Wednesday, 30 September 2015

#CBR7 Book 104: "The Legend of Lyon Redmond" by Julie Anne Long

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 5 stars

Before I begin this review, I have to say that in a genre where where so many books have absolutely atrocious covers, where readers pick up and love the books despite the cover art, this book has one of my favourite covers in years. It fills me with joy and perfectly encapsulates the contents of the book. I wish more romances had covers this great. 

While many of Julie Anne Long's Pennyroyal Green books can be read out of order or completely independently of each other, this book is the culmination of the 11-book series, and as such, will probably not have the same impact on the reader as if it's read without some previous knowledge of the series in general and Olivia and Lyon's tragic romance in particular. There are SO many good books in this series, and one absolute classic. Go read some of them, then come back for this review.

It is said in Pennyroyal Green in Sussex, that the Redmonds and the Everseas have been enemies since the Dark Ages, but that once every generation, a Redmond and an Eversea will fall disastrously in love with each other. This generation's doomed couple - Lyon Redmond and Olivia Eversea, who met at a small assembly and almost instantly fell incandescently in love, despite knowing that their parents would never approve. Meeting an hour here and there in secret, conducting their courtship as secretly as they could, completely oblivious to the fact that everyone around them could see that they were besotted. Then Lyon Redmond suddenly left England, never to return. Gossip said it was because Olivia Eversea broke his heart.

Five years and thousands of hothouse flowers delivered to her door, Olivia Eversea shocks everyone by accepting the proposal of Lord Landsdowne, a quiet and unprepossessing viscount. Their wedding is the social event of the season, and as most of her siblings have had quiet weddings, Mrs. Eversea is determined that Olivia will get married with pomp and occasion. Yet at every turn, there are reminders of her long-lost love. A popular ballad is created, sung on every street corner. Illustrated prints depicting the possible adventures of Lyon Redmond appear in shop windows. He is seen as the dashing hero, she as the withered Miss Havishamesque creature who jilted him.

Lyon Redmond has spent the years away from England making a fortune, proving with every action that loving Olivia Eversea is what he does best. Now she is marrying another, and it's time for a reckoning between them. The last time he asked her, she refused to leave her family and go with him. Now Lyon will confront Olivia one last time and they will see if their love story is in fact a curse, or a blessing.

In each and every Pennyroyal Green book, the reader has got little snippets of the story of Lyon and Olivia. How they met and fell in love is never revealed, but that something Olivia Eversea said or did, made Lyon Redmond leave England and his family for good, is clear. That Olivia was never the same after he left, throwing herself into her worthy charitable causes and fending off eager suitors, seeming indifferent, yet never cruel, to all of them. Rumours of Lyon's exploits on the continent, making money hand over fist, possibly engaging in piracy. Olivia becoming thinner and more brittle, until one day she decides to accept a proposal, after all.

In this final book, which features cameos from many of the previous couples in the series, the reader finally gets to see how Lyon and Olivia met, what led to their separation and estrangement. It's become clear in the previous books that Isaiah Redmond is a strict and unforgiving father, whose four children all went against his express wishes in choosing their life partner. Lyon's refusal to bow to his demands, choosing to abandon his homeland and his family instead, probably spurred his younger siblings to exert their wills and make their own unpopular choices.

Olivia and Lyon's romance is in part a tragic one. They were young when they met and because of the enmity of their families, their feelings for one another were not well received by their parents. When push comes to shove, Olivia can't handle it. She cannot follow Lyon into exile. Having not even experienced her first season, she is still young and innocent, and terrified of what the future might bring. She breaks his heart and her own with the choice she makes and has to live in shattered loneliness in the years that follow, constantly hounded by suitors, watching her siblings and friends fall in love and settle down.

It was always obvious that Lyon wasn't going to be happy with Olivia's decision to marry another. Yet he cannot be surprised that she's unwilling to pine forever for him, having heard nothing to encourage her for five years. Their reckoning is a necessary one, and there are hurt feelings on both sides, but oh such a passion as well.

Last week, I came to the realisation that The Legend of Lyon Redmond, a book I've been anticipating since I first heard it was being written, and pre-ordered months ago, would be released during my autumn break. With the stress of my work over the last few months, I have had much less time and energy to read, so the prospect of a whole day off when I could revel in this book was a gift from the fates. Like I suspect all long time readers of the series, I had very high expectations. Lyon and Olivia's story runs like a unifying thread throughout the other narratives and getting to read their story was almost too exciting to bear.

I adore What I Did for a Duke, the story of Olivia's younger sister and the Duke of Falconbridge. There are other books in the series that I am deeply fond of, but this is the only book in the series that I feel can rate as highly. Like in Genevieve's book, I got so caught up in the story that I literally shouted at the characters more than once. My husband seemed amused by my antics, assuring me that it would be a pretty unsatisfactory romance if the protagonists didn't end up happily together in the end. I nearly threw a cushion at him. Clearly both the Eversea sisters are determined to try my nerves by taking a really long time to realise what is best for them.

This is a wonderful book, but really does require the reader to have taken the journey through the series to fully appreciate the ending, not only to Olivia and Lyon's story, but to all the Pennyroyal Green books. I wasn't wild on the epilogue, where we are suddenly introduced to a current day descendant of the Redmonds and Everseas, and given insight into what happened to the children and grandchildren of all the heroes and heroines of the books in the centuries to come. I felt that was unnecessary, but it didn't ruin the perfection of the rest of the book. I will most likely skip it the many times I re-read this in future, though.

With this, I complete the Pennyroyal Green series and my double Cannonball.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR7 Book 103: "Saga, volume 5" by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Page count: 152 pages
Rating: 5 stars

Saga is my favourite comic book of the last few years and I feel like I do nothing but spend my days waiting for a new trade paperback to come out. I managed to save volume five for an unprecedented nine days from buying it until I actually read it, because I know that it'll probably be another six months at least until I get more. The writing is flawless, the art is breathtaking. The plot is never, even for a second, predictable. The six issues making up this trade had me grimacing in disgust, laughing, gasping, swearing and almost crying. 

Oh, if you're not caught up yet, there may be spoilers beyond this point. 

I found volume four extremely distressing, because Alanna and Marko were arguing and when fictional characters whom I love have relationship troubles, it affects me more than it probably should. Now they are separated, with Marko and Prince Robot IV having made an unexpected alliance to track down their missing children. Alanna and her mother-in-law are trying to keep Hazel safe from Dengo, the guy who kidnapped them. Elsewhere, Gwendolyn, Sophie, Lying Cat and the Brand (the Will's sister) are looking for the ingredients to a cure for the Will, the assassin sent to kill Alanna and Marko. As always, tiny Hazel narrates the story with aplomb, giving all sorts of heart-breaking foreshadowing, such as "she and her pals find what they're looking for...but at a much higher cost than expected".

If you're not already reading Saga, with all the glowing reviews out there on the internet, I honestly don't know how this is going to change your mind. It's just so good, and you're missing out if you don't give it a chance.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR7 Books 101-102: "The Curious Case of the Clockwork Menace" and "Forged by Desire" by Bec McMaster

Page count: 595 pages
Rating: The Curious Case of the Clockwork Menace - 3 stars
Forged by Desire - 4 stars

The Curious Case of the Clockwork Menace is a novella set three years before the events of the rest of the London Steampunk series. In it, Nighthawk partners Garrett Reed and Perry Lowell work together on a case involving a missing theatre actress who may or may not have been abducted. Perry, the only other known female blueblood (vampire) has been in love with her partner for years, without ever really being bothered by jealousy, despite knowing that Garrett is a ladies' man. Now, seeing him flirt openly on the case, she has trouble keeping herself focused, which leads to conflict between the two, and causes complications during the investigation. In the story, Perry is abducted and nearly drowns and determined never to lose track of her again, Garrett gifts her with a dagger containing a tracking device, making her promise to keep it with her always. Said tracking device becomes significant in Forged by Desire.

Nine years ago, the Duke of Moncrieff was exiled to Scotland after it was believed he murdered his thrall, Miss Octavia Morrow, an earl's daughter. Her body was never found. Shortly after Miss Morrow's disappearance and believed death, an emaciated, bedraggled, terrified young woman infected with the craving virus showed up at the Nighthawk headquarters, asking the guild leader, Sir Jasper Lynch for help. Miss Peregrine "Perry" Lowell was taken in by the Nighthawks and trained to control her new animalistic instincts. Trained by Lynch himself, she rose in the ranks to become one of his right hand people. Now, as Lynch has been elevated to a dukedom, he can no longer lead the Nighthawks. His successor is Garrett Reed, Perry's partner for most of her nine years on the force.

Reed is struggling with his new leadership duties. Lynch led the Nighthawks for more than forty years (bluebloods being near immortal and impervious to ageing) and his subordinates didn't realise just how tricky a balancing act his job entailed. Garrett can't ask Lynch for help, as the man blames him for betraying a sworn oath, endangering Lynch's beloved Rosalind, in order to save Lynch's own life. After an attack that nearly ended his life, Garrett's virus levels are extremely strong and he is worried he's going to tip over the edge into the Fade (when bluebloods lose all control and become mindless vampires, attacking everything in sight). He is suffering from horrific nightmares, where he dreams that he attacks Perry, who he's come to realise he considers more than a friend and a work mate. Because he fears he'll hurt her, he's been keeping away from her for a month, and it's making him utterly miserable.

When two young women, clearly of highborn birth, are found murdered in a factory, the cause of death makes Perry flash back to the terrors in her past. She's convinced that she killed the madman who held her captive, infected her with the craving virus and tortured her in the name of medical science, but further investigation into the dead girls all seem to paint a gruesome picture. Moncrieff has been recalled from his exile, and has tasked Garrett with locating the missing Octavia Morrow to prove his innocence. Perry ran once before and created a new identity for herself. She realises that she'll have to flee again, but how can she leave Garrett when he finally seems to return her feelings?

In the world of McMaster's London Steampunk, the sons of the ruling classes, the Echelon, are given the craving virus that makes them faster, stronger and near immortal when they come of age. Once they have the virus, they have to feed on blood, but will be immensely powerful until the point when their virus levels go so high that they enter the Fade, and have to be put down, so as to not become ravening monsters. Any non-nobles who are accidentally infected with the virus can either join the Nighthawks or the Prince Regent's royal guard, or they will be executed. No women are given the virus, as they are believed to be too emotional and weak to handle it. The exception is the Duchess of Casavian, whose father broke the edicts, and Perry Lowell, who was infected in a horrific medical experiment she was lucky to escape.

A female blueblood has to be beyond reproach, so as to not confirm the rumours that women are inferior. Perry lives a strictly controlled existence, trying to appear as masculine as possible to blend in with the other Nighthawks. She has worked hard to overcome the trauma of her past, training with Lynch personally at fencing and fighting. Her sense of smell is unparallelled and she's one of the best trackers the guild has. She's also loved her partner, Garret Reed, for nearly as long as she's known him. Now her past appears to be catching up with her, and she's terrified that he's going to get hurt as a result. She's willing to do anything and risk everything to keep him safe.

Garrett is the son of a prostitute from the East End and worked hard to become Lynch's second in command. No one had expected Lynch's elevation to the Echelon, and the mantle of guild leader sits heavily on his shoulders. His newly discovered attraction to Perry is complicated by his fear that he'll hurt her if his virus levels go too high, and with Lynch giving him the silent treatment, he has no one to talk to about all his fears. Once he realises that Perry isn't indifferent to his advances, he's determined to win her, to spend what little time he has left before he loses control, happy with her. He just needs to figure out what secrets she's keeping from him.

Perry and Garrett's love story is a complicated one, not helped by both being far too honourable and brave for their own good, willing to make audacious sacrifices for the sake of the other. The found family aspect of the Nighthawks really comes into play in the latter half of this book, though, and while Perry is a hell of a heroine, brave, fierce, independent and capable, it's clear that she needs to learn to trust those around her and allow herself to feel happiness. A lot of the overarching story of the series is also coming to a head over the course of this story, and I look forward to seeing how it all ends in the final book.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

#CBR7 Book 100: "Furiously Happy: A Funny Book about Horrible Things" by Jenny Lawson

Page count: 352 pages
Audio book length: 8 hrs 20 mins
Rating: 5 stars

Back in October 2012, when I finally decided to see what all these Cannonballers were on about when they kept gushing about a strange-looking book with a taxidermied mouse on the cover, and gave in and read Let's Pretend This Never Happened, I didn't actually know who the Bloggess was. What a sad and empty place my life was up until that point. Once I actually read her first book, I also went out and bought it in audio book (She sings the chapter titles - it's beyond delightful!) and now I check her blog at least a couple of times a week, often reading her posts out loud to my husband.

While I may have been sadly unaware of Jenny Lawson and her amazing writing back then, I have known about and anticipated her second books since it was first mentioned on her blog. While I think Ms. Lawson is wonderful when sharing funny anecdotes, cat pictures, strange polls, recounted arguments with her long-suffering husband Victor, craziness about taxidermy, what really truly speaks to me about her writing are the stories when she honestly talks about her depression, her anxiety and her other health problems. So the fact that this book was going to be about her mental illness made my expectations soar even higher.

I needn't have worried that Ms. Lawson was going to let me down. Her first book was "laugh until your ribs hurt" funny in places and very very sad in others. This book (which I also got in audio and because of that, I got a bonus chapter - yay!) deals with the long list of ailments that Jenny Lawson suffers from, physical and mental. It covers a range of very serious issues and had me crying in sympathy in places, but I also laughed so much that people gave me funny looks as I was running errands or travelling on public transport. It's a book that will shed a lot of valuable light on what it's like to suffer from crippling depression, anxiety and the like and which can help those sharing the life of someone suffering similar things maybe understand a bit better. I can promise that while it gets really dark in places, which is especially affecting as this is NOT a work of fiction, but a very honest memoir - these things are Jenny Lawson's life, the book is also stomach-achingly funny and follows a similar structure as her first book, with very serious topic followed by wonderfully absurd sections.

As well as talking honestly about her depression, rheumatoid arthritis, her social anxiety, her self esteem issues and the like, Ms. Lawson shares tales of going to Japan and Australia, life lessons from her dad, the story of Rory the raccoon (who's on the cover), many many arguments she's had with Victor and generously gives the reader the appendix to the book in the middle, because why would you want to put that stuff at the end?

In chapter 31, where she talks about nearly being attacked by a possum by her pool (there are a lot of possums in this book), she claims that she would much rather be attacked by baby penguins, because they aren't even vaguely scary. Just in case Ms. Lawson ever reads this review - I was bitten by a baby penguin at a zoo in Sweden when I was little. They may seem cute and fluffy and oh so harmless, but they have vicious, scissor-like beaks and I bled profusely. The lessons she learned about swans should be applied to penguins as well, just saying.

If you liked her first book, buy this. If you haven't read her first book, buy and read that first, then get this one. If you suffer from depression or anxiety, get this book. If you know anyone or suspect you may know someone who suffers from these things, get this book. With so many books I read, I want to quote Bernard Black from the extremely funny TV show Black Books: "You'll laugh, you'll cry, it'll change your life." In the case of Jenny Lawson's books, it's all too true. Her first book was spectacular, this one is even better. Why are you not reading/listening to it right now?

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR7 Book 99: "My Lady Quicksilver" by Bec McMaster

Page count: 448 pages
Rating: 4 stars

This is book 3 in an ongoing series. While it can be read as a stand alone, the world building and the overarching story line will make a lot more sense if you start at the beginning, with Kiss of Steel.

Sir Jasper Lynch is the head of the Nighthawks, basically the mostly nocturnal police force of the Steampunk London that Bec McMaster has invented here. All of the nearly four hundred Nighthawks are rogue bluebloods, people who have caught the craving virus by accident in some way (become vampires) and who are not of the Echelon, the nobility who rule the country. After an assassination attempt on the Prince Regent, Lynch is tasked with finding the notorious human revolutionary, Mercury. If Mercury is not brought to justice within a short space of time, Lynch's life is forfeit instead.

Using his enhanced senses and his decades of experience with detective work, Lynch manages to track down Mercury, and is shocked to discover that the revolutionary is a woman. Not only that, she manages to get the better of him by using her feminine wiles to distract him, then she escapes. Now the reason he wants to find her is as much professional as it's personal. Little does he realise that she's much closer than he is expecting.

Rosalind Fairchild needs to find her missing brother, who was involved with the rogue group of revolutionaries who tried to blow up a large part of the Echelon and visiting dignitaries from Scandinavia. She needs to infiltrate the Nighthawks, and gets herself hired as Sir Jasper Lynch's personal secretary. She knows that if he discovers that she is also Mercury, he will arrest her and hand her to the Echelon to be executed, but Rosalind has been trained for subterfuge by the very best, and has no intention of getting caught. She needs to locate her brother, rescue him and then she can go back to ridding the world of all bluebloods.

Rosalind is a humanist, one of the disenfranchised humans who believe revolution is necessary, as the Prince Regent and the Echelon keeps making further demands for blood taxes and humans and mechs (humans who have had to get mechanical prosthetics after injuries) are being treated worse and worse. Few know that Mercury, the infamous revolutionary, is in fact a woman. Recently, a small band of her former followers went rogue, clearly sick of waiting for results. Not content with trying to kill a large group of people with an explosion, they are now working on some sort of weapon that turns bluebloods crazy with bloodlust, slaughtering everyone near them. Rosalind is as determined to stop these rogue revolutionaries as Lynch.

Lynch is the nephew of one of the ruling Dukes on the Echelon council, but was cast off by his family when he refused to fight his cousin in a duel for the rights to be the Duke's heir. Instead he founded the Nighthawks, non-noble bluebloods trained to police the city, solve crimes and bring criminals to justice. What Lynch fears most of all is losing control, and he keeps himself in check, never drinking more than the minimum required amount of blood, never letting himself get emotionally involved. So when Mercury gets under his skin so very quickly, it awakens needs in him he'd almost let himself believe he didn't have. He knows he can never have Mercury, but his newly awakened emotions draw him towards his impudent new secretary, a lovely widow who seems determined to drive him to distraction, even as she tidies up his private life.

Less involved in the larger politics of this world, and more on investigation and police work, My Lady Quicksilver may be my favourite book in the series so far. By now, all the pieces of the world building are firmly in place and McMaster can just let her characters play. The opposites attract story at the centre of this book is delightful. Rosalind is an outlaw, Lynch an officer of the law. She's all about temptation, sensuality and fun, he's all about control, order and work. Neither wants to fall for the other, but they are helpless to control their emotions.

As well as Lynch and Rosalind's romance, I very much liked the supporting cast of Nighthawks in this book. Family is very important in these books, and Rosalind's relationship with her brothers and with her werwulfen friend also adds depth and complexity to the world. Teased in this book, and coming up in the next one, is the romance between two of Lynch's most trusted lieutenants, Garret Reed and one of the few blue blood women, Perry Lowell. I very much liked their banter in this one and hope their book is as satisfying as this one.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR7 Book 98: "Archangel's Enigma" by Nalini Singh

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

This is book 8 in a series, not the place to start. There is far too much stuff in this book furthering the ongoing story arc for this to be an especially satisfying book to start the series with. Start at the beginning with Angels' Blood.

There are dark rumours that Lijuan, the Archangel of Death, is about to murder one of the sleeping Ancients (powerful archangels who have gone to ground to sleep for millennia so as to stave off insanity). As this goes against everything angelkind considers holy, Raphael sends one of his trusted Seven, the mysterious Naasir, his most skilled tracker, to find the sleeping place of Alexander. Naasir has decided that so many others in his family have found happiness with their mates, he too wants one. He's been searching for seven months, with no luck, but will postpone his quest for his mate to aid his archangel.

Andromeda is a young angelic scholar, fifteen days away from coming of age (when she turns 400). The granddaughter of the archangel Charismemnon, dealer of poisons, disease, pain and debauchery, Andromeda fled his court and has been working to prove herself at the Refuge, devoted to learning, record keeping and all manner of other scholarly arts so despised by the kin at her grandfather's court. She knows that on her birthday, she has to return, bound to serve there for five hundred years, a service she dreads with every fibre of her being. Because her specialised field of study is the burial places of the Ancients, Andromeda is asked to help Naasir locate Alexander. At first she is startled by his strange manner and mysterious origins, but it doesn't take long before they form a bond - making the thought of five hundred years away from him seem even more unbearable to Andromeda.

 It's clear that while working on furthering the plot of the ongoing arc of these books, the building war between Raphael and Lijuan, the dangers of the ongoing Cascade, the changes and threats to angel-, vampire- and humankind, Nalini Singh is also determined to have fun, playing around with different sub-genres. Archangel's Shadows was mostly a police procedural, this is an adventure novel, with a quest and a chase against time at its centre. Andromeda and Naasir are the unlikely pair who have to join forces, solve the puzzles and finish the quest before their rivals catch up to them. Yet there is also the complication of Andromeda's family obligations and the service she's expected to offer at her grandfather's court. The book doesn't end when the quest is complete, there is more to solve before the two lovers can have their HEA.

Naasir's origins have always been a mystery. He is clearly unique, in that he appears to be both a vampire, yet not. He has silver eyes and hair and an unparallelled ability to track. He can sprout claws, seems to occasionally purr and in previous books, there have been hints that he may sport stripes in the right light. He is both a ferociously efficient hunter and almost childlike in his manner. His found family means everything to him, and those close to him hold him in great affection. In this book, his brutal and heart-breaking origins are revealed, and it's clear why there is only one of him. I have always liked Naasir as a supporting character in the previous books, and he was a wonderful hero in this.

Born into the court of the Archangel of plague and pestilence, with parents who went out of their way to break any sexual, physical or moral taboo, Andromeda had enough and fled while she was still considered too young to take care of herself. Lying about her obligations to her family, she found a new home in the archives of the Refuge, immersing herself in ancient texts and languages, doing her very best to forget the day when she has to return. Yet knowing she can't be weak, she's been training herself in martial arts and swordplay, so she can defend herself when she finally has to return. Because of the debauched surroundings she grew up in, Andromeda has sworn a vow of celibacy, only to be broken if she is presented with an ancient Grimoire, believed to have been lost forever. Before she meets Naasir, Andromeda never had cause to regret her vow for a second.

Naasir initially doubts that Andi, as he calls her, can be his mate. She appears soft and bookish and no mate of his would swear a vow of celibacy. He quickly discovers that the angel has secrets, however, and that there is much more to her than he first expected. As the two grow closer, and their attraction to each other increases, Andromeda declares herself willing to break her vow for Naasir. He refuses to let her, because he's learned that it is imperative to keep one's promises, especially to oneself and swears he will track down her stupid Grimoire, and afterwards, she will let him do whatever he pleases. She willingly agrees, hoping that he can fulfil his promise before she has to start her forced servitude in her grandfather's court and give him up for centuries.

For all the darkness that is spreading in the the universe of these books, and for all the pain in both Naasir and Andromeda's past, their courtship is a playful one and this book was so much fun. It's by far my favourite of the Guild Hunter books since probably the second book in the series. I hope that some of the lightness can continue in future books, even as the overall story takes a more serious turn.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

#CBR7 Book 97: "Why Not Me?" by Mindy Kaling

Page count: 240 pages
Audio book length: 4 hrs and 57 mins
Rating: 4 stars

Back in 2012, before the husband and I had spent a few weeks of the summer catching up on what was then available of the American version of The Office, I read Mindy Kaling's first book Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me? and liked it, and her, a lot. Once Mindy Kaling got her own show, The Mindy Project, I even watched all of the first season and about half of the second season before I got distracted by other shows, reading and computer games. Any sitcom the husband and I don't agree to watch jointly tends to get forgotten about, because if I'm at home by myself, I read, fritter away time on the internet or play computer games.

I noticed a while back that Mindy (I'm going to assume I'm allowed to use her first name, since I spent nearly five hours of my life recently listening to her talking directly in my ear) had a new book coming out, but didn't really feel like it was a huge priority, not like Felicia Day's memoir or Jenny Lawson's new book (which I'm listening to right now (well, not RIGHT now, I'm currently blogging, but you get the general idea)). So what changed my mind? This very positive review from fellow Canonballer ModernLove, combined with very enthusiastic Goodreads status updates followed with a good review from my book twin on the internet, Narfna. It didn't hurt that I had free Audible credits to burn, either.

I don't regret buying the book or the time I spent listening to it. There's a lot of good stuff in the book, and it's clear that Mindy Kaling has become a more proficient writer, willing to share more of herself in the book than in her last one. She talks about the success of her new show making her famous in a way being a writer and supporting character on The Office never did, and in what ways that has changes her life. A lot of women, especially young ones, look up to her and consider her a role mode and it's obviously something that Ms. Kaling takes seriously. I always like these celebrity-written books more when they mix the light and the frivolous with the more weighty, open and serious topics. Here we get Mindy's style tips, insight into her time at college, some ruminations on her close friendship with her ex-boyfriend, fellow writer and actor B.J Novak, juice cleansing, stories of the time she was invited to meet President Obama, and other fun anecdotes.

She also writes about the pressures of body-image in the industry, of being a bad sport, judging others too harshly, about her work ethic and how nothing comes effortlessly, even when it may seem that way. The chapters are short and the book is a very quick read, even in audio form. I'd seen the chapter where she writes an alternate reality for herself, where she never became an actress, but ended up teaching Latin in a prep school on the Upper East side mentioned as a particular highlight. I agree that it was delightful. Unfortunately, listening to this chapter in audio got a little bit annoying, since the whole thing takes place in e-mail conversations, and the constant repetition of e-mail signatures and e-mail headings got quite repetitive. Her love of and affinity for romantic comedy really shines in this chapter. Overall, this was a fun book and I liked it better than her first one. I also want to go back and catch up on the seasons of The Mindy Project I haven't seen yet.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

#CBR7 Book 96: "Archangel's Shadows" by Nalini Singh

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

This is book 7 in an ongoing series, and as such, not the place to start reading. This review will contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, because it's impossible not to mention some of the things that have happened before this book began. The first book in the series is Angels' Blood and I highly recommend it.

After the devestating attacks on New York, archangel Raphael and his consort Elena are trying to re-group, rebuild and calm the population. When a dessicated body is found, it looks like it was killed in a way reminiscent of how Lijuan, the insane archangel who tried to destroy New York, Raphael and his people, would drain her victims completely of life force to gain strength. Releasing the news of the body would only cause panic, so the death needs to be investigated with subtlety and stealth. Ashwini, one of Elena's old Guild Hunter colleagues is recovering from a near-fatal cut she sustained during the battle and is eager and willing to do some investigating. Like all Guild Hunters, Ashwini is a skilled tracker and can handle herself in a fight. She's also gifted and sometimes haunted with the ability to sense the secrets, memories and experiences of those she touches, often suffering terrible nightmares after just brushing against someone by accident. With older immortals, like some of the angels or vampires in the city, she doesn't even need to touch, their mere presence is enough to trigger her visions.

One of the few people who doesn't affect her in such a way is Janvier, the centuries old Cajun vampire who has sometimes been her target, but more often her ally. He has wanted Ashwini since the first time he saw her, and as the years have passed and they have sparred, flirted and co-operated more frequently, his feelings for her have only grown. She keeps him at a distance, but after she nearly died in the battle for New York, Janvier is determined to never leave her side. He knows that there are secrets in her past that make her reluctant to take their relationship to the next level, but having lived for centuries, he's not averse to waiting a while for her to make up her mind. Now they need to track down the monster who slowly tortured and murdered a young woman, making sure her killer doesn't hurt anyone else.

Unlike in most of the books in this series, Ashwini and Janvier already know each other well by the start of the book. Their first encounter involved Ashwini having to hunt down the vampire, who had gone rogue from his angel master and him leading her on a merry chase through the bayou of Louisiana. Over the course of the series, Janvier has gone to work for Raphael, the archangel of New York and he and Ashwini are allies rather than antagonists. There has always been strong attraction and sexual tension between them, but due to her abilities, Ashwini keeps herself from getting too close to anyone. While Janvier is one of the individuals she can be around, and who seems to actually keep her grounded, she can't bring herself to actually initiate a relationship with him, as there are secrets in her past that make it impossible for her to commit to anyone.

Janvier loves Ashwini and is none too happy that she nearly died recently. He wants to spend the rest of his immortal life with her, but due to the effect of older immortals on her abilities, Ashwini hates the idea of being turned into a vampire. She's worried it will amplify her powers, causing her to go insane from the sensory input. So she keeps flirting with Janvier, but taking it no further. Her near-death experience and the tender care that her Cajun took of her while she was recovering makes her want to tell him the full truth about why they can't be toghether. She's just terrified that the truth will drive him away forever.

While a lot of the previous books in the series (especially the ones focused primarily on Raphael and Elena) have driven the story arc forward, this is a quieter book, with a murder investigation in its centre. While trying to negotiate the new status of their relationship, Janvier and Ashwini try to identify the withered husk of a woman they found in a dumpster, so they can narrow down the suspects and discover who murdered her. Because the way she was killed is so similar to Lijuan's power, the Tower is very determined to track the guilty party quickly. As they keep investigating, it seems the murder of the young woman might be connected to a strange new drug that causes uncontrollable blood lust among the vampires in the city. All signs point to someone further trying to destabilize Raphael's territory, making his subjects feel unsafe.

There have been some hit and miss books in the series, but the last few, this included, I have very much enjoyed. I liked that Ash and her Cajun already knew each other well and that they just needed to figure out a way to really be together, without any of the drama of falling in love and acknowledging their new feelings. There is a big, established supporting cast in these books, including Raphael and Elena, and the vampires and angels that make up Raphael's most loyal followers, the Seven. Now several of them have spouses of their own, and it's clear that Naasir, the most feral and mysterious of all of them is ready to find a special someone of his own. I like that Elena is so determined to discover what he is, which seems to be some sort of cat shapeshifter/vamprire hybrid. I'm very much looking forward to discovering the truth behind his origins and who his intended turns out to be.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR7 Book 95: "Dark Wild Night" by Christina Lauren

Page count: 352 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

Lorelei "Lola" Castle and Oliver Lore got married in Las Vegas, as did their friends Ansel and Mia and Finn and Harlow. While their friends were busy getting physical all over their hotel suites, Lola and Oliver walked for hours along the strip talking, not even holding hands. By the time Lola plucked up the courage to ask if they should get their own hotel room, Oliver had concluded that Lola wasn't a one night stand kind of a girl, and rejected the offer as kindly as possible. They got an annullment, then became the very best of friends, as Oliver opened a comic book shop in San Diego just as Lola's first comic book "Razor Fish" hit the market and became a huge success.

With the other two drunken impulse marriages having become a very real thing and their friends a tight-knit group, it's obvious to absolutely everyone, including Oliver's employee not-Joe (I'm assuming his real name will be revealed at some point) that Oliver and Lola are absolutely gaga for one another. When Lola's bestselling comic book is optioned for a three part megabudget action franchise and Oliver is the first person she tells, not one of the two women she's known since primary school, she starts to realise that he's become a bit more than just her best bud.

Lola's terrified that her wierd obsessive working habits are going to be off putting to Oliver, as it has been to guys she's dated in the past. Her mother left Lola and her father after Lola's dad came back from Afghanistan with PTSD, which has left Lola with some pretty deep-seated abandoment issues. As long as Oliver is firmly in the friend category, she won't have to be so worried about losing him.

Oliver, of course, has no intention of going anywhere at all. Having spent months patiently and calmly observing Lola in all aspects of her life, he knows her every habit and is mad about her anyway. All he wants is a chance to take care of her and love her the way she deserves. He's not about to let her handle smarmy Hollywood writers and executives on her own. While he's worried about their friendship changing, he also can't keep his feelings secret any longer.

The previous two romances in this series were extremely quick and satisfying reads and I love the friendship that has been set up between all the different characters. When I realised that the third book would feature geeks; (very physically attractive people, but geeks nonetheless) a tall, dark, handsome Australian who runs a comic shop and pretty, independent comic book creator, plus it was a friends to lovers story, I was all aflutter. My expectations were already pretty high, after having devoured the first two books a couple of weeks ago. So I'm glad I discovered these books when I did. At least I didn't have a super long wait ahead of me.

My expectations, while very high, were pretty much all met. My only niggle with this book, which is keeping it from a full five stars is that Lola acts really very stupidly for parts of the book. Oliver is pretty much the perfect guy and while she has a lot of issues, she should have come to her senses sooner and not tortured him so much. Apart from that, I loved it. The supporting cast are all great, the story entertaining, the unresolved sexual tension in the first half of the book is extremely well done, proloning the moment when the protagonists actually take the plunge and do it already.

The next book isn't out until February 2016, but I'm figuring it must be about Lola's roommate London, who is the only currently single female in the group. I suspect I'll be reading the Beautiful Bastard series as well to tide me over, as these women write really compulsively readable romance.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR7 Book 94: "Black Heart" by Holly Black

Page count: 304 pages
Rating: 4 stars

This is book 3 of a trilogy. This review, and even the book summary, is likely to contain spoilers for previous books in the series. Skip this until you're caught up.

In the third and final volume of Holly Black's Curse Worker trilogy, Cassel has forced his older brother Barron into working for the Feds, and he's loving every minute of it, as he's able to use his memory working to get a whole load of cool fringe benefits. Cassel can't be officially recruited by them yet, as he's not 18, but the deal is that once he's finished his final year of school, he'll come work for them too. Now he's mainly using his practise missions to spy on Lila, the girl he loves and who pretty much hates him after the emotion work his mother forced on her wore off. Lila Zacharov is following in her father's footsteps, having quit school and become a gangster in training.

Having not seen or heard from his mother in a while, Cassel discovers that Lila's father has her under house arrest for stealing and fencing his most prized possession, the resurrection diamond, a stone believed to have belonged to Rasputin, and whose owner can never be killed. He's been wearing a fake for years, but would like the original returned, and Cassel has no choice but to agree to try to locate it. Anything to be nearer to Lila, who lives in the same flat where his mother is now imprisoned.

The Feds need Cassel's help in neutralising a senator, who after emotion work was performed on him by a number of individuals, including Cassel's mother, has become dangerously unstable. He keeps proposing mandatory testing of all citizens, wanting those who are proven to be workers fired from their jobs, and in some extreme cases, imprisoned. As the government also employs magically gifted workers, it's very much in their interest that the sentator is taken out of the equation. They want Cassel to change him into a dog, who they can keep contained. Every instinct Cassel has says this is a trap, and his brother's snooping confirms it.

There is also a fairly boring subplot involving a school friend of Cassel's, hiring him and his roommate Sam to help her retrieve some photographs she's being blackmailed for. I thought the whole plot dragged quite a bit. It felt like it, as well as the extensive relationship drama between Sam and his girlfriend Daneca had been inserted mainly as padding, because Cassel's two main story lines - his doomed love for Lila and his moral quandary about transforming the senator, weren't enough to fill out the book.

What I really like about this whole series is that it's mostly a contemporary fiction series, with just a slight magical twist. The various worker powers are interesting to me, as are the implications of what such powers and the fear of them would do to a society. The books explore prejudice, fear and discrimination in an interesting way, and there is a tremendous range of morality in the various characters. There is very little right or wrong, just a whole lot of grey areas. Cassel isn't a very nice person, and has a lot of bad stuff in his past and present, but he keeps trying to protect the people he cares about and protect them as best he can. Sometimes he has to break the law to do that, but he doesn't want to become worse than he already is. He's killed people, but only because his brothers used him and made him forget it. He's caused a lot of pain to people he cares about, especially Lila, and so desperately wants to make up for it.

I found Barron's slight redemptive arc in this last book both promising and with the reveal of the picture on his phone, and what Cassel did with it, a bit heart-breaking. Barron has clearly been a sociopathic dick for much of the books, but you do get the sense that the brothers love each other despite all that. Their relationship with each other, and their mother, is very dysfunctional. I like their grandfather though, he's a nice guy, for all that he's been a mob assassin for much of his life.

I liked Cassel's solution to the dilemma he faced, and the tension in the aftermath, where his smart-arse ways were suddenly not enough to get him out of a bind. It was nice to see that the trust he'd learned to put in others over the course of the series paid off and that by the end of the series, things were seeming to look up for him. I said in my review for Red Glove that this would make an interesting TV show - a sort of paranormal Sopranos for young adults. Cast it with hot young things and it would probably do really well on the CW.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR7 Book 93: "Red Glove" by Holly Black

Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 4 stars

This is the second book in a trilogy, and as such not the best place to start. This review will contain some spoilers for book one, because it's impossible to write about this book without talking about things that were revealed in the first one. So if you are new to these Holly Black books, go find White Cat - that's where to begin the trilogy.

Cassel Sharpe lives in a world where a select percentage of the population have certain gifts. People who, if they touch your skin with theirs, can alter your luck or prospects, manipulate or delete your memories, alter or change your emotions, break your bones or heal your illnesses. Some can even kill. In the United States, there is heavy legislation against what is known as such curse working. Everyone has to wear gloves, because you never know who might be a curse worker, manipulating you in some way. Because curse working is mainly seen as a bad thing (despite the fact that the majority of workers mainly use their powers to bring good luck or can heal the sick and injured), those who discover they are gifted with such powers keep it very secret, or go on to join organised crime, because all the major crime bosses are curse workers.

On the flip side of having a cool superpower, there is the blowback. Every time a worker uses his or her abilities, they get a reaction. Physical workers who use their powers to hurt or heal get sick themselves, emotion workers get very emotionally unstable, death workers actually lose body parts and memory workers lose their own memories. 

Cassel believed he was the only one in his family of grifters and curse workers not gifted. His mother can completely change people's emotions, his older brother Phillip could break people's bones, his middle brother Barron can completely rewrite or delete people's memories and his grandfather is a death worker. Cassel himself is one of the rarest of workers, he can transform items or people, alter their appearances or even change them into animals or inanimate objects. His mother and brothers wanted to keep him unaware of his gifts until he got older, so his brother Barron started changing his memories, making him think he was just a regular human. Over the course of the first book, Cassel discovers that his brothers kept rewriting his memories, using his transformation abilities for their own ends.

After Phillip and Barrons tried to move up in the world by trying to assassinate Zacharov, the local curse worker crime boss, Cassel made a deal that saved their lives, but led to the death of Zacharov's nephew Anton. Because of all the blowback from his memory cursing, Barron's memory is a bit like Swiss cheese, and he has to surround himself with photographs, notebooks, post-it notes and note cards to remind himself of who he is and what his memories are. Cassel has used his forgery skills to make Barron believe they don't hate each other, and go for pizza every fortnight. Their mother is out of jail, and to "thank" Cassel, manipulated Lila, Zacharov's only daughter, into being madly in love with him. Now the girl Cassel has always loved and feels horrible about betraying (I don't want to reveal how, as it's very spoilery) is attending his school, watching him like a love-sick puppy and he can't touch her, as she's effectively given a really long-lasting roofie.

To add to Cassel's difficulties, he is approached by Federal agents who tell him his brother Phillip has been murdered. The security footage show a hooded woman entering his building, wearing long red gloves. They believe Phillip's death may be the last in a string of disappearances connected to the Zacharov crime family, and want Cassel's help in solving the crimes. Looking at the pictures of the missing men, Cassel is worried he knows exactly what happened to them. Cassel is pretty much stuck between a rock and a hard place. He doesn't really want to actively work for Zacharov, but can't exactly turn around and work for the government either, as that would be seen as a betrayal of everything he comes from, and could lead to the death of Barron, his mother and likely Cassel himself.

Luckily, over the course of the first book, Cassel discovered he has friends he can really confide in and trust. His roommate Sam, who is a special effects wizard and Sam's girlfriend Daneca, who is very passionate about protecting worker rights, helped him prevent his brothers' misguided assassination attempt of Zacharov. They are now his most important allies. Cassel's grandfather is also firmly on his side, with no illusions about his various family members, but as he's been part of the Zacharov crime family and lost four fingers because of death curses he's performed in the line of duty, so Cassel doesn't feel he can tell him the full truth. He needs to use all the tricks he's learned as a grifter to hold both sides off until he figures out how he can work out what is best for himself.

I first read White Cat, the first book in the series about five years ago, and it didn't really make much of an impact on me. Then one of my friends read the whole series and rated them so highly, saying he actually wanted to see a paranormal TV series based on them, and I figured I really should give them another try. When re-reading the first book, I liked it better this time and many of the problems I had with Cassel as a protagonist come from the fact that he's such a introverted loner. Once he starts opening up and making friends, he becomes a lot more relatable and I cared more about what happened to him. Which is good, because there is a more engaging plot in the first book than in this one. I was still interested in seeing where the story was going and how Cassel was going to play both sides against each other. My friend is right, this would make a very cool TV show.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

#CBR7 Book 92: "Luck Be a Lady" by Meredith Duran

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Miss Catherine Everleigh has spent most of her life at her father's side, learning to appraise antiques and become the natural successor to his auction house. Her brother got to go away to school, Catherine was tutored at home by a governess. Her father's will stated that she would have equal controlling share in the Everleigh Auction Rooms with her brother, but only once she's married. Now she knows her brother is embezzling funds to support his political ambitions. He keeps introducing her to what he considers suitable marriage candidates, but Catherine knows that they would all play directly into his hands.

Most of society calls her "the Ice Queen", a moniker she's not particularly bothered by. She's fully aware that most men do not want an educated wife whose chief concern is antiquities and running a business. However, she will not get her full inheritance without a husband. As it becomes clear her brother may actually sell the Auction Rooms, she needs to find someone who will help her seize control from her brother. The only man who comes to mind as a suitable ally is Nicholas O'Shea, the charming uncle of Catherine's former assistant, Lilah. Catherine's plan is a marriage of convenience, which she can use to gain control of her share of the business. That a family connection to an East End mob boss may severely hamper her brother's political ambitions is also something she can use as leverage.

Nick O'Shea has kept an eye on Catherine Everleigh ever since his niece went to work for her company. She's always been the perfect embodiment of all the things that he can't have. In control of a large area of the East End, without even having to break the law to do it, Nick is looking for new challenges. Marriage to the lovely Miss Everleigh would lend him added respectability and help him move his power base further into the fully law-abiding realm. A marriage of convenience, with no talk of love is fine by him. After consummating the marriage, however, he's no longer so sure about living and sleeping apart, as he wants Catherine in his bed every night, and he's willing to use every dirty trick he knows to seduce her.

Catherine Everleigh was an important supporting character in Duran's previous book, Lady Be Good. While having read that book gives a deeper understanding and shows her from other character's point of view, this book works fine on its own. Catherine is seen as a cold woman, because her main concern is her passion for her business. She was frequently made to feel that she was unnatural and displayed inappropriate behaviour by her mother, but loved nothing better than to learn how to restore, appraise and value antiquities at her father's side. The Everleigh Auction Rooms is everything she values and cares about, and a traditional marriage to someone of her own class would mean that she would have to give up on her dreams. It makes her furious that her brother is able to gradually steal money and run the business to the ground, while she is powerless to stop him.

The marriage she proposes to Nick O'Shea is a secret one. After consummating the marriage to make sure it is legal, she fully intends for them to live apart and for the marriage to be dissolved after five years. She just wants to get her brother to sign over her share of the company to her, to prevent him from running the business into the ground. She knows men consider her very beautiful, but knows they find her a blue-stocking and inappropriately masculine in her interests. Catherine also seems to view stronger emotions and sexual desire as something that happens to other people, not something she herself is capable of or likely to ever experience. Yet she feels an unexpected thrill every time she comes near Nick O'Shea and the release and pleasure she gets when she finally lets herself relax and enjoy herself is a revelation to her. Of course her strict mother has made her believe that desire is unseemly, so it takes Nick some time (and admirable restraint) to coax his wife back into his bed.

If this were an Old School romance, I suspect Nick would be a whole lot rapier than he is here. Instead, because this is a Victorian historical written for the modern woman, while he uses every trick in the book to try to seduce Catherine and make her accept that she is a sensual, passionate woman and there is nothing wrong with that, he never pushes her into anything she doesn't want to do, and on one occasion even stops in the middle of something pretty hot and heavy because she changes her mind. A very good example of "No means no", which may or may not actually be anachronistic. I don't care - respecting a woman's wishes, even when she would clearly be happier and certainly more sexually satisfied if she kept going, is always attractive.

Catherine's brother is a complete tool. He's quite possibly too cowardly and villainous for it to be interesting, but the actions he takes over the course of the novel are sadly all too plausible. Because of his betrayal of Catherine, we are introduced to a character important to a previous Duran hero, and I would not be surprised in the slightest if this lady with a tragic past turns up in a future novel as a heroine.  

Luck Be a Lady is one of those unusual historical romances where neither of the protagonists are titled, although they are from different social classes (as I think most writers think this is the best way of causing tension between the couple). I don't seem to come across those very often, and it's a nice change of pace. Duran has only let me down once, and I will continue to look forward to her romances.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Monday, 14 September 2015

#CBR7 Book 91: "A Red-Rose Chain" by Seanan McGuire

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

This is book 9 in the October Daye series. Standard disclaimers about spoilers if you're not caught up. Book one, Rosemary and Rue, is the place to start if this series is entirely new to you. It's also the September 2015 pick for the Vaginal Fantasy book club.

Just as October "Toby" Daye, changeling knight and hero of multiple faerie kingdoms seems to be catching a break, having things go her way for a change, there are unexpected developments in the court of queen Arden Windermere and Toby is sent as an ambassador to the neighbouring kingdom of Silences (located in Portland), with only three days to prevent a war. King Rhys of the Silences was given his throne by the former Queen of the Mists, who was ousted when Toby discovered she was an impostor and located Arden Windermere to take her rightful place on the throne. It's safe to say that he's unlikely to be very receptive to Toby's entreaties of peace, especially since he is also rumoured to hate and revile changelings.

While the Toby of old might have thrown herself into danger by herself, now Toby has friends, allies and a fiancee who isn't about to let her leave his side if he can help it. Toby travels to the Silences with the King of Cats, her squire Quentin, her adopted sister May, her pet rose goblin and Walther, a former resident of the Silences. While they think they are prepared for anything, what they find when they arrive is worse than they had even imagined and it's clear that their three days are not going to simple or peaceful ones. Toby is facing an enemy from her past she was hoping never to see again, and is going to have to use all her wits and allies to get out of the Silences alive.

It wouldn't be a very exciting Toby Daye book if all Toby did was sit around, flirting with Tybalt and planning her future wedding, bantering with Quentin and May and generally just going about her daily chores. Her sudden promotion to diplomat startles her, but as the Silences' declaration of war was to shoot queen Windermere's seneschal with elf shot (meaning he will sleep for a hundred years), and the new queen is young and new to the throne, there really aren't that many people around her she can trust and Toby has already proven her worth with a number of heroic deeds. Besides, it quickly becomes clear that our favourite changeling knight isn't being sent to negotiate so much as cause a distraction and stall as much as possible, while the kingdom of the Mists can prepare for imminent attack.

It's always fun to see the world of a beloved series expanding and while the Silences is clearly a faerie kingdom where there is a whole lot of badness and wrong going on, it was also interesting to see how it was being run and had been run in the past. Walther, Toby's alchemist friend, turns out to have ties to the former royal family, who were put out of commission when King Rhys took power. He really doesn't want to return there, preferring to stay at Berkeley to teach chemistry and working towards his tenure, but he can't really refuse a direct request from his friend either.

While I found the first couple of books in this series a bit slow going (I liked them a lot better when re-reading the series a few years back), I have been pretty much hooked since I was a third into book three, and for the last four years (maybe five now), I've been counting the days from when I finish one book until the next is released. It's one of my favourite series, both because of the interesting mix of paranormal and real world ideas, combined with an excellent protagonist and a wonderful supporting cast. The previous book in the series was one of those game-changer books that finished off a lot of plot threads and revealed a whole load of things that had been hinted at for years. This book is relatively quiet in comparison, but still a very good read. As in most urban fantasy, there is a good range of diverse and complex female characters, but there McGuire is very good at representation with regards to different sexual preferences and identities, without it being made any kind of special issue of. In this, there was even a trans-gender character, which isn't something I think I've come across in paranormal fantasy before.

Since I have to wait another year for Toby Daye 10, I really should check out McGuire's InCryptid series, which I've also heard very good things about.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR7 Book 90: "Dirty Rowdy Thing" by Christina Lauren

Page count: 352 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Like their friends Mia and Ansel, Harlow Vega and Finn Roberts had a wild, unforgettable night together in Vegas, where they drunkenly got married. Unlike their friends, Harlow and Finn got an annulment the very next morning. While the sex was amazing, neither of them are entirely sure they even like each other. With the exception of a brief impulsive weekend, when Harlow turned up at Finn's house in Canada wearing nothing but a trench coat, where they spent their whole time together hooking up, they've barely seen each other.

Now their friend Oliver is fulfilling his dream of opening a comic book store, and Finn and Harlow find themselves in each other's company a lot more often. Harlow, who is normally the one who takes care of everyone and everything, solving and fixing any problem thrown at her, has received some very bad news about a family member and is in a new and vulnerable place because of it. Finn, who has been running his family's fishing business since he was a teenager is in California to talk to some investors, as he and his brothers may be unable to run their business successfully without help anymore. Both are used to being in control and the new state of affairs is deeply unsettling to them. What starts out as casual hook-ups to blow off some steam quickly evolves into something a lot more significant.

As far as I can tell, in most of Christina Lauren's books, there is alternating narration from the hero and heroine. Sweet Filthy Boy, the first book in the series, only had Mia's POV throughout the book, this one changes between Harlow and Finn. I liked that a lot more, because seeing both sides of a romance as its developing always feels more satisfying. On the surface, Finn and Harlow could not be more different. Finn is from a small town in Canada, having helped out with or personally run his family's fishing business since he was a boy. He's big and very strong, and not the most emotionally forthcoming, having been surrounded only by men since his mother died when he was a young teen. Harlow is the beautiful eldest daughter of a famous movie star and a successful cinematographer. She works as an unpaid intern about twelve hours a week and thanks to a very generous trust fund, doesn't really need to work at all if she doesn't want to. While Finn initially sees her as a vapid socialite, he quickly discovers that there are a lot more layers to Harlow when he actually spends some time with her.

Like in the previous book, the relationship between the protagonists starts out as purely physical, with Harlow and Finn finding release from their worries in each other. My major complaint with Sweet Filthy Boy was that I felt cheated out of the emotional development between the characters, because all that was described, not just mentioned in passing, was the sex. Possibly because we get the story from both Harlow and Finn's POVs, more time is also spent on their feelings, which gradually change as they keep seeking each other out. In this book, the final quarter, where the big misunderstanding is introduced, is less well handled than in the previous book, but overall, I think I still prefer this one. Not enough to give it another half a star, but possibly quarter of one (I'm not going to start doing quarter stars, that way madness lies).

While Harlow was a secondary character who mainly talked to Mia on the phone in the previous book, although her impulsive visit to Canada was mentioned, there is more time spent in this book on the setup for the next one. Mia and Harlow's third friend, Lola, who also got married in Vegas, but never so much as kissed her husband, Oliver, is spending a lot of time in his comic book store and it's quite clear that while they may just have spent their night in Vegas talking, he is head over heels in love with his ex-wife, patiently waiting for her to notice him, while supporting her in her increasingly successful career as a comic book artist. Just the fact that the next book is going to be about a hot Australian bespectacled, blond guy who runs a comic book store (I'm basically picturing Chris Hemsworth in that photo from the new Ghostbusters movie) and a female comic book artist fills me with so much glee. Their book is out shortly, and I can't wait to read it.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

#CBR7 Book 89: "Sweet Filthy Boy" by Christina Lauren

Page count: 416 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Mia Holland goes to Las Vegas with her two best friends to celebrate her college graduation. Mia's dream was once to become a dancer, but a nasty car accident put a stop to that dream and now she's on track to fulfil her father's dream for her, which is fast track through a prestigious business school in Boston. He's even offered to help pay for her apartment there. This Vegas weekend is Mia's last chance to cut loose, and she sure does.

Mia is shy, almost painfully so, and after her accident, she barely spoke at all for a long time. Her two besties have learned to interpret her silences and body language, but are shocked to see that when Mia is with Ansel, the hot French attorney from the suite across from theirs, she opens up, flirting and becoming a regular chatter box. That Ansel has two good looking friends that Mia's two BFFs can hook up with is a pleasant bonus. Mia has one weekend to go wild, and Ansel was only supposed to be a one night stand. But when Mia wakes up the next morning, only barely able to walk from her truly epic night, to discover a wedding band on her finger, she's not sure what to do. Ansel hands her a letter over breakfast, a letter she wrote to herself the night before. Mia wrote herself a letter once before, after her accident, and it's one of the things that gave her the strength to go on. In her drunken letter from the night before, she confesses that she's the one who proposed and that she really wants to give the marriage a try. Ansel claims he promised he wouldn't agree to annul the marriage until after the summer and wants Mia to come back to Paris with him.

Harlow and Lola, Mia's friends, also got married and have no hesitations about getting annulments. Mia thinks going to Paris is completely crazy, but after returning home, and facing a whole summer living in the presence of her disapproving father, she decides to extend her wild weekend to a wild summer, takes the plunge and goes with Ansel. Of course, she gets her period on the plane, while wearing white jeans. Then she's struck down with a horrible flu, meaning her new husband has to hold her hair back while she's sick all over his fancy Paris apartment and spoon feed her until she regains her health. Finally waking up after a week of illness, Mia is struck by that fact that she married a complete stranger. Now she's far away from everyone she's ever known, trying to see if absolutely mind-blowing sex can be the beginning of a stable relationship.

At the end of July, NPR published their list of 100 swoon-worthy romances. Sweet Filthy Boy was included among the contemporary romances. It also made it to the final eight books of Dear Author and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books' March Madness tournament, which is where I first heard of the books. Along came my key word challenge for August, where this book fit right in. I was pretty much hooked from the get go.

I really liked Mia, and related to her shyness and insecurities. All her dreams were crushed along with her leg in that car accident and now she doesn't actually know what she wants with her life. Going to business school to please her father is clearly something she's deeply ambivalent about, but at least then he'll look at her with something other than disappointment. She's so clearly the sort of person who rarely, if ever, does something without considering all the alternatives first. So hooking up with Ansel, getting married and then deciding to stay married to him, following him to Paris to actually try to make the relationship worked was clearly going so completely out of her comfort zone, she might as well have left the galaxy. I loved her friendship with Harlow and Lola, who are clearly important supportive characters in her life and that even though they could have just been mentioned briefly as shameless sequel fodder, they are actualised characters, for all that they mainly speak to Mia over the phone for much of the book.

Ansel seemed to me to be a Greek god physically speaking and a bit like an adolescent puppy dog in personality at times. He's clearly extremely attractive, and being in his presence makes Mia feel enough at ease that she can really be herself. Unfortunately, since Mia isn't entirely sure yet who her real self is after the accident, having never taken the time to really settle down and think what she wants to do with herself, their time together isn't always smooth sailing. Extremely impulsive, Ansel pretty much just liked the idea of having Mia around when he got home in the evenings, ready and willing in his bed (or anywhere else in the apartment, they really don't seem to limit themselves to just the bedroom), not really considering how much time Mia has to spend alone when he's busy working. Up over his ears in a high-profile, extremely demanding lawsuit, Ansel spends a lot of time away from Mia, whose left to explore one of the most romantic cities in the world on her own.

Luckily, both Ansel and Mia acknowledge that a marriage is going to need work, and it's clear that they do a fair amount of talking and interacting. What I didn't like about the book is that this is just TOLD to me, not shown. Mia and Ansel have a LOT of sex. So much of it. In Las Vegas, in France. There's some awkwardness once Mia gets worried and self-conscious and overthinks things for a while, but they seem to work through that very fast. I get that the physical connection is what pretty much brought them together, and from Mia's internal monologue I understand that she and Ansel spent much of their first night together talking and that this also happens in Paris. It's just that when I'm not privy to the information that's exchanged during said conversations, I don't really see how their connection builds from the spectacular smexy times and I get annoyed and honestly, a bit bored.

I also thought, apart from his massive work load, Ansel seemed just a little bit too perfect. Sure, he's obsessively tidy, but he's also gorgeous, attentive, funny, generous, an amazing lover - you get the gist. Where were his flaws? About two thirds of the way through the book, one pretty major flaw is revealed, however, and it's a pretty impressive dark secret to have been harbouring. I very much admire the way Mia dealt with it, in a way that shows how much she develops over the course of the book and through her time with Ansel. While the ending may have been abrupt, it seemed pretty obvious that while Ansel and Mia's time as main characters is over, their story will continue as they pop up as supporting cast in Harlow and Lola's books. This is my first of Christina Lauren's books. They are apparently best friends who write highly successful romance novels together. Based on Mrs. Julien's reviews of their Beautiful Bastard series, I'm not sure they'll be something that appeals to me, but I will certainly be reading the rest of their Wild Seasons books, because I want to see all the characters get their HEAs.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR7 Book 88: "Also Known As" by Robin Benway

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Margaret "Maggie" Silver learned to pick her first lock when she was barely past the toddler stage, which is unsurprising since both her parents and all their friends are spies. Maggie's father can tell her she's grounded in more than twenty languages, but she's never actually gone to school and rarely interacted with someone her own age. So when the Silver's current mission requires her to go to a fancy prep school in Manhattan, Maggie is actually more out of her depth than when her family had to flee Luxembourg in a hurry.  Now she has to wear a uniform and make friends, armed only on the knowledge she's acquired from countless books and TV shows.

Maggie's job is to get close to Jesse Oliver, whose father is about to publish a tell all article where Maggie's parents, Maggie herself and many they care about may have their true identities revealed. As this would be disastrous, time is of the essence. While Maggie might have twelve different passports and there is barely a lock or a safe she can't break into, she clearly has no idea how to talk to kids her own age. She's never been able to have real friends, as her family are constantly on the move, nor has she ever even thought about a life that doesn't involve deception and being a spy. She's a fish out of water in high school, struggling to fit in. Initially, she believes her target to be spoiled and arrogant, but as she gets closer to him, she has real trouble keeping herself detached and objective. Lying to her friends feels wrong, and the longer she works the case, the longer her instincts tell her that something is seriously up with the mission. But can a teenage girl tell her professional spy parents that she thinks they're being set up?

The fact that this is Maggie's first proper mission, where her parents have to take the back seat, actually just being her parents, is one of the things that creates tension in the book. It's clear that Maggie has a real gift when it comes to lock-picking and safe-cracking, but because of the life she's led, she's never actually been presented with or even considered any options to life as a spy. Only when Maggie actually has to explain her unusual upbringing (without revealing any specific details, naturally) to her new friends, does she realise how truly strange her life has been.

This was a fun book, with a fun protagonist. Roux, the girl she befriends at school, a former queen bee whose now ostracised because she slept with a friend's boyfriend and consequently lost her lofty position, is great. Wounded, sarcastic and initially quite self-centred, Roux provides Maggie with invaluable help in fitting into high school, even if she'll never exactly be popular hinging out with Roux. Jesse Oliver, whose file suggests he's a spoiled and attention-seeking rich kid, is actually bright, funny, vulnerable, as well as cute as heck, and it's perfectly believable that Maggie falls for him hard. While Maggie feels like a complete spaz every time she's near him, he seems to find her quite mysterious and intimidating. Their first date is absolutely adorable.

This book was perfectly fun entertainment and I liked Maggie, her friends, her parents and especially Angelo, the family friend who may or may not be an assassin. Teenage spy has to fit into high school seems like a great premise for a CW show, frankly, which I think I would actually watch. There's at least one more book in this series and I will be checking it out too.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

#CBR7 Book 87: "When a Scot Ties the Knot" by Tessa Dare

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Shy and scientifically-minded Miss Madeline Gracechurch suffers from anxiety attacks and couldn't bear the thought of having to be out in society during the Season. So she comes up with a fictional suitor, a strapping and handsome Scotsman that she met on the beach in Brighton and who's unfortunately gone off to fight Napoleon. She keeps writing letters to the brave Captain Logan MacKenzie to keep up with the fiction that their feelings for one another are so strong that she couldn't possibly interact with other men and jilt her absentee beau. As the years go by, the letters become a diary of sorts for Madeline, where she confesses her hopes, fears and dreams and shares tales of her family and her scientific explorations. Her godfather even bequeaths her a castle in the Scottish highlands so she and her future husband will have somewhere to live when he returns from the war.

In time, Madeline is unable to continue her fiction, and kills off her fictional fiancee, going into deep mourning instead. She moves with her great aunt to the Scottish castle, content to go about her quiet life, tending to the tenants, using her artistic skills to make a living illustrating scientific papers. So imagine her surprise when a tall, handsome soldier appears on her doorstep, claiming he is Captain Logan MacKenzie, back from the war, ready to finally marry his sweetheart. He's read every single letter Madeline sent, and now her deceptions will allow him to secure a decent future for those of his men who don't have any other homes to return to. Madeline can't very well confess to all and sundry that she's been living a lie since she was a teenager, even accepting the inheritance of a castle as a result. Can she really marry a total stranger, just to protect her reputation?

With a lot of Tessa Dare's recent novels, you don't really have to suspend your disbelief as throw it out the window, waving at it as it flies away. She writes such frothy, witty, engaging romances that I can't bring myself to care if the premise or plot is preposterous. In Any Duchess Will Do we go along with the idea that a Dowager Duchess would be so desperate for grandchildren that she will happily let her son marry a tavern maid. In Romancing the Duke there is pretty much a fandom convention, complete with cosplayers, despite it being a Regency novel. In When a Scot Ties the Knot a retiring young lady believes that she's sending letters to a fictional recipient that will end up in a dead letter office, but that are actually received by a young Scottish recruit. Logan ignores the mockery and jeers from his fellow soldiers and works his way up to become the Captain the letters address him as, then travels to seek out the woman who wrote them.

Having been orphaned at an early age, Logan MacKenzie was taken in by a parson who raised him along his own sons, not so much out of charity as to make sure that he could send the orphan off to war and save his own children that fate. Years on the battlefield, starting out at the very bottom, fighting his way through the ranks and across Europe has scarred Logan both physically and emotionally. He received every single one of Madeline's letters, reading and memorising the words she never believed anyone would see. Daring to dream of her, even when she didn't know he existed, realising that she killed him off was a serious blow. So he has no compunctions using her for his own ends when he and his men need a place to settle after the war is over. The letters provide wonderful blackmail fodder, and Madeline has after all profited nicely from her deceit. He's destitute and feels deeply responsible for the men who are still with him, all scarred from the war in different ways. She's the mistress of a castle and lands in the Scottish highlands, independent and prosperous. That she's pretty and appears to have a bit of a temper is just a bonus.

Madeline feels she has no choice but to agree to Logan's demands that they marry, but she's hoping to steal her letters back from him before they actually consummate the union and make it legal. She's mortified that all her years of intimate confessions weren't just thrown away, but read over and over again - that her fictional suitor was a real flesh and blood man. And what a man he turned out to be - tall, handsome, brave and fierce (Anyone who tells me that Tessa Dare didn't model Logan on Sam Heughan's portrayal of Jamie Fraser in Outlander is a big fat LIAR). While shy and prone to panic attacks when in a crowd, Madeline isn't blind and the imposing Captain MacKenzie affects her in all sorts of ways. As her family actually believed her stories, sympathising deeply with her first with her separation and then with her apparent grief when they believed her fiancee died, she really can't bear the thought of disappointing them all with the truth to her schemes.

As she spends time with Logan, seeing him interact with his men, realising quickly that it's not just greed or some sort of twisted wish for revenge against a woman who unknowingly used him that's making him want marriage. Madeline's lands will provide a place for Logan's men to settle down, a chance for them to support themselves, maybe marry and start new families, having lost everything they had when off fighting for Britain in the war. Logan comes to realise that while he read all of her letters, facing the woman who wrote them is a very different thing. Because he also wanted those around him to believe his attachment to Madeline was real, not wanting his men to believe him faithless, he's been forced to stay celibate and loyal to a woman he'd never even met. He has years of unresolved sexual tension to work through, yet doesn't force himself on his new wife when she asks that they wait. He naturally uses everything he's got to try to make her desire him as much as he does her, with assorted (and hilarious advice) from his men.

I liked Logan and Madeline and their romance a lot. The supporting characters were really well established and while the premise for the story was crazy, it worked out very well. I liked how neither of them diminished the hopes and dreams of the other and how the complications of the romance were resolved. There is a sub-plot involving mating lobsters that we'll just quickly skip over, the less said about it the better. From the descriptions, it sounds like Madeline's work room would give me the willies, but it's always nice to have a nerdy heroines. According to Ms. Dare's website, both her next novella, due around Christmas, and her next full-length novel will feature the return of Spindle Cove characters. This makes me extremely happy.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.