A Most Extraordinary Pursuit

trulove 1

Book Review:  A Most Extraordinary Pursuit (Emmeline Truelove #1) by Juliana Gray

One shouldn’t judge a book by its cover…

I picked this up thinking it would be a historical mystery with a touch of romance. So I was confused when the opening scene was set in present day and read almost like something out of an action/thriller novel. Then, just as I was grasping that the book was including time travel of some sort, the ghost of Queen Victoria started talking to our heroine, adding a paranormal element, and I began to wonder if there was any genre A Most Extraordinary Pursuit wasn’t going to fall under.

In 1906 Emmeline Truelove works as the Duke of Olympia’s secretary. When he suddenly passes away, his widow sends Miss Truelove off to Crete to try and find his successor, the new duke, Max Hayward, who has recently gone missing. The Duchess sends along Lord Silverton, a dashing cad who turns out to be handy in a tight spot, to escort Emmeline.

This is where we get the mystery and adventure. Miss Truelove and Silverton follow Max’s trail, dodging bullets and blades along the way. It’s all quite enjoyable and fun.

The romance doesn’t pan out exactly how I imagined it would. I assume we are supposed to all cheer on Silverton and Miss Truelove’s pairing but there is something about him that makes me hesitate. In fact, before we even are introduced to Max, I had hopes he would turn out to be Emmeline’s knight in shining armour and she could kick Silverton to the kerb.

As if the inclusion of the scifi element wasn’t complicated enough, Gray adds in an awful lot of flashbacks/backstory for Emmeline. The story is all told in her first person point of view where every 1906 scene seems to contain Emmeline sharing a scene from her childhood or past. It did get a little distracting at times.

Each chapter also starts with a second adventure/romantic story in the form of a Greek myth which is apparently an excerpt from another ‘book’. This Book of Time (as it is called) is supposedly written in the main book’s future by the duke. Though confusing, I hated not this idea but the actual storyline and characters of that book/myth. I would have much preferred it wasn’t included at all and only read it with the hope of solving the time travel riddle. I did not solve the time travel riddle.

Gray is very good at adding cliffhangers. Each chapter ends on one nicely. However, I did expect the end of the book to have some sort of conclusion and was, therefore, disappointed when all we got was a couple of twists straight out of left field. The ambiguous ending left me with an unsatisfied feeling.

So, will I read part two? Yes, I think I will. Because despite all the confusing aspects of this novel, its identity crisis and my general disinterest with the male lead, I still developed some sort of fondness for it. I do want to know what becomes of Emmeline.

3 and ½ out of 5

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The Heir

the heir

Book Review:  The Heir (Windham #1) by Grace Burrowes

I can’t even begin to describe this book. Or maybe I can: The Heir is a hot mess and could be the worst book I’ve ever attempted to read.

It was the author’s first published book and she has churned out a lot since. I hope she’s improved. The author’s notes claim Burrowes is a pen name for a ‘prolific and award winning author of historical romances’. My guess would be the awards might be something like ‘Worst Fanfic of 2009’.

The plot jumps around but the general gist is our hero, a duke, falls in love with our heroine, the housekeeper. You’d think that their differing positions in society would be the conflict, right? No. No one cares about that aspect at all. Everyone in the duke’s extremely extensive family encourages the match. Alas, our heroine has a secret past which is keeping her from agreeing to marry the hero. I read until I found out what the secret was but trust me, it isn’t worth wasting your eyesight to discover.

Characterisation is something Burrowes has only heard about in her Writing a Romance Novel 101 lesson. I found it difficult to form any sort of connection with the heroine, in particular. Burrowes also distracted me further by adding various other characters. All will, I assume, ‘star’ in the other Windham books. There were so many that, in the end, I completely skimmed those scenes and didn’t bother even trying to keep a spreadsheet of who was who except for perhaps our heroine’s deaf and mute sister and the hero’s gay but not gay piano playing brother.

Burrowes apparently gets the word romance mixed up with the word sex. Seriously? I can’t even imagine there’d be more sex scenes in the Shades of Gray books. Every chapter has something included but we’re supposed to know they really really love each other because they clean each other off and spoon afterwards. Ugh.

Nothing is actually sexy or romantic, and there’s no sense or point to any of the scenes. (Actually, I think I could have almost interpreted some scenes as date rape. Ugh.)

Every corny trope gets a go. Caught in the rain, having to share a bed when caught in that rain, hurt/comfort, the hero needing a sponge bath to bring down a fever… I can’t even. The opening scene of the heroine mistakenly thinking the hero is sexually attacking her sister is ridiculous to the extreme and so jumbled that I didn’t even know what was going on for a minute.

And historical? Well… Certainly there was no historical accuracy. One or two historical errors might be forgivable, but Burrowes can’t even get the simplest things like food and drink correct. Lemonade? Iced tea? Marzipan? Cookies? Muffins? WTF?

I was reading this for a Book of the Month challenge on Goodreads. This is the only reason I made it to around the 75% mark. Depressingly, I checked and I’d actually paid money for this book (I’d bought it some time ago and that’s why I decided to join in with the challenge). It might have hurt less if it had been free.

½ a star out of 5? Did not finish.

The Wolves of Winter

wolves in water

Book Review:  The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson

A nuclear war ends when a super flu spreads around the world. Those few who have managed to survive both of these events flee the cities, living off the land in isolated areas. Meanwhile, a secret government agency is carrying out experiments on children, supposedly searching for a cure to the flu, but more likely creating new weapons. And a young female protagonist learns she just might be the key to saving the planet. All sounds familiar, right? Doesn’t matter – I loved this book.

Johnson’s debut skips along at a fast pace which had me hooked from the first chapter. Lynn, our heroine, lives in a cabin in the Yukon woods with the rest of her surviving family members. Her days are spent hunting and wondering about the fate of the rest of the world. Little does she know, however, that some of the world is going to come crashing into her life soon enough.

There’s a nice build up to the action. I really liked how Johnson slowly increased the tension and created a real climactic scene along with some resolution.

The background of the war and disease along with Lynn’s family’s history is added with a deft hand. We never get tedious info dumps (maybe with the one tiny exception towards the end in the form of a letter). I also liked how everything that happened in the book felt real; the war and the flu were both plausible. (Shout out to Australia for trying to sort out peace. Hee.)

There’s a plethora of scenes of Lynn hunting and trudging through the snow. None of these ever get boring. (I must add reading about the snow during the grips of an Australian heatwave made it all sound quite appealing actually.)

Johnson also does a good job of writing from a female’s point of view. Lynn still felt very feminine even when she had to display her strength. If I had one whine, it would be her age. She seemed much younger than the character was supposed to be, but perhaps Johnson was trying to show us that she was this way from living in isolation for so long. And it did mean that we didn’t get a teenager thinking and acting inappropriately either, I guess.

I thought it was being marketed as Young Adult but apparently it isn’t. I believe it would be okay for 15 plus though and think the book really has potential to become a bit of a sleeper hit. Personally, I can’t wait for part two (it’s not really stated, but these things tend to be trilogies.)

I must mention if I had to chose between this and Nora Roberts’s recent Year One (which has similar themes) I’d chose this one any day. Roberts’s effort seems so much more clunky and forced in comparison.

4 ½ out of 5

One Christmas Kiss in Notting Hill

one christmas kiss

Book Review:  One Christmas Kiss in Notting Hill by Mandy Baggot

Christmas themed books are big business. It’s hard to ignore them and I don’t even try anymore. Instead nowadays, I just go with the flow and immerse myself in their cliche storylines and read at least two or three each year.

One Christmas Kiss in Notting Hill is my last for the [now finished] season but if you’re still struggling to move on from the Yuletide, or looking to pick up a Christmas novel for next season, this would be a good choice.

Although I hate those tag lines included in the titles of books which seem to be the current trend, I will say yes, I suppose ‘feel-good’ and ‘heartwarming’ is true. The book is more of a sweet romance than sexy with a chick-lit feel to it and, at times, is quite funny.

Our heroine, Isla, meets our hero, Chase, in a cafe where she assumes he’s some sort of paedophile. He’s not obviously. He is, however, her new boss who’s just arrived in London from the US.

Isla and Chase will soon work closely together on a project; recently divorced Chase has two daughters with him, one a surly teenager, and Isla will help him connect with them; Isla has a sister (an interesting character but unfortunately underutilised) she needs to consider before she can jump into a relationship with Chase; Isla and Chase suffer from the inevitable cultural differences; Chase has a work secret he can’t reveal to Isla; yadda, yadda, yadda.

Unlike a lot of Christmas novels, this is quite a long book. And actually, I would have cut it quite significantly. Many scenes were superfluous. A lot of the conflicts seem to be forced. Isla and Chase’s meeting, for example, was probably one of the silliest meet-cutes I’ve ever read. Chase’s background also seems to have a lot of unnecessary details that became cringe-worthy, I thought.

Don’t read the book if you’re on a diet either. There’s lots of food porn. Chapters and chapters dedicated to what was being eaten and drank at the various parties Isla and Chase attend. (I must point out Isla and co must be crap at their jobs. They seem to do zero work other than planning and attending Christmas parties.)

The thing that saves the book and makes me recommend it is Notting Hill. Yes, for once the title is not misleading and Notting Hill gets much more than a cursory mention in the novel. The descriptions of the houses, parks and other attractions in the suburb are great fun and really make you feel like the characters truly are a part of the community. You can really tell that Baggot loves Notting Hill and London in general.

I will, of course, now need to rewatch Notting Hill, the movie.

3 out of 5

Stories

stories

Book Review:  Stories by Helen Garner

My opinion of this collection of short stories keeps wavering.

Yes, Garner can write. No one would ever question that idea. But being an intelligent and talented writer is only the beginning of a successful book. We all know you don’t need to be talented or produce anything intelligent to have readers fall in love with your works. (Case in point, the popularity of rubbish like the Twilight and 50 Shades series.)

I certainly loved the way she set the mood with each story.

The settings in each story were instantly familiar, especially the Gold Coast one. I could taste the salt in the air, see the colour changes of the ocean’s horizon and the shimmering hazy outline of the Surfers Paradise skyscrapers in the north of the story’s setting of Coolangatta. Often, it was like I was looking at postcards with a sepia tone instead of words on a page.

The mood too, is distinctly Australian. Even when the setting was overseas, it felt Australian.

I also had no issues with the characterisation. Given the brevity of each of the stories, the characters were fully formed within a few sentences. (Although, now that I reflect, quite a few of the leading females could have almost been perceived to be the same person. In fact, I think some have suggested many of the leading females could be Garner herself.)

There is plot in each story which, again, is very clever considering the short format.

There is no real joy in any of them, however. Rape, other sexual and physical assaults are all common themes throughout. Husbands cheat on wives, mothers are oblivious to the abuse directed towards their children. Everyone is alone, everyone is helpless and hopeless.

But taking away from my enjoyment more than the depressing nature of the stories is that I didn’t feel the stories were complete. I screamed out for just one resolution. Not only did I get no happy endings, I got no endings at all. Now, perhaps Garner has done this deliberately, as some type of intellectual impression we’re supposed to understand. But…

Actually, if I was cynical, I would say Garner had written scenes for books that had been cut and she’d hoarded them all in a folder until one day some friend suggested she shove them together and sell them to the public as short stories.

Another thing that annoyed me was the needless graphic terms used in some of the stories. I have a potty mouth myself, but found the way these words were used had more to do with Garner trying to sound edgy than adding to the narrative or characterisation in any way.

So you see, I’m still torn. I hate pretentious books, and I’m afraid I found this collection of stories fell into that category at times. I think if you want to read intelligent reading, this collection is perfect, but if you want to be entertained, not so much.

3 and ½ out of 5

Winter at Cedarwood Lodge

winter cedarwood

Book Review:  Winter at Cedarwood Lodge by Rebecca Raisin

I had previously read a Rebecca Raisin book (more of a novella really), Celebrations and Confetti at Cedarwood Lodge, and hadn’t really liked it. I thought, however, I’d give her another chance and requested this book from net-galley. The book had good ratings and, let’s be honest, it has a pretty cover that led me into temptation.

A few pages in and everything was sounding oddly familiar. I clicked on Celebrations and Confetti on my ereader and, sure enough, it was the same story. Celebrations and Confetti is a novella, which was a part one of three. A quick check on Goodreads confirmed two parts had been subsequently published (Brides and Bouquets at Cedarwood Lodge and Midnight and Mistletoe at Cedarwood Lodge). It seems that Winter at Cedarwood Lodge is all three parts together.

So, warning for those paying, don’t buy this if you’ve read all three parts as separate editions. (I must note that Goodreads lists it as the fourth installment of the series but it is definitely the other three re-released as one complete novel. It claims to have ‘bonus material’ but to purchase it for that reason alone, you’d have to be a big fan.)

Although I had said in my previous review that I was in no mad rush to find out what happened in the next part, I thought I might as well give it another chance (as I’d planned to give Raisin originally). Some people have noted in their reviews that they’d preferred reading the book in its entirety.

So I figured out where the first part ended and read on. Unfortunately, I didn’t get too far. Pretty much everything that annoyed me about Celebrations and Confetti continued to annoy me, but this time it didn’t have the brevity of a novella to hide behind. The novella’s distinct lack of plot is highlighted even further with the full length version.

Nothing really happens. Well, actually, our heroine thinks about potential new boyfriends (the Australian love interest is somehow the most boring character ever written), wonders at what happened with her mother at Cedarwood Lodge, thinks about how nice her friends are, renovates the lodge, and plans weddings. It’s the last one that is covered the most.

Yes, if you really want to read chapter after chapter devoted to wedding planning, this is the book for you.

After a while, I kept thinking about my TBR pile, and transferred Winter at Cedarwood Lodge into the DNF pile. Sorry, Rebecca.

1 out of 5

Now That You Mention It

now that you mention it

Book Review:  Not That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins

After reading Now That You Mention It, I can easily understand why so many people recommend books written by Kristan Higgins, and I’ll definitely be trying some others.

I assumed the book would be purely romantic fare. There is romance, but it really is only an added thread weaved through the main family drama type plot.

The plot sounds simple enough. Our heroine, Nora, is a successful doctor living in Boston, but when she is hit by a van, she decides to return to her island home in Maine to recuperate. Living on the island again stirs up the circumstances of her departure, and the occurrences which made her to want to return.

Higgins gradually divulges all Nora’s back story and life up to the accident with a deft hand. I never thought that any of the flashbacks or Nora’s narration of her past problems read like an info dump. All were emotional in one way or another. In fact, many left me with a tear in my eye.

The scenes surrounding Nora’s sister towards the end were especially poignant, I thought.

The book isn’t all sad and dramatic, however. Right from the start, Higgins writes Nora with a lot of humour and many of the comic scenes are pure gold. I especially liked the two ill-fated dinner parties.

If I had to nitpick, I would probably say I didn’t like the placement of the Big Bad Thing’s reveal. (The Big Bad Thing being a traumatic event that has made Nora reevaluate her life in Boston.) The reveal itself was great, as in it was written very well and it was as upsetting as Nora had hinted. However, I think the reveal should have been the climactic moment in the book, more towards the end.

Minor grumble though. I really loved this book, read it in a couple of days because I was enjoying it that much.

Actually, I find it difficult to buy books as gifts for other people but, if I was looking for one that ticked all the boxes, this could be it. If you were to call it a romance, you would at least call it an intelligent romance. There’s a lot of modern topical issues covered in the book, which might win over the young adult readers: bullying, fat shaming, drug/alcohol dependency, acceptance of same sex relationships, PTSD, and awareness of mental and physical disabilities. There’s also a nice balance in the writing when it comes to the graphic nature of scenes, meaning those a little older would not find offence.

Solid 4 out of 5