I Heard Him Exclaim, by ZA Maxfield

>> Sunday, February 27, 2011

TITLE: I Heard Him Exclaim
AUTHOR: ZA Maxfield

PAGES: 150
PUBLISHER: Carina Press

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: M/M romance novella

REASON FOR READING: Part of the His For The Holidays anthology. The short stories are also sold separately, and I got only this one so far, although I might go back and get some of the others, which also sound good.

Who Likes a Skinny Santa?

Steve Adams's heart hasn't been in the Christmas spirit ever since doctors put a stent in it and ordered him to clean up his act. No longer filling out his Santa suit or allowed to make merry, he's forgoing the holidays this year and heading to Vegas to indulge in the few vices left to him: gambling and anonymous sex.

His road trip takes a detour when he encounters Chandler Tracey, who's just inherited guardianship of his five-year-old niece. Overwhelmed, Chandler's on his way to deliver Poppy to his parents. But fate has other plans and, after car trouble, Chandler and Poppy accept a ride home with Steve. Though the heat between the two men is obvious, they put it on simmer while they band together to make Poppy's Christmas as perfect as possible.

Steve soon comes to believe that while Chandler is the right person to look after Poppy, someone needs to look after Chandler. Fortunately, Steve knows just the man for the job.
No summary from me, as I don't think I could do a better job than whoever it was from Carina Press who wrote the above.

I read I Heard Him Exclaim a bit after Christmas, and it was just the right book to keep the Christmas high going. Yes, it's very sweet, and yes, there's not that much going on, but it still worked perfectly for me. It's sweet but it's not saccharine. I'd say it's more heartwarming than anything else, about people being nice to each other not because they feel an obligation to do so, but because they want to. I find that very in keeping with the spirit of Christmas. Maybe it's unrealistic, but who cares, I loved it. And the slight plot didn't bother me, either. The story is short, so I never got bored and actually read it in one sitting.

It's interesting that this was such a feel-good book, because the premise is actually quite sad. Chandler is not in a good place when he and Steve meet, and no wonder. He's still mourning his brother and sister-in-law, and at the same time, panicking because he just knows he can't do this thing of caring for a little girl. The best thing about the story is that although Steve kind of takes over at one point and gives Chandler a much needed break, when the time came to make the long-term decisions, I didn't feel Chandler got pushed into anything. Rather, I felt that what happened was that Steve made him see that he actually was capable of doing this, and that he could have some help if he wanted it. That makes all the difference.

I also loved the character of Steve and really felt his depression about not being Santa anymore. One of my favourite scenes was when Chandler tells him about something Poppy said that shows him that he hasn't lost his Santa-ness at all. I went all "awwww" inside ;-)



Vanish, by Tess Gerritsen

>> Friday, February 25, 2011

TITLE: Vanish
AUTHOR: Tess Gerritsen

PAGES: 416
PUBLISHER: Ballantine

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Mystery / Thriller
SERIES: 5th in the Rizzoli/Isles series

REASON FOR READING: This has become on of my favourite mystery series.

A nameless, beautiful woman appears to be just another corpse in the morgue. An apparent suicide, she lies on a gurney, awaiting the dissecting scalpel of medical examiner Maura Isles. But when Maura unzips the body bag and looks down at the body, she gets the fright of her life. The corpse opens its eyes.

Very much alive, the woman is rushed to the hospital, where with shockingly cool precision, she murders a security guard and seizes hostages . . . one of them a pregnant patient, Jane Rizzoli.

Who is this violent, desperate soul, and what does she want? As the tense hours tick by, Maura joins forces with Jane's husband, FBI agent Gabriel Dean, to track down the mysterious killer's identity. When federal agents suddenly appear on the scene, Maura and Gabriel realize that they are dealing with a case that goes far deeper than just an ordinary hostage crisis.

Only Jane, trapped with the armed madwoman, holds the key to the mystery. And only she can solve it-if she survives the night.
No summary from me for this one, the one above is fine. I'll only add that the book starts with a section on a group of young Eastern European women who are smuggled into the US and forced into sexual slavery**. When the action shifts to the first scene described above, with Maura Isles discovering that the supposed corpse she's about to dissect is actually alive, we know that there must be a connection to the human trafficking, but for a while, we don't know exactly what that is.

The beginning I thought was fantastic, with the scenes in the hospital and the hostage situation. It was tense and intriguing, and I couldn't wait to see how things would proceed. But then things change completely, and the whole hostage situation dissipates and Vanish turns into something completely different.

Unfortunately, I was left with the feeling that I kind of wished Gerritsen had written a different story, that she had continued in the direction she seemed to be going. It would have been brilliant if the entire book had taken place with Jane and Gabriel holed in with the hostage takers, with them investigating things from the inside, cooperating with Maura and Jane's team on the outside. That's what I thought would happen, and I think it would have been a better book.

Well, one I would have liked even more, anyway, because what the book turns into is a sort of government conspiracy, with our detectives' work hampered by people high above. This is one of my least favourite devices. It wasn't too bad here, which says a lot about just how good Gerritsen is, but it just annoys me in general and I hate it when I encounter it in a book where there were no indications it was coming.

As in the other books in this series, there's also stuff going on in the detectives' private lives, and that element of Vanish I quite enjoyed. Jane starts the book in labour, so it's no spoiler to disclose that she does have her baby. And knowing Jane, it's not an easy fit. I liked that much as she loves her newborn child, she's still fundamentally the Jane we've got to know. She misses work and has absolutely no intention of staying home. She isn't even tempted, in fact, and she's not branded a bad mother for it (well, she thinks to herself that she is, but it's obvious that the author isn't saying that)

It's not easy, though, and there is quite a bit of conflict between Jane and Gabriel because of it. That was really interesting. I could see where Gabriel was coming from, even though I completely agreed with Jane when she pretty much blasted him. The Jane - Gabriel thing has been woefully underdeveloped in previous books and I didn't really know anything about them as a couple, so this was a very welcome development.

Strangely enough, like with The Sinner, even though this is a long book, I got a slight feeling that we were only getting into the swing of things when it was suddenly over. I wonder what it is about some of Gerritsen's books that strikes me that way.

** I need to warn potential readers that these sections from "Mila"'s POV are really graphic and disturbing. Some very horrific and upsetting things happen.



The Finkler Question, by Howard Jacobson

>> Wednesday, February 23, 2011

TITLE: The Finkler Question
AUTHOR: Howard Jacobson

PAGES: 307
PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury

SETTING: Contemporary England
TYPE: Fiction

REASON FOR READING: Winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize, so we chose it for my book club in November

Julian Treslove, a professionally unspectacular former BBC radio producer, and Sam Finkler, a popular Jewish philosopher, writer, and television personality, are old school friends. Despite a prickly relationship and very different lives, they've never lost touch with each other, or with their former teacher, Libor Sevcik.

Dining together one night at Sevcik's apartment—the two Jewish widowers and the unmarried Gentile, Treslove—the men share a sweetly painful evening, reminiscing on a time before they had loved and lost, before they had prized anything greatly enough to fear the loss of it. But as Treslove makes his way home, he is attacked and mugged outside a violin dealer's window. Treslove is convinced the crime was a misdirected act of anti-Semitism, and in its aftermath, his whole sense of self will ineluctably change.

The Finkler Question is a funny, furious, unflinching novel of friendship and loss, exclusion and belonging, and the wisdom and humanity of maturity.
We chose The Finkler Question to read in my book club after the excellent discussion inspired by the book we'd chosen for the previous month, Christos Tsiolkas' The Slap. I suppose we kind of figured that if The Slap, merely on the Booker longlist, had been so good, then the actual winner must be amazing to have been judged better.

The book centres around three friends. Octogenarian Libor Sevcik and his former student, pop philosopher Sam Finkler have just lost their wives. Finkler's old school friend, Julian Treslove yearns to be like them. One night after the three have met for dinner, Julian is mugged by someone he's sure is a woman, and he's even more certain that she said something about him being a Jew. Treslove isn't, but in his yearning to be more like his two friends, this sparks off a certainty that he is, and a determination to become even more so.

I was slightly conflicted about this one. On one hand I recognised how good it was, how it tackled some interesting themes and did so in an original way. For instance, one could expect a Jewish author tackling the issue of identity in a book with several Jewish characters to concentrate on their identity. We do get that in Finkler, especially, but the emphasis is really on Julian. He, a white, protestant, male, is struggling even more. He's a nonentity (to the point that he works as an all-purpose celebrity look-alike), and he envies his Jewish friends the vividness of their identity.

On the other hand, I found it hard to care about anything here all that much. It's a book that's intellectually interesting, but emotionally very tepid, even when its characters are supposed to be in the grip of strong emotions. I didn't dislike it, but whenever I put it down, I didn't particularly want to pick it up, either.

MY GRADE: A B-. I know perfectly well it's a very good book, I just didn't particularly enjoy it.


Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine

>> Monday, February 21, 2011

TITLE: Ella Enchanted
AUTHOR: Gail Carson Levine

PAGES: 288
PUBLISHER: Harper Teen

SETTING: Fantasy world
TYPE: YA fiction

REASON FOR READING: I can't remember where I heard about this.

That fool of a fairy Lucinda did not intend to lay a curse on me. She meant to bestow a gift. When I cried inconsolably through my first hour of life, my tears were her inspiration. Shaking her head sympathetically at Mother, the fairy touched my nose. ""My gift is obedience. Ella will always be obedient. Now stop crying, child."" I stopped.

So begins this richly entertaining story of Ella of Frell, who wants nothing more than to be free of Lucinda's gift and feel that she belongs to herself. For how can she truly belong to herself if she knows that at any time, anyone can order her to hop on one foot, cut off her hand, or betray her kingdom--and she'll have to obey?

Against a bold tapestry of princes, ogres, giants, wicked stepsisters, and fairy godmothers, Ella's spirited account of her quest to break the curse is a funny, poignant, and enchanting tale about an unforgettable heroine who is determined to be herself.
Ella of Frell had the misfortune of having an idiot of a fairy attend her birth. Seeing that baby Ella wouldn't stop crying, the very short-sighted Lucinda gave her the gift of obedience. If ordered to do something, Ella would have no choice but to obey. This meant that if her parents told her to stop crying, she would. But Lucinda placed no restrictions on this compulsion to obey, which makes Ella's life very, very dangerous.

This is a wonderfully charming book. Other than Ella's determination that someday, somehow, she'll get rid of the curse, there's not much of a plot, other than the fact that the events that happen are based on the Cinderella story. The book is still entertaining, and I had lots of fun exploring the world in which Ella lives. It has a lovely fairy tale feel to it, a kind of Brothers Grimm atmosphere. There are clever elves, sweet and gentle giants, murderous ogres, a smitten prince charming and all sorts of other characters who are recognisable but to whom Carson Levine has given a little twist.

That said, I liked it, but not loved it. The main reason was that it felt a bit too childish, with characters who were slightly too cartoonish to my taste. They did fit perfectly in a fairy tale, but it also meant I didn't connect with the story a much as I would have liked to. If I'd read it as a teen, though, I think I would have loved it.



Public Scandal, Private Mistress, by Susan Napier

>> Saturday, February 19, 2011

TITLE: Public Scandal, Private Mistress
AUTHOR: Susan Napier

PAGES: 192
PUBLISHER: Harlequin Presents

SETTING: Contemporary France
TYPE: Category romance

REASON FOR READING: I'm not normally a fan of Harlequin Presents, but I do like Susan Napier

One night in Paris...

Stealing out of a Paris bedroom, leaving a sexy, dark-haired stranger asleep in bed, the usually sensible Veronica Bell has experienced her first one-night stand!

Hot passion in Provence!

Only things get tricky when she unexpectedly meets Lucien again - he's the stepson of her employer in the South of France! Lucien seems determined to seduce her back into his bed and make her his mistress. To Veronica, he's the mystery - so why is he so suspicious of who she is? Especially now that a public scandal threatens to put their life between the sheets all over the tabloid sheets...
I'm quite liking Napier's more recent books, especially that they have a bit of a more modern feel than her classic ones (to be fair, though, some of her older ones felt pretty different as well). Public Scandal, Private Mistress (and do I really need to tell you to completely disregard the idiotic and completely non plot-related title?) starts with New Zealander Veronica Bell doing something completely unlike her and propositioning the handsome Frenchman she's been ogling from the window of the Parisian flat she's staying in. They share a wonderful night, and then Veronica sneaks out and goes off on her way to Provence, just as planned.

What awaits her in Provence is a stint acting as assistant to a writer, filling in for her sister, who's trying to break into either the modelling of acting business (I forget which), and has the chance to do a shoot/audition or something like that. That business of filling in for her sister is one Presents authors do love, but this is not your typical Presents plot twist, with the doormat sister paying the consequences for the selfish sister. Veronica actually doesn't really mind covering for her sister, because it gives her the chance to do something she needs to do for her very new business, anyway.

It so turns out, though, that her temporary employer's stepson is none other than the "Frenchman" from whose bed she's just sneaked out. Lucien's not happy to see Veronica, as he doesn't quite believe it's a coincidence that the woman who got him into bed the night before just happens to be at his stepmother's. She must be up to something, obviously!

There's not much to the story, other than Veronica refusing Lucien (rightly, as he's being quite the obnoxious arse), and Lucien gradually unbending and becoming much nicer. It's quite a steamy story, and I had a lot of fun reading it. I only wish we'd seen part of the story from Lucien's POV, especially when he was behaving like an idiot (I'm one who absolutely HATED only having the heroine's POV in old-school books). We do get one tiny bit from his POV, in true Napier style (I wonder why she does that?), but that was nowhere near enough and just felt weird.

Finally, the Provence setting? Gorgeous.



Dancing in the Moonlight, by RaeAnne Thayne

>> Thursday, February 17, 2011

TITLE: Dancing in the Moonlight (Kindle edition)
AUTHOR: RaeAnne Thayne

PAGES: 256
PUBLISHER: Silhouette

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Category romance
SERIES: Part of the author's Cold Creek series.

REASON FOR READING: The Kindle edition was free (it still is, last I checked).

Lieutenant Magdalena Cruz had come home…And though all she wanted was to be alone, infuriatingly handsome Dr. Jake Dalton—of the enemy Daltons—wouldn't cooperate. And she needed him to, because the walls around her heart were dangerously close to crumbling every time he came near.…

Jake had spent most of his life trying to get closer to Maggie, with little to show for it. But she was the woman he'd always wanted, and no injury in the world could change that. Now if only he could convince her that the woman who stood before him was beautiful, desirable, whole…and meant to be his.…
The Daltons and the Cruzes (Cruzs? Cruces, as you would pluralise it in Spanish? Never mind) are the Capulets and Montagues of the small town of Pine Gulch. At least, they are in Magdalena Cruz's mind. Af far as she's concerned, Hank Dalton's greed and lack of ethics led to her father's death, and she can't stand any of those ruthless, arrogant Daltons.

Country doctor Jake Dalton's feelings are completely different. He didn't like his father any more than Magdalena did, and he's always liked Maggie a whole lot. Even after she moved away from Pine Gulch and became an Army nurse, she was always hovering in the back of his mind.

But now Magdalena is back in town. She was injured in Afghanistan, badly enough that she lost a leg, and she's at the point where she needs to figure out what she's going to do with the rest of her life. All she wants is to be left alone and prove to herself that she's tough and can still do all she could do before (except, perhaps, practice medicine), but now that she's finally back, Jake won't stay away.

To me, the whole enemy families thing was probably the least interesting thing about the book. It's as silly as it sounds that Maggie would blame the entire family for the father's actions (although I liked how in the end, Maggie had to understand that things weren't as simplistic as she thought and that she still had a teen's perception of what had happened), but I liked the dynamic it helped create between Maggie and Jake. She is one prickly woman, but she's got reasons to feel prickly and defensive, and rather than want to shake her and make her see sense, I understood her completely.

Jake is a bit too-good-to-be-true, but hey, I swooned anyway. He's determined to make sure Maggie understands she can still have a good life and doesn't have to closer herself off. He's also very persistent in this determination, but not in an overbearing or patronising way. He's just there, whatever Maggie throws at him.

I also enjoyed the secondary characters. Well, Jake's family were a bit "read our book, read our book!" (which I might do, actually), but I really loved Maggie's mom and her uncle Guillermo and her late father. They are not this sort of uniform, all-encompassing Latinos. Unlike too many authors, it's clear Thayne actually understands that Latin America is a pretty varied place. Viviana is Mexican, Maggie's father's family is Argentinian, and although this is not really an issue in the book, to me, it enriched the background a great deal.

I'm not going to say "this was good, for a free book". It was good, period. Grab it while you can!



What The Gentleman Wants, by Caroline Linden

>> Tuesday, February 15, 2011

TITLE: What The Gentleman Wants
AUTHOR: Caroline Linden

PAGES: 352

SETTING: Early 19th century England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: I don't think so.

REASON FOR READING: I've read another book by Linden that I really liked, the very fresh and different What a Woman Needs.

Marcus Reese, Duke of Essex, has spent most of his life pulling his twin brother out of trouble. An occasional thank you would suffice; instead, his resentful sibling forges his name to a marriage license and presents him with an unwanted wife. She's a vicar's window with a mind of her own who may be the first person in Marcus's well-ordered life to make him feel...completely out of control.

Hannah can't help but curse her own idiocy. Dire straits have led her to the altar with a gentleman she hardly knows. Played for a fool, she's embarrassed, furious, and worse, married to an equally outraged stranger - an exasperating man who unleashes all manner of emotions in Hannah, not to mention unwanted desire. Reluctantly, she agrees to play the wife until he can sort out the mess.

But the nearness of the undeniably attractive Duke and the passion in his black eyes unsettles her well-guarded heart - making her want to do so much more than "act" the role of blissful bride...
Hannah Preston is in a bit of a desperate situation. A vicar's widow, she's about to lose her home, as a new vicar's about to arrive to take over the living. Hannah really doesn't want to go back to live with her horrid father, so when she nurses a wild young man who's had an accident right in front of her door and he proposes a marriage of convenience as a thank you, she accepts.

It turns out, however, that the young man gets cold feet right before the wedding, and his bright idea is to forge his twin brother's signature on the register. Which is how Hannah ends up, as far as the world is concerned, as the wife of the cold and forbidding Marcus, Duke of Essex, who is not amused, and yet is determined to keep the charade going, to keep his family from being disappointed by his idiot of a brother.

The preposterous setting aside, this atarted well. It seemed like a kind of story I really like: Marcus is the proud, serious duke, who's shouldered all the responsibility all his life and really needs a bit of warmth, and Hannah seemed like just the person to provide it. She's warm and sensible and all around nice. Unfortunately, in the end, it just didn't work. The main problem was that the characters often behaved in what seemed to be unbelievable ways and I just didn't buy it.

First, the whole premise this is based on, that David would at the same time be a good and intelligent man, if a bit irresponsible and used to having his brother get him out of scrapes, and also play the trick he did on his brother and on this woman he'd just met and liked very much. No. Just no. If you want him to play the trick, then he must be a completely idiotic nitwit. If he's supposed to be the person he is at the end of the book, he wouldn't have played the trick.

Then there's also Marcus' pointless determination throughout most of the book that he'll never marry and have children, something so strongly felt that he discards the idea without a moment's thought once he starts feeling for Hannah. It's not that it's a big deal, it was just an indication of how much the author was moving the characters in directions that would move the plot the way she wanted it to go without considering whether this fit the character she'd been creating.

Why would Marcus, a duke, no less, decide he'd never marry, out of nothing? Silly. Would this guy really enter into a crazy charade with a fake wife just to keep from disabusing his stepmother and sister's illusions of his brother? I never completely bought it. And the way the scene played when Hannah first met the stepmother and sister made me want to throw the book down: they won't listen to the truth, Hanna moans. Well, no, not if you say it in purposely unclear ways! With a little effort they would have had no choice but to accept it, and it's only because the author needs this to happen that Hannah doesn't get her message across.

There's also a counterfeiting plot that I had zero interest in, and the last 10th of the book is taken up by running around to find the culprits and free successive people held captive by the villains. I didn't care and skimmed most of it, feeling quite annoyed.

It's not a horrible book, though, even though I've just griped and griped. For the most part, I read it ok, just stopping in annoyance a few times. It's just not as good as I remember the first one to be. Wonder if I would have liked that one as much if I read it today?



Roadside Crosses, by Jeffery Deaver

>> Sunday, February 13, 2011

TITLE: Roadside Crosses
AUTHOR: Jeffery Deaver

PAGES: 397
PUBLISHER: Hodder & Staughton

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: Part of the Kathryn Dance series

REASON FOR READING: I think I read a review somewhere and thought it sounded interesting.

Roadside crosses are appearing along the highways of the Monterey Peninsula, not as memorials to past accidents but as markers for fatalities yet to come . . . and someone, armed with information gleaned from careless and all-too-personal blog postings, intends to carry out those killings. Kathryn Dance and her C.B.I. team know when the attacks will take place, but who will be the victims? Her body language expertise leads her to a recent fatal car crash, and to the driver, Travis Brigham, a gaming-obsessed teen who’s become the target of vicious cyberbullies. And when Travis disappears, Kathryn must lead a furious manhunt in the elusive world of bloggers and social networking, where nothing is as it seems...
A roadside cross, of the kind used as memorials for people killed in car accidents, appears at the side of the road. A passing police deputy has a look and thinks the mourners must have been so distraught that they wrote down the wrong date: the following day.

But when on that following day a teenage girl is discovered in the boot of car on the beach, left to drown when the tide went up, and very close to where the cross was left, things take on a creepier tinge. Kathryn Dance, a police detective who specialises in body language, investigates, and soon realises cyberbullying might have played a part.

It was a really interesting subject and concept (both the cyberbullying angle and Dance's body language thing), and I wanted to know what happened, but I just couldn't stand to keep reading after about 80 pages. The writing was simply too bad.

This is not something that happens often with me. I'm not usually at all fussy about writing. I appreciate it when it's good, but competent is more than good enough for me, as long as the storytelling is good and has engaged me.

Deaver's prose, however, just grated. Awkward phrasing, pedestrian omniscient POV (not used for effect, or anything like that, it felt more like the author couldn't be bothered to describe things from Dance's point of view so he just told us so and so had brown hair, so and so was slim, blah, blah, blah), and worst of all, constant info-dumps. The disappointing bit is that the information in those infodumps was really fascinating stuff, made dull by the lifeless, textbook presentation. Dance first classified people on their Myers-Briggs type. Extroverts were this, introverts were that. She then gauged what kind of liar type they were. High Machiavellians were this, adaptors were that. And on, and on, and on. My favourite?

"...Now before I go on, it might be helpful to know a little history of blogs."


"The term comes from 'weblog,' which was coined by a computer guru in nineteen ninety-seven, Jorn Barger. He wrote an online diary about his travels and what he'd been looking at on the Web. Now, people'd been recording their thoughts online for years but what made blogs distinctive was the concept of links. That's the key to a blog. You're reading something and you come to that underlined or boldface reference in the text and click on it and that takes you someplace else.

"Linking is called 'hypertext.' The H-T-T-P in a website address? It stands for 'hypertext transfer protocol.' That's the software that lets you create links. In my opinion it was one of the most significant aspects of the Internet. Maybe the most significant.
Never mind that that is just wrong (the key to a blog is hypertext? really?), the worst thing is that it's such lazy, lazy writing.



Breaking Dawn, by Stephenie Meyer

>> Friday, February 11, 2011

TITLE: Breaking Dawn
AUTHOR: Stephenie Meyer

PAGES: 702

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Paranormal YA romance
SERIES: 4th and last in the Twilight series

REASON FOR READING: I wanted to know how it all ended.

When you loved the one who was killing you, it left you no options. How could you run, how could you fight, when doing so would hurt that beloved one? If your life was all you had to give, how could you not give it? If it was someone you truly loved?

To be irrevocably in love with a vampire is both fantasy and nightmare woven into a dangerously heightened reality for Bella Swan. Pulled in one direction by her intense passion for Edward Cullen, and in another by her profound connection to werewolf Jacob Black, a tumultuous year of temptation, loss, and strife have led her to the ultimate turning point. Her imminent choice to either join the dark but seductive world of immortals or to pursue a fully human life has become the thread from which the fates of two tribes hangs.

Now that Bella has made her decision, a startling chain of unprecedented events is about to unfold with potentially devastating, and unfathomable, consequences. Just when the frayed strands of Bella's life--first discovered in Twilight, then scattered and torn in New Moon and Eclipse--seem ready to heal and knit together, could they be destroyed... forever?

The astonishing, breathlessly anticipated conclusion to the Twilight Saga, Breaking Dawn illuminates the secrets and mysteries of this spellbinding romantic epic that has entranced millions.
Right, given how long this has been out, there's no point in avoiding spoilers here. Anyone who's read the first books will probably have read this one by now, and if they haven't read the first few, they shouldn't be reading this book (or this review, for that matter). So, WARNING, spoilers below!

I could probably do this review in a word. Pants. That's what this book was. It was pants It's not a matter of taste, but an objective judgement. It was bad. Truly awful. But surprisingly, it was also a bit of a guilty pleasure. It took me a while to get into it, but when I did, I got through this brick of a book in a couple of days. And most of it, even while I was rolling my eyes and cringing at the most embarrassingly awful bits, I actually kind of enjoyed.

The main thing wrong with it is that there's no conflict at all. It looked like this could be a pretty dark book at the beginning, what with the unexpected pregnancy that seems to be violently assaulting her right from the inside. But nope, everything just resolves itself, because Bella is the Mary Sue to end all Mary Sues.

Bella is just way, way too perfect. Even when the thing inside her is doing its best to kill her, she loves it. Not the least resentment from our Bella, just joyful acceptance. And then when she's actually changed she becomes even more perfect.

Meyer spent pages and pages building up the horrors of being a newborn in the last book. Bella would not be the same person. She'd become a being consumed by her thirst, a danger to any human who even comes close and even to any vampire that tries to stop her. She wouldn't be able to see her family and friends, not even when she'd managed to get control of herself, because if they suspected what she was, they'd have the Volturi after them. The idea was that she could gain immortal life with Edward, but at a price.

But after all this build-up, nothing happens. It's all good, and about Bella getting every single bloody thing she's ever wanted and not having to sacrifice anything for it.

Bella has no trouble at all controlling herself, unlike every single other newborn in history! It's not even an effort, she can just do it without even thinking about it, to the astonishment of the rest of the Cullens. Everything is effortless for Bella, it's as if she was born to be a vampire! She can see her family without any trouble! She's got a really cool talent, which she learns to do amazing things with in mere days! She actually can have a child, no matter that we'd been told that it was something she'd have to sacrifice! And her daughter is the prettiest, bestest child in the world, who enchants anyone who comes into contact with her! And bestest of all, the little girl's got the coooooolest name! No common name for her, she has to have a unique one. Renée, like Bella's mother, isn't good enough. Neither is Esme, like Edward's. So the poor little creepy thing is saddled with... Reneesme! Never did Bella seem more of a teenager than she did right then.

And then we get to what should have been this epic, massive confrontation. The Volturi are coming. They believe Reneesme is an "immortal child" (a vampire no-no, although the way Meyer was breaking her own rules left and right, I wouldn't have been too surprised if she'd broken that one, as well), and she should be killed. The Cullens plot and plan and gather support on the tiny chance that they can clear up that misunderstanding before violence ensues. Even if they do, though, they suspect the Volturi will find an excuse to kill them anyway, and acquire those among them who have talents that are useful. So the volturi come, they stand around chatting, Bella flexes her wonderful, cool talent that she's only just discovered, and the volturi chicken out and leave. That's it. Finito, on to the HEA! Oh, for heaven's sake!

The one bit I enjoyed of the book was the little section narrated through Jacob's eyes. There's real pain there, tough choices, and a voice that sounded pretty believable. But once we go back to Bella, all difficulty disappears and through the wonderfulness that is she, the world is sorted out. Bah!

So why did I keep reading and even enjoyed it a little bit? I have absolutely no idea. I shouldn't have. I should have banged it against the wall (actually, probably not, it would have left a massive dent, it was so heavy). Eh, well, I guess there's a little emo teenager inside of us all.



Body Double, by Tess Gerritsen

>> Wednesday, February 09, 2011

TITLE: Body Double
AUTHOR: Tess Gerritsen

PAGES: 416
PUBLISHER: Ballantine

SETTING: Contemporary Boston
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: 4th in the Rizzoli / Isles series

REASON FOR READING: I'm really enjoying this series, Gerritsen was an excellent discovery this year.

Dr. Maura Isles makes her living dealing with death. As a pathologist in a major metropolitan city, she has seen more than her share of corpses every day–many of them victims of violent murder. But never before has her blood run cold, and never has the grim expression “dead ringer” rung so terrifyingly true. Because never before has the lifeless body on the medical examiner’s table been her own.

Yet there can be no denying the mind-reeling evidence before her shocked eyes and those of her colleagues, including Detective Jane Rizzoli: the woman found shot to death outside Maura’s home is the mirror image of Maura, down to the most intimate physical nuances. Even more chilling is the discovery that they share the same birth date and blood type. For the stunned Maura, an only child, there can be just one explanation. And when a DNA test confirms that Maura’s mysterious doppelgänger is in fact her twin sister, an already bizarre murder investigation becomes a disturbing and dangerous excursion into a past full of dark secrets.

Searching for answers, Maura is drawn to a seaside town in Maine where other horrifying surprises await. But perhaps more frightening, an unknown murderer is at large on a cross-country killing spree. To stop the massacre and uncover the twisted truth about her own roots, Maura must probe her first living subject: the mother that she never knew . . . an icy and cunning woman who could be responsible for giving Maura life–and who just may have a plan to take it away.
Returning from holiday, Boston medical examiner Dr. Maura Isles arrives home to find the flashing lights of ambulances and police cars right in front of her door. Strange enough, but even stranger is the way her police colleagues stagger back in shock when they see her. It turns out that they thought she was dead: there's a murdered woman who looks exactly like Maura sitting in a car in front of Maura's house.

Before long, it becomes clear that the dead woman was Maura's twin, and they were each adopted by a different family. But who killed her? There are plenty of possibilities, from an abusive ex to a newly found birth mother serving a prison term for some very brutal murders...

Body Double was horrifying, gruesome, very dark and with a high body count. Very definitely not for the squeamish. If you can handle it, however, it's really, really good. Fast-paced, interesting characters, and a case I never lost interest in.

Gerritsen laid out the investigation perfectly, in a way that kept me at the edge of my seat. We as readers know only slightly more than the detectives, and the way it works, the more the detectives discover, the more what we already know starts to make sense. We are having to interpret clues as well, in parallel with the police, and that worked wonderfully.

For instance, every now and then the action cuts to a woman named Mattie Purvis. Mattie is an 8-month pregnant woman who, after a fight with her scummy husband is snatched from her home. She wakes up in a box, buried underground with some food, water and a lantern. We have no idea initially what's up with that, but as Jane and Maura find out more things, Mattie's predicament starts to make more sense. And knowing about her, which Jane and Maura don't, allow us to stay a step ahead of them. And by the way, I loved what Gerritsen does with the character of Mattie. she may be stuck in a box, but boy, does she grow!

Something else I liked was that it's a case where there's so much that's linked to Maura's private life, that you get the impression that there are a lot of coincidences going on. But when you think about it, one thing leads to another all the way through, and it all makes sense.



Unguarded, by Tracy Wolff

>> Monday, February 07, 2011

TITLE: Unguarded
AUTHOR: Tracy Wolff

PAGES: 288
PUBLISHER: Harlequin Superromance

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Category romance
SERIES: I'm pretty sure it's linked to another of Wolff's books, but I'm looking at her backlist and can't tell which one now (mainly because I wrote this review a while ago, and now I can't remember the names of the secondary characters!).

REASON FOR READING: KristieJ's review

Rhiannon Jenkins is an events planner on the rise. And her latest client, Shawn Emerson, could make her career. Too bad the gorgeous man insists on mixing a lot of pleasure with his business. In Rhiannon's books getting involved with a client is the fastest way to exit a job. So, no. She'll resist all his come-get-me looks and tempting offers.

While his charm is easy to overlook, Shawn in the role of confidant and friend breaks down all her best defenses. Suddenly the tables turn and she wants to be close to him. That means opening up about the ugly events of her past—a risk she hasn't taken before now. Oh, but he could be so worth it!
Party planner Rhiannon Jenkins is not inclined to mix business with pleasure, but her new client, Sean Emerson, is too smitten with her to accept her brush-offs. But Sean has his work cut out for him. Not only is Rhiannon quite a few years older than him, she is also a rape survivor, and is still recovering from the devastating trauma.

Unguarded was wonderful. I'm very, very glad Kristie posted about it, because otherwise I probably wouldn't have heard about it. It's got characters I really liked and who felt really modern and contemporary, as well as a romance where the issues are not necessarily the ones you would expect.

I admired Rhiannon to bits. Too often in romance novels when the heroine is a rape survivor (and this was a particularly horrific one), she ends up having no personality BUT rape survivor. That's all she is, instead of a full blown character. This was not the case for Rhiannon at all. There's so much more than that to her, and though she's got fears and issues she has to work through during the book, she's also much more than a bunch of neuroses and fears. She's got a wicked sense of humour and a really cool personality that fits Shawn's perfectly. This makes him the right man for her, regardless of the fact that he's the one with whom she takes back her sexuality. It's not just about that, and I loved the book for it.

I loved Shawn almost as much as Rhiannon. I loved that he's a cool, contemporary guy. He's not your garden variety ageless CEO, he's in his 20s and feels in his 20s. But Wolff manages to make him playful and young without making him in the least immature. He's not unbelievably perfect, either. Yes, he's dreamy, but he´s also very human. He hasn't had it easy on the relationship front, with an ex who had so many issues that he's still exhausted from the fallout. When it becomes clear to him that Rhiannon has a boatload of issues as well (if not 100% exactly what happened), Shawn has his doubts. Is he ready to do this? Can he do this again? But wolff strikes the perfect balance between doubt and the realisation that Rhiannon and her problems are nothing like his ex's. I also liked that Shawn is very much a hero in pursuit, but in a completely non-creepy way. His persistence is gentle and non-threatening.

The age difference was also very well dealt with. Wolff made just the right amount of fuss about it. It was quite a significant age difference, but Rhiannon worried about just the things I would worry about and not about the pointless ones. And once it was established to her satisfaction that it was ok, then it was ok.

KristieJ says in her review that the only reason she gave Unguarded just shy of a 5 star review was that it was a scene too short, and she was left wanting to see the party Rhiannon and Shawn spend the book planning. I definitely agree! Reading about it wouldn't have been enough for me, though, I wanted to actually go to the party, it sounded so fantastic!

Unguarded places Tracy Wolff square on my to-watch list.

MY GRADE: I was thinking B+ when I started this review, but through writing it I've kind of convinced myself this was actually an A-.


Simply Irresistible, by Jill Shalvis

>> Saturday, February 05, 2011

TITLE: Simply Irresistible
AUTHOR: Jill Shalvis

PAGES: 336

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Starts Lucky Harbor trilogy

REASON FOR READING: It sounded really nice

Maddie Moore's whole life needs a makeover.

In one fell swoop, Maddie loses her boyfriend (her decision) and her job (so not her decision). But rather than drowning her sorrows in bags of potato chips, Maddie leaves L.A. to claim the inheritance left by her free-spirited mother-a ramshackle inn nestled in the little coastal town of Lucky Harbor, Washington.

Starting over won't be easy. Yet Maddie sees the potential for a new home and a new career-if only she can convince her two half-sisters to join her in the adventure. But convincing Tara and Chloe will be difficult because the inn needs a big makeover too.

The contractor Maddie hires is a tall, dark-haired hottie whose eyes-and mouth-are making it hard for her to remember that she's sworn off men. Even harder will be Maddie's struggles to overcome the past, though she's about to discover that there's no better place to call home than Lucky Harbor.
Simply Irresistible is the first in a series about three sisters who inherit a derelict old inn in a small seaside town. They all had different fathers and were raised separately and don't know each other all that well, so their mother's intention in leaving them all the inn was to bring them together. Two of the sisters want nothing more than to sell the inn as quickly as possible and go back to their lives. The third is our heroine. She's recently lost her job and left her abusive boyfriend, and so is at loose ends. Restoring the inn seems like a good idea. And the contractor they hire to do so is awfully attractive.

It's a shame. The hero, Jax, seemed to be truly swoon-worthy and lovely, but I'm all about the heroine. A good heroine is what keeps me reading, and Maddie wasn't one. She was just plain annoying, and I couldn't understand what a seemingly nice and well-adjusted guy like Jax would see in her. Really, though, the main thing that made me put this down was the humour. It completely didn't work for me. It was heavy on people behaving like idiots purely for the sake of comedy. And when I say people, I mean mostly the heroine. She kept saying the most ridiculous and embarrassing things, and I just wouldn't buy that anyone who isn't a complete idiot would. Oh, and the relationship between the sisters was unbelievable as well. Reading this was putting me in a bad mood, so I saw no point in keeping going.



Cold Sight, by Leslie Parrish

>> Thursday, February 03, 2011

TITLE: Cold Sight
AUTHOR: Leslie Parrish

PAGES: 368

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Paranormal romantic suspense
SERIES: Book 1 in the Extrasensory Agents series.

REASON FOR READING: I liked Leslie Parrish's Black CATs series enough to put her on my autobuy list.

Leslie Parrish introduces Extrasensory Agents, a band of psychic investigators interested only in the cases nobody else wants-the coldest ones...

After being made a scapegoat in a botched investigation that led to a child's death, Aidan McConnell became a recluse. Still, as a favor to an old friend, Aidan will help on the occasional ESA case.

Reporter Lexie Nolan has a nose for news-and she believes a serial killer has been targeting teen girls around Savannah, but no one believes her. So she turns to the new paranormal detective agency and the sexy, mysterious Aidan for help. But just as the two begin forging a relationship, the case turns eerily personal for Lexie-and Aidan discovers that maybe he hasn't lost the ability to feel after all.
Something's rotten in the small town of Granville, Georgia, but it seems reporter Lexie Nolan is the only one who's noticed. Teenagers from the poor part of town have been disappearing with alarming regularity, but the good ole boy sheriff refuses to take it seriously. As far as he's concerned, they're all runaways, and when Lexie publishes an expose, he comes out swinging and destroys her credibility. And it doesn't help that the owner of the paper refuses to back Lexie and leans on her just as strongly to publish a retraction, not to mention moves her to covering fluff pieces.

Lexie is not going to give up, though, especially when another girl disappears. Out of any other options, she approaches reclusive new Granville resident Aidan McConnell.

Aidan's is currently just as reviled by the general public as Lexie. He spent years helping the police with his psychic powers until he got it wrong in a particular case. The missing child he was looking for died, and the parents blamed him. The relentless media coverage left him with a distrust for reporters, so he's initially not at all inclined to listen to Lexie when she comes seeking his help. However, he has accidentally already connected with the missing girl, so he and Lexie end up joining forces.

Cold Sight hit the spot exactly. I felt like reading romantic suspense that was on the dark side, and this definitely was that. It was also fresh and excellently done.

One of the things that impresses me about Leslie Parrish's books is the way she integrates the suspense and the romance, and in this book, the paranormal as well. Thinking back, it's not like Aidan spent the entire book using his powers, but it was explained to us exactly how they worked, and he used them in a very reasonable way, at the times when it would have made sense for him to use them. What often frustrates me about books with psychic characters is that too many authors have them seemingly forget they have powers when they want to move the plot in a certain direction. Not Parrish.

I was actually slightly surprised I enjoyed this so much, because the small town where everyone, including the people you would go to for help, is corrupt is not one of my favourite settings (this reminded me of my least favourite Karen Rose books, in that sense). It worked here, though. Because everyone was corrupt, it made perfect sense that Lexie and Aidan would have to investigate on their own, and to be fair to them, they did bring in reinforcements and use them as soon as they could, not to mention cooperate with the cops when it looked like it was a good idea.

Something else I liked that I often don't was the introduction of the characters who'll star in the rest of the series, the members of the paranormal investigations detective agency who come and join Aidan and Lexie halfway through the book. They each have very individual paranormal powers that would come very useful in murder investigations, and use them exactly as they should, in a way that felt organic to the plot and which, while it made me want to read the upcoming books, didn't strike me as sequel baiting.

We spend quite a bit of time with Vonnie, the latest missing girl, and her captor, and some of those scenes aren't easy. But Vonnie is a fantastic character, one I rooted for wholeheartedly and I cared passionately about whether she would survive. Parrish pulls no punches, though, and while obviously, I won't reveal Vonnie's fate, it's important to know before starting to read this that very bad things happen in this hellish small town.

And that's something else, I quite liked the fact that while both Lexie and, to a lesser extent, Aidan, think Granville is hell on earth, we get the feeling from the author that they aren't being quite fair, and they finally do accept that it's a town where very bad things happen, but also where good people live. They do not want to stay there at all, though, and that's perfectly acceptable.

What keeps this from a keeper grade is the romance. It's not bad at all, but I cared a lot more about the murders than I did about Lexie and Aidan. They're nice enough, but didn't really capture my imagination. With such a strong suspense and paranormal element, though, I didn't much care.

MY GRADE: A very strong B+.


Body Check, by Deirdre Martin

>> Tuesday, February 01, 2011

TITLE: Body Check
AUTHOR: Deirdre Martin

PAGES: 336

SETTING: Contemporary New York
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: First in the New York Blades series

REASON FOR READING: A few years ago I read and absolutely loved Fair Play, and meant to go back and read the first book. Jane reviewed it at Dear Author recently and reminded me that I meant to read it.

This game's going into overtime.

Janna MacNeil is a publicist on a mission to change the image of the bad boys of hockey: the Stanley Cup Champion New York Blades.

Ty Gallagher is a captain on a mission— to get his team to win the Cup again... at any cost. His determination is legendary, as well as his unwillingness to toe the corporate line.

When the persistent publicist and the sttubborn captain butt heads, it's hard enough to crack the ice. But they may end up melting it instead...
The New York Blades are flying high. They recently won the Stanley Cup (ice hockey, for those of you who, like me, know nothing about the sport), and are gearing up to win it for the second time running in the upcoming season. Problem is, some of the players were a bit overenthusiastic in their celebrations, and their corporate owners, the fanatically family-friendly Kidco, weren't particularly happy to see photographs of strippers having fun with the Cup in the papers.

Janna MacNeil is an up-and-coming publicist who's hired by Kidco's PR company to help make over the team's image. Her big idea is to make the players sign up for charity gig after charity gig. That should generate warm fuzzies with the public. For things to work, though, she's going to need to convince the team's captain, Ty Gallagher, to cooperate. Ty's very much the leader of the team, so Janna knows that if he agrees, the rest of the team will definitely follow.

Unfortunately for her, Ty isn't at all interested in helping Kidco eke out even more profits out of the team. He's got nothing against charity projects, and is happy to help out in his own time, but damned if he'll make a show of it for the sake of people who don't give a shit about his team. But Janna is not one to take no for an answer...

This is a fun, very modern-feeling romance, with lots of banter and chemistry between the characters. However, things were not light and fluffy. There was also quite a lot of things that made me think and debate with myself, even a few where I couldn't really make up my mind where I stood.

The original conflict between Janna and Ty was really interesting, because while I got the feeling I was meant to back Janna, at least at the beginning, I was very much on Ty's side from the very start. Fuck Kidco and their demands. It really annoys me the way we demand athletes to behave as role models outside the pitch. I do draw some lines, and I wouldn't want a guy playing for my team who's done stuff that's against the law, but being rowdy off the pitch, womanising, that sort of thing? As long as it doesn't affect their game, I don't particularly care. I won't like the players involved, but hey, I don't need to like them. I can't decide if the fact that Kidco's demands arose from pure profit calculation, rather than a moralistic motivation, makes it better or worse. I just thank heavens that my beloved Nacional isn't owned by anyone in particular, whether a corporation or an individual. It's owned by the fans, and that's the way it should be in sports, I say!

So that one was a pretty easy one for me, but others were not. The main one was an episode in which Janna's roommate, Theresa (heroine of book 2 in the series), has a very bad experience with one of the guys on Ty's team. She goes out on a date with him, and he attempts to rape her. Theresa is a very strong woman, and, with Janna's full support, decides to go to the police with it, even though she knows that sort of thing will be very hard for her to prove and that the team's publicists will do all they can to smear her in the media.

Neither Janna nor Ty came out of that situation smelling like roses, let me tell you, but it was clearly a difficult position for for each of them to be in. Should Janna have quit a job where it's clearly acceptable to work to smear the reputation of a woman whose only crime is to have accused a spoilt athlete of attempted rape? Should she be trying to convince Theresa to settle her claim out of court and get lots and lots of money off her attempted rapist, since it's clear she'd just be slaughtered in court? Should Ty have backed his teammate when the accusation came up? Janna assures him that Theresa isn't lying, but it's not the first time someone's made up a rape accusation against an athlete. Should his first priority be his team (which needs that player's contribution)? Once it becomes clear the accusation is true, is the punishment meted out by the team enough? Or is it self-serving and more about the potential impact on the team than about the guy's crime against a pesky woman? Some of these questions I had very clear answers to (and I think from the way I posed the questions you might guess what they were), some weren't so clear-cut. I liked that about Body Check, I always appreciate being made to think and question my assumptions.

Ok, but this is a romance, so how did it do on that end? Well, my feelings about that were a bit mixed. There's a lot of chemistry between Ty and Jenna, and as I said above, I loved the banter. I also liked how Janna didn't get Ty get away with not treating her well. If she was annoyed with him, she let him know. No pandering to the great athlete's ego from Janna! When it came to love, though, I wasn't that convinced, especially on Ty's part. It seems a bit contradictory of me to complain of this, since I did say earlier that with my teams' players I care only what they do on the pitch, but for the romance to work completely, I would have wanted Ty to care much more about Janna than about hockey, but I got the feeling it was an even thing, with the hockey actually edging Janna slightly.

MY GRADE: A strong B.



After a wonderful month spent visiting with my family in Uruguay, mostly sitting by the pool or at the beach in Punta del Este, I'm back in a surprisingly mild and sunny Liverpool.

It was a great holiday on the reading front, too. I haven't read this much in ages, and I think it must have been in part thanks to my new Kindle. I've had a perfectly serviceable Sony 505 for the past couple of years, so I really didn't have any excuse to update, but I'm weak, and I got the Kindle as a Christmas present for myself. And after actually trying it out, I'm very glad I did. With the Sony, I was pretty much indifferent between paper and e, with paper maybe slightly edging out e. With the Kindle, I much prefer reading on it than on paper. Really, much better by far, and I didn't think I'd ever get to that point. And that's not even to mention the free internet (there's surprisingly good 3G coverage in Uruguay).

I mentioned I read a lot, and I also read a bit of everything. Last year my reading had a bit of a theme, as I read lots of stuff with religious overtones (even quite a few books with members of the clergy as protagonists). This year, I can't really see anything. Can anyone?

Cold Sight, by Leslie Parrish
The Demon's Daughter, by Emma Holly
Unguarded, by Tracy Wolff
What The Gentleman Wants, by Caroline Linden
I Heard Him Exclaim, by ZA Maxfield
Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine
Vanish, by Tess Gerritsen
Troubled Waters, by Sharon Shinn
Kiss of a Demon King, by Kresley Cole
Unforgiveable, by Laura Griffin
Magic Bites, by Ilona Andrews
Midnight Crystal, by Jayne Castle
A Midnight Clear, by Kristi Astor
Local Custom, by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Here Comes The Groom, by Karina Bliss
Infamous, by Suzanne Brockmann
Nothing But Trouble, by Rachel Gibson
Postmortem, by Patricia Cornwell
The Murders of Richard III, by Elizabeth Peters
The Bellini Bride, by Michelle Reid
Covet, by JR Ward
Fair Play, by Deirdre Martin
Wild at Heart, by Jane Graves
In Too Deep, by Jayne Ann Krentz
Bonds of Justice, by Nalini Singh

Expect reviews of these in the next few weeks!


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