March 2016 wish list

>> Sunday, February 28, 2016

I thought there weren't many books I was interested in coming out in March, but once I started looking around, I started finding more and more.

Books I'm definitely planning to get

Kindred Spirits, by Rainbow Rowell (Mar 3)

This short story has been written specially for World Book Day. It's about a young woman queuing to see the new Star Wars movie, and it sounds really fun.

Marked in the Flesh, by Anne Bishop (Mar 8)

I still haven't read the third book in this series, but I liked the first two very much. Funny, though: from reading the description of this one it sounds like things haven't moved forward much!

The Marriage of Mary Russell, by Laurie R. King (Mar 15)

I really like this series about Sherlock Holmes in his retirement and his relationship with the young scholar and feminist Mary Russell. This is a short story that goes back to the time of their wedding.

Because of Miss Bridgerton, by Julia Quinn (Mar 29)

I've sort of gone off Julia Quinn with her latest books, but she's one of those authors I have a teeny bit of trouble completely giving up (due to nostalgia, I guess!). This one actually sounds pretty nice. I have a weakness for romances where the hero is the stick-in-the-mud member of a group.

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

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, by Helen Oyeyemi (Mar 8)

Short story collection by an author I've heard great things about.

Us, by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy (Mar 8)

This one's about a gay couple, one of whom is a hockey player who feels he needs to hide the relationship. I'm not a huge New Adult fan, but I like the odd one.

Never Sweeter, by Charlotte Stein (Mar 22)

I'm increasingly going off Stein's writing style, but there's still something I like about her books. This one's about a young woman and the guy who used to be her tormentor all through high school.

Jane Steele, by Lyndsay Faye (Mar 22)

A "Gothic retelling of Jane Eyre", with Jane as a serial killer who targets men who abuse women. Not sure it's my thing, but I might give it a try.

Six Degrees of Scandal, by Caroline Linden (Mar 29)

Not sure what it is about this one that makes me want to give it a try. Possibly it's just that I've liked this author in the past and haven't read her for a while.


Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith

>> Friday, February 26, 2016

TITLE: Career of Evil
AUTHOR: Robert Galbraith

PAGES: 487

SETTING: Contemporary UK
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: 3rd in the Cormoran Strike series

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman's severed leg.

Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible - and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.

With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them...

A fiendishly clever mystery with unexpected twists around every corner, Career of Evil is also a gripping story of a man and a woman at a crossroads in their personal and professional lives. You will not be able to put this book down.
After loving the first two books, I couldn't wait to read this one. I saved it for my holiday back in December. It turned out to be my favourite so far in the series, which, to an extent, was a surprise.

See, I am increasingly bothered by books that exploit violence against women in their plots. So how come I loved a book which starts with our detectives receiving a murdered woman’s severed leg, a book about a serial killer targeting women in scenes we sometimes get to see directly, a book that gives us many chapters from that very killer's point of view, where he raves and rants and tells us exactly what he feels about women and refers to the woman he's in a relationship with as "it"? Well, I guess the key word is “exploiting”, and I didn’t feel the author was doing that. The book is about misogyny and violence against women and the many ways in which it is expressed in our society, and Galbraith doesn't use this to titillate us. She uses her story to protest against this.

And nowhere do we see this better than in Robin's character development. Robin had a relatively minor part in book 1 compared to Strike. In book 2, I felt they were more or less equally important. This one is her book. We get quite a bit of her back story, which includes something which, much as the violence against women stuff, has often bothered me. This is something which has often been used as a trite and annoying shorthand to female character development (and you can probably guess exactly what it is). It doesn't come across like that here at all. It feels earned. It works because the point is not the simplistic “this is how this act of violence affected Robin”. The point, and what has had such a negative effect on Robin, is how others reacted to it and how this has limited and diminished her. And she rebels against it. This is about Robin deciding that what happened and what people read into it are not going to stop her from going after what she wants. I cheered.

There's also lots and lots of relationship stuff. There are things going on between Robin and her asshole fiancé Matt (as the book starts, the wedding is getting near). This can be frustrating (why would a woman like Robin stay with someone like him??), but it's something that, unfortunately, I recognise from the real world. I found it believable and felt it made perfect sense. But there are also some developments in Robin and Strike’s relationship. It moves in a direction (subtly) that I didn’t think I would like, but I found myself warming to the idea. I don't want to spoil things, but... that ending! I really want to read the next book now to find out exactly what it means. I keep convincing myself it means one thing and then the next day that it means another.

Having Robin become such a major character here doesn't mean we forget about Strike. There's plenty of character development here, independent to what happens in his relationship with Robin. We get to find out quite a bit about his life growing up and about his previous career as a military police investigator, and this is really well done. He remains the character we met in previous books and the new information doesn't change any of that; it just builds it up, with layer after layer added to what was already a pretty well-developed character. It's great.

The only other thing I wanted to add is that the world this is set in feels like the real, modern UK. The characters feel more grounded in reality than I'm used to, with little details like Strike, whose financial situation is not solid and takes a bit of a beating during the book, being acutely conscious of how much things cost and bitterly resenting having to spend on pointless things like taking a taxi or buying over-expensive food in an over-expensive cafe. Galbraith doesn't overdo the social commentary, but it's there.

It's been a few weeks since I read this one, but I keep thinking about it (to be fair, mostly every time I walk past the Spearmint Rhino 'gentlemen's club' on Tottenham Court Road on my way to catch my train in Euston!). That's the mark of a really good book.



The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith

>> Wednesday, February 24, 2016

TITLE: The Silkworm
AUTHOR: Robert Galbraith

PAGES: 464

SETTING: Contemporary England
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: 2nd in the Cormoran Strike series

When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days-as he has done before-and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.

But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine's disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives-meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.

When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before... A compulsively readable crime novel with twists at every turn, THE SILKWORM is the second in the highly acclaimed series featuring Cormoran Strike and his determined young assistant, Robin Ellacott.
Having loved book 1 in the series, I bought this one as soon as it came out. It was really good. I didn't love it quite as much as The Cuckoo's Calling, and I would say it's probably the weakest of the 3 so far in the series, but that's only because books 1 and 3 are so fantastic (yep, I'm kind of spoiling my upcoming review of Career of Evil here!).

The first book was set in a world of which the JK Rowling has first-hand experience, that of celebrities and those who are hunted by the paparazzi and the tabloids. She does a similar thing here, choosing the literary world this time. The case Strike is asked to investigate involves the disappearance of a novelist who's written a roman à clef skewering pretty much everyone he knows, including many of the powerful and influential figures in the literary establishment.

The case here was a lot of fun, not so much for itself and the investigation, but because of the way it allowed the author to poke fun at the literary world. Owen Quine, the missing author at the centre of the case, is a nasty, self-indulgent and self-important arsehole, enabled by the people around him and convinced he's entitled to it all because he was once published a semi-successful book. The people around him (except for a couple of the women, really) are almost as bad. I would normally be complaining about the cartoonish characterisation, but there is a real germ of truth in all of these characters, which make them great anyway. And Rowling goes about it with such glee that it's hard not to enjoy it.

But again, what's best here are the characters. This is why I think it's best to make sure you read The Cuckoo's Calling first, although this one technically stands along just fine. Much of the joy of it is seeing Strike and Robin evolve and following along in their lives. Their relationship continues to be really interesting, and I liked that there isn't a trace of romance between them in this book.

That's not to say there couldn't be, many books in the future, as there's chemistry between them. It's just that so far it's not sexual chemistry, just two people who get along well together and like each other. At the moment, both have got their own romantic issues. Robin has her relationship with her idiot boyfriend. It's interesting, rather than infuriating, because it's one of those where you understand the dysfuntion. They've been together for a while, since before Matt moved to London and became a total wanker, so you can kind of understand that Robin puts up with things that would have kept her from getting together with him if he'd already been like that when they'd first met.

As for Strike, when the first book started he was just getting out of a really heavy relationship with a pretty disturbed woman, and it's not even been a year. He's still a bit hung-up on her, although he does have his affairs á la James Bond. Hah, James Bond is actually a really bad comparison. He's a much more grounded character, and much more interesting for that.

A fun installment.

MY GRADE: A strong B+.


The Cuckoo's Calling, by Robert Galbraith

>> Monday, February 22, 2016

TITLE: The Cuckoo's Calling
AUTHOR: Robert Galbraith

PAGES: 464
PUBLISHER: Little, Brown

SETTING: Contemporary UK
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: Starts Cormoran Strike series

After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.

Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, thelegendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.

You may think you know detectives, but you've never met one quite like Strike. You may think you know about the wealthy and famous, but you've never seen them under an investigation like this.
I'm now up to book 3 in this series and have quite a bit to say about it, so I thought I'd best dig out my half-written reviews of books 1 and 2 and finish them up first.

I bought this pretty much straight after reading the article revealing it had been written by JK Rowling. Yes, I'm one of the millions who did that. My audible credit had just come in so I immediately spent it. I hadn't heard of The Cuckoo's Calling at all before that, and even if I had, I'm not sure I would have thought it was my sort of thing. Hard-bitten PI, crime set in the celebrity world... that doesn't immediately appeal. Well, I would have been completely wrong, because I loved this.

At first glance, the plot is nothing special: PI Cormoran Strike is hired to investigate the death of a model, which the police have ruled a suicide and the woman's brother is convinced was murder. What is special, though, is the way it's executed.

First off, the characters are great. Cormoran Strike is a struggling PI trying to keep his business going after a bad breakup. His cases tend to be more towards the humdrum end (think following cheating spouses), so this is a big opportunity to do something more interesting (and well paid; he doesn't even get that many jealous spouses these days).

Strike's got an interesting past: his mother was a 1970s supergroupie and his father a huge rock star (I pictured a Mick Jagger-type figure). Strike was never really acknowledged by his father, so he was raised in a succession of squalid squats. There followed a career in the military police and a deployment to Afghanistan, during which an IED blew up a vehicle Strike was in, taking one of his legs.

That almost sounds like a bit too much, doesn't it? Like the character is not interesting enough to stand on his own and needs an outlandish past to make him worth the reader's attention? And yet it works wonderfully and feels completely organic. Strike is a fully realised character, and his family and military background make complete sense for the person he is. And I particularly liked how Galbraith deals with the issue of his amputated leg. It's something that has informed who Strike is now, but it's only a part of a multi-faceted character, even though it's clearly a bloody daily inconvenience to him and not something he can easily forget. Anyway, Strike is one of the most interesting characters I've read in the last few years, and I knew after only a few pages that I wanted more of him.

The other main character in this series is Robin Ellacott, whom Strike almost accidentally hires as a temporary secretary at the beginning of the book. Robin is a young woman trying to build a career after dropping out of university. She is fascinated by PI work (to the displeasure of her selfish arsehole of a boyfriend, who expects her to get a well-paid and respectable job in PR that will reflect well on him) and gets involved in the case, showing tremendous common sense and resourcefulness. Now, with the benefit of hindsight and having read all three books already, I can say that Robin is quite as well-rounded a character as Strike... but not just yet in this book. Here she's merely really promising, as is her relationship with Strike. It's clear these two click right from the start, and there is plenty of respect and non-sexual chemistry there.

The crime was not something that I found particularly fascinating, but the process of investigation was. It's not a particularly pacy book; there's quite a bit of step-by-step interview, information-gathering, deduction, rinse and repeat. But Galbraith somehow managed to make it gripping. And, coming back to my point of the previous paragraphs, the people we met along the way of the investigation were fabulously drawn, even the ones we meet only briefly and have only bit parts. More than anything, this reminded me of JD Robb's In Death series. Both here and in those books I just relish the prospect of meeting a new character, even if it's just someone who will be briefly interviewed and then forgotten.

I also, surprisingly for me, quite liked the celebrity angle. That world feels real as well, and that's not a given (I'm reading a mystery just now where the rich and famous feel preposterous and cartoonish). Just look at scenes like one where Strike is accompanying someone really famous into a fashionable club and they are pounced upon by paparazzi. The little details there (what it feels like to go out and be suddenly blinded by tens of powerful camera flashes, what it feels like to be mobbed) were amazing. Well, I wish I could say I would have noticed if I hadn't known Rowling was the author, but probably not!

Last, and not least, the story here just flows like crazy. As I said, it's not fast-paced, but it wraps you up and engages you and moves you forward. This was a really good start to the series!


AUDIOBOOK NOTES: The narrator is absolutely brilliant. The voice he does for strike suits the character to a t... a bit rough and gruff, but kind, and he's even pretty good with female voices!


The Girl Next Door, by Amy Jo Cousins

>> Saturday, February 20, 2016

TITLE: The Girl Next Door
AUTHOR: Amy Jo Cousins

PAGES: 250

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 3rd in a series

When it comes to love, go big or go home.

Charles “Cash” Carmichael traded his high-rise condo and family-firm career for a job coaching soccer for Chicago’s inner-city kids. He’s adjusting to living on minimum wage when his young cousin, newly out and running away from home, shows up on his less-than-luxurious doorstep.

Angsty teens definitely aren’t Cash’s thing. He needs local backup, and there’s only one name he can think of: Stephany Tyler. Back in the day, the bisexual Steph was the perfect friend with benefits until she fell in love with a woman.

To his relief, his former friend steps up to the plate. Soon, though, Cash finds himself feeling the familiar need to keep her in his bed, and in his life. But Steph, burned by the ex-girlfriend and by the absentee dad she’s been trying to connect with, won’t risk her heart again.

Good thing Cash believes in leaving it all on the field. If he can just convince Steph to get in the game, there’s a chance they can both win.

Warning: This book contains ex-friends with benefits crossing boundaries a second time, several steamy encounters on staircases, copious discussions about gay sex from a “straight” guy, a shout-out to magic buttons, and an especially memorable going away threesome.
This is a New Adult title which sounded very promising, but ultimately didn't work for me. It's the third in a series, but that wasn't the problem.

Basic plot: Cash Carmichael is living in Chicago after making himself independent from his wealthy family. He's quit a pointless job at the family firm (where he was basically supposed to sit around and not do any damage), moved away and got himself a job where he feels he's doing good for the community around him. He can only afford the rent on a tiny apartment, but at least it's his and he's paying for it. He's pretty surprised when his teenage cousin shows up seeking refuge. Turns out the kid's gay, but when he came out to his parents they basically ignored it, did the whole "Don't talk nonsense, I'm sure it's just a phase" thing. Having heard stories about the time Cash brought along his gay friends for Thanksgiving, the kid decides he'll be able to help him and shows up at his doorstep.

Cash needs some help helping him, someone local, and who better than Stephanie, his old friend-with-benefits? Cash and Steph were in college together and shared some close friends (the heroes of a previous book in the series) . They had really good chemistry and after a while began sleeping together. They were explosive between the sheets, but the relationship, such as it was, ended when Steph, who is bisexual, fell for another woman. She wanted to pursue that relationship seriously, so she stopped seeing Cash. Now, some years later, that relationship has ended, and when Cash gets back in touch with Steph, they realise they still fancy each other madly and fall back into bed.

I felt like I should have liked this a lot more than I did. On paper, Cash sounds like a dream come true. He grew up as a superprivileged rich, white, straight, cis male, but he has recognised this privilege and taken action. He's making his own way in the world and through his actions he's trying to make the world a better place. He works for a charity as a football coach for underprivileged kids, he challenges people who make thoughtless comments (even his young gay cousin who is still so immature that he'll use the "like a girl" insult), he listens to what people from minority groups say and adjusts his behaviour accordingly. He's also super open minded about other people's sexualities. All good things.

The thing is, weirdly, his extreme open-mindedness felt like it was taken too far, like it made it easier for people to get him to do things he doesn't want to do. The scene where I stopped reading was one which it seems to me other readers have interpreted in a very different way, and was totally intended to be super hot and awesome. It wasn't to me.

Basically, Cash and Steph have been sleeping together for a while and they start talking about fantasies. Steph suggests a threesome. This would be one with another guy, and one where Cash and the guy would have sex with each other as well. Absolutely fine if that was something that Cash was into, or even intrigued by. But my reading of him was that, while he's 100% comfortable with the idea of gay sex, he's just not attracted to guys. And here's the crucial thing for me: it felt like Cash was so invested in his persona of this tolerant, open-minded guy who does not discriminate against anything, that he didn't feel he could say no to this without compromising this image of himself he had in his mind. And even worse, it felt like Steph was almost calculatedly taking advantage of this. I'm pretty sure this is not what the author intended, and like I said, it seems to me that it's not what other readers have taken from it, but it was the way I read it, and it made me really uncomfortable. I couldn't help but see Steph as somewhat emotionally abusive after that, and I decided not to keep reading.

I should also add that it wasn't that I was loving the book until that one scene. I had plenty of niggles. I was a bit annoyed by the lecturing. It's all messages I agree with 100%, but it just felt unsubtle and I could see the hand of the author much too clearly. Seriously, think Suzanne Brockmann (who takes it just about to the edge for me), and multiply it by 10. And then there was the sex talk. These people have no boundaries. Cousins clearly wanted to demonstrate just how comfortable Cash was with the sex his friends were having and with involving his own prostate in the sex he was having, but she went much too over the top. It all felt incredibly immature (which, I guess, given these people's ages, kind of makes sense). It felt like they were all going "Look how comfortable I am with sex!! Look how tolerant and open-minded I am!! Look, look, LOOK AT ME!!!!".

I'm very disappointed, because there was a lot I liked here.

MY GRADE: This was a DNF.


The End of Mr. Y, by Scarlett Thomas

>> Thursday, February 18, 2016

TITLE: The End of Mr. Y
AUTHOR: Scarlett Thomas

PAGES: 502
PUBLISHER: Canongate

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Fiction / Fantasy

A cursed book. A missing professor. Some nefarious men in gray suits. And a dreamworld called the Troposphere?

Ariel Manto has a fascination with nineteenth-century scientists--especially Thomas Lumas and The End of Mr. Y, a book no one alive has read. When she mysteriously uncovers a copy at a used bookstore, Ariel is launched into an adventure of science and faith, consciousness and death, space and time, and everything in between.

Seeking answers, Ariel follows in Mr. Y’s footsteps: She swallows a tincture, stares into a black dot, and is transported into the Troposphere--a wonderland where she can travel through time and space using the thoughts of others. There she begins to understand all the mysteries surrounding the book, herself, and the universe. Or is it all just a hallucination?
I read this one for my January book club. It was a book I confess I'd never heard about, so I had no idea what to expect. What I got was a very weird, if interesting, book.

Ariel Manto is a PhD student. One of her key topics is a 19th century scientist and writer called Thomas Lumas. She’s read his entire body of works, except for his one lost book, called The End of Mr. Y. There are just no copies of that book available other than the one that is known to be stored in a vault in Germany. Well, guess what Ariel comes across one day in a tiny, out-of-the-way used books shop?

The End of Mr. Y is reputed to be a cursed book, but Ariel doesn’t hesitate to read it. It turns out to be about the eponymous Mr. Y, a Victorian man who discovers a way to travel into a place called the Troposphere, a world where people can enter others’ minds and travel around (I won’t describe its exact nature, as that is much of the discussion in the book). Ariel manages to find the recipe Mr. Y follows, and she knows she just HAS to try it, even though she expects it to do nothing at all. She does, and what do you know, she’s suddenly in the Troposphere herself.

But others, some dangerous others, have an interest in the Troposphere as well, and Ariel has come to their attention.

The End of Mr. Y is a mix of the metaphysical and the thriller, all spiced up with some interesting characters.

Big stretches of the book take place inside Troposphere. This is often really interesting, sometimes weirdly detailed in the logistics of how different things are done. The only issue is that there's a lot of exposition in those sections about these philosophical and scientific ideas. Thomas does her best to integrate them by making them essential in the plot (Thomas would probably be quite offended, but this sort of put me in mind of Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World), but sometimes there’s just no better way than to have Ariel talking to someone and explaining a particular issue (say, quantum theory). Those bits did feel quite infodumpey.

That said, most of the book was quite exciting. There was a real sense of peril and almost of detective work, which felt pretty satisfying, as Ariel tried to figure out what was going on, how things worked and how to save her life.

Ariel was a really interesting character, too. the main thing that stood out to me about her was her curiosity about everything. She’s interested in all sorts of things... she’s now doing a PhD in a particular area (thought experiments), but her job right before that is what characterised her to me: she’d write a column about a topic, and then took some detail that had stood out to her when researching it, and would go off on that tangent and write her next column about that. This is part characterisation, part essential for the plot, because it means that she has read a hell of a lot, particularly around philosophy and science. This is crucial for her understanding what is going on in the Troposphere.

In addition to her curiosity, Ariel is actually a character who feels real. She’s not just a reader stand-in to describe how the Troposphere works. She’s someone with her own issues, and some of them, such as her unorthodox sex life, were definitely not what I was expecting.

I wouldn't want a steady diet of books like this one, but I enjoyed it.



A Christmas Waltz, by Jane Goodger

>> Tuesday, February 16, 2016

TITLE: A Christmas Waltz
AUTHOR: Jane Goodger

PAGES: 338

SETTING: Late 19th century Texas and England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 3rd in a series.

To Lady Amelia Wellesley, it seems utterly romantic to surprise her dashing fiancé at his home in Texas so the two can marry by Christmas. But Amelia's surprise goes awry when Carson Kitteridge calls off their wedding as soon as she arrives, leaving Amelia in disgrace. . .

With nowhere to turn, Amelia finds an unlikely savior in Carson's brother, Dr. Boone Kitteridge. Boone offers to marry Amelia, sparing her the shame of returning to England unwed. But Boone isn't just protecting Amelia's honor; secretly, he finds her irresistible, and the thought of indulging his desire for her is too tempting to ignore. As Boone and Amelia forge a fragile bond, something goes terribly wrong--and it will take nothing less than a Christmas miracle for Amelia to discover who she is destined to love...
I'm a bit off historicals and Westerns are not usually my thing, but I heard a few people talking about the lovely hero of A Christmas Waltz recently, so I decided to give it a go. It started out well, and I do see what they meant about the hero, but ultimately, this one didn't really work for me.

Lady Amelia Wellesley is young and impetuous and madly in love with her fiancé, rich American rancher Carson Kitteridge. When his promised letter formally inviting her to come over to Texas to get married takes a bit too long to get there, Amelia tells herself the letter must have just gone astray and writes up a fake. Duly fooled, her brother the Earl sends her off to America with her maid/chaperone and a trunkful of lovely woollen dresses.

Turns out Carson's every word to Amelia was a lie. He's not a rich rancher, Two Forks is a tiny dump, rather than the lovely, prosperous town he described, and he never intended to marry her (to paraphrase his reasoning "Well, she wouldn't let me touch her otherwise, what was I supposed to do??"). Oh, and his brother, Boone, is not a bit slow. In fact, he's a doctor and runs the town's general store, and he's the one left to care for this strange lady once Carson runs off as fast as he can.

I quite liked the setup here. Yes, it's completely preposterous, but I suspended disbelief. Yes, Amelia's actions are incredibly stupid, but the narrative acknowledges this completely and never tries to tell us otherwise. Furthermore, it's all pretty consistent with her character. And yes, this is the third book in a series and that's kind of obvious, but I felt Goodger caught us up quite well (at least at the start).

And Boone was a lovely character. Boone and Carson grew up with a violent drunk of a father who idolised Carson and detested Boone (it's never really explained why). So while he took every excuse to beat up Boone, the man celebrated every one of Carson's actions. Carson's grown up to be a spoiled arsehole and a womaniser, while Boone (who had the fortune to escape as a young teen and be raised by a local), is cautious and somewhat awkward and has never had anything to do with any woman. He is fascinated by Amelia and thinks she's beautiful, and can't understand why Carson would run away from her.

So the first sections, while Boone and Amelia get to know each other and Amelia makes friends in Two Forks, were quite nice. I liked her (she might be silly, but she's kind), and found him sweet. But then Amelia's brother and his new bride show up, and the book started going downhill.

Basically, the entire rest of the book is based on Boone and Amelia refusing to communicate. Boone is particularly bad at this. There really is not much of a conflict. It seemed like the location could be one: Amelia really does not like Two Forks and misses home, but Boone feels he can't leave due to some responsibilities he has there. But that soon gets resolved (in a quite startling way that I felt cheapened the issues involved), and all we're left with is two people who just won't talk to each other honestly. And it wasn't even that their motivations for not speaking made sense!

We also have quite a bit of space devoted to Amelia's brother and his new wife (hero and heroine from a previous book), who did not intrigue me in the least, and some ridiculous and unbelievable interactions between Amelia and her former friends.

So this was quite a disappointment. I only finished it because there wasn't too long to go, since by the end I really didn't care about these people.



HHhH, by Laurent Binet

>> Sunday, February 14, 2016

AUTHOR: Laurent Binet

PAGES: 336

SETTING: 1930s and 40s Germany and Czechoslovakia and, I guess, present day.
TYPE: Non-Fiction

HHhH: "Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich," or "Himmler's brain is called Heydrich."

The most lethal man in Hitler's cabinet, Reinhard Heydrich seemed indestructible?until two exiled operatives, a Slovak and a Czech, killed him and changed the course of history.

In Laurent Binet's mesmerizing debut, we follow Jozef Gabcík and Jan Kubiš from their dramatic escape from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia to their fatal attack on Heydrich and their own brutal deaths in the basement of a Prague church. A seamless blend of memory, actuality, and Binet's own remarkable imagination, HHhH is at once thrilling and intellectually engrossing?a fast-paced novel of the Second World War that is also a profound meditation on the debt we owe to history.
This is the story of the mission to assassinate one of the Third Reich’s most important men, Reinhard Heydrich. You might not have heard of him (I confess I hadn’t), but he played a key role in creating and implementing the “final solution” to the Jewish “problem”.

Round the mid-point of the war the Czech resistance was in disarray (and no wonder!), and their British hosts were making it clear to the leaders in exile that they compared poorly with the resistance in other countries. These exiled leaders therefore decided they needed a big, showy operation to demonstrate they were worthy. And what could be better than assassinating Heydrich, then the protector of Bohemia and Moravia? Two men are sent from London with the mission to kill him.

But this is not only just that story. It’s also the story of Binet writing it. It’s not that he breaks the fourth wall, it’s more that there’s basically no fourth wall at all. He anguishes over how to write different things. He talks about how so and so wrote a memoir after the war, but it’s so expensive that he can’t justify buying it, so he’ll have to imagine a particular scene. Two chapters later he’s broken down and bought the memoir. He gives us his opinion on people (that vile, cowardly Chamberlain!). He’ll write a scene and then critique it in the next chapter, explaining why he used a particular turn of phrase and why he fears it doesn’t work.

It sounds a bit gimmicky, but it works. In fact, it works fantastically. It sounds like the sort of thing that would distance us from the story, but it has the opposite effect. It becomes clear to the reader that the reason Binet is quibbling so much about how to write this story, why he's going through so much anguish, is because he cares so passionately about the people in his story. He wants to do them justice, so he worries about making them characters in a book and failing to tell the story in the way they deserve. And we readers somehow come to care, if not just as much as him, then nearly.

I often find experimental books a bit pretentious and pointless, but this is exactly why we should be open to experimentation. When it works like this, it can be brilliant.

By the way, on a more personal note, this and SPQR, by Mary Beard, were by far the two best books I read while on holiday. Both non-fiction, both just as much about the telling of the story as about the story itself. I was clearly in the mood for this!



The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman

>> Friday, February 12, 2016

TITLE: The Invisible Library
AUTHOR: Genevieve Cogman

PAGES: 352

SETTING: Alternate reality
TYPE: Fantasy
SERIES: I believe it starts a series

Collecting books can be a dangerous prospect in this fun, time-traveling, fantasy adventure from a spectacular debut author.

One thing any Librarian will tell you: the truth is much stranger than fiction...

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, a shadowy organization that collects important works of fiction from all of the different realities. Most recently, she and her enigmatic assistant Kai have been sent to an alternative London. Their mission: Retrieve a particularly dangerous book. The problem: By the time they arrive, it's already been stolen.

London's underground factions are prepared to fight to the death to find the tome before Irene and Kai do, a problem compounded by the fact that this world is chaos-infested—the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic to run rampant. To make matters worse, Kai is hiding something—secrets that could be just as volatile as the chaos-filled world itself.

Now Irene is caught in a puzzling web of deadly danger, conflicting clues, and sinister secret societies. And failure is not an option—because it isn’t just Irene’s reputation at stake, it’s the nature of reality itself...
I thought I was going to love this one.

Irene is an agent who works for the Library. This is the invisible library of the title, an organisation that (from what I can tell from the first half of the book) occupies the space in between many alternative versions of our world. Irene's work seems to consist of going into those alternate worlds to retrieve books that are of particular interest to the Library, a job that often involves danger and deception and even having to spend months in that world creating a plausible character to get access.

The mission Irene is assigned here is twofold. She's to take a novice under her wing and train him up, and she is to retrieve a volume of the Grimms' fairy tales from an alternative version of Victorian London. This is a world which has developed both magic and steampunk-type technology. The volume has been stolen from a nobleman who happens to be a vampire, and Fae involvement is suspected. All unremarkable enough as missions go, but Irene is alarmed to see that the world has been placed under a quarantine, as Chaos has began to infiltrate it. And before her mission goes very far, she's notified that a dangerous criminal, a renegade Librarian, is involved.

It sounds great, doesn't it? The idea of the library is cool, and the steampunky world is vividly described. My problem was that Cogman gave me no reason to care about any of what was going on. I had no idea of what the library was supposed to be for or trying to do, so I did not feel there was anything really at stake in Irene's mission. Irene must do this because she's been told to just doesn't cut it. And although Irene and her assistant, Kai, are superficially interesting enough, I didn't really connect to them as characters, so I didn't particularly care about the danger they were facing.

I read almost half the book before I realised I was forcing myself to pick it up. It's always a bad sign when I only read a book on my 20-minute journey to work... that's basically how I force myself to finish the books for book club that I'm not enjoying. I didn't have to finish this, so I didn't.

MY GRADE: This was a DNF.


Ancient Rome and nudists

>> Wednesday, February 10, 2016

TITLE: SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome
AUTHOR: Mary Beard

As the title indicates, this is a history of Ancient Rome and the Roman Empire. Beard starts with the clash between Cicero and Catiline in 63 BCE, and then goes back to the founding of Rome and proceeds from there.

But the fascinating thing here is not what she covers, but how she does so. Rather than simply go “This is what happened”, Beard really goes into what you might call the sausage-making process. She tells us what evidence there is that can give us information about a particular subject or time, she tells us the different ways in which it can be interpreted, and how sure she thinks we can be about each, and she tells us what she thinks is the most likely, sounding authoritative without dismissing the possibility that she might be wrong. It’s fantastic.

The writing style brings it all together. It’s very accessible and lively without doing that condescending thing of sounding faux-folksy. It’s clear that these are people to Beard, rather than simply puzzles, and that really comes through.

I loved this, highly recommended.


TITLE: Naked at Lunch: A Reluctant Nudist's Adventures in the Clothing-Optional World
AUTHOR: Mark Haskell Smith

The title says it all here as well. In this book, Smith immerses himself in the world of nudists, also known as naturists. Through visits to resorts in the US and Europe, participating in a naked hike through the Austrian Alps and a Caribbean cruise, he tells us of the history of nudism from its start to today and explores related topics such as, as he calls it, “Trends in Genital Topiary” :)

I found the book interesting, but found it overstayed its welcome. By the time we got to the Caribbean cruise, I felt Smith wasn’t adding anything that we hadn’t explored to death in earlier chapters. Also, although I liked the writing well enough (and felt Smith has a nice sense of humour), there was an area that was really lacking, and that was the way he incorporated the interviews he did into the text. He basically just did a sort of verbatim dialogue, which really didn’t work. Weirdly, it made the whole thing feel really dead. Well, actually, first he needs to be a bit more choosy about which interviews he uses that way, because there were several which added nothing at all and felt completely pointless.

I’m glad enough I read this, but it really could have been better. It did make me want to go on a naked hike in the Alps, though!



Once Upon a Marquess, by Courtney Milan

>> Monday, February 08, 2016

TITLE: Once Upon a Marquess
AUTHOR: Courtney Milan

PAGES: 277
PUBLISHER: Self-published

SETTING: 19th century England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: First book in the Worth Saga

The last man Judith Worth wants to see again is Christian Trent, the Marquess of Ashford—the man who spent summers at her family home, who kissed her one magical night…and then heartlessly ruined her father. But when a tricky business matter arises, he’s the only one she can ask for help. With any luck, he’ll engage a servant to take care of the matter, and she won’t even have to talk with him.

But Ashford has never forgotten Judith. He knows she will never forgive him for what he’s done, but when offered the chance to assist her, he arrives in person. His memory of Judith may have haunted him, but it pales in comparison to the reality of the vivacious, beautiful woman he rediscovers. Throughout his life, he has always done what is correct. But now, he finds himself doing something utterly wrong…falling in love with the one woman he can never have.
Once Upon a Marquess was in my list of my most highly anticipated books last year. I resisted the temptation to inhale it as soon as I'd bought it, and saved it for my holiday. Once in Uruguay, when I was sitting in the shade by the pool and wonderfully relaxed I finally opened it... and was underwhelmed.

Almost ten years before the star of this story, Lady Judith Worth and Christian Trent, the Marquess of Ashford, were friends, and that friendship was clearly turning into something else. But then Christian was asked to investigate accusations against Judith’s father for a trial in the House of Lords. His reluctance to do this was only overcome when he was told this would guarantee the man had a fair trial. Fully expecting to find evidence of his innocence, Christian was shocked when he didn't. And it turned out he not only found damning evidence to condemn Judith's father, he found evidence to condemn her eldest brother, his own best friend, as well.

As the story starts, Judith is living an impoverished life. Her father committed suicide and her brother disappeared at sea while being transported to Australia. She now needs help getting a solicitor to give her information, and since Christian has just contacted her asking for a favour himself, she feels she can ask him to borrow a man of business in return. But Christian comes himself and insists he's the one to help her. And as they spend time together, it becomes clear the feelings they had for each other all those years earlier have not disappeared.

Weirdly, although the fact that this book didn't work for me was a surprise, the problem I had wasn't one, really. Milan is one of my favourite authors and I’ve adored quite a few of her historicals, but there's something that has been growing in her books lately, and here it went over the tipping point. Basically, I found the game-playing and artificial cleverness between Judith and Christian quite tiresome. They play this sort of pretend game where Judith has asked Christian to make sure she continues to hate him. Therefore they must turn every interaction into a way that they can keep this going, even when he does something nice for her like making her her favourite sandwiches. Every one of their interactions is coloured by this dynamic, and a little went a long way. I just wanted them to interact normally, after a while. They basically spend most of their time speaking in code, and this made it really hard for any real feeling to shine through. Like I said, in previous books there’s been a bit of this, but Milan judged better how far to take it. Here it’s just much too much. What was charming and felt like amazing characterisation in other books became tedious.

I also wasn’t particularly enamoured of the plot. There's A LOT of setup for the series, and parts just didn’t make sense. One of the things Judith is trying to do is to find one of her sisters, who was taken in by relatives and then passed along until seemingly everyone has lost track of her. First, I didn't get why Judith didn't make more of an effort to keep in touch at the start. And then there’s a point where Judith and Christian basically stop making an effort to find her, not because it made any sort of sense, but... I don't know, because Milan forgot about it? Even when they were hunting for her it felt like they would forget about it for quite a long time.

The whole thing just didn't gel together. I will be reading the next books because Milan has written such amazing books that it will take several duds in a row before I give up, but I suspect I won't be quite as excited about the next one.



Archivist Wasp, by Nicole Kornher-Stace

>> Saturday, February 06, 2016

TITLE: Archivist Wasp
AUTHOR: Nicole Kornher-Stace

PAGES: 256
PUBLISHER: Big Mouth House

SETTING: Alternate reality
TYPE: Fantasy

Wasp's job is simple. Hunt ghosts. And every year she has to fight to remain Archivist. Desperate and alone, she strikes a bargain with the ghost of a supersoldier. She will go with him on his underworld hunt for the long-long ghost of his partner and in exchange she will find out more about his pre-apocalyptic world than any Archivist before her. And there is much to know. After all, Archivists are marked from birth to do the holy work of a goddess. They're chosen. They're special. Or so they've been told for four hundred years.

Archivist Wasp fears she is not the chosen one, that she won't survive the trip to the underworld, that the brutal life she has escaped might be better than where she is going. There is only one way to find out.
Archivist Wasp is set in a sort of post-apocalyptic world, in a village where a tradition has developed of 'archivists'. The archivist's mission is to find out and record whatever she can about the world of the past, the world whose ruins her people see all around them. The main resource for this are the ghosts that roam the place. The archivists both protects the townspeople from any aggressive ghosts and gleans all possible information from them (what are they wearing? what words are they repeating? what can they deduce about how they died, and what does this tell them about the past?), before destroying them. The holy grail is to find a ghost that can actually communicate with archivists and answer questions, but that hasn’t happened yet in all the centuries archivists have been at it.

You would think the archivist's job is a low-key, repetitive one, but in this place, it’s not. It’s part of the cult of a deity called Catchkeep, and Catchkeep’s rituals are brutal. The Catchkeep-priest presides over and trains a group of young women called upstarts, who every three years challenge the incumbent archivist in a fight to the death, aiming to take her post.

And we start right in the middle of one of those challenges. Archivist Wasp is tired. She’s done this a few times already, and she’s sick of it, sick of killing upstarts, sick of the tyranny of the Catchkeep-priest, sick of the constant destroying of ghosts. She’s tried to run away a few times, but the priest always catches her, and the punishment is brutal.

But after the last fight she comes across a ghost like no other she’s ever seen. This ghost is powerful. He can talk to her just fine, and not just talk, but negotiate. And before long, Wasp and the ghost have made a deal. She’ll come with him and help him find a lost companion, and in exchange, he’ll give her an object that should allow her to escape. Together, they will travel through the world of ghosts, which presents not just dangers, but dangerous knowledge.

The first word that comes to mind when I think about this book is 'inventive'. I’m not sure how much I believe of this world, how much sense it makes (well, it makes more sense at the end, after we’ve learnt more about how the archivist rituals came to be, than it makes at the start), but it’s super fresh and original and things kept surprising me, and that's not something that happens that often these days. I liked it.

There’s a lot of action and some of it feels episodic, but really, the focus is on characters. We get to know Wasp very well and understand her, and through her travels through the ghost’s memories, we find out more about the world before the collapse (which includes genetically modified supersoldiers and civil war and was pretty cool to find out about).

The key relationship, and this was a surprise to me, wasn’t between the ghost and Wasp, but between the ghost and the friend he’s looking for. I liked that there are no romantic relationships here. Rather, it’s about friendship and honour. And this follows onto the subversive, defiant ending, which I loved very much.

This is definitely one worth reading.

MY GRADE: A strong B.


Stars of Fortune, by Nora Roberts

>> Thursday, February 04, 2016

TITLE: Stars of Fortune
AUTHOR: Nora Roberts

PAGES: 336

SETTING: Contemporary Corfu (Greece)
TYPE: Paranormal Romance
SERIES: Starts the Guardians series

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author Nora Roberts comes a trilogy about three couples who join together to create their own family and solve an ancient mystery through the powers of timeless love...

Sasha Riggs is a reclusive artist, haunted by dreams and nightmares that she turns into extraordinary paintings. Her visions lead her to the Greek island of Corfu, where five others have been lured to seek the legendary fire star, part of an ancient prophecy. Sasha recognizes them, because she has drawn them: a magician, an archaeologist, a wanderer, a fighter, a loner. All on a quest. All with secrets.

Sasha is the one who holds them together—the seer. And in the magician, Bran Killian, she sees a man of immense power and compassion. As Sasha struggles with her rare ability, Bran is there to support her, challenge her, and believe in her.

When a dark threat looms, the six must use their combined powers—including trust, unity, and love—to find the fire star and keep the world on course.
I must admit, the first book in the last Nora Roberts trilogy was so bad that I didn't have high hopes for this one, particularly because this trilogy seems to be all woo-woo, big fight between good and evil, just as the previous one. However, I decided to give it a shot anyway for three reasons: 1) I'm still loving the author's JD Robb releases; 2) Roberts' single titles have been hit or miss lately, but I've enjoyed some of them, and even elements of the ones that have been mostly misses; and 3) I know Roberts can do good "woo-woo, big fight between good and evil" books. I loved the Circle Trilogy, after all!

Stars of Fortune begins with the myth, as per usual with Roberts lately. The three goddesses (sorry, ‘goddesses three’) meet to decide on a present for a new queen. A dark goddess intervenes and curses the gift, creating a danger that could destroy the world, and the goddesses three amend it in what they can to diminish the danger. And in the future, six must come together to yadda yadda yadda and save the world, and so on.

Now, this little chapter is probably one of the worst things I’ve ever read. The mythology is non-sensical and laughable, with no motivations beyond ‘bad goddess is bad’, and the way it’s supposed to be written to sound mythical falls spectacularly flat. So not a good start at all.

And then we must line up the six people in the present-day story who will have to work together to find the MacGuffin. Sasha Riggs is an artist who has dreams which are more like visions. She's long known she's got a measure of power, but has always suppressed it. The visions get stronger and stronger, though, and she decides she'll follow them and travel to Corfu. While there she immediately meets two of the people who've been in her dreams for months, including the man who's starred in some pretty erotic ones, Bran Killian. And it turns out both are after the same thing, the fire star, one of the three which were supposed to be the gifts created by the goddesses. And what do you know, so are three more people they meet (all of whom have been in Sasha's dreams, of course), and they all end up teaming up.

This whole process is done in the most perfunctory way possible. I think it would have worked much better for me if they’d come across each other coincidentally, without knowing they would be part of a team, and come to work together more naturally. Here it was very “You’re one of the team, Sasha’s seen it in her visions” - “Ok”. It felt extremely unsatisfying.

The plot is just silly. As I mentioned earlier, the villian is a villian because she's evil, and I have no idea what the rules are regarding her powers. Even though the fate of the whole world is supposed to be at stake, I didn't feel it. It's all about cool, acrobatic fights and cool paranormal beings, who cares if it feels real?

There were some things I liked. Corfu sounds lovely and I did like some of the interactions between the characters, particularly as they interact separately and become friends (Sasha and Bran I don't count here; there is 0 chemistry there).

Unfortunately, the characters themselves were mostly bad. I did like the fighty warrior woman with the unapologetic sex life, and the archaeologist guy seemed sweet (although he's going to end up with Annika -yuck! See more later), but the others... oh, dear. Sasha is incredibly wet. Bran is pushy and annoying (and it might be just me, but billionaire magician and club owner is not something that screams sexy to me). The incredible warrior with the big sword is a cypher, and then there is Annika.

Oh, Annika. Annika is a mermaid (seriously, this is not a spoiler. If you don't guess the minute she shows up then you're not paying attention). She made me cringe so hard that I almost seized up. She’s simple and childlike, completely literal in how she understands what the others say. She comes across as someone with learning difficulties. Which would be fine if that’s what she was meant to be (that would actually be quite nice to have in a romance, Simple Jess is the only one I can think of), but she isn’t. She’s just meant to be, they say quite clearly, “pure”. That's quite a worrying vision of purity. Even more worrying, they think "oh, it's probably just that English is not her first language". Yeah, fuck you guys. She's basically treated like a child by everyone around her, and that pissed me off. Let me give you a random sprinkle of her dialogue so that you see just how annoying she is. And I promise, this are just a few examples, there's plenty (plenty!) more where they came from.

When they got to the kitchen, she released his hand, ran hers over the refrigerator. “It shines.”

After tugging on the handle, she let out a long ahh.

“Are you hungry?”

“Yes! It’s very cold inside.”

“And Sawyer.” Annika beamed at him.


Her eyes went huge, her voice dropped to a reverent whisper. “You’re a king?”

As Riley snorted, Sawyer looked into those wide eyes, sea green, flecked with gold. “My last name’s King.”

“I’m Annika, first name… Waters, last name. Annika Waters,” she said more definitely. “Hello.”

“I think she’s a little high,” Riley said to Bran in an undertone.

“We climbed the steps to the house. It’s very high.”

“Good ears. You been doing some drugs, Annika?”

“No. Am I supposed to?”

“That’s a myth.”

“I’m apology. A mist?”

“Myth. A fable,” Riley added.
(This one probably doesn't seem quite as bad as the others, but her English lapses are so inconsistent that they annoyed the bloody hell out of me)

“Shopping.” Annika bounced in her chair. “You buy things. I have coins.”

“No trouble understanding how was shopping works,” Bran added. “Coins?”

“I have many coins. I'll get them.”
I hated her. I resented Roberts for creating such a character and presenting her to us as the epitome of purity and goodness.

Also, even more disturbing than the fact that all these chosen ones have to be Americans (with a token Irish guy who also lives in the US) is the fact that the whole thing takes place in a Greek islands and yet there is not one Greek named character. In fact the only named foreign character that we see is a villain. Bah!

This was utter crap, and lazy crap, at that. I'll be skipping the next two.



A Taste of Heaven, by Penny Watson

>> Monday, February 01, 2016

TITLE: A Taste of Heaven
AUTHOR: Penny Watson

PAGES: 208
PUBLISHER: Self-published

SETTING: Contemporary
TYPE: Romance

“Create one perfect bite.”

Good little widow Sophia Brown always follows the rules. When the producer of a cooking competition requests an amuse-bouche, the chefs stick with proteins. Sauces. A savory concoction. She has only one shot to impress the judges on A Taste of Heaven. But in a moment of defiance, she creates an extraordinary dessert, one that combines both the bitter and the sweet, just like her own life.

That one bite changes everything.

After a year grieving for her dead husband, forty-seven-year-old Sophia is finally ready to break out of her shell. Unfortunately, there is a large, angry obstacle standing in her way. Scottish chef Elliott Adamson has a chip on his shoulder the size of Loch Ness, and he’s blocking her path to victory.

Spurred by her daughters, she embarks on a poignant adventure that takes her from the wildflower fields of Vermont to the wind-swept vista of North Berwick, Scotland. Fear, courage, and inspiration from unlikely places will mark this journey, and Sophia is determined to persevere until the very end.
This is a book I never realised I wanted to read. I've always been sniffy about the idea of romances set in reality shows, but clearly when the reality programme is a TV cooking competition, it's a whole other matter. You'd have thought my love for the Great British Bake-Off would have been a clue!

Sophia Brown has been widowed for about a year, and it's still hitting her hard. She was used to being part of Sophia-and-David, and now that's gone, she's not sure who she is or what she's meant to do with her life. Her daughters, worried about her, decide enough is enough. Sophia's always been an excellent cook, so when they find out a TV cooking competition is going to be filmed nearby and that they're calling for amateur cooks, they sign her up.

Sophia is not sure at all about this, but decides to give it a go and does wonderfully well in the first test. But it turns out the producers have been a little bit sneaky, and the contest is not what the participants expected. It's not just amateurs, there are also just as many professional cooks there. The idea is to pair up one of each and have it be a team competition. The amateurs are nonplussed, but the professionals are furious, and none more so than irascible Scottish chef Elliott Adamson. And guess who ends up paired with Sophie?

I thoroughly enjoyed this, even the scene where the teams have got to do a spot of butchery (and I'm a vegetarian!). For a change, the romance really worked for me, just as much as the other elements of the plot. I loved the way Watson developed the relationship between Elliott and Sophia. It doesn't start out well, because Elliott has come into the competition with one objective, to prove that traditional Scottish cuisine is wonderful and worthy of being considered haute cuisine. He will achieve this objective, come what may. Having to collaborate with a partner would mean melding his cooking with hers, so he stubbornly refuses to collaborate at all. He's the professional chef, so he'll make every decision, and that's that.

A hero like that will only work if the heroine will not let him get away with his crap, and fortunately, Sophia does exactly that. The romance is all about them learning how to be a team... well, actually, about Elliott learning how to work as part of a team, and the process of his changing his tune and starting to respect Sophia's judgement and cooking was gradual and believable.

It turns out that becoming part of a team is exactly what he needs on a personal level, too, which made it possible for me to warm to him. See, Elliot comes across as rather stupid sometimes, with his obsession with cooking traditional Scottish food whatever the requirements of the contest and even when it's obvious to anyone with one gramme of common sense that it's going to do down like a lead balloon with the judges. He does listen, in the end, but it takes a while and in the process he says some jaw-droppingly idiotic things. The saving grace, though, is that his blind insistence on Scottish food reveals some really heart-rending vulnerability which makes him into a much more appealing character. He doesn't just want to win this contest and make his point about Scottish food being as good as any other cuisine, he needs it. He needs it, not because he's ambitious and wants to prove a point, but because he's started from scratch so many times already, and he's tired. Tired and alone. He's too old to start yet again. He wants to make his restaurant work and be able to relax just a little bit, and I completely sympathised with that. The resolution made me feel all warm and fuzzy.

Lovely book, it made me buy Watson's entire backlist.

MY GRADE: A very strong B+.


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