Tag Archives: contemporary fiction

Vacation Reads

7 Jul

After sorting out some internet connection trouble over the weekend – what fun after coming back from a vacation – I’ve finally time for posting some short comments about my vacation reads. Although I have to say, the books were truly vacation reads: my memories are hazy and the comments are rudimentary.

Kelley Armstrong – Stolen

Armstrong, Kelley - Stolen

urban fantasy; “Women of the Otherworld” series, #2

“In Bitten, thirty-year-old Elena Michaels came to terms with her feral appetites and claimed the proud identity of a beautiful, successful woman–and the only living female werewolf.

In Stolen, on a mission for her own elite pack, she is lured into the net of ruthless Internet billionaire Tyrone Winsloe, who has funded a bogus scientific investigation of the “other races” and their supernatural powers. Kidnapped and studied in his underground lab deep in the Maine woods, these paranormals–witches, vampires, shamans, werewolves–are then released and hunted to the death in a real-world video game. But when Winsloe captures Elena, he finally meets his match.”

I had my problems with Elena for much of the first novel in this series, Bitten, though I appreciated Elena as a different heroine. I’m glad to say that my problems were much reduced in this novel. I enjoyed Stolen and I like Armstrong’s way to write. Stolen is a very straightforward story – Elena is captured, has to figure out how to escape and then comes back. Because I never doubted that she would escape, I didn’t find the story all that interesting. Still, Stolen gives a great introduction to all the other supernatural beings in this world. I think I’m going to continue with this series.

Verdict: 4/5

Madeline Hunter – The Rules of Seduction

Hunter, Madeline - Rules of Seduction

historical romance; “Rothwell Brothers” series, #1

“Dangerous. Sensual. Handsome as sin. Meet Hayden Rothwell, the shamelessly erotic hero of The Rules of Seduction and author Madeline Hunter’s most irresistible alpha male yet: a man of extraordinary passion and power, a man who can bring out the seductress in any woman….

He enters her home without warning or invitation–a stranger of shadowy motives and commanding sensuality. Within hours, Alexia Welbourne is penniless, without any hope of marriage. Until Hayden Rothwell takes her to bed. When one impulsive act of passion forces Alexia to marry the very man who has ruined her, Hayden’s seduction of Alexia is nearly complete. What Alexia doesn’t know is that her irresistible new husband is driven by a secret purpose–and a debt of honor he will risk everything to repay. Alexia is the wild card. Reluctant to give up their nightly pleasures, Hayden must find a way to keep Alexia by his side…only to be utterly, thoroughly seduced by a woman who is now playing by her own rules.”

I really liked The Rules of Seduction. It’s a character-driven story and I especially enjoyed that Alexia and Hayden seemed to be mature characters. Alexia knows she has to be practical but nevertheless, she also resents giving up some of her romantic dreams. And Hayden, the way love creeps up on his analytical and logical self…

Verdict: 4,5/5

Dorothy Koomson – My Best Friend’s Girl

Koomson, Dorothy - My Best Friend's Girl

fiction (chick-lit)

“How far would you go for the best friend who broke your heart?

From the moment they met in college, best friends Adele and Kamryn thought nothing could come between them–until Adele did the unthinkable and slept with Kamryn’s fiance, Nate. Now, after years of silence, the two women are reuniting, and Adele has a stunning request for her old friend: she wants Kamryn to adopt her five-year-old daughter, Tegan.

But Kamryn is wholly unprepared to take care of anyone–especially someone who reminds her so much of Nate. With crises brewing at work and her love life in shambles, can Kamryn somehow become the mother a little girl needs her to be?

It wasn’t a good decision to read this on my vacation. Reading at the pool and wanting to have a good cry? Not ideal, let me tell you. Especially the beginning had me teary-eyed quite a bit. Bonus: I didn’t know with whom Kamryn would end up with right up to the end although that question is not what this novel is about. Finished in one day.

Verdict: 4/5

Karen Marie Moning – Darkfever (audio book)

Moning, Karen Marie - Darkfever (audio book)

urban fantasy; “Fever” series, #1

from the author’s website:

“MacKayla Lane’s life is good. She has great friends, a decent job, and a car that breaks down only every other week or so. In other words, she’s your perfectly ordinary twenty-first-century woman. Or so she thinks…until something extraordinary happens.

When her sister is murdered, leaving a single clue to her death–a cryptic message on Mac’s cell phone–Mac journeys to Ireland in search of answers. The quest to find her sister’s killer draws her into a shadowy realm where nothing is as it seems, where good and evil wear the same treacherously seductive mask. She is soon faced with an even greater challenge: staying alive long enough to learn how to handle a power she had no idea she possessed–a gift that allows her to see beyond the world of man, into the dangerous realm of the Fae….

As Mac delves deeper into the mystery of her sister’s death, her every move is shadowed by the dark, mysterious Jericho, a man with no past and only mockery for a future. As she begins to close in on the truth, the ruthless Vlane–an alpha Fae who makes sex an addiction for human women–closes in on her. And as the boundary between worlds begins to crumble, Mac’s true mission becomes clear: find the elusive Sinsar Dubh before someone else claims the all-powerful Dark Book–because whoever gets to it first holds nothing less than complete control of the very fabric of both worlds in their hands. . . .”

Darkfever is the first audio book I’ve listened to. I really liked the experience and I think it changes the impression of a novel somewhat. I didn’t like the voice the narrator used for Jericho at all. I had images of reptiles dancing before my eyes whenever he talked. Not good.

LOL: I thought Mac’s name was Michaela! Good thing I didn’t see the way it is written before. I would have thought it too cutesy, enforcing my impression that Mac is an incarnation of Reese Witherspoon’s character Elle Woods in Legally Blond.

link to podcast of Darkfever

Susan Squires – Body Electric


science fiction romance

(It says paranormal romance on the book spine, I use SF romance because it's set in the (near) future and technology is involved, nothing supernatural)

“Victoria Barnhardt set out to create something brilliant; she succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. With one keystroke her program spiraled out of control…and something was born that defied possibility: a being who called to her.

He spoke from within a prison, seeking escape, seeking her. He was a miracle that Vic had never intended. More than a scientific discovery, or a brilliant coup by an infamous hacker, he was life. He was beauty. And he needed to be released, just as Victoria did. Though the shadows of the past might rise against them, on one starry Los Angeles night, in each other’s arms, the pair would find a way to have each other and freedom both.”

This is the most interesting novel I read in terms of story. I thought it rather original. Sure, you have to believe and there were parts that I didn’t like all that much – the way Victoria’s creation got a body, for example – but overall, I enjoyed reading it. Also, Body Electric has a virgin hero. But with that kind of story it couldn’t be any other way.


not finished:

Brandon Sanderson – The Hero of Ages


fantasy; “Mistborn” trilogy, #3

half of the blurb (to avoid spoilers of the first two books in this trilogy):

“The conclusion of the Mistborn trilogy fulfills all the promise of the first two books. Revelations abound, connections rooted in early chapters of the series click into place, and surprises, as satisfying as they are stunning, blossom like fireworks to dazzle and delight. It all leads up to a finale unmatched for originality and audacity that will leave you rubbing your eyes in wonder, as if awaking from an amazing dream.

I only got halfway through this book on my vacation (I read ~ 400 pages) so no grade. But based on my experience with the first two books in this trilogy (really liked the first, thought the second one good), I fully expect some more story surprises on the way to the ending. So far, I enjoyed reading it.

Problems: It’s more than six months since I’ve finished the second book in this trilogy and that might be a bit too long to remember all revelations and how they fit in with what is happening now.

Jane Heller – “Female Intelligence”

24 Aug

GENRE: Contemporary fiction / Humorous
PUBLISHED: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2002

WHY THIS NOVEL: can’t remember why I bought it; I read it during my “contemporary high” earlier this month

The back blurb:
“Lynn Wyman has a wildly successful practice in sensitivity training, teaching men how to communicate better with the women in their lives. Little does she now that her sensitive husband has been “communicating” with another woman – in the bedroom …

With a marriage on the rocks and a career in nose-dive, Lynn is in desperate need of a life make-over. She finds it in Brandon Brock, the macho CEO on the cover of ‘Fortune’ magazine’s ‘America’s Toughest Bosses’ issue. To restore her reputation, all she as to do is snag the notorious chauvinist as her new client, take a cue from ‘My Fair Lady’, and turn this pig into her own Pygmalion…

The perfect plan? No so fast. Somebody has been out to sabotage Lynn’s happiness, and before she can reclaim her career – and her heart – she’d better figure out who it is …”

Female Intelligence is one of the novels where the author’s voice works so well for me that I’m tempted to overlook the problems on the larger scale. I had fun reading Female Intelligence. I liked Heller’s humorous way with words and the chatty way Lynn narrates this story although Lynn is not necessarily a person you can like. She has (big) faults and seeing her realizing them and coming to grips with them plays an important role in this story. At one point in the story, Lynn’s assistant tells her that Lynn herself is a prime candidate for her sensitivity training because she doesn’t practice what she preaches; that Lynn resembles the men she has as clients in the way she speaks and behaves.

The back summary already delineates the three-part structure of the story. In the first part Lynn’s life goes down the drain because someone told the press about her marriage trouble. She’s left with no marriage, no career, no money, and comes up with the plan to make Brandon Brock undergo her sensitivity training called the Wyman Method. At the end of the first part, Brandon, “America’s Toughest Boss,” is Lynn’s client under one condition: he doesn’t want to make that public (which of course was the goal of Lynn’s plan to get her career back on track, but oh well). Part two is about the two of them battling it out over her sensitivity training. Of course, that’s also the part when they fall in love. But whoever is out to get Lynn isn’t done, so her life takes a nose-dive again. In part three, Lynn is in way deeper than before because she lost 1. Brandon (the love of her life) and 2. she can’t ignore any longer that someone is out to get her. The focus in this part shifts to ferreting out who’s behind this second sabotage (and was behind the first one as well).

My favourite part was easily the second part where Lynn and Brandon come head-to-head over her therapy (some nice banter there) and fall in love with each other. But then, that’s the most “romance-like” part of the story. The introduction of the mystery element in the third seemed sudden and jarring because of Lynn’s obliviousness before that someone was out to get her and the tone of the story shifted from romance to mystery. I was a bit confused what this novel wanted to be. A (satirical) take on all the men-women psycho babble books? A romance? A mystery? Neither was really successfully realized in the story. The best fit I could come up with, albeit not a smooth one, is to look at this novel as a story about a woman finding herself.

Aside from my impression that this novel didn’t know what kind of story it wanted to be, I thought the characters either underdeveloped or over-the-top. For example, Lynn’s husband and Brandon are so extreme they’re more caricatures than real characters. The ex-husband is whining wimp and I asked myself what Lynn saw in him and Brandon’s transformation from chauvinist pig into sensitive man is equally over-the-top (and as I said, I didn’t see Female Intelligence as a satire).

But my main problem with this novel is Lynn’s sensitivity training. It operates on her assumption that changing a man’s speech changes his character. To achieve that, Lynn developed her sensitivity training which relies heavily on men learning “Womenspeak.” While I’m certainly on board with the viewpoint that the way a person says something goes a long way to how the message is received, I have a huge question mark when it comes to the assertion that making a person parrot certain sentences will change this person’s character. Especially when the parroted sentences (suggested for use in a professional situation) are as silly as the following: “Susan, I don’t know how you metabolize desserts, but that chocolate mousse I had last night went straight to my thighs.” Huh? Aside from learning “Womenspeak,” the sensitivity training means listening to Michael Bolton or going out on a field trip asking for directions. To make it short: I thought this element of the novel rather insulting to female intelligence and a bit too cliché-ridden. I didn’t catch the fun-making/satirical spin, not really.

– banter between Lynn and Brandon
– chatty way of narrating with funny turns of phrases; helped me enjoy reading this novel despite all the irritating stuff
– liked the irony that a communication expert is a textbook candidate for that training

– the sensitivity training: the lines the men are to learn to master Womanspeak are utterly inane. If they are meant as tongue-in-cheek in relation to all the popular psycho babble books, it didn’t completely work. / Michael Bolton?
– mystery plot rather sudden and weak
– either rather hazy or overdrawn (secondary) characters

– I think this novel works best when viewed as a woman-learns-about-herself kind of story

Would I recommend this novel? Maybe.

Would I read this novel again? Probably not.

Grade: 3 + / 5

Margaret Atwood – “Lady Oracle”

14 Aug

GENRE: Contemporary fiction / Literary
PUBLISHED: Virago Press, 2007 (1982)

WHY THIS NOVEL: I bought this back in April because, I think, I somewhere read that this one had something to do with romance novels. Anyway, I read other novels by Atwood and liked them, so …

The back blurb:
” ‘I planned my death carefully; unlike my life, which meandered along from one thing to another, despite my feeble attempts to control it … At first I thought I’d managed it.’

From fat girl to thing, from red hair to mud brown, from London to Toronto, from Polish count to radical husband – Joan Foster is utterly confused by her life of multiple identities. She decides to escape to an Italian hill town to take stock of her life. But first, she must organize her death …”

Lady Oracle is written in first person. The narrator is Joan Foster, named after the actress Joan Crawford by her mother. Joan writes gothics under a pen name for a living (nobody knows about that) and she got famous for a book of poems she wrote with the help of automatic writing, titled “Lady Oracle.” But it’s in more ways than just that one that Joan leads a life of disguises.

The story itself is not told chronologically. Most of the story is actually a long flashback viewed from what the reader learns in the first chapters. It’s also divided into five parts so that the “now” frames the “past.” The first part begins with the sentence quoted on the back blurb. In this first part, Joan Foster is introduced as a woman who doesn’t know what to do after she successfully faked her death and fled to Italy. The question asked is: how did Joan get to that point in her life? The next three parts are there to answer that. They recount Joan’s life up to the point the reader saw in the first part, and deal with her childhood, the men in her life, and her success with her poems book, her affair, and the reasons for her faking her own death. The fifth and last part takes up where the first part ended and gives Joan’s situation some kind of resolution, although I would say it depends on the reader what kind of resolution you get.

Margaret Atwood’s Lady Oracle is a novel about a woman in search of her identity. It tells the story of a woman who doesn’t know who she is and therefore, as said above, leads a life of disguises. It resembles more a character study than a proper story, IMO, because it ends more or less where it began. At the end, it’s not clear if Joan learned anything about herself and her life. Some things seem to indicate that. But it’s nearly equally possible to argue that she’ll go on in more or less the same vein. Like she says: “I keep thinking I should learn some lesson from all of this, as my mother would have said” (p. 345). The reference to her mother makes it all more ambiguous again, maybe even questions the belief that you should learn (from your mistakes). So if you go for novels with no clear resolution, Lady Oracle is not a bad choice, IMO.

I understood Joan, but reading about her was a bit exasperating sometimes since Joan is essentially a passive character. She wants to be loved and tries to be whatever the others want her to be. She succeeds with that and then runs into problems because nobody knows her. I understood that and her, I even thought her interesting, but the only active thing she does is faking her own death and then she’s not really smart about that. Even her writing is done passively; either with closed eyes (the gothics) or by automatic writing (the poems). Joan’s passiveness is another reason why I see Lady Oracle more as a character study than a story. And I think the enjoyment of this novel partly depends on if you have patience with an essentially passive character.

Joan is rather humorous sometimes in her commentary and on the whole, the writing is smooth and a joy to read. There are changes in style, for example the gothic romance parts read differently than the rest of the novel. Near the end, the novel uses more and more farce-like elements and the way Joan fakes her death (and the reason why she had to do it) were a bit much for me and perhaps too melodramatic. But then, that works with the hidden point that this novel seems to make: A certain kind of fiction is bad for you; don’t read it it; it will screw your life. And frankly, that’s something I’m a bit tired of hearing. In that way, it’s a point Jane Austen made in Northanger Abbey and, I suspect (haven’t read it), Gustave Flaubert in Madame Bovary. Especially the later parts of Lady Oracle read like Joan can no longer tell apart real life and fictional life. Joan longs for a happy end in her life and often her life reads like she used fictional conventions to tell it (for example the affair she begins).

Lady Oracle is a well written, well plotted and well structured novel. It raises questions and declines to answer them (see the open end, you can argue both ways, I think) and it leaves a lot for the reader to puzzle out and make connections. But I really didn’t care for the undercurrent that answers the old school question: “What did the author want to say?”

Would I recommend this novel? Probably yes.

Would I read this novel again? Maybe.

Grade: 3,5 / 5 (it’s the undercurrent thing, otherwise better)

Recent Reads 1

26 Apr
  • Lee Child – Bad Luck and Trouble
  • Jane Heller – Infernal Affairs
  • Karen Rose – Count to Ten

Lee Child – Bad Luck and Trouble

Genre: Mystery / Thriller

I got this one at the airport in Glasgow. I wanted to buy a book, this was on sale, and I wanted to read something by Child for some time (having heard good things about his Jack Reacher novels), so I bought it.
This novel struck me as a very “male” novel. Jack Reacher seems to be the embodiment of the loner, no-strings-attached male. I know this is part of a series, so I don’t know how this novel fits in with the others. But here, only with a lot of goodwill (and a looking glass) can I say there’s character development. I appreciated how the plot unfolds and how everything seemed to be thought out (from my complete cluelessness about a lot of things described in the story, at least). But ultimately, I thought it a very cold novel, completely ruled by logic (see the no-character-development sense I had) with a mystery that wasn’t “good” and interesting enough to make me go “wow.” I’m pretty sure I won’t read another Jack Reacher novel.

Grade: 3,5 / 5

Jane Heller – Infernal Affairs

Genre: Contemporary fiction / Humorous

I read about this novels somewhere in a comments thread. It sounded interesting, and after reading an excerpt on Heller’s homepage, I decided to order it. What I liked about the excerpt – the humorous way it is written – is there in the novel, but unfortunately there is also the kind of humour I don’t like and which I have trouble to describe. It’s some kind of slapstick, sitcom humour that strikes me as goofy for the sake of humour and not naturally following from the situation; it tries too hard and turns into silly and dumb; IMO. For me, this was best exemplified by the scene where Barbara with the help of someone else tries to exorcize the devil and they have to substitute a lot of the things needed for the exorcism because they couldn’t get the right things. Some people find these kind of situations hilarious and laugh-out-loud funny, but for me they don’t work and make me snort in a “oh yeah” kind of way. So, even though IA was a mixed bag for me and some things didn’t work for me, I think Jane Heller is a good writer and I’m not sorry I had ordered another one of her novels along with IA.

Grade: 4- / 5

Karen Rose – Count to Ten

Genre: Romantic Suspense

The main theme of CTT is the nature/nurture question. Nearly all characters have a background which displays one aspect of this question. With so much parts in play, I thought it a bit disappointing that they weren’t used for a closer look at this question. This theme stays on the surface only.
Generally speaking, CTT didn’t grab me like the last novel I read by Rose. That’s not to say CTT is bad, it’s just that I wasn’t as into it. Both the crime and romance part are okay, although I have to admit that I had trouble – again – believing the way a) the characters go from no-strings-attached to commitment and b) the escalation of the crime part in just a few days. When will I get it into my head that that’s part of the romantic suspense package? Also, reading this novel – and I know saying that it annoyed me makes me look out-of-my-head – I got the impression that the main characters had hardly any sleep at all for the whole story. Maybe because it somehow see this being in action around the clock also as hard to believe (I like my sleep) and implying how hot and important the characters are. Don’t know. These points are completely subjective and just my nitpicking buttons.
One last thing: what is it with female journalists (and lawyers?) who’re nearly always bitchy, ready to do anything to get a good story, and/or incompetent in Rose’s novels?

Grade: 4- / 5