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review 2014-12-14 20:19
#CBR6 Book 134: An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon
An Echo in the Bone - Diana Gabaldon

Disclaimer! If you haven't read the previous six books in the series, there will be minor spoiler in this review. Proceed at your own risk. 

Having finally completed my epic re-read of the previous books in the series at a page count total that is frankly obscene, I finally got to read a new to me Diana Gabaldon. When this book first came out in 2009, I just didn't have the energy to expend on re-reading the whole series to catch up and I decided to just put it off. With book eight in the series being published earlier this year, the very entertaining TV series making me remember what I love so much about Gabaldon's writing and the excellent online company/support group I am part of over on Facebook to discuss the books with, I was a lot more motivated to get through the series now. Yet it still took me more than a month to get through this. 

There is so much I love about Gabaldon's writing. Jamie and Claire have been part of my life for a very long time, and I generally find most of the stuff involving them very interesting. But since pretty much book 3, these books aren't really just the continuing adventures of Jamie and Claire Fraser in the 18th Century. There's Brianna and Roger and their kids, now back in Scotland in the early 1980s (which I'm freaking out about a bit, because that's within MY lifetime). There is Jamie's best friend, Lord John Grey, who, when he's not trying to figure out why his niece is pretending to be madly in love with his stepson and hell bent on going to America to be reunited with him, goes about doing not much of anything obviously important or interesting for two thirds of this book. There's said stepson, Jamie's illegitimate offspring, William, the Eight Earl of Ellesmere, who is now a soldier in the British Army. He gets recruited for spy missions, but doesn't seem very good at it. He travels to Canada and back. There are letters between him and his stepfather which may be super interesting for people who are a lot more into the American War of Independence than I am, but to me, it was the literary equivalent of watching paint dry. So much boring.

Jamie and Claire have decided to go to Scotland to fetch Jamie's printing press. Jamie absolutely does not want to get involved in the war, because doing so might mean that he will face his son on the battlefield. The Frasers bring along their nephew, young Ian MacKenzie, because Jamie swore to his sister that he would bring the lad home, and while it's taken quite a long time, and Ian has both been adopted by a Native American tribe, married, divorced and experienced the loss of a child in that time, it would still be good for him to be reunited with his parents. Many many complications arise on their way. It again takes them the best end of the book to actually arrive in Scotland, but because much of their story was action packed and dramatic, I have no real complaint about their sections.

In the future, Roger and Bree have bought Lallybroch and are trying to make a home there. Bree gets a job working for the Scottish hydro-electric board, and Roger debates whether he wants to become a minister after all. They have a stash of letters written to them by Bree's parents, so they can follow along in the continuing adventures of Jamie and Claire, while worrying because they keep ending up in historically significant places and close to or in the midst of important events. Roger is trying to put down everything they know about time travel in writing and their family are settling in nicely when they have a very unexpected visitor about the same time as it is obvious that someone in the village not only knows about the gold Jamie and Claire hid way back in the 18th Century, but are willing to go to rather extreme steps to get to it.

As I said, far more of the book than I cared about is devoted to young William Ransom and Lord John Grey. I love Lord John, he's a great supporting character. I laugh every time I think about how Bree tried to coerce him into marriage. Reading about him in London, talking to his brother about irrelevant family matters, or travelling to France to speak to uninteresting individuals or generally just worrying about the safety of his immediate or extended family was super dull. Reading about William was even more boring, and as this was the first time I read the book, I had no idea which bits I could skim or even skip (now I know). There are seriously multiple chapters devoted to William lost in a swamp, deliriously wandering. Not cool, Diana Gabaldon, not cool. He does eventually have his life saved by young Ian in said swamp, but really, there are better ways those two characters could cross paths.

Not content with a supporting character gallery into double figures already, Gabaldon also introduces some new individuals in this book. William's cousin Dottie seems pretty spunky, for all that she's the sheltered daughter of a Duke. It's very obvious to the reader early on that her and William's story about being madly in love is a clever fiction, but it takes much of the book for the reader to discover why Dottie would go to such lengths to get herself to America. Young Ian, who loved and lost his Native American wife, falls in love again with a Quaker, Rachel Hunter. She and her brother Denzell, who is a doctor, join the Continental army as healers and I very much enjoyed everything with them.

I would have rated this book 3 stars based on the first two thirds, but then things really start coming together and becoming super exciting in the last third. It's quite telling that it took me more than a month to read the first two thirds, and about two days to get through the last third. Jamie and Claire finally make it to Scotland. We get to see Jenny and Ian again, and young Ian is reunited with his family. William and young Ian are both clearly a bit in love with Rachel Hunter. There is quite a lot of interaction between William, Ian, Claire and even Jamie. The bits having to do with the Battle of Saratoga were actually quite exciting. While they're in Scotland, Claire discovers that one of Fergus and Marsali's children desperatey needs surgery, so she returns alone to America. There are heart-breaking confirmed deaths, dramatic presumed deaths, dangerous surgeries being performed successfully, lovers reunited, terrible vengeance nearly wreaked, surprise time travellers from the past, abductions, marriages of convenience, long kept family secrets revealed - so much awesome and drama in only a few hundred pages. Why did I have to spend so much time reading about William in a swamp, Diana, when you are capable of such great things? Why not edit your books more!?!

With so many characters and storylines, Gabaldon also gets to have multiple cliffhangers towards the end of her book, making me really very excited for book 8. I'm now glad that I waited as long as I did to catch up, because (once I am done reading the books I need to complete my various reading challenges) I can go straight into Written in My Own Heart's Blood, which has been rated very highly by those Cannonballers who have already read it, and also appears to be only about 850 pages long, so the shortest book in the series for ages. Due to the excellent ending of this book, I'm now all anticipation.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.com/2014/12/cbr6-book-134-echo-in-bone-by-diana.html
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review 2014-11-23 23:45
#CBR6 Book 131: The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
The Hero and the Crown - Robin McKinley

Disclaimer! This was granted to me by Open Road Integrated Media through NetGalley in return for a fair and unbiased review.

Aerin is the lonely, ostracised daughter of the ruler of Damar. She has pale skin and fiery red hair amongst a people who are bronzed with dark hair. She cannot even remember who first told her the story, but she has known for as long as she can remember that her mother was a commoner witch-woman who came from the North, who ensorcelled the king into marrying her, swearing she would bear him an heir. When she bore a daughter, she died of despair. While most of the common folk and the servants love her for her gentle, generous and unspoiled manner and the fact that she has taken upon herself to rid the countryside of the small, yet fierce dragons who threaten livestock and snatch the occasional baby to eat. The higher born, especially most of her royal cousins are deeply scornful of her, calling her names, mocking her and never letting her forget her half-blood status.

The one exception is Tor, the heir to the throne, one of her cousins. Since she was young, he has been kind to her, and he has taught her to ride, to use a sword and other soldierly arts. As she comes of age, it becomes very obvious to everyone in Damar that Tor is in love with the witch-woman's daughter. That she has managed to combine herbs to make a fire-proof ointment to help her hunt dragons or successfully trained the king's old, injured war horse back to health is turned into sinister and negative things rather than admirable and impressive ones.

There is more discord spreading in Damar, and the common belief is that all the problems would be solved if the ancient crown, lost some generations ago, was found. Even after Aerin is nearly killed, becoming severely damaged when single-handedly killing Maur, one of the enormous, ancient dragons, the popular opinion of the court is against her. While recovering, she has dreams about a mysterious man, who claims she needs to find him, so he can aid her further in saving Damar, and when she's at her absolute lowest, convinced everyone will be better off without her, she goes off to find him. Can Luthe, this stranger from her dreams, heal her and train her into facing her greatest fears? If she fails, it means the destruction of Damar and all the people she loves.

In late September, I started reading Robin McKinley's most recent book, Shadows, which I didn't even make it a third through before I had to abandon it. It was written in some made up teen speak and the characters and story was so unengaging that I just didn't have the patience to finish it. Now, considering the literary quality of some of the books I HAVE managed to read this year, this says a lot. So when I was offered one of her classic works through Netgalley, the prequel to possibly my favourite of her books The Blue Sword, which I will be re-reading as soon as I can dig out my paperback (as it sadly doesn't exist in e-book format yet), it seemed like a very good way of getting the figurative bad taste out of my mouth.

While Aerin has a pretty sucky childhood, growing up with only the older Tor or her maid as her closest friends, she seems to grow more confident, or at least less self-conscious and bothered about what others think of her and the possible motives of her long dead mother. She's brave, kind and persistent, with a gift for scientific thought that allows her, after years of trial and error, to recreate a long believed to be mythical ointment that is immune to dragon fire. Her patience and perseverance wins her the loyalty of her father's injured and anti-social war horse, who through the training that Aerin slowly coaxes him to do, eventually becomes almost his old self again.

Her father and Tor clearly love her, and it is made clear that many people in rural Damar see her as a hero. Yet Aerin cannot get over the constant digs and misgivings from those around her, and their malicious gossip is also what lets her fall under the spell of the evil dragon Maur, whose powers don't diminish even though he has been killed. Some enterprising people drag his skull back to the capital, and the dragon's malevolence, combined with the horrible burns (her ointment doesn't work against the fire of ancient dragons) and injuries she sustained, nearly kills her.

This is a great book, generally aimed for a middle grade to younger adult audience, I think. Aerin is a wonderful role model for young women. She's an outcast, but works to overcome her many challenges. She rarely masters something on the first try, all Mary Sue like, but practises and trains, using her perseverance and inner strength to succeed. She is loyal and brave, risking her life time and time again at thankless tasks, only to have most of those who should have been her strongest allies undermine her and gossip about her perceived evil intentions. While I didn't love it as much as some other McKinley books, I'm so glad I got a chance to read this, especially after Shadows turned out to be such a disappointment. Turns out that McKinley's early career is a lot more to my taste than her recent literary efforts.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.com/2014/11/cbr6-book-131-hero-and-crown-by-robin.html
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review 2014-11-23 14:08
#CBR6 Book 129: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater
Blue Lily, Lily Blue - Maggie Stiefvater

Blue Sargent's mother is missing, and it's quite clear that time passes differently where she's gone. This loss affects Blue deeply, although she has Mr. Grey around and her Raven Boys to take her mind off things. Blue, Gansey, Ronan, Adam and even Noah are still trying to find Glendover, looking in caves all over the area. They are told repeatedly that there are three Sleepers under the ground, and it is imperative that one of them not be woken. They now have the aid of Gansey's elderly British professor friend, Mr. Malory, who seems to find being in "the Colonies" fascinating.

Malory is not the only new arrival in Henrietta. Colin Greenmantle, Mr. Grey's former employer and a very dangerous man, is in town, keeping himself busy plotting revenge and destruction, while also teaching the Aglionby boys Latin. His wife Piper may seem vapid and distracted at first, but it becomes clear after a while why the two were drawn to each other. Ronan is determined to get Greenmantle somehow, and enlists the aid of Adam, whose affinity with Cabeswater is getting stronger, allowing him a wholly new perspective. Adam needs all the distractions he can get, he's about to face his father in court, and he's making very sure that none of his friends find out about it.

While it is always lovely to spend time in the world of Blue and her Raven Boys, this book, number 3 in The Raven Cycle is so clearly a bridging book. Unlike in books 1 and 2, where we were introduced to all the characters and a lot of dramatic things happened, most of the story is in a holding pattern here, slowly moving the pieces into place for the final act, which I'm hoping will be spectacular.

Colin Greenmantle is a chilling new potential villain, and all the ominous messages about the third sleeper promise more complications in the final book, which is out at some as of yet not confirmed point in the second half of next year. In The Raven Boys, Blue saw Gansey on the Corpse Road, and with each season passing, they are getting closer to his doom. In this book, the other boys discover that the women of 300 Fox Way have a book where they write down the names of everyone who will die in the coming year, and Adam is clever enough to figure out that Blue is so secretive about the book because one of their names is in it. She finally has someone to share her secret with, not that it makes the situation any easier.

Blue and Gansey are growing closer, but trying to hide it from the others, especially to avoid hurting Adam. Ronan and Adam conspire to remove the threat of Colin Greenmantle behind Gansey's back, as they know they're not going to be able to play by the rules, and their best friend would be deeply uncomfortable.

I love these books, but this is clearly the least engrossing in the series so far. I understand that not every book can have the intriguing setup of The Raven Boys or the thrilling revelations of The Dream Thieves, but it would have been nice if there was a little bit more development. Some pretty thrilling stuff happens in the last few chapters, but mostly this is just the literary equivalent of hanging out with friends you like.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.com/2014/11/cbr6-book-129-blue-lily-lily-blue-by.html
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review 2014-11-23 00:54
#CBR6 Books 126-128: The Disillusionsts trilogy by Carolyn Crane
Mind Games - Carolyn Crane

Once again, I'm going to make things easier for myself, by using a blurb:

Justine knows she's going to die. Any second now.

Justine Jones has a secret. A hardcore hypochondriac, she's convinced a blood vessel is about to burst in her brain. Then, out of the blue, a startlingly handsome man named Packard peers into Justine's soul and invites her to join his private crime-fighting team. It's a once-in-a-lifetime. With a little of Packard's hands-on training, Justine can weaponize her neurosis, turning it outward on Midcity's worst criminals, and finally get the freedom from the fear she's always craved. End of problem.

Or is it? In Midcity, a dashing chief of police is fighting a unique breed of outlaw with more than human powers. And while Justine's first missions, one against a nymphomaniac husband-killer, are thrilling successes, there is more to Packard than meets the eye. Soon, while battling her attraction to two very different men, Justine is plunging deeper into the world of wizardry, eroticism and cosmic secrets. With Packard's help, Justine has freed herself from madness - only to discover a reality more frightening than anyone's worst fears.

November's main pick for Vaginal Fantasy is a bit of a slow starter, and I found myself actually wishing for a bit more exposition in order to establish the world in which these books take place. The concept of the trilogy is so clever, though, and I was very quickly hooked, to the point where I couldn't stop after the first book (which is quite frequently the case with the VF books), but read the whole series in less than a week. 

The books are set in Midcity, an urban fantasy city that reminds me a lot of Chicago. There are some people with special powers, known as highcaps, who can do everything from move objects with their minds, manipulate matter, invade people's dreams or psychologically manipulate their victims. There are some who suggest that the highcaps are just an urban legend, but as more and more people are dying from bricks flying out of nowhere, it seems very likely that highcaps exist and are very dangerous. Midcity is in the midst of a crime wave, and handsome new police chief Otto Sanchez seems to be the only one willing to try to make a change.

Justine is not a highcap, she's a neurotic young woman whose mother died of a particular kind of aneurysm, called a vein star, and Justine is convinced this is what's going to kill her too. She gets panic attacks at the most inconvenient moments and has spent a small fortune going to doctors and the emergency room when she's convinced she's near death. It's putting serious strain on her relationship with her boyfriend, who just wants her to get over her irrational fears. So when she meets the mysterious Packard while at a Mongolian restaurant and he claims that unless she accepts his help, her fear is leading her on a rapid path into crippling insanity. He says he can teach her to channel her fears into other people, using it as a weapon to destabilise them. Justine scoffs at this idea, but can't quite put the idea out of her mind. She returns to the restaurant, and Packard introduces her to some of the other Disillusionists who work for him. He has a secret, private group of vigilantes, who use their powers to psychologically bring criminals towards rock bottom, forcing them to change their ways and minds. They can channel rage, ennui, addiction, gambling problems and the like and Packard thinks Justine could be an invaluable asset because of her health fears.

Once the Disillusionists "zing" their worst impulses into their victims, they themselves are free of them for up to a month and feel great as a result. However, according to Packard, they can't just go around channelling their fears or rage or cravings into anyone, or the psychic backlash could kill them. Packard is a highcap with unique psychological insight into everyone he meets and this allows him to see exactly how they can be broken down, or whether they can. He alone also seems immune to the "zings" of the various Disillusionists, allowing them to channel even when there isn't a suitable criminal that needs taking down. This allows him to show Justine just how good it can feel when she gets rid of her crazy health fears. She agrees to help him, as she is loving the normal life she is suddenly able to enjoy with her boyfriend, free of anxiety and stress, but she is only intending to do it short term, not comfortable with the moral implications of psychologically attacking people, even criminals.

Then she discovers that Packard is quite ruthless in achieving his goals. One of the other Disillusionists is surprised when Justine claims she's only part of their little team for a short while. It seems that once they start "zinging" others, their brain chemistry is gradually altered and if they suddenly stop, they're going to be overwhelmed by the very negative impulses they have gotten used to channelling and will end up in a vegetative state. Packard didn't tell Justine because he, very correctly, knew she'd never agree to join up if she knew. He isn't just destabilising criminals from the kindness of his heart, he makes a lot of money from people these criminals wronged, and his ultimate endgame is revenge against the individual who trapped him in the very restaurant Justine first met him. For more than eight years, Packard has been unable to leave the place. He's also unable to change the decor, or the menu and if things get destroyed, they're back the way they were before the very next day. Justine, who during her training has grown more and more attracted to Packard, is appalled and swears that she will figure out a way to be free of his manipulative control. She and the other Disillusionists can't really help themselves from trying to figure out exactly who trapped their boss, and how they can work together to free him.

In the second book, Double Cross, Justine and the other Disillusionists are working to rehabilitate a number of criminals that Packard's nemesis had kept locked away in various locations in the city, just like he had Packard. A trio of men nicknamed the Dorks (because former Chief of Police, now Mayor, Otto Sanchez, has forbidden the media from glorifying criminals with cool monikers, and all criminals written about in the media now have randomly selected humiliating names instead) are targeting highcaps, and mysteriously seem to be completely immune to all their powers, while able to identify them from normal humans. As both the men Justine feels drawn to are highcaps and thus in danger of being the next victim, she is feeling stressed and affected, even though she's able to channel her fears away. If Packard is killed by the Dorks, Justine and her dysfunctional friends will all eventually become drooling wrecks, so they work together to discover the true identies of the killers.

In the third book, Head Rush, Justine should be blissfully happy. She's finally free of Packard's control and doesn't have to channel her crippling fear into others to stay sane. She's attending nursing school (not just posing as a fake nurse like when she was a Disillusionist), she's engaged to the man of her dreams and the big hero of Midcity, planning the wedding of the year. Her best friends are going to be attending her at the wedding, so why is she plagued by constant headaches, vague nightmares, anxiety and an unsettling distrust for her beloved fiancee?

Midcity is under martial law, with a strict curfew being enforced because sleep-walking cannibals are roaming the streets at night. There are more dangerous criminals around than ever before, but Mayor Otto Sanchez is staunchly promising that things will change very soon. Thanks to the help of her reclusive, paranoid father and a few of her very loyal friends, Justine is able to unravel the mysteries surrounding her and figure out who her heart really belongs to.

Product warning from book three: This book contains high-speed rollerblade chases, a mysterious green dashboard ornament, a father of the bride in full hazmat gear and a delicious kebab. 

I read a lot of urban/paranormal fantasy, and finding something a bit different from your kickass heroine with a sword/crossbow/magical powers/shapeshifting/shiny daggers is very refreshing. Justine is a wreck, a self-absorbed, neurotic hypochondriac who constantly lies to herself about what she really wants from her life. She's not stupid, but certainly no genius. She's not exactly a coward, but she's certainly no action heroine. She's stubborn, quick to anger, quite often petty and very easily persuaded. Yet she's a loyal friend, she's not afraid to speak her mind and she quite naturally just wants a normal life and a reliable guy who loves her.

Neither of the two men that she falls for in this trilogy are exactly stable, reliable, trustworthy sort of people. They are childhood friends and long time enemies, sometimes working together, but more often to destroy one another. They are dangerous, ruthless, powerful and extremely manipulative. One of the things I liked about the series is how many times the status quo is completely turned on its head. You think you know what's going on, and then there is a surprise twist, and another, and a third, until you're really not sure who you should be rooting for. Who is the hero and who is the villain? Is it ok to completely destabilise and rewrite people's psyche to turn them from a life of crime? Is it ok to keep people under house arrest without any verdict or trial to protect the majority of the populace? Just how far can one person go to impose their unique idea of justice and order? While I'm really not a huge fan of love triangles, this one was very central to the plot of the series and the fact that the reader, as well as Justine, honestly doesn't entirely know who to trust, or who she should choose, makes for interesting reading.

I liked that all the various Disillusionists were severely screwed up individuals who would have been crazy or worse if they hadn't joined up with Packard and learned how to channel away the worst of their impulses into others. They all make for an interesting supporting cast of characters, although some are given a lot more prominence than others. I loved the idea that someone crippled by drug or alcohol addiction, or chronic gambling problems, or debilitating anxiety and hypochondria could transfer this to someone else, and use it as a weapon. It's such a very unusual idea and one of the reasons I really just dropped everything else to read these books. While by no means flawless, the books were different and extremely entertaining. I suspect I will be checking out what else Carolyn Crane has written, and I hope her other works are as fun as these books.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.com/2014/11/cbr6-book-126-128-disillusionists.html
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review 2014-11-22 22:55
#CBR6 Book 125: The Outsiders by Susan E Hinton
The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton

Ponyboy Curtis is an orphan. He lives with his two older brothers, Darry, who works construction and Sodapop, who dropped out of school to work in a garage to help support the family. Ponyboy and his friends are Greasers, kids with leather jackets and long, grease-slicked hair from working class backgrounds, often with a lot of trouble at home. Quite a few of the Greasers are part of gangs and having a criminal record isn't all that uncommon. 


Ponyboy would much rather be a Greaser with no parents than a Soc, however. The rich, privileged society kids with their expensive cars and their letterman jackets, whose favourite pasttime is teaming up to beat up Greasers. Ponyboy is the baby of the gang, and clearly the one with enough smarts and academic prospects to have a chance of getting a good college scholarship and making something promising with his life. Darry had to give up on his college dreams when their parents died, and Sodapop would much rather work on cars than go to school. 


While the clashes between the Socs and the Greasers can get pretty rough, they tend to be broken up before anyone can get badly hurt. One fateful evening, when Ponyboy and the badly traumatised Johnny Cade are attacked by a gang of drunken Socs who get particularly threatening, everything goes to hell. Ponyboy and Johnny go on the run, hiding out from the cops in a countryside church. When there's an unexpected fire, the boys get a chance to show that hoodlums from the wrong side of the tracks can make a real difference.


The Outsiders was one of my favourite books as a young teen. I can't entirely remember how old I first read this book, but I can vividly remember my reaction to it. I stayed up way later than was sensible, considering it was a school night to finish it, and I cried so hard that I couldn't see the pages anymore. Big, racking sobs and full on ugly crying. I remember being amazed that the author was only fifteen when she started writing the book. Is it a literary masterpiece? No, probably not, it's a fairly simplistic story but it's a compelling novel written by a teenager, in the voice of another teenager and having re-read it for the first time in about fifteen years, in English for the first time, I was still really strongly emotionally affected by it.


Unfortunately, I no longer remember exactly what I thought about the social situation of the various Greasers described in this book, nor what I felt about Ponyboy's strained relationship with his oldest brother. Now, as an adult, I probably see a lot of the relationships in this book from a very different perspective. I still cried a lot at certain sections of the book, but I suspect I cried the hardest at other parts than when I was a young teen. I can't objectively judge the quality of this book, because it's such a powerful piece of nostalgia for me, and will always be an emotional reading experience for me. My husband has never read the book, nor watched the film (which I'd love to rewatch now, having not seen it for about as long as since I last read the book), and I plan to read this out loud to him, as he, early in our relationship, read me The Hobbit and The Wind in the Willows.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.com/2014/11/cbr6-book-125-outsiders-by-susan-e.html
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