All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

A Most Scandalous Proposal – Ashlyn Macnamara

Most Scandalous ProposalA Most Scandalous Proposal
Ashlyn Macnamara
Ballantine Books
2012, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Miss Julia St Claire and Miss Sophia St Claire have been groomed from birth to make the most advantageous matches they can. Their mother was jilted by an Earl and had to settle for someone out of the aristocracy and she’s fought ever since for her place in society. She’s determined that her daughters both make fabulous marriages to the highest born and wealthiest among the Ton. But for the last five years, Sophia has only had eyes for one man, who has barely acknowledged her existence. Now it seems he has become the Earl of Clivesden and he’s in the market for a wife. Sophia is beside herself until it seems that the new Earl is paying court to Julia!

Julia has absolutely no interest in the new Earl of Clivesden – she already abhors him for the way he has treated her infatuated sister and she has absolutely no interest whatsoever in becoming his countess. Her childhood friend, Benedict Revelstoke had already warned her that Clivesden was setting her in his sights and she’s doing the best she can to extricate herself from every situation concerning him but it isn’t easy when her mother is absolutely determined to see her daughter a Countess. When Sophia is inadvertently compromised and by another Earl no less, Sophia and Julia’s parents see opportunity… to have both their daughters married to Earls and well settled in society…even if both of them are unwilling to go into the matches being made for them!

Julia knows that she just cannot, cannot marry Clivesden. She goes to Benedict with a scandalous idea to do something that would ruin her in all good society for the rest of her life. But it would save her from something she could not tolerate and it actually just might give her, and Revelstoke, what they both desperately need.

I’ve been really interested in historical romances lately, every now and then I get on a big aristocracy kick and love reading these types of books set among the Ton. I’m not much of a girly girl so I doubt I’ve have done too well back in this time but there’s something about all the dresses and the balls and the men that’s simply fun to read.

Julia and Sophia have been groomed from birth to make the best possible match that they can. Their mother has used almost every penny that they have in order to give her daughters the best chance at an advantageous marriage. Unfortunately, it seems that she forgot to consult her daughters because neither of them are particularly interested in marrying men that might be titled, but that they don’t like. Sophia has been head over heels in love with a man who doesn’t treat her well but when he becomes the new Earl of Clivesden he begins paying court to Julia. Julia has absolutely no intentions of every marrying him and she struggles to keep her relationship with her sister and work out what to do when it seems that her parents are going to take her fate into their own hands and announced both their daughters engagements at the one function – Julia to the Earl of Clivesden and Sophia to the Earl of Highgate, a reclusive man who inadvertently compromised her and is now bent on doing the right thing.

The story of Sophia and the Earl of Highgate feels more like a companion plot to the one of Julia but I have to say, it’s the one that interested me the most in this novel. Julia was the sort of woman that, even for her time, you could see had no problem doing what was necessary to get what she wanted. She proved that when she put her plan to Ravelstoke in order to get herself out of the engagement to Clivesden that she did not consent to. Sophia however, was a different sort of character altogether and the way in which she and the Earl of Highgate met I found really interesting. They were caught together alone when Sophia was unwell, which in those days meant that her reputation was tarnished even though nothing had occurred. There were ominous circumstances surrounding the death of the Earl’s first wife and he’d lived a reclusive life ever since, rarely venturing into society. However he was a good man, older than Sophia and very kind, very sure of the sort of life he wanted. He proposed to her in order to save her reputation and to give her a future and the two of them both found themselves falling in love, despite the circumstances of their betrothal. I liked Highgate a lot and I really enjoyed all of the scenes with him and Sophia.

All in all this was a pretty fun read and I’d definitely read future books from the author.

7/10

Book #288 of 2012

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The Trouble With Lucy – L.J. Young

Trouble With LucyThe Trouble With Lucy
L.J. Young
Destiny Romance
2012, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Lucy Lockhart couldn’t be more out of her comfort zone. She has a hectic job in the city, designer clothes and shoes, a hectic social life and an IT-whiz of a boyfriend named Zip. When she suffers some sort of epileptic fit at work, her doctor recommends that she not be alone for at least two weeks. She also cannot drive and most of her friends have other commitments or their tiny studio flats don’t allow for guests. So Lucy has to pack up and go and stay with her parents in a small country town to recuperate and hopefully get through the two weeks without another incident before she can return to her busy life.

Lucy is not equipped for country living it seems and when her friend bogs Lucy’s car, they are lucky when Tom McGregor happens by and assists them. Watching Lucy, Tom can tell she’s not for this life – her impractical stiletto heels and designer label clothes don’t fit in with utes, jeans and boots. Lucy reminds him of another city girl he once knew, a memory that it doesn’t do him any good to revisit.

Lucy settles in with obvious reluctance – her parents don’t even own a computer, much less have the internet so that she can check her emails. Even though she’s on leave she’s still supposed to be working and then of course there’s Zip, who has just zipped himself off to the Big Apple with a big promotion. Lucy keeps reassuring herself that he’s a jolly good boyfriend, even if they have been going out for over a year with no real progression at all in the relationship and the fact that Zip has been mysteriously incommunicado since he left the country. There’s also Tom McGregor lurking around the local area – he and Lucy keep crossing paths and Lucy feels the shivers of attraction every single time. But she has Zip (jolly good boyfriend that he is) and it seems that Tom is promised to a local girl, someone who isn’t too silly to bog her car in the mud.

Despite the interest, Tom and Lucy could never work out…after all, Lucy is a city girl through and through….and Tom is blissfully happy here in the country. It’s best that Lucy just get back to her old life.

The Trouble With Lucy was one of the November Destiny Romance titles that I received along with Her Italian Aristocrat. This one is a rural romance, with our main character Lucy being an espresso drinking, stiletto heel wearing bona fide city girl who is none too impressed about being exiled deep into the quiet country for a couple of weeks. She’s horrified by the mud, the fertiliser, the fact that her parents have a chook that comes inside and a pig that sticks its head into the kitchen as well. There’s nothing to do, no where to get a decent coffee (the local cafe serves instant) and the internet is only available at the local library and incurs a charge. It’s a far cry from the busy and hectic life Lucy is used to.

However the country slowly begins to grow on Lucy. She helps deliver a calf, an experience that leaves her amazed and in awe of nature and of course there’s local Tom McGregor who seems to be lurking around every corner, all handsome and country charm. Lucy’s feeling the neglect of her boyfriend Zip and she can’t help but wonder what it might be like to be Tom’s girlfriend instead. She’s sure he wouldn’t leave her for another country, especially when she’s had her fit.

The Trouble With Lucy is a novel of self-discovery. Lucy seems very young when she arrives in town, concerned with her six hundred dollar shoes and her fancy coffee. She’s only there a few weeks, but it seems like her time in the country teaches her what’s important and that life is for living, not to spend working all the hours in a day in a job that she doesn’t even really like or is appreciated at. Likewise she sees that her relationship with Zip is sorely lacking – they have little in common and there’s nothing to tie them together once he’s left the country. In Tom, she sees the sort of relationship that she thinks she could have, the one that she wants, but both of them it seems, have things to overcome before they can be together, most of all the fact that one of them lives in the bustling city and the other loves the quiet life deep in the country. Lucy does undergo some rapid growth in a short amount of time and I did enjoy that. I’d have liked a little more time spent on the development of her relationship with Tom. They had several interactions but there wasn’t quite enough spice for me! Fans of sweet romances where the action is kept behind a closed door will appreciate this though! It’s a nice story though and it fits in very well with the popular wave of rural fiction.

7/10

Book #284 of 2012

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Rough Diamond – Kathryn Ledson

Rough DiamondRough Diamond
Kathryn Ledson
Penguin AU
2012, 376p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Erica Jewell is a little down on her luck. Her husband walked out on her, leaving her for a blonde bimbo in a sports car. He did sign over his half of the house to Erica but in return for that she had to take responsibility for his gambling debt, which is large. Erica obsesses over her bills, forever calculating how much money is coming in compared to how much money is going out. It’s a struggle for her, a big struggle and she’s only just keeping her head above water.

Her bad fortune seems to continue when she arrives home one night and finds a man bleeding of a gunshot wound in her front garden. He begs her not to call the police and despite the fact that they seem to be everywhere circling the block, Erica decides not to. Instead she phones her friend who is a nurse and together they tend to the mysterious man, calling a number he provides for them. Later they are given instructions where to leave him and they comply. Erica assumes she’ll never see him again.

This doesn’t turn out to be the case – Jack, as he calls himself, calls Erica begging a favour and then explains bits and pieces of who he is and what he does, asking for her assistance in a job he has going. He works for a private organisation helping to stop terrorists before their plots can become reality and he needs a little bit of help from Erica. She will be rewarded handsomely for her efforts but it isn’t just the money that drives her to accept. It’s the chance to do something, to shake up her boring and predicatable life that hasn’t been much fun since her ex-husband walked out. And then of course, there’s the benefit of Jack Jones himself. Handsome and charming when he wants to be, he’s also clearly emotionally damaged. Erica finds herself liking him, the many sides of him, which could prove more danger than she can handle.

Erica Jewel has been touted as ‘the Australian Stephanie Plum’ and there are some similarities. Erica is probably the same age and she’s had her marriage break down, leaving her struggling with debt. Unlike Stephanie, Erica does have regular employment but both of them possess embarrassing and overbearing families and the propensity to stumble into danger. Oh and they also have good looking and mysterious men hanging around them.

Rough Diamond has some giggle moments and some really interesting ideas but some things did have me raising an eyebrow. Jack works for a private counter-terrorist unit and they consider it their civic duty to take out the terrorists before they can take out the population which seems to run similar to the line of Ranger Manoso’s “legally grey, morally right” line of work in the Stephanie Plum novels. He appears in Erica’s life out of no where, bleeding and almost unconscious in her garden and I think that was the only problem I had with the book. It really was quite a stretch to believe that Erica wouldn’t call the police on the man with the gunshot wound in her Melbourne-suburbs front yard or deliver him to a hospital, who would take it upon themselves to call the police, as is standard for those with gunshot wounds. She’s a woman living alone and the character of Jack is presented dubiously enough to have even a brave woman reluctant to admit him to her home, probably without a bullet wound. It is a tiny bit far fetched to believe that someone would do that. Yes Jack turns out to be super awesome – rich, flirty, handsome and dangerous but in the good way. But when he’s lying bleeding on her front lawn, Erica has no idea who or what he is. Likewise it seems unlikely that Jack, who clearly has skills, would involve someone like Erica in the work they were doing, however innocently it seems at first. Of course Erica draws the attention of a psycho with a grudge against Jack almost right away, which is pretty much why it seems unlikely that anyone would think it a good idea to involve someone so clueless about her own safety.

The plot though, is a really workable idea – a truckload of fertiliser (the type used to making bombs) is stolen and the race is on for Jack’s team to stop the terrorists before they put into action their plan to target Australian icons for mass casualty rates. I enjoyed that part, it made me wonder just how much is done to ward off any likely attacks (even if there are any likely attacks) and also made me give thought to how catastrophic such plans could be.

Rough Diamond had some definite positive moments and a strong plot that gave it a good backbone and a very strong protagonist voice in Erica Jewel. I did enjoy the way in which she threw herself into things, whether it be for her day job or for her new found work with Jack and the way in which she was able to fit in, despite not being trained for or knowing much about this sort of work. I particularly liked her burgeoning friendship with Jack’s offsider, which provided quite a nice touch.

I’m curious to see where Ledson takes Erica and her involvement with Jack and the Team down the track in these novels. I do think they have the potential to be a fabulously action packed series with a bit of mystery and maybe some romance and plenty of humour. It’s the type of series that would have broad appeal although hopefully the author will embrace plot and character development and not restrict each book in the series to a similar format.

7/10

Book #280 of 2012

Thanks to the publisher, Penguin AU I had the chance to ask Kathryn Ledson a few questions.

Kathryn Ledson Headshot

1). Hi Kathryn, welcome to my blog and thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for me. You worked in the corporate arena for 25 years and then left to tour with bands like Dire Straits and AC/DC as a PA. How does someone go from that to writing a novel? Or did you always write, even while you were working in other careers? Can you share a little about how you came to be published?

I’d never really felt comfortable in my role as a PA, no matter what industry I was working in. When I was retrenched from my last corporate role in 2005, I jumped on that opportunity to do something different. Writing – editing really – had always been a part of what I did, very much so (my husband likes to remind me that when we first met, I was PA to his boss at Wesley Mission. Paul used to deliver his monthly report to my desk and I’d send it back, covered in red pen). But even with strong writing skills, when I did the Diploma in Professional Writing and Editing it didn’t occur to me that I’d one day write a novel. I took mostly non-fiction subjects – journalism and corporate writing – assuming that’s what I’d do.

But Erica Jewell came to me and I felt I had no choice. This character was shouting in my head for me to give her a life. I saw the opening scene of my novel and away I went. That scene has never really changed from day one. Day one being the day after my diploma course ended in November 2008. In February 2011, I sent an email to Belinda Byrne at Penguin asking if she was interested in looking at my novel. ‘Yes please!’ she said. Almost two years later, Rough Diamond is on the shelves. (Sitting here shaking my head in disbelief about that – still!) Mind you – there were rejections before then. Actually, not rejections, just silence from other publishers. I did get to first base in the Hachette Manuscript Development program, but no further.

2). Are you the sort of writer that meticulously maps out your plot and characters? Or do you like to sit down and just ‘wing it’ and see where the book takes you?

Well, because I had NO idea what I was doing when I started writing Rough Diamond, it all just poured out of me. There were reams of romantic scenes between Jack and Erica. It was almost like I had to get it out of my system so that I could get on with writing the actual story. But in the end, there was very little plot. I understand now why other publishers wouldn’t take my manuscript. It was a structural mess. But Belinda loved the voice of Erica, and took a chance that I’d be able to produce the goods. She reckons I have – thanks to her brilliant coaching – and I’m SO delighted with the result.

This current novel – Emerald Island – well, I’m a bit more hesitant about just rushing in there, and I’m doing much more planning. It’s different this time. There’s a contract and an expectant audience and I understand why Book Two can be such a challenge for a writer. I’ll eventually hand it over to Belinda, confident that it’s in much better shape than Rough Diamond was at the same stage. (Confident because I have an angel in the wings in the form of author, mentor, plotting and structure genius, Sydney Smith, whispering in my ear.)

3). Do you have a writing routine? (Do you try and write at set times each day or just when the mood takes you.) Do you have a particular place you like to write, such as a study, or perhaps a café and do you have certain favourite snacks that keep you fueled up?

Hmm. I think I’ve rejected my former life so thoroughly, all my PA skills (apart from touch-typing, thank God) seem to have vanished. I’ve become a terrible time manager. So easily distracted by Facebook, emails, the pretty parrots outside in the bird bath. I seem to need complete silence and visual stillness to be able to write my novel, and nothing else that needs doing (otherwise those things poke at me and I can’t concentrate).

I love writing at the dining table so I can be part of what’s happening around me. I don’t like being locked away, missing out on things (pretty parrots, etc). You can see why there’s a problem.

Yes, eating is very important as another form of distraction. “I’ll just make a cuppa and have that chocolate and then I’ll write the next bit.” A lot of chocolate gets eaten.

So, in an ideal world – if self-discipline and time management skills were things I possessed – this is what I’d do. I’d get up at 6, walk the dog, do some pilates, eat a healthy breakfast, write until 5, organise dinner, spend the evening doing Facebook, emails and the like. But my days are never, ever like that (big sigh) however I’m lucky in one thing. I’m very productive under pressure, and there’s no greater pressure in this business than a looming deadline.

4). Rough Diamond is quite a funny novel but it also contains a very serious issue, that of terrorism. Did you find it hard to balance out the seriousness that threat deserved with the lighter, more humorous moments?

I guess I chose terrorism because I wanted really awful baddies, and for me, terrorists are the pits. I mean, they don’t care who they hurt, they have no fear of death, and that’s pretty scary. How do you stop a bloke who’s about to blow something up? “Stop or I’ll shoot!” This doesn’t work with terrorists – they just go ahead and blow up the thing, taking themselves out at the same time.

The humour’s something I can’t help. There’s nothing deliberate about it really – the balancing act between the seriousness and the humour. It’s what comes out of me. Remember that scene from the second Bridget Jones, when she was singing Madonna songs with the prostitutes in the Thai jail? I mean, really. But how funny! That’s not something a writer plans – I reckon Helen Fielding would have been as surprised and delighted as her readers when that scene came to her.

5). Australia isn’t perhaps a very likely target when thinking about terrorists (or perhaps that’s just wishful thinking on my part!). How did you decide what to choose to be a focus for an attack? Did you ever think about setting the novel elsewhere or was Melbourne always your first choice?

It was always going to be Melbourne because it’s what I know. Personally, I enjoy reading about exotic, mysterious places (I love reading fantasy for this reason), so I was surprised and delighted with so much positive feedback about the Melbourne setting. Readers seem to love travelling to familiar places with Erica.

I guess the Sydney Opera House was an obvious choice for a target, and I think I chose the Melbourne Cup because it was happening around the time I was writing that scene. But I don’t think all the books in this series will be about terrorism. They’ll probably be about unlikely things. And ridiculous and outrageous things. The baddies will be really awful. I also like making my bad guys look stupid for some reason.

6). Did you always plan for this to be the first in a series or did you realise while writing it that there were still more stories to tell about Erica?

As I was writing the final scene of Rough Diamond, I knew I wasn’t ready to finish it. I wanted much more of Jack and Erica. I hope there’ll be at least four or five in the series and Penguin felt it was made for a series. I do have ideas for the next couple and I’m SO excited about Book Three, I’m absolutely busting to get to it. While Emerald Island sends Erica on a very scary, very exciting foreign journey, Book Three will see her back home, involved in one of Melbourne’s iconic annual events.

7). Do you have a favourite author or novel? Who inspires you?

I have a couple of favourite crime novelists but they don’t really inspire my own work. I’m not sure about that – where the inspiration comes from. I certainly learn things from other writers but my voice, the voice of Erica, is just what comes. I’ve learned structural and plotting tricks, writing techniques and the like from other writers and teachers, but not the voice. The story lines come out of conversations with friends and there’s usually wine involved. “I think Jack should go undercover at the ballet.” Yes, I think he’d look pretty hot in a pair of ballet tights! Who knows? There might be a ballet-dancing bad guy in Book 4!

8). And lastly, what’s next for you?

Have a party for Rough Diamond, finish writing Emerald Island, start plotting No. 3 (which I reckon will have a sapphire in it) and go to America on a holiday. I’ve never been – very exciting!

+++

Thank you so much Kathryn (and Penguin AU!) and good luck with Erica and her future adventures.

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Les Misérables – Victor Hugo

Les MisLes Misérables
Victor Hugo
Penguin Classics
2012 (originally 1862), 1232p
Read from my TBR pile

So when Marg first mentioned that she was reading Les Misérables for a read-a-long, I thought she was nuts. I knew it was the size of a large brick and probably relatively heavy going. But there are some books that you just want to tackle in your lifetime and this was one of them. I pondered the idea of joining the read-a-long for a while and then I had my decision made for me when Marg showed me the Penguin Clothbound version with this cover. I bought it and then thought well, it’s here now. I might as well read it!

Marg and I have done several joint reviews before – this time Marg has the first part of the discussion, which you can find over here at her blog and I have the second part.

Les Mis Discussion….. Pt 2

Bree: I quite liked Marius. I felt sorry for him in a few ways and because I knew nothing about the plot and so far there was a lot of people not being very happy in this novel, I desperately wanted him to find some happiness. Actually, I spent a great deal of this part of the novel fearful for his life, because everyone always says that they cry in the end of Les Mis – I was turning each page and wondering if some hideous fate was going to befall him. Both him and Cosette are similar in some ways. Marius has turned his back on a privileged lifestyle and Cosette has no real idea of the sort of life she can/will have. They are both quite content in their situations in some ways and I think they’re the sort of people who deserve each other. Both of them are inherently good and just and I’m not surprised they found each other. I do wonder though, at Marius’ parking himself near Cosette day after day before they speak. Would that be “instalove” or stalkery in this day and age?

Marg: Probably. I had been warned that I would cry at this book too, and didn’t! I teared up a little bit at a couple of points in the movie but not full out blubbing – not like my friend I went with who was still crying half an hour after the movie ended! I was talking with someone on Twitter the other day about the ending and the discussion was about how unhappy the book was, but I actually found the ending to be quite upbeat, or maybe that was just the fact that I was happy to be finished!

B: I found the ending quite upbeat too. And I didn’t cry (and I basically cry in everything – books, movies, etc). I’ve seen comments on twitter that people walked out of the movie sobbing and it didn’t stop for ages after they’d left the film behind!

M: I am a crier too….usually!

One of the things I often wonder about reading books in translation is how much of an impact the translator makes. I read a relatively recent translation by Julie Rose but you read a different translation (the one with the cover that I covet!). I thought it might be fun to do a comparison of a small section.

I forgot to note the page number of this quote, but in Bree’s copy it comes from page 1048, so quite near the end. Here’s the section from Bree’s copy, which is translated by Norman Denny:

Les Mis 01Les Mis 02

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here is the Julie Rose translation, which was read by Marg:

2013-01-13 22.27.07

M: Another thing I did want to ask you is about how you approach footnotes. I don’t know about the version you had but there were about 150 pages of footnotes in the version I read. Do you read each footnote as you come along to them, do you skim over them or something else? I tend to read the chapter until I find the first notation and then I read all the footnotes for that chapter and then keep reading. Most of the time that worked for me as a strategy although there were a few chapters that had 20 to 30 notes!

B: My copy didn’t have that many footnotes…. every now and then a page would have one, and I always read each footnote as I come across the reference to it

M: Would you recommend this to other readers? I would but with reservations. I think you have to be committed because it would be very easy to put the book down and walk away. I also don’t think it is a book that people who don’t normally read should pick up. I have been posting photos as I went through the book on Instagram and Facebook and one of my friends who hardly ever reads made a comment about going to the library to get the book and reading it! This is not a book to have out from the library, people! Especially not at the moment with the popularity of the movie. I was lucky enough to borrow it a couple of months ago but I couldn’t extend it again because all of a sudden there were 10 people in the queue behind me. Those people will have a maximum of 4 weeks to read the book. You and I are both pretty fast readers and I think you just scraped in under 4 weeks and I took about 8 weeks to read it bearing in mind I took a couple of weeks off over the holidays. It does have to be said that this book would be a perfect e-reader book because this sucker is heavy when you are hauling it around with you all the time. I was reading it on the train each day so I was carrying it  around a lot!

B: It did take me about 4wks but I really pushed myself to finish it over the last 4-5 days because I knew I was going away and I didn’t want to take the book with me (it really is a beautiful book!) and I didn’t want to leave it for 3wks either. It’s a big commitment and I enjoy reading a lot of books (I have a lot of books to read!) so I don’t often read books of this enormous size. It’s also a book that requires concentration (so no skimming! although I must confess, my eyes did glaze over in bits, such as the discourse on the sewage system). However I did enjoy it, actually quite a lot more than I expected and more than I have enjoyed other classic novels. Would I read it again? Possibly, far into the future. There’s so much in this book that no doubt a second reading would be of benefit. It also made me realise that I can enjoy books like this, because previously my attempts at classics, particularly translated fiction, have been a bit disappointing and I’ve been unable to connect with them. This novel and Anna Karenina have proved that there are classics out there for me!

M: So, I am about to start War and Peace. Want to join me again?

B: Well….it’s sitting on my shelf!

7/10

Book #272 of 2012

classicsclubI’m counting this towards my “50 classics in 5 years” challenge for The Classics Club.

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Peter Pan – Jessica Owers

Peter PanPeter Pan: The Forgotten Story of Phar Lap’s Successor
Jessica Owers
Random House AU
2011, 479p
Read from my TBR pile

Australia has always been quick to fall in love with a racing icon. From the very early days of Carbine to the mighty Phar Lap, to Bernborough, Tulloch and Dulcify. The eighties roared in with the beautiful Kingston Town and went out with the likes of Super Impose and Better Loosen Up. The mid nineties brought us the quartet of Octagonal, Saintly, Filante and Nothin’ Leica Dane. Might And Power kept the seat warm for Sunline and Makybe Diva and most recently the brilliance of the unbeaten Black Caviar has captivated the nation.

With the news that Phar Lap had died overseas in 1932, the country was plunged into mourning. The big red horse had scored himself a legion of fans with his brave victories, often lumping large weights. Because of the might of Phar Lap, his legacy has lived on with many of this generation still admiring the great horse. Unfortunately, the legend of Peter Pan has faded away somewhat, out of the limelight and Jessica Owers has sought to rectify this with her first novel, devoted to bring the story of the flashy chestnut with the unusual flaxen mane and tail roaring back to front and centre stage.

Peter Pan was almost never born – his breeding was entirely an accident and but for his stunning looks, he might have been sold as a yearling by his owner. There was something about the striking colt that led Rodney Rouse Dangar to hang onto him and it would be one of the greatest decisions he ever made. He didn’t know it yet, but with Peter Pan he was going to fulfill many a dream of his: to breed a champion, to win some of the most prestigious races in the land and to add to his trophy cabinet the scalps that meant something. As a wealthy man, Dangar wasn’t out to race Peter Pan for the prizemoney, which thanks to the Depression, was not what it had been. When it became apparent that he had something special, he focused on a goal each preparation. How the horse got there was left to the capable hands of his trainer, Frank McGrath.

From 1932-1936, Peter Pan raced 39 times for 23 wins, 6 seconds, 1 third and 9 unplaced races. His greatest achievements included not one, but two Melbourne Cups, the AJC Derby (at his fourth start), two Melbourne Stakes (now known as the Mackinnon Stakes, one of the primary preparation races for the Melbourne Cup), the AJC St Leger, 2 AJC Cumberland Plates and a variety of other black type races. His preparations were often interrupted by a niggling recurring injury in one shoulder and his racing manners often left something to be desired. But when Peter Pan was right, he was virtually unbeatable. His £34,240 prizemoney, mostly collected at a time when prizemoney was low, would equate to well over $10 million in current times, probably closer to 15. He had an amazing turn of foot and could break a great horse’s heart.

Despite the horse’s brilliance, he was often much maligned in the press. It seems that Peter Pan had come too soon after the country lost the great Phar Lap and everyone wanted to assure themselves that he wasn’t as good, that he couldn’t be as good. Over time, Peter Pan’s star slowly faded from the mind’s of most people and some don’t know much about him at all. Owers’ book aims to set right the idea that Peter Pan was never as good – in fact, it could be argued that he was better….

I bought my father a copy of this book for Christmas last year because I have always known that he was an avid Peter Pan fan and one of those who believe that he was a better horse than Phar Lap. His two Melbourne Cups cannot be ignored by his die hard fans, including one that was run on the wettest track ever and during which the horse lumped 9st 11lb, which would equate to around 62kg on the current scale. He could’ve won a third one but was weighted right out of it with a whopping 10st 6lb which would be 66.2kg. When Dad finished, he raved about it – and this was from a man who might read maybe one book every 2 years. Peter Pan also missed a spring carnival so for some, it’s also a case of what could’ve been for this horse, had he not suffered from his mysterious injury.

Meticulously researched, Peter Pan takes the reader through the unusual way in which he came into the world and from then on through every race start. It’s amazingly detailed, each race lovingly described without the benefit of easy-to-access race replays like in this day and age. You can get a sense of the excitement, the atmosphere that is so prevalent on a racetrack when a champion steps out. This has clearly been a labour of love, it took five years out of the author’s life and the polished finished copy shows just how much time and effort has been spent on constructing it. The characters come to life – the gentleman owner, the astute trainer, the various jockeys and Peter Pan’s devoted strapper.

I’m a little biased, because I’ve been around the racing industry for a long time, even though I am not directly involved. My father is a former bookmaker who spent a lot of time at the tracks – in the late 80s he was privileged enough to see a horse belonging to one of his friends run 2nd in the WS Cox Plate and back it up with a win in the Victoria Derby. In high school my best friend was the daughter of the local top trainer and I spent many an hour at their stables, getting to know the various racers like they were my own. And it is the industry in which my husband makes our living, albeit a different code now, having moved on from his horse racing days some years ago. It’s something I have a soft spot for, the excitement and the passion that envelops its participants. And on Melbourne Cup Day, and other special days around the nation, everyone is a part of it. The sport has its detractors, and probably always will. But it’s an integral part of the Australian landscape, both culturally and financially and it’s virtually impossible to imagine a world without horse racing in it.

Peter Pan is definitely a must-read for the avid racing fan.

9/10

Book #282 of 2012

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The Girl In The Hard Hat – Loretta Hill

Girl In Hard HatThe Girl In The Hard Hat
Loretta Hill
Random House AU
2013, 368p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Wendy Hopkins has arrived in the Pilbarra on a secret mission. She’s searching for her real father after a simple query into obtaining a copy of her birth certificate led her to discover that she possessed two – the first one which listed her father as unknown and the second one after the man she always believed was her father adopted her when she was just a toddler. Wendy has always wondered why her father had looked at her in that broken-hearted way, almost like he couldn’t bear to, from the time she was around six years old. She was shunted off to boarding school not long after and her relationship with both of her parents has never been tight. Her mother was reluctant to give her any information when Wendy confronted her about the birth certificates but finally she admitted several things: her father’s name was Hector, he worked in mining/engineering and had been in the Pilbarra. So Wendy decided that she would track him down. She had to know who she really was.

Things do not get off to a good start when it’s revealed that her Uncle Mike, a bit of the family black sheep, blackmailed Dan Hullog into giving her a job. Dan no longer has the job for her because the person he was protecting doesn’t need it anymore but he has arranged for Wendy to work for Barnes Inc, the company constructing the iron ore wharf. As the new Safety Manager, Wendy isn’t exactly the most popular person in the company, especially as she arrives wearing an enemy uniform. No one is particularly open to her suggestions either, especially the man she’s working with who is clearly not up to coping with the rigorous demands of enforcing safety on such a big site. Wendy, as one of only five women and some 350 men in the camp is subjected to a gentle hazing from most of the men and made the butt of most of their jokes. Notorious womaniser Gavin Jones is one of the main culprits but there are times that Wendy catches a glimpse of a very different Gavin before he slams the door.

Gavin can’t afford to get involved with anyone, tempting as Wendy herself may be. He’s a casual kind of guy, a love them and leave them type. He’s been moving around for far too long now, looking over his shoulder and always wondering. To get close to someone would be to put them in danger so Gavin keeps it casual. Wendy doesn’t do casual though. She wants to know what Gavin is hiding. Danger is coming to the Pilbarra and it’s going to take all of Wendy’s planning and execution of safety plans to keep the entire camp safe. And she might just get the answers she’s been so desperately seeking as well.

The Girl In The Hard Hat is the follow up book to The Girl In Steel-Capped Boots which was probably one of my Top 10 reads of 2012. I was delighted when I found out Loretta Hill was writing another book set around the construction of the Iron Ore wharf in the Pilbarra, focusing on a new couple but still including all of the well-known characters from the first book. They’re all back – Carl, who still cannot stop swearing, Sharon the bus driver, the boys down at the wharf. And if you’re curious about Lena and Dan then be happy because they’re here too and their story continues along with this one in a very satisfactory sort of way. But the spotlight is on Wendy Hopkins and Gavin Jones and it’s quite the ride.

It’s hard not to feel for Wendy right away as she recounts her relatively lonely childhood, discovery that the man she thought was her father isn’t and her mother’s reluctance to even give her the answers she needs. Armed with what little information she did have, she trekked all the way to the Pilbarra only to be told that the job wasn’t actually a real one but Dan had set her up in another one. She faces hostility and ribbing that ranges from the gentle, good-natured type to the more serious. Her accommodations are less than satisfactory but Wendy doesn’t let this get her down. She has a goal and it seems like nothing the Pilbarra can throw at her will dissuade her from that goal. Even Gavin Jones. Gavin is handsome, charming, flirtatious and with the reputation of being quite the womaniser. Wendy knows she should stay away from him but she can’t help but be drawn to the deeper side of Gavin

This book is rife with the same humour and charm that made me fall in love with the first one and it easily leapfrogs sophomore book syndrome. Despite the fact that Lena and Wendy might seem similar at first glance, Hill keeps them starkly very different and the same with the two male love interests. Gavin Jones is very different and the way in which the attraction between him and Wendy unfolds is different as well. The chemistry between them was electric but it was also a bit of a slow burn – there were so many obstacles getting in the way of them, especially Gavin’s reluctance to attach himself to anyone and potentially put them in danger. His protectiveness of Wendy was sweet, at odds with most of the way he behaved. His life had been spent looking over his shoulder for a few years and it had taken a bit of a toll on him. He hated seeing people waste their lives and opportunities.

This is the sort of book that I would recommend to everyone I know, especially if they liked The Girl In Steel-Capped Boots. And if you haven’t read that one then… you definitely need to!

9/10

Book #258 of 2012

This review is part of The Girl In The Hard Hat blog tour. Please check out MrsMichelleS’s review before me and don’t forget to head over to Marg at Adventures of an Intrepid Reader tomorrow to see what she thought!

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North Star – Karly Lane

North StarNorth Star
Karly Lane
Allen & Unwin
2011, eBook
Bought for my Kindle

Since her divorce, Kate has felt like she can’t get back on even ground. She’s been working two jobs to keep a roof over her head and the head of her two children after having to sell the lovely family home in order to pay her husband’s gambling debts. He has continued to gamble, continued to make excuses and Kate has had to take action to keep her children out of the situation. As a result, her moody teenage daughter Georgia isn’t feeling very kindly towards her at the moment and it gets even worse when Kate is informed that her grandfather, a mean alcoholic that she’s had no contact with in over fifteen years, has died and left her North Star, a large property.

At first Kate’s plans were to fix up the house, which has been neglected and get it back on the market. But being back there, being in the house where she spent time with her beloved gran and felt real love, plants a seed of hope within her. Kate owns the property outright so it doesn’t come with the trappings of a mortgage. If she can find a way to make a little income, just enough to cover what they need, she thinks that they can make North Star their future. Georgia is less than enthusiastic, not willing to leave behind her friends and her social life for a dump in the middle of no where. Kate’s younger child Liam is more open to the idea and Kate hopes that living in a small town where he’ll have the chance to make friends will give her son the confidence he so desperately needs.

Kate, along with her childhood friend Jenny, Jenny’s husband and two children, begins the hard work of making the homestead liveable again. Just as she feels she’s beginning to make progress, in all aspects of her life by setting the house to rights, finding her feet in the new town, even making a friend that could possibly turn into something more, Kate faces opposition from a neighbouring grazier who seems determined to bully her off her land. And then her ex-husband turns up, seeing opportunity in Kate’s new found inheritance. He isn’t above playing games using their children and threatening Kate with a secret she has held close for many long years.

I’ve had a copy of North Star on my kindle for some time – ever since I read Karly’s second book, Morgan’s Law. She’s since released a 3rd, Bridie’s Choice which I’ve been hearing excellent things about and before I read that, I wanted to catch up by reading this one as well. I always like having a few books on the kindle that I think I’ll really enjoy in case I go away and am looking for something like a ‘sure bet’ to read and North Star was definitely one of these.

Kate was such a tough, admirable character. She’d had a horrible childhood, the only bright spot the times she went with her gran on North Star. She married young after being forced off North Star in tragedy and her and her husband worked hard to pay off their house only to then lose it to her husband’s gambling debts. You get the feeling that Kate craves stability, both emotional and financial after her upbringing and for her to lose the house was a huge blow. She had to work two jobs just to pay for the rent in a small flat, somewhere really unsuitable for herself and her two children. Her children have also been affected terribly by the marriage breakdown. Her teenage daughter Georgia is pushing the boundaries – sneaking out, experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Kate thinks that hopefully, being removed from those influences might have a positive effect on her daughter, even if she’s brought her attitude all the way out to North Star. Kate’s son Liam is younger and painfully shy. He needs some stability and structure desperately and Kate hopes to provide all that and more with the idea she’s had for starting a business on the property.

What I enjoyed about this novel was Kate’s attitude to her ‘fresh start’. She works so hard at fixing up the house to make it habitable again, she tries so hard with her children. She doesn’t lose her temper with Georgia when she’s rude and pushing the boundaries when it would be tempting to come down on her more severely. She also takes things very cautiously with John, the local police officer who makes it quite clear that he’s very interested in Kate for the long term. Kate hasn’t been involved with many men at all and she has some trauma in her past that makes it hard for her and she also has herself and her children to think of. They’ve all been hurt recently and you can tell that she wants to make sure that this is absolutely right before she proceeds. Unfortunately just as she makes that decision and takes that step, her ex-husband rolls into town, determined to make trouble, especially when he spots that Kate is slowly forging a life for herself without him and with someone else.

North Star is such an enjoyable book, it’s one of those wonderful reads that you just sink into and emerge from hours later, not quite sure where the time went. There’s an undercurrent of suspense running through the latter half as a story from long ago is unfolded. I can’t wait to get to Bridie’s Choice when I get home!

8/10

Book #287 of 2012

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A Convenient Bridegroom – Helen Bianchin

Convenient BridegroomA Convenient Bridegroom
Helen Bianchin
Harlequin Presents
1999, 192p
Read from my Nan’s stash

Aysha is only two weeks away from her wedding to Carlo Santangelo. It’s something of a marriage of convenience – her family and Carlo’s have been friends for many, many years and socialise often. Carlo has been married before but lost his wife only weeks after the wedding in a car accident. Aysha, some decade or so younger than Carlo, has watched him casually date a bevy of women before their engagement which will seek to cement the two families even further and provide the next generation.

Aysha is beginning to find it difficult to maintain the light, casual façade she wears around Carlo as the wedding draws nearer. Although Carlo is attentive and thoughtful, Aysha is painfully aware that he doesn’t love her, especially not in the way that she loves him. For him, she believes this to be merely a business arrangement that is mutually beneficial – he gets an attractive, well connected wife to keep his home and bear his children and she gets a handsome, wealthy man to take care of her and provide the home and children and the means to raise them in the best ways Sydney has to offer. Not only can she probably not live up to the ghost of his deceased wife, but someone from their social circle has made it quite clear that she enjoys Carlo’s company and that there are no plans for this arrangement to cease after the marriage.

It’s not often I read anything from the Mills & Boon line anymore – I read a lot of them in my younger days and after a while they do feel all the same. I’ve read Helen Bianchin before, some probably 14 or so years ago now and this one encompasses everything I remember about her books: society weddings based on mutually successful families merging, the female already desperately in love with the male and believing it to not be returned and a bitchy, society type who will stop at nothing in order to secure the hero. There’s a huge amount of detail paid to clothes, hair, make up, Sydney traffic and day-to-day routines such as driving from one suburb to another and dinner plans. I only read this because I realised I was on 97 titles by Australian Women Writers this year and I wanted to make it an even 100 for the year. I needed a few quick reads so I raided my Nan’s stash again to see what she had. I found enough books to definitely meet my requirements and knew I’d get through this one in less than two hours.

Part of the reason I stopped reading Mills & Boon was as I grew up, I began enjoying the heroes less and less. A lot of them, particularly those rooted in Meditteranean heritage are overtly Alpha to the point of bullying the heroine, which always made me inherently frustrated in reading them. Although Carlo was obviously a successful man used to getting what he wanted and he occasionally did order Aysha around, it was more like “Why yes I am taking you to the Gold Coast for a lovely weekend break, go and pack your bag” than “No you cannot do this because I say so and I am male and Italian and therefore women should cook me my pasta and pour me my wine and go to my bed and that’s about it”. He was relatively inoffensive although he was quite slow on the uptake putting Nina, the society woman attempting to make waves in the relationship, in her place. You’d think a smart man like he was supposed to be would’ve nipped that in the bud early, rather than allow her to taunt his fiancee at every social event they were attending (of which there were many).

Like many of these novels, a lot of the issues could’ve been solved with some simple communication. Aysha refused to tell Carlo what was bothering her and then seemed to think the solution was moving to their Clontarf mansion before the wedding, which seemed counter-productive given she believed her husband was keeping a mistress. He wasn’t, obviously, but if he was then she pretty much gave him many free nights to do what he pleased. All in all though, this book was pretty much what I wanted at the time – something quick and not too inflammatory, to pass the time and add to my tally.

6/10

Book #285 of 2012

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Deadly Sight – Cindy Dees

Deadly SightDeadly Sight
Cindy Dees
Harlequin
2012, 288p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Grayson Pierce is a man living on bargains and borrowed time. Ever since his wife and children were brutally slaughtered and he arrived home to find their bodies, he’s been balanced on a knife edge.  When his old college friend calls and asks a favour of him, Grayson can hardly say no. After all, the man has gone above and beyond in Grayson’s time of need, doing everything he can to keep him alive and sane. It seems like a small favour, Grayson is to help employee Sam Jessup investigate a strange cult.

Sam is deeply loyal to her boss and even though she’s going in to this operation without all the facts, she’s determined to give it her best. She knew she’d be working with Grayson Pierce but she goes in not knowing anything about his tragic past. She sees a haunted guilt in this man’s eyes and knows that under his intelligent, capable, obviously-secretive-government-employee persona, he’s a man that has experienced something utterly horrific. As they need to pose as a couple in order to infiltrate a conservative, technology-free community, she does a little digging into Grayson’s past and is utterly sickened by what she finds.

Grayson also knows that there’s more to this than meets the eye and he’s curious about the appearance of Sam, until he learns that Sam has taken part in a deeply secretive genetic engineering experiment. Her eyes have been altered to give her the type of vision that has to be seen to be believed. She can see sharply and clearly for up to a mile, including in the dark. That comes in handy for snooping around a heavily patrolled compound where they can’t get close. The downfall is her eyes are incredibly sensitive and normal daylight is incredibly painful for her unless she takes strict precautions. Her eyes are also bright gold and in public she must tone them down with specially created contacts.

Grayson and Sam really get into their cover story – the attraction is there between them but Grayson is also dealing with his guilt over feeling something for a woman other than his wife. He throws himself into finding out what is going on in this small town behind the locked gates of the compound. Grayson is taking life one agonising day at a time, bargaining with himself that if he doesn’t feel better in 30 days, then he has permission to end his own life. His work gives him a purpose but Sam just might give him something to live for.

Deadly Sight is from Harlequin’s romantic suspense line and I’ve been loving the romantic suspense novels that I’ve been reading recently – it’s become one of my favourite genres (or sub-genres, I’m hopeless at categorising correctly!). I requested this one from NetGalley as a holiday read and although I found it quite easy to read and zip through in a single sitting, I didn’t really love it.

Grayson is a male lead that is damaged almost beyond repair. He’s suffered through something so incredibly horrible, it’s almost unimaginable and he’s still standing and still functioning although sometimes it seems that he doesn’t know how, nor does he want to be. His guilt is all consuming and he suffers from terrible nightmares, reliving the moment he discovered the mutilated bodies of his wife and children over and over again.  He’s expecting a man named Sam to work with and the Sam he gets is definitely not what he was expecting. The fact that an attraction is stirring in him for her only makes him somewhat more difficult with her, because it adds to his guilt. There are times where it seems that Grayson forgets himself and actually relaxes around Sam, or is playful with her or allows himself to enjoy a kiss or a moment with her in the name of their cover. But he’s also incredibly overprotective, unable to bear the thought that he may let someone else in his life down, just as he let down his wife and children by not being there when danger came.

Sam is intrigued by Grayson and she snoops around in his past to find out what bothers him, even though the idea of Grayson knowing her past is abhorrent to her, which was something that I found a little difficult to understand. Grayson’s past is far more painful than Sam’s (I’m aware that she didn’t know what she was going to find when she went looking, but she knew he worked for a 3-letter organisation and she knew that he was harbouring a deep pain and guilt, so she knew that whatever she did find was going to be bad) but yet she doesn’t want him to really know anything about it even though she holds an unfair advantage over him.

Apparently this is the second novel in the Code X series, which I didn’t know when I read it. I did get the feeling as I was reading that I was missing a few things and I checked Goodreads but it wasn’t listed as being part of a series and the author had a backlist I had to wade through in order to find the first one. I’d say I might’ve enjoyed this one a little more if I’d realised what I was reading was part of a series and if I’d read the first novel in it, which probably explained more about the secret genetic engineering that’s going on. That was a huge chunk of the story that I didn’t really “get”. The other thing I had trouble buying was Grayson’s about face at the end, which felt really abrupt. I understand that he began to see that he didn’t need to end his life and that things might slowly get better for him, but he just seemed to go from desperate to in love with Sam and everything was fine now.

6/10

Book #283 of 2012

 

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Seven Nights In A Rogue’s Bed – Anna Campbell

Seven NightsSeven Nights In A Rogue’s Bed
Anna Campbell
Harper Collins
2012, eBook
Bought for my Kindle

Sidonie Forsyth has made the ultimate sacrifice for her sister, who has incurred gambling debts with one of the most notorious scoundrels. When faced with the choice of paying up in money or paying up in his bed, Rebecca went to Sidonie for help. She doesn’t have the money and if she went to the rake’s bed, her abusive husband would kill her. Sidonie never intends to marry so she agrees to go in her sister’s place and spend a night in the bed of Jonas Merrick at Castle Craven.

What Sidonie finds at Castle Craven is not what she expects – Jonas Merrick is scarred and not handsome but he leaves her alone. When she would leave in the morning, he negotiates that she stay for a week. He will spend the week trying to get her into bed and she will spend the week trying to stay out of it. There’s something about the arrogant but yet desperately vulnerable and insecure man that draws her. Even though she knows she carries a secret that could change Jonas’s life, she doesn’t dare voice it. Not yet.

Jonas is used to being a loner. He’s been denigrated as a bastard his entire life, tolerated because he’s extraordinarily rich but not respected. Despite the fact that he has made a sport of bedding many beautiful women, he never forgets the fact that he is scarred so hideously. Sidonie, innocent Sidonie, does not fear looking upon his scar and the seven days he’s going to spend attempting to seduce her into his bed could have a devastating impact on the heart that has been frozen against love and kindness for so long.

When I read Anna Campbell’s Christmas novella The Winter Wife recently, at the end it contained the first chapter of this book, which I devoured. I knew before I’d finished the first page that I had to read the entire thing and soon – so as soon as I had access to my Amazon account, I downloaded a copy to my computer and transferred it to my kindle. Have I mentioned that my parents don’t actually have proper internet? Yes, I’m holidaying in 1997.

The novel starts with Sidonie arriving at the derelict Craven Castle – Jonas Merrick is expecting her sister Rebecca. In order to forget the cruelty of her husband, Sidonie’s sister finds her fun on the gaming tables and she has run up a considerable debt to Jonas Merrick. Jonas has been tortured and wronged by Rebecca’s husband (his cousin) for as long as he can remember and he knows Rebecca can’t pony up to the debt cash-wise. Cuckolding his cousin would give him great satisfaction and pleasure. Unfortunately, Jonas isn’t in possession of all the facts and it’s Rebecca’s sister Sidonie who is shown into the dining room. He couldn’t be more surprised and he’s ready to dismiss her in favour of Rebecca but then he cannot help but be a little interested. Sidonie is somewhat trapped – she doesn’t want to be ruined, even though she has no plans to marry. But she does want to save her sister’s life.

It is a battle of determination and wits, in a way. Jonas wants Sidonie, who interests him more with each passing minute. Jonas also fascinates Sidonie. She isn’t repulsed by his devastating scars, like many women of society. She doesn’t ever plan to marry, because she’s seen the way women are property and she will be no one’s property and beholden to no one. But she does quickly develop a strong attraction to Jonas and with each passing day, it gets harder for her to withstand his seduction, especially the more she learns about him. The love that grows between them is fragile – Jonas is so incredibly flawed. He presents a façade of not caring about his bastardry and the taunting he has received because of it, not to mention the disinheriting. Likewise he seems to care little about the scars that blemish his face, until Sidonie picks up on the devastating vulnerability that drives him to put mirrors everywhere and blindfold all of his lovers in bed. Sidonie wants to show to Jonas, to prove to him, that she doesn’t care. That she loves him regardless, or even because of, the things he has faced in life. However all the while the secret she keeps hangs over them and you just know it’s going to come out at the worst time, when Jonas has finally placed his faith and trust in her! This leads him to question everything, given the already fragile self-confidence Sidonie had managed to weave together for him and Sidonie always knew that once the secret came out, Jonas would be unlikely to forgive her for keeping it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book – the rest of it lived up to the high standard set in the first chapter. I do love a deeply flawed hero and Jonas was written so well – his vulnerabilities were beautifully done and it was impossible not to feel for him at many stages in the book. Likewise Sidonie was a well-constructed heroine, although her devotion to her sister did grate on me slightly towards the end of the book, especially the way in which her sister repaid her sometimes.

I am definitely delighted that Anna Campbell has a lovely decent-sized backlist for me to track down and enjoy now and I’m looking forward to the other Sons of Sin books once they are published.

8/10

Book #218 of 2012

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