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review 2018-02-23 14:57
A joy of a novel recommended to fans of Pride and Prejudice. Excellent for book clubs.
The Elizabeth Papers - Jenetta James,Christina Boyd,Zorylee Diaz-Lupitou

I was introduced to the work of this author via a collection of stories called Dangerous to Know: Janes Austen’s Rakes & Gentlemen Rogues Ed. by Christina Boyd, which I loved, and had also read a number of reviews of this novel, as it had won the Rosie’s Book Team Review award for historical fiction 2016, and I am a member of the group but hadn’t read it at the time. When the editor of the collection offered to put me in touch with some of the authors featured, I jumped at the opportunity and was lucky enough that Ms. James offered me an ARC copy of her book.

I’ve seen this book defined as a ‘sequel’ of Pride and Prejudice, and I guess in some way it is, as it follows on from the events on that novel, and we get to revisit quite a few of the characters in the previous one (especially Elizabeth Darcy, née Bennett, Fitzwilliam Darcy, and their family, although also Elizabeth’s sisters, mother, and Darcy’s sister Georgiana, and his friends and relatives). The story goes beyond that, moving across several generations, and the storyline is divided into two timelines, one in the Regency period (in the 1820s) and one much more recent, 2014. In the present time, we meet Evie, a young painter preparing her first exhibition and coping as best she can with a tragic family situation, and Charlie, a private detective, handsome, charming (yes, he would have fitted into the role of a rogue if he was a character in the other timeframe), and unencumbered by concerns about morality, who is asked to dig into a possible irregularity in the terms of a trust fund set up a couple of centuries ago. The case sounds like a wild-goose chase, but Charlie is intrigued, at first by the case, and later by Evie.

The author alternates chapters that share Elizabeth’s diary, written in the first person (and some of Darcy’s ‘official’ letters), with chapters set up in the present, from Evie’s and Charlie’s points of view, but written in the third person (there are some later chapters from other minor character’s point of view, that help round the story up and give us a larger perspective). This works well because readers of Pride and Prejudice (and, in my case, it’s my favourite Jane Austen’s novel) will already be familiar with the characters and will jump right into the thoughts and feelings of Elizabeth. I felt as if I had stepped back into the story, and although the events are new (as they happen after the couple has been married for a few years); I felt they fitted in perfectly with the rest of the narrative, and the characters were consistent and totally believable. Yes, they love each other. Yes, Darcy is still proud and headstrong at times. Elizabeth is aware of her family’s shortcomings and wonders at times why her husband puts up with her relations. She also doubts herself and can be annoyed at what she perceives as Darcy’s lack of communication. With all their humanity and their imperfections, they feel so true to the characters Austen created that they could have come out of her pen.

The modern part of the story provides a good reflection on how things have changed for the family, the house, and society in general. It also allows us to think about family, legacy, and heritage. How many family secrets have been buried over the years! While the characters have only a few traces and clues to follow, the readers have the advantage of accessing Elizabeth’s diary, but the truth is not revealed until very late in the novel (although I suspect most of us would have guessed, at least the nature of the truth, if not the details), and however convinced we might be that we are right, can one ever be sure about the past?

The writing is perfectly adapted to the style of the era, not jarring at all, and the historical detail of the period is well observed and seamlessly incorporated into the story (rather than shoehorned in to show the extent of the author’s research). The author’s observational skills are also put to great use in the modern story, and create a vivid and vibrant cast and background for the events. The pace and rhythm of the novel alternate between the contemplative moments of the characters, in the past and the present (emotions run high and characters question their behaviour and feelings), and the excitement of the search for clues and the discovery of new documents and evidence. The settings are brought to life by the author, and I particularly enjoyed visiting London with the modern day characters. Although there are love and romance, there are no explicit sex scenes, and, in my opinion, the book is all the better for it.

A couple of lines I highlighted:

To know him so well and still to be touched by him in darkness and light is surely the greatest fortune of all.

While fans of Austen will, no doubt, enjoy the parts set in the XIX century, the modern section of the novel is an attractive mystery/romance in its own right. I am not a big fan of love-at-first-sight stories, and I must warn you that there is some of that here, at least for Charlie, who is mesmerised by Edie from the very first time he meets her, but he does not have the same effect on her. In fact, he has information about her already (it is not a situation of love is blind), and he is taken by surprise as she is not what he expected. As we learn more about both of their stories, it is easy to see why he would feel attracted to her and her circumstances, as they are quite similar to his own. He was pushed into a business of dubious morality to help his family, and she has also had to cope with family tragedy, but in her case, she had the advantage of the Darcy Trust Fund. They are not copycats of Darcy and Elizabeth, but they complement each other well and bring out the best in each other. The rest of the characters in the modern era don’t play big roles but they are endowed with individual touches that make them relatable and distinctive.

The ending is left to the observation of one of the minor characters, allowing for readers to use their imagination rather than elaborate the point.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel that is beautifully written, with compelling characters (I fell in love with Elizabeth and Darcy once again) and a joy for any of Austen’s fans. I don’t think it is necessary to be a connoisseur of Pride and Prejudice to enjoy this novel (as most people are bound to have seen, at least, an adaptation of the story, and there are references to the main plot points scattered throughout the book) but my guess is that many people who read it will go back and read Austen again. And will look forward to more of James’s books. I surely will.

(Ah, the book has a series of questions and answers at the end that makes it an eminently suitable read for book clubs).

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review 2018-02-21 15:27
First Book in Koontz's Dirty Harriet Series or The Rise of the Mary Sue
The Silent Corner - Dean Koontz

Why did I listen to all of those glowing reviews about this book. I should have known. This is just more Koontz and his love of all things guns plot-lines with either a solo person or family going up against an evil group using nanotechnology to control human beings. I saw elements not only just from "77 Shadow Street" but he whole sale just reworked a plot from his "What the Knight Knows" story-line with a character who is affected by his sister being raped and murdered in front of him. And it pains me this is even categorized as horror. It's really not. It's just more of his suspense/thriller mess he has been writing for a while now.


The main character was pretty freaking souless (Jane Hawk) and I just didn't care anymore what happened to her or her kid that she stashes all over the place while taking down the super secret organization.

 

Maybe the book would have worked better if we actually had Koontz setting up the book enough to get us to care about her and her husband. We just hear about what a great guy he is and Jane just sits around remembering him. It was pretty boring after the first dozen chapters.

 

Jane is also the epitome of a Mary Sue. I cannot believe Koontz spent time on how gorgeous she was either. I mean I guess if she was ugly who would give a crap? I don't even know. There is a terrible scene where she is trying to get away from the bad guys and a guy picks her up in his car (putting himself in danger) and he talks about how attractive she is. And I think at that point I got an eye pain from the eye-rolling that I was doing at that time and just said screw it. 

 

I can't even tell you much about other characters since you don't get to spend a lot of time with anyone. The book flip flops back and forth with Jane outrunning the bad guys and the FBI and a lot of looking evil in the face things happening. 


There is not a lot of realism in this book either. There is some things based on age that didn't make sense for Jane or her husband. She's late 20s and someone would put Sidney Bristow from Alias to shame. I forget what age her husband was, but apparently he was a wunderkind with his rank. Sigh. 

The writing wasn't great and the flow as wawful. The chapters were choppy and we just kept jumping from scene to scene. You don't even have a chance to absorb what's going on since most of the writing only gets descriptive when describing guns, how to clean them, and what ammo is being used. I wish I was kidding. And I am not saying this because I am anti-gun. I was born and raised in PA. I have been around guns since I was a pre-teen. It's just this whole book is some weird military hybrid just like the last couple of books and it took me a long time to muddle through this. 


I also want to forbid Koontz from writing about nano-technology anymore. Get a new plot dude. I just cannot take this seriously anymore. At this point I actually think having a damn dog in every book was better than reading about nanos and how they can affect people and totally change their brain chemistry, etc. 


The ending was a joke. Things end on a cliffhanger (my least favorite literary device ever) so if you want to find out more about Jane's Guns and Her Adventures Against the Shadow Realm there are two more books in this series. The reviews have become less enthused, so I am fine with stopping here with book #1. 

 

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review 2018-02-20 06:01
Faking Friends - Jane Fallon

Two “best” friends, Amy and Melissa, (although you wouldn’t think so after reading this!) vying with each other, taking revenge, tit for tat. Amy back from her acting job in the States for a surprise visit is the one who gets the surprise when she discovers that someone has moved in with her fiancé. All hell is let loose when the culprit is revealed. Loved it even though wouldn’t have thought that at their age they wouldn’t have been so childish - a bit more sophistication is needed I think! True colours were definitely shown by these childhood friends and they weren’t very pleasant. Two viewpoints and flashes back in time tell this tale which was riveting and comical in turns. I would love to see a return bout! This is a perfect book to put in your suitcase, ready for the beach or pool.

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review 2018-02-18 15:19
Thought-provoking, Challenging, Uncomfortably Good
These fragile things - Jane Davis

Having recently enjoyed ‘A Funeral for an Owl’ by indie author Jane Davis (see review dated 2 Jan 2018), I dived further into her back catalogue and found this book (first published in 2012) and I’m delighted to report that the author’s accessible writing style again made for a really enjoyable read.

 

In particular, Davis does have a wonderful knack for developing interesting teenage characters and in this offering the central protagonist (Judy Jones) is recovering from a deliberately mundane, yet life-changing incident, in which a wall collapses on her. In fact her survival is positively miraculous. Still, the wall is a very effective metaphor for other constructs around self-image, relationships, indeed life and the book explores how susceptible to collapse these things can also be when buffeted by external, or self-made pressures. The stress-test that the human experience places on individuals, families and communities can be profound and the mechanisms created to defend one’s well-being can be elaborate, or at times blindingly simple. Though not meant to be a commentary on faith, Davis does at least invite the question whether spiritual faith and/or faith in each other aids the character’s ability to cope and navigate the unexpected, or whether the key is our shared humanity and the capacity for random acts of kindness.

 

For those readers with children, especially teenagers, there are interesting moments for reflection at the shifting nature of the parental relationship, but also a potentially visceral empathy with Judy’s parents and the impact of the kind of news for which we all live in a state of dread. But, if subsequently the child then purports to experience visions, how does one react to that?

 

At its core the book focuses on the experience of loss – of health, identity, belonging, an anticipated future - and the attendant bereavement. The interlacing of aspects of the characters’ individual and collective journeys is cleverly handled by the author, though for me the slightly bizarre departure from the rails of Elaine Jones (Judy’s Mum) was an unnecessary distraction. Yet, all-in-all a fascinating and thoughtful novel, which does emphasize the potential corrosion of loneliness, however it may be imposed.

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text 2018-02-17 15:35
Complicated and very confusing
The Dead Ex - Jane Corry,Penguin Books

Last year I read and really enjoyed Blood Sisters by Jane Corry, and I particularly loved the rather claustrophobic, somewhat enclosed first person telling of the story. In particular the character of Kitty living in care, unable to communicate but the reader is privileged in that he has total access to the mind and thoughts of the hapless Kitty. Unfortunately The Dead Ex comes nowhere near to the thrill read that Blood Sisters was. It is the same type of first person storytelling from the point of view of a number of characters and again that presents as an effective and good method of relaying events. However if the story has little merit, then everything falls apart, in a confusing and dreary manner.

Vicki Goudman suffers with epilepsy and husband Daniel, rather than support her, decides to abandon her for his mistress the alluring, and seductive Tanya. When the police inform Vicki that husband Daniel is missing, possibly dead, she finds her world turned upside down when she realizes that she is the number one suspect. Vicki needs to prove her innocence but how is this possible as the drugs she is prescribed for her epilepsy appear to cause frequent and constant memory loss. The telling of this story is utterly confusing as we travel back and forward from the present to 2006/07 meeting Scarlet and Helen Evans. Vicki Goudman was a prison governor, then in inmate, ex husband Daniel has more than an interest in Tanya, Scarlet had an unhealthy relationship with a Mr Walters, Scarlet's mum Zelda is in prison, who is Jackie? Is Scarlett really Scarlet or Helen? does Zelda have an agenda from her prison cell?, is Daniel really David? what is the importance of Patrick? I could go on but I was just as confused as you are (dear reader of my review) trying to analyse and decipher just what the hell is happening!!. If a story becomes confused, complicated, and possibly losing the plot, then it is certainly difficult to retain the attention and support of the reader. I always endeavour to complete a book before offering an opinion but The Dead Ex really tested my stay ability! Many thanks to netgalley in sending me a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written.....An extremely disappointing read, a confusing and complicated plot and a somewhat preposterous conclusion.

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