Sunday, September 30, 2012

THE ANGEL



TITLE: THE ANGEL
AUTHOR: TIFFANY REISZ
Pages: 416
Date: 30/09/2012
Grade: 5
Details: # 2 Original Sinners
            Received from Mira/Harlequin
            Through NetGalley
Own

What to say? There is so much wrong with this story and yet this is such a wonderful book, I just don’t know where to start. I’m afraid that summarizing the story may put people off this book just because of the various taboos it tackles. And yet, allowing preconceived ideas of how people should behave and act to stop you from picking up this book – or its prequel, "The Siren" – would mean missing out on a very well written and fascinating story. Here is what it is all about:

Nora Sutherlin, author of explicit erotica and accomplished dominatrix has been back with her Master and long-time lover Sǿren for over a year, delighting in the way her sadistic Priest hurts her while yearning quietly for Wesley, the young man she sent away because she couldn’t return his need for a vanilla relationship. When Sǿren’s name appears on a short-list for a potential promotion to Bishop, Nora needs to disappear from his life while an investigation into his life and suitability for the job is being conducted. Nora will spend the summer with Griffin Fiske, a very rich, uncomplicated and carefree man with a penchant for short and steamy love-affairs. Travelling with Nora is Michael, the “Angel” from the title. Seventeen years old, Michael is a troubled young man. After discovering his need for pain and domination as a younger teenager he tried to kill himself when he was 15, convinced that he was abnormal and unworthy. After Father “S” saved Michael’s life he took the young man under his wing and this summer will be Michael’s introduction into the world of kink and life as a submissive. When Michael and Griffin meet sparks fly, but an order from Sǿren as well as the younger man’s insecurities combine to keep them apart. And Sǿren and Nora have more to worry about than just his possible promotion to Bishop. A journalist called Suzanne, on a quest against Catholic priests who she blames for the death of her brother, is determined to dig up and expose the dirt on the Priest. This will be a summer during which all these characters will have to face up to their feelings, their own needs and those of others.

I’m sure there will be a lot of people out there who will consider this story, or at least parts of it, blasphemous. I mean, for starters there is the Catholic Priest who is also a sadist and in a dubious (to put it mildly) relationship with an erotic author. Some of the characters are so young that it makes you shudder to think about them being exposed to all the kink described in these pages. And yet, for me, the story worked. While the characters in this book may live a life-style which is completely foreign to most of us they are all fascinating and completely convincing as well as impossible to dislike. The dialogue in this book sparkles, the characters come to life and their issues are recognisable, even if the context might be foreign to us.

What I really like about this book, apart from the characters, the story and the steamy scenes, is that we are getting to know more about the background of all the main characters. Through the investigation conducted by Suzanne and the bits of information other characters share with each other we get a much better idea about who these people are, what they are feeling and what motivates them.

This is an amazing book. Yes, it is an erotic piece of fiction and quite graphic and unorthodox at that, but it is so much more. In this book the sex comes with a real and intriguing story. There is the threat of exposure for Sǿren’s inclinations and his relationship with Nora but that doesn’t really take centre stage. This story is about the characters and the (internal) conflicts they are dealing with. It is about Michael having to come to terms with the fact that he likes to be submissive and hurt, it is about Nora coming to terms with having lost Wesley, about Suzanne coming to terms with the loss of her brother and it is about all of them learning that in order to live an honest life you have to be true to yourself and your needs.

Today I discovered that Tiffany Reisz’s website offers several free short stories all featuring characters from this series. The stories take place prior to events in “The Siren” but come with the advice to not read them until you’ve read that book. I haven’t yet had the time to do more than discover those stories but am delighted that I will be able to read more about Nora, Sǿren and all the others in the time between now and November, when “The Prince”, the next book in this series is due to be published.

Friday, September 28, 2012

IN TOO DEEP



TITLE: IN TOO DEEP
AUTHOR: PORTIA DA COSTA
Pages: 269
Date: 27/09/2012
Grade: 4
Details: Received from Black Lace
            Through Book Geeks
Own

Gwendolynne Price is thirty years old, not at all skinny, recently divorced and working as a librarian. She loves her job but wouldn’t call it exciting until, one day, she opens the suggestions box in work and finds a letter addressed to her. The letter is explicit and sexy. Somebody, calling themselves Nemesis, has taken a shine to her and is telling Gwendolynne, in detail, exactly what it is he loves about her, what he imagines she gets up to when she is alone at night in her bed and what he would like to do with and to her. The letter is as enticing as it is disturbing and Gwendolynne knows she should hand it over to her superiors so that the author may be found and dealt with. But, there is little enough excitement in her life and the idea that a man finds her as exciting and attractive as the author of the letter seems to do makes her feel good. And this is not the only exciting thing or man in the librarian’s life right now. There is also Professor “Hottie” Daniel Brewster. Historian, television celebrity and all-round gorgeous man he is using the library’s cellar and resources for his research. And on the same day Gwendolynne receives her first letter from Nemesis he joins her during her lunch break. Over the following days Gwendolynne’s life gets a lot more exciting, but also more complicated and confusing. While messages from Nemesis continue to entice her, her interactions with Professor Hottie get ever more intimate. Is this just a crazy coincidence or could Brewster possibly be “Nemesis”? Gwendolynne’s life has gone from boring and predictable to an emotional and erotic roller-coaster. She knows she is in too deep but decides that she’d rather take the risks than go back to what her life was before. A happy ending may seem unlikely, but her present is definitely more than she could have hoped for.

There is a lot I liked about this book. I loved that the main character is a librarian – well, since I’m one myself I would, wouldn’t I? I also appreciate that Gwendolynne is not described as a gorgeous girl with a supermodel sort of body. In fact her description makes her rather voluptuous and therefore easier to relate to for most readers. And I loved the idea of the naughty letters and emails she receives and subsequently acts out.
I was less charmed by the way in which the story was told. I’m not a huge fan of stories told in the present tense in the voice of the main character, and this one is. It tends to lead to a lot of internal dialogue and second guessing on the part of that character and I found myself getting a bit tired of that after a while. I also wasn’t convinced by the, apparently, sudden shift in attitude of Gwendolynne. She seems to go from rather straight-laced to completely wanton over the time it takes her to read one letter. The story would have been more realistic for me if there had been a bit more reluctance on her part. Having said all that, this story did charm me in a fairy-tale sort of way; it works very well as long as you don’t take it too seriously. Also, despite my reservations in relation to the way in which the story is told I have to admit that this book was very easy to read and obviously written by an author who knows her craft.

As far as the sexual relations in this book are concerned I would have to say that although there are plenty of them and they are graphic enough I didn’t find them shocking or embarrassing. In fact, they didn’t seem to greatly affect me in any way, shape or form. I would call them interesting rather than enticing and I guess that defeats the purpose of erotic fiction a bit. Of course, this could be due to personal taste. It is quite possible that another reader would get a lot more out of this book.

This book comes with a bonus short story by the same author called “A Lavish Affair” and if I’m honest I think I enjoyed this short piece more than I did the longer novel.

Overall I thought this was a charming work of romantic erotica, an easy read and a nice fantasy. Just one word of warning; despite what the sticker on the cover of the book says, this book is not a lot like Fifty Shades of Grey. They are both works of erotica, but that is where the similarities end.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

BONES ARE FOREVER



TITLE: BONES ARE FOREVER
AUTHOR: KATHY REICHS
Pages: 288
Date: 25/09/2012
Grade: 4.5
Details: no. 15 Temperance Brennan
Library

It all starts when the body of a new born baby is found, wrapped in a blanket and wedged in a vanity cabinet. A further search of the apartment uncovers the remains of two more babies. Of the mother there is no sign and details about the young woman are hard to uncover.
When autopsies on the babies reveal that all three of them died of unnatural causes the hunt for their mother – a young woman with a dubious past and at least three aliases – is on. The search takes Tempe Brennan and Detective Andrew Ryan from Quebec to Edmonton, where the remains of a fourth baby are found and then even further north to Yellowknife. There the convoluted, aboriginal, family of the young woman seems very reluctant to help them find her. Instead of answers all Brennan and Ryan find are more questions, more secrets and more dead bodies. And by the time Tempe has figured out exactly what is going on she is up to her neck in danger and all alone.

As I’ve come to expect from Kathy Reichs' books, this is a solid and fascinating mystery. What appears to be an investigation into one thing turns into something else completely as things progress. As always there is the tension between Brennan and Ryan. In this book it is Andrew’s distant and cold behaviour towards his former lover which leaves her wondering what, if anything, she has done wrong. And, to spice things up a bit more, there is an uncomfortable triangle when the duo from Quebec is joined by a Mounty from Edmonton, a man Tempe had a week long fling with many years ago. As in most books, our forensic anthropologist manages to separate herself from the other investigators at the pivotal point in the story, leaving her in an impossible situation and danger of being killed. You’d think that after 14 adventures she would have learned to be more careful.

I really love this series, the characters in it and the way Mrs. Reichs writes. However, I do feel that at times the author gets too bogged down in technical detail. While I do want to know how things work, or what the background of a certain place or fact is, I don’t need to know all the specific details. Often those details go right over my head anyway because I don’t have the basic knowledge necessary to put them into context. And because I don’t understand what I’m reading I tend to skim over those sections of the story. With a bit less detail or with the explanations put in less scientific language I would probably read every word and end up with a better understanding of what is happening.
Having said that, the overall writing in these books is smooth and flowing while the cliff-hangers at the end of most chapters keep me turning the pages, eager to find out what exactly was discovered, or what is about to happen. Overall I would call this another solid instalment in a fascinating series of mysteries.

Monday, September 24, 2012

LIP SERVICE



TITLE: LIP SERVICE
AUTHOR: M.J. ROSE
Pages: 320
Date: 24/09/2012
Grade: 5
Details: Received from Simon & Schuster
            Through NetGalley
Own

(Before I start the review I should probably disclose that once upon a time, around the time this book was first published in fact, I used to be in an online book-group with M.J. Rose. This, rather distant, relationship has NOT influenced my review in any way, shape or form.)

Julia Stirling has been content in her life until recently. Married to Paul, a psychiatrist turned professional fund-raiser, she has willingly assisted him in his efforts to promote his charity for Fathers In Trouble as a charming, if shy hostess. As a student Julia had a nervous break-down after a period during which she indulged in various and short-lived sexual encounters. Marrying the cool and emotionally detached Paul and allowing him to make her decisions for her while keeping her on medication has for a long time been her refuge from that past. Recently though she has started to question her detachment from life. After obtaining a degree in journalism she has been writing articles on a free-lance and part-time basis and this return to self-sufficiency is awakening other needs in her. Needs her husband won’t acknowledge or tolerate. When Julia meets Sam Butterfield during a charity dinner she is fascinated by what he tells her about his work at a renowned sexual research centre. When he invites her to write a book about the work the institute does with the aid of telephone-therapists Julia jumps at the opportunity and asks to be trained as such a therapist as a form of research. She is slightly taken aback when she discovers that the therapy provided is in reality a form of phone sex but, once her initial shock wears of, she discovers that she is enjoying the way those phone conversations with sometimes desperate men make her feel. When one of her clients confesses to harming his step-daughter and needing her help in order to stop Julia is confused and conflicted. And because she has been keeping her research a secret from Paul, who doesn’t want her involved with the Butterfield institute at all, she is facing her confused feelings alone. And then there are the accusations made against Sam; is it possible that he is not just the charming therapist he appears to be? Julia has to make a decision that requires the sort of strength she hasn’t displayed in years; a decision that will have far-reaching consequences not just for her but also for a lot of people around her.

I loved this book. I really enjoyed this story about a woman who has been repressing her true self for years and slowly awakens to everything she really is and can be. There is enough background information for the reader to understand why Julia has been happy to allow her husband to rule her life for so long, just as it is easy to understand why that has changed for her at this particular point in her life.
In fact, I am very impressed with this book. This story embraces so many genres; psychological thriller, mystery, erotica and romance all intertwine to bring the reader a powerful, seductive and suspenseful read. And M.J. Rose’s achievement is even more impressive when you realise that this was her first published novel, back in 1999. I did read other works by this author in the past and knew I liked her writing-style and stories, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that her earliest work is as good as those later books are.

M.J. Rose manages to create realistic characters it is easy to identify with even if their experiences are very different from the readers'. The main character in this book comes across as a real person. The reader may not agree with every decision she makes but will be able to understand why she makes them.
The writing in this book is smooth and descriptive. The pictures painted of the surroundings are as easy to picture as they are symbolic of what is going on inside Julia’s head and heart.
The tension in this story slowly creeps up on the reader. What at first appears to be a rather sedate story almost imperceptibly turns into a full-blown thriller. I found myself rushing to turn the pages while at the same time being very careful not to miss a single one of the well chosen words.

In short this was a fascinating and engrossing read by an author who has yet to disappoint me. My only regret is that it can be rather hard to find books by M.J. Rose in the bookshops here in Ireland.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

THE SEALED LETTER



TITLE: THE SEALED LETTER
AUTHOR: EMMA DONOGHUE
Pages: 398
Date: 22/09/2012
Grade: 4-
Details: Reading Group
Own

It is 1864 and Emily ‘Fido’ Faithful is an independent woman with a royally approved printing business and a good reputation in the women’s movement. When she bumps into Helen Codrington on the streets of London it seems an accidental reunion after a separation of seven years. Helen is married to the much older Vice Admiral Harry Codrington and has spent the past seven years in Malta, where her husband was posted. Having recently returned to London, Helen appears delighted at having found her old friend again, and dismisses seven years of silence to a fault in the postal services. Fido has been very fond of Helen ever since she first met her when Fido was only nineteen years old and quickly overcomes her reservations when Helen lets her know how much she would like to reignite their once close relationship. Fido is less happy about Helen’s close friendship with a young army officer, especially when Helen wants to use Fido’s house for meetings with him. But whenever Fido decides that Helen’s behaviour is disgraceful and should be discouraged, the woman manages to spin a tale which makes Fido feel sorry for her and determined to help her.
Of course this is a state of affairs that can’t last. It is only a matter of time before the Vice Admiral discovers his wife’s infidelity, seizes their two daughters and starts divorce proceedings. And in those days, divorce proceedings meant a court case in which the husband had to prove his wife’s misconduct while appearing without reproach himself. It is going to be a dirty case in which both sides will use any angle to get or keep what they want and Fido literally finds herself caught in the middle of warring spouses. It is a time during which Fido will have to reassess everything she has believed in for years while running the risk of losing everything she has built up over years of hard work.

I’m not sure how I feel about this book. On the one hand this is a fascinating story, especially since it is based on true facts. The Codrington divorce actually took place, and all the characters in this book really did live at the time. On the other hand I found this a rather infuriating story. It is probably due to my modern mind that I had little patience with Fido’s innocence, Helen’s arrogance and Harry’s long lasting ignorance. In fact, I had a hard time sympathising with any of the characters in this story. All seemed to be acting out of purely selfish motivations with little regard for the consequences their actions might have for others or even for themselves. And even if that is a completely accurate description of events at the time, it still doesn’t make me feel better about them or about the story. I can’t help wondering though if I would have felt better about this book if it had been a work of non-fiction. Would I have just accepted the way people were described if it hadn’t been a fictionalised account? I guess that is quite possible. Maybe I do want my fiction to have at least one character in it I can sympathise with or like. As it was, I found myself wanting to strangle all of the mayor players in this story, slowly.

On the other hand, I found a lot of the historical detail fascinating. The description of the emerging women’s movement, and the way in which the women involved had to strike a fragile balance between the conventions of the time and their goals was very interesting. 
The description of the court case was a huge revelation to me. Imagine evidence being introduced without having to divulge what the evidence actually is and getting away with it. Or, maybe even more shocking, imagine divorce proceedings in which neither of the parties involved is allowed to speak. It is good to say that things have progressed a bit since those days, and not just in the legal field.

This is a very well written book though. Emma Donoghue writes a compelling story in beautiful language using well chosen words. And I did like the (fictional) conclusion to the book. There is nothing to prove that what she describes in the last chapter actually happened, but it makes so much sense that it is hard to believe that it didn’t.


“Yes, she used Fido. She took advantage of her old friend’s innocence and idealism from the start (…). It’s the way of the world, she supposes; everyone uses everyone. The trick is to know how much a given person can bear.”

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A TRICK OF THE LIGHT



TITLE: A TRICK OF THE LIGHT
AUTHOR: LOUISE PENNY
Pages: 404
Date: 19/09/2012
Grade: 5+
Details: no. 7 Chief Inspector Armand Gamache
Library

After years of painting and dreaming Clara Morrow at last has the one thing she never really believed she could achieve: a solo exhibition of her work in Montreal. And the show is a huge success. The happy atmosphere is short lived though. The morning after the party the body of a woman is found in Clara’s garden. The woman has been strangled and Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team soon arrive to investigate. Initially nobody seems to know who the woman is. But once her identity is uncovered it becomes clear that she was in fact known to several people who had been at the party, including Clara and her husband Peter. The woman, Lillian Dyson, had spent years as an art critic destroying the emerging careers of young artists. And more than twenty years ago, one of those young artists had been Clara, for whom the betrayal had been enormous because Lillian had been her best friend when they were young, before Lillian turned selfish and vindictive. It soon emerges though that Clara wasn’t the only one at the party with reasons to resent the woman. A lot of quests had been hurt by her. So why was Lillian at the party and who among those present hated her enough to strangle her in Clara’s garden?
This will be an investigation with more than enough leads and suspects to keep our investigators busy. But Gamache and his second in command Jean Guy Beauvoir have a lot more on their minds. They are still recuperating after the events in the last book, and especially Beauvoir isn’t dealing with his memories and emotions very well. And the investigators are not the only ones with personal issues; quite a few inhabitants in Three Pines find themselves in emotional minefields.

Boy do I love these books by Louise Penny. Her writing is so beautiful and fluent that she paints pictures with her words. Her characters and the surroundings they live in are all described in such detail that they come alive.
These mysteries are fascinating and the plotting is sound. Penny always provides enough information for the reader to work the mystery out for themselves if they are playing close attention. She doesn’t rely on clever cliff-hanger endings to her chapters – although she doesn’t always share all information immediately – yet delivers a book that is a true page-turner. Be it the investigation or the interactions between characters in general, there is a constant urge to read on, find out more, to discover exactly what is going on and most of all, how it will end.

The author obviously loves her characters and through her descriptions shares that affection with her readers. This means that the story is as much about the relationships between the various characters as it is about the mystery that needs to be solved. Because Louise Penny sets most of her mysteries in Three Pines her readers have the opportunity to really get to know the people living there, their quirks, their thoughts, their feelings and their secrets. This familiarity means that I feel as if I’m visiting with old friends whenever I open the next book in this series. I find myself eager to discover what they are up to now, if things are still the same or have undergone subtle changes.

The mysteries in this series of books can all be read as stand-alones. However in order to really get a feel for the characters, the setting, the whole of the story you really need to read these book in order, from the start. Yes, the mysteries (in all but one of the books) are created, investigated and solved in the individual books. But the characters move from book to book, grow and change while non-mystery parts of the stories are carried over from one book to the next. And that is part of the magic with this series. With every book you get to know the characters and their lives better. Each new book brings back memories of previous titles because events and actions from earlier stories have a follow up in the sequels. I can only hope that Louise Penny will continue writing this series for a long time yet. I can’t quite imagine my reading life with out Armand Gamache and Three Pines anymore.

Monday, September 17, 2012

THE UNINVITED



TITLE: THE UNINVITED
AUTHOR: LIZ JENSEN
Pages: 302
Date: 17/09/2012
Grade: 5
Details: Received from Bloomsbury Circus
            Through Book Geeks
Own

It starts with one child, a young girl, taking a nail gun and killing her grandmother before injuring her father for no apparent reason. It seems to be a random occurrence, a one-off event, tragic and shocking but unique. Hesketh Lock hears about this murder while on his way to the airport. He is travelling from England to Taiwan to investigate a bizarre corporate scandal.
Hesketh Lock has Asperger’s Syndrome and isn’t good at relationships or reading people. He is however very good at spotting and reading behaviour patterns which explains his job as trouble shooter for a company specialising in investigating corporate fraud, exposing it and eliminating it forever. However, his investigation in Taiwan doesn’t provide him with any useful or logical answers. If anything, his meeting with the man who exposed the scandal leaves Hesketh with more questions than answers. When his Taiwanese contact subsequently commits suicide the case becomes even murkier. Then things quickly escalate. More bizarre cases of corporate fraud are exposed, all apparently conducted by the most unlikely suspects who tend to be confused after their fraudulent acts and end up dying shortly afterwards. And at the same time more children, all over the world, are attacking and killing adults. With no apparent reasons for these murders and the children going through a dramatic change immediately before and after the violence, authorities are at a loss to explain what is happening. But the violence is spreading and panic, as well as all sorts of (conspiracy) theories are becoming rampant. When Hesketh establishes a link between the disruptions in the corporate world and the crimes committed by the children it appears to be an impossible proposition. With his stepson starting to exhibit troubling behaviour, Hesketh finds himself in a situation that could as easily overwhelm him as bring him to the realisation of what exactly is happening.

This story is shocking on several levels. First there is all the violence committed by children. It is never easy to read about children as the perpetrators of violent crime and since that is the central story-line in this book it is hard not to get emotionally involved. What makes the story even more disturbing is that it is written in such a way that you end up feeling that something like this could actually happen. Yes, it is a fantastical story line, but one based on enough fact to make it just about plausible. While reading this book I felt my heart breaking on several occasions; how could a parent, a family, the world ever hope to deal with children turning against the adults in their lives? And would we really react in the way as described in this book?

In Hesketh Lock the author has created a fascinating protagonist. Because of his Asperger’s he is logical to a fault. This makes him the perfect narrator for this story in which the events taking place are so horrific that non-sentimental descriptions are necessary if the reader is going to stick with the story. Hesketh has a linear way of thinking which is brutally honest and at times heartbreaking. He is very aware of his shortcomings and completely unable to do anything about them. That is not to say he should be pitied; Hesketh is very secure in the knowledge that there are certain things he can do better than most people because his special make-up means he’s better equipped to do them. He is, for example very quick to observe patterns where others see none.

“Perhaps she pities me. It’s a frequent mistake. People misunderstand who I am, and assume I want to be like them. I don’t.”

Hesketh’s former partner and the mother of his stepson used to call him “A robot made of meat.” And although he doesn’t think he is such a robot there comes a time when Hesketh thinks that being just that might be what he needs.

This book is very well written and almost too easy to read. A story like this should be read slowly, but Liz Jensen’s writing is so fluid that I found myself turning the pages at a quick pace regardless of the horrors that were taking place on them. And maybe that is exactly what is needed with a story as shocking as this one. I think I might have put the book aside if I had allowed myself too much time to linger on exactly what was happening. That would have been such a waste though. Combining several genres – mystery, psychological thriller, and dystopian-apocalyptical nightmare - this is a highly original, thought-provoking, very well written and intriguing story.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

BEAUTY'S RELEASE



TITLE: BEAUTY’S RELEASE
AUTHOR: ANNE RICE
              Writing as A.N. Roquelaure
Pages: 256
Date: 16/09/2012
Grade: 4.5
Details: no. 3 Sleeping Beauty
            Received from Plume
            Through NetGalley

Warning: this is a review of a work of erotica that should not be read by anyone under the age of 18 or easily offended. It also contains possible spoilers.

This, the third and final part of Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy kicks off exactly where the second book, Beauty’s Punishment, ended. Beauty, Laurant, Tristan and three other slaves find themselves captive on a ship, bound for foreign lands and the court of an Eastern Sultan. While some things are exactly the same as they were when they were slaves at the Queens court – they have to obey orders and are subject to punishment both when they break the rules and when they don’t – other things are very different. The royal slaves are now in a position where they are being treated as little better than animals. Speaking, or even making loud sounds is strictly forbidden, which brings a new level of submission to their experience.
Initially the new surroundings and rules scare and upset the captives, but it isn’t long until they realise that losing even the last little bit of their own will makes it easier for them to surrender to the experience of submission. And new surroundings allow Laurant and Beauty to discover new levels of erotic satisfaction. While Laurant indulges in a dangerous game with his master, Beauty spends time in the royal harem where her eyes are opened to shocking facts as well new forms of pleasure. When they are unexpectedly rescued from the foreign court Beauty, Laurant and Tristan find themselves strangely reluctant to return to the Queen’s lands. A return that will separate Beauty from everything she’s come to treasure while Tristan and Laurant will experience yet new ways of submissiveness.
This is a fairy-tale yet we’ll have to wait until the very last lines on the very last page before we come to the familiar and expected ending:

“And we shall live happily every after,” I said through my kisses, “as the fairy-tales say.”
“Yes, happily every after”, she answered, “and a good deal happier, I think, than everyone else could ever guess.”

In many ways this third book in the Sleeping Beauty series is more of the same; more captivity, more punishment, more sex and more unexpected and surprising revelations for Beauty, Laurant and other characters. Having said that, these books are more than a collection of erotic scenes; the characters grow, learn things about themselves and change as a result of what they experience. The learning experiences the royal slaves go through mean different things for the various characters. For some it means coming to the realisation that without submission they can’t be happy while others discover that they derive as much, if not more, pleasure from being in a dominant position then they do from submitting to others. Love is lost and rediscovered and role-reversal opens new and unexpected worlds; few characters end this trilogy in the same way they started it, but none resent their discoveries or the road that brought them there.

Anne Rice is a wonderful author. She manages to make a trilogy that could easily have been boring due to repetitiveness into an intriguing study of (a form of) human sexuality. Her writing is fluent and while most of the narrative concerns itself with a variety of sexual exploits, she takes the time to explore the internal thoughts and feelings of her characters. I feel that in the hands of a lesser author this story could easily have turned into a sordid work of pornography (as I’m sure some people will view it anyway). For me though, Mrs. Rice managed to stay just about on the right side of decency thanks to the fact that the reader is never allowed to forget that (s)he is reading a fairy-tale and the detailed exploration of the character’s inner lives.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: this is a work of erotica in its purest form. Nothing is cushioned or padded here, all descriptions are raw, descriptive and to the point. This is not a book for those who will allow a sex-scene in their stories provided it fits the story-line. In this trilogy sex is the story as it causes the development of characters. In short this is not a work of fiction with (some) erotic scenes. No, these are three books of pure and at times hard-core erotica. Or, as the author herself said on Facebook:

“I believe in erotica, and the freedom of men and women to enjoy their S&M sexual fantasies. I realize the Beauty Trilogy shocks some people. That’s because it is extreme, excessive and true erotica, and I understand. Not for everyone. But for those who share the fantasy.”

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

THE MYSTERY OF MERCY CLOSE



TITLE: THE MYSTERY OF MERCY CLOSE
AUTHOR: MARIAN KEYS
Pages: 505
Date: 12/09/2012
Grade: 5
Details: No. 5 Walsh Family
            Received from Penguin
            Through Book Geeks
Own

Helen is the youngest of the Walsh sisters and going through a bit of a rough spot. Working as a private investigator was great while the economy was up, but now that the Celtic Tiger has gone and died there just isn’t any work available. And no work means no income which means no money to pay the bills. Months behind on her mortgage, with her electricity cut off and most of her furniture repossessed, Helen leaves her apartment and moves back in with her parents. Her six month long relationship with Artie is good, and Artie is everything she could wish for in a man except that he comes with three children and an ex-wife he is still very (too) cosy with. When she receives a phone call from an ex-boyfriend, Jay Parker, Helen’s first instinct is to ignore it. But Jay has a job for her. He wants her to find Wayne Diffney, the Wacky One from boyband Laddz. Laddz is about to make a big comeback but with Wayne missing the whole project is at risk and Helen is Jay’s last hope of finding the missing man without involving the authorities and triggering unwanted publicity.
An active investigation to keep her busy is just what Helen needs. She is sliding into a deep depression and is finding it hard to keep herself going. Investigating Wayne’s disappearance is keeping Helen’s mind of her own despair, most of the time, but the man has managed to vanish without a trace and his house on Mercy Close doesn’t produce any useful clues. Strangely enough the house does attract Helen. In fact she feels completely at home there and finds herself spending a lot of time in Wayne’s world. It is strange that in her life filled with people all wanting a piece of her, Helen feels closest to the one person she has never met, who is missing and who she can’t seem to find.

I loved this book. The story is interesting on several levels. The investigation into Wayne’s disappearance brings mystery and action. The host of characters in Helen’s life provide entertainment, smiles and laugh-out-loud moments. And her struggle with depression gives both Helen’s character and the book depth and the reader food for thought.

I really liked the way this book was written. It is as if Helen Walsh is sitting across from the reader and narrating her life. She just talks away, at times hopping from subject to subject as people do in conversations, without ever losing her thread. She is brutally honest about herself and her shortcomings, which are plenty. While she never tries to make herself look nice or sympathetic I couldn’t help but like Helen.

I admire the way Marian Keyes dealt with the issue of depression in this book. Such a subject matter could easily turn a story into a dark and hard to read narrative, but Keyes managed to avoid that. Helen’s descriptions of her struggles with depression are both heartbreaking and funny at the same time. It is very easy for the reader to feel and/or imagine her despair. On the other hand, because Helen is looking back on events she can tell her story in such a way that actions, thoughts and feelings make you smile, despite their darkness.
The fact that Marian Keyes has had to battle depression herself means that she can tell this story from first hand experience. Her description of how others deal with somebody who suffers from depression is as accurate and heartbreaking as it is amusing. She completely gets how illogical a depressed person’s thoughts can get. This becomes very clear when Helen, despite her urge to kill herself, finds she is very afraid of one character in the story who might actually threaten her life.

The thing that put the biggest smile on my face while reading this book was Helen’s “Shovel List”:

“ It is a list of all the people and things I hate so much that I want to hit them in the face with a shovel.”

I haven’t read all of Marian Keyes' previous books, but of the ones I have read this is by far my favourite. It is a well written book with funny and life-like characters and a perfect balance between light relief and dark moments. All I can say is: read this book and enjoy!

Monday, September 10, 2012

HIDDEN PARADISE




TITLE: HIDDEN PARADISE
AUTHOR: JANET MULLANY
Pages: 315 (Kindle)
Date: 09/09/2012
Grade: 4
Details: Received from Harlequin
            Through NetGalley
Own

Louisa (Lou) Connelly an American Jane Austen scholar who has recently been widowed after only five years of marriage, is finding it very hard to come to terms with the loss of her beloved Julian while at home on their Montana ranch. When two friends invite her over to England she jumps at the chance to change her surroundings and the opportunity to think about what she wants to do with the rest of her life.
Lou’s friends, Peter and Chris, are in the last stages of opening Paradise Hall, a resort in which people will have the opportunity to experience an authentic Georgian country-house weekend and they need her knowledge about Jane Austen and her time to make sure they are getting all the details right. However, while the weekends will be authentic as far as setting, food and clothing are concerned it is anybody’s guess if their ideas about the sexual exchanges between the visitors are also true to history.
Once in Paradise Hall Lou finds that while being there doesn’t make her feel any closer to her deceased husband as she had hoped, it does re-awaken her interest in men and the joys of intimacy. Her exchanges with Mac Salazar, a journalist with a lot of Mr. Darcy qualities, are belligerent and exciting and soon lead to steamy encounters. And then there is Rob, the young servant who Lou can’t quite get out of her head and who has a lot to learn from her.
Two shocking discoveries later it seems that Lou’s time in Paradise is well and truly over. The real world beckons and with it some tough decisions.

This is a book that both delighted and disappointed me. I loved the idea of the Jane Austen naughty weekends and enjoyed the descriptions of the house, its surroundings, the clothes, food and activities. In fact I would have loved more detail like that. But it seems that the author was so busy making sure that every character who got mentioned more than three times had a back-story with some drama in it that there really wasn’t the time or pages to get more period –or any other - detail in. Don’t get me wrong, I want the characters in my books to have a back-story as well as issues they have to resolve. However, I do not think the story improves just because every single character has issues. If the author had left some of the characters – Peter and Chris, Di – issue free she could have devoted more time to the three main characters in this story as well as the historical detail and I feel the story would have benefited from such an approach.
I’m also not sure how happy I was about the perspective in this story being shared between four characters with every chapter being narrated by somebody else. I found this to be a bit confusing at times and it didn’t help the smooth reading of this book.
Having said all of that, overall this book was easy to read and the story managed to carry me away to its fantastical setting on several occasions. Some of the plot lines in this book were fascinating and could have deserved a whole book of their own rather then being squeezed in here amongst many others.
I’m not very knowledgeable about Jane Austen, her books and her time so I can’t commend on how true to those origins this book is. What I do know is that despite my reservations I did enjoy this story and loved the naughty nature of the weekends. The sexual content, while in good supply, was rather straight-forward and sweet, as were the relationships between the characters.

Overall I spend a few enjoyable hours with a charming story that could have been quite a bit more.

Friday, September 7, 2012

A NOT SO ORDINARY EVENING IN BAILIEBOROUGH LIBRARY


CONOR BRADY: A READING IN BAILIEBOROUGH LIBRARY

On Thursday September 6 Conor Brady visited Bailieborough library for a reading from his recently released novel, “A June of Ordinary Murders”.

Fiona Burke introducing Conor Brady
Bailieborough librarian Fiona Burke welcomed Conor to our library while pointing out his connection to Cavan (through his grandfather) and the unexpected meeting earlier in the evening with a cousin of his.

Once the spotlight turned to Conor Brady he expressed that he felt honoured to have been included on the Cavan Libraries Summer Reading List. He also said that he is delighted that his first work of fiction has been such a success.

Before he started reading sections from his book, Mr Brady explained that an “ordinary murder” is one which has no political elements as opposed to “special crimes” which are political in nature and always take precedence over ordinary crimes. The three murders as described in Conor Brady’s historical mystery all have some basis in real events, although the account in this book is purely fictional. The same is true for Joe Swallow, the main character in this book as well as for several other characters on these pages.

Conor Brady
While reading from his work, Conor Brady picked several sections from different places in the book. The sections were picked in such a way that anybody who had not read the book got a good idea of his writing style, his characters and the setting while it brought back happy reading memories for those of us who were familiar with the story.

During the question and answer session afterwards one member of the audience asked if Conor Brady had any idea why so many of our authors, like John McGahern, seem to have fathers who were Guards. While he wasn’t sure, Conor suspected that it had a lot to do with the fact that Gardai had a habit of marrying educated women such as teachers, nurses and librarians which would have given their children access to education and to books. He also added that if you add grandfathers to the equation the list of authors with police connections would be even longer, and include Conor himself.

For me the best news of the evening came at the very end of the event when Conor Brady revealed that he is working on a second Joe Swallow mystery which should hopefully be published sometime next year. The working title for this book is the “The Eloquence of the Dead”. He then read a short section of the new story for us and I have to admit that this left me eager to get my hands on it as soon as it will be available.
Conor Brady with Marleen Kennedy, Josephine Brady and Fiona Burke
Overall this was an interesting and very enjoyable evening for all. As County Librarian Josephine Brady said in her closing words, Cavan Library Services is very grateful to Conor Brady for taking the time out of his busy schedule to come and visit us and we hope that he will be coming this way again in the future. 


With thanks to Peter McConnell for the use of two of his pictures.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

HAVEN OF OBEDIENCE



TITLE: HAVEN OF OBEDIENCE
AUTHOR: MARINA ANDERSON
Pages: 327
Date: 06/09/2012
Grade: 4-
Details: Received from Little Brown
            Through Book Geeks
Own

Natalie Bowen is in her twenties and a very successful young lady. The magazine, aimed at single women like herself working high-powered jobs, she started only 18 months ago is a huge success and although she works long hours, her working life is very satisfactory. The same can’t be said for her private life though. While Natalie has no problem attracting men with her blond hair and slim well-built body, relationships, while sexually satisfying, never seem to last. When a friend tells her about an exclusive weekend retreat that specialises in teaching people with control issues how to experience unknown pleasures by relinquishing control to others, Natalie is intrigued. While she can’t imagine that anybody could know more about how to bring her pleasure than she does herself she is very curious about what such a weekend might bring her. It isn’t long before Natalie finds herself on the way to The Haven to start the first of what will be two weekend retreats.
Her tutor over the two weekends is Simon, a handsome man and hard task-master. As soon as he meets Natalie, Simon lets her know that he isn’t sure that the retreat will be able to help her. It is quite possible that she’s too set in her dominant ways to learn the joys of submission. And Natalie secretly has to admit that he may well be right; submission is not a word that features in her vocabulary, let alone in her life. But, Natalie feels a deep attraction to Simon and is too proud to admit that booking herself into The Haven might have been a mistake. And so the first weekend and Natalie’s road of discovery commence. And while it will be a rocky road, it may well turn out to be the way to unknown and unexpected pleasures.

This book has an interesting premise. The idea of powerful men and women getting so engrossed in their own greatness that it gets in the way of having a satisfying relationship is, I guess, realistic enough. And the solution provided in this book is both kinky and fascinating. The retreat, as described in this book, is of course a fantasy, but I like the idea of showing (sexually) selfish people the pleasure that can be found in submitting to somebody else’s wishes every now and again. I also liked that the author doesn’t have her characters completely change their habits or characteristics in the process. Too often in (erotic) romance novels one or more of the characters go through a complete change over the course of the story in a way that would never happen in the real world. Thankfully Marina Anderson didn’t fall into that trap. While her main character certainly learns a lot about herself and about pleasure, she doesn’t change into a different person over the course of the 327 pages in this book.

On the other hand, I could have done with a bit more insight into and development of the characters in this book. While the reader does get to share Natalie’s emotions we only ever seem to skim the surface of what is going on inside her. About Simon’s thoughts and feelings the reader is kept almost completely in the dark. And as long as Natalie is second guessing what is going on inside his head it is fair enough that the reader knows as little as she does. It is disappointing though that by the end of the story I had no better idea of his motivations then I did at the start. I realise that this is a book of erotic fiction and that therefore a lot of emphasis is put on the sexual relations between the characters. However I do not feel that this should stand in the way of proper character development anymore than a mystery should only describe the murders in detail.

Back to a more positive note; this book was very easy to read. The story flows and has not a single dead moment. The pages almost turn themselves as the reader hurries on to find out what Natalie will be subjected to next and how she is going to react to it.

Overall I would call this a fun and original read for anybody who is interested in erotica. At the same time I would warn anybody who doesn’t like their sex explicit away from this book; absolutely nothing is left to the reader’s imagination. And finally, despite what it might say on the cover, this book is nothing like the Fifty Shades books except that it features a lot of sex.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

XO



TITLE: XO
AUTHOR: JEFFREY DEAVER
Pages: 404
Date: 04/09/2012
Grade: 5-
Details: no. 3 Kathryn Dance
Library

Kayleigh Towne is a young and successful singer song-writer getting ready for a concert in her home town of Fresno. Kathryn Dance is off duty and in Fresno to record some Mexican musicians as part of her song-catching project. She is also there to see her friend Kayleigh perform. But, what should have been a nice week of music and relaxing soon turns into a nightmare when Kayleigh receives an anonymous phone call, playing the first verse of “Your Shadow”, one of her songs. When shortly afterwards one of Kayleigh’s entourage is found dead in the theatre were they had been practicing, killed in a way that closely resembles the lyrics of that verse, the local authorities start an investigation. And Kathryn Dance, while not in Fresno in her professional capacity, worms her way into the investigation.
Soon it becomes clear that Kayleigh has a stalker, Edwin Sharp, who is in Fresno as well. And while Edwin does nothing to disguise his interest in Kayleigh, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that he had anything to do with the death of the sound technician. And then a second message comes, containing the second verse of “Your Shadow” and a race is on, not only to try and prevent more deaths, but also to discover who is behind the messages and the violence.
Kathryn Dance is up against it though. She may be an expert when it comes to reading body language and behaviour, she is also well aware that people with a stalker mentality are notoriously hard, if not impossible, to read.
And is Edwin really the one behind the murders, or is somebody using his obsession with Kayleigh to set him up while pursuing their own agenda?

What can I possibly say about a Jeffrey Deaver thriller that I haven’t said at least ten times before? As always Deaver has written a thrilling page-turner that keeps the reader guessing almost until the very last page. Every time we think that we know what is going on, what exactly is happening and who is responsible, a new twist is introduced and suddenly nothing is as it seemed. And, more importantly, all the twists are plausible. Deaver doesn’t trick the reader by suddenly introducing new characters or revelations that the reader could never have guessed at. Quite the opposite; every twist is not only believable, it is, at the time of introduction, apparently the only possible and logical conclusion.

What I really enjoyed about this book was the combination of music and mystery. Since I have a singer-songwriter daughter of my own, be it nowhere near as successful as Kayleigh in the story, as well as a sound technician husband, I recognised all the musical references. And, again because of that daughter, the whole stalker theme sent shivers up my spine. This story hit very close to home.

I like the character of Kathryn Dance. I’m fascinated her specialisation, Kinesics – body language analysis. It brings a whole new dynamic to the mystery genre. I also enjoy the way Deaver brings Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs into the Kathryn Dance mysteries. They may only be cameo appearances, but for me they do give added value to the stories.

Jeffrey Deaver not only tells a good story, he also writes it very well. His writing is so smooth and engaging that I find myself flying through the pages without being aware of time passing. I start reading one of his stories and when I next look up I discover that I’m more than half way through the book and nowhere near ready to put it down. Now that I’m all caught up with Deaver’s books again I find myself almost counting the days until the next Lincoln Rhyme’s mystery will be published.