July 2015 reads

>> Saturday, August 01, 2015

Still very busy, but I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Regular blogging should resume soon! :)


1 - Why I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming, by Mike Brown: A-
review here

Astronomer's memoir covering the discoveries that led to Pluto being demoted from being a planet. Really fun and exciting, loved it.


2 - The Casual Vacancy, by JK Rowling: A-
review here

I read this a while ago and thought it was fantastic. I reread it this month for my book club, and it held up very well to a reread. It was, however, really dispiriting to read this after the election in May. All I could think was "That vile Shirley Mollison has won".


3 - Beneath the Surface, by Kate Sherwood: B+
review coming soon

Romance between a farmer and a lawyer doing PR for a company building a gravel pit next to his (the farmer's) land. This had the mix of low-key romance and family angst that I like so much in Sherwood's books.


4 - Finders Keepers, by Stephen King: B+
review coming soon

Connected to Mr. Mercedes, which I loved (different case, but Hodges and the gang get involved). Really fun plot, all about obsession with a writer's work.


5 - Trust No One, by Jayne Ann Krentz: B-
review coming soon

The good news is that JAK has now moved completely away from the Arcane Society. The bad news is that she's still fond of overcomplicated suspense plots that really don't come off. Still, a nice enough romance and elements that were reminiscent of my favourites by her.


6 - The Ghost Network, by Catie Disabato: DNF
review coming soon

It sounded interesting: investigation into a mysterious disappearance, secret societies, a "found document" format. But I couldn't really get into it, mainly due to the fact that pretty much all the characters were celebrity-obsessed and had their heads far up their own arses.


7 - Sweet Deception, by Heather Snow: DNF
review coming soon

I'm having trouble getting into your average historical romance these days. The subversive ones I'm ok with, but the trops I used to be absolutely fine with just grate. Nothing wrong with this one, I was just rolling my eyes too hard at things like "If I'm right I get a kiss".


8 - Speak, by Louisa Hall: still reading
review coming soon

What sold me on this one were the comparisons with Cloud Atlas (I do adore David Mitchell). It's made up of several different stories from different time periods, from the 17th century to 2040, all somehow connected to the issue of artificial intelligence. Really intriguing so far.


9 - The Moor's Account, by Laila Lalami: still reading
review coming soon

On the Man Booker longlist, which I'll be reading as usual. This was the most interesting to me of the lot, so I started with it. It's an account of a doomed 16th century Spanish mission to La Florida, from an enslaved Moroccan man. So far so good.

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To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

>> Sunday, July 26, 2015

TITLE: To Kill a Mockingbird
AUTHOR: Harper Lee

COPYRIGHT: 1960
PAGES: 384
PUBLISHER: Grand Central

SETTING: 1930s Southern US
TYPE: Fiction
SERIES: Hmmm...

The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it, To Kill A Mockingbird became both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was later made into an Academy Award-winning film, also a classic.

Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior - to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos. Now with over 18 million copies in print and translated into forty languages, this regional story by a young Alabama woman claims universal appeal. Harper Lee always considered her book to be a simple love story. Today it is regarded as a masterpiece of American literature.

I thought this was going to be a reread. When we decided to pick To Kill a Mockingbird for my book club, I thought "Good, I haven't read it in ages!". But when I started reading it, I quickly realised that I actually never had before. I might have watched the film, and I have certainly read many a discussion about it, but this was my first proper read of the book, and it was an interesting experience.

I read it in May, long before Go Set A Watchman came out, and intended to post a review before then. I made my usual disjointed notes as soon as I finished it, but then I hit a really busy patch in the last few months and all blogging went out the window. It would be pretty much impossible to write a review now that's not coloured by what I've heard about Watchman, so what I'll do is to simply copy those few notes (with some minor edits for grammar and readability -they really were disjointed!) below and be done with it:

- I didn't expect the humour. There were scenes that had me laughing out loud, like Scout's first teacher and the ladies' tea party.

- The characters, even many of the secondary ones, are so well-realised that I could see the events in this book being written from several points of view. The story would then be about something else, though. Which might not be a bad thing...

- From all I knew about it, I expected the book to be about Tom Robinson's case and the trial. It wasn't. It was about Scout and Jem growing up and understanding the world they're living in. Tom Robinson's story was unimportant, other than as an example of injustice. The whole point of it was to be the catalyst for Scout and Jem's coming of age. Very uncomfortable about that. Feels like when the whole point of a disabled character is to change the life of the able-bodied protagonist, that sort of thing.

- This reminded me of Lean In, in that it seems to be all about learning to live in a fundamentally unfair, imperfect system and how to manipulate it to get a little bit of justice. I lost a lot of respect for Atticus for seeing enough value in the system to want to continue living in it, to think it was worth the effort. Probably immature of me. I wanted him to want to change the system. I wanted him to recognise that a system that works as his society did has no value. I wanted him to want to say "fuck the system" and want to tear it down and burn it to pieces. Because that society? That's what should have happened to it. And someone who would be part of a lynch mob is not "basically a good man", just with some blind spots. I found that attitude really troubling.

MY GRADE: It feels like sacrilege, but although I recognise how good a writer Lee was and I enjoyed the story while I was reading it, too much about it bothered me. It was a B for me.

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Why I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming, by Mike Brown

>> Friday, July 24, 2015

TITLE: Why I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming
AUTHOR: Mike Brown

COPYRIGHT: 2010
PAGES: 288
PUBLISHER: Spiegel & Grau

SETTING: Contemporary
TYPE: Non Fiction
SERIES: None

The solar system most of us grew up with included nine planets, with Mercury closest to the sun and Pluto at the outer edge. Then, in 2005, astronomer Mike Brown made the discovery of a lifetime: a tenth planet, Eris, slightly bigger than Pluto. But instead of adding one more planet to our solar system, Brown’s find ignited a firestorm of controversy that culminated in the demotion of Pluto from real planet to the newly coined category of “dwarf” planet. Suddenly Brown was receiving hate mail from schoolchildren and being bombarded by TV reporters—all because of the discovery he had spent years searching for and a lifetime dreaming about.

A heartfelt and personal journey filled with both humor and drama, How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming is the book for anyone, young or old, who has ever imagined exploring the universe—and who among us hasn’t?

The excitement about the wonderful pictures of Pluto coming from the New Horizons probe reminded me that I had this audiobook in my mp3 player. There wasn't going to be a better time to listen to it!

This is basically a memoir, covering the years in the early-mid 2000s when Brown, an astronomer at Caltech, was heading a succession of projects looking for planets. These projects culminated in a discovery that forced astronomers to reconsider the very definition of what "planets" are. And thus, Pluto's demotion from one of the planets to a "dwarf planet", one of many, and Mike Brown's alter-ego of "Pluto killer".

I loved every minute I spent listening to this audiobook. The science is pitched just right. I know very little about astronomy, but I'm a reasonably intelligent layperson. Brown's explanations had the perfect amount of technical detail, explained in a way that made sense but didn't feel oversimplified or patronising. I have a much better idea now of what an astronomer like him does day to day (including doing a surprising amount of reading about mythology, if they ever discover anything significant!). Most importantly, Brown really conveyed the wonder and awe of his work, what makes the drudgery worth it!

But it's not all descriptions of solid science. There's a surprising amount of skullduggery and plotting and detective work, and this is even before we get to the section on the politicking around the reclassification of Pluto. Those sections were incredibly exciting. I was lucky enough that I was just getting on a train as that part started, so I spent all 2 hours of the journey just sitting there, listening intently.

There's also a really nice balance between the astronomy and the personal stuff. Brown meets his wife around the time when his planet-hunting projects are getting started, and his daughter is born, with great timing, exactly in the middle of a spate of important discoveries. While not the focus of the book, these elements really enhance the astronomy sections and give them yet another layer of meaning.

It all works so well because Brown is a wonderful narrator (that is, someone else reads the audiobook, I mean narrator as in the person from whose 1st-person POV we see the action). He comes across as endearing, both in his enthusiasm about astronomy and the way he's clearly besotted with his wife and daughter. And I appreciated that in the sections where he's basically accusing other scientists of wrong-doing, he seems to be making the effort to be even-handed and give them the benefit of the doubt. I did try to keep in mind that I was getting only Brown's side of the story, so I have done a bit of googling to read the other scientists' accounts, but I didn't find those very convincing. They did make me wonder, though, if the situation had been reversed and it had been Spanish astronomers accusing a US team of the same things, with the same evidence, if they would have had the same reaction from the astronomy establishment.

A fantastic book, and one I highly recommend, even for readers who are not particularly interested in astronomy (by the end of this, you will be!)

MY GRADE: An A-.

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The Liar, by Nora Roberts

>> Sunday, June 21, 2015

TITLE: The Liar
AUTHOR: Nora Roberts

COPYRIGHT: 2015
PAGES: 512
PUBLISHER: Putnam

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: None

Shelby Foxworth lost her husband. Then she lost her illusions...

The man who took her from Tennessee to an exclusive Philadelphia suburb left her in crippling debt. He was an adulterer and a liar, and when Shelby tracks down his safe-deposit box, she finds multiple IDs. The man she loved wasn’t just dead. He never really existed.

Shelby takes her three-year-old daughter and heads south to seek comfort in her hometown, where she meets someone new: Griff Lott, a successful contractor. But her husband had secrets she has yet to discover. Even in this small town, surrounded by loved ones, danger is closer than she knows—and threatens Griff, as well. And an attempted murder is only the beginning...

I've long been a Nora Roberts fan, although there were periods where some of her books went in directions I didn't like (e.g. her 'glitz and glamour' single titles in the late 80s early 90s). Nora and I kind of are in a period like that now. The In Death books are still hitting the spot, but I haven't been in love with her latest few single title Romantic Suspense novels, nor with her latest trilogy. I still read them them, though, and I picked up The Liar soon after it came out.

Shelby Pomeroy married very young. Her husband was a rich, powerful asshole type, and he gradually undermined her and isolated her from her close-knit Tennessee family. Four years after the wedding, Shelby feels she's worthless and stupid and can't do anything right. Richard doesn't abuse her physically, but he does in every other way, and he controls every detail of her life.

And then the yacht in which Richard was taking a holiday sinks in a storm (Shelby and her young daughter, Callie, were supposed to be with him, but Callie got sick and Richard decided to go on holiday on his own, which tells you a lot about the relationship!). His body is never recovered, but it's clear enough to the authorities that he's dead that Shelby gets the power of attorney necessary to deal with his business (would this happen? Not sure, but I wasn't too bothered and just read on). And when she starts looking into Richard's financial affairs, which she knew absolutely nothing about, she gets a surprise. Their entire life is basically a house of cards, built on massive debts.

And it turns out that this is not the worst of it. It soon becomes clear to Shelby that Richard wasn't simply a crap businessman, but a criminal. And when Shelby decides to move back to her family in Tennessee, the trouble he created follows her there.

I have mixed feelings about The Liar. I enjoyed a lot about it, but there were several major niggles.

I liked how the core of the book is about Shelby building a life for herself after her emotionally abusive marriage. It all starts out with a bit of over-the-top competence porn, as she sells off everything she can to begin paying the massive debts Richard's left her with. This was done in excrutiating detail, but it did establish who Shelby was (as did the fact that she's determined to pay this debt that she could probably have got out of quite legitimately... I know I would have not done what she did). Once she's back in Tennessee her rebuilding is better integrated into the story and the romance, but just as impressive. And it's not just about rebuilding a material life, it's also about rebuilding the relationships that have been damaged by neglect. I particularly liked seeing her tending to her relationship with the woman who used to be her best friend and who was really hurt when Shelby basically cut off communications.

The romance was also nice (much nicer than the fact that I haven't mentioned it up to now might indicate). Griff is your typical Nora Roberts hero: hunky, beta, works with his hands, and is completely bowled over by Shelby the minute he sees her. He's also almost as bowled over by Callie. There's not much internal conflict here, beyond a half-hearted "how can I trust a man again after what Richard did" moment from Shelby, which means the romance is pretty low-key. However, I did like it, and I loved that Griff supports Shelby's rebuilding but doesn't seek to take it over and do it for her.

And now we come to the niggles, and the first is Shelby's family. I had some trouble with them. Part of it, I suspect with embarrassment, might be internalised snobbery on my part. But not all. They are nice, but they felt to me like the kind of "traditional" people who would disapprove of vegetarians and think they're doing it for the attention -you know what I mean? Shelby's mother and grandmother also constantly police her femininity, which got my back up. It's all aggressively heteronormative. Nothing wrong with conforming to societal norms if that's actually what brings you satisfaction (and I did buy that this was the case for the characters here), but I tend to prefer a little bit more subversion in my stories. I did like that Shelby was disturbed by the constant "I'm glad Griff is now taking care of you" from everyone, and that she does save herself in the end, but it wasn't enough.

Another thing that put my back up is how the town is portrayed. It's presented as a wonderful place, somewhere where Shelby can be protected and where people have got her back, but what I couldn't help but see in that was the unfairness of it. It's the way you only get that wonderfulness if you are an insider, "one of us". As an outsider, you don't even get your basic rights respected. Take, for instance, a character who's a private detective and is looking at Shelby. Thinking about it from his point of view, Shelby is suspicious and there's a good chance she knows what her husband did with the money (I mean, a woman living with a man for 5 years and honestly having no idea what he did for money? Hmmm). Investigating her is perfectly legitimate. The guy's actions in coming into her house on false pretenses at the beginning were questionable, but once he follows her to Rendezvous Ridge and starts asking people about her, it's all completely above board. And yet what the guy gets for his troubles is Shelby's cop brother harassing him and forbidding him from doing his perfectly legitimate job, under threat of being thrown in jail (because the judge is a distant cousin, and won't look kindly on someone doing something that upsets his sweet cousin Shelby). I cry foul, especially because there's zero awareness that this is a problem.

I also didn't think the suspense plot was great, mainly because the big surprise is just incredibly predictable, to the point that I'm almost sure that revealing it here wouldn't be a spoiler. Surely we as readers are meant to know that in a book, if someone dies and his body isn't found, they're obviously not actually dead? I get the feeling, though, that it's meant to be a surprise. There isn't a knowing tone in how it's written, it's dead serious. To be honest, I kind of thought less of Shelby and Griff's intelligence for never even thinking of it, even when things about Richard started being revealed. And Richard himself didn't feel particularly believable, especially in the final confrontation. Too much of a cartoon villain.

Finally (and this will seal my status as a total grinch) every time little Callie came on I felt I was in danger of going into a diabetic coma.

MY GRADE: I'm hovering between a C+ and a B-. I think it's a B-, as the issues I had with it didn't really ruin my enjoyment.

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April 2015 reads

>> Sunday, May 10, 2015

I'm very late with this, but I've been on holiday and then really busy on my return (not to mention, feeling pretty depressed and disheartened after the UK election result, so I haven't really been in the mood for blogging, or even reading). Anyway, here's what I read in April.


1 - A Civil Campaign, by Lois McMaster Bujold: A
review coming soon

Culmination of the romance between Miles and his lady-love. Perfection!


2 - Shining Through, by Susan Isaacs: A
review coming soon

Reread of an old favourite, which has stood up wonderfully. It tells the story of Linda Voss, who at the start of the book is a legal secretary in 1940 New York. She doesn't stay a secretary for very long, let me tell you! Fun plot, great characters and I love Isaacs' voice.


3 - Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell: B+
review coming soon

YA. Coming of age story. It features a socially awkward heroine who writes fanfic, and it was lovely to see her come out of her shell and start making a life *for herself*.


4 - The Shape of My Heart, by Ann Aguirre: B+
review coming soon

New Adult, third in a series which I love because it has characters who feel real. This one might be my favourite.


5 - The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers: B+
review coming soon

Sci-fi. It's basically about the multi-species crew of a spaceship having adventures, but it's very character-focused. I really liked it.


6 - The Three, by Sarah Lotz: B
review here

Horror. Four simultaneous plane crashes, 3 child survivors, people convinced something's not quite right with them. Creepy as hell. Not a great ending, but that was ok.


7 - Obsession in Death, by JD Robb: B
review here

Someone is obsessed with Eve and starts killing her "enemies" as a favour to her. Good, although there's a lot of reference to earlier books and I struggled to remember them.


8 - The Shamless Hour, by Sarina Bowen: B-
review coming soon

New Adult. I liked that it's about a heroine who loves sex and is unashamed of having lots of it, but I wasn't really crazy about the romance. And the crap Spanish annoyed me.


9 - Otherwise Engaged, by Amanda Quick: C+
review here

Historical romance. Good start, but lost steam. JAK always overcomplicates her mystery subplots.


10 - The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 7, by Maxim Jakubowski (editor) and many authors: DNF
review here

Anthology containing a huge number of stories. I read about a quarter of them and they didn't appeal. Since they are all chosen by the same person and our tastes clearly don't match, I didn't see any point in reading the rest.


11 - To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee: still reading
review coming soon

Reread (I think. I'm pretty sure I did read it once, but many, many years ago). I'm really enjoying it, but I must admit that a big part of me bristles at the message that we must respect the views of even vile racists.


12 - Temeraire, by Naomi Novik: still listening
review coming soon

Fantasy, set in a version of the 19th century where dragons exist and the different countries' armed forces use them as weapons. The protagonist is a sea captain who accidentally bonds with a hatchling, which turns his life upside down. I'm liking it very much.


13 - Shadow Scale, by Rachel Hartman: still reading
review coming soon

Second in a series. I loved the first book, Seraphina, but I'm finding myself a bit bored with this one.

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May 2015 wish list

>> Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Some good ones coming up in May, although several here I'm really not sure are my thing.

Books I'm definitely planning to get


Once Upon a Marquess, by Courtney Milan (May 2015)

There's never a firm release date with Milan's books, but according to her website this will be out in April or May, so here's hoping it's early in the month. It sounds great, but Milan is an autobuy author, so I'd buy it whatever it was about.





A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (May 5)

This is a companion to Life After Life, which I loved.





Day Four, by Sarah Lotz (May 21)

I recently read Lotz's The Three and thoroughly enjoyed it. This seems to be along the same lines, so I'll be reading it.



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


Sacrati by Kate Sherwood (May 4)

I'm not sure about this one at all. I love Sherwood's contemporaries because they're so grounded and real. This is fantastical and features slaves and possibly (from what I can glean from the blurb) a 'gay-four-you' plot. Not my sort of thing, but I might try this anyway.





Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace (May 5)

I added this one to my wish list a while ago based on someone's comments about it. I remember that much, but I can't remember exactly what this person said! It does sound quite interesting and different!





A Year of Living Danishly: My Twelve Months Unearthing the Secrets of the World's Happiest Country by Helen Russell (May 12)

I have a bit of an obsession with Scandinavia, so I might give this a try.





The Shore by Sara Taylor (May 26)

Not sure, sounds like a bit too much misery for my taste, but the blurb includes the line "Through a series of interconnecting narratives that recalls the work of David Mitchell and Jennifer Egan..." which does tempt me!





Sweet Agony, by Charlotte Stein (May 28)

I haven't liked all of Stein's books, but I keep picking up her new ones!

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Komarr, by Lois McMaster Bujold

>> Monday, April 27, 2015

TITLE: Komarr
AUTHOR: Lois McMaster Bujold

COPYRIGHT: 1998
PAGES: 384
PUBLISHER: Baen

SETTING: Futuristic
TYPE: Sci-fi
SERIES: 8th full-length title in the Vorkosigan series

Accident or Treachery? Komarr could be a garden-with a thousand more years work. or an uninhabitable wasteland, if the terraforming fails. Now the solar mirror vital to the terraforming of the conquered planet has been shattered by a ship hurtling off course. The Emperor of Barrayar sends his newest Imperial Auditor, Lord Miles Vorkosigan, to find out why.

The choice is not a popular one on Komarr, where a betrayal a generation before drenched the name of Vorkosigan in blood. In the political and physical claustrophobia of the domed cities, are the Komarrans surrounding Miles loyal subjects, potential hostages, innocent victims, or rebels bidding for revenge? Lies within lies, treachery within treachery-Miles is caught in a race against time to stop a plot that could exile him from Barrayar forever. His burning hope lies in an unexpected ally, one with wounds as deep and honor as beleaguered as his own.

I feel like a bit of a broken record, but best include the warning anyway: spoilers below for earlier books in the series! So if you haven't read those, just go and do so. Please, you won't regret it!

In Komarr, we see Miles in his new life. His supposedly temporary appointment as Imperial Auditor was made a permanent one at the end of Memory, and he's been assigned his first proper case. A ship has crashed into the Soletta Array, a system of solar mirrors that is crucial for the planet of Komarr to get enough sunlight for terraforming to take. It was a bit of an inexplicable accident, and given Komarr's history of rebellion against their Barrayarran Imperial masters, ImpSec want to be sure they can rule out sabotage. Thus, Miles is dispatched to investigate, together with a fellow and more experienced Imperial Auditor, Professor Vorthys.

But things get more complicated than expected. The Soletta incident has some bizarre characteristics, and there's also clearly something amiss in the terraforming project. Not to mention the personal entanglements. Professor Vorthys has family in Komarr, a niece who is married to one of the Barrayarran administrators. He and Miles stay with them, and the better Miles comes to know Ekaterin Vorsoisson, the more he likes her.

I enjoyed every minute I was reading Komarr. The investigation is twisty and really well done (Miles does NOT get involved in easy cases), and I was riveted by the embryonic romance. First of all, it was interesting to see Miles, right from the beginning, from a woman's point of view (the POV switches from Ekaterin and Miles). And Ekaterin herself was... unexpected. I, like most of his family, expected Miles would end up falling in love properly with some sort of exciting galactic lover, like the imposing women he's so often got involved with. Ekaterin is not that. She is, to all appearances, the perfect proper Vor lady. She married young and had a child and her life is subsumed in supporting her Vor husband. She's serene and demure. But her life hasn't been easy, and it becomes clear that her imperturbable serenity is more a defense mechanism than a part of her personality. It was particularly interesting to see her marriage in real time at the beginning of the book, rather than in some sort of flashback. It wasn't an over-the-top abusive marriage, but it was quite clear how her husband's emotional manipulation ground her down. It was sad and frustrating and oppressive, rather than scary. And by the end of the book, we see that Ekaterin is just as impressive as Miles' previous girlfriends, just in her own way.

I also loved the secondary characters: Ekaterin's Uncle and Aunt Vorthys and her son, Nicky (who's not some perfect plot moppet). Even Ekaterin's husband was well done, and felt completely real. Not to mention the setting, which gives us the opportunity to see more about how Barrayar is seen from the outside.

The thing is, Komarr didn't feel quite as satisfying as the previous few books have. I think that might be because it felt like Miles was having it too easy. Bujold has got me used to a certain approach, which is basically her putting her characters through the wringer and facing them with the very things they fear. This doesn't happen here. Miles' professional situation is stable and assured. He's in a job that's perfectly suited to his intellectual talents, but where there isn't (or rather, shouldn't be) very much risk, physical or careerwise. His status ensures that all those around him defer to him and scramble to do his bidding. He enjoys the respect of his peers, whom he respects just as well. I thought at the beginning that the angst was going to come from the fact that the woman to attract his attention is married. But even that obstacle disappears quite easily, and then the only thing between him and his objective is that Ekaterin has had a bad marriage and is now understandably skittish.

What it comes down to, I think, is that Miles is in an unusual position of power all through this book, where he can even dictate to ImpSec. For all his extremely privileged upbringing and background, circumstances conspire in all the previous books to put him at a disadvantage and having to struggle to overcome this. In previous books, I've always been afraid for him. I wasn't here. It makes the book very pleasurable to read, and I loved it, but it didn't punch me in the gut, like pretty much all the previous ones have.

On to A Civil Campaign!

MY GRADE: A B+.

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Tempting the Player, by Kat Latham

>> Saturday, April 25, 2015

TITLE: Tempting the Player
AUTHOR: Kat Latham

COPYRIGHT: 2014
PAGES: 228
PUBLISHER: Carina Press

SETTING: Contemporary UK
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 3rd in the London Legends series

Libby Hart and Matt Ogden are perfect for each other—as friends. They've known each other for ages. They act as each other's plus-ones. They even share custody of a dog. And if there's always been a little spark between them, so what? It's never been worth jeopardizing their friendship.

Professional rugby player Matt is fighting for a starter position with the London Legends—and that's not the only thing he's fighting. A crippling fear of flying means he's struggling to get his career off the ground. He has no time for a relationship, even if Libby does make him ache. As an airline pilot, Libby's looking for a stay-at-home husband so she can have a family without sacrificing her high-flying career. Matt's certainly not that man.

But just because they don't have a future together doesn't mean they can't have a right now. When Matt asks Libby for help overcoming his fear, they agree to take a vacation from their platonic relationship—whenever they fly together, they can have sex. It's the perfect way to resolve all that built-up tension. As long as they can avoid getting a little too comfortable...

I've accumulated a fair few sports romances in the last few years, especially those with less common sports. I'm not into the celebrity fantasy and do not care to read about superstar athletes, so the less blockbuster sports tend to work better for me. Latham's books feature heroes who play Rugby Union, which is a sport I like (much as I love Rugby League, good adopted Northerner that I am). It fits the bill for me quite well, because while the top players are superstars and get the press attention and celebrity treatment, your average Premiership player gets a good but definitely not obscene salary and attention only if he does something outrageous.

The hero of this book is definitely in the latter category. Matt Ogden is actually struggling to get into his team, even fearing his contract might not be renewed at the end of the season. And his fear of flying isn't helping his cause. The team has to do a fair bit of travelling to away games, and every time it's a big drama.

Matt's neighbour, Libby, is the perfect person to help. Libby is a pilot, and she's got some ideas about how to get Matt over his fears.

Matt and Libby have been attracted to each other for quite a while, but both know they are not well-suited. Libby's pilot father, whom she adores, was a terrible husband. For reasons that made very little sense to me, this has led Libby to the conclusion that the only way she can be happy is by getting married to a man who's happy to stay home with their children. And Matt, younger than her and only just building a career of his own, is definitely not that man.

But the time they spend together while dealing with Matt's fears of flying feels like time outside of their usual lives, and they give in to temptation.

This was disappointing. Oh, there was a lot here I liked. I liked that Libby is confident and self-assured and good at her job. I liked that Matt is in a bit of a vulnerable position in his work, having moved to a bigger team from one in which he was the big star, and having found it hard to break into the starting line-up. His confidence is way down, and when he finally gets a break (in circumstances that are really sad), he's terrified of having his fear of flying mess everything up. Most athlete heroes are incredibly amazing and top of their fields, so this element was refreshing. I also liked that Matt and Libby are friends at the outset, and feel comfortable with each other. They co-parent a dog called Princess, which added some really nice moments.

All the other stuff, however, was not so great. I basically found the conflict unbelievable. The motivations, especially on Libby's end, didn't quite work. As I suggested when describing her big plan of demanding that any man she marries is a stay-at-home dad, I didn't get why her father's infidelities and him being a pilot would lead to her being so convinced that this is the only way forward for her. Also, while on one hand, I liked that Libby values her career and absolutely will not give it up, it felt like such an obviously bad idea. It’s so rigid, putting the fatherhood role above the relationship between her and her future husband. I’d have huge issues if it was the hero who did it, and it bothered me here as well.

I also hated the characterisation of Matt's horrible, evil first wife, whose fault it's intimated it is that Matt is a bit of a commitment-phobe. She's such a stereotype. She ‘trapped’ Matt into marriage, cheated on him with lots of men, told him about it in the most hurtful way possible, ensuring he destroyed his career at his club, threatened to go to the papers if he didn’t give her more money... need I go on? This was cartoonish and annoying. I’m getting quite sensitive to this sort of thing, to the point that if a review mentions a book has an evil other woman, I’m much less likely to buy the book.

This is the third in a series of connected books, and we see quite a bit of the previous couples and there are some suggestions that other characters will get their own stories. Nothing I saw here tempts me to read any of these.

MY GRADE: A C.

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The Three, by Sarah Lotz

>> Thursday, April 23, 2015

TITLE: The Three
AUTHOR: Sarah Lotz

COPYRIGHT: 2014
PAGES: 480
PUBLISHER: Hodder & Stoughton

SETTING: Contemporary, varied locations
TYPE: Horror
SERIES: None

They're here ... The boy. The boy watch the boy watch the dead people oh Lordy there's so many ... They're coming for me now. We're all going soon. All of us. Pastor Len warn them that the boy he's not to--

The last words of Pamela May Donald (1961 - 2012)

Black Thursday. The day that will never be forgotten. The day that four passenger planes crash, at almost exactly the same moment, at four different points around the globe.

There are only four survivors. Three are children, who emerge from the wreckage seemingly unhurt. But they are not unchanged. And the fourth is Pamela May Donald, who lives just long enough to record a voice message on her phone. A message that will change the world.

The message is a warning.

Pamela May Donald is on her way to visit her daughter, who's teaching in Japan, when her commuter plane crashes into a forest. We're with her as the plane goes down. We're also with her she lies dying on the cold ground, terrified by what she's seeing, and as she records a voice message on her mobile phone.

And then the perspective changes. It's months later, and we're reading a book published by an author who's been investigating the disturbing events sparked off by "Black Thursday". Because Pamela's plane wasn't the only one that went down that day. There were 4, each in a different continent. And in 3 of them, a single child survived.

Through fragments of different materials (interviews, chat transcripts, reports), we find out more about what it was that happened after the crashes. At first we only know that it was something really disturbing and that all sorts of conspiracy theories have flourished, and Lotz only gradually gives us more details.

The Three was terrifying. I read it compulsively, but I had to stop myself at least an hour before going to bed and read something fluffy and nice, otherwise I knew I'd have nightmares all night (that said, I did have a very strange dream the first night... David Cameron was reading me a socialist version of a Dr. Seuss book. Inexplicable).

The events that are being described are creepy enough. The children survivors are clearly a bit 'off', but the ways in which this is the case are really well done. The little girl, especially. *shivers* And the structure really helped. Having the narrator/compiler have the benefit of hindsight worked to ratchet up the dread. Even the innocuous, straightforward sections at the beginning, before people are really aware that something's wrong, were given a whole new perspective by the little introductory paragraphs. For instance, before the first chat transcript between two Japanese teens, one of whom is the cousin of one of the crash survivors, we're told these were recovered from their computers. I shivered. These little hints didn't feel annoying or manipulative, as they were exactly what an author would write if she was certain her readers would know what had happened already. It really worked.

I know some people have trouble with this sort of "found material" approach (the complaints I've seen centre around there not being a protagonist), but I love it. It almost always works for me, and it did so here. It wasn't perfect, mainly because if you have so many different voices they do have to sound different, and some of them didn't. The chatting Japanese teens, for instance, didn't ring 100% true and sounded a bit too similar to others. But on the whole, this was great. I loved having the different perspectives, and I loved that we had a sort of double layer of unreliable narrators. You don't know if the people telling their stories are being truthful or are lying (or even whether they're completely deluded and psychotic). You also don't know whether the author compiling the material, who ends up being a character in her own right, has an agenda, and is therefore manipulating what bits and pieces get included in the book. This structure worked beautifully with the subject matter.

For all that I enjoyed the hell out of these books, I did have some niggles. Mostly it raced along, but there was a spell round the middle where it felt like the narrative was going round in circles. The forward momentum was resumed after a while, but those sections needed better editing. I was also a bit queasy about some of the US characters, mainly Pastor Len and the people who start following him and his end-of-times theories. These characters felt a little too cartoonish, too unsubtle.

The big problem I had, though, was with the ending. No spoilers here, I'll be quite general. A lot of the enjoyment in this book was in the journey, the mysterious events and the wondering about just what on earth is going on, but you do need some sort of resolution. Lotz gives us one here, of a sort. It's not something definite, and the reader needs to decide what she thinks it means, but it's something. It felt unsatisfying, though. What I interpreted explained some things, but for a lot of them I still thought "But why would they...?". I'm not sure if the problem is in my interpretation or in us not being given enough to go on, but reading other reviews, it sounds like it might be the latter. Anyway, if any of you have read it, I'd love to discuss the ending, to see if you've reached the same conclusions I did.

Even with a problematic ending, I still really liked this. Lotz has another similar-sounding book coming out (not a sequel, but seemingly connected to this in some way), and I'll definitely be buying that.

MY GRADE: A B.

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Otherwise Engaged, by Amanda Quick

>> Tuesday, April 21, 2015

TITLE: Otherwise Engaged
AUTHOR: Amanda Quick

COPYRIGHT: 2014
PAGES: 352
PUBLISHER: Putnam

SETTING: Victorian England (mostly)
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: None

One does not expect to be kidnapped on a London street in broad daylight. Yet Amity Doncaster barely escapes with her life after meeting a man in a black silk mask who whispers the most vile taunts and threats into her ear. Her quick thinking, and her secret weapon, save her - for now.

But the monster known in the press as the Bridegroom has left a trail of female victims in his wake, and will soon be on his feet again. He is unwholesomely obsessed by Amity's scandalous connection to Benedict Stanbridge - and Benedict refuses to let this resourceful, daring woman suffer for her romantic link to him-as tenuous as it may be.

For a man and woman so skilled at disappearing, so at home in the exotic reaches of the globe, escape is always an option. But each intends to end the Bridegroom's reign of terror in the heart of the city they love, which means they must also face feelings neither of them can run away from...

Otherwise Engaged has a very exciting start, one that had me hoping that we were back to vintage Amanda Quick and eager to know what would come next.

Amity Doncaster is an explorer and an adventurer. Her accounts of her travels in the Flying Intelligencer are very popular and have gained her a nice following. Her latest trip has taken her to the Caribbean, and it's while on one of the islands that she hears someone calling her from a dark alley.

Amity is a sensible, intelligent woman, so she doesn't just go haring in. Cautious reconnoitering brings her to Benedict Stanbridge's aid. Benedict has been attacked and left to die in the alley, and he's desperate for someone to take a letter to safety. Amity agrees to do that, but she can do more. Her father was an excellent doctor, and through her travels with him she's learnt enough medical skills to be very good in an emergency. She performs some first aid and helps Benedict back to her ship (where he also has a cabin booked) and nurses him back to health.

He recovers and during their time on board while the ship travels to New York, they become close. But Amity is on her way back to London, while Benedict must go to California, for reasons he can't disclose (just as he can't talk about what happened back in the island and what was in that letter that was so important). He promises he will tell Amity the truth as soon as he's able, though, and promises to look her up when he's back in London.

The action moves to London some months later, when Amity is kidnapped by a serial killer known as The Bridegroom, who's been terrorising London. Amity manages to escape and we're told this makes her notorious for the second time. Why the second time, we readers wonder? A clue might be in why The Bridegroom claims he choose her as his next victim: she must not be allowed to trick an honourable man like Benedict Stanbridge into marriage. Huh? I couldn't wait to find out what was going on.

And then... it all got boring and plodding. Benedict and Amity team up with her sister and a police detective to try to discover the identity of the Bridegroom. There's also stuff going on around the secret mission Benedict was on when he was injured in the island, with someone (probably in the employ of the Russians!) chasing after the stuff he discovered.

That element was pretty bad. The suspense plot was preposterous and overcomplicated. Seriously, the conclusion was ridiculous, with 3 (count them, 3!) different villains operating quasi-independently and with motivations that, in two of the three cases, were basically "this person is insane". And the investigation was painfully predictable. Quick includes a particular scene in every single book she writes. The hero and heroine call on someone for information. They find the place deserted but go in anyway, and find that person collapsed in a pool of blood. Sometimes they're dead, sometimes merely knocked out. But they're always out cold. I sometimes wonder if she does it on purpose, as a sort of challenge. It's annoying, to be honest.

Also, Quick's writing is driving me crazy lately. She is painfully unsubtle. She bangs home every single point and logical deduction several times. It's as if she feels we readers are stupid. To be fair, I have only noticed this since I started listening to her books on audio, so it might be that the mind slides over it without noticing in written format. I'll be reading the next one, rather than listen to it (and I will read the next one; I'm not quite ready to give her up).

My review so far is mainly moaning, but I didn't hate this. The romance is kind of nice, and I liked Amity's sister and the supportive relationship those two have. I also liked the touches of humour, like the housekeeper, who's just as enthusiastic as her bosses about the investigation (and as effective in her enquiries!). And Benedict is cool. He's an engineer and wants nothing more than to be rid off this spy stuff and go back to engineering. Nice characters, all, but pretty thin.

MY GRADE: A C.

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