Saturday, 31 May 2014

A to Z survey

I saw this survey on Jen K's blog, and she apparently got it from Perpetual Page Turner. I like a good survey/list/meme on occasion, and this forces me to examine some of my reading choices, which is never bad.

Author you've read the most books from:
See, I thought this was going to be Agatha Christie, because in my early teens, I devoured absolutely everything they had by her in translation at my local library, and also read quite a few of the books in English. But according to Goodreads, it's actually Terry Pratchett. Which shouldn't really surprise me, as I think there are very few of his books that I haven't read now. I've also read a whole lot of J.D. Robb. By the time I've caught up with the In Death books, I may have passed Pratchett. We shall see.

Best sequel ever:
 Days of Blood and Starlight comes to mind, as does The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley. Quicksilver by R.J. Anderson also deserves a mention.

Currently reading:
Skin Game by Jim Butcher. It's amazing. I am also re-reading The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon in anticipation of her new book finally coming out.

Drink of choice while reading:
Coca Cola, or now that I'm trying to lose weight and cut pretty much all refined sugar out of my diet, Coke Zero. Or water. Very occasionally, in the winter, hot chocolate.

E-reader or physical book?
Nowadays, almost exclusively e-reader. I love physical books, I really do, but my reader is just so convenient, and remembers my place, and I can carry hundreds of books with me at all time. It's so much lighter to fit in my handbag, and more convenient to read on public transport, even when it's crowded and I have to stand up. Plus, the state of my bookshelves is now such that I pretty much have to get rid of a book to fit new ones on, and I don't like doing that. E-books don't take up shelf space.

Fictional character you probably would have actually dated in high school:
I was really not the sort of person who boys noticed when I was in high school and I was way too caught up in my books to pay any attention to boys either. I didn't get a boyfriend until I got to University, and I ended up marrying him, so really, dating has never been a priority for me. Still, I have a massive list of fictional characters I've had and still have crushes on. In high school, I first discovered Diana Gabaldon's Outlander books, so obviously fell madly in love with Jamie Fraser. Augustus in The Fault in Our Stars must surely be any teenage girl's dream boyfriend. Joscelin from Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel books is another fictional man who makes me weak at the knees, but all of these guys are clearly way out of my league.

Glad you gave this book a chance:
Cinder by Marissa Meyer, and Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson were both books I avoided for a long time, as I heard they had sci-fi elements. Written in Red by Anne Bishop put me off because I thought the cover looked naff, but ended up being one of the best books I read last year.

Hidden Gem book:
The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery and the Empire trilogy by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts.

Important moment in your reading life:
Discovering Sandman by Neil Gaiman. Before that, I didn't really read comics or graphic novels. Joining the Cannonball Read and starting my blog back in 2009. Because of this review project, I read so much more now, force myself to think critically about the books I read and have made so many online friends.

Just finished:
The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

Kinds of books you won't read:
I don't tend to read straight-up horror much, and it's rare that I like hard sci-fi. I don't read a lot of non-fiction, unless you count the occasional comedian biography. I find pretty much all chick lit I've read tedious, and what I think of as "boy books" - hard boiled action thrillers and such things rarely hold my attention. Which is ironic, because they get a lot less scorn thrown at them in general than romance.

Longest book you've ever read:
The Fiery Cross, which I'm currently re-reading, clocks in at about 1440 pages, depending on what edition you look at. The next book in the series, A Breath of Snow and Ashes is not much shorter. Pretty sure that's the the longest books I've ever read. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo is a close third. George R.R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss, who I thought might have the record, appear to have nothing on Ms. Gabaldon.

Major book hangover because of:
Fool Me Twice by Meredith Duran and Changes by Jim Butcher are probably the last books I read that this applies to.

Number of bookcases you own:
Nine, although two are shockingly used to store mostly CDs and DVDs (I really should go through my DVD collection and get rid of some, so I have more space for books). Five of them are almost floor to ceiling, and about as full as they can get without me starting to shelve the books double. I also have a smaller one still at my Mum's house, that she keeps nagging me to come get, but we don't have any more space in this apartment. We should clearly get a bigger place, with more space for bookcases.

One book you have read multiple times:
Only one, really? OK, then. According to Goodreads, the book I've read the most times is The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough, which doesn't really surprise me, as as a teenager, I think I read this book about once a year. I think the book I've actually read the most times is The Witches by Roald Dahl, which I've seriously read something like 20 times, in three different languages (Swedish, Norwegian and English). I loved that book as a kid.

Preferred place to read:
At home, usually curled up on the sofa. My mum has a really nice armchair that I love to use when I visit her.

Quote that inspires you/gives you all the feels from a book you've read:
I so rarely actually remember quotes from books, but this one stuck with me: "Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put together unless and until all living humans read the book". from John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. I feel that way about so many books.

Reading regret:
That with very few exceptions, I don't seem to be able to get into science fiction. There are so many people out there who love the genre, and unless it's pretty much just urban fantasy in space, I just don't seem to like it.

Series you started and need to finish (all the book are out in the series):
The Raine Bernares books by Lisa Shearin. I liked the first two, and just got side-tracked. Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr. I actually OWN all the books, in physical book copies, and still haven't got round to reading them.

Three of your all-time favourite books:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

Unapologetic fangirl for:
Ilona Andrews, Kim Harrison, Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, Seanan McGuire, Courtney Milan, Tessa Dare, Sherry Thomas, Jim Butcher, Neil Gaiman, Rainbow Rowell, Diana Gabaldon, Laini Taylor. I love a lot of authors obsessively.

Very excited for this release more than all the others:
Landline by Rainbow Rowell. I would quite possibly maim people for an ARC of this book. I got her previous two as ARCs through NetGalley, but sadly have not been lucky enough to score a copy this time.

Worst bookish habit:
Buying books and then totally forgetting about them. This has gotten worse since I started buying e-books. Then I don't even have a physical copy, but have to remember that the e-book file is stored on my computer and/or e-reader somewhere.

X marks the spot: Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book:
Haunted by Kelley Armstrong

Your latest book purchase:
Bitch in a bonnet: Reclaiming Jane Austen from the Stiffs, the Snobs, the Simps and the Saps, volume 1 by Robert Rodi. It was on sale on Amazon, and came recommended by Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

Zzz-snatcher book (last book that kept you up WAY late):
The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley. I nearly fell asleep on top of my e-reader in the end, and my husband forced me to turn the light off and go to sleep.

If any of my readers decides to do this (I know you're out there), please leave me a comment so I can check out your answers. 

Sunday, 11 May 2014

#CBR6 Book 52: "Lost Lake" by Sarah Addison Allen. Also, CANNONBALL!

Page count: 304 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Disclaimer! I got a free ARC of this through NetGalley. I have not been promised anything in return for this review, although if people wanted to start bribing me to read their books, that would be ok too.

Kate Pheris has been a widow for a year, and has been sleep-walking through her life since her husband Matt died. Now her house has been sold, her and her daughter's things are all packed and they're all set to move in with her mother-in-law, who has all sorts of plans for how they're going to get everything sorted out. Yet finally emerging from her grief, Kate realises that she doesn't want to live with her mother-in-law, and she doesn't want her daughter Devin to go to private school, forced to wear a school uniform and stifle her natural creativity. Having never really had to manage on her own, she's not sure what she will do, but she's sure that just settling for her mother-in-law's plans are not it. When Devin finds an old postcard in a trunk in the attic, Kate is reminded of her great-aunt Eby and her holiday cottages at Lost Lake. Kate spent a few weeks there when she was twelve, and as she has only fond memories from the place, she packs up Devin and they go off to see if Eby is still there.

Eby Pim is still at Lost Lake, but has at long last decided that she's going to sell her land and the holiday cottages to a pushy developer, as she is old and dreams of travelling back to Europe, where she and her husband George spent their honeymoon in the early 1960s. Apart from a few elderly regulars, no one ever comes to Lost Lake anymore, and the struggle to keep the place running is becoming too much for Eby. Apparently Eby was the exception in a long line of beautiful Morris women who were all beautiful, with striking green eyes, but who tended to marry unwisely, and were incapable of managing money, so always had to grasp for more. Everyone thought that the gorgeous Marilee, Eby's younger sister, would catch herself a wealthy husband, but she fell in love with a gas station attendant. Instead Eby found the rich suitor, when the boy she'd loved for most of her life came into an unexpected fortune, and proposed to her. Trying to escape her greedy relatives, Eby and George want to spend as much time alone in Europe as possible, but have to return when Marilee is left widowed with a young daughter. Surprising everyone, Eby and George give all of their money away to worthy causes, after settling Eby's mother and sister in comfort, and buying the property at Lost Lake.

Having determined to sell, Eby sends word to the few of the regulars who still visit the camp, but they insist on coming to visit anyway. Selma, Buladeen and Jack can't resist a final visit to the place they've spent every summer for so long. Jack is hoping to finally confess his love to Lisette, the French cook who has lived with Eby for most of her life. While on their honeymoon, Eby and George came across then sixteen year old Lisette, jumping from a bridge after Luc, the boy she rejected hanged himself. Horrified by her actions, Lisette was determined to take her own life, but was rescued by Eby, and decided to stay with her ever since. Born without a voice box, she communicates through written notes, that she burns after she shows them to people. Lisette is haunted by the ghost of Luc, who sits on a chair in her kitchen. She knows why Jack returns every summer, but is terrified that she will break his heart the way she once broke the teenage boy's.

Wes Patterson, who owns the land adjoining Eby's at Lost Lake, is resigned to selling to his uncle once Eby gives in. The only really happy time he spent at the place were the two weeks when Kate visited that summer long ago, and they spent pretty much every waking hour together, with Wes' younger brother Billy trailing after them. Wes' father was a drunk who beat the boys and mistreated them, only Eby and George really showed them any affection. When his father and Billy died in a fire that burned their home to the ground, shortly after Kate left, Wes went to live with a foster mother. He's never been able to forget that summer, or Kate, and is shocked to see her again after so long.

Devin loves it at Lost Lake, and despite the place being run-down, Kate feels at peace there too. Once the townspeople realise that Eby is serious about selling the place, they decide to show her just how important she and the camp have been to all of them, and perhaps they can manage to change her mind about selling. Buladeen, one of the holiday regulars is certainly determined to change Eby's mind. A retired English teacher from a wretchedly poor background, who's always been a voracious reader since she was taught to read, she's fully aware that not all endings are happy. She also knows that plots don't always take the most predictable turns, and that it's important to work to succeed in your hopes and dreams. She comes every summer with Selma, another elderly woman with barely any female friends. The daughter of an unfaithful man, Selma was given eight magic charms by one of her father's mistresses. With these charms, she can lure unhappily married men away from their wives and make them fall madly in love with her. As a result, most women tend to dislike her, and none of her marriages have lasted more than five years. Now she only has one charm left, which she's saving for something big. She claims she doesn't like Lost Lake, or understands why Buladeen insists on claiming that they're friends, but she returns every year, nonetheless.

I'm a huge fan of Sarah Addison Allen's earlier books, my particular favourites being Garden Spells and The Peach Keeper. Reading the acknowledgements for this book, I realised that the reason there was such a gap between The Peach Keeper and this coming out, is because the author has been struggling with breast cancer. I didn't know that when I picked this book as my fifty-second book, and the one I completed my first Cannonball with, but now I'm so glad I did, because it's extra appropriate. Cancer is a horrible disease, and I'm so glad that I can help collect money to fight it by reading books that I love and blogging about them for others.

As in Allen's previous books, family ties are strong in this one, as are those of friendship. There are absolutely magical realism elements, such as Lisette's ghostly reminder, the alligator who only Devin seems able to see and who sends her on a quest and Selma's love charms. Yet the main focus of the book is love and friendship and how different people deal with losing their loved ones, and to what degree they pick themselves back up again and carry on. It's clear that most of the women in Kate and Eby's family love fiercely and passionately, but fall apart completely once their love dies, to the detriment of the next generation. Eby never had children, and was lucky enough to have friends and Lost Lake to help her through her grief. Kate is nearly unmade by her grief, but manages to surface and fight to secure a chance of future happiness for Devin and herself. I was so happy when I was granted the ARC for this, and then I forgot it for a bit again. I'm so glad I finally got the chance to read it, and will absolutely buy it, so I can own it like I do all of Allen's other books.

And with this, I complete my first Cannonball of 2014! Whohoo!

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR6 Book 51: "It Happened One Wedding" by Julie James

Page count: 304 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Sydney Sinclair has moved back to Chicago after years in New York. Her engagement ended badly just two weeks before the wedding, when she discovered her fiancee had been cheating on her. Now she's completely done with commitment-phobic men. She wants a faithful husband and a family, and doesn't have any more time in her life for casual dating. So when handsome and charming Vaughn Roberts approaches her after another failed first date in a coffee shop, she recognises his happy go-lucky playboy attitude a mile away, and can't stop herself from venting all her frustration over him. Of course, she'll never see him again, so it's not that big a deal, is it?

It wouldn't be much of a fun book if that was the end of it. Special Agent in the FBI Vaughn Roberts is the older brother of the man who Sydney's younger sister has just gotten engaged to. The happy couple don't realise that when they invite their siblings to an announcement dinner, said siblings met awkwardly in a coffee shop close by. Now their siblings want them to be best man and maid of honour, at a wedding that needs to be planned in a hurry. So Sydney and Vaughn are going to be spending a lot of quality time together, fighting their attraction for each other all the way, as even if they had mutual goals for the future, risking a messy future break-up when they're set to become in-laws is just asking for trouble.

Julie James is probably my favourite author of contemporary romances, and excels at dialogue and witty banter. Her protagonists tend to be driven, likable, sociable and very successful in their chosen field. The supporting characters tend to be well fleshed out and feel as fully satisfying individuals in their own right, not just there to give the main characters to talk to occasionally. Vaughn is a very successful FBI agent who likes the work he does, but his undercover work also means that he ends up in dangerous situations every so often, and there are huge aspects of his everyday job he can't tell his loved ones about. He's not ashamed of being a ladies' man and is proud that of the fact that he's never led any of his many conquests on. He understands pretty much immediately that Sydney's rant isn't really personally directed at him, but isn't really used to being rejected so vehemently either. Hence he begins seeing it as a challenge when they are forced to spend more time together.

Sydney loves her younger sister, but has to struggle to keep a brave face on when she realises that not only has her baby sister found a really good guy, she's sure he's a keeper after less than three months together. The reason they need to hurry the wedding is because Isabelle is pregnant, and doesn't want anyone but Sydney to know. Vaughn and Simon's parents are staunchly Catholic, so they want to be married before Mrs. Roberts discovers that she's going to be a grandmother. They don't even want Vaughn to know, which leads to some pretty farcical behaviour in order to cover up Isabelle's raging morning sickness and other obvious pregnancy signs. Naturally, as a trained observer, he's not really fooled for a second. Sydney, who has all her dreams of weddings and future families crushed by her dirt bag of a fiancee less than a year earlier, now has to see her sister get everything she ever dreamed of for herself. Her strong attraction to Vaughn, while he drives her crazy, is not making the situation easier.

This book may have struck more of a chord with me because I understood a lot of where Sydney was coming from. While I have been happily married for years, I'm now at a stage where so many of my friends and colleagues are having babies, while as of yet, I have not been lucky enough to conceive. In her early thirties, with a wish for children, Sydney doesn't have time to casually date any more. She needs to find Mr. Right, so she can settle down and start the family she's dreaming of. Of course, as her best friend says, what's the harm of enjoying herself with Mr. Right Now, having a bit of fun while she utilises her comprehensive 34-point checklist to find that special someone who's just as ready to commit as she is? She and Vaughn have crazy chemistry, and because he's only looking for a fun time, what better adviser to have when she's trying to sort through all the candidates for Mr. Right? Being a playboy himself, he knows all the tricks that other commitment-phobic men use. He's the perfect person to help her. As they spend more time together, Vaughn comes to realise that it's not all that fun that Sydney keeps dating other guys while still seeing him, and Sydney discovers that even if the some of the men seem perfect on paper, there is still something very important missing for them to fit just right.

I don't think I've really disliked a single of Julie James' books, and there is a reason she's on my auto-buy list. For anyone looking for fun, escapist, clever romance of the contemporary variety, I highly recommend her.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR6 Book 50: "Cold Days" by Jim Butcher

Page count: 614 page
Audio book length: 18 hrs, 47 mins

Dudes, this is book 14 in the series. Do NOT start with this one. Do NOT read this review if you haven't read books 12 and 13, there will be spoilers, because it's pretty much unavoidable when reviewing this book. If you're interested in the series, I would recommend starting with nr 4, Summer Knight. I would also like to heartily endorse the audio books, narrated excellently by James Marsters.

Proceed at your own risk from here-on out. Harry pays for having tried to set up his own demise to get out of his duties as the Winter Knight with some pretty physical therapy sessions at Arctis Tor, Mab's Winter stronghold. She is in turns strangely affectionate and caring, only to turn around and try to murder him creatively. For weeks on end, Harry keeps trying to fend of murder attempts, which forces him to grow strong quickly, both physically and in terms of his magic use. Sarissa, one of the Winter changelings is assigned as his physical therapist, but it's clear that the Winter Queen intends for her to be at Harry's every disposal, should he so wish it. Harry comes to realise that while the former Knight, Lloyd Slate, probably never was a stellar human being, he too easily gave in to all the baser urges that the mantle of the Winter Knight encouraged, which hurried on his moral corruption. Harry keeps fighting the feelings of intense anger, lust and jealousy throughout the book.

After several months of fun with training and murder dodging, Mab reveals her plans for Harry at a birthday party arranged in his honour. Of course, what's a Faerie party without more chances to die? Mab's daughter Maeve does her very best to seduce Harry to her side, when that fails, she tries to have him embroiled in a fight to the death instead. Makes it convenient that Mab's first command to her new knight is to get rid of said daughter, right? Harry has no idea how to go about killing an immortal, nor is he sure that he'd want to follow the order even if he figured out how to go about it. He's none to happy about the assistant Mab has given him either, the psychotic and legendary Cat Sith, who only barely conceals his contempt for the new human plaything Mab has acquired.

Because it's not a fun birthday for Harry unless he has more on his plate than one seemingly impossible task, there's also an issue with Demonreach, the hidden island in Lake Michigan which Harry bonded with (literally) a few books back. Some sort of mystical energy is building there, and it becomes clear that someone is setting up a ritual that could make the island explode, taking most of the Midwest with it if they succeed. Harry needs to figure out who is planning to target the island and stop them, as well as decide what to do about Mab's command, all in the next 24 hours. It's good to have deadlines, right?

By now, I'm pretty much in these books for the long haul. Jim Butcher has me hook, line and sinker and I am intensely attached not just to Harry (who it now seems very sure is going to survive until the end - hey, he's even done a stint as mostly dead), but to the supporting cast of Molly Carpenter, Waldo Butters, Karrin Murphy, Toot Toot the faerie, Thomas Raith, Mouse the dogasaurus, the rest of the Carpenter family and the assorted werewolves. Luckily for me, most of the characters I love show up to support Harry, as they always do, even when some of them have issues with Harry's hiding the fact that he was still alive from them for months. He inspires loyalty and devotion, even when he needs help with some pretty insane situations.

With the amount of challenges and levels of danger that Harry's been facing in the last few books, I'm honestly not sure how Butcher is going to keep amping up the tension. He's going to have to scale it down again for a few of the future books, otherwise I'm honestly sure how much he can keep ratcheting up the tension. The danger levels and stakes seem to get higher with ever book, and there doesn't seem to be that much further he can go now. What was interesting to me, was how long Butcher has clearly been building the plot strands in the series. Like in several of the previous books, so many of the important event in this book called back to previous stories. In this, much of what happens mirrors or plays on events all the way back in book 4, Summer Knight, where we first really got introduced to the various Queens of Faerie and that side of the Dresden Files universe. As I have always preferred the books that involve the faeries more than some of the other challenges Harry has faced, this was right up my alley. As Harry is now the freaking Winter Knight, it seems likely that more of future books will feature more of faerie machinations, and I'm ok with that. I'm now also completely caught up, and have already pre-ordered the audio book of Skin Game, which is out at the end of the month. Then I guess I'll have to wait impatiently for each new instalment like the rest of the fans.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR6 Book 49: "How to Lose a Duke in Ten Days" by Laura Lee Guhrke

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

First off, I just want to say that why the title brings to mind that dreadful "romantic comedy" with Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey, the plot of the book bears no resemblance, save that there are ten days involved. Sometimes I think publishers actually want people to be put off by their titles.

Unusually tall and with her reputation in tatters, American heiress Edie Jewell had not had any luck finding a suitable husband, despite the aid of London's premier matchmaker. With only a short time left of her first season before she has to return to New York and face the society that condemned her after a foolish misstep, she met the impoverished but charming Duke of Margrave. He needed a fortune and someone to help him to restore his many estates and take care of his many grasping relatives, not to mention to make it possible for him to return to his adventures in Africa. Edie desperately needed to make a good match, so she never had to go back to America. She boldly proposed to Stuart, promising him her enormous dowry, as long as he promised to travel to Africa as soon as she learned to manage the estates, and never return.

Stuart stayed away for five years, but when his valet is killed by a lion and he also barely survives, he decides that it's time for a change. While Edie has excelled at taking care of his family, tenants, land and estates, barely thinking of her absent husband, Stuart has frequently through of the remarkable woman he left behind. He returns to England, wanting to have a true marriage with his wife, building a proper legacy with her to leave their children. Edie is horrified, and insists he agree to a legal separation. If he doesn't agree, she'll leave him. Stuart suggests he be allowed to change her mind. In the ten days before her ship leaves for New York, he get the chance to charm her. If she willingly kisses him before the ten days are up, she gives up on the separation idea. Edie's younger sister, Joanna, is determined to do her best to help him, not just because she seems to think her brother-in-law will keep her from being sent away to finishing school.

The reason Edie is so terrified of physical intimacy of any kind, the deep dark secret she can't confess to anyone, not even her beloved younger sister, is that the reason her reputation was ruined all those years ago wasn't just some foolish indiscretion. She was infatuated with one of the golden boys of New York society. He tricked her into an assignation and raped her. Like so many other rape victims, she blames herself and her own naivety, letting herself be lured into a vulnerable position more than she blames the bastard who raped her. Thankfully, her husband is a thoroughly honourable man and because he senses how nervous and uncomfortable his wife is, he never moves too fast. Edie may have convinced herself that she's unable to feel any kind of attraction or desire ever again, but slowly and incredibly patiently, her husband starts changing her mind.

I was very impressed with how Guhrke dealt with the issue of rape and Edie's difficult aftermath. When Stuart finally discovers his wife's secret, he's understandably furious on her behalf, and does his very best to help her get past her trauma. While romance in many circles still has a very misleading reputation for bodice ripping, and alpha douche bag heroes who force themselves on the heroines, who eventually learn to love their rapists, the historical romance published now really is nothing like that. One or both of the protagonists often have issues they need to work through, but you don't often find actual rape or sexual abuse in their past. It certainly gave a different dimension to the estranged married couple find their way back together.

Edie and Stuart have never really been together. They spent a few weeks together during their courtship and then barely a month as man and wife, with Stuart desperately fighting his growing attraction to his wife. Believing her still heart-broken over the man she left behind in New York, never suspecting the truth, he leaves for Africa earlier than planned, because he's worried he won't be able to keep his promise to leave the marriage unconsummated if he stays. Every time Stuart mentions having thought and dreamt about her in his time away, Edie expresses disbelief. Because of her unconventional appearance and devastating introduction to sex, she's completely unable to see herself as attractive or desirable. This is a romance where the main focus isn't the couple falling in love, because by the start of the story, the hero is already in love. It's the story of a strong and remarkable woman both learning to accept and love herself, as well as accepting love, affection and desire from her husband.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR6 Book 48: "Innocent in Death" by J.D. Robb

Page count: 385 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

This is book 24 in the In Death series. I wouldn't recommend starting with this one, although if you're interested in plot summaries of earlier ones, I've reviewed most of the previous ones on the blog.

Craig Foster is planning a history quiz for his pupils at a New York private school while having lunch, and dies horribly from ricin poisoning at his desk. The two schoolgirls who find his dead body are deeply traumatised. Lieutenant Eve Dallas and her partner Delia Peabody have to figure out who could possibly have wanted the young and seemingly universally popular dead. As they start investigating the staff and various parents, they discover a number of juicy secrets that Foster may have been privy to, but none of them seem to be bad enough that someone would murder a man. Then a second body is found in the school, and the hunt for the killer has to be intensified.

It doesn't help that Dallas' attention is divided. Blonde bombshell Magdalena Purcell, one of Roarke's former lovers, is certainly no innocent. Recently divorced, she's back in town, allegedly seeking investment advice from her old friend, and Eve, who is normally never suffers from jealousy or doubts, is shaken to discover that this woman gets under her skin like no other. Roarke seems completely blind to the woman's manipulation, and keeps getting more and more furious that Eve's trust in him is waning. Yet Eve can't rest easy, and as the sultry Magdalena keeps popping up, the tensions in her marriage keep rising.

My records show that I only read a single In Death book last year. I find them deeply comforting, like an episode of a procedural I've followed for years, but I can only read a few at a time, before they get too samey. I know what I can expect from the books and they tend to be quick and entertaining reads, following the same formula. Eve will work hard and doggedly to track down murderers, getting cranky and baffled by strong emotions or perfectly normal social conventions. Peabody and McNab will flirt and make her uncomfortable because of their PDAs. Peabody will be overly focused on food and her figure, but also provide an important stabilising influence on Eve. McNab will wear outrageous clothes. Roarke will be devastatingly gorgeous as always, insist on dressing and one or several of his business interests will be involved in the case in some way as he knows most of the known world. Summerset and Eve will quibble. Mavis will be bubbly, outrageous and colourful. Dr. Mira will be calm and give Eve wise professional and motherly personal advice. The mysterious candy thief will probably have stolen one of Eve's candy bars. I'll keep getting annoyed that Pepsi apparently has a soft drink monopoly in the future.

What was different in this book was the tension introduced in Eve and Roarke's marriage. Normally Eve has no cause for jealousy, despite knowing that Roarke had lovers before he met her. Yet Magdalena is clearly a manipulative piece of work, and masterfully plays the spouses against each other. It doesn't help Eve's worries that Summerset, normally her nemesis, steps forward to warn her, claiming that Roarke never had the ability to see the way the scheming con artist played him, and the fact that she possibly broke his heart will make him all the more vulnerable to his whiles now. Because the characters in the book feel like old friends, I obviously didn't like that they were unhappy, but while the books should follow a familiar pattern, they need to shake it up a bit occasionally, or the series would become unbearable. Janet Evanovich, I'm looking at you.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR6 Book 47: "Fortune's Pawn" by Rachel Bach

Page count: 330 pages
Rating: 4 stars

I picked up this book because one of my favourite authors, Ilona Andrews, recommended it on her blog. I don't normally like science fiction all that much, but this seemed to be focused more on action and adventure, and I've liked recommendation from her blog before, and figured I'd give it a try.

Deviana "Devi" Morris is a professional mercenary, and has pretty much risen as fast and as high in the ranks of the elite corps of the Blackbirds as she can go. Her dream is to become a Devastator, the elite guard of armoured soldiers who guard the God King of Paradox, her home planet. However, the Devestators only take soldiers who have proven themselves to be exceptional, and it seems the only way Devi may show herself worthy of their attention is by surviving a stint as a security guard aboard the Glorious Fool, captained by the supposedly cursed Captain Carswell. To begin with, Devi is disbelieving the job can lead to any flashy promotions, with the shifts involving nothing but standard security detail, taking care of her precious custom-made armour and flirting with the handsome and mysterious cook, Rupert Chekov.

But Devi needn't have worried. Once they get the ship fully crewed and start their trade runs, the ship keeps being attacked, and Carswell keeps sending Devi and her partner into increasingly more dangerous situations. Every time the ship docks, the captain, Rupert and the captain's deeply introverted daughter goes off on mysterious missions, and the more time Devi spends around Rupert, the more convinced she is that he is much more than a mild-mannered cook. He can single-handedly take on blood-thirsty aliens and wield Devi's guns without any noticeable after-effects, despite Devi breaking her arms if she tries to fire them outside her armour. Ignoring every warning she gets, Devi keeps prying into Carswell and Rupert's secrets, not caring that the answers may the fastest way for her to end up dead.

While I don't tend to like sci-fi in books, I do like a good action movie, and this book reads very much like a sci-fi action adventure. Devi is a very capable action heroine. She loves her custom-made robot armour as if it were her own child, and has names for all her weapons. She's tough as nails and almost obsessively focused on her career. She likes guys, and is not ashamed of her sexual history, yet seems almost flummoxed by her intense attraction to the sexy and mysterious Rupert. At first, he seems to return her attraction, but then it seems he was just making friends with her on orders from the captain. Yet all Devi's instincts scream that there's more to him that meets the eye. Same with the rest of the crew. Why is it so difficult for Carswell to keep his security crew alive? What is it about his little trade vessel that attracts so much hostile attention? A year on his ship seems to count as five years experience in other armed forces.

As well as the humans, who seem to be split into the Terrans (who are pretty much like you'd think future humans would be), there are the Paradoxians who live in a more feudal society ruled by their God King. Devi seems to be in the smarter spectrum for a Paradoxian, her partner in security on Fortune's Fool is a macho goon, without much brains or finesse. Carswell, his daughter and Rupert are all Terrans, but there are all sorts of hints that the cook's not like other humans. As well as the humanoids, there are scaly lizard aliens who eat people, and big psychic jellyfish-like aliens. There are invisible tentacled beasts and telepathic space hippies.

There are three books in the series, and this book certainly leaves you wanting more. Quite a few of the mysteries are answered, at least for the reader, but there are several that still need to be solved, and I suspect I'm going to read the whole series, just to find out if Devi finally manages to succeed in her quest.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

#CBR6 Book 46: "Locke and Key, vol 1: Welcome to Lovecraft" by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

Page count: 168 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Tyler, Kinsey and Bode Locke move with their mother to Keyhouse, their uncle's mansion in Lovecraft, Massachusetts, after their father, a school guidance councillor, is brutally murdered by a couple of Tyler's classmates. The entire Locke family are naturally extremely affected by the event, especially the eldest brother Tyler, who feels responsible for the event, and for not managing to rescue both his parents. Kinsey, his sister,  was hiding and keeping their youngest brother Bode safe, but she's suffering with survivor's guilt and dealing with a sense of helplessness because she was unable to do anything but hide as the terrible events took place. She completely changes her looks and tries to stay as unnoticed as possible, refusing to make friends or connect with anyone.

Keyhouse is not your normal large New England mansion. No one really believes Bode, the youngest brother, when he says there's a door you can go through that turns you into a ghost, or that there is a woman down the well in the well house, who speaks to him and wants to be his friend. They all think he's just making things up. Of course, none of them know that the creature down the well also talked to and still communicates with Sam Lesser, the mentally disturbed young man who attacked the Locke family in the first place. They think they're safe, because he's in prison. But Sam needs to get to the Keyhouse, and he needs to find the Anywhere key.

I don't read a lot of horror, but had Locke and Key recommended to me by several friends when I was in the US last summer. I bought the first volume, but didn't get round to reading it, and it stayed on my shelf until the April Read-a-thon came around. Comic books and graphic novels are always very thankful reads, because they give you a very rewarding story, but don't take as long to read as a full novel. Even though I was thoroughly unnerved and shaken by the story, I was also completely engrossed by the story of Welcome to Lovecraft and kept turning the pages while desperately hoping that things wouldn't turn out even worse for the Locke family than they already had. The entire cast of characters is great, and there are clearly lots of mysteries surrounding the Keyhouse left to explore. I'm always more likely to stick with a series if I like the art, and Gabriel Rodriguez is a very skilled artist, so that's not going to be a problem. I've already ordered the second and third volume, pretty safely assuming that this is a story I'm going to want to follow till the end, even if it scares me silly.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR6 Books 44-45: "Boxers" and "Saints" by Gene Luen Yang

Total page count: 495 pages
Rating: 4 stars

In Boxers, we see the origins of the Chinese Boxer rebellion through the eyes of Bao, who becomes one of its leaders. Bao grows up in rural China at the end of the 19th Century. He lives for the spring every year when travelling troups perform operas, full of drama, excitement and ancient stories of heroes and gods. The stories stay with him throughout the rest of the year when he performs his chores and is teased by his older brothers. His life changes irrevocably the day one of the foreign white men, one of their priests, come to the village and smashes the idol of the village's local earth god, Tu Di Gong. Bao's father and the village constable go to try to complain about the actions to the local magistrate, but never reach their destination. Along the way, they ran into a troop of foreign soldiers, who beat them badly and stole all their tribute to the magistrate. Bao's father survives, but is never the same. He spends his days staring out the window, mumbling incoherently.

Years later, a travelling warrior named Red Lantern Chu arrives at the village, and starts training all the young men in the art of kung fu. Bao wants to train with the others, but is chased away by the jeers of his brothers and their friends. He trains in secret instead, aided by Red Lantern at night. Red Lantern is one of the disciples of the Big Sword Society. He wants the local young men to join with him in fighting the foreign influence in the country. As he leaves the village, taking the most promising recruits with him, including Bao's brothers, he sends Bao to be trained by ancient master on the top of a nearby mountain, who Bao calls Master Big Belly. 

However, Red Lantern's mission did not go well. He was executed along with the other rebel leaders, and the village men were lucky to escape. Now imperial soldiers are looking for them. Bao, filled with the mystical fighting spirit of old gods, attacks the soldiers and rescues the men, making himself their de facto leader. The men take up Red Lantern's cause and travel the countryside, training any and all men who want to fight against the influence of "the foreign devils" in China. Soon the Society of the Righteous and Harmonius Fist, as Bao renames them, is picking up supporters in every village, and the rebellion is spreading. Of course, in the course of ridding the country of "foreign devils", they are also met with the "secondary devils", native Chinese who have converted to Christianity. Do they need to die too, to rid the empire of the foreign influence?

In Saints, the companion volume to Boxers, we see the impact the Boxer rebellion had on some of the "secondary devils", the converted Chinese, and discover why some of them may have chosen to convert to the foreign religion. Four-Girl is the unwanted and unwelcome fourth daughter in her family and doesn't even warrant a proper name. She feels like an outcast in her own family, and decides that since she is clearly evil and twisted, her face should represent this. She sets her features in a hideous grimace every time someone looks at her, until her mother drags her to see the local acupuncturist, who also happens to be a Christian. 

He "cures" Four-Girl with kindness and feeds her. Meeting acceptance and affection in his home that she never gets at home, she keeps returning, claiming she is interested in Bible stories, when in reality she's mostly there to eat as much as she can. She keeps having visitations by visions of a tall white girl in golden armor, who she's told by the missionaries are Joan of Arc. The visions, as well as Four-Girl's general interest in the Bible stories, make them suggest that she convert. Once Four-Girl discovers that by converting to Christianity, she will become a proper "devil" and that the Christians will give her a new name, the choice isn't a particularly difficult one. Rejected by her own family and their traditions, she seeks out a new family among the "secondary devils". 

Once her family discovers that she has converted to Christianity, she is beaten and thrown out. Four-Girl, now Vibiana, goes with the foreign missionary to a large settlement not far from Beijing and devotes herself to working in the orphanage. They keep hearing stories of the atrocities committed by the Society of the Righteous and Harmonius Fist against the foreign Christians and the Chinese converts, and toward the end of the two volumes, Bao's and Vibiana's stories intersect. 

I have to admit, despite having a Masters degree in history, I knew next to nothing about the Boxer Rebellion, except what little was shown on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. My degree is focused on European mediaeval history, and there's so many interesting parts of world history that I wish I knew more about. So it's safe to say that almost everything I now know about the Boxer rebellion, I learned from these two graphic novels, which are both excellent.

Allowing us to see the rebellion from both sides is an excellent touch, and even when we understand the dissatisfaction of the Chinese peasants about the favour shown to the "foreign devils", white missionaries, diplomats and soldiers in China, as well as to the "secondary devils" who joined their cause. Being a peasant in a totalitarian regime is never fun, and it's understandable that too much mistreatment fosters rebellion and strife. It's still difficult to sympatise with Bao and the others as they cut down not only hostile imperial troops or thugs, but men, women and children who are peaceful, and just happen to be praying to a foreign god. After seeing the way Four-Girl/Vibiana is treated by her own family and relatives, it's not surprising that she seeks acceptance elsewhere and converts to get a chance at a different, and hopefully at least slightly better, life. It's also shown that while it may have been the thought of ample amounts of food that first drew her to other Christians, Vibiana grows devout in time, to the point where she is willing to die for her faith, if necessary. 

The storytelling is magnificently done, and the art is brilliant. I haven't read Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese yet, but will absolutely be seeking it out after this. Boxers and Saints have won countless awards, well deservedly, and show that while a lot of people consider comic books and graphic novels as silly, shallow entertainment, truly profound and important stories can be told through the medium. Anyone interested in history, or just good stories, should check these books out.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

Monday, 5 May 2014

#CBR6 Book 43: "The Sandalwood Princess" by Loretta Chase

Page count: 240 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Philip Astonley, youngest son of the Viscount Felkoner, also known as the Falcon to a select few (which is surprising to me as it's not exactly a secret identity very different from his family name), is hired by the wealthy and powerful Marquess of Hedgrave to steal a sandalwood statue and bring it from India to England. He can barely believe his luck when he discovers that the statue is given as a gift to Miss Amanda Davencourt as a farewell gift from her dear friend, the Rani Simhi, also known in India as the Great Lioness. He ambushes Amanda on her way home and steals the statue, but discovers that the rani is close on his trail and has poisoned his servant, near fatally. In order to get passage on the next ship to London, he has to pretend that his servant is one of Hedgrave lawyers, while he is in fact said man's valet.

It just so happens that Amanda Davencourt is on board the same ship, along with her chaperone and one of the rani's most dangerous servants, who ran away to escape his mistress' wrath once he discovered that Amanda had been attacked. Amanda knows that Hedgrave wanted the statue, and suspects that his lawyer may have it in his possession. She fully believes Philip's ruse that he is a servant, though, which also causes difficulties on the long journey back to England as the Philip tries to get to know her to discover if she's one of the rani's clever accomplices or just as innocent and naive as she seems to be. As they spend more time together, Amanda and Philip grow more attracted to each other, and as she believes him to be a simple valet, it's not like anything can come from their shipboard attraction.

Amanda isn't quite as innocent and sheltered as Philip believes, and manages to steal the sandalwood statue back before Philip and his servant are about to leave the ship in Portsmouth. Having been promised fifty thousand pounds for the artifact, not to mention because his professional pride has been wounded, outsmarted by a spinster, Philip tracks Amanda down to her remote estate in Yorkshire and manages to convince her that he was fired when his employer discovered the statue was missing. He's hired to be her butler, and shortly after also takes the duties as secretary. Amanda is writing a book about Indian gods and mythology and while she is clearly a brilliant scholar, she's not very organised. Philip makes himself completely indispensable to her and her household, plotting and scheming how he can get Amanda to remove the sandalwood statue from her bank vault so he can steal it back. Meanwhile, Padji, the Rani's erstwhile enforcer and now Amanda's temperamental cook is deeply suspicious of Philip's motives and does whatever he can to keep the rogue and his beloved mistress from growing closer.

The Sandalwood Princess is one of Loretta Chase's early romances, first published in 1990. Unlike most of her more recent romances, it's more in the style of Georgette Heyer's novels, with a very chaste romance and a very slow build-up. Anyone expecting crazy smexy-times must look elsewhere. For a lot of the novel, very little happens. Most of Philip and Amanda's relationship is gradually changed. It takes them months on board the ship back to London to get close to each other, and Philip spends at least two thirds of a year in Yorkshire as her devoted servant. All this while concealing his true motives and social rank from her. He's determined to carry out his mission, even after he falls in love with Amanda.

My favourite part of the book is absolutely the last third. Too much of the story just doesn't seem to go anywhere, even though I much prefer a slow-burning and gradual romantic development to a couple who fall madly in love with each other over the course of a week (or less). There are a few unexpected twists revealed towards the end of the book, that raises it from a mere three stars, and the constant scheming and double-crossing of the protagonists is a delight. I would say that this is a novel to check out if you are a Loretta Chase completeist, but not the one to begin with if you're interested in trying her books. I would recommend Lord of Scoundrels or Mr. Impossible as good jumping-on points.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

#CBR6 Book 42: "Songs of Love and Death: All Original Tales of Star-Crossed Love". Edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner R. Dozois

Page count: 468 pages
Overall rating: 3.5 stars

This is an anthology, where all the stories are focused around love and death. I know, extremely surprising, based on the title. I will write a tiny bit about each of the stories, and conclude with my general impression of the anthology as a whole.

Love Hurts by Jim Butcher -  4 stars.
See my write-up here.

The Marrying Maid by Jo Beverley - 3 stars
A young man needs to convince a reluctant woman to marry him in less than three days, or a faerie curse will kill him and everyone in his entire family within the year.

I liked the concept, and that the story was set in the mid-18th Century, which is a lot earlier than a lot of the romance I read is set. It was an interesting concept, it just didn't engage me a whole lot.

Rooftops by Carrie Vaughn - 2 stars
A young playwright has an encounter with a superhero, in a city where they are clearly not all that unusual. She starts to wonder if her seemingly workaholic boyfriend has a secret identity.

I liked the blending of superheroes with the more mundane, but the story didn't really go anywhere exciting. The only other thing I've read by Vaughn is the first Kitty Norville book, which didn't impress me much either. Based on these things, I'm not likely to seek out more of her work anytime soon.

Hurt Me by M.L.N Hanover - 4 stars
A woman buys a purportedly haunted house and all the neighbours start speculating about how long she'll last. Strangely, the woman doesn't seem very bothered by the ghost, and may have had an ulterior motive for buying the house in the first place.

This was a really effective little horror story with a cool twist. When I started reading it, I wasn't too thrilled, but then the story had a quick turn-around, and changed my mind entirely. One of my favourite stories in the anthology.

Demon Lover by Cecilia Holland - 2 stars
Fioretta, a formerly beautiful village girl, crippled and scarred in a fire, accepts the magical aid of a wizard without considering the price she'll have to pay. She finds herself longing for her old life, and the chubby village boy who proposed to her.

I had trouble entirely sympathising with Fioretta's plight, as she was pretty much in a situation of her own making. She wasn't all that hideous or crippled, and there was absolutely an element of TSTL to her character.

The Wayfarer's Advice by Melinda M. Snodgrass - 2 stars
A sci-fi story in which the crew of a small trading vessel find the rescue pod of the ruling princess of the galaxy, after a space battle that appears to have destroyed her entire fleet. The captain and the Infanta obviously have a history, and loved each other when they were still in the military academy, yet she had to marry someone else for political reasons. Now, with everyone believing her dead, they might have a second chance at happiness.

I don't tend to like sci-fi at the best of times, but the science fiction wasn't the main gripe I had with this story. There was just a bit too much convenient coincidence, and I never really liked either of the main characters (although several of the supporting cast, the crew on the trade ship, were cool).

Blue Boots by Robin Hobb - 3.5 stars
Set in the same universe as her Farseer and Wildship Traders trilogies, this story takes place in one of the more remote seven duchies. A young serving maid can't help but become infatuated with the handsome minstrel of the keep, even when there are rumours that the minstrel is in fact involved in some way with the Lady of the Keep. They go on one date, but then he goes with the lady on an extended journey, and the entire keep is abuzz with gossip about how the lady's coming back with an heir for the crippled lord. Heart-broken, the girl is caught in a storm, nearly dies, and loses her memory. Can she ever be reunited with her minstrel lover?

I like Robin Hobb a lot, and it was lovely to revisit her world again, if only for a little while. I did think that it was blatantly obvious that most of the gossip spread around the keep was malicious, and that our young heroine was a bit too prone to doubt her beloved. Still, considering Hobb has the first book of a new trilogy featuring Fitz and the Fool, coming out later in the year, this was a very nice warm-up to get me excited.

The Thing about Cassandra by Neil Gaiman - 4 stars
A man keeps hearing friends and family mentioning his first girlfriend, Cassandra, to him, and thinks back to his teenage years. He's extremely surprised to discover that she's looking for him, and wants to reconnect.

This was a really very strange story, but I liked it a lot, and it still pops into my head even weeks after I finished the anthology. I tend to think that Gaiman's at his very best when he's writing short fiction. I can't wait for his entry in the upcoming Rogues (also edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois), which brings back the Marquis de Carabas.

After the Blood by Marjorie M. Liu - 1 star
I'm honestly having trouble remembering what this story was even about, because I skim-read the whole thing. Something about a post-apocalyptic future and danger and a dude who I think was some sort of vampire and a woman with woobly magical powers. His Amish-like family completely shunned him when they realised he'd turned into some supernatural creature.

Suffice to say, I didn't like the story at all, and can't be bothered to even skim through the collection to remember it. Based on this, I'm not going to be reading anything by Majorie M. Liu anytime soon.

You and You Alone by Jacqueline Carey - 4 stars
A prequel of sorts to Carey's Kushiel books, this tells the story of the epic romance between Prince Rolande of Terre D'Ange and Phédre's mentor, Anafiel. Because the framing narrative is set during the first third of Kushiel's Dart, there are some spoilers for that book, and anyone who hasn't read it yet (why haven't you, it's one of the greatest epic fantasy novels ever written!), should probably skip it and read once they've read the first book in the trilogy. I also don't want to give away too much of the plot here, as it is actually all pretty spoilery, but for a huge fan of Carey's Terre D'Ange universe, it was lovely to go back and revisit fairly minor characters and see how their stories fit into the greater whole.

I'm just going to reiterate - if you haven't read Kushiel's Dart, and you claim to like fantasy, you really should rearrange everything on your schedule so you can read it ASAP. You will thank me, I promise you.

His Wolf by Lisa Tuttle - 1.5 stars
A college professor in Texas falls in insta-love with a dude who owns a wolf. Turns out he's a drug dealer with shady connections, who's killed when he tries to give up his drug dealing (cause he loves her too - seriously they spend ONE afternoon together). The woman adopts his wolf.

Yeah, I wasn't too impressed with this. I hate insta-love. I really do. I refuse to believe that characters can built a viable and believable romance based on one casual afternoon together. This story didn't convince me of anything different. It was pretty dumb, in my opinion. Lisa Tuttle, you are unlikely to appear on my reading list.

Courting Trouble by Linnea Sinclair - 4 stars
Another sci-fi story where an intrepid starship captain reunites with her former best friend, who also happens to be a spy. They had a massive falling out when she felt he supported her cheating ex-boyfriend over her. Turns out he totally fancied her and still does. Now he they have to rescue her spaceship from being destroyed.

I'd only ever read Gabriel's Ghost by Linnea Sinclair before, and wasn't exactly blown away. To be fair, it was a monthly pick in Vaginal Fantasy, and the Grand Duchess of the bookclub herself, Felicia Day, admitted that they should have picked a different book in the series, as several of the others are better. Based on that promise, and this story, I think I would absolutely be up for trying some more of Sinclair's books. This was fun, had a convincing romance, a very cool heroine - and I'm always a sucker for a good secret agent hero.

The Demon Dancer by Mary Jo Putney - 1 star
A whole bunch of guys have died in the last twenty-four hours. A police officer with some sort of supernatural gift figures out that the deaths are due to a succubus being in town. She needs to be stopped. He works with the old lady "slayer" to bring her down.

OMG, this story was predictable and dumb. I could tell where the story was going from the first pages, and it didn't make me like it any more. The Guardians of the story clearly had extremely convenient powers for fighting evil, especially our hero. The romance angle was frankly rather skeevy, and the ending, which as I said, I'd seen coming from pretty much page two, just made me want to throw the book away. Mary Jo Putney, I've never read any of your romances, but based on this, you may be blacklisted now.

Under/Above the Water by Tanith Lee - 2 stars
I'm going to be entirely honest, I'm not completely sure I understood what went on in this story. There something about an ancient sunken underwater kingdom, and the betrayed ruler of such, and a heart-broken lady in a boat who witnessed someone drowning herself. The story keeps jumping, and the stories are clearly intertwined somehow, I should probably have read it more carefully.

I'm giving it 2 stars because it was nicely atmospheric, and I suspect I may have liked it more if I'd read it more carefully, and understood it more clearly.

Kaskia by Peter S. Beagle - 2 stars
A guy gets a strange computer from his brother-in-law with a number of keys you can't find on a normal keyboard. He starts interacting with an individual who may or may not be part of the computer, or exist in a universe somewhere else. His obsession with his new online friend starts putting his current relationship in danger.

This story was just wierd, and ended a bit strangely and sadly. I'm not sure I like the implications that were made towards the end of the story.

The Man in the Mirror by Yasmine Galenorn - 2 stars
A young woman moves into an abandoned old house, trying to recover from an abusive former relationship. She discovers that there is a man trapped in the mirrors of the house, the cousin of the man who used to torment her. Frightened at first, the young woman comes to find the man a comforting presence.

This was quite a sad story, and I felt a lot of sympathy for the heroine. I haven't read anything else by Galenorn, but wouldn't rule out trying something, as I didn't hate this story, by any means.

A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows by Diana Gabaldon - 3.5 stars
Pilot Jerry MacKenzie is asked by a special operative to train for a secret reconnaissance mission. While practising in the highlands of Scotland just before All Hallow's Eve, his plane crashes, and he passes out after experiencing something inexplicable by a stone circle. He discovers that he is trapped, far away from his wife and son, and desperately tries to return to them.

This story is connected to events in Diana Gabaldon's An Echo in the Bone, book 7 in her Outlander series, and the only one I haven't read yet. I suspect this story will not have resonated very much with people unfamiliar with Gabaldon's universe, but as I know which character Jerry MacKenzie and his wife Dolly are connected to, and understand why this story was told, I found it a lovely expansion of the already existing story. I suspect I may have rated it even higher if I'd read the book it's most closely connected to, but that shall have to wait for later in the year, when I've finished my first Cannonball.

So those are all the stories. I tend to find that anthologies that feature multiple genres, and multiple authors, many of which write about already established characters, can be a bit hit and miss. Because in this case, most of the stories here that were connected to other series, such as those of Butcher, Carey and Gabaldon, were authors whose books I have pretty much all read and love, those stories worked really well for me. I honestly am not sure how those three stories would work for non-fans of the authors' books. As for a lot of the other stories, there were very few I actively hated. I read the entire anthology because it fit into several of my reading challenges, most prominently the Monthly Motif one. I also own this book in a rather gorgeous hardback copy, an anniversary gift from my husband, so it felt wrong to only read selected stories. In future anthologies of this kind, I may only dip in and read the ones that seem relevant to me.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR6 Book 41: "Three Weeks with Lady X" by Eloisa James

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Tobias "Thorn" Daultry is the eldest of the Duke of Villiers' seven illegitimate children. He spent the first part of his life, before he was rescued and taken in by his powerful father, as a mudlark in the Thames, risking his miserable life on a daily basis to dive for trinkets in the dangerous river currents. As an adult, he has made his own fortune, completely independent of his father, and is looking to settle down. He's decided that Letitia "Lala" Rainsford is the perfect bride for him. She's very beautiful and likely to be a kind mother to his children, and her father is in a financial bind, so unlikely to mind that Thorn is a bastard, what with him being obscenely wealthy as well. That's she's widely rumoured to be dumb as a box of hair is irrelevant to him, he doesn't require wits and brains in a wife. Lala's mother,  is his biggest obstacle. She's a snob and very proud of the fact that she was once an attendant to the queen. To win Miss Rainsford's hand in marriage, Thorn first has to impress his future mother-in-law.

He buys a large estate outside London, but the previous owner may or may not have used it as a brothel, and he needs someone with impeccable taste and breeding to decorate it for him. His step-mother, Lady Eleanor, recommends Lady Xenobia India St. Clair, who makes a living sorting out the households of others. India's parents were whatever the 18th Century version of hippies would be, certainly not very responsible, with India often having to barter so they'd get food on the table. After they died, she moved in with her godmother and now, nearly twenty-six years old, she'd like to find a nice, biddable gentleman who wouldn't mind her controlling the household and finances and settle down.

Sparks obviously fly from the first time Thorn and India meet. She reluctantly agrees to refurbish his entire house and get it ready for a house party in three weeks' time, as long as she has carte blanche and free reign to do as she pleases. They are both extremely attracted to each other, but neither can see a future with the other, not just because of the huge gap in their social statuses, but also because they are both so convinced they want a future with someone nice and calm and the complete opposite of their own forceful personalities.

This book has a lot going on in it. There's an orphaned little girl who I was worried was going to turn out to be an annoying plot moppet, who instead turns out to be a delightful addition to the story, even though her presence also naturally causes further complications. From the moment they first lay eyes on each other, it's clear to the reader that India and Thorn were meant to be together. The fun is in seeing what how many obstacles they have to work through to find their HEA. Not to spoil anything, but there are a LOT. This book got almost farcical at times in causing difficulties for the happy couple.

This book is the first of at least two books apparently intended as a continuation of Eloisa James' Desperate Duchesses series, in which the Duke of Villiers, Thorn's formidable father, a sometime villain earlier in the series, finally found his happy ending. He and his lovely lady appear as supporting characters in this book as well, and there are references to their romance, although I must admit that it's been so many years since I read it, that I probably have to re-read A Duke of Her Own to remind myself what happened.

Thorn is fairly formidable in his own right. He's huge, a big lug, one of Mrs. Julien's favourite attributes in a hero and very much an alpha male. He's not even vaguely ashamed of his illegitimacy, well aware that his looks and great wealth, as well as his father's status, can smooth over most obstacles in society. He loves conducting business and is something of an inventor, himself. He intends to be faithful to his wife once he settles down, and is clearly very fond of children, as evidenced by his interactions with his ward, Rose, the orphaned daughter of one of the other mudlarks from his past. When he is told it's best that she be kept hidden away during the house party, to make sure no one assumes she's his bastard daughter, he reluctantly agrees, but visits her every chance he gets.

India did not have an easy childhood, and has always sought calmness, predictability and order as a result. Happily travelling from household to household with her godmother as chaperone, she's received any number of marriage proposals (and less flattering offers) as she helps redecorate rooms, sort out unruly servants and generally use her powers of organising for the good of society friends, but she's ready to start a family of her own. It's quite clear that India is very used to taking care of everyone else, but won't really let anyone close enough to take care of her.

Thorn may be the son of a duke, but he was born on the wrong side of the sheets. India is the legitimate daughter of a marquess, and while her parents were flighty, irresponsible and left India virtually penniless, her position in society is still such that a match between them seems inappropriate. Thorn decides that his best friend, the future Duke of Pindar, would be a suitable match for her, but is of course so consumed with jealousy every time India or his buddy even glance at each other. Goodreads seems to suggest that said best bud is the hero of James' next book, so I'm looking forward to seeing who he ends up with in the end.

Romance novels frequently feature grand gestures, usually when the hero has messed up and needs to make amends. It can be the heroine who needs to make the grand gesture, but that's more the case in books of authors who like tweaking the genre conventions. This book has the most spectacular grand gesture I can remember having read in a romance in the last few years. I'm still rather amazed at the lengths Thorn goes to prove his love for his beloved. When Eloisa James is on form, I find her very enjoyable. This book had a lot of excellent banter, scorching attraction between the protagonists, a LOT of drama (possibly too much) and a very satisfying conclusion. She's not on the top of my favourites list, but I do tend to buy her books shortly after release, and this was a very good and diverting way to spend a few hours of my time.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Friday, 2 May 2014

#CBR6 Book 40: "The Chaos of Stars" by Kiersten White

Page count: 288 pages
Rating: 2.5 stars

Disclaimer! I was granted an ARC of this book from HarperTeen via NetGalley in return for a fair and honest review.

Isadora is the youngest mortal daughter of Isis and Osiris, yup, those guys, the Egyptian gods. As seasons passed, and their believers started dying away, Isis found a solution to make sure she, her husband and all their immortal family still have worshippers, by having a mortal child every twenty years. She keeps them close, then sends them out into the world to manage on their own when they're old enough, but they still pray to their parents, thereby ensuring that the deities are not entirely forgotten. Said children can speak all known languages in the world, but Isadora doesn't seem grateful for such an awesome ability.

She's has been at odds with her mother since she got old enough to discover that the fun room she played in when she was little and was encouraged to decorate, was in fact her tomb. The situation doesn't improve when she discovers that her mother is pregnant again, ahead of schedule, as Isadora is only sixteen. She's none to happy about being replaced as the baby of the family, and when Isis (and Isadora herself, although she lies to her mother about it) start having very ominous dreams, she's thrilled to go along with the plan to travel to America to stay with her brother.

Her brother, twenty years her senior, is happily married and expecting a child of his own. Isadora, determined to be as sulky and disagreeable as possible, finds it impossible not to love her new sister-in-law. While she's in the US, she gets a summer job at museum, that's about to host an exhibit of ancient Egyptian artifacts donated by her mother (who everyone just thinks is an Egyptian eccentric). She makes friends with one of the other volunteers at the museum and meets the dreamy and mysterious Ry. While the ominous dreams appear to have stopped, her room at her brother's is broken into and thrashed. Later, the driver delivering the artifacts for the exhibit is attacked. Could her mother be right? Is there someone actually after her?

Isadora may be the daughter of gods, but she's also a pretty whiny and disagreeable brat for much of the book. So what if her father is the king of the underworld and sits at the breakfast table reading the morning papers in his mummy wrappings? It's a lot more fun than having a dad who's an accountant, girl. Her only character traits appear to be that she's very pretty (because of course she is) and has an overwhelming passion for interior decoration. To the point where her internal monologue is constantly critizising every single house and room she ever enters. Despite her surliness, she seems to have no trouble making friends in America. She also meets the unbelievably gorgeous Ry, whose full name is Orion (just like Isadora's favourite constellation, what are the odds? He naturally falls for her instantly, but Isadora keeps pushing him away, because love is for suckers and her parents' tendency to have offspring to ensure their own continued survival as gods has made her wary of trusting anyone.

She's really very self-centred, and not very smart. Ry's mysterious parentage was painfully obvious to me, as was the culprits behind the sinister plot against Isadora and her mother. Yet while I wanted to slap Isadora a whole load of times and tell her to snap out of it and grow up, I kept turning the pages to see where the story was going and I really did like the concept of ancient gods having mortal children to keep their names from being forgotten. I'm sad that the gorgeous cover and fun concept didn't play out into a particularly good book, but while I don't see myself re-reading the book, I certainly didn't hate it.

#CBR6 Book 39: "The Princess Diaries" by Meg Cabot

Page count: 304 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Mia Thermopolis hates being one of the tallest freshmen in school, and she's flunking algebra. The dreamiest boy in school is dating the evil witch that constantly makes Mia's life difficult, and now she has to deal with the fact that her algebra teacher asked her mother out. And her mother accepted! Her mother gives her a diary into which she can write down her thoughts and feelings, and after some misgivings, Mia starts doing just that.

To begin with, her worries are just the ones outlined above. Then her father, who she always knew was a rich and important person from the small European principality of Genovia arrives in New York, and springs the news on her that he is indeed a prince, and as he can no longer father children, Mia is his only heir. He wants to take her back to Genovia, but Mia refuses. They agree that she can finish her time at her New York high school, but needs to go through princess training with her grandmother.

Now Mia has barely any free time. When she's not at school or being tutored in algebra, she has to hang out with her grandmother, who criticises everything she does, from the way she dresses, to her posture, the way she speaks, walks and eats. Mia doesn't want to tell her best friend Lilly what is going on, which means they have a massive falling out, and Lilly refuses to speak to her anymore. Then the news about Mia's true heritage is leaked to the press, not making things better. To top it all off, even being a princess, Mia doesn't have a date to the Cultural Diversity dance.

Having seen the movie years ago, and thought it was cute, I added this to my TBR list and promptly forgot about it. Then "princess" was a monthly keyword for April and I remembered that I still hadn't read the book. I was surprised at how different the book is from the movie, to the point where I wonder if the film is based on more of the books in the series (a quick browse on Wikipedia suggests that this is not so). Although I think the film is perfectly decent, I think, as with another Anne Hathaway-movie based on a book, Ella Enchanted, I prefer the book. For one thing, I liked the character of Mia's father quite a bit, and he's dead in the movie. I also really liked Mia's friend Tina Hakim-Baba (and her fondness for terrible teen romances), who didn't appear in the film at all. Of course, the movie had the divine Julie Andrews as Mia's grand-mére, but having seen the film first, I kept picturing her in my head as I read the book.

Even though Mia is blond in the book, I couldn't keep from picturing her as a brunette because of Anne Hathaway. My Wiki-research also revealed to me that The Princess Diaries was Hathaway's debut film, which was a fun bit of trivia I hadn't realised before. The diary format is a good one for really getting to know a character, and Mia is clearly a sweet girl. I sometimes found her mother's artistic temperament and flakiness a bit annoying, but at the same time, the relationship between Mia and her mum in many ways reminded me of Rory and Lorelai Gilmore, which isn't a bad thing at all.

While the book was fun enough, I still haven't made up my mind if I want to read the rest of the series. There are so many shiny and exciting books out there vying for my attention. If I find any of the books on sale in the future, though, I won't rule it out.