January 2013 wish list

>> Monday, December 31, 2012

I'm going to go bankrupt, so many books from autobuy authors, and just after Christmas, too!

Books I'm definitely planning to get

The Madness Underneath, by Maureen Johnson (Jan 2)

I loved the previous book, The Name of the Star, and this one sounds promising. No Ripper here, but Rory, with her newfound powers, gets involved with a string of unexplained murders in London.

The Other Side Of Us, by Sarah Mayberry (Jan 2)

To be perfectly honest, the plot summary is not one that would normally tempt me in the least. This is Sarah Mayberry, though, and whatever she writes, I will happily read.

Dream Eyes by Jayne Ann Krentz (Jan 8)

Still hanging in there with JAK, hoping for another great one. The last one I read did have a nice romance, and the blurb on this one goes on about “primal attraction”, which doesn’t sound very JAK-these-days, so I’ll hope against hope.

Be Mine by Jennifer Crusie, Victoria Dahl and Shannon Stacey (Jan 22)

I really disliked the one Shannon Stacey book I read, but I love Victoria Dahl and the Jennifer Crusie story, although already published, is one I haven’t read yet.

The Firebird, by Susanna Kearsley (Jan 28 in the UK)

Not technically on my wish list, as the wonderful Susanna Kearsley was kind enough to send me a review copy a couple of weeks ago, but I wanted to mention it, if only to remind UK-based readers that it's coming out. It’s wonderful, BTW.

A Woman Entangled, by Cecilia Grant (Jan 29)

A Lady Awakened was one of my favourite books of 2012, and it landed Cecilia Grant straight on my autobuy list. This one sounds great, too.

That Scandalous Summer, by Meredith Duran (Jan 29)

I love Duran’s writing, and the sound of this one. A belle of the ball heroine who’s secretly lonely, a scandalous hero... yum!

Crazy Thing Called Love, by Molly O’Keefe (Jan 29)

The plot sounds kind of meh to me, but I’m buying this just on the strength of O’Keefe’s Can’t Buy Me Love, which I loved (and which I really need to review soon).

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

Show and Tell, by Kate McMurray (Jan 8)

I saw this one at the Dear Author promo thread for authors, and liked the sound of it. Reincarnated lovers, antiques, sold!

Unforgivable, by Joanna Chambers (Jan 15)

I’m not sure about this one. I liked Chambers’ The Lady’s Secret and want to read more by her, but I HATE stories where there’s a separation in which the hero whores around like mad and the heroine stays all nice and chaste. So I guess I’ll wait for reviews.

When She Said I Do, by Celeste Bradley (Jan 29)

I enjoyed Bradley’s The Pretender many years ago, but haven’t read her in ages. This Beauty and the Beast plot might tempt me to try her again.


The Crossing Places, by Elly Griffiths

>> Saturday, December 29, 2012

TITLE: The Crossing Places
AUTHOR: Elly Griffiths

PAGES: 303
PUBLISHER: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

SETTING: Contemporary England
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: 1st in the Dr. Ruth Galloway series

When she’s not digging up bones or other ancient objects, quirky, tart-tongued archaeologist Ruth Galloway lives happily alone in a remote area called Saltmarsh near Norfolk, land that was sacred to its Iron Age inhabitants - not quite earth, not quite sea.

When a child’s bones are found on a desolate beach nearby, Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson calls Galloway for help. Nelson thinks he has found the remains of Lucy Downey, a little girl who went missing ten years ago. Since her disappearance he has been receiving bizarre letters about her, letters with references to ritual and sacrifice.

The bones actually turn out to be two thousand years old, but Ruth is soon drawn into the Lucy Downey case and into the mind of the letter writer, who seems to have both archaeological knowledge and eerie psychic powers. Then another child goes missing and the hunt is on to find her. As the letter writer moves closer and the windswept Norfolk landscape exerts its power, Ruth finds herself in completely new territory – and in serious danger.
The Crossing Places introduces us to forensic archaeologist Dr. Ruth Galloway. Ruth is a lecturer at the University of North Norfolk, and as an expert on bones, she's asked to help the police when some are discovered in the nearby salt marshes.

The policeman in need of her help is DCI Harry Nelson, who thinks the bones might belong to a little girl who disappeared about 10 years earlier. Nelson is still haunted by that case, and half-hopes, half-fears he'll be able to give the girl's parents some closure by confirming that she is dead.

The bones Ruth examines turn out to be a couple of thousand years too old to be of any use to him, but her involvement in the case doesn't end there. Someone has been taunting Nelson with letters about the case for the past 10 years, letters full of all sorts of references, some of them archaeological, and with which Ruth is able to help. And then another little girl goes missing.

It's an interesting mystery, with very well-done characters. Ruth, especially, appealed to me. She's at a stage in her life where people insist on pitying her for being single. Everyone seems to think that because she's 40, overweight, and lives alone with her 2 cats, Ruth must be this miserable, pityful person. Well, she isn't. She's a wonderfully independent character, and though yes, she has her moments of self-pity herself, her life is one she has chosen. Her cats are not children substitutes, and she's not alone out of lack of choices.

I wasn't as convinced about her relationship with Harry Nelson, though. Nelson is, as Griffiths reminds us over and over, an "unreconstructed Northerner". He can be quite nice and considerate, especially with Ruth, but I got a bit of a feel that the author was contrasting his kind of almost brutish masculinity with what she calls "reedy academics", and finding the latter wanting. Of course, all the academics in this book are on the amoral side, with unattractive personalities, and therefore look a little bit like straw men to me.

Harry Nelson is also married. Well, pretty much all relationships we hear about in this book involve someone who's already married. Adulterous relationships are not something I completely refuse to read. I'm ok if they're handled sensitively, but this felt pretty sordid.

I think I'm still interested in these characters, though, so I might actually read the second book. It seems to be set in the same area, which is described very evocatively, and there's a certain development in Ruth's personal life right at the end of the book which has the potential for much drama. Might be good, might be awful, but I'm kind of convincing myself to find out.

Oh, before I forget, a word of warning: this is not one to read if you're disturbed by bad things happening to animals. There's a pet who meets a sticky end here, and it was a very sad moment.


AUDIOBOOK NOTES: It was this version, read by Jane McDowell. I liked her voice, it sounded very "Ruth" to me. She wasn't great at accents though. The accent she did for Harry Nelson didn't really sound like someone from Blackpool, it sounded much more like someone from the Northeast to me, but that's a relatively minor issue. The "Norwegian" one for Erik, though! Just completely off.


A Tale of Two Erotic Romances

>> Thursday, December 27, 2012

I read these two books in one evening (or rather, for one of them, attempted to read). I haven't been reading much erotic romance lately, as most of what I see people talking about in the bloggosphere has zero appeal to me, but I fancied trying one. They were opposites, and reading them so close together made me think of this post of Liz's at Anna Cowan's blog.

TITLE: Leave Me Breathless
AUTHOR: Cherrie Lynn

I started with this opposites attract-type story, the third one in a series I haven't read. Can't remember why I picked it up, I expect I must have read a review somewhere that intrigued me. Macy is an all-country riding instructor, Seth is an all-heavy metal tattoo artist. They met when their respective friends got together in a previous book (sounds like Macy disapproved of her friend's new man and provided an obstacle for their relationship). At some point they hooked up in Seth's car and got really hot and heavy, after which Macy started ignoring Seth's calls.

As this book starts, Seth returns to town after being away for a few months, and he and Macy immediately hook up again. Sex scenes ensue. Many, many sex scenes, unfortunately completely boring and  non-erotic to me. I didn't particularly care for these characters, I didn't care for the dynamics between them (I'm SO over reading about guys pushing women's sexual boundaries), and the sex wasn't developing their relationship. I dropped out at the point where Seth started convincing Macy to try anal. Anal's a huge turn-off for me (one more reason why I'm not reading much ER, where it seems to be de rigueur these days), and I'll tolerate reading about it only if I'm loving a book. I wasn't, so I bailed. It would only have made me cross to continue.

Leave Me Breathless didn't work because I didn't think it was particularly well done, but also, the fantasy in it wasn't one that appealed to me. If it had, it might have been a bit of a guilty pleasure (a purely "id" experience, in the way Liz describes it), but as it was, it was a complete fail.


TITLE: Restraint
AUTHOR: Charlotte Stein

So, after deleting Leave Me Breathless from my kindle, I remembered I had a very short Charlotte Stein book there, one that Brie from Romance Around the Corner had put in her Best of 2012 list. Since I loved pretty much all the other books she had on her list, I thought this would be a good one to pick up next.

It's a really short story (just over 50 pages, I would say), but to me, it was the perfect length. Mallory has always thought Artie hates her. He's friends with some of her friends, though, so they're forced to spend time together. Mallory has been trying to tone down her outrageousness in front of him, but as the story starts, she's had enough, and decides to go all out, and if he doesn't like it, he can go to hell. She soon discovers Artie's feelings for her are not quite what she thought.

Oh, I just loved this. Artie is a character I've truly never read before, especially not in erotic romance. He's quite simply really, really repressed and struggling with his feelings for Mallory, which are very powerful. When Mallory understands this, he doesn't stand a chance. It's one of the hottest things I've ever read, and more so because it's combined with really strong emotions and genuine romance, with a happy ending that fits perfectly.

Now this one, this one works formally, because the writing is amazing. It's deceptively simple, almost stream-of-consciousness, but it's extremely effective. Every single word counts and works to develop the characters and their relationship. But this is also a book that works at a purely emotional level, and very much so. To me, this was the perfect reading experience, a book that I could love at an ego level.



Treachery in Death, by JD Robb

>> Tuesday, December 25, 2012

TITLE: Treachery in Death

PAGES: 384

SETTING: 2060s New York
TYPE: Police procedural / romance
SERIES: 33rd full-length novel in the series

Detective Eve Dallas and her partner, Peabody, are following up on a senseless crime-an elderly grocery owner killed by three stoned punks for nothing more than kicks and snacks. This is Peabody's first case as primary detective-good thing she learned from the master. 

But Peabody soon stumbles upon a trickier situation. After a hard workout, she's all alone in the locker room when the gym door clatters open; and-while hiding inside a shower stall trying not to make a sound-she overhears two fellow officers, Garnet and Oberman, arguing. It doesn't take long to realize they're both crooked-guilty not just of corruption but of murder. Now Peabody, Eve, and Eve's husband, Roarke, are trying to get the hard evidence they need to bring the dirty cops down-knowing all the while that the two are willing to kill to keep their secret.

In the latest from the #1 New York Times bestselling phenomenon, Eve Dallas tracks down those who break the law-including the ones sworn to uphold it.
Looks like this one just fell through the cracks -I've read and reviewed the following 3 already. I really do need to organise myself better. I keep finding half-finished reviews that I never completed and posted. And of books I loved, too!

Anyway, this one has our detectives investigating some dirty cops in their department. It all starts when Peabody accidentally overhears two other detectives having a confrontation in the Department's gym, which they think is empty. Their conversation makes it very clear that not only are they corrupt, they have graduated to much, much worse.

Peabody immediately tells Dallas, and it's clear to both that these people must be brought down. Without knowing how far this corrupt network goes, however, they'll need to do it very quietly. It will also need to be done absolutely and completely by the book, to make sure they got everyone, and none of them can get out of it.

I really enjoyed the case. It felt different from others in the In Death series, completely reliant on basic, painstaking police work. Well, basic it might have been, but it was very enjoyable to see them build their case piece by piece, Eve's team showing with every step how different they are from the people they're investigating.

There aren't that many developments on the personal personal side here (as in, Eve and Roarke's relationship), but there is loads of personal development related to the job. Eve always seems to think of herself as just another cop, part of her team, but kind of avoids the thought that she's actually the boss. Well, now she's investigating another female cop, of a similar grade as hers, and she can't help but contrast their styles of management. That element of the book was just fascinating, and I enjoyed it. There's also Peabody, gaining more and more in confidence.

So, a solid entry, and with that magic special extra that moves a book into an A grade.



No Strings Attached, by Bridget Gray

>> Sunday, December 23, 2012

TITLE: No Strings Attached
AUTHOR: Bridget Gray

PAGES: 175
PUBLISHER: Escape Publishing

SETTING: Contemporary Australia (Brisbane)
TYPE: Romance

If you saved a cute guy’s life, would you want him to know?

Mei Jing can’t decide whether to tell Rod Keller she was the one who saved his life in the aftermath of the tsunami or not. He’s funny, compassionate and committed to finding his rescuer but he has no idea that the girl he’s falling in love with is that very woman. What if he likes the concept of a heroine more than he likes her for herself?  Born in Australia to traditional Chinese parents, Mei Jing isn’t used to a relationship that doesn’t have strings attached.
Another of my purchases from Escape Publishing, bought right after Grease Monkey Jive, when the December titles were on sale.

Mei Jing and Rod were both in Thailand during the 2004 tsunami, and she saved his life. In the years since, he's devoted much effort and money to finding the woman who rescued him, based only on his friend's half-remembered glimpse of her at the hospital, and a couple more small details.

And then one night they meet in Brisbane, where they both happen to live. When it becomes clear that Rod doesn't remember her at all (he was pretty much unconscious during the rescue), Mei Jing hesitates, and decides not to tell him just yet. They have clicked from the very beginning and, quite reasonably, she feels introducing the whole "you owe me your life" thing into the equation will colour their developing relationship.

I really liked the premise, and completely understood Mei Jing's thinking, and her reluctance to introduce an element of obligation and debt into the relationship. This fear is exacerbated by the fact that she was raised in a traditional Chinese family, where such concepts were made much more transparent and explicit in relationships than would normally be the case in Western culture.

The thing is, the way this is all developed felt a bit off, not quite right. Forced, even. I found it very difficult to believe that Rod wouldn't have figured it out on his own. I mean, when they first meet, Mei Jing makes it clear that they have met each other before. Rod trying to remember where is even a running joke between them. She tells him they have kissed (well, the CPR she administered involved mouth to mouth), and that she's seen him with his top off. He knows his rescuer was Asian and that she had trained to work with children (Mei Jing is a special education teacher). But nope, not a clue. And then when he finds out it's all misunderstanding after misunderstanding, which felt a bit frustrating.

Additionally, the romance wasn't particularly well-developed. It felt very shallowly done. I felt like I knew and understood Mei Jing, but not so much Rod. We spend very little time in his POV, and at the end of the book, I just didn't know much about him beyond the superficial.

Actually, we spend too little time with Mei Jing and Rod, period. I wish we'd spent more time understanding how they fit and why they should be together. It's a short book, under 200 pages, I'd say, and we get 3 different romances. In addition to the main one, there are Mei Jing's best friend, Tina, and Mick, her neighbour and friend from childhood. Mick's loved her forever (even though he's spent the years sleeping with blonde cheerleaders), and here they finally get together, but Tina doesn't know if she wants to take it further. Then there's Tina's sister, Ksenija, who's a moody artist, and Rod's friend Stewey, who braves her prickliness.

All 3 of the romances were ones I was interested in, and would have read an entire book about each. Unfortunately, trying to cram them all in such a short book left them all feeling slightly underbaked and unsatisfying.

I did have a good time reading this, though. It felt breezy and fun and fresh, with people I haven't really read about much in romance. It's just that it could have been much better.



Easy, by Tammara Webber

>> Friday, December 21, 2012

AUTHOR: Tammara Webber

PAGES: 336

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: New Adult Romance

Rescued by a stranger.
Haunted by a secret
Sometimes, love isn't easy...

He watched her, but never knew her. Until thanks to a chance encounter, he became her savior...

The attraction between them was undeniable. Yet the past he'd worked so hard to overcome, and the future she'd put so much faith in, threatened to tear them apart.

Only together could they fight the pain and guilt, face the truth - and find the unexpected power of  love.

A groundbreaking novel in the New Adult genre, Easy faces one girl's struggle to regain the trust she's lost, find the inner strength to fight back against an attacker, and accept the peace she finds in the arms of a secretive boy.

Jacqueline Wallace is having a hell of a month. Her boyfriend of three years, whom she followed to his chosen university, even though as a musician, it was really not the best choice for her, has suddenly broken up with her. And then, leaving a party, she's attacked by one of his frat brothers, who attempts to rape her. Fortunately, she's rescued by Lucas, a guy who turns out to be in her economics class.

This is a class, you'll probably not be surprised to hear, she picked only because her boyfriend was in it, and she's skipped it in the weeks since the breakup. When she realises she's missed a midterm exam, she begs the lecturer for mercy. He agrees to accept a research project in lieu of the exam, and puts her in contact with the class tutor.

And within a couple of days, Jacqueline has begun both an email flirtation with the tutor, and a real-life one with Lucas.

Reading back this bare summary of the book's setup, it makes it sound awful. And at first, I feared it would be. I felt a bit queasy when I started it, because in a couple of short scenes, we have: an attempted rape that is not reported, a mysterious bad boy who beats the crap out of the wannabe rapist, a heroine who forgot all about her dreams just to follow her boyfriend to a uni that wasn't right for her, and a seemingly airheaded, shallow roommate. I was definitely worried.

But then Webber proceeded to take each of these worries and smash them, one by one. This turned out to be a book with messages I could stand behind proudly, a book which revolves around its heroine's growth and empowerment, celebrates a relationship where she's valued and respected, and even has some stand-up-and-cheer scenes of women supporting each other and behaving like sisters. The mysterious bad boy is not a bad boy after all, and he's not a violent rage-monster, but a guy with plenty of self-control. The previously idiotically self-sacrificing heroine ends up going for what she wants careerwise, with the full support of her new boyfriend. Oh, and the airhead roommate? She doesn't change outwordly at all, it's just made clear that there's much, much more to her, and she's one of the strongest women in the story.

And guess what? It does all this while not feeling one bit like an "issues" book. The story had a bit of that feeling I tend to associate with those "cracktastic" books. The romance made me sigh and go all tingly. Honestly, it felt a bit like a guilty pleasure read, but with absolutely no guilt.

So, I really loved it, and I honestly think that if I'd read it when I was in my late teens, early 20s, it would have become my favourite book ever. Even now, though, I could identify with some of the characters' issues, much, much more than if they'd been just a few years younger and in secondary school. I think I'd be keen to read more romances in this New Adult genre. These are stories of a stage in people's lives you don't really see in regular romance novels, and where the HEA can definitely feel plausible.


AUDIOBOOK NOTES: It was this version that I listened to. It was narrated by Tara Sands, who was the narrator who made me give up the audiobook of Katie McGarry's Pushing the Limits. She was definitely less annoying in this one.


Jane Austen and the afterlife

>> Wednesday, December 19, 2012

TITLE: What Matters in Jane Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved
AUTHOR: John Mullan

Mullan looks explores 20 questions suggested by Austen's works. These questions range from what do characters call each other, to how much age matters, from how much money was enough for what and how much people would know about what others were worth, to which characters don't actually speak in the books. You learn quite a lot about Austen's times, but most of all, you learn loads about how she uses these things in her work, and begin to understand just what an accomplished, technically gifted writer she was. The last chapter, which analyses how experimental a writer Austen was (very, it seems, and in ways I had never considered), makes the point that she was a brilliant writer even more clearly and unquestionably.

I enjoyed this a great deal, but I would have enjoyed it even more if I had read Austen's books more recently. I have read all of them, except for the unfinished Sanditon (which Mullan uses more sparingly, anyway), but for some of them, it's been a while. It was therefore hard to remember some of the particular plot points or characters that Mullan refers to, and obviously, much of the books is based on referring back to Austen oeuvre. Still, highly recommended.


TITLE: Six Feet Over: Adventures in the Afterlife
AUTHOR: Mary Roach

Six Feet Over (aka Spook in the US) is another of Mary Roach's off-the-wall looks at unlikely subjects. Here she turns her curious eye on what happens after death (and, in one of the most eye-popping chapters, during death). She looks at what the evidence is on all sorts of things: from reincarnation to ectoplasm, from capturing spririt voices on tape recorders to the physical weight of the soul. It's fascinating, full of material I didn't know and had never wondered about, as well as colourful characters.

My only issue is that I'm not a huge fan of Roach's writing style, though. I mean, I do like her goofiness and willingness to laugh at herself, and the fact that she tries very hard not to be judgmental, but there is way too much extraneous, filler detail here. I don't mean when she goes off track when she finds something interesting that's only tangentially related to her topic. I don't mind that at all -in fact, I love it. It's things like what the hotel she stayed in when she went to India was like, or a whole paragraph describing the librarian who gave her an archbishop's number. I didn't go "Oh, interesting" at that stuff, because it wasn't. I went "why on earth is she telling me this?". So I guess my issue is that she sometimes shows lack of judgment on what is interesting and what really isn't.

Eh well. Not the greatest, but I still enjoyed it.



Body Heat, by Susan Fox

>> Monday, December 17, 2012

TITLE: Body Heat
AUTHOR: Susan Fox

PAGES: 320
PUBLISHER: Kensington Brava

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance

On the cusp of her thirtieth birthday, Maura Mahoney has yet to date a man who really excites her. Her quiet routine as a director at the retirement community Cherry Lane is disrupted by the arrival of Jesse Blue, a bad boy on a motorcycle who roars into her life. Jesse has agreed to avoid jail time by serving community service at Cherry Lane. Instantly attracted but wary of Jesse's checkered past and youth, Maura puts him to work in the garden. Despite the growing sexual tension between them, there are many things keeping Maura and Jesse apart, chiefly their own assumptions about one another. But appearances can be deceiving and Maura and Jesse must overcome the expectations of those around them to find their happy ending...
Maura Mahoney is an accountant at a retirement home, a job she loves, even though her domineering parents feel she's wasting her education on it. Maura lives a nice, quiet life, which suddenly changes with the arrival of motorcycle-riding, leather jacket-wearing bad boy Jesse Blue.

Jesse's been ordered to do community service (don't worry, it was for a completely commendable crime, of course), and the retirement home's HR manager agreed he could do his hours there. Right before he arrives, though, the woman has to take some urgent time off, and Maura gets saddled with the duty of supervising Jesse. She takes it very seriously -at least, that's the excuse she gives herself as to why she spends so much of her time watching him through her window while he does sweaty gardening work!

I will admit, my expectations were sky-high when I started this. Susan Fox wrote two of my favourite books last year, the amazingly wonderful Love, Unexpectedly and His, Unexpectedly. They had grown-up characters who actually talked to each other, and this let me see exactly how well they fit together and completely buy that they were falling in love. Body Heat was nothing like those books, nothing at all.

Now, Jesse is a very nice hero, and I liked how he is completely gone over Maura from the start. To him, she's not boring, she's scorching hot, and he's convinced she's out of his league. A beautiful, clever, elegant woman like that, interested in a blue-collar guy like him, who can't even read properly? I did like seeing him begin to recognise his worth, and stop putting himself down.

But Maura, oh, dear. It wasn't that I didn't like the character, it was that she was completely unbelievable. Seriously, we're talking about a woman who's mortally embarrased about liking TV and movies. Not just trashy TV and crap movies -I could definitely understand someone watching and loving reality TV and feeling embarrassed about it (that was me last year, when I got ever-so-slightly addicted to X-Factor), or pretending they only like art-house cinema, but Maura just makes blanket statements about TV and any movies in general. Seriously, woman, who are you? And this is from someone who much prefers books to either of those media and would 99 times out of 100 read a book than watch TV or a film!

Maura also seems remarkably clueless about way too many things. One of my "favourite" scenes was when she was worried at her sudden constant horniness since she met Jesse the day before. She's never masturbated in her life (she calls it "the M word", in fact), and has never felt particularly aroused, even with her two previous lovers, so it's a big change. She decides to do some research to check whether it might have something to do with having just turned 30 the day before. Yep, because maybe it's like throwing some sort of switch, you know. And wait, there's more. She googles "female sexuality" and panics because she gets 5000 results! Ohhh, she has no idea where to start! (For the record, you get over 28 million results, 1.3 million if you use quote marks).

Unrealistic or not, she did kind of grow on me, and the last part of the book actually worked ok for me, because she gets to act a bit more believable. Those sections were fun, and quite hot. The first sections, though, induced quite a bit of eye-rolling. Additionally, those first sections were not sexy at all, which is clearly not what the author intended. It was sex fantasy scene after sex fantasy scene. I expect Fox must have thought it was a way to make the book "hot" without having her characters fall into bed straight away, but it just didn't work for me in any way. I guess, at first sight, a sex scene is a sex scene is a sex scene. All the sex scenes in a book are imaginary, made up by the author, so having one imaginary character imagining one should be just as hot as a having the imaginary characters actually doing it. It isn't. It just isn't. If it wasn't actually happening, I wasn't interested and tempted to skim. Also, these constant fantasies made Maura and Jesse look like idiots, mainly because they tended to happen in the most inappropriate places. Jesse has two of them (two, count them!) while driving his motorbike!

MY GRADE: A C+. I was very generous and gave it a B- in last month's summary, but on reflection, I think that was too generous.


Grease Monkey Jive, by Ainslie Paton

>> Saturday, December 15, 2012

TITLE: Grease Monkey Jive
AUTHOR: Ainslie Paton

PAGES: 130K words (a bit over 500 pages, I'd say)
PUBLISHER: Escape Publishing

SETTING: Contemporary Australia (Sydney)
TYPE: Romance

A romance about changing the game, finding the truth, and fancy footwork.

When ballroom teacher Alex Gibson dances with Dan Maddox she's reminded of the time she stuck a knife in the toaster, gave herself an electric shock, and saw stars. He's precisely the type of man Alex's mother warned her off - a player, like the father who abandoned her.

Dan Maddox comes from a long line of men who were hiding under the hood of a beat-up car when the 'successful relationship' gene was given out, but he was first in the queue for an extra jolt of chick-pulling power.

The chicks in Dan's life are universally gorgeous, random, and disposable, until one drunken night when he picks the wrong girl, hurts a good friend, and realises that unless he does something to change, he'll end up like his violent, unstable father.
Yep, I'm one of the many, many readers who bought Grease Monkey Jive after seeing the interviews with the publisher at Dear Author and SBTB (those interviews have probably sold a lot of books for Escape Publishing, I've bought 4 of their titles so far!). The way the book was described was as a romance "that mixes Strictly Ballroom with Pimp My Ride", all set in Australia. That sounded right up my street.

It was. It wasn't perfect, but I really enjoyed it.

Our two protagonists are two very different people. Dan Maddox is a total player. He can attract women just by crooking his finger at them, and he does hookups, not relationships. His life is all about his mates, surfing, sex, and his low-stress work as a mechanic. He parties like there's no tomorrow, and he does so frequently. And then, one night, he does something very stupid, and realises he's turning into his father.

Now, that is a shock to him. His father is a bitter, ugly drunk, a violent man who beat him up as a child, after his mother's death. Dan really doesn't want to be anything like him, and he decides that he needs to change, especially to start relating to women in a different way.

One of his nicest childhood memories is of his ballroom dancer mother, and with the help of a bet, he and his friends end up taking classes at a nearby dance studio. One of their teachers is Alex Gibson. Alex is an excellent dancer, but she's also doing a business degree, as she feels she needs to be sensible about her career. This is therefore the last year she participates in a dance competition, with her partner and fellow teacher, Scott. They've got a very good chance of winning, and the prize money will be extremely useful in helping her pay for the rest of her degree.

And then Scott breaks his ankle. Due to a loophole in the rules, they can bring in another partner for Alex until he recovers, but all the good pros are otherwise engaged. Dan, who's actually a naturally good dancer, is their only hope, especially because the chemistry between him and Alex is explosive, on and off the dance floor.

The chemistry might be explosive, but we don't get immediate satisfaction. The romance here is slow and gradual. Alex has a boyfriend (who's quite an arse, actually), and Dan really is determined to change the way he relates to women. He and Alex become friends first, and their relationship takes a while to move to the  next level. It's very, very satisfying, especially to see Dan open himself to a type of relationship he'd always completely dismissed.

So the romance at the centre of the book is great, but what I also really liked was that the book is wider than that. Friends and family are well drawn, and Alex and Dan's relationships with them are important, and well-developed. These people around them have a big influence on them, and this is acknowledged.

The other thing to say is that, the premise might sound a bit preposterous, but when you're reading the book, it's actually believable. It helps that Paton doesn't even try to pretend that an inexperienced, if gifted, dancer like Dan could do what has taken pro dancers years of hard work. The whole thing works for him and Alex only because they play up the attrction between them and get lots of extra points for the entertainment value, but even then, they only get enough points to barely hang in the competition without being eliminated.

The book's also got a great sense of place, and I enjoyed the Sidney setting and that it really felt Australian. The language is not made neutral, and I loved that. I actually had to look up a couple of terms that I couldn't figure out from the context (like "ranga", who knew?), but you know what? I'm a grown-up, I can handle that!

Unfortunately, as I said, it's not a perfect book. The big conflict in the romance, when it comes, didn't feel completely natural. It relies on a character pushing the other one away for reasons that didn't convince me, and the resolution of this is pretty drawn out. Which brings me to my other issue: much as I liked the wide focus of the story, it did feel a little bloated, like it needed some editing to tighten it up and trim some of the flab. That could have been done without losing the gradual feeling of the romance.

On the whole, though, this was great, and I'm glad I took the plunge and bought it (it was a really reasonable price, too!). I'm now looking forward to trying the other books I bought on my binge!

MY GRADE: A strong B.


A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

>> Thursday, December 13, 2012

TITLE: A Christmas Carol
AUTHOR: Charles Dickens

PAGES: 110
PUBLISHER: Listening Library

SETTING: 1840s London
TYPE: Fictin
SERIES: none

On the night of Christmas Eve, Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three Christmas spirits. The Ghost of Christmas Past confronts Scrooge with his youth, the Ghost of Christmas Present reveals the Cratchits struggle amid poverty, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come harrows Scrooge with dire visions of the future if he does not learn to treat his fellow man with kindness, generosity and compassion.


We always try to choose something Christmassy for my book club in December, and what could be more Christmassy than A Christmas Carol? Knowing that Dickens's stories were often read out loud (including by the author, who was famous for it), I borrowed the audiobook from my library. It was performed (and that is very definitely the word) by Jim Dale, famous for being the voice of the Harry Potter books.

Everyone knows the storyline of this one, and the first thing to note is that there were absolutely no surprises for me here. The reason I remark on this is that my experience with the previous classic that we'd read for book club, Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, had been just the opposite. I thought that I knew the story well, but on actually reading it, it became clear that my memories, beyond the well-known plot twist, were distorted impressions, nothing more. So I guess that I was surprised by the lack of surprises in A Christmas Carol. Surprised and, unfortunately, rather bored.

Objectively, it's a good story, made all the more vivid by Jim Dale's excellent narration. The thing is that the lack of surprises and relative shallowness in the characterisation, combined with the fact that I just cannot stand Victorian sentimentality (I may be a horrible cynic, but the descriptions of Tiny Tim made me want to puke), meant that I didn't enjoy it all that much.

Also, I was wrong when I said there were no surprises at all. There was one, an unpleasant one, and it was the completely revolting way in which Dickens describes Scrooge's nephew's wife:
She was very pretty: exceedingly pretty. With a dimpled, surprised-looking, capital face; a ripe little mouth, that seemed made to be kissed--as no doubt it was; all kinds of good little dots about her chin, that melted into one another when she laughed; and the sunniest pair of eyes you ever saw in any little creature's head. Altogether she was what you would have called provoking, you know; but satisfactory, too. Oh, perfectly satisfactory."
All those "little this" and "little that", and the way he calls her "provoking" just gave me the creeps. Patronising, dirty old man!

MY GRADE: Since I grade purely for my enjoyment of a book, C+.


The Body In The Library, by Agatha Christie

>> Tuesday, December 11, 2012

TITLE: The Body In The Library
AUTHOR: Agatha Christie

PAGES: 224
PUBLISHER: William Morrow

SETTING: 1940s England
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: Miss Marple. This is an early one.

“Those quiet ones are often the worst.  Jane Marple says so.” 

Dolly Bantry wakes in her beautiful home in the quiet village of St Mary Mead; everything is perfect until the shocking discovery of a body in the library. Who is the murdered young girl and who could possibly have killed her? Suspicion falls on Dolly’s husband, a man with a reputation as a flirt, who swears he never met the young woman – but why was she found in his library?

Dolly calls on her friend, Miss Marple to help them in their time of need. Can she find the killer or is village gossip about Colonel Bantry true? Nothing seems certain, then another body is discovered…
Colonel and Mrs. Bantry wake up one morning to the news that there's a body in their library. It's a platinum blonde unknown to both of them, dressed in an evening dress, and she has been strangled. Afraid that if the culprit is not discovered soon, her husband will be the victim of a trial by rumour, Dolly Bantry's first response is to call Miss Marple, who's recently earned quite a reputation for her sleuthing.

It pains me to say this, but I absolutely hated this. Oh, there's much to like in the book: it has an interesting plot and an ingenious solution, with Miss Marple in good form; the characters are really well realised; and much of the action happens at a big seaside hotel where the victim worked, which is a really cool setting.

The problem was that I couldn't help but despise pretty much every single character for their reactionary, retrograde, and generally appalling attitudes. There's mysogyny, hateful snobbery and racism aplenty here. Even Miss Marple doesn't come out of things well, even though she was a bit more mild in her judgments than other characters. Reading this book made me so angry that I could have screamed.

Explaining exactly what disturbed me so much requires that I go into detail that might be slightly spoilerish. I won't reveal the solution to the whodunnit, though, only stuff that comes out in the first third or so of the book.

Anyway, so the police soon discover that the name of the victim was Ruby Keene, and that she worked as a dance hostess at a nearby hotel. Ruby had befriended an older and very wealthy man called Conway Jefferson, who's staying at the hotel with his son-in-law and daughter-in-law. Mr. Jefferson is in a wheelchair, due to having been injured in a plane crash which killed his wife, son and daughter, and he'd taken a shine to Ruby, to the point where he'd decided to adopt her and leave her all his money. His daughter-in-law and son-in-law were outraged, and both are quite glad she's been killed.

Here's the thing: other than Mr. Jefferson, no one gives a damn about Ruby's death, and by the end, even he is going on about how he was taken in and she wasn't actually any good. Every single character speaks of Ruby with nothing but disdain. She's a "sly piece", a "meretricious bag of tricks", a gold-digger who's found a promising situation and milked it for all it was worth. The police and people such as Henry Clithering and Mrs. Bantry know nothing more about her than what I've set out above, and they are immediately certain that she was a grasping, greedy little schemer, simply because "that kind of girl" often is, you know. If it had been a young woman of Mr. Jefferson's class, they say, it would have been fine, but not a girl like Ruby!

And all the while, I was asking myself what was wrong about Mr. Jefferson adopting her if it made him happy. It harmed no one who had even a dubious moral claim to his wealth. He'd settled large amounts of money on his son and daughter when each had got married, and neither had had any children, so his son-in-law and daughter-in-law had absolutely no right to the money. Where did they get off bad-mouthing her, when they themselves had been penniless and married people with money? Ah, but they were of a certain class, of course, so it's different! Fucking hypocrites.

It was all just vile. I think my  most hated moment was courtesy of one of the police. At one point this guy (an otherwise completely sympathetic character) makes explicit what's clearly behind all the policemen's attitudes: there's a second murder, and he goes on and on about how terrible it is and vows to not rest before he finds the killer. Ruby might have been asking for it, he says, but this other victim was an innocent. This just enraged me.

So yes, I hated everyone I met on these pages, other than Ruby and possibly Raymond, the tennis pro (who "looks like a dago" according to another sympathetic character. Charming). I actually  got quite cross with Christie herself. No, Agatha, I refuse to condemn Ruby, because I don't think she did anything wrong. I refuse to feel sorry for poor Colonel Bantry when he's being given the cold shoulder by his friends in the village, because he and that horrid Dolly would have done exactly the same to any other friend of theirs who'd been in the same situation. Ugh!

MY GRADE: A D. All the good things I mentioned in the second paragraph save it from a big, fat F, but only just.

AUDIOBOOK NOTE: The one I listened to was this version, read by Stephanie Cole. She was great: the accents were spot-on and mostly understated, and she did voices for the different characters that were only subtly different and fit them perfectly.


Tairen Soul books 3 to 5, by CL Wilson

>> Sunday, December 09, 2012

TITLES: King of Sword and Sky, The Queen of Song and Souls and Crown of the Crystal Flame.

I read the first two books in CL Wilson's Tairen Soul series when they first came out, in 2007, and enjoyed them very much (here are my A- reviews of Lord of the Fading Lands and Lady of Light and Shadow). The second book finishes at a sort of natural pause in the story, though, so I decided I was going to wait until all 4 books were out before I read any more (I hate being left hanging!). And then 4 books turned into 5, and the last one only came out in 2010, and by then, I felt I needed to reread books 1 and 2 if I wanted to properly appreciate the rest.

Well, after a while, I did. I reread those (giving them B+, rather than A- on reread -I've clearly become a more cynical reader in the last few years), and then carried on straight to the other 3. And enjoyed them thoroughly.

NOTE: I'm not going to give any background in my reviews of books 3-5, as there's just no point in reading them if you haven't read books 1 and 2.

Book 3, King of Sword and Sky, starts right after the traumatic events of book 2. We're in the Fading Lands now, and it's not a perfect, conflict-less place. Even with the Fey being all good people, and all determined to do the best for the Fey (no corrupt people here), this doesn't mean that they will all just trust and follow Rain. They trust he's doing what he thinks is best, but not that his judgment is right, especially when it comes to Ellie. This was actually quite refreshing, it made these characters more interesting.

This book book focuses on Ellysetta learning about her new home and the Tairen and about herself. That's the main thing here, rather than the romance. The souls of the Tairen kitlings are under threat, and Ellie is the only one who can figure out what is going on and save the Fey from the certain extinction that would follow the end of the Tairen. So although lots of mysteries remain, several things get figured out here.

Book 4 is The Queen of Song and Souls. It's a bit more of a placeholder book, but no less satisfying for that. Mainly, we see the threat from the Mages increasing as they use their underhanded ways to intensify their power and lay the ground from the upcoming war.

The romance between Ellie and Rain is not all that absorbing in these first two books. Yes, it's not all completely resolved, since they still need to finalise their bond, but there's not that much tension between them any more. Well, Rain does get really pissed off at how Ellie just needs to take risks with her life because she´s a sheidalin and can't help herself, but that's all.

We do, however, get a good dose of romance, though of the more tragic kind. We keep returning to Ellie's parents, Shan and Elfeya, still captive in the High Mage's dungeons. They give Rain and Ellie a run for their money in terms of total commitment and devotion, let me tell you! Those scenes are difficult to read, but there is hope there.

Wilson also explores what can happen when the truemate bond goes terribly wrong because the lack of understanding from humans, as one of the Fey finds his soul mate amongst the Celerians, already married to a powerful man. It's a sad story, but interesting to see Rain's struggle to reconcile his empathy as a man with the obligations of a statesman to do what's best for his people as a whole.

We also continue to follow Ellie as she finds out more about her role and her destiny, as well as about her past and why she is like she is. There's some truly gripping stuff here.

The series ends with Crown of the Crystal Flame, the final battle, and it really ends with a bang. The series had been building up slowly to a climax, and the this whole book is that climax.

There's a real sense of danger all the way through. We know from previous books that Wilson doesn't hesitate to kill even characters we like, so it's obvious that any victory is going to be difficult and hard-fought. We know it's going to be earned only at great sacrifice, both from Ellie and Rain and the Fey as a whole. We also know, however, that the High Mage is going to find achieving his purposes just as difficult, because Ellie is quite clearly the Fey's secret weapon.

I loved almost every bit of it. It was a straight A all the way through, right until the end. Now that was a bit disappointing. I'm going to put this in spoiler tags:

[[[So, there are several times during this book where the High Mage almost, almost manages to get his hands on Rain and Ellysetta, but they escape in the nick of time. And then, the last bit of the book comes. The war has been won, but Ellysetta is still mage-marked, and until Vadim Maur dies, she will be ever under mental threat, and in danger of becoming mage-claimed. She also needs to rescue her sisters, and they did decide earlier that as soon as they could, they would rescue her birth parents.

So, after all the difficulty and all the painstaking progress, they come up with the most half-baked, least thought-out plan they could possibly come up with. And sure enough, as soon as they set foot in Vadim Maur's lair, they're captured without a struggle. I almost threw the book down in disgust. It seemed like a case of Wilson running out of space and realising she needed to wrap things up.]]]

The other disappointment was about Melliandra, a young girl in the High Mage's fortress who has managed to find the strength in herself to fight the mind control she's under and save the day. She's a truly heroic character, and probably my favourite in the whole series. I craved closure for her, a glimpse of her happy. Unfortunately, the book closes without any information about her. We know she got out of the fortress, but nothing else. I kept looking for clues about her, but she wasn't even mentioned any more, even though she was the one who saved everyone, and Shan, Ellie's birth father, knew that perfectly. You would have thought he'd have at least mentioned it and wondered where she was! I guess there might be a few reasons for this, like that he did say it, but off camera, or that he might have thought she'd died. Also, I imagine she'll show up in future novels in the series, which I understand Wilson is planning to write. Still, it was very unsatisfying.

Anyway, on the whole, this was a really great series. I loved the epic feel of it, and that Wilson wasn't afraid to have bad things happen, and found the universe and overarching storyline complex and compelling. There are even good villains: truly evil, but in an understandable way.

The romance between Ellie and Rain is good and satisfying, but I liked that, while it's the heart of the story, Wilson doesn't attempt to keep it as the main focus all the time. It's there, but the worldbuilding and secondary characters and general conflict are really important as well, and given the proper space.

It's a romance between soul mates, too. That would normally be something that makes me run the other way, but I loved what Wilson does with the concept. It's not insta-love, which means it's not an excuse to skimp on the very difficult to write process of actually falling in love, and showing the reader why these two particular people are the right ones for each other. In Wilson's universe, the soul-mate connection doesn't work that way, and can even complicate things.

I also loved that we get a strong female main character, one who might not have much power at the beginning, but who really comes into her own and grows a great deal during the series. She's got some really unique powers, but rather than make her some sort of Mary Sue, the source of those powers makes them as much a boon as a problem, and a reason for the Fey to distrust her.

MY GRADE: All in all, this was a very satisfying series. I'd give each of the books a B+, with the last one being an A- almost all the way through, but the grade lowered due to a slightly disappointing ending. Whatever Wilson writes next (she seems to be taking her time), I'll be reading.


Divergent, by Veronica Roth

>> Friday, December 07, 2012

TITLE: Divergent
AUTHOR: Veronica Roth

PAGES: 576
PUBLISHER: Katherine Tegen Books

SETTING: Future version of Chicago
SERIES: Starts a series

She turns to the future in a world that’s falling apart.

For sixteen-year-old Tris, the world changes in a heartbeat when she is forced to make a terrible choice. Turning her back on her family, Tris ventures out, alone, determined to find out where she truly belongs.

Shocked by the brutality of her new life, Tris can trust no one. And yet she is drawn to a boy who seems to both threaten and protect her. The hardest choices may yet lie ahead….

A debut novel that will leave you breathless.
Divergent is set in a world where the entire population is divided into factions, originally based on what different groups thought was the cause of war and strife. People who thought ignorance was the problem are part of the Erudite faction, those who thought it was cowardice make up Dauntless, and so on. Our heroine, Beatrice, grew up in Abnegation, made up of people who think selfishness is the worst possible thing, and devote their life to being completely selfless.

Of course, growing up in a particular faction does not mean it's necessarily the best one for a particular child. That is the case with Beatrice, who often chafes under the requirement to always think of others first and never want anything for herself. At 16, all kids undergo a sort of personality testing, which tells them what faction they're best suited for. They can then choose what to do. Most stay in the faction they were brought up in, but some do change.

Beatrice's testing turns out not to be particularly helpful. The results are inconclusive. She's something known as Divergent, and she's warned not to tell anyone about it, as it's really dangerous. She has to rely just on herself to make her choice, and it's a surprising one.

The book follows her as she, now calling herself Tris, undergoes the brutal tests (both physical and mental) required before she can be initiated and a real member of her new faction. Because there are fewer spots than candidates, and if she fails, then she'll become factionless, a fate worse than death as far as she's concerned.

Let's get this out of the way: the world Roth creates makes absolutely no sense. It's completely preposterous. It's not believable and simplistic beyond absurdity, so I couldn't buy that anyone would think this was a good idea, and that a whole society would go along with this, let alone survive for even a few decades. If you are going to enjoy this book, even a little bit, you just need to let this go and simply suspend disbelief. Fortunately, I was able to do this, but it was a close thing.

Once I did that, I was able to just take the story narrated with that world as its background and appreciate it for what it was. Or not appreciate it, in sections, because although I found the book intensely gripping and compelling, and it kept me listening intently, it wasn't without flaws.

Tris' character has in it both the good and the bad about the book. She's actually interesting, mainly because although I was happy to root for her, she's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, she can be majorly bitchy and even quite mean sometimes. She's also got a ruthless side. If being safe requires her to manipulate her closest friends in the process, then she'll do it. Also, although there is an element of her being naturally better than the others at stuff, it's because of her dangerous divergence, whatever that means, so it's actually risky for her to be better.

Something else I thought was good was that Roth keeps the tension ratcheted up by making it very clear that bad things really can happen to her. They can happen to anyone. Roth doesn't pull her punches. It's violent world, and that has consequences, even on likeable characters. But at the same time, it never felt like she was killing or hurting particular characters just to shock her readers, or to jerk us around. It always felt like it was the logical thing, exactly what the narrative required.

Alas, in some cases, what the narrative required was that Tris be incredibly dense and not think logically. She's supposed to be smart, but when the plot requires it, she simply won't notice really obvious stuff right in front of her eyes, and will take silly risks for no reason. It's not a minor issue, it really drives whole sections of the book, and it annoyed me. Add to that villains who are just as preposterous as the worldbuilding, and it's a very flawed, if weirdly enjoyable book.


AUDIOBOOK NOTES: This was an audiobook, read by Emma Galvin. It was ok. Nothing particularly great, but nothing particularly annoying, either.


Canyons of Night, by Jayne Castle

>> Wednesday, December 05, 2012

TITLE: Canyons of Night
AUTHOR: Jayne Castle

PAGES: 325

SETTING: Futuristic
TYPE: Paranormal romance
SERIES: I don't even know any more. I'm hopelessly lost, and it's not like it matters, because all the books really stand alone. FWIW, on Goodreads this is listed as: Looking Glass Trilogy #3, The Arcane Society #12, Harmony #8, Rainshadow #1. That tells you all you need to know about the mess this has become.

Charlotte Enright, owner of a small antiques shop called Looking Glass Antiques on Rainshadow Island, and Slade Attridge, the community's new chief of police, both have something in common: they possess strong paranormal talents.

They met several years ago when they were in their teens spending the summer on the island. Slade saved Charlotte from a gang of drunken toughs, but then at the end of the summer Slade and Charlotte went their separate ways and started their adult lives.

Now, fifteen years later, they have both been drawn back to Rainshadow Island. They will discover the adult passion they have for each other and start to explore some of the mysteries of the forbidden section of the island known only as the Preserve.
Charlotte Enright and Slade Attridge met as teens on Rainshadow Island. There was a certain connection between them, but both left the island and made their lives elsewhere. Charlotte's career was in selling antiques, and Slade joined the FBPI (basically, the FBI, but with a P for Psychic).

Years later, they're both back. Charlotte has inherited her aunt's antiques shop, and Slade has become the chief of police, after an accident that forced him to leave the FBPI. They soon discover the connection between them is still there.

So, I've persevered through the years with Jayne Castle, even though my main reaction to her books these days is "meh". This one is promising. Oh, there's all the expected elements: a half-baked Arcane-related plot (some people searching for a paranormal object with the potential to be used as a weapon, of course) and main characters with unique talents, which put them outside the mainstream of their society.

The focus here, however, is squarely on the characters and the romance, and there was a hint of vintage JAK there. It's just a hint, so there's a long way to go, but I'm hopeful. Charlotte and Slade really connect, and there's even a teenager who has taken on Slade as his role model. It needed more of all of this to be as good as older books, but it's a good start.

I've seen loads of comments along the lines that this book was a thin, unsatisfying end to the Looking Glass trilogy, and that people weren't satisfied with the way it concluded the paranormal elements. The thing is, see, that I don't give a fig about all the plotty bits, because I don't think JAK's been particularly good at them lately. I'm only here for the relationships, so when she leaves her plot half-baked and feeling like an afterthought (as it did here), her books tend to work better for me. There is some setting up of future books, and mysteries around something called the Rainshadow preserve, but I barely paid that any notice, to be honest.

So, an ok read. Oh, and as always, I loved the dustbunnies. I loved the gentle humour with which Rex was written, and I giggled out loud at the image of him going around with his beaded clutch. Cute, but in a very good way.

MY GRADE: I might be rating on the generous side here, but I'll give it a B. Rex raised it from a B- all on his own.


Dead Man's Folly, by Agatha Christie

>> Monday, December 03, 2012

TITLE: Dead Man's Folly
AUTHOR: Agatha Christie

PAGES: 240
PUBLISHER: William Morrow

SETTING: 1950s England
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: None, really, other than being a Poirot novel

Sir George and Lady Stubbs, the hosts of a village fete, hit upon the novel idea of staging a mock murder mystery. In good faith, Ariadne Oliver, the well-known crime writer, agrees to organize their murder hunt.

Despite weeks of meticulous planning, at the last minute Ariadne calls her friend Hercule Poirot for his expert assistance. Instinctively, she senses that something sinister is about to happen...
Mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver is worried. She's been engaged to plot a "murder hunt" for the Nass house fête, coming up with a plot and clues the participants must follow to find a body and discover who the killer was. She's got it all plotted out, but she feels something is off, something she can't quite put her finger on. Clearly, the only thing she can do is call in her friend, Hercule Poirot.

By dint of mysterious hints and direct orders, she gets Poirot in, supposedly to hand out the prizes. And it turns out that Mrs. Oliver was right to be worried, because when they go during the fête to check on the young girl who's volunteered to play the part of of the victim, they find that the dead body really is a dead body. Not to mention, the lady of the house has disappeared.

This was definitely not Christie's best. I liked the premise and the first half or so of the book, and the mystery and characters did hold my attention, but there were flaws. The solution was ingenious, but it came out of left field a bit. Usually whatever happened kind of fits with the way Christie has build the characters, and felt natural, but that wasn't the case here, and the whole thing felt rather contrived. It simply stretched credulity.  I also found it disappointing that the whole premise of the murder hunt, which I thought was really cool, becomes completely irrelevant as the book goes on. As does Mrs. Oliver, actually, who is by far the most interesting, engaging character in the sections she's in.

There's also the fact that this is very much a book of its time. I almost always enjoy that about Christie's books, and appreciate the glimpse of a world long gone. However, this is a world with some very ugly attitudes. Sometimes I can easily let that slide completely and enjoy the book as what it is, and as simply reflecting the attitudes people would have had at the time. Sometimes it's harder, though, and this was one of those. The xenophobia is painful to read, as is the way everyone is constantly and cavalierly commenting on whether a particular character is simple / subnormal / dimwitted. I found that really shocking. And it was just as shocking to read the section where, when discussing whether the crime could have been committed by one of those newfangled "sex maniacs", the policemen dismiss the possibility, because the victim had been rather plain. Christie tends to have the worst prejudiced views voiced by unsympathetic characters, indicating these are not views she, herself, holds, but I still kept flinching as I read, and that wasn't fun.


AUDIOBOOK NOTES: The version I listened to was narrated by David Suchet. Suchet is a very good Poirot on the TV series, so I was thought I was in for a treat when I saw his name on the box. Unfortunately, my hopes were dashed. He did ok in the non-dialogue bits, but the dialogue was excrutiating. He hammed it up to a point where I wanted to scream. He basically made every single character, even Poirot, sound preposterous and ridiculous. I think what annoyed me the most was that he went far beyond what the text revealed about the characters who were speaking, inserting way too much of his interpretation into his reading.

I'm a bit worried, since a lot of the Poirot audiobooks my library holds are narrated by Suchet, but someone on Goodreads mentioned this was one of his earlier ones, and implied he did go on to get more comfortable with the format. So I guess I'll try another one and see. Otherwise, I guess I'll devote myself to Miss Marple for a while!


November 2012 reads

>> Saturday, December 01, 2012

I'm reading so much more since I discovered audiobooks! I haven't ventured onto romance yet, since the idea of love scenes being read out to me doesn't sound appealing, but I was just as doubtful about audiobooks in general, so I'd appreciate some recs. Anyway, all in all, it was an average month. No truly wonderful books, but several solidly good ones. Unfortunately, I did also read a number of bad ones.

1 - Unraveled, by Courtney Milan: B+
review here

Third and last in Milan's Turner series. This one is about the middle brother, Smite, who is a magistrate, wedded to the law and determined to do justice. He falls in love with Miranda Darling, a young woman struggling to survive in the slums of the city. Really, really good and satisfying, with Milan turning situations that looked as if they might be predictable into something truly original and right.

2 - Instruments of Darkness, by Imogen Robertson: B+
review here

Audiobook. Historical mystery, have seen it described as Georgian CSI :) Gabriel Crowther, an anatomist and "natural philosopher", teams up with his neighbour, Mrs. Harriet Westerman, to investigate when the body of a man, with his throat cut, is discovered on her land. Really interesting setting and mystery. Also, this isn't a romance, but the developing friendship between Harriet and Gabriel was really good. I also enjoyed the narrator, Joanna Mackie.

3 - In a Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson: B+
original review here

Audiobook. Also published as Down Under. Travel book, Bill Bryson visits Australia. One of his best, in my opinion. It's not just that his subject matter is interesting, it's his hilarious, self-deprecating voice. Best of all, since his humour is not based on meanness, the fact that he really likes Australia, and says so, doesn't make this any less funny. The narration was by Bryson himself, and it was great.

4 - Canyons of Night, by Jayne Castle: B
review coming soon

Do I even need to describe the plot? Main characters with extra special paranormal powers, which make them misfits in the romantic department, some sort of mysterious weapon everyone is after, romance, etc. That said, this had a bit of a vintage JAK feel to the romance, and less paranormal crap than previous ones, so I quite enjoyed it. And I still love those dust-bunnies!

5 - Agatha Raisin & the Quiche of Death, by MC Beaton: B
review here

Audiobook. The first in a long-running mystery series. Agatha, a self-made career woman decides to sell her successful PR business and retire to a small village in the Cotswolds. In an attempt to fit into the life of the village, she enters a quiche into a competition. And then one of the judges dies poisoned by it. Everyone thinks it's an accident, but not Agatha. Charming, Agatha is priceless. She even reminds me of one of my favourite characters ever, Amelia Peabody. Penelope Keith's narration was great.

6 - Body Heat, by Susan Fox: B-
review coming soon

Maura is a staid accountant at a retirement home, Jesse is a motorcycle-riding, leather jacket-wearing bad boy who's ordered to do community service there (for a completely commendable crime, of course). Maura can be a bit annoying and I didn't quite believe her character, but she grew on me, and Jesse was great. In the end, it was a fun, sexy read, the second half especially.

7 - The Haunting of Maddie Clare, by Simone St. James: C+
review coming soon

It's 1922 and Sarah Piper is hired by a handsome young man to be his temporary assistant. He's investigating a ghost, that of a young serving girl who's said to haunt a barn, and he needs a woman since the ghost is supposed to hate men. Succeeds in being nice and creepy, but in the end, I felt a bit let down. The whole thing didn't feel completely satisfying, both the resolution and the way the investigation proceeded.

8 - Dead Man's Folly, by Agatha Christie: C+
review coming soon

Audiobook. The star event at the Nass House fête is a "murder hunt". Participants must follow clues to find the body, played by a young volunteer. Only it turns out the body is really dead, and the lady of the house has disappeared. Hercule Poirot, there at the invitation of a crime writer friend, who wrote the script of the murder hunt, investigates. Not awful, but definitely not Christie's best. The solution came out of left field a bit, and stretched credulity. Also, the narration was disappointing. David Suchet may be a great Poirot on the telly, but his narration was over-the-top and annoying.

9 - Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman: C
review here

Urban fantasy, read for my book club. A random act of kidness plunges Richard Mayhew into a world alternate to his modern London, that of the London Below. I know already that I have issues with the urban fantasy subgenre. There's something about the griminess of it, and how it's so often about political infighting, that doesn't appeal to me. This didn't change my mind about it. I can recognise it's a good example of the genre, but I didn't enjoy it.

10 - The Second Seduction of a Lady, by Miranda Neville: C-
review here

Historical novella, setting up an upcoming series. Five years earlier, Max and Eleanor fell in love, but she dumped him when she found out he'd only approached her because of a wager. Of course, Max really had fallen in love with her. I liked the idea of the set-up, but in the end, just found this boring.

11 - Night Echoes, by Holly Lisle: C-
review coming soon

The heroine buys a house that she falls in love with at first sight, in the town her birth mother was from. And then she meets a man she has just as strong a reaction to. The paranormal element is nice and creepy, and the romance ok, but the ending is extremely disappointing and over-the-top, and ends things on a sour note.

12 - Exclusively Yours, by Shannon Stacey: D
review here

Such a disappointment! I've heard so much about the Kowalskis that I couldn't wait to try one, but I really disliked this book. The basic story is about two former high school sweethearts coming together again after 20 years. The writing and humour didn't work for me at all, and most of all, I found the book's sensibility really unappealing.

13 - The Body In The Library, by Agatha Christie: D
review coming soon

Audiobook. Colonel and Dolly Bantry wake up one morning to the news that the body of an unknown young woman has been discovered in their library. Dolly's first response? To call Miss Marple. Ingenious solution, but the mysogyny and class snobbery are so extreme here that I found pretty much every character completely hateful.

14 - A Perfect Evil, by Alex Kava: DNF
review here

Audiobook. When a little boy is killed just as the victims of a serial killer who operated in the area some years earlier, the cops are spooked, especially because the serial killer was executed quite recently. Maggie O'Dell, an FBI profiler, is called in to assist. I gave up halfway through, as I thought the both main characters and the rest of the police were remarkably inept, and it frustrated me.

15 - What Matters in Jane Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved, by John Mullan: still reading
review coming soon

21 chapters, each looking into a particular issue. Some of them look at an aspect of Austen's writing, some of them look at what her writing tells us about a certain topic. Mullan's thesis is that by looking at the detail of what Austen does, you can appreciate her brilliance. Really interesting so far.


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