September wish list

>> Friday, August 31, 2012

Books I'm definitely planning to get

Quite a few this month again!

Midnight Scandals, by Courtney Milan, Sherry Thomas & Carolyn Jewel (Aug 28)

Technically a late August book, but I thought it'd be out in September last month, so I didn't include it in my August wish list. It's on my wish list because I’ve loved Milan’s novellas and one of her short stories, and I’m curious to see what Sherry Thomas, one of my favourite authors these days, does with a short. I haven’t read Jewel for quite a while, so it’s probably time to try her again.

Riveted, by Meljean Brook (Sep 4)

Another one that shouldn't technically be here, since I was lucky enough to get an ARC, and have already read it. If I hadn't, though, it'd be the book I'd most covet in September.

The Lost Night, by Jayne Castle (Sep 4)

I haven't really got excited about a new JAK book for a while, since IMO, her best books are long in the past. I do still read her, though, and her books are comfort reads for me. This one doesn't sound like anything new, so I think I know what I'm getting.

Delusion in Death, by JD Robb (Sep 11)

As with the previous book, I think I know what I'm getting with the latest in the In Death series. That's where all similarities end, though. Even after 30+ books, this series still excites me, and I drop everything to read each new book. This one sounds really interesting and quite scary.

The Casual Vacancy, by JK Rowling (Sep 27)

I have no idea what to expect from this one, so I'll be approaching it with a completely open mind (and without reading any reviews, if I can help it). Rowling is a fantastic storyteller, and I'd be willing to follow her into any genre she may choose to write in.

The Duchess War, by Courtney Milan (late-middle to late September)

I read the prequel novella that sets up this series, and it did its job wonderfully. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy it, it made me really want to read the main trilogy.

Books that interest me and I'll keep an eye on

Books I might buy depending on what reviews look like.

Gather the Bones, by Alison Stuart (Aug 23)

Another one I should have included in last month's round-up, but when I added it to my wish list (I think because of a post in one of the Dear Author open threads), the release date was early September. Anyway, it sounds really interesting. From the blurb, it's set right after World War I, and the heroine and her late husband's cousin (do I smell a romance there?) are investigating an old mystery, that might have something to do with the heroine's husband's death.

Ruined By Moonlight, by Emma Wildes (Sep 4)

Wildes is an author I've been meaning to try for a while, and this one sounds pretty interesting. A young woman ("the reigning belle of the ton") disappears from London at the same time as a notorious rake, and the hero (who sounds like quite a serious man) is sent after them.

Blackwood, by Gwenda Bond (Sep 4)

I found out about this one at the Book Smugglers’. The plot description caught my attention, as it involves the Lost Colony of Roanoke, and a group of people disappearing from the same spot the present day.

Adaptation, by Malinda Lo (Sep 18)

This sci-fi, end of the world-type thriller sounds fascinating -like Hitchcock’s The Birds crossed with a government conspiracy.

Rapture, by JR Ward (Sep 25)

This is part of the Fallen Angels series, of which I’ve read only one. Even though I wasn’t crazy about it, and I’ve kind of gone off Ward, I might still pick up the next one in the series. Possibly from the library, though.

Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed, by Anna Campbell (Sep 25)

The beauty and the beast-type plot appeals to me, but I’ve read two of Campbell’s books already and she didn't really work for me. We’ll see, I might be tempted by good reviews.


The Girl From Mars, by Julie Cohen

>> Wednesday, August 29, 2012

TITLE: The Girl From Mars
AUTHOR: Julie Cohen

PAGES: 416
PUBLISHER: Little Black Dress

SETTING: Contemporary England
TYPE: Chick lit / Romance

“I, Philomena Desdemona Brown, do solemnly swear to forsake all romantic relationships. There. Do I really have to repeat it in Klingon?”

It’s not like the vow, made by Fil and her two nerdy best male friends so they’d always stick together, was a big deal at the time. Frankly, Fil wouldn’t know romance if it hit her in the face anyway. Her one true love is her job as the artist for the famous comic Girl from Mars. Just like the comic’s alien heroine, Fil’s never had or needed a love interest—just her best friends.

Until one of her friends breaks the vow and falls in love, bringing her smack back down to earth. Could it be that romance is in the stars for Fil after all?
Fil Brown has a life she loves, which allows her to indulge her love for comics and sci-fi. She draws her beloved "Girl From Mars" comic, about a female superhero, and she's got three really close male friends who provide her with the love and support of a family.

And then, things start changing. One of her friends falls in love, and this changes the whole dynamic of the foursome's relationship. And Fil can't even find a refuge in work, because that's in flux as well: the powers that be have brought in a new hotshot writer, Dan McKay, to breathe new life into the Girl From Mars life, and the annoying man has some ideas about the character's love life that Fil is resoundingly against.

I really, really liked this. I picked this up because I have enjoyed previous Little Black Dress books by this author, but this is my favourite so far. I loved the comic book stuff, and thought geeky Fil and her even geekier friends were absolutely wonderful. I adored spending time with them. The book's got loads of humour, but at the same time, there's plenty of heart there as well, to the point that I welled up a couple of times. I really identified with Fil's feelings for Jim and Digger, two of her friends. This fierce, protective love, where you see their vulnerabilities and failings and want to hug them and never let anything hurt them. I've felt that, and even though nothing too sad happens here, the emotion felt quite raw and real.

The romance was nice as well, even though it wasn't my favourite element. Since this was because I liked the other elements so much, rather than because there was anything wrong with the romance, I have no problems with this. I especially liked that for a lot of the book, I just had no idea who Fil might end up with. I was surprised to be surprised, to be honest. I've read so much romance that by now, I can usually point out the intended hero as soon as he enters the picture.

Something else I loved was that, more than with any other author, with Cohen's books I always get a bit of a thrill to realise that the story is actually set in my world. No, I don't illustrate comics, or even live in London, but I always get the feeling with her characters that they are like me, that they do the sorts of things I'd do... go to the pub when I'd go to the pub, go to the same shops I go to, that sort of thing. The funny thing is, this doesn't happen so much, even with other British authors. I suppose it might be because according to her bio, Cohen, like me, moved to England as a grown-up. So maybe what British authors (and, I guess, readers) would take for granted, she takes trouble to note, and so do I.



Quatrain, by Sharon Shinn

>> Monday, August 27, 2012

TITLE: Quatrain
AUTHOR: Sharon Shinn

PAGES: 384

SETTING: various fantasy settings
TYPE: Fantasy romance (just fantasy for one of them)
SERIES: See below

Four original novellas, all set in the fantastical worlds of national bestselling author Sharon Shinn.

National bestselling author Sharon Shinn's Twelve Houses books have fascinated readers and critics alike with their irresistible blend of fantasy, romance, and adventure. Now in Quatrain, she weaves compelling stories in four of the worlds that readers love in Flight, Blood, Gold and Flame.
I'm not normally much into anthologies, often feeling a little bit ripped off by having to pay for stories I have no interest in, just to read the one I want. Quatrain, with all four of the stories being written by Shinn, didn't have that issue. It also turned out that the standard of the stories was really good. I loved one of them, really liked two, and found the fourth not too bad.

Each of these stories is set in a universe Shinn's already explored in another book or series. Loved the idea, as it allowed Shinn to concentrate on the story, and not have to spend precious pages explaining her setting. I do think there's enough there for new readers not to get lost, but I expect those of us who've read other books will have had a much richer experience.

The first story, Flight is set in Samaria, a land ruled by angels. These are beings who might be winged and have a special relationship with the god, but who are very human in their needs and desires. In this world, nothing is more cherished than an angel child. Since most of the angels are male, this means that as far as many human women are concerned, catching the attention of an angel and bearing his angel child is the easiest way to change their lives into ones of ease and comfort. Some of them are quite forthright in putting themselves forward, and these "angel-seekers" are derided by many. So, a bit like aspiring WAGs, really.

The books in this series are set at different times (which means that previous characters are not even alive any longer in some of the other entries). This short story is set shortly before the events of Archangel and Angel-Seeker. The archangel Rafael is still in power, and he and a couple of other angels arrive at the farm where our heroine, Salome, lives with her niece, Sheba. Salome, who is in her 40s, has had some very painful experiences with angels in her past, and is determined to keep her beautiful niece from making the same mistakes she made. She will, especially, need to protect her from the evil and corrupt archangel, who would like nothing better than to torment Salome.

There is a lot here about the dark side of life as an angel-seeker, things the young girls, eager to romanticise what they're doing, willfully ignore, and which Salome is determined to make them understand. She's a really interesting character: a strong woman, unashamed of her past and content with her current, unexciting life. But at the same time, it's clear there is still something in her that's open to love. There's quite a bit of unfinished business between her and a particular angel, and the romance between them was nice, if undeveloped. There was some fascinating history there, and while I liked how Shinn dealt with, I kind of felt the events in the past would make for a much more interesting story than the current ones.


The second story, Blood, is related to the first Shinn I ever read, Heart of Gold. It's set in a world in which three races coexist: the Indigos, the Gulden and the Albinos. We don't know much about the latter, but the first two are pretty much polar opposites. The Indigos, blue-skinned and dark-haired, are a matriarchal society, mostly urban and increasingly liberal. The Gulden, golden-skinned and light-haired, are very much patriarchal and clannish, and quite conservative.

Our main character, Kerk, is a young gulden man who's just moved to an Indigo city with his adopted family. He didn't have an easy time growing up: his father was a cruel, abusive man, and his mother left him when Kerk was very young, taking his little sister with her. In gulden society, a woman belongs first to her family and then to her husband, and they can do anything they want with her. This means that a woman married to a bad man is trapped in the marriage. She can't just leave him and set up a new home; her only option, and one unimaginable to many, is to run away altogether. This is what Kerk's mother did, and he hasn't seen her since. His father died just a few years later, and Kerk was lucky enough that his new stepmother was kind and took him with her into her next marriage, and that the new husband was a good man, who informally adopted Kerk. However, it was not easy growing up without a real family in Geldritch.

Now that he's is in the city, which is the only place his mother could have ran to, Kerk is determined to find her. His first step is to visit the Lost City, a very poor neighbourhood where a kind of refuge for gulden women has been set up, and it is there he is confronted by Jalci Candachi. Jalci is a forthright Indigo heiress who volunteers helping out at the Lost City. Once she's assured herself that Kerk's intentions are good, she offers her help, and before long, Kerk is not only helping out at the Lost City himself, mentoring a group of gulden teenage boys, he's also becoming friends with Jalci.

This was my favourite story, and by a country mile, too. Kerk is a fascinating character. He both demonstrates the best of gulden manhood, and is a product of his society, with its prejudices and its willful blindness to what happens when things don't work as they theoretically should. Kerk's saving grace is that actually, he sees the problems, even if at first he feels acknowledging them is a betrayal, and much of the growth he undergoes in this short story involves him finding a way to accept the flaws in gulden society, while still feeling pride in his own culture.

For a story so short, there are plenty of really great moments: his mentoring of the kids, which allow us to see his sense of honour and his basic decency; his surprising conversation with his step-father, who is really an older version of Kerk, further along in his journey; and finally, the outcome of his search for his mother, which is both sad and satisfying at the same time.

The romance was good, but not the best element. Kerk's feelings for Jalci morph a little bit too abruptly from indifference and willingness to tolerate her only for the help she can bring him, to love. Surprisingly, since the whole story is narrated from Kerk's POV, Jalci's feelings feel better developed.

Still, a minor flaw. It's a fantastic story, and I'm amazed at how much Shinn was able to pack in, without it feeling cramped at all.


Straight after my favourite came my least favourite, Gold. This is set some years after Summers At Castle Auburn, with our heroine, Zara, being the daughter of the main characters from that book.

Seventeen-year-old Zara has been sent away from the castle by her parents, the king and queen, while they quell a rebellion. For her own protection, she's being taken to Alora, the kingdom inhabited by fae-like magical creatures called the aliora. Her uncle Jaxon is married to the aliora queen, Rowena, and they will keep her well hidden. But there's danger in Alora as well, as humans who enter that kingdom become enchanted by it, and inevitably want to stay there forever.

Zara's mother, who is a shrewd woman, tries as hard as she can to minimise that danger. Zara arrives at Alora dripping with gold jewelry and strict instructions never to take it off. The touch of the aliora increases the strength of the enchantment, you see, but they can't bear to touch metal, especially gold. Zara also brings with her a potion prepared by her mother, which is designed to keep her memories of home alive, and which she's supposed to drink every night. But the magic of Alora is strong, and though Zara is initially resistant to the charms of lolling around all day, she's soon forgetting her promises and in danger of losing herself completely. She's even forgetting Orlain, the young guardsman who escorted her to Alora, and who periodically brings her news, with whom she's supposed to be madly in love.

This was just ok, and mostly because of the whimsical, imaginative setting. The story itself was very meh. YA is not really my thing, I tend to find myself feeling irritated with teenage characters and can't really relate to their issues. This was the case with Summers At Castle Auburn, and it was also the case with Zara. Also, it's just so obvious what's going to happen here, that it's not at all interesting. It's not even much of a struggle, and Zara loses completely. She has to be rescued by Orlain and Cressida, one of the aliora. The aliora magic has completely defeated any inner strength she might have had. Even when she was holding out, at the beginning, it was just thanks to the protections her mother had built in. I wasn't impressed with her.

Orlain was a much more interesting character, but there just wasn't enough of him, and honestly, I've no idea what he saw in Zara.


Finally, Flame takes us back to the Twelve Houses series, right before the events of the first book, Mystic and Rider. Senneth is a powerful mystic, a woman with magical powers in a world where such things are often seen with mistrust, if not outright fear and hostility. Senneth's strongest power is that of controlling fire, and while visiting a distant relative, she's forced to make use of it in front of other guests, in order to save their little girl from accidentally burning to death.

The other guests are shocked, but ultimately accepting of Senneth, and she decides to accept the invitation to visit them that had been extended before the incident. But while she's staying at their house, strange fires keep popping up in town. Putting out the first one exposes Senneth's powers to the villagers, and soon she's suspected of not just putting them out, but lighting them as well.

Flame is slightly different from the previous stories in that it's not self-contained and about new characters, but a prequel. It's basically all about getting a glimpse of Senneth before the first book in the series, where she's the main character, and spending some time with her. For those of us who've read the series, there are some fun moments, of the "Ah, so that was when Senneth...", but I think there's plenty there for new readers as well, mostly an introduction to a wonderful character.

I guess, strictly speaking, this was a little bit episodic. There's the new acquaintances reacting to Senneth's secret, there's the visit to the Lirrenlands, there's the angry villagers and the mysterious mystic responsible for the fires. Each gets resolved before the next starts. I didn't care. I love Senneth, and had fun visiting with her, and I liked how the story set up her state of mind at the start of the first book.


So, a really good anthology. My only complaint was that I was left wishing Gold had been set in a different world altogether, maybe the one of Wrapt in Crystal. Now, that was an interesting place, and I seem to remember reading somewhere that Shinn had actually written some more stories set there early on. Here's hoping they'll see the light of day at some point.



A Share In Death, by Deborah Crombie

>> Saturday, August 25, 2012

TITLE: A Share In Death
AUTHOR: Deborah Crombie

PAGES: 288

SETTING: Contemporary (well, early 90s) England
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: 1st in the Kincaid/James series

A week's holiday in a luxurious Yorkshire time-share is just what Scotland Yard's Superintendent Duncan Kincaid needs. But the discovery of a body floating in the whirlpool bath ends Kincaid's vacation before it's begun. One of his new acquaintances at Followdale House is dead; another is a killer. Despite a distinct lack of cooperation from the local constabulary, Kincaid's keen sense of duty won't allow him to ignore the heinous crime, impelling him to send for his enthusiastic young assistant, Sergeant Gemma James. But the stakes are raised dramatically when a second murder occurs, and Kincaid and James find themselves in a determined hunt for a fiendish felon who enjoys homicide a bit too much.
Newly-minted Superintendent Duncan Kincaid has just come off a grueling case. When his cousin offers him the chance to use his week at a time-share in a luxury villa-type place in Yorkshire, it sounds like a good idea. And initially, it is. The place is beautiful, the weather is great, and the other guests (or rather, owners, this being a time-share) are quite diverse, which makes for an interesting time observing them.

All is well until the morning, when the corpse of one of those people he's just met is discovered in the pool. The inept and bullying local Inspector thinks it's a suicide, but Kincaid is certain from the start that it wasn't. He doesn't mean to take over the case, but he keeps coming across relevant evidence, and talking to people who happen to say relevant things. And then a second person is killed, and there's no doubt that one is a murder.

Meh. This was a quick read, and to its credit, it entertained me enough to keep me turning the pages, but it just wasn't very good. It's predictable, with plot "twists" telegraphed and no real surprises, and I had issues with the writing and characterisation. There are some moments that read a bit awkwardly, and a few characters that didn't ring true and acted in ways that defied my suspension of disbelief (especially the policeman formally in charge of the investigation, Nash, who crossed the line into unbelievable cartoon in his bizarre and naked hostility to Kincaid).

There were also a couple of WTF moments, like when a female suspect is being interrogated by Kincaid about a particular encounter with another suspect, her lover, with whom she was trying to end things. From what she tells Kincaid, he punched her (she has a black eye), and she says she wasn't exactly willing when they had sex. Kincaid doesn't seem to disbelieve her, but he doesn't even react. Mate, the woman is reporting a rape, and she was beaten up! And you do nothing?

The British setting also felt a bit off. Within 50 pages I was convinced the author was American, and looking at the bio, I was right. It's not awful, and it's hard to pinpoint issues (apart from language -sweater, etc.- and everyone's confident expectation that the weather would be nice, and in Yorkshire, in September!) but it's pretty obvious, even to someone who's only lived here for a few years.

On the basis of just this book, which was, quite simply, mediocre, I wouldn't continue reading the series. The thing is, I've heard really good things about the series as a whole, and some books have been nominated for big prizes, so I expect it improves. When I was reading about the series, I saw it referred as the Gemma Jones series in some places (Gemma is Kincaid's sergeant, who asssists him in the investigation here, but remains a distinctly minor character), and there's supposed to be a nice, slowly-developing relationship between her and Kincaid, which could be interesting. So anyway, I would very much appreciate feedback about how quickly the series improves and how good it gets, to see if it's worth investing the time. Too many other series to try, otherwise!

MY GRADE: A C+ (with the plus being for the readability).


Chaotic Finns

>> Thursday, August 23, 2012

TITLE: Chaos in Death (in The Unquiet anthology)

This is the Eve Dallas short story in an anthology which also includes stories by Mary Blayney, Patricia Gaffney, Ruth Ryan Langan, and Mary Kay McComas. I haven't read the other stories.

When Eve and her team are called in to investigate the brutal murder of three young recovering addicts, they finds themselves on the hunt for a monster. The killer, captured on a surveillance camera, has clearly gleefully enjoyed the murders. He's also wearing what Eve immediately assumes is a costume... green face, bulging eyes, hideously deformed jaw. But then it turns out all her experts tell her they just couldn't make a disguise as extreme as that one...

I enjoyed the investigation. The three victims are connected to an institute that both helps recovering addicts and carries out research to cure addiction medically, and this provides plenty of interesting potential suspects for Eve to investigate. And Eve's insistence on carrying on as usual, with her normal investigation, in spite of the increasing evidence that there's something really weird going on is well done. Unfortunately, I had the same issue as I did in the previous short story I read: I'm very disturbed by how clearly paranormal this is, and how this awareness of Eve's (no way to pretend this was something non-supernatural) is not carried over to the main books.


TITLE: The Xenophobe's Guide to the Finns
AUTHOR: Tarja Moles

I might have to go to Finland at some point soon, and I realised I knew nothing at all about the country. My sister, who works with quite a few Finnish people back in Uruguay, suggested I buy this book, which she'd been given as a gift by one of her Finnish colleagues.

It's basically a "guide to understanding the Finns", a cross between a guidebook and social analysis. It's very tongue-in-cheek, and written in a gently humorous style that I found very enjoyable. And if this is right, then there's a surprising amount in common between Finns and Uruguayans. Reading the section on the obsession about how they are perceived was uncanny. So true. Maybe because both have such small populations?

So, useful for the purposes I wanted it (although obviously, I'll take it all with a pinch of salt) and entertaining. What more could I ask?



The Lady's Secret, by Joanna Chambers

>> Tuesday, August 21, 2012

TITLE: The Lady's Secret
AUTHOR: Joanna Chambers

PAGES: 372
PUBLISHER: Carina Press

SETTING: Early 19th century England
TYPE: Romance

Former actress Georgiana Knight always believed she and her brother were illegitimate—until they learn their parents were married, making them heirs to a great estate. To prove their claim, Georgy needs to find evidence of their union by infiltrating a ton house party as valet to Lord Nathaniel Harland. Though masquerading as a boy is a challenge, it pales in comparison to sharing such intimate quarters with the handsome, beguiling nobleman.

Nathan is also unsettled by Georgy's presence. First intrigued by his unusual valet, he's even more captivated when he discovers Georgy's charade. The desire the marriage-shy earl feels for his enigmatic employee has him hoping for much more than a master-servant relationship...

But will Nathan still want Georgy when he learns who she truly is? Or will their future be destroyed by someone who would do anything to prevent Georgy from uncovering the truth?
Georgiana Knight and her brother Harry grew up in the theatre world. Their father was a nobleman who basically ran away from home to be with their actress mother. They always assumed they were illegitimate, but they have recently discovered that there is a possibility that their parents had got married in secret. That would make Harry the heir to a title and make their lives much easier than the constant work of running a theatre, even a sucessful one.

As the book starts, Harry is spending all of his time travelling around the country, trying to find the parrish where their parents were married. Georgy is doubtful that this will go anywhere, so she decides to take the bull by its horns and search the home of the current holder of the title, the Earl of Dunsmore. How to get into his house, though?

An opportunity presents itself when Georgy finds out that Nathaniel, the Earl of Harland, needs a valet. He's due to go to Dunsmore's for a house party, and obviously, one of his servants would have the chance to do a bit of skulking about. Georgy is quite a good actress and she fancies her chances. It turns out, however, that while she's able to play a very convincing man, it's her increasing attraction to Harland that could be her downfall.

The first half of the book was my favourite, with Nathan and Georgy in close confines, and the intensity ratcheting higher and higher. I liked how Chambers played with the very cliched "Ick, I'm getting turned on by a man" reaction on the part of the hero. It's much more subtle (and satisfying) than that. And I thought Nathan becomes aware of the truth at exactly the right time, and this doesn't cut into the sexual tension in the least. In fact, it brings it even higher, because Nathan now doesn't just lust after Georgy, he's fascinated by her. He takes the opportunity afforded by their roles to put her under the microscope and try to understand who this strange woman is.

This part wasn't perfect, however. I missed not seeing the first few contacts between Nathan and Georgy as master and valet. We skip the first week or so, and by the time we rejoin them, Georgy has already developed a strong lust for Nathan. It would have been interesting to see it develop, I think it would have made me feel I knew her better.

And precisely because I felt I didn't know Georgy as much as I would have wanted, I never really got a feeling for what drives her. She's taking massive risks looking for the marriage certificate. Why? There are some indications when she observes how the entire household gravitates around Nathan that she resents the servant role a bit, and that there is some healthy envy for all Nathan has, but did she feel the same way before, while working in the theatre? I didn't get the feeling she did. I guess I found what I saw of her so interesting, that I wanted to know more.

The suspense subplot (there's someone who's not happy to let Georgy and Harry find the information they seek) moves to the forefront in the second half, and it all becomes a lot less interesting, as this element is pretty tedious. I still liked elements of this second half, especially Nathan coming to terms with what his feelings for Georgy are exactly, and what that means in terms of what he wants to do with his life. Still, while I read the first half in one big gulp, I put the book down several times while I passed the halfway mark. It wasn't just the suspense, even the romance wasn't as great as the first half promised. The relationship felt like it turned into something a bit more typical here, something I'd read already, while when Georgy was playing valet, they were two characters whose romance I'd never read before.

Still, a good debut. And on that note, I should say I really liked the writing. It's not that it's obtrusive, I just tend to pay more attention to it when it's a debut author. It was impressively smooth, and I wouldn't have guessed it was Chambers' first book at all.



Lead Me On, by Victoria Dahl

>> Sunday, August 19, 2012

TITLE: Lead Me On
AUTHOR: Victoria Dahl

PAGES: 348

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Third in the Tumble Creek series

Raw, animal magnetism... a big red flag to prim and proper office manager Jane Morgan. After a rough childhood with a mother who liked her men in prison-jumpsuit orange, Jane changed her name, her look and her taste for bad boys. So why is she lusting for William Chase with his tattoo-covered biceps and steel-toed boots? The man blows things up for a living!

She gives herself one explosive, fantasy-filled night with Chase. The next day it's back to plain Jane and safe men.

But when her beloved brother becomes a murder suspect, it's Chase who comes to her rescue. And Jane discovers that a man who's been around the block knows a thing or two about uncovering the truth...
Anyone meeting boring, buttoned-down office manager Jane Morgan would never how she grew up and what she was like as a young teen. That's exactly what Jane wants. She works very hard to make sure no one even suspects that she was raised by a mother who chased afer convicted criminals all over the country, and that as a messed up teen she let too many boys do things she now regrets. Her life was out of control, but after a particularly bad episode, she turned it around through pure grit.

Now Jane's life is the polar opposite of what it was: a serious, sedate job, a boring wardrobe, and only dating white-collar men. And then William Chase comes into her life. Chase is blue-collar to the max. Tattoos, motorcycles, huge muscles, the works. He's also a really nice, responsible man, but even though he excites her like no men she has met before, Jane refuses to see beyond the fact that he looks like the kind of man she would have gone for in the past. She decides to give herself a present and have one night with him, but she will absolutely not consider any further involvement with the man.

But then, her brother is accused of murder, and suddenly, Chase is her last hope of saving him.

God, I loved this. Jane is my favourite kind of heroine: complex and imperfect, downright unlikeable at times, but real. She can be frustrating, since so many of her decisions here stem from fear and prejudices, but Dahl knows this perfectly, and justifies exactly why Jane would make those wrong decisions (hell, Jane herself is not completely blind to the fact that she's making the wrong decisions with Chase). As a reader, I couldn't help but sympathise completely and understand why she was making those mistakes.

She changes, though, and it was lovely to see. And I have to say, I really appreciated that what Jane had to learn was not that tough, stereotypically manly men are the only kind of men women are really attracted to and she needs to accept it, or some such rot. No, she needed to learn to accept herself, and look beyond her prejudices to be able to accept Chase as he was. That's a message that's rooted in character, and one I could stand behind.

Chase is lovely as well, and he has some family issues to deal with as well, but really, Lead Me On is all about the heroine's journey. Much as I loved Chase, Jane is the star, and his role is mostly to be there for her and understand where she's coming from. And since I'm very heroine-centric in my reading, that was fine by me!

I mentioned family issues in the previous paragraph. Well, the family stuff was as fascinating as the romance, which is something I often find is the case with Dahl. I especially loved the way she dealt with Jane's relationship with her family, especially her brother. She loves him, but she's got her eyes open with him. She recognises when he needs tough love and hard as it might be for her, she does what she thinks would be best for him in the long run, even if [[A BIT OF A SPOILER AHEAD]] it's going to jail for a while. I was very impressed with her at the end when she lays out to him exactly what the consequences of his supposedly victimless crime of just stealing a few purses could be, and what they actually led to in this story. Really great stuff.

The only issue I had with the book, which keeps it from the A grade the heroine and the romance deserve, was the whole to-do with Jane's ex, and his unrealistically vindictive plotting. That felt a bit out of place, and didn't work for me. Other than that (very small) element, this was amazing.

Dahl's contemporaries are addictive. It's a shame I started with her historicals, which didn't particularly wow me. I appreciate the idea of her characters in historicals, but I always felt her voice was a bit off. Her voice is so much better suited to books such as this one, and the absolutely wonderful Donovan Brothers Brewery trilogy. She's got a new one coming up, with the first book out later this month, and I can't wait.

MY GRADE: A very strong B+.


Two book club books

>> Friday, August 17, 2012

TITLE: The Book Thief
AUTHOR: Markus Zusak

Boy, am I glad I joined my book club! I don't think I'd have ever picked this up if it hadn't been selected for it. I mean, a book about the residents of a German town during World War II, narrated by Death? But I absolutely loved it.

It's the story of a young girl, Liesel, living with her foster parents right outside Munich. Liesel expects the worst when she gets there, but finds two wonderful people, wonderful in non-soppy ways. We follow her during the war, as she befriends a young boy called Rudy and learns to read, developing a career as a book thief. It's all about people just living their life as best they can, but as the story goes forward, the war starts intruding more and more into their lives.

And it was just brilliant. The Book Thief has characters I really cared about and even some very funny moments, without ever making light of what was going on all around. It made me laugh and it made me cry, and it was great.


TITLE: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
AUTHOR: Robert Louis Stevenson

We try to keep things varied in my book club. We'd never read a classic, so we decided to do that for May, and someone suggested Jekyll and Hyde. Now, this book has entered our collective consciousness to such an extent that I thought I knew quite a bit about it, and what to expect. Actually reading it surprised me. It was quite different to what I expected, both in terms of what actually happened and the way the narrative was structured.

I liked the reading bit well enough, but what was best of all was the discussion at book club, which was fantastic, one of the best we've had so far. I guess that's why it's become a classic, not just because the premise was so influential, but because the telling of it bears so much discussion.

MY GRADE: A B (although I'd say an A for the entire experience of reading it and discussing it).


Insatiable, by Meg Cabot

>> Wednesday, August 15, 2012

TITLE: Insatiable
AUTHOR: Meg Cabot

PAGES: 464
PUBLISHER: William Morrow

SETTING: Contemporary New York
TYPE: Paranormal romance (vampire)
SERIES: Starts a series

Sick of hearing about vampires? So is Meena Harper.

Meena Harper is familiar with the supernatural. After all, she knows how you're going to die (Not that you're going to believe her. No one ever does.)

But not even Meena's precognition can prepare her for Lucien Antonescu—who she meets and then makes the mistake of falling in love with—a modern-day prince with a bit of a dark side for which an ancient society of vampire hunters would prefer to see him dead.

The problem is Lucien's already dead. Maybe that's why he's the first guy Meena's ever met with whom she could imagine herself having a future. See, while Meena's always been able to see everyone else's destiny, she's never been able look into her own. Lucien seems to be everything Meena has ever dreamed of in a boyfriend, though he might turn out to be more of a nightmare.

So now would be a good time for Meena to start learning to predict her own future . . . if she has one.
Soap writer Meena Harper has the very annoying supernatural power of being able to tell how someone is going to die. Sounds like it could be a useful thing to be able to do, but in her experience, it's almost impossible to warn people in a way that a) doesn't make them think you're a loon, and b) will result in their actually changing their behaviour. Understandably, things can get a bit depressing sometimes.

Meena's power has put a damper on her love life, which is why she's so shocked when she meets Lucien Antonescue, at a dinner party thrown by his cousins (who happen to be her rich and eccentric next-door neighbours). With Lucien, she can't see anything. His death is a blank. And that's not the only thing that makes him attractive, there's also the fact that he's a gorgeous, rich and very charming, in an old-style European, courtly sort of way.

Turns out that the reason why she can't see a thing about his death, is that the man is a vampire. Unfortunately, the reason he's in New York is that he's the Prince of all vampires, and there to stamp down a possible challenge to his rule. And before she knows it, Meena has got involved in the mess. Not only are there evil vampires trying to kill Lucien, there's also a secret society operating out of the Vatican, and one of their hunters has latched on to Meena as well. They all want to use her to get at Lucien, not to mention her nifty ability, which would be quite useful to all sides in the midst of a war.

I really liked the first half or so of the book. It's very funny, written in Cabot's trademark snarky voice. It's also a book that pokes fun at itself. Just us our own world was going ga-ga over vampires a couple of years ago, when this came out, so is the world in which Meena Harper lives. There are vampires popping up everywhere, including as characters in her soap, and the bemusement of the real vampires at all this is great. Even the heroine's name is an in-joke.

I was also quite excited at the romance. There's real chemistry between Lucien and Meena, and I was intrigued by the set-up. What's going to happen when Meena realises what Lucien is, and that he's been using his tricks on her?

Unfortunately, Cabot didn't really sustain the tension. Lucien goes MIA for quite a while, the book feels bloated and too long, the snarky tone gets tiresome, and then there's this attempt at some sort of love triangle that doesn't really go anywhere. I didn't actually dislike the second half of the book, it was more that while at the beginning I couldn't stop turning the pages, after a while I wasn't in any particular hurry to pick the book up when I put it down.

In the end, I had a pretty good time with Insatiable, but I don't think I'll carry on with the series.



A Night To Surrender, by Tessa Dare

>> Monday, August 13, 2012

TITLE: A Night To Surrender
AUTHOR: Tessa Dare

PAGES: 400

SETTING: Early 19th century England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: First in the Spindle Cove series

Welcome to Spindle Cove, where ladies with delicate constitutions come for the sea air, and men in their prime are...nowhere to be found.

Or are they?

Spindle Cove is the destination of choice for certain types of well-bred young ladies: the painfully shy, young wives disenchanted with matrimony, and young girls too enchanted with the wrong men. It is a haven for those who live there.

Victor Bramwell, the new Earl of Rycliff, knows he doesn't belong here. So far as he can tell, there's nothing in this place but spinsters...and sheep. But he has no choice, he has orders to gather a militia. It's a simple mission, made complicated by the spirited, exquisite Susanna Finch--a woman who is determined to save her personal utopia from the invasion of Bram's makeshift army.

Susanna has no use for aggravating men; Bram has sworn off interfering women. The scene is set for an epic battle...but who can be named the winner when both have so much to lose?
Victor 'Bram' Bramwell is a military man through and through. As far as he's concerned, if he's not leading men on the battlefield, he's not a proper man. Unfortunately, his leg was badly injured in battle, and he's now having trouble getting a new command post. His quest to return to active duty takes him to the small town of Spindle Cove, where he seeks to convince influential military inventor Sir Lewis Finch to support him. He's in for a surprise: Sir Lewis requests he put together and train a militia to protect the town in case of invasion, with the implication that his recommendation will hang on the successful completion of that mission.

It should be a straightforward enough thing to do, but it turns out that men are thin on the ground in Spindle Cove. Through the years, and thanks to Sir Lewis' daughter, Susanna, the town has become a refuge -temporary and otherwise- for women who for whom regular society is not a good place.

Bram and his men (including his supposedly charming, ne'er-do-well cousin, Colin) are outraged by this place where the pub has been turned into a tea shop and the smithy makes lockets instead of horseshoes. They'll get their militia any way they can, and make this a town fit for men again. But to do this, they will face the opposition of Susanna, a woman Bram finds strangely irresistible.

I started this series with the second book, A Week To Be Wicked, and found it adorable and charming. The storyline was kind of preposterous, but it worked anyway, since I happily suspended disbelief and went with the flow. On the surface, A Night To Surrender had the same elements going on. The difference was, in this book, they just didn't work.

The first few pages irritated me, and this annoyance didn't really fade as the book went on. It's tough to do a "battle of the sexes" plot that won't drive me mad, granted, but this one shouldn't have annoyed me as much as it did. I started out resenting Bram and Colin: their first thought when they come to Spindle Cove is that it's so horrible that the men there are "reduced" to unmanly things, like the tea shop's landlord doing delicate pastries, or the smithy I mentioned earlier, with his lockets. They'll do something about it, which includes that disgusting idiot Colin invading the tea room and turning it into a tavern, sporting a new sign: "The Rutting Bull". It's supposed to be funny, but I'm not laughing. I'm just thinking of the thousands of taverns all over the country where women are not allowed. These entitled idiots find one place in the whole world that is for women and they immediately want to make that one for men as well.

Now, Bram comes to realise this soon enough, so obviously, Dare is not oblivious to the issue. It still didn't make it feel any less irritated. The message seems to be that women need men, just like men need women. Fine, I wholeheartedly agree with that in general. I just object to extrapolating from this that therefore, a tiny little place in the whole male-dominated world, like Spindle Cove, which acts as a refuge (temporary, in many cases) for women who are somehow wounded or unsuitable for that world, needs men as well. Sorry, but no.

It wasn't just my feminist hackles being raised that was an issue with the book, though. I was also quite bored by the insta-lust. Bram's immediate and overpowering obsession with Susanna is another case of something I've often liked just fine, but which didn't work in this particular case. It just felt wrong, completely at odds with who Bram was otherwise shown to be. I think what Dare might have been trying to do was something that Loretta Chase does beautifully: the rigid hero completely discombobulated by the heroine. I love that, but in this book, it felt wrong. There was way too much sex, as well, and it ended up being boring.

I also thought the humour felt somehow off. It seemed to rely on people being blithering idiots, and I was supposed to think this was oh-so-funny. Take the militia's early preparations, for instance. Tee-hee, they can't walk in a straight line! Oh, come on, that's just cartoonish. And I really resented what Dare with Colin and Minerva here. I'm so glad I read their book first, because if I'd met them here, I would very definitely not have wanted to read one more word about them. They both come across as mindless twits.

I could go on listing little niggles, but that's probably enough. A big disappointment.



How To Tell a Lie, by Delphine Dryden

>> Saturday, August 11, 2012

TITLE: How To Tell a Lie
AUTHOR: Delphine Dryden

PAGES: 130
PUBLISHER: Ellora's Cave

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Book 1 in the Truth & Lies series

Allison Moore does her psychology research from the safety of the internet, where she can study her subjects' lying ways without the need for pesky human involvement. Online games are the perfect place to look for liars and have fun at the same time. Seth Brantley is a fellow professor who can make even economics seem sexy. When he and Allison realize they've been "researching" in the same game, a face-to-face meeting seems inevitable. After all, they're practically neighbors--they've been working in adjacent buildings for years. Fresh from a breakup and afraid to take a risk, Allison wants to keep her affair with Seth strictly electronic--but she can't deny their virtual antics are hot enough to melt their keyboards. Can Seth convince her to give up the safety of cybering and take a chance on passion in the real world.
I picked this one up thanks to LizMc2's review, and I'm glad I did.

Allison Moore is a psychology professor. Her current research is on the cues that let you know when someone is lying in written communications, and she's found massively multiplayer online games the perfect arena to find research subjects (though how she figures out whether a particular player is, indeed, lying is never explained... never mind, though, I was able to skip over that).

One of the people she's been chatting with for a while is a player who, her research tells her, is someone who doesn't lie. As the book starts, their increasingly flirty online relationship turns into something more, when they realise, through a couple of innocent comments about their respective favourite Indian restaurants, that they work in the same university. In fact, Seth Brantley is also a professor there, and like Allison, he originally came to the game for his research (which sounded pretty interesting to this economist, especially given cases like this).

Their flirtation soon turns into something more, and it's clear from the start that these two are kindred spirits. However, Allison has just come out of a relationship, and is feeling particularly skittish, so she's reluctant to start another relationship.

There was a lot to like in this novella. The romance was lovely, in a very sweet, geeky way. Seth and Allison really click, and they get each other right from the beginning. It was also quite hot, even their initial sexual encounters, which take place online. Not only did I find these appealing, I thought they emphasised their mental connection very nicely. I also loved their quiet moments, which showed just how perfect they were for each other.

Something else I liked was the strong relationship Allison had with her female friends and with her father, and I enjoyed the setting and the use of the characters' research in the story. Allison's research into lying, especially, was used to very good effect.

The story wasn't perfect though. My main issue was that I really didn't buy Allison's reasons for being so reluctant to get involved with Seth. Yes, she's recently come out of a relationship, and it wasn't a good one. However, this wasn't because there was some sort of traumatic abuse there, but because her partner just didn't get her at all. He didn't see her as an individual, and just projected what he wanted from a future wife onto her. And Allison stayed with him much longer than she should have. She ended up leaving him, though, and it didn't sound to me like she was particularly broken up about it. I just couldn't make the connection between "I dated a guy who didn't know who I really was and didn't care" and "therefore I'm reluctant to get involved with this sexy guy to whom I'm ridiculously attracted and who totally gets me". That was a little bit frustrating.

In addition to this, the ending was terribly abrupt. The book just... ends, in what felt like the middle of things. It really needed a little bit more there. I don't need everything tied up in a nice little bow, but sex - hurried exchange of declarations of love - the end, is just not enough.

Still, a good one, and I will definitely try this author again. She does seem to have a few which are BDSM, though, which is not my thing at all, so I'll need to avoid them.



Out of the Deep I Cry, by Julia Spencer-Fleming

>> Thursday, August 09, 2012

TITLE: Out of the Deep I Cry
AUTHOR: Julia Spencer-Fleming

PAGES: 432
PUBLISHER: St. Martin's

SETTING: Contemporary New York state
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: 3rd in the Clare Fergusson & Russ Van Alstyn series


On April 1, 1930, Jonathan Ketchem's wife Jane walked from her house to the police department to ask for help in finding her husband. The men, worn out from a night of chasing bootleggers, did what they could. But no one ever saw Jonathan Ketchem again...


Now decades later, someone else is missing in Miller's Kill, NY. This time it's the physician of the clinic that bears the Ketchem name. Suspicion falls on a volatile single mother with a grudge against the doctor, but Reverend Clare Fergusson isn't convinced. As Clare and Russ investigate, they discover that the doctor's disappearance is linked to a bloody trail going all the way back to the hardscrabble Prohibition era. As they draw ever closer to the truth, their attraction for each other grows increasingly more difficult to resist. And their search threatens to uncover secrets that snake from one generation to the next-and to someone who's ready to kill.
Reverend Clare Fergusson's church is a beautiful old building, but like all such buildings, keeping on top of repairs is a neverending job. The latest problem is the roof, and it's a bad (and expensive) one. Clare has no idea where she'll get the money from, until Mrs. Marshall, one of her parishioners, offers to foot the bill. Problem is, to do so she is proposing to liquidate a trust that was funding the town's health clinic.

As Clare debates the moral issues around this, the clinic's problems get worse, when the clinic's director disappears in mysterious circumstances. And things become even murkier when it becomes clear that his disappearance is not unlike that of Mrs. Marshall's father, back in 1930.

This is a type of mystery I really enjoy, one where a current mystery is linked to one in the past, and to solve the former, it's crucial to find out the truth about the latter. Spencer-Fleming handles this masterfully, weaving them together an allowing them to mirror each other in interesting, illuminating ways. Both are well-constructed, and the solution was satisfying.

I was also ok with Clare's involvement in the whole mystery and investigation. That's something that can be tricky when the character is not part of the police, or a PI, or anything like that, and while in the 1st book in the series I thought Clare's involvement came across as perfectly natural, it felt a little bit more forced in the second one. Here, it was somewhere in between, and not a problem. Clare also behaves pretty sensibly here.

What I loved best about the book, though, is the progress in the relationship between Clare and Russ Van Alstyn. There has been an attraction between the two of them from the start, and more than that, a very real connection, but Russ is married, and both are decent people. So they do their best to ignore it. Well, they can't ignore it any more here, and I can't wait to see what comes next!

The only disappointment was the adrenalin-fuelled ending. It felt a bit out of place in this series, it's not really what this is about, and I found it somewhat confusing.



In For A Penny, by Rose Lerner

>> Tuesday, August 07, 2012

TITLE: In For A Penny
AUTHOR: Rose Lerner

PAGES: 310

SETTING: Early 19th century England
TYPE: Romance


No more drinking. No more gambling. And definitely no more mistress. Now that he's inherited a mountain of debts and responsibility, Lord Nevinstoke has no choice but to start acting respectable. Especially if he wants to find a wife-better yet, a rich wife. Penelope Brown, a manufacturing heiress, seems the perfect choice. She's pretty, rational, ladylike, and looking for a marriage based on companionship and mutual esteem.


But when they actually get to Nev's family estate, all the respectability and reason in the world won't be enough to deal with tenants on the edge of revolt, a menacing neighbor, and Nev's family's propensity for scandal. Overwhelmed but determined to set things right, Nev and Penelope have no one to turn to but each other. And to their surprise, that just might be enough.
Nev, Lord Nevinstoke, is a bit of an irresponsible young man, but he's generally a good guy. He spends his life having harmless fun with his friends, has a mistress he's very fond of and treats well and loves his family. But then Nev's father suddenly dies, and his life changes completely. It appears Lord Bedlow was even more of an irresponsible wastrel than his son, and spent his life neglecting his estate. As a result, Nev receives the shocking news that not only is there no money left, they are in debt, and their country seat is in a bad state.

Nev's mind immediately turns to the young lady he met a few days earlier at a ball, whose Cit father is rumoured to have provided her with a very large dowry. They only exchanged a few words before he had to run off, but she made a very good impression. Since she seemed like a nice, sensible woman, and everyone knows a Cit father's fondest wish is always to have his daughter marry a titled gentleman, Nev decides he'll try his luck.

Penelope Brown is very surprised when the young lord she met only once before suddenly shows up and proposes. Her father expressly tells her he's perfectly fine with her rejecting him (in fact, he pretty much expects she will), but there's just something about Nev that gives Penny pause. So instead of rejecting him out of hand, Penny very sensibly sets her conditions for a marriage she could be content in. And when Nev accepts them, things move fast, and before they know it, they're married.

Marriages of convenience are amongst my favourite plots in romance, and this was a particularly good one. Nev and Penny go into their marriage with their eyes wide open and good intentions. There are no big misunderstandings or evil, jealous rivals trying to drive a wedge between them. And it's still hard work to make the marriage work. Lerner shows this beautifully, because the difficulties come straight from who these people are and where they come from.

Even though they are increasingly fond of each other, and there is plenty of sexual attraction between them, Nev and Penny are, to all intents and purposes, strangers. Even more, they are strangers who have been placed in a very difficult situation. The estate, to which they move straight after the wedding, is in a really sorry state. The problem is much more than that it doesn't make a profit, it's that it is not succeeding in even providing a living for the tenants. Circumstances are tough (no thanks to the other large landowner in the area and his obsession with keeping any sort of rebelliousness quashed), and both Nev and Penny feel the responsibility for some many people very keenly.

There are no easy solutions here and Nev is no super man. He's not rich and powerful, or some sort of financial genius (that's more Penny's role in their relationship). They have to work hard and find how they complement each other, how Penny can do a good job working with the steward on the hard numbers and Nev can provided the understanding of the people around them.

Still, the operative word here is "hard", and it's no wonder that at one point, Nev quite clearly longs for his previous life back, in spite of his developing feelings for Penny. It's a testament to how much he grows up during the book that he sticks to his guns and to his determination to fulfil his duties, and that both he and Penny understand that those fleeting feelings don't have to doom their marriage. I really liked the way Lerner showed us the gradual way in which their feelings for each other develop, and they slowly feel their way towards a happy, fulfilling relationship.

The only negative in the book was the ending. First there's a weird, completely out-of-character behaviour by some secondary characters that throws everything into an uproar. And then, is there some sort of editorial diktat that, at some point, the heroine's life must be in danger, no matter how stupidly she needs to behave to be put in that position? Seriously, that's the only way I can justify level-headed Penny's actions near the end, and the way the antagonist (whose motivation had previously had some nice subtlety) turns into a pantomime villain and goes completely off the rails. A shame, that.

Still, a lot to enjoy here. A very promising first book, and I'm off to buy her second straight away!



Now You See Me, by SJ Bolton

>> Sunday, August 05, 2012

TITLE: Now You See Me

PAGES: 512

SETTING: Contemporary London
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: Starts one

Lacey Flint is a Detective Constable who, despite her fascination with Jack the Ripper, has never worked a big case or seen a dead body up close. Until now...As she leaves a south London estate one night, she is horrified to find a woman has been viciously stabbed, right next to Lacey's car. Thrown headlong into her first murder hunt, Lacey's quiet life changes overnight. Then Lacey receives a familiar hand-delivered letter, written in red blood, and it is clear the police have a Ripper copycat on their hands. Lacey must be the bait if they are to prevent a second, brutal murder. But can this inexperienced DC outwit a killer whose infamous role model has never been found?
Lacey Flint is a novice Detective Constable, working for the London Metropolitan Police. She's not spectacularly good or spectacularly bad, just your average DC, investigating your average day-to-day crimes. Until, that is, the day she comes out after a routine interview with a witness in a council estate and stumbles upon a dying woman, right next to her car. The woman has been stabbed in the stomach, so badly that for h,er to still be alive, the attack had to have happened only seconds earlier.

Within hours, a journalist receives a letter that throws the whole department into an uproar, and that moves Lacey firmly from witness to a much more involved role. The letter suggests a killer intending to emulate Jack the Ripper's murders, and it mentions Lacey by name. Clearly she has caught the killer's eye, but as the case continues and the horrors start piling up, Lacey starts to realise that it wasn't just a matter of her being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nope, there's something in her past that's very relevant to these crimes.

It feels kind of wrong to say I "enjoyed" a book as graphic and dark as this one, but what can I say, I totally did. I confess I was a bit disturbed by some of the descriptions of the crimes (these might have been a tiny bit more gruesome than they strictly needed to be), but I was able to get past this, and enjoy the ride.

I think what I liked best about the book was the twistiness of the plot. You know from the very beginning that there's something more to Lacey than what she shows to her colleagues, but even though the book is narrated from her point of view, you don't quite know what it is. This is done in a way that feels natural, not like the author is manipulating us, and the information comes out oh-so-slowly, at the perfect times. I kept coming to conclusion after conclusion, and then being proved wrong every single time. Bolton played me like a fiddle, but she did it so well and I enjoyed the ride so much, that I don't even resent it.

In addition to the plot, there was plenty more to like. The London setting was vivid and real. It's not the tourist view of London, but a much rawer, rougher side of the city, and I thought it was brilliantly done. I also appreciated how the cops here are not idealised. They're not the perfect, 100% dedicated, 100% fair cops in, say, the JD Robb books (which, don't get me wrong, I love). These people are far from perfect. They mean well and are willing to work hard to solve the case and stop the murders, but a lot of them are prejudiced assholes, who bring their prejudices to the investigation, and Lacey isn't always necessarily treated fairly.

I also found it interesting to have the case narrated by someone who's really junior, the lowest-ranking in the team. It's a different perspective from the usual one, who tends to be the lead detective, someone with some power. Lacey doesn't have much of that, and sometimes she doesn't know all the threads of the investigation. The centrality of her involvement in the case is only because the murderer focusses on her so clearly, otherwise she'd probably just be running around knocking on doors and tracing purchases. This was different, and really interesting to read.

I've got only two complaints. The first is that the book felt overly long, like it could have been pruned a bit. Also, there's a bit of a romance there that never really gelled for me -just no chemistry there. Other than that, really good, and for a bonus, a Jack the Ripper theory I'd never heard before, and one that actually makes sense!



Fifty Shades of Grey, by EL James

>> Friday, August 03, 2012

TITLE: Fifty Shades of Grey

PAGES: 528

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Erotic romance
SERIES: Starts a trilogy

When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.

Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.

Erotic, amusing, and deeply moving, the Fifty Shades Trilogy is a tale that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever.
I knew this book would not be my think. Sure, you can't really know until you actually read a book, but everything I'd heard about it made me certain I shouldn't even try to. I DO NOT read books I think I won't like just to write angry reviews about them. But then my book club chose 50 Shades of Grey for our August read (and this, by the way, is a mixed, about 50-50 male-female book club). And since I actually run the thing, no way I could just skip the month.

Well, no surprises. I thought it was badly written and a total mess. It took me about 3 weeks to read a bit over half of it, and then I just had to give up. I'd pick it up, read 10 or 20 pages, and got so angry I had to put it down.

Christian is a creepy douchebag, and sleazy, to boot. I hated how he was pressuring Ana into something she not only wasn't ready for, but wasn't even sure she wanted to try. Still, my reaction to him was mostly just "blergh". I would normally have detested him, but the thing is, the person he was being so horrible to was Ana, and she was the one who made me properly angry. I utterly despised the dumb little idiot.

Who the hell is this woman? Makeup "intimidates her", so she doesn't wear it. Not only is she a virgin, she hasn't ever even masturbated. She has no idea BDSM even exists. She doesn't even own a computer, or have an email address. What? She has the money to buy a car, but not an old, second-hand computer, if only to write her essays for uni? In fact, how the FUCK does someone graduate from university without a computer or email? Using her housemate's computer? Don't make me laugh. And why am I even getting angry about this, when there's so much more that's utter crap here? Like the fact that James is selling this unwordly, blank-minded cow as the ideal woman who every man wants?

And speaking of crap, or rather, holy crap... I wanted to slit my own throat every time Ana said it. Or just crap. Or holy shit. Or holy moses. Or... you get the picture. And since she did that ridiculously often, that meant the book made me feel suicidal. Oh, and don't get me started on Ana's subconscious (yeah, the word doesn't mean what you think it means, EL), and her utterly despisable "inner goddess".

Seriously, though, I hate that this book is so popular. I hate that many people's first experience of a romance novel (because that's what this is) is something this badly written, with such problematic messages. BDSM is not a valid lifestyle choice, but a symptom that one is fucked up, and it can be cured by the love of a good woman. A good woman is one who is preposterously unworldly and "pure", and who allows a man she's just met to control her sexuality. Ugh. Yeah, sorry, I don't have a sense of humour about this.

I'm also pissed off about the influence it is having and it will have on other books. Fortunately, publishers seemed to have latched on to the BDSM. This is an element that's just not my cup of tea, but should be easy enough for me to avoid in other books. I suspect they're getting it wrong, though (not least because although they talk about all sorts of kinky things, the sex I read was pretty vanilla, and it appears, from what my reading group people said, that it continues that way). I think what a lot of people actually liked, and what has made it such a runaway success, is precisely the relationship dynamics that I despised. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that publishers won't quite get that (just as they thought what people liked about Twilight was the vampires, rather than the creepy Bella-Edward relationship), and that I won't start accidentally stumbling upon the type of romance heroine that was so common in the bad old days of romance and that is fortunately a lot harder to find these days.

The one good point? The discussion at my book club was fantastic. Given what I'd seen in discussions online, I started out by requesting that people refrain from making assumptions about people who liked the book, but I needn't have worried. The discussion was non-judgmental enough that people who liked it were comfortable saying so, and people who hated it (and I think I was probably the most negative about it, even more than the lit fic-loving guy who objected so strongly to it when the book was picked last time) could also say exactly why. I really enjoyed that discussion, so in the end, I guess the moments of extreme annoyance were worth it.

MY GRADE: A DNF, strictly speaking, but the bits I read were a big, fat F, and I don't give those lightly.


July 2012 reads

>> Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Pretty good month, just the one stinker, and plenty of great reads.

1 - Riveted, by Meljean Brook: A-
review coming in September, when the book comes out

Yay for ARCs! This is set in Brook's Iron Seas universe, although none of the characters we already know show up. Not that I minded, as I adored the story of Annika, a young woman who's left her hidden village in Iceland to find her sister, and David, a man searching for his mother's mysterious birthplace. I don't want to say too much, just that 1) Annika and David are characters unlike any I've seen Brook write before, but just as good, and 2) There are some amazing, really cinematic scenes that left me with my mouth hanging open. Fantastic.

2 - Demon Angel, by Meljean Brook: A-
original review here

Lots of Meljean Brook this month: this continues the reread of her Guardians series that I started last month. It was an interesting experience to reread this for the first time, knowing so much more about what's coming and seeing some of the foreshadowing I obviously couldn't catch the first time around. I had a look at my original review and yep, that's exactly how I felt now, too. Fantastic, fantastic book.

3 - Paradise (in Wild Thing anthology), by Meljean Brook: B+
original review here

Continuing with my reread. Lucas is the leader of a vampire community, which is being threatened by demons. Selah, a Guardian, is sent to help out. It's a lovely short story. The plot is simple and straightforward, which leaves space to develop the characters and their relationship properly. I'd forgot how much this one is about duty and the way the characters are affected by this. It was really well done.

4 - Can't Buy Me Love, by Molly O'Keefe: B+
review coming soon

A manipulative old man does the only thing that could ensure his estranged children will come rushing to his deathbed: he hires a woman to play the part of his gold-digging fiancee. I really enjoyed this, it felt fresh and different. Both Luc and Tara are much more than what they seem on the surface, but at the same time, I liked that what was on the surface also reflected part of who they were. Very well done.

5 - The Scent of Rain and Lightning, by Nancy Pickard: B
review here

Jody Linder's parents were killed by Billy Crosby 23 years earlier, but now Billy's conviction has been overturned, thanks to his son's efforts, and he's coming back. A really interesting mystery with a great sense of place and good characters. It did come off the rails a little bit at the end, but I enjoyed it.

6 - In For a Penny, by Rose Lerner: B
review coming soon

When Nev's father dies, he inherits an earldom and an estate driven to ruin by his irresponsable father. He'll have to marry for money, and Nev suddenly remembers the nice young lady he met a few days earlier, whose Cit father is rumoured to have provided her with a massive dowry. A lot to like here. I enjoyed Lerner's take on the marriage of convenience, and how Nev and Penny had to work at their relationship. I also liked how Lerner incorporated the social circumstances of the time: the difficult economic situation, the politics, the social unrest. The only con was a villain who was a bit over-the-top, but even he had some subtlety in his motivations.

7 - The ABC Murders, by Agatha Christie: B
review coming soon

A serial killer is on the loose, killing people alphabetically (Asher in Andover, Barnard in Bexhill, etc.), and sending Poirot taunting letters telling him exactly what he's going to do. It was an interesting one, even though I guess I remembered the solution from when I first read it years and years ago. It would have been more enjoyable if I hadn't, but it was still good fun. Great plotting, and as always, I loved the setting all the more because Christie was just writing a contemporary novel, so the glimpses of a bygone era all feel really natural and matter-of-fact.

8 - How To Tell a Lie, by Delphine Dryden: B-
review coming soon

An economics and a psychology professors meet online in a role-playing game, while conducting their respective research, and initiate a flirtation that soon turns into something else. I really liked a lot of the romance, it was very sweet, in a lovely, geeky way. However, the ending was much too abrupt and unsatisfying, and I never really got what on earth Allison's reluctance to get involved was about. It didn't make much sense.

9 - Chaos in Death (from The Unquiet anthology), by JD Robb: B-
review coming soon

Eve investigates some grisly murders, committed by what surveillance cameras show is a grotesquely deformed, evil man. As the previous short story, while I liked the plot and investigation, I'm very disturbed by how clearly paranormal this is, and how this awareness of Eve's is not carried over to the main books.

10 - Fifty Shades of Grey, by EL James: DNF
review coming soon

Ugh. Nothing I read about this made me think it'd be my cup of tea, so I wasn't going to read it. And then my book club picked it for July. I hoped against hope I'd enjoy it a bit, since a few of my friends had said it was a very compulsive read, but I absolutely hated it. It took me 3 weeks to read to about 55%, since after every 10 pages or so I had to put it down, because that stupid, stupid Ana enraged me. It did generate a fantastic discussion at book club, though, which I guess is something!

11 - The Garden of Evening Mists, by Tan Twan Eng: still reading

The last couple of years I've read a few books off the Man Booker longlist and, except for the winners (which were both meh reads for me), I've loved them all. This was the only one my library had right there. I haven't read that much, but it seems to be about a Chinese Malaysian woman who was sent to a POW camp by the Japanese during the war, and who afterwards develops some sort of relationship with a Japanese gardener, who she asks to build a memorial garden for her sister. So far, so good.

12 - A Night To Surrender, by Tessa Dare: still reading

Susannah's made her village into a refuge for women from outside society, Bram is tasked with organising a militia in the village, and is incensed to find almost no men, and those who are there, "reduced" to womanly pursuits, like the smithy who makes lockets instead of horseshoes. I'm having trouble getting into it, mainly because I resent Bram so much. Is it so bad that one place in the whole world is for women and not men? Also, instalust. Ugh. Will persevere, though, since the second book in this same series was so good.


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