Being Wrong One Day

>> Sunday, April 13, 2014

TITLE: Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error
AUTHOR: Kathryn Schulz

In Being Wrong, Schulz explores the many different aspects of the experience of, yes, being wrong. I was actually quite impressed by how many angles she could take. There's the question of what it is to be wrong, what the essence of wrongness is. There's the many different factors, both psychological and societal that lead us to errors (I'd already covered much of this ground on my behavioural economics reading). There's (and this felt the most novel and insightful) the issue of what it feels like to be wrong and how we humans react to it. And finally, what felt to me the point Schulz was building up to: what does it do to us, and why the author thinks making mistakes is what makes us human.

It was an interesting read and quite an enjoyable one, as well. Schulz has an engaging style and she uses plenty of examples that both illustrate and entertain. Some parts felt a little bit repetitive, but this wasn't a huge issue. Definitely worth a look.

MY GRADE: A B.



TITLE: One Day
AUTHOR: David Nicholls

Emma and Dex meet on their graduation day at university. We follow their lives for the next decades, meeting them on one day a year. We see them as they become friends, as they can't stand each other, as they take different career paths and as they screw up (pretty often, especially in Dex's case).

I really liked this book. It's funny and insightful and the characters are wonderfully done. Yes, Dexter can be a total arsehole (especially during the Thatcher years... god, he was vile then) and Emma a bit of a doormat (especially when it comes to Dexter), but they felt like real people, and I came to care for them. They grow as the years go by, too. I also thought the structure worked beautifully, creating a sort of in-built suspense. Whenever I'd finish a chapter, I'd always get really excited to see what was coming next, how those things I'd just seen being set up would have developed over a year. Sometimes there were huge surprises, sometimes not, so I never knew exactly what to expect.

Just remember it's not a romance novel. I knew what the ending would before I started it, so it worked for me, but if you read it for the romance, you might end up hating it.

MY GRADE: A B+.

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A couple of non-fiction DNFs

>> Saturday, April 12, 2014

Two books that sounded fascinating, but ended up being a disappointment.

TITLE: Amber, Furs and Cockleshells: Bike Rides with Pilgrims and Merchants
AUTHOR: Anne Mustoe

Mustoe is a keen cyclist and in Amber, Furs and Cockleshells we get an account of some of her travels. Each of the three items in the title describes one of the trails she describes in this book. First is the Amber Route (quite simply, the route through which amber from the Baltic was traded south towards the Mediterranean). That's about as far as I got. I missed the Santa Fe Trail (across the Western USA), where I assume furs were traded, as well as the route of the Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, in Northwestern Spain (pilgrims would carry a cockleshell as a symbol that they'd done the pilgrimage).

I stopped reading after about 60 pages, halfway through the Amber Route. The problem was that although the locations Mustoe was cycling through must have been amazing, she wasn't making them come alive. Nor was she providing any of the other things that could make a travel book interesting, whether it's providing insightful cultural commentary or comedy. I find that in travel books the narrator is just as important as the subject matter, and Mustoe was a really bland one. I didn't hate this book, it just bored me.

MY GRADE: DNF.



TITLE: Married To A Bedouin
AUTHOR: Marguerite van Geldermalsen

The author visited Petra in the late 70s and fell in love with a man she met there, a Bedouin. She lived there with him and his family until his death, 24 years later. I thought it'd be interesting to read, having just visited Petra, especially to see how how it's changed over the years.

I didn't get very far into it. After the initial visit where she meets the future husband, the author is invited back by him to attend a Bedouin wedding. The bride is a young girl the author describes as maybe 13, who's marrying a man much older than her. Everyone readily tells van Geldermalsen that the girl doesn't want to marry him, or even like him, but he has paid a very good bride price. So then, through all the wedding preparations, while van Geldermalsen prattled on about the dresses and how they applied kohl on her eyes and henna on her hands, and how pretty everyone looked, I couldn't stop thinking that the girl next to her was about to get raped with everyone's connivance. And all van Geldermalsen will do is describe her as sullen and grumpy (well, you would be, if you were about to get raped) and then blithely go about enjoying the party. It did not endear me to her, and I didn't feel like continuing to read.

MY GRADE: DNF.

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To Darkness And To Death, by Julia Spencer-Fleming

>> Wednesday, April 09, 2014

TITLE: To Darkness And To Death
AUTHOR: Julia Spencer-Fleming

COPYRIGHT: 2005
PAGES: 370
PUBLISHER: St. Martin's

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: 4th in the Rev. Clare Fergusson / Russ Van Alstyne series

Millicent van der Hoeven has decided to sell her family's Adirondack estate to a nature conservancy. But on the day of the land transfer, her brother frantically calls the police. Millie has disappeared in the cold November forest...

Reverend Clare Fergusson gets an early morning phone call to join the Millers Kill search and rescue operation. As a former Army helicopter pilot trained in survival skills, she can't refuse the request--even though it's the day of the bishop's annual visit. Worse for Clare, the search operation will link her up with Russ Van Alstyne, the very married local police chief who is her greatest temptation. Now, as Clare and Russ race time to find Millie van der Hoeven, they soon discover the secrets of someone who is desperate to stop the sale...and a deadly madness waiting to destroy them all.

To Darkness and To Death was my least favourite of the series so far. As in previous books, there are two main elements here. There's a mystery, and there's also the development of the relationship between Clare Fergusson, an Episcopal priest still relatively new to a small town in upstate New York, and Russ Van Alstyne, the chief of police. Over the series so far, Clare and Russ have become good friends, but those feelings have turned into something beyond friendship now. Problem is, Russ is married; happily married, he would even have said.

So, the thing about this book was that one of the elements worked well, but the other didn't. My big problem was with the mystery plot. The action takes place all in one day. It's an important day, the day when the rich Van Der Hoevens will be signing over huge tracts of their land to a conservancy organisation. Only, when Millie van der Hoeven's brother wakes up that morning he finds her gone and suspects she never came back after a late walk through the forest the previous evening. Did she get lost or is there something more sinister going on? We know it's the latter, as one of the first scenes we get shows us Millie is being kept captive by parties unknown.

But that's not all that's happening. The land transfer is generating all sorts of other changes for the people in the area. Local loggers will not be able to operate in that land, and any other woods are too far to make the work profitable. And without them, the local mill loses access to the raw material they need. Many people have an interest in all of this, and before the day is out, they will all get involved in one way or another.

Basically, this means that there are a lot of people running around doing nasty things. I found it incredibly depressing, because we're not talking criminals, we're talking characters who were presented to us as regular people, people who care about their loved ones and their fellow human beings. I could have taken maybe one of them turning bad. Yes, I can accept that some people, when under some pressure, might be tempted to do things that they know are wrong and will hurt others. But here, everyone did. They did incredibly dodgy things for supposedly good people. Faced with evidence of wrongdoing, they immediately turned their thoughts to how they could take advantage of it, however illegal their actions would be, in turn. It's a horrible view of human nature. It ended up taking me over a month to read this, because I really didn't want to spend time with these characters.

The tone was also wrong. There was a definite touch of the slapstick here, and it all felt almost like a farce. It didn't work for me. Additionally, there was absolutely no suspense, because suspense is about more than not knowing what's going to happen, it's about caring what's going to happen, and I didn't. Pretty much all the characters involved, other than Russ and Clare? I could not care less if they dropped dead. And when the resolution came, there were things that really didn't make much sense.

The Clare and Russ element of the book, though, was good. There aren't that many interactions between them here, but at this stage in the series we're past beyond the point where the author needs to show us how well-suited they are and how much chemistry they have. We know, they know, and each knows the other knows. The issue here is how the situation can be resolved, or rather, whether it has to be resolved, or whether they will just continue as they are, friends who know they want to be more but won't do it because it's wrong. The issue is, is that longing just as wrong? Is there any way to resolve this ethically? I won't include any spoilers here, but I'll just say that there is some movement here, and that I'm very interested to see what will happen in the next book.

So yeah, I will be reading the next book. I know that Spencer-Fleming can do really good mysteries, because the last 3 have been exactly that, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how the soap opera continues.

MY GRADE: A C.

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Special Interests, by Emma Barry

>> Monday, April 07, 2014

TITLE: Special Interests
AUTHOR: Emma Barry

COPYRIGHT: 2014 (comes out today)
PAGES: 201
PUBLISHER: Carina Press

SETTING: Contemporary US (Washington DC)
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: None

Compared to love, politics is easy

Union organizer Millie Frank's world isn't filled with cocktails and nightclubs…until she's turned into an unwitting minor celebrity. As if being part of a hostage situation wasn't traumatizing enough, now her face is splashed across the news. But Millie's got fresher wounds to nurse—like being shot down by the arrogant bad boy she stupidly hit on.

Parker Beckett will do whatever it takes to close a deal for the senate majority leader, including selling out union labor. Charming and smart on the surface, he's also cynical and uncommitted—an asset on the Hill. But something about Millie has stuck with him and when negotiations bring her to his office, Parker breaks his own rules and asks her out.

Parker can't understand how Millie has retained her idealism in a place like D.C. Millie can't believe what Parker's willing to sacrifice in order to pass a budget. But as they navigate their political differences, what grows between them looks a lot like a relationship... and maybe even a little like love.

For various reasons, I don't often go for ARCs (in fact, this is my only one so far this year). However, I saw Emma Barry's tweet offering review copies of her upcoming contemporary polical romance when I was in just the right mood for it. I contacted her and immediately started reading the book.

Special Interests is a romance between two people who, although ultimately on the same side, have very real political differences. I really liked that the politics here seem to be more grounded in reality than I'm used to in romance novels. I understand why authors might prefer to not make their politician characters' party affiliation explicit, but that's a fiction that stretches credulity more and more. A principled politician in one of the big US parties would not believe the same things as one in the other party. Here, both characters are Democrats, but that doesn't mean that this won't be the source of some really fascinating conflict in their relationship.

Millie works as a labour organiser. She has a job with a union, and truly believes in the cause of defending workers' rights. It's frustrating work, because it feels like they've lately been perpetually on the losing side, but she feels good about doing it. Parker works as a senior staffer for the Senate majority leader. Millie's union are one of their core consituencies, but in Parker's view, his job is closing deals: making sure the next budget passes, keeping the government from coming to a standstill. And that might mean giving up things that are very important to Millie and her union.

The Washington DC in this novel is a vivid setting, and I liked that this is a novel peopled by characters who actually care and talk about politics and the nitty-gritty of budget negotiations and such. I mean, the external conflict is: will Parker manage to do a deal on the budget and what will it take! I'm not sure if it would be everyone's cup of tea, but as a government economist working very closely with the policy delivery function, it was definitely mine!

My government economist job not being for the American government, I can't know how accurately this shows what actually goes on, but it feels like a real world. There's internal coherence, and FWIW, from what I read about current American politics, it rings true.

I particularly liked the subtlety of the portrayal of the characters' different positions. The author's take on Parker and Millie's very different approaches was interesting and thought-provoking. Parker is focused on outcomes, on getting the deal now, and therefore feels everything has to be negotiable. Millie, on the other hand, feels that this is treating important things like a game, when they should be taken seriously. I feared Barry might overly bash Parker's position, but she didn't. They have some spirited discussions and both get in some zingers (including Parker's accusation that it's very easy to feel superior by holding onself above the system and not engaging). There is no big conclusion, no easy answer, and acknowledgement that Millie's and Parker's roles are important and necessary. It's great.

Heck, even the Republicans are subtly portrayed, and we all know how easy it is to make them into ridiculous figures. They're not portrayed as evil, but as firm believers in things that our protagonists disagree with. They're just refusing to play the game of compromising for the sake of keeping the country working, and this is a source of much frustration both for Parker and for his counterpart on the Republican side. There's a scene when these two characters make an unexpected connection, and that and what develops from it were some of my favourite sections in the book.

So, what about the romance? Well, at the core of it, this is a very traditional relationship arc. Millie and Parker meet and start dating and the relationship proceeds from there, basically. As I mentioned, when it comes to reconciling their political differences, the novel is great. The rest of the development is less great, definitely not as good as the rest of the book. Millie and Parker's relationship is very sweet, but I did have a niggling feeling that it was all a bit too fast. Parker goes from cynical guy who has no time or interest in relationships to someone totally up for falling in love and going to brunch on a Sunday with his new girlfriend, and this happens awfully quickly and without that much angsting about it. Parker's mental monologue is more about how to make Millie and the people around him see that he's not that guy any longer than about whether he's ready to change and stop being that guy and just go for it. And then there is Millie, who is just not sure about Parker and whether someone like him is the right guy for her. I kind of got what was worrying her, but in the second half of the book it sometimes feels as if we're going round in neverending circles and I lost track of what she was on about.

So, not perfect, but I enjoyed this very much, and will definitely keep an eye out for more books by this author.

MY GRADE: A B.

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Play of Passion, by Nalini Singh

>> Saturday, April 05, 2014

TITLE: Play of Passion
AUTHOR: Nalini Singh

COPYRIGHT: 2010
PAGES: 352
PUBLISHER: Berkley

SETTING: US, some 100 years into the future
TYPE: Paranormal romance
SERIES: 9th in the Psy/Changeling series

Passion and reason collide with explosive force in the newest installment of Nalini Singh’s “mesmerizing” Psy/Changeling series. As a conflict with Pure Psy looms on the horizon, two powerful wolves fight a far more intimate war of their own…

In his position as tracker for the SnowDancer pack, it’s up to Drew Kincaid to rein in rogue changelings who have lost control of their animal halves—even if it means killing those who have gone too far. But nothing in his life has prepared him for the battle he must now wage to win the heart of a woman who makes his body ignite…and who threatens to enslave his wolf.

Lieutenant Indigo Riviere doesn’t easily allow skin privileges, especially of the sensual kind—and the last person she expects to find herself craving is the most wickedly playful male in the den. Everything she knows tells her to pull back before the flames burn them both to ash…but she hasn’t counted on Drew’s will.

Now, two of SnowDancer’s most stubborn wolves find themselves playing a hot, sexy game even as lethal danger stalks the very place they call home...

I used to adore the Psy/Changeling series and highly anticipate every entry, but that feeling has faded over the years. I still read the books, but I'm quite behind in the series and don't get anything close to the thrill the first few books would elicit.

Play of Passion is centred on the romance between two changelings. In fact, both are from the same pack, which I don't think we've seen before. Indigo Riviere is a lieutenant with the SnowDancer wolves. She's one of the highest-status, most dominant female wolves, and this creates a problem when it comes to finding a partner. Drew Kincaid is a SnowDancer, too, a tracker, whose job is to keep other wolves from going rogue (and executing those who've actually gone over the line). He is very attracted to the powerful, older Indigo, but she just won't take him seriously.

And as they dance around each other, there's also other stuff going on. The Psy have started to tresspass onto pack territory, and it's clear they're planning something dangerous.

I was looking forward to this, as I'm always really interested in romances where the female character is in a position of more power, but the result was a disappointment, I'm afraid. I was particularly disappointed that Drew had this role that was outside the chain of command, so even though Indigo's ranking was higher, at first sight, he wasn't serving under her and she didn't *really* outrank him. That's very annoying, because even in this series there are books where the heroine is under the hero's command. Why not the opposite? Also, there seemed to be a message here that it's a huge problem if a female changeling is more dominant than her male partner. This is what Indigo fears, that because she's so dominant, her relationship with Drew is doomed from the start. But instead of the resolution of this being that no, this is not the case, the problem is solved by assuring us that it's fine because Drew is really dominant as well, it's just that Indigo doesn't see this, as he's outside the chain of command and therefore doesn't have the obvious mark of a dominant which is high rank. Bah.

The development in the overarching conflict between Psy and changelings was more interesting. It was not my favourite in the series, but I enjoyed it (especially the ending) and there was definitely a feeling that things are fast moving towards some sort of resolution.

So, yeah, I'll keep going, if only just to see what happens, and we'll see about the romance. I'm not sure if it's me or if it's the books that have changed. I think I might have to go back and reread Slave to Sensation, see if I love it as much as I did when I first read it.

MY GRADE: A B-.

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Catching up: two historicals

>> Thursday, April 03, 2014

So, I just realised I've got a few half-written reviews that have basically fallen down the back of the sofa. For completeness' sake, and because I've got more than a touch of OCD, I'll be doing a few round-up posts. I really liked most of these books and I wish I could do proper reviews for them, but unfortunately, it's been so long since I read them that I'd have to reread them if I wanted to do so.

TITLE: The Forbidden Rose
AUTHOR: Joanna Bourne

Just like The Spymaster's Lady, which I adored, Bourne's The Forbidden Rose has spies and adventures in France just after the Revolution. The heroine, Marguerite, is a French aristocrat who's part of a secret organisation devoted to smuggling people out of the country, and she teams up with Doyle, a British spy. Both are pretending to be someone they're not, and each knows the other is doing so.

I enjoyed it. The writing was great and I enjoyed the adventure feel of the story. My only issue was that I felt Marguerite couldn't quite compare to Annique, from Spymaster's Lady. She felt a bit more passive, and wasn't quite as interesting. I did like Doyle, and particularly enjoyed one of the secondary characters, Adrian, the boy Doyle's taken on a sort of apprentice. He has the makings of a fantastic character in his own right, and I will definitely be reading his book, which Bourne has now written.

MY GRADE: A B.



TITLE: A Lady's Lesson in Scandal
AUTHOR: Meredith Duran

A Lady's Lesson in Scandal is a terrible, generic title for a book that's really unique. Our heroine is Nell Whitby, a young woman who was brought up in the slums of London but who turns out to be the long lost heiress of an aristocratic family. Simon St. Maur is the current holder of the title, which came to him without any of the money. So the perfect solution occurs to him: if Nell marries him, he'll help her get access to the family fortune, and as her husband, he'll have access to it as well.

It sounds like a bit of a hokey setup, but the thing is, it's done with subtlety and characters who have real psychological grounding. Ok, so if a woman really had grown up in the slums and now had the chance to take her place as a heiress, how would she feel about it? How would she react? And how does a cynical man react to someone like her? We get the full thing, complete with complex feelings and motivations. Both Nell and Simon are intelligent and realistic and they fall in love with their eyes wide open. I really enjoyed it.

MY GRADE: A B+.

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March 2014 reads

>> Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Fewer books than usual, and not much romance, but I did enjoy my reading this month.


1 - The Vor Game, by Lois McMaster Bujold: A-
review coming soon

Audiobook. I'm still very early in the Vorkosigan series, but I'm loving the books so much that I'm doling them out to myself like a total miser, no more than one a month. This is the 2nd full-length Miles book, and covers what happens right after his graduation as a Barrayaran officer. Obviously, this being Miles, things go to hell pretty quickly. Loved it.


2 - The Circle, by Dave Eggers: A-
review coming soon

Audiobook. A satirical look at social media, technology and privacy. Scarily plausible. You can argue that some of it was a bit heavy-handed, but it still worked for me perfectly. We read this for my book club, and I'd highly recommend it for that purpose. The discussion was really enjoyable.


3 - Alien Taste, by Wen Spencer: B+
original review here

Reread of an old favourite, one of the few UF-type books I've liked. Ukiah and his partner Max usually only work on missing people cases. Their latest case, which gets them involved in some seriously weird killings, reveals some surprising things about Ukiah's unique abilities. Love the characters.


4 - Special Interests, by Emma Barry: B
review coming soon

The hero is a senior aide to a pre-eminent senator, the heroine works as a labour organiser. I loved the detailed look at what working in politics might be actually like, and liked the romance.


5 - The Surgeon's Lady, by Carla Kelly: B-
review here

A lady and a 'common surgeon' fall in love while working in a navy hospital during the Napoleonic wars. I loved the hospital stuff, but thought the romance fizzled out.


6 - Amber, Furs and Cockleshells, by Anne Mustoe: DNF
review coming soon

Non fiction, subtitled "Bike Rides with Pilgrims and Merchants". The areas the author was biking through sounded great, but the writing style was very boring.


7 - To Darkness and to Death, by Julia Spencer-Fleming: still reading
review coming soon

Mystery, part of the Rev. Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series. The plot concerns the search for a young woman who has disappeared the very day she was supposed to sign over a big swathe of land to a conservation group. Not liking it very much, so far my least favourite in the series.


8 - The 5th Wave, by Rick Yancey: still reading
review coming soon

YA, post-alien invasion. Grim and bleak and really absorbing. No idea where it's going, and I love that.

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April 2014 wish list

>> Monday, March 31, 2014

April is going to be an insanely expensive month. If you hear any screaming around the 14th/15th, it'll be my credit card. A lot of those (the sports romances, mainly) are Carina Press books I added after reading the letter from the editor at the front of Emma Barry's Special Interests. That one I've actually already read, so it shouldn't be here, technically, but I liked it and want to highlight it

Books I'm definitely planning to get


Her Kind of Trouble by Sarah Mayberry (Apr 1)

Mayberry is an autobuy, and I like the sound of this one: a couple building a relationship after having a one-night-stand years earlier. There’s kids, though, which is something I don’t like that much.





The Wedding Ring Quest by Carla Kelly (Apr 1)

Ditto the previous one. It sounds like a lot of fun, too.






Special Interests, by Emma Barry (Apr 7)

As I mention above, I've read this already (I don't request ARCs very often, maybe a couple of times a year, and this was one of them). I was interested because the hero and heroine are in politics, but both are working on the nitty gritty of policy behind the scenes, which is a point of view we don't see often.





The Kraken King Part I: The Kraken King and the Scribbling Spinster, by Meljean Brook (Apr 15)

Talking about serials a while ago I said I'd only go for one if it was written by someone like Meljean Brook. Well, this is it. The Kraken King is the story of Archimedes Fox's sister, Zenobia. There are two further entries coming out in April: The Kraken King and the Abominable Worm on the 22nd, and The Kraken King and the Fox's Den on the 29th. There will be 8 episodes, with the latest coming out in early June.



Her Best Laid Plans, by Cara McKenna (Apr 15)

I’ll be honest, the “Cosmo Red Hot Reads” sign on the cover sort of puts me off, but it’s Cara McKenna, and I adore her books.





Hard Time, by Cara McKenna (Apr 15)

Not sure why McKenna has 2 books coming out on the same day, but hey, brilliant for me. This one I’ve actually preordered, as it sounds to be along the same lines as the wonderful After Hours and Unbound.





The Collector, by Nora Roberts (Apr 15)

Another autobuy. I’ve been enjoying Roberts’ latest stand-alone romantic suspense novels, so even though the early reviews I've seen of this one are very lukewarm, I know I'll still be reading it.




An Unsuitable Husband, by Ros Clarke (Apr 21)

Lots of sports romances this year, but this is the only one centred on a sport I actually care about. Not many details around yet (not even a cover!), but the author posted on the Dear Author open thread for authors and called it "the sexy French footballer story". I'm really not convinced a footballer would feel he has to enter a marriage of convenience as "a way to clean up his act for the sake of his next contract" (not when Wayne Rooney is the highest paid footballer in the Premier League), but hey, I'll give it a chance!



Books that interest me and I'll keep an eye on


Silence for the Dead, by Simone St. James (Apr 1)

A ghost story set in a hospital for World War I soldiers. I didn’t love the one book I read by this author, but her plots always intrigue me.





Prince's Fire, by Amy Raby (Apr 1)

I’m always looking for good fantasy romance, so I’ll keep an eye on this one.





Night Diver, by Elizabeth Lowell (Apr 8)

I'm always hoping for another series from Elizabeth Lowell like the one that starts with Amber Beach. Maybe this one will be it.





Imaginary Lines, by Allison Parr (Apr 14)

I liked the first in the series, Rush Me, and what I saw of the hero of this one there. Also, there aren’t enough romance novels with Jewish protagonists out there.





Playing It Close, by Kat Latham (Apr 14)

A sports romance centred on rugby? Oh, yeah! The only thing that would make me happier would be if it was League, rather than Union.





On the Surface, by Kate Willoughby (Apr 14)

And this one is a hockey romance. I’ve heard good things about it from Jane, from Dear Author. She says the hero is really sweet.





Love in Straight Sets by Rebecca Crowley (Apr 14)

And finally, tennis! With the heroine being the professional athlete, too!





Heaven's Queen, by Rachel Bach (Apr 22)

This one is part of the series that starts with Fortune's Pawn, which is on my TBR and has had excellent reviews.





Ladder to the Red Star, by Jael Wye (Apr 28)

Part of a series called Once Upon a Red World. I’m intrigued by the idea of sci-fi fairy tale adaptations. This entry, as you might deduce from the title, appears to be based on Jack and the Beanstalk, which sounds like fun. There was a review recently on SBTB of the first in the series which said the plot was good but pointed out some issues with misogynistic portrayal of some of the female characters. I'll wait and see on this one.

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The Surgeon's Lady, by Carla Kelly

>> Saturday, March 29, 2014

TITLE: The Surgeon's Lady
AUTHOR: Carla Kelly

COPYRIGHT: 2009
PAGES: 299
PUBLISHER: Mills & Boon Historical

SETTING: Early 19th century England
TYPE: Historical romance
SERIES: Follows Marrying The Captain

Coldly sold for marriage to the highest bidder, Lady Laura Taunton does not hold much faith in love and kindness. The war against Napoleon only serves to echo this feeling, until she meets intriguing Royal Naval surgeon Lieutenant Brittle – a man who’s the exact opposite of her cruel late husband. Taking up his offer to help aid the battle’s injured, Laura starts to believe that she could have a place in the world…and a man who can show her true happiness.

We meet Lady Laura Taunton at a bit of a turning point in her life. She's recently widowed and the death of her husband, meant relief, rather than bereavement. It's not just that he was a much older man her father forced her into marrying and he was obsessed with getting her pregnant. It's also that Laura spent the last few years nursing her husband after a really bad stroke, and she's glad both of them are free of this (I didn't quite get why she felt she had to do the most intimate tasks of nursing an invalid herself, when she did not like the man, they had plenty of money to hire someone else to do them, and it's not like fine ladies were expected to take on such tasks, anyway, but I was willing to suspend disbelief and go with it).

Laura has recently found out that she wasn't her father's only illegitimate daughter, and as the book starts, she decides to get over her fear and contact one of the others, Nana. Rather than write and give herself time to chicken out, Laura just gets on a carriage and travels to the house where Nana lives with her new husband.

Nana is married to a ship captain, and at her place, Laura meets Lt. Philemon Brittle, a naval surgeon. Each is very impressed by the other, but their stations are far apart, and both assume they'll never see each other again. But then Nana, who's far along in her pregnancy, asks Laura to make the trip to the hospital to visit a boy who served on her husband's ship and has been wounded in battle. And of course, the boy is being cared for in Philemon's ward, so the two reconnect.

The Surgeon's Lady started out pretty confusing. This is the 2nd book in a series, and Kelly drew heavily on the events of the 1st book in this section. For a while I wondered who Nana and Lord Ratcliff were and why Laura was afraid to contact Nana, and I felt hopelessly muddled. I got it after a while, and things got off the ground, but throughout the book, I felt like there were things I didn't quite get, and I suspected I'd understand their significance a lot better if I'd read book 1. For instance, all the stuff about Laura and Nana's father and his perfidy. We only get passing references to his treatment of Laura and what happened when he forced her to marry her husband. It sounds like he wasn't at all a loving father to Laura, but deciding whom his daughter should marry doesn't seem extraordinarily mean or cruel. And yet Laura flips at the very idea of seeing him again, while she seems to forgive her late husband, who was basically verbally and sexually abusive. I'm pretty sure if I'd read the first book I'd have understood her feelings towards her father much better, but from what was in this book, it doesn't quite make sense.

The middle sections, though, I loved. Laura's visit to Philemon's hospital ends up with her accepting an offer to work as a matron, both organising the place and dealing with patients. The hospital stuff is fascinating, and I really liked the camaraderie that develops. I particularly loved Philemon's immediate assumption that Laura is competent and caring and will want to and can help. It's not based on nothing (after all, he knows she's nursed her late husband even though she wasn't in love with him), but he could have assumed that as a lady there was no way she would even consider coming within a mile of, as they're described here, "common tars". Actually, it might strain disbelief that he does assume this, but it's just such a Philemon thing to do. The man is completely focused on healing and helping people, and I thought he was lovely.

I loved all this, but Kelly kind of lost me as we got closer to the end. I lost interest in what was going on once the main thrust of the plot wasn't the work in the hospital any longer, but the romance and whether Laura could trust another man given her treatment by her late husband. I don't know why I wasn't interested in this, it's exactly the sort of plot that appeals to me and that I've liked in the past. It just didn't work for me here. I guess it might be that there wasn't much tension to it. I knew exactly what was going to happen, and there were no surprises, so I was bored.

So, a really good middle, bookended by a begining and an end that didn't really work for me. I'd still recommend reading it (especially if you have read the 1st book in the series), but Kelly's definitely written better.

MY GRADE: A B-.

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Unlocked, by Courtney Milan

>> Thursday, March 27, 2014

TITLE: Unlocked
AUTHOR: Courtney Milan

COPYRIGHT: 2011
PAGES: About 110 pages
PUBLISHER: Self-published

SETTING: Early 19th century England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Part of the Turner series (not many connections, though)

A perpetual wallflower destined for spinsterhood, Lady Elaine Warren is resigned to her position in society. So when Evan Carlton, the powerful, popular Earl of Westfeld, singles her out upon his return to England, she knows what it means. Her former tormenter is up to his old tricks, and she’s his intended victim. This time, though, the earl is going to discover that wallflowers can fight back.

Evan has come to regret his cruel, callow past. At first, he only wants to make up for past wrongs. But when Elaine throws his initial apology in his face, he finds himself wanting more. And this time, what torments him might be love...

Something I've often thought when it comes to Regency-set historicals is that these young women coming out in society would have been very, very young, and so would have many of the young men attending all those balls with them. Would they have been any less thoughtless and cruel than teenagers today?

It's clear that the young people in Unlocked could be just as cruel and thoughtless as the most self-absorbed teens today, as shown by the treatment meted out to Lady Elaine Warren. Elaine couldn't wait to have her first season. A happy, exuberant girl, she was ready to enjoy herself. And then she met Evan Carlton.

Evan found himself very attracted to Elaine's vitality, but young as he was, he opted to show this attraction by basically pulling her pigtails. He kept mocking her, and since he was the popular boy, the rest of society followed suit. By the time Evan realised what he had done the damage was done, and like the immature idiot he was, he ran away instead of trying to fix the mess he'd created.

Elaine had nowhere to run to, though, and 10 years later, she's still stuck in the same cycle. She's a laughingstock, especially because she refuses to be cowed and hide in a corner. So her laugh makes her sound like a horse? Well, she'll keep laughing, and let them mock her. But continuing to smile in the face of humiliation is not easy, and her defiance has taken a huge toll on her.

And then Evan comes back from his self-imposed exile, and is shocked to see that what he set in motion has taken on a life of its own. He had expected (or hoped, rather) that society would have got bored of mocking Elaine and moved on to other victims, leaving her to make a good marriage. He can't believe they're still picking on her and that, as a result, she's still single. And he's even more surprised to realise that his old attraction is still there, and even stronger now.

Ahh, the lovely, lovely angst. I really enjoyed this. Milan is really good at novellas, and Unlocked is one of her best. It's not an easy conflict to solve, because Elaine has excellent reasons to detest Evan and, at the beginning, I honestly didn't know whether she should forgive him at all. Evan has his work cut out for him, and I liked that he realised it and understood that Elaine had no obligation to forgive him, no matter how sorry he now felt about what he'd done all those years ago. He also didn't set out to get her to forgive him, his motivation in the present day was simply to make amends for the harm he had caused. This is romance, so of course, Elaine does forgive him, but it was important to me that Evan wasn't doing it for that. And I believed fully in Elaine's forgiveness. This is a novella, so there isn't a whole lot of space, but Milan convinced me about the gradual development of a changing relationship between them. Lovely.

In addition to this, I particularly liked something that I've liked in other Milan works, and that is the mixture of love and pain that can occur in the parent/child relationship. Elaine's mother is a genius, an absolutely brilliant woman in her field, but completely oblivious. She loves her daughter, but has absolutely no idea what her social situation is. So Elaine is not just defending herself from society, but also her mother. Her mother, meanwhile, and with the best of intentions, keeps making things worse. These sections made me cry.

So, so good.

MY GRADE: An A-.

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