Book Review: In the Garden of Temptation by Cynthia Wicklund

HONOR – Adam Stanford, Earl of Ashworth, has always done the right thing.
DESIRE – Lady Catherine Bourgeault, lonely and rejected, longs to experience passion, to love just once in her life.
TREACHERY – The Baron Bourgeault, to what extremes will an obsessive, unstable man go to achieve his own dark ends? 
SEDUCTION – In the face of a love that will not be denied, Adam and Catherine risk everything to be together.
BETRAYAL – What price must Catherine and Adam pay for a forbidden love in a time when honor meant everything?

When I came to write this review, I went searching for where I had picked it up – I got it for free from Amazon back in 2014 and in a way I was glad I hadn’t spent any money on it.

From the beginning, it is clear that Baron Bourgeault is more than a little odd – much older than his young, pretty wife Catherine, he has a dubious reputation in town and is rarely invited to polite society. He therefore stays in his run down residence, rarely inviting people to stay, and therefore restricting Catherine’s social circle. He does have one thing on his side: a pair of identical grey stallions, that he occasionally invites young men down to inspect, with the prospect of buying.  He invites Adam Stanford down, but generally acts appallingly, ensuring that Catherine and Adam end up in each other’s arms.

 

It’s only when Catherine becomes pregnant, and the Baron bans her from seeing Adam again (and allowing him to claim the child as his own) does the whole sordid plan come out: the Baron needs an heir, but has a fear of being touched. He had married Catherine in an attempt to overcome this phobia, but it proved to not be the case. Therefore he has spent the last 7 years inviting men to the estate in the hope that they will squire Catherine in order to get her with child, and give him the male heir that he wants.

Catherine gives birth to a girl, which sends the Baron into even deeper depths of madness, effectively pimping his wide out mere days after giving birth, in order to get pregnant again. It turns out that the man she has been told to seduce is a friend of Adam’s and she is able to tell her tale and enable a confrontation between Adam and the Baron, resulting in a successful resolution of the situation.

Overall, I found the whole premise just down right creepy……after 7 years of being humiliated and pimped out, was Catherine really that unaware of what her husband’s motives were?  All the staff were well aware of what was going on, and how badly she was being treated, and none offered any kind of help or support (even gossiping with other servants in the local area).  By the time that Adam and Catherine get to have their first meal together, the Baron has been so, well, weird, that it was hard to see the connection between the two soon to be lovers, and the apparent disconnect between the two continued for the rest of the book. I didnt get any sense of believable “burning passion”, or “true love”.

None of the servants were particularly well developed and generally remained one dimensional. Willie, as the Baron’s henchman, had the potential to be more rounded, but just came across as a leering degenerate (I’ve seen others describe him as an “Igor” character), with no apparent motivation apart from being able to spy on pretty girls and creep them out.

During and after reading this book, I did have a distinct feeling of “why did I bother?”

 

 

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Book Review: Pompeii by Robert Harris

All along the Mediterranean coast, the Roman empire’s richest citizens are relaxing in their luxurious villas, enjoying the last days of summer. The world’s largest navy lies peacefully at anchor in Misenum. The tourists are spending their money in the seaside resorts of Baiae, Herculaneum, and Pompeii.

But the carefree lifestyle and gorgeous weather belie an impending cataclysm, and only one man is worried. The young engineer Marcus Attilius Primus has just taken charge of the Aqua Augusta, the enormous aqueduct that brings fresh water to a quarter of a million people in nine towns around the Bay of Naples. His predecessor has disappeared. Springs are failing for the first time in generations. And now there is a crisis on the Augusta’s sixty-mile main line—somewhere to the north of Pompeii, on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius.

Attilius—decent, practical, and incorruptible—promises Pliny, the famous scholar who commands the navy, that he can repair the aqueduct before the reservoir runs dry. His plan is to travel to Pompeii and put together an expedition, then head out to the place where he believes the fault lies. But Pompeii proves to be a corrupt and violent town, and Attilius soon discovers that there are powerful forces at work—both natural and man-made—threatening to destroy him.

This was the first non-ebook of the year, and had been on my reading wishlist for a while, so it was good to finally get my hands on a copy. I’ve always had “a thing” for volcanoes and I visited Pompeii a few years ago, so it seemed natural to want to read this.  I’ve read several of Harris’ books before (e.g. Fatherland) and quite like his style.

The story starts 4 days before the eruption of Vesuvius, where Attilius has recently arrived in Misenum to look after the aqueduct. He finds that the previous engineer (Exomnius) disappeared several weeks before and no one is admitting to knowing, or caring, what happened to him. The first sign that something is wrong with the water is the death of a pool full of fish – expensive and mainly decorative, the loss of face is made worse by the fact that it is the feast of Vulcan, where tradition states that live fish are sacrificed onto hot coals. It is whilst the slave responsible for looking after the fish is being fed alive to the pool of eels that Attilius interrupts the “show” and determines that the fish died through poisoning – the water from the aqueduct has been tainted with sulphur.

From then it’s a race to find out where the problem with the aqueduct is (Attilius makes an educated guess that it’s somewhere around Pompeii and Vesuvius) and fix it before the water in the Bay of Naples dries up. Therefore he manages to get to Pompeii and persuades Pliny to grant him permission to investigate further.  In doing so, Attilius comes up against the worst of society: the ex-slave who has become one of the richest men in the area due to corruption and brutality (he’s also the father of Attilius’ love interest); the weak and feeble local council members who are too scared to make a decision, or stand up to the man they despise the most; the work-gang leader who resents Attilius’ presence. He also comes upon Pliny, who is still well known (in some circles) for his extensive volumes of works, including a real time description of the eruption.   Attilius also gets to find out what happened to Exomnius and what he knew, both as an Engineer and a Sicilian (where they had paid attention to when Etna erupted).

Some parts of the book are stronger than others……..Attilius’s belief in Roman Engineering, understanding that a failure in the water supply would undermine most of the confidence in the Empire; Pliny (a known narrator of Vesuvius’s explosion) and his logical and factual belief in reporting what *is*;  the understanding of some as to the effect of a lack of water would have on the “mob” etc. There are things that are a little less strong – the love interest (which was too short and shallow); the local council members were lightly sketched, and it was difficult to see how they had got to the position whereby they could be dominated so completely by an ex-slave.

On the whole, a reasonable thriller, set against a known historical fact, that had a couple of things that could have been tightened up a little, but I’m glad to have read it.

 

 

Book Review: Better than Byron by Judy Carpenter

What do you do when someone rips your life apart? You pick up the pieces and put them back together.

And sometimes you discover the pieces form a new pattern better than the original. When Hermione Newburn steps through the door at her first ball her expectations go no further than a pleasant evening with a few dances with some friendly gentlemen. What she gets instead is betrothed to a man who only holds her in contempt.

Over the next year she is married, abandoned, disrespected, redeemed, and her marriage annulled. Then she is reacquainted with her former husband and against all odds the feelings of the former adversaries have changed significantly. It seems their previous animus has dissolved.

What’s left are possibilities. And possibilities can lead to more than one could ever imagine.​ 

From Librarything and one of their Early Reviewers batches.

I’m beginning to see a change in some of the Romance Novels that come across my e-reader – there are a lot more “quirks” to the love story, presumably to keep the genre interesting. At 29, Hermione is unfashionably old when attending her first ball in her first season – a side effect of her mother dying whilst young and her father preferring to use Hermione as an unofficial housekeeper, thereby denying her her season. There are plenty of eligible young women looking for husbands, and unmarried men trying to avoid getting landed with an unwanted marriage. However, one of these unmarried women – Brianna – overhears Lord Luke Dorchester talking to his friend Gregory whilst the two are taking a break in the garden, disparaging the women in the room, and Brianna in particular.  In the desire to get revenge for the snub, Brianna manufactures a situation that finds Hermione and Luke alone together in the library, only to be found together in apparently compromising situation.

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Challenge: A Change in my Twitter

For the last few years I have been setting myself yearly challenges for my blog, which I nearly achieve, but not always. One big area I want to improve on is to increase my blog and Twitter followers, increased blog page views, and better use of scheduling, hashtags etc.

Over the Christmas period I decided to mainly tweet about my Christmas themed book reviews from the last few years. I’ve not been blogging much over the last few months, but the stats have been chugging along nicely..no zero view Days!

Anyway I sat down on a Thursday in early January to auto schedule the next batch of 30 tweets and….blanked. I had several pages of draft tweets to choose from, but really couldn’t decide what to choose. I’ve been tweeting my Christmas stuff for the last two months, it’s no longer Christmas, so what should I do?

I chose to schedule nothing that day, though technically my engagement numbers would drop. Thursday afternoon I started looking at my overall stats, especially the pages that had low numbers over the last year or so. I noticed there were some themes, some of which tie into themes in the wider world. Therefore I’ve decided that I’m going to breakdown the year, and tweet reviews that seem to tie in. It’s not going to be prescriptive or anything – if I read a romance novel in September I’m not going to wait to next Feb to review it for instance, but this will help me have a soft guide as to what I should be tweeting about. I’m still struggling for January though.

Jan ;

Feb – Romance (For Valentine’s day, right? #Romance);

March/April (#SpringReads)

May – Comics and Graphic Novels (Free Comic Book Day is 1st Saturday in May, Star Wars Day is May 4th. #Comic #GraphicNovel) ;

June/July – Summer Reads (Cos it’s #Summer!);

August – Quilting (The FestivalOfQuilts is held in Birmingham each August. #Quilt #Sewing);

September – Gold Age Crime (Not only Agatha Christie, but Ngaio Marsh, Birmingham Library etc. #GoldenAge, then #Poirot #Marple, #Alleyn etc);

October – Spooky (in time for Halloween etc #Spooky);

November/December – Christmas (You know why! #Christmas)

 

Anyone else want to join me? Any suggestions for topics, especially around January?

Book Review: Twisted Genius by Patricia Rice

 

All Ana Devlin has ever wanted was a home for her younger half-siblings. Now she has half a mansion plus half a fortune to go with it. But what good is sanctuary when her family insists on creating chaos and endangering lives in their relentless pursuit of justice? 

Bent on revenging old debts, Ana’s mother, Magda, is back in town, making a mockery of a powerful presidential candidate. Ana’s brother Nick has found a boyfriend—who nearly gets them both killed for blowing the whistle on a pharmaceutical company’s dangerous painkiller. Ana’s lover, Graham, is out to destroy a Russian hacker who dared attack his secret servers. Her sister Patra is breaking the news story of the century—connecting drug lords and politicians and dangerously wealthy industrialists. 

And Ana is the one who is in jeopardy. Can a family of geniuses really be worth the effort? 

From LibbraryThing as part of their Early Reviewers monthly batch.

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2018 Blogger Resolutions

It’s now becoming traditional for me to set goals at the beginning of the year, then reflect how I’ve done by the end. Following my failure to achieve these the last few years, I’ve significantly dropped my numbers, in the chance of actually meeting a couple!

Book pages text
Patrick Tomasso via Upsplash
  • Increase subscribers to this blog to 950, excluding twitter followers
  • Increase annual page hits to this blog (to 6500)
  • Increase twitter followers to @brumnordie (to 950)
  • Read and review 60 books. 50% to be paperbooks or audiobooks. I wont do a specific challenge this year – I did pretty badly last time I did one, so I wont set myself up to fail this time!
  • Get my Netgalley ratio into the 70% range (from 63%).
  • To aid in reading the books that I already have there will be a moratorium on requesting books from Netgalley or LibraryThing, and reviewing books I already have!
  • Post at least once a week
  • Make use of sharing with Facebook groups as appropriate.
  • Make better use of twitter, including the analytics, scheduling content.
  • Take part in twitter chats such as #Blogtacular #bookbloggers etc
  • Ensure about and contact details are maintained and up to date.
  • Make use of scheduling and planning software as appropriate.
  • Take part in blogging challenges, such as Bloggiesta, as and when I remember!
  • Look to do more non book related posts – get out into Birmingham more and write about stuff! This includes stuff at the museums etc.
  • Do more posts about sewing, my cross stitch and quilting in particular. I’m not putting numbers on this.
  • Comment more on other people’s blogs – I’m not going to put a number on this as it’ll be a nightmare to track. Just “do more”.
  • Release more books via Bookcrossing, either in OBCZs or via RABCKs
  • Start making my own media (photos etc) and make use of them in posts

2017 Blogger Resolutions – The Results

Once again, a checkpoint against the blogging resolutions I made at the beginning of the year, which were admittedly quite aggressive.  I didn’t achieve many of these, simply because reading and general blogging was on the back burner for much of the year.

  • Increase subscribers to this blog to 1100, excluding twitter followers  The number of subscribers did increase to over 830, but didn’t come close to meeting the target. There are likely reasons mentioned below.
  • Increase annual page hits to this blog (to 12000). *This wasn’t met either, reasons given below. I pulled less than I did last year. Some months (e.g. Jan and April) I did significantly worse that the same time last year, but there are other months that I pulled similar numbers or did even better, even if I didn’t post as much*
  • Increase twitter followers to @brumnordie (to 1100)  *Whilst I did get my followers to over 750 (with some fluctuations), I didnt meet this target*
  • Read and review 60 books. 50% to be paperbooks or audiobooks.  *I came nowhere near any of this target, though I did read a mix of paper and ebooks. I’ve been quite strict on the Netgalley requests, and have managed to get my review ratio up into the low 60%*
  • Post at least twice a week *This certainly didn’t happen, and there are some weeks that I didnt post at all. I did however find a couple of new topics to write about, and published a couple*
  • Make use of sharing with Facebook groups as appropriate. *nope! did more than last year, but certainly not as much as I could have*
  • Make better use of twitter, including the analytics, scheduling content. This I did manage to do more of, especially after finding that tweets could be stored as “drafts”, which allowed me to keep a store of tweets to be scheduled. A cursory glance of  3 months of tweets shows I seem to have the 70:30 balance just the wrong way round.  At one point I managed to get my engagement rate at above 2k in a month, but have fallen back a bit – must find the stuff that works for people, whilst also talking to people as if they are real people (which they are!). I had a massive spike when I had Neil Gaiman retweet something of mine, so that pushed my numbers up high for part of November!
  • Take part in twitter chats such as #Blogtacular #bookbloggers etc *Happened sporadically, not good enough though*
  • Ensure about and contact details are maintained and up to date.*Nothing has changed, so nothing needed updating*
  • Make use of scheduling and planning software as appropriate. *Because of a change in my technology, this wasn’t really feasible*
  • Take part in blogging challenges, such as Bloggiesta, as and when I remember! *Happened sporadically, not good enough though*
  • Continue doing more non-review posts, such as Sunday Salon posts, which I hope people find interesting – they certainly generate comments! *Did more of these, especially as a result of not reviewing books as much.*
  • Look to do more non book related posts – get out into Birmingham more and write about stuff! This includes stuff at the museums etc. *I had plans, and did write posts, especially for some Foyles events, and whilst I did have plans for others, they didn’t come to anything*
  • Do more posts about sewing, my cross stitch and quilting in particular. I’m not putting numbers on this.   *This I managed to do more off so that’s a win*
  • Comment more on other people’s blogs – I’m not going to put a number on this as it’ll be a nightmare to track. Just “do more”. *Commenting did take place, but I didnt note how many posts I commented on. Most were not book-review related*
  • Release more books via Bookcrossing. I still have half a crate left over from the closure of a couple of OBCZs and the bookcrossing UK meetup in Birmingham in September 2016. *I inherited a load of books during several clearouts, and managed to release many of them, especially at the Bookcrossing meetup in Loughbrough. I also managed to release a couple as RABCKs*
  • Reorganise my bookshelves (Haven’t been done in two years – about time they’re done!). *This was done – kinda. I even wrote a post about it!*