Heart of Gold

by J.R. Ward, writing as Jessica Bird (Signet) ISBN 9780451237583 

J.R Ward is well known for sexy paranormal and police thrillers, but as Jessica Bird she writes contemporary romances set against authentically American backgrounds.  

In Heart of Gold, she delivers an exhilarating romantic adventure, lashed with humour, raunchiness and good old-fashioned fun. 

Carter is a female Indiana Jones, an archaeologist searching for hidden gold in the majestic Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. She runs into Nick Farrell, a jaw-droppingly handsome alpha male financier who doesn’t take to her trespassing on his family land. Together, they are swept up into an adventure—a Romancing the Stone kind of escapist story told in a Mills and Boon paint-by-numbers fashion. 

While the reader may want to see the subplots fleshed out and a few less clichés, the ending packs a punch. Heart of Gold is a well-written, entertaining and fun romance. Perfect for the beach. 

Anthony Ehlers
4/5

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Friends Forever

by Danielle Steel (Bantam) ISBN: 9780593056844 R195-00

 

Danielle Steel’s new novel is about the role friendship plays on life’s journey — and navigating the challenges we all face in our earlier years.  Five children meet and bond on their first day at Atwood School, a prestigious co-ed school in San Francisco.Friends Forever follows them from kindergarten to graduation and young adulthood.

 

It sounds like the perfect recipe for a warm, rich saga about friendship, love and survival. It will probably recall some fond memories of school friendships for many readers. However, the book is far too short to capture the narrative arc of five different characters. The result is episodic, messy and somewhat disappointing. Did the author write it in a rush to meet a publishing deadline? Or was the premise too thin to begin with?

 

Even die-hard Danielle Steel fans will feel a bit let down with this one, but for the less militant romance readers, the book will provide a few hours of breezy, enjoyable and entirely forgettable escapism.

 

Anthony Ehlers

2/5

 

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Vanished Years

by Rupert Everett (Little Brown) ISBN: 9780349000213

 

With his gaunt good looks and throwaway pedigree, Rupert Everett has always been somewhat of an impossibly elegant vagrant, stalking the edges of fame and notoriety. Nowhere is his uneasy relationship with his own fading celebrity more evident than in Vanished Years.

 

This is not the camp sidekick of My Best Friend’s Wedding or the ageing party boy on the circuit. We find a middle-aged man, son and lover looking back at a rueful past and facing a nebulous future—yes, with traces of bitterness but no self-pity. Self-deprecating humour, abundant charm and exquisite description of his own and friends’ vanished years draw you into a tale of uncovered regret, wild nostalgia and faint glimmering hope.

 

Everett can write with brutal hilarity about his failed attempt at an American sitcom, then surprise us with touching vulnerability as he recounts his doomed love for a beautiful Italian one summer, before switching to a harrowing first-hand account of his outreach work for the G8 Global Fund in Cambodia and Russia. 

 

But it is really his relationship with his father that imbues this memoir with its elegiac warmth and beauty.

 

Sometimes we listen to sad old songs to recall the past—with yearning, nostalgia or even regret. Sometimes we read beautiful books like this for the self-same reason.

 

Anthony Ehlers

5/5

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The Girl Who Could Silence The Wind

by Meg Medina (Walker Books) ISBN: 978 1 4063 4194 2

 

Magical realism is a genre unique to Latin America. Think Isabel Allende, Paulo Coelho, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

 

The Girl who could Silence the Wind is a wonderful example of magical realism for the young adult market—although adults will also revel in this enchanting tale of faith, sacrifice, courage and love.

 

Sonia Ocampo is just a village girl from a humble family in Tres Montes, living with her parents, her nosy aunt, Tia Neli and her handsome brother, Rafael. Except the village believe she is blessed with magical powers. For Sonia, it is more a curse. Isolated in the dusty mining village, she dreams of a better life. And then she gets the chance to work for a rich widow in the capital far away. But she learns that opportunity often leads to compromise, danger and hard life lessons.

 

Meg Medina has that rare gift for telling a story so vivid and real, you find yourself turning the pages as if held by a spell.  The ending will break your heart—but also fill you with hope and love.

 

Anthony Ehlers

5/5

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Dead Reckoning

by Charlaine Harris (Gollancz) ISBN: 9780575096547

 

When you have an urban fantasy that has a heroine named Sookie picking up synthetic blood for her vampire boyfriend at the Grabbit Kwik shop, or Elvis Presley turned into a bloodsucker by a distraught Memphis morgue assistant, you know this is a novel you shouldn’t take too seriously.

 

The good news is that Charlaine Harris doesn’t want you too. It’s obvious that she has a whole lot of fun writing her far-fetched Sookie Stackhouse yarns—and it rubs off on the reader.

 

Of course, the series has been turned into a hit HBO television series, True Blood, starring Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer.

 

The books are narrated by Sookie, a bargirl living in Bon Temps, Louisiana. She doesn’t just serve ice-tea and burgers in a short skirt—she also has the telepathic gift of reading people’s minds. In the stories, vampires and other paranormal beings have come out of their closets and crypts and live openly among humans. Harris presents this crazy community of werewolves, shape shifters, elves and vampires with sardonic, off-beat humour—she even has a fairy character who is a gay stripper.

 

In Dead Reckoning, Sookie has a whole bunch of human and non-human forces trying to kill her, including a white-trash psychogirl with a grudge and a truculent mafia-style vampire king. But the plot is not important: the pleasure is living vicariously through these crazy, sexy characters’ daily lives.

 

Unlike the stiff, weepy Twilight saga, the Sookie books have a loose, steamy Southern charm that mixes seedy urban drama with witty and outlandish fantasy to deliver an exciting adventure story. A really great read!

 

Anthony Ehlers 

4/5

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Stay Close

by Harlan Coben (Orion) ISBN: 978 1 4091 12563

 

Harlan Coben, the master of the twist, is back with another hard-paced, unputdownable thriller. 

 

The convoluted plot is not easy to summarise but easy to follow once it pulls the reader in. Detective Broome has to solve a baffling mystery—on Mardi Gras night in Atlantic City each year, some no-good loser guy goes missing, never to be seen again. 

 

After almost twenty years of these suspicious disappearances, he is determined to break the pattern. When Megan, ex-stripper turned suburban soccer mom, comes forward with some vital information, she doesn’t realise she’s put herself—and her ex-lover, a battle-scarred photographer called Ray—in some serious danger.

 

Atlantic City is a great setting, kind of like Vegas without Celine Dion and the big electricity bill, and this added to the great atmospheric noir elements of the story. Coben doesn’t only do the plot twist like a pro—he does the sardonic humour well too. It was especially great to see how he brought in some clever and absorbing observations about human nature through his colourful characters’ voices. The theme of the novel—wanting to go back and change the past—was pretty damn poignant.

 

Stay Close is a great novel, told in a great narrative voice. It’s a really immersive entertainment. Pick it up on a Friday night and when you’ve come up for air, your whole weekend will have disappeared. Trust me.

 

Anthony Ehlers 

4.5/5

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What will survive

by Mark Gartside (Pan Macmillan) ISBN: 978 0 230 75989 3

 

There are not many novels that deal with single fathers or delve into parenthood from a male point of view.

 

What Will Survive tells the story of Graham, a lad from the wrong side of the tracks in Thatcher’s Britain, who meets posh girl Charlotte at a party. Although they don’t marry, she falls pregnant and they make a go of things.

 

When baby Michael is a year old, Charlotte dies tragically and Graham turns to alcohol to cope.

 

With the support of his family and friends, he manages to turn his life around as a successful account, and tackles the role of raising Michael alone, doing his best to protect, nurture and love the child.

 

However, as Michael becomes a teenager, things seem to come full circle. Michael becomes involved with a girl from a poorer part of town. She also has a violent ex-boyfriend who harasses Michael and, eventually, Graham himself until it looks as if another tragedy will unfold.

 

What Will Survive is a tearjerker in the Nicholas Sparks and David Nicholls mould. However, Gartside writes with a clear, direct and honest style that keeps the soapish plot believable and from straying into mawkish romance.

 

An intelligent, emotional novel for men and women.

 

Anthony Ehlers

4/5

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The Golden Hour

by William Nicholson (Quercus) ISBN: 978 1 849 16 392 7

 

The Golden Hour takes place over one week in the pretty Sussex countryside, and explores the emotional conflicts of a cast of well-drawn characters.

 

Maggie lives in the country, while her boyfriend Andrew stays in the city. When he is offered a job closer to her, she panics—and starts to question their relationship. This is complicated when she bumps heads with Alex, a screenwriter who has come to Sussex to find a peaceful haven—and inspiration for his next screenplay.

 

Meanwhile, her neighbours are experiencing their own bucolic little dramas. Henry is a man going through a mid-life crisis, which is not helped by the fact that his brother Roddy is secretly in love with his wife, Laura.

 

Nicholson’s prose gently explores the minutiae of country life as he delves into the psychology of his characters. For some readers this may translate into a slow pace that can be frustrating—but those who enjoy Jodi Piccoult or Nancy Thayer will absolutely love the careful layers and subtle humour.

 

Anthony Ehlers

3/5

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The Next Always

by Nora Roberts (Piatkus) ISBN: 9780749955366

 

Nora Roberts, international bestselling author, has turned her hometown into a tourist attraction. She has written a fictional trilogy—The Next Always is the first—of the historic bed-and-breakfast she and her family remodelled in BoonsBoro, Maryland two years ago.

 

Keeping with her literary aspirations, Roberts has created rooms inspired by famous fictional couples—from the pages of Dashiell Hammet to Jane Austen, even her own Eve Dallas series. Roberts has even opened a nearby bookstore, the Turn the Page Bookstore Cafe, for those romantic pilgrims wanting to pay tribute to the queen of popular fiction.

 

Nora Roberts has cleverly turned real life into fiction with The Inn at BoonsBoro Trilogy. The series revolves around the handsome Montgomery brothers, their eccentric mother, and the family obsession with the Inn BoonsBoro. In the first instalment, we meet Beckett or Beck as he is known. He is the architect of the family, a tall down-to-earth blue-jeans kind of hero who wants to rekindle a teen romance. Clare Brewster has come home after losing her husband to run the local bookstore. It’s a premise that makes for great small town romantic fiction.

 

The novel is filled with the colour, tastes, sounds and souls of the inn and its people. It’s a great story, teeming with humour, romance and has that “feel-good” factor that will have readers eager for the second episode. Nora Roberts has created another winner.

 

Anthony Ehlers

4/5

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Passion

by Lauren Kate (Doubleday) ISBN 978 03856 1808 3

 

Los Angeles-based author Lauren Kate is the internationally bestselling creator of the wildly popular Fallen series.

 

Passion is the third in the quartet of romantic paranormal novels aimed at young adults.

 

Ethereally dark and exquisitely beautiful Luce travels back through time and history to test her relationship with the tormented blond fallen angel Daniel. She wants to know if he really loves her – or if he is simply caught up in the curse neither of them seems able to break. Daniel is forced bring her back from the dangerous shadows of the past to face the risks of the present.

 

Passion not only explores the extremes young lovers will face to be together, but also neatly sets the stage for the final book.

 

The story is told in a crisp, evocative style, although some of the dialogue is less than elegant. While the time travel plot line can be annoying at times, it does feed the story and give us a background to the main characters.

 

Recommended for anyone who is looking for a paranormal fix after Twilight and a must for those who enjoyed the first two books Lauren Kate’s series.

 

Anthony Ehlers

3/5

 

~~~

 

Luce Price is desperate to break the curse that keeps her from her one true love, Daniel.

 

Luce with the apparent guidance of a gargoyle must go back through the centuries and revisit her various reincarnations that each hold a different clue to her fate.

 

Meanwhile Daniel and other fallen angels are in hot pursuit of Luce through the ages to stop her before she makes a choice that alters their history.

 

Passion is the sequel to Lauren Kate’s novel, Fallen. The reader can pick up on the essence of the first book and ease into the romantic plot of the second even if they have not had a chance to read the first.

 

The story is focused on the intense connection between the two main characters Luce and Daniel and Lauren does well to relay this concentrated emotion to the reader. The chapters are divided into centuries and moves rather swiftly.

 

To enjoy the culmination of the story one will need to read the third book, Torment.

 

Liz Breet

3/5

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