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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 2016-12-26 01:01
#CBR8 Book 122: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Six of Crows - Brandon Rubin,Audible Studios,Tristan Morris,Leigh Bardugo,Elizabeth Evans,Lauren Fortgang,Roger Clark,Jay Snyder,David LeDoux 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 2016-12-26 00:55
#CBR8 Book 121: Storm's Heart by Thea Harrison
Storm's Heart - Thea Harrison

I read this TWO months ago, and need to get through this ever-increasing review backlog, hence resorting to the blurb once more:

During the rule of her murderous Dark Fae uncle, Thistle "Tricks" Periwinkle found sanctary among the Wyr in New York. Her ethereal beauty and sparkling personality won the hearts of the public, but after her uncle's death, there are those who don't want to see her ascend to the throne. 

Able to wield thunder and lightning, Wyr sentinel Thiago Black Eagle has ruled the skies for centuries. His massive build and thunderous power makes him one of the Wyr's best weapons. And he's sent to protect Tricks when she's almost assassinated in Chicago.

Soon, both Tiago and Tricks will fall prey to the stormy hunger that engulfs them - a passion that will shake the very foundation of all the worlds. 

Last year, I read and really enjoyed Dragon Bound, the first of Thea Harrison's Elder Races paranormal romance series. This book, which features some of the supporting characters of the first book, Tricks, the petite and outgoing fae PR representative for Dragos, the super-Alpha dragon shifter whose the hero in book one, and Thiago, one of his main security guys, who happens to be a Thunderbird shifter and immensely powerful and so on and so forth. In Dragon Bound, there is a conflict with the ruler of the Dark Fae that ends in his death. Once he's killed, it is revealed that Tricks is in fact his long lost niece, the only surviving member of the original royal family, who were murdered when her evil uncle usurped the throne. She's been hiding with Dragos and the other Wyr shapeshifters in New York under her assumed identity. Now a delegation of Dark Fae are asking her to return and take up her rightful place as queen.

Others are less enthusiastic, and video where Tricks cuts down her would-be attackers in an alley in Chicago goes viral, while Tricks is nowhere to be found. Dragos sends his best tracker, Thiago, to locate and protect her. While the two seem not to have spent all that much time together in the past two centuries while they've been working for the same dragon, apparently taking up bodyguard duty, shielding her from new dangers and spending a lot more time in close confines for the reluctant Tricks makes Thiago realise that she is his fated mate. The various Elder Races have their own territories, and are not supposed to intermarry. The Dark Fae will not accept a queen mated to a Wyr, and Thiago becoming Tricks' consort could be seen as a dangerous power bid. Of course, all of these complications will be irrelevant if they don't figure out who is trying to assassinate Tricks before she can even make it to her home territory to take up her title.

This book was moderately entertaining while I read it, but I can now barely remember any of the details and mainly the bits that annoyed me, at that. Harrison makes no great attempt at actually establishing why Tricks and Thiago may suddenly be falling for one another, she basically just tells us that it's so. Fated mate storylines rarely work for me, because they just seem a bit lazy. Why bother showing us the characters getting to know one another and falling for each other when you can just make them meant to be? They have no control over their choices or actions, they are just destined to be compatible because...reasons? Also, this being a romance, the whole "oh noes, my people will never accept our union" seemed a bit contrived, as they are obviously going to stay together. Finally, it was painfully obvious to me who the person scheming to kill Tricks was from the moment said character was introduced. There was very little tension there.

Add to that the fact that it seems like for at least a quarter of the book, Harrison was mostly busy establishing the two characters who currently have an antagonistic relationship but are clearly fated to be together, neither of whom I was particularly excited about, and this book was a big disappointment compared to the first one. I'm hoping later books are better, but based on their introductions in this book, I may skip the next one too. I don't know if I care about the inscrutable vampire queen and the next of Dragos' many security officers.

Judging a book by its cover: Well, your eyes are certainly drawn to the abs, aren't they? Unlike the cover model for the last book, this one doesn't actually get a face, to leave more to the reader's imagination? I don't exactly think this cover is very exciting, but then the contents were pretty underwhelming too, so at least it's not trying to oversell the story? I've got nothing.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2016/12/cbr8-book-121-storms-heart-by-thea.html
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review 2016-12-12 17:36
#CBR8 Book 116: The Rest Falls Away by Colleen Gleason
The Rest Falls Away - Colleen Gleason

It's been two months since I read this (why, yes, I am terribly behind on my reviews), so I'm resorting to Goodreads for the summary:

Beneath the glitter of nineteenth century London society lurks a bloodthirsty evil...

Vampires have always lived among them, quietly attacking unsuspecting debutantes and dandified lords as well as hackney drivers and Bond Street milliners. If not for the vampire slayers of the Gardella family, these immortal creatures would long ago have taken control of the world. 

In every generation, a Gardella is called to accept the family legacy, and this time, Victoria Gardella Grantworth is chosen, on the eve of her debut, to carry the stake. But as she moves between the crush of ballrooms and dangerous moonlit streets, Victoria's heart is torn between London's most eligible bachelor, the Marquess of Rockley, and her dark, dangerous duty.

And when she comes face to face with the most powerful vampire in history, Victoria must ultimately make a choice between duty and love. 

Earlier this year, I read The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, which was being pitched a bit as Buffy in the Regency era (A teenage girl is the Chosen One and has to battle creatures of evil).The Gardella Vampire Chronicles, of which The Rest Falls Away is the first in a series of five books, was published back in 2007 (I read them in 2008-2009) and it also takes a young woman and pits her in the battle against vampires. Miss Victoria Gardella Grantworth has had her debut delayed due to a prolonged period of mourning and at the very same time as her mother and her two best friends, all highly placed in society, get ready to launch Victoria and find her a rich and influential husband, Victoria is told by her great-aunt Eustacia about the family legacy and has to make a choice about whether she wants to take up a clandestine career as a monster hunter. Because the Gardellas in the two generations separating Victoria and Eustacia chose not to accept their family duty (and was thus glamoured to forget there was ever such a choice), the powers have been building and Victoria will be unusually powerful for a Gardella.

She chooses to accept the family legacy, and is surprised to realise that her ladies' maid not only knows about vampires, but has all sorts of innovative ideas for how to conceal stakes and holy water receptacles about her person. She starts training martial arts with her great-aunt's manservant and tries in vain to convince fellow vampire slayer, the Italian Maximillian Pesaro that she really is very committed to slaying vampires, but she can manage it and enjoying herself at balls in the evenings, nonetheless. Their mutual animosity is not helped by the fact that Victoria mistakes him for a vampire and nearly stakes him the first time they meet. He's convinced she's a frivolous airhead who's taking their sacred duty lightly and grimly goes about trying to outdo her at every turn to prove his theories, to Eustacia's annoyance. She needs them working together, not sniping at each other.

While vampires have always existed in the world, the vampires of London are getting a lot more aggressive, due to the fact that the vampire queen, the ancient Lilith, is about to arrive, seeking an ancient book that can grant her unbelievable powers. Eustacia is too old to go out hunting anymore and needs Max and Victoria to do what they can to prevent Lilith's minions from getting the book. Meanwhile, Victoria is still going to society events, and has caught the eye of the Marquess of Rockley. Victoria's mother and her other two sponsors are beyond delighted, and do what they can to throw them together at every possible ball or gathering. Rockley is puzzled why Victoria keeps disappearing with flimsy pretexts, but seems determined to make her his bride. Can Victoria really combine married life and vampire slaying, though? How would Rockley react if she told him the truth about her family legacy?

As I remembered, the first book does a decent job of setting up the world-building and introducing most of the major players in the series, but it's not as exciting or engaging as the later books in the series, when the overarching plot really gets going. While I found Goodman's book a bit too long and meticulously researched to the point of slowing down the story for all the historical detail that was thrown in, this book is maybe a bit too short on detail and very action-orientated. Some of the characters seem almost like caricatures (they get more fleshed out as the series goes on), but I still enjoyed my re-read of the book.

Judging a book by its cover: Not a huge fan of the cover, mainly because I'm pretty sure no one would choose to wear a corset like that without some sort of undergarment, like a chemise, between the skin and the coarser fabric of the stays. I'm also pretty sure that's not an accurate corset for the time, when they wore mostly empire-waisted dresses and really didn't need the tiny, tiny waists. The red colour choice is quite dramatic, though (each book in the series has a different cover colour) and I guess it catches your eye. The book was given a cover design when the books were launched as e-books. On that, the cover model is holding a stake in one hand and a great big sword in the other, plus her clothing choices are even more anachronistic. So I guess if I have to choose one over the other, I'll pick this one.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2016/12/cbr8-book-116-rest-falls-away-by.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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