Saturday, October 30, 2010

I thought I was getting a paramedic but I got a gigolo! or; Heated Rush

The title: Heated Rush
The author: Leslie Kelly
Publication: Harlequin Blaze, 2008
Got it from: The Sony Store

Back in March of last year, I gushed about how much I adored Leslie's Kelly's Slow Hands, where the bios of two bachelors at auction get mixed up and Maddie Turner ends up with a guy who she thinks is a gigolo, but is actually a paramedic. Now we get to see the flip side, where wholesome Annie Davis needs a nice paramedic to take home to meet her parents and ends up with suave -ahem- international businessman Sean Murphy.

I had my doubts that the sequel could live up to its predecessor. I loved hunky-but-wholesome Jake and smart, curvy Maddie because it was an atypical role reversal: she was the world-weary, rich business type and he was the down-to-earth one. But I'm happy to report that Heated Rush was fun and sexy with loveable characters and sparkling dialogue. Leslie Kelly is fast becoming one of my favourite writers of contemporary romances. If all the Harlequin Blaze books were this good, I'd go broke.

Annie Davis is a Chicago daycare owner who has just gotten out a relationship where she was burned - badly. She goes to the bachelor auction on a whim, hoping to find a suitable replacement boyfriend to take home to her traditional farm family. Seeing Sean Murphy's picture in the program, she instantly falls in love. What she doesn't know is that he isn't a paramedic at all. He's an international businessman who runs an escort service and was once an escort himself. She ends up bidding all her life savings on him and they experience immediate sparks on their first meet-and-greet. But Annie quickly realizes that there's more to Sean than meets the eye.

Leslie Kelly does a nice job of not letting the "big secrets" become a big issue in the plot and they get resolved well before the end, where the big crisis is whether Sean will be able to compromise his lifestyle for this woman. I love how Sean's struggle for independence from his overbearing aristocratic Irish father is juxtaposed with Annie's struggle to prove to her family she can thrive in the big city. It's the key element in bringing them together - because they get one another in a way nobody else can. Yes, there's definite sexual attraction (an erotic encounter in a ball pit comes to mind) but despite major lifestyle differences, they're not so different that Annie can't appreciate his travel bug and he can't appreciate her need for home - because they both share those qualities. They are also each mature enough to address their concerns in a straightforward way, rather than doing the passive-aggressive dance so prevalent in romance.

It's well-rounded characters like these that elevate this Harlequin beyond just marshmallow fluff and create something so much more satisfying.

The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise

The title: The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise
The author: Julia Stewart
Publication: Doubleday, 2010
Got it from: The library

Balthazar Jones is a Beefeater in the Tower of London, living with his Greek wife Hebe and their 106-year-old tortoise (the oldest in the world, so they've heard). Husband and wife are still grieving the loss of their son Milo when Balthazar is given the chance to be caretaker of the Queen's animals, who are being moved to the Tower for safekeeping. Meanwhile, Hebe is busy working in the London Underground's Lost Property Office while her co-worker Valerie is falling in love with a ticket inspector. Other characters rounding out this zany tale are the tower's resident clergyman, who secretly writes principled erotica under a female pseudenom and is in love; Ruby, the barkeeper who was born and raised within the tower and has just discovered she's pregnant; and the wicked Ravenmaster who's as shifty-eyed and sneaky as the birds he keeps.

This book is more fast-paced and kookier than Amelie, with tons of quirky historical asides and amusing back stories of minor characters, like the tower doctor who was so intent on playing Monopoly that the baby he's supposed to be delivering just shoots out and slides across the floor. There were many genuinely laugh-out-loud moments and it's clear the author has carefully crafted her work. However, there was something about this book that I just couldn't warm up to. The protagonist of the story, Balthazar, was the most uninteresting character and I found I couldn't bring myself to emotionally respond to the loss he and his wife are experiencing. There was so much insanity, so many little asides and back stories, that the main characters just got muddled up in the narrative. I almost would have preferred if it had been a bird's eye view of the tower's kooks without ever really touching too much on one particular couple. I found the periodic heaviness of the death of the son jarring compared to the lighthearted whimsy of the rest of the story. But I would not shy away from recommending this book to anyone with an interest in the Tower of London and an amusing read.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The magic of reading

It was early on a Saturday morning in late winter years ago. Breakfast was just over but a girl of ten had withdrawn to the parlor with a book...Then followed one never-to-be-forgotten day, a day filled to the brim with bliss, surprise and high excitement. The reading of this book was a revelation. She had not known before that one could by reading be transported so deeply into another world.

The book was
Little Women. That special joy and delight have been had since from books, and from books only. There has been deep pleasure in solitary places in woods, near the sea, or in the country. There has been joy in friendship and love, and satisfaction in creative work. But the joy and delight in books have gathered all these other joys and carried one into a wider, richer, freer existence; they have re-vitalized life.

Bertha Mahony Miller
Horn Book November/December 1935 Editorial

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mr. Shakespeare's Bastard

The title: Mr. Shakespeare's Bastard
The author: Richard B. Wright
Publication: Phyllis Bruce Books, 2010
Got it from: The library

I found this book interesting because I'm not usually a big fan of the Tudor era - too many beheadings for my liking. But I read this because I knew I was going to meet the author through my job and I wanted to prepare myself. I actually ended up being pleasantly surprised. The story was far more gentle and far less gritty than I was bracing myself for.

This tale is really about two women. The first is Aerlene, an old woman living around the time of the Restoration, who is telling her life story and how she is secretly Shakespeare's daughter. The second woman is Aerlene's mother Elizabeth and through Aerlene we hear how Elizabeth met and had an affair with Shakespeare as a young woman in London. Reading this book, I almost felt that I was dealing with characters who possessed Victorian sensibilities - I had to keep reminding myself that everything was taking place in the 17th century, not the 19th. It certainly provided a more refreshing and realistic portrayal of humanity than the oversexed and overbloody depictions of the era in current media (think the Tudors TV show). It is also far superior to the movie Shakespeare in Love, which of course the storyline is similar to. I can't help disliking Shakespeare in Love more and more with each passing year for the whole "sexy Shakespeare" trend it started. Mr. Shakespeare's Bastard is a nice anecdote for those weary of the blood-and-sex Tudors and looking for more complex and well-rounded Elizabethan characters.