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.

#CBR10 Book 92: "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas

Page count: 438 pages
Rating: 5 stars

#CBR10Bingo: Fahrenheit 451 (one of the ten most banned or challenged books in 2017)

Starr feels like she's living two lives, and in a way she is. She goes to a prestigious private school along with her siblings, where they are among the only black students. She has a white boyfriend, who calls her "Fresh Princess", thinking she's a bit like Will Smith in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. She lives in a poor and rough neighbourhood, where drug dealing and gun violence isn't unusual. Her black friends wonder if she thinks she's too good for them. Starr's father spent much of her early childhood in prison, now he runs the local grocery store and admonishes his kids to stay out of trouble.

Starr genuinely tries, but her life is irrevocably changed when she rides home with her old friend Khalil from a party, and they are pulled over by a cop. Khalil is unarmed, but shot by the police officer, right in front of Starr. The cop keeps his gun aimed at the hysterical girl until reinforcements arrive. Starr's uncle is a cop, but now she has trouble trusting anyone in uniform. She has nightmares and is worried about the attention the incident is getting. The media is portraying Khalil as a thug, drug dealer and a gangbanger. The white cop claims he saw Khalil reaching for something, and that he feared for his life. The local community are protesting, and demanding justice for Khalil. Starr is the only witness. She wants to stay anonymous, but she also wants the cop who shot her friend to face consequences.

I got this book shortly after it came out in 2017, and kept hearing amazing things about it. However, I also knew that it was not going to be an easy read, and while I was pregnant last year, it was difficult or downright impossible for me to read anything that was too challenging, so the book remained on my TBR list. During Banned Books week this year seemed like the perfect time to finally read it, especially with the movie version just around the corner (I know it's in cinemas now, but it wasn't yet when I actually read the book).

Not going to lie. This book made me cry, quite a lot. It was a very heavy book to read emotionally, because while it's fiction, the events depicted in this novel are so true to what is happening far too often in America right now. As a close to middle aged white women from a privileged background in a country where the police mostly don't even go armed, Starr's reality is about as far from my life as it's possible to get. I do read the news, though (even though the impulse to bury my head in the sand and put my hands over my ears, humming loudly to block out all sound is strong and growing stronger daily). This is a hugely important book and I'm so glad it exists and is being read and enjoyed as widely as it is.

I'm not the first person to review this book, and I won't be the last. I'm amazed that this is Angie Thomas' debut novel - it's such a powerful and affecting read, with such vivid and interesting characters and such a way to bring the reader along with the events of the story. I loved how with really only one exception (King), no one is really irredeemably bad, they're just victims of circumstance and there are complexities around who they are and why they act the way they do.

I have no doubt that I will watch the movie, and if it's even half as good as the book it's based on, I suspect I will be using the film as a teaching tool in years to come. I don't think I'm going to watch it in the cinema, though, as I suspect I will make a complete spectacle of myself, crying so hard. The trailer was difficult enough to watch. I cannot imagine this book won't in my top ten at the end of the year - everyone should read it.

Judging a book by its cover: I have the UK paperback of this book, the cover of which is probably not as well known as the American original. I still think the simplicity of it works really well. A determined-looking, young black woman in profile, the white title font in stark contrast to the mostly dark rest of the cover. It's not fancy, because it doesn't need to be. This book probably sells itself by now.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

Wednesday 24 October 2018

#CBR10 Book 91: "The Coincidence of Coconut Cake" by Amy E. Reichert

Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 3 stars

#CBR10Bingo: Delicious

From Goodreads:
In downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Lou works tirelessly to build her beloved yet struggling French restaurant, Luella’s, into a success. She cheerfully balances her demanding business and even more demanding fiancĂ©…until the morning she discovers him in the buff—with an intern.

Witty yet gruff British transplant Al is keeping himself employed and entertained by writing scathing reviews of local restaurants in the Milwaukee newspaper under a pseudonym. When an anonymous tip sends him to Luella’s, little does he know he’s arrived on the worst day of the chef’s life. The review practically writes itself: underdone fish, scorched sauce, distracted service—he unleashes his worst.

The day that Al’s mean-spirited review of Luella’s runs, the two cross paths in a pub: Lou drowning her sorrows, and Al celebrating his latest publication. As they chat, Al playfully challenges Lou to show him the best of Milwaukee and she’s game—but only if they never discuss work, which Al readily agrees to. As they explore the city’s local delicacies and their mutual attraction, Lou’s restaurant faces closure, while Al’s column gains popularity. It’s only a matter of time before the two fall in love…but when the truth comes out, can Lou overlook the past to chase her future?

Set in the lovely, quirky heart of Wisconsin, The Coincidence of Coconut Cake is a charming love story of misunderstandings, mistaken identity, and the power of food to bring two people together.

A lot of people have chosen to review cookbooks for the "Delicious" square of the bingo. I figured that this book, which had I got in an e-book sale more than two years ago, would probably fit the bill nicely. There's certainly more than enough descriptions of food and cooking in it.

I must admit, I liked Lou's close friendship with her two co-workers better than her developing relationship with Al. The conflict here is of course what will happen once Lou discovers that Al wrote the scathing review that is causing her restaurant to tank? My main problem with the book, why it's 3 stars and no more, despite the very charming descriptions of Milwaukee as a setting and all the lovely food that Lou cooks and/or Al experiences, is that I didn't much care whether they got together at the end. I was more invested in Lou's two co-workers. I also very much liked John, Al's colleague and would love to read a romance with him as the hero.

This book is perfectly ok, but didn't leave much of a lasting memory for me. I don't regret buying or reading it, but am glad I got it on sale. I would not recommend paying full price for it. There is a recipe for Lou's famous coconut cake included, for those who actually like coconut (I sadly am not a huge fan).

Judging a book by its cover: As mentioned above, I am not a huge fan of coconut, so a coconut cake would not really be my sort of thing. The delectable looking cake on this cover really makes me wish I did like it, though, and crave cake in general. I'm not sure keeping a cake on top of a pile of newspapers (I'm assuming these to be Al's reviews) is the best idea, but what do I know? I don't run a restaurant.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Monday 22 October 2018

#CBR10 Book 90: "Crazy Rich Asians" by Kevin Kwan

Page count: 546 pages
Rating: 3 stars

#CBR10Bingo: The Book was Better? 

Spoiler Warning! This has already been reviewed a ton of times - there will be some vague spoilers, but nothing that should ruin the film or the book for anyone.

Rachel Chu is an economics professor in New York. Her boyfriend of two years, Nick Young, a history professor at the same university, invites her to go to Asia with him for the summer, to attend his best friend's wedding. Rachel has no idea that Nick's family is one of the wealthiest and most influential in Singapore and that most of his family, friends and acquaintances are going to label her a scheming gold digger and treat her as such. Aided by her old college roommate, Peik Lin, Rachel does her best to navigate the difficult social situations she finds herself thrown into, while her clueless boyfriend just enjoys being home and showing her off to everyone.

I spent most of September in New York with my best friend Lydia and her family. As the movie adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians didn't even have a Norwegian release date yet (still doesn't, as far as I can see), I knew one of the things I wanted to do while there, was go to the cinema to see this lavish rom com, so full of talented and attractive Asian actors. In preparation, I read the book (I always try to read the source material before I see a movie adaptation), but I found it hard going at times. It is rare that the film is better than the book, but in this case, the answer to "Was the book better?" is a resounding NO.

First of all, while the main story of the book is about Rachel and Nick, Kevin Kwan doesn't really seem to want to write a cohesive romance about these two people from vastly different backgrounds. Rachel and Nick's story seems quite incidental to him, when he instead can describe the behaviours and excesses of all sorts of people connected with or to Nick. Because the author spends so much time with other characters, that Rachel and Nick sort of get forgotten about for large parts of the book.

There are so many descriptions of extreme wealth and so many brand names flaunted (I wonder if Kwan got product placement money for any of it, can you get that in a book?), and really, pretty much all the characters, with few exceptions, are completely and utterly awful. In the book, Rachel, who is so well portrayed by Constance Wu in the film, is pretty much a blank slate and doesn't seem to have a lot of personality, nor spine. Book Nick is so used to his tremendous privilege and completely oblivious to the fact that Rachel might face a hard time from pretty much everyone, a fact pointed out to him both by his cousin Astrid and his friend Colin, the groom of the society wedding of the year. He just ignores their warnings and it takes him far too long to wake up and smell the mistreatment of the woman he claims to love. While Rachel is still way too good for him in the film, the creators have done a much better job of making movie Nick a believable love interest, and his grovelling towards the end was very well done. The biggest emotional surge I felt was all about Eleanor's gesture, however, which I was not expecting.

The filmmakers have streamlined a lot of the plot and focused it more on Rachel and Nick. They've extremely wisely bulked out the appearances of Peik Lin, Rachel's old college roommate, portrayed excellently by Awkwafina in the movie. The bitchy cousin Oliver has also been given a bigger part, while most of Nick's horrible relatives and acquaintances are wisely sidelined. His imperious mother Eleanor is given a lot more humanity in the film, possibly because Michelle Yeoh is a goddess and can do no wrong. Astrid's story, which is in turns just dull but also soap opera crazy in the book, is MUCH better handled in the movie, and I'm so glad she was given agency and independence and dealt with her own problems in the film, rather than get "rescued" by her ex-boyfriend.

The book was perfectly OK, but nothing special or memorable. I feel no need to read the next two books in the series, mainly because I suspect they will be much the same as this one. The film, on the other hand, was so good! I am all for the return of the big budget romantic comedy, and a lavish Hollywood production that also gives Asian actors a showcase, so much the better! If the movie ever gets a Norwegian release, you can be sure I will be seeing it again, and I hope they film the sequels as well. While I have no interest in reading the books, I'll happily see them on the big screen, as the filmmakers have shown they can take a fairly middling source material and turn it into gold.

Judging a book by its cover: The cover I had for the book really isn't one that there's a lot to comment on - it's a shiny, sparkly golden background with shock pink letters for the author's name and the title. It's quite clear that these books are marketed towards women, rather than men.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday 21 October 2018

#CBR10 Book 89: "Running Like a Girl" by Alexandra Heminsley

Page count: 242 pages
Rating: 4 stars

#CBR10Bingo: Not My Wheelhouse (the book is a) non-fiction and b) about running - neither of these things are in my usual wheelhouse)

I was at a bit of a loss as to which genre or book to choose for the "Not My Wheelhouse" square on the CBR10 Bingo card, because while I primarily read romance, paranormal fantasy and YA (especially at the moment), I do try to branch out into other fiction genres every so often, and while I don't read them as often any more, I wouldn't consider science fiction or mystery or general historical and/or contemporary fiction outside my "wheelhouse". I could go for horror, but that would have meant reading an actual horror novel. I keep putting off Locke and Key, vol 5 because those books freak me out a little and I'm assuming Joe Hill has something really bad planned for the conclusion of the series.

So I settled on non-fiction. I heard about this book several years ago and added it to my TBR list. I'd completely forgotten about it until I started looking through my unread books and the non-fiction books on my TBR list on Goodreads. I am fascinated by people who run. A close friend of mine, whose youngest daughter is about three months older than my little boy, recently ran her first half marathon since giving birth and set a new personal record for time. I've known her since we were both 15 and when she told me a few years ago that she'd started long distance running, I thought she was kidding. Before she had to have her hip replaced, my mother-in-law also used to run long distance races. Before they had children, my sister and brother-in-law used to run together, for fun (I honestly don't know if they do anymore, going to guess it's difficult for them to find the time with two very rambunctious little girls). It was completely alien to me why anyone would do this, yet so many people not only do it regularly, but feel better because of it.

Alexandra Heminsley's book gave me a lot more insight into the mind of a runner. She didn't start out as one, but eventually bored by gyms and yoga, decided to start training for a marathon and initially barely managed to run as far as a block. Ms Heminsley's story of how she trained and managed to complete her first marathon, even when she thought she was going to fail, then almost stopped running, but ended up running a second one and how she just kept going from there is funny, engaging, at times very moving and I suspect it might be motivating to some. She doesn't hold back on the challenges she faced along the way and the setbacks that made her want to give up on occasion. Apparently, her father used to run, and she recounts how she stubbornly refused to listen to advice from him when she herself started doing it, only to realise that she was missing out on a lot of good tips when she finally did relent and start talking to him about her new past time.

The first three quarters of the book is Ms Heminsley's story about her running career, culminating with her running a women's only marathon in San Francisco. She'd almost given up her training and her intention of going, until she realised just how recently, women weren't even allowed to run these races and found new inspiration to keep going. The final quarter is all practical advice to anyone who wants to take up running - which shoes to pick, how to select the correct sports-bra, other gear to get, how to get started etc. While anyone with two legs can run, it makes it easier if you have the right attitude and equipment and don't completely overdo it when you start out.

I would like to say that having read this, I now want to get myself a pair of running shoes and get out there to get fit, but while I have tremendous respect for Ms Heminsley and the other people in my life whom I know enjoy running, I am also pretty certain I'm not likely to start training for long distance races anytime soon. Swimming is still my preferred form of exercise. Completing a 5K race at some point might be fun though?

Judging a book by its cover: I am ashamed to admit that it took me not just a first and a second glance, but a slightly confused third, before I realised what the cover is actually depicting. I love the mint and teal colour (two of my favourite colours) and once I figured out that the white strips are in fact supposed to be laces, that the whole thing is supposed to look like the top of a laced up running shoe, I was rather impressed with the design. Before I figured that part out, I thought the white bits were ribbons or banners or something, which made a lot less sense.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Thursday 18 October 2018

#CBR10 Book 88: "Night and Silence" by Seanan McGuire

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Spoiler warning! This is book 12 in an ongoing series, it is NOT the place to start. There will be minor spoilers for previous books in the series, as it's impossible to discuss this book without mentioning things that have happened in earlier books. If you're interested (and you should be, this is one of the best urban/paranormal fantasy series out there right now), start with book 1, Rosemary and Rue

Faerie knight and champion, and former private investigator October "Toby" Daye is not doing so well. While her loyal squire is by her side, the aftereffects of her demanding mother's interference into her life are still reverberating through both her home and romantic life. Jazz, her sister's shapeshifting girlfriend remains traumatised, as is Toby's fiancee, Tybalt, the local King of Cats. To make things worse, he completely refuses to acknowledge the effects of being abducted and caged, and has taken to avoiding Toby completely, so as not to have to talk about his experiences with her.

Worried about the future of their relationship, Toby is ill prepared when Cliff, her ex-boyfriend and his new partner show up on her doorstep, demanding to know the whereabouts of Gillian, Toby's estranged daughter. Gillian appears to have been kidnapped from her university campus and Cliff suspects Toby is to blame. As Gillian is now completely human and very few individuals in the human world or Faerie should even know she exists, her disappearance is a mystery to Toby, but one she needs to help solve.

Once Toby starts following the trail of her missing daughter, it's very clear that someone in the Faerie world is involved, and that whoever is responsible wants to lead Toby on quite the goose chase to keep her occupied. Who has taken Gillian, why, and will Toby survive her quest to locate her before it's too late?

Now that the Kate Daniels series has come to an end, Seanan McGuire's October Daye books are the ones I will be looking forward to the most in the second half of every year. Each new September brings a new instalment in the series and they are always a satisfying, if occasionally slightly distressing, read. The events of The Brightest Fell were upsetting to me because I love Tybalt so very much, not to mention his interactions with and relationship to Toby. Because of Amandine's actions, he was missing for much of that book, now, having another book where he's "off screen" for much of it was obviously not exactly what I wanted. Luckily, over the course of the book, he seems to come to some realisations and I have high hopes that we'll get more of him in the next book.

Toby's quarter-human child Gillian has been abducted once before, which in turn resulted in her being turned completely human and made to forget everything about her experiences with Faerie. To protect her, Toby has stayed away from Gillian's father, her former lover, and is none to pleased when he and his less than supportive new wife comes to accuse her of having taken Gillian. Cliff is pretty much an a**hole and his wife isn't much better. Of course, nothing is ever simple in these books and as Toby begins investigating and tracking her daughter, she discovers that while Gillian might think she was human, someone close to her knew all about Faeries and spent a lot of effort warding the young woman to protect her. Wards or not, someone took Gillian, and as Toby keeps digging, it's clear that was done by someone holding a grudge against our favourite hero and knight of the realm.

While this was no doubt an emotionally harrowing day for Toby (most of the story takes place in less than 24 hours), it was an easier read than the previous book for me. Still, there are some pretty big revelations made about someone close to Toby, and further complicates her already pretty freaky family tree. The resolution to Gillian's kidnapping will clearly also have reverberations in books to come. So while this book was more straightforward, plot wise, it's clearly a bridging book, promising bigger, weightier things to come in future instalments.

Judging a book by its cover: I really should look up the name of the artist who does these book covers, because pretty much every year, they knock it out of the park. While Toby changes in appearance quite a bit over the course of the series, that just reflects the contents of the books, where due to her strange brand of magic, she keeps changing depending on how close to her human or fae heritage she is. I like the moody and atmospheric lighting in this cover as well.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Wednesday 17 October 2018

#CBR10 Book 87: "The Dud Avocado" by Elaine Dundy

Page count: 260 pages
Rating: 2 stars

#CBR10Bingo: AlabamaPink

Sally Jay Gorce is a young woman of independent means, thanks to the benevolence of a rich uncle. He's given her enough money to live comfortably abroad for two whole years, no strings attached, as long as she comes back and tells him about her adventures at the end of the two years. Not needing to hold down a job or really do anything at all for the money, means Sally Jay spends her time flitting about Paris, taking a lover, drinking and partying. When her older diplomat lover starts getting a bit too demanding, she convinces herself that she's in love with an acquaintance from back home, who directs plays.

The Cannonball Read is founded in memory of AlabamaPink, who back in 2008 was going to compete with her friend Prisco to be the first to read and review 100 books in a year. Sadly, struck down by cancer, AlabamaPink only managed to review eleven books before she died. One of the books is the upcoming November book club selection for the CBR book club, giving participants in the CBR10Bingo a selection of ten other books to read and review for this square. I have purposefully not looked at her review of the book, but picked this as it didn't seem too long and seemed fairly critically acclaimed.

If I'm to believe Goodreads, this book is a cult hit, and described as charming, sexy and hilarious. Groucho Marx wrote Ms Dundy an enthusiastic fan letter. All I can say is that book reviewers in the late 1950s and I have very different opinions about what those adjectives mean. I suppose a young, unmarried woman in the late 50s being frank and open about her sexuality, not hiding the fact that she enjoys it and having casual flings like a male protagonist would was unusual and refreshing.

Nothing much of anything actually happens in the book. In many ways it reminded me of The Catcher in the Rye, although Sally Jay, while frustrating on occasion, is approximately a million times more engaging and enjoyable to read about than stupid, self-important Holden Caulfield. Still, both books are about a young protagonist just going about their life, not really much of anything happening. To get through both books, I had to resort to skimming passages after a while. Despite being relatively short, the book took me nearly two weeks to get through.

Having now looked over AlabamaPink's review, it is clear she liked it A LOT more than I, and we have extremely different tastes in books. It certainly makes me more wary about the next book of "hers", I'll have to read - Craig Ferguson's novel.

Judging a book by its cover: Didn't like the book all that much and I think the cover is dull. A naked, young woman looking up at the camera - all her naughty bits tastefully covered by either her or the avocado green (I see what they did there) square with the title and author's name. I suppose the woman's open gaze is supposed to connect with the reader or some such? It's just not very interesting, much like the book it belongs to.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Tuesday 16 October 2018

#CBR10 Book 86: "The Governess Game" by Tessa Dare

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

From Goodreads, because I'm a month and a half behind on my reviews:
After her livelihood slips through her fingers, Alexandra Mountbatten takes on an impossible post: transforming a pair of wild orphans into proper young ladies. However, the girls don’t need discipline. They need a loving home. Try telling that to their guardian, Chase Reynaud: duke’s heir in the streets and devil in the sheets. The ladies of London have tried—and failed—to make him settle down. Somehow, Alexandra must reach his heart . . . without risking her own.

Like any self-respecting libertine, Chase lives by one rule: no attachments. When a stubborn little governess tries to reform him, he decides to give her an education—in pleasure. That should prove he can’t be tamed. But Alexandra is more than he bargained for: clever, perceptive, passionate. She refuses to see him as a lost cause. Soon the walls around Chase’s heart are crumbling . . . and he’s in danger of falling, hard.

Tessa Dare is one of my go-to authors for fun, escapist romance. Last year, The Duchess Deal, the first book in this series, got me out of a long reading slump and delighted me thoroughly. There are still elements of it that I think about occasionally. As is often the case with her books, there was a whole lot of pretty anachronistic crazy, but it worked for me on every level. Having an ever more active and demanding baby doesn't so much get in the way of me reading as much as I used to, but it doesn't leave a lot of time for me to review books as I used to have. Hence, I'm way behind on my reviews again and with this book, less than two months after I finished it, I barely remember a thing about it.

There are plot moppets, adorable young orphan girls who have met disappointment time and time again. By the time Alexandra becomes their reluctant governess, they have driven away countless former applicants. Every morning, our hero and heroine are forced to take part in the solemn funeral of Millicent the doll, who is killed off with an extremely varied array of maladies, I'm not entirely sure that orphaned young women knew that many horrible ways to kill someone off. The youngest girl definitely has a Wednesday Addams vibe to her.

Chase, our hero, is very open about his reluctance to commit to any and all emotional entanglement, be it to the orphans in his care or to Alexandra. I've already forgotten WHY he's allergic to affection and love, but it was probably some sort of man pain in his past. He has an honest to God literal man cave, that he does up himself. In a contemporary romance, he would be the handsome guy next door, with a big tool belt, charming all the ladies. He clearly doesn't want to become a duke, but sadly the series is called Girl Meets Duke (which means that the next two heroines are going to have to end up with dukes too - just how many eligible ones does Dare have running around her Regency world?) and so he couldn't really just be a baron or some such.

Alexandra is Catholic, and mixed race and clearly much too good for Chase. She's not been able to forget him since she ran into him in a bookstore six months earlier, but nevertheless tries her best to resist his charms for as long as possible. She's great with the girls, who eventually begin to thaw to her and trust her a bit.

The first book in the series had so many crazy elements that it must have burned itself into my mind, in this, I think Dare was trying to tone it down a bit more, but the result is that I can't even remember exactly what the big complication was that was keeping our lovers apart or how they eventually resolved things. Last year's book was in my top 10 of the year. This one, not so much.

Judging a book by its cover: While I like the soft yellows and the lighting in this cover, I just CANNOT with the rest of it. The male cover model has a buzz cut! A Regency novel should not have a cover that looks like a slightly dodgy (what with the dude's state of undress) wedding photo. Please stop this immediately, Avon.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Friday 5 October 2018

#CBR10 Book 85: "A Duke by Default" by Alyssa Cole

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 1.5 stars

#CBR10Bingo: Cover Art

Spoiler warning! This review will discuss plot points from the book in detail, because it is impossible for me to list the many ways in which this book did not work for me without mentioning them. If you are unfamiliar with Scotland, Edinburgh and couldn't care less about the British peerage, then maybe these things will not bother you. Nevertheless, be warned that you may get spoilers if you continue with my review after the bold text further down.

New York socialite Portia Hobbs arrives in Edinburgh to complete an apprenticeship with a sword maker. Unfortunately, her new boss seems to be trying his very best to avoid her and while he's very hot, he also seems to be severely lacking in social skills. One of the reasons Portia has decided to go to a different continent for a while is that she was pretty much a hot mess in her old life - drinking too much, sleeping around and hurting friends and family members. She's determined to be a new and better Portia, and that person doesn't sleep with her boss. So she does her best to help out his flagging business while waiting for him to teach her what she's actually there to learn.

Tavish "Tav" McKenzie loves making swords and daggers, and as well as running Bodotria Armoury, he gives free fighting lessons to underprivileged kids and tries to make a difference in the rapidly gentrifying community. He doesn't entirely see why his brother hired him an apprentice, and he certainly wasn't expecting a posh and sexy American to show up, with tons of ideas of how he can improve his business through an improved social media presence. While he finds Portia very attractive, Tav is aware both of the difference in their ages and the fact that he's her boss. He's not intending to act on his attraction to her, and so instead tries to keep her at a distance by being as gruff as possible.

When Portia accidentally reveals on social media that Tav may in fact be the son of a duke, his life is suddenly changed completely and Portia feels responsible. Used to high society, she's determined to coach him in etiquette, so he can assume his rightful position, if that's what he wants to do.

I really wanted to like this. I did. I'd heard such good things about it on several romance review sites. The cover is beautiful. I think diversity in romance writing is incredibly important and Alyssa Cole cares about geeky stuff and complex and interesting female characters. Sadly, however, this book was not the book to win me over. I find it baffling that Ms Cole, who clearly writes very well researched historical romances set during the American Civil War shows such appalling lack of research skills when she writes in a contemporary setting.

Things that made it impossible for me to like this book:
- The book is set in Edinburgh. I have lived there for two years. Several of my dear friends still live there. The husband and I visit it often. The area most of the story takes part in is a fictional area called Bodotria, when it is clearly meant to be Leith, which is an actual, rapidly gentrifying section of Edinburgh. I cannot for the life of me understand why Ms Cole had to make up a new part to set her story in.

- The "Scottish" accents. Don't get me started on the fun interpretation of colloquial Scottish vernacular that many of the characters, including Tav speak.

- Turns out, Tav's biological dad (who his mother decided to leave because she was a poor, Chilean refugee and their union would never have worked out) is a duke. Not just any duke, however, a Royal Duke. The Duke of Edinburgh, in point of fact. This is where any suspension of disbelief I had went up in a fiery inferno of fury, because 1) The only royal dukes in Great Britain are directly related to the current monarch - in this case, Queen Elizabeth II. None of them are Scottish.This can be easily discovered with a quick Google search. 2) The Duke of Edinburgh is a title that has only existed three times in the history of the UK. The current, contemporary one is Prince Phillip, consort to aforementioned Queen Elizabeth II. 3)

There are in fact several Scottish dukedoms that Ms Cole could have used instead, but I can only surmise that since the title of this series of books is Reluctant Royals, a normal duke (still the highest order of peerage after the actual royals in the UK) wasn't good enough and had to make up a fictional royal dukedom to give to Tav's bio dad. Why in the world she couldn't just invent a new dukedom, rather than the one belonging to the man MARRIED to the current Queen is anyone's guess. How no one in Ms Cole's editing team didn't think to take her aside and say: "You know the Duke of Edinburgh is the Queen's husband, right?" seems like dereliction of duty of the highest order.

But Malin, I hear you say, it's only a romance novel. Why does this bother you so much? The answer, dear reader, is that if Alyssa Cole wanted her hero to have a Scottish duke as a father, she could have made up a title instead - like she made up a fictional part of Edinburgh. If this is in fact set in some alternate reality, where there is no Queen Elizabeth II (although the Queen featured later in the book sure seemed a LOT like her) and her husband is not the Duke of Edinburgh, then she should have made this a hell of a lot more clear.

- Tav is utterly undeserving of Portia (even as much of a mess as she seems to think she is). He treats her appallingly for much of the book and thoroughly deserved to be pepper sprayed by her. I don't care that he's nice to down on their luck local children if he can't treat a woman in his employ with basic respect and decency.

- Portia is supposed to be in Edinburgh to apprentice to a sword smith. She makes ONE sword in her three months there! Apart from that, she's Tav's secretary/PR-person/social media rep.

- It would have been nice if the villain of the story was slightly less of a racist stereotype, but this is so far down my list of grievances to be negligible.

- For all that Portia claims to be a hot mess and discovers through online tests that she most likely suffers from ADHD, she sure is beautiful, fit, personable and extremely competent at everything she sets her mind to.

Things I actually liked:
- Tav's sister in law, Cheryl, is adorable and runs a Chinese takeaway out of a little kiosk painted to look like a TARDIS. It's called Doctor Hu's.

- Portia, for all that she is almost too perfect (no matter what she tells herself), was very likable and I wanted better for her than Tav. Her family (minus the sister, who could be WAY better at communicating) is clearly awful and she should cut her toxic parents out of her life for good.

- Portia's friends all seemed pretty great. Not enough that I want to go back and read the first book in the series, but both Nya and Naledi were fun supporting characters.

- Prince Johan (of made up European principality - see, if you can make up new parts of Edinburgh and Europe, you can make up alternate peerage as well, Ms. Cole), who seems to be the hero of the next book in the series.

Sadly, based on this book and the rage it produced in me, I'm not sure I'm going to check out any more of the Reluctant Royals series. I'm frankly slightly reluctant to read any more Alyssa Cole at all, despite having enjoyed (but not loved) two of her historicals. I may give her a new chance in time, though.

Judging a book by its cover: Long before this book came out, I was interested in it because of the pretty cover. Having now read the book, I think the cover may in fact be one of the best things about it. The cover models look pretty much like the characters they're supposed to portray and I absolutely love both the hair and the warm shades of the dress on the female cover model.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.