really do long term relationships (he tends to bail when things start getting really serious, but always stays friends with his exes). How long can she keep flying to LA for a guy who will eventually present her with the "Let's just be friends" talk?

Representation is hugely important, and there just aren't enough romances written by or featuring women (or men, for that matter) of colour. The Wedding Date has a female protagonist who is black (she's also described as curvy and larger than your average woman - which I found incredibly refreshing, plus size heroines are also few and far between), while the male love interest is white. While his best friend and fellow doctor at the hospital in LA is Latino (and a great supporting character, whose book I'm very excited to read), it's quite obvious that Drew doesn't really know a lot of people of colour and that he has never really had to think about what it's like to be one in a large group of mostly white strangers (this is the situation Alexa faces when going with him to the wedding). Being a handsome white man, Drew just isn't very aware of his privilege and it's nice that the differences in their experience are covered early on in the book.

Being from different ethnicities is only one of the challenges facing Alexa and Drew. They are both professionals who care deeply for their jobs (and it's refreshing to have book characters who actually seem to do something for a living). It's difficult for them to find the time to see each other, since they live in different cities and plane tickets cost quite a bit of money. When communicating via text, nuances are lost and there's a couple of times when they have some fairly tense arguments based on a text message that could have been cleared up fairly easily if they were speaking face to face.

The biggest problem facing them, however, is Drew's rather baffling unwillingness to commit. As seems to be the norm for me this year, I'm reviewing this book almost a month after I finished it, and as such, some of the finer details are fuzzy to me. I forget whether we actually get a good explanation as to why he consistently bails on a relationship the minute it starts getting serious. Apart from his insistence that he can't be someone's life partner and only wants something casual, he's clearly a smart, handsome, successful guy. He's devoted his life to curing children, for heaven's sake. But the whole "can't commit" thing makes him seem rather immature. Another thing I disliked about him is how insecure he was about Alexa's relationship with her colleague (and one of her best friends) Theo. No matter how many times Alexa assured him that she had no romantic (or sexual) feelings towards her friend, he seemed needlessly suspicious of their friendship. Men and women can be friends without wanting to jump in the sack with one another. If Drew can't accept and not be threatened by Alexa's friendships, I don't see a long term future for them - it wouldn't be healthy.

Alexa was pretty much great, and I liked her friendships with both Theo and Maddie, as well as how passionate she was about her job, not to mention the reasons she wanted her special project for at risk youths launched. I could very much identify with her insecurities about her body and figure, but like that mostly, she was happy to be who she was, and didn't constantly limit what she allowed herself to eat or drink what she wanted, not afraid to enjoy life. You really got a feel for her life outside of her romantic relationship, which made her seem like more of a complete human, not just a stock character.

I also loved Carlos, Drew's colleague, who sees that he's found a great thing in Alexa from pretty much their first meeting and keeps trying to convince his friend that he's a complete idiot if he doesn't take good care of her, thanking his lucky stars he was fortunate enough to find such a great girlfriend. As I frankly liked him more than Drew in the scenes they shared, I was very glad to discover that he's the hero in Guillory's follow-up to this (which is already out, because I waited most of a year to finally picking this up).

I read a lot of rave reviews about this when it came out in January. Sadly, I think neither 2017 nor 2018 have been particularly good years for memorable romance, destined to become much beloved classics. This book is fine, and I enjoyed it, but in previous years, when great romance seemed to be everywhere, it would not even have made it into my top ten. Nevertheless, I'm always glad to discover a new author. Of the hyped about novels by women of colour, I liked this about a million times more than the sadly very disappointing A Duke by Default. I will read more of Guillory's contemporary romances. I can't say the same for Alyssa Cole.

Judging a book by its cover: When I first saw the cover for this book, I was convinced it must be a historical romance. The curly font and the silhouettes just seem to indicate a historical to me, and I'm surprised this is how Guillory's publisher chose to sell her first, contemporary, romance. Yes, there are tiny details that tell you it is in fact not set in the Regency era (the little air planes probably being the most obvious hint), but you only see those if you look more closely. It's a pretty cover, but I still think it's a strange choice by the publisher.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Saturday 24 November 2018

#CBR10 Book 100: "The Cuckoo's Calling" by Robert Galbraith

Page count: 550 pages
Rating: 4 stars

#CBR10Bingo: Award Winner (LA Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller 2013 and an Anthony Award for Best Audio Book in 2014)

Supermodel Lula Landry topples from her third floor balcony and cracks her head open on the snow-covered pavement far below. Strangely, the paparazzi that were surrounding her apartment building earlier in the evening were nowhere to be seen when it happened. After careful investigation, the police rule the death a suicide, although the tabloids have all manner of conspiracy theories, the most popular being that she was murdered by her equally famous boyfriend. Lula's adopted brother disagrees with the police's verdict and is willing to pay a large amount of money to Cormoran Strike, a private detective and war veteran.

As Strike has recently broken up with his girlfriend of many years and is literally living in his office, knowing full well that he's about to have to declare bankruptcy, the case comes as a bit of a lifesaver. Nevertheless, he's not sure that his new client isn't delusional, and nobly tries to pass on the case to begin with. Lula's brother is adamant, and Strike is persuaded to look into the death, quickly discovering that there are things that the police seem to have missed and a lot of conflicting stories surrounding the event.

Along as an assistant, Strike has Robin Ellacott, as temporary secretary sent by an agency (because he forgot to tell them he couldn't afford anyone anymore) who turns out to be a lot more skilled and efficient that any of his previous ones. She's just got engaged to her long time boyfriend, who can't really see why Robin wants to keep working for Strike when she has a lot of other attractive job offers available. Robin seems to really enjoy her forays into investigating and gathering information, however, and while Strike is initially doubtful about even having her in the office (where they both pretend that it's not obvious that he's sleeping every night), he comes to really value her help.

I don't suppose it's much of a spoiler that Lula didn't, in fact, commit suicide. It wouldn't be a very good, or especially long, book if she did. PI checks if police's theory is correct. It is. The end. No one would bother reading that, no matter how famous the author was.

Because of course, as everyone knows by now, this is the first mystery novel that J.K "one of the richest people in the world" Rowling wrote, under a pseudonym. The book had been published, sold pretty well and received a fair amount of good reviews before the truth came out and the sales rocketed.

I'm one of these people who likes the Harry Potter books just fine, but they were not a transformative experience for me, and I don't love them as wholeheartedly and fiercely as a lot of my friends, both in real life and online. When ruthlessly culling my book collection when we moved, I got rid of all but the first three, because with book 4, the series starts getting needlessly bloated (book 5 is especially bad) and I just don't see myself wanting to reread them any time soon. When Gabriel is old enough, if he's interested in fantasy (which I hope to God he is, or we may have to leave him in the woods and try for another) we can always get copies at the library (or I can buy them second hand at a charity shop).

OK, my digression about HP over - I wasn't really sure what to expect from this book. As Cannonball Bingo turned into a bit of a challenge for me to tackle some books that have been on my backlist for a long time, it seemed like the right time to finally read this one. I used to love mysteries  as a teenager and in my early twenties and read them all the time. As I got older and the world has gotten more depressing, I find myself unable to deal with blood, gore misery and horribleness (which sadly often features in mysteries nowadays) and I want my escapism with a guaranteed happy ending. With the exception of J.D. Robb's futuristic In Death books or the occasional Victorian lady solves crimes with some handsome and probably surly gentleman by her side (all of these have a strong romantic element), I don't really read mysteries anymore.

I liked my first taste of Cormoran and Robin enough that I am curious to keep going with this series. This book could just as easily have been a "Cannonballer Recommends" choice, there are certainly enough of Rowling/Galbraith's fans among the other Cannonballers. While it can take me a good long while, I usually eventually get round to anything so beloved by others on the group blog. I already own the second book in the series, but doubt I'll get round to reading it until sometime next year. Having grown up watching British set mystery series on telly with my Mum, I'm also curious about the TV adaptations now. Can't watch it until I'm caught up with the books, though, don't want to be spoiled.

Judging a book by its cover: Since this book has been out for a good long while now, it's had a number of covers over the years. My copy is the original British paperback, I'm pretty sure, with a fairly generic city at night cover. There's some fancy buildings, a cast iron fence in the foreground, a hunched man in an overcoat walking away from us (I'm assuming this is Cormoran Strike himself), with a fancy streetlight casting the whole thing in a golden and atmospheric glow. I much prefer this to the more recent "TV series" tie-in covers.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Wednesday 21 November 2018

#CBR10 Book 99: "Tante Ulrikkes vei" by Zeshan Shakar

Page count: 432 pages
Rating: 4 stars

#CBR10Bingo: Home, Something, Home (this book is set at Stovner in Oslo, three stops away from where I live on the metro. It also concerns exactly the sort of pupils that I teach.)

Two youths, both living in the same tower block in a suburb on the east side of Oslo, in Stovner (where the large majority of inhabitants are immigrants or the children of immigrants). They start out going to the same high school. Starting in the year 2000, the framing device consists of these two teenagers, later young men, being asked to take part in a social studies survey, to map out the formative conditions for children and teens in these eastern suburbs, where the social divide between the white inhabitants of Norwegian descent and the poorer residents (mostly from minority language backgrounds, either first or second generation immigrants from the Middle East, South Asia and/or African countries) keeps getting bigger and more pronounced.

Mohammed ("It is tradition to name the first born Mohammed, and the Prophet is revered by all Muslims, but really, if they are so concerned with me going out and getting a good job and everything, I'm not entirely sure why they would give me that name"), who goes by Mo, writes his answers to the survey as e-mails. He is articulate, intelligent, rather shy and does very well in school. His parents have extremely high expectations of him, and early on, at least, they seem well on course to being fulfilled. Mo does well enough at high school that he wins a special scholarship, established for academically gifted children of immigrants, enabling him to go to University. He even gets to shake the prime minister's hand during the scholarship ceremony.

Our second protagonist, Jamal, doesn't really like to write, so he records his answers on tapes that are sent to the researcher in pre-paid envelopes. His answers are informal, irreverent, full of vernacular slang - a sociolect. His father is out of the picture, after a history of domestic violence. There's just him, his increasingly depressed and ineffectual mother and his much younger little brother, whom Jamal has to step up and help raise. He has to take him to nursery every day and pick him up in the afternoons. He does most of the shopping, and even occasionally attends meetings at the nursery, and later his little brother's school, because his mother isn't really up to the job. While he complains in his reports, he doesn't do it too loudly and swears the researcher to secrecy - no one wants the state to come and take his brother away from the family. After years of struggling through primary and secondary school and getting nowhere, only to find things harder and even more frustrating in high school, one day he has enough and just quits. He gets a job washing cars at a local garage, and is initially, at least, happy to be earning money.

The book follows these two young men over a period of about six years. We see how they view the world, and how they feel about the attitudes towards immigrants prevalent in society. We learn about their hopes, their dreams, their fears and how they feel about their families. Mo studies statistics and economics at the University of Oslo and loves it (at least to begin with). Jamal works at the car wash, gets stoned with his friends, listens to rap music and wants to be a gangster. At the same time, however, he's doing his best to make sure his little brother is fed and that the staff at nursery and later, school, doesn't report that the boy has problems speaking and occasionally wets himself when he's nervous. Jamal gets frustrated at his mother's refusal to be a proper parent.

In addition to winning a prestigious literary award for debutant writers, Tante Ulrikkes vei (the address of the tower block that both the protagonists live in) has sold a phenomenal amount of copies in Norway. A crowd funding effort has ensured that every member of Parliament receives their own copy (which is good, because far too many politicians have no idea what the day to day life of some of the poorer kids in the "wrong part of town" is actually like). It has garnered rave reviews in pretty much everywhere, and once I started reading, I could easily see why. Not only is it a very engaging and well-written book, it's so incredibly important, because the politicians in Parliament are not the only ones who could use an insight in what growing up as the child of immigrants, especially in a both socially and economically disadvantaged families.

Mo's family are not exactly poor, but various circumstances mean they need to rely on support from the government to get by. Tuition fees at Norwegian colleges and universities are less than what it costs to buy a 30-day travel ticket on Oslo public transport, but the scholarship Mo receives allows him to focus entirely on his studies, without needing to work part-time on the side (something he initially suggests doing, but his father is vehemently against. Nothing should take the focus away from his studies, the rest of the family will get by with less, if it means making sure Mo has what he needs at Uni.

Jamal's family, on the other hand, sometimes barely have the money to pay rent and/or get groceries. While he's still in high school, he gets a small stipend to help him, but once he drops out, Jamal has to get a job to help supplement his mother's increasingly meagre benefits. Due to the stigma surrounding mental illness and the fear of child protective services, Jamal and his mother work very hard to hide just how dismal the family's home life actually is, and due to the very poor communication between school, social services and others who could get clued in and intervene (probably making the lives of both Jamal and his brother much better), nothing really changes. For a brief while, Jamal is promised help from a discretionary fund at the local mosque, but after some negative press articles, the mosque loses its additional funding, and it all comes to naught.

Both youths struggle with their families' and society's expectations of them. They are children of immigrants, growing up in Norway, bombarded with two very different and often disparate cultures. Representation is hugely important in fiction, and the two protagonists in this novel could not feel more real to me. In my ten years as a teacher in the Oslo educational system, teaching kids mainly from the east side of the city, I have met several examples of both of these boys. I have seen these kids graduate our secondary school several times.

Some are academically gifted and do well, fulfilling their families' hopes and expectations. Some are gifted and can't take the pressure, dropping out and struggling. Some are like Jamal, functionally illiterate, abrasive, taught to feel inferior and like losers from an early age, because they cannot keep up with the increasingly harder demands both of what they're to learn and how they're to behave in school. They are naturally fed up, and many (especially the boys) drop out of school. Yet others, who get sufficient support, either at school or from other places, manage to find the motivation and eventually mature enough to apply themselves, and end up doing well. I'm never happier than when I meet a former student of mine, often the ones who were very challenging and seen as "trouble", very much like Jamal in this book, and can catch up with them about how they are doing - which tends to be very well indeed.

As of yet, this book is not available in English, but I've read several articles telling me that it will be. There will be an area (or areas) like Stovner, and kids like Mo and Jamal in most cities in most countries around the world. While this book is set in Oslo, the themes it covers are universal.

Judging a book by its cover: The cover is a sort of a pinkish beige, almost the colour of a pale brick. It's very simplistic, with a cover drawing that looks pretty much like something a child would draw if asked what their house looked like. We see a tower block and a small swing set. The rest is blank, except for the title of the novel, which is printed on what looks to be a street sign. This is a novel that has sold on word of mouth, not exactly because of the flashy cover design.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday 18 November 2018

#CBR Book 98: "Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating" by Christina Lauren

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Hazel Bradford is rather intense and most people, certainly the guys she's ever shown any interest in, can't really handle her, or prefer to deal with her in small doses. Her spirited enthusiasm and quirky personality is ideal in her work as a fourth grade teacher, however, and the friends she does have love her to bits and appreciate her for who she is.

Josh Im may be one of the most laid back men Hazel has ever met. They got to know each other in college, when Josh was Hazel's TA, but lost touch and only reconnect at a barbecue seven years later, as Hazel's best friend Emily turns out to be Josh's sister. Hazel announces happily that she and Josh will also be best friends and doesn't win any time working towards making this happen. When Josh discovers that his girlfriend of two years has been cheating on him, Hazel is a rock of support. When Hazel's apartment is accidentally flooded, Josh allows her to stay at his place, even though he's a neat freak and she's a total mess.

She starts trying to set him up on dates, and he wants to return the favour. Josh and Hazel keep going on strange and often catastrophic double dates, repeatedly ignoring everyone else's suggestion that perhaps they should just date each other? They're completely and utterly wrong for one another, after all.

People who have read Christina Lauren's earliest romances may be a bit disappointed with the direction they seem to be taking their current books, which all seem to be standalone romances with a fairly low number of actual sex scenes, and usually long, slow build-ups of the romantic tension between the hero and heroine. While last year's Roomies didn't really work too well for me (it's now been optioned into a movie, and I hope they fix some of the things I was unhappy about in the adaptation), I was glad to find that this was as sweet, diverting and entertaining as I was hoping for.

The romance trope the co-authors are working with here is 'friends to lovers', but there's also absolutely an 'opposites attract' element to the story as well. I also think that the authors are playing with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl character trope in their creation of Hazel. While I enjoyed reading about her in this book, and she was clearly adorable and very caring, she was also a LOT extra and I suspect that in real life, I would find her exhausting to be around. Apparently her mother is much the same, which her father could never really handle and it led to the dissolution of Hazel's parents' marriage and has left her wary of guys her entire life. It's not like Hazel isn't aware of how different she is from most other people, she's very open about it (the book is narrated from both her and Josh' alternating POVs). Hence, while she'd love a long term relationship, she's not very hopeful she'll ever find one.

She certainly doesn't expect to find it with someone like Josh. He's a physical therapist and likes things neat and tidy. Unlike Hazel, he thinks carefully before he speaks and doesn't seem to end up in crazy and/or embarrassing situations every time he's out in public. He's a caring brother and son (he and his sister Emily are of Korean descent, with very strong expectations from their parents about their careers and personal life) and while his family pretty much hate his girlfriend, he's pretty upset when he discovers her betrayal. Subsequently, he's not really looking for anything serious for the first half of the book, just trying to "get back on the horse", so to speak, dating-wise.

Josh and Hazel are both very engaging characters, and as always, Christina Lauren includes a strong supporting cast to help flesh out the story. If you're looking for a really steamy read, this is probably not the book for you, but if you want a funny, sweet and quick read, not too bothered about a lot of *insert funky bass line here*, this is an excellent book to spend some time with. I could absolutely have done without the "surprise" element causing some complications towards the end of the book, and especially the developments of the epilogue, but those are minor niggles. The authors have a new book coming out at the start of December, I hope it's as good.

Judging a book by its cover: I think the warm candy colours of the sunset on the cover are very happy and cute. I forget which city the story is set in (or if it was even mentioned in the book - it doesn't really matter all that much), but the skyline is also nice.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Saturday 17 November 2018

#CBR10 Book 97: "Between the Bridge and the River" by Craig Ferguson

Page count: 348 pages
Rating: 2 stars

#CBR10Bingo: #CannonBookclub

I voted for this book in the most recent Book Club poll because Craig Ferguson's autobiography is hugely enjoyable and one of the best ones I've read/listened to (I have the audiobook, narrated by Ferguson himself), and as a result, I was curious and excited at the chance to read a work of fiction by him. Unlike some who have already reviewed this book (by now quite a few, I'm yet again behind on my reviews), I didn't really watch a lot of Ferguson's stuff as a late night host (although I've seen quite a few fun interviews he's done on YouTube and the song he did about Doctor Who). I'm not sure exactly what I was expected from the book (the blurb is not very informative), but it certainly wasn't what I actually got.

This book was a completely different reading experience from most things I've read (and as long time followers of my blog know, I read quite a lot). It's a whole bunch of things, all of them weird and strange, none of them particularly enjoyable. There's a road trip element, there's magical realism, surrealism, there's various literary allusions (to Dante's Divine Comedy, among other things). It's a satire covering celebrity culture, organised religion and cults, the media and there's a whole load of swearing, other coarse language and violence. Sadly, the only characters Ferguson sees fit to develop in any way are all male, women are all given short shrift, but if they're lucky they escape being sexually violated and/or murdered. There is so much misogyny, sexism, homophobia (there may have been transphobia too, I'm not going back to check) and racism in this book. Ferguson seems obsessed with sex and/or violence and while I'm sure he intended it as edgy and provocative, wanting to shock the reader - it all just comes across as needlessly vulgar and quite sad.

I struggled to get into the book, not really caring for any of the various male protagonists, but once I got a ways into the book, I kept going mainly out of morbid curiosity as to how Ferguson was going to tie everything together (and in the vain hopes that the book would eventually get better). While taking part in the book club discussion, I discovered that this book was initially intended to be the first part in a series. While I stubbornly read this book to the end (and don't blame any of the readers who had to put it down partway through), I most certainly would not have read a sequel.

I said in my review of The Dud Avocado that the late AlabamaPink and I certainly appear to have a vastly different taste in books. This book just confirmed it, and I must admit, if we're doing Book Bingo again next year (which I REALLY hope we do), I hope that we aren't forced to read any more of the books she got through during her painfully cut-short year of reviewing. At least, since I am lucky enough to have access to my American BFF's New York library login, I was able to get this as a loan, and didn't have to pay money for it. I suspect my review would be a lot angrier if I'd have to part with money to read this.

Judging a book by its cover: The book was in parts disgusting, boring or just very, very odd - the cover is simply boring. I'm not entirely sure what it's supposed to be showing - someone falling over and looking up at their hand and foot while doing so? It's not great, but then, neither is this book, so if it keeps people away from it - bonus?

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Monday 12 November 2018

#CBR10 Book 96: "Last Night with the Earl" by Kelly Bowen

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Eli Dawes, the current Earl of Rivers, has been presumed dead for several years after Waterloo. Before he defied his father's wishes and went off to war, he was a handsome, popular and carefree nobleman; now he's got all manner of scars, both physical and emotional, as well as a healthy helping of guilt for never letting his father know he survived the war. He returns to England for reasons (I don't remember, it's been like a month since I finished this), but instead of going to London, he returns to the country house in Dover, where he plans to hide away and deal with his inheritance.

Eli doesn't realise that his father rented out the property to Haverhall School for Young Ladies, and that as a result, the house is full of inquisitive young ladies, as well as their teachers, one of whom is Miss Rose Hayward, who is quite surprised to find him sneaking in a window in the dead of night. Rose and Eli have a past, and in Rose's mind, Eli is the callous rake who disappeared along with her fiancee, destroying her reputation and humiliating her and many other of London's young ladies. Now Rose is a sought-after, but very reclusive portrait painter. She doesn't go out in Society anymore, and believed Eli died, like her faithless fiancee, on the battlefield.

Eli takes his responsibilities seriously, and while he's reluctant to rejoin society, he wants to do good with his inheritance (among other things, open a charitable foundation to take care of soldiers' families). While Rose is initially reluctant to spend time with him,  they can't seem to stay away from one another, and Rose discovers that Eli had absolutely no idea what his former best friend did before he ran off to join the army. He eventually confesses his long-held feelings for Rose, who may in fact return them - but she can never be the wife the Earl of Rivers needs. Rose has scars of her own, they're just a lot less visible than Eli's.

I came to have very high expectations of Kelly Bowen after really enjoying every single book in her Seasons for Scandal series. In this new one, The Devils of Dover, the books are entertaining enough, but not really very memorable. I read this a month ago, and barely remember the finer details of the plot or the central romance. In contrast, I can still remember most of the plots of her previous trilogy, so something is clearly just not there in the same way for me with these books.

I don't think it helped that Eli, the scarred war hero wanting to hide away from the world, kept reminding me a lot of the Duke of Ashbury, in Tessa Dare's much more memorable and enjoyable The Duchess Deal. This was a perfectly fine book while I was reading it, with cameo appearances by several people already introduced in A Duke in the Night. In this, there is no disappointing subplot with a weak antagonist (if there is an actual antagonist, it's Rose's dead fiancee, whose past actions have driven a wedge in Eli and Rose's earlier friendship), bu there isn't really any grand passion here either.

While this book was perfectly fine while I read it, it's one of those romances that just doesn't stick much in my mind. There's nothing too objectionable about it, but nothing to make me want to re-read it either. I am looking forward to book three, where Rose and Clara's brother has apparently been running a smuggling ring as well as being a doctor, but really hope it's better than the first two in this series.

Judging a book by its cover: While half of the cover model's face is in shadow here, it does not look as if his face is terribly scarred and disfigured from the war. From what you can see, if you squint, this guy has a perfectly normal face. Same with his arms and chest - no serious scarring there. If one of the major points of the book is that the hero is scarred from the war, maybe choose a different cover image? Or have, I don't know, a female cover model, to represent the heroine?

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Thursday 8 November 2018

#CBR10 Book 95: "The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet" by Becky Chambers

Page count: 519 pages
Rating: 4 stars

#CBR10Bingo: Cannonballer Recommends (this was a CBR Book Exchange gift from Yesknopemaybe (my paperback copy), it has also been favourably reviewed by MathildeHoeg, ingres77, dAvid, badkittyuno, belphebe, emmalita, narfna and faintingviolet, among others)

Rosemary Harper is trying to escape her old life and doesn't want anyone tracking her down. She pays a lot of money to get a new identity and gets a job on a run-down and patched up spaceship, where no one from her old life would ever think to look for her. Aboard the Wayfarer, with its eclectic, but mostly affectionate crew, she finds a sense of community and a found family she never knew she was missing.

What starts out as mostly routine space travel becomes a lot more dramatic when the crew get an amazing, yet dangerous, job opportunity. Hired to make a wormhole tunnel to a distant planet, currently involved in a vicious civil war, could make the crew a huge amount of money. They have to survive to spend their earnings, though.

Science fiction is a genre I really would like to enjoy, but which I keep struggling with. Every so often, a book or a series comes along that I genuinely enjoy, but so much of the time, the genre just leaves me cold, or maybe bored out of my mind. I also much prefer sci-fi on screen, on TV or film. I tried reading Leviathan Wakes, the first book in The Expanse series, and it just didn't do anything for me. The TV series, on the other hand, I'm hugely enjoying (to the point where I am now furious, because the husband and I are halfway through season 2, and they suddenly yanked it from Norwegian Netflix - how am I going to get the rest of it now?) and it brings the characters and story alive for me in a way the book just didn't.

When I first heard about this book, there was only the one book in the series. There are now three, and in the time since I got the first book on sale, a whole bunch of people whose opinions I trust and respect have reviewed it in glowing terms. Frankly, a book that seems to appeal to so many different people just has to be good, right? So it was an obvious choice for my "Cannonballer Recommends" square (especially since I've been trying to cull my ever expanding TBR list a bit while planning the reads). Nevertheless, I was worried that I was going to be a lone voice who didn't see what all the fuss was about.

Happily, this book worked for me and I enjoyed it a lot. I know I own the second book in the series as well, and am now looking forward to getting to read that in the near future. I suspect that the kind of sci-fi that works for me, is the strongly character driven stuff. Yes, this book features a dangerous tunnelling mission into unknown space and there are potentially hostile aliens who could harm our crew, but that is all secondary to the relationships between the actual crew members and the various interpersonal events that take place. While the ship and the various alien planets are obviously described, not that much time is spent on the technical aspects of things and boring tech stuff. This book cares much more about the various people aboard the Wayfarer, who we get to know through the eyes of Rosemary, and the people and androids they interact with on various planets and ships along the way.

There are absolutely dramatic events that take place over the course of this book, but I cared more about how they impacted on the characters I came to know and enjoy, than for the events themselves. Because I really enjoyed the crew, even the more disagreeable members, I could happily just keep reading about them bimbling about in space. I was sad to discover that the next books, while set in the same universe and sort of loosely connected with this book, don't actually focus any more on the crew of the Wayfarer. Still, Becky Chambers writes sci-fi that I enjoy, so I will give the other books a chance as well. It's not often that I find something I'm excited to read more of in this genre (Narfna's going to be so excited!), so I need to stick with the things that actually work for me.

Thank you, Yesknopemaybe, for my book (you had no idea of knowing I already owned an e-book copy of it). Having now read and enjoyed it, I'm delighted to have a physical copy I can lend to my non e-book reading friends.

Judging a book by its cover: I have two copies of this book, with two different covers. The e-book that I got in an e-book sale back in 2016 has this lovely cover design, with the soaring sky above a tiny, lone person in silhouette. I love this cover. My paperback has the newer cover, which feels like it's pretty much all clunky font and no grace or elegance. I'm assuming the publishers chose the redesign for a good reason, but as far as I can tell, some versions of the sequels also have the pretty, sky-filled cover designs still, so clearly some markets prefer these to the "giant font" ones.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Wednesday 31 October 2018

#CBR10 Book 94: "Saga, volume 9" by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Page count: 152 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

This is volume 9, it is NOT the place to start the series. Do, however, get to your nearest retailer of comics/graphic novels and buy volume 1, it's pretty much the best thing out there right now. You won't regret it.

Normally, the volumes of Saga tend to vary between heavy and emotionally wrenching storylines, followed by something a bit more funny, light-hearted and uplifting. Vol 7 ended on a very sad note, and Vol 8 was an exploration of grief and loss and not exactly a barrel of laughs either. Lured by the cheerful cover illustrations (the back of the book has some of the characters in colourful swimming costumes, clearly relaxing and having fun) for this volume, I expected the six issues in this volume to give the reader a bit of a break, and have our characters get a respite from all the horror and sadness. Thanks a lot, Brian K. Vaughan for the further emotional scars. I should have known better than to get my hopes up by now.

In addition, I discover that the creators, Mr Vaughan and Fiona Staples, creator of some of the best comics art out there, are going on hiatus for at least a year! While I absolutely respect their need for a break, and would much rather that they take a breather to ensure that the story continues to be excellent rather than suffer because they're both burned out, taking a year long break after leaving their readers with the ending of this volume - possibly rubbing salt in the wound after twisting the knife. The wait between trade paperbacks was already long enough.

Who am I kidding? It's not like I won't wait, impatiently, trying to get over the emotional punches that this last volume delivered. I'll be here pining, Brian and Fiona. Get some rest and then keep making me feel me all the feels.

Judging a book by its cover: This cover made me hopeful. It made me believe the current storyline might be a lighter one. That I might not cry at the end. This cover is a clever lie. Damn you, Fiona Staples!

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Tuesday 30 October 2018

#CBR10 Book 93: "This One Summer" by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

Page count: 319 pages
Rating: 4 stars

#CBR10Bingo: Snubbed- it won the Eisner Award in 2015, but was also nominated for a whole host of other things that it lost out on.

Spoiler warning! There will be some spoilers for the plot of this book (which I knew next to nothing about going in, myself), because it will be impossible for me to discuss the contents of the story and my reaction to it without referring to certain plot points in detail. If you want to approach this without knowing anything, maybe skip this review or at least the paragraphs I've tagged.

Every summer Rose and her parents go to Arwago Beach. They have their set rituals and it's Rose's favourite time of the year. Her friend Windy is also there, and she and Rose are inseparable all summer. Something is different this year, though. There's a tension between Rose's parents and they keep fighting when they think Rose can't hear them. For a while, Rose's dad actually leaves, so there's just Rose and her mum at the cabin. Rose is also a lot more fascinated by what the older teens of the area are up to, which creates a certain friction between her and Windy.

This could easily have been a pick for the "Fahrenheit 451" square of the CBR10Bingo, as it was the most banned and challenged book in America in 2016. People get upset and offended by the strangest things. Yes, this book features teenagers drinking (and possibly taking drugs, I forget) and having sex and it also features teenagers dealing with the consequences of said actions. I would thing a realistic depiction of youths doing what young people are wont to do, and an exploration of what that could lead to would be something to welcome. There are a number of good discussions to be had based on the events of Rose's summer.

Here be spoilers! I didn't really know much about the plot specifics of this book. I knew it was very critically acclaimed and that it had been banned and challenged. It was a Cannonball Book Exchange gift from MathildeHoeg in 2016. Based on the cover, I thought maybe it dealt with LGBTQ issues (but no, Rose and Windy are not lesbians). Instead it deals with teen pregnancy, which I suppose is why it's so horrifying to some.

The subplot that really affected me, however, and which made me very glad that I didn't read this when I actually got the book, is the one regarding Rose's mother and the reason she no longer seems herself and refuses to go swimming any longer, and why she's arguing a lot with Rose's dad. Turns out, Rose's parents have been dealing with fertility problems for years, which has been taxing their relationship a lot, and Rose's mother is still getting over a miscarriage, which happened while she was in a pool. Eventually, she does go in the water, for a very important reason, but I don't want to spoil the specifics of that, as well.

I feel very grateful that in the many years that my husband and I struggled with fertility problems and I kept resolutely not getting pregnant, no matter what we tried - various fertility monitors, diets, exercise plans and later several courses of IVF, complete with invasive hormone treatments, painful injections, gruelling egg extractions and a substantial financial drain, I never miscarried. I didn't get excited about the possibility of life growing inside me, only to have to deal with knowing that the pregnancy was cut short. I just never conceived (until I finally did - he will be nine months old next week!). Nevertheless, reading about Rose's mother's quiet grief absolutely did me in. I don't think that's an issue that will affect most readers, but to me, especially because I didn't know to even expect it, that storyline really gut punched me and made the book a very different reading experience than expected. End spoilers!

This One Summer is a lovely coming of age story, wonderfully written by Mariko Tamaki and possibly even more beautifully illustrated throughout by her sister Jillian. Rose and Windy's escapades over the summer are fun to share, Rose's curiosity about the older teens is very natural, and I found the parents' amused reactions to their daughters' antics very relatable at this stage in my life. Highly recommended for anyone who likes good writing and pretty artwork.

Judging a book by its cover: Jillian Tamaki's art is excellent throughout the book and the cover beautifully captures the magic of summer when you're young. Friendship, freedom, the chance to bathe and relax. The art was one of my favourite things about this whole book.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.