Review: Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews

First, I would like to say that I am omitting the cover image from this review on purpose. I put this cover and this cover on my blog, but I draw the line at this one. I have SOME pride.

Nevada Baylor* is a private investigator running her family’s detective agency following the death of her father. Nevada has a handy magical ability: she can sense when people are lying. In a world where other people can use their magic to levitate, throw heavy objects, or light things on fire, however, Nevada knows her limits. She sticks to cases that won’t get her killed — at least, she tries to. But at the beginning of the book Nevada is strong-armed into tracking down Adam Pierce, a powerful magic user with a penchant for burning things to the ground when he doesn’t get his way. In order to accomplish this task, Nevada reluctantly allies herself with Connor “Mad” Rogan, a former soldier and reputed war criminal who wants to find Pierce for his own reasons.

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Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I have never been as conflicted about a book as I am about The Goldfinch.

For the first half of Donna Tartt’s celebrated novel, I was hooked. I read it slowly, treating myself to it chapter by chapter. I recommended it to every reader I knew. I bristled in indignation when I read an article quoting critics who thought it was poorly written and didn’t deserve its Pulitzer Prize — of course Theo thinks in clichés like ‘the tip of the iceberg,’ he’s only thirteen! I was certain I was reading one of my future favorite books.

And then … the second half happened, and I was left wondering whether the emperor had any clothes.

(NB: This review contains more spoilers than I normally include in my reviews; they are all fairly vague, but you have been warned.)

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Review: The Duke’s Wager by Edith Layton

Warning: This review contains spoilers.

Edith Layton’s The Duke’s Wager is often cited as one of the best Regency romances ever written. I picked it up after a friend who shares my affection for Georgette Heyer recommended it enthusiastically. Alas, I can’t quite share his enthusiasm, for reasons I will explain below in exhaustive (and possibly profanity-laced) detail. The short version is that while the book is well-written, I could not get past the fact that the book takes a smart and interesting heroine and then decides that her highest purpose in life is to be the catalyst for a man’s personal growth. Especially when that man is a total [bleep]ing asshole. (See? I warned you there would be profanity.)

The book’s heroine, Regina Barryman, is a tradesman’s daughter new to London. She is exceptionally well-educated and very clever, but at the beginning of the book she makes a mistake: she attends the opera on a night when members of the demimonde (read: classy prostitutes) gather to find new clients. The beautiful Regina leaves immediately when she realizes her error, but not before she has caught the eye of (cliché alert!) one of London’s most notorious rakes, the Duke of Torquay. The Duke immediately sets out to recruit Regina as his new mistress.

When Regina refuses him, the Duke spreads the rumor that Regina has already slept with him, which results in her being thrown out of her aunt’s home. The Duke assumes she will now have no choice but to become his mistress, but Regina refuses again. Instead, she seeks out her uncle’s former business partner, the Marquess of Bessacarr, and asks for his help. Bessacarr offers his protection and even sends her to be a companion to his spinster friend Amelia. Unfortunately for Regina, Bessacar is only helping her in hopes of making her his mistress.

Unexpectedly, however, both the Duke and the Marquess find themselves challenged and changed by their pursuit of Regina.

Spoilers henceforth.

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Review: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell

I have long felt that Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey is an underrated member of the Austen pantheon. Yes, Cathy is a bit silly and Henry is sort of a drip, but I adore the sendup of the goofy Gothic novel genre. So perhaps I’m not quite the ideal audience for The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, the fifth book in the Contemporary Women’s Fiction collection, which embraces Gothic tropes with unreserved enthusiasm.

Edinburgh shop owner Iris Lockhart arrives one morning to find a mysterious letter waiting for her; later that day, she receives a phone call from a lawyer who tells her that she is the legal guardian of an elderly woman Iris has never heard of. Documents prove that Esme Lennox is the younger sister of Iris’s grandmother Kitty, but Kitty has always claimed she was an only child. Esme has been institutionalized since her teens and must be relocated now that the asylum where she’s staying is closing its doors for good.

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Review: Insatiable by Meg Cabot

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I’m not a huge fan of the cuddly romantic vampire genre.* I picked up Insatiable for two reasons: first, because I’ve enjoyed other Meg Cabot books, and second, because it seemed at first to be a send-up of the current vampire craze. New York City soap opera writer Meena Harper is tired of her beloved soap “Insatiable” getting its butt kicked in the ratings by vampire soap opera “Lust” — and isn’t exactly happy that her studio’s parent company has directed “Insatiable” to introduce a vampire storyline of their own.

Meena’s also dealing with a longer-term problem: her ability to foretell peoples’ deaths. Fortunately a well-placed warning can help future victims avoid their fate, but Meena has learned the hard way that few people listen to someone who tells them they’re going to die.

Meanwhile, someone is leaving exsanguinated corpses all over Manhattan. Ancient vampire Lucien Antonescu boards a plane from Romania to New York City to find out who’s putting his kind in danger with this sort of careless behavior, and obsessed Vatican demon-hunter Alaric Wulf is hot on Lucien’s trail. Naturally, both men soon cross paths with Meena — and naturally, both men find themselves irresistibly drawn to the pretty psychic.

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Review: A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer

Last week I read and enjoyed Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy, a fluffy romantic comedy set in Regency England.  My brain was begging for another fun romp, so I downloaded another Heyer, A Civil Contract, from the library.  But A Civil Contract was not at all what I expected and I think this may have been a big part of why it left me a bit cold.

Warning: This review contains medium-sized spoilers

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Review: The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl

On 8 June 1870, Charles Dickens collapsed after a full day of working on his latest serial, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  He never recovered.  The Mystery of Edwin Drood is now one of the most famous unfinished novels in the English language, and it has never been clear how Dickens intended to end the book.

Matthew Pearl’s historical mystery The Last Dickens centers on a search for the ending to Edwin Drood.  James Osgoode is a partner in the Boston publishing firm of Fields, Osgoode & Co., which has paid a handsome sum of money for the rights to be Dickens’s official American publisher.  Fields, Osgoode & Co. is the subject of a takeover attempt from a large New York publishing firm and Osgoode is counting on a healthy profit from Edwin Drood — until Dickens’s death leaves the book unfinished.  Desperately hoping to find the rest of the manuscript, or at least some indication of how it was supposed to end, Osgoode travels to England with Rebecca Sand, one of the firm’s bookkeepers.  The search for Drood‘s conclusion will lead them both into far more danger than they had anticipated.

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