Wednesday, 29 June 2016

#CBR8 Book 63: "Second Chance Summer" by Jill Shalvis

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Lily Danville grew up in Cedar Ridge, Colorado, and loved hiking the mountain trails or climbing the rock faces in the summer, or skiing the challenging slopes in the winter. She was happy there, until tragedy struck and she lost half her family over the course of a few weeks. She's never forgiven herself and wasn't ever planning on returning. Having lost her job in a fashionable salon in San Diego and pretty much been blacklisted in the industry, she desperately needs a job, and has no choice but to return to her home town, to work for her friend Jonathan. She dreads going back for a number of reasons, but most of all because it will mean seeing Aidan Kincaid again, the guy she used to dream of, but could never have.

Aidan Kincaid is part of a large and close-knit family. He and his brothers run the Cedar Ridge Resort, which they're trying to keep afloat, despite some serious difficulties thanks to debts run up by their dead-beat dad. Aidan works as a firefighter and volunteers for the local Search and Rescue-service, when he's not co-managing the resort and trying to keep his younger siblings out of trouble. He's got a reputation as a ladies' man, not one for serious commitment, but that's because part of him has been pining for Lily, since the summer when she disappeared from the Ridge. Now she's back and he's more attracted to her than ever. But how long is she going to stay this time? Is she going to leave and break his heart once more?

The blurb of the book led me to believe that Lily and Aidan had shared much more of a passionate romance before Lily left Cedar Ridge, when the fact is that they were both teenagers, who spent quite a lot of time together, but only really had anything romantic going at one school dance. Lily, always in competition with her sister, who had admitted to fancying Aidan, as a result never really let herself get too close to him. Once the tragic events that tore her life to pieces occurred, she is incapable of forgiving herself, and she certainly can't allow herself to have feelings for Aidan, as that would feel like a betrayal to her sister.

Aidan never knew about Lily's sister's feelings and wasn't able to act on his infatuation to Lily until that dance. Shortly after, she left town, before he had time to tell her how he felt and for ten years, he's been trying to tell himself that it was probably for the best. Nonetheless, when she returns, the normally very level-headed man gets all out of sorts (to the amusement of his various relatives) and it doesn't take all that long before he's confirmed that the spark is most certainly still there between him and Lily.

This is the first book in the Cedar Ridge series and there are more than enough Kincaid siblings to provide fodder for multiple sequels. The only other Shalvis I've ever read is Rumor Has It, which I read for the RITA Reader Challenge back in 2014. As far as I can tell from the two books I've now read by her, and some general reading on the internet, Ms. Shalvis excels at cosy, comfortable contemporary romances, set in small towns, featuring generally well-rounded protagonists, without too much angst to complicate things.

In this book, Aidan has his fair share of troubles, relating to his father, but is really quite a stand-up guy. He's very much a protector, for his family and working both as a firefighter AND in search and rescue. For the past ten years, he's has a number of never-too-serious relationships, but he's always been up front about not wanting long-term commitment and once Lily returns to Cedar Ridge, it's obvious that deep down he was just hoping she'd come back and that with her, he pretty much wants nothing but commitment.

Lily struggles with guilt and grief and has a hard time being back in a place where she suffered such powerful losses. She's pretty determined that her stay is only short-term, covering at her childhood friend Jonathan's salon while one of his employees is on maternity leave. She keeps sending out her resum├ęs, hoping for a job somewhere else, with no wish to settle back in her home town, no matter how tempting the presence of Aidan is. Her attraction to him is also all mixed up in guilt and an overwhelming sense of loyalty to her sister, which is what provides the main obstacle to the romance of the book.

I pretty much loved the setting (despite not being an outdoors person at ALL) and the various supporting characters. I liked that what complications and low-level angst there was in the relationship between Lily and Aidan was handled without too much drama, even though both of them clearly had some lessons to learn about communication and not sending mixed signals. I suspect I will be checking out more books in this series, as going back to the fictional town of Cedar Ridge and getting better acquainted with more of Aidan's siblings will provide me with many hours of relaxing summer reading.

Judging a book by its cover: There are two different covers for this book. The one I read (featured here), has a rugged man in a rescue service t-shirt and cargo pants, with a rope and what looks like assorted mountain-climbing gear strapped to his side, photo-shopped onto a background of mountains and blue sky. The other cover is a twee watercolour image, full of flowers and mutet pastel colours, more suitable for a children's book than a romance, if you ask me. It also features the hokey tag line: "Sometimes only going home can set you free". Big bowl of nope on that one. I'll take my rugged mountain man any day of the week.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

#CBR8 Book 62: "Moonglow" by Kristen Callihan

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Daisy Craigmore doesn't mourn her abusive d-bag of a husband at all, but has nonetheless worn widow's weeds for the proscribed period of time, so as to avoid a scandal. Now she's pretty ready to get her flirt on, but her first "date" of sorts, is ruined when she comes across her friend torn to pieces in an ally, and the beast that killed her ready to tear into Daisy and her lover next. The mysterous Ian Ranulf, Marquis of Northrup, insists on protecting her, whether Daisy wants it or not.

Ian Ranulf has been exiled from his werewolf clan for over seventy years, since he refused to fight his grandfather for the alpha position. He keeps his wolfish nature tightly controlled, but is forced to act when he realises a rogue werewolf is committing gruesome murders around London, and that several women wearing the same perfume as Daisy have been the creature's former victims. Having kept himself isolated and closed off from society for decades, Ian suddenly feels involved again and the beautiful widow makes him feel alive like no one in ever so long.

I read the first book in this series back in January 2013. It features Daisy's sister Miranda, who has the power to start fires. Apparently Ian also featured in this book, as an antagonist, although I must admit I remember very little of the plot of the book, even having re-read my own review. His rather callous treatment of Miranda and his attempts to lure her away from her husband, make both of them rather sceptical when he now seems to have set his sights on Daisy.

I don't recall the various supernatural factions of this world playing such a prominent part in the first book, but Callihan is clearly determined to widen her world-building, and here introduces a whole bunch of new stuff. Then there's the crazed werewolf on the loose (whose identity I suspected really quite early on), trying to murder Daisy and the power struggle in Ian's old werewolf clan, which he keeps trying to keep out of, even when it's clear that they, and every other supernatural power in London, want him involved.

Once Daisy and Ian move past the "you tried to steal my sister away from her husband, are you sure I'm not just a creepy replacement" part of their courtship, they still need to deal with the fact that Daisy is pretty badly messed up both emotionally and physically because her dead hubby was a d*ck, and there's the whole Ian is an immortal being, while Daisy is a normal, going to grow old and eventually die mortal. Ian was married to a mortal woman long ago, and she really didn't deal too well with the differences in power and supernaturality (it's totally a word, you guys. I'm sure of it) between them.

Because Callihan's contemporary New Adult books are so great, I kept wanting to get back to this series, even though I didn't exactly remember Firelight knocking my socks off. I like historical romance, I like paranormal fantasy. I know Callihan can write engaging romances. Yet this just wasn't all that exciting, and I kept reading just in the hopes that the book was going to get better. I don't want to spoil things, but of course Daisy has a supernatural power of her own, and she figures out a way past the pesky "the man I love will live practically forever, while I will die" difficulty.

This series keeps getting good reviews on the interwebs. I suspect I'll keep going just to see if the series gets more engaging. I know all too well that a lot of paranormal series need two-three books to really get off the ground, and I feel Callihan has entertained me enough in the past that I can give her another chance or two.

Judging a book by its cover: Quite a pretty and atmospheric cover, with a lady (clearly meant to be Daisy) moving through the woods at night, vines and leaves swirling around her. She's wearing a period appropriate dress and I really like the various shades of green and yellow. If the cover model had her hair in a more period appropriate updo, more suitable for a woman of the time, rather than flowing in the wind like she's in some sort of Victorian shampoo advert, that would make the image even better.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

#CBR8 Book 61: "Dirty" by Kylie Scott

Page count: 288 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Lydia Green is sent a video of her fiancee making out (and more) with his best friend/best man shortly before she's supposed to walk down the isle. Utterly humiliated, she leaves her phone on the bed and does the only thing she can think of, run away. Even in full bridal gear, she manages to hoist herself over the very tall fence at the back of the property and climbs in the open window of the house next door. Fairly banged up and utterly devastated, she collapses in the bathtub and bursts into tears.

Vaughn Hewson's career is currently fairly dead, after his band broke up. He's back in his home town, trying to put his parents' home on the market, before trying to figure out what he wants to do with the rest of his life. He certainly wasn't expecting to find a crying bride in his bathtub, or having to deal with the ensuing drama when the groom's furious family come knocking on the door to figure out why she ran away from the wedding.

Vaughn offers Lydia a place to stay for a few days, until she can get a semblance of order back in her life. Vaughn's sister, who is running a bar with a couple of friends, offers both Vaughn and Lydia jobs while they make up their minds about what they want to do next, and how they feel about each other.

I read the first three books in Kylie Scott's Stage Dive series, but never really felt like going back and reading the fourth one, where apparently Vaughn is introduced. His back story is not really necessary to understand this book, which is clearly going to centre around the Dive Bar, that Vaughn's sister and her friends run. There's a whole bunch of supporting characters introduced, who will clearly be the protagonists of upcoming novels. I will be deeply surprised if Vaughn's sister, currently estranged from her husband and (SPOILER!) accidentally pregnant with another man's child, doesn't reconcile with said husband in one of the future books.

Sadly, this book wasn't all that exciting. First of all, I don't really like romances where the couple fall in love too quickly. I can't be bothered to go back and check, but we are not talking many weeks from Lydia's wedding day until she's clearly oh so very in love with Vaughn. A man so indecisive about what he wants that he actually goes off and leaves her for a while, only to come slinking back, suddenly ready to propose marriage himself. I didn't really believe in this couple much. I did like many of the supporting characters, though, and I appreciated that Lydia was described as a somewhat more full-figured woman than many you meet in romance novels. Also, there was a brief cameo from my favourite character from the Stage Dive books and he always makes everything better.

Judging a book by its cover: There's a Dirty martini in the foreground of the picture (see what they did there? Just like the book title. Much clever. So wow). There's a heavily tattooed guy in the background with what could be a band t-shirt on. I wish they'd tried to match the cover model a bit more with what the hero was supposed to look like (thin, rangy, ginger), but apparently tattooed arms will have to do. It's not a great cover, but then again, the contents of the book aren't exactly thrilling, so I guess it matches up there.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

Monday, 20 June 2016

#CBR8 Book 60: "Hot in Hellcat Canyon" by Julie Anne Long

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Actor John Tennessee McCord was the star of a long-running TV show, but recently, his career has taken a bit of a dive. Having been one half of a big Hollywood power couple and then being rather publically dumped last year certainly hasn't helped. Now he's got a new TV series lined up about the California gold rush and while scouting out the locations for it, his pickup truck breaks down in Hellcat Canyon. Not that he minds all that much, as the burgers at the Misty Cat Cavern, the former Hellcat Saloon, are very tasty, and the blonde waitress there is clearly both intelligent and gorgeous.

Still physically and emotionally scarred from her previous marriage, Britt Langley really isn't looking for any kind of relationship and has gotten very good at charmingly turning away any male interest in herself. She works as a waitress at the Misty Cat Cavern and a part-time real estate agent to pay the bills and nurses plants back from the brink of death in her spare time. When the handsome and charming J.T walks into the Misty Cat, Britt is smitten despite her vows to stay unattached.

Liking the small time charm of Hellcat Canyon and the prospect of wooing the pants of Ms. Langley, J.T. decides to stay around town for a while. The chemistry between him and Britt is noticable to everyone around them, and it doesn't take all that long for them to act on their mutual attraction. But while J.T. may not be as hot a gossip commodity as he once was, the paparazzi will eventually track him down, and what started as a small town flirtation is soon broadcast all over the internet. Can their developing romance survive the sudden glare of the spotlight?

I read and mostly enjoyed the entirety of Julie Anne Long's Pennyroyal Green series. This is her first contemporary novel and I was curious to see how she'd manage writing a whole new genre. Sadly, the first half of this book is quite slow and rather boring in parts. The banter between Britt and J.T is pretty good, but nothing much of interest happens, even after they start hooking up. Britt is very wary of commitment and J.T is known far and wide as the "man allergic to the L-word". Just as they are starting to get more comfortable in each other's company, J.T's mega famous mean girl ex shows up to try to get him back. For the first two thirds of the novel, I was really just reading out of loyalty to Ms. Long, but then, towards the end, things started picking up and the book got really very entertaining. J.T delivers one heck of a wedding speech which would melt the heart of any right-thinking woman and Britt engages in some drunken billboard graffiti out of jealousy that made me laugh a lot. It's not enough to get the book more than half a star above 3, though.

Unsurprisingly, the book introduces a whole bunch of characters, both from the Hellcat Canyon region and from J.T's Hollywood life, whom I am sure we will meet again in future books. Ms. Long got 11 books out of her previous series, after all, and I'm sure she can mine the little mountain region for quite a few romances in years to come. I'm personally looking forward to that of J.T's former colleague and sometime frenemy, Franco Francone. He plays a significant enough part in this book that I cannot imagine he's a future hero. I pre-ordered this book based on Ms. Long's entertaining historicals, but based on this first contemporary, Ms. Long is off the auto-buy list for now. I'll still buy her books on sale, of course, but I'm going to need something more consistently good for her to move back to "buy at full price" status.

Judging a book by its cover: Things I like - the red pick-up truck is relevant to the story, as J.T loves his truck and has spent a lot of time and money making sure it still runs. The cover models look like they have the correct hair colours. I think Britt may have been wearing cowboy boots at some point. The flowers are a nice touch, even though no such profusion of wild flowers are ever mentioned in the book. Things I don't like - the absolutely ridiculous pose. Britt is supposed to be quite petite, which the cover model doesn't look to be. I also think both models could look older, as both Britt and J.T are in their mid-30s.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

#CBR8 Book 59: "Marrying Winterborne" by Lisa Kleypas

Page count: 416 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Lady Helen Ravenel has lived a very sheltered existence on her family's estate and spent much of her life in mourning for one family member or another. Until very recently, the estate was so deeply mired in debt that Helen and her younger sisters were unlikely to have any dowries and it was very important that Helen and her sisters marry rich men. The current Earl, Helen's cousin (who inherited the estate after the death of their brother and in short order did his best to drag the estate out of debt, while falling in love with and marrying her brother's widow) arranged for Helen to marry his friend, the exceedingly wealthy department store owner, Rhys Winterborne. Then, due to a misunderstanding between them involving Helen's first kiss ever, the betrothal was dissolved.

Rhys Winterborne, born poor and uneducated in Wales, has worked his way up to become one of the wealthiest men in England. After being injured in a train accident, Helen nursed him back to health, and he was drawn to the ethereal and shy beauty before he even saw her face clearly. Nonetheless, he considers himself a savage brute and knows a lot of other people do to, despite the wealth and influence he now wields. He knows how unlikely it is that a commoner like himself gets to ally himself to a noble family like the Ravenels, so is unsurprised when Helen's sister-in-law Kathleen announces that the betrothal is at an end. What does surprise him greatly, however, is when Lady Helen herself shows up at his office some days later, claiming that while she was overwhelmed by her emotions, she was also very excited and she absolutely still wants to marry him. To the point where she's quite willing for him to compromise her thoroughly to make sure nothing gets in the way of their marriage once more.

Once Helen returns to the bosom of her family, quite thoroughly and enthusiastically deflowered, her family can no longer mount any objections to her marrying Winterborne. There are secrets in Helen's past, however, that may make her less desirable to Rhys once he discovers them. Can she get him to the altar before he finds out what only a select few people actually know?

The previous book in this series, Cold-Hearted Rake, was Lisa Kleypas' first historical romance in five years. It was rather disappointing, all things considered, and the best thing about it was the romance it was setting up between Helen and Winterborne, which we get the continuation of here. While this book is an improvement and I really liked both Helen and Rhys, both separately and together, I found the extremely contrived obstacle put in the way of their romance to be eye-rollingly ridiculous, especially considering how quickly the whole mess is sorted out when Helen FINALLY after so many chapters of agonising about whether to tell Rhys the truth or not (and a whole host of well-meaning busy-bodies telling her not to - bad advisors!), comes clean and admits to the deep dark secret, which (SPOILERS) involves her true parentage.

Some of her completely TSTL traipsing around the bad parts of London almost unaccompanied to rescue a plot moppet were also rather frustrating, but the things I enjoyed greatly outweighed the things I didn't and therefore this gets a higher rating than the previous book. The relationship between Helen and her sisters, both biological and by marriage is lovely and I loved her friendship with the female doctor (who I'm hoping is going to feature in a romance of her own further down the line). While the previous book seemed more about setting up the colourful Ravenel family, with Kathleen and Devon's romance taking the back seat, at least this book is focused entirely on Helen and Rhys. There is more than one mention of how Helen's younger sister, the quirky Pandora, never intends to marry. However, Kleypas has announced that Pandora's going to be the heroine of the next novel (with the son of Sebastian and Evie from Devil in Winter, probably my favourite Kleypas novel, as the hero). So what I'm saying here is, February 2017 cannot come fast enough.

Judging a book by its cover: Lord, have mercy, that is a LOT of pastel. The pink, the fuschia, the mauve, the purple, it's all getting very Old School romance cover up in here. Also, is she supposed to be walking up those stairs, because if so, she'll have trouble. Way too many flowers there. Someone's florist went a bit overboard. I can't imagine Winterborne hiring someone that incompetent.

Putting the cover model (that they've even made blonde, although not as ethereally, luminescently pale as Helen is described in the book - I think of her more with the same colouring as of Evanna Lynch, when she played Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter movies) in a wedding dress is fine, since the whole plot is how Helen and Rhys have to get to the altar and actually get married. I don't like the deeply impractical shape of the skirt. I think Winterborne would insist on Helen having a much more elegant and practical dress than that.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

#CBR8 Book 58: "My Lady Notorious" by Jo Beverley

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Cynric "Cyn" Malloren, one of the younger brothers of the extremely powerful and influential Marquess of Rothgar, is on his way back to his regiment after a convalescence and is bored and looking for adventure, when his coach is held up by a couple of highwaymen. Noticing that there is something strange about the pair, Cyn refuses to comply with their orders and ends up "kidnapped" and taken to a small cabin in the woods. He quickly figures out that his captors are in fact a pair of young women, one of whom has had her hair cropped short like a boy's. The women are clearly desperate for some reason, and Cyn wants to figure out why they've taken to robbing passers-by to alleviate his tedium.

Lady Chastity Ware needs money to help her recently widowed sister and her baby nephew. The ladies' father (I can't be bothered to look up his title or name) pretty much forced his eldest daughter into marriage with a cruel and callous man and when Chastity refused to marry said man's younger brother, her father arranged for him to be found naked in her bed, causing a huge scandal. When Chastity still refused to marry him, he had her beaten and cut off all her hair, exiling her to the countryside with only ugly, shapeless dresses to wear. Chastity solved the problem by stealing some of her brother's clothes, disguising herself as a boy, and masquerading as "Charles". She wants to help her sister reunite with the man she loves but was not allowed to marry, and they encounter Cyn when they attempt to rob his coach.

Cyn decides not to let on that he knows "Charles" is in fact a woman, and convinces the ladies to let him help them in their quest. They go off on a road trip, pursued not only by the ladies' father's men, but also their unscrupulous brother-in-law, who wants to get his hands on Chastity's sister and the baby. Chastity falls for the charming and roguish Cyn pretty fast, but is known in society now as "notorious" and knows that a powerful Malloren would never be allowed to marry a fallen woman like herself. While Cyn finds Chastity attractive, he's not really looking for a wife, being a dedicated soldier and all, but as their journey continues, he becomes determined to make her his, no matter what the cost.

When Jo Beverley died in May this year, there were a lot of very touching obituaries for her, and I had to look through Goodreads to check if I'd ever read one of her books. It turns out that, yes, I had, but I had very little recollection of the book. She wrote more than forty novels and a number of novellas during her career and it felt like a suitable tribute to read one of her novels in memory of her. Most romance sites seemed to highlight My Lady Notorious as a good place to start and one of her best works.

Now, the book was originally published in 1993, which means that there will probably be tropes that may feel dated or troubling to the modern romance reader. The Ware girls father was just unrepentantly bad and awful, really, there was absolutely nothing redeeming about him at all. Now, in the late 1700s, it was perfectly allowed for men to teach their female relatives like chattel, but a lot of romance writers still don't strive for quite such realistic assholery in the menfolk. Chastity spends most of the book in one disguise or another, and there is a truly troubling section where she dresses up as a masked courtesan at a raucous house party/orgy and in short order is siezed and kissed by her own brother (ew!), semi-molested by another party goer, seduced by Cyn and later also full on snogged by his older brother Rothgar (who later totally recognises her and seems totally fine with the fact that he's been pawing his younger brother's intended - just no). That whole bit - not cool.

While a lot of this book is very entertaining, and I always like a good cross-dressing story, Chastity's refusal to reveal her true identity (or Cyn's refusal to just tell her he's known that she's a woman all along) goes on for far too long. In the latter half of the book, Cyn is also sort of pushed to the side, while Rothgar sort of takes over everything and is the one who actually sorts everything to a satisfying end, while Cyn is sent off on various errands, absolutely playing second fiddle rather than being particularly heroic. I get that Beverley probably wanted to set Rothgar up as incredibly formidable, but when he spends more time with the heroine in the latter half of the book than the hero himself does, the reader might get confused about who the lady is actually meant to end up with.

As there are so many other enjoyable romance series out there, I'm not entirely sure that I will be seeking out more of the Malloren books. It's fun to read something from the Georgian period rather than the more common Regency era of historical romance, but some of the romances written in the 90s just have too many tropes I don't particularly enjoy. I don't regret reading this one, but may wait to seek out more of the late Ms. Beverley's books.

Judging a book by its cover: I'm assuming this is the original cover for the e-book version and as romance covers go, it's neither particularly remarkable or hilarious, like many of the classic romance covers are. Plain background, fancy velvet pillow, golden masquerade mask. As masks and fancy dress features in the book more than once, I can't fault the publishers for this decision. It's certainly a lot better than the original cover of the mass market paperback, where none of the protagonists look as described and I think Chastity may be part mermaid.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read. 

#CBR8 Book 57: "Doomsday Book" by Connie Willis

Page count: 608 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Kivrin Engle is a young history student at Oxford University, whose dream it is to time travel back in time to the Middle Ages. You see, in the 2050s, historians have the option to travel back in time as a research tool, to truly discover what the past was like. Most historians travel back to the early to mid 20th Century, and there are certain periods that are deemed far too dangerous. The Middle Ages has generally been deemed one of them, due to the devastating effects of the Black Plague.

But Kivrin is to be sent back to the Oxford region around 1320, deemed to be safe enough, as the plague didn't arrive there until 1348. She's learned spinning and weaving, Latin, and Middle English. She's had a translator gadget installed and a slew of inoculations to protect herself. The history department have constructed an elaborate back story for her, to explain why a young woman would be travelling alone in a period when women were never left unattended. Despite the constant worry of her tutor, Mr. Dunworthy, she is determined to go on this brief two week adventure, to observe Christmas celebrations in the past.

Despite Mr. Dunworthy's fussing and protestations, Kivrin is sent back in time as planned, only to discover that book learning and reality are very different things. Instead of arriving close by a road, she is transported into a wood, and although the time travelling "net" that transported her, isn't supposed to let diseases through, she's clearly caught something nasty that's making her dizzy and disorientated. She is rescued by a kindly priest and taken into the household of the local gentry, and once she recovers from her illness, is desperate to figure how to get back to her pick-up point, so she isn't stuck in the past forever. As she's travelled back to the right time of year, it takes her a while to realise that she's not in 1320 after all, but that something has gone badly wrong, and she is in fact, going to witness first-hand the ravages of the Black Plague in England in 1348.

Mr. Dunworthy worries terribly for Kivrin, and once the technician who set her coordinates in the past collapses with a high fever after gasping that "Something is wrong!", he is even more frantic. Dunworthy and his doctor friend Mary Ahrens (who gave Kivrin all her inoculations) are all too soon stuck in a medical quarantine, after the mysterious virus which knocked out the lab technician seems to be spreading with worrying speed and more and more people succumb. Having to work out the logistics of how to house, feed and accommodate people stuck in Oxford during the quarantine and figuring out where the virus originated from becomes more of a priority, but Dunworthy still doesn't stop trying to figure out what has happened to Kivrin. He's determined to get her fetched home safely, no matter what time period she ended up.

I don't read a whole lot of science fiction, but when it's the topic of choice for the Cannonball Read book club, I couldn't very well refuse to join in. As a historian myself, with a particular interest in the Middle Ages, a book in which historians actually have time travel at their disposal seemed like it really was designed to appeal to me, so I purchased the book and set to reading. It's a big book, which starts off slow with a lot of minute details about the preparations to get Kivrin sent off, and then pretty much alternating chapters following Kivrin in the past and Dunworthy in the future. I can see how the book is meant to show us that even with so many centuries of distance, people in general haven't changed all that much and a crisis situation involving a disease epidemic brings out the worst of the crazy and fear in some, while others knuckle down and deal with the realities with patience and compassion.

Even though it was slow in places, and nothing much of anything happened (for a while at least, before all the dying started), I really liked the meticulous descriptions of the Middle Ages and Kivrin's observations there. It was, as they say, relevant to my interests. The bits where Dunworthy is stressing around Oxford, trying to locate the director of the history department or other people by phone or having to deal with the logistics of housing and feeding a bunch of people stranded in the city during the quarantine was less exciting.

Quite purposefully, Willis has a lot of parallels in the narrative, intending to show us, that despite the great differences, there are also similarities between the past and the future. In both time periods, there is a plot moppet who varies between being quite engaging and dreadfully annoying. In 2058, that child is Mary Dunworthy's great-nephew Colin and in 1348, it's Agnes, the youngest daughter of the family Kivrin is staying with. There are people reacting with fear, suspicion and panic in the face of disease and there are people who will work themselves ragged to care for people, without any sort of praise or personal reward. Even in the face of terrible tragedy, like a disease epidemic, most people will be concerned with their own petty goings-on, oblivious to the bigger picture.

I do not think this book needed to be 600 pages long. Far too much of this book involved people not locating others by phone (when predicting the future, Ms. Willis did not anticipate mobile phones or the internet), waiting around for phone calls, being deeply concerned about the availability of toilet paper and eggs, Kivrin frantically trying to get back to the drop point and just too many minute descriptions of mundane events that didn't really further the plot.

I had originally rated this book 4 stars, but in the weeks since I finished it (yes, I'm once again WAY too far behind on my reviews), what I remember most are the boring bits that frustrated me, rather than the good bits that entertained me, and as a result, the book is being downgraded a bit. I'm sure it was a huge literary achievement in 1992 and it's won pretty much all the literary science fiction awards out there, but in 2016, it has dated quite a bit. If I haven't already gotten this across, it is rather dark and depressing book, and towards the latter half, the death toll is unrelenting and dispiriting, both in the Middle Ages and in the future Kivrin came from. The book has a happy ending, of sorts, but I have to wonder about the years of therapy Kivrin is likely to need after her ordeal.

Judging a book by its cover: Since this book came out in 1992, it's had a large array of covers. My edition is the 2012 edition from SF Masterworks, where they tend to have fairly simple and elegant covers. The simple sandy-beige background seems to imply a portal of sorts, with clock faces towards the upper right corner. The hooded person wearing a plague mask is clearly meant to invoke the time period Kivrin travels to, even though no one in the book ever wears such an outfit. The only thing that puzzles me is the stylistic inky cloud behind the person, which seems to be smoky versions of various tools and surgical instruments, really not relevant to the story at all.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read