Monday, August 31

Me and Mr Darcy – Alexandra Potter

Emily Albright was born in the wrong age and on the wrong continent. Relationships with modern men have proved disastrous, and the only reliable love interest throughout her life has been the hero of Jane Austen’s most well known work. When Jane’s best friend, the much younger and considerably more outgoing Stella, invites her to come on a margarita-fuelled trip to Mexico, Emily is aghast at the prospect. Her eye falls upon a brochure that randomly appeared in the bookshop she manages, and she decides to go to England and join a Pride and Prejudice tour instead.
Most of her fellow tourers are quite old and pleasant, but journalist Spike is the exception. Spike’s writing an article about why Mr Darcy’s every woman’s ideal man. From the beginning, when he kept the bus waiting then shot their perfectly lovely driver a filthy look, she disliked him, an antipathy fuelled by overhearing him describe her as “pretty dull, average looking and even worse… American.” But a perfectly dishy actor playing Mr Darcy, who Emily first meets when touring Jane’s home, compensates for Spike’s presence. Okay, nobody else ever sees him, he meticulously stays in character, and her copy of Pride & Prejudice has somehow been misprinted with the second half all blank pages…
One of the books I read in my non-reviewing convalescence, the details are a little dimmed but here are my recollections: the contrast between the pieces of P&P Emily reads and the contemporary action (particularly her reflections on Spike while reading about how Elizabeth is lead astray by Mr Wickham about Mr Darcy’s true character) were good but a trifle unsubtle. I liked her realisation that Mr Darcy is far more interesting in theory and far too stuffy in reality – I never quite got the brooding, enigmatic hero myself.

All in all this was an agreeable enough read, but not particularly memorable. If you're smitten with Darcy it may shatter your illusions, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. - Alex

Sunday, August 30

Ripe Enough – Cherry Ripe

In this frequently engaging collection of articles Ripe discusses many aspects of food, opening with an exploration of ripeness and why so many of us not only availed only of unripe, early picked and poorly stored fruit but are also unable to recognise good fruit. She moves on to artichokes, chickpeas via beef, and leaves barely a culinary arena, from seafood to rancidity, untouched. Each chapter concludes with a recipe or two, and the entries progress alphabetically rather than thematically.
This is a re-reading for me – I think Ripe Enough, first published in 1999, was the first book I read about food. Since then I’ve become acquainted with a number if food writers and enjoyed my forays into the genre, fuelling an interest in revisiting the beginning of my journey. Despite several, somewhat cursory, trolls through my boxes of books over the last couple of years, I haven’t found my copy so when I discovered that the library had it I was very pleased. I remembered the opening exposition, though no the recipes, and re-reading it was an interesting experience. Ripe writes of the Australian scene, so the produce, culture and regions she discusses are relevant and hold extra interest. The decade between publication and re-reading resulted in both differences in what she describes and contemporary situations, yet many things are not that different. I would have been interested, in her discussion about coffee (“Coffee Cherries: From Pits to Pots”), to see what she made of Starbucks opening here, and about Australia being the first location where stores of the chain closed.
Her basic thesis is worthy and well ahead of its time – buy locally, in season and when food is at its peak, consumers will pay more for better produce, the better educated consumers are about food (varieties of potatoes and their uses, the virtues of marbling in meat) the more demanding they’ll be about quality, great ingredients come from ecological and animal-friendly farming practices, best flavours (and often greater yields) come from older and rarer ‘heritage’ plants. I agree with all of that. But I found, wholly unexpectedly, that Ripe’s tone grated, the more so the further through I progressed. It wasn’t her (justifiable) distain of Anglocentric criticism of fusion cuisine or her (I imagine justified) dismissal on two occasions of famous foodie Keith Floyd’s accuracy and depth of knowledge. In fact I can’t quite put my finger on what, precisely, irritated me. I suspect it’s just that I built her writing up in the intervening years and have discovered that the book is adequate and unobjectionable, but not as absorbing as the best. - Alex

Saturday, August 29

The Year of Fog – Michelle Richmond

The body of a dead seal attracts photographer Abby Mason’s attention as she walks along the beach. Pausing to photograph it, she takes her attention of her soon-to-be-step-daughter, six-year-old Emma, for just a moment. When she looks up, Emma is gone.
The search for Emma occupies all of Abby’s attention. Though the police suspect she was swept out to sea by one of the treacherous waves San Francisco’s Ocean Beach is known for, Abby knows Emma’s been abducted and is alive, somewhere. She goes over every detail of the people and vehicles in the car park, searching her memories for anyone who was interested in Emma or otherwise suspicious. As her career slides away, taking her relationship with Emma’s father with it, Abby is unable to focus on anything else. How can she waste two hours on a film when that time could be spent finding Emma?
This is a fascinating and brilliantly written book that I found, though reminiscent of both Jacqueline Michard's Deep End of the Ocean and Jane Hamilton's A Map of the World, wholly an individual work. Richmond imbues the novel, from the first line, with Abby's twinned sense of guilt and resolve. Through her first person, real time narrative, we learn about the characters but also about the huge significance seemingly inconsequential incidents can have, and how the past echoes in the present.

All of which sounds a little mystical, and it isn't really, but greater clarity would ruin the impact of much of the novel's twist. That said, I did spot the twist well
in advance, and I found the South American section a little far-fetched. But Richmond's pace and style, the character of Abby and the strength of mission, overcame these aspects and so diminished their influence of the enjoyment of my reading.
I often babysit the children of my friends and the fear of something happening to them while in my care is always quietly in the background. I still remember navigating around a supermarket with a trolley and pram containing Lynn's eldest about 15 years ago, convinced that if I left him unobserved for a moment someone would steal him (for I am a drama queen of the highest level). Richmond has beautifully articulated and expanded on this fear, and carried it through to a bitter-sweet end. I look forward to tracking down her first novels, and whatever she releases next. - Alex

Friday, August 28

Jo Goodman: If His Kiss is Wicked

Retiring by nature and the poor relative by circumstance a woman lives in the shadow of her exuberant cousin. When that cousin makes a foolish assignation behind her fiancé’s back she asks the woman to go in her place and call off the affair. The woman is found days later, badly beaten, with no memory of the intervening time and convinced somebody is trying to kill her. But nobody will believe that she is in any danger and there are whispers of madness.
In desperation she turns to a barely respectable gentleman who has made a name for himself helping people out of compromising positions and heading off scandals.
He uncovers a veritable closet full of skeletons and extracts the young woman from a web of fraud and deception falling in love with her as he does so.
This summary does no justice whatsoever to this impressive book. A book which I almost did not pick up because of the truly dreadful cover art. But I managed to look past that and I’m glad I did.
Full of suspense and a touch of the erotic, this historical romance really stands out amongst its peers.
The plot is deceptively simple. Multiple layers are peeled back revealing hints of what’s beneath without exposing the truth of the story too soon. Descriptions rich with detail somehow blend seamlessly into the background. The characters are beautifully drawn with completely believable reactions and behaviour for their time and circumstance.
I am delighted to discover Jo Goodman has an extensive back list and I will certainly be looking her up next time I am in the mood for historical romance.-Lynn

Thursday, August 27

Change the Way You See Everything through Asset-Based Thinking - Kathryn D Cramer & Hank Wasiak

If you change the way you see the world, particularly how things affect you and how you interact with it, then you can change your life. The authors of Change the Way You See Everything have created a technique they call Asset-Based Thinking (ABT) which, unlike Deficit-Based Thinking (DBT) focuses the individual on success, achievement and possibility. With this, they say, anything is possible.
I agree, but only to a point. I'm not averse to self help books in principle, and believe that NLP can change the way you think. I’m also not opposed to the principles Cramer and Wasiak present, so there’s clearly something else I’m reacting to. There are exercises and success stories, but though I really, really tried I just couldn't get further than half way in. When I say I tried - I extended my library loan twice, paid a late fee, and reborrowed it, which is dedication. And I got nowhere. It seemed more saccharin and new age fluffy each time I picked it up again. On substantial reflection, I think think I would have been more convincingly swayed that they had something new to offer if the book wasn't laid out like a combination of inspirational posters and the kind of letters my friends and I would write in year ten. The book has a strong "inspirational poster” feel, complete with pithy but abstract slogans, combined with style over substance and the notion that they’re presenting a wholly new concept to the world.
The third photo, for example (after an arty black and white hazy mountain range, and an iris) is of an arm extending from the ocean with a glass angled so a rainbow appears to end in it, and it just goes on from there. The prose has selective colour highlighting particularly inspirational sections (that'd be the "year ten" part).
Opening at random I find: a glossy pastoral photo of a cow (no horns) on the left facing a business-suit-clad man holding what looks like a red curtain still attached to its rod but is supposed to be an oversized matador-style cape. The text reads:
Get a Charge Out of Conflict
Make Opposition Matter
Conflict magnifies and illuminates who you are. It seizes and startles you into seeing what makes you uncomfortable. It pushes your boundaries – intellectual, emotional, and physical. Conflict, if treated properly, offers the chance to change your mind altogether.
When faced with conflict, explore the possibility that opposing forces can both be true simultaneously. Taking this perspective immediately dissolves animosity and piques curiosity. You find yourself wondering, “What’s their truth? Where is the value on their side?” When you finally give up the belief that yours is the only truth, it changes the game forever. Now you’re in a position to see what new truth you can create together. (pp. 72-73)
As I said - useful but nothing new or significant. I’ve discussed this book several times with long-suffering Lynn, who hears “acid-based” every time I said “Asset-Based.” That lends a quite different, and not unpleasant or inappropriate, flavour to the text. – Alex

Wednesday, August 26

Death by Sudoku – Kaye Morgan

Liza left her career as a PR specialist in Hollywood, and her husband Michael, for her hometown. An incognito sudoku creator for the Oregon Daily, Liza decides to enter a sudoku tournament, where she bumps into an old friend, film star Derrick Robbins. He tells her that a series of sudoku puzzles published by a paper surprised him – they didn’t fllow the usual grading of easiest on Monday to hardest on Sunday, and seemed quite random. Derrick believes the puzzles are being used to send coded messages, which Liza’s quite sceptical about. Until the next day, that is, when Derrick’s body is found in vegetation on the hillside below his home. His library has been ransacked and his niece is missing.
Though the back story is woven into the narrative, Death by Sudoku reads quite a lot like the second in a series, causing me to twice check that I hadn’t missed the first book. I am a very amateur sudokuist and while I found some of the discussion about puzzle solving technique interesting, I suspect the target audience are more familiar with the rules and gameplay than I. On occasion I’d just be getting into it when the focus would shift and I felt frequently like I was playing catch up. I also couldn’t get a handle on how a covert message could be transmitted this way, though to be fair I did lose interest and stop halfway, just as Liza and Michael are working that out. Also, to be fair, I did put Death by Sudoku down part way through and pick up another novel instead, because I was going out, only had enough room for one book, and would have finished it before getting home. This interruption in my rapport with the novel clearly didn’t help, but wasn’t the sole reason I couldn’t finish.
It’s strange – I quite like the author’s voice, the concept was an interesting twist on the more common crossword-themed murder mysteries, and the dialogue was naturalistic. I’d be interested in knowing how Morgan manages to get more mysteries out of this relatively slender concept, but suspect I won’t be reading the sequel to find out. - Alex

Tuesday, August 25

Katharine McMahon: The Alchemist's Daughter

In eighteenth century England a young woman whose mother died in childbirth is raised by her reclusive father on his isolated estate. An avid student of Isaac Newton, the man aims to turn his daughter into a brilliant natural philosopher and alchemist. She is excessively intelligent and focussed, fulfilling all of his hopes for her until one fateful summer when she meets and falls in love with a charming young merchant. For the first time in her life she lets her heart rule her head-a decision that results in her being thrust into a society her sheltered upbringing has done nothing to prepare her for.
As she, at times, painfully, learns the ways of the world she also discovers that the quiet life she led with her father, the pivot upon which her life turned, was not all she believed it to be.
It is only when dealing with the aftermath of this shattering revelation that she learns to see the world as it is and to forge herself a place in it she can be truly proud of.
I was attracted to this book by its beautiful cover art, always a risk-you know the proverb-but in this case one that paid off.
This is a coming of age story that gently unfolds in an almost languid manner. Though the behaviour of a few of the secondary characters seemed questionable at times, the naivety of the heroine and her subsequent response to the events of the book are entirely believable. Some of the twists and turns of the plot were transparent; others came as a complete surprise, more so because of the obvious routes that had at times been taken. The author manages to convey the period very well with a light touch and to avoid hiding the harsher side of the era.
The ending offers hope for the heroine’s future happiness without explicitly detailing exactly where that happiness, or future, may lie. It felt a fitting end. The story was just lovely but has left me in no fervour to seek out others of the author’s works. -Lynn

Monday, August 24

Whispers and Lies – Joy Fielding

Forty-year-old Terry Painter has hopes that the son of her favourite patient might be interested in her as more than just his mother's nurse. Otherwise her life is quiet and predictable, and that’s the way she likes it. Her colleagues at the hospital where she works are friendly but not friends, and since her mother died she's moved out of the flat out back and into the main house.
Her first experience with a boarder wasn't very successful, but Terry has high hopes for Alison Simms, a young girl who rapidly becomes the only real friend she's ever had. When she reflects on it, Terry realises that she knows very little about Alison, and she has suspicions about her the relationship she has with a man they claim is her brother. But not all is as it seems, and as events unfold Terry's quiet, tranquil life changes in ways she couldn't imagine.
Fielding writes domestic horror, and though it's been many years since I read her novels, they used to be something of a staple for me about a decade ago. I was prepared to accept the really strong foreshadowing and unlikeable protagonist as stylistic choices that, though they didn't appeal might suit the work. Certainly I liked the unfolding picture of Terry's distorted relationship with her now dead mother, and the way that affected her adult life was beautifully portrayed. However the power of the book rests with the surprise twist, and sadly I spotted it very early on, leaving the unappealing central character, heavy foreshadowing and rather pedestrian plot unredeemed. - Alex

Sunday, August 23

Natural Born Charmer – Susan Elizabeth Phillips

When debonair starting quarterback Dean Robillard, on a soul-searching road trip after a serious shoulder injury, happens across Blue Bailey, walking alongside the road wearing a beaver costume, he stops to help her. Blue is far from a Barbie-esque football groupie, but broke and stranded, she needs both a ride and a job, and the football all-star (driving a sexy Aston Martin) poses an interesting opportunity. As the two travel from Colorado to Dean's new farmhouse in east Tennessee, Blue resists his advances, and both athlete and vagabond struggle with deeply rooted trust and familial issues that are soon exacerbated by the unexpected presence of Dean's mother at the farm. While the verbal sparring in this textbook case of opposites attracting feels stagy at first, the rough edges come together in an alluring way. - Publishers' Weekly
I’d love to write something more individualised but due to a series of unfortunate events (well, just one but it was significant) I’ve been unable to write reviews for the better part of a month and though I’m posting them approximately in the order of when I read them, they haven’t been written contemporaneously and I can’t remember a lot of individual detail. Suffice it to say that I very much enjoyed reading Natural Born Charmer, another in the Chicago Star series.
Like the rest of the series, it possesses all the trademarks of Phillips at her best. Her characters are individualised, interesting and complex; the romance element is strong but integrated seamlessly into the plot; and the plot serves as more than an avenue for first obstacles and then love. The secondary characters and plots are well developed, the dialogue is natural, and there are deft touches of humour. -Alex

Saturday, August 22

Dead Sexy – Tate Hallaway

It’s been almost a year since Garnet Lacey changed unimaginably, on that Halloween night a year ago when her coven was slain by six Vatican-sponsored witch-hunters, leading her to invoke the Goddess Lilith and execute the men. Though she thinks of the women often, particularly in the lead up to Halloween, she has created a new life as the proprietor of Mercury Crossing, the ‘premier occult book store and herb emporium’ of Madison, a Midwestern college town. Sure, not everyone has a two hundred year old vampire living in their home, let alone one that’s a secret from their thousand year old, artificially generated and therefore sun-immune vampire boyfriend, but Garnet’s life is mostly normal. Okay, Lilith dwells within her, and her cat’s allergic to magic, and all of a sudden there seem to be a lot of zombies about, but otherwise it’s all rather mundane.
Until FBI Special Agent Gabriel Dominguez enters Mercury Crossing, looking for her. The photo he has shows Garnet when she was living in Minneapolis. Then a typical midwestern prairie flower with blue-eyes, long fair hair and everything but a bonnet, her innocent coven name of Meadow Spring suited her. Madison Garnet has short-cropped black hair, loads of makeup framing her Lilith-purple eyes, and went extra heavy on the face powder, so she passes herself off as an employee. From his aura she can tell than Dominguez is a strong psychic, a power he can’t tap into because he doesn’t know he has it.
I’m not sure if it’s Hallaway’s style or just that this series is only two books in, but I found the exposition considerably less intrusive than has been the case with some paranormal books recently encountered. It’s been a while since I read Tall, Dark and Dead, which opens on the night of the murders, and there was just enough detail to refresh me without bludgeoning me over the head.
There were a few thinks that briefly interrupted my flow, including the reference to thousand-year-old Sebastian dying “before universities were invented,”* and an irritating tendency to tell with looks (eg “I gave him the I-hope-this-is-some-kind-of-fetish-and-not-the-real-deal look”) that, once noticed, grated (though I’ve seen worse). But otherwise the writing was better than average, the plot was believable within the confines of the genre and not too convoluted, and there were some moderately surprising twists.
Unfortunately, as I re-read this review I see that most of my praise amounts to Dead Sexy being better than the less good novels of this genre, and that’s fairly accurate. I wouldn’t run screaming from a sequel, and will certainly read it if I happen to some across it, but I don’t think I’ll be tracking it down. - Alex

Addit: please note that, as mentioned in the review above, I read Dead Sexy quite some time before writing the review, accounting for the rather generic summation. However, In fairness to the author I will seek out the next in the (four part this far) series and write a contemoraneous review.

* When I read this it jarred, as I was fairly sure universities had been around longer than that. As it happens I was both right - the world's first university opened (China's Nanjing) in 258AD, the first degree-granting ones opened in the 9th century, the oldest continuing university (Cairo's Al-Azhar) was founded in 969AD - and wrong. Europe's first university (Bologna) opened in Sebastian's lifetime, and Britain's shortly thereafter (1167). However, having enlisted the services of Google and Wikipedia to check all this I grant you that "before universities were invented" is actually a fair enough statement and I take it back

Friday, August 21

Markway & Markway: Painfully Shy

Subtitled How to Overcome Social Anxiety and Reclaim Your Life, this book provides not only an academic overview of social anxiety, but also offers detailed explanations as to what treatments are available and exactly what they involve.
One of the authors suffers from social anxiety herself and clearly understands just how debilitating this disorder can be. The book contains examples and anecdotes from both her personal experience and professional practice. Its pages offer validation, coping methods and hope to those suffering from social anxiety and a thorough and accurate picture of the disorder for those who have not experienced this extreme form of shyness themselves.
As a self-help book I feel this one has limited value. From my own experience I think anyone in the grip of social anxiety would have a very difficult time applying the techniques supplied in this volume. However, for those who are actively seeking to overcome their social anxiety this book gives hope in the form of examples of people who have successfully done so; provides a starting point for seeking treatment; and to my mind, most importantly, reassures the sufferer that they do have a ‘real’ problem and are not alone in it.
The chapter on recognising the symptoms of social anxiety in children and helping the painfully shy child to cope may be particularly useful to parents-especially those who have lifelong problems with the disorder themselves.
If you just don’t ‘get’ social anxiety this book will help you to understand what it feels like to be exceedingly shy. If you understand only too well, this book gives a good jumping off point in your search for help.-Lynn

Thursday, August 20

The Peshawar Lancers – SM Stirling

In the late 1870’s a string of meteors hit Earth, destroying cities, changing the environment and reversing the course of history. Acting on the advice of her Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, Queen Victoria authorised the evacuation of as much of London as possible, relocating in India. A hundred and fifty years later England is a backward wasteland of cannibalistic savages, and technology has for decades taken a back seat to survival, so boats are steam powered, cars are a novelty, and flight is only by dirigible. The British Empire, now centred in India, rules over most of the globe, while the Imperial Czar heads Russia and is the other major world leader. Eventually there will be a significant conflict between the two super powers.
His Majesty King John II has a loyal army, with no more dedicated soldier than Captain Athelstane King. As a chain of events unfold, Captain King will play a pivotal role in the outcome of not only a covert plot against the British Empire but also in the lives of the royal family.
I’ve enjoyed all of Stirling’s alternate history novels, preferring his Change series to the Massachusetts trilogy but finding all of them quickly absorbing. This is unusual for me – I have most often found alternate history fantasy overly militaristic and dull. While neither of these qualities apply to The Peshawar Lancers, I did find it considerably less accessible than Stirling’s other work. Part of this is undoubtedly because of the more significant world building required - the other series consist of present day Americans either going back in time and changing events themselves, or going forward after the world is changed for them, whereas this novel is set in a world that has diverged from ours at a significant point in history.
There are several interweaving narratives and I found it difficult, particularly at the beginning, to keep track of when we were, what was happening, and how the characters and plots connected. I think some of this would have been eased had Stirling written a prologue then jumped forward instead of having the nineteenth century events and response appear as the vision of a twenty-first century psychic. Similarly, while it makes sense within the context of the novel that place names would have changed, a table of comparisons and perhaps a map of who controls where, would have been helpful, along with a glossary of Indian words – while some of them were evident from the text others weren’t, and I’m sadly monolingual. Stirling has included a list of the King Emperors of the post-Fall British Empire and five appendices – a detailed description of The Fall and its effects, a timeline of the exodus and post-Fall aftermath, a description of the Angrezi Raj/British Empire, some notes on Imperial English and other languages (focusing on pronunciation), and an explanation of technology and the economy. Some of this information would have been more useful at the beginning rather than in retrospect, and some of it I found irritating – I appreciate thorough and internally consistent world building but (like sausages and laws) don’t want to be aware of how it’s done.
Perhaps it was that my expectations of Stirling were a little too high. Certainly I enjoyed The Peshawar Lancers, at least for the most part, and I did finish it with a smile, but for the first half of this ~460 page (plus notes) book it was something of a struggle and on a couple of occasions I persevered primarily because I had no other books available. Fortunately I’ve found two more novels in the Change series, so this will not be my last Stirling experience. - Alex

Wednesday, August 19

Carolyn Hart: Ghost at Work

A woman bored by Heaven decides to join the Department of Good Intentions-a kind of afterlife outreach program that offers a helping hand to people in dire straits.
Her first assignment is a little rushed but in her old home town the pastor’s wife has found a dead man on her porch and without immediate help the pastor and/or his wife will become a suspect in his murder.
In life she’d always liked a mystery and being dead puts her in a unique position to solve them and help those who need it most along the way.
This book opens with the sentence-
Incandescent dashes of pink and gold spangled the fluffy white clouds that arched over the entrance to the Department of Good Intentions.
I almost put it down right there but I decided since it is obviously the first in a series and I had heard good things about this author I would give it a chance. So I read on through to the end of chapter two before I gave up on this one.
The writing speaks for itself. Though the chapters I read were not entirely as overblown as the opening would suggest there was a definite flavour to the words. My overall impression from these chapters was one of simplicity and innocence. The voice was reminiscent of many children’s books I’ve read with a touch of what I have come to think of as late sixties/early seventies writing style. Not good or bad within itself and not usually a deal breaker for me.
So what didn’t work for me?
Hard to say exactly but I think what really put the last nail in the coffin was the heroine’s busy body, self centred attitude. Strange because I suspected what her personality would be from the synopsis, so not as if it was a surprise-still…
We all know where the path of good intentions leads us-and it isn’t to Heaven. This is one series I’ll not be pursuing-Lynn

Tuesday, August 18

Nobody’s Baby But Mine – Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Jane Darlington is a lecturer, physicist, and genius. This last quality has made her life a misery – raised by a disapproving father, she was a friendless outcast at school and college because of her youth. Though she’s had sex Jane has never dated, and doesn’t really know how to relate to men outside an academic context. Nearing thirty, Jane desperately wants a child. Not just any child, though – to spare it the agonising trauma of her own early years Jane is determined to find a father who is physically fit but of low normal intelligence. Combined with her staggering intellect this ought to even things out and give her child a fair chance at a normal life.
Jodie Pulanski’s a Chicago Stars groupie – she’s slept with half the football players, and has the numbered jerseys to prove it. When quarterback Cal Bonner’s team mates decide he needs to get laid for his birthday, and promise Jodie to hook her up with two Stars players who’ve avoided her thus far she seizes the opportunity. A chance meeting with Jane looks promising – without the school marm bun and glasses, and in age-appropriate clothes the dried up spinster’s almost hot. Sure, she wants a dumb guy, and Cal’s anything but, but if Jane is betrayed by her prejudice against athletes and willingness to believe Cal’s public persona that’s her look out.
Part of both the Chicago Stars series, about footballers finding love, and the Bonner brothers duology, Nobody’s Baby But Mine offers all the quality hallmarks fans of Peters have come to expect. The dialogue is natural and occasionally amusing, and Peters is a genius at showing rather than telling. All the characters, not just the leads, are three-dimensional and believable. The barriers between Jane and Cal are plausible and not merely consistent with their personalities but integrally part of them – the way they behave is the only way they could respond. Cal and Jane develop over the course of the novel, overcoming painful pasts and resolving long-standing issues while maintaining integrity of self.
This was all great and thoroughly enjoyable. However, the standout aspect for me of Nobody’s Baby was the secondary storyline about Cal’s parents – Peters masterfully portrays a long-term relationship that has fallen apart through misunderstanding, miscommunication and betrayal of an atypical kind. It is perhaps this element that separates Peters’ writing from most in this heavily populated genre – she never goes for cliché or routine when an alternative is available, but tempers this with a dedication to realism (at least within the conventions of the field), producing work that is warm, absorbing and wholly believable.
Okay, I think having the resulting baby thinking (which is how the novel ends) was a little hokey, but two paragraphs out of 374 pages are nothing, and more than compensated for the exceptional quality of every other aspect. The Stars series can be read in any sequence – you may learn about other relationships if reading them out of order, but you know going in to a romance that the leads will end up together, so that’s not a huge spoiler, and they all stand alone nicely. However a chunk of the pleasure of the Bonner brothers min-series (Nobody’s Baby, and Dream a Little Dream) is the layering, so they're better read sequentially as written. - Alex

Monday, August 17

Sharron McClellan: Hidden Sanctuary

A dowser, whose talent is refined enough to allow her to detect anything within the earth, is drilling for oil in the Nubian desert when she strikes an extremely powerful energy source. Tracing the source she discovers a cache of ancient mosaic tiles that the locals ascribe protective powers to. When the tiles are stolen she believes she is fated to find, and return, them to the villagers.
She attempts this in vain and soon realises that in order to reclaim the tiles she must trust the security guard whose job it is to report her every discovery to the company. The company that she believes not only sanctioned the theft but is willing to kill to keep the tiles in their possession.
The unlikely allies track the tiles across Europe risking their lives to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands and uncovering an unexpected love along the way.
This is the fifth book in the Madonna Key series and, I think, the weakest link in the seven book series so far.
I must be up-front and admit that of all the plots in the series this is the only one that didn’t really appeal to me as a story line. And the execution didn’t change my mind. At every pivotal point along the way I had a hard time suspending my disbelief. The cameo of characters from previous episodes felt entirely contrived. I couldn’t relate to the heroine at all. In fact, I found all of the characters to be superficial, both in their development and in their described personalities. And the romance (this is a Harlequin series, after all) was the least believable element of the plot. There was no sexual tension to speak of though there was action aplenty which made for a brisk pace. I honestly can not see what this book added to the series. I can only assume all will be made clear in the finale.
I really like the concept of this series and most of the plots presented so far piqued my interest but the quality of the individual instalments has been uneven. The series opened with a bang but is suffering from a sagging middle. If I had read this particular story earlier I would not have continued with the series. As it is there are only two books to go and I feel that I’ve invested so much time in the series I may as well follow it through to the end. Fingers crossed it’s worth the effort.-Lynn

Sunday, August 16

Breathing in Colour - Clare Jay

Alida Salter's life has been, to a great extent, on hold since the tragic death of her infant daughter Kizzy thirteen years ago. When she receives a call in the middle of the night notifying her that her other daughter, Mia, has not been seen for a week and is feared dead, Alida flies to India to search for her, despite the protests of her ex-husband Ian. As she tries to find the daughter she lost the day Kizzy died, Alida discovers herself.
I was initially tempted to put Breathing in Colour aside - part of Jay's Creative Writing PhD, it was irritatingly overwritten and heavy on the shadowing, with lines like "As usual Alida tried to shift her thoughts away from the event that had destroyed their happy balance"; "the telephone shrilled; a shocking sound in the silence which caused Alida to quickly swivel around in her chair to stare at it"; "her room was steeped in expectant silence"; and "in one smooth motion she gathered her limbs and leapt from the bed." I grant you, none of these in itself is particularly objectionable but, as is obvious from the last few posts, I'm not in a particularly indulgent place right now, and these grated. I also found the notification call, which is all Alida's responses, particularly annoying. However, mindful of the unprecedented number of books I've cast aside within a few pages of late, I decided to give Breathing in Colour more time to prove itself.
I'm so glad I did. Combining Alida's present time journey with chronological snatches of Mia's memories, Breathing in Colour portrays a story of deep betrayal, loss, grief, joy, art, discovery, forgiveness and colour. India is the ideal setting, as that richly tapestried land beautifully complements the explosive assault to the senses Mia intermittently experiences - she has synesthesia, a condition where senses are cross-experienced so that noises have colour, textures are flavoured, and colours are textured.
The new setting allows Alida to reexamine her past and her relationship with Mia. This is aided by the presence of Taos (rhymed with house), an Australian artist who encouraged Mia to express her lucid dreams as collages, which is turn provide Alida with clues about Mia's location. As Alida retraces Mia's footsteps, through a combination of knowing her daughter and these clues from Mia's abandoned room, Alida begins to express her own experiences through writing.
Taos is travelling his own journey of exploration, and together they examine the weight and impact of memory and loss, grief and rebirth, patterns and numbers, the nature of self and the way we choose to view what happens to us. Vital to the narrative is art and self expression, and the role of the artist is explored in a way I both connected with myself (not an artist), and that an artist friend found resonant.
I have long been fascinated by synesthesia, and this fictionalised account of the experience added a dimension to what would otherwise have still been an interesting, albeit less engaging, novel. Maybe I ought to revisit some of those works I recently thrust aside on only preliminary exploration. - Alex

Saturday, August 15

Things You Should Know - AM Homes

Homes is, according to the back jacket, "a sublime short-fiction writer whose stories are like sharp and luminous rips in the social fabric she so accurately describes."
Perhaps, but if so my brief Homesian experience was atypical. In fairness I read only one of the eleven stories in this slender volume, "The Chinese Lesson" wherein a nameless protagonist narrates in first person the ongoing search for his demented and wandering mother-in-law, Mrs Ha. In the process he also reflects on his marriage, culture and identity, and projects motivation.
Perhaps because of my current state of mind, I felt no connection with this story or its characters. Nothing happened, nothing changed, and I just felt a mild irritation that left me wholly disinterested in reading any of the rest of the collection.
This was particularly disappointing as I'd picked up Things You Should Know after my eye was caught by another Homes work, a novel called This Book Will Save Your Life, which sounded potentially interesting. Based on my experience thus far I've returned that, too, but may attempt Homes again when I'm in a fairer state of mind. For now, though, the deepest of ehs. - Alex

Friday, August 14

A Sudden Wild Magic - Diana Wynne Jones

For centuries the Ring, a group of male and female witches, have protected Britain from disaster. Troubled by global warming, the inner circle investigates and discovers that many of our problems have been deliberately created by people in a neighbouring, parallel universe so they can steal our solutions for themselves. Infiltrated by spies, only the inner circle know the details of a mission designed to save Earth, as the Ring prepares to take on these pirates.
The High Head of All Horns has been increasingly disappointed with the calibre of servicemen sent from the Fiveir lately - some of this most recent batch only just meet the requirements, and it's an indication of bigger issues. Already under pressure from the Pentarchy, particularly the inner Convent of Lethe and specifically Lady Marceny, the spavined centaur and spindly gualdian are the last straws. That is until a bus laden with otherworlders crashes - and as if that weren't bad enough, all the survivors are women!
I've enjoyed all of Jones' books since my first encounter in the late seventies (The Ogre Downstairs), and this is no exception. Aimed at a more adult audience than her usual affair, A Sudden Wild Magic incorporates sex , an affair and resulting child, and a dash more darkness into her usual palette.
Sadly the internet age the first draft of this review, so there will not be a more exhaustive analysis but boiled down: though not her best this is better than usual fantasy and still thoroughly enjoyable. - Alex

Thursday, August 13

Once Bitten, Twice Shy - Jennifer Rardin

Assassin, and martial artist Jaz Parks is unconventional and works alone, a condition of her employment with the CIA. But after a series of dangerous near misses her supervisor is concerned about her safety and sense of self preservation; he partners her with Vayl, a vampire and Wraith renown for his skills and abilities.
I was keen to embark on this relatively new paranormal series, but sadly found the writing too lumpen and Jaz too irritating to progress toward the plot. The dialogue, particularly the sections I imagine were attempts at witty banter, rang false and forced, and the embittered internal monologue made an already unsympathetic protagonist positively unlikeable to me.
That I am not the majority is clear from the fact that this is only the first in a series five books long at the time of writing, with a sixth novel set for release in October. For me, though, this unfinished effort is the first and last Jaz Parks assignment I intend to experience - Alex

Wednesday, August 12

Dexter by Design - Jeff Lindsay

Now married, blood splatter analyst and disciplined serial killer Dexter Morgan has been honeymooning in Paris. Though all the sites were interesting, he was most affected by a performance art piece where a woman gradually amputates her own, living leg. Perhaps this, in combination with his own proclivities, is why he sees differently the gruesome tableaus that await his return to Miami.
The first discovery is of a couple who look as though they're tourists, complete with lairy towels, guidebook, broad smiles (courtesy of glued-on translucent masks) and... body cavities emptied of intestines and filled with a fruit basket in one case and snorkeling gear in the other. While Dexter's sister Deborah, still reeling from his disclosures about his hobby and their father's role in shaping him, is horrified, Dexter senses something different about these deaths. He senses shock value with an agenda, rather than murder for the love of it, and this insight sets him on an separate investigative path.
I was disappointed in Dexter's previous foray, and had some trepidation going in. I was pleasantly surprised by Lindsay's return to form - there's no more talk of Moloch, Watchers or independent evil, and instead we have progress on the fronts I find more interesting - Dexter's ongoing efforts at passing for normal, his reluctant mentorship of his equally dark step-children, the evolution of his sibling relationship, a slip toward the forbidden dark side, and the sprinkling of dark humour that makes reading this series an unexpected joy.
Dexter has a clear, perceptive voice that I really enjoy, and Lindsay balances his perspective with a more conventional one to great effect. For example, after an insight Deborah finds unhelpful:
I was left alone to suffer in the knowledge that I had failed my sister.
I am sure that suffering would have been terrible if I was capable of feeling remorse, or any other crippling human emotion, but I am not built for it, and so I didn't feel it - or anything else except hunger.

I hope that this return to form holds true, and look forward to encountering Dexter again, something I thought I would not be able to say this time last year. - Alex

Tuesday, August 11

Susan Schanchterle: The Bitch, the Crone and the Harlot

From the back of the book-
How do women enter the second half of life? For many, the assumption is that midlife marks the end of their most powerful period, when their sexual intensity, emotional vitality, and persuasiveness was at its peak. Not so, shows author Susan Schachterle in this warm, funny, and gorgeously written book. Using incidents from history, case histories from her counselling work, stories from her life; and examples from her corporate and non-profit consulting career, she shows that midlife in fact represents a time when women’s sexuality, wisdom, and power can come into full bloom.
This book wasn’t exactly what I expected it to be. I had anticipated more of an examination of these three archetypes, how women relate to them in midlife and why such associations are a good thing. Instead the author attempts to redefine these labels, partly trying to bring back original meanings and partly attempting to force positive attributes onto negative images. While I appreciate the concept of reclaiming the words I really don’t see that attempting to change their commonly understood meanings can be successful. If that makes me part of the problem then so be it. I don’t see these labels, as they are currently understood, as necessarily being a bad thing.
That being said the book did provide a number of interesting recounts of middle-aged women who had changed their attitudes and self concepts and consequently changed their lives for the better. These stories were inspiring even though I couldn’t relate to many of the personalities presented.
The book also suggests a number of exercises designed to help the reader get in touch with her inner bitch, crone and harlot. I am not inspired to try them but if you’re a fan of the self help book they could be worth a go.
The study of women’s midlife experience usually is from the perspective of physical change and the negative emotions that can accompany those changes. I’m pleased that somebody is examining the subject from a positive psychological and spiritual perspective.-Lyn

Monday, August 10

This Heart of Mine - Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Molly Sommerville's life is pretty good - she has a great relationship with her sister Phoebe, a small but loyal following of her children's book series, and has come to terms with her inheritance by giving away the money her manipulative father left her. The only real fly in the ointment is men. One man, to be specific - Chicago Stars quarterback Kevin Tucker. She's liked him since she was fifteen, but despite meeting her a dozen times he can't remember her, a frustration she directs into her books.
When Molly and Kevin end up at the Calebow's cabin together, Molly sneaks into Kevin's bed despite her better judgement, and the resulting accidental pregnancy turns what would have been a regrettable one night stand into something far more complicated.
In lesser hands this could easily have turned into one of the many forgettable brought-together-by-pregnancy-bound-together-by-love run-of-the-mill romances, but Phillips drives the plot as directed by the personality she infuses in her characters, creating a deeper and more rewarding experience. There are also two substantial and complementary secondary plots, one involving a newly-wed couple besotted with one another and another detailing a romance between an aging actress and a reclusive artist. There's also a minor but pivotal censorship sub-plot that I particularly liked.
The third in the Chicago Stars series, This Heart of Mine continues from Phoebe's story (It Had to be You) and Nobody's Baby But Mine (where we briefly met Kevin) but stands sturdily on its own. Not all of Phillips' novels are great, but most of them are perfect for an indulgent and reliable read when one is in need of comfort - after, for example, falling over and breaking a couple of hand bones. - Alex

Sunday, August 9

Lost and Found - Carolyn Parkhurst

Laura and her teen daughter Cassie are taking part in the global scavenger hunt that is reality TV's newest offering, "Lost and Found." As they travel the globe, solving clues and carrying unwieldy souvenirs (including a ski pole and a live parrot) while racing to win the grand prize, Laura has recently lost 100 pounds, and is coming to terms with how this has changed the way other people respond to her. More importantly, she hopes to reconnect with the daughter she's recently become estranged from.
Told from the perspectives of each of the contestants still playing when the novel opens, we learns about a variety of relationships - the middle-aged brothers, the former childhood sweet-hearts, the converted-to-straight Christian couple, the former child stars - and the secrets they're all keeping.
Lost and Found is one of those books I have no recollection of picking up, but there it was in my pile of library books. I picked it up with low expectations, and was captured from the opening line:
By the sixth leg of the game, we have accumulated the following objects: a ski pole, a bishop from a crystal chess set, a sheet of rice paper, a trilobite fossil, an aviator's helmet and a live parrot.
The plot alone was interesting - the event at the centre of Laura and Cassie's estrangement slowly emerges, from both perspectives, discover a secret Laura is unaware of, and see the other relationship change along the way too. While some of these are less surprising than others (the formerly gay couple are still attracted to their own gender), Parkhurst's characterisation and delivery makes their revelations suspenseful and interesting.
The reality TV context added a unique element that I, as a huge fan of The Amazing Race, welcomed. It not only framed the action, creating a situation where contestants couldn't leave or take things at their own pace, and creates external tension and urgency. Not only was there all the behind the scenes stuff the audiences misses (like how the producers avoid relationships developing between cast and crew, and tweaking to add suspense) but the show itself was something I'd love to watch. I particularly liked the deviousness of the clues - TAR is increasingly less clue-oriented and more directive: "go here and do this," and I miss the harder elements present in the earlier seasons. But I digress.
This is Parkhurst's second novel, after Dogs of Babel, which my library has on order, so I don't know if this is typical of her work or a stunning aberration. I will, however, keep a look out and keep you posted. - Alex

I've re-read Lost & Found since this review; for my other review click here. For Lynn's review click here.

Saturday, August 8

The Outlaw Demon Wails - Kim Harrison

This is the seventh in an eight (to date) book series set in an alternate universe where a plague carried by genetically modified tomatoes wiped out a significant percentage of human life, allowing Inderlanders (witches, werewolves, vampires) to come forward. Rachel Morgan is a white witch who, over the course of the previous novels, has become a little sooty - she has dealt with demons, lives with a vampire, and has subverted the law.
The Inderlander/Hollows series is certainly more complex, and twice as long as anything written under her own name, and perhaps that's why the whole exercise has become so unwieldy. I suspect that following in Patricia Briggs' footsteps and creating a spin off from her main series, would allow her writing to regain the immediacy and freshness the first few novels had.
Harrison attempts to seamlessly integrate an increasingly complicated and convoluted history into the opening scenes, but I found it forced, and keeping track of it all was just too complicated. I thought at first that it was a combination of length of time between reading this and its predecessor, and ennui relating to real life that made me put The Outlaw Demon Wails to one side only a few pages in. On checking the review I wrote for A Few Demons More, however, I see I was disenchanted then. I believe there's another in the series in the works, and hope this time that I'll remember that Harrison has, for me, jumped the shark. It's particularly a shame because googling her I learned that Kim Harrison is a pseudonym for Dawn Cook, an author whose work I quite enjoyed and who I've extensively reviewed here. - Alex

Friday, August 7

Mary Gentle: 1610-A Sundial in a Grave

Astrologer and predictive mathematician Dr Robert Fludd has seen what the future holds for mankind and it isn’t pretty. He calculates that disaster can be averted if he acts now to change the course of history. His unwilling tool is a disgraced aristocrat and spy escaping France after failing to prevent the murder of its king.
Together with a young duellist and a shipwrecked samari, the spy is manipulated to achieve Fludd’s end. But not everything can be calculated for and this spy is not the puppet he pretends to be. He throws Fludd’s plans into disarray not understanding how his actions are changing the future of the world.
Eventually he comes to believe in the truth of Fludd’s abilities. This results in a transglobal chase of Fludd, his capture and imprisonment.
Having his eyes opened to the bigger picture the spy and his companions start to work with Fludd to form a secret society (the Rosicrucians) that can monitor the world and steer events so as to avoid future calamity.
There is a passing reference to a sundial but never is one found in a grave.
This is more a work of alternate history rather than the historical fantasy it claims to be. The only fantasy element I could identify in the story was the reality and accuracy of predictive mathematics. Once it became clear that I was not reading a typical fantasy and adjusted my mindset I should have liked this book but it simply left me flat.
It was extremely slow to start and though the pace picks up a little during the second half of the book it simply moves from glacial to snail’s pace. There are a number of seat edge action sequences interspersed with very long periods of nothing much happening. The historical detail seems accurate and is well blended into the description but there was far too much of it in my opinion. Excess description made an already slow pace drag.
Hints of sexual perversion sparked my interest and could have given the characters more depth but they are never followed up. And the inconsistency of one particular character irritated me somewhat.
For all that this isn’t a bad book, if you like a long wallowing tale. I liked it enough to not only finish it, eventually, but also to read the Hic Jacet. But, personally I think it could have been three hundred pages shorter (it clocks in at over 700pp) and would have been the better for it.
This book was a lot of work for little pay off and left me thinking Eh.-Lynn

Thursday, August 6

Against the Tide of Years – SM Stirling

Some ten years after the island of Nantucket was inexplicably taken back to the Bronze Age, its inhabitants are settling in to their new lives. After an initial position of isolationism, Nantucket's government is realising that the renegades, headed by former Coast Guard William Walker, mean that this is no longer a viable option. As he builds an empire on the back of 'magic' like gunpowder, the Republic is at risk of invasion, but the populace in general is more interested in building commerce than tracking Walker down and dealing with him. That is until his native accomplice Tartessos leads a sneak attack on the island.
This is the review I'm saddest not to have been able to write contemporaneously - due to surgery and recuperation I was able to read but not write or type for a few weeks, and Against the Tide of Years is one of the richly plotted, densely characterised novels I read in this period that can not easily be captured weeks after the reading. Although I enjoy the Emberverse series more, I am also enjoying the Nantucket trilogy. - Alex

Wednesday, August 5

Dark of Night – Suzanne Brockmann

James Nash has been a black ops agent for the Agency but is ready to leave – a move his bosses aren’t happy with. When an assignation attempt is made, Troubleshooters boss Lawrence Decker decides the only way to make Nash safe is to pretend the attempt was successful, even to the rest of the team. Believing Decker has long been interested in and is now comforting Jimmy’s fiancée Tess, Sophia Ghaffari abandons her long-held crush and turns to Troubleshooter Dave Malkoff, who has been in love with her for years. The only team member who suspects that all is not as it seems is bubble-headed secretary Tracy Shapiro, who lives in the flat below Jimmy and Tess. When Decker realises Tracy knows Jimmy is alive, in danger and in hiding, he takes her to the safe house, too, learning along the way that Tracy’s considerably smarter, and braver, than he’d realised.
The latest in the Seal Team/Troubleshooters series, Dark of Night picks up where Into the Fire left off. Though accessible as a stand-alone, with critical previous events unobtrusively inserted into the text, part of the joy of this series is picking up on the lives of the other couples and characters. So newlyweds Jules and his partner/Hollywood star Robin are providing the safe house, which is guarded by Alyssa and Sam. At the same time, Brockmann lays groundwork for the next book, which will in turn be seamlessly integrated in to the series as a whole.
I’ve enjoyed every book in this now fourteen book series – the blend of romance, sex, and action are not only beautifully balanced with each other but harmonise with the great writing, strong characterisation, and deft interweaving of several parallel plots. In some cases seeds for relationships in this novel were sown five or more books ago, which adds an extra element of satisfaction for the long-term series reader. The star romance in the series for most readers is the final union of Sam Starrett and Alyssa in Gone Too Far, six books into the series, though Into the Fire’s gay relationship is my favourite, for a number of reasons. Brockmann certainly broke mainstream ground there, and while the domination/submission theme in Dark of Night is a little less groundbreaking, her approach is sympathetic, coherent, hot, and well integrated into the characters; it’s this kind of character depth that sets Brockmann’s writing apart from the majority. And with that kind of writing, one has to try to be patient for the next book, knowing that the wait will be rewarded with a fast-paced plot, exquisitely crafted characters, and great writing from the prologue to the last page. - Alex

Tuesday, August 4

Conquistador – SM Stirling

Tom Christiansen is a California Department of Fish and Game warden, working with the FBI to unmask an animal smuggling organization when he comes across a completely healthy condor. One problem – the Californian condor is almost extinct and this one not only has no genetic connection to the handful of surviving birds but shows to signs of exposure to modern pollution or toxins.
In his search to uncover the provenance of this rare and anomalous animal Tom and partner Roy Tully come across CM&M, a wealthy and apparently publicly-minded business that seems to be at the centre of the smuggling ring. To their amazement they discover that the three founders of CM&M stumbled across a way to access New Virginia, a parallel California untouched by colonisation until the 1940’s and now home to escapees from the America they know. The heavily guarded Gate allows people (and rare animals) to cross realities, and founder John Rolfe VI has a clear picture of the alternate culture he has created.
Stirling’s concept and world building are intriguing and meticulous, though his characters are a little too perfect – Roy, Tom and love interest Adrienne (granddaughter of John Rolfe and an agent who liaises between the worlds) always have the skills and ability to cope with and surmount whatever problems they encounter, and have wholly complementary outlooks and ideologies. There’s action enough to compensate for this, as tensions between New Virginian camps heat up, and the idea of an unspoiled alternate earth is bewitching at a time when we seem to have so completely bollixed up the one we have. Although I didn’t see any scope for a sequel, I did very much enjoy visiting Stirling’s creation, one that is very different from his Nantucket and Change series, though there are explorations of similar themes. - Alex

Monday, August 3

Cockatiels at Seven – Donna Andrews

The ninth in Andrews' Meg Langley series, Cockatiels at Seven sees our heroine unexpectedly landed with the two-year-old son of an old friend. Karen and Meg used to be close but have drifted, and when Karen fails to return Meg begins to investigate, propelled in perhaps equal parts by concern for her friend and terror that she'll be responsible for Timmy for the rest of her days.
Andrews is adept at weaving mystery and humour together, and this contribution is no exception. Although probably fine as a stand alone, familiarity with Meg, new husband Michael, and her eccentric family add a layer of hilarity and resonance to the novel. I only wish I'd reviewed Cockatiels at Seven closer to the time of reading so I could add more detail. - Alex

Sunday, August 2

Family Trust – Amanda Brown

Becca Reinhart is a successful, self-made venture capitalist who loves her work and her scheduled-to-the-minute life, thrives under pressure and relishes the rush of a deal well done. The only fly in the ointment is everyone's concern about her single status, a fact that worries Becca not at all. She could not be more different than laid-back, mannerly trust fund baby Edward Kirkland, who fills his days with casual philanthropy on behalf of his family, and his nights with a variety of beautiful women. When the two are made co-guardians of orphaned four-year-old Emily their priorities change and they find love.
I imagine. Perhaps it's just that I've read too many chick lit novels about disaffected, career-oriented women in their thirties but I couldn't make it past page 9. The premise is far fetched but I suspect I could have overlooked that had the writing grabbed me. I found Becca annoying and two-dimensional, and quit half way through a paragraph, long before either Edward of Emily came on the scene.
While there are a lot of mediocre chick list books out there for no good reason, I suspect Family Trust made it into print because it was authored by the writer of smash hit Legally Blonde - while I saw the film, I skipped the book so I can't tell if that was a good (for its type) film based on a good novel or a triumph inspired by dross. About this, though, I have no doubt. Eh - Alex

Saturday, August 1

Will Kingdom: Mean Spirit

One of the world’s most popular spiritualist mediums is being stalked by a ghost. In desperation she turns to her old mentor, now editor of an ailing paranormal journal, for help. But the truth of her situation isn’t at all straightforward and digging through the layers of deception puts them in the path of a vicious career criminal determined to contact a departed colleague-no matter what that might entail.
This simplistic summary does very little justice to an intriguing and convoluted plot.
I was delighted to find this novel by one of my favourite author’s alter egos (Will Kingdom is Phil Rickman) but equally nervous as to the style of the work (anticipating a divergence from his usual form requiring a different persona). I needn’t have worried. Eerie, funny and terrifying by turns, this thriller really does have it all. Well developed characters, loads of atmosphere and tight suspense, it was everything I could have hoped it would be.
This story stands alone although it is the second book in what may have been intended to be a series, which unfortunately has not eventuated. Luckily there are no loose threads waiting here to be tied up, unluckily these characters seem to have retired. A real shame because there are not enough transvestite ventriloquist Shamans out there and this series would redress that balance.-Lynn