Saturday, 9 December 2017

#CBR9 Book 111: "Why I Loathe Stirling Lane" by Ingrid Paulson

Page count: 287 pages
Rating: 4 stars

It's probably safe to say that Harper Campbell has a Type A personality. In fact, in order to cope after the death of her mother, Harper has developed exactly 537 rules that help keep her life orderly and predictable, both academically and socially (not that she has much of a social life to speak of). Her first rule is to always take care of her twin brother, Cole, who seems to have gotten himself into some fairly serious trouble recently. Harper is convinced that the reason Cole is in trouble involves his new roommate, Sterling Lane, who has become rather infamous over the years, being expelled from more expensive schools that one can count. While Cole warmly defends and praises his new roommate, and the school administration seem very convinced that Mr Lane has turned over a new leaf and is a reformed character, Harper sees him for the dangerous delinquent that he really is and is determined to expose his sins to the world.

To prove that Sterling is bad news, Harper keeps being forced to break one or several of her precious rules, only to find that Sterling is always two steps ahead of her, usually framing her for something much worse than she's trying to get him reported for. But while Harper is so very determined to bring Sterling Lane down, she forgets about her first and most important rule, and Cole's troubles keep getting worse. He may end up getting expelled and/or facing criminal charges. Harper has no choice but to swallow her animosity and actually work together with her nemesis to prove Cole's innocence. She may discover that she and Sterling Lane aren't so different after all, in fact, they seem to be two sides of a rather devious coin. And perhaps she doesn't entirely and completely loathe him either.

Over the years, it's become very clear to me that the "enemies to lovers" trope is a favourite of mine in romance, going all the way back to Pride and Prejudice. Protagonists who initially can't stand each other, and who often work so very hard to one up each other, only to discover that their intense dislike stems from mutual attraction - it needs to be a pretty badly written story for that not to work for me. Here we have the trope at a posh boarding school involving clever teenagers rather than adults, but it still worked for me. The entire book is told from Harper's point of view, so we are entirely left to her impressions over the course of the story. Each chapter is headed with one of the many reasons Harper has for loathing Sterling, who really does come across as rather unpleasant and infuriating during their first encounters. Not that Harper is a picture of cordiality and friendliness towards him either.

As the book progresses, it becomes clear that Harper is a bit of an unreliable narrator, because her first impression of Sterling is so bad, and even before meeting him, she's pre-judged him based on rumours of his past exploits. The reader pretty quickly figures out that Sterling goes out of his way to confirm all of Harper's worst expectations of him and has far too much fun matching wits with her and provoking her into more and more outrageous actions. It also becomes clear that while he's not exactly an angel, he's not necessarily the irredeemable "bad boy" he first appears and that there are reasons for many of his past actions that he doesn't feel comfortable sharing with most people.

While Sterling seems a bit douchy and devious at first, it's clear that Harper has a huge amount of growing up to do as well. With the exception of Cole, and a few of his friends who vaguely tolerate her, she barely has a social life to speak of, and is known as "Harper the Hag" by many of her peers. Living her life after her rigid rules and with an absolutely insanely detailed schedule for when to study each subject and how much, she's not exactly a barrel of laughs, and could absolutely stand to lighten up massively. With the arrival of Sterling and Cole's sudden foray into shady business, her life is thrown into chaos, at least compared to her normal, regimented schedule. When she also acquires an unexpected roommate, one of her former tormentors and popular girls at school, Kendall, she further has to soften up slightly. Kendall isn't your typical Mean Girl, she does in fact genuinely apologise for her earlier treatment of Harper, and while they clearly don't become BFFs right away, it's clear that Kendall comes to appreciate Harper's no-nonsense bluntness, while Harper is just so desperately in need of a friend who she's not related to, who can give her some much needed advice and tell her when she's getting too bitchy.

I've seen several people on Goodreads comparing the relationship dynamic in this book with 10 Things I Hate About You, which is still one of my all-time favourite teen movies and romantic comedies (RIP Heath Ledger, *sob*). I absolutely see the similarities, and like with Kat, who starts out as a somewhat abrasive, but awesome and confident female character and ends up not actually having changed all that much, but maybe learned to take herself a bit less seriously, she gets the guy without changing anything major about herself. At the end of this book, Harper is still very much an ambitious, intelligent goal-orientated young woman who is determined to keep her rules (although she has learned that it's not the end of the world if she breaks one or two occasionally). She's made a proper friend and found a romantic interest who loves her for who she inherently IS, not who she could change into. It's obvious that Sterling has no interest in some new, laid-back and different Harper, and that while they can bring out the worst in one another, when working together, they can be a brilliant team and encourage the best in each other too.

TL, DR - this is a really fast and fun read which can be recommended if you want a good YA romance.

Judging a book by its cover: This is a really generic YA cover, clearly thrown together by someone who hasn't read the book, because if they HAD read the book, they would have known that neither of the protagonists look anything like the sullen and bored-looking teens on this cover. It's even a bit of a plot point that Harper has a very short, severe haircut, and the guy who I guess is supposed to be Sterling? He doesn't even look like he's a teenager, more like some disaffected 20-something. Awful cover for what was a pretty excellent little YA book.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR9 Book 110: "Follow My Lead" by Kate Noble

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Jason Cummings, the Duke of Rayne, has worked diligently for years to be responsible and take care of both his sister and estates. Now, as he is nearing thirty, he feels that it is his duty to find a wife and father some heirs, and after experiencing just how ruthless some of the debutantes on the marriage mart can be, he asks his sister for assistance. Just as he seems to have found a promising lady of suitable temperament, his wooing is temporarily derailed because of bluestocking Miss Winnifred Crane, who wants to join the prestigious Historical Society (one of Jason's refuges) and is willing to do anything to prove her credentials.

Winnifred, or Winn, as she prefers to be known, is the daughter of one of Jason's old art historian professors from Oxford (not that he remembers her much) and claims to be the author of several very insightful and interesting historical essays. Now she wants to be admitted to the Historical Society (who don't even like the idea of a women visiting their hallowed halls, let alone becoming a member of their exclusive group). Unfortunately, her cousin (who also wants to marry her) tries to stop her by claiming HE wrote the texts, and therefore Winn enters into a wager with the head of the society, one of her father's old friends. If she can prove the origins of a famous painting hanging on his wall, she'll be considered for membership.

To win her wager and prove her credentials, Winn needs to go to Europe, Vienna to be exact. She's quite happy to go off alone, but her cousin/fiancee insists on accompanying her (so he can try to sabotage her mission - if she loses the bet, she has promised to give in and marry him). Lord Forrester, the head of the Historical Society and father of the young lady who has taken Jason's fancy, asks him to escort Winn and her little entourage to Calais, where other people will be on hand to see her to her destination. Little do they know that Winn has a plan to trick her cousin and travel on her own. Jason observes her sneaking off the ship to Calais and follows her onto a new one, headed for Hamburg. He is unwillingly trapped on the vessel with her, and once they reach Germany, his honour won't allow Winn to travel unaccompanied to her destination. What follows is a very eventful road trip? Will Miss Sarah Forrester seem like the perfect bride once Jason returns to London?

Jason Cummings was a grade A asshole in the previous book in the series, The Summer of You. He went off on his Grand Tour of Europe, leaving his sister alone to grieve with their elderly father shortly after their mother's death, and even upon returning to England refused to step up and take responsibility or help out, when it was clear that their father's health was deteriorating, and his sister Jane needed help. Getting drunk a lot and trying to flirt with an old flame (now happily married with children) seemed to be all he was good for. Happily, at least five years have passed since the events of that book, and Jason has inherited his father's title. There is some reference made to his irresponsible youth at the beginning of the book, but it's clear that this is an older, much changed man who takes his duties as both the Duke of Rayne and as a caring brother/brother-in-law/uncle seriously. Hence his wish to settle down and marry, as it is "what comes next".

Winnifred Crane is her scholarly father's only daughter and grew up to be both his assistant, clerk and as he aged, his carer. Her mother died when she was young, and for a long time, there was just the two of them. Her father was clearly proud of her intelligence and scholarly aptitude, but nevertheless made her publish her writings under a pseudonym. Now that he has died, Winn is feeling the pressure from her cousin George to agree to the very informal arrangement set up by their mothers when they were still children, and become his wife. Of course, George wants to claim the identity of C.W. Marks for himself and use Winn's brilliant mind to get himself a membership in the Historical Society and a lecture post at Oxford. It wouldn't do for Winn to be the acknowledged and lauded one. Winn doesn't particularly want to marry anyone, and at 30 years of age, considers herself to be firmly on the shelf. Nonetheless, she doesn't really want to hurt her cousin's feelings and therefore tries to soften her rejection by saying that if she can't win her wager, she'll settle down with him.

Jason and Winn find themselves travelling unchaperoned through most of Germany and Austria, and to make it slightly harder for George to hunt them down, end up posing as a newly married couple (don't ALL couples thrown together on a road trip do this sooner rather than later?). While Jason is both angry with and exasperated by Winn to begin with, he also cannot in good conscience let her travel through Europe alone (especially seeing how she's fleeced trying to hire transport by herself). Unfortunately, a pickpocket stole Jason's money before he ended up on the ship to Hamburg, and he doesn't even have a change of clothing with him, so they can't exactly travel in the style to which the Duke is accustomed. They strike some pretty interesting bargains with various locals over the course of their journey for food, lodgings and other services and get more comfortable in each other's company, as well as more informal as the journey progresses.

While I liked that their romance took a while to develop, the presence of Miss Sarah Forrester, Jason's more or less intended back in London, was an uncomfortable complication. While Jason has not formally proposed to her before he heads off on his impromptu road trip with Winn, I hate it when it feels like one of the parties is cheating on someone else. Interestingly, while Winn's relationship with her cousin George is almost more formalised, it never felt like she was betraying anyone (probably because her unwillingness to marry him at all was made so clear from the start). Even as they grow closer and stop trying to fight their attraction to one another, there seems to be this unspoken agreement between Jason and Winn that "what happens in Europe, stays in Europe" and that they can just go their separate ways and forget about each other once Winn's quest is complete.

Interestingly, what Sarah Forrester does once it's clear that Jason is in love with another, is the story in book 4 of this series, If I Fall, which was the first Kate Noble I ever read, and which didn't make much of an impression on me (mainly because Sarah seemed to be a spoiled beyotch in much of the book). Having re-read my review of the book, I'm not sure the book would improve all that much even knowing the backstory that led to Sarah's jilting. I am glad that these other Blue Raven books were a lot more fun, and that I finally got round to reading them.

Judging a book by its cover: Another Kate Noble Regency romance, another partially headless lady running through some foliage in a pretty dress. I'm going to just be grateful that the dress is period appropriate (although this outfit looks way more fashionable and expensive than anything Winn wears over the course of the book, in my recollection).

Crossposted by Cannonball Read.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

#CBR9 Book 109: "The Summer of You" by Kate Noble

Page count: 354 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Lady Jane Cummings has been mourning her mother's death for a long time when she's finally allowed back into society. Before she gets much of a chance to enjoy the balls and garden parties, however, her brother Jason returns from his Grand Tour on the Continent and insists that she take their ailing father, the Duke of Rayne north to their summer residence in Merrymere in the Lake District. He's terrified that someone in society will discover that the respected Duke is losing his wits and while Jason's plan involves Jane taking care of it (as she has done since before their mother died), she insists that he has to come with them.

Jane is not happy about having to give up the glamour of London for the backwaters of the Lake District, especially as everyone there has known her since she was little and delights in bringing up the time she was five and ran naked through the town square. She's still grieving her mother and getting increasingly more worried about her father's health, while her irresponsible brother seems mostly content to get drunk at local pubs and leave her to take care of everything. She is intrigued by stories of a reclusive and stand-offish new resident in the area, who may or may not be a highwayman as well. When she discovers that this man rescued her brother from a pub brawl, she goes to thank him, and discovers that she knows who he is. She met Byrne Worth, injured war hero, when he was helping his brother Marcus and Jane's former nemesis Phillipa Benning look for a French spy.

Now he seems content to brood and alienate the locals in a small cottage he inherited from a distant relative. Jane thinks the rumours of Worth being the local highwayman are preposterous, especially since she knows he was in London when some of the crimes were committed and sets out to prove that Mr. Worth is innocent. Soon she's not missing London society much at all, and instead looking forward to every new meeting she can steal with the cranky Mr. Worth.

While this is the second of The Blue Raven books, I actually read it first, hence I discovered a few things about the identity of the infamous Regency spy that made certain plot points in Revealed rather less of a surprise discovery. While the first book in the series has more suspense and is more of an adventure romp, this book was also entertaining, on a smaller scale. What is unusual with this book, compared to most other historical romances I've read, was the large array of points of view we got over the course of the book. In most romances, you tend to get switching POVs from the hero and heroine - here you also get POVs from Jane's brother Jason (who is an immature and selfish idiot), quite a few different villagers (including at a least one of a duo of adolescent scoundrels who run around wreaking havoc as young boys are wont to do). It was a bit strange, and I'm really not sure if it added to or distracted from the main story.

Jane Cummings was Phillipa Benning's main rival in Revealed, but over the course of the story, they found a way to become friends, and this book actually starts with Lady Phillipa's wedding to Marcus Worth. Mostly set in the countryside rather than bustling London, this book has a quieter feel, and while the main plot of Jane and Byrne becoming friends and trying to figure out who is trying to frame him as the local highwayman is fun enough, there is a dark undertone in the story because of the Duke of Rayne's developing dementia, and the heavy responsibilities Jane faces in caring for him and trying to keep the world at large from realising the extent to her father's illness, with little to no help from her oblivious and irresponsible brother, who clearly doesn't want to face up to reality.

Byrne got a gunshot-wound to the leg at the end of the Napoleonic war and tried to manage the pain by drinking copiously or using laudanum. Due to his addiction, he didn't really feel he could help his brother sufficiently and retired to the country to try to wean himself off his cravings and slowly get himself back into shape. On the advice of a local doctor, he's been swimming in the lake daily and while he's still struggling with pain, he's on the way to recovery. He's surprised that he finds such comfort in his conversations with Jane, who he initially believed to be just an air-headed society miss.

With Jane being the daughter of a Duke, while Byrne is a mere baron, their social standings are different enough that their happy ending seems difficult. After the dramatic events at the end of the novel, no one really has any objections to their union. There is also a rather sweet secondary romance in the story, involving one of the local magistrate's daughters, Victoria, who for much of the book harbours a very ill-advised and very much unrequited infatuation with the oafish Jason, not noticing just how perfect the younger of the two local doctors are for her until it's nearly too late.

Judging a book by its cover: It seems that Ms. Noble's publishers were very fond of the Regency lady running through random landscape theme, as all of the three first books of The Blue Raven seem to feature this. While it was quite appropriate with Revealed, there is a lot less running around done by Jane in this book. At least they gave the cover model red hair. That's something.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR9 Book 108: "Revealed" by Kate Noble

Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Lady Phillipa Benning is a young, beautiful, fantastically wealthy widow and the undisputed queen (and Mean Girl) of London society. She has set her eyes on the Marquis of Broughton, who is equally eligible, wealthy and popular, but her arch rival from school, Lady Jane Cummings also seems to have him in her sights and the vexing man is not beyond playing the two ladies against each other. Things start getting complicated after Philippa, having arranged a tryst with Broughton in a library, ends up hidden in a sarcophagus overhearing what appears to be famed English spy The Blue Raven discussing an enemy plot with one of his superiors.

First of all, Philippa is shocked that unassuming and plain Marcus Worth (he doesn't even have a title!) could be the exciting and infamous Blue Raven who helped England defeat France. He's so tall and gawky and wears glasses and always seems too clumsy for his own good. He's nothing like what she would have expected a dashing spy to be (which when she thinks about it is probably why he was so good at it). Philippa's reputation in society is flawless and she gets invited everywhere. She makes a deal with Marcus that at the end of the season, she will be allowed to reveal the identity of the Blue Raven at her big ball in return for securing him entry to all the society events where he suspects the sinister French agent might strike.

Of course, as they continue working with each other, Philippa keeps getting distracted from her pursuit of Broughton (although she skilfully uses Marcus to try to make the other man jealous), finding herself fascinated by this quiet, intelligent and unassuming man and his dangerous mission. Marcus discovers that Philippa isn't just beautiful and cruel, but that she hides a lot from the wider world to maintain her position. She's fiercely intelligent and an excellent organiser and there is pain in her past that she's clearly not willing to talk about. Over the course of their quest to uncover the French spy, he also learns that she seems to have a near-photographic memory, which is very helpful when navigating large crowds.

Revealed pretty much takes the fairly common story of the charming and experienced society rake who falls in love with the plain and intellectual nobody and gender-reverses it. Not that Philippa is really the female equivalent of a rake. While she was previously married, it was not of very long duration and she plays at being a lot more experienced and sophisticated than she is in reality. She's certainly an alpha female, however, and her views and opinions are closely followed by the majority of the ton. Marcus Worth is very much not an alpha male, and while he's initially ready to brush off Philippa as a malicious and self-centred manipulator, he's also very observant and keeps seeing the things she keeps hidden from others. He's fascinated by the woman she could be, if she wasn't so busy dazzling her surrounding and claiming to be indifferent to everything.

I read The Scarlet Pimpernel at an impressionable age, so Regency spies have always held a fascination for me. There is more to the character of the Blue Raven that Philippa first suspects and she comes to discover over the course of her work with Marcus that spying isn't actually very glamorous and adventurous, but involves very real danger to everyone involved. Philippa starts out as really rather horrible and I can see why her personality could put some people off to begin with. To go with the previously mentioned gender reversal, it's nice to see that the heroine can be complex and a bit of a dick, only to be gradually changed and redeemed by falling for someone unexpected. Marcus is tall, bookish, gangly, bespectacled and has unruly hair - that's pretty much my ideal man. He struggles to convince his superiors that there really is a plot to watch out for. They believe him to be overly paranoid and just bored with his post-War desk duty (hence him having to ally with Philippa). Together, they make a very effective team, and they obviously fall in love along the way.

I've only read a few other Kate Noble romances (including book 4 in The Blue Raven series). Neither of them very very memorable and I was glad to discover that this was so much more entertaining and fun.

Judging a book by its cover: The cover is fairly generic for a Regency novel, but I will give the cover designer kudos for using a period appropriate dress (which is sadly so often not the case). As there is quite a bit of running around in gardens, the lady running either from or towards something is a suitable image, I guess, and the dress is fashionable enough to be something Lady Phillipa would wear.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Friday, 1 December 2017

#CBR9 Book 107: "Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong and What You Really Need to Know" by Emily Oster

Page count: 310 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Since not all the readers of my blog are necessarily also readers over on the Cannonball group blog or my friends on Facebook, you may not know that I am currently in the process of growing a tiny human inside me. This comes after more than seven years of trying to get pregnant and nearly two emotionally taxing and occasionally very depressing years where every few months I went through time consuming, expensive and at times really rather painful IVF treatments. So I worked HARD for this tiny human, who will make his (yes, it's a boy) arrival in February, if the doctors are correct, or sometime in mid-January if my Mum's intuition is the one we're going by.

In the many years I've been trying to get pregnant, I probably read pretty much all there is on fertility tips and old wives' tales on what to do (or to avoid) to help increase fertility. So many years of watching my weight or trying to eat specific diets or exercising more, or possibly reducing exercise (as some experts claim that exercising too much can also be bad), reducing stress and the always helpful "just try not to think so much about it". There's a lot of opinions out there, and huge amounts of well-meaning advice, but what should one listen to and what is better to ignore? When one of my best friends, Ida, got pregnant with her first child a few years ago, she bought this book. She found it incredibly helpful and when it was confirmed that after four previous IVF attempts that only ended in heartbreak and failure, this fifth one had been successful, she lent it to me.

Emily Oster, the author, is an economist and uses her powers of research and knowledge of statistics to go through all manner of "it is known" pregnancy advice to check what actually makes sense to follow and what you may be better off just ignoring. Quite a lot of medical advice is based on very outdated ideas, and if you consider all the well-meaning opinions of friends, family or opinionated parts of the internet? Well, a lot of that is just plain scare-mongering. Through her research, Oster tries to find out exactly what lies behind all the various advice, usually presenting several sides to an issue, specifically so the reader can make up their own mind with regards to what they want to do in THEIR pregnancy.

It took me several months to read through the book, not because it's boring (because it really isn't - although if you're not expecting or planning for a baby, it's probably not your typical beach read), but because the book is divided into several useful sections, starting with planning and conception and moving through each of the three trimesters, before dealing with labour and questions around delivery. I wanted to read each one approximately around the time they actually matched up with my own pregnancy. By the time I reached the third trimester, it seemed ok to blaze through the birth parts too, as it's nice to finally finish a book as well.

Emily Oster is American, and some of the advice she gives doesn't entirely apply to women in Europe. Living in Norway, I am lucky enough that salmonella is so rare that raw eggs are never a danger, whether you are pregnant or not. Same applies for deli meats and smoked salmon, they are certainly perfectly safe to eat if you buy them vacuum packed from a trusted source, store them appropriately and eat them before too much time has passed. Sadly, cured meats like serrano ham are off limits no matter where you live and that may be my greatest craving.

There's a lot of really good and very well researched advice in this book. Having browsed some of the other reviews on Goodreads, I see that Oster was criticised when the book was published for suggesting that in the second and third trimester, one glass of alcohol occasionally may not be harmful to your child. Considering that in European countries like France, this is almost encouraged by doctors during parts of pregnancy, I don't see what the fuss is about. Oster is not saying you SHOULD drink alcohol, she's presenting you with the possible risk factors if you do. For some women, a glass of wine every so often could mean that they reduce stress, which could be much more harmful to the baby than low levels of alcohol. In my case, I was much more interested in what levels of caffeine I could get away with. I haven't drunk alcohol for nearly ten years, but I need my caffeine to survive.

Judging a book by its cover: It's not exactly an exiting cover, and with a title that long, that's really all that fits. I'm not sure if the purple shapes at the top of the cover is supposed to evoke the image of a pregnant woman (if I wore a purple top and looked down my chest and my bump right about now, that's approximately what it would look like) or if it's just random shapes. It's a non-fiction book. I doubt it needs to look all that snazzy.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

#CBR9 Book 106: "The Rebel Heir" by Elizabeth Michels

Page count: 416 pages
Rating: 2 stars

Spoiler warning! This review will contain plot spoilers, because for me to be able to work through my various thoughts and feeling about the plot (which was quite dumb), I will need to spoil bits of it. You don't actually want to read this book anyway, I promise, so view the spoilers as more of a favour than a problem.

Ashley Claughbane is the fourth son in a noble family from the Isle of Man (or Wight - I don't entirely remember, and I can't be bothered to look it up - it's one of those wind-blown islands off the coast of Britain somewhere). He is in no way the heir to anything at all - so the book's title is wildly misleading. While some of his actions might be seen as rebellious, he appears to have two healthy brothers between himself and the eldest, who is in fact a duke. Ash (he hates being called Ashley) has sworn revenge on Lord Rightworth, the man who apparently ruined the family fortune a decade or so back. He promised his mother on her deathbed (or something to that effect) that he would not rest until he had made the man pay. For reasons that aren't entirely clear, he's been preparing for this revenge by travelling around much of Southern England, selling worthless potions and conning stupid nobles out of money. During one of these encounters, he met Evangeline Green, shared a kiss with her and then disappeared without a trace.

Now a year later, Evangeline recognises Ash at a ball, currently posing as Lord Crosby. He now has the backing of a group of gentleman known as "The Spare Heirs Club", although what exactly these dudes do is a mystery to me, even after finishing the book. He wants to con Lord Rightworth and a bunch of other people out of a large amount of money by having them invest in a "portable steam engine", but keeps being distracted by the lovely Evie. Who of course is Lord Rightworth's youngest daughter. There's a whole thing where Evie's mother has grand plans for her daughter's match (after becoming estranged with her eldest daughter after having tried to get Evie matched with the guy said daughter married - I'm hazy on the details) and spends much of her time torturing her daughter to make her be the perfect debutante. She coaches her in what to wear, how to walk, what to say and if she feels her daughter isn't slim enough, she keeps her from eating and forces the maids to tighten her corsets even more.

Anyways, Evie and Ash obviously fall for one another, and as they get to know each other better, Ash discovers that the Evie is in fact the reason that her father, Lord Rightworth claimed all his outstanding debts with Ash' father in one fell swoop, causing the Claughbane family to be temporarily ruined. That his brother is now a duke and has made a successful go of recovering the fortune their father squandered, and doesn't in any way wish for Ash to go through with his idiotic revenge scenario doesn't seem to matter. I never understood why, if Ash really wanted to strike a blow at Lord Rightworth, why eloping with his youngest daughter (whom Ash is in love with, and who seems to love him back even knowing 1) that he's a con man who's swindled people all over England and 2) wants some kind of revenge on her dad) wouldn't in fact be the perfect way to enact said vengeance? It would cause a scandal for the Rigthworths, Evie would be free of her horrible mother and Ash would have both his long-sought revenge and the woman he loved.

Of course that's not what happens. No, there's a whole big scene during Evie's engagement ball (to a nobleman of her mother's choosing) where a bunch of nobles from Bath and other Southern towns come to confront Ash, just as one of the Spare Heir guys produces his pet inventor, who has, based partially on the ideas laid forth by Ash earlier, miraculously managed to invent the very steam engine that Ash has been claiming they can invest in. He's not a fraud after all, but a successful entrepreneur who will be making tons of money. Yay? Also, Evie has (in ways that are never explained) managed to contact every single servant that her mother has fired over the years, and convinced them to show up at the ball carrying trays of daisies (because those are Evie's favourite flower) and after Evie causes a massive scene where she publicly explains to everyone how her mother has been treating her, she tears off her jewelry and throws it and a number of choice words at her mother, and proceeds to empty a whole vase of flowers over her mother's head. This deeply anachronistic display, that would be likely to get Evie committed to an asylum in the Regency era, is instead applauded by everyone there.

Evie's mother is packed off to the countryside, Lord Rigthworth had apparently never bothered to find out how his wife treated their daughters and Ash, who is now no longer a con man, but has the promise of a huge fortune and is, if you remember, the brother of a duke, can marry Evie to his heart's content.

Yeah, there was far too much in this book that didn't make sense to me, and that conclusion was a total mess. While Evie seemed sweet enough, the way her sister refused to have anything to do with her, even though it's clear the sister must have known their evil mother's machinations was the reason Evie had ever shown an interest in her suitor was sort of baffling. There was also a confusing subplot with twin sisters who were friends of Evie's, where one was in love with another of the spare heirs, but due to a confusing series of events involving a fire, the other twin was compromised by him and they were forced to get engaged. Evie spends a whole lot of the novel being either very upset with Ash, only to turn around and forgive him for everything - rinse, repeat.

This is one of those times when Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, whose reviews I can normally trust, especially if they're by Redheadedgirl, let me down. To be fair, I got this book for free at some point, but wouldn't actually have gotten it or read it if it hadn't been given a B rating on a site I trust. It has an average rating of 3.49 on Goodreads, which is frankly higher than it deserves.

This is the first novel by Elizabeth Michels I have read, and based on several of the anachronisms, the confused and rather silly plot, not to mention the fact that it took me about a week and a half to finish it (which should NOT be the case for a romance novel), I will be avoiding her output in the future. Even if the books are in fact being given away. 

Judging a book by its cover: Where do I even begin with this cover? The guy's hair looks like it belongs on a Lego figurine, that helmet-like solid mass that you can just snap into place. There's copious amounts of man-titty, which would totally make sense if you're just standing around in what looks to be an empty ballroom? Of course your shirt would be unbuttoned to the waist (yet still tucked into your oh-so-tight breeches). Then there's the fact that his chest and abs (very impressive-looking) appear to have been both waxed and oiled, not exactly historically correct either. The guy looks like a total sleaze-ball and while I wasn't overly enthused about the story, this cover may be my least favourite thing about the book. It's no White Hot (NOTHING is that bad), but it's not good either.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

#CBR9 Book 105: "Murder on the Orient Express" by Agatha Christie

Page count: 274 pages
Audio book length: 6 hrs 37 mins
Rating: 4 stars

Internationally famous private detective Hercule Poirot is on his way back to England after solving a mystery in Syria. He decides to take the Orient Express for part of his journey, only to discover that despite the train normally being quite empty during the winter season, it's so fully booked in first class that he has to stay the first night in a second class cabin. Poirot is approached by one of the passengers, a Mr. Edward Ratchett, who claims he has many enemies and that his life is in danger. He wants to hire Poirot to protect him. The little Belgian detective turns him down.

The second night on the train, when Poirot has been moved into a first class cabin, there are several strange occurrences, and in the morning, the passengers discover that not only has the train stopped entirely, due to large amounts of snow on the tracks, but Edward Ratchett has been murdered during the night. No one could have got onto or off the train, so one of the passengers is the likely culprit. Poirot is tasked with identifying the murderer before the train starts up again and the guilty party can escape.

Murder on the Orient Express is one of Agatha Christie's most famous crime novels. It's a wonderfully clever take on the "locked room" mystery and has been adapted into both film and TV more than once. I honestly can no longer remember if I read the book before watching the 1974 adaptation, starring Albert Finney along with a remarkably star-studded cast. I discovered Ms. Christie's mystery novels when I was around 11 or so, and proceeded to read my way through pretty much all the books I could get at my local library, first in Norwegian translation and later in the English originals. It turns out, by the way, that Agatha Christie's writing is not necessarily the easiest to get through when you're still learning English as a second language (it is, however, a great way to expand your growing vocabulary as long as you are diligent with a dictionary).

Fun fact - when asked to write an in-depth term paper on the topic of our choice in 9th grade (I will have been about 13), I ended up writing probably 40 pages on Agatha Christie - her life and literary career - and probably bored my fellow classmates, almost, but not as much, as the pretentious guy who chose Watergate as his subject. We also had to make a presentation on said term paper as well, and a nearly hour-long presentation about the intricacies of the Watergate scandal is not going to go down well with your average 13-year-old. Especially when most of the others wrote/talked about horses, their favourite sports, a pop group or similar. So while in my mind, they were much more interested in Agatha Christie than Nixon's corruption, hindsight forces me to admit that yeah, they were probably dead bored by my topic as well.

After giving you that charming insight into nerdy Malin's adolescence (I was just never going to fit in with the popular kids in school), back to the book review proper. I had considered re-reading this before the release of the new Kenneth Branagh adaptation currently in cinemas, and when a couple of my fellow Cannonballers revealed that the wonderful Dan Stevens narrated the book, I used one of my carefully hoarded Audible credits to get it right away. Not only do I find Dan Stevens extremely attractive (even when done up in CGI as the Beast), but he really does have a wonderful voice and I loved his narration of Frankenstein when I listened to that a few years ago. In this story, he has to voice a large number of characters of different ages and genders, and I generally think he did a very good job.

This is not a very long book, and if you have somehow been able to remain unspoiled for the solution to a mystery written in the mid-1930s, it's a really fun reveal once all the suspects have been carefully questioned and all the clues are examined. As the Branagh movie has gotten pretty middling reviews (I was somewhat sceptical after seeing Branagh's moustache in the promos), I doubt I'll actually spend my hard-earned pennies to see it in the cinema, but I'm glad I revisited the book.

Judging a book by its cover: I listened to this in audio book, so it's not like it strictly speaking has a cover, but the one that showed on the Audible website is this one, which seems to be one of the modern design covers for the book (at least it's not the movie tie-in version - shudder!) Is it strange that I think this could just as easily be a children's book cover? The train that magically made red balloons? It's more whimsical than suspenseful.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.