Sunday, 23 November 2014
Rating: 4 stars
Once again, I'm going to make things easier for myself, by using a blurb:
Justine knows she's going to die. Any second now.
Justine Jones has a secret. A hardcore hypochondriac, she's convinced a blood vessel is about to burst in her brain. Then, out of the blue, a startlingly handsome man named Packard peers into Justine's soul and invites her to join his private crime-fighting team. It's a once-in-a-lifetime. With a little of Packard's hands-on training, Justine can weaponize her neurosis, turning it outward on Midcity's worst criminals, and finally get the freedom from the fear she's always craved. End of problem.
Or is it? In Midcity, a dashing chief of police is fighting a unique breed of outlaw with more than human powers. And while Justine's first missions, one against a nymphomaniac husband-killer, are thrilling successes, there is more to Packard than meets the eye. Soon, while battling her attraction to two very different men, Justine is plunging deeper into the world of wizardry, eroticism and cosmic secrets. With Packard's help, Justine has freed herself from madness - only to discover a reality more frightening than anyone's worst fears.
November's main pick for Vaginal Fantasy is a bit of a slow starter, and I found myself actually wishing for a bit more exposition in order to establish the world in which these books take place. The concept of the trilogy is so clever, though, and I was very quickly hooked, to the point where I couldn't stop after the first book (which is quite frequently the case with the VF books), but read the whole series in less than a week.
The books are set in Midcity, an urban fantasy city that reminds me a lot of Chicago. There are some people with special powers, known as highcaps, who can do everything from move objects with their minds, manipulate matter, invade people's dreams or psychologically manipulate their victims. There are some who suggest that the highcaps are just an urban legend, but as more and more people are dying from bricks flying out of nowhere, it seems very likely that highcaps exist and are very dangerous. Midcity is in the midst of a crime wave, and handsome new police chief Otto Sanchez seems to be the only one willing to try to make a change.
Justine is not a highcap, she's a neurotic young woman whose mother died of a particular kind of aneurysm, called a vein star, and Justine is convinced this is what's going to kill her too. She gets panic attacks at the most inconvenient moments and has spent a small fortune going to doctors and the emergency room when she's convinced she's near death. It's putting serious strain on her relationship with her boyfriend, who just wants her to get over her irrational fears. So when she meets the mysterious Packard while at a Mongolian restaurant and he claims that unless she accepts his help, her fear is leading her on a rapid path into crippling insanity. He says he can teach her to channel her fears into other people, using it as a weapon to destabilise them. Justine scoffs at this idea, but can't quite put the idea out of her mind. She returns to the restaurant, and Packard introduces her to some of the other Disillusionists who work for him. He has a secret, private group of vigilantes, who use their powers to psychologically bring criminals towards rock bottom, forcing them to change their ways and minds. They can channel rage, ennui, addiction, gambling problems and the like and Packard thinks Justine could be an invaluable asset because of her health fears.
Once the Disillusionists "zing" their worst impulses into their victims, they themselves are free of them for up to a month and feel great as a result. However, according to Packard, they can't just go around channelling their fears or rage or cravings into anyone, or the psychic backlash could kill them. Packard is a highcap with unique psychological insight into everyone he meets and this allows him to see exactly how they can be broken down, or whether they can. He alone also seems immune to the "zings" of the various Disillusionists, allowing them to channel even when there isn't a suitable criminal that needs taking down. This allows him to show Justine just how good it can feel when she gets rid of her crazy health fears. She agrees to help him, as she is loving the normal life she is suddenly able to enjoy with her boyfriend, free of anxiety and stress, but she is only intending to do it short term, not comfortable with the moral implications of psychologically attacking people, even criminals.
Then she discovers that Packard is quite ruthless in achieving his goals. One of the other Disillusionists is surprised when Justine claims she's only part of their little team for a short while. It seems that once they start "zinging" others, their brain chemistry is gradually altered and if they suddenly stop, they're going to be overwhelmed by the very negative impulses they have gotten used to channelling and will end up in a vegetative state. Packard didn't tell Justine because he, very correctly, knew she'd never agree to join up if she knew. He isn't just destabilising criminals from the kindness of his heart, he makes a lot of money from people these criminals wronged, and his ultimate endgame is revenge against the individual who trapped him in the very restaurant Justine first met him. For more than eight years, Packard has been unable to leave the place. He's also unable to change the decor, or the menu and if things get destroyed, they're back the way they were before the very next day. Justine, who during her training has grown more and more attracted to Packard, is appalled and swears that she will figure out a way to be free of his manipulative control. She and the other Disillusionists can't really help themselves from trying to figure out exactly who trapped their boss, and how they can work together to free him.
In the second book, Double Cross, Justine and the other Disillusionists are working to rehabilitate a number of criminals that Packard's nemesis had kept locked away in various locations in the city, just like he had Packard. A trio of men nicknamed the Dorks (because former Chief of Police, now Mayor, Otto Sanchez, has forbidden the media from glorifying criminals with cool monikers, and all criminals written about in the media now have randomly selected humiliating names instead) are targeting highcaps, and mysteriously seem to be completely immune to all their powers, while able to identify them from normal humans. As both the men Justine feels drawn to are highcaps and thus in danger of being the next victim, she is feeling stressed and affected, even though she's able to channel her fears away. If Packard is killed by the Dorks, Justine and her dysfunctional friends will all eventually become drooling wrecks, so they work together to discover the true identies of the killers.
In the third book, Head Rush, Justine should be blissfully happy. She's finally free of Packard's control and doesn't have to channel her crippling fear into others to stay sane. She's attending nursing school (not just posing as a fake nurse like when she was a Disillusionist), she's engaged to the man of her dreams and the big hero of Midcity, planning the wedding of the year. Her best friends are going to be attending her at the wedding, so why is she plagued by constant headaches, vague nightmares, anxiety and an unsettling distrust for her beloved fiancee?
Midcity is under martial law, with a strict curfew being enforced because sleep-walking cannibals are roaming the streets at night. There are more dangerous criminals around than ever before, but Mayor Otto Sanchez is staunchly promising that things will change very soon. Thanks to the help of her reclusive, paranoid father and a few of her very loyal friends, Justine is able to unravel the mysteries surrounding her and figure out who her heart really belongs to.
Product warning from book three: This book contains high-speed rollerblade chases, a mysterious green dashboard ornament, a father of the bride in full hazmat gear and a delicious kebab.
I read a lot of urban/paranormal fantasy, and finding something a bit different from your kickass heroine with a sword/crossbow/magical powers/shapeshifting/shiny daggers is very refreshing. Justine is a wreck, a self-absorbed, neurotic hypochondriac who constantly lies to herself about what she really wants from her life. She's not stupid, but certainly no genius. She's not exactly a coward, but she's certainly no action heroine. She's stubborn, quick to anger, quite often petty and very easily persuaded. Yet she's a loyal friend, she's not afraid to speak her mind and she quite naturally just wants a normal life and a reliable guy who loves her.
Neither of the two men that she falls for in this trilogy are exactly stable, reliable, trustworthy sort of people. They are childhood friends and long time enemies, sometimes working together, but more often to destroy one another. They are dangerous, ruthless, powerful and extremely manipulative. One of the things I liked about the series is how many times the status quo is completely turned on its head. You think you know what's going on, and then there is a surprise twist, and another, and a third, until you're really not sure who you should be rooting for. Who is the hero and who is the villain? Is it ok to completely destabilise and rewrite people's psyche to turn them from a life of crime? Is it ok to keep people under house arrest without any verdict or trial to protect the majority of the populace? Just how far can one person go to impose their unique idea of justice and order? While I'm really not a huge fan of love triangles, this one was very central to the plot of the series and the fact that the reader, as well as Justine, honestly doesn't entirely know who to trust, or who she should choose, makes for interesting reading.
I liked that all the various Disillusionists were severely screwed up individuals who would have been crazy or worse if they hadn't joined up with Packard and learned how to channel away the worst of their impulses into others. They all make for an interesting supporting cast of characters, although some are given a lot more prominence than others. I loved the idea that someone crippled by drug or alcohol addiction, or chronic gambling problems, or debilitating anxiety and hypochondria could transfer this to someone else, and use it as a weapon. It's such a very unusual idea and one of the reasons I really just dropped everything else to read these books. While by no means flawless, the books were different and extremely entertaining. I suspect I will be checking out what else Carolyn Crane has written, and I hope her other works are as fun as these books.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Saturday, 22 November 2014
Rating: 5 stars
Ponyboy Curtis is an orphan. He lives with his two older brothers, Darry, who works construction and Sodapop, who dropped out of school to work in a garage to help support the family. Ponyboy and his friends are Greasers, kids with leather jackets and long, grease-slicked hair from working class backgrounds, often with a lot of trouble at home. Quite a few of the Greasers are part of gangs and having a criminal record isn't all that uncommon.
Ponyboy would much rather be a Greaser with no parents than a Soc, however. The rich, privileged society kids with their expensive cars and their letterman jackets, whose favourite pasttime is teaming up to beat up Greasers. Ponyboy is the baby of the gang, and clearly the one with enough smarts and academic prospects to have a chance of getting a good college scholarship and making something promising with his life. Darry had to give up on his college dreams when their parents died, and Sodapop would much rather work on cars than go to school.
While the clashes between the Socs and the Greasers can get pretty rough, they tend to be broken up before anyone can get badly hurt. One fateful evening, when Ponyboy and the badly traumatised Johnny Cade are attacked by a gang of drunken Socs who get particularly threatening, everything goes to hell. Ponyboy and Johnny go on the run, hiding out from the cops in a countryside church. When there's an unexpected fire, the boys get a chance to show that hoodlums from the wrong side of the tracks can make a real difference.
The Outsiders was one of my favourite books as a young teen. I can't entirely remember how old I first read this book, but I can vividly remember my reaction to it. I stayed up way later than was sensible, considering it was a school night to finish it, and I cried so hard that I couldn't see the pages anymore. Big, racking sobs and full on ugly crying. I remember being amazed that the author was only fifteen when she started writing the book. Is it a literary masterpiece? No, probably not, it's a fairly simplistic story but it's a compelling novel written by a teenager, in the voice of another teenager and having re-read it for the first time in about fifteen years, in English for the first time, I was still really strongly emotionally affected by it.
Unfortunately, I no longer remember exactly what I thought about the social situation of the various Greasers described in this book, nor what I felt about Ponyboy's strained relationship with his oldest brother. Now, as an adult, I probably see a lot of the relationships in this book from a very different perspective. I still cried a lot at certain sections of the book, but I suspect I cried the hardest at other parts than when I was a young teen. I can't objectively judge the quality of this book, because it's such a powerful piece of nostalgia for me, and will always be an emotional reading experience for me. My husband has never read the book, nor watched the film (which I'd love to rewatch now, having not seen it for about as long as since I last read the book), and I plan to read this out loud to him, as he, early in our relationship, read me The Hobbit and The Wind in the Willows.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Page count: 384 pages
In a world where magic exists and is passed down through generations, the most influential families in society are called Houses, and tend to breed selectively to create the most powerful magic users, known as Primes. Nevada Baylor is a struggling P.I in Houston, trying to make ends meet. Nevada's powers (which she keeps secret to avoid being exploited by one of the ruthless Houses) allow her to sense any time someone is lying. It comes in handy in her line of business, but isn't exactly going to make her a magical superstar, like Adam Pierce, the man she has been forced to locate.
A Prime pyrokinetic, Adam Pierce grew up in a life of luxury, before he decided to turn his back on his family, start a motorcycle club and becoming a radical. His fire can melt solid steel and he's the main suspect in a series of arsons, the last at a bank where a police officer got killed. The House that owns the Baylor family's mortgage needs someone to go on what is likely to be a suicide mission. Nevada could refuse, but it would mean not only losing the family business, but the warehouse, where they all live. Desperate, but resourceful, Nevada is able to do what a lot of others haven't. She tracks down Pierce and manages to peak his curiosity. She hopes this will keep her alive long enough for her to figure out a way to get him arrested.
Then she is drugged and abducted by Connor "Mad" Rogan, the head of House Rogan and a Prime Telekinetic, one of the most powerful magic users in the world. Formerly employed by the US Army and involved in decisive victories against the war of Mexico, he now has nicknames like the Hurricane and the Butcher of Mexico. Having agreed to help his cousin track down her son, who is implicated in the latest arson with Pierce, he has ascertained that Nevada is the easiest way to get to the man. She doesn't take well to being kidnapped, threatened and questioned, and doesn't hesitate to tell Rogan (who terrifies her as he tends to do most people) exactly how unhappy she is about his heavy-handed ways. He proposes that they join forces to catch the pyrokinetic, and Nevada reluctantly agrees, even though she suspects Rogan may turn to be more dangerous to her than Pierce, in the end.
This is the first book in Ilona Andrews' new paranormal series, Hidden Legacy. While there is a clear attraction between Nevada and Rogan and lots of the amazing banter that Andrews does so excellently, nothing is resolved in this book, the first in a trilogy. Because Avon usually focuses on romance, a lot of readers seem to be disappointed by the lack of romantic resolution in this book. A regular reader of their blog, I was expecting a setup book and that is what this is. Andrews writes the slow burn very well, as evidenced by their Kate Daniels series, where it also takes multiple books for the central romance to really develop.
Being a huge fan of ALL of their books (I don't care if they start publishing their shopping lists, I will pay money for them, frequently more than once), I was very excited about this release, and it didn't disappoint. I suspect I may even rate it a full five stars on a repeat read (which I plan to do in December). So much of what the Andrews team does so well can be found here. Fascinating world building, with the idea that much of the population possess magical powers to some extent, in lots of interesting variations. Great characters, both the protagonists and the antagonist - Andrews is fond of a charming anti-hero to pit against the main characters. Action, humour, romance, banter, suspense and entertainment.
Nevada is the main breadwinner for her family, living with her widowed mother (a former army sniper), her grandmother (who seems to have magic that allows her to be a super mechanic), her two teenage sisters and two male cousins (one of whom is a computer genius who helps her in the P.I. business). One of the things I love about Andrews' books is how well they write families. Kate starts out a hard-edged loner in Magic Bites, but finds an extended family in the Pack and her ward. Family is hugely important in all of the four Edge books and locating her lost family is one of the things driving Dina in Clean Sweep. Families who bicker and fight and may be at each others' throats, but who will unite against a common enemy and protect each other to the death. Nevada is clever, inventive and brave, but she's not exceptional at her job. She's not a total hardass like Kate or Cerise in Bayou Moon; if Nevada is in a life threatening situation, her first instinct is to run to save herself, not face the danger head on. She works hard, and without her, her family won't be able to pay the bills. Forced into an impossible situation, of taking on a suicide mission or have her entire family tossed out into the streets, Nevada does the only thing she can. But she's not happy about it, and dreams of the day when she can tell Montgomery House, the ones pulling her strings, to get lost. Over the course of the story, it's quite obvious that there is more to Nevada's powers than she's been told, and her mother and grandmother, while clearly having kept things from her, seem unaware of the true extent of Nevada's abilities.
As well as great and complex heroines, there tend to be good heroes in the Andrews' books. Mad Rogan is no exception, although it's clear that there's going to have to be a hell of a character arc over the next two books for Rogan to be a worthy match for Nevada. He's genuinely scary and can do terrifying things with his powers. He's insanely wealthy and not used to people saying no to him. He is quick to anger and kills without remorse. He finds Nevada very attractive and can't understand why she refuses to submit to his attempts at seduction. While his public persona is that of an uncaring, ruthless man, it's quite clear that there is a lot more depth to Rogan. With the exception of the epilogue, the entire story is told from Nevada's point of view and she doesn't see all that we, the readers see. While he is wealthy and Nevada finds him extremely sexy, she's fully aware that he is extremely dangerous and that a no-name nobody like her has no future with the head of House Rogan, the most powerful and influential of all the magical families.
Sadly, there is no release date for the next book in the series and now I have to wait impatiently for both more Kate books and more Hidden Legacy. I can't wait to see how the story will develop and suspect that while this is great, the sequels will be spectacular.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Pretty much exactly a year after his girlfriend Merrin Williams was found raped and murdered, Ignatius "Ig" Perrish wakes up after getting blackout drunk and discovers horns spouting from his forehead. He's not entirely sure they're not a hallucination at first, but when he discovers how people behave around him due to the horns, he realises that they are sadly all too real. Turns out the horns make everyone around him spill their deepest, darkest secrets. They confess to their most shameful wishes and desires and they bluntly tell Ig to his face what they actually think of him. Pretty much everyone in town is convinced that he murdered Merrin, and that it was only through the wealth and position of his parents that he got off without a trial. Ig faces harsh truths from the local priest, his new girlfriend, his grandmother and his parents.
The terrible compulsion from the horns allows Ig to not only stop deluding himself of what his life has become, but he eventually discovers who raped and murdered Merrin. He is determined to get revenge any way he can, and wants to use his demonic new powers to get it. But what if the murderer is the only one seemingly immune to Ig's new "gift"?
As well as the story of Ig, his horns and his quest for revenge, the book shows much of Merrin and Ig's relationship together, from before their first meeting until the bitter argument they had on the fateful night that Merrin was abused and killed. The many players in this revenge drama are introduced, all part of Ig's life from an early age. We see him meet Merrin and fall in love with her. We see him with his brother and his friends. The book cuts between the present and the past throughout, alternating from the horror of Ig's current situation with the privileged upbringing and past he had.
I normally don't read a whole lot of horror. I suspect that this year I have read more of the genre than in several of the past years combined. Because I really liked what I've read of Joe Hill's Locke and Key so far, and having discovered that this book was being adapted into a movie starring Daniel Radcliffe (say what you want, but the boy has been in a LOT of different things since he finished the last Harry Potter movie. He seems determined not to risk being typecast), I was intrigued, and when in need of some entertainment while on vacation in New York, I picked this up. Normally I hate movie tie-in covers, but the original cover was boring and ugly, and the non-mass market paperback was more than twice as expensive. There are limits to how much money I'm willing to spend on my light holiday reads.
Looking on Goodreads, I see that several other Cannonballers really loved this book. It's been very highly rated twice so far this year on the group blog. Unfortunately, it wasn't really my sort of thing. I think the way the book alternated between the mundane, almost boring at times and the gruesome was distracting and I kept wanting to reach into the book and slap some sense into Ig, because to me, it was obvious who the real killer was even before this is revealed. I also thought the book got more and more surreal towards the end, and am not thrilled with how the dramatic climax played out. I did like the slow reveal of some stuff (being extremely vague here so as not to spoil for anyone), and Merrin's last letter to Ig was very touching.
The film seems to have gotten more negative than positive reviews, with Vivian on Pajiba really hating it. As I thought the trailer made it look as if it really could go either way, I doubt I will be watching it. I also suspect that I will be donating the paperback to my school library.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Friday, 21 November 2014
#CBR6 Book 122: "The Lady Most Willing: A Novel in Three Parts" by Julia Quinn, Eloisa James and Connie Brockway
Rating: 4 stars
Taran Ferguson has decided that if left to their own devices, his two nephews are never going to get their act together and find suitable brides. So just before Christmas, he takes matters into his own hands, rallies his faithful retainers, rides over to the neighbouring estate where there is a house party at present and kidnaps the three likeliest young women. Only because it's dark and things got rather confusing, they end up with four ladies and one really rather pissed off Duke, who happened to be sleeping in the carriage the drunken Scotsmen stole to transport the kidnapping victims in.
Ferguson's nephews, the Earl of Easton (poetically named Byron) and the Comte de Rocheforte (Robin), who also happens to be Ferguson's heir, are both appalled. There is nothing they can do about returning the ladies, as a terrible snowstorm has ensured that everyone will have to stay put in the ice cold, drafty castle for at least three days until the road has cleared again. So we have a Laird, a Duke, an Earl and a Comte and very conveniently, there are also four young women. Lady Cecily Tarleton is the wealthy and beautiful daughter of the neighbouring estate and Ferguson seems very determined that one of his nephews chose her as a bride, as she comes with a generous dowry and has substantial social standing. She is, however, English. There are also the local heiresses, Fiona and Marilla Chisholm, the former pretty much doomed to become a spinster after her reputation was ruined when her erstwhile fiancee died, falling from her bedroom window (that Fiona had not invited him in the first place, let alone allowed him to touch her inappropriately in any way seems to be irrelevant to the local gossips). She's resigned to her fate by now and has determined to take her money and travel to exotic places. Her younger sister Marilla is terribly spoiled and a shameless flirt, revelling in the opportunity to find herself a titled match due to their sudden abduction. Miss Catriona Burns is the daughter of the local squire, swept up by accident. She knows that she has neither the dowry or the social status appropriate to make any sort of match with the men of the party, so she won't have to make an effort to impress anyone either.
Over the course of the next few days when the couples are trapped, unsurprisingly there are four convenient matches made. Normally, I would be very uncomfortable with the abduction, the forced matchmaking, the not one, not two, but four cases of insta-love that a story like this requires and the huge amounts of disbelief I would need to suspend to fully accept the developments in this story. Julia Quinn, Eloisa James and Connie Brockway (who is the only author of the trio whose books I have never read before) are excellent writers, however and because it's such a frothy, silly book that pretty much dares you to scoff at it, it sweeps you off your feet and charms you instead.
Fellow Cannonballer NTE reviewed this back in September, which is what made me remember that I bought it in an e-book sale way back when and had it buried in my Calibre library. Her review (I'm going to be terribly gender stereotyping here and assume that a reader of romance is a woman) made me dig it back out and I read it. It was a very quick read and I pretty much blazed through it. Naturally, because there are eight protagonists of a sort and they all have to fall madly in love with each other while snowed in at a freezing castle in the Scottish Highlands (it may actually be the Lowlands too, but that doesn't sound as fun, somehow), there isn't all that much time for a lot of character development. Each person tends to have one or two defining character traits and they don't muck around for long before falling into each other's arms. I did like how often it was pointed out that Ferguson's castle really was dreadfully drafty, difficult to heat, generally very shabby and not actually equipped to comfortably house so many unexpected guests in the style to which they are generally accustomed. That aspect of the book was very well done. Having enjoyed this book as much as I did, I was delighted to discover that this is actually the second collaboration from the three authors. I think I'm going to have to go seek out The Lady Most Likely as well.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Thursday, 20 November 2014
#CBR6 Book 121: "The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Get Pregnant" by Dan Savage
Audio book length: 7hrs 33 mins
Rating: 4 stars
I've been reading Dan Savage's Savage Love for years and years now, and when I'm in the mood for Podcasts (which I have to admit, I rarely am, I just can't seem to get into them, it puzzles me greatly), I often listen to his Savage Lovecast. He's generally quite open about himself, his life and his experiences, so I already knew that he was married and that they had an adopted child. My BFF Lydia recommended this audio book to me when I visited her in the States in early October, and as my husband and I are trying to get me pregnant, I figured it could be pretty topical.
In this book, Dan relates what happened when he and his then boyfriend (now husband, as far as I'm aware) decided to adopt a child together, at a time and a place where gay adoption was not always a popular choice. They used an organisation which arranged open adoptions, which means that the adoptive parents and the birth mother keep in contact after the adoption and agree on a schedule in which the birth mother can visit her child, should she choose to do so. Dan and Terry were the first gay men to successfully adopt through the agency they used.
The book is divided into three parts, chronicling the couple's decision process, the application stage, the waiting period where they were wondering if they'd ever get picked, followed by the period in which they got to know the birth mother of their child, a street punk (a girl who is voluntarily homeless) from Portland..Due to her history of drinking and recreational drug experimentation before she realised she was pregnant, there were possibilities for complications with the baby, and Dan and Terry had to consider carefully whether they wanted to adopt this young woman's child.
Dan manages to be very honest and personal, without the reader feeling as if they now know everything about him and his family. He deals with serious issues, but intersperses it with humorous anecdotes. Savage wrote the book in 1999, and as I knew full well from reading his columns and listening to his podcasts that he has a kid, there was never any element of suspense or surprise as to whether he and Terry would be successful in their adoption. It was a very interesting book, well narrated by Savage himself. I must admit that hearing him talking about several of the straight couples they met when trying to adopt, who had mostly all tried to go through all manner of fertility treatments before settling on adoption, made me a bit more worried about my own future, considering I'm already experiencing difficulties with conceiving. As adoption is a very slow, time consuming, not to mention extremely costly process in Norway, it is sadly unlikely to ever be an option for my husband and I. So I'm just going to have to hope that we have luck either the natural way or somewhat assisted by science.
Based on this book, I would absolutely be interested in checking out more of Savage's written work. He is just as charming and interesting when narrating his own audio book as he is on his podcast (and he generally speaks more slowly).
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Wednesday, 19 November 2014
Rating: 2.5 stars
Lady Alexandra Stafford is the only daughter of some nobleman or other (I can't be bothered to go back and check what her exact rank is). She has several tall and attractive brothers who delight in teasing her and generally try their best not to have to accompany her to society events during her first Season. She also has two best friends, Ella and Vivi. They were fairly interchangeable. All three are opinionated, bookish, not really all that interested in marriage and have known each other most of their lives.
Alexandra, annoyingly called Alex a lot of the book, has a mother determined to match make her and her brothers. They need good matches, but especially Alexandra, who finds dress fittings, balls and dinner parties dreary. When her brothers' best friend Gavin, who came into the title of Earl of Blackmoor when his father died suddenly, is convinced that there is foul play afoot and starts investigating his death, Alexandra and her friends insist on helping out. Alexandra also discovers that Gavin looks mighty fine in formal wear, and maybe balls aren't quite so dull if she can dance with him. How has she never noticed how attractive he is? Could it be that she's not as opposed to romantic love and marriage as she thought?
I love Sarah Maclean. I rate most of her historical romances very highly and am waiting with bated breath for the release of the final book in her Rules for Scoundrels series at the end of November. This young adult Regency romance was her first book and the only one I had yet to read. I'm sorry to say that I found it almost painfully dull in places. I'm amazed that only a year after she published The Season, which has uninteresting or plain non-existent characterisation, an incredibly predictable plot, heavy-handed exposition and a deeply uninspiring romance, there was Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake, the first volume in the Ralston trilogy, a book which seems as if it was written by a completely different person.
I can only assume that Maclean actually wrote The Season years before her other romances and spent some time honing her craft. I now consider her one of my very favourite historical romance writers and have re-read several of her books multiple times. This is not a book I will be re-reading. Frankly, it's a book I will try my very best to forget. I really wish I hadn't decided to be such a completist now. Still, having read this, her later romances are even more remarkable achievements. If this is what she started with, then I'm even more impressed with the skill she writes now.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.