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Friday, March 31, 2017

‘Devil in Spring’ The Ravenels #3 by Lisa Kleypas

Received via NetGalley 

From the BLURB:
An eccentric wallflower . . .

Most debutantes dream of finding a husband. Lady Pandora Ravenel has different plans. The ambitious young beauty would much rather stay at home and plot out her new board game business than take part in the London Season. But one night at a glittering society ball, she's ensnared in a scandal with a wickedly handsome stranger.
A cynical rake . . .

After years of evading marital traps with ease, Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, has finally been caught by a rebellious girl who couldn't be less suitable. In fact, she wants nothing to do with him. But Gabriel finds the high-spirited Pandora irresistible. He'll do whatever it takes to possess her, even if their marriage of convenience turns out to be the devil's own bargain.

A perilous plot . . .

After succumbing to Gabriel's skilled and sensuous persuasion, Pandora agrees to become his bride. But soon she discovers that her entrepreneurial endeavors have accidentally involved her in a dangerous conspiracy-and only her husband can keep her safe. As Gabriel protects her from their unknown adversaries, they realize their devil's bargain may just turn out to be a match made in heaven . . .

‘Devil in Spring’ is the third book in historical romance author Lisa Kleypas’ new series, ‘The Ravenels’.

The first book in Kleypas’ new series was ‘Cold-Hearted Rake’ which came out in 2015 – and actually, I attempted to read it but DNF’ed after about four chapters. I don’t know why, but I could not get into it – there was none of the effervescent reading comfort I normally get from a Kleypas historical, which was disappointing. I was resigned to just sitting this series out, and patiently waiting for Kleypas to move onto her next series – whatever it may be. And then she made an announcement about who would be in the third book …

Ask pretty much any Lisa Kleypas fan, and they’ll tell you that one of their all time favourite couples she’s written in Evie and Sebastian from the third book the ‘Wallflowers’ series, ‘Devil in Winter’. Sebastian was a notorious rake who had done some pretty questionable things in the past … Evie was a red-headed innocent, with a stutter and new inheritance that made her an easy target for greedy relatives – their coming together involved Evie propositioning Sebastian to become her husband and help protect her wealth and independence – what neither of them bargained on was falling madly in love in the process. It is one of the hands-down best historical romance books and pairings in the genre. Hands. Down! So when Kleypas announced that the third book in her Ravenels series would focus on Evie and Sebastian’s son Gabriel Lord St. Vincent … well, I had to come onboard.

First off – I was able to read ‘Devil in Spring’ as a stand-alone, knowing nothing of what had previously happened in the first two books. Anyone who is not familiar with Evie and Sebastian’s story could likewise come into ‘Devil in Spring’ cold.

Gabriel is much like his father was – though rather than bedding numerous women, Gabriel’s notorious for having kept an inappropriate mistress for the last two years (a woman married to the American ambassador). He is a most tempting bachelor from a prosperous family, but with no intentions of ever getting caught in a marriage trap by a young miss … except that’s exactly what happens. Only, it’s Lady Pandora Ravenel who is quite literally caught in a settee and needs Gabriel’s help to get loose – and unfortunately when they’re caught in a compromising (but innocent) position, Gabriel is impressed upon to “do the right thing” and marry Pandora.

The only person who wants to be married less than Gabriel is Pandora – because she has plans for herself, and a business to run. And actually, I loved this aspect of the story – not only does Kleypas go into meticulously fascinating detail about women’s rights in this era (wherein even the Queen has spoken out against suffrage and suggested feminists should be whipped!) but Pandora’s business enterprise in the burgeoning board-game industry is modelled on real-life game designer Elizabeth Magie, whose patent for ‘The Landlord’s Game’ was considered direct inspiration for Monopoly (of course, a man called Charles Darrow basically stole her idea and for a long time her contributions were erased. *HUFF*!)

Gabriel is infinitely intrigued by the fact that Pandora wants to marry him about as much as she wants a salad fork in her eye – but the two agree to see if it’s worthwhile dodging ruinous rumours by having Pandora and her family stay with Gabriel’s tribe at his family’s estate.

“I’ll be nice as nice can be,” Pandora said. “But don’t you remember what happened at Eversby Priory, when a goose built her nest in the swans’ territory? She thought she was enough like them that they wouldn’t mind her. Only her neck was too short, and her legs were too long, and she didn’t have the right sort of feathers, so the swans kept attacking and chasing the poor thing until finally she was driven off.” 
“You’re not a goose.” 
Pandora’s mouth twisted. “I’m an awfully deficient swan, then.”
Pandora is most definitely a throwback to Kleypas’s archetype ‘Wallflowers’ heroines – the shy but brilliant young lady with quirks and secrets. Her background is both tragic and admirable, and it’s easy to see why Gabriel is fascinated enough to warrant getting to know her better, only to fall in love with her …

And Gabriel takes after his father as one of Kleypas’s better rakes. He’s thoughtful and kind, secretly feeling the pressure of his family and title and in need of someone like Pandora to keep him on his toes.

I will say that in the latter half of the book a political undercurrent comes into the plot which feels like it’s setting up for the fourth instalment (in which case, I’d come back for it!) but in Pandora and Gabriel’s story it felt a little disjointed. But that’s my only complaint in an otherwise stellar historical romance outing.

I may now go back and read books 1 and 2 in ‘The Ravenels’, but more likely I’ll just keep moving forward from this point on. It does feel really, really good to be back in the reading groove with Kleypas, who is one of those authors I come to rely on for a once-a-year release and guaranteed good read. And ‘Devil in Spring’ was a good way to get back in the groove.


Friday, March 17, 2017

'Silence Fallen' Mercy Thompson #10 by Patricia Briggs

Received via NetGalley 

From the BLURB:

Attacked and abducted in her home territory, Mercy finds herself in the clutches of the most powerful vampire in the world, taken as a weapon to use against alpha werewolf Adam and the ruler of the Tri-Cities vampires. In coyote form, Mercy escapes only to find herself without money, without clothing, and alone in the heart of Europe...

Unable to contact Adam and the rest of the pack, Mercy has allies to find and enemies to fight, and she needs to figure out which is which. Ancient powers stir, and Mercy must be her agile best to avoid causing a war between vampires and werewolves, and between werewolves and werewolves. And in the heart of the ancient city of Prague, old ghosts rise...

‘Silence Fallen’ is the tenth book in Patricia Briggs’s ‘Mercy Thompson’ urban fantasy series, and it follows directly on from ‘Fire Touched’.

Right. So. Remember in my ‘Fire Touched’ review when I said that book felt like it was closing the door on further storylines on the Fae and Graylords, and Briggs would gift reader a rejuvenated story-arc to follow and a new trajectory for Mercy & Co.? Yep. I was wrong – or at least, ‘Silence Fallen’ is not the book to kick that rejuvenation off … rather it reads like the book before that book. Which is a nice way of saying; “filler.”

I’m sorry, I hate not liking a Mercy Thompson book – but this tenth instalment feels like a firm 2/5 me, which is a decided disappointment. And I don’t think it being a filler-book will actually be a huge surprise to many people, because it’s right there in the blurb … that this is a book in which Mercy is kidnapped, separated from Adam and the pack who are then working to get her back. So, 98% of the book has Adam and Mercy separated – and anyone who has persevered with a long-running series (from Stephanie Plum to Night Huntress and Vampire Academy) will know that a storyline like this which manufactures a separation for the (now) established HEA, is absolutely a filler-story – trying to recapture some of the tension that the will-they-or-won’t-they romance once helped fill.

‘Silence Fallen’ is also not a very good filler-story … it momentarily drags readers back into a complicated supernatural political network that I think many fans breathed a sigh of relief when they thought it was over and done with in ‘Fire Touched’. We’re dragged into European vampire and werewolf politicking, and there’s so much backstory, asides, and long paragraphs of info-dumping that takes us out of any immediate action we may have wanted to revel in. And it’s all for nought – because it’s pretty clear by story’s end that none of what we just read is going to really impact the Columbia Basin Pack once Mercy is home safe. Basically – this entire book and any of its ramifications can be kept in Europe, and not affect a single thing back home for Mercy and Adam. Which is another polite way of saying … you could skip this one, if you really wanted to.

And I say that, even as fan-favourite Stefan steps back on the scene for this vampire-heavy plot. Unfortunately he’s under-used and underwhelming, and I get the sense that Briggs was holding back from teasing fans with anything too Mercy/Stefan big, because that would leave an indelible mark on the series universe, and that’s not what this book is about.

The only thing that’s stopping me from giving this book an even lower score is the a light-bulb *wink-wink* reveal at the end, which is very cute and a bit of a delight … even as it’s also a cop-out, and is not establishing anything new in a certain relationship dynamic. It’s previously-trodden ground, not furthering any characterisations, but I still enjoyed it and I’m probably just grasping at straws for one of my fave series.

Honestly, after reading ‘Silence Fallen’ I’m mostly wondering where we go from here, and if Patricia Briggs really has any appetite to keep telling Mercy’s story…?

It’s interesting to note that ‘Silence’ is on Brigg’s new timeline of book-releases – where once we had a 2 or so year wait for Mercy, and an ‘Alpha & Omega’ release in-between, we’re now getting one Mercy book a year … and a longer wait for ‘Alpha & Omega’ (the last book for Charles and Anna released in 2015, the next instalment is coming 2018).

For me, personally, I think Briggs may be in a bit of a conundrum … I think lots of fans would like to see Mercy and Adam expand their family. And I’d be fine with that – whatever – but I know in past books Adam’s made clear that he doesn’t want more kids, and I don’t think Mercy feels like a baby would make her life “complete” in any way (and her step-daughter Jess is her daughter, they’re already a family). Anna from ‘Alpha & Omega’ meanwhile, has been teasing that possibility for a while now … and there are higher-stakes involved for her as a werewolf, and given what happened to Charles’s mother to make him the only born werewolf – that story is more intriguing to me, and all those possibilities.

But where does Mercy go from here, if the next chapter in her series isn’t revolving around becoming a mother, as many fans predict it will be? (which – to be clear – I reject the notion that a female protagonist will only “advance” and have a seemingly “happy life” in her own story, if she becomes a mother. Just – no.)

And I feel this even more after reading her 'Frequently Asked Questions' page - because Briggs has addressed some big questions, with infuriatingly non-committal answers. To the topic of 'how many more Mercy and Alpha & Omega books will there be?' The answer is: "Patty has said that as long as she's having fun writing them, can keep them fresh and exciting, and they're selling well, she'll continue to write them indefinitely!" That scares me ... as someone who has had to give up on Anita Blake and the Blackdagger Brotherhood books for that very reason. As to; 'Will Mercy/Anna have babies?' her answer is; "They would have to play it safe and avoid adventures, which - face it - is boring!" Ok. Fair enough. And finally; 'When will Leah/Christy die a horrible and painful death?' - to which the response is; "These are ladies we just love to hate! If they were gone, we'd have to find another character to hate on, and that would be very frustrating, so it's just easier to keep them around, don't you think?" ... that's sucky to me that she even addressed this, because it means she's nixing any idea of ever writing a Bran book for one, and is basically saying that these contingents of Bran and Adam's packs are just going to be forever stagnant. Sigh. 

I need to remember that it’s been hinted at in a few books now (and also in ‘Silence Fallen’) that a lot of Mercy being in sticky situations may come down to Coyote wanting her to be there … to act as a conduit for Coyote … like she has a “higher-purpose”, so to speak. That could be interesting. But I think letting Mercy act on behalf of Coyote, while also juggling being happy and content in a pack-family is more interesting and I hope Briggs explores those conflicts in future, instead of giving us this isolationist Mercy story, that ultimately has little impact on her life or the series' universe.



P.S. – I read this book (and wrote my review) in November 2016, before announcement of the tragic and sudden death of Mike Briggs … and it did give me a pang of guilt and further disappointment that I didn’t love ‘Silence Fallen’ more. But this is just one book, and I'm only one reader, and I’ll always be a fan - regardless of a bump in the bookish road. Also as a fan, I’ll always be patient and understanding of whatever decision an author makes with regards to the continuation of their series, especially when personal circumstances such as these may be informing that future.

Friday, March 3, 2017

'Under the Love Umbrella' by Allison Colpoys and Davina Francesca Bell

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Whatever you fear, come close my dear
You’re tucked in safe for always here
And I will never not be near
Because of our love umbrella

From this award-winning creative duo comes a stunning celebration of the joy and comfort that love can bring – wherever we roam in the big, wild world.

‘Under the Love Umbrella’ is the new picture book written by Davina Francesca Bell, with illustrations by Allison Colpoys. It’s the second picture book from the duo, the first being ‘The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade’ of 2016.

I don’t often review picture books – but clearly last year when I made my first exception for 'Australia to Z' by Armin Greder on the blog, I kicked off a new tradition for myself. It’s also probably that since joining Jacinta DiMase Management (which specialises in picture-book authors and illustrators) I’ve been introduced and given a bit more background to this art form in Australia. And as such – I’ve become serious appreciative, and find myself buying the books I really can’t seem to turn away from … and ‘Under the Love Umbrella’ is one such. 

This new story from Bell and Colpoys is basically a giant hug in picture-book form, which is also why I’d recommend it for young and old. The story is more of Bell’s tenderness that was on display in ‘Fancy-Dress Parade’, as ‘Under the Love Umbrella’ gives an ode to the metaphor of safety, love and acceptance. It’s a beautifully subtle and tender message she communicates most effectively with rhythm and rhyme – and it’s one that will prompt the question from young readers at the end; “who is under my love umbrella?”

Allison Colpoys – perhaps the most in-demand artist in the Australian books world (and for good reason) – brings more of her magic to Bell’s words. She uses mostly fluro colours to great effect, nevermore than when they’re presented against a darker background (as on the cover, with fireworks). There’s something here that feels a little cool retro in her illustrations too, like they could be something out of the Little Golden Book series – it’s a sweet nostalgia. Honestly, the book is so intensely lovely I really just want to hang it on my wall for all to admire.

I will also make a note here that the children and families depicted within are from diverse backgrounds – Joe, Brian, Izzy and Grace are racially diverse, and there’s no fine point put on whether or not they have “traditional” “nuclear” families. Albeit from my limited knowledge, I at least know this is still rare in children’s picture books – though it shouldn’t be. Davina Bell even commented on it in the press release I was sent with the book, saying;
 We love how people have responded to the diversity in the book. But while it was a conscious choice to include a range of backgrounds and family constellations, the situations we represented sprang from the characters as they came to life in our minds, rather than from a deliberate strategy or design.
 That said, the timing of this book feels fortuitous. There has never been a more important moment to tie love and diversity together in the minds of children, and one of the privileges of being a picture-book creator is the chance to speak into their hearts through story.

We all know the times Bell is alluding to, and I couldn’t agree more that a book with this level of illustrated representation, and a message about bringing those you love into safety under your love umbrella … well, it’s safe to say we could all use this book. Which is why I’d highly recommend it for everyone – age be damned.

This was my first favourite book of 2017, and it feels fitting that it’s one with such a message.


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