Jane, Science and Italian Babies

>> Tuesday, September 29, 2009

TITLE: The Jane Austen Book Club
AUTHOR: Karen Joy Fowler

A group of six people get together in a book club to discuss Jane Austen's novels. The book covers six months, over which each hosts a discussion on one of them. "Each of us has a private Austen", the book starts, and the action progresses, we learn more about each of the characters, gaining even more insight through the way they relate to Austen's novels and what they see as her intentions in writing them.

It's a simple conceit, but I quite liked what the author did with it. The characters are all interesting (though some more than others), and so are the issues they face. The book is not a page-turner, but it's a comfortable, pleasant read, and that was just what I was looking for.


TITLE: Bad Science
AUTHOR: Ben Goldacre

Goldacre has a column in the Guardian (also called Bad Science), where he exposes the way science is misused to support very doubtful claims and misreported by the media, and the book continues this theme. He covers in detail the way people working in areas such as as homeopathy, nutritionism and the sale of expensive face creams trick us by using very dodgy scientific methodology, and the way the press (not just the tabloids, but supposedly serious papers as well) does us a disservice by refusing to use any judgement whatsoever when reporting on this. Along the way, we learn a lot about how good scientific studies should be conducted, allowing us to spot these scammers more easily. It's a brilliant book, and terribly funny with it.

Note: there's also a blog, if you want to get a flavour of what the book is like.


TITLE: The Italian's Baby
AUTHOR: Lucy Gordon

After reading the brilliant Italian's Wife By Sunset, I raided my library for any Lucy Gordon books they might have. This was the one of the only two they had. And it was pretty good, actually. A bit run-of-the-mill in terms of plot in comparison to TIWBS, but I liked the characters.

Luca and Becky were about to be married many years earlier, but she believed he was cheating on him and left him. Now he's back, and when he tells Becky the truth about what happened back then, she forgives him. Her feelings for him haven't faded at all, so they get back together. And then she finds out the only reason he came back is because he wants a baby. Nothing new here, but the characters felt quite real and were likeable.



Running Hot, by Jayne Ann Krentz

>> Sunday, September 27, 2009

TITLE: Running Hot
AUTHOR: Jayne Ann Krentz

PAGES: 337
PUBLISHER: Piatkus in the UK

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romantic suspense
SERIES: Part of Arcane Society series

REASON FOR READING: Autoread author

Ex-cop Luther Malone, lifelong member of the secretive paranormal organization known as the Arcane Society, is waiting to meet Grace Renquist. Hired as an aura-reading consultant in the quest for a murder suspect, she's got zero field experience. She's from tiny Eclipse Bay, Oregon. She's a librarian, for heaven's sake. As for Grace, she's not expecting much either from Malone, who walks with a cane and isn't so good with a gun. Nice résumé for a bodyguard . . .

But even before they reach their hotel in Maui--where they'll be posing as honeymooners--Grace and Luther feel the electric charge between them. Problem is, they need to remain vigilant day and night, because it soon becomes clear there's more going on here. Rogue sensitives--operatives for the underground group Nightshade--are pouring into the luxury resort like there's a convention. Grace recognizes those dark spikes in their auras. She saw the same pattern in someone else in another life--a life she hasn't revealed to Luther or anyone else. And she understands how dangerous these people can be . . . especially with those para-hunters at their sides.

While the pair's employers at Jones & Jones scramble to get them backup, Luther and Grace have to think on their feet. The criminals in their midst aren't just high-level sensitives: They've enhanced their talents with a potent--and unpredictable-- drug. And as Grace knows all too well, if you don't control your powers, your powers will control you...
Grace Renquist is a psychic, an aura profiler. She works as a librarian for the Arcane Society, but one day she's asked by J&J (the Society's associated PI agency, which you'll recognise if you've read the previous books) to do an easy, low-risk assignment for them. She's just supposed to go to Hawaii, take a look at someone and tell J&J what she saw in his aura.

To make things even more fool-proof and trouble-free, J&J hires a bodyguard for Grace, just in case anything unexpected happens. Luther Malone is not an obvious candidate for a kick-ass bodyguard, as he walks with a cane and refuses to carry a gun. Grace is a bit bemused by this, but soon trouble does crop up, when they stumble on a group of evil psychics (really ugly auras, those people), and Luther has the chance to prove his worth.

I could copy and paste a lot of my comments from my reviews of JAK's latest books. The romance I really, really liked. That's because Grace and Luther are fantastic characters. They are both more mature than your typical romance protagonists, and they are two people who've always been misfits. If Luther's not an obviously good candidate for a bodyguard, he's also not a good candidate for romance, as he's been divorced twice already. Grace's romantic past isn't quite as bad, but she has never met someone who really got her, either. Getting to know each other is a revelation for these two, as they quickly realise they completely understand one another.

Unfortunately, the suspense was as bad as the romance was good. All this Arcane Society stuff is getting more and more boring and complicated at the same time. There's this evil rival society and I think we are supposed to be on tenterhooks trying to find out who and what are behind it. Well, I wasn't. I just wanted to get back to Grace and Luther.



I'm Watching You, by Karen Rose

>> Friday, September 25, 2009

TITLE: I'm Watching You
AUTHOR: Karen Rose

PAGES: 496
PUBLISHER: Warner Forever

SETTING: Contemporary Chicago
TYPE: Romantic Suspense
SERIES: Stands alone, but is related to other books.

REASON FOR READING: Love this author.

Star prosecutor Kristen Mayhew has a dangerous secret admirer. He seems to knows her every thought, her every move. He sends her letters. And he kills the criminals she herself is powerless to stop. This avenger even knows Kristen's deepest secret-the one that has kept her from surrendering her heart to Abe Reagan, the police detective sworn to protect her. Like Kristen, Reagan is haunted by the loss of something precious that can never be regained. But in the shadow of a calculating serial killer, the two turn to each other and dare to rediscover passion...even as the messages and vicious murders continue. Even as the killer's thirst for retribution makes Kristen a target for murder.
I've now read most of Karen Rose's books, and I'm Watching You is one of my favourites.

Kristen Mayhew is completely committed to her work as a public prosecutor and devotes her life to putting scum behind bars. But even as great a prosecutor as Kristen doesn't always win, and over the years, some defendants who were guilty as hell have managed to get away on technicalities. Kristen takes this hard, but knows there's nothing she can do about it.

Someone seems to think he can do something about it, though, and one evening, Kristen finds a message in her car from someone calling himself her "Humble Servant". This person has left Kristen photographs of some of those people who've got away with their crimes after Kristen's prosecuted them, and these photographs are very clear in showing that her humble servant has killed them.

Kristen reports this immediately, and the police detective assigned to investigate is Abe Regan. Abe quickly discounts any possibility that Kristen may have had something to do with the murders, and they're soon working together and getting closer and closer to each other as well.

I really, really liked the suspense plot. I suppose like most readers will, I instinctively felt some sympathy for the humble servant and his "work". However, I'm morally completely against vigilantism, and so was happy to see that while Kristen and Abe shared my initial instinctive reaction, and part of them wasn't sorry about what was happening, they both knew that what this person was doing was wrong, and went after him, taking the case extremely seriously.

It would have been interesting to see how the book turned out if that was all there was to it, but I suppose there wouldn't have been much of a sense of urgency if all that was at stake was saving the lives of pedophiles and rapists. The way Rose gets around this is by turning things around and introducing a threat to Kristen and her loved ones. You see, while Abe knows perfectly well that Kristen knows nothing about the identity of this person, some of those who were close to the victims don't have that certainty. In fact, they are convinced they can get to the Humble Servant through her, and are happy to target her and the people close to her. Very smart plotting, and it worked like a charm.

Less successful was the introduction of yet another threat to Kristen, in the form of a predatory journalist whose unscrupulous stories target Kristen and increase the danger from the people mentioned above. I was a bit uncomfortable with the way this woman was portrayed and with her fate. Yes, she did some very bad things, but the punishment was way too severe. Her description was so over-the-top, as well, that it felt as if she was being demonised. For some reason, I picked up a vibe that what she was doing was even more unseemly because she was a woman, and that if it were a man, the same behaviour wouldn't have been so bad. Probably quite a subjective interpretation there, but it was the feeling I got.

Anyway, moving on: as in all Rose's books, there's a great balance between the romance and the case. The romance felt perfectly developed and well done, and the same goes for the mystery. Kristen and Abe both have had events in their past that have left them feeling isolated from the rest of the world, and neither has really recovered from the trauma. But together, they fit, and they begin to heal.

Abe was a sweetheart, for all that he was one tough cop, and I loved his relationship with his family, and the way he brought Kristen in, something she really needed. Kristen was also a great character, someone admirable but who still felt human and fallible (a nitpick, though: it drove me crazy that constantly, when she was with Abe, she'd think something and say it out loud without realising it. It happened WAY too many times -maybe one would have been believable, but not so many! Ahem.)

All in all, it was the very best sort of romantic suspense. Yes, the identity of the Humble Servant wasn't particularly hard to guess (not many possibilities, plus, a great big clue right at the beginning), and the characterisation is sometimes not the most subtle, but I found myself completely absorbed and loving every minute. It's a very long book, much longer than what's usually coming out, but I didn't feel like it dragged even for a minute.



Warprize, by Elizabeth Vaughan

>> Wednesday, September 23, 2009

TITLE: Warprize
AUTHOR: Elizabeth Vaughan

PAGES: 314

SETTING: Another world
TYPE: Fantasy romance
SERIES: First in the Chronicles of the Warlands.

REASON FOR READING: Warprize seems to be widely loved, and a lot of people with excellent taste have recommended it.


Xylara is the Daughter of the Warrior King, Xyron. With her father dead and her incompetent half-brother on the throne, the kingdom is in danger of falling to the warring Firelanders.

Before she was old enough for a marriage-of-alliance, Xylara was trained as a healer. She can't usurp her brother or negotiate a peace--but she can heal the brave ones injured in battle.

But not only her countrymen are wounded, and Xylara's conscience won't let Firelander warriors die when she can do something to save them. She learns their language and their customs and tries to make them as comfortable as possible, despite their prisoner-of-war status.

She never expects that these deeds, done in good faith, would lead to the handsome and mysterious Firelander Warlord demanding her in exchange for a cease-fire. Xylara knows must trade the life she has always known for the well-being of her people, and so she becomes...

The Warprize
Xylara (known as Lara) is a princess of the Xy. Her land is facing invasion by a group who couldn't be more different to them. The Xy are city-dwellers and very "civilised". They don't know much at all about their invaders, the People of the Plains, only that they come on horseback, ride like devils and look even wilder. Rumours abound that they truly are barbarians.

Soon enough, the Xy are surrounded and at the verge of defeat. Keir, leader of the Plains people demands their surrender, promising to spare them carnage and grant them certain privileges if they do so. Scarily, though, the deal also includes the demand that Lara be handed over as a warprize.

Lara's brother, the current king, accepts without a minute's hesitation, even though no one really knows what this entails and most assume the worst. So does Lara, even though as a healer, she met several Plains prisoners when she sneaked in to heal them, and all seemed quite normal and distinctly less scary than most people thought. Her fear doesn't even diminish much when she realises that the leader she's been given to is one of the men she met in the prisoners' tent, who obviously knows that she's been kind to some of his people.
Lara still expects to become a sort of sex slave, and is very surprised when it becomes apparent that the role of a warprize is like nothing she could have imagined.

Warprize is all about culture clash. The differences between the Xy and the Plains people go a lot deeper than the superficial civilised-barbarian contrast of their lifestyles, and I found exploring those differences very enjoyable. Vaughan has clearly spent a lot of time developing the world in which she's set her story, and it shows. Each of her peoples have a history and traditions, and these have shaped the way they see the world and behave. At the same time, each of the characters are individuals, rather than stereotypes.

Warprize is also a romance (it's quite obvious to the seasoned romance reader what Keir's intentions are, even if we only see Lara's POV and she's pretty oblivious to them), and this aspect is also very much affected by the cultural differences. Keir and Lara fall in love and there are personality differences they have to lear to deal with, but most of them stem from the cultural differences as well.

The only thing that keeps this book from a higher grade is that I felt Keir left Lara to wonder about his intentions and exactly what the real role of a warprize was for far too long. He's not a stupid man; after the first couple of blunders, it's obvious Lara knows nothing about his people. And even if nobody realises Lara has misconceptions about what being a warprize means and everyone assumes she's well aware of everything, it didn't feel natural that no one would have mentioned anything that would have made Lara wonder. Come to think of it, it didn't feel natural that Lara herself didn't just go ahead and ask Keir, especially when it became clear that she was not going to be sacrificed/prostituted/etc. I'm afraid this felt like an excuse to keep Lara making mistakes and accidentally offending people, thus generating conflict a bit artificially.

Hmm, that sounds awfully critical, but while it was something I kept wondering at the back of my mind throughout most of the book, I still enjoyed it quite a bit.


NOTE: I had to laugh when I read one of the review quotes at the beginning. "You will never look at a warlord the same way again". Er... good to know, I'll keep that in mind the next time I meet one.


All Work and No Play, by Julie Cohen

>> Monday, September 21, 2009

TITLE: All Work and No Play (published as Mistress in Private (In Bed With the Boss) in the US).
AUTHOR: Julie Cohen

PAGES: 216
PUBLISHER: Mills & Boon Modern

SETTING: Contemporary England
TYPE: Category romance

REASON FOR READING: I'd just finished Cohen's One Night Stand and loved it.

Jane is hopeless at seduction. So when she meets a gorgeous male model she asks her online friend, geeky computer nerd Jonny, for advice on how to turn on a man.

Too bad she doesn't know that the gorgeous male model is actually Jonny…
This is somewhat of an ugly duckling story, but with the twist that it's the hero who's the duckling, an idea I really liked.

Jonny Cole has had a crush on Jane Hiller since they were kids. Back then, he wasn't the most attractive of men, and a quite nerdy. He and Jane haven't seen each other for a while, but they keep in touch online. Over the years, Jonny has blossomed and become attractive enough that he can work as a male model, but Jane doesn't know this.

As the book starts, Jane is just out of a relationship that's gone really bad, and dealing with the fact that her ex works in her same company. When the male model she hires for an advertising campaign seems to be attracted to her, Jane is very tempted. She returns the attraction, plus, it would be very good for her ego for her ex and everyone else in the office to see her with such an absolutely gorgeous man as model Jay Richards.

However, Jane's self-esteem has taken a bit of a battering in her breakup, so she needs some advice and encouragement. And who better to advice her on how to attract a man than another man, like her old friend Jonny?

I hope I don't need to spell out that Jonny and Jay are the same person? This creates the conflicts you'd expect, around the fact that Jonny/Jay is lying to Jane in both of his incarnations, and the time to confess is never quite right. This can be problematic, but I did buy how all the misunderstandings arose. Jonny came out well in the situation, as he didn't set out to trick Jane. His reactions made sense given the situation, and so the misunderstanding was, well, understandable.

And the angst this generated! Ohh, that was good! :-) I loved how Jonny was so into Jane, and how even though he'd gone all gorgeous, inside he was the same person he'd always been.

Unfortunately, I thought the story lost steam in the second half, and even though the book was short, it did seem to drag a bit. Still, it was a fun few hours that I spent with it.



Wicked Deeds on a Winter’s Night, by Kresley Cole

>> Saturday, September 19, 2009

TITLE: Wicked Deeds on a Winter’s Night
AUTHOR: Kresley Cole

PAGES: 359

SETTING: Contemporary
TYPE: Paranormal romance
SERIES: 4th in the Immortals After Dark series

REASON FOR READING: I've enjoyed the first books in this series.

Her breathless kiss haunts him...

Bowen MacRieve of the Lykae clan was nearly destroyed when he lost the one woman meant for him. The ruthless warrior grew even colder, never taking another to his bed -- until a smoldering encounter with his enemy, Mariketa the Awaited, reawakens his darkest desires. When sinister forces unite against her, the Highlander finds himself using all his strength and skill to keep her alive.

His slow, hot touch is irresistible...

Temporarily stripped of her powers, Mari is forced to take refuge with her sworn adversary. It's rumored that no one can tempt Bowen's hardened heart, but soon passion burns between them. Though a future together is impossible, she fears he has no intention of letting her go.

No deed is too wicked for her seduction...

If they defeat the evil that surrounds them, can Mari deny Bowen when he demands her body and soul -- or will she risk everything for her fierce protector?
WDOAWN takes place much at the same time as the previous book in the series, No Rest For The Wicked. I'm not going to bother summarising the mythology here, as this is NOT the place to start in this series. If you're thinking of giving Kresley Cole a try, I'd say start at the beginning, although I'd say you wouldn't be too lost if you started with No Rest For The Wicked.

Anyway, like NRFTW, a lot of the action in this book takes place during the Talisman Hie, that paranormal Amazing Race-like competition in which the participants face horrific dangers in pursuit of a prize, this time an artifact which will allow them to time travel.

One of the competitors is the young witch known as Mariketa the Awaited. Mariketa hasn't yet succeeded in mastering her powers and is really anxious to come into her own. All her fellow witches know she's the one they've been waiting for, but no one yet knows why, and Mariketa is starting to get a bit discouraged by the constant magical misfires. She hopes winning the Talisman Hie will be a way to kickstart her work as a proper witch.

Also participating in the Hie is Bowen MacRieve, a Lykae we met in the first book, A Hunger Like No Other. Bowen was the one everyone felt extremely sorry for in that book. He was pitied so much because he'd lost his mate, and Lykae mate forever, and only once in their lives. And it's even worse: it is well known that Lykae can never be happy or fulfilled if they're unmated. Ever since his mate's death, Bowen has definitely not been a happy man. He's been bloody miserable, in fact, for the last couple of centuries. Guess why he entered the Hie?

But the Hie brings a huge surprise to Bowen. When he meets Mariketa, his Instinct (the way Lykae recognise their mates) tells him quite unequivocally that she's his mate. Bowen's shocked, but he has some ideas about what's going on. Witches are tricky and can't be trusted, so it's quite obvious that this one's put a spell on him to deceive his Instinct. That's all it is, really. Either that, or Mariketa is the reincarnation of his mate, but Bowen's pretty sure it's that evil witch playing tricks on him to win the Hie. Too bad he can't seem to control his feelings for her, even knowing the truth.

I have to confess I wasn't too enthusiastic about reading a story where the hero is still mourning the lost love of his life. I freely admit I have a bit of a double standart there: if it had been the heroine in that position, I'd have been all "ohhhh, I want!" But since it's Bowen, not so much. However, this is Kresley Cole, after all, so I gave it a shot, and I must say I ended up really liking what Cole did with it.

Doing a good fated mates story can be tricky. When I read a romance, I want to actually see the protagonists fall in love, not simply being told that they're in love because it's been preordained, and that is that. Having Bowen be so convinced that the instinct telling him that Mariketa is his mate is wrong made it necessary for them to actually get to know each other and fall in love before deciding to be together. This not only avoided boring shortcuts, but also succeeded in convincing me Bowen and Mariketa really were right for each other. In fact, the mates thing actually created more conflict, adding to the trust problems they already had due to Mariketa being a witch and Bowen's prejudices.

If anything, the combination of Bowen's lost mate and his instinct pointing him towards Mariketa made things more difficult, and in this case, difficult was good. No one does angst the way Kresley Cole does, combining it with humour and a lot of steaminess (and there was a LOT of the latter... Bowen has been celibate for years, and this doesn't help his self-control where Mariketa is concerned).

Bowen is a great big alpha, but I thought Mariketa was a really good match for him. She doesn't start out too promising: she's young and inexperienced, and prone to disaster in her magic. He, meanwhile is old, experienced and powerful. However, this is a bit of a coming of age story for Mariketa, and very soon, I felt shex was able to stand her ground perfectly well with Bowen. It ended up being a relationship among equals, despite Bowen's Lykae possessiveness.

As always, Cole's world is very original and fun to be in. Some of the Valkyries still give me headaches, but I think they're actually growing on me with time!



The Ice Princess, by Camilla Läckberg

>> Thursday, September 17, 2009

TITLE: The Ice Princess
AUTHOR: Camilla Läckberg

PAGES: 400

SETTING: Contemporary small town in Sweden
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: Not sure. If it is part of one, it's the first one in the series

REASON FOR READING: Picked it up at random from the library

For the first time in English, the psychological thriller debut of No 1 bestselling Swedish crime sensation Camilla Lackberg. Returning to her hometown after the funeral of her parents, writer Erica Falck finds a community on the brink of tragedy. The death of her childhood friend, Alex, is just the beginning. Her wrists slashed, her body frozen in an ice-cold bath, it seems, at first, that she has taken her own life. Erica conceives a memoir about the beautiful but remote Alex, one that will help to overcome her writer's block as well as answer questions about their own past. While her interest grows to an obsession, local detective Patrik Hedstrom is following his own suspicions about the case. But it is only when they start working together that the truth begins to emerge about this small town with a deeply disturbing past

I had high hopes for this one, and the dramatic first pages made me think they'd be fulfilled. In a supposedly empty house, a woman is found with her wrists slashed, frozen in her bath (this is set in a small town in Sweden, were cold means cold). The woman, Alex, was a childhood friend of writer Ericka Falck, recently returned to her hometown. When Ericka visits Alex's parents to convey her condolences, they request she write an article remembering Alex's life, a short memoir piece.

As Ericka starts talking to people to understand what has become of Alex's life since they last saw each other, her interest grows more and more, and suspicions that the suicide story might not be quite right develop. At the same time, one of the local policemen, Patrik Hedstrom, has some suspicions of his own.

Unfortunately, this is a first novel and it shows. The writing and characterisation are quite awkward. I'm willing to give Läckberg the benefit of the doubt with regards to the writing, since this is a translation, but not with the characterisation. The characters' feelings and reactions just don't ring true, and you can see the author's hand very clearly, making them react in certain ways to move the plot in the direction she wants it to move, whether it fits their characters or not. Some characters were also cartoonish to the point of being laughable (Patrik's boss at the police station comes to mind).

It's a shame, because the plot had excellent bones (and quite a few cool twists), and the idea of the characters was potentially very interesting. It all just needed better execution.

And same thing for the romance between Ericka and Patrik. Patrik had a huge crush on Ericka when they were younger, and it comes back when he sees her again. He decides to pursue her, but is not quite confident about it. There are some sweet scenes of him freaking out a bit before their dates. The romance was still probably my favourite thing about the book, but it could have been a lot better.

MY GRADE: A very average C.


The Third Circle, by Amanda Quick

>> Tuesday, September 15, 2009

TITLE: The Third Circle
AUTHOR: Amanda Quick

PAGES: 342
PUBLISHER: Piatkus in the UK

SETTING: Late Victorian England
TYPE: Romantic suspense
SERIES: Book 4 in Arcane society series

REASON FOR READING: Comfort author.

Leona Hewitt makes a somewhat precarious and not entirely respectable living reading dream crystals. Within the Arcane Society such talent is considered to be only a step up from being a carnival worker. One dark night she steals into a private museum filled with relics of paranormal power. She is determined to retrieve a rare crystal that was stolen from her family. Imagine her surprise when she encounters the mysterious psychic mesmerist, Thaddeus Ware, standing over the body of a savagely murdered woman.

Thaddeus is accustomed to fearful reactions from others, especially women. After all, a man with the power to control minds could rob a lady of her virtue without her even knowing it. Leona, however, is no ordinary female. She has power of her own and she is not afraid of him. She is also not about to give up her claim on the crystal.

A reckless and dangerous passion flares immediately between the pair as they flee into the night. But at dawn Leona disappears with the crystal. Thaddeus has no choice but to track her down. Not only is he fascinated by Leona -- the only woman who can resist his talent -- he knows that a ruthless hunter of preternatural skill is also hunting her.
Yet another entry in the author's Arcane Society series, which covers both her contemps (as Jayne Ann Krentz) and historicals such as this one.

The heroine is Leona Hewitt. Leona is a member of the Arcane Society, but her talent lies in working crystals, which is not considered particularly decorous. She's after a particular crystal that used to belong to her family. Trying to recover it (by fair means or foul), she runs into Thaddeus Ware, who's after the same thing.

Thaddeus is trying to get the crystal for the Arcane Society. His talent is even less acceptable than Leona's as he's a mesmerist. People tend to get really nervous around him when they know that, so he tends to keep at a distance from everyone.

Unfortunately, the crystal is part of something quite dangerous, involving a secret society and even a psychic serial killer, and Thaddeus and Leona are soon embroiled in all this.

I've been enjoying the romances in these last Arcane Society books. JAK went through a stage when her romance were disappointingly tepid and watered down, but she's found her groove again. As in Running Hot, we have two misfits as our main characters. They are both not completely comfortable around other people, and those other people are not completely comfortable around them, either, given their talents. But when Leona and Thaddeus meet, they are home. They just fit perfectly, and accept each other as they are. It's very satisfying to read.

However, again, the suspense is not that satisfying. I'd say this is a bit better than other Arcane Society plots... still the boring mysterious rival secret society and its machinations, but I quite liked the serial killer angle. That felt a bit newer.

MY GRADE: Very much a comfort read, but sometimes that's just what you need. A B.


Billionaires, Collisions and Fast Food

>> Sunday, September 13, 2009

TITLE: The Billionaire Boss's Secretary Bride
AUTHOR: Helen Brooks

Gina Leighton has worked as a secretary at Breedon and Son for years, and she's been in love with the boss's son, Harry, for almost as long. When her boss retires and Harry takes his place, Gina knows she won't be able to stand working closely with him for very long. So she finds herself a job in London and quits.

Harry's gutted Gina's leaving, and decides to do his best to convince her to stay. He's never really looked at Gina as a woman and a potential mate, but when he drags from her that she's leaving because of a romantic disappointment, he starts noticing all he's missed before.

I really liked this. It's a very sweet romance, with a pretty all right asshole-to-doormat ration, to take Jane's classification. I say only "all right", because while Harry's very much not an asshole, Gina's not particularly assertive. Still, seeing Harry's determined struggle to help Gina forget the idiot who hurt her (i.e. himself), was an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.


TITLE: Collision Course
AUTHOR: KA Mitchell

Aaron, a paramedic and Joey, a social worker, meet at the scene of a car accident, helping out an injured mother and taking care of her young child. There's an immediate, combustible attraction that they don't try very hard to resist, but Aaron's past has made him leery of social workers, and he keeps pushing Joey away.

This was not bad on the whole, but I had a huge problem with Aaron's attitude. I understand he had it really hard in the past and has good reason to resent the actions of the social workers involved, but he's a grown-up now. After a while, he has come to know Joey and knows he's a good person, who cares and does his best to help the people assigned to him. So why does Aaron still treat this lovely man like shit for way too long? Asshole.

Aaron does get called on his unacceptable behaviour by Joey, though, and he straightens his act, which is why on the whole, I did like the book. However, for a long time, I kept wanting to warn Joey to stay away from this toxic guy.

Oh, and by the way, I thought there was way too much sex, as seems to always be the case with M/M. I like love scenes well enough, but when they add nothing to the story, as here, they bore me.


TITLE: Fast Food Nation
AUTHOR: Eric Schlosser

The back blurb of my edition has quote reading something like "You'll never look at a hamburger the same way again". After reading this in-depth look at all the strands involved in the fast food industry, I wouldn't say I've become any less predisposed to eat at McDonald's, as all was pretty much as expected in terms of what I'm getting in my cheeseburger. However, the book was shocking and eye-opening in other ways.

I'm an economist, and I work in the area of workplace health and safety, and sure enough, it was the elements relevant to this that I was most interested in. Most shocking was Schlosser's description of what goes on in meatpacking plants, the effects on workers of meatpacking executives' pocket Republicans defanging OSHA and the FDA, and allowing private enterprise to pursue their profit with pretty much no controls from the government. Those chapters were just surreal to me. Dammit, there are perfect valid economic rationales for intervention here, even if you're a radical free marketer!

I was also very interested in the chapters describing the previous steps in the fast food chain process, especially the effects of concentration in suppliers to fast-food chains. The problems with monopsonies receive less press than those with monopolies, but that doesn't mean the effects are any less bad.



To Tempt a Scotsman, by Victoria Dahl

>> Friday, September 11, 2009

TITLE: To Tempt a Scotsman
AUTHOR: Victoria Dahl

PAGES: 352

SETTING: Regency England
TYPE: Straight romance
SERIES: Related to A Rake's Guide to Pleasure

REASON FOR READING: Impulse buy during a visit to the (sadly, now defunct, I believe) huge Borders on Oxford Street.

She Has Nothing Left To Lose--

After finding herself at the center of a very public scandal that left one man dead and another on the run, Lady Alexandra Huntington has exiled herself to her brother's estate and is content to manage his affairs. But the arrival of darkly handsome Collin Blackburn awakens her curiosity and her desire--and the advantage of being a fallen woman is that she can be ruined only once...

Except Her Heart...

After a promise sworn to his father, Collin Blackburn is compelled to seek the aid of the woman who brought about his brother's death in a senseless duel. Yet Lady Alexandra is not the shameless femme fatale he expected. In fact, Collin suspects she is guilty of nothing more than a hunger to experience passion, and the brawny Scot is certainly equipped to oblige. But the quick-witted, keenly sensual Alexandra has a few lessons of her own to impart--on life, love, and the delicious joys of succumbing to temptation...
This was my first Victoria Dahl book, and I think I'll be reading her again. While in the end, I wasn't completely convinced by the romance (more on that later), there was enough to like there that my overall grade is good.

Alexandra Huntington was involved in a huge scandal during her Season. She was caught in a compromising position, which resulted in a duel being fought over her honor. One of the participants was killed, the other fled abroad, and Alexandra went into exile in the country. As the book starts, she has been living practically in isolation in Yorkshire for the last year, caring for her brother's estate and finding she quites fancies the freedom of it.

Collin Blackburn is the brother of the man who died in that duel. He's determined to get the man who killed him, but hasn't been able to find him. As a last resort, he turns to the woman he holds partly to blame for his brother's death, demanding her help.

Their first meeting surprises him. She's clearly not the selfish, thoughtless twit he thougth she must be, and in fact, he finds her quite attractive.

Nothing comes of this (reciprocated) attraction at first, but it turns out that Alex and Collin have some relatives and friends in common, and this causes them to spend quite a bit of time together. And since Alex has been ruined, anyway...

I really liked that Alex is quite forthright in her determination to go after what she wants, and what she wants is Collin. I usually tend to go more for hero-in-pursuit stories, but I quite enjoyed this role reversal, especially when Collin ended up practically blushing.

I liked Alex herself, as well. She's refreshingly sensible and is not just forthright about wanting Collin. She's not glad society considers her ruined, but since it's happened, she's ready to enjoy the good things about not having to conform to its rules.

Collin's mostly a likeable character, as well. Mostly, I say, because his jealousy really goes out of hand in the second half or so of the book.

One of the most interesting things about this book was its treatment of this aspect of Collin's character. The man's crazy jealous. He constantly keeps assuming Alexandra's sleeping with someone else. If she smiles at another man (even a good friend of his) and seems comfortable speaking to him, Colin just knows they're lovers.

"Interesting" is not necessarily positive or negative, and the way Dahl writes this situation has elements of both. The positive bit for me was that this insane behaviour of Colin isn't treated as simple possessiveness and portrayed as something sexy. It's very clearly a problem, something everyone in the book, even Alexandra and Colin themselves, see as a threat to their relationship, and not an unimportant one, either. And Alex is not willing to stand for Collin's unfair treatment of her, and goes toe to toe with him on that, each time, which really made me like her even more.

But on the negative side, I didn't see enough evidence by the end of the book that the problem had been resolved, or even that it was likely to be resolved with a bit of work. Colin would fly into a jealous rage, lash out at Alexandra and whatever man he was imagining she was sleeping with, realise his mistake, be remorseful and castigate himself and vow never to do it again. And then the next time Alex did anything even remotely suspicious, there he'd go again, repeating the whole cycle. The last time he did it, right before the end of the book and the HEA, I didn't see any difference from the last few times. Why should I believe that this time he'd learned his lesson, that this time was the last time?

MY GRADE: A B. There were enough good things that I still liked the book on the whole, in spite of the jealousy.


Dangerous Passion, by Lisa Marie Rice

>> Wednesday, September 09, 2009

TITLE: Dangerous Passion
AUTHOR: Lisa Marie Rice

PAGES: 320

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romantic Suspense
SERIES: No, standalone

REASON FOR READING: Autoread author

Feelings kill faster than bullets.

That is Drake's creed. A legend, a renegade, a ruthless, powerful enigma understood by no one and feared by all, Viktor "Drake" Drakovich heads up a billion-dollar empire - and shows no mercy to the many enemies who would stop at nothing to destroy him. He is a man with no love and no weakness, until...

Grace Larsen takes Drake's breath away the first time he sees her - and quickly becomes his obsession. Never before has he burned for someone the way he desires this hauntingly beautiful artist who is plagued by troubling dreams. He aches to possess her, to protect her, to carry her to new heights of sensuous arousal and rapturous release.

But entering Drake's world means becoming a target - for relentless, bloodthirsty foes have been eagerly waiting for him to expose his weak spot. And the price of their passion may be their lives.
Viktor "Drake" Drakovich grew up rough on the streets of Odessa. From those unpromising beginnings, he fought and struggled and built an empire based on what he best knew growing up: dealing in weapons. He's cold and invulnerable and there are absolutely no chips in his armour. Or there weren't, until he saw Grace Larson's art and caught a glimpse of her in her friend's gallery.

Over a year, Drake has purchased every single one of Grace's paintings, and every week he sneaks out and hides in an alley to catch a glimpse of her when she delivers her paintings to the gallery. Unfortunately, his enemies have found out about this and try to use Grace to get at him, resulting in Drake having to barricade himself in his luxury Manhattan flat with her.

It's vintage LMR stuff, with Drake wonderfully enthralled by Grace and worshipping the ground she walks on. He's possessive and protective and would literally cut off his own arm rather than hurt her (and with a LMR hero, when I say literally in this case, I do mean literally). He's never felt anything even remotely like this with another woman, but being with Grace fulfills him and gives him peace, and he's willing to do anything to keep her with him. He even plots and plans and thinks that he needs to have sex with her as much as possible to bind her to him. Total guilty pleasure for me, but I've long accepted with this author that she can make me like this sort of thing, which would result in a wall-banger with other authors.

Unfortunately, something else that's also vintage LMR is annoying me more and more with every book, and that's the mysoginy of her heroes. That is fast getting old. Drake has nothing but contempt for every woman other than Grace. Every single other woman on planet Earth. They're vain and selfish and mercenary. They're unattractive... hard, rather than soft (as every man wants). They have boob jobs (the horror of it!). He just fucks them, never bothers to pay attention to their faces. You get the picture.

I get that part of the power of Drake falling in love with Grace is that it's so unlike him. He falls so completely, and it's wholly unfamiliar to him, because he's never come close. I think that's what the mysoginy was about, just about making his feelings for Grace more unique and unlikely and powerful, but IMO, there were other ways of doing it. Ways that wouldn´t have made me, at least, resent Drake. Every time he started going on in his mind about how awful other women were because they looked at a man's watch and shoes before they even looked at his face, in my mind, I'd go "Yes, well, you're an arms dealer, you have no right to judge anyone!".

Which brings me to the other problem I had with the book, which was the very off-hand way the author treated Drake's business dealings, as if the fact that he runs an illegal arms dealing empire were no big deal. And let's remember that if a country or organisation needs to resort to illegal channels to purchase its weapons, it's for a reason.

I just had to shake my head at the rationalisations. At the beginning, Grace doesn't know what Drake does, but he's clearly a dangerous man, involved in what looks like very unsavoury business. So she says to him "Please tell me this isn't about drugs". That's the only thing that she couldn't tolerate. Oh, no, she and the readers are assured, Drake abhors the stuff and would never do something like that. He's just an arms dealer. That's muuuuuch better, clearly.

Unfortunately, for me it wasn't that clear. What would bother me about having a drug dealer as a hero would be that he's trafficking in something illegal, so apart from the fact that he's breaking the law, the things he'd need to do to protect such an empire would be abhorent to me. Same as with an arms dealer, really, only that if all dealing in both drugs and arms were legal, then I would be much better disposed to read about drugs dealer than an arms dealer. Just a crazy preference of mine... those harmed by drugs would be people who ultimately made a decision to get involved with them. Those harmed by arms, did not make any sort of decision, they just live in the wrong country at the wrong time.

So did I like the book on the whole? The issues above weren't easy to ignore, especially the slagging off of other women, because those bits tended to be stuck in between worshipful thoughts about Grace. Still, I could mostly tamp down my irritation and enjoy what I liked. The romance was good, especially because I thought Grace was a pretty good character, sensible and smart. I got the feeling Drake was too busy worshipping her as some sort of immaculate image of perfection to much notice the woman underneath all that, but at the same time, I thought when the heroine-worship faded away, he'd probably be quite happy with what was left.

I also thought the suspense was well done, with an antagonist (not a villain, really, because he wasn't evil, really, and didn't actually do anything Drake wouldn't do) who was very believable, with understandable and convincing motivations. His plan was smart, and I liked that in the end, it was Grace who saved the day.

Dangerous Passion reminded me of Secluded, a short story of this author's in the Secrets Vol. 9 anthology. Like Secluded, it has a very dangerous hero who brings danger to the heroine, a luxury penthouse setting and even the heroine saving the day element.

MY GRADE: This is hard. Maybe a B for the romance, but the elements I disliked drag it down to a C+. If you think you won't mind them, then you'll probably think it's more of a B.


Non fiction reading II

>> Monday, September 07, 2009

A few more non fiction reads...

TITLE: Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour
AUTHOR: Kate Fox

Fox studies the English like an anthropologist would study an obscure tribe, and the result is fascinating, funny, and for someone like me, who's only recently started living among them, quite illuminating. There's analysis of such disparate things as weather talk, and how it's not really about being obsessed with meteorological conditions, but about social awkwardness; the seven words that will tell you exactly how a person fits in the class structure; and exactly what that whole gardening thing is about. There's drinking, there's sex, there's house decoration and dog types, there's apologising when someone bumps into you (which I think was probably the first thing I started doing myself). Excellent stuff.


TITLE: The Bottom Billion
AUTHOR: Paul Collier

The subtitle of this book is, unsurprisingly, quite clear on what it's about: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It. Collier's thesis is that there are four types of problems that act as traps for poor countries, holding them back and preventing them from advancing when the rest of the world is (was?) growing. These are civil war, being landlocked, having a great concentration of natural resources when the country is not stable, and bad governance. It's not just a diagnosis, Coller (who is Director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies at Oxford, and very definitely knows what he's talking about) has clear ideas on how to solve this. Very persuasive.


TITLE: Risk: the Science and Politics of Fear
AUTHOR: Dan Gardner

This is all about how we process different kinds and levels of risk, and why we make some of the very irrational decisions we make. It uses disciplines such as evolutionary biology to explore why we tend to consistently overestimate some sorts of risk and underestimate others, and it also explores exactly how this is exploited (knowingly or not), by politicians or the media. I read it mostly because it's very applicable to my work, but I'd say it's extremely readable and fascinating for the general reader as well.


TITLE: America Unchained
AUTHOR: Dave Gorman

Account of a coast-to-coast trip across the US, in which the author attempted to only buy things from independent businesses. It doesn't sound so hard at first, but on second thought, it means that he regularly needs to find independent hotels and worst of all, independent petrol stations. It was a fun read, and I developed a fondness for the narrator (who's an English comedian). He felt a bit too earnest at first, but I soon got into his style, and enjoyed his observations.

Note: A documentary was made during the drive as well, and Gorman's relationships with the camerawoman and cameraman who accompanied him are quite important in the book.



So Enchanting, by Connie Brockway

>> Saturday, September 05, 2009

TITLE: So Enchanting
AUTHOR: Connie Brockway

PAGES: 432

SETTING: Victorian Scotland
TYPE: Straight Romance

REASON FOR READING: It's a Connie Brockway historical, and it's also a comedy. The Bridal Season and Bridal Favours are probably my two favourites of hers, so I couldn't wait to read this.

The Scottish hamlet of Little Firkin has one important industry: the guardianship of Amelie Chase, a witchling banished by the ton for her alleged supernatural powers, and entrusted by her benefactor to Fanny Walcott. But the scheme is hitting a snag: Little Firkin is cramping Amelie’s style, anonymous notes are threatening her life, and now, two handsome travelers arrive with tantalizing links to the pasts of both women. And what’s happening in Little Firkin is so enchanting, it’s going to take a leap of faith to believe it.
Greyson Sheffield despises mediums, psychics and other frauds who prey on people too desperate or grief-stricken to protect themselves. His father was bankrupted by such people after Grey's mother and sister died, and Grey blamed them for leaving his previously strong, sensible father a broken man. He has become a specialist in exposing charlatans and debunking their claims, even gathering evidence for them to be prosecuted for fraud.

The only problem is, it turns out some people really do have paranormal abilities. Fanny Walcott is one of them. Since she was a girl, she's had a strong psychic connection with animals. She can influence them, purposely or not. The latter is a problem: animals will react when she's feeling strong emotions, so strange things happen when she gets upset. After an episode in which her young brother was injured by animals just because she got angry, she began to consider her gift more of a curse. An elopement at 16 only solidified her decision to ignore her psychic abilities. Her husband was the sort of charlatan despised by Grey, and it soon became clear that rather than treasure her gift, he wanted to exploit it in his medium sessions.

It was in one of those sessions that Grey and Fanny first met. He was there investigating her husband and succeeded in unmasking him in front of his clients, but was struck by the man's beautiful assistant and never completely forgot her. As for Fanny, she never forgot Grey, either, but at the time had more pressing concerns, like how to survive on her own after her husband ran off.

She had a stroke of luck when she was approached by a former neighbour of her parents'. The man remembered that young Fanny had had some unique abilities, and now that his daughter, Amelie, seemingly has some of her own, he wanted someone for her governess who would understand her and help her deal with her abilities.

Six years after these events, Fanny, now widowed, is still Amelie's governess. They live in the tiny town of Little Firkin, in rural Scotland, where the villagers don't find paranormal activity a motive to be worried. Both her husband and Amelie's father are dead, and Amelie's new guardian is not too fussed about her, so they're mostly left alone. Until, that is, the arrival of Greyson Sheffield.

Grey happens to be there at the request of Amelie's guardian, who's received news of threats to the girl. He's extremely surprised when the first person he sees is the beautiful young woman who was allied to a charlatan all those years ago. Unfortunately, even after all those years, he is as taken with her as he was the first time he met her.

It's too obvious a comment, but it has to be said: So Enchanting really is enchanting. There's just something about Brockway's voice that's tremendously charming and funny at the same time. It kind of reminds me of Loretta Chase's, come to think of it. Both their voices are witty and elegant and infused with humour.

We get two romances for the price of one here, and they couldn't be more different. Grey's accompanied on his visit to the Highlands by his young nephew, Hayden. He and Amelie are immediately smitten and wild about each other. Cue passionate speeches and goings on, much to Grey and Fanny's exasperation. Because for all that these two would seem to be natural enemies, one being a debunker of the paranormal and the other someone with true paranormal abilities, they share an outlook on life. Both Grey and Fanny are mature people, and with a dry, no-nonsense attitude.

Which makes Grey's lack of control around Fanny even sweeter. He recognises her immediately, and can't help but suspect she must be running a scam up there. There has to be some sort of angle, even if, hard as he thinks, he can't imagine what. And yet, he can't resist the woman. Neither can Fanny resist him, however much she worries about being ruined by him. It's a beautiful thing to see them fall in love, and I very much enjoyed that the obvious conflict ("I have paranormal abilities" - "Liar, there's no such thing!") never ensues.

Lovely, just lovely. I can't wait for the next one.



Exposed: Misbehaving With The Magnate, by Kelly Hunter

>> Thursday, September 03, 2009

TITLE: Exposed: Misbehaving With The Magnate
AUTHOR: Kelly Hunter

PAGES: 187
PUBLISHER: Mills & Boon Modern

SETTING: Contemporary France (well...)
TYPE: Series romance
SERIES: First in a duet

REASON FOR READING: Impulse grab at the library

Gabrielle Alexander has never forgotten Lucien Duvalier's hungry kisses. But she'd been banished from her home in France to the vineyards of Australia for tempting him, and Luc had turned his back on her and taken his rightful place as the head of his family's Champagne dynasty.

Seven years later, Gabrielle is back in France, determined to make a life for herself and equally determined to resist Lucien. There can be no room in Luc's life for the housekeeper's daughter, or for the heat that simmers between them. For a man like Luc, dedication to business and iron control over wayward passion is paramount.

Or is it?
Gabrielle's mother is the housekeeper at Luc's family's castle in Champagne. She and her brother and Luc and his sister played together growing up, but her mother always insisted on making sure Gabrielle knew her place (ensuring the message got through through violent means, if necessary). When teenaged Gabrielle and Luc are found making out, mom is inflexible and sends her away.

Gabrielle settles with her brother in Australia, where they establish a wine business, which flourishes. As the book starts, Gabrielle has received the news that her mother's very ill, and, she decides to travel back to Champagne. It's a combined personal / business trip, as she and her brother want to start selling their wines in France, and Gabrielle means to use her trip to explore distribution possibilities.

The book is a very weird combination of modern and old-fashioned. I quite liked some of the more modern aspects. When Gabrielle and Luc meet again, they're in very different relative positions than they were all those years before. Gabrielle is a successful businesswoman now. She knows her worth and is confident in her skills, and Luc is very happy this is so. He respects her completely.

Unfortunately, there's that old fashioned element as well. No matter how successful, Gabrielle is still.... ta-dam!... The Housekeeper's Daughter! She is and always will be, etc., etc.

Now, what the hell? This is 2009 France, not 1950s. I couldn't believe these otherwise completely modern characters would care in the least, which meant that when Gabrielle and Luc were dancing around each other, trying to resist their attraction and moaning that oh, it would never work, I was asking "what the hell is the problem??" I didn't believe the conflict for a minute. And I do know I'm being unfair here, because I would have had less of a problem with it if the environment were that sort of alternate universe some Presents are set in (you know, with mistresses and ruthless billionaires). But it's not, and so this element just didn't fit.

It also didn't help that all the characters have some puzzling reactions and conversations. They'll go off in ways that made no sense whatsoever, all the freaking time. I kept thinking these were not real people.

As I neared the end, I was almost skimming. Not only had I lost patience with Gabrielle (Luc was a bit better), I was also annoyed by the transparent set-up for the next book. Royalty, yawn.



What I Did For Love, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

>> Tuesday, September 01, 2009

TITLE: What I Did For Love
AUTHOR: Susan Elizabeth Phillips

PAGES: 401
PUBLISHER: William Morrow

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Straight romance
SERIES: No, although there are some guest appearances from characters from earlier SEP books

REASON FOR READING: SEP is an autoread, but I was very hesitant about this one.

How did this happen? Georgie York, once the costar of America's favorite television sitcom, has been publicly abandoned by her famous husband, her film career has tanked, her father is driving her crazy, and her public image as a spunky heroine is taking a serious beating.

What should a down-on-her-luck actress do? Not go to Vegas . . . not run into her detestable former costar, dreamboat-from-hell Bramwell Shepard . . . and not get caught up in an ugly incident that leads to a calamitous elopement. Before she knows it, Georgie has a fake marriage, a fake husband, and maybe (or not) a fake sex life.

It's a paparazzi free-for-all, and Georgie's nonsupporting cast doesn't help. There's Bram's punk-nightmare housekeeper, Georgie's own pushy parent, a suck-up agent, an icy studio head with a private agenda, and her ex-husband's new wife, who can't get enough of doing good deeds and saving the world—the bitch. As for Georgie's leading man, Bram's giving the performance of his life, but he's never cared about anyone except himself, and it's not exactly clear why.

Two enemies find themselves working without a script in a town where the spotlight shines bright . . . and where the strongest emotions can wear startling disguises.
Does SEP actively try to make me hate her protags at the beginning of books? I think she does play a game of how horrid can I make this person and still redeem them in one short book? Well, if I hadn't known this, I think What I Did For Love would have been a DNF. But since I trusted she would make me love Bram and Georgie in the end, I persisted.

Bram Shepard and Georgie York were costars in teen hit sitcom "Skip and Scooter". They were completely different kinds of teen stars. While Georgie was always professional and kind and considerate to everyone, Bram, who came from a very underprivileged background, didn't know how to handle his success. He was a total nightmare to work with for everyone involved. Georgie started out with a bit of a crush on him (or rather, the character he played), but by the end of the show's run (it ended up cancelled due to some very public misbehaviour of Bram's) she had come to hate him.

Since the show ended, the two haven't spoken at all. Bram has become unemployable, known for his rowdy lifestyle and having spent all his money. Georgie, meanwhile, is still an icon, even though her movies haven't been hits. She also married an A-list action hero actor, in spite of what she disparagingly describes as her gumdrop eyes and rubber mouth.

The book starts as Georgie is ambushed by paparazzi who confront her with the news that her ex's new wife is pregnant. It turns out that her A-lister husband has left Georgie for this incredibly sexy star known for her humanitarian work all over the world, and the press have been portraying Georgie as a victim ever since.

Georgie is sick of this, and determined to neutralise it by being seen having fun and going out with men. However, her attempts to do this end in disaster during a weekend in Vegas, when after accidentally taking a spiked drink, she ends up waking up naked and with Bram. Even worse, the next thing she discovers is a wedding certificate.

Plans for a quickie annulment are abandoned when the press finds out, and unwilling to be seen as the victim yet again, Georgie convinces Bram to stay married for 6 months. She'll even pay him $50K for every month. But it soon becomes quite clear to the reader that Bram's motivation for staying in this marriage is not necessarily the money.

For most of the book, I disliked the characters. Bram behaves like a complete asshole. It doesn't help that we're not in his head all that much, but even in hindsight, after we find out the truth about what's going on, a lot of his initial behaviour towards Georgie is incredibly childish and needlessly cruel. He seems to resent her, for some reason I never discovered. He was the one in the wrong all those years before. Georgie was always nice to him, right until the time when he made very sure she would stop liking him. And even after that, she never gave him any reason to resent her at all. I felt he should have apologised to her ages before, the minute he realised what a bastard he'd been.

Georgie was a bit of a better person, but I found her obsession with the tabloids and how they portray her to be pathetic. The woman spends most of the book strategising and living her entire life based on what she wants the tabloids to see. She changes clothes several times a day and goes on strategic outings to places where she'll be photographed. Man, she even stays married and goes to live with a man she intensely dislikes and who treats her like shit for a long time just to present a certain image.

The other problem with the first, say, three quarters of the book was that there was as much focus on the characters as there was on their lifestyle, and that was a complete turn-off. I think we were supposed to admire her and envy the way Georgie and Bram lived... Georgie'sstylist and beautiful clothes (each outfit is described in tedious detail, and there are A LOT of them) and PA, their fame and how they're treated as very, very important people. Well, guess what? I found them pretty useless.

Georgie was the worst, I'm afraid. I think we were also supposed to find her somehow better than Jade (her ex's do-gooder new wife), but at least Jade, however annoying and self-righteous, was actually doing some good in the world, not obsessing over going to the right coffee place in the right clothes. Georgie's response to all this is "I'm going to take medical supplies to Haiti!", even though she knows or cares nothing about the problems there. At least Bram delivers a bit of a set-down there, asking her if she doesn't think it's a bit cold to use a country's misery for a photo-op. She also drives a Prius, of course, even though there's nothing else in the book to indicate she gives a fig about the environment. It's all like that for her, all for show and about her image, and it annoyed me.

In the rest of her books, SEP's initially horrid characters work because she's doing it on purpose. In this case, I think she was doing this only with some things about Bram, and that was mostly fair enough, but I don't think she actually intended for Georgie and Bram's celebrity lifestyle to repulse the reader as much as it did me.

Not only did I not like the characters for a lot of the book, I also hated the "grabbed from the (tabloid) headlines" plot. I hate that I actually recognised the parallels between Georgie's situation and the whole Jennifer Aniston / Brad Pitt / Angelina Jolie mess (for pity's sake, at one point Georgie compares herself and Bram with Ross and Rachel, when they did the Vegas drunk wedding thing). Man, I work hard at ignoring that crap, how come I still have that knowledge in my mind?

So did SEP succeed in redeeming this people and making me care about them? Well, mostly yes. In the last quarter or so of the book the celebrity worship receeds a bit and the focus is on Georgie and Bram's relationship and on Georgie coming into her own, and that was much, much better. I especially liked seeing Bram getting his comeuppance, falling for Georgie completely and realising he may have screwed up his chances.

I also liked the secondary characters. Bram's housekeeper Chaz, especially, was the only character I unreservedly liked throughout the whole book. she does worship Bram, but she's got reason for it, it's not at all about him being a movie star (squee!). I also enjoyed the secondary romance involving Georgie's dad.

MY GRADE: As the book ended on a positive note, it's tempting to actually give it a B-. But rereading my troubles with most of the rest of it (much of what's above I wrote as I was actually reading through those sections, as a way of venting), I can't give it more than a C.


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