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Helen Hancox "Auntie Helen" (Essex, England)
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The Secret Mistress: Mistress Couplet: Prequel
The Secret Mistress: Mistress Couplet: Prequel
by Mary Balogh
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK but missing that extra something, 3 Aug 2011
Mary Balogh is, in my opinion, one of the better authors of historical romance out there, and I always look forward to her latest offering, even if the books have perhaps been becoming a little samey recently.

I was very pleased to receive my copy of "The Secret Mistress", the third in a trio of books of which the first two ("More than a Mistress" and "No Man's Mistress") were written back in 2000/2001.

I wasn't sure which way the book would go. I love "More than a Mistress" and think it's one of Mary Balogh's best books and it's one that I often re-read. "No Man's Mistress" didn't work for me at all and I won't bother reading it again. So what would the third book in the trio, the story of the Duke of Tresham and Ferdinand Dudley's sister Angeline, be like?

This books starts with the slight problem that we already know Angeline will marry Heyward because we have seen her with him in the previous two books. Thus the timeline of this story is that it is the first of the three books, although it has been written last. Not that readers are often in doubt as to who will marry whom when reading the blurb on the back of these books, but still.

Angeline appeared as a bubbly, garrulous but overall appealing character in the previous books and Heyward was quiet, reserved and possibly henpecked. The author has kept to this theme in that Angeline does seem garrulous in this book and Heyward quiet and reserved, although this time obviously we learn much more about him.

Angeline is a young debutante and fixes almost instantly on Heyward as her chosen suitor when she meets him, mainly because he is very much unlike her brothers - he is the consummate gentleman. But what could Heyward see in flighty Angeline? She may be suitable in terms of breeding and family but can he be happy with her? And can she with him?

Although it was good to read this story, to meet the characters, to travel with them on the journey as they fall in love, this book didn't entirely work for me. Firstly it seemed to be beset with parts of speech in italics to give us emphases which I felt rather detracted from reading the dialogue. I also felt that Mary Balogh's usual skill in growing characters had somewhat deserted her here and both Angeline and Heyward didn't change much at all during the story.

The significant plot point in the story where Angeline receives a proposal from Heyward also seemed a little unlikely to me (not the proposal, but her response to it), as if the author was trying to work out a way to make the story go on longer. It felt contrived and I wasn't convinced. I also found that the (presumably obligatory) sex scene felt all wrong, inasmuch as the character of Heyward that we were shown was that of someone who did the right thing and thought things through sensibly and somehow the scene didn't work for me.

However, I was left at the end thinking that Angeline and Heyward would be happy together and that they did suit, and the epilogue to the book was a welcome addition to the story. I feel, though, that this book is one that will appeal to Mary Balogh's fans but will not be one that would bring her hordes of new readers if this were their first experience of this talented author.

Originally published for Curled Up With A Good Book Helen Hancox 2011
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 30, 2011 9:00 AM BST


Maddy's Oasis
Maddy's Oasis
Price: 1.88

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unexciting, 3 Aug 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Maddy's Oasis (Kindle Edition)
It's hard to know quite how to review a book which is a free Kindle ebook. Is it fair to level any criticisms against something when it's been provided at no cost?

I suppose the answer has to be 'yes'; after all, people are going to spend time reading the book and, as we often hear, "time is money". And in this case I think this book wasn't worth the time spent reading it.

There were bits to like about the story. The setting is an unusual one, in the middle of nowhere in the Texas desert. The premise was reasonable - a woman sent to oversee a building project (she knows nothing about building projects) who finds herself alternately battling with and falling for one of the builders (although a brainy one, of course) whilst knowing the building project is bound to fail. But the story failed to deliver.

Firstly, Maddy/Madeleine. A woman I couldn't bring myself to like, even though we gather that she's working like a maniac out of selfless motives. Her behaviour toward Jake, the handsome builder, seems so rude most of the time. What he sees in her I don't know. She also seems to have an appalling work/life balance, despite the urgency of her financial situation. Surely she realises that you have to take a break sometime else your ability to work is seriously impaired. As I didn't like Maddy I didn't care what happened to her.

Jake was better - perhaps because we don't really find out that much about him, except he doesn't like city people and had a rather shallow girlfriend previously. I can't see what he sees in Maddy though.

I had big problems with aspects of the storyline, such as an unexpected dead body which barely seemed to cause a ripple in the self-absorption of the main characters. I found the whole aspect of the building project unbelievable too; not that building work might run overtime, but that people were prepared to do shoddy work just to cover up that the building is behind schedule, knowing it would then have to be knocked down again. Vast sums of money are mentioned and it seems that there's little or no accountability for how it's spent and minimal oversight by head office. Is this really what business is like in America?

Oh, and the part of the story that made most of an impression on me was an odd one. Maddy is working like mad to pay the bill for her mother's cancer treatment. If she loses her job she'll become bankrupt and not able to pay for further treatment - so it won't happen, her mother won't get the operation that she needs. This offered me a frightening insight into life in America and perhaps why people do work so hard and put up with such appalling working conditions - thank God for the National Health Service where treatment is free at the point of need. To think of losing your home and livelihood over an illness just seems barbaric. I guess if you're American you're used to it, but for a Brit like me it just seems mind-boggling and I'd never really come up against what it might mean for a person and their family and the additional stresses it would cause. This was, however, not really a significant part of the book but it's the main one I took away with me.

Which shows that, for me, this book wasn't successful. It's a romance but the only aspect of the book I thought about afterwards was the political reality of healthcare in America. Maddy and Jake could get on with their lives without further thought from me, I didn't care enough to think about them further. Not much of an endorsement for a book then!


Veiled Freedom
Veiled Freedom

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Five stars - except for the ending, 19 July 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Veiled Freedom (Kindle Edition)
As a free Kindle e-book I knew very little about this book before I started reading it - but I was very quickly gripped.

it's set in Afghanistan and follows three people. Amy is an aid worker who has come to Kabul to set up a project to help women and children. Steve is a security contractor who has been hired as bodyguard to the Minister of the Interior. Jamil is an Afghan seeking to make sense of the destruction around him. The lives of these three intersect in many different ways and not just in the present and we learn about Afghanistan, the war, Islam and more through their eyes.

It became clear after a few chapters that I was actually reading an `inspirational' novel. This is a genre that is less familiar to us in the UK (where we would call it `Christian fiction' as `inspirational', to me, means learning how people have overcome hardships or whatever). Anyway, I generally dislike this genre as it feels uncomfortable and unnatural to British sensibilities. We may have faith but we're less keen to shout about it and to bring it into everyday conversation and into novels.

However, this author managed - just about - to pull this off. Amy's faith is an important part of her life and it did feel convincing. I was perhaps less sure about how her faith affected Jamil, and was also unsure as to how the descriptions of life and feelings of Muslims would chime with your average Muslim in the street. Do they really feel it as an oppressive thing? Whether or not an average Muslim would recognise their faith in this story, it was very well described and written and the author has clearly done a great deal of research.

The character of Steve was perhaps a little less successful as I never understood quite how he ticked. He was used to make a fair number of political points about the war but this was done in a reasonably integrated fashion and didn't feel too heavy handed.

I really enjoyed the book the whole way through and would have definitely awarded it five stars if it weren't for the end - which came before the end, to this reader's mind. The story stopped with one part of the tale concluded but what felt like an equally significant part not finished. Perhaps there's a follow-up story but I found myself cheated in not knowing what became of the fledgling relationship between Amy and another character and this led to some disappointment. Overall, though, this was an excellent book - especially as it's from a genre which I find usually rather unappealing.


The Secret Mistress (The Mistress)
The Secret Mistress (The Mistress)
by M Balogh
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars OK but missing that extra something, 12 July 2011
Mary Balogh is, in my opinion, one of the better authors of historical romance out there, and I always look forward to her latest offering, even if the books have perhaps been becoming a little samey recently.

I was very pleased to receive my copy of "The Secret Mistress", the third in a trio of books of which the first two ("More than a Mistress" and "No Man's Mistress") were written back in 2000/2001.

I wasn't sure which way the book would go. I love "More than a Mistress" and think it's one of Mary Balogh's best books and it's one that I often re-read. "No Man's Mistress" didn't work for me at all and I won't bother reading it again. So what would the third book in the trio, the story of the Duke of Tresham and Ferdinand Dudley's sister Angeline, be like?

This books starts with the slight problem that we already know Angeline will marry Heyward because we have seen her with him in the previous two books. Thus the timeline of this story is that it is the first of the three books, although it has been written last. Not that readers are often in doubt as to who will marry whom when reading the blurb on the back of these books, but still.

Angeline appeared as a bubbly, garrulous but overall appealing character in the previous books and Heyward was quiet, reserved and possibly henpecked. The author has kept to this theme in that Angeline does seem garrulous in this book and Heyward quiet and reserved, although this time obviously we learn much more about him.

Angeline is a young debutante and fixes almost instantly on Heyward as her chosen suitor when she meets him, mainly because he is very much unlike her brothers - he is the consummate gentleman. But what could Heyward see in flighty Angeline? She may be suitable in terms of breeding and family but can he be happy with her? And can she with him?

Although it was good to read this story, to meet the characters, to travel with them on the journey as they fall in love, this book didn't entirely work for me. Firstly it seemed to be beset with parts of speech in italics to give us emphases which I felt rather detracted from reading the dialogue. I also felt that Mary Balogh's usual skill in growing characters had somewhat deserted her here and both Angeline and Heyward didn't change much at all during the story.

The significant plot point in the story where Angeline receives a proposal from Heyward also seemed a little unlikely to me (not the proposal, but her response to it), as if the author was trying to work out a way to make the story go on longer. It felt contrived and I wasn't convinced. I also found that the (presumably obligatory) sex scene felt all wrong, inasmuch as the character of Heyward that we were shown was that of someone who did the right thing and thought things through sensibly and somehow the scene didn't work for me.

However, I was left at the end thinking that Angeline and Heyward would be happy together and that they did suit, and the epilogue to the book was a welcome addition to the story. I feel, though, that this book is one that will appeal to Mary Balogh's fans but will not be one that would bring her hordes of new readers if this were their first experience of this talented author.

Originally published for Curled Up With A Good Book Helen Hancox 2011


Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure
Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure
by Tim Harford
Edition: Hardcover

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read for an economics newbie, 4 July 2011
I'm not sure entirely who is expected to buy this latest book by Tim Harford, but I wonder if the person-in-the-street, such as myself, might just be a suitable audience, rather than other economists.

My knowledge of economics is extremely basic. I've read some of a book (in German) by a German economist friend, and I listen to More or Less on Radio 4, which is of course presented by Tim Harford. His excellent presentation style on that programme made me pick up this book with some anticipation.

I wasn't disappointed. The same friendly, chatty style appears throughout this book. Things are explained clearly and efficiently and you aren't left feeling like you're a bit thick if you aren't conversant with the latest economic theory. The book abounds with examples in daily life of what he's talking about, whether it's military engagements by the US army or employee benefits in Timpsons the keycutters. It made the book always interesting and lent authority to his arguments.

The book is very well structured with chapters dealing with overall situations (such as the Afghanistan/Iraq wars, climate change, the financial crisis, business structure) but broken down into many subheadings which mean it's easy to pick the book up and read for a few minutes without completely losing the thread. Tim Harford's research and wide-ranging knowledge help to make this a fascinating read.

I did feel that at times there was a fairly black and white presentation of events, particularly with regard to the hugely complex Afghanistan conflict. It was as if "it was all going wrong, and then someone adapted/came up with a new plan and now it's great." Undoubtedly many of these adaptations made a significant difference but I wasn't convinced they were quite as magic-bullet as I felt they were portrayed. Another example is talking about the way some companies are structured. One of the companies mentioned in glowing terms throughout is one that an acquaintance works for and their story is somewhat different about life in that business. As always, there are many facets of each situation and life is complex but I felt that this didn't always come across in this book.

However, for an economics newbie such as myself it was a really good introduction to Harford's theme of adaptation - that innovation and variety are key to the health of economies, businesses, and more.


Dying for Mercy
Dying for Mercy
by Mary Jane Clark
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: 4.67

3.0 out of 5 stars Too disjointed a puzzle, 13 May 2011
The interesting cover to this book (a rainbow-reflective gloss over a picture of a spiral staircase) and the blurb on the back about a house which has a puzzle built in all looked promising. However I found this book ultimately disappointing.

Eliza Blake is co-anchor of a television show and at the beginning of this story we discover her daughter was previously kidnapped although is now restored safely to her (I assume this was a previous book). Eliza is getting back to normal life which includes preparing for her new weekend home in Tuxedo Park, a moneyed estate in New York. However, when she attends a party at a newly-refurbished house in Tuxedo Park and the host commits suicide in a very strange manner, a many-years-old mystery begins to be uncovered and Eliza is in the thick of it.

This book was rather strangely written with exceedingly short chapters (many of them were two to three pages long) and with multiple points of view - it felt like we were following the story from a dozen different people. There was a large cast of characters which I found rather offputting; I would have preferred to just focus on one or two. I also felt that the behaviour of many people didn't feel authentic - the journalists seem able to find people who will tell them everything they need to know, for example. I also felt the central premise - that the party host would build a puzzle into his house so that people could solve it after his death - just a bit too far fetched. Parts of the book were OK but overall I didn't feel I got to know any of the characters particularly well and the puzzle/murder mystery didn't interest me that much.

Originally published for Curled Up With A Good Book Helen Hancox 2011


Damaged
Damaged
by Pamela Callow
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent debut, 11 May 2011
This review is from: Damaged (Mass Market Paperback)
This was a very impressive debut by this author, an exciting story which was well plotted and had a variety of characters. Our heroine, Kate Lange, has a new career at a high-powered law firm. I've got to say, as an Englishwoman reading this book, I can't imagine why anyone would want to be a lawyer in the US; no amount of money is worth that much work and lack of free time and stress; money and success aren't that important! Anyway, we learn quite a bit about Kate in this book; it almost seems as if there were a previous story that we missed as she has an ex-fiancé who's on the police force and who can't stand her new boss at the law firm. However the backstory is all given (and there wasn't a previous book), although things aren't entirely tied up by the end of the story as the author has since written another using these characters.

The book is about a series of murders where women are discovered with their arms and legs missing. Kate has a peripheral link with one of the dead women and can't get over her death and whether there is anything Kate could have done to prevent it (clearly not). Kate finds herself investigating which brings her into conflict with her ex-fiancé - and might draw her to the notice of the killer.

There were some interesting plot points in this book, as well as a selection of potential baddies. I didn't entirely warm to Kate who seemed a bit of a loose cannon and whose apparent desire for a career seemed to be jettisoned fairly easily. However I enjoyed reading this book and felt that it was an excellent first novel, even if it's made me more certain that the lives American lawyers have to lead to get on in their careers are too much to ask for.

Originally published for Curled Up With A Good Book Helen Hancox 2011


Senseless
Senseless
by Mary Burton
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: 4.22

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable suspense novel, 9 May 2011
This review is from: Senseless (Mass Market Paperback)
I read a lot of novels but haven't come across a character quite like the heroine of `Senseless' before. Not only is she a woman who has spent the last ten years in prison for murder, she's also very afraid of cops, extremely private and trying to live her life without anyone getting close to her.

Unfortunately it seems as if Eva Rayburn's past is catching up with her. When a woman's body is found after a fire in a homeless shelter it starts a chain of events that link the murder so long ago with a new series of murders. Detective Deacon Garrison, assigned to the case, begins to think that Eva might know more about it than she originally thinks, but her fear of the police make it difficult for her to trust him.

This book had a reasonably wide cast of characters and I liked that, although it was a bit strange how they all seemed to be linked in some way. I wasn't convinced about the character King and his motivations but he wasn't that significant a part of the book. Otherwise I really enjoyed this story which had enough twists to keep it interesting but whose central characters were strong and carried the story.

Originally published for Curled Up With A Good Book Helen Hancox 2011


Burn
Burn
by Linda Howard
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Kidnapping on the High Seas, 9 May 2011
This review is from: Burn (Mass Market Paperback)
What do you do when you've won the lottery? Go on a cruise, of course! Jenner Redwine won rather a lot of money seven years ago and since then has learned to increase her investments and to be careful with those she befriends, to ensure they're not just after her money. She has only one real friend now, the painfully shy heiress Sydney Hazlett. Jenner and Syd are looking forward to a two week cruise to Hawaii as part of a fundraising event by a rich man.

Unfortunately, when Jenner arrives on the boat Syd's not there. Jenner soon discovers that Syd has been kidnapped and Jenner must do what the mysterious group of kidnappers say in order to keep Syd safe. This involves pretending to be in a relationship with a man so that he can use Jenner's room to spy on the inhabitants of the next-door cabin.

But are the kidnappers really all they seem? Why are they watching the other man, and why does Jenner begin to think they won't actually hurt her or Syd? And will they discover, in time, the real purpose of the charity cruise - for a terminally ill man who is sick in the head to take out as many rich people as he can when he goes.

This was a very enjoyable read with a lighthearted tone, some great characters and particularly well-written sparks between Jenner and her chief kidnapper, Cael Traynor. I liked the way the author gradually developed the friendship between Jenner and Cael. Less successful was the motivation for the baddie and the way in which his destructive plans were taking place. However this was a good read which I can recommend.

Originally published for Curled Up With A Good Book Helen Hancox 2011


You Are Next
You Are Next
by Katia Lief
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping story, 9 May 2011
This is the first Katia Lief book that I've read and I didn't know what to expect. What I got was a well-written, tautly-plotted thriller with an unusual heroine. What was strange about former Detective Karin Schaeffer is that we meet her, at the beginning of the story, as she deals with mental problems following the murder of her husband and son. Karin is attending therapy, has had a suicide attempt and is just existing in a life without joy. That is, until the man who killed her loved ones escapes from prison.

The murderer, Martin Price, always leaves dominoes at the scenes of his crimes to point to the next victim. Karin knows she is next but in some ways welcomes the release of death. But when Price arrives, things don't go quite as she expects. Can he be caught again? Can the murders finally be brought to a close?

The first half of this book was fascinating in its depiction of the emotions and feelings of Karin. I don't think I've read a story that showed someone's thought processes when they are in this situation and I found it believable and sobering. The other characters very much take second place to Karin but her former police partner Mac plays a growing role. I found myself reading this book in one sitting, it was so good, and although I felt we were never entirely sure how the murderer was able to find out some of the information about people, I found it a believable story.

Originally published for Curled Up With A Good Book Helen Hancox 2011


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