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Review: Too Wicked To Wed – Cara Elliott

Too Wicked To WedToo Wicked To Wed (Lords Of Midnight #1)
Cara Elliott
Forever Publishing
2011, 349p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Lady Alexa Bingham hasn’t been raised in quite the same way as other ladies of noble birth. She enjoys independence and plain-speaking. She has also seen to much of the family’s country estate and is practical and knowledgeable, having received an education that would be similar to the one a boy would. Needing to find the whereabouts of her brother, Lady Alexa ventures into a brothel and gaming house, owned by the notorious Earl of Killingworth, aka The Irish Wolfhound.

An unreformed rake, the Wolfhound agrees to help her locate her brother in return for a kiss and Lady Alexa is surprised that the only man who has ever interested her is a man such as he. In Town for a season, she finds the young men boring and insipid and isn’t surprised when they aren’t interested in her either. After all, she’s not one to quietly sit and simper and hold her tongue. But the Wolfhound is different – although titled he’s also impoverished and has turned to replenishing the family fortune by way of peddling debauchery. When the Earl of Killingworth is taken for a ride and a large amount of his cash is stolen he is forced to take a loan from a friend. A proud man, he stakes half his business on the loan, which his friend promptly then loses in a card came….to Lady Alexa Bingham.

Now business partners, Lady Alexa and the Wolfhound are together when someone makes an attempt on his life. They know Lady Alexa’s identity too and it is decided that for the safety of them both, they will retreat to the Earl of Killingworth’s entailed estate for him to recuperate and while his close friends investigate in Town. This of course, places Lady Alexa in a very dangerous position. If anyone were to know that she had been secluded away with him, she would be ruined.

However, being ruined is starting to look like a very attractive option…

So recently my eldest son was struck down with a terrible form of the flu. It took the rest of us down brutally, especially my youngest son and for a while, sleep was scarce and life was a never-ending cycle of taking temperatures, distributing medicine (my eldest will take anything but the oral steroids the doctor prescribed made him nauseous so I had to hide them, my youngest views most medicine as evil being sent to destroy him and I basically have to ram it down his throat) and feeling like utter crap. Because of that, I couldn’t really concentrate much on reading so I tried to pick lighter books, ones that didn’t require a huge amount of my attention and that I could put down if I need to attend to one of the kids (which was often). I found this one on my kindle – I probably requested it a couple of years ago, if the publication date is anything to go by, and never got around to reading it. I was in the mood for a historical romance and decided to give it a go and for the most part it delivered exactly what I wanted it to.

Both Lady Alexa and Connor, the Earl of Killingworth, aka the Irish Wolfhound are quite different to others in the Ton in that Lady Alexa has had a less than conventional upbringing and Connor has needed to secretly resort to trade in order to replenish the family fortune that his father gambled away. He had a deeply miserable childhood (don’t they all?) and hasn’t returned to his country estate which is entailed and could not, therefore, be gambled away, in many years and in fact never intended to return to it ever again. However circumstances beyond his control lead to him being taken there by Lady Alexa after consultation with one of the Earl’s friends after he is shot. It’s very remote and no one will know where they are, which will allow him to recuperate in safety and also keep Alexa safe too, as they know her identity. Although the Earl is very unhappy to be back in his childhood home, he slowly comes to be very impressed by the ideas and enthusiasm Lady Alexa has for it. It need not be shut up and crumbling into a ruin, with a bit of care and attention it could become a thriving estate and a way for him to earn back some of the money he needs. And if he’s willing to let it, it could also become a home for him, with Lady Alexa.

I quite enjoyed the developing attraction between the Earl and Lady Alexa from their first encounter up until they’re bascially living as a married couple at his estate. Because they’re both quite different from their social group, with Lady Alexa being outspoken and educated to run an estate and oversee all of its capacities, and the Earl having to engage in trade, which is a big no-no among the titled, they are both looking for someone to accept them as they are. Although the Earl has not had exposure to many positive marriages and seems uninterested in entering one himself….until he realises just what damage he will cause Alexa by having her with him. It’s secluded but there’s always the possibility of word escaping. The sexual attraction between the two of them is off the charts for both of them and he begins to feel as though he might be able to make it work, given the right amount of effort.

However despite enjoying their relationship and their sparring with each other, there’s no denying that the story lags in the middle and goes no where for a while. What should be interesting as they’re cooped up in the Earl’s family home isn’t anywhere near as much as it could and should be. Also, the ending is really weak and didn’t really seem motivation enough for the crimes that were being committed and the culprit was kind of funny but not really all that believable. It kind of took away from the mystery element of the story which dragged down the overall experience a bit. However the two characters that make up books 2 and 3 of this series were really interesting in their little snippets and I’d be interested in following it on and seeing what happens to them and maybe getting a glimpse or two of Connor and Alexa in the future.

6/10

Book #85 of 2014

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Review: Someone Else’s Love Story – Joshilyn Jackson

Someone Else's Love StorySomeone Else’s Love Story
Joshilyn Jackson
William Morrow
2013, 352p
Read from my local library

Shandi Pierce is 21 and a single mother to her son Natty, a child genius. In order to give Natty a better start towards good schooling, Shandi is moving herself and Natty from her mother’s house to her father’s condo in the city of Atlanta. Her Catholic mother and Jewish father have been divorced for a long time and this is just one in a long list of things that has had Shandi struggling to placate her demanding mother. Her father is offering her the use of his city condo, which he occasionally sleeps in when on call at the hospital and to pay for Natty’s special pre-school. It will also be much closer for Shandi to attend college classes and the convenience and benefits cannot be denied.

On the day they are moving, Shandi and her son step inside a gas station for a second and become involved in a dramatic hold up by a desperate young man with a gun. When a tall, blonde stranger puts himself between the gunman and her son, Shandi falls just a little bit in love. What she sees is a man who committed an amazingly brave and self-sacrificing act. What happens in that gas station forces Shandi to wake up and recognise the truth of Natty’s conception and acknowledge that lying about it, to herself or to him, isn’t going to do any good.

What Shandi doesn’t realise is that William Ashe, the man who stepped in front of the gun, had his own reasons for doing so. He believed it was his destiny. It was a year to the day since his world had been torn apart and he’d been searching for meaning ever since and thought he’d found it staring at him down the barrel of a gun. When, in the aftermath, Shandi comes to visit him in hospital and asks for his help, it sets them both on a course of self-discovery and healing. But this is not your average love story.

I first heard about this book over at Shelleyrae’s blog and knew that I had to read it. My library had it on order so I added myself to the list and then waited until it came in. As with library requests, it never rains it pours – I had a bunch of stuff all come in at once but I pulled this one off the pile to read first because I was so keen.

Shandi was only 17 when she fell pregnant and she has steadfastly maintained the ‘immaculate conception’ façade ever since. Her best friend Wolcott and his two mothers know the truth but Shandi has refused to really examine too closely the events that led to her becoming pregnant. Natty is an incredibly intelligent child and having attended a small rural daycare, he’s well aware that many children have both a mother and a father whereas he does not. He’s begun asking questions and Shandi has fobbed him off with a few fableish type stories but she knows that sooner or later she’s going to have to tell him the truth. And when she finds herself held up at gunpoint with her life threatened, she realises the danger of her keeping secrets. Natty might never be able to get the answers he will one day need.

William Ashe was choosing a laundry detergent when the hold up began. One year ago to the day, William’s life changed forever and he has been struggling to cope ever since. Whereas Shandi sees his actions as heroic, William sees them as merely a fulfilment of his destiny. When the outcome isn’t exactly what he desired, William finds himself being looked after by Shandi as he recovers. She asks him to help her with his problem and being a scientist who thrives on evidence, facts and ritual, William agrees to undertake the task despite the disapproval of his long-time best friend (and Shandi’s long time friend, Wolcott). As William’s tragedy slowly unfolds for Shandi, she comes to realise that the love story she has stumbled into, isn’t her love story. William is unavailable in every sense of the word and things are more complicated than she could possibly realise.

I really enjoyed this book because even though it’s right there in the title, it gave me something much different to what I expected going in. There’s quite a lot in the story you can see coming but there’s also quite a lot that I didn’t see and some of that made for very interesting twists. William is a character on the spectrum and he’s portrayed in a very blunt and honest way. He’s had his issues, he had few friends in school and his relationship was certainly quite unconventional. In many books it would be a love story between William and Shandi but this one really takes a different path and at times it works really well. I’d have liked more between Shandi and Wolcott – I think that particular part of the story needed more fleshing out and stronger scenes between the two of them, especially after the hold up.

I can certainly understand Shandi’s reason and desire to refuse to acknowledge what happened and to choose to belief that Natty was a gift to her. She’s very young when she gets pregnant and a bit naive as well. However it’s not something that will work for the long term, especially if she wants to be able to answer Natty’s questions and face what happened to her and move on. The book took an interesting turn about Shandi’s story – I’ve seen a review criticising it for apologising for date rape but I’m not entirely sure I feel that way. There are many different circumstances under which things can happen and this is just another one. Like many other parts of the story, there are twists involving this part too and there’s no doubt some readers will feel it’s a cop out or that it makes light of a serious issue. However – doesn’t mean that things don’t sometimes happen this way. It doesn’t change what it’s called, but every scenario is different.

7/10

Book #337 of 2013

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Doctors Beyond Borders – Georgie Tyler

9780857991133_500Doctors Beyond Borders
Georgie Tyler
Harlequin Escape
2013, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Australian doctor Ariadne Tate is fleeing a failed relationship when she takes a deployment to Sudan with Médecins Sans Frontières. Romance is the last thing on her mind and in the country devastated by war, famine, crimes against humanity and disease, she vows to find a way to both make a difference and forget the betrayal she left behind. But she didn’t count on meeting American doctor Ford Gosden, also in Sudan.

Ford is too attractive for his own good and Ariadne, who has been called cold before, isn’t ready for what he can make her feel. She doesn’t want to get involved with him – she’s already had her heart broken enough and even if they were to give in to their feelings, it would only get messy. They live together and work together but only for a little while longer. When their deployments are over, Ford will go back home and America and she will go back home to Sydney. There’s no point losing her heart when nothing can come of it.

Ariadne throws herself into doing the best she can for her patients, inoculating them against disease, trying to treat them for the ones they already have and trying to get them enough nourishing food so that they survive. But as the political tensions escalate, Ariadne has caught the eye of a local militia leader who sees her as a prize he must have. When she is taken during a run to deliver supplies to communities, Ford cannot sit around and wait for MSF or the UN to attempt to negotiate her release. He’ll do anything he can to get her back…..or die trying.

I’ve never read a novel set in Sudan before but it’s an area that’s been in the news an awful lot recently. This book is apparently set before the creation of South Sudan (it’s talked about in the novel as likely to happen soon) but it’s set in the politically tumultuous region of Abyei, which even now, is the subject of fighting by both the northern (Sudan) government and the newly-created South Sudan. It’s been seized by the north and at the moment, seems to be held to the stricter rules of the Islamic authoritarian state. For the purposes of this review I’m going to assume that it’s all ruled by Sudan and each part of it is held to those rules, because I’m surprised that the doctors consumed alcohol often and kept it within their house, especially given that local militia often made drive bys in the night to intimidate them. Alcohol is illegal in Sudan – the consumption of, the making of, the importation of. And although regions of the more moderate south do make their own ‘moonshine’ type grog, it can often be laced with some pretty bad stuff and it’s a risk to even consider drinking it. To be caught either possessing or drinking alcohol is an offence punishable under Sharia law. I’m not sure if the MSF or UN forces would be considered exempt from this but I’d guess that if they’re going to be tolerated in the country providing aid then they’d probably have to adhere to the laws. Ariadne also spends a lot of time wandering around the desert in tiny shorts and singlet tops which seems a pretty awesome way to get skin cancer. But perhaps I just feel that way because I’m a ridiculously pale redhead with genes more suited to Scotland than Australia and I can get burned on an 18 degree day.

On to the actual story. Ariadne was involved with someone she worked with back in Australia only to be betrayed by him. She seems to have run away from that situation and decided to immerse herself somewhere totally different working for the greater good providing medical assistance to those that need it. But her vow against romance lasts for only as long as it takes her to lay eyes on Dr Ford Gosden and his emerald green eyes. Ford too is scarred by something gone wrong back in America and he’s also been the subject of unwanted attention from a MSF midwife as well. But he wants Ariadne (boy does he want Ariadne) and he sets about attempting to break down the walls she has constructed around herself. It’s not an easy task but Ford is very persistent and he keeps chipping away at her defenses. There’s very much an instalust situation going on here – Ariadne can’t stop staring at his eyes and fantasizing about his body and it seems to go both ways. Ford is a ball of hormones – randier than a teenage boy with his first sexual experience dangling in front of him! They certainly had a lot of sexual chemistry and passion but the transition to love does feel a little rapid. Their interactions are all mostly sexual or concerning patients/the situation in Sudan.

Ariadne was a prickly character, quite stand offish but she developed a good friendship with one of the other female doctors. However some of the characters in this book did odd things – Gabriella was such a stereotype it was almost embarrassing and some of the locals felt very cliched, especially when they waxed lyrical about their country and what it had done to them. Ariadne also does something incredibly stupid going off alone with just Jack, the driver, to deliver supplies. Why she’d even think to get that idea into her head is beyond me, especially when she’d already had a run in with the local feared militia leader and seen his rather sinister interest in her. Characters who make decisions to do such things in a foreign country, especially a foreign country as unstable and dangerous as Sudan (seriously, read the warnings about travelling both into the country and around it, it’s rather enlightening) frustrate me enormously. There’s wanting to help, and that’s fine. It’s her job. But there’s also a matter of personal safety. And not putting yourself in a situation where you can get kidnapped, raped, tortured and probably murdered.

6/10

Book #336 of 2013

 

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Monkey Business – Kathryn Ledson

Monkey BusinessMonkey Business (Erica Jewell #2)
Kathryn Ledson
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 294p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Her first mission with the mysterious outfit known as the Team is over and Erica Jewell is in a state of limbo – in more ways than one. Life has mostly returned to normal now other than the fact that she’s not really sure what’s going on between her and the enigmatic Jack Jones. Jack has already suffered a painful loss in his life and he’s not willing to get close to anyone again, in case that puts them in danger. And so Erica wonders exactly where they stand.

Jack has a mission he needs to go on – he won’t say much but Erica gets the feeling it’s quite a dangerous one. And then she receives a garbled call from Joe, Jack’s right hand man that suggests that Jack has gone missing in action. With the Team turning a blind eye, Erica decides that if anyone is going to rescue Jack, it’s going to have to be her. Jack is on the Indonesian island of St Sebastian, a small jungle-infested hot mess of instability and corruption. Erica takes some personal leave and makes her way there without a clue of what Jack was up to or how to find him. At best all she can do is stumble around asking questions and hope that she hits on someone that has an idea what she’s talking about – and might be willing to help her.

Monkey Business is the follow up to Kathryn Ledson’s debut novel Rough Diamond which was published last year. Rough Diamond introduced us to Erica Jewell who was working in a boring job to pay off her former husband’s debts when she discovered the bleeding Jack Jones in her garden. An operative for an elite and privately funded unit, Jack recruited Erica to do some of the more mundane work for the job he was on, countering terrorism attacks on Australian soil. Now Erica works casually for the same operation when required and although there’s an obvious attraction with Jack, nothing concrete has been established. Erica knows that he will have dangerous missions to complete and probably often be away.

I enjoyed the first book but I had some reservations and a few things didn’t work for me and the same can probably be said of this installment. There are some things that I think are quite interesting and I do feel that firstly, Erica does undergo some development of character here. In the first book she’s an average person with no idea about units such as the Team but in this one she has knowledge and she has determination. When Jack goes missing, there was never any chance that she wouldn’t go after him personally, once it became obvious to her that the leader of the Team was going to deny any knowledge/responsibility. It seems to work similar to the CIA – if you get caught, you don’t exist. So she books a flight to Darwin and from there to ‘St Sebastian’, an island covered in jungle. She really has no idea what she’s doing but a fortuitous meeting in Darwin with a former university friend at least gives her one contact to make on the island. Mostly she just wanders around asking anyone if they’ve seen Jack and being driven by a taxi driver who is a master at the game of ripping people off.

For me, the first half of this book unfolds rather slowly with a lot of seemingly unnecessary scenes: the football scene at the MCG, which serves to only give Erica’s insecurity about her status with Jack yet another voice, the drunken scene at her friend Lucy’s place where Erica writes herself off for no apparent reason at a Tupperware party and there are probably several others. There’s also a lot of ridiculous stuff involving Tupperware that I’m not really going to get into because it’s partially a spoiler and also because it just….seemed silly. I understand these sorts of books often contain over the top humour that verges into the crazy and you need to check reality at the door upon reading it but apparently I have more difficulty doing that than I imagined.

Fortunately, the second half of the book is much stronger, once Erica actually locates Jack and then they have to get off the island. They have a lot of things to contend with and there is a huge emotional factor as well – Jack isn’t pleased that a) Joe rang Erica to tell her that he was missing and b) that Erica took it upon herself to come here and put herself in deliberate danger for him. Jack has a bit of a problem with Erica being a target for danger but all I can say about that is well buddy, maybe you shouldn’t have nearly bled to death in her front yard and then involved her in the Team. You’ve only got yourself to blame for that one! However I kind of like the way he is expresses his frustration and disappointment about finding Erica in the jungle mixed with the fact that he’s glad to see her in a way as well. At the times the two of them have a really nice dynamic and it seems at the moment that it’s not going to be a forever are-they-or-aren’t-they type of relationship, which is rather refreshing because we all know that can go on way too long…

All in all, Monkey Business is a bit of a mixed bag for me. There were parts I liked and as I mentioned, the second half of the book is quite good. But a lot of the first part of the book had my attention wandering a lot and most of the story didn’t really work for me. There’s a third Erica Jewell book in the works and I am still interested to see where it goes. I’d like to see more of the Team and what they do, rather than have Erica mostly isolated from them, if the Team is going to be a part of the books.

6/10

Book #333 of 2013

 

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Review: Hajar’s Hidden Legacy – Maisey Yates

Hajar's Hidden LegacyHajar’s Hidden Legacy
Maisey Yates
Harlequin
2012, 192p
Bought for my Kindle

Princess Katharine has always known that marriage wouldn’t be a choice she made. Rather her father and those around him would choose for her and it would be a political marriage. She was betrothed to the Sheikh of Hajar only for him and most of his immediate family to be killed in a bombing. His brother, who survived the attack now rules Hajar. He is almost never seen in public and the rumours of the injuries he sustained have led to the nickname ‘The Beast of Hajar’.

With her own father ailing, Katharine’s younger brother will inherit the throne but will not be permitted to rule until he comes of age (21) in 5 years. If her father passes before that time, which he may do, a caretaker is appointed to oversee the duties of the country until such time as Katharine’s brother can assume the role. If Katharine is married, that role of caretaker goes to her husband. If she is not – it falls into the hands of someone Katharine fears will lead the country into civil war. Someone who will affect trade and peace deals with other nations. And someone who will definitely not want to give up power when the time comes. And who would probably do anything to avoid that.

So she goes to Sheikh Zahir of Hajar to beg him to honour the contract that says Princess Katharine marries the ruler of Hajar, even though he was not the original intended groom. As she expects, Zahir refuses her but Katharine knows that this is something she cannot fail at. She must persuade him and use every political argument she can in order to do so and she’s willing to move into the palace and confront him every day until he agrees.

Zahir has hidden himself away from the world for the past five years, wracked with guilt that he survived, grieving all that he has lost. He admires Katharine for the way in which she can meet his eyes – there are not many that have been able to do that. And even more unexpected is the fact that she’s stirring up feelings in him that he hasn’t felt since before the accident – things he thought he was no longer even capable of feeling. He agrees to a political marriage in name only to protect her country and his… but he’s wondering if it wasn’t a huge mistake. Maybe what he wants is a real marriage…

I used to read a lot of M&B as a teenager and confession: the Sheikhs were always my favourites. I don’t read too many these days but this modern day Beauty and the Beast style story grabbed me + Sheikh of mythical Middle Eastern country + Princess of mythical European country + the fact that I’ve heard Maisey Yates’s praises sung a lot. She was recommended to me by Australian author Rachael Johns and so I thought I’d wade in and test the waters with this one, given it had already ticked a lot of my boxes! I was a bit wary though because one of its covers has it billed as Harlequin Presents and I have a bit of a problem with Harlequin Presents in the form that pretty much all of the heroes are overt Alpha douchebags who flirt with abuse towards the heroine. However this one? Is nothing like that.

Katharine has been raised to always do the right thing: look pretty, present a good picture of her monarch family, help with charitable works and make a great marriage. She’s tried to please her father but she’s not a male, so he’s not really interested in anything that she does, except that she marry well. Her betrothal ended when her would-be groom was killed in an act of terrorism and now five years later, Katharine decides to reinterpret the contract and apply it to the new leader of Hajar. She needs his help desperately. By contrast, Sheikh Zahir doesn’t really believe he needs anyone, with the possible exception of his adviser to make his speeches. He hides away in the palace to spare people the horrific sight of his scars, perhaps unaware that the very fact that he does hide only feeds their fear more. His people need to see a more visible leader, especially after they suffered so much with the attack. Zahir is bitter, tortured and aloof but he’s not a jerk. He’s occasionally gruff with Katharine (like the time she moves something and he yells at her. His sight is severely affected and he needs to know where things are to be able to navigate successfully, which she didn’t realise) but he’s never intolerably cruel. The two of them have a rather beautiful chemistry – she needs him and whether he knows it or not, he needs to be needed.

The sexual chemistry is even better! Zahir hasn’t really felt any sort of sexual desire since before the accident and his fiancée walked away, unable to handle what he had become in the aftermath. I think he maybe considered that part of his life over – that he’d never really feel those sorts of things again. Katharine is, as befitting any Princess offered up for strategic, political marriage, a virgin but she’s not timid or biddable. She can look Zahir in the eye and accept him for everything that he is – scars and all. This is the kind of book that proves that you can still do an old idea in a fresh and fabulous way – there’s lots of emotional intimacy and connection as well as sexual and the two characters are really well done. I’m very keen to try some more Maisey Yates now.

8/10

Book #335 of 2013

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Claiming The Courtesan – Anna Campbell

Claiming The CourtesanClaiming The Courtesan
Anna Campbell
Avon
2007, 375p
Bought for my Kindle

To the Duke of Kylemore and everyone else in society, she is known as Soraya and she is the most sought after courtesan. For years the Duke had fought to make her his lover and a year ago he finally succeeded with a one year contract that guaranteed she was exclusively his.

Now the Duke has decided to fly in the face of tradition and make Soraya his bride. She doesn’t exactly greet this suggestion with the enthusiasm he expected and he gives her a day to mull it over. When he returns for her answer he finds the house he provided for her stripped of all its contents and Soraya….gone.

Kylemore is incensed and vows to find her. When he does, he discovers that Soraya is no longer and instead Verity Ashton stands before him. She was forced by dire circumstances to enter the life of a courtesan at fifteen and she always intended to make her choices carefully so that she could retire early from her “career”. She wants nothing more than to now live a peaceful life, a peace that is shattered when Kylemore tracks her down and then kidnaps her, taking her to his very remote Scottish estate.

At first Verity longs of escape, although the remote location and dedicated staff make that almost impossible. But night after night, as Kylemore takes her back into his bed, she begins to realise that when the time comes, she may never be able to leave. Kylemore is difficult, plagued by the demons of his childhood and the instability of both his parents. But although he is demanding, he is also passionate and a lot lurks beneath his polished surface. Verity can’t see a future for them, with him as a Duke and her as a former courtesan but leaving such a man twice is going to prove very difficult.

I love Anna Campbell’s historicals but they’re not for the faint-hearted. They’re not your usual historical romance and this one which is I think, her first, is a little more difficult to navigate than most. Her heroes are almost always terribly damaged and are capable of pretty horrible acts, most of which tend to be forgiveable because of circumstances/the grovelling at the end/etc. However there’s no denying that this one….well….it’s a little….

Rapey.

When I was about to start my first year at university, I moved into one of the residential halls on campus. In the first week they gave us a big sexual harassment talk – most of us were 18ish, living away from home for the first time in our lives. They gave us what we fondly called the “sexual harassment cube” which was exactly what it sounds. A cube that you could manipulate to put different sides together, all of which basically told you what meant no (for the record, everything but YES, means no. No means no, I’m drunk means no, I’m asleep means no, I don’t want to means no, I am unsure means no, I’m unconscious means no, I feel pressured means no. IT ALL MEANS NO). The Duke of Kylemore could’ve benefited from possessing one of these cubes because quite frankly, he isn’t aware that a lack of verbal consent means no. Unfortunately, sexual harassment cubes didn’t exist then and although he paid for a year of Soraya’s services, that year was up. I’m assuming here that during the contract, Soraya had to submit to his advances, regardless of whether or not she felt like it – that’s what a courtesan does, although it’s probably more enjoyable for everyone if they’re enthusiastic. However, when he kidnaps her, she’s not playing that role anymore, so his taking her when she’s sort of in two minds about it (she doesn’t want to, but her body kind of does but she doesn’t give her consent or take part really) gets uncomfortable. For pretty much everyone concerned. Kylemore is concerned because later on, he feels guilty about it but it also doesn’t really stop him from doing it again. Verity is concerned because although she didn’t want to like it, she did, because she desires Kylemore and they’ve always had chemistry. And I was trying to read this taking into account the time and situation of when it was set but part of my mind was still saying “sexual harassment cube, sexual harassment cube”.

Get past that and there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on here. Justin, the Duke of Kylemore has had a pretty heinous upbringing and his mother still provides plenty of fodder for his emotional retardation. He has perfected the sort of veneer he needs to get by in society but at the same time, he also doesn’t seem to particularly care about it. It’s a ritual he goes through, something that he does because he’s supposed to and he’s willing to give all of that up in order to marry Soraya/Verity (before he kidnaps her). He was aware of her from the time she first arrived on the scene and although she had two protectors (lovers) before him, he waited for five years until he was able to secure himself as her protector via a contract for an extremely exorbitant price. When he kidnaps Verity, she tells him that the woman he is obsessed with is no more, that Soraya never really existed, she was just something Verity created (maybe because that way, it was someone else who was the courtesan?). Kylemore refuses to believe that Verity and Soraya are two separate people and sets about reconciling her to the fact that Soraya is a part of her and it’s okay for her to embrace that. It’s all quite progressive in some ways (if you ignore the regressive rapeyness).

This isn’t my favourite Anna Campbell (it skirts a little too close to a line I don’t believe should be crossed) but I appreciate the way in which she constructed this story and the characters. She excels at writing people who are flawed in many different ways and she always puts a new spin on the historical romance idea. I purchased this eBook as a 3in1 and I’m looking forward to reading the next two stories in the volume.

7/10

Book #334 of 2013

AWW2013This was the 115th book I read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge in 2013.

 

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The Girl In The Yellow Vest – Loretta Hill

Girl Yellow VestThe Girl In The Yellow Vest
Loretta Hill
Random House AU
2013, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Engineer Emily counts cracks for a living. Whilst her friends from university have all moved onto exciting projects, she spends her days counting cracks in the concrete of a building in Perth. It’s mindnumbingly tedious but at least she has her relationship to fall back on. They’ve been together for years and Emily thinks he might be about to propose – instead he tells her that he needs “space” and breaks up with her.

Emily’s best friend Will suggests she apply to come and work on the project he’s working on in far north Queensland. Emily decides that she needs a fresh start in everything: job, surrounds, the whole works. She finds herself up near the Barrier Reef working with a team supervising the installation of a new shiploader and the work is far more exciting and interesting than counting cracks. She’s beginning to fit in with the crew on site although they’re mostly men and seem hell bent on trying to be the first to get a date with her. However Emily is surprised when it’s none other than Will that captures her interest. She and Will have been best friends for years and she’s never had these sorts of feelings for him before. She’s not quite sure what to do about them.

Charlotte Templeton is a little sick of the engineers and construction workers treating her seaside resort like a donga. They track mud in to the rooms (which they then trash), they leave their beer cans and bottles lying around outside around the pool and their raucous partying and language means that she and her teenage sister need to give them a wide berth. Charlotte’s sister is young and impressionable and Charlotte definitely doesn’t want her hanging out with the older crew of workers. Charlotte has a lot on her plate: she’s struggling to keep herself afloat financially and so she desperately needs the FIFO cheques so she can’t ask them to leave. She’s been a mother to her sister for years, despite only being in her thirties and she cares for their mother who has Alzheimer’s and spends most days thinking it’s 30 years ago and that Charlotte is a receptionist. She approaches the project manager Mark Crawford (known to everyone on site as “Caesar”) about possibly setting down some rules about respect for property and finds herself given the brush off every time. Charlotte is incensed by his rudeness and makes up her mind to teach him some manners….but she’s about to discover that Mark might not be one for socialising or politeness but he’s someone she can truly count on in a crisis.

The Girl In The Yellow Vest is Loretta Hill’s third book in a very loosely connected series that revolves around young engineers working on large projects. I really enjoyed both the previous books which were set on the same project in northern Western Australia and for this book we switch to Queensland. Emily went to university with Lena (from The Girl In Steel-Capped Boots) and she’s watched her graduating class all go on to fun and exciting jobs whilst her career has stalled, her crack-counting a source of amusement to her friends. If ever there was someone in need of a change, it’s Emily but she has remained tethered to her unexciting job because it keeps her in Perth with her boyfriend. When he decides he isn’t ready to settle down, there’s nothing keeping here there anymore.

Watching Emily adjust to her new job and surroundings is a great part of this book as she comes into her own and gets the confidence to do her job and make decisions. She’s not used to really doing much other than counting cracks and although she’s slow to find things to do, once she finds her groove, it’s all about preparing for the arrival of the shiploader. Her friendship with Will is so cute and although he’s had feelings for her for a long time, Emily has almost always been in a relationship and now that she’s out of one she’s also coming to terms with her growing feelings for her ‘best friend’. It’s a very cute kind of story. There’s lots of them finding the other attractive but thinking the other person isn’t interested, lots of misunderstandings about Emily’s former boyfriend (especially because Will is also great friends with him and he’s telling Will things that don’t really add up with what Will is also hearing from Emily, etc). However:

It’s actually almost dwarfed by the story of Mark and Charlotte. Mark is more of a Bulldog type: he’s stand offish, rude, he’s got a known reputation on site and most people stay the hell out of his way as much as they can. Charlotte barges in with all the tact of a sledgehammer to talk about him keeping his FIFO workers a little more in line with regards to the accommodation and sparks fly between them even as Mark is shoving her back out the door, brushing her off, running away and basically doing whatever it is to get rid of her. I thought Mark’s reasons for being the way he was were genuine and believable and it was interesting reading about a man in his position and how he felt about it and the heartbreak and later awkwardness of receiving his list of challenges and the determined way in which he goes about fulfilling every item. Mark definitely had hidden depths and he became my favourite character in the book. I really loved the way we were drip fed information about him that changed the reader’s perceptions and Hill put him in so many uncomfortable situations!

As long as Loretta Hill keeps writing these, I’ll definitely keep reading them!

9/10

Book #281 of 2013

AWW2013This was book #99 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

 

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In Safe Arms – Lee Christine

In Safe ArmsIn Safe Arms
Lee Christine
Harlequin Escape
2013, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Legal secretary Josephine Valenti is home alone when a notorious bikie figure in Sydney contacts her on Skype. Before he can say whatever message it is that he has for her, Josephine watches in horror as he is attacked by two men and murdered in front of her eyes. She kills the connection as quickly as she can but she’s pretty sure that one of the men saw her…and that he knows her.

Two years ago Josephine made a bit of a fool of herself by attempting to seduce Nate Hunter (a friend of her bosses husband) and she hasn’t seen him since. When she flees her parents house to go to the police with what she has seen, it is Nate that intercepts her and he is a lot…different these days. He’s dressed like a biker with long hair, driving a muscle Ute and it’s pretty clear as he manhandles her out of her car, ties her up and forces her into his that he’s not going to be helping her get to the cops. He’s been ordered by the head of a Sydney bikie gang to kill her for what she knows.

Nate has been deep undercover with the Altar Boys for two years, trying to get close enough into the circle to be included in the drop offs for the money laundering so that he can bust it wide open and make the arrests from the top of the chain down. When he agreed to go with the leader to the tattoo parlour of a rival club, he didn’t expect anyone to be there. Nor did he expect to watch as the leader of the Altar Boys murdered the leader of the rival club. Thankfully though it was Nate who saw Josie on the computer screen and knew who she was and where he could find her.

Now Nate and Josie are hiding from everyone. The world believes Josie kidnapped and probably murdered. The bikies believe Nate is a loyal member who has taken care of business and is now ready to step up to be granted full member status. Little do they know he’s looking to take them apart and when he does, it’s going to impact on Josie in ways that she could never have imagined, endangering the fledgling romance they’ve managed to build during their time together.

In Safe Arms is somewhere between a sequel and a companion novel to In Safe Hands. It features a different couple but Luke and Allegra are a part of this story too and make a couple of appearances. Josie works as Allegra’s assistant and given Allegra often defends bikies, she’s more than familiar with some of the faces but she’s unsure why the leader of one of the gangs would want to contact her instead of Allegra. It’s a bad night for Josie and it gets a lot worse when she’s kidnapped by the man she used to crush heavily on…but then it gets a lot better.

Josephine is only twenty and Nick is in his early thirties so at times the age gap between them in terms of life experience is quite significant. Josephine has been brought up in a wealthy, privileged lifestyle and although she regrets the slightly distant relationship she has with her mother, until she sees a bikie murdered on her computer screen, she hasn’t had to deal with much in the way of tragedy although she does cope remarkably well with being kidnapped, especially as she doesn’t know for a while that Nate is working undercover. By contrast, Nate has worked a difficult job for a long time and has been immersed in the bikies operation for two years, living as they do and witnessing things that he would’ve no doubt loved to stop (the murder for example) but couldn’t because it would blow his cover and the operation wasn’t finished yet. He knew there was a big man behind the scenes and he wanted to get him as well and for that he had to be patient, earn the trust of the Altar Boys and act just the way they did. Obviously he couldn’t “take care” of Josie the way that the bikies wanted him to and if they discovered that he hadn’t, it would be the end of both of them so he has to be very careful where he chooses to hide her. He takes a big risk for both of them.

I really loved In Safe Hands when I read it last year and I have been eagerly awaiting this novel ever since. And whilst I did enjoy this one too, I don’t think that Nate and Josephine had the same impact on me that Luke and Allegra did. The story is very good and unfolds nicely with clever pacing and plenty of action. I don’t know much about bikies but I’ve read a few stories revolving around them (and seen more than a couple of eps of Sons of Anarchy) and it’s such an environment that is ripe for so many different types of characters and stories. However I think I just didn’t warm much to Nate, especially his tendency to call Josephine “princess” all the time which got on my nerves a little bit. They did have some interesting chemistry and they were also quite an interesting match but I didn’t really find myself truly invested in them until right at the end and the final scenes between them made up a lot for not quite getting Nate earlier on.

I liked the character of Nate’s undercover handler….I hope he might crop up in a book soon (hint hint Lee Christine?!)

8/10

Book #324 of 2013

AWW2013

In Safe Arms is book #111 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

 

 

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The Kissing Season – Rachael Johns

Kissing SeasonThe Kissing Season
Rachael Johns
Harlequin AUS
2013, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Hannah is the black sheep of the Elliot family. While her three brothers are all settled with stable partners and hard at work in the family furniture making business, Hannah has spent the past few years travelling overseas both for adventure and as a way to avoid the fact that she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life.

It was no surprise to anyone that Hannah impulsively married a man she barely knew in Las Vegas and it seems that everyone was even less surprised when it didn’t work out. With the marriage annulled, Hannah has returned to Australia and the town where she grew up to work in the furniture store helping out until she figures out what she wants to do with her life. However what her family don’t know is that Hannah is also pregnant. She hasn’t told anyone, not since the only person she did tell, the baby’s father, turned his back on her and filed for the annulment.

When Matteo Della-Bosca strides into the family store looking to furnish the house he’s just bought, sparks fly between him and Hannah. But Hannah is trying to be good – after all if ever there was a time to start being responsible, surely it’s now. She’s going to be a mother soon and she needs to put her child first. And Matt makes no secret of the fact that while he wouldn’t mind going to bed with Hannah, he’s not really the commitment type. Hannah is torn – she really wants Matt and what’s the harm in a little fling before she has to settle down and embrace responsibility? However, she’s not sure that she’ll be able to keep her distance, especially when Matt is so generous and wonderful. But he’s made it clear he’s here for a good time, not a long time….although Hannah might be able to make him see that the long time can be just as fun.

The Kissing Season is a fun novella from rural romance Queen Rachael Johns for the holiday season that is mostly sweet but with just a little bit of spice thrown in for good measure. Hannah has spent the last little while travelling all over the world, something that culminated in an unwise rushed marriage in Las Vegas. The marriage didn’t work out and Hannah returned home to face the consequences with her family, keeping her own little secret as well. Torn between a desire to have one last fling with a good looking man and embracing her new found life stage, Hannah is kind of treading water. She’s working in the family furniture business, filling in for someone, she’s staying with her parents, she’s not sure how she’s going to go forward with her life and what she’s going to do. By contrast, Matt is very focused. He mostly lives in Melbourne but his mother is a local in the town and he has returned home to spend some time with her at Christmas. Matt is successful and spends a large portion of the year travelling around Australia and abroad so he’s never been looking for something long term. He enjoys flings and casual relationships and it’s clear that from the time he meets Hannah, he wouldn’t mind a bit of her Christmas cheer. But then he finds out Hannah’s secret and things slowly begin to change… for both of them.

It’s a novella so the story unfolds quite swiftly, especially in the beginning but with each interaction, Matt and Hannah question what they really want just that little bit more. I liked the way that Matt was so supportive of Hannah after she blurted out her secret during what has to be a very inconvenient moment! He had made it clear that he was only after some fun so he could’ve turned and ran but he also saw that she didn’t really have much in the way of support and that she was really dreading confiding in her family, who she believed were already upset with the failed marriage. Matt offers Hannah a friendly ear and shoulder and also it makes him question things he’s always thought about himself. Due to his upbringing, he had certain beliefs but once he finds himself actually possibly right in the middle of a situation he always wanted to avoid he begins to realise that he may have been hasty in his thoughts and it doesn’t have to always go the way that he experienced growing up.

The Kissing Season is a quick read, perfect for summer days at the beach or by the pool in between dips!

8/10

Book #332 of 2013

AWW2013

The Kissing Season is book #113 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

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The Book Of Broken Hearts – Sarah Ockler

Book of Broken HeartsThe Book Of Broken Hearts
Sarah Ockler
Simon Pulse
2013, 352p
Free read from pulseit.com

Jude has three older sisters and they’ve taught her many things. Now that Jude is the only sibling living at home, she’s taken the summer after graduating high school to take care of her father. Where she should be enjoying the freedom before college, going on road trips with her friends and hanging out, Jude is spending time with her dad helping keep him on track. Her father wants to restore his vintage motorcycle but with the family’s meager budget they can only afford an apprentice mechanic – Emilio Vargas.

Of all the things that Jude’s sisters have taught her, the most important is that you never, ever get involved with a Vargas boy. They are Bad News. They are Trouble. They have Heartbreak written all over them. Jude has seen several of her sisters get their hearts broken by different Vargas boys and it has become a golden rule of their family. You stay away from the Vargas boys. No matter what.

Jude weighs up her options and she decides that she wants to help restore the bike more than she wants to obey some old rule from years ago and anyway, her sisters aren’t around. They all live in different cities and Jude figures that they can get the bike done and Emilio Vargas will be gone before anyone really knows he was even there. And she’s confident she won’t fall for the reputed Vargas charm – after all she’s seen the heartbreak that comes from that and she’s heard plenty more stories as well. All she cares about is getting the bike fixed for her father while he is still able to enjoy it.

But Emilio does turn out to be different. And Jude finds that she wants her sisters to be very wrong about the Vargas boys…and that maybe, this time just might be different.

I’ve read a Sarah Ockler book before (Twenty Boy Summer) and when I saw this one on the list for the pulseit.com free reads of December, I marked it down as one to definitely make sure I read, because I’d heard really good things about it. It’s a fabulous book but I have to warn that I am going to ****SPOILER***** what is wrong with Jude’s father when I talk about my thoughts on the book because it’s really hard to address the book and how well I think it tackles the issue without actually mentioning what the issue is. So if you want to read this book without knowing what is wrong with him….stop reading this review now!

***SPOILERS**** start now!

Jude’s father has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. It has progressed to the stage where he can no longer go to work and Jude is spending the summer with him, essentially looking after him and making sure that he doesn’t do anything dangerous around the house. He has a lot of periods of lucidity but he also has times where he regresses to a different part of his life and thinks that Jude is one of her sisters or someone else entirely. It’s a big job for Jude to watch him and look after him and also experience seeing her father like this: exposed, vulnerable. She rolls up her sleeves and does a great job, wanting that last special time with him before he won’t recognise her anymore. The disease is generally quite rapid in its deterioration and Jude knows that the time they have left together is short. That’s why she wants so desperately to get the bike restored – so that her father will still get a chance to ride it before he no longer remembers what a bike is and what to do on it. It’s a truly horrible disease, striking down a man so young as Jude’s father and there’s no doubt watching something like this would be truly devastating. I think Jude is an admirable character, putting as much effort into her father as she does. There are times when it’s truly heartbreaking, when he forgets where he is and causes a scene and she has to try and calm him down but there are so many lovely moments between the two of them, when he’s more lucid and still in the present.

To be entirely honest, the romance in this book didn’t really do much for me. Emilio was an okay kind of character, he was a bit full of himself but he balanced this out by being very kind to Jude about her father and very understanding and helpful, even when he doesn’t know exactly what is going on with him, which I liked about him. Emilio is equal parts mature for his age and playfully flirtatious which does come across as a bit too strong at times, but overall he’s a pretty decent character who rightfully wonders why he should be punished for the sins of his relatives. He’s not the boys that hurt Jude’s sisters and he does really like Jude and wants to take her on an adventure, if Jude just has the courage to jump in headfirst.

The shining light in this book is, I think, the way that Jude’s father is written and the relationship he has with the girls in his life (his wife and his four daughters) and how they are all handling his degenerative disease. Jude’s dedication to her father and the way she handles him is so brave and well done, makes her seem so much older than she is. She does have her moments of small time tantrums and immaturity but I reckon after all she does, she’s more than entitled to them.

7/10

Book #329 of 2013

 

 

 

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