Some random lightning reviews

>> Wednesday, April 02, 2008

TITLE: The Food of Love
AUTHOR: Anthony Capella

Not very original of me, but it has to be said: this is Cyrano de Bergerac, only with food (yummy Italian food) taking the place of the letters.

Tomasso is completely infatuated with American student Laura. The only catch is, he picked her up by claiming to be a chef, when he can't cook worth a damn. Enter his best friend, Bruno, sous-chef at an elegant restaurant in Rome, but a devotee of traditional Roman cooking. He agrees to sneak into Tomasso's kitchen and cook for him. But it turns out that Laura is the woman Bruno has been ogling at the marketplace for weeks, and after a while, Bruno is pouring his heart out in the kitchen, expressing his love for Laura in his food, while Tomasso reaps the rewards.

This is a delicious book. Bruno's long unrequited passion for Laura and the ways he finds to express it create a very romantic, earthy atmosphere. There's romance, there's humour and there's a very nice portrayal of the friendship between the two men. There is a happy ending (rest assured, romance readers), although I never found Laura as fascinating as Bruno did. Now him I did love. Outwardly shy, awkward Bruno, always eclipsed by his handsome friend, who grows a lot during the book and acquires some much needed confidence. He's just as yummy as the food.

And speaking of the food, it's funny that reading this made me so hungry, when most of the dishes Bruno prepares are stuff that this quasi-vegetarian wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole IRL. But Capella has a way of describing them that made them terribly tempting.

MY GRADE: A very strong B+.

TITLE: Arousing Suspicions
AUTHOR: Marianne Stillings

Tabitha March has an interesting job: she's a psychic dream interpreter. By touching her clients she'll see their dreams, which allows her to be much more effective. But one day she sees murder in one of her clients' dreams, and the details fit perfectly with those of a real life crime. She feels she has no choice but to contact the police, even knowing that she'll have a hard time being believed. And Detective Nate Darling, who's working the case, is just as hard a sell as she feared.

I really enjoyed the humour in the previous Stillings book I read, The Damsel in This Dress, and I did find some funny moments here, but on the whole, AS didn't work for me very well. There was nothing I really hated. Rather, it was a mix of things. I thought the "annoying cuteness" quotient was a bit high, Nate was tiresome in his boneheadedness, Tabby came across as pretty silly and icky girlish (as well as often headstrong and TSTL). And also, the very serious suspense subplot didn't go well with the overall tone of the book.


TITLE: First Among Sequels
AUTHOR: Jasper Fforde

This, the fifth and latest in the Thursday Next series, was the weakest Fforde I've read so far. Plot first: I won't even try to summarise a Thursday Next novel, so here's something from Fforde's website:

It is fourteen years since Thursday Next pegged out at the 1988 SuperHoop, and the Special Operations Network has been disbanded. Using Swindon's Acme Carpets as a front, Thursday and her colleagues Bowden, Stig and Spike continue their same professions, but illegally.

Of course, this front is itself a front for Thursday's continued work at Jurisfiction, the Policing agency within the bookworld, and she is soon grappling with a recalcitrant new apprentice, an inter-genre war or two, and the inexplicable departure of comedy from the once-hilarious Thomas Hardy books.

As the Council of Genres decree that making books interactive will boost flagging readership levels and Goliath attempt to perfect a trans-fictional tourist coach, Thursday finds herself in the onerous position of having to side with the enemy to destroy a greater evil that threatens the very fabric of the reading experience.

With Aornis Hades once again on the prowl, an idle sixteen-year-old son who would rather sleep in than save the world from the end of time, a government with a dangerously high stupidity surplus and the Swindon Stiltonistas trying to muscle in on her cheese-smuggling business, Thursday must once again travel to the very outer limits of acceptable narrative possibilities to triumph against increasing odds.
As always, I loved the absurdity of the humour (the border disputes between subgenres, mentioned in this post at SBTB, are a good example of the kind of thing I mean) the witty literary references and the very idea of the BookWorld and Jurisfiction. What I didn't like so much this time was the abundance of technical, jargon-heavy explanation of how it all works (why?), the fake-feeling conflict of Thursday not telling her husband about her undercover world and finally, the fact that the action felt more episodic than usual. The book lacked a strong main plot that drove the action forward, and instead felt lost in all the little side plots. Plus, that ending was majorly confusing.

MY GRADE: What I loved I loved so much more than I disliked what I disliked (huh?), so a B.

TITLE: Silver Master
AUTHOR: Jayne Castle (pseudonym of Jayne Ann Krentz)

The latest in Castle's Ghost Hunters series (comes after After Dark, After Glow and Ghost Hunter) is just as expected. A comfortable read, quite predictable, but also very satisfying.

Celinda Ingram is a matchmaker who doesn't trust anyone connected with the Guilds, after a very bad experience in the city where she used to live. Davis Oakes is a PI who's on a mission to recover an artifact for the Cadence City Guild boss. He doesn't trust matchmakers, after a very bad experience. When Celinda picks up the artifact Davis is after and it immediately disappears, they have to work together to find out the mystery behind it.

It's a warm, lovely story, with characters I enjoyed. JAK always succeeds in showing caring and respect between her protagonists, and this is no different. I especially appreciated that there is more of an emotional connection and intimacy between hero and heroine than in previous books. She hit a patch a while back where the romance was extremely tepid, but it seems she's back on track.

What else? Well, the dust bunnies are cute (good cute, just cute enough, without going over the line into cutesy), the family drama and Celinda's past are wonderfully done and add some great angst, and the secondary characters are fun. The suspense subplot is par for the course, a bit too overly complicated and not particularly interesting, but it does serve to move the story forward, and I didn't mind it at all.

MY GRADE: A solid B.

TITLE: The Twisted Root
AUTHOR: Anne Perry

This is the 10th book in Perry's William Monk series. In it, Monk has to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Miriam Gardiner, fiancé of a young man called Lucius Stourbridge, who seems sincerely heart-broken about it. It seemed everything was going wonderfully when Miriam just up and left a croquet party held at Lucius' family's place, and the driver of the carriage in which she fled soon appears dead.

I knew as I was reading that when we found out the truth, it wasn't going to be anything good, but it was even worse than I'd imagined. Perry often shows hopeless situations, with people having to endure very unhappy circumstances through no fault of their own, but this one hit me especially hard. I thought maybe with Hester and Monk being newlyweds in this book we might get something lighter, even a little happier, but this was dark, dark, dark. It's getting to be a bit much, I think.

The mystery itself, as much as I felt for the people involved, was based on slightly too far-fetched coincidences. I liked the more personal aspects much better, including what we saw of Rathbone's feelings about Monk and Hester's marriage.


TITLE: The Tenderfoot Bride
AUTHOR: Cheryl St. John

Will Tucker is desperate for a housekeeper to keep his Colorado ranch in order, but when he meets the woman his sister has hired for him, he's furious. Tiny, delicate Linnea McConaughy is not what he was expecting, not the kind of woman who can handle the back-breaking labour required, and he's determined to send her back. Of course, in the end he relents, even after he finds out she's pregnant, and the initial uneasy truce develops into a much warmer relationship.

Oh, man, that Will was so STUPID! Stupid and cruel. I developed a strong antipathy to him right at the beginning, due to his reactions when he met Linnea. Let's see if this makes any sense to you, because it didn't to me: so this woman arrives to work as housekeeper and she looks too fragile to handle the work. Major assumption, but ok. Does he test this? Does he say "ok, show me what you can do, and we'll see if you can have the job"? Nope, he just gets angry at her and completely blasts her for "doing this to him" and immediately decides to send her back the next morning, even though the trip back to the train station is a full two days of exhausting travel. Bad enough. That night, Linnea, who's feeling very guilty about what she "did" and wants to somehow pay this man back for her dinner and bed (yes, she should be thinking "well, fuck him", but she's that kind of hyper-vulnerable woman... understandable, given her background) does some scrubbing and cooking. Will's reaction? Anger that she's trying to manipulate him and convince him to let her stay. BUT THE REASON YOU'RE SENDING HER AWAY IS BECAUSE SHE CAN'T HANDLE THE WORK, YOU MORON! HOW IS SHOWING YOU THAT SHE CAN, INDEED, HANDLE IT MANIPULATION???

The book does improve. Will becomes nicer and gentler and treats Linnea right, and so on, but the book never recovered from the initial horrible impression. Plus, I don't know why I keep trying. Westerns, the very "feel" of them, just doesn't do it for me.



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