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review 2014-05-11 15:33
#CBR6 Book 52: Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen
Lost Lake - Sarah Addison Allen

Disclaimer! I got a free ARC of this through NetGalley. I have not been promised anything in return for this review, although if people wanted to start bribing me to read their books, that would be ok too.

Kate Pheris has been a widow for a year, and has been sleep-walking through her life since her husband Matt died. Now her house has been sold, her and her daughter's things are all packed and they're all set to move in with her mother-in-law, who has all sorts of plans for how they're going to get everything sorted out. Yet finally emerging from her grief, Kate realises that she doesn't want to live with her mother-in-law, and she doesn't want her daughter Devin to go to private school, forced to wear a school uniform and stifle her natural creativity. Having never really had to manage on her own, she's not sure what she will do, but she's sure that just settling for her mother-in-law's plans are not it. When Devin finds an old postcard in a trunk in the attic, Kate is reminded of her great-aunt Eby and her holiday cottages at Lost Lake. Kate spent a few weeks there when she was twelve, and as she has only fond memories from the place, she packs up Devin and they go off to see if Eby is still there.

Eby Pim is still at Lost Lake, but has at long last decided that she's going to sell her land and the holiday cottages to a pushy developer, as she is old and dreams of travelling back to Europe, where she and her husband George spent their honeymoon in the early 1960s. Apart from a few elderly regulars, no one ever comes to Lost Lake anymore, and the struggle to keep the place running is becoming too much for Eby. Apparently Eby was the exception in a long line of beautiful Morris women who were all beautiful, with striking green eyes, but who tended to marry unwisely, and were incapable of managing money, so always had to grasp for more. Everyone thought that the gorgeous Marilee, Eby's younger sister, would catch herself a wealthy husband, but she fell in love with a gas station attendant. Instead Eby found the rich suitor, when the boy she'd loved for most of her life came into an unexpected fortune, and proposed to her. Trying to escape her greedy relatives, Eby and George want to spend as much time alone in Europe as possible, but have to return when Marilee is left widowed with a young daughter. Surprising everyone, Eby and George give all of their money away to worthy causes, after settling Eby's mother and sister in comfort, and buying the property at Lost Lake.

Having determined to sell, Eby sends word to the few of the regulars who still visit the camp, but they insist on coming to visit anyway. Selma, Buladeen and Jack can't resist a final visit to the place they've spent every summer for so long. Jack is hoping to finally confess his love to Lisette, the French cook who has lived with Eby for most of her life. While on their honeymoon, Eby and George came across then sixteen year old Lisette, jumping from a bridge after Luc, the boy she rejected hanged himself. Horrified by her actions, Lisette was determined to take her own life, but was rescued by Eby, and decided to stay with her ever since. Born without a voice box, she communicates through written notes, that she burns after she shows them to people. Lisette is haunted by the ghost of Luc, who sits on a chair in her kitchen. She knows why Jack returns every summer, but is terrified that she will break his heart the way she once broke the teenage boy's.

Wes Patterson, who owns the land adjoining Eby's at Lost Lake, is resigned to selling to his uncle once Eby gives in. The only really happy time he spent at the place were the two weeks when Kate visited that summer long ago, and they spent pretty much every waking hour together, with Wes' younger brother Billy trailing after them. Wes' father was a drunk who beat the boys and mistreated them, only Eby and George really showed them any affection. When his father and Billy died in a fire that burned their home to the ground, shortly after Kate left, Wes went to live with a foster mother. He's never been able to forget that summer, or Kate, and is shocked to see her again after so long.

Devin loves it at Lost Lake, and despite the place being run-down, Kate feels at peace there too. Once the townspeople realise that Eby is serious about selling the place, they decide to show her just how important she and the camp have been to all of them, and perhaps they can manage to change her mind about selling. Buladeen, one of the holiday regulars is certainly determined to change Eby's mind. A retired English teacher from a wretchedly poor background, who's always been a voracious reader since she was taught to read, she's fully aware that not all endings are happy. She also knows that plots don't always take the most predictable turns, and that it's important to work to succeed in your hopes and dreams. She comes every summer with Selma, another elderly woman with barely any female friends. The daughter of an unfaithful man, Selma was given eight magic charms by one of her father's mistresses. With these charms, she can lure unhappily married men away from their wives and make them fall madly in love with her. As a result, most women tend to dislike her, and none of her marriages have lasted more than five years. Now she only has one charm left, which she's saving for something big. She claims she doesn't like Lost Lake, or understands why Buladeen insists on claiming that they're friends, but she returns every year, nonetheless.

I'm a huge fan of Sarah Addison Allen's earlier books, my particular favourites being Garden Spells and The Peach Keeper. Reading the acknowledgements for this book, I realised that the reason there was such a gap between The Peach Keeper and this coming out, is because the author has been struggling with breast cancer. I didn't know that when I picked this book as my fifty-second book, and the one I completed my first Cannonball with, but now I'm so glad I did, because it's extra appropriate. Cancer is a horrible disease, and I'm so glad that I can help collect money to fight it by reading books that I love and blogging about them for others.

As in Allen's previous books, family ties are strong in this one, as are those of friendship. There are absolutely magical realism elements, such as Lisette's ghostly reminder, the alligator who only Devin seems able to see and who sends her on a quest and Selma's love charms. Yet the main focus of the book is love and friendship and how different people deal with losing their loved ones, and to what degree they pick themselves back up again and carry on. It's clear that most of the women in Kate and Eby's family love fiercely and passionately, but fall apart completely once their love dies, to the detriment of the next generation. Eby never had children, and was lucky enough to have friends and Lost Lake to help her through her grief. Kate is nearly unmade by her grief, but manages to surface and fight to secure a chance of future happiness for Devin and herself. I was so happy when I was granted the ARC for this, and then I forgot it for a bit again. I'm so glad I finally got the chance to read it, and will absolutely buy it, so I can own it like I do all of Allen's other books.

And with this, I complete my first Cannonball of 2014! Whohoo!

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2014/05/cbr6-book-52-lost-lake-by-sarah-addison.html
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review 2014-04-25 16:22
#CBR6 Book 35: "Saga, vol 3" by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Saga, Volume 3 - Brian K. Vaughan,Fiona Staples

This trade paperback volume of Saga collects issues 13-18. It's an ongoing series, and you really should be starting at the beginning. It's also the best comic book/graphic novel series I've read in probably a decade, so if you haven't read it, run to your nearest comics shop and come back when you've caught up. Also, it goes without saying that there may be spoilers here for earlier in the series. 


Marko's mother has decided to join her son and his new family on their quest to find D. Oswald Heist. Meanwhile, a pair of tabloid journalists are trying to get to figure out exactly what is the story with Marko and Alana. Could two enemy combatants actually have deserted, got married and had a child? There are, however, forces who aren't all that excited about the story being published and want them to stop. The Will, Cat, Gwendolyn and the slave girl they rescued are stuck on an idyllic alien planet while waiting for their spaceship to be repaired. Gwen is impatient to catch up to their targets, but the Will seems quite content to stay on the new planet. He doesn't seem to realise that he's seeing impossible things and that listening to the wrong influences could put them all in terrible danger.


I gave the last two trade paperbacks 4.5 stars, but who am I kidding? This is absolutely solid gold entertainment and I'm not going to hold back any longer. The story has everything. Humour, action, romance, adventure, danger, a talking cat who can tell if you're lying, a ghostly babysitters, a very snarky narrator constantly teasing things yet to come. These six issues of Saga made me laugh out loud, bite my nails with tension, swear loudly, nearly cry more than once, sigh happily and squee at least once. The dialogue is snappy, the characters are great, the art is absolutely gorgeous and some of the concepts and ideas presented just blow my mind away. I keep badgering all my friends to read it, and have bought the first volumes as gifts for several, in the hopes of getting them hooked. I'm really not joking when I say that everyone should be reading this. 

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2014/04/cbr6-book-35-saga-volume-3-by-brian-k.html
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2014-04-13 00:54
#CBR6 Book 31: "Changes" by Jim Butcher
Changes (Dresden Files, Book 12) - Jim Butcher

Spoiler warning! This is book 12 in The Dresden Files and pretty much every single thing that happens in this book plays on stuff that's been introduced in earlier books. There is NO way for me to review this book without spoiling events from earlier books, and frankly, parts of this one. This book is full of surprises, so if you haven't read the book yet, please skip the review. I would also recommend that you avoid all other reviews, and even the blurb on the back of the book until after you've read it. 


So this is the book where Jim Butcher clearly decides that Harry's life, despite the many dangerous situations he's experienced and the challenges he's faced, was far too harmonious and cushy and decides to turn everything not only upside down, but really shake things up entirely. By the end of the book, there are few things I can think of that haven't been drastically changed in some or several ways.


So it turns out Harry is a father. Susan Rodriguez, his half-vampire ex-girlfriend (who first appeared in book 2, Fool Moon) got pregnant after their last encounter (in book 5, Death Masks). She's kept the existence of their daughter's identity from him, and only contacts him when the girl has been abducted from her foster family by Red Court vampires. Susan and her sidekick Martin show up on his doorstep, and while Harry is deeply hurt and shocked by her news, he is eventually forced to admit that neither he nor Susan have lives where they can raise a little girl. Maggie (named for Harry's mother) has been taken by Duchess Arianna Ortega, who wants revenge on Harry for killing her husband. As Harry and Susan frantically search for their child, they discover that the Red Court vampires, who are allegedly proposing a peace treaty with the White Council of wizards, are in fact planning to use Maggie in a powerful ritual, which will kill anyone of Harry's bloodline. 


Over the course of the book, Harry not only has to come to terms with the idea of fatherhood and the knowledge that he may not be able to rescue his little girl in time, but his office is blown up by Red Court vampires (turns out they owned the whole building and has been charging him unreasonably high monthly rent) and his apartment building burns down. Luckily, he'd stashed away most of his magical artifacts in the Nevernever before the FBI came to raid the apartment, but apart from that, he's left with only the leather duster on his back. He's left literally beaten and broken and is forced to reconsider everything he'd previously been willing to do, in order to get the chance to rescue his only child. 


With Butcher literally tearing down Dresden's entire life around him, it's so satisfying to see that Harry has friends and family who are willing to risk everything along with him. This is a book that starts with a bang and just keeps on getting more and more extreme. Every time I thought things couldn't get darker, Butcher turned up the dial. This book goes all the way up to 11. I kept being surprised at the twists and turns it took, and the final act reminded me a lot of the final episode of Torchwood: Children of Earth in terms of emotional punch and the way it wrung me out. I must admit that I had, sadly, had the very end of the book spoiled for me  (don't actually read the back covers of future books in the series before you read them, they spoil a LOT), but after all the other stuff that happens in the book, I doubt I would have been surprised either way. In a book where so many other transformative events happen to Harry Dresden, the ending of the book was really rather inevitable. This book, more than any of the previous ones, made me realise why everyone raves so much about The Dresden Files. I suspect there is very little that can happen in future books that would keep me from following this series until the final book now. Brilliantly done, Mr. Butcher. 

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.com/2014/04/cbr6-book-31-changes-by-jim-butcher.html
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review 2014-04-13 00:52
#CBR6 Book 30: "The Glass Casket" by McCormick Templeman
The Glass Casket - McCormick Templeman

Rowan Rose lives in the little village of Nag's End with her father. Like her father, an experienced scholar, Rowan enjoys assisting him with translations and is proud of her achievements. Five soldiers ride through the village on their way up the mountain, and some days later, are found horribly killed by the men of the village. In a journal left by one of the soldiers are the words: "It's starting.". The elders of Nag's End declare the deaths the result of an animal attack, but not everyone is convinced. Among them is Rowan's best friend, the innkeeper's son Tom. He's clearly affected by the dead men, and reluctant to tell her about what they found. He's also clearly smitten with the new girl in the village, the distractingly beautiful Fiona Eira, who Rowan's father has forbidden her to ever speak to. Rowan is sad to see her best friend drifting away from her, but also wants nothing more than for him to be happy.


Soon it's obvious that whatever killed the soldiers in the mountain was not a wild animal, and the death toll in the village keeps going up. Rowan keeps having vivid nightmares that seem connected with the lurking horror spreading in the village. Tom is acting more and more strangely and together with his brother Jude, Rowan tries to investigate the cause.


The Glass Casket contains influences from a number of fairy tales, and much of it feels like it could have been written by the Brothers Grimm. The atmosphere of the distant little village in the mountains of some central European Medieaval kingdom is superstitious and oppressive and it's clear that unorthodox thinking and progressive ideas are not particularly welcomed. Strangers are distrusted, as evidenced by the arrival of Fiona Eira and her step-parents. Decisions that go against the wishes of the elders are practically unheard of. A woman has little to no independence once she is married, she is her husband's helpmeet and aids him and his family. This is one of the reasons Rowan doesn't really want to get married, she loves her translation work and dreams of travelling to the capital, where her father once lived.


Rowan has known Tom all her life, and while she knows his mother would be delighted if they were to marry, she loves him only as a friend. His older brother Jude has always unnerved her. She is slow to accept his help, but once tragedy strikes in the village, Tom gets more and more distant. He seems to stay out in the woods all night and Rowan begins to fear that he is somehow connected with the tragic deaths that have struck the village. Her father has always kept himself and his daughter apart from a lot of the traditional beliefs of the other villagers, and as the increasingly more terrible events unfold, Rowan begins to discover that there are reasons for this.


This is not a perfect book, by any means, but it is a very creepy, at times surprisingly gory young adult book book. I thought the loyalty and affection between Tom and Rowan was great and I appreciated how Rowan wanted to break out of the more traditional feminine roles of her society, but not in a way that felt anachronistic or wrong for the time period the book is set in. There are so many different things that unnerved me about this book and I have to admit to staying up far too late into the night just to finish it. The various twists that are introduced towards the end of the book didn't all work that well, in my opinion, but on the whole this was a very satisfying and scary read that I suspect a lot of teen readers will adore. 

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review 2014-03-27 17:21
#CBR6 Book 24: Hero by Alethea Kontis
Hero - Alethea Kontis

Saturday Woodcutter believes she is the only one of her many siblings without any magic, until the day when she throws a mirror out of the window in a rage, and conjures an ocean in the backyard. Because one of her brothers has run away and Saturday believes her ocean may have drowned him, she grabs her trusty axe (which has decided to change shape into a sword for the time being) and sets sail on her sister Thursday's pirate ship in order to try to locate him again. She's abducted by a giant bird and taken to an icy cave, towards the top of the highest mountain in the world. The blind witch there isn't actually all that skilled at magic and was attempting to kidnap Saturday's eldest brother, the adventurous Jack Woodcutter, who's the man who stole the witch's eyes in the first place. 


Saturday is advised to keep silent about her true identity by Peregrine, a cross-dressing young man also trapped at the top of the mountain. The witch believes him to be her daughter, after the foolish young noble accepted a wish from what he thought was a kindly fairy. The wish was in fact a curse, and it allowed the witch's daughter to escape her mountain home, forcing Peregrine to take her place instead. He's lost track of the years he's spent there, trying to foil the witch's many plots. Peregrine dreams of breaking free of the curse and going back to his betrothed, who he believes he's seen in visions through much of his time in captivity. Imagine his surprise when he realises that the fearless warrior woman he's seen in visions and dreams is in fact Saturday. 


Saturday, in turn, doesn't see why romance needs to have any part in her adventure, although she can't deny that she likes kissing Peregrine. To rescue him, and escape the mountain, it looks like she's going to have to kill the witch, who's dangerously close to opening a portal to a hell dimension. Of course, killing the witch may wake the slumbering dragon on the mountain top and kill them all. What's an adventurous young lady to do? It's not easy being a hero. 


This is a sequel to Enchanted, where we first meet the Woodcutter family, and Saturday's youngest sister Sunday falls in love with a frog prince. Alethea Kontis doesn't really retell just the one fairy tale, instead mixing all sorts of elements from fairy stories, mythology, folk lore and adventure stories in a blender and throwing the results together into exciting young adult fantasy stories. While Sunday's story was sweet, I think I liked Saturday's story even more, as the gender reversal of the characters in this book really appealed to me. 


Saturday is tall, and not particularly feminine, and comes from a family blessed with a number of magical gifts, without believing herself to have any. She's got an enchanted axe, and has been working with her woodcutter father and brother in the woods for much of her life. With a brother whose legendary for his quests and adventures, several sisters married to royalty and one who's off on the high seas being a pirate, Saturday never really imagined she'd get to leave on an exciting journey on her own. She's pragmatic and sensible, and not prone to daydreaming. She certainly never expected to find a man in a skirt, posing as a witch's assistant on the top of a mountain, confessing that he's dreamed about her since very likely decades before she was actually born. That's going to flummox the best of people.


As Saturday discovers on her adventure, you don't always choose to be a hero, sometimes circumstances just force you into it. She's a great character, as is Peregrine, who is a wonderful example of a beta hero, not at all concerned with the idea that Saturday is physically stronger or a more skilled fighter than he is. The curse the witch's daughter cast on him keeps him from aging while he's trapped, and gave him a much more feminine appearance than he was born with. He's learned to adapt to his long hair (which grows back if he tries to cut it) and being forced to dress in skirts, but has hidden every mirror he can find and tries to avoid reflective surfaces. His captivity is a fairly lonely one, especially after Jack Woodcutter managed to escape, having stolen the witch's eyes. His only friend is Betwixt, a chimera also captured by the witch, who's forced to change shape every time the witch does magic, unable to choose his own shape until the witch dies. The two make a wry and humorous odd couple, keeping each other company and trying to foil the witch as best they can. 


I applaud Alethea Kontis' imagination and creativity and hope she keeps publishing at least a book a year. There are clearly more books coming in this series, and I hope that while sequels possibly also focus on other members of the Woodcutter family, this is not the the readers see of Saturday, Peregrine and Betwixt. 

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.com/2014/03/cbr6-book-24-hero-by-alethea-kontis.html
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