Book Reviews: Bodice Rippers & Erotica
Includes erotica and chick-lit book reviews
Tikkipala by Sara Banerji
Read by Tracy in 2015
The Blurb: When Sangita, Ranee of Bidwar, is caught up in a scandal, her husband, the Raja, banishes her from the palace and forbids access to her son, Anwar, still a babe in arms. She lives miserably as a disgraced woman, praying to the god Ganesh that he will take Anwar from her husband, so that he would know her suffering. Then, Anwar goes missing. In a hill-tribe far above the palace, on land impenetrable to man, the young males were dying. When they come across a Coarseone "a child from civilisation below" in the lower jungle, they use him to create a new life and a male who will become their Maw, their king.
The Ama stone "the stone of life" was kept by the hill-tribe at the foot of the mountain in a hammocked shrine. When Sangita, scouring the jungle for her son, finds it, it burns her skin causing her to drop it, losing it without trace, but not before it sends her a message: Anwar has returned to her womb. Two generations later, Sangita's granddaughter, Devi, heads to the family's derelict hill palace to research the mountain's minerals, with instructions to look out for the apocryphal Ama stone. Simultaneously, a tree-felling company finally reach the mountain top where they discover the tree-dwelling tribe. Maw, now a young man, is injured trying to stop the lumberjacks driving them off the land. He is brought to Devi, who takes him down to the palace where the family care for and educate him, but he always has a look in his eyes that no one understands. Will his tribe think their king has deserted them, or do they know that he is playing a longer game... a life long game to avenge his tribe their suffering?
Tikkipala is a hypnotic tale of love and preservation at a time of fading empires. Meticulously and soulfully written, Banerji takes the heart on a journey through mystical cultures and spiritual practices, to a world where anything is possible if love is strong enough.
The Reality: I tend to love any goods that are about India, and this sounded perfect as it crossed generations and should of showcased the then and now. However, I felt it was too sensationalist with the kidnapping of a Raja and Ranee - surely the area would have been scoured more thoroughly, folklore would have mentioned a secret tribe in the mountains. The story that became even more farcical with the Thag villagers, again if they kidnapped, killed and stole from so many people, again wouldn't this have been reported. I did enjoy some of the story as it described the architecture of the buildings but felt overall it lacked believability.
This book was provided by NetGalley for an honest review.
Poppy in the Field by Mary Hooper
Read by Tracy in 2015
The Blurb: When Poppy learns that the love of her life, Freddie de Vere, is to marry someone else, she knows her heart will break. Devastated, she volunteers her nursing skills overseas to take her away from the painful reminders at home. But things are about to get much worse for Poppy. The journey to the hospital in Flanders is full of horrors, and when she arrives it is to find a spiteful ward Sister and unfriendly nurses. Despite her loneliness and homesickness, the dangers of frontline warfare soon make her forget her own troubles and Poppy finds that comfort for a broken heart can be found in the most unexpected places. Brilliantly researched and inspired by real-life events, big and small, Poppy in the Field is a story about the forgotten bravery of women on the front line, told through the eyes of a young woman determined to play her part.
The Reality: I had no idea that Poppy in the Field was a sequel to Poppy. I have not idea why I don't check these things and I always think to myself after doing this that I should - vicious cycle! Anyway, I read this as a standalone book and didn't feel I missed out on the storyline which is a good thing. Poppy in the Field focuses on Poppy who works in the British Voluntary Aid Detachment. She escapes a broken heart by moving from a London hospital to one in France. However, in reality she realises she doesn't fit in as she is not a qualified nurse and must try and make her way in a new environment where she has to start at the bottom of the pile - again. She does make friends however, and a future love interest is introduced. Obviously the fact that there is a war on makes it difficult to sustain a relationship. This could have been a great historical love story, but I felt Poppy wasn't really given a voice, her story felt superficial. I suppose it is difficult to whisk you away to a hospital treating soldiers from the front line, which would be like hell on earth, but I found it difficult to envisage the sheer exhaustion and frustration Poppy should have felt.
This book was provided by NetGalley for an honest review.
Easy by Tammara Webber
Read by Natalie April 2014
Natalie recommends as beautiful story of forgiveness and letting go of your past.
A friend actually recommended this book to me, telling me it was one of her all time favourite reads, for two main reasons. She was right on both counts. What she, and now I, both love about this book is its strong female lead and the utterly swoon-worthy male lead. It’s such a refreshing change to read about a female character who doesn’t feel the need to rely on a man. Sure, he might sweep her off her feet with some unbelievably romantic gestures, or be there for her when it counts, but in the case of this book, she also does the same in return for him. This not only means that both characters serve a purpose for the other, but that this is a relationship of equals, as they all should be.
And yes, Lucas, the man in question, sure is swoon-worthy. From the minute he saves Jacqueline from an attempted rape, shockingly carried out by her ex-boyfriend’s best friend, he finds a way to sneak himself into his life. Encouraging her to report what happened, regularly checking that she is ok, unexpectedly showing up in her economics class and then as her secret tutor, Lucas is just there for her, without ever being over the top about it. But Lucas is also battling his own demons, and as the two of them form a friendship, and then romantic connection, Jacqueline desperately wants to help the man who’s already done so much for her.
But the demons he carries are big and they are scary and poor Lucas has been scarred, both literally and emotionally, by them. While his past is hidden in the tattoos that adorn his body and the protectiveness he shows Jacqueline, she longs to know more. Going behind his back to find out, Jacqueline is shocked to discover what Lucas has lived through. Trying desperately to help him, as he once did for her, the story follows the two of them as they each learn from their mistakes, face their pasts and overcome their demons. And although I would have liked a tiny bit more of the healing stage at the end of the book, this is a minor thing.
This book not just a beautiful story about two people facing their demons and learning from their past mistakes, but it was a beautifully written book too. Tammara has a wonderful way with words and created some unbelievably romantic moments between these two that literally had me swooning. The epilogue is gorgeous and finally gives reason to the book’s title. There is a companion novel Breakable, which tells the same story (and hopefully a little more), from Lucas’ POV coming out in May, and I can’t wait.
From a Distance by Raffaella Barker
Read by Tracy in March 2014
Tracy recommends as a great look at the impacts of war and the romantic idyll of the English countryside
The Blurb: One of Britain's favourite chroniclers of life and the rural dream returns with a compelling story of a family divided by war. April, 1946. Michael, a soldier, returns to Southampton on a troop ship. Brutalised and in shock, he cannot face the life that awaits him at home. Impulsively he boards a train to the western tip of Cornwall, where his heart shapes his life and the fragmented Britain he has come back to. More than half a century later, Kit, an enigmatic stranger, arrives in Norfolk to take up an inheritance he doesn't want – a de-commissioned lighthouse, half hidden in the shadows of the past, now sweeping its beam forward through time. According to Kit, his life is complete, and he doesn't wish to see anything the lighthouse's glare exposes. But the choice is out of his hands. Luisa, a second generation Italian, has so far lived through her children and has reached a point of invisibility. The constant push and pull of family life has turned like the tide, and she is suspended, without direction. Kit and Luisa meet and neither can escape the inevitability of Michael's split-second decision at the Southampton docks. Moving between the post-war artists' colony around St Ives in Cornwall and present-day Norfolk, Raffaella Barker's new novel explores the secrets and flaws that shape our interactions across generations. From a Distance is a tender and compelling story of human connection and the yearning desire we have to belong.
The Reality: I really enjoyed this book - it wasn't deeply thought provoking as some of the other books I have read lately, it was simply just a good read. There are plenty of story lines that keep you turning the pages (or if you have a Kindle, clicking the button). There were also enough twists and turns to keep you guessing at story line. It is the story of Louisa and Kit. Louisa is at home, having seen her children grow up and get on with their lives, suddenly realising that she doesn't have a purpose in life. She is in a happy marriage with Tom, but it isn't the great love affair it used to be. Whilst Kit, has had a solitary life, brought up by his mother and hailing from Cornwall. Suddenly Kit and Louisa's life collide as Kit finds himself drawn to an inheritance - a derelict lighthouse which is near Louisa in Norfolk. So we have the current and we are then shown the past with beautiful interludes of Michael's father as he returns from war a changed man, unable to face the life that previously was his. It is this sad story that I think makes the book so interesting. Raffaella Barker writes with such a light touch, that you don't hate some of the characters as you may have done; instead I was almost torn at the heartbreak that Michael's father went through. The storyline was fascinating with the descriptions of the idyllic rural lifestyles and Kit's life in design whereby he is able to bring back to life his mother's back catalogue of designs from the post-war eras. This lends a twist of reality as all things old and new again. Don't get me wrong, the book doesn't portray a life that is perfect by any means, there are hardships and sadness, but the story was one whereby you could see past that and enjoy the simplicity for what it really was. Although one bone of contention, when Tom and Kit go for a swim, Kit mentions the Gulf Stream in Cornwall making the waters quite warm - I would have to absolutely disagree. I know I am Australian, but there is no way the water in Cornwall is anything but freezing! However, on the opposite note, when Ellie (Louise and Tom's eldest daughter) returns from India, she realises how everything is muted - every scrap of India seems to be a different colour. I could not agree more, in fact it made me return to India and it is still one of the few countries I would love to explore more.
Thank you to NetGalley for providing an advance copy - I am now tracking down previous books by Raffaella Barker.
Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
Read by Tracy in December 2013
Tracy recommends as a beach read
The Blurb: From the author of the widely acclaimed debut novel Seating Arrangements, winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize: a gorgeously written, fiercely compelling glimpse into the passionate, political world of professional ballet and its magnetic hold over two generations. Astonish Me is the irresistible story of Joan, a ballerina whose life has been shaped by her relationship with the world-famous dancer Arslan Ruskov, whom she helps defect from the Soviet Union to the United States. While Arslan's career takes off in New York, Joan's slowly declines, ending when she becomes pregnant and decides to marry her longtime admirer, a PhD student named Jacob. As the years pass, Joan settles into her new life in California, teaching dance and watching her son, Harry, become a ballet prodigy himself. But when Harry's success brings him into close contact with Arslan, explosive secrets are revealed that shatter the delicate balance Joan has struck between her past and present. In graceful, inimitable prose, Shipstead draws us into an extraordinary world, and the lives of her vivid and tempestuous characters. Filled with intrigue, brilliant satire, and emotional nuance, Astonish Me is a superlative follow-up to Shipstead's superb debut.
The Reality: The story line sounded promising, however, I felt disconnected with the characters, none of them were particularly likeable and the missing emotional connection didn't enhance the reading. I like to feel connected to the characters - they don't have to be likeable, but to cause some emotion that I can relate too. The book was easy enough to read and I finished it in a day whilst travelling from Perth to England. One of those times that you don't want anything too detailed but something light hearted to while away the very very long flight. The book was written in small chapters following the main characters over a twenty-year period. There are lots of stories that slowly become entwined and eventually collide in an unexpected way. I certainly didn't see the twist until the end, although in hindsight, not sure why. Setting the story within the ballet community added an extra dimension and I enjoyed the descriptions of the dance and how absorbed in dance you have to be to achieve any form of success. So much that everything melts into the background. The different story lines also provided a continuity of the main story of Joan's life. We learn about her childhood through to where she is today and why she made some life altering decisions. If only I could have felt something for her. I didn't particularly like how the ending was dealt with, it was just too nicely packaged up with a bow on top. Considering how uncaring some of the characters were it was a strangely gushy ending.
This book was provided via NetGalley.
Just Add Spice by Carol E Wyer
Read by Tracy in November 2013
Tracy recommends a fast paced no nonsense beach read
The Blurb: After completing a degree in French and English at Keele University, Carol Wyer became a language teacher in Casablanca, Morocco. She ran the EFL department at a private UK school (a non-magical Hogwarts), set up Language 2000 Ltd, teaching a variety of languages, including basic Japanese, and translated documents. Recurring medical problems forced her to give up teaching and become a fitness instructor. Thanks to older age, she now writes novels, articles and books that poke fun at getting older. Known for her light-hearted take on life, Carol has written two award-winning novels and now also tours giving talks on how to age disgracefully.
The Reality: Our lead character is Dawn Ellis. She has a grown up son, Dan and a husband from hell, Jim. Jim has the rare ability to bring no joy to anything or anyone and Dawn's life has become nothing more than a dull existence. No matter what she does, Jim complains and since his retirement, that has become worse. I personally would have walked out a long time ago. To escape the tedium Dawn has joined a writing class which is inhabited by all types of characters. A lot of discussion is around the success of a particularly novel called Hot and Lusty and the fact that the author is a mystery. Interesting the conversation is led by the men on how realistic sex scenes should be! Dawn herself has become stuck in a rut of a marriage and can't seem to see the wonderful person she is underneath what she feels she has become. Dawn has an alter-ego Cinnamon Knight, her femme fatale and wanton heroine in her novel. The story did become slightly confusing and I know I kept forgetting that Cinnamon was not real. Cinnamon is who most would aspire to, she stands up for what she believes in, but has her own flaws when she starts to err on the side of vigilantism. I liked the premise of the story and how you wish you had addressed things differently which Dawn can do with her character. As Dawn starts to take on some of Cinnamon's traits, she is soon hitting the gym and building a life outside of home - big cheers for that. There is even a romantic interlude with the hunky personal instructor cum author - Jason. As the book progresses the line between fact and fiction becomes increasingly blurred. Some of the other side characters are also interesting. Dawn's father Jack - a sprightly older gentleman - who is learning to live again after the death of his wife. He doesn't realise that he is now a highly prized bachelor and is being squired by the other women his age group in the area. He loves a good crossword, enjoys the company of his daughter and also won a pub quiz on Douglas Adams' books. Apparently they are well-written! I only thought he had written one, so that was one of those, learn something new every day scenarios.
This book was provided via NetGalley.
Under the Jeweled Sky by Alison McQueen
Read by Tracy in September 2013
Tracy recommends as a tear jerker that will have you dreaming of India
The Blurb: This is not the India—or the man—that Sophie fell in love with ten years ago... Sophie never meant to come back to India, yet when her new, diplomat husband is posted to New Delhi and she steps once again onto the country's burning soil, she realizes her return was inevitable. As her ill-fated marriage begins to unravel, it sets in motion a devastating chain of events that will bring Sophie face to face with a past she's tried so desperately to forget, and a future she must fight for. Under the Jeweled Sky is a tender story of love, loss of innocence, and the aftermath of a terrible decision no one knew how to avoid.
The Reality: We are introduced to the family of Sophie Schofield. A teenager who finds herself living in an Indian Palace. The book journeys between the 1940's and the 1970's as Sophie reminisces about her childhood and the impact that has had on her adult life. When her father returns from the War, he takes a medical position working for a Maharaja in an Indian Palace. He believes the change after post war London will bring the family together. Alas, his wife (Veronica) is absolutely awful with no redeeming characteristics - seemingly having no joy in her life or the ability to bring it to others. Luckily, Sophie has managed to overcome her mother's extreme forms of punishment and inherited her father's best personality traits. As Sophie starts to explore the Palace, she meets Jag, a young Indian boy, whose father works for the Maharaja. They are thrown together and left to spend their days exploring all the secrets within the Palace walls. They both know that their friendship would be frowned upon, but are unwilling to give it up. Enter into the story the wonderful Mrs Ripperton (her husband is the head Doctor) who takes Sophie under her wing, helping her escape her mother’s clutches and giving her freedom to grow. Mrs Ripperton soon introduces Sophie to the hidden parts of the palace - the Zenana where the Maharani's and their staff live. The descriptions of this part of the palace are as I imagined it to be. You are drawn into a life of opulence and even though the practice of Zenana (or purdah) is no longer followed, at the time men were killed for setting eyes on a Maharani, effectively closing the women off from the outside world. When we were visiting Jodhpur we went to the palace and were fascinated by the pictures and artefacts of that way of life, which wasn't that long ago. Of course you may think that the women would become isolated and insular, whereas they appeared to have a great knowledge of world events and more importantly human nature. When the relationship between Jag and Sophie escalates it also reaches breaking point with both their families. Although I think Jag's family made the larger sacrifice, Sophie had to suffer the humiliation and ire of her mother. Luckily Veronica Schofield leaves at the first available opportunity. I am sure when she returned to England; she complained to anyone and everyone about the hardships she faced living in a palace surrounded by servants. Unwilling to accept that life of the expat and learning everything she could about another way of life. I think it was a lucky escape for the remaining Schofields, except it came too late for Sophie to find happiness.
As Jag and Sophie leave the Palace, to different destinations, a worse fate awaits albeit on different scales. India is in the throes of Partition which sees Muslims and Hindu's butcher each other as they make the great migration which has been dictated by arbitrary lines on a map. The lines were drawn by the political powers of the time and delivered as the British left Indian to rule itself. The country was divided into Hindu India and Muslin Pakistan. Of course as history has shown, no matter how hard Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru pleaded this was no harmonious division. Driven by the single mindedness of Muhammad Ali Jinnah who demanded separation, the two religions clashes in a horrific way. I doubt any one side was to blame more than the other, but there were no processes put in place to ease the transition, instead thousands moved on their own two feet and took what they could from whoever they could to survive. It was this mass transition that saw Jag and his father face horrors as they tried to head back to Amritsar. For Sophie she had to give up the life that would have been expected of her and finds it increasingly difficult to accept what has befallen her. Underneath all the horrors that fill their lives, both Sophie and Jag always believe they have met their one true love and even though they must obey their families they are adamant that one day they will be back together. You would expect the book to get rather sloppy and rely on the usual mushy emotions, however it doesn't. Alison McQueen gives us an intelligent and heroic Sophie who adapts to whatever life throws at her, not seeming to hold anyone responsibility (yes even her horrid mother). The story evokes a childhood that contains beautiful imagery, but with the help of her father, Sophie is able to fashion a life of sorts. Mr Schofield is a wonderful genuine character, although I have no idea why he stayed with his wife - her treatment of him and Sophie would surely constitute basis for divorce even back in the 1940's.
As Sophie starts a new chapter of her life in London; she meets Lucian who eventually proposes. Sophie must now make the choice of giving up her past and accepting a different relationship. One that she believes will be based on companionship and mutual understanding. Although you understand, as an outsider, that Lucian has realised that Sophie would be extremely good for his career. He has previously applied for a diplomatic posting in Delhi but didn’t get the position due to his bachelor status. The fact that Sophie has lived there before and has an understanding of the position and lifestyle required, he is guaranteed a promotion into a coveted role. I might not like Lucian’s character, but when he talks about India "You know what they say about India," Lucian said. "Once it's got its hooks into you, you never want to leave." I wholeheartedly agree. Sophie's father has never left India, instead settling in a small village where he has made a life for himself in running a small medical clinic for locals. The opportunity to move back to India and see her father causes Sophie a lot of soul searching. Eventually the decision is made and Lucian and Sophie become ensconced in the diplomatic lifestyle. Sophie is much more realistic about their position in the diplomatic hierarchy and finds herself thinking more and more about her past. As the book draws to its conclusion it throws up a considerable amount of unexpected twists, placing it above most books in this genre and a word of warning - you will find yourself grabbing a box of tissues at more than one point.
This book was provided via NetGalley.
A Serpentine Affair by Tina Seskis
Read by Tracy in September 2013
Tracy recommends a brilliant summer read
The Blurb: Seven old friends. One annual reunion. Countless feuds. How do friends stay friends for more than 25 years when there is so much to feel aggrieved about? Juliette and JoAnne have never got over one of them sleeping with the other's boyfriend. Sissy secretly blames someone for the death of her husband. Natasha knows one of them is having an affair with her partner. Siobhan annoys everyone. Katie is annoyed by everyone. Camilla desperately tries to keep the peace. So when their picnic in the park goes horribly wrong and one of them ends up in the Serpentine, who knows what really happened? And just what secrets from the past are about to unfold, changing everyone's lives forever?
The Reality: I have to say I loved this book, the shared history of friends and the real story of their tensions and simmering hatred kept me turning the pages. Although there are seven main characters, it wasn't difficult to follow their relationships and the short but succinct chapters stopped any rambling that could have muddied the water. Each character was fleshed out and different enough to follow their individual stories and their part in the group dynamics.
The central part of the story is a gathering at the Diana Fountain on the Serpentine in Hyde Park where the seven friends have an annual reunion in the rarest of rare balmy summer English evening. Originally meeting at university 25 years earlier, they were great friends once, that was a long time ago now. Although none of them want to attend the reunion, they still do. As the picnic progresses and the Prosecco flows, tongues start to loosen and finally the pent up resentment and frustration surfaces. This anger is from both past and present actions and unknown by all in the group until now. Each character is brought to life. I could imagine their voices, looks and actions as the story moves between the present and the past. This book in some ways reminded me of the writing of David Nicholls and his ability to make the story believable. Although A Serpentine Affair is complex, the ability to weave the plots through each life was handled smoothly. Everyone with a group of friends knows that personality dynamics are difficult to juggle and although it is wiser to say nothing sometimes that proverbial can of worms gets opened. The bickering at the picnic was the right level, there are always those that say too much and those that attempt to broker the peace and the characters provide the catalyst to open the door of why they are where they are today. Although on the surface the bad behaviour amongst each friend seems to outweigh the good, there were enough alliances to keep them together. As all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle start to fall into place and although the characters were frustrating and judgemental, you saw through that. As the picnic ends each woman becomes aware that their life would never be quite the same again - sadly it wasn't in the way they expected. In addition to the core characters, there are several side stories of spouses, children and relatives which add a depth to the story. The character of Terry who is trapped by his feelings of abandonment, his life now and his overbearing step-brother I am sure resonates with a lot of people.
It ends in all their lives being changed forever and that they are not above morality and misjudgement. Instead they hide behind typical selfish middle-class values and a sad view of amorality in society today. Now they must handle the death of a friend and the subsequent police investigation whilst realising things aren’t always what they seem. I hope that on my next girl’s weekend away there isn't a dead body to contend with!
This is my first Tina Seskis book and I really enjoyed her writing style. She portrayed relationships realistically. It is difficult to maintain friends as they pass through your life, but true friends are there for the long haul. I know I make a lot of faux pas, but luckily my friends don't hold them against me - or at least don't tell me!
I now can't wait to get hold of One Stop Too Far, Tina’s previous book. Find out more about Tina Seskis on her website or follow her on Twitter. Thanks to NetGalley and Kirk Parolles for my advance reading e-copy. The version I read is specifically for NetGalley users and content/format may change slightly, including some editing.
Arouse by Nina Lane
Read by Natalie June 2013
Natalie recommends as a different sort of love story
Arouse is a book I both liked and disliked. What I liked about it was that it was a story about a couple who were already married, completely in love with each other, yet facing problems that were going to test their relationship. It was a different spin on the romance genre and it was nice to read about a couple who had already gone through all the usual dating, attraction stuff and were now in the heart of their relationship. What I didn't like about it was some of the back story and secrets, which created issues within the marriage and I particularly didn't like a bit at the ending - but more on that in a second.
The story is about Liv and Dean, a history professor and former student who meet one day when Dean "rescues" Liv after she falls over. This sets the trend for the rest of their relationship, where Dean becomes Liv's knight in shining armour, a nice touch that's supported by Dean's knowledge of all things medieval. The story actually starts five years into their marriage, with flashbacks to this chance meeting, their first date, and several other key moments in their relationship, except one - again, more on that later. In the present, Liv and Dean are happily married, still having lots of hot sex and generally content with where they are in life. Dean is doing well at work, and Liv, while never really having any definite dreams, seems happy with her job as a volunteer. Until the day she starts thinking about the baby she never thought she wanted to have. This creates a rift between the happy couple, particularly when Dean had already accepted Liv's desire not to have children. What's eventually revealed, both through flashbacks and the present day, is that Liv had an awful childhood with a negligent mother and absent father, which not only led her to never want kids of her own, but to also suffer from panic attacks and a deep mistrust of people (except Dean). While Dean knew all about Liv's past, which is why he could so easily be her knight in shining armour, he was hiding some secrets of his own. Secrets that included a first wife and numerous miscarriages followed by a messy divorce. As both Dean and Liv struggle to deal with each other's secrets, Liv finds herself kissing another man and Dean finds himself struggling with how to repair his marriage and lot go of the jealousy he has for Liv's mistake.
Which leads me to the issues I had about the book. First up, Dean's secret. Ok, it's pretty big and I don't know about you, but when I got married I had to sign something acknowledging any previous marriages - does this not happen in other countries? I guess the fact that Dean AND his family, were able to keep all of this a secret, especially when his sister is still friends with his ex-wife, just seemed a little unrealistic to me. Secondly, the flashbacks; ok, I understand where Liv's anxiety comes from, although I would have liked this to have been explored a little more. For whatever reason, she feels an intense connection to Dean that allows her to feel extremely safe in his presence, I get that. However, the flashbacks, which were all about the development of their relationship, Dean gaining her trust, Dean taking her virginity etc etc, well they started off strong, giving us glimpses into it all and thenÉthey just stopped! The whole time I'm reading, I'm waiting for Dean to meet her family and I'm waiting for Dean to pop her cherry, especially after such a big deal is made about it - but it never happens! Liv goes to see an aunt, who she even mentions about introducing Dean to, but doesn't. Instead they have phone sex, she stays a virgin and we never get the big event. It just felt like a huge let down, which brings me to my final issue. The ending. Okay, there was plenty of sex in this book, because in the present, they do it loads. Yes it's slightly weird with the whole pre-occupation with using a condom or Dean pulling out or whatever, but you sort of learn why when Dean's secrets come to light. Then of course just before they have a huge fight, there is an "accident" of the sex variety, so I knew what was coming - it was flashing in huge neon lights, loud and clear. Problem is, when the whole pregnancy thing was revealed, it was a random statement on the last page, second last line. There was no lead in to Liv discovering it, no talk of her feelings of anxiety, especially given her wanting a baby in the first place is what started all their problems, and no reaction from Dean. It was just said and then it ended. Now I know there are two more books in the series, and I will read them, I've even read the first chapter of book 2 and let me tell you, it doesn't do that pregnancy reveal any favours - but I will reserve judgement on that until I'm done.
In any case, the book was well-written, it provides a different perspective on a romance story and although it's largely told from Liv's POV we do get glimpses into Dean's mind, which was good. I just wish the flashbacks were a little more fleshed out.
Rules Are For Breaking by Imelda Evans
Read by Tracy January 2013
Tracy recommends as a beach/pool read where you can turn your brain off
Book Summary: Jo is a smart and determined young woman with a clear-eyed view of men and what she expects of them. Put simply, she is 'over' finding the right one. She already has a 'three strikes and you're out' policy. When challenged by a friend who thinks she can't do it, Jo goes one step further and vows not to date, sleep with or even kiss a man for six weeks. Enter Declan, Jo's gorgeous yet unwelcome houseguest. Convinced he can win her over, Declan views Jo and her vow as an irresistible challenge. An infuriated Jo declares that Declan is like all the others – attracted to her for all the wrong reasons. She insists that he devote time to getting to know the real her and to doing the things she loves. Will Declan survive the test? Or will a major misunderstanding spoil everything?
My Review: Jo is commitment-phobic, too many times she has been on dates only to be thoroughly disappointed when sparks don't fly and she becomes almost instantly bored, she believes all men only want her for her good lucks. After yet another disastrous date, she has a bet with her best friend, sister-in-law Kate and the soon to be mother of Jo's niece, whereby Jo declares that from this moment on, I, Jo Marchant, am committed to finding my bliss - whatever, or wherever, that may be - and I shall let no man get in my way. As of now, I am officially a man-free zone, of course if she losses the bet, Kate has already extracted a promise of six months free babysitting. However, enter Declan O'Leary who is her new house-guest and what a glorious male specimen he sounds - doing his own ironing, but I would certainly be letting him know, that he isn't too divine to put hiw own dishes in the dishwasher. Declan soon decided that Jo is the one and attempts to woo her, whereas Jo takes up the challenge and decided all she had to do was make him want to stop chasing her by letting him see her daggy side. Soon he is definately under her skin and only after a short period into her bet. However, a sudden lack of communication sees their relationship torn apart when listening to "Nessum Dorma". It may not be an indepth book and certainly not as steamy as most chick-lit romnce novels these days, but it would certainly pass an afternoon at the beach or by the pool, where you don't want to think too much.
The Secret of Ella and Micha by Jessica Sorensen
Read by Natalie October 2012
Natalie recommends as a great love story with a super hot bad boy!
Micha and Ella have been best friends, soul mates even, since they were kids. But one night changes everything, when Ella finds herself walking a fine line of danger as she tries to work out her troubled motherÕs mind and Micha finally declares his love for the girl who has always been his best friend. But Ella is both high and afraid and when she freaks out, she disappears from his life and the town she lives in. Eight months later, when Micha has finally tracked her down and is desperate to talk to her and find out why she bailed on him, Ella resurfaces. Only now she has a new look and a new personality and is determined never to go back to being the outspoken and carefree girl she once was. What she doesnÕt count on is Micha, a man who is not only still in love with her, but is determined to get back the girl she once was.
Over the course of her summer break, Micha stops at nothing to draw out the old Ella. His constant flirtations, touches and even kisses, all set Ella on fire, and she finds herself liking it, despite being desperate not to. The sexual tension between the two of them was actually quite hot and there were times I was yelling at my iPad (or Ella) to just do it already. But when Micha really goes all out, finally picking up his guitar and singing again, as well as taking Ella back to their old haunts and pass-times, she starts to cave (and I breathed a sigh of relief), realizing that not only is Micha the one person who gets her, but he's also the one person whose always been there for her, no matter what. As the two of them take tentative steps towards their new relationship, Micha gets an unexpected surprise with the reappearance of his father and Ella gets one in the form of her brother and his new fiance. As both of them try to deal with these, they are separated as Micha finally faces the man who walked out on him 18 years ago. Angry and saddened at what he discovers, he finally returns home to Ella and the two of them start to move forward both individually and as a couple; Ella returning back to school, but embracing who she really is and Micha returning to his guitar and travelling with his friendÕs band.
By the end of the book, Micha and Ella are together and happy, but not everything is perfect. They are spending several months apart while Micha travels and Ella still has to sort her father's alcoholism out. This is probably where I felt a little let down by the book. The story up until this point was both mysterious and tense. What had happened that drove Ella to run, was there more said between them on that fateful night, will they ever get to together and can Ella admit her true feelings to Micha. This was all great, tut then when they finally sort all of that out, we are rushed through to the ending Ð Micha leaving almost instantly to travel, Ella virtually mending her estranged relationship with her brother via a phone call with a plan to help her Dad. It just felt a little too rushed and given there is a sequel out in November 2012, I did not think it needed to be. Having said all of that, I loved the story, and I LOVED Micha, he is HOT, HOT, HOT. I love that he cared so much for Ella, never giving up on her, not once. And I loved all the little things he did to try and convince her of both his love and her real identity. The story was told in alternate POV, which was great because it allows you to get inside both of their heads and see what is really going on. Each of the voices were distinct too, and the author did a great job of creating their individual identities. A few typos here and there, but nothing too major. I will definitely be picking up the sequel!
The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas
Read by Tracy September 2012
Tracy recommends as a story to make you get on the next plane to India
I am not sure how to pigeon hole this book into a category as it is part mystery, part love story and part travel adventure – best of all it combines India, Kashmir (my two favourite travel destinations) and a story that crosses generations.
After their fathers’ death, Mair Ellis and her siblings are packing up his home in north Wales when they uncover a beautifully embroidered shawl and a lock of hair. Mair is a free spirit and has not taken the same road in life as her brother and sister, not settling for domesticity, instead as a youngster she actually did escape to the circus and since then has ambled through life, eventually moving back in to nurse her father. The shawl captures Mair and she decides to use the money she inherited and find out its story. Mair did not know her grandparents as they died before she was born, but she has heard about their missionary travels so decided to head to India and then Leh to uncover the history of the shawl.
Mair is the antithesis of her grandmother, Nerys, who was the sensible wife of Evan Watkins, a Presbyterian preacher, and in 1941, followed him to India and the far flung villages surrounding Leh, the capital of the Ladakh region, high up in the Himalayas, where she threw herself into the role of a missionary’s wife. Her husband was a dour soul, nothing seemingly was right in his world and Mair was unable to see him purchasing something as frivolous as the shawl for her grandmother. The story moves between Nerys and Mair and as Mair uncovers a small piece of the puzzle, the story of Nerys fills in the detail.
After the Watkins had made the treacherous and hazardous journey by horseback to Leh they settle into a life that is relatively bleak and is isolating and remote. So when young British couple, Myrtle and Archie McMinn find themselves homeless after a prolonged hunting trip prior to their return to Srinagar they quickly become house guests of the Watkins’. As Leh starts to become even more isolated and winter is moving closer, Evan encourages Nerys to return to Srinagar with the McMinns’ whilst he stays to fight his demons. Srinagar is the home to Dal Lake and life revolves around the beautiful and elaborate houseboats surrounding the lake. Once settled into a routine, Nerys realises that the women of the British expatriate community hold parties, go dancing, flirt and attempt to forget that their men are off fighting at war. The women spend their time gossiping and also becoming a bit too involved with the locals. When one of the women, Caroline, becomes pregnant after an affair with a local man, Nerys and Myrtle hatch a plot to conceal it. During her time in Srinagar, Nerys became friends with Rainer Stamm who helps conceal the child, not only from gossip but from the Indian father. Rainer and Nerys become inseparable.
As Mair heads up to Leh, she befriends Karen, Bruno and their daughter Lotus. Mair soon discovers that the shawl is not from Leh but is in fact Kashmiri, so she heads to Kashmir with her new found friends. A tragedy unfolds and Mair soon finds herself alone on a houseboat in Kashmir, travelling to small villages to uncover the maker or the shawl. Srinagar is now no longer a place to travel to with fighting and poverty making it as different to the town in the 1940’s as possible. Things are now engulfed in violence between the Muslims and Hindus. This book made me want to visit Kashmir even more, but alas every time I look at going the political situation deteriorates even further, if that is possible, and even though I like adventure, this is way outside my comfort zone.
The descriptions of Mair in shops trying to find out the history of the shawl brings back so many fantastic memories of being surrounded by the most beautiful, colourful and intricately woven scarves. There is so much history and tradition far removed from our current age of mass production. A whole village can work on a single shawl for months and even years but the costs are almost prohibitive now, however in the time of Nerys this shawl had become an inheritance for the child and although it isn’t until the end of the book that you are able to piece together the final pieces of the jigsaw puzzle it didn’t feel drawn out, more a “whew” the story wasn’t lost with time.
I particularly loved the storyline of Nerys – she is not the poor little wife who stays at home, she is independent and supportive of her husband, who seems to put his godly work above her, but I don’t think she minds as she is unconventional in her ideas for the time. I loved the descriptions of vibrancy, life and colour – even though times were hard, people were still able to enjoy themselves and yes even have romance. The three women were fantastic characters and even at the end of the book I wanted to know more about their lives after the main storyline had finished.
The Kashmir Shawl has been shortlisted in the epic romantic novel category of the 2012 Romantic Novel.
Exclusively Yours by Shannon Stacey
Read by Natalie July 2012
Natalie recommends as a good holiday read
When Keri Daniels’ editor Tina finds out she used to date and sleep with reclusive best-selling crime author Joe Kowalski, she gives Keri an ultimatum. Either she get the interview with Joe that Tina’s been gagging for for years, or she find herself a new job. Keri on the other hand, is torn. Despite Joe being her first love, she walked out on him shortly after high school graduation, determined to make a name and a career for herself. Despite the nearly twenty years that have passed, she’s still never forgotten the man who not only took her virginity, but managed to rock her world on a daily basis. When she heads back to New Hampshire, determined to just do her job, she’s surprised when Joe agrees to meet her. What she doesn’t expect is the outrageous proposal Joe has. For every day she lasts with the entire Kowalski family (two brothers, one sister, parents and 5 nieces and nephews) on their annual camping trip, Keri gets to ask him one question. Of course these questions are restricted and Joe also gets to ask Keri a question in return. Surprising herself Keri agrees to Joe’s plan, believing she’s worked too hard to walk away from her career. Yet over the course of two weeks, not only does Keri get more dirt on the entire Kowalski clan than she ever expected, she also discovers that the chemistry between her and Joe has never disappeared and now Joe wants her back. While Joe’s sister and Keri’s former best friend, Terry is determined to protect her brother from another broken heart, Keri starts to reconsider her decision to walk away from him all those years ok. Throw in some sizzling outdoor sex, a bit of ATV riding and a whole lot of wildlife and you’ll be left wondering if Joe and Keri can get their relationship back on track, or if Keri will sell him out like some of his family always expected her to. This is the start of a trilogy on this family and was a great little read that’s perfect for an afternoon by the pool or on the couch. Full of funny dialogue, hilarious situations and some sizzling romance, it’s a great way to pass a couple of hours.
The Secret Lives of Emma: Beginnings by Natasha Walker
Read by Tracy July 2012
Tracy recommends if you really want to jump on the female erotica bandwagon
On a roll with the burgeoning female erotica literature scene, I quickly read this book - quickly as it was short and the writing was, I felt, pornographic. Gone was the tension and storyline of previous books in this genre (yes I know, grabbing at straws with the storyline bit), but The Secret Lives of Emma was straight down to business. This is a series of novels from the same publisher as Fifty Shades and although you may not rate that series, it has certainly captured readers attention, along with producers etc for the upcoming movie.
The Secret Lives of Emma introduces us to Emma Benson, who has been married to her husband David for one year. However, settling down in the Sydney suburbs, although having its benefits, is lacking the excitement that Emma thrives on. We see her procrastinating in her daily study schedule and taking a sunbathing break, during which the 18 year old next door neighbour, Jason, jumps over the fence. From there Emma takes him in hand, literally, and starts to teach him the finer points of seduction and sex. Emma has realised that being monogamous to her husband for three months is as much as she can bear, so finds it easy to sidestep the issue of fidelity. She is totally and utterly besotted by sex, unable to go for short periods of time without thinking or acting on her carnal desires. The sex in this book does not draw on BDSM as Fifty Shades and Destined to Play, however, at least Emma is the one in the driving seat, which makes a change from the weaker woman scenario. On one some big news, it has recently been reviewed that Natasha Walker is really John Purcell the Booktopia Book Guru.
Heartbroken: A Novel by Lisa Unger
Read by Tracy July 2012
Tracy recommends as an interesting look at how families can implode
Heartbroken is a story of three generations of the Burke family. Birdie Heart Burke, the iron willed matriarch of the family, her daughter, Kate and Emily - all having a connection to Heart Island for very different reasons. Heart Island sits amongst the lakes of the Adirondacks. It is a relatively new modern house with two older guest cottages and can only be reached by boat; even the internet age only provides a sketchy connection to the outside world. Birdie's family have owned Heart Island for many generations after winning it in a card game and each year it is the stage for a family summer vacation. This year is different and Kate must make the trip to the island without her brother, Theo, who has finally succumbed to Birdie's pettiness and refuses to return back to Heart Island ever. As the story unfolds, Birdie has some dark visions which cause her to reminisce about her childhood with her siblings Caroline and Gene and her parents. The family relationship has subsequently broken down and the remaining siblings are now estranged after a vicious court case for ownership of Heart Island after their parent’s death.
Birdie is married to Joe. Their marriage hasn't been happy, Joe desperately wanted someone warm and loving, finding Birdie the opposite and unable to change, however, he loved the lifestyle the rich Heart family provided. Birdie has spent her life living up to other people’s expectations and doing what is expected of the family, never giving an inch to herself or her children. The story tries to uncover what has caused Birdie to become so full of bitterness and resentment. One point stands out, when she was young, Birdie believed she saw her mother leave the house at night and cross to the next island, disappearing into the arms of another man. In the morning, when Birdie confronted her mother, she was laughed at. Birdie always believed she was right and it was not the dream her mother said.
Kate is married to the effervescent realtor Sean and has two children, Chelsea (from her first marriage to successful by unhinged author Sebastian) and Brendan. Birdie and Joe were not happy with Kate's decision to marry Sean, as it was a match below her status, and they are also unable to accept Kate's decision to "just be a mum", but Kate knows she made the right decision. Kate has ownership of her grandmother's and aunt's journals and writes a book loosely based on the tragic love story on the island (between her grandmother and the neighbour), but she is too afraid to share her success with her mother who constantly belittled everything Kate does or think. It’s strange to see Birdie’s passive aggressive treatment of her, but Kate starts to fight back, much to her mother’s surprise. Kate seems unwilling to let go of her mother and tries to forge a relationship as much as possible. Chelsea is your typical teenager, spending as much time as possible on the computer, hanging out with her best friend Lulu and shopping in the Mall. Lulu is almost the opposite of Chelsea - outgoing, has boyfriends, can do anything as her parents are too busy to notice, but she is also failing at school and lacks direction. When Brendan badly hurts his ankle, and Sean is given the opportunity to show a house, it is decided that the boys will travel up the following day. So Kate, Chelsea and Lulu head up to Heart Island and when they arrive, they find that Joe has departed the island already, unable to stand the silence of Heart Island, but promising to return when the rest of the family arrive, instead preferring his life in Manhattan.
We then have the story of Emily, who has always believed that Joe Burke was her father, something her mother never corrected. Her life has not turned out as she expected and she falls in love with Dean who drags her down with his promises of something more. However, Emily remembers several visits to the island in her childhood and remembers it as the only place she felt happy and loved. Joe loved Emily's mother Martha, but gave up this love for the money and status of marriage to Birdie - it was her family money that he ended up loving more. Emily has managed to carve out a job and home, but you see her gradually unravelling and although at any stage she could step away, she is besotted with her boyfriend and seems unable to make a decision. Although she is a doormat, Unger gets you to think about what decisions you may make in the same position, not everything is black and white. When a friend from Dean's past turns up, Brad becomes the catalyst for a tragic set of events which sees them on a crash course for the Burke family and Heart Island.
As the story unwinds, we find that Birdie has uncovered a photograph of a man and her mother and on the reverse is a note from her mother "it wasn't a dream, darling. I'm so sorry. But Birdie is a character so filled with hatred that she cannot accept that her mother loved someone else, instead taking it as a personal slight. Kate wants to tell her mother the history she has gleaned from the family journals, but it unable to find the right time and probably the energy required to cut through the decades to misconceptions and jealousy. However, Kate is becoming unnerved on the island, feeling that there is something dark happening, especially when Birdie and Chelsea both say they have seen a mysterious person. After just arriving, a storm hits the island and in true horror movie style, there is a knock at the door....
Love Unscripted by Tina Reber
Read by Natalie June 2012
Natalie recommends as a poor version of Notting Hill
Ryan Christensen is a Hollywood heartthrob, thrown into the spotlight after a role in an unknown film catapulted him to fame and fortune. Continuously stalked by his fans and hounded by the paparazzi, Ryan longs for the things he once had; anonymity, peace and the freedom to do what he wants. But above all of that, he longs for love, a chance to love someone who is with him because of him, not because of what he does or who he has become. Taryn is a small town bar owner in Seaport, Rhode Island. Hurt by love in the past and betrayed by her fiancé, she is determined to never again get involved with a man who doesn’t rock her world and love her unconditionally.
When Ryan’s latest movie begins filming in Seaport, Taryn is the only person not swept up in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood’s arrival. With no clue as to what all the fuss is about, having never seen one of his movies, Taryn is just grateful for the extra business all the fans bring to her pub. But then one morning Ryan runs through her door, desperate to escape the women running after him. Hurt and about to have a major meltdown, Ryan is able to discover a moment of peace in the business of a woman who has no interest in his fame. As the two of them spend a morning together just getting to know each other, Taryn is surprised that the man in front of her is nothing like the man portrayed all over the TV. Ryan on the other hand is grateful to meet someone who doesn’t care about his fame and fortune and who he can just be himself around. As the two of them find a sweet, friendly and slightly flirty connection, they eventually go their separate ways, wondering how they could possibly make anything of it with the circus that is Ryan’s life. Ryan however is determined to give it a try and when he continues to walk into Taryn’s pub, she gradually starts to realise that underneath the persona the public sees is a man who just wants to love and have a normal life. Scared about what happens when Ryan’s film finishes shooting, Taryn resists, not wanting to put herself through the hurt all over again. But as Ryan confesses to feelings of his own, the two of them give in and take a chance on having a real relationship.
Once together however, nothing is smooth sailing. There are the constant fans that swarm Taryn’s pub hoping for not only a glimpse of Ryan but also a chance to remind Taryn that she is a nobody he will forget when he leaves. The paparazzi that refuse to leave them alone, hoping for a scoop on their new relationship. The friends that only want to protect Taryn and the cast members who want to keep Ryan for themselves. The filming and good-looking co-stars who Taryn can’t ignore and finally the fear of being constantly watched and followed, particularly when it looks like one of Ryan’s fans is taking their obsession with him a bit too far. As Taryn and Ryan struggle to both trust each other and survive in the chaos, insecurities, lies and misinterpretations threaten to overwhelm them. Things reach a head when Taryn is hit by a car on her way to visit Ryan and is forced to recover from not only her injuries but the shock of finding out she is pregnant, only to lose the baby shortly afterwards. Consumed by grief and without Ryan who had to leave for a film set shortly after she came home from hospital, things go from bad to worse when one of Ryan’s co-stars starts an elaborate plan to break them up. Misunderstanding a meeting between Ryan and his co-star, also a former girlfriend, Taryn flees and finally giving in to all of her insecurities, she believes it is over, despite her friends begging her to trust him. When his parents show up and Taryn thinks they are there to collect Ryan’s things from her apartment, she thinks it’s finally over. However a surprise visit and question from Ryan change everything.
I really wanted to like this book, having loved the movie Notting Hill and thinking this would be a similar approach. And initially I did. Taryn and Ryan were two 27 year olds who met, got to know each other, had a fun and friendly flirtation that only increased the chemistry between them and kept me turning the pages to find out what would happen next. However when they finally gave in and got together, things definitely took a turn for the worse. First up we got our one and only sex scene that spanned a page and a half and covered 4 positions, three orgasms and actually left me strangely exhausted yet unsatisfied. Then when they were actually together, the two of them seemed to morph into a pair of 80 years olds whose ridiculous terms of endearment were sickening and actually as we later learnt, straight out of Ryan’s parent’s playbook…eeewwww. Secondly, the story itself was so disjointed and random, with major discussions and decisions being flicked over to another subject in the space of one sentence. There were some really strange jumps that did nothing for the continuity and had the effect of making me think I had skipped over a page. Thirdly, their relationship while believable in the beginning just moved too far too fast. I could get why they connected and why they came together but to be declaring love in the space of a week and making plans to build a house and get married in the space of a few weeks, come on. And lastly, the conversations the two of them had and the people they had them with, completely unbelievable. I’m sorry but you don’t discuss some things with your future-in-laws and your boyfriend’s co-stars. Overall, this was a storyline that had great potential which it failed to live up too. The start of a trilogy, the second book Love Unrehearsed is out later this year, but you can read the first 4 chapters which begins 2 days after this book, here.
The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville
Read by Tracy in March 2012
Tracy recommends as an love story with a twist
Written in 1999, The Idea of Perfection won Kate Grenville the prestigious 2001 Orange Prize. Harley Savage and Douglas Cheeseman are the main protagonists in this novel. Harley is a patchwork quilt specialist and has been invited to Karakarook to help the town establish a heritage museum and restore some of the town’s history and monuments. Haunted by a tragedy in her past, Harley is a loner. Douglas has also come to Karakarook, but he has been asked to knock down a gorgeous old stone bridge which was one of the monuments the Heritage Society wanted to restore to encourage tourism to the area. Harley and Douglas appear to be mirror images of themselves and even though they don’t acknowledge it, they are attracted to each other. They are both outsiders and have never totally fitted in to society, skirting the edges, never able to be the perfect anything. Grenville manages to provide something deeper than the just a romantic novel, instead we see how the two main characters compassion and understanding for each other and as this unfolds they are honest about their thoughts and this has an endearing quality. The Idea of Perfectionis a simple love story set in a beautiful country town. There aren’t many books these days that seem to focus on this urbanized setting, instead storylines tend to focus on the city. Even more interesting is that this story is seen through the eyes of Harley and Douglas who are not locals to the town community and this lends a romantic feel, I suppose similar thoughts drive people to leave the cities and become tree or sea changers.
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
Read by Tracy March 2012
Tracy recommends as a nice read.
The Forgotten Garden is divided into three sections 1900's, 1970's and 2000's. We are first introduced to Cassandra who is now caring for Nell, her grandmother. When Nell passes away, Cassandra is drawn into the mystery and secrets of a family she hardly knows. At the wake for her grandmother, Cassandra's aunties tell her the story of Nell's childhood, instead of being related by blood she finds out that Nell was actually found on the wharf in Australia, she appeared to be homeless, familyless and did not even know her name. All she had was a suitcase with a few momentoes. As time went by Nell was never told, until her 21st birthday when her father sat down and told her the truth. Nell then embarked on a mission to unravel who she was and where she was from. As the story progresses we find out that Nell had bought a home in Cornwall and as Cassandra has now inherited, she too embarks on a trip to Cornwall, armed with Nell's notebooks and some detective work Cassandra uncovers the story of Eliza who had lived in the cottage and the Mountrachet family who resided at nearby Blackhurst Manor. There are quite a few twists and turns to keep you reading. It isn't the most amazing book I have written but I enjoyed travelling back in time with Cassandra as she first unraveled Nell's story and then Eliza's. Eliza was an authoriess of children's fairytales and these are interspersed through the chapter and you understand where she draws her inspiration. There is some romance and heartbreak and I didn't catch on with the ending right until the last few pages, although I had hoped for more information on Eliza's beau. I could see this as a movie with the period pieces fitting in nicely with the wonderful architecture of the Cornish coast.
The Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards
Read by Tracy in March 2012
Tracy recommends as great summer reading
Okay I am not usually one for romantic books, but the publishers blurb got me interested, so I sat down and became absorbed. I had not read Kim Edwards earlier book The Memory Keeper's Daughter, or seen the movie, so had no context of Edward's writing. At the end of the book, I am not sure why, but it certainly kept me up all night reading.
After her father died, Lucy Jarrett left her home town (Lake of Dreams) to attend college and has since travelled the world with her job, not staying anywhere for long and not putting down roots. Unemployed, Lucy is now living in Japan with her boyfriend (Yoshi) and becomes increasing disturbed by the increasing earthquakes, so when she learns her mother has been in an accident she takes the opportunity to return back to Lake of Dreams, where she grew up. When she arrives she finds everything has moved on since she left ten years earlier. Lucy becomes increasingly frustrated with the turn of events and the discussions for her mother to sell the family home for development purposes. She meets up with her old boyfriend, Keegan, and they start to re-kindle their teenage feelings, before Lucy realises that going back isn't the right decision. During one of their catch-up's Keegan introduces Lucy to some previously unknown stained glass windows from a local church what Keegan is restoring. Lucy recognises the border theme on the window as the same as a piece of fabric at her house which has had recently uncovered. At the same time she had also found some pamphlets about the suffrage movement and other personal letters tucked away in the cupola of her old house. These discoveries soon send Lucy on a journey to find out who left them.
As her journey progresses she becomes obsessed with her family tree and the secrets that were tucked away before she was born. I have to say the only character I really didn't like was Lucy, she becomes unwilling to share her discoveries without being jealous of anyone else sharing them. The family home sounds idylistic, beautifully situated on the edge of a lake which after decades of being closed to developers is now opening up to the closure of an American Army storage area and Lucy is not happy with the push to remove the marshes and wildlife habitat. Eventually Yoshi comes to visit and finds himself being told by Lucy of her brief dalliance with Keegan, which I thought he took really well. As Lucy uncovers the history of Rose and her daughter Iris, she also finds out more than she wanted to know about her father's death and the regret that haunts her Uncle. An interesting sub-story was of Lucy's mother, who is only now finding happiness with a new man in her life, but sadly Lucy doesn't seem to be able to accept this - personally I think it is fantastic that her mother has met someone who makes her happy. The story continues to unfold with letters being uncovered and we find out why Rose left Iris when she was a small child, which is extremely sad, and how they were never able to reunite. Lucy eventually locates Iris who is now 95 and hands over the letters, this was a sad moment and I must admit a few tears flowed as Iris had always believed she had been abandoned. There is a twist at the end which unites Lucy's family and provides closure.
The Younger Man by Zoe Foster
Read by Natalie February 2012
Natalie recommends as a great read, certainly one of the better chick-lit books out there.
The Younger Man is the story of Abby, a 32 year old independent career woman who has just woken up from a night of uninhibited, raunchy sex with a man who is 10 years her junior. Despite her obvious enjoyment of the night, particularly relating to his skill and generosity in the sack, Abby is convinced it has no future as their age gap is likely to mean he will want to party and date women his own age, while she will eventually want to settle down. Marcus, the sexually experienced/generous boy in question, thinks otherwise and makes it his mission to convince Abby he is worth a second (or third or hey, even more) roll in the hay. However, Abby pulls out her “fake fiancé” card, sending Marcus running out the door, and leaving her confident she won’t have to see him again. Two weeks later she finds him sitting across from her at the boardroom table, explaining how her company’s website can be improved and before she knows what she’s doing, Marcus is revamping her website by day and improving her sex life by night. Content to enjoy her regular booty-call which is fast becoming a “friend with benefits” situation, Abby slowly starts to let Marcus in, confident that she can ditch him as soon as her company is online and she heads off on a long awaited vacation. Marcus however is determined to win her over and as he continues to woo and surprise her with his charm, intellect, kindness and sense of humour, you get the feeling that Abby might actually be falling for him too, even if she isn’t willing to admit it. Egging her on from the sidelines are best friends Chelsea and Mads who despite their initial teasing of her toy boy, soon realise that he is actually the perfect man for her. But Abby is convinced that Marcus will eventually grow tired of her, so in an act of defiance (and some may say stupidity), she books a 5 week vacation to Italy (alone) and promptly breaks up with him the night before she leaves.
Once in Italy, Abby then spends every day thinking of Marcus, wishing he would contact her and drafting emails and texts to him which are rapidly deleted before being sent. Slowly coming to the realisation that she actually might have made the biggest mistake of her life, she nonetheless embarks on a passionate 1 week affair with a handsome older Italian man. When she returns home however, she realises once and for all that Marcus is the guy for her and when she finally gets the chance to admit her feelings, it is him who walks away, upset that she dumped him in the first place and annoyed at her constant hang-up about his age. Abby is once again left broken hearted (though temporarily healed with a 1 week visit from her Italian stallion) and making things even worse is a fall-out between her two best friends and a business partner who is secretly sabotaging her company (and as it turns out, any chance of a reconciliation with Marcus). Just when it looks like things couldn’t get any worse, she runs into Marcus who is with his new and much older “girlfriend.” Can Abby resurrect what she previously destroyed and will Marcus, who clearly still adores her, take her back….well come on, it is chick lit, of course it works out in the end. What’s great about though, is how it all plays out, especially the identity of Marcus’ “girlfriend” and his reaction to it….classic. Their rekindling romance is very sweet, but also feels nicely realistic and not everything is tied up in a happily-ever-after bow, yet still manages to leave you feeling immensely satisfied. I also loved the character of Abby because she was a strong independent woman who knew what she wanted, wasn’t afraid to go after it and pretty much followed through on all of her decisions (a nice change from the pathetic women who often grace the pages of these types of books). And let’s face it, Marcus was also very deliciously edible and I would have happily taken him myself if Abby hadn’t come to her senses! The other absolutely fantastic thing about this book is the dialogue…oh man can Zoe write some funny conversations, they had me laughing out loud and vowing to use some her character’s more wittier statements in every day conversation, passing them off as my own. All in all this is a great read, perfect for a day by the pool, a rainy afternoon on the couch or anything in between. Pick it up soon, you won’t be disappointed!<
Not Knowing Jack by KA Mitchell
Read by Natalie in February 2012
Natalie recommends as a great sequel and a lot more serious that she expected
This is the "sequel" to Regularly Scheduled Life and follows the story of Tony and Jack. A couple for little over a year, they live life by having fun (translation: having lots of sex) and never discussing anything too serious, including their past or plans for the future. Although Tony lives with Jack, he doesn't really know much about Jack's life prior to them meeting and when Jack starts acting strangely, Tony immediately thinks the worst. This is made slightly worse by the fact that Tony doesn't have much money and is really living in Jack's house, spending Jack's money and enjoying Jack's things. While this doesn't bother Jack, it scares Tony because if he is forced to move out (or is kicked out as he believes is coming), he really has no where else to go. The big secret Jack is hiding is that he used to be married...to a woman and has two children with her. Having abandoned them 4 years ago under the belief that his kids never wanted to see him again after their mother tried to kill them when Jack finally admitted he was gay, Jack is worried what Tony will think of him when he finds out. Abandoned fathers are a sore point for Tony, having been ditched by his own father when he was much younger and also having to witness his sister's husband abandon her and her two young boys. Compounding the whole situation is Jack's former in-laws trying to obtain sole custody of the kids and buy Jack's silence, as well as Jack's ever worsening ulcer and things are about to get alot worse. When the kid's mother resurfaces, alledgedly cured of her pyschotic tendancies and Jack is made aware of both her release and some letters the kids wrote to him begging to be allowed to see him, he finally reveals the truth to Tony. As they plan how to get Jack's kids away from his ex-wife (who still seems very pyschotic), they finally see just how bad things are. Jack's son is bitter and angry at thinking his father has abandoned him and refuses to open up, while his daughter is overjoyed to see him again although traumatised so badly from the mother that she doesn't speak at all. As tensions mount, Jack and Tony struggle to cope with suddenly having two kids and the pressure this puts on their carefree relationship. Just when it looks like they might be getting somewhere, both with the kids and each other, Jack's ulcer, which he has kept hidden from Tony, flares up and it looks like it might be the final straw for Tony. Can they work it out and save their relationship or have one to many secrets been kept?
I think we all know what the answer will be, but what I was surprised by was how well told and almost moving this story was. I truly did feel sorry for Jack, having spent 10 years in a sham of a marriage while he tried to come to terms with his homosexuality. While his secrets with Tony were inexcusable, particularly given the change in their relationship over the book, I could almost understand why he wanted to keep his failures from the man he clearly loved. Tony was a great character who is nothing like you expected him to be and his constant support of Jack was really sweet.
Two-Way Street by Lauren Barnholdt
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A Rather Lovely Inheritance by C.A. Belmond
Penny knows perfectly well that she’s not the kind of girl who falls into sudden good fortune. A historical researcher for a cable TV company that specializes in “sudsy bio-pics” of history’s pluckiest heroines, Penny is a bit world-weary. Still, she can’t quite give up her genuine love of history, especially the persistent hope that her own inglorious and hectic life might one day become as elegant as a 1930s movie. But soon enough, the present century begins to have its own charms. There’s that unexpected phone call from her loving-but-baffling parents, informing her that she is needed in London to attend the reading of her Great-Aunt Penelope’s will. So Penny discovers that she must now put her professional research skills to work, to figure out the secrets of a pair of wills, double lives, buried histories and a family tree with more than one “vulture” in it. Her adventures could either land her in clover—or in trouble with the gendarmes. Well, perhaps the sophisticated, enigmatic Englishman, Jeremy, may be just the right fellow to accompany her on the chase of a lifetime, if he can be trusted, and if the two of them can stop bickering long enough to figure each other out... and finally unearth the family’s hidden legacy. Book summary provided by C.A. Belmond. Reading A Rather Lovely Inheritance was kind of like stepping back in time and enjoying something by Mary Stewart. You know, one of her 50s and 60s mystery stories when the heroine gets swept up in something she never expected that’s kind of glamorous and a teensy bit dangerous and at the end, she finds romance when she didn’t expect it. I haven’t read anything like it in quite a while and it made a change from the usual bodice ripper genre.
And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky
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Fly Me To The Moon by Alyson Noel
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Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende
Born a slave on the island of Saint-Domingue, Zarite—known as Tete—is the daughter of an African mother she never knew and one of the white sailors who brought her into bondage. Though her childhood is one of brutality and fear, Tete finds solace in the traditional rhythms of African drums and in the voodoo loas she discovers through her fellow slaves. When twenty-year-old Toulouse Valmorain arrives on the island in 1770, it’s with powdered wigs in his baggage and dreams of financial success in his mind. But running his father’s plantation, Saint Lazare, is neither glamorous nor easy. It will be eight years before he brings home a bride—but marriage, too, proves more difficult than he imagined. And Valmorain remains dependent on the services of his teenaged slave. Spanning four decades, Island Beneath the Sea is the moving story of the intertwined lives of Tete and Valmorain, and of one woman’s determination to find love amid loss, to offer humanity though her own has been battered, and to forge her own identity in the cruellest of circumstances. (Book Summary from the publisher.)
Island Beneath the Sea is a historical novel set in the Caribbean and New Orleans against the backdrop of 18th Century world changes such as the US war of Independence, the French Revolution and the massive slave revolt that turned Santo Domingo into the country of Haiti. During the first part of the book, I felt a mixture of emotions. The story of slavery and the excesses of the slave owners repulsed me. Yet, at the same time the story drew me in with the complex humanity that Isabel Allende finds in each of her characters. Just like in life, everyone thinks he or she is the good guy. Isabel has said, "With relatives like mine I don't need to use my imagination, they alone provide all the material I need for my novels . . . . Many of my relatives have been the models for the characters in my books, like my grandparents who became Esteban Trueba and Clara del Valle in The House of the Spirits." Writing characters inspired by people and experiences in ones own life follows the traditional dictum to "write what you know." Let's pause to look at another great writer — Ernest Hemingway. Shrapnel hit Hemingway's knee in World War One. He knew what that feels like. So, when his characters were wounded in war, they were often wounded in the same way as Hemingway. He could truthfully write, “I knew I was hit and leaned over and put my hand on my knee. My knee wasn’t there. My hand went in and my knee was down on my shin.” The title, Island Beneath the Sea, refers to an Afro-Caribbean belief in a paradisiacal afterworld. The novel also reveals the power-structure's self-serving religious beliefs that equality is to be found only in heaven. But the protagonist, Zarité, is convinced that equality can be achieved in the here and the now. Even through the most daunting of trials she holds on to this dream, this conviction of her heart. In a recent interview, Allende said that she writes to entertain the reader. I find meaning deeper than mere entertainment in Allende's work. Like Buddhist leader Daisaku Ikeda has said — reading great literature makes it possible to learn from the lives of many different people, and not just from our own limited direct experience. I read novels seeking those life lessons. In Allende's work I find not only entertainment, but also great wisdom. I believe that Isabel Allende is a living treasure of humanity. After finishing reading The Island Beneath the Sea I felt grounded, confident and filled with hope for the future. Read an excerpt of Island Beneath The Sea from npr.
Jane Austen in Scarsdale by Paula Cohen
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The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E Smith
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Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian
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The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove by Lauren Kate
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The Little Lady Agency by Hester Browne
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The One That Got Away by Lucy Dawson
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The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
Lady Elizabeth Grey’s husband was killed at the Battle of St. Albans and she desperately wants his lands back for her two little boys. She is tired of living in her parents’ home and would like her independence. So she stands out in the road as the new king, Edward IV, rides by, holding their hands and hoping he’ll see her. He does see her and takes note not only of her problems, but of her beauty, and before she knows it, Elizabeth is the queen of England and in almost over her head with politics and intrigue. She is a Woodville, though, and she will perservere, going to the edge to push her family as high as it can possibly go before her tower of cards topples around her. This is going to be a good long review, as I have a lot to say on this book. For those who skim, here’s my verdict: much better than I was expecting! If you know me and have been reading my blog, you’ll know that I’ve been working on a dissertation about Anthony Woodville (and fifteenth century chivalric culture in England overall) for what feels like forever. As such, this book was bound to touch on a topic near and dear to my heart, and it was bound to get some of the facts wrong, if only for the sake of storytelling. So it does; the Woodville family was loyal to Edward IV after 1461 but before he married Elizabeth, and Anthony was sent to besiege Alnwick Castle on his behalf with the earl of Warwick in 1463, not to mention that Elizabeth’s father Lord Rivers had already been appointed to office. The beginning was anachronistic in another way because Edward kept being referred to as a boy, and there is no way anyone in the medieval period would have considered a man who had commanded and won two battles a boy. I can see that she did this more for characterization purposes, especially given he was younger than Elizabeth, so I don’t mind as much, but still worth noting. And Anthony was not at Tewkesbury, although he was definitely in London and fighting when Thomas Neville arrived. There is also the whole magic subplot, but I thought that was actually quite creative, and historical inaccuracy only bothers me if people believe it’s true. I don’t think anyone would ever believe Elizabeth and Jacquetta were witches. I could go on, but I’ll spare you. All that said, Philippa Gregory got more right than wrong in this instance and I was pleasantly surprised. No one is needlessly victimized here; in fact Elizabeth is quite a sympathetic character which is refreshing after all of the villainizing that typically surrounds her. Even Richard III is not a villain but a multi-faceted man whose ambition just kept on pushing a little too far. The rest of the history is in many ways what has been fictionalized before, and I found nothing that really bothered me. All things considered I enjoyed this book after the first fifty pages and I wasn’t expecting to. Gregory even included Anthony’s poem, which is authentic and the only one that survives; she inflates his reputation to some extent, but I didn’t mind, it fit in. Gregory writes well, and in general the book is absorbing even for someone who has heard it all before. It’s romanticized, but in the way that makes us sigh and wish we had a big blond knight to save the day. It’s exciting and tense because everything is dangerous, and because I kept wondering who was going to kill the princes in this version. Another interesting twist there, and I think we’re meant to guess at what she means, but for someone who doesn’t know the history, it’s a nice question. And in the end, I like the way Gregory twisted things here. It’s interesting and it’s different when the story has been done over and over again. Given the fluidity of history itself, I found myself enjoying the way she pushes boundaries and suggests things that probably didn’t happen but might have done. I didn’t want to read another fictional recap of the Wars of the Roses, but Gregory made it a little bit new, and despite myself I think I’m looking forward to The Red Queen very much, even if I don’t think anyone ever called these ‘the cousin’s wars’. In other words, I do recommend The White Queen. It is historical fiction, after all, and if you’re going to read another book that fictionalizes the Wars of the Roses, I highly suggest this one. This Book Review was provided by Medieval Bookworm. If you are keen on the book, stay turned for the major BBC TV Series.
The Water Theatre by Lucy Clarke
You may be forgiven for wondering where Lindsay Clarke had got to since winning the 1989 Whitbread prize for his alchemical fantasia The Chymical Wedding. The answer (apart from transferring to a smaller publisher) seems to be ancient Troy. Clarke spent the intervening years between the prizewinning novel and the follow-up churning out contributions to Harper Collins's series of popular retellings of Greek legend. Yet perhaps that isn't so strange after all. He explains his fascination with the classical period because "the people who lived in those times were closer to the gods". The gods are never far away in Clarke's own fiction, which plants seeds of the present in a thick loam of mythology and magic. In the preface to a new edition of The Chymical Wedding – a work in which many major themes develop while the characters are asleep – he explains his predilection for dreams "because they belong to the unconscious, archetypal levels of our being . . . which we ignore at our peril". Quite a lot of dreaming occurs in the new novel as well, along with an abundance of interpolated narratives evoking arcane rituals initiated by sibyls, oracles, water sprites and so forth. The book coincides with the republication of the Whitbread winner – perhaps to jog memories and enable the reader to gauge how far Clarke has travelled in 20 years, which is actually not far at all. In The Chymical Wedding, a disillusioned poet goes to a remote cottage in Norfolk and has his curiosity aroused by the strange occult practices going on around him. In the new book, a disillusioned war reporter (and former poet) goes to a remote cottage in Umbria and has his curiosity aroused by the strange occult practices – well, you get the drift. But given that the first book pursued the legendary quest to find the philosopher's stone, it's not surprising to see him repeat the formula. Martin Crowther is a jaded television journalist so numbed by the atrocities he has witnessed that he has lost faith in the medium's ability to effect change: "Sometimes I think all we've done is turn the sitting room into a private amphitheatre – a cosy little peep show where we can get off on the visuals while indulging our compassion." The theatrical reference is significant because Martin comes under the influence of an enigmatic Umbrian countess with a peculiar private amphitheatre of her own. He has travelled to the obscure hill town of Fontonalba in search of two lost friends of his youth, Adam and Marina, the privileged children of a bluff political philosopher with a grand plan to reshape the future of the fictitious African state of British West Equatoria. Thirty years on, neither wants anything to do with their dad. Nor does the government of former British West Equatoria. But Martin's job is to track down Adam and Marina – both of whom he still appears to be in love with – and piece together where it all went wrong. When he eventually finds them, they turn out to be in a bad way. Marina, a highly strung painter who toyed mercilessly with the teenaged Martin's affections, has turned into a mad, blind old harridan. Adam has disappeared into the Umbrian hills to undergo some form of spiritual cleansing ritual – a rite Martin is persuaded to undertake to exorcise himself of his bad dreams about his father, a repressive, working-class patriarch who disapproved of his son mixing with a crowd of irresponsible bohemians in the first place. To his credit, Clarke makes a competent job of teasing the reader with an artfully withheld secret that always appears on the brink of revelation. But it is all extremely dense and humourless; and whereas The Chymical Wedding took you down a deep, dark well of alchemical research, the mystic rituals described here are far more nebulous. Most of the obtuse rites and ceremonies appear to be the invention of the countess, whose villa comes equipped with a rococo aqua-park staffed by an oddball crowd of camp theatre directors, surly Italian handymen and lute-strumming monks. Those eagerly anticipating a follow-up to The Chymical Wedding will probably be pleased to find themselves on familiar ground. But the thing about dreams is that they create a strange sense of déjà vu. The review is from Alfred Hickling at The Guardian.