An Unsuitable Husband, by Ros Clarke

>> Friday, May 16, 2014

TITLE: An Unsuitable Husband
AUTHOR: Ros Clarke

PAGES: 157
PUBLISHER: Entangled

SETTING: Contemporary England
TYPE: Romance

Theresa Chartley has no time for marriage, and no room for disappointment--especially with French soccer player Emile Renaud. Sure, he’s gorgeous, but he’s wrong for a career woman like Theresa. If only her mother would stop pressuring her to get married and let her live her own life. Finding a very unsuitable husband to shock her parents into silence and put an end to the marriage campaign is the only answer. Emile will do just fine.

Theresa’s outrageous proposal is the answer to Emile’s problem. They’re complete opposites living in different worlds, but a fake marriage will let him ditch his clingy ex once and for all. Then he’ll be free of commitment and free to live his life the way he wants to.

A contract. Twelve months. And they walk away scot-free. But a year of marriage tests them both in unimaginable ways. Maybe Emile isn’t unsuitable after all, but how can Theresa let herself love him when she signed a contract to let him go?

The marriage of convenience plot is one I particularly like in historicals and I'm always on the lookout for a good contemporary one, where the setup actually makes sense. The description of this one didn't sound particularly promising, but since it had football in it (the soccer kind, rather than American football), I decided to give it a shot.

Theresa Chartley is out clubbing and starts dancing with a really sexy guy. The dancing heats up, and they end up at his. Theresa is really not into sports or celebrities at all, so she only realises her one-night-stand partner is famous French footballer Emile Renaud the next morning, when he actually has to tell her who he is (and what he is when that happens, is very amused).

Turns out both are in a situation where they need to get married. Theresa's mother is driving her crazy trying to set her up with elegible (read: boring) men, and what better way to get her off Theresa's back permanently than actually getting married to someone her mum will be utterly shocked by? As for Emile, after getting involved in a fight with a teammate (one that was not his fault but was partly fueled by his reputation), he has just been informed by his club that his reputation is bringing the club into disrepute and they might not renew his contract at the end of the year. His manager suggests getting engaged would help. One marriage of convenience coming right up!

There were actually things I liked in the first half, which is how far I got. Theresa is competely unapologetic about her sex life, loves her career and has no intention to let her marriage to Emile affect it, and is no pushover. She tells Emile straight out that he doesn't ever get to dictate what she wears, and doesn't go all silly and weak at every opportunity. She's a bit (well, a lot) of a commitmentphobe, and I didn't get the feeling she was going to be portrayed as wrong, wrong, wrong and how dare a woman not want marriage.

The problem was that I did not believe for one second anything about the marriage of convenience setup. The justification was just utter rubbish. Let's start with Theresa. This is supposed to be a strong woman who knows what she wants. Everything else about the book, including her relationship with Emile tells us and shows us so. And yet she can't stand up to her ridiculous mother? She'll go to the extreme of actually getting married to stop the matchmaking (which, as a plan, doesn't even make sense)?

As for Emile's situation, my reaction was along the lines of: hahahahhahahahhahhahahah! I think this might have worked a bit better if he'd had another occupation, something where being a bit of a player and womaniser might actually have an impact on his employers' revenues (although these days, I'm not quite sure what that would be). Sorry, but that just does not happen in football. If you're as great a player as Emile's supposed to be, you have to do a lot worse for the supporters and the club to care in the slightest (and we're talking "doing an antisemitic gesture on the pitch" worse here, not, say, "being caught with prostitutes" worse). At the same time, there were things about his behaviour that would have enraged me as a supporter, but they're completely glossed over and portrayed as fine and unremarkable. Sorry, but if I ever see a Liverpool player out clubbing 'til the wee hours the night before a match, I'll personally march him straight home (and not in a sexy kind of way).

In general, I got the definite feeling that the author doesn't knows much about football, and that was a problem. Emile's supposed to play in the Premier League, in a big club (Woolwich sounds a bit like Arsenal, with their red kits and long rivalry with Spurs). And yet the scenes where he's actually playing and interacting with his teammates feel more like a pub team kicking a ball around in the park on a Sunday morning.

And then... I can tell you exactly where I stopped reading. It was the scene where Theresa takes Emile to meet her parents. Her mum asks how they met, and he says:

"She was dancing", Emile added, "and it was as though she was making love. I watched her and I wanted her." He leaned across to kiss her on the lips, then sat back. "So I took her home and made love to her as though we were still dancing."
And he then adds a couple of paragraphs later (still to her parents) that he wasn't in love with her then, but the next morning "[his] heart caught up with [his] cock".

I get it that the point of the marriage for Theresa is to shock her mother, but seriously. There's outrageous and provocative, and then there's crass, and that was crass.



The Warrior's Apprentice, by Lois McMaster Bujold

>> Wednesday, May 14, 2014

TITLE: The Warrior's Apprentice
AUTHOR: Lois McMaster Bujold

PAGES: 320

SETTING: Futuristic
TYPE: Sci-fi
SERIES: #3 full-length novel in the Vorkosigan series

Between the seemingly impossible tasks of living up to his warrior-father's legend and surmounting his own physical limitations, Miles Vorkosigan faces some truly daunting challenges.

Shortly after his arrival on Beta Colony, Miles unexpectedly finds himself the owner of an obsolete freighter and in more debt than he ever thought possible. Propelled by his manic "forward momentum," the ever-inventive Miles creates a new identity for himself as the commander of his own mercenary fleet to obtain a lucrative cargo; a shipment of weapons destined for a dangerous warzone.

I've mentioned before that many years ago I tried to get into this series. I read Shards of Honor and then, skipping Barrayar, started The Warrior's Apprentice. I can't remember why I didn't finish it. It may have been I was busy and my mind was on something else, it may have been that I needed to have read Barrayar first, it may have been that it just wasn't the right time in my reading life for me to meet Miles. All I can say is that this time around, it was a great success. I adored this book.

We meet Miles again at 17 (we had a glimpse of him as a child at the end of Barrayar). He's managed to get authorisation to go through the rigurous tests to get into the Barrayaran military academy, in spite of his physical limitations. For those who haven't read the prequels, his mother was exposed to toxic gas while carrying him and this affected Miles' bone and muscle growth. He is small and misshapen (he describes himself as looking like a shrimp) and his bones are fragile. Anyway, Miles has whizzed through the theory tests, and all that stands between him and his goal is the physical test, a sort of obstacle course. He fails it. Since he never wanted to use his Prime Minister father's influence to get into the academy, and being able to serve his country has always been his dream, he's dejected.

Feeling depressed and at a loss, Miles agrees to go visit his maternal grandmother in Beta Colony, far away from his home planet. It's meant to be a trouble-free assignment for Sargeant Bothari, Miles' bodyguard, so much so that he allows Miles to convince him to bring his daughter Elena (with whom Miles is completely infatuated). But this is Miles, so the assignment is not trouble-free. It's trouble-plagued from the very start, as Miles ends up acquiring a semi-derelict freighter by intervening in a confrontation as soon as he lands on Beta Colony. Paying for the freighter requires transporting lucrative cargo, and before he knows it, Miles is stuck far away from home and in a bit of a sticky situation. How to get out of it? Well, keep going forward and getting deeper and deeper into trouble, until the only way out is to power through to the other side!

I'm tempted to say Miles absolutely makes this book, but while he's a brilliant character, I liked Shards of Honor and Barrayar just as much. I think it's just Bujold's characters in general that are fantastic. They are so completely and fully human, so real and flawed and brilliant at the same time. Miles is extraordinary, and Bujold managed to make me believe in him completely, so much so that whenever he pulled off something completely outrageous (and there are several instances here), that didn't give me pause. I just went "oh, that's so Miles".

There's so much to love here. There's the poignant events related to Bothari and Elena and the secrets in her past (I was completely shocked at one point, so shocked I had to stop reading for a little while), there's the secondary characters, all of whom are incredibly well-drawn, there's the humour (I laughed out loud many, many times), there's the fully believable worldbuilding, which is all done in shades of grey, with no simplistic side-taking. It's an exhilarating book to read, that's the best way of describing it.

I'm so glad there's so many books ahead of me in this series. Guess that's the silver lining in having waited so long!



The Kraken King Part 4, by Meljean Brook

>> Monday, May 12, 2014

TITLE: The Kraken King Part 4: The Kraken King and the Inevitable Abduction
AUTHOR: Meljean Brook


SETTING: Steampunk version of the 19th century
TYPE: Adventure romance
SERIES: Fourth part of 4th full length book in the Iron Seas series

The Kraken King has declared that Zenobia Fox is under his protection—and with her identity revealed, she needs that protection more than ever. But it comes with a price when Ariq demands that Zenobia reveal her secrets in return.

Ariq wants nothing more than for Zenobia to trust him, and he knows exactly which sensual tricks will breach her defenses. But although she urgently desires the powerful governor, Zenobia isn’t a woman who will be easily won with a few passionate kisses.

When his ambush goes awry, Ariq discovers just how deeply he can hurt her—but the real danger to Zenobia is one that he never expected…

Link to my review of Part 1

Link to my review of Part 2

Link to my review of Part 3

I'm assuming that if you're reading this, you've read the first 3 parts (but not necessarily this part, so no spoilers for that here).

And we finally get to the Red City! Zenobia and Ariq have been circling each other in the last few parts, each keeping their own secrets and suspecting each other's motivations, but they finally started moving towards each other in unison in Part 3. That continues here, and they finally have a conversation where cards start going on the table. And then comes the Inevitable Abduction!

There are really important developments here, both in the external plot and romance departments. Ariq had some ideas about what might be going on, but his assumptions about what secrets Zenobia might be keeping had led him down a path that wasn't quite right. Now things become clearer, and we finally understand what's at stake. All I'll say is that it's terribly exciting and I can't wait to see how things develop.

As for the romance, I'm going to have to be even more cryptic. Things move forward massively, and we get some wonderfully romantic and heartwrenching scenes. This part made me want to scream, but in a good way.

I also loved how the characters continue to develop, and in a way that makes it clear how well they complement each other. It's their worldviews and the ways they think and what they value. They are becoming one of my favourite couples.

My only very slight complaint is that I want to see more of the Red City, but I'm sure that will come later on.


The Sum Of All Kisses, by Julia Quinn

>> Saturday, May 10, 2014

TITLE: The Sum Of All Kisses
AUTHOR: Julia Quinn

PAGES: 389

SETTING: Early 19th century England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 3rd in the Smythe-Smith series

Hugh Prentice has never had patience for dramatic females, and if Lady Sarah Pleinsworth has ever been acquainted with the words shy or retiring, she's long since tossed them out the window. Besides, a reckless duel has left this brilliant mathematician with a ruined leg, and now he could never court a woman like Sarah, much less dream of marrying her.

Sarah has never forgiven Hugh for the duel he fought that nearly destroyed her family. But even if she could find a way to forgive him, it wouldn't matter. She doesn't care that his leg is less than perfect, it's his personality she can't abide. But forced to spend a week in close company they discover that first impressions are not always reliable. And when one kiss leads to two, three, and four, the mathematician may lose count, and the lady may, for the first time, find herself speechless...

The Sum of All Kisses was a pleasant, inoffensive read until the plot got extremely stupid and lost me completely.

This is the third in the Smythe-Smith series, and takes place in the same world as all Quinn's recent historicals. Readers of the series will probably recognise the Smythe-Smiths as the hosts of those infamous musicales in which the musically-challenged female members of the family torture the ton's ears. Those musicales are a recurring joke here, but not particularly significant. What is significant is what has gone on in the first books in the series.

Years earlier, Hugh Prentice drunkenly challenged his friend, Daniel Smythe-Smith to a duel, which went terribly wrong. Hugh's leg was badly injured and Daniel was forced to flee the country when Hugh's vengeful father threatened to kill him. Hugh's father pursued Daniel for years, hiring assassins and all sorts of over-the-top things, until Hugh managed to make him stop (more on how he did so later). Daniel was then able to return to England, and the first two of books in the series cover his and his sister's romances.

As The Sum of All Kisses starts, Daniel and his sister are getting married within a couple of weeks of each other, and Hugh has been invited to be in the party that will be travelling around the country and partying for the entire period. He's not too keen, especially as he still feels guilty about what Daniel had to go through because of him, but that guilt also means that he'll do what the man asks.

Also in the party is Sarah Pleinsworth, one of the Smythe-Smith cousins. Sarah detests Hugh for what he did to Daniel. She also (half-seriously) blames him for her own unmarried status. See, the year after the duel happened was when she and another cousin were supposed to come out, but the family had gone into a sort of mourning, so they had to wait another year. Well, they missed a season when 14 elegible bachelors (14!) got married.

Hugh doesn't like Sarah either. He finds her overly dramatic (and as you might see from the previous paragraph, he does have a point) and she's quite hostile to him. But as the weddings proceed, they're forced to spend time in close proximity, and their feelings start to change.

For the first three quarters or so of the book, the story was cute and I enjoyed it, albeit in a very mild way. Hugh and Sarah spend a lot of time together and Quinn shows their change of feelings in a nice, gradual way. Quinn's voice also works for me very well. It's very distinctive, and I find it quite witty and charming and it makes me smile.

Even during these sections, though, I didn't love the book. Sarah was a little bit blah, and Hugh bit of a cardboard cut-out character, the brave injured hero (his leg is still pretty bad) with a bad childhood. He's also a mathematical genius, but this was the obvious romance-novel thing of making him very good at doing arithmetic in your head. Of course. The sure mark of an author who doesn't understand maths in the least.

Honestly, I was a bit bored by the book. Not enough to put it down, but it took weeks to read. And then it all goes to hell. We get to the point where Hugh and Sarah are in love, they both know the other is in love, and there's absolutely no reason why they wouldn't get married. So how to fill the final 100 pages? Why, with an absolutely STUPID conflict.

So, Sarah discovers how Hugh managed to get his father to stop trying to kill Daniel, and basically freaks out. The next paragraph will be spoilerish. I don't think it's a huge spoiler, as I think people who read the first couple of books would know, but still, SPOILERS BELOW!

Ok then. Hugh knew his father's main interest in him was as a source of an heir, so he threatened to kill himself if anything happened to Daniel. Well, if your father is a cartoon-character, over-the-top, psychopathically insane character, that sounds like a pretty rational, clever way of going about it. It's not fully thought-through (were you not planning on having children ever, Hugh? Because you seemed to think you could marry Sarah without any problems, and as soon as she gave birth to an heir, you'd be worthless to your father). Ok, fine. But Sarah goes into meltdown, and I just did not get what the hell was going on. Then this mild, sweet story turns into some sort of crazy thriller. There's a lot of running around and Hugh's father behaving like a complete nutter in ways that make no sense whatsoever, and Sarah finding out a solution which still made no sense (once you have your first male child there's no threat whatsoever, you moron). But oh, it's all right, because Hugh's father (a complete psychopath, remember) has promised he'll respect the agreeement. Oh, for fuck's sake (I kept saying that every 2 pages or so as I read this section).

In summary, the last 100 pages or so of this book were a putrid mess and pissed me off. They insulted my intelligence. Since the first 300 pages were merely so-and-so, this results in a very low average grade.



The Kraken King Part 3, by Meljean Brook

>> Thursday, May 08, 2014

TITLE: The Kraken King Part 3: The Kraken King and the Fox's Den
AUTHOR: Meljean Brook


SETTING: Steampunk version of the 19th century
TYPE: Adventure romance
SERIES: Third part of 4th full length book in the Iron Seas series

After a harrowing escape, Zenobia, Ariq, and their company take refuge in a gold rush town—but their temporary port is just a respite before traveling to the dangerous smugglers’ dens. Ariq is determined to uncover the men responsible for the threat to Krakentown, even if it means confronting the notorious den lords.

But when he discovers evidence in Zenobia’s letters connecting her to the Horde rebellion, he realizes that the threat is far greater than he had suspected. His loyalties torn, Ariq must distance himself from the fascinating woman he desperately wants to hold closer.

Stunned and hurt by Ariq’s inexplicable coldness, Zenobia prepares to leave the dens and continue her journey to the Red City. But in the smugglers’ dens, danger lurks around every corner, and all of her protection is gone…

Link to my review of Part 1

Link to my review of Part 2

Ok, so I'm assuming that if you're reading this, you've read parts 1 and 2 (but not necessarily this part, so no spoilers for that here).

Part III sees Zenobia and Ariq and their companions arriving at the smugglers' dens, after the boilerworm attack in their camp that injured Cooper, one of Zenobia's bodyguards. While Cooper's leg is being repaired, Ariq continues to seek information about the flyers that have been attacking airships in the area. It's quite clear the smugglers know something. Meanwhile, Zenobia wonders whether she should leave her bodyguards behind and push on to the Red City, to make sure her friend gets there in time to hide her pregnancy.

The plotty stuff and the world-building were fantastic here. I expected something completely different from the smugglers' dens, something more furtive and ramshackle. What we get is a sort of Wild West with different areas dominated by people who are a cross between warlords and the mafia. I found both the visuals and the social aspects fascinating.

One of my favourite moments in this part was Ariq's discussions with one of the smugglers, a young guy who's taken over one of the dens from the previous big boss and is trying to do his best, albeit in a way that Ariq finds very problematic. I found their interactions really touching, and the smuggler was one of those characters you just want to know more about.

But it's not just plot and world-building... oh, no! Part II ended with Ariq making a discovery about Zenobia's identity, and in this section, he bravely attempts to distance himself from her. And oh, the lovely, lovely, angsty longing! Things definitely move forward here, and in a way that really make me want to read Part IV asap! Well, I'm late writing this review, so my wait is almost over. I had visitors all week (thus my late review) and the last has just gone. As soon as I post this, my kindle is coming out!


April 2014 reads

>> Friday, May 02, 2014

A very good month, with several really enjoyable reads.

1 - Asta's Book, by Barbara Vine: A
original review here

This is an old favourite which I found in audiobook format at my library. Barbara Vine is a pseudonym for mystery author Ruth Rendell, who uses that name for her psychological thrillers. This is a bit different from her usual, even under that name. There is quite a lot of psychological insight, but it's not really a thriller. Rather, it's one of my favourite plots: an investigation into secrets of the past.

The present-day protagonist, Anne, is the granddaughter of a Danish woman (the Asta of the title) whose posthumously published diaries have become a sensation. An old acquaintance approaches her because she's making a TV film about a classic turn-of-the-century crime which took place very close to where Asta was living at the time. There are a couple of passing mentions of the family in the diaries, and the woman wonders whether there might be anything else that wasn't published. Anne agrees to look, and that sparks off some fascinating revelations.

It's a wonderful book. The story is told through Anne's investigations, but also through things like crime accounts of the time and, of course, excerpts of the diaries. The latter were amazing. Asta is a brilliantly realised character and her voice was hugely enjoyable. Anne wasn't quite as good a character. She felt quite a bit older than she was supposed to be. Still, that's minor, and I think I enjoyed this even more this time around. It's been long enough that I'd forgotten the details of the final revelations, too, so the mystery element worked just as well as it should.

2 - The Kraken King Parts I, II and III: The Kraken King and the Scribbling Spinster; The Kraken King and the Abominable Worm; and The Kraken King and the Fox's Den, by Meljean Brook: overall grade to be determined at the end, but they're up here on the list for a reason.
review of part 1 here
review of part 2 here
review of part 3 coming soon

The first 3 parts in this 8-part serial. I haven't been particularly tempted by other serials, but I trust Meljean Brook, both to do one properly (i.e. not to just write a book and chop it into bits) and to make the story satisfying to read one installment at a time. So far, this looks like the right decision. I'm really enjoying the story and even liking the format.

3 - Written In Red, by Anne Bishop: B+
review coming soon

Urban fantasy, which I picked up after a couple of people mentioned in one of my monthly wish list posts how excited they were about the sequel. The series is set in a world where humans coexist with the very powerful Others, a mix of shifters, vampires and other paranormal sorts. Our heroine is a seer who has escaped from an institution in which her powers were being exploited and has taken refuge with the Others. Urban fantasy doesn't usually work for me, and I did have some issues with this one, but on the whole, it really, really worked for me and engrossed me completely.

4 - Woman on the Run, by Lisa Marie Rice: B+
original review here

Another reread. This is my absolute favourite by this author, and I reread it regularly. It features an urban, sophisticated heroine who has to go into the Witness Protection programme and is relocated to a remote tiny little rural town. I love the romance (in the same way I love other LMR romances, in spite of myself), but also the way the heroine starts to fit into her new surroundings without it all being made into a big town=bad, small town=good manifesto.

5 - The Quarry, by Iain Banks: B
review coming soon

Read for this month's book club. A man dying of cancer lures a group of old university friends to his crumbling house for a weekend by dangling before them a tape they made years ago, which contains very embarrassing material. We see all this through his 18-year-old son, who's on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum. It's a very melancholy book, and one that most at book club didn't much like, but I did. I liked the narration and thought the characters were really well done.

6 - The Janus Stone, by Elly Griffiths: C
review coming soon

Second in a mystery series set in the Norfolk salt marshes with a forensic archeologist heroine. The case concerns the discovery of the headless skeleton of a child under a doorway. There's also much personal drama, including the fact that the heroine and the (very married) police detective had a one-night-stand in the previous book and she's now pregnant. It was a bit meh.

7 - An Unsuitable Husband, by Ros Clarke: DNF
review coming soon

Marriage of convenience plot in a contemporary. I liked some things about it, but the setup was so completely preposterous and silly that I just couldn't keep reading.

8 - The Sum Of All Kisses, by Julia Quinn: still reading
review coming soon

I haven't read Quinn in ages. This one has two protagonists who start out disliking each other (with good reason) but have to spend a lot of time together.

9 - Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana: still listening
review coming soon

Audiobook, non fiction. It's about the life and times of Simón Bolívar, who's consider the liberator of several countries in the North of South America. There have been a couple of dry-ish spells, but Arana is a good writer, and it's keeping me engaged.

10 - The Lost Night, by Jayne Castle: grade
review coming soon

Latest in Jayne Castle's Harmony paranormal books. Ok so far, nothing special, but then, they haven't been too special lately.


May 2014 wish list

>> Thursday, May 01, 2014

Not many this month. I had only a couple on this until I had a look at the Open Thread for Authors at Dear Author!

Books I'm definitely planning to get

It Happened One Wedding, by Julie James (May 6)

James is an autobuy. I don’t even bother to check what her new book is about any longer.

Otherwise Engaged, by Amanda Quick (May 7)

3rd in the Ladies of Lantern Street, apparently not a paranormal, so I will definitely be reading this!

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

To Charm a Naughty Countess, by Theresa Romain (May 6)

The author describes this as "a Pygmalion story with an virgin hero and a rakish heroine". Sold!

How to Rope a Real Man, by Melissa Cutler (May 6)

The author’s description sounds like fun, and I’ve never seen a Jewish cowboy hero!

Laugh, by Mary Ann Rivers (May 6)

There's nothing really in the summary that would normally make me pick up a book, but I've heard good things about this author and have been meaning to try one of her books.

If I Stay, by Tamara Morgan (May 12)

What attracted me to this one were the hints of Libby’s London Merchant in the description. The heroine is the nanny at the large home of a wealthy family. She’s in love with the son of the family, but it appears the hero is actually the chauffeur.

Mark of Cain, by Kate Sherwood (May 20)

This is m/m romance and the author’s description sounded really interesting. It’s about an Anglican priest whose brother was killed a few years ago, and the man who killed him. The author mentions that it explores the issues of repentance and forgiveness. Sounds pretty heavy, but I'm interested.


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