On Beauty and Ugliness, by Umberto Eco

>> Sunday, August 30, 2009

More beautiful, coffee-table style books from the library. In On Beauty and On Ugliness, Umberto Eco explores the history and evolution of those two ideas. Both books are are beautifully illustrated with reproductions of all sorts of pieces of art and photographs, but they are not simply a visual exploration. Literature and critical essays are also used to explore concepts like the link between beauty (or ugliness) and virtue or the link between beauty and philosophy and religion.

If I ever thought of ugliness as a concept before reading this book, I thought of simply the opposite of beauty. In On Ugliness, Eco shows it's more than that. He goes into both what it's been associated with over the years, but also into why we are also fascinated by it.

It's a beautiful book, and Eco's prose is gripping and clear, even when he's illustrating quite complex concepts.


On Beauty: A History of a Western Idea was the first book published, but the one I read last. The first 35 pages, which are the introduction and some really interesting tables showing how different motifs have evolved over time (Venus naked, Adonis naked, Venus clothed, Adonis clothed, etc.) were really interesting. But then come the first three chapters, where the text bored me to tears. If I hadn't read On Ugliness first, I don't think I would have continued.

Fortunately, after the 100th page, more or less, things improved. The style and format were quite the same, but while the first three chapters came across as meaningless mumbo-jumbo, the next few were crystal-clear. Still, I was finding some chapters which were clear, where the texts illustrated and explained the concepts and helped me appreciate the images and passages better, but other chapters just obscured everything even more. And then I looked at the copyright page and realised that Eco had written only some of the texts, the others (almost half of the chapters) were written by someone else, a Girolamo de Michele. And a quick check showed that I was liking the chapters written by Eco and finding unreadable the ones written by the other author. Ahhhh.

MY GRADE: A B -a B+ for Eco's chapters, D for the others.


In the Midnight Hour, by Patti O'Shea

>> Friday, August 28, 2009

TITLE: In the Midnight Hour
AUTHOR: Patti O'Shea

PAGES: 320

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Paranormal romance
SERIES: First in the Light Warriors series

REASON FOR READING: I've loved some of O'Shea's previous books, especially Ravyn's Flight and The Power of Two.

Ryne is a magical troubleshooter, sworn to protect the innocent from being harmed by magic—and she's been chasing Anise, her former mentor, for six years.

Deke is a private investigator who knows something key to defeating Anise. But Anise cast a dark spell over him, and even though Ryne has managed to temporarily lift the curse, Deke can't remember what it is that he knows.

Ryne has sworn to never get involved with a human, but Deke is sexy, charming, brave and irresistible—and as Ryne and Deke are pulled further into Anise's evil schemes, it's harder and harder for Ryne to resist the attraction.

But dark magic has its own attraction, and in order to defeat Anise and lift Deke's curse permanently, Ryne will have to risk following in Anise's footsteps and succumbing to the lure of the darkness...
In The Midnight Hour didn't start out well. I was very close to putting it down quite close to the beginning. The book begins with a long fight scene, which was written well enough, but made me fear I might be in for many of them. I'm afraid well written or not, constant long fight scenes are not my cup of tea. But ok, good, we've established we've got a pretty kick-ass heroine in Ryne.

Then, after some ground-laying about the mythology and the heroine's powers (pretty cool stuff), we find out that she wants to rescue a guy who's stuck within a cartoon character, a TV show cartoon character. A bit of a WTF moment there, but I kept on, growing doubts or no growing doubts.

She does a ritual to rescue this cartoon character guy, and then came the scene that had me throwing up my hands. She wakes up, and there's a sleeping naked guy in her bed, who turns out to be the man she rescued from the cartoon (yay, the ritual has worked!). Then follows a strange scene which has her carefully trying to extricate herself from this guy (who's naked and seems determined to rub himself against her) without waking him. Er, why? He then wakes up and when he's told he's just spent the last few years under a spell that had him stuck in a cartoon character, this man who never before suspected the existence of magic at all seems more interested in wisecracking and getting a rise out of Ryne by calling her "babe", than anything else. Do these seem like the actions of half-way normal people?

Ok, let's back up. The heroine, Ryne Frasier, is a Gineal. Gineals are a race with magical powers, living alongside normal humans. Most use their powers for good, but some cross over to the dark side, and prey on humans. Ryne is a Troubleshooter, and her job is to go after these practitioners of dark magic. Troubleshooters are generally highly regarded, but Ryne is viewed mostly with suspicion, because she was apprenticed with a woman, Anise, who turned to the dark side. People, including many on the Council which regulates Troubleshooters, don't understand how she missed the signs of Anise's increasing use of dark forces, and are not completely sure she's not herself given over to the dark side.

It is Anise that Ryne is after when the book starts. Watching a cartoon on TV she looks notices eyes of one of the characters, P.I. Deke Summers, and realises that there is a real person inside. Something tells her this person is key to her defeating Anise, as his current state is obviously her doing, so she becomes determined to find a way to get him out. And yes, I'm aware of how ridiculous, even cartoonish, this bit of the plot is. It's the book's weakest point. It would have worked much better in a light-hearted comedy, but this is quite an intense book otherwise, with characters with some real issues, so the cartoon thing just jarred.

Obviously, given the scene I described above, Ryne succeeds in getting the human Deke Summers out of his cartoon prison, but it turns out his reprieve's only temporary and he's still in danger of being dragged back into the TV show. Ryne and Deke have to discover how to keep him out, and as they race to do this and discover exactly what it is that Deke knows that made Anise stick him into cartoon-land, they also have to deal with a growing attraction.

I liked many things about ITMH. Ryne is an interesting character. It's not easy for her to deal with the mistrust of the other Gineal, especially because although she's innocent of what they believe of her, she feels guilty because she believes she should have noticed what Anise was doing. Not to mention that to rescue Deke she has to dabble in magic that's verging on dark, and she becomes aware of exactly why someone would succumb. Her struggles not to actually give in to the fascination of the dark side are very well done, as is her guilt at actually feeling this attraction.

Deke was all right, but a somewhat less interesting character than Ryne. I liked the way O'Shea showed his struggle with the fact that after his stint in cartoon-land, his character's fake cartoon memories have become meshed with his real-life ones from before, so he has to work at distinguishing what's true and what's not. He's understandably conflicted about that, but at times it felt to me that he was taking things a bit too much in his stride, especially at the beginning, when he has to take in some very weird things that he never suspected were out there.

The romance is all right, nothing spectacular, and the same thing goes for most of the outside plot. I was intrigued by the mystery of what exactly it was that Deke knew that was so threatening to Anise, and why she seems to be almost holding back when she goes after him again. The answer made sense, and the final confrontation was pretty all right.

MY GRADE: A B-. Quite a few good things, but a bit too much cheese in the premise.


Promises in Death, by JD Robb

>> Wednesday, August 26, 2009

TITLE: Promises in Death

PAGES: 352
PUBLISHER: Piatkus (Putnam in the US)

SETTING: New York in the 2060s
TYPE: Romantic Suspense
SERIES: Number 498 in the In Death series

REASON FOR READING: Love the whole series and still read each as soon as it comes out.

Amarylis Coltraine may have recently transferred to the New York City police force from Atlanta, but she’s been a cop long enough to know how to defend herself against an assailant. When she’s taken down just steps away from her apartment, killed with her own weapon, for Eve the victim isn’t just “one of us.”

Dallas’s friend Chief Medical Examiner Morris and Coltraine had started a serious relationship, and from all accounts the two were headed for a happy future together. But someone has put an end to all that. After breaking the news to Morris, Eve starts questioning everyone from Coltraine’s squad, informants, and neighbors, while Eve’s husband, Roarke, digs into computer data on Coltraine’s life back in Atlanta. To their shock, they discover a connection between this case and their own painful, shadowy pasts.

The truth will need to be uncovered one layer at a time, starting with the box that arrives at Cop Central addressed to Eve containing Coltraine’s guns, badge, and a note from her killer: “You can have them back. Maybe someday soon, I’ll be sending yours to somebody else.”

But Eve Dallas doesn’t take too kindly to personal threats, and she is going to break this case, whatever it takes. And that’s a promise.
I pick up every installment in JD Robb's In Death series with great confidence. They're the kind of books I'll save for the weekend, when I'll have time to enjoy them. I'll sit in my comfy sofa, make myself some nice finger food, pour a glass of good wine, and trust that the book will be the perfect complement to it all. But I should be amazed at that, really. The series is 29 books long now, and each one still feels fresh and new, and very definitely not tired. I still eagerly anticipate each new book. How crazy is that?

In Promises in Death, a case hits close to home for Eve, when she's called in to investigate a murder, and discovers the victim is Amarillys Coltraine. Amaryllis was a fellow Detective, and was romantically involved with a friend of Eve's, Chief Medical Examiner Morris. And it's not only that: Eve's investigation also quickly uncovers a link to one of her past cases, one actually linked to Roarke.

It sounds a bit far-fetched and too coincidental, but it makes sense. And it leads to one of my favourite things about the book, which was the contrast between the relationship between Amarillys and a man in her past, and that between Eve and Roarke. As a young detective, Amaryllis fell in love with a man who was reputed to be involved in some very shady dealings. He fell in love right back. Does that remind you of anyone? Unfortunately, the relationship didn't have as happy and ending as that of Eve and Roarke, since Amaryllis' lover wasn't as quick as Roarke to give up all those gray areas for the love of his life. There's more parallels as well, especially in the relationships between Roarke and this man and their respective fathers.

The mirror images of the two couples, distorted as they were, served to emphasise the truth of what an amazing thing Eve and Roarke have together. They were a reminder that a succesful relationship wasn't preordained and could have easily gone wrong, had each made different decisions. It just made it even more wonderful that they did make them.

I also loved the development of Eve and Morris' relationship. It was quite heart-wrenching to see Morris come to terms with Amarillys' death, and also to see Eve, always so afraid of getting close to people and caring about them, realise that her instincts are the right ones when it comes to help her friend.

There's a lot more in this book, Summerset, Mavis and Leonardo, Charles and Louise, Nadine, and of course, Peabody and McNab. Everyone is there, but it doesn't feel gratuitous. Everyone has an important role to play, and they're great at it.

MY GRADE: I was actually thinking B+ when I started writing this review, but thinking about all the great things about the book made me realise how great it was and how much I enjoyed it. I'll be going for an A- instead.


Fade To Black, by Leslie Parrish

>> Monday, August 24, 2009

TITLE: Fade To Black
AUTHOR: Leslie Parrish

PAGES: 368

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romantic suspense
SERIES: First in the Black CAT trilogy


Dean Taggert, a former street cop turned FBI agent, has accepted a transfer into a new CAT for one reason: he needs to remove the violence from his life in order to get his ex to give him more time with his son. Not easy to do when he's been thrust into the darkest, most violent investigation of his career. A psychopath calling himself the Reaper is auctioning off murder at a deviant cyber club called Satan's Playground, and Dean and his team are forced to helplessly witness the killer's brutal crimes online.

Stacey Rhodes is happy in her quiet, sleepy little town of Hope Valley, Virginia, where she has taken over as Sheriff because of her father's ill health. Nothing much seems to happen here, except for the mysterious disappearance of the town bad girl a year ago. So she is shocked when a sexy, brooding FBI agent intrudes on her world, bringing evidence that the missing local girl was the victim of a serial killer. Even more shocking, that serial killer might be someone she knows.

Maybe even someone she loves....
Dean Taggart joined Wayne Blackstone's Cyber Action Team, or CAT (see where the name of the series comes from?) to get away from the darkness of his previous job. Yes, this is a CAT formed to investigate internet-related murders, but Dean expected something in the line of turf battles between scammers, that sort of thing. He didn't expect what one of his colleagues finds online one day.

The Devil's Playground is a website where its members can virtually amuse themselves committing acts that would get them in shitloads of trouble in the real world. There are torturers, pedophiles and rapists around, all having their sick fun. Bad enough if this was only virtual, but one of the members, who goes by The Reaper, has taken his evil to the real world. Dean's colleague has found videos posted by him of women being murdered, in horribly creative ways decided by his eager audience at the Devil's Playground, who pay well for the privilege.

Determined to stop the killer, the CAT members focus on the his first victim. For various reasons, they suspect she and her killer might have had a personal connection, and so Dean and his boss end up at the small town of Hope Valley, where a missing person has been reported who fits the victim's profile.

Stacey Rhodes has recently taken over as sheriff of Hope Valley, after years in a big city police force. Stacey was one of the first responders after the Virginia Tech massacre, and what she saw shook her badly. Her motives to go back to her home town are akin to Dean's in moving to the CAT, but like him, she gets a lot more than she'd bargained for when Dean and his colleagues come calling.

There was a recent post at one of the AAR message boards about how this had turned out to be an excellent summer for romantic suspense. Having just finished Kate Brady's very promising debut and now the excellent Fade To Black (not to mention that the new Karen Rose is just out), I have to wholeheartedly agree.

I expected something slightly different when I started the book, though, and had a very pleasant surprise. The AAR review was careful to point out that the romance wasn't very heavy, and that this was more of a "Mystery/Suspense novel with a strong romantic theme". Then there was someone who posted at the message boards complaining that this wasn't romantic suspense, not a romance novel at all, in fact. I do like good suspense, so I decided to read it anyway, forewarned not to expect much romance.

I might not have expected it, but to my surprise, I got it, in spades. The relationship between Dean and Stacey was very well developed. There was a great sense of intimate connection between the two. They admire each other's dedication and competence, and they understand how difficult it is to deal with the darkness. By the end of the book, I fully believed these two people were deeply in love, even if the action had taken place over a shortish period.

This well-developed romance didn't mean the suspense was any less well done. In fact, the perfect balance between the romance and the suspense reminds me of some of my favourite Karen Rose books.

It's a really interesting case as well, and I liked that although some very horrifying things happen, the descriptions never felt gratuitous, and I didn't find it particularly hard to deal with them. Not to belabour the comparison with Karen Rose, but it was a bit like Die For Me in that way.

The investigation was perfect, with very smart work from the CAT and Stacey. They make no unfounded assumptions, and sometimes the things they try don't work, but they felt like a good, solid, competent team. The twists kept coming and made sense, and I was only a tiny step ahead of the investigators when the culprit was discovered.

As mentioned above, this book starts a trilogy, and there are some intriguing hints about the next books. These stay at merely hints, rather than full-blown sequel-baiting, and so succeeded in making me eager to read the next installments, rather than irritate me.

Leslie Parrish, who writes series romance as Leslie Kelly, has gone straight to my autobuy list with this one.



Non fiction reading I

>> Saturday, August 22, 2009

One of the main changes to my reading in the last couple of years since I moved to England and got access to a good library has been that I've been reading a lot more non fiction. Here's a very brief round-up of some of what I've been reading:

TITLE: Guns, Germs and Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years
AUTHOR: Jared Diamond

Have you ever wondered why in the 15th and 16th century it was the Europeans who conquered the Americas, and not the other way around? The obvious answer is that it's because the Europeans had guns, germs and steel, and the inhabitants of the Americas didn't. But why did Europeans have all that while the American natives didn't? Diamond goes back 13,000 years to try to understand why different areas and peoples developed the way they did. The result is extremely convincing, the sort of argument that makes you go "ahhhh, of course!" There's a bit of repetition in some areas, but the book was good enough to forgive this.


TITLE: Freakonomics
AUTHOR: Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Economist Steven D. Levitt is a genius at using economics tools to answer unlikely real-life questions. His co-author, journalist Stephen J. Dubner is a genius at helping him explain it all in an accessible, entertaining manner. By reading this, you'll discover things you've always wondered about, like why drug dealers live with their mothers, among other fascinating insights *g*

MY GRADE: An A-. Loved the book, and love the blog.

TITLE: La Sociedad de la Nieve (The Society of the Snow)
AUTHOR: Pablo Vierci

Most Uruguayans are obsessed with the story of the Uruguayan plane that crashed in the Andes in the 1970s, leaving the survivors stranded for so long that they had to resort to eating the dead to keep on going, and I'm not that different. There've been plenty of books, both by some of the survivors themselves and by other people, and even a Hollywood movie. La Sociedad de la Nieve is unique in that it's the first time all 16 survivors have agreed to speak in their own words. Each chapter is from the POV of one of them, and even though I believe the actual writing is by Vierci, each has a very distinct voice.

It's not straight narrative, although it's written in a way that I'd say you'll get the story even if you didn't know anything about it. Rather, it's about the people the survivors have now become, thinking back and reflecting. It doesn't sound so great put like that, but it was really interesting and well written.


TITLE: From Agatha Christie to Ruth Rendell: British Women Writers in Detective and Crime Fiction
AUTHOR: Susan Rowland

I love all the authors analysed here (in addition to the two of the title, there's Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh and PD James), so I was really looking forward to a proper analysis that took their works seriously. Unfortunately, it turned out to be quite a bit too technical an analysis for me, and I just didn't have the training or skills to really appreciate it. Or understanding it at all, really. After one too many instances when I realised a couple of pages had gone by and all I'd got was "blah, blah, blah, gendering the detective, blah, blah, blah", I decided to stop.

MY GRADE: DNF, and this is one case where a DNF is not a bad book, just one that's not for me.


Mystics, Dragonriders and Compromised Ladies

>> Thursday, August 20, 2009

TITLE: When Winter Comes (from The Queen in Winter anthology)
AUTHOR: Sharon Shinn

I normally love Shinn's stories, but this was very blah. It's set in the world of the Twelve Houses series, with the hero and heroine being two characters we know from there. The heroine is Sosie, a village girl whose sister got pregnant by a mystic and ended up being saved from her own father by Senneths' intervention. The hero, meanwhile, is aristocrat Darryn Rappengrass, son of the ruler of one of the houses and a friend to the mystics.

Sosie and her sister have set out to find a safer place after the child is born. The journey is not without danger, and they are rescued again by Darryn and his party. They keep meeting over Sosie and her sister's journey, and at one point Sosie even returns the favour and saves Darryn right back. Unfortunately, however nice these characters are (and they are very, very nice), there's no chemistry whatsoever between them and the story ends up being quite boring.


TITLE: Dragonflight
AUTHOR: Anne McCaffrey

Speaking of Sharon Shinn, I started Dragonflight because I've seen Shinn's Archangel (one of my favourite books ever) described as being similar to it.

Dragonflight is set in a world where dragonriders are the only defense against a threat that comes periodically from outer space. Unfortunately, these periods are so long that people tend to get sceptical about the reality of the threat after decades of everything being fine, and they start resenting having to fund the dragonriders and take the precautions they prescribe.

The heroine is a newly recruited dragonrider, and I got to the point after she's been selected as some sort of chosen one and some years of her training have passed. It's not a bad book, but I just lost interest, mainly because I couldn't really connect with any of the characters. I might actually go back to it at some point.


TITLE: A Compromised Lady
AUTHOR: Elizabeth Rolls

The title of A compromised Lady is pretty accurate. Thea Winslow retired from society at the age of 16, after the death of her fiance, and has been living quietly in the countryside ever since. She has absolutely no desire to go back to London and society. However, her father has other plans, and orders her to town, intending to force her into marriage with one of his old, lecherous cronies.

Thea has no intention to marry at all, but staying with her godmother is no refuge. Godmother's nephew Richard is staying there as well, and he and Thea were friendly as children. He decides he still likes her very much, and since he's looking for a wife, anyway, he decides to pursue Thea (the fact that she's a heiress doesn't hurt).

This was a sweet book. Richard's lovely, a studious, quiet man, who gives Thea the kindness she needs, and quickly comes to realise that he doesn't just want her for rational reasons, but because he's fallen in love with her. Thea has clearly been badly hurt in the past, and what exactly happens is gradually revealed, both to us and to Richard. I found her a bit too ready to sacrifice (and make Richard's decisions about what he needs for him), but given the horror of her past, and the way it's still affecting her now, it's understandable.



Windswept, by Ann Macela

>> Tuesday, August 18, 2009

TITLE: Windswept
AUTHOR: Ann Macela

PAGES: 510
PUBLISHER: Medallion Press

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Straight romance

REASON FOR READING: I've heard so much of Medallion Press and how good their books are, that I had a browse through their website and decided to try the first book that struck my fancy. Windswept was it.

A terrible secret lurks in the papers of the Windswept Plantation, and its revelation will ruin the Jamison family name. To Barrett Browning, however, the collection of correspondence, ledgers, and journals is a treasure trove of potential publications sure to gain her a valuable promotion at her university. As a historian, her job is to root out secrets from the past and hold them up to the light, no matter the cost. The farthest thing from her mind is getting involved with the papers' owner.

To venture capitalist Davis Jamison, the pile of boxes is a headache he must deal with to protect the family. What better way to solve the mystery than to have an expert inventory the papers in his own house? He expects neither his cousin's frantic obsession to keep all the family sins hidden, nor the fierce need he comes to feel for Barrett. He's sworn never again to trust a woman with his property or his heart. Can he rely on Barrett to guard them both?

As the dark past—a tale of deception and murder—emerges, Davis's question becomes harder and harder to answer...
While this wasn't the best book I've ever read, I quite enjoyed it. It's the sort of thing you don't see much of these days, a Southern gothic, with thrilling hints of dark family secrets. No paranormal and not much suspense, just two characters getting to know each other and discovering the secrets of the past.

I started it right after rereading one of my favourite Barbara Michaels, Houses of Stone, and they actually had quite a bit in common. In both the heroine is an academic who gains access to a career-making set of papers related to an antebellum Southern plantation and family. In this case, Elizabeth Barrett Browning (yes, I know, and so does she. She goes by Barrett) was selected by the old gentleman who owned the Windswept plantation to classify the plantation's records. Barrett is eager to do so... the plantation has been occupied by the Jamisons since it was built, and they were all packrats, so there is a complete record. She sees visions of hundreds of articles and tenure floating before her eyes. However, soon after striking their deal, the old gentleman dies, and Barrett is left having to convince his grandson, who's the new owner of the papers, to continue with the deal.

The new owner is millionaire venture capitalist Davis Jamison, and after some hesitation, he decides to keep the deal (feeling some attraction for Barrett helped, and so did being harassed by some academic rivals of hers, who are also after access to the papers and very willing to talk trash to get it). However, he knows that some of his family are paranoid about unspecified family secrets coming out, so he decides to have Barrett work in his house. And of course, with attraction on both sides, what you would expect to develop does develop.

This was fun. There are three distinct threads developing throughout the book, and Macela handles them well. Every chapter starts with an excerpt from the diary of one of Davis' ancestresses, Mary Maude. She was the wife of the first Jamison to own the plantation, and we track her life from the time she was a newlywed, completely in love with her husband.

As we find out more about Maude, Barrett is cataloguing the Jamison papers and gradually building up a good idea about what these people were like as well. Her work is not helped by the current Jamison family having fits about family secrets coming out, and it was fun to try to guess exactly what those secrets were going to be. I didn't exactly guess, but there's a fair bit of very obvious overshadowing in Mary Maude's bragging about how she and her husband share the love affair of the century, unlike those poor neighbours of hers. The same sense of build-up is there with the actions of Davis' cousin Lloyd, who's rapidly disintegrating under business trouble and his mother's cryptic threats of doom and gloom if those awful secrets were to come out.

Finally, as all this is happening, Davis and Barrett are falling in love. It was a nice romance, too. It develops gradually, as Davis is quite old-fashioned and his strategy is to court Barrett very deliberately. However, beyond that, it's not an old-fashioned relationship at all. Barrett is smart and loves her career, and Davis completely respects her. When the issue comes up at the end of what they're going to do, given that they live in different cities, the solution was really the best for all concerned. All in all, it wasn't the most exciting and passionate romance ever, but it was nice, and well balanced with the rest of what was going on around them.

I'm surprised I'd never heard of Macela before. The writing's good; it's quite smooth and it flows well, and the characters are well drawn. I'll definitely read this author again, even though all her backlist seems to be funny paranormals, which are not really my favourite type.



Black Hills, by Nora Roberts

>> Sunday, August 16, 2009

TITLE: Black Hills
AUTHOR: Nora Roberts

PAGES: 480
PUBLISHER: Piatkus in the UK

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romantic suspense
SERIES: No, it's a standalone

REASON FOR READING: Autoread author

A summer at his grandparents’ South Dakota ranch is not eleven-year-old Cooper Sullivan’s idea of a good time. But things are a bit more bearable now that he’s discovered the neighbor girl, Lil Chance, and her homemade batting cage. Even horseback riding isn’t as awful as Coop thought it would be. Each year, with Coop’s annual summer visit, their friendship deepens from innocent games to stolen kisses, but there is one shared experience that will forever haunt them: the terrifying discovery of a hiker’s body.

As the seasons change and the years roll, Lil stays steadfast to her dreams of becoming a wildlife biologist and protecting her family land, while Coop struggles with his father’s demand that he attend law school and join the family firm. Twelve years after they last walked together hand in hand, fate has brought them back to the Black Hills when the people and things they hold most dear need them most.

An investigator in New York, Coop recently left his fastpaced life to care for his aging grandparents and the ranch he has come to call home. Though the memory of his touch still haunts her, Lil has let nothing stop her dream of opening the Chance Wildlife Refuge, but something . . . or someone . . . has been keeping a close watch. When small pranks and acts of destruction escalate into the heartless killing of Lil’s beloved cougar, recollections of an unsolved murder in these very hills have Coop springing to action to keep Lil safe.

Lil and Coop both know the natural dangers that lurk in the wild landscape of the Black Hills. But now they must work together to unearth a killer of twisted and unnatural instincts who has singled them out as prey.
I always look forward to Nora Roberts' annual romantic suspense release. They're always long and meaty books I can really sink into, and I can be assured that whatever the subject, at the very least I will be getting good writing, strong characters and an interesting plot.

I did get all that with Black Hills, but not that much more. For some reason, the book felt a bit lackluster. It was good, but I didn't love it.

Cooper Sullivan and Lil Chance met as children, during Coop's summer visits to his grandparents in South Dakota. They became friends, and when they grew up, they fell in love. Their love affair didn't last, though, and as the action moves to the present day, they have been apart for years. Lil has realised her dream of becoming a top wildlife biologist and founding a sanctuary near her parents' ranch, while Coop joined the police and then became a PI. The action starts when Lil returns from an extended field trip in South America and discovers that Coop has come back to South Dakota for good, to help out his grandparents.

Needless to say, she's not too happy about that (she's managed to be out of town every time he visited in previous years), but soon, that's the least of her problems. Someone is targetting her and her sanctuary, and Coop is determined to help her.

The suspense, I'm afraid, was not Roberts' best. It starts well (the scenes up in the mountains, when Lil goes to tag a cougar, were chilling and very well done), but soon becomes a bit humdrum. I think part of it is that we soon know exactly what's going on, who's behind it and why, and there's no real way to stop this person. So the rest of the book is about waiting for the villain to come out and try something, so that they can take that opportunity to put a stop to things. It just wasn't very exciting or interesting, and neither was the villain. In fact, the villain was a bit of a pathetic figure, quite clearly delusional and a bit dumb. Still, it's not that this is in any way bad, just not great.

And I suppose the same thing could be said about the romance. Lil and Coop are both nice people, but I wouldn't say there's any sort of sizzling chemistry between them, and I didn't find them particularly exciting together.

There's not even a riveting conflict keeping them apart: simply that Lil still holds a grudge against Coop for the way he left her all those years earlier (something that is not narrated, but revealed gradually through their conversations). The whole thing was just not such a big deal for me, though I've seen plenty of opinions online saying how Lil shouldn't have forgiven him so easily. I don't quite see it. I think Coop actually did what was best for both of them, in the long run. True, he should have done it in a different way, but then again, I'm not surprised a young man in his early 20s would feel as he did. And he's now a very, very different person, too. I basically couldn't see why they would be apart now at all.

There's a very nice secondary romance, involving Lil's partner Tansy and Farley, a young man Lil's parents took in as a teen and who now helps them at the ranch. Farley is quite a few years younger than Tansy, and he's also white, while she's black. It was really sweet and had the potential to be quite steamy, and I wish we'd got more of it. As it is, it felt underwritten.

What is brilliant about the book (and led me to increase the grade from B- to B) is what's also brilliant in pretty much every other Nora Roberts book: all the other non romantic relationships. That between Coop and his grandparents, Lil and her parents, Lil and Tansy, and on and on. Those all felt lovely and real and I enjoyed them very much.



The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

>> Friday, August 14, 2009

TITLE: The Black Swan
AUTHOR: Nassim Nicholas Taleb

PAGES: 310

TYPE: Non Fiction, epistemology, I suppose
SERIES: Not really, although it's related to another of NNT's books, Fooled by Randomness.


The subtitle of The Black Swan is: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, and that pretty much describes what it's about. It would take pages to accurately convey all that's in the book, but briefly, what Taleb calls black swans are events with the following characteristics: a) before they happened, they were considered to be extremely unlikely (either that, or were simply unimaginable), b) they have an extreme impact, and c) after the fact, we tend to theorise about how they actually were quite obvious and predictable. Think stuff as disparate as the current financial crisis, the invention of the internet, the attacks of Sept. 11th, or the success of the Harry Potter books.

The problem is, we behave as if these black swans didn't exist, as if we could predict more or less what's going to happen and as if the world always followed a normal distribution. Taleb argues that in some areas we can, but in others, the world just doesn't behave that way at all. To illustrate he distinguishes between what he calls Extremistan and Mediocristan.

Say you have a group of 100 people and you want to calculate their average height and wealth. You measure everyone and ask them what their wealth is and you make your calculations. You get an average height of 1.69 m (about 5 ft 7 in) and an average wealth of £104K (we're assuming these are British people in 2007, since that's the data I could find!). But after you're finished and the participants are all gone, you realise that you missed one individual in the group. Should you go running after him or her to get your data, or can you assume that missing one person won't have much of an effect?

Let's consider height. Even if the person you missed was the tallest person ever (that would be Robert Wadlow, at 2.74 m -some 8 ft 11 in), including him in your calculations would only add 1 cm (or 0.4 of an inch) to your average height. Not worth bothering chasing him for that, surely. You can be very sure that even missing one person, the average height of your group of people would still be 1.69ish.

Height, Taleb would argue, is from Mediocristan. As long as you have enough other instances to average it out, one observation, however extreme, won't have an undue effect on the average.

Is it the same with wealth? If the person you missed was, say, a certain guy called Lakshmi Mittal, who at the time had £19.25 billion, then including him in your average wealth calculations would change your result from £104 thousand to a whopping £193 million. Definitely worth chasing this missing person, then, since without his wealth data you can't be at all sure that that your average won't be utterly and completely wrong.

Wealth, then, is from Extremistan. One observation here can have devastating effects on the average, if it's extreme enough, even if you have a lot of observations.

The problem is, according to Taleb, that we're really, really bad at deciding when something belongs to Mediocristan or to Extremistan, or even at realising that Extremistan exists at all. A lot of us just seem to behave when we're in Extremistan as if we were in Mediocristan, especially when we are investing, not realising that we're putting ourselves in a position when one bad day can completely wipe us out. We don't realise that in Extremistan, there's no completely reliable way of knowing what will happen, because predicting based on the past (say, oh, that house prices will continue rising, because they have been rising for the past 10 years) takes no account of the fact that a black swan might just show up in the horizon.

Most of the book explores why we have these penchant for obliviously convincing ourselves we're still in Mediocristan, and how we might deal with this. It's a bit short on practical advice, so you'll probably close the book quite a bit more worried than you started it, but it's fascinating, eye-opening stuff.

It's also extremely readable and entertaining. A review I read called it "a cross between a popularisation and a diatribe", and that's a pretty accurate description. Taleb is great, he's arrogant to the point of obnoxiousness, but you get the feeling that he's got enough intelligence to be as arrogant about it as he bloody well wants to be.



Shelter Mountain, by Robyn Carr

>> Wednesday, August 12, 2009

TITLE: Shelter Mountain
AUTHOR: Robyn Carr

PAGES: 384

SETTING: Contemporary rural California
TYPE: Straight romance
SERIES: Second in the Virgin River series (see review of the first here).

REASON FOR READING: I loved the first one.

For the second time in a year a woman arrives in the small town of Virgin River trying to escape the past

John "Preacher" Middleton is about to close the bar when a young woman and her three-year-old son come in out of a wet October night. A marine who has seen his share of pain, Preacher knows a crisis when he sees one—the woman is covered in bruises. He wants to protect them, and he wants to punish whoever did this to her, but he knows immediately that this inclination to protect is something much more. Paige Lassiter has stirred up emotions in this gentle giant of a man—emotions that he has never allowed himself to feel.

But when Paige's ex-husband turns up in Virgin River, Preacher knows his own future hangs in the balance. And if there's one thing in the marines' motto of Semper Fidelis—always faithful—has taught him, it's that some things are worth fighting for.
John Middleton is a former Marine, now running a bar in the town of Virgin River. Nicknamed "Preacher" for his ascetic behaviour, he's a scary looking man who's actually a sweetie underneath the brawn, and is shy and retiring with women.

Paige Lassiter is running away from her husband, after years of abuse. She's got her young son with her, and on the way to a safe house, she needs to make a stop after the weather turns nasty. As luck would have it, she decides to make that stop in Virgin River, and the only thing she finds still open is Preacher's bar.

After her experiences with her husband, Paige has become a bit nervous around men, and at first, Preacher scares her. She has no choice but to accept his help, though, and she soon begins to realise that this is a wonderful man, as different from her husband as a man could possibly be.

Their romance is a very sweet one. Paige soon flourishes in Virgin River, recovering from her abuse, and she starts developing feelings for Preacher. Preacher returns those feelings, in spades, but being quite inexperienced and possibly even more traumatised than Paige by what she suffered, he can't bring himself to do anything about them. So most of their relationship is about Paige positively seducing Preacher, and him being torn between wanting Paige like crazy, and not wanting to hurt her. The result is a romance that's surprisingly hot, as well as sweet.

Like Virgin River, the book is very much an ensemble piece, with the other townspeople as much the protagonists as Preacher and Paige. I thought this didn't work quite as well here as it did in the previous book (I wished for a bit less of Mel and Jack, the protagonists of Virgin River, as much as I liked them in their own story), but there's no denying that they're all interesting people, with interesting stories of their own.

MY GRADE: A very solid B.


The Morning Gift, by Eva Ibbotson

>> Monday, August 10, 2009

TITLE: The Morning Gift
AUTHOR: Eva Ibbotson

PAGES: 416

SETTING: Mostly 1930s England, with some of the early parts taking place in Vienna
TYPE: Fiction

REASON FOR READING: Ibbotson is one of my favourite authors, but I've been hoarding the few titles I've yet to read. A recent column at AAR inspired to read one of them.

Twenty-year-old Ruth Berger is desperate. The daughter of a Jewish-Austrian professor, she was supposed to have escaped Vienna before the Nazis marched into the city. Yet the plan went completely wrong, and while her family and fiancé are waiting for her in safety, Ruth is stuck in Vienna with no way to escape. Then she encounters her fathers younger college professor, the dashing British paleontologist Quin Sommerville. Together, they strike a bargain: a marriage of convenience, to be annulled as soon as they return to safety.

But dissolving the marriage proves to be more difficult than either of them thought, not the least because of the undeniable attraction Quin and Ruth share. To make matters worse, Ruth is enrolled in Quins university, in his very classes. Can their secret survive, or will circumstances destroy their love?
THE PLOT: All I'll add to the good summary above is that most of the story takes place in England, where Ruth and her family are part of the struggling refugee community, while Quin is very much a member of the upper classes.

MY THOUGHTS: God, I love Ibbotson's writing. She's got this amazing voice, which manages to be poetic without ever crossing the line into overblown. It really does feel magical, gave the story a fairy tale atmosphere. Best of all, this atmosphere somehow didn't trivialise or diminish the horror of what wass going on in Europe or the difficulties the refugees were facing, all the while making reading the book bearable and even pleasurable.

The secondary characters were beautifully drawn and well realised. From the downstairs psychoanalist neighbour to the old lady pushed out by her daughter in law with a pocketbook full of money, who just wants to buy everyone cake as a bribe to get them to listen to her, from Ruth's uncle, with his unlikely and romantic love story to Quin's colleague at the university, with his fertility issues. I especially loved that Ibbotson brings out the deep-down decency of people. Even the "villains" of the piece, like Verena and to a certain extent, Heini, are not inhumanly mean or evil, just regular, believable people who happen to be more self-absorbed and selfish than is good.

This wasn't by any means a perfect book, though. The romance wasn't as wonderful as I would have liked. I liked it, but it wasn't really what I loved most about the book. I liked Quin and Ruth individually and thought they were good together, but I didn't feel the inescapable certainty that these two should be together that marks really good romance.

But the main reason why The Morning Gift misses A territory was the ending. Throughout most of the book, Ibbotson succeeds in making Ruth's naiveté and flights of fancy charming, as they're combined with her otherwise very prosaic and down-to-earth outlook. But nearer the end, her tendencies stop being charming and harmless and just make her behave like an idiot. She seems to think she's a heroine in a bad melodrama and acts like it, and I lost patience with her.

MY GRADE: A B+. It's a testament to how much I loved the rest of it that Ruth's silly behaviour there at the end didn't derail the whole thing.


One Scream Away, by Kate Brady

>> Saturday, August 08, 2009

TITLE: One Scream Away
AUTHOR: Kate Brady

PAGES: 464

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romantic Suspense
SERIES: It might be the start of a series, but no end are left untied, so it stands alone perfectly

REASON FOR READING: The great review at Dear Author.

Killer Chevy Bankes is a master of disguise, and just paroled, he's coming after the woman who sent him to jail, the beautiful antiques expert Beth Denison. A set of antique dolls brings Beth into his sight, and inspire Chevy's disturbing crimes as he draws closer to Beth and her young daughter. Chevy sends the dolls to Beth one-by-one and she soon realizes that these antiques carry the same marks as his victims, signaling that the final piece in his collection will be for her.

Neil Sheridan gave up his FBI shield five years ago, but his best friend Rick, a cop, pulls him in as a consultant on a case involving a serial killer who is eerily similar to a murderer Neil encountered in the past. The investigation leads Neil to Beth's doorstep, and he is certain she isn't telling him the truth. Neil is the only one who can get through Beth's defenses and, as they grow closer, discover the secrets that Beth is hiding about her fateful night with Chevy.

New author Kate Brady shows a lot of promise in this, her debut. One Scream Away kept me turning the pages like crazy, dying to know what was going to happen next. It's strange, because about a third into it I felt like I already knew so much... the identity of the villain, most if not all of the heroine's secrets. I wondered how Brady was going to keep up the tension, but she somehow did, and until the very end.

Right, backing up a little to describe the plot. A woman is tortured and killed, and her murderer uses her mobile to call and taunt Beth Denison. The police track the call and pay Beth a visit to find out why this call might have been placed. Beth doesn't seem to be the sort of person who'd be working with a murderer at all. She's got a young daughter and a typical white-picket-fence-type house in the suburbs. And yet, when she says all she knows is that she received an obscene phone call, it's clear she's lying.

Former FBI agent Neil Sheridan is helping the police, since the murder is eerily similar to a case he investigated years ago, one in which he thought he'd got the right man. Neil accompanies the police in the visit to Beth's house and is determined to find out why she's lying. It's clear to him that Beth is terrified, but what's keeping her from asking for help?

Even though the tension was kept high, there was a bit of ebb and flow in my liking of the story. At the beginning I wasn't completely on board. Some of the things Neil and his policeman friend did when trying to get the truth from Beth made me queasy. She should have been filing complaints about them for very clearly violating her rights. And it felt a bit contrived that they wouldn't tell her that the reason they were asking those questions was because a woman had been murdered. It's such an obvious thing to do... the way they ask at first no one would have any motivation to tell them at all.

But once they do, the book really took off. It's quite a plot-driven book, and the plot was excellently done and very well paced. The doll thing was creepy as hell and the villain was great: a very scary combination of madness and cunning intelligence. This meant that he could keep one step ahead of the police without making them look like idiots. The investigators were competent and took all the right steps in the investigation, but the villain could still avoid them. There was only one point in the story where I thought it was all a bit too much, the way this one man could just hit them at will, but on the whole, I bought it.

I've mentioned the book is very plot-driven, but there is some strong character development and the romance is given more than enough space as well. I liked a lot of it, but some areas gave me some concern. On the like column is the fact that the characters are well developed and felt individual and distinct.

Beth's characterisation is crucial, because a lot of the book hinges on the secrets she's keeping. So of course, whether the story succeeds or not depends on whether the reader finds it understandable that Beth would keep the secrets she did. I'm a bit conflicted about that, actually. When she first tells the investigators the story, given what she told them, it made no sense that she would feel she'd have to hide what happened. However, it was clear to the reader that this was not the whole story, so I gave the author the benefit of the doubt and trusted when the whole thing came out, I'd understand Beth's behaviour. But in the end, I don't know whether I did. And I'm afraid any more detail would constitute a spoiler, so I'd better stop here!

The romance I had even more mixed feelings about. Both Neil and Beth are clearly people who've been hurt in the past and have a tragic history, and it was lovely seeing them come together and start to heal from past hurts. However, there was somethign about the dynamics of their relationship that I didn't like. Neil constantly kept hiding things from Beth so as not to worry her (and of course, that had disastrous consequences in the end, and was the basis for the entire final showdown). I got the feeling that this would be the tenor of their relationship after the story. Neil just felt Beth was his and he had to protect her and provide for her. I don't know, it might be that this is just the sort of relationship Beth wants and needs, but I'm not sure.

Hmm, I shouldn't be finishing on a negative note, given that I actually did enjoy the book very much (and even, for the first time in months, stayed up late to finish it). I'll just close by saying that it was a really good first effort, and Brady is going on my buying list.



Virgin River, by Robyn Carr

>> Thursday, August 06, 2009

TITLE: Virgin River
AUTHOR: Robyn Carr

PAGES: 416

SETTING: Contemporary California
TYPE: Straight romance
SERIES: First in the Virgin River series.

REASON FOR READING: It came highly recommended

Wanted: Midwife/nurse practitioner in Virgin River, population six hundred. Make a difference against the backdrop of towering California redwoods and crystal-clear rivers. Rent-free cabin included.

When the recently widowed Melinda Monroe sees this ad she quickly decides that the remote mountain town of Virgin River might be the perfect place to escape her heartache, and to reenergize the nursing career she loves. But her high hopes are dashed within an hour of arriving: the cabin is a dump, the roads are treacherous and the local doctor wants nothing to do with her. Realizing she's made a huge mistake, Mel decides to leave town the following morning.

But a tiny baby, abandoned on a front porch, changes her plans…and a former marine cements them into place.

Melinda Monroe may have come to Virgin River looking for escape, but instead she finds her home.
I usually run far, far away from any book described as "heartwarming", as that tends to be codeword for sappy and saccharine. But since the person who originally recommended Robyn Carr's Virgin River trilogy and called it heartwarming has as much of an aversion to sap as I do, I thought I'd take the chance. Good thing I did, because these books are the real thing and gave me warm fuzzy feelings without making me want to retch.

Amazing, really, because the plot includes a woman leaving the big city for a small town and a baby left on a doorstep. The woman is midwife and nurse Melinda Monroe. Mel doesn't hate L.A., but she's been recently widowed and the type of cases she's been seeing in her job is getting to her, so doing something completely different and getting away for a while definitely appeals to her. An ad requesting someone to do exactly what she does, in a small town in rural California seems like a godsend.

On arriving to the town of Virgin River, however, Mel doesn't find quite what she expects. Getting to the cabin promised to her is a scary experience in bad weather, but not as scary as the dilapidation she finds when she arrives. And given that the local doctor is not at all welcoming, refusing to admit he needs any help, Mel quickly decides she'd better cut her losses and just go back.

And she means to do just that the next morning, right until she finds a baby in her porch. Feeling she has some responsibility to care for it doesn't mean she immediately changes her mind and decides to stay, but it does mean she needs to postpone her leaving. This gives Virgin River a chance to work its magic on Mel, and for Mel herself to work hers on the town -and on Jack Sheridan, the owner of the town bar.

This is not a fast-moving story, but it's one that kept me turning the pages. The things that happen might be low-key, but they're certainly not lacking in human drama. Surprisingly, I especially liked the baby storyline, finding out what the story was behind that.

The romance was lovely, but only one of those many storylines. In a way, this is a bit of an ensemble story, as much about Mel and Jack as about their relationships with all the other townspeople, and the townspeople relationships among themselves. That worked well, because I really liked the town of Virgin River. I think Carr strikes the perfect balance with it. It's a good place, with good people, but it's also a place with real-world, modern problems.



The Lighthouse, by PD James

>> Tuesday, August 04, 2009

TITLE: The Lighthouse

PAGES: 467

SETTING: Contemporary England
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: Part of the Adam Dalgliesh series

REASON FOR READING: I always end up reading James' books, sooner or later.

Combe Island off the Cornish coast has a bloodstained history of piracy and cruelty but now, privately owned, it offers respite to over-stressed men and women in positions of high authority who require privacy and guaranteed security. But the peace of Combe is violated when one of the distinguished visitors is bizarrely murdered.

PD James' The Lighthouse is set in remote Combe Island, where VIPs go to relax. A famous novelist who was staying there is found murdered, and Dalgliesh and his team are sent to investigate. It's an important case, but it comes at a very bad time for him, a crucial moment in his developing relationship with his girlfriend.

I really enjoyed the mystery. It was an interesting, intriguing one, in a setting that really added to the story, a kind of country house mystery with a twist. There's a theme here I've read in James' books before, and it's that of a murder victim who was threatening the statu quo, and whom everyone disliked. I liked the detail of the investigation, and that the people involved were really interesting. James' vivid character studies are the reason why I keep reading her, in spite of my dislike for her detective.

Yep, Dalgliesh still rubs me wrong. I couldn't care less about his personal life and his relationship with his Emma, who seems as annoying as he does. I've no idea why I've developed such an antipathy for the sanctimonious, judgemental bore.... eh, there you go. I do like the rest of his team, though. Kate and Benton-Smith are a lot more interesting and easy to like. The latter, especially, is becoming more and more developed, and more and more intriguing as the series progresses.

The one disappointment was that I was really excited to see at one point (for reasons that would be spoilerish), that Kate ended up with the responsibility of solving the case. But no, even in diminished circumstances, Dalgliesh had to be the one to hit on the solution. Clearly, there was no way Kate could have been as perspicacious and smart as the great man. Hmph! What on earth was the point of it all, then? I suppose progress in Dalgliesh and Emma's relationship, but given how I feel about that, it just didn't work for me.



Let Sleeping Rogues Lie, by Sabrina Jeffries

>> Sunday, August 02, 2009

TITLE: Let Sleeping Rogues Lie
AUTHOR: Sabrina Jeffries

PAGES: 368

SETTING: 19th century England
TYPE: Straight romance
SERIES: 4th in the School for Heiresses series.

REASON FOR READING: Jeffries was Author of the Month in my yahoo book group, and though the more recent books of hers that I've read have been disappointing, I really loved some of her earliest.

When Madeline Prescott took a teaching position at Mrs. Harris’s School for Young Ladies, it was to help restore her father’s reputation. Instead, she’s in danger of ruining her own. The devilishly handsome Anthony Dalton, Viscount Norcourt, has agreed to provide "rake lessons" to Mrs. Harris’s pupils so they can learn how to avoid unscrupulous gentlemen, and Mrs. Harris has tapped Madeline to oversee his classes.

Madeline has always believed attraction to be a scientific matter, easily classified and controlled—until she finds herself swept into the passionate desire that fiercely burns between her and Anthony. Nothing could be more illogical than risking everything for a dalliance with a rake . . . but nothing could be more tempting either.
There's only so much preposterousness I can take in a book, and there was enough in the first three chapters of Sabrina Jeffries' Let Sleeping Rogues Lie that I couldnt' bear to go on.

The hero is fighting for custody of his recently orphaned niece. Unfortunately,since he's a well-known rakehell, the only way he's got to make sure the courts will choose him over his evil uncle and aunt, is by proving he can give the girl a good education. He'll do anything to get her into this School For Heiresses place, which offers what everyone knows is an unusual curriculum. Right, let's stop here. As if that would have been the sort of thing that would have swayed the courts in his favour! Actually, it does sounds as if it might have, only in the exact opposite direction Anthony's hoping for. Moving on.

Even more preposterousness ensues. There's no space in the school for the girl, so the headmistress is ready to reject his application, until one of the teachers intervenes. She proposes that Anthony prove his good intentions by providing the school's students with -wait for it!- rakehell lessons. God. And this is only the most preposterous part of a half-baked plan this stupid woman (the heroine, mind you) has to rehabilitate her father, ruined by the machinations of evil uncle (same evil uncle mentioned above, how's that for a coincidence?). Apparently she needs to meet this particular person (I didn't read far enough to understand exactly why), and the only way she finds of doing so is come up with the rakehell lessons idea, so that Anthony will be indebted to her, so that in return he'll have to invite her to a nitrous oxide party, so that there she might get an introduction to the man she's after, who apparently is fond of nitrous oxide parties.

And this happens in between puzzling conversations, in which the heroine discusses the habits of rakehells and prattles on about observing them in ther natural habitat (she's of a scientific bend, see, and this only proves it!), and Anthony somehow dares her into a kiss (although why she would be dared into it I never understood). Too much for me, I refused to waste any more of my time with this idiocy.



Blog template by simplyfabulousbloggertemplates.com

Back to TOP