Sunday, April 30, 2006

Three Fates by Nora Roberts

This is the first stand alone Nora Roberts book that I have read, and whilst it was enjoyable I didn't think it measured up to either the Chesapeake Bay books or the Born In trilogy that I read earlier.

When the Lusitania sank, more than one thousand people died. One passenger, however, survived to become a changed man, giving up his life as a petty thief but keeping a small silver statue that would become a family heirloom to future generations.

Now, nearly a century later, that heirloom, one of a priceless, long-separated set of three, has been snatched away from the Sullivans. And Malachi, Gideon, and Rebecca Sullivan are determined to recover their great-great-grandfather's treasure, reunite the Three Fates, and make their fortune.

The quest will take them from their home in Ireland to Helsinki, Prague, and New York and introduce them to a formidable female professor whose knowledge of Greek mythology will aid them in their quest; to a daring exotic dancer who sees the Fates as her chance at a new life; and to a seductive security expert who knows how to play high-tech cat-and-mouse. And it will pit them in a suspenseful fight against an ambitious woman who will stop at nothing to acquire the Fates.

Fast-paced and full of the romance and passion for which she's famous, Three Fates is Nora Roberts at her adventurous best-an unforgettable tale of luck, love, and the fateful decisions that shape
our lives.
Whilst this book was enjoyable I couldn't help feeling that the author had made a story too complex to be able to hold all the strings in hand and get a successful resolution in only 300 odd pages. First of all we have the three Sullivan children, Malachi, Gideon and Rebecca. As they pursue the three silver statues around the world they meet and fall in love with a nervous academic specialising in Greek mythology named Tia, a sexy exotic dancer named Cleo and a self made millionaire by the name of Jack. It was a big ask to combine three romances, and a suspense plot in only one book, and for the most part Nora Roberts is successful at it, although I have to say that I didn't feel the chemistry between Gideon and Cleo all that much. Interestingly for all the world travel, I didn't get much of a feel for many of the places that are featured in the book. Basically, you knew that they were in Prague or Helsinki or wherever and that was about it.

As the six characters fight to keep the Three Fates out of the hands of ruthless business woman Anita Gaye, they are united with bonds that will seem to hold for a lifetime. As they try to stay one step ahead of the double crossing Anita, the game turns deadly, and they all must remain aware at all times. By working together can they come up with a plan clever enough to beat Anita and stay alive.

The suspense element was quite well done with several twists along the way. The idea of lives, both past and current, being drawn together by these three little statues is a good one, and Roberts' execution isn't bad, but in the end I think it was too complex a story for the format, and the length of the book.

Rating 3.5/5

Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Secret Pearl by Mary Balogh

This is one of Mary Balogh's older books that has recently been rereleased. On her website she says that "is often named by long-time readers as one of their favorites among my books". I'm afraid that I am going to disagree!

Mary Balogh has no equal when it comes to capturing the complex, irresistible passions between men and women. Her classic novel, The Secret Pearl, is one of the New York Times bestselling author’s finest–a tale of temptation and seduction, of guarded hearts and raw emotion…and of a love so powerful it will take your breath away….

He first spies her in the shadows outside a London theatre, a ravishing creature forced to barter her body to survive.

To the woman known simply as Fleur, the well-dressed gentleman with the mesmerizing eyes is an unlikely savior. And when she takes
the stranger to her bed, she never expects to see him again. But then Fleur accepts a position as governess to a young girl…and is stunned to discover that her midnight lover is a powerful nobleman. As two wary hearts ignite–and the threat of scandal hovers over them – one question remains: will she be mistress or wife?

Fleur is a desperate young woman. She thinks that she has killed a man and has fled from her home, expecting at any moment to be arrested for murder to have her fate sealed at the hand of the hangman. When she hasn't eating for two days she feels she has only two options. The first is to give up and die, the second to fight for life, anyway she can. So she goes to Covent Garden to hopefully make some cash to be able to survive for the next few days at least.

Adam is married to his Duchess Sybil in name only and has a very precocious child, Pamela, who is one of those terribly not cute children that populate romance novels. When his brother returns his marriage once more turns a corner towards more unhappiness.

After Fleur has been at the Duke's residence at Willoughby, she finally finds out that the man who has employed her was the same man who now taunts her in her nightmares, but she is still safe, that is until a few weeks later, when her accuser tracks her down and then attempts to blackmail her. When Adam finds out he sets out to find out the truth of the matter, unveiling many secrets along the way.

I have a real problem with the hero of this book. I can see why some readers would like him - he is damaged both emotionally from his unhappy marriage to his ill wife, and physically from wounds he received at the Battle of Waterloo. I guess my main problem is with his treatment of Fleur. When he first sees Fleur she is trying to offer herself as a prostitute for the first time. Adam engages her, and then roughly welcomes her to the world of sex. Granted that he has no way of knowing that she is a virgin, and he has no reason to think that she is anything other than a seasoned prostitute. He does then seek her out and employ her as his daughter's governess, which in some eyes I guess would redeem him, but I guess what really annoyed me was that later in the book he says that he recognised her as the love of his life the second that he saw her standing in the shadows of Covent Gardens. If that is the case, why did he treat her so badly. Yes, he redeemed himself to an extent by giving her a respectable job, and by tracking down the truth but for me it just wasn't enough.

That doesn't mean that there weren't some lovely moments as Fleur begins to learn to trust him. There is a scene in a carriage where they just link little fingers that I thought was lovely, but those scenes are not enough to redeem Adam in my eyes. Luckily fate provided the means to a happily ever after!

Rating 3.5/5

Friday, April 28, 2006

Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene

I first read this book when I was about 13 or 14 for school. Kailana was talking about it to me one day during a conversation that we were having and as soon as she mentioned it I was like I have to reread this book!!

The summer that Patty Bergen turns twelve is a summer that will haunt her forever. When her small hometown in Arkansas becomes the site of a camp housing German prisoners during World War II, Patty learns what it means to open her heart. Even though she's Jewish, she begins to see a prison escapee,
Anton, not as a Nazi, but as a lonely, frightened young man with feelings not unlike her own.

In Anton, Patty finds someone who softens the pain of her own father's rejection and who appreciates her in a way her mother never
will. While patriotic feelings run high, Patty risks losing family, friends -- even her freedom -- for this dangerous friendship. It is a risk she has to take and one she will have to pay a price to keep

I did have some recollection of the basics of the story when I started reading it, but I have to say that I was very surprised by how vicious Patti's father really is to her, and the reasons why Patti isn't really loved by her family is never explored or answered. I don' t remember thinking about this when I read it the first time around at all (of course that is a LONG time ago!)

The Bergen's are the only Jewish family in their small Arkansas town and Patti has always known that she is different. Her father runs the local store, and Patti tries to help out when she can to try and gain some approval from her father. One day she gets to serve a young German POW when a group of them come in to the store to buy some hats.

When the same young man escapes from prison, Patti sees him running along the railway tracks, Patti gives him a hiding place, and starts to befriend him, feeding him and spending time with him in his hiding place.

This is not only a look at the unlikely friendship between a young Jewish girl and a German POW, but also between Patti and her family's African-American servant, who is the only person apart from Anton who seems to value Patti.

I was left with an overwhelming feeling of sadness for this young girl who was living in an abusive family, and wondered how she would ever get to a point in her life where she could be successful and happy. There is a sequel to the book, but I haven't been able to locate it anywhere here.

Reading it did, however, make me think about rereads in general a little. This is the first reread for me this year, and it was a book that I read over twenty years ago. That doesn't mean to say that I haven't tried to reread other books this year. I have tried to reread two of my favourite books and the thing that seems to happen is that I really enjoy the book, and then I put it down, and something that I haven't read calls my name and that is it! Maybe I am just not cut out for least not whole books! I do reread the good bits of certain books though!!! So why do I keep all of these books? Maybe a just in case thing I think.

Rating for this book 4/5

Other Blogger's Thoughts:

Framed and Booked

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Naked in Death by J D Robb

I am only now getting into buying things off of eBay. So far I have bought a couple of books (both hard to find Jennifer Crusie books), and an MP3 player! Yes...I joined the 21st century. I don't think I am doing too badly really seeing as I only just got a CD Walkman six months ago! The first audiobook to get the MP3 treatment was Naked in Death, the first of the mega popular In Death books by Nora Roberts writing as J D Robb. And I have to say that it is an experience that I will be undertaking again! It was fantastic. I listened whilst I did the dishes, folded the clothes, put washing on! My house actually looked clean for.....oh, about two hours - something quite out of the ordinary given that if I am not on the net talking about reading, I am usually reading! Anyway, enough of that!

Eve Dallas is a New York police lieutenant hunting for a ruthless killer. In over ten years on the force, she's seen it all - and knows that her survival depends on her instincts. And she's going against every warning telling her not to get involved with Roarke, an Irish billionaire - and a suspect in Eve's murder investigation. But passion and seduction have rules of their own, and it's up to Eve to take a chance in the arms of a man she knows nothing about - except the addictive hunger of needing his touch.

It didn't take very much arm twisting to get me to pick up the first book in this series. I had been meaning to for a while but hadn't got around to it so when I was at the library a couple of weeks ago and saw this on audiobook I thought I would give it a go.

Set in New York in 2058, the author takes a lot of time in this books world building, establishing a world where technology has taken control, real coffee is as rare as gold and almost as expensive. When the granddaughter of a powerful senator is found dead, murdered using an antique handgun from the 1980's, Lieutenant Eve Dallas is assigned as the primary investigator despite the fact that she has just had a very shocking experience where she has had to kill a perpetrator. Because of her family, Eve is under a lot more pressure to get a result and at times it feels as though she is being manipulated by unknown sources either within the police force or externally. It seems as though there is a very obvious suspect - the extremely rich, successful and sexy Irish multimillionaire known just as Roarke, a man with a mysterious past!

There is a clue saying "one of six" left behind therefore when a second girl and then a third girl who was working as a licensed companion (ie prostitute) is found murdered, Eve knows that it is a race against the clock. The only link appears to be the professions of the girls, they didn't appear to know each other at all - very puzzling. However it then appears that the clues are pointing into the very highest level of power within the city and the country and it to Roarke that Eve turns to assistance.

Is it too early to say that I really liked Roarke and that I can't wait get to know him better. I loved the interaction between Eve and Roarke and the fact that even though Eve is a strong woman with very high emotional walls erected around her, Roarke is not afraid to show his own strength to give her what she needs, even if she doesn't know that she needs it!

Whilst I did really enjoy this book, there was one aspect of the storyline that disturbed me which I won't say anything about in case of spoiling. Now that I am aware that this is an issue that I will be prepared for and I won't be so affected by it going forward!

Overall a very enjoyable listen! Now, off to rip the next audiobook!

Rating 4/5

Australian Historical Fiction

It would appear that the state of historical fiction is pretty good here in Australia. Today the five nominations for The Miles Franklin Award 2006 were announced and all five of them are historical fiction.

The nominations are:

The Secret River by Kate Grenville

Historical novel set in the early years of the settlement of NSW, and follows the life and times of William Thornhill, who was sentenced in 1806 to be transported to NSW for the term of his natural life. With his wife and children, he eventually takes up land on the Hawkesbury River, and it’s this phrase, ‘takes up land’, that Kate Grenville examines, because it’s a phrase that doesn’t instantly invoke the risk and bloodshed that actually happened.

The Wing of the Night by Brenda Walker

The novel is mainly set in the farming communities of the south west of Western Australia where women were left to run farms. They formed strong bonds with their neighbours which transcended class divisions.

The book also explores what it was like for the men who survived the war and returned home.

Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany

Living off the land must be scientifically based. If you don’t do it properly, you fail. In the old days you’d starve. In the 1930s, a train carrying experts travelled across the countryside dispensing knowledge in the confident expectation that crop yields could be increased. This is the setting for an extraordinary novel by Carrie Tiffany, just published here and abroad.

The Ballad of Desmond Kale by Roger McDonald

Roger's latest novel delves into the tough and vibrant landscape that was the setting for the colony of New South Wales' emerging wool industry. In 'The Ballad Of Desmond Kale' two tough men - Kale, an Irish political prisoner and Parson/Magistrate Matthew Stanton become arch rivals as they both endeavour to produce the finest wool ever produced in New South Wales.

The Garden Book by Brian Castro

Brian Castro's new novel is set in the Dandenong Ranges in the years between the Depression and the Second World War. The story revolves around Swan hay, born Shuang He, daughter of a country schoolteacher, her marriage to the passionate and brutal Darcy Damon, and her love affair with the aviator and architect Jasper Zenlin. Fifty years after her disappearance, Norman Shih, a rare book librarian, pieces together Swan's chaotic life from clues found in guest house libraries, antiquarian bookshops and her own elusive writings. But what exactly is he hoping to find?

Of these the only one I have read is The Secret River and it was quite a good read. As for the others...well, I have added another four items to my TBR list! I'm excited at the prospect of discovering four new authors as well.

Previous winners of the award include Patrick White, Andrew McGahan, Thomas Kenneally and Tim Winton.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Deeds of the Disturber by Elizabeth Peters

The fifth entry in the Amelia Peabody mysteries following on from Lion in the Valley, this time our mystery is set in London, instead of Egypt. I think I am correct in saying that this is the only one of the entire series of something like 18 books that is set predominantly in England (but I could be wrong!)

Can fear kill? There are those who believe so--but Amelia Peabody is skeptical. A respected Egyptologist and amateur sleuth, Amelia has foiled felonious schemes from Victoria's England to the Middle East. And she doubts that it was a Nineteenth-Dynasty mummy's curse that caused the death of a night watchman in the British Museum. The corpse was found sprawled in the mummy's shadow, a look of terror frozen on the guard's face. What--or who--killed the unfortunate man is a mystery that seems too intriguingly delicious for Amelia to pass up, especially now that she, her dashing archaeologist husband, Emerson, and their precocious son, Ramses, are back on Britain's shores. But a contemporary curse can be as lethal as one centuries old--and the foggy London thoroughfares can be as treacherous as the narrow, twisting alleyways of Cairo after dark--when a perpetrator of evil deeds sets his murderous sights on his relentless pursuer...Amelia Peabody!

What a hoot this book was! The Emersons are on their way home after another successful season in Egypt. Before they even leave Egypt though, Professor Radcliffe Emerson (although you should never actually call him Radcliffe) sees the story of a mysterious death at the British Museum in the newspapers, and he warns his wife that they will not become involved, because he MUST finish his manuscript to send the Oxford University Press. Of course, Emerson knows all too well that he might not have any say in the matter.

Instead of the bazaars of Egypt this time we are treated to the streets around St James' Park, the hallowed hallways of The British Museum, and mansions of Mayfair, as well as some of the less salubrious parts of London! Soon, there is not only the death of the night watchman, but also of one of the curators from the Museum, whose body was found at the bottom of Cleopatra's Needle on the Embankment, threats to Emerson and others, and a very mysterious priest who keeps on appearing just in time to titillate the public enough to keep the story on the front pages. Of course, it doesn't help that both Kevin O'Connell and M M Mintern are constantly trying to recruit Amelia to their respective newspapers as their resident expert. But then Miss Mintern disappears, and it turns out that she is not really who she appears to be. Is her disappearance connected to the case. Is she safe? And when Emerson takes Peabody to an opium den who is the mysterious woman that he knows. Of course, Amelia knows that she should be worried, shouldn't be jealous, but she doesn't know if she can help herself.

Emerson was relieved that this time it appeared that there was no involvement of the aristocracy in the case - In fact for the longest time he refused to acknowledge that there was a case to be investigated. He was also relieved that there was no love struck young people for Amelia to meddle in the relationships. Could it be true??

This was such a fun read, with many laugh out loud moments, including when Emerson appears to be seducing Amelia, but then locks her in her bedroom much to her indignation, so that he can at least get a head start on her. Ramses also features in this book, and in fact starts to become a master of disguises himself. Interestingly, there are two other children in this book - Amelia's niece Violet and her nephew Percy who come to stay with Amelia for the summer. Even this eventuality may not be as simple as it seems.

This is the first of these books that I have listened to on audiobook, and I have to say that I loved the experience. The narrator, Barbara Rosenblat, does such a fantastic job with the vocals, getting just the right amount of plumminess in her upper crust English accents, plus brogue in her Irish, and adding an extra layer of enjoyment that I wasn't expecting to hear!

Amelia is a very lucky woman, as she constantly tells us, to have the love of her fantastic husband Emerson, and the author gives us enough information to know that they are very satisfied in every sense of the word, without feeling the need to show us any details. I am very much looking forward to reading (or maybe even listening to) the next Amelia Peabody adventure!

What the devil....I think I will give this a rating of 4.5/5

Lady Sophia's Lover by Lisa Kleypas

Because I tend to like to read book series in order I am working my way up to Worth Any Price by Lisa Kleypas. This book is where we first meet the hero of that book, Nick Gentry.

Why is Lady Sophia looking for a lover?
And could she seduce the most marriageable man in London?

Lady Sophia Sydney would do anything to ensnare the unattainable Sir Ross Cannon. Her goal -- to ruin his reputation and cause a scandal that would be the talk of all London. So she insinuates herself into his life by gaining his trust and living in his house.

She knows he is falling more in love with her each day. But she never counted on falling in love with him. And she never dreamed he might very respectably ask for her hand in marriage...

When Sophia Sydney approaches Sir Ross Cannon for a job he is instantly attracted to her, in a way that surprises him. He knows that she is not quite telling him the truth about why she wants a job, but he dismisses his doubts and hires her anyway. As for Sophia her plan is to gain revenge on her for destroying her brother.

I have to say that the visual picture that I had of Sir Ross Cannon that we met in Someone to Watch Over Me was not of a very fit, dashing man of just under 40 years of age. I can't remember if we ever did get a description of Ross, but my imagination had him as a much older man, maybe a bit portly, balding so it was as much a surprise to me as it was to Sophia! When Sir Ross is shot whilst pursuing a criminal, Sophia becomes his nurse, and their growing attraction to each other is fostered.

As for Sophia, there were various times in the book that I wished that Sophia would just talk to Ross and tell him the truth about things she had found out, particularly in relation to her brother.

Whilst I didn't dislike this book, it wasn't great, maybe because I was seeing it a mere stepping stone to Worth Any Price which comes highly recommended! I do, however, have a problem. When I added all of Kleypas' books to my TBR list I checked which books were available from the library and which ones weren't. WAP was listed as being in the one I use most regularly. When I went to request it trace! Darn, darn! In the end I have ordered it new. Hopefully I should get it soon!

Rating 3.5/5

Saturday, April 22, 2006

One Night With a Spy by Celeste Bradley

When I first started reading romance again, Celeste Bradley was one of the first authors who I bought. I bought the first book in the Royal Four series (To Wed a Scandalous Spy) and then got all the books in The Liar's Club series and enjoyed them all (The Pretender was my favourite) and then I got the second book in The Royal Four series, and suddenly found that I didn't really like it anywhere as near as the rest. It was therefore with some trepidation that I bought One Night With A Spy not too long go. I am pleased to say that even though it was nowhere near as good as some of her earlier books, it was nowhere near as disappointing as Surrender to a Wicked Spy...somewhere in the middle!

The Royal Four are spies without compare—daring, dangerous, beholden only to the King. With the fate of the Crown in their charge, no temptation can interfere with the mission at hand. But as one spy is about to discover, some women refuse to play by the rules...and the results can be sinfully pleasurable…


For years, Lady Julia Barrowby has acted the part of an old man’s ornamental bride, never revealing that she has secretly helped the ailing Lord Barrowby in his work with the Royal Four. Now that her husband has died, Julia believes his place in the Four is hers by right. But convincing the remaining members will not be easy, especially with Marcus Ramsay, Lord Dryden, distracting her at every turn. Somehow, the mysterious Marcus seems to see into her very soul, effortlessly satisfying all her secret, forbidden longings…

Marcus stood next in line to be chosen for the Four, and he is not willing to be displaced by a woman, no matter how intriguing or beautiful she may be. Under orders to investigate Julia, Marcus discovers her diary, overflowing with years of loneliness and yearning. Fulfilling Julia’s fantasies is the perfect way to get closer to her, but seducing this fascinating creature is fast becoming more than a means to an end—it is his soul’s deepest desire…

Marcus, Lord Dryden is determined to become the next Fox, one of the members of the all powerful Royal Four, men who had their fingers on the pulse of just about every thing going on in England. It shouldn't be too difficult, after all he had done his apprenticeship - it was his for the taking. Or was it? Julia Barrowby had, in all but name, been acting as The Fox for the last three years. Her late husband, a much older man, had been officially The Fox, but he had chosen his own apprentice well and as he became more and more incapacitated Julia had taken over. Julia had links to the people who travelled in the fairs around the country, providing her with a large spy network of loyal people to let her know what was going on and where.

Since her husband's death, Julia has been inundated with young men who wish to gain her favour, and her estate, and it is to this group of men Marcus attaches himself in his current guise as Marcus Blythe-Goodman. Soon Marcus is only one of two serious contenders for Julia's affection. When a series of things starts going wrong (privies blowing up, wells being contaminated) Marcus and his main rival stay around to assist Julia and to try to protect her. It turns out that Julia has a pet lion and all of her servants are actually former members of the travelling troupe (acrobats etc). Marcus, however, has an advantage over his rival - he has read Julia's secret diaries which details her privatest fantasies, and Marcus was determined to be her fantasy man.

The problem for Julia is that no matter how well she performs her role, she does not meet all the criteria - for she comes from a humble background, being Jilly the horseback rider before she became the wife of Aldus Barrowby. Being betrayed by Marcus is almost enough to destroy his spirit, but not quite! Given all the lies that have been between them, what hope is there that they can be together.

Julia was a good character - intelligent, beautiful and yet more innocent than she appeared, and Marcus was great fun. I guess there wasn't a lot of honesty between them but the fact was that they were rivals for the same position, and Marcus was actively trying to find information to discredit Julia, so that lack of honesty was probably understandable.

Sometimes Celeste Bradley seems to try a bit too hard to be funny, and there were glimpses of that here again, but for the most part the author manages to control herself during this outing, in a way that the last book could really have benefitted from!

Overall, this was entertaining. I will get the next book so that I can have the complete set, however, if it isn't good then there is a fair chance that I won't be buying the next series that Bradley writes.

Rating 3.5/5

The Siege by Helen Dunmore

Leningrad, September 1941. German forces surround the city, imprisoning those who live there. The besieged city of Leningrad face shells, starvation and the Russian winter.

Interweaving two love affairs in two generations, The Siege draws us deep into the Levin family's struggle to stay alive during this terrible winter. What is it like to be so hungry you simmer your leather manicure case to make soup, so cold you burn first your furniture and then your books? An in spite of everything to resist...

The Siege is a brilliantly imagined novel about war and the wounds it inflicts on ordinary people's lives. It is also a profoundly moving celebration of love, life and survival.
The main characters in this book are the Levins - Mikhail, a writer who is unfortunately out of favour with the Communist authorities, his daughter Anna who is a talented artist who works as a child care worker and 5 year old Kolya, her brother. Her mother having died during childbirth, Anna is both her brother's sister and substitute mother, and provider for the family.

When war is declared Anna is at the family dacha, working in the family vegetable plot, and just beginning a portrait of the mysterious actress Marina Petrovna. As war goes on, the little family grows as Marina comes to join the Levin's in their apartment. What is her connection to Anna's family? Is Anna right to feel the animosity for Marina that she does? Is it right to accept the gifts of food that Marina has brought with her that will in the end help keep them alive? Eventually, Anna's doctor boyfriend Andrei also moves in. She met him when he comes to tell her that her father had been wounded when working out at the defense line against the Germans who have encircled Leningrad, and who are gradually tightening the screws on an increasingly desperate population.

The aspect of this book that Dunmore did excel at were the pictures that she drew of the population as they went through the various phases of The Siege. The initial disbelief that they were at war, the feeling of still having to be careful about what you say even as you are working at the front lines to provide defense against the oncoming Germans, the repatriation of the children of Leningrad only to find them needing to be repatriated back to Leningrad when it turns out that they were in the way of the advancing Germans. As the war and the siege proceeds, the desperation becomes more intense as each person gets meagre rations of what is loosely called bread, and as the winter progresses, means of keeping warm. Eventually the only way for supplies to get in is over the Road of Life, over the frozen ice of Lake Ladoga. When the siege of Leningrad began there were approximately 3 million people living there...a million people died before the siege was lifted!

Where this novel didn't excel in my opinion, is in the relationships. Reading the back cover I was expecting that the relationships would be given a major focus, and yet they weren't. The book was a quarter of the way through before Anna and Andrei even met, and the relationship between Mikhail and Marina was mainly alluded to through the later part of the book. It was really a relationship from the past, as opposed to one that has been rekindled and explored with the reader.

My question to myself is really....if I had read this book before I read The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons, would I have liked it more than I did. I'm not sure what the answer is. All I can say is that The Siege pails in comparison to The Bronze Horseman, even despite the fact that the focus is different in the two books. TBH is all about the relationships, against the elaborate background of the siege in Leningrad, whereas The Siege seems to be about conditions in Leningrad with a nod to the relationships between the two couples in the book. TBH also seems to be better at giving some idea of the grandeur of Leningrad (now St Petersburg), the sights and sounds if you will. (I have had a desire to go to St Petersburg ever since reading TBH...for now I content myself with cyber tourism!)

I'm afraid it will be a long time before I attempt a book with a similar setting to TBH because there aren't many that will stack up against it! I should have known better, I really should have!

Rating 3/5

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Greatest Knight - William Marshal: a Novel of a Legendary Man by Elizabeth Chadwick

I have never read any Elizabeth Chadwick novels before even though I have had her on my TBR list for quite some time. When I saw this book sitting on the new releases shelf at the library I thought here is my opportunity! So it then moved to my shelf for the best part of a two and a half months until suddenly I realised that I was not going to be able to extend any further, so I was going to have to either take it back or just get on with it and read it. I chose the latter, and to be honest I am wondering why on earth I didn't read it when I first got it because it was a very enjoyable read!

The book follows William Marshal from the time he is 5 years old through to around 48 years of age (there will be another book to cover from then until his death that the author is currently working on). This is a fictionalised version of his life, taking the events that we do know from history, and then weaving and fleshing out the story into very readable, very enjoyable look at life in the times of the Plantagenet period of English history.

William was the fourth born son of John Marshal (Marshal to King Stephen), and nephew to the Earl of Salisbury. When he was approximately 5 years old William was handed off as to King Stephen as a hostage against his father's promise (not an uncommon event at that time). When William's father did not keep his word, King Stephen had every right to hang William, but he did not. What King Stephen did do was give William what would appear to be his life mantra - A King Values Loyalty.

When he was around 20 years of age William was knighted and began to participate in the tourneys that were part of the life in Northern France. After suffering a setback in his first major tourney, William quickly learns how to fight and win, and build his store of wealth. The author has done a great job at portraying the colour, and the pageant associated with the tourneys, but it was not an easy life, especially for a young man who was born with such limited prospects, and who is living in his uncle's house by his good grace alone. As his success continues and reputation grows, William becomes probably the most successful knight on the tourney circuit. In the epilogue, Chadwick compares the adulation that William Marshal would have received due to his success at the tourneys to that accorded to modern footballers now:

Rather like the sporting heroes of today, the great tourney champions were much in demand and sponsors would pay vast sums of money to have them on their 'team'. The world of high earnings, transfer fees, hero worship and celebrity that, for example, we associate with modern-day football was a concept already embraced by the followers of the tourney circuit in the late twelfth-and early thirteenth century Europe. William Marshal was the David Beckham of his day!

Whilst out riding with the Queen one day, William saves her life when they are attacked by a group of rebels. He is taken captive and is not released until someone pays the price of his release. Once he is released, William is appointed as tutor to the sons of Queen Eleanor, thus beginning a life long service to the Plantagenet family.

His service was to Prince Henry, who was eventually crowned the Young King concurrently with his father King Henry II. This was one of several things that I learnt whilst reading this book. I had no idea that it was the French tradition to crown the heir to the throne, whilst the current King was still alive. Another thing I learned was that tourneys were not at that time held in England because King Henry didn't like them.

If you know anything about the Plantagenet family, you will know that they were practicallly the model of the ultimate dysfunctional family (throughout the events of this book Queen Eleanor is being held as her husbands captive!) and it is not long before Prince Henry was fighting his father, and eventually openly rebelling against him, making alliances with his father's enemies. Whilst William did his best to contain his charge without upsetting him too much, William's enemies saw ideal opportunities to undermine his position and his authority. For with success in the Royal courts comes ambitious jealousy and dangerous gossip to which William falls prey when he is accused of having an affair with the Young Queen Marguerite, Henry's bride and sister of the French king. William is banished from court and begins a period of wandering, mainly making pilgrimages to atone for the sins of the desecration of a chapel that occurred under the order of Henry earlier.

Eventually recalled to court, William once again acts as right hand man to the Young King, knowing that it could well count against him with the King because of the open rebellion between the two Kings, but then the young king Henry is taken ill and dies. William takes time out and journeys to Jerusalem to fulfill the dying wish of his master. There is little known of this time in his life, and this is one area in which Chadwick chooses not to elaborate, keeping this mystery for us as we read through her book. When William returns to court, Henry recognises the loyalty that William displayed to his son and appoints him to his court, again rising to a position of authority and influence. And then it seemed that the cycle began again, this time with the rebellion between King Henry and his now heir Richard (known to us these days as Richard the Lionheart), and then between King Richard and his brother Prince John who is attempting to undermind Richard through underhanded scheming and dealing as Richard is held hostage in Austria and Prince John attempts to gain the throne any way he could.

Rewarded with various lands and gifts, one of the greatest gifts that William was given was the marriage to Isabel de Clare, bringing both what certainly appeared to be a happy marriage, but also children, lands, and wealth. In order to win this great prize though, William had still had to figure out whether to accept what he was given (for he was originally given another young ward with a view to marriage) or asking for more! He was ably assisted in this regard by Queen Eleanor who was a great champion for his cause.

Not only did William have to tread carefully as he made his way through the Plantagenet court, he also had to deal with his own family, finding himself more often than not on the opposite side of a quarrel to his own brother, and trying to ensure that his family was advanced as much as possible.

There is a great deal to cover to give animation to the facts that are known of the life of this man, and so the author moves through from event to event. There are times when the time difference between two chapters can be several years. Whilst at times I found these jumps a bit distracting and had to go back and check the dates so that I had it straight in my mind, this is probably the only criticism I would give. The William Marshal we meet is highly successful despite the attempts of his enemies to cause his downfall - a man with a very strong sense of integrity, honour and loyalty, who often has to contemplate whether these values will be enough to help in to survive in the very fickle world of court affairs.

Overall this was a very enjoyable read, spending time in the courts of Plantagenet England, one of my favourite eras in English history. I look forward to the second book to be released and will read it as soon as I get hold of it this time, and will be reading more from her!

Rating 4/5

Other Blogger's Thoughts:

A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore
Medieval Bookworm
The Eclectic Reader

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Pulitzer Prize winner - March by Geraldine Brooks

I was glad when I heard that this book had won the Pulitzer Prize. Maybe it is that the Pulitzer is a bit more accessible than some other prizes, but it seems to me that the winners, particularly this year's, are actually readable books that can be read and enjoyed for their story, not just for their writing or language!

I read March last year and highly recommend it! The story is written taking the gaps from the Louisa May Alcott classic Little Women and filling them in. The main character is Mr March, the father who is missing during the action in Little Women, off serving as a chaplain during the Civil War.

It helps that Geraldine Brooks is an Aussie as well, although I haven't seen too much excitement here in the press.

Crazy for You by Jennifer Crusie

My quest to read all of Jennifer Crusie's books continues!

On Wednesday, Quinn McKenzie changes her life. On Thursday, she tries to get somebody to notice. On Thursday night, somebody does.

Quinn McKenzie has always lived what she calls a "beige" life. She's dating the world's nicest guy, she has a good job as a high school art teacher, she's surrounded by family and friends who rely on her, and she's bored to the point of insanity. But when Quinn decides to change her life by adopting a stray dog over everyone's objections, everything begins to spiral out of control. Now she's coping with dog-napping, breaking and entering, seduction, sabotage, stalking, more secrets than she really wants to know, and two men who are suddenly crazy...for her.

What a hoot this book was! Considering it is a romance there are some pretty heavy topics in this book - stalking and adultery amongst others.

The two main characters are Quinn McKenzie and Nick Zeigler, her former brother-in-law, but they are by far not the only characters in the book whose life is changing. When we first meet Quinn she is in a relationship with Bill, the successful coach from the school where Quinn teaches art. Quinn and Bill have been together for a couple of years, although a lot of the time it seems as though Quinn just got together with him, and then moved in with him because it was easier to give in as opposed to fight it. Bill has everything planned out, right down to fitting in a wedding between seasons, what sort of underwear he wants Quinn to wear (virginal white), the beige furniture that fills their apartment. However, after two years of doing as she is told, Quinn finally gets fed up of this way of living when she finds a stray dog, falls in love with it, and wants to keep it, and Bill sneakily takes the dog (who Quinn has named Katie) to dog pound behind her back. Quinn decides that one of them has to go, and it isn't going to be the dog. So Quinn moves out of the beige apartment, back to her parents, and it is Nick who helps her move. Nick who has been her friend since she was 16 years old, Nick who is out of bounds because he used to be married to her sister.

Before long Quinn has not only shed her relationship, she has cut her hair, she is buying a house, she is moving on, and she really wants Nick to be part of it and Nick wants it too, but Nick has become a commitment phobe, unable to stay the night with any of his girlfriends, let alone face a lifetime commitment. However, when Bill starts to get a bit scary and starts stalking Quinn, sabotaging her firstly her loan application and then her house so that she will realise how much she still needs him, Nick realises that it is time that he made some changes himself.

In the meantime, Nick's brother Max and his wife Darla are also having some troubles. Darla is bored, and feels as though Max doesn't actually see her, hasn't really seen her in years, and nothing that she tries works, not even opening the door wearing only a transparent raincoat (which backfires when Max hasn't come home alone...whoops!). For Darla things get so bad that she moves in with Quinn, as does Quinn's father when her mother moves her best friend (and lover) in! So as Darla and Max work through their issues, and Quinn's father and mother also deal with theirs, Quinn and Nick begin to acknowledge the attraction that has been there for years. Nick and Quinn try to stay away from each other but he sexual tension between them builds really well in the book as does their growing understanding of what is happening between them.

The cast of characters is quite large for a romance, but they are also a lot of fun, and deal with issues like spicing up a marriage after a long time together. There are also appearances by various characters from the town, providing more insight into life in a small town.

This was a lot of fun, despite the seriousness of some of the themes, and is highly recommended!

Rating 4.5/5

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

I have been going to read Jodi Picoult for forever, but have always held back. I guess that part of the reason for that is that her books have always been hyped by people around me, and I was wary that I would not like them. I need not have worried (well for this book at least!), and will definitely be reading more books from this author.

Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen,she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate -- a life and a role that she has never challenged...until now. Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister -- and so Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable, a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves.

Told from multiple points of view, My Sister's Keeper examines what it means to be a good parent, a good sister, a good person. Is it morally correct to do whatever it takes to save a child's life, even if that means infringing upon the rights of another? Is it worth trying to discover who you really are, if that quest makes you like yourself less? Should you follow your own heart, or let others lead you? What happens when emotion catches up to scientific advances?

I've read a few places that when Jodi Picoult is thinking about what to write next she likes to ask the question "What if?". On her website, she talked about the inspiration for this story, and part of it was about a family who did have a child so that they could harvest the cord blood for their sick child. Her question then was "What if the elder child ever goes out of remission?" Another what if question could be "What if a family becomes so focused on one child that they lose sight of the others?".

The use of Anna as a place to harvest required components to help fight her older sister Kate's cancer started from before she was even born. Anna's embryo was chosen because she was an exact match for Kate, and when she was born, the cord blood from the umbilical cord was used straight away as a treatment for Kate, who then went into remission. However each time that Kate went out of remission, there were more medical procedures for Anna, painful bone marrow extractions, blood donations. Anna could not go to hockey camps, for example, in case she was too far away when Kate needed her. The year that Anna turns 13, Kate's kidneys give out after years of treatments, chemotherapy, arsenic injections, and the only way that she will survive this last health crisis is if she gets a kidney transplant. Yes, she could go on the transplant list, however, why wait when you have a perfect kidney just waiting to be harvested from your bred for the purpose sibling. It is just expected that Anna will go along with the plan, so when she hires a lawyer in order to lodge a suit so that she can be medically emancipated from her parents everyone is shocked. In other words they do not have the last say in what medical procedures are performed on her - Anna wants a chance to choose what happens to her.

Told from a variety of viewpoints, and including flashbacks to key events during Kate's illness, this is not only a book about the medical history and procedures, or the legal and ethical questions such a situation raises (interesting as those questions are), it is also a book about what happens to a family that is always under extreme pressure, always focused mainly on one member.

Kate and Anna are not the only children of Brian and Sara Fitzgerald. There is also Jesse, elder brother to the girls, and quite frankly, juvenile delinquent. Jesse is on drugs, an arsonist who is setting fires in mostly abandoned buildings, yet it is not difficult to understand why Jesse is the way he is. From the time he was a young child, he has practically become invisible to his family as they lurch from one medical emergency to the next. Whilst Anna feels invisible as far as what she wants is concerned, Jesse is it seems completely dissociated with the things going on, not because he doesn't love his sister, but because he is not personally required to be involved in the same way that Kate and Anna are. It really is no wonder that he will go to such extremes to get attention, and yet that still isn't enough because more often than not people make allowances for him because he is from the family with that sick girl.

Brian works for the Fire Brigade, saving people from burning buildings, attending accidents, cutting people from car wrecks. Whilst Brian is trying to deal with the illness of his elder daughter and the lawsuit, he also trying to figure out who the arsonist is that knows so much about setting fires to cause maximum damage. I liked Brian. He seems to be a man who is trying his best to keep his family together, I think knowing full well that in order for them to move forward they may need to give up the fight for at least one of them. Sara, his wife, used to be a lawyer before she became a mother, and for me, seems to have if not forgotten that her other children have needs, at least chooses to ignore that fact a lot of the time. Sara makes a lot of mistakes and yet as a mother I don't see that there is a lot of room for her to do otherwise. Yes she makes bad choices, but she really wanted to have her daughter Kate around - well and happy, and THEN she would have time for her other daughter (she appears to have completely given up on Jesse). With the events at the end of the book, it is clear that this is something that she will have to regret for the rest of her life.

One interesting thing about the varying viewpoints is that we never actually hear anything from one of the central characters in the book, that being Kate. The whole story revolves around her illness and her treatment, and yet it is like she is the centre of a tropical storm, the maelstrom goes on around her, caused by her, but without her participation.

If it sounds as though this book is a heavy read, it is, and yet Picoult manages moments of levity, particularly through the character of the lawyer Campbell, and less directly through Julia, the court appointed guardian ad litem. Her role is to take note of all the circumstances in the case and then to ensure that Anna gets what is best for her as far as the case is concerned, which if you are only taken Anna's situation into consideration would seem to be that she keeps both kidneys, yet it isn't straight forward because Anna and Kate have an incredibly strong bond. It is also difficult to measure because Anna still lives at home with her parents who could be putting pressure on her in relation to the lawsuit, yet it would not be the right thing to remove her from her home either. Julia and Campbell have a past, one that didn't end well, and they are carrying a LOT of emotional baggage around with them, but things have changed over the years for both of them as well. For one, Campbell has a service dog, but no one seems to know exactly what it is for, and if you were to ask him what it is for, you could get any number of different answers.

And how do we get closure in a story like this? Well, I can't help but think that it wasn't easy. It wasn't easy to read. I lay in bed reading the last couple of chapters crying my eyes out, sobbing so hard that my chest hurt. Was I emotionally involved with this story. You bet I was!

Before finishing this review, I want to say something about oncology nurses. My sister is an oncology nurse, and I have met a few others through her. I do not know how they do this job and stay sane. I could not ever be any kind of nurse. I have the weakest stomach of anyone I know (won't even have a dog because the thought of cleaning up after them makes me want to throw up) and yet they go to work and deal with the aftermath of the chemo treatments, vomiting, diarrhea, warring families and the like. We don't often talk about the messy aspects of her work although sometimes we do talk about the patients that have affected her, partially because it gives a chance for her to have a break, and because she knows how weak I really am, but when I found this quote in the book I really wanted to spotlight it in honour of my sister and her colleagues, and all the other nurses out there who often don't seem to be rewarded or recognised enough for what they do:

An oncology ward is a battlefield, and there are definite hierachies of command. The patients, they're the ones doing the tour of duty. The doctors breeze in and out like conquering heroes, but they need to read your child's chart to remember where they've left off from the previous visit. It is the nurses who are the seasoned sergeants - the ones who are there when your baby is shaking with such a high fever she needs to be bathed in ice, the ones who can teach you how to flush a central venous catheter, or suggest which patient floor kitchens might still have Popsicles left to be stolen, or tell you which dry cleaners know how to remove the stains of blood and chemotherapy from clothing. The nurses know the name of your daughter's stuffed walrus and show her how to make tissue paper flowers to twist around her IV stand. The doctors may be mapping out the war games but it is the nurses who make the conflict bearable.

To the nurses out there. Thanks for everything you do.

Rating 4.5/5

Other Blogger's Thoughts:

The Inside Cover

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Girl Who Married A Lion and Other Tales from Africa by Alexander McCall Smith

Gathered here is a beguiling selection of folktales from Zimbabwe and Botswana as retold by the best-selling author of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. This treasury contains most of the stories previously collected in Children of Wax and seven new tales from the Setswana-speaking people of Botswana.

A girl discovers that her young husband might actually be a lion in disguise, but not before they have two sons who might actually be cubs . . . When a child made of wax follows his curiosity outside into the heat of daylight and melts, his siblings shape him into a bird with feathers made of leaves that enable him to fly into the light . . . Talking hyenas, milk-giving birds, clever cannibals who nonetheless get their comeuppance, and mysterious forces that reside in the landscape—these wonderful fables bring us the wealth, the variety, and the particular magic of traditional African lore.

There is not a lot more to say that the book description doesn't already say. Approximately 30 very short stories from Africa (mainly Botswana and it's surrounds), most with a message about how to treat the people around you, or other situations in life. They are very short, and the book itself is only about 180 pages so it was a very quick read.

Very entertaining.

Rating 4/5

Other Blogger's Thoughts:

Things Mean a Lot

Monday, April 17, 2006

Three Little Secrets by Liz Carlyle

The final book in Liz Carlyle's current trilogy, Three Little Secrets is the story of Merrick MacLachlan and Madeleine, the wife that most people have no idea exists. Merrick is the brother of Alisdair, the hero from One Little Sin, and friend to Quinn from Two Little Lies.

National bestselling author Liz Carlyle concludes her scandalous new trilogy with a sensuous novel of two star-crossed souls who share a secret or two . . . or three.

Once upon a time, they eloped. But then dashing Scotsman Merrick MacLachlan accepted payment from Lady Madeleine's father to have the marriage annulled. Or did he?

Two times, Maddie has wed. Once for love, once for comfort. Yet once more she is alone with only her beloved son and his haunting visions for company. Until fate thrusts her back into the arms of her first love.

Three little secrets dance between them. One is that he desires her as much as ever; another is that she's never forgotten his touch. But the scars of their youthful passion run deep, and the third secret will either mark their undoing . . . or spark the sizzling reunion they dare not dream of.

First things first...this whole trilogy had very nice covers! But this one is my favourite, mainly because purple is my favourite colour! Can you tell??

Okay, onto the book. There are very few people that know that Merrick MacLachlan ever had a wife. He is a man who scandalously (in the eyes of society at least) actually works for a living, so whilst he is very rich, he is his own man, and not worried about what society thinks of him. He works hard, and doesn't really have time for play, except for the visits from the local ladies of the night who meet his needs, not always in a safe and gentle way! Merrick has hidden his feelings so deeply, that most people would doubt that he actually has anyway feelings left.

When he is showing Quinn Hewitt a new home in the development that he is building, he is shocked when one of the new owner's of his houses turns out to be Madeleine, his estranged wife. After getting over the shock, Madeleine tries to withdraw because whilst Merrick still counts her as his wife, she believes that their Gretna Green marriage was annulled, believing that her father managed to pay Merrick off, and carries the emotional scars of her abandonment. For years ago she had waited weeks for Merrick to come for her after her father had separated them, and when he didn't come for her she thought that he didn't want her. The truth was that he had been severely beaten, and by the time he got to Madeleine she had already been married off to someone else to alleviate the shame of being pregnant with Merrick's child.

When Merrick first meets his son, he doesn't realise, but when the child shows signs of having The gift (the ability to see things that are going to happen in the future) and is very confused about why he is different from other children, Merrick realises that he must help the boy understand his heritage, and so they all travel up to Scotland to see his granny.

As far as Merrick goes, he is quite a dark hero, a man who hides his true self away from the world, and we not only are told about this, we actually see evidence of it, but his commitment to the fact that he was married, and to his feelings for Madeleine were admirable. As for Madeleine, she was basically a doormat for her domineering father, but by the end of the book she had realised that she needed to go after what she wanted and she did!

The strange thing about this trilogy is that it is chock full of the cliches that you sometimes hear romance readers complaining about - secret babies and big misunderstandings abound (and there's another common cliche in there as well that I can't think of at the moment) and yet for the most part, mainly because of Liz Carlyle's ability, the stories work.

What Liz Carlyle does do, nearly everytime that I read her books, is make me want to go back and reread the other stories that are linked, and she does that again with this book. The only exception to that is One Little Sin. Even though Alisdair and Esmee appear in this book, Esmee is still only a shadow character for me, and doesn't truly shine, so I am not bothered about rereading that one (the book was more miss than hit when I read it originally too)! Yet, Vivi from Two Little Lies is only mentioned, and never seen, whilst Quinn is only in a few scenes yet I wanted to pull that one out and reread it immediately. I will eventually, but for now, I have too many books that I haven't read! Others to appear in this story were the Earl of Treyhern and Helene from Beauty Like the Night, a brief mention of Max from No True Gentleman's grandmother and Bentley Rutledge and his wife Freddi from The Devil You Know. Man, I wish I had bought these books instead of borrowing them from the library!

There are two more Liz Carlyle books that I haven't read yet, and one anthology story, but other than that, I guess I just have to sit and wait and see what she comes up with next now!!

Rating 4.5/5

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Much Ado About You by Eloisa James

This is my first full length Eloisa James novel, although I have had her on my TBR list for a while. The only previous work I have read from her is a novella in the anthology The One That Got Away.

When you're the oldest daughter, you don't get to have any fun!

Witty, orphaned Tess Essex faces her duty: marry well and marry quickly, so she can arrange matches for her three sisters -- beautiful Annabel, romantic Imogen and practical Josie. After all, right now they're under the rather awkward guardianship of the perpetually tipsy Duke of Holbrook. But just when she begins to think that all might end well, one of her sisters bolts with a horse-mad young lord, and her own fiance just plain runs away.

Which leaves Tess contemplating marriage to the sort of man she wishes to avoid -- one of London's most infamous rakes. Lucius Felton is a rogue whose own mother considers him irredeemable! He's delicious, Annabel points out. And he's rich, Josie notes. But although Tess finally consents to marry him, it may be for the worst reason of all. Absurd as she knows it to be, she may have fallen utterly in love...

When Tess Essex and her three younger sisters Annabel, Imogen and Josephine are sent to live with their new ward, Rafe, Duke of Holbrook, he has no idea that they are in fact lovely, full grown women who will not need a nursery full of toys and nursemaids, but that they will need to have a chaperone and have husbands found for them. Annabel has set her sights on a title, Imogen is obsessed with the Duke's neighbour Lord Maitland (despite the fact that he is already betrothed to another), and Josie is sitting this season out whilst she is properly schooled by a hastily employed governess, leaving Tess as the first girl to be matched off. Luckily there are two VERY eligible men staying at Holbrook Court Mayne and Lucius Felton. Whilst Garrett Langham, Earl of Mayne is titled and every inch the rake, Lucius is a self made man who made his money gambling on stocks and in horse racing. When it is revealed that the dowry for each of the girls is to be a prime racehorse Mayne jumps at the opportunity to court Tess, and yet it is the stolen kisses with Lucius that make Tess heart pound.

When Imogen rather impulsively elopes with Draven, Lord Maitland, it is agreed that in order to save a scandal and not harm the marriage chances of the other Essex sisters, Tess is going to have to marry and marry quickly. When Mayne appears to do a runner on the morning of the hastily arranged wedding, Lucius calmly steps in and marries Tess, determined that being married will make no difference to his lifestyle particularly after he ensures that Tess knows her place in his home and his affections. Tess is confused by the man who is distant and aloof during the day but then a very attentive husband at night, yet come morning he has always left her side and reverted to his daytime persona.

When a tragedy occurs, it is to Lucius that Tess turns for support and strength and gradually they both begin to realise that they both feel more for each other than they are letting on and have done for quite some time.

Character wise, Tess was an okay heroine, but not spectacular. As for Lucius, it was only after I finished reading the book and I was checking out Eloisa James' website that I realised that I had actually met Lucius previously in the The One That Got Away anthology that I read in February. I have to say that I did not even recognise Lucius as the character from that novella, so much so that I actually went back and read the novella again. Now I am not sure what that says as Ms James as an author, me as a reader or Lucius as a character, but after rereading the novella I thought that there were glimpses of the Lucius in Much Ado About You (mainly in his aloofness and his impeccable breeding) but that is all. Even the type of business that he is involved in didn't sound the same. Only the horseracing connection remained.

It also bothers me that the blurb from the back of the book (above) makes Lucius sound as though he is an irredeemable rake and yet I am not sure that that is the picture that we are presented with in the book. Yes, there is no doubt that he has had improper relationships in the past, but not so many as to have a reputation as a rake. In fact I had the impression that he was completely aloof from most of society, and whilst some mother's might have set their caps on him as a potential son-in-law, most left well enough alone. As for the line about his mother considers him an irredeemable rogue, the whole explanation of why that was left me feeling rather unsatisfied.

Much is made in the afterword about the fact that this series is supposed to be a celebration of the relationships between the sisters. At the beginning of the book I would agree that there is a closeness between them but this seems to have unravelled for me even before the big tragedy that appears to tear two of the sisters apart. Imogen was so fixated on marrying Draven that there appeared to be little else to say about her, and as for Josie, she was relegated to the schoolroom, and to constantly telling the sisters that her governess would not approve of this or that.

Last word goes to the Epilogue....can anyone tell me why it is necessary to have an epilogue to tell us that they had children and still loved each other momentously after several years of marriage.....of course they did! Sometimes it doesn't bother me much, but this time it really did!

There were several amusing episodes in this novel including one of the earliest scenes where Rafe realises that the young ladies he is now ward of are not in fact young children, and theffortsds of Lord Maitland's fiancee to free herself from her betrothal(which gave Ms James opportunity to show her literary background), these were unfortunately voided by long passages relating to horses and their care. Whilst I like horses well enough, this book was way too horsey by far for my liking, and it will affect my enjoyment if this continues throughout the series.

Overall, not great, but with glimpses into why Eloisa James seems to be so popular - enough to have me checking out at least one more book. I already have Duchess in Love here to be read from the library so we will have to wait and see how we go with that one!

Rating 3.5/5

Saturday, April 15, 2006

New Look

Well....that was easier than I thought it would be! Just need to do the Blogroll now and we should be right!

Friday, April 14, 2006

What the.....

I know that Blogger's spell check feature isn't the best, but when it suggests that housewife might be an appropriate spelling for womanising you really have to worry! Did give me a chuckle though!

Someone to Watch Over Me by Lisa Kleypas

My Lisa Kleypas adventure continues. Because I am a bit pedantic about reading books in order, I got this book because I am working my way up to Worth Any Price. Next up is Lady Sophia's Lover and then I should be ready for Worth Any Price which has been highly recommended!

She couldn't remember who she was...

A temptingly beautiful woman awakens in a stranger's bed, rescued from the icy waters of the Thames, her memory gone. Told that she is Vivien Rose Duvall, one of London's most scandalous beauties,she finds herself under the protection of enigmatic, charming Grant Morgan. Her life is in his hands. Deep in her heart, she knows he has mistaken her for someone else...

He was the only man she could trust.

As one of London's most eligible and unattainable catches, Grant Morgan is a man who has known every kind of woman. And the one in his arms now seems so innocent, so
vulnerable, that he can't help but be enchanted. And as his love for this
mysterious beauty grows, he's determined to unravel the secrets of her past and
discover the truth--no matter what

I pretty much liked both of the main characters, but that is as far as I can go. I liked the idea of Grant (Bow Street Runner, self made man) much more than I liked the way that he turned out in the book, and as for Vivien, I think that perhaps I am not a big fan of the amnesia plot, because whilst it was obvious early on that she wasn't who everyone thought she was, I didn't much care who she really was. Neither of the main characters were quality, which is an interesting change in a Regency, and as a twist should have been enough to keep my interest, but it just wasn't in this case.

This is the first Kleypas book that I could have put down and not worried about picking up again. I comfort myself by thinking that this was an early book, and that it will have been worth it by the time I get to Worth Any Price...hopefully.

Rating 3/5

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Digital Fortress by Dan Brown

Having read The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons over the last couple of years, I had been intending to read Digital Fortress and Deception Point for a while, but hadn't ever got around to it. Doesn't help that my brother borrowed both of those books and took them back to Adelaide about 18 months ago. Anyway, I am making a concerted effort to catch the train to work instead of driving so suddenly find myself with more reading time (less listening time but I guess you can't have everything right?).

Before the multi-million, runaway bestseller The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown set his razor-sharp research and storytelling skills on the most powerful intelligence organization on earth--the National Security Agency (NSA), an ultra-secret, multibillion-dollar agency many times more powerful than the CIA.

When the NSA's invincible code-breaking machine encounters a mysterious code it cannot break, the agency calls its head cryptographer, Susan Fletcher, a brilliant and beautiful mathematician. What she uncovers sends shock waves through the corridors of power. The NSA is being held hostage...not by guns or bombs, but by a code so ingeniously complex that if released it would cripple U.S. intelligence.

Caught in an accelerating tempest of secrecy and lies, Susan Fletcher battles to save the agency she believes in. Betrayed on all sides, she finds herself fighting not only for her country but for her life, and in the end, for the life of the man she loves.

From the underground hallways of power to the skyscrapers of Tokyo to the towering cathedrals of Spain, a desperate race unfolds. It is a battle for survival--a crucial bid to destroy a creation of inconceivable impregnable code-writing formula that threatens to obliterate the post-cold war balance of power. Forever.

Whilst this book is nowhere near as exciting or popular as DVC was, it still is a very high paced, page turning thriller, set in a variety of locales, and very entertaining.

Susan Fletcher, as a character, appears to have everything - Beautiful, uber-intelligent, good shoes...everything (and of course all of her male colleagues secretly lust after her) David Becker is her boyfriend/fiance (I don't think they are sure either of whether they are engaged or not), who is sent by her boss on a secret mission to Spain, despite the fact that he is not employed by the NSA to recover any items that can be found after the death of a man who has designed an algorithm that can not be cracked by any machine. Before he died, the man, Ensei Tankado, a former employee of NSA, threatens to sell the algorithm to the highest bidder, in effect holding the NSA to ransom because it would not be able to perform it's major task - that is to provide intelligence on any possible terrorist plots, or other major security problems. There are only two passkeys in the world that can stop the complete degeneration of mainland security, and that is what David Becker is sent to obtain from Spain. As he tracks down the passkey (which is inscribed in the band of a ring), he is followed by a hired assassin who is leaving a trail of bodies behind him as he tracks Becker.

With scenes set in both America and Spain, the action in both locations runs at a cracking pace, with great tension and twists and turns throughout the narrative. I did think that the ending where all the people had to work out the secret code lost a little of the pacing, but all's well that ends well. I have read reviews of this book where details were provided about how unlikely the scenario was because this couldn't ever happen (because you would never have such a big computer that had 3000 different connections or whatever) but those types of things don't really bother me much as I see these kinds of books as purely escapist drama, although given that this book was originally written in 1998 it is interesting to see where Brown's imagination took him (and I don't believe he has been sued for plagiarism for this book!).

As far as characterisation go, Dan Brown's characters are a bit two dimensional, but I do enjoy reading his books when I want a change from my ordinary reading material.

Rating 3.5/5

Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor

This is my read for the April TBR challenge, which for this month was to read a book that has been in your TBR pile for longer than 6 months.

Title: Forever Amber

Author: Kathleen Winsor

Year published: Originally published in 1945

Why did you get this book? I have been meaning to read this for a couple of years and then it was chosen for this month's book of the month in one of my groups.

Do you like the cover? The cover that I have been able to show here is infinitely better than the cover of the version I have that was published in 1983. My cover features a man and a busty woman in a very low cut dress walking together up a hill that overlooks London.

Did you enjoy the book? Yes.

Was the author new to you and would you read something by this author again? The author is new to me, but I probably won't be reading anything else by her. Whilst Miss Winsor did have other books published, Forever Amber was the only one that was actually anywhere near successful (a kind of one hit wonder so to speak), which is kind of strange given that this book was banned in some US states not too long after it was published because it was too sexy. You would have thought that that kind of notoriety would have made it easy for follow up sales, but apparently not.

Are you keeping it or passing it on? Keeper! There were lots of details in this book, and I'm sure a reread would bring some more of those to the forefront.

Anything else? At 850+ pages this is a doorstopper of a book, but it is a relatively easy read. It is chocked full of historical details, including gruelling details of the Plague that hit London in 1665, and the subsequent Great Fire that destroyed parts of the city the following year. We follow a young woman, Amber St Clare through a 10 year period of her life, from when she is a 16 year old village girl who meets and becomes besotted with a Lord Bruce Carlton and runs away to London with him, through a period in Newgate debtor's prison, to her rise as an actress, courtesan and finally mistress to King Charles II, notorious womaniser. We see Amber at her best, at her most manipulative and most cunning as she tries to work her way up from the bottom of the social ladder to the very top. Yet through numerous relationships, marriages, and affairs, Amber still loves Bruce Carlton as she can love no other.

A bawdy romp through Restoration England and well worth a read

Rating: 4/5

Other Blogger's Thoughts:

A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Three Weddings and a Kiss - Anthology

Featuring Kathleen E Woodiwiss, Catherine Anderson, Loretta Chase and Lisa Kleypas, this anthology is kind of strange in one way. Kathleen E Woodiwiss, who I have never read before, is, according to the cover at least, the major contributor to this collection, yet her story is only 40 pages long, and is in effect a long excerpt/introduction to her book A Season Beyond a Kiss.

The first story in the book was Fancy Free by Catherine Anderson. Can I just say ARRRGGHHH and be done with it? No...okay, I will mention a couple of other things. I rolled my eyes in disbelief several times, but I did finish it...just because I don't like to let a book defeat me.

Rachel Constantine is determined to get revenge on Matt Rafferty for humiliating her younger sister, and so she sets up a scheme with one of the "soiled doves" (if the girls from the bar were called soiled doves once in the first two chapters, then they were called it ten times!!) from the local bar in order to drug his drink so that he can be humiliated the next morning in front of the whole town. The plan goes awry though when Matt's older brother Clint drinks some of the whiskey by mistake, and then when Rachel accosts him in the street she cannot tell the difference between the two men because she is practically blind without her glasses. The plan was to take Matt Rafferty to the town church, get him out of his trousers and leave him there so that when the town comes to church the next morning he will be humiliated. Everything is going to plan, albeit with the wrong brother, until when Clint passes out he falls on her and she bangs herself on the head and also passes out. When the town does come to church, they find both Rachel and Clint there, and there is no choice but to marry them off because Rachel has now been compromised....o-k-a-y....

So Clint takes Rachel back to his home that he shares with his 7 brothers, and basically she finds that it is a shambles with dirty dishes everywhere, no clean clothes, so Rachel sets to cleaning up straight away...o-k-a-y...that's what I would do on my wedding day as well. However when it comes to cooking, it turns out that Rachel can't cook to save herself, she is a vegetarian in a carnivorous household, and she can't even read the recipes. Much hilarity ensures as she misreads recipe after recipe, but she still manages to gain a foothold in the hearts of all the Rafferty boys. Everything is hunky-dory until Aunt Hester arrives and takes over and Rachel runs back to her town because Rachel feels as though she is no longer needed!

This story was apparently published before her first book was even published which was kind of interesting. A frustrating 2/5

Next up The Mad Earl's Bride by Loretta Chase, and this was probably the best of the bunch. Dorian Camoys is a friend of Dain from Lord of Scoundrels, and is convinced that he is going mad, especially seeing as his mother was died as a result of her own madness, and he knows that he has similar symptoms. When Gwendolyn Adams approaches Dorian with an offer of marriage in exchange for support in setting up a hospital where she will be able to practice medicine. Seeing no other viable option, Dorian agrees. Now Countess of Rawnsley, Gwendolyn throws herself into investigating exactly what is wrong with her husband, and she comes up with a surprising answer.

There was a huge epilogue, given the size of the novella, and this story could easily have been expanded to be a complete novel. Rating 3/5

The reason why I got hold of this in the first place was for the Lisa Kleypas entry, Promises. Lidian Acland is basically on the shelf, because she is waiting for the man who she believes is the love of her life, Chance Spencer, who went off to Europe promising to come back for her. When Lord Eric de Gray catches a glimpse of Lidian he thinks she is beautiful, but vacuous. He changes his mind when she assists his sister in a dress crisis. Eric then begins a pursuit of Lidian, trying to convince her that she is wasting her time pining for Chance, especially after he finds out that Chance has actually been back in London for weeks without coming to see her. When Eric tells her that Chance has been spending time at Cravens (yes that Cravens), Lidian impulsively sneaks off at night by herself to confront him. Eric has to save her and whisks her off for a night at the pleasure gardens at Vauxhall.

Whilst this was an okay read, I guess I never really understood what drove Eric to pursue Lidian so persistently. There didn't seem to be THAT much chemistry between them. The romance between Lidian's widowed mother and Eric's reprobate uncle was a nice touch too. Rating 3/5.

And then we come to Kathleen Woodiwiss's contribution, called The Kiss. Jeff Birmingham is buying an amazing hat as a birthday present for his sister-in-law, when he comes across a young girl whose stepfather is about to sell her into marriage. Instead Jeff insists on buying her, washing her up, and marrying her himself. And that's about it. If for only the fact that this shouldn't have been the headline act...Rating 1.5/5

Overall, a disappointing 2.5/5

Friday, April 07, 2006

Lion in the Valley by Elizabeth Peters

The fourth book in the Amelia Peabody series following on from The Mummy Case, the Emersons have returned to Egypt for another fruitful season of archeology, or at least it would be if only Amelia could stop being drawn into mysteries, and from becoming involved in fixing other people's love lives!

The 1895-96 season promises to be an exceptional one for Amelia Peabody, her dashing Egyptologist husband Emerson, and their wild and precocious eight-year-old son Ramses. The much-coveted burial chamber of the Black Pyramid in Dahshoor is theirs for the digging. But there is a great evil in the wind that roils the hot sands sweeping through the bustling streets and marketplace of Cairo. The brazen moonlight abduction of Ramses -- and an expedition subsequently cursed by misfortune and death -- have alerted Amelia to the likely presence of her arch nemesis the Master Criminal, notorious looter of the living and the dead. But it is far more than ill-gotten riches that motivates the evil genius this time around. For now the most valuable and elusive prized of all is nearly in his grasp: the meddling lady archaeologist who has sworn to deliver him to justice . . . Amelia Peabody!

Within hours of arriving in Egypt, Amelia and Emerson are immersed in yet more trouble. They have gone for a romantic trip to the pyramids at night, along with many other tourists much to Emerson's disgust, but when Ramses is almost abducted, Amelia almost immediately suspects that the evil genius Master Criminal is back. Ramses is saved by an Englishman who appears to be wearing native clothes and making his way through life by begging and then spending his money on opium.

When a fellow guest at their hotel is murdered, with the finger of blame being laid at a woman who appears to have lost her judgement in relation to men, Amelia is sure that he is behind it. Emerson is frustrated by the fact that Amelia seems to see the evidence of the Master Criminal everywhere, and being determined that this season they will concentrate on archeology, they catch the next train out of Cairo. They had hired the young man who saved Ramses from abduction as his companion for the season, but when the aforementioned young woman makes her way to Amelia, it appears that the young man and the young woman have more of a connection than would seem immediately obvious.

There are a series of oddball events that occur, with visits from eccentric American tourists, titled gentlemen, yet another murder, this time someone close to Donald Fraser (Ramses saviour), eventually the identity of the killers becomes clear, but the motive is not so clear.

It turns out the nefarious Master Criminal is also a master of disguise, and manages to get quite close to Amelia more than once, but why is he so intent on doing so.

Instead of the usual competition between Amelia and Emerson to guess the identity of the murderer, this time Ramses joins in and gives his opinion, as if you could stop him, and it is left until near the end for the truth to come out, and the truth as to which of the Emerson's correctly guessed the true identity of the Master Criminal.

Ramses and the cat Bastet are their usual opinionated selves...yes, even the cat manages to communicate her opinions!! It will be interesting to see Ramses through puberty and into adulthood as I continue to read this series, for he is growing up. His parents even needed to give him the birds and the bees talk during this book...uncomfortable for every concerned.

A highly entertaining read. I'm off to the library to request the next one in the series!!

Rating 4.5/5

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Apparently my email address is bouncing for Yahoo groups so I am not able to post to the group members whenever I update! Sorry everyone. I will fix it as soon as I work out how!!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Bubbles Betrothed by Sarah Strohmeyer

This is the fifth book in the Bubbles series by Sarah Strohmeyer, and for me was again a good read.

When a murder suspect dies mid-interview, reporter Bubbles Yablonsky's notes become a hot commodity for a romance-obsessed detective, a Polish Mafioso, and a foot fetishist on the lam. If that's not enough, Bubbles' ex-husband and her studly boyfriend are making unexpected demands of the blonde sleuth. One comes with a dazzling Harry Winston rock. The other is downright dangerous. Lucky for Bubbles she's equipped to handle both.

On her first day in a real job with the Lehigh News-Times, Bubbles is thrown into a holding cell after a mix up with the security system at the local courthouse, all because she forgot to snip the threads on her new hot pink $30 dollar suit. She finds herself in a cell with Crazy Popeye, a woman who is accused of the murder of the legendary school principle Rudy Schmidt. Whilst Bubbles is taking notes during an impromptu interview with Popeye, the interviewee suddenly dies. Before long, everyone wants to get hold of her notes to see exactly what was said in the interview, including Popeye's lawyer, the police, and it appears, the Polish Mafioso. Sensing a story, Bubbles tries to interview the podatrist who owned the office where Rudy Schmidt was found dead. After getting the cold shoulder over the phone, Bubbles goes to the office, to find that it has been burgled and the good doctor, Cerisse May, is nowhere to be found. The notes become such wanted property that Bubbles is even found guilty of contempt of court by a judge and ordered to pay $100 a minute, until such time as she produced the notes, up to a maximum of $50000, a plot point that was inspired by a similar real life order.

To make her day worse, she finds out that her boyfriend, Steve Stiletto, has become engaged while he was out of town for three days! After leaving a less than pleasant message on his answer phone, Bubbles is determined to carry on her life without Steve, and so goes off to investigate an alleged sighting of the Virgin Mary in a car window each morning, from where she is abducted by the Polish Mafioso. Steve rescues her, although not before she stabs him with a letter opener that she found in the doctor's office. To be fair, she actually thought it was one of the bad guys that she stabbed, thinking that she was going to try to get away before he dumped her lifeless body into the Lehigh river! Once they calm down, Steve explains that the person who he supposedly got engaged to was actually Bubbles, as this was the only way he could stall going to work in London for six months. He therefore asks her if they could pretend to be engaged for a while.

This begins a frantic series of events where Bubbles needs to get back to Steve's mansion to erase the message on the tape before he hears it. When she arrives there, she finds Steve's cousin Rosa has come to visit for Thanksgiving, and that she has invited Steve's arch enemy from the AP News where Steve works to join them.

As Thanksgiving approaches, and the investigation continues, there are threats against Bubbles, and her daughter Jane, even her ex-husband Dan seems to have been getting threats. What is the common thread? Is there a common thread? And will pulling that common thread make the whole fabric of Bubbles' families existence come apart? It certainly seems so, with Dan's cheeseball heiress wife getting sick of him, Dan declaring his love and intention to remarry Bubbles, even though she is sporting a beautiful Harry Winston engagement ring from Harry Winston.

Whilst there are a lot of storylines converging at the end of the book, Strohmeyer manages to hold it together, whilst still poking fun at her characters and their lives, and at the end of the day, Bubbles emerges with her head held high, and her front page story intact!

I am now all caught up with the Bubbles books and will have to wait until later in the year for the next book. Hopefully the library will get this one on audiobook as well. This is the only series where I haven't read any of them, but have listened to them all!

The series in order is:

Bubbles Unbound
Bubbles in Trouble
Bubbles Ablaze
Bubbles A Broad
Bubbles Betrothed

Rating 4/5