The Duke of Shadows, by Meredith Duran

>> Saturday, July 30, 2011

TITLE: The Duke of Shadows
AUTHOR: Meredith Duran

PAGES: 384
PUBLISHER: Pocket Star

SETTING: Victorian India and England
TYPE: Romance

In a debut romance as passionate and sweeping as the British Empire, Meredith Duran paints a powerful picture of an aristocrat torn between two worlds, an heiress who dares to risk everything...and the love born in fire and darkness that nearly destroys them.

From exotic sandstone palaces...

Sick of tragedy, done with rebellion, Emmaline Martin vows to settle quietly into British Indian society. But when the pillars of privilege topple, her fiancé's betrayal leaves Emma no choice. She must turn for help to the one man whom she should not trust, but cannot resist: Julian Sinclair, the dangerous and dazzling heir to the Duke of Auburn.

To the marble halls of London...

In London, they toast Sinclair with champagne. In India, they call him a traitor. Cynical and impatient with both worlds, Julian has never imagined that the place he might belong is in the embrace of a woman with a reluctant laugh and haunted eyes. But in a time of terrible darkness, he and Emma will discover that love itself can be perilous -- and that a single decision can alter one's life forever.

Destiny follows wherever you run.

A lifetime of grief later, in a cold London spring, Emma and Julian must finally confront the truth: no matter how hard one tries to deny it, some pasts cannot be disowned...and some passions never die.
Meredith Duran's debut, The Duke of Shadows starts in India, where newly-arrived Emmaline Martin realises that her longtime fiance is an absolute dog, and becomes fascinated by his cousin Julian. Julian is part Indian, so any interaction with him is regarded as scandalous by Anglo-Indian society, but Emma has always have a bit of the rebel in her, and she comes to know him better, which only makes her doubts about her fiance stronger.

Before anything can really develop, though, the Indian mutiny breaks out, and the she and Julian escape only by the skin of their teeth. Unfortunately, they become separated and Julian believes Emma is dead. Emma, meanwhile, witnesses some very horrible things on the way to safety, and becomes convinced that Julian has abandoned her.

Years later, they meet in London. Julian has been mourning Emma all those years, and is ecstatic to see her. Emma, however, is not so happy to see Julian, and wants nothing to do with him.

This is a difficult review to write. I really, really admired The Duke of Shadows. The writing is amazing. It's beautiful in a poetic, but understated way. It's not lush and rich (like, say, a Judith Ivory -which I love as well, by the way), but reminded me more of Laura Kinsale's style. Every word perfectly chosen, not everything spelled out, painting a picture but leaving a space for the reader to make an effort, as well.

The characters were as complex and subtle, as the writing promised. Emma is an artist who actually feels like an artist, and her reactions to her recent past and to Julian are not obvious. Pulling through the difficulties has allowed her to become a strong and independent woman, but this is done in a way that felt right for the time and for who she was. And Julian is fantastic as well. He's got his own issues, especially with his mixed heritage and the way this means society isn't particularly accepting of him, but it's really Emma who's the tortured character here, so Julian is more a healing presence, even if to do so he must challenge Emma and not leave her in peace.

So far so fantastic, so why did I find this review hard to write? Simply because while I admired the book, I found it hard to love it. As I was reading it, I felt I should be enjoying it more than I was. I'd go "wow" at a particularly wonderful turn of phrase and marvel at the way the characters were being drawn, but at the same time, I just couldn't really *feel* what I knew I should be feeling. Emma was the most problematic, while I could understand her intellectually, I never completely emotionally got her reactions and why she felt certain things. It was as if there was a veil between her character and me, and it made for a less satisfying read than I would have wished.

I'm wondering, though, if this might be a case of just not being in the right mood for a particular book. Reading this hasn't put me off in the slightest from trying Duran again, and I think I might even try to reread this at some point.



Dark of Night, by Suzanne Brockmann

>> Thursday, July 28, 2011

TITLE: Dark of Night
AUTHOR: Suzanne Brockmann

PAGES: 432
PUBLISHER: Ballantine

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Action Romance
SERIES: 14th in the Troubleshooters series

Badly shaken after the loss of one of their own, the men and women of Troubleshooters Inc. go up against their most deadly opponents yet —- the clandestine organization called The Agency. Blackmail, extortion, murder: The Agency's black-ops sector will apparently stop at nothing to achieve their objective. But this time they've gone too far and hit too close to home.

Led by former Navy SEAL Lawrence Decker, a team of investigators —- from FBI agent Jules Cassidy and former CIA operative Dave Malkoff, to Troubleshooters Sophia Ghaffari, Tess Bailey, and even receptionist Tracy Shapiro —- band together to uncover the truth, and bring the killers to justice.

But the stakes are raised even higher when Decker barely escapes an attempt on his life. It soon becomes clear that the hunters have become the hunted —- and the Troubleshooters are no longer just solving a crime -— they're fighting for survival.
Boy, was this book controversial when it came out! Back then, even saying who the people involved in the main and secondary romances were was spoilerish. I guess all fans of the series will know by now, but if you're the one person who is both reading the series and knows nothing about this book, stop reading now (and you might as well stop reading now as well if you haven't read previous books in the series, as my review will not make any sense to you).

Plot? Does it even matter? There's bad stuff going on, and our protagonists, a mix of Troubleshooters operatives, Navy SEALs, FBI, CIA, what have you, are on a mission to save the world from it. There, that's it. It was really cool and exciting and well done, but if you're anything like me (i.e. a romance reader at heart), what made you desperate to read the book was that it was where Sophia and Deck would get their HEAs.

The huge scandal was, however, that though they both did get a HEA, they didn't get it with each other. And a huge number of readers, who had been eagerly awaiting seeing them end up together, felt betrayed and raised a huge stink.

Not me, though. I absolutely loved it. I always thought there was no way Deck and Sophia's relationship could be a healthy one, with all that baggage they had. When Dave came into the picture I wished he could be the one to end up with Sophia, but like everyone else, I also assumed it would be Decker. I just sighed in disappointment. I was so happy when I realised Brockmann had done the unthinkable!

Unfortunately, the actual romance between Sophia and Dave in this book was quite meh. I mean, I loved Dave's amazement that Sophia actually wants to be with him (oh, the angst, when he thinks he's just a second choice and the joy, when he realises he's not!), but other than that, I couldn't manage to get too excited about it.

Fortunately, that was more than compensated by the amazing, wonderful romance between Deck and Tracy (yes, Tracy! Unbelievable). It's sweet and tender and scorching hot at the same time. I don't want to go into too many details, but I completely bought that Tracy was the only person who'd ever really *got* Decker. There's a scene where he says he feels safe with her, and that melted me into a gooey puddle. Ahhh!



Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand, by Carla Kelly

>> Tuesday, July 26, 2011

TITLE: Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand
AUTHOR: Carla Kelly

PAGES: 244
PUBLISHER: Signet Regency

SETTING: Early 19th century England
TYPE: Regency Romance

Young widow Roxanna Drew was fair game in the sport of cads. But the one man she could trust, the one that set her heart afire, had been betrayed once before by a woman... and he didn't intend to submit to love's desires once again.
I'm not a big Regency Romance fan and don't often read it, but Carla Kelly is one of the few exceptions. While I don't think she can do no wrong, I've enjoyed many of her books. Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand is one I'd been hoarding, since it's so many people's favourite.

Roxanna Drew is a widow who has come under pressure by her smarmy brother-in-law to become his mistress. Unfortunately, her late husband was a minister and didn't leave her and her daughters very well off, so she has been relying on said brother-in-law's financial help. Rather than give in to the pressure, however, Roxanna uses the little money she's got to rent a run-down little house, the best she can afford.

That house happens to belong to a former military man, Fletcher, Lord Winn. He shows up one night, and not knowing that the house has been rented out, is surprised to find a young widow and her two girls occupying it. He likes them very much, though, and for the following weeks, helps them out as much as possible, growing fonder and fonder of them all as time goes by.

Then, when the villainous brother-in-law decides to take his villany even further, and threatens to take Roxanna's daughters away (arguing that she's making them live in dangerously unhealthy conditions), Fletch offers Roxanna a marriage of convenience. And of course, a marriage of convenience between two people who like each other very much is not going to remain purely of convenience for long!

Roxanna and Fletch are an absolutely delightful couple, and lovely each in their own right. They both have a bit of a history. Roxanna is a very rare widow in Romance-land, in that she loved her late husband very much and had a perfectly satisfying sex life with him. In fact, she very much misses both her husband AND the love-making, and is very enthusiastic about renewing her sex life with Fletch, to his utter happiness. Fletch has a much more unhappy history, with a former wife who cheated on him with everything that moved. He divorced her when he discovered it, and he's been villified for it by Society. They suit each other perfectly, and it was lovely to read about these two nice, honourable people getting the happiness they deserved.

In addition to Roxanna and Fletch's relationship, we also get to see Fletch falling in love with Roxanna's daughers, and they with him, which was really heart-warming.

A good one, one of my favourite Kellys.



The Sharing Knife Vol. 3: Passage, by Lois McMaster Bujold

>> Sunday, July 24, 2011

TITLE: The Sharing Knife Vol. 3: Passage
AUTHOR: Lois McMaster Bujold

PAGES: 448

SETTING: Fantasy world
TYPE: Fantasy romance
SERIES: Part of the Sharing Knife series, follows vols. 1 and 2

Young Fawn Bluefield and soldier-sorcerer Dag Redwing Hickory have survived magical dangers and found, in each other, love and loyalty. But even their strength and passion cannot overcome the bigotry of their own kin, and so, leaving behind all they have known, the couple sets off to find fresh solutions to the perilous split between their peoples.

But they will not journey alone. Along the way they acquire comrades, starting with Fawn's irrepressible brother Whit, whose future on the Bluefield family farm seems as hopeless as Fawn's once did. Planning to seek passage on a riverboat heading to the sea, Dag and Fawn find themselves allied with a young flatboat captain searching for her father and fiancé, who mysteriously vanished on the river nearly a year earlier. They travel downstream, hoping to find word of the missing men, and inadvertently pick up more followers: a pair of novice Lakewalker patrollers running away from an honest mistake with catastrophic consequences; a shrewd backwoods hunter stranded in a wreck of boats and hopes; and a farmer boy Dag unintentionally beguiles, leaving Dag with more questions than answers about his growing magery.

As the ill-assorted crew is tested and tempered on its journey to where great rivers join, Fawn and Dag will discover surprising new abilities both Lakewalker and farmer, a growing understanding of the bonds between themselves and their kinfolk, and a new world of hazards both human and uncanny.
The first installment of this series gave us the necessary background about the farmers, the second concentrated on the Lakewalkers. By the end of book 2, Dag and Fawn have realised that the way things stand between the two communities, they won't be able to make a good life in either. In this third book (which is very definitely a continuation of the bigger story, so do not start here, it doesn't stand alone), they set off on a journey, trying to find a third way. And along the way, they and the companions they pick up on the way without really meaning to, will start to find some indications that there might be a way forward.

While I'd say that if you liked the first two you'll definitely enjoy this one, the feel of it is a bit different. Things had been getting a bit hopeless in the previous two books, more difficult for Fawn and Dag as a couple. But Dag is now a new man. His very radical decision to leave his fellow Lakewalkers behind seems to have refreshed him, basically because he has found a mission.

Dag has decided to single-handedly improve Lakewalker/farmer relations. Fawn seems bemused by all this, and a bit doubtful, but these two have reached a sort of "warm-glow" stage in their relationship, and she supports him. This volume, as you might have deduced, is very much about Dag, with Fawn playing a supporting role. And actually, I didn't mind at all, as I'm sure she'll get her chance later to take centre stage.

I also didn't mind because it's a fascinating mission that Dag has undertaken, and one that only a person as honourable and good as he is could have come up with. I absolutely loved his determination to actually speak of things, his idea that it's ignorance that fuels the misunderstandings, and that if Lakewalkers weren't so damned mysterious about what they can do, there would be a lot more clarity and they'd all get along much better. This shocks his fellow Lakewalkers speechless, and the farmers, faced with this very open and transparent Lakewalker who actually wants to talk about what he does, are almost as shocked. It doesn't always go perfectly, but it's a good effort.

The journey is full of interesting supporting characters and perilous adventures, and satisfied me completely. I want to read Volume 4 now, but half of me doesn't want this series to end.



Restoring Grace, by Katie Fforde

>> Friday, July 22, 2011

TITLE: Restoring Grace
AUTHOR: Katie Fforde

PAGES: 352
PUBLISHER: St. Martin's

SETTING: Contemporary England
TYPE: Chick lit

Ellie Summers’ life starts unravelling. A couple of months ago, she was quite happy living with her boyfriend Rick in their little cottage, producing paintings of local peoples’ homes. But now, finding herself pregnant – and Rick less than thrilled about imminent parenthood – things seem rather more complicated.

Grace Soudley’s life has been coming apart for more than a couple of months. Abandoned by her husband, her only real security is the wonderful old house she was left by her godmother. But unless Grace can find a large sum of money to sort out the dry rot, Luckenham House will disintegrate around her.

When Ellie and Grace meet, the two very different women find they can help each other out. Ellie needs a place to stay; Grace needs a lodger. Both need a friend. But then Grace’s step-daughter Demi arrives on the scene, followed by the disconcertingly engaging Flynn Cormack – who seems determined to help. And when Grace discovers some beautiful painted panels hidden behind the tattered dining-room curtains, the whole business of restoration starts to get serious...
Both Grace and Ellie are in difficult moments in her lives. Grace is newly divorced and stuck with a lovely old house that is unfortunately practically falling down around her ears. Keeping it up is difficult on the money she makes as a wine writer, so she takes in a lodger. Ellie has just been dumped by her boyfriend when she became pregnant, and Grace's place is perfect for her.

What I liked:

Reading a Katie Fforde book is like slipping into a warm bath. Her books might not be particularly exciting, but they're warm and comforting, and I quite like the way she combines an old-fashioned English feel with more modern plots and characters.

I also liked how Grace and Ellie gradually become good friends, and then in effect, family, as they support each other in dealing with challenges such as a needy teenager, family pressures and the intriguing men who come into their lives.

Finally, the final, almost Poirot-esque scene was fun.

What I disliked:

I can't honestly say I disliked anything, but there's that "unexciting" thing. I liked this, but didn't love it.



Summers at Castle Auburn, by Sharon Shinn

>> Wednesday, July 20, 2011

TITLE: Summers at Castle Auburn
AUTHOR: Sharon Shinn

PAGES: 352

SETTING: Fantasy world
TYPE: Fantasy romance
SERIES: None, stands alone

Coriel, the illegitimate daughter of a high-ranking aristocrat, spends most of her life learning herbal medicine from her grandmother, but she spends her summers with her half-sister, Elisandra, at the royal castle where Prince Bryan resides. Corie has always been secretly in love with Bryan, but she is slowly realizing that he is a spoiled, selfish, dangerous man—and that Elisandra dreads her upcoming marriage to the prince. Corie hopes that the prince’s cousin Kent will save Elisandra, while she wonders if the taciturn guard Roderick might play a bigger part in her own life.
Corie is a young woman brought up in two different worlds. The illegitimate daughter of a nobleman, she spends most of her year with her herbalist grandmother and her summers in her father's world, a world of aristocrats and palace intrigue.

The story starts when Corie is 14, and she gets an inkling of what her father's world is really like. She accompanies her uncle on a hunt for aliora, magical fairy-like creatures which are hunted by humans and held as slaves by the aristocracy. She also begins to see a different side to her long-time crush, Prince Bryant.

The years pass, these first glimpses of the real world solidify, and Corie needs to decide what her life is going to be.

Summers in Castle Auburn seems to be the Shinn book everyone loves. Me, not so much. It's probably my least favourite of her books so far, and it's a testament to how good those are that I can say that while also saying that I did mostly enjoy SACA.

On the plus side, it's set in a beautifully imagined and put together world, full of interesting characters and events. There's some nice romances (actually, a few romances), which while not the focus, are quite satisfying. And there's also the issue of the plight of the aliora, which is a very important part of the book, and which serves to highlight Corie's increasing growth and maturity. As a young girl, she basically sees nothing wrong in how the world she lives in works. She loves the aliora, and loves having them there in her world. After all, the ones she's aware of are well-treated and admired. It's only as she grows up that she starts to understand what's really going on and why it's wrong, and that coincides her growing up and her view of the people around her becoming clearer.

It's harder for me to pinpoint what the negatives were, why the story didn't satisfy me as much as other books by this author. I think part of it was that it felt a bit YA-ish, when I'm used to properly grown-up books from Shinn. Maybe it was that the story starts when Corie is 14. She does grow up and most of the book happens when she's of age, but the YA-ish feel remained for me. There's also the fact that palace intrigue and plotting are not my favourite plot points.



Private Arrangements, by Sherry Thomas

>> Monday, July 18, 2011

TITLE: Private Arrangements
AUTHOR: Sherry Thomas

PAGES: 384

SETTING: Late Victorian England
TYPE: Romance

To all of London society, Lord and Lady Tremaine had the ideal arrangement: a marriage based on civility, courteousness, freedom—and living on separate continents.

But once upon a time, things were quite different for the Tremaines…When Gigi Rowland first laid eyes on Camden Saybrook, Lord Tremaine, the attraction was immediate and overwhelming: she simply had to have him. But what began in a spark of passion ended in betrayal the morning after their wedding—and Gigi wants to be free to marry again. Now Camden has returned from America with an outrageous demand—an heir—in exchange for Gigi’s freedom.

Gigi's decision will have consequences she never imagined, as secrets are exposed, desire is rekindled—and one of London’s most admired couples must either fall in love all over again…or let each other go forever.

Gigi Rowland fell for Camden, Lord Tramaine the moment she saw him. It was obvious they were perfect for each other. He had a title and needed money, she had money and needed a title. On top of it, there was a sizzling attraction there, and they liked each other and got along well. So what if Cam was promised to someone else and felt he had to keep that promise? Gigi didn't hesitate to play dirty to give both of them what they really wanted. Unfortunately, Cam found out and didn't take it well. This happened right after the wedding, and meant that they have been separated for the 10 years since their wedding night.

But now, after years of leading their own separate lives, Gigi wants to marry again and seeks a divorce. Cam says yes, but only if Gigi gives him an heir within a year.

This was a fantastic book. It's a beautiful romance, with complex, flawed characters who I loved, but who also often exasperated me. It's also about getting over wounded pride and about how after going for too long in a particular direction you realise was the wrong one, it seems impossible to go back and take the right one.

I loved Gigi and her sneaky ways. Is it really wrong to manipulate and play dirty when the result is that both the manipulator and the manipulated get what they want, even if one of them didn't think he should want it? I've always (slightly guiltily) enjoyed romances with heroes in the manipulator role, but had no idea whether I'd like it when the heroine was in the role, since I don't think I've ever read a romance like that. Well, I did. i loved it. I wanted Gigi to get her man and I cheered for her, even while shaking my head at her obliviousness about what was at Cam's core, and at her complete lack of understanding of his over-developed sense of honour and pride.

Because that was also a big thing here, how these two grow and change from quite immature young people. The book jumps between their courtship, 10 years earlier, and the present-day drama, and so you can see the old Gigi and Cam side by side with the new. Thomas gets it perfectly right. They are still the same people, really, but they have changed in ways that felt organic.

I also especially appreciated that Thomas avoids one of my most hated plot points. With romances, when I hear there's a long separation involved, I always fear that the author will have the hero spending those years fucking everything that moves (because he's manly, and clearly we romance readers think restraint isn't manly and only want to read about heroes who reek of testosterone), while the heroine keeps herself pure and virginal for him (because we romance readers clearly think any woman who doesn't do that is a complete slag, and we don't want to read about those hussies). To put it mildly, the double standard bothers me. That does not happen here. As far as Gigi and Cam are both concerned, the behaviour of the other has basically put a stop to their marriage, and they both really build separate lives. And that involves romance with other people, for both of them. Not ideal romance, but MUCH better than having the old double standard in action!

Plenty of other good stuff here as well. The setting is wonderfully done, and there's a lovely romance involving Gigi's mother, who's had to come to terms to the fact that her ambition to bag a duke for her daughter has gone badly wrong. Guess who she falls in love with?



Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

>> Saturday, July 16, 2011

TITLE: Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch
AUTHOR: Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

PAGES: 383

SETTING: Contemporary England
TYPE: Humour

According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (the world's only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner.

So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon-both of whom have lived amongst Earth's mortals since The Beginning and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle-are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture.

And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist...
The Apocalypse is on its way, with the Four Horsemen already riding. The Anti-Christ has been born and there's a demon and an angel competing to find him, aided by a book of prophecies written by a 17th century witch who died a horrible death. And while I read about all this, I couldn't help laughing hysterically all the way through.

Good Omens is funny and absurd and very, very clever. Its humour hit me just right, which is a bit strange, considering I've tried both Gaiman and Pratchett separately and couldn't finish their books (sacrilege, I know!). Just as a for instance, the demon Crowley's crowning evil and greatest glory is the design of that most horrible and terrifying motorway, the M25, and of of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Famine, carries out his duty by selling diet food and junk food. And ahhh, Agnes' predictions...

With books like this one there's always the risk that they are just a clever idea and sound great as a concept, but then the joke can't carry an entire book. This is emphatically not the case with Good Omens. There's an actual story here and all the different fantastic details the authors keep coming up with enrich it. There's loads of different plotlines, all of which come together in the most amazing and satisfying ways.

Loved it, loved it, loved it. If you want to read a proper review of it, read the one written by the Book Smugglers. It's the one that made me pick it up in the first place!



Chasing Fire, by Nora Roberts

>> Wednesday, July 13, 2011

TITLE: Chasing Fire
AUTHOR: Nora Roberts

PAGES: 480

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: No, stand-alone

The number-one New York Times-bestselling author delves into the world of elite firefighters who thrive on danger and adrenaline-men and women who wouldn't know how to live life if it wasn't on the edge.

There's little as thrilling as firefighting-at least to Rowan Tripp. The Missoula smoke jumpers are in Rowan's blood: her father is a legend. She's been fighting fires since her eighteenth birthday. At this point, returning to the wilds of Montana for the season feels like coming home-even with reminders of the partner she lost last season still lingering.

Fortunately, this year's rookie crop is one of the strongest ever-and Gulliver Curry's one of the best. He's also a walking contradiction, a hotshot firefighter with a big vocabulary and a winter job at a kids' arcade.

Everything is thrown off balance when a dark presence lashes out against Rowan, looking to blame someone for last year's tragedy. Rowan knows she can't complicate things with Gull-any distractions in the air or on the ground could mean the end-but if she doesn't find someone she can lean on, she may not make it through the summer...
Rowan Tripp is an experienced smoke jumper, a firefighter who parachutes into wildfires. Wildfire seasons are always busy for her, but none have been as eventful as this one is proving to be. First, there's the new recruit, Gulliver Curry, who's making her question her rule to never get involved with a teammate.

But there's also something going on that's as scary as a potential relationship with Gull, but not quite as potentially rewarding. At the end of the previous season, Rowan's jump partner made a mistake while operating his parachute and died. His girlfriend Dolly, one of the team's cooks, blamed Rowan. She left her job after trying to attack Rowan, but now she's back and determined to make trouble. And soon that trouble involves murders, sabotage and arson.

Each new Nora Roberts single title is a guaranteed treat. I know even before I start them that I'm going to be able to fall into them and enjoy every minute I'm reading and resent every minute I'm not. Yes, some are better than others, but in the past years, I've enjoyed each and every single one of them.

Chasing Fire was therefore not a surprise. I got exactly what I was expecting, and since what I was expecting was a strong heroine, a lovely hero, a satisfying, healthy relationship, well-drawn secondary characters and a lot of information about a fascinating occupation or setting I knew nothing about, that's a good thing.

Rowan's a vintage Nora Roberts heroine, in that as a group, these women are noted for being hard workers. They tend to love what they do and dive into it with all they have, even if they exhaust themselves. Still, I have to say, Rowan makes them all look like sluggish wimps. I was just amazed that any human being could not only put up with such backbreaking, stressful, dangerous and exhausting work, but positively thrive while doing it. I ended feeling a bit tired myself, and that was just from reading about her job!

Rowan's tough and can be a bit prickly, but she's also perfectly happy to embrace the pleasures of life. And the main one in this book is Gull. Gull (strange name notwithstanding... I mean, what sort of name is Gulliver Curry?) is lovely, dreamy enough that he runs the risk of being a bit too perfect. He's got money, but he still does this work, which I think I've established is pretty difficult and takes a lot out of anyone doing it. He absolutely gets Rowan and loves exactly what many men would find problematic. I loved that. He has absolutely no problem with Rowan being not only the more experienced of the two with their job, but also the person in charge in quite a few of their missions. He does not feel threatened about it. He's actually attracted to Rowan's extreme competence.

The stuff going on around Rowan and Gull was also, for the most part, really good and satisfying. The smoke jumping is really interesting, and there's also some excellent secondary characters. I especially enjoyed the romance between Rowan's father, Lucas, and a really lovely woman who's pretty much Rowan's opposite on the outside, but just as strong on the inside. Ella reminded me a bit of Dr. Mira, in the In Death books.

I also appreciated what Roberts did with another secondary character, one that in most other authors' books would have really annoyed me. Dolly Brakeman is slutty and evil, and completely demonised in the book. The reason she'd annoy me is that with many authors, Dolly would be contrasted with the almost-virginal, virtuous heroine, and her sex life would be presented as evidence of her moral corruption. The thing is, Rowan's sex life has been pretty varied as well. Maybe not quite as much as Dolly's, but in those other authors' books, she could probably serve as the slutty one. And that's what I liked: Dolly's evil not because she sleeps around, but because she uses people, and those two issues are never confused.

The only area where the book falls down a bit is in the suspense. It did keep my interest, for the most part, but I found it a bit too obvious. I zeroed in on a particular suspect right at the beginning (and I mean really, really early, as soon as anything happened), and I was right. This person's motivations, explained at the end, also struck me as slightly iffy.

Still, this didn't detract all that much from this solidly enjoyable book.



Marked, by Joely Skye

>> Sunday, July 10, 2011

TITLE: Marked
AUTHOR: Joely Skye

PAGES: 208

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Paranormal romance (werewolves)
SERIES: Yes, part of a series

Marked as prey, Alec refuses to fall for a werewolf. Until he's forced to turn to Liam for protection. Alec Ryerson carries a scar over his heart and scars on his psyche, ugly reminders of a nightmare that still doesn't seem quite real. Even a year later, he stays inside on full-moon nights and avoids most peopleuntil he meets the strange and beautiful Liam.

Liam feels an undeniable pull toward Alec. However Liam is a werewolf; Alec is a human who clearly has trepidations about a relationship. Then Liam discovers he is not the first werewolf Alec has encountered. Alec has been marked for death by the murderous "quad," a group of twisted werewolves who prey on humans. Now the quad's sights are set on recruiting Liam's eight-year-old brother into their murderous pack.

Liam will do everything in his power to protect both his brother and Alec from the wolves, even if it means Calling in favors and killing those with whom he once ran. Because Alec, like it or not, is Liam's chosen mate.
I downloaded this one when it was available for free for the Kindle, about a month ago. I don't often read free stories. I've said it before, but lately my limiting scarce resource is time, not money. I'd rather spend my scarce reading time on something I really want to read, even if I have to pay for it, rather than on something where the only reason for me to read it is that it's free. With Marked, however, the plot appealed to me, and since I've also heard good things about the author, I went for it.

In Skye's world, there are good werewolves and bad werewolves. Unfortunately for Alec, the first werewolves he ever ran into were the bad kind, the kind who like to capture humans, mark them as their property and keep them as pets. Alec managed to escape them, though, and since then, he's been running scared. He has a feeling that they won't let him get away from them so easily, and since he can't very well go to the authorities (the only reason he himself knows he's not crazy and imagining things is the very physical mark the werewolves left on him) and needs to protect himself, he's feeling a bit paranoid.

He's got reasons to be, because even though Alec doesn't know it at the beginning, there's another werewolf in his life. After losing his previous job, Alec is working at a library, and one of the little boys there is crazy about him. The boy insists Alec meets his older brother, and that older brother turns out to be Liam, with whom Alec had a hookup that went a bit wrong some time earlier.

The reason things went weird in their first encounter was that Liam is a werewolf himself, and he was so attracted to Alec that he was very close to not being able to contain himself him. But now that Alec has come into his life again, Liam is determined to get somewhere with him. But then he begins to realise that Alec might have a huge problem with him being a werewolf...

It's an interesting setup, and I liked the execution ok. Both heroes are well-written and there's chemistry between them. I also liked the little boy, who was a little sweetheart, and enjoyed how Liam basically brings Alec into his pack, his community, and how he's welcomed there.

However, I guess me saying that I liked this "ok" is a clue that I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about it. I wasn't really completely engaged. I just found it all a bit forgettable, I'm afraid. And when the action subplot with the bad werewolves kicks up near the end, I was bored.



A few DNFs

>> Thursday, July 07, 2011

TITLE: Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart
AUTHOR: Sarah Maclean

The positive online buzz about this one made me look beyond the cringe-inducing title and give it a try. I quite liked the idea of a heroine with a very scandalous background paired with a really proper, straightlaced duke. If done well, this could have been fantastic.

Unfortunately, it wasn't done well. Or at least, not to my liking. The heroine was a stereotype of what an Italian is supposed to be, to the point of being offensive. She was pretty idiotic, too. The hero was almost as bad, mean and judgmental in the sections I read. Not to mention the clunky, nonsensical setup. I've no interest in continuing.


TITLE: A Fine Balance
AUTHOR: Rohinton Mistry

This multi award-winning novel follows the story of four very different people ("a spirited widow, a young student uprooted from his idyllic hill station, and two tailors who have fled the caste violence of their native village", as the back of the book describes them), who happen to be thrown together in 1975 India.

By the time I stopped reading (about a quarter of the way through, although considering that this one was about twice as long as most "normal" novels on my kindle, it was quite a long way), we'd found out about the widow's past and were halfway through the life-histories of the two tailors. I loved the glimpse of recent Indian history, I found the characters interesting and I wanted to know what happened, but I just wasn't enjoying what, for lack of a better term, I guess I could call the shifting scale of the book.

An example of what I mean by that: I had just spent pages and pages getting to know the father of one of the characters: I knew all about his own parents, his life history since he was born, his training in his profession and his defiance of his rigid place in the caste system, his hopes, his dreams, everything. And then he decides to defy the powers that be in his village and within a couple of paragraphs, bam! they've tortured him to death. That sort of shift from lovingly detailed description to "and then this and this and this happened" glossing over happened way too often.

So, just not my cup of tea. I might have finished it if it had been shorter, but it's a brick of a book, and I refuse to spend that much time with something I'm not enjoying.


TITLE: Poser
AUTHOR: Claire Dederer

Poser is subtitled My Life In 23 Yoga Poses. I guess I was expecting a bit more yoga than I got, at least in the first 50 or so pages. This would not necessarily be a problem, if I'd liked the author's voice and found her life interesting. I didn't. I thought the writing was pretentious -much too much faux deep musings and "poetic" wording which I just found silly. And what she was actually writing about didn't interest me. There's a lot about her feeling pressured to be the perfect mother and how stressful that is, etc. Just not my cup of tea. I didn't care to know what happened, so I stopped reading.



The Backup Plan, by Sherryl Woods

>> Tuesday, July 05, 2011

TITLE: The Backup Plan
AUTHOR: Sherryl Woods

PAGES: 384

SETTING: Contemporary US (Charleston)
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Starts a trilogy

It's finally time for Dinah Davis to go home. The world-weary correspondent wants to settle down with the sweet guy she left behind in South Carolina's Low Country. Instead, she's confronted by his black-sheep brother, and—despite her longing for serenity—sparks fly.

How can she possibly trade her perfectly safe backup plan for a risk-taking guy like Cordell Beaufort after all the dangers she's already faced? But to Dinah's dismay—backup plan or not—her heart has its own ideas.
Dinah Davis defied her Southern Belle upbringing to become one of the US's top war correspondents. She was at the top of her game when a horrible attack in Afghanistan killed the man she loved right in front of her, and left her terrified of the work she used to love. Her work suffers (obviously) and faced with the knowledge that the network's pushing for her to take a leave of absence, Dinah decides to quit and go home to Charleston.

Why go back to Charleston? Well, for a reason that made me wonder whether I wanted to keep reading the book. Dinah tells herself that she's going back to her old boyfriend, Bobby. Dinah and Bobby broke up when she went off to university. She wanted adventure and to explore the world, Bobby didn't. However, before Dinah left, they made one of those "only in a rom-com" deals: if they were both unattached by the time they turned 30, they'd get married. Dinah loved Bobby back then, but wasn't in love with him. Still, that sounds good enough to her now, so off she goes. Problem is, she just can't find Bobby, mostly because his big brother, Cordell, won't tell her where he is.

There's no way Cord is going to help Dinah find his brother. Cord has been crazy about Dinah for years. He even tried to break them up when they were teens, and he's still ready to play dirty in order to have Dinah for himself. But it turns out that the main obstacle he faces is not Bobby, but the fact that Dinah is not all right, and it's going to take hard work on all sides for her to get over what happened to her in Afghanistan.

The Backup Plan was a bit of a mixed bag. I liked a lot of it, but I had one pretty big problem, and her name was Dinah. She was just unconvincing. Try as I might, I found it really hard to believe that this woman had actually been a war correspondent. I guess my assumption is that to do a job like that, pretty much by definition, you need to be adventurous and able not to sweat the small stuff. And after a few years of doing it (and right at the top of the field, too), you've probably seen it all.

Dinah didn't seem like that sort of person at all. I guess the non-adventurousness part of it is fair enough, because she does have PTSD. Some of her reactions, however, were old ladyish and missish in the extreme. She would react with purse-lipped disapproval to things as scandalous as her friend Maggie participating in a charity auction and bidding for a date with Cord a few months earlier. Really? That shocks her? She also seems to have had any journalistic instincts surgically removed. After she runs into Cord again, all she does for days and days is make assumptions about who he is and what he does. Of course, just by looking at him, she knows he's still undependable and a good-for-nothing layabout, and why, oh, why, does he not tell her where Bobby is? Yep, the award-winning journalist doesn't think of even googling the man for days and runs around getting herself all flustered when Cord just won't do what she asks. See what I mean about her making an unconvincing journalist?

The whole thing with Bobby didn't help, either, as it was just stupid. Unnecessary, as well. Woods didn't need it at all to set up the conflicts in the book. She's got a perfectly good reason why Dinah would be resistant to Cord (I wouldn't trust a guy who lied about me sleeping with other guys, so that my boyfriend would break up with me, either). She's got Dinah's PTSD for her to get over. Why all the faffing about with Bobby?

Oh, dear, it sounds from the above like I hated this book! I didn't, really. Yes, Dinah often annoyed the bloody hell out of me, but there's quite a lot of things to love here, as well. Cord is one of those things. He's supposed to be this bad boy, and he certainly looks the part, but he's actually one of the most nurturing heroes I've read in a while. I also found it quite thrilling (in a guilty pleasure kind of way) that he was so determined to have Dinah that he was willing to play a bit dirty. Not too dirty, mind you, but why should he tell Bobby Dinah's in town before he has a good try at winning her over?

I also liked that Dinah's psychological issues, which are very real and are having a big effect on her, is not cured by luuurve. She actually needs to seek professional help, and even then, there's no magic cure. It takes time and hard work before she's even a little bit better. That was really good.

There's a bit of a secondary storyline featuring Dinah's parents, whose longtime marriage is getting stale. I loved the way they finally start communicating throughout this story, and the way they work to make their relationship exciting again.



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