Sunday, 30 April 2017

#Readathon Spring 2017: Hours 9-12

Halfway done with the spring Read-a-thon and getting forced to admit that this cold is not exactly getting any better. My head is feeling stuffy, despite the cold and flu drugs and my throat is decidedly sore.

I would love to stay up for hours yet, reading long into the night, but suspect the best thing to do right now is to retire to my cozy bed and read until I fall asleep (which I suspect isn't actually going to take all that long). Still, if I go to bed now, I can get up earlier tomorrow morning instead and get more reading in then. And I have finished three books so far.

Pages read so far: 908
Currently reading: Haven't entirely decided on my next book yet...
Books finished: 3 - The Hot Shot - Kristen Callihan
Weird Girl and What's His Name - Meagan Brothers
The Upside of Unrequited - Becky Albertalli

Saturday, 29 April 2017

#Readathon Spring 2017: Hours 5-8

It's dark out now, and I've actually managed to read for most of the time the Read-a-thon has been going on. This year, I really haven't been updating my blog much (I just discovered that I'd forgotten to actually PUBLISH my first post) or spending time on various social media. I've just been devoting myself to reading.

Since taking some actual cold and flu meds, my sinus headache and runny nose are quite a lot better and I've had some very nice stew with mashed potatoes for dinner. The husband is now out for the evening, being sociable, so I won't have any distractions at all to keep me from reading more.

Pages read so far: 603
Currently reading: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
Books finished: 2 - The Hot Shot - Kristen Callihan
Weird Girl and What's His Name - Meagan Brothers

#Readathon Spring 2017: Opening Survey - Also hours 1-4

It's that great time of year again, when I forget about all the work threatening to completely drown me and spend as much of 24 hours reading to my heart's content.

This year, I was already pretty engrossed in a book by the time Read-a-thon officially began and didn't want to waste time blogging when I could be reading. Hence the Opening survey is a bit late. To those having seen my blog in previous years, there's going to be a lot that's the same as before.

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
Oslo, Norway

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
Probably Saga, vol 7, which I still have not been able to read because of all my work these last few weeks.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
I'm currently on a pretty restrictive diet, so am trying not to eat anything too fatty or unhealthy. I've got some raspberries and blueberries for later, though, and the husband is currently making beef stew.

4) Tell us a little about yourself!
I'm a secondary school teacher. I love reading, but currently all the correction work I have to do in the run-up to exams is threatening to kick my ass, and this spring I've not had the energy to do as much reading as I'd like. It's mostly been listening to old romance favourites in audiobook form. Am really glad to have some time to read today.

5) If you participated in the last Read-a-thon, what's one thing you'll do different today?
Maybe read more comic books/graphic novels? They're always good for quick, satisfying reads.

Pages read so far: 220
Currently reading: Weird Girl and What's His Name by Meagan Brothers
Books finished: The Hot Shot - Kristen Callihan

Friday, 28 April 2017

#CBR9 Book 35: "Devil in Winter" by Lisa Kleypas

Page count: 384 pages
Audio book length: 10hrs 06mins
Rating: 5 stars

Shy, stuttering and normally rather timid Evangeline "Evie" Jenner shows up on the doorstep of notorious rake and scoundrel, Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent with a somewhat surprising proposition. Evie knows Sebastian is desperate for money, after all, not two weeks earlier, he tried to abduct and indicated that he would quite happily compromise one of Evie's best friends, mainly because Lillian was a rich heiress. Evie is also due to inherit lots of money and rather sooner than Lillian, as her father is at death's door with consumption. Unfortunately, Evie's father is also a gambling club owner and her mother's relatives are refusing to let her see him, keeping her under lock and key and beating and starving her, to force her into marrying her grossly obese cousin, just so the family can get control of her inheritance. She even fears they may kill her once they get their hands on her money.

Hence Evie needs a different husband very quickly, and one who won't have trouble fighting off her horrible relatives. Having been a wallflower for more than a season, Evie knows she's not exactly enticing to men, but she's pretty sure the promise of all the money she can bring with her into the marriage will be attractive enough to St. Vincent. She makes him promise that they'll depart for Gretna Green immediately, so they can be married before her relatives notice she has escaped and can track her down. Evie is also adamant that she will only sleep with St. Vincent on the wedding night, to ensure the marriage is properly consummated, but otherwise, their marriage will be one entirely of convenience.

When the newly-weds arrive back in London, Evie wants to stay at Jenner's, her father's gambling club, to tend him until he passes away. St. Vincent refuses to leave her there unattended, so stays in the club as well and as the place has clearly been mismanaged during Jenner's illness, he takes steps to change things and ensure that the club that will be his once his new father in law passes, will actually be a profitable and successful business venture once more. Evie is surprised, as St. Vincent has never seemed interest in anything but idleness and leisure in the past. He claims he's just protecting his investment.

An unrepentant rake, St. Vincent in time begins to grow frustrated when his wife refuses her favours. He's not used to being rejected and eventually promises Evie that he will stay entirely celibate for three months to prove to her that he truly wants her and that she can trust that he will stay faithful to her. While the formerly timid wallflower shows her husband just how stubborn she can be, there are a lot of outside forces that wish the couple, and especially Evie, harm. Her relatives keep trying to abduct her from the club, intending to have the marriage annulled. One of the employees, fired by St. Vincent for incompetence, seems to have taken a particularly virulent hatred of Evie and tries to kill her more than once. Will the couple actually survive to discover whether they have a real future together?

Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas is one of the undisputed classics of the romance genre, and its hero, Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent is probably the rake that all other rakes aspire to become. That he really plays a straight up villain in the previous book in The Wallflowers series, going so far as to kidnap and threaten to rape the heroine of said book (who also happens to be the fiancee of his best friend - not cool, dude), makes it all the more impressive that Kleypas not only redeems him, but makes you care so very much for him. Of course this cynical, jaded, world-weary man meets his match in a stuttering, shy, but oh so stubborn wallflower. It doesn't take Sebastian long to discover that if Evie hadn't been quite so shy and reticent in the company of others because of her stutter, he would most likely never have given Lillian a second thought. Marrying Evie gives him someone to match his wits against, someone who actually resists and denies him, while also providing him with a project to sink his teeth into - turning the failing gambling club around. Sebastian is intelligent and extremely charming, but has never really found anything to hold his interest for very long. He may tell himself and others that he just wants to make sure he earns as much money as possible, but it's clear that he thrives when he has to take over the day to day running of Jenner's.

The daughter of a gentlewoman who ran away with a most unsuitable man, the low-born, ex-boxer gambling club owner, Ivo Jenner, Evie may not exactly have the most exalted pedigree, but the main reason she stayed a wallflower for so long was her insecurity and shyness due to her stutter. She finds, during the long, gruelling drive to Gretna Green, that when speaking to St. Vincent, at least in private, she barely stutters at all. Evie only got to visit her father occasionally while growing up, and as she became older, and more obviously a lady completely out of place in a den of iniquity like her father's club, they grew estranged, not helped by the controlling natures of her snooty relatives. While never kind to her, they only grew truly abusive when she refused to accept their decision that she marry her cousin. Then they starved, beat and threatened her, determined to break her spirit.

Fearing for her life, she knows the only way to be be safe is to have the protection of a prominent husband. She has no romantic illusions about the future of her marriage, and is surprised to discover that even when he tries to cover it with cynical comments, St. Vincent is nothing but kind and solicitous to her during their journey to Scotland. Her wedding night is also, unsurprisingly, more than satisfactory. Knowing her husband will likely sleep with others, Evie is determined not to let herself fall for the charming man, and therefore denies him entry to her bed. He keeps trying to seduce her and she resists, making him finally agree to the bet that if he manages to stay celibate for three months, she come to his bed happily. If he loses, he has to apologise to his best friend for the whole kidnapping his fiancee thing.

As well as two excellent and enjoyable leads, this book introduces Cam Rohan, hero of a later Kleypas book. While St. Vincent is initially both suspicious and jealous of the younger man, there really is nothing but a close friendship between Evie and Cam and they act more like siblings than potential lovers. Neither in this, nor the book where Cam is the actual hero, did I like the slightly uncomfortable portrayal of him as a "gypsy", with his quaint accent and superstitions, it feels culturally insensitive. Apart from that, he's a really good character, though.

Still in a pretty heavy reading slump, I seem to only want to re-visit old favourites, now read to me by skillful narrators in audio book form. Rosalyn Landor, who reads this book does an great job, although it took me a few chapters to get used to her drawl as the cynical Sebastian. She brings the story to life in an excellent way with her crisp British accent. No matter what you choose, this novel is highly recommended in any medium.

Judging a book by its cover: The version I have of this book is the re-issue, which instead of having a lot of pastels and random countryside scenes, features ladies in pretty dresses, which is more of a staple for romance novels. I'm assuming the cover model is supposed to be Evie, what with the red hair. She appears to have one of those dresses with the skirts that go on for miles and miles, however, which don't actually exist anywhere except on romance covers. Yards and yards of fabric. Pretty colour, though, the cool pale blue evoking cold and winter.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

#CBR9 Book 34: "Trust Me" by Laura Florand

Page count: 274 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

This is the third book in a trilogy, and while you can read each of these books completely independently of each other, this book references an pretty significant event in the previous book, Chase Me, and readers who want more details may want to check that book out first (it's also the better romance of the two). Be aware that I spoil part of the plot of that one in the very first paragraph of this review, though.

Lina Farah has had to fight her entire life, to prove her worth and make it in a deeply competitive business. At the age of 26, she is the top pastry chef at a two star Michelin restaurant and she can hold her own against anyone who wants to go up against her. When a Muslim extremist cousin of hers attacks the restaurant where she and her best friends work and try to kill them all, Lina didn't hesitate to defend her loved ones. Throwing the liquid nitrogen she was working with at the terrorists, she helped make sure that no one was lethally hurt and the guilty parties were brought to justice quickly. Now she's been questioned by not only the police, but a number of French and American security operatives. As a Muslim woman, with a family connection to the main terrorist, Lina is worried that they may suspect her as well. Why else would one of the burly special ops guys take it upon himself to follow her around, observing her every move?

Seeing her very best friend (and said friend's new lover) injured and hospitalised, while she herself escaped unscathed, is not easy for Lina, and with their restaurant closed, she's going a bit stir crazy. She's working on ice sculpting with a chain saw to work off stress, but most of the time ends up decapitating the ice dragons she's trying to create. She has always been proud of her resilience and self-sufficiency, now she is scared of every shadow and sudden noise. Having a silent, six-foot, be-freckled ginger escort, who may or may not be trying to prove she has terrorist leanings, is not making her rest easier.

Special forces operative Jake Adams has been a soldier for a long time, and seen some pretty scary situations. He first laid eyes on Lina Farah when the woman acted with grace under (literal gun-) fire and threw liquid nitrogen at her cousin. As all the restaurant staff now get security escorts for the next six months, in case they draw the ire of other extremists, he takes it upon himself to guard Lina. Having never really stayed in one place for very long, and having seen first-hand more than once what a secret agent life like his can do to long-term relationships, he's never really had more than causal hook-ups and for a long time, he enjoyed himself a lot. Now, after all these years, Jake is getting ready for something more serious and permanent, and so when Lina approaches him and proposes a short-term hook-up to help her deal with her PTSD, he is actually rather hurt, having wanted to be more than used for his body with this formidable woman that he's so come to admire.

There is very little outside conflict in this book, just Lina having to deal with the aftermath of the brutal attack that left her physically unharmed, but deeply emotionally scarred. She hates being afraid and unable to sleep through the night. She hates seeing her best friend in a hospital bed and tries to deal with her fears by beating them into submission, and by creating new and wonderful dessert creations for Violette, Chase and the assorted special ops guys in Chase and Jake's crew, who all seem to congregate at the hospital every day.

Jake, while he's a big and capable soldier, who as an army sniper has dealt death to countless people all over the world, in missions he can't ever tell anyone about, is clearly a protector, and more of a beta hero than an alpha. While Chase was all loud, brash self-confidence and macho bravado in the previous book, Jake is a much more quiet and laid-back guy. He's also a lot more insecure on how to actually approach a woman he cares about, in large part because he's used to women throwing themselves at him and his team mates every time they go out - he's never had to work to impress someone. Now that he's mightily sick of one-night stands and being used for his hot body, he wants to connect with Lina, and he's at a bit of a loss as to how to do it. That Lina herself is adamant that she prefers "shy, nerdy guys" doesn't help, nor does the fact that most of Jake's team mates do their best to charm Lina as well, at least until he makes it very clear that he's not just flirting, but deadly serious about her.

While there is a lot to like in this book, it's also a bit slow and much of the early part of the book, before Lina and Jake really start to communicate properly with each other is rather frustrating. I liked the second part of the book a lot better, and I am very glad that Florand chose to have a Muslim heroine, making her strong, capable, intelligent and driven, as diversity and representation is so very important and I can't recall coming across all that many Muslim heroines (or heroes, for that matter) in my books.

I continue to enjoy Florand's contemporaries and while this isn't one of her best books, she's still more than entertaining enough that I don't regret my pre-order of this. There's still a whole bunch of Chase and Jake's team mates who can find love in future books and I look forward to their stories (especially if they involve food in some way - Florand writes about food and cooking in a marvellous way). I always want to re-visit Paris and eat myself sick when I've finished one of these novels. TL, DR - not one of her top efforts, but very enjoyable nonetheless and extra points for a Muslim heroine.

Judging a book by its cover: I know that Laura Florand self-publishes these, but still think she could have found a better stock photo to use for the cover. While at one point in the story, Lina does wear a hat to go out, this whole silly, dragging it into her eyes fits badly with the contents of the book, giving a much more light-hearted and frivolous impression than the story warrants. I also don't think the cover model appears much like the descriptions of Lina in the book.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

#CBR9 Book 33: "The Knife of Never Letting Go" by Patrick Ness

Page count: 479 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Todd Hewitt lives in a community peopled only by men, and has one month left until he too becomes one. All the men are afflicted with something called "the Noise", meaning they can hear each other's thoughts, all the time, all over town. There were women in the community once, but they didn't survive the infection that brought the noise. Todd's mother was one of the last women to die, while Todd was still a baby.

While Todd and his dog, Manchee, are out walking in the area around Prentisstown one day, he comes across a place with no noise whatsoever. This is very unusual, and when he returns home to the two men who raised him, they are worried enough by his discovery that they bundle him up and tell him to leave. There are other men in town who suspect they know what Todd has discovered, and want to stop him at any cost.

Todd is confused and upset, not to mention surprised his foster fathers have been able to keep secrets from him at all, what with all the Noise all the time. He's given a backpack of supplies, a journal with a map in the front and a knife to defend himself with and sent on his way with Manchee as his only company. He has to go through the swamp surrounding the town and leave the only home he's ever known. As Todd runs for his life, through the swamp, chased by hostile townsmen, many of whom he grew up with, he discovers the source of the mysterious silent space. As he gets further away from Prentisstown, he also discovers that there is a lot more to the world than he ever suspected, and many of the truths he has grown up believing, may in fact be nothing but clever lies.

I knew very little about this book, except that it's the first book in a very acclaimed YA trilogy. The one thing I did know probably qualifies as quite a spoiler, but I'm very glad that I HAD been spoiled, as I knew what to expect and was less gutted than I probably would have been if I had gone into this book without any fore-knowledge. Suffice to say, I cried a LOT when the bad thing that happens happened and generally also want to warn people that this book really is a very grim read.

In many ways, this book is like the book version of The Walking Dead (the TV show, not the graphic novels, although I suspect the same applies there). There are characters that you get attached to and care for, constantly running from danger, only narrowly escaping. Every time you think they may be safe, more horrible things happen, and they have to go on the run again. The things chasing them, as well as the individuals they meet along the way, are often equally horrible.

This is a really depressing and gruelling book, but it does contain an interesting sci-fi with a concept I hadn't come across before. I think the toxic masculinity that permeates so much of the book kind of wore me out though, and since I'm already in a bit of a reading slump, and have trouble motivating myself to read anything at all, this book wasn't exactly the best of choices (but it fit into so many of my reading challenges!).

The noise affecting all the men is obviously a horrible thing, but it's supposed to be. I doubt this series is called Chaos Walking for nothing, as that is what the men wandering around in large groups are described as. This incessant drone of thoughts, impossible to ignore, unless there is some other noise around to drown it all out. There's some sort of virus that has affected all animals and livestock, enabling it so that they can talk. This of course means that Manchee the dog has even more of a personality than a cute sidekick dog might otherwise have had. Because he's a dog, he's not exactly capable of great mental leaps, and his conversation can be rather simple and single-minded, but it did make him extra adorable.

The reader follows Todd through the story, and only really knows as much as him. Hence you also discover more of the world around him as he gets further away from Prentisstown and learns new things. Now, any sophisticated reader who has consumed a fair amount of stories will probably construct theories as new little snippets of knowledge are revealed, and I'm very sad to say that I had figured out the truth behind Prentisstown before Todd himself figures it out. That's another thing that makes the book so depressing. At any point where there could be more than one possible outcome, the most tragic and sad option will always come to pass. There appears to be very little goodness in this world, and if there is, it will likely be snuffed out in short order.

This is, as I said, the first volume in a trilogy set in this dystopian sci-fi world, and the book ends on a cliff-hanger. I have the other two books in the series, in paperback even, gifts from friends. I will absolutely read them at some point (desperately hoping that there will be some kind of reform at some point and future books may be happier), but I am not in a good place to be reading anything but fluffy escapist literature right now. It's clearly a good book, but very not what my brain needs in times of fatigue and high stress.

Judging a book by its cover: My paperback copies of the Chaos Walking trilogy all have pretty simple and understated covers. There's the plain white background, and on this there is a silhouette in red of the knife, I'm going to assume the same knife that plays such an important part in the story - the same knife the book is named for. The bold black title looks scrawled by hand, and is the same that is used inside the book to show the "noise" inside the heads of all the men. It's a fairly plain cover, but effective nonetheless.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

#CBR9 Book 32: "A Natural History of Dragons" by Marie Brennan

Page count: 335 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Purported to be the first of Lady Isabella Trent's journals, chronicling her life-long exploration of the world and its dragons, this book is a historical novel set in an alternate universe, where dragons obviously exist. I'm unsure of whether the time period in these books would be the Regency or more like Victorian times in our history, but the fictional country that our protagonist, Lady Isabella is from, is clearly modelled on historical England. We follow our heroine from childhood, where we learn how she first became fascinated with dragons.

Later, we see her during her first season, where she meets a fellow dragon enthusiast, and her unorthodox interest actually lands her a husband. She becomes Lady Camhurst and after a personal loss early in their marriage, Isabella and her husband go along on an exploratory mission to Vystrana (a country clearly modelled on somewhere in Eastern Europe) to find out more about rock-wyrms.

Vystrana is fairly miserable place, from Lady Isabella's descriptions, a land of superstitious peasants, who mostly fear the large predators in the area (and rightly so). Apparently, the rock-wyrms have been behaving a lot more erratically and aggressively of late, attacking and injuring, and even killing some of the local populace. The locals are generally quite taciturn and unhelpful, until they come to hope that the foreign expedition may figure out the reason for the dragons' increased hostility and might be able to stop it.

I've heard so many complimentary things about this series, and really, it's historical novels involving dragons! How could they not be awesome? Answer: they focus far too much on the mundane details of Lady Isabella's everyday life, and the sort of social anthropological descriptions of her journey to Vystrana, the local customs, the super cranky locals, the miserable weather, the inadequacy of the lodgings, the poor quality of the food and so forth and so on. Most of the book has little to no dragon action and I thought some parts were incredibly slow and hard to get through.

Lady Isabella herself, Lady Trent as she will become, seems like pretty cool character. Because she apparently narrates these books in her old age, she has very few f*cks to give about other people's opinions and keeps including things that society may find inappropriate or scandalous (sadly, I could happily have done with more of those sections and fewer of her whinging about how miserable she was in Vystrana).

It's rather hard to get a full grasp of most of the other characters in the book, because Lady Isabella really doesn't tell us much about them, although she seems to have made a good match with her husband, who seems a very tolerant and progressive sort of a man, allowing his wife a lot of liberties that society will clearly frown on, because of her passionate interest in dragons.

There are four more books in this series, the final of which is out in only a few weeks. I have several friends who seem very taken with these books and therefore, I suspect I will read more of them, in the hopes of more action and a lot more DRAGONS in future instalments. While beautiful sketches and illustrations of the beasts are all fine and dandy, I want to read more about dragons, and less about sullen villagers.

Judging a book by its cover: As this is suppose to be a publication of the scientific journals of eminent dragonologist, Lady Trent, the cover features an anatomical drawing of a dragon, more specifically one of the rock-wyrms talked about in this volume. The front part of the dragon is drawn with the skin, while the back part and the wings show the muscles and inner workings of the dragon. Various parts are labelled. It's an excellent cover, I just find anatomical drawings of muscles rather creepy, myself.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.