All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Sizzling Sixteen – Janet Evanovich

I -really- wanted to like this book. I’ve written before on how this used to be one of my favourite series and how I would wait the year in between books with anticipation and then devour them when they came out. They made me laugh out loud and I liked all the characters. However, that was a couple of years ago now and I’ve been disappointed in the last probably 4 books and I actively disliked Finger Lickin’ Fifteen. So it was with great apprehension and still a little bit of hope, that I opened this book yesterday afternoon after finishing East of Desolation.

Sigh. It did have potential. For starters, it actually had a plot, and not a bad one at that. Stephanie is forced to search for her cousin Vinnie when he’s kidnapped by people he owes money too. The debt starts at about $750,000 so because they have no hope of ever actually being able to pay that, they decide to kidnap him back. Of course on the way they discover that it’s simply more than Vinnie owing his bookie.  And the debt keeps growing until it’s at $1.3m.

Unfortunately for every good bit, or clever or funny bit, there were two or more lame or eye-rolling or just plain ridiculous bits. Someone, somewhere must’ve told Janet Evanovich at some stage that “animals are funny! More crazy animal moments! Fit in as many as you can! People love that shit. Oh and add farting. That’s funny too!”

Well, it mostly isn’t. I’m 28yrs old, and I’m female. If ever I found farting, or fart jokes funny, I was probably still of an age that was a single figure. Most people who find farting and fart jokes funny are teenage boys and let’s face it, they’re not the primary audience of the Stephanie Plum novels. Thankfully this one contains no where near as much farting as Finger Lickin’ Fifteen but it does contain no less than 4 moments involving ridiculous, gratuitous use of animals as a humorous diversion. Well, they weren’t funny. At least not to me anyway.

The Good:

  • There was a plot. It was workable. And for the most part, it was entertaining.
  • Ranger. I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s pretty much the only reason I keep reading. I -love- the character of Ranger. Every time I smiled during this book, it was a scene Ranger and Steph were in together. I’ve given up on the dream of anything more actually happening between them but hey. At least the chemistry was back this book, which was sorely lacking from the previous book.
  • Lula wasn’t as obnoxious in this book as she’s been in previous books. Although she was a continuous presence, in fact barely a scene occurred without her in the first 2/3 of the book, she wasn’t as overbearing as she has been of late in the novels and it didn’t annoy me that she was constantly there.
  • Did I mention Ranger?
  • Ranger.

The Bad:

  • Animals! Animals! Animals!
  • The word farting. Again!
  • Once again, too much build up with Ranger for no actual pay off. Plot contrivances come up to stall the way
  • The excessive amount of junk food. The first third of the book spanned about 2 days and there were 3 stops for donuts, a pizza order and a stop for fried crispy chicken. Jesus! No one can actually eat like that. And then there were many more stops for donuts. It was annoying.
  • Lula’s stupid diets. I’m so over them and they’re not funny.
  • Stink bombs. See farting in lack of how funny they actually are.
  • The ‘heist’. Just…no.
  • Still too much Lula, even if she wasn’t as annoying. She’s gone from being a peripheral character to far, far too much front and centre.
  • The Hobbits. Also no… Just no.

Given that Ranger makes up 3 of the good points about the book, there was really more negative than positive. All in all, this was an improvement on several of the previous books, but it’s definitely not of the calibre of 1-10. I think the time has come for this series to end definitively. Evanovich is clearly busy with several other projects and churning one of these out per year seems to be taking a toll. The quality has been way down with many fans questioning as to whether or not Janet Evanovich is still actually even writing them, or if they’re being ghosted. To be honest, there are several instances in books 11-15 where I have stopped reading and thought ‘where the f*** did that come from?’ It just didn’t sound…right. Sizzling Sixteen at least feels like it was written by Evanovich. But it’s a tired old formula that severely needs some time and some vamping, or to be put to bed. Either take your time with the next novel and make it good or make it the last.

4/10 (3 points for the plot, 3 for Ranger. 2 deducted for unnecessary use of animals)

(Book #40 of my 50 Book Challenge)

****EDIT!!**** PS…I just remembered… What the heck happened to Vinnie running up PPV porn charges in Ranger’s apartment in the book? The back of the book blurb clearly states this and yet…the scene never happens. Vinnie is never kept at Ranger’s apartment or even in his building! That is beyond sloppy. The scene was either edited out/deleted, or it was thought about and never written into it and they just kept the blurb for the back of the book. I’m taking another point off for that. That’s laziness beyond belief.

3/10

(Book #40 of my 50 Book Challenge of 2010)

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East of Desolation – Jack Higgins

If nothing else, this book taught me that Greenland is a part of the North-American Continent! This book takes place entirely in Greenland and I thought it’d be a pretty interesting country for my 2010 Global Reading Challenge! Of course, I assumed it was part of Europe for some reason – maybe because it’s semi under Danish rule, maybe because my geographic knowledge is flawed and I thought it a lot closer to the European mainland than it actually is. It’s actually quite a long way! And it’s pretty close to some of the island parts of north eastern Canada, so I guess that’s why it’s classified as part of the North American Continent.

Anyway. Onto the book. Joe is a charter pilot working in Greenland for the money. He flies in supplies to remote areas, mechanical parts to oil rigs and drilling operations, charters for tourists who want to see the parts unreachable by commercial airlines. The story sort of dithers for a bit, about a famous actor named Jack who is currently hunting polar bears in some remote part of Greenland. Joe makes weekly supply runs to his boat for cash and when a mysterious woman arrives, asking to be taken to Jack, Joe flies her out too. She’s ‘a lot of woman’ to quote the book (several times) and Joe is attracted. It seems she is too, but things hit a bump when she splashes vodka into his virgin Bloody Mary and makes him vomit everywhere. Joe’s an alcoholic who had therapy that makes it impossible for him to drink now – it causes immediate upchucking.

When he arrives back from that trip out to Jack’s boat, the story moves up a notch. Joe has more people waiting to see him, insurance agents who paid out on the death of two pilots in a wreck in (yet another) remote part of Greenland. They want to fly up to the wreck and ascertain that the dead pilots are actually the ones they paid out sums on. Joe it seems, is reluctant to charter them up there, claiming he can’t put down his plane as he can only land on water or tarmac, not ice, as he doesn’t have ski’s on, and at this stage of the year, it’s all still frozen up there. He recommends a pilot friend, who still has ski’s on his plane to do the job and that friend flies up for a brief look but comes back reporting unable to land, that there was no where he could put down. Unfortunately for Joe, someone mentions that the ice has broken up and he can land on the lake, so he’s forced to fly the group up there.

From there the book kicks up a gear as it becomes obvious that pretty much no one is what they seem. The insurance people are satisfied that the people they paid out on are the people in the plane, but it’s obvious they’re looking for something in the wreck. Joe finds ski marks from a plane, so he knows that his friend was obviously able to put his plane down close to the wreck, despite claiming otherwise. What is the big mystery and what does it have to do with the stunningly beautiful ‘widow’ of one of the dead pilots from the wreck?

All in all, this wasn’t a bad little afternoon read. The characters were a bit two-dimensional though: the aging screen star, the beautiful stranger, the sinister insurance agents, the grieving widow and it was a bit slow in the beginning but once everything got going it was suitably fast enough with plenty of action peppering the last third of the book. There’s some foreshadowing in the very first page of the book but somehow when it all comes out, it’s still interesting and you can kind of believe the coincidence.

6/10

(Book #39 of my 50 Book Challenge)

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The Passage – Justin Cronin

What to say about The Passage? I’ve been busting to read it after reading first Raych’s review and then Trish’s review and countless other reviews on countless other blogs. I probably added my own hype to it after all of that and eventually, it was going to have to be one hell of an epic book to live up to it.

Good thing it did then.

It’s hard to even try to describe what happens in this book, but I’ll try without giving too much away. The US Army are conducting an experiment regarding a virus that will grant super-fast healing, longevity of life and probably all sorts of other things which they think will be useful in war. Imagine being able to have your best soldiers never die and able to heal themselves in hours, or maybe even minutes! They’re at the state where they need to test on some humans and who do they choose?

Inmates on death row, that’s who.

Inmates who are due to die by needle or other method soon, who have no one. No relatives, no visitors, no one that will notice when they leave their prisons without actually facing that death sentence. There are 12 of them and they are injected with the virus in a secret facility in Colorado. But let’s just say that the virus does not entirely work out as planned. The death row inmates escape by coercing the workers who observe them to open the doors to let them out. And basically, all chaos breaks lose. And like lots of people have said, the word vampire isn’t really used, but due to the fact that the escapee’s feed on blood (any blood, but human does just fine) and can create more of themselves, you see the similarities. And those sons-of-bitches move like wildfire! It isn’t long before most of the country has been infected, or exposed and people either dead or turned (described as ‘taken up’ in the books). Some flee into remote parts, others try to band together to figure out a way to survive. But the fatalities and those who are taken up, the numbers are astronomical.

Subject 13, a six year old girl, the last one taken for the experiment was given the virus but she didn’t turn into one of the creatures. She escapes the facility with the FBI agent whose job it was to bring in the Subjects. He takes her to a camp he spent summers at as a child and they live there for a while and then all of a sudden it’s almost a hundred years later and the story picks up in California, in one of the colonies built as a fortress against the creatures (referred to usually as flyers, jumps or smokes). There are walls all around the compound which the jumps cannot breach in a single leap. Because of their sensitivity to light, the creatures tend to move only at night. So at sundown, the compound powers up huge lights that keep everything bright as day, blocking out the dark and the shadows that they move in. Trouble is, their batteries are running low and the engineer/lightsperson thinks it’ll be 1 year, 2 at the most before their lights go out. And when the lights go out, they will come.

The young girl, who was 6 nearly 100 years ago when this all started, now only looks about 14. She finds the compound in California and the engineer discovers a chip in the back of her neck broadcasting a signal reading If you found her, bring her here. The signal comes from Colorado so several of the people from the compound make the decision to trek across the wasteland country to where the signal is coming from. Because she just might be the key to saving whatever humanity is left.

This book is addictive. I’ve just given the most barest summary I possibly can, because it really just has to be read. There is so much going on, but it never gets confusing. The story unfolds in a way that feels cliff-hangery (is that a word?) even when it’s just backstory or explanation. I started reading it at night and it was hard to find a place to stop and go to sleep, because it just kept making me turn the pages. And at 750-odd pages, you need that. I don’t think there was ever really a moment for me when I thought ‘hmm, this bit is unnecessary, it could’ve been removed’ or ‘this section is rambling on a bit’. The jumps are creepy and scary without being silly and laughable. There are times when I actually held my breath reading this book. I wanted to know so much more, get so much further into the story and into this devastated world, but I also never wanted the book to end.

If I thought waiting to get my hands on this book was bad – waiting for the sequel to come out is going to be so much worse.

9/10

(Book #37 of my 50 Book Challenge)

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Cold Granite – Stuart MacBride

I’m developing a real appreciation for procedurals. I’m not sure if it’s the growing number of them on TV…the reading of all the Kathy Reichs books I’ve one lately…or some other reason. But lately, I’ve been pretty happy to curl up with a good crime mystery. And this one is no exception.

This is Stuart MacBride’s first novel and as debuts go, it’s pretty tightly done. Detective Sargeant Logan McRae is back reporting for duty after a year off on sick leave. He was stabbed, multiple times (23, apparently) in the abdomen by a murderer nicknamed the “Mastrick Monster”. It took seven hours for a surgeon to sew DS McRae’s inside’s back together and he bears hideous scars and suffers from searing pain.

But the book is not really about that. Instead it’s about the case he catches on his first day back on the job. The body of missing 3yo toddler David Reid is found in a ditch. He’s been strangled. Mutilated. As the mother of a 22 month old toddler myself, I did find parts of the novel a hard slog, but not because the novel is extremely graphic: it isn’t. In fact most of the details are revealed in a clinical, dispassionate way and are the true definition of less is more. You aren’t shown in verbal diarrhea by one of the characters what has happened to this poor child (and later, others). You’re given the basic facts and left to imagine it yourself. And that is far, far worse. It was all I could do not to scoop up my little boy and hug him during various stages of this novel.

The child has been missing three months and was probably in the ditch for a good portion of that time. Forensic evidence is minimal and leads aren’t really in abundance. The media is howling for a result, a matter complicated by the fact that one of the journalists obviously has inside information. That leaves Logan’s superiors looking at him – if he isn’t the leak then he’d better find who is and fix it. Quickly!

Then the dead kids start piling up.

The cops are stumped. There is no clear pattern. Confidential information is still being leaked to the media. Every suspect they question doesn’t provide them with the answers they want to hear. DS McRae knows that time is running out to crack this case and put away this depraved individual. He’s dealing with other issues too – his ex-girlfriend, the cool-as-ice pathologist Isobel MacAlister. They were dating when the Mastrick Monster took her. And when Logan saved her and suffered at the hands of the killer. Why they are not dating now is not clearly explained but there’s definitely some unresolved issues there. They’re not getting resolved any time soon by the looks of things and seemingly ready to move on, Logan turns his eye to his assisting WPC Jacky Watson. The characters are believable and likable. Logan isn’t some cool, calm and sardonic cop. Nor is he a nutter slamming back alcohol just to function. He’s embarrassed about his “Police Hero” tag. Actually I think he blushes more in this novel the I’ve ever known a male main character to blush before. He makes mistakes. Errors in judgement. It was very refreshing to see his awkwardness and his lack of comfort and self confidence at times.

Woven into the storyline, adding to the gloom is the description of the city. The novel is set in Aberdeen, Scotland and I don’t think it stops raining for the entire novel (which spans about 11-12 days, set in November). There is snow, and sleet as well. Despite Scotland being somewhat the motherland of my family (albeit quite a few generations back now) I’m no expert so I googled Aberdeen. Days average less than 7hrs in length in winter, in December. That lengthens to about 8hrs in January. A lot of the buildings are constructed from granite – all in all, it paints a pretty bleak picture! A perfect setting for this sort of miserable crime.

This novel isn’t something I would’ve normally chosen to read. I picked it up off Booktopia during one of their clearance sales for $3.98, along with a half dozen other books. I figured that for $4, it wouldn’t be hard to get my money’s worth. Having read it, I’d say I’d have got my money’s worth even if I paid full price. It was a well written, well thought out, intricate little story with strength of characters and plot. The DS Logan McRae series is due to span 8 books (of which 6 are already published). I will definitely be buying the second book and if it’s as good as this one, I’ll keep going.

8/10

(Book #36 of my 50 Book Challenge)

The Medium Challenge
Read two novels from each of these continents in the course of 2010:
Africa
Asia
Australasia
Europe: #1: Cold Granite, by Stuart MacBride. Set in Aberdeen, Scotland.
North America (incl Central America)
South America
Try to find novels from twelve different countries or states.

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Scarecrow – Matthew Reilly

Scarecrow is the third novel in Matthew Reilly’s  Capt. Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield series. I’ve read the first one, Ice Station and it reads like a Hollywood action blockbuster. Lots of blowing things up, rapid-fire shoot outs, miraculous escapes from impossible situations and plenty of blood and gore. I was expecting this one to be pretty much the same and it was. And then some!

A list is compiled of 15 targets, all of whom must be dead by 12 noon New York time 26th October. The list is comprised of the worlds most deadliest commandos, spies and terrorists. They all have a whopping price of 18.6m on their heads. Bring any head to a castle in France and you’ll get your reward. And don’t even think about trying to fake one, because that won’t go down well. The men on the list all have one thing in common and that skill could stop a group of power hungry billionaires from owning the world.

Shane Schofield is of course, on that list. He’s blissfully unaware of that fact as he drops in to Siberia on a mission that turns out to be a fake. A set up. A trap so that Schofield’s head can be collected. Unfortunately for the bounty hunters after him (and there are many, from all over the world) Schofield isn’t really into having his head removed from his body. And he’s got all sorts of skills and weapons at his disposal to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Exiting Siberia in a plane he steals from one of the bounty hunters out to kill him, he flies to Afghanistan where his girlfriend Elizabeth “Fox” Gant is leading her own mission into Taliban caves. She’s at risk from the bounty hunters who would take her in order to lure Scarecrow, and of course, this is what happens. Everyone all sort of arrives in Afghanistan together (although that’s not all about Gant, there’s also two people who is on the list in the caves, a British SAS soldier and a high ranking Taliban officer-type person, whatever they’re called). An angel of sorts arrives also, and he’s on Scarecrow’s side. The ‘Black Knight’ is a former Delta, black listed and on the most wanted list. For some reason, someone is paying him to keep Schofield alive and combat those who want him dead and his head on a stick. There’s some spectacular shooting with lots of fancy weapons and some nifty warfare tricks that I’m not even sure exist yet. And then Scarecrow and Co escape in yet another plane. And that’s not even remotely the most ridiculous thing in this book.

Let’s be frank. The book is ridiculous. On all sorts of levels. There are hijacked planes, people sliding down fuel lines from one plane to another as they are refueling in the air, there are people parachuting out of things or into things, ejecting from planes, several different types of submarines, escaping from being squashed by a 100,000 tonne tanker sinking to the bottom of the English channel and there are literally, billions of bullets fired. People are decapitated, shot, stabbed, thrown out of planes, beheaded by a guillotine, eaten by tiger sharks, microwaved to death and burned alive by boiling oil. I don’t think there is a method of killing someone that has been overlooked in this novel. There are Russian fighter planes. Huge sea tankers. Lamborghini Diablo’s. Choppers of every description. Fighter planes from every corner of the globe. A billionaire secret society. Warheads. And probably a hundred more things that I’ve neglected to mention.

Despite the ridiculousness of it all, it was entertaining. The style is very fast paced, staccato like with very minimal dialogue and character development. The story is all told as an action sequence, with characters thinking during the sequences rather than pausing to regroup and plan. There is lots of onomatopoeia usage – BOOM! THUNK! KER-THUD! SMACK!  etc. The sentences are short, sharp, frequently interrupted like-

this-

and-

then BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMM!!!!

Something explodes.

Basically, lots of things explode. An impossible number of things explode. Just imagine the most action packed movie you’ve ever seen and then make about 200 more things explode. And then you have this book.

**Mild Spoilers**

I have to hand it to Reilly for killing off a regular character in the Scarecrow books here, and in a pretty gruesome way. It’s easy enough to have these action books or movies where the ‘good’ side comes out wounded, but with no fatalities to the core team. This isn’t the case in this book.

Some books you read for the beautifully crafted writing style. Some you read for intricate and wonderful plots. Some you read for the amazing character development and the identity you can find with the characters. And some books you just read for fun. This book falls into the latter category. It’s far fetched, over the top, breathtakingly quick and action from go to whoa. I did enjoy it and I’d like to read Area-7 the middle Scarecrow novel which I haven’t got yet.

6/10 for providing me with an entertaining afternoon

(Book #35 of my 50 Book Challenge)

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The White Queen – Philippa Gregory

I chose The White Queen from my list of TBR books because it fits in with my 2010 What’s In A Name3? Challenge as I haven’t read any books that apply to that yet. I picked it up from Borders off the 3 for 2 table. I’ve read The Other Boleyn Girl and enjoyed that and I figured that The White Queen would be along similar lines. And it kind of is, except instead of lots of weddings and beheadings, there are lots of battles and wars. Ok, and some beheadings.

I don’t know much about English history around the time of ever-changing Royal families, which kind of comes in handy when reading these books as I have no idea what’s real and what the author has taken gross liberties with so I can just enjoy them. This book takes place during the War of the Roses from 1464-1485. In 1464, Lady Elizabeth Grey is a widow who has lost her husband to war. Her mother-in-law has taken her titles and she is forced to approach the king – King Edward of York (white roses) who has just displaced King Henry of Lancaster (red roses) for her titles and lands to be restored to her. Elizabeth and her family fought on the side of the Lancasters and Elizabeth’s mother was a lady in waiting to Henry’s Queen, Margaret. Elizabeth waits by the road to see Edward and pleads her case for her and her sons, aged 8 and 9. Elizabeth is supposed to be famously beautiful and the King wants her at first sight. She refuses a cheap roadside dalliance and they are married in secret before Edward leaves to once again fight another rebellion and quell Henry’s supporters. When he returns, instead of taking the European Princess as his wife as is expected, he announces his marriage to Elizabeth and crowns her Queen of England – The White Queen.

King Edward of York faces rebellious risings from all places – including one lead by his former most trusted adviser, dubbed the ‘Kingmaker’. When it appears that Edward is no longer as pliable and agreeable as he was, and that he is determined to keep Lady Elizabeth as his wife, the Kingmaker stages a campaign using Edward’s younger brother George. Trying to discredit Edward as not a York, a bastard by his mother’s lover, it is claimed that George is the true heir to the throne. There are numerous battles, lots of war type strategies and plenty of Elizabeth popping out royal heirs. Even the arrival of 2 healthy royal sons (they have 3 sons, but one, George, dies as an infant) does not secure their position and they face murder, plotting and usurping from every which direction.

One thing that did detract from the book was the constant repetition of names. This could be entirely true to the Era, but it became incredibly distracting. For example:

King Edward of York has 2 brothers named George and Richard. Lady Elizabeth has 2 sons from her first marriage named Richard and Thomas Grey. She has brothers named both Edward and Richard. Her and King Edward have 3 sons, named – you guessed it – Edward, Richard and George, which means that Elizabeth now has two sons named Richard. The son of the displaced King Henry of Lancaster is also named Edward. Elizabeth’s elder daughter is also called Elizabeth. They also have another daughter named Cecily (also the name of King Edward’s mother) and King Edward’s brother Richard in turn has a son called Edward.

This leads to lots of narrating by Elizabeth like: “… and then my son, Richard Grey…” or “and what news of my brother Edward….” which is totally unnecessary in an internal monologue but entirely necessary in allowing everyone to know just who the heck she is speaking about. I didn’t entirely find Elizabeth a likable character, but I did find her very interesting. I think she was extremely underestimated at Court at the very beginning for being just a Commoner but she was portrayed as being a very successful and smart Queen. She relied heavily on the counsel of her mother (they’re actually kind of witches) and played most of her choices smartly. She took Sanctuary when she needed it and she turned a (mostly) blind eye to King Edward’s whoring as she knew he’d never cast her aside and that he did love her, no matter how often he slept with other women. She is a fiercely protective mother who is fit to fight to the end for the birthright of her children, even after all seems lost.

There’s a lot more going on in the book than I’ve stated but I didn’t really want to give anything away. I actually enjoyed it quite a lot and was disappointed when it ended quite suddenly. Of course there are more – The Red Queen follows this one, to be published in August 2010 and then Elizabeth’s eldest daughter (also named Elizabeth) gets a story in The White Princess.

7/10

(Book #34 of my 50 Book Challenge)

Satisfies Criteria for my What’s In A Name3? Challenge #3 – Read a book with a Title in the title

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The Last Song – Nicholas Sparks

I finished The Last Song on Tuesday night and have sufficiently recovered from the thumping toothache it gave me from being so saccharine and sweet. Even after finishing it and mulling it over a bit, I’m still not entirely sure I liked it. I think I’m leaning very much towards no.

Veronica “Ronnie” Miller is 17 and going through that stage. She’s disrespectful to her mother, she goes out partying and clubbing in New York where she lives and she’s also had a slight run in with the law due to some shoplifting. And she’s less than thrilled when her mother packs her and her brother Jonah off to spend the summer in Nowhere, North Carolina with their dad. Their dad left three years ago and Ronnie hasn’t spoken to him since. And she’s definitely not interested in spending 3 months with him.

Ronnie is all types of attitude from the get-go. She meets a girl named Blaze at the local sort of carnival/fair on her first night and takes off with her and three older, trouble-written-all-over-them boys up the beach. She takes off the next morning refusing to tell her father where she was going and stays out until 2am. To be honest, if I’d have read this book when I was 17 and fighting for my own adult independence and freedom, I might have empathized with Ronnie a little. But quite frankly, she just struck me as a brat who needed a bit of a kick up the wazoo.

Essentially, The Last Song is a coming of age story about Ronnie growing some self-awareness and some self-respect but it’s done so fakely that I could just not get into it. Apart from the whole ridiculous storyline with Blaze and her semi-boyfriend Marcus, there’s Will Blakelee thrown into the mix. Will is rich. Will is handsome. Will becomes enamored with Ronnie and the purple streaks in her hair and her black nailpolish from the first moment he collides with her on Ronnie’s first night in town. They have several misunderstandings but it turns out that they like each other. They both think the other is different. They date. They fall in love! Oh no, Will’s rich and snobby mother doesn’t approve! Oh no, Marcus is lurking around causing trouble!

So many things happen in this book that just seem entirely unnecessary. The whole shoplifting thing with Blaze. The whole Marcus wrecking Will’s sisters wedding thing. And then of course, there is the Reveal That Changes Ronnie Completely. It’s such a trite, clichéd ending whereby girl learns the error of her selfish teenage ways and ascends the throne into adulthood over the course of about the last third of the summer. I usually like happy endings, and even though this one is kind of two parts sad with one part perfection, I was still extremely dissatisfied. I didn’t mind Dear John. But this story was just so full of nauseating moments that I just couldn’t really enjoy it. Even when Nicholas Sparks tries to make rebellious, evil characters, it doesn’t quite ring true. They don’t seem all that fleshed out – more like what he thinks antagonists should be. Even Ronnie at her wildest was pretty tame for a teenager. She went to all sorts of clubs in New York City and never even had a drink.

There was also far too much religion in the latter part of this book for me to stomach. Sparks seems quite religious, God and religion was a bit of a theme in Dear John too, but it was much more prevalent in this book. All the praying and the God’s way and God’s will at the end got a bit much for me personally. Some people might really identify with that but I find heavy handed religion pretty off putting in novels.

I hear a lot of criticism about Sparks about his novels being pretty cookie-cutter. After Dear John I thought that if they were all like that, it’d be quite possible those critics were right. But The Last Song stepped it up to a whole new level! This book is no different from a thousand teenage romance stories out there. I think that might do me for Nicholas Sparks – for the foreseeable future anyway.

3/10

(Book #33 of my 50 Book Challenge)
I just realised this book satisfies criteria for #6 of the What’s In A Name3? Challenge: Read a book with a musical term in the title.

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Lover Awakened – J.R. Ward

Hmmm. Vampire porn. That’s pretty much what this series is. I’ve read a few vampire books lately and these ones do take the cake for graphic sex scenes. Most seem to suggest rather than describe graphically. This one… this one is all about the graphic!

So. Zsadist is one of the Black Dagger Brotherhood, an elitist vampire group who fight to save their kind. Their kind is under threat by an opposing group known as the lessers. The lessers are trained assassins who, upon sign up, submit their soul to their ruler, the Omega. Szadist is well named. He was sold as a slave when he was young and ended up a blood and sex slave for someone referred to only as the Mistress. He suffered unspeakable abuse – mental, physical, sexual and is now a ‘damaged being’. Out of control, sinister, sadistic, etc. Enter Bella, a vampire kidnapped by the lessers in book 2 (which I’ve not read). Zsadist is obsessed with finding her, and when another kidnapped vampire escapes from the lessers with Bella’s help, the Brotherhood get confirmation that Bella is indeed alive and where she’s being held. So they rescue her. And burn down the lessers house.

Bella is undeniably drawn to Zsadist and he is the person she chooses for her comfort as she heals. Zsadist doesn’t know how to comfort anyone – he doesn’t like to ever be touched and he doesn’t ever like to touch others, unless he’s killing them. It’s obvious he feels drawn to her also, even though he doesn’t know how to deal with this. He also experiences sexual attraction for the first time in his life, as before Bella, he associates all sexual acts as being associated with pain and being forced upon him and from him, from his time as a slave. It was interesting to read a story where the male has absolutely no idea what to do, sex-wise. He is really and truly a fish out of water in these scenes, and he takes quite a while to get over being ‘dirty’ – left over from his days of being abused. Bella is patient and gentle and errr, a doormat. She takes Zsadist’s rejections over and over and over again and still goes back for more.

The story really is focused on Zsadist and his journey and Bella seems to be just there playing a support role. He obviously lived a horrific life prior to being rescued from the slave hole he was kept in and he embraces that and keeps it with him. It fuels him in his job of killing lessers and it fuels him to live his live as solitarily as he can, even if he is a member of the Brotherhood. Bella changes all that, she shows him that he can live another way. And even though he’s scarred and damaged, both inside and out, he’s still pretty special.

Awww!

8/10. I like Zsadist. I’ve read the first novel in this series and I thought he was interesting then. He’s an absolute bastard but the author is blunt and descriptive enough about the horrors he’s gone through that he’s a character you can be sympathetic to. I give half a point for a different take on the vampire porn in that he’s not some amazingly talented in the sack vampire who has already slept with and discarded, thousands of women. Bella is the first woman he sleeps with willingly, which was refreshing.

(Book #32 of my 50 Book Challenge)

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Monday Mourning – Kathy Reichs

This book should’ve been read before Cross Bones, but it was the one that wasn’t in Borders that I had to have shipped from the US. It arrived on Friday, with Dead In The Family and another book and I’ve read all 3 of them already. I really do have no life. It’s cold (winter here, and currently pretty freezing). My fiancé has been doing muchos work and is barely home. Usually it’s me and the bubba. He’s pretty good at playing with his toys, watching the shows he likes on TV or hopping up on the couch with me and giving me snuggles while I read.So, because of all that – I’m getting through a lot of books right now.

First off – this one is about 20x better than Cross Bones,  so I’m hoping that Cross Bones really just was a once off shocker. This one starts off with the bones of three young women being found in a basement underneath a pizza parlour. The bodies are all decomposed and dry so the cop who caught the case, the charming Luc Claudel thinks they are old, probably over a century and not really worth worrying about because 100+ year old buttons were found with the bones. Can’t arrest someone for a murder that’s 100yrs old. Anyway, this gets Tempe’s back up (actually, Claudel pretty much always gets her back up) so she organises some expensive tests and has the bones Carbon-14 dated. The results come back – either the bones have been there since the 1950s, or they’ve been there since after the 1980’s. Something something, radiocarbons in the atmosphere/soil/something. I’m not very scientifically minded, but you don’t need to be. The gist is – either 1950 or post 80’s. And because this is a novel I’m not yet a quarter of the way through, I know immediately it’ll be post 1980’s. And it is, because a sealant on one of the victims teeth wasn’t developed until the 70s and was widely used in the 80s and 90s. Cop that, Luc Claudel!

While Tempe is investigating, she gets a call from an elderly lady who claims to know why there are bodies in the basement of the pizza parlous. It’s a bad connection and Tempe only hears that her name is possibly Gallant or Ballant, something like that. The connection cuts out and although she rings back and leaves her number on Tempe’s machine, Tempe cannot get in contact with her at all over the next few days. That throws her in to working once again with Andrew Ryan, her on-again, off-again lover. At the end of the last book they seemed pretty happy, but it’s clear in this one that things aren’t right. Ryan is distant, vague. Making excuses and ducking out. Leaving in the middle of dinner. And then Charbonneau, Claudel’s partner, tells Tempe (he’s unaware the two are lovers) that he’s seen Ryan “squiring one half his age” around town. Tempe’s hurt and yet, sort of resigned. Detective Ryan’s Lothario rep was well known to her. I do like that in this book, she calls him ‘Andy’ when speaking to him. Even if one of the times  is incredibly sarcastic. Often she refers to him as ‘Ryan’, even when speaking to his face, which I find very odd. I can’t imagine ever seriously calling my fiancé as {last name}. I may do it on a very rare occasion when we are mucking around competitively or something. But not in everyday conversation.

I enjoyed everything about this one. The mystery and trying to find out what happened to those girls. The interaction between Tempe and the other characters, particularly Claudel and Ryan. The forensic details were enough for you to know some sciency sh*t was going on but they didn’t go for pages and pages and take over the whole story.

7/10

(Book #31 of my 50 Book Challenge)

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The Birthday Present – Barbara Vine

I had read a pretty good review on this book and bought it on the strength of that. Basically the book is about a Tory MP, Ivan Tesham – rich, well to do, ambitious, single. He meets a housewife, Hebe Furnell at something or other and they embark upon an affair as both share the same sexual…tastes. For her birthday, Ivan arranges her to be snatched from a sidewalk, blindfolded, tied up and delivered to him in a secret location. Exciting! But it all goes oh so terribly wrong.

The book isn’t told from Ivan’s point of view, nor from Hebe’s. Instead it alternates (with no real clear way of distinguishing who is narrating what bit until you read the first paragraph or two and realise from what they’re talking about) and there is no pattern to the alternations either. Sometimes it switches with each chapter. Sometimes it doesn’t. The narration is shared by Ivan’s brother-in-law Rob (married to Ivan’s sister Iris) and Hebe’s “friend” Jane Atherton, known as ‘the alibi lady’ as it is always Jane that Hebe tells her husband she’s out with whenever she’s meeting up with Ivan somewhere.

The book isn’t so much about the affair, or the actual present itself. It’s about what that brings about. The catastrophic consequences for so many people, the noose hanging around someones neck just waiting for the chair to be kicked out under them. The mystery and suspense is supposed to be wrapped up in not if the secret will come out but when and how. This didn’t really work for me. For a start, I found Ivan so utterly unlikable, that I couldn’t wait to have the secret come tumbling out. Spoiled, self-absorbed, arrogant, upper class, cold and selfish English aristocrat, he annoyed me beyond belief. His callous attitude and the way that people around him just accepted it kind of infuriated me. Do English stereotypes like that still exist? The Landowner with the stiff upper lip who claps someone awkwardly on the shoulder during a tragedy and says “Right o, buck up old chap. Can’t have this wallowing. Must crack on”. I really don’t know. But Ivan certainly fell into that, with a side of drinking whisky and referring to the lodge on his family land as “the Dower house.” I just wanted to smack him.

The character of Jane Atherton was another stereotype. Uptight, unattractive, virgin Librarian who is friends with the much more beautiful Hebe for…what? Jane admits that she never ever really even liked Hebe. They barely saw each other, with Hebe using her only as an alibi. Jane descends into some form of psychosis that is just, quite frankly, bizarre.

There’s also a lot of description of English parliamentary process and intricacies of government. Pages are devoted to Ivan’s move up the ladder and I don’t know anyone that actually understands the way the English government system actually works. I know I certainly don’t and the pages and pages and blah blah blah politics didn’t actually help that in any way. It just made me skim and flick pages until the words MP and Secretary For stopped appearing.

After all I’ve read about the great works of Barbara Vine (which is actually a pseudonym for Ruth Rendell) I was actually pretty disappointed in this one. No real mystery, no real suspense – the pacing was terribly slow, which is a big detraction in a novel of this genre.

5/10

(Book #30 of my 50 Book Challenge)

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