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Reading List by Sunita for September

Reading List by Sunita for September

While perusing Netgalley as well as recommendations from trusted sources, I discovered that a few of the books I was interested in were the second, third, or even later installments of a series. Then my list got longer when Carina Press put a slew of their mystery series’ first volumes on sale at $ .99. Being someone who likes to read in order, I went back to the beginning, and I had a great time.

 

Cornick Lady and LairdThe Lady and the Laird by Nicola Cornick

I reviewed and recommended one of Cornick’s other historical romances at the beginning of the year, and I finally got around to the first in her newest series. I’m mostly not reading Historical Romance for reasons I’ve written about elsewhere, but Cornick often works for me, especially her early 19thC-set books. This series revolves around the MacMorlan sisters, with the first installment featuring a marriage of convenience story. Lady Lucy MacMorlan finds herself blackmailed into marriage by Robert, Marquis of Methven, who needs a wife and an heir within a short period of time if he is to keep his inheritance intact. Both Lucy and Robert are scarred by tragedies in their past, and despite their long-ago attraction to each other, neither wants to marry. But marry they do, and the second half of the story has them learning to trust each other enough to love, facing the fears born of their pasts, and vanquishing a villain. Cornick does a terrific job of bringing to life a Scotland we see all too infrequently in Historical Romance: don’t be fooled by the tartan on the cover, this isn’t Ochlassieland, it’s Scotland. I liked both Lucy and Methven, although both do a couple of things that seem plot-driven and out of character with their otherwise intelligent portrayals, and the misunderstanding that stretches out the last third of the story is briefer and more organic than in the last book. Grade: B

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Claverton Binary WitnessBinary Witness by Rosie Claverton

I saw a cover on Netgalley that really grabbed my interest, but when I read the blurb I realized it was the second in a series. Mulling it over, I checked out the first book and discovered it was only $ .99. I downloaded it, started reading, and was hooked. Amy Lane is a computer whiz who helps the Cardiff, Wales police force in their investigations. She is agoraphobic, so her sister arranges for her to have a cleaning service. Jason Carr shows up to clean her house, she reluctantly lets him in and a tentative friendship begins. Jason is an ex-con who needs a job and Amy needs both a clean apartment and a leg man. When women start disappearing, Amy and Jason combine forces to investigate, using Amy’s computer skills and Jason’s knowledge of Cardiff. The style is occasionally bumpy; it reads like a debut novel. I’m not a big fan of serial killer or women-in-jeopardy plots and this one took a long time to unspool. But I liked Amy and Jason so much I didn’t care. There is no romance between them, but it doesn’t seem out of the question for the future, so I hold out hope! Claverton is a hospital psychiatrist and both the Cardiff setting and Amy’s condition seemed very well done to me. I’m really looking forward to the next book, Code Runner. Grade: B-

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Murder-by-the-Seaside lindseyMurder by the Seaside by Julie Anne Lindsey

This is another first in a series from Carina, also $ .99, and it is most definitely a cozy mystery. Patience Price is a Human Resources professional who has been laid off from her job at the FBI. She comes home to Chincoteague Island, where her hippie parents still live, to set up a psychology practice. Her arrival coincides with a murder and her high-school flame is the most obvious suspect. Despite still being furious with him for the way he left town after graduation, Patience agrees to help find out what happened. This puts her in constant danger but it also integrates her back into the town. The writing is smooth and assured, and Patience has a very enjoyable voice. There are not one but two romantic possibilities, each different from the other, and Patience’s parents and friends, as well as the townspeople, are sketched deftly and with humor. This is not a city-awful, small-town-wonderful book; Patience goes back because she’s broke, and there are both good and bad people to deal with. I don’t know that I could read a ton of these types of light cozy mysteries in a row; there an awful lot of eccentric people and crazy events. But I enjoyed this one and have already added the next installment to my TBR. Grade: B-

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Wells Presumed DeadPresumed Dead by Shirley Wells

This is the third of my Carina $ .99 specials for the month (just call me Pavlov’s dog). This was written back in 2010 and is the first of the Dylan Scott mystery series. Scott is a policeman who lost his job for using excessive force on a suspect and went to prison for it. His wife has thrown him out of the house and seems ready to make it permanent, his mother has moved into his tiny new flat, but at least his son still loves him and he suddenly has a job offer to find out what happened to a woman who went missing thirteen years ago. I found Dylan really annoying in the first few pages, as he mentally insulted women drivers and talked about his wife as if she were a stereotype rather than a person he knew intimately and loved. I almost didn’t keep going, but I liked Wells’s voice, and Dylan improved immensely. He’s a bit of a clueless type when it comes to women, but he respects them more than I initially thought. The mystery itself is interesting and the missing woman comes to life as a sympathetic person over the course of the book. Dylan’s impromptu partnership with a retired policeman was enjoyable, and I especially liked his relationship with his son (despite their love of Arsenal). Both Dylan’s mother and wife are revealed (to the reader and to Dylan) to be complex and layered by the end, and the door is open for a reconciliation. The Lancashire setting was well depicted, and I’m looking forward to the next in the series. Grade: B-

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The Year We Fell Down (The Ivy Years #1) by Sarina Bowen The Year We Fell Down by Sarina Bowen

I bought this book because I couldn’t resist Jane’s money-back guarantee, especially given how many of my other DA and Twitter buddies had raved about it. I thought that if any NA book could work for me, this one would. And to some extent it did. I can see what readers have loved about it so much. Corey and Hartley are completely appealing, and Corey’s matter-of-fact approach to her disability is a refreshing change from genre fiction’s standard treatment of such issues. I agree that for someone who was injured so recently and whose life was turned upside down, her equanimity seems a bit overdone, but I’d rather have that than the angst-fests and appropriation I more often see. The depiction of the unnamed Ivy League institution is very well done, as is the general feel and rhythm of college life. I’m glad I read the book, but I’m not going on to the next in the series. One reason is that I grew tired of the narrator’s voice even though I didn’t get tired of her, if that makes sense. There is an artlessness to the writing that made it almost monotonous to read. I rarely find myself wishing for more complex prose in genre fiction, but here I did. The second reason is not about the book, it’s about me. As a college professor, it feels voyeuristic to read about the personal lives of students who are all too similar to the ones I see every day, and I can’t get them fully out of my head when I should be immersed in the story. That said, it feels like a very good example of the genre. Grade: B

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REVIEW:  Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

REVIEW: Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Bitter-Greens

Spoiler (Trigger Warning): Show

This book has a rape scene.

The amazing power and truth of the Rapunzel fairy tale comes alive for the first time in this breathtaking tale of desire, black magic and the redemptive power of love

French novelist Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from the court of Versailles by the Sun King, Louis XIV, after a series of scandalous love affairs. At the convent, she is comforted by an old nun, Sœur Seraphina, who tells her the tale of a young girl who, a hundred years earlier, is sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens…

After Margherita’s father steals parsley from the walled garden of the courtesan Selena Leonelli, he is threatened with having both hands cut off, unless he and his wife relinquish their precious little girl. Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Tiziano, first painted by him in 1512 and still inspiring him at the time of his death. She is at the center of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition.

Locked away in a tower, Margherita sings in the hope that someone will hear her. One day, a young man does.

Dear Ms. Forsyth,

It’s rare that I read a romance book these days that I don’t already have some idea of how the plot will play out. Sometimes I can predict exactly what will happen when and it’s these books that usually almost put me to sleep. So when I come across a book which surprises me as well as delights me with its originality, I get excited. This is such a book even if maybe, technically it isn’t all a romance.

After a bit of backstory, I was expecting the book to quickly jump to the Rapunzel story, as after all that’s what the book is about, right? But no. Instead an amazing start details how Charlotte-Rose gets sent away to a convent. I felt like I was along for her self pitying leave taking of the glory that was the court of the Sun King at Versailles, the bumpy and cold trip to the even colder and bleaker convent as well as the meeting with the sadistic Soeur in charge of postulants. Before I knew it, I was totally wrapped up in the shock Charlotte-Rose feels about this alien world and the women who inhabit it.

It’s a fascinating opening and I found myself learning new things that are effortlessly added to the narrative. Plus they are things that need to be there or have a use rather than just as a show off of research done. I wasn’t in any hurry for Fairy Tale to begin because Charlotte-Rose is so interesting and fun to read about. She’s certainly not an easy person to like at times but I was pulling and rooting for her nonetheless.

Once the kinder Soeur Seraphina begins to tell her fairy tale, I got lost in that world as well. I can see it, touch it, sense it. As with the first section, I was floating along in a happy reading daze as the story unfolded around me. I’d read and read and eventually come up for air to discover that pages had flown by and hours sped past. Seraphina takes the story far past what I grew up hearing and reading by adding backstories, shading in details and giving the whole a glorious color and life.

In the Brothers Grimm version I read as a child, poor Rapunzel’s day to day existence locked up in the tower is skimmed over. Here we see how horrifying, lonely and boring it was. I like the fact that Margherita uses her brains to stay sane and does have agency. She’s told there’s no escape but she tests that to the limit. She makes nice when she has to but never forgets her three truths.

My name is Magherita.

My parents loved me.

One day, I will escape.

But wait, there’s more. We even get the Bella Strega’s point of view and if anyone deserved to get her revenge while learning the arts of herbs and scorcery it’s Selena. She’s tough to begin with and, after what happens to her mother, gets even more hardened early on in her life. I can feel sympathy for what she endured but it is hard to feel sorry for her given what she does to others who had nothing to do with her mother’s fate. However she did come by her mindset of “me first and I must stay beautiful” honestly though.

As I continued to read the book, it was clear that an overriding theme for all the women is that historically, women were at the mercy of men. The witch who taught Selena said it right – a woman could be a nun, a wife or a whore. And the actor who first broke Charlotte-Rose’s heart imparted a secondary truth – a woman needs to be pretty or rich or preferably both to prosper in their world. These realities of the times serve as the impetus for the women’s actions.

It’s also easy to see the parallel between the story within a story in that Charlotte-Rose suffers some of Margherita’s fate – both are locked away, far from loved ones and places at the whim of another. Both have to rely on themselves and both manage to shape their fates as much as it was possible for women to do.

The story was unique and engaging, informative without being a history lesson. I had no idea what would happen next and I can’t tell you how much this thrilled me. The flashbacks opened the beauty and decay of the city of Venice, the glittering world of Versailles and the horror of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. In writing the book you truly were enjoying a world Charlotte-Rose could only dream of and in reading it I had a wonderful time. B+

~Jayne

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