tbyl reviewers

Trouble: Zero to the Bone

TBYL Reviewer Adam had a pretty unusual reaction to this very time-stamped genre piece. Here’s what Adam made of David Whish-Wilson’s Zero at the Bone (Penguin).
 
***
 
Perth. The year is 1979. You don’t get much for a dime these days but then what else is new? Then she walked into my life, blonde flowing hair, that mysterious, melt a man with a wink look and I knew I was in trouble. Bloody dames…
 
zero at the boneWell, the year was 1979 and the city was Perth, but the rest of it I’ll explain later…
 
Max Henderson is a Geologist with a wife, property and a future, so his suicide comes as a shock, to no one more than his wife, who doesn’t buy it. Jennifer Henderson is an intelligent woman grieving for her partner and hung up on that fateful question… Why?
 
Enter detective Frank Swann, hired by Mrs Henderson to investigate the reasons behind Max’s suicide. Swann’s first enquiries lead him to a recent report on a mining site in outback Western Australia that seems to throw up more questions than Frank can think to ask. The primary one being – how did Max find himself involved in the various members of Perth’s underworld, the purported owners of the drill site?
 
The further Swann is drawn in, the more trouble rears its head from all sides, none more than from the direction of his former colleagues, the extremely questionable vermin that currently inhabit the Perth Police Force.
 
The story comes to a fantastic conclusion when Frank realises that nothing was ever what it seemed and no matter how hard you try, you can’t fight money!
 
Let me say – at no point during the reading of this book, did it really grab me. Interestingly though upon review, I realised I actually loved it! The concept of corruption that goes undiscovered and undefeated, and criminals that are not just hiding but also running things, creates an exciting read. The story concluded in a very satisfactory manner, but just not an expected one.
 
The one thing that kept drawing me out of the story was the style in which it was written. It felt less like a novel and more like the script of a 1940’s Bogart detective movie. Every second paragraph left you expecting a reference to a Maltese Falcon or a dame that walked into his life. If that wasn’t distracting enough, there were times where I really felt like I was missing something. David Whish-Wilson obviously grew up in Perth in the 70’s, which served him well in writing something familiar to the era, but unless you grew up there too, there are many references which may sail right over your head.
 
Still, if you can get past the writing style and the constant 70’s pub slang, David Whish-Wilson can tell a story. One I can honestly say I really enjoyed… after a while.
 
***
 
Find out more about Zero at the Bone by David Whish-Wilson on the Penguin website here… 

Longing: The Next Time You See Me

Reviewer Carolyn really seems to have been taken in by the characters of Holly Goddard Jones’ The Next Time You See Me (Allen and Unwin) and reading her review, I can see why…

***

Loneliness and a longing to escape are the emotions which are evoked when I think about Holly Goddard Jones’ captivating first novel The Next Time You See Me.  Set in small town America, this story centres on a mystery that links six very lonely individuals. Its intricacies, revealed as I read, kept me wondering throughout this haunting novel.

the next time you see meSusanna Mitchell is a young mother and the local middle school English teacher.  She leads a very mundane life and feels stuck in place, in the town she grew up in, spending all of her time pleasing others.  In contrast, her sister Ronnie appears to be the exact opposite, leading a carefree life, albeit much to the distaste of the town and in turn making her the topic of frequent gossip.  When Ronnie suddenly disappears, Susanna suddenly realises her state and how stuck she is in her life and she becomes focussed on finding her sister. Everyone in their small town thinks poorly of Ronnie and it seems that only Susanna cares about where she has gone.

Susanna is only in her twenties and has a big challenge ahead of her if she is to solve the mystery.

One of Susanna’s students is Emily Houchens, a thirteen year old who has a wild imagination and is misunderstood by her family and bullied by her peers.  Early in the novel Emily apparently finds the body of a young woman lying in the woods and she becomes excited by this discovery. Emily is thrilled about having a real life secret which appears similar to the literary characters in her English class stories.

The story takes place in October when the beginnings of Winter are setting in, in a town, sodden with secrets and drudgery. That is until a shocking event occurs, one that rarely comes by a place as insignificant as this one.  The main characters are isolated individuals and are suddenly connected to each other and forced to make decisions. Some make good choices and change their lives, others don’t.  The surroundings and the personal struggles endured by each character sets a solemn tone throughout the story but it was what I liked best about it.

The Next Time You See Me kept me guessing until the very end.  I wonder if others who read this, agree or will it be obvious? I truly liked the main characters and sympathised with them through their stories and their solitude.  It is easy to be distracted when it came to speculating the truth of what happened on that fateful night and thinking now, I prefer my own assumptions.

This book may sound quite depressing but the sad mystery with themes of heartache and loss drew me in and kept me interested.  There are times of happiness for some of the characters and it gave me hope that the decent people of this book can leave their lonely existences behind and start afresh with love and companionship.  The strength behind this book is its characters and how carefully Goddard Jones constructed them.  I was left, at the end, thinking about this story for days and still now, the characters are real to me.

“In her Camaro, on the road, with the window down and freezing air blowing in and her left hand making little waves as she raced along, she could be herself, finally.  She would rather be leaving than coming, driving than arriving; she lived better in the in-between than she ever had sitting still.  Which is why she didn’t belong in any photograph. She had looked through the camera’s lens and seen not her family but her own absence, and it had seemed to her for a moment that she was a ghost, that she didn’t really exist and wouldn’t be missed.”

***

To find out more about Holly Goddard Jones’ The Next Time You See Me visit the Allen & Unwin website here…

 

 

Lockdown: Always Watching

I would have liked to sneak up behind Tam J while she was reading today’s book – I think I would have been able to give her a good fright! I think it’s fair to say that Tam was more than a little spooked, and completely gripped by Chevy Steven’s Always Watching (Allen and Unwin)…

***

 Well, in short, Always Watching is fast moving, suspenseful, chilling and I loved it!

Nadine is a psychiatrist who suffers from claustrophobia but has never been able to work out why. That is, until she meets with a patient, Heather, who starts to trigger flash-backs, memories that may hold the answer to her panic. At the same time, as you might expect, that are also memories that Nadine is not sure she wants to relive.

always watchingShe helps people put their demons to rest, but she has a few of her own…

In the lockdown ward of a psychiatric hospital, Dr. Nadine Lavoie is in her element. She has the tools to help people, and she has the desire—healing broken families is what she lives for. But Nadine doesn’t want to look too closely at her own past because there are whole chunks of her life that are black holes. It takes all her willpower to tamp down her recurrent claustrophobia, and her daughter, Lisa, is a runaway who has been on the streets for seven years.

When a distraught woman, Heather Simeon, is brought into the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit after a suicide attempt, Nadine gently coaxes her story out of her—and learns of some troubling parallels with her own life. Digging deeper, Nadine is forced to confront her traumatic childhood, and the damage that began when she and her brother were brought by their mother to a remote commune on Vancouver Island. What happened to Nadine? Why was their family destroyed? And why does the name Aaron Quinn, the group’s leader, bring complex feelings of terror to Nadine even today?

And then, the unthinkable happens, and Nadine realizes that danger is closer to home than she ever imagined. She has no choice but to face what terrifies her the most…and fight back.

I have spent most nights this past week reading way later into the night than I should, unable to put the book down. Each chapter seemed to end in a cliffhanger and I couldn’t help but read on. Nadine is a courageous character. She lives on her own, and seems to have no-one that would notice if she went missing. Despite this she searches the streets and dangerous houses full of squatters in search of her drug addicted daughter who left her home seven years ago. Chevy Steven’s skilful writing ensured that, as the reader, I was able to feel the threat, I was practically able to smell the stench that was described by the author, and I felt like I was walking with Nadine past each shadow.

Throughout the novel, Nadine starts to remember some terribly troubling memories of her childhood and specifically her time spent with her mother and brother in a commune. The commune was run by Aaron Quinn, and as her treatment of Heather continues Nadine begins to remember why that name sends chills through her. Aaron wields amazing mind-control when it comes to convincing people to join his commune and convincing them that he is the answer to their problems, but Aaron was not what he seemed to be. Nadine becomes determined to make him accountable for his behaviour and protect others from being mistreated at his hand.  Even if this places hers in terrible danger.

When Nadine’s daughter, Lisa becomes involved with the commune, Nadine’s drive to shut down Aaron and his followers becomes more obsessive. But who can Nadine trust? Who can really help her? And who is just posing to help her, but actually putting her in further danger?

Although I did find certain parts of this story a little predictable, I think that might be because I have read quite a few of these kinds of stories. Still, this did not detract from the story or the suspense I felt while reading Always Watching. I was still surprised by the twists, right up to the conclusion of the book.

I felt the eeriness that Nadine must have felt when she thought she was being watched, and I could practically hear the bumps in the dark and I felt her heartbreak too.

Always Watching is an easy read, and an enjoyable one. I would definitely like to read more novels by Chevy Steven, as I really enjoyed her writing style. I might have to have a bit of a dig around her website for my next read.

***

You can find out more about Chevy Steven’s Always Watching here

 

Wishing: Chocolate Cake for Breakfast

TBYL Reviewer Tam spent some of her summer holidays with her head in a tale of cake, rugby and animal husbandry. Not exactly what she’d expected from Danielle Hawkin’s Chocolate Cake for Breakfast (Allen and Unwin) but seemingly enjoyable nonetheless…

***

Chocolate Cake for Breakfast is set in New Zealand, and interestingly it’s the first book I’ve ever read by a New Zealand author. It made for a new and interesting setting for me, and one that was at times a little surprising. I have to say that although I enjoyed the story, it was a very strange combination of themes…

chocolate cake for breakfast bigHelen McNeil is a vet in a small rural town. She specialises in caring for cows.  Whilst trying to dodge a painful acquaintance at a party she stubbles into Mark Tipene, the extremely famous and handsome lock for the All Blacks. As it happens, Mark is also trying to hide from a fellow party-goer and it only makes sense that they should help each out. Much to Helen’s embarrassment, she doesn’t realise who Mark is at first, but rather than being off-putting, this seems instead to endears her to Mark all the more.

‘…Mark appears the next day at the front counter of the vet clinic to ask her out. A whirlwind romance follows and everything is going swimmingly until one little hiccup changes everything…’

Not being a rugby fan myself, it took me a little while to get into this story – it took me a bit longer to get to know the main characters I suppose – but for a fan of the sport, I’m sure they would love this story from the outset. Danielle Hawkin’s certainly shows an in depth and personal picture of what it is to be a professional sportsman – the travel, the constant risk of injury, the highs and lows of PR, and the pressure sporting fame puts on a sportsperson’s loved ones.

I’ll admit, I did find the novel’s leading lady a little frustrating, she was unsure of herself and continuously doubted that she measured up to the other women that Mark had dated. Throughout the story, she doesn’t allow him to prove to her that he wants her, not a woman who only wants him because he’s an All Black. She guards herself because it all feels too good to be true and she worries that her heart will be broken. When Helen gets a ‘little surprise’ she spends a good portion of the story feeling like her life has gone all the wrong way, but with the help of friends and family she is helped through this misery.

Now, a little warning to readers… this novel has a lot of gory detail!! When it comes to the veterinary storyline, it goes into quite a lot of detail about some of the procedures that Helen is required to perform for her animals. If you’re a little squeamish, be prepared…

Overall, I have to say that I enjoyed Chocolate Cake for Breakfast. It is full of fun characters, drama, romance, sport  animals and grumpy grandmothers…and Mark sounds gorgeous…lol

***

If you’d like to find out more about Danielle Hawkin’s Chocolate Cake for Breakfast click here…

Secrets: The Good House

If you’re looking for a book to gift to a bookish friend this Christmas, it sounds like Ann Leary’s The Good House (Allen and Unwin) might be just the ticket! Thanks to Jennie for this great review, wonderful teaser for a intriguing story…

***

Ann Leary is the author of a memoir & two novels, The Good House (Allen and Unwin) being the second. I was unfamiliar with her work until now, but will be seeking out her previous books.

the good houseThe Good House is written in the first person, the voice of our protagonist Hildy Good. Hildy is a woman in her 60’s, a divorcé, a mother of two daughters, a grandmother, a realtor & an alcoholic.

She lives in the small town, Wendover Crossing, where she was born & raised. Her family indeed trace back eight generations in the town, with her eighth great-grandmother one of the accused witches tried & hanged in Salem. Due to this piece of history it is generally rumoured by locals that Hildy herself has psychic powers, a rumour she likes to play with.

Hildy makes it her business to know everyone else’s business. She shares an office building with the town Psychiatrist, Peter Newbold. She confidently  tells him that she can learn more about a person by walking through their house than he can in a session with a patient.

We enter Hildy’s life two years following an intervention by her daughters regarding her alcoholism. This is, of course, not a reality that Hildy accepts! She’s not an alcoholic! She enjoys a drink or two at social events like everyone else. Well, there may have been a DUI, but that was just one! And phonecalls to people late at night – she just likes to chat with her friends after a few drinks, she’s a gregarious person, it’s lonely in her house when she gets home!

Despite her very rational, heartfelt arguments, her family talk her into a 28 day Rehabilitation session at Hazelden Clinic.

The entire town of Wendover Crossing know that a 28 day disappearance from town means that Hildy was in rehab. So, at every public function thereafter, Hildy is a cheerful teetotaller, knowing that every eye in town is upon her!

This is where our book of secrecy begins. A labyrinth of secrets involving several people in this close knit town.

Very early on we learn that Hildy has, as many alcoholics do, two lives. She is a veritable puritan at social events. She is funny, occasionally does her psychic tricks at dinner parties & “reads minds”, she is the perfect guest.

When she gets home to her two dogs however, she indulges in her ritual visit to her cellar & her secret supply of wine where she imbibes in “1 or 2” glasses. It is more like one or two bottles & she happily walks with her dogs to the nearby lake, strips off & plunges nude into the water. It is her beautiful escape.

Hildy feels she is putting on a pretty charade but is happily maintaining her alcoholic lifestyle.

The serious secrets start leaping from the pages from this point. As Hildy knows everybody in Wendover Crossing, she knows the details of very many family lives. She detects any changes very quickly. She also becomes friends with a new couple in town & a confidante to the wife.

The beauty of The Good House is in the descriptions of the town & the people through the eyes of Hildy who knows both intimately. It’s a colourful cast of characters in this small town & Hildy brings them all beautifully to life in exquisite detail.

There is Frankie, briefly Hildy’s High School beau, who tells it like it is and plays a large role in the town; Callie & Patch with their autistic son Jake who desperately want to sell their house (which is severely damaged by Jake’s outbursts); Peter Newbold, who she also knows from school & Rebecca McAllister, new to town but quickly close to Hildy.

The strength of the developing secrets in the book lie in the fact that we are strongly invested in these people. The Good House is gripping, wonderfully detailed & funny. Sometimes laugh out loud funny (which I did!). I wanted to turn the pages as fast as I possibly could by halfway through the book as secrets became exposed. I eagerly read to find out how each piece of the puzzle fitted together.

The ending has profound implosive impact as it all comes together. Unbelievably a massive surprise awaits us at the very end.

I highly recommend The Good House. It’s a lovely light read, gripping & funny. A good stocking-filler for the readers in your life.

***

You can find out more about The Good House, by Ann Leary here…

 

Waiting for Wednesday

Although I’m not sure if TBYL Reviewer Carolyn was completely convinced when I gave her Nicci French’s crime novel Waiting for Wednesday (Penguin) to read and review, I get the feeling from this review that she’s starting to come around…

***

Today’s review is of Waiting for Wednesday by crime writer Nicci French. It’s a very well written book and takes the reader on many twists and turns before the crime is solved.  This novel is one that I suspect lovers of crime fiction will enjoy.

waiting for wednesdayAlthough it took me a little bit of effort to get into this book, upon finishing it I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed it, and that it has contributed to my growing interest of this genre.  I discovered early on that this novel belonged to a series. The storyline was new but characters had already been introduced in previous books in the series. As you might expect, this meant it took me a little to grab hold of the context, but once I got to know the characters, it was no obstacle to my enjoyment of the novel.

Ruth Lennox, beloved mother of three, is found by her daughter in a pool of her own blood. Who would want to murder an ordinary housewife? And why? 

Psychotherapist Frieda Klein finds she has an unusually personal connection with DCI Karlsson’s latest case. She is no longer working with him in an official capacity, but when her niece befriends Ruth Lennox’s son, Ted, she finds herself in the awkward position of confidante to both Karlsson and Ted.

When it emerges that Ruth was leading a secret life, her family closes ranks and Karlsson finds he needs Frieda’s help more than ever before.

But Frieda is distracted. Having survived an attack on her life, she is struggling to stay in control and when a patient’s chance remark rings an alarm bell, she finds herself chasing down a path that seems to lead to a serial killer who has long escaped detection. Or is it merely a symptom of her own increasingly fragile mind?

Because, as Frieda knows, every step closer to a killer is one more step into a darkness from which there may be no return…

Waiting for Wednesday is the third instalment of the Frieda Klein series.  The novel opens with a horrific murder of an ordinary middle-class wife and mother of three, which, on its own captivated me and had me re-reading passages looking for clues.  I was to some degree left wanting, as not many clues are given at the beginning of the story; instead the writer takes her time recapping incidents that occurred in the previous two novels, reintroducing characters and their relationships.  As a first time reader to this series, I found it hard to get into the story because of this ‘revisiting’ and kept putting the book down to find something else to do.  However, as Mandi was waiting for me to write this review, I knew I had to persevere and devote my time to psychotherapist Frieda Klein no matter what terrors she had experienced in the other books. I’m glad that I did.

Waiting for Wednesday is written by two people, Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. Together they write under the pseudonym of Nicci French.  I had no idea until after I finished the book that this author was in fact a married couple.  The writing is seamless and they are able to get into the head of the main character very well. The further into the novel I got and the more I got to know Frieda, the more I wanted to stop the book and start the Frieda Klein series from the first book, Blue Monday.  The second in the series Tuesday’s Gone suggests that there will be seven in this series and judging from how Waiting for Wednesday was written, I think it will be great.

If we take a look at this book on its own and not as one in a series, the crime that occurs takes up only a small part of the story and is a fairly straightforward case.  Waiting for Wednesday spends a lot of its time developing characters that have featured earlier in the series and I’m assuming will be present in future books.  This book is very much the hump day in the series.  It appears that a climax will happen when Frieda Klein gets to the weekend.  Nicci French touches on something dark and frightening, waiting in the shadows, which had me wanting to know more.

You can read Waiting for Wednesday as a stand alone book however I think it would be more enjoyable to read the other two books in the series first. I know that reading this latest instalment has made me want to go back and read the first two, and I’d certainly do just that before reading the next in the series.

***

If you’d to find out more about Nicci French’s Waiting for Wednesday you can visit the Penguin website here…

 

 

Apple Tree Yard

Today’s review from Kate had me intrigued… what kind of book could have you wondering on your own decision-making, and not just that of characters in the book?

Here’s what she thought of Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty (Allen and Unwin)…

***

I always love getting new books to review from Mandi, as I never know what I am in for when I begin reading. Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty was no exception, and it actually got me thinking about what makes us make the decisions we do….

apple tree yardWhat makes one woman who has a seemingly perfect life make one rash decision that changes her life forever?

Yvonne Carmichael is a geneticist, highly respected and regarded in her field who, one day , for no apparent reason other that a look from a stranger makes one very rash decision that leads to diabolical consequences.

He kept looking at me as he rose to his feet, if we had met before, the look might have said, ‘oh, it’s you’. But we hadn’t met before and so it said something entirely other – but still with an element of recognition, I looked right back, and all was decided in that instant, although I didn’t understand that for a very long time.

And so begins a torrid, unconventional love affair with a man as mysterious as he is captivating. Yvonne seems to lose all sense of herself and the life that she has built with her husband and becomes blind to the inconsistencies and elusive behaviours of her lover. Her actions spin out of control and lead to a vicious assault and unexpected violence that sees her facing murder charges along with her increasingly mysterious lover.

Part psychological thriller, part exploration of human nature and morality Louise Doughty has written a true page turner. From the streets of London to murder the trial in the Old Bailey the story is gripping.  As the story unfolds you can’t help but wonder why the main character is doing what she is doing and how it can all turn so horribly wrong. It made me what to shake her and say ‘can’t you see what he is doing’!!

This is the seventh novel by Louise Doughty, her last Whatever You Love, being short-listed for the Costa Novel Award and long-listed for the Orange Prize for Fiction. She has won awards for radio drama and short stories and is a cultural commentator for UK and international newspapers and broadcasts regularly on the BBC.

I’d definitely recommend this as a fast-paced, sometime perplexing read which would suit lovers of thrillers and crime fiction alike.

***

You can find out more about  Apple Tree Yard on the Allen and Unwin website, and more about the accomplished author, Louise Doughty here.

The Returned

After reading the blurb of Jason Mott’s The Returned (Harlequin) I felt certain that it would be just the ticket for our reviewer, Tam Jenkin. I told her about the plot, and she agreed… she loves a good ‘undead’ tale as much as I do… and happily took the book off my hands.

It was, nonetheless not at all what she or I expected it would be…

***

I have to start by saying I was a little torn by Mott’s novel – it was not at all what I was expecting. I was very excited, being a bit of a fan of zombie stories, the prospect of the dead returning had me intrigued. Interestingly though, The Returned is not a story about the undead at all. Rather it is about segregation, about people fearing the unknown and about how people deal with, and heal after losing a loved one.

the returned‘Jacob was time out of sync, time more perfect than it had been. He was life the way it was supposed to be all those years ago. That’s what all the Returned were.’

Harold and Lucille Hargrave’s lives have been both joyful and sorrowful in the decades since their only son, Jacob, died tragically at his eighth birthday party in 1966. In their old age they’ve settled comfortably into life without him, their wounds tempered through the grace of time … Until one day Jacob mysteriously appears on their doorstep—flesh and blood, their sweet, precocious child, still eight years old.

All over the world people’s loved ones are returning from beyond. No one knows how or why this is happening, whether it’s a miracle or a sign of the end. Not even Harold and Lucille can agree on whether the boy is real or a wondrous imitation, but one thing they know for sure: he’s their son. As chaos erupts around the globe, the newly reunited Hargrave family finds itself at the center of a community on the brink of collapse, forced to navigate a mysterious new reality and a conflict that threatens to unravel the very meaning of what it is to be human.

Whilst reading this novel, we find that Lucille and Harold have lived long unhappy lives since their eight year old son Jacob died in a tragic accident. Rather than remembering Jacob and leaning on one another as family, they have shut out their memories of him, in the hope that they wont hurt any more. This however changes, one random day, when their son arrives at their door, 50 years later. Only Jacob is still exactly as he was when he died – an eight year old boy.

Interestingly, Jacob’s arrival brings with it a twist to the story. Before his return home, aware of the arrival of these ‘returned’ loved ones, Lucille believes that the people who are coming back are devils, that they aren’t natural. But now that her son has returned she can’t deny that Jacob feels real, that he feels like her son.  It brings the reader to think ‘what would I do? Could I accept the returning of my loved one?’

At this point, the government gets involved and takes over the small town of Arcadia to fence The Returned in. The government don’t know how these people have returned, why they are here or what threat they may pose, and so they gather them together and lock them up.

I felt as though I was reading about a concentration camp. It felt as though it were about race and about civil rights. The Returned were treated poorly, the food was slop, the facilities were blocked and smelly and there were not enough places for them to sleep. They were denied visitors and they were denied their freedom, even though they had done nothing wrong.

Jason Mott tells this story in two perspectives, the “True Living” and “The Returned”. This was a clever way of showing the reader how those who’d lost and regained loved ones reacted and also showing how the ones who had returned felt, about their experiences on their return and also in the camp.

I did find the story flow a little clumsy at times and I was also left disappointed at the conclusion. There was no real resolution as to how the government resolved the situation of The Returned’s containment, and no explanation on how these people came about to return in the first place.

In saying that, the last few chapters of Mott’s novel did focus nicely, really effectively, on how The Returned had helped their loved ones to heal, to have a chance for one last moment together, to say what they had wanted to say since their passing, to amend regrets.  I was left wondering – how would you spend your time over if a loved one returned?

***

If you’d like to find out more about Jason Mott’s The Returned visit the Harlequin website here.

 

Hot and bothered with Sylvia Day

It looks like I missed out on a couple treats when I handed over today’s books to TBYL Reviewer Fiona! She’s been taking a wild ride with two Sylvia Day novels…

***

At a recent reviewer catch-up with Mandi, I unwittingly picked up a couple of romance novels by Sylvia Day to review, only to find that they were, well, rather hot and bothersome.

entwined with youSylvia Day is an international best-selling author and has been described by Fox News as “one of the most successful romance writers in the world.”  I think it would be fair to say that the two books I’m reviewing, Don’t Tempt Me and Entwined With You, are much more than just simple romance.

Unlike many other people I know who found the prose of E.L. James to be a little bit non-literary and a tad overwrought, I really enjoyed the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy and read the three books over a four-day thirty-year High School reunion long weekend in Fremantle last year. Even though the lead character Anastasia Steele is a young woman just about to graduate from college, I believe that there’s not so much about the 50 Shades books that would appeal to young women, but rather; it’s a pure fantasy ride for middle-aged chicks, like me. The sort of what-could-have-been story, if only we’d valued ourselves a bit more, been a bit more willing to try things, the ‘pathway not taken’ sort of thing. I myself have my own Christian Grey path that I didn’t take and every now and then I wonder what would have happened if I had?

Titillation and adventure is what is going on in both these Sylvia Day novels, although the settings and historical contexts could not be more different.  Like the E.L. James books, I found these books virtually impossible to put down, they are so readable, and really quite naughty, in a non-drudge kind of way.

Entwined with You is the third in the Crossfire books, a series that has sold over 6 million copies so far. I haven’t read the previous two Crossfire novels, however Sylvia Day’s clippy and jovial style means that it’s not really necessary to have done so. The two main characters are Eva and Gideon, both damaged by childhood abuse and both seeking to move beyond those harmful experiences and enter into a grown-up and normal relationship with each other. Gideon is a New York property-billionaire kind of dude who seems to be able to have anything and anyone at any time he wants, though for some reason that is unfathomable, he only really wants Eva.

Eva is a smart and sassy kind of gal with bucketloads of attitude, a clear head and the capability to not panic and just get on with things when the going gets tough, which is pretty unlike Anastasia Steele in the Fifty Shades books. That said, there are numerous borrowings of Fifty Shades motifs that are probably there to excite those who have read E.L James books, a little bit of post-modernist cross-pollination.

The dominant theme of Entwined with You is around the many obstacles that are thrown in the path of Eva and Gideon, and how they still keep finding ways to both be together and to get it on together. This is how some of the titillation goes:

“I loved him wild and I loved him tender. I’d take him any way I could get him, but it’d been so long… My skin was already tingling and tightening expectantly, craving the greedy reverence of his touch. I feared what would happen if he came at me full force when I was so starved for his body. We might tear each other apart.”

Of course it gets way more graphic than this, however quoting some of the really blue prose in Entwined with You isn’t really kosher on a family blog like That Book You Like. One of the qualities I like immensely about Entwined with You is the feeling of being in New York with the heroine; from her Krav Maga (a brutal martial arts practice developed in Israel) sessions in Brooklyn; to her incredibly bouncy sex sessions in her lover’s apartment, through to the doorman in the apartment block, and the really hip and cool lifestyles of the twentysomethings that dominate the book. I mean, where else would you find a bisexual best friend named Cary who’s dating both a guy and a girl, who also happens to be a super hotty and features on underwear billboards? A flatmate like this is much more likely to be found in New York, New York than Melbourne I think.

A fun read, very sassy, lots of sexy stimulation and if your life is feeling a bit boring at the moment, a quick read of Entwined with You by Sylvia Day is the perfect wake-up!

The other book by Sylvia Day that I read in this batch was set in a totally different era, and the sex scenes were in some ways much more delectable. For me there’s nothing like a bit of period drama to add a certain frisson to a book or television drama.

don't tempt meDon’t Tempt Me is a riveting romance novel. It’s an adventurous story and Sylvia Day’s female characters are mainly strong and capable, even the damaged or deceived ones. Set in 1757 and then 1780 in Paris, at a time when Benjamin Franklin (one of the founding fathers of the United States and in the 1780s the United States Ambassador to France) Day delivers a rocking rip through a historic time that in this story seemed to be transitioning out of the economics of the kingdom into the economics of the merchant. This transition is nicely demonstrated through the leading male protagonist, Simon Quinn, the mercenary. The story is nicely set against the back-drop of the start of capitalism as we know it now.

Ben Franklin is representative of a political motif in the book, and thereby it’s just his name that matters. It’s his researcher and analyst, the very solemn and stern but capable Edward James who is one of the key manly characters in this read. It is in James that we see the representation of level-headedness, certainty and moral rectitude that is probably a metaphor for the emerging place that the United States of America is exerting in global politics at this time.

One of the most admirable qualities in Sylvia Day’s writing is the open lust and admiration for the male body that is running through the minds of her female characters. For the main part these are not women who hang around waiting to be conquered and then ‘lie back and think of England’, seeing their role as to ‘do the marital duty’. They are full-blooded, mainly young women caught between the dictates and constraints of polite society and their own raging lust. Fortunately for the reader, their lust wins out in the story. For example, there is a particular heroine, a 23 year old virgin named Lynette Baillon, standing behind a fern at a rather licentious party in Paris, who spys the hero Quinn…

“He was the sort of man who could enslave a woman with a single glance.

A glance such as the one he was presently giving to her.

Lynette Baillon watched the notorious Simon Quinn with similar shamelessness, admiring the raven blackness of his hair and the brilliant blue of his eyes.

Quinn lounged further against the fluted column in the Baroness Orlinda’s ballroom, his arms crossing his broad chest and one ankle hooked carelessly over the other. He looked both leisurely and alert, a dichotomy she had noted the first time she saw him riding through the moonlit Parisian streets…”

And minutes later, with Quinn not understanding exactly who he was attracting the attention of…

“Her blood felt hot now. Her chest rose and fell rapidly in response to his stare. Her heart raced. That a stranger could incite such a response in her despite the crowd that surrounded them and the distance separating them only exacerbated her reaction.

Then he straightened abruptly and approached with a predator’s easy, yet determined gait. His long legs ate up the space between them, his pathway direct and unconcerned with those who were forced to move out of his way. She inhaled sharply, her palms dampening within her gloves.”

Of course the text gets a whole lot bluer than this, however I think this snap-shot demonstrates that while Lynette is indeed an inexperienced young gentlewoman, she is not without an imagination that encompasses fully-fledged erotic fantasy, which in the course of the book is realised in practice.

The title of this novel, Don’t Tempt Me comes from words uttered by the hero Quinn when against the odds, all the societal obstacles put in the way of his courting Lynette Baillon have been turned upside down and surprisingly he holds himself back and decides to court her for marriage in a rather old-fashioned way.

This book is a rollicking adventure story set at an interesting time in history, in the world’s most romantic city Paris, with hot blooded characters who stride across both the bourgeoisie, the political classes and the mercantile classes. Oh and with worried parents of very comely daughters and a superb plot using twins to great effect.

One to enjoy as a secret journey to another time and place when the kids and partner are driving you up the wall during the school holidays. Sit back with Don’t Tempt Me and think of Paris!

***

I’ve got the most recent Sylvia Day novel on the reading list, In The Flesh. Do you think I should pass it on to Fiona?

If you’d like to find out more about Sylvia Day’s books from Penguin, you can read more here.

Breaking Point: Ambition

At our last reviewer get together, TBYL Reviewer Narelle grabbed today’s book the first chance she got, sure that she’d seen it some place before. And indeed she had…

Originally published in the 80s Julie Burchill’s Ambition has been recently re-released by Allen and Unwin in order, I can only assume, to attempt to satisfy the appetites of a new generation of readers who, in 2013 discovered an insatiable desire for erotic adventure.

No taboo is left unbroken, no fantasy left unfulfilled in this shocking expose of the lengths to which one woman will go become editor of the UK’s bestselling tabloid.

It’s a saucy adult read, but as you’ll see below, Narelle was most definitely of the opinion that this novel is also a compelling story, in retrospect almost a period piece, over and above the raunch…

***

“I’m sick of breaking bimbos – it’s no fun, no challenge. Strong, hard career girls – they’re the new filet mignon of females. Girls like you. Oh, I’m going to have fun breaking you, Susan.”

ambition

Tobias Pope ruled his communications empire with fear and loathing – his employees feared him and he loathed them. But he may have met his match in Susan Street, the young, beautiful and nakedly ambitious deputy of his latest newspaper acquisition. As they fight, shop and orgy from Soho to Rio and from Sun City to New York City, getting what she wants – the top job – seems so simple. If she doesn’t break first.

Susan Street has the editorship of the Sunday Best, a London tabloid with rising readership, firmly in her sights.

Having done time in the deputy chair, she’s more than ready to take over – until the sudden death of her boss. With a new and fearsome owner in Tobias Pope, Susan suddenly has to prove her fierce ambition and willingness to do anything to secure the covered role.

Susan makes a Rumpelstiltskin-like bargain with Tobias, agreeing to perform 6 unnamed tasks. If she can complete them, the job she wants so desperately will be hers. Tobias sets out to “break” Susan and make her question just what she will or won’t do in the name of Ambition.

Though Julie Burchill’s novel is set and was written in the late 80’s, her sharply drawn portrait of modern workplaces, relationships and dilemmas is as relevant now as it was over 20 years ago. Reminiscent of Lee Tulloch and Candace Bushnell, Ambition is a rollicking read that offers both rampant escapism and biting social commentary.

If you’re looking for a read to take on holiday, on the train or even just to take you away from the world for while, go along for the ride with Susan Street – it’s a highly enjoyable one, fabulously adult – in the author’s own words, “…even now, it makes Fifty Shades of Grey look like Anne of Green Gables.”

***

You can find out more about Ambition here…