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Chess

REVIEW:  Black Knight, White Queen by Jackie Ashenden

REVIEW: Black Knight, White Queen by Jackie Ashenden

Black Knight, White Queen Jackie Ashenden

Dear Ms. Ashenden:

How many times has there been a chess champion as a hero? Right. None come to mind so I had to read it. I’ve tried two other books by you and I love your voice even if the direction the stories have taken have left me a little dissastified.

This is a short novel or a long novella. My calibre plugin says it is 46,089 words and it feels it. Izzy Cornwall packs up her bags and leaves her New Zealand home after her sister’s suicide.  She’s in Bangkok Thailand, sketching, and trying to lose herself in the city.  Aleksandr Shastin is a chess champion who has been trying to sublimate his own grief at the loss of his former teacher.   The two meet on the rooftop of Aleks’ swanky hotel.

There Izzy propositions Aleksandr who, in his own words, is surprised when he is never surprised.

Aleks always knew what was going to happen. Could always see ten steps ahead. And yet he hadn’t counted on this. Hadn’t counted on her or his response to her.

One of the best features of this story is how in character each person acts. Aleks is this cool headed strategy master and Izzy is a fly by the seat of her pants artist. Izzy pushes Aleks off center and he fights it initially because his whole world is being in control.  When the one time sexual encounter with Izzy turns into something more, Aleks instinct is to close down because when she makes him feel, the loss of his mentor threatens to engulf him.

Izzy’s just the same as Aleks but her grief and emotions are displayed separately.  She wants comfort and thinks in some way she can find it with this very hot stranger.  She wants to both find herself and forget in this foreign land and this foreign man.  Both grief and loneliness and relief are written into the pages of the story.  But because of their emotional state, I wasn’t entirely convinced that either of them were healed through their sexual intercourse which is essentially the only interaction that the two had throughout the story.

I wished we had much more about Izzy’s conflict. Her situation with her family and the loss of her sister was given only abbreviated space.  There were overt traditional themes to the characterizations with Izzy being soft, colorful, nurturing and Aleks being cold, hard, closed off.  It was a bit cliched and while it worked, there were times I wanted to be surprised but was resigned to the predictability of their actions.

Further, the story was very sexy and the two communicated via their bedroom activity, but I had a hard time believing in the HEA particularly when a major emotional movement occurs within the epilogue.  Part of this problem I attribute to the length. If this had been a full length novel, there would have been more space to explore the weighty issues of grief, loneliness and belonging.  While there was some lovely imagery in the prose, I still felt unfulfilled at the end.

She began to move slowly and deeply, and he told her she was beautiful in Russian because he couldn’t remember the words in English. A whole language lost because of her. Because of how she made him feel.

B-

Best regards,

Jane

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REVIEW: Queen’s Gambit by Marie Treanor

REVIEW: Queen’s Gambit by Marie Treanor

Dear Ms. Treanor,

1031Ever since I read a historical of yours during one of our old ebook contests, I’ve meant to pick up another. It’s taken me a while but when I saw this offering from Samhain, I jumped on it.

Christi Blythe works nights in a bar in a small hotel in the Highlands of Scotland. And it’s here that an unusual contest is set to take place. Two chess Grand Masters will play five games for a prize of  £10,000. But why here, everyone asks? Well, no one quite knows for sure why the Russian Andrei Zuvarin has chosen this as the site for his rematch with Englishman James Garrick. But as Christi works the bar, pours drinks and watches the much needed money flow into her boss’s till, none of the staff are complaining.

Against her will, she begins to fall for this tall, flamboyant Russian who seeks her out twice during his first evening at the hotel. And then when they meet later than that, an explosive sexual attraction leads them together. But Christi refuses to hope that Andrei could be The One. After all, they’ve only known each other for 2 days and there’s not a chance he’d even believe her story much less be willing to fulfill the terms of the curse laid upon her so many years ago. Would he?

Well, of course he would but you had me wondering how Andrei would go about doing so and still save another person dear to him. I was almost afraid it would turn into a Sophie’s choice or a life on the run until Christi sees a way, from her lower-at-the-time vantage point, to turn the tables on the Russian mobsters.

With a short story length, every word has to count and you make them do so beautifully. The book packs a lot of emotion – laughter, joy, grief, longing, sorrow and ultimately a love true enough to be willing to sacrifice all for the one dearest to you.

Though we find out in the end that this isn’t quite love at first sight, I was actually willing to accept not only instant lust but second day love as well. And to top that off by falling hook, line and sinker for Andrei’s belief in the supernatural – well, he did discover its reality with incontrovertible proof. Andrei’s also one smart cookie to figure out a way to beat the curse using Christi to effect her own escape.

Yet, if Christi had not learned from what caught her in the paranormal spell, I would have been left with a niggling sense that she had been given something that she didn’t deserve. As it is, she’s had time to ponder what she did and the thoughtless actions of years ago. When she says she now understands the pain she caused another, it makes her willingness to give up her hope for happiness mean that much more.

And all without a single dinnae or cannae or mention of sheep or kilts. Okay, you did use lassie once and perhaps throw in wee but no other faux Scottish brogue which so often makes my teeth hurt.

You make me believe in these two, their feelings for each other and their future joy together. And all in a paranormal story! Good show. B+

~Jayne

This book can be purchased in ebook format from Samhain Publishing.