31 May 2011

The Wedding Portrait


I read this light Regency romance over Memorial weekend. While I didn't love it, it was still enjoyable. Two young people, betrothed for an arranged marriage. The wedding in a few days. The girl's cousins arrive, and then her godfather's son arrives, to paint her portrait. She falls for him, while her fiance and her cousin fall for each other. What to do?

Write a play that parallels the situation, and hope when the parents see the performance they get the hint.

The scenes where the young people are rehearsing the play, with everyone's minds on each other, were the most amusing. At first I thought the ending was going to be too convenient and contrived, but I was pleasantly surprised with how it played out.

(I purchased this used book at a library book sale in March 2011.)

29 May 2011

Knife Edge


Publisher's Synopsis:   Sephy is a Cross, one of the privileged in a society where the ruling Crosses treat the pale-skinned noughts as inferiors. But her baby daughter has a nought father...

Jude is a nought. Eaten up with bitterness, he blames Sephy for the terrible losses his family has suffered...

Now Jude's life rests on a knife edge. Will Sephy be forced, once again, to take sides?

This is the third book in the Noughts and Crosses series, and it's every bit as good as the first ones.

In the first section, the short chapters alternate between Jude, a nought, and Sephy, a Cross, with each telling their own separate but sometimes overlapping story. Jude is Callum's brother, and he blames Sephy for his brother's death by hanging. After planning to kill her in An Eye for An Eye, he's realized that he can get better revenge against her in the future, through her daughter, who was fathered by Callum. In the meantime, he also wants revenge against Andrew Dorn. When Jude and Callum and some other members of the Liberation Militia kidnapped Sephy in the first book, things went terribly wrong and Jude and Callum were the only LM members who came out of it alive. And then Callum was hanged. Jude has learned that Andrew Dorn actually worked for Sephy's father, and was a traitor to the LM cause. Now Jude wants Dorn dead. But he needs money. In a chance meeting with Cara, a Cross woman who runs a very successful hair salon, Jude finds his chance and despite his contempt for her, begins to woo her. I won't say anymore about that plot line, but I thought I saw where it was going, and the author gave me quite a shock when it suddenly went a different direction.

Sephy has given birth to a daughter, who she names Callie Rose. While in hospital, she is visited by first her sister, and then her mother, and a tentative reconciliation with them begins. But then Callum's mother, Meggie, also comes to see her, and begs her to consider moving in with her. Deciding that Meggie needs her more than her own mother does, she agrees.

Soon Meggie's voice joins in the narrative, as she begins contributing her version of events to the story. She loves Jude, and she loves Sephy and Callie Rose. When a shocking letter to Sephy arrives posthumously from Callum, it crumbles Sephy's already tottering world, and drives a wedge between her and everyone around her, including her daughter and Meggie.

All of the characters are richly drawn, with distinctive voices. I liked the alternating narrative, especially with Meggie added to the mix, as she helped give us a more defined picture of Sephy and her actions. Later Sephy's mother also contributes, and the pain and regret that everyone feels comes across heartbreakingly.

The book ends on a cliffhanger. Unfortunately, in this edition of the book anyway, if you turn the page there is a sneak peek at the next book, Checkmate, and if you allow yourself to even glance at it, the cliffhanger is immediately resolved for you. So good going, publisher.

(I received this book from a BookCrossing member in February 2009. Now I've got to get my hands on Checkmate!)

25 May 2011

An Eye for An Eye


First line: It was winter late, winter cold, winter dark.

Publisher's Synopsis: Sephy is a Cross - the daughter of a top politician and a member of the ruling class. She is also six months pregnant. But Sephy's baby will be a mixed-race child, its father a nought - in a world where the two classes are divided by colour and never treated as equals. Even worse, the baby's father, Callum, is dead. And now Sephy - and her sister, Minerva - must face a violent confrontation with Callum's brother, Jude, who is thirsting for revenge. For Jude reckons that Sephy was responsible for Callum's death...

I read Noughts and Crosses in 2006, and loved it.  It was the story of Sephy, a ruling class Cross, and her best friend, Callum, a nought. They became friends when Callum's mother worked for Sephy's mother. As they grew older, they loved each other, but Crosses did not mix with noughts. The book was a wonderful story about prejudice and politics, without ever getting preachy. If you haven't read it, you need to.

The second book in the trilogy is Knife Edge. I haven't read it yet, but I know Sephy's baby has been born, and Jude is still out for revenge.

An Eye for An Eye is a very slim book, only 52 pages. The events occur over one evening, and fall between Noughts and Crosses and Knife Edge, before Sephy's baby has been born. It's a tense little book, with the point of view alternating between Jude, and Sephy's sister, Minerva, who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I don't want to tell you too much about what happens, as that would give away the whole book. Suffice it to say that Jude wants to kill Sephy, as he blames her for his brother's death.

Read this series. Seriously. Do it. Now.

(I received this book from a BookCrossing member in 2009.)

24 May 2011

The Hiding Place


For many years I was fascinated by World War II, the Holocaust, Occupation, etc., and I read numerous books on the subject, fiction and non-fiction alike. Then I think I got kind of burned out on the subject, but I still have many such books in my TBR pile. Recently I pulled out The Hiding Place, and was spell-bound through most of the book.

The first few chapters are devoted to Corrie ten Boom's childhood, living with her family above their watch repair shop. The family wasn't rich but they were happy, and these chapters are breezy and enjoyable.

Then Holland is occupied by the Germans and life quickly changes. Corrie is nearing 50 at this time, still living in the home with her sister Betsie and their father, when they begin hiding Jews in their home. They soon begin developing contacts and Corrie found herself helping to run an entire underground operation.
And then they are caught and arrested. Some time spent in jail, and finally taken to a concentration camp in Germany.

By the end of the book, the last couple of chapters or so, I was in tears for much of the story, as Corrie relates what life was like for her and her fellow detainees. The horror and the hopelessness are overwhelming.

(I received this book from a BookCrossing member in July 2003).

13 May 2011

Up Close and Dangerous


First line: Bailey Wingate woke up crying.

Publisher's Synopsis: Bailey Wingate’s scheming adult stepchildren are surprised when their father’s will leaves Bailey in control of their fortune, and war ensues. A year later, while flying in a small plane, Bailey nearly dies herself when the engine sputters – and then fails. Cam Justice, her sexy Texan pilot, manages to crash-land the aircraft. Stranded in the wilderness, and struggling to douse her feelings for the ruggedly handsome man by her side, Bailey begins to wonder whether this terrifying incident was actually a murder attempt. Cut off from the world, and with little hope of rescue, Bailey must trust her life – and heart – to Cam, as they battle the harsh elements to find a way out of the unforgiving wilds and back to civilization…where a killer may be waiting to finish the job.

Linda Howard just became my new favorite author. This is the first of her books that I've read. My mom and I both love Sandra Brown, and so she (my mom) thought I would like Linda Howard and gave me a few of her books, but I never got around to them. However, when I came across more of her books at a library book sale, I went ahead and picked them up based on my mom's recommendation, which is a long way of telling you how I got this book.

Bailey Wingate entered into marriage with an older man as a business arrangement. His two kids are spoiled and selfish and loaf around, and their father did not trust them to handle their inheritance money once he died. So he put it all in a trust fund, and made Bailey the trustee. The step kids (one of whom, and maybe both, are a little older than Bailey) hate her, and are very resentful that she lives in what was once their mother's home.

Cam Justice is a pilot for a small airline that handles charter flights for the Wingate family. He's never liked Bailey, thinking she's a cold-hearted bitch. She doesn't like him either, thinking he's a sour-pus. She’s never seen him crack a smile. When she books a flight to meet her brother and sister-in-law for some white water rafting, Cam's partner, who is always her pilot, gets sick at the last minute, and Cam has to take the flight in his place.

The plane crashes in snow-covered mountains, and Cam is knocked unconscious. Bailey has to go into survival mode, finding a way to get herself and Cam out of the wreckage, take care of his head wound, and keep him alive through the first night while they wait to be rescued. But even though Cam had sent out a Mayday call, rescuers do not come, and one day turns into two days turns into three days.

The details following the crash are mesmerizing to read. I feel that if I am ever in a plane flying over snow-covered mountains, I should keep this book with me to use as a how-to manual in case of a crash! Bailey has no survival training, but she does have plenty of common sense. And as much as she hates Captain Justice ("She wanted to snort in derision every time she heard the name...it sounded like the character of a comic book"), she was very impressed with his skill in trying to land the plane, which she knows saved her life, and she is determined to now save his.

Cam, for his part, while unable to do much but lie on the ground for the first day, finds himself very impressed at Bailey's ingenuity in taking care of him and getting them settled for their first night in the wilderness. He quickly revises his former opinion of her, and just as quickly decides that once they are rescued and are back home, he will not allow her to retreat back behind the defenses she has built up around herself.

I love a good character study, and this is a good one. We get to know both Cam and Bailey very well, while they get to know each other. In order to survive, they have to become intimate with each other. Not sexually, though there are certainly undercurrents of sexual tension, but emotionally, which is foreign to Bailey. I also love humor to be mixed into the story, and there were times when Cam and Bailey’s verbal sparring made me laugh out loud.

When I was younger, much younger, I often sat up half the night reading. These days I can't handle that, I need my sleep. But last night when I crawled into bed to read, I did not put this book down until I'd read the last page. I couldn't. And unfortunately, I will now be forced to make a list of all Linda Howard’s books, and track them down, one by one. Dammit.

(I bought this book at a library book sale in February 2010.)

10 May 2011

The Eternal Highlander, Part Two

Hannah Howell and Lynsay Sands

I finished the second story in this book, The Highland Bride by Lynsay Sands, yesterday, and I did enjoy it much more than Hannah Howell’s story. The dialogue, which I complained about in my review of the Howell story, was much easier to take, but then the heroine, Eva, is English, not Scottish.

Eva has been a “burden” to her brother since the death of their parents when she was nine years old. With no money for a dowry, he has been unable to find a husband for her, and made plans to send her to a convent. The night before she is to leave, six Scotsmen arrive, with an offer from their laird, who is willing to pay for Eva’s hand in marriage. So Eva finds herself married in a quick proxy ceremony and riding to Scotland to meet her husband.

Eva is a fun and likeable character. On the ride to her new husband’s home, the men accompanying her become worried that she is “mad”, because she keeps talking to herself. In actuality, she’s talking to her horse, and doesn’t understand why that should upset them. While she’s a little apprehensive about her new life, she’s also eager to meet her husband, and hopeful that her life will be better than it was in her brother’s home, where she was treated like a poor relation.

One reason I probably liked this story better is because Lynsay Sands always infuses her writing with humor. And four pages into the story, she actually uses the word “vampire”, and several more times throughout. Eva has been told by a maid at her brother’s home about the rumors that the MacAdie clan are vampires, but she is skeptical. I think party because she is so happy to be leaving her brother and not to be going to a convent.

Connall MacAdie, who is a cousin to Cathal, the hero from the first story, is not thrilled about his marriage, but can understand the reasoning behind Cathal’s plan to weaken their bloodlines with mortal wives. He had met Eva very briefly at court, when Eva’s brother had taken her there to attempt to find a husband. Knowing her brother was desperate to rid himself of Eva, Connall felt that he probably wouldn’t care about the rumors and would be eager to accept. In other words, Eva was an easy and convenient solution for Connall.

You know they will get their HEA of course, and as usual with Lynsay Sands, it is a very satisfying one.

(I purchased this book at Half Price Books.)

07 May 2011

One Good Turn


First line: He was lost.

Publisher's Synopsis:   Two years after the events of CASE HISTORIES left him a retired millionaire, Jackson Brodie has followed Julia, his occasional girlfriend and former client, to Edinburgh for its famous summer arts festival. But when he witnesses a man being brutally attacked in a traffic jam – the apparent victim of an extreme case of road rage – a chain of events is set in motion that will pull the wife of an unscrupulous real estate tycoon, a timid but successful crime novelist, and a hardheaded female police detective into Jackson's orbit. Suddenly out of retirement, Jackson is once again in the midst of several mysteries that intersect in one giant and sinister scheme.

I read Case Histories in May of 2008, and bought this a few months later, but have just now gotten around to finally reading it. But it was worth the wait.

I don't remember much about Case Histories, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment of this book. I'll admit at first I had a little trouble keeping up as various characters were introduced. It's a Jackson Brodie book, but he is often out of the lime light while another character is featured.

Atkinson's writing is crisp and smooth and flowing. She starts with multiple stories and disparate characters, but then their paths cross and criss-cross and suddenly two characters' lives will intersect.

If Brodie is the main character, then I believe Louise would be the second main character. Or maybe Martin Canning, the crime novelist. After the events of Case Histories, and after a client left Brodie a lot of money, he retired, and when this book opens he has traveled with girlfriend Julia (a client from the previous book) to Edinburgh, where Julia is appearing in a play. He first becomes an inadvertent witness to a brutal beating, then stumbles across a dead body, which he promptly loses before local police can arrive on the scene. That's when he meets Louise, who heads up the investigation.

I didn't care for Julia, finding her to be a little selfish and flighty. Fortunately, she was usually off doing her acting thing, leaving Brodie to unravel the labyrinthine mystery, at times alone, at times with Louise, and at times with Martin, who was also a witness to the beating. None of the characters are what they seem to be in the beginning, and everyone has secrets, that may or may not have to do with...anything.

The story takes place over a four day period, but each time I turned the page and saw the new heading with the day of the week, I was surprised that such a short amount of time had passed. And just when you're following along with a character and you think you've figured something out, another character takes the page, the point of view changes, and you're left bewildered. A wonderful book, with a (somewhat) satisfying ending.

(I purchased this book new in December 2008.)