Monday, 17 June 2013
Rating: 4 stars
Gowan is 22-year-old Duke of Kinross, who works desperately to set aright the chaos left on his estate by his drunken mother (who abandoned the family and left him to care for an illegitimate half-sister) and his debauched and irresponsible father. Every waking moment of his day is rigorously scheduled, so that he can give the proper attention to castle, his finances and his estates. He wants a dependable and hard-working wife, and while he generally believes English ladies to be soft, spoiled and frivolous, he can't afford to limit himself if he wants to find a good lady to be his duchess.
When he meets the young Lady Edith during her debut ball, he's instantly smitten. Angelic and serene, she barely speaks during the dances they share, and Gowan decides to propose marriage to her before someone else can sweep his dream woman off her feet. Of course, Edie was so feverish during her social debut that she was barely able to stand up, let alone remember who she danced with and what impression she may have made. Hence, she finds herself betrothed to a man she's not even sure she would recognize in a crowd. Still, after some correspondence, and time spent together when neither is feverish, the two hit it off, and the marriage date is actually brought forward.
When I finished this book, I originally rated it 3 stars. I read the whole thing while travelling back from a wedding in England, so it's not like it took me a long time to get through. I found the drama between Gowan and Edie could have been so easily resolved. One of the benefits of being so far behind with my reviewing, however, is that the books stay in the back of my mind and the more I've thought about what I at first thought was a fairy throw-away plot, the better I've actually come to like the book.
Gowan is such a thing as a virgin romance hero (the only other virgin Duke I've ever come across in my many years of romance reading is in Courtney Milan's The Duchess War). He very much wants to be a considerate and attentive lover for his young wife, but let's just say he's ridiculously well endowed, and not as great with the foreplay as he could be. Hence intercourse turns out to be an excruciating experience for Edie, and she fakes orgasm (on the rather misguided advice of her stepmother) to make him finish faster. As the weeks go by, Edie becomes less and less interested in having sex with her husband, who feels more and more rejected, and this is the major dramatic complication that the two have to resolve in order to find their HEA.
While romances are becoming slightly more varied and realistic in the bedroom department (i.e. not always a heroine who never feels pain during the deflowering, and usually has an Earth shattering orgasm to boot), it's rare that you find a book where the sexual relations between the couple is quite as disastrous as it is in this book. It's only natural that two very inexperienced and nervous young people start out having bad sex - I'm pretty sure that it happens all the time. It's just not something that you tend to come across in romance novels.
I also liked that while for a lot of the book, I kept just wanting to shake both Gowan and Edie, and shout at them to just talk to each other, it's also very understandable that they don't. Gowan's parents were dreadful, and had an awful marriage. Edie's father loved her mother very much, but then remarried a much younger woman (she's more like an older, rather foolish sister to Edie than a mother figure) and now her father is insecure and doubts her fidelity, and Edie just desperately tries to avoid confrontation at all costs. Even though she frequently knows that her stepmother's advice is not the greatest, she has no one else to turn to. The book also manages a very clever retelling of Rapunzel, complete with tower and everything. Because I've had time to time to mull the book over in my mind, I've changed my mind, and decided to give it four stars.
Sunday, 16 June 2013
Rating: 2 stars
Is there anyone who doesn't know the basic story of Anna Karenina? Beautiful and beloved society lady, married to older statesman, starts a scandalous affair with a young, handsome and wealthy cavalryman. It really doesn't end well. The book is over 800 pages long. Quite a lot of it doesn't even feature Anna, or her husband Karenin, or her lover Vronsky. If the book was truthfully named, it should probably be called Konstantin Levin tries to revolutionise Russian farming, but Tolstoy (or his publishers) were wise enough not to name the book that.
Seriously though, so much of this book is about farming. I get that Levin is the true hero. He's kind, and virtuous and treats his dependents well. The objection of his affection rejects him in favour of the flashy Vronsky, who in turn rejects her when he becomes determined to seduce and win Anna Karenina. Much of the rest of the book is about political machinations. I studied literature at university, I get that the winters in the 19th Century were long and cold and books were the chief source of entertainment, but dear God, the book is a slog to get through. While I can see that it's well written and gives an impressive insight into pre-Revolutionary Russia, the main reason I actually persisted and actually finished the book this time (I've previously started and abandoned it three times since I was about 15), was partly, BECAUSE I've been planning to read this damn book since I was in my early teens, and also because it qualified in no less than FIVE of my various reading challenges. Now I've read it, and I never have to do it again.
I have friends who adore this book. While I was struggling to get through it (making myself read at least a hundred pages a day), I also watched the most recent movie adaptation. When you focus on the main story of the Karenins, and the Levins and the Sherbatskys, I can see why it's a gripping story. It really is a truly tragic love story, and while I initially detested Vronsky, I came to pity both him and Karenin. I just don't have the patience for all the other guff, with the farming and the politics. Those bits were frequently skim-read, and bored me to tears. I also feel compelled to point out that, in the past, I suspect it was the fact that my mother's copy of this book is quite an old translation. This fairly recent English translation was beautifully done, and the language was in no way heavy or difficult to get through. Feel free to comment and explain why I've completely misunderstood the greatness of this book - I'll be happy to hear your thoughts. I'm just glad I finally got the book ticked off my TBR list for good.
Rating: 4.5 stars
Mrs. Julien has already reviewed this book, and excellently as well, but that's what I get for letting myself get so far behind on my reviewing.
Griffin York, the Duke of Halford, used to be a rake, drunkard, libertine and scoundrel of the highest order. He has no intention of ever getting married, and furthering the family line, but his mother, the Dowager Duchess, has other plans. Desperate for grandchildren and stability for her beloved son, she drugs Griff, and forces him to Spindle Cove, the idyllic seaside village where all manner of well-born spinsters reside. She wants him to pick any one of them, and she will make the girl duchess-worthy material.
Griff agrees that if she can turn any woman in the village into a suitable duchess candidate in a week, he will marry her. Then, to thwart his mother's plans, he picks Pauline Simms, a barmaid who appears clumsy, coarse and wholly unsuitable. Pauline, whose father is a drunken oaf and sister clearly had Down's syndrome, refuses to leave with their Graces. Only when Griff promises her a thousand pounds to come to London for a week, submit to his mother's training, and deliberately fail, does she agree, as the money will allow her to finally escape her tyrannical father and open a lending library in the village.
If you are surprised that things don't entirely go according to Griff's plans, then you've clearly never read a romance novel in your life. If you haven't, this is a great place to start. Tessa Dare writes extremely fluffy and enjoyable stories, and even with the huge amount of disbelief you have to suspend to go along with the notion of a powerful Dowager Duchess training a rural barmaid to be her son's bride, this book is a gem. Pauline may be a farmer's daughter, but she's not stupid, and when a wickedly attractive man offers her a fortune beyond her wildest dreams, she can't afford to turn him down.
Dare is great at dialogue, and the banter in this book is particularly good. The supporting cast, especially the Dowager Duchess herself, are wonderful, and I almost screamed with laughter at the bit with the dreadful knitting projects. Griff is a wonderful hero, but he's not without the occasional slip into complete clod-head. However, as Mrs. J already pointed out, he has one of the most impressive redemption from rakishness stories you're ever likely to come across. If redeemed rakes really do make the best husbands, the Duke of Halford is likely to become one of the best husbands ever.
Rating: 4.5 stars
Quicksilver is the sequel to Ultraviolet, and while you might be able to read it as a stand-alone, I wouldn't recommend it, as I doubt it would be as satisfying a read.
Tori Beaugrand had everything a teenage girl could want. Beauty, popularity, money. Then she disappeared, without a trace, for several months, only to be returned, bruised and with a broken nose, with no apparent memory of where she'd been or who'd taken her there. With her is Alison, the girl who was suspected of murdering her, and who spent much of the time of Tori's disappearance in a mental institution. During the investigation of her disappearance, certain strange medical results turned up as a result of DNA testing. Tori and her parents are getting calls from a genetics lab, and one police investigator in particular, refuses to believe that Tori has no recollection of what happened to her.
Tori and her parents relocate, and change their names, all to protect her secret. Being the centre of attention is no longer an option. She needs to stay as anonymous as possible, which seems to be going well, until Sebastian Faraday, a man she thought she'd never see again, suddenly appears in her bedroom, warning her of danger to come. Her new friend Milo, who already suspects that everything is not entirely is what it seems with Nikki (which is what Tori calls herself in her new life) and is dragged along on an adventure beyond his wildest dreams.
In Ultraviolet, told from Alison's perspective, Tori seems like your typical popular, rich Mean Girl, and it's only towards the end of the book that Alison discovers why Tori why so hostile towards her, and never seemed to like her. The two form a genuine friendship in the dramatic last third of that book, but in order to protect her new friend, as well as the truth of her identity, Tori has to move away from the little town that's always been her home. No longer the Queen Bee in school, she becomes as anonymous as possible, with a new hairstyle, contact lenses, a very non-glamorous part time job and home schooling. Reinventing herself isn't just a curse for Tori, though. Becoming Nikola (after Nikola Tesla - yay!) opens up opportunities she's never had before. Always striving to hide her secret, and please her parents, Tori/Nikki has never really had a chance to explore who she really is and wants to become.
While I came to really like Alison, I pretty much loved Tori/Nikki from the start. She's an amazing young adult heroine - smart, strong, capable, caring. She's also openly asexual, something you don't normally see in novels, and the strong friendship between her and Milo (who is the best sidekick/supporter anyone could wish for), rather than yet another star-crossed romance, is all the more refreshing.
This book is tense, and action packed, and funny and I loved the characters. The danger to Tori/Nikki is genuine, and she has to use all of her considerable genius to try to find a solution, which she does, without needing anyone else to save her. She does have to realise that occasionally requiring help from friends, doesn't make her any weaker. If the last third of the previous book was unexpected and tense, this one was pretty much insane. I think I audibly gasped at one point, because even though it was clear what had to happen, I still didn't think the author would go there. The only reason that I'm deducting half a star from my rating of the book, is that I don't like the way Anderson leaves one of the supporting characters at the end of this book. If that is the resolution to the danger to Alison and Tori, then I'm not sure I'm happy. With everything that's been established over the course of the two books, it's not a good situation for this character to be in, and I wish the story could have been resolved some other way. It's a minor niggle, though, this book is great. Go - read both of them!
Rating: 4 stars
Alison is sixteen, and currently residing in a mental institution. Ever since she was little, she's know she's not quite like everyone else. To her, words have distinct tastes and colours. Certain sounds can make her see things. She feels physically sick if she herself tries to lie, and can taste it in the back of her mouth if people are lying or not. Loud noises give her fits. She's suspected of the murder of the most popular and perfect girl in her school, Tori Beaugrand, and only Alison knows why the authorities haven't been able to find a body. Tori Beaugrand disintegrated in front of Alison's eyes, after they had a terrible fight. How insane is that?
Alison doesn't want to stay sectioned, and tries to appeal to be released. Yet her mother is afraid to keep her at home with her younger brother, and the doctors at the institution want her to take her anti-psychotic drugs so she can get better. The police want to know where Tori Beaugrand is, and why Alison came home, distraught, with bloody hands. As the weeks pass, Alison no longer knows what the truth is. Only the enigmatic young scientist Sebastian Faraday seems to believe that Alison is innocent. He performs a number of cognitive tests on her, and explains that what she and her mother always believed was madness, and have kept hidden from everyone, is actually just synesthesia, and that she has a particularly complex form of it. His further testing seems to suggest that she also has the ability to see lights on the ultraviolet spectrum. With each new meeting, Sebastian puts Alison's mind more at ease, and when she confesses what happened to Tori, he actually seems to believe her.
Then the doctors reveal to Alison that Sebastian is not who he claims to be. He's not a grad student, but a journalist, and his motives for coming to see Alison in the hospital were unlikely to be charitable. Yet Alison discovers that the reason he lied to her is stranger than she could have imagined, and the reason he believes in her innocence, is because he knows what actually happened to Tori.
I found Ultraviolet through a very glowing review on The Book Smugglers, and put it on my TBR list, and then promptly forgot about it, because I discover intriguing sounding books all the time. Besides, the cover looked so very generic, and there were so many other shiny things to distract me. I decided to give this a try, because the sequel (where Tori Beaugrand is the even more awesome than Alison protagonist) starts with a Q, and that's not the easiest thing to find for my A to Z challenge. I was pretty instantly engrossed, and because I'd consciously tried not to find out too much about the book, I was very surprised by the twists and turns it took.
While I grew fond of Alison over the course of the book, she's prickly and sullen and not the easiest of characters to like at first. It's pretty obvious early on (if you've ever heard of or read about synesthesia) that what she considers part of her insanity is something that could have been diagnosed if her mother had been less rigid and paranoid about doctors (it is revealed over the course of the book where that fear comes from, though). The fact that she believes she saw a person dissolve into thin air in front of her eyes, that's more of a mystery. While she may not be insane, you start to realise, as the book progresses, why she's never exactly been a popular kid in school, and while it's obvious that she's not insane or a murderer, she could probably be a bit more gracious about accepting help from people. Luckily, while she's slow to adapt, she does change, and becomes a lot more easy to root for by the end of the book.
I really liked the world building in this book, and that something that I thought was just another YA novel with mystery elements turned out to be something completely different. The supporting characters are incredibly well developed, and none of them seem to be your stock "troubled teen asylum inmate" tropes that a lesser writer might have resorted to. There is a tiny romantic subplot with the always mysterious (but so much more strange than I first expected) Sebastian, and the last third of the book especially, was surprising and very well done. I'm trying as hard as I can not to give anything away, because these books are better if you don't know too much going in. Give this book a try, it's miles above a lot of YA fare out there.
Sunday, 26 May 2013
Rating: 2.5 stars
Trehan Daciano is a Dacian vampire. Dacia is a realm hidden in mist (so hardly anyone knows where to find it) and Trehan's job, is to hunt down and kill anyone who finds out about Dacia or the Dacians before they can tell anyone about them, or how to get into their super secret realm. Being a Dacian vampire also means that you don't drink blood directly from their victims or some virtuous thing like that, they may even drink only animal blood, it doesn't really come up, but Trehan and his relatives are wicked smug about it. Trehan, one of the princes of the Realm, has lived for nearly nine centuries, and is pretty bored. All he does is read, play with his extensive weapons' collection, occasionally hunt down and with ruthless efficiency kill any threats to Dacia. He and his cousins, all in line for the Dacian throne appear to try to playfully murder one another, but even that seems to be losing its charm.
Then, as he is trailing a demon who visited Dacia and then broke the decree about never leaving, he meets his fated mate (all of Kresley Cole's vampires, and werewolves, and most of the demons have one fated person who they're waiting for, and once they meet them, they can't think of anyone else). Unfortunately she is in love with the demon he is determined to kill, and also the prize in an epic tournament, where the winner gets her hand in marriage, and control of the throne of Abbadon, her kingdom.
Princess Bettina (and yes, she is, at least on occasion, as drippy and dumb as that name makes her sound) is the orphan daughter of the demon king of Abbadon and a powerful sorceress. Unfortunately, her mother was brutally killed by a band of evil winged rival demons (there's a whole host of various demon breeds in Kresley Cole's fictional universe, not all of them unsympathetic) when she was little, and her father died trying to avenge his wife. After a gang of the same evil demons got hold of Bettina, and nearly killed her, her demon godfather and sorceress godmother (who hate each other, but love her) have decided that she, and her kingdom, needs a strong protector, and the best way to find one is to hold an epic tournament, where all the contestants fight in a number of challenges to the death, and the winner gets the kingdom, and Bettina. She is in love with her childhood friend (the one Trehan is there to kill) and hopes that he will enter the tournament, and win, so they can get married, even though her bestie (who's name I seriously cannot remember) only loves her like a sister.
Surprising to no one, Trehan and the best friend both enter the tournament, as do two hundred and something other dudes from various supernatural realms. Will Trehan win the tournament and be able to claim his fated bride? Will Bettina have to watch the man she's starting to have all sorts of tingly feelings for, kill her best friend? Will anyone care by the time they get to the end of the tournament?
I'm not going to lie. I've read a lot of Kresley Cole books. I sort of like the various crazy supernatural races and the extended universe she's created, populated with vampires (both "good" and "evil"), werewolves, vampires, ghosts, valkyries, witches, demons and what have you. The books definitely fit the label of paranormal romance, as central to each book it's all about getting the main couple together. They're also really rather smutty, which I think is one of the main reasons this book was selected as the main read for May in Vaginal Fantasy Hangout, where there's been some complaints that some of the recent books haven't had enough sex.
While Kresley Cole's Immortals After Dark series currently numbers 12 books (book 13 is out later this year), this is technically the start of a spin off series, about the various branches of the Dacian royal house, which means that each of Trehan's many cousins are likely to get their own stories and fated mates in the next few years. So in theory, it might be a good jumping on point if you haven't read any of the others. Unfortunately for new readers, this book is really rather tedious. The smexy scenes are plenty scorching, no complaints there, but I spent much of the book wanting to slap Bettina senseless, and Trehan isn't much better.
There is very little actual tension in any book that features fated mates. They have to get together. In most of Cole's books, I can at least have fun seeing how they get to the point where they do accept that they're meant to be together for all eternity (yeah, cause all her characters are supernatural beings who live forever - at least at by the end of their respective books). In this book, I mainly finished so I could cross off one square of my Book Bingo card. It doesn't help that the book is nearly a hundred pages longer than your standard Cole book, so there were more pages to get exasperated with the main characters in. One of the few saving graces, is that there are some cameo appearances by characters from earlier Kresley Cole books, most notably Lothaire, who is also a long lost Dacian cousin. If you've read his book, you also know who ends up on the throne of Dacia. Lots of people don't like him, here he threatened to smack some sense into both protagonists and I applaud him for it.
Friday, 24 May 2013
Rating: 3.5 stars
Amal is sixteen, and about to start her second year as the only Muslim at a posh private high school, when she has an epiphany while watching Friends.She decides to start wearing the hibab full time, fully aware that this will attract all sorts of attention, and that it may be the most popular of decisions. Her parents, worried that it will give her too much negative attention, try to make her change her mind, but the more she thinks about it, the more resolved she is. Of course, when she shows up in school, the principal and a lot of the teachers think she's been coerced into it by her parents, or religious leaders, and she has to be very firm about the fact that it's her own choice, her own decision, and that they can't prohibit her from her personal expression of her faith, no matter what the school regulations about uniforms state.
Most of her friends, while a bit puzzled at first, are extremely supportive. Only the mean girl clique try to bully her about it, but as Amal points out to herself and her friends, now they have something specific to tease her about. Amal is more concerned about the opinions of Adam, her lab partner, and one of the cutest and most popular boys in school. She has a massive crush on him, and would hate for him to see her as some sort of religious fanatic just because she chooses to wear a head scarf.
While it may seem as if this book is all about heavy issues like religion and personal choice, it's mostly a very light and frothy young adult book about being a teenager. Through Amal's first person narration we get insight into her life, which is full of text messages, internet chats, shopping, girl talk, swooning over boys and conflicts with parents. Amal's parents are a doctor and dentist, respectively, highly educated with very progressive views. They're concerned Amal will be limiting her choices and opportunities by choosing to wear the hijab at such a young age, but they're also supportive of her decisions.
As a contrasting view of Muslim traditions, there is Amal's good friend Leila, whose parents are still living their lives dictated by old village traditions from the small place they're from in Turkey. Leila's brother is allowed to run wild and do whatever he pleases, while they expect Leila to do all the housework and get married, rather than go to university to become a lawyer and fulfill her dreams. Amal is deeply critical of this, and only after Leila does some very drastic things, does she come to realize that she may have been a bit narrow minded and judgemental herself.
In some ways, this book is like a young adult chick lit. Amal is a girly girl, and despite her choice to wear the hijab, and trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life (like most teenagers), she lives a fairly typical life, without any big conflicts. I'm glad her choices weren't made into major issues, but at the same time, it feels as if the author had a chance to explore some serious topics, in an easy to relate to way, and squandered this opportunity a bit.