Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “book review”

Katie’s #CBR4 Review #34: The Dark Queen by Susan Carroll

Title: The Dark Queen
Author: Susan Carroll
Source: library
Rating: ★★★★★
Review Summary:  I wasn’t sure I liked this book at first – as a historical romance, with more sex and a more serious plot than the “chick flick” style romances I occasionally I read, it was a little outside my comfort zone.  But I ended up loving it and the other four books in the series enough that I would definitely read more books like them, partly for the great plot and partly because I’m a sucker for a happy ending :)

During the late 16th century in Renaissance France, Ariane Cheney, a daughter of the earth and lady of the faire isle, is duty bound to prevent the misuse of power by other daughters of the earth.  Although the true witches are those she defends against, she also faces the superstitious minds of the time, some of whom would brand her a witch as well.  When a stranger arrives seeking Ariane’s help against the dark queen, Catherine di Medici, even the strong Ariane needs some help.  She has no one to ask but the Comte de Renard, although she hesitates to do so because of both their mutual attraction and her uncertainty his intentions are as straightforward as he would have her believe.

Read more here…

DragonDreamsJen’s #CBR4 Review #44 Night Pleasures by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Unlike many of the more traditional romance novels, Night Pleasures does not feature a bare chested man in some heroic pose or a slender woman swooning against his rippling muscles.  One of the many things that makes Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark-Hunter novels so unique is the variety of ways in which they forge paths of their own instead of conforming to the expected.

Night Pleasures is Kenyon’s second novel in this amazing series.  It details the struggles that  the Immortal Kyrian of Thrace and paranormal-denying human Amanda Devereaux must face from the moment they awaken handcuffed together.  The forces of evil have mistaken Amanda for her vampire-slayer twin sister, Tabitha, in the hopes that she and Kyrian will destroy each other before the God-forged handcuffs are removed.

The story starts with steamy scenes and handcuffs… then devolves into a romping adventure so blatantly sensual that I found the story hard to read if my teenagers were close by.  Too many questions about why Mom is blushing that deeply!  This book also features the first appearance of Nick Gautier (albeit an older version who has his driver’s license but is still a Squire) and Kyrian’s Spanish housekeeper, Rosa.  There seemed to be  a slight inconsistency or two in some minor details… but since The Chronicles of Nick deals with a future that keeps shifting slightly, these can certainly be chalked up to the eternal time paradox escape clause!

The more I read Kenyon’s works, the more impressed I am with her vivid prose, incredible sensuality and captivating characters.  Her ability to carve out a new genre in the heavily saturated romance novel world is a testament to her writing ability.  The Chronicles of Nick series certainly proved that she doesn’t need graphic sexual scenes to sell a good story… but with the summer on it’s way, I also don’t mind having a new author and a slew of steamy books to make any rainy weather more bearable! Very few “bodice rippers” written by anyone other than Nora Roberts have remained in my household library.  Now that I am beginning to track down the Dark Hunter novels to read in the recommended chronological order, I will need to make more book shelf space among the Ks this summer to accommodate the growing collection!

Paperback format, 309 pages, published in 2002 by St. Martin’s Griffin

Katie’s #CBR4 Review #33: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Title: The Eyre Affair
Author: Jasper Fforde
Source: library
Rating: ★★★★★
Review Summary:  There aren’t many books out there which remind me of Catch-22 or Douglas Adam’s novels, but this is one of them and it’s hilarious.  Witty, fun, a great plot, and a happy ending – I loved it.

In The Eyre Affair, in an alternate reality London, Thursday Next works for a special operatives group devoted to literary crimes.  Theft, forgery, and violence related to great literary works is becoming more common in a world including a cult devoted to proving Francis Bacon wrote the works of Shakespeare and kids playing collectible card games based on obscure authors. And things are only going to get more exciting as the evil-for-evil’s-sake Acheron Hades begins kidnapping fictional characters from original works, threatening to re-write the classics if Thursday doesn’t stop him.

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Katie’s #CBR4 Review #32: Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Title: Bitterblue
Author: Kristin Cashore
Source: library
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Series: Graceling|Fire|Bitterblue (you are here)
Review Summary: Unlike Fire, this is definitely it’s own, very enjoyable story with unique new characters.  I loved the first half at least as much as Graceling but the ending was very anti-climatic.

Although Bitterblue follows Fire in publication order, this book is actually a direct sequel to Graceling.  Young Princess Bitterblue has taken over as ruler of Monsea following the defeat of her evil of father.  Despite her advisers’ desire to forget her father ever existed, Bitterblue is doing her best to help her kingdom recover from his crimes.  She eventually begins to sneak out of the castle on her own to learn more about the state of the kingdom.  As she does, it becomes clear that her advisers’ have not been telling her the whole truth and may have ulterior motives for burying the crimes of her father’s reign.

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DragonDreamsJen’s #CBR4 Review #36 & 37 Halt’s Peril and the Emperor of Nihon-Ja by John Flanagan

I’d been waiting patiently for these two books in the Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan to come out in paperback format to add to my collection.  Amid the chaos or two daughters wrapping up their volleyball seasons and trying to recover from whiplash, reading became my little bit of escapism.

Halt’s Peril and The Emperor of Nihon-Ja are both true coming of age novels for the main characters Will and  Horace.  In the first novel, the famous King’s Ranger, his former apprentice and the young knight are pursuing members of the dangerous Outsiders cult when the unthinkable happens.  During an ambush by hired assassins, Halt is wounded by an arrow that turns out to be poisoned!  Roles are reversed as Halt lies dying and Will must ride across the rugged terrain to seek a former friend and ally. Malkallam the Sorcerer just might be the only one who can save Will’s beloved mentor.

Laced with the usual combination of dry wit, humour and epic adventure, Halt’s Peril is a touching glimpse into the letting go that must occur as people age.  Any teacher and student or parent and child knows there comes a time to let go and move on to a more balanced relationship.  Though Will has been a Ranger in his own right for a few years now, this novel captures all of the respect and admiration the young man has for his mentor, as well as the terrible realization that Halt is not invulnerable.

The second novel, The Emperor of Nihon-Ja, deals more with Horace, a gifted young warrior and one of Will’s closest friends.  Sent on a diplomatic mission to the faraway kingdom of Nihon-Ja, Horace gets caught up in a coup against the lawful Emperor. Unwilling to leave the honorable man he has come to respect at the mercy of a usurper spreading lies about the countryside while hunting them down, Will flees with those loyal to the true Emperor towards a legendary city in the mountains that may offer a chance to defend themselves against grim odds.  Back in Araluen, Will, Alyss and Princess Evanlyn have learned of their friend’s peril and set off to help if they can.

This book was a wonderful conclusion to a sweeping adventure series that proves great fantasy begins with great characters.  Everyone shines in their roles and the interplay between the personalities is both enjoyable and touching.  They have truly grown, from the orphans who first chose their professions at the beginning of the series, to the competent young men and women they are in this final novel.  The Nihon-Ja kingdom is heavily based on the Japanese Samurai culture and includes many Japanese phrases.  Having visited Tokyo just over a year ago, I did notice one small error in an expression, but delighted in some of the other humour and cultural references that writer John  Flanagan wove into the tale.

Flanagan’s next adventures will take readers back into the past of his world, exploring a dozen years earlier with his new series called the Brotherband Chronicles. Book One: The Outcasts has been available in hardcover format for a while and Book Two:  The Invaders was just release in May.  I may not add the books to my shelves just yet, but they will certainly be worthy additions to my library when the time comes.  This Australian author writes with such enthusiasm, humour and authenticity, I am sure that his novels will be read for generations to come!

Halt’s Peril

Paperback format, 386 pages, hardcover published in 2009 by Puffin Books

The Emperor of Nihon-Ja

Paperback format, 435 pages, hardcover published in 2010 by Puffin Books

Katie’s #CBR4 Review #31: Dead Beautiful by Melanie Dugan

Title: Dead Beautiful
Author: Melanie Dugan
Source: from publisher for a TLC Book Tour
Rating: ★★★★☆
Review Summary: Fun, enjoyable re-telling of the Persephone myth.  Original enough to be interesting, true enough to the myth to have that extra level of awesome added by the parallels between the two stories.  Well written with each character having a unique voice.

For those of you who don’t know the Persephone myth, a quick recap: Persephone, daughter of the Greek goddess of of the harvest, is abducted by Hades, the Greek god of the dead.  Before she is rescued by her mother Demeter, she eats six pomegranate seeds.  As a result, she is required to spend six months of every year with Hades and her mother is so distraught during those times that she neglects her job as goddess of the harvest and we have fall and winter.  In Dead Beautiful, Melanie Dugan considers the possibility that Persephone wasn’t abducted after all but was just a rebellious teen who fell in love with Hades and didn’t have the courage to tell her mom.

Read more here…

ElCicco#CBR4Review#22: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

Carson McCuller’s first novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, was published in 1940 when the author was 23. Set in 1939, on eve of war and during the Great Depression, the story centers around John Singer, a deaf mute in a small southern town. The action follows the course of a year when the lives of the several characters intersect through Singer. This is the story of individuals on the fringe, searching for a variety of things but mostly wishing to be understood by someone, to find a soul mate.

Singer works as engraver for a jeweler. At the beginning of the novel, he lives with his friend  Antonapoulos , another deaf mute whose family institutionalizes him, leaving Singer friendless and isolated. He moves out of their apartment into the Kelly’s boarding house so as not to be painfully reminded of the loss of his friend. After moving and changing his lifestyle, he encounters several people who are drawn to him and who visit him frequently.

Mick Kelly is a 12 year old girl. Her family takes in boarders because her father had accident and is unable to work as carpenter. Her three older siblings work to help supplement the family income, while Mick is responsible for little brothers Bubber and Ralph. Mick is a dreamer and often wanders around at night, restless, imagining travel abroad and composing great music. She wants a piano and to learn to play, but her family’s poverty is a huge obstacle to realizing her dreams. She practically stalks Singer when he is out, following him down the street, watching where he goes, and she seems to have a schoolgirl crush on him. Singer has a fondness for Mick and even buys a radio for her to listen to when he is out. Mick talks to Singer of music and her hopes, assuming that the deaf mute understands and identifies with her aspirations.

Jake Blount is a drifter/labor organizer and alcoholic who argues and gets into violent fights on a regular basis. His attempts at teaching the working and unemployed poor of the town about the inequity of capitalism and the need for organization to change the system fail, further infuriating him and contributing to his drinking problem. He often turns to Singer in his anger and rage, going on and on about his ideas. Singer has a calming influence on him and Blount assumes that Singer understands and agrees with him.

Dr. Copeland is an African American physician in the town and father to four grown children — Portia (the Kelly’s cook), William, Hamilton and Karl Marx. Dr. Copeland is a man of intelligence, impeccable manners and quick anger. He alienated his wife and his children when they were still young with his dark moods, violence and his mission to make his children leaders like himself. Restless for change for African Americans and angry about oppression, Dr. Copeland sees Singer as the one white man who understands, who is righteous and decent. Copeland also thinks Singer is a Jew, and therefore more sensitive to the plight of African Americans.

Biff Branson owns a cafe that stays open late into the night. Singer, Blunt and Mick frequently appear there at odd hours. Biff has compassion for people, especially Blount and Mick. He tries to figure them out  and lend a helping hand where he can, but Blount and Mick don’t show much recognition or appreciation for what he offers. Biff is also a mothering sort of person, wishing sometimes that Mick and his niece Baby were his own children and that he could take care of them. Like all the others, Biff is looking for something, but he isn’t sure what. Biff is unhappily married to Alice but when she dies, he feels a sort of nostalgia and sadness, not so much for the loss of her but for the lost opportunities for a real love. Biff seeks out Singer, but unlike the others, he doesn’t have something important to say, no grand idea to expound upon. Biff has questions and one that he asks himself is “…why did everyone persist in thinking the mute was exactly as they wanted him to be — when most likely it was all a very queer mistake?”

Biff, as the most observant in the group, hits very close to the truth with that reflection. Everyone thinks that because Singer pays attention and communicates little to them (they don’t ask a lot about him) that he is what they are looking for, that he understands, and that he is just like them. Singer is like them, but not in the way they think. Singer, like the others, is lonely and searching, too, looking for understanding and a true friend or soul mate. He reads lips but often does not understand what others are telling him, and he longs for his old friend Antonapoulos. To console himself, he writes long letters to his friend which he never sends because Antonapoulos can’t read. Even when Singer visits him at the institution (a long trip that he can only afford to take every 6 months), it seems that Singer’s joy is greater than his friend’s at their reunion and that Antonapolos takes very little interest in his life.

I won’t reveal what happens to Singer at the end of the novel, but Mick, Blount and Copeland suffer major setbacks in realizing their dreams. Given the poverty in which they live and the increasing violence in the world around them (racial violence locally and Hitler on the rise abroad), one might expect the setbacks to finally crush these people, but each shows a resilience, a refusal to give up, a reason to keep going. The final scene is Biff at his restaurant, alone, reflecting on the other characters, and this revelation: “…in a swift radiance of illumination he saw a glimpse of human struggle and valor. Of the endless fluid passage of humanity through endless time. And of those who labor and those who — one word — love. His soul expanded.” And then Biff feels terror, that “…he was suspended between radiance and darkness. Between bitter irony and faith.” He is momentarily paralyzed, then turns to face the sunrise and another day.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a depressing novel but it is honest in showing the crushing poverty and racism in the South in 1939, and at revealing the complexity of the innermost thoughts of its characters. The end shows resilience in the face of adversity, which is always a welcome message, and one that would have been especially needed in 1940.

Katie’s #CBR4 Review #28: Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff

Lost in Shangri-La was my first experience with narrative non-fiction and I think I may be in love. For those of you like me who haven’t read narrative non-fiction before, I would describe it as a novel in which personal lives are as well researched as the bigger picture and the whole thing is presented as a story.  In this particular story, we learn about a plane crash in New Guinea stranding three service men and women in the jungle with potentially unfriendly natives.  Due to their isolated location, finding them in the jungle was only the first challenge.  A daring and dangerous rescue mission was then required to get them out.

Read more here…

Katie’s #CBR4 Review #27: I Never Fancied Him Anyway by Claudia Carroll

After reading the rather depressing classic, The House of Mirth, I needed something light and I Never Fancied Him Anyway was just the thing.  Set in Dublin, I Never Fancied Him Anyway follows Cassandra as she tries to avoid falling for her best friend’s crush although her never-before-wrong psychic abilities tell her he’s the one.  Complicating matters, she is offered a position as a talk show psychic working for her crush.  This situation is made even more awkward when Cassandra realizes that her psychic powers take a vacation whenever her crush is around!

Read more here…

GoddessofApathy’s #CBR4 Review #2: Death and the Virgin Queen, by Chris Skidmore

Death and the Virgin Queen, by Chris Skidmore is non-fiction of course, and I picked it up from the school’s library hoping for something compelling and informative. I have been in awe of Elizabeth I for quite some time and the story of Elizabeth’s romantic life has always intrigued me. The book promised to give me insight into Elizabeth’s relationship with Robert Dudley, as well as information about Robert’s wife, Amy Robsart’s, tragic death. Amy was found dead at the bottom of a staircase, and conspiracy theories followed. Was it an accident? Was she murdered? Could it have been suicide?

There was so much I wanted to find out in this book, but I was disappointed with the pace. There were many details, however, about coroner’s inquests and procedures of the time period.  The coroner’s report was supposedly lost, but it was discovered in the National Archives in England.   I feel the same as always about Robert Dudley: he was a user of Queen Elizabeth for his own personal gain. Queen Elizabeth was a woman that even with all the power of England, still just wanted someone to love her.

I do find myself more interested in Dudley’s wife and Elizabeth’s rival, Amy Robsart. Who was she? There is not a lot of information about her and I would really like to know what kind of woman was she. Did she love Robert? Did she know she was an obstacle in her husband’s life? Did she care? There are so many more questions I want answered, but I that was not the author’s main focus.

I have read reviewers of Skidmore’s book who referred to it as “informative,” and “sparkling,” but I have somehow missed out on this. I may need to review it at a later time and I may find it more engaging.

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