Hot Pursuit, by Suzanne Brockmann

>> Sunday, February 26, 2012

TITLE: Hot Pursuit
AUTHOR: Suzanne Brockmann

PAGES: 432
PUBLISHER: Ballantine

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romantic suspense
SERIES: 15th in the Troubleshooters series

As team leader of the popular personal security company Troubleshooters Inc., Alyssa Locke is no stranger to dealing with danger. Her next assignment, though, is supposed to be a breeze: teach self-defense techniques to an assemblywoman and her chief of staff after a political controversy generates a blizzard of hate mail-including death threats. But then, while in New York City, Alyssa and her squad of moonlighting Navy SEALs discover a dead body. And then another one. While investigating a suspect, Alyssa is ambushed and finds herself imprisoned by the deranged serial killer she's been after for years: The Dentist. Cut off from everyone, Alyssa must call upon all of her strength and skill to survive this confrontation with the sadistic monster, meanwhile trusting that her Troubleshooter teammates-led by her husband, operative Sam Starrett-will reach her before it's too late.
The Troubleshooters series has followed the same path JR Ward's BDB books have: it's not straight romance any longer, it's a soap. Brockmann has always had a large number of different subplots and stories that develop over several books, but the main storyline (or rather, the "start-to-finish" romance) used to be be much more prominent that the one we got in this book.

In this book, Alyssa and her team are sent to New York for what's supposed to be a nice, relaxing assignment -an excuse for a bit of a holiday, really. Savannah von Hopf (who long-time readers of the series will remember as the heroine of one of the early books in the series, Out of Control) has asked them to help one of her friends, a local politician, who's been having some security issues. The idea, the Troubleshooters assume, is to firm up her security a bit and teach her some basic skills. Easy peasy, which is why Alyssa and Sam bring their baby with them.

What they don't know, but the reader does, is that the whole thing is a ruse by a very dangerous serial killer called The Dentist. The Dentist has become obsessed by Alyssa, who was part of the FBI team hunting him, and has engineered things to bring her to his territory.

What we get here is a lot on the suspense plot and the investigation (the Troubleshooters soon realise things are more dangerous than they seem), plus a a new romance, plus development of the ongoing relationships, the soap part.

The new romance involved Dan Gillman (Eden's brother), and Jenn LeMay, the politician's chief of staff. Jenn is the type who gets "friended" by every man she ever feels an interest for (they all fall for her gorgeous friends and become her best mates so they can get her help in their pursuit of the pretty girls), so she's very surprised when the very good-looking Dan makes a play for her.

In the past, Brockmann has left all sorts of things open with her continuing storylines, but every book has provided a HEA for one couple. Dan and Jenn's is more of a "happy for now" ending, much more open than usual. I would normally have been unhappy with such an ending, but I was absolutely fine with this, because, to be honest, I wasn't invested in Jenn and Dan's romance. In fact, I wasn't convinced they were right for each other at all.

That was because I thought he was a bit of an asshole and she was a bit of a victim. I can see what Brockmann was trying to do with Dan. His MO with women is that because he doesn't want the hassle of going out with a beautiful women (too used to getting their own way and will actually demand things from him), he'll go for "the chunky girl with the pretty friends". She'll actually be grateful he deigns to have sex with her, and won't complain when he leaves, because she was kind of expecting he would, anyway. That's exactly what he's doing when he hooks up with Jenn. It's cold and calculating and kind of made me sick to my stomach to read. The whole point, I guess, is that while it starts this way with Jenn, he immediately starts to feel things for her he hasn't felt before, and it turns into something more. But... I didn't believe it. Brockmann didn't redeem him in my eyes. At all.

What made it worse was that Jenn was so completely out of her league with Dan, and some of it was due to stupidity on her part. There was one scene that I don't think was supposed to be that important in the context of the book, but which moved her in my mind from an inexperienced but otherwise intelligent and sensible woman, to a total, willing victim. She's become kind of friends with a New York cop called Mick, who in the book has clashed quite horribly with Alyssa and Sam. In a scene earlier in the book, he'd felt slighted by Alyssa and made comments behind her back (to Sam, of all people, who he didn't know was Alyssa's husband), that she was a bitch and what she needed was to be gang-raped. When Sam reacted, he engaged in a spot of police brutality. When Jenn is told about this (including the gang-rape threat), her reaction just made me go WFT: 'Oh, Mick. Jenn sighed. "He can be a real jerk, but I'm sure he didn't mean it."' Ohhh-kay. Hon, you're on your own. A jerk like Dan is exactly what you deserve.

But even though the main romance didn't work for me, the book as a whole kind of did, because I enjoyed the other stories.

There's Izzy, still mourning his relationship with Eden. I've actually always liked brash, irritating Izzy, and this is a story I'm looking forward to read in the next book. There's also Sam and Alyssa, showing how two very alpha people can make it work in a relationship if they work on it and respect each other. There was a bit too much of Ashton, their baby son, in this particular storyline, but on the whole, it was really good. There's Jules and Robin being madly in love. And of course, there's the suspense subplot, the serial killer, which was interesting, but definitely not for the squeamish. The ending of it was a bit predictable, but I still enjoyed the investigation. So, all good.

What wasn't so good, however, was the constant preaching. This is something people have been complaining about with Brockmann for a while. I guess I have a very high tolerance for preaching when it's about something I firmly believe in (like gay rights, which is Brockmann's cause), but I thought in this book she went a bit over the line, even for me. The killer is a homophobe who believes all gay people have AIDS and are contagious. Dan is reading a book about a guy who was sent to one of those crazy religious camps that "cure" homosexuality, and Brockmann oh-so-unsubtly works in a plug for it (seriously, bodies are being found all over and everyone's running around in a panic and Dan is looking for his book, to give him an excuse to explain the story to the readers). And many, many more examples, some of which would be spoilers, so I won't go into them. It's all a bit much, and while it didn't put me off that badly, it did annoy me. I get it that Brockmann is trying to use her popularity as an author to further a cause she believes in, and I think she's completely right to do so, but a bit more subtlety would make it much more effective.



Fatal Heat, by Lisa Marie Rice

>> Friday, February 24, 2012

TITLE: Fatal Heat
AUTHOR: Lisa Marie Rice

PAGES: 208

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance

Former Navy SEAL Max Wright is out of the SEAL Teams forever after being almost killed by an Afghani RPG. He retreats to his former XO’s beach house to lick his wounds. He wants to snarl at the world but finds it hard to snarl at his new neighbor, his XO’s beautiful goddaughter, Paige Waring, who also comes with a ridiculously likable, totally undisciplined dog.

As a plant geneticist, Paige has always been focused on her work, but when she and her dog run into Max, she recognizes the lonely, shattered man behind the rugged exterior. To her mind, sexiness always comes with a white lab coat, not with acres of tanned muscle and a tough mind-set.

When Paige’s work becomes the target of criminals and she’s abducted, Max springs into action. Though still terribly wounded, this tough as nails SEAL goes on his last mission—stopping at nothing to save the woman he loves.
Max Wright is recovering from horrific injuries sustained in Afghanistan. He's out of the woods now, but he's still in a pretty bad way, and recovery is hard work. A friend from the Navy SEALs has offered him his beach house as a refuge, and he's gone there to work on his recovery in peace, with nobody to bother him.

He didn't count on his neighbour, his friend's goddaughter, nor on the fact that if it's by her, he doesn't mind in the least being bothered. He and Paige hit it off amazingly well, and the "courtship" goes, well, about as well as it always does in a LMR book, which basically means they are sexually enthralled by each other immediately.

After months in hell, Max is suddenly looking forward to getting back home after he goes to a doctor's appointment. But Paige's got into some trouble with some very bad men through her work as a plant geneticist (which sounded pretty cool), and Max will have to do the impossible to get to her before she runs out of time.

This was nice and sweet. It's either a short novel or a long novella, but whatever it was, it was the right length for the story. I enjoyed it quite a bit. The romance is not amazing, but it's pretty good, nonetheless. I liked that Max is less over-the-top than LMR's usual heroes. He did do some superhuman physical stuff rescuing Paige, but the relationship felt more normal, less hyperintense. Now, I actually like her OTT heroes and super-intense relationships just fine, but the change worked well with this story. The tone was more laid back, quite funny, actually, in a gentle way.

As for the plot, I always say this, but LMR's suspense subplots are much better than your average romance author's. I never see this acknowledged in reviews, but I know I will get something relatively original in her books. Part of it is that her plots are more aware of the world outside the US, and not just as a source of bad guys. Again, this wasn't her best, but it was good.

Oh, and I musn't forget to mention Max -the other Max, that is, a really outstanding dog. I'm sure it should have been annoying to have both hero and dog called Max, but I got a kick out of it.



Thoughts on the 2011 AAR Anual Reader Poll

>> Thursday, February 16, 2012

As a long-time visitor at All About Romance, I make a point of voting in their Annual Reader Poll every year. The Poll was actually the reason I started tracking my books, back in 2001, just so I could vote.

Results for this year have just been announced, and they're interesting. I think I voted for the winner in only three categories, probably a record for me!

Best Romance

AAR winner: The big winner this year was Joanna Bourne's The Black Hawk, which won outright in 6 categories and tied in a 7th. I haven't read it yet (it's in the TBR), but it sounds amazing and I've really liked the books I've read by this author, so I have absolutely no problem with it having won. I should get to it soon!

My vote went to: Unveiled, by Courtney Milan, which was an A for me. I absolutely adored it. It was a historical with a not-particularly-groundbreaking plot, but which felt completely fresh and new because of the characters.

Favorite Funny Romance

AAR winner: A tie between Julie James' A Lot Like Love and Call Me Irresistible, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I liked the Julie James, but it wasn't my favourite by her (it felt a little lightweight). The SEP I haven't read yet. I probably will at some point, but I'm find increasingly distasteful the way her heroines are too-often humiliated.

My vote went to: Attachments, by Rainbow Rowell. It wasn't particularly hilarious, but funny in a subtle way, and I really enjoyed it. But I must say that if I'd read Lauren Baratz-Logsted's The Bro Magnet before I voted, I think that's the one I would have picked.

Favorite Tear-Jerker Romance

AAR winner: The Black Hawk, by Joanna Bourne tied with Eloisa James' When Beauty Tamed the Beast. The James must be for the final section, which was my least favourite bit of the book.

My vote went to: His, Unexpectedly, by Susan Fox. This was one of my favourite reads of the year, It's not a tragic book (in fact, it's quite funny), but the relationship between the heroine and her family had so much hurt in it that I got a lump in my throat several times. It's not an awful, disfunctional family. In fact, they love each other very much, which made it all more affecting for me.

Most Luscious Love Story

AAR winner: What I Did for a Duke, by Julie Ann Long. I did not like this one very much, and I certainly didn't find the love scenes particularly interesting.

My vote went to: Hotter Than Wildfire, by Lisa Marie Rice. I don't think LMR's love scenes are particularly luscious, at least not in terms of what actually happens in them. But what packs a punch is the raw emotion in them, which I love. I also considered voting for A Lady Awakened, by Cecilia Grant, even though the whole thing about quite a few of the love scenes was that they weren't erotic at all. But when Martha and Theo finally connect, that was amazing. Oh, well, turns out it wasn't a 2011 book, anyway.

Best Erotica / Romantica Romance

AAR winner: Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James and The Perfect Play by Jaci Burton tied for this one. Nothing I've heard about Fifty Shades of Grey makes me want to read it. It doesn't sound like my sort of thing at all. I did try The Perfect Play but it was a DNF. Nice hero, but boring heroine and boring, constant love scenes.

My vote went to: I left this one blank. The few books that would qualify that I read I didn't much like (like The Perfect Play, which as I said, was a DNF, and a menage story by Jill Myles that was meh).

Most Tortured Romance Hero

AAR winner: Dmitri, from Nalini Singh's Archangel's Blade. I kind of lost interest in this series after the second book. I didn't dislike it, but it just didn't tempt me to keep reading, I guess.

My vote went to: Ash Turner from Unveiled, by Courtney Milan. A fantastic hero whose very difficult childhood hasn't warped him, but has left some deep scars in the relationship between him and his brothers. Clearly I just love a good dollop of family drama in my romance!

Best Kick-Ass Heroine

AAR winner: Justine DeCabrillac, from The Black Hawk, by Joanna Bourne. She does sound fantastic, and I'm looking forward to meeting her.

My vote went to: Yasmeen, from Heart of Steel, by Meljean Brook. However fantastic Justine is, I don't see how anyone could hold a candle to Yasmeen. She's one of the most kickass heroines I've read ever, let alone last year. And Brook didn't find it necessary to emasculate her to make her more acceptable, yay!

Best Romance Hero

AAR winner: Adrian Hawkhurst, from The Black Hawk, by Joanna Bourne. Yep, he sounds great as well!

My vote went to: Sir Mark Turner, from Unclaimed, by Courtney Milan. Another fantastic book from Milan. I liked it a teeny bit less than Unveiled, but Mark was outstanding. He's genuinely moral and good and honourable, and he does his best to be so, to work out what he think it means to be good, not what society says. And he stands up to the rest of the world and shows himself as he is. All without a speck of self-righteousness or hypocrisy.

I also considered Archimedes Fox, from Heart of Steel, by Meljean Brook in this category. Another nice guy, and another one secure enough in himself and his masculinity to be with a strong, unconventional woman. Give me a hero like him or Sir Mark over all those "wicked" rakes any day.

Best Romance Heroine

AAR winner: Justine DeCabrillac, from The Black Hawk, by Joanna Bourne.

My vote went to: Yasmeen, from Heart of Steel, by Meljean Brook. She's that cool.

Best Romance Couple

AAR winner: Justine DeCabrillac & Adrian Hawkhurst, from The Black Hawk, by Joanna Bourne.

My vote went to: Jenna Fallon & Mark Chambers, from His, Unexpectedly, by Susan Fox. I just loved them together, thought they fit in particularly great way. They seem to be opposite at first, but Fox shows perfectly how they actually have worldviews that match and want the same things from life. Each makes the other grow and be better, but neither really changes from the person they really are. Fantastic book.

My choice was between them and Martha Russell & Theo Mirkwood, from A Lady Awakened, by Cecilia Grant, because of the way their relationship developed oh-so-slowly and how well they ended up fitting together. Guess I've got a shoe-in for the 2012 poll, it'll take a lot to beat them!

2011's Best Debuting Romance Author

AAR winner: Jessica Scott, with Honorable Mentions to Tawna Fenske and Darynda Jones. I haven't read Scott (hadn't heard of her before this, actually) or Fenske. I tried to read Darynda Jones but it had a very annoying heroine and ended up as a DNF. Apparently quite a lot of people voted for Cecilia Grant (whose book actually had a 2012 copyright, even though it was released in 2011) and for Thea Harrison (who's been published before under another name).

My vote went to: Originally to Cecilia Grant (what can I say, I bought the book on December 27th, so I never thought to actually look at the copyright!), but the AAR pollsters graciously allowed me to change it, and I went for Rainbow Rowell, whose charming Attachments I really liked.

Guiltiest Pleasure Romance

AAR winner: J.R. Ward's Lover Unleashed. Can't argue with that, if I'd read a 2011 JR Ward last year I probably would have voted for it as well!

My vote went to: Hotter Than Wildfire, by Lisa Marie Rice, even though I don't feel particularly guilty about liking her books any longer. But I guess I'm still a bit surprised that I like her heroes so much.

Best Historical Romance set in the UK

AAR winner: Julie Ann Long's What I Did for a Duke, which as I mentioned above, I didn't much like. I really can't see what's so great about it. I hated the revenge plot and the lack of any thought about the consequences their screwing about like bunnies might have.

My vote went to: Unveiled, by Courtney Milan, which is quite obvious, since I voted for it as best romance, and it's a historical romance set in the UK!

Best Historical Romance set outside the UK

AAR winner: The Black Hawk, by Joanna Bourne. Fair enough.

My vote went to: Heart of Steel, by Meljean Brook. I might have cheated a bit here, not sure if steampunk counts as historical? It is a kind of historical, speculative, I guess. Otherwise, where would it fit in? Paranormal? It's not, it's all based in science. Futuristic? It's set in a version of the past. I stand by my vote!

Best Contemporary Romance

AAR winner: A Lot Like Love, by Julie James. I liked it very much, but there were several other contemps I liked better last year.

My vote went to: His, Unexpectedly, by Susan Fox. A plain contemporary with surprising depth. Fox's characters talk to each other and I completely believe in their relationship. There's also great family drama, and a heroine who's a free spirit and is not forced to want a white picket fence.

Best Series/Category Book

AAR winner: Jill Sorenson's Stranded With Her Ex, which sounds pretty good.

My vote went to: Here Comes The Groom, by Karina Bliss. A lovely friends-to-lovers plot, with a heroine who's dealing with quite a lot. I really like this author.

Best Romantic Suspense

AAR winner: Breaking Point, by Pamela Clare. It doesn't really appeal to me.

My vote went to: Treachery in Death, by JD Robb. This series is still going strong for me, and I loved the plot of this one, and the focus on Peabody.

Best Paranormal Romance

AAR winner: Thea Harrison's Dragon Bound, which I liked very much. I just loved another one better!

My vote went to: Demon Marked, by Meljean Brook, maintaining the very high standard of the Guardians series. I loved that although it developed the overarching storyline, the first half seemed a bit different and apart from the world of the Guardians.

Best Chick Lit/Women's Fiction

AAR winner: To The Moon and Back, by Jill Mansell.

My vote went to: To The Moon and Back, by Jill Mansell. I didn't read much in these genres, but of the few I read, the Mansell was the best. I'd say it falls on the WF side, and it's got both humour and sadness, and is written in quite a low-key register.

Best Romance Short Story

AAR winner: Unlocked, by Courtney Milan.

My vote went to: Unlocked, by Courtney Milan. More like a novella, really, but fantastic. I loved the angst and how the hero had to actually work to be forgiven for his actions.

Most Disappointing Romance of 2011

AAR winner loser: J.R. Ward's Lover Unleashed tied with Julia Quinn's Just Like Heaven. I haven't read either, but I mean to, in spite of this.

My vote went to: Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart, by Sarah Maclean. It was a DNF, but that was because what I read was so bad I didn't want to keep reading. Foolish heroine, mean, judgmental hero, clunky, nonsensical setup. Eek.


Hellhounds & PIs

>> Sunday, February 12, 2012

TITLE: Blind Spot (in Must Love Hellhounds anthology)
AUTHOR: Meljean Brook

I've got a while to wait until Meljean Brook's next single title, but fortunately, there are still a few of her Guardians short stories I've yet to catch up with. This one stars Maggie Wren, whom we met in the wonderful Demon Forged. Maggie has been working as a sort of troubleshooter for Colin Ames-Beaumont and his wife Savi, and her latest mission is to rescue his niece, who's been kidnapped by some baddies. But she's not going alone, Colin has asked his nephew, Blake, to help out. Maggie is initially nonplussed, as Blake is blind, and she's not sure what he can do to help, but the Ames-Beaumont family's contact with a certain sword has had a long-running effect on the entire line, and Blake has some surprises to offer.

This was fun, as always. The action is exciting, Blake's talent is really, really cool, and the romance is a brilliant one. There are some surprises there as well. I'm not going to reveal them, but they make the romance much more believable.


TITLE: Private Eye (in Some Like It Rough anthology
AUTHOR: Susan Lyons

I liked Susan Fox's Wild Ride to Love books so much that I swept my library for anything under her other name, Susan Lyons. This included a couple of short stories in anthologies, including this one.

Hayley Croft has been doing admin at a PI company for a few months, but it's only when a case brings the whole team to a strip club that detective Ry Montana notices the sexy woman under the staid, boring outfits. And he can't help but notice her when Hayley ends up volunteering to go undercover as a stripper to solve the case.

Lyons has a way with love scenes, but ultimately, this was pretty meh. The characters were very broadly drawn and not particularly distinct, so I didn't particularly care what happened to them, including when they fell into bed (which was much too often, considering the length of the story). Also, I felt this had a bit of a pornish sensibility, which I don't mind in straight-out erotica, but I do in erotic romance. Plus, the setup was just silly.

Hmm, I liked the Fox books so much that I will probably give Lyons another shot (maybe something longer next), but if this had been a new author, I don't think I would have.



Happy Ever After, by Nora Roberts

>> Friday, February 10, 2012

TITLE: Happy Ever After
AUTHOR: Nora Roberts

PAGES: 368

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: #4 in the Bride quartet

As the public face of Vows wedding planning company, Parker Brown has an uncanny knack for fulfilling every bride's vision. She just can't see where her own life is headed. Mechanic Malcomb Kavanaugh loves figuring out how things work, and Parker is no exception. Both know that moving from minor flirtation to major hook-up is a serious step. Parker's business risks have always paid off, but now she'll have to take the chance of a lifetime with her heart...
Parker Brown is the brains behind Vows, the wedding planning company she set up with her three best friends, whose stories were told in the first books in the series. She brings to the table the organisational skills that allow her friends talents to shine, and the weddings to go off without a hitch. So what if this means that her life is all work and her Crackberry is never off or off limits to her brides?

Malcolm Kavanaugh was introduced in previous books in the series, and it was obvious from the start that he was destined for Parker. Superficially, he's as different from her as could be. He's a mechanic (although off course, he owns his own business -couldn't have it any other way in a romance novel!) and former stuntsman, and as relaxed and easygoing as Parker is tightly wound.

There's not much of a conflict between these two. The issue of Parker being from a very wealthy and socially prominent family while Malcolm is not comes up, is addressed, and basically goes away. Other than that, it's just two people falling in love, in between Parker and her friends putting on all sorts of weddings.

That doesn't mean it's boring. In fact, I enjoyed the book quite a bit while I was reading it, even though it hasn't particularly stayed with me (I had to actually make an effort to remember it properly, after a few weeks) and I wouldn't characterise it as a page-turner. It's pleasant and fun, and what it does, it does really well.

I especially liked the friendship between the women, as usual with Roberts. Also, I really, really appreciated that Parker's love of her work and willingness to spend many, many hours on it wasn't presented as a problem. There's no disapproving tone here about her being available 24/7 and not immediately making the guy she's dating her first priority. She does make some changes by the end of the book, but it's more about establishing a few boundaries and setting aside a bit of time for herself every now and then.

As for the weddings, well, I'm not really a wedding person (the thougth of having a massive do myself fills me with dread, rather than longing), but throughout the series, they've been just SO much fun. There's always some story with them, something to make them stand out and make them more than just a party, and there's just something about seeing people who are very good at something going about their business.

All in all, this hasn't been my favourite NR series, but (apart from a little hiccup in book 2) it was a solidly enjoyable one.



The Name of the Star, by Maureen Johnson

>> Wednesday, February 08, 2012

TITLE: The Name of the Star
AUTHOR: Maureen Johnson

PAGES: 384
PUBLISHER: Putnam Juvenile

SETTING: Contemporary London
TYPE: YA paranormal
SERIES: #1 in the Shades of London series

The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it's the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper events of more than a century ago.

Soon "Rippermania" takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was walking with her at the time, didn't notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.
Rory Deveaux's parents have accepted a job that will take them to England for a year. Far from being upset at leaving her friends in small-town Louisiana, Rory is really excited at the prospect of a year abroad, which, as her parents job will be in Bristol, she'll spend in a boarding school right in Central London.

Boarding school turns out to be pretty damn good. Rory doesn't have much trouble making friends, including her new roommate, and classes (hockey class excepted) are fine. The only fly in the ointment is that Rory has arrived just in time to find London in the midst of a massive panic. Someone is murdering people in a way clearly inspired by Jack the Ripper. The murders are taking place on the exact date Jack the Ripper's took place, and the women killed have similar names to the original victims, are murdered in exactly the same way as they were, and are left pretty much where the original victims were found.

Since Rory's school is right in the area of East London where all this is going on, this means that as the day of the next murder approaches, the excitement rises, and the school goes into lockdown. Typical teenagers, the students are not scared or upset about it, more excited and intrigued to know what will happened (actually, all of London seems to feel that way, which rings painfully true). Which is how, while doing something she shouldn't have been doing, Rory ends up seeing the man who must be the killer. She's the only witness, actually, which is quite strange, considering that her roommate was just next to her, and really should have seen him too...

Full disclosure: I find the whole Jack the Ripper thing fascinating. I've even actually gone on a Jack the Ripper walking tour. I tell people it was a great way to see the small glimpses of old London still alive under the quite ugly modernity of the financial district, but while true, that was a bonus, not why I did it. I confess to a ghoulish enjoyment of the story, even as I'm fully aware of the inappropriateness of feeling that way about a case in which people actually died. So I was well-disposed to enjoy this story, to say the least.

I liked it even more than I expected, because the Jack the Ripper overtones were just the cherry on a very good cake: the actual story was really intriguing and fascinating. I couldn't wait to find out what was going on, especially because in between the main sections, all narrated by Rory, there are short ones from the POV of various other people... someone who manages to get her hands on CCTV footage of one of the murders and realises that while the murder has been filmed, the murderer hasn't; a Ripperologist who has convened a sort of conference and finds himself forced by an unseen force to write a message on the blackboard when the lights suddenly go off. This works to show us readers that while Rory doesn't suspect for a long time that there is anything wrong, there is definitely something strange going on.

When we find out the truth, it's no letdown. I'm not even going to hint at what is actually going on, but it's really cool, and I loved Rory's role in it all.

The very well-done story was combined with truly superior atmosphere and setting. I loved the combination of the creepiness of the tone of the Ripper bits with the school atmosphere -especially because the school is very much a normal one. I also enjoyed the tourist-eye view of living in central London. It won't sound cool, but hey, I don't live in London myself, so I relished it.

Also, Rory was a great narrator. She reads real. She's ridiculously brave sometimes, but well, she's a teenager, so lack of consciousness of her own mortality comes with the territory. And she's got her insecurities as well. I liked her, and I'll be glad to continue reading about her. There's a sequel called The Madness Underneath coming in September 2012, and I'll definitely be reading it.



A Brother's Price, by Wen Spencer

>> Monday, February 06, 2012

TITLE: A Brother's Price
AUTHOR: Wen Spencer

PAGES: 320

SETTING: Fantasy world
TYPE: Fantasy romance, really!
SERIES: None that I know of

In a world where males are rarely born, they've become a commodity-traded and sold like property. Jerin Whistler has come of age for marriage and his handsome features have come to the attention of the royal princesses. But such attentions can be dangerous-especially as Jerin uncovers the dark mysteries the royal family is hiding.
In a complete departure from the Ukiah Oregon novels which were my first experience with Wen spencer, A Brother's Price is a fantasy novel set in a world where due to biological imperatives, gender roles are much as in Regency historicals, only reversed.

In this world, male children are born infrequently, and so have becomed very prized. By necessity, a man gets married to all the woman in one family, and having their brother make a good marriage is a family's best chance of improving their circumstances. Virginity in man is prized as well, as venereal diseases are rife, and once caught, easily spread through the entire family. Young men are therefore sheltered and protected, often not allowed to even come into contact with strange women. If they do, their reputation, and therefore their marriage prospects, can be ruined. Yep, this is exactly why I said Regency historical romance.

Jerin Whistler lives with his sisters and several younger brothers (a rarity), and having reached marriageable age, is almost resigned to being married off into a boorish neighbouring family. But one day a young woman is found injured nearby and after much discussion, the family decide they should rescue her and risk bringing a stranger into their house. Good decision, because she turns out to be one of the royal princesses, and Jerin catches both her eye and that of her sister, Ren, who comes to fetch her.

Before he knows it, Jerin and his family are whisked off to town, supposedly for the royal family to sponsor him, as a thank you for the rescue. However, the reality is that Princess Ren has been agitating for him to be chosen as her and her sisters' husband, and he's there to be vetted.

But romance doesn't have a chance to progress smoothly, since the incident which resulted in the princesses coming into Jerin's life is not an isolated one, and someone is plotting against the royal family.

I thought the idea of this was interesting, and the world-building was actually quite good, but I just found the romance incredibly annoying, and wasn't that impressed with the plot, either.

The problem with the romance is that although Jerin is quite a good guy, brave and sensible, whenever he's with the princesses (especially Ren), Spencer chooses to make him behave like a twit. He constantly blushes and generally behaves like a child (he keeps being described as "adorable" by the women). And Ren absolutely loves this. She talks about how perfect Jerin is, because he's "biddable". Retch!

My objections had nothing to do with this being a role reversal world, I'd have hated this characterisation in a regular historical as well. I have no interest at all in a romance that so infantilises one of the characters and has the other character prize this.

As for the plot, it started out interesting enough, but got really, really boring at the end. There was an awful lot of running around, and people behaving pretty stupidly.

Unfortunate. This could have been quite good, and Spencer definitely knows how to do good worldbuilding.



Monkeewrench (aka Want To Play?), by PJ Tracy

>> Saturday, February 04, 2012

TITLE: Monkeewrench (aka Want To Play?)

PAGES: 432

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: First in the Monkeewrench series

People are dying for the new computer game by the software company Monkeewrench. Literally. With Serial Killer Detective out in limited release, the real-life murders of a jogger and a young woman have already mimicked the first two scenarios in the game.

But Grace McBride and her eccentric Monkeewrench partners are caught in a vise. If they tell the Minneapolis police of the link between their game and the murders, they'll shine a spotlight on the past they thought they had erased-and the horror they thought they'd left behind. If they don't, eighteen more people will die...
I'd no idea what to expect of Monkeewrench. I knew the plot outlined in the back cover sounded interesting, and I'd heard great things about the mother-daughter team behind the PJ Tracy name, but that was it. Was it suspense? Was it romantic suspense? Should I expect all the characters I liked to be alive at the end? I had no idea.

The story starts out in rural Wisconsin, as an old couple is found dead in church, killed in a gruesomely ritualistic manner. Around the same time, a couple of bodies are found in Minneapolis, each killed exactly as detailed in a newly released videogame.

With the prospect of the killer continuing on and reenacting all 20 murder cases included in the game, the cops' attention is focused on the partners who own Monkeewrench, the company that developed it. It's quite clear there's something mysterious in their past, especially in Grace MacBride's. Why ever else would a woman live like a recluse, in a house as secure as bank vault?

The mystery develops little by little, with the authors doling out information very, very carefully and keeping the tension high. It's really intriguing, especially guessing how all the different threads might be connected, and the detective work is top notch. It was a pleasure to see these people work. I never felt like I was ahead of them, and yet, I never felt a deduction came out of nowhere. And when the final reveal happened, everything clicked together in the most satisfactorily manner. That's exactly what I want out of a mystery, and PJ Tracy delivered with style.

It wasn't just a fun, clever puzzle. I also really enjoyed the characters and cared about what happened to them. Grace and her partners at Monkeewrench are really fascinating, and I developed quite a few outlandish theories about what had happened in their past. The reality was better than anything I imagined. And I also really liked the cops. Det. Magozzi is our main character here, but he's supported by a fantastic and very real cast of characters, all of which play their role. And I had a bit of a soft spot for the detectives investigating the case in Wisconsin, and loved how it all came together.

There's even a little bit of romance, which was a nice touch. For once, I didn't want this part of the story to be more prominent; what I got was just enough for me.

I'm definitely going to be reading more in this series.



The Silent Land, by Graham Joyce

>> Thursday, February 02, 2012

TITLE: The Silent Land
AUTHOR: Graham Joyce

PAGES: 264

SETTING: Contemporary France
TYPE: Fiction

A young couple are caught in an avalanche during a ski-ing holiday in the French Alps. They struggle back to the village and find it deserted. As the days go by they wait for rescue, then try to leave. But each time they find themselves back in the village. And, increasingly, they are plagued by visions and dreams and the realization that perhaps no-one could have survived the avalanche.THE SILENT LAND is a brooding and tender look at love and whether it can survive the greatest challenge we will ever face.
Zoe and Jake are on a skiing holiday and out really early, trying to get on the slopes before other tourists arrive en masse. As they descend, they are caught in a landslide, and only barely survive. When they manage to get back to the village where they're staying, the entire place is empty -clearly evacuated, they reason, due to the risk of more avalanches.

But it's not just that the whole place is empty. They can't seem to get anyone on the phone, can't get any channels on the television and can't connect to the internet. And whenever they try to leave the village, something always stops them, and they end up back where they started...

I was really intrigued by the set-up of this book, and I really liked the way it started. The first half was actually really good. I had some suspicions about what might be going on, but it was still all really chilling and intriguing, and satisfyingly creepy.

I wasn't even fazed by the characters having a massive realisation about one third into the book, which I would have thought would be the big one at the end. That made me even more intrigued to see where Joyce could go from there.

Unfortunately, the answer is: nowhere much. I was completely disappointed by the ending. It's just that it was the obvious one, what I immediately thought would be a reasonable explanation, but kind of mentally rejected because it would be too obvious and boring. I was hoping for something creepy, something that made me do a double take and look back at the book with new eyes (ideally, something as fantastic as the climactic moment of realisation in The Sixth Sense). And after the characters having that flash of insight so early in the book (see previous paragraph), it needed to be great and unexpected.

What I got had a bit of a tinge of the paranormal, but not anything to get excited about. I also hoped for something that would explain all the little arbitrary details and changes in rules that Zoe and Jake had experienced. Some things were explained by the conclusion (e.g. the coffins, the ringing mobiles), but others weren't, really. And I had some objections to how it all hinged on that this love between them was so, so great that all this stuff happened, when Joyce hadn't convinced me at all about that.

I guess I was hoping for "Oh, wow!", and got "Oh, ok".



Blog template by

Back to TOP