June 2013 wish list

>> Friday, May 31, 2013

Not too many this month, but a couple I really, really want to read.

Books I'm definitely planning to get

Frozen, by Meljean Brook (sometime in June)

It was a lovely surprise to get to the end of Fire and Frost, the anthology released in late May, and finding an excerpt from this novella, to be released in June. It seems to be a stand-alone, rather than part of one of Brook's series, but I don't particularly care what it is, I'll be buying it!

Heart of Obsidian, by Nalini Singh (Jun 4)

The romance in the last book I read wasn't great, and I haven’t heard great things about that in the next one, so I haven’t read it yet. I'm really interested in the Big Picture storyline, though, so I'm thinking I’ll skip Tangle of Need, armed with some spoilers Brie was kind enough to give me.

Flirting With Disaster, by Ruthie Knox (Jun 10)

I've only read the initial short story in this series, but it’s one I'm definitely planning to read. I really like Knox's voice and stories.

A Woman Entangled, by Cecilia Grant (Jun 25)

I loved Cecilia Grant's first two books that much that I'd buy this one without even looking at the back cover or reviews. I have looked at the story description, though, and it sounds pretty damn good!

The Heiress Effect, by Courtney Milan (by Jul 14)

I know almost nothing about this one, just that it's the next in a series I'm loving by one of my favourite authors. It doesn't yet have a description or a firm release date, just that it'll come out “no later than July 14th”. On the off chance it'll come out a bit earlier than that, I'm including it in this month's wish list.

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

The Moon and More, by Sarah Dessen (Jun 4)

This seems to be kind of on the line between YA and NA (it takes place in summer before the heroine goes off to university). I’ve been meaning to try Dessen, and this sounds interesting.

Hubble Bubble, by Jane Lovering (Jun 7)

I added this because the author posted in this month’s Dear Author open post and her voice made me smile. Apocalyptic weather in Yorkshire, sarcastic Welsh journalists... yup, I’m in.

Rush, by Eve Silver (Jun 11)

This sounds a bit Hunger Games-esque, what with it being about teens forced to play a game which is actually a fight to the death. Could be very good, could be a derivative rip-off. I’ll keep an eye on reviews, but I’m very interested.

Dark Maiden, by Lindsay Townsend (Jun 13)

A medieval with a black exorcist heroine. The writing in the blurb is a bit off-putting, but I’ll hope it hasn’t been written by the author and download the sample.

Hot Summer Night, by Ros Clarke (Jun 17)

The blurb is not one that particularly tempts me, but this is one author I’ve been meaning to try.

Her Last Breath, by Linda Castillo (Jun 18)

I read some of Castillo’s Romantic Suspense titles a few years ago and thought they were really good (I was going to say I ‘enjoyed’ them, but they’re so dark that this doesn’t really sound like the right word). This one’s part of a series where the heroine is a former Amish woman who’s returned to her old community as a detective.

The Au Pair Affair, by Bonnie Dee (Jun 18)

One of the protagonists is a Hollywood producer who’s just come out and is newly divorced, the other is his kids’ nanny. This sounds like quite a sweet romance, from the description.


Two from my book club

>> Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I've discovered some amazing books through my book club, but for the last couple of months, not so much.

TITLE: Jamrach's Menagerie
AUTHOR: Carol Birch

I read this one for my April book club meeting. It tells the story of Jaffy Brown, whom we meet as a little boy, running around the slums of London, patting an escaped tiger on the nose. Rescued by the tiger's owner, Mr. Jamrach, he's given a job in the man's menagerie. Some years later, Jaffy follows his friend, colleague and rival, Tim, onto a whaling ship, where they're to help an explorer who's been commissioned to find a dragon in the jungles of Borneo.

This is one of those books. I could see it was good and I even enjoyed bits of it (the descriptions and the way they make Jaffy's world come alive, are fabulous), but it was really not my cup of tea. For most of the book, I just didn't care what happened. It's part Oliver Twist, part Moby Dick, and part Alive, and it was only near the end of that last part that something happened that got through. That scene (trying to be cryptic here, it's Tim and Jaffy's final scene together) finally pierced the thick, cloudy glass through which it had felt I was reading, and made me really feel. Too little, too late, though.


TITLE: The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared
AUTHOR: Jonas Jonasson

This one I read for our May meeting. The centenarian who pulls the eponymous vanishing act is Alan Karlsson, who's had enough of the rules and regulations of his retirement home. He shuffles to the bus station in his slippers and decides to board the first bus he sees, which he does, with a young thug's suitcase in tow. Turns out the suitcase contains a lot of cash, and soon the thug, his gang and the police are after Allan and the friends he picks up along the way. And interspersed with that caper, we get flashback chapters, narrating Allan's eventful and peripatetic life. Forrest Gump-like, Allan managed to be present at some of the 20th century most significant moments and to affect them all.

This one didn't work for me at all. Basically, every single character in this book is a sociopath. None of them, and especially Allan, cared one whit about the effects of their actions on other people. They can't seem to conceive of others as real. I thought at first that it would just be Allan who was that way, and I was fine with it. It's not uncommon for really old people to stop giving a shit. But no, Allan had been like that all his life. His complete lack of regard for the political big picture going on around his running around is supposed to be charming and funny, but I didn't see the humour in it. Hah-hah, Allan defected from the Republicans to Franco's forces! Oh, how funny, then his friend's wife stole the election and sent all her political oponents to jail! Call me humourless, but I wasn't laughing, and the whimsical, light tone made me grit my teeth.

It wasn't funny, it was juvenile and tedious, and I wanted pretty much every character to die. Except for the elephant. I liked the elephant.



The Secret Lives of Dresses, by Erin McKean

>> Monday, May 27, 2013

TITLE: The Secret Lives of Dresses
AUTHOR: Erin McKean

PAGES: 384
PUBLISHER: Hodder & Stoughton

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Women's fiction / Romance

Dora has always taken the path of least resistance. She went to the college that offered her a scholarship, is majoring in "vagueness studies," and wears whatever shows the least dirt. She falls into a job at the college coffee shop, and a crush on her flirty boss, Gary.

Just when she's about to test Gary's feelings, Mimi, the grandmother who raised her, suffers a stroke. Dora rushes back home to Forsyth, NC, and finds herself running her grandmother's vintage clothing store. The store has always been a fixture in Dora's life; though she grew up more of a jeans-and-sweatshirt kind of girl, before she even knew how to write, Mimi taught her that a vintage 1920s dress could lift a woman's spirit.

While working there, Dora befriends Mimi's adorable contractor, Conrad. Is he after Dora, or is working from a different blueprint? And why did Mimi start writing down--and giving away--stories of the dresses in her shop?

When Mimi dies, Dora can't get out of town fast enough and cedes control of the store to her money-hungry aunt who wants to turn it into a t-shirt shop for tourists. But ultimately, she returns to Forsyth, willing to battle whatever may stand in the way of her staying there. Dora can trade her boring clothes for vintage glamour, but can she trade her boring life for one she actually wants?
Dora Winston has no idea what to do with her life. She never really has. She's in university mainly because there was nothing she particularly wanted to do, and so basically thought 'might as well'. She's studying liberal arts and thinking of moving on to do a postgraduate degree, all for the same reasons.

And then her grandmother, Mimi, has a stroke. Mimi brought up Dora after the latter's parents died, and when she hears the news, Dora just gets into the car and drives back home. Mimi really isn't doing well and is in a coma, and, wanting to do something for her grandmother, Dora decides to keep Mimi's beloved vintage clothes store open and running. And as she surrounds herself with what she always thought of as her grandmother's dreams and nothing to do with her, she starts to understand what she herself might want.

This is one of those books that just aren’t very exciting, but which are, at the same time, very readable. I didn't love it, but I did enjoy it. I wasn’t tempted to put it down, and when I had to, I then was happy to pick it back up again.

The story and the characters are... well... inoffensive. Dora is pleasant, and the romance that develops with the extremely nice young contractor who was working with Mimi is cute, if a bit to easy, even with the bit of conflict at the end. What brought it all to life (and I feel very girly for saying it!) were the vintage dresses.

On a superficial level, they sounded gorgeous. I read this just after The Next Always, first in Nora Roberts’ Inn Boonsboro series, and the level of loving detail in the dress descriptions was as high as in Nora's refurbishment descriptions. I cared more about the dresses, though!

There's the stock in the shop, but also there's what could be described as Dora's dowry. Throughout Dora's life, Mimi has been collecting dresses for her. Whenever a particular garment came into the shop that looked like it would suit Dora, Mimi would put it away for her in a separate room. Dora doesn't ever wear them, mainly because she doesn't feel the dresses are her, but when she arrives to Mimi's with just the clothes she's wearing, she has to resort to them. And as she starts to discover the secret lives of all those all dresses, she starts to feel like there's more to her as well.

Dora does come to realise what she wants, and I liked the way that her decision between running her grandmother’s vintage clothes shop and going to university is presented. I liked that I never got the feeling that McKean was trying to convey a message about one option being more virtuous than the other, that it was a matter of education vs. tradition, or anything like that. It was very clear that it was all about what was the best decision for this particular person, and for what it's worth, I agreed it was the right one.

The only bit of the book I didn't much like was the characterisation of the horrible relatives who come in to provide a bit of conflict and threaten Dora's 'relationship' with Mimi's store. The women, her cousin and her uncle's wife, were a bit too over-the-top awful. I didn’t really buy them as characters, and most especially, I couldn't believe that someone like her uncle is described to be would be married to this awful woman.

Still, these were a minor part of the book. On the whole, it was a nice, enjoyable read.



Forever a Lady, by Delilah Marvelle

>> Saturday, May 25, 2013

TITLE: Forever a Lady
AUTHOR: Delilah Marvelle

PAGES: 384

SETTING: 19th century England and US
TYPE: Romance


Lady Bernadette Marie Burton may be the richest widow in England, but like her dreams of finding true passion, her reputation is deteriorating. Cruel gossip, loneliness and hoards of opportunistic suitors have her believing Society couldn't be more vile...or dangerous. So when an attacker threatens her life, she finds safety in the most unseemly of places: the arms of a mysterious, Irish-American gang leader. His fortune stolen, young Matthew Milton is done playing the respectable gentleman. In the slums of New York, only ruffians thrive. But from the moment he arrives in London and encounters the voluptuous Lady Bernadette, he can't help but wonder about the finer pleasures he's missing. Or just how much he's willing to risk-not only to bed her, but to prove his worth...
Another disappointment. I was intrigued at the idea of the plot: a heroine who's a rich widow with a deteriorating reputation, a hero who's a "mysterious, Irish-American gang leader", according to the summary.

20% in, though, I can't stand it and will not read more. The characters' behaviour has much too many WTF moments, and I really, really, really don't like the writing. The word-choice is too often inappropriate to what's clearly the intended meaning, and the writing is horrendously purple and melodramatic, and from the Thesaurus School of Prose. Here's Bernadette, explaining why she doesn't want to go back to London:
"The last time I was in London [...] I had a man break into my home, intent on proving to me that he could beget me with his child in the hopes of beguiling me into matrimony. And he was the friendliest of my money-salivating suitors."
First, even I, for whom English is a 2nd language, know that you don't use 'beget' that way. I don't know the grammatical terms and rules, but you beget a child (e.g. "Abraham begot Isaac"), and get someone with child. You do NOT 'beget someone with child'. Second, 'beguile' her into matrimony? We're talking about someone breaking into her house here, so this seems to be someone trying to rape her. If it was a lover trying to make her pregnant so she would have to marry him, 'beguile', with its connotations of trickery and deception, might possibly work, but with rape, sorry, no. 'Persuade' would have been a much better choice here, in the euphemistic sort of way the author seems to be trying for. And then we get that nonsensical phrase, those 'money-salivating' suitors, which provides entirely the wrong image. They're salivating for her money, or at the thought of her money, not salivating money.

And another one: here's one of those "money-salivating suitors", angry that Bernadette dared have him investigated and found out he was, indeed, a money-salivating suitor:
"Because your one true wish in this, Bernadette, was never to love me. [...] Even though you licked and swallowed my seed in unending pleasure."
Honestly, that one just made me laugh. The whole book is written like that, and even with the occasional laugh at the ridiculousness of the writing, I couldn't stand to keep reading.

And then I went to goodreads to have a look at reviews, to see if there was any reason for me to continue (I don't know what I was hoping for, maybe someone saying that the writing calms down a bit after the start and the story's amazing). There I found a review by E_booklover, from the Bookpushers blog, which made me very glad I didn't continue. It's the penultimate paragraph in the review, mainly. That would have pissed me off no end, and my kindle would have been in danger.



I've Got Your Number, by Sophie Kinsella

>> Thursday, May 23, 2013

TITLE: I've Got Your Number
AUTHOR: Sophie Kinsella

PAGES: 464

SETTING: Contemporary London
TYPE: Chick Lit

Poppy Wyatt has never felt luckier: She is about to marry her ideal man. But in one afternoon, everything begins to fall apart. Not only has she lost her engagement ring in a hotel fire drill, but in the panic that follows, her phone is stolen. As she paces shakily around the lobby, she spots an abandoned phone in a trash can. Finders keepers! Now she can leave a number for the hotel to contact her when they find her ring. Perfect!

Well, perfect except that the phone’s owner, businessman Sam Roxton, doesn’t agree. He wants his phone back and doesn’t appreciate Poppy reading his messages and wading into his personal life.As Poppy juggles wedding preparations and mysterious phone calls, she soon realizes that she is in for the biggest surprise of her life.
Poppy Wyatt is engaged to be married, and she, nothing-special, not-particularly-bright Poppy has managed to get a man (that's how she sees it) who's completely out of her league. Magnus is gorgeous, rich and a brilliant university lecturer, and seems to be madly in love with her. His parents might be awful and the wedding planning is a bit of a nightmare, but Poppy is deliriously happy.

And then, in the confusion of a hotel fire drill, she loses her engagement ring, her super-special, been-in-Magnus'-family-for-generations engagement ring. Her panic is not helped when her mobile is then promptly stolen. She needs to be contactable in case someone at the hotel finds the ring! And then fate intervenes, when she finds a perfectly good mobile abandoned in a rubbish bin. It belongs to the PA to a businessman called Sam Roxton, who's not amused at the idea that it's now in Poppy's hands.

I keep forgetting just how much I enjoy Sophie Kinsella's books. Her plots often sound completely mad, the sort that would require a heroine (usually it's the heroine) with a poor grasp on reality and appropriate behaviour. But Kinsella's brilliance is that she manages to pull them off without having that sort of heroine. Take this one, for instance. That silly "Finders keepers!" bit on the blurb made it sound as if Poppy was a complete idiot, somehow on the run with this phone she has absolutely no right to, when the situation Kinsella actually creates is a lot more understandable.

When Sam Roxton calls the phone for the first time, Poppy does him quite a big favour (in quite the hilarious scene), and as a thank you, Sam grudgingly agrees to let her keep the phone for a little while longer, until the ring has appeared. She agrees to just forward him any messages or emails that arrive there, and the interaction sparked by this necessary contact soon develops into something more. Sam and Poppy end up texting back and forth about all sorts of things, including (since she can't resist the temptation of reading the emails before forwarding them -and I don't think I'd be strong enough not to, either!), Poppy's opinion of Sam's business behaviour and Sam's opinion on Poppy's personal life.

Obviously, there are some believability issues here on the technical front (why Sam couldn't get his PA's email account installed on his computer, or at least access to it, I don't know), but in terms of character and how these two people would behave, I had no trouble buying it, even when Poppy does step over the line completely. She doesn't start out by blithely start telling Sam how to run his business. At first it's "hmm, have you considered that maybe this person is doing this because of Y? She's sent other emails before saying this and this", and emboldened by the success of her initial advice, she gets more and more involved. I saw how it could happen, even as I was going "No, Poppy, no!".

Poppy and Sam's relationship develops through this email and text interaction, and I thought it was beautifully done. It's completely innocent at first, and only very gradually develops into something else. And while this happens, there is much hilarity. This is one seriously funny book, properly laugh-out-loud funny, the sort where you get funny looks from people around you. I love Kinsella's humour. It's self-deprecating and witty, and though sometimes it relies on embarrassing situations, there's never a cruel feel to it.

I also especially liked what Kinsella did with Magnus' parents. Both are successful public intellectuals, and Poppy is completely intimidated by them. And with good reason: they constantly ask her opinion about all sorts of things she has never even considered and knows nothing about (clearly, trying to put her on the spot and humiliate her), and they obviously consider her inferior and not worthy of their son. All I'll say is that everything's not what it first seems, and the scene where Poppy finally stands up for herself and finds out is really, really satisfying.

If you're ever in the mood for something frothy and funny, but with a real heart to it, then this is a great one to pick up.


AUDIOBOOK NOTES: There seem to be two different unabridged audiobooks for this one. Unfortunately, the one my library had was the one narrated by Jayne Entwistle, this one. The narration was utterly terrible. I immediately felt this was definitely not Poppy, and to me, she sounded like a complete idiot. I stuck it out for a couple of chapters, and then I just went and bought the ebook (even though it was expensive), since I was caught up by the story.


Kiss of Snow, by Nalini Singh

>> Tuesday, May 21, 2013

TITLE: Kiss of Snow
AUTHOR: Nalini Singh

PAGES: 464

SETTING: Alternate reality of the US in the near future
TYPE: Paranormal romance
SERIES: 10th in the Psy-Changelings series

Since the moment of her defection from the PsyNet and into the SnowDancer wolf pack, Sienna Lauren has had one weakness. Hawke. Alpha and dangerous, he compels her to madness.

Hawke is used to walking alone, having lost the woman who would’ve been his mate long ago. But Sienna fascinates the primal heart of him, even as he tells himself she is far too young to handle the wild fury of the wolf.

Then Sienna changes the rules and suddenly, there is no more distance, only the most intimate of battles between two people who were never meant to meet. Yet as they strip away each other’s secrets in a storm of raw emotion, they must also ready themselves for a far more vicious fight…

A deadly enemy is out to destroy SnowDancer, striking at everything they hold dear, but it is Sienna’s darkest secret that may yet savage the pack that is her home... and the alpha who is its heartbeat...
I confess I didn't come to this one all that well-disposed to love it. Hawke and Sienna have featured in several of the previous books, and it was pretty obvious to me that they were the couple whose story we were all supposed to be dying to read. The Sam and Alyssa of the series, if you will. I just didn't feel it. I'm not sure why, but as a couple, they didn't particularly appeal to me, and the narrative certainty that they were the most exciting couple ever quite annoyed me.

The setup is that Hawke is the leader of the SnowDancer wolf pack, a man whose mate died when they were both children. Wolves mate for life, so Hawke is condemned to spend the rest of his life alone. Sienna is Psy, part of the Lauren family, whose defection was triggered by a need to protect her. Sienna's particular Psy abilities make her incredibly dangerous, and if they'd stayed in the PsyNet, she would have been used as a most dangerous weapon. Ever since the Lauren's were accepted into SnowDancer, Sienna has been able to get under Hawke's skin, but Hawke could always keep his distance because she was so young.

Now Sienna is older, but there are still massive obstacles between them. Not to mention that they're in the midst of increasingly all-out conflict between Psy and changelings!

I'm afraid the romance was, as I feared, a complete bust for me. I found the dynamic between Sienna and Hawke (and that of the secondary romance between Sienna's brother Walker and healer Lara, for that matter) extremely tedious. Very dog-in-the-manger. I want you, but I can’t have you, but at the same time I can’t tolerate anyone else having you. On, and on, and ON. Oh, get over yourself, Hawke, and make a decision. It was especially frustrating because it felt a bit manipulative, like an authorial decision to prolong things, not like something organic.

Hawke is the pack alpha, so there is a lot of domineering behaviour. Sienna does stand up for herself, and demands that in their private interactions, Hawke leaves the alpha status out of it (that he doesn't ‘pull rank’, as she calls it, in those situations), but Hawke’s impulses are always to dominate. I understand that's consistent with his character, but it just put my back up, and I kept wanting Sienna to tell him where he could go. She, BTW, felt a bit immature, like the teenager she is, which was yet another strike against their relationship.

And then there's the bit conflicts that are keeping them apart. What I've found brilliant in so many of the books in this series is that Singh comes up with these truly impossible situations, couples where I just can’t see how they possibly could be together. The longing to be together becomes gut-wrenching, which is oh-so-satisfying, and then Singh comes up with a way to solve the conflict that makes sense, and which I never saw coming. That’s what’s made me love the series.

I just didn’t feel that here. Maybe it’s because I've read all the previous books and have seen how things have been solved before, but I never felt the angst that this was impossible, and oh, how on earth could they be together. I got the clues of how it could all be sorted out really early, and there were no surprises. In fact, the stuff I'm talking about below are my theories that I wrote down pretty early on, to see if I was guessing right. So although they should be spoilers (and you therefore might not want to read them), they're not, really.

As I mentioned earlier, we've got Hawke, who found his mate at a very young age (we’re talking when he was 5), but whose mate died only a couple of years later. Everyone knows wolves mate only once in a lifetime, so how terrible, if Sienna wants to be with him, she needs to accept they’ll never actually be mates. But very close to the beginning, Hawke himself thinks (I'm paraphrasing), “well, they’d never actually *mated*, but she had been his mate”. Ding, ding, ding! All tension fizzled. There, that's how it would be done.

As for Sienna, the problem is that she’s got this super-duper extremely rare ability, and no other X-Psy has survived past the age of 25 (and the one who did was much, much weaker than Sienna). So oh, woe, potential tragedy, how can they be together when she’s almost certain to die young? Problem is, we've already had so many Psy whose extra-special abilities are assumed to mean certain death/insanity/destruction, that it’s kind of par for the course. Of course they’ll find a way. And again, quite early in the book (so it’s not a spoiler) we get a little mention of a theory that it might be important whether X-Psy are not separated from their family’ support. Yep, again, all tension fizzled there, too.

The only element I enjoyed was the progress in the overarching storyline. This is the book where matters really come to a head, and the covert hostilities develop into war. That's excellently handled. It's complex and interesting and I have absolutely no idea how things are going to develop. It kept me reading, when if it had been just the romance, this would have been a DNF. And then it all concluded with a really satisfying, action-packed ending which surprised me. This element is what will keep me reading the next books. I just hope the romance in them is better!



The Rescue Man, by Anthony Quinn

>> Sunday, May 19, 2013

TITLE: The Rescue Man
AUTHOR: Anthony Quinn

PAGES: 416
PUBLISHER: Vintage Books

SETTING: 1860s and 1940s Liverpool
TYPE: Fiction

Rescue Man opens on the eve of the Second World War. With uncertainty in the air as the world seems on the brink of disaster, Liverpool is a city tense in anticipation of the coming conflict. Orphaned as a child and now approaching forty with no prospect of a family of his own, Tom Baines is a man emotionally adrift. Unable to commit to anything, either personal or professional, he is left looking in at life from the outside, with only his fascination for architecture to connect him.

The outbreak of war brings a new sense of purpose and unexpected relationships. Baines joins the Rescue Men, retrieving the wounded and dying from bombed buildings. Yet in wartime, ordinary rules are suspended, risks taken and Baines finds himself caught up in a love affair that is as heady and all-consuming as it is transgressive.

With writing that is both immediate and deeply steeped in its time, Anthony Quinn recreates wartime Liverpool with emotional intensity in this powerful story of love found and lost.
I picked this one up purely because I loved the idea of reading a book set in my city, on the streets I walk on every day. I wasn't particularly drawn to the storyline, as described in the blurb, but that turned out to be good as well.

The book opens in 1939, with Liverpool preparing itself for war. Tom Baines, an architectural historian, has been dithering over a commission from a publisher to make a record of the city's's architecture. The knowledge that the German bombers will be coming soon spurs him into activity, and rather than continue with his time-consuming drawings, he approaches a photographer. Well, two photographers, because the man he recruits to help him is married to a woman who's just as good with a camera, and they all become friends.

As the months go by, we follow Baines' and the city's fortunes. There's tragedy and destruction and forbidden romance. There's also history, because Baines is researching Peter Eames, an architect who was active in the 1860s and whose legacy Baines admires. Through his diaries, we get a glimpse of the city then, and of what the life of a young professional then might have been like.

A lot of my pleasure in reading this came from the author's clear love for Liverpool, and the fact that I share it. Even though the city's changed a lot since the 1940s (not to mention, the 1860s!), it's still recognisable, and it was wonderful to read the vivid descriptions and not just be able to picture the places in my head, but to be able to overlay them with what they look like now. Quinn not only brings alive the way the city would have looked, it feels distinctly like Liverpool still does today. I loved that element of it.

The Peter Eames sections were fascinating, even if sometimes it felt like Quinn was determined to shoehorn in every interesting bit of history he'd found, like when they all go to St. George's Hall to hear a lecture by Charles Dickens. It was a fun episode to read about, but didn't really have much bearing on the story. However, much as I liked these sections, I much, much prefered those set during the 2nd world war. Tom, due to his knowledge of architecture, becomes a 'rescue man', one of those tasked with going into collapsed buildings to rescue anyone still alive inside (the reasoning being, quite sensibly, that this sort of knowledge might help rescuers make judgements about things like just how likely it was that a particular building would collapse further). He is, therefore, not spending his nights in a bomb shelter but out and about, rushing towards the bombs.

When it comes to the Blitz, it seems people only talk about London, and completely forget that other cities, including Liverpool got hammered as well. The area where I work, for instance, is by the docks and was one of the most heavily bombed in the country. But even knowing about what happened at the time, it can be hard to really get that within living memory, this horror happened. The Rescue Man succeeded in making me feel at least a small portion of just how terrifying and horrendous it must have been.

I also found it quite fascinating to see the effect of the war and the bombings on people's behaviour. Tom is initially a serious, relatively conventional young man, but after the war starts, his attitudes gradually change. So do his relationships, including that with his photographer friends, and this forms the basis of the main story. It was a story I enjoyed well enough, but I have to say, set in a different city, it wouldn't have been nearly as successful.



Two paranormal DNFs

>> Friday, May 17, 2013

TITLE: Prince of Power
AUTHOR: Elisabeth Staab

How annoying. I really, really wanted to like this. The first book, King of Darkness, was very promising. I enjoyed it, even though it had some issues, and the author spent a lot of pages setting up a story for the following book that I absolutely loved. I was intrigued by both Anton, the 'good' son of the evil wizard, who wants nothing to do with his family's fight against the vampires, and Tyra, the king's sister, whose role as a powerful warrior is not questioned by the male vampires. It was clear even then that she’s the warrior alpha in that relationship, and that he bloody loves it.

So I started full of hope, but it took me only a few chapters to grind almost to a halt. Turns out the plot was tedious and frustrating at the same time, and I had to force myself to keep reading. Basically, these people are incredibly stupid and sloppy about defending themselves, and that made me want to shake them. It's shoddy plotting, really. Staab needs Tyra to be taken by the wizard master, so she just engineers a situation in which this happens, even though this situation makes her characters come across as complete and utter idiots for not taking the basic precautions. I read about half of the book, and it took me several days, because I’d get annoyed and put it down and read something else. After a while, it became clear the annoying elements weren’t going to improve, and I just gave up.

Oh, and I had some issues with the writing, as well. For instance, Staab is writing from Thad’s POV and he thinks he’ll sit down on the microsuede overstuffed sofa, and looks at the egg-and-dart mouldings. Really, he would have thought in those terms?


TITLE: The Darkest Day
AUTHOR: Britt Bury

This is set in a world where humans have become extinct. Paranormal creatures have taken over. The main characters' families have been at war forever, and the hero has sworn to kill the heir to the heroine's family. On meeting her, he realises that a) the heir is a heiress, and it's the heroine, and b) she's actually a human, the last pure human left alive in the whole world. So, discovering she's super-special, she decides not to kill her (for now), and they start the trek to his keep instead.

It sounded like it could be a fun read, and I even started it in the best of moods for it. But even in a very forgiving mood, there was a bit too much silliness, and most of all, the heroine annoyed me with her TSTL behaviour. We're talking old-skool foot-stomping, hair-tossing feistiness, putting herself in risky situations just because, etc. She knows all sorts of creatures will eat her in a heartbeat, the minute they smell her human blood, and yet she uses some of the tiny vial of liquid that hides her scent for all sorts of silly reasons? Die, you idiot. And the hero was a dense, caveman idiot as well.

Also, I knew it was reminiscent of Kresley Cole's Immortals After Dark series, but some of the world-building was a direct rip-off. I mean, the Ascencion is here under another name, the whacky witch who can see the future, etc.

MY GRADE: Another DNF.


The Beekeper's Apprentice, by Laurie R King

>> Wednesday, May 15, 2013

TITLE: The Beekeper's Apprentice (or On The Segregation Of The Queen)
AUTHOR: Laurie R King

PAGES: 384

SETTING: 1910s England (mostly)
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: Starts the Russell and Holmes series

Long retired, Sherlock Holmes quietly pursues his study of honeybee behavior on the Sussex Downs. He never imagines he would encounter anyone whose intellect matched his own, much less an audacious teenage girl with a penchant for detection. Miss Mary Russell becomes Holmes' pupil and quickly hones her talent for deduction, disguises and danger. But when an elusive villain enters the picture, their partnership is put to a real test.

The start of The Beekeeper's Apprentice put me in mind of some of the later entries in Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series. A tongue-in-cheek author's note describes how King came upon this manuscript, and scoffs at the idea that even such an imagination as hers could have come up with "the farfetched idea of Sherlock Holmes taking on a smart-mouthed, half-American, fifteen-year-old sidekick."

The smart-mouthed, half-American fifteen-year-old in question is Mary Russell. Mary's parents have died recently in America, and she's come to live with an aunt in the Sussex Downs. The aunt is mostly interested in the money that comes with Mary's large inheritance, so the girl spends most of her time wandering the Downs, her nose in a book. Her nose is in a book when she literally walks into Sherlock Holmes.

It's 1915 and Holmes has retired to the country, leaving behind the (somewhat exaggerated) exploits narrated in very popular books by his friend, Dr. Watson. He's sinking into depression, spending all his time on his beekeeping. All that changes the day when Mary Russell walks over him as he's lying on the ground, observing bees. Her brilliant deductions show him that she's in possession of a brain at least as good as his. Before he knows it, he's taken her under his wing and is teaching her all he knows.

Many years ago, I read and enjoyed A Letter of Mary, which is the third book in this series. Normally, I'd have gone straight to the beginning of the series, but when I found out Mary is 15 at the start of The Beekeeper's Apprentice, that really put me off. See, Mary and Holmes are a married couple in A Letter of Mary, so I knew there would be a romantic relationship. And even though I loved their relationship in that book and thought that, in spite of a really large age difference, there was a wonderful equality in it, the idea of a 15-year-old girl and a man in his 50s kind of skeeves me out.

Well, I needn't have worried. King develops the relationship between Russell and Holmes slowly and carefully, and over several years. Initially, it's a relationship with no sexual component whatever. You realise these two come to care for each other, but the romantic element comes late. Even better, I didn't get the feeling that Holmes was moulding Russell's mind, Pygmalion-style. He does teach her a lot, but doesn't change who she is. Even from the start, their relationship felt more like one between partners than one between student and teacher. So, I'm happy to say, no creepiness there at all.

Something else that might have been a pitfall is that King, obviously, is taking someone else's character and continuing the story. As someone who has read and enjoyed all the original stories, I was curious to see whether I'd recognise her Sherlock Holmes as the same man Conan Doyle created. I haven't had the best of experiences with tricks like that (see Jill Paton Walsh's A Presumption of Death). And again, King cleared the hurdle with room to spare. This was Sherlock Holmes. In fact (dare I say it?) it was a Sherlock Holmes who was the same man, but with even more depths. Watson was also Watson with depth, and the same goes for Mrs. Hudson.

And as for Mary Russell, she is a wonderful creation. She's a highly intelligent and logical, almost cold young woman. I loved it that King didn't feel she had to soften her or make her behave in irrational ways to make her more acceptable as a heroine. It's made very clear that Russell has feelings and cares about (some) people, but she does so in her own way, without sentiment of mawkishness. The exact thing can be said about Holmes, and I found myself convinced they were soulmates. It's a relationship that's about the meeting of two like minds, and though the bodies they're in are attracted to each other, that's not as important.

The structure of the plot is quite interesting. At first, it sort of echoes how most of Sherlock Holmes' appearances take place in short stories. Mary learns the detective trade through different unconnected cases. At least, it seems that they're all unconnected to anything. But then a villain shows up who clearly has an axe to grind against Holmes, and some of that might have to be reconsidered. All these are interesting cases, peopled by interesting characters, and provide opportunities for some of those excellent, satisfying deductions one associates with a Sherlock Holmes mystery.

I also thought the writing was excellent. I started listening to this one after the hugely unsatisfying and frustrating The Silent Touch of Shadows. I'd been forcing myself to keep listening, until I got pissed off and just deleted it. And then I started The Beekeeper's Apprentice and felt the difference immediately. King is an elegant writer, and an author who trusts her readers' intelligence, and therefore doesn't feel the need to spell everything out. You have to pay attention, but it's most definitely worth it.

MY GRADE: It was an A-.


The Italian, by Lisa Marie Rice

>> Monday, May 13, 2013

TITLE: The Italian
AUTHOR: Lisa Marie Rice

PAGES: 105 (according to amazon, I’d guess it’s more like 150)
PUBLISHER: Ellora's Cave

SETTING: Contemporary Italy (Sicily)
TYPE: Romance

Jamie McIntyre is on a working vacation in Palermo, Sicily, soaking up the sunshine and the art, trying to contact a former law student of her grandfather’s. She’s thinking “nerd in a suit”. But Judge Stefano Leone is as far from a boring suit as possible. He’s also the toughest, sexiest man she’s ever met, in bed and out. There’s no resisting his commanding presence—or his beautiful body. Jaime quickly falls under his mesmerizing spell.

Until she’s forced to make an impossible choice.

Stefano Leone is closing in on one of the most dangerous mobsters on earth. He’s surrounded by armed men, his life under constant threat. He’s not had time for sex in years, let alone love. The beautiful American woman, however, slips right under his guard and into his bed…and his heart. But does she truly want Stefano? Or has she been sent to seduce him—or worse?
When I saw that LMR was releasing a new book with Ellora's Cave, I was very excited. My favourites of hers (and the ones I've reread over and over) are those early EC books, such as Woman On The Run and Midnight Angel. Unfortunately, it wasn't back to the same level.

The story takes place in Sicily, where designer Jamie McIntyre is spending some time researching/seeking inspiration for a project. While there, her beloved grandfather has asked her to look up one of his favourite former law students, an Italian lawyer who's now become a judge.

Jamie's not expecting this to require more than a phone call and dropping off the present her grandfather has asked her to deliver, but it turns out getting to Stefano Leone is ridiculously hard. That's because Stefano has been brought in to Sicily to bring down a particularly dangerous mafioso, and this requires him to be under armed guard 24/7. He's had no personal or sex life for years, done nothing but work his socks off to bring down his quarry.

When Jamie does manage to get through, the result is explosive. Stefano is the most attractive, magnetic man she's ever met, and he seems to think the same thing about her. He knows he should stay away from her and give his enemy a way in, but he can't seem to do it.

This has the bones of what could have been a really satisfying, amazing story, but it just wasn't developed enough. As it is now, it’s love (or lust, that immediately turns into love) at first sight, and not particularly sucessful, because I never got a sense that they got to know each other. We're supposed to believe they recognise and instictively know each other, but I didn't completely buy it. Most of their time is spent having sex, and they barely talk. It's excellent sex (I've turned into a bit of a sex scene skimmer, so I was very impressed that LMR actually made me read every single word of sex scenes which took place when there really wasn’t yet a relationship there), and I was actually interested in the relationship as well, but it could have been much better with more room to develop.

I was also quite disappointed with the mafia subplot. I actually think LMR’s suspense subplots tend to be above average, a bit different from the usual, and usually really well done. This one, not so much. The setup is fine, but the big resolution at the end was beyond stupid. We’ve got villains who don’t seem to be aware that you can contact someone other than by phone (do they never text, these idiots?), and someone who would totally delegate a job doing it himself in a very unbelievable way. Idiotic.

On a more positive note, I loved the setting. It's very vivid and lovingly rendered, and I loved that it was populated by believable, regular people. This is no Harlequin Presents vision of Italy, it's much more down-to-earth and clearly done by someone who knows what it's like to live there. The role of judges, for instance, is completely different to that in English-speaking countries, and Rice, as far as I can tell, gets it right (my own country's system is inspired in the Italian). Also, I've always wanted to visit Sicily, and in spite of the mafia element to the story, reading this made me even keener to do it soon.

MY GRADE: A B-, mainly because in spite of my issues with it, it was compulsively readable.

PS - This is nothing to do with the story itself, but why on earth do Ellora’s Cave books always have such rank covers (see a bigger version here). I tend to be pretty forgiving, but there's something about the combination of colours and images here that makes me recoil in disgust. Fluorescent pink and black, the eyes at the top making it look like a cubist painting gone bad, and then there's that ugly, cheap-looking bra front and centre. Ugh.


In Pale Battalions, by Robert Goddard

>> Saturday, May 11, 2013

TITLE: In Pale Battalions
AUTHOR: Robert Goddard

PAGES: 400

SETTING: Various points in 20th century England
TYPE: Fiction

Six months after her husband's sudden death, Leonora Galloway sets off for a holiday in Paris with her daughter Penelope. At last the time has come when secrets can be shared and explanations begin...

Their journey starts with an unscheduled stop at the imposing Thiepval Memorial to the dead of the Battle of the Somme near Amiens. Amongst those commemorated is Leonora's father. The date of his death is recorded and 30th April, 1916. But Leonora wasn't born until 14th March 1917.

Penelope at once supposes a simple wartime illegitimacy as the clue to her mother's unhappy childhood and the family's sundered connections with her aristocratic heritage, about which she has always known so little.

But nothing could have prepared her, or the reader, for the extraordinary story that is about to unfold.

In Pale Battalions starts with two women, mother and daughter, visiting a 1st World War grave in northern France. The mother, Leonora, points out the date on her own father's gravestone. It indicates he couldn't actually have been her father. And so the story begins, starting with the story of Leonora's life, growing up with her villainous step-grandmother, who makes the girl's doubtful parentage clear and her life hell. It's clear to Leonora that there's some sort of mystery surrounding the circumstances of her birth, but it's only years later that an old soldier friend of her father's approaches her and tells her the whole story about what happened at Meongate, the family pile, around the time when Leonora was born.

It's a complex, melodramatic story, full of twists and turns, but I had too many issues with it to really enjoy it. My main issue, I think, was that the type of plot it was: one of my least favourites. It felt like a steamy, seamy soap opera/family saga, Dynasty on steroids, full of villainous characters who are evil purely because they're evil (the grandmother, Olivia, I found particularly unbelievable). The characters are all either horrendous or weak and rather stupid, and I found it very hard to give a fig about them and their fates.

Most of the book is told in flashback, as Leonora tells her daughter her story, which, in a sort of nested fashion, includes a long section in the middle narrated by her father's friend, Tom Franklin. Tom is the person who reveals the dramatic events that went on in Meongate in 1916, and the first to tell Leonora about her mother, who'd been dismissed by evil Olivia as a whore.

Tom is, to put it mildly, quite the piece of work. The problem is that I think he's meant to come across as a nice guy who stumbles upon a fraught situation and feels a responsibility to help his old friend's wife. Instead, I'm afraid he came across as a Nice Guy™. His reaction to Leonora's mother (also called Leonora) when she's basically screaming for help is classic. Instead of actually helping, even though he knows the guy who's clearly threatening her must have something on her, and is obviously coercing her into something, the horrible waste of space just mopes about how treacherous she is and how she had the chance to be with a nice guy like him but instead she's chosen to become involved with this awful man. Argh!! I just could NOT forgive that for the rest of the book, and hoped he'd die. He's also incredibly STUPID. If you've read this, I'm talking, for instance, about Cheriton's letter. Oh, for fuck's sake! He fucking knows Olivia is evil, and still hands her the letter! And then acts all surprised at her actions! And Leonora I wanted to shake and slap, as well. Just actually speak, woman, instead of playing games, hoping that someone will follow all your clues, reach all the right conclusions and do what you want them to do. If you've read this, I'm talking about her stunt with the telescope. Gah!

Guess you can tell the characters annoyed me? They annoyed me so much that what could have been quite a satisfying mystery, with lots of twists and turns, and big final revelations, didn't get much of a reaction. Plus, I could pretty much see most of the twists coming.

I also had issues with the way the story was told, supposedly as Leonora speaking to her daughter, and then Tom Franklin speaking to Leonora. It was a device that often felt unbelievable, as several times the narrator would tell the person listening details that I found very difficult to believe they would tell (mainly when speaking of issues with sexual content). Would Franklin really have told Leonora, whom he'd never meant before, exactly how a certain woman´s breast felt like when he cupped it? Really? Seriously!

So, not a huge success, I'm afraid. Just not my cup of tea. On the other hand, I reckon my mother would love it, so I've sent it on to her!



Angels of Darkness anthology

>> Thursday, May 09, 2013

TITLE: Angels of Darkness
AUTHORS: Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews, Sharon Shinn & Meljean Brook

PAGES: 406

TYPE: Paranormal romance, fantasy romance, urban fantasy
SERIES: All are part of different series, see review for details

Tales of alpha angels...from four alpha authors.

They soar through the night, unearthly creatures of legends and lore. Four masters of urban fantasy and paranormal romance explore the rapture of the heavens above, and the darkness below in four all-new stories of angels and guardians, and good and evil.

I'm not a big anthology fan, and often end up reading just the one story in them. This one, however, had 3 authors I love in it.

Angel's Wolf by Nalini Singh

In the spellbinding universe of the Guild Hunters, a vampire becomes obsessed with the seductive angel who rules the Louisiana territory. But in her court, all is not what it appears to be.
Singh is one of the authors I love, but mainly for her Psy/Changeling books. This short story is part of her Guild Hunters series, which I stopped reading after the first two. It's a good series, but a bit too Urban Fantasy for me.

Angel's Wolf, however, is very much romance. The plot is a bit of a whodunnit, rather than revolving around angel politics and turf wars, and the brutality and violence are toned down. Noah is an vampire who's still mentally recovering from a horrendous attack. He's sent by the archangel Raphael to help out Nimra, the angel who holds part of Raphael's territory. Someone's tried to murder Nimra, and Noah is to do some discreet digging.

I've got somewhat mixed feelings about this one. On one hand, it's a sweet romance, the mystery plot is interesting and the world-building is spare but well-integrated. On the other, Nimra is a bit too... nice. It feels weird, considering how successful Singh was in earlier books in making Raphael convicing as a creature who's thousands of years old and immensely powerful. You could describe Nimra in just that way, and yet she comes across as a perfectly human and nice girl. I did like that Noah doesn't feel any need to assert dominance over her, just to hold his own, but I can't but feel she wasn't allowed to be too scary because she's a female angel, and that wouldn't have been acceptable.


Alphas: Origins by Ilona Andrews

A woman is kidnapped into a world divided by a superhuman civil war. As the captive of an irresistibly dangerous male, she has two choices: submit and become a pawn, or take hold of her own destiny.
I tried to read this one, but my main reaction was 'blergh!'. I've read Andrews before (Magic Bites) and my reaction was similar. I could see how clever the book was and how technically well done, but it sort of turned my stomach and didn't interest me. Considering that, I stopped after about 20 pages.

MY GRADE: It was a DNF.

Nocturne by Sharon Shinn

Accepting a position in a secluded and whispered-about mansion, a woman soon discovers the source of its mystery: the blind, tormented angel who lives there, and whose secrets could now destroy them both.
I adore Shinn's Samaria series, and this short story, while not up to the level of the full-length books, was good.

Moriah is a human woman who's taken refuge at a secluded and isolated school for young offenders. We understand from the beginning that she has some reason to avoid angels, but when she realises that the 'ghost' in one of the nearby service building is a blind angel, she can't resist approaching him.

This is a story with no real external plot, just about Moriah basically pushing and prodding the angel, Corban, into not just giving up on life, and realising there's still a lot he can do. They fall in love, too, but I found that aspect a lot less compelling than the story of Corban moving beyond self-pity, and his crisis of faith because of the circumstances that blinded him, and of Moriah realising she, too, can come back to real life.


Ascension by Meljean Brook

When vampires disappear from a community he's protecting, a world-weary Guardian doesn't know what evil he's hunting, but he'd rather hunt alone than accept help from his ex-lover and fellow Guardian, Radha. But Radha refuses to leave him, because she's determined not just to help him save the community...but to save him.
I've been doing a reread of the entire Guardians series before Michael's book, but this is one I managed to miss, so it was actually a first-time read. Reading it so soon after the other books, I had them very present in my mind: Radha, the Guardian who dyes her skin blue and Marc, the loner who takes care of the US Midwest.

Of course, there's much more to them than we'd previously seen. It turns out that not long after becoming a Guardian, Marc became friends with Radha, and after a while, they became lovers. He, however, had his heart set on becoming this celibate warrior, and that didn't end well. For over a century they have avoided each other (in fact, Marc has avoided all the other Guardians for some time).

And then, during the events in Demon Marked, Radha realises Marc is not just a loner, he's lonely. As this story starts, she shows up in his area, purportedly to help him investigate who's been killing vampires in a small town, but really to check on him.

This story worked for me on every level. Often when characters have been apart for such a long time I get a sort of bitter feeling, a sense of what a waste it was that they didn't sort things out earlier. But with Radha and Marc, that wasn't the case. It didn't feel like a misunderstanding that could have just been sorted by a nice chat, it was more a matter of Marc having to do a bit of growing up and changing of his own, before they were right for each other. As a romance, it's very satisfying.

And then there's the mystery of what's happening to the vampires, which is suprisingly surprising. I thought as I was reading it that it wasn't meant to be anything special, just a little McGuffin-type thing to have Marc and Radha do while they fell in love. It wasn't, it was interesting and fun in its own right, and the resolution was very, very cool.

I also loved the tlimpses of what it was like when there were so many more Guardians, and how it wasn't all lovey-dovey all the time. Just imagine, there was such a thing as falling in with a bad Guardian crowd!

MY GRADE: A strong B+.

A strong enough anthology. Rather than a simple average across grades, I think it's more a B overall.


Something Like Normal, by Trish Doller

>> Tuesday, May 07, 2013

TITLE: Something Like Normal
AUTHOR: Trish Doller

PAGES: 225
PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: New Adult romance

When Travis returns home from a stint in Afghanistan, his parents are splitting up, his brother’s stolen his girlfriend and his car, and he’s haunted by nightmares of his best friend’s death. It’s not until Travis runs into Harper, a girl he’s had a rocky relationship with since middle school, that life actually starts looking up. And as he and Harper see more of each other, he begins to pick his way through the minefield of family problems and post-traumatic stress to the possibility of a life that might resemble normal again. Travis’s dry sense of humor, and incredible sense of honor, make him an irresistible and eminently lovable hero.

This is one of the New Adult books everyone seems to like, so I had high hopes for it. It's entirely narrated from the point of view of Travis, a 19-year-old soldier who's serving in Afghanistan. As the book starts, he's on leave and staying at his parents' house, and almost wishing he was back in Afghanistan. His father is a complete prick, his mother excuses him, and his ex-girlfriend is now his brother's girlfriend (which doesn't keep her from climbing into Travis' bed at every opportunity). Not to mention the fact that, after some very traumatic experiences in the last year, he's finding it impossible to just slot back into his old life, as everyone expects him to just do.

I suspect the only reason I didn’t absolutely love this was that I approached this as a romance novel. There is a romance, and the book does focus on it, so it’s not that I didn’t get a romance novel. It’s that the romance I got did not appeal to me at all.

The romance has Travis reconnecting with Harper, a girl whom his thoughtless actions as an arsehole 14-year-old harmed quite terribly. He pretty much can't stand to be with anyone else, but being with Harper calms something in him, and before long, they're involved. I could see what he saw in her, but I just couldn't understand why she'd want anything to do with him.

For starters, there's the infidelity, which is a bit of a hot button for me. As I mentioned earlier, Travis' ex, Paige, keeps sneaking into his bed and he doesn't throw her out. Some of these episodes happen when he's already pursuing Harper. It felt very sordid. Travis just gives in whenever Paige decides she wants to have sex with him. There’s no thought there, although he feels afterwards that he shouldn’t have done it. It’s an “it didn’t mean anything” kind of deal, and when he tells Harper about it, she forgives him pretty easily, with no explanation at all, not even a need for him to explain why he’d done it, nothing.

She really does forgive MUCH too much. The infidelity is bad enough, but the history between them is horrendous. They kissed when they were 14, and he embellished the story a bit when he told his friends (said he felt her up, that sort of thing). Fine, he was 14. But then the story got exaggerated more and more (it’s implied Paige was behind it, so clearly, she was this vicious slag even at 14), and people are soon saying Harper fucked everyone in the party, and she gets this really awful reputation, and Travis says nothing. Yes, he’s 14, but this does have a severe effect on Harper. I mean, they’re 19 in this book, and Harper says she still gets grabbed by random guys because of it, and has never had a boyfriend. She needed to make Travis suffer before she even looked at him. It really annoyed me that the message seems to be that because he’s a soldier, then he’s automatically forgiven all this.

There were other things that bothered me. Women Travis’ age are either Harper or all sluts. Nice sluts, like Amber or Lacey (Harper’s friends) or evil sluts, like Paige, but sluts, all the same. Argh!

I did like some things about the book, though. As a story of a young man coming back from war, mourning a friend and feeling completely out of place in his old life, it’s really good. Without any psychobabble, Doller shows how his experiences of war have shaped Travis and the difficulties in having changed so much when those left behind haven't. The family drama was also good. Just not the romance. I think if the focus had been on Travis, and not so much on his relationship with Harper, this would have worked much better for me.



The Next Always, by Nora Roberts

>> Sunday, May 05, 2013

TITLE: The Next Always
AUTHOR: Nora Roberts

PAGES: 352
PUBLISHER: Berkley trade

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Starts the Inn BoonsBoro trilogy

The historic hotel in BoonsBoro, Maryland, has endured war and peace, changing hands, even rumored hauntings. Now it's getting a major facelift from the Montgomery brothers and their eccentric mother. As the architect of the family, Beckett's social life consists mostly of talking shop over pizza and beer. But there's another project he's got his eye on: the girl he's been waiting to kiss since he was fifteen...

Roberts' latest trilogy, called Inn BoonsBoro, is centred around 3 brothers who are refurbishing a run-down former inn and turning into a literary-themed luxury B&B. This first entry focuses on Beckett Montgomery, the easygoing, cheerful brother, and Clare, the owner of the town's independent bookstore. Beckett has always had a big crush on Clare, ever since they were teens. Unfortunately for him, Clare fell in love young and married her high-school boyfriend. They moved away when he joined the military, but a few years (and three kids) later, Clare was widowed and decided to return home. Beckett has been cautiously circling her ever since then, waiting for the right time to do something about it.

This is a series that has received very lukewarm reviews, with several people whose opinions I respect even characterising it as plotless 'house porn'. Understandably, then, I wasn't particularly excited to read it. In the end, I picked it up mainly motivated by the same type of inertia that keeps me reading JAK's books.

And at first, I thought it was exactly what I was expecting. There was A LOT of detail on the inn's renovation, and though it did sound gorgeous, it got old very quickly. All the inn stuff completely overshadowed the romance, too. Not that the romance was, at first, much to call home about. It was a boring one, as it felt like there was no tension at all, no conflict or obstacles.

And then, sneakily, the romance started to grow on me. Beckett and Clare became fun, and Clare, especially, started to behave in ways I wasn't expecting. She felt a bit wet at the beginning, and I thought she was going to be all reluctant about getting involved with someone else, because she didn't want to risk being hurt again / betray her dead husband / introduce her kids to someone new, just in case (take your pick. I've read all sorts of combinations of these in romance novels with widowed heroines). She wasn't. While she clearly loved her late husband deeply, and she was a great mother and devoted to the boys, she didn't have any such hangups, and went for what she wanted. It was refreshing. I really liked her and Beckett together.

Their relationship is not just about the romance, but about Beckett and Clare's three little ones. I'll be honest: Clare’s life would be hell on earth for me. I read about the little day-to-day details; getting three rambunctious boys ready for school every single morning, knowing that dates might well be cut short if anything happens to any of the children, etc., etc., and shivered. But she clearly loves it, and so does Beckett, so reading about him carving a place in this routine, creating a relationship with the kids as well as with Clare, was lovely. It was also very funny and sweet. It's weird; I could go all awww and melt a little inside at things like the scene where Beckett and the boys have a Men’s Night, even while knowing it's not a life that would suit me.

I've said it before about NR's trilogies, but to me, they feel like a long book where the focus shifts from one couple to the other in each third. Clare and Beckett are clearly the main characters here, but their relationships with others (including the protagonists of the two upcoming books) are big parts of the story. I liked the relationship between the 3 female friends (Clare, Avery, who runs the pizza place across the street, and Hope, who moves to town to take over the running of the Inn). Roberts does female friendship well. They are supportive and good for each other, but not some sort of idealised perfection. And the Mongomery brothers feel like real brothers, although I did think it was interesting that there is no element of order of birth in the brothers’ relationship. In fact, I’m not sure which of the 3 is the oldest. I find that refreshing. Authors too often rely on this as a sort of shorthand -he’s like this because he’s the oldest, etc., when that’s not always necessarily the case (as my younger sister well knows!).

Another thing that Roberts' trilogies have in common is that there is always some kind of overarching storyline. Here it's partly the inn's renovation (which I admit is over-the-top detailed, but as I wasn't listening to the audiobook, it was easy enough to skim), but also the existence of a ghost who lives in it and who wants something. It's not the most exciting storyline ever (the ghost's pretty harmless, and there's no real tension -they’ve all accepted that there’s a ghost), but I'm interested in finding out more.

So, all in all, a surprisingly satisfying book, very much a comfort read.



A couple of DNFs

>> Friday, May 03, 2013

TITLE: The Silent Touch of Shadows
AUTHOR: Christina Courtenay

The plot of this one made me think of the wonderful Mariana, by Susanna Kearsley, so I picked it up even though I'd never heard of the author before. The heroine, Melissa, is invited to visit her estranged aunt at the ancestral family home. As soon as she arrives, she begins to have visions about a mysterious knight, for whom she feels a strange attraction. Then she meets a young vet in town, and faints at his feet, because he's so similar to her dream man. And it turns out he's been dreaming about a woman with an eerie similarity to Melissa, as well.

I liked the idea of it, but I couldn't stand listening to it. Mainly, I found both Melissa and Sibell (her 15th century ancestress, whose story we also get) exasperating. They were both very limp and annoying, and the audio didn't help. Their internal thoughts often sounded a bit hysterical. Part of that might have been the reader (a couple of times I tried saying some of the dialogue in my mind in another tone to see if it would sound any more logical, and it did), but there were some definite issues with the characters. And it wasn't just Melissa and Sibell, several other characters behaved in unbelievable, cartoonish ways, like Melissa's aunt and husband.

I was really struggling, even with the audiobook, so I gave up.


AUDIOBOOK NOTE: As I mentioned, not great. It was this version, narrated by Jilly Bond.

TITLE: For The Love of a Soldier
AUTHOR: Victoria Morgan

Lady Alexandra Langdon, a well-born but impoverished young woman, desperately needs money. To get it, she decides to dress up as a man and gamble. But things don't work as planned, when notorious war hero Garrett Sinclair, the Earl of Kendall joins the table and wins all of Alex's money. Kendall is not one to ruin a young man, though, and seeing Alex blanch, he returns her money. Which is why, when she later accidentally overhears two men plotting to kill him, she feels obliged to warn him.

I just didn't connect with the writing, and the lack of logic in Kendall's actions annoyed me. Instead of being grateful to Alex, he's suspicious and accusatory. Even after realising he is a respectable she, that she has got injured basically saving his life, and that she's in a very vulnerable economic situation, he's all smarmy innuendo and aggressively tries to get her to bed even though she has said she does not want it. I did not like this man, and the writing didn't inspire me to spend any more time with him.



April 2013 reads

>> Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Some excellent books, including amongst the ones I’m still reading.

1 - The Beekeper's Apprentice, by Laurie R King: A-
review coming soon

Audiobook. Starts a series starring Sherlock Holmes after his retirement, when he acquires a partner, Mary Russell. Mary is a wonderful narrator, reminded me a bit of Harriet Vane, from the Wimsey series.

2 - Demon Marked, by Meljean Brook: A-
original review here

Last full-length book before Michael’s! It does an excellent job of setting up the finale of the series, but the romance is also fantastic. It’s a sort of enemies to lovers deal (well, with the enmity only being felt by the hero), and the slow build of the relationship, the change from distrust to belief, is fantastic.

3 - Angels of Darkness, by Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews, Sharon Shinn and Meljean Brook: B
review coming soon

I’m not a big anthology fan and would normally have just read the Meljean Brook story (really good, BTW), but I like Shinn and Nalini Singh, so I read theirs as well. They’re not their best, but good enough. I tried Ilona Andrews’, but it’s not really my thing.

4 - The Last Boyfriend, by Nora Roberts: B-
review coming soon

2nd in this series, centred round the redevelopment of a B&B. The hero is the organised, dependable brother, the heroine is the owner of the pizza place across the road. Nice, but I found it hard to get excited about it, especially the heroine, for some reason.

5 - Jamrach's Menagerie, by Carol Birch: B-
review coming soon

Part Oliver Twist, part Moby Dick, part Alive. It's one of those where I see the good things about it, and I even enjoyed bits, but it was really not my cup of tea. I just didn't care what happened for most of the book.

6 - Take What You Want, by Jeanette Grey: B-
review coming soon

New Adult. Heroine wants a one-night-stand and picks up a guy who happens to be in her class, but whom she doesn't recognise. Turns out he's had a crush on her for ages. I liked it; it was sweet, but the conflict felt a bit contrived and like it should be really easily fixed.

7 - Rush Me, by Allison Parr: B-
review coming soon

Another New Adult. Intellectual, snobby heroine becomes involved with sports star. It had its moments, and I did enjoy much of it, but I can't say I believe in the relationship completely.

8 - Too Hot To Touch, by Louisa Edwards: C
review coming soon

Fun plot (characters are competing in a sort of cooking contest), and even good family drama, but the romance was a bust. Nothing offensive, or anything, I just didn't see the connection at all and the first half seemed to be all sex, which is boring when I don’t care about the characters.

9 - The Silent Touch of Shadows, by Christina Courtenay: DNF
review coming soon

Audiobook. Picked it up because the plot reminded me of Susanna Kearsley's Mariana, but it didn't work at all. I found the main character exasperating.

10 - The Darkest Day, by Britt Bury: DNF
review coming soon

Paranormal romance, the main characters' families have been at war forever, he arrives to kill her but discovers she's super-special and drags her to his keep instead. A bit too much silliness, and the heroine annoyed me with her TSTL behaviour.

11 - Beauty Dates The Beast, by Jessica Sims: DNF
review coming soon

The heroine is a regular human who works for a dating agency for supernaturals, and attracts the attention of a sexy cougar-shifter. It just wasn’t my thing. I didn’t click with the voice, and the characters annoyed me. I read almost half of this, but it took me over a week, and I couldn’t be bothered to continue.

12 - Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson: still reading
review coming soon

Audiobook. I’m almost done with this, and if I suspect that if I’d finished it, it would be my top book of the month. We follow Ursula Todd’s lives, as when she dies, she starts again, and something in her tries to avoid her previous fate. Mindblowing. I’m about ¾ done and so far it’s amazing.

13 - Dream Eyes, by Jayne Ann Krentz: still reading
review coming soon

Audiobook. Paranormal weapons and research, yadda yadda. Very ho-hum so far.

14 - Whiskey Beach, by Nora Roberts: still reading
review coming soon

This one I’ve only started. The hero has had a nightmare being the main suspect in the murder of his soon-to-be ex wife, and has come to the family pile to lick his wounds. The heroine is this yoga instructor / masseuse / general all-around nurturer who, so far, keeps butting into his life trying to help him heal. We’ll see.


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