Bye for a couple of weeks!

>> Thursday, May 28, 2009

It seems like a shame when I've only just got back into the reviewing groove, but I'm off for a couple of weeks. It's for a good reason, though: my parents are visiting and we're flying to Italy this evening. Venice (and Florence and Rome and Amalfi coast *g*), here I come!


You Can't Hide, by Karen Rose

TITLE: You Can't Hide
AUTHOR: Karen Rose

PAGES: 528

SETTING: Contemporary
TYPE: Romantic Suspense
SERIES: All her books are loosely linked. She's got the info on her website, here. Excellently done, all authors should have something like this.

REASON FOR READING: The author. I went on a Karen Rose glom after reading my first of hers.


Terror has forever changed the life of psychiatrist Tess Ciccotelli. Someone is tormenting her patients, pushing them to commit suicide, and setting her up to take the blame. But Tess can't break her oath to protect her patients' privacy at all costs. Even when detective Aidan Reagan demands a list of everyone she's treating. Even when the mounting danger threatens Tess herself.


Aidan doesn't like anyone who stalls his cases. Still, he can't help but admire Tess's fierce loyalty to her patients, especially when it becomes clear that a nameless, facelss enemy is set on destroying her career, her family , and finally, Tess herself. As Aidan's heart softens, the killer's will hardens, and one thing becomes clear - the noose is tightening around Tess's neck.

When Detective Aidan Reagan is called the scene of a suicide, his investigation seems to point to the victim's psychiatrist, Dr. Tess Ciccotelli, as being responsible for instigating it. Aidan is already familiar with Tess, having been involved in a case where her testimony in court, in his view, let a guilty person get off a murder charge. He's therefore quite hostile to her, and ready to believe what the evidence suggests.

But this is not the last of Dr. Tess' patients who kill themselves, and as the suicides keep coming and Aidan starts to spend some time with Tess, he begins to believe that someone is framing her, and that she might be just as much in danger as her patients.

I almost feel tired of saying it, but as always with Karen Rose (except maybe for her past couple of books in the Vartanian saga), the balance between romance and suspense in this book is absolutely perfect. The suspense plot is unique, interesting and very well-developed, with a police investigation that makes me believe that these people truly are professionals in law-enforcement (i.e. no TSTL investigations!).

It's well-developed, but in a way that doesn't overpower the romance, which is just as strong. It starts out as an adversarial relationship, with Aidan being extremely contemptuous of Tess and what she does, but they both soon begin to see what's beneath the other's outer layers and realise that they like what they see.

This is a very long book, but rather than feel padded, it gave me the feeling of being able to sink into it and immerse myself in its world.

The only thing that keeps this from being an A read is the villain. I felt it was way too much, especially this person's actions before the string of suicide instigations (trying hard not to spoil anything here, but I think those who've read this will understand what I mean). I'm afraid Tess comes out as a rubbish psychiatrist for not noticing utter and complete whackiness right under her nose!



Some interesting non fiction

>> Friday, May 22, 2009

A short round-up of some non fiction books I've read recently:

TITLE: The Logic of Life
AUTHOR: Tim Harford

One of the fastest growing areas of economics is behavioural economics, which emphasises the ways in which, in many cases, people don't behave quite as rationally as traditional economics assumes. Harford's book is a defense of rationality in the face of this, and showcases the hidden rationality behind many real-world phenomena, such as marriage, racism, CEO pay, and many more. This is NOT a very technical book; it's very accesible to the non-economist, and I highly recommend it.


TITLE: A Long Time Coming
AUTHOR: Evan Thomas and the staff of Newsweek

This book contains Newsweek's coverage of the latest US presidential election, starting at the primaries. Apparently, Newsweek reporters had been embedded in all the campaigns, in return for not publishing some of the stories until after the election. This resulted in a fascinating glimpse of what went on behind the scenes, with very vivid portraits of the people involved.

It's great material, but I confess to a small degree of disappointment. The reason I bought it was that I wanted something I could read in a few years again, a document of the 2008 election, so to speak. Unfortunately, in some cases the authors assumes too much knowledge. There is an underlying assumption that we're immersed in the campaign at the time we're reading them, or that it's just finished. This implies there are things we, of course, know. So several pages will be spent on the preparations for, say, the third debate, and the actual debate will be covered very cursorily, in one paragraph. I can't remember what happened in the third debate, not off the top of my head, and I bet in a year, most Americans won't, either. So as a document of the campaigns, it's only half-way there.

TITLE: Pies and Prejudice
AUTHOR: Stuart Maconie

The author's from Wigan (not far from where I live, and made famous by George Orwell in his Road to Wigan Pier), and this is a travelogue about the North of England, contrasting the reality with the image of grinding poverty and rough people that Southerners seem to have of it.

It was amazing stuff. Before I came to England, I wasn't aware of the North/South divide at all, you see. England was England to me, period. After living in the North for 6 months (and in the Midlands for a year) I did have a bit of an inkling, especially when a Londoner friend commiserated and started teasing me about Northern monkeys when I told him I was moving to Liverpool (a Northerner who was standing nearby cut into the conversation after that and said something about Southern fairies). I had an inkling, but I wasn't really aware of just how big the divide was. To me, Liverpool's a pretty sophisticated place, with plenty of great restaurants and cultural offerings. This book was pretty eye-opening about what people's perceptions generally are and even why, and as a bonus, gave me some great ideas about things to do and places to visit.

The only aspect of the book I wasn't crazy about was the constant music references. The author has a background as a music journalist, so it's understandable. Unfortunately, 99% of the references meant nothing to me. I'm not very knowledgeable about music in general (or interested in it, to be honest), and much less about British music from the 70s and 80s. Never mind, I just kind of skimmed over those passages where it got to be too much.

PS - Why pies? Apparently, Wiganers are well known for their liking of pies. Paraphrasing Maconie, give a Wiganer the most exotic meats (kangaroo, oyster, wild boar),and he'll put them in a pie and eat it in a bus stop. I opened the book at random at the bookstore and this was the phrase I read, and it made me buy it immediately.

MY GRADE: Loved it. A B+.


The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, by Jennifer Ashley

>> Wednesday, May 20, 2009

TITLE: The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie
AUTHOR: Jennifer Ashley

PAGES: 335

SETTING: England, Scotland and France in late 19th century
TYPE: Historical romance
SERIES: Starts a quartet about the 4 brothers Mackenzie

REASON FOR READING: Good comments online, and I thought the hero sounded intriguing.

The year is 1881. Meet the Mackenzie family--rich, powerful, dangerous, eccentric. A lady couldn't be seen with them without ruin. Rumors surround them--of tragic violence, of their mistresses, of their dark appetites, of scandals that set England and Scotland abuzz.

The youngest brother, Ian, known as the Mad Mackenzie, spent most of his young life in an asylum, and everyone agrees he is decidedly odd. He's also hard and handsome and has a penchant for Ming pottery and beautiful women.

Beth Ackerley, widow, has recently come into a fortune. She has decided that she wants no more drama in her life. She was raised in drama--an alcoholic father who drove them into the workhouse, a frail mother she had to nurse until her death, a fussy old lady she became constant companion to. No, she wants to take her money and find peace, to travel, to learn art, to sit back and fondly remember her brief but happy marriage to her late husband.

And then Ian Mackenzie decides he wants her.
The summary above is pretty good, so I'll only add that when it says everyone agrees that Ian is decidedly odd, that's because he suffers from Asperger's syndrome. That was the main reason I wanted to read the book: because I thougth it would make for interesting issues in the romance, as Ian and Beth dealt with things like Ian's obsessive tendencies, or his difficulties in understanding the non-verbal cues and the subtexts in communication.

Everyone seems to have loved the book, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to be a bit of a party pooper. After reading this book, the first word that comes to mind is "disappointing".

I did like the characterisation, and even most of the romance. Ian's very well-drawn and believable, and quite a fascinating character. So is Beth, actually. She could easily have been overshadowed by Ian, but she held her own, with her good humour and earthiness, and most of all, her matter-of-fact attitude to Ian's difficulties. That, I think, was one of the best things about the book. Beth recognises that Ian has issues, and she loves him for who he is, issues and all. She's even comfortable enough with the real Ian that she can tease him by making little jokes.

The problem was that this potentially wonderful romance got completely diluted by a seriously crappy suspense plot. Ian and his eldest brother, Hart, were somehow involved of the murders of two prostitutes, you see, and there's a police detective who'll do anything (anything, I tell you!) to pin it on them. This was just boring and over-the-top, and completely took over the whole story.

The police detective's character was unbelievable (just wait until you get to the revelation of why he's so unbelievably obsessed with the Mackenzies. Eye-rolling) and the resolution got way too convoluted and silly, as well as giving Beth a perfect opportunity to act like a complete idiot and do her best to endanger herself as much as possible. Even worse, after a while, everything, even the romance, becomes all about the mystery of the dead prostitutes. The development of Ian and Beth's relationship becomes all about whether he tells her the truth or not.

I just got progressively more and more bored and irritated. I started feeling tempted to skim, and that reached a peak during the long, drawn-out resolution. There were pages and pages and pages after the mystery had been solved and nothing much really needed to be settled, and I almost just closed the book and declared myself done with it. That's a bad sign, isn't it, if I didn't care what else would happen?

I also found myself annoyed by the constant and incessant sequel-baiting. Ian has got 3 brothers, and a significant portion of this book was devoted to setting up their stories and trying to get us to want to read them. I didn't find them particularly intriguing, so I kept wishing we could get back to Ian and Beth.

MY GRADE: A complete waste of a fascinating hero and potentially great romance. A C-.


The Sign of the Seven trilogy, by Nora Roberts

>> Monday, May 18, 2009

10-year-olds playing hooky on occasion of their birthday, going camping and swearing a friendship blood oath seems like a pretty harmless, even cute thing. However, when Caleb Hawkins, Fox O'Dell and Gage Turner did it, on a 7th of July, they ended up releasing an evil power they couldn't control.

Ever since, their town has been engulfed in violence and madness every 7 years. During the Seven, as they call it, a large percentage of the very otherwise normal people in Hawkins Hollow become intent on killing, maiming, raping and generally trying to hurt each other. It's as they're possessed. After the fact, they remember nothing of what happened, and somehow, the town returns to normal.

Caleb, Fox and Gage are among the few who remain in possession of their senses during the Seven, and they remember everything that's happened perfectly. Over the years, they've done their best to limit the damage, but the Seven seems to be getting worse every single time.

The trilogy starts as the yet another Seven approaches. The boys are now 31-year-old men, and still determined to protect their town. As time passes, and July gets closer and closer, we follow them as they try to find a way to defeat the demon they released, with the help of three women, newcomers to the town, who somehow seem destined to be there.

I've said it before of some of NR's trilogies, but I'll say it again, because it's truer than ever this time: this trilogy really does feel like a long book chopped in three. The only real division between the three is the romances, as each of the men fall in love with one of the women.

I'm a bit ambivalent about the overarching storyline of the Seven.


  • I quite enjoyed the mix between horror and romance. Not something that's too common, but I wish it was. It truly was scary, too, which I appreciated.

  • I liked the idea of the research into the past to understand the nature of the evil and how to defeat it. It felt almost reminiscent of some of my favourite Barbara Michaels (Queen of the paranormal, as far as I'm concerned).

  • The teamwork required for the above was great, as well. Each of the six had their strengths, and they were put to use, although not without much bickering :-)

  • Finally: the friendship was what I liked best. Both the childhood friendship between the three men, which has turned into a solid one between grown-ups, and the newer one between the three women. This is what Nora does best I think, and these were good ones.


  • I didn't completely buy the fact that the Seven would happen and then things would just go back to normal, and for seven years, people would just live their lives happily. Oh, I am willing to accept a paranormal explanation... the evil that possesses then blocks everything, etc. What didn't make sense was that they would be left alone by the outside world to live their lives. It's not as if the Seven is a secret; in fact, Quinn, the heroine of the first book, actually comes to Hawkins Hollow to write a book about it. Why isn't there more interest, especially since it feels like perfect tabloid fodder?

  • The actual story they discover of how the evil came to be trapped and then released wasn't that interesting. Plus, there was a lot of repetition.

  • I didn't find the resolution particularly satisfying, I'm afraid. Oh, they do defeat the evil (I'm not spoiling anything, am I? This is romance after all), but the way they do it felt a bit heavy on the mumbo-jumbo power of looooooove! and didn't make much instinctive sense to me.

The romances were good and solid, if unexciting. The one in Blood Brothers features Caleb Hawkins and writer Quinn Black. Cal is a terribly nice guy, and I liked him very much. His family has been in the community forever (notice his last name's the same as the town's?), and he loves it and is determined to save it. Quinn is a writer, specialising in the paranormal, who wants to write about the Seven. She's the perfect one to shake up solid Cal, and she does. They have some very nice moments together.

Fox O'Dell and Layla Darnell are the hero and heroine of The Hollow, the second in the trilogy. Fox is a small-town lawyer, the son of a loving, hippy family. He enjoys his work and his town, and has a lovely, playful charm. Layla is the less gung-ho of the women. Her arrival to Hawkins Hollow was almost accidental. She felt that something was leading her there, and when she discovers what is going on, she feels like she has to stay. Layla is quite quiet and low-key, and rouses Fox's protective instincts. Their romance is sweet.

Finally, the romance in Pagan Stone is the most explosive of the three. Gage Turner grew up as the son of the town drunk, and he escaped Hawkins Hollow as soon as he possibly could. Now a world-famous poker player, he's only back because he loves his two friends and because he promised he'd come back for every Seven, not out of any heroic love of the town. Cybil Kinski is Quinn's friend and specialist researcher, a cool, sophisticated woman, more than a match for Gage. Their romance takes place among much resistance (especially on Gage's side) to falling in line and falling in love, just like the other two couples. This makes for some very poignant moments, as Gage pushes Cybil away needlessly at times, hurting her. In the end, it's a good, satisfying romance.

On the whole, I think Blood Brothers was probably my least favourite of the three. The romance is nice, but there doesn't seem to be any plot. We get the setup, we get the evil force showing what it can do, and everyone's determination to defeat it strengthens. And that's about it, really. It didn't feel like there was a proper climax. I'd grade it a B-.

The Hollow was just as good in terms of romance, but better in terms of plot. There's a not-so-supernatural antagonist introduced, which helped give the book a bit more of a resolution (the evil force cannot be defeated without ending the series, but this guy could). I really loved Fox and his family, and there was also an interesting subplot with his sister, who wanted to have a child with her partner. A B.

I liked Pagan Stone best. The romance is the most absorbing, and there's also Gage's relationship with his father. After his mother's death, Gage's father became an alcoholic who'd beat up on his son for no reason. But now he's kicked the drink and repented, and would like his son's forgiveness, which Gage isn't at inclined to give him. I liked the way this was handled, in a much more subtle and nuanced way than silly "he's your blood so you should forgive" crap. A B+.


The Spymaster's Lady, by Joanna Bourne

>> Friday, May 15, 2009

TITLE: The Spymaster's Lady
AUTHOR: Joanna Bourne

PAGES: 384

SETTING: Early 19th century France and England
TYPE: Historical romance
SERIES: Not really, although some characters will appear in future books

REASON FOR READING: Online buzz having reached deafening proportions!

She's never met a man she couldn't deceive...until now.

She's braved battlefields. She's stolen dispatches from under the noses of heads of state. She's played the worldly courtesan, the naive virgin, the refined British lady, even a Gypsy boy. But Annique Villiers, the elusive spy known as the Fox Cub, has finally met the one man she can't outwit..

The Spymaster's Lady is basically a battle of wills between two spies. To give you a very basic idea of the plot (part of the joy of reading this book is discovering what direction the action will take, so I don't want to say much more): Grey is a very high-up member of the British intelligence-gathering community, while Annique has spied for the French since she was a girl. Annique is supposed to have the plans for Napoleon's invasion of England, and Grey wants them. After they escape a horrible Parisian prison, where both were about to come to very bad ends, Grey will do his best to get Annique and her valuable information to England, while Annique will do hers to avoid this.

I'm not particularly attracted to spy plots, but this was a good one. Bourne didn't fall into the temptation of making things convoluted just because. The plot is relatively simple, but loses no punch for it, as the potential consequences for whichever side winning were huge. I loved that there was no automatic assumption that we should be rooting for the British to win, and that Annique would obviously realise the error of her ways and go over to the British side. I especially appreciated this, given some revelations about her past, which written by other authors, could easily have led her to change sides without even thinking about it. Annique is French and retains loyalty for her country. She doesn't necessarily want them to destroy England completely, but she doesn't want to cause them to lose, either.

But what was best of all was that both Annique and Grey were 100% believable as what Bourne told us they were: competent operatives, so competent that they were considered to be among the best of their respective sides. This sounds obvious, but I can't even begin to count the times when an author has told me a particular character was terribly competent and experienced at their job, but their actions were so idiotic that I just couldn't believe it. For some reason, it seems to be worse with spies. Well, not so with Annique and Grey. They clearly knew what they were doing, those two.

And, I must add, they were each just as competent as the other, which is also important for me. It was quite an adversarial relationship for a long part of the book, but I liked that they each won some of the battles. Annique was just as capable a spy as Grey, so he couldn't easily (or even not easily) manipulate her. I didn't get any feeling that she might be in above her head, which is something that's tended to happen in other romance with heroines in similar situations. Annique could definitely handle herself, and she did, and she got the better of Grey as often as he got one over her.

As for the romance, well, this is why I read romance. I love getting that tingly feeling you get when there is real chemistry between the characters and you absolutely and completely care about what happens to them, and I got it in spades with this book. The romance is among the most fantastic I've read in the past few months. I cared, and cared deeply about whether Annique and Grey would be together. Every kiss made butterflies flutter in my stomach, and every scene with Annique and Grey together made me want to turn the pages as fast as I could, but at the same time, want to slow down so that it wouldn't be over so soon.

It was the scenes from Grey's POV that I most relished, I think. He's this cool (I'd say cold, actually) man who, after so many years playing the game, knows he cannot let his emotions become engaged and expect to keep functioning as he was. But when it came to Annique, he wasn't cold at all. He's a very self-aware character, too, and this means that he doesn't jump to judge Annique, because he knows exactly what's involved in their jobs.

I know there are some little things in the book that might have been hard to believe, but I loved the book so much that I was happy to suspend disbelief. Can a blind woman remove a bullet? Whatever doubts I might have had, I was so caught up in the action, the writing, the chemistry and the fascinating characters, that I didn't care!

Finally, the ending. I just loved it. I had absolutely no idea how Bourne could manage to get them Annique of the tangle she was in, but she did, and in a way that made perfect sense to me. Excellent all around.



Vision in White, by Nora Roberts

>> Wednesday, May 13, 2009

TITLE: Vision in White
AUTHOR: Nora Roberts

PAGES: 352

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Contemporary romance
SERIES: First in the Bride quartet.

REASON FOR READING: Autobuy author.

Meet childhood friends Parker, Emma, Laurel, and Mac--founders of Vows, one of Connecticut's premier wedding planning companies.

Wedding photographer Mackensie "Mac" Elliot is most at home behind the camera, but her focus is shattered moments before an important wedding rehearsal when she bumps into the bride-to-be's brother . . . an encounter that has them both seeing stars.

A stable, safe English teacher, Carter Maguire is definitely not Mac's type. But a casual fling might be just what she needs to take her mind off bridezillas. Of course, casual flings can turn into something more when you least expect it. And Mac will have to turn to her three best friends--and business partners--to see her way to her own happy ending.
Oh, I've missed this! As much as I've enjoyed the fantasy/horror in NR's latest trilogies, I've missed her straight contemps. This is just vintage Nora. I sank into the story immediately, and didn't want to come up for air.

Photographer Mackensie Elliot and her three best friends own Vows, a wedding planning business. The brother of one of their latest brides turns out to be an old acquaintance of them all, and way back when, he used to have a crush on Mackensie. Mac never paid any attention to him back then, but now Carter Maguire has grown up to be a deliciously sexy nerdy professor, and she's interested, all right!

If you really think about it, nothing terribly exciting happens during this book. That's the beauty of a good NR contemp. Even when nothing much is happening, it's fun to read and interesting and I keep turning the pages.

For instance, we see a lot of Mackensie and her friends running their business. They experience a couple of very minor mishaps and bid for a big project. That's it, but how I enjoyed reading it! I had a blast with the drama of a groom's asshole brother, who was determined to bring his new lover to the wedding, even though his extremely recent ex was the bride's maid of honour (or MOH... the accronyms really made clear the military precision of Vows' operation. That Parker should have been a general).

And it was quite the same with the romance. The only rock in their path there was the lightish one of Mac being very reluctant to commit, influenced by the fact that her parents were complete asshats and horrible at relationships and parenting. That did create some conflict, but no high drama, or anything like that. Apart from this, Mac and Carter's romance was all about two people getting to know each other and realising they fit well and falling in love. Just lovely. I enjoyed seeing Mac realise she couldn't live without Carter, and I adored Carter's constancy and the way his quiet insistence just completely wore Mac down.

Another strength of the book was the strong depiction of female friendship. I just loved the relationship between Mac and her friends. It was so very satisfying. They clearly loved each other and knew one another to the core. It was great that their friendship wasn't all sweetness and light. They behaved like a family, i.e there was teasing, fighting and annoyances, with it still being clear that they loved each other to bits.

I even liked the bits about Mac's relationship with her mother, who was an incredibly annoying, inconsiderate user. I got frustrated with Mac's difficulties standing up to the woman, but at the same time, I did buy her behaviour and understood it. I suppose I got just as frustrated with her as she did with herself, which helped not make this a problem with the book. Of course, she does end up standing up to her mother, and that was very satisfying, but I appreciated that it wasn't an over-the-top moment and that Mac knew that there would still be problems and scenes in the future.

I should note that unlike previous NR trilogies, there is no overarching storyline here. I do really like these in the author's series, so I missed having one here a bit, but at the same time, it does mean that I don't need to beat myself up for being weak and not being able to wait until all the quartet is out before I read the books.

MY GRADE: I'm tempted to give it an A-. Objectively it's probably more like a B+, but what the hell, I enjoyed reading it so much that I'll be generous.


Nightlife, by Rob Thurman

>> Saturday, May 09, 2009

TITLE: Nightlife
AUTHOR: Rob Thurman

PAGES: 352

SETTING: Alternate reality New York
TYPE: Urban Fantasy
SERIES: First in one.

REASON FOR READING: I'm still trying different kinds of Urban Fantasy, seeing if I can find something that suits me. So far I've only really enjoyed Wen Spencer's Ukiah Oregon series, but the Cal and Niko Leandros series came highly recommended, so I had high hopes for it.

Welcome to the Big Apple. There’s a troll under the Brooklyn Bridge, a boggle in Central Park, and a beautiful vampire in a penthouse on the Upper East Side-and that’s only the beginning. Of course, most humans are oblivious to the preternatural nightlife around them, but Cal Leandros is only half-human.

His father’s dark lineage is the stuff of nightmares-and he and his entire otherworldly race are after Cal. Why? Cal hasn’t exactly wanted to stick around long enough to find out.

He and his half-brother Niko have managed to stay a step ahead for three years, but now Cal’s dad has found them again. And Cal is about to learn why they want him, why they’ve always wanted him…for he is the key to unleashing their hell on earth. The fate of the human world will be decided in the fight of Cal’s life…
Was Nightlife as good as I'd hoped? Not quite. It was all right, and I think I'm intrigued enough to keep reading, but I had some niggles.

The series is set in an alternate version of our world, one where monsters lurk in every corner. Cal Leandros is one of them, or rather, half one. His father was what he and his half-brother Niko call a grendel, a kind of violent, psychotic monster straight out of classic fairy tales (but before they were sanitised!).

When Cal was a teenager, his father kidnapped him, taking him through some sort of portal into the grendels' terrifying homeland. Cal managed to escape after some 2 years, but he's completely blocked what has happened. He only knows it's not an experience he cares to repeat. Cal and Niko have been on the run from the grendels ever since, and they spend their lives looking over their shoulders.

Their running comes to an end in Nightlife, as the grendels finally catch up and we discover just why they're so interested in Cal.

There were quite a few really good things here. My favourite was the relationship between Niko and Cal. Brotherly love at its best. They are both quite obviously willing to die to protect one another, but that doesn't prevent them from teasing each other mercilessly. It was sweet, and Niko was especially so. He had this zen ninja thing going on which was really hot :-)

I also enjoyed Cal's struggle with what he sees as the monster inside him. This was really interesting, and it doesn't feel as it's something that's been completely resolved.

Unfortunately, not everything was great. The action is narrated in the first person by Cal, and at times, his voice irritated the hell out of me. It was quite strange, but he sounded almost like a feisty, TSTL heroine at times. And things didn't improve when the narrator changed (don't want to say any more to avoid spoilers). That was such an unenjoyable experience. As much as Cal kept annoying me, at least he didn't make my skin crawl.

MY GRADE: A B. This was a good enough intro to this world, and I'm looking forward to learning more about Niko, as well as about a couple of other characters who were introduced, such as Robin and Rafferty.


Jackson Brodie series, by Kate Atkinson

Reason for reading: On a recent trip, I travelled with a colleague who was reading the third book in this series. He was so absorbed in the book that I thought it must be good! He said I should start at the beginning of the series, though, so I did.

This series starrs former soldier-cum-policeman Jackson Brodie. When we meet him at the start of Case Histories, he's a private detective and a bit bored with his routine cases (mostly divorce, as you would expect). But then bam! Complicated old, cold cases start coming out of the woodwork. It's cases he has no desire to take, unfortunately. Theo wants him to solve his daughter's mysterious murder. Amelia and Julia want him to discover what happened to their little sister, who disappeared decades ago. Sheila?? wants him to find her missing teenager niece, whose mother is a convicted axe-murderer.

They're all Interesting cases, with strong a-ha moments at the end. There are even good reasons for why Jackson would be able to solve them now, when that hadn't happened all those years before (well, the two he solved, anyway. The third case, the one about the axe-murdering young woman wasn't solved, as much as revealed).

The best thing about this book was the small, understated connections. I expected that all the cases would end up being somehow connected, but while there was a small element of that in the resolution, the links weren't in unbelievable coincidences. It was a lot more subtle than that. It was more a case of small echoes, sentiments expressed by more than one person, in different contexts, or insights gained in one case that gave an idea for making progress in the other. And yes, some links were "accidentally" formed between the people involved in the different cases, but that felt right as well.

There are plenty of interesting characters around. Jackson, for one, has a complex, deep backstory and a very defined personality. He's no all-powerful detective, but has vulnerabilities. But the secondary characters were also interesting, and Atkinson made me care about them, enough to be truly touched by the ending. Theo, the father of the young woman who'd been knifed was probably the one who touched me the most. I wanted to hug him, and although of course, he didn't get a *happy* ending (impossible without raising the dead!), he did end up in a much more hopeful position. I was also happy for Amelia.

Finally, the tone and Atkinson's voice was very interesting. It's not funny -exactly-, but there is quite a bit of humour and compassion there.

MY GRADE: a B+. I like it even better on reflection.

I had a completely different reaction to the second book in the series, One Good Turn. I mostly enjoyed it as I was reading it, but on starting to think about it, I find that too many things irritated me.

Jackson is in Edinburgh for the festival, when he witnesses an incident of road rage. Also present on the scene are a variety of characters, including a painfully shy writer, an assassin and a wronged wife, whose lives end up tangling in all kinds of strange ways.

This second case is a lot more confusing than the one in Case Histories. The coincidences and links here are a lot less subtle, and really strained credulity. Time and time again, I couldn't really suspend disbelief and was thrown out of the story.

But I think what bothered me the most was that quite a few times, characters behaved in ways that were illogical and even worse, completely out of character. Jackson, especially, had a couple of episodes like that. His refusal to talk to the police after witnessing the road rage incident (even though he knew he was a trained observer, and really had no reason to assume someone else would have registered the relevant license plate) was one of them, and another was his decision to plead guilty after a the guy responsible for that incident assaulted him later, even though it would have been extremely easy to tell the police about what had happened. I don't know, maybe the fact that this behaviour was so out of character for Jackson *was* supposed to tell us something about his state of mind, but I was unconvinced.

I was also disappointed by the conclusion to Martin's story. I suppose I felt about him a bit like I felt about Theo, in the previous book, wanting to hug him, wanting to get his happy ending, albeit not in the exact form he wanted it (the happy, stalwart farm wife would have been all wrong for him. I really thought he and Louise, the inspector who ends up tying most of the ends of the case together, would suit perfectly). But... no definition whatsoever! Oof.

Not to mention, no real definition or closure in the case, either, with it finishing with a supposed twist that didn't make all that much sense to me, or add much to the story.

It wasn't all bad though, no matter what my litany of complaints would suggest. Again, we have vivid characters and a page turner, but the first one was a lot better.


The third book, When Will There Be Good News falls somewhere in the middle. We again get coincidences and connections, as well as an incredibly endearing character in the middle of them.

The huggable character in this case is Reggie Chase, a teenager trying to hold things together on her own, after her mother's death. Reggie is motivated and determined to do well. She's studying hard for her A-levels and working as mother's helper for a doctor to keep the money coming in. She loves her job and she loves Dr. Jo Hunter, whose baby she's minding. When Dr. Hunter disappears and no one seems to think anything's wrong, Reggie will do all she can to make sure the police do their job.

This main storyline was actually quite interesting, and Reggie was a fantastic character. The problem is, the rest wasn't as good. The bit about Dr. Hunter's past and the person from her past who shows up at one point was intriguing, but the resolution of it left me thinking "so what was the point of that?". And Jackson is beginning to bore me a bit. This thing of his with Louise is just completely uninteresting.

MY GRADE: I think a B-, as on the whole, the book was a page-turner.


Unreviewed April reads

>> Wednesday, May 06, 2009

April wasn't a month of spectacular reads, but most were pretty solid.

TITLE: Then Comes Seduction
AUTHOR: Mary Balogh

Second in the Huxtable series. This one's about the third sister, Katherine, who is the subject of a really awful bet made by hero Jasper. He ends up repenting at the last minute, but a few years later, they are not able to avoid the consequences. Strangely, even though it had the potential to be quite angsty, it wasn't. In fact, the first book in the series, in which hero and heroine didn't have such a conflictive history at all, was much more so. I did like it quite a bit, though.


TITLE: To Seduce a Sinner
AUTHOR: Elizabeth Hoyt

TSAS is also second in a series, this one the Four Soldiers series. Wallflower Melisande has been quietly in love with Jasper (hmm, just realised it's yet another Jasper!) for ages. When he gets jilted by his second fiancee in a year, she steps forward and offers to marry him. Jasper has only been vaguely aware of Melisande's existence, but once she's right before his eyes, he can't believe he never noticed her.

It was quite a nice, sweet, gradually developed romance. My only complaint is that Melisande has a very interesting history that isn't really as well developed as it should be. I got the impression it was only used as an excuse for giving her a lot of sexual knowledge and making the book extra hot.

TSAS also continues the storyline that started in the first book, about the investigation into was the traitor responsible for the massacre at Spinner's Fall. I found this as interesting as the romance, and can't wait for the next book to see what develops. The next one seems to be a nice gothic, too!

MY GRADE: Also a B.

TITLE: Moon Called
AUTHOR: Patricia Briggs

First in the Mercy Thompson series, which is urban fiction. Everyone who loves UF loves this series, which I suppose means that since I thought this was nice enough but nothing special, UF will never be my favourite genre. I did really like Mercy as a heroine. She's tough and brave, but sensible with it. No feistiness and certainly no episodes of TSTL behaviour. If there's something she can't cope with, Mercy is the first one to run for help. The worldbuilding is interesting, but I have to say werewolves make me a bit uncomfortable (er... reading about werewolves, I mean. I imagine real werewoves would make me a bit more than uncomfortable!). I think it's the whole thing about dominants and submissives, which plays a large part of the character development here. This is not romance, but there is a bit of a triangle being set up, with two characters clearly interested in Mercy. I'd like to see how it develops, but I don't know if I'll have the energy!


TITLE: Tempted All Night
AUTHOR: Liz Carlyle

I really enjoyed myself while reading this one, but only a few days after, there's only some vague feelings about it in my mind. Definitely didn't make a huge impression, clearly. It's got one of those heroines determined to get involved in something dangerous... this time it's Phaedra wanting to rescue her lady's maid's sister, who's abandoned her child and is apparently working in a brothel. Although given Phaedra's history, this determination ends up being understandable, even if to the reader it's obviously a pointless activity.The hero, Tristan, is investigating some spying related to the same brothel, and so they work together. I liked both characters, and enjoyed their interactions, very much including the love scenes. Pretty steamy, this one, with some non-standard hints which were really well done.

MY GRADE: Yet another B. See what I mean about a solid, unspectacular month?

TITLE: The Economic Naturalist
AUTHOR: Robert H. Frank

Only the latest of many "popular economics" books I've been reading. This one's got an interesting format: the author, an economics professor, sets his students an assignment every year that he calls "economic naturalism". The idea is that they have to look around them and ask a question about how a certain area of the real world works the way it does. Then they have to answer by applying economic principles. You get questions that range from "Why does a light come on when you open the refrigerator but not when you open the freeezer?" to "Why do brides buy a really expensive dress that they'll wear only once in their lives, whereas grooms rent a suit that wouldn't be that expensive to buy and they could actually wear plenty of times in the future?". There are some interesting ones, but really, to someone with a background in economics, most are a bit too obvious.


TITLE: Predictably Irrational
AUTHOR: Dan Ariely

More pop economics, this one concentrating on the most fashionable field of behavioural economics. Behavioural economics is all about how we human beings often don't behave in the way economic rationalism would predict, and how we deviate from those predictions in, er, predictable ways. We have certain biases, in other words. It's an interesting field, but I think I've been reading way too much about it for work, because most here was stuff I'd already read about in other books. Not Ariely's fault, of course, but it did result in me not enjoying the book as much as I might have. A more objective criticism I have is the writing style. It felt somewhat uncomfortable, in an "I'm an academic trying as hard as I can to write in plain English" kind of way.


TITLE: The Woman Who Walked into Doors
AUTHOR: Roddy Doyle

I read this one for my book club, and that's the only reason I would ever have picked it up, and the reason I finished it at all. I knew I probably wasn't going to enjoy it. I tried my best to keep an open mind about it, but I think I would have felt the same way even with no preconceptions. It's about the life of an Irishwoman called Paula Spencer, who ends up married to an abusive man. The book starts as she receives the news that her husband, who she had succeeded in kicking out a year ago, is now dead, and Paula looks back at her life. I suppose objectively, it's a successful book, in that if you consider it sets out to accurately describe the unrelenting ugliness of this woman's life and how complex the relationship between an abused wife and her abuser can be, it does that pretty well. Unfortunately, I hated every minute of it. I couldn't stand Paula, which might be a failure in MY character. As much as I understood why she'd be as she was, I despised her for even after almost 20 years of abuse, still making excuses for this horrid bastard and still loving him. The D I'm giving it is purely about how much I enjoyed my experience of reading it. If I had to rate it thinking about how well it does what it wants to do, I think possibly more a B. I've got one bit of objective criticism, and that's that after Paula's descriptions of exactly what Charlo did to her for 17 years, I didn't believe for a minute that she would have been able to get rid of him the way she did. Oh, no, he wouldn't have stayed gone. Eh, well, at least it was quite short.


TITLE: If You Dare
AUTHOR: Kresley Cole

First in the MacCarrick Brothers trilogy. Oh, I had high hopes for If You Dare. I mean, an Andorran setting? But unfortunately, after a little while I had to recheck the copyright, to make sure it was 2005 and not 1985. It had a horrid old-school vibe, with a feisty, foot-stomping heroine and a complete asshole of a hero. I probably would have been able to tolerate Annalia, but the "hero" kept treating her like shit, making stupid assumptions and accusations, like the worst examples of bodice-ripping idiots way back when. My limited reading time is too valuable for this.



Scream For Me and Kill For Me, by Karen Rose

>> Monday, May 04, 2009

TITLE: Scream For Me and Kill For Me
AUTHOR: Karen Rose

COPYRIGHT: 2008 and 2009 respectively
PAGES: 472 and 438
PUBLISHER: It's Headline in the UK

SETTING: Dutton, Georgia
TYPE: Romantic Suspense
SERIES: Yes, second and third in the Vartanian series, after Die For Me. If you haven't read that one, don't read on, as you'll find plenty of spoilers.

REASON FOR READING: Die For Me is probably my favourite Rose book so far.

Special Agent Daniel Vartanian has sworn to find the perpetrator of multiple killings that mimic a 13-year-old murder linked to a collection of photographs that belonged to his brother, Simon, the ruthless serial killer who met his demise in DIE FOR ME. Daniel is certain that someone even more depraved than his brother committed these crimes, and he's determined to bring the current murderer to justice and solve the mysterious crime from years ago.

With only a handful of images as a lead, Daniel's search will lead him back through the dark past of his own family, and into the realm of a mind more sinister than he could ever imagine. But his quest will also draw him to Alex Fallon, a beautiful nurse whose troubled past reflects his own. As Daniel becomes attached to Alex, he discovers that she is also the object of the obsessed murderer. Soon, he will not only be racing to discover the identity of this macabre criminal, but also to save the life of the woman he has begun to love.

Five teenage girls have been murdered. One survived, and only she can reveal the secrets of a disturbing ring of people who kidnap and sell teenage girls on the black market. But those responsible for the crimes will do whatever it takes to maintain her silence.

Susannah Vartanian and Luke Papadopoulos have both sworn to stop the murderers for their own reasons. Susannah, the sister of the hero in SCREAM FOR ME, suffers from a mysterious past that is connected to the sinister black market. Luke is an investigative agent and a computer expert who refuses to let another child predator get away.

Susannah and Luke are instantly attracted to each other, but their troubled pasts prevent them from immediately acting upon their feelings. The case will lead them to the shady realm of Internet chat rooms, where anyone can mask their identity. As Susannah and Luke draw closer to the criminals, they discover a chain of deception so intricate they don't know who to trust. Susannah and Luke find comfort in one another's arms, but the killers are ruthless and determined, and will take extreme measures to insure their anonymity and keep their business intact.
After Die For Me, I'm afraid these two were a bit of a disappointment. What I love so much about Karen Rose's books is that both the romance and suspense are very strong, and both are enjoyable. In Scream and Kill For Me, although both were strong, I didn't much enjoy the suspense bit.

Both books follow continuing stories, involving dastardly deeds related to one Simon Vartanian. He was introduced in the first book, which basically was an investigation into a string of crimes committed in... I want to say Massachussets?... by this guy. Those crimes were solved, but it was suggested, that they weren't the first committed by the sick, sick bastard. The next two books move to Dutton, Georgia, the Vartanians' home town, and star Simon's brother and sister, Daniel and Susannah, both of whom have been very much affected by Simon's crimes and their parents' tolerance of them.

My problem was I absolutely hated every single second spent in Dutton. Creepy Simon and his asshole friends had pretty much created a reign of terror there. It got to be just way overwhelming. It wasn't just the ridiculously high body count (there were quite a few deaths in Die For Me, as well), it was the fact that it seemed everyone with power in Dutton was corrupt and in the pocket of these little bastards. Everyone's evil, everyone's for sale, or at least, will cave under a bit of pressure and end up on the take. So different from Die For Me. That one was all about seeing a smart, professional police force painstakingly solve a complicated crime. The last two were about how solving relatively straightforward ones is pretty much impossible in a corrupt hellhole.

In the middle of all the shit and ugliness, however, the romances were still good. Daniel, Susannah and their respective partners are decent, brave people determined to right the wrongs of the past, and that I really liked.

MY GRADE: The romances were strong enough to make me give these books B-.


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