Friday 28 June 2019

#CBR11 Book 32: "Muse of Nightmares" by Laini Taylor

Page count: 514 pages
Audio book length: 15 hrs 54 mins
Rating: 5 stars

Spoiler warning! While I'm going to try very hard not to spoil THIS book in my review, this is the second book in a duology, and it will be impossible for me to write about the book without spoiling events and plot for book 1, Strange the Dreamer. Both books are absolutely wonderful, so you should absolutely check them out, if you haven't already.

But seriously, there will be plot spoilers for book one in the coming paragraphs, so go away if you're not caught up:

In the wake of tragedy, neither Lazlo nor Sarai are who they were before. One a god, the other a ghost, they struggle to grasp the new boundaries of their selves as dark-minded Minya holds them hostage, intent on vengeance against Weep.

Lazlo faces an unthinkable choice--save the woman he loves, or everyone else?--while Sarai feels more helpless than ever. But is she? Sometimes, only the direst need can teach us our own depths, and Sarai, the muse of nightmares, has not yet discovered what she's capable of.

As humans and godspawn reel in the aftermath of the citadel's near fall, a new foe shatters their fragile hopes, and the mysteries of the Mesarthim are resurrected: Where did the gods come from, and why? What was done with thousands of children born in the citadel nursery? And most important of all, as forgotten doors are opened and new worlds revealed: Must heroes always slay monsters, or is it possible to save them instead?

Love and hate, revenge and redemption, destruction and salvation all clash in this gorgeous sequel to the New York Times bestseller, Strange the Dreamer.

Strange the Dreamer was one of my favourite books of 2017, and the mind of Laini Taylor is like no other when it comes to conjuring up fantastical and unbelievable new worlds and ideas. The first book ended on a hell of a cliffhanger, and after we'd come to root for the tender romance between Lazlo and Sarai, it seemed their happy ending would be ruined forever, just as Lazlo also discovered that everything he had believed about himself was a lie.

I genuinely had no idea where the story was going to go in this book, and really don't want to go into details, as the experience of having the story gradually revealed to you is so much better. While I read the first book on my e-reader, I chose to get the audio version of Muse of Nightmares once I discovered that it's narrated by Steve West, whose voice work I really enjoy. He's also excellent with various accents, which helps a lot.

We discover that a lot of the established truths revealed in the first book are in fact something completely different. In what some might consider a mild spoiler, I can say that what seemed like a straight fantasy story in the first book, is revealed to have distinct science fiction elements in this second part. I'll say no more than that.

While there is a lot of darkness, pain and sadness in this second part, there is also hope, friendship, love, the chance at forgiveness and chances of a better future, at least for the characters who make it until the end of the narrative.

I don't know what Laini Taylor is working on next, but based on these two books, I'll be pre-ordering her next book as soon as there's a release date.

Judging a book by its cover: In much the same design style as the previous cover, this has a primary colour and a beautiful image (which is significant for the contents of the story) traced over it. The red is almost angry, and could play into the various feelings of anger, fear, grief and rage that different characters feel over the course of the story. I liked the previous, peaceful blue cover better, but they make a nice matched set.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday 23 June 2019

#CBR11 Book 31: "Love in the Time of Scandal" by Caroline Linden

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3 stars

From Goodreads:
Penelope Weston does not like Benedict Lennox, Lord Atherton. He may be the suave and charming heir to an earl, as well as the most handsome man on earth, but she can't forget how he abandoned a friend in need—nor how he once courted her sister, Abigail. He's the last man she would ever marry. If only she didn't feel so attracted to the arrogant scoundrel...

Once upon a time, Benedict thought he and Penelope got along rather well. Though he needs a wealthy bride to escape his cruel father's control, spirited Penelope just doesn't suit his plans for a model marriage—until a good deed goes awry, and scandalous rumors link his name to Penelope's. She might not be the quiet, sensible wife he thought he wanted, but she is beautiful . . . beguiling . . . and far more passionate than he ever imagined. Can a marriage begun in scandal become a love match, too?

I'm going to be honest with you, people. I read the synopsis for this book and had a hard time remembering even reading the book. I literally had to glance at two or three reviews already on Goodreads to remind myself of the finer details of the plot, because my mind was a complete and utter blank. Now, it's been a bit over two months since I finished the book, but I shouldn't need to question whether I in fact read the book in the first place. It really doesn't speak too well for the plot that it's quite so forgettable.

When I had refreshed my memory, I also remembered one of my biggest problem with this romance. Benedict, the hero, has an absolute monster of a father. His entire family was held hostage to the man's cruel treatment, and while Benedict's sisters and mother weren't necessarily physically abused (Benedict was not so lucky), they were deeply emotionally scarred. Penelope keeps being hurt because her husband doesn't want to introduce her to his parents, and even after she meets his father and can tell that there's something really rather wrong with him, she still doesn't really believe Benedict's warning and out of weird politeness puts herself into a situation where not only she, but her husband, nearly ends up dead.

I get that it can be difficult to understand a dysfunctional family situation if you've grown up in a loving, supportive home, but Penelope seems to think that Benedict is overreacting or exaggerating when he is reluctant to admit the true awfulness of his former home life, and she seems bemused even after one of Benedict's sisters (now happily married and away from her father's evil presence) confirms just how bad things were. Like, why would someone make something like that up?

That's the thought that now remains with me - it's genuinely like someone took an eraser and smudged out the actual romance part of this story. Benedict starts the novel courting someone else, but because Penelope believes him to be untrustworthy, she warns the young woman away. Trying to help a family friend in a tense situation, she is then put in a deeply uncomfortable, near sexual assault situation that Benedict conveniently rescues her from. Penelope's dress is torn (I think) and some gossip or other walks in on them, cue scandal and pretty much having to marry to save Penelope's reputation. She claims she doesn't like him because he was once her sister's suitor (who in an earlier book in the series ended up with someone else), but it's clear that deep down, she was jealous of her sister and liked Benedict a bit too much.

I honestly don't know if it's because I've had a LOT to do and my mind has been busy with other things that makes it so impossible for me to remember the plot, or if the book is in fact completely forgettable. I didn't like the domestic abuse subplot with Benedict's family, not sure it's the strongest recommendation that that's the bit that sticks most in my mind.

Judging a book by its cover: Oh mercy, how I hate these romance covers with the people on the cover so awkwardly positioned that you just twist your brain trying to figure out the anatomy. How is the majority of the skirt spread out like a sail when he also has it bunched up so much you can pretty much see all of her legs? Why is her upper body facing one way and her legs the other? It's not great, guys.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Saturday 22 June 2019

#CBR11 Book 30: "Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science - and the World" by Rachel Swaby

Page count: 288 pages (but I only read about half)
Rating: 3 stars

From Goodreads:
Fifty-two inspiring and insightful profiles of history’s brightest female scientists.

In 2013, the New York Times published an obituary for Yvonne Brill. It began: “She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job, and took eight years off from work to raise three children.” It wasn’t until the second paragraph that readers discovered why the Times had devoted several hundred words to her life: Brill was a brilliant rocket scientist who invented a propulsion system to keep communications satellites in orbit, and had recently been awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Among the questions the obituary—and consequent outcry—prompted were, Who are the role models for today’s female scientists, and where can we find the stories that cast them in their true light?      

Headstrong delivers a powerful, global, and engaging response. Covering Nobel Prize winners and major innovators, as well as lesser-known but hugely significant scientists who influence our every day, Rachel Swaby’s vibrant profiles span centuries of courageous thinkers and illustrate how each one’s ideas developed, from their first moment of scientific engagement through the research and discovery for which they’re best known. This fascinating tour reveals these 52 women at their best—while encouraging and inspiring a new generation of girls to put on their lab coats.

This is the first book in more time than I can accurately (we're talking several years) that I actually ended up not finishing. It just feels like utter failure and I hate having to do it. It's not even that it's a bad book. I got it from the library to qualify for my "Diversify your reading" challenge, which for March was Science and Technology. This book seemed both interesting and important and I really did enjoy learning about the women in the first half of the book, but I also pretty much had to force myself to pick the book up to read a few more chapters every few days or so, until suddenly the return date was looming and I couldn't renew the loan, and before you know it, a big ol' DNF.

I really do believe that we need more women involved in science and technology and it's absolutely horrendous how for so much of history (and still occasionally) women's work in these fields gets ignored or credited to men. So I feel like a bad feminist for not being able to even read about these ladies' achievements without it feeling like assigned homework and an absolute chore. Yet again I've had it proven to me that with a very demanding job (which involves me reading multiple drafts of usually not very well written essays and/or stories in both Norwegian and English, giving feedback on them and grading them) as well as taking care of a boisterous now sixteen-month-old toddler (who also brings home all manner of crud and illness from his nursery - he usually doesn't get too ill, but my husband and I have alternately or simultaneously been knocked out with various colds, coughs, at least one bout of noro virus, which doesn't exactly help boost one's energy levels), I simply do not have the energy or attention span for anything too intellectually taxing. I need brain fluff, and lots of it.

I debated with myself whether I should even allow myself to review the book, but I figured that 1) I did read more than half. 2) I really don't have the output this year to even let half a book go to waste if I'm going to manage to complete a double Cannonball and the other various reading challenges I'm doing. It's also quite cathartic to admit one's failures. In conclusion, this is probably a very interesting and informative non-fiction book if you're in the right mindset for it. It just sadly wasn't right for me.

Judging a book by its cover: I really wish I could tell you more about which women are featured in the little bubbles all over this cover, but the only one I recognise is Hedy Lamarr. That in itself is probably a reason I should have finished the book (not that the e-book version I got from the library had pictures of the ladies, at least not as part of the chapters).

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR11 Book 29: "Whatever Life Throws at You" by Julie Cross

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 4 stars

From Goodreads:
Seventeen-year-old Annie Lucas's life is completely upended the moment her dad returns to the major leagues as the new pitching coach for the Kansas City Royals. Now she's living in Missouri (too cold), attending an all-girls school (no boys), and navigating the strange world of professional sports. But Annie has dreams of her own—most of which involve placing first at every track meet…and one starring the Royals' super-hot rookie pitcher.

But nineteen-year-old Jason Brody is completely, utterly, and totally off-limits. Besides, her dad would kill them both several times over. Not to mention Brody has something of a past, and his fan club is filled with C-cupped models, not smart-mouthed high school “brats” who can run the pants off every player on the team. Annie has enough on her plate without taking their friendship to the next level. The last thing she should be doing is falling in love.

But baseball isn't just a game. It's life. And sometimes, it can break your heart…

Another long time TBR book that I finally got round to reading, and it turned out to be a lot cuter than I was expecting. Annie's father never really got a chance at a proper baseball career, because he lost his leg, but now he has a chance at a really great job as a pitching coach, but it means taking his daughter and elderly mother in law (Annie's mum is not good people or interested in taking care of her teenage daughter or ailing elderly mother) and moving across the country. Annie is nervous, but all for it, as long as he doesn't tell her Mum where they're actually going.

Of course, settling in a new place is never going to be easy. Annie's dad is a provisional hire, and a lot of the more established players are reluctant to be coached by him. The team's owner would love nothing more than to send him packing, so neither he nor Annie can make any mistakes that would jeopardise the position. Which means Annie's crush on two year older, new star recruit Jason Brody is doomed to go nowhere. Not that Jason seems interested in treating her like anything but a younger sister anyway. He seems much more interested in high profile dates with beautiful models and actresses everywhere the team travel to play games.

This would be a pretty short and boring book if it was just about a high schooler mooning over a slightly older, handsome bad boy. Of course Jason is crazy about Annie, and the dates are just to boost his publicity and make him attractive to a certain demographic of baseball fan. He also deeply respects Annie's father, however, and since Jason really hasn't had a stable father figure in his own life, he's not going to mess up and lose the respect of the surrogate he's found by making the moves on that man's teenage daughter, no matter how much chemistry they have together.

So there's an element of the forbidden romance here, but I thought Julie Cross managed to spin the story out really well. There's definitely a slow burn element to the romance, although it gets pretty hot once Annie and Jason decide to actually give in to their feelings for one another. What makes the book so good, though, are the other relationships Annie has in her life. Her closeness with her father, who despite his disability has pretty much raised her single-handedly after her mother flaked on them time and time again. Her love for her dementia-suffering grandmother. Her friendship with Lenny London, who as the daughter of a major league baseball player on the surface has a lot more in her life than Annie, but would kill to have her parents care even a little bit about anything but her father's career and their media profiles. I liked that Annie has a life very much outside of any potential relationship, and we get a proper understanding of the people she and Jason could be letting down by giving into their feelings and starting to secretly date.

It's always nice when you discover when a book you bought for very little in an e-book sale and then forgot about surprises you and turns out to be a lot more enjoyable than you were expecting. I didn't have particularly high expectations for the book, based on the pretty generic cover and the plot description, but am absolutely going to check out more Julie Cross books in future, because if this is an accurate representation of her writing, then there are a lot of fun reading experiences in my future.

Judging a book by its cover: Yeah, this cover and it's fake kissing isn't really doing it for me. To be fair, I've mentioned before that I really don't like couples actually full on kissing on my romance covers, but if they are doing it, they might as well look like they're actually enjoying themselves, rather than being forced to smooch on a dare. Seriously, this doesn't look passionate or affectionate, it just looks forced and awkward.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Thursday 20 June 2019

#CBR11 Book 28: "What the Lady Wants" by Jennifer Crusie

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3 stars

From Goodreads:
Mitch Peabody was learning pretty fast that the life of a private detective was nothing like the movies. He'd envisioned a world of tough-talking detectives and smart-mouthed, stunning dames. Instead he saw case after case of cheating husbands, suspicious wives and unsuspecting mistresses until she walked through the door. Right down to her stilettos, Mae Sullivan was a knockout with a lethal body–and a lethal family to go with it. 

There was something not quite on the up-and-up about her, but she came with a case he couldn't afford to refuse and left him with a case of lust he hadn't had since high school. It didn't take long for him to fall for her, hook, line and sinker. But was Mae interested only in catching the double-crossing crooks who murdered her uncle or did the lady want to catch him?

This is yet another book that has languished on my TBR list for years and years because I got it in an e-book sale and then forgot about it. Jennifer Crusie has written some of my favourite amusing comfort reads, so every time I see one of her early books on sale that I don't already own, I get it. I don't necessarily feel any pressing need to read it right away, though, and so it likely gets forgotten about until it fits into some reading challenge or other that I'm doing, in this case, the Monthly Keyword Challenge.

This is also another book that while it was fun and diverting while I read it, is reduced from four to three stars by the time I review it, since I can barely remember the name of the protagonists less than three months later, let alone the intricacies of the plot (of which, there are a lot in this book, to be fair). Mitch Peabody works as a private detective (but only because of a bet, and as long as he can make a certain amount of money from his last job this year, he'll win and whichever judgmental friend and/or relative he was betting with (see, I really do NOT remember the finer details here or what Mitch used to do for a living before he became a PI) will be proved wrong. His possibly last case as a detective arrives in the form of bombshell Mae Sullivan, who needs to find the diary of her dead uncle. She won't tell Mitch WHY the diary is so important, though and as he starts investigating, it becomes clear that while it seems like the uncle died of natural causes, there were a LOT of people around with a motive to kill him.

Mae wanted a private detective she could easily manipulate, but Mitch proves to be not only much better at his job than she was hoping, but more attractive than she's entirely comfortable with. Since everyone seems to either fancy Mae or want to aggressively protect her, she doesn't seem unused to male attention. She's not very nice to Mitch to begin with, and he's downright rude to her. It's not a great basis for a romance, but I think it's supposed to evoke that old timey Hollywood banter, and a lot of (crazy, wrong) people seem to absolutely adore the verbal abuse that Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn fling at each other in Bringing Up Baby, so what do I know?

The uncle who died was only one of Mae's influential and scary uncles. There's no end to the threats Mitch gets while he's working for and with her. He's stubborn, though, so it just makes him more determined to solve the case and win Mae over.

There's a truly ludicrous amount of twists and turns in the case. For quite a bit of the book, it's really not clear whether Mae's uncle died of natural causes or was murdered. If he was murdered, Mae is one of the chief suspects, but there's a lot of other candidates who might have offed him too. The mystery part of the story was probably more satisfying than the romance, but as I said, I had fun while I read it, and got through it in less than a day, so while it's not going to join the Crusie novels I re-read every now and then, I also don't regret paying money for it.

Judging a book by its cover: I genuinely don't even know what's going on with this visual assault of pastels and various fonts. So much yellow and pink, it's like an Easter basket. The original cover appears to have a film noir vibe with cartoony silhouettes against the window in the door of a detective's office, which seems a lot more appropriate. Disembodied leg and lady carrying a briefcase doesn't exactly scream light hearted detective romp, or romance, for that matter.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR11 Book 27: "Mrs Martin's Incomparable Adventure" by Courtney Milan

Page count: 144 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

This novella is part of The Worth Saga, and stars one of the minor supporting characters of After the Wedding. You really don't need to have read that book, though (unless you want to, it's good, but sad), this story stands perfectly on its own.

From the author's website:
Mrs. Bertrice Martin—a widow, some seventy-three years young—has kept her youthful-ish appearance with the most powerful of home remedies: daily doses of spite, regular baths in man-tears, and refusing to give so much as a single damn about her Terrible Nephew. 

Then proper, correct Miss Violetta Beauchamps, a sprightly young thing of nine and sixty, crashes into her life. The Terrible Nephew is living in her rooming house, and Violetta wants him gone. 

Mrs. Martin isn’t about to start giving damns, not even for someone as intriguing as Miss Violetta. But she hatches another plan—to make her nephew sorry, to make Miss Violetta smile, and to have the finest adventure of all time. 

If she makes Terrible Men angry and wins the hand of a lovely lady in the process? Those are just added bonuses. 

Author’s Note: Sometimes I write villains who are subtle and nuanced. This is not one of those times. The Terrible Nephew is terrible, and terrible things happen to him. Sometime villains really are bad and wrong, and sometimes, we want them to suffer a lot of consequences. 

Courtney Milan is a marvel. She writes incredibly satisfying, yet informative romance novels (you are unlikely to find historical inaccuracies in her stories, unless she's changed something on purpose) and manages to take a genre so full of tropes and frequent repetition and create new and interesting things with it. While most of her stories are about cis-gendered, heterosexual couples, she's big on at least a supporting cast of queer characters. She's had several bi-racial pairings, and one of her best books has a trans heroine and an Asian hero, not something you see in a lot of contemporary novels these days.

In this novella, while both the protagonists are cis-gendered white women, she manages to diversify the genre that little bit more. While m/m (male/male) pairings are getting a lot more common, in both historical and contemporary romance (so many athletes), you still don't see a lot of f/f (female/female) stories. You certainly do't see them about women around my mother's age. Romance really is so much about young people, I literally don't think I've ever read a story with characters who are in the later stages of their lives.

That the story is also full of righteous female rage and how powerless they can feel, and how important it is to learn to not give a f*ck and making yourself heard and fighting back against the patriarchy, that's just a bonus. I don't want to give too much away, but there is a LITERAL "watch it all burn down and make cheese toast among the embers" scene in this story, and it felt earned.

The two women in the story are from different social classes and while they interact and come to love one another, they also learn a lot and expand their horizons. Violetta has never had the chance to be brave and impetuous, Bertrice has always had the privilege of her wealth to protect her, even in a world entirely ruled by men. She has never really had to consider how difficult life is for women of the lower classes, and becomes kinder, wiser and less bitter over the course of the story.

This novella wasn't in the original outline for Courtney Milan's Worth Saga, but came to be as a result of some of the truly depressing developments we've seen in the news over the last few years. It's a terrible time to be a woman in America, the patriarchy keeps trying to wrest away hard-earned rights and this very angry little story is her result of some of the frustrations she's clearly felt. While I despair at the direction the world is currently turning, I'm glad Ms. Milan turned some of her anger and fury into another piece of great art.

Judging a book by its cover: The covers are never going to be a selling point for Ms Milan's stories, but this one is even more badly photo shopped than some. You once again get what I'm assuming is stock photo formal wear, this time with an elderly lady wearing it, slightly awkwardly placed in front of an image of the British Houses of Parliament. I love your writing, Ms. Milan, but your covers just really make me sad. No one's going to pick up a story based on this. However, the cover is tons better than that for After the Wedding, so that's something.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Wednesday 19 June 2019

#CBR11 Book 26: "A Dangerous Collaboration" by Deanna Raybourn

Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Spoiler warning! This is book four in an ongoing series, and while you get enough information to follow the plot, you're definitely better off starting at the beginning. Especially since there are quite a lot stuff that's been building for the entire series that finally begins to come to fruition in this book, and it'll be a lot more satisfying if you've read the preceding three books.

From Goodreads:
Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell is whisked off to a remote island off the tip of Cornwall when her natural historian colleague Stoker's brother calls in a favor. On the pretext of wanting a companion to accompany him to Lord Malcolm Romilly's house party, Tiberius persuades Veronica to pose as his fiancĂ©e—much to Stoker's chagrin. But upon arriving, it becomes clear that the party is not as innocent as it had seemed. Every invited guest has a connection to Romilly's wife, Rosamund, who disappeared on her wedding day three years ago, and a dramatic dinner proves she is very much on her husband's mind.

As spectral figures, ghostly music, and mysterious threats begin to plague the partygoers, Veronica enlists Stoker's help to discover the host's true motivations. And as they investigate, it becomes clear that there are numerous mysteries surrounding the Romilly estate, and every person present has a motive to kill Rosamund...

Veronica begins the book by surprising her close friend and detecting partner Stoker by announcing that she'll be accompanying their patron Lord Rosemorran's sister, Lady Cordelia on an extended trip to Madeira. She claims Lady Cordelia needs an urgent vacation, while she wants to look for new species of butterflies. Veronica is absolutely not trying to get away from any awkward or meaningful conversations about the possible shift in her and Stoker's relationship after the events of A Treacherous Curse. Oh no, certainly not. She encourages Stoker to write to her in her absence, he refrains to. Hence they don't communicate at all for over six months.

When she returns from her journey, Veronica discovers that Lord Tiberius, Stoker's eldest brother needs her assistance and can tempt her with a rare species of butterfly believed to nearly be extinct as thanks for her services. He's visiting an old friend on an island off the coast of Cornwall and doesn't want to travel alone. Despite his brother's wishes, Stoker obviously shows up at the last minute, not happy to have Veronica alone in his brother's company.

When they arrive on the island, they discover that not only is it remote, but everything there is terribly Gothic. Their host, Lord Malcolm, still grieves his missing wife. There's his wastrel nephew and drunken sister-in-law, his eccentric herbalist sister, the dutiful housekeeper and it doesn't take long for Stoker and Veronica to deduce that Tiberius also had a strong connection to the missing woman. He wanted Veronica and Stoker to accompany him because it's been three years since Rosamund's disappearance (and likely death) and he knows neither of them can resist a mystery, especially when they're isolated on an island with nothing else to do.

While Veronica and Stoker have been in some pretty serious scrapes during their past adventures, nothing has come closer to ending them both than this current mystery. The guilty party is none too happy about the amateur sleuths come to visit and is willing to go to great lengths to dispose of them both.

Veronica spends a lot of this book desperately trying to avoid any sort of conversation with Stoker about the way their relationship is developing from fast friendship into something more. She has always prided herself on her independence and free spirit, and doesn't want to be tied down by societal conventions like matrimony or monogamy. Yet she spends her entire journey away with Lady Cordelia thinking about Stoker, wondering why he won't write to her, and when Stoker announces that he is quite happy with them remaining just friends (yet keeps taking his clothes off in front of her every chance she gets), she is forced to start reevaluating what it is she really wants for her future.

Lord Tiberius' rather obvious flirtation only makes it more obvious to her that despite her claims to want the freedom to choose her lovers, she's not really interested in anyone else, and pretty much hasn't been for a long time. Stoker, of course, seems perfectly willing to wait her out, and keep tempting her until she is forced to make a declaration of her own. As they end up in ever more deadly situations, the only question is if they're both going to survive long enough for her to be able to admit her feeling to him.

Lord Tiberius has been an interesting supporting character in some of the earlier books, and I enjoyed discovering more about him. As it turns out, he's not a particularly nice man (but we sort of knew that already), but there is pain and loss in his past and a lot of that has turned him into the manipulative and devious person he is now.

My favourite part of this entire book is obviously what the developments mean for Stoker and Veronica going forward. Sadly, the next book isn't out until sometime next year, so I guess I'll just have to impatiently wait (and re-read my favourite parts of this one).

Judging a book by its cover: I really do love the woodcut-inspired covers for these, and the dark emerald green background is gorgeous. There is a vague link to the actual plot of the book with the island with a fancy mansion on it in the corner, but these really are mainly just pretty to look at, without giving too much of anything away.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Wednesday 12 June 2019

#CBR11 Book 25: "Lady Derring Takes a Lover" by Julie Anne Long

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

From Goodreads:
A mistress. A mountain of debt. A mysterious wreck of a building.

Delilah Swanpool, Countess of Derring, learns the hard way that her husband, "Dear Dull Derring," is a lot more interesting—and perfidious—dead than alive. It's a devil of an inheritance, but in the grand ruins of the one building Derring left her, are the seeds of her liberation. And she vows never again to place herself at the mercy of a man.

But battle-hardened Captain Tristan Hardy is nothing if not merciless. When the charismatic naval hero tracks a notorious smuggler to a London boarding house known as the Rogue's Palace, seducing the beautiful, blue-blooded proprietress to get his man seems like a small sacrifice.

They both believe love is a myth. But a desire beyond reason threatens to destroy the armour around their hearts. Now a shattering decision looms: Will Tristan betray his own code of honor…or choose a love that might be the truest thing he's ever known? 

This is Julie Anne Long's return to historical romances, (to much greater success than some, Lisa Kleypas, I'm looking at you) after a few years of only publishing contemporary ones. While I thought her Hellcat Canyon books were just fine, gradually getting better with each book, it is really almost sad how much better I thought this was.

In this, the beginning of a new series, The Palace of Rogues, Ms. Long introduces us to Delilah Swanpool, whose really rather boring husband has died and left her with nothing but a lot of creditors and a large, empty building near the docks. When visiting her husband's solicitor, she also discovers that her husband had kept a mistress for years, and said woman is also down on her luck. After some consideration, Delilah suggests to the other woman, who goes by the name Mrs. Angelique Breedlove (NOT her actual given name), that they go into business together. They use what meagre funds they have, selling their jewelry and refurbish the building into a boarding house, ignoring all the warnings of the somewhat dodgy neighbours that the property has a notorious reputation and there is no way they will meet with success.

While it might have been natural for them to hate each other, Delilah and Angelique, helped by Delilah's well-meaning, but rather inept maid, as well as whatever former staff Delilah has been able to persuade to still work for her, set about making their boarding house not only a profitable business, but a cosy place that they and their guests can call home. They make sure to have set rules for what is allowed and expected of their lodgers, such as at least some mandatory socialising every week and communal meals. It's all rather sweet.

Unbeknownst to the two women, "Dear Dull (and now Dead) Derring" was involved in a smuggling operation, and the location they have chosen for their lodging house has such a bad reputation exactly because it was part of the smugglers' chosen hiding places. They suspect nothing untoward when the dashing Captain Hardy comes to stay with them (although he and Delilah are mutually attracted to one another from the moment they lay eyes on each other). Hardy has a sterling reputation, and always "gets his man". He has the trust of the Prince Regent and finds it unlikely that the women running the loftily named "Grand Palace on the Thames" could both have been intimately involved with Derring and not known about his involvement with the smuggling. As he comes to discover through his investigations, they are both innocent, and because he's pretty much fallen madly for Delilah at this point, he's very relieved to discover it.

While the romance is thoroughly satisfying, I think my favourite part of this book were the various female friendships. Delilah frequently despairs over the dimness of her maidservant, but nevertheless keeps the loyal and enthusiastic young woman in her employ as she knows she'll have nowhere else to go if Delilah fires her. Angelique and Delilah are very different women who form an unlikely and very touching friendship over the course of the novel. In so many novels (even romances, sadly) believable and supportive female friendships are lacking. Not so here.

If there's a weakness to the book, it's that it's not difficult to discover who the true villains in this book are, for all that our intrepid current and future heroines (Angelique's book is out in the second half of the year) are rather naive as to some of their lodgers' true natures. There's a rather unpleasant incident where Delilah is threatened with rape and rescued by Hardy which I'm not sure it was necessary for Long to include - I think she could have conveyed the danger posed to the women in some other way, but apart from that, the book is really rather delightful and features so much of what makes Julie Anne Long such an entertaining romance writer.

I'm so very happy that she is writing historical novels again, and since she got 11 books out of the inhabitants in and vaguely connected to Pennyroyal Green, I am hoping that she manages to mine this new location for a good few books yet.

Judging a book by its cover: While the dress the cover model is wearing is quite pretty (and period appropriate, what a nice change that makes from the majority of romance covers), the facial expression on the poor lady is awkward in the extreme to me. She doesn't really look as if she's glancing towards a lover, rather than wanting her hand to be released immediately, so she can go and scrub it and remove all traces of the person who just touched it. Still, the marketing department signed off on it, so I might just be overly critical.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Tuesday 11 June 2019

#CBR11 Book 24: "Polaris Rising" by Jessie Mihalik

Page count: 448 pages
Audio book length: 12hrs 41 mins
Rating: 3.5 stars

From Goodreads:
As the seventh of nine children, Ada von Hasenberg knows that her only value to House von Hasenberg is as a political pawn in an arranged marriage. But after watching two of her older sisters get auctioned off to horrible men, Ada refuses to play her part. She flees off-planet and disappears for two years.

Ada’s father, fed up with her rebellion, offers a bounty for her safe return. The universe is a big place, but mercs are everywhere, and Ada is caught. With the merc ship full, she’s forced to share a cell with Marcus Loch, the Devil of Fornax Zero. Rumor has it he murdered every commanding officer who issued orders during the Fornax Rebellion. All anyone knows for sure is that the Royal Consortium wants his head.

Ada has no trouble believing the muscled man chained in the back of her cell is a killer. But when their ship is attacked by forces from rival House Rockhurst, Ada must decide whether to trust him—because once you release the devil, you can’t put him back. And when the attack heralds the opening salvo of a much bigger war, Ada must determine where her loyalties truly lie.

As if some of the reviews I did earlier this year weren't a bit sub par, when I was trying to remember things I read one or even two months ago, my massive work load and other priorities have now resulted in there now being a nearly three month long gap between the books at the bottom of my review backlog and me actually writing about them - and as a consequence, I should probably apologise in advance for what is likely to be a thoroughly middling review.

This is by no means a bad book, there's romance, there's action, there's all manner of fanciful technology. The hero and heroine keep getting into dangerous situations, and there's a nice balance of Marcus rescuing Ada and vice versa. Ada certainly isn't a damsel in distress, but she relies more on cunning and connections than brawn to get her out of a sticky situation. Marcus is obviously not the terrible villain that the blurb makes him out to be, there's moral and understandable reasons for his insubordination and since the series, of which this is the first book, is called The Consortium Rebellion, it's safe to assume that the Consortium that controls things is something worth rebelling against. There's some perfectly enjoyable supporting characters, but I can't really say I remember much more than Ada has a friend, Marcus has some friends, there's a plot moppet and maybe his grandma? They don't feature heavily in the main plot.

Ada may be a space princess, but she's sick of her father's expectations. While she's quite happy to go off and do her own thing, she's not exactly willing to give up on her family's wealth, having squirrelled away as much as she can of her substantial personal funds and whatever else she can lay her hands on in private accounts. That comes in handy when she goes on the run.

I really do only remember snippets of the plot by now. The book starts with Ada and Marcus being thrown in the same cell on a space ship. Since the people after Ada are worse than even the big threatening looking lug she's locked up with, Ada decides she has no choice but to trust him to help her get away. As she quickly discovers, he's not at all as bad as his reputation suggests, they find one another extremely attractive (and he's totally OK waiting until she's ready to act on that mutual attraction, which takes quite a while, in fact). At some point, they steal a space ship. There's a fair amount of space travel and planet hopping.

At one point, Ada goes back home and sees her older sister, now widowed after an unhappy marriage. The sister is going to be the heroine of the next book in the series, and I'm looking forward to the book, as I liked her (and the family security chief and the mutual secret pining that has clearly been going on between them approximately forever).

I also seem to remember that Ada's father and her arranged to be married to intended are both odious to a moustache-twirling degree. Some nuance would have been nice here. As I said, it's a perfectly fine book, but I will say that I have adjusted my initial rating of this book down from 4 stars to 3.5, because I feel that if the book was really good, I would remember more than a faint outline even this long afterwards.

I can't remember anything that stood out, either positively or negatively with the audio narration, so that was probably fine too. Fine seems to be the main adjective in this review. I am happy to be able to add another sci-fi book to the "Liked" pile - it doesn't happen too often.

Judging a book by its cover: The book has a perfectly fine cover. There's not exactly any doubt that this is science fiction, with our heroine wearing a figure-hugging futuristic spacesuit, holding up a blaster and looking ready for action. Just in case you still needed convincing, there's a spaceship in the background. I like the various shades of blue, actually. It's not the most eye-catching or exciting cover, but it also doesn't make your eyes bleed.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.