Sunday, 23 October 2016

#Readathon October 2016 - Hour 13, mid-event survey

What are you reading right now?
Just started Storm's Heart by Thea Harrison

How many books have you read so far?

What book are you most looking forward to in the second half of the Read-a-thon?
Probably Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur: BFF

Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? 
My dad called to chat for a bit, and I couldn't really say no to him. My husband keeps enthusiastically wanting to talk to me, and some hours, I've been more distracted than others. But mostly, I've been able to read a lot of the first half. We're well past midnight here in Norway, though, so I only have an hour or two at most before I'll have to get some sleep. I'm too old and my job is too demanding for me to stay up all night. I'll do my best to get up at an early enough hour that I can get more reading done in the final hours of the event.

What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?
How long it took me to get through my last book. I thought a romance would be a quick read, but it felt like a bit of a slog. May read comics once I finish the book I'm on now.

Pages read total: 757
Currently reading: Storm's Heart by Thea Harrison
Books completed: Three
The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You - Lily Anderson
Fortunately, the Milk - Neil Gaiman
Rock Wedding - Nalini Singh


Saturday, 22 October 2016

#Readathon October 2016 - Hour seven, still reading

Currently reading: Rock Wedding by Nalini Singh
Books completed: Two
The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You by Lily Anderson
Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman
Pages read total: 504
Snacks consumed: Apple and custard muffin. Snowball. Coke
Mini-challenges: None in the last hour

#Readathon October 2016 - Hour the Fourth

I've been reading as much as I can for about three hours, only interrupted briefly to chat to my father (who would not take kindly to hear that I don't have time to talk to him because I'm oh so busy reading). I also need to take my eye-drops, to prevent the horror that is my pink-eye from getting worse.
Currently reading: The Only Thing Worse than Me is You by Lily Anderson
Pages read in total: 189
Books completed: None so far
Snacks consumed total: Two ham and cheese muffins, a can of coke. Some grapes. About to dig into the apple and custard muffin in the picture
Mini-challenges: A Book and a Snack

#Readathon October 2016 - Opening meme

It's that time again. The weather outside is grey and overcast (and I would bet, if I actually ventured outside, that it would be cold and a bit raw and quite miserable). The leaves on the trees are changing colour and raining down over paths and lawns. I have a ton of work to do, a review backlog of four books and woke up this morning to discover that my conjunctivitis (more commonly known as pink-eye) has returned, so my left eye looks inflamed and horrible, and my right eye is well on its way to joining it. Do I care? Well, yes, but I care more about the fact that October 22nd, from 2pm Oslo time is the start of Dewey's 24-hour Readathon. I've already commented on a bunch of essays this morning, and will have to work like a champ tomorrow to get them done, but today is going to be all about the reading.

As always, here is the opening meme. I could probably just copy and paste from last year (or the year before), but that feels like cheating.

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
I am reading from Oslo, Norway, where I plan to never even get out of my pyjamas, or set foot out the door all day. If we need anything from the shops, the husband can go.

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
I've heard really good things about The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You by Lily Anderson. A YA retelling of Much Ado About Nothing sounds pretty good.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
 In what has now become a Readathon tradition, I have made myself ham, cheese and scallion muffins, to eat whenever I feel peckish. I also baked sweet muffins last night, apple and custard, which came out a bit wonky, but taste delicious. So one of those, probably.

4) Tell us a little about yourself!
I'm a secondary school teacher, working with fairly challenging kids in the centre of Oslo. Because I've been ill for what seems like forever, I'm way behind on my various piles of correction work, and need to read through 20 short essays on communication in social media and write feedback to all the various kids, so they can proceed with their second drafts on Monday. Despite this (or possibly partly because of it), I am instead choosing to read for as much of the next 24-hour period as I can. The essays I haven't been able to do this morning will have to wait until tomorrow. I have a lovely husband who has promised to make me dinner (and who hopefully won't distract me too much from my reading) and two cats. My preferred genres are romance and fantasy of most kinds. I read a lot of YA literature (and pretend it's because I need to know what the kids I teach are into. Sadly about two thirds of them never read voluntarily).

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what's one thing you'll do differently today?
Well, for starters, I'm writing the answers to the opening meme BEFORE the Read-a-thon actually starts, so I don't waste precious reading time during the first hour by telling people about myself. I am also hoping to not have to leave the house, but to curl up in various locations around the house and really enjoy reading (while also feeling sorry for myself about the pink-eye). Other than that, I have my list of potential books, I have my awesome spreadsheet to help me tally pages and time spent reading, I have a fully charged e-reader and a variety of nice things to eat and drink to get me through the day. 

Thursday, 6 October 2016

#CBR8 Book 112: "How Not to Fall" by Emily Foster

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Annabelle "Annie" Coffey is writing her final thesis and with only a few weeks left of term, she propositions her adviser, the postdoctoral fellow at her lab, Dr. Charles Douglas, because she believes they have "A Thing". In a truly embarrassing and painfully awkward scene, handsome British guy Charles gently turns her down, because he is her boss and it would be massively inappropriate for him to sleep with her. Annie is convinced she's not wrong about the chemistry between them, and that she's not misreading the signals between them. She's hoping that were she no longer Charles' student, the situation would be different. So she refuses to give up hope entirely. She will have a month after she graduates, before she goes off to New York to go to medical school and she's determined to spend them with Charles.

Charles agrees, so long as Annie is well and truly no longer his student, they can explore their "Thing". He's initially a bit daunted by the prospect that Annie's a virgin, and a very inexperienced one (in practise, not in theory) at that. With the understanding that their affair is only to last a month and with the goal that when they go their separate ways, they will remain friends, Charles and Annie begin to explore their attraction to one another. Because Annie has never had any sort of sexual encounter with another person before, Charles insists on them spending a whole day on each of the four "bases", before they do the deed, so to speak. He takes his responsibilities as Annie's first lover very seriously, making sure to teach her everything she wants to know about sex, while still being careful to respect her boundaries, even when she's sometimes eager to push them further than before.

Their affair becomes more than a meeting of bodies, it also becomes a meeting of minds, with the two of them being entirely honest about their interests, hopes and fears. That is, Annie is completely truthful and open as a book. As the weeks pass, and Annie grows more attached with every hour spent in Charles' company, it becomes clear that he has not revealed everything about himself and that there is darkness in his past that looks likely to create major hurdles for their joint future.

Before you read any further, it is important that I mention that this book ends on a cliffhanger! There is NO Happily Ever After at the closing of this book. There is a second part, How Not to Let Go coming out in December, and on her blog as Emily Foster, the author suggests that if waiting is a problem, you wait to read the duology until both parts are out. Ms Foster, who also writes non-fiction scientific books under the name Emily Nagoski. She explains on her science blog that she wrote these novels as a response to reading (and being deeply disappointed) by 50 Shades of Grey. She loves romance because it's pro-woman, pro-sex, pro-pleasure and full of happy endings. Ms Foster/Nagoski felt that E.L. James' book failed at all of those things and really felt betrayed by it.

As a result, Ms. Nagoski set out to write a romance with a virgin college senior (she's 22) experiencing her sexual awakening with an older (he's 26), more experienced, powerful man who treats her with dignity, respect and affection. She calls it a feminist, sex-positive, science-driven erotic romance. Because she normally writes science non-fiction, she was unsure whether she needed a different agent to represent her, but she got the books sold under the name Emily Foster and How Not to Fall is the first part.

There is really a lot of sex in this book. This is very much on the erotica scale of romance, where there are a lot of smexy times, described in a LOT of detail. There are BDSM elements, but I think, as far as these things go, they are fairly light (I have not read a lot of that sub-genre of romance). I still felt that there was a good portion of the book with the characters getting to know each other, and where the reader got to know each of the protagonists, seeing how they could work as a couple.

Both Annie and Charles are huge nerds and there is a fair amount of the book devoted to science and the pursuit thereof. As opposed to a lot of romance, where the prose is very purple, all the body parts are referred to in very scientific names, which I thought made a nice change. I know very little about the field that Annie and Charles are working in, but didn't feel that the scientific parts detracted from the steamy smexy times. Annie is a wonderful narrator, and frequently says and does embarrassing things. To me, she seems extremely open-minded and adventurous in the bedroom, considering she's a virgin, Charles is always the one putting on the breaks. Of course, I have no idea what college era women get up to these days, based on a lot of New Adult, they are certainly getting a lot more action than I ever did.

About two thirds of the way through, the book changes in tone, and becomes a lot darker and more serious, as the secrets of Charles' past are uncovered and it becomes clear that the couple are in for a hard time before they (hopefully, I'll be cranky otherwise) reach their HEA at the end of the next book. Again, because the author seems to have a scientific basis behind the angsty reasons that Charles and Annie will not just have sunshine, puppies and rainbows in their lives, it felt a lot less bothersome to me than in a lot of these novels. There was a very believable theoretical explanation for his behaviour, and I'm looking forward to how the author is going to solve the problems she has thrown in the couple's way.

I liked this a lot, and as it's already October, I'm not too annoyed about the wait for the next book. If cliffhanger endings are a problem for you - wait another few months and read both books at the same time. I will be eagerly awaiting the second instalment.

Judging a book by its cover: A couple kissing passionately in the rain. A perfectly good cover for a romance - except for that pesky (but oh so common) fact that at no point does this scene feature in the novel. I know I'm picky and that it's a silly thing to get annoyed about, but I still am. Annoyed, that it. There are lots of delightful scenes to choose from. Quite a few that don't even involve smexy times. Why not pick one of those?

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

#CBR8 Book 111: "Six-Gun Snow White" by Catherynne M. Valente

Page count: 207 pages
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb:
From New York Times bestselling author Catherynne M. Valente comes a brilliant reinvention of one of the best known fairy tales of all time. In the novella Six-Gun Snow White, Valente transports the title's heroine to a masterfully evoked Old West where Coyote is just as likely to be found as the seven dwarves. 

A plain-spoken, appealing narrator relates the story of her parents - a Nevada silver baron who forced the Crow people to give up one of their most beautiful daughters, Gun That Sings, in marriage to him. With her mother's death in childbirth, so begins a heroine's tale equal parts heartbreak and strength. This girl has been born into a world with no place for a half-native, half-white child. After being hidden for years, a very wicked stepmother finally gifts her with the name Snow White, referring to the pale skin she will never have. Filled with fascinating glimpses through the fabled looking glass and a close-up look at hard living in the gritty gun-slinging West, readers will be enchanted by this story at once familiar and entirely new.  

This novella is a clever retelling of the classic German fairy tale, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Having moved the narrative to the Old West, the girl at the centre of the story, the half-blood daughter of a Crow Native American woman and a wealthy prospector, grows up alone and unloved on her father's ranch. She entertains herself with card tricks and sharp shooting, her only companions the impersonal servants and the wild animals in the ranch menagerie.

When her father eventually remarries, it is to a beautiful young woman who takes it upon herself to civilise "Snow White", as she names her stepdaughter. Mrs H's lessons of love involve Snow performing the duties of all the female servants (all of whom were let go after the wedding), nearly drowning in icy milk baths meant to make her skin paler and various kinds of physical and emotional abuse. Having never had anyone show her any attention at all, Snow takes it all, without complaining. Her stepmother has a dark and mystical mirror, where Snow sees visions both of herself, and Mrs H's past. Eventually her stepmother gives birth to a baby boy, but only in the mirror. The child seems to grow fast and he and Snow have a strange connection.

Snow leaves the only home she's ever known, riding off to find the Crow, hoping to reunite with her mother's people. She travels through frontier towns and mining villages, defending herself against all manner of aggressions. She spends some time prospecting in a ruby mine along with seven rugged men. A ruthless Pinkerton agent trails her tirelessly, hired by her stepmother to catch her, so he can cut out her heart and bring it back to Mrs. H. Snow can be bested by no man, however, and escapes the detective with her heart intact.

Eventually arriving at a town populated by women, cast out from other places, Snow begins to find some solace and peace. The reach of her stepmother's powers are long, though, and once Snow stops running, she'll be easier to catch.

The story is told in an oddly poetical manner, narrated in a special cadence, which even when you read it seems very oral. Transposing the classic fairytale to a new setting makes you see the story in a new light. Valente certainly makes the story more feminist and diverse, highlighting how lost Snow is, never fitting into her father's world, or that of her mother. Mrs. H, Snow's stepmother isn't merely a one-dimensional villain. It is made clear that the way she treats Snow is a somewhat harsher way than she herself was treated before she got married. Mrs. H turned to witchcraft to gain power, Snow runs away instead. Only towards the end does she see the caring and nurturing side of womanhood.

This novella incorporates a lot of mythology, both Native American and Western. It plays with the reader's expectations and the well-known story tropes, re-inventing the old tale for a new time. Because the narrator imposes a sort of distance in the way the story is told, I never emotionally connected with it as much as I wanted to, but I was entertained and impressed. It's also not a very long story, so I didn't have time to get bored - which was not the case when I read Valente's twist on Russian folk tales, Deathless

Judging a book by its cover: The Charles Vess cover for this novella is absolutely gorgeous. Snow triumphantly rearing on her loyal horse Charming. Her stepmother, Mrs H, kneeling holding up a bloody heart. The various animals and creatures of the wilderness coming in from the left, looking as if they're about to stampede over the stepmother. I pretty much love everything about this.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

#CBR8 Book 110: "Do You Want to Start a Scandal?" by Tessa Dare

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Miss Charlotte Highwood, youngest sister of Minerva and Diana, is not really interested in marriage. She just wants to tour Europe with her best friend Delia Parkhurst, but after earning the moniker "The Desperate Debutante" after her mother literally flung her into the path of an eligible young nobleman (causing him to fall off his horse and three carriages to collide), convincing the ton that she's not a scheming fortune huntress is going to be more difficult. She knows full well that her extremely marriage-minded mama will do her utmost to force her together with Piers Brandon, Marquess of Granville, as much as possible, as he is the highest ranked peer at the house party they're at, hosted by the Parkhursts.

With the intention of assuring Lord Brandon that she has no designs on his title, Charlotte seeks out Piers in the library. She wants to make sure they arrange their schedules for the next two weeks to meet as little as possible, thereby saving Piers from having to deal with Mrs. Highwood's painful matchmaking. Being discovered alone with an eligible man would defeat the purpose of Charlotte's plan, however, so when another couple enters the library, Charlotte and Piers are forced to hide behind the heavy curtains, trying very hard to ignore the sounds of the unknown couple trysting on a desk nearby.

All their plans to protect Charlotte's reputation come to naught when the young son of the house (convinced that Piers was trying to murder Charlotte) starts recreating the sounds he overheard. Piers does the only honourable thing and promises to marry her, but Charlotte is having none of it. Both her sisters married for love (one to a viscount and the other to a blacksmith), and she wants the same thing. Even at the risk of her reputation, she's determined to refuse Piers' suit. Still, she needs to clear her name of scandal to convince the Parkhursts that she'll be a suitable travelling companion for her daughter, and sees no other solution but to track down the mystery lovers and make them confess to their amorous encounter, proving to everyone, leaving Piers and Charlotte in the clear.

Piers, a highly placed agent for the Crown, is at the house party to investigate Sir Vernon Parkhurst (Delia's father), who is up for a cushy diplomatic position and has some discrepancies in his finances. Piers has to prove whether Parkhurst is trustworthy, and was trying to snoop through paperwork when he was surprised by Charlotte in the library. He's certainly not looking for a wife and does not need distractions from his primary mission. Young, adventurous and impetuous Charlotte Highwood and her enquiring mind keeps muddling up his plans and he soon discovers that the initially unremarkable debutante is far more perceptive than most people suspect.

While Charlotte knew Piers Brandon was handsome from the moment they first met, she always believed him to be icily proper, a perfect gentleman. She's surprised to find that he has a lot of hidden depths. He can pick locks, has a wicked sense of humour and his kisses make her likely to forget her own name. The more time she spends in his company, the more convinced she becomes that he might actually make her a fine husband, if only love could enter the equation.

Charlotte is never going to settle for anything but a romantic match, no matter how lofty a title, how many stately homes, how influential a status and how much pin money she'd receive. She never came to the Parkhursts' house party to find a husband (no matter what her mother wanted), but to convince the parents of her dear friend Delia that she's a decent and proper companion for their daughter, enabling them to go off on adventures. While Diana is known as the really beautiful Highwood sister, and Minerva is the very clever one, Charlotte has more modest accomplishments, at least on a first look. Piers discovers that she's well-read, funny, loyal and inquisitive. She may be young (only 20), but she's not frivolous or silly.

Piers is older (I'm going to assume he's in his thirties, I don't think it's ever specified in the book) and has an excellent reputation as a diplomat. Only a very few know that he's in fact a spy and has been for most of his career. He's done some pretty dark things and therefore seems to believe himself unworthy of love and affection. His former fiancee got bored with waiting for him to actually marry her and ended up with his brother instead, and Piers knows that she's much better off that way.

While he had no plans of marrying before he arrived at the Parkhursts, Piers quickly determines that he would be mad to let Charlotte go. Despite her insistence on a love match (which true to about half of all broody romance heroes, he is convinced he can't offer her), he starts pursuing her in earnest and when charm, his wealth and seductive encounters don't seem to work, he is not afraid to play dirty to secure the match.

This book features references to Stephen King's The Gunslinger, Pride and Prejudice, the absolutely wonderful Hamilton, and quite understandably, James Bond. There is an absolutely hilarious scene involving Charlotte, her mother, a peach and an aubergine. It's witty and light-hearted, but while it was a perfectly entertaining read, it's not Tessa Dare at her very best. While Charlotte is delightful throughout, Piers' insistence that he's unworthy of her love because of his past is rather boring (as I pretty much always think it is). There is also Ms Dare's strange tendency to set love scenes outside, where anyone could chance upon the lovers at any point. Considering that they are at a house party, with a large amount of guests and probably scores of servants, Charlotte and Piers find themselves alone and unchaperoned a LOT.

This book fits into both Ms Dare's Spindle Cove AND Castles Ever After series, but you don't need to have read any of the previous books to enjoy it. It's not one of her best, nor is it one of her more forgettable ones either. I don't regret pre-ordering it, but hope Ms. Dare has something great up her sleeve for her next romance.

Judging a book by its cover: Based on the hair colour of the female cover model and the colour of her dress, I'm assuming this is supposed to be Charlotte and Piers, who clearly got a bit more undressed in the library than the scene in the book suggests. Considering how often the appearance of the cover models and the clothes they wear bear absolutely no resemblance to anything in the actual story, the fact that the lady is blond and wearing a colour described in the book is a plus. I could do without quite so much naked man-chest on my covers, but I've seen worse.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read