Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Promises, Promises by Erica James

****         Maggie is the put upon wife of "Mr Blobby", aka Dave. She cleans other peoples' houses all day only to return home for more of the same for her unappreciative husband and son. The highlight of her week is the stolen afternoon reading romantic novels in the library. She dreams of a better life but her inability to stand up for herself means she probably faces only further drudgery and the occasional night at the bingo with her mum's cronies, unless she can change. An unexpected windfall and meeting the handsome Daryl, nephew of her elderly neighbour's new gentleman friend, might spur her into doing just that.
Ella is recovering from the end of a traumatic relationship with a widower and his hateful daughter. She's still angry by Lawrence's weakness and Alexia's machinations but her success as a specialist painter means she is commisioned by Ethan and his bitchy wife, Francine. Ethan's business is suffering in the recession but it's his home circumstances that are making him even more miserable. He sees Ella as a glimmer of hope and wants to get to know her better, but things are further complicated by Lawrence's sudden suggestion (with Alexia's blessing) that he and Ella try again.
Unhappy relationships and new beginnings for everyone in this novel!
I really like Erica James and have given her several 5 stars in the past! (Tell it to the Skies being one of my all time favourites!)  You pretty much know what you're going to get and again she's delivered a really good read.  It didn't quite make it to the full Monty for me, maybe because it was a bit "more domesticated" than some of her other books.  In retrospect, at times it read more as a Milly Johnson style story - which isn't a criticism (as I love Milly Johnson, too!) but just unexpected.
As usual, it's extremely well written and the character of Ella is particularly strong, the whole set up with Lawrence and Alexia was convincing and well written.  I think  Erica James comes into her own when writing about uncomfortable circumstances and the tension between the characters is really well done.  Ella is likable and a good heroine without being too perfect,  I too dance to Viva la Vida!  I couldn't see the attraction to Lawrence, who is a bit of a numpty all the way through and his only redeeming features seemed to be he looked a bit like Colin Firth and provided excellent wine!  Ethan is interesting, but not your usual romantic hero.  The back story of his childhood explained some of his situation, but at times he just seemed indecisive and weak.  I wasn't overly convinced that Ella was enough to make him change his sordid behaviour in the past either, but as it's romantic fiction, I'll just have to trust she was.
The Maggie plot wasn't as strong for me and this is the main reason why I've given the book 4 stars overall.  The whole domestic drudge to sex goddess didn't convince, even though I got that she was unhappy and taken for granted, I thought the stereotyped, nasty grasping family was overplayed and not necessary, although I did laugh at the barbecue debacle!  Is it likely that a thirty something could be such a drudge and have no friends of her own at all and have to rely on her tarty and downright horrible mother for what constitutes as a social life?  If Daryl was sooo amazing, why her? And why when she was married?  It all came too easily and tidily for her and I actually didn't want her to get her magical happy ending, I wanted her to become her own person by herself.
There's a huge cast of supporting characters and maybe due to this they are drawn as polarised love or hate types.  There's a lot of ground is covered in the book, it's well paced and I wanted to read on.
So, to sum up - it's a good, enjoyable read, just not quite up there with my favourites from this particular author.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Nothing but Trouble by Rachel Gibson

I'm part of the Transworld Book Group! This book was read and reviewed as part of the Transworld Book Challenge.

Chelsea Ross is a struggling actress who agrees to become carer/assistant (with a $10,000 sweetener, to stick with the job for three months!) to the famous ice hockey player Mark Bressler.  Bressler was injured in a serious car accident, six months previously and despite being rich and gorgeous, has a reputation for being extremely difficult.  He has fired several previous carers and has no intention of letting Chelsea interfere with his life, he determines to be as difficult as possible to push her out.  However, Chelsea is no pushover, she's had to struggle as personal assistant to a tranche of D-listers to fund her limited acting opportunities in dodgy slasher flicks.  She's determined to get the cash and so the two of them clash with interesting results.

I've never read anything by Rachel Gibson before, although her books have occasionally cropped up on my Amazon recommendations - so with the Book Challenge it seemed a good opportunity to have a go!  As I started to read, I had a few reservations, firstly it's an American "chick-lit" and I have read some pretty dire examples in the past; secondly it's the fifth in the "Chinook" series and I can be pretty anal about having to read series in order (sad, but true!) and I was worried that characterisation would be affected by assuming some prior knowledge.  Finally, it's about an ice hockey team, which I know nothing about and have no desire to further my understanding!  Not a promising start, but thankfully, none of this really mattered, although it's clear that some of the characters and incidents have been covered in earlier books, it didn't affect the main plot and I never felt I'd missed anything important.  However, as a minor grumble, some of the US brand names and acronyms baffled me at times!

I can't be unfair and criticise this book - it does exactly what it says on the tin!  The two main characters, although both initially irritating do allow you to warm to them.  The supporting cast are fairly thinly written, but I forgave this as I assume some come through more strongly in the series when it becomes their turn to take the lead.  It's a quick, light, totally predictable chick-lit read.  It's very straightforward and there are no complicated situations or alternatives provided to create distractions from the two main characters.  It was never a case of "will they-won't they", right from the start it's simply a matter of when and where. Unfortunately, as I'm at least ten years older than the target audience and very well versed in this genre, I prefer a bit more before my happy ending.
I've given it 3 stars as it just didn't do much for me, but if it's your bag, you'll enjoy it it!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Black Swan Rising by Lee Carroll

I'm part of the Transworld Book Group!  This book was read and reviewed as part of the Transworld Book Challenge. 

Garet James, a young jewellery designer, is having a rough day.  After being told her father has left them in a precarious financial situation, she wanders off her usual path home, gets caught in a rainstorm and so wanders into a strangely old-fashioned shop to ask for help.  Here she is persuaded to open a mysterious silver box which just happens to have the same seal as a ring that Garet was given by her deceased mother.  Although the box does strange things to her eyes, she agrees and takes it home where she lives with her father over his art gallery business.  That night after she opens the box, she is awoken by burglars breaking into the gallery and shooting her father.  From that point things become increasingly bizarre, she finds her mother's sudden death ten years earlier prevented her from telling Garet that her ancestors were "watchtowers" responsible for protecting the mortal world from evil and she is quickly drawn into the supernatural world of fairies and vampires where she has an important role in saving New York from despair and discord.

Although I do occasionally dabble into Urban fantasy novels, and have enjoyed quite a few of them it's not my usual reading matter.  However, through the Transworld Book Challenge (and this is the first time I've ever had any freebies!!) I saw it as an opportunity to try something slightly different without being out of pocket if it wasn't to my taste.  And...I really enjoyed it!
So, I'm not a hard core UF reader and that's possibly why it appealed to me, it seemed a little "gentler" than some of the other stuff I've read and more of a modern fairy tale.  I enjoyed the literary and artistic references...it even used one of my favourite films "The Red Shoes", which I always found compelling but slightly creepy, so I was kept a happy bunny throughout!

As the main character Garet is maybe a bit underdeveloped, but what I did think was a strong positive element was that she started out as a generally, normal young woman, with a job, friends and some kind of life and remained pretty much the same throughout, whereas in other UF the female protagonist tends to be an outsider who has always felt different and is desperate to be initiated into the supernatural and then has a complete personality transplant!  I liked that she struggled with her new abilities and couldn't do it all by herself and so still needed rescuing at times.  It was also refreshing that she didn't suddenly become irresistible to everyone she encounters (another irritating feature in some other UF I've read), but I liked that she remained "human" despite all that she sees and experiences.  
Will Hughes, also seemed a bit two-dimensional, and he's a bit "vampire light" but again, I'm hoping this is just down to being the first installment.  I'm not convinced about the love through the generations part of his relationship with Garet, but it didn't worry me enough to be a problem.

Overall, I found it an entertaining read, I love the fairy tale aspects and will definitely look for the next in the series to see where it all goes.  Sadly, some of the New York references were lost on me, but I'm sure people in the know will have understood them; it really felt throughout the book that the writers had done their homework, but didn't push it by inserting great chunks of research.  I thought the confrontation towards the end was a bit of a disappointment after all the initial excitement, but the ambiguity of who is "good" and truly wants to help Garet or is just out for themselves was interesting, particularly Oberon.  I enjoyed all the fey characters, especially Lol, who is a complete star, and the idea of fairies running a coffee shop and having late night radio shows appealed to my sense of the bizarre.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Heartless by Gail Carriger

The fourth book of the Parasol Protectorate series, with the next one due out later this year.  I enjoyed this one and feel the series has found its way back to what attracted me to Soulless in the first place.  Apologies, for spoilers, but the series does need to be read in sequence to make any sense and its difficult to give a synopsis without giving anything away to newbies! (Look away, now if you don't want to know!)
After the adventures in the last book, a very heavily pregnant Lady Alexia Maccon is back in London and for reasons, best explained in the book, it is decided that it is best for "infant-inconvenience" if she and Conall reside in Lord Akeldama's second best closet.  There's an awful lot going on...Buffy is struggling to cope with his unavoidable lifestyle change; sister Felicity has not only joined the suffragette movement, but wants to stay with the Maccons; mysterious friend Madame Lefoux is up to something and a ghostly message implies that the Queen is in danger. As muhjah, Alexia is quickly on the trail, which unearths more secrets from her husband's previous pack.  Is there enough treacle tart and tea to cope with all this?
It's great to have the series back on form and this is a brilliant, fast paced romp.  It remains witty and fun and despite my continued reservations about Madame Lefoux, worked really well.  I knew where it was heading with the vampires swarming, but think it'll be a good move for future stories as it gives greater scope for Lord Akeldama to widen his interests and may avoid the constant dashing to the country for the werewolves (which always seemed a bit pointless, plot wise).
Conall is still (in my opinion) slightly sidelined, I would like a return of how he was in the first book. I love Floote (give him an even bigger role), Lord Akeldama is fabulous and Lyall remains for me one of the most intriguing characters is thankfully developing an interesting back story. 
My only (very petty) criticism is that the person on the cover looks nothing like I imagine Alexia - what does anyone think?

Blameless by Gail Carriger

*** 1/2
Oops! As I was writing the review for #4 in the series, I realised that I'd missed this out out!  Sorry!! As it's a while since I read it (last September) apologies for being brief, but I think I need to make a small comment to cover the whole series so far...
So, a brief overview and apologies for spoilers (stop reading now if you don't want to know!)
After discovering she is pregnant Alexia's husband Conall has thrown her out, believing that as a werewolf he cannot father a child and so assumes that she has been unfaithful.  Alexia has to return to her much loathed family.  The "infant-inconvenience" is creating many problems, most importantly it is putting Alexia off her food, but more dangerously, the vampires are out to assassinate it (and her)!  After an attack from mechanical ladybirds, Madame Lefoux and Floote accompany Alexia to Italy, the birthplace of her father to discover more about being soulless.
I enjoyed this more than the previous one, but...couldn't believe that Conall would behave the way he did and the ending seemed a bit weak; I'm think Alexia needed a greater outburst of her usual forthrightness.  I'm not sure about Madame Lefoux, I still see her more as a plot device, rather than an integral part and I'm really worried that Biffy won't be as appealing, or as beautifully dressed now!
Better and still great in parts, but not up to Soulless...still!