July 2013 wish list

>> Saturday, June 29, 2013

Quiet month again, but a few interesting ones by authors I haven't tried before.

Books I'm definitely planning to get

Enthralled, by Lora Leigh, Alyssa Day, Meljean Brook, Lucy Monroe (Jul 2)

I’m buying this only because it includes Meljean Brook’s Salvage. I’ve tried all 3 of the other authors before, and my feelings go from ‘meh’ to ‘euwww’ (bet you can guess which one is the ‘euwww’!)

Taking Him Down, by Meg Maguire (Jul 23)

Under her Cara McKenna pseudonym, Maguire wrote one of my favourite books this year, After Hours. As soon as I finished that one, I bought all her trad-published books (and I suspect I’ll move onto her long self-pubbed list as soon as they’re read). What’s this one about? I didn’t even check.

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

Lick, by Kylie Scott (Jul 1)

‘Cause Brie said it was cute, and when I went to check it on goodreads, Jane’s review tempted me further. It’s a waking-up-married-in-Vegas story with a rock star hero, which is not normally my thing, but I’ll give it a shot.

The Officer and the Secret, by Jeanette Murray (Jul 2)

I’m honestly not sure about this one. Just going from the blurb, I like the suggestion that they have become friends at a distance (by letter, online?), but is really Veronica’s big secret that her parents were missionaries? That sounds a bit silly. I think I need a couple of reviews before I buy.

The Story Guy, by Mary Ann Rivers (Jul 8)

It sounds quite different and intriguing. The setup is an online ad (placed by the hero) reading “I will meet you on Wednesdays at noon in Celebration Park. Kissing only.”, and this review really made me want to read it. Plus, the author blogs at Wonk-o-mance, and I really like several of the other bloggers there. I should really try all the authors who blog there, actually!

Betrayed by Trust, by Ana Barrons (Jul 8)

I’ve never heard of this author, but I really like the sound of this one. There’s a hint of political secrets, a hero who betrayed the heroine’s confidence and needs to earn it back (the title is a clue, duh!), and a DC, politics setting.


Gateway, by Sharon Shinn

>> Tuesday, June 25, 2013

TITLE: Gateway
AUTHOR: Sharon Shinn

PAGES: 288
PUBLISHER: Viking Juvenile

SETTING: Alternate reality
TYPE: YA fantasy

As a Chinese adoptee in St. Louis, teenage Daiyu often feels out of place. When an elderly Asian jewelry seller at a street fair shows her a black jade ring and tells her that 'black jade' translates to 'Daiyu', she buys it as a talisman of her heritage. But it's more than that; it's magic. It takes Daiyu through a gateway into a version of St. Louis much like 19th century China. Almost immediately she is recruited as a spy, which means hours of training in manners and niceties and sleight of hand. It also means stealing time to be with handsome Kalen, who is in on the plan. There's only one problem. Once her task is done, she must go back to St. Louis and leave him behind forever...
I was very excited when I discovered there was a Sharon Shinn title out there I hadn't heard of, and one which sounded quite different and had an absolutely gorgeous cover, too.

Our heroine, Daiyu, was adopted from China as a baby and has grown up in St. Louis. She's a serious, well-adjusted, sensible young woman, the kind who'll happily spend her summer doing internships before going off to university. On a little break, she decides to wander round a festival in downtown St. Louis, and she finds herself drawn to a black jade ring at one of the stalls. The stall is ran by an old Chinese woman, who seems very keen for Daiyu to buy it (it's surprisingly cheap), and asks her if she could take something to one of her colleagues, right through the Gateway Arch. And as soon as Daiyu does that... *zoom*, she's in another world.

Daiyu has been transported to an alternate universe, one where North America has been colonised by Han Chinese. It turns out that she's there to undertake a very important mission. There are powerful beings who can jump between worlds (or iterations), and one of them has become the dictator in this one. Two other world-jumpers are there to send him back to his own iterations, but since they're not Han themselves and therefore not part of the upper classes, they can't get near him. Daiyu, with her ancestry, can, and they've orchestrated things so that she can get near enough to him to slap a bracelet on his arm that will teleport him away.

It sounds exciting, but the execution was disappointing. I liked how this alternate version of St. Louis is brought to colourful life by Shinn. As always with her, I could picture it in my mind perfectly. But still, it felt shallow, like she hadn't thought about how the society would work and bothered to create a believable one. It all just stops in the appearance. The annoying thing is that I know very well that Shinn can be amazing at world-building. This just didn't feel like the same author.

And it wasn't just the world-building that felt shallow. Shinn brings up some interesting issues, such as whether Daiyu should just trust these two random people that the man she's after is evil and whoosh him away vigilante-style, or whether she should make up her own mind. This was barely developed. It all worked out in an extremely simplistic way. So did the romance. It was pretty much love at first sight, and I never got why Daiyu and this boy were so madly in love. They both were pretty bland.

The writing felt just as simplistic as the plotting, which was very annoying. You don’t need to do that just because the book is YA!

MY GRADE: A C-. It was quick, painless reading, but ultimately very unsatisfying.


Watchmen, by Alan Moore

>> Sunday, June 23, 2013

TITLE: Watchmen
AUTHOR: Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons (artist)

PAGES: 406

SETTING: Alt. reality US
TYPE: Graphic novel
SERIES: Volume contains all 12 issues

This Hugo Award-winning graphic novel chronicles the fall from grace of a group of super-heroes plagued by all-too-human failings. Along the way, the concept of the super-hero is dissected as the heroes are stalked by an unknown assassin.

One of the most influential graphic novels of all time and a perennial bestseller, WATCHMEN has been studied on college campuses across the nation and is considered a gateway title, leading readers to other graphic novels such as V FOR VENDETTA, BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and THE SANDMAN series.

We try to keep things varied in my book club, and this month we've decided to try a graphic novel. I was really excited about it, especially because Watchmen seems to be one of those novels everyone thinks is amazing. And I loved the idea of a critical analysis and deconstruction of the superhero concept, which is one I've always found problematic.

I'm very sorry to report I really did not enjoy it.

It wasn't you, Watchmen, it was definitely me. Because I find the very idea of superheroes somewhat problematic (it's the vigilantism that puts me off), I tend to avoid most works in the genre. I haven't read any superhero comics and I can't even remember the last superhero film I've watched. It must have been years and years ago. The thing is, it felt like Watchmen was a response to and analysis of that genre, and I felt lost. It seemed to me like you need to have a bit more of a grounding in the whole superhero concept in order to properly appreciate what's so great about this novel. Me, I didn't get it. It left me nonplussed, and even though the book club discussion helped a bit, I still don't know what to make of it.

I couldn't even enjoy the story taken at face-value. The authors didn't make me care about any of the characters, so I wasn't at all invested in their fates. Even after the conclusion, which should definitely have provoked at least some feelings, I was going 'meh'. I felt a bit like Jon, to be honest. Actually, the only bit that made me feel anything was the way rape was used as a cheap plot device, and the conclusion of it, which seemed to justify it. That pissed me off.

I also found the whole thing hard going. I don't have much experience with reading graphic novels / comic strips. Still, I did use to read some in the format as a girl (Asterix, Tintin, Mafalda, a horribly unfunny thing called Condorito) and I was fine with them. This one, I found hard to follow. I think part of it was that I found the images kind of repellent, and didn't particularly want to look at them. Another part of it was a device the authors constantly used of having 2 (even 3 a couple of times) storylines on at the same time. We'd get frames with the art flipping between one storyline and the other, but dialogue from both in every frame. I didn't quite get why that was necessary, and it felt like they were making the reader work very hard just for the hell of it.

The blurb describes this as "a gateway title, leading readers to other graphic novels". It hasn't quite put me off completely, but neither has it spurred me to try anything else.



Carolina Home, by Virginia Kantra

>> Friday, June 21, 2013

TITLE: Carolina Home
AUTHOR: Virginia Kantra

PAGES: 304

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 1st in the Dare Island trilogy

Home to the Fletcher family for generations, Dare Island is a fishing village rocked by changing times--its traditions slipping away like sands of the North Carolina coast. Single dad and fishing boat captain Matt Fletcher deferred his own dreams to support his innkeeper parents and build a future for his sixteen-year-old son. Matt has learned to weather life's storms by steering a steady emotional course...and keeping a commitment-free approach to love.

Newcomer Allison Carter came to Dare Island to escape the emotional demands of her wealthy family. The young teacher aims to build a life here, to make a lasting place for herself. She doesn't want to be another Woman Who Once Dated Matt Fletcher. It's both tempting and dangerous to believe she can be something more.

Then Matt's brother Luke makes a sudden return home, with a child of his own--and a request that will change all their lives. With a child's welfare at stake, Matt must turn to Allison to teach him to let go of the past, open his eyes... and follow his heart.
Allison Carter feels she's finally found the right place for her. Her wealthy family want her to follow the socially acceptable path of marrying an elegible man and spending most of her time on boards and committees. Allison, however, wants something with more meaning. She found her vocation while teaching in rural Mississippi with Teach For America (and organisation I'd never heard of before and had to google -what an excellent idea!), but when it comes to choosing a life, she decides she would prefer somewhere she can be part of the community. Dare Island seems perfect, and she's off to a good start in the school. She's worried about one of her students, though: a 16-year-old who's clearly clever but who refuses to make an effort. A parent-teacher conference is the way to go, she thinks.

Matt Fletcher is the single dad of that 16-year-old. He was very young when Josh was conceived, and had to drop out of university as a result. His wife left both him and their son not long after the birth, and ever since, Matt has lived in Dare Island, renting a small house just behind his parents' inn. With his parents' help he's been able to give Josh a good upbringing, but his love life's been a casualty of the situation. He's no celibate monk, but he limits himself to short affairs with tourists visiting the island. He has no intention of beginning a proper relationship with someone on the island, most especially not someone like Allison, who's got such a bright future and will obviously leave the island before long.

This trilogy was recommended as being a bit like Nora Roberts', and I do see the resemblance. The community and family and the stuff going with them, which will clearly be continued throughout the three books, were really enjoyable. There's Tom and Tess, Matt's parents, who run the inn and are still madly in love with each other. Some (spoilerish) stuff happens there, and I was gripped. There's Matt's brother and sister, both of whom have left the island, and whom we see fleetingly. Meg has an extremely successful and lucrative career in insurance, and Luke is deployed in Afghanistan. There's Matt and Josh's relationship, which was really fun. Most of all, and what I was especially interested in, there's little Taylor, the daughter Luke has only just found out he has. Her mum has just died, and her maternal grandparents are determined to have her back, even though Taylor's mum specifically left a will indicating Luke should be the guardian. There are clues that there are very good reasons why Taylor doesn't want to go back to them. These things aren't resolved here, but it felt perfectly right that they shouldn't, and that the threads will be tied off later on in the trilogy.

I also thought Allison and Matt were very well done as characters. Allison's frustrating relationship with her parents rang true (although she really should have been much firmer with them when they came to visit), and I really wanted to know what had happened with her brother, whom she hadn't seen in ages. Same for Matt's abandonment issues because of the situation with his ex wife. It was understandable that it would have had an effect, but at the same time, I liked that he didn't use it to make judgements about Allison. No "a woman betrayed me once so I now am sure all women are untrustworthy skanks" here. In fact, I especially liked that Matt's wife wasn't demonised. I mean, a woman who left her husband and child and went on to have a career as a high-flying academic? She'd be torn to pieces in a lot of romances. Not here, though. Matt's mother actually thinks quite compassionately about the girl she must have been, and doesn't condemn her.

But... however much Allison and Matt made sense to me as characters, they didn't convince me as a couple. It's something I'm finding quite frequently lately: heavy lusting that I just don't buy. Kantra kept telling me how much they ached for each other and how they couldn't resist the sexual attraction, but I wasn't seeing it. At the end I was all "Whoa! Marriage?", because all I saw was two people who liked each other. The funny thing is, Kantra can do smouldering attraction. Tess and Tom had it, you could practically feel the air crackling in their scenes together. Honestly, I think I would have rather have had them as the main couple.

Still, even not being convinced by the central relationship, I've been drawn into these people's lives enough that I'm planning to keep reading. I'm a bit leery of the plot of the next one, Carolina Girl, as from what I can tell from the blurb, it's the dreaded plot of a woman with a career in the big city losing everything and coming back to her childhood small town home to lick her wounds and falling in love with her old boyfriend, but I want to see what happens with Taylor and Tom and Tess, and Josh and the clever girl in his class.



Simply Perfect, by Mary Balogh

>> Wednesday, June 19, 2013

TITLE: Simply Perfect
AUTHOR: Mary Balogh

PAGES: 464

SETTING: Early 19th century England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 4th in the Simply series

Set against the seductive backdrop of Regency England, New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh’s latest novel sweeps us into the sensual, enthralling world of an elite academy for young ladies. Here, amid music lessons and garden parties, whispered confessions and secret yearnings, one of the school’s teachers—headmistress Claudia Martin—will find her well-ordered world jolted by love when she meets a man who would make the perfect husband…for somebody else.

Tall, dark, and exquisitely sensual, he is the epitome of male perfection. Not that Claudia Martin is looking for a lover. Or a husband. As owner and headmistress of Miss Martin’s School for Girls in Bath, she long ago resigned herself to a life without love. Until Joseph, Marquess of Attingsborough, arrives unannounced and tempts her to toss away a lifetime of propriety for an affair that can only lead to ruin.

Joseph has his own reasons for seeking Claudia out. Instantly, irresistibly attracted to the dedicated teacher, he embarks on a plan of seduction that leaves them both yearning for more. But as heir to a prestigious dukedom, Joseph is expected to carry on his family’s legacy. And Claudia knows she has no place in his world.
The Simply series is centred around Miss Martin's School For Girls, an enlightened establishment where both paying and charity students are educated and prepared for a fulfilling future life. The previous 3 books featured heroines who taught there, but in this last one, it's the founder, Claudia Martin herself who's the heroine.

After painful past experiences, Claudia has no liking for the aristocracy. A title predisposes her not to like the person, so a visit to her friends from previous books (all married to titled men, of course), brings her in contact with Joseph, Marquess of Attingsborough, he needs to earn her liking.

Joseph has reasons to cultivate Claudia's acquaintance, as there's someone in his life for whom Claudia's school could be a godsend. But to his surprise, he finds he likes her company very much, and liking soon develops into a strong attraction. However, it's an attraction that can go nowhere, as his father has decided Joseph needs to get married soon, and has chosen a very elegible bride for him. Joseph has no particular liking for the woman, but he does need to do his duty, so he might as well, and a 35-year-old schoolteacher is a complete no-go in the area.

Oh, so frustrating! There's a lot here that I liked, even loved, but a lot that drove me nuts.

Claudia herself is very high on the likes. She is one prickly woman, and she's allowed to be so pretty much all the way through the book. She can be rude and disapproving, but is always willing to admit when she has been wrong in her snap judgments and apologise.

I also really liked the slow way in which her relationship with Joseph develops. Balogh takes the time to do the groundwork here. We see them like each other first, and their shared interest in Claudia's school provides a really good reason why they'd interact. That liking gradually becomes more and more, and I completely bought the love betweeen them. They are both quite lonely people, in spite of being surrounded by friends, and I could totally see that connection between them that drove the loneliness away.

Unfortunately, Joseph himself was one of the things that made me want to scream. He is a very nice guy, and I liked him very much, but I found him a very frustrating character in how he dealt with his intended bride. The situation is that his father basically presents Joseph with a done deal. Dad's waited long enough, he's afraid his health is failing, and so he's spoken to the father of the young woman in question (Portia Hunt, whom readers of the series might remember as the jilted woman from book 1 in this series), and it's all but arranged. Joseph doesn't know Portia very well, but he has no objections to her. Also, he recognises he does have to marry at some point, and it might as well be now and it might as well be Portia. So he resigns himself to court her.

So far, so good. The problem comes when Joseph does start to get to know Portia. The thing is, he is very clear that he wants a monogamous relationship. That's the sort of man he is, and that part of his character is very well-established in the story. He wants a contented married life with a wife he's fond of, not a cold marriage and a string of mistresses. But it becomes very clear very quickly that he won't get what he would like with Portia. Portia fully expects and even wants a marriage where any sex will be about her doing her duty and they will each lead independent lives. When Joseph tries to kiss her, she makes it clear she thinks kisses unnecessary and silly, and love and affection between husband and wife quite vulgar. She's also a snob and cruel with it. Joseph is well aware before long that a marriage between the two would be miserable for him.

Now, at this point, Joseph hasn't proposed to the Portia. The understanding between their families is still private, and while other people kind of suspect a marriage is in the offing, nothing's been announced and stopping the courtship would not create any real trouble for anyone. Joseph's father wants the marriage, but the pressure is pretty superficial. He can't disinherit Joseph, and although the man's being a dick about this, he and Joseph actually have a pretty loving relationship. Joseph knows very well that saying to his father that this particular intended bride doesn't suit him won't be a massive problem.

So why the FUCK does he propose to Portia? Even ignoring the fact he's falling in love with Claudia, it makes no sense. It's very clearly plot-driven, meant to create conflict, and it makes him look like a weak-willed idiot. There's going with the flow, and there's letting yourself be steamrolled (and by a papier-mache steamroll, too!). I lost so much respect for him then.

There is a HEA ending, of course, but it's very much a deus ex machina kind of thing, where Joseph behaves in a very passive-aggressive way and all depends on what Portia wants. Yes, it's gentlemanly and kind of him to not want to ruin Portia's future, but a) he brought the situation on himself, the absolute tit, and b) by his actions, he's basically saying that he thinks Portia's future is more important than that of the woman he loves (and that of this other person in his life I'm being so cryptic about). So if Portia hadn't behaved in a way that was ridiculously and preposterously out of character, he'd have married her? Balls to that!

So yeah, that kind of ruined a lot of the story. Also, the book suffers from acute seriesitis. Every single character in the previous 10 or so Balogh novels shows up, just to visit. I've read all these books, even liked them, but sorry, I couldn't remember some of these characters (all of whom are referred to sometimes by their given names, sometimes by their titles, just to make it even more confusing). Worse, apart from a couple of exceptions, their roles in this story are mostly pointless and annoying. They were just parading around showing they were happy.

MY GRADE: I actually started out this review with a B- in mind, because even feeling really annoyed by what I've ranted about at length before, Balogh's writing did carry me right along and I mostly enjoyed the experience. But after writing this out, I've kind of soured. It's actually more like a C+.


Borrower of the Night, by Elizabeth Peters

>> Monday, June 17, 2013

TITLE: Borrower of the Night
AUTHOR: Elizabeth Peters

PAGES: 304

SETTING: 1970s Germany
TYPE: Mystery / Thriller
SERIES: Prequel to the Vicky Bliss series

A missing masterwork in wood, the last creation of a master carver who died in the violent tumult of the sixteenth century, may be hidden in a medieval German castle in the town of Rothenburg. The prize has called to art historian Vicky Bliss, drawing her and an arrogant male colleague into the forbidding citadel and its dark secrets. But the treasure hunt soon turns deadly. Here, where the blood of the long-forgotten damned stains ancient stones, Vicky must face two equally perilous possibilities. Either a powerful supernatural evil inhabits this place . . . or someone frighteningly real is willing to kill for what Vicky is determined to find.
The Vicky Bliss series is one of my favourites. It includes one of the most satisfying, exciting romances I've ever read, that between Vicky and art thief John Smythe. However, before meeting in Street of the Five Moons each were introduced in separate books. John is a minor character in The Camelot Caper, and Vicky stars in this one.

As the book starts, Vicky is a history professor in a small Midwestern university. She's in a relationship with a fellow professor, Tony, who keeps pestering her to marry him. Vicky is no fool, though. She's familiar with Tony's type, and she knows full well that no matter how much he promises to respect her opinions and her career, after a couple of years he'll be demanding his dinner on the table every night and for her to sacrifice any career advancement to aid his.

When they run across a clue to the location of a lost masterpiece, the search for it turns into a sort of battle of the sexes between them. Before long, they're in Southern Germany, skulking along the corridors of the castle of the Drachensteins, now turned into a hotel. But they're not the only ones skulking, and very strange things are happening, from walking suits of armour to the castle's heiress' apparent possession by the spirit of one of her ancestresses.

I had a blast reading this. Peters really goes to town with the setting and the plot. The atmosphere is amazing. There are hidden passageways and mysterious bones, secret compartments and the mystery of what actually happened to the lost masterpiece. You'd expect the latter to be simply a McGuffin, but it isn't, it's much too well-developed and fascinating for that. Peters uses it, an altarpiece made by a master carver (Riemenschneider, who I was surprised to learn was a real person), to bring to life the Peasants' Revolt in early 14th century Germany, and we also get to investigate with Vicky the real story of the Count of that time and his Spanish wife, who was burnt as a witch.

But the main delight is Vicky herself, the tall, buxom blonde who wishes she was petite, dark-haired and with a heart-shaped faced, the kind of woman who doesn't look like a Valkyrie, and who doesn't get men constantly talking to her boobs. She's brave and brilliant and sensible, and has got a very attractive self-deprecating sense of humour. She's also wonderfully self-aware, and doesn't let herself get away with any dissembling about her own motives. I don't know if I'd love her as much if I was reading this for the first time, without knowing her already (and having in mind the extremely rounded character she becomes in the series), but I suspect I might.

In addition to a great heroine and a fun plot, Peters populates her book with fantastic secondary characters. There's the heiress to the castle, who happens to fit Vicky's ideal woman definition to a T, a well-known adventurer who's also after the lost masterpiece, a seemingly humourless German doctor, the evil dowager countess, and Schmidt. Schmidt doesn't really shine here. He's even a bit boring, nothing like the jaw-dropping character he becomes later on, but the other characters make up for it in colour and energy.

And finally, I absolutely adored the very subversive ending to the romance. I've already given away that Vicky's HEA is with someone who's not on this book, so I might as well be spoilerish. I still remember reading this some 20 years ago, when I didn't know what was coming, and being very afraid when Vicky is told by one of her suitors that a woman like her needs a man like him, someone who can master her. I'd been reading too many old-school romances, you see, and I thought that was it, that my lovely strong, intelligent heroine was going to turn into one of those weak-minded idiots. When she didn't, I practically stood up and cheered.

MY GRADE: It's a B+ for me, although I expect someone without my prior experiences with the series and ensuing goodwill towards it might like it a little bit less.

AUDIOBOOK NOTES: Like the Amelia Peabody series, this is narrated by Barbara Rosenblat. I didn't love her here as much as usual, mainly because I'm not sure if the voice she did for Vicky was what I expected or imagined. Other than that, though, she narrates with verve and energy, very well-suited to the caper she's reading.


Dangerous in Diamonds, by Madeline Hunter

>> Saturday, June 15, 2013

TITLE: Dangerous in Diamonds
AUTHOR: Madeline Hunter

PAGES: 368

SETTING: Early 19th century England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 4th in the Rarest Blooms series

When the outrageously wealthy Duke of Castleford is bequeathed a small piece of property that houses a modest flower shop, he encounters its owner, the mysterious Daphne Joyes-a budding rose who quickly becomes the object of his seduction.


This is the last book in a quartet, and it's been quite a while since I read book 3. I really liked the first three books, but what I saw in them of this book's hero, the Duke of Castleford, didn't make me want to read about him. In fact, I took against completely. I found him sleazy, and resented what I perceived to be an authorial intention that I was supposed to find his constant whoring manly and sexy and his constant drunkenness simply a symptom of having been hurt in some way.

So yeah, I didn't start this book expecting the best from him. I don't hate-read; I picked it up because I was hoping Hunter would be able to turn this around and make me root for him (and several people had told me she did). She didn't, at least not in the first third, which was as far as I managed to drag myself.

The basic setup is that Castleford inherits a group of properties from a distant relative, a moralistic bore of a man. In a private letter attached to the will, the relative asks him to discreetly ensure that the arrangement with the tenants continue. Smelling something fishy, Castleford decides to visit those properties, and as soon as he gets to the first one, he thinks he understands.

The tenant is none other than Daphne Joyes, the beautiful woman his friends from the first three books have made sure he never met. She has turned the house's gardens into a successful flower business, and this has allowed her to offer refuge to women in all sorts of trouble (such as all three previous heroines). Castleford remembers Daphne was once a governess at his relative's household, so obviously, she must be the man's discarded mistress. And since she was clearly seduced once, he decides he's going to seduce her as well, whether she wants him to or not.

So, as you might imagine, things didn't start well. Right from the start, Castleford behaves like a complete and utter arsehole, and with quite a bit of cruelty. He *knows* Daphne depends on her flower business for her living, and yet he threatens it and keeps her hanging about what he's going to do about it, even when she specifically begs him to just make a decision. And why? Oh, just because he wants to maneouver her into staying in London for a period, so he can seduce her. Fucking waste of space bastard.

And stupid Daphne is one of those heroines who melts whenever the hero touches her, even when he's being completely inappropriate and scary and any sensible woman would feel sexually threatened. This just feels old-fashioned to me these days. I always hated it, and I wish it would go away.

I read about a third of the book and decided I couldn't be bothered with these two. To be clear, it wasn't so much the kinds of characters these were, it was the execution. I can cope with all sorts of assholic behaviour, as long as there's an awareness in the narrative that the behaviour is assholic (I adore Gaffney's To Have And To Hold, for instance, and Castleford is a nice little boy compared to how Sebastian is at the beginning of his book). It was that awareness that was lacking here. There was this 'isn't he hawt!!!' tone underlying the descriptions of Castleford and his behaviour, and it made my brain keep screaming 'no, he fucking isn't'. Much too distracting.



Ice Cold, by Tess Gerritsen

>> Thursday, June 13, 2013

TITLE: Ice Cold (aka The Killing Place in the UK)
AUTHOR: Tess Gerritsen

PAGES: 464
PUBLISHER: Ballantine

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Mystery / Thriller
SERIES: 8th in the Rizzoli / Isles series

A spur-of-the-moment ski trip becomes a bone-chilling nightmare when a wrong turn leaves Boston medical examiner Maura Isles marooned-far from home and help-in the snowbound Wyoming mountains. Seeking shelter from the cold, she and her traveling companions stumble upon Kingdom Come-a remote village of identical houses that seems to have become a ghost town overnight. But the abandoned hamlet has dark secrets to tell, and Maura's party may not be as alone as they think. Days later, word reaches Boston homicide cop Jane Rizzoli that Maura's charred remains have been found at the scene of a car crash. But the shocking news leaves Jane with too many questions, and only one way to get answers. Determined to dig up the truth, she heads for the frozen desolation of Kingdom Come, where gruesome discoveries lie buried, and a ruthless enemy watches and waits.
A conference in Wyoming provides an excellent opportunity for Maura Isles to have some alone time away from her illicit affair with Father Daniel Brophy. Their relationship is fast becoming a source of more pain than happiness, and Maura realises she'll soon have to make some hard decisions.

While at the conference, Maura runs into an old school friend, who invites her to join him and a few friends on an overnight ski trip. Tired of always being responsible and serious, Maura accepts, only to regret her decision mere hours into the trip. Her friend's GPS, intent on getting them to the ski lodge via the shortest route, leads them onto a deserted seasonal road in the middle of a heavy snowstorm (I really felt the characters' pain: a couple of years ago, a GPS called Esmeralda kept trying to make us drive up goat paths in the mountains of Southern Italy. She almost drove us off a cliff a couple of times, the bitch). Trying to turn around and go back, their SUV ends up in a ditch, and the group in danger of freezing and/or starving to death.

Fortunately (?), Maura spots a private road leading to a group of houses. The group find food and shelter there, but it's an eerie, mysterious place. The house they first go into seems to have been abandoned on the spur of the moment. A meal, complete with poured glasses of milk, is frozen of the table, and windows have been left open. The next morning they find a dead dog buried in the snow, with no indication of how it died, and a pool of blood at the bottom of another house's stairs. And it seems someone is watching...

Much as I liked the last two in this series, they were a bit samey. This changes the tone completely. The first half or so, especially, was my favourite, because it felt almost like a horror movie. The isolation, the feeling that they can't seem to leave, because bad things happen when they try... it was brilliant.

Then things just flip, and the book changes into a chase. And then into a medical mystery. Although I liked what Gerritsen did with all of these, I had developed a certain attachment to the group Maura was with, so it felt a bit weird that they were so unceremoniously dumped.

Still, as a mystery, it was pretty damned good. The puzzle is... well... really, really puzzling, and the way it develops is tense and gripping. I had to limit myself to 1 CD a day, otherwise I would have gobbled it up in a few sittings. It did make my daily hour on the treadmill speed by, though! I guessed the how quite early, mainly because the plot put me in mind of PJ Tracy's Dead Run, and I remembered what had happened there, but I didn't quite guess the why or who, and that was quite the surprise. It closed things down very satisfyingly.

On the character development front, the focus is mostly on Maura and Daniel, and it's clear from the start that their relationship is coming to a turning point, to where one of them will have to make a difficult decision. As well they should, their relationship has been unsustainable for a couple of books now. Something does happen, and I thought it was the right thing. There's less happening with Jane, only that she's becoming pretty smug in her perfect married life, and that's making her irritating. There's also a new character who's introduced, whom I became very fond of. I really hope we see more of Rat, even if he comes with those weirdos, as the ending suggests!


AUDIOBOOK NOTES: This one was narrated by Tanya Eby. I don't really have that much to say about it. It was fine. Unobtrusive, I suppose.


Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen

>> Tuesday, June 11, 2013

TITLE: Northanger Abbey
AUTHOR: Jane Austen

PAGES: 240

SETTING: Early 19th century England
TYPE: Fiction

The story's heroine, seventeen year old Catherine Morland, is invited by her neighbours, the Allens, to accompany them to visit Bath for a number of weeks. While, initially, the excitement of experiencing such a place was dampened by her lack of other acquaintances, she is soon introduced to an intriguing young gentleman named Henry Tilney, though her attention was quickly taken upon meeting a young lady named Isabella Thorpe. Isabella tries to make a match between Catherine and her brother John. John Thorpe continually tries to sabotage her relationship with the Tilneys, which leads to many misunderstandings.
This was such a treat. While I reread some of Austen's books quite regularly (mainly Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility), I hadn't reread Northanger Abbey for quite a while. It was time.

Now, I found it very memorable when I read it, and I thought I remembered a lot about it. I didn't really. Somehow, in my mind, the whole book was a gothic parody, and it was all about the heroine, Catherine, being invited to Northanger Abbey and coming up with all sorts of crazy theories about murderous husbands and secret rooms. To my surprise, this was a relatively small part of the plot. While it's an element of it, it's not what the story is about. For starters, they don't get to Northanger Abbey until halfway through the book, and even while there, Catherine's drama-llama conviction that the General (her friends' father) is somehow to blame for his wife's death is soon disabused.

What I actually saw this as being about was Catherine becoming wiser in her judgment of the people she meets. Catherine was actually another surprise. I remembered her as a silly twit, and wondered how whether a whole novel with her as the protagonist could work for me. She turned out to be a much more rounded, interesting character than I expected.

The thing is, Catherine can be a bit of an idiot sometimes, but there's a very firm core to her character, an integrity and resolve to do what she thinks is right. She does get taken in by Isabella, a young woman who immediately becomes her BFF as soon as she arrives in Bath, but that's because of Catherine's naivete and inexperience, not to mention her being kind enough to think everyone is as honest and good as she is. And the important thing for me, is that even while completely captivated by her new friend, Catherine doesn't allow herself to be influenced by Isabella or her horrid brother into doing what she doesn't feel is right. She's quite mulish about it, in fact, when they try to bully her into doing stuff, and in that I could see the seed of what I was sure would become a strong, sensible woman.

I remembered NA as being funny, but I didn't quite remember just how hilarious it was. Austen's observations and characterisation are sharp and quite scathing, and they made me giggle like mad. Some of her characters, like Mrs. Allen and John Thorpe, verge on the caricature, but Austen manages to keep there just on the edge, and they are very recognisable.

The romance was probably my least favourite part of the book, not because it was bad, just because it was uninspiring. I think I would have preferred Catherine to have remained unmarried at the end (she's still 17, anyway). Although she does a lot of growing up during the story, she's still got a lot to do. Still, I liked Henry Tilney, and I thought he wouldn't be a husband who'd stifle her, so I wasn't particularly upset about it, either.

MY GRADE: While it's not perfect, and I like other Austens better, this was great fun to read and I enjoyed it immensely. A B+.

AUDIOBOOK NOTE: There are 7 different unabridged versions of this one at Audible UK, and it took me a while to choose one, because from the samples, they're all quite good. I was very satisfied by the one I went for, narrated by Juliet Stevenson. She's particularly good with Isabella and John Thorpe, who come alive as the fatuous, ridiculous people they are.


Too Hot To Touch, by Louisa Edwards

>> Sunday, June 09, 2013

TITLE: Too Hot To Touch
AUTHOR: Louisa Edwards

PAGES: 368
PUBLISHER: St. Martin's

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 1st in the Rising Star Chef series

When it comes to competitive cooking, Max Lunden is no stranger to winning…though he’s never been great at working with a team. A master chef—and major hunk—he’s traveled the world, picking up new cooking techniques as well as beautiful women. But when the prodigal chef returns home to his family’s Greenwich Village restaurant, he discovers one too many cooks in the kitchen—and she’s every bit as passionate as he is…

Juliet Cavanaugh used to have a crush on Max when she was just a teenager, hanging out at Lunden & Sons Tavern, hoping to catch a glimpse of the owner’s oldest, and hottest, son. Now a chef herself—competing in the biggest culinary contest in the country—Juliet will be cooking side by side with the one man she’s always admired…and desired. But despite their simmering attraction, Juliet is determined to keep her cool—no matter how hot it gets…
I had very mixed feelings about the first Louisa Edwards book I tried, Can't Stand The Heat. I gave it a C, since I despised the unethical, stupid heroine, but I liked pretty much everything else. Hoping to find more of what I loved and that the previous heroine was an exception, I decided to try another one. Too Hot To Touch starts a series based on a cooking competition, which is only loosely related to the trilogy which started with Can't Stand The Heat.

When Juliet Cavanaugh was a teenager, her mother kicked her out of the house. She was rescued by her best friend Danny's family. The Lundens took her in, and she now works at their family restaurant. Unfortunately, the restaurant hasn't been doing well, and Juliet is desperate to help save it. They've come up with a plan to save it, by participating in and winning a big cooking competition (which sounded to me as foolproof an idea as buying a lottery ticket and hoping that'll do it), and key to winning is Max Lunden's participation. Juliet had a massive crush on Max as a teen and isn't ecstatic at the idea of having to work with him, but for the Lundens, she'll do it.

Max left home years earlier, after too many fights with a father who refused to consider any of his ideas for the restaurant. He's spent all that time travelling around the world, immersing himself in different culinary cultures and doing apprenticeship after apprenticeship with chefs who are the best in the world at what they do. As the book starts, Max has just nabbed the most amazing apprenticeship ever, so his mum's request to go back home to help comes at an inopportune time. Max decides to heed her call, but makes it clear he needs to leave for Italy right after he gets the Lunden's team through the first stage of the contest.

*sigh* It's a fun plot, and I loved the idea of the cooking competition (if not so much the execution). There's even good family drama, in Max's fraught relationship with his father. It was the romance which brought this down.

Mainly, I just couldn't feel the connection between Juliet and Max. Right from the beginning, there was much too much emphasis on the sex. The moment Max comes back he goes after Juliet, hard and in what I thought was a pretty smarmy way. And she's powerless to resist, even though she tells herself she should, that he'll just be leaving in a month, all because she once had a crush on him. I can buy that sometimes, if the author really does show me the desperate wanting and attraction. The problem was that I didn't feel the chemistry at all here, so not only did I feel Juliet was a weak idiot, I was uninvolved by all their goings-on and tempted to skim. I just didn't buy that they were so hot for each other, so in effect, it was basically two strangers groping each other and risking their team's fate in the competition for absolutely no good reason. I wanted more of the other stuff, the competition, the family drama, and all I was getting was dull scenes of what felt like completely inappropriate sexual content.

As I mentioned earlier, much as I liked the idea of the contest, I was a bit iffy on the execution. It felt a bit too driven by the need to develop the secondary romance (between two of the judges, which I'm expecting will continue throughout the trilogy), and I didn't buy it for a second. Am I really supposed to believe the judges would not have met at all before the qualifying round, and would basically go from handshakes to judging within minutes? Seeing how perfectionist Claire (half of that 2ndary romance) was, and her position as head judge, I refuse to believe that she would have been so relaxed about letting the other judges (especially Kane, the other half) come up with their own questions without her vetting them first.

So, not really a success, and I think I'm done with Edwards, no matter how wonderful her books sound.



The Keepsake, by Tess Gerritsen

>> Friday, June 07, 2013

TITLE: The Keepsake
AUTHOR: Tess Gerritsen

PAGES: 349
PUBLISHER: Ballantine

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Mystery / Thriller
SERIES: 7th in the Rizzoli / Isles series

For untold years, the perfectly preserved mummy had lain forgotten in the dusty basement of Boston’s Crispin Museum. Dubbed “Madam X,” the recently rediscovered mummy is, to all appearances, an ancient Egyptian artifact. But medical examiner Maura Isles discovers a macabre message hidden within the corpse–horrifying proof that this “centuries-old” relic is instead a modern-day murder victim. When the grisly remains of two other women are found, it becomes clear to Maura and Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli that a maniac is at large. Now Maura and Jane must unravel a murderer’s twisted endgame before the Archaeology Killer adds another chilling artifact to his monstrous collection.
Maura's involvement in the case of 'Madam X'starts out as purely personal interest. A small Boston museum have recently discovered a mysterious mummy among their extensive and disorganised stock, and they have arranged to have it scanned to find out more about it (the attendant publicity will also be very welcome). Maura has been invited out of professional courtesy, as it's an exciting case. And when the scan finds evidence the mummified body might not be as old as initially thought, having her there turns out to be quite practical.

It turns out the mummy is not the only grisly object in the museum's stores, and it quickly becomes clear the killer Maura and her friend, Detective Jane Rizzoli, are after is one sick person, and that he's got some sort of special interest in Dr. Josephine Pulcillo, a young woman who works for the museum.

What first struck me when I started this was that it felt a bit too similar to The Mephisto Club, starting with a young woman on the run from a mysterious monster and unable to ask for help from the police, and the ties to some sort of ancient culture and mystery. But then Gerritsen won me over. The investigation itself, the painstaking following of the crumbs and the clever deductions were fun, and very, very satisfying. And even though it was extremely icky, the details of the case, with its focus on the traditions of body preservation in different cultures, were just fascinating.

The character stuff was a bit of a mixed bag. I really liked seeing more of Jane's partner, Barry Frost, and I hope we get more of him in future books, because he's such a nice guy that I want good things for him. Jane is as clever as ever, but I find her a teeny bit boring now. As for Maura, I really don’t like the direction Gerritsen is taking her personal life. It’s very frustrating, because it’s so blind and stupid, and neither of them, she and her priest lover, are acting well. There’s no suspense, because it’s obvious things won’t turn out well, and I like Maura, so I don’t want her to end up with this hypocrite. It does look like Gerritsen might have realised this is a total dead-end narratively, so I’m hoping the next one moves away from this.



Women's Prize for Fiction 2013

>> Wednesday, June 05, 2013

The winner of the 2013 Women's Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize) will be announced tonight. Turns out I've read 3 out of the 6 books on the shortlist, and not because they were on the list, but simply because they caught my interest independently.

TITLE: Bring Up The Bodies
AUTHOR: Hilary Mantel

Bring Up The Bodies continues the story of Thomas Cromwell, which started in Wolf Hall. While Wolf Hall is the story of his ascent into power and how he became Henry VIII's go-to man, Bring Up The Bodies has him in full control. Henry's much fought-for marriage to Anne Boleyn has gone sour, and as usual, it's Cromwell he turns to to give him what he wants (in this case, to be able to marry the woman he's decided will be an excellent substitute, Jane Seymour).

As suggested above, more than a sequel, this is a continuation of Wolf Hall. I've reread my long review of the latter, and every single thing one of the elements I was so in love with there applies to this one as well. It's a well-worn story, but in the telling it from Cromwell's point of view, Mantel makes it fresh again.

The 3rd person POV is done in such a way that it makes us see the action as if we were in Cromwell's mind, and the present-tense forcefully makes the point that, while we know what happens next, Cromwell doesn't. It has lost the shock of the new that it had in Wolf Hall, but on the other hand, Mantel's handling of it has become even more deft here.

In short, I loved it just as much as I hoped, and my expectations for book 3 are now ridiculously high.


TITLE: Life After Life
AUTHOR:Kate Atkinson

Ursula Todd is born in 1910 with her cord round her throat. The doctor is stuck in the snow and can't make it in time, so Ursula dies. Then Ursula Todd is born in 1910 with her cord round her throat, but the doctor makes it in time and manages to cut the cord. She grows up healthy, and then drowns while bathing in the sea in Cornwall with her older sister. And then Ursula Todd is born in 1910... and you can guess what follows. Life After Life follows Ursula as she explores the many different paths her life could take.

Life After Life just blew my mind, it was so good. I knew the premise before I started, and half feared it would become tedious and I, as the reader, would feel as if I myself was caught in groundhog day. Through sheer great writing and plotting, Atkinson avoided this. Retracing the territory already covered didn't feel repetitive, it felt like we were exploring a different facet, and it it was incredibly rewarding to spot the echoing, the little details that show how Ursula is avoiding the pitfalls she fell into in other lives. It becomes clear that small decisions can have huge consequences, and that which the right ones are isn't obvious.

I should say as well that I cared about Ursula. In more careless, less talented hands, this could have felt like playing a video game. Oh, so your character has just died a horrible death? Never mind you've got a few more lives. It wasn't like that at all here. Ursula's fate mattered.

There are some very harrowing sections, but it's a surprisingly funny book. It's low key, make-you-smile humour, rather than laugh-out-loud humour, but I loved it. "Darkness fell", the formula Atkinson uses to indicate Urusula's death, sometimes changes to things like "Darkness, and so on", when fate is proving particularly obdurate. I giggled, and I think that's what was intended.

It's a book that makes you think. I spent quite some time after I finished it contemplating its meaning. Why is Ursula living again and again? It's not always her actions that change fate, often it's others. And what is it to get it right, for once? What does success look like? I think the important thing here is to ask the question at all. In fact, the actual ending suggests that the obvious answer might not be the right one. Then again, it might be. Ambiguous endings often annoy me, but this was perfect.

MY GRADE: Another A.

PS: Working in the area of health and safety has warped my mind. As I read, I couldn't help thinking that in addition to being really great fiction, this would probably work beautifully as a training manual for people learning to do risk assessments. As I read, I kept looking for ways in which Ursula could be killed, constantly evaluating every single element and setting Atkinson introduced as a potential risk to her. Constant tension!

TITLE: Where D'You Go Bernadette?
AUTHOR:Maria Semple

Bernadette Fox lives in Seattle, with a workaholic husband who spends all his time at Microsoft and a teenage daughter, Bee, who attends an expensive private school. Bernadette is mildly agoraphobic and quite antisocial.

Apart from Bee, she only likes Manjula, the personal assistant in India to whom she's outsourced most of her life. She hates Seattle, and she especially hates the parents of Bee's schoolmates, who despise her right back.

Throughout most of the book, Bernadette's story is told through all kinds of documents, from emails to bills, from a live-blog to doctors' reports. We only really understand why later, and when we do, what was hilarious, sharp satire becomes gripping and heart-felt, in addition to entertaining.

I read this one literally in one sitting, and it's been ages since I've done that. It's a great story, and I especially appreciated that at its core is a female eccentric genius, and that rather than demonise her, Semple makes us understand her.

MY GRADE: This one's an A-.

If the other 3 are anything like this, then this is an incredibly strong line-up. I would be happy for any of these to win, although happiest if it was Bring Up The Bodies or Life After Life. Those two were particularly brilliant.


Good For You, by Tammara Webber

>> Monday, June 03, 2013

TITLE: Good For You
AUTHOR: Tammara Webber

PAGES: 294
PUBLISHER: Self-published

SETTING: Contemporary
TYPE: NA Romance
SERIES: 3rd in a series

Reid Alexander's celebrity life is an open book. Every relationship, every error in judgment is analyzed by strangers. His latest mistake totaled his car, destroyed a house and landed him in the hospital. As his PR team works overtime to salvage his image, one thing is clear--this is one predicament he won't escape without paying for it.

Dori Cantrell is a genuine humanitarian--the outward opposite of everything Reid represents. When his DUI plea bargain lands him under her community service supervision, she proves unimpressed with his status and indifferent to his proximity, and he soon wants nothing more than to knock her off of her pedestal and prove she's human.

Counting the days until his month of service ends, Dori struggles to ignore Reid's wicked pull while challenging him to recognize his own wasted potential. But Dori has secrets of her own, safely locked away until one night turns her entire world upside down. Suddenly their only hope for connection and redemption hinges on one choice: whether or not to have faith in each other.
As part of my New Year's resolution to read stuff out of order if I feel like it, I started with the third book in this trilogy. The plot of the first two didn't appeal to me as much, plus Jane from Dear Author said this one was the best of the three, so I went for it. It was a good call. The events of previous books were relevant here, but the book stood alone well, as Webber caught the reader up relatively unobtrusively. And... I loved the book!

Reid Alexander is an A-list movie start and a grade-A arsehole (both qualities he apparently demonstrated abundantly in the first two books in the series). He's entitled, spoilt, and doesn't care about anything but himself. As the book starts, he's been sentenced to doing community service after he crashed into a house while driving drunk. He doesn't like this one bit.

Reid's hours will be spent helping build a house with an organisation called Habitat, and his supervisor there is Dori Cantrell, a longtime, experienced volunteer. Dori is as happy to have to work with Reid as Reid is to be there. She has no interest in a shallow, selfish film star, even if he really is spectacularly good looking, and even if he surprises her by actually being willing to put in some hard work.

As for Reid, he's initially just as uninterested in having anything to do with a judgmental do-gooder who hides her body in huge, baggy T-shirts, but as the two spend some time together, both start seeing beyond their first impressions.

I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed this. Reid and Dori initially seemed like two character types, the selfish jerk with a sense of entitlement as big as his head and the innocent yet judgmental goody-goody. I soon got over those first impressions.

Dori, you see, is the real deal, a truly good person who genuinely gives a shit, as Reid puts it later in the book. She's from a family for which her volunteering is par for the course. Dad's a pastor, mum's a nurse specialising in providing health care for poor families, big sis is a newly qualified doctor, and they all give just as much of themselves. I loved what Webber did with them. Dori's conflict is not what I half-expected: her wanting to finally, finally! take something for herself after a lifetime giving to others. Her volunteering and hard-work for others is presented as something she herself wants to do, not as some sort of prison imposed by parents who care more for others than for her own family. They're protective of Dori and clearly love her, but they want he to have her own life and make her own decisions. I also liked that she's no naive innocent. She is, in fact pretty sharp.Dori isn't perfect, and she knows it, but she also knows she doesn't like the person Reid seems to be. But at the same time, she's willing to give him a chance when he seems to want to be better.

With Reid, first impressions were actually pretty accurate. He does starts out being a horrendous person. But then he changes. Not in the blink of an eye, but he starts seeing things differently, and questioning whether he wants to continue as he was. I actually found his change believable. It was gradual, and as he puts it himself, it wasn't that Dori changed him, but that she made him see there was another way of behaving, one he'd never even considered. I especially liked that, even as he became a better person, he didn't completely lose his devilry. He absolutely did not become boring.

These two are so real that I had no trouble at all understanding what they saw in each other. Their relationship develops just as gradually as Reid changes, and has its ups and downs. Plenty of angst here, and I absolutely loved it.

The first half of the book reads quite light and fun and fluffy, so when the angst hits, it hits hard. Reid has his own family stuff, Dori has some traumatic things in her past, and I was especially affected by the stuff with Dori's sister. Now, that felt like a real punch in the gut. Although my sister is younger than me, rather than quite a bit older, as Dori's, the best friends relationship between them was one I recognised, so the book had me in tears several times. Both the family and relationship anges were resolved in ways I found satisfying, but closing the book left me feeling wrung out, in a very good way. It wasn't as good as the amazing Easy, but it was very good indeed.


AUDIOBOOK NOTES: The book is structured with alternating chapters narrated by Dori and Reid, and that's what we get in the audiobook, two alternating narrators. It was this version that I listened to (the only one available, AFAIK) and Todd Haberkorn and Kate Rudd did a very good job with the narration. They got the tone and the feeling spot-on.


May 2013 reads

>> Saturday, June 01, 2013

May wasn't a good month for me on the personal front. I'm usually healthy and fit, but in the last month, I've had two separate health issues which made me feel pretty miserable. They turned out to be relatively minor stuff and I'm pretty much fully recovered (knock on wood!), but they were painful and uncomfortable and made me very worried and stressed when I wasn't quite sure what was going on. Fortunately, whatever mental stress I was under didn't ruin my enjoyment of some truly spectacular books!

1 - Guardian Demon, by Meljean Brook: A
review coming soon

My most anticipated read since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Quite simply, I loved it. A magnificent, cinematic ending to the fight against Lucifer, combined with a wonderful romance. I'm still a bit depressed by the thought that this series is over.

2 - After Hours, by Cara McKenna: A
review coming soon

On the surface, this shouldn't have worked for me. Erotic romance, BDSM elements, bossy hero, gritty... all usually not my things. But it did, and how! Newbie psychiatric nurse Erin and Kelly, an orderly who works in her ward felt real, and the sex scenes were all about developing intimacy and their relationship. Just amazing.

3 - Where D'You Go Bernadette, by Maria Semple: A-
review coming soon

Bernadette Fox, architect-on-a-hiatus, mother of Bee, arch-enemy of the other school-gate mothers, has disappeared, and Bee has gathered a list of documents (emails, bills, texts), trying to understand why. I read this one literally (yes, literally) in one sitting, and it's been ages since I've done that. It's great satire, but also a great story.

4 - Good For You, by Tammara Webber: B+
review coming soon

Audiobook. New Adult romance between a spoiled A-list hunky actor and a do-gooder future social worker. It starts out as pure fun, but the story's got a surprising amount of depth and angst. I really liked it.

5 - Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen: B+
review coming soon

Audiobook. I hadn't reread this for a while, and I forgot how absolutely hilarious it is. The narrator, Juliet Stevenson, is particularly excellent.

6 - The Secret History, by Donna Tartt: B+
review coming soon

Audiobook. Tartt somehow managed to take a group of entitled, elitist students at a top university, who we know from the beginning have committed a murder, and made me care about their fates. These people were fascinating, and I was gripped by the story.

7 - Love, Irresistibly, by Julie James: B+
review coming soon

Cade, a prosecutor after a corrupt politician, needs Brooke's help to get his proof. She's the high-flying general counsel of a large restaurant group. This one seemed at first that it might be a bit too low-conflict, with nothing to keep apart our two unattached protagonists, but then Brooke's career prospects and Cade's issues with his father provided excellent, satisfying conflict.

8 - Wrecked (from Fire & Frost), by Meljean Brook: B+
review coming soon

Novella, part of the Iron Seas series. Elizabeth has been running from Caius, one of her father's hunters, for years. Both have feelings for the other, but have had to suppress them. When they finally don't have to, it's very, very satisfying.

9 - Ice Cold, by Tess Gerritsen: B+
review coming soon

On a ski trip with friends, Maura ends up stranded in a creepy abandoned village up in the icy Wyoming mountains. Something is clearly wrong. This is one of the strongest entries in the series. It's suspenseful and exciting, and I loved the almost horror-movie feel of the first half.

10 - Sweet Enemy, by Heather Snow: B
review coming soon

Scientist heroine finds evidence that her father was killed for his involvement in some spy stuff, and that hero's family was somehow involved. She gets invited to a house party at his estate to investigate. Problem is, the party's to find hero a wife, and she attracts his interest. Snow is a new author, and this, her first book, was very promising.

11 - Cards On The Table, by Agatha Christie: B
review coming soon

Audiobook. Imprudent Mr. Sheitana decides to show off his guests, all of whom he believes have got away with murder, to Hercule Poirot. And then one of them kills him, while they're all playing bridge. Ingenious, and with really interesting characters.

12 - Whose Body?, by Dorothy L Sayers: B-
original review here

Audiobook. Guardian Demon was the culmination of my reread of the entire Guardians series, and I'm moving on to rereading the Lord Peter Wimsey books. This first one is not nearly as good as later books. Sayers is clearly still finding her feet and is sometimes a bit awkward (e.g. that looong confession letter from the murderer at the end, going over the entire thing yet again), but you can see the seeds of what a magnificent character Lord Peter turns out to be latter in the series.

13 - Stand-In Wife, by Karina Bliss: C+
review coming soon

Features a swap between the heroine and her twin which screwed up the whole book, because Bliss tried to sell it as a sensible/necessary thing to do, but didn't convince me. There were some well-done elements there, especially the relationship between the twins, and the sister's troubled marriage, but the romance was a bit of a dud.

14 - The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson: D
review here

If Forrest Gump were a sociopath. I really didn't like it, the characters were horrid and uninteresting and the humour was juvenile. I only finished it because I was reading it for my book club.

15 - Forever a Lady, by Delilah Marvelle: DNF
review here

I couldn't stand the writing. Purple, melodramatic, and the author really needs to lay off the thesaurus. Too bad, because the story sounded interesting: a rich widow with a deteriorating reputation the leader of a criminal gang.

16 - Wedding Night, by Sophie Kinsella: still reading
review coming soon

I'm only about a fifth in, and we've got 2 sisters, one of whom has just broken up with her boyfriend and is about to make one of the unwise decisions she always makes after her break-ups. The other sister knows that MO, and I'm pretty sure she's about to go chasing after her to keep her from making a huge mistake. So far, really funny and I like the characters.


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