Monday, 14 November 2011
Page count: 432 pages
Date begun: November 12th, 2011
Date finished: November 13th, 2011
In Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star, Jane Austen's most famous hero is not a repressed Regency gentleman, but the world famous guitarist and founder of rock band Slurry. He, his cousin Richard Fitzwilliam (on drums) and best friend Charles Bingley (lead singer and bass) are known for their wild partying, and seem unable to keep a support act for more than half a tour. They're about to embark on the biggest tour of their career, and need to find a new support act quickly. When they audition the girl band, Long Borne Suffering, featuring sisters Jane Bennett on vocals and bass, Lizzy Bennett on guitar and their best friend Charlotte Lucas on drums, they seem to have finally found what they're looking for.
Heather Lynn Rigaud takes the story of Pride and Prejudice and modernises it fairly successfully. Mostly, I think she took the characters of the original novel and gave them 21st Century personalities very successfully indeed. There's three separate couples who need to find their HEAs in this, and while I can totally see why a modernised version of the story needs to have sex in it, some of the sex scenes did seem a bit superflous, and got a bit repetitive after a while. A fun read, and a creative re-imagining of Austen's timeless classic, but again, I have to disagree with Publishers' Weekly that it was one of the best romances of the year. They clearly haven't read the same books I have this year.
Page count: 352 pages
Date begun: November 8th, 2011
Date finished: November 12th, 2011
I picked up this romance because it was voted one of the best of 2011 by Publishers' Weekly, and because claimed it was "Terminator meets My Fair Lady." It's a surprisingly fitting description.
Joan is sent back several hundred years into the past, in a last ditch effort by humanity to save the world from an apocalyptic reality where otherworldly demons are destroying them. She is a warrior, and has to find and kill the man who doomed the world, before he has the chance to open the portals that let the demons into our reality and lost control. Shortly after completing the magic ritual that sends her to 1888, she rescues nobleman Simon Grenville from two hellhounds, and thereby gains his trust. The hellhounds were sent by Alex Reynell, Simon's childhood friend, and just the man Joan has been sent to assassinate.
Simon cut all ties with his former friend once he discovered just how dark the magic Reynell was using was, and because he had Simon's sister Eleanor possessed by a demon. Simon has taken Eleanor to the country to recuperate, and to stem the tide of gossip. He's surprised to find a bleeding, leather-clad warrior woman in a stone circle, but has surprisingly little trouble believing her stories about a where humans are prey to demons and monstrous creatures. He agrees to help Joan stop his former friend, but in order to get her close to Reynell, they will need to turn her from a savage warrior woman with knives and guns and leather trousers to a genteel Victorian lady with a corset, long gowns and impeccable manners.
While there is absolutely a romantic aspect to the novel, I think the fantasy/sci-fi elements are stronger, and would absolutely classify this as fantasy/sci-fi first, romance second. The world building is very good indeed, both the descriptions of the horrific future that Joan comes from, and the Victorian world where some people dabble in actual magic. Reynell is a very convincing and creepy villain, unsuspected by most people, and you never doubt that Joan has good cause to want him dead.
Joan is a good heroine, and while a tough warrior chick, very vulnerable in her new environment, where she quickly realizes that what little research she and her allies were able to do, is pretty much useless, and she is like a fish out of water in many ways. Simon, while he's also the hero of the piece, feels more like a supporting character for a lot of the book. He's very nice, but is never really given the depth that Joan is, and as a result, their romance becomes a less interesting aspect of the book. While I enjoyed it, and the Terminator meets My Fair Lady thing is a spot-on description, I have to disagree with Publishers' Weekly about it being one of the best romances (or fantasy/sci-fi novels) of the year. I would rank several others I've read this year, including Heart of Steel and The Black Hawk, which I read in the last few weeks, as much better.
Page count: 336 pages
Date begun: November 6th, 2011
Date finished: November 7th, 2011
This book can be read as a stand-alone, but will read much better if you've read some of Joanna Bourne's previous novels in the Spymaster series, especially last year's The Forbidden Rose, where several of the novel's characters are introduced, and you get valuable backstory about this novel's main characters.
Sir Adrian Hawkhurst, head of the British Intelligence Service, opens the door his headquarters to find Justine DeCabrillac, former French spy, (who happens to be one of his childhood friends, his former lover and one of his fiercest enemies all wrapped up in one), bleeding to death on his doorstep. The dagger that stabbed her is one of his, and to make matters worse, she has been poisoned. Adrian is not about to let the woman he has loved for most of his life die, and as well as keeping her alive, he needs to find out who tried to kill her, why she ended up on his doorstep, and who is trying to frame him for her murder.
Much of the book is told in flashback, going back to the final days of the French Revolution, when Justine and Adrian, then a former London street rat known as Hawker, were children. They met when they were 13, Justine an agent for the French Secret Police, Hawker a fledgling spy for British Intelligence. While their friendship blossoms, they both know they are on opposite sides of a war, and can never truly become close. Justine gives her little sister to Doyle, Hawker's mentor, to raise, as she is eager that the girl escape the harsh and unforgiving life she herself has been forced into. Because of this, she runs into Hawker from time to time, when visiting her sister in secret, or on missions for France. The two become lovers, trusting each other despite their opposing loyalties.
The framework story takes place in 1818, after Napoleon is defeated, and imprisoned. France and England are no longer at war, and Justine has retired from her life of international intrigue. She's opened a shop in London, and for three years, Adrian has known where she is, but they have never approached each other. Now, finally seeing a chance to win her, once and for all, he needs to figure out why someone is intent on destroying them both, and convince Justine to stay with him for the rest of their lives.
I've read all of the books Joanna Bourne has in print, and this, her fourth in the Spymaster series, is by far my favourite. It helps that Adrian, as a supporting character in the other books, has more or less stolen every scene he is in. Yet with such high expectations, there was every chance that this book would turn out to be a huge disappointment. I'm so glad it actually surpassed my expectations. Justine and Hawker's romance is epic and all the more satisfying because they are separated for so long, and have to work so hard to reconcile their differences and find their happy ending.
Sunday, 13 November 2011
Page count: 304 pages
Date begun: November 4th, 2011
Date finished: November 4th, 2011
Alanna of Trebond has defeated her enemy, the sorcerer Duke Roger, and also attained her life's goal. She is now a female knight, but a lot of the court were not pleased that she had masqueraded as a boy for the past eight years, and she feels that it may be best if she gets away from court for a while. She takes Coram, her faithful man-at-arms with her, and rides south, where she is soon adopted into a tribe of Bazhir tribesmen. After a series of complications, she also becomes the tribe's shaman, and cannot leave on further adventures until she has trained at least one replacement for the tribe. She sets out to train three youngsters with magical abilities, one hot-headed boy and in break with tradition, two girls.
Having finally achieved what she has worked for her entire life, becoming a knight, Alanna is very taken aback when Prince Jonathan comes to see her and proposes marriage. Can she give up her dreams of fighting, glory and knighthood to settle down and be a princess, providing heirs to the kingdom? There are also her feelings for George, King of the Rogues, to consider. Is he more to her than just a friend?
The Woman Who Rides Like a Man covers a shorter span of time than the previous two books in the Song of the Lioness series, but Alanna still has a lot of growing up to do. She's always been a bit afraid of her magical abilities, but when she becomes the shaman of the Bazhir tribe, she is forced to not only learn to control her own powers, but to teach others to use theirs, for the protection of the whole tribe. She has to determine what she wants for her life and future, and decide whether her love for Jonathan is strong enough that she can give up everything she ever dreamed of to become his wife. While I liked it, I think I preferred the previous two, but can see why this is an important installment in the series.
Page count: 288 pages
Date begun: October 31st, 2011
Date finished: November 3rd, 2011
Alanna of Trebond is still disguised as a boy, and has become the squire of her best friend, Prince Jonathan, who is one of the few that have discovered her true identity. At the beginning of the book, Alanna, receives a magical charm from the Mother goddess herself, and is told that she will need to learn to face her fears. Alanna fears three things - the Ordeal of Knighthood; Jonathan's uncle, the sorcerer Duke Roger, and love. She also acquires Faithful, a tiny black cat who seems to be able to communicate her directly.
The book follows Alanna from she's fifteen to eighteen, in the years before she (SPOILER) attains her knighthood. The kingdom goes to war, and as Jonathan's squire, Alanna fights at his side. She is abducted during the fighting, but uses her quick wits to escape, and manages to help solve the conflict once and for all. Yet even after the war, she remains restless. While she can't prove anything, she's convinced that Duke Roger is up to something, and that he means not only Prince Jonathan, but the King and Queen, harm. Yet she seems to be the only one who mistrusts him, and she has absolutely no proof of his treacherous nature.
As well as trying to protect Jonathan from real and perceived threats, Alanna trains towards her own knighthood. She still has to keep her identity a secret, but a few people close to her discover that she's a girl, and love starts becoming more of a distraction for her. As well as becoming a fighter, she starts wanting to explore a feminine side a bit more, and with the help of her friend George's mother, she learns to dress like a young woman, do her hair and learns the courtly manners of a Lady, not just a knight. The book is just as exciting as the first, and Alanna's development into adulthood, her battle to prove Duke Roger's evil, and her first love, are all things that keep the reader interested.
Page count: 320 pages
Date begun: November 1st, 2011
Date finished: November 2nd, 2011
This is the second book in Meljean Brook's Iron Seas series, and while it can be read as a stand alone, a lot of the world building is established in the first book, The Iron Duke, as well as the first encounter of the protagonists of this book, so it's definitely better if you read that one first. Also, while the covers for these books are beyond awful, I promise that they are actually REALLY REALLY good. It's why I buy them as e-books, so I can avoid embarrassment on public transport.
Yasmeen is the legendary mercenary captain of the airship Lady Corsair, and refuses to cede authority to any man. When adventurer and explorer Archimedes Fox tried to threaten her and take control of his airship, she threw him over the side, into waters teeming with zombies. Now she has to tell his sister, the woman who's made him famous writing about his adventures, that Fox is most likely dead. As Yasmeen also killed the woman's father, she is not really looking forward to the encounter.
I'm spoiling very little by revealing that of course Fox is only mostly dead. He survived the horde of zombies, and now needs to get the very valuable da Vinci sketch he left on the Lady Corsair from Yasmeen, so he can pay off an old acquaintance and hopefully no longer be trailed around the world by assassins. He doesn't mind at all that Yasmeen killed his father in the past, he's grateful, frankly, and now feels that she would be the perfect woman for him to fall in love with. Having had his emotions smothered and blunted under Horde control, he's now determined to live life to the fullest and feel every emotion at its strongest, and he believes loving Yasmeen and probably having his heart broken by her would be a glorious adventure. As they need to travel through Europe together, avenging the deaths of her airship crew and trying to reclaim his stolen sketch, while looking for treasures and running from zombies, falling in love with the temperamental mercenary shouldn't prove too difficult.
The Iron Duke first established the world of Brook's Iron Seas - a Victorian era where the Mongol hordes took over huge amounts the world with their advanced technology, enslaving people with the use of nanobots in their blood stream. The oceans are filled with giant armor plated megalodons and krakens, much of Europe and parts of Africa are teeming with mindless zombies. Having been trained as a warrior, Yasmeen learned the hard way that most men could not be trusted, and felt threatened by her independence, self-sufficiency and strength. While her former lovers would desire her, they could not accept that she held the highest authority on board her own ship, and frequently tried to dominate her in front of her crew. Archimedes Fox is not such a man. He's attracted to Yasmeen because she is strong and capable and could quite possibly kill him if he so much as looked at her the wrong way. He's a thrill seeker and adventurer, and getting the dangerous and deadly Captain Corsair into bed would be his greatest achievement. He has no wish to outrank her on a ship, he just wants to be with her.
A lot less angsty and grim than the previous Iron Seas novel, Heart of Steel is an adventure romp. There are kidnappings, sneaky attempts at poisoning, witty banter, double crossings, explosions, bar fights, revenge quests, adventure, zombie attacks, huge amounts of sexual tension (the couple don't do anything but throw amazing quips at each other until the latter half of the book, they don't even kiss until the last quarter or so). I think I actually even preferred it to the Iron Duke, and can't wait until the next one comes out.
Page count: 240 pages
Date begun: October 31st, 2011
Date finished: October 31st, 2011
Alanna of Trebond doesn't want to go to a convent and learn magic, as per her father's wishes, she wants to become a female knight. Her brother Thom has no aptitude for fighting, and is better at magic than her, so when she proposes that she disguise herself as a boy, and they swap places, he has no complaints. Alanna convinces their man-at-arms to go along with the plan, and arrives in the capital as Alan of Trebond. She begins training as a page at the royal court, and makes both friends and enemies within her first few weeks there.
Among her friends, Alanna can count George, King of the Thieves, and Jonathan, the heir to the throne. None of them know her secret, but are impressed with how hard young Alan trains at fighting and scholarship. She gets through several years without anyone discovering her true identity, but when Jonathan becomes gravely ill, she may have to risk everyone finding out in order to heal him.
It's a great book, with a strong, determined and loyal protagonist, who risks her reputation to achieve her dreams of becoming a female knight. She's smaller and weaker than her fellow pages, and therefore has to work twice as hard to prove herself worthy. She's bullied by older, stronger boys, but refuses to let her friends fight for her, and figures out a solution on her own. When she breaks her right arm, she teaches herself to fight almost as well with her left. She constantly has to worry about others discovering her secret.
As far as I can tell on the internet, Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness books were a beloved fantasy series that shaped the adolescent years of many a young reader of both sexes. I never read them as a teenager, but can absolutely see why they are so adored. Alanna: The First Adventure has 524 five star reviews on Amazon, many from readers who discovered the books at a young age, and barely a negative review to be found. I wish I'd read the book when I was younger, but am very glad to have discovered the series now.
Page count: 240 pages
Date begun: October 27th, 2011
Date finished: October 30th, 2011
Sarah Wendell, also popularly known on the internet as Smart Bitch Sarah, is the co-founder of the romance blogsite Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, which is one of several websites I discovered a few years ago, which helped me rediscover my love of romance as a genre. Readers of my book blog will know that I read a LOT of it, and Sarah Wendell, in this book, as well as in her previous novel, Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels, explains why it's such a hugely popular genre with women (and men) around the world.
Through interviews with a number of romance novelists, as well as countless readers, in the US and elsewhere, Wendell looks at why romance is such a widely selling genre, and why readers keep coming back to romance, even when it's one of the most maligned genres out there. She points out that most of the readers are not frustrated housewives or single, crazy cat-ladies, and that romance novels, rather than giving you a skewered view of real life romance and relationships, might actually better prepare you better for marriage and partnership than one might think. Women who read romance don't want to be abducted by a kilt-wearing Duke with a mullet, glistening chest and a kilt, but they enjoy reading about him, and when reading romance novels, they get an idea of what works for them in relationships, and what absolutely doesn't. Seeing the heroine keep making stupid relationship mistakes and wanting to reach into the book to slap her, might make one less inclined to make the same mistake.
EIKAL is a very well researched and wittily written book which should be read by anyone who enjoys the romance genre, and even more importantly, by those who are dismissive of it, and its readers, so they can discover that romance is not any trashier than most fantasy, sci-fi, suspense or crime novels out there.
Page count: 432 pages
Date begun: October 24th, 2011
Date finished: October 26th, 2011
Princess Elisa is married off to the king of a neighbouring country on her sixteenth birthday, in part to strengthen a military alliance. She's overweight and insecure and constantly feels inferior to her older, clever sister, and figures that the only reason she's the one marrying the king is because because she is this generation's "Chosen One". Elisa has a gemstone in her navel, a God-stone, that marks the bearer as having a great or significant task in their future. Elisa's lived a sheltered life, is nervous about being married off to a handsome man, and sent to his kingdom, far away from home. Her only comforts are food and books.
When Elisa arrives at her new home, she realizes that not only does her husband have a mistress, he's kept his new marriage and his alliance with Elisa's father a secret, even to his closest advisors. She soon discovers that, though her husband may be handsome, he's not necessarily a brave or decisive man. He neglects his son, and clearly tries to avoid confrontations, as much as possible. Elisa also discovers that nearly everyone in her new homeland knows much more about the God-stone than she, and that her sister and father, and pretty much all the people she's ever counted on and trusted, knew about the many prophecies regarding the Chosen One. Suffice to say, this doesn't make her feel any better about herself, or her murky future task.
Elisa's life changes dramatically when she is kidnapped by a small band of resistance fighters. She is taken on a long trek across the desert and held in a tiny border village, where the people are constantly ravaged by the ongoing war, without any help being sent from the king in the capital. The resistance group knows that Elisa has the God-stone, and hopes that she will be able to save them from certain death. How can Elisa, with her insecurity, book learning and inexperience, rise to the occasion and fulfill her destiny?
Girl of Fire and Thorns is the first book in what I'm assuming will be a trilogy (aren't they all these days, or longer?), but works perfectly well on its own, with a self-contained story. It's a great young adult book, as it provides a great role model for young women in Princess Elisa. While she starts out as obese and insecure, it's clear to the reader that she's a good and loyal person, and while she's hard on herself, she never wallows in self-pity for long, and she tries to make the best of the situations she finds herself in. She finds herself in a variety of dangerous situations over the course of the book, and never discovers hidden super powers, but shows incredible, realistic bravery in that she faces her challenges square on, refusing to run away or sacrifice others to save herself. Elisa is by no means perfect, but she's been raised to serve her people, and she knows that many of the bearers of the God-stone died either before or while they fulfilled their destiny, and she's determined to do her duty, even if it scares the heck out of her and may mean her death.
There's a supporting cast of great characters, too, who help fill out the story. Elisa's nurse, Ximena, is especially good. The plot has some surprising twists, and takes the "Chosen One" trope from classic fantasy in interesting directions. I will be looking forward to the sequels of this one.
Page count: 422 pages
Date begun: October 23rd, 2011
Date finished: October 23rd, 2011
"Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well."
These are the opening words of A Daughter of Smoke and Bone and from the various rave reviews I'd read from the book, I thought I had some idea what to expect from the book. I didn't. Yes, this book is paranormal fantasy, and it's certainly partly geared towards a young adult audience, but it absolutely isn't Twilight or The Vampire Diaries or Vampire Academy or Wicked Lovely or any number of other successful romantic fantasy novels for teens. It's so much more, and I'm not even sure I can do it justice in a review - but I'll try.
17-year-old Karou is an orphan, living in Prague and attending an art college. Her friends know that she's secretive, and exotic, with her bright blue hair and tattoos, and they enjoy the wonderful creatures she draws on her ever-present sketchpad and the fanciful stories she tells about the places she supposedly visits in her spare time. They don't know that all her stories are true. When not being an art student, Karou runs errands for Brimstone, the seemingly monstrous creature who raised her, together with a host of other chimaera, half humanoid, half beast beings who have always been there for her, but refuse to tell her where she's actually from. Brimstone trades teeth from humans and every sort of animal known to man for wishes that can grant pretty much anything if they're big enough, and Karou has been all over the globe (the magic door in Brimstone's shop can take her anywhere) fetching everything from elephant tusks to snake fangs for him.
Lately, when she's off on her errands, she's noticed burned handprints over the doorways she uses to get back to Brimstone. She also has an encounter with a beautiful, but terrible angel, who tries to kill her when he realizes that she works for Brimstone. Desperate to figure out what is going on, Karou tries to spy on Brimstone when he walks through another door in his chambers, and she discovers a whole other world, but before she really gets a chance to explore, Brimstone catches her and throws her out. Before she has time to go back and beg his forgiveness, one of the tiny creatures who works for him, ends up at her window, dying of burns. The doorway to Brimstone's is on fire, and Karou is cut off from the only family she has ever known. When she encounters Akiva, the vengeful angel again, she no longer knows what to think, but it seems he might hold the answers to who she really is, and what has happened to her loved ones.
There is a love story in A Daughter of Smoke and Bone, where mortal enemies are inexplicably drawn to one another, and the romance was enough to take my breath away. There is also masterful storytelling and Laini Taylor does an amazing job with the world building. It helps that Prague, the initial location for the book, is a magical place even before you introduce paranormal elements. This was the last book I read during my Read-a-thon, and you'd think I'd be tired after reading for most of a weekend, but I couldn't put the book down.
Karou is a wonderful protagonist, mysterious, independent, inquisitive, strong and brave, yet also clearly a 17-year-old, who's not always nice, but can use the small wishes she gets in Brimstone's shop for petty things, like giving a girl she's jealous of a constant mono-brow, or giving her ex-boyfriend an itch in a really inconvenient place while he's nude modelling. She also uses her wishes for silly, frivolous things like turning her hair permanently blue, or removing tattoos she got on impulse. She's searching for the truth about her origins, not really happy when Brimstone and his associates keep them from her. However, when she finally does discover the truth about who she is, and where she came from, she understands why they kept the truth from her.
I don't want to say much more about the plot, because there are several twists and turns that should be not be spoiled. Readers should be aware that the story is by no means complete, and it ends on a big and emotionally gutting cliff hanger, which when I first put the book down made me like parts of it less. However, nearly a month after finishing the book, I'm still thinking about it all the time, and wanting desperately to find out what happens next. So I'm just going to recommend the book to as many people as I know, making sure they also read the book, and can share the painful wait for the next installment with me.
Sunday, 6 November 2011
Page count: 432 pages
Date begun: October 22nd, 2011
Date finished: October 22nd, 2011
Unclaimed is the second book in the series of the Turner brothers, the first brother's story was told in Unveiled. While this book can be read completely independently, there is back story about the hero, Mark in the previous book, and his story has more resonance if you start the series at the beginning.
Sir Mark Turner was knighted by Queen Victoria because of the book he wrote encouraging chastity. He is London's most sought after bachelor, and followed by misty eyed young maidens and eager reporters everywhere he goes. Sick of the attention, and the impression everyone has of him, Mark seeks refuge in the village where he grew up.
Jessica Farleigh is a courtesan, and desperately wants enough money to free herself from ever having to charm another patron. When a former lover offers to pay her to tarnish Sir Mark's reputation, she's happy to oblige, but she's on a strict time limit. What she thought was going to be simple, as all the men she's ever encountered were huge hypocrites, turns out to be quite the challenge. Sir Mark doesn't just preach chastity for gentlemen, he believes his own teachings. Yet he is instantly smitten with Jessica, believing her to be a widow fallen on hard times, and enjoys how vastly different from the prim, young virgins who normally get paraded in front of him.
While a virgin, and believing a man should control his desires, Mark doesn't deny the attraction he feels towards Jessica. He freely admits that he lusts for her, he just doesn't intend to act on any of the desires he feels. He's a good and honest and principled man and a very interesting hero in a romance. Jessica starts out detesting Mark, who seems to have everything handed to him on a platter, yet as she gets to know him, she realizes the reasons for his principles, and having to seduce him and discredit him in order to gain her own freedom and happiness gets harder and harder.
While not quite as engrossing as Unveiled, Unclaimed is still a very enjoyable read, and I like that Milan takes the time to really flesh out her characters. They're not just stock characters, they are complex and multi-faceted and all her characters TALK to each other. So many romances are hampered by situations that seem easily resolved if the main characters just communicated more, and that's never the case here. Milan's next book is about the third Turner brother, intriguingly named Smite, and I'm looking forward to reading it.
Page count: 416 pages
Date begun: October 22nd, 2011
Date finished: October 22nd, 2011
Sam Vimes has been dragged away from the job he loves as the Commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch by his well-meaning wife, Lady Sybil, who feels he should get some air and familiarise himself with the estates they own. It doesn't take long before Vimes discovers a dead body and that all manner of foul play and injustice can take place in the idyllic country side, just as much as in the city. Determined to find the killer and set right those things that are wrong, he also needs to see if he can get his hands on a decent bacon sandwich, and possibly find some elephant dung for his precocious son to examine.
While always enjoyable, some Discworld novels are better than others. This is not one of Pratchett's best, and while he takes familiar characters out of their normal haunts, so that they can discover new things about themselves and others, too much of the plot of Snuff felt like a retread of previous novels in the series. In this book we learn that goblins are people too, Sam Jr is obsessed with poo because he is a small boy, and we are Vimes is and always will be a driven police man, and strongly dislikes being a Duke. His manservant is all sorts of awesome, too. Glad he got more to do in this one. Sadly, Pratchett has Alzheimer's, and while I hope he still has excellent and brilliant and original books in him, I'm not sure how many more he is capable of creating.