All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Love And Other Words by Christina Lauren

Love And Other Words
Christina Lauren
Gallery Books
2018, 406p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: The story of the heart can never be unwritten. 

Macy Sorensen is settling into an ambitious if emotionally tepid routine: work hard as a new pediatrics resident, plan her wedding to an older, financially secure man, keep her head down and heart tucked away.

But when she runs into Elliot Petropoulos—the first and only love of her life—the careful bubble she’s constructed begins to dissolve. Once upon a time, Elliot was Macy’s entire world—growing from her gangly bookish friend into the man who coaxed her heart open again after the loss of her mother…only to break it on the very night he declared his love for her.

Told in alternating timelines between Then and Now, teenage Elliot and Macy grow from friends to much more—spending weekends and lazy summers together in a house outside of San Francisco devouring books, sharing favorite words, and talking through their growing pains and triumphs. As adults, they have become strangers to one another until their chance reunion. Although their memories are obscured by the agony of what happened that night so many years ago, Elliot will come to understand the truth behind Macy’s decade-long silence, and will have to overcome the past and himself to revive her faith in the possibility of an all-consuming love.

I’ve read a couple of Christina Lauren books before but I haven’t really gelled with them. One was not my style and the other I listened to on audiobook and the narration didn’t really work for me. However people keep recommending various titles of hers to me and I hear and see others talking about them and reviewing them and so many of them sound like they’d be something I’d love. I have their newest one, The Soulmate Equation on reserve at my local library and when I was last in there picking up a book and knowing we’d be going into lockdown again, I grabbed a few titles from the display shelves and this book was one of them.

And I’m so glad I did because I loved this story. Pretty much everything about it. The characters, the way it was told, all of it.

Macy is a doctor working in paediatrics. se’s having lunch with her old college friend when she sees Elliot, her first love – and a person she hasn’t seen in eleven years, since the night he broke her heart. Seeing Elliot again is a shock and Macy’s first instinct is to run away but Elliot comes after her. The two of them spent years being best friends, being more than that, being everything, so it’s hard for Macy to continue to ignore him because a desperate part of her wants Elliot too. Despite the fact that she’s engaged, despite everything that happened that last night they spoke.

I loved the back and forth way this was told, with chapters in the present alternating with chapters from the past that showed how Elliot and Macy built a friendship basically just as she spent weekends and summers at her family’s holiday house, which was next door to where Elliot lived. They both had reading in common which was another thing I loved, because when books have characters that are readers and reference a lot of books, it’s always a big plus for me. I thought they worked well together too, Elliot is quite an open personality and Macy is more closed off, her tragic loss has definitely shaped her. Elliot can ask questions and sometimes make her talk but other times he’s content to be silent with her, both of them reading in her room. And as they get a bit older, the friendship gets another, more complicated layer that has excellent amounts of sexual tension: two teenagers experiencing attraction but on Macy’s part, not wanting to ruin the friendship they have, which really keeps things simmering. I thought that exploration when they were teens was really well done as was the balance with the close friendship.

Macy has experienced a lot in her life and her adult self seems to have been going through the motions for years. The return of Elliot into her life definitely complicates things because with Elliot, she can’t maintain that sort of emotional distance that she’s been able to do with other people. It sort off forces her to address things, although it does take a long while for the incident that ruined their friendship/burgeoning relationship to be revealed as the flashbacks are told in chronological order. Both Elliot and Macy have clear ideas of what they thought happened and both of them need to share those ideas with each other so they can actually complete the whole picture. I understand why Macy didn’t give Elliot a chance but he never has and he needs to know why.

I think if this book had really explored what happened to Elliot that night properly as well as Macy, it would’ve been a five star read for me. But I think it glossed over it a bit – like it was explained enough for Macy to understand and also for the reader to see how Elliot was affected by it but the act itself wasn’t named for what it truly was. And I think there was an opportunity to say more about it, rather than just drop it as a reason and move on. But that was really my only gripe with this story. I loved it and absolutely tore through it, reading wise. So now I have found a title by these authors that does work for me and I’m eager to read more.

8/10

Book #127 of 2021

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Review: The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

The Glass Hotel 
Emily St. John Mandel
Picador
2020, 320p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Vincent is the beautiful bartender at the Hotel Caicette, a five-star glass-and-cedar palace on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island. New York financier Jonathan Alkaitis owns the hotel. When he passes her his card with a tip, it’s the beginning of their life together. That same day, a hooded figure scrawls a note on the windowed wall of the hotel: ‘Why don’t you swallow broken glass.’ Leon Prevant, a shipping executive for a company called Neptune-Avramidis, sees the note from the hotel bar and is shaken to his core. Thirteen years later, Vincent mysteriously disappears from the deck of a Neptune-Avramidis ship.

Weaving together the lives of these characters, Emily St. John Mandel’s The Glass Hotel moves between the ship, the towers of Manhattan, and the wilderness of remote British Columbia, painting a breathtaking picture of greed and guilt, fantasy and delusion, art and the ghost of our pasts. 

This was an intriguing read.

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Emily St. John Mandel, in particular, Station Eleven which was her book before this one. I haven’t had a chance to read that yet but recently we went to a bookstore to pick up some new reads for our boys and I grabbed this. I really like the cover and I figured it was a good place to start and see if I enjoy the author and then I can go back and read more. And because I’ve been trying to mix up my reads with review books, new acquisitions, library eBook borrows and books I’ve had on my TBR for a while, it wasn’t long before I picked it up.

For the first part of the book, I was wondering what was going on. It starts with Vincent and the ship before going back in time to Vincent’s brother Paul and then moves around a bit in time and place, introducing Vincent, Paul and their backgrounds as well as the Hotel Caicette, the financier who owns the hotel and a businessman who happens to be sitting in the bar at the time of the graffiti. All of them will be bound together in different ways – and almost all of them will face ruin and downfall as well.

The book has a lot of time jumps, often without explaining what has happened in the meantime and you’re kind of left to just figure it out – for example it picks up with one of the characters sentenced to 170 years in jail but it’s a long time before the book actually confirms why they are in jail and how that came about. It’s pretty obvious why the character goes to jail and some of the descriptions for certain editions even mention it in the blurb but this one doesn’t and I feel as though it’s better that it doesn’t warn you and that you watch it unfold through the perspective of various people throughout the story. I feel as though the book did an excellent job of showcasing this sort of thing from a variety of people: the smallest, through to the middle, the people behind it, the ones at the top. It gave an excellent overall picture and made the aftermath even more devastating.

There’s a lot in this book that feels unconnected and there were times when I was wondering where it was going and how everything was going to tie together but then the author begins to knot the threads together and it all comes together with amazing cohesion and impressive storytelling. I became invested in some of the lesser characters in ways that I could not predict when they first appeared. And it was easy to put myself in the shoes of some of them as well, to imagine how they must’ve felt at certain points in the story as everything came crashing down. It’s the sort of thing that people never recover from.

The hotel, for being the title, is sort of it in only briefly in a way, but it’s the catalyst for so many of the people being together at the same time on that one night and how that one night changes the lives of each of them, for the years to come. For Vincent, it’s a ticket out of her bartending job and entry to the highest levels of society…although it comes at a cost. Paul has been deeply troubled for a long time. He has a history of drug abuse and has drifted around, often reconnecting with his half-sister Vincent at different points in their lives. Leon is a business executive working for a shipping company but he’s also approaching the end of his useful working life – in his 50s he’s senior enough to command a big salary and knows it’s only a matter of time before he’s pushed out for someone younger, with fresh ideas but who is also cheaper. Leon is looking to get all his ducks in a row before that happens so that he and his wife might have a comfortable retirement. Tying them all together is Jonathan, a wealthy New York financier who always seems to have the answers, even if they sound too good to be true.

I really enjoyed this – even before the author started tying everything together and I was wondering where it was going, I was really liking the writing and the story, although it hadn’t started to make sense yet. I just really appreciated the way new characters were introduced, the way backstories were told, the descriptions of buildings and surroundings and also the way that the story melded together as I got further into it. Generally I’m not a huge fan of jumps back and forth in time, but I thought it worked here. I will definitely look for Station Eleven (which is apparently about a pandemic? So maybe it might pay to wait just a little, before diving into that one) and anything else Emily St. John Mandel has written as well. This was really cleverly done.

8/10

Book #97 of 2020

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Review: The Wolves Of Winter by Tyrell Johnson

The Wolves Of Winter
Tyrell Johnson
Harlequin AUS
2018, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A captivating tale of humanity pushed beyond its breaking point, of family and bonds of love forged when everything is lost, and of a heroic young woman who crosses a frozen landscape to find her destiny. This debut novel is written in a post-apocalyptic tradition that spans The Hunger Games and Station Eleven but blazes its own distinctive path.

Forget the old days. Forget summer. Forget warmth. Forget anything that doesn’t help you survive in the endless white wilderness beyond the edges of a fallen world.

Lynn McBride has learned much since society collapsed in the face of nuclear war and the relentless spread of disease. As the memories of her old life continue to haunt, she’s been forced to forge ahead in the snow-drifted Canadian Yukon, learning how to hunt and trap and slaughter.

But her fragile existence is about to be shattered. Shadows of the world before have found her tiny community—most prominently in the enigmatic figure of Jax, who brings with him dark secrets of the past and sets in motion a chain of events that will call Lynn to a role she never imagined.

Simultaneously a heartbreakingly sympathetic portrait of a young woman searching for the answer to who she is meant to be and a frightening vision of a merciless new world in which desperation rules, The Wolves of Winter is enveloping, propulsive, and poignant.

There were a couple of things that made me want to read this book. Firstly, I love a post-apocalyptic story and this sounded surprisingly plausible in the current climate and political situation. Also, the setting. I’m pretty obsessed with areas like Alaska and northern Canada and the way in which people adapt to survive in those environments. I love watching TV shows and reading books that are set in remote and harsh locations. I also am interested in reading anything homesteader or self-sufficient lifestyle.

In The Wolves Of Winter, first the bombs started as the world powers struggled for supremacy. Then a mysterious virus known as the Asian flu wiped out epic numbers of the world’s population. Those that hadn’t died within a few weeks of being exposed to the virus were generally considered to be immune but few had ever recovered. Lynn and her family had retreated to Alaska even before the first signs of trouble, her father’s work having alerted him to problems. Then they retreated further to the Yukon, building cabins and surviving on potatoes, carrots and what they could catch and kill. Their location is isolated, only a neighbour nearby so when Lynn runs into a man whilst out in the woods, it’s unusual. Very unusual. And when more men come looking for him, it ends in an ugly way.

Whilst I could have no trouble imagining the events that led to the way things became in this novel, I can’t really say the same for the events of the actual novel. Lynn lives in like a “family compound” – she shares a cabin with her mother and also part of their group but living in separate cabins are her uncle, her brother and the son of her uncle’s friend. When Lynn comes across the stranger – a man named Jax – in the forest, the plot changes from a basic survival type of story to something that encompasses the fate of humanity, or what is left of it. Jax is different, on the run from a group known as Immunity. And Lynn suddenly realises that her mother has kept secrets – her deceased father was working on something, something important. Why won’t anyone tell her what it is? Why does it seem to involve her? I didn’t really enjoy the Immunity story to be honest and it detracted from the parts of the book I was most interested in. It changed the book for me, from something that was ‘hey this could actually happen right now’ to something different.

For me, the most interesting part of this story takes place before the book actually begins. It’s glossed over mostly – the events that led to countries dropping bombs on each other, the virus that swept the world, killing huge numbers of the population. People doing whatever it took to survive and for Lynn and her family, that meant retreating even further than they had. I’d have liked to read more about that journey and their settling in to their new place of residence, adjusting to the way of life with no electricity and living solely off what they could grow, hunt and catch. That’s the sort of stuff that interests me and I thought there’d be a bit more of it. Instead the book is more focused on the arrival of Jax, the fact that he’s mysterious and being hunted and just precisely what the group hunting him are really up to. I have to admit I struggled to maintain interest the deeper the story delved into Immunity and what they were doing and I honestly didn’t see the point of all the secrecy surrounding Lynn’s father and what he’d been doing and how Lynn, who was a teenager at the time, was so vague on it. Some of it seemed deliberately blocked out, as the death of her father had been very traumatic for her and I guess some is typical teen oblivion. But there were quite important things that Lynn didn’t really seem to remember and when she did/was told, I didn’t really see the need for such furtiveness.

There’s a sort of, well I’m not going to use the word romance, because it doesn’t really come across that way but I’ll say curiosity, between Jax and Lynn. It’s natural really – Lynn has spent her late teen and early adult years living with her mother, her uncle, her brother and another boy who is basically family anyway. Her only other interaction with the opposite sex in years has come in the form of their neighbour, a disgusting man who threatens to rape her. Jax is young, strong, fast and mysterious. However for me a real connection was lacking. It was more like aforementioned curiosity and circumstance, rather than any real bond. However the end of the book seems to suggest that if this one does well, a sequel will probably be forthcoming and perhaps we’ll get more of Lynn and Jax as there seems to be much more to their story and what they’re going to do.

This was an okay read for me but I didn’t love it.

6/10

Book #11 of 2017

 

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Review: Close To Home by Lily Everett

close-to-homeClose To Home (Sanctuary Island #5)
Lily Everett
St Martin’s Paperbacks
2017, 304p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The best journeys take us home….

When Tessa Alexander came to Sanctuary Island, she left behind a marriage to a man who didn’t love her the way she loved him. When she finally found the strength to set them both free, she discovered friendship and self-acceptance in her adopted hometown. Now she’s settled into a quiet life on her own—never expecting to see her husband again.

Johnny spent almost two years deep undercover, unable to let his wife into his cold, dangerous world. He’s shaken to the core when he comes home to find her gone. It’s painfully clear that Tessa is no longer the timid young woman he married—she’s become a force of nature, a brave and determined beauty. Johnny can’t let her go without a fight so he sets out to seduce his own wife. But will passion alone be enough to convince Tessa that her new life should include a second chance at happiness with a man who must learn to believe in love?

Whoops, I did it again – picked a book that I didn’t know was part of a series. However this one stands up perfectly well on its own and I don’t feel that I lost anything for not having read the previous books in this series.

Johnny works for the ATF and has just returned from two years deep undercover to find out that his wife of eight years has left him a “Dear Johnny” letter. Despite the fact that their marriage was unconventional, Johnny isn’t willing to let it go like that so he tracks her down. He finds that Terri, his shy and timid wife has morphed into Tessa, a woman with a different haircut, a big laugh and a confidence that was missing before. She seems determined that although she’s grateful to Johnny for helping her years ago when she desperately needed it, she’s okay now. And that they should go their separate ways. But Johnny asks for a month while he attends a therapy program designed to help him transition from undercover back into reality.

Johnny had one of those massive hero/saviour complexes. He rescued Tessa, then known as Terri as a terrified teen and even married her to help her before shipping out with the army. After several deployments he joined the ATF, working undercover operations and pretty much everything he does revolves around helping and protecting people. I know he’s just come back from a very long and dangerous mission but Johnny sees danger everywhere even in the tiniest town in the world. He meets a new person in town (Johnny himself is new in town) and immediately assumes the guy is some kind of criminal because he has watchful body language and a military demeanour. Instead of assuming that maybe he’s burned out or has retired, he wonders if he’s used his military skills to segue into crime but he bases this on nothing just his instinct. If this is Johnny’s instinct at work, it makes me worry for the skills of the ATF division, frankly.

Despite the fact that Johnny and Tessa were married for eight years, he spent most of those away either on deployment or undercover so their marriage, which began as one of convenience and help for Tessa, wasn’t even a real marriage, something that I found a little hard to believe. I couldn’t really see the point of having it unconsummated for so long other than to exacerbate Johnny’s hero complex. He has this view of Terri (as she was back then) of being this precious, fragile flower and perhaps she might’ve been when they first met. But she began to put herself back together but his view of her really didn’t change until after she left him and he was confronted with the new Tessa who wasn’t afraid to state her opinions and was willing to go out there and find happiness. I think Tessa felt that Johnny would stay with her forever in the platonic marriage they had for all time out of loyalty, obligation and a need to protect her, so she chose to leave him so that they both might find something truly deeper than that. Whilst Johnny might’ve wanted Tessa (even when he didn’t touch her) he had said he wasn’t open to the whole love thing and Tessa wanted that. Johnny had to learn the hard way that his feelings for Tessa ran deeper than what he was willing to acknowledge.

I think this story was okay – I would’ve liked more background to their marriage and I’m glad Tessa took it upon herself to carve out a life without relying on Johnny. But I think that ultimately Johnny’s obsessive need to protect and save really got on my nerves. There was an attempt to give it a good background but it came too late in the story and was brushed over too quickly, as was how he was going to move on from it. I think I was more interested in the secondary story which sets up the couple in the sixth book, I kept waiting for them to reappear.

6/10

Book #24 of 2017

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Review: Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel

Charlie Presumed DeadCharlie, Presumed Dead
Anne Heltzel
Nero Books
2015, 262p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

American student Aubrey is in Paris to attend the funeral of her boyfriend Charlie Price, believed dead after a horrible accident. Before the service, Aubrey notices another woman, the same age as her, watching. When the woman gets up to speak, Aubrey is stunned to discover that this woman, Lena, is Charlie’s girlfriend and has been for three years. Aubrey has been with Charlie a year and although she didn’t suspect him of this, suddenly several weird things begin to make sense.

Charlie was leading a double life and it seemed that he was almost entirely two different people with differing personalities, likes and dislikes, depending on who he was with. Lena begins to suspect that Charlie isn’t dead at all and this is all just part of his game. She convinces Aubrey to come with her to London, to investigate Charlie’s hangouts when in that city and although Aubrey, a conservative girl with worried parents back in America, feels she should be heading home, she allows Lena to convince her to hop around the world following a few vague clues, hoping to find Charlie at the other end.

But both girls are keeping secrets of their own and neither can really trust the other. Jealousy and suspicion at their roles in Charlie’s life as well as the strangeness of the situation makes for a potent mix. And if it turns out that Charlie is still alive, as Lena suspects, what is his motivation for doing all of this?

Charlie, Presumed Dead has all the makings of a good thriller from reading the blurb. Ignoring the fact that everyone in it is still a teenager and able to flit around the world at will, thanks to a few healthy trust funds, that is. But somehow the execution falls flat mostly because I think that for a thriller, an awful lot doesn’t happen in this book. It’s not an overly long book but the build up is incredibly slow and one paced and even the travelling to different countries doesn’t serve to build the suspense as the girls close in on the answers.

The book starts off promisingly enough, when Aubrey is in Paris for Charlie’s funeral. She’s not met his parents and only a few friends so she’s alone. When Lena gets up to speak and Aubrey realises that this is a girlfriend of Charlie’s that pre-dates her, one that his parents know, one that has the right to get up and speak at his funeral, she’s stunned. She can’t get out of there quick enough and Lena is savvy enough to guess why, following Aubrey to demand the truth from her. The girls are quick to snipe, torn between grief, anger and in Aubrey’s case, something else. But this story becomes so much bogged down in minor details that the big picture seems like it’s almost forgotten at times.

Firstly, it’s ridiculously easy for Lena to convince Aubrey to go to London with her, instead of Aubrey going straight back home to America as she’s supposed to. Aubrey isn’t wealthy, I think she was in Paris for the funeral alone because her parents couldn’t afford to go with her. She doesn’t have much money so luckily it’s an easy trip on the train to England but from there it’s off to India and then Thailand as they chase clues and leads. Lena is wealthy with money to get them both around the world and into hotels but even she starts to wear thin the patience of her wealthy parents far later than is probable. It’s easy to forget whilst reading that both of them are still very young and to be honest I’m a little surprised that neither of them thought if they are correct and Charlie is alive and has staged this dramatic fake death, shouldn’t they be a little concerned as to the why and if it may pose a danger to them? You don’t fake your own death for fun, he was never going to jump out from behind a pot plant and go “Surprise! I thought you two would hit it off if you ignored the fact that I was playing both of you”. It seems they give little thought to what Charlie’s motivations could be, and if they might actually be sinister. I’m a chicken, so even if I’d been convinced to go to London, the way in which things played out in India would’ve meant that I was on the first flight back home. But nope, Aubrey continues being dragged around the world by Lena, to far flung places without really stopping to think about why Charlie might be in that particular place or why he is doing this. Given the secret Aubrey is hiding, I know why she wants to know the truth but I’m not sure what they thought the endgame was. Busting him in some bar somewhere or on some beach, they get their answers, Aubrey gets the journal she wants so badly and then everyone has a good laugh and goes home?

This one had a promising start but unfortunately it grew to feel like I was bogged down with too much detail about Lena and Aubrey’s travelling – what they were eating and drinking, their hotel room, etc. The trust between them was a weird thing, established far too quickly and then continued to see-saw back and forth in a way that became annoying as they became irrationally angry at each other for both keeping secrets. It was a pity than I feel like when the story really started to get good, like it could go somewhere and give the author a chance to explore some really interesting themes (mental illness, manipulation, incarceration in a foreign country etc) the book was over. I didn’t find the ending satisfying, in fact it was frustrating bordering on annoying. It felt like the ending was supposed to provoke a shocking reaction and perhaps extreme sympathy but I found that I was unable to muster either unfortunately.

6/10

Book #101 of 2015

 

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Review: The Raven by Sylvain Reynard

RavenThe Raven (The Florentine #1)
Sylvain Reynard
Penguin Books AUS
2015, 393p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Raven Wood is an American working in Italy, at Florence’s Uffizi art gallery restoring Renaissance art. After a party with friends and work colleagues, Raven is walking home alone one night when she sees several thugs humiliating and attacking an old homeless man. When she intervenes, they turn on her viciously.

When Raven wakes it’s a week later and she’s in her bed. She has absolutely no memory of what occurred after she left the party and when she glances at herself in the mirror, her appearance is different. She’s thinner, her hair lustrous and thick. Her disability, a foot that turned outward after a bad break as a child and which she required a cane for, has healed perfectly. When Raven shows up for work she learns that during her absence the Uffizi suffered a terrible theft, a collection of Botticelli sketches. Raven finds herself under suspicion especially when she cannot clarify her whereabouts for the past week nor explain her altered appearance.

Desperate to clear her name, Raven seeks out a name she has heard, one of Florence’s wealthiest men, William York. But she gets more than she bargained for attempting to track down William and when he finally makes an appearance she realises that they’ve crossed paths before….and that William isn’t entirely who or what he pretends to be in polite society. And her relationship with him will draw her deep in Florence’s dark and disturbing underworld where there’s a power struggle brewing.

The Raven is the first in a new series from Sylvain Reynard, author of the Gabriel’s Inferno series. I’ve read those books and quite enjoyed them so I was a little interested to see how these would fare. This verges strongly into paranormal romance territory, but keeps the same heavy references to artwork, etc. In fact the sketches that are stolen from the Uffizi were loaned to the gallery by Gabriel Emerson and his wife Julia, so fans of that couple may appreciate the glimpses we are given here, some of which are rather mysterious. I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I enjoyed the Gabriel books and it’s not because of the paranormal angle. I think the integration of Gabriel and Julia into this world wasn’t necessary and the book at times, focuses a little too much on them, like the author couldn’t let go of their story once it was done.

There’s an unhealthy obsession with Raven’s appearance in this book. At the beginning of the story, she’s (in her opinion) overweight. She also has a disability and requires a cane to walk. She can’t run, even walking fast is out of her reach. After she is attacked, she wakes up beautifully thin with perfect breasts, luminous skin and no disability. She’s thrilled when a neighbour’s grandson, whom she has a crush on, finally notices her and asks her out. Even though she knows it’s only because he didn’t see her before when she was bigger and less attractive she still goes out with him. However the perfect appearance doesn’t last…she begins to revert back to her former self over time and when she shows up for their date, she’s changed already and she can tell in his expression that he’s disappointed, perhaps wondering what he saw when he asked her out when whatever it was, isn’t in front of him now. It goes on and on throughout the book, how unattractive she found herself before, how much she adored her transformation and then how disappointed she was when it began to wear off. William York, the mysterious wealthy man Raven seeks out for answers about the art gallery theft who is not what he seems (oh heck, I’m just going say it, he’s a vampyre, ok?) loves her original body which he puts down to being hundreds of years old when being thin meant being sick. He loves a curvy woman and tells her. A lot. Whilst I appreciate the fact that he prefers Raven as her natural self, not her enhanced self, this took up far too much of the book.

There were a few implausible things here….such as Raven going missing for a week and keeping her job. Also everyone seemed to cope remarkably well that she lost however much weight (I’m assuming a significant amount, at least a couple of clothing sizes) and her disability vanished as well as her attractiveness increased and then it all reversed in a frighteningly quick amount of time. The fact that Raven’s blood smells sweet to every vampyre in the vicinity does compare with another book whose name I shall not mention here, but it’s not the only comparison I could make. William stalks Raven, supposedly because he is the only one that can ‘keep her safe’ but he alternatively bullies and attempts to cajole her into sleeping with him, or becoming his….pet? concubine? consort? I don’t even know. It’s only when Raven is willing to comply with his wishes if William will use his considerable powers to fix someone injured that she shames him into realising how wrong his behaviour is. But only a little bit.

William is basically Prince of Florence’s underworld – he’s very old and he’s very powerful but he still loses his head over Raven and begins acting very out of character. Once again, it’s a struggle to express precisely why Raven captivates him so, other than she smells sweet and she would’ve sacrificed herself for someone else, not once but twice. He doesn’t listen to her though, she expressly asks him not to do something, says she isn’t interested in it but he sets the wheels in motion anyway, leading to, I imagine, a big and important conflict for them as a couple in a later book. I think my biggest problem is I can’t really see where this is going, as a series. William isn’t really charismatic or interesting enough to impress me and Raven has to let go of her hang ups if she’s going to be a truly strong heroine and a decent match for anyone, let alone a vampyre prince. So far the first book is just enough to be interesting but not quite enough to be fascinating.

6/10

Book #33 of 2015

*note: I’m using the spelling of “vampyre” because the book does.

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Review: Night Of A Thousand Stars – Deanna Raybourn

Night of a Thousand StarsNight Of A Thousand Stars
Deanna Raybourn
Harlequin MIRA
2014, 368p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Poppy Hammond is about to be married into an aristocratic family who are sorely in need of her generous dowry. Deciding right at the last minute that this wedding is not for her, Poppy (with the help of a rather handy curate named Sebastian Cantrip) absconds from the chapel in her wedding gown. Sebastian drives her to her father’s home – she’s been estranged from him since her mother left him when Poppy was young although they have communicated through letters. Pursued by her jilted fiance, her mother and various others, chaos ensues briefly and Poppy negotiates one month to discover what she wants to do with her life.

What she wants to do is find Sebastian to thank him for helping her, only to discover that he himself has disappeared in rather mysterious circumstances. One good turn deserves another and so Poppy decides that she must find him, no matter what it takes. With only her maid for company Poppy lands a job as a companion for a retired colonel and sails for the Holy Land where she believes Sebastian has gone. Once in Damascus, Poppy finds that there’s much more to Sebastian than she ever dreamed. She has to make a quick decision on who she can trust as she attempts to unravel a mystery that only keeps getting deeper the further in she gets.

I have to admit, I was more than a little sad when I read that Deanna Raybourn was changing publishers and that her Lady Julia Grey series would more than likely be at an end. There is one forthcoming novella featuring Lady Julia which is due around November but for fans of that series, there is some closure on Lady Julia and several other characters in Raybourn’s last full-length novel for MIRA, Night of A Thousand Stars. I liked the connections that kept being revealed and had she not left MIRA, I’m sure Raybourn could’ve  written more novels that tied in with this world and also Lady Julia’s. Although I wasn’t a huge fan of City of Jasmine and I knew this book was linked in some way, I still wanted to read it because I know Raybourn is definitely way more hit than miss with me and this book was definitely hit. I enjoyed it from the very first page which was Penelope (Poppy) deciding to escape the wedding that would see her into aristocracy and a certain, regimented life and basically run for the hills. She’s assisted by a handily placed curate who is definitely not what he seems.

It’s not really surprising that Poppy reminded me a lot of Lady Julia, given the connection between them that is revealed relatively early on into the book. Both of them have been trying to be something they’re not, trying to fulful a role in a way, a societal expectation. And in both their cases something happens to make them rebel, to break out of those moulds and attempt to find out who they really are and what they really want. They’re not afraid of risk, of a little adventure and trouble tends to find them almost effortlessly. It also rarely seems to bother them as they bounce cheerfully from one sticky situation to another.

I have to admit, I did query the ‘neatness’ of several events and happenings along the way – it all seemed to come together way too easily and too smoothly for Poppy. She seemed to have no trouble getting where she wanted to go and I was glad that was all explained rather satisfactorily and wasn’t just put down to good luck or good organisation on her part. I did really enjoy the setting of Damascus in the 1920s (in fact it was one of the things I enjoyed most about City of Jasmine) and I felt that it was portrayed really well and the way in which someone such as Poppy would view it. She was a good observer with keen instincts and really wants to do the right thing. She feels that Sebastian went out of his way to help her when he didn’t have to, getting mixed up in the craziness that ensued when her family and former fiance caught up with her and now that he appears to be missing, she wants to do him a favour and help him out. Poppy does continually underestimate Sebastian in this book which actually makes for several rather amusing scenes as she finally comes to terms with the fact he’s not really just a curate. For me it’s hard for Raybourn’s male leads to live up to Brisbane, who is a character that I just adore. I was discussing this with a blogger friend who mentioned that when an author crafts a character that you really just love, it can be pretty hard to duplicate that. I ended up really liking Sebastian and I thought that the chemistry between him and Poppy was very well done. The scene where she describes something that happened that made her bail on the wedding is just hilarious (she and Sebastian had only just met) and there are several scenes later on when they’re in Damascus where Sebastian’s desire for Poppy basically leaps off the page but for various reasons, it’s something that he keeps on a pretty tight leash. A lot of the time, less really can be more.

I know there’s one more Lady Julia novella to go but I’m assuming that’s set around the same time as the rest so this book, which is set decades letter really seems to end this journey on a good note and gives some closure. I’m really looking forward to whatever comes next from Deanna Raybourn – she’ll probably always be an auto-read for me.

8/10

Book #190 of 2014

 

 

 

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Review: Deadly Secrets – Sarah Barrie

Deadly SecretsDeadly Secrets
Sarah Barrie
Harlequin Escape Publishing
2014, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Almost four years ago, Jordan Windcroft made a choice and took the rap for a friend. She was lucky – she got off with probation and she has been living for the day when her probation time is over. It’s almost here and Jordan just has to make it through the cattle sales that are coming up, coinciding with the end of her allocated time. She needs to sell her stock for top prices so that she can pay off her mortgage and keep her beloved farm. It was her parent’s property and Jordan has been running it for years, just managing to keep her head above water. She might be in debt but it’s the prettiest parcel of land in the valley and it’s worth a lot. There are people who would love to see her lose it….or take it from her.

Detective Senior Sargeant Reid Easton arrives in town posing as Reid Tallon, Jordan’s probation officer. Reid has been working for years to smash a drug ring and the only lead he has brings him to this small town and Jordan and her arrest some years earlier. Reid and Jordan immediately clash: Reid expects punctuality and strict adherence to the rules from Jordan and Jordan is one woman single handedly running a farm. She’s used to her parole officer popping out and checking on her when he got a free moment and there are times she can’t drop everything and dash into town to meet with Reid. Her very livelihood depends on her getting those cattle perfectly fit and in exceptional condition so she can get the money, pay her debts and breathe a sigh of relief.

Reid is the last thing Jordan wants or needs and Jordan is definitely not what Reid expected. She’s his best lead to a drug ring they know is operating and he wants to get it shut down quickly. He finds himself getting more and more mixed up with Jordan and her complicated life and it isn’t long before he begins to suspect that something is not at all right about those charges four years ago. Both of them have goals that they need to accomplish, no matter that it might be love. But when it seems as though Jordan might be much more mixed up in his case than he initially expected, Reid can’t help but feel betrayed. But is it what it looks like? Or is Jordan in more danger than anyone realised?

I’ve always felt that romantic suspense novels are tricky to get right. There’s a need for balance between the budding romance and the element of danger that runs through the story. I think that Deadly Secrets is deceptively subtle. Most of the first half of the book is geared towards one particular outcome but it’s not until the latter part of the book that the true danger is really revealed and it’s done in a very, very clever way. I remember getting so very irritated reading this book because something happens to Jordan that leads to just about everyone in her life turning away from her. They believe that she’s done something, kept something from them and it was so frustrating because the reader is aware of what has truly happened. I had to take a step back and look at it from the point of view of someone other than Jordan, examine it in a way that they could, taking in only what they knew. Jordan begins to spiral into a very dangerous place fueled by paranoia, fear and despair and it makes it seem so very likely that what Reid and the others feel is true. It’s quite masterfully done and Jordan’s isolation and disintegrating mental state as she faces the danger that no one believes exists, on her own, is brilliant.

But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here as that’s towards the end of the book! The first part is concerned with Reid showing up in town, believing that Jordan could possibly lead him to the outcome he seeks. The two of them clash and although some of their interactions are sexually charged and quite fun, Reid can be a little inconsistent. At times he’s playful and others, like he has a stick in a very uncomfortable place. I originally attributed this to being undercover and being driven, desperate to smash this drug ring. However I’m not entirely sure that it wasn’t just a little bit of poor choice of words….such as his comment about “temperamental females” which I found a bit pointless. He is utterly brutal when he believes that Jordan has been hiding something from him and I found his reaction a bit cruel. He has ‘issues’ surrounding what he thinks Jordan is guilty of but he’s terribly judgemental and dismissive of her protests. It makes little sense for Jordan to have done what they assumed – she was supposed to be, according to them, hiding it. So why would she do it when there were several people around? I’m aware that people can become quite adept at hiding things but one of the people that turned on her had known her for years and years, saw her almost every day. She was somewhat like a daughter to him – she had done something amazing for him. I felt quite bitter at his treatment of her, even more than Reid’s and I felt like if I were Jordan, I would find it very hard to forgive that. I think Jordan gets over it pretty quickly!

Deadly Secrets is a hard book to really rate because there were times when it made me want to throw my Kindle at the wall because I was getting so frustrated with some of the characters – including Jordan because the way in which she handled some things only made her situation regarding other people much worse. She pretty much started to actually act the sort of paranoid, crazy, drug-induced psychosis behaviour that everyone thought was the reason for her behaviour. But I attribute that to good writing, that it had me invested in Jordan and incensed at the way people didn’t attempt to look beyond what they saw as the obvious. Jordan is the standout in the book, she’s tough and smart and works backbreakingly hard, always with her goals in sight. She doesn’t let herself be intimidated by anyone, Reid had his moments but there were others where he really didn’t shine. But the writing makes up for it. The story is very well done.

7/10

Book #114 of 2014

AWWW2014

Deadly Secrets is book #41 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

 

 

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The Shadow Tracer – Meg Gardiner

Shadow2The Shadow Tracer
Meg Gardiner
Penguin Books Aus
2013, 358p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Sarah Keller is a single mother living in Oklahoma, working as a skip tracer. When Sarah’s five year old daughter Zoe is in a bus accident going on a school excursion, the resulting tests turn up not only something very odd but also proof that Sarah cannot be Zoe’s biological mother. What Sarah has been hiding from for the past five years is now going to catch up with her and everything she holds dear is now in grave danger.

Sarah goes on the run with Zoe, an exhausting flee through the south west of the country, avoiding not only the demons on her tail but also the FBI who are willing to use her and Zoe as a means to a very convenient end. Sarah has prepared for this moment for five years but when it happens she finds that she is clueless as well. All her preparations may not be enough – she is fighting enemies that have much greater resources, that are driven and dedicated to finding what she has and bringing it home…or using it.

There’s one person that she might be able to trust to help her, someone that turned a blind eye five years ago But it’s going to require a big leap of faith and that’s not something Sarah has a lot of right now.

The Shadow Tracer is a book that sucks you right in from the very beginning. Sarah works as a bounty hunter/skip tracer, something that allows her to move around and keep off the grid. For five years she’s been looking over her shoulder and now it seems that the moment she has always feared has caught up with her when a relatively minor bus accident leads to the hospital discovering that Sarah cannot possibly be Zoe’s biological mother. They attempt to detain her but Sarah flees, knowing that if word gets out, if her name or Zoe’s name is mentioned anywhere in the press, they will come for her and her safety and Zoe’s will mean absolutely nothing to them.

Zoe is the granddaughter of a self-proclaimed prophet, who although in jail, still rules over his polygamous family with an iron fist. They make their fortune by crime and his eyes and ears are everywhere. They want Zoe – they have always wanted Zoe – but Sarah made a promise years ago that they would never be able to have her and she intends to keep it. She thought she has prepared for this day but it quickly becomes obvious that she’s not even close to ready. She needs an ally, someone she can trust to at least help her get a headstart and she turns to Michael Lawless, a US Marshal who once swore he’d help her.

I really found myself sympathising with Sarah and her desperate plight to keep Zoe safe. She was really just an ordinary person who had to put her life on hold and become something more than ordinary, someone that could sacrifice everything, someone that could flee at a moment’s notice but also someone that could fight as well. A child’s safety and future was at stake because if her father’s family got hold of her then Zoe would be subjected to a very different life than the one she’d been living with Sarah. But the clan have proved they’re willing to do anything to get Zoe back, including kill anyone that stands in their path and Sarah has to wonder what Zoe has that they’re willing to go to such lengths.

I loved the dynamic between Lawless and Sarah. He assisted her once before, years ago, in getting Zoe away as a baby but they haven’t had any contact since. When the clan are hot on Sarah’s tail, she makes a call to a number he told her he’d always be reachable on and he gives her some instructions and says he’ll be with her as soon as he can, going off the grid in this one. I actually had to look up precisely what a US Marshal is/does because I haven’t come across too many before and I could see how Michael might have been conflicted in the past with helping Sarah and how she might not be able to fully trust him now. Sarah also had an FBI agent on her who wanted nothing more than to use her as bait to lure the clan members out so that he could finally collar them for a bombing they carried out that took the life of someone he loved. The FBI agent actually really made me furious reading this book – for a long time you don’t know his motivation and why he’s so desperate to basically hang Sarah out to dry for things that are clearly ambiguous. He puts her in danger and recklessly endangers the lives of others around him, including several other bureau members and local police. He underestimates the clan, which is something that Lawless doesn’t do. I thought Sarah’s wariness was well played against Lawless and his desire to help and I really wanted him to be the ‘good guy’, the one who was left standing at the end so that he and Sarah could so obviously do something with that subtle chemistry!

This book gave me more than I was expecting (in a good way) and I think that’s probably one of the best things you can say when looking back on a novel. I didn’t expect the depth of gritty character in Sarah, the way in which I would really identify with her. It’s a steady paced thriller that really does keep you involved right until the very end – the clan was suitably creepy, some of the so called good guys not particularly so and one of the ‘bad’ guys in particular had a humanising motivation and a moment at the end which called for my sympathy. I will definitely be seeking more from this author.

8/10

Book #165 of 2013

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Peaches For Monsieur le Curé – Joanne Harris

Peaches For Monsieur le Curé
Joanne Harris
Random House AU
2012, 458p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

It has been eight year since Vianne left Lansquenet. For the last four years she has been living on a houseboat in Paris with Roux, father of her daughter Rosette and her other daughter Anouk. Then she receives a letter from an old friend, a letter from the grave. The letter asks of her to return to Lansquenet and help someone who is in desperate need of it, for the letter writer knows that they themselves will not be able to lower their pride and ask.

And so Vianne finds herself travelling back to Lansquenet with her two daughters, Roux opting to stay behind on the boat and not accompany them. Vianne is not prepared for what she finds when she arrives – firstly she finds herself standing next to the man who once would’ve stopped at nothing to oust her from the town, Monsieur le Curé himself, Father Reynaud. He is not giving Mass at the Church, instead there is a new priest. Vianne wants to know why but it is a long story and first she needs somewhere to stay, the empty house of her old friend Armande the obvious choice.

Once settled, Vianne begins to get to the bottom of what has been happening – the Muslim community and the small local Lansquenet community once co-existed peaceably and amicably with respect for each other’s religions and cultures. There was friendship, a blending of the cultures but now there is alienation and suspicion and a lot of it centres around the arrival of a mysterious woman, clad head to toe in black. She seems to have inspired a competition of purity in the other Muslim women and they all dress to hide themselves now and that combined with the arson of Vianne’s old chocolaterie, now a school run by the woman in black, has led the town almost to a revolt. And number one suspect for the arson? Father Reynaud.

Vianne and Father Reynaud may not have been friends before but he is a different man and Vianne knows that he didn’t set the building on fire and try to burn it to the ground with the woman and black and her young daughter inside. Could it be that Vianne has journeyed all the way back to this town in order to save the one person who only wanted to drive her from it?

Hot on the heels of finishing Chocolat, I dived into this, the third book, Peaches For Monsieur le Curé. I did skip the second book but I figured because I’d read Chocolat, I knew all the players and I think that it’s quite fine not to have read the second one, which takes place elsewhere. However I was very glad I had chosen to read Chocolat before this one because all of these Lansquenet characters have backstories and connections and previous relationships with Vianne so it was nice to have that prior knowledge.

I was very interested to see how Harris would play out this one given Reynaud is such an unsympathetic character in Chocolat. When Vianne returns to Lansquenet at the bequest of a dear old friend long departed, she can see immediately that the Father is quite a changed man. Whereas before he seemed to watch over the village with a all-seeing and knowing eye, she finds him almost on the outside of it, not involved in the religious celebrations taking place and nor is he getting ready to give the Mass. It seems that Father Reynaud has been relieved of his duties for the moment and it all centres around a growing discord between the Catholic church and the local Muslim community, made up mostly of families from North Africa.

Once again religion is quite a heavy theme in this book but this one seems to be more about promoting religious tolerance. Father Reynaud doesn’t begrudge the Muslims their mosque, only the spire they have built to amplify the call to prayer, which although passes regulations, also sort of mocks them. He and the leader of the Muslim community managed along together quite well until the arrival of the woman in black and things began to change. When the building was firebombed, fingers were pointed firmly at the Father and the Muslim community retreated within itself – it became a war.

I really enjoyed this book – it’s a real page turner, such a fleshing out of story and then a gentle tension builder until by the end I was literally bursting for something in particular to happen! Vianne really is a most interesting character, such a hard person to get a feel on sometimes, but so generous and interested in other people, even those who haven’t exactly been pleasant to her in the past. There’s enough whimsical magic in this story to make it a bit special but without alienating the skeptics and the evolution of Father Reynaud is skilfully done.

Food is a huge part of this novel too and the descriptions were utterly divine, both what Vianne was making and also the creations of the Muslim community. They were fasting for Ramadan throughout the book so all day was spent preparing for the meal to break their fast after sundown. Vianne visits a household quite often and they usually offer her something and once again, I wanted to try it all. It’s rich with imagery and beautiful description and to be quite honest I could quite easily see myself living in that little village! I think that Peaches For Monsieur le Curé is a stronger book with a stronger story. It’s a longer story but it’s definitely got more complexity to it and for me, that just meant more to enjoy.

8/10

Book #187 of 2012

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