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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 2016-12-26 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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review 2016-12-12 17:37
#CBR8 Book 117: The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You by Lily Anderson
The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You - Lily Anderson

Beatrice "Trixie" Watson has two goals for her senior year. She wants to save enough money to buy the collectible Doctor Who figurines at the local comics shop and she intends to knock her nemesis, Benedict "Ben" West down to fourth place in their fancy prep school ranking. The two have always had a tense and antagonistic relationship, going all the way back to when Ben caused Trixie to break her arm on the monkey bars during first grade. This year, she is determined to do everything it takes to crush him academically.

Ben and Trixie's friends, however, are less than thrilled about their decade-long rivalry, which only seems to be getting more mean-spirited with every year. When Trixie's best friend Harper starts dating Ben's best friend, Cornell, they are forced to spend more time in each other's company and their group of friends is adamant that they need to stop the constant sniping, as it's getting on everyone's nerves. Once they start actually talking civilly to one another, they discover that they share many geeky interests and possibly they don't need to savage each other verbally every chance they get.

As the school year proceeds, several students get accused of cheating, an unforgivable offence at a competitive school like Messina Academy for the Gifted. The group think little of it until one day, it seems these people may have been framed, by none other than Harper, who is immediately expelled. Cornell seems to abandon her and Trixie is furious. Will Ben pick Cornell's side or help Trixie investigate and clear Harper's name?

Back in July, Caitlin gave this book 5 stars over on the Cannonball group blog. A clever YA retelling of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, where all the various characters are nerds of all varieties attending a prestigious prep school? They are deeply opinionated about Firefly andDoctor Who (more on that later) and flirt about Saga. How could I not love this? While Caitlin said that all the nerdy references didn't work for her, they were part of what made me really get into the story. It really is so well done, and the modernised take on how Harper/Hero is ruined is much better than ZOMG! She may not be pure as the driven snow! of the original play and they don't actually have to fake anyone's death to resolve things, I was amused and happy throughout the story, with one notable exception.

Lily Anderson is a school librarian and has clearly spent a huge amount of time around teenagers. That much is clear. She's probably done quite a lot of research into the various fandoms she has her characters geek out about. She cannot, however, have spoken to anyone sane about Doctor Who, because in a moment that pretty much felt like a nails down the chalkboard, abrupt record scratch sort of an incident, she has her two main characters discussing their favourite Doctor Who episodes. Trixie claims her favourite episode is the Neil Gaiman-scripted The Doctor's Wife. As this is also my favourite, so far, so identifiable. Then Ben proceeds to say that no, his favourite episode is Nightmare in Silver (also scripted by Gaiman).

And I almost had to throw my e-reader across the room. I interrupted my focused Read-a-thon reading to rant loudly at my husband (the biggest Doctor Who fan I know) about this for some time, and it made me so sad, because up until that point, this book was well on its way to becoming a five star read. But no one in the history of ever who has actually watched the show and knows anything about how the episodes are recieved would have a character claimNightmare in Silver was their favourite episode. It may have been written by Neil Gaiman, but it's also acknowledged by Gaiman himself, and Steven Moffat, the current showrunner, as a failure of execution and it's frequently rated as one of the least popular in the show's fifty year history in fan polls. As well as ranting to the husband about it, I posted about my outrage on Goodreads, and got support from others that this wasn't just a plotline choice that bothered me, but seemed baffling to others, as well.

I did stick with the book, although more filled with scepticism and distrust than before. The various twists and turns of the original play really are very well modernised and while I'm not entirely sure about the motivation of the person who is eventually revealed to be behind framing Harper, as I said, no one had to fake their death and there was a lot less judgemental virtue-shaming. The book clearly takes inspiration from great movies like Mean Girls and 10 Things I Hate About You. Even two months later, the complete failure on the author's part to properly research Doctor Who still upsets me, though. To someone less nerdy than me, this will probably not be such a big deal. If you like Shakespeare and/or cleverly written YA, give this book a try.

Judging a book by its cover: With two characters whose lives revolve around nerdy and geeky things and their weekly visits to the local comics shop, and who fall in love while discussingSaga, it seems very appropriate to have a cover evoking comic book panels. The leg up pose while kissing is possibly a bit cheesy, but I'll let it slide. Unlike that thing with Nightmare in Silver. Which is unforgivable!

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2016/12/cbr8-book-117-only-thing-worse-than-me.html
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review 2016-11-26 15:57
#CBR8 Book 115: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
The Invisible Library - Genevieve Cogman

Irene is an agent of the Library, a place that exists outside normal space and time. In fact, as long as the agents and librarians that work for the Library are there, they do not age in the slightest. Only when they are out in the different worlds of the multiverse, do they visibly age, and how much depends how time passes in the various worlds they find themselves. As an agent of the Library, Irene is sent to retrieve books that are deemed of value, because they are represent something different from what already exists in the archives. Sometimes she has to disguise herself and go undercover for months, sometimes she can just stroll into a shop and buy a book. Having just completed a several month stint as a scullery maid at a posh boarding school, Irene is looking forward to some down-time. Instead, she is told she is to mentor a trainee library agent and that they are to start their new mission immediately.

 

Irene's new assistant, Kai, is very handsome and very tight-lipped about his background. The Library never recruits anyone with living family, unless they are the children of other Library agents (like Irene) and therefore understand the need for secrecy and the strange customs and traditions that surround the work. He seems eager and helpful enough, but it becomes clear to Irene that he's not entirely truthful about where he came from, and she wonders if the senior librarians know of his falsehoods. 

 

Irene and Kai are sent to a world resembling a Steampunk Victorian England. It is a world heavily influenced by chaos magic (some worlds are heavy in magic, some are almost devoid of it. Some worlds are highly technologically advanced, some very primitive) and there are vampires, werewolves, sinister dark fae and mechanically enhanced alligators waiting to attack. Irene and Kai discover that the owner of the book they're after was a vampire, recently murdered rather spectacularly. A cat burglar with a glamorous reputation appears to be involved and the fae ambassador for Lichtenstein is very keen to get his hands on the book, as well. To complicate matters further, Irene receives word that Alberich, a centuries old Librarian gone rogue and evil, is also in this reality, wanting the book for unspecified reasons. Their mission, which was supposed to be a fairly innocuous training exercise is turning out to be very dangerous, and they'll be lucky if they even survive, let alone succeed in getting the book back to the Library.

 

The world-building in this story is intriguing. There's the Library, where they clearly have fairly advanced technology, existing in a place where time apparently stays still. No one ages while within its walls. The agents of the Library can travel in both space and time, visiting hundreds of alternate worlds, some very like our own, some very different. The agents are trained in the use of magic, and there is a secret magical language that can be used to manipulate the world around you, but only if you speak it with the right vocabulary and inflection. Who exactly runs the Library and how one ascends through the ranks to become Librarians or even Senior Librarians was only hinted at, but I hope it's revealed in later books. 

 

The main characters, Irene and Kai, were fun to spend time with. All agents take their names from literary characters and Irene loves all kinds of detective fiction, so named herself after the famous Ms. Adler. Being sent to a world that so closely resembles the setting of her beloved Conan Doyle novels is thrilling to her, especially when they befriend a gentleman detective who certainly fits right into the genre Irene so enjoys. Having always been aware of the Library, she doesn't really question its organisation, and how it goes about recruiting people. She starts having questions once she gets to know Kai more closely, though, and wonders if it's right that only people wholly unconnected in the world get to be recruited. 

 

While there is a more contemporary, modern setting to some bits of the book, most of this is set in a Steampunk, late Victorian setting, with dirigibles and the occasional mechanically enhanced menace. There are quite a lot of action sequences, with our protagonists finding themselves in peril of various kinds. One of Irene's rival agents from the Library pops up with her own agenda, and there is the looming threat of the sinister Alberich. As a first book in a series, it was a good introduction. I certainly want to read more.

 

What I'm not going to do is continue with the audio books. The audio book (which I got in a big Audible sale last year) is narrated by Susan Duerden, whose inflection is just so annoying. Her voice had a tendency to go up and down at the strangest time, and she frequently ended sentences on a high point, making it seem as if everything was a question. It was incredibly distracting, and meant that I spent much longer getting through the audio book than usual, because I actively avoided it for a time, just because the narrator's voice was so grating to me. Searching the Audible catalogue, I notice that she's the narrator for the sequel of this, as well as for a lot of other books in fantasy and romance. I'm going to have to pay attention when getting new audio books, because I'm not interested in having this narrator worsening any more listening experiences for me. 

 

Judging a book by its cover: I quite like the cover design, with the green, slightly marbled background and the almost golden font and decorations of a lady and a gentleman silhouetted in period costume. Not entirely sure what the snakes at the top have been included for (there are no snakes in the story as far as I can remember), but they add a sense of danger, I guess. The cover designer could possibly have made more of an effort to try to convey more of the adventure and action aspects of the book - if you remove the rather cheesy taglines, there's nothing to suggest to a reader that this isn't just some sort of run of the mill historical novel.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2016/11/cbr8-book-115-invisible-library-by.html
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