Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “romantic”

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #102: Easy by Tammara Webber

When Jacqueline is dumped by her preppy boyfriend two months into her sophomore year at college, she’s suddenly forced to re-examine her life choices. She has no friends outside the circle of their mutual ones (, she’s stuck at a university she followed her now ex to, and she’s failing a class for the first time in her life because she’s gutted after the breakup and can’t stand the thought of seeing her ex several classes a week. After a party, not long after the dumping, one of her ex’s frat brothers try to rape her, and would’ve succeeded if she hadn’t been rescued by a mysterious stranger, who luckily happened to be crossing the parking lot and witnessed the assault.

Jacqueline manages to get her econ professor to let her make up the missing midterm, and promises to attend tutoring sessions to catch up on the missing work. She doesn’t tell anyone about the attack, not wanting to make a fuss. While she’d never really noticed the cute guy who rescued her, she now seems to run into him everywhere. He works at the campus Starbucks, he sits in the back row of her econ class, more busy sketching than taking notes. Her roommate designates Lucas the mystery man as the perfect rebound guy. Jacqueline strikes up a flirtation with Lucas, but is also trading bantering e-mails and texts with her new econ tutor. Is she really ready for a new relationship at all, and which guy is the right one for her?

Another one of the Young Adult nominees for the Goodreads Choice 2012 awards, this one caught my eye because my friend Erica read it and rated it highly. As one of the subplots deals with sexual assault and the aftermath of that, this could be a difficult book for some to read. The frat boy who attempts to rape Jacqueline continues his threatening behaviour, and spreads lies about her alleged promiscuity following her breakup. He also goes on to rape another girl, and Jacqueline has to decide what to do about coming forward so he can be charged with the attacks.

Having defined herself almost entirely as Kennedy’s boyfriend since early high school, Jacqueline is forced to take a long hard look at her life after he suddenly dumps her, and she doesn’t like what she sees. With the exception of her room mate, most of their mutual friends take his side, as he is the handsome, popular frat member, while she is the independent, arty girl who never quite fit in. Jacqueline is very good at double bass, an unusual instrument for a woman to play, and tutors local high school kids as a part time job. She could’ve applied to a music conservatory, but followed her boyfriend to university instead. Lonely and adrift, things get even worse when she’s attacked. She doesn’t want to tell her room mate, who’s dating the attacker’s best friend. The description of Jacqueline’s loneliness and self doubt is very well done. You kind of want to slap her for being so trusting, naive and oblivious that she meekly followed her douchebag boyfriend to college, but you also feel sorry for her, and can’t help but want her to succeed in turning her life around, preferably with a hot new boyfriend and some new, better friends.

Once her attacker actually rapes someone else, Jacqueline has to come forward and admit that she was attacked as well, and the book deals with the difficult situation many rape victims find themselves in, trying to prove that the sex was not consensual. Jacqueline and her room mate start taking self defence classes, and all the things they do to help her feel more empowered and safe again were very well done.

Jacqueline’s struggle to become a stronger, more independent person were in many ways more interesting than the romantic subplot. To begin with, Lucas is pretty much the hot, dashing stranger. She’s not sure if she likes him because he rescued her from a traumatic situation or whether there’s something more there. He’s very secretive about his background and past, and to begin with there’s a few complications and misunderstandings, that thankfully get resolved fairly quickly. The romance angle is good, but the main reason to read this book is for the character growth in the protagonist. Although if rape and sexual assault are bad triggers for you, it might be best to give it a miss.

3.5 stars

Cross posted on my blog.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #101: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

Echo (named for a Greek nymph) Emerson used to be one of the popular girls in school, dating one of the stars of the basketball team. But one night two years ago, her life changed drastically, leaving her nearly dead in the hospital with horrific scars all down her arms and she doesn’t even remember what happened, only that it has something to do with her mother, who is now kept away by a restraining order. She hates going to therapy, she hates that her father is having a baby with her step-mum (who used to be her babysitter). She desperately misses her older brother, who died on a mission in Afghanistan two years ago, and now her father is threatening to sell the car he wanted to restore. She needs to get a job, so she can make enough money to complete her brother’s project, she wants to discover what happened to her, and she wants everything to return to normal.

Noah Hutchins had a stable and loving family, until his life changed drastically when his parents died in a fire. In school, he’s known as a girl using loner, a stoner kid with no prospects. Only his closest friends know that he’s been in and out of a series of shitty foster homes, and desperately wants to be reunited with his two younger brothers, who he barely ever sees, because he was judged emotionally unstable when he punched his abusive first foster father. If he’s to have any hope of gaining custody over his little brothers when he turns 18, he needs to improve his grade point average drastically, get a good job, a place to live and  hopefully discredit the foster parents now raising his brothers. He would give anything for his life to go back to some kind of normal.

The new school therapist, Mrs. Collins, decides to give Echo a job tutoring Noah. She promises Noah increased visitation with his brothers if he promises to shape up, and despite his deep mistrust of social workers and authority figures, he has no choice but to agree to his plan. Unfortunately, because of some misguided verbal exchanges with Echo, the tutoring job might not be something she’ll feel comfortable sticking with. Both teenagers are deeply vulnerable and very wounded, extremely mistrustful of the adults around them after facing bitter disappointment again and again. On the surface, they have nothing in common, but once they start talking, they’re drawn to each other like moths to a flame.

The book is written in alternating points of view, so the reader gets to follow both Echo and Noah closely. While the book blurb made me expect a fairly run of the mill high school romance, where now outcast good girl loses her heart to the resident bad boy, the book proved to be a lot more than that, and a lot better than the back cover makes it sound. Katie McGarry writes very believable teenagers, and both protagonists have gone through hell. It’s completely understandable that they feel angry, and helpless and desperate, and long for a return to the pleasant, normal lives they used to have.

The full back stories for both characters are gradually revealed, and it keeps the suspense up. Noah and Echo team up to try to get access to their files in Mrs. Collins’ office. Echo can barely sleep and is plagued with horrific nightmares every time she does sleep. She wants to know the full story behind her “incident” without having to gradually remember it through therapy, convinced that if she just knows the whole truth, she’ll find peace. Noah wants the name and address of his brothers’ foster parents, convinced that they’re being mistreated, and determined to prove it, so he can win custody over them as soon as he comes of age. It’s obvious to the reader that these are dreadful plans, but you still go along for the ride, hoping that the characters find closure and some sense of relief towards the end.

I received an ARC of this from Mira Ink through NetGalley, and am sorry that I didn’t read it sooner. Not at all the cliched teen romance I thought it at first, it’s a beautiful story of two damaged people finding each other, and helping each other through a difficult time. It’s currently a finalist in Young Adult Fiction in the Goodreads Choice Awards 2012, and available in hardcover or e-book.

Cross posted on my blog.

Malin’s #CBR Review #88:Master of Crows by Grace Draven

The god Corruption is trying to gain control in the world, and has chosen the outcast sorcerer Silhara of Neith, known as the Master of Crows as his avatar. He tries to seduce Silhara to his cause with promises of property, riches and limitless power, but the sorcerer is not about to submit to anyone, and fully aware that the dark god is not to be trusted. Silhara seeks a way to destroy the god, who torments him every night, knowing that it’s only a matter of time before he breaks down and acquiesces to Corruption’s wishes.

Martise of Asher is a young woman raised by the mage-priests of the Conclave. One of the powerful bishops holds a sliver of her soul, and she can never be free without it. Trained in every form of theoretical magic (although her latent magical powers have yet to manifest) and extremely skilled translator, Martise strikes a deal with the Conclave. She will apprentice with the Master of Crows and spy on him for the Conclave, in return for the soul-shard and her freedom.

Silhara is fully aware that the plain, subservient mouse of a woman that the Conclave bishop arrives with is a spy (although she is presented as a poor, yet talented relation). He also knows that the Conclave would love nothing better than to see him brought down. He tries his very best to scare Martise away, but while she’s quiet and unassuming, she also hides a will of iron, and with her freedom on the line, nothing is going to frighten Martise away from her mission.

Once it becomes clear that none of his scare tactics can make Martise leave, nor wake her hidden magical powers, he instead decides to utilise her scholarly abilities and sets to work in his vast library, helping him find a way to defeat Corruption. During their search for a way to kill a god, Martise’s powers are finally awakened, and Silhara and Martise grow ever closer, until their antagonism turns to friendship and later affection. Silhara wants to defeat Corruption with any means available to him, but can he do it if it means possibly sacrificing Martise to do so?

I bought this as an e-book back in May, after a recommendation on Dear Author, but there are always so many shiny new books out there for me to read, distracting me, and it ended up forgotten, until it became one of the October picks on Vaginal Fantasy Hangout. So I stuck it on my trusty Reader, and mostly liked it.

What I really liked: Martise wasn’t some sort of super gorgeous ingenue, whose feminine wiles won Silhara over. She’s plain, and has no illusions about her attractiveness to the opposite sex. Nor is she a blushing virgin (as a matter of fact she learned the hard way that men can be untrustworthy douches), which is less unusual in fantasy romance, but in the minority nonetheless. She’s pretty much been a slave her entire life, and clearly had a hard time as a bond servant to the Conclave, but has worked hard and is proud of her skills. She wants her freedom and is determined to work hard for it.

Silhara and Martise’s romance builds very slowly, and for two characters who start out in an antagonistic relationship, it doesn’t suddenly switch so that one day they wake up and can’t be without the other. Silhara knows that Martise is a Conclave spy, and that anything unorthodox he does can be reported back to her superiors. He doesn’t realise how much is at stake for her, though, and why she agreed to the assignment in the first place. While he starts out wanting to scare her, her bravery and refusal to break down or even complain wins his respect, and her scholarly abilities further wins his approval. Martise acknowledges early on that Silhara’s physically attractive, but as she’s terrified of him to begin with, and knows that if she fails the mission, she will never be free, she’s not going to let herself be distracted by trivial things like physical beauty.

What I wished there was more of: The book is not a very long one, and the situation is explained fairly quickly at the beginning of the book, without resorting to clunky exposition scenes. However, because what we do see of the world building is so intriguing, I wish there’d been a bit more time spent on just establishing the world, and the beliefs of the people in it. The characters constantly use swearing relating to “Bursin” and his various body parts, such as “Bursin’s wings” and so forth, yet we never learn anything more about him or his importance in the religious systems of this world. It’s established that the Conclave are mages and priests, and that some of them may be cruel, corrupt and in general, not very nice (after all, they are the adversaries of Silhara, who’s the hero), but not enough was really revealed about their role in the larger society.

What I was annoyed by: Silhara has a dog, some sort of large, ferocious beast who can sniff out magical ability in people, and which was apparently, in the past, used to hunt down those suspected to be witches or sorcerers. The dog’s not really described too clearly, so in my head, it looked a lot like a wolfhound. The dog is described as being very smelly. Now, I see how this adds verisimilitude if mentioned once or twice. But throughout the book, this dog’s intense malodorousness is commented upon by several of the characters (at one point, it’s said that it smells worse than the rotting carcass zombie-dog that tries to attack Silhara in one scene). If your dog is that stinky, it needs to be cleaned. If no one does so, it does not deserve mention that many times in the story!

I get that this is a minor niggle, but it really stood out to me. This book is currently not available in print, but you can buy an e-copy fairly reasonably in a bunch of places online. It’s a fun little fantasy story with a romantic subplot, and all the more enjoyable for being a standalone, a rare and happy occurrence in the life of a fantasy reader.

Cross posted on my blog.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #87: Ironskin by Tina Connolly

It’s been five years since The Great War between the humans and the fey ended,  and the humans are trying to rebuild their society to manage without the magically enhanced technology they previously got in trade with the fey. Jane Elliot lost her brother during the war, and has permanent scarring on her face. Those injured with fey sparks have to wear to control the fey influence overwhelming them and spreading to those around them. In Jane’s case, she has to wear an iron mask, or her rage will affect those around her in terrifying ways.

Jane works as a governess to support herself and her younger sister, but never gets to stay long in a position before she is let go with thinly veiled excuses. When she sees a listing for a governess to help with a child born during The Great War, she is certain it’s a child who’s also fey-cursed, and she’s eager to help. The position proves harder than Jane could’ve imagined. Nearly alone at the large, partially ruined manor with a willful child who refuses to use her hands, and is able to move things with her mind, Jane is close to despair. She is one in a long line of governesses who’ve been driven to despair by the girl, Dorie, and the girl’s widowed father, Mr. Edward Rochart, is an elusive and mostly absentee artist, clearly fond of his daughter, but mostly preoccupied with his work.

Jane is drawn to her employer, even when she knows it’s a terrible idea. She’s also curious as to the mysterious nature of Mr. Rochart’s work. Plain or downright ugly women come to the manor and enter his studio, and leave beautiful as the fey. How is it that the lights in the manor are still run on fey technology? What is the real truth behind Dorie’s strange powers and why is her birth shrouded in secrecy? Why does Mr. Rochart visit the woods around the manor, where the fey are known to live? How does he transform the women who come to his studio?

I first read about Ironskin several months ago on The Book Smugglers’ blog. A steampunk retelling of Jane Eyre, one of my favourite historical novels? I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the book, and my joy was hard to contain when I was granted an ARC through NetGalley. The book is indeed a re-imagining of Jane Eyre, but it’s more fey-punk than steampunk and there are elements of other stories in it too. Aspects of Beauty and the Beast and Tam Lin are absolutely present, and anyone expecting a beat for beat fantasy version of the Brontë-novel is going to be disappointed.

This Jane is not an orphan, and actually has valid reasons for being upset about her appearance. If Jane Eyre had had to wear a face mask to cover hideous facial scarring, I would’ve had more sympathy for her whining about being so plain all the time. Mr. Edward Rochart doesn’t have a mad wife in the attic, and the little girl needing a governess is actually his daughter. Unfortunately, while the world building is excellent and the events of the Great War and aftermath are portioned out without any heavy info dumping, the romance side of the book is less well done than I would’ve liked.

Jane is a great character. As the story is told from her perspective, we get to know her intimately. We know her fears, hopes and dreams and feel deeply for her when she’s struggling to get Dorie to behave more like a normal child than one fey-touched. We understand her loneliness, and how distant she feels from the life of balls and high society that her younger sister is part of after an advantageous marriage. Mr. Rochart is clearly an attractive and intriguing man, but unlike Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, they barely spend any time in each other’s company. Barring a few scenes together, where it’s made clear that Mr. Rochart’s past is somehow intertwined with the fey, and that he loves his daughter very much, they barely see each other, and it makes me wonder what she’s building her infatuation and later passionate affection on. I’m not a fan of “tell, don’t show”. The author has to give me reason to believe a romance is actually viable, something Connolly sadly doesn’t. Jane just falls in love with her employer because Jane Eyre does. That’s not good enough.

Despite this, I really very much enjoyed the novel, and thought it was a very clever re-working of a book I’m very fond of and have studied in depth while doing my degree. As well as being an entertaining reading experience with many clever twists in its own right, Ironskin made me consider new aspects of Jane Eyre and different interpretations of the influences that may have inspired Charlotte Brontë. Best of all, Ironskin is the first book in a series, and I enjoyed the book enough that I will absolutely check out any sequels as well.

Crossposted on my blog.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #84: Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

Dorothy L Sayers’ mystery novels tend to focus on her debonair aristocrat detective Lord Peter Wimsey, but Gaudy Night, he takes on a more supporting role, and the object of his affection, Miss Harriet Vane, is the protagonist and takes centre stage, working to solve a series of very destructive pranks at her old Oxford college.

Harriet, like Sayers herself (it’s widely believed that at least some aspects of Harriet are auto-biographical) is a successful mystery writer. She first appeared in Strong Poison, on trial for poisoning her lover, and Lord Peter unmasked the real killer and literally saved her life. He also fell in love with her and proposed, but Harriet refused for a number of reasons. Over the years, Peter keeps wooing and intermittently proposing to Harriet, they even work together to solve another murder mystery, but Harriet is ambivalent about her feelings about marriage in general and Peter in particular – so at the start of the novel, when they’ve known each other for five years, with Peter still proposing at least four times a year, Harriet is still uncomfortable about the state of affairs.

As well as being Peter’s social inferior (she’s a writer and the daughter of a country doctor, he’s the second son of the Duke of Denver), she feels that they can never be equals in the relationship because of the impossible weight of obligation she feels towards him for saving her from execution. When factoring in the fact that even though she was acquitted of the murder, her name is still very much associated with scandal, and her previous bad luck with romantic relationships, and it’s understandable why she feels they may not have a future together.

When Harriet is invited back to Shrewsbury College for a Gaudy (a formal dinner for former graduates), she’s at first deeply hesitant, but is persuaded by old friends to come, and discovers how much she loves and misses the academic atmosphere. While in Oxford, Harriet finds an obscene drawing on the lawn outside the college, and a threatening note in the sleeve of her formal academic gown. As it’s not an uncommon occurrence for Harriet to receive hate mail or threats, she thinks little of it, until she is contacted by the Dean and some of the senior staff of Shrewsbury some months later, begging her for assistance. The notes Harriet found are only two in a long series of offensive correspondence sent to a number of the students and staff. There’s also been several acts of graffiti, vandalism and unexplained events at the College, and they’re worried that the press or public at large will discover this, embroiling the little women’s college in scandal.

Harriet feels her presence might do more harm than good, and tries to get them to hire professionals to look into the matter. As that proves impossible, she tries to ask Peter for help, but he’s in Rome on a complicated diplomatic mission for the Foreign Office, and she reluctantly accepts that she’s the only one who can help them. Taking up residence at Shrewsbury under the cover of researching a non-fiction book on Sheridan Le Fanu, Harriet tries to identify and unmask the “ghost”. The mystery is not easily solved, however, as the college contains several buildings with winding hallways, there is a huge pool of suspects to begin with, and she has little to no help. After several months, the “ghost” is still unknown and at large, the pool of suspects has only been partially reduced, and an impressionable young student nearly drowns herself because of the series of harassing notes she’s received. The case is becoming more desperate, and Harriet can’t manage on her own.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, it’s been said, and the time spent away from Peter in the comforting surroundings of her old college has given Harriet a lot of time to consider her ambivalence and feelings towards Peter. She sends a letter, imploring him for help, and he shows up in Oxford to assist her. Peter realises that Harriet has gathered all the information required to unmask the “ghost”, but the fact that most of the evidence seems to point towards a woman she considers a friend, has made Harriet reluctant to take the final steps necessary to close the investigation. The arrival of the famous Lord Peter Wimsey adds further tension to the case, as the sinister “ghost” starts escalating the attacks. Will they be able to catch the culprit before someone dies?

Harriet is clearly a highly intelligent and admirable young woman, but in the very class-based system of 1930s England, it’s impossible for her to forget that she is a figure of notoriety, and even though she was cleared of murder, she still receives hate mail and threats on a regular basis. Her previous romantic relationship ended dreadfully, and while she comes to realise that she’s grown fond of Peter over the years, and might actually return his feelings, she’s still deeply wary of committing herself. This is a time when women were subjugated by men in pretty much every arena, and as Peter is so much her superior in rank and status, it’s natural for Harriet to be a bit cautious. Of course, there were several times when I wanted to reach into the book and shake her until her teeth rattled, as it was quite obvious to me as a reader (as I’m entirely sure Sayers meant it to be) that Harriet is being an idiot.

While understandably uncomfortable in the immediately following her murder trial, five years later, if a rich, charming, intelligent and extremely eligible man insists on courting you and proposing to you, if you actually like him back – trust his judgement and stop dawdling! Stop toying with the man’s affection and accept his proposal, or make a clean break of it.

Sayers has been criticised for writing meandering stories, not always all that focused on the main mystery, and that’s certainly true. She does by taking her time with setting the scene and having a number of story beats not directly concerning the solving of the crime, make the atmosphere of the books much more real and engaging, and she shows you the true personality of her characters brilliantly by showing them in a number of situations, rather than just as sleuths.

My only previous experience with her books is The Nine Tailors (which, in case you can’t be bothered to check the link, I found rather dull). I’m so glad I was convinced to go back and try reading another one, because I enjoyed this a great deal. It helps that there is a romance element to the story, however anyone wanting passionate declarations and steamy sexy times will be deeply disappointed. Harriet and Peter’s understated romance is nonetheless so incredibly satisfying because of the restraint and stiff-upper-lippedness of their manner with each other, and like in the books of Georgette Heyer, for instance, a lingering glance or small act can mean so much more than an overwrought love scene in another story. I suspect Sayers wrote this book partially to show her readers what a worthy match Harriet is to Peter, and now, having read it, I’m much more eager to read more of the author’s work.

This is my second book read and reviewed for R.I.P VII. Crossposted on my blog.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #83: Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire

This is the fifth book in the October Daye series, and this review may contain spoilers for events in previous books. It’s also not the best place to start the series, go read the first book instead: Rosemary and Rue. My reviews of the other books in this series can be found by clicking the character name tag.

Sir October “Toby” Daye, changeling knight and private investigator, retriever and rescuer of lost children, has been grieving for year, due to the losses she incurred towards the end of One Salt Sea. While seemingly getting by, on the surface, fulfilling her responsibilities, training her squire, paying the bills, Toby is acting more and more recklessly, and her friends and loved ones are getting worried. When another of Duke Sylvester’s knights show up on her doorstep, begging for her help to find his changeling daughter, Toby wants to refuse, but understands that she’s the only one who can help him.

The very proper and correct Sir Etienne hadn’t even realised he had a teenage daughter until his ex-girlfriend called him up, furious because she believed he’d kidnapped her. Etienne can teleport, and his daughter has the same power. Normally changelings are closely monitored by Faerie. Chelsea has incredible powers and none of the control that other changelings are taught. She’s not only opening portals across huge distances in the mortal world, but opening realms that were believed sealed off and forgotten ages ago. If Chelsea keeps on opening the portals, it’ll cause rifts in the walls between the worlds, and can endanger not only Faerie, but the mortal world as well.

Tybalt, King of Cats, has been keeping his distance, but Chelsea’s out of control teleporting is endangering his realm and family as well, and he needs Toby’s help to sort things out. However, there’s dissention in the ranks at the Court of Cats, and while Tybalt may have nine lives, he’s going to have to be very careful not to lose all the remaining ones to rebels set on stealing his crown.

While it took me a while to warm up to Toby as a character, and to the October Dayeseries in general (I didn’t really get into it properly until book 3: An Artificial Night).She’s tenacious, stubborn and very determined, brave to the point of idiocy and far too liable to throw herself into life threatening situations at the drop of a hat. She’s less charming than some of the other paranormal fantasy heroines that I’m fond of, and therefore (at least to me) took longer to grow fond of. Now I absolutely love her, with all her flaws (even though I frequently want to reach into the book and slap her resoundingly). She’s come a long way in six books, has the lonely half human, half-very powerful fae. She’s learning, through trial and error, love and loss, and countless near death experiences, that she may not have to fight ever battle by herself. She has friends, and allies, and people who care deeply for her. In this book, she actually thinks before she acts, and willingly consults her little group of compatriots, and the book is all the greater for it.

The supporting cast are also great. Seeing the always supercilious Sir Etienne forced to humble himself  to Toby, who he clearly doesn’t always like that much and becoming a more well-rounded character as a result, was good. Quentin, Toby’s squire continues to be a delightful side-kick, and it’s obvious that while McGuire finished off several major plot strands and a big arc with the last book, she’s setting up a whole new set of them with intriguing hints about the rapidly maturing boy’s absent parents. Raj, Tybalt’s nephew and heir, is also central to the plot, and McGuire writes the different youths with distinctive voices and presences.

Tybalt, my absolute favourite character, really gets to shine in this book, which of course warms my heart. Having started out as almost an antagonist for Toby in the first book, Tybalt has gradually become an important friend of Toby’s, always there for her when she needs him the most, yet confusing her with his cryptic remarks and sudden disappearances. A third of the love triangle of the series for a while, Tybalt was disapproving of Toby’s childhood sweetheart Connor for a number of reasons, and now, having patiently waited in the wings, is ready to take centre stage. He’s clearly willing to risk everything for Toby, the question is what she really wants.

There’s no question that this is my absolute favourite of the ever-improving series so far, and I’m really sorry that it’ll be another year until I can read the next book. Fans of paranormal fantasy should definitely check the series out. It takes a couple of books to really hit its stride, but when it does, it grabs your attention and refuses to let go. You’ll be hooked, and you won’t regret it.

Being a mystery, and also a paranormal, this fits nicely into the R.I.P VII genres. This will be my first review for that challenge. Cross posted, as always.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #82: Archangel’s Storm by Nalini Singh

This book is the fifth in a series, and will most likely contain spoilers for previous books the Guild Hunter series. So avoid if you dislike that sort of thing. Also, this book refers back to a lot of characters and events in the previous four books, so it’s probably not the best one to start with. The first one in the series is Angels’ Blood.

Jason is one of the archangel Raphael’s Seven, the angels and vampires who work for him and that he trusts implicitly with his business and security. Jason is his spymaster, and can literally fade into the shadows and move unnoticed in the places he visits, should he wish to do so. Jason also has a type of psychic power where he can hear whispers on the wind. He’s quiet, deadly, and extremely aloof, unable to fully engage with the world around him, due to some seriously horrific experiences as a child. A lot of Nalini Singh’s characters have troubled pasts, Jason’s is worse than most.

At the wedding of another member of the Seven, hears a whisper on the wind alerting him that the archangel of India, Neha (who has the power over snakes and poisons), has lost her consort Eris, and it appears to be murder. Neha hates Raphael after her murderous daughter was caught breaking the laws of angelkind and executed – but she’d love to steal Jason away to her court, so when Raphael offers to send his spymaster to India to investigate the murder, Neha accepts. She wants Jason to swear a blood oath, ensuring he can’t reveal any secrets of her household without forswearing herself. Being bound to Raphael, Jason refuses at first, but a compromise is made. Jason is to swear to princess Mahiya, Neha’s niece, thus making it safe for him to explore Neha’s palaces and grounds to find the killer, without betraying any of her business to Raphael.

Mahiya seems like a timid and weak angel, but Jason soon discovers that she has a quiet strength that has helped her endure centuries of her aunt’s displeasure. The daughter of Neha’s consort Eris and her twin sister Nivriti, Mahiya is a constant reminder to Neha of the betrayal of her most loved ones, and she’s put the princess through all manner of torture, both physical and emotional. Mahiya has endured, silently, plotting quietly and planning to get away. She’s afraid that the blood bond with the deadly spymaster will jeopardise her plans, but discovers that she may instead have found an ally. As the two work together to discover the identity of the murderer, who is not content to stop at one victim, Mahiya and Jason are drawn towards each other. But Jason has had all capacity for tender emotion burned out of him by the horrors in his past – is there any possibility of a shared future for them? And will Neha ever let Mahiya leave her court?

While I much preferred this book to the previous one, Archangel’s Blade, I wish that Singh had focused entirely on Jason and Mahiya’s story, rather than interrupting the main plot every so often with subplots having to do with Raphael or Dimitri (hero of the previous novel) and his preparations for turning his wife into a vampire. It added absolutely nothing to the story, instead it kept distracting me from the flow of the main plot, and I don’t entirely understand why, if this was vital to the plot of the next book, the readers couldn’t be let in on it in flashback then. Singh does really good flashbacks. From the prologue of the book, continued in little glimpses throughout, revealing a little bit more every time, we are shown why Jason has become the man he isuntil he finally reveals it in the last third of the book. Both he and Mahiya have experienced terrible things, which makes it even more remarkable that Mahiya has retained hope and a stubborn insistence on forgiveness and softness, refusing to give in to hate and bitterness.

I liked the couple a lot, and their romance was slow to build. The murder mystery, however, I figured out a little bit too soon for my liking. I like when mysteries actually take a bit of figuring out, because if I can solve them so easily, why would it take the characters so much longer? If Jason’s as capable and brilliant as he’s said to be, it shouldn’t have taken him so long to come to the same conclusion I did.

While I really liked the first two books in the series, I’ve had complaints with the last three, and if it wasn’t for the excellent world building, and the fact that I really did enjoy this one quite a lot, I would be considering stopping. At this rate, I will give Singh one more chance to win her way back into my good graces (after all, I’m still reading Charlaine Harris), and hope that the next one is back to the form of the early ones.

Also posted on my blog and Goodreads.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #81: Riveted by Meljean Brook

Annika has grown up in a small secluded village in Iceland, populated entirely by women, who have kept it well-hidden through stories of witches and trolls in the area. She’s been travelling for four years, trying to find her sister, who took the blame for Annika’s nearly revealing the location of the town to the outside world, had a massive row with the elders, and left.

David Kentewess is a vulcanologist desperate to find the village Annika is from, as his mother’s dying words was that he bury an heirloom necklace by the sacred mountain close to where she was born. When he meets Annika, he recognises her accent, and tries desperately to share her secrets. While drawn to David, Annika can’t reveal the secrets of her home and the women there, whether threatened or cajoled. And before long, both Annika and David have much more to worry about than their growing attraction to each other and whatever promises they made to their families.

I will say this for Meljean Brook, after The Iron Duke and Heart of Steel, I thought I knew a little bit of what to expect. I was wrong. Well, I expected clever writing and interesting world building, and multi-faceted characters who I’d enjoy reading about, and I got all that. But story wise, this was completely different from the other two Iron Seas novels, and the start of the novel gave me absolutely no hints of where the story was going to end up. Suffice to say, Annika and David are absolutely nothing like the protagonists of the previous two novels Brook has written in her alternate history, pseudo-Victorian Steampunk world.

Annika has been raised purely by women, in a community where women either go off to get pregnant (some stay with their baby daddies if they have sons), or bring home foundling girls from other places. Same sex relationships are very common, to the point where Annika clearly feels slightly sad that she hasn’t seemed to find a romantic relationship with any of the girls she grew up with. Nick-named “Rabbit” growing up, she still finds the tremendous courage to go off into the wider world to find her sister, visiting a number of new places on the airship where she serves as an engineer, and David is both amused and baffled by her lack of self-insight when he sees her many acts of self-sacrifice and bravery throughout the story.

David lost an arm and both his legs, and sustained a fair amount of facial scarring, in a horrible accident as a child, and his mother died to save him. He now has a mechanical eye-piece over part of his face, and mechanical limbs to replace the ones he lost. Most people naturally have trouble seeing past his artificial additions, and women especially seem either repulsed by him or excessively pity him. So when Annika, unused to men in general, treats him with kindness and openness, he’s drawn to her even before he recognises her accent to be the same as his mother’s. In no way an alpha male, David is deeply reluctant to pursue Annika, because of his previous bad luck around women.

The development of their friendship and later romance is a wonderful, slow and gradual process (frankly, both characters were almost too convinced of the other’s disinterest and so reluctant to approach the other that I wanted to reach into the book and shake them both). Yet I’d rather the character have time to get to know each other properly before they declare they madly love each other than fall into instant lust and/or love.

As I’ve come to expect in Brook’s novels, the world building is excellent, and while the first third of the story is very slow and sets up Annika and David’s relationship and gives us their back stories, once the plot takes a sharp turn, it’s frankly action and adventure and unexpected plot twists until the end. As in the other two Iron Seas novels, there are several breath taking action sequences that kept me at the edge of my seat, and once the story got going, I really didn’t want to put the book down. While Heart of Steel is still my absolute favourite, this is a decent second, and I can’t wait to see what Meljean Brook is going to give us next.

Also published on my blog, and Goodreads.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #75: Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews

While this is sort of a stand-alone book, it fits into the larger framework of the Kate Daniels series, and as such, this book will be best enjoyed if you’ve read the previous 5 books in that series. Also, this review may and probably does contain spoilers for some of the developments in those books.

Andrea Nash lives in a post-apocalyptic version of Atlanta, where technology frequently is disabled when waves of magic sweep through the world, and it keeps things interesting, to say the least. Previously a valued member of the Knights of the Order of Merciful Aid, Andrea was retired when it came out that she is beast-kin, half human, half hyena (lower in status than a were-hyena). Shortly before she was kicked out of the Order, her romantic relationship fell apart, as her boyfriend didn’t take it kindly when she picked the Knights rather than the shapeshifters in a city-wide crisis. So she doesn’t have a whole lot left to lose, to say the least.

Now Andrea works with her best friend Kate (Consort to the Beast Lord, Alpha of all the shapeshifters in Atlanta and the surrounding areas, and generally a pretty scary lady) at Cutting Edge Investigations, trying to put her life back in order. She tends to wake up in the morning curled in the cupboard clutching some sort of weapon, plagued by nightmares about her really shitty past. When the head of Pack security asks Andrea to investigate mysterious deaths at a Pack construction site, she agrees, both because Cutting Edge needs all the business they can get, and because she needs to keep herself busy. The construction company with the dead shapeshifters is owned by Raphael Medrano, though, her ex-lover, and he appears to have moved on in a spectacular way, with a leggy, chesty, air-headed version of Andrea.

Shapeshifters are fiercely territorial and get crazy jealous, but Andrea has spent a lifetime trying to suppress her animal instincts and desperately trying to pass as a normal human. When she’s forced to work closely with Raphael to solve the mysterious murders, however, it may be that she has no choice but to tap into her inner beast – both to solve the case, and win her lover back.

I love Ilona Andrews’ books, pretty much without reservation. I was thrilled when I was actually in the US on release day for this book, and able to pick it up myself in a bookstore. While the book probably works fine for a new reader, to me, who’s seen Andrea’s development through the Kate Daniels books, I suspect that it’s even more rewarding to get Andrea’s full backstory and fight for her own HEA after getting to know her as a secondary character first.

There’s been some talk on the internets of late about Strong Female Characters. The husband and wife team who are Ilona Andrews write PROPER strong female protagonists. They are capable, independent, fiercely protective and loyal to those they care about, not afraid to go out there and kick ass, but just as happy to stay at home and do girly things. Andrea has an exhaustive knowledge about weapons and firearms, and due to her incredibly awful time growing up, has taught herself to use said weapons expertly, so no one will ever mess with her again, and if they do, they’re probably not going to live long enough to regret it.  But she also loves dressing up, doing her hair and reading romance novels.

As I said, this book gives us a back story to Andrea that it would have been strange to include in the main series. As the books are first person narrated, it was fun to see the world in the Kate Daniels books through someone else’s eyes. I especially got a kick out of Andrea’s description of her best friend Kate (who obviously doesn’t spend a lot of time describing herself in the main series) and her mate Curran, the Beast Lord of Atlanta (who Kate obviously has different views about than Andrea).

Like all Andrews books, this novel is action-packed, sometimes terrifically violent, occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, has an amazing cast of supporting characters, as well as main characters you’d love to hang out with (and have on your side in a fight). I think it may be my second favourite book set in the Kate universe, which is very high praise indeed. If you like other books by Ilona Andrews, don’t miss this one.

Originally posted on my blog (also Goodreads)

Malin’s #CBR4 Reviews #70-74: Once Burned by Jeaniene Frost, Timeless by Gail Carriger, Grave Memory by Kalayna Price, The Thief and The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

More of my backlog being cleared, here are five more reviews:

Book 70: Once Burned by Jeaniene Frost. First book in new series of paranormal fantasy books, where a girl who channels electricity and can read the history of objects, and the vampireVlad Tepesh (who hates being called Dracula) fall in lust and get into hijinx. 4 stars.

Book 71: Timeless by Gail Carriger. Fifth and final novel in the Parasol Protectorate series. Fluffy fun. 3 stars.

Book 72: Grave Memory by Kalayna Price. Third book in a well-written paranormal series I discovered through Felicia Day. 3 1/2 stars.

Book 73: The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. I wasn’t very impressed with this book the first time I read it, and nearly stopped reading half the way through. Boy, am I glad I stuck with it. Essential young adult literature. 4 stars.

Book 74: The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. I loved this one the first time I read it, and even more on a second reading, when I really knew how clever and wonderful it was. Everyone should read this book. 5 stars.

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