Three recent books

>> Saturday, March 28, 2009

TITLE: Silent in the Grave
AUTHOR: Deanna Raybourn

Silent in the Grave starts with a really intriguing first line: "To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor.". Cool, I thought. I like this narrator's black humour.

Edward's death happens in the middle of a dinner party, and since he's been frail since childhood, it's put down to natural causes. But not long after the funeral, his widow, Lady Julia, receives a visit from Nicholas Brisbane. He's a private enquiry agent, he says, and Edward had engaged him to investigate some threatening anonymous notes. Nicholas can't help but suspect that the death wasn't quite as natural as it has been assumed. At first, Julia refuses to even conceive the possibility and doesn't believe him, but then she finds one of the notes herself, and she engages Nicholas herself. But of course, she insists on cooperating in the investigation, whether he wants her to or not.

I've heard many good things about this series, and I really wanted to like the book. I did, but not as much as I would have expected to. It was good enough, and had a lot of elements which were good, such as the atmosphere and some interesting, well-drawn secondary characters, but I didn't really connect with the narrator, her love interest, or the story itself. Maybe it was because I felt the novel suffered from overkill. There were way too many subplots and Julia's family, while very likeable, had a few too many unbelievable quirks. And I'm afraid Nicholas was nowhere near as fascinating and mysterious as Raybourn was obviously setting him up to be. As for the mystery? Well, the murder weapon was surprising and very apt, but the murderer was way too easy to spot, even if I didn't guess the motive.

MY GRADE: I think I'll go with a B-. I'm not feeling particularly interested in reading the next book, but a couple of people have told me the first one was the weakest. Any advice?

TITLE: The Various Flavours of Coffee
AUTHOR: Anthony Capella

Saga-like books covering years and years are not usually my thing, but I'm glad I made an exception for TVFOC. We meet Robert Wallis when he's a lazy, shallow young wannabe poet. His life consists on whoring, sponging off his parents, hanging around in coffeehouses trying to look interesting and dashing off bad epigrams. It's in one such coffeehouse that he meets coffee trader Samuel Pinker, who notices Robert's superior palate for that drink. Pinker wants to develop a guide to all the different kinds of coffee bean available, and he makes a job offer the perpetually cash-strapped Robert cannot refuse. The work on the guide goes well, but Robert falls for Pinker's daughter Emily, and she for him. This results in his being sent to Africa to make his fortune by establishing a plantation of the best coffee in the world.

Quite a lot happens in this book. This is only the start of it, and the story covers quite a bit more, but I think readers will best discover it on their own. What I will mention, though, since most people reading this will be romance readers, is that you shouldn't go into this book expecting a romance. It's nothing like Capella's wonderfully romantic The Food of Love in that sense. Robert starts out as a complete and absolute bastard with women. Actually, not only with women; I despised him for most of the first half of the book. He's a spoiled git with a huge sense of entitlement. Selfish, dishonest, lazy... that's just an understatement. As for his romance with Emily, suffice it to say that he continues to whore constantly even while telling himself that he loves her.

It probably sounds quite awful. I seriously considered giving up on the book after some 100 pages, but the beauty of Capella's writing kept me going, and I'm glad I kept on. Things improve quite a bit once Robert gets to Africa. For starters, he gets his comeuppance with women, and I cheered the person responsible for it. And by the time he comes back to England, Robert has grown and become a much, much better person, and I actually cared about him.

It is a rich, absorbing story. It takes place in the early part of the 20th century, and the setting really comes to live, as well.


TITLE: Gabriel's Angel
AUTHOR: Nora Roberts

Reclusive artist Gabriel Bradley is driving back home in a heavy snowstorm when he witnesses an accident. The driver is 8-month pregnant Laura Malone, who's on the run from her late husband's family (they're cold blue-bloods who want to take the baby away from her, of course). Gabriel rescues Laura, and they end up snowbound in his cabin. And that was basically all that had happened up to the point I stopped reading.

Why did I stop? It wasn't that the book was horribly bad, it was just really boring and predictable. It's a 1980s category romance, and it shows. It shows in the clich├ęd characters and in the dated situations. Laura is hyper-feminine and flawless and Gabriel is broody, and that's pretty much all there was to their characters. They felt quite flat. I just didn't care what was going to happen to them, and I had no motivation to pick up the book when I put it down.



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