The Wild Marquis, by Miranda Neville

>> Sunday, April 29, 2012

TITLE: The Wild Marquis
AUTHOR: Miranda Neville

PAGES: 384

SETTING: Early 19th century England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: First in the Burgundy Club series

The Marquis of Chase is not a reputable man. He is notorious for his wretched morals and is never received in respectable houses. The ladies of the ton would never allow him in their drawing rooms... though they were more than willing to welcome him into their bedchambers. Ejected from his father's house at the age of sixteen, he now lives a life of wanton pleasure. So what could the Marquis of Chase possibly want with Juliana Merton, a lovely, perfectly upstanding shopkeeper with a mysterious past?

A moment's indiscretion?

A night's passion?

Or a lifetime of love?

Even the wildest rakes have their weaknesses...
I've heard really great things about the later books in Miranda Neville's Burgundy Club quartet. Advice on twitter about whether I needed to read it in order was mixed, so I decided to play it safe and start right at the beginning.

Cain, the Marquis of Chase, is not the type of man Juliana Merton often meets. He's got a scandalous reputation and has never been known to be interested in books. So it's a surprise when he shows up in the Juliana's bookshop, which she has been running since the death of her husband.

A reknowned book collector has died recently, and his entire, massive collection is going under the hammer to pay off his debts (book collecting is an expensive, addictive past-time, something Neville shows beautifully here). Cain wants a particular volume, which used to belong to his father, and ends up hiring Juliana to advise him. Juliana is doubtful at first, but the opportunity to get her foot in the door and become someone in the very male-dominated field of book collecting, is too good to pass up.

This was, I'm afraid, distinctly average. Not the book stuff, that was great. Neville clearly knows what's she's talking about when she writes about book collecting, and I loved the glimpse into that world. But other than that, which lifted the grade a bit, it was nothing special.

The romance didn't particularly interest me. I never got the feeling that there was real chemistry there, and especially, didn't buy Cain's attraction to Juliana, who came off as quite tedious. I never got the feeling things were progressing organically, either. Time for a sex scene? They fall into bed, even though Juliana hasn't had the best experience of sex. Do we need conflict? Have Juliana say something really hurtful and completely out-of-character. That sort of thing.

There's a lot of stuff going on, as both Juliana and Cain have secrets and mysteries in their pasts which they have kept suppressed for years. Unfortunately, I wasn't intrigued by those, either. Cain's, especially, puzzled me, because it seemed like he'd just let stuff go that should not have been too difficult to defend himself against.

So, meh. I'll give Neville another chance, though, because I liked the writing well enough and the next books in the series look interesting.



The Witness, by Nora Roberts

>> Friday, April 27, 2012

TITLE: The Witness
AUTHOR: Nora Roberts

PAGES: 496

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romantic suspense

Daughter of a controlling mother, Elizabeth finally let loose one night, drinking at a nightclub and allowing a strange man’s seductive Russian accent lure her to a house on Lake Shore Drive. The events that followed changed her life forever.

Twelve years later, the woman known as Abigail Lowery lives on the outskirts of a small town in the Ozarks. A freelance programmer, she designs sophisticated security systems—and supplements her own security with a fierce dog and an assortment of firearms. She keeps to herself, saying little, revealing nothing. But Abigail’s reserve only intrigues police chief Brooks Gleason. Her logical mind, her secretive nature, and her unromantic viewpoints leave him fascinated but frustrated. He suspects that Abigail needs protection from something—and that her elaborate defenses hide a story that must be revealed.
16-year-old Elizabeth Fitch has been under her mother's thumb all her life. Her mother, a successful surgeon, had her by artificial insemination, carefully choosing the donor characteristics, and then spent the following 16 years molding Elizabeth into the perfect carbon-copy of herself. Elizabeth eats what her mother says, wears the clothes she deems appropriate and takes the classes selected for her. She's scarily clever, and has skipped grades so she is already in Harvard, taking pre-med.

Elizabeth has never rebelled against her mother. When she does, though, she goes to town with it. Literally. She ends up drinking Cosmos in a nightclub owned by the Russian mafia. Judgment slighly impaired and wanting to really live life, she ends up witnessing something awful. Before she can blink, she's a star witness under police protection, with the entire Russian mafia after her.

12 years later, Abigail Lowery moves into a property right outside a pretty little tourist town in the Ozarks. Abigail is reclusive and secretive, not making friends with anyone in town. She attracts the attention of the police chief Brooks Gleason, a man who can't resist a secret and who won't let himself be pushed away.

I LOVED this. It was my favourite Nora single title in a while. First, I opened it and loved the sections with Elizabeth as a teenager. It takes a while to get to the present-day section, but I didn't care, because it was so, so good. She's a brilliant character as a teen, and I loved her awakening to life. It all goes wrong, of course, and that just killed me.

But then we get to the present-day, and that was great as well. Abigail takes a while to warm up to. She's very socially awkward, bordering on rude, mostly because she doesn't really interact with people other than in the most superficial of ways. And she is extremely resistant to doing anything more, for very good reasons.

But Brooks is persistent. At first, it's only curiosity and doing his duty as police chief. A woman who's got industrial-grade security in her house, a trained attack dog and a veritable arsenal is clearly afraid of something, and if trouble is coming, the police chief needs to know. But it soon changes into something else, much, much more. In a strict sense, I guess this is a guy who does not listen when a woman tells him no, because he can tell she really means yes. I should have a problem with this. I didn't. It was so obvious to anyone with a pair of eyes that Abigail needed a bit of warmth and caring and family, that I just let that go completely.

I loved his fascination with Abigail, the way he found her awkwardness adorable and funny, and the way he was just exactly what she needed and deserved. Their initial attraction develops into intimacy right before our eyes, and when Abigail thinks no one has ever know her as Brooks does, that was obvious to me as the reader as well. He also gives her the sense of family and connection she needs, as he's very much a part of his community.

I loved the suspense as much as I did the romance. I don't want to say too much, because the joy of this book was about seeing things develop in a way that was completely unexpected to me. I was thinking it would be more like other Nora RS books, but it wasn't. Plenty of excitement, though, and a fantastic conclusion.

Oh, and the secondary characters! Bert the dog has more personality than characters who're supposed to be the protagonists in other books. This is one of Nora's main strengths, in my opinion, secondary characters who feel real and well-rounded. I've said it before, but whenever I read one of her JD Robb books, every time they go to interview someone new, I get excited about meeting a new character, because I know they're going to be individual and unique in some way, and interesting. Just read this book and when you get to the section when a guy called Roland Babbet shows up, you'll see what I mean.



The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by NK Jemisin

>> Wednesday, April 25, 2012

TITLE: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
AUTHOR: NK Jemisin

PAGES: 432

SETTING: Fantasy world
TYPE: Fantasy
SERIES: First in the Inheritance Trilogy

Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle.
I don't read as much straight fantasy (as in, fantasy outside the romance genre) as I would like, and this one sounded interesting. Yeine Darr's mother was cast out by her powerful ruling family for marrying the wrong man. Her mother has now died, and her grandfather has commanded her to come back, intending to name her as one of his three potential heirs. The rub, however, is that only one can inherit, whichever one can survive being basically hunted down by the other two.

I read about a quarter of this before I gave up, so I gave it a good shot. On the plus side, I was quite intrigued by the mythology Jemisin creates, which has very real gods mingling with the humans. The gods have been enslaved by Yeine's family to be used as weapons, and from the bit I read, it's clear that they are not content with this situation and that their struggle will involve Yeine in some way.

The negative side was bigger, however. My main problem was that I just couldn't settle down and enjoy Jemisin's voice. It's very distinctive and different. I'd be the first to note that there's nothing objectively wrong with it, but I just didn't click with it. It meant that I found it a struggle to get into the story. It also felt very distancing, even though the book was narrated in the first-person by Yeine.

It also didn't help that I find books where everyone is evil a bit of a bore. Yeine is, from the very first moment, plunged defenseless into a really horrid situation, where the people around her would just as soon kill her as look at her, and I didn't want to spend any more time there with her. I might have waited a bit longer to see if things improved if Jemisin's voice had been more to my liking, but with both those things together, it wasn't worth it.

So, DNF. There are too many potentially great books in my TBR for me to waste my scarce reading time on something I'm not enjoying.



Unclaimed, by Courtney Milan

>> Monday, April 23, 2012

TITLE: Unclaimed
AUTHOR: Courtney Milan

PAGES: 432

SETTING: 19th century England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 2nd in the Turner series

Her only hope for survival…

Handsome, wealthy and respected, Sir Mark Turner is the most sought-after bachelor in all of London—and he's known far and wide for his irreproachable character. But behind his virtuous reputation lies a passionate nature he keeps carefully in check...until he meets the beautiful Jessica Farleigh, the woman he's waited for all his life.

Is to ruin the man she loves…

But Jessica is a courtesan, not the genteel lady Sir Mark believes. Desperate to be free of a life she despises, she seizes her chance when Mark's enemies make her an offer she can't refuse: seduce Mark and tarnish his good name, and a princely sum will be hers. Yet as she comes to know the man she's sworn to destroy, Jessica will be forced to choose between the future she needs…and the love she knows is impossible.
Unclaimed is a bit reminiscent of Mary Balogh's Seducing An Angel. There's the "good" hero who, for all his goodness, has got a spine of steel and is very determined to be honourable, and there's the "bad" heroine, who seeks to bring him down, as it would be seen at the time. But much as I enjoyed the Balogh, Unclaimed was by far the superior book.

Sir Mark Turner has become a bit of a rock star, much to his dismay. He is the author of a guide to chastity that has become twisted into something unrecognisable. Mark doesn't see chastity for men as a goal in itself, but as a way of protecting women. Society, however, has interpreted it as all about how to resist the wiles of those evil female temptresses. Young bucks idolise Mark and have created all sorts of secret societies and brotherhoods, devoted to keep each other immune to temptation.

Mark is bemused by all the attention and more than a little annoyed at how little people actually understand what he's saying. Still, there's no stopping the admiration of a nation, and this has put him in the position of being offered a government post. It's not one he particularly wants (it's all to do with the Poor Laws, with which he doesn't agree), but he sees he can do much good with it.

Wanting to take a bit of a holiday from his fame, Mark decides to spend some time in the tiny village where he grew up, and use the peace to decide what to do about the offered post. Unfortunately for him, his fame has preceeded him, and he runs into the same sort of stupid and unthinking adoration he faces in town. But that's not the only thing disturbing his peace: there's also the beautiful widow Jessica Farleigh, who seems determined to rob him of his peace of mind.

Jessica's purpose in coming to the village is to rob Mark of quite a lot more. That government post that Mark isn't sure he wants? There's another guy who's desperate to get it (apparently, an unscrupulous person could profit quite handsomely from it), and his plan to get it is to ruin Mark's reputation by having someone seduce him. And who better than the man's former mistress, the beautiful courtesan Jessica Farleigh?

I loved, loved, LOVED this. I couldn't ask for better main characters. Jessica is one strong woman. She's in quite a desperate position, willing to do anything, even something dishonest, in order to be able to leave prostitution. She's more than willing to ruin Mark, especially since she's completely skeptical about his so-called virtue. Her experience of men has been all about hypocrisy, so she's pretty sure someone like Mark would be perfectly happy to have sex, as long as he can keep it hidden and protect his reputation. She wouldn't mind at all ruining the reputation of a man like that. What she finds, however, is something completely different.

Mark is no hypocrite. He's also not some sort of saint, determined to deny himself. He doesn't care about his reputation, or about chastity as anything other than a way to keep himself from putting women in difficult positions, given societal mores. With the right woman, someone he wants to marry and be faithful to for the rest of his life, he's more than willing to go wild with the sex, even before the marriage vows. And as he gets to know Jessica (chastely, as to her chagrin, he seems to see through all her seduction efforts), he begins to think she might be the one for him.

I loved the guy. He's kind and good without being boring (who says that can't be done?). He's extremely strong and determined to do the right thing, without feeling he needs to assert dominance. I guess he might be a bit too perfect, but he's perfect in such a nuanced, thoughtful (almost twisted!) way, that I didn't mind at all.

Obviously, given Jessica's agenda, they're both on their way to a big confrontation, and some big decisions will have to be made. I didn't see the resolution coming at all, and I loved what Milan did with it.

Brilliant book, almost as good as the first in the trilogy, Unveiled, which was my favourite book of 2011. I can't wait to read the last one!



Cuentos de Eva Luna (Stories of Eva Luna), by Isabel Allende

>> Saturday, April 21, 2012

TITLE: Cuentos de Eva Luna (Stories of Eva Luna)
AUTHOR: Isabel Allende

PAGES: 247
PUBLISHER: Plaza & Janes

SETTING: 20th century (varies) South America
TYPE: Short stories
SERIES: Related to Eva Luna (these are supposed to be the stories she narrates to her lover)

Isabel Allende is one of the world's most beloved authors. In 1988, she introduced the world to Eva Luna in a novel of the same name that recounted the adventurous life of a young Latin American woman whose powers as a storyteller bring her friendship and love. Returning to this tale, Allende presents The Stories of Eva Luna, a treasure trove of brilliantly crafted stories.

Lying in bed with her European lover, refugee and journalist Rolf Carle, Eva answers hes request for a story "you have never told anyone before" with these twenty-three samples of her vibrant artistry. Interweaving the real and the magical, she explores love, vengeance, compassion, and the strenghts of women, creating a world that is at once poingnantly familiar and intriguingly new.

Rendered in the sumptuously imagined, uniquely magical style of one of the world's most stunning writers, The Stories of Eva Luna is the conerstone of Allende's work. It is not to be missed by anyone -- whether a devotee of Ms. Allende's oeuvre or a new acquaintance to her work.
I read this one for my April book club. I've read and loved Allende before, so I was quite happy with the choice. Her House of Spirits made me bawl, and I don't cry easily.

Unfortunately, this book didn't live up to those in the least. I tend to be pretty measured in my opinions, so the fact that I think the best word to describe this book is "vile" and that I can honestly say I absolutely hated it will tell you something.

It's full of rapes portrayed as seductions and women who fall in love with their rapists, of women who stay with abusive men, and of supposed great love affairs where the man has his "adventures" with other women (but as long as he's discreet, he's a good husband) and insulting portrayals of people with learning disabilities. Sex is always something that is done to women, and it's often portrayed in terms of taming and domination. I have no objection to the subject matter per se, but it was all written in a superficial, self-consciously whimsical way that achieved the impossible task of making this book even more offensive, as the inescapable conclusion was that it was intended to be romantic and exotic.

Additionally, the language, especially when describing women and sex, just made my skin crawl. I expect other people at book club will have read it in English and not had the same problems, as the sort of horrible feeling it engendered in me is difficult to translate. I tried translating sections I was having trouble with to see what they would sound like in English, and even trying to choose the right words, it was impossible to properly convey the leering, dehumanising quality of words like "hembra" for a woman, which in English will probably simply be translated as its much more-neutral sounding equivalent: "female". It's NOT the same. It's frustrating. Not unexpected, though. Traduttore, tradittore, and all that.

Out of 23 stories, there were only a couple that were different from the rest, and which I enjoyed. "The Most Forgotten of the Forgotten" was the single one I loved. It has two Chileans abroad coming together, and after an unpromising beginning, discovering a truly moving connection. It's short, but it made me feel like crying. I recognised the Allende I know and love in it. Another, called "The Little Heidelberg", takes place in a small dance hall, where two people who don't speak the same language have been dancing for years without being able to communicate in any other way. And that's it. Two out of 23. Not good enough.

There are quotes from The Thousand and One Nights at the beginning and end, but Eva Luna is no Scherezade. With me, she would not have survived to a second night.



Lover Unleashed, by JR Ward

>> Thursday, April 19, 2012

TITLE: Lover Unleashed

PAGES: 512

SETTING: Contemporary NY
TYPE: Paranormal romance / urban fantasy
SERIES: 9th in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series

Payne, twin sister of Vishous, is cut from the same dark, seductive cloth as her brother. Imprisoned for eons by their mother, the Scribe Virgin, she finally frees herself-only to face a devastating injury. Manuel Manello, M.D., is drafted by the Brotherhood to save her as only he can-but when the human surgeon and the vampire warrior meet, their two worlds collide in the face of their undeniable passion.

With so much working against them, can love prove stronger than the birthright and the biology that separates them?
In the previous book, Payne was injured in one of her training sessions with Wrath (at least, that's what I deduce from here. I didn't remember that part, even though I read the book!). In order to save her from paralysis, Jane basically kidnaps her old boss, Dr. Manny Manello, to operate on her. But as soon as they clap eyes on each other, a much deeper connection develops.

Payne's injuries also have a big effect on Vishous, and make some emotional pain he had been keeping tamped down to emerge. This threatens his relationship with Jane.

Meanwhile, a group of vampires living in the Old World decide they need to be where the lessers are (they're getting kind of bored without anyone to fight), and that means Caldwell, NY. This group is led by a vampire called Xcor, son of the Bloodletter (which would make him Payne and Vishous' brother). For centuries, he's wanted to avenge the death of his father at the hands of a female (Payne, we know).

And there's also Qhuinn angsting after Blay and a serial killer operating in the area.

I always find it hard to do proper reviews of JR Ward's books. I guess the many storylines make the story less of a coherent whole. This is not something I dislike when I'm reading these books. In fact, the constant moving between stories, like a soap opera, is quite fun. Anyway, some disjointed thoughts, since I can't be arsed to polish them up:

  • This was probably my least favourite book so far in the series. I found both of the "big" storylines (Manny/Payne and Vishous/Jane) disappointing, and only really liked the ongoing Qhuinn/Blay drama.

  • Starting with Manny and Payne, my problem was the insta-love. They see each other and immediately know, and after that it's all will-they-or-won't-them, because Payne is a virgin and Manny doesn't want to take her virginity, as what they have can't last. Sorry, but *yawn*. I read romance because I love seeing people fall in love, and I didn't get that with these two. It was one minute we don't know each other, one minute we do and we're in love.

    There also didn't seem to be many, or particularly significant obstacles in their path. As Vishous himself recognises, there are plenty of couples living in the house where one of them is/was human. There must be a way to work something out. But both Payne and Manny keep immediately jumping to the conclusion that it's hopeless and they must be parted.

  • I liked the idea of another warrior female, but Payne spends most of her time here injured, recovering, or tying to get Manny in the sack. What with that and the whole virginity thing, she's more Chosen than Warrior. And the one time she fights properly it ends badly for her. At least, what we're told about her upcoming life sounds more like it, I just wish we'd seen a bit of that here.

  • Payne's dialogue was excrutiating. There's an expression in Spanish, "Vergüenza ajena", which translates loosely as "other-person embarrassment. It describes that painful feeling of watching someone else humiliate themselves. That's exactly what I felt whenever I read the painfully faux-archaic way Ward chose to have Payne speak. She'd say stuff like: "I shan't speak unto her" for "I won't speak to her", or keep saying "verily" and I'd cringe. I'm afraid it went beyond bad into pathetic. It was just as bad in previous books, but here there was a lot of it, since Payne is the main character. It does fade away a bit as she spends more time in the real world, but the verilys kept coming right until the end (probably whenever Ward remembered she needed to make Payne sound old-school!).

  • The final revelation about Manny's history? It read like an afterthought. Kind of, interesting to know, but it doesn't change anything.

  • The big drama between Jane and Vishous (which ends up bringing Butch back into the triangle as well) didn't really interest me. It becomes clear in the end that this is all about Vishous not quite having dealt with some bits of his tortured past yet, but since the crisis was sparked by Payne's injuries, for a long time it felt like he was being "it's all about me, me, ME!" His twin is paralysed, but he seems more interested in emoting than in being with her. It annoyed me. But even when I realised it wasn't quite like that, it felt like I'd read this before, and why was I being dragged back into the exact same conflict from their own book, an issue Jane and V had supposedly overcome?

  • Qhuinn and Blay still interest me. I'd kind of ran out of patience with Qhuinn, but Ward made me care again. All that happens here is some introspection and hard decisions about his lifestyle, on Qhuinn's part. I look forward to seeing what happens, even though I don't much like the sound of what's being suggested about Layla's role in it. It will be interesting to see if Ward will have them as the central couple of an upcoming book, or if they'll be relegating to a supporting role. I wouldn't be too surprised if it was the former, actually. I couldn't quite believe she would have John and Xhex, and if she had them getting together, she can do anything.

  • I thought there was a lack of conflict in this book. There's no real suspense subplot, in the sense of something providing a sense of threat to the Brotherhood. There is the whole thing with Xcor and his band of vampires gearing up to challenge Wrath for the throne, which is something that will probably be important in future books, but nothing really happens here. The issue with Xcor having a grudge against Payne for killing his father ends with a whimper, rather than a satisfying bang. In fact, it reminded me quite a bit of the crap ending to the last Twilight book!

  • I suspect Xcor and his vampires were introduced because Ward is running out of Brothers. Who's left? Tohrment (next book, I believe), and then there's that crazy Mhurder (sp?) guy. She needs more guys to start weaving in, I guess. I wasn't completely captivated by any of them here, but we'll see.

  • There was also another suspense-y thing that really annoyed me. There's this serial killer operating in the city, and though this doesn't touch the Brotherhood at all, the case is being investigated by José de la Cruz, who used to be Butch's partner in the police, and José's new partner. The new guy happens to be Thomas del Vecchio Jr., who I believe is the hero of one of Ward's Fallen Angel books. I really don't like the idea of two series becoming intertwined like that. It's like, now it's not even enough to read all the books in a series to get the whole story - you have to read the author's other series as well!

  • I've always found Ward compulsively readable, even when I'm having trouble with her choices and her writing. This one was still readable, but not so much compulsively. I was tempted to skim at a few points (usually when Vishous was on the scene), and was positively bored at points.



Born To Darkness, by Suzanne Brockmann

>> Tuesday, April 17, 2012

TITLE: Born To Darkness
AUTHOR: Suzanne Brockmann

PAGES: 528
PUBLISHER: Ballantine

SETTING: US in the near future
TYPE: Action romance
SERIES: 1st in the Fighting Destiny series

As the New York Times bestselling author of the Troubleshooters series and a “superstar of romantic suspense” (USA Today), Suzanne Brockmann has an acclaimed history of taking readers’ breath away with her novels of hot passion and high adventure. Now she takes her talent for sexy, action-packed storytelling in a thrilling new direction: forward—into a future, both fantastic and frightening, that only the brilliant Brockmann could envision.

Dishonorably discharged, former Navy SEAL Shane Laughlin is down to his last ten bucks when he finally finds work as a test subject at the Obermeyer Institute, a little-known and believed-to-be-fringe scientific research facility. When he enters the OI compound, he is plunged into a strange world where seemingly mild-mannered scientists—including women half his size—can kick his highly skilled ass.

Shane soon discovers that there are certain individuals who possess the unique ability to access untapped regions of the brain with extraordinary results—including telekinesis, super strength, and reversal of the aging process. Known as “Greater-Thans,” this rare breed is recruited by OI, where they are rigorously trained using ancient techniques to cultivate their powers and wield them responsibly.

But in the depths of America’s second Great Depression, where the divide between the haves and the have-nots has grown even wider, those who are rich—and reckless—enough have a quick, seductive alternative: Destiny, a highly addictive designer drug that can make anyone a Greater-Than, with the power of eternal youth. The sinister cartel known as The Organization has begun mass-producing Destiny, and the demand is epidemic. But few realize the drug’s true danger, and fewer still know the dirty secret of Destiny’s crucial ingredient.

Michelle “Mac” Mackenzie knows the ugly truth. And as one of the Obermeyer Institute’s crack team of operatives, she’s determined to end the scourge of Destiny. But her kick-ass attitude gets knocked for a loop when she finds that one of the new test subjects is none other than Shane, the same smoldering stranger who just rocked her world in a one-night stand. Although Shane isn’t a Greater-Than like Mac, as an ex-SEAL, he’s got talents of his own. But Mac’s got powerful reasons to keep her distance from him—and reasons that are just as strong to want him close. She’s used to risking her life, but now, in the midst of the ultimate war on drugs, she must face sacrificing her heart.
Shane Laughlin used to be a SEAL, but after his last mission (told in this short story) went terribly wrong, he was dishonourably discharged and blacklisted. In the world this is set, the US in the relatively near future, this means that getting a respectable job has become pretty much impossible. Down to his last dollars, Shane opts to accept an offer from the mysterious Obermayer Institute to become a test subject. He's wary, as there are bad stories about that sort of job, but the Institute seems reputable and they're promising him that no drugs are involved.

He will have to live on-site, though, so Shane decides to spend his last night of real freedom getting some much-needed recreational sex. He's shocked when what was supposed to be a casual bar hook-up turns out to be the best, most-intense sexual experience of his life. He wants more, but his partner is reluctant, and she needs to be convinced to agree to meeting up again in a week. It doesn't take that long, though, as it turns out that Mac is one of the first people Shane sees when he reports at the Obermeyer Institute.

Mac, you see, is something known as a Greather-Than, one of the most powerful. The explanations Brockmann provides of exactly what that is and how it works are detailed and nuanced, but basically, it's something to do with how their brains work. Those with higher degree of what's called "integration" develop what look like superpowers... the ability to heal themselves more quickly, superhuman strength, telepathy, all sorts of things, and they vary depending on the individual. With hard work, people with potential can get to higher levels of integration. Shane is one such person, and that's why he was invited in.

As Shane arrives at the Institute, all hell is about to break lose. Mac and her colleagues spend their time battling The Organization, a group that is producing a powerful and exorbitantly expensive drug that mimics the effects of true integration. Unfortunately, it also creates a fatal addiction. And even worse, the way the drug is produced is truly nightmarish, requiring the kidnapping of young female Potentials and the harvesting of the hormones they release when terrified. The Institute tries to get to such girls as soon as it identifies them, but The Organization has got its own way of getting there first and kidnapping them.

This was what happened to a girl called Nika, who showed great potential. Mac's boss, Dr. Joseph Bach is determined to help find her, and brings in the girl's sister, Anna, before The Organization can get to her, too. And also involved in helping find Nika are another of the most powerful Greater-Thans, Stephen Diaz, as well as one of the doctors, Elliott Zerkowski.

This might be a new series, but it's still trademark Brockmann, with a diverse ensemble cast. The focus of the romance here is on Shane and Mac, and it's a pretty good one. Shane is crazy about Mac from the start, and I liked how Brockmann showed that it wasn't just the very strong physical attraction, but liking and affection as well. Mac, however, has quite a few (completely justified) hang-ups, which make her very reluctant to trust these feelings. The thing is that one of the things she can do is to manipulate a powerful attraction to her in men, which is quite useful, but at the same time, makes her very uncertain about how to know when their feelings are real. Interesting issue, but I did think the dynamic between her and Shane got a bit repetitive after a while. Still, on the whole, I really liked it.

Oh, and I should mention that I did feel a bit disappointed that Brockmann found it necessary to make Mac's main powers be empathy and the power to be irresistibly attractive to men. Can we think of any other powers more stereotypically female? It's weird, because Mac is the least stereotypically femenine person you can think of. Maybe Brockmann was compensating for this? Oh, well, she does use these powers to be a real warrior, fearless and resourceful, so in the end, I was satisfied.

Anyway, we also get a couple of other relationships developing. First there's Elliott and Stephen. Stephen has had a secret crush on Elliott for years, and Elliott never dreamed someone like Stephen, a modern-day superhero, could like nerdy him. Well, everything comes out in the open here, and it was sweet. A bit sappy, I'm afraid, enough that I cringed in embarrassment a couple of times, but I liked them both.

There's also Joseph and Anna, whose relationship is going much more slowly, and is a much more complicated one. It will be good to see what develops there.

Much as I was interested in the characters, though, the most remarkable thing in the book is the world Brockmann has created. As I mentioned, it's the the US in the near future, a country mired in a sort of second Great Depression. Everything is crumbling, the Government is broke, and the way they've found to keep things going is to privatise everything and let public services be pretty much run by corporations. We see that in an earlier scene when Anna goes to the police station to report her young sister missing. Speaking to the policeman on duty, she discovers that even for a young teen, cuts in resources mean she's now required to wait 72 hours before she can be officially a missing person. And even after the 72 hours, she'll have to pay a fee to get the girl on the missing persons list. Of course, she can pay an extra, pretty steep fee to expedite things and add her to the list right now. And if she wants an actual detective to look at the case, the fee is even higher.

As with the best dystopia, the scary thing about this is that it's a logical continuation of things that are happening already. Take the fact that in Brockmann's world, most states have banned contraception. That feels positively prescient on her part, given the emergence of that creep Santorum.

To make things even more tragic, it feels as if these are all relatively recent developments, so people still remember how things used to be... how things should be. This reminded me a bit of Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, a book that made a huge impression on me (and for which I've got a draft review half-written -I'll have to finalise it soon).

The whole issue of the Greater-Thans and their mental powers and how they work was as well-developed as the world (to the point that at times, the detailed experiments on what exactly they could do with their minds got slightly too painstakingly explained). Brockmann has really thought about this, quite clearly. There's a lot even her characters don't know about how things work, since it's all a very new area, but I got the feeling there are rules here, even if only the author knows about it, and that she won't just change the way her world works to get out of a plotting pickle.

Before I finish this review (it's turned into quite the mammoth one), I really should say something about the suspense plot with The Organization kidnapping the young girls. It's really, really disturbing, so be warned. There's quite a lot of graphic violence and it reads very dark. It works very well in raising the stakes and impress on us the importance of the Institute's work, but the complete amorality strained believability a bit. It wasn't a matter of loads of people turning a blind eye to bad things that they could kind of explain away in their own minds, it was these loads of people actively, knowingly participating in evil. I'm not sure I bought it completely, but it will be interesting to see where this goes.

MY GRADE: Even having a few little problems with it, I liked it enough for a B+.


Live Bait, by PJ Tracy

>> Sunday, April 15, 2012

TITLE: Live Bait

PAGES: 400

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Mystery / Suspense
SERIES: #2 in the Monkeewrench series

A murder-free spell in Minneapolis is shattered when two elderly men are found murdered in one night - both self-sufficient, utterly innocent, and beloved. As the victim toll mounts, homicide detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth struggle to find a connection between victims in a demographic group rarely targeted by serial killers, and find elusive threads that uncover a series of horrendous secrets, some buried within the heart of the police department itself, blurring the lines between heroes and villains. Grace MacBride's cold-case-solving software may find the missing link - but at a terrible price.
After weeks with no murders at all, Leo Magozzi and his homicide detective colleagues are getting a bit bored. It's not that they want people to die, but they've had to resort to looking at cold cases, and that's no fun. But obviously, when it rains, it pours, and when the murders start, they come in fast and furious. And eerily similar, all elderly people, in the same neighbourhood. Three of them are Jewish, concentration camp survivors, but there's another victim that breaks the pattern completely, just to make things difficult for our detectives. Is this a serial killer, unlikely as it may sound? If not there must be a connection there the detectives are not seeing.

I'm enjoying this series immensely. The cases in the two books I've read so far have been top-notch: fresh, interesting and with brilliant resolutions, which have had several seemingly unconnected strands coming together in a very satisfying way. I especially like the professionalism and intelligence of the detectives. They work their cases hard, but in ways that feel real. No inspired guesses that come from nowhere, no unbelievable coincidences. And also, no cheating on the part of the author, which I always appreciate. I was constantly only half a step ahead of the investigators, the most satisfying possible state of affairs when reading a mystery.

In addition to the case, I think the reason I liked this book so much was that the characters are so very individual, especially the detectives. They are quite quirky (in a good way, without being annoying!), which is not the usual characterisation of tough homicide detectives. They are just very, very human. Tracy develops their personalities and focuses on their feelings and how they are affected by the crimes they are investigating, but without in any way making this self-indulgent and all about the detectives' angst. They are just real people, and real people feel stuff.

Gino Rolseth, Magozzi's partner, is probably my favourite character so far. I don't really know how to describe him, he's like a big child, but at the same time, possibly the most well-adjusted of all the characters we meet. The things he says often leave others with their mouths hanging open (like when he blithely asks a 7-foot-tall scary guy about his facial scars and they bond over the fact that they were knife wounds inflicted in prison and over the yummy food the man's cooked for them), but he has a way of cutting to the heart of things.

As this suggests, there is quite a lot of humour here. It's a harrowing case, and these flashes of humour kept it bearable, and they never cheapened or made light of the tragedy. We're not talking hah-hah funny, it's more like gently amusing, and I liked it.

The first book in the series centred around the owners of the Monkeewrech company (the case involved them), but they are more in the background here. Grace and Leo are involved in a slowly developing relationship (seriously, it's glacially slow), and she and her partners have used their computer geek expertise to put together a programme that specialises in finding links between people, crimes, or whatever the police need. Obviously, this is used during this investigation, and provides a key clue, but I was left wanting more of this element. Not a problem, it looks like the Monkeewrench peeps will play a much larger role in the next book.

MY GRADE: A very strong B+.


The Sharing Knife Book Four: Horizon, by Lois McMaster Bujold

>> Friday, April 13, 2012

TITLE: The Sharing Knife Book Four: Horizon
AUTHOR: Lois McMaster Bujold

PAGES: 448

SETTING: Fantasy world
TYPE: Fantasy
SERIES: 4th and last in the Sharing Knife quartet

The concluding volume in the epic fantasy saga from multiple Hugo Award-winning author Lois McMaster Bujold

A Lakewalker entrusted with protecting the populace from terrifying remnants of ancient magic, Dag Redwing Hickory never expected to fall in love with farmer girl Fawn Bluefield. When they joined in marriage, defying their kin, they bridged the perilous split between their peoples. Now Dag’s extraordinary maker abilities have grown—along with his fears about who and what he is becoming, and his frustration with the disdain in which Lakewalker soldier-sorcerers hold their farmer neighbors.

Fawn and Dag’s world is changing, and the traditional Lakewalker practices cannot continue to hold every malice at bay. At the end of their long journey home, the pair must answer the question they’ve grappled with for so long: When the old traditions fail disastrously, can their untried new ways stand against their world’s deadliest foe?
First-off, I need to say this is not one to start with in the series. It's the last in the Sharing Knife quartet, and it builds on all the many developments that have happened in the three earlier books. I've read all three, but since it's been a while since I did so, there were a couple of points where I was slightly confused, as I couldn't completely remember the details. If you hadn't read those at all, you'd probably be completely lost.

The first two books were all about the relationship between Dag and Fawn. In the third one, Passage, the focus changed from the union of one Lakewalker and one Farmer to how to do the same for the Lakewalker and Farmer societies. Our two protagonists came to the conclusion that harmony and understanding were needed, if a catastrophe was to be averted, since more and more Farmer settlements were moving closer to the areas were Malices were frequent.

In Horizon, Dag and Fawn are basically looking to decide what they'll do for the rest of their lives. In the previous book Dag discovered and started exploring his "making" powers, and he's keen to find out exactly what he can do, and decide whether this is the path he wants to take.

For that purpose, he decides to apprentice himself to an expert maker, and he and Fawn are grudgingly accepted into the Lakewalker camp where the man is based. But Lakwalker rules are strict about not treating Farmers. This is for a good reason, but it's one that Dag has found a way around. Still, the camp leaders will not see reason, and before long, Dag is leading a diverse bunch of people, a mix of Lakewalkers and Farmers, on the way North. And obviously, trouble finds them there.

Bujold has a lovely voice, and she's a storyteller I trust completely. Whenever I start one of her books, I just give myself up and become immersed in her story, letting her take me where she might.

The story she tells here is that of an idealistic man, ready to take on the world and make it a better place, leading by example. Fawn is still there, but more to steady Dag and be the core of the book than to move things along. Much as I've liked Fawn in earlier books, I didn't mind too much, because Dag is such a fascinating character himself.

Something I really like about the Sharing Knife series (well, about everything I've read by Bujold, really) is the intrincate, fresh world-building. The author has done most of the groundwork of setting things up in the earlier books in the series, but that doesn't mean there's not plenty to find out here. This is especially the case for with Dag's abilities, since Lakewalkers have basically completely ignored anything to do with Farmers, so there's a lot to learn there. It was also really interesting to see the world of Southern Lakewalkers, who live in much closer proximity to Farmers than those we've met before, Dag's family, who live in the North. They're both more familiar with Farmer ways and more rigid, as they feel the need to uphold their separate identity (not to mention, the Lakewalker identity has a lot to do with their hunt for Malices, but there really aren't many of them in the South, so they have to make an effort to hold up tradition).

The book meanders along, in an almost episodic fashion, collecting different characters and their stories. But this is the case only for the first two thirds of the book. Then we come to the really fantastic conclusion. If you thought the Malices we've encountered in previous books were bad, well, you ain't seen nothing yet! It was truly terrifying, and there was a very real sense of despair and hopelessness at the enormity of the enemy to be confronted. The way it's resolved was truly mind-blowing, and it set the scene beautifully for a hopeful ending, one where it's clear Dag and Fawn's objectives will, slowly but surely, be realised.

A really good ending to a really good series.



Celebrity in Death, by JD Robb

>> Wednesday, April 11, 2012

TITLE: Celebrity in Death

PAGES: 400

SETTING: 2060s New York
TYPE: Romantic Suspense
SERIES: 35th full-length title in the In Death series

Lieutenant Eve Dallas is no party girl, but she's managing to have a reasonably good time at the celebrity-packed bash celebrating The Icove Agenda, a film based on one of her famous cases. It's a little spooky seeing the actress playing her, who looks almost like her long-lost twin. Not as unsettling, though, as seeing the actress who plays Peabody drowned in the lap pool on the roof of the director's luxury building. Now she's at the center of a crime scene-and Eve is more than ready to get out of her high heels and strap on her holster and step into the role she was born to play: cop.
I quite like a change of pace with the In Death books. After the adrenalin-fest that was New York to Dallas, including massive emotional trauma for Eve, Robb gives our nerves a bit of a rest with this one. It reminded me a bit of an earlier book in the series, Witness in Death, the Agatha Christie homage. Eve actually sleeps and eats properly during this book, it probably means she's going to go through the wringer in the next one!

Long-time readers of the series will know that Nadine has written a book about one of Eve's earlier cases. Well, now it's being made into a film. As a favour to Nadine (and Peabody), Eve is forced to hobnob with the celebs. On a visit to the set they discover that the actress playing Peabody is a massive bitch (Peabody is crushed), so it's almost not a surprise when she's murdered during a party at the director's home that night.

Eve and the gang are actually at the party, and immediately take over the investigation. Surely it should be easy enough to root out the culprit, when the lead detective was actually there on the scene when the murder was committed? Not so easy, especially when the victim was so horrendous that pretty much everyone had a reason to kill her.

I really, really enjoyed this. The personal stuff is pretty low-key in this one, all about Roarke still feeling a bit careful of Eve, after the traumatic last book, and them having to deal with that. It was sweet, and didn't take up all that much space, which I actually didn't have a problem with.

Because the case was really great. The characters are excellently drawn, every single one of them. Even the horrible victim, who was horrible in an understandable way. Robb is the only writer I can think of who, when her detectives are about to interview someone new has me rubbing my hands in glee at meeting another character.

The investigation here focuses on motivations and personalities, and it's shot through with humour. Eve and Peabody's working relationship continues to develop, and I love seeing them work together. Things get a bit grimmer near the end, with a resolution I really didn't see coming, but in a good way.

A solid, enjoyable entry in the series.



The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters

>> Monday, April 09, 2012

TITLE: The Little Stranger
AUTHOR: Sarah Waters

PAGES: 512

SETTING: Late 1940s rural England
TYPE: Fiction

In a dusty post-war summer in rural Warwickshire, a doctor is called to a patient at Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once grand and handsome, is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, the clock in its stable yard permanently fixed at twenty to nine. Its owners – mother, son and daughter – are struggling to keep pace with a changing society, as well as with conflicts of their own.

But are the Ayreses haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life? Little does Dr Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become entwined with his.
The Little Stranger was my reading group's choice for March. I quite fancied a creepy ghost story, plus, I'd heard many good things about Waters, and hadn't read her yet.

Dr. Faraday is a GP practising in rural England right after WWII. As the book starts, his concerns are mundane: how to get the local gentry to become his patients, since they all seem to go for the other doctors, as well as a nagging worry about the upcoming introduction of the National Health Service, and whether he will be completely ruined by it.

These are the main things on his mind until the fateful day when he's called to the local big house, Hundreds Hall, to have a look at the last remaining maid. There's nothing wrong with young Betty, who is just uncomfortable in the house and wants to go home. But there's plenty wrong with Hundreds Hall and its occupants, the Ayres.

Dr. Faraday's mother used to be a maid at the Hall when he was a child, and he remembers it as a place of grace and beauty. But now money's tight and the new Labour government has no sympathy for families like the Ayres, so like so many other grand families, they're finding it impossible to continue living in the style they've been accustomed to. The house is crumbling and there's no money for repairs, so bits of the surrounding land are being sold every few months to the council just to survive.

Mrs. Ayres is trying as hard as she can to keep up appearances, and her daughter Caroline does as much as she can to help. The son, Roderick, recovering from a mental breakdown after the war as well as a bad leg, is struggling to deal with the demands of running the farm. It's into that situation that Dr. Faraday walks in and slowly becomes a friend to the family.

This friendship becomes closer when Rod becomes convinced strange things are happening in the house, and the women seek Dr. Faraday's help. Things get worse and worse, though, and then they get even worse, as one after the other, all members of the household seem to start believing all sorts of twaddle, as far as the very sensible and hard-headed Dr. Faraday is concerned.

I absolutely loved the first half of this book. Well-developed characters, fascinating hints of the creepy and a really interesting insight into life right after the war, and the decline of the old upper classes.

It's a leisurely-paced book, though, so when I got to about the halfway point things were only starting to kick off. Still, I wasn't minding that at all, and I was practically rubbing my hands with glee thinking about what might come. Interestingly enough, that evening I met a couple of friends from the book club to watch a football game, and we had a quick chat about how we were doing with the book. Both were struggling. One had read a little less than I had, the other a little more, and neither was enjoying the book one bit. They felt it was slow, nothing was happening and it wasn't scary, whereas I felt the slow pace gave us enough time to know the characters and that quite a few really, really creepy things were happening. And then during the book club discussion, most people seemed to agree with my friends. So be warned that even for this first half, mine is probably the minority opinion.

Unfortunately, my feelings for the book turned sour in the second half. I felt Waters lost control of her plot, and things got much too crazy, verging on nonsensical. By the end, there were too many things which were left hanging, people having behaved in ways that were weirdly out-of-character without any explanation given at the end, and especially, the whole ghost thing. There was a big mish-mash of weird things happening, but not a satisfying explanation of why. We came up with all sorts of interpretations during the discussion at the book group, but for everything to make sense, it would have to be a case of at least two completely independent kinds of weirdness. For a ghost story, that's just bad form, verging on cheating.

Still, even with that second half there were plenty of things I did like, especially the character studies and the social history elements. I liked the Ayres' well enough and a part of me felt really sorry for their plight. The bigger part of me, however, is a socialist and went "Oh, boo-hoo, so there's no inherited wealth left and you would have to get a job to get by? And I'm supposed to feel sorry for you because of this, why?" But what I thought was really interesting was how Dr. Faraday was clearly the party most interested in maintaining the social order, even though he was a self-made man and had grown up in quite challenging conditions. I guess he was picturing himself as master of the manor, and felt cheated by the idea that there would be no manor to be master of. He does become fairly unlikeable at the end, taking on quite stalkerish characteristics, and that was remarkable to read, as it was believable, and we were seeing it happen through his point of view, since he was the story's narrator.

A flawed book, but I'm glad I read it.



Contact Me

>> Saturday, April 07, 2012

If you want to contact me to offer me a review copy, please be warned I'll probably say no. Apologies if this sounds rude, it's just that if I accept a review copy, I feel obliged to read it and write a review very quickly (by the release date, if it's a new release). Work is pretty busy these days, and I'd rather not let my hobby add any extra stress to my life.

If you want to contact me to ask me to do an author interview, be a stop on a blog tour or do any other type of promo, thanks, but that's not my thing.

If you'd still like to contact me, please email me here.


Knave's Wager, by Loretta Chase

TITLE: Knave's Wager
AUTHOR: Loretta Chase

PAGES: 236

SETTING: Early 19th century England
TYPE: Regency romance

Lilith Davenant's sensibilities are appropriately offended. How dare Lord Julian Brandon kiss her when he knows full well the man she is to marry is in the very next room! She never imagines that his amorous pursuit is the result of a wager that will sully her flawless reputation—or that one day she will yearn for Julian's irresistible embrace...
Knave's Wager has a plot I've read a hundred times before, but with Loretta Chase, it's all about the execution.

Julian, the Marquess of Brandon, is well-known in Society as a rake and a reprobate. But he does care about his family, however much he protests that he doesn't, and his newphew is in need of rescuing. The silly boy has let himself be caught by his mistress, Elise, and the woman now has a marriage proposal from him, and in writing, too. She wants marriage, or she'll sue for breach of promise.

Julian fails to bully Elise into taking a bit of money instead, but she proposes a bet. If he wins, she'll withdraw, and he'll do the same if she's the winner. What Julian needs to do to win is to seduce Lilith Davenant, a widow and one of the most proper, rigid matrons in Society.

Julian's actually quite pleased with the bet. He's met Lilith very recently, when she and her niece rescued him after an accident in his carriage. She intrigued him, so even before Elise's proposed bet, he already fully intended to seduce her.

And he really goes all out to do so. Julian pursues Lilith quite mercilessly, lying and cheating when he must, bribing her servants and making sure he spends as much time as possible with her. But with time, the tone of the whole thing shifts, and they become friends. Julian still pursues Lilith, but it's clear to both that the main motivation is spending time with her because they like each other, rather than stone-cold seduction.

Their courtship, such as it is, is conducted through some truly lovely dialogue and banter. Julian has judged Lilith perfectly, and knows that he's not going to get to her with poetic compliments and chivalry. He teases and challenges her and basically, treats her like no one dares to treat this supposed ice queen. As for Lilith, she gives as good as she gets, and their interactions are just delightful and charming.

But of course, the whole issue of the bet is hanging over Julian's head as he falls in love, and we know it's going to fall on him at the worst possible time. It does, and oh, the lovely angst! I loved it.

The only part of the book I was disappointed with was the secondary romance. I had some hopes at the beginning that Julian's nephew and his mistress would end up with an unconventional HEA, since Elise is a really interesting, strong character. Unfortunately, Chase was a lot more traditional than that, and went for the the young virgin for this guy. To be fair, though, the young virgin (Lilith's niece) is really cool and a lot cleverer than she seems at first, and at least Elise is not much demonised. Oh, well.

Still, a good one, I liked it.



The Proviso, by Moriah Jovan

>> Thursday, April 05, 2012

TITLE: The Proviso
AUTHOR: Moriah Jovan

PAGES: 736
PUBLISHER: Self-published

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 1st in the Tales of Dunham series

Knox Hilliard’s uncle killed his father to marry his mother and gain control of the family’s Fortune 100 company. Knox is set to inherit it on his 40th birthday, provided he has a wife and an heir.

Then, after his bride is murdered on their wedding day, Knox refuses to fulfill the proviso at all. When a brilliant law student catches his attention, he knows must wait until after his 40th birthday to pursue her—but he may not be able to resist her that long.

Sebastian Taight, eccentric financier, steps between Knox and his uncle by initiating a hostile takeover. When Sebastian is appointed trustee of a company in receivership, he falls hard for its beautiful CEO. She has secrets that involve his uncle, but his secret could destroy any chance he has with her.

Giselle Cox exposed the affair that set her uncle’s plot in motion—twenty years ago. He’s burned Giselle's bookstore and had her shot because it is she who holds his life in her hands. Then she runs into a much bigger problem: A man who takes her breath away, who can match and dominate her, whose soul is as scarred as his body.

Knox, Sebastian, and Giselle: Three cousins at war with an uncle who will stop at nothing to keep Knox’s inheritance. Never do they expect to find allies—and love—on the battlefield.
Ms. Jovan was kind enough to email me a copy of her book for review. It sounded like a nice, meaty read, the sort of book one can sink into. Unfortunately, I couldn't finish it. Actually, I couldn't properly even start it, because I was very badly turned off by the opening scene.

It's a scene set in a university seminar. The professor, Knox Hilliard, and Justice, one of the young students, engage in flirtation over how they both think that crimes against property are just as awful as crimes against people, because property is just as sacred as the body, and how criminals have too many rights. I found that horrible.

Then there was the fact that Knox is this successful, oh-so-sexy prosecutor, wanted by every other women, nearing 40 to Justice's naive, young law student, who doesn't even know how to dress (and Jovan was really successful in her description in bringing to mind the most awful 80s fashion).

Not to mention that there's this other woman who's basically portrayed as an evil slut, who not only wants to fuck Knox and says it to his face, resulting in him behaving in an extremely unprofessional way in the classroom. First he responds to her overt proposition, made out loud to the entire class by telling her they'd discuss it after class. Then, when he gets angry because this woman mocks poor, innocent, idealistic Justice, he tells her to go fuck herself because he won't. Literally. And again, in front of the entire class. And the best part, this horrible evil slut ends up also being bisexual. Of course.

I didn't want to spend time with these people. I think if this had been a shorter book I might have persevered and hoped it would improve and Jovan would prove me wrong. However, it's a massively long book, and I just couldn't do it. I tried, went back to it about 5 times, but I couldn't.



Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, by Lisa Kleypas

>> Tuesday, April 03, 2012

TITLE: Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor
AUTHOR: Lisa Kleypas

PAGES: 211
PUBLISHER: St. Martin's

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: First in Friday Harbor series

One rain-slicked night, six-year-old Holly lost the only parent she knew, her beloved mother Victoria. And since that night, she has never again spoken a word.

The last thing Mark Nolan needs is a six-year-old girl in his life. But he soon realizes that he will do everything he can to make her life whole again. His sister's will gives him the instructions: There's no other choice but you. Just start by loving her. The rest will follow.

Maggie Collins doesn't dare believe in love again, after losing her husband of one year. But she does believe in the magic of imagination. As the owner of a toy shop, she lives what she loves. And when she meets Holly Nolan, she sees a little girl in desperate need of a little magic.

Three lonely people. Three lives at the crossroads. Three people who are about to discover that Christmas is the time of year when anything is possible, and when wishes have a way of finding the path home...
I've been hearing really good things about the first full-length novel in this series, Rainshadow Road, so I thought I'd best read this novella prequel first.

The book starts just after Mark Nolan's sister has died in an accident, leaving a 6-year-old daughter behind. Mark knows nothing of kids and proper families, since growing up, his family had not been much of one. Still, he feels duty-bound to take little Holly in, and guilts Sam, one of his brothers, into letting them both move into Sam's big old house, which is on the same San Juan island where Mark is living.

Six months later, Holly seems ok, except for the fact that she hasn't said a word since the accident. That all changes when they find themselves in Maggie Collins' toy shop, and Maggie manages to connect to the little girl.

Maggie has recently moved to the island, after her husband's death two years earlier. She feels the connection to Holly as well, and there certainly is something there when she looks at the little girl's uncle. However, she hasn't quite recovered from the tragedy of her husband's death, and doesn't want to fall in love again.

This was cute. Too cute, actually. I liked the setting and it was a quick read, but honestly, I felt absolutely no connection to the characters. I liked them fine (they're so inoffensive they're impossible to dislike!), but just wasn't interested in them. They're boring, especially Maggie. At least Mark has his relationship with his brothers.

There is no real conflict, either. Mark has a girlfriend when he and Maggie meet, but the writing was on the wall with that one, and there's never a sense that there will be any problem at all with that. As for Maggie, her resistance to falling in love ends up being something she can push aside at will, and her feelings just didn't ring true to me. I think all this might have worked a bit better in a longer book, with time to explore these things properly. The development felt rushed here.

Also, the whole thing felt full of clichés. I mean, a little girl who asks Santa for a mommy? And that scene where Maggie, after a couple of minutes can make her speak, when her uncle has been trying for months? Spare me.

Eh, well, my saccharine and bland might be someone's heartwarming, but now I'm actually a bit hesitant about reading Rainshadow Road, A reviews or not. I'm starting to despair with Kleypas. She used to be one of my favourites, but her contemporaries are just not working for me at all.



March 2012 reads

>> Sunday, April 01, 2012

So, my March reads. An ok month, but not too good on the romance front. Other than the reliable JD Robb, all C romances. The non-romances saved the month.

1 - We Need To Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver: A-

review coming up

Narrated by a woman whose son carried out a school massacre. She never liked him. Was she the only one who could see the real Kevin, or did Kevin become what he did because his mother never liked him? What a brilliant, brilliant read. Eva is a fantastic character, whose honesty was painful and heart-wrenching, very difficult to read, but rewarding.

2 - Celebrity in Death, by JD Robb: B+

review coming up

A quiet case for Eve, for once. She and Peabody investigate the murder of the very nasty actress who's playing Peabody in a film based on one of their earlier cases. Not the best In Death ever, but I enjoyed it very much.

3 - The Report, by Jessica Francis Kane: B+

review here

A terrible accident in London during the Blitz: streaming into a shelter when the air raid sirens sound, something goes wrong and almost 200 people are crushed to death. It's a terrible tragedy for the community, and a local magistrate is brought in to write a report that will provide closure. Fascinating subject matter, sensitively treated, and I loved the glimpse of everyday life in London at the time.

4 - A Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes: B

review coming up

A middle-aged man re-examines an incident from his youth, and discovers memory is not as immutable as he once thought. It explored some really interesting ideas and themes, but this was a book I just liked well enough, but not loved.

5 - The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters: B-

review coming up

A local doctor in post-war rural England becomes involved in the strange and scary goings-on at the decaying big house. I loved the first half for its careful scene-setting and really creepy indications of something not quite right in the house. In the second half, though, things went a bit too crazy, and the conclusion was very unsatisfying.

6 - Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, by Lisa Kleypas: C+

review coming up

A man takes in his dead sister's young daughter, and the widowed owner of the new toy shop is the only one who can connect to the little girl -and her uncle. Sappy. Plus, I like character-driven books, but there need to be some issues, otherwise it's boring!

7 - Lover Unleashed, by JR Ward: C+

review coming up

Only for long-time readers of the series, newbies would be completely lost. Main romance here is Vishous' twin, Payne, and the doctor brought in to heal her after she breaks her back. Well, actually, the main romance is supposed to be them, but all the attention is on V and Jane, who are having marriage trouble. V annoyed me with his "it's all about me" attitude, and I didn't care to spend that much time with them.

8 - Choose Me, by Jo Leigh: C

review here

A young woman, new to New York but determined to make it there in the fashion business, is set up by a friend to go on a blind date with the King of New York, the celebrity owner of a blogging empire (and the matchmaker's cousin). Didn't care for the whole celebrity crap, but most of all, disliked that the romance
had a very skewed power dynamic. The heroine is starstruck all through the book, and the hero, well, I've no idea why he thinks he's in love.

9 - Live Bait, by PJ Tracy: still reading

I loved the first in the series, and I'm really liking this one so far.

10 - The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller: still reading

If the Iliad was in copyright, this would be fanfiction of the best kind. Miller fills in the blanks left in about Achilles and Patroclus' relationship, which is only hinted about (albeit quite obviously) in the Iliad. I'm about a third in, and so far, so good.


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