Out of Time by Deborah Truscott

Genre: Time Travel / Romance
Main characters: Kathleen “Kathy Lee” Finlay, Colonel Robert Christian Upton
Time and place: contemporary US
First sentence:I buried Earl shortly after Valentine day.

Verdict: Enjoyed it :)

Summary
At thirty-two, Kathy Lee’s marriage is in shambles. It’s time for her to take a deep breath and address the problem head-on. However, before moving away and asserting her independence, there is one more thing she has to do: sell the house she has inherited from her uncle, the house she is quite fond of but knows she will never use.

As she was planning to get ready the grounds for the potential buyers’ visits, she went to the shed to get a rake. There was something else in the shed but tools however: a man, strangely dressed and just as surprised to find himself there as she was. More so actually, since he is very convinced that it’s the autumn of 1777, and where did the wall he was just sitting on go?

General impression
An nice book that started out okay and got better as I read on.

Characters
I wasn’t fond of Kathy Lee for most of the book. I didn’t dislike her, she seemed nice enough, but she also seemed more like a placeholder for a person. I cannot pinpoint why I felt like that, because the author has been really thorough with her, giving her a family, back story, and even a cat. The feeling subsided in the second half of the book but in the first few pages Kathy seemed to exist simply because someone had to be there to meet and greet the colonel, and no more. She also seems a bit too selfless to be true, particularly at first, when she first meets Robert and she radically alters her own plans to include him, although he was a total stranger: “We’d simply stay here as long as it took to get the Colonel back, and if it took longer than we thought I’d tell Lila I had decided to keep the house after all. That I would live here. And then we’d set up camp — the children, me, and, um, oh hell, Uncle Robert. And hope to God that no one came to visit us.”

On the other hand Robert, the colonel, felt sort of opposite: a character I rapidly grew attached to, which is an interesting thing if we consider that we only see him through Kathy Lee’s eyes. The fact that he was a British soldier fighting the Americans-to-be was a particularly nice touch :) Sure, he does adapt to modern times and morals blazingly fast, but that is sort of a given in a TT book, else the protagonists could hardly understand one another. Furthermore, the trip to this century has addled his senses a bit, a thing that can also account for some of his flexibility. Overall he’s a nice guy, smart, handsome, and with a troubled past — all the quintessential traits of a romance hero — and yet he didn’t feel cliché.

Relationships
One of the parts I liked most was the relationship between Kathy Lee and Lila, her mother. Lila is a historical romance writer five-times divorced, whose mental issues made her spend some time in a hospital while Kathy Lee grew up. As the latter puts it, “Until I went away to college I spent a good portion of my life never really understanding what was going on around me or what was going to happen next“. Even now the two are not very close, and Lila feels guilt for all the times in Kathy Lee’s childhoos that she was away. And yet all throughout the book it is obvious that Lila loves Kathy, and Kathy loves Lila despite it all. show spoiler

As for the main relationship, it started out a bit less that ideal, especially as for the first bit Kathy Lee acted like she was the mother and Robert her unruly child. However, as pages flew by and our hero and heroine grew used to each other, the relationship between them got cozier, making a romance between both desirable and believable.

Plot
The book revolves around the way Robert gets to adapt to his new environment, as well as his attempts to go back home. There is a bit of element of suspense, as there may be someone, an enemy, that is after him, but it is mostly hinted at than presented outright. I personally was far less interested in the ‘Robert adapting’ part than any of the rest.

What I liked most
The way Robert just had to explain the etymology of the names of the things he discovers in the present day. I didn’t realize there are so many things with Greek/Latin names surrounding us. Also, his infectious curiosity about how everything works, even convincing someone at one time to open up a lawn mower to show him what’s inside. I’ve seen the ‘man from the past discovers modern technology’ trope quite a few times until now (a thing that’s only natural, given my penchant for time travel-ly stuff) and I can say that this author has dealt with it very, very well.

What I liked least
A nitpick, but I couldn’t help feeling that there was no place for the parenthesis that appeared now and then (this may very well be the only book with parenthesis in it I’ve ever seen). Why yes, I know that I too am guilty of parenthesis overuse, but it feels a bit different to find them in a novel, especially as there were times there wasn’t an actual need for them. It made me feel like the book lacked an editor, which is a pity because other than this and a few typos here and there the book was rather okay written1.

Thoughts on the title
Quite generic, as I imagine it would fit more or less any time travel book out there. However, I must admit it was the thing that attracted me to the book (since I am such a fan of time travel stories and all) so it must be doing something right too.

Thoughts on the ending
Nicely done :)
show spoiler

Recommend it to?
Anyone in the mood for a light time travelling romance.

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  1. ah, sad sad times, when we consider a few typos to be nothing bad. I cannot help remembering how, eons ago, even one typo in a book was quite a big deal :( []

And Then He Kissed Her by Laura Lee Guhrke

Genre: Historical Romance
Main characters: Miss Emmaline Dove, Harrison Robert Marlowe
Time and place: 1890s, London
First sentence:Working for a handsome man is fraught with difficulties.
Verdict: Cute but forgettable.

Summary
She knew the rules for nearly everything, and yet, she couldn’t help wondering if those rules had anything to do with what was right and what was wrong. Worse, she was beginning to think that despite being a mature woman of thirty years, she knew nothing at all about life.

Growing up in a family obsessed with morals and propriety, Emma knows everything there is to know about society rules. She wants to share her knowledge to the world, and what better way to do that than write a book? Especially as Emma works as the secretary of Viscount Marlowe, the owner of the city’s leading publishing house. And yet, try as she might and edit as she might, the Viscount is adamant that what she writes about is too boring to ever see the light of print.

And then one day Emma decides she’s had enough. She resigns her job and takes her manuscript to Marlowe’s main competitor, who offers her a column in one of his papers. She’s almost an overnight success, to Marlowe’s complete and utter surprise. What’s more, he’s downright awestruck by the changes her newly found situation effected in Emma: as a secretary she was a mousy thing, “as dry as dust“, always doing her lord’s bidding and always keeping her thoughts to herself; now however she turns out to be quite the opposite, she has a temper, and behind her propriety there is a fiery passion that Marlowe would so like to explore.

And then he kissed her…

Setting
Ten years before the book opens, Harry, the Viscount Marlowe, has divorced his then wife. What started out as a serious case of love at first sight (“I knew nothing of her character, nothing of her mind, nothing of her temperament, but I didn’t care. I fell in love with her the first moment I looked into her eyes. She had the biggest, darkest, saddest eyes I’d ever seen. I’d set myself on marrying her before the introductions were even finished.“), ended up in disaster, so for Harry there was no other choice. A divorce however was considered in very bad taste at the time, so, although he had both money and a title, society shunned him. What is worse, his sisters were shunned too, and in an era when a proper marriage was important this hurt their perspectives quite a bit.

Years have passed and things are slowly coming back to a semblance of normality. Harry however still feels guilty about it, and he has sworn he will never get married again. He chose to live the life of a rake (totally unsurprising in such a book), having a string of mistresses he doesn’t really care about, nor does he ever spend more than a few months with1. And this is the state of the matters when the new, radically improved Emma enters the stage :)

Characters
At thirty, Emma considers herself firmly “on the shelf”. She’s a “girl bachelor”, “a woman, I was told, who should not indulge in self-pity because she has no husband and must earn her own living. Instead, she should be cheerful in her tiny little flat, practice strict economies and stringent moral principles, and make the best of her “unfortunate situation”2. Which is exactly the way Emma has built her life: she lives frugally in a tiny flat she shares with her cat, Mr. Pigeon, and when it comes to decisions she always makes the sensible ones. The turning point is her thirtieth birthday, when she realizes that her best years are behind her, and she has rather wasted them by never listening to her heart. So she quits her job, takes her life in her own hands, and never looks back.

Harry is described as “one of Britain’s rarest commodities: an eligible peer with money” :)
His mind revolves around his business and his strategies, because he enjoys a challenge, but also because he wants his family to lack nothing, as they are the ones who had to take the fall for his mistake all those years before. His heart is still smarting after his failed marriage, as he had dearly loved his wife and was completely unprepared for the misery each of them brought to the other. Something I really liked about him is that he is not afraid to admit his mistakes and take steps to correct them; he tries hard not to let his own opinions influence his views on cold, hard facts. Which doesn’t mean that his own biases never get in the way, it just means that he’s aware of said biases and knows when and how to scuttle around them.

Plot
There’s not much plot to speak of :)
This is mostly a character-driven story, where the interesting part is getting to see our two characters helping each other grow. This is most noticeable with Emma, who finally manages to let go of the overly-constrictive way she was brought up to live in (for example, she firmly believed that, when it comes to eating poultry in public, a woman should only eat the wings, because there is no equivalent human body part; anything else would be indecent). This is done very nicely, in a gradual and believable manner, and it’s one of the best parts of the book. As for Harry, he’s a bit more cliché, as his change mainly involves turning from a regular rake to a reformed one, but following his journey is fun nonetheless :)

What I liked most
Emma’s thoughts on turning 30 :)
Actually, the fact that she was thirty — what a coincidence, I am 30 too :P — because one sees this quite rarely in historical romance books (while the reason for it is quite obvious, I enjoyed the variation nonetheless)

What I liked least
There is a scene where Harry and Emma are left alone in a parlour, while the landlady is shortly detained elsewhere. Harry takes advantage of the fact that Emma’s propriety would not let her make a scene and starts telling her all the things he would like to do to her if the situation permitted. Emma enjoys it, despite herself, but the same cannot be said of me, as for some reason I have found that whole (long!) scene a total bore. I am willing to bet that the same scene is considered the best one by many, but I didn’t feel it advanced the action in any way. I get that it’s supposed to awaken in Emma the awareness of her own desires, but did it really need all those pages to do that? Yawn.

Thoughts on the ending
Quite a cute HEA :)
show spoiler

Recommend it to?
People who enjoy reading romance books, of course. It’s a nice, enjoyable story, not to mention its current Goodreads score is 3.92, the folks over at Dear Author‘s gave it an A, and Emmaline was chosen Best Heroine of 2007 in AAR’s 2008 reader poll.

Buy this from amazon.com | Buy this from bookdepository.co.uk | Laura Lee Guhrke’s website

  1. I cannot help wondering why a behaviour like that — breaking female hearts over and over again — would be considered attractive, and yet romance books abound in rakes other than normal, nice guys. Perhaps because at the time there was hard to find a middle ground, a guy could be either a rake or a total abstinent, and for some reason the former is considered better than the latter. []
  2. quote from the author’s website []

Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy
Main characters: Yelena, Valek, Commander Ambrose
Time and place: the Kingdom of Ixia, time not specified (fifteen years after the coup d’état that has deposed the old king)
First sentence:Locked in darkness that surrounded me like a coffin, I had nothing to distract me from my memories.
Verdict: Started out slow, but then got better.

Summary
Look around you, Yelena, I chided myself. The poisoned food taster who converses with ghosts.

No one can say that Yelena’s life is boring. A found orphan, she ended up killing the son of the man who adopted her. She was imprisoned and sentenced to death, but at the very last moment she was offered an alternative: become the Commander’s food taster. This of course means that she may die at any time, as Commander’s food tasters drop dead rather often,1 but hey, it’s a reprieve. The man whose son Yelena killed is quite unhappy with her being allowed to live though, and, as he’s one of the most powerful men in the kingdom, this is bound to be a problem sooner or later. As is the fact that Yelena discovers she has magic abilities, while living in a kingdom where such a feat is punishable by death. Not that the magicians in the kingdom nearby are happy with someone untrained tapping into their power source either.

Ah, and there is more…

General impression
I started this after reading some comments of the review of Grave Mercy over at Dear Author‘s. As there was more than one person saying this book is better than Grave Mercy, and I have liked Grave Mercy quite a bit, it was only natural for me to want to read it. The first bunch of pages were however terribly disappointing, as it seemed to me the writing style was even simpler than Grave Mercy’s (and I expected better, not worse). However, as the pages sped by and I became emotionally invested in the characters the book became more and more interesting. I still like Grave Mercy better, but this one is okay enough too.

Setting
Yelena’s adventures take place in the kingdom of Ixia, in a world different from ours (there are six seasons, for example). After the current leader took over the former king, the territory “had been separated into eight Military Districts each ruled by a General” (reminding me of the districts in Hunger Games). However, this is the first time I read about a military dictatorship in a medieval setting, and I found the idea in itself quite promising. And yet to me this regime was a mixed bag — ideologically, I think dictatorship is bad, a military one even more so. At one point Velek says something along the lines of how the only changes their taking over has effected in people’s lives were providing everyone with a uniform and a job. But there is more to it than that: bureaucracy is overflowing, the borders are closed, people with magic powers are killed on sight. Take this quote for example:

Every citizen of the Territory of Ixia had a specific job. After the takeover, everyone had been appointed an occupation. A citizen was allowed to move to a different town or Military District, but proper forms were required. A completed transfer request needed approval from the supervisor, and proof that a position was being held at the new address. Without the proper documents, a civilian found in the wrong neighborhood was arrested. Visiting other districts was acceptable, but again only as long as the proper papers were obtained and shown to the soldiers on arrival.

It felt a bit strange to have as characters people who defended this system. :)

Characters
Valek (“the Commander’s personal security chief and leader of the vast intelligence network for the Territory of Ixia“) is a study in contrasts. There is nothing combat-related he cannot do — he’s probably the medieval equivalent for a modern-day SEAL. He is a good strategist and a cold-blooded killer; to him most people are pawns. Yet he has a sensitive, artistic side too: his suite is filled with rocks, which he sculpts into beautiful, detailed shapes — and I liked that about him, it humanized him somewhat. On the whole however I had the same problem with him as with the regime: there are things about him that I did not particularly like (some of his traits are more appropriate to a villain), yet on the whole I did get emotionally invested in his welfare.

However, Yelena and I started out on the wrong foot, as she spends the first chunk of the book being dizzy/lightheaded for various reasons2. And then she treats Valek with what I saw as insolence (she loses patience in a moment I didn’t think she should have), and afterwards I had trouble respecting her, as I found her reaction on the downright stupid side. Remember that she and Valek were basically at opposing ends of the ladder, and he had the power of life and death over her, so angering him was… way less than ideal3. Luckily for me, Yelena turns out not to be the damsel in distress type I thought her at first. She is smart and resourceful and later on she even learns how to fight. She turns into a badass character (the good kind of badass), and I ended up actually liking her.

Relationships
I thought the dynamics between Yelena and Valek were pretty well done. With a few exceptions [see footnote 3], the relationship between them took a plausible course: they start out as enemies, wary of one another. Yelena’s life does not particularly matter for Valek [which makes the footnote 3 thing even more jarring], other than his wanting to be spared the inconvenience of having to train another food taster. Yelena sees Valek as an opressor — it’s true that he had saved her from her death sentence, but he had also poisoned her more than once, and even warned her he will do so again. As time passes however their rough corners smooth, and they become friends of sorts. Bit by bit Valek discovers Yelena’s qualities, and he starts seeing her as an actual person. Yelena also grows attached to him — I thought her reaction on hearing someone gossiping about Valek caring for her was particularly cute: “Valek was deadly, moody and exasperating. But for some reason, I couldn’t get that silly grin to go away no matter how hard I tried“. Aaaaaw.

Other things I enjoyed, relationship-wise:
I was happy to see that some people did not like Yelena, as too often one meets the cliché of the heroine that is so magnificent no one can resist her. Although it’s usually women that don’t like her, so the cliché may still be there after all.
Also, it was interesting to see how some people avoided Yelena because her life was always on the line and one did not want to risk getting to care for her, only to have her die afterwards :) (although to be fair there have only been five food tasters in the last fifteen years so they may still have a few years with her :P )

Plot
Once Yelena moves past her “dizzy at everything” phase, the plot is actually interesting and quite fast paced. Not only does Yelena have to keep track of the many people who want her dead, but there’s something strange going on with the Commander, and it’s up to Valek (with Yelena’s help, of course) to untangle it. The last few chapters in particular kept me on the edge of my seat :)

What I liked most
There were lots of small details that I have enjoyed :) Such as the “edible adhesive” that Rand the cook has accidentally invented, and that was both very tasty and used to suture wounds. Or the idea that the food poisoner should be able to identify even the most lethal poisons, so that if the worst came to pass they would be able to announce the name of the poison with their dying breath.

Or the answer that Yelena offered when she was offered a chance to escape in the nearby kingdom:

I remembered my last offer, to be the food taster or to be executed. “What could you possibly offer me? I have a job, color-coordinated uniforms and a boss to die for. What more could I need?”

(her boss being “to die for” as in she was expected to literally die for him, tee hee)

Another idea I have liked is this:

“What about the knife?” I pointed to the long blade hanging on the wall. The crimson blood gleamed in the lantern light. In the three weeks I’d lived in Valek’s suite, it hadn’t dried. Valek laughed. “That was the knife I used to kill the King. He was a magician. When his magic couldn’t stop me from plunging that knife into his heart, he cursed me with his dying breath. It was rather melodramatic. He willed that I should be plagued with guilt over his murder and have his blood stain my hands forever. With my peculiar immunity to magic, the curse attached to the knife instead of me.” Valek looked at the weapons wall thoughtfully. “It was a shame to lose my favorite blade, but it does make for a nice trophy.”

What I liked least
Whenever Yelena is in need of rescuing, there Valek is. Which would have been great in theory, but some of the times his being there is less than plausible. Sure, the author did add a part where Valek’s mind was supposedly connected somehow with Yelena’s (why? how? especially given Valek’s peculiar resistance to magic), but it still felt a bit contrived.

Thoughts on the title
Love it :) Especially as the next book is titled Magic Study (in this one Yelena studies poisons, and in the next she will get to study the best way for her to use her magical abilities, see? :) ). There is a third book too but I don’t remember the title.

Thoughts on the ending
Too sudden! I could have done with a few more pages. Other than that however it was nice, every plot thread tied up properly (well, there still remains the question of what will happen to the relationship between Yelena and Valek).
show spoiler

Recommend it to?
At the moment it has a 4.21 on Goodreads, so on the whole people definitely liked it more than I did :) I would say that any YA lover in search for a badass heroine could give this a try.

Buy this from amazon.com | Buy this from bookdepository.co.uk | Maria V. Snyder’s website | Maria V. Snyder on Facebook

  1. For the life of me I don’t get why anyone would try to poison someone that has all his food tasted prior to eating it, but apparently people do do that. []
  2. I get that she was weak after her months spent in prison, but still []
  3. Speaking of which, I also found far fetched the parts hinging on Valek spending time and effort to protect Yelena himself — someone with his rank and responsibilities had nothing better to do than follow a former prisoner around? []

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Genre: Young Adult
Main characters: Ismae Rienne, Gavriel Duval
Time and place: Brittany, 1485
First sentence:I bear a deep red stain that runs from my left shoulder down to my right hip, a trail left by the herbwitch’s poison that my mother used to try to expel me from her womb.
Verdict: Exceeded my expectations.

Summary
Ismae was born with a red scar on her back, marking her as a daughter of Saint Mortain, the Patron Saint of Death. Her childhood is tough, as her ‘father’ (her mother’s husband) treats her cruelly every time she gets the chance. When Ismae comes of age, she’s sold for three pieces of silver to a man who thought her little more than a piece of flesh he owned. He too beats her savagely, catching the eye of a local ‘rescue group’ that smuggles Ismae away from her husband and on to a new life.

She’s taken to the convent of St. Mortain, where she is given the choice to become an assasin, doing the Saint’s work. She happily agrees and for the next three years she is trained in everything related to killing. The time for her to put her knowledge to good use arrives when Gavriel Duval, one of the duchess’ most trusted people, is thought to have switched sides. Ismae is then send to his court, to live with him, discover his secrets, and kill those who have displeased the Saint in any way. She is of course glad to have the opportunity to help the convent and serve Mortain — but then it turns out the convent is not as infallible as she thought; could she still follow their orders, even if they’re wrong, or should she follow her heart?

General impression
I loved this book! Thank you NetGalley for making it available to me :)

It has a bit of everything: a bit of fighting, poisons, a bit of romance, a bit of suspense, a bit of court intrigue — what’s there not to like?

Setting
It is the 15th century, and the small duchy of Brittany is surrounded by enemies. The old duke has recently died, and his daughter is set to succeed him. In order for her to quell the various plots to take her throne, she needs a husband, one with a large enough an army to scare her enemies away. Unfortunately, there seems to be a shortage of eligible husbands, and young Anne’s time is running out. If we add to that the fact that her father has promised her hand to a particular count, a despicable person that would stop at nothing to force the duchess into respecting that promise, it becomes obvious that Anne’s circumstances are nothing to be envious of. At least she has a handful of resourceful people on her side — and even Saint Mortain has sent an emissary to help Anne keep her throne — but will that be enough?

Characters
Ismae is a study in contrasts: she’s a cold blooded killer, and good at what she does (I was glad to see that the author did not skirt around this side of her — now and then people need killing and Ismae kills them, simple as that; it’s who she is and what she was trained for, anything else would have been a cop out). And yet Ismae has nothing of the viciousness and brutality that come to mind when one thinks ‘killer’. She obeys the saint of Death, her rescuer from a lifetime of grief; she hates men, as every man she met has treated her cruelly — but first and foremost she cares about doing the right thing in any given circumstance. She is my idea of a ‘badass’ character, and I really liked her1, so much so I am disappointed that the sequel will be about Sybella (whom we have hardly met in this book), and not her.

Gavriel Duval is the very image of a knight in shining armor. When his half sister, now duchess Anne, was born, their father has tasked young Gavriel with protecting her, and this has been the core of his being ever since. As the book opens, he’s a skilled fighter, and also a redutable plotter — Anne owes her throne and even her life to him. But he is also more than that: he is a good man and a good friends, gruff at times yet treating people with kindness when kindness is called for. He isn’t anything if not persistent, and he never gives up, no matter how hopeless the situation. I admired that about him, and I liked him as a character overall. It goes without saying that I am disappointed not to see him in the sequel too2 :)

Relationships
It comes as no surprise that Ismae and Duval, joined by their common cause, ended up caring for one another as more than comrades at arms. I thought the author has done a great job developing this part of the story, and this is probably one of the reasons I liked this book as much as I did.

As previously stated, Ismae deeply dislikes men, one of the reasons she chose to became an assassin. She starts out less than fond of Duval — but then he does something that shatters her defenses: he treats her kindly. Ismae, raised by a bruttish father and then married off to an equally abusive husband, is not equipped to resist it, and she falls for him. We are not told what made Duval fall for her (the story is told from Ismae’s point of view), but i am guessing he found irresistible the same things I have liked about her: the fact that, while shes no damsel in distress, quite the contrary, she also has a vulnerable side, and I am guessing that side appealed to the protector in him :)

Another thing I liked is the way they never beat around the bush — once it was obvious they both have feelings for each other, they both acknowledged it, becoming a couple as much as the situation allowed. They are both strong, sensible people, and I was happy to see them choose the most sensible path — having one chase the other might have been fun, in a way, but it wouldn’t have been as believable given the sparks that fly all over when they are together.

Other things
I have found quite interesting the mythology that the author has created. There “were once the nine old gods of Brittany but now [they are called] saints“. Tradition asks that (male?) children are dedicated to one of these saints, and it is very dishonorable for one not to follow the path appointed to him.

The saints themselves act in a way that reminded me of those in the Greek mythology: they seem to be able to make themselves seen whenever needed, and they are also able of siring children (I guess that happens often enough, as Ismae, daughter of Saint Mortain, elicits nothing more than mild interest from others). These children are more than mere mortals, inheriting at least one special ability from their parent — Ismae for example is immune to poison and able to see ‘the marque of Mortain’, a dark mark that appears on people in their last days.

I also liked how the author chose to justify Mortain’s interest in Brittany’s (and the duchess’) fate:

He feeds off our belief and worship much as we feed off bread and meat and would starve without it.

Mortain needs Brittany unaltered, so the people there could keep their belief in him and the rest. This — the gods needing people, and belief, in order to survive — is one of my favorite themes, and I was glad to find it in this book too :)

Thoughts on the title
I liked it ever since I first saw it (I like the ambiguity of the term ‘grave’ here), but it was only somewhere near the end of the book that I understood what it referred to :)

Thoughts on the ending
Any thoughts I might have had on the ending are overwhelmed by the sadness that it’s over. :)
show spoiler

Recommend it to?
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  1. Ages ago I read Graceling and almost hated it, because the heroine was so perfectly adept at fighting that no one could ever harm her, which rendered all fighting scenes boring. If Katsa felt to me the wrong way to write a skilled female fighter, Ismae feels to me like the opposite: the very way I would have written such a character had I been able to write. She’s very skilled at fighting with different weapons, but she is just as vulnerable to weapons as anyone else; this kept me on the edge of my seat whenever she did something risky, and I was way, way more engaged in the story than I was with Graceling. []
  2. It seems to me that the author has constructed these interesting, complex, promising characters, and now she’s just going to discard them in favor of others — but I wanted to see more of them! Can you blame me for being disappointed? []

The Replacement Wife by Eileen Goudge

Genre: Adult Fiction
Main characters: Edward Constantin, Camille Harte, Angie D’Amato
Time and place: present day New York
First sentence:“We had a nice time,” Kat said.
Verdict: Quite sad.

Summary
Camille Harte is a professional matchmaker, recently diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Her mother died when she was just a kid, and her father neglected his parental duties. She had a hard time growing up, having to take care of her younger sister almost all by herself. Now, while her husband is a great man, he is very dedicated to his profession; Camille can easily see her own children suffering her fate after she’s gone. Her way of coping consists in taking care of things — and, given her profession, what better way to take care of her family than find the kids a replacement mother and her husband a replacement wife?

General impression
To me, the book felt authentic. The characters face real challenges (illness, deceit, unwanted feelings taking over), and I could easily see myself in their shoes, and their problems tugged at my heart strings more often than not.

Read courtesy of NetGalley.

Characters
First of all, hats off to Camille. She is an incredibly strong woman, and I have spent the bulk of the book admiring her. I loved her maturity, the way she puts the needs of her family ahead of her own — sure, she may have chosen wrong (although in her condition I am not sure whether there could be a better course of action, despite what Edward thinks), but she made that difficult choice and stuck with it all throughout. I liked how responsible she was, how dedicated to taking care of others — her little sister, her suicidal roommate, Edward and the kids. I also liked this quote:

The selfish part of her wanted her husband to mourn forever after she was gone. She pictured him in his bereavement, a lonely figure in black wandering the windswept moors like Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. But this was real life. And real life was messy, full of pieces needing to be picked up.

Edward, the hero of the story, is described by one character thusly:

“Looking at him now, she saw a study in contrasts. Someone who was kind and loyal but who could also be stubborn and intractable; who was his own man but also your typical man from Mars; who was always there for her but who had a tendency to hold back when showing his own emotions; who was forgetful at times but who never forgot was was most important.”

To be honest, I didn’t notice all those things about him, but they’re probably there. The one thing I did notice is that he was both reliable and unreliable — in times of serious crisis, he was always there; however, in the rest of the time he kept forgetting to do anything that was not related to his profession — so much so it bordered on annoying at times. Other than that, he was quite an okay guy, and I liked his determination in doing the right thing, no matter how difficult that may be.

An interesting character is Holly, Camille’s sister. She’s basically living her life the exact way she wants it, without accepting any constraints in any form. She loves all things rock, and even has a small business selling rock memorabilia. Despite her being way past her twenties she’s a rebel, but she manages to be a cool one, and I liked having her around :)

Plot
The thing about Camille’s choice is that she hoped to find Edward a platonic relationship. She didn’t expect Elise, ‘the chosen one’, to fall head over heels in love with him. She didn’t expect one of her customers, Kat, to hit on her husband. She didn’t expect Edward to become friends with Angie, a woman he met at a meet-and-greet. And the idea that he himself might allow himself to have feelings for someone else never had crossed her mind.

So… here we are. There are no less than four women vying for Edward’s affection at one time. Of course, he only thinks of his wife and her well-being; yet, slowly, he starts to think that hey, perhaps what she wants for him is not a bad idea after all. Who will he end up with, and how, and why?

Relationships
I liked the way the relationship between Camille and Edward was written. They have met in college and been very passionately in love for many, many years. But things have changed when Camille first had cancer, and Edward started to think of her as less than substantial, like she would break if he didn’t treat her with the utmost care. Slowly, he became more her caregiver than her husband; he’s always there for her, but their passion is now extinguished. To me it felt like a plausible change/development, one that just happened, without any of them planning it to, a feeling that allowed me to get emotionally invested in their plight.

The Edward/Angie dynamic was one I liked a bit less. I liked the way they started out as mere friends, and things evolved from there. I found it plausible, albeit sad, that Edward would go look elsewhere the things he was lacking at home. And yet I couldn’t help thinking, while reading, about the people their liaison will end up hurting. I was not sure about Camille’s opinion, as theoretically someone to replace her in Edward’s life was exactly what she thought was best; however Elise, the one who fell in love with Edward without meaning to, was sure to be hurt — and I am not particularly fond of characters that hurt other people. I do understand, of course, that the circumstances were the ones most at fault, not the people, and yet I cannot shake off the feeling.

What I liked
Hehehe. I was very happy to find that Edward’s parents were from Romania. I did wonder at first, when seeing his last name, that I didn’t remember seeing Constantin as an English name before, but I didn’t connect it with my own country until later on. While Edward is not a Romanian name (its Romanian equivalent is Eduard, seldom used), both the names of the parents were very well chosen (their personalities too were quite believable, Edward’s father reminded me of my own at times). Now and then there were a few other Romanian words inserted, and I was very happy to see that all were correct, even when they contained letters not in the English alphabet :)

What I did not like
It’s more of a quibble than a serious matter, but the way Edward attracted every. single. female around him got tiring after a while. He basically has every quality possible — he’s tall, good looking, dignified, and a doctor into the bargain; I would have preferred a more ‘normal’ character, perhaps one normal-looking, that didn’t turn heads. It would have felt ‘real-er’ that way (I’m not saying that guys that are both good and good looking do not exist, just that they are rare enough to be harder to relate to than normal looking ones). And wouldn’t it have been nice if, instead of looking like George Clooney, he had such a kick-ass personality that made every female who discovered fall in love with him, regardless of his looks? :)

Thoughts on the title
Descriptive and also intriguing.

Thoughts on the ending
Predictably enough, since the whole book made me sad, the ending made me sad too. However, I am fairly certain that this was not the author’s intention :) In truth, the book ends as good as possible in the given circumstances — but still, it made me sad.
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Recommend it to?
Anyone interesting in reading a book about people and relationships.

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Unraveled by Courtney Milan

Genre: Historical Fiction/Romance
Main characters: Miranda Darling, Smite Turner
Time and place: Bristol, 1843
First sentence:Well, Billy Croggins, why are you here again?
Verdict: Enjoyed it a lot, yet a bit less than the rest of the series.

Summary
It’s a sweet tale, about kittens and puppies and rainbows and love.

Well, there are some stray cats at one time. And a dog. And a rainbow of sorts ( :) :) ). And love enough to conquer all.

Miranda Darling lives in ‘the other side of the town’, the area where the poor live and the bad smells abound, the streets where the law is more of a guideline than a rule. A mysterious person called the patron makes the rules there, and Miranda has no choice but to obey. They have a sort of agreement that she will serve him once a month — and usually this ‘service’ he needs of her involves a brush-up with the law. Nothing truly bad, but nothing completely clean either.

Smite Turner spends his days as a magistrate in Bristol. He is so devoted to his duty that people joke around him that he’s married to his work. He has a fantastic memory, that allowed him to see through Miranda’s disguise when she almost committed perjury in his court. He warns her off it, and she knows that it’s in her best interest to mind his warning. And yet the Patron sends her out again…

General impression
Ah, the book of Smite. I bought it a few months ago and been waiting for a special moment to savor it, like a treat. And quite a treat it was, for the most part. However, my expectations were sky high, so it’s little wonder that I ended up a wee bit disappointed.

Characters
One of the reasons I like this series is that Ms. Milan knows how to build compelling, multi-dimensional characters.

Smite has a painful past, that still gives him nightmares. Their family was poor, the mother was going mad, and no one ever helped them. As a child, he went to the town elders to beg them to intervene, lest he or his brother should end up hurt by their mother. But no one listened to him, and his mother punished him savagely when she found out. Now an adult, Smite takes great pains never to forget that. He lives an austere life, almost devoid of comfort, because he worries that if the nightmares will stop he will forget how important it is to be just to the under-privileged, to always hear their side of the story too.

In his own words:

“I do not fear what comes at night. I dread its absence. I fear being caged by luxury. I fear that one day I will no longer understand desperation, and with that, I will slowly stop listening to what others have to say.” [...] “I don’t regret what circumstances have made of me, inconvenient though they may be. I make a difference.”

Miranda too is a fighter. A child of actors, she has been raised on the road as she was travelling with her parents troupe. However, she was lucky enough to be well educated, as one of the men in the troupe was an ex-Oxford teacher, no less. She had a happy childhood, but everything changed when she lost her mother. Her father simply stopped functioning; the troupe broke. Miranda was left at sixteen to fend for herself and for Robbie, an eight year old boy whose mother abandoned him. It’s only then, faced with the real world, that she discovers how sheltered her prior life was. And yet she does her best, with courage, despite the fact that Robbie treats her surly and she’s always terrified about what he might decide to do next.

Relationships
As usual, the family dynamic among the Turners is one to be enjoyed. There are some frictions still between Ash and Smite, as the former still feels the need to help the latter somehow, to compensate for not being there for him when they were kids, yet even these are resolved by the end of the book (which sadly is also the end of the series *sigh*).

And then, of course, there’s the relationship between the two main characters. A relationship that I was happy to notice was, despite the conditions they have met in, based on trust. When Miranda sees him in a less-than-honorable situation (throwing up in the bushes) Smite, the upright, the efficient, cannot let her wonder what was that about1, and also cannot lie, so he tells her about his childhood trauma and the effects on him. Later on, he unwittingly hurts her, due to another unfortunate reflex the same trauma instilled in him. And, as the author puts it, he didn’t have enough experience dealing with women and feelings, so instead of doing what others might have done, buy her a trinket, he went to her and risked real intimacy. Told her his story, to make her understand. And thus he had a chance to discover that not only she didn’t think him “broken”, but admired him because he had faced everything he did and turned his trials into strength. I liked that the author took care of this earlier rather than later, getting it out of the way, letting the characters actually know each other throughout the book, rather than having them — or at least Smite — wear a mask for the most part.

You know, if there is one thing I very much LOVE (yes, with caps :) ) about Ms. Milan’s books, it’s this: the characters always communicate wonderfully. There are none of the pretenses found elsewhere (you know, the ‘I’ll act in a completely different way than I want to, to protect X’ kind of things). When Jessica was blackmailed in Unclaimed, she told Mark so. When Miranda was blackmailed, she went straight to Smite, although she knew he might send her away. When Smite thought it was best for Miranda to go, find someone else, less flawed than himself, he told her so, straight on, without trying to hide the effect this’ll have on him. And so on. If only more authors would do this rather than have their characters dissemble.

Plot
I think that the reason part of the book fell flat for me is the subplot regarding the Patron: there supposedly is this guy who runs a sort of crime cartel, and who Miranda has unwittingly struck a deal with when she was younger. And now she tries to get out of it, and bad things start happening. And, of course, Smite would want the Patron caught and entrusted to the long arm of the law. And the reader is supposed to be curious about who the Patron may be, etc etc. However, other than Miranda and her ‘ward’, Robbie, there is only one other family introduced in this book. A family that lives in the same area as Miranda and the Patron, and a family that knows Miranda’s every move, as one of the members is her best friend and confidant. Which is why it was beyond obvious all the way who the culprit was + it made me want to give Miranda a shake every time she had a talk with the best friend — alas, so many moments she spent revealing her secrets to her enemy. And I knew that, and of course I did not enjoy it.

What I liked
First of all, ever since first finding out about the Turner brothers’ names — they were named by their mother, who had a sort of religion mania — I was curious what might Smite’s name be. And now I know, and I am happy to say that it is far less violent than I imagined:
The Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every living thing, as I have done.
It’s a Bible verse about what God told Noah, after the flood. Making Miranda exclaim, after she found it out, that Smite was named after the rainbow :) :)

Miranda’s name is not bland either. Her full name is Miranda Darling, and Smite usually calls her that. She always wonders whether he means Miranda Darling, as in her name, or Miranda-comma-darling, with an endearment term. Not that Smite is one for endearments, but he too enjoys the ambiguity of it.

Also, I loved Smite’s sense of humor, his sarcasm that he uses to strike at those who annoy him. He and Miranda are a perfect match from this point of view too, as she too can be (and is) sarcastic (but not cruel), and as such their banter is one of the things I enjoyed most in the book. I am actually sorry there is no fourth Turner brother (or sister. or distant acquaintance.), which means I’ll never get to see Miranda teasing Smite about his sentimentality quota2 again *sigh*.

A quote, to get an idea:

“An act,” Miranda repeated. “Stand as tall as you like, and frown at me all you wish. I saw you just now. You were feeding cats.”

“So I was. And do you make something of that?”

“You,” Miranda said daringly, “have a kind heart.”

He turned away from her, the tails of his greatcoat swirling about him.

“Don’t enlarge too much upon the matter. The cats were hungry. I had food. This seemed to be a problem with a ready solution. It’s not kindness to solve problems; it’s efficiency.”

“I stand corrected. You have an efficient heart.”

Thoughts on the title
Throughout the series, I have complained about the names being too ‘stock’ to be truly interesting. This book is the exception, as I totally love the title :) The reason? For once the author has clearly explained what the title refers to. It is the state of mind Smite finds himself in after he sent Miranda away:

“At the moment,” he muttered numbly, “I may be coming a bit unraveled.”

Which is probably the best declaration ever, coming from someone as in control of himself as Smite always was; and I was absolutely delighted by it.

Thoughts on the ending
The ending (other than the HEA I was looking forward do and was happy to get) felt a bit contrived. Again, it’s about the matter of the Patron, that was solved in a way that made everyone happy (everyone but me, the reader, who thought the stars have aligned a bit too well in this particular case)
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Recommend it to?
All the historical romance lovers, of course. Although I recommend reading the previous books (Unveiled and Unclaimed) first, to get a sense of the family dynamics. The book is enjoyable by itself, but it is even more so if you know the back story.

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This book is a sequel to:
Unveiled | Unlocked | Unclaimed

  1. or well, he probably could, but I imagine deep inside he was longing to share his secret with someone else []
  2. this sentimentality quota Smite has is a cool thing in itself. When he was thirteen, just starting at Eton, he devised this strategy where each day he had 30 minutes allotted to complain about how tough things were, while the rest of the time he worked to fix the problems he no longer allowed himself to complain about []

Jane by April Lindner

Genre: Young Adult (?)
Main characters: Jane Moore and Nico Rathburn
Time and place: present day; mostly Connecticut
First sentence:The chairs in the lobby of Discriminating Nannies, Inc., were less comfortable than they looked.”
Verdict: Interesting. Nothing can match Jane Eyre though :)

Summary
The story of Jane Eyre brought in a contemporary setting :)

Jane Moore is nineteen when she has to drop out of college and find a job, as her parents have recently died and her older siblings are uninterested in her whereabouts. She ends up as the live-in nanny of Maddie, the daughter of an once famous rock star who’s planning a comeback. Her employer seems quite rough at first, but he is friendly, and, in time, a relationship develops between the two of them. In the light of his future word tour he even asks Jane to marry him, and she accepts. But…

General impression
First of all, kudos to the author for managing to bring the events from the 19th century world of Jane Eyre to present day US, in a believable manner. There are some elements that the author let go of, such as Jane’s inheriting a fortune, or her being related to the family that takes her in after she runs away, but I am glad she did so, as they would have made the book feel contrived. I couldn’t exactly pinpoint the reason why (fewer pages perhaps? a simplified language?), but this book, while interesting enough, felt like it lacked some of the depth the original had. However, this isn’t to say I did not enjoy it :)

Characters
Although she’s only nineteen, Jane takes everything very seriously. The book starts a little before she gets the job as the nanny of Mr. Rathburn’s child, so her formative years are mostly skipped (we are treated now and then to her memories of her family, mostly her mother, and how little affection she’s had as she grew up). I liked this Jane, the way she always thought of Maddie’s well being (I don’t remember Jane Eyre being that devoted to her charge, although she may have been and I may have forgotten it). Most of all I liked the way she always told the truth, and the way she tried to avoid saying bad things of people if she could avoid it.

Nico however got the short end of the stick: he’s supposed to be this reserved character, who does not talk all that much, which makes him hard to get to know. Sure, Rochester is the same way in principle, but the flowery language of the era had him passionately expressing himself quite a bit. His contemporary equivalent had no such luck => he ends up with a number of lines that I felt were not enough for me, as a reader, to actually grow to care for/about him. And then there is this other problem: in the beginning he goes out of his way to spend time with Jane, and it seemed to me a bit contrived; I can buy them falling in love after they got to know each other, but a rock star deigning to notice one of ‘the help’, as someone in his entourage puts it, and then ignore his own busy schedule to spend time with her did strike me as a bit odd (it was not so in Jane Eyre, where Mr. Rochester had only a handful of people around the house, all of them servants, so it wasn’t that much of a wonder he took an interest in the one newcomer; however Mr. Rathburn’s house is teeming with people, making any particular one of them that less likely to stand out).

The thing about the characters (less so with Jane, more so with Nico) is that while the author has done a great job with adapting the major scenes and dialogue of Jane Eyre to modern times, the parts that are her own contribution seemed to me less good. Starting with Jane’s family, who are so uni-dimensional they seem more like cardboard props than anything else, each of them having a single trait and that’s that (sister = self-involved, brother = aggressive, mother = uncaring). The rest of the newly introduced cast is less cardboardy, but not by much; the scenes, while not particularly bad, do not stand out in any way, they never made me feel things; which is quite a pity since, again, I was happy to see how ingeniously adapted the Jane Eyre parts were.

For example, I thought the motivations Nico had for his choices were surprisingly believable and rather well done:
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Names
As usual, I am fond of the small details :)
While the author has changed some of the names completely (no Edward Rochester, *sigh*), she did keep or subtly altered some of the others. “Adele”‘s mother is named Celine, the brother of the “madwoman in the attic” is also named Mason. Thornfield, which I always envisioned as a gray, gloomy estate, is now Thornfield Park, a place surrounded with greens and giving off a completely different vibe. The dog, named Pilot in the original, is now named Copilot :) Diana and Mary have almost the same first names, with a different last name; St. John Rivers is now River St. John :) Last but not least, Blanche Ingram turned into a Bianca Ingram (which is fun, given that both Blanche and Bianca mean ‘white’, in French and Italian, respectively).

My reaction on the names the author has created ‘from scratch’ is a less happy one. I hated having someone named Bibi with all my might. And Nico… it’s true that ‘Edward’ is one of my favorite names, so it would have been hard to find one to match it, but still, Nico does not sound imposing enough (plus it’s sort of obvious it’s not his real name, and as such it sounds fake, on top of it all). Alas, I admit that these are my personal pet peeves (as it happens, in my country Nico is a girl’s name and Bibi is sort of a joke name for a boy), but they did detract from my enjoyment nonetheless.

Thoughts on the title
Love its simplicity :)

Thoughts on the ending
While in the first moment I was in two minds about the injury the author gave Nico, after I finished reading I ended up admitting it was the best choice.
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Recommend it to?
Anyone who is curious about how Jane Eyre would sound like in contemporary times. I would say this is the best Jane Eyre retelling I’ve ever read, but so far this is the only such book that has crossed my path. I’m sure however that this is one of the best adaptations out there :)

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Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale

Genre: Chick-Lit
Main characters: Charlotte Constance Kinder
Time and place: an 1816-like contemporary British retreat
First sentence:No one who knew Charlotte Constance Kinder since her youth would suppose her born to be a heroine.
Verdict: Liked it better than I liked Austenland :)

Summary:
Charlotte Kinder is going through a rough patch: her husband asked for a divorce, turning her nice, ordered world upside down. She feels she needs a vacation, somewhere far away. Perhaps another era entirely. And thus she ends up in Austenland, an estate where female tourists get to live like in one of Jane Austen’s novels (complete with courtship, a ball, and a proposal at the end).

Charlotte knows that the dark, brooding man who acts attracted to her is nothing but an actor following a script. Yet he seems so mysterious… can she, should she join the game?

General impression
I have no idea why I felt it lacked depth. The characters are likable, the heroine gets to grow throughout the book, the mystery is somewhat mysterious (although the author tells us who the guilty part is even before we find out there’s been a crime). However, it felt like the quintessential three stars book: I liked it, I enjoyed reading it, but I didn’t feel there was anything in it truly memorable in any way. Sort of a shame, as I am certain I could LOVE Shannon Hale’s style1.

Setting
One of the most interesting parts in the Austenland books is Austenland itself. A large estate mimicking those of Austen’s time, Pembroke Park tries to be as faithful to the Regency era as possible. Even the served foods respect the theme, including such timeless classics as pickled quail eggs and sheep eyeballs. Nothing modern is allowed anywhere on the estate, so as not to break the illusion. Actors are hired to play maids and valets and visitors, and everyone’s speech is delightfully quaint. I almost think I would love visiting Austenland myself2.

Characters
Charlotte, our heroine, is thusly described on the very first page:

She was a practical girl from infancy, only fussing as much as was necessary and exhibiting no alarming opinions.
[...]
She was… nice. Even her closest friends, many of whom liked her a great deal, couldn’t come up with a more spectacular adjective.

She got married at twenty-three, because that’s what people do, and had two children, thinking that becoming a mother will make her feel an adult, and as such in control of her life. After a while, when she was done with what she thought was expected of her, she also turned out to be a smart business woman: she started a landscaping web site that made her & her family rich.

Unlike the usual heroines in contemporary Austen-related books, Charlotte has never read Jane Austen. She does so after her husband left her for a woman named Justice, and is glad to discover the characters feel like old friends, thawing a little of the cold desert her heart felt like ever since the betrayal. And then taking a vacation to go and live ‘the Austen life’ seemed like a logical next step :)

I have liked Charlotte quite a bit. She is indeed very nice, in an too-much-for-her-own-good kind of way, yet not unbelievably so3. She is also funny, and smart, and although for most of the book she lacks confidence in herself she is nonetheless an interesting character4.

As for the two male characters5, we have light versus darkness: there’s Eddie, a guy that I kept picturing as quite young, and blonde, although IIRC he is described otherwise, and that smiled often, showing off his dimples; and then there’s Thomas Mallery, someone who smiled all of one time throughout the whole book and who, as Charlotte’s mind puts it, has probably smoldered since birth :) (“While the other two gentlemen would look comfortable on a GQ cover, Mr. Mallery didn’t seem likely to feel comfortable anywhere–except maybe a castle on a moor.” — why yes, a sort of Darcy to the extreme :) )

As supporting cast we have the same British-wannabe Miss Charming, an old acquaintance of ours, that in this volume gets to have a back story, and depth (I loved seeing that, although the ending she got did seem a bit far-fetched), plus a down-to-Earth teenage star, that I very much liked despite thinking of her as a sort of Miley Cyrus (and I am so not a fan). And then there’s the landlady that insists on keeping up 1816′s appearances, the awkward-moving valet, and some more.

Relationships
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Plot
While seeing how the heroine managed to find a true hero in a make-believe world could have perhaps been interesting enough by itself, the author chose to add another layer to the book: true to the parallel with Northanger Abbey, Charlotte’s overactive mind busies itself with trying to find a mysterious murderer, although no body is to be found and she is not entirely sure a murder has taken place either. It’s been fun watching her explore options, and one of the things I liked about the book.

What I liked
On the topic of ‘details that I have enjoyed’, they are as follows:

1) Charlotte’s favorite Austen character is Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey, the one with the overactive imagination :) Quite a nice change from the overly-used Elizabeth Bennett, usually nominated for the honor.
2) the actor playing Eddie describes himself at one time as having read every Pratchett novel at least three times *aawwwww* :) :)

The writing feels a bit overly-simplistic at times6, while at others is very nice indeed. My favorite quote:

The kiss had shifted the whole world forty-five degrees, and she was still falling.
[...and then after a while...]
The world kept tipping, and maybe she was upside down now, blood rushing to her head, feet in the stars.

Thoughts on the title
Love it! Especially the way it implies there’s something dark going on :)

Thoughts on the ending
Nice :) :)
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Recommend it to?
Anyone who thinks they’ll enjoy a nice chick-lit book whose action takes place in an 1816-like setting :)
You don’t need to have read Austenland before this one, as the two are but loosely related.

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Companion novel:
Austenland

Written by the same author:
The Book of a Thousand Days

  1. judging from the quotes on Goodreads from her fairy tale books []
  2. although then I’d have to make do without the Internet, oh my []
  3. I am actually curious to see other reviewers’ take on this, as her niceness does go to some extreme lengths at times — however, I myself used to be that kind of people-pleaser so I for one have no trouble believing it []
  4. or at the very least I was rather curious what she will do to find the key to the mystery []
  5. another thing I liked about this book was the same ‘I wonder who will she end up with’ thrill I remember having while reading the first Austenland book, a feeling that one very rarely gets with chick-lit; or at least I have very rarely gotten []
  6. which I think is the reason I did not like the book more []

I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella

Genre: Chick Lit
Main characters: Poppy Wyatt, Sam Roxton
Time and place: present day London
First sentence:Perspective.
Verdict: Four and a half stars.

Summary:
Poppy Wyatt is engaged to be married and blissfully happy. Her fiance, Magnus Tavish, is “a tall, handsome university lecturer who’s written a book and even been on the TV“, could life get any better?

A few days later, while she is out celebrating with her girlfriends, disaster strikes: she loses her engagement ring. A very expensive family heirloom, that’s been in the family for three generations! To say that Poppy needs to get it back is an understatement. After searching every nook and cranny of the hotel where she lost it, she resigns and leaves her phone number to all the members of the staff, in case someone eventually finds it.

And then she goes outside and someone steals her phone.

What is she to do now? Frantic with worry and annoyance she paces the hotel floor, when… she finds a phone. Just like that, abandoned, in a bin. She takes it and re-gives the number to the hotel staff. Crisis averted. However, the phone turns out to be a company phone, belonging to the PA of the CEO, no less. And the CEO needs it back, as all his very important emails are routed through the said phone. But Poppy cannot relinquish it, what about her ring??

General impression
Yesterday I had a very long day at work (it ended past midnight). When I finally got into bed, I figured ‘hey, I’ll just read a few more pages of this book before I fall asleep’. And, tired as I was, I couldn’t put it down until I finished it. True story. And if this doesn’t show how much I enjoyed reading this book I don’t know what does.

As usual, a heartfelt thank you to NetGalley; I cannot say how happy having access to the next Kinsella book, a few weeks before release, has made me. All the more so since it turned out to be a book I liked so much.

Plot
The plot is what I come to call ‘classical Kinsella’, as it’s present in most of her books: a nice British girl gets carried away by her enthusiasm for one thing or another, and ends up really messing up her life. There’s also a guy in there somewhere, usually one she’s just met; they are brought together by strange circumstances — they are not lovers, they are not friends, and yet fate keeps bringing them together one way or another. Usually by the end she helps him with something really important. And over the course of the book their relationship develops into something more, so they end up together. The end.

Well, this may not sound like much (and pretty formulaic to boot), but the charm is in the execution. And I did like most of Ms. Kinsella’s books, so she must be doing something right :)

Back to our present novel. So Poppy loses the heirloom ring her fiance gave her, and this, in a strange turn of events, makes her cross paths with Sam. She is engaged, he’s very uncommunicative. And yet (of course!) I knew all along that they’ll end up together. What I did not know (and kept reading in order to find out) was the ‘how’. A clear case of ‘focusing on the journey rather than the destination’ :)

Characters
The characters themselves are the book’s forte, and the very reason I enjoyed the book so much.

A pleasant surprise for me was Poppy’s job, and the way she related to it. I for one love my line of work, and as such I have grown kinda tired with the usual chick lit heroines who are trapped in office jobs that they hate and sometimes they’re quite bad at. Poppy on the other hand is a physiotherapist (she had relatives in the dental field and initially had wanted to become a dentist herself, but then she thought she wouldn’t limit herself to just teeth :) ). It is obvious throughout the book that she loves her job, she does it well, and she cares for her patients’ welfare. I cannot begin to say how much I liked that.

Although I don’t think I could have resisted Poppy even without the job component. She is quirky and funny and very, very nice (sometimes she lets people step all over her because of that); she is a bit impulsive (as all the chick lit heroines, they kinda need this trait to land their troubles :) ), but not so much as to make her do really stupid things.

I also liked Sam quite a bit. He’s also a typical chick lit hero (a career guy, making good money and having a heart of gold), but there is more to him than that. I was particularly amused by his emails (“Yes. Sam”), and the way they never had a word more than they needed to. He starts out as this unfeeling guy, neglecting people at his company because he never had the time plus what did he care it was one of them’s birthday anyway? I actually like this attitude in a way: at such a big firm, he could hardly be expected to get to care about most of his colleagues, and he chose not to say things out of mere complaisance. He doesn’t actually care what most others thinks of him (a trait I have always envied :) ) and never shies away from awkward conversations. As the story enfolds we get to find out more about what he hides behind the cold facade: he’s funny, and reliable, and smart, and loyal; and he does have friends & good, healthy relationships in his life (despite what Poppy initially thought :) ).

And then there is the matter of both characters’ growth throughout the book. They start out at different ends of the spectrum (Poppy’s always wanting to please others + Sam’s being very much the opposite), and each of them gets to learn that sometimes there are cases that require a different strategy. I liked that, and I also liked the way the relationship between the two of them evolved, from distant to more and more intimate (none of that ‘love/lust at first sight’ stuff, just two people getting to know each other and liking what they discover).

What I liked

The whole getting to know each other by texting back and forth was quite a novel idea (for me at least, it is the first book I read where this element is present), and quite a well-done one too. I liked that they both felt the difference between their intimacy in writing (where they slowly became close friends) and their awkwardness in real life (where they treated each other like the random acquaintances they actually were). And I liked the way their texts changed over time, becoming warmer :)
(ah, what can I say, I am a sucker for a good relationship-developed-in-writing story :) )

Two quotes I thought were nice:
Poppy’s thoughts during a meal with her future in-laws, the ones that always intimidated her:

We’re halfway through the Bolognese, and I haven’t uttered a single word. It’s too hard. The conversation is like a juggernaut. Or maybe a symphony. Yes. And I’m the flute. And I do have a tune, and I’d quite like to play it, but there’s no conductor to bring me in. So I keep drawing breath, then chickening out.

and

It’s been quite addictive, scrolling down the endless strings of back-and-forth emails and working out the stories. Always backward. Like rewinding little spools of life.

Oh, and
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What I did not like
This is where I show off my nitpicky side.
First of all, there was the matter of the footnotes. I found them to be a cute idea (Poppy got into the habit of using footnotes after reading Magnus’ book, when she discovered they can be quite useful — “you just bung them in whenever you want and instantly look clever” :) ), and pretty well executed. But. They are a total nightmare when it comes to reading on a Kindle. I never knew where the actual footnote will end up, and I had to scroll a few pages forward looking for it, and then of course I had to go back a few pages to where I was; and then, a few lines later, another footnote, and I had to scroll again. And again, and again. Eventually I gave up and ignored the footnotes altogether, but I do feel like I missed some of the fun because of that. If you have a choice between the Kindle version and the paper, by all means do choose the latter.

However, if there is one thing I did not like about this book that is… the heroine’s name (I know, I told you I was gonna be nitpicky). But… Poppy? It seems to be a bit too childish to be taken seriously. Again, I liked the character herself quite a bit, it is the name that I am not fond of.

Thoughts on the title
Not glamorous, but it does describe the book quite well :)

Thoughts on the ending
I very much enjoyed the ending, of course.
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Recommend it to?
Anyone in the mood for a chick lit book :)

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Written by the same author:
Can You Keep a Secret? | Remember me? | Shopaholic & Baby | Twenties Girl | The Undomestic Goddess