I'll Catch You, by Farrah Rochon

>> Friday, September 23, 2011

TITLE: I'll Catch You
AUTHOR: Farrah Rochon

PAGES: 219
PUBLISHER: Kimani Romance

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Category romance
SERIES: 2nd in the New York Sabers series (follows Huddle With Me Tonight)


Cedric Reeves has just been sidelined, and the bad-boy pro footballer suddenly finds himself without an agent or a prayer of getting back in the game. What he needs is someone pulling for him...someone like gorgeous go-getter Payton Mosely.

A media-hounded celebrity like Cedric is just what the ambitious up-and-comer Payton needs to jump-start her career. That's why she's waging a no-holds-barred campaign to land the Saber running back as her first client. But how's the NFL sports agent supposed to keep things strictly professional when Cedric pursues her with a passion no sane woman can resists? Could this sexy bad boy be good for her after all?
When Payton Mosely beloved father died, she realised she needed to change her life. Her father was a dedicated high school football coach, so she left her job as an extremely successful contract lawyer and decided she's become a sports agent. It's hard to break into that boys' club when you're a woman, but Payton has a plan.

Cedric Reeves, the New York Sabers' running back has been let loose by his agent after one too many scandalous stories and being dropped by his big sponsor. There's even talk that the Sabers might be reluctant to renew his contract at the end of the season. He's the perfect first client for Payton: the big agents are reluctant to take on such a troublemaker and have been telling him no, so he should be open to her overtures, and at the same time, if she manages to turn around such a troubled career, Payton knows she'll have more than enough interest from other clients.

Cedric is dismissive of Payton at first, but when she manages to get a few minutes of his time and wows him with her knowledge of the game and her determination, his attitude changes fast. But as they work together and the fantastic results start coming in fast, his attraction to her grows just as fast as his admiration for her skills as a negotiator.

This was a fun, fast read. I really loved the characters. Payton was fantastic. She might be right at the beginning of her career as a sports agent, but she knows exactly what she's doing. She's soon got Cedric's image sorted out (that felt a bit too easy, by the way. It's like: "ok, these people are always around when you get into trouble" "But these are my friends from back in the day, I don't want to sell out!" "They're parasites, they're not good for you, it's not selling out, it's moving on" "Ok" And problem sorted! It wasn't a huge issue for me, and I accepted it because it's a short book and there's plenty of other stuff to work through, but it wasn't as believable as the rest). Anyway, Peyton has also got the experience negotiating tough deals from her previous job and knows the game inside out, so she's extremely competent. And I loved that Cedric soon realises that. He's utterly and completely in awe of how good she is.

He's also extremely appreciative. Cedric might be a professional football player, but he's not one of the top stars. To his previous agent, with whom he'd been since he (illegally) paid Cedric a stipend while he was in University, he was just one of many clients. The man did as little for him as he could get away with, especially when Cedric started to be a bit of a troublemaker. Cedric should have found new representation long before the man dropped him, but to be honest, he isn't the brightest person when it comes to business (when he decides to sign with Payton, he basically gives her a blank check. He decides he trusts her, so he signs her contract without reading it and then keeps doing that with every deal she gets him. I guess it was the right decision, since Payton can be trusted, but it sounds like he was just as trusting with his previous agent...). Anyway, having Payton squarely in his corner, working hard to get his really excellent deals, blows Cedric mind. It also makes the decision of whether to go after her as a woman even harder. Their feelings for each other develop quite quickly, soon he needs her and is half in love with her, but he also needs her just as much as his agent, and he doesn't want to screw that up. In fact, neither of them do. But working together so intensely gives them a bit too many opportunities to give in to temptation.

I guess many of you reading this will want to know how well Rochon does the football bits of the book, whether she knows her stuff. The answer, I'm afraid, is I don't know. If this was proper football (sorry, kidding, kidding, couldn't resist!!), I could tell you, but I know practically nothing about American football. However, if I had to put money on it, my $$ would be on Rochon knowing what she's talking about. I felt there was a genuine love of the game showing in her writing, so I'd be surprised if she's making it up. I'd love to hear what people think, though!



The Lantern, by Deborah Lawrenson

>> Wednesday, September 21, 2011

TITLE: The Lantern
AUTHOR: Deborah Lawrenson

PAGES: 344

SETTING: Contemporary Southern France
TYPE: Gothic romance

When Eve falls for the secretive, charming Dom, their whirlwind relationship leads them to purchase Les Genevriers, an abandoned house in a rural hamlet in the south of France. As the beautiful Provence summer turns to autumn, Eve finds it impossible to ignore the mysteries that haunt both her lover and the run-down old house, in particular the mysterious disappearance of his beautiful first wife, Rachel.

Whilst Eve tries to untangle the secrets surrounding Rachel's last recorded days, Les Genevriers itself seems to come alive. As strange events begin to occur with frightening regularity, Eve's voice becomes intertwined with that of Benedicte Lincel, a girl who lived in the house decades before. As the tangled skeins of the house's history begin to unravel, the tension grows between Dom and Eve. In a page-turning race, Eve must fight to discover the fates of both Benedicte and Rachel, before Les Genevriers' dark history has a chance to repeat itself.
Lazy day again, and the description above is pretty good, so I'm not going to bother with my own (this review is long enough, anyway!). Go ahead and read it, I'll wait.

Done? Well, if you read even that short summary, you problably don't need me to tell you that The Lantern owes much to Rebecca ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebecca_(novel) ). There's a whirlwind relationship with a man the heroine doesn't know all that much about before they marry (in this case, begin living together). There's the very distinctive house in an area unfamiliar to the heroine, where she doesn't have any sort of support network. There's the big mystery involving the first wife, something that's clearly still having an effect on the man. And once you start reading, the similarities keep piling up. We've got a heroine whose real name we never find out (Eve is just a nickname Dom has come up with). The action even starts with Eve and Dom in some sort of exile, with Eve making dire remarks about knowing that your man has done a bad, bad thing, and then goes back and tells the story that brought them there.

Similarities or not, this was not a problem for me. The author freely acknowledges the inspiration, and then makes the story completely her own, taking it in a completely different direction. It's an homage, rather than a rewriting. There's the story of the previous residents of the house, but not only that, the relationship between Eve and Dom is quite different. Plus, it helps that there is no Mrs. Danvers, I guess!

So all that said, how did the story work? The answer is that I kind of liked it, on the whole, but there's a big central issue that was very close to making the book a complete failure. It's the fact that the conflict in Eve and Dom's relationship is based on non-communication. You see, Dom refuses to say anything at all about his former wife, Rachel, and asks Eve not to ask him any questions about her. Eve accepts this, grudgingly, but then can't resist digging around for answers.

My main issue was that the whole thing went too far beyond what would be reasonable without any woman insisting that Dom explained himself. We therefore had a situation where I was thinking badly of both characters:

With Dom, I was thinking that I could imagine no possible secret that excused being so damned mysterious, especially when he had to be aware that the woman he supposedly loved felt the need to know. I mean, there's this scene when he just starts crying and then refuses to say why. After something like that, there are two options: a) your girlfriend doesn't give a shit about you, and therefore doesn't feel the need to know what's wrong, or b) your girlfriend loves you, and is therefore being torn apart by not understanding what's happening to you. Given that, Dom's insistence on keeping quiet seems cruel, because he knows a) is not the case. To be fair, when we finally find out what Dom's big secret was, it is properly traumatic, and something big enough that it seems credible it would have screwed up with Dom in a major way. Enough to justify his actions during the book? There was much disagreement about that during the book club discussion.

As for Eve, her behaviour also bothered me. She basically takes the worst possible option. She could have insisted Dom tell her the truth, especially when it became clear it was something that still had a huge effect on him. She could have agreed to trust him and not ask questions, as he requested, even if it hurt her to do so. What she does, instead, is to tell Dom she trusts him, but at the same time go behind his back and research his former wife. I can understand perfectly well her need to know, but that's the worst of both worlds.

Lawrenson takes this to the point where she was walking the line between me continuing reading and throwing the book against the wall. It was frustrating, but for me, Lawrenson didn't quite cross the line, and the rest of what I liked about the book just about compensated for it. Your mileage may vary, however.

Yet another problem was that, while I love books with storylines happening in the present day and in the past, the successful ones tend to be the ones where whatever happened in the past mirrors and illuminates in some way the current storyline. I didn't feel that really happened in The Lantern. Eve and Dom's story is interspersed with the story of Benedicte, an old lady who used to live in the same house, who tells the story of her family and their lives. There's some fascinating stuff there. Her sister, Marthe, is blind, and overcomes incredible odds to become one of the most celebrated perfumieres in the world. There's also a horrible, evil brother, Pierre, and their stories are suitably dramatic. I kind of wished as I was reading that we were focusing on Marthe, rather than the more boring Benedicte, but in all, it was all fascinating.

Problem was, the story of Benedicte and her family felt very disconnected to our narrator's. The only element they seemed to have in common was the fact that Eve and Dom are living in what used to be Benedicte's house. Plus, Eve never seems all that interesting in finding out what happened back then -she never even really cottons on that something interesting might have happened! Yes, she starts doing some research, but that feels very throwaway... oh, this was the childhood home of someone famous, I'll read up a bit on her". It didn't even feel like she was interested enough to write the book about it that she was supposed to be writing.

Looks like I'm in a bit of a bitchy day today. Paragraphs and paragraphs describing what was wrong with the book, but I actually did enjoy it. I was quite absorbed by the story and the characters. I cared about them and wanted to know what was going on. I love modern gothics, and that's what I got here, with the hint of hauntings going on. Benedicte is haunted by the people in her past, and by the thought that she could, should have prevented some of the tragedies that happened, while Eve is haunted by Dom's previous wife, and even possibly by the house's former inhabitants. It's always just a hint, never a proper plot point, but I liked it.

But the best thing about it was the writing, and how Lawrenson used it to create the setting and mood of the story. The descriptions were lyrical and quite beautiful, using all five senses. It's a fantastic setting, and not only could could I picture it perfectly, I could smell it. This was quite appropriate in a book where perfume is quite a large part of the story. There were a few times when the description slowed down the narrative a bit, but it was worth it for the beautiful images it created.

To finish, I want to mention what, in this book where hauntings have a prominent place, ended up haunting me. It might be a bit spoilerish, so I'll white it out.[[[Days after finishing this, I can't forget the young girl who comes with Marthe to Les Genevieres and therefore shares Marthe's tragic end. I hated that it felt like she was completely disregarded. I found her fate the most tragic of all, for some reason. I couldn't stop thinking about this young girl, partially sighted at a time when it would have been even more of a struggle than it is today, who's managed to get to a point where the possibility of a career seems to open up before her. How proud and happy she must have been about it! And then, when doing something that must have seemed to her just completely unremarkable and not at all dangerous, accompanying her mentor to her childhood home, she's suddenly raped and killed. And for the author narrating the story, she merits nothing more than a passing reference. Maybe I'm being unfair, and the reaction I had was exactly what the author was after, but it really didn't feel that way.]]]



In Too Deep, by Jayne Ann Krentz

>> Monday, September 19, 2011

TITLE: In Too Deep
AUTHOR: Jayne Ann Krentz

PAGES: 352

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Paranormal romance
SERIES: Book 1 of the Looking Glass Trilogy, but also part of the Arcane Society series.

Scargill Cove is the perfect place for Fallon Jones, confirmed recluse and investigator of the paranormal. It's a hot spot, a convergence point for unusually strong currents of energy, which might explain why the town attracts misfits and drifters like moths to a flame. Now someone else has been drawn to the Cove-Isabella Valdez, on the run from some very dangerous men.

When she starts work as Fallon's assistant, Isabella impresses him by organizing his pathologically chaotic office-and doesn't bat an eye at the psychic aspect of his job. She's a kindred spirit, a sanctuary from a world that considers his talents a form of madness. But after a routine case unearths an antique clock infused with dark energy, Fallon and Isabella are dragged into the secret history of Scargill Cove and forced to fight for their lives, as they unravel a cutthroat conspiracy with roots in the Jones family business . . . and Isabella's family tree.
I kind of suspect that with Fallon Jones, JAK was trying to pull a Rothgar (am I showing my age here?). You know, that character who keeps showing up in the previous books in the series and whose story readers are desperate to read. She didn't quite succeed. I mean, I was slightly intrigued by him, and when I saw that his book was coming out went "Oh, that's cool", but that's about it. And it's a good thing I didn't get too excited, because this wasn't such a great book.

Fallon Jones is the eccentric head of Jones & Jones, the Arcane Society's detective agency. Fallon's talent is chaos theory, which, in JAK's world, makes him excellent at discerning the connections between seemingly unrelated events (I'm no expert in chaos theory, but the small bit of work I've done on complex systems makes me suspect this is not quite right). This talent of his makes people think he's paranoid and a conspiracy theory nut, but you know how it goes, right? It's not paranoia if someone's really out to get you, and by extension, you're not a conspiracy theory nut if there really is a conspiracy. And Fallon's obsession, the shadowy criminal organisation called Nightshade, really exists and really is out to get, not just him, but the whole Arcane Society.

Fallon has moved J&J out to Scargill Cove, a small town on the coast of California, and almost without noticing, he has acquired a partner, Isabella Valdez. Isabella has her own talents and her own secrets, some of which have made her a target for some baddies. She's on the run, but when she gets to Scargill Cove she feels she can stop for a while. She applies for the post of Fallon's assistant, but sorting out his office takes no time at all, and becoming a fellow investigator seems like the natural next step, whether Fallon is enthusiastic about the idea or not.

The romance had really excellent bones. These two are perfect for each other. Isabella is, if anything, even better than Fallon at conspiracy theory. She sees the world as he sees it, and with her, he need not feel like a nut, because it all makes perfect sense when they talk. Being with Isabella also calms Fallon down, helps him think more clearly, and she needs him just as much.

That said, the actual romance felt a bit meh, which was a bit strange, considerig that they are so well-suited to each other. I didn't really perceive that much chemistry between them, I guess, and then there's the issue that the plot keeps getting in the way. It's typical of the direction JAK's been taking lately, with loads of stuff about the Arcane Society and Nightshade's machinations, and I'm BORED of all that. It's even more frustrating because there's some interesting stuff here, as well. The secret that the town's entire population is keeping, for instance, is really cool. Or at least, it would have been if it hadn't been to do with Nightshade and the Arcane Society.

Can we have something new, please?

MY GRADE: A C+. And this is a grade that is more about my boredom with the repetition than about the intrinsic quality of the book.


The Grim Reaper, Conspiracies and Jellyfish

>> Saturday, September 17, 2011

TITLE: First Grave On The Right
AUTHOR: Darynda Jones

Our heroine, Charley Davidson, is the Grim Reaper. Yes, really. Her job is to help people cross over to the other side. Most manage it fine, but some hang around and she needs to send them on their way. Charley's also a PI, and both jobs go together fine: dead people tend to have some really useful info (like who killed them, even), and investigative skills come useful when she needs to find out more about the circumstances of someone's death.

In the bit I managed to get through, there are a group of lawyers who have just been killed and need Charley's help, in both her capacities. There's also a spirit that's seemingly haunting her, and it looks like it's this tragic and handsome young man she met once when they were both very young.

I actually really liked the setup and was quite intrigued by both the mystery and the emerging romance, but I just couldn't bear Charley. She's like a MaryJanice Davidson heroine on speed. Wisecracks all over the place, no matter how inappropriate the time or place. She came across as stupid, not sassy and snarky and clever, and after about a third of the book I couldn't stand her anymore.


TITLE: Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History
AUTHOR: David Aaronovitch

This was my book club's choice a couple of months ago. It's non fiction, and the author examines several conspiracy theories, trying to understand what it is about them that makes people believe some very dodgy things.

I expected a little bit more analysis than I got, but on the other hand, there's quite a lot of narration and debunking of conspiracy theories (some well-known ones, like the JFK assassination or the theory that 9/11 was an inside job, but also a couple of British ones which I knew nothing about), which was still interesting. And to be fair, what analysis there was was pretty good. The writing is quite snappy and readable, with a focus on entertaining the reader, rather than being scholarly and exhaustive. There is, however, a bit of psychobabble, which can get slightly tedious.

On the whole, I enjoyed it, but that might be because conspiracy theories are not my thing (well, not anymore... I remember being completely, 100% convinced by the JFK movie as a teen!). I've worked for the government for the last 10 years (two different governments, in fact), and the idea that we would be able to coordinate and arrange the stuff we've supposed to have done is laughable!


TITLE: Happyslapped by a Jellyfish
AUTHOR: Karl Pilkington

Picked this up on a whim at the library, having watched An Idiot Abroad and found it hilarious (albeit in a "this is so wrong it's good" kind of way). This is basically a collection of essays (if you can call them that) about Karl Pilkington's holidays -extracts of his diaries, basically.

It's easy: if you liked An Idiot Abroad you'll probably get a kick out of this, because Karl Pilkington writes exactly as he speaks (and if it was a ghostwriter that did it, then well done, it's spot on). It's ungrammatical, unsophisticated, and extremely funny. He's so deadpan and outrageous at the same time that this had quite a few laugh-out-loud moments, and a few unexpected bits of truth.

And by the way, fantastic title!



Don't Tempt Me, by Loretta Chase

>> Thursday, September 15, 2011

TITLE: Don't Tempt Me
AUTHOR: Loretta Chase

PAGES: 384

SETTING: 19th century England
TYPE: Romance

Spunky English girl overcomes impossible odds and outsmarts heathen villains. That’s the headline when Zoe Lexham returns to England. After twelve years in the exotic east, she’s shockingly adept in the sensual arts. She knows everything a young lady shouldn’t and nothing she ought to know. She’s a walking scandal, with no hope of a future...unless someone can civilize her.

Lucien de Grey, the Duke of Marchmont, is no knight in shining armor. He’s sarcastic, cynical, easily bored, and dangerous to women. He charms, seduces, and leaves them--with parting gifts of expensive jewelry to dry their tears. But good looks and charm, combined with money and rank, make him welcome everywhere. The most popular bachelor in the Beau Monde can easily save Zoe’s risqué reputation . . . if the wayward beauty doesn’t lead him into temptation, and a passion that could ruin them both.
When she was 12, Zoe Lexham was stolen from her family during a trip to Egypt and ended up in a harem (sounds almost like a Bertrice Small story, doesn't it?). The story starts years later, when she's managed to escape and make her way back to England. The joyful reunion does have plenty of joy, but it's not all roses, as her sisters are overwhelmed by the scandal caused by her return (society, high and low, finds the idea of the Harem Girl scandalous and titillating).

But if her return is a bolt out of the blue for her family, it's almost a bigger shock to Lucien, the Duke of Marchmont. Lucien is a friend of the family, having been Lord Lexham's ward for a while after a string of tragic losses left him on his own. As a very young man, he was very attached to little Zoe, if in a typical teenage boy "what a pest this girl is" way. When she disappeared in Egypt, Lucien was hit extremely hard by her loss. It was loss too many for him, not helped by the insinuations that Zoe's disappearance must have been somewhat her fault, as she was known for running away constantly, even being nicknamed "The Bolter".

In the years since Zoe's disappearance, Lucien has become a cold, disdainful man, every inch the superior Duke, but Zoe's return shakes his very foundations. After spending so many of her formative years in the harem, Zoe just does not behave like other English girls her age (she doesn't understand that one does not talk about pleasuring men in public, say), and Lucien finds her quite disconcerting. He also finds her quite attractive...

I loved this book, mainly because I adored what Chase did with the characters. Zoe's portrayal is especially fantastic. It's a difficult one to do well, the whole issue of her not knowing society's rules. It could have been played for laughs, which might have made Zoe look like an utter twit. Chase's treatment is much more thoughtful. She has to balance Zoe's years in the harem with the fact that she did spend the first 12 years of her life in England, so she does have at least some knowledge of what's appropriate and what isn't in Society. The moments of genuine ignorance of this were not that many, and all felt believable.

It's more that Zoe, having lived for so long and for such character-forming years outside of Society, can now see many of the strict rules for what they are: silly and arbitrary. And here Chase makes another good choice: she could have written a character who, because she sees the rules as silly and arbitrary, refuses to abide by them. She didn't. Zoe is intelligent enough to realise that silly or not, breaking those rules has consequences, so she has to be careful and can't do exactly what she likes just anywhere. Things like torturing Lucien are fine, she can be herself with him, but if she does something scandalous, say, at a party, the consequences could be pretty bad. She acknowledges that what happened to her has had an impact on the people around her, too. But also, that happy or not about her reappearance, this will have some impact on her sisters. Yes, they are horrible, horrible people, but some of what they say has a germ of truth in it.

The review at Dear Author makes the point that with Zoe, innocence is not the same as naivete, and that's very true. That's especially prominent in how Chase deals with her virginity (she was the concubine of an impotent man). For once, I didn't feel like the author was using this plot point to reassure readers that the heroine is still "good" (which infuriates me). There was a much more interesting point to it, and that's the contrast between Zoe's physical "innocence" and the fact that she's not naive at all, which is something that drives Lucien mad.

Lucien is a bit less interesting than Zoe, but that's just because Zoe is so fascinating. He's plenty interesting himself. One of my favourite types of hero is the cold, arrogant extremely self-possessed man who is completely shaken by the heroine. That's exactly what happens here. He just can't seem to behave in the proper way he's used to when Zoe is around. But that loss of self-possession wasn't just funny and sweet to see, it was also poignant. This is a man who's had so much loss in his life, that he can't quite believe he's actually got someone back. He also has a great difficulty in adjusting his view of the past. zoe had become just one more of those people who had left him, and this has coloured his view of the world. But now it's clear she didn't leave him, she was taken, and that shakes everything.

It's a great book, very much a Loretta Chase. The only reason it's not an A is because I found the very ugly, almost vicious, portrayal of other women, especially Zoe's sisters, quite jarring. It didn't seem to go with the tone of the rest of the book. Still, other than that, it's fantastic.



The Rose Garden, by Susanna Kearsley

>> Tuesday, September 13, 2011

TITLE: The Rose Garden
AUTHOR: Susanna Kearsley

COPYRIGHT: 2011 (already out in the UK, out in October in the US)
PAGES: 480
PUBLISHER: Allison & Busby

SETTING: Contemporary and 18th century Cornwall
TYPE: Romance

When Eva’s film star sister Katrina dies, she leaves California and returns to Cornwall, where they spent their childhood summers, to scatter Katrina’s ashes and in doing so return her to the place where she belongs.

But Eva must also confront the ghosts from her own past, as well as those from a time long before her own. For the house where she so often stayed as a child is home not only to her old friends the Halletts, but also to the people who had lived there in the eighteenth century. When Eva finally accepts that she is able to slip between centuries and see and talk to the inhabitants from hundreds of years ago, she soon finds herself falling for Daniel Butler, a man who lived – and died – long before she herself was born.

Eva begins to question her place in the present, and in laying her sister to rest, comes to realise that she too must decide where she really belongs, choosing between the life she knows and the past she feels so drawn towards.
I can't believe I haven't posted this review yet! I read The Rose Garden when it first came out months ago, and by the way, I loved the fact that for once, the geo restrictions worked in my favour and I was able to purchase it even earlier in e-format here in England. So anyway, I wrote up some notes about it as soon as I finished, and then never got round to actually tidying up and fleshing them up into a proper review. So here goes!

The Rose Garden was a bit of a surprise, and I must confess, at first I thought it wasn't a good surprise. You see, this is a time travel romance, and I hate time travel romance. This was definitely not what I was expecting. I knew there was going to be some sort of wrinkle in the time-space continuum, but I thought it was going to be more like Mariana, where the heroine has dreams of a previous life and follows the action that way, or The Winter Sea, where the heroine experiences a strange kind of ancestral memory and somehow starts including the life of an ancestor in the novel she's writing. But nope, this is proper time travel, with the heroine jumping back and forth from her life in present-day England to 300 years earlier. And you know what? I loved it!

Starting from the beginning, then: Eva has just lost her beloved sister, Katrina. When she goes to Cornwall to scatter her ashes in the place where they spent so many happy days in their youth, she makes contact again with the Halletts, good friends from back in the day. Feeling a bit at a loss after Katrina's death, Eva accepts their invitation to stay at their home, Trelowarth, for a few weeks.

For the first time in a while, Eva feels more at peace. She makes friends, rekindles old acquaintances and gets involved in the rose garden of the title, the business ran by the Halletts. But then things start going a bit weird, culminating with the realisation that she's jumped back in time. She's still in Trelowarth, but almost 300 years earlier.

And she's not alone there, the house is occupied by the handsome sea captain Daniel Butler and his Irish friend, Fergal, both of whom, Eva soon realises, are Jacobite supporters and up to their necks in plotting and planning and (this being Cornwall) smuggling. The authorities are quite suspicious of their activities and keep a close eye on them, so Eva has quite a few difficulties with the fact that she keeps popping back and forth in between the 21st and 18th centuries, period-appropriate clothing included! And as the relationship between her and Daniel deepens, she needs to decide where her home is.

As always with Kearsley, the book is rich in atmosphere and location. I wanted to go to Cornwall really badly as I was reading. It was also peopled with wonderful, memorable characters. Eva and Daniel are lovely, and so is their romance, and I especially enjoyed Fergal's charm and the true friendship that develops between him and Eva. Her relationships with the Halletts and the people in town are warm and well-developed as well.

I also really loved the sense of history. I have a limited knowledge of the Jacobites and the plots they were involved in, so it was all new to me. I do know how things ended, though, and so does Eva, which added an extra element here. Because if someone from the future suddenly showed up in my life, I would want nothing better than to know what happens in the future, what changes and how. And Daniel is quite interested in Eva's life, but he seems to be more into the fascinating objects she accidentally brings with her than in future events. Not that Eva is anxious to tell him. She's probably seen Back to the Future as well, and knows you need to be very careful not to alter events, so she's intentially vague, all the while angsting about the fact that she knows things don't end well for Daniel's cause. The way Kearsley deals with this is brilliant, though.

What's also brilliant is the resolution. I don't want to give anything away, but there's a wonderful surprise which ties several ends together, and which made me go "of course!" and wonder how I hadn't seen this coming. I also loved the answer to the eternal question in time travel of which of the two lovebirds is going to have to abandon their own time. Very well done.

The only bit that didn't completely satisfy was the ease with which Daniel accepted the idea that Eva had come from the future. I mean, if I suddenly came face to face with a time traveller from the future, it would take a lot more to convince me, even if they have all sorts of futuristic objects and even though the concept of time-travel is a familiar one to us these days. Back then they wouldn't have even considered the idea, and all sorts of supernatural and quite worrying explanations would have come to mind much more easily. Yes, there's the hint that Daniel isn't exactly new to strange occurrences, but still, it was much too easy.

Oh, well, that's a pretty minor issue, all in all, it's a fantastic read.



The Cupid Effect, by Dorothy Koomson

>> Saturday, September 10, 2011

TITLE: The Cupid Effect
AUTHOR: Dorothy Koomson

PAGES: 342

SETTING: Contemporary England
TYPE: Chick Lit

There’s something magical about Ceri D’Altroy . . .

After leaving London to follow her heart’s desire to become a psychology lecturer, Ceri D’Altroy vows to leave her matchmaking ways behind her for good. Unfortunately, all she seems to do is inspire the new people she meets to change their lives.

There’s Ed, who’s decided to declare his love to a woman who is way out of his league; Mel and Claudine, two long-term friends who are now tempted to start an illicit affair; and Gwen, the chain-smoking head of department who has a deep, dark secret she only wants to share with her new employee.

No-one who comes into contact with Ceri is ever the same again. Could this unsuspecting young woman be modern-day Cupid?
Ceri D'Altroy has a perfectly good life in London. Her professional life is stable and successful and she's financially secure. Her personal life, however, is not up to the same standard. Not just her love-life (although that's not going too well, either): Ceri is the sort of person people tend to confide in, but in her case, they do so to a ridiculous extent. She's tired of being everyone's Agony Aunt, while not having anyone who really cares about her problems.

She needs a change. Ceri's dream has always been to become a psychology lecturer, and so she decides to give up on her life in London and go back to Leeds, where she went to university, to pursue that dream. Yes, it means she'll have to go back to being a lodger, when she's used to having her own flat, but it's a chance to have a clean start. No more Agony Aunt Ceri, she's going to mind her own business. But as you might suspect, it's not as easy as that.

This is Koomson's first book, but it doesn't really show. Her writing is assured and her plotting smooth. The one thing that makes The Cupid Effect's place in her bibliography clear is the tone. Koomson's books have got progressively more heart-wrenching and angsty, so in comparison to My Best Friend's Girl and Good Night, Beautiful, this is positively light-hearted. The level of angst is more akin to the fabulous The Chocolate Run: i.e. more chick lit with a heart than women's fiction that leaves you flattened.

Ceri is a lovely character, very much an Emma figure, whose efforts to help her friends often result in chaos. It was a lot of fun to see her deal with all the new people in her life and come to terms with herself. The book doesn't have a dominating central plot, and can sometimes feel a bit meandering, but I enjoyed Ceri so much that I was quite content to go along for the ride.

The cover I link to above is the edition I've got, but the one to the right seems to be the most recent one. I quite like both (much better than this ugly one, which seems to want to hide the fact the heroine is black) but this one probably reflects the amount of romance in the book better. Ceri does get her happy ending and her romance, but it's not the focus of the book. It didn't disappoint me, but I think it would be best to come into the book not expecting a romance novel proper.



The Testament of Jessie Lamb, by Jane Rogers

>> Thursday, September 08, 2011

TITLE: The Testament of Jessie Lamb
AUTHOR: Jane Rogers

PAGES: 240
PUBLISHER: Sandstone Press

SETTING: Contemporary NW England (somewhere outside Manchester, I think)
TYPE: Fiction

Women are dying in their millions. Some blame scientists, some see the hand of God, some see human arrogance reaping the punishment it deserves. Jessie Lamb is an ordinary girl living in extraordinary times: as her world collapses, her idealism and courage drive her towards the ultimate act of heroism. If the human race is to survive, it’s up to her.But is Jessie heroic? Or is she, as her father fears, impressionable, innocent, incapable of understanding where her actions will lead? Set just a month or two in the future, in a world irreparably altered by an act of biological terrorism, The Testament of Jessie Lamb explores a young woman’s determination to make her life count for something, as the certainties of her childhood are ripped apart.
This month my book club decided to read something out of the Man Booker prize longlist. The book chosen was Patrick McGuinness' The Last Hundred Days (and I'm halfway through it as I write this), but the one that caught my attention when I read the summaries was the one that seemed to be the most unlikely choice for the Booker.

The Testament of Jessie Lamb is set in the near future, in a world still reeling from a bioterrorist attack that unleashed Maternal Death Syndrome (MDS) on humanity. Everyone is infected with a deadly virus that is activated when a woman is pregnant. There is no cure, and the millions of women who happened to be pregnant when the attack happened have all died.

Our protagonist and narrator is 16-year-old Jessie. As the book starts, she's been imprisoned by her father, who's determined to prevent her from doing something -we're not told what until later. Her diary entries written during her captivity frame the story of what brought her to that point, and what happened afterwards.

At the beginning, TTOJL reminded me a bit of another book featuring a teenager in the midst of an unfolding apocalypse, Life As We Knew It. Like the narrator of that book, Jessie is often too consumed in her private worries to do more than cursorily mention some of the Big Stuff going on around the world. And yet, even through her uninterested reports, we get an excellent idea of what's happening, in fact, what must be happening behind some of those headlines, even when Jessie herself doesn't even consider that.

Gradually, though, circumstances make Jessie more and more engaged in what's going on. The end of the world as we know it and the possibility that there might be no more children born ever again has unleashed a wave of activism and protest groups amongst the young, representing every possible interest and viewpoint. And Jessie and her friends are in the thick of it.

Soon comparisons to Life As We Knew It flew out the window and the book started acquiring tinges of Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Scientists have developed a way to impregnate young volunteers (the younger the better) with vaccinated embryos and then keep their bodies artificially alive through the pregnancy, even as their brains turn to mush.

My first instinct with Jessie was to be exactly like her parents and dismiss her fascination with the Sleeping Beauties (as the volunteers are called) as pure teenage melodrama, the typical fantasy of "I will die in an extremely heroic way and then they'll be sorry". I rolled my eyes when she first came up with her plan. But after a while, I had no choice but to start taking her and her decisions more seriously. Stroppy teenager or not, she does have a point about the adults around her being hypocritical, talking eloquently about the need for people to sacrifice for the future of humankind, but that's only as long as it doesn't have a personal cost to them. Talk, talk, talk, without actually doing anything, that's what grown-ups are to Jessie and her cohort, and damned if they are not proved right.

The genius of this book is that Jessie doesn't change from emo teen into inspiring, corageous heroine. She's still irritating and immature, even when her actions are inspiring, corageous and mature. I was still rolling my eyes and not particularly liking her as she made the most extraordinary and brave decisions.

This is not really an "issue" book and the focus is on Jessie, but as her story unfolds, Rogers provides a thoughtful treatment of quite thorny subjects. We all bring prejudices to our reading, and I was well aware of mine bristling. The Sleeping Beauties shouldn't have to do it, why are women always the victims, and yes, I instinctively aligned myself with the FLAME activists in the book in opposing the self-sacrifices. They argued that if MDS was killing men, "they" would have sorted out a solution already, and young women shouldn't have to be sacrificing themselves. And yet, young men have forever been the ones to volunteer for wars in which it was pretty clear a good number of them would be simply cannon fodder, so it's not that easy. Are these girls old enough to make this decision by themselves, even if they seem to be making it for the right reasons? What if they're deluding themselves? And actually, what are the right reasons? No conclusions, I'm afraid, but I liked that Rogers made me question these things, and by setting up a story that looked deceptively simple.



Demon Marked, by Meljean Brook

>> Tuesday, September 06, 2011

TITLE: Demon Marked (excerpt)
AUTHOR: Meljean Brook

COPYRIGHT: 2011 (comes out today)
PAGES: 336
PUBLISHER: Berkley Sensation

SETTING: Contemporary US and London
TYPE: Paranormal romance
SERIES: 7th full length novel int he Guardians series

Nicholas St. Croix is familiar with the evil of demons. After his father’s death, a demon took over his mother’s body and raised him. Six years ago, his “mother” was responsible for the disappearance of the woman he loved, and Nicholas swore he’d find her—even if he had to go to Hell and back. Except she finds him first—and with one tormented kiss, he knows she too is a demon. Now he is determined to take his revenge…

Ash is a half-demon with no memory of her past or how she got to Hell. All she knows is that Nicholas St. Croix holds the key to her identity. And though he’s clearly drawn to her, Nicholas makes no secret of his distrust of her. Yet one kiss at a time, he breaks down her defenses as they battle an array of demons and Guardians. But is Ash’s greatest enemy the man at her side?
Ash has no idea who (or what) she is. She has practically no memories from before the day she was dumped in a psychiatric hospital by a scary woman with mad eyes, who warned her not to kill anyone or interfere with their free will. In the three years since, she's discovered only a few things about herself: she doesn't feel anything (lacks affect and empathy, as her psychiatrist puts it), she doesn't need to sleep or eat, her senses are much stronger than those of people around her, and her eyes sometimes glow red. Her memories are very vague... a person with a terrifying voice calling her Ash-something-or-other and an explosion of pain, plus a vague sense of familiarity about some things.

Ash is determined to find out more about herself and after escaping the hospital, her research leads her to Nicholas St. Croix. Ash looks exactly like his former girlfriend, who disappeared into thin air after, according to Nicholas, being shot by his mother, Madelyn.

When Nicholas meets Ash he immediately knows she's a demon. He knows he should kill her straight away, as his Guardian contact advises, but the possibility of using her to further his life's mission is too tempting. Because Nicholas lives for revenge. When he was a young boy a demon took his mother's place and proceeded to make his and his father's lives hell. His father was finally driven to suicide, and Nicholas came really close to it. He's now bent on finding that demon again and forcing it to reveal what happened to his mother. Ash clearly has some sort of link to it, so even if her behaviour is disconcerting for a demon and she makes him come perilously close to laughter, when he should be hating her, they'll need to stick together.

So, this is going to be yet another gushing review of a Meljean Brook novel (in a way, I guess it wasn't so bad to have been disappointed by The Blushing Bounder -that might give me a bit more credibility regarding this author!). I loved it. Once I'd started it, I could barely put it down.

It's a book with two quite different halves, which can sometimes be a bit problematic, but worked perfectly here. Much as I enjoyed the second half, which brings us back into the heart of the Guardians' world and has more action, the first half was my favourite, for the intensity of the romance.

It's a bit of a road/cabin romance in this half, with Ash and Nicholas forced to spend time in close proximity and to get to know each other. Nicholas starts out very clear about the evil of demons, and the impossibility that any one of them could do anything that is not designed to make humans' lives hell. So Ash completely throws him. He just can't figure out what the twist is, why she's doing what she does and what's in it for her.

Ash is completely disarming, and very fun to read. Her role in this part of the book is a really cool twist on the wide-eyed innocent, first as a result of having no real emotions other than curiosity, and when she starts to feel again, as a result of having no inhibitions and, having entered a bargain, with Nicholas, it not being possible for her to lie. She soon becomes a bit of a mischief-maker, as well, so she delights in keeping Stone-Cold St. Croix permanently off-balance.

Nicholas changes massively in this relatively short time, but it was believable. His interactions with Ash were so intense that it made sense that he would be forced to reevaluate what was an almost irrational hatred, and the feelings that emerge are all the stronger for that.

And then the big action starts, which doesn't sideline the romance at all, because the romance is what brings even more significance to what's going on. It is, as always with Brook, a plot full of fantastic twists and turns. At one point I was surprised to think that the way out of the pickle Ash was in seemed quite clear. That didn't seem right for a Guardians book, and sure enough, not long after that, there was a twist that changed things, and moved this to a "how on earth are they going to get out of that?" situation. I loved it.

Now, what a lot of long-time readers of the Guardians are going to be wondering is yes, but what about Michael? All I will say is that this late in the series I was expecting to see some big developments in the bigger picture, and I got just that. I did find it a teeny bit disappointing that the a-ha moment, when what needed to happen became clear, felt a bit deus ex machina, when I would have preferred a more organic realisation, but it was not a big problem. It worked, and now I can't wait to see how things are resolved.

Part of me is gutted that the series is coming close to an end, but it's all just so exciting and I want to know that ending so badly that I don't mind!



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