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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 2016-12-28 02:48
#CBR8 Book 130: The One in My Heart by Sherry Thomas
The One In My Heart - Sherry Thomas

From Goodreads:

When Evangeline Canterbury meets the gorgeous, intriguing doctor next door, all she wants from him is a bit of distraction, to help her get over a few rough days.

 

Her one-night stand, however, has other plans: He needs an accomplished and presentable girlfriend to bring before his parents - and for six months of her time, he is willing and prepared to spend an obscene amount of money.

 

Nothing but trouble can come of such an arrangement. But can Eva stop herself? Or will she fall headlong in love with a man who will leave her when their contract expires with a smile, a check and hardly a backward glance?

 

I really like Sherry Thomas' historical novels. Her characters tend to be complex and quite frequently quite wounded individuals, who have trouble forming loving bonds. The stories are frequently quite angst-ridden and there is a lot of heavy emotional territory that needs to be negotiated before the parties can find their happy endings. This is Sherry Thomas' only contemporary romance to date, and since she's currently busy writing gender-swapped Sherlock Holmes fan fiction (which I'm very much looking forward to reading, by the way), I doubt she'll be going back to this genre any time soon. 

 

I really don't know exactly what I think about this book. At the start of the book, it purports to be a very different story than it ends up becoming. Bennett, the hero, initially seems very manipulative and rather off-putting, while it's clear that the heroine, Eva, has a lot of emotional issues to deal with, not least her fears about her mentally unstable, bipolar step-mother, Zelda, with whom she also shares a flat. 

 

Back when Eva was a teenager, her father and Zelda took her to Paris, to a prestigious socialite ball, where she was supposed to be escorted by the son of friends of Zelda's. He never showed up, due to some scandal, and shortly after the ball, Zelda had a massive breakdown and extended hospital stay, after which she divorced Eva's father. Eva, who loves her step-mother fiercely, believes that if the "Somerset boy" had just showed up, Zelda might never have had said mental collapse and their lives might all have turned out differently. She keeps dreaming of this mysterious "Somerset boy" and never really allows herself any long-term relationships, because she's worried what might happen to Zelda if she's not there to take care of her.

 

Will you be surprised if I tell you that the gorgeous, fantabulously wealthy doctor that Eva has a one-night stand with, who later offers to pay her half a million dollars to pose as his girlfriend for six months, our hero Bennett, is none other than that mysterious Somerset boy? Of course you won't. He was pretty much always going to be. The scandal he was involved in way back then was considerable enough that his family broke all ties with him, and now he wants to mend fences and reunite with them. Showing up with Eva on his arm, a beautiful and very accomplished scientist with many lucrative patents and a career in her own right, who just so happens to be the girl they once tried to set him up with? They'll surely have to accept him back with open arms.

 

Yet Bennett's reunion with his family is not the whole story here. Eva has trouble trusting Bennett, for all that she becomes slightly obsessed with him and the way he can make her body feel. Even though he seemingly has a lot of less desirable qualities, he is always scrupulously honest with Eva about his past, the reasons he became estranged from his family and the many not so honourable things he did when trying to provoke his father over the years. Eva is completely incapable of opening up in return. 

 

Around the half-way point of the book, it became clear that Thomas was telling a different story from what you are first expecting. When Bennett revealed the full truth, I suddenly saw him and his previous actions in a completely new light, and instead Eva became the problematic character. Her many complex hang-ups and her absolute unwillingness to open up or in any way attempt to change made me want to both shout at her and shake her. I loved her relationship with her step-mother, and the very realistic portrayal of what living with someone bipolar is actually like, but it wasn't enough for me to warm to this as a romance.

 

For the first half of the book, Bennett sort of gave me the creeps as a hero, and for the second half of the book, I wanted Bennett to go off and find someone more worthy of him, because Evangeline was a rubbish heroine. It obviously all ends up working out in the end - it is a romance, after all, but this is by far my least favourite of Thomas' novels to date. I suspect that I would probably like it more upon a re-read, but it seems unlikely that I'll pick it back up again any time soon. Nonetheless, this book has words in the title that have made it a possible read in FIVE separate months this year for my Monthly Key Word Reading Challenge. It's also been on my TBR list for more than a year. I pretty much had to read it before the year was out.

 

Judging a book by its cover: My feelings about the cover for this book much reflect the feelings I have for the actual novel - largely indifferent. Beautiful scenery, I'm assuming it's the Italian coastline. Generic couple smooching. *shrugs* I find the choice to have one and my in the title italicised. It doesn't so much emphasise the words as make the cover look slightly off somehow.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2016/12/cbr8-book-130-one-in-my-heart-by-sherry.html
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review 2016-12-26 01:01
#CBR8 Book 122: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Six of Crows - David LeDoux,Jay Snyder,Roger Clark,Lauren Fortgang,Elizabeth Evans,Leigh Bardugo,Tristan Morris,Audible Studios,Brandon Rubin From Goodreads: Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price - and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can't pull it off alone... A convict with a thirst for revenge A sharpshooter who can't walk away from a wager A runaway with a privileged past A spy known as the Wraith A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes Kaz's crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction - if they don't kill each other first. Kaz Brekker, teenage criminal mastermind, is offered an unbelievable sum of money to retrieve a scientist from the impenetrable and fiercely guarded Fjerdan Ice Court. The mission is pretty much an impossible task and almost certainly a suicide mission. He gathers a crew of other teenage outcasts, but just pulling the crew together and getting out of Ketterdam involves a prison break, multiple disguises, near-death experiences and explosions. Even as though it got better with each book, I was not as impressed with Leigh Bardugo's Grisha trilogy as some seem to have been. I never really invested all that much in the characters, the attempts at romance fell flat for me, but I did very much like the world building and magic systems established. In Six of Crows Bardugo takes everything that worked in her first trilogy and expands on it, showing us not only alternate fantasy versions of Russia, but of a sort of 19th Century Netherlands, as well as showing us the Fjerdans, who are pretty much really magic-hating Scandinavians. In addition to exciting new locations, she creates a thrilling and extremely intricate plot and populates it with an amazing cast of characters. This book has six protagonists, and five different main narrators (Kaz, Inej, Nina, Jesper and Matthias), plus some additional points of view in the prologue and epilogue. In the audio book, the narrators are all very distinct, which helps you follow the labyrinthine plot. A good heist plot is a wonderful thing and this book has been compared with Oceans 11 by a lot of people. The first third of the book establishes the mission and has Kaz assembling his band of criminally minded misfits, then it moves at break-neck speed onto the heist itself, where the stakes are high, every member of the group has their own agenda and there are a number of rival factions who may beat them to their prize. I got this audiobook last year, in a Daily Deal, but made myself wait to listen to it until after I'd finished the Grisha trilogy. There are minor references to Bardugo's first series, but nothing that is essential and all the Grisha magic is still nicely explained, so you can easily follow the story even if you haven't read the trilogy. Even if it's a long book, I got through it relatively quickly and listened to it every chance I got. I can highly recommend the audio and if you like good, action-packed, adventure fantasy, you should absolutely check this book out. Judging a book by its cover: When I reviewed the final two books in the Grisha trilogy, I was very enthusiastic about the covers. I'm not sure exactly what sacrifices Ms. Bardugo has done to the gods of cover design, but they have heard her loud and clear. The beautiful silhouette of a city, while also showing a flying crow's wing and a sky full of stars, it's so beautiful and I want to own these books, not just as audio or in e-format, but in physical paper copies so I can admire the covers fully.
Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2016/12/cbr8-book-122-six-of-crows-by-leigh.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 2016-12-01 19:24
The Dress Shop of Dreams - Menna van Praag

Lately I can't seem to find the patience, or the will, to write reviews. Especially for books that I don't like ( which unfortunately seems to be the rule lately).

I feel emotionally drained at all levels, so my patience for half assed stories is even more reduced.

This was my first story by the author, and more likely will be my last.

Some writing styles and stories work out for me, others don't: what is supposed to feel magical realism feels lame to me, and sometimes I just feel like dnf a book after a first paragraph.

But then bad things happen, and I feel so lousy, that this is just the kind of story that I should be reading: a story about which I just don't care about.

I thought this was going to be about a character, Cora. Instead there was a myriad of characters _ most of which I couldn't care about _ with their vastly pov's, who would change briskly at the will of the wind?

Every single time I would start feeling some connection to a character, boom, there would be a pov's change.

For me the characters felt cardboard, the romances weak as hell ( with the exception of the police officer and his wife... that one I would have liked to have had more), and one of the characters _ Milly _ almost made me throw the Kobo against a wall.

Not for me I'm afraid.

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