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Long overdue: Tigerland by Sean Kennedy

TigerlandEr, my review is long overdue.  Not that the book was overdue.  Well, as a fan of Tigers & Devils, I wanted a sequel long before it was written but was pleased with its timing when it arrived at last.

And not that this is going to be a review, exactly, more a stream of consciousness listing of things I think might be relevant to potential readers.

Also possibly relevant:  I re-read this after The Reluctant Wag because it’s the only other book I know of that it set in the periphery of the Australian Football League.

Publication date:  October 2012

Publisher:  Dreamspinner

After an eventful and sometimes uncomfortably public courtship, Simon Murray and Declan Tyler settled into a comfortable life together. Now retired from the AFL, Declan works as a football commentator; Simon develops programs with queer content for a community television station. 

Despite their public professional lives, Simon and Declan manage to keep their private life out of the spotlight. Their major concerns revolve around supporting their friends through infertility and relationship problems—until Greg Heyward, Declan’s ex-partner, outs himself in a transparent bid for attention. 

Though Simon and Declan are furious with Greg and his media antics, they can’t agree on what to do about it. Declan insists they should maintain a dignified silence, but both he and Simon keep getting drawn into Heyward’s games. Simon and Declan will once again have to ride out the media storm before they can return their attention to what really matters: each other.


Cover art:  It matches a scene in the book and the models’ clothing suits/matches that of the characters generally.  Very similar to the cover art for Tigers & Devils.  All in all, inoffensive and frankly better than 95% of what’s out there IMO.

Heat level:  mild, kisses only on the page and other bedroom activities implied off-page.

Does this book stand alone?  Well, a reader could muddle through and get the main plot, but it really works better if you’ve read Tigers & Devils first.  Not just because you’ll know all the players (heh) but also because you’ll get to see what I think is the best part of the duology — Simon.

General observation:  My main criticism of T&D was that the last 1/3 of the book stretched too long and needed better pacing and editing.  That may have been a function of a debut (I think?) or editing by the publisher; I don’t think Tigerland has that problem.

What did I like?   This book uses the same general structure as T&D, dividing into sections that mirror that of a football game, with an epilogue as overtime.

Tigerland (and T&D too) works because of Simon’s POV.  As sympathetically as Declan is portrayed by Simon’s narration, as a character he’s too reserved and measured to work as the narrator here.  Simon, on the other hand, is a cynic and a pragmatist whose snark and pop culture references push the book along and give it a contemporary feeling — Godwin’s Law, Harry Potter, Devil Wear Prada, Star Trek, JFK theories, different musical acts, they all get dropped into Simon’s dialogue, internal and spoken.

Both Simon and Declan remain consistent, character-wise, in this book even though they’ve grown a little — grown together and grown comfortable with their relationship and their circle of friends/family.  Simon’s soft underside is mostly revealed in moments alone with Declan or with the people they’ve made their family.

I very much enjoyed the feeling of Melbourne as a secondary character.   T&D introduced me to some Australian slang (WAGs, bogan, etc.) and now I’ve learned about lamingtons (look good), vanilla slice (looks like a vanilla Napoleon), and the Apostles (on my list for my eventual Australia trip).

What didn’t I like?  Well…it felt like one subplot was wedged in and then resolved without being explained or used as anything other than a justification for the setting of the epilogue.

Recommended.  But perhaps you should take that with a grain of salt because I am not the most demanding of readers when it comes to this book or its predecessor (which was reviewed here).





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Recent read: The Reluctant Wag

The Reluctant Wag - cover artTitle:  The Reluctant Wag (or WAG? – it’s in all caps on the cover art but not elsewhere…)

Author:  Mary Costello

Publisher:  Destiny Romance – I’d never heard of this imprint but given the little penguin, I’m guessing it’s an Australian imprint of Penguin Publishing.

Copyright:  2013

Copy courtesy of Net Galley.

Why this book?  Because I was looking for something a little different from what I’ve been reading lately, which has been mystery-heavy.  I didn’t recognize the publisher but the title indicated sports romance of some sort.  And then the book blurb sold me — I’m a sucker for any fiction, romance or other, set in Australia’s AFL thanks for Sean Kennedy’s Tigers & Devils.

The blurb:

When model Merise Merrick is asked to star in a campaign for the Yarraside Football Club, she couldn’t be less interested. As far as she’s concerned, football players are all overpaid jocks with zero intelligence. AFL captain Cal McCoy is completely dedicated to the game. With a premiership firmly in his sights, he has no time for romantic distractions.The last thing he needs is an inconvenient attraction to the new ‘face’ of the club. But Cal soon discovers that staying focused is easier said than done, while Merise finds herself falling for the excitement and power of footy – and its biggest star. Glamour, sport and fame combine in this irresistible contemporary romance.

What did I like about the book?  The set up — non-sporty person getting over preconceptions about professional sport and professional athletes.  And the setting — visiting Australia is on my bucket list and spending time in Melbourne is high on the subset of things to do in Australia.  The secondary characters were interesting, too, if a little vague since they weren’t POV characters.

The characters:  Merise is actually not an experienced model, despite the blurb:  she’s a journalism student “discovered” at her cafe job.  Which is a fine set up for a fairytale or a category romance, which this very much felt like.  (Is Destiny a category-type imprint?)  But the way she jumps to conclusions and judges people (Cal mostly) without knowing the facts is repetitive and disappointing as a character and makes me wonder how she’ll fair as a journalist.  Otherwise, she reads as young for her age (21?) and pretty immature, I thought, but maybe everyone is like that at 21.

Cal is…a typical Presents-ish hero.  He’s got a pretty cynical and judgmental view of women generally, and I found him difficult to warm to.  At one point he tells Merise that if she’d dressed differently she wouldn’t have been harassed at a  party, then claims not be victim-blaming (I call bullshit on that).  And later, when he sees an advertisement of Merise posing with another athlete, he thinks “How could she sell herself like that?”  Which made me roll my eyes and then irritated me; how is it any different than posing in an ad with him?  And also: it’s her job.  At various other points, he thinks of her as a possible provider of “cheap thrills”.  Perhaps the only things I liked about him were his concentration on his sport and his devotion to his family.  The sport part was clear, but the family piece was pretty awkwardly introduced and handled.

What did I like not so much?  The integration of various characters and plot points was pretty awkward.  For example, family, which is supposed to drive both Merise and Cal, is absent for the most part, then inserted as deus ex machina of sorts.  Merise isn’t just a poor student, we learn:  she’s paying back loans to her poor farmer parents…who are only mentioned twice that I noticed and didn’t even have a cameo.  Cal’s parent’s are injected into the story in order to save him from a PR disaster.

The copyediting seemed okay — although I’ve got some notes on my Kindle, I didn’t highlight any egregious typos or punctuation abuse.  The writing was very much of the telling rather than showing sort.

Overall opinion:  I  loved the setting and sense of place in the book, but I didn’t really care about the main characters.  I think that readers of Harlequin Presents categories might enjoy the book.

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Maisey Yates’ new(ish) HP

At His Majesty’s Request

Harlequin Presents #3112, January 2013

The blurb:

Marry the jaded prince and receive a title, a small island, a castle and a tiara.

Matchmaker extraordinaire Jessica Carter arranges marriages that work.  And that is exactly what Prince Drakos is looking for.  The last thing he needs is someone as unsuitable as her…but none of the beautiful socialites paraded before him excite Stavros as Jessica does.

Usually unchallenged, Stavros welcomes Jessica’s defiance — his fingers itch to lower her prickly facade and discover what lies beneath.  Will Jessica agree to his final request?  One month to exorcise their scorching passion, before he marries someone fit to be his queen….

As a fairytale, this book works.  The uber-wealthy and responsible prince, heir to the throne, chooses as his mate the commoner to whom he is attracted, throwing over convention and duty.

Any deeper look at the plot leaves me feeling dissatisfied though.  The heroine is from North Dakota, yet is otherwise not identifiable as American or a Dakotan; her word usage and choices (like charity shop) are more BrE than AmE.  Readers are told that she’s an expert in the matchmaking field, yet she seems to constantly make errors in judgment about the women she selects for Stavros and the situations she arranges for them to become acquainted.

The author set up a backstory and used a fair amount of page space to convince me as a reader that Stavros was a duty-driven automaton; his change of heart and abandonment of duty at the very end of the novel felt unconvincing.  Perhaps more POV from him would have changed that?

Recommended as fluff for readers of HPs, otherwise not so much.



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Belated review: O Come All Ye Kinky anthology

O Come All Ye Kinky

A BDSM holiday anthology edited by Sarah Frantz

Disclosure:  review copy provided by Dr. Frantz.

© 2012 Riptide Publishing

I’ve started and then deleted this post over and over in the last couple of weeks — nothing intelligent wants to come from my fingertips.  But the longer I go without posting, the less likely it is that I’ll post anything at all.  So here, in brief, are my thoughts on each of the stories.

Tree Topper, by Jane Davitt

Martin’s new to the scene, and his sub Stan has recently stopped taking him seriously. Their tree has floggers, clamps, and cuffs underneath it, but will they ever be used? Frustrated and confused, Martin knows it will take more than a star to guide him on his way to becoming the Dom Stan needs—but their path to happiness might be shorter than he thinks.

A sweet story about a new Dom who feels like he’s failing at his first D/s relationship.  The conflict here was all about lack of communication, which can be a delicate trope to employ without making the MCs either TSTL or unsympathetic, but it worked here.  I really liked that the MCs of this story TALKED to each other in the end about what was going on (or not) in their relationship in order to solve their problem. (B)

 ’Twas the Night, by Ava March

Percival Owen yearns for the nights when he can kneel before his lover, even though no self-respecting gentleman willingly submits to another. Michael wants his first Christmas with Percy to be perfect, but is frustrated by Percy’s inability to ask for what he wants. The gift Michael offers Percy—and that Percy offers in return—is the best Percy could ever hope to receive: his will to submit.

Historical m/m set in the English Regency or thereabout is hit or miss for me, because the HEA often can feel forced to fit modern expectations about gay relationships that were generally not acceptable or standard at the time, but the setting works here.  In this story, a new sub is struggling with his desires as wicked, and Christmas spent with his lover, being forced to articulate what he wants, helps him come to terms with them.  The HFN is tender but also notes the social and legal risk of their relationship. (B)

Fireworks, by Katie Porter

Rachel’s job is taking her to Tokyo, which means leaving behind her lover and submissive, Emma. When she summons Emma for one last hurrah on New Year’s Eve, Emma answers, hoping desperately to be able to break through her ma’am’s emotional barriers and find the spark of love among the glittering fireworks.

Personal quirk:  I hate the word “helluva”.  In dialogue, I can let it slide, much the way “gonna” gets a pass.  Early use of it in this short story distracted me, and didn’t entirely suit the voice of the narrator using it (IMO).  I appreciated the f/f entry in the primarily m/m anthology, but didn’t love this story, mostly because the conflict felt weak, hinging on the personality and background of one MC who hadn’t been developed enough. (C+)

Candy Caning, by L.A. Witt

Nate is dreading the annual Christmas visit with his family, during which they will ignore or insult his partner and Dominant. Stephen tries hard to take Nate’s mind off the trip with the promise—and threat—of a three-foot-long candy cane. It’s a race to see if Nate’s resolve or the candy cane will shatter first.

There are things you put up with because you love your partner, and usually those things involve unpleasant holidays and/or family members; in this case, it’s both all at once, since Nate’s mother denigrates Stephen publicly during their holiday get-togethers.  Even anticipating it is causing tension between the two in the run up to the holiday.  While I was concerned about the potential use of the candy cane (so brittle and easily broken, even the large ones), I liked the teasing and anticipation, followed by the mushy relationshipy exchange that follows the play. (B)

Submissive Angel, by Joey W. Hill

After Robert found Ange bleeding in an alley, he employed the man in his vintage toy store as an act of charity. However, this Christmas, the eccentric young dancer will offer his thanks—and himself—to teach a brokenhearted Master how to open himself to love again.

My favorite story in the anthology, Submissive Angel reads like a holiday fairytale come to life.  In fact, I wondered if there was going to be a supernatural story behind Ange’s appearance at first.  Beautifully emotional and erotic. (A)

Open Return, by Elyan Smith

Fifteen years ago, Zach left the small Midwestern town he grew up in, confused and scared and determined to figure out who he was. Now transformed, he’s drawn back by the memory and promise of the dominant couple he left behind. Laura and Scott are still together, and as the year draws to a close, they explore old feelings and new ones as they discover they’ve all been waiting for Zach to come home.

This was an ambitious story involving a triad and a returning transgender MC that never really gelled for me.  Perhaps it was the isolation and angst of the narrator?  I liked the base plot but it didn’t really fit into the confines of a short story. (C)

Ring Out the Old and In the New, by Alexa Snow

Recovering from a mugging on the London Underground, Evan has barely left the house in weeks. His partner and Dom, Russell, finally manages to drag him outside on Christmas Eve, but it’s the surprise that Russell has waiting for him back home that helps Evan get past his trauma and remember what’s important: being on his knees for the man he loves.

The narrator in this story left me alternately sympathetic toward and frustrated by his almost-agoraphobia and ostrich-like behavior in the wake of his violent mugging.  The interaction with his partner is by turns aggravated, tender, and extremely hot.  Yet in the end I feel ambivalent about this story:  I liked the couple working through the aftermath, but wonder about the lack of professional mental health care. (Yes, yes, I know it’s fiction.  But fiction seems to gloss over so many serious problems, including mental health issues, with “love cures everything” even when that is manifestly not the case.)  (B-)

His Very Last Chance, by Kim Dare

Drew screwed up. So when his master, Kingsley, summons him on New Year’s Eve, he knows he deserves the punishment in store for him. Everything changed for Kingsley when he overheard Drew running his mouth to his friends on Boxing Day. Now, there’s only one way he can possibly ring in the New Year: starting over fresh, either with an ending or a new beginning.

The beginning of this story confused me: the narrator is expecting to be given his walking papers by his dom, in addition to being punished for oversharing in public, but I wasn’t clear why that drastic an end to their relationship is anticipated.  The expectation creates drama for Drew but feels overdone when Kingsley’s POV is provided, like a trumped up Big Mis.  Still, the story was well paced and I liked the relationship dynamic otherwise.  (B)


The stories are not linked in any way other than the involvement of BDSM in each story, which is probably for the best IMO — it is hard to have multiple authors with very different voices and styles write individual stories with common characters or settings.  Overall, I enjoyed this anthology and would be interested in reading other work by the new-to-me authors or revisiting the authors I haven’t tried lately.

Formatting and editing:  I have heard good things about Riptide’s editorial process, and if this book is an exemplar I’ll be looking to read more from them.  There were no highlighted passages with notes about punctuation abuse, homophone misuse, or run-on sentences…which is sadly uncommon in my ebook reading.  Very pleased.


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Review: But My Boyfriend Is

Title:  But My Boyfriend Is

Author:  K.A. Mitchell

(c) 2012, Samhain Publishing

Source:  eARC

Excerpt here.

Available for purchase August 21, 2012 at the usual electronic outlets.

Part of Mitchell’s Jacksonville-set series…even though it’s set in Austin, Texas.  A reader could pick up this book and understand all the action without reading the earlier books of the series.

Dylan Williams is not gay. Sometimes he gets off with other guys, but so what? He plans to get married someday—really married, like with a wife and kids. And he’s determined that his future family’s life will be the normal one he and his brothers never had.

Mike Aurietta is gay, but his job keeps him in the closet. He doesn’t usually risk frequenting infamous cruising places like Webber Park. But when he’s cutting through one night, he finds himself defending a victim from gay bashers.

It’s all Dylan can do to process the shock that anyone would want to hurt his quiet twin brother. At first he needs Mike’s eyewitness report to satisfy the gut-wrenching desire for revenge. Then he finds himself needing Mike’s solid, comforting presence…and the heat that unexpectedly flares between them.

 In the aftermath, Mike quickly learns not to expect too much from his conflicted lover. Though he never thought his good deed would come back to bite him in the ass. Or that hanging on to the possibility of love could force too many secrets out of the closet—and cost them both everything.

This book in PDF is 270 pages, including all the usual book contents – cover page, copyright page, author info, etc.  And there is a lot of action and heavy stuff packaged into the pages:  inter-racial dating…when you’re bisexual and not even out to yourself, becoming an adult abruptly, and separation anxiety, all mixed up with a healthy dollop of guilt.

The book opens with Dylan rushing into the ER, having learned that his identical twin, Darryl, was jumped as he walked through Webber Park, an area known for its cruising.  Except Darryl isn’t gay, Dylan is certain.  Dylan, on the other hand, is not unfamiliar with the park, which has provided him with string-free orgasms that don’t impinge on his fantasy future.  So what was Darryl doing in the park?  And who is this Mike dude who rescued him?  This sets up the external conflict for the book, catching the gay-bashers who bashed a straight guy by mistake, and the internal conflict in which Dylan is attracted to Mike but utterly resistant to the idea that he’s gay or bisexual, because that would mess up the perfect life he has planned.  Both characters have their lives set up the way they like them, with certain people and activities in separate boxes, and Daryl’s assault ultimately makes them dismantle the boxes or at least blur the lines separating the different areas of their lives.  What’s different from a lot of other m/m romances  in the internal conflict is that Mike, for all that he calls Dylan on his I’m not gay bullshit, isn’t an advocate for him to come out, just for him to accept himself as he is.

Dylan is twenty-two, a line chef at The Cheesecake Factory, living with his twin while he finishes up an engineering degree at UT.  Mike is an assistant athletic trainer for the Longhorns.  UT alumni and football fans are fanatical in their loyalty, so his devotion to his job and living on the DL to keep it seem pretty consistent to me:  Austin is a pretty laid-back place and is relatively liberal, but it’s still Texas and collegiate and professional sports remain one of the biggest bastions of homophobia.

In addition to the Dylan/Mike push-me-pull-you, there’s Dylan’s relationship with his twin.  This part of the story is very interesting to me (disclosure: I am a twin).  Because Darryl is absent for most of the book, readers don’t get to see the two interact much.  He isn’t a POV character so their relationship is viewed only through Dylan’s perspective and the snippets of information provided by other characters.  Darryl is a huge part of who Dylan is, and Dylan is clinging to that even as they are reaching a point when their contemporaries are going their separate ways, starting new careers, etc.

Given their ages and the content of the book, the New Adult label might be appropriate.  (Also, the fact that I wanted to give Dylan a sharp smack to the head, much the same way I want to deal with some of the 20-22 y.o. interns I work with. Technically adults under the law but really not so much.)

Recommendation:  very much enjoyed this book, would recommend it especially to readers looking for younger heroes.

I’m a fan of K.A. Mitchell’s work:  her voice and humor suit my taste.  There are a couple of books in her backlist that I have not *loved*, but as a rule her books are auto-buys and comfort re-reads for me.  Top three favorites:  No Souvenirs, Bad Boyfriend, Collision CourseBut My Boyfriend Is would come next on the list:  good stuff, not my favorite of Mitchell’s work but close to it.

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Call Me Princess by Sara Blaedel

Translation (c) 2011 by Erik J. Macki, Tara F. Chase

Published in the US by Pegasus, a Simon & Schuster imprint

Wandering around Barnes & Noble over the weekend, I gathered up several books to check out and possibly buy.  Most of the books I picked up were on my “check out” list, but the cover and title of this one caught my eye.  Even before I read the summary, the quote from Camilla Lackberg sold me on the book.  (It just happens that this is the only book I bought — the others are going to be library books.)

An online flirtation can have horrific consequences, as Detective Inspector Louise Rick discovers when she is called to an idyllic Copenhagen neighborhood where a young woman has been left bound and gagged after a profoundly brutal rape attack.  Susanne Hansson met her rapist on a popular dating website; reading the assailant is trolling the site for his next target, Louise is determined to cut hi off at the pass.  But then a new victim is found — dead this time — and the case becomes even more complex when Susanne attempts suicide.  From scanning seemingly innocent singles’ profiles to exploring a digital window on the city’s dark and dangerous nightlife, to understanding a troubled mother-daughter relationship, Louise races to uncover the shocking truth behind the crimes.

Call Me Princess is an enjoyable, quickly-paced procedural novel.  It’s a thriller, in the sense that rapist-killer is being hunted, but it didn’t feel oppressive in the way that thrillers often can.  The material — violent rape and the ramifications, along with the difficulty of investigating and prosecuting the crime — is heavy and dark, yet the books doesn’t ever bog down.  Blaedel balances Rick’s personal observations and involvement in the case with the procedural aspects, along with what’s going on in her personal life.

I thought the subject matter was very timely and current.  Most people I know, single, divorced, widowed, everyone who has been uncoupled for any period time in the last decade or so, has eventually tried online dating; among the women, security/risk of it is something they are extremely conscious of, especially after reading horror stories in the news (because of course the Very Bad Dates get press but the average or good dates do not).  Blaedel uses Rick’s personal life as a reflection point for the dating scene generally — she feels safe, but is she? — and also the online dating experience of another character as a foil to the victims’ suffering and the online trolling Rick does in a professional capacity.  It works very well, I thought, the triangulation of the failed online date, the apparently successful online date, and the apparently successful not-online relationship.

Blaedel’s website (in Danish) includes a booklist that places Call Me Princess as second in the Rick series, so I’m curious about the degree of involvement/development of other characters in the first and subsequent books.  The other book available in English, Only One Life, is actually the third book of the series.  I hope all the books get translated eventually, particularly the first one. (Why do publishers translate and publish series out of order?  It’s frustrating for mildly OCDish people like me who really need to read series in order.)

I’ll definitely be reading more from this author, as quickly as it’s translated and published in English.


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The Taker by Alma Katsu

The Taken by Alma Katsu

(c) 2011, first trade paperback edition 2012

Published by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

First thing to know:  the cover of the book makes it clear that this book is the first of a trilogy, so anyone expecting any significant closure, plot-wise, will be disappointed.

Second thing to know:  although the cover art is very similar to that of Melissa de la Cruz’s Blue Bloods series, and although this is a book with paranormal themes, it is absolutely not a Young Adult book.  That’s where it was shelved at the Barnes & Noble when I bought it, but that is a serious mis-shelving.  The fact that the narrator looks young and her tale begins when she’s fourteen absolutely does not make this book YA.  Of course, the work of V.C. Andrews is now being marketed as YA, so what do I know?

On the midnight shift at a hospital in rural St. Andrew, Maine, Dr. Luke Findley is expecting a quiet evening.  Until a mysterious woman arrives in his ER, escorted by poice – Lanore McIlvrae is a murder suspect – and Luke is inexplicably drawn to her.  As Lanny tells him her story, an impassioned account of love and betrayal that transcends time and mortality, she changes his life forever…. At the turn of the nineteenth century, when St. Andrew was a Puritan settlement, Lanny was consumed as a child by her love for the son of the town’s founder, and she will do anything to be with him forever.  But the price she pays is steep – an immortal bond that chains her to a terrible fate for eternity.

What did I think of the book?  It was very well written, in terms of craft and structure.  A very dark fairy tale people with characters who are by turns ugly and pitiable, and none of them particularly sympathetic.  Lanny is the narrator-heroine, the voice of the novel, and also one of its villains.

The lines that drew me in and sold me on the book originally (In any case, he’d misunderstood me: I hadn’t given myself to him. I had declared he was mine.)  are also emblematic of what I found frustrating about the narrator and eventually the book as a whole.  As I reader, am I supposed to feel empathy for Lanny, whose desire to be loved is what drives the entire plot?  Probably.  Certainly, I cringed at some of the things she endured.  But ultimately I found her obsession with Jonathan to be disturbing and creepy, especially since she uses it as both justification for her actions and a grief that she swathes herself in even as she drags other people into disaster.  Based on the author interview included in the book, readers may see some development of her character in the coming books of the trilogy.

The narrator tells us that Lanny has lived in exotic places and had amazing adventures, without actually sharing any of those adventures, just mentioning the narrow escapes and the treasures she’s made away with and hoarded.  I’d be interested in reading some of those adventures, but I’m not particularly interested in reading the two remaining books.

Language question:  would a Spaniard of noble birth (born in the 15th century but immortal) use the word “lynching” or would he use some other noun?  The use (in dialogue, so it’s not drawn from the narrator’s current vocabulary) occurs in a conversation in Boston in 1817, which is a few years  after the first recorded usage (1811) of the Americanism, so it’s technically possible, but it was jarring.  I had to stop and chase down of date of usage, which interrupted the flow of the chapter for me.

Would I recommend this book?  Maybe.  As I said, it’s well-written.  In some ways it reminds me of Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, so maybe if you enjoyed that book you’ll enjoy this one.

The Kindle version of The Taker is available for $5.99, which is a fair markdown from the $15.00 trade paperback price.  The second book of the trilogy, The Reckoning, will be released in June.  The first chapter is available at the author’s website, if you’d like to check it out.  Or if you’re a regular, feel free to email or tweet me and I’ll send my paper copy your way since it’s not a keeper for me.

Afterthought:  the authors and review blurbs gushing about this book are quite varied, ranging from Scott Westerfeld and Kresley Cole to the Washington Post, Publishers Weekly and Booklist.  One of them would certainly have given me pause though, if I’d noticed it before buying the book:  “Twilight for grown-ups…”  Since I slogged through only the first book of that series, I can’t say whether that comparison is apt or not in terms of plot, but The Taker is certainly better written IMO.


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Frog by Mary Calmes

Title:  Frog (a tired prince/frog allusion)

Author:  Mary Calmes (new to me)

Publisher:  Dreamspinner (against my better judgment)

Why this book?  I liked the cover art and the idea of a modern day cowboy hero.

Frog by Mary Calmes eBookWeber Yates’s dreams of stardom are about to be reduced to a ranch hand’s job in Texas, and his one relationship is with a guy so far out of his league he might as well be on the moon. Or at least in San Francisco, where Weber stops to see him one last time before settling down to the humble, lonely life he figures a frog like him has coming.

 Cyrus Benning is a successful neurosurgeon, so details are never lost on him. He spotted the prince in a broken-down bull rider’s clothing from day one. But watching Weber walk out on him keeps getting harder, and he’s not sure how much more his heart can take. Now Cyrus has one last chance to prove to Weber that it’s not Weber’s job that makes him Cyrus’s perfect man, it’s Weber himself. With the help of his sister’s newly broken family, he’s ready to show Weber that the home the man’s been searching for has always been right there, with him. Cyrus might have laid down an ultimatum once, but now it’s turned into a vow—he’s never going to let Weber out of his life again. 

The long and short of it:  tell tell tell with very little show, and all told by a Gary Stu.  Includes the insta-family trope along with unprotected sex as demonstration of true love.

More specifically:

The book is narrated by Weber, an over-the-hill cowboy — he’s not old, relatively speaking, except for his chosen profession, in which he has not been successful.  He’s broke and on his way to a possible job in Alaska (not Texas) when he looks up his ex.  Cyrus, readers are told, is a very successful neurosurgeon who gave Weber an ultimatum the last time he drifted into town, but who still desperately loves Weber.   Cyrus is wealthy and handsome and at the top of his profession — he’s very much like a category hero, although unlike most categories, which have the wealthy, handsome hero be the one who does the leaving and steering of the relationship, he’s the needier, more passive partner, taking whatever time Weber has been willing to give him in the past.  Cyrus’s profession really isn’t relevant to the book, except as a reason in Weber’s mind for them not to be together — it affords him a nice lifestyle but otherwise doesn’t impinge on the plot in any way; he could have been any name-a-high-profile-and-pay profession.

At the same time as Weber’s return, Cyrus’s brother-in-law, the villain of the piece, runs off with the nanny, leaving his sister without child care.  And of course she immediately entrusts her three children to a random stranger because he’s dating her brother and therefore must be trustworthy.  Forget looking for someone whose qualifications run beyond ranching and rodeoing.  But of course Weber has the magic touch when it comes to children, getting the mute to talk and  instilling manners effortlessly.  (There’s one exchange in the book that I think was supposed to highlight Web’s courtly, cowboy manners (standard good manners to this reader), but which came across to me as backhanded criticism of Carolyn’s parenting.)

Since Weber is the narrator, his reliability is key.  I found his judgment to be less than reliable and verging on TSTL when it comes to the relationship, with his hesitation and wibbling about how Cyrus only loves him for his cowboy persona despite the fact that Cyrus says outright that isn’t what he wants/loves about Weber.  [It was never really clear to me what they loved about each other beyond the sex.]  As an extension of this, the lack of a sense of place or setting contributes to the disconnect:  Cyrus is willing to relocate and nothing about the plot seemed fixed in San Francisco, yet Weber is hung up on the distance between Texas (apparently the only place in the US where he can get a ranch hand job?) and San Francisco.  Aren’t there jobs for neurosurgeons in Texas?  Surely there are ranches near Dallas and other large cities in the Lone Star state.  That excuse just seemed weak to me.

The difference between Weber’s “cowboy” grammar and speaking style is jarringly different from his POV/narration style and vocabulary, which seems more sophisticated.  Also, the use of “loving on” to describe affection between adults and children seriously squicked me, even though I confirmed via Twitter that it is normal, colloquial usage in rural, eastern Texas.

The vast majority of the information about Cyrus and their relationship is told rather than shown.   Readers learn that Cyrus is a completely different person when Weber is around…because Cyrus’s dad says so.  Readers learn about Web’s history and family through, “As you know, Bob,” conversations.  Even Weber’s realizations about “what-made-a-man-a-man” happen off stage and are just described as having occurred rather than shown, which is disappointing since his is the only POV readers get.

The insta-family is problematic for me on a couple of levels.  First, it makes me uncomfortable, the way the children’s mother is relegated to a secondary parental role in favor of a near-stranger.  You could argue that her role is similar to the more traditional male/father role, in that she remains employed and leaves the child-rearing to someone else, even if that someone else is a sort-of-paid caretaker.  (Except, wait! Weber doesn’t take money for being a nanny.  He’s basically a SAHD for his nephews.)  Second, the immediacy of three children plus a sibling living in the same home as the new couple seems awkward for that early stage of their relationship.

Other quibbles:  Weber’s age and the age of his brother when he died don’t really quite work out right.  The use of direct address commas is intermittent, which is more irritating than not using them at all because it’s just sloppy.  There are also several instances of commas being used instead of periods — based on context and the paragraph breaks, a comma could not possibly be the appropriate punctuation there.  Also, “giving up” child support — a giant pet peeve of mine, because authors seem to use this as shorthand for post-marriage independence, but it makes me question their grasp of the economic realities of single parenting and also equates all parental responsibility with treats economic responsibility — the two are not identical.

In the end:  there is some awkward phrasing and punctuation abuse that should have been fixed at the editing stage, but the larger problem for me is the tell rather than show style and the waste of an opportunity to explore gender role expectations (if you can get over the unlikelihood of a rodeo rider turned nanny).  Ultimately, it all comes down to taste:  other readers have enjoyed this book, but the irritations overrode the enjoyment as I read.

Would I try this author again?  Maybe if I found one of her books on sale or as a Kindle giveaway, but not at DSP’s standard prices.  Otherwise, no.


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The Canterbury Papers

I started and discarded two books earlier this week.  The First Princess of Wales by Karen Harper had a Mary Sue heroine and a servant who spoke with a brogue within the first few pages à automatic discard.  Madeleine L’Engle’s A Winter’s Love was clearly going to be angsty women’s fiction, which I wasn’t in the mood for.

Fortunately, the next book I plucked from the TBR worked.  The Canterbury Papers by Judith Koll Healey is a novel of political intrigue and adventure set in the early thirteenth century in the England of the Plantagenets and Capetian France.  The narrator, Princesse Alaïs, is the sister of King Philippe of France, former betrothed of Richard the Lionhearted, and former lover of King Henry II.  The adventure begins when Queen Eleanor writes to Alaïs, asking her to retrieve some politically damaging letters from Canterbury cathedral.  Upon arriving at Canterbury, Alaïs encounters William of Caen, with whom she and the Plantagenet children spent their youths.  A variety of flashbacks reveal snippets of Alaïs’ history, and how she came to be an unmarried, almost-middle aged princess, and they also narrate the story relationship of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their children, as well as giving background to the political currents of the day.

I was predisposed to like this book, because I was fascinated by the Plantagenets as a young teenager and read about them voraciously, particularly Eleanor of Aquitaine.  The woman was the greatest heiress of that time, she married the king of France, went on a crusade, divorced the king, married Henry who became the king of England, gave birth to at least eight children (two of whom would be kings), and was basically the grandmother of all Europe in the thirteenth century.

And I was pleased.  There were a couple of things that made me roll my eyes – I guessed the identity of the red haired scribe, and thought the love interest was blatant, and thought Alaïs was TSTL when it came to her room being ransacked  – but the book was well paced and used to good effect some of the known information about the major figures of the day and real political events and tensions.

I’d recommend this book for readers who like historical fiction.  (B-)


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Finding Nouf by Zoë Ferraris

Today’s SBD:  Finding Nouf by Zoë Ferraris

Publisher/Copyright 2008, Houghton Mifflin

Genre:  Mystery

Finding Nouf is the first of two mysteries (so far) in which Katya Hijari and Nayir Sharqi investigate the deaths of women in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  Bought a Kindle copy of this book after finding a copy of the later book, City of Veils, while browsing at B&N.  (FWIW, if they’d had a paper copy in stock, I would have bought it there but they only had the second book on the shelves, and I wanted to start at the beginning.  #lostsale)

When sixteen-year-old Nouf goes missing, her prominent family calls on Nayir Sharqi, a pious desert guide, to lead the search party. Ten days later, just as Nayir is about to give up in frustration, her body is discovered by anonymous desert travelers. When the coroner’s office determines that Nouf died not of dehydration but from drowning, and her family seems suspiciously uninterested in getting at the truth, Nayir takes it upon himself to find out what really happened.

He quickly realizes that if he wants to gain access to the hidden world of women, he will have to join forces with Katya Hijazi, a lab worker at the coroner’s office who is bold enough to pursue the investigation on her own. Their partnership challenges Nayir, as he confronts his desire for female companionship and the limitations imposed by his beliefs. Fast-paced and utterly transporting, Finding Nouf is a riveting literary mystery that offers an unprecedented window into Saudi Arabia and the lives of men and women there.

Finding Nouf is narrated primarily by Nayir in third person, with a number of scenes also narrated by Katya; Nayir really is the key to this novel though.  He’s not a Bedouin, although he wishes he was.  In many ways, he is an outsider in Saudi Arabia for all that he has lived there for most of his life – he is Palestinian by birth, and has almost no family.  He’s unmarried and longs to be married but lacks the familial connections normally used to find a spouse.  He is in love with the desert and makes his living as a guide, and yet he lives in on the sea in a boat.

The mystery here is complicated by the fact that the victim, Nouf, is a woman, and the lives of women and men are strictly separated in Saudi Arabia, and Nouf’s family is very conservative and traditional.  When she disappears, it’s believed at first that she has run away to the desert, which prompts her family to ask Nayir to find her and bring her back.  Unfortunately, only her body is found.  The medical examiner declares her death accidental, but Nayir is uncomfortable with that finding, as is Katya – who is the fiancée of Nouf’s brother, Othman, and a lab employee in the ME’s office.  What follows is Nayir and Katya separately piecing together what evidence they can find, and then working together uncomfortably to find Nouf’s killer.

Nayir as narrator is fascinating to me:  he gives a glimpse into strict Islamic culture and its simultaneously protective and stifling treatment of women.  At the outset, he truly does not understand how anyone like Nouf — pampered, wealthy, indulged — could possibly be unhappy with their life.  The use of a defunct zoo within the plot was a great metaphor, I thought.

As Nayir and Katya learn more about what happen the day Nouf died, and Nouf’s real self is revealed, he struggles with his perception of women and their role in their culture.

Something greater was crumbling inside him, the wall that held the strength of his beliefs, and it hurt to feel himself weakening, to feel this much sympathy for women like Nouf who felt trapped by their lives, by prescriptions of modesty and domesticity that might have suited the Prophet’s wives but that didn’t suit the women of this world, infected as it was by desires to go to school and travel and work and have ever greater options and appetites. He tried not to feel that the world was collapsing, but it was collapsing, and there was nothing he could do, just watch with a painful, bitter sense of loss. (p. 296)

Katya, too, does the same, although it’s clear from the outset that she’s already pressing against the boundaries of her life by working outside the home and actually using her education (Ph.D. in molecular biology).

Given how strictly Nouf’s life is contained, some of the things Nayir and Katya learn about her are shocking.  And yet the identity of her killer has to be within that strict circle.  Ferraris did a very good job  of hiding and then revealing whodunit – I didn’t see it coming at all and had come to suspect someone else entirely.

Would recommend.  Am planning on reading  City of Veils in the future.

Other possibly relevant info:  this is Ferraris’ debut novel.  It appears to have been received well as general or lit fic by mainstream media and review sites.


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