Friday, 26 October 2012

93. "Eternal Pleasure" by Nina Bangs

Page count: 308 pages
Date begun: October 13th, 2012
Date finished: October 13th, 2012

This was the alt-book in Vaginal Fantasy Hangout in September, and due to the rather unusual subject matter, I felt compelled to check it out. As the e-book is currently unavailable, I ended up paying 5 times the cost of the actual book to have it shipped from the US, but it did entertain me, so I guess I don't mind too much.

There's a lot of paranormal fantasy and romance out there featuring shapeshifters of various kinds. I suspect it's the most common trope after vampires. The hero in this book, is a slightly different sort of a shapeshifter, hence the lovely ladies of VFH's enthusiasm, and my needing to read the book. But what is it actually about, you ask.

Apparently there is a battle between huge and powerful forces in the world, and the bad side, known among other things as the Lords of Time (and yes, there is a Doctor Who reference in the book!), whilst the good guys are the Gods of the Night. The leader for the Gods of the Night is called Fin (he has long, silvery sparkly hair and silvery eyes with hints of purple - my brain can't even fully visualize that, but boy, do I want to read whatever book he's the hero of). He leads the Eleven, who are souls who have been resting since dinosaurs roamed the Earth, and now have been placed in the bodies of super hot dudes. Who have to help Fin fight the various evil supernatural creatures that are the minions of the Lords of Time (just to make it more confusing, there's "good" vampires and werewolves too). If the Gods of the Night don't stop the baddies,humanity will be wiped out on the 21st of December 2012 - the exact date when the Mayan calendar ended!

Our hero in this book is Ty Endeka, who when he was last conscious, was a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Yeah, I kid you not. All of the Eleven were dinosaurs in their last incarnation (although it's suggested that that is not who they originally were, and this battle between good and evil has been going on a LONG time). They need help adjusting to the modern world, and can't drive cars, so they have sexy ladies to chauffeur them around (because who wants a dude to do stuff like that?).

His driver is Kelly Maloy, who when she's not making lots of money driving the hot, but clearly dangerous Ty around is a student of some sort (I don't remember the finer details - c'mon, I just wanted to get to the dino parts!). If the Eleven don't concentrate real hard, their inner dino-ness seems to affect everyone around them, and people tend to get twitchy when gigantic pre-historic predators are around (yeah, none of the hot dudes seem to have been herbivores, if there had been one,  I bet that guy would be the quiet, sensitive, nerdy one of the group). Anyways, Kelly is attracted to Ty, but also understands that he's not just your normal hot dude.

While the truth behind the Eleven is supposed to be kept secret, too much stuff happens over a short space of time for Kelly not to understand that there's a lot more out there that goes bump in the night than was dreamt of in her philosophy, and soon Fin has let her in on all the secrets, and conveniently Kelly is needed to help them defeat one of the evil lieutenants, boringly just called Nine (because there are Nine of them).

Over the course of the book, there are obviously a bunch of action sequences where the dino-dudes have to fight evil vampires and werewolves and such. I was disappointed to find that the Eleven don't actually shapeshift into actual gigantic dinosaurs, it's more like a big big dinosaur-shaped forcefield around each guy (which can still bite and rend and claw, so that's convenient). Also, at least one guy is a flying dinosaur, and one is one of those gigantic toothy water-based ones, which I liked a lot.

Naturally Kelly and Ty's attraction to each other is because they are each other's soul mates. The romance aspect of this book is not exactly the most compelling I've ever read. Nor is this ever going to be classified as great literature. But it was quite fun, it certainly offered something new in a genre where a lot of things are very samey and if it turns out that Nina Bangs (I do hope that's her real name) ever writes Fin's book, I promise to buy, read and review that too.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

92. "The Raven Boys" by Maggie Stiefvater

Page count: 496 pages
Date begun: October 13th, 2012
Date finished: October 13th, 2012

Blue Sargent lives in a household of psychics. Her mother's one, her aunt is one, and all her mother's friends. Sometimes their predictions are vague and non-specific, sometimes they are very accurate. Blue has known for as long as she can remember that if she ever kisses her true love, he will die. Until this summer, that hasn't been a problem. Blue knows boys are trouble, and the Raven Boys, the young men enrolled at the prestigious Aglionby Academy in town, are the most troublesome of all.

Every year, on St. Mark's Eve, Blue and her mother go to an abandoned graveyard at the outskirts of Henrietta to watch for all the spirits who will die in the next year. Blue normally can't see them, her power is that she enhances the psychic abilities of those around her, and it's her job to write down all the names of the ones her mother speaks to. This year, Blue goes with her aunt, and for the first time, she sees one of the spirits on the Corpse Road. Unfortunately, that means one of two things. Either the boy is her true love, or Blue is the one who killed him. The spirit said his name was Gansey, and he was dressed as one of the Raven Boys.

Richard "Dick" Cambell Gansey III, known to all his friends and acquaintances as Gansey, is completely unaware of Blue's vision, or even existence. He enrolled at Aglionby Academy in  Henrietta, Virginia because he is looking for the burial place of Glendower, a legendary Welsh king. With the help of his friends, Adam Parrish, Ronan Lynch and the mysterious Noah, he searches the town for evidence of ley lines and mystical artifacts.

Adam is a scholarship student at Aglionby, and only managing to keep his place there by holding down three different jobs. He's Gansey's best friend, but the difference in their backgrounds and financial situations create conflicts and complicated undercurrents in their relationship.

Ronan Lynch is one of three orphaned brothers, vicious as a wild animal and self-destructive to the extreme. Gansey and Adam do their best to keep him out of trouble, and from being expelled from the Academy. Noah lives with Ronan and Gansey, but seems strangely strangely quiet and distant from the others. He never eats anything when others are watching, and spends a lot of time on his own.

Having previously stayed far away from all Raven boys, Blue now needs to discover the truth about Gansey. Is he her true love? Did she cause his death? Is there any way she can prevent his spirit from ending up on the Ghost road? Can Blue and her family help Gansey and his friends in the search for Glendower?

Based on the blurb of the book, I was expecting something a bit different from what I actually got. First of all, for all the ominous talk about kissing and dooming boys, there is very little romance in the story. Blue is a very sensible girl, and fully aware that her family's predictions are nothing to be messed with. When befriending the Raven boys, it's not even Gansey she feels drawn to, at first, but Adam. Still, not wanting to tempt fate, Blue's not about to be kissing any boy, rich or poor.

Gansey and Blue do not get along at first, mainly because of a massive misunderstanding, and because they come from vastly different worlds. Gansey has never known a day of want in his life, and has always had huge amounts of money that he can buy whatever he wants with. He doesn't understand why Adam would rather work three jobs to go to the Academy and stay with his abusive father, rather than accept a loan from Gansey and stay with him and their other friends in the huge warehouse apartment off campus. He only wants what's best for those he loves, and is painfully aware that occasionally he insults people just because of his carelessness with money. Gansey has several reasons for wanting to find the missing tomb, Adam needs to find it because of the supernatural favour the finder is supposed to be granted. He needs to get out of his dead end existence, but he can't do it while relying on someone else - he has to know that he managed to get out while being beholden to no one.

Maggie Stiefvater has an amazing way with words, and I always have very high expectations to her books. I think that's why I was a bit disappointed with her previous book, The Scorpio Races. I want to love her books, and it's very difficult for me when I don't. This book was different from what I was expecting, but drew me in and enveloped me in the sort of magical worlds that I've come to expect from the author.

It is very clearly the first book in a series. There are story lines that are resolved, but also new ones that clearly need to be addressed in later books. The character of Ronan, who I've not really written much about in this review, but who is also a very interesting and complex character (say what you want, but Stiefvater is brilliant at creating fascinating people to read about), will clearly play a more prominent part in the next book, if the last page of the book is anything to go by.

The back of the book may suggest that this is a supernatural love story, but it's much more of a mystery, with a quest narrative thrown in. The friendships of the four Raven Boys, and the relationship of Blue to her family are central, and all really well depicted. The villain in the book could've been given better characterisation, and I never quite felt that the stakes were as high and dangerous as they were probably supposed to have been, but the book is very good indeed, and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

As this is both a mystery, and to a certain extent, a story where ghosts feature, I think it qualifies well for the R.I.P VII read.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

October Read-a-thon 2012: Hour eighteen


End of Event meme: 
1. Which hour was most daunting to you?

Without a doubt, hour fourteen, between 3 and 4 am, when I nearly nodded off three times. I did get a bit of a second wind, though, and keep going until 5 am, in the end.

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for the next year?

I can highly recommend both The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve Read-a-thon next year?

No, I think it's fine the way it is. Maybe someone could make sure the links to mini-challenges actually work, though. That'd be good

4. What do you think worked well in this year's Read-a-thon?

I'd picked a good selection of books, and because I kept checking the 24-hour Read-a-thon blog every hour, I kept myself motivated.

5. How many books did you read?

I managed to finish 4 books and one trade paperback of comics - so 5

6. What were the names of the books you read?

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Eternal Pleasure by Nina Bangs
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Batman: Time and the Batman by Grant Morrison and a bunch of artists

7. Which book did you enjoy most?
Probably A Wrinkle in Time, but The Raven Boys is a very close second.

8. Which did you enjoy least?

Time and the Batman, as it's really only a collection of linking stories from some Batman-comics I read ages ago, and some that I really want to get to

9. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?

I will absolutely take part in the next Read-a-thon, which I'm assuming will be sometime in spring. I love these things, and am so glad I've now completed three of them! I will obviously be a Reader.

Summing up of my Read-a-thon:
Hours awake and actually reading: 18 (includes some time off for eating and bathroom breaks)
Pages read in the last hour: 172 (yay for comics!)
Pages read in total: 1329  
Books completed:
The Raven Boys 
Eternal Pleasure
A Wrinkle in Time
Fun Home
Batman: Time and the Batman
Mini-challenges completed: 3



October Read-a-thon 2012: Hour seventeen

Reading now: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (only about a third of the book left)
Pages read in the last half hour: 103
Pages read in total: 1157
Books completed: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Eternal Pleasure by Nina Bangs
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Snacks consumed: Coke and chocolate chip cookies. Breakfast of champions

October Read-a-thon 2012: Hour sixteen (of which I read only half)

Reading now: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Pages read in the last half hour: 46
Pages read in total: 1054
Books completed: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Eternal Pleasure by Nina Bangs
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Snacks consumed: Orange juice

Mini-challenges completed: 3

October Read-a-thon 2012: Hour fifteen

Reading now: Nothing. Going to bed. Haven't decided what I will read tomorrow yet, but it may be comics
Pages read in the last hour: 93
Pages read in total: 1008
Books completed: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Eternal Pleasure by Nina Bangs
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Snacks consumed: None, was really just trying to stay awake

Mini-challenges completed: 3 - Most recent one - Bookmarks at Nisaba Be Praised

October Read-a-thon 2012: Hours thirteen and fourteen

Reading now: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle - it's a wonderful book, I wish I'd read it when I was younger
Pages read in the last two hours: 124
Pages read so far: 915
Books completed: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Eternal Pleasure by Nina Bangs
Snacks consumed: More Coke in attempts to stay awake, chocolate chip cookies
Mini-challenges completed: 3, as well as the halfway survey.

Am definately starting to feel sleepy. Will do my very best to stay awake until I finish the book, but then I suspect I'll have to go to sleep, and read more tomorrow instead. After all, Readathon doesn't end until 2pm here. 

October Read-a-thon 2012: Hour twelve - halfway!

Mid-event survey:
1. How are you doing? Sleepy? Are your eyes tired?

Getting a bit tired, but it helped that I got some fresh air a few hours ago. Should be good for a few hours yet, though.

2. What have you finished reading?

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Eternal Pleasure by Nina Bangs

3. What is your favourite read so far?
The Raven Boys

4. What about your favourite snacks?

The custard/cinnamon bun I had, it was delicious.

5. Have you found any new blogs through the readathon? If so, give them some love.

I have taken part in a few challenges, which I've linked to earlier, but I'd like to mention Fictionally Inclined, which I discovered during the April Readathon. I'm not sure if she's participating this time.

Reading now: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Pages read in the last hour: 76
Books completed: 2 - see above
Snacks consumed: None in the past hour. Getting hungry, though.
Mini-challenges completed: 3, as well as the halfway survey.

October Read-a-thon 2012: Hours ten and eleven

Reading now: Eternal Pleasures by Nina Bangs (so close to finishing now)
Pages read in the last two hours: 108 - had to go to the store to replenish snack supply
Pages read in total: 715
Books completed: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Snacks consumed: None
Mini-challenges completed: 3 - Most recent one - Bookmarks at Nisaba Be Praised


Saturday, 13 October 2012

October Read-a-thon 2012: Hour nine

Dinosaur romance!
Reading now: Eternal Pleasures by Nina Bangs (seriously, this is the funniest things I've read in ages
Pages read in the last hour: 69
Pages read in total: 607
Books completed: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Snacks consumed: None, but about to go to the shop before it closes to replenish my store of Coke and will probably pick up something sweet, as well. 
Mini-challenges completed: 3 - Most recent one - Bookmarks at Nisaba Be Praised

October Read-a-Thon 2012: Hour Eight

Reading now: Eternal Pleasures by Nina Bangs (still hilarious)
Pages read in the last hour: 35 (I had to have dinner, and it seemed polite to talk to the husband for a while)
Pages read in total: 538
Books completed: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Snacks consumed: A very tasty pasta dish with spicy tomato sauce and scallops. Was so hungry I completely forgot to take a photo of it, though. 
Mini-challenges completed: 2

October Read-a-thon 2012: Hour seven

Reading now: Eternal Pleasures by Nina Bangs (lots of fun so far, and the sexy leader guy with the silver hair made a Doctor Who reference!)
Pages read in the last hour: 47 (what can I say, I needed a bit of a break)
Pages read in total: 503
Books completed: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Snacks consumed: More Coke. Dinner soon, though. Pasta with scallops. It smells delicious.
Mini-challenges completed: 2


October Read-a-thon 2012: Hour six

Reading now: Eternal Pleasures by Nina Bangs
Pages read in the last hour: 83
Pages read in total: 456
Books completed: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Snacks consumed: None. Starting to think about dinner though.
Mini-challenges completed: 2


October Read-a-thon 2012: Hour Five

Reading now: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater - almost done, it's getting very exciting. 
Pages read in the last hour: 89
Pages read in total: 373
Books completed: None so far
Snacks consumed: The muffins and custard/cinnamon bun pictured in the last entry. 


October Read-a-thon 2012: Hour the fourth

Reading now: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater - over halfway done
Pages read in the last hour: 76
Pages read in total: 284
Books completed: None so far
Snacks consumed: Not much in the last hour, but as I'm getting peckish, and the husband isn't feeling well (suspect dinner will involve takeout), I'm digging out the savoury muffins and my fancy custard and cinnamon bun. 

October Read-a-thon 2012: Third hour

Reading now: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater 
Pages read in the last hour: 72
Pages read in total: 208
Books completed: None so far
Snacks consumed: Just more of my favourite beverage
Mini-challenge completed: Oldies but goodies on A Literary Odyssey


October Read-a-thon 2012: Hour the second

Reading now: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater - still enjoying it. Plot is thickening, so to speak
Pages read in the last hour: 78
Pages read in total: 136
Books completed: None so far
Snacks consumed: Coca Cola and Fazer Skolekridt. Mmm. Licoricy sweetie goodness.

Mini Challenge - Readathon snacks:

My ever trusty Coca Cola
Assortment of Laughing Cow cheese triangles
Savoury ham, cheese and sweetcorn muffins
Mini carrots (and dip - not pictured)
Cherry tomatoes

October Read-a-thon 2012: First hour

Reading now: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater - it's very good so far
Pages read in the last hour: 58
Pages read in total: 58
Books completed: None so far
Snacks consumed: None so far, but will probably be breaking out the Coke from the fridge soon


Read-a-thon Introductory Questionnaire

1. What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

Oslo, Norway. The skies are a bit overcast, it seems quite chilly out, so I'm glad to be tucked inside with my books.

2. Which book in you stack are you most looking forward to?

I wouldn't pick books for Read-a-thon that I didn't feel excited about, so it's hard to choose. Possibly Eternal Pleasure by Nina Bangs, the ladies at September's Vaginal Fantasy Hangout made it seem like lots of fun. Besides - an action-packed romance with shapeshifting dinosaurs, what's not to love?

3. Which snack are you most looking forward to?

Trying to be healthy, I've made some savoury muffins with ham, sweetcorn, cheese and green onions in them. Really wish I'd thought of baking something as well, though. Need sweet things. I do have a pint of Ben and Jerry's in the freezer, though. That'll probably do very well

4. Tell us a little something about yourself!

I'm a secondary school teacher of English and Norwegian in Oslo. I've been blogging about books for about 3 whole years now, going into my fourth. I'm married to an Englishman, we have two cats. I read voraciously, so I don't go crazy and kill those around me in a fit of rage.

5. If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what's the one thing you'll do different today?

This is actually my third Read-a-thon (yay!). I've tried to include more comics and graphic novels in my pile this year, because only big books tends to get a bit samey and daunting after a while. I'll try to take short breaks, and will do my best to follow the 24-hour Readathon blog, so I can do the various challenges and stuff, because that's always fun.

I did have a hearty breakfast/brunch, with potted eggs and toast, and a big glass of orange juice, so I should be ready to get started now.

First book: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater!

Getting ready for October Read-A-Thon 2012

Notice how many posts I've done on the blog in the last few hours? I felt I needed to clear my backlog so that I had a blank slate in time for my second 24-hour Read-a-thon of the year.

To the left, you can see my stack of books, all ready. This year, I'm going to read only dead tree actual physical paper books! I know, very old fashioned of me.

I've also made savoury muffins with ham and cheese and sweet corn and green onion to snack on during the day tomorrow, and have several of my other snacks carefully planned.

So watch this space from 2pm Oslo-time tomorrow. I will probably also update Facebook, and maybe even Twitter (if I can figure out how to do it, having only used my account to follow others before now). Yup, I'm hip and with the times, me.
All the pretty bookies...

91. "Dreaming of Amelia" by Jaclyn Moriarty

Page count: 592 pages
Date begun: October 4th, 2012
Date finished: October 11th, 2012

This is the fourth (and as far, as I know, final) Ashbury/Brookfield novel. It can be read completely independently of the others, but as many of the characters in this book were introduced in previous books in the series, it may be more enjoyable if you've read at least Finding Cassie Crazy and/or Becoming Bindy Mackenzie, where several of the characters in this book were first introduced.

Like all the previous novels in this series, the book is entirely epistolary, telling the story of the graduating year of high school at the posh Ashbury high. Two new scholarship students have been accepted to the school, Riley and Amelia, and no one seems to know who they are or where they come from, only that they are a couple, and enigmatic and glamorous doesn't begin to describe them.

Told through the exam essay accounts of Riley, the girls Emily and Lydia (both introduced in Finding Cassie Crazy), their friend Toby (introduced in Becoming Bindy Mackenzie), various meeting transcripts from the scholarship committee, and the occasional blog entry, we are given the story of how Riley and Amelia arrived at Ashbury, how they at first seemed completely unwilling to engage in anything, but slowly revealed themselves to be brilliant at swimming, various academic subjects, drama and music.

As always, Moriarty captures the voices of the various teenagers brilliantly, as well as those of the adults in the books. I'm truly sorry that this is the last of the books, as I'd grown so very fond of these characters, and would've loved to read more about them, and Riley and Amelia, who I only got to spend time with in this book.

Though the cover of the book is bright and pastel-coloured, don't let it fool you. This is also a Gothic novel, complete with hidden rooms, dark and mysterious pasts, drama, jealousy, deception and manipulation, unhappy love affairs, self-serving plots, and of course, ghosts. The American title of this book is The Ghosts of Ashbury High, and the students writing exam papers all have to write with reference to the Gothic fiction they have read during the term.

As Emily begins her paper: "Lighting struck! There was a howling of wind, as if wolves roamed about, howlingly. Thunder crashed! Lightning struck again. 

It was the first day of year 12. I had set out that morning with trepidation. I did not, in all honesty, see a crow, a raven, or any other black bird on the way to school that day. And yet! I was trepidatious."


It therefore fits perfectly into the R.I.P VII challenge, and is probably my favourite of all the books I've read for the challenge so far. Highly recommended to everyone.

90. "The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making" by Catherynne M. Valente

Page count: 288 pages
Date begun: August 26th, 2012
Date finished: October 7th, 2012

September is twelve, and lives in Omaha. Her father went away to war, and her mother works in a factory. One evening, when she is doing the dishes, the Green Wind shows up at her kitchen window on a flying leopard and invites her to come along on adventures to Fairyland. But while Fairyland is a delightful and magical place (naturally), all is not fun and games. The former queen, Mallow, has been replaced by the capricious Marquess, a girl not much older than September.

While on a mission to try to retrieve a very special spoon from the Marquess for some nice witches who assisted her along the way, September is sent on a quest to the woods of Autumn. If she doesn't fetch a very precious artifact for the Marquess and return in a week, the Marquess will hurt not only September's new friends and companions, the Wyverary (a wyvern whose father was a library) and the boy Saturday, but generally make the inhabitants of Fairyland suffer.

So September has no choice but to go off questing. During her adventures in Fairyland, she meets a whole host of interesting creatures (like the aforementioned witches, gnomes, a soap golem and more), she sacrifices her shadow to save a child, she faces her Death, very valiantly tries to avoid eating Fairy food, and learns all manner of important and significant lessons. Will she manage to find Queen Mallow's sword before The Marquess' time limit runs out? What will happen to her and her friends if she fails?

Clearly inspired by Victorian children's stories like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Peter Pan, this book is a wonderful story, which never talks down to kids, and makes me wish I had children of my own to read it to. Having read Valente's Deathless before this, I knew that she had a wonderful way with words, but the brilliant way she constructs the story in The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (surely the longest children's book title out there) took my breath away.

September is a great protagonist, impulsive and headstrong like 12-year-olds should be, and described as quite heartless (as children's hearts grow as they age) but also brave and loyal and affectionate. She's intelligent and knows quite a bit about how things must happen in stories, having read many of them herself. Her companions are also great, and I'm very much looking forward to reading the rest of the series, the second of which was published in hardback earlier this month.

89. "Tempting the Bride" by Sherry Thomas

Page count: 304 pages
Date begun: October 3rd, 2012
Date finished: October 3rd, 2012

This is technically the third book in the Fitzhugh-trilogy, where each Fitzhugh sibling gets their own book. This book stands fine on its own (and frankly, I wasn't overly fond of the other two books - hence no reviews), though there may be spoilers for the two other books in the series.

What if you could have a second chance to make a first impression? David Hillsborough, Viscount Hastings, has loved Helena Fitzhugh since they were both fourteen years old. Her older sister Venetia is the legendary beauty of her generation, yet Hastings only ever had eyes for Helena, since he first laid eyes on her. Afraid of rejection, he wasn't about to admit his infatuation, and instead, as is the wont of teenage boys, acted like an idiot and insulted her instead. She insulted him right back, and from her side, instant loathing was born. As David is Helena's brother's best friend, their paths crossed frequently up through the years, and at every encounter, barbs flew from either side.

Now Helena is a businesswoman who runs her own publishing company. Her sister is a Duchess and her brother is an Earl. So she really should know better than to court scandal by meeting a married man in secret. Hastings discovers that she's been spending time in the bedroom of her childhood sweetheart, Mr. Andrew Martin, and promptly reveals her foolish actions to her family. Despite them keeping her under near constant supervision, Helena is determined not to be thwarted, and she's certainly not inclined to listen to the dire warnings of Hastings, even though the result of her affair becoming public would utterly ruin her reputation, and possibly that of her siblings.

When Helena receives a telegram that she believes is from Mr. Martin, she sneaks away from the servants her sister and brother have escorting her, to meet him at a hotel. She has no idea that the telegram is, in fact, sent by Mr. Martin's interfering sister-in-law, determined to catch him in the act. Hastings discovers the plot and rushes to the hotel in the nick of time, so that when Mr. Martin's mother and sister-in-law burst into the hotel room, they find Helena and Hastings in a heated embrace, with the explanation that the couple just eloped.

Naturally, the news spreads like wildfire, and Helena has no choice but to accept Hastings' hand in marriage. Before they can actually be wed, however, Helena is nearly run over by a carriage, and lies comatose for three days. When she wakes up, she has no recollection of anything that happened after her fourteenth birthday, and is shocked to see her siblings not only grown, but married, and herself apparently married to a man she's never met. Hastings is now given the wonderful opportunity of letting Helena see the real man behind all the insults, scorn and reprehensible behaviour he's shown her for their entire acquaintance. Is it possible that he can make her love him as much as he loves her? But what will happen when her memory eventually returns?

Before the Fitzhugh trilogy, I had generally been very taken with Sherry Thomas' earlier romances. She  writes estranged couples and the less idyllic sides of romantic love very well. Yet I didn't really like Beguiling the Beauty (Helena's sister Venetia's book) or Ravishing the Heiress (about Helena's brother and sister-in-law) all that much. They were well written, because Thomas is truly a master of description and writing, but I just didn't warm that much to the characters. Helena and Hastings obviously appear in those books, and their antagonistic relationship is very obvious.

However, upon discovering that an amnesia story line was central to the plot of Tempting the Bride, my curiosity won me over, and I'm very glad that I gave her another chance, because this was a very enjoyable read.

Hastings is a talented painter and illustrator, a capable landowner, and a deeply affectionate father to his illegitimate daughter (who's not like normal kids, and quite possibly borderline Aspergic, from the descriptions of her in this book). He is, however, a complete and utter fool where Helena is concerned.  Her entire family have known about his feelings for years, yet he's stuck in a destructive pattern every time he sees her. Hoping to provoke lustful feelings in her, he writes an erotic manuscripts and asks her to publish it. Unbeknownst to Helena, he also writes and illustrates children's stories, that he's also sent her publishing company under an assumed name. He sees that her affair with Martin is going to end badly, and while it would mean that he could finally marry her, he tries to offer her advice and warns her to stop courting scandal.

I liked Helena a lot better after she lost her memory, when she was no longer so sharp and disregarding of those around her. It's understandable that she would be unpleasant to Hastings, of course, and even when he's at his most lecherous and douchy towards her, she gives as good as she gets. I can also understand that it would be hurtful to her that her childhood sweetheart married another for convenience rather than love, but that she persists in foolish and headstrong behaviour for years when it's quite clear both that she's risking not only her own reputation, but that of her family, annoyed me. Especially because it's so obvious that Mr. Martin's a weak-willed, spineless man, wholly undeserving of her.

The description of the days when Helena is comatose, and generally the insight into Hastings' emotions, is rather heartbreaking. His unrequited love is so strong and passionate, and he knows that he's being a jerk, but just can't help himself. When he's given a new chance to woo the woman he loves, you can't help but cheer him on, and I was impressed at how well Thomas managed the whole amnesia subplot, that could have turned so hokey and cliched, but instead played out very enjoyably indeed. Both strong and passionate people, Helena and Hastings are clearly made for each other, and I enjoyed seeing them find their happy ending.

Sherry Thomas has also published the manuscript that Hastings wrote to Helena as an erotic novella, which is available as its own story, both in paper and e-book form. It's a very steamy, but also extremely well-written little story, which naturally compliments Tempting the Bride excellently.

Friday, 12 October 2012

88. "Master of Crows" by Grace Draven

Page count: 276 pages
Date begun: October 1st, 2012
Date finished: October 3rd, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 4 October 2012

87. "Ironskin" by Tina Connolly

Page count: 304 pages
Date begun: September 25th, 2012
Date finished: September 30th, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

86. "Busman's Honeymoon" by Dorothy L. Sayers

Page count: 451 pages
Date begun: September 19th, 2012
Date finished: September 25th, 2012

Busman's Honeymoon is the thirteenth book about Lord Peter Wimsey. While you don't need to have read many of the others, the book will be better if you've at least read Gaudy Night. Also, this review will contain some spoilers for that book, so be warned.

The book opens with a number of letters, diary entries and the like written by friends and family members of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, and through these the readers get insight into the preparation for their wedding, and get to witness the wedding itself. The actual story of the book begins when the happy couple are on their way to their honeymoon at an old farmhouse Lord Peter has bought for Harriet. Having been hounded by the press constantly, neither Lord Wimsey or his faithful manservant Bunter has been able to go to Talboys (the house) and get it ready for their arrival.

As a result, the house is dark and closed up when they arrive, and the Wimseys have to convince the interfering old woman next door that they are indeed the rightful owners of the house. They also have to visit the former owner's niece to get keys, and she is shocked that her uncle would've sold the house and gone off without letting her know about it. Inside the house, there's still dishes on the tables and absolutely nothing to suggest that the former owner was ready to leave it, but Bunter manages to get his lord and lady settled as best he can.

It's only the day after, when the woman next door has taken up housekeeping duties to assist Bunter, and the chimney sweep, gardener and even local vicar has been round, that the whereabouts of the former owner is established. He has, in fact, been in the cellar, all along, with his head bashed in. Neither Harriet nor Lord Peter are strangers to murder investigations, but they're both painfully aware that most of the clues must have been disturbed or destroyed since their arrival at the house, and their servant's thorough cleaning of the building.

Worried about whether it'll upset Harriet, Peter offers to take her away and stay out of the official investigation. Knowing that solving mysteries is what her husband does best, the new Lady Wimsey insists that they stay and help the local police solve the murder.

Busman's Honeymoon is the romantic culmination of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane's courtship through several books, and a nice look at how they spend the first weeks of their marriage, interspersed with the depiction of a murder investigation in a tiny country village. Anyone wanting just a crime novel, or a romance, is likely to be disappointed. I really enjoyed it, and based on the diary entries from the Dowager Duchess (Peter's mother) and her appearance later in the book, I would like to check out earlier Sayers books featuring the Duchess, as she was especially delightful.

Another book read for R.I.P VII.

Monday, 1 October 2012

85. "Alien Bodies" by Lawrence Miles

Page count: 313 pages
Date begun: June 28th, 2012
Date finished: September 21st, 2012

This book is an eight Doctor novel, and requires very little knowledge of the TV show. If you don't know anything about Doctor Who, the TV series, the audio plays and the many novels written, read the first four paragraphs of this review, and at least some of it will be explained. Fans of the current show should consider checking this book out, you'll see where current show runner Steven Moffat got a whole bunch of his most well used ideas from (without ever crediting the original author).

The eight Doctor is playing chess with a UNISYC (formerly UNIT) general, when the general suddenly pulls a gun on him. The Doctor is surprised, but the general claims that the only reason no one has ever threatened him this way before, is because the various Earth governments didn't believe he could be killed, but now they have proof. Intrigued by this, the Doctor handily escapes by diving out a window and into the hovering TARDIS outside.

The Doctor and Sam, his current companion, travel to the rain forests of what used to be Borneo, and crash an exclusive auction, where a mysterious relic is for sale to the highest bidder. Among the bidders are two UNISYC soldiers, a reanimated dead man called Trask, the Time Lord Homunculette and his companion Marie, a conceptual entity known as the Shift (who communicates with the others by rearranging writing in newspapers and the like) and two members of the Faction Paradox (a sort of twisted, evolved Time Lord culture). The auctioneer, Mr. Qixotl, is less than thrilled when the Doctor and Sam turn up (even less so when he realises who the Doctor really is), but to avoid upsetting and alarming the others, he allows them to stay.

Why is the UNISYC general so certain that the Doctor can finally be killed? What is the Relic that all these groups are willing to pay priceless sums to obtain? Who is the mysterious final bidder that Mr. Qixotl is waiting for? Why is he so worried and upset by the Doctor's arrival at the auction?

The eighth Doctor, of course, only appears on screen in the dreadful TV movie from 1996, but has appeared in many of the novels, and about 70 of the Big Finish audio plays. Based purely on the various audio plays, he's one of my favourite incarnations of the Doctor. This is one of my husband's favourite Doctor Who novels, and he read it aloud to me. Like so many other good Doctor Who adventures, whether on TV or in books, it's a classic "base under siege" novel. A group of people arrive at a location, there is an outside threat, they all have to try to make it out alive, and the Doctor is there to hopefully help them do that (but frequently ends up making whoever threatens the base more aggressive, as he has so many enemies).

I wouldn't recommend this novel to someone who's never watched or heard of the series at all, but if you're a fan of the current series, especially the episodes written by Steven Moffat, then this should almost be required reading. It's a fun, action packed story, with sections that are genuinely horrifying (at least to me, my husband didn't seem particularly bothered).