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text 2017-07-12 21:01
Exciting July Releases That Are On My TBR
A Paris All Your Own: Bestselling Women Writers on the City of Light - Eleanor Brown
A Name Unknown (Shadows Over England) - Roseanna M. White
The Diplomat's Daughter: A Novel - Karin Tanabe
Where the Light Falls: A Novel of the French Revolution - Owen Pataki,Allison Pataki
Seducing Abby Rhodes - J.D. Mason
Edward VII: The Prince of Wales and the Women He Loved - Catharine Arnold
The One I've Waited For (The Crystal Series) - Mary B. Morrison
The Cartel 7: Illuminati: Roundtable of Bosses - Ashley and JaQuavis,JaQuavis Coleman
The Truth We Bury: A Novel - Barbara Taylor Sissel

I finished only one book in June. I was quite shocked. I've started many and am hopeful that July will be a better month for reading. I've been out of sorts personally and physically. However, this list of books are right up my street and I'm sure are going to be awesome reads. I'm revisiting favorite authors and genres.

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review 2016-12-31 02:04
#CBR8 Book 133: My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows
My Lady Jane - Brodi Ashton,Jodi Meadows,Cynthia Hand

According to history, when King Edward VI, Henry VIII's son died young and childless, certain noblemen who wanted to make sure a ruler of the Protestant faith ruled the country put his young cousin Lady Jane Gray on the throne. She ruled for nine days, before Mary Tudor arrived with her armies, removed the poor girl and had her beheaded. This book bears a vague resemblance to that story.

In the England of this story, the conflict in England isn't between Catholics and Protestants, it's between non-shapeshifters, also known as Verities, and shapeshifters, better known as eðians (pronounced eethians). King Henry VIII himself turned into a great big lion, on occasion, but even so, the eðians are generally hunted and distrusted by the populace in general. Princess Mary is staunchly against them and want them all killed, while young King Edward and his best friend and cousin, Lady Jane Grey read everything they can about them and would like nothing more than to discover eðian abilities of their own.

Sadly, Edward appears to be dying. He has been told by Lord Dudley, his chief adviser and his physicians that he's suffering from "the affliction" and that he is unlikely to have long, certainly not long enough to marry and produce a male heir. Luckily Dudley has a plan to secure a succession that will make sure an eðian-friendly ruler ends up on the English trone. He suggests that Edward change the line of succession to ensure that his cousin Lady Jane's heirs inherit. Of course, Jane needs to be married to produce heirs, but Dudley has just the candidate. His younger son, Gifford. There is the minor difficulty that Gifford Dudley is an eðian and spends every day from sunup to sunset as a magnificent stallion, but any heirs would be conceived at night anyways, so Dudley is sure Jane wouldn't mind too much.

When the extremely intellectual Jane finds out that she's to be married off within a few days, she travels to the Dudley estate (carrying with her a suitable supply of books to entertain her) to meet her intended. Unfortunately, because of some rather shameful nightly pursuits, Gifford (just call him G) has let it be known that he's a rampant womaniser. It's more socially acceptable than what he gets up to. Hence his older brother mistakes Jane for one of his younger brother's many suspected floozies and Jane believes her impending husband is a lecherous libertine (he's not, he's actually a poet). Nor does anyone deem it appropriate to tell her about her husband's eðian status, so she has quite the surprise the morning after her wedding, when the groom turns into a big horse in the middle of her bedroom.

As Edward takes a rapid turn for the worse shortly after the wedding, his sister Elizabeth warns him that he mustn't trust his physicians and he realises that Dudley is up to no good, and that Jane may be in terrible danger as well.

This is a delightful farce of a book, where we follow the points of view of Edward, Jane and G (he never liked the name Gifford) as the story progresses. Since there are three authors, I suspect each of them took one character and wrote their sections. Having loosely based the first half on actual historical events (if you ignore the shapeshifters), the second half is pure fantasy and a lot of fun. The book is clearly inspired by The Princess Bride, with the narrators occasionally interrupting the narrative to address the reader directly. Readers will recognise that most of Gifford's poetry is strikingly similar to that of one William Shakespeare. There is humour reminiscent of Monty Python and Blackadder, while at least one plot development brings to mind the lovely Ladyhawke, one of my favourite eighties movies (I'd love to get a version with a non-synthy soundtrack).

I've seen this book included on several best of 2016 lists, and while I'm not sure I enjoyed it enough to include it in my top ten of the year, it's a very enjoyable romp from start to finish. My one complaint is that the book is a bit long and I think some of the parts in the second half could have been edited a bit more. As a huge fan of Tudor history in general, and having always been sympathetic to poor Lady Jane, the nine days queen, who really didn't have much choice in the matter and was a political pawn her entire life, it was nice to see a story that reimagines a much happier ending for her. Possibly not the book for you if you take your history very seriously, but highly recommended for anyone who wants a fun, creative and irreverent reimagining of history.

Judging a book by its cover: While on first look, this may seem like any old historical novel, with your red-headed girl in Tudor era clothing and a big red font bringing your attention to the title, you need only take a closer look to see that there's more here. In little "hand-written notes" and arrows pointing to the girl on the cover, the writers explain that "Sometimes history gets it all wrong". The other notes say "It's not easy being queen" and "Off with her head".

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2016/12/cbr8-book-133-my-lady-jane-by-cynthia.html
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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 2016-12-26 22:41
#CBR8 Book 124: Where Am I Now? True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame by Mara Wilson
Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame - Mara Wilson

I wasn't initially going to get this book. While I've seen Mrs. Doubtfire and Matilda, possibly the two films that Mara Wilson is most famous for, I haven't really watched any of the others she was a child star in, nor do I follow her Twitter or writing career as an adult. It just didn't seem like this would be all that interesting to me. Nonetheless, this book got a lot of positive write-ups from people with good taste, including Patrick Rothfuss and Wil Wheaton (himself a child star once upon a time) and several of my Goodreads friends. I do like an entertaining audio book, so I changed my mind and used a credit on it. Now I'm glad I did. 

 

As with a lot of celebrity autobiographies, Ms. Wilson reads the book herself, and she has a very wry and self-deprecating way of telling the stories about herself. As she reveals later in the book that one of the things she does for a living now is storytelling, it should come as no surprise that this is a well-told book. The book is an anthology of observations, many dealing with Ms. Wilson's childhood, not just as a child actress, but also dealing with her anxiety and OCD, the death of her mother and how and why she made the choice to give up acting when she became a teenager. There's an open letter to Matilda, the character she is most famous for, and there are stories about her college years and her writing as an adult. The chapter dealing with her mother's death and how it feels growing up without a mother, even though she seems to have a lovely stepmother; the one where she talks about determining the fairly severe levels of her OCD, not to mention the one where she talks about Robin Williams and learning about his death were probably the ones that affected me the most.

 

The reason this book doesn't quite get one of my highest rating is that it really is quite short. I was surprised at how quickly it was finished, and some of the stories are just not all that interesting and felt a bit like filler. This book was written before Ms. Wilson came out openly as bisexual, and as others have already pointed out in their reviews, I suspect some of the chapters would may have been written a bit differently if this was public knowledge. It's a good book, and Wilson is a witty story teller. While not on the same level as Craig Ferguson's or Amy Poehler's books, it was stil a good read.

 

Judging a book by its cover: It's a fairly simple cover, and shows Mara Wilson as she is probably most well-known and recognised. As a little girl, from her role as Matilda. I suspect most people don't know what Wilson looks like as an adult (I had to do a Google image search), so putting one of her most iconic images on the cover of a book that deals with her life as a child star, and has several chapters dealing with Matilda, it seems like good marketing strategy. I know she says in the book that she hates being called cute, but she really was.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2016/12/cbr8-book-124-where-am-i-now-true.html
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