Saturday, August 31, 2013

BURIAL RIGHTS



TITLE: BURIAL RIGHTS
AUTHOR: HANNAH KENT
Pages: 338
Date: 31/08/2013
Grade: 5
Details: Received from Picador
            Through Nudge
Own


Fact: The last person ever to be executed in Iceland was Agnes Magnúsdóttir for her part in the murder of Natan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson. Agnes and her accomplice Fridrik Sigurdsson, were beheaded on January 12, 1830.
                                                                                         
Fact: Agnes spent the months leading up to her execution with a family at Kormsá.

I could go on. This book’s story is fictionalised fact and as such is beautiful, thought-provoking and totally heartbreaking. In a narrative told from various points of view the reader is introduced to Agnes while she is being held prisoner under conditions you wouldn’t submit an animal to. When she is moved to a new location at Kormsá she is filthy, weak and sullen. The Jónsson family she is to stay with until her sentence will be executed, is anxious and hostile, faced with the prospect of harbouring a convicted murderess under their roof. Assistant reverend Thorvardur (Tóti) Jónsson is given the task of seeing to the soul and redemption of Agnes, as requested by her. During her months at Kormsá, Agnes slowly shares her story. We read about her desperate childhood, her hard life, the short glimpse of hope and the devastation that followed.

This is a fascinating story for various reasons. The fact that everything written in this book is based on real events makes this a harrowing tale to read at times. The murders, as described in this book, are gruesome and the way Agnes is initially portrayed makes it all too easy to believe that she is the cold-hearted murderess her judges make her out to be. It is only as Agnes slowly opens herself up to Tóti and to Margrét Jónsson that the reader is getting an insight into who this woman was, what may have led to the murders and what, if anything, her role in those may have been. By the time the axe has fallen and the story is finished, it is up to the reader to decide for themselves what to think of this woman, and what to believe – about her and about what exactly happened.

The story is told in a wonderful way. The words used are sparse yet lyrical. On these pages the rough and barren landscape of Iceland comes alive. The claustrophobic living quarters, the isolation of some people, the harsh living conditions and the brutal weather all enhance the feeling of gloom and despair in this story.

I loved the way in which the developing relationships between the characters in this story are described. The gradual transition from out and out hostility to something almost resembling kinship is made all the more realistic by the fact that there is no clear turning point. The Jónsson family and Agnes, being forced to live and work together in a small space for an extended period of time, get closer to each other almost despite themselves. By the time Agnes is taken away to face her sentence it is clear to the family that the woman who is leaving in no way resembles the monster they initially believed her to be. And, most heartbreakingly of all, Agnes is taken to her death from what has probably been the best house and family she has ever stayed and worked with.

I liked the way the author plays with her readers in this book. We know that what we are reading is fictionalised fact and as such know that not everything we read is completely true. We know that the author has no way of knowing what Agnes may have thought and felt at the time or even what exactly happened on the night of the murders. Hannah Kent puts an interesting spin on this idea by making Agnes into a not quite reliable narrator:

“This is what I tell the Reverend.”

Is she just spinning him a tale, portraying herself in the best possible light? Or is this just a statement of fact? Hannah Kent cleverly leaves it up to the reader to make that decision, and in doing so makes the story even more intriguing than it already was.

The language in this book is beautiful and thought-provoking:

“It was only later that our tongues produced landslides, that we became caught in the cracks between what we said and what we meant, until we could not find each other, did not trust the words in our own mouths.”

Time and again sentences like that forced me to stop reading to think about what I had just read and marvel at the depth and beauty.

It is hard to believe that this is Hannah Kent’s first novel. This book is so beautifully written and so wonderfully well constructed that it feels like the work of a seasoned author with years of experience. If this book sets the standard, than us readers have some treats to look forward to from this author in years to come.

Finally, I want to end this review with an Icelandic saying I came across in this book. A saying that will resound in the soul of everybody who loves reading:

“Blind is a man without a book.”

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A PRIVATE VIEW



TITLE: A PRIVATE VIEW
AUTHOR: CRYSTALLE VALENTINO
Pages: 313
Date: 28/08/2013
Grade: 3
Details: Received from Black Lace
Own

The Blurb:

Welcome to the world of the elite...

As a model, Jemma is used to being the centre of attention. And when Dominic Vane, the world-famous photographer, asks her to pose for him, she knows it's not just her pictures he's interested in.

But in a world where pleasure is pursued above all else, will falling for Dominic's masterful touch come at too high a cost?

From the glamorous South of France to the luxuries of Monte Carlo, A Private View will take you on a wild journey of sexual discovery.

=================================================
 
As blurbs go, this is not the best one I’ve come across recently. Yes, Jemma is indeed a model. Yes, Dominic Vane does want her to pose for him and yes, the story does take us to the South of France, but other than that?

I would describe this book along these lines:

Jemma is a successful model who is pleasantly surprised and intrigued when Dominic Vane, a famous erotic photographer, invites her to pose for him. Having an adventurous nature and healthy sexual appetite, Jemma imagines that the time she will spend with him will be a lusty combination of art and sex. And she’s not completely wrong. 

From the moment she meets Dominic it is clear that he’s attracted to her, but he flat out refuses to touch her intimately. While that is frustrating enough for the easily stimulated Jemma, the fact that she appears to be the only woman he doesn’t want to touch infuriates her even more. 

During her time in the South of France Jemma will have numerous sexual encounters with various people. But getting Dominic to act on the attraction he obviously feels for her may just be one seduction too far. Unless Jemma can figure out why Dominic is so afraid to be intimate with her and help him overcome those fears.

And that is more or less the complete story in this book. Because in reality this book is more or less a collection of sexual encounters between Jemma and numerous other people. 

Don’t get me wrong. As you may have noticed I rather enjoy my erotic novels and don’t shy away from even the most explicit stories. But, and there lies the rub, I do like there to be a real story to accompany the sex. And in this book there was very little story to back up all the sexual encounters.

I had a few other issues with this book as well. For starters: early on in the story we read the following passage:

“For too long she had been stuck with predictable, reliable Steven, using their life together as an excuse for not pursuing a more hedonistic, sensual lifestyle that she could truly embrace and enjoy.”

Which would be fine provided this Steven was indeed predictable. But, from the glimpse we get of him, Steven comes across as intriguing, adventurous and tolerant. What is more, they are supposed to be in an open relationship so in theory at least, there shouldn’t be anything standing between Jemma and the hedonistic, sensual lifestyle she is longing for.

The writing is at times inconsistent. In one chapter Jemma refuses to look at something only to muse about everything she saw, while she was supposed to have her eyes closed, in the next chapter.

But what really got on my nerves after a while was the repetitive way in which certain words were used.

So, what did I like about this book?

I liked the idea behind the story – the reason Dominic refuses to touch Jemma and the consequences of his refusal and her persistence in trying to change his mind. I can’t help feeling that a lot more could have been made of that story idea though.

And, apart from the irritations I mentioned above, this book was quite well and smoothly written and very easy to read.

If you’re looking for an easy to read book with a lot of erotic content and not too much story-line or character development to get in the way of all the action, you could do a lot worse than pick up this book. If, on the other hand, you prefer it when the sexual action moves the story forwards and aids the development of characters, this may not be the book for you. For me this was a quick, easy and at times quite hot read, be it one that won’t stay with me for very long.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

CUT & RUN



TITLE: CUT & RUN
AUTHOR: MADELEINE URBAN & ABIGAIL ROUX
Pages: 376
Date: 27/08/2013
Grade: 4.5
Details: no. 1 Cut & Run
Own / Kindle

The blurb:

“A series of murders in New York City has stymied the police and FBI alike, and they suspect the culprit is a single killer sending an indecipherable message. But when the two federal agents assigned to the investigation are taken out, the FBI takes a more personal interest in the case.

Special Agent Ty Grady is pulled out of undercover work after his case blows up in his face. He's cocky, abrasive, and indisputably the best at what he does. But when he's paired with Special Agent Zane Garrett, it's hate at first sight. Garrett is the perfect image of an agent: serious, sober, and focused, which makes their partnership a classic cliché: total opposites, good cop-bad cop, the odd couple. They both know immediately that their partnership will pose more of an obstacle than the lack of evidence left by the murderer.

Practically before their special assignment starts, the murderer strikes again – this time at them. Now on the run, trying to track down a man who has focused on killing his pursuers, Grady and Garrett will have to figure out how to work together before they become two more notches in the murderer's knife.”

Let me start with saying that I need a new series to fall in love with like I need a hole in the head. And yet, I allowed friends to convince me that I should really read this book. And I did in the full knowledge that if I did like “Cut & Run” there would be at least another six books I want to read. And - since I have friends with good taste - I find myself loving the story and the characters in it and frantically looking for ways I can convince myself that buying the sequels is actually a necessity rather than a luxury and therefore not only allowed but required.

And boy did I love this book. From the moment I picked it up I was hooked. Ty Grady and Zane Garrett had my attention from the moment they appeared on the page. Even while they were hating each other and exchanging one rude remark for another the chemistry between Ty and Zane is palpable while at the same time they made me smile and at times laugh out loud. Once the hate turns into something else – something neither of them is willing to name or fully acknowledge – the story really kicks off. And that is just the romantic part of this story. The suspense part is equally fascinating and addictive. The combination of the reluctant attraction between these two men and the constant threat they’re facing makes this an adrenaline filled read, near impossible to put down.

Usually when I read “Romantic Suspense” I get impatient with either the romantic or the suspenseful part of the story because I just want to know how the other part is going to conclude. Not so in this book. I was just as eager to find out who is trying to kill Zane and Ty as I was to see their volatile relationship develop.

What I really admired in this book is that the authors didn’t go for miracle solutions for either the relationship or the mystery. This relationship between two men who each have enough issues to break a person down completely, was never going to be smooth or easy and, thankfully, the authors didn’t give the story some unconvincing twist to facilitate an unrealistic happily ever after. And the same can be said for the mystery Ty and Zane are trying to solve. While they did stumble on part of the solution by accident, it happened in a convincing way and didn’t come with a sudden transformation from “completely clueless” to “full insight”.

I loved that we get this story from both Ty and Zane’s point of view. We can see both men struggle with each other and with themselves. I liked that while both men had heterosexual relationships in their pasts, there was no belly-aching over this attraction to each other. While both of them had great difficulty sharing their feelings with the other, or even acknowledging them to themselves, they just went with their attraction and turned it into something beautiful and very erotic. And, I can’t help feeling that the dynamics between these two men will only get more intriguing and a lot hotter as the stories continue.

So, it may be clear from what I wrote above that I loved this book. Then why, I hear you ask, did I “only” grade it 4.5? There are a few reasons.

First of all I had the killer pegged from the moment he entered the story. I was hoping it would turn out to be somebody else but I turned out to be right. And while you might think I’d relish the fact that I got it right in one go, I am in fact always a bit disappointed when the big reveal doesn’t surprise me.

Secondly, I wasn’t entirely convinced by the sudden change in character Ty and Zane went through in the middle of the book. It certainly was intriguing but really didn’t make a whole lot of sense even if more or less plausible reasons were provided.

My last and main reason though is that I have been reliably informed that the books in this series only get better. Rating this book 4.5 rather than 5 means that I will be able to raise the score if it turns out that I indeed end up loving these books and these characters more with every subsequent title.

Of course, falling in love with a series of books this much leaves me in a bit of a quandary. As much as I would love to read the next six books back to back I’ve committed to too many reviews to give in to that urge. While I fully expect to read these books in rather quick succession in the near future, those prior commitments force me to take it slow. That is not altogether bad though; I know myself well enough to realize that I’m going to be heartbroken when I finish reading the last available title. So maybe I should be grateful that I don’t have a choice but to take it slowly. After all, every successful relationship requires patience.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

BEYOND PAIN



TITLE: BEYOND PAIN
AUTHOR KIT ROCHA
Date: 25/08/2013
Grade: 5
Details: No. 3 Beyond
Own / Kindle


A woman with no future…

Live fast, die young–anything else is a fantasy for Six. She’s endured the worst the sectors had to throw at her, but falling in with Dallas O’Kane’s Sector Four gang lands her in a whole new world of danger. They’re completely open about everything, including their sexuality–but she hasn’t survived this long by making herself vulnerable. Especially not to men as dominant as Brendan Donnelly.

A man without a past…

Bren is a killer, trained in Eden and thrown to the sectors. His one outlet is pain, in the cage and in the bedroom, and emotion is a luxury he can’t afford–until he meets Six. Protecting her soothes him, but it isn’t enough. Her hunger for touch sparks a journey of erotic discovery where anything goes–voyeurism, flogging, rough sex. He has only one rule: he won’t share her.
In Bren’s arms, Six is finally free to let go. But his obsession with the man who made him a monster could destroy the fragile connection they’ve forged, and cost him the one thing that makes him feel human–her love.

God, did I love this book. This is my third venture into the sectors, my third visit with Dallas O’Kane and his people and with every single book I get drawn deeper into that dystopian world. With every subsequent title I grow more attached to the people in Sector Four. Every time I finish one of these books the need to get my hands on the next installment grows more desperate. And, it has to be said, this book is my favourite so far.

I mean, what’s not to love? Two broken people - beaten so hard by life that they should be on their knees, begging for mercy and yearning for death - finding each other and the strength to love and trust although every instinct tells them not to expose themselves to hurt once again.

Take Six. A girl who hasn’t heard her given name for so long that she’s all but forgotten it. A girl who has been used, abused, abandoned and betrayed so often in her young life that it is a miracle she is willing to even consider trusting some one again.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever had a home before.”

But, despite her history, despite every instinct telling her that it isn’t safe to trust anyone, she is willing to try. Because of Brendan.

Bren – sigh – at least as broken as Six, he goes out of his way to make her feel at home in Sector Four and safe with him. He wants her, desperately, but refuses to push her:

“I wouldn’t do anything you didn’t want, but it doesn’t stop there. I wouldn’t do anything you weren’t sure about, either.” (Bren)

And it is the fact that Bren doesn’t ask, never mind force, her to do anything she might be uncomfortable with that makes it possible for Six to start trusting him. He seems to instinctively recognize her fears and needs and acts accordingly, always careful not to push her further than she is comfortable with.

“But he handled the bomb the way he handled her, every movement gentle, every touch precise, as if he knew all the ways she could shatter into dangerous pieces.”

But Six is not a weak damsel in distress. She may be uncomfortable with emotions, she may find it impossible to believe that people could accept her just for what she is, without judging her past, that doesn’t mean she is a whimpering mess. She is a strong woman, determined to make herself stronger. And Bren helps her get there, just by believing in her.

And Brendan understands Six well enough to not ask her for anything she can’t give him. All he wants from her is whatever she is willing to give him.

When his past pushes itself between Bren and Six, both of them need to reflect. And both of them need to listen not only to their hearts but also to the words of their friends in order not to lose that which has so carefully been established.

“Trust is the prize and the fight’s not about winning it or keeping it. It’s about deserving it, and that’s a fight a man’s got to have with himself. Every fucking day.” (Dallas to Bren)

I’ve read other series of books; series centered on a group of people in which each book concentrates on a certain relationship. When they’re done well, series like that are a pure delight because they give the reader the opportunity to keep any eye on past and future main characters, on how the world the story is set in develops; it means that the reader really does get the opportunity to get an answer to the question that so often springs to mind when a book is over – “I wonder what will happen next”. But most series will only give the reader glimpses of the other characters. They will surface as familiar names, be given a token paragraph and disappear again to make room for the stars of the current installment. What I LOVE about these books is that the authors take it further. Yes, each of the Beyond titles concentrates on one developing relationship but the older stories continue, the characters from previous books continue to develop and play a real role and those who will feature in future books have had their stories started in earlier titles. Kit Rocha has dropped her readers into a world that becomes more established, more real, with every subsequent title. You never stop learning more about this world and these characters, old and new, and that, for me, is the ultimate reading experience; total immergence.

The story is perfect. We get the against the odds love story, the angst experienced by both characters. There is a real and realistic dilemma almost tearing them apart. Add to that a dark but convincing world, true loyalty and friendship, strong women and tons of hot sex and you know you’ve found yourself one of those reads that will stay with you for a long, long time. But, most importantly for me, these books don’t have protracted drama. They don’t need it. There are no easy solutions either, though. This is a story set in a dystopian, fantastical world that feels more real than the setting in the average contemporary novel does. Bring on “Beyond Jealousy”; especially after that very enticing taster at the end of this book.

“He had her. Beautiful, dangerous, flawed, lonely Brendan Donnelly had her, and she was going to give him everything.”


Saturday, August 24, 2013

THE BONE SEASON



TITLE: THE BONE SEASON
AUTHOR: SAMANTHA SHANNON
Pages: 454
Date: 24/08/2013
Grade: 4+
Details: No. 1 Bone Season
            ARC received from Bloomsbury
            Through Nudge
Own

“I committed high treason just by breathing.”

The year is 2059; the place Scion London. For just under two hundred years the people in England have been divided into two groups; those who are capable of clairvoyance and those who aren’t. For just under two hundred years those who have the sight, can communicate with spirits and can touch the Aether - the spirit realm - have been prosecuted. When clairvoyance was declared an epidemic, those capable of it became outlaws; people to be hunted down, caught and eliminated.

Nineteen year old Paige Mahoney is one of those “cursed” with clairvoyance and has been working for Jaxon Hall, a powerful crime lord, for more than two years. As a dreamwalker, Paige is capable of entering other people’s dreamscapes, a power Jaxon is determined to explore and exploit.

But Jaxon is not the only one with an interest in Paige’s powers. When she has to use her powers to protect herself, Paige attracts the attention of those whose existence she wasn’t even aware of. Her subsequent arrest should have lead to a swift execution, but instead Paige finds herself transported to Oxford, a secret and hidden place, ruled by non-human entities. A place where clairvoyance is not only normal but also exploited to fulfill the needs and desires of the Rephaite overlords.

From the moment she arrives, Paige’s only goal is to make it back to London and her friends; a wish which appears impossible. Assigned to Warden, Paige is put through training which should prepare her to join the ranks of the clairvoyant army protecting the secret city. But is that all her captors want from her or do they have ulterior motives? And if they do, what might they be? Do all Rephaite expect the same from her or are there divisions among their ranks as well? Is the enigmatic Warden really Paige’s enemy or is there something else going on? Whatever Paige may discover, one thing is for sure; her life is in more danger than ever before and will never be the same again.

This is a difficult book to summarize in a meaningful way. Samantha Shannon has created a credible and very complex world and throws her reader into the middle of a character and action filled story. And, if I’m honest, I have to admit that I felt a bit lost and confused while reading the first part of this book. The world described in this book may resemble ours, it is also very different. And with Seven Orders of Clairvoyance - each having their own subdivisions and powers - it does get a bit hard keeping everything straight in your head. And the same can be said about the characters; there are enough of them in this book that the reader has to continuously pay attention in order to keep them all separated.

The author does try to make it easier on her reader by not dumping all the details about this world on them in one go. But, while this certainly makes the reading easier and the story move faster, it also means that it takes longer for the reader to get some understanding of what exactly is going on, how this world works and who is playing what role in this story. Of course this is the first title in a seven book series, and any world expected to entertain the reader for that long has to be complex and well developed. And while I’m full of admiration for the way in which Shannon managed to create a realistic world and one I could easily picture in my mind, I also have to admit that there were times when I was taken out of the story by the amount of information I had to absorb.

But, and I can’t stress this enough, it is well worth sticking with the story. Paige is a wonderful, strong, flawed and therefore completely realistic main character and I found it impossible not to get caught up in her fears, hopes and desires. The Warden is an enigmatic character that will keep both Paige and the reader guessing for a long time. In fact, there were quite a few things in this story that took me by surprise. Certain characters were introduced and I would be convinced that I knew exactly what their role in the story was going to be, only for my theory to be proven completely wrong. And I do like it when an author manages to keep my on my toes and guessing.

I also greatly appreciate that although this book is the first installment in a series and it is quite clear from the last pages that there is a lot more story to come, the author didn’t leave her readers with a massive cliffhanger. She did leave more than enough questions unanswered and facts shrouded in mystery to make me very curious about where this story is going to be taking us next, though.

It is hard to know how to categorize this book. There is a lot that reminds me of Young Adult titles such as Twilight and The Hunger Games while there are other aspects to this book that make it feel more like an adult book. I know it is being marketed as a book for adults by the publisher but in my opinion this is a perfect example of a crossover title. Anybody who enjoys a well written, imaginative and thrilling story will get a kick out of this book.

While this is a great adventure story, set in an intriguing and terrifying world and a definite page turner, this book is a lot more too. It is a story about growing up, about being different and coming to terms with that, about finding your own strengths and learning to rely on them, and most of all a story about trust. This is not a predictable book, nor does it go for easy answers; black isn’t always black nor is white always white. There were a few surprises in this book that I didn’t see coming and I fully expect there to be a lot more of those in the books to come.

And yes, I am looking forward to the rest of this story. I can’t help feeling that with this world and its inhabitants having been established in this first book, the subsequent stories will be even more intriguing and captivating.

Samantha Shannon turns out to be an author with a rich imagination and a good eye for detail. She knows how to draw her readers into her world and keep them there, captured by a need to know what is going to be happening next. I have no idea when the second Bone Season title will be released but I do know I’ll be among the first to read it when it does.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

CHASING MATT



TITLE: CHASING MATT
AUTHOR: NIKKA MICHAELS & EILEEN GRIFFIN
Pages: 55
Date: 20/08/2013
Grade: 5
Own / Kindle


The Blurb:

Chase Williams is a gorgeous but painfully shy web designer whose long-term boyfriend dumped him for being such a “nice” guy. Instead of meeting his buddies at the local bar for a drink, he helps his elderly neighbor with a DIY project. When a wobbly step ladder leads to a banged up wrist and a trip to the ER, Chase is convinced it’s the worst night ever. Then he meets his handsome nurse.

Matt Owens is the boy next door who loves working in the busy ER. He’s more than ready to clock out from his double shift until he meets his patient in Bed 4.

But will Matt’s attraction to Chase be enough to make him break his rule about never dating patients?

============================================================


So, what is it that makes a book a wonderful read for me? I’m not sure I can put my finger on what exactly the secret ingredient(s) may be but I know one thing for sure. If I have a huge, happy grin on my face once I finish a story it is a sure sign that I found one of those very special little gems. And boy did I have a - probably rather stupid - grin on my face when I put my reader aside and reflected on what I just read.

Apart from the fact that this is a charming story about two men meeting each other under less than ideal circumstances and getting together despite the odds being stacked against them – as if that isn’t enough – there is a lot to love in this novella.

I loved the banter between these two men, the way they are teasing each other almost from the moment they first meet in the emergency room. I adore that Matt and Chase aren’t stereotypes. It is nice to have a story where the confidence and insecurity seem to shift from moment to moment between the two characters. Chase is a typical geek who loves his job and is usually quite happy in his own company, something his former partner couldn’t or wouldn’t appreciate:

“I’m lame. Too boring. Too nice. Not funny or outgoing or enough for him. I’m too much of a recluse for Mr. Popular.”

And Matt has his own reasons for avoiding getting too close with Chase, this hot patient he is treating in the emergency room. But, and this is one of the things I love so much about this book, there is no protracted drama. Neither of these men allows their hang-ups to get in the way of instant attraction. As Matt says:

“What kind of idiot lets one bad experience dictate how they live their life.”

I’ve recently found myself getting really impatient with books in which one or more of the main characters is forever second-guessing themselves and can’t express how delightful it is to read a book in which the main protagonists get over themselves and their insecurities and just grab the bull by the horns.

And the banter between Matt and Chase. Did I mention how much I loved it? How could I not end up smiling when faced with dialogue like this:

“Matt? Shut up and kiss me…My pleasure. Shutting up now.”

Or, for one more example, this:

“The things you moaned are illegal in twenty-seven states, I’m pretty sure. But for you, I’ll try them all once.”

If I had to come up with one complaint about this book it would be that it wasn’t any longer. I would have loved to spend another hour, day or even week with Matt and Chase. But, that is not to say that this story isn’t long enough or feels rushed or unfinished. Quite the opposite in fact. This is a perfectly constructed story; it tells the reader what they need to know in order to get a good idea about who these characters are. There is enough of a back story to explain the way they behave and there is so much chemistry between Matt and Chase that the heat of it shimmers off the page. In short; this was one very lucky find and a very promising debut for these two authors. And now that I’ve been introduced to Nikka Michaels and Eileen Griffin I can only hope that they’ll continue writing. As long as they do, either together or with individual works, they’ll have one faithful reader in me.

Monday, August 19, 2013

THE SILVER CHAIN



TITLE: THE SILVER CHAIN
AUTHOR: PRIMULA BOND
Pages: 369
Date: 19/08/2013
Grade: 4
Details: no. 1 Unbreakable Trilogy
            Received from Harper Collins UK/Avon
            Through NetGalley
Own/Kindle


The blurb:

“Bound by passion, she was powerless to resist.

One dark evening in London, photographer Serena Folkes is indulging her impulsive side with a night-time shoot. But someone is watching her – mysterious entrepreneur Gustav Levi. Serena doesn’t know it yet, but this handsome stranger will change her life forever…

Serena is fascinated by Gustav, the enigmatic owner of the Levi Gallery, and she soon feels an irresistible pull of attraction. The interest is mutual, and Gustav promises to launch Serena’s photographic career at his gallery, but only if Serena agrees to become his exclusive companion.

To mark their agreement, Gustav gives Serena a bracelet to wear at all times. Attached to it is a silver chain of which he is the keeper. With the chain Gustav controls Serena physically and symbolically – a sign that she is under his power.

As their passionate relationship intensifies, Gustav’s hold on the silver chain grows stronger. But will Gustav’s dark past tear them apart?”

==============================================================

Aspiring photographer Serena Folkes leaves behind the lover of her teenage years when she travels to London, convinced that she is done with men. It is a conviction that will last less than 48 hours.

While she is out about town on Halloween night she meets an intriguing man. She knows she should be careful about engaging with strangers but something about this man cuts right through her reservations. This man, Gustav Levi, doesn’t send of a dangerous vibe - well he does, but in an intriguing way, not one that makes her feel threatened.

“But Gustave Levi is not just any old company. I have the weirdest feeling that he’s picked me.”

While Serena cuts her evening with Gustav short, she can’t get him out of her head. And when they meet again because she has left her camera in his care he offers her a deal that will ensure that the two of them will get to spend a lot of time together. He will show a collection of her photographs in his gallery if she signs herself over to him until all the pictures have sold. Delighted to be given this opportunity and intrigued by and attracted to the man, Serena doesn’t have to think twice before she signs on the dotted line. A deal Gustav seals by locking a silver bracelet around Serena’s wrist. A bracelet to which he can, and will, attached a silver chain; proof that she is fully connected to him.

“But the instant I’m chained to him, I’m anchored.”

While Serena is mesmerized by Gustav there is a lot about him she can’t explain. He obviously has issues that stem from a past he is reluctant to share – issues that keep him far apart from her even while the chain seems to imply they’re very close. As Gustav’s past is slowly revealed it feeds into Serena’s issues. Having never felt loved or wanted in her life, it is only too easy for Serena to believe that she is not what Gustav wants or needs. And worst of all, his actions seem to confirm that she is not what he is really looking for. Misunderstandings, mistrust and miscommunication appear determined to keep these two characters apart. It will take a lot of pain and confusion before Serena realizes that:

“At last it’s me he’s seeing, Nobody else.”

This was a very enjoyable read. There is a lot to like in this story. Yes, it does resemble a lot of other books in that it features a young girl falling under the spell of an older, more experienced man. This is certainly not the first time I’ve come across a relationship haunted by dark pasts and deep seated insecurities. But, while similarities like that have irritated me in the past they didn’t so much this time around. I liked that Serena is a girl who knows what she wants and how to get it. She is not the poor little girl who needs the older and richer man to make her way in life. At all times, while reading this story, I felt that Serena would have made it on her own – that Gustav only fast-forwarded the process. I also liked the fact that although there definitely are some aspects of bondage and domination in this story it shows both sides of that particular coin – how it can break relationships just as easily as make them.

Having said that, there were times when Serena’s character was a bit too volatile for me. Serena seemed to jump from one, strong, emotion to the exact opposite emotion from one paragraph to the next. While her insecurities made perfect sense, I would have preferred it if the changes in her state of mind had been a bit less sudden and frantic. There were pages where I had a hard time keeping up with what exactly she was feeling and why.

Overall though, I really liked these characters and their story. And with the sudden, and to me completely surprising, revelation on the very last page I can’t wait for the sequel, “The Golden Locket”, even if I haven’t been able to find a release date for it.

Friday, August 16, 2013

SECRETS OF THE SEA HOUSE



TITLE: SECRETS OF THE SEA HOUSE
AUTHOR: ELISABETH GIFFORD
Pages: 308
Date: 15/08/2013
Grade: 4
Details: Received from Corvus Books
            Through Nudge
Own

The story:

In 1992 Ruth and her husband Michael buy an old and dilapidated house on the Hebridean island of Harris intending to renovate it and turn it into a guesthouse. It isn’t long after they start working on the house when they make a gruesome discovery. Underneath floorboards they find the old remains of a baby with its legs and feet fused together. It is a discovery that will awaken old memories for Ruth. Memories she has been trying to suppress for a long time; memories that can threaten her sanity and her future.

In 1860 Reverend Alexander Ferguson, newly ordained and filled with all the right intentions takes up his post on Harris. A fan of Darwin’s recently released theories and fascinated by the myths about Selkies and mermaids, the enthusiastic and innocent man has no idea that his time on the island will change his life irrevocably. The truth about what happened on that island and in that house will remain hidden for over a century.

Ruth has her own reasons for being obsessed with mermaids and Selkies. In order to uncover the secrets from the past she will have to take a close look at her own past and the pain she has suffered. It is a journey which could bring her the peace of mind she hasn’t known for decades or destroy everything she holds dear.

My thoughts:

This is an interesting and very clever book. There are two stories in this book and both of them are equally powerful and fascinating. The connecting theme in this book is that of mermaid and Selkie myths. The main narrators of both stories, Ruth and Alexander Ferguson both have reasons to be interested in these myths. But, while Ferguson’s interest is mostly a result of curiosity and a quest for scientific proof, Ruth’s interest is mainly personal, emotional and painful.

When the story starts almost everything, except the location in which the story is set and the names of the main characters, is a mystery. And those mysteries are only slowly uncovered. Ruth’s quest to find out exactly what happened over a century ago - why there was a baby buried underneath the floorboards in the house she has bought - initially appears to be about uncovering a fascinating mystery. It only slowly becomes clear why both the discovery and what it might mean has such enormous importance for her. With every new bit of information about what happened in the past, Ruth is brought back to her own past and memories she’s been more or less successfully suppressing for decades; memories that may destroy her future unless she finds the courage to face and deal with them.

Surprisingly enough it wasn’t either Ruth or Ferguson’s voice that was strongest for me in this book. The character that really struck a note with me was Moira, Ferguson’s uneducated but very intelligent servant. Through her eyes we get the clearest picture of exactly what happened during Ferguson’s time on Harris. The stories about how the poor tenants were forced to emigrate to Canada so that the landowner would have more ground to graze his sheep was heartbreaking – especially since it is so very similar to the forced emigration from Ireland around the same time.

I really liked that this book managed to keep on surprising me. Revelations are slowly shared with the reader without giving away all of the secrets contained in the story until the very end of the book. The mix between myth and reality was fascinating, especially since the lines appear blurred at times. And while it is possible to have found a logical explanation for everything that has happened in the story by the time it ends, it is equally easy to hang on to some of the mythical aspects of this book.

This is a story about the things that haunt us and the power they can have over our lives. This is the story of one woman and one man who, separated by a century, each have to find their true path in life through dealing with the myths that have formed their pasts and personalities. Through a wonderful blend of myth, fact and historical conjecture combined with a fascinating story, Elisabeth Gifford gives her reader a story that will stay with them for a multitude of reasons.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

COMPLETE ME



TITLE: COMPLETE ME
AUTHOR: J. KENNER
Pages: 320
Date: 13/08/2013
Grade: 3.5
Details: no. 3 Stark Trilogy
            Received from Random House
            Through NetGalley
Own / Kindle


The blurb:

This sexy, emotionally charged romance continues the story of Damien Stark, the powerful multimillionaire who’s never had to take “no” for an answer, and Nikki Fairchild, the Southern belle who only says “yes” on her own terms.

Our desire runs deep. But our secrets cut close. Beautiful, strong, and commanding, Damien Stark fills a void in me that no other man can touch. His fierce cravings push me beyond the brink of bliss—and unleash a wild passion that utterly consumes us both.

Yet beneath his need for dominance, he carries the wounds of a painful past. Haunted by a legacy of dark secrets and broken trust, he seeks release in our shared ecstasy, the  heat between us burning stronger each day.

Our attraction is undeniable, our obsession inevitable. Yet not even Damien can run from his ghosts, or shield us from the dangers yet to come.


My thoughts:

You are what I need, Damien. You’re all that I need.”

Damien and Nikki are in Germany where the powerful man has to face murder charges. When an unexpected development stops the trial almost before it starts it should mean the end to their problems, but life is rarely that simple and this isn’t one of those rare occasions. Damien is determined to keep his past the secret it has been for so long, but it appears that suddenly that decision is no longer in his hands. Somebody out there can make those sordid secrets public at any time. The fact that nobody knows who that somebody is only makes the problem bigger.

And there is more. Gossip about Damien and Nikki is regularly leaked to the tabloids and Nikki has acquired a stalker who is getting more threatening with each encounter. Facing so many threats together should bring Damien and Nikki even closer than they already were but Damien’s instinct to protect Nikki keeps on getting in the way:

“I believe with all my heart that Damien loves me. What I fear is that love isn’t enough. Not when he’s determined to push me away in some misguided attempt to protect me.”

Damien may tell Nikki that:

“At the end of the day, it’s just you and me. We make our own reality, Nikki. And no one can take it from us.”

But that doesn’t stop Nikki from worrying that they are living in a bubble; a bubble that could all too easily be burst by the very real threats the rest of the world still possess.

Despite the threat of disclosure hanging over Damian and the stalker issue Nikki is facing, there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot to this story except for the sex Damien and Nikki seem to engage in as a reaction to everything that happens to them.

“Between Damien and me, sex is as necessary as conversation. It is our method of discovery. Our sharing of trust. And our ultimate surrender.”

Do not get me wrong, I love a good erotic novel and can easily get caught up in descriptive and imaginative sex-scenes. And some of the scenes in this book really hit the mark. It is just that there were too many of them in this book. After so many scenes I reached saturation point and found myself skimming over the sexy bits to get to the little bit of background story that had to be hiding somewhere.

As much as I loved passages like the following:

“You’re what gives me strength. If I am what centers you, Nikki, then you are what anchors me. Nikki don’t you see? You are the talisman of my life, and if I lose my grip on you, then I have lost myself.”

It wasn’t quite enough to make this book a truly satisfying read. It seems to me that the characters could have grown more. The Damien and Nikki we end this trilogy with are not so very different from the personalities we met in the first book. In the last paragraph of my review of “Claim Me” I said that I would read this third and final book not so much because I was worried about whether or not there would be a happily ever after but because I wanted to know if these two characters would be able to resolve all their issues. I really am sorry that I have to end this review with the observation that while I was right about the relationship I was also right about those issues. This happily ever after has come to a couple that appears to be unable to truly come to terms with their pasts. If Damien and Nikki were real people I would be very worried about their future together.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

MY EDUCATION



TITLE: MY EDUCATION
AUTHOR: SUSAN CHOI
Pages: 395
Date: 11/08/2013
Grade: 3
Details: Received from Short Books
            Through Nudge
Own

The story:

It is 1992 and Regina Gottlieb, 20 years old, is starting her graduate degree. From the very first time she sees him at a poetry reading, Regina is mesmerized by Nicholas Brodeur, the seductive English professor with a rather shocking reputation. Although she is well aware that it may not be the smartest thing to do, Regina accepts a job as his assistant and slowly finds herself entering the world Nicholas and his wife, Martha, inhabit. Getting closer to Nicholas and Martha means a distance develops between Regina and her house-mate, friend and occasional lover, Dutra.

While it is Regina’s fascination with Nicholas Brodeur and his reputation that entices her into his orbit, he won’t be the subject of her fantasies and desires. A passionate affair will follow, but instead of Nicholas it will be the person closest to him who captivates Regina to such an extent that she disregards the consequences her feelings and actions will have, both for herself and for those around her. And it won’t be until 15 years later that the conflicts that started in 1992 and their lasting consequences come to the surface and have a chance of being put to rest.

My thoughts:

I am not entirely sure how I feel about this book or what to say about it. This a rather typical coming-of-age story in that it portrays the journey a young woman makes from the innocence and happy-go-lucky lifestyle so typical of teenagers to the very real and harsh consequences that an affair and first deep, but unattainable love can bring. And the gravity of everything Regina encounters and experiences jumps of the page in the form of long and at times seemingly mindless descriptions of everything she sees, feels, does and experiences. And that is where my main issue with this book lies. While I realise that those first encounters with deep but impossible love can turn us into philosophers, I can’t help feeling that this book, or rather the writing in it, was trying to be a bit too clever. Overly long and detailed descriptions and complicated structures to the sentences forced me regularly to re-read a sentence or paragraph multiple times before I got the meaning. And this enforced re-reading kept on taking me out of what was a very interesting story.

Because, while the main story-line was fascinating, it seemed to take a back-seat to all those descriptions. After almost 400 pages I can only say that at all times I felt that very little was actually happening in this story. The emotions as experienced by Regina never quite seemed to match that which was happening to her and despite all the descriptions I never developed an understanding for her actions or a clear picture of what was motivating the other characters caught up in this drama.

I guess it is hard to get truly involved in a story in which the object of everybody’s desires is a character I can’t find attractive and, probably more importantly, can’t imagine anybody else finding attractive either. Because it isn’t really Regina’s actions that upset everybody’s lives. In fact, you could say that while Regina is the one relating this story she isn’t really the main catalyst in it. That honour, in my opinion, falls to the person she has her affair with, the person I could never get a handle on or sympathise with.

From the description on the back of this book it would be easy to get the impression that this is a work of erotic fiction; however it isn’t. While an affair plays a huge and devastating part in this story, and that affair is definitely passionate, this is not the sort of book that indulges in detailed or long descriptions of intimacy. This is a book about feelings, about acting on those feelings and the consequences those actions can have, not only on the lives of those personally caught up in that passion but also on those around them. This is a literary novel about love, lust, betrayal and devastation. It is a story about growing up and recognising the consequences of our actions, even if it takes years for the real consequences to come to the surface.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I liked the story, or the idea behind it, but didn’t – always – enjoy the way in which it was told. To me this book seemed at times overly descriptive and lyrical which made it a slow and at times a bit of a hard to follow reading experience for me. I can’t help feeling though that this may well be a deficiency on my part rather than a fault of the author. If you enjoy a thoughtful, descriptive and introspective story written by someone who uses words masterfully as well as abundantly, you will probably love this book.