Tuesday, October 30, 2012

THE BLIND GODDESS



TITLE: THE BLIND GODDESS
AUTHOR: ANNE HOLT
Pages: 343
Date: 30/10/2012
Grade: 4.5
Details: no. 1 Hanne Wilhelmsen
            Received from Atlantic Books
            Through Good Reads
Own

Karen, a corporate lawyer, discovers a body while walking her dog. The man, who will be indentified as a drug dealer, has been battered to death. Hours later a young Dutch man is found wondering through the streets of Oslo, covered in blood. The Dutch student is taken into custody but refuses to speak and will only accept legal representation if it comes from the lawyer who found the body. When five days later a shady criminal lawyer is murdered the two crimes don’t seem to be related. But Detective Inspector Hanne Wilhelmsen suspects otherwise and her instincts are rarely wrong. When she discovers that the murdered lawyer had defended the murdered drug dealer she has been vindicated and now Hanne and her colleagues have a real case to investigate. But it is a case without any real leads and far more questions than answers. And when another drug dealer is killed while in prison, Hanne is attacked in work and the Dutch student scared into insanity it becomes apparent that the investigators are up against powerful forces. Forces that are willing to do almost anything to keep their network and motives secret.

This is my second encounter with a mystery by Anne Holt and I have to say I am impressed. Like “1222” this is a well plotted and very well written book. The mystery, which appears straightforward enough, gets more complicated as the story proceeds. The reader is given more then enough insight into what is going on to keep up with the investigators and at times has access to a bit more information than the characters in the book. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that you know what is going on though, nothing is as clear-cut as it might appear and the author has a few surprises in store for the reader.

I really appreciated how realistic this description of an investigation was. The reader gets completely swept up in how frustrating proper police procedure can be for the investigators. No shortcuts are taken in this book, coincidences and suspicions are not enough to warrant an arrest. The investigators have to dig and dig deeper in order to find the evidence they need to act against those they suspect. And evidence is hard to come by.
There is a very nice balance between the crimes, the investigation and the private lives of the various characters in this book. We learn enough about the characters to take an interest in them and their well-being while those details never interrupt the flow of the story or the unravelling of the mystery.

It is interesting to discover that Anne Holt is a former minister of justice in Norway. Reading this book with that knowledge in the back of your mind does make you wonder what exactly is going on at government level, how much is going on behind the scenes that we, the public, are never supposed to find out about.

It seems that I have managed to find myself another must read mystery author and I’m looking forward to reading the 6 titles between this one and 1222 and get the rest of Hanne’s story as well as the undoubtedly excellent mysteries. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

REFLECTED IN YOU



TITLE: REFLECTED IN YOU
AUTHOR: SYLVIA DAY
Pages: 357
Date: 28/10/2012
Grade: 4+
Details: no. 2 Crossfire
            Received from Penguin Books
            Through Book Geeks
Own

“He was my drug, and I had no desire to kick the habit.”

“I’m caught up with you, Eva.” With his head tilted back, Gideon pulled me down for the sweetest of kisses, his firm lips moving gently beneath mine. “I’d kill for you,” he whispered, “give up everything I own for you . . . but I won’t give you up.”

And so the story of Eva and Gideon, which started in “Bared to You”, continues. Magnetically drawn together yet incapable of communicating and trusting each other they stumble along, moving from sexual bliss to emotional breakdown and back again. Both carry deep and debilitating pain from the past. And while Eva shares her pain with Gideon she is full of insecurities and finds it impossible to trust him. Gideon, on the other hand, can’t talk about that which hurts him most or anything else emotionally charged. And his silence fuels all of Eva’s doubts and insecurities, making her doubt herself and their future as a couple. They are working on it though, going to relationship counseling and making allowances for each other. A blissful and very erotic weekend by the seaside seems to bring them much closer together only for Gideon to almost completely withdraw from Eva. Suddenly he misses meetings with her, is photographed out and about with his former fiancé and while he claims not to want to lose her, Eva can’t help but feel that she’s being side-lined. Will Eva discovering why Gideon is behaving the way he is bring these two desperate souls back together, or will it break them apart forever?

There is actually a lot more happening in this book but sharing more of the story-line would involve huge spoilers, so I won’t. Because the story is told only from Eva’s perspective the reader has as little idea why her lover is behaving the way he is as she does which enhances the tension in the story and turns it almost into a mystery at times. I wouldn’t want to spoil that for any reader.

I feel a bit ambivalent about this story. There were a lot of times I felt totally frustrated with the characters. This book is almost an object lesson in what not to look for in a relationship, you could almost call it a cautionary tale. These two characters couldn’t be more wrong for each other if they tried, and yet they so obviously belong together. It is a very confusing situation for the reader because you no longer know what to wish for, what a happy ending would actually look like. It does make for a fascinating roller-coaster of a reading experience though. I was turning the pages compulsively, in a rush to find out what would happen next, how a situation would resolve itself or what on earth might be going on.

This is a well written book, an easy and smooth read. It is also a book with characters that come alive on the pages, characters with depth and development. And that is not just true for Eva and Gideon. There are other characters on the side-lines who play just enough of a role in the story to turn this into more than just a sensual, if troubled, romance. And those minor characters also make it possible for the reader to come to a better understanding of the troubled lovers.

This book is dedicated to Nora Roberts and on at least one occasion while reading this book I was strongly reminded of Eve Dallas, the main character in the mysteries she writes as J.D. Robb. When Eva asks Gideon if there is any part of New York he doesn’t at least partially own, the words might as well have come from Eve Dallas’ mouth as she addresses her own billionaire, Roarke.

In short I would describe this as a fascinating - at times frustrating -, sexy and gripping story. I’m looking forward to May when “Entwined in You” will be published and I will be able to find out how it is all going to end

Thursday, October 25, 2012

BROKEN HARBOUR



TITLE: BROKEN HARBOUR
AUTHOR: TANA FRENCH
Pages: 533
Date: 25/10/2012
Grade: 5+
Details: no. 4 Dublin Mystery
Library

The scene is gruesome and heartbreaking. Upstairs two young children, a girl and a boy, are found dead, probably smothered. Downstairs is a bloodbath with in the middle the children’s parents, both with multiple stab wounds. The father has also died but the mother is barely alive and rushed to hospital. The case is given to Detective Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy who is teamed up with rookie Detective Richie Curran. Kennedy has something to prove. Although he has an almost perfect record his last case didn’t work out as planned and this case, if he solves it to everybody’s satisfaction, should restore his reputation. And there is no reason why things shouldn’t work out for him. Kennedy is a man who controls his life and himself completely and up to the smallest details.
Except that this is one case he should probably have passed on to somebody else. The scene of the horrendous crime is in a half finished housing estate called Brian’s Town in the middle of nowhere. Years ago, when Scorcher was a teenager, the area was known as Broken Harbour and he and his family used to spend two weeks there, every summer. Those holidays were the happiest times in Scorcher’s life until the day tragedy struck. A tragedy that still haunts Scorcher’s life every single day.
As the two detectives start their investigation the solution appears to be simple enough. After all, all the evidence points towards a tragic but not uncommon domestic tragedy. But things are never that clear cut, and even when Scorcher thinks he has got the case solved his new partner has enough doubts to keep them digging for more evidence. It isn’t long before what started out as a murder investigation turns into a morality tale in which it becomes ever harder to figure out what the right thing to do might be. And with this case hitting so close to home and his private life getting more complicated Scorcher is losing the control he has worked so hard to achieve and maintain.

This is the fourth Dublin mystery by Tana French and like its predecessors it is a masterpiece. Well plotted, exquisitely written and with characters who are realistic and easy to sympathise with she has once again given the reader a book that is fascinating and almost impossible to put down.

French has taken Ireland and Dublin as it is right now. The story puts the reader in the middle of the current recession, in one of the many ghost-estates that litter the country and provide visible proof of past greed and current desperation. She has taken one perfectly normal and hard-working family and shows how events out of their control destroy the lives they worked so hard to create, taking their dreams down as well, until their lives have turned into something they don’t recognise anymore and evil creeps in.

The author leads the reader through an investigation where the twists and turns all make perfect sense. None of the suggested solutions come out of the blue and every suggested scenario makes as much sense as the previous one. When the solution is at last revealed it comes as a shock and a surprise, but not because it is unimaginable. It is all too believable that the all characters in this book would act the way they do and that is the reason that this is not only an imaginative mystery but also a thoroughly heart-breaking tale of the times we live in.

Part of me wishes that Tana French would write faster because I’m always eagerly anticipating her next book. A bigger part of me is glad she doesn’t though; the quality of these books is so high that I have to be grateful that she takes her time to give me an unforgettable story every single time.

Monday, October 22, 2012

SEVEN DAY LOAN / THE GIFT



TITLE: SEVEN DAY LOAN
AUTHOR: TIFFANY REISZ
Pages: 41
Date: 21/10/2012
Grade: 5
Details: The Original Sinners 0.5
Own on Kindle

I don't usually write reviews for the short stories I read. Too much hard work when the reviewing could easily take longer than reading the book/story did. But, every rule has its exceptions, and this is one of them.

In this story, which takes place several years before "The Siren" starts, Soren has to go to Rome for a week and decides to loan the twenty-three year old Eleanor to Daniel, a friend of his. Daniel lives in a huge estate in New England, a place he hasn't left for over three years, since his beloved wife died. As a trained submissive Eleanor will do anything her master tells her to do, even if it means giving herself to a complete stranger, but that doesn't mean she has to like it. Over the course of a very cold week Eleanor will draw the very attractive Daniel out if his self-imposed shell. When the week draws to a close Daniel and Eleanor are closer than they could ever have expected. But while Eleanor has come to care for the man a lot, her heart belongs elsewhere. When she has to leave again she can only hope that she has given Daniel enough for him to start living again.

There is so much to love about this story. First of all, of course, there are the characters. Eleanor is a wonderful character, a submissive with a strong backbone and a smart mouth and mind. Daniel is fascinating, and the transformation he goes through over the course of seven days (or 41 pages) is inspirational. But there is more. While this is a very erotic (and dare I say it, hot) story, this is a story with real content and characters you just have to care for. I loved the fact that Daniel is a librarian with a deep love for books and an obsession when it comes to the way in which his books are organised.

 
Tiffany Reisz knows how to write and how to do it well. Her characters have become so real for me that I wouldn't be surprised if I ran into them. I miss Soren, Eleanor and all the others when I'm not reading about them and find them popping into my thoughts regularly. The dialogue sparkles and the stories are well thought out.

While this is not a story (or series) for everyone I find myself very grateful to have discovered Tiffany Reisz and the kinky and oh so wonderful world she has created with The Original Sinners.



Update: this story has now been re-released as The Gift.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

EIGHTY DAYS RED



TITLE: EIGHTY DAYS RED
AUTHOR: VINA JACKSON
Pages: 329
Date: 21/10/2012
Grade: 4.5
Details: no. 3 Eighty Days
            Received from Orion Books
            Through Book Geeks
Own

The two years in a steady relationship with Simôn, the Venezuelan conductor who is deeply in love with her, have left Summer Zahova feeling cared for, protected and soothed but also… bored. And after she reads the book Dominik wrote, the book he dedicated to her, the book that was clearly inspired by her, she knows she can never settle for a quiet life with Simôn. Leaving New York and the man who deeply loves her behind, Summer returns to London, the city where it all began for her. There she hooks up with her sister, Fran and her dear, but very platonic, friend Chris. And through him Summer finds herself connecting with the world of popular music and Viggo Franck, rock and roll superstar and infamous womaniser. A ménage á trois with Viggo and a beautiful Russian dancer transpires as does an exciting tour of Europe with Chris’ band. But when her beautiful violin is stolen, Summer and Dominik, the man who gave her the instrument, are reunited. It is clear that they are still drawn to each other, fulfilling needs for the other like nobody else can as the result of an attraction that borders on obsession. But will they be able to make it work this time around. Or will Summer’s fear of attachment and other outside forces once again tear them apart?

I enjoyed this book. The story captured me and for the first time while reading this trilogy I was really interested in the two main characters. Suddenly I found myself rooting for them and hoping that they would find a way to make it work together. I liked the way in which several characters from the previous books made return appearances and clearly had a better insight into the fact that Dominik and Summer belonged together than they had themselves. I also greatly appreciated the way in which the authors dealt with the resolution of the stolen violin story-line; it was light-hearted and fitted the story perfectly.

Although this is still a story with vivid and unconventional erotic scenes I feel this book is less about the sex and more about relationships and self-discovery. This is a book about getting to know yourself and learning to accept who you are and what you need in life, even if your needs are not what most people would consider “normal”. This is not an erotic fairy-tale. This is a grown-up story for those of us who know and accept that life isn’t always perfect, but that even imperfection can lead to a happy ending.

Now that I’ve read all three books, and can look at Summer’s story as one single journey, I realise that this is a story about growing up, about getting to know yourself and learning what you want in life and, just as importantly, what not. In the first book – Eighty Days Yellow - our violinist was still completely in the dark about her wants and needs, which lead to behaviour and scenes that I didn’t really like, as my review reflected. In Eighty Days Blue Summer had a better idea about what she didn’t want and continued to grow, leading the way to this, the final book in the trilogy. Summer has reached the stage where she knows exactly what it is she wants and is less afraid to accept it. As a whole, this trilogy makes perfect sense. So if you are like me and find yourself somewhat exasperated with the story and its main character after the first book, do keep on reading! You will find it is well worth your while. And do not read these books out of order. The story won’t make sense if you do.

While this is the conclusion of Dominik and Summer’s journey there are apparently more 80 days books to come. These will centre on other characters we’ve met in this trilogy and I look forward to reading “Eighty Days Amber” and “Eighty Days White” when they come out.

One mystery remains though, or maybe I’m just a bit dim; why 80 days?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

THE SPECKLED PEOPLE



TITLE: THE SPECKLED PEOPLE
AUTHOR: HUGO HAMILTON
Pages: 298
Date: 20/10/2012
Grade: 3.5
Details: Memoir
            Dialogue Through Literature
Library

In this memoir Hugo Hamilton tells the story of his youth. Born in Dublin in the 1950’s with a German mother and an Irish, nationalistic, father his upbringing was anything but conventional. Because of his father’s strong and uncompromising views on being Irish and resurrecting the Irish identity it was forbidden to speak English in their house. While the rest of Dublin lived in an English speaking world, Hugo and his siblings grew up speaking German and Irish at home, with punishment awaiting anyone who dared to bring English into their home. They are “the speckled people”, partly from Ireland and partly from somewhere else.

“We are the brack children. Brack, homemade Irish bread with German raisins.”

Because of his father’s views on being and speaking Irish the family found themselves outsiders in the neighbourhood where they lived. Having a German mother at a time when World War II was still a very recent memory only made things worse for the Hamilton children. Teasing, bullying and being left on the fringes of the world they lived in were the result. And there is so much the children don’t understand, things that will only become clear when they are older (and mostly after the story in this book has ended); the past his father is ashamed of and trying to hide, and the pain his mother caries with her always as a result of things she witnessed, was exposed to and had to endure during Hitler’s reign in Germany. This is a family that doesn’t really fit in anywhere. Cultures clash, differences confuse and all young Hugo wants is to be the same as everybody else, to not to be called a Nazi and treated like an outcast.

In many was this was a fascinating book. It was interesting to read about Ireland in the fifties and sixties, and the composition of this family made this into a unique story. Up until fairly recently foreigners were a rarity in Ireland and I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like to be one in Dublin during those days, never mind being a German so shortly after the war. And while I’m all for raising children bi-lingual, the set up in this book, with the children not being allowed to speak the language everybody else around them was using, smacks of child-cruelty.

I had a difficult time with the way in which this story was told though. Although the story was obviously written with hindsight by an adult author, the language and images used are those of the child at the time the events take place. This means that a lot is not said or explained. An awful lot of what must have been happening is left unsaid because the child Hugo didn’t understand what was going on. This means that the reader has to read between the lines and draw their own conclusions. Was the father just misguided and overzealous in his determination to only allow Irish in his house or was he actually a cruel man? Was his mother a loving and supportive creature, or was she weak and ignoring problems when she should have been able to deal with them and maybe protect her children better? These questions weren’t answered for me while I was reading the book, and now that I’ve read the last page, I’m still not sure. I will say though that I admire the way the author seemed to have gone with complete honesty and didn’t try to make his younger self look perfect. In fact, at times he seems to actively dislike the person he was back then.

On the other hand, there were some observations that I did recognise and love, like:

“My mother says you can’t be sure in Ireland if people say things with admiration or not. Irish people are good at saying things in between admiration and accusation between envy and disdain.”

And while this book may have been published in 2003, with the story being set in the 1950’s, some things are as true now as they were back then. In fact, the following statement seems to have real relevance these days:

“Irish people were so afraid of being poor that they spent all their money, while German people were so afraid of being poor that they saved up every penny.”

Overall I would call this a powerful story which, unfortunately, was told in a way that just didn’t work very well for me.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

RED



TITLE: RED
AUTHOR: KATE KINSEY
Pages: 277 (approx)
Date: 17/10/2012
Grade: 4+
Details: Received from eKensington
            Through NetGalley
Own

It starts with the very brutal murder and mutilation of a local business man and is soon followed by the identical murder of a young woman. Detective Tom Hanson and his partner John Giggs have nothing to go on. No evidence, no clues, no links between the victims and no clear motive. Until they discover that both victims where members of the local BDSM scene. This, more adventurous form of sexual activity, is something Hanson has tasted from in the past. Even after three years he still thinks with longing about the beautiful redhead who showed him sensations and pleasures he never knew existed, giving him experiences he won’t ever forget. Until the moment she asked him for something he couldn’t give and he walked away, leaving a piece of himself behind. Back then Gina Larsen was his partner both in private and in his professional life. Until she had to resign from the police force after her kinkier side became public knowledge. Now Hanson has to turn to the woman who still strongly affects him for assistance. He needs her inside knowledge of the local and very secret BDSM scene if he wants to have any chance of solving the crimes. And with the body-count rising, stopping the killer becomes more urgent by the day.
Gina is as beautiful and sexy as she ever was and working with her again reawakens all the feelings and lust Hanson has been suppressing for so long. And watching Gina in action, as a professional dominatrix, stirs up needs and emotions Hanson didn’t know he had, as well as the thought that maybe he can be what she needs him to be after all. And meanwhile a murderer is still at large, looking for his next victim and if they don’t catch him soon he will bring his killings very close to home.

I’ve read tons of mysteries over the years. And in the recent past I’ve enjoyed quite a few erotic novels. This was the first time I’ve combined the two and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, especially since Kate Kinsey never sacrificed one genre in favour of the other. This book brings the reader a fascinating and well plotted murder mystery. The murders are gruesome, the investigation is described in enough detail to allow the reader to participate in it and the solution is credible. We even get the slightly obnoxious detective partner and irritating superior that we encounter in a lot of mysteries. And there is no shortage of twists and turns or shocking revelations either. At the same time we are treated to graphic and varied scenes of sexual activity. There is nothing repetitive about the descriptions though. Each scene is unique and either moves the story forward or illustrates a point that needs to be made. The scenes are also potentially shocking for those who do not enjoy the kinkier side of eroticism. But we get more than that. As Gina explains the world of BDSM to the police officers she is assisting, the reader is informed as well. And because the explanations are given as part of the story it never feels like the narrative is being interrupted. The reader is given an insight into a world they may not be familiar with, without ever feeling as if they are being lectured or preached to.

Kate Kinsey obviously knows how to tell a story well. Her writing flows, the story is gripping and original and the characters become real. In fact, that is one of the things I really liked about this book; the characters are real people. No supermodels or billionaires in this story. These are people like you and me who just happen to share a specific sexual appetite. According to her biography the author lives the BDSM life-style herself and therefore knows what she is writing about. Which makes it all the more remarkable and honest that she has written this book, and especially the ending, in such a way that it is just as easy for a reader to walk away from the book loathing the scene as it is to come to a better understanding or even appreciation of it.

Overall I can only say that I enjoyed this book. I enjoyed the mystery and I enjoyed the eroticism. In fact I would call this a very satisfying reading experience.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

BRING UP THE BODIES



TITLE: BRING UP THE BODIES
AUTHOR: HILARY MANTEL
Pages: 407
Date: 16/10/2012
Grade: 5
Details: no. 2 Thomas Cromwell
Library

This is the second instalment in Hilary Mantel’s thoroughly fascinating trilogy about Thomas Cromwell; his humble beginnings, his rise to power and ultimately – but not in this book – his downfall.
The story in this book starts in the summer of 1535. Henry VIII is on tour in the country with most of his court including his Chief Minister, Thomas Cromwell. It is while the King is visiting Wolf Hall that he first pays real attention to Jane Seymour, a young woman who is the complete opposite of Henry’s wife, Anne Boleyn. Where Anne is strikingly beautiful, outspoken and brazen Jane is unremarkable, quiet and shy. Henry, who has lost interest in Anne now that she is his wife but is not producing the male heir he yearns for, is taken with Jane and soon convinces himself that all would be well with him, his legacy and the country if only he could marry her. But with Katherine still alive in exile and Anne officially married to him, Henry’s path to happiness is littered with roadblocks.
It will be up to Thomas Cromwell to make sure that the King gets what he wants. And so Cromwell finds himself having to take on the family whose rise to power made his own career possible. When Katherine dies one obstacle is removed but in order to also remove Anne, Cromwell will have to turn to rumour, scandal and innuendo. Making use of old jealousies, internal competition between families and the selfish desires of all in the King’s court to look after themselves no matter what the cost for others, Cromwell will find a way to give the King what he most desires. But it is a process that will, maybe for the first time, reveal to him how fragile anybody’s position at court is. Depending on the whim of an unpredictable and spoiled King is not a safe way to conduct your career or safeguard your life.

This is a fascinating and multi-layered story. Of course, it is also a story that everybody, up to some extent at least, is familiar with. Which makes it all the more remarkable that Hilary Mantel manages to completely captivate her reader and make them feel as if they are reading about these characters for the first time.

This story is very much told from Cromwell’s point of view, even if he is referred to as “he” or “him”. This means that we don’t get an impartial narration of events. In fact, a lot of the time it is hard to see the main character as anything but a victim of his circumstances, an obedient servant of his King, doing only that which is required of him. It is only at certain times that the mask slips and the reader gets glimpses of Cromwell’s plotting, of the way in which he hoards and cherishes past slights and relishes in the opportunity to get his own back. This is the result of the way in which this story is told and language is used - both are beautiful and deceptive. It is so easy to like Thomas Cromwell. Even while he is plotting someone’s downfall and threatening others into doing and saying what he wants them to, he is made to sound friendly, trustworthy and honourable. To get to the depths of what he is doing the reader has to interrupt their reading and think about what has just transpired on the page. But there is also the other Cromwell; the man who lost his family and treasures those who share his life. The man who comes to the realisation that:

“His whole career has been an education in hypocrisy.”

And finally he’s the man who has to face the fact that those he helps make their way upwards through the ranks at Court may very well be the very people who will one day cause his own downfall.

With one more book to come in this trilogy, and Cromwell’s fate well know I still find myself waiting for the rest of this story with bated breath. Not because I don’t know what is going to happen, but because I can’t wait to see what those events will look and feel like when experienced from Cromwell’s perspective.

As far as I’m concerned there is no reason not to give Hilary Mantel a Man Booker Prize for this book as well.

Friday, October 12, 2012

VALENTINA



TITLE: VALENTINA
AUTHOR: EVIE BLAKE
Pages: 480
Date: 12/10/2012
Grade: 4.5
Details: no. 1 Valentina
            Received from Headline
            Through Book Geeks
Own

The year is 2012 and Valentina, a photographer, is living in Milan with her lover Theo. Although she and Theo have been together for a year now, Valentina can’t commit to the relationship. While Theo clearly wants to take things with Valentina further and would like to introduce her to his parents, she retreats into herself, behind carefully constructed walls as soon as he suggests it. Valentina doesn’t believe in relationships. Having never known her father, who left her mother when she was still small and having witnessed her mother work her way through one affair after another, she has no faith in love and can’t imagine spending her life with anyone. When Theo, shortly after making his shocking suggestion, has to leave on one of his mystery trips he is clearly frustrated with the woman he would like to be able to call his girlfriend. He does leave her with a present though; an album and a collection of old negatives. He doesn’t give her an explanation about this gift, just tells her to have fun and leaves.

In Venice in 1924 Louise Brzezinska is deeply unhappy in her marriage to a cruel and violent husband. When she accidentally discovers that she has the power to charm men she creates a new and secret life for herself. As Bella she sets out on a path that will make her a celebrated courtesan. A path that will also lead her to the love of her life and the delights of passion.

Soon after Theo has left, Valentina is offered an intriguing photographic opportunity. She will be taking erotic pictures in a club catering for people who enjoy the less conventional side of sex. And as she starts her assignment Valentina slowly discovers new needs and feelings in herself. Slowly the photographer is opening herself up to the possibility that maybe a relationship with Theo is possible. If only she knew where he is, what the meaning behind the album and the old negatives is and why a policeman is looking for him. And will these newly emerging emotions come in time to save her relationship with this wonderful man, or will she find a way to alienate him forever? And what exactly is the connection between Valentina and Bella, apart from photography and their hairstyle?

I’ve been reading a lot of erotic fiction lately and I have to say this book came as a very pleasant surprise. Yes, it is definitely another erotic work, but it is so much more. The writing in this book is excellent, the characters are well developed and their story-lines are fascinating. This story is unrushed. Often in erotic fiction I have the feeling that the author feels obliged to put in a sex scene at regular intervals and ends up manipulating the story in order to fit them in. Not in this book. The more explicit scenes all make sense in the context of the story and Valentina’s development. There are no sudden and drastic revelations for Valentina; lead by opportunity and curiosity she is discovering a world and feelings she wasn’t aware off. But this takes time and, thankfully, the author takes all the necessary time.

That is not to say that there weren’t one or two things I was less crazy about. For starters, I can’t help feeling that the story didn’t need the added story-line about the stolen art. I won’t go so far as to say that it interfered with the rest of the story, but at the same time, I don’t think the story would have lacked anything if it had been left out either.

I also found Valentina a hard character to warm to. She is very self-contained and reluctant to admit to emotions, never mind give in to them. At times she seemed so determined to undermine herself and her chance at happiness that I felt like slapping her. I found Bella much easier to like. She has as many reasons to distrust relationships as Valentina has and yet she is more than happy to give her heart to a man who loves her. I can’t help wondering if that may be because Valentina was an established character when the author agreed to write this trilogy, whereas Bella is (as far as I know) a completely original creation?

The character Valentina Rosselli was originally created by Italian Guido Crepax in an iconic graphic novel in the 1960's and has cult status in Italy to this day. Evie Blake is the pen name of author Noelle Harrison (Beatrice, A Small Part of Me, I Remember and The Adulteress) who was invited to write this trilogy about Valentina. From her earlier books it is clear that Noelle enjoys writing erotic scenes and I can’t help feeling that she was more than happy to embrace this opportunity to indulge in that aspect of her writing.

Overall I have to say that I was very impressed with this book and happily surprised when I discovered it was actually written by one of my favourite authors. I can’t wait to get my hands on the second book, if only to discover if Valentina will ever come to her senses.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

CARNIVAL FOR THE DEAD



TITLE: CARNIVAL FOR THE DEAD
AUTHOR: DAVID HEWSON
Pages: 367
Date: 09/10/2012
Grade: 4.5
Details: A Venetian Mystery
            Received from Pan Macmillan
            Through Book Geeks
Own

“Sometimes a mask is there to fool others. Sometimes to fool oneself.”

Forensic pathologist Teresa Lupo has travelled from Rome to Venice to look into the disappearance of her beloved and rather bohemian aunt Sofia. It is February, and in cold and wintery Venice the Carnival is in full swing. When Teresa and her mother, shortly after arriving in town, are met by a mysterious man dressed in the costume of the Plague Doctor, complete with the horrible, long nosed mask, Teresa starts suspecting that her missing aunt may be in trouble. A visit to Sofia’s apartment only deepens Teresa’s suspicions and when her mother returns to Rome, the pathologist stays behind and takes up lodgings in her aunts rooms, determined to discover where her aunt is and why she disappeared. A letter, hand delivered to the apartment and addressed to Teresa, turns out to contain a story featuring both her and her aunt as well as an English professor Teresa has never heard of before. When she wants to have another look at the strange story the next day, Teresa discovers that the words have disappeared from the pages and the mystery deepens further. With the police unable and unwilling to look into the disappearance of a grown and independent woman with the Carnival in full swing, it is up to Teresa to try and figure out what is going on. Further stories are delivered to Teresa and while on the surface they appear to have little or nothing to do with her missing aunt, the pathologist is convinced that they must hold clues to her aunt’s fate. But who is writing these stories? Is it Sofia herself, is it one of her friends or is it someone else altogether, someone Teresa doesn’t know but who seems to know her and her actions very well? And how do a little white dog and Carpaccio’s paintings tie into the mystery? The scientific minded Teresa will have to learn to use and trust her imagination and intuition if she is going to discover what happened to her aunt. And while she’s at it she has to stay safe and alive.

This is a wonderful mystery and a powerful thriller. It is also, possibly, something more than that. The story starts of slowly and without any real urgency. Yes, Sofia has disappeared, but she has done so before and has always turned up later, unharmed and unaware of any worry she may have caused. Surely this could be more of the same? Except that it slowly becomes clear to Teresa and the reader that this disappearance is different. There is indeed something or someone out in Venice who is determined to find and harm Sofia as well as others who might get in their way. The danger creeps up both on the characters in the book and on the reader until, near the end of the book, it all explodes in violence.

Venice during Carnival is the perfect setting for this book. The place is described as both fascinating and scary. The bright parties on the streets are contrasted by the dark and deserted alleys that more often than not turn out to be dead-ended. The cold of winter creeps not just into the character’s bones, it also affects the reader as the story becomes ever chillier.

David Hewson writes wonderful books. His characters are well formed and are true individuals. Nobody in this book is described in terms of black and white. Everybody is nuanced which makes them interesting as characters and the story more fascinating. His descriptions of Venice are wonderful. I could see the city during Carnival almost as clearly as if I had been there, just as I could feel the danger lurking in dark corners and appreciate the beauty of the brighter places.

The ending of this book doesn’t provide clear cut answers to every question the story poses. It is up to the reader to decide whether or not there are some supernatural powers at play here. Is the impossible actually happening, or is Teresa right to dismiss it all as one man’s madness? And while a somewhat open ending could be frustrating when reading a mystery, in this book it worked perfectly. I really like the “what-if” David Hewson left me with and I know I will enjoy pondering it for the next few days.

“The wisdom of dogs is to remind us of our own arrogance and stupidity in believing tomorrow may somehow prove more precious than today.”

Sunday, October 7, 2012

ME AND MR. BOOKER



TITLE: ME AND MR BOOKER
AUTHOR: CORY TAYLOR
Pages: 214
Date: 07/10/2012
Grade: 4
Details: Received from Sandstone Press
            Through Book Geeks
Own

Martha is sixteen years old, living in a small town where nothing ever happens with parents who are separated, a brother who has moved away and a father who is mad. Martha is waiting for the rest of her life to begin when her mother invites Mr. and Mrs. Booker to a party. The Bookers are a married couple in their thirties who have recently moved from England to Australia. Well aware of the effect she has on men, Martha is not surprised when she notices that he can’t keep his eyes off her. And it isn’t long before Mr. Booker kisses Martha, launching an affair that soon means the world to the teenager but never really has a chance of going anywhere. While her father, Victor, refuses to go away permanently and keeps on upsetting both her mother and Martha, the girl finds herself in a situation where stolen moments with Mr. Booker take turns with continued contact with Mrs. Booker. Lost in an adult world ruled by (too much) alcohol and secrets, Martha is hoping that her lover will leave his wife for her although she is never able to completely convince herself that he might actually do that. And when hope and tragedy visit the Bookers’ in quick succession it spells the end of Martha’s affair and heralds the start of the rest of her life.

Now that I’ve finished reading this book I’m still not sure exactly how I feel about it. It is a short book and a fascinating story. However it is written in a very detached way. Although the story is narrated by Martha herself, she tells it as if it has little to do with her. How emotionally attached she actually was to what was going on in her life has to be found between the lines, in the words the narrator doesn’t use. But that is just the tone of the story. It is impossible for the reader not to realise how emotionally invested Martha was in the affair, and that she at least thought that she loved this man.Since the Martha telling the story is clearly older than the Martha who is at the centre of it, it is quite possible that this tone is used to hide how much the whole episode affected her. And the same is true for the way in which she describes her family life. Her sixteen year old exasperation with her parents at war with the connection she feels with them.

In many ways this is a coming of age story. A young girl falls in love for the first time and has her first sexual experiences at an age where such things make a deep and lasting impression. The heartbreaking part of the story is that in many ways the sixteen-year-old is the grown-up in this story. Between her mad (bi-polar?) father, her needy mother and moody brother Martha doesn’t have a lot of support at home. When an interesting English man twice her age pays her attention she is more than open to his charms. For once she feels like the centre of somebody’s life, even if that somebody is all wrong for her.

A lot of this story can be found in all the things that are not actually told. For example, it is never clear how much or how little the other people in Martha and Mr. Booker’s life know about what is going on between the two of them. Although it seems impossible that they managed to keep their affair a secret from everybody around them, nobody tries to keep them apart, not even Mrs. Booker. Equally, it is never completely clear when exactly this story takes place, although I’d like to say that it is set in the 1960’s or 70’s.

This was a very easy book to read. The language flows and pulls the reader into what appears to be a nice little story. Except that of course it isn’t. As soon as you stop reading for a minute and start thinking about what is actually happening on the pages you have been turning so quickly you realise that this is a shocking and rather sad story about a sixteen year old, desperate for love and finding it in completely the wrong place. And although Martha, as the narrator doesn’t make any statements about the rights or wrongs of this affair – apart from saying that it would have been better if it hadn’t happened – it is hard for the reader not to feel sorry for the girl who had to experience her first big love with a man this unworthy of her.

Overall I would call this a fascinating story which was (almost too) easy to read. The sort of book that won’t make it’s real impact be felt until you’ve read the last page and think about the story for a while. It is only after Martha has finished telling her story that it becomes clear how heartbreaking that story actually is.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN



TITLE: THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN
AUTHOR: CARLOS RUIZ ZAFÓN
Pages: 278
Date: 06/10/2012
Grade: 5-
Details: no. 3 Barcelona Cycle
Library

Barcelona, December 1957 and Daniel Sempere (The Shadow of the Wind) is now married to the love of his life, Bea and they have a young son. Daniel works with his father in Sempere & Sons’ bookshop where they are being assisted by Fermin Romero de Torres who is engaged and getting ready for his wedding in the New Year. But Fermin appears to be troubled about something, and his worries only increase after a mysterious man visits the bookshop. Daniel is on his own when the man with the limp enters the bookshop and insists on buying “The Count of Monte Cristo” the most expensive book they have in stock. The buyer doesn’t take the book with him though. He insists that it is a present for Fermin and after inscribing a message in the book the man leaves again. The dedication saying: “For Fermin Romero de Torres, who came back from among the dead and holds the key to the future. 13” doesn’t mean anything to Daniel but when Fermin reads it he gets even more worried.
The man and his message are linked to events which took place twenty years earlier, shortly after Franco won the civil war. These are events Fermin has never spoken about but now feels he has to share with Daniel. It is a story about imprisonment, a prison governor with literary delusions of grandeur and Fermin, caught between the governor, an imprisoned author named David Martin and a cell-mate who is refusing to die. These are events that are somehow linked to Daniel’s mother Isabella who died under suspicious circumstances around the same time; events that continue to cast a shadow into the present.
As Daniel slowly discovers how everything connects and manages to solve most, if not all, of Fermin’s problems, the Cemetery of Forgotten Books once again uncovers a written work, “The Angel’s Game” that might shed light on some of the mysteries but could just as easily lead to the start of a new adventure.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón has done it again. He has written an intriguing story in which nothing and nobody is quite what they seem. His plots are layered and linked in ways that the reader couldn’t even begin to imagine. Events from the two earlier books tie in with and help to explain what is happening in this story while the final sentences of this book indicate that the story hasn’t reached its finale yet.

The characters in this story are as vivid as they are unique. And more unique than most is Fermin. He is not a character that allows for an easy and short description. Fermin is complex, extravagant, out-going yet secretive and most of all, a loyal friend. Daniel is a far more straightforward character. He is a good-hearted young man and easy going unless he allows his emotions to rule his actions. Jealousy and a need to know the truth bring him into situations he should probably avoid. Situations that, while providing answers also pose more questions. And not all of those questions are answered in this book.

While this is a fluently written and easy to read book it also provides the reader with a lot to think about. At times it feels almost as if the reader has a philosophical book in their hands. Thoughts and actions are hidden behind and underneath the words that are on the page. Not everything is diverged but the things left unsaid are as important to the story as everything that has been spelled out for the reader. As a result I find that while it didn’t take me long at all to read this book, it will take me a long time before the story will leave my thoughts.

“The Prisoner of Heaven” is the third book in the Barcelona cycle by Zafón. All three books are connected to each other but there is no need to read them in any particular order. I would however say that there is probably a huge benefit to be had from reading all three of them in quick succession. Now that I have finished reading this book I feel I should probably go back and read “The Angels Game” again. The way that book is referenced in this one suggests that a lot of the present story has its origins in that one, and I really can’t remember that much of it. Having said that, the ending of this book seems to suggest that there is more to come and I think I will wait with a complete re-read until Zafón has written everything he is going to write about Barcelona, these characters and the mysteries in their lives.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

EIGHTY DAYS BLUE



TITLE: EIGHTY DAYS BLUE
AUTHOR: VINA JACKSON
Pages: 326
Date: 04/10/2012
Grade: 4+
Details: no. 2 Eighty Days
            Received from Orion
            Through Book Geeks
Own

“Doms, subs it happens gradually, almost without your being aware of it. Until the day comes when you assume it fully, accept it, banish the personal doubts. It’s nature, not nurture, you see.”

Except that in reality it is never that simple. Rarely do we grow into something new without some obstacles getting in the way as Dominik and Summer are about to find out in this, the second instalment in the Eighty Days trilogy.

Violinist Summer Zahova is happy in New York. She is enjoying her time with the orchestra, especially now that it has a new and attractive conductor, Simón. Having left Victor behind her after his games in “Eighty Days Yellow” went too far for her, she is enjoying a few days with Dominik, the man who gave her the beautiful violin she cherishes and introduced her to the kinkier side of relationships. She never tells him about her times with Victor, even though Dominik knows Victor and they had an agreement to share any encounters with third parties with each other. When Dominik has to return to his life in London, Summer finds herself alone and unable to really connect with people. Dominik taking a sabbatical from his job in London to pursue a residency in New York appears to be the answer to the yearning they both feel for each other. But it isn’t long after he arrives before a solo performance by Summer is such a success that it results in a world tour, taking her away from Dominik once again. When Summer at last returns to America it should mean a happy reunion but it appears that Victor still has some games to play with the young musician. And this time it might well result in the death of her relationship with Dominik.

Anyone who has read my review of “Eighty Days Yellow” knows that I felt kind of ambivalent about that book. I’m happy to say this second book in the trilogy worked better for me. As we get to know the two main characters better we also start to understand what it is that motivates them. That may not mean that they become anymore sympathetic than they were in the previous book, but, because they are consistent in their behaviour, they grow on the reader.

Maybe it is time to be honest and admit that my reluctance towards liking these books is a result of the level of realism in them. Most works of romantic fiction and erotica appear to be written as if they are fairy-tales. Not so these books. No first meeting with sparks flying followed by romantic courtship, interrupted for a short while by some sort of issue or misunderstanding only for everything to come together in an easy happily-ever-after in this story. These two main characters, though drawn together, have almost more downs than ups. It is their own behaviour as well as outside influences that throw obstacles in their way. These aren’t almost too good to be true fantasies we are reading; these characters are flawed, selfish and at times stupid. In short, these characters are so real that you would like to slap them occasionally if only to wake them up to how careless they are being with each other and with their own feelings. And that I guess is a credit to the authors. As frustrating as I found the characters in this book at times, they do come across as very realistic in a way that characters in romances usually don’t do.
I do wonder though if this is a work of erotic fiction (as in a tantalising story) or a cautionary tale (as in, be careful what you get yourself into because it can easily come back to bite you).

Although this book, like its prequel, comes with a fair amount of graphic and quite kinky sex scenes, the story seems to be more about the emotions behind the physical needs this time. To me it felt as if the feelings the characters had about their sexual needs, and the desperation those needs sometimes caused, was far more important than the actual acts of intimacy. We get an insight into the need, the confusion and also the shame the characters experience. This gives the book more depth than the average work of erotica usually has.

The shifting story-telling perspective that I had an issue with while reading "Eighty Days Yellow" is still the same. We still shift from Dominik (in the second person) to Summer (in the first as well as the second person). But I must have gotten used to it. While these shifts pulled my out of the story in the previous book they didn't bother me at all this time around. I'm still not sure why exactly Summer's story is told from two different perspectives, but I can live with it.

Now that I’ve read two of the three books in this series I find myself very curious about how this story might end. While it would seem that the two main characters are destined to be together eventually it also seems clear that both of them would have to learn a lot, about themselves and about each other, if we’re ever to reach that (possibly) happy ending. I now can’t wait to read the concluding book: “Eighty Days Red”.