May 2013 wish list

>> Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Only 1 book on my 'definitely get' list, but a fair few which sound like they could be good.

Books I'm definitely planning to get

A Prior Engagement, by Karina Bliss (May 7)

Bliss is still one of my few autobuy authors in category romance, and I like the sound of the plot. It’s always good when an author takes a ridiculous plot (like amnesia) and tries to do something different with it.

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

Undeclared, by Jen Frederick (May 1)

The author describes it at DA’s open thread for authors as “New Adult book featuring a Marine and his pen-pal of four years”, which sparked my interest.

Where It May Lead, by Janice Kay Johnson (May 7)

I haven't read Johnson before, and this one could be a good place to start. The plot certainly interests me, but I suspect it will probably sink or swim on how understandable the heroine's actions are.

Thinking of You, by Jill Mansell (May 7)

Sounds cute, and I really liked the one Mansell I read.

Heart of Iron, by Bec McMaster (May 7)

This is part of a steampunk series. Much as I love the steampunk element in Meljean Brook´s Iron Seas series, I haven’t read more in the genre, and I really should. I've heard great things about the first one, Kiss of Steel, so I probably start with that one, though.

Feel The Heat, by Kate Meader (May 7)

This is a d├ębut author, I think. Even though the previous ‘chef’ books I've read haven’t really worked for me, I can’t help but keep trying!

Keeping The Moon, by Sarah Dessen (May 11)

I've been meaning to try Dessen for a while, and this apparently has a protagonist who is adjusting to losing a lot of weight, which is something I went through at that age.

Like This, For Ever, by SJ Bolton (May 28)

I read and enjoyed the first one in this series (even though it was on the borderline of being too graphic), and it's one I mean to keep up with.

Exposed, by Laura Griffin (May 28)

The heroine is a forensic photographer, which I don’t think I've seen before. Griffin hasn't been a complete success for me before, but I'll keep trying her every now and then.

Once upon a Tower, by Eloisa James (May 28)

This is one of James’ fairy tale retellings, this time with a ‘princess in the tower’ theme. I'm not quite sure what’s going on from the blurb, but I’ll give it a shot.

Any Duchess Will Do, by Tessa Dare (May 28)

Hmm... I’m not sure about this one. There seems to be this sort of Pygmalion theme to it, Duke and serving girl, but Dare has been able to make me enjoy really unbelievable stuff before, so...


Got Game?, by Stephanie Doyle

>> Sunday, April 28, 2013

TITLE: Got Game?
AUTHOR: Stephanie Doyle

PAGES: 317
PUBLISHER: Self-published

SETTING: Contemporary
TYPE: Romance

Oh, Yeah. Game On!

The world of professional golf is rocked when the new ranking system allows Reilly Carr - the country’s best female player--to compete with the big boys. Now everyone wants to know if she will or won't play in golf's premier event…The American.

But her tough choices are complicated further when Luke Nolan - her on again, off again lover - suddenly decides now is the time to turn their friends-with-benefits set up into a real relationship!

If she's going to make the cut she'll need to battle her game, the press and most of all her heart. The stakes have never been higher.
I'm not the biggest golf fan, but the idea of it being the heroine who was the superstar athlete, rather than the hero, drew me in.

Reilly Carr has been the best player on the women's golf circuit for a quite a while. She's so good that she's miles ahead of the competition; so much so that things have started to feel a bit boring for her. And then a new ranking system is introduced, and it turns out that Reilly's new rank automatically qualifies her to play in the top tournament, where obviously, no woman has ever played.

Whether to take that chance is a difficult decision. Will she make a fool of herself, given that basic physiology means that even the strongest female player can never hit the ball as far as the best male players? Will it ruin the rest of her career in the women's circuit, if they feel that Reilly doesn't think that circuit is good enough for her?

After some soul-searching, Reilly decides to take the chance (no spoiler, it's pretty obvious, really!). It will require her to train her ass off, but she's ready for it. However, she didn't count on the complications. First, there's Luke Nolan, a former golfer himself, with whom she's been having a sort of fuck-buddy relationship. Luke has suddenly decided he wants more. And Reilly seems to have acquired a stalker, who really isn't happy about her recent choices and wants her to know it.

There was some really good stuff here. Reilly is definitely not your typical romance heroine. She's supposed to be an elite, extremely succesful athlete, and she acts like it. She's confident to the point of arrogance, a bit jockish and very, very driven. Her personal life has been pretty eventful, as well. She's been married and divorced twice, and has an additional broken engagement. And it's not a problem. Doyle allows her to be like that and still be a romance heroine.

I also really liked the golf stuff. I was really interested in the preparation and what steps Reilly took to improve her game, and the actual playing scenes were tense and exciting. I loved that Doyle was able to give us a happy ending in that area that didn't feel unrealistic.

I did, however, like the golf more than the romance. The latter was a bit boring, mainly because there was no real tension. The problem was that there were no real obstacles to keep these two apart. Luke decides to be very devious and play games with Reilly, but I never really understood why he found it necessary, instead of just being straighforward.

I wasn't crazy about the suspense subplot, either. It felt like a very standard, typical stalker plot, and it was too easy to guess the culprit.

This is a self-published work, so I should mention that it was ok on the writing end. No excessive typos/garbled phrasing or anything like that. The story did feel a bit bloated round the middle, though, a bit too long and in need of a bit of judicious editing and trimming. It says 317 pages on the kindle page at amazon, but it felt much longer (I’ve tried to check the number of words, but I can't find the information). Still, I've seen plenty of professionally edited books with sagging middles, so I won't automatically conclude that the fact that it was self-pubbed was the issue.



Don't Bite The Messenger, by Regan Summers

>> Friday, April 26, 2013

TITLE: Don't Bite The Messenger
AUTHOR: Regan Summers

PUBLISHER: Carina Press

SETTING: Alt version of contemporary Alaska
TYPE: Urban fantasy
SERIES: Prequel novella

Anchorage, Alaska

The vampire population may have created an economic boom in Alaska, but their altered energy field fries most technology. They rely on hard-living—and short-lived—couriers to get business done...couriers like Sydney Kildare.

Sydney has survived to the ripe old age of twenty-six by being careful. She's careful when navigating her tempestuous clients, outrunning hijackers and avoiding anyone who might distract her from her plan of retiring young to a tropical, vampire-free island.

Her attitude—and immunity to vampires' allure—have made her the target of a faction of vampires trying to reclaim their territory. Her only ally is Malcolm Kelly, a secretive charmer with the uncanny habit of showing up whenever she's in trouble. Caught in the middle of a vampire turf war, Sydney has to count on Malcolm to help her survive, or the only place she'll retire is her grave...
I read this novella only because the full-length book that follows it is set in Santiago de Chile. Pretty much every single romance novel I’ve read that’s been set in South America has been set in the jungle, rather than in a setting that looks anything like where I’m from, even though there’s as much non-jungle as there is jungle in the continent. Santiago isn’t Montevideo, but at least we’re talking about a Southern Cone urban setting, which I thought would be interesting.

Someone mentioned, though, that I probably wouldn’t be able to make much sense of Running in the Dark unless I read Don’t Bite The Messenger, which sets up the whole thing. Since it was short and cheap, I picked it up.

The novella is set in a world in which vampires have come out, so to speak, and are forced to live in a low-tech world, as something about their auras/energy fields is hell on electronics. This means no email or phones (why no landlines, though, I wonder?), so communications between the different factions rely on human go-betweens, whose work is enormously risky.

Our heroine, Sydney, is one such messenger, and she's survived for an unusually long time. She's almost ready to retire now, so you know what that means, right? Yep, everything is about to turn to shit.

Well, at least the novella made it clear that we are talking paint-by-the-numbers urban fantasy, which is really, really, REALLY not my thing. I suspected this would be the case, but before reading the novella, I could hope against hope that this time it would be different. It wasn't. I was just not interested in the characters and all the tedious vampire turf wars. Why should I care? Summers doesn’t give me a reason. There are no stakes (hey!) that are in any way meaningful to me. What do I care if vampire X takes over from vampire Y? Just because Sydney works for vampire X? Well, so what? They all seem just as vile. That’s what keeps me away from UF, plots are too often like this.

There's the beginning of a romance here, with this vampire, Malcolm, who is supposed to be this suave, magnetic character, but I just couldn’t see the attraction or charisma, and I was completely uninterested.

Yep, even the Santiago setting won’t tempt me now. Not to mention, even that makes little sense now. Basically, in this world, vampires choose to live as near the poles as they can (where nights are longest in the winter) and move from hemisphere to hemisphere every 6 months, following the winter. This is a pretty cool, logical idea, and I liked it. The action starts out in Anchorage, in Alaska (fine, makes sense), but then they move to Santiago which is not as logical. Santiago is as far South as, say, Los Angeles is North. Maybe somewhere like Ushuaia would make more sense.



Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal

>> Wednesday, April 24, 2013

TITLE: Shades of Milk and Honey
AUTHOR: Mary Robinette Kowal

PAGES: 304

SETTING: Alternate version of Regency England
TYPE: Fantasy romance
SERIES: Starts a series

Shades of Milk and Honey is an intimate portrait of Jane Ellsworth, a woman ahead of her time in a world where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality. But despite the prevalence of magic in everyday life, other aspects of Dorchester’s society are not that different: Jane and her sister Melody’s lives still revolve around vying for the attentions of eligible men.

Jane resists this fate, and rightly so: while her skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face, and therefore wins the lion’s share of the attention. At the ripe old age of twenty-eight, Jane has resigned herself to being invisible forever. But when her family’s honor is threatened, she finds that she must push her skills to the limit in order to set things right--and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.

This debut novel from an award-winning talent scratches a literary itch you never knew you had. Like wandering onto a secret picnic attended by Pride and Prejudice and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Shades of Milk and Honey is precisely the sort of tale we would expect from Jane Austen…if only she had been a fantasy writer.
"...the sort of tale we would expect from Jane Austen…if only she had been a fantasy writer." is optimistic, but illustrative. This is Austenland with magic, Regency England as it might have been if, in addition to being able to sketch and play an instrument, accomplished young ladies had been expected to be proficient in creating illusions using a force called 'glamour'.

In this world, Jane Ellsworth and her sister, Melody, navigate society's strictures and try to find themselves husbands. Jane is the plain, sedate sister, almost an old-maid, but is extremely talented at manipulating glamour. Melody is beautiful and vivacious, and even though she's pretty crap at magic, everyone expects her to make a great match. Jane loves her, but is increasingly annoyed by her thoughtlessness.

And that's it, really. There are a number of potentially elegible men, parties and semi-accidental meetings, nice and not-so-nice neighbours, all with slight twists to what their equivalents would have been in an Austen novel.

I felt quite mildly about it all. I did really like the concept of bringing magic into the setting, and I liked how Kowal did it. The idea of glamour integrates surprisingly well into the Regency-style society, and shapes the characters in interesting ways.

Unfortunately, the story itself is a bit blah. I found Jane a tiny bit dull, I'm afraid. There needs to be a little sparkle there for a character to be interesting, and it wasn't there in Jane at all. The romance was just as unexciting. The concept of it is romantic, and if you just described the bare bones to me I'd tell you I'd love to read it, but the execution wasn't great. Mainly, we don’t see the process of falling in love, so it felt unsatisfying, and I found it hard to care.

That was the main thing, but I had several other niggles. The pacing was weird... most of the book was quite gentle, with no 'big' things happening, but then when the final resolution comes, there are all sorts of chases and people waving guns around, which was a bit disconcerting. I also found Kowal's conceit of sticking in weirdly-spelled words every now and then (just a few, like , 'shew' for 'show', or 'surprize', or “chuse”) strange, and a bit too self-consciously Austenesque.

I don't regret reading this, but I don't think I'll continue with the series.



The Mephisto Club, by Tess Gerritsen

>> Monday, April 22, 2013

TITLE: The Mephisto Club
AUTHOR: Tess Gerritsen

PAGES: 464
PUBLISHER: Ballantine

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: 6th in the Rizzoli / Isles series

Evil exists. Evil walks the streets. And evil has spawned a diabolical new disciple in this white-knuckle thriller from New York Times bestselling author Tess Gerritsen.

The Latin word is scrawled in blood at the scene of a young woman’s brutal murder: I HAVE SINNED. It’s a chilling Christmas greeting for Boston medical examiner Maura Isles and Detective Jane Rizzoli, who swiftly link the victim to controversial celebrity psychiatrist Joyce O’Donnell–Jane’s professional nemesis and member of a sinister cabal called the Mephisto Club.

On top of Beacon Hill, the club’s acolytes devote themselves to the analysis of evil: Can it be explained by science? Does it have a physical presence? Do demons walk the earth? Drawing on a wealth of dark historical data and mysterious religious symbolism, the Mephisto scholars aim to prove a startling theory: that Satan himself exists among us.

With the grisly appearance of a corpse on their doorstep, it’s clear that someone–or something–is indeed prowling the city. The members of the club begin to fear the very subject of their study. Could this maniacal killer be one of their own–or have they inadvertently summoned an evil entity from the darkness?

Delving deep into the most baffling and unusual case of their careers, Maura and Jane embark on a terrifying journey to the very heart of evil, where they encounter a malevolent foe more dangerous than any they have ever faced... one whose work is only just beginning.
The crime scene Detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles are called to on Christmas Eve is a doozy. Not only has the body been horribly brutalised, they also find evidence of Satanic rituals. Their investigation leads them to the Mephisto Club, a group of well-heeled intellectuals who say they study evil. They seem to believe that some evil-doers are more than human. Demons, in fact.

And then the Mephisto Club is targetted directly. What is the killer's relationship to them? And what does all that have to do with a terrified young woman on the run in Italy, from whose point of view we keep getting scenes?

Given how much eye-rolling I did while I was reading the book, I'm surprised I enjoyed it as much as I did.

My biggest issue was the Mephisto Club itself. I'm someone who appreciates people spending time pursuing knowledge just for the sake of knowledge, but man, what a bunch of humourless, self-important crackpots! Gerritsen misses the mark completely with them. I imagine they're meant to come across as serious and somber and almost scary, but they were so preposterous (especially the leader, who shows quite an interest in Maura), that I couldn't take them seriously. And I still don't get what sort of power they have, that they could butt into the investigation to the extent they did.

And there are also the developments in Maura's relationship with Father Daniel Brophy. These didn't work for me at all. Partly it was about the utter idiocy of Maura's actions and how bad her decisions are. It was also partly about me not seeing the attraction at all, much as I would feel if she'd gone for someone who was cheating on his wife (I may think requiring celibacy from priests is a stupid idea, but the fact remains that to do what Brophy is doing requires cheating and lying). Not to mention, Gerritsen seemed to run out of space and didn't develop the issue much at all. Maura and Brophy act, but I don't quite understand what they think they're doing, to be honest. It's all still left hanging at the end of the book, but without any feeling that there is some sort of cliffhanger, it's simply that the issue disappears. It's a bit puzzling.

So, two biggies, really, but in spite of them, I enjoyed the book. The investigation ended up being fascinating, I suspect being made more so for all the manouvering around the Mephisto Club that Jane had to do. She's back to being an interesting character, and so was the young woman in Italy whose story we get in drips and drabs. I started out kind of resenting her sections, but quickly became engrossed in them, and couldn't wait to hear more.

Just as Maura has some personal developments, so does Jane. In her case, it's to do with her parents, and that was cool. I wanted (and still want) Jane's mother to hand her father his head on a plate, divorce him, and take him for everything he's got, the fucking pig. It's kind of unresolved at the end, but I have high hopes. We'll see whether I get what I want here.


AUDIOBOOK NOTE: There seem to be several versions of this book available, the one I read was this one, narrated by Lorelei King, who was really good. The voice she did for Jane was a bit of an abrasive one, but that fit perfectly with my idea of what she would sound like.


Icebreaker, by Deirdre Martin

>> Saturday, April 20, 2013

TITLE: Icebreaker
AUTHOR: Deirdre Martin

PAGES: 304
PUBLISHER: Berkley Sensation

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Part of the New York Blades series

Good thing high-powered attorney Sinead O'Brien has a rule about never dating clients. Because Adam Perry, the newest star of the New York Blades-and her newest client-has her headed for the penalty box. If only she could prove he's just another jock...

Adam's been charged with assault after a borderline hit on another star player, but off the ice he's a private, no-nonsense guy who knows the Blades are his last shot at Stanley Cup glory. Assembling her case, Sinead tries not to get distracted by Adam's dazzling good looks or strong work ethic, but she quickly discovers that there's a wounded man under that jersey, and she's starting to fall for him-hard.

Now Adam's having trouble focusing on the goal with Sinead in his sights. And Sinead is tempted to break her 'no dating clients' rule. Can they play on their newfound feelings without penalties?
Sinead O'Brien is one of the best lawyers in town, so when the star player of the New York Blades (the ice hockey team this series is built around) lands in trouble, they come find her. Adam Perry's done nothing outside the rules of the game, but after he did something called an 'open-ice body check', the district attorney from the opposing team's town has decided to charge him with assault.

Adam initially finds Sinead cold and is frustrated that she doesn't understand hockey, while Sinead is just as frustrated at Adam's brick wall impersonation, and his refusal to do anything more than answer her questions with monosyllables. But then they start talking to each other, and begin to see that under their tough exteriors, they actually share quite a lot.

I read about half of the book before giving up. It was a combination of things. First, Sinead didn't ring true to me. She's supposed to be a driven career woman, but didn't appear to have that much work to do, or to find it particularly important or interesting. Also, she's supposed to be a sensible, mature woman, but she behaved like a 12-year-old sometimes.

I thought I'd like the relationship between her and Adam, but I'm afraid I found it boring. I loved the idea of having a romance between these two people who at first seem so different (uptight lawyer, professional sportsman), but actually turn out to be very similar in terms of work ethic and worldview, but it just didn't engage me at all. I didn't feel they connected very well, and there didn't really seem to be any obstacles to their relationship at the time I gave up.

And then there was the fact that the writing felt very simplistic. This might be because I'd just finished A Gentleman Undone, by Cecilia Grant, so the contrast was huge. It was all tell, tell, tell, not much show, and I found it annoying.

I also got very bored of the preaching. There was a bit on hunting that made me roll my eyes, but it was mostly the stuff about violent play in hockey. We're told over and over again that old-style hockey is the best there is, and that the commissioner is wrong to try to tone down the violence because true fans love old-style hockey. Martin's whole argument seems to be that players accept the risk when they decide to play in the NHL, so anyone saying any different should butt out. I wasn't convinced. Workplace safety and discussions about acceptable risk are kind of my area, so I couldn't help but make the obvious opposite arguments. Should someone who simply wants to play hockey professionally have to make that choice at all? Is it right that the choice is between playing professionally and risk very bad injuries or not play professionally at all? It's one thing if we're talking about an occupation that is unavoidably high risk (if you want to go into deep-sea fishing, you really are going to have to accept quite a high risk to your safety), but it sounds like those sorts of hits Adam specialises on could be phased out, if it wasn't for the fact that some (most?) fans like them. Not to mention, are 18-year-old men in position to make that choice rationally and in an informed way? Knowing what I know about risk-processing, I doubt it. Now, I don’t know anything about hockey, so I’m prepared to be told there’s another argument for keeping those types of moves on the ice (much in the same way I was told that lowering the fences in the Grand National would actually be more dangerous for the horses, because it would make the course faster -no idea if that’s actually true, but it’s a way of looking at it that goes beyond the first, obvious impression). The thing is, those were not the arguments Martin was making, and I got really tired of the one-sided view, especially since it was one I had so many issues with.

So, book closed.



A Gentleman Undone, by Cecilia Grant

>> Wednesday, April 17, 2013

TITLE: A Gentleman Undone
AUTHOR: Cecilia Grant

PAGES: 350

SETTING: 19th century England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Follows A Lady Awakened, and some of the characters in that one show up here, but it stands alone well.

A seductive beauty turns the tables on a gentleman gaming for the guiltiest of pleasures in this rich and sensual Regency romance from beloved newcomer Cecilia Grant.

Lydia Slaughter understands the games men play—both in and out of the bedroom. Not afraid to bend the rules to suit her needs, she fleeces Will Blackshear outright. The Waterloo hero had his own daring agenda for the gaming tables of London’s gentlemen’s clubs. But now he antes up for a wager of wits and desire with Lydia, the streetwise temptress who keeps him at arm’s length.

A kept woman in desperate straits, Lydia has a sharp mind and a head for numbers. She gambles on the sly, hoping to win enough to claim her independence. An alliance with Will at the tables may be a winning proposition for them both. But the arrangement involves dicey odds with rising stakes, sweetened with unspoken promise of fleshly delights. And any sleight of hand could find their hearts betting on something neither can afford to risk: love.
A Lady Awakened was one of my top reads last year, fresh, different, and immensely satisfying. So, while I tried to keep them at a realistic level, my expectations for Grant's second, A Gentleman Undone, were sky-high. Well, I'm very pleased to say Grant did not disappoint. AGU was yet another book I'd never read before, and I loved it.

Will Blackshear is just back from the war, and carrying a heavy load. He feels responsible for the death of one of the men who served with him, and is determined to do whatever he can for his widow, who's been left practically penniless. He's found a way to give her that freedom, but in order to do so, he needs a stake, and that drives him to the gambling tables. He reckons that as long as he plays soberly and carefully, he should be able to best the drunk lordlings who frequent those places.

And then, on his first night, he meets Lydia Slaughter. Lydia is a courtesan, there with her protector, and on a mission much like Will's. She's very much aware of the insecurity of her life, and is determined to make enough money to be able to retire. She doesn't need that much, only enough so that the interest from her investment will allow her to live a modest life. Her thought process is similar to Will's, only Lydia is a mathematical genius* and has taught herself how to be a total cardsharp. Between the card-counting and the outright cheating, she's hard to beat. When her protector falls into a drunken stupor at the table, she starts playing his cards, as if it was just a lark, and sweeps all the money from the table.

Most of the men there just laugh it off, but Will is not amused, and confronts her. And there starts their relationship. Lydia offers to teach him how to play (partly to make amends, partly to make sure he doesn't give her away -best use of the Monty Hall problem in a romance novel, BTW!), and when it becomes clear her habit of playing her protector's cards when he falls asleep cannot continue, they become allies and hatch up a scheme to collaborate in some high-stakes play. And all the while they get to know each other, and the initial attraction between them grows and grows.

Their relationship is just amazing. It's an impossible one, as Will is pretty much penniless and there's no way he can support Lydia, and Lydia understandably feels she can't endanger her position with her protector until she's got enough money to ensure her independence. And yet, the more time they spend together, the more they yearn for each other. I loved that Will ‘sees’ Lydia from the beginning. He wants her from the moment he meets her, but not so much because she’s attractive physically, but because she interests him as a person. As for Lydia, it doesn't take long before she starts seeing the differences between Will and other men. He's honourable and good, and that makes the physical attraction hard to resist. They both try, but it's impossible to resist, harder and harder every time, and Grant conveyed just how difficult perfectly.

Something else I thought was incredibly good was the relationship between Lydia and her protector, Edward. I loved how nuanced Grant’s portrayal of it was. Lydia actually enjoys the sex, at least at the start of the book, before the relationship deteriorates. However, the degradation of such a relationship comes through loud and clear, even when the sex is still enjoyable. Grant doesn't show this through making Edward into some sort of monster. When the book starts, he’s decent enough to Lydia. He's someone who cares about satisfying his mistress in bed, isn’t abusive physically, or anything like that. But he treats her like a mistress, not like a real person with feelings, not like someone he respects. She’s there to attend to his sexual needs, and that arrangement feels degrading. And with a heroine as self-aware as Lydia, so conscious of her place in society and lack of power, that hurts. In a genre where having the heroine become the hero's mistress is so often written as sexy and hot, it was a very refreshing perspective.

There is, of course, a HEA, but when I found out about Lydia’s history, it was obvious that she would have a LOT of trouble trusting someone enough to love. The way Grant had established her character made that very clear. I was actually borderline at the end as to whether it was believable that she’d be able to love Will at all. I was convinced in the end, but I liked the sense of risk and danger the uncertainty gave the book, even with a guaranteed HEA.

Highly recommended, and I can't wait to see what Grant comes up with next.


* I've read more than one book where one of the characters is some sort of genius in a particular area, and often don’t find those convincing. I suspect it’s because the authors themselves aren’t geniuses in that area, so all they show is what the characters do, but not how this changes the very way they are and how they think. It was different here. I was convinced that Lydia’s mathematical abilities (which she herself admits are more about calculation than abstract mathematics) affect the way she views the world and thinks of things, and that was fantastic.


How To Misbehave, by Ruthie Knox

>> Monday, April 15, 2013

TITLE: How To Misbehave
AUTHOR: Ruthie Knox

PAGES: 121
PUBLISHER: Loveswept

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance novella
SERIES: Starts the Camelot series.

As program director for the Camelot Community Center, Amber Clark knows how to keep her cool. That is, until a sudden tornado warning forces her to take shelter in a darkened basement with a hunk of man whose sex appeal green lights her every fantasy. With a voice that would melt chocolate, he asks her if she is okay. Now she's hot all over and wondering: How does a girl make a move?

Building contractor Tony Mazzara was just looking to escape nature's fury. Instead, he finds himself all tangled up with lovely Amber. Sweet and sexy, she's ready to unleash her wild side. Their mutual desire reaches a fever pitch and creates a storm of its own--unexpected, powerful, and unforgettable. But is it bigger than Tony can handle? Can he let go of painful memories and let the force of this remarkable woman show him a future he never dreamed existed?
As seems the rigueur these days, Ruthie Knox's new Camelot series kicks off with a novella.

Ever since Tony Mazzara and his team have been working at Amber Clark's community centre, she has found it hard

to take her eyes off him. She's too shy and inexperienced to do anything about it, until the day the tornado alarm goes off. It's late in the afternoon, and most people have gone. Tony's stayed behind to finish a few things, and as programme director, Amber has had to stay as well. When the alarm goes off, they're the only two people left in the building, and end up sheltering in the basement together. And with nothing to do, they talk.

I must say, I wasn’t too impressed at the beginning with the combination of the very innocent, gee willikers heroine and the hero who goes all “I want you, but I can’t commit, so I won’t sleep with you, because you’ll glom on to me and then suffer”. I kind of rolled my eyes at Amber, and didn't think "hot!" when it came to Tony, I thought "Arrogant ass!". But, see, Amber thought the same and called him on it, and suddenly, I saw there was much more to her. And as the book progressed, it became clear there was much more to both of them, and then I got really interested.

Unfortunately, there was a bit too much here for a novella, and it ended up feeling too short. Both Amber and Tony's issues were interesting, and especially for Tony, quite different. What was keeping Tony away from Amber even though they clicked so well was something big, and his behaviour made total sense. That’s when the novella felt like it wasn’t the right format, and much too short. There was so much baggage for Tony to work through, that I doubted he’d have been able to just do it in his own head and get over his issues in an evening. The whole thing needed a lot more space to be done in a satisfying, believable way (which, BTW, I'm quite sure Knox would have been able to do).

I did like this, since I was interested in the characters and Knox's voice is one I enjoy, but it didn't hit the mark quite squarely enough.



A Murder is Announced, by Agatha Christie

>> Saturday, April 13, 2013

TITLE: A Murder is Announced
AUTHOR: Agatha Christie

PAGES: 322
PUBLISHER: William Morrow

SETTING: Late 1940s England
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: A Miss Marple book

The villagers of Chipping Cleghorn, including Jane Marple, are agog with curiosity over an advertisement in the local gazette which reads: 'A murder is announced and will take place on Friday October 29th, at Little Paddocks at 6.30 p.m.'

A childish practical joke? Or a hoax intended to scare poor Letitia Blacklock?

Unable to resist the mysterious invitation, a crowd begins to gather at Little Paddocks at the appointed time when, without warning, the lights go out!
This is one title I've been looking forward to getting to since I've started my Marple Marathon. Not only does it have a fun setup, it's also one I have absolutely no memories of, even though I must have read it (the only thing I do remember is that the Spanish version my mum had was titled "Se Anuncia Un Asesinato", and if my mum had it, I read it).

So, how about that setup? Well, the book opens with the villagers of Chipping Cleghorn perusing that most invaluable source of gossip, the personal ads column in the local paper. This week, in between the offers of puppies and requests for domestic help, there is the following invitation:

A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 29th, at Little Paddocks, at 6:30 p.m. Friends, accept this, the only intimation.
It's a shocking way of inviting guests to a party, everyone thinks. What was Letitia Blacklock, owner of Little Paddocks, thinking? But at Little Paddocks, there is much surprise as well. None of the residents admit to having placed the advert, even though there is suspicion it must have been one of the young ones, probably Miss Blacklock's nephew (it's just the sort of thing he'd do, it's felt).

When the day comes, every single one of the villagers finds a reason to drop by the house. And at the appointed time, the lights go off, a shot rings out, and someone is dead.

I enjoyed this. I liked that though part of the investigation does depend on who-was-where-at-what-time machinations, most of it is about the characters and seeing them interact and develop. Christie is widely thought to be stronger on plot than on characterisation, but in this book, she did really well in the latter. Each of the villagers is distinct and interesting. She even has a large number of middle-aged and old spinsters, who, rather than being a type, are all completely different. Interestingly, Miss Marple is one of them, and she gets about as much space as they do. She's definitely very much in the margins, in these early books!

As for the plotting... well, the solution is extremely clever, and the way Christie salts her clues throughout the plot is nothing short of masterful. Even though I was listening to it very attentively, and as usual, I was trying very hard to catch her clues, I missed them completely and fell headlong for one of her red herrings. At first, it seems there are not that many possibilities, but soon all sorts of possible motivations and solutions appear, and it was one of them that I so mistakenly went for. On a purely intellectual level, it was quite satisfying to see.

However. I'm afraid when I finished admiring Christie's construction, I couldn't help but feel it was all maybe a bit too clever. Overcomplicated, I suppose. It was a brilliant plan, sure, but once you start thinking about it, the culprit could have accomplished their objective in a much simpler way, even if it would have been blunter and inelegant. It would have been easier and a lot less risky, since the way things actually happened relied a lot on things happening like clockwork, when they could have easily gone very wrong. So on a gut level, I couldn't really believe the story. I still enjoyed the book, but it's a reason why I wouldn't put it amongst my favourite titles by the author.

Finally, one of the things that has struck me the most since I've started this rereading Christie's books last year is that these books being so much of their time has its good and bad sides. On one hand, It's fascinating to see how a Christie presents her own time, all very matter-of-factly, since it would have been unremarkable to her readers (of course rationing meant a chocolate cake would be an extreme luxury! It didn't need to be said). However, some of the attitudes (racism, sexism, xenophobia, extreme class discrimination and snobbery, you name it) can be painful. Sometimes this can turn an otherwise good mystery into a complete wallbanger (see my rant about The Body In The Library), but mostly, it's something I can cringe at and then just continue reading. It was the latter case for A Murder Is Announced, fortunately. The portrayal of the couple of foreigners in the story is pretty cringe-worthy (especially the callousness with which the refugee woman who works at Little Paddocks is treated in the narrative), but it was something I was able to ignore quite ok.

AUDIOBOOK NOTE: The version I got from my library was an old one, from Chivers Audio Books, narrated by Rosemary Leach. The narration was acceptable, but not great. Leach read the text in what I can only call a languid manner, as if she barely had the energy to continue reading, with pauses which were a beat too long. I see audible has 2 versions, one read by Joan Hickson and a newly released one read by Emilia Fox. I've never heard an audiobook narrated by Hickson, but Fox narrated the version of They Came To Baghdad that I listened to a few months ago and she was fabulous. I'd say go for one of those two if you are interested in this in audio.



April 2013 wish list

>> Friday, April 05, 2013

As usual lately, a large number of books coming out on the same day.

Books I'm definitely planning to get

Now, this is a good month. Several of these are autobuy authors.

Love Irresistibly, by Julie James (Apr 2)

Yay, another Julie James! I’d buy her books without even checking the blurb, but this one sounds great. I like that the heroine has a job I don’t think I’ve seen before in a romance novel: she’s general counsel for a restaurant company, and the hero wants permission to plant a bug in one of their restaurants.

Let It Be by Kate Noble (Apr 2)

A Kate Noble book, and set in Venice! Squee! I like the sound of the story, too.

The Ashford Affair, by Lauren Willig (Apr 9)

It was mentioned in one of the DBSA podcasts a while ago, and I thought it sounded amazing (Downton Abbey meets Out of Africa, I think SB Sarah said!). Plus, I love the structure Willig uses of separate present-day and historical storylines, which connect to each other.

Whiskey Beach, by Nora Roberts (Apr 16)

Single title Nora Roberts books are always a treat. The description of this one starts out familiar, suggesting it’s going to be the usual romantic suspense, but then “they find themselves caught in a net that stretches back for centuries”, which suggests something a bit different. I’m intrigued.

The Mystery Woman, by Amanda Quick (Apr 23)

I should put it under the “I’ll wait for reviews” section, but who am I kidding? I’m going on the queue at the library as soon as it shows up as ‘on order’. It sounds like exactly the stuff she’s been writing for the past few years.

Wedding Night, by Sophie Kinsella (Apr 23)

This sounds like it could be loads of fun. A couple who suddenly decide to get married, two friends of theirs who think they’re making a mistake and try to stop them, a Greek island setting... I’m so there!

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

Sweet Madness, by Heather Snow (Apr 2)

I haven’t tried Heather Snow yet, but she seems to write historicals with really unusual heroines. This one seems to be a student of psychology, and it looks like the hero suffers from PTSD.

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson (Apr 2)

This one sounds like a bit of a departure for Atkinson. The books of hers that I’ve read have been mysteries (albeit quite literary ones). This one is, as far as I can tell, about a woman with an infinite number of lives.

Rush Me, by Allison Parr (Apr 8)

I can’t remember where I heard about this one (I added it to my wish list before it even had a proper release date!), but it does sound interesting (“ how can a Midwestern Irish-Catholic jock with commitment problems and an artsy, gun-shy Jewish New Englander ever forge a partnership?”), and I do like New Adult.


I'm back!

>> Thursday, April 04, 2013

I'm back! All rested up and recharged, after a whole month on holiday in Uruguay. I spent loads of quality time getting to know my first nephew, who was born only hours after I landed. I'm biased, but he's really the most beautiful and wonderful baby in the world (my sister calls this photo 'the Karate Kid').

I also spent my time catching up with old friends, watching football, and reading, reading, reading, sometimes even by the pool. Yep, unfortunately, the weather was nowhere near as good as it is when I visit over Christmas, but considering it was snowing back in England, I can't really complain.

I read some really good stuff, too. My favourite of all the books below was probably JK Rowling's The Casual Vacancy. My expectations were really low, after seeing reviews that mostly ranged between lukewarm and actively hostile, but I thought it was fantastic, a real punch in the gut. I'll be writing reviews soon.


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