Archive | 4,5/5 RSS feed for this section

Megan Hart – “Deeper”

23 Sep

GENRE: erotic novel
PUBLISHED:

WHY THIS NOVEL: Love Megan Hart’s stories and the way she tells them.

Twenty years ago she had her whole life spread out before her. She was Bess Walsh, a fresh-scrubbed, middle-class student ready to conquer the design world. And she was taken. Absolutely and completely.

But not by Andy, her well-groomed, intellectual boyfriend who had hinted more than once about a ring. No. During that hot summer as a waitress and living on the beach, she met Nick, the moody, dark-haired, local bad boy. He was, to put it mildly, not someone she could take home to Daddy.

Instead, Nick became her dirty little secret– a fervent sexual accomplice who knew how to ignite an all-consuming obsession she had no idea she carried deep within her.

Bess had always wondered what happened to Nick after that summer, after their promise to meet again. And now, back at the beach house and taking a break from responsibility, from marriage, from life, she discovers his heartbreaking fate–and why he never came back for her. Suddenly Nick’s name is on her lips…his hands on her thighs…dark hair and eyes called back from the swirling gray of purgatory’s depths.

Dead, alive, or something in between, they can’t stop their hunger.

She wouldn’t dare.

After twenty years, Bess returns to the beach house of her grandparents, the beach house that she now owns. It’s the place she fell in love with Nick, the bad boy of the town, twenty years ago and the place she spent a hot and glorious summer at his side. Back then, she had her life ahead of her and she was looking forward to it. True, she suspected her boyfriend, Andy, cheated on her but there was Nick, and Nick made her look at her idea of love anew. Now she feels like she isn’t ready for what lies ahead. She’s recently separated from Andy, her husband of nearly twenty years (who again cheated on her), and after coming back to the beach house she just discovered that Nick is dead.

Based on the summary quoted above, I had no clear idea of what to expect from this story. Would Deeper be a ghost story? Would it be a story about a woman who imagines things to better deal with her grief? I had no preference either way but after reading the first few chapters I was fairly sure what kind of story it was (a ghost story). So I also had a rather clear idea what to expect of the romance and the ending.

Deeper is about a love lost and getting over it and about a woman who goes from saying “…she wasn’t sure she was ready for what lay ahead” (7) to a woman saying “…though [she] wasn’t sure she was ready for that, she was no longer fighting to make sure she’d never be” (376). To better understand how Bess gets from feeling not ready for what comes to being more open (and leaving the past), Deeper is divided into two parts: the summer twenty years ago, titled “Then,” and the summer present time, titled “Now.”

The summer twenty years ago Bess was twenty and working as a waitress during summer. She suspected her boyfriend Andy of cheating on her and was attracted to the bad boy of the town, Nick. This attraction got stronger and stronger and became something more, especially after she more or less had proof of Andy’s cheating. At first, Bess and Nick tried to be friends because of Andy but it was clear that there was more between them. They got together and as great as being together was, they also realized that they had to face a few problems (and reality) if they wanted their relationship to last longer than the summer. The summer twenty years ago tells how they tried to accomplish that.

The summer present time Bess is just divorced from her husband Andy. She comes back to the beach house where she’d met Nick and fell in love with him. Now, twenty years later, she still thinks of Nick and suddenly, he’s there. Only problem: while she’s twenty years older, he still looks the same (sort of “older-woman-younger-man pairing). At first, they don’t question, they are just happy to be together again. But slowly problems emerge and they steadily lead to a confrontation with the fact that Nick’s a ghost and what that means for them as a couple and individual. The summer present time tells how they try to make it work as a couple this time.

I really enjoyed reading Deeper although that’s not much of a surprise because I really like Hart’s voice and the way she tells her stories. There are two reasons that kept Deeper from being a “perfect” read. First was my impression that the “explanation” of how Nick could come back wasn’t really part of the story. There were some allusions to ghosts and there was a Ouija board but that’s about it. So rather than make me believe in the possibility of Nick coming back it pointed me towards how huh? that is. I would have preferred either a thought-out explanation of how Nick could come back or nothing at all.

The second reason was that I couldn’t shake the feeling that Bess was responsible for her heart ache twenty years ago. Really, there was a time or two I thought “poor Nick!” In addition, her realization that she was rather weak then and for the following twenty years (= more or less let things just happen) isn’t a main focus of the story though at least at the end there are hints that she takes more responsibility. I understood why she acted the way she did but still…a bit more realization on her part now (or a bit more backbone then) and all would have been better IMO.

But overall, these things bothered me only a little. Bess and Nick had good chemistry and I enjoyed their romance(s) a lot, the romance twenty years ago being my favorite (“good girl-bad boy” couple). I especially liked how the two summers and their stories paralleled each other and so enhanced the understanding. I found Deeper an interesting read because of its structure and an enjoyable read because of the romance(s). Like with the other novels I’ve read by her, I wasn’t disappointed by picking up a novel by Megan Hart.

Advertisements

Jim Butcher – “Codex Alera” series, #1 – #4

18 Sep

I picked up the first book in this series by chance. I was looking for something fantasy to take with me on my vacation. I’d never heard of this series but I’d heard of Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” series and knew that many readers love it. So I thought “Why not?”

It was a good decision. Jim Butcher’s “Codex Alera” series looks to become one of my favorite fantasy series.

The Story

The story that connects the separate books in this series is that of an older (and weaker) getting High Lord (~ king) without an heir. A war of succession is looming and this situation causes two Lords in particular to think they should take a shot at establishing themselves as the next High Lord, preferable by not waiting for the High Lord to die of a natural cause.

That’s the background, and a boy, his uncle and aunt (they are brother and sister) are unwillingly drawn into this whole mess by the arrival of Amara, one of the High Lord’s agents who are called cursor, in their remote valley. Events are set in motion, other races, like the Marat and the Canim (I picture the Canims like this, a creature I first encountered in the PC game Baldur’s Gate) show up, and the series follows the boy and his uncle and his aunt as they have to leave their valley and struggle to do the right thing in a world that goes crazier and more dangerous with each year that passes.

All this is staged in a world with armies modeled after Roman Legions and a society that’s based partly on slavery, mostly in the south (rings any bells?). The magic in this world comes from furies, some kind of elemental beings. As people grow up, they show an affinity for certain elemental furies, usually one or maybe two, and kind of bond with one of those furies. Lords and Ladies can bond with stronger (and more) furies and the High Lord is overall the strongest fury crafter. Amara has a strong wind fury for example, and the aunt is a strong water crafter and the uncle strong in earth and flora crafting. Some crafters give names to their furies, and the kind of fury you bond with determines what you can do. A water crafter is a healer for example. A lot of things in this world rely on the ability to direct furies and a person without any furies at all is unheard of.

But one such person exists. It’s the young boy in the valley who’s fifteen at the start of the series and who’s called Tavi.

Furies of Calderon, Codex Alera #1

I actually wrote a short comment about this novel here so what follows is nothing new. This book sets the stage and introduces the characters. It’s also the book where the Marat first show up, a people similar in looks to the people who live in Alera except that they bond with animals and know nothing of fury crafting in the way the Alerans do. Plus the first hints at slavery and its problems show up.

I was really surprised by how much I liked this book. I went and bought the next in the series right away. The only “complaint” I had was that I thought the pace a bit too relentless: the characters stumble from one bad situation to a worse situation all the time.

Acedem’s Fury, Codex Alera #2

It’s about two years later. Tavi is in the capital at the Academy (think a bit Harry Potter), his uncle Bernard is heading the Garrison in the valley that’s guarding the way into Marat land, and Tavi’s aunt Isana is now a Steadholder in her own right, the only woman in that position in all Alera (a fact that makes her an important play ball in political matters).

At the start of the novel Bernard receives a warning from the Marat that an old enemy of the Marat has shown up, the Vord. The Vord come in different forms and sizes and are headed by a queen (think bees). There are spider-like creatures and there are small entities that can infiltrate another being and take over, making the infiltrated being a zombie-like creature (there are quite a few horror films based on that premise). And for some reason I picture some of the Vord creatures as looking like the aliens in the movie Alien.

So, the Vord are threatening Alera. They multiply at a rapid pace so time is of the essence, especially because fighting against them means HEAVY losses. The Marat took out one queen already but there are two queens remaining. Bernard sets out to destroy the one that hunkered down in the valley while Isana races to the capital to give warning, especially because it looks like the third queen is beelining for the capital itself.
So in Academ’s Fury, there’s the series’s ongoing political backstabbing for the position of the High Lord and there’s the thread of the Vord. Tavi, Isana and Bernard are drawn ever deeper into all this and on top of that all, the Canim come into play. They, of course, also pose a thread against the stability of the realm and mix things up.

I thought this book better written than the first in terms of pacing and characters’ development but funny enough I enjoyed the first one a tiny bit more (probably because I was so happy to have found a new fantasy series I thought I could like).

Cursor’s Fury, Codex Alera #3

Again, it’s a few years later. Tavi is send to a newly formed Legion as a cursor together with his friend Max. One of the aspirants to the High Lord’s position makes his move, Bernard is on a mission together with Amara to rally support for the High Lord so that the High Lord can win against his opponent, Isana is drawn ever more into the political intrigues, the Canim attack and Tavi finds himself in the midst of that battle.

Of course, there’s again development on the personal level, this time mostly Tavi’s as this book mostly follows him. While interesting, that actually made the pacing a bit odd, IMO. Bernard’s story line for example is mentioned in the beginning and then again near the end. It made sense because it involved lots of traveling and why recount that in between? But it made the whole a bit less well-rounded. I think that’s what “bothering” me. But nevertheless, I enjoyed reading it quite a lot.

Captain’s Fury, Codex Alera, #4

Again, lots of things going on (the war against the Canim come to a head, for example) and of course it’s again a few years later. It’s also the first book I thought there wasn’t an ethical problem mixed into the story. Before, quite a lot of what happens and the actions of the characters could be viewed as part of an ethical problem. In this book it’s much more subtle although it’s nowhere near one of the main elements in the novels before either. But still, I missed it a bit. What this novel does have is a world-changing development for at least two characters and what was white now actually now longer looks quite so white for one of the characters.

Once more, I really liked the novel and I’m looking forward to reading the next.

What I like about this series

  • The premise of the series (High Lord without an heir) implies several ethical questions which I find quite interesting and which are more or less addressed in the novels. Questions like what are you willing to do for the good of the realm, for example.
  • The series itself feels like a potpourri of history and popular culture elements. While there is nothing original about the world, the story or the characters, I really like how Butcher manages to make the well-known elements his own and turn it into something interesting and new. Well, I find the mix rather enjoyable to read.
  • I like that the different races (Aleran, Marat, Canim) have different views of things, things like honor for example, and that these views are set against each other and question and illuminate each other.
  • I like that nearly nothing is mentioned without a reason. Something you find odd can be resolved a few paragraphs later (like Isana reminiscence about her past in the middle of an action sequence). Something you think fell down by the wayside can get picked up later in the novel/series again. And then there are the little details that add up to a larger picture in the end (like the meaning of rings in a certain context, for example).
  • Last, but certainly not least, I really enjoy the way Butcher handles political intrigue and battles. I think that’s something the series is really good at.
  • Oh, and I like the things Kitai, a Marat girl, says, especially when she wonders about the differences between her people and Alerans and think the Alerans act stupid.

What kept me reading

The Codex Alera series is clearly an action-driven story. Characters do change and develop, world views are shattered and there are probably no completely black and white characters, but overall it’s the action that sets the pacing and character development. So what kept me reading when I usually prefer character-driven stories?

  • Isana’s story. I wanted to find out about her past and I hope for a good future for her
  • the ethical questions
  • I plain think that the author is good at what he does

~ * * * ~

And OMG I just realized that my copies don’t look the same even though they are by the same publisher. I’d always thought the books felt different but I’d also thought I’d imagined things (“it’s the same publisher!”). But oh, their size is different…

Me don’t like.

Re-Read Challenge: “Where Dreams Begin” By Lisa Kleypas

2 Dec

[edit: formatting]

re-read-challenge-2009

Info:Re-Read Challenge 2009

This month:Re-Read Challenge: November!


GENRE: Romance / Historical
PUBLISHED: , 2000

AVAILABILITY: still available

Zachary Bronson has built an empire of wealth and power–now he needed a wife to help secure his position in society…and warm his bed in private. But not just any woman will do for a man whom all of London knows is not a gentleman. Then he unexpectedly swept Lady Holly Taylor into his arms for an unasked for–but very alluring–kiss, and suddenly he knew he had found a woman whose fierce passions matched his own.

Lady Holly Taylor was beautiful, generous, and, as a widow, destined to spend her life playing by society’s rules, even when they went against her bolder instincts. But Zachary’s kiss had aroused her, and though the shocking offer he made didn’t include marriage, she was compelled to risk everything and follow him to the place where dreams begin.

Then

Where Dreams Begin was the second novel I read by Kleypas. To say that is my favorite historical romance by Kleypas doesn’t tell you much because I only read six of her historicals. To say that it is a historical I like and admire a lot is more meaningful, I think.

(see here my first comment)

Now

I still like Where Dreams Begin a lot. The only thing that mars my enjoyment, now and back then, comes near the end of the novel. I could have done without [Spoiler; highlight to read]Holly meeting her first husband in a near-death scene[/Spoiler]. I guess it just seems too fantastical to all that goes before to me. But other than that, I like Where Dreams Begin a lot.

Where Dreams Begin is a slow-paced story despite that it begins with a kiss between the heroine, Holly, and the hero, Zachery. It takes a few months before that happens again. It’s a slow build-up but the attraction is steadily growing and palpable.

Holly is a widow just out of the three-year period of mourning her husband, George, a man who everybody saw as the epitome of a true gentleman. A man Holly loved very much. She meets Zachary at a ball. Or more precisely: at a ball Holly wants to escape, she gets kissed by a man in a dark room. It’s only later she learns his identity.

Up until then, Holly led a very sheltered life. First her family took care of her and protected her from the harsher things in life, then her husband, and after his death, his husband’s family. The kiss is different from what Holly knows and what she is like and believes about herself. But it’s the first step for what is to come: Holly will slowly turn into a woman who does no longer rely on others to make decisions for her and take care of her. She’ll change:

Her actions of the past four months had proved that she was no longer the sheltered young matron, or the virtuous, circumspect widow that family and friends had approved of. She was becoming another woman entirely. (206)

Zachary is totally different than Holly’s late husband in many (outward) things. He wasn’t born to privileges and riches, he – literally for the first years – fought his way up in society. When he wants something, he tries everything in his power to get it. He isn’t above manipulation and at first, he thinks Holly will be no difference.

But then he slowly falls in love with her. One of the things I liked best in this novel (because it created lots of tension) is that Zach knows that as soon as he gets what he wants – Holly in his bed – she’ll be gone from his life. So he does all he can do to resist. He knows Holly is not for him. Too huge are the differences between them, in their position in society and in their character.

Where Dreams Begin looks at positions in society, on what social standing relies.

The idea that a man like Zachary Bronson might be inherently equal to a man like…well, like one of the Taylors, or even her dear George…it was a provocative notion. The great majority of aristocrat’s would immediately dismiss the idea. Some men were born with blue blood, with generations of noble ancestors behind them and this made them better, finer than ordinary men. This was what Holly had always been taught. But Zachary Bronson had started in life with no advantage whatsoever, and he had made himself into a man to be reckoned with. And he was trying very hard to better himself and his family, and soften the coarseness of his own character. Was he really so inferior to the Taylors? Or to herself? (101/102)

Where Dreams Begin is IMO a carefully constructed battle between traditional notions and modern notions of a person’s worth packed into a romance. And because of that, it’s still my favorite historical romance by Kleypas and still one of my best liked and admired historical romances.

Verdict: 4,5/5

Carly Kelly – “Beau Crusoe”

19 Nov


GENRE: Romance / Historical
PUBLISHED: Harlequin Historical, 2007

WHY THIS NOVEL: good reviews + I always wanted to read something by Carla Kelly

Shipwrecked!
Stranded alone on a desert island, he had lived to tell the tale. A triumphant return to the ton saw James Trevenen hailed as Beau Crusoe–a gentleman of spirit, verve and action. But only he knew the true cost of his survival!

Scandalous!
Susannah Park had been shunned by Society. She lived content with her calm existence–until Beau Crusoe determinedly cut up her peace! The beautiful widow wanted to help him heal the wounds of the past–but what secrets was this glorious man hiding?

[I read this book for this month’s TBR Challenge, then didn’t find the time to write and post my comment in time. Not that I have much today, either.]

My first novel by Carla Kelly and it won’t be my last. I loved the twist Kelly put on the story of a woman and a wounded man falling in love. It made the novel different. I loved the impression that the characters were real people with flaws and not 100% perfect and drop-dead gorgeous to boot. I loved the way Kelly showed the growing attraction and love between Susannah and James. I loved the look at society and the concept of heroism, and yes, I loved the gritty and graphic descriptions. They provided a good contrast to James and Susannah’s relationship and the civilized English society.

In fact, that is what I probably liked best in this novel. Parts of this novel, especially in the first half, showed how uncivilized civilized society actually was/could be. This got a bit lost towards the end, IMO, and overall, I thought this and the more darker themes in this novel didn’t fit well with the lightheartedness and humor this story also has (the toucans, for example). They both muddied each other a bit. There are quite a few lucky coincidences in the story and I also thought that the conflict between Susannah and her sister Loisa resolved much too easily. It was like James waved a magical wand and years of resentment and hostility just vanished overnight.

Susannah says this about James:

“[…] An ordinary man comes to London to accept an award and finds himself in great demand to rescue a large portion of the population from some crisis or other.” (180)

and it describes the external part of the story rather well.

James acts rather than stands around and waits. In this he is different than most other people in society and it’s here that civilized society shows that it can be rather uncivilized. People tend to look on instead of help. Of course, James has his own inner demons and when he’s faced with them, he rather stands around and waits, or even flees, instead of acts. Susannah helps him there and in doing so, she does something she never thought she could do: face a large crowd of people. I liked that.

I think Beau Crusoe is a novel that offers much to take a closer look at and talk about. Overall, I enjoyed Kelly’s voice and reading this novel a lot and I’m looking forward to reading more by Carla Kelly.

Verdict: Very, very good (4,5/5).