Monday 18 April 2011

CBR3 Book 32: "Purity in Death" by J.D. Robb

Publisher: Piatkus
Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: April 15th, 2011
Date finished: April 16th, 2011

Lt. Eve Dallas is dreading going to a fancy dinner with her fantabulously wealthy husband Roarke and some of his business associates when she is called to a grisly crime scene. A low level drug dealer took a baseball bat to his neighbours when they tried to make him turn his music down, and while the cop on the scene only tried to stun him, the assailant fell down dead. On his computer screen the cops on the scene find the message: "Absolute purity achieved."

A couple of days later, one of the computer division cops working with the computer in question goes absolutely apeshit and starts firing wildly at his colleagues, hitting Detective McNab in the process and locking himself in an office with his superior (and Eve's mentor and former partner) Captain Feeney as a hostage. Eve, realizing that he seems to be suffering from the same mysterious rage as the dead drug dealer, manages to save Feeney, but is unable to calm her crazed colleague before he collapses and dies. It's clear that they're dealing with some form of virus that can spread from computer to person, and that it kills in a most unpleasant way.

When the group known as the Purity Seekers publicly announces that they mean to bring purity to New York by killing those who prey on children and the weak, Eve has to try to solve the murders of victims no one will miss, and track down an organization whose goals are seen as admirable to many of the people she's sworn to protect.

Jamie Lingstrom, the technology whiz kid from Ceremony in Death makes a return appearance, and Mavis (Eve's best friend and famous rock star) surprises Eve with some unexpected news that completely stuns the emotionally troubled lieutenant. The entire cast of regulars have to deal with the difficult knowledge that McNab may be permanently wheelchair-bound after his accident, which obviously hits Peabody especially hard, and Eve has to realize that sometimes she and Roarke do not agree on how justice should be served to criminals. Another entertaining installment, but without any huge developments on the character front.

Sunday 17 April 2011

CBR3 Book 31: "Reunion in Death" by J.D. Robb

Publisher: Piatkus
Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: April 14th, 2011
Date finished: April 15th, 2011

Walter Pettibone, owner of a florist empire is poisoned during his own surprise birthday party. None of the guests appear to have a motive for the murder, but once Lt. Eve Dallas identifies the murderer on security videos, she recognizes her as Julianna Dunne, a woman Eve helped put in prison early in her career. Now, after ten years in prison, having been released on good behaviour, Julianna plans to get back at all the people from her past who she has grievances against, and Eve Dallas is at the top of that list.

This book was refreshingly different, as it was obvious pretty much from the start who the murderer was, and the point of the book was not figuring out the identity or motive of the killer, but rather Eve and her associates trying to hunt Dunne down and put her away for good this time. The case becomes more challenging for Eve once she has to go to Dallas, the city she's named for, to question a potential future victim of Dunne's, and also face her childhood demons once and for all. Profiling also shows that to get to Eve, Dunne is likely to go after what she cares most for, her husband Roarke.

Reunion in Death was in parts very difficult to read, when Eve actually goes back to the alley where she was found after escaping her abusive father, and even visits the room where she was held and molested before her escape. Having Eve finally open up to and fully take in her harrowing memories actually brought tears to my eyes, but Robb also balances the tragedy with comedy, and there are several scenes both before and after that had me laughing out loud. Eve's shocked reaction to people voluntarily riding horses, and then discovering that Roarke can ride, was especially good.

The book can be read completely independently of the others in the series, but anyone who starts with this will not fully get the emotional impact of the journey Eve is forced to take in this book. You need to have followed the character through more of the 14 novels for it to really feel like a truly satisfying pay-off.

CBR3 Book 30: "Seduction in Death" by J.D. Robb

Publisher: Piatkus Books
Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: April 12th, 2011
Date finished: April 13th, 2011

Every so often, I get the urge to read nothing but J.D. Robb books for a while. As Robb (the novelist Nora Roberts) is still writing the ongoing series, and they feature a set cast of characters, it's like watching an entertaining police procedural, only I get it in book form. Just as with a decent procedural, where you can catch an episode now and then and get a decent idea of what's going on between the various regular characters and what their relationships are to one another, you can pretty much pick up any J.D. Robb In Death novel without having read any others first. I find that the reason I enjoy them so much, though, is because I have followed the characters from the beginning, and can see how they've developed and grown over the course of the series. So if you want to start at the beginning, read the absolutely excellent Naked in Death.

Police Lieutenant Eve Dallas has to solve a series of date rape murders, where the women meet their killer in online chat rooms, believe they have found their perfect partner, only to be pumped full of dangerous date rape drugs and murdered. Herself a victim of rape and child abuse, Eve is even more driven than usual to track down the murderer and stop the assaults. As the killer disguises his appearance on each of the dates, uses drugs that are not readily available and also seems to be rather good at hiding his electronic trail, it's quite a challenge to track him. Luckily her husband Roarke, who also owns most of the known world, is a computer genius, who happily lends his assistance.

As well as further glimpses into Eve's childhood through her nasty, recurring nightmare, there is further development for Eve's trusty aide, Delia Peabody and her on-off again flirt, Ian McNab, who works in the police computer division. There is the welcome return of Charles Monroe, a licenced companion who's very close friendship with Peabody caused McNab to dump her in a previous book. Doctor Louise Dimatto from Conspiracy in Death also returns, having witnessed the first victim plunging from her balcony to the sidewalk, and is able to use her medical knowledge to help Eve and her investigative team with their case. A fun installment, especially because McNab is forced to really examine his feelings for Peabody, and Eve is once again mortified at being asked about relationship advice by her assistant.

CBR3 Book 29: "Unveiled" by Courtney Milan

Publisher: HQN Books
Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars
Date begun: April 10th, 2011
Date finished: April 11th, 2011

Ash Turner is about to become the heir to the Dukedom of Parford after proving that the current Duke contracted a bigamous second marriage, and all his heirs from said marriage are illegitimate and hence unable to inherit. As a distant cousin of the current Duke, Ash is next in line for the title and the estate. Parliament just needs to vote on the issue first. The current Duke is bedridden and ailing, having lost his second wife after the shock revelation.

Anna Margaret Dalrymple has lost her name, status, fiancee and dowry because of Ash Turner's revelations. She stays on at the family estate pretending to be her father's nurse, Miss Lowell, so she can spy on Ash and report back to her brothers, hoping they'll find proof that he'll be unsuitable as a Duke. When Ash arrives with his younger brother Mark to inspect his future holdings, there is an instant attraction between Ash and Margaret, even though she's determined to hate him, and he's unwilling to take advantage of any servants under his care.

Margaret is surprised that instead of trying to force himself on her, Ash is perfectly honest about wanting her in his bed, however, he wants her to come willingly, and pursues her most chivalrously, never making inappropriate gestures or comments towards her, just trying to get to know her. While she hates him for what he did to her family, Margaret quickly realizes that Ash is a very good and capable man, and that he's worked hard to make his fortune mainly to give his brothers all the opportunities they missed out on growing up in poverty with a mad mother. His hatred towards the current Duke stems directly from an incident where he petitioned for help, and was turned away, leading to the death of his little sister. He went to India to make his fortune, and returned to England to find his two younger brothers homeless street urchins. Even after he was able to support them, and send them to Eton and Oxford, they were hounded by their distant cousins, the Dalrymple brothers. Unfortunately, the Turner brothers thought little of the Duchess and the Duke's daughter when they decided to bring the truth about Parford's indiscretions to light.

Ash is a great hero, and it was so incredibly refreshing to read about a strong and capable man who, while clearly very virile and attracted to women, also respected them and didn't try to force himself on them or dominate them. As he grew up in poverty and made his own fortune, he despises the rigid traditions of the upper classes. It's quickly apparent that once he gets to know Margaret, he considers her not just as a future mistress, but as a potential life partner, even though he believes her to be a common nurse, and a bastard at that.  He's highly efficient, very dutiful, extremely loyal to his brothers, and completely ruthless if he believes anyone has wronged someone he loves. He has one big secret and weakness, which he hides from nearly everyone, but has managed to amass a fortune despite his difficulties. He feels deeply guilty about having to abandon his brothers, even if it was to make the money to save them, and desperately wants to understand them and make things right with them.

Margaret is very smart and has run the household with her mother until Ash Turner's revelations reduced her to nothing but a near-penniless bastard child. None of her former friends will speak to her, or even answer her letters, her mother died from the shock of the news, and her father is bitter and bedridden and clearly finds her useless and worthless. She stays behind to spy on Ash for her brothers, knowing that living unchaperoned with two gentlemen will ruin what is left of her reputation for ever, because she is loyal and loves her brothers, despite their flaws. She's amazed that Ash takes the time to really get to know her, and sees her as the person she truly is, bolstering her confidence and praising her strength, even if this means he may not get to seduce her as he so clearly wishes.

The dynamics between the two is wonderful, and another thing I really loved about this book is that there is no pesky great misunderstanding keeping the couple apart. The main obstacle keeping the couple apart for much of the novel is Margaret's divided loyalties. She falls hard for Ash, but knows that he is the man who may disinherit her brothers and leave them nearly penniless. Through much of the book she worries about his reaction when her true identity is revealed, and when the truth finally does come out, she is unable to commit to him, as it will mean betraying her brothers.

Ash's two brothers are also intriguing characters, and it seems as if Milan is planning separate books for them. This is the first Courtney Milan novel I've read, but it was so delightful and refreshing that I will be looking forward to each of her new novels, and track down her back catalogue, just to see if the rest are as good as Unveiled. 

Wednesday 13 April 2011

CBR3 Book 28: "The Peach Keeper" by Sarah Addison Allen

Publisher: Bantam
Page count: 288 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: April 10th, 2011
Date finished: April 10th, 2011

Paxton Osgood and Willa Jackson used to go to high school together. Paxton was the prom queen, the head cheerleader, the princess; Willa was overlooked by everyone and got her thrills as the school's mysterious practical joker, not revealing her identity until close to graduation. Colin, Paxton's twin, your typical high school jock, was the one who got the credit for all of Willa's pranks, and admired her immensely for it, using her as his inspiration to break free of his parents' expectations and leave the little town of Wells of Water, North Carolina. Paxton stayed, slightly smothered by her mother's plans for her, running the wealthy family's many charitable endeavours and dreaming of moving into a house of her own. Willa's rebellious youth got her into heavy debt in college, and she returned to Wells of Water upon the death of her father, determined that she get her life back on track and live a quiet life of routine and hard work.

The lives of Willa and the Osgood siblings have barely touched since high school, but when the Osgood family buy the Blue Ridge Madam, a huge mansion once owned by the Jackson family before they became empoverished in the 1930s, and Paxton and Colin start restoring it, several ghosts from the past come to the surface, and truths that have been long buried will out.

Once the secrets start unraveling, Paxton and Willa have no choice but to try to figure out the truth, and Paxton's fierce, old grandmother may be able to help them. Best friends with Willa's grandmother around the time that the Jackson family lost all their money and was forced to abandon the Madam, she can tell them things that Willa's grandmother, a stroke victim, can't. In their quest to figure out the past, Paxton and Willa grow closer as well, and discover that despite their different upbringings, they may have more in common than they previously realized.

The Peach Keeper is Addison Allen's fourth novel, and as always, it's a delight to read. As in her other books, there is romance, and characters finding their happily ever afters in the end, but the driving force in this book is friendship - lifelong friendships, supporting each other and keeping each other's secrets. Paxton may have been popular in high school, but feels desperately alone, only really close to the former "freak" and outcast Sebastian, now returned to town as a snappily dressed dentist. Willa keeps to herself most of the time, despite the efforts of her younger shop assistants to make her socialize. When Colin returns to town to landscape the gardens around the Blue Ridge Madam, she resists his advances at first, but can't resist in the end.

By now, Sarah Addison Allen is an automatic buy for me, as I have yet to be even a little disappointed by one of her books. This one was possibly my favourite since her debut, Garden Spells. I will be eagerly awaiting her next novel, and hope she continues to write as magically and entertainingly as she does now.

Monday 11 April 2011

CBR3 Book 27: "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Publisher: Penguin Classics
Page count: 177 pages
Rating: 1 star
Date begun: April 7th, 2011
Date finished: April 10th, 2011

I try to read at least one literary classic as part of Cannonball every year, and knowing that The Great Gatsby was at least fairly short, it seemed like a good choice. I am also a huge fan of the web comics of Kate Beaton, and wanted to understand brilliant strips like these on all the levels that Ms. Beaton clearly intended.

Normally, 177 pages would be a breeze, especially considering that the period in which I read them included a weekend. The Great Gatsby, however was quite a slog, and the only reason I finished it at all was stubbornness and that fact that I refused to let a novel of less than 200 pages beat me.

The plot is narrated by Nick Carraway, whose settled in the East (Long Island, working in New York) to make money from bonds. The book is set in 1922, and Carraway narrates the story of his distant cousin Daisy Buchanan, her oafish husband Tom, his mysterious neighbour Jay Gatsby, and the rather complicated connections between them. The majority of the characters in the book are unfaithful, and absolutely everyone in it are deeply dislikable. This is the main reason I had such a hard time getting through the book, despite its relative shortness. Carraway is smug and self satisfied, Tom Buchanan is a brute and a fascist, Daisy is a cold-hearted and narcissistic ninny and Jay Gatsby is pitiful and pathetic, hoping to buy both friendship and love.

My husband claims that I just don't get why the book is great, and that Fitzgerald brilliantly captures a period in time with precision and excellent language. That I can't appreciate art for its own sake. When it comes to books, I simply cannot enjoy a book, no matter how beautifully written, if I can't engage with a single character in it. It's the reason I hate greatly acclaimed novels like Wuthering Heights, Atonement, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and now, The Great Gatsby. I do however, find the Kate Beaton comic, even funnier, so that's something. I can also cross the book off as read on all those "Greatest Books of the 20th Century" lists.

CBR3 Book 26: "This Side of the Grave" by Jeaniene Frost

Publisher:  Avon
Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: April 2nd, 2011
Date finished: April 6th, 2011

This is the fifth book in the Night Huntress series, and as a result, this review may and probably does contain spoilers for some of the previous books in the series. The book will make little sense on its own, and is not a great starting-point. If you want to pick up the series from the beginning, Halfway to the Grave would be the place to start.

Cat and Bones have solved the mystery of her nightmares, and cemented their relationship in the eyes of their friends and the vampire community. Unfortunately they can't take any time off, as Appyllon, a powerful ghoul leader, is spreading crazy rumours about Cat's supposed powers, and trying to provoke a supernatural inter-species war. Vampires are disappearing without a trace, ghouls are getting more and more paranoid. In addition, Cat discovers that her uncle is dying, and her mother has a new career choice in mind.

I must admit that, with the exception of Jeaniene Frost's loose spin-offs of the Night Huntress series, I've mainly been reading her books hoping they'd get better. My main problem has always been that Cat has annoyed the heck out of me, because she never seemed satisfied with what she had. In this book, Cat has grown more comfortable with herself and stopped acting like an idiot towards Bones and accepted several other aspects of her life, and I actually really enjoyed this one. As it's the fifth book in the series (with several supporting characters having been properly fleshed out in their own books), Frost is now writing about a number of firmly established and likable characters, and I'm very glad that the next book in the series will be published as soon as August. I hope she manages to keep it as entertaining as this one was.

Saturday 2 April 2011

CBR3 Book 25: "One of Our Thursdays is Missing" by Jasper Fforde

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 3 stars
Date begun: March 28th, 2011
Date finished: April 1st, 2011

This is the sixth book in the Thursday Next series, and I can absolutely assure you that it makes little to no sense if you haven't read several of the others in the series. The first book in the series, The Eyre Affair, is excellent, so go start there if you're interested. Also, may contain spoilers for previous books etc. etc.

There's a war brewing in the Book World, and Thursday Next, the famous heroine and literary detective who is needed to manage the peace talks, appears to have gone missing. No one seems to know where she is, and the life of her fictional counterpart is starting to take odd and unexpected turns as a result.

Yes, that's a super short summary of the book, but I'm really at a loss to even begin to explain the intricacies of the plot of this book. Jasper Fforde's literary universe is a very complex one, both with his alternate version of reality, where the real Thursday Next lives, and the one he explores more closely in this one, the Book World. Simply put, every time someone in the real world reads a book, the fictional counterparts in the Book World act that story out. When the reader puts the book back down, they can go on with their normal lives. The fictional Thursday starts out being very little like her real-life counterpart - she's calm, sedate, a bit boring, and a bit of a tree hugger. As increasingly more complicated puzzles and challenges get thrown her way, she starts realizing that she has the potential to change and be so much more.

The previous novel in the series, First Among Sequels, took me ages to get into, and I didn't really feel that it got good until shortly before the end. In this one, Fforde suddenly explores an entirely different aspect of his world, and very different characters, and it just didn't grab me much. Several people have given this book a very enthusiastic review, so I had high hopes for it. It did not live up to my expectations, and at this rate, I'm not going to be in a hurry to read any more books in the series either.