All The Books I Can Read

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Author Guest Post: Cheryl Adnams

Today I’m pleased to welcome Australian author Cheryl Adnams to the blog. Cheryl is the author of two romance novels, Bet On It and Chasing The Flames (you can read my review of Chasing The Flames here). Cheryl is bravely tackling the topic of how authors really feel about reviews!

Cheryl Adnams LR

When my first novel ‘Bet On It’ was released in May this year, I hadn’t given much thought to reviews.  I’d never even heard of Goodreads until I had my own novel published.

So when I received my first glowing review, and 4 stars, wasn’t I excited and oh, so very proud of myself. From that point on I looked religiously, five times a day to see if there were any more reviews sitting there waiting to just boost my spirits and make my day.

Five stars, wahoo! Four stars, nice. And so it went on. I booked the marching band, ordered the French champagne and celebrated being the next big thing.

And then my world came crashing down. A 2.5 star review. I poured over the scathing remarks, the digs at the story, the slicing and dicing of the characters who were now like family to me. Devastation and depression set it. The champagne was no longer celebratory but medicinal.

One bad review and I started to question my writing style, my story and my right to even be a published author. After all, the reviewer must be an expert in the field right? It didn’t matter to me that I had multiple 4 and 5 star reviews. That one bad (and quite frankly nasty in some parts) review was the one that I held onto with my poor wounded heart and soul. I should say that the reviewer gave me the stars for the good writing and editing. So it wasn’t all bad. But I chose to ignore that morsel of good.

So why is it that we only hold on to the bad things people say about us and let them cast a shadow over all the good reviews?

In the last few months, I have met many wonderful romance authors through writers groups such as SARA (South Australian Romance Authors) and at the Romance Writers of Australia Conference in August this year. And found there are several different modus operandi authors follow to deal with reviews.

Some will read only the good reviews and ignore the bad. Others choose not to read their reviews at all – and wow that takes a massive amount of self-control. One of the best responses I heard though is:

‘This reviewer is not my fan base’.

It’s a simple as that. As in everything in life, not everyone will like what you write. Not everyone likes who you are. Not everyone likes what you wear. It’s part of life and accepting that was the answer to turning my medicinal champagne back to celebratory champagne.

Just one last note and a word to my fellow authors :

Nasty and hurtful reviews say more about the person writing the review than they do about the author or the book they are reviewing. Shrug it off and choose to celebrate your fan base.

***

Thank you Cheryl for your post – interesting thoughts. As a reviewer, I tend to feel very differently about negative reviews but can appreciate how they may be difficult for those that write.  If anyone has any comments, please feel free to leave them below.

Chasing the Flames - cover imageThis author guest post is part of the Chasing The Flames blog tour, organised by Random Romance of Random House Australia. You can check out more information about the tour, including the full schedule here

Previously on the tour: Monique at Write Note Reviews has another guest post from Cheryl which you can see here

Next on the tour: Connect With Chick Lit also has a guest post which will be featured on the 13th October

Chasing the Flames - Blog Banner

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One For The Money {Movie} Review

Last night I went to the movies with Marg from Adventures of an Intrepid Reader and another friend of hers to see One For The Money. Having been an avid fan of the series (the first 10 books anyway, the last 8 not so much) I’ve read about the movie being in development for years and years with various people attached to the project and then dropping off. The rights were sold many many years ago and for a long time it looked like it just might be a victim of developmental hell.

Then Katherine Heigl was announced as being cast as Stephanie Plum and it seems like from that time on, things did move pretty quickly! There was a bit of outrage at her being cast (too pretty, etc) but I think in a book-to-movie adaptation, you’re never going to please everyone. Readers all have ‘their’ idea of how they think the characters should look and sometimes casting agents sacrifice looks for chemistry with other actors etc. I’m okay with that – my personal preference for book-to-movie adaptations is that they stick closely to the original plot.

So for a bit of fun I thought I’d review the movie as I have 3 novel review posts to do that just don’t seem to want to write themselves. Procrastination ahoy!

Casting: Unlike a lot of people, I never had much of a problem with Katherine Heigl being cast as Stephanie. She is beautiful but I’ve always found her to be a bit more girl-next-door beautiful than stunning knock out. She does have a rocking body, probably better than Stephanie does but that’s okay! I know a lot of people clamoured for Sandra Bullock to play Steph…but she’s close to 50 years old. She may not look it, but she does look a little too old to be Steph. Apart from an inconsistent accent, I think that Katherine Heigl did a great job playing Steph. She was funny, she had that sort of crazy determination that Steph develops. Although generally useless, Steph is usually portrayed as having both good instincts and luck and I think Heigl managed that combination.

The love interests – I’m Team Ranger and always will be but I’m by no means a Morelli hater. I enjoy him in the books, I don’t mind him and Steph together. However the casting of Morelli did not work for me. I always pictured him as leaner, hotter and well, obviously more Italian. And less angry. I know he’s wanted for murder and all and has the arm-waving crazy Italian thing going on but he seemed pretty bitter. I thought their interactions were a little more fun in the book so I might have to re-read that to see if I’m right or wrong. The casting of Ranger though I think was pretty spot on. He was decent looking without being too pretty although I did notice he was more playing a Ranger character from later on in the series. Ranger in book 1 isn’t all that interesting and I don’t think he was originally intended to play such a role. He’s definitely a character that evolves and given I doubt they’ll make 10 movies, I think it’s okay he was played as more smiley (‘dimply’ as Marg said!) and friendly than he really is in the beginning.

Minors: Grandma Mazur was WRONG! The actress who played her, Debbie Reynolds, is too young, too classy looking and too well put together. She wasn’t crazy enough – she didn’t wear the sort of clothes that Steph does, she didn’t really talk inappropriately. They did keep in the dinner-table shooting scene which was funny. I thought Connie and Lula were spot on – both were pretty much how I pictured them in my head. Vinny wasn’t too bad, I think he could’ve been sleazier though. They cleaned it up a bit – there was no mention of the duck, lol.

Plot: This is where the movie impressed me. It stuck pretty close to the book and kept a lot of the funny moments and didn’t veer off into weird directions to include more forced funny moments than the book contains. They toned down the creepy factor with Ramirez and he’s not really in the movie all that much. They definitely played it as a real genuine comedy more than a crime or mystery (which is generally where the books are shelved). They didn’t go overboard with Lula as a character, keeping her appearances and Grandma’s to a minimum. Big Blue was almost a character in its own right (I’m glad I finally know what that car looks like, I’ve always pictured it differently in my head because I really had no idea what a 1953 Buick looked like) and they modernised a few things. Steph wears an awful lot of spandex in the original novel (even though it was published in about 1994!) so thankfully we were spared her orange spandex shorts and pushdown socks combos! And I really loved the ending! It’s always been one of my favourite parts of the book. My only criticism is that it was probably a tiny bit slow in the beginning.  But it’s really a minor quibble – overall I was pleased with how well it was done and if they ever made Two For The Dough I’d definitely go and see that.

7/10

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The Borgia Bride – Jeanne Kalogridis

The Borgia Bride got me out of my slump of not being able to complete a novel. It tells the tale of Sancha of Aragon, illegitimate but acknowledged daughter of Alfonso II of Naples. At 15, Sancha is betrothed for the first time but that engagement is broken in favour of another one, with Jofre Borgia, illegitimate but acknowledged son of Rodrigo Borgia, later Pope Alexander VI. Jofre is barely 12, which I found a bit disturbing. I know it was the done thing back in those days, but given their wedding night is witnessed by both Sancha’s cruel and cold father and another, it was a bit uncomfortable!

{{This review will contain some SPOILERS}}

Sancha and her new husband are given the principality of Squillace and head off there to live, devastating Sancha as she must leave behind her beloved brother Alfonso. There her and Jofre live in a sort of civilized harmony for a while before having to deal with an issue that arises in Naples. Sancha’s father, now King, has not been able to handle the invasion of the French and has absconded with the contents of the royal coffers, to Sicily. Sancha aids her family in that issue, then after it is resolved, chooses to stay in her home of Naples, and not return to Squillace. But before she can get too comfortable, word of Sancha’s legendary beauty reaches Pope Alexander VI and he calls his son and his new wife back to Rome. A notorious lech, Pope Alexander VI is the first Pope to have acknowledged children and has a reputation for ‘destroying marriages’ by famously seducing married woman. Sancha is apprehensive, certain that her husbands father plans to make her his next conquest. They cannot deny the request to go to Rome however, and take up residence with the Pope.

It is there that things get rather complicated. Pope Alexander VI wastes no time attempting to lure Sancha to his bed but Sancha has laid eyes on the Pope’s eldest son, Cesare. The Cardinal of Valencia, Cesare has been ‘given to the Church’ by Pope Alexander VI, who sees him as the next Pope. Cesare and Sancha fall into love (or maybe more accurately, lust) at first sight are are soon embarking on a clandestine affair. Cesare rebuffs the Pope’s attentions towards Sancha with an ease that readers should take note of. He talks of leaving the church, getting Sancha’s marriage to Jofre annulled and marrying her himself, providing her with a hoarde of children.  Matters for Sancha are further complicated by her new sister in law, Lucrezia Borgia, who is at first, very jealous of Sancha and sees her as a rival for Pope Alexander VI’s affection. And make of  that what you will!

There’s a lot more going on in this book, with plenty of politics and people backstabbing each other, plotting against others, murdering, raping, stealing from and sleeping around abounds. It seems that everyone in this book comes served with a massive side of evil and it’s hard to like anybody. They’re either ambitious, ruthless and perhaps slightly insane (Cesare, King Ferrante (Sancha’s grandfather) or pathetic and weak (Lucrezia, King Alfonso II of Naples, Jofre). In glaring contrast, Sancha’s beloved brother Alfonso, who becomes Lucrezia’s second husband, is portrayed as perfection itself.

Cesare at some stage, revokes his Cardinal-ness and becomes the Pope’s Captain-General, or head of his army, presumably after murdering the previous one Juan, the middle brother. He begs Sancha once again to leave Jofre and marry him, but Sancha, sickened now by things she knows Cesare has done, refuses to hurt and humiliate Jofre. I think this is supposed to be noble of her, but really it just comes across as stupid, because Jofre spends most of his time drinking wine and hanging with courtesans and although he repeatedly swears to do better by Sancha, never does. She may’ve not approved of Cesare’s actions but she should’ve realised he’d be a very dangerous man to cross and she’d probably have secured her position, and that of her brother, if she left Jofre and married Cesare, whether she wanted to or not. But she remained stubborn, angering Cesare and had him swearing revenge on her by hurting the thing dearest to her – her brother Alfonso.

I -think- I enjoyed this book, even if all the characters weren’t to my liking. It certainly kept me turning pages, and I have to admit, I was floored when Cesare turned out to be a psychopath. I know nothing about the Borgia’s, so I went in blind, and the way he was portrayed (although I am well aware that this is through Sancha’s eyes) made him very likeable and I hoped they would end up together. Then when his first act of betrayal is revealed, I was actually gobsmacked. I did enjoy being so sucked in and then spat out by one character, I thought that was well done.

6/10

(Book #44 of my 50 Book Challenge of 2010)

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Lover Awakened – J.R. Ward

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

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

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

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

Awww!

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

(Book #32 of my 50 Book Challenge)

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Monday Mourning – Kathy Reichs

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

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

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

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

7/10

(Book #31 of my 50 Book Challenge)

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The Birthday Present – Barbara Vine

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

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

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

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

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

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

5/10

(Book #30 of my 50 Book Challenge)

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Cross Bones – Kathy Reichs

I finished this book quite a few days ago but I’ve been putting off writing this review, because I didn’t really know what to say about it. Firstly, I do like these books. A lot. This is #8 I think, I skipped #7 as it wasn’t in Borders and I had to have it shipped in from the US, so I bought this one and read it instead. And I can honestly say that it is the first one that I have not enjoyed. At all.

The basic plot (if you can call it that) is that Tempe is called to determine whether or not the death of an Orthodox Jewish man is murder or suicide. He has his own business, is married, well-to-do. Before she can really get into that, a man accosts her in the hallway of the Medical Lab and hands her a photo, saying what is in the photo is the reason the man is dead. She assumes he was one of the Jewish people selected to view the autopsy to make sure it’s in keeping with…whatever is supposed to be done when a Jewish person dies, but it is discovered pretty quickly he wasn’t cleared to be in the room. When Tempe looks at the picture, it’s of a skeleton. So far, it was kind of interesting. Especially when she discovered that it definitely wasn’t suicide.

And here is when the book lost me, because it skeered into the bones possibly being those of Jesus Christ. I’m an athiest, and a fairly devout one at that, so I lack a lot of religious knowledge. Never mind! This book explains everything for me! About thirty-five times! The passages are long and tedious. And repetitive. I might not have much religious background knowledge, but I’m also not stupid. I don’t need everything rehashed for me many times. And if the author felt the need to rehash so much, she must’ve known that it was tedious. And that maybe, a lot of people would skim those bits. So she’d better throw them in a few times so that hopefully, most of it stuck. There was lots of  Yeshua, son of Joseph and Jude, son of Jesus type stuff. It centres around the fact that these bones were found at Masada, a Jewish mountain/cave type fort thing from about 2000 years ago where a bunch of fantatics Sicarii rebels committed mass suicide rather than be captured/beaten by the Romans. And, oh the worldwide devastating effects for Christianity and Catholicism (mostly Catholicism) if it turns out that Jesus didn’t die on the Cross and lived to be a ripe old 80! And got married! And had children! And did normal type things. In the tomb where the bones were found, there are also other bones which are posited as being Jesus’ family – Mary and some brothers and sisters. I didn’t even know he had brothers and sisters and apparently that opinion differs on what religion you may be. Catholics believe she was a Virgin for life. The whole purity thing and all. Same for Jesus.

In process that actually seems far too easy, Tempe gets her hands on the skeleton in the picture. She carbon dates it, or whatever it is that they do, to about 2000 years ago, which fits the timeframe! So then she feels the need to inform the Israeli authorities and before you can blink, her and her boyfriend, Andrew Ryan, are on their way to Israel. With the bones. And one of her archeologist friends happens to be on a dig in Israel! And he takes her into some random caves or something, where they find more bones. Because random archeologist friend doesn’t believe the bones Tempe has are those of Jesus Christ (which is handy, because they’re stolen about 5m after Tempe enters the country. She has just been carting them around in a bloody sports bag or something) he believes that the bones in the cave are those of Jesus Christ.

Ugh. It was just too much for me. First one set of bones, then another set, both they stumble upon so so so so easily it was just amazingly ridiculous, are presumed to be those of Jesus Christ. The religious posturing and historical rambling goes on for pages. I found it tedious and boring to read. There was no real storyline to this book. Why was Ryan there? Because one of the subjects from the murder in the first pages of the book was spotted in Israel. So instead of just extraditing him to Canada, or waiting for him to return, the Canadian authorities okay Ryan to go to Israel and question him on the murder. And the Israeli detectives (holding him for nicking a necklace {a stupid deus ex machina to get him into custody}) are fine with Ryan wandering in and taking over.

Lastly, the book is written in a clipped, choppy style that I found incredibly distracting. Paragraphs are a sentence long. And sentences are between 3-5 words long. It was like the author realised the pacing of the book was going incredibly slowwwwllly so she tried to disguise that by making the writing feel like an episode of the Gilmore Girls on crack. Ryan and Tempe amped their ‘witty banter’ up a notch to forced fakery. I didn’t particularly like either of them in this book. And even though Ryan expressly warns her against going off alone, and to wait for him, after she’s tailed….she blindly goes off alone doing stupid things. Again. Except this time, I never really felt the suspense when she was held at gunpoint. I almost wanted them to shoot her so that this book would be over.

I also didn’t like the last chapter. The second-to-last chapter ends with a fiery crash and Tempe, random archeologist friend Jake and other person trying to escape before the car explodes into a fire ball. And then the last chapter starts with a narrative after everything is all fixed and right. I just thought that it was a lazy way to finish the book.

The authors notes in the back of the book that this was based loosely on a real story – finding of bones and some proposition that they could be the bones of Jesus and someone asked her if she might like to use it as a storyline for Tempe. I didn’t really look into it too much as by then I was just done with this book and everything in it but I might see if the real story was ever published and what happened there. I haven’t heard any major world-wide news broadcasts that the bones of Jesus have been found though. I think she should just stick to writing her mysteries between Montreal and North Carolina. They’re the ones that are the most tightly written and the most enjoyable. Where she uses her real life forensic experiences to create a story. Overall this book felt very forced, like she wrote it because someone else thought it was a good idea, or because she felt she had to. I’ve seen it described as the ‘poor man’s DaVinci Code. I have read The DaVinci Code but about 6 years ago now and I don’t remember it too well. I only remember that I didn’t like it that much either and the world-wide phenomenon that it was completely passed me by.

I really hope that the next book is a return to her old formula.

3/10

(Book #28 of my 50 Book Challenge)

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The Likeness – Tana French

After finishing In The Woods I was hoping that The Likeness might help me gain a little bit of closure. But closure, it seems, is not Tana French’s forte or particular preference. But that doesn’t mean that I loved this book any less than I loved her first one.

The Likeness picks up not too long after In The Woods leaves off, with Cassie, the secondary character of the first novel moved to first person protagonist in this one. After the repercussions of Operation Vestal from the previous book, she has transferred out of the Murder Squad to Domestic Violence. Her boyfriend is still on Murder Squad and he calls her frantically one morning, asking her to come to a crime scene.

The victim is a female that looks like Cassie’s double and who is using Cassie’s old undercover identity when she was posing as a college student to bust open a drug ring. Cassie’s old undercover boss is on the scene as well, wanting to draw Cassie back into undercover to find out what happened to this girl and how she came to be using the identity he and Cassie created and that he registered for Cassie to go undercover. From the outset, although Cassie appears reluctant, it’s always clear she’s going to do the job. The victim, using the name Lexie Madison was living in a very old stately home with 4 other PhD students, all extremely intelligent, all a bit shifty, all considered suspects. Cassie spends a week or so learning to be Lexie using footage of video taken from her mobile phone while the house mates think Lexie survived her stabbing and is just in a coma, whereabouts unknown for the purposes of her safety. To cover their butts, they give Lexie a bit of random recent-event amnesia so that she can’t remember who stabbed her. Just in case it was one of her house mates and they expect her to come all flying back in pissed as hell that one of them you know, stabbed her. And left her to die.

The house mates. They’re an interesting lot. They’re portrayed as One Against The World really, that they have this incredibly intimate relationship, seamless with no cracks. However Cassie spots cracks in about three seconds and starts trying to apply pressure on the cracks and seeing what leaks out. The answer is, not much. And then a whole lot. Meanwhile her boss from undercover is chilling, listening in on everything that’s going on (Cassie is wired) and researching The Girl Formerly Known As Lexie Madison (the dead one, not Cassie). Turns out TGFKALM has a history of stealing people’s identity’s, living as them for a while and then up and disappearing in the middle of the night. That leads to a massive red herring  secondary plot about whether or not someone from her past is chasing her, forcing her to change her identity frequently and abscond to faraway countries. Her boyfriend is just a whiny presence at the other end of the phone most of the time, telling her not to do this, come home, don’t do that, be careful, I don’t like this, etc. I can’t actually buy them as a couple throughout any of the book. He was a minor character in In The Woods and isn’t any more prevalent in this book. I know that romantic relationships don’t seem to be the primary focus of French, she seems to emphasize more heavily the mystery and relationships other than the romantic sort, but the dynamic between them is a little too distant to make them anything other than blah as a couple.

Oh yes…’Lexie Madison’ was pregnant when she died. So Cassie also has to attempt to try and find out who the father is without asking anyone questions like “Sooo…did we have sex before I was stabbed and in a coma? No? Awkward!” So she doesn’t do that at all. Instead she mostly ignores it for like, the whole time! Instead she spends way too much time actually liking these weirdo house mates and all falling in love with them and starting to wish she was Lexie and could stay there forever and not come back out of undercover. And you will sort of understand it because the house mates are very awesome in the way that they are actually, very horrible. And one of them is possibly a murderer.

And if, like me, you wondered about Rob Ryan, from In The Woods, well then, keep wondering. Because although Cassie dials his number to talk to him, she hangs up when he answers. And although she mentions him several times, missing him, thinking about him, he never actually appears in this book. And maybe that’s a good thing, because his story is done. But I do wish that those two crazy kids would start talking again. And then maybe Cassie could get rid of her boring Murder Squad boyfriend. Because he doesn’t do anything for me at all, and I sincerely hope that 2-3 books down the track, French doesn’t decide to spin him out as a main character.

As with the first book, French’s writing just hooks me write in. I love it beyond description. I love the way she creates characters and situations and how she can make me not be able to turn pages fast enough, with my heart in my mouth. Even though this one is not as tense, there are so many moments that are totally edge-of-seat. And even though the books don’t always give me what I want, I find myself liking the alternative so much more.

Also 8/10 for this one.

PS> Just a personal nitpick – at the end, Cassie talks to a character from Australia, who mentions that someone took off with “a couple hundred quid”. No one from Australia, especially not a bush farmer from remote WA, would ever say that. We haven’t had pounds since about 1966 and even my grandparents, who are 80-ish, don’t say quid. A real Australian would’ve said they took off with a “couple hundred bucks”. I just felt like an editor should’ve picked up on that, because it’s not a hard thing to verify. I find it as implausible as someone from the US using “quid” as slang.

(Book #27 of my 50 Book Challenge)

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In The Woods – Tana French

So, I’d been reading a lot of stellar reviews of Tana French books around the book blogs I read and last time I was in Borders, I picked up both her debut novel (this one) In The Woods and the one I actually really wanted to read, The Likeness, which I realised contained at least some of the same characters as In The Woods, so I figured I’d better read this one first.

Brief plotline of In The Woods: Detective Rob Ryan is with the Murder Squad in Ireland. Twenty-something years ago, Ryan was actually Adam Ryan and he and his 2 friends were spending the summer playing in the woods (like the title, see?) near their home, playing games and having fun like 12 year olds do. Then one day, those 3 kids go into the woods to play and do not return. A major search is organised and Adam Ryan is found, clinging to a tree, catatonic. He cannot speak and doesn’t speak, for several weeks. When he finally does regain speech, he cannot remember anything of that day up until after he was found and even his memories before that day, of his whole life, are distant and patchy. Nothing the police do can get him to remember and his parents transfer him to an English boarding school under his middle name Robert, so he can get on with his life. Fast-forward those years later and he’s the murder detective who receives the case when the body of a 12yr old girl is found, so very close to where he himself was found all those years ago.

So there are essentially, two plot lines interwoven in this book. The first one, that of Ryan himself and what happened to him and his friends, was for me, by far the most interesting of the two. All the mystery and the fact that the bodies of his 2 friends were never found, his complete lack of memory, the blood in his shoes, the scratch marks on his shirt – I couldn’t even begin to imagine what had happened that day and I was so so eager to find out. Then there is the second plot of the murdered girl Katharine, and how Ryan deals with being back in his old childhood hometown and how he handles the investigation.

The thing about Tana French is that she writes so amazingly beautifully. I have read this everywhere in reviews and it only took a handful of pages of In The Woods to see it. I loved the prose, everything was so elegant and so vividly written that I lost track of time. I could see everything she was talking about, I was there. I loved the character of Ryan, so amazingly flawed, so damaged without even seeming to realise it himself. His relationship, both professional and personal with his partner Cassie is so intimate and fluid but I actually had no trouble believing they were that close and connected. I enjoyed the scenes between them, and although I did spend some time trying to figure out if they were secretly in love, it was not, for me, in any way, a major part of the book. Even when the cracks started to show, I had hope that things would all come out okay for them. And that in the end, their worlds would be the way they were.

I’m avoiding spoilering the heck out of this, because it’s a book that I think should be read blind – go into it knowing only what the back of the book tells you. But if you love your endings neatly tied up in a bow and presented to you atop a gift wrapped present (like me, as I’ve mentioned previously) then this book will test you. I was gravely disappointed when I reached the final page, but now I’ve had several days to think about it and I think that possibly, it’s braver to do what she did, then wrap it all up. It’s sunk in now and I’ve spent days and days thinking about the repercussions of the events in the book for the characters and usually I don’t give them that much thought once I’ve closed the book, confident they all live Happily Ever After. But these characters, the events and tragedies in this book have stayed in my mind and I’m still mulling them over, making up things in my head, changing my mind and making up other things. And for once, the lack of closure doesn’t bother me as much as it normally would’ve.

8/10

(Book #26 of my 50 Book Challenge)

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Bare Bones – Kathy Reichs

My American friend Sara got me into the Kathy Reichs books a couple of months ago. I’ve read 6 in quick succession, and even though I really enjoy each book, this is not really a series a lot of people could read in a bang-bang-bang sort of way because you can get too bogged down with the immense forensic details. And like a lot of series, there’s a lot of similar features and they’re best read spaced out. Nevertheless I do very much enjoy the books and I find myself eagerly purchasing the next one.

The books revolve around protagonist Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist working between North Carolina and Montreal in Canada. This book is set in North Carolina and picks up almost where the previous, Grave Mistakes, left off with Temperance (Tempe) about to start vacation time with her almost-lover Detective Andrew Ryan. Unfortunately for her, bones are unearthed that are mostly bear but also include some human bones. There goes her vacation time and the bodies just kind of keep piling up, pushing her vacation further and further away. A light plane crashes and burns and she also has the occupants of that to investigate as well. Her love arrives and spends time with her at home and at crime scenes instead. Despite being part of some force in Montreal, it’s never really questioned by anyone why he’s there or why they should talk about the case in front of him.

As with most of these novels, the cases that seem individual at the beginning all come together in some way or another and intertwine and overlap. In  this book it’s done quite smoothly and it’s no trouble believing that all the bodies and victims are all actually connected. This one isn’t quite as heavy on the lecture either – some of the novels contain parts where either Tempe explains to someone, or has something explained to her by another expert, some intricate part of forensic analysis or similar. In this novel she explains some finer points of DNA and chromosomal abnormalities to Ryan but it’s in no way difficult to grasp.

The character of Ryan, although sometimes a bit cheesy, is still a nice addition to keep Tempe from getting too bogged down in the dramas and atrocities of her job. He provides a bit of light heartedness to the series, a bit of comedy sometimes but I feel that after 6 books we should know more about him than we do. At one stage during the book, about 5 minutes after Tempe finds out someone is sending her threatening emails (pictures of herself with a shotgun target over her face) he DISAPPEARS BACK TO CANADA! For a man that was undercover in a previous book and risked that twice to save her life, it seemed a bit of an odd move, even if it was explained away by a previously-mentioned difficult family member that he often has to deal with. I just thought that for his character, the way he’s been portrayed so far, he wouldn’t have gone back to Canada without a pretty big fight. But he just toddles off on the 9am plane.

At least in this novel, Tempe isn’t quite as gung-ho as she’s been in previous ones, undertaking investigations herself and visiting dangerous places late at night in the middle of a raging thunderstorm. I found her actions in this novel a lot more believable and realistic and I think that contributed to my overall enjoyment. This has become my favourite in the series so far – and we got a definitive moment for our couple as well!

8/10

(Book #25 of my 50 Book Challenge! Yay, halfway!)

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