Book Reviews: Bodice Rippers & Erotica
Includes erotica and chick-lit book reviews
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.
On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves
Read by Natalie September 2012
Natalie recommends as a great read with two wonderful characters
Sixteen year old TJ is currently in remission from cancer. About to go on a forced holiday in the Maldives with his parents and tutor, all TJ wants is to get back to the life and friends he had before he got sick. Thirty year old English teacher, Anna is in a relationship that’s going nowhere with a man who refuses to commit. Yearning for marriage and a baby, Anna thinks taking a couple of months off to tutor TJ in an exotic location, will help her sort out what she really wants in life. Enroute to join TJ’s family however, Anna and TJ’s seaplane’s pilot suffers a fatal heart attack over the Maldives 1500 islands, crashing their plane somewhere in shark-infested ocean. After Anna is knocked unconscious, TJ desperately tries to save them both, anxious to find land and avoid drowning or worse yet, sharks. When they eventually wash up on the beach of a tiny, inhabited island, Anna and TJ think it will only be a matter of hours before their rescue shows up, despite the fact that no one actually knows exactly where they are. However, as the hours turn to days, Anna and TJ must resign themselves to the fact that no one is coming to rescue them at all.
Initially fighting just to survive as they struggle to find water and food, their luck changes when some of their belongings and the plane’s life raft finally wash up on shore. Although missing the radio beacon they had hoped for, at least they now have clothes, toiletries, some shelter, a water collection container and most importantly, a first aid kit. As the months pass, both TJ and Anna must not only learn to accept that no one is coming to rescue them, they must also work together to find food and water, survive tropical storms, injury and illness (including the return of TJ's cancer) and somehow maintain a “normal life”. As the months turn to years however and TJ turns from a boy into a man, their increasingly close friendship starts to turn into something more. Struggling with the implications of what this could mean, Anna initially fights her feelings and growing desire. TJ on the other hand, is not so subtle, and Anna can’t help but start to see him for the man he has become. When one of their regular fishing trips turns life threatening by the presence of a shark, TJ and Anna take their biggest risk yet in order to get their food. When their plan succeeds, this paves the way for them to finally give in to the feelings they both have. Despite TJ now being 18, Anna knows their relationship will be questioned if they are ever rescued. However, TJ’s maturity and feelings for her, finally allow Anna to embrace her own feelings for him. As Anna and TJ find solace in their new relationship, they struggle with the ever increasing isolation and knowledge that their time is running out. Now suffering from the effects of malnutrition and possibly depression, they are both desperate to get off the island. And three and a half years after they first arrived, Mother Nature finds an unusual way to give them that.
Taken back to Male and then finally home to Chicago, Anna and TJ are happy to be home and more in love than ever. Yet they both struggle with the attention they receive, most of which is directed at their relationship and the 13 year age gap. Trying to ignore all the gossip, Anna and TJ must now find a way to get on with life. But as Anna struggles to find a new job and TJ is unsure about what he wants to do with his life, the cracks start to show. As Anna wrestles with the idea that she might be holding TJ back from all of the life experiences he’s missed out on, TJ can't understand how Anna doesn't see that he only wants to be with her and none of the other stuff matters to him. When Anna, in a bid to protect herself, pushes TJ away, their relationship implodes as both of them are unable to communicate how they really feel. As the months pass by and each grows more and more depressed by their separation, they slowly find some direction in life, landing jobs and getting used to being back amongst friends and family. When their first Christmas back home rolls around, Anna receives an unexpected surprise from TJ who is determined to keep the promise he made to her back on the island. In the six months they have spent apart, both Anna and TJ have grown, and both of them now know exactly what they want – each other. Finally admitting that, they set out to start their new life together - with a few little surprises on the way.
I really enjoyed this book, devouring it in one night and finally switching off the light at 5am! Although narrated in short sentences that quickly take us on the four year journey, the growing relationship between TJ and Anna felt so real and so sweet and the 13 year age gap never once felt like an issue. The way they cared for each other, opened up to each other and ultimately were always there for each other, was truly sweet. The story is told alternate POV and really allows the reader to connect with both characters and understand their feelings and fears. While it may seem unusual that TJ at his age would act so mature, having faced all the obstacles he has in life makes it understandable. His love for Anna was really, really sweet, and this was particularly so at the end of the book. The epilogue is gorgeous and never once borders on cheesy. This is a great book with two wonderful characters that leaves you hoping they will find a way off their island and into a new life back home. Definitely pick it up.
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.
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 Summry 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 an 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. Book review by BlogCritics. 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. Book Review by Medieval Bookworm.
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.