Thursday 27 February 2014

The Silent Governess by Julie Klassen

This is the story of Miss Olivia Keene, who is a teacher in a local school for girls. She returns home one day to find her mother being strangled. Olivia rushes to her mother’s aid and strikes the attacker over the head.  Her mother gives her a purse and pleads with Olivia to run, in case she has unintentionally killed him, and Olivia obeys.  She hopes to find sanctuary with a friend of her mother’s some distance away, and hopes that they will take her on to work in their school.  Olivia has a near run escape from being ravished by poachers. The next day fate initially seems to be kinder to her; she meets a vicar who offers her lodging for the night and points her in the direction of a kindly lady shop owner who can provide Olivia with the wherewithal to repair her damaged clothes. Olivia is returning to the Vicar’s abode when she takes a detour.  She had found a newspaper cutting in the purse her mother gave her mentioning an estate, and finding how close she is, she decides to have a look.  We all know that this is a bad idea, and so it proves to be!

Olivia doesn’t intend to eavesdrop but she overhears a colossal family secret, which has come to light due to a blackmail attempt, and before she can get away she is captured and handed into the local constabulary for trespass.  Unfortunately for Olivia, they hadn’t noticed that there is somebody already in the cell she is put into; it’s one of the poachers from the previous night.  He decides that this is his opportunity to continue what was interrupted, as long as Olivia can be silenced, and he chokes her hard enough to damage her larynx.  Although she is saved before she can be violated she now can’t speak.  She is removed from the cell at the request of Lord Bradley (Edward), the man whose deepest secret she now knows. He is understandably keen to keep a very close eye on Olivia for the next few months, until he can root out the blackmailer and the danger has passed.  Olivia is taken on as a nurserymaid, and then later a governess, all the while getting closer to Edward Bradley, and trying to discover the whereabouts of her mother and the identity of the blackmailer.

This was a story where you found you were immediately in the thick of the action.  It’s pretty fast paced and there is a lot going on, and quite a cast of characters to come to know.  I thought the author did a good job of the pacing, and not overwhelming the reader considering the amount of threads there are to the various mysteries being unravelled.  There are also some useful and interesting quotes provided at the beginning of each chapter regarding the place of servants in the home, particularly governesses.  How they were above the servants but below the family, how lonely and vulnerable their lives could be.  The author hails from across the pond I believe, but aside from the odd US English word and the mention of a raccoon, which don’t live in the wild here, you wouldn’t particularly notice.

There was a lot I liked about this book.  The various threads gave you much to think about, and although I worked some of it out, other events were unexpected for me, which really added interest.  I enjoyed seeing Olivia settle into her new home and overcoming the obstacles she faces in trying to communicate without speaking.  The theme of her silence followed through the story, as we learn that in the past Olivia has stayed silent at times when perhaps she should not have, and so she overcomes physically having to be silent, being forced to remain silenced, and also overcomes choosing to silence herself. Olivia also evaluates her relationship with her father, and with God.  Edward also has a journey of discovery; the secret he learns completely shakes the foundation of what he thought his life was, and causes him to question many of his beliefs.

There are characters of varying classes, and interaction between the classes is a theme in this book, but in English society at the time it was a big deal.  Many times while reading this book I wondered if it would be possible for Olivia to have any kind of future together with Edward without the author coming up with something really clever.  For me, the ending of this book was a bit of a letdown.  Most of the threads of the story were resolved fairly quickly and some aspects of the conclusion felt rushed to me. Some of the events at the end weren’t what I would have chosen to happen, and in fact some I felt were unlikely, but it wasn’t that I objected to so much although I couldn’t help but feel that there would have been a scandal though the possibility of this was brushed under the carpet.  The bigger issue for me was that various characters seemed very accepting of events I felt they probably would have made more of an attempt to resist. There was an epilogue only a short time later which answered very few of the questions that I was left with.  For me, this made it a 4 star read rather than a 5.  Still, I thought this was a good read, and very gripping.  I was surprised to see how long it is, it felt much shorter.  I certainly plan to read more by this author.

Monday 24 February 2014

Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match by Marilyn Brant

In this story Beth Ann Bennet is a 26 year old single mum who is training to be a social worker. She signs up to a dating website to try and find a man to study for her sociology module, which is focusing on gender stereotypes.  To make her dating profile more attractive she tells some lies on it, changing her job, her age and omitting to mention her child.  She isn’t ashamed of who she is, although she modestly underrates her attractiveness, but she isn’t actually pursuing a relationship here, just trying to get some research done.  She even uses a pseudonym to sign up with. Will Darcy, gorgeous doctor, is trying to get some funding for a new clinic to provide treatment for single mothers and their children, who wouldn’t be able to afford treatment otherwise.  His rich cousin, Bingley has agreed to make a large donation, in return for workaholic Darcy having 5 dates with somebody and bringing them to Bingley’s birthday party. This is why Darcy signs up for online dating.  He is pretty truthful on his application, the only lie he tells is his reason for signing up.

Beth notices Darcy’s profile online and they exchange emails.  She didn’t intend to meet her case study subject, but she is enticed enough to meet with him for coffee and finds she is much more attracted to him than she had anticipated.  The attraction is mutual, and they have a few more dates.  In the course of this she finds out that he hates social workers and would actively avoid dating a single mum.  This is due to his own childhood bad experiences of step-families and bad social workers, plus the perception he has of social workers who deal with his single mum patients. So Darcy is massively prejudiced, but Beth not so much. They both have their share of pride, but I wouldn’t especially call either of them proud. Both of them keep people at an emotional distance, but for him it’s more self-preservation, and she has been focused on raising her child, who is just coming up to school age. Once Beth realises the views Will holds she can’t see any future for the relationship, built as it is on deceit, but both of them are already in deeper than they had intended...

The story wasn’t was what I was expecting.  From the title I expected a modern update of Pride and Prejudice with a recognisable story arc, but this doesn’t follow the lines of Pride and Prejudice at all. There are recognisable names and characters, but the dynamics between them are different, particularly between Beth and Will, and the events are pretty different.  This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the story, I liked it very much, but it wasn’t what I expected.  The main similarity to me was the theme of realising what prejudices are held and overcoming them.

Both Beth and Will were really admirable characters, if you could overlook the initial lying!  He was so focussed on improving life for people who were struggling financially both for their benefit and for the greater good of society, and is also a caring son.  Beth had been left by her husband around the time their baby was born and had been raising her son on her own since then while trying to train in a job that was more fulfilling emotionally than financially. I very much enjoyed seeing Beth and Will’s story, and there were many occasions when I doubted that it would be possible to provide them with a happy ending.  In fact, I had real trouble putting the kindle down and I read it pretty much in one sitting!

Friday 21 February 2014

The Subsequent Proposal by Joana Starnes

Back in January, I was lucky enough to be given a book to review for Leatherbound Reviews. It was my first read of 2014.  I'd been a bit reluctant to start it, since I knew that Mr Darcy (who obviously must end up with Lizzy) gets engaged to another Austen heroine, Miss Anne Elliot of Persuasion, a person who I cannot hate.  However, I found that my reluctance was mistaken, because I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and found it a very satisfactory book to begin my 2014 reading.  Here is the review I wrote:

I’ve read lots of Pride and Prejudice variations, but none which crossed over with another Austen book as much as this one. What if, after the disastrous Hunsford proposal, Mr Darcy went off heartbroken, in the belief that Elizabeth Bennet would never reconsider her feelings towards him?  What if he felt he could never love another, but had found a friend in a lady who soothed his feelings and proved herself a genuine good friend to Georgiana? A friend who is unappreciated by her own family?  Darcy needs to marry at some point, and meeting and getting to know Miss Anne Elliot (from Persuasion) provides some balm to his wounds. He is persuaded by Colonel Fitzwilliam to think of matrimony and the story begins with Darcy actually proposing marriage to Anne (Nooooooo!).

Darcy is honest with her that he loves another, and Anne hints at her own disappointment in love. I felt quite sorry for Anne at this point, but let’s be honest, a loveless but respectful marriage with a good man would be better than having to live with HER relatives.  Sir Walter insists on a long engagement that will not be announced for some time, to give Miss Elizabeth Elliot chance to make a match rather than see the indignity of having two younger sisters marry before her (although there is no delay mentioned in Persuasion Captain Wentworth is less of a catch financially than Darcy, so I felt this was plausible). After sealing their tepid deal, Anne goes to stay with Lady Russell, and Darcy back to town.  Here he meets with Bingley who tells him that both of the elder Miss Bennets have been to Pemberley while travelling with the Gardiners, in the company of one of Mrs Gardiner’s school friends, Mrs Croft, her husband and her brother, Captain Wentworth, who seems disposed to court one of the Misses Bennet.  Darcy feels that his interference in Bingley’s affairs may have cost his friend his happiness so he sets off to Hertfordshire to give him what assistance he can, meaning that he crosses the path of Elizabeth Bennet once more, and starts to hope that her feelings towards him may have changed, even though it’s too late...

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  The story is told in the third person, but we are privy to Darcy’s thoughts and passionate feelings, which makes his decisions easier to understand. The early parts of it where Darcy is dealing with his misery were almost painful to read, but were really compelling. Once Darcy has hopes that Elizabeth has changed her mind towards him he is almost as miserable, because he’s not in a position to propose.  He is also very jealous of Captain Wentworth, who makes no secret of his plans to propose to Elizabeth, and the two men have a mutual distrust and dislike which was almost comedic, there are many looks of loathing directed at each other!

Poor Anne is almost completely forgotten by Darcy as he interacts with the bewitching Miss Bennet and gets caught up in events relating to the Bennet family. I felt even more sorry for Anne at this point, but knowing that she is supposed to end up married to Captain Wentworth, the man she loves really helped me forgive Darcy’s behaviour in overlooking his responsibilities somewhat.

“His first, his only thought had been of her. Her happiness, her comfort.  Not Georgiana’s, and certainly not Anne’s.”

Although there are the characters from two Austen books here it’s very much a Pride and Prejudice variation.  We see very little of Anne, and other characters from Persuasion such as Sir Walter are only in the story briefly.  Characters from Pride and Prejudice such as Jane and Mr Bingley play a larger part in the story, and I felt that they were really captured well.  I particularly liked the affectionate way the embarrassing and voluble Mrs Bennet was portrayed:

“Mrs Bennet had taken up her post at one of the tall windows that overlooked the garden – and if the curtains did not twitch, it was only due to her mastery of the art.”

I felt this story had everything; there was emotion, there was passion, there was a lot of humour and a big tangle to unravel to ensure that both of our couples got a happy ending.  I read it in one sitting and I thoroughly enjoyed it. This is the first book I’ve read this year and what a way to begin! I’d recommend this book without hesitation, I really did love it.

Thursday 20 February 2014

Wallbanger by Alice Clayton

Interior Designer Caroline has just moved into her dream apartment in San Francisco, sublet to her by her boss.  It’s a gorgeous place and she is really happy with it, except she gets woken at stupid o’clock in the morning by the sound of her neighbour’s bed banging into the wall as he ‘entertains’ a rather noisy companion, who enjoys being spanked.  The next night, he makes a different woman meow in bed, a noise that unfortunately makes Caroline’s cat Clive uber horny. Soon he is entertaining yet another lady in bed.  The disturbed sleep would be bad enough, but Caroline is also pretty jealous.  She had a one-night stand a while ago that was pretty forgettable, except that since then she has been missing her ‘O’, as she refers to it, and Simon, who she dubs ‘Wallbanger’ doesn’t seem to have that problem at all.

One night, she decides she’s had enough, and storms around there wearing a very fetching pink babydoll nightie.  She finds to her chagrin that Wallbanger is actually pretty hot, even if he is a smug arse.  Caroline is not the type to keep much to herself, so soon all her closest friends are well aware of the Wallbanger saga, but not that Caroline has begun to dream about him.  Soon, she and Simon meet each other socially, through mutual friends, and have to make a truce of sorts.  Wallbanger and Pink Nightie Girl soon become really good friends and have a lot of mutual attraction but Simon has never been the type to settle down with a girlfriend and Caroline is not about to join his harem of women, even if it does seem as though he might be a good candidate to help her recover her ‘O’.

This was such a funny story! Neither Caroline or Simon seem to keep much close to their chests, it’s all out there so it’s not the most subtle of relationships but I loved their banter and smutty innuendo, they were such a fun couple, and had such a lot of laughs.  Their close friends are also in the story, and although they were much less developed characters they certainly helped in forwarding the plot. Caroline has the funniest conversations with herself. 

“Was the Giggler out of the harem?
Was there even a harem left?
What did this mean?
Would I only think in questions now?
And if so, who is Eric Cartman’s father?”

The way she personified her ‘O’ reminded me a little bit of Ana talking about her ‘Inner Goddess’ in 50 Shades of Grey but she did it with such humour that instead of finding her annoying I was quite happy laughing at and along with Caroline.

“He was wooing me. And I was letting him woo. I wanted the woo. I deserved the woo.  I needed the wow that would surely follow the woo, but for now, the woo? It was whoa.”

Is this literature that will open your mind and expand your horizons? No.  Is it a very entertaining book that you’ll read with a smile on your face and will keep you laughing? It certainly did for me J

Head in the Clouds by Karen Witemeyer

This is a story set in Texas in the late 1800s. Miss Adelaide Proctor took a job as a teacher after her father died, and part of the conditions of the contract were that she wasn’t allowed to marry for 2 years. At the end of this time, the potential suitors who she met when she first came into town have moved on.  Adelaide has no family and she dreams of starting a family of her own, so she’s been concentrating her efforts on a young man called Henry, whom she doesn’t love, but likes enough to see as a potential husband.  Henry works as a travelling salesman, so Adelaide only sees him about once a month, and when he gets a promotion he tells her he won’t be in the area again. Adelaide believes Henry is too shy to propose, so she decides to give him some encouragement, resigning her job and followings him to a new town where she is met with disappointment.

Adelaide needs a new job quickly, and is lucky enough to be given a chance of being a governess to Gideon Westcott’s 5 year old daughter, Isabella.  The poor child lost her mother 5 months ago, and has been mute ever since.  She is absolutely crushed by her grief, and Gideon isn’t so much looking for a teacher for Isabella, but somebody who will bring her back to a normal childhood.  Adelaide is no stranger to grief and she and Isabella immediately bond.  Adelaide also feels a strong pull towards Gideon, but she’s getting her head out of the clouds this time; he’s her employer, the son of an English baron, and she’s not exactly marriage material he’s likely to be looking for.  In addition to this Adelaide is under the belief that Gideon’s wife has just died, not realising that he adopted the orphaned Isabella.

Adelaide is a great character, she is fun, hard-working, brave, sensible and sweet.  Her father used to call her his sunshine, and it’s an apt nickname, she is a very sunny soul! She has a genuine affection for Isabella and is patient with her, trying to draw her out of her shell and come out from the shadow her experiences have cast on her short life. Adelaide and Gideon’s attraction towards each other is almost instant, but it’s still believable, and you are rooting for them to get together when it becomes apparent that there is a very real danger threatening Isabella, and they have to work together to fight it off.  There is quite a bit of action going on in this book, and I was riveted to the page!

This book has a strong Christian theme, but I didn’t feel it was too much; Adelaide in particular has a bit of a spiritual journey in this book, starting off by being almost impatient with God for how her life is, and moving towards the realisation that rather than asking God to give her certain things in life she should instead have been asking for courage to do what needs to be done and patience to wait when needed. 

This is the first book I’ve read by this author but I would definitely read other books by her, I really enjoyed this read.

Monday 17 February 2014

Jane of Lantern Hill by L. M. Montgomery

Jane has never felt like she belongs; she lives with her mother, named Robin, Aunt Gertrude and Jane’s grandmother, Mrs Kennedy.  Mrs Kennedy’s favourite child by far is Robin, she is the only person in the world she actually loves. But it’s an unhealthy, selfish love.  She wants to keep Robin under her thumb, and resents anybody else that Robin cares for.  Robin loves her daughter, but Robin is a weak person, and she doesn’t have the strength of character to stand up to her mother. To keep the peace, she tries to hide much of her feelings for her daughter, but enough is evident that Jane is resented by her grandmother.  The grandmother isn’t physically abusive towards her, but she is belittling and cruel. Nothing Jane does is right, and she is constantly made to feel like a substandard disappointment.  She has hardly any self-confidence and very little self-esteem. 

Jane has been brought up without her father’s presence in her life, but he’s not dead, he and Robin have been living apart for the best part of 10 years.  Jane’s father, Andrew, writes requesting that Jane visit him on P.E. Island for the summer. Jane is forced to go, prepared to hate a person who she believes has made her mother unhappy and instead she meets somebody who she feels like she’s always known, and understands where she has inherited many of her character traits from.  Not only that, but Jane is allowed and encouraged to undertake things that she’s always wanted to do, and has talent in doing.  She also meets many people who look up to her and like her.  Jane returns from her holiday transformed; she isn’t made of the same stuff as her mother, and she is much harder to cow.  The start of Jane’s journey to a happier life begins with her first summer visit to Lantern Hill on P.E. Island...

This was a wonderful story from the author of Anne of Green Gables.  I love her style of prose, and Jane’s story was so touching.  The first third or so of the book was heartbreaking in a very non-dramatic way, I felt so bad for poor Jane, a child should NEVER feel like this, constantly being belittled and her mother not standing up for her.  I pitied Robin but I was also angry with her for allowing this – she knew how unhappy Jane was, and even if Robin was financially dependent on her mother I felt like she should have made more effort to be there for Jane, to love her in secret if need be. When Jane finally starts getting some positive encouragement and is allowed to do things in line with her natural abilities rather than being made to toe the line to what is deemed socially acceptable by her grandmother you can see her petals unfurl.  I so enjoyed this story and I can’t recommend it enough, it is just wonderful!

Sunday 16 February 2014

Nameless by Claire Kent

Nameless is the story of Erin and Seth.  Erin has known Seth by sight for 15-odd years.  He came to live in her town as a teenager and was pretty wild.  Since then, he’s made a success of himself in his legal career. He’s back in town for the funeral of his only relative.  Erin ends up getting drunk with Seth, and they have a one night stand.  Although they take precautions Erin finds herself pregnant and goes to tell Seth, who takes the news surprisingly well.  Erin is very wary of Seth as she has been burnt in the past; her ex-husband Marcus was a strong and decisive person and was very controlling of her, and she is scared of the same thing happening again.  She is willing to let Seth be part of the baby’s life if he wishes, but she intends that it will be on her terms, as she never wants to feel so powerless again.  Erin and Seth’s relationship becomes a bit confused - isn’t a romantic one, but it’s more than a friendship and both of them are holding back to prevent themselves from getting hurt, plus they have the added dynamic of a child, meaning that they don’t want to do anything which could damage their relationship long-term, as if Seth is to have a relationship with his child it will be easier if he and Erin can be on good terms.
I thought this was a pretty entertaining read.  Erin does her best to deal with a nightmarish situation, as does Seth.  They both have faults; she is too keen to project her ex’s faults onto Seth, and is quite blind towards his feelings on a number of occasions, and he is very reticent and does something that I’d find hard to forgive, but they also have their virtues – Erin is very forgiving of him and Seth, aside from his one big mistake, is there when Erin needs him.  They have lots of humour between them and make a really nice couple.  It would have been nice to have seen something from Seth’s point of view, he’s not very open and although you get Erin’s take on what she thinks might be going on, quite often she misses things or is wrong, so it would have been good to be privy to some of Seth’s thoughts and feelings.

The main downside for me with this book is that it felt too long. It’s understandable that the timeframe of the book is longer, as if I was in Erin’s position I wouldn’t be in a rush to jump into a relationship, she had a lot on her plate, and both her and her child’s future lay in the balance. Plus being a mum to a new baby takes a lot of your time! However, the book felt like some things could have been cut.  There were a number of sex scenes but they were a bit samey, and there were some interactions between Erin and Seth which were similar and I felt could be done without.

One thing I think the author portrayed well is the less glamorous side to motherhood, the upheaval and changed focus to your life, the fatigue is something that takes a while to get used to, your laundry piles up and you end up wearing clothes that are comfortable above anything else, romance is the last thing on your schedule for a while!

This author also writes under the name Noelle Adams, and I’ve read a few of those, but this is the first one I’ve read by her under the name Claire Kent.  I understand there are follow ups to Nameless, ‘Christening’ and ‘Incarnate’ showing later parts of Seth and Erin’s relationship which I will try and read sometime. I wish we could have half star ratings for books like these, it's better than a 3 star but less than a 4 star read for me!

Saturday 15 February 2014

Caroline’s Comeuppance by Tess Quinn

This is a story in two volumes, focussing on Caroline Bingley, after the events of Pride and Prejudice. After P&P I didn’t have strong feelings either way on Caroline.  Although I am by no means her biggest fan, in P&P her biggest crime is being a social-climbing snob. For all we know, she may have genuinely felt that Jane didn’t care for Charles Bingley and been saving her brother from unwittingly making a marriage of unequal affection.  I feel that Caroline was one of the characters who had a comeuppance in Pride and Prejudice, which was to see Mr Darcy get married to Elizabeth, and to be fair, Caroline actually swallows her pride and pays off ‘every arrear of civility’ towards Elizabeth and tries to make things up with Jane. Often in Austen-inspired stories Caroline is portrayed very harshly, so I was interested to see what type of comeuppance the author here had planned for her.

Volume 1 deals with the time before Charles and Jane marry.  Caroline comes in to Hertfordshire at her brother’s command; he wants her to show support for his marriage. However, Caroline has another agenda, realising that this is the last chance she would have to stop Fitzwilliam Darcy from marrying Elizabeth.  In this story, Caroline genuinely loves Mr Darcy and she feels that she almost deserves him for all her years of diligence in attending to her lessons in being a proper lady. You would think that this would engender the reader’s pity for her, but it doesn’t because she is so unlikeable, clueless and ruthless in her approach to trying to break up the relationship. Obviously her scheming doesn’t come to much and after a run of embarrassments she comes to realise that her perceptions of people were shallow in the extreme.  This volume was pretty good, it got the emotions going, even if it was mostly negative feelings towards Miss Bingley!

Volume 2 is quite a bit longer.  Here we see Caroline after the weddings.  She is now in London, living with her brother and Jane. The story begins with Caroline leaving an evening event alone and getting caught up in some intrigue.  She gets abducted by somebody calling himself only ‘Sir’ who later turns out to be a spy.  Following this meeting Sir contacts her again and Caroline agrees to go on adventures with him.  I had a few issues with this volume.  Firstly, societal norms of the time – I don’t think that Caroline would have left an event unescorted, and I certainly don’t think that as a woman, particularly an unmarried woman, she’d have stayed in London alone when her brother and his wife went to visit Hertfordshire. Going off unescorted with Sir (aside from the initial abduction, which she obviously has no control over) would have been so risky that I don’t think Caroline would have done it.  As a social climber of many years standing the risk would have just been too great.

Secondly, the relationship with ‘Sir’.  I don’t buy it.  What on earth he sees in her aside from her physical charms is a mystery.  It is obvious that he sees her flaws, but Caroline in this story has no good points in her character. Since ‘Sir’ is a spy he might find some of her manipulative societal skills useful but how that would serve them in a relationship when they are not out in society is less clear.

There was an aspect of this story that I found a real shame, and that was that we see little to no development of Caroline’s character, she begins the story as a manipulative, unpleasant woman, and that is how she remains, and she is rewarded for it.  I think Caroline was an intelligent woman who could have either found somebody to care for and potentially soften her attitudes, or she’d meet somebody who would have advanced her in society and she’d become a society wife, but in this latter scenario I don’t see how her husband could care for her at all unless he was unaware of her true nature. Here she is cemented in her awfulness but with the love of an intelligent, decent man who knows what she is and it just seems quite unlikely, and pretty sad for him to have knowingly made such a bad bargain. I also felt that this second volume didn't flow that well, there were a number of flashbacks which I feel interrupted the timeline.  I much preferred the first volume to the second.

Tuesday 11 February 2014

Epic Fail by Claire Lazebnik

This is a young adult story, based on Pride and Prejudice.  Elise (the Elizabeth character) and her family have relocated to California from Massachusetts.  Her mother has taken a job as a school principal at a school that Elise and her sisters will attend. Elise is the second of four sisters.  Her elder sister, Juliana, and she are very close.  Then there is a bit of an age gap to Layla (the Lydia character) and the youngest in the family is 10 year old Kaitlyn.

Juliana immediately catches the notice of Chase.  His sister Chelsea is a bit of a snob, she is desperately trying to catch the notice of Chase's friend, dishy Derek.  Derek's parents are Hollywood royalty and he is used to people noticing him, talking about him, and girls falling at his feet.  He is very standoffish because of the amount of people who are trying to become his friend purely because of his parents' fame. He's not especially welcoming to Elise or Juliana, and Elise makes a new friend, Webster Grant (the Wickham character) who reinforces Elise's prejudiced beliefs that Derek thinks he's better than everybody else. Derek knows that Webster isn't the nice guy he portrays himself to be, and does his best to ensure that Elise doesn't get taken in by Webster's charm.

Although this is set in the modern day, and the characters are teenagers, many of the main events from Pride and Prejudice were recognisable, and some I thought were particularly ingenious, such as how Layla is rescued from Webster, and how Chase and Juliana's relationship is temporarily split.  I thought that the Webster/Georgia (Derek's sister) back-story was particularly clever, because what he had done is plausible in a modern setting and just as despicable as Wickham's attempted behaviour in P&P. There were also some quotes which referred back to quotes in Pride and Prejudice, which I really liked.

There were some differences however. Firstly, Derek is less flawed than Darcy - not only is he far less proud but he is far less active in his friend's relationship.  Elise, although likeable, is less likeable than Lizzy. One of the things I always liked about Lizzy was the playful tone which deflects a lot of the hurt from her statements; Elise's sarcasm is much more blunt. I also wasn't sure what she saw in Webster. I know I was coming at it in the knowledge that he was the Wickham character and not to be trusted, but I thought he was a bit of an idiot.  I felt the character of Layla was so much more sympathetically portrayed than Lydia Bennet, rather than being brash and uncontrolled she is desperately trying to be grown up and part of the tight relationship between Elise and Juliana, and they aren't letting her in.

I also felt that the ending was a little bit sudden.  I would have liked to have had an idea of what was going to happen after the end of the story. Miss Austen didn't give us an epilogue but she did give us some snippets about Elizabeth and Darcy's future, and we were clear where the relationship was going, but in this, since they are in different years in school and Derek is talking about moving away, it's not clear at all.

I thought this was a really good modern update of Pride and Prejudice, and I'd certainly recommend it. I think it's aimed at a teen audience and I would be happy to give it to a younger person to read.  There are some vague references to taking things further than kissing, but nothing explicit, and there are only a few instances of swearing.  This author has updated some other Austen books; there is a Mansfield Park update (The Trouble with Flirting) and a Persuasion update (The Last Best Kiss) is due for release in April 2014, and I plan to read them both.

Friday 7 February 2014

The Boss's Fake Fiancée by Inara Scott

Melissa has recently started working for Garth's company.  She'd moved back to the area after her last relationship had broken up due to her ex-boyfriend's infidelity.  This was particularly crushing for Melissa because she'd moved away from all her family and friends to be with and work for the boyfriend, Mark, and came home to find him cheating on her with her only friend in the area. It's taken Melissa a long time to get over it, but she loves her new job and is pretty attracted to her new boss, who is known as 'the human calculator' because he shows so little emotion.  Garth is brilliant at his job, but intensely private and is the first to admit that he doesn't do relationships.

Melissa is getting ready to watch Garth's new presentation at an event when she spots Mark.  He has the cheek to approach her and pityingly ask her how she is coping.  To annoy Mark, Melissa hints that she and Garth are in a relationship.  Unfortunately for Melissa, Mark embellishes the story, and passes it off to the press, and within a day or two there is a story proclaiming that the Human Calculator has become engaged to Melissa.

Garth has very few people in his life that he cares about - one of them is his grandmother, who brought him up after the death of his parents.  Garth's grandmother is elderly, and is fighting off pneumonia. She is overjoyed at the thought of him getting married and he doesn't have the heart to tell her the truth until she is stronger.  He is also hoping to land a funding partner and avoid any type of scandal so he persuades Melissa to play along as his fiancée.  Although both of them are clear that they don't want a relationship, neither is prepared for the level of attraction they feel.

I only realised after finishing the book that it's book 2 in a series, so I think it reads pretty well as a standalone.  I have a guilty weakness for marriage of convenience and fake fiancée scenarios, even though the ending is usually assured and they are often formulaic!  However, this was quite a fresh take on it.  I liked the fact that both of them genuinely weren't on the lookout for a relationship, having both been burned in the past and not wanting to mix business with pleasure so they both fight it. In Garth's case there were also a few other factors preventing him from pursuing a relationship with anybody. I was really enjoying the book but I felt it was let down somewhat by the ending, which seemed unlikely and unrealistic, I couldn't imagine most people behaving like that, and it seemed particularly out of character for Garth.  I thought it would have been far more romantic and likely if it had been much more private.  On the whole, despite the slightly disappointing ending, if you enjoy fake fiancée stories, this is probably worth a read.

Tuesday 4 February 2014

Highlander's Hope by Collette Cameron

This is a rollicking adventure, set in the early 1800s, and we are immediately in the thick of the action; Yvette is an heiress, her father and stepmother recently dying in very suspicious circumstances, and her stepbrother Edgar has made an attack on her. She has fled from Boston, where her family had been living for the past few years, back to her hometown of London. There she is pursued at the docks and finds herself saved by Ewan, the very man she's been having some rather saucy dreams about.  Ewan is a spy, under orders to capture Edgar, and he agrees to safely deliver Yvette to her cousin's home, but his efforts are hampered by Edgar's hired assassins and a mole in the midst of the spies.

To save Yvette's reputation, Ewan pretends that they are betrothed, and Yvette agrees to go along with a fake engagement, but as the story deepens, and more danger abounds, Ewan takes Yvette back to his homeland of Scotland and there he is forced by circumstances to pretend that she is his wife, a decision that brings some consequences that Yvette hasn't foreseen. Yvette is only too used to people falling in love with her fortune rather than her and she is determined to marry for love or else say single, but can she hope that Ewan genuinely cares for more than just her possessions? And can Ewan keep her safe and still manage to capture Edgar and find the mole?

I enjoyed this book, but there were a few things which would have improved it for me. Firstly, there was behaviour which was accepted without any comment that I felt would have been a breach of etiquette for the time, such as sitting on the same side of a closed carriage with an unmarried man. I thought that some of the words used were too modern or generally misused, and I also was surprised to see Yvette's language, she uses some curse words that I was surprised to see a young lady using.

Yvette is a pretty likeable heroine, even though she is determined to mistrust the hero, and falls for a trick which all her sense should have told her to see right through. Ewan was a likeable hero too.  The romance was a bit too chemistry-based for me.  Although their time together getting to know each other off-page is referred to I'd have liked to have seen a bit more myself.

The action was pretty much nonstop in this book, we even get pregnant ladies throwing knives! There were a number of spies aside from Ewan. They were all introduced in the same section of the book and there were too many of them for me to remember who was who, so I had no hope of working out who the mole was! The Edgar part of the storyline wrapped up quite abruptly, which I thought was a shame, he'd been at large for so long that it almost seemed too easy, I was expecting a bit more of the part of the storyline.

We are introduced to lots of interesting characters in this story. I'd love to know more of what happens to Ewan's sisters and brother. Ms Cameron has written a book called 'The Viscount's Vow' which I understand sets out the turbulent history of Yvette's cousin Evangeline and her husband Ian, which is hinted at in Highlander's Hope.