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review 2016-12-30 22:34
#CBR8 Book 131: The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
The Queen of the Tearling - Erika Johansen

Kelsea knows that when she turns nineteen, it is time for her to take her rightful place as Queen, like her mother (who died when she was a baby) and grandmother before her. She has been raised far from civilisation, by two loyal servants, who did their best to prepare her in every way they could for the duty she would be facing. What they have not done is socialise her in any way, she's barely seen another living soul since she was little, and they've refused to tell her anything about her mother or her mother's reign. So while she has a lot of theoretical knowledge about her realm, the Tearling, and its surrounding neighbours, she has little to no practical experience and is in for a sharp learning curve once some of the remaining members of the queen's guard come to pick her up to take her back to the capital.

The road back to her palace is fraught with danger, as her uncle, the regent, has sent assassins to dispatch Kelsea. He doesn't want to surrender his power, and there is more than one attack on the princess and her guards on their way to the capital. Along the way, Kelsea is rescued from an attack by hired killers by the Tearling's most wanted, a legendary outlaw calling himself the Fetch. This man and all his compatriots wear masks while they dispatch Kelsea's attackers, but later, when she spends some time in their camp, she gets to see him unmasked. He clearly has sinister plans for her uncle and is very curious about what sort of ruler Kelsea is going to be. She refuses to show fear and promises to rule the country to the best of her abilities. This seems to satisfy the bandit leader.

Once she returns to her palace, Kelsea discovers how her mother made peace with the neighbouring country, ruled by a powerful and seemingly ageless sorceress after an invasion several decades ago. Suffice to say, Kelsea is appalled and by her first actions, she sets in motion events that may very well trigger a new invasion. Shortly after, there is another assassination attempt on her while they are trying to get her crowned. It becomes obvious to Kelsea that her long-dead mother was a vain, weak and fairly useless queen who quite happily sold out the freedoms and rights of her people to keep herself safe. Her brother, Kelsea's uncle, has continued the mismanagement of the realm and most of the people are suffering badly. If she can survive, she has a hell of a job ahead of her, righting the wrongs of her predecessors. Luckily, she appears to have some sort of magical abilities too, bestowed on her by the royal sapphires that all heirs to the Tearling wear.

I've seen a lot of people give this book incredibly low ratings, probably because it seems that when the book was first released it was marketed as "Game of Thrones meets the Hunger Games". Clearly this was invented by someone who threw darts on a large board full of things that sold well in the publishing industry. "What if Hermione Granger was the heir to a really down-trodden, pseudo-medieval but somehow also set in our future kingdom, where the biggest danger was the evil sorceress in the next country over" would be a better description. Note that I didn't pick Hermione completely out of the blue. Emma Watson has apparently bought the adaptation rights and wants to star as Kelsea. I'm assuming that if that is the case, they're going to have to uglify her but good, as just in case you forget it, every third chapter or so, the author reminds you how plain, unassuming and dumpy Kelsea is. You are never really allowed to go long without being told how the new queen is rather ugly. So I can't really say that my mental image of her was Emma Watson, and also, I really felt that the girl had more important things to worry about than her appearance, but what do I know? I've never had to rule a fantasy kingdom that's pretty much been colonised and run into the ground by another.

The world-building is strange. There are references to America and England, and some generations ago, a man called William Tear apparently gathered all the scientists, doctors and learned people on ships to sail away to a new continent (no hints as to where this is), but a lot of their technology and medical expertise was shipwrecked on the way. So while there are knights and sorcery and people riding horses or using carts, and mostly very downtrodden serfs rooting around in the mud (it all got a bit Monty Python and the Holy Grail in the descriptions of the countryside and the populace, as far as I could tell), this is somehow set in the future. Also, the Red Queen who rules the neighbouring kingdom (I could look it up, but I can't be bothered to dig out my e-reader) seems to have lived for at least a century, clearly through nefarious magical means.

Kelsea has a sapphire around her neck that apparently cannot be removed until she is dead, as well as a second one that will belong to her heir. This one the Fetch could take from her though, and he gives it back to her later in the book when he feels that she has proven herself worthy to rule. Said necklace seems to be trying to communicate with Kelsea and can bestow her with magical powers. She also has a servant who appears to be a psychic of some sort, but only in the sense that she gets premonitions about bad things about to happen, she can't give specifics (that would be far too useful). Oh, and Kelsea has grown up reading and loving books because her guardian had lots of shelves worth, but in the rest of the kingdom, books are super rare and no one knows how to print them anymore or seems to care about relearning this skill (this is my nightmare).

For the first third or so, the book didn't interest me much and I actually put it down and read a bunch of other books in between. Then she finally arrived at her palace and discovered just how messed up a situation she was faced with as queen (I don't want to go into specifics, but trust me, it's pretty bad) and I started getting interested. This book is clearly just establishing the beginning of Kelsea's reign. Since each new chapter seems to contain excerpts from books written much later in Queen Kelsea's lifetime, possibly even after her death, I was never overly worried that she wasn't going to make it though to the end of the book (also, this is book one - I suspect she may survive until book three).

The tone of the book is also a bit strange. This is totally YA, and nowhere near George R.R. Martin territory (nor are there anything vaguely resembling Hunger Games - seriously publishers, did you read the wrong book before you sent out the press release?), but there are some scenes of pretty graphic violence and while there isn't a lot of sexual content, the Red Queen clearly isn't big on consent and doesn't care who she takes her pleasure with, and neither does Kelsea's weaselly uncle.

I've seen complaints that Kelsea is a special snowflake of a character, I didn't really think so. She is young, and has a lot of book smarts, but clearly needs to learn to rule properly, and has impulsively made decisions that are going to come back and bite her in her royal behind later. She seems to nurse an ill-advised crush on the Fetch, but there isn't really anything romantic hinted at with anyone. There are a lot of factions who want to oppose her, and she will clearly face a lot of challenges in the next two books before I'm sure she becomes triumphant and takes her people into a new golden age or something. As long as she makes sure there are books, I'll be happy.

It's a decent enough beginning to a fantasy trilogy. I'm really curious as to where exactly these books are set, as unless the ships mentioned were actually spaceships, I'm unsure where the Americans and English of old actually sailed to. As long as I'm entertained, and it doesn't play too important a part, I'm willing to turn my brain off in that particular respect. Since the trilogy is now completed, it seems likely I'll be reading the rest of it in the next year or so, but it's not like I'm impatient to pick up the next book either. I hope Kelsea stops moaning about how ugly she is in book two, though. Looks aren't everything, girl.

Judging a book by its cover: I've seen several covers for this book, the one that comes with my edition evokes a volume of fairy stories to me, with the red background and the black, swirly embellishments. In the centre "cutout", there is a palace on a hill, so you can probably guess from both the title and the image that this is a fantasy story. It's not the most exciting of images, but it's not bad either.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2016/12/cbr8-book-131-queen-of-tearling-by.html
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review 2016-12-27 22:54
#CBR8 Book 127: Nuts by Alice Clayton
Nuts (The Hudson Valley Series) - Alice Clayton

Wanting to prove to herself that she can manage on her own, Roxie Callahan moved all the way across the country, away from her somewhat flakey, alternative diner-managing mother and her constant string of usually unhappy infatuations. Roxie has put herself through culinary school and is working hard to establish herself as a private chef to wealthy Hollywood wives. But when a moment of distraction means she screws up with a very important client, it seems as if most of her client base are happy to drop her like the proverbial hot potato. So when her mother calls her and begs her to run the family diner for the summer, while her mother and aunt go off around the world, competing in "The Amazing Race", Roxie doesn't really have a lot of alternatives and returns to the little town in upstate New York where she always felt like a bit of an outcast.

Roxie is determined that she's only staying around for the summer, but finds that there are many positive changes to the place she grew up. The quarterback she had a massive crush on is still handsome as ever, but has moved back to town with his equally attractive husband. The two happily take Roxie under their wing and do whatever they can to throw her in the path of local farmer Leo Maxwell, whose farming co-operative is supplying the town and surrounding areas with fresh fruits, berries, vegetables and produce. It's clear that Roxie's interest in the smoking hot Leo is very much reciprocated, and a scorching summer fling would absolutely make her days running the diner into less of a chore. Leo is clearly quite happily settled in town, though. What happens when the summer is over, and Roxie is going to return to LA?

I've only read one previous romance by Alice Clayton, the first book in her Cocktail series, Wallbanger. It was amusing enough, if a bit long overall and there was a drawn-out love scene involving way too many foodstuffs and dirtying of kitchen surfaces to my taste. This book is the first in her new contemporary romance series, entitled Hudson Valley, inspired by the sustainable food movement, organic farming, slow foods and the recent trend in local farming and wanting to know where your food comes from. The hero is a Manhattan playboy turned hipster farmer and the heroine is the local girl who returns to her hometown to discover that the things she's been running from for years might not be so bad after all.

Raised by a hippy dippy single mother who took over the local diner, and witness to her mother's many dramatic love affairs, Roxie has always had to be the practical, pragmatic one, who made sure the bills were paid and their little family could actually make ends meet, even when her mother was in one of her heartbroken periods. Always fascinated by gourmet cooking, she never really fit in among her peers and only found happiness when she went to culinary school far away, on the other side of the country. Making a living by herself in Los Angeles is incredibly hard, however, and when most of her revenue stream dries up because of one unfortunate cooking mishap, she's left with no options but to return home to run the family diner for a summer.

The local land surrounding the town has been owned by the wealthy Maxwell family for generations, but Roxie is surprised to discover that there is now a large and prosperous farming cooperative being run there, by none other than one of the sons of the Maxwell family. Maxwell Farms, apparently based on the Stone Barns Educational Centre in upstate New York is much more to Leo's taste than taking up the family legacy of big business banking. It's clear that every single woman in town has her eyes set on Leo, but according to Chad Bowman, Roxie's former quarterback classmate and new bestie in Bailey Falls, he's not shown any interest in anyone for years. Until Roxie shows up, that is.

Always careful to never get emotionally entangled in her hook-ups, having seen her mother crash and burn romantically too many times, Roxie makes it very clear to Leo that she's only there for a few months and that theirs will be a purely physical relationship. He seems more than happy to agree, and soon the two of them share more than one steamy evening together. As the summer progresses, Roxie discovers that keeping things completely casual with Leo may be harder than she thought, especially after she discovers some of the things the rest of the town apparently knew about his past, that she, the summer fling, has been unaware of.

After finishing The Count of Monte Cristo, I really wasn't up for reading anything long, complicated or demanding, meaning I pretty much settled for romances in December. This is the second one I read, and it was a lot more satisfying on all levels than Managed. By no means perfect, I liked the setting of Bailey Falls, two protagonists who are both very good at what they do and passionate about it, while bantering amusingly and sharing some believable chemistry on the page. Frequently in these stories, the element thrown in about two thirds of the way through, meant to cause complications for our lovers before everything is resolved to the reader's satisfaction can feel contrived and be quite annoying. I thought the elements of Leo's past that were introduced were well-done, and the complications came more from Roxie's insistence on emotional distance than from his having kept secrets.

The supporting cast, Chad Bowman and his husband, Roxie's mother, some of the colourful townsfolk, as well as Roxie's BFFs in New York, who are clearly being set up as the heroines of the next two books of the series, were also fun to read about. I don't mind sequel-bait if it's done well enough, and since the next hero is large, taciturn brooding dairy farmer neighbour (apparently Clayton's mental image of him is Jason Momoa - I can work with that!), I will probably be checking out the sequel early in the new year.

Judging a book by its cover: Ah, abs. ridiculously sculpted and toned muscles. and some walnuts, just so you understand that the title isn't just a rude pun, but sure, you're supposed to think that too. Since both Leo's ridiculously toned body and his food produce play important parts in the book, I suppose the cover is strangely fitting.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2016/12/cbr8-book-127-nuts-by-alice-clayton.html
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review 2016-12-13 13:32
#CBR8 Book 118: Fortunately, the Milk... by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell
Fortunately, the Milk . . . - Neil Gaiman

While Mum is away on business, it's up to Dad to make sure that his son and daughter have everything they need. Like milk for their cereal. Dad goes to the shops, but is gone for really rather a long time. When he returns, he explains to his children why he was gone for so long. It's a story of adventure, danger, space aliens, time travel, vampires, angry South American gods, pirates and the amazing Professor Steg. The entire thing is beautifully illustrated by Chris Riddell throughout. 

 

I got this book back in spring of 2014, when Neil Gaiman was on a short visit to Oslo to talk about his work with refugees. He also did a very engaging reading from this book, which had just been translated into Norwegian. This was when my friend Ida was still pregnant with her first child (she's currently expecting her second). I mention this because my friend's baby bump was the reason we didn't have to queue for hours to get to meet Mr. Gaiman and get our books signed. As we were about to find our place in the long, long line, a nice lady came over and asked if we wanted to be fast-tracked, so to speak. I got this book, and my copy of The Kindly Ones signed.

 

Obviously this is a children's book, for slightly older children, who enjoy being read out loud to or who can read the book themselves. There's just enough silliness and adventure to keep a child interested throughout. I read it during the October Read-a-thon and it was a quick and entertaining read, a sort of palate cleanser between longer books. Not exactly as deep or as brilliant as some of Gaiman's other books, but a nice book nonetheless. 

 

Judging a book by its cover: The version I have is illustrated by the brilliant Chris Riddell, who has also done illustrations for the UK versions of Coraline and The Graveyard Book. I really like his art and there is certainly a lot happening on this very colourful cover. I think it's quite obvious that this is a children's book, and a rather eventful one at that. There's Professor Steg and the Floaty-Ball-Person-Carrier. There's the Dad and his precious carton of milk. What you can't see in the picture is that the orange and gold on the cover is actually in metallics, so very shiny and extra psychedelic. It's a great cover.

 

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2016/12/cbr8-book-118-fortunately-milk-by-neil.html
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review 2016-11-25 17:13
Review: Alphabet Soup
Alphabet Soup - C.B. Conwy

I absolutely loved this sweet hurt/comfort BDSM story, right up until one thing happened that totally ruined the book for me. I’m still kind of angry.

Andy, a 24 year old muscular carpenter knows he wants to sub, but he thinks someone has to beat him really hard for him to feel something.

It is clear to CK that Andy has suffered some sort of abuse in his past and that Andy has very strange ideas how a scene should be. Andy doesn’t need more abuse, he needs someone who cares about him.

Andy is not used to someone being bigger than him, but CK is. He is also sweet and considerate and wants to talk. About everything. CK wants to know what Andy likes, not just what he thinks he wants a Dom to do to him..

This had some very good hurt/comfort going on. Andy was very damaged and CK was just so sweet and understanding. I really loved these guys together. I also loved that there was no relationship angst whatsoever.

But then…. something happened that I really really hated.


CK wants Andy to understand more about a power exchange and how a real D/s scene should play out. So he arranges a sub, new to the scene, for Andy, so Andy can feel how it is to ‘play’ the Dom for once. I got that, I really did. But then CK left and Andy has a scene with the other guy. There is a bj involved and a handjob. I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to read about Andy telling the other guy he was hot on his knees while sucking him off. I wanted Andy with CK, not with someone else. Even though both CK and Andy talked about it and both agreed it is not cheating like this, since CK arranged it for him.

I can do a threesome in a BDSM relationship, I really can. But in this case CK wasn’t in the same room (he watched on a monitor in another room), and it didn’t feel right to me. I didn’t feel as if CK was involved in the scene, and that’s why it just felt like Andy had sex with someone else. And to top it off, the guy had a boyfriend who was waiting in the hall. The bf wanted the guy to get what he wanted but he himself couldn’t give it to him. The sub and the bf were both very hesitant about it. That all felt so wrong.

(spoiler show)



That’s why I thought I’d give this book 4.5 stars, but eventually settled on 3. :(

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review 2016-08-21 21:03
#CBR8 Book 92: The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson
The Unexpected Everything - Morgan Matson

Alexandra "Andie" Walker is the daugher of a congressman who just had to go on sabattical because of some irregularities in his campaign funds. For the last five years, since her mother died of cancer, Andie and her father have only really interacted in the public eye and her father has been busy with his political career in Washington D.C. Andie had very specific plans for the summer. They involved a pre-med internship at Johns Hopkins, far away from her father. Due to the minor scandal involving her father, she finds herself stuck without any plans for the summer and having to learn to relate to a dad who's suddenly around constantly. 

 

Andie's best friends, Palmer, Bri (Sabrina) and Toby (Tobyhana) are delighted that she'll be able to spend more of the summer with them. Maybe she'll finally meet a guy that she'll give the time of day for more than three weeks, max? It also means she'll be present for Palmer's epic annual scavenger hunt. Andie tries to adjust to her new, completely unplanned existence, and out of desperation gets a job as a dog walker. While walking other people's pets, she meets the enigmatic Clark, who seems to live alone in a huge mansion, without any idea what to do with the dog in his care. Their first date is an absolute disaster (because Andie follows the same script she always uses, and shares absolutely nothing personal about herself), but after his dog gets badly sick and they spend a night monitoring its vital signs (not a good excuse to bring to your worried father the next morning, having not actually let him know where you were in the first place and letting your phone run out of battery), they start to make a connnection. 

 

Andie discovers that Clark is in fact hugely popular best-selling fantasy novelist C.B. McCallister, who is staying at his publisher's house over the summer in the hopes that he'll finally get over his crippling writer's block and finally deliver the manuscript for the third and final volume in the trilogy. Palmer's boyfriend Zach is a huge fan and geeks out most adorably when he gets introduced to Clark. Andie's loyal friends are delighted to realise that Clark has a huge house at his disposal and no parental supervision. Since he was home schooled, Clark's never really had friends his own age and it doesn't take long before the gang is hanging out at his place all the time. As Andie and Clark spend more time together and grow closer, might Andie finally have found a guy she's developing real feelings for? What's going to happen at the end of the summer, when Clark (hopefully) finishes his book and goes home to attend college?

 

I've never read anything by Morgan Matson before, but her books are all very higly rated on Goodreads and the fact that this had a college age fantasy author as the love interest intrigued me. Andie's a fun protagonist, if a little bit too emotionally guarded. She's very much a victim of her circumstances, becoming emotionally closed-off after the death of her mother and the virtual abandonment she's suffered from her father. Being a politician's daughter, she has learned never to set a foot wrong and to always appear clean-living, hard-working and virtous. She knows how to spin any situation, because her father's political advisors have spun her whole life since as long as she could remember. She has a very clear idea of what she wants for the future, and when suddenly those plans might be disrupted, she has trouble adjusting and dealing in a good way.

 

Luckily, she has a loyal group of friends to support her, but as the summer progresses, some dramatic personal developments could cause the unbreakable foursome to fracture irrevocably. Having always dated unobjectionable high school guys who've known her for a long time, Andie has never really had to give much of herself and she's certainly never let the relationships last long enough to even begin to matter. Her longest-lasting relationship, if you can call it that, is with a fellow politician's son, who she meets occasionally at parties. They fool around, then go their separate ways. Nothing meaningful is ever exchanged, only kisses. 

 

With Clark, things are different pretty much from the start, and because he was home-schooled, he doesn't always react the way Andie expects or wants him to. She's prepared to completely write him off after their first, catastrophic date, but after being forced to spend the night at his house, working frantically to save his publisher's dog, she can no longer deny that she really likes him and that the thought of actually connecting more deeply with someone might, in fact, terrify her. 

 

The book is a too long and the final third gets bogged down in a bit too many melodramatic storylines. I liked that not all of the difficulties resolved themselves neatly, without any repercussions for everyone involved. The snippets of Clark's books that are sprinkled throughout are also a nice touch. I'm always a sucker for fiction within fiction, and Andie and her dad bonding further over the cliff-hanger ending of Clark's second novel really amused me. This is a fun book, with a cool cast of teenagers and anyone looking for a light and entertaining read would do well to pick it up.

 

Judging a book by its cover: So many doggies! As Andie spends a lot of her time walking various dogs in this book, the cover is pretty much spot-on. I think the cover model's hair could have been blonder based on Andie's description, but I could be wrong. The big fluffy white dog could easily be Bertie (his full name is Bertie Woofter - how CUTE is that?) and the bright colours make the cover nice and inviting. Considering how bad some YA covers is, this is a pleasant exception.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2016/08/cbr8-book-92-unexpected-everything-by.html
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