Georgette Heyer’s COTILLION

COTILLION is one of my favourite Georgette Heyers, and one that has been gathering dust on my bookshelves for a very long time.  So when I was looking for something different to re-read*, this sprang to mind.

A quick recap of the plot: Mr Penicuik, a rich miserly cantankerous man with no direct heirs, has finally had enough of waiting for his favourite grandnephew, Jack, to propose to his ward, Kitty Charing.  He decides to force Jack’s hand by promising his fortune as Kitty’s dowry, provided she marries one of his grandnephews.

A pretty safe choice, seeing that Kitty has had a schoolgirl crush on Jack since, well, forever.  However, Mr Penicuik fails to take into account Jack’s dislike of being manipulated.  And both Jack and Mr Penicuik have failed to take into account Kitty’s embarrassment at having suitors bribed to marry her.

So instead of waiting for Jack, Kitty asks Freddy, another of Mr Penicuik’s grandnephews, to propose.  Freddy is nowhere near ready to get married and, having a sizeable fortune himself, is not swayed by the promise of a substantial dowry.  But Kitty persuades him to agree to a fake engagement so that she can go to London, where she just might bump into Jack and show him what he is missing.

And so we are off…

Warning: I’m going into specifics about what I loved about this book so there are spoilers in this post.  But read on if you don’t mind being spoiled – or want to know how a Heyer Regency reminded me of Lois McMaster Bujold!

At the heart of COTILLION is one of the more popular romance plotlines – the fake engagement that turns into a real one.  And yet it is done so beautifully that I wasn’t quite sure how it would turn out when I read it for the first time.  Upon re-reading it this time around and knowing that Kitty and Freddy end up together, the first scene when they meet was infinitely more enjoyable.

Kitty is a charming heroine, somewhat naive due to her upbringing in the country, but certainly strong-minded and good-hearted.  I’ll be honest and say that she is a run-of-the-mill romance heroine.  And COTILLION would not stand out from the other Heyers if it wasn’t for Freddy.

Because Freddy, unusually for a hero, is a very beta hero.  Some of Ms Heyer’s heroes are very alpha, and certainly Jack, who is arrogantly sure Kitty will come running when he snaps his fingers, is as alpha as they come – when he first makes an appearance, he is described as “… a tall man whose air and bearing proclaimed the Corinthian”.  Compare that to Freddy’s entrance, that of “… a slender young gentleman, of average height and graceful carriage.  His countenance was unarresting, but amiable; and a certain vagueness characterised his demeanour”.

And yet, Freddy quietly steals the book – and the girl.  He doesn’t change from the Pink of the Ton he is introduced as in the third chapter, who knows exactly what to wear to the country and whose main concerns upon reaching his destination are that “… the high points of his shirt-collar were uncrumpled, and the intricacies of a virgin cravat no more disarranged than a touch would set to rights…”.  But somehow, over the course of the book, Ms Heyer slowly reveals the qualities that are hidden under the exterior (though of course, Freddy would scorn the idea that he has any depths).  In the last chapters, he rides to the rescue, not as a dashing hero of the sort he disdains, but in a much more prosaic manner.  A perfect ending.  A very Freddy ending.

The next point may not mean much if you haven’t read Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series**, but this realisation struck me like a thunderbolt halfway through the book… if Ms Bujold ever wrote a story with Ivan as the protagonist, it would be exactly like COTILLION.  Freddy is Ivan.

Freddy’s not the person who will plunge headfirst into reckless enterprises, he is persuaded to take part despite his inner voice screaming “no!”.  Well, not persuaded exactly, it’s more that people know exactly the right buttons to press.  Similar to how Miles gets Ivan to sign-up to the most hair-brained of schemes by making it impossible for him to refuse, Kitty gets Freddy to agree to a fake engagement by appealing to his better instincts.

He’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer, certainly, yet family and friends underestimate him to their own peril.  He’s incredibly practical, and even more importantly, knows his way around society, which counts for a lot more than book smarts.  It is honestly the perfect Ivan story.

Okay, random observation over.

There are so many passages I loved that when it came to deciding which ones to quote, I struggled.  Here are the two I ended up picking.

The first is one with Freddy and his father together.  I adored Lord Legerwood and his astute observations.  There is affection and respect on both sides, but their exchanges never failed to amuse me, especially when Lord Legerwood’s attempted barbs completely miss the mark due to Freddy’s obliviousness.  For example, in this passage where Lord Legerwood tries – and fails – to make the point that Freddy has been rather neglectful of his parents recently:

These led [Freddy] to seek counsel of his father, whom he met one day in St James’ Street, and who exhibited great surprise at seeing him, saying that he had supposed him to have gone out of town again.  But this shaft went wide.  Freddy eyed his satirical parent in mild bewilderment, and said reasonably: “Can’t have thought that, sir!  Dash it, met you at Meg’s two nights ago!”

Lord Legerwood sighed.  “You have your own armour, have you not, Frederick?  Of course I should have known better!”

“Offended you, sir?” asked Freddy intelligently.

“Not at all.  How came such an idea as that into your head?”

“Notice more than you think,” said Freddy, with simple pride.  “Never call me Frederick except when I’ve vexed you!”

“Almost you encourage me to look forward to a brilliant career for you!” said his lordship, impressed.

I’ll stop there, but I re-read the whole scene several times, laughing.

And this one with Kitty and Freddy also amused me.  The two of them are talking entirely at cross-purposes; Freddy has finally had enough of people implying Kitty is going out behind his back with Dolph (yet another of Mr Penicuik’s grandnephews) not because he cares of course, but because of how it reflects on himself and his family!  He tracks her down to remonstrate with her, but Kitty is completely bewildered as she’s actually trying to help Dolph woo his secret sweetheart***:

“Freddy!” cried Miss Charing, jumping almost out of her skin.

“And don’t you say Freddy to me!” added Mr Standen severely.  “I told you I wouldn’t have it, Kit, and I dashed well meant it!  Have the whole town talking!”

Kitty looked very much bewildered, but as it was plain that Mr Standen was filled with righteous wrath she refrained herself from protest, merely saying in a small, doubtful voice: “Frederick? Should I, in public, call you Mr Standen?”

“Call me Mr Standen?” said Freddy, thrown quite out of his stride.  “No, of course you should not!  Never heard such a silly question in my life!  And it ain’t a bit of use trying to turn the subject!  Not one to take a pet for no reason, but this is the outside of enough, Kit!”

“I wasn’t trying to turn the subject!  You said I must not call you Freddy!”

Mr Standen stared at her.  “Said you wasn’t to call me Freddy?  Nonsense!”

COTILLION has reminded me of how much I love Georgette Heyer’s books.  It’s one of her lighter, funnier ones (though I must admit the Regency slang at the start of the book was heading towards impenetrable at times) and well, I adore Freddy.  It remains a strong B+ read for me.

**************************

* I did attempt to meet Nath’s Re-read Challenge for June – hey, I’ve only missed it by a few days.

** And if not, why not?  Seriously.  Start with “The Warrior’s Apprentice”.  I mean it.

*** Another thing that struck me was how Ms Heyer referred to the characters.  When either was on their high horse (horses?), the character was referred to as Miss Charing or Mr Standen, else it was Kit and Freddy.

TBR Day: PN Elrod’s “Bloodlist”

This is posted as part of Keishon’s TBR Day challenge, which is aimed at encouraging us readers with the towering TBR piles (you know who you are) to start tackling the books that have been languishing in there for eons.

This month’s challenge theme: Urban fantasy, paranormal, SFR or fantasy

ETA:  This was meant to go up on Thursday 16 April, the official TBR Day; however, I am apparently useless when it comes to scheduling posts.  Ah well.

*******************************

51J5KGRF82L._SL160_ Book: Bloodlist (urban fantasy)

Author: PN Elrod

Copyright Date: 1990 (re-released in 2003 as part of “The Vampire Files 1” omnibus, featuring the first three books in this series)

Me and… Urban Fantasy: It’s probably fairly obvious that I read a lot of UF nowadays.  Heck, I used to read it even when it wasn’t known as UF.  However, I’ve realised that I rarely start new UF series nowadays.  It used to be “oh look, a new book featuring [insert supernatural-creature-of-choice here], gimme that now!”.  Now it’s more like “hmm… okay, interesting cover, what’s the blurb” *reads first few pages* “mmm…. not sure, let me think about it” *puts down, wanders away*.  I tend to stick to series I already know and love, or new books by authors I already read.

Why did I buy this book? PN Elrod’s name was familiar to me as an editor of various anthologies, including the “Big Fat Supernatural…” ones with Charlaine Harris.  I’ve also read a couple of her short stories featuring Jack Fleming, the vampire PI in this series, and liked them, so was curious about this series.

Why did it sit in my TBR pile for so long? Well, you know, yet another vampire series.  I just wasn’t inspired to start reading a new-to-me UF series.  However, the twelfth book in this series, “Dark Road Rising”, has just been released, so I remembered I had this in my TBR pile, and it fit in quite nicely with April’s TBR Day theme.

What is it about? From Ms Elrod’s website:

Vampire detective Jack Fleming’s first case: solving his OWN murder! Waking up on the shores of Lake Michigan with no memory of how he got there is the least of Jack’s worries as he comes to realize reports of his death were not exaggerated. But there’s a positive side to suddenly being thrust into the ranks of the undead: you’re always young, you live forever, and best of all–you can hunt down your own killer….

So what did I think of it?  In short, I liked but didn’t love.

I enjoyed the setting – “Bloodlist” is set in Depression-era 1930s Chicago and I found the period details fascinating.  I also got a sort of film noir feeling from the book, what with the gangsters and their molls.

My favourite sections were the ones where Jack comes to grips with the fact he’s a vampire and tries to figure out his vampiric powers.  For some reason, these passages struck me as being realistic – err… well, as realistic as you can get with vampires!  Jack is easy to like, there’s no “why me”-type whining, and he just gets on with things.  However, equally, I must say that I never really felt that invested in him nor the mystery of who killed him and why.

I somewhat lost my interest in the plot towards the end, and I suspect that if it wasn’t for the TBR Day deadline, I’m not sure I would have finished this in two days.  This was, however, one of the first books written by Ms Elrod, and I’m pretty sure she gets better over the years, especially if her short stories I’ve read recently are representative of current work.

My conclusion?  Not the most addictive book I’ve read, but good enough to get me to continue with the series (obviously, it helps that my omnibus version also has books two and three).  B- for me.

Re-Read Challenge: Elinor M Brent-Dyer’s Chalet School Books

I’ve fallen out of the habit of blogging lately.  My addiction to blogging comes and goes in spurts.  I suspect it’s probably inversely related to how much time I’m spending at work, which, at the moment?  Way too much.  Oh, I’m still reading everyone’s blogs and commenting every now and again, but my own blog feels somewhat abandoned.

Anyway, here’s something to try and get me out of my blogging slump: Nath’s Re-Read Challenge.  And I’ve chosen my Chalet School books for this one.

51kxH6Hh-AL._SL160_ I mentioned a couple of weeks back that having come across the Girls Gone By Publishers site (which specialises in reprinting girls’ fiction from the 20th century), I’ve not only ordered a couple of new-to-me CS books, but also started re-reading my own collection.  I’ve re-read a good selection of my CS books since, ranging from the early Tirol days (“Jo Returns to the Chalet School”), the War years when the school moves back to England (“Peggy of the Chalet School”, “Bride Leads the Chalet School”) and then back to Switzerland (“The Chalet School Wins the Trick”, “Summer Term at the Chalet School”).  And err… quite a few more besides.

It’s probably no great stretch of the imagination as to why I’m loving these re-reads – they’re taking me back to my childhood days when the most I had to worry about was if I had finished my homework or not!  Ah, those were the days…

Anyway, the Chalet School series, if you haven’t stumbled them before, follows the establishment of a boarding school for girls on the shores of the Tiernsee in the Tyrol by Madge Bettany, who in later books, marries the head of a TB Sanatorium, Dr Jem Russell.  The series spans a good number of years – the eldest daughters of Joey Bettany, Madge’s younger sister and the first-ever pupil, lead the school in the final CS book, “Prefects of the Chalet School”.

51WAMY841KL._SL160_Some unique CS customs include its trilingual requirements, with all girls expected to be fluent in English, French, and German, and alternate days being dedicated to each language.  There is much emphasis on outdoor pursuits, be it walks (and rambles), sports, or excursions, as fresh air and sunshine are thought to be directly linked to health.  And each term brings its own major event, be it a Nativity play, the Sale (and yes, that’s with a capital S) or a sports regatta.  As with other boarding school stories, there are naughty Middles galore, with prefects and mistresses keeping a close watch over them.

However, it isn’t just boarding school life with pranks and midnight feasts.  More serious themes are tackled, for instance, the effects of WWII – “The Chalet School in Exile” deals with its German and Austrian girls having to leave and the school eventually having to evacuate to England.  The school’s close links with the Sanatorium (apart from Madge and Jem, quite a few ex-pupils and staff end up marrying doctors, not least of all Joey!) mean that a number of girls have relatives at the San and there is acknowledgment that not everyone will live, and even those who do may not recover fully.

51mE8bPZ4hL._SL160_To me, part of the charm of reading contemporaries written years ago is getting a sense of the social norms and values of the time, and the CS books are no exception.  The girls get ticked off for using slang – for instance, the word “smashing” is absolutely taboo!  They have to “croc”, walking two-by-two in public places and keeping their voices low in case they disturb passers-by.  In “The Chalet School Triplets”, there is a school trip where they end up in a department store (with lifts operated by liftmen) and there is mention of how the mistresses “turned them loose, warning them to keep sight of each other”, even though the youngest is “nearly sixteen-and-a-half”.  Nowadays, teens pretty much roam where they please at will, surely?

Re-reading these books (together with commentary from the CBB boards) also made me realise several anomalies that never struck me at that time.  For instance, Joey Maynard (nee Bettany)’s close involvement with the Chalet School – didn’t she ever want to let go?  And how the teachers (or mistresses) stayed sane in the closed atmosphere, especially in the latter Switzerland books when they were based on the Platz, and it was a good hour to anywhere else.  And oh, lots of other things which amuse me now  🙂

As much as I’m loving these, I’m starting to find a bit of same-ness seeping through – I will probably finish a few more that I want to re-read over the next couple of weeks… and then move on to my next obsession!

Re-Read Challenge: Elizabeth Peters’ “The Mummy Case”

617PNTs22kL._SL160_ I made the deadline this month!  Just.

Right, after umm-ing and ahh-ing about the choice of books, I went for an Amelia Peabody book.  Despite only stumbling onto this series relatively recently (I read the first one just over two years ago, and the first book “Crocodile on the Sandbank” was written back in 1975), I love love love this series.  I cannot describe how much I adore the Amelia books.  It is one of my all-time favourite series.  Ever.

In case you haven’t read any of these books yet (in which case, what are you waiting for?!), these are mysteries set in turn-of-the-century Egypt.  Amelia, her husband Emerson, her son Ramses, and other family members are keen archaeologists, who manage to embroil themselves in mysteries and mayhem during their annual excavations.  And yes, there is a strong romance element in these books.

I chose “The Mummy Case”, because this is the first book where Ramses (Amelia and Emerson’s son) plays a large part – and I am completely infatuated with Ramses.  This is the first time I’ve re-read TMC since finishing the Peabody series, and it was interesting to revisit these characters early on in their family life.  I wonder if Ms Peters knew where she was going to take these characters in later books when she wrote the early ones?

These books are written in Amelia’s POV, journal-style (though in later ones, Ramses and others’ POV are also included), and Amelia is on fire in this book.  Her relationship with Ramses is forefront in this one, with her attempts to conceal her pride in her son (even in her personal journal) hilarious.  And I love her matter-of-factness about things; this is a typical paragraph:

[Ramses] was also alarmingly precocious.  A lady of my acquaintance used that term to me, after Ramses, aged four, had treated her to a lecture on the proper method of excavating a compost heap (hers, in point of fact). (Her gardener was extremely abusive.)  When I replied that in my opinion, the adjective was ill-chosen, she believed me to be offended.  What I meant was the word was inadequate. “Catastrophically precocious” would have been nearer the mark. (p.6)

The running joke in this book is Emerson’s reproaches to Amelia for being undemonstrative towards Ramses, but after one of the final scenes, I don’t think he will ever accuse her of being unmaternal again!

As always, Ms Peters brings late 19th-century Egypt to life.  There is one scene when Amelia and Emerson set out to a rendezvous with a possible villain in the midst of the old city at night – incredibly atmospheric and wonderfully suspenseful.  Ms Peters’ love and knowledge of Egypt shine through in her writing and always make me want to visit Egypt – this is an example:

[The pyramids of Dahshoor] are built of white limestone, and this snowy covering exhibits bewitching changes of tint, according to the quality of light – a mazy gold at sunset, a ghostly translucent pallor under the glow of the moon.  Now, at a little past noon, the towering structures shone dazzlingly white against the deep blue of the sky. (p.132)

Ahhh… there is so much I loved about this book that I have no idea how I’m going to cover it all.  The chaos that follows young Ramses despite his parents’ best efforts, Amelia’s passion for pyramids, Emerson’s insistence that he doesn’t want to get tangled up in mysteries (hah!), the multiplying mummy cases…

Oh yes, and the ending in this book is brilliant.  Without giving too much away, Amelia and Emerson end up in what seems like a hopeless situation (and I do mean hopeless), and how Ms Peters resolves it and the aftermath is incredibly funny.

“The Mummy Case” is packed with hilarious scenes, Egyptian detail, characters that capture your heart, and a plot full of twists and turns.  This is a wonderful installment in the Amelia Peabody series, and I’m glad I chose to re-read it for this challenge.  In fact, I’ll probably continue on to the others now.

Back cover blurb:

The irascible husband of Victorian Egyptologist Amelia Peabody is living up to his reputation as ‘The Father of Curses’.  Denied permission to dig at the Pyramids of Dahshoor, Emerson is awarded instead the ‘Pyramids’ of Mazghunah – countless mounds of rubble in the middle of nowhere.  Nothing in this barren spot seems of any interest – but then a murder in Cairo changes all of that.  The dead man was an antiques dealer, killed in his shop, so when a sinister-looking Egyptian spotted at the crime scene turns up in Mazghunah, Amelia can’t resist following his trail.  At the same time she has to keep an eagle eye on her wayward son Ramses and his elegant and calculating cat and look into the mysterious disappearance of a mummy case…

TBR Day: Lynne Graham’s “The Boss’s Valentine”

This is posted as part of Keishon’s TBR Day challenge, which is aimed at encouraging us readers with the towering TBR piles (you know who you are) to start tackling the books that have been languishing in there for eons.

This month’s challenge theme: Category romance

*******************************

51DdmZ5dzPL._SL160_ Book: The Boss’s Valentine (category romance)

Author: Lynne Graham

Copyright Date: 2003 (re-released in 2008 )

Me and… Category Romance: I used to read tons of Mills & Boons (or Harlequins for those in the States) back in my university days, primarily because they formed the majority of the local library’s romance collection.  And then I moved to the big city and suddenly, there were bookstores!  With proper romance sections!  With American imports!  So I gradually started cutting back on the number of M&Bs I read, and started buying based on the author instead of the back cover blurb.  Now, only one author remains a M&B autobuy for me: Lynne Graham.  I’m a sucker for her innocent English heroine and ruthless Mediterranean hero plots.

Why did I buy this book? It’s a Lynne Graham.  Refer to previous paragraph.  Plus the fact they were re-releasing this with the old-fashioned covers.  Ah, nostalgia.

Why did it sit in my TBR pile for so long? The downside of only reading one M&B author is that the books begin to feel very formulaic after a while.  And unfortunately the opening chapter of this one were so clichéd, I never got past the first few pages.

What is it about? Naive ditzy heroine, who secretly would prefer to be a nanny but forced by circumstances to do a nine-to-five job in Marketing.  A very alpha, very handsome Italian boss, who despite his best efforts, can’t help noticing the junior that constantly messes up in Marketing.  Company do.  Alcohol.  What else but a secret baby plot?  With a Big Misunderstanding for good measure.

So what did I think of it?  Okay, I hate to say this because it is a Lynne Graham and some of her books are on my keeper shelf, but the first half of this book bored me.  I skimmed through most of it, though once Santino figured out he had a baby, things got interesting.

The whole nanny-turned-incompetent-office-worker and super-powerful-and-rich-businessman setup felt dated, and then the bitchy secretary setting up the Big Misunderstanding didn’t make it feel any fresher. 

But then, Poppy developed a backbone and faced life as a single mum, Poppy and Santino bumped into each other again, and then I got into the story.  And there were bits that made me smile: Security turning a blind eye to Poppy trying to get out of the office the morning after, Santino sneaking upstairs to see his daughter for the first time, etc.

This really felt like a story of two halves to me, and I suspect part of it is due to me working in an office environment as well and rolling my eyes at Poppy’s fumbling around with computers and coffee, etc, in the first few chapters.

My conclusion? Not one of Ms Graham’s best, but I must admit I wasn’t quite in the right mood for it.  And my own experience may have influenced my reaction to the plot.  I’m going to read her latest release and see if I feel differently or if I just need to take a break from her books for a while. 

As an aside, what’s happened to titles like “The Boss’s Valentine”?  Now we have “The Greek Tycoon’s Disobedient Bride” and “The Ruthless Magnate’s Virgin Mistress”.

TBR Day: Donna Andrew’s “Murder with Peacocks”

This is posted as part of Keishon’s TBR Day challenge, which is aimed at encouraging us readers with the towering TBR piles (you know who you are) to start tackling the books that have been languishing in there for eons.

*******************************

51863G4YZPL._SL160_ Book: Murder with Peacocks (cosy mystery) – excerpt here

Author: Donna Andrews

Copyright Date: 1999

Why did I buy this book?  I’m always on the lookout for new cosy mysteries.

Why did it sit in my TBR pile for so long?  Because my last couple of impulse buys in this subgenre have been, well, shall we say more miss than hit?  But I read the anthology “Unusual Suspects” a couple of weeks ago, liked Donna Andrews’ contribution, looked her up and realised that she wrote cosy mysteries.  So I made a mental note to check out her books, then thought a bit harder, and delved into the depths of my TBR pile.  Sure enough, Ms Andrews’ “Murder with Peacocks” was there.

What is it about?  Meg Langslow is going to have a rather busy summer, she’s maid of honour for three weddings – her mum’s, best friend’s, and sister-in-law-to-be’s.  She heads back to her hometown to help organise the weddings, and finds herself involved in a series of possible homicides and near-fatal accidents.

So what did I think of it?  This book won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel back when it first came out, according to the front cover.  So after enjoying her short story in “Unusual Suspects” and seeing that award, it’s probably fair to say I had rather high expectations for this one.

Unusually for a cosy mystery, there isn’t much focus on Meg’s profession – she’s an ornamental blacksmith, but seeing she takes the summer off, I suppose there wasn’t much scope for exploring the ins and outs of blacksmithing.  The focus instead is very much on wedding preparations together with Meg’s family and friends.  Her hometown is populated with a whole cast of eccentric characters, of which her family are probably the craziest.  It’s not quite slapstick, but close to it, and sometimes it worked for me, and other times it didn’t.

I thought the pacing was too slow at the beginning, though it picked up once the first murder occurred.  The trying-to-throw-suspicion-on-everyone conversations were slightly boring, mainly because a lot of suspects just didn’t feel plausible.  Meg doesn’t really play amateur sleuth in this one – it’s her dad that takes up the investigation with gusto, and Meg just gets dragged into his various madcap schemes.

Character-wise, I liked Meg, but I felt as though she was rather doormat-ish in the way she just agreed to do everything for the three brides-to-be.  I mean, she was doing them a favour in the first place.  If it had been me, I’d told them exactly where to get off.  And there could have been a tad bit more chemistry between Meg and her romantic interest.  I wasn’t really feeling the attraction on her part nor the frustration on his part.  Having said that, I did like their blossoming relationship, and the ending made me want to read the next book.

My conclusion?  I’m wondering whether my OCD-ish need to start series from the beginning means that I start with books where the author hasn’t really hit his or her stride yet.  Despite my issues with this book, I thought there was some promise here, so I’m planning on picking up more books in this series.  B- for me.

TBR Day: Tara Janzen’s “On the Loose”

This is posted as part of Keishon’s TBR Day challenge, which is aimed at encouraging us readers with the towering TBR piles (you know who you are) to start tackling the books that have been languishing in there for eons.

*******************************

512T3f22wkL._SL160_ Book: On the Loose (romantic suspense) – excerpt here

Author: Tara Janzen

Copyright Date: 2007

Why did I buy this book?  I first stumbled upon Tara Janzen’s Steele Street books a good few years ago.  Centred around a super-secret Denver-based special forces group, there was fast-paced action, lots of testosterone, and super-alpha heroes matched up with feisty heroines.  Oh, and cars.  They were fun entertaining reads – sure, they required some suspension of disbelief, but I was hooked.  “On the Loose” is the seventh book in this series, and I picked it up a while back.

Why did it sit in my TBR pile for so long?  Well, as much I loved the earlier books, this series went horribly off-course in the fifth and sixth books, “Crazy Love” and “Crazy Sweet”, IMO.  The characters underwent dramatic personality changes between one book and the next, the plots became off-the-wall crazy (and not in a good way), and I lost interest in finding out what would happen next.

What is it about?  C Smith Rydell and Honoria “Honey” York-Lytton were the secondary h/h characters in “Crazy Sweet”, and to be honest, they were the one redeeming factor in that book for me.  Coming from totally opposite worlds, Smith is the hardened Special Defense Forces agent, and Honey the East Coast heiress and socialite.  Reunited in this book, Smith has to escort Honey to the depths of the El Savadoran jungles, deliver a few million dollars and some gunpower to the rebels, and get them out safely again.  All in a day’s work for a man like Smith…

So what did I think of it?  I’ve always mentally grouped Ms Janzen’s books under the “If you like Suzanne Brockmann, you’ll probably enjoy the Steele Street books”, and to some extent, that still holds true.  There are a lot of similarities between the books, not least being we spend a lot of the book in the hero’s POV, and there’s usually a secondary couple that ends up being the h/h of an upcoming book.  Where it differs is that here, having a masculine POV appears to mainly consist of swearing and lusting after the heroine’s body, and the plot tends to be weak and cobweb thin. 

The plot in this book largely went over my head, mainly because I couldn’t be bothered to try and keep up with the twists and turns.  Everything, and I mean everything, was thrown in there as justification for the implausible storyline that had Honey trotting off to El Salvador with her Louis Vuitton suitcases – drugs, US political maneuvering, local governments, guerillas, blackmail, double-crosses, misunderstandings.  Did I care?  Not really.

I must admit to feeling some ambiguity when it came to the political aspects because I’m unfamiliar with South American politics and don’t know which cause I’m meant to identify with – the government or the rebels?  Maybe Ms Janzen is making a point that it’s not black and white, and that there are grey areas, but I do like feeling that I know where things are in relation to my personal views.  Perhaps this is where using an actual country as opposed to a fictional one makes it more difficult for a reader.

Okay, so I didn’t care for the plot.  But it wasn’t all bad, I liked C Smith and Honey.  I liked finally getting to know what the C stood for.  I liked the humour.  And I very much liked the intriguing Alejandro Campos that Ms Janzen introduced.  So much that I may even buy the next book if it’s his story.  And I guess this is where Ms Janzen excels, she makes certain characters so compelling that you really really want to read their story.

My conclusion?  Not the best book in this series, but not the worst either.  It had some of the magic of the earlier books, and I may, just may, get the next book “Cutting Loose”.  C+ for me.

TBR Day: India Grey’s “The Italian’s Defiant Mistress”

This is posted as part of Keishon’s TBR Day challenge, which is aimed at encouraging us readers with the towering TBR piles (you know who you are) to start tackling the books that have been languishing in there for eons.

*******************************

51ZUCDyoG6L._SL160_Book: The Italian’s Defiant Mistress (contemporary romance)

Author: India Grey

Copyright Date: 2007

Why did I buy this book? I heard good things about India Grey’s debut novel on the various review sites, so added it to my Amazon cart when shopping one day.

Why did it sit in my TBR pile for so long? The only Mills & Boon’s author I read with any regularity is Lynne Graham – for some reason, I’m a sucker for her stories.  So Ms Grey’s book kept on being pushed to the bottom of my TBR pile… until I needed a slim book for TBR Day (yes, this is a very last-minute thing).

What is it about?  Standard M&B back-cover blurb:

The Italian billionaire’s inexperienced mistress Eve Middlemiss has come to Florence desperate for information.  And only darkly good-looking multimillionaire Raphael di Lazaro, heir to the Lazaro Fashion House, holds the answers she’s searching for.  Surrounded by glamour and decadence, Eve is totally out of her depth – until she realises she is the one Raphael wants! If becoming the Italian’s mistress is what it takes to find out the truth about her family, Eve realises she must feign the sophistication and experience she’s sure Raphael is accustomed to – but that means making herself available to his every desire…

So what did I think of it?  Standard M&B title, standard M&B back cover blurb, standard M&B characters and plotline?  Pretty much so – Eve is an inexperienced virgin who just happens to be incredibly sexy and beautiful, Raphael a drop-dead gorgeous Italian billionaire.  Having said that, I think when you pick up an M&B, you expect a certain type of story, and this definitely ticked all the boxes.

My main bugbear with this story was the plot.  I hate the Big MIS plot device, which provided the main conflict in this story – Eve thinks Raphael is a drug-dealer, while Raphael thinks Eve is a not-to-be-trusted journalist.  And towards the end, even more misunderstandings ensue.

However, I thought Ms Grey’s writing was strong and I loved the background and settings.  I thought it had a very British feel to the story – it’s hard to pin down exactly why, but I definitely knew Eve was British.  Not knowing many Italians myself, I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the Italian characters and settings, but certainly they felt real to me!

My conclusion?  Despite using the Big MIS plotline, I thought the writing was strong and the characters believable.  I’m always impressed by how much story M&B authors manage to cram into a 200-page book.  All in all, it was an enjoyable quick read and I will probably be looking out for Ms Grey’s next books.

TBR Day: Neil Gaiman’s “Stardust”

This is posted as part of Keishon’s TBR Day challenge, which is aimed at encouraging us readers with the towering TBR piles (you know who you are) to start tackling the books that have been languishing in there for eons.

*******************************

5126P1XE2QL__SL160_ Book: Stardust (fantasy)

Author: Neil Gaiman

Copyright Date: 1999

Why did I buy this book?  My sister had a bit of a Gaiman glom some time back, and insisted that I read this one.  We more or less share the same tastes when it comes to reading, so I took her word that this was a good one.

Why did it sit in my TBR pile for so long?  I read the first couple of chapters about a year ago now, just before the movie came out.  While I thought his writing had a certain charm, I just wasn’t in the right mood.  And once I’ve started a book and not continued, I have a very bad habit of not returning to it!

What is it about?  From the back-cover blurb:

In the sleepy English countryside at the dawn of the Victorian era, life moves at a leisurely pace in the tiny town of Wall.  Young Tristan Thorn has lost his heart to the beautiful Victoria Forester, but Victoria is as cold and distant as the star she and Tristan see fall from the sky one evening.  For the prize of Victoria’s hand, Tristan vows to retrieve the star for his beloved.  It is an oath that sends the lovelorn swain over the town’s ancient wall and into a world that is dangerous and strange beyond imagining…

So what did I think of it?  Once I made up my mind to read this, I was totally engrossed.  I thought it read like a charming fairy tale for adults.  And for such a slim book (194 pages in my version), it packs so much story and is wonderfully-plotted.  All the subplots somehow tie themselves in with the main thread and come together beautifully at the end.  I say “somehow”, because it’s not at all obvious how they’re going to fit together or resolve themselves, yet everything works out perfectly!

It’s full of whimsical gems; this sentence describing the size of Fairie is a lovely example:

But Faerie is bigger than England, as it is bigger than the world (for, since the dawn of time, each land that has been forced off the map by explorers and the brave going out and proving it wasn’t there has taken refuge in Faerie; so it is now, but the time that we come to write of it, a most huge place indeed, containing every manner of landscape and terrain).

Character-wise, Tristan, the protagonist, is a very engaging young man, and watching him grow into himself throughout the book was completely satisfying.  All the secondary characters are nicely fleshed-out, and for a story that reads like a lighthearted fairy-tale at first, the evil characters do radiate a proper sense of menace and danger.  Which makes it all the more gratifying when they get their come-uppance.  And yes, there’s humour – there were some bits that made me snicker.

The only thing that kept niggling at me – and this is very much just me – is that because I knew that there was a movie (sigh, I held off on watching the movie because I wanted to read the books first… time to hit the DVD rentals, I think), I kept on trying to visualise how a scene would transfer onto the big screen!  Arrghh.  I did try to stop myself, but I would catch myself doing it.  Very annoying.

My conclusion?  A very strong B+ and I think I’ll have to track down more of Mr Gaiman’s backlist.  Does anyone know if his other books are written in the same style?

TBR Day: Anne Stuart’s "Night of the Phantom"

This is posted as part of Keishon’s TBR Day challenge, which is aimed at encouraging us readers with the towering TBR piles (you know who you are) to start tackling the books that have been languishing in there for eons.

*******************************

Book: Night of the Phantom (contemporary romance)

Author: Anne Stuart

Copyright Date: 1991

Why did I buy this book?  I read a couple of Anne Stuart’s older books last year and really liked them, so have been keeping my eye out for more of the same.

Why did it sit in my TBR pile for so long?  I need to be in the right mood for reading contemporaries, because it’s not one of my favourite genres.

What is it about?  Ms Stuart describes this one as “…a dreamy, erotic take on Phantom of the Opera crossed with Beauty and the Beast, with ghosts and crazed fundamentalists thrown in for good measure.”  And that’s a pretty spot-on description!

Megan Carey discovers her father, a construction business owner, has been cutting corners and using substandard materials using designs by a famed but reclusive architect.  Somehow, the architect, Ethan Winslowe, has discovered this, and is threatening to turn her father in unless he turns up in person at his house.  Megan lets her father persuade her to go in his place and plead his case.  What she hasn’t counted on is the fact Ethan lives in the middle of nowhere, the nearest town is populated with hostile people, and oh, he lives in complete darkness due to some sort of unspecified disability… or is it deformity?

So what did I think about it?  I loved the gothic-ness of the storyline.  How Ethan lives in complete isolation with only his faithful manservant for company, and how he hides himself away in darkness.  And the build-up to Megan wearing Ethan down and him finally revealing himself – I was dying of curiosity to find out exactly how he looked!

Ms Stuart said in the foreword that she just let herself go OTT with this one, and the story did have some pretty fantastical elements.  For instance, Megan is constantly moved between different rooms, each with a different theme – she starts off in a medieval dungeon-like room, is then moved to a castle room, a Southwestern-styled room, a Park Avenue penthouse, etc, etc.  And the townspeople were just plain creepy.

What didn’t work for me though was the mystical connection between Ethan and Megan, and how they could hear the other “calling” them.  It was working very well as a straight contemporary (obviously suspending your disbelief to some extent!), but once the paranormal elements came in, it changed the story somehow, and I just found myself flipping through the pages to get to the end.

Finally, as a side-note, although this is a contemporary, it was written in the early 1990s, so some elements felt slightly dated.  For instance, there was mention of items not really used nowadays, such as traveller’s cheques, and lack of reference to everyday items, for instance, no mobile phones!  This didn’t bother me, but it made me realise how many changes there have been to everyday life in the past decade or so.

My conclusion?  I loved the atmospheric set-up, but the mystical parts didn’t work.  I’ll still look out for more of Ms Stuart’s backlist, but this one wasn’t a keeper for me.  C+.