August wish list

>> Tuesday, July 31, 2012

This looks to be another very good month (or a bad one, if you think of my bank account!)

Books I'm definitely planning to get

There's a lot this month. I don't have that many autobuy authors, but a large proportion of them have seen fit to put their books out in August.

Off The Grid, by PJ Tracy (Aug 2)

I’ve been reading through these authors very sparse backlist much too quickly, so I’m glad to see a new one coming out. Sounds like a good one, too, seemingly unconnected murders that turn out to be related, which is something the authors do excellently well.

Within Reach, by Sarah Mayberry (Aug 7)

To be completely honest, with any other author, the plot description would put me off completely and I would never pick it up (single dad, old family friend stepping in to help out -no). But it’s Sarah Mayberry, so I’ll be reading this, whatever it’s about.

Mina Wentworth and the Invisible City, by Meljean Brook (Aug 7)

I love this series, and will read anything Meljean Brook writes.

Close Enough to Touch, by Victoria Dahl (Aug 28)

I love Dahl’s contemporaries. Absolutely adore them. They’re plain contemps, with no suspense subplots, there just aren’t enough of. This one starts a new trilogy, too.

A Lady by Midnight, Tessa Dare (Aug 28)

I hadn’t read Dare for a while, but then I picked up A Week To Be Wicked and it turned out to be one of my favourite books this year. There was quite a lot there setting up this book, and it definitely intrigued me. I'm now reading book 1 and having lots of trouble getting into it, so let's hope this is more like AWTBW.

Books that interest me and I'll keep an eye on

Books I might buy depending on what reviews look like.

Never Stay Past Midnight, by Mira Lyn Kelly (Aug 7)

Heard about this one on twitter. Probably Jane, she makes me spend a lot of money! I'm a sucker for the 'they had a one night stand, but then he wanted more' plot.

A Lady Never Lies, by Juliana Gray (Aug 7)

This was mentioned in one of the DBSA podcasts, and I thought it sounded interesting. I think it was the turn of the century-set car racing element that appealed to me.

Hearts of Darkness, by Kira Brady (Aug 7)

Because Jane raved about it (did I tell you she makes me spend lots of money?), and I’m always up for a fresh and original paranormal.

Dream Lake, by Lisa Kleypas (Aug 7)

I haven’t read the previous one in the Friday Harbor series, but I will at some point (even though I found book 1, really meh). Will keep an eye on this one.

The Sweetness of Forgetting, by Kristin Harmel (Aug 7)

I've liked previous books by Harmel (especially the lovely Italian For Beginners). This one sounds a little bit different, but it could be interesting.

The Square Peg, by Alexa Snow and Jane Davitt (Aug 7)

One of the authors posted on the Dear Author open thread, and it sounds interesting. The first sentence in the description sold it to me: "Benedict, a successful accountant, who’s just been dumped for being boring..."

More Than Words, by Karla Doyle (Aug 17)

Another one from the DA open thread for authors. Sounds cute. Plus, Scrabble!

Hidden Paradise, by Janet Mullany (Aug 21)

I quite liked Mullany’s Dedication, so even though the plot of this one doesn’t sound that great (some sort of naughty themed house party), I’ll keep an eye on reviews.

The Map of Lost Memories, by Kim Fay (Aug 21)

A treasure hunt. In Cambodia. In 1925. Enough said!

A Study in Seduction, by Nina Rowan (Aug 28)

The description refers to the heroine being able to “solve the most complex puzzles”, which intrigues me.

Every Day, by David Levithan (Aug 28)

Because I read AnimeJune's review and it sounds amazing.


Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson

>> Sunday, July 29, 2012

TITLE: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
AUTHOR: Helen Simonson

PAGES: 384
PUBLISHER: Random House

SETTING: Contemporary England
TYPE: Fiction

In the small village of Edgecombe St. Mary in the English countryside lives Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the unlikely hero of Helen Simonson’s wondrous debut. Wry, courtly, opinionated, and completely endearing, the Major leads a quiet life valuing the proper things that Englishmen have lived by for generations: honor, duty, decorum, and a properly brewed cup of tea.

Then his brother’s death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village. Drawn together by their shared love of literature and the loss of their spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more.

But village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and regarding her as the permanent foreigner. Can their relationship survive the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of culture and tradition?
This is a pretty good, accurate summary that I quoted above, so I'll leave it at that.

This was a deceptively meaty book. In some ways, it was what I call a "warm bath" book: the sort of book that's warm and comforting and immersive, and feels a bit like sinking into a warm bath. But it was also a book that examined some quite difficult and conflictive issues, like the nature of Englishness and xenophobia, traditionalism and progress and a very difficult relationship between a father and a son. Pettigrew does this in a subtle, gentle way, full of appreciation for the people who inhabit her book.

Major Pettigrew works so well as main character because he's a complicated man. Part of him is a snobbish, conservative old coot, but then, if that's all he was, his friendship with Mrs. Ali would never have arisen at all, much less changed into something else. He cares about what his neighbours think and doesn't want to be embarrassed, but he's quite acerbic when he thinks about his son, Roger's actions, which are more extreme in that respect. But at the same time he can be quite funny, as well as compasionate, as in his interactions with Mrs. Ali's young relatives.

Mrs. Ali is a bit more of a cypher, as we only see her through the Major's eyes here. She's quite the perfect woman, intelligent and dignified and beautiful, and she "gets" the Major like no one else, but that's basically it. Nothing we see helps us much to really understand her relationship with her family. However, I guess this means that we readers are then in the same position as the Major, with the same sort of hazy understanding of what's really going on.

And speaking of Mrs. Ali's family, I really liked their very nuanced portrayal. Things kind of go to hell a bit at the end, but in the rest of the book, I especially appreciated that Simonson actually has some Muslim characters who are not secular and modern, and yet are good people.

So I loved every minute as I was reading, right until the frankly strange ending. The cozy tone suddenly turns into high drama, with chases and lives imperiled. It didn't work very well.

Still, that was a minor part of the book, the rest was great.



The Scent of Rain and Lightning, by Nancy Pickard

>> Friday, July 27, 2012

TITLE: The Scent of Rain and Lightning
AUTHOR: Nancy Pickard

PAGES: 337
PUBLISHER: Hodder & Stoughton

SETTING: Contemporary and 1980s US
TYPE: Mystery

Twenty-three years ago, when she was only three months old, Jody Linder's father was murdered as she slept in her cot. Her mother vanished, presumed dead. Local trouble-maker Billy Crosby confessed to the murder and was locked up, leaving his wife and son to face the consequences in the small Kansas town of Rose. But his son Collin, now a lawyer, has successfully petitioned for a retrial, which means that - for now - Billy is back in town. Jody is horrified - the man who tore her family apart is living just a few streets away. So why does she find herself wondering if Collin is right? What if Billy was innocent, and her close-knit family has been hiding a terrible secret all these years? Haunting and powerful, this is Nancy Pickard's finest achievement to date.
Twenty-three years earlier, Jody Linder's family suffered a devastating tragedy. Her father was shot dead and her mother disappeared. Billy Crosby, who used to work in the family ranch and had just been fired, was arrested for the murders. He always insisted he was innocent, but the evidence was enough that he was convicted anyway and sent to jail, where he's been ever since.

And then Jody receives the news that Billy is being released from jail. His son, now a lawyer, has brought to the governor's attention some big problems with the original trial. Everyone knew Billy had done it, so it seems the sheriff didn't see the point of investigating the murder properly, especially since it would just have prolonged the agony for the wealthy and influential Linder family.

Jody is initially outraged. There is no doubt in her mind that Billy murdered her parents. She also feels betrayed by Collin, Billy's son, who has made this happen. Despite the murders and the gulf between their social positions, there has always been a connection between them, albeit one they have ignored. But then she starts asking some questions, and begins to realise just how shoddy the original investigation was, and that Billy's guilt is not as clear-cut as everyone always though. But if not Billy, then who? And what will this person do now that people have started looking at the case again?

I didn't know quite what to expect when I started this. What I got was a really interesting portrayal of a community in decline and a psychologically nuanced mystery. I also got a book that absorbed me completely until the final sections, where, unfortunately, the author lost control of her story a little bit.

The book starts with Jody receiving the news of Billy's release, but pretty soon, we're back 23 years earlier, exploring the events leading to the night of her parents' death. I assumed this was going to be a quick flashback, and was surprised to see it wasn't. In fact, the full first half of the book takes place then, and I was even more surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

When I get that kind of thing, I'm usually anxious to get back to the present day, but it was so well done I was happy enough to stay there. The characters are interesting, and the drama is of the kind I like: i.e. not too soap-operaish or over-the-top. And it turns out that knowing what's about to happen doesn't ruin the suspense at all. It both makes it more poignant, and makes you examine all the evidence as it's happening, trying to guess who it is that did it.

Once we're back with Jody in the present-day, the story starts out strong. Jody's increasing realisation that Billy might not have done it is very well done, and so was Pickard's depiction of how a crime could be so mishandled without anyone actually setting out to convict an innocent man. It wasn't that they decided to railroad Billy, they simply had no doubts at all that he'd done it, and that made everyone blind to anything that suggested otherwise. I also liked that Pickard doesn't have Billy be some sort of heroic innocent. He's a mean bastard, who deserved going to jail, even if not for this particular thing.

So there was a lot I enjoyed, but I ended the book slightly unsatisfied. Suddenly, the story that had previously been focused on characters and community becomes melodramatic and unbelievable, with chases and gunmen on the rampage. It felt weird, kind of tacked on to the rest of the story.

I also felt Jody and Collin's relationship was a bit half-baked. It needed a lot more development to feel real and make me believe in it. Much as I liked Collin as a character, I just didnt.

So, some mixed feelings in the end, but on the whole, I thought this was a gripping mystery, people by really interesting characters, and so would recommend it.



Copper Beach, by Jayne Ann Krentz

>> Wednesday, July 25, 2012

TITLE: Copper Beach
AUTHOR: Jayne Ann Krentz

PAGES: 352

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Paranormal romance
SERIES: #1 in the Dark Legacy serise

A rare book. An ancient code. An all-new novel from the New York Times-bestselling master of passion and the paranormal.

Within the pages of very rare books some centuries old lie the secrets of the paranormal. Abby Radwell's unusual psychic talent has made her an expert in such volumes-and sometimes taken her into dangerous territory. After a deadly incident in the private library of an obsessive collector, Abby receives a blackmail threat, and rumors swirl that an old alchemical text known as The Key has reappeared on the black market.

Convinced that she needs an investigator who can also play bodyguard, she hires Sam Coppersmith, a specialist in paranormal crystals and amber-"hot rocks." Passion flares immediately between them, but neither entirely trusts the other. When it comes to dealing with a killer who has paranormal abilities, and a blackmailer who will stop at nothing to obtain an ancient alchemical code, no one is safe.
JAK is the author I just can't quit. I've been feeling increasingly dissatisfied with her books in the last few years, especially since she started with her Arcane Society series, but I always end up reading them at some point (usually from the library). This one I picked up a lot quicker than usual, though, all due to a post in the AAR message boards saying that it was more like older books I've loved (I think Silver Linings and the Eclipse Bay books were mentioned), and less like her more recent ones.

The poster was completely right. Granted, it does have a not-too-exciting paranormal suspense subplot (an evil someone searching for an object that will allow them to create a powerful paranormal tool, as we've seen a thousand times before in the Arcane books), but this doesn't distract too much from a romance that's really quite nice and some interesting family drama.

Abby Radwell is being blackmailed by someone threatening to reveal a secret about her paranormal powers, which have helped her become one of the best book dealers specialising in what's called "hot" books. These are books paranormally altered so that they won't reveal their secrets unless someone with Abby's sort of talents unlocks them.

On her mentor's advice, Abby approaches Sam Coppersmith for help. Sam is involved in the whole plot with the paranormal tool I mentioned above, and the long and short of it is that he could use some help finding and unlocking a hot book that is the key to sorting it all out. So he and Abby enter a mutually advantageous arrangement: he'll protect her and help find her blackmailer (who he suspects has something to do with the book he's looking for, anyway), she'll help him find the book.

So, plot: boring. Much too much mundane detail about imaginary paranormal crystals and books and how they work. But I guess the good thing about JAK being so repetitive with such things is that I could just skim over all that stuff without getting lost and just concentrate on the romance and the character stuff.

And the romance and character stuff were very, very nice. There's plenty of chemistry between Abby and Sam, and best of all, a sense of real connection. They click, and they're right for each other. Abby has some well-earned trust issues, due to her family's reaction to her talents, and while you think Sam might, as well (there's some traumatic history with his late fiancee in his past), with him it's more an instant protectiveness and attraction, as soon as he meets Abby.

There is quite a bit about families here, and I especially liked that. The Coppersmiths are as loving and protective as the Radwells are disfunctional. But, and this is one of the things that harks back to some classic JAK books, they are Abby's family, and they are important to her. They are difficult and have a tendency to use her and not appreciate her, but Abby's open-eyed about the situation and why she sometimes gives in to it, so I enjoyed the dynamic, rather than be annoyed.

Here's hoping that JAK keeps moving in this direction.



We Need To Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver

>> Monday, July 23, 2012

TITLE: We Need To Talk About Kevin
AUTHOR: Lionel Shriver

PAGES: 468
PUBLISHER: Serpent's Tail

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Fiction

The gripping international bestseller about motherhood gone awry

Eva never really wanted to be a mother—and certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and a much-adored teacher who tried to befriend him, all two days before his sixteenth birthday. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood, and Kevin’s horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her estranged husband, Franklin. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails.
I've always found the idea of this book fascinating, but never dared to read it. It's a story narrated by a woman whose son carried out a school massacre, which sounded like it would be really heavy. But then my friend H. dragged me to see the film, and I thought it was fantastic. And what she said about how it differed from the book made me want to read it immediately.

The narrator is Eva Khatchadourian. Eva never particularly wanted children and she always loved her life just the way it was, with her exciting career, the husband she loved and their very fulfilling sex life. But then, after a while, he started indicating he wanted kids, and she ends up convincing herself that this is something she needed to do. It's a disaster from the start. She and Kevin never bond, and as he grows up, it's clearer and clearer to her that there is something wrong with him, despite the fact that her husband thinks he's a perfectly normal and lovely little kid. We see all this through letters Eva writes to her husband, Franklin, a couple of years after the day Kevin went into school and wreaked havoc in so many people's lives.

I don't know if this is a book one can say one loved, but I can say I thought it was brilliant. Even more than the film, and I thought the film was the best one I watched last year.

We know from the start what happened, the basics of what Kevin did, but Shriver doles out the more painful details slowly. I wasn't surprised by the big revelation (obviously, having seen the film), but that didn't mean the book worked any less well. It provides a different experience from the film, though.

The main difference was in the ambiguity. In the book, it's never quite clear whether Eva was the only one who could see the real Kevin and the evil in him, or whether Kevin became what he did because (or even partly because) his mother couldn't stand him from the start and showed it. As we were coming out of the cinema, that was the main thing my friend said, that there was less ambiguity in the film than in the book, since we actually see Kevin and his demeanour, and don't rely on Eva's memories (I guess you could say that what we see is filtered through Eva's memories, but never mind).

The funny thing was that I identified so profoundly with Eva that I took her side automatically. Even though, intellectually, I could see what Shriver was doing and that a months-old baby couldn't really be plotting to undermine his mum, Eva is such a fantastic, charismatic character that she sucked me in. I ended up almost hating Franklin, for being so blind to the reality of his son and for, as soon as the kid is born, putting Eva in the "Mum" role and refusing to see her as anything other than that.

Eva's honesty in those letters to Franklin was painful and heart-wrenching, very difficult to read, but rewarding. Because there is so much gut-wrenching truth here, plenty of painful feelings, which feel instinctively true, even though I've never been in that situation. Things like the horrible loss of power when you do something wrong to someone who's previously been in the wrong themselves, and they take it easy on you.

A disturbing book, but one I'm very, very glad I read.



Ten Things I Love About You, by Julia Quinn

>> Saturday, July 21, 2012

TITLE: Ten Things I Love About You
AUTHOR: Julia Quinn

PAGES: 384

SETTING: 19th century England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Follows What Happens in London

Ten Things You Should Know About This Book

1. Sebastian Grey is a devilishly handsome rogue with a secret.

2. Annabel Winslow's family voted her The Winslow Most Likely to Speak Her Mind and The Winslow Most Likely to Fall Asleep in Church.

3. Sebastian's uncle is the Earl of Newbury, and if he dies without siring an heir, Sebastian inherits everything.

4. Lord Newbury detests Sebastian and will stop at nothing to prevent this from happening.

5. Lord Newbury has decided that Annabel is the answer to all of his problems.

6. Annabel does not want to marry Lord Newbury, especially when she finds out he once romanced her grandmother.

7 is shocking, 8 is delicious, and 9 is downright wicked, all of which lead the way to

10. Happily. Ever. After.
Ten Things I Love About You is related to the fabulous What Happens in London, which I thought was Quinn's return to the form that made her one of my favourites a few years ago. This one is about Sebastian, cousin of Harry, the hero of the previous book. Everyone thinks Sebastian is penniless and he's only received in the best places because he's his uncle's heir presumptive. Basically, his uncle, the Earl of Newbury, has no children, so if he dies the title comes to Sebastian. If Newbury does manage to have a child however, Sebastian is out in the cold. Which is exactly what the evil uncle wants, and the reason why he's been busily trying to get himself a young, fertile wife, but without much luck.

This year's candidate is Annabel Winslow, recently come to town from a previously idyllic life in the countryside. Annabel's family have been in financial trouble since the death of her father, and as the oldest, she's almost resigned herself to the fact that she'll need to sacrifice herself and marry someone rich. Newbury seems clearly interested, and even though Annabel finds him completely repulsive, she feels she can't really say no.

And then Annabel and Sebastian meet, and the sparks fly.

This is a very romantic book, in a wonderfully sweet, wittily funny way, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I especially liked Sebastian's secret career as a gothic author; that was just a hoot. Both Sebastian and Annabel are nice, but not boringly so, and I was cheering for them all the way.

I did think that the book didn't have the emotional depth that would make it a keeper though (funny, sweet and romantic doesn't preclude emotional depth -Quinn herself has achieved this time and time again), and I wasn't completely convinced by Newbury's character. He seemed a bit cartoonish.

Still, this is a thoroughly enjoyable book anyway.

MY GRADE: A nice, solid B.


One Night at the Call Centre, by Chetan Bhagat

>> Thursday, July 19, 2012

TITLE: One Night at the Call Centre
AUTHOR: Chetan Bhagat

PAGES: 315

SETTING: Contemporary India
TYPE: Fiction

This is a comedy of romance and crossed lines. Six friends are selling home appliances to the US from a call centre in India. Each one has an issue with love. Call agent Sam works right beside the girl who's just dumped him. He's dating someone he can't stand, just to get over her. Esha is just short of becoming a model. Two inches, to be precise. Vroom wants to change the world. Radikha's trying to manage her mother-in-law, and hold down her job.

Tonight is Thanksgiving in America, and customers are queueing up to complain about white goods going wrong. On this night of a thousand phone calls, when life couldn't look more dismal, one unique caller gets on the line. And that call is going to change everything...

A romantic comedy of six friends kicking against the system, against their boss, and against each other. Something's got to give...
I picked this one up at random from the library shelves. The story covers one night in a call centre in India, as a group of "agents" (as they call themselves) deal with their horrible manager, threats to their jobs, romantic and domestic drama and make up their minds about what they want in life.

It was the setting that drew me in, especially since, as far as I can tell, this was written by an Indian author, originally for the Indian market. I've got several close friends back in Uruguay who work in call centres, taking calls from US clients, and they're all educated, middle-class people, for whom these are actually pretty good jobs. The attitude back home is the complete opposite to the attitude here in England (where I cringe at the casually xenophobic "and all our call centres are right here in the UK!" announcements in adverts -implying that of course, you wouldn't want to talk to a dumb foreigner who, of course, won't be able to speak English properly, anyway). I was interested to see an Indian perspective on this.

Well, it was fascinating to see. Obviously, things are exaggerated for comic effect (the manager, for instance, is hilarious, but also extremely cartoonish), but you could see the germ of truth under it all. The characters and their dramas are all really interesting, and, even though there are cultural differences in the types of issues they face, I could certainly recognise. The narration is funny and engaging, and I enjoyed most of the book enormously.

Most of the book, I said, because I was quite put off by the ending. First, there's a sudden and very jarring introduction of a woo-woo element that was completely out of place and ridiculous, a very literal deus ex machina in what was previously a slice-of-life comedy. And then, the final resolution, the big plot the call centre agents cook up to save their jobs and defeat their manager, was juvenile in the extreme. Not to mention, its portrayal of all Americans as stupid, naive, and easily tricked made me really uncomfortable, especially because I recognised that attitude in the main characters (and the writer, unfortunately) all too well. Uruguayans are convinced of that, as well. They like to see themselves as having something called "viveza criolla" (which I've seen translated as "native cunning"), which allows them to always put one over those dumb, naive people from developed countries. It's pure fantasy, of course, and in my opinion, one of the characteristics that is holding us back, since the celebration of it destroys trust and ensures nothing works properly. It was sad to see it here as well, and to see the writer swallow this concept uncontested and regurgitate it on the page.

Still, on the whole, I did enjoy reading this, and I'm glad I picked it up.



A Lady Awakened, by Cecilia Grant

>> Tuesday, July 17, 2012

TITLE: A Lady Awakened
AUTHOR: Cecilia Grant

PAGES: 368

SETTING: 19th century England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: I think the next book (A Gentleman Undone) features the heroine's brother

Newly widowed and desperate to protect her estate and beloved servants from her malevolent brother-in-law, Martha Russell conceives a daring plan. Or rather, a daring plan to conceive. After all, if she has an heir on the way, her future will be secured. Forsaking all she knows of propriety, Martha approaches her neighbor, a London exile with a wicked reputation, and offers a strictly business proposition: a month of illicit interludes... for a fee.

Theophilus Mirkwood ought to be insulted. Should be appalled. But how can he resist this siren in widow’s weeds, whose offer is simply too outrageously tempting to decline? Determined she’ll get her money’s worth, Theo endeavors to awaken this shamefully neglected beauty to the pleasures of the flesh—only to find her dead set against taking any enjoyment in the scandalous bargain. Surely she can’t resist him forever. But could a lady’s sweet surrender open their hearts to the most unexpected arrival of all... love?
Martha Russell is recently widowed. Since she and her husband never had any children, her life is about to change completely. Her brother-in-law is to take over the estate, and she will have to go live with her brothers. She doesn't particularly look forward to it (in fact, the main reason she married her husband was just so she didn't have to be a dependent in one of her brothers' home), but there's nothing she can do about it.

Unless, that is, she's pregnant, in which case she'll have a reprieve until the baby's born, and if it's a boy, he will inherit all. Unfortunately, Martha knows she's not pregnant, but when she finds out her brother-in-law was banished from Seaton Park for forcing himself on one of the maids, she feels she has to do something for her people. And then she hears that her neighbour has banished one of his sons to the country for being an irresponsible rake. Mr. Theophilus Mirkwood is supposed to be stranded there, his funding cut off. Surely a rake such as him would have no compunction about sleeping with a willing widow, especially if she sweetens the deal with enough funds for him to get back to town?

I loved this. Loved, loved, loved it. It was like nothing I've ever read, and in fact, it took some of the elements that annoy me the most in historical romance and stood them on its head. Like, you know those heroines who dislike the hero when they first meet him, and yet helplessly melt the minute he touches them? I'm sure you do, they're incredibly common. And they infuriate me. If they infuriate you as well, then this is the book for you.

Martha doesn't like the person she thinks Theo is, and she therefore sees sex with him as something she has to do, but has no interest in enjoying. And she doesn't.

'...some women could cultivate desire on such flimsy ground. Some women, for that matter, went about claiming just such a preference for upstanding men, and fell into the arms of the first willing scoundrel. Though Lord knows, with a willing scoundrel hired to attend her, Mrs. Russell had had every opportunity to take that fall. She wasn't so susceptible.'
She really isn't. And neither is she overcome with lust at the sight of Theo naked. At all. There's this really funny description through her eyes, which perfectly shows how Martha isn't feeling particularly charitable towards men and sex. She doesn't find Theo repulsive, or anything, but she cooly analyses the design flaws inherent in having the male parts placed where they are: "Like the last leftover bits of clay scraped together, rolled into primitive forms and stuck onto the middle of him", clearly inferior to having the "breeding parts tucked neatly away". She only starts appreciating Theo's body once she starts appreciating him.

'No lust, it developed, was so gratifying to a man as the lust that blossomed only after esteem had taken root.'
Yep, and no romance is so gratifying to a reader as that which blossoms thus.

Martha and Theo's relationship is very slow and gradual. Grant even manages the very tricky feat of maintaining the tension in every single sex scene, even when there are a good number of them and they start happening right at the beginning of the book. This is because every single one of them matters. It's not so much that she develops their relationship through sex, as that the slow progress of their relationship out of bed is reflected within. As they start liking and caring about each other more and more, this is reflected in bed as well. It was brilliantly done.

While with Martha, it's mostly her feelings for Theo and her opinion of him that changes, Theo undergoes a much bigger change. He starts out as a nice enough chap, who isn't particularly interested in the world outside his very narrow one, or in doing anything useful. But as he spends time with Martha, there is an increasing realisation that it feels good to be respected, to have his opinion listened to when it's offered, and then even sought. In short, he grows up, and becomes the perfect mate for Martha. He doesn't change for Martha, but seeing the world through her eyes, and meeting some of the people she brings him in contact with (especially a certain tenant on the estate -the subplot involving him and Theo made me cry).

I know some people have had issues with Martha basically deciding to defraud her brother-in-law. Yep, she is doing exactly that, and yet, since what she does fits her rigid, hyper-responsible character, and since while she's doing it, she's well aware of the ethical issues involved, I was perfectly happy with this element. As I was with the solution to the problem at the end of the book.

I also liked that Grant doesn't feel the need to change Martha all that greatly. Her feelings for Theo change as he changes, and as she gets to know him better, but there's never a suggestion that she was too rigid at the beginning, too unwilling to properly appreciate the wonder that is the hero, and which every decent heroine should bow before. Yes, she's not an easy woman, but there's nothing wrong with that. Difficult women are my favourite type of heroine, in fact.



Last Night's Scandal, by Loretta Chase

>> Sunday, July 15, 2012

TITLE: Last Night's Scandal
AUTHOR: Loretta Chase

PAGES: 384

SETTING: Victorian England and Scotland
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: #5 in the Carsington series

After surviving the perils of Egypt, Peregrine Dalmay, Earl of Lisle, is back in London, facing the most dire threat of all: his irrational family... and Miss Olivia Wingate-Carsington. A descendant of notorious—but very aristocratic—swindlers, the delectable redhead has the ability to completely unhinge him and a long history of dragging him into her scandalous schemes.

Olivia may be Society's darling, but she's aware a respectable future looms menacingly. And so when Lisle is forced to go on a family mission, she sees this as the perfect chance for one last adventure—even if it is with the one man in the world she can't wrap around her finger. But really, she only wants to help...

Which is why Lisle and Olivia find themselves in a gloomy Scottish castle inhabited by spiteful ghosts and craven murderers... and a shocking secret: the greatest peril of all may be burning within their own stubborn hearts.
If you read Chase's Lord Perfect, you'll remember Olivia and Peregrine, the children whose escapades forced the hero and heroine together. This story is set a few years later, and features them as the main characters.

Since the events in Lord Perfect, Peregrine (now called by his title, Lisle, as a proper grown-up) has spent most of his time in Egypt, with his uncle Rupert (from Mr. Impossible). He's developed a passion (well, obsession) for Egyptology, and wants nothing more than to spend all of his time in Egypt, pursuing his interest. His silly parents, however, have other ideas, and the next time he comes back to England, they threaten to cut him off unless he sorts out some trouble at a family property in Scotland.

Lisle is very annoyed, since convincing some superstitious villagers in Scotland that a castle is not haunted hardly seems worth his time, but he resigns himself. Even more annoying is discovering that, in the years since he's seen her, his old friend Olivia has become disturbingly beautiful and attractive. On second thought, leaving immediately for Scotland sounds like a good idea.

But Olivia is determined to have one more adventure before entering into a society marriage and forsaking excitement for all time, and who better to accompany her in that than Lisle, with whom she shared the adventure to end all adventures all those years ago. Before long, they're both bound for Scotland.

I really, really liked this. It's always fun to watch a proper, serious and controlled hero go completely mindless after the heroine, and Lisle does that, and how! He can't speak, can't think when he looks at her and notices her "satanic breasts". He's not happy about it, but is powerless to resist. And best of all, the way Chase writes this is very, very funny, but at the same time, affecting and emotional, and made me sigh happily.

Both Olivia and Lisle felt very young, but I didn't mind that at all. In fact, I liked it, because I felt that both were at the same level of maturity, and that they would grow very well together. Olivia's love of fun and drama would lighten up Lisle, without driving him crazy (other than in a good way) and Lisle's seriousness would ground Olivia, without flattening her spirit.

All that said, I had a bit of a strange experience with LNS. As I was reading it I really enjoyed it. It's clear from what I've written above that I liked the main characters and loved the steamy chemistry between them. I also liked the cast of secondary characters, I liked the plot, I liked the setting, I liked the writing... I disliked nothing about the book, in short. And yet I found it a bit too easy to put down. At one point I actually put it down for a whole week and read two whole books and a short story before I picked it up again. To be fair, these were all books that couldn't possibly have been more different to LNS (a very graphic mystery, a collection of essays, a Meljean Brookunk novella), so it might well have been that I just wasn't in the right mood for a funny historical. Still, it clearly wasn't as compelling as it could have been, and that keeps it from an A grade.



Chavs and a Booker winner

>> Friday, July 13, 2012

TITLE: Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class
AUTHOR: Owen Jones

It took me a while to read this, as it enraged me so much I kept having to put it down. It wasn't anger at the author, but sharing his own anger at the situations he was describing. Many people reading even the title of this will say (as some of my friends have) "But a chav the way I use it isn't about being working class, there are plenty of middle class chavs!". To that, all I can say is: read this book. You'll never use the word again.

I can't say it better than Jones himself:

'It is both tragic and absurd that, as our society has become less equal and as in recent years the poor have actually got poorer, resentment against those at the bottom has positively increased. Chav-hate is a way of justifying an unequal society. What if you have wealth and success because it has been handed to you on a plate? What if people are poorer than you because the odds are stacked against them? To accept this would trigger a crisis of self-confidence amongst the well-off few. And if you were to accept it, then surely you would have to accept that the government's duty is do something about it - namely, by curtailing your own privilages. But, if you convince yourself that the less fortunate are smelly, thick, racist and rude by nature, then it is only right they should remain at the bottom. Chav-hate justifies the preservation of the pecking order, based on the fiction that it is actually a fair reflection of peoples worth.'

TITLE: The Sense of an Ending
AUTHOR: Julian Barnes

Tony Webster is in his 60s and contented in his life. But a letter from a lawyer opens a can of worms, as it sparks a reexamination of an incident from his youth, and makes Tony discover that memory might be more treacherous than he once thought.

I hate reviewing books like this one, because since I grade books here purely for my enjoyment of them, it's going to make me look like an illiterate idiot. Eh, well, here goes. Yes, it's technically a brilliant book, and it explores some really fascinating ideas and themes. Unfortunately, however, it does all that in a way that left me cold and didn't excite me. And I'm not talking just about emotional excitement; it didn't excite me intellectually, either. If the book had been any longer than the 150 pages it was, I might have struggled to pick it up every time I put it down.



Beguiling the Beauty, by Sherry Thomas

>> Wednesday, July 11, 2012

TITLE: Beguiling the Beauty
AUTHOR: Sherry Thomas

PAGES: 304

SETTING: Victorian-era England and Boston
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 1st in the Fitzhugh trilogy

When the Duke of Lexington meets the mysterious Baroness von Seidlitz-Hardenberg on a transatlantic liner, he is fascinated. She’s exactly what he’s been searching for—a beautiful woman who interests and entices him. He falls hard and fast—and soon proposes marriage.

And then she disappears without a trace…

For in reality, the “baroness” is Venetia Easterbrook—a proper young widow who had her own vengeful reasons for instigating an affair with the duke. But the plan has backfired. Venetia has fallen in love with the man she despised—and there’s no telling what might happen when she is finally unmasked…
Christian de Montfort, the Duke of Lexington, and Venetia Easterbrook have a history, but it's one she's completely unaware of. Years earlier, when Venetia was married to her first husband, the young Christian became completely obsessed with her, just from seeing her at a distance. The knowledge that she was married, and therefore unavailable to him (when previously, everything he wanted, he got) did some ugly things to him, aided by poisonous innuendo fed him by Venetia's bitter and vindictive husband, who couldn't deal well with having such a beautiful wife.

Years later, Christian's poor opinion of Venetia has solidified even more, even though he has never met her. At a lecture he's delivering in Harvard, someone asks him a question about beauty, and he illustrates his answers by referring to a treacherous beauty he knows of. He thinks he's done it cryptically, but he's not as clever as he thinks, and anyone in the auditorium with any knowledge of English society, recognises Venetia easily from his description. And unfortunately for him, this includes Venetia herself, who's visiting with her sisters.

Venetia is crushed by this completely undeserved and twisted description of herself and her very painful past. When the opportunity presents itself for her to strike back, she grabs it. And thus is born Baroness von Seidlitz-Hardenberg, the mysterious veiled woman travelling in the same ship back to England as Christian. Venetia plots to make him fall in love with her and then reject him, but this being a romance, she soon realises she might not actually want to carry out that plan.

Bits of this plot may sound trite, but it's all in how it is done. The way Thomas writes this story makes it absolutely gorgeous.

There is much here that could be problematic. Venetia's plan is, to anyone who's been reading romance for a while, nothing new. Christian's new obsession with his Baroness, all the while without relinquishing his crush on Mrs. Easterbrook, could have been discomfitting. But to me, it all made sense. Things clicked perfectly, and I completely believed in how these characters behaved.

Venetia's plan was exactly the thing she would have come up with, vengeance, while at the same time proving to this odious man (and to herself) that there's more to her than her beautiful face. And for some reason, I never had much of a problem with Christian's two separate infatuations, as he would have seen them. He was already combining Venetia and the Baroness in his mind from the very start, and I chose to believe his obsession with Venetia, once he's met the Baroness, was just the remains of old feelings and would have fizzled out if they hadn't turned out to be the same woman. In the end, I thought these two connected at a visceral level, and I believed in their love affair.

In addition to Venetia and Christian's story, there is quite a bit here setting up the next two books in the series, which will feature Venetia's brother and sister. It all felt integral to the story and not in the least like pointless sequel-baiting, but in such a short book, this might have contributed to it feeling a little bit short. I got the feeling that as soon as I was digging in and things were getting more and more interesting, it was all over and we were moving on to the HEA. It didn't make the story unsatisfying, really, it just made it not as wonderfully perfect as it could have been.



Have Me, by Jo Leigh

>> Monday, July 09, 2012

TITLE: Have Me
AUTHOR: Jo Leigh

PAGES: 224
PUBLISHER: Harlequin Blaze

SETTING: Contemporary New York
TYPE: Category romance
SERIES: 2nd in the It's Trading Men trilogy, follows Choose Me.

Trading Card:
Jake Donnelly
Occupation: Really, really sexy cop
Marry, Date or One-Night Stand: One night -and totally worth it!
His secret passion: For him to know, and you to find out
Warning: Zero commitment. This is a onenighter-and don't forget it!
Bottom Line: Hot and fun. You'll be very, very satisfied

Part socialite, part high-powered executive, Rebecca Thorpe isn't looking for Mr. Right. What she does want is Mr. Right-Here-Right-Now. So when she spots the trading card featuring police officer Jake Donnelly, she knows she's found the perfect guy?.Jake is hot, sexy as heck and completely different. More important, he's not looking for anything serious. But when a little sizzle turns scorching hot, Rebecca wonders if a tiny taste of this tempting cop will be enough. If she plays her cards right, maybe she can have more?and have him!
I didn't much like the first book in this series, Choose Me, but I've enjoyed Jo Leigh's Blazes so much in the past that I thought I'd give this second one a try. After all, it sounded like it wasn't as celebrity star-struck as the first one. Unfortunately, it was still not great, although in a different way.

Have Me shares with Choose Me its preposterous premise: a group of women create trading cards with men with whom things didn't work out, but whom they liked enough that they want to "pass them on" to their friends. The cards tell the recipient whether the guy is looking for long-term or not, as well as some key things about their character.

Rebecca Thorpe is the last book's hero's favourite cousin. Both have moved away from their wealthy family's super proper, socialite lifestyle, but while Charlie chose to do so by doing something his family finds unacceptable, Rebecca was less radical. She's running the family's charitable foundation, moving it, as she puts it, from a tax dodge to an organisation that really does some good. This keeps her very busy, so she's decided she can't do long term. When she sees Jake Donnelly's trading card (well, mostly his photograph on the trading card!), and that he's also down as ideal for a one-night-stand, she jumps on the opportunity.

Jake's reasons for wanting only a short-term deal are much better than Rebecca's (I mean, so she's busy at work, big fucking deal. Isn't everyone?). Jake was an undercover police officer until he got shot. He was given the choice between a desk job and early retirement, and he took the second option. Now, as he recovers from being shot (months and months of rehab, accompanied by pretty bad pain if he overdoes things -I did like that his injuries are a big deal), he has no idea what he's going to do with the rest of his life. For now, he's slowly rehabbing his dad's house, in preparation for the time when the man's arthritis becomes so bad that he needs his wheelchair full-time. All Jake knows is that his future will include taking care of his dad in some shape or form, but that's it.

The whole thing with Jake sounded really interesting, and I looked forward to reading this. Unfortunately, this very interesting conflict gets pretty much ignored. What I got was a) boring sex, b) a tacked on suspense subplot, and c) a truly crappy ending.

Right, so the boring sex. That was mostly at the beginning, when they first meet up for a date. Before we even knew them, let alone they knew each other, they're in bed. It felt really cold and weird. Yes, once they do meet it does seem like they connect and really are attracted to each other, but I think what rubbed me wrong was the coldness of the arrangement. Their mutual friend basically sets them up for a one-night stand, before they even know each other beyond a photograph. And both arrive at the hotel where they're having drinks, and book a hotel room before even setting eyes on the other. That seems very calculated. I have no problem with string-free sex at all, it's not that. I wouldn't have had a problem with it if the whole thing had been set up as them meeting up with the goal of having a fun evening with an interesting person, and then it turns out they hit it off so well and they're so attracted that they end up in bed. But having them set out to plain get laid as they did was a bit icky to me, and read kind of strange.

And that wasn't the only thing that felt off. I think Leigh is trying to do cool city girls and not really hitting the right notes. Things like the dialogue between Rebecca, her friend Bree and her assistant, Dani, just felt wrong. Or, the text messages. It read like she was trying too hard to be cool. They're not teenagers, they shouldn't text like teenagers. I do confess that I might be a bit too much in the opposite direction (confession: I've used a semi-colon in a text message), but come on.

So anyway, once the boring sex is over, and they start actually dating (with remarkable lack of resistance for two people who were all about the no long-term), the book gets better. I liked the scenes where Rebecca spends some time with Jake's dad and his friends. I thought this was going somewhere.

And then, a tedious suspense subplot pops up. Suddenly, they're running around being chase by a bad guy. And then, the book ends. Just ends. The bad guy is still at large, Jake's future is up in the air, they just go like "oh, well, we love each other, we'll make things work", and bam! the end. It was bad enough that I thought there was something wrong with my book. In fact, I deleted it from my kindle and redownloaded it, but no, that was it. And I had a look on goodreads and a couple of people were complaining about the ending as well, so it must be the actual ending. Really puzzling.

MY GRADE: A C-, because there were a couple of good bits there in the middle, and because I did appreciate that Rebecca wasn't made to feel guilty for being wealthy. Good thing I didn't just go ahead and buy book 3.


The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood

>> Saturday, July 07, 2012

TITLE: The Handmaid's Tale
AUTHOR: Margaret Atwood

PAGES: 320

SETTING: Futuristic version of the US
TYPE: Fiction

In the world of the near future, who will control women's bodies?

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are only valued if their ovaries are viable.

Offred can remember the days before, when she lived and made love with her husband Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now....
This is a 1986 book, but set a few years in the future. There have been big changes in those few years, and the US has become a theocracy, where women's bodies belong to the State and their childbearing capabilities are efficiently and systematically managed. Women of childbearing age, like our narrator, Offred, are farmed out to the elite.

This is a harrowing and terrifying read, but it was also excellent. It might have been written over 25 years ago, but it is scarily relevant. Atwood's vision of what had been happening before the revolution and the making of Gilead has quite a few elements that are definitely recognisable as the way our own world could potentially go. There's the environmental disasters (although the ones in the book are the 70s/80s-style water pollution and nuclear contamination kind of thing, rather than climate change), the increasing pornification of culture (with the easy access given by the internet, it's, if anything, more accessible these days - there's a whole generation of young men growing up with a mental image of the desirable woman who's got no body hair and pneumatic breasts and who'll engage in anal sex at the drop of a hat). I thought the fact that Atwood didn't portray the previous society as an utopia made her vision of the future much more believable.

Part of what makes it all especially awful it's that because it takes place so soon after the establishment of the new system, Offred can still remember what it was like before, when she had all those rights she didn't particularly value. The most chilling scenes for me were the ones told in flashback, when we see the beginning of the end, when rights started being taken away from women. The impotence, the disbelief that this could be happening, the sneaking suspicion that Offred's husband is not quite as appalled as he should be, all those hit you hard. In my case, even harder than what the world then turns into

There is only one element I thought wasn't great about this book. I had mixed feelings about how it becomes clear, both to us and to Offred, that her commander and many of the top elite aren't as devout as they appear, and are in fact quite corrupt and don't really believe in the doctrine they're preaching. Don't get me wrong, that was very believable, and it gave rise to some fantastic scenes (think Scrabble!), but I thought they would have all been even scarier if they had been true believers. Eh, well.

Finally, on that post-script. I heard an interview with Margaret Atwood not too long ago, and she spoke about the post-script being about bringing in some optimism, showing that Gilead was, indeed, gone, and also giving us some overview about what had happened, what the rationale had been, because Offred had such a narrow range of observation. She also spoke of the importance of recording women's history. I got all that, but to me, the main thing that struck me was the contrast between the detached academic tone, the little jokes the historians made about the events, and what we'd just been reading, the desperation and horror of actually living in that time.

Hmm, rereading what I just wrote, it's a very disjointed review, more random thoughts than a real review. Oh, well.



Something About You, by Julie James

>> Thursday, July 05, 2012

TITLE: Something About You
AUTHOR: Julie James

PAGES: 336

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance


Of all the hotel rooms rented by all the adulterous politicians in Chicago, female Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron Lynde had to choose the one next to 1308, where some hot-and-heavy lovemaking ends in bloodshed. And of all the FBI agents in Illinois, it had to be Special Agent Jack Pallas who gets assigned to this high-profile homicide. The same Jack Pallas who still blames Cameron for a botched crackdown three years ago—and nearly ruining his career…


Work with Cameron Lynde? Are they kidding? Maybe, Jack thinks, this is some kind of welcome-back prank after his stint away from Chicago. But it’s no joke: the pair is going to have to put their rocky past behind them and focus on the case at hand. That is, if they can cut back on the razor-sharp jibes—and smother the flame of their sizzling-hot sexual tension...
Something About You is a witness in peril story. Cameron Lynde is an Assistant US Attorney (if I remember the titles correctly!). Staying in a hotel one night, she's awakened by a couple having wild, noisy sex next door. After a while, she decides enough is enough, and calls reception to get someone to tell them to pipe down. Not long after that, she hears the door to the room open, and can't resist peering through her peephole, catching a glimpse of a man leaving. So when hotel security finds a dead prostitute in that room, Cameron suddenly becomes the star witness in the case and is targetted by the killer..

The FBI agent in charge of the case is Jack Pallas, with whom she has a bit of a history. It's not a good one, because a few years earlier, Cameron did something in her role as prosecutor that Jack saw as a betrayal. He's made his contempt for her clear quite publicly, which, in turn, had consequences on his own career. Still, with Cameron in danger, Jack needs to protect her and as they spend a lot of time together, he realises he might have been wrong in his judgment of her.

When I saw the book description, I was a bit disappointed that I wasn't getting a straight romance, as my first book by the author had been. I like romantic suspense well enough, but that wasn't necessarily what I wanted from an author who had proved to be so amazing at character-driven romance. I needn't have worried. Even with the suspense subplot, the focus was still on the romance, and it was a good one.

Cameron and Jack are great together. The chemistry sizzles (with no fade-to-black love scenes here, unlike in the previous book!), and the initially adversarial relationship between them adds even more zing. I liked that this element of their relationship feels right and completely justified (Jack does have very good reason to think badly of Cameron, and Cameron is justified in being angry about what he did, regardless of how right he felt he was). I also liked that the transition between dislike and attraction, and then, finally, getting to know each other properly, was smooth and felt natural. And once they do know each other better, James succeeds in showing us that there is not just attraction there, there is genuine like and admiration, and it goes both ways. In the end, I completely believed in the romance.

Such a shame that James doesn't have a looooong backlist. I could use more books like her in my reading, books that are fun and have depth at the same time, featuring strong, intelligent women with real careers and men who like that about them. Fantastic.



Overseas, by Beatriz Williams

>> Tuesday, July 03, 2012

TITLE: Overseas
AUTHOR: Beatriz Williams

PAGES: 464

SETTING: Present-day New York and WWI on the Western Front
TYPE: Romance

A passionate, sweeping novel of a love that transcends time.

When twenty-something Wall Street analyst Kate Wilson attracts the notice of the legendary Julian Laurence at a business meeting, no one’s more surprised than she is. Julian’s relentless energy and his extraordinary intellect electrify her, but she’s baffled by his sudden interest. Why would this handsome British billionaire—Manhattan’s most eligible bachelor—pursue a pretty but bookish young banker who hasn’t had a boyfriend since college?

The answer is beyond imagining . . . at least at first. Kate and Julian’s story may have begun not in the moneyed world of twenty-first-century Manhattan but in France during World War I, when a mysterious American woman emerged from the shadows of the Western Front to save the life of Captain Julian Laurence Ashford, a celebrated war poet and infantry officer.

Now, in modern-day New York, Kate and Julian must protect themselves from the secrets of the past, and trust in a true love that transcends time and space.
Kate Wilson is a young young financial analyst, just starting out her career in Wall Street. Julian Laurence is the golden boy of the financial world, the billionaire owner of one of the world's most successful hedge funds. They meet when Julian barely catches a glimpse of Kate at a meeting (from which her evil boss bans her at the last minute), but that is enough for him to start pursuing her. Since in addition to stinking rich he also happens to be young, drop-dead gorgeous, incredibly charming, and treats Kate like a goddess, she soon returns his interest, even when his behaviour is a bit weird and he starts sending mixed signals.

As Kate is puzzled by some of Julian's behaviour, we readers know there's a lot more going on than meets the eye. Every few chapters, you see, there's one set during WWI, starring a young American woman called Kate who mysteriously shows up at the Front in France, desperate to warn Captain Julian Ashford of upcoming danger and to save his life.

I don't tend to like time travel, but I do make exceptions every now and then, either for particular authors (well, one author so far: Susanna Kearsley) or for highly recommended books. This falls into the second category. Unfortunately, it didn't work for me. I read about a third of it, and it took me weeks to get even that far.

The main problem wasn't the time travel, it was that I found the romance soppy and mushy, instead of Romantic, which is what I assume Williams was going for. There was a very off-putting Twilight-esque vibe to it that didn't appeal to me at all, and didn't make me want to keep reading. No, no vampires, it was Julian's old-fashioned courtliness, juxtaposed with Kate's slightly snarky "I'm just a regular American girl" character. It was also the way Julian kept hiding things from Kate, treating her like she couldn't handle things and he needed to protect her from knowledge and make her decisions for her. Which, even more annoying, she kind of just accepted, in a way that never made sense to me.

There were some things I liked because they rang true and felt original, like the texture of Kate's working life as a relatively new recruit in a job like hers (I've been there, and it is like that. Things like the camaraderie with people who started at the same time as you, the grunt work, etc.), but there was plenty of other stuff that annoyed me. Julian's language, say. I know the "jolly good" type of language was supposed to be because he was from about 100 years ago, but it sounded very, well, like the American idea of what an Englishman would sound like. It just felt wrong, even faintly embarrassing. Oh, or the texts! They've only just met, he's a Very Important Client, and they're exchanging "Thinking of you" texts? Really?

Ultimately, although I was interested in finding out how things would turn out, I wasn't interested enough to keep forcing myself to pick it up every single time, and progress 10 pages at a time.



June 2012 reads

>> Sunday, July 01, 2012

June was an excellent month, with loads of really, really good reads, and only a couple of flops.

1 - Beguiling the Beauty, by Sherry Thomas: A-
review coming soon

The hero, a powerful duke, has long been obsessed with the heroine's legendary beauty, but has the wrong idea of her character. This leads him to unwittingly humiliate her when he refers to her obliquely (but clearly to anyone who knows her) and unflatteringly in public. Which, in turn, leads to the heroine plotting revenge, the old "I'll make him fall in love with me and break his heart". Bits of these sound trite, but it's all in how it is done. The way Thomas writes this story makes it absolutely gorgeous.

2 - Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline: A-
review here

In a post-apocalyptic future, people spend most of their lives plugged into a virtual world called OASIS. The hero is one of a large number who participate in the treasure hunt organised by OASIS' creator before his death: the winner will inherit the company. If you were alive in the 80s and are the slightest bit geeky, you must read this. Brilliant stuff, extremely cool.

3 - Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card: A-
review coming soon

This month's choice for my book club. I have issues with supporting an author known for having really offensive views on homosexuality, but figured if I just borrowed it from someone else, rather than buy my own copy or get it from the library, he wouldn't get any money out of me, and my conscience would be relatively calm. I almost wanted it to be bad, but it was really good. The tale of a young boy taken into a military academy and intensively trained to become their last hope, a commander that can defeat an alien army, was a page turner and dealt with some fascinating issues. This is one I'd recommend even to people who don't do sci-fi.

4 - Falling for Anthony (from the Hot Spot anthology), by Meljean Brook: B
original review here

Much as I've adored Meljean Brook's Guardians series, I haven't reread them. But now that the final one is coming out next year, I'm going to do a reread of the whole series, and it all starts here. It was a good story, which works really well as a prequel to the rest of the books. There are some issues, mainly where the characterisation is not as great as I've got used to with Brook (see her really fascinating posts here and here), but on the whole, a very enjoyable story.

5 - Snow Blind, by PJ Tracy: B
review coming soon

Someone is killing cops and putting them in snowmen. Detectives Magozzi and Rolseth investigate, aided by the Monkeewrench gang and their super skills with computers. It was a good entry in the series, if not the best. I especially liked a new character that was introduced, an inexperienced female sheriff on her first day on the job. I liked how she came into her own.

6 - Rivers of London (aka Midnight Riot in the US), by Ben Aaronovitch: B
review here

A really entertaining and fresh-feeling mix of police procedural and urban fantasy. Our hero, about to get his first assignment in the London Metropolitan Police, realises he can see ghosts, which opens new career opportunities. He's a fantastic character, and I loved the witty humour of his narration. Unfortunately, the police procedural elements aren't as satisfying, but it was a promising start to the series.

7 - Now You See Me, by SJ Bolton: B
review coming soon

Another novice in the London Police here, only the case Lacey is drawn into is nothing like Peter's. Someone is emulating Jack the Ripper's crimes, and making sure Lacey is involved in the investigation. I quite liked this. It was twisty, developments were unexpected, and the investigation was really interesting. It was, however, a bit too graphic for my taste. More than it needed to be for the story to work, in my opinion, which made it feel a bit exploitative.

8 - The Xenophobe's Guide to the Finns, by Tarja Moles: B
review coming soon

A "guide to understanding the Finns", read as there is a very small chance I might have to spend a bit of time there. Very funnily written, and surprisingly, I found a number of things in common between Finns, as portrayed here, and Uruguayans!

9 - Possession in Death, by JD Robb: C+
review here

Short story in the The Other Side anthology. It's a good, well-developed mystery, but I really didn't like the paranormal element, and the way it makes this story not fit in well with the rest of the series.

10 - Have Me, by Jo Leigh: C-
review coming soon

Second in a series with the preposterous premise of a group of women creating trading cards with men with whom things didn't work out, but who they liked enough that they want to "pass them on" to their friends. The heroine is too busy running her wealthy family's foundation for a proper relationship, so the sexy former cop hero, who is only up for a one-night thing, seems perfect. But of course, they want more. Very meh. The beginning, which was basically loads of sex scenes between people I didn't know at all, almost had me putting it down. Got a little bit better, but not much, and the ending was way too abrupt.

11 - Overseas, by Beatriz Williams: DNF
review coming soon

A young financial analyst attracts the interest of a client, a man who is rich, charming and handsome and treats her like a goddess. But there's something more there, as suggested by the chapters interspersed throughout, where the two are in the trenches during WWI. I read about a third of it, and it took me AGES to get even that far. I just found it soppy and mushy, instead of Romantic, and very Twilighty.

12 - Phantom Evil, by Heather Graham: DNF
review here

It sounded really good, with team of paranormal investigators looking into a suspicious death in a house that's known for having been the scene of some gruesome murders many years earlier. Unfortunately, I just couldn't read it, mainly due to poor writing and wooden characterisation.

13 - Dark Matter, by Michelle Paver: still reading

I've only just started it, and I'm enjoying it. It's a ghost story set in the 1930s. So far so good, the hero has embarked on an expedition to the Arctic, with the intention of overwintering in a really isolated spot. There have been some tantalising hints of something not quite right there. Looking forward to the rest of it!


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