Tuesday, June 26, 2012

EENY MEENY MINY MOE


TITLE: EENY MEENY MINY MOE
AUTHOR: JOANNA PRICE
Pages: 246
Date: 26/06/2012
Grade: 4.5
Details: no. 2 DS Kate Linton
            Received from Book Geeks
Own

Lauren Hampton used to be a famous model; in fact, many regarded her as Britain’s first supermodel. Those years are far behind her now and there is little left of her beauty when she’s found in her house, dead with a plastic supermarket-bag over her head.
When Detective Sergeant Kate Linton receives the call summoning her to the crime-scene she is in a Glastonbury theatre watching a production of Beauty and the Beast staring, as coincidence would have it, Lauren’s son Mark as the Beast.
When Kate and her superior, the very attractive Detective Inspector Rob Brown, start their investigation it soon becomes clear that the victim was universally disliked. It seems that only her son Mark has anything nice to say about the woman and even his remarks sound more like excuses.
While Brown is soon convinced that Mark Hampton is the most likely suspect, Kate doubts this assessment, not in the least since Mark appears to have a very solid alibi and goes out of his way to be charming and cooperative. And with Rob Brown apparently not at all interested in Kate’s advances, Hampton’s attention does wonders for her self-esteem.
At the same time the Glastonbury force is investigating a series of brutal rapes; attacks on women that become increasingly violent and become very personal when Kate’s best friend falls victim to the man.
With both cases suffering from a desperate lack of concrete evidence frustration is running high. And when Kate’s plan to seduce her superior goes to ruin she indivertibly puts herself in a situation that may well end up killing her.

This is a good mystery, with multiple credible suspects and motives. In fact, it is very hard to find a single likeable character amongst those who are connected to Lauren Hampton. And with the victim being as nasty as she was, it was easy to see why any of those around her might have wanted to put an end to her life.
This is also a very well written police procedural. The way the case is investigated and the evidence collected rings true as does the frustration when the available evidence does nothing to help Linton and Brown solve their case.
I really liked that the solution to both the murder and the rape case made perfect sense yet did come as a surprise. There were no sudden, explosive revelations to make the resolution possible. Because the story is told from multiple points of view, the reader gets bits of background information all through the story. This means that all the necessary information was there for the reader to find, yet submitted in such a way that the solution wasn’t a foregone conclusion.

The dynamics between Kate and Rob are interesting and fun. I enjoyed watching the two of them circling around each other, not really getting anywhere and never admitting to what they feel, yet unable to leave each other alone. I’m looking forward to finding out how the relationship between these two characters will develop over future books. From what we’ve seen so far it is clear that whatever happens next, it won’t be boring.

In short, this was a good and well written mystery, set in fascinating surroundings and with characters that grab the reader’s interest. I’m looking forwards to reading more books in this series.

Monday, June 25, 2012

THE RIVER WITCH


TITLE: THE RIVER WITCH
AUTHOR: KIMBERLY BROCK
PAGES: 246 (approx)
Date: 25/06/2012
Grade:5-
Details: Received from Bell Bridge Books
            Through NetGalley
Own

“The only thing that really ever haunts a person is a regret.”

Roslyn Byrne is twenty-four years old and feels her life is over.
Formerly a professional ballet dancer she lost her career in a car wreck. When she loses the baby she wasn’t sure she wanted during a premature and lone birth she also loses a bit of her mind and most of herself.
With the future seemingly without any prospects, Roslyn yearns for the past and the Appalachian foothills where her grandmother lived until her recent death and was part of a gospel singing group.
Warned against travelling back to what used to be her home by her mother, Roslyn instead travels to Manny’s Island, Georgia for the summer bringing her granny’s music with her.
On the island the broken dancer meets ten-year-old Damascus Trezevant, a girl with her own broken heart, looking for a way to mend her life with the aid of pumpkin seeds.
When Roslyn reluctantly gets involved with Damascus and her family she finds herself stumbling into a world where superstition and hoodoo magic are part of everyday life and where blind alligators will find their way into your home.
Over the course of the summer Roslyn has to find a new purpose for her life and the Trezevant family has to bury the ghosts from the past in order to move forwards. It will be a time of pain and dashed hopes as well as insights that lead to new opportunities.

This is a beautiful and very well written story. Roslyn’s pain and despair are palatable for the reader as are Damascus’ childish yet very recognisable hopes.
The setting of Manny’s Island is equally haunting and beautiful. The descriptions of the place make it easy to believe that magic could and would happen there, without turning the island into a Fantasy Island style paradise. In fact, paradise is far removed from Manny’s Island and those who live there, except that it is a place where some may find hope and redemption.

There are no easy, happy endings in this book. This is real life where hard-knocks come to people and they have to deal with them best they can regardless of their age, history or past mistakes.
I admire the author for not taking what early on in the book seemed to be the easy and predictable way out. It made this story more real, if a lot sadder.

I’m not at all surprised that this book comes with a host of very positive editorial reviews; it deserves every single one of them. I will therefore leave the final word on this book with Sharyn McCrumb because I couldn’t put it better myself:

"There is magic and wonder in "The River Witch," but the real enchantment here is the strength of the characters Roslyn and Damascus. Their voices are the current that carries the reader along in this compelling tale of healing and discovery."

Friday, June 22, 2012

THE NINETY DAYS OF GENEVIEVE


TITLE: THE NINETY DAYS OF GENEVIEVE
AUTHOR: LUCINDA CARRINGTON
Pages: 269
Date: 22/06/2012
Grade: 4-
Details: Received from Book Geeks
Own

Genevieve Loften is young, ambitious and determined to get James Sinclair to sign an advertising contract with the company she works for.
James Sinclair is rich, arrogant and used to getting what he wants. When, at the end of her third sales presentation Genevieve asks him if there is anything else she can show him she presents him with his opportunity on a silver plate.
What he wants is to see and have Genevieve however and whenever he desires for the next ninety days. If she sticks to the deal he will sign the contract. If she refuses, he will walk away, there will be no contract and no promotion opportunities for her.
Genevieve really is ambitious; she wants this contract and she wants that early promotion. Genevieve is also excited by what it might mean to be at Sinclair’s beck and call for the next three months. When Genevieve agrees to the offer she has no idea what exactly she is letting her in for or what she will discover about herself.
Only too soon Genevieve discovers that what Sinclair has in mind is anything but conventional sex. He supplies her with sexy clothes she has to wear for him, has perfect strangers touching her and puts her in other sexual situations she could not have imagined and would never have believed herself capable of submitting to, never mind enjoying.
At the same time it seems that she is not the only one after this very attractive contract Sinclair has on offer. And although nobody knows what she has submitted herself to in order to get his signature, her colleagues and friends are only too happy to share gossip about the man with her; gossip that implies that he is a ruthless womaniser and not to be trusted.
As Genevieve’s feelings towards Sinclair change over the three months and she discovers an appetite for adventurous sex she never suspected she had, she has to face that for him this is just a cynical business proposition and that he will more then likely drop her as soon as the ninety days are up. Or is she misjudging him?

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this book.
I should start by pointing out that this is a re-release of a book previously published in 1996. And, in many ways, the story is a product of the times it was written in. While in those days some people did go to extreme lengths to make their way up the corporate ladder, these days the whole proposition of submitting yourself in exchange for a signature on a contract seems very far fetched.
My biggest problem with the book was that I really couldn’t like either Genevieve or Sinclair. As far as Sinclair is concerned that was because the reader doesn’t really get to know him, which was a shame. We only see him through Genevieve’s eyes and she doesn’t seem to see (through) him at all. In fact, I think the story would have been more interesting if we had been given a few more glimpses into what might be going on in his mind.
Genevieve on the other hand we do get to know and I found myself losing patience with the way in which she found it perfectly acceptable that she had signed herself over to him and was constantly reminding Sinclair that all they were doing together was only a business deal while at the same time getting very upset about the fact that he didn’t seem to care for her at all.
What I did enjoy was the way in which the author makes Genevieve rediscover herself, and I have to admire Lucinda Carrington’s imagination when it comes to all the experiences Sinclair puts the ambitious young woman through.

Overall this was a quick and easy read with some rather exciting moments. I’m sure that anyone who enjoys erotica will have fun reading this book. On the other hand, I’m not sure the story quite lives up to the pink sticker on the cover which reads: “If you like Fifty Shades of Grey You’ll LOVE this!” If I had to come up with a slogan for this book it would probably be: “Sexy, but not seductive”.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

THE HOUDINI SPECTER


TITLE: THE HOUDINI SPECTRE
AUTHOR: DANIEL STASHOWER
Pages: 210
Date: 20/06/2012
Grade: 4+
Details: no. 3 Henry Houdini Mystery
            Received from Book Geeks
Own

The year is 1898 and Harry Houdini is twenty-four years old. Because theatre agents in New York are still convinced that there is no market for or interest in escape-artists, Houdini continues to be  confined to dime museums where he performs tricks that frustrate him and leave him feeling humiliated.
Something comes along though to take his mind of his slow progress towards the fame he feels he is destined to achieve.
Biggs, a journalist and friend of Harry’s brother Dash, has been present at a spiritualist’s gathering where he’s witnessed what to him seemed inexplicable occurrences.
None of this would be a problem except that the presiding medium, Lucius Craig, has attached himself to a vulnerable and very wealthy widow with a promise that he will be able to contact her recently deceased husband. When Harry and Dash are invited to join in during the next séance in order to expose what must be a fraud they are only too happy to comply, sure in the conviction that Craig won’t be able to produce any tricks they aren’t capable of themselves.
When, during the séance, Craig – who has been securely tied to a chair by Harry -  doesn’t just produce a free-floating ghost but also has that apparition kill one of the other participants with a knife, even Harry and Dash are astonished.  Still convinced that they are dealing with a charlatan, be it a very cunning one, they proceed to investigate. An investigation during which Harry embarrasses himself once or twice and Dash nearly ends up as a victim himself; and one with a solution that will surprise even the reader.

Once again I was thoroughly entertained by a Harry Houdini mystery. Daniel Stashower paints a wonderful picture of the two brothers with Harry as the rather arrogant and self-assured up and coming magician and his brother Dash as his loyal, more modest and level-headed partner. Because the reader knows that the fame which Harry continues to proclaim as a certainty is indeed only a short few years away it is easy to smile at the arrogance on the pages. It must have been less entertaining to be around him during that phase in his life though if he was indeed this sure of himself and his future.
Because these stories are narrated by Dash, his descriptions of his brother Harry and both his innocence and his arrogance come across as honest and loving and ensure that the reader feels affectionate towards both brothers.
Since Stashower is a magician himself his explanations of what is going on and how certain tricks are enacted is both convincing and compelling. And, as is usually the case with magical tricks, once the “how” is revealed the magic disappears.
The mystery in this book is great because what appears to have happened should not be possible, especially not in the times during which the story is set. And, if it hadn’t been for the author’s note at the end of the book, I would not have believed the solution to the mystery credible. Of course this means that it would be almost impossible for any reader to figure out what may have happened, which makes this a very satisfying mystery.
I like that Harry, in these books, is obsessed with Sherlock Holmes and wants to solve the mysteries he comes across in the way the great detective would have done. That he continues to get it wrong just adds to the humour in these stories and makes his arrogance easier to laugh about too.
I’m absolutely delighted to have discovered this author and his Harry Houdini mysteries and will continue to read them for as long as he is willing to continue writing them.

THE SENTRY


TITLE: THE SENTRY
AUTHOR: ROBERT CRAIS
Pages: 306
Date: 16/06/2012
Grade: 5
Details: No. 3 Joe Pike
            No. 12 Elvis Cole
Library

If Joe Pike had not needed air for his tire he wouldn’t have stopped at the service station and he wouldn’t have seen the two men, obvious gang-members, enter the sandwich shop. If he had not seen them enter he would not have followed them, interrupted them while they were beating up a man and have had one of them arrested. If none of that had happened, he wouldn’t have met Dru Rayne, the beaten man’s niece, he wouldn’t have found himself falling for her and he would not have been in the trouble he subsequently found himself in.
But Pike did stop at that particular service station and did meet Dru and because she interests him he did decide to take a further look into the men who attacked her uncle. After a talk with the man in charge of the gang the two men belong to Joe thinks that the harassment will stop, but it is only a short while before the sandwich shop gets trashed and Dru and her uncle disappear.
Thinking the gang went back on its word, Pike enlists Elvis Cole and starts a full scale investigation into exactly what is going on. Except that it soon turns out that nothing is what it at first appeared to be. Even Dru and her uncle are not who they claim to be. And with both federal agents and the local police also on the case things get less clear the more Pike and Cole investigate.
Soon after Pike discovers where Dru and her uncle are people start dying, and it isn’t long before he and Cole find themselves caught up in the middle of an ongoing dispute between federal agencies, local gangs, Mexican gangsters and a criminal cartel from Bolivia. Pike and Cole have entered a battle that is not going to have a happy outcome.

As always Robert Crais has delivered a good and fast-paced thriller. The action starts, full throttle, on page one and doesn’t let up until the very last chapter.
Joe Pike is his usual solitary and reserved self, but the reader gets to see a more vulnerable side to him when he finds himself attracted to Dru and determined to save her, even after he finds out that she has been lying to him. I like the way Crais is switching his focus to Joe Pike more often these days. Pike is a fascinating character with a lot more going on then you would have expected from reading the earlier Elvis Cole books, and I really hope that there will be more Pike novels coming in the future.
Elvis Cole plays a smaller, but not insignificant role in this story and is his usual emotional and funny self, determined to help his friend even if he has his doubts about the case they are investigating and the people they are trying to help.
There are quite a few twists and turns in this story to keep the reader on their toes and enough action to keep them turning the pages.
Elvis Cole and Joe Pike have yet to disappoint me and as always I’m eagerly awaiting the next title in their combined series.

CURSED


TITLE: CURSED
AUTHOR: BENEDICT JACKA
Pages: 309
Date: 18/06/2012
Grade: 4.5
Details: no 2. Alex Verus
            Received from Book Geeks
Own

Alex Verus is a mage, a diviner, who owns a shop; ‘Arcana Emporium’ in Camden, London and when the story starts life is going smoothly for him. He is on reasonably good terms with the Council and occasionally working for them, and the work with his cursed apprentice Luna is proceeding quite nicely as well.
Things are about to change though.
It all starts with the discovery of a death magical creature. Although it is unclear how it was killed, it is a worrying sight.
Although Alex doesn’t realise it, things slip further downhill when Martin, a new friend of Luna’s visits his shop and walks away with the magic Monkey Paw Alex didn’t have out on display because he knows the artefact is cursed.
Next a beautiful woman bursts into his shop followed by an assassin Alex is only barely able to fend off. The woman, Meredith, is an enchantress and although Alex is well aware of her seductive powers he has a hard time thinking straight when he is around her.
Through Meredith Alex meets Belthas, a Council mage, who wants his help in discovering who killed the magical creature and where they are now.
Next thing Alex knows he has fallen out with his apprentice, who now prefers Martin’s company after Martin has used the monkey paw to find a way to be close to her without hurting himself. Up against old adversaries and with his friend, Arachne, a giant, intelligent, magical and very friendly spider in mortal danger, Alex finds himself in a fight he and those he cares for may well not survive. Alex may well be able to look into the future, knowing who to trust is much harder.

This is the second Alex Verus story I’ve read this year and I have to say I’m really enjoying them. It is clear to see why these books are endorsed by Jim Butcher; Alex Verus has a lot in common with Butcher’s hero Harry Dresden. Both are outsiders and underdogs trying to fight the good fight against the odds and often through means they don’t feel good about. And both the Verus and the Dresden series combine humour with tension in a way that really works.
The world Alex Verus inhabits in London is completely recognisable, which makes it easy to accept the supernatural elements in the story. The world Benedict describes is almost exactly the same as the world we live in. In fact, the differences between his London and the city we might visit are so tiny that you could almost believe that the magic can really be found there, if only you looked hard enough.
Although this is very much a supernatural thriller, enough attention is paid to the characters and what makes them tick to create a real interest in their welfare. Although Alex is the hero in these books and at times vulnerable, he has enough of a dark side to make him realistic and interesting. And it is easy to understand what drives Luna; having a curse which means that anyone who comes close to you or, even worse, touches you gets hurt or killed would be enough to make anyone stand-offish and desperate.
As for the other characters, it is hardly ever certain who can be trusted; who is on the side of good and who is just pure evil, something which makes the story fascinating and a real page-turner.
I am having great fun with these books and can’t wait for the third one to be published.

WONDER


TITLE: WONDER
AUTHOR: R.J. PALACIO
Pages: 313
Date: 17/06/2012
Grade: 4+
Details: Young-Adult
Library

“My name is August, by the way. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”

August Pullman is ten year old and likes the same things every other ten year old boy likes; Star Wars, his X-box, ice-cream and his dog. On the inside, Auggie feels like an ordinary boy too, on the outside though, he anything but ordinary. August was born with an extreme facial abnormality and even though he has had numerous operations to “normalise” his features, he still looks anything but ordinary.
For the first ten years his parents have kept him at home. Initially because of all the operations and other health related issues, but also to protect him from a world that can’t deal with his features. Now that he is ten though his parents decide that it is time for him to start going to school and to enter the world where he will have to deal with how others see him for the rest of his life.
August doesn’t look forward to going to school. He is well aware of how people react to him and fears the worst. Soon, it seems that all his fears are confirmed. All most all the other kids ignore him, treating him as if he has some deadly contagious disease. Although there is one girl, Summer, who, from the very first day, accepts him just as he is, Auggie’s time in school is lonely and painful, especially when Jack, who Auggie thought was his friend, appears to betray him.
Have Auggie’s parents made a horrible mistake in sending him to school or will he manage to convince the others that he really is just like everybody else?

I’m not entirely sure what to say about this book, or even how to grade it. On the one hand it is a beautiful and well written story about overcoming differences and discrimination. The story deals with prejudice and bullying, tries to show the reader that a person is more than what you see on the outside and that it is important not to judge a person by their appearance.
And, I think the book almost succeeds in that.
My problem is that the very important message in this book is lost a bit as a result of the too good to be true, Walt Disney like fairy-tale ending. While I love a happy ending as much as the next person I think the anti-bullying and trust your inner strength message would have come across more clearly if the book had ended on a positive but not magically so note.
As much as I would like the world and the people in it to be and react as described in this book, I’m only too aware that just isn’t the case. And that makes me wonder. This book will be read by kids who face their own struggles against prejudice and people who can’t look beyond the obvious. Is it fair to parade a magical but ultimately unrealistic happy ending in front of those real kids facing problems in the real world?
Read this book as the wonderful fairy-tale it is and my grade would be a 5. Because I feel this book could, and maybe should, have been more I’ve settled on a grade 4.

“Here’s what I think: the only reason I’m not ordinary is that no one else sees me that way.”

DRAGON'S TIME


TITLE: DRAGON’S TIME
AUTHOR: ANNE & TODD McCAFFREY
Pages: 496
Date: 16/06/2012
Grade: 4+
Details: no. 4 New Adventures of Pern
            Received from Book Geeks
Own


Thousands of years after humans colonised Pern and genetically modified dragons to help them fight the dreaded Thread the world finds itself on the brink of disaster.
The dragon’s sickness has left Pern with perilously low numbers of Dragons to fight the deadly Thread with. Although Lorena found a cure to the sickness, the cure came too late to save the animals in sufficient numbers. And every Threadfall, the numbers of available dragons dwindle further. The people of Pern will have to find a way to quickly increase the number of dragons if they want to have a chance to survive.
In a desperate bid to find a solution, Lorena decides to fly forward in time knowing that this action will cost her the baby she is carrying.
While Lorena is travelling into between and through time, looking for a place to safely raise more dragons, back on Pern Fiona, Kindan and T’mar are trying to fight the Thread without dwindling the numbers of dragons and riders too fast and struggling to keep despair at bay.
Most people are convinced that Lorena must be lost to them and put Fiona’s reports of contact with the traveller down to pregnancy induced hallucinations.
When Lorena returns though, she has found a possible location and solution and soon the group find themselves on a newly discovered continent in a different time raising the dragons they will need to have a chance at survival. An enterprise that will turn out not to be without difficulties of its own and filled with danger and potential loss of loved ones.

Reading and reviewing a book that is the fourth title in a series which itself is part of an even larger series when you haven’t read a single one of the earlier titles is probably not a great idea.
Of course every good book is able to stand on its own merits; a reader shouldn’t need to have read the previous titles in order to enjoy the story they are reading. And I didn’t. I thoroughly enjoyed this story, fell for its characters, both human and dragon, and found myself completely rapped up in the struggle to save Pern from the deadly Thread despite being new to this world. Having said that, I have absolutely no doubt that I would have enjoyed this book more if I had read the previous books in the series, had known more about the background of the characters and the situation they find themselves in. I was constantly aware of the fact that I was probably missing links, references to prior events and other connections. But, that didn’t stop me from picking up the book on a wet Saturday morning and finishing it the same evening, compulsively turning the pages in order to find out what exactly was going on and how it all would end.
This is a well written book and an easy read. It is easy to lose yourself in the surroundings, the characters and the interactions between them, to marvel at the dragons and their links with their humans and as a result it is only natural that you start to care about the fate of all these characters as well.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever find the courage or the time to go back and read all the Pern books I have missed. I will however read the next book in the New Adventures of Pern series because I really want to find out what is going to happen next.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

IN SESSION


TITLE: IN SESSION
AUTHOR: M.J. ROSE
Pages: 62 (approx)
Date: 15/06/2012
Grade: 4+
Details: a Butterfield institute, 
            Dr. Morgan Snow spin-off
            Received from 
            AuthorBuzz through 
            NetGalley
            Kindle
Own

This is a short book but a delightful read. M.J. Rose has taken three heroes from popular thriller series and brought them face to face with Dr. Morgan Snow, the sex therapist from Rose’s Butterfield Institute books.
Steve Berry’s Cotton Malone, Barry Eisler’s John Rain and Lee Child’s Jack Reacher are all ultimate tough guys who wouldn’t dream about talking to a therapist about their (sexual) relationships. In these three stories though, Morgan Snow manages to get them to open up in ways that readers of the original books will find both intriguing and believable.

In the first story, “Extenuating Circumstances” Dr. Morgan Snow finds herself in Denmark visiting Cotton Malone in his second hand bookstore after Malone’s partner tells her that he might have problems stemming from his childhood which are now affecting their relationship. Because Malone is not the sort of man who would voluntarily talk to a sex therapist, the doctor has to find a different way to get him to open up.

“Decisions, Decisions” finds Dr. Snow having to make a very difficult one herself when her daughter’s safety is threatened by a man with political ambitions as well as sexual preferences he wants to keep secret. Not knowing what to do and deeply worried she turns to John Rain, an assassin for help. The solution he provides is not one she ever suggested or approved but one she can live with.

In “Knowing You’re Alive” Jack Reacher is following a man. When he enters the Butterfield institute Reacher is forced to stay outside. An hour later a bomb goes off inside the building and when Reacher climbs in he finds Dr. Morgan Snow with a broken foot and buried underneath rubble. To pass the time until help arrives and to distract Morgan from the pain, Reacher tells her a story about an army cop who has a, for him, very unusual sexual encounter with a woman in a secluded cabin.

I had enormous fun with these stories. I did in the past read one of the Cotton Malone titles by Steve Berry and am in the process of slowly but steadily reading my way through the Jack Reacher series. I haven’t read any of Eisler’s books yet though.
Because my familiarity with two of the male characters in these stories is therefore sketchy at best I’m not sure if I’m the right person to judge how well Rose captured them in her stories. Jack Reacher, the only character I do feel I’m somewhat familiar with, does sound completely in character to me though and I enjoyed the story she had him share with the doctor. Since the acknowledgements indicate that all three authors either approved of the stories or cooperated with Rose in the writing of them, I have to assume that she must have gotten it right in their eyes. And if the original authors can’t find fault, that is definitely good enough for me.

I had almost forgotten how much I enjoy M.J. Rose’s writing, it’s been that long since I last read a book by her. Now that my memory has been refreshed I want to make sure that it won’t be such a long time before I read something else by her. I also can’t help hoping that she will revisit Dr. Morgan Snow again in the not too distant future. I’ve read all the available titles in that series and wouldn’t mind a new one to add to the collection.

Friday, June 15, 2012

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN


TITLE: WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN
AUTHOR: LIONEL SHRIVER
Pages: 468
Date: 15/06/2012
Grade: 3
Details: Book Club read
Own

One faithful Thursday in 1999 three days before his sixteenth birthday, Kevin Khatchadourian kills seven students in his school as well as a cafeteria worker and a teacher. During the aftermath of the shooting and trails, his mother, Eva, visits him in prison while she writes long letters to her absent husband, Franklin, in which she narrates the story of Kevin’s life. She is trying to work out if Kevin was bad from the moment of conception or if there was a certain moment when it all went horribly wrong. Could she and Franklin possibly have seen this coming and maybe prevented it or was the event a huge surprise to all involved?
In her letters it becomes clear that while Eva saw problems in Kevin from the moment he was born, Franklin never noticed or at least, never acknowledged that his son might possibly have issues. But does this mean that Eva has been right all along or only that her attitude towards her son made this outcome more likely? Is anyone to blame for what Kevin did or was what happened inevitable from the moment the boy was born?

I did not like this book.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it is very well written and a compelling read in a “can’t look away from the accident” sort of way, but I didn’t like it.
I didn’t like any of the characters in the book. Eva seemed too negative too sure that she was right and the rest of the world wrong. Franklin annoyed me with his refusal to see any problems where his son was concerned. And Celia, Kevin’s younger sister, was painted as his complete opposite to such an extent that it defied credibility.

In more detail, my issues with this story were the following:
I’m convinced that any parent who’s child does something unimaginable or to whose child something terrible happens spends the time afterwards going over the what-ifs, wondering if they are somehow to blame for what happened; asking themselves if things would have been different if only they had not done this or had done that. I’m also convinced that in a lot of cases the answer will more than likely be no.
Equally, I’m sure that most if not all parents have (had) moments when they wondered whether they were actually suited to the job of bringing up a child, have on occasion thought about what they might have been doing if it hadn’t been for the presence of the child, and I think that is normal and natural.
The mother in this book repulsed me though. If I could, maybe, imagine why she would write about Kevin in the detached and critical tones she does, it escapes me completely why her writing about her daughter isn’t more loving. While she claims to have had a connection with this second child from almost the first moment, that doesn’t come across in the words she uses. She is critical about both children, if for completely different reasons.
And yes, I do get that this is supposed to be a mother clinically studying the past in an attempt to find out what may have caused the catastrophe that was to follow I just can’t feel any sympathy or understanding for the way in which she is doing this.
At some point, near the end of the book Eva writes: “I hope I haven’t related this chronology in so dispassionate a fashion that I seem callous.” In my opinion, that is exactly what she appears to be. And that didn’t make the reading of this book any easier.
Although the shocking revelation in the last “letter” in the book and the last few scenes with Kevin did a little bit to redeem the book, it was too little and too late.

This book turned out to be a page-turner for me. Not so much because I needed to find out what would happen next, although that did play a small part, but because I was afraid that if I put the book down for too long I wouldn’t be able to return to it. Whether that is a good or a bad thing is something every reader will have to decide for themselves.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

THE WITNESS


TITLE: THE WITNESS
AUTHOR: NORA ROBERTS
Pages: 488
Date: 13/06/2012
Grade: 5
Library

Twelve years ago, when Abigail Lowery was 16 and still called Elizabeth Fitch, one act of rebellion lead to her witnessing the Russian mafia executing one of their own as well as her eighteen year old friend. When a few months in federal protection while waiting for the case to go to court ended violently with the agents protecting her being murdered, the now seventeen year old girl went on the run and stayed under the radar.
Now, after twelve year of running and plotting Abigail thinks she may have found a place she wants to make her home. The secluded and heavily secured house in a quiet rural town in Arkansas is where she wants to stay. Alone, with her guard dog Bert she hopes to make herself a stable life, even if it means keeping other people away from her.
Local chief of police Brooks Gleason is fascinated by the beautiful and very private Abigail and determined to get closer to her. The fact that she always carries a weapon and has enough security around her house to protect a secret government project intrigues him, as does the fact that she is very determined to keep him out of her life.
As Brooks continues to carefully chip away at Abigail’s defences she starts to realise that maybe she doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life alone and on the run. But in order to stop running and hiding she will have to trust Brooks and resurrect Elizabeth one last time in order to put the past to rest, destroy the Russians and get justice for those who were killed all those years ago. A decision that could bring her freedom and happiness as easily as it could end up killing her.

What can I possibly say about a Nora Roberts book that I haven’t said in the past? I’ve read and reviewed countless books by this author and almost without exception they have brought me satisfying reads and great pleasure. This book is no different.
I love the way Roberts is able to mix tension with romance. I adore her characters, they way they interact, bounce of each other and come alive on the page. Without fail she makes me wish I knew the characters she writes about personally, I want to be friends with them; have them in my life and invite them for a barbeque.
Nobody does conversation like Roberts. It sparkles, sounds natural, there is teasing, honesty and genuine affection. It is the sort of conversations you would love to participate in yourself. Most importantly it is fun and makes you smile.
In this book it is the interaction between Abigail with her literal mind and lack of social experience and Brooks, who is lose and secure in his community and social interactions that makes for a wonderful contrast and lots of smile inducing exchanges as well as one or two eye-watering moments.
No, the story isn’t entirely believable, but it is exciting, fun and very satisfying for the reader who wants to escape into a world where the seemingly impossible happens and love conquers all.
This is escapism at its best.

Monday, June 11, 2012

LET ME IN


TITLE: LET ME IN
AUTHOR: CALLIE CROIX
Pages: 87 (approx)
Date: 11/06/2012
Grade: 4+
Details: Received from Carina Press
            Through NetGalley
            Kindle
Own

Marine lieutenant Talia Barnett is home on leave for a few days over thanksgiving and doesn’t expect anybody to welcome her at the airport. The surprise she experiences when she sees her friend Angie Brodie and Angie’s brother Liam waiting for her is both pleasant and uncomfortable. Talia has been attracted to Liam for as long as she’s known him but has never allowed her feelings to rule her behaviour towards him. Between deployments far away and a family secret she’s not willing or able to share with anyone, there is just no room in her life for a close relationship, no matter how attractive the man.
Liam Brody is a former Marine and has been suppressing his attraction to Talia for a long time. When he gives her a hug after meeting her at the airport he makes up his mind though that this time he’s going to get close to her, make her see how much he wants her and make her his.
After Liam witnesses the secret turmoil in Talia’s private life first-hand the two get together in a very passionate coupling. Liam can’t believe his luck when Talia reacts with delight to his dominant nature and shows him her own submissive side. Talia, however, isn’t able to believe that Liam could really be interested in her, especially now that he knows her secret and forces herself to walk away from him even though she yearns to stay.
Will Liam be able to overcome Talia’s insecurities and convince her that he wants to be with her for the long haul, or are the barriers she’s build up around her heart just too high?

This was a very enjoyable read. While there is lot of heat and sex in this book it all springs from a well plotted story with real characters the reader comes to care about.
Talia’s insecurities are believable, her reluctance to share her private worries and her inability to trust that a relationship with Liam could be enduring all make sense in the context of the story. At the same time, Talia is a strong character, used to looking after herself and making her own way in the world, even if she'd rather not be on her own. And Liam… well, he’s the sort of guy all girls secretly dream about; strong, loyal and trustworthy.
While the story is interesting as well as well written, the sex is steamy while described in a way that makes it beautiful, desirable and never offensive.

This is not a very long story, and I for one, wouldn’t have minded a bit more of Liam and Talia. I have to admit that I’m quite curious at how their relationship will develop after the end of this story and will definitely read any sequel, should there be one.

This was a quick, exciting and very satisfying read for me and one I’m sure will be treasured by anyone who enjoys a steamy romance.

ALICE BLISS


TITLE: ALICE BLISS
AUTHOR: LAURA HARRINGTON
Pages: 306
Date: 11/06/2012
Grade: 5-
Details: Received from Book Geeks
Own

Alice Bliss is fifteen years old when her father volunteers to go to Iraq to fight a war Alice doesn’t believe in.
While her mother, Angie, her eight year old sister, Ellie and Alice herself are all fervently against this idea, Matt Bliss can’t be dissuaded. He feels the need to do something useful and has to go, no matter how hard the separation will be. And, after all, it will only be for one year.
It is only a few months later when Alice and her family are visited by army officials informing them that Matt has gone missing in action. Although very little is known, they are told that he was shot and taken away by the enemy.
For the remaining members of the Bliss family a very uncertain time starts. They have to learn how to live with hope when there is nothing to hold on to and subsequently how to say goodbye to a loved one much earlier then anybody could have imagined.
Alice’s personal journey is a complicated one. She has been closer to her dad then her mom for all her life and now finds it almost impossible to communicate with Angie who is not really dealing with Matt’s decision and the subsequent events herself. She is in the middle of the always tumultuous teenage years, trying to discover what she wants from life, where she stands in the world and her new feelings for Henry, who has been her best friend for as long as she can remember.
Alice and the rest of her family will have to find new ways to be together, to cope with grieve and continue living while coming to terms with the loss of the man who was the centre of their lives.

This is a beautiful and heartbreaking coming of age story. Alice is a very realistic teenager; her emotions are all over the place, she is uncertain about most things she feels, thinks and does. She is at times completely unreasonable, and while she is aware of that, unable to do anything to change it.
She is also a wonderful big sister to little Ellie and completely devoted to her father.
Because Alice comes across as a normal teenage girl you could meet any day, anywhere in the world, it is very easy for the reader to share her emotions. You feel her pain, sense her insecurities, share her hopes and experience her despair.
I challenge anyone to read this book and not end up with tears in their eyes on at least a few occasions. I would also be surprised if any reader could read this book without breaking into a big smile once or twice.
The story is mainly told from Alice’s perspectives but occasionally you get an insight into the thoughts and feelings of others around her. This means that the reader knows that Angie is aware of her shortcomings as a mother and her desire to do better, even while she fails. We also get a good idea about the confusion Henry experiences when his feelings for his best friend change into something more, something he isn’t quite sure how to deal with. Because of this shared perspective the story feels balanced and true to life where it could otherwise easily have been an overly sentimental story about a teenager.

Overall this was an engrossing, charming, heartbreaking and lovingly told story. There were times when the story was maybe a little bit too American for my European mind, but in the end this is a universal story of loss, and the different ways in which we learn to deal with it.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

HOUSE OF THE HANGED


TITLE: HOUSE OF THE HANGED
AUTHOR: MARK MILLS
Pages: 423
Date: 10/06/2012
Grade: 4+
Library

1919, Petrograd, Russia and young Tom Nash’s attempts to rescue Irina Bibikov, the woman he has come to love while working in Soviet Russia for the British Secret Service come to nothing when he’s told that she has been executed.
By 1935 Tom has resigned from the Secret Service and lives in Le Rayol on the French Riviera where he makes his living as a writer. While he enjoys his new life and is happy to be away from his former job, the past and especially Irina, are never far from his mind.
It is summer and gathered around Tom are the friends who have been visiting him here every summer for years. What should have been a happy time of enjoying the sun, swimming, sailing and parties turns sour though when a midnight intruder attempts to kill Tom in his own house.
Certain in the knowledge that the failed attempt will soon be followed by a new one, Tom has to find out who from his past wants him dead and why now, five years after he left the secret service.
After a second attempt on his life Tom comes to the conclusion that amongst the people he considers his close friends must be someone who is betraying him, passing on information about his living conditions and movements to those out to kill him.
If Tom is to stay alive he has to stay one step ahead of those who want him dead while at the same time flushing out the person(s) betraying him, ideally without putting those he loves into danger. And in the process he may well end up hurting the most important people in his life.

This was an interesting thriller. Tom makes a fascinating main character. When the reader meets Tom in 1935 his life is so quiet and peaceful that it is hard to imagine that this man was ever in the secret service. It is only because the book starts with the prequel in 1919’s Russia that the reader is aware of his background.
The book is more than a thriller though since as much of the story is about Tom and the people around him, what they think, feel, have done in the past and want to do next, as it is about the tension associated with the attacks on the main character.
Because who and what Tom’s friends and quests are, and how they relate to his past is only slowly revealed, the reader initially feels like they are lagging behind the main character when it comes to necessary information. As the story unfolds and more and more of Tom’s past and how the assembled guests fit into it is revealed the reader catches up quickly though.
And those quests are interesting since we meet people from England, America, Germany, France and Russia. Giving the timing of the story, with Europe getting close to another devastating war, those characters were perfect for what is a thriller as well as a spy story.
I have to admit that there were times when Tom’s memories of his earlier life interrupted the flow of the story a bit for me, especially since a few of those memories seemed to have no relevance whatsoever to the situation he finds himself in.
On the other hand, the whole story was written in such a smooth and almost intimate style that it was hard not to fall for Tom and some of the other characters, which of course created an interest in their feelings and past.
The ending did not come as a huge surprise to me but then again I’m not sure it was meant to. The ending was also a bit too open for me. While this does make it more realistic – how often does everything tie up smoothly in real life after all – I would have liked a bit more certainty about some of the character’s futures.

Overall though, this was a fun and fast read with interesting characters and wonderful setting.