Damage by Felix Francis

I am a huge Dick Francis fan and I must say that the Felix Francis books have, up to this point, been something of a disappointment. While Dick was a master of characterization and plot development, Felix lacks the depth and talent of his father. However, in his newest novel, Damage, Felix Francis has stepped up his game and given us a novel well worth the read.

Our newest hero, Jeff Hinkley, is a talented investigator due to his photographic memory for faces and his diligence in undercover work. After serving a stint in Afghanistan as a hostage negotiator, he finds himself at age thirty working for the BHA or British Horseracing Authority. We immediately take a liking to Jeff whose brain is constantly whirring as he deals with a sick sister, a self centered brother-in-law, and a girlfriend who may or may not be future wife material. Then there is his actual work which involves doped horses, poisoned jockeys, extortionists, and murder – not necessarily in that order. The question is whether Jeff is up to the task of narrowing down the list of suspects to the actual perpetrator or losing his job and starting his life anew. This book takes us on an interesting adventure through numerous twists and turns until the unexpected conclusion.

Although, after completing Damage, I had a few questions about some lose ends which were somewhat confusing or open ended, the book left me eager to continue reading. I would truly enjoy a sequel with the same characters picking up where this story ended. I feel that is the mark of a good book, when the reader becomes emotionally invested enough to ask for more. However, I felt the conclusion was rather abrupt and not altogether satisfying so perhaps that is why I want an additional story.

Either way, this is by far Felix Francis’ best book yet and I hope he continues to improve since the name Dick Francis stands for an excellence worthy of emulation. Felix, your father’s fans are rooting for you. I give this book four stars.

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The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

When my book club chose The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion for their next selection, I knew it must be popular since there was a long list at the Public Library of potential readers. I found it expedient to purchase an eBook to download onto my Kindel instead.

It was one of the best purchases I’ve made this year (and I’m an avid Kindel reader). I was immediately engaged with Don Tillman who, approaching forty, had never gotten beyond a first date. Perhaps it was because of Don’s numerous idiosyncrasies that women didn’t understand his brilliance. Yet Don doesn’t have much time in his overly-scheduled, down-to-the-minute day. He laments to his only two friends, Gene and his wife Claudia, that he will never find anyone. Instead of giving up, Don comes up with a booklet of questions to weed out those first only dates. Gene helps him whittle the list down into a more reasonable questionnaire and offers to administer the results, sending only perfect candidates Don’s way. Gene advises Don to take perspective wives out to dinner and then see what happens.

Enter Rosie Jarman. Before she can open her mouth, Don invites her to dinner. And then the fun begins. Rosie is nothing like the list; she is perpetually late, a vegetarian, drinks alcohol (an item Don eventually removes from the questionnaire), smokes, and, in effect, is the exact opposite of the qualities Don is looking for in a wife. What was Gene thinking sending Rosie his way? In fact, Rosie, wants to see Don, not as a prospective dating partner, but as a scientist who can help her discover the identity of her biological father. Don, a brilliant geneticist, is somehow willing to help Rosie with “The Father Project” even though she is a reject in the dating department.

Rosie, whose mother was killed in a car accident when she was ten, lives with her stepfather. She knows her father is one of a room full of future doctors who attended medical school with her mom. Together, one by one, the two “sleuths” obtain the DNA by any means necessary from prospective dads so that Don can test them in his lab. This repeatedly throws the duo together in a series of unusual situations, where they develop a relationship in spite of Rosie’s “flaws” and Don’s “rigid” life style.

This is an unusual romance novel with laugh out loud situations that are guaranteed to delight the reader. If you have a sense of humor and especially a sense of the absurd, you will adore this book. The characters come alive with the dexterity of Simsion’s facile writing style. Also of interest is the secondary storyline of the relationship between Gene, Claudia, and their two children.

A must read – 5+ stars. My favorite novel of 2014. And if this book intrigues you, then immediately purchase the sequel, The Rosie Effect. Plus there’s a movie in the works. Life doesn’t get better than this. Hurrah!

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

While reading The Rosie Project, I was continually delighted by the trials of Don as he pursued the ideal woman to marry. The only downside of the story was that it came to an end. I knew without a doubt that this was the best book I had read since Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen. You can imagine my pleasure to discover that there was an upcoming sequel, The Rosie Effect. Since I was eager to see what Graeme Simsion had in store for Don and Rosie, I was thrilled when Netgalley allowed me preview this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Although sequels often leave the reader less than impressed, that is not the case with The Rosie Effect, a continuation in a story which is as captivating as the original. The reader is pulled into the inevitable conflicts which seem to surround Don, rooting for him when his unique perspective on life complicates normally calm activities. It is difficult to keep from laughing out loud at some of the antics which ensue. The author draws a vivid picture and each of the characters comes to life. It is as if Don, Rosie, Dave, Sonia, Gene, Claudia, George, even Lydia, are old friends and we can’t get enough of them.

Don and Rosie have relocated to Columbia University in NYC while Rosie gets her MD/PHD. Don has extended his friends list and is content with his married life. Then all hell breaks lose when Rosie let’s Don know that “we’re pregnant”. Problems ensue when Don attempts to discern The Baby Project. In order to keep Rosie calm, Don reaches out to his friends as the plot escalates with one crisis evolving into another. Somehow Don is able to turn the tables and assist his friends with their problems even though the solution of saving his own marriage continues to elude him, since the more Don tries to fix things, the more Rosie considers his efforts fruitless. It will take a miracle to resolve their issues, and as the situation turns from bad to worse the reader becomes even more vested in the results. Somehow, Simsion is able to tie the plot up in a bow putting things to rights, but leaving a few loose ends. I feel a flutter of excitement at the idea of another sequel.

It doesn’t get better than this. I predict a run away best seller. If I could give this book more than five stars, I would. The side story of the split up between Gene and Claudia with Gene moving to NYC and rooming with Rosie and Don, adds just the right amount of spice to the plot. Of course, we can’t forget Dave who is also having problems dealing with his pregnant wife, Sophia. New friend, George, an aging rockstar, adds to the mix of drinking buddies for Boys Night Out. How their lives intertwine brings delight to the reader, even when the outcome looks bleak.

A must read.

Madeleine’s Christmas Wish by Ella Quinn

Ella Quinn’s Regency novella, Madeleine’s Christmas Wish, is a delightful story full of action, intrigue, and, of course, romance. Here we pick up a thread from her Marriage Game Series, Book 2, the Secret Life of Miss Anna Marsh, where our main character, Georges (Marquis Cruzy-le-Martel) sets out to rescue the lovely Madeleine (Comtesse du Beaune) who has been forced to depart France for a British brothel where her virginity will be auctioned off to the highest bidder. The two protagonists had been pledged in marriage as youngsters, prior to the takeover by Napoleon, and Georges has watched over his bride-to-be lovingly from afar. In order to assist Madeleine in avenging the sinister Monsieur Coupe who is trying to take control of her family’s estate, Georges insists they marry. She agrees, with the stipulation that the marriage not be consummated so it may be annulled when they reach France. In spite of their close proximity as the two travel back to their homeland to rescue Madeleine’s mother and sister, Georges keeps his promise but allows himself the luxury of titallating his “wife” with everything but the sex act. In the end, however, he wants her to come to him willingly out of true love, not lust.

Although Georges is a ruthless spy, working for the British to defeat Napoleon’s takeover of his beloved France, Madeleine brings out his tender side, but be assured that he is not above committing violence to protect his own. Georges strives to get Madeleine home for Christmas, her favorite holiday, despite numerous obstacles, and through Quinn’s descriptions, the various holiday traditions common to France come alive for the reader.

Quinn takes us on a fascinating journey with well defined characters and more than a bit of romance. My only criticism is that I feel Georges was much darker in the previous novel of the series, treating women with disdain, and prone to revenge against any who double crossed him. There is a hint of his violent tendencies in this novella, but his personality is more mellow than I expected. I actually disliked his character prior to the start of this book, although he redeemed himself as the story progressed due to his tenderness towards Madeleine. Yet these idiosyncrasies distracted from my total enjoyment.

Quinn’s breezy style enhanced the story and I’m sure the siblings of the two main characters present an opportunity for a new romance novel or two. I thank Kensington Publishing for allowing me a free download of Madeleine’s Christmas Wish in exchange for an honest review. It was a pleasure to read and I give it four stars.

The Master of Pleasure by Delilah Marvelle

I’m not sure how to categorize this book. I’m not even sure how to summarize it. Master of Pleasure by Delilah Marvelle is Book 5 of the School of Gallantry series and the first one to deal with sado-masochism.

I must admit that the prologue of this book grabbed my attention. The young Maxwell Gregory Thayer is basically a prisoner in a French Monastery specializing in beating abnormal tendencies out of its male “students”. Maxwell wonders about the intelligence of corralling all these depraved boys together where their shared tendencies can find an easy outlet, but attraction to the same sex is not Malcolm’s problem. He appears amazingly normal as he fends off their unwanted advances and defends the innocence of others. It is only later we discover his vice, an addiction to pain. Somehow doing the right thing always seems to be twisted into a blame game with the reward a sadistic whipping which Malcolm enjoys too much for his own comfort. Yet, he is more than ready to return home to his family when an incident becomes an excuse to keep Malcolm confined against his will for another year, at his father’s expense.

Enter Nassar, a young Persian prince who has willingly come to the Monestary to study the Bible and Christianity as opposed to the Moslem religion. After being aggressively rescued by Thayer from attack by a determined young man intent on having his way, he witnesses Malcolm’s harsh punishment. Nassar pays a ransom so that his new friend can escape further beatings and live with him as an adopted brother at his palace. Thus Malcolm does not return home, but begins life with a new family.

It seems Thayer’s old family is kind of messed up. When Malcolm’s mother died, his father, the Earl of Brayton, feeling a need for penance, sells all his worldly goods, and lives like a pauper with his two sons. Yes, Malcolm has a twin brother who is just as warped, in fact even more so. The only way to tell the difference is from a scar Malcolm received from the forceps which hastened his birth. The two brothers use pain to compete, often to the point of harming themselves.

The rest of the book deals with Malcolm coming to terms with who he is and whether he can ever develop a relationship with a woman. At least one which comes close to normalcy.

Whereas the sex within this novel is not as graphic as a typical erotic novel, it is at times explicit. The topic can be disturbing and one wonders how many people with such tendencies existed in the aristocratic society during the Regency and Victorian periods. This is also the story of Leona Olivia Webster who is trying to raise her young son, Jacob, while keeping ahead of the creditors. There is also a complication involving her ex-lover who is attempting to “adopt” his son to appease his barren wife. Malcolm, despite his love of pain, cannot bear to see others wronged and feels compelled to help her out of her difficulties, at least while he remains in London on business. After which he must return to his role as Admiral of the Persian Navy leaving Leona to fend for herself.

Although the topic is fascinating in a twisted sort of way, there is quite a bit of repetition in Malcolm’s thoughts as he obsesses about his problems. The plot kind of bogs down a bit in the middle, and is very abrupt in its resolution. The story, at times, moves along at too quick a pace while at other times it lags a bit. A better balance needs to be maintained. Although Malcolm is well rounded, the other characters, including Leona, could be fleshed out some more. The exploration of a possible love connection between Malcolm and Leona also needs to be further developed.

However, a fascinating topic which I’m sure will be explored in Marvelle’s new series The Whipping Society.

I give this book three stars.

I would like to thank Netgalley and the author for allowing me a free download of an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

A Most Inconvenient Marriage by Regina Jennings

A Most Inconvenient Marriage by Regina Jennings is a light love story set in the Ozarks after the Civil War. Abigail, a nurse, tends to the wounded of the confederate army, even though she is a Yankee from Ohio. Her favorite patient is dying from gangrene after losing his arm but talks her into marrying him so she can go back to his home in Missouri to help on the farm and take care of his sister. Unfortunately, this Romeo takes the name of his best friend, Jeremiah Calhoun, instead of his own. Abigail has already found a home with kindly Ma and ornery Rachel Calhoun and taken over the chores to help run the place, when Jeremiah come back “from the dead”. Jeremiah and Abigail are a toxic mixture who argue about everything, but Abigail has much to do before she can leave, including helping bitter Rachel deal with the repercussions of rheumatic fever and fixing Jeremiah’s wounded leg. Horse stealing bushwackers and a mistaken romantic triangle provide complications in the plot line before each of the characters find their true love.

This is an breezy story which is easy to read. The romance is limited to stolen kisses fitting to the historical times. Although the plot is somewhat contrived and predictable, the ending satisfies the reader by tying up the loose ends. Not the best book ever, but certainly enjoyable.

I give this book three stars.

I would like to thank Bethany House for allowing me to download this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

An Affair Downstairs by Sherri Browning

An Affair Downstairs by Sherri Browning is an Edwardian Historical Romance set at an English Manor in Yorkshire in 1907. Lady Alice and her eccentric maiden aunt, Agatha, have come to Thornbrook Park where her matchmaking sister, Sophia, is determined to find Alice a suitable husband. Alice, however, has pledged to stay single, supporting herself with the money held in trust from her great grandmother. Her repugnance towards marriage does not keep Alice from wanting to experience life with a to do list which includes traveling the world, but her number one aspiration is to experience love. Her target is estate manager Logan Winthrop, a handsome and mysterious man with a quiet demeanor due to a dark past. He secretly is enamored with the lively Alice and tries to keep his distance, but has difficulty watching her being courted by unworthy suitors. Alice is persistent and finally is able to break through his resistance. After making love, he proposes marriage but is refused. Despite numerous obstacles, including an accident and an unexpected engagement, true love conquers all.

While the characters of Alice and Logan are well defined, the other participants in the story need to be fleshed out somewhat. Aunt Agatha is a delight and I wish she had played a more central role in the plot. A previous book (Thornbrook Park) involving Lady Sophia and her husband, the Earl of Averford, is alluded to, but these important players lack a fullness which was perhaps present in the former novel. The reader is also left to wonder about the motivation of would be lover Lord Ralston. The stated reason seems, at best, to be far fetched. Perhaps the true motive is revealed in the sure-to-be next novel, since this one ends in a cliff hanger. There is a little too much repetition of the main characters’ thoughts and the story needs to be tightened up with miscellaneous characters and erroneous plot lines either eliminated or explained. The title is also misleading, leaving the reader expecting more romantic interplay between the owners of the estate and their staff.

Despite these flaws, this was a pleasant, enjoyable book and I give it three stars.

Thanks to Sourcebooks Casablanca for providing this book to download free of charge in exchange for an honest review.

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