>> Thursday, December 30, 2010

I'm flying home in a few hours, will be there midday on New Year's Eve, if all goes well. Hope you all have a wonderful start to your year, and see you in February when I return!


2010 in reading

>> Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My favourite 2010 books

In no particular order...

The list this year is completely dominated by Meljean Brook. I react to her books like a complete fangirl, and almost feel like I should give one of her books a low grade at least once, just to restore my credibility. Can't do it, though, I love them too much.

Rosalia and Deacon's romance in Demon Blood was one of her best, and I just love, love, love the worldbuilding and the larger storyline that keeps developing in all the books.

Then I read the short story that starts her new steampunk series, The Iron Seas. Here There Be Monsters completely wowed me. Not only was I really intrigued by the unique world it was set in, the romance was so good I didn't want it to end.

And if HTBM was a promising start, The Iron Duke delivered, and how! This is probably the most amazing, fascinating world I've ever read about, and I can't wait to explore more, and the romance was just as good.

Lisa Marie Rice is an old favourite, and her latest, Into The Crossfire was among my favourites. I had started feeling a bit irritated by her heroes, but we get a truly lovely one here (and yes, it's just as over the top and unbelievable as her previous books, but I don't care in the least).

And oops, I wrote the bit below before this, and now I can't be bothered editing it. So I'll just say that The Red Queen, by Philippa Gregory and What The Librarian Did, by Karina Bliss, also belong up here!

Best discoveries

Julie James' Just The Sexiest Man Alive was fantastic fun, and I loved that the heroine could best the hero (who was being a bit of an arse and deserved it) without the author feeling the need to put her "in her place". I've now also read Something About You and I've been saving Practice Makes Perfect for my upcoming holiday.

What took me so long to read Philippa Gregory? The Red Queen was meaty but extremely readable, and when I finished it, I didn't want to leave the world she'd created. I feel a glom coming on! Fortunately, unlike Julie James, she's got a nice, long backlist.

Karina Bliss's What The Librarian Did made me laugh and cry. A snarky librarian heroine, a to-die-for hero and lots of lovely banter. Another glommable author!

I didn't expect to like Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games as much as I did... I don't really do YA. It was outstanding, though, a book that kept me up until 4 in the morning, practically biting my nails and racing through the pages. I've now read the rest of the trilogy and, although the 1st was best, enjoyed them all.

I really liked Kristin Harmel's romancey chick-lit. Italian For Beginners was my first and favourite, with its wonderful Roman setting, but I also liked The Blonde Theory.

Gail Carriger's steampunk paranormal, Soulless, was great fun, especially the homage to my beloved Amelia Peabody! It was also probably my first steampunk, although not my favourite this year (see above for that!)

Tess Gerritsen is another author I'm kicking myself for not having tried earlier. The Surgeon is the first in her Rizzoli / Isles police procedural series, and an excellent, if gory and graphic, read. I'm up to the 4th in the series now, and trying to keep myself from racing through the rest.

A book set in Germany during the 2nd World War and narrated by Death sounds pretty glum. Markus Zusak's The Book Thief is certainly not cheerful, but it's a beautiful, uplifting and tender read, which I really enjoyed.

Christos Tsiolkas' The Slap is a love-it-or-hate-it book, but I'm firmly on the love-it camp. Yes, it's full of unpleasant characters, but they're so damn interesting!

Finally, LM Turner's novella, The Subtle Build of Perfection, was probably one of the sweetest, most romantic reads of the year. Can't wait to read more!

And that wraps it up. 2010 was a really good year, let's hope for an even better 2011!


The Red Queen, by Philippa Gregory

>> Sunday, December 26, 2010

TITLE: The Red Queen
AUTHOR: Philippa Gregory

PAGES: 387
PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster

SETTING: 15th century England and Wales
TYPE: Historical fiction
SERIES: Second in The Cousins' War series, following The White Queen, but it stands alone.

REASON FOR READING: Book club choice for December

The second book in Philippa's stunning new trilogy, The Cousins War, brings to life the story of Margaret Beaufort, a shadowy and mysterious character in the first book of the series - The White Queen - but who now takes centre stage in the bitter struggle of The War of the Roses. The Red Queen tells the story of the child-bride of Edmund Tudor, who, although widowed in her early teens, uses her determination of character and wily plotting to infiltrate the house of York under the guise of loyal friend and servant, undermine the support for Richard III and ultimately ensure that her only son, Henry Tudor, triumphs as King of England. Through collaboration with the dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret agrees a betrothal between Henry and Elizabeth's daughter, thereby uniting the families and resolving the Cousins War once and for all by founding of the Tudor dynasty.
The Red Queen tells the story of Margaret Beaufort, the Lancastrian heiress who was the mother of the first Tudor king, Henry VII. Completely dismissed by everyone as not being worth anything beyond her capacity to pass on her bloodlines, and married off to a man twice her age at barely 13, Margaret devotes her whole life to plotting and planning to put her son on the throne.

Philippa Gregory has been on my "should check out this author" list for a while now, but I've kind of been off historical fiction for the last few years, so who knows how long it would have taken me to pick up one of her books if this one hadn't been chosen for my book club. It would have been a huge shame, because The Red Queen is absolutely fantastic.

Whether you like this or not will depend on whether you need to like the main character in order to like a book. If you do, then maybe this will not be for you, because Margaret is a real piece of work.

I freely admit that I was predisposed to like the other side (the Yorks) better, a product of having read several pro-Ricardian books over the years (see, for instance, Josephine Tey's wonderful The Daughter of Time and the very funny The Murders of Richard III, by Elizabeth Peters in my archives). Even if I hadn't, however, I think just from this book I would have still felt the same way. And I don't think the author would be too surprised.

I very much sympathised with Margaret at the beginning of the book, when she gets sent out "like a parcel", as she puts it, and married off (and bedded) at barely 13. Yes, she's an insufferable and sanctimonious little twit even then, but she's just a little girl, and I couldn't help but completely feel her fear and anger and helplessness at knowing that she has absolutely no value to anyone, other than as a means of passing on her bloodlines.

She grows up though, and by the way, Gregory does really well in showing, purely through her narration, the change in Margaret from child to grown-up. The thing is, she grows up into a remarkably unpleasant grownup.

Since we see everything (except a couple of battle scenes) from Margaret's point of view, there's no better way to show what she's like than through her own words. This is Margaret on Elizabeth Woodville, the commoner wife of Edward of York:

"I take up my rosary and pray again. The words are for the safety of my king; but I cannot think of anything but my jealousy that a woman, far worse born than me, far worse educated than me, without doubt less beloved by God than me, should be able to run to her husband with joy and show him their son and know he will fight to defend him. That a woman such as her, clearly not favored by God, showing no signs of grace (unlike me), should be Queen of England. And that, by some mystery—too great for me to understand—God should have overlooked me."
Lovely woman, eh? The issue of religion is quite an interesting one. I've read many medievals in which the characters religiousness felt completely alien... basically, their religiousness was all-encompassing, a prism through which they saw everything and affected everything they were. I get the feeling that might be quite an accurate way of portraying the way things were back then, but I had no problem with Gregory taking a different tack. Because while Margaret was extremely religious, and convinced that doing God's will was the most important thing in her life, Gregory's portrayal of her is that of a woman I could perfectly well meet here and now. At one point, one of her husbands tells it to her like it is, and makes the point that she might tell herself that she does what God wants, but funny how God always tells her to do what she wants to do, anyway. He never points her in any direction that doesn't involve acquiring more power and wealth. She has no answer to that, but neither does it give her more than a twinge of concern.

There's one particular scene which shows her character and the nature of her faith exactly. She's contemplating whether to order something really horrific to be done, and asks for God's guidance on what to do. She asks for a sign. But clever Margaret doesn't ask for a sign to indicate whether she should do it, she asks for one in case she shouldn't! And then she waits for quite a long time (she's conscientious that way), and when nothing happens, she can go and do whatever she wants to do with a clear conscience and the certainty that God approves of her plans. Classic!

It's hard to imagine someone could be more deluded about their own nature as Margaret is. She's convinced of her piety and of the fact that she's a good, generous person, but she's unable to put herself into anyone else's shoes. And in some cases, in her most monumentally self-involved moments, she was truly alien. I wanted to strangle her when she so derisively speaks about those London merchants who betray their true King just because Edward of York "...makes peace throughout the land, and because he makes the courts of law work so that a man can have justice". Yeah, nothing, that. From my 21st century perspective, I find it insane that anyone could then go "Well, however great he is, he's still the rightful King and it would be traitorous to support anyone else".

But then again, there seemed to be plenty of people even then that thought just like I would have and decided to support Edward for all the right reasons. Margaret's second husband is one of them, and her treatment of him didn't particularly endear me to him. He seems like quite a decent, thoughtful bloke, who yearns for peace. And yet she thinks him a coward and undermines him and plots behind his back. I think the reason this annoyed me so much was that I identified with Stafford quite a lot. He doesn't particularly care who's on the throne, as long as this person delivers peace. He doesn't presume to know what God wants, as Margaret does, he seems to care more about the lives of his tenants and people than about whether the person God wants is on the throne. In fact, out of Margaret's second and third husbands, neither is an unthinking loyalist, but they are extremes. Henry Stafford may be ready to betray the King and ally himself with a challenger, but he does so only after some very careful considerations of what's best for his country and with a heavy heart. Thomas Stanley, on the other hand, cares only about what's best for him, and insists on being on always having a foot on each side. I thought having them both in there, one after the other, provided some excellent balance.

Anyway, back to Margaret, even though I didn't like her, and wanted things to go badly for her (I cheered when, close to the end, her future daughter-in-law delivers a really classic set-down), I believed in her and enjoyed every minute of reading about her. Her characterisation was almost perfect. The only bit I didn't find completely convincing was that Gregory kind of glosses over Margaret learning to plot and plan. For a long time at the beginning of the book she's a child and can only hold on for dear life and just go with what others plan for her, but then suddenly she just mentions in passing that she went behind her husband's back and wrote to Edward of York's brother, who'd started a rebellion, offering her alliance. And she only gets better and better. Just how did she learn to participate in court intrigue so well. Who taught her? These were dangerous times, you would have thought a naive conspirator would be in trouble quite quickly. How on earth did she become an expert? That is never explained.

Much as I relished Margaret's POV, I also really appreciated the couple of bits where we get a different one. These were during battles which we needed to know about and which Margaret would obviously know nothing about. I found them very impressively done. The battle of Towton, for instance, was absolutely horrible but absolutely amazing at the same time. I'd seen a BBC programme about it just a few weeks earlier, and even with recreations and images of crushed skulls in common pits, this wasn't as successful in showing the horror as Gregory was.

All in all, a brilliant book. I enjoyed it so much that I didn't want to leave this world at all. I wasn't quite ready to start The White Queen (although I will, and soon), so I went for a reread of The Daughter of Time (the plot in one sentence: police detective stuck convalescing in hospital investigates the accusations against Richard III with the help of a historian). It was the perfect thing to do, as it covered some of the events here from a completely different perspective. Margaret doesn't appear that much, but there is a very interesting look at the murders of the little Princes in the Tower. Gregory and Tey ascribe the responsibility to the same side, but their theories are quite different. I kind of instinctively side more with Tey's, but that's mostly because she shows me her research... for instance, Gregory has rumours going round London of the death of the princes long before Richard's death, but Tey's characters find no evidence of any rumours at all at the time, and they discuss exactly what they looked at (I know, it sounds dead boring, but I swear, it's not). Anyway, read both, they're well worth it!



Identity Economics, by George A. Akerlof & Rachel E. Kranton

>> Friday, December 24, 2010

TITLE: Identity Economics
AUTHOR: George A. Akerlof & Rachel E. Kranton

PAGES: 134
PUBLISHER: Princeton University Press

TYPE: Non Fiction


In 1995, economist Rachel Kranton wrote future Nobel Prize-winner George Akerlof a letter insisting that his most recent paper was wrong. Identity, she argued, was the missing element that would help to explain why people--facing the same economic circumstances--would make different choices. This was the beginning of a fourteen-year collaboration--and of Identity Economics.

Identity economics is a new way to understand people's decisions--at work, at school, and at home. With it, we can better appreciate why incentives like stock options work or don't; why some schools succeed and others don't; why some cities and towns don't invest in their futures--and much, much more.

Identity Economics bridges a critical gap in the social sciences. It brings identity and norms to economics. People's notions of what is proper, and what is forbidden, and for whom, are fundamental to how hard they work, and how they learn, spend, and save. Thus people's identity--their conception of who they are, and of who they choose to be--may be the most important factor affecting their economic lives. And the limits placed by society on people's identity can also be crucial determinants of their economic well-being.
This was a work/professional development read. We've been doing a lot of work on alternatives to regulation lately, and there are quite a few developing areas in economics that provide some interesting material. So far the bulk of our efforts has been on behavioural economics (not least because this government is very keen on it), but there are other possibilities. Identity Economics could be one of them.

In a few words: this book is about how identity issues can have real effects on the decisions people make, and how classic economic theory doesn't really allow for taking this into account. I ended up getting some good ideas from this, although most were stuff that shore up the theoretical framework for things we're already doing. I suppose with this kind of thing you read and absorb the concepts and just need to let them percolate and develop, so actual ideas for new things might arise a while later.

I should also note that this was a remarkably readable book, considering what your average economics paper looks like these days. Akerlof's famous 1970 Market for Lemons article on information asymmetry and adverse selection is one that is quoted often when people complain about the mathematical inflation in economics. If Akerlof could write such an influential article without using excessive and complicated maths, how come people can't seem to manage it these days? There's an argument that most complex maths are not really that necessary, more a way of standing out, and there might be something to that. Anyway, this was quite clear and easy to digest.

MY GRADE: A B+, I suppose. I usually grade according to my enjoyment of the book, but in this case, it's more about usefulness than anything else (and maybe lack of painful headaches generated *g*)


Obsidian Prey, by Jayne Castle

>> Wednesday, December 22, 2010

TITLE: Obsidian Prey
AUTHOR: Jayne Castle

PAGES: 384

SETTING: The planet Harmony
TYPE: Paranormal romance
SERIES: It stands alone, but it's one of several novels set in Harmony and also ties in to the Arcane Society books, although this element is not very prominent.

REASON FOR READING: JAK, in all her guises, is a comfort read.

Amber tuner and independent prospector Lyra Dore lost her heart-and her discovery of a rare amethyst ruin-to cutthroat businessman Cruz Sweetwater. At least she had her artistically talented dust-bunny to comfort her...

But the ruin's mysterious power has put everyone involved with the project in danger. And only by trusting their psychic instincts will Cruz and Lyra survive- and surrender to the desire that binds them.
This is one of several books JAK has written under her Jayne Castle pseudonym, set in the planet called Harmony. The basic premise is that several centuries earlier, a "Curtain" opened between Earth and this planet, allowing Earthlings to travel to and from the previously unreachable location. Humans colonised Harmony, but had to keep bringing technology from Earth, as the magnetic fields in their new home made it malfunction after a short while. And then, suddently, the Curtain closed and the people on Harmony were left isolated and struggling to survive.***

After a few years on the planet, the colonists discovered that people were developing psychic abilities, all related to Harmony's ample supply of amber. And with every generation, these abilities keep getting stronger, and people often find jobs related to them.

Our heroine, Lyra Dore, has an ability to resonate with a type of rare amber. She specialises in tuning amber for other people to be able to focus their talent through it, as well as on using her own talent to explore the mysterious ruins left by Harmony's previous inhabitants, searching for treasure.

A few months before the start of the book, Lyra was screwed over by the Sweetwater family. While exploring a newly discovered artificial jungle under her city, she discovered a previously unknown type of ruin containing rare amber artifacts. The way things are set up in her city, Lyra's discovery would have pretty much automatically be taken over by a larger organisation that could secure it properly, with Lyra being paid compensation for her discovery. Lyra very definitely did not want her discovery taken from her, so she kept it secret and tried to sell some of the artifacts on the underground market.

Unfortunately, the first potential buyer she contacted turned out to be Cruz Sweetwater working undercover. Cruz is a member of the family that owns Amber Inc., one of the very companies Lyra was trying to avoid taking over her ruin. Before long, her discovery has been taken away from her and, to add insult to injury, she and Cruz had shared some steamy kisses before Lyra found out who he really was. Lyra was even convinced she was in love with him. Lyra refused to be bought off and sued Amber Inc., but to no avail. She's now both brokenhearted and plain broke from paying her expensive and useless lawyer's fees.

When Cruz walks back into her life a few months later and asks for a favour, Lyra's hopes that she might get some revenge on him by rejecting his advances are dashed. Clearly he's only after her professional help. But Cruz doesn't, and when it becomes clear that someone is after the artifacts, and willing to kill to get them, it gives him the opportunity to spend some time with Lyra proving it.

I did like this. There's no denying the mystery is unexciting and predictable, and the suspense scenes are all practically carbon copies from previous books. I didn't particularly care what happened on this end, and kind of skimmed over some of the scenes.

However, the romance was fun and the chemistry between Cruz and Lyra really nicely done. There was quite a lot of repetition here as well, but I didn't mind it at all. In fact, things like everyone on the Sweetwater family constantly referring to Lyra as "the woman who broke Cruz's heart" was quite funny and sweet. Some readers might be irritated at Lyra not being able to let go of the fact that the Sweetwaters took her discovery, but not me. She's right, damn it! Good stuff.

Finally, I really should mention one of my favourite things about the book: Lyra's dustbunny Vincent and his artistic streak. I tend to despise saccharine and cute, and if someone described the dustbunnies in JAK's Harmony books, I would guess I was going to find myself very irritated by the cute overload. But I love, love, love those dustbunnies. I want one (although what Sybil the Cat would make of one, I have no idea), and I laugh out loud at their antics. Go figure!

*** I kept thinking as I wrote my description of the setting's premise that I would very much like to see something set right after the Curtain closed. It could have a very interesting, almost warlike / disaster movie-type, struggle-for-survival feel to it. Thinking about the Curtain closing also made me think of Berlin when the Wall went up. I would expect some people would have been just visiting, in either direction, and would have been caught out when the Curtain closed and separated from their loved ones. I can very easily imagine people desperately trying to find a way to communicate and open the Curtain again. That could make for a very good book!



The Thirteen Problems, by Agatha Christie

>> Monday, December 20, 2010

TITLE: The Thirteen Problems (also published as The Tuesday Club Murders)
AUTHOR: Agatha Christie

PAGES: 224

SETTING: 1920s-30s England
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: A collection of Miss Marple stories. Includes recurring characters.

REASON FOR READING: I read this one years and years ago, and decided to pull it up for reread after Ana posted about it on her blog.

Each member at a Tuesday night get-together tells a tale of mystery, preferably one he or she has personal knowledge of, and the rest of the crowd tries to figure out the solution. As Miss Marple is among them, looking harmless with her knitting, the rest hardly stand a chance...
The basic premise of this collection of short stories involves a bit of a game. A group of people tell each other stories of mysteries they've been involved in, and see who in the group can guess the right solution. At first everyone completely ignores Miss Marple, who is a lot less worldly than the other participants. And yet, time and time again, she's the one who hits on the answer.

The short stories are separated into three sections (I expect they would have been published separately originally, and only gathered together for this collection later). In the first few stories, author Raymond West is visiting his Aunt Jane, who's playing host for a few other friends of his as well, including Sir Henry Clithering, a former Scotland Yard Commissioner.

Sir Henry is so impressed with Miss Marple's eerily unerring conclusions, that when he's next in St. Mary Mead, staying with his friends the Bantrys (who I'm sure must be in other Miss Marple stories, because they seemed very familiar), he asks them to invite Miss Marple for dinner. And of course, new stories are told over dinner.

The thirteenth story stands alone, and takes place during another visit of Sir Henry's to the village. There's been a tragic death and Miss Marple suddenly shows up, very agitated, and asks Sir Henry for help. She's sure the police are going after the wrong man.

This was a hugely fun book to read. Some of the cases are a bit far-fetched, of course, but I didn't really care. They're all quite clever and itneresting. And my favourite moments were always at the end, when Miss Marple goes off into seemingly completely irrelevant tangents about very mundane episodes that have happened in St. Mary Mead. You can just feel everyone else going "WTF? The poor dear's obviously gone batty" and then feeling quite chagrined when it becomes clear that she knows exactly what she's talking about.

I also loved the glimpses of the long-dead world in which they were set. It's very much a book of its time, so some of the portrayals of women, especially, made me cringe a little, but I chose to take it at face value and see it as a reflection of what that time was like.



Below Deck, by Dorien Kelly

>> Saturday, December 18, 2010

TITLE: Below Deck
AUTHOR: Dorien Kelly

PAGES: Harlequin

SETTING: Cruise ship in the Mediterranean
TYPE: Category romance
SERIES: Part of the Mediterranean Nights continuity series (which I didn't know)


Not everything is aboveboard... When Mei Lin Wang met young radical social activist Wei Chan she knew it was fate. She didn't know that less than three years later she would be left widowed with a newborn son after a suspicious illness claimed Wei's life.

Now, still convinced of their shared destiny, Lin is determined to avenge Wei and continue his work, but she must also protect her son from those responsible for her husband's death.

For months Lin has secreted her son below deck on the cruise ship Alexandra's Dream, under cover of her job. It's turned into a game of hide-and-seek with the ship's security officer, Gideon Dayan, whose interest is piqued by the mystery that surrounds her.

But through his attraction, Gideon sees his own haunted past when he looks at Lin...and she can't let her past go. Will they finally be able to face the future...together?
I enjoyed Do-Over so much that I barely looked at what Below Deck was about before ordering it. When it arrived, I was very happily surprised, as it sounded different and interesting.

Our heroine is Mei Lin Wang. Lin is Chinese, and is the secret widow of a democracy activist. Her husband died after the Chinese government held him captive for and unpleasant few weeks. Lin was in the very early stages of pregnancy when that happened, and she kept the identity of the baby's father secret. She's determined to get to Paris to continue her late husband's work amongst the exiled members of his organisation. To do so, she's taken a job on a cruise ship and has secreted her baby son there, with the help of a few friends.

Gideon Dayan is the cruise ship's head of security, a former Mossad operative who's recovering from the wounds caused by a bomb attack which killed the woman he loved, another member of Mossad. Lin intrigues him more than any woman has in a long time, but it's clear there's some mystery surrounding her. And on her part, Lin is just as attracted to Gideon, but dares not put her son at risk.

So we've got protagonist with very unique backgrounds, a potentially very interesting conflict, exotic locations in the Mediterranean and an author who I know can write wonderful books. No way this could go wrong.

But somehow, it did. I just cannot believe this was written a few years after Do-Over. It often felt clumsy and shallow, as if it was a first book, rather than a more recent one. The dialogue tended towards stilted, the chemistry between Gideon and Lin was pretty tepid and the action more plot-driven than inspired by the characters the author had set up. Actually, the characters were so inconsistent, that maybe the action made sense. For instance, Lin is one minute thinking that it feels so wrong to have someone other than her husband kiss her and the next, she's buying condoms and sexy nighties to seduce Gideon, without the reader ever understanding what made her change her mind.

The big conflict between Gideon and Lin is also pretty inconsistent. It's not about Lin hiding the baby at all, it's about her intending to continue her husband's work, risking her life for the cause of democracy. First of all, I found it a bit rich that Gideon would reject the idea of a cause ever being worth risking one's life for, given that he's a member of Mossad. What is that if not risking your life for something you believe in? He goes on about how it was risking her life for a cause that killed his beloved Rachel, but she was doing exactly what he would have done (and actually tried to do) and what for most of the book he intends to keep doing, given that he plans to go back to his work. The other problem is that Lin keeps saying that she's going to do this, leave her child in Paris and continue her husband's work, but she doesn't appear to give that cause even a passing thought. This is not a woman passionately committed to justice, which makes Gideon actually right that she shouldn't be doing this, only he's right for all the wrong reasons.

I also had a problem with the ending, when they deal with a risk to Lin and her son by threatening certain people with exposing some past crimes of theirs. I was very uncomfortable with their making the decision not to report these crimes (they never even consider doing it, actually), and actually just use them for their own purposes. It was crimes committed against others, who would have deserved if not justice, at least revenge on the perpetrators. It was not Lin and Gideon's right to keep this hidden.

To make things even worse, this book is part of a continuity series. I didn't know it was. I absolutely hate Harlequin's continuities and avoid them like the plague. Whenever I do end up reading one (usually because it's written by an autobuy author whose backlist I'm determined to read), I always hope that the overarching bits are unobtrusive. I often get that, as quite a few entries in those series are just token parts of them. This was not the case here, especially for the first half of the book. There's this thing about stolen treasures, a woman who's disappeared from the cruise ship and her captor, whom she thinks is part of the Mafia but is clearly protecting her from something. There's also a priest who's just as obviously mixed up in something nasty, and his contact on the ship. There's a lot of time spent on them in the first half of the book, which I suppose might have been slightly interesting, if I knew who these people were and understood what they were mixed up in. I didn't. And then in the second half, this whole thing disappears, and there's no closure whatsoever.

MY GRADE: A C-. For most of the book, I had to force myself to keep reading.


A Rake's Guide to Pleasure, by Victoria Dahl

>> Thursday, December 16, 2010

TITLE: A Rake's Guide to Pleasure
AUTHOR: Victoria Dahl

PAGES: 289

SETTING: 19th century England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: It's linked to the other historicals I've read by this author, To Tempt a Scotsman and One Week as Lovers (I think it's in the middle of those two, but I might be wrong).

REASON FOR READING: Picked it up at the library


Raised by a titled, yet degenerate, father, Emma Jensen never imagined the gamblinglessons she learned as a child would one day serve her well. When she finds herself indire need of money, she concocts the alias of Dowager Lady Denmore andsets off to bewitch London’s noblemen by engaging them in games of chance. The fact that respectable ladies do not gamble does notintimidate her in the least. But the darkly handsome Duke of Somerhart does—for he’s awakened a deep, sensual hunger in her…


The dashing Duke of Somerhart has the notorious reputation of being one of London’s most incurable rogues. When he meets the alluring Lady Denmore, he is immediately intrigued. Her recklessness and innocence intertwined titillates him as no other woman ever has. But what secret is the lovely Lady Denmore hiding? He’s determined to find out. But first he must seduce her until she surrenders completely to his most wicked desires...
Emma Jensen is playing a dangerous game. After the death of her scandalous father, she was left with very little security, and has found it necessary to make her own fortune in London. The way she's chosen to go about it is a very risky one: she's pretending to be a widowed noblewoman, and using the freedom confered by that status to try gamble her way into making some money. She's getting close to getting enough to put together a nest egg that will allow her to live a modest but comfortable life when she attracts the attention of the Duke of Somerhart.

Hart is clearly interested in Emma, and she reciprocates his attraction. However, they met briefly when Emma was a girl (Hart was attending one of her father's infamous orgy parties and helped her get out of the way and out of danger). It was just a moment, and many years back, but Emma is still terrified that Hart will recognise her and know she's not who she's pretending to be, and so the game will be up.

But no matter how much she tries to avoid his attention, Hart is too intrigued to let it go. In spite of the cold, uncaring facade he's cultivated since a woman made a fool of him when he was young, Hart's growing feelings for this mysterious woman prove too hard for him to resist.

This sounds like a pretty average historical romance plot, but Dahl makes it feel fresh and different. It's all down to characterisation that's subtle and complicated and makes the characters come alive.

With Emma, I was a bit on edge at the beginning. Her behaviour really is quite risky, and I thought she'd better have some very good reasons to take the risks she's taking. In the end, they weren't the dramatic reasons I expected to find out about, but were rooted in the person she was and the way her past had affected her, and because of that, they did make sense. Mind you, I thought they were, to some extent, the sort of reasons I would expect more from a 21st century woman, but ok, given the person she was, I bought it.

That said, some things about Emma's character, I didn't completely get. Like, for instance, what exactly was her problem with marriage? I didn't really understand why the extreme reaction, and I was a bit confused by how it went from being front and centre in her thoughts to sometimes not being particularly an issue.

As for Hart, I always love to see the cold, forbidding man completely losing his mind and uncharacteristically going for a woman who's obviously completely wrong for him, just because he can't seem to keep away. It was especially poignant to see it in Hart's case, because unlike some of those other cold, forbidding characters, he has good reason to be that way. He was subject to ridicule over a woman as a young, inexperienced man, and his coldness is a defense mechanism. It's also a defense mechanism I actually saw the need for, given the way the ton is portrayed here.

All in all, an enjoyable book. I still think Dahl's voice worked even better in the one contemporary of hers that I read though. I need to read a couple more to test that out.



The Careful Use of Compliments, by Alexander McCall Smith

>> Tuesday, December 14, 2010

TITLE: The Careful Use of Compliments
AUTHOR: Alexander McCall Smith

PAGES: 261

SETTING: Contemporary Scotland
TYPE: Fiction
SERIES: 4th in the Sunday Philosophy Club series.

REASON FOR READING: Random pick at the library.

In the fourth installment of this enchanting, beloved series, Isabel Dalhousie, who is now a mother, returns to investigate an irresistible puzzle in the art world.

Isabel Dalhousie—the nosiest and most sympathetic philosopher you are likely to meet—now has a son, Charlie, whose doting father Jamie has an intriguing idea to pose to Isabel: marriage. But Isabel wonders if Jamie is too young to be serious? And how would Cat respond? On top of these matters, the ambitious Professor Dove has seized Isabel's position as editor of the Review of Applied Ethics. However, nothing it seems can diminish Isabel's innate curiosity. And when she recognizes that two paintings attributed to a deceased artist have simultaneously appeared on the market, she can't help but think that they're forgeries. So Isabel begins an investigation and soon finds herself diverted from her musings about parenthood and onto a path of inquiry into the soul of an artist.
I wondered if I should keep reading when I started The Careful Use of Compliments. I picked this one up at the library without knowing anything about it, so I hadn't realised that it was the 4th in a series. That was immediately clear once I started reading: a lot had happened to these characters in previous books. Isabel Dalhousie is a philosopher and the editor of the Review of Applied Ethics. She is involved in a relationship with a much younger man, Jamie, who used to date her niece, Cat. Not only that: Isabel has just had a baby by him, little Charlie. All this seems to have happened in the previous books, and in the first couple of chapters, there are also mentions of other characters I would probably have recognised had I read those earlier installments. I wondered if I shouldn't just go back to the library and start at the beginning.

Being lazy, however, I just kept on reading, and I'm glad I did. McCall Smith brings the reader up to date in the first few chapters, and even though it does feel a bit awkward, once that's done, it's done, and TCUOC stands alone perfectly well.

There are quite a few things going on during the book. Isabel's position as the editor of the Review is threatened by, as she calls it, palace intrigue. She gets mixed up in the mystery of the provenance of soem paintings supposedly done by the late painter Andrew MacInnes. Cat, who has previously studiously ignored the issue of Jamie and Charlie invites Isabel and Jamie to a dinner party. And Isabel's housekeeper, Grace, is taking over the care of Charlie. Not to mention, Isabel and Jamie's relationship keeps progressing in fits and starts.

That sounds like quite a lot, but it's all very relaxing and undramatic. Most of those issues are done in a very understated and relaxed manner, without much excitement. My least favourite was probably the bit with the paintings. I just couldn't work up much interest in it. The one I liked best was the threat to Isabel's position as editor. Right until the end, I suspected the author was not going to let Isabel deal with it as she really should. She's presented as a very thoughtful person, very concerned with doing the right thing, and I thought that was going to be used as an excuse for her making a decision that would have let really poisonous people get their way. She doesn't. Justice is done, and it's clear Isabel isn't above a bit of pettiness, which made me like her even better and kept her from being a bit too goody goody.

An enjoyable read, but possibly a bit too low key, and one that ends with a whimper.



Lord Sin, by Kalen Hughes

>> Sunday, December 12, 2010

TITLE: Lord Sin
AUTHOR: Kalen Hughes

PAGES: 304

SETTING: 1780s England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: First in the Rakes of London series

REASON FOR READING: I picked it up when it came out because it sounded interesting and it's been in my TBR ever since

Six Nights Of Pleasure...

Georgianna Exley's passionate nature has always been her undoing, and for this reason the beautiful young widow allows her lovers only a single night in her bed. But Ivo Dauntry has come home to England, and for him she'll break her most sacred rule: granting him six nights of sensual bliss, one for every year he's given up for her...

Six Years To Wait...

As a gentleman born, Ivo risked his reputation and his life in a duel to defend Georgianna's honor. Now, returned from exile, Ivo discovers that she has proven to be less than a lady...and soon, his daring seduction becomes a sensual contest of wills. But the long-ago duel that bound them forever has fueled the hatred of a madman determined to make Georgianna pay for her misdeeds with her life, and once again, Ivo must risk everything to save the woman he loves...
Six years earlier, the young Ivo Dauntry developed a huge crush on recently-married Georgianna Exley. When one night at a party he saw her being harassed by a drunken guest, Ivo didn't stop to think. The ensuing duel, in which he killed the other man, resulted in him being exiled in Italy for years.

But now Ivo has returned, after unexpectedly becoming his grandfather's heir. And the first person he sees, at a boxing match, no less, is Georgianna. The previously demure and virtuous young matron is looking very familiar with a man who's not her husband. Ivo feels betrayed... after what he gave up for her, he thinks, she owes him to remain virtuous. And if she's going to cheat on her husband, it should be with him.

And that sets the tone for the rest of the book. Ivo's crush on Georgianna is just as painful and massive as it was all those years earlier, and he's determined to have her, especially after realising she's widowed.

George, however, has built a life she really enjoys since her husband (whom she actually loved very much) died. She is surrounded by masses and masses of (mostly male) friends, who have adopted her house as their unofficial club and are happy to indulge George's every whim, however inappropriate. They're all half in love with her, but at the same time, they treat her almost as another of the boys. This doesn't mean she's remained celibate. She's quite discriminating, but she has taken lovers, although none for more than a night. George is enjoying her life too much to have any desire to involve herself in a relationship, much less with Ivo, who is obviously the possessive and domineering kind.

Ivo has other ideas, though, and is willing to do anything to convince George.

I'm a bit conflicted about this one. On one hand, I had huge problems with the hero and with certain other stuff about the story which I felt was lacking (much, much more about that afterwards). On the other, I did like the heroine very much and remained interested in the story all the way through, never feeling tempted to skim or not finish the book.

My main and most important problem was that I didn't really believe in the romance, especially on Ivo's part. Oh, he definitely lusts after George and is incredibly fixated on her. But love? Does he really know her at all? I never saw them talk about anything important, and he seems to want to change pretty much everything about her, except for her looks.

Not to mention, I found Ivo to be a bit of an asshole. George's impression that he is the possessive and domineering kind? Completely right. Early in the book, when they're barely involved at all, he observes how her friends are always at her house and thinks: "There'd be changes ahead if he had anything to say about it, and he had every intention of having that right" He's also an asshole about other stuff. "George would make more than a dream lover... she'd been in training her whole life to make a lord the perfect wife. If he could only bring her round he could have them both: the lady in the drawing room and the whore in the bedroom". Lovely, lovely guy.

The reason I was ok with this as I was reading was that I assumed that these issues would be dealt with. George certainly sees them as problematic, and as I mentioned, they are the reason why she does not want a proper relationship with Ivo initially. But they just aren't. She decides she loves him, and that's that. At the point in the end when she decides that she's going to give in to what he wants, I didn't want her to. I didn't want her to be with him.

My other big issue was that it felt as if a lot had been cut out of the book. The issue of the initial duel, for instance, just disappears, even though it's been set up at the beginning as something really important. The effect of the years of exile on Ivo? Nothing more than a bit tension with his grandfather. He thinks at the beginning that George owes him for what he's given up for her, but just exactly what did he give up? And it's clear George sees things very differently. She didn't ask for Ivo's help. In fact, she would have much preferred it if he'd stayed out of it. She could handle a pesky inebriated Frenchman perfectly well on her own, and in fact, had done so before. Plus, it's suggested that after the duel and the scandal, this had an effect on her relationship with her beloved husband (which was another thing that was underwritten - we're told she love him, but that's that). But do they ever talk about this, Ivo and George? Nope. As far as I could see, at the end of the book, Ivo still thinks he did her a favour and she owes him.

And how about the murder of George's maid? It was ages until she even mentioned that oh, yes, her maid had been killed in a hotel fire. Oh, and her friends! That Brimstone guy, he's hovering around all the time, as if we'd been told enough that we'd be interested in him, but we hadn't. I don't think I know anything at all about him. Not what his problem is, not how he and George became friends, nothing. I don't know, this is not a long book, maybe it needed to be made as short as it is and this was just the case of bad editing?

Another thing I didn't much like is that there's a suspense subplot running in parallel to the love story which was pretty bad. The son of the Frenchman killed in the duel by Ivo wants revenge against George for leading his father to his death (he doesn't seem to particularly care about Ivo, for some strange reason). He tries to kill her a few times in the story, and his antics give both Ivo and George the opportunity to act as twits towards the end, when George and her friends have set up a trap for the unknown killer. Ivo seems to completely forget about it and needlessly puts George in danger. Boring and pointless, I'd much rather Hughes had used the space devoted to this to actually fleshing out some of the underwritten things about the romance.

There are some very good things here, though. George is pretty cool and I want more heroines like her. I loved that she has an unconventional life and very much enjoys it and is unapologetic about it, including her sexuality. And I really appreciated that there isn't any message here that there's anything wrong with her living her life. We're not told she needs a man who will stop her from running wild and save her from herself, or any such nonsense.

I also loved that this is no wallpaper historical. It's set in the 1780s, and the period really comes alive. It's not that there's a lot about the politics and historical events, it's just that the people, the atmosphere, the attitudes, they're all incredibly vivid. The author's note refers to Hughes being very much into her history and verisimilitude and accuracy being important to her. This definitely comes through (although it makes it a bit weird that she has George giving a bunch of her friends' children £5 each to spend doing their Christmas shopping in the village).

Oh, and the other thing I enjoyed was how Hughes managed to keep them apart once they got back to London. Ivo thinks that once they're there, it will be plain sailing, but it turns out that he can barely get a minute alone with George, and his frustration was quite funny. It didn't feel contrived, either.

Even with the negatives being many more than the positives, the positives I liked so much that I'm likely to try Hughes again, even if this one wasn't a complete success.



Provocative in Pearls, by Madeline Hunter

>> Friday, December 10, 2010

TITLE: Provocative in Pearls
AUTHOR: Madeline Hunter

PAGES: 352

SETTING: Regency England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Second in the Rarest Blooms series

REASON FOR READING: I picked this up right after loving Ravishing in Red, the previous book in the series.

When Verity’s past abruptly finds her, her recent behavior promises to unleash the scandal of the decade. Of more concern to her, she now has to outwit fate or be forced back into a marriage to a lord whom she never freely accepted. She never expects for the stranger who is her husband to create so much sensual excitement, however, or for her quest for the life she was supposed to live instead to reveal a conspiracy that endangers them both.
We met both Grayson, the Earl of Hawkswell and Verity Thompson in Ravishing in Red (although Verity was going under another name there). Hawkswell's problems were made clear to us then. He'd married the heiress of a trade fortune for her money, only for the previously seemingly biddable girl to disappear right after the ceremony. All indications were that she'd either met with an accident and drowned or committed suicide, but there is no body, so Hawkswell is left stuck in limbo. As far as the law's concerned, there's no proof his wife is dead, so he can't inherit her money yet. At the same time, thanks to her greedy cousin, even as her husband, he can't touch her money at all. He cannot even try to get the marriage annuled. And meanwhile, his estate continues to deteriorate and his people to suffer.

Verity we knew far less about in RIR. She was clearly hiding out amongst the other women, trying to avoid someone, but we never really knew whom. It didn't, however, take that much brainpower to deduce she's Hawkswell's runaway wife.

It turns out that Verity never wanted to marry Hakswell, but was pressured into it by her (greedy, as we've established) cousin. He threatened to harm someone she cared for unless she did his bidding, and it was only after the ceremony that Verity discovered he'd already done what he was trying to hold over her head. Believing that her new husband was complicit in her cousin's actions, she decided to leave, planning to request an annulment in a few years, when she was of an age to take control of her life.

At the beginning of Provocative in Pearls events come to a head when Hawkswell accidentally runs into Verity. As far as he's concerned, that's it, she'll now take her place as his wife and he'll finally be able to get on with fixing his estate. But Verity has other ideas.

This book worked so well for me because I completely understood the characters, Verity in particular. Her actions in the past were, to me, more than justified. To the best of her knowledge, she planted enough evidence to be actually considered dead, which would have given Grayson exactly what he wanted out of the marriage. She had no way of knowing that due to her cousin's intervention, the situation would end up with Grayson left in an impossible situation, not being able to touch the money because of the lack of consumation of the marriage, and yet not able to marry someone else because of delays in Verity being confirmed dead. She wasn't punishing him with what she did (even believing he had connived with he cousin), she was simply showing the same lack of consideration for the other person as he had in not seeking out to speak to her in private before the wedding to make sure his bride was willing.

Grayson's actions on finding out that his wife was alive were also fully understandable and relatable. Of course he's angry! He does listen to her, and accepts her explanation that she didn't intend the consequences that happened, but after all, he has been in a nightmare situation for the last years, and Verity has caused it, on purpose or not. And yet, angry as he is, he's still reasonable enough to listen to her explanations and accept a way of bringing her back into society that won't hurt her unduly.

Where I thought Hunter made a false step was in using that tired plot device of "I'll do what you ask if you will allow me three kisses a day". *Groan*. I know I've liked some books with this element, but enough already. This is a plot device that should die, and now. Plus, at the moment Grayson made his proposal, I didn't feel he felt anything for Verity, other than anger at what she had put him through and exasperation that he couldn't just get things done and go straight into a normal, stress-free marriage. I didn't really see much of an attraction on his part then.

That, however, did come, and this ended up being a very good, mostly character-driven romance. Sinful in Satin is out now, and I can't wait to read it.



Indulgence in Death, by JD Robb

>> Wednesday, December 08, 2010

TITLE: Indulgence in Death

PAGES: 384

SETTING: 2060 New York
TYPE: Romantic suspense / Police procedural
SERIES: 32nd full-length novel in the series, if I'm counting correctly

REASON FOR READING: Autoread series

First it was a limo driver shot through the neck with a crossbow. Then it was a high-priced escort found stabbed through the heart with a bayonet.

Random hits, thrill kills, murderers with a taste for the finer things in life-and death-are making NYPSD Lieutenant Eve Dallas angry. And an angry Eve can be just as an efficient and dangerous predator as the killer.

As time runs out on another innocent victim's life, Eve's investigation will take her into the rarefied circle that her husband, Roarke, travels in-and into the perverted heart of madness...
After a particularly successful visit with Roarke's family in Ireland (not only nice time spent with aunties and cousins, but even a murder solved!), Eve arrives back to a very strange case. First it's a limo driver killed with a crossbow in a car park. A few days later, it's an exclusive call girl stabbed with a bayonet in the house of horrors at Coney Island. The early evidence points to someone killing purely for the thrill of it, someone with the money to indulge their vile fantasies. And they're clearly not finished.

After so many books in this series, I kind of group them according to whether they concentrate on the personal stuff, the case, or balance both. This one is very much mostly about the case. There's always some relationship stuff, of course, and what was there was very good (I especially liked seeing Morris again and seeing how Eve is getting more comfortable in her role as supportive friend with him), but the case was the big thing here.

Fortunately, I found it interesting and liked what Robb did with it. It's not really a whodunnit, as before long, Eve knows exactly who did it. It's not even a howdunnit, as she also knows perfectly well how it's all being done. It's proving it that's the problem, getting enough evidence to convince the prosecutors to issue warrants and to ensure that justice is done in Court (obviously, a rich defendant means a good lawyer who will destroy a less-than-solid case).

So what we get is Eve and her team painstakingly gathering that evidence, looking at past cases, looking at connections and building a very complete picture of who they're after. And as always, Robb's police procedural elements are entertaining and satisfying to read. The one exception here was that I couldn't figure out why, if Eve knew who did it and she knew there would be another murder shortly, she didn't have surveillance in place to follow the suspect(s) around. Am I missing something?

Also, I was a bit disappointed that this ended up feeling like a novel with a short story stuck in front. I was expecting the first bit in Ireland, enjoyable as it was on its own, to also have some relevance to the rest of the story. It didn't really have to be a huge coincidence, necessarily, but maybe something about the visit sparking an a-ha! moment in Eve. This didn't happen. Not a huge problem, but it did feel a bit weird.

On the whole, though, even though this isn't amongst the very best of the In Death series, I had a very good time reading it. I always just sink into these books and the pages keep turning and turning easily.



A Place of Secrets, by Rachel Hore

>> Monday, December 06, 2010

TITLE: A Place of Secrets
AUTHOR: Rachel Hore

PAGES: 456

SETTING: Contemporary England
TYPE: Fiction

REASON FOR READING: I kind of liked the first of this author's books that I read, The Memory Garden. Her plots appeal to me, even if the execution of TMG wasn't as good as it could have been.

The night before it all begins, Jude has the dream again ...

Can dreams be passed down through families? As a child Jude suffered a recurrent nightmare: running through a dark forest, crying for her mother. Now her six-year-old niece, Summer, is having the same dream, and Jude is frightened for her. A successful auctioneer, Jude is struggling to come to terms with the death of her husband. When she's asked to value a collection of scientific instruments and manuscripts belonging to Anthony Wickham, a lonely 18th century astronomer, she leaps at the chance to escape London for the untamed beauty of Norfolk, where she grew up.

As Jude untangles Wickham's tragic story, she discovers threatening links to the present. What have Summer's nightmares to do with Starbrough folly, the eerie crumbling tower in the forest from which Wickham and his adopted daughter Esther once viewed the night sky? With the help of Euan, a local naturalist, Jude searches for answers in the wild, haunting splendour of the Norfolk woods. Dare she leave behind the sadness in her own life, and learn to love again?
When antiquarian Jude is offered the opportunity of valuing a collection of books and telescopes belonging to 18th century astronomer Anthony Wickham, she grabs it with both hands. Her grandmother and sister both live in the area (her gran even grew up in a cottage in the very estate where the collection is housed), and Jude doesn't see them as often as she'd like to. Plus, the subject matter is interesting.

Jude has barely started going through the collection when she finds a journal written by someone called Esther Wickham. As she reads through it, she discovers that Esther was Anthony's adopted daughter, and had an unsuspected role in her father's work. Through Esther's own words, we, too, get her story.

The discovery of Esther's journal isn't the only issue for Jude to concentrate on. She and her very prickly sister have always had a bit of a conflictive relationship, and this is only aggravated when Jude attracts the attention of a man Claire might have had her eye on. Not to mention, Claire's daughter has started having bad dreams that sound exactly like the ones that have tormented Jude all her life. And when the little girl starts dreaming of things that Jude later confirms in Esther's journal, it all gets even weirder.

This is a type of story I like. The story within a story, with the discovery of the details of someone's life through clues the present-day character finds, the paranormal elements that don't overwhelm the plot, the several plot lines that you just know are going to be connected but have no idea how, a bit of romance and a good dose of family drama -all stuff I very much enjoy. And I did enjoy it here, only I can't help but think that if the execution had been a bit better, it would have been a cracking good book.

The main area where I thought Hore could have done a much better job was the lack of any real detective work to actually discover the story of Esther. The absolute master at doing this, in my opinion, is Barbara Michaels (aka Elizabeth Peters). The reason it works so well when she does it is that her characters might accidentally run into the begining of the story, but it's never easy to get the whole of it. They have to do research and look in unlikely places, and there's often a moment of almost-despair, when they think they've ran into a wall and will never be able to find out what really happened. In this book, though, Jude's effort is limited to deciphering some hard-to-read handwriting and checking a hole. There's a little bit more work near the end, but the amount of coincidence required to make things work is rather unbelievable. It's all a bit unsatisfying, and it was pretty much the same sort of thing in the previous book of Hore's that I read.

The rest was good, and I think what I liked best was the very fraught relationship between Jude and Claire. It's clear they both love each other, but for some reason always end up doing things that hurt the other. There were also hints of some big betrayal in the past, and I must say, Hore really got me there. I was absolutely convinced (as I'm sure she was intending, given the hints she kept dropping) something in particular had happened. I was completely wrong, and I can't be upset about it, because there was no trickery involved, just good and well-place red herrings.

All in all, a nice, if low-key story.



Missing in Death, by JD Robb

>> Saturday, December 04, 2010

TITLE: Missing in Death (in The Lost anthology)

PAGES: Approximately 80

SETTING: 2050s New York
TYPE: Mystery short story
SERIES: Part of the In Death series

REASON FOR READING: Autobuy author and series

J. D. Robb's Missing in Death investigates a female tourist's disappearance during a ferry ride. Detective Eve Dallas wonders...if she didn't jump, and she's not on board, then where in the world is she?

In Missing in Death, Eve is called in when Carolee Grogan, on holiday in New York with her family, suddenly disappears from the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. Her family is terrified, as she was last seen intending to enter a toilet which is now covered in enough blood that it's clear someone died there. Carolee soon turns up alive and fine, but without any memory of what just happened, and for Eve, that's only the beginning of the mystery.

It all started out brilliantly. Just how did the killer get out of that toilet with a dead body and Carolee in tow? How come no one saw him/her? And whyever would someone choose to kill in such a way, taking such risks? It was all very intriguing, even slightly spooky, but unfortunately it all soon turned into my least favourite kind of In Death. Spooks, mysterious weapons, evil government conspiracies, industrial espionage, that kind of thing. It all ended up being a bit boring on the mystery end.

On the relationship end, it was more interesting, but hardly scintillating stuff. Eve has to grapple with her conscience and her sense of right and wrong, as she's had to do in quite a few of the previous books. I've sometimes felt she's made choices that weren't really the choices the character Robb's been creating for tens of books would make, but this was ok. Right on the line, yes, but on the right side of it.

There was some cute stuff, too, succeeding in creating some light relief. I liked the Grogan family, and Peabody's delight at being hit on was funny and sweet.

On the whole, I did enjoy this, only not as much as I thought I would when I started. The short stories aren't really the best Robb has to offer, her stories work best when she's got a bit more space. Fortunately, I just got a call from my library to tell me my copy of Indulgence in Death is there waiting for me. Even though the reviews haven't been the greatest, I can't wait.



The Sinner, by Tess Gerritsen

>> Thursday, December 02, 2010

TITLE: The Sinner
AUTHOR: Tess Gerritsen

PAGES: 355
PUBLISHER: Ballantine

SETTING: Contemporary US (Boston)
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: #3 in Jane Rizzoli / Maura Isles series

REASON FOR READING: I'm really getting into this series

Not even the icy temperatures of a typical New England winter can match the bone-chilling scene of carnage discovered at the chapel of Our Lady of Divine Light. Within the cloistered convent lie two nuns–one dead, one critically injured–victims of an unspeakably savage attacker.

The brutal crime appears to be without motive, but medical examiner Maura Isles’s autopsy of the dead woman yields a shocking surprise: Twenty-year-old Sister Camille gave birth before she was murdered. Then another body is found, mutilated beyond recognition.

Together, Isles and homicide detective Jane Rizzoli uncover an ancient horror that connects these terrible slaughters. As long-buried secrets come to light, Maura Isles finds herself drawn inexorably toward the heart of an investigation that strikes close to home–and toward a dawning revelation about the killer’s identity too shattering to consider.
It's a frigid winter's day in Boston and Detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles are called to investigate a murderous attack in an unlikely place: a covent for cloistered nuns. Two of them have been found in the chapel. One has been bludgeoned to death, the other one is only barely hanging on.

When the one who's died is discovered to have just had a baby, the detectives' attention automatically focuses on her. But a mysterious death elsewhere in the city suggests the attack on the other nun might have its own implications.

The Sinner is the book in this series where we finally get to really meet Maura Isles. She was only briefly introduced in The Apprentice, but that glimpse was more than enough to intrigue me. And Gerritsen delivers, with a character as interesting as she seemed to be, a woman who might intentionally project an ice-cold "Queen of Death" facade, but who is in reality very much alive. In this book, Maura not only has to investigate two different crimes (and I really enjoyed seeing her work -she's as competent as Jane and I quite like the CSI aspects of her work), but she also has to deal with the reappearance of her ex-husband. He seems to want her back, but why is he so insistent all of a sudden?

Even with focus on Maura, there is still quite a bit about Jane, and what's going on in her life is just as big. She is not feeling quite herself, getting queasy when she never did and constantly running for the toilet. Does that suggest anything to you, by any chance? Jane has to decide what she wants to do about it, and it's a tough one.

I must say, this was not my favourite part of the book. There's obviously more about the romance which started in the last book, and I'm really not feeling it. Weird, considering Gerritsen used to be a romance novelist -I would expect her to know exactly how to develop a believable romance! And also, I really didn't like the scene where Jane makes up her mind about what to do. It felt a bit preachy and non-Jane to me.

What I did like, and very much, was seeing the very beginnings of friendship between Maura and Jane. The two don't immediately click and become best pals straight away. They're just not the kind of women to make that kind of instant connection, especially since they meet in a work context and both have found necessary over the years to present an extremely impersonal, professional facade when at work. So when they accidentally see glimpses of the private people they each are behind their facades, it's a bit startling at first, but it's also a first step in forging a different sort of relationship. It's not one that goes very far in this book, but I look forward to seeing it grow in the next ones.

Finally, the other thing I should mention is that I had a bit of a strange time with the pacing. Nothing that I can point to objectively that was wrong, just a feeling. The previous two books felt big and meaty, the sort of books which you can really sink into. This one, however, felt like it was over when it had only just got going. The weird thing is that it's not that I can objectively see anything that needed to be more developed, it just felt like "Oh, is that it?".



Susanna Kearsley contest

>> Wednesday, December 01, 2010

I don't usually plug contests or other sites, but I'm making an exception for this: the Historical Tapestry blog, one of my favourites, is having a week devoted to the wonderful Susanna Kearsley. As part of it, they are giving away 6 copies (some international, some US-only) of The Winter Sea (aka Sophia's Secret). If you haven't read it yet, I strongly encourage you to enter. It's an amazing read (just see my glowing review here).


My Best Friend's Girl, by Dorothy Koomson

>> Tuesday, November 30, 2010

TITLE: My Best Friend's Girl
AUTHOR: Dorothy Koomson

PAGES: 437

SETTING: Contemporary England
TYPE: I always have trouble categorising Koomson's book. This would be serious chick lit, with a large dose of Women's Fiction.

REASON FOR READING: I love the author's books

What would you do for the friend who broke your heart? Best friends Kamryn Matika and Adele Brannon thought nothing could come between them - until Adele did the unthinkable and slept with Kamryn's fiance, Nate. Worse still, she got pregnant and had his child. When Kamryn discovered the truth about their betrayal she vowed never to see any of them again. Two years later, Kamryn receives a letter from Adele asking her to visit her in hospital. Adele is dying and begs Kamryn to adopt her daughter, Tegan. With a great job and a hectic social life, the last thing Kamryn needs is a five year old to disrupt things. Especially not one who reminds her of Nate. But with no one else to take care of Tegan and Adele fading fast, does she have any other choice? So begins a difficult journey that leads Kamryn towards forgiveness, love, responsibility and, ultimately, a better understanding of herself.
Years earlier, Kamryn discovered her best friend had slept with her fiance, Nate. And it gets worse. The mysterious father of Adele's little girl, whose identity she always refused to reveal? Yep, that was actually none other than Nate.

Feeling betrayed and completely shattered, Kamryn immediately broke with the lot of them and never looked back. But now Adele has managed to get through Kamryn's barriers and contacted her. Adele has terminal cancer and is desperate to make sure her daughter, Tiga, doesn't end up being raised by her vile, vile grandfather.

Much as she always adored little Tiga, Kamryn has never wanted children, and is reluctant to make that bitch Adele any promises. But when she gives in to her sense of duty and goes to check up on Tiga, she realises Adele's fears were well founded, and she simply cannot leave the little girl with her abusive grandfather.

And fitting in a small girl in mourning into her life isn't the only challenge Kamryn is facing. Her boss, with whom she had an excellent relationship, has just retired, and the company has brought in a new American manager to take over. The new guy, Luke, immediately makes it clear that he disapproves of everything Kamryn does. She clearly only got to her position because she was sleeping with her former boss, she's incompetent, and he even insinuates he thinks she's overweight (yeah, he's awfully professional, that Luke).

But the man also has a non-asshole side, and that comes to light when he meets Tiga. The two immediately fall in love with each other, and Luke begins to spend more and more time with the girl, and by extension, with Kamryn. But no sooner do they get over their initial misconceptions and start tentatively developing a relationship, Nate shows up. He wants his daughter, and he wants Kamryn back.

Describing this book as angsty is an understatement. But it's the good type of angsty. I never feel manipulated by Koomson, even as I try to swallow the lump in my throat and struggle not to cry. Everyone here is neither villain nor all good, and I do mean everyone. Even Nate and Adele, whom I started out considering disgusting cheats with no redeeming features whatsoever, end up being understandable and real, and definitely not all bad.

Kamryn was the one I felt for the most, though. Koomson doesn't flinch at showing us how badly she struggles with this situation she's been placed in through no fault of her own. She has never, ever wanted children, and has built a life for herself that she loves and which really does fulfill her. When she suddenly has to take Riga into that life, it's not all roses. There's no nonsense about her immediately realising what the meaning of life really is, or anything like that, which, as someone who has absolutely no desire to have children, I really appreciated. She does love Tiga, and ends up with a life she still enjoys, but there's no question that she wouldn't have chosen to raise a child otherwise, and that having Tiga doesn't mean she now wants children of her own.

The only reason this is not an A is the ending. I won't reveal who Kamryn ends up with and how, but I will say I found it all a bit unsatisfying. It didn't really feel like a HEA ending. It felt as if she was settling, and that for both her and the man she ends up with, it was all more about loving Tiga than about loving each other. I couldn't help but feel underwhelmed.



Archangel's Kiss, by Nalini Singh

>> Sunday, November 28, 2010

TITLE: Archangel's Kiss
AUTHOR: Nalini Singh

PAGES: 352

SETTING: Alternate version of our world, set mostly in the angels' refuge
TYPE: Fantasy romance
SERIES: 2nd in the Guild Hunters series

REASON FOR READING: I liked book 1, Angel's Blood.

WARNING: Do not read even the plot summary quoted below if you haven't read book 1. Big series spoilers ahead!

New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh returns to her world of angelic rulers, vampiric servants, and the woman thrust into their darkly seductive world…

Vampire hunter Elena Deveraux wakes from a year-long coma to find herself changed—an angel with wings the colors of midnight and dawn—but her fragile body needs time to heal before she can take flight. Her lover, the stunningly dangerous archangel Raphael, is used to being in control—even when it comes to the woman he considers his own. But Elena has never done well with authority…

They’ve barely begun to understand each other when Raphael receives an invitation to a ball from the archangel Lijuan. To refuse would be a sign of fatal weakness, so Raphael must ready Elena for the flight to Beijing—and to the nightmare that awaits them there. Ancient and without conscience, Lijuan holds a power that lies with the dead. And she has organized the most perfect and most vicious of welcomes for Elena…
At the end of Angel's Blood, Elena wakes after a year spent in a coma after being injured in the big climactic fight to stop the deranged archangel Uram. On awakening, she is shocked to realise that her lover, the archangel Raphael has changed her into an angel in order to save her life.

Archangel's Kiss picks up right after this, and it's mostly about Elena adapting. First and foremost, she needs to adapt to being an angel, living in an environment that's completely alien to her. She's now amongst beings who are well aware of her weakness as a new angel and are determined to take advantage of this as a way of getting to Raphael.

But Elena also needs to adapt to her relationship with Raphael. Although very intense, their time together before she was changed wasn't long, and Raphael isn't like any man. One of the things I liked the most about Angel's Blood was how Singh had created a character who was clearly not human. He has only just enough humanity to be able to love, so obviously, a relationship with him is never going to be straightforward for a very human woman.

Parallel to this there is also a plot involving someone killing people, clearly manouvering to become an archange, as well as Lijuan, the oldest archangel, inviting Elena and Raphael to a ball. There are rumours of Lijuan losing the last vestiges of any humanity, and playing with the limit between life and death, so Elena needs to be as strong as possible for this occasion.

There were many excellent things about this book. The world Singh has created is very original, intrincate, and extremely well imagined. The dynamics of the angels, the hunters, the vampires and the normal humans are fascinating. This world is vivid, too. I could just see the New York that was the setting of the first book, and this one takes place in the angels' private refuge. It's a very different background, but it felt just as real.

The relationship between her hero and heroine was just as original. It was all passion and conflict in the first book, but here they have a lot more quiet time, while Elena trains and gets stronger and they work together to investigate what on earth is going on at the refuge. We also learn quite a lot more about the past that made them who they are, and that was all quite dramatic. I knew Elena had some horrible stuff in her past, but Raphael gives her a run for her money. And yet, it wasn't a miseryfest, but rather an opportunity for them to grow closer.

So lots of objectively really good things, and yet, maybe it was my mood, maybe it was the fact that I never got too interested in the external plot, but it felt like for a long time, the story was coasting without really getting started. I found it all a bit hard to get into, even lost interest in some of Elena and Raphael's interactions for a while (especially the love scenes -I just couldn't work up an interest in them).

And also, I couldn't shake loose the feeling that this seems like a quite unpleasant life to live, always having to be alert to evil plots and plans around you, always having to be wary because the other archangels spend their entire lives engaged in power play. It must be truly exhausting. I had sort of the same feeling when I read the first in Shana Abe's Drakkon series, and that kept me from seeing the ending as a true HEA. It wasn't quite like that here, but still.

I will definitely try the next one, hoping to like it better.


NOTE ON THE UK COVER: I was interested to know that the UK publishers, Gollancz, include a sort of checklist at the back of their urban fiction releases (click on the image to enlarge), I guess to help out their readers find books that fit their mood. According to them, AK is romantic and sexy, but not gothic, action-packed or funny. And come to think of it, they are right!


A Room Swept White, by Sophie Hannah

>> Friday, November 26, 2010

TITLE: A Room Swept White
AUTHOR: Sophie Hannah

PAGES: 454
PUBLISHER: Hodder & Stoughton

SETTING: Contemporary England
TYPE: Mystery / Suspense
SERIES: Some recurring characters

REASON FOR READING: Sophie Hannah is one of my friend H's favourite authors, and she insisted I borrow some of her books.

TV producer Fliss Benson receives an anonymous card at work. The card has sixteen numbers on it, arranged in four rows of four - numbers that mean nothing to her

On the same day, Fliss finds out she's going to be working on a documentary about miscarriages of justice involving cot death mothers wrongly accused of murder. The documentary will focus on three women: Helen Yardley, Sarah Jaggard and Rachel Hind. All three women are now free, and the doctor who did her best to send them to prison for life, child protection zealot Dr Judith Duffy, is under investigation for misconduct.

For reasons she has shared with nobody, this is the last project Fliss wants to be working on. And then Helen Yardley is found dead at her home, and in her pocket is a card with sixteen numbers on it, arranged in four rows of four...
The summary above is spot-on and there's no point reinventing the wheel, so I'll skip the plot description if you don't mind.

A Room Swept White started out very strong. It's a very puzzling mystery. For starters, who would want to kill Helen Yardley? The only person who might have a grudge against has a solid alibi, and event soon make it clear they couldn't have been the culprit. And what is it with the mysterious card with the 16 numbers? That would suggest some sort of serial killer, but evidence suggests Helen knew her murderer. It's all very intriguing, and I couldn't wait to find out just what on earth was going on.

Hannah managed to keep up this level of interest on my part throughout the entire story (and it's quite a brick of a book, too). The more things happened, the more puzzled I was, and the more I wanted to know how Hannah was going to link it all together and make it make sense. Unfortunately, the resolution wasn't as great as I would have hoped for. It wasn't that it left things unexplained or was completely unbelievable, but it lacked that "ahhh, so that was it!" that makes a mystery resolution satisfying. As it was, I was more like "really?".

ARSW is a bit unusual in that it's sort of part of a series, with two detectives who are recurring characters (they are also a couple), and yet, they weren't really the main characters. They're definitely important characters (Simon Waterhouse more than Charlie Zailer), but for a long time I didn't guess they were supposed to be any more important than any others. It was only when I got a couple too many references to past events that I had a look online and realised they had been part of Hannah's previous books. I'm planning to read some of those earlier books (my friend did give me quite a few), but it would have been nice to have been given a teeny bit more background on things like why Simon refuses to have sex with Charlie, or how exactly Charlie was so disgraced that she had to quit the force.

The person I would really consider the protagonist of this book was Fliss Benson, the young woman working on the documentary on cot deaths, who also receives the card with the 16 numbers on it. She was a character I found quite frustrating, as (possibly to move the plot in the direction the author needs it to go) she sometimes behaves very, very stupidly. I mean, you receive a photograph which you realise might be from the murderer. It doesn't implicate you in anything or reflect negatively on you at all? It should be obvious to anyone with half a brain that this is important information that the police really should have. So what sort of person would destroy the card and refuse to tell anyone about it? IMO, either a monumentally selfish or monumentally stupid one. Or both, which is what Fliss was, really. Very frustrating.

Reading back what I've written so far, this doesn't sounds like a good book at all. That's not quite right, even with all the problems I've described, there are some very good things about it, too. I quite liked the pulled-from-the-headlines feel of the plot. The characters are all quite vivid and interesting. Hannah very skilfully made me change my mind again and again about the original cot deaths -what seemed very clear at the beginning slowly became a lot grayer and muddier as the book progressed. And finally, the police work was quite satisfying to read, especially the way Simon found what he needed from the little boy -those were some of my favourite sections.



Blog template by simplyfabulousbloggertemplates.com

Back to TOP