Dark Desires After Dusk, by Kresley Cole

>> Friday, April 30, 2010

TITLE: Dark Desires After Dusk
AUTHOR: Kresley Cole

COPYRIGHT: 2008
PAGES: 384
PUBLISHER: Pocket

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Paranormal romance
SERIES: 6th in the Immortals After Dark series.

REASON FOR READING: I've enjoyed all the previous books in the series.

A seductive beauty he can never have, yet can't resist...

Cadeon Woede will stop at nothing to atone for the one wrong that will haunt him forever. But once he secures the key to his redemption, the halfling Holly Ashwin, Cade finds that the woman he thought he could use for his own ends and then forget haunts him as much as his past.

A tormented warrior she should fear, but can't deny...

Raised as a human, Holly never knew that some frightening legends are real until she encounters a brutal demon who inexplicably guards her like a treasure. Thrust into a sensual new world of myth and power, with him as her protector, she begins to crave the demon's wicked touch.

Surrender to dark desires...

Yet just when he earns Holly's trust, will Cade be forced to betray the only woman who can sate his wildest needs -- and claim his heart?
Many years ago, rage demon Cadeon Woede made a mistake that cost his brother his kingdom. It was a mistake his brother has never forgiven him for, and Cadeon would do anything to atone for it. When an opportunity arises to get his brother a sword that will enable him to recover his kingdom, Cadeon feels he must take it, whatever the price.

Holly Ashwin is a maths professor who knows nothing about her Valkyrie and Fury background. As far as she's concerned, she's just a normal human. Having to deal on her own with the manifestations of her heritage (which includes inexplicable freakish strength -something that has left her afraid of hurting her partner if she ever has sex) has meant that Holly's efforts to repress and control all those impulses have developed into full-blown OCD.

Holly is plunged feet-first into the Immortals' world when a group of masked weirdos kidnap her on her way to class, and she wakes up naked, tied to an altar. Even scarier than that is the way her anger at them makes her go scarily berserk and murderous. When Cade rescues her and explains what's going on, she's not a happy camper. She doesn't like this rude, uncouth, uncontrolled savage, but if there's really a chance that going with him to visit a certain evil sorcerer will allow her to reverse the changes in herself, she feels she must take it.

If you've read previous books in the series, you'll know how Kresley Cole's heroes feel about their fated mates. We're talking utter, overwhelming need here. These men only really come alive when they've found their mate, and that's the case for Cadeon as well, as he knows well. He's been waiting for his mate for 900 years. So when he realises in exchange for the sword he'll need to hand over the woman he's quickly realised is his mate to the evil sorcerer, well, he's not a happy camper, either. But the need to do right by his brother is bigger than his need for Holly... or so he tells himself.

DDAD was thoroughly delicious. I didn't expect I would enjoy Cade as much as I did (I don't tend to go for chaotic brutes), but he grew on me. Cole didn't change his nature and make him all sophisticated and gentle, but she did succeeded in showing that there was more to him than brute strength. I think what I most appreciated about him was his appreciation of Holly, including of her brilliant brain. Cade knows very well Holly's smarter than him, but that doesn't bother him. In fact, he finds it sexy. He finds everything about Holly sexy, and I was charmed by that.

Holly's a fun character as well. She so easily could have been portrayed as the typical frigid romance heroine, who only needs some good shagging, but Cole wrote it a lot better and more subtle than that. It's not about letting go, it's about understanding and accepting herself and who she really is, and realising that now that she understands her nature, she can deal with it in healthier ways.

DDAD is fast-moving, but with plenty of quiet moments to let our protagonists spend time together. I liked the plot, and liked that I didn't know how things were going to turn out. There are some suggestions about what's going to happen in the next book, and I'm planning to read that one very soon.

MY GRADE: A B+.

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Natural Law, by Joey W. Hill

>> Wednesday, April 28, 2010

TITLE: Natural Law
AUTHOR: Joey W. Hill

COPYRIGHT: 2004
PAGES: 318
PUBLISHER: Ellora's Cave

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: BDSM Romance
SERIES: Second in the Nature of Desire series, follows Holding The Cards.

REASON FOR READING: For a reading challenge proposed by Katharina in one of my reading groups. The idea is to read something that's really out of your comfort zone. I've committed to reading three books this year: a BDSM, a western and a time-travel, all things I wouldn't chose on my own in a million years.

Mackenzie "Mac" Nighthorse is a highly respected homicide detective and a career cop. There isn't a dangerous situation that can back him down.However, the personal becomes uncomfortably entangled in the professional when he goes undercover in a high class BDSM club as a male submissive in order to find a Dominatrix who is winning the trust and then murdering her chosen partners.

When his path crosses Violet Siemanski's, he realizes he's found a Mistress willing to be his ally in finding the murderess. But Violet is also going to shatter Mac's shields and make him question who he is and what he wants, a challenge more disturbing than any case he's ever worked.
Even if you've never heard of this book, you will have deduced from the cover above that this was my choice for BDSM. Once I'd decided to read a book in this genre, we had a bit of a debate about which particular book I should go for. Within BDSM, I wanted to read something that I thought I could possibly like (I suppose I could have decided that as long as I went for something outside my comfort zone, I should really go to the outer reaches of it, but I thought I'd start slow). I wanted something that was about the psychology, rather than the titillation, and I prefered a female dom. Natural Law seemed the right choice, although I was warned it might be too much of an intense one for a first foray into the genre.

Mac Nighthorse is a police detective who's investigating a string of murders. All the victims are young men involved in the D/S scene, and all are submissives. It's clear to Mac that the person responsible is a female Dom, and that she's somehow connected with exclusive BDSM club The Zone. So why is Mac so certain? Because he's been a part of that scene himself for years, also as a sub.

This is a part of his life that Mac has kept private and completely separate from his job as a police detective, but he is determined to catch this killer. What she's doing is personally offensive to Mac beyond the fact that it's a murder, as it represents a betrayal of a trust that's not given lightly in the context of a D/s relationship. He feels so strongly about it, in fact, that he comes out to his supervisor in order to be able to go undercover into The Zone. This was an amazing scene, I thought, opening up by telling us very clearly what kind of person Mac was: someone who cared enough to put himself in an uncomfortable, potentially dangerous to his career, situation, just for the sake of doing what he thought was right.

On his first night at The Zone, Mac runs into a novice Dom, Violet. There's never a question of Violet being the killer (all the victims have been of a certain type, young and pretty, and by going for older, rougher-looking Mac, Violet has essentially proven she's not guilty), and being attached to a well-known Dom increases Mac's chances of success in his case. But it turns out that Violet might still be dangerous to him on a more personal level, as she seems to see beyond the smokescreens that have fooled all other Mistresses for years.

The plot of NL might be based on murder and an undercover investigation, but for most of the book, the focus is purely on the relationship between Mac and Violet. And it's an extremely intense focus, too. From the first moment, Violet recognises that Mac has never completely surrendered to anyone, and sets out to methodically break down his very well-constructed barriers. It's quite an raw, emotive process. It's graphic and made me wince more than once, but this element of the books is so well-written that Hill was able to make me understand why this all needed to happen.

To me, the book was most successful when it concentrated on the psychology and the emotional dynamics of Mac and Violet's relationship. Hill managed to make me understand what was driving these characters, why their relationship took the shape it did and why such a relationship was the one for them, although I must say, I was clearer on Mac than on Violet. As such, I was able to buy into their romance.

To be completely honest, there were moments when I was a bit squicked out; things like, for instance, Mac calling Violet Mistress outside of the bedroom, when I went "whoa". I guess one of the big things I look in a relationship myself is equal partnership and no struggle for dominance, so while I try to keep my mind open and accept that other people might want or need something different, there's still a bit of a gut reaction there. But on the whole, I believed the romance, and believed Violet and Mac were perfect for each other. I also had no trouble believing in Mac's character, a total alpha, who could still be a submissive in a love relationship. He was well-drawn and a completely coherent character.

The book was less successful when, in my view, it tried to titillate. Scenes like those of the weekend party at Violet's friend's house. Those scenes did absolutely nothing for me. They turned me off, actually, and made me want to skim. I would say that while the emphasis is on the romance and the one-on-one Mac/Violet relationship, there are still too many of those scenes for my taste.

I was also less than satisfied with the suspense. The problem is that the romance is wrapped up relatively early. Violet achieves what she's after with Mac soon enough, and then after that I lost much of my need to keep turning the pages. Once there wasn't so much at stake, the love scenes didn't really interest me, and I wasn't particularly curious about the murderer. Plus, when we found out who it was, it came out of nowhere and all the justifications sounded extremely bizarre. It took me a few days to finish the book, and I kept putting it aside to read something else, because I was finding things so drawn out.

So a positive experience, mostly, but not completely. Will I read more in this genre? I don't think so. Part of the reason I liked this was the chance to read about and understand a type of relationship I know nothing about. Keeping on reading more will feel different, and I don't feel the need to do so.

MY GRADE: A B.

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The File: A Personal History, by Timothy Garton Ash

>> Saturday, April 24, 2010

TITLE: The File: A Personal History
AUTHOR: Timothy Garton Ash

COPYRIGHT: 1997
PAGES: 227
PUBLISHER: Flamingo

SETTING: Mostly 1980s East Germany and the present
TYPE: Non Fiction
SERIES: No

REASON FOR READING: My book club's choice for April.

After the Berlin Wall came down and the archives opened up, Timothy Garton Ash walked into the ministry that housed the files of the Stasi, the East German secret police, and asked if there was a file on him. There was - one marked "Romeo". This is the story of what was in the buff-coloured binder.
During the 80s, Timothy Garton Ash spent some time in East Berlin as a student and a journalist. After the fall of the Wall, he, as many thousands of Germans, was able to obtain the file the Stasi had kept on him. The File recounts how he dealt with what was in the file, from comparing his own memories and detailed files with the secret police's interpretation of his actions, to his confronting the people who had informed on him.

I found the subject matter fascinating. Even having a basic knowledge about what East Germany had been like, I was shocked at What Garton Ash's personal experience and his file reveal about what it had been like to live in a place where the State kept such a close and paranoid watch on its citizens, and had built such a complex and formal structure in order to do so. I knew the basics, but I hadn't realised the extent of it.

I only wish the book hadn't been written in such a dry, emotionless manner. When I read in the description that he had gone out and confronted those who had spied on him so closely, several of them people he knew socially quite well, I expected some emotion. He had been betrayed by these people, after all. But no, it was all quite matter-of-fact and prosaic. The focus was on understanding what had motivated these people and the pressures they had faced and how they were dealing with it now, and that was fine and interesting, but those interactions felt artificially cold, and the resulting book wasn't precisely a page-turner.

MY GRADE: A B-.

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Dangerous Secrets, by Lisa Marie Rice

>> Thursday, April 22, 2010

TITLE: Dangerous Secrets
AUTHOR: Lisa Marie Rice

COPYRIGHT: 2008
PAGES: 352
PUBLISHER: Avon Red

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romantic Suspense
SERIES: Not really

REASON FOR READING: Autobuy author

Small-town librarian Charity Prewitt never dreamed she'd meet and fall in love with a man like Nicholas Ames. The handsome, rich, charming, sexy-as-hell millionaire blew into tiny Parker's Ridge, Vermont, and immediately rocked her world. Powerful, sensual, the perfect man, Nick knows all the right words—and all the right spots to touch, sending her soaring to dizzying new heights of ecstatic abandon. Never before has prim and proper Charity leapt into bed with a perfect stranger—and now that she's there with him, nothing is going to drag her away!

But Nick Ames is not who he claims to be. In truth, he is Nicholas Ireland—the one they call "Iceman." A former Delta Force operator, now a high-level undercover agent, he will do whatever his government asks of him—lie, seduce, betray . . . even kill, if necessary—for the sake of the mission. And this time his mission is Charity Prewitt.

Suddenly one woman has broken down his chilly restraint and ignited his passions completely. And before the erotic dream turns into a nightmare, will Charity be able to melt the Iceman's cold, cold heart?
Librarian Charity Prewitt lives a quiet life in her Vermont small town. The dating scene isn't great there, but it seems to take a positive turn when retired stockbroker Nick Ames moves into town and asks her out. Nick is everything Charity could want: cultured, smooth and as well-mannered as he is attractive.

Too bad only the last one is true. Nick's real name is Nick Ireland, and he's undercover on a mission to get the town's best known resident, Vassily Worontzof. Vassily is a celebrated writer, a survivor of the Russian Gulags, but he's also a boss of the Russian mafia, involved in some pretty unsavoury and dangerous business. He lives amid high-security, though, so Nick needs a way to get to him. That way is Charity, Vassily's only weakness. To her, he's a good friend and a sweet grandfather figure, but in reality, he's obsessed with Charity, as she reminds him of his tragically murdered wife.

If you've read Lisa Marie Rice before, you know what to expect: an raw, raunchy and yet romantic, very intense relationship between hero and heroine, played out before a fresh and well-plotted suspense subplot.

We certainly got most of that. The suspense subplot is good, as always, quite outside the norm of what you usually read in romance. And the chemistry between Charity and Nick is certainly scorching. The only thing I missed is the way LMR's heroes usually fall utterly and completely head over heels for the heroine, recognising immediately that this is the woman they want to spend the rest of their life with, and beware anyone or anything that gets in their extremely alpha way!

Nick does get there, but it takes a while. He's know as the Iceman in his job, for his ability to remain detached from anything and do what he needs to do, whatever the consequences for other people, and that's not an idle nickname. I got the uncomfortable feeling in the first bits of his interactions with Charity that while he was very attracted to her, he didn't really feel all that much for her, and that he would have been able to leave her if necessary. He soon enough gets to the point where he loves her so much that this wouldn't be possible, but I guess I've been spoiled by LMR (or else I've turned into one of those horrible readers who demand their favourite authors deliver the exact same thing over and over again).

MY GRADE: A B.

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The Various Haunts of Men, by Susan Hill

>> Tuesday, April 20, 2010

TITLE: The Various Haunts of Men
AUTHOR: Susan Hill

COPYRIGHT: 204
PAGES: 549
PUBLISHER: Vintage

SETTING: Contemporary England
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: First in the Simon Serrailler series.

REASON FOR READING: Someone mentioned this series as one that might appeal to fans of Julia Spencer-Fleming.

A woman vanishes in the fog up on 'the Hill', an area locally known for its tranquility and peace. The police are not alarmed; people usually disappear for their own reasons. But when a young girl, an old man and even a dog disappear no one can deny that something untoward is happening in this quiet cathedral town. Young policewoman Freya Graffham is assigned to the case, she's new to the job, compassionate, inquisitive, dedicated and needs to know - perhaps too much. She and the enigmatic detective Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler have the task of unraveling the mystery behind this gruesome sequence of events.
Detective Sargeant Freya Graffham has not been in the small cathedral town of Lafferton long, but she already knows it suits her much better than London did. She's fresh out of a borderline abusive relationship, and Lafferton offers the chance to make new friends and get involved in a community that welcomes her. She's also feeling recharged at work. Not that the drug operations going on at the moment are particularly stimulating, but she soon finds a potential case that intrigues her.

People have started disappearing in an area of town called The Hill, people Freya's instincts tell her are not the type to go missing voluntarily without letting anyone know. At first there's no evidence that they've come to a bad end, though, so in spite of Freya's instincts and the support of her DCI (and new crush) Simon Serrailler, they can't really justify putting resources on the case. We readers, though, know exactly what's going on, through some very creepy scenes narrated from the killer's point of view, and it isn't good...

I'm torn about this book. On one hand, I enjoyed it while I was reading most of it. It's meaty and wonderfully written, concentrating on characters and not rushing their development. At points it's more drama than detective stories, as it wallows in the lives of the people of Lafferton, while the sinister mystery stays in the background. There's a theme running through it as well, of traditional medicine vs. alternative treatments, and I was looking forward to finding out where Hill was going with that.

But then I got to the ending. The ending... well, it sucked. There's no other word for it. First of all, there's no proper climactic moment. Things just sort of peter out and end with a whimper. The revelation of the identity of the killer is a good example. It's veeeery gradual, done through those scenes from the villain's point of view... first the author offers a clue and it could be two or three characters you've met. Then evidence points towards one in particular, and I suspected it was a red herring. Then it becomes clear that it's not a red herring after all, this person is actually the murderer, and that's that. Book over, threads left hanging.

Worse even than that is something Very Bad that happens, something felt like a betrayal on the part of the author and makes me not want to read the rest of the series (even though I was enjoying the book so much that I went to the library to pick up the next two installments before I'd even finished with it). It wasn't what happened per se, it was that it felt as it had been done purely to shock and upset the reader, rather than because the story demanded it. To give Hill the benefit of the doubt, maybe the upcoming books in the series demanded this happen, but still, I intensely disliked it.

The series is clearly now going to continue with a focus on Simon, and I just didn't find him interesting enough in this book to be too excited about that. For a series that's supposed to be the Simon Serrailler series, he's pretty absent from the action here.

MY GRADE: Oh, this is tough. It was a B+ most of the way through, but then that ending was a C-. I'll go for a B- for the book as a whole.

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Start Me Up, by Victoria Dahl

>> Sunday, April 18, 2010

TITLE: Start Me Up
AUTHOR: Victoria Dahl

COPYRIGHT: 2009
PAGES: 384
PUBLISHER: HQN

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Straight romance
SERIES: 2nd in the Tumble Creek trilogy.

REASON FOR READING: I can't remember now exactly why I went for this one. I know I've been hearing the buzz about Dahl's contemps for a while now, and I think I went for this one, book 2 in the series as my first, because someone mentioned Quinn was a bit of a nerd.

Lori had always planned to get out of tiny Tumble Creek, Colorado, but when her late dad left her his beloved auto body shop, she'd stayed. Now, according to her crazy best friend, Molly, what Lori needs is some excitement, in the form of hot, no-strings-attached sex…and lots of it.

Quinn Jennings has buildings on the brain—not love and romance. A serious architect, he's delighted to discover that Lori is willing to skip dating protocols and head straight for the sheets. And aided by the steamy books on Lori's bedside table, he's busy indulging both of their wildest fantasies. But when life in Tumble Creek takes a dangerous turn for Lori, Quinn's protective instincts kick in.

Suddenly he cares. More than either of them ever expected…
In addition to having a nerdy hero, Start Me Up had the bonus of having a plot I like very much: hero and heroine decide to have an affair that is just about sex, but then he wants more.

Lori Love is, despite the incongruous name, a small-town mechanic. She had completely different dreams for herself growing up and was well on her way to achieving them when her father was injured. He was left in a coma, and Lori had to take over his garage to make sure he had the best care possible. Her dad has now passed away, but although Lori tells herself she needs to start making changes in her life, she finds herself strangely reluctant to do so and remains stuck in a rut.

That rut includes an extremely boring love life. Now, that Lori is ready to change, and with the help of her friend Molly, she decides to have a hot summer fling. They'll start by getting Lori some new, more feminine clothes, and then worry about who the fling will be with.

Lori and Molly's first shopping trip works brilliantly but in an unexpected way when they run into Molly's brother, Quinn. Before this meeting, was already aware of Lori as a beautiful, sexy woman, but after seeing her all pretty he can't ignore that anymore. And his request for a date, through some misunderstandings on Lori's part, ends up with him volunteering to be Lori's summer fling. Only after getting to know Lori, he wants more than that.

Much as I like it, it's not a particularly revolutionary plot. What's different about Start Me Upis the delivery. Dahl's voice is very unique (and after reading a few of her historicals, I must say it works much, much better in a contemp). Her writing is funny, modern and a bit snarky. Her dialogue, especially, was wonderful. Lots of witty banter, and not just between her hero and heroine. These characters also feel more modern and genuinely like people in their 20s than you get in most romance novels, and I loved that.

I really liked the romance. Lori and Quinn were interesting and unique (although I was a bit disappointed to see that Quinn's nerdiness, which was so funny and endearing at the beginning of the book, quickly disappeared completely and he turns into a perfectly normal and eligible bachelor), and they felt real.

I've read comments from people who feel there's too much sex in Dahl's contemps. SMU was certainly steamy, but I felt all the love scenes served to develop the romance, and the characters, and none felt gratuitous. I thought, for instance, that it said a lot about how much Lori and Quinn clicked that they felt comfortable enough to play a bit in bed even in their first encounters. The only one that didn't work for me was the one where Quinn spoke in Spanish. The things he says are just so ungrammatically corny that I couldn't stop laughing. I don't know if it was that Dahl was doing a quick and dirty word-by-word dictionary translation, or that she did it on purpose to show Quinn's Spanish really sucked, but it distracted me quite a lot.

I've mentioned SMU is part of a series, and I'm glad to say there's no irritating series-baiting here. The bits about the previous and future protagonists are well integrated and add to the story. Molly, especially, was great. She really is strange, as Lori tells her, and what I saw of her made me want to read her book.

MY GRADE: A B+.

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Heavens to Betsy, by Beth Pattillo

>> Wednesday, April 14, 2010

TITLE: Heavens to Betsy
AUTHOR: Beth Pattillo

COPYRIGHT: 2005
PAGES: 368
PUBLISHER: Waterbrook Press

SETTING: Contemporary
TYPE: Inspirational
SERIES: There's a followup, Earth To Betsy.

REASON FOR READING: Random pick from my TBR when I was in Uruguay

Blessed Are the Fabulous.

Life would be perfect for Reverend Betsy Blessing if it weren't for parishioners who keel over during her sermons, steal money from the collection box, and set her up with ex-cons. Not to mention the very inconvenient feelings she is suddenly having for her long-time friend, fellow seminarian, and verbal sparring partner, David Swenson. It isn’t until Betsy is thrust into the position of senior minister for her church, however, that she discovers the real cause of her discontent: her fear of failing has become stronger than her faith in herself.

Is it really possible to keep a good woman down? Can Betsy reclaim her confidence while reconciling her clerical robe with high heels and the right shade of lipstick? A fun-loving look at a single girl’s life on the other side of the altar, Heavens to Betsy is also a hilarious and joyful celebration of strong, stylish, and faithful womanhood.
I've mentioned that for some strange reason, I read several books with priest protagonists while on holiday (there was the first two in Julia Spencer-Fleming's Rev. Claire Fergusson series, and also Mortal Sin, by Laurie Breton). Both very different books, and Heavens to Betsy is again completely different. I'd actually call it chick lit/inspirational! Betsy Blessing is a woman minister, and the book deals both with her difficulties getting a personal life and with the travails her congregation puts her through and her struggles to get taken seriously, which have consequences on her certainty about her vocation.

Betsy has recently become assistant pastor at her church, but even though she feels she's ready to do bigger work and become senior pastor, a post which is vacant at the moment, her congregation don't seem to even consider the possibility, and plan to recruit from outside. This has left Betsy feeling very discouraged, and she's got to the point where she's seriously considering whether being a pastor is really the best way for her to serve God. Not to mention that Betsy is at the point where she'd like to form a family, and mentioning her job to any man is a really good way of sending him running in the opposite direction.

I know absolutely nothing about church politics and how that sort of thing works, so seeing Betsy's struggles to build what can only be called a career in that context was completely new to me and captured my interest fully. I was especially interested to see how much the congregation determined the choice of the character of the pastor who preached to them. I was brought up as a Catholic, and that was much more hierarchical. You got the priest the people above decided you should have, and if you didn't like the message, felt he was being too conservative or too liberal for your tastes, then tough.

Betsy's struggles with her congregation were well done. They're very funny at times, but there is still quite a lot of depth, which the fun doesn't mask. These people are fully human, no evil caricatures, just people with prejudices and set ideas, who can behave very badly at times but who also have their problems and vulnerabilities. This meant that although at times I got extremely annoyed with Betsy's doormat instincts, and wished for a bit more revenge over her tormentors, I felt almost ashamed of those wishes at the end. I think Pattillo succeeded in showing the humanity and patheticness of these horrible people so that, as Betsy, I felt sorry for them rather than anything else.

There's a romance here, but it's a very low key one, which I didn't particularly enjoy. It's not bad, it's just blah. No chemistry whatsoever (and no, I'm not asking for torrid sex, just for a bit of zing in the characters' interactions). Betsy and her friend David came across as the really good friends they clearly were, but nothing else. (PS - I got really distracted by David's name. He's called David Swenson, and I kept thinking "I've got his DVD!"

Anyway, this was a good read, and one I'd recommend to people who don't get inspirationals (I promise, no preaching here).

MY GRADE: A B.

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Fired Up, by Jayne Ann Krentz

>> Monday, April 12, 2010

TITLE: Fired Up
AUTHOR: Jayne Ann Krentz

COPYRIGHT: 2009
PAGES: 368
PUBLISHER: Putnam

SETTING: Contemporary Seattle and Las Vegas
TYPE: Paranormal romance
SERIES: Book 1 of the Dreamlight trilogy

REASON FOR READING: Autoread author

The New York Times-bestselling author presents her latest Arcane Society novel and introduces the first book in the Dreamlight Trilogy-the story of a curse that spans generations, and the love that can heal it...

More than three centuries ago, Nicholas Winters irrevocably altered his genetic makeup in an obsession fueled competition with alchemist and Arcane Society founder Sylvester Jones. Driven to control their psychic abilities, each man's decision has reverberated throughout the family line, rewarding some with powers beyond their wildest dreams, and cursing others to a life filled with madness and hallucinations.

Jack Winters, descendant of Nicholas, has been experiencing nightmares and blackouts-just the beginning, he believes-of the manifestation of the Winters family curse. The legend says that he must find the Burning Lamp or risk turning into a monster. But he can't do it alone; he needs the help of a woman with the gift to read the lamp's dreamlight.

Jack is convinced that private investigator Chloe Harper is that woman. Her talents for finding objects and accessing dream energy are what will save him, but their sudden and powerful sexual pull threatens to overwhelm them both. Danger surrounds them, and it doesn't take long for Chloe to pick up the trail of the missing lamp. And as they draw closer to the lamp, the raw power that dwells within it threatens to sweep them into a hurricane of psychic force.
After fulminating against JAK's increasing emphasis on the gimmicky Arcane Society, I was very surprised when I found myself very intrigued by the, well, gimmick underlying her new trilogy. It's one that is even related to the Arcane Society!

The idea is that while one of the founding members of the Arcane society concentrated on enhancing his powers through a potion (the Founder's Formula that so bored me in previous books), another went the engineering way and did so through an artifact, the Burning Lamp. This artifact created a mutation in his genetic makeup, one that manifests in only some of his descendants. When it does, it can lead to them becoming psychic monsters. The only hope for these individuals is to find a woman who can operate the energy produced by the burning lamp and use it to reverse those genetic changes before they become so dangerous that they have to be put down, so to speak.

Each of the books in this trilogy will take place in a different period, coinciding with JAK's three pseudonyms. The books are not in chronological order. This first one, a Jayne Ann Krentz title, is set in the present day. The next one, Burning Lamp (coming out in late April), will be an Amanda Quick and take place in the 19th century, while the last one, Midnight Crystal (coming out August) will be a Jayne Castle and thus be one of her futuristic books set in Harmony. A further thing is that Burning Lamp will have been lost in between the different books, so each of the heroes will have to first find it, and then find the woman who can help them use it.

In Fired Up, that woman is Chloe Harper, a PI who Jack Winters originally approaches for help finding the lamp. Jack has only recently developed a new talent, a sure sign that the genetic change has began to manifest in him. It's a new talent that scares him, especially since it's accompanied by blackouts, hallucinations and sleepwalking.

He and Chloe find the lamp without much trouble, but working together to operate it is quite another matter. They have to deal with not only a shadowy organisation that's out to get them, for its own mysterious purposes, but with the very strong attraction that's developing between them.

Interested in the premise as I was, I'm afraid it wasn't helped by the introduction of the nefarious secret society, Nightshade, that has featured in previous Arcane Society books. It wasn't as prominent as it has been, though, so it didn't overly bother me. It did become more so nearer the end, but even when it did, I was able to gloss over it without much trouble.

The romance was better than that. There's some chemistry between the characters and I really liked their interactions. It's not JAK's best, but it did the job.

Chloe is a good character. Like most of JAK's heroines lately, she's a bit of a misfit. She is sensitive to dreamlight, which everyone generates when they dream. She can read its traces without much trouble when people are awake and going about their business, but being in the same room with someone who's actually asleep and in the process of generating this light is torture for her. This means that she has never been able to literally sleep with anyone, which has wreaked havoc on her relationships. But guess what happens with Jack?

Something else I liked was the friendship between Jack and Fallon, the conspiracy-theorist head of the Jones & Jones detective agency. These two like each other, but at the same time, know that if Jack isn't able to stop the curse with the lamp, Fallon is going to have to hunt him down. It was nice seeing them deal with that.

Speaking of Fallon, there's a mere glimpse of a very interesting potential secondary romance featuring him, but there just isn't much there. I wish JAK had spent a bit more time on it, but I imagine it might develop more in the future, so I don't mind that much.

MY GRADE: A B. I might be being a bit generous, but I did enjoy it and liked the premise.

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Haunted Ground, by Erin Hart

>> Saturday, April 10, 2010

TITLE: Haunted Ground
AUTHOR: Erin Hart

COPYRIGHT: 2003
PAGES: 417
PUBLISHER: Hodder & Stoughton

SETTING: Contemporary rural Ireland
TYPE: Mystery with some romance
SERIES: Starts one featuring Nora Gavin and Cormac Maguire. Followed by Lake of Sorrows and False Mermaid.

REASON FOR READING: I've no idea. I thought it had been recommended by someone in my romance Yahoo group, but she says she hasn't read it!

When the perfectly preserved head of a red-haired woman is pulled from the depths of an Irish peat bog, both Nora Gavin and Cormac Maguire are called in to investigate. While trying to determine how long the woman has been dead, Nora and Cormac stay at Bracklyn House, the home of Hugh Osborne, a man with ties to a more recent mystery. Osborne's wife, Mina, and two-year-old son, Christopher, disappeared two years earlier, and the police still consider him their prime suspect. Soon Detective Garrett Devaney of the Dunbeg Garda joins Nora and Cormac in their attempt to solve crimes past and present.
Peat bogs have been known to preserve human remains for centuries, so when a farmer discovers the undecayed head of a red-haired woman in one, police immediately call in the archeologists. Cormac Maguire, together with his colleague, American pathologist Nora Gavin, make haste from Dublin to Galway, where the head was found. Installed in the house of local landowner Hugh Osborne, they work to find out more about this woman. It's soon clear that the remains hold quite a few secrets, and Nora, especially, is determined to unearth them all.

But there is yet another mystery in that area of Galway, and it's one Nora can't help but involve herself in. A couple of years earlier, Hugh Osborne's wife and son disappeared in very mysterious circumstances. They'd gone for a walk, just like they did every day, but at one point in their walk, they vanished without a trace. Police have searched everywhere for them, including the bogs, but they still haven't found any signs of them. The villagers all suspect the husband, but since no body has been found, there isn't even proof that any crime has been committed. Years earlier, Nora's sister was murdered in very similar circumstances, so she's determined to discover the truth there as well. And clearly, someone is just as determined to keep her from doing so.

This is an intrincate, atmospheric read, and I very much liked a lot of the elements involved in the story. There's a mystery from the past and a more modern one reflecting off each other (well, in the end, the paralells weren't as clear as I expected, but both mysteries were really interesting). There's the Irish countryside, depicted in vivid colour. There's the archeological bits, which fascinated me. There's even a romance.

All good, but unfortunately the execution wasn't as good as it should be. I think this must be a first book, because the writing is sometimes a bit awkward and the action didn't quite flow well in certain sections.

Also, the main characters are interesting enough, but a bit forgettable. It's been a while now since I read this, and I don't really remember all that much about them, or their romance, other than the basics. The only strong memory that remains is my frustration with Nora for the way she simply immediately made up her mind that Hugh Osborne was responsible for his wife's death. There was no evidence whatsoever, she didn't even know the man, and yet she immediately jumped to the conclusion that he'd done it and started behaving accordingly towards him. I do understand it based on what had happened with her sister, but still.

I do remember a lot more about the mysteries. Those were quite strong and memorable. I especially loved the way the truth about the red-headed girl was discovered, and what an intriguing story it was, too! As for the more modern mystery, it did suffer from the villain being pretty obvious, but what exactly had happened was unexpected and made perfect sense.

Something else that's stuck is the book's vivid portrayal of Ireland. The author doesn't fall into the trap of writing a time warp. Even though the setting is a remote country village, it still had an interesting mix of modernity and tradition. I've no idea how accurate it might be, since I've only been to Dublin and the Irish people I know are all pretty cosmopolitan, but I enjoyed it. Definitely not a wallpaper background. The local colour is extremely important to the action and enriches the whole book.

MY GRADE: A B-.

PS - This book sent me on a bout of internet research on bog bodies. I knew nothing about them, but have now discovered they're really amazing. I mean, just take a look at the photograph of the Tollund Man (scroll down a bit to the one of his face). Isn't it amazing? When I saw that I understood Nora's determination to find out more about her red-headed girl.

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Here Comes The Bride, by Pamela Morsi

>> Thursday, April 08, 2010

TITLE: Here Comes The Bride
AUTHOR: Pamela Morsi

COPYRIGHT: 2009
PAGES: 349
PUBLISHER: Avon

SETTING: 1900s Texas small town
TYPE: Straight romance
SERIES: None

REASON FOR READING: I wouldn't have guessed I'd like Americana, but when Morsi does it, I do. Her Wild Oats and Simple Jess are among my fave romances.

There comes a time in every woman's life when she must get herself a man or give up the idea entirely...

After three long years of patiently waiting for her reluctant, handsome, gentlemanly Amos Dewey, to pop the question, Augusta Mudd--owner of her small town's biggest factory--decides it's time to take matters in her own hands. With the help of her friend, ruggedly attractive Rome Akers, she's determined to make Amos jealous--and get him to the altar--before it's too late.

Rome Akers wasn't ready to settle down. But by pretending to make Augusta his partner for life he had a chance to become her business partner instead. Yet despite his best intentions, the closer he gets to this intelligent, sweet woman, the stronger his feelings grow. Their tantalizing conversations and tender kisses ignite a desire more passionate than Roman ever imagined. Soon he'll do anything to make Augusta a bride--but only if he gets to be the groom.
Gussie Mudd is sick and tired of waiting for her slowpoke suitor to finally, finally propose. It's been almost three years of ambiguous courting, and given that she's past 30, Gussie thinks it's time she got married. Amos Dewey doesn't seem to agree, even though it's clear they're perfectly suited.

As the owner of one of the town's most successful businesses, Gussie decides to apply the same principles that have made her so succesful in that area to her love life. What better to make Amos want to marry her than to introduce some competition into that particular market?

Gussie proposes her scheme to her right hand at her company, Rome Akers. Rome isn't immediately up for it, but when Gussie sweetens the pot by offering to make him her business partner if he pretends to court her, he goes for it.

Here Comes The Bride will not be taking a place among my favourite Morsis, but it was a good read.

It started out slightly iffy, as the interactions between Rome and Gussie felt very stiff and formal. It's very much a boss-employee relationship at the beginning. Gussie gives the orders, Rome humbly carries them out. But when they start spending some more time together and actually talking about things other than business, things get a lot better.

I liked the way the romance developed. There's no instant lust here at all, just the attraction that develops once you get to really know the person and suddenly you see them in a new light. That's the way it tends to happen for me, actually, so I always tend to find it more convincing than the whole "our eyes met across the room and we immediately knew" sort of thing.

As the book progressed, I also started warming up to the characters. Gussie gave me trouble initially, as she came across as a bit judgmental and prissy. After a while, however, you got to know the real person underneath the armour. With Rome the initial problem was that he felt a bit blah (and to be very superficial here, I can't take a guy with a handlebar moustache seriously. Fortunately, it's shaved off quite early in the book). Again, like Gussie, he gets better once you get to know him. They're both nice, if relatively unexciting characters.

So unexciting, in fact, that I found myself wishing that the secondary romance was actually the main one. Now, that was an exciting one, featuring serious, stuffy, extremely respectable Amos going gaga for the town's woman of ill repute. Unfortunately, this subplot is a bit underwritten, but it had the potential to be really good.

Still, all in all, I spent an enjoyable few hours with this book. I especially enjoyed the vivid sense of place and time.

MY GRADE: A B.

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Just The Sexiest Man Alive, by Julie James

>> Tuesday, April 06, 2010

TITLE: Just The Sexiest Man Alive
AUTHOR: Julie James

COPYRIGHT: 2008
PAGES: 320
PUBLISHER: Berkley

SETTING: Contemporary Los Angeles
TYPE: Straight romance
SERIES: None

REASON FOR READING: I've been hearing a lot of buzz about James.

COOL. CALM. COLLECTED.

Nothing fazes Taylor Donovan. In the courtroom she never lets the opposition see her sweat. In her personal life, she never lets any man rattle her–not even her cheating ex-fiancĂ©. So when she’s assigned to coach People’s “Sexiest Man Alive” for his role in his next big legal thriller, she refuses to fall for the Hollywood heartthrob’s charms. Even if he is the Jason Andrews.

CONFIDENT. FAMOUS. IRRESISTIBLE.

Jason Andrews is used to having women fall at his feet. When Taylor Donovan gives him the cold shoulder, he’s thrown for a loop. She’s unlike any other woman he’s ever met: uninterested in the limelight, seemingly immune to his advances, and shockingly capable of saying no to him. She’s the perfect challenge. And the more she rejects him, the more he begins to realize that she may just be his perfect match...
Taylor Donovan is a lawyer, a very good one. So good, in fact, that when her law firm's Los Angeles office gets a case that falls under her specialty, she's sent over there from Chicago to take it over. The case is just her sort of thing, but it turns out the LA office is completely different to what she's used to. It seems to Taylor that LA is all about Hollywood celebs, and her office is no exception.

Still, even having realised this, Taylor is shocked when in addition to her very demanding duties, she's requested ordered to make nice with sexy megastar Jason Andrews, in the hope that her firm might get his legal business. Jason is about to star in a legal thriller, and he's asked to be coached by a real trial lawyer. Taylor is it, and she's not happy about it.

And she gets more and more unhappy when Jason keeps blowing off their appointments, even after she made a huge effort to carve some time out of her insane schedule. It doesn't help that what with all those papparazzi following Jason around, Taylor can't help but know exactly where he was when he was supposed to be meeting with her -and it isn't exactly at a relative's deathbed.

When they finally, finally meet up, Taylor isn't shy about her displeasure, and her total lack of interest in Jason. Jason's been a Hollywood star for years and years (and has definitely been living the life -he doesn't do stuff, he's got people who make sure his every whim is taken care of) and he's just not used to women not immediately trying to flatter and seduce him, let alone not even liking him. Making Taylor warm to him is a challenge at first, but soon turns into vital business when he realises he likes her more than he's liked anyone in ages.

This is the sort of contemporary romance I love: no suspense angle, just two people falling in love and the natural conflict that comes from that. For a while, it seemed no one other than Susan Elizabeth Phillips was doing anything like that, but it looks like the straight contemp is back.

It was my first Julie James and I loved it. I can totally see why people are calling her books feminist - this is not an "issues" book at all, but for starters, Taylor is extremely good at her job, loves it and falling for Jason doesn't change that in the least. She doesn't screw up her case because she's with Jason. She can have a romance and still be professional.

But even better, this is a book where the heroine can actually win in confrontations with the hero without being "put in her place" or "getting her comeuppance". Oh, how I loved that! It's so rare. Jason is a self-important asshole at the beginning. He's been sucked up to for so long that he seems to feel that he just doesn't need to bother with common courtesies to others. Of course they'll be happy to ignore any inconsiderate behaviour from a big star such as he! So he very richly deserves to be put in his place, no doubt about it. There's shouldn't be a problem with the heroine doing just that, right?

Well, I'd definitely agree, but I've read way, way too many books where given a situation like that, the author clearly feels that because the heroine is a woman, she shouldn't be able to do that without being humiliated as well. How dare she be so uppity! It's as if they believe that the only triumph of a woman over a man can really be to make him love her (and I've actually seen people say this). Well, that doesn't happen in the book. Everyone gets what they deserve. Asshat Jason gets taken down a peg and made to behave like a regular human being again. Taylor, who acts nothing but professional and like a decent, normal person, gets her happy ending and no personal or professional humiliation whatsoever. Perfect!

But JTSMA doesn't just get the sexual politics right, it's also a lovely, lovely romance. There's funny banter, there's chemistry, there's a sense of connection between the characters. In the end, I believed in the HEA, even given Jason's fame. I probably wouldn't buy this in real life, but these were characters in a book, and I was prepared to accept the author's portrayal. The person described here would never cheat on the woman he loves, period. I also believed the change he underwent during the book, mainly because it wasn't a complete personality change. Jason's self-centred behaviour didn't seem to stem from him being a bad person. He just seemed a bit clueless, probably due to having been living in that Hollywood bubble for so many years.

I found JTSMA to be quite a sexy book. Now, this is something I've been debating whether to include in this review or not, but I only realised at the end that there had been no sex at all between Taylor and Jason, and that when they did do it, very late in the book, it was a "fade to black" kind of scene. The reason I didn't know whether to even mention is that this is something that could actually keep me from picking up a book. The idea of it annoys me (I see it as coy and silly). However, like I said, I didn't even notice it here. It works, the book doesn't feel as if it's lacking anything. It's sexy, even without the outright sex. If you're like me, you should ignore this and read the book anyway. It's so worth it.

MY GRADE: An A-.

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One Week As Lovers , by Victoria Dahl

>> Sunday, April 04, 2010

TITLE: One Week As Lovers
AUTHOR: Victoria Dahl

COPYRIGHT: 2009
PAGES: 352
PUBLISHER: Zebra

SETTING: Early 19th century England
TYPE: Straight romance
SERIES: Comes after To Tempt a Scotsman and A Rake's Guide to Pleasure, but stands alone quite well.

REASON FOR READING: Found it in my local library.

Some Pleasures, Once Tasted...

Even after finding his betrothed in the arms of another man, Nicholas, the Viscount Lancaster, knows he must wed. Propriety and the dire state of his finances decrees it. At least a visit to his country estate provides relief from playing the role of loving fiance, as well as a surprising encounter with Cynthia Merrithorpe. Once his childhood companion, Cynthia has grown into a lovely, alluring woman one who's undertaken a daring ruse to avoid being sold into a miserable marriage.

Are Too Delicious To Forget...

When Nicholas left for London to assume his new title, Cynthia was forced to put aside her girlish infatuation. Now he's returned, more wickedly attractive than ever. And this time, Cynthia is determined to experience the pleasure she's dreamed of for so long. But with a man like Nicholas, seduction is only the beginning of a sensual journey that will tempt them both to defy convention, and uncover the very heart of desire...
Nicholas, Viscount Lancaster, needs to marry for money. The family fortunes are in decline and his family don't understand the concept of making economies, so he must trade his title in. He's got it all sorted out, with a rich fiancee he finds inoffensive enough. However, it seems like the fiancee isn't as happy to be sold for a title, and makes that very clear to Nicholas.

This doesn't really change anything, but when Nicholas receives news from the village near the property where he spent his childhood that and old friend has died, he decides to go back to convey his condolences, and at the same time, take some time away from town to come to terms with what he must do.

But it turns out that the old childhood friend, Cynthia Merrithorpe, isn't dead after all. Her family's fortunes are just as depressed as Nicholas', and her stepfather has decided to marry her off to a rich man. But the prospective groom isn't only rich, he's old, vile and has a horrendous reputation for being cruel and abusive, so Cynthia takes matters into her own hands and fakes her own suicide.

She's got a cunning plan, though. She has found a dead relative's old diary which gives a clue to the location of a treasure, so she'll hide in Nick's house (the master's away, after all, and the housekeeper has agreed to help) and search the cliffs around the area until she finds it. She'll then use the money to go to relatives in America. Plan B? Who needs plan B when they've got a treasure map!

This was a fast, easy read, with likeable enough characters, but it felt like the book couldn't make up its mind about what it wanted to be. A treasure hunting farce? A d/s-light erotic romance? Snarky, modern heroine fighting for her rights? Tortured hero coming to terms with his traumatic past? Hero having to choose between happiness and duty to his family? Some of those elements didn't go too well with the others, and it was all a bit disconcerting. It was hard to be in the right mood for the more serious things that happened when I'd just been laughing.

MY GRADE: A C+.

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Under construction

>> Friday, April 02, 2010

Apologies for the mess, I'm changing my template and having a bit of trouble editing it. Nice project for the long Easter weekend, eh?

ETA: Well, that was surprisingly easy! Why on earth was I faffing about with the template code? Blogger's page layout tool is soooo easy to use! So, how does this look to you?

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The Ice Cream Girls, by Dorothy Koomson

TITLE: The Ice Cream Girls
AUTHOR: Dorothy Koomson

COPYRIGHT: 2010
PAGES: 448
PUBLISHER: Sphere

SETTING: Contemporary England
TYPE: Fiction
SERIES: None

REASON FOR READING: I've loved everything I've read by Koomson.

At only eighteen years of age, Poppy and Serena were the only witnesses to a tragic event. Amid heated public debate and scrutiny, the two glamorous teens were dubbed 'The Ice Cream Girls' by the press and forced to go their separate ways and to lead very different lives. Twenty years later, Poppy is keen to set the record straight about what really happened, while married mother-of-two Serena wants no one in her present to find out about her past. But some secrets will not stay buried - and if theirs is revealed, their lives will start to unravel all over again ...Gripping, thought-provoking and heart-warming, The Ice Cream Girls will make you wonder if you can ever truly know the people you love.
I hated it. There, I've said it. I didn't want to hate it. I didn't expect to, either. I have loved all the Koomsons I read before, even the ones with not-so-happy endings, so I was anticipating this one very much. Unfortunately, I was badly disappointed.

Yes, it's a well-written book, just as I'd expect from Koomson, with well-drawn characters and a structure that was excellently done. I can't fault it on technical grounds. I just didn't get the slightest enjoyment out of it.

Very short description, because this is a book where things are revealed very slowly and gradually: it's about two young girls who were drawn into an abusive relationship with one of their teachers. This ended with the teacher dead, and a great big trial, after which one of the girls, Poppy, went to prison and the other, Serena, went free. Some 20 years later, Poppy has been released and wants to clear her name. One of the first things she does is to contact Serena, who's now happily married with two beautiful children and is devastated to see the painful past come to life again.

The whole book was disturbing and painful to read. I especially hated reading the flashback scenes when the girls were still with Marcus. Apart from the fact that the two poor girls were stuck in a miserable, horrible situation, and it obviously wasn't easy to read about them being abused, reading these bits sparked a side of me that I'm not proud of at all. I understand intellectually all the reasons why a woman might stick with her abuser and not fight back. I especially understand it when the abuse has gone on since the woman is a very young, sheltered girl and the abuse started obscenely early. But there's still a part of me that rebels against this understanding and wanted to shake the poor girls until they saw sense and actually did something about their abuse. This frustration and the feeling that I was somehow blaming the victims, who really didn't deserve it, didn't make me enjoy the book any better.

Still, even though I was finding the book painful and uncomfortable, I kept turning the pages because a) I expected the payoff to be worth it, and b) I wanted to know what would happen.

So, emotional payoff? There was none. None at all. All I felt when I closed the book was anger and frustration at the injustice of the situation. Poppy has lost 20 years of her life and will have to live the rest of it as an ex-con, having lost any chance at a good relationship with her parents and knowing that anyone, at any moment, can recognise her and viciously turn on her. Serena is stuck [spoiler]loving a guy who's such a prince that he'll turn around on a dime and scream "murderer" at the woman he supposedly loves.[/spoiler] And just as Poppy, there's always going to be the threat of someone recognising her hanging over her head. How is this a good ending? I don't require a happy one, or even a hopeful one, but if I'm getting an unhappy ending, at least I want to close the book feeling like there was a point to it. Here, there wasn't.

As for my wanting to know what would happen, what did was a bit of a dud, too. It was soon pretty obvious who had to have done the killing, so no surprises there, and what happened was very unsatisfying. It ties in with the lack of emotional payoff, really.

MY GRADE: I want to emphasise here that when I grade a book, my grade represents only my enjoyment of it, and not necessarily its technical quality (although a lack of technical quality will most times affect my enjoyment, of course). So I'm rating this a D, even though as I mentioned earlier, this is a well-written book.

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