Sunday, 22 August 2010

Other People's Secrets by Louise Candlish

**
The glamorous Sale family are holidaying in a luscious villa on Lake Orta.  Their stylish and confident air disguise the underlying problems that are simply on hold as Marty, the charasmatic husband and father brings his family together for possibly the last time.
Ginny and Adam Trustlove are devastated by the tragic death of their baby son.  Ginny has retreated from the world, whilst her husband is following the self-help and counselling route which creates further tensions as they try to cope with their grief by taking a peaceful holiday within the grounds of the Sale's villa.
I'm afraid I have to be pretty blunt about this one...sadly, not even the gorgeous setting of Lake Orta could redeem this book for me as it's just sooo gloomy.  The whole thing takes place within a fortnight and has a very limited number of characters that you hardly get to know or care about and this makes it feel superficial and claustrophobic.
Firstly the Trustloves.  Okay, so they're grieving, but they are mightily irritating.  I can't really find anything else to say.  The revelation at the end was unconvincing as I couldn't believe that Adam was sufficiently interesting to have any kind of sordid past!
The Sales are based on an idealised "Boden" family and the descriptions of the family business describes the company's catalogues and media coverage exactly.  Bea is quietly perfect, Marty is dynamic and their three adult children are pretty thinly drawn.  Dom is agonising throughout the book over something that I didn't want to know and didn't care when finally revealed.  Esther (who was so redundant I couldn't remember her name) is beautiful and a lesbian but has no point to the plot and Pippi is an irritating, over indulged brat.
Bea quickly reveals that Marty is a serial adulterer and now the children have grown up it's time for her to move on.  The whole mix is stirred up by Zach who arrives in the town and is quickly leapt upon by Pippi, who fancies him as a romantic diversion.  Zach and the Trustloves are quickly drawn into the Sales' circle and tensions and subterfuge take over.
I usually love books set in Italy, but this could be taking place anywhere...there's little description of the lake (apart from it being cold and Ginny quickly gets fed up of visiting churches) and so not even that made me interested in going on.  It was too cold, removed and depressing for me to enjoy.  Sorry.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Iris and Ruby by Rosie Thomas

****1/2
Iris Black is living out her final years in a once grand but now decaying Cairo house but her isolated world is turned upside down when her teenage granddaughter, Ruby, appears unexpectedly.  Ruby is running away from a personal tragedy and a difficult relationship with her mother.  Ruby and Iris haven't seen each other for years the intrusion creates tension and resentment from all in the Cairo household.
However, to avoid being sent back to England Ruby tries to make herself useful and offers to help Iris record her fading memories of Cairo during World War Two, and they develop a strong bond.  The two women realise they have a lot in common and Iris relives her dazzling, but ephemeral youth and first love.
The book intertwines the story of the two protagonists, veering between the cosmopolitan life of 1940's Cairo with Iris and Captain Xan Molyneux's romance and the current consuming disappointments of Ruby, a difficult young woman in an alien city, learning about its history, culture and her own abilities.  It shows how three generations of women have to learn the difficulties of relationships and the way that love can strengthen or destroy.
The book has beautifully evocative descriptions of Cairo both in the 1940's and now.  As a complete Egyptophile, I loved the atmosphere and sharp detail that allowed me to almost smell the seedy back streets and indefinable tang of the desert.
The whole air of the book was claustrophobic and even a bit cold.  I can't say that I actually liked anyone really, but I was interested in them and became wrapped up in the events.  The character of Iris was well written, she's emotionally removed and brittle which is fitting with the upbringing as a diplomat's daughter, the times she's lived in and her class.  She's not a character to warm to, but the influences of minor characters explain her actions and I did want to know learn about her journey.  Her ultimately selfish actions and decisions taken after her total devastation are understandable but not excusable and it's easy to see why her stronger affections have to skip a generation to her granddaughter.  The ravages of time, her fragility and how her memories are fading and destroying her ability to be a whole person are sad and contrast with her vibrant younger self.
Ruby is introduced as self centred, over indulged brat but she is traumatised by the death of her boyfriend Jas.  She grows through the story and is particularly sensitive of her grandmother.  The imagery of her holding the cup of Iris's memories is done sympathetically.  I couldn't make my mind up about her friendship and developing romance with Ash, it all seemed a bit too convenient for him.  Ruby is needy and used to giving herself easily to receive any kind of affection, but I couldn't define his motives and felt it mainly cam down to financial possibilities.  However, their relationship does make Ruby realise how materially fortunate she has been when she visits Ash's family home in the City of the Dead.
I found it to be bittersweet and thought provoking, reminiscent in some ways of The English Patient (flashbacks to wartime Cairo, unresolved, untold love story) and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Vulnerable by Amy Lane

**1/2
I would never have found this by myself but it came as an Amazon recommendation and I decided to give it a go.  I've had some great new reads through this method and could see why it popped up, particularly as my reading has become even more eclectic with a bit of a paranormal slant over the past twelve months.
It tells the story of Cory, a student desperate to escape her small town life through education; to do this she works the graveyard shift at a garage, but gradually notices the clientele are decidedly otherworldly.  She becomes drawn into a world of the sidhe, vampires and were-creatures which is lead by the charismatic Green, and she falls in love with Adrian.  She discovers an alternative life where she is powerful and attractive but something sinister is happening to the creatures and her love for Adrian draws her into a dangerous situation.
I have to say I found the whole thing a bit disappointing and although there are further books in the series, I won't bother with them.  Part of the problem is that I don't think I'm the target audience - for teen girls needing to fuel their Twilight et al addiction, it is probably spot on, but for me it was very similar to PC Cast's "Marked" books with a rather sullen, unworldly, small town teen with a minor attitude problem becoming part of the supernatural world and finding they have amazing, previously unimagined and untapped power!  It read slightly like fan fiction - I'm sure the author had a wonderful time writing down her fantasies (particularly the sexy bits), but at times it was a little sordid!  The whole book needed major editing and the numerous typos and grammatical errors were appalling.
The characterisation was pretty weak.  Cory is not an engaging protagonist - I really didn't care what happened to her.  The way she develops from an ordinary slightly grungy girl to sex goddess was completely unconvincing and made the whole story less interesting.  Adrian (a vampire needs a better name than that!) was potentially a better character but went down in my estimation by being so obsessed with Cory.  The whole love triangle was a bit creepy, I just didn't get the whole fascination with Green thing and the way this was resolved seemed plain daft, why lose the character with the most potential to develop further?!
I could continue to disparage the whole plot, but really I think that's unfair as I'm sure some people would love it, but it's just not my thing.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Changless by Gail Carriger

***
Alexia has now married Lord Maccon and has become alpha female of the Woolsey Pack.  She has quickly adapted to pack life and her new role as muhjah to Queen Victoria.  However, her husband disappears and there's some sort of "weapon" that turns all the supernaturals back to human form and exorcises the ghosts.  Alexia is on the case with her entourage including friend Ivy, sister Felicity and the suspicious Madame Lefoux.  Her search to solve the mystery means a traipse up to the badly dressed backwater of Kingair Castle in Scotland and Maccon's previous pack. As the body count stacks up and her husband remains human they have to get to the bottom of it all.
I have to say I found this sequel disappointing, overall.  Although there are flashes of the wit from the previous book, particularly the name of Channing Channing of the Chesterfield Channings, Biffy and Lyall (although both only appear very briefly - which is a huge waste of brilliant characterisation), I got a tad bored by it all.  I think the main problem is that by marrying them off at the end of the first book, things moved on too quickly and the sparky relationship between the two was the most interesting part, which is lost as Maccon disappears for most of the first 200 pages and then is humanised!  That's the whole point of Connall, he's a WEREWOLF!!  The first book was great fun and sexy and that is sadly missing for me in this one.
Ivy remains silly, but instead of funny is slightly pathetic and Madame Lefoux is a stereotyped ambiguous spy/ally.  Okay, for fans of steampunk, there's a lot more content and fantasy mechanical creations with the Victorian version of a fax machine, an advanced parasol and the dirigibles, but I was fairly "meh" about all that and they really were vital to the plot.  As for the plot, I didn't really care what/ who the weapon was...and as for the cliffhanger ending...was it done to make us buy the next book even though this has missed the mark or simply to make us turn against Maccon?!  Is he really that stupid?  I will read the next in the series purely to see how it's all resolved and hope it gets back to the promise of Soulless with huge parts for Lyall and the amazing Biffy!

Friday, 28 May 2010

The Strangley Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber

***
Set in Victorian times, six teenagers are chosen to be "The Guard" and keep London safe from paranormal disturbances. 
Twenty years on, pale (and not particularly interesting) Percy Parker arrives at Athens Academy.  Although older than their usual students she has been recommended due to her amazing ability to learn languages.  Abandoned at a convent by her dying mother and left only a phoenix pendant to remember her by, Percy is also able to see and hear ghosts and has strange visions that she doesn't understand.  After suffering the contempt of the church for her "gifts" and compounded by her unusual looks Percy finds it difficult to be around people and so wanders through life swathed in fabric.
The Guard have all taken on day jobs with Rebecca Thompson the headmistress of Athens and Alexi Rychman a professor in the school.  Prophesy has told them that at some point they will find a seventh to join them and Alexi, the leader of the group, is convinced that this will be the return of their Goddess and his soul mate. 
Percy is immediately taken by the aloof and powerful professor Rychman, her failure to cope with his classes in mathematics leads to remedial tutorials which leads Alexi to question whether it is possible that Percy could be the seventh?
I thought this  bit of an odd one, to me it's could be retitled The strangely rather boring tale of Miss Percy Parker, as not a lot happens and I'm a bit underwhelmed by it all.  It's a reworking of the Persephone myth (guess what Percy is short for!) where she is tricked by Hades into the underworld and parted from her true love.  the book itself is a mix of mildly Gothic paranormal and twee romance, with lots of restrained desire and longing glances.  At first I suspected it was written for the teen audience but as all The Guard characters are mid to late thirties and regularly described as old and/or longing for their youth I doubt it, but when reading it with that audience in mind, I could forgive some of the more cringe worthy sections. (Okay, mini gripe here, and I know mid thirties were truly middle aged in Victorian times, but come on - they're hardly in their dotage!)
I have several reservations, firstly Percy is sooo dull.  She's a timid little creature with no self respect, she has victim written all over her and so that makes the transformation at the end even more unbelievable.  She hates her looks, spends all her time telling people that she is reviled despite the evidence in the book that most men seem to find her different but alluring because of it.  She shows no backbone and is pathetic when Alexi turns her away. 
Alexi is meant to be the stereotypical dark, brooding, magnetic hero and it sort of works but I can only stand "regal" and "noble" so many  times and both were overused to describe all aspects of his bearing throughout.  This insistent on withdrawing from any relationships due to the prophesy was also a bit trite...and made him come across as a bit of a sanctimonious, self righteous prig.  Not what you want in your romantic lead, really.  The chaste, restrained love affair did fit with the setting and atmosphere of the story, but was all a bit too agonised for my taste.
The rest of the guard were pretty forgettable and unimaginative, most suffering from unrequited love and i didn't care! I also sussed what Lucille was straight away without the heavy hints, and suspect the majority of readers would!  I found the descriptions of London at the time of the Ripper to be weak and not atmospheric, it was all a bit too pedestrian and missed a trick.
I bought this as it came up as an Amazon recommendation and didn't realise it was part of a series, I doubt I'll bother with the others as the characters didn't make sufficient impression on me to care what happens next.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The Food of Love by Anthony Capella

****
Laura Patterson is an American studying art history in Rome and after several disappointing dates with Italian men she decides on her friend's advice to only go out with a man that can cook.  Tommaso is incredibly handsome and knows it!  He's used to making many conquests amongst the female tourists and keeps photos of them all in his wardrobe.  He is instantly taken with Laura, and whilst busy flirting manages to tell her he's a chef at a leading restaurant, which would be fine but he's only a waiter and even the pot washer gets to boss him around!  Tommaso finds he has to rely on his friend Bruno to keep up the charade.  Bruno is an amazing chef but lacks the natural charm and good looks that his friend has in spades, however, cooking for Laura is a labour of love and he uses his food to demonstrate his feelings by tempting and seducing her.  When Laura discovers their dishonesty she rebounds into her older, controlling lecturer whilst Bruno discovers himself and further cooking skills in the mountains.
A retelling of the Cyrano de Bergerac story but with food!  As with The Wedding Officer, the descriptions of food (even offal!) is gorgeous.  It's a sexy and light hearted read and the described effects of eating tartufo were hilarious.  Some of the imagery was a bit disturbing - I have no desire to be spit roasted, or rubbed with rosemary - but each to their own!  The slight downer was that Laura was a bit weak and thinly drawn, apart from being beautiful and a complete foodie I couldn't really see why she was so special.  Benedetta was far more interesting and substantial and a little bit of me wanted her and Bruno to live happily ever after! Bruno was okay, but again a bit whiny and weak in parts - I just wanted him to get on with it and either 'fess up to Laura or get a life.  I felt the mafia sub-plot got lost along the way, it seemed a big deal at first and then disappeared and what happened to Carlotta and her family? 
Enjoyable in a different way to his other novel and again a good read, but still had something missing for me.

Monday, 17 May 2010

The Shoe Queen by Anna Davis

***
Society beauty Genevieve parties every night with the bohemian artists of Montparnasse and longs to be taken seriously for her poetry. She has an amazingly rich and indulgent husband, a fabulous apartment and huge hole in her life which she fills with her extravagant shoe collection. When she sees a rival wearing the most amazing pair of shoes, Genevieve has to have a pair by the same designer.  However, Paolo Zachari, although renowned for his exquisite and eye-wateringly expensive shoes is more famous for his eccentric insistence on ruthlessly selecting his clients, Zachari's footwear is definitely exclusive!  Genevieve becomes obsessed with the shoes and their designer and begins an affair that makes her question her life and the circumstances that lead her to Paris.
I found this interesting, but strangely a strangely empty experience overall.  The detail of 1920's Paris, including the fashions and lifestyle of the debauched artistes is fascinating and Lulu of Montparnasse could fill another book by herself.  It's a blend of luxury and seediness, glamour and TB, a place where shallowness and self indulgence reign...and that's probably why it didn't completely take me over.  I found Genevieve, despite the revelations about her younger self to be an unsympathetic character, I really couldn't find anything to like about her and sadly, all the female characters were similarly hardened, self seeking and ultimately rather pathetic.  For me it was all a bit Moulin Rouge-ish (and yes, I know I'm about 25 years out with the setting) but without the humour!
It is beautifully and cleverly written and I appreciate the research involved to create the atmosphere, but was left feeling a bit disappointed.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

The Wedding Officer by Anthony Capella

****
Livia Pertini meets her husband to be, Enzo in her village on the day her favourite buffalo wins the beauty prize.  However, their honeymoon is cut short by him being recalled back to the front and she never sees him again.  Slimy crook Alberto wants to get Livia into his bed and when his efforts leave her family without any food or money she returns to Naples to find work in the munitions factories.
James Gould is posted to Naples in 1943 and has the dubious honour of being the "wedding officer" where he has to judge the suitability of the Italian fiancees of the British soldiers.  He has to be sure they are of good character, which basically means that they're not a prostitute...unfortunately it's the only employment most women in Naples are able to find.  James is increasingly frustrated by the work and takes a hard line on both the fiancees and the local black market.  The locals take an imaginative view on solving the problem and get Livia a job as James's cook to make him happy as "a contented stomach, a forgiving heart" will make life much easier for everyone.  James is a complete innocent but he finds himself quickly falling for Naples, the food and the charms of Livia,  they gradually develop their relationship based on a love of great food and each other. 
In the background to this the war is ongoing, but Vesuvius is also rumbling.  The volcano explodes whilst Livia is back in her home village and her father is seriously injured.  James is unable to get to her, but tirelessly works on the relief operation until the roads are clear.  By this time Livia has had to give in to the demands of Alberto but refuses to marry him and in revenge he arranges for her to be shipped of to Rome.  When James discovers her fate he joins the front line battle to get her back.
I did enjoy this book, and I have Capella's first novel on my "to be read" pile, so I'll look at that a bit quicker.  The descriptions of Italy and its food are gorgeous, I spent most the first two thirds drooling, which isn't great as I read mostly in bed before going to sleep!  The unfolding love story is engaging and sexy.  I do like my characters a bit more "fleshy" - I found them interesting and likable, but I wasn't totally taken over by them.  Livia starts out as a bit abrasive and clever which comes across through her mocking humour and although the circumstances she goes through obviously change her, some of this fun was lost by the end.  James is a bit wet, but as he "goes native" he becomes more interesting.
I dropped a star as I felt that the book was taking itself a bit too seriously, particularly in the last 100 pages.  What started out as a delicious foody romance became rather too embroiled in the last stages of the war in Italy with a brief sojourn through communism...which I personally felt was too big a leap in terms of what the book was about and also in characterisation of James.
Still, a really good read and I'm looking forward to reading others by the same author.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

The Botticelli Secret by Marina Fiorato

****1/2
Luciana Vetra is blonde, beautiful and lives in fifteenth century Florence.  She knows nothing of her past other than she arrived in the city as a baby in a Venetian bottle.  Now in her teens, after escaping the convent, she is making her living as a whore but through one of her regular customers becomes a model for Botticelli.  She is cast as the beautiful goddess Flora in the painting La Primavera, but after unknowingly upsetting the artist is sent away without payment.  In annoyance and frustration she steals the cartone of the painting and sets off a trail of murder, where someone is willing to kill her or anyone connected to her in an effort  to get the initial plan of the painting back.  Luciana turns to the only man who has not been enticed by her obvious charms, Brother Guido, a novice monk.  Guido is pious and devout, but also knowledgeable and highly connected.  They realise the reason behind their predicament is hidden in La Primavera and so strive to break the code.  Together they flee Florence and travel through the major Italian cities to avoid their enemies and discover the truth.  In doing so, Luciana discovers her past and both characters learn about themselves.
Summed up very quickly...this for me was da Vinci code style romp with a monk and a Florentine prostitute! And I loved it!! No it's not perfect (hence the loss of half a star) but it is a great read!  The detail of Renaissance Italy is gorgeous and Fiorato manages a huge cast of characters including famous historical figures.
If you're keeping up with my reviews, it's not that long since I read "Painting Mona Lisa" which covers similar ground, particularly the rule of il Magnifico in Florence.  It was actually really useful to know a bit about the historical events, (and that particular book was a bit overstuffed with it all, at the expense of the plot) particularly as I'm no art historian...however, this book really showed up how flat and unemotional I found the Kalogridis novel.
On the plus side, Luciana is a really great protagonist!  She's bright, brash and by being uneducated is allowed to ask the daft questions the reader may want to ask when Brother Guido covers biblical or classical ground that is unfamiliar.  She is amusing (not always intentionally) and keeps the tone fairly light, even in the more sinister sections.  Her "colourful" language can be a distraction, I understand it quickly conveys her background and life experiences, provides strong contrast with Guido and shocks the norms of the setting, but although I'm not offended by it, I don't think it was always necessary. 
Brother Guido is lovely, he's handsome, educated and noble but I wanted to know more!  His first meeting with Luciana is when she is having a sneaky pee in the river Arno and he tries to save her soul.  Obviously naive and devout, his intelligence and honour come through as he agrees to help Luciana.  My main problem is that the whole book is told from Luciana's point of view and although she is an engaging narrator, I did find it frustrating at times as I'd have liked the opportunity to hear things from Guido's view, particularly his loss of faith and becoming a soldier in Milan as these were the turning points in his character development and it would have given him much more depth.  By only hearing Luciana's view Guido had a tendency to be a little flat; the flashes of humour and his sudden changes of personality when impersonating Niccolo were underdeveloped.  I thought the overall pace of the story slowed when the she and Guido were separated as the sparring and unfolding romance on her side and his reluctance to accept it were a ongoing feature through the book.
However, that's me being picky and wanting more!  Overall it's a fabulous read with intrigue, murder and romance.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Soulless by Gail Carriger

**** 1/2
Alexia Tarrabotti is a spinster, however, she also has a dead Italian father, olive skin and a big nose, rather advanced opinions for a woman in Victorian times and she has no soul.  It is her distinct lack of soul that makes her a rarity and also leads to her accidently killing a vampire when he gets a bit peckish at a society event and the treacle tart obviously wasn't to his taste.  Lord Maccon, gorgeous but an alpha werewolf, has to investigate which leads to the discovery that although there are some new, horrifically bad mannered and terribly dressed vampires appearing, a considerable number of established vamps and werewolves have vanished.  Unfortunately for Alexia, her soulless state, which means she turns the supernatural into humans on her touch, is becoming interesting to a number of different parties who believe the mysterious happenings revolve around her.  This leads to Lord Maccon having to protect her, but who's going to protect them from each other?  This is the first book in the parasol protectorate series.
Well, this is a strange one...another recommendation from Amazon, which probably stems from my past vampire crazes and Amelia Peabody choices (more about those in other posts!).  Alexia is in many ways like Amelia, outspoken, awkward and confrontational with a large, overly attractive man (or werewolf in this case).  She also shares the same penchant for parasols to get her out of trouble!  Set in an alternative Victorian period where werewolves and vampires are part of society and have helped create the British Empire.  It comes under the steampunk genre (which I'd never heard of until this, how sheltered am I?!) but is really a mix of supernatural mystery and romance with Lord Maccon being a toothier and hairier hero than most but it works.  The events surrounding the missing supernaturals leads to Alexia and Maccon coming together, yes, they squabble but it obvious where it's all heading...even with the vague references about hedgehogs.
As a supporting character I really like Professor Lyall, the beta, with his slightly put upon, mannered world weariness...I hope there's lots more of him in the rest of the series.
It gets 4 and a half stars for being a funny, sexy read.  It's not thought provoking but Alexia is an engaging heroine and there's lots of scope for future books.

Katy Carter wants a Hero by Ruth Saberton

****
Katy is a disillusioned English teacher, who writes her historical bonkbuster during staff meetings.  Katy thinks she's found her perfect man in James, and due to this she blithely ignores the evil jibes of his mother and his demands that she becomes the perfect hostess to support his efforts to get a promotion.  A disastrous dinner party including her best friend Ollie, his red setter, a cactus and a lobster called "Pinchy" leads to James deciding that Katy is not suitable wife material even if his mother has got a Vera Wang dress planned, and he throws her out, complete with Pinchy!  Katy wallows in regrets and leans heavily on Ollie for comfort, even the fictional steamy love life of Millandra and Jake are of little comfort.  A health scare leads Katy to find a new life, she packs up and leaves for Cornwall to stay with her friend, Mads, who is convinced that the move will give her a bestselling book and a whole new love life.  It's certainly a change as she sells sex toys from the church mini bus, releases Pinchy back to the wild, meets a handsome but slightly intimidating fisherman and then becomes girlfriend of stunning actor, Gabriel and has to cope with all the associated hysteria from the press this creates.  Katy manages to change her life but has she found love?  Throw in a manic rich aunt, a flamboyant gay best friend and a money grabbing ex and Katy still gets her happy ending.
This book has massively benefited from the Richard and Judy effect...apparently the author's mum in law convinced them to read her manuscript and then she got her publishing deal. (Only jealous!!)  It is pure chick-lit and entertaining, but due to work etc I left off slap in the middle of reading it for a couple of weeks and I wasn't that bothered about going back, which says it all really.  It's simplistic, Katy is mildly annoying by being a weak and irritating girly who gets lucky without any effort on her part.  The cancer scare seemed unnecessary, her life was pretty pointless anyway, so hardly needed that to shake things up!  Ollie had potential but came across as being wet, not my hero type.  It was all a bit too contrived with comic set pieces to my taste, similar to some earlier Sophie Kinsella, and smacks of "fun, chick flick" potential.
Believe the bright pink cover as it sums it up - loud, silly and fun...but instantly forgettable.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons

****
As a penniless young widow, Viola has the unpleasant misfortune to be forced to live with her husband's family.  The Wither family have a miserable existence in a dull and oppressive house.  Mr Wither is an obsessive miser, his wife is a snobby routine freak and their two middle aged daughters, Tina and Madge, are equally unattractive.  Tina is in love with the chauffeur, Saxon, and manipulates her father into agreeing to driving lessons to allow her to spend more time in his company.Viola makes some effort to fit in but yearns for a more exciting life which to her is defined by the glamorous Spring family who live on the other side of the hill.  Victor Spring is wealthy and has the best parties, but that life is shallow and meaningless for his cousin, Hetty, who longs for a more realistic and literary lifestyle.  The charity ball is the only glimmer of excitement to Viola but is Victor the answer to her disappointing life? 
It's a vague variation of a Cinderella story, poor Viola with Victor as her Prince Charming.  Written in the late 1930's it's very much of it's time - the looming war, class distinctions and dashed expectations.  The style is rather arch and it has a knowing and rather dismissive humour.  I did enjoy it and found it particularly interesting from a historical aspect and as a comedy of errors.  However, the characters are not likable and don't earn any sympathy, I didn't warm to any of them...they are all grasping and self seeking, even the ones that end up having their "almost happy ever after".  Viola is weak and childish, Victor shallow and arrogant...I actually wanted them to have a gruesome end rather than a happy resolution...but maybe that reflects more badly on me than the characters?!!

Monday, 26 April 2010

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith


****
Another No1 Lady Detective story, with Precious Ramotswe and all the usual characters. With this being (I believe) the tenth of the series, there’s no surprises and by now you should know just what you’re getting…a gentle, slightly old-fashioned meander through a slower and more moralistic way of life.
Mma Makutsi’s fiancé is tempted by the hussy Violet Sephotho who tries to seduce the financially secure Phuti in his Double Comfort furniture store. There’s a failing football team and the “death” of Mma Ramotswe’s little white van.
I’ve rated it as 4 star as it’s light and enjoyable. Not a lot happens in these books, but it’s written with humour and is a bit of a comfort read – easy, non-threatening and relates a world where the good always conquers evil or greed.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

How to Marry a Marquis by Julia Quinn

****1/2
Elizabeth Hotchkiss lives with her younger siblings in gentile poverty; she is Lady Danbury’s companion, an irascible widow who rarely shows her softer side. Elizabeth decides something must be done about their situation and then amazingly she somehow stumbles across a small red book titled “How to marry a Marquis”.  Despite being embarrassed by such a find it meets her needs and her sister Susan quickly decides to use the book to help Elizabeth entrap a suitable suitor.

Lady Danbury requests her nephew James Sidlow, the Marquis of Riverdale to come to her house in disguise as her estate manager to investigate some letters trying to blackmail her.  James has considerable experience in undercover work through his previous experience as an agent for the war office.  James is intrigued by his aunt’s companion and when he discovers Elizabeth's secret plan he agrees to help her attract a husband.  However their practise and his teaching methods set off an attraction between them both.
Despite finding love and rescuing Elizabeth from the attentions of a dishonourable man, James is unable to resolve the issue of who the blackmailer is.  He decides to take matters in hand and to sort all both his aunt’s and his own personal problems out by taking a brief visit to London. Meanwhile, Elizabeth is forced to attend her Ladyship's masked ball and makes a new best friend in Caroline Ravencroft (nee Trent) this leads to Elizabeth discovering James’s true identity.
Elizabeth is horrified that a real Marquis has been making fun of her marriage intentions but both of the lovers’ friends and family conspire to bring them together. This book has an appearance from Caroline and Blake from the previous “spies” book
I really did like James in this book, he was far more appealing than the miserable Blake in the previous “spies” book and it was good to see him taking a larger role as in the earlier story he was merely a convenient matchmaker and constantly complained that the couples arguing was giving him a headache! He has much more humour but also brings a bit of “worldliness” to the quiet and rather dull life Elizabeth leads. It’s also great to see more Lady Danbury, who I loved in the Bridgerton books too – so this appealed on many levels for me, as I’m sure it does for other readers of Quinn’s books.
As a heroine, Elizabeth is a bit wet, there’s only so much wandering around rose gardens a girl can do and she really needs to get over herself and just admit that James is wonderful, despite being a Marquis! The idea of a regency version of “The Rules” is slightly bizarre, as is the everyone descends on the cottage scene - but overall this is one of the Quinn books (other than the first two of Bridgerton series) I enjoyed the most!

To Catch an Heiress by Julia Quinn

****
Caroline has only six weeks until she inherits her fortune, so far she’s had a succession of miserable guardians all after her money and she finally runs away when her vile cousin tries to compromise her into marriage on the orders of her guardian. She’s nowhere to go, but she’s a resourceful young woman and anywhere is better than the alternative.
When she is captured by Blake Ravenscroft, who mistakenly believes her to be the Spanish spy Carlotta De Leon, Caroline decides it’s a pretty convenient way to wait out for her twenty-first birthday. Blake has worked as an agent for the War Office for many years, but this is his final mission before he settles into a quieter life. Due to his personal demons he’s determined to bring the traitor to justice. As he tries to get to the truth, Caroline’s common sense and positive attitude comes to the fore and he has to fight a growing attraction to the unusual but disarming “spy”. However, when he and James Sidwell (his friend and colleague) discover Caroline’s true identity things become even more complicated.
Despite the unconventionality of her developing friendship with Blake and James, Caroline is the happiest she has ever been, she tries to make herself useful around the house and befriends all Blake’s staff to the detriment of his meals. She even manages to make the best of a bad situation when she has to live in the bathroom for a week to prevent detection when Blake’s sister, Penelope, makes an unannounced visit.
Again, it’s all frivolous and silly, but still enjoyable good fun, partly because the daft situations that the characters find themselves in are well written and are genuinely funny. Blake and Caroline squabble throughout the book and it still manages to maintain the pace throughout. Caroline is very entertaining and provides the fun that the rather morose and self-indulgent Blake needs in his life and he gives her the security and care she’s never had. As a hero, I did find Blake a bit lacking and preferred James, but he get’s his chance is the next book (review coming soon!)

Splendid by Julia Quinn

****
American heiress to a shipping company, Emma Dunston stays with her London relatives and plans to have a fun season before returning home to convince her father that she really can look after the business. However, when she meets the Duke of Ashbourne under bizarre circumstances which leads him to believe she's a kitchen maid, his interest is provoked, can the notorious rake be considering marriage?

This was Julia Quinn's debut book and it's taken me a while to get around to it. In an author's note she says that although it maybe isn't as polished as her later books it does have and exuberance about it, and I think that's true. Yes, the story is fairly insubstantial and there’s all the usual complications created by long standing prejudices and misunderstandings, but the characters (especially the more minor ones) are engaging and it doesn't take itself too seriously.
It's no secret that I rely on Julia Quinn as my "comfort reads" - when the world seems a nasty and demanding place, I find fluff and humour in her regency romances...no, they're not thought-provoking or improving, but provide warmth and an easy pleasant read with a happy ending!

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Charming the Prince by Teresa Medeiros

**
So, I was pretty scathing about a previous Teresa Medeiros book a few days ago…in my defence, I got this one at the same time, and although I was expecting more of the same, it does pain me to give away books before at least giving them a go.  So I gave it a go!

It is more of the same really (and I won't bother with any more by this author - they're just not for me) – this time, it's medieval England and Lord Bannor returns from the wars in France to find he needs a mother for his huge brood of unruly children.  He sends out his friend Hollis to find a suitably maternal woman, who he won’t be attracted to (so he doesn’t have more children!)  Unfortunately for Bannor, Hollis returns with the beautiful Willow, who has been used as a skivvy by her evil-stepmother. Both Willow and Bannor are instantly attracted to each other, but spend most of the book fighting and squabbling, until they get their happy ending!
That’s really all I can say – it’s written as a fairy tale for grown ups, it’s silly, ridiculous romantic fluff and that’s fine, but the characters are one dimensional and there’s no surprises or twists to keep you interested.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Painting Mona Lisa by Jeanne Kalogridis

***
The assassination of Giuiliano de Medici and the vengeance of his brother Lorenzo create the backdrop to the story of the young Lisa Gherardini. She is the daughter of a wool merchant and his beautiful but haunted wife. When her mother dies in tragic circumstances, Lisa is drawn into the life of the powerful Medici family and the artists they patronise.
When I picked this book up I expected it to be a historical romance based around the painting of the Mona Lisa...what I got was a very in depth historical account of fifteenth century Florence (which I openly admit I'm pretty ignorant of) the downfall of the Medici family and the rise of Savonarola. The historical aspects are fascinating but somehow I remained pretty unmoved by the circumstances that Lisa finds herself in. It may be due to the main narrative being in first person from Lisa. Through the book she goes from a girl to a young, twice married mother, but that didn't really come across to me. Her feelings seemed to lack depth and emotion and so I was left feeling a bit cold. My other grizzle is that Leonardo (obviously he has to appear!) is a bit bland - yes, he's artistically brilliant in the novel but he main role is spy and runner for the Medici’s - maybe this was to emphasise an "everyman" aspect of his character, particularly when Lisa’s true parentage is revealed, but there was little acknowledgement of his sheer genius.
Interesting, but slow and heavy going in some sections, this was not helped by weak character development in Lisa

Friday, 9 April 2010

Love Letters by Katie Fforde

***
Laura has managed to reach her mid twenties without too much excitement...she has her ideal, but poorly paid job in an independent book shop, which is due to be closed. She meets the flamboyant agent Eleanora who convinces her to help her niece organise a literary festival which includes convincing her favourite Irish author to take part. Throughout the story she spreads her wings but also falls in love with the elusive Dermot. Will she find her own happily ever after?!
Okay - I loved Katie Fforde's early books which were witty and didn't rely on stereotypes...sadly, I've found her last couple of books to be (dare I say it?) dull.  One of the main problems is that Laura is soooo boring. Here's a girl who's read and ironed her way through university and although she assures us she had friends, there's no evidence within this book. She's clinging to her virginity due to lack of opportunity, has no life experience whatsoever, a terrible wardrobe and no social life...Fforde relies on the chick-lit favourite of gay best friend to try and add interest, but it doesn't wash. As Laura is losing her job she takes on the challenge of organising a literary festival, this expands her horizons to going to Ireland to convince the famous but reclusive Dermot to take part. That whole affair seems a bit sordid and the addition of her drunkenness just makes it worse. The repeated reminders of her naivety and lack of worldliness becomes a real drag.
However, through the festival Laura gains the confidence to talk to school children, help in a writing course, introduce speakers and attend meetings – I didn’t feel that the range of experiences that made her more “confident” actually worked…lets face it, it’s not that unusual for women to do these things as part of everyday life!
Dermot has his moments as a romantic hero, but is fairly thinly drawn and disappears for large sections of the book. From the early parts of the story I also imagined him to be at least mid forties, but then it's thrown in that he's only thirty-five! That just jarred with the descriptions of him. Throw in a minor stately home, girlfriend with "wacky" pink hair and corresponding personality, unsupportive parents and an amazing dream job handed on a plate and that sums up the whole plot.
The only character of interest was Eleanora, who is a mere plot device to make Laura's life work, but had the potential to be so much more. The book does describe what happens in literacy festivals very well, but I really didn't care. Everyone involved in the festival was just too minor and uninteresting to engage with

Thursday, 8 April 2010

The Bride and the Beast by Teresa Medeiros

**
I'm going to keep this one short...I'm off work and it's a retelling (again) of Beauty and the Beast! By now if you've been keeping up with my whims, (and I know there’s at least two people out there who do!!) Firstly, I tend to have indulgent, silly reads when I'm on holiday and secondly, I can't resist any reworking of my favourite fairy tale! (So that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!)
However, this has to be one of the most ridiculous - the story set in old Scotland, the beast is a self styled Laird with a thirst for revenge and our Beauty being a pretty but slightly overweight, mouthy girl with a mad father and three sisters who keep the male population of the village entertained! It's bad, but did make me smile at certain points, and it was a swap - so I didn't pay more than postage for it - so it just scrapes two stars – and I’m being kind!

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Silent on the Moor by Deanna Raybourn

****
Julia Grey takes a huge risk and decides to go uninvited with her sister, Portia to Nicholas Brisbane’s new estate, Grimsgrave Manor. Her brother is horrified at her lack of decorum but after having no contact from him since their last investigation, this is her last chance to see if Brisbane is going to act upon his obvious feelings for her.
When they finally arrive in Yorkshire, things are not as she expected. The estate is falling into ruin on a bleak and inhospitable moor; surprisingly it is also occupied by the aloof women of the Allenby family. Brisbane remains secretive and elusive and quickly disappears shortly after her arrival, but it becomes clear that Brisbane and the Allenby’s have a long and bitter history. Danger, mystery and local legend intrigue Julia but she remains confused about her future with Brisbane.
This is the third in the series, and probably my least favourite...
Unfortunately it’s all a bit too Bronte for my taste (never been a huge fan of Wuthering Heights and Heathcliff is NOT brooding, he’s just barbaric!) yes, the wildness of the moor and the insular atmosphere of the Manor is very well done, but it made for rather dull reading at times, particular when Brisbane is out of the picture and the story relied on the Allenby’s. The mystery was pretty easy to suss but also quite dark and sinister, again fitting with the atmosphere, but not especially engaging.
Due to the isolated setting I missed the March family and their humour, I though Bellmont’s fury at the opening was very well done, but Julia seems to become less interesting when not surrounded by her quirky family. Sadly, Portia (due to her own problems within the plot) was also reduced to a shadow of her former personality and so didn’t provide any spark!
Brisbane had flashes of brilliance, but his insistence on trying to push Julia away and the constant issue of not marrying without his own fortune became a bit wearing. I’m surprised a writer with such energy and skill would rely on such a cliché as the main character declaring the extent of her love on the hero’s deathbed, too. (Or maybe I just read too many books with similar themes?!!)
Overall, I’ve given it 4 stars – but only just! I hope the resolution of the romance between Julia and Brisbane doesn’t mean this is the end of the series, as I do want to read more…it’s just the general tone of this was a bit too solemn and lacked sparkle for me.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Silent in the Sanctuary by Deanna Raybourn

****1/2
The second in the series about Lady Julia Grey. This time the story moves on from the terrible house fire caused when she confronted her husband’s murderer. She's had a relaxing few months in Italy with her brothers, Lysander and Plum and their charming friend Alessandro. They are ordered back to England for Christmas by their father when he hears of Lysander's unexpected marriage to the beautiful and fiery Violante.
They arrive back in the midst of a large pre-Christmas house party where the guests include large numbers of her family but also the intriguing Nicholas Brisbane and his new fiancée. Julia can't deny she's still attracted to him, but the murder of the local curate, the confession by her cousin and her father's insistence that she assists Brisbane in the investigation take precedence.
Lady Julia seems a more complete character in this book and amongst her bizarre and beguiling family seems more natural, relaxed and the author doesn't have to create too many of the "clever, spiky" conversations that dotted through the first book. There's far less emphasis on her looks, clothes and personal foibles that makes her even more likeable and engaging.
Her family are great...and as I hoped they are developing into far more rounded and substantial people. Portia remains a gem and long may she appear alongside Julia. The bizarre and slightly bitter Aunt Dorcas added humour as did the image of what she got up to when she left the house! Sadly, Aquinas didn't appear as much, but I still have great hopes for him!
Nicholas Brisbane, again, is easier to like in this book as there is less emphasis on his many skills and virtues. I appreciate as the first in the series the author wanted to set her stall out and give a lot of information, but although he remains a very attractive hero with small aspects of the "man of mystery" being revealed. The ongoing, “will they, won't they” romantic aspect is fine with me and allows the focus of the book to be on the characters and their motives for murder. Sadly Alessandro, although beautiful to look at could never be the romantic interest for Julia.
The actual mystery within the novel is less dark and convoluted than in the first one and again, I think this suits the house party setting and a more relaxed Julia.
Due to all the above I've given this one an extra half star as I thought it was more enjoyable and fun and I'm on with reading the third in the series already. I had great hopes of it filling the gap left by Amelia Peabody and I hope it remains in that style just without the Egyptology aspect.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn

****
"To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor."

Have to say that this is the one of the best openings I've read for a long time and on the whole, the book did manage to live up it!
Despite Lady Julia Grey's unconventional family and liberal upbringing she leads a predictable life with her ailing husband. Unfortunately for all their guests he dies unexpectedly at a dinner party, but what makes it worse is that private inspector to the titled, Nicholas Brisbane, informs her that he was probably murdered. Although she found her marriage cold and unfulfilling, it takes a year of mourning and an accidental find to make her seek out Brisbane to reopen the case. By now the trail is stone cold, but they persist and delve into the seedier aspects of Victorian life to discover the murderer, but also that Julia really didn't know her husband at all.
I bought this hoping it would help fill the gap left by Amelia Peabody (completely read them all up years ago and it takes sooo long for new ones to come out!) and there are certain similarities. Firstly, Julia is ahead of her time, she has a radical father and non-conformist siblings. To them she has always been the normal one, marrying her childhood sweetheart and living a quiet life in London society. By becoming newly single (after the suitable period of mourning) she allows her sister Portia to revamp her wardrobe and hair! Her new found freedom allows her to engage the services of Nicholas Brisbane, who she finds herself increasingly attracted to. The book is written from Julia's point of view and she is equally engaging, witty and stupid! You can't really help but warm to her blundering and although the romantic element is an integral part, particularly the sparring between Julia and Nicholas, it really is a fun, gothic thriller.
Brisbane is obviously the dashing hero, but unfortunately for me, he has too many talents...brilliantly clever, violin virtuoso, languages, dodgy but moneyed family background, widely travelled, bare-knuckled fighter and famous lothario! I also assumed the "illness" would be malaria, possibly linked to his travels in exotic places, which might have been an interesting back story, but no - it's his psychic abilities! Apart from being easily irritated, he's just a bit too perfect. Despite finding all his many virtues, he does remain a man of mystery to a large degree and I feel Raybourn is holding out for the later novels.
Julia's family are interesting, particularly the ghoul and Portia, but are not fully developed yet and I hope this comes through more strongly in the series. Aquinas, the butler, is also a complete star and I hope he is able to take a larger role too!
The style of writing and descriptions is evocative of the Victorian era and again, makes it a good, enjoyable read. In terms of the murder, I sussed whodunit within the first 50 pages, but not the motive or method! The resolution is done fairly quickly towards the end of the book and it lacks sufficient twists and red herrings! (That's why it's a 4 star!)

Sunday, 28 March 2010

The Glass Painter's Daughter by Rachel Hore

*****
Fran is forced to return from her nomadic life of playing in various orchestras around the world when her father is taken seriously ill. She goes back to the family business, Minster Glass and tries to maintain things with the help of her father's assistant, the taciturn, Zac. Fran has a fractured relationship with her father, which was further damaged by his refusal to talk about her mother, who died when she was very young. Her father's stroke means that she is unable to address their problems and find out about her own family history, she is further frustrated to find that her father has befriended and confided in the local vicar. Through the work at the glass shop she becomes embroiled in the journals of Laura, a young Victorian woman strongly linked to both the parish and the business. Laura's family had their own tragedies and commissioned a glass window, which 120 years later Fran and Zac are trying to repair. The stories are Laura and Fran are intertwined throughout the book.

The main themes of redemption, forgiveness and moving forward are reflected in all the main characters lives. Christianity and angels play a large part in this book and despite me being a complete agnostic, that didn't grate. I loved it, the novel has a warm, spiritual feel and although the story is gentle, the way Fran develops from being a rather spiky individual to a much warmer, whole person as she allows others into her life had me gripped. Yes, the romantic angle is predictable right from the beginning and you wonder why it takes so long for Fran to realise what's going on, but it works with her lack of understanding of herself and her background and the need to find her own place in the world.
It's cleverly and subtly written and I will definitely be looking to read further from this author.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

The Love Nest by Julia Llewellyn

***
This story starts with Chadlicote Manor going up for sale to pay Grace's family debts after the death of her mother. It charts the stories of several characters as they make plans to move homes and change their lives through homes, children and careers. Karen is a career woman but the family plan to move to the country as her husband recovers from cancer. Gemma lives with her husband in a loft apartment but is desperate for a child and a family home. Rock star Nick seeks a home to reflect his new status and also the high class estate agent Lucinda. The stories and characters intertwine as they all try to get what they want out of life.
There's a lot going on within this book and it is cleverly constructed. Llewellyn weaves the stories of all the characters into the story is very well done and doesn't feel overly contrived as many "chick-lits" do. However, as in a couple of her other books I found it all a bit "cold"...I didn't warm to any of the characters at all and bearing in mind how many there is across the book, that's fairly surprising. I thought the majority of them to be self-seeking, insular, fairly disagreeable people, and even if that was the intention, I personally need to feel some sort of connection or engagement for me to want to read on. I also felt that two dimensional stereotypes were over used - e.g. career woman, embarrassed by her humble beginnings has an affair with a good looking waste of space; super rich daddy's girl trying to prove herself and still considered second best to her lesser brother; nice but dim, fat girlfriend from the sticks; flaky sister, hippy, mildly druggie background and iffy relationships. Even Grace, who I developed a very small amount of sympathy for (if only for the food and Doctor Who fixation) was weak and pathetically grateful for anything that came her way. All the character's got on with the problems that they'd created for themselves, but I didn't really care how it all ended.
Overall the book is well structured and cleverly managed, but due to the characterisation (and that’s maybe just me) I found the book a bit soulless and lacking in humour.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Rules by Jane Beaton

***
It’s Maggie's second year at Downey House, an independent school for girls in Cornwall. Her new job has changed her expectations and outlook on life and not everyone likes the changes. She's now engaged to Stan and the pressure is on for her to return to Glasgow and settle down and fit back into her old ways, however, the attractions of English teacher, David are tempting and she's not sure about where her future lies. Throw in the dilemma created for headteacher Veronica Deveral's when her long lost adopted son reappears and the misdemeanours of the second year girls and it's a grown up boarding school book!

I thought the first book "Class" was good fun and looked forward to this coming out. It is a nostalgic book for everyone who loved their Malory Towers et al in their childhood, but I'm not convinced there's enough to keep the series going to the projected six novels and I doubt I'll pursue the series any further.
Firstly, I don't really like Maggie any more, which is a bit of an issue for the heroine. In the first book she was uncertain of fitting in the "posh" school and was interesting due to this, but now she's a bit bland and preoccupied with her dilemma between Stan and David. That brings me to the next problem; I don't like either of them either! Stan is an inverted snob and unfortunately Beaton uses every anti-English stereotype possible. David is fey and pretentious - why call your dog that?! I know he's brilliantly clever, but honestly! It's all a bit unconvincing and I don't see the problem, neither are worth the fuss.
Veronica Deveral had more promise and I was expecting a really meaty back story but the incorrect detail about Sheffield and the mysterious Russian lover didn't work for me. The relationship with Daniel, the son she gave up for adoption seemed to develop into cosy too quickly and was a missed opportunity for character development.
The schoolgirls are nicely self obsessed and evil to each other, but eating disorders are old hat and again, they are not pushed to their full potential, although they get up to bother, they don't push it sufficiently to be convincing teenagers.
The best character is Claire the French teacher, I think she's great, but under used! Give her something interesting to do, rather than just looking fabulous and moaning about the English drinking too much.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Missing You by Louise Douglas

*****
Sean’s seemingly perfect life crumbles when his adored wife Belle throws him out to start a new life with the Other. Sean had no idea of his wife’s unhappiness and struggles to cope without her and his young daughter, Amy. He rents a room in a house with Fen and her little boy Connor. Fen leads a secluded life based on work and the care of her boy. She’s moved away from family and friends to hide a guilty secret involving her brother. Both characters have difficulties in moving on but circumstances bring them together and they begin to find some happiness.
I do worry about second book syndrome, (I couldn’t quite forgive Victoria Hislop when The Return didn’t quite live up to my expectations after The Island – sad, but true!) but I didn’t need to worry with Louise Douglas. It has a similar thoughtfully wistful, sad tone as “The Love of my Life” (which I also loved!) The story starts slowly and in less capable hands there would be a danger of both Fen and Sean of being a bit pathetic and self-indulgent. However, despite there not being a lot of action through the story the sensitive and well created characters drive it on. Sean grows on you as he gradually accepts the changes in his life and falls in love with Fen. Fen is less straightforward; the guilty secret that has made her create her own seclusion is fairly predictable, but also understandable. She grows into a whole person by the end and appears much younger and lively than she does at the beginning. Belle is suitably shallow (as she needed to be for the plot to work) a spoilt brat that hasn’t grown up and still doesn’t know what she wants, I simply couldn’t understand what Sean loved about her in the first place apart from being a great beauty. I loved the character of Sean’s sister Lola and would have liked to know about her and her back story (another book?!)
Beautifully written and wistful – I loved it!

Chocolate Wishes by Trisha Ashley

****
Chloe lives fairly quietly with her teenage brother, eccentric grandfather and aunt in a pretty Lancashire village. She makes gorgeous chocolate wishes in the shape of angels, acts a PA to her grandfather, goes to the pub with her two best friends and according to the book she does very little else! She’s been unlucky in love – jilted by her fiancé just before the wedding and in the dim distant past she was badly let down by Raffy, the love of her life, when she had to leave university to look after her baby brother. Chloe is getting on with things when Raffy unexpectedly reappears as the new vicar!
It’s been of a Trisha Ashley fest this year! Here’s her latest and, sadly, it didn’t live up to my expectations…I think she’s brilliant and I was sooo looking forward to reading this, but it just didn’t quite make it. However, despite my slight disappointment, there’s a lot of good, Chloe is an interesting heroine and although it seems a weak reason for her to be so hung on Raffy after all this time, it eventually becomes apparent that she has some justification for doing so. Felix and Poppy make stereotypically good friends and create a romantic subplot with a bit of help through love potions and magical chocolate. Jake the stroppy teenage brother who she has raised is interesting enough and prevents Chloe becoming a total sad no-life! I felt Raffy was actually a bit underwritten and could have been more interesting, he’s been a rock star, is obviously gorgeous (what else?) but then settles for a quiet rural life? I would have liked much more back story to make him fully developed. David, the jilting fiancé was suitably nasty and disagreeable and deserving of the rubbish dumped on him. The descriptions of making chocolate were great and gave me cravings to get down to Thornton’s asap!
The less likeable aspect was the whole pagan/ magic stuff didn’t really work for me – I know Ashley has used magical themes in her previous work, and I liked the links to A Winter’s Tale, which I loved! But the magical aspect just felt a bit contrived (it smacked of Christina Jones stuff and I was a bit disappointed by her last one too). Okay, I accept it created a contrast/tension with Raffy’s Christianity, but is it such a big deal, haven’t “alternative belief systems” become more widespread?
Anyway, it is snappily written, has good "realistic" characterisation overall, due to having more mature, less moneyed and glamourous charcters than a lot of chick-lit (which I think is a good thing!) , but was just lacking something for me.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

The Urge to Jump by Trisha Ashley

***
Sappho is almost 40 and feels life is slipping away…she’s managed most things in life except motherhood and is looking for potential fathers and Nye, a local potter has the most potential.
As I said in an earlier post I’m chasing “older” books by this author and again managed to get a RiSi swap again. I feel slightly guilty rating a favourite author only three stars but unfortunately I found the whole plot difficult to get into and most importantly I didn’t warm to Sappho. Like in Singled Out, our heroine is an author, this time of fantasy fiction and likewise she’s older than the usual chick-lit type and has a tendency to wander off alone in the middle of the night. Nye is predictably grouchy but devastatingly handsome but the whole thing just didn’t work for me. Sorry.

The Lost Duke of Wyndham by Julia Quinn

***
Another regency romance from Julia Quinn. I find these books a self indulgent Sunday afternoon treat...nothing to take seriously, or to improve your mind, but comfortable easy romantic relaxation!
This one is about Jack Audley, man of mystery - currently an extremely well mannered highwayman who accidently pulls the carriage of the dowager Duchess of Wyndham and becomes embroiled in a family battle over the Dukedom (is that the correct word?!!) Anyway, it's the typical romp of handsome men in breeches, pretty girls with heaving bosoms, confused identities and privileged lives! Grace Eversleigh is a far weaker than usual heroine, who has been well trodden on by the dowager, but still instantly loves Jack. Thomas (the current Duke) has a soft spot for Grace, but again doesn't come across strongly until very close to the end when he finally stands up against his grandmother.
Not one of Julia Quinn's best books, it all feels a bit rushed and cursory.  Jack is likeable, but Grace is far too wet.  Although all Quinn's books have a similar formula (and I can't criticise that - you know what you're buying) this one didn't sparkle as many of her others did.  There's the companion book "Mr Cavendish, I presume" which tells the same story from the other couples pov and I honestly didn't find this story engaging enough to bother with it, which is unusual for me, but I think sums up why it's a 3 star!

Singled Out by Trisha Ashley

****
Cass Leigh writes sensationalist gothic horror books, she's slightly odd with a penchant for velvet cloaks and walking in graveyards during the night. She finally realises that her long term married boyfriend, who she's been holding out for, is a rat and there's very few romantic options now available. Unfortunately, Jason, one of her oldest friends develops an unreciprocated crush on her and the mysterious Dante appears in the village after buying the ghost-ridden manor house that fascinates Cass. Along with a slave auction organised by the local vicar, which becomes a bit of a fight between all the men in Cass's life when love rat Max reappears, becoming a ghost in Dante's house, the need to write her sinister books and the ongoing worries of wanting a baby, Cass's life resolves itself and she finds her happy ending.
I have read a couple of Trisha Ashley's books and really enjoyed them, she generally writes interesting and not naff heroines under slightly strange circumstances and with a bent towards older chick lit readers (doubt her stuff appeals to the twentysomethings) - as you may have gathered from other posts, I've been trying to track down her earlier stuff and this is one of them (published 2003 - I managed to get a RiSi swap for an old library copy!) It clearly is an early one - it's shorter with fewer sub plots than her later books, but demonstrates her humour and quirkiness. However, in some respects I did feel it was trying a bit too hard to be different... Cassandra differs from the generic "chick-lit" heroine in several ways, she's 44, has a bizarre back story of religious freak father. This explains her horror obsession but became a bit extreme at times. She can also "mind-read", although the mind reading seemed to me to be only a short cut way of getting into Dante's character. As te book develops she also shows her desperation for a baby, which could have come across as sad, but Ashley just about pulls it off.
Dante of course is gorgeous, stern (back to my Darcy ideal!) with serious guilt issues and a back story, I wouldn't expect anything else! He's interesting and well written enough to maintain interest and the characterisation works with Cass.
At times some of the literary references and "authorisms" seemed to me to be a bit self-indulgent but overall it was self-depreciating enough to keep it light.  I still love Trisha Ashley, and although I think her later stuff is better, it's great to read her earlier work to see how it's all developed. Well worth a look if you're a fan and can get hold of a copy!

Monday, 15 March 2010

Molly's Millions By Victoria Connelly

***1/2
Molly is a florist, she's happy but permanently skint... but all that changes when she wins the lottery.  However, rather than live a life of luxury, she decides to share her good fortune so packs her old faithful Beetle and scoots of around the country to anonymously re-distribute her new found wealth to deserving people leaving her calling card of a yellow gerbera.  Her generousity quickly grabs the attention of Tom, a reporter who follows her round the UK with his young daughter, Flora in tow.  Molly's family have a very different view of money and how it should be spent, so once she hits the newspapers they also try to follow her to bring her to her senses.
I found this rather sweet and Molly is a pleasant, if very naive heroine.  However, her awful family became tedious, her sister-in-law too weak and the revelation about Molly's parentage wasn't necessary.  Again Tom was likeable enough and his daughter was fab, but the developing romance was unconvincing. 
Overall I thought it was enjoyable fluff, despite the predictable and rather cliched ending, but I didn't become involved in the characters or the situations - possibly because of the constant moving that the plot required, so due to that I've put it down half a star.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

How remiss of me...

Apologies to few who were following my blog.  Unfortunately, real life landed and work commitments have completely taken over for the past month or so.  It's also massively affected the amount of reading I've been able to do too, so although I have a few books to catch up on reviewing...I need to read more material!
I hope to resume normal service very soon and hope you'll bear with me!
Thanks x

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella

***
It's ages since I've read any Sophie Kinsella...I bought "Remember Me?" last Christmas but it's somewhere languishing at the bottom of my TBR pile. I did enjoy the first couple of shopaholic books, but thought the later ones were money for old rope and the film was horrendous...how could she let them do that?!! Unfortunately there were many aspects of this book that either annoyed me or I simply hated and that's why it ended with a pretty low star rating.
The main fault (and it is only my opinion) is that the main character Lara Lington is awful. She is whiny, self obsessed and develops no redeeming features as the book continues. She stalks a dead loss of an ex-boyfriend, has no friends in the book apart from a lying business partner, has weak parents who seem only to want to protect her from the horrors of her own making and a sister who hates her. Not a loveable person or someone you want to feel a connection with!! She has an "evil" corporate uncle who owns the Kinsella idea of a UK starbucks and it's his earlier actions that finally create part of the plot.
Anyway, at the funeral of Great-Aunt Sadie, who none of them have ever bothered to see during her 105 years, Sadie's ghost (who appears at her 1920's best) attaches herself to Lara and makes her find her missing and much loved necklace. Now as Lara is such a waste of space, I couldn't understand why Sadie bothered and this was my problem throughout. Sadie is amazing, and although she's initially annoying I grew to love her and Kinsella's description of her clothes, style, language and moods was brilliant. Sadie was the only reason that I read to the end as I truly didn't care what happened to anyone else.
The first two thirds of the book is pretty pointless and repetitive and smacked a bit of writing for a forthcoming film...there's too many "humorous" set pieces, like the breaking into the uncle's house, climbing up a mountain of gilt chairs...they're not funny, but seemed to be "quirky girl" romcom scenes. Ed, the love interest was dull and wasn't given the opportunity to develop. Lara got a fantastically happy ending complete with rich boyfriend, new super-successful business - but through no effort of her own. All Lara’s problems are of her own making and this really irritated me, even the big show down with her uncle was weak.
The back story of Sadie’s life was touching and the idea of Sadie visiting her own portrait was lovely. The ending is bittersweet and fitting but there was simply too much Lara in the way.
It seems ironic that Sadie is the only dead character when all three stars are awarded to her being an amazing life affirming character!

Friday, 29 January 2010

Moonshine by Christina Jones

***1/2
I'm afraid I've maybe set up some of my favourite authors for a bit of a fall...maybe, I have such high expectations but I sooo looked forward to this and was a bit disappointed. (Sorry!)  I love Christina Jones and although I have a couple of her older ones to still read, the "Fiddlesticks/ Hazy Hassocks" magical series have been fabulous...although I thought the last one "Happy Birthday" was less sparkling!  I particularly loved Heaven Sent with YaYa and the fireworks, so I genuinely am a huge fan but dare I say it, it's all becoming a bit too formulaic - unloved woman, gets crazy new job, finds magical recipe, recipe has unexpected results and leads to finding gorgeous man who loves her instantly!  It's all a bit over used now and sadly the characters are becoming less interesting along the way...Cynical, moi?!!  Well, although in this one it's magical wine it lacks the fizz and sparkle of previous books.
Cleo, our heroine has recently divorced and is now living in a trailer.  She gets a new job as Mimi's PA, a posh title fo general dogsbody, but quickly becomes indispensible.  She finds old wine recipes stashed away from one of the trailer's previous owners, "Mad Molly" and she decides to try them for the Harvest do at the big house!  One night she falls over the delectable Dylan (the most beautiful boy in the world - yuk! How patronising? Do we want our heroes to be boys?!) Dylan helps her make the wine which involves trips through fairy glens and Lover's Cascade.  Sadly it takes her too long to catch on that he's actually Mimi's son and Lord of the Manor in waiting.  Once she does find out there's a fair bit of sparring between them about class and money, which is too painful and unneccessary to go into but Dylan ends up being an all round good egg with a social conscience.
Elvi, her teenage friend falls in love with Dylans younger brother Zeb, but for such a clever girl has a putridly limited vocabularly!  Yes, I know it's supposed to demonstrate how teens speak, but when written down it's just dire!  Got fed up of the pre-watershed use of "chaffing" too...if you want them to swear, I think we're grown up enough to accept it!  The wine (along with the interchangable Blackberry Blush/ Bush - proof reading errors again!) creates interest at the Harvest do and allows the teenage love to thrive.
Cleo is ever so slightly dull, this is further evidenced in that her best friend is Doll who was totally unmemorable in the Mitzi story! Dylan might be gorgeous but he disappears for large sections and the attempted last minute save of demonstrating Dylan's good works didn't really ring true. Sadly the whole thing felt a bit tired, twee and lacked the sly humour of previous books.
An extra half star because I love her earlier stuff and this had potential, but needs a massive injection of new ideas!

Sunday, 24 January 2010

What Happens in London by Julia Quinn


****1/2
Olivia Bevelstoke is beautiful, blonde and slightly bored with the whole London scene. Her best friend has married her brother and although she's happy for her it has left a bit of a hole in her social life. Olivia fills this gap by spying on her new neighbour, Harry Valentine, after she hears wild stories about him...did he really kill his fiancée? Harry is amused by her inept attempts to spy on him but becomes further involved in her life when asked to spy on a Russian Prince who is very interested in pursuing Olivia. He vows to keep her safe from the suspicious prince but that becomes increasingly difficult when he realises he is in deeper than he thought.
I gave it the extra half as I thought it was a better plot than the previous Miranda Cheever novel, but it's not up to the standard of the best of the Bridgerton books. However, Olivia, despite being sooo beautiful (and I do hate perfect heroines!) is a vivacious and fun character. I thought she was a bit weak in the Miranda Cheever story, but her wit and inability to think before speaking gave the story the usual Julia Quinn sparkle. Harry is slightly different to many of her usual heroes in that he has a proper job as a translator for the war office. He's clever and bookish and although he becomes a bit of an action man towards the end it isn't his main feature. The two of them hate each other on sight, but gradually the romance develops. Have to say at first this sudden change isn't convincing but as both characters are so likeable you do want them to get together. Strangely for Quinn the love scenes seemed fairly perfunctory - not her usual stuff!

The ending is silly and contrived and was far too painlessly resolved, particularly as Alexei was foul in the earlier part of the book but then had a personality transplant. Still I really wasn't bothered as it's just a delay until they get together.

Sebastian's recital of the dreadful Miss Butterworth novel was amusing and he's someone that I'm interested in finding more about in the future. A fluffy, humorous regency romp that's not particularly memorable and not a keeper, but was entertaining.

One Little Sin by Liz Carlyle

***
Sir Alasdair MacLachlan is a has a notorious reputation, but his life as a rake catches up with him when Esmee Hamilton appears on his doorstep in the middle of the night with her baby sister in tow.  Esmee has lost her home in Scotland and hopes to reunite her sister with her father before starting again, however, Alisdair has different ideas and offers to home both of them.
This is the first in a trilogy and was an enjoyable historical romance.  After reading lots of Julia Quinn novels, it did seem to take its self a bit too seriously at times but the romance between Alasdair and Esmee although not surprising was engaging and he is certainly an attractive hero!  The twist at the end was obvious, particularly after Lady Kirton's comments about her sister, but it at least makes a tidier, less scandalous ending for the couple and Sorcha.
The introduction with the gypsy fortelling the three men's future was a bit naff but sets the scene for the triology...and I will read them all as I do want to know what happens to them partiularly Quin who despite being in a large section of the story remains very mysterious, but his mother is a fantastically formidable lady!

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Mr Darcy's Diary by Amanda Grange

***
It's reasonable with books like this to have a fair idea of what you're getting.  Yes, I'm in the middle of a "regency" period again, and thoroughly enjoying a wallow in a more polite world of empire line dresses and men in tight breeches! (Just humour me...I get over it and read other things eventually!)  Pride and Prejudice is one of my absolute all time favourites, (this was true before Colin Firth, but he just gave me further justification) and I have read several follow-ons, versions from different chracter's perspectives etc and they are a bit of a mixed bag from the good to the dire.  This is a pretty fair one and overall is okay.  It starts in the summer of Georgiana's trist with Wickham and then follows the original, although as it's Darcy's diary we get to see what he's up to during the huge middle section when he disappears from P&P.  My main grizzle is that it's meant to be a diary and although that has potential what it actually creates is the need for Darcy to write word for word large swathes of reported speech - not really what happens in a diary.  To add insult a lot of it is a straight lift from the original text!  This jars with me as a reader and also ruins the flow, but mainly I'm irritated that this process uses up the space that I wanted for Darcy's inner thoughts.  Okay, so he worries about Georgiana and shows an increasing dislike of Caroline - that's not a big surprise.  The description of his motives behind his poorly executed proposal are just pompous and there is lack of warmth in his affection for Elizabeth, beyond the "fine eyes" comment which is repeated too regularly. (As is "satirically")
However despite that, it did draw me in after a fairly unimpressive start and of course there's the happy ending.  Certainly not a keeper, but unlike some other P&P related books it didn't destroy the integrity of the original characters.