What I Did For a Duke, by Julie Anne Long

>> Wednesday, June 22, 2011

TITLE: What I Did For a Duke
AUTHOR: Julie Anne Long

PAGES: 384

SETTING: Regency England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 5th book in the Pennyroyal Green series

For years, he’s been an object of fear, fascination…and fantasy. But of all the wicked rumors that forever dog the formidable Alexander Moncrieffe, Duke of Falconbridge, the ton knows one thing for certain: only fools dare cross him. And when Ian Eversea does just that, Moncrieffe knows the perfect revenge: he’ll seduce Ian’s innocent sister, Genevieve—the only member of the powerful and wealthy Eversea family as yet untouched by scandal. First he’ll capture her heart…and then he’ll break it.

But everything about Genevieve is unexpected: the passion simmering beneath her cool control, the sharp wit tempered by a gentleness that coaxes out his deepest secrets… And though Genevieve has heard the whispers about the duke’s dark past, and knows she trifles with him at her peril, one incendiary kiss tempts her deeper into a world of extraordinary sensuality. Until Genevieve is faced with a fateful choice…is there anything she won't do for a duke?
I tried Julie Anne Long a few years ago, but it wasn't a success. I gave The Secret to Seduction a C and filed Julie Anne Long under my "authors I don't get" mental file. But when the entire online romance community absolutely loved her latest, I decided to give her another shot.

Alexander Moncrieffe, the Duke of Falconbridge, is a powerful man. When he finds Ian Eversea in bed with his fiancee, it's obvious to him that revenge is in order. And in typical thick-headed romance novel hero fashion, he decides the most appropriate revenge is to seduce Eversea's sister, Genevieve, and ruin her. Lovely.

I can see why people liked this book. I'd normally rather not have a large age difference between hero and heroine, but even though Alex is quite a bit older than Genevieve, I really appreciated how Long wrote the dynamics between the two of them. Even though Alex is more experienced and powerful, this is not an issue at all when it comes to the actual relationship between them. They're equals, and Genevieve comes out ahead as often as Alex does, and it's clear that he's just as disconcerted by their chemistry as she is.

And there is quite a lot of chemistry here. There's really fun banter, and it's always quite clear why these two are so gone over each other.

I also liked the novelty of having the heroine be the one who's perfectly sure she can separate passion and love. Genevieve is convinced she's in love with a young man her own age, and is heartbroken when he tells her he's proposing to someone else. She's willing to use Alex to make him jealous, and even to actually give in to the attraction they share, but she's still in love with the other man, she insists.

But even though there were things I liked about WIDFAD, I found too many things problematic for it to have been an unqualified success.

The first, I'm afraid, was the whole revenge issue. For starters, Alex didn't seem particularly upset about what had happened with his fiancee. Yes, we're told he was hurt, that he thought he might have loved the young woman, but I'm afraid I didn't believe that for a minute. Which made it a bit strange that he was willing to go to the lengths he was planning to go to with Genevieve. And then, of course, there's the morality of taking revenge on an innocent. Yes, he doesn't actually ruin Genevieve in the end, and she finds out what's going on soon enough and it's out in the open between them, but Alex never acknowledges that what he was planning was wrong. I was left with the feeling that if he hadn't fallen for his planned victim, if it had been anyone else but Genevieve, he would have gone through with it. That didn't make me like him much, to be honest, and left me with no respect for his character. I'd much, much rather read about someone who actually goes through with such a revenge, even though they know it's wrong than about someone who doesn't do it, but never even realises why it might be morally problematic.

The other problem I had with the book was that it was the worst kind of wallpaper historical. I'm not a pedant who goes nuts if an author has the wrong sort of wineglass for the period, or crap like that, but the total disregard for accuracy here was really annoying. It's not about two unmarried people (one of whom is a young virgin from an aristocratic family) having sex. I've no problem acknowledging that could happen, but it would have been a big deal. What bothered me and left me open-mouthed with disbelief was the lack of thought given by Alex and Genevieve to any consequences of their having sex. All Genevieve considers is "do I want to have sex with this man?", and Moncrieffe doesn't seem to think it's a big deal at all. He wants her, so he'll have her. Does he have a problem with the fact that she's unmarried and a virgin? Nope. With the fact that he's a guest in her father's house, and that he actually really likes and respects him? Nope, he's perfectly happy to sleep with the man's daughter. To me, that shows a complete lack of honour, and didn't make me like him any better.

I also did not like the constant sequel baiting and the breathless tone with which the author went on and on about the Eversea males' antics. They all sounded like complete tossers, even the married ones, and I've no interest whatsoever in reading about them, especially that thoughtless idiot, Ian.

MY GRADE: A C. I guess Long is not for me.


What The Dog Saw, by Malcolm Gladwell

>> Monday, June 20, 2011

TITLE: What The Dog Saw
AUTHOR: Malcolm Gladwell

PAGES: 410

TYPE: Collection of essays

Malcolm Gladwell is a master of playful yet profound insight. In "What the Dog Saw" his adventurous curiosity is at full stretch, as he takes everyday subjects and shows us surprising new ways of looking at them.

What can hair dye tell us about the history of the 20th century? Why are there dozens of varieties of mustard but only one of ketchup? What didn't the inventor of the birth-control pill know about women's health? Why may a problem like homelessness be easier to solve than to manage? Who do we hire when we can't tell who's right for the job? What's the difference between choking and panicking? What can pit bulls teach us about crime? And are smart people actually rather overrated? Gladwell introduces us to obsessives, pioneers and minor geniuses, diagnoses some of our greatest and most overlooked problems and explores the confounding mysteries of our characters, personalities and intelligence.

"What the Dog Saw" is Malcolm Gladwell at his best. Whether it's criminal profiling or dog training, Gladwell gives us a completely new perspective and a glimpse into other people's heads.
What The Dog Saw is a collection of articles in The New Yorker. It looks like most of them are still available for free online, but since I got the book from the library, I didn't mind that at all. And I liked sometimes having a little note at the end updating us on how things had turned out in the years after the article had been published.

I enjoyed it. Gladwell has a knack for finding subjects that feel new and fresh. For most of them, it was the first time I've ever even wondered about them (seriously, have any of you wondered why we take the Pill in batches of 21, and what that might have to do with their inventor's religion?) For others, it feels like no one has approached them in quite that way before.

A note on the writing, though: Gladwell's got a very idiosyncratic writing voice. I can easily imagine people hating it. It would probably be sensible to read one of the articles online, I would say, to see how you feel about it. Me, I can tolerate it in small doses. I only read one or two of the essays in a row; more than that, and Gladwell's writing starts to grate on me.

Anyway, if you want to sample the writing, the article I found most interesting was one that showed how sometimes the most efficient way of managing a problem is not necessarily the fairest one. As a government economist, who often gets quite involved in the policymaking process (albeit in an advisory role), it really was food for thought.

Also, writers will probably be especially interested in the article that deals with plagiarism and copying.



Love, Unexpectedly, by Susan Fox

>> Saturday, June 18, 2011

TITLE: Love, Unexpectedly
AUTHOR: Susan Fox

PAGES: 320

SETTING: Contemporary Canada
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Second in a series about the Fallon sisters. The first one (Sex Drive) was written under the author's Susan Lyons pseudonym

At thirty-one, Kat Fallon's luck with men shows no sign of improving. But when she asks her best friend Nav Bharani to be her date at her younger sister's wedding in Vancouver, she has no idea that she's about to get on board the most surprising ride of her life...Nav has been secretly in love with Kat ever since he moved in next door.

When she reveals that she loves taking train rides, especially the meeting-strangers part, Nav devises a plan to win Kat's heart. On every leg of her trip to Vancouver, he shows up disguised as a different sexy stranger.

Stunned by Nav's daring, Kat finds herself succumbing to his inventive transformations. But what starts out as an innocent adventure soon becomes much more for Kat as she is forced to choose between her long-held fantasies of the perfect mate - and the prospect of something far more real...
Nav Bahrani has lived next door to Kat Fallon since he moved to the city, a few years earlier. He fell completely in lust with her the very moment he saw her, and as the years went by and they became best friends, the lust turned into love. Nav has always wanted a relationship with Kat, but she, as he puts it, stuck him in the best friend category and has never allowed him out.

Nav's chance to shake things up comes when Kat invites him as her date to her sister's wedding. Kat loves travelling by train, especially the long journey to Vancouver, and Nav is supposed to fly and meet her at their destination. But Nav sees this as the perfect opportunity to get Kat to see him in a different light. One of the things Kat loves best about train travel is meeting interesting strangers, so why not, Nav thinks, turn himself into one of those strangers?

The idea of this series, I see in the author's website, is "Planes, trains, automobiles and a cruise ship", and this second book in the series is the "trains" installment. I love this idea, and I loved starting with this particular book, because while plane travel has lost most of its luster (too many crap Ryanair and Iberia flights in the last few years, probably), trains (especially long-distance ones) still have a definite air of romance to them. Part of that might be because there are no trains in Uruguay, where I'm from (it's a tiny country with no jungles or mountain or any other type of difficult terrain, so we just use coaches). Growing up reading books like Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express created this very glamorous image in my head. And even after moving to England and experiencing the charms of the trains here, I still have a bit of it left.

Apart from this, having the action set on a train meant that there was a lot of conversation between Nav and Kat. It was really good conversation, too, because the hidden identity thingy meant that these two people who had been good friends forever were actually saying things they had never said to each other before. I especially liked that the issues they discuss are not at all simplistic. For instance, Nav is allergic to people who are all about appearances, due to having grown up in a wealthy family and amongst people who were all surface, no substance. But Fox doesn't leave it at that. Kat and Nav discuss this, and he begins to see he might be seeing superficiality in every single instance of someone caring about what something looks like, when this might not always be the case. He even acknowledges he might be wrong about some things and Kat might be right!

I mention the secret identity thing in the previous paragraph, and I know this is a trope many people will be a bit doubtful about... I know I was, myself. However, I thought it was really well done. I wouldn't have bought a Clark Kent/Superman thing, with Kat suddenly not recognising Nav at all just because he's changed his clothes and shaved off his beard. Fox doesn't try this at all. Nav never intends to deceive Kat about who he really is, and he doesn't. The "new" identities of his are about both of them deciding to play the game and have a sort of relationship outside their normal relationship (even if, in Kat's case, she tells herself it's just during the trip, and they'll forget all about it when they get home. Yeah, right!).

Something else I was slightly doubtful about was the structure. The book is narrated in alternating viewpoints in alternating chapters. Kat's are first person POV, while Nav's are third person. It does work surprisingly well, though, so I was sold.

In fact, everything about this book worked for me. All the above, plus so many other things:
- The steamy, steamy love scenes, steamy because they were all about how these two felt, not merely what they were doing. Very emotionally affecting.
- The Canada setting. This is one book with a strong sense of place, which I always appreciate
- the Indo Canadian hero
- Kat's relationship with her family, especially that with her three sisters. These four clearly love each other to pieces, even while they can (and do!) push each other's buttons. I loved it.

Read it, it's a good one!



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