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Chance
Chance
by Jackie Collins
Edition: Paperback
17 used & new from CDN$ 0.39

4.0 out of 5 stars Rags to riches rollercoaster, Aug. 21 2010
This review is from: Chance (Paperback)
Chances was exactly the right book at the right time for me. I'd been working very hard and needed a break. Happily, the next weekend was sunny and I was able to spend a lot of it out in the garden with my pink yoga mat (same shade as the book cover, incidentally), a pillow, and this book.

Chances starts in 1977, as crime boss Gino Santangelo is on his way back to New York after a period of exile. Daughter Lucky, who has been running the show in his absence, isn't thrilled and a power struggle seems to be in the offing. Meanwhile, socialite Carrie is on her way to Harlem in response to a mysterious message which she thinks relates to the dark secrets in her past. The date is Wednesday, July 13th. Ring any bells? Not for me, so the blackout came as a surprise, throwing the characters' lives into chaos.

The 1977 storyline is intertwined with the backstories, told in flashback, of Gino and Carrie, and finally all three strands come together ' with a twist. I enjoyed all three narratives, but got especially absorbed in the story of Carrie, a young black girl sold into prostitution in the 1920s by her abusive family.

Gino, brought up by a series of foster parents, comes from a similarly bleak background. He chooses a criminal career because it offers scope for his ambitions, which his legitimate job as a mechanic doesn't. His early jobs as a getaway driver are risky, but so is working under cars: a friend is nearly killed when the jack holding up the Cadillac he is working on collapses. At twenty Gino is building a bootleg empire. At forty, wealthy, feared and respected, he is building Las Vegas. But he has to pay a terrible price for his success, and in more than one way.

His daughter, Lucky, is probably Jackie Collins's best-known character. She is very much a product of second-wave feminism. Trapped in an elevator during the blackout with Carrie's son Stephen, Lucky corrects him when he addresses her as Miss: it's Miz. Later, at his apartment (after a night spent trapped in the lift), when he suggests she could make them breakfast, she explains that she can't cook. Anyone further from the insecure, self-deprecating, slip-dress-wearing, barefoot, cupcake-baking (but burning the cakes, of course, because she's such a ditz) heroine prancing across the pastel covers of chicklit from here to eternity cannot be imagined. Thank God.

I found that while the book didn't skimp on either sex or violence, these scenes were never gratuitous. They are there to tell the story. And it's a great story. Not perfect: I had to suspend disbelief about Gino masterminding a criminal empire while staying clear of both prostitution and narcotics, and I would have liked more detail to convince me of Carrie's transformation from call girl to society wife ' I think it could be done, but not without a major crash course in speech, etiquette, fashion and a lot else.

Bottom line: Chances is an exhilarating rags-to-riches rollercoaster. I'm looking forward to reading the sequels.

Time's Legacy
Time's Legacy
by Barbara Erskine
Edition: Hardcover
18 used & new from CDN$ 0.68

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing and atmospheric timeslip, Aug. 15 2010
This review is from: Time's Legacy (Hardcover)
Barbara Erskine's books tend to follow a recognisable pattern -but each time, she shakes her kaleidoscope to create a new and enthralling variation. The result is always a novel very difficult to put down. I've never taken more than three days to finish any of her books.

The heroine of Time's Legacy is Abi, an Anglican priest. Harassment from her disturbed superior, Kier, who has decided she is a witch, drives her from her Cambridge parish into retreat near Glastonbury. Unfortunately Kier has no intention of letting her go that easily. As Abi tries to evade him, she is drawn into the story of the haunted place where she is staying. Through the medium of the crystal her mother left to her, she watches as a two-thousand-year-old tragedy unfolds. It's an experience which will lead her to question her faith, her identity and her future.

The Glastonbury area is beautifully evoked, both in the past and the present: as I read I could hear the birds, smell the wood-smoke and feel the touch of swirling mists. The creation of atmosphere is Barbara Erskine's speciality. She uses layers of description to build up tension to the point where you are almost afraid to turn the page.

But she also knows how to break up the tension - and in fact, no-one can combine chills and cosiness the way she does. On one page, kettles boil, cakes come out of the oven and labradors snooze by the fire; on the next, rain spatters the window, the electricity fails and the dogs begin to whimper as footsteps are heard overhead. Even though you thought you were alone in the house. It's an irresistible combination.

Time''s Legacy didn't topple my two favourite Erskine novels, Lady of Hay and Midnight is a Lonely Place, from their pedestal. Nor did I feel it was all it could have been. Although I loved the last page, I wasn't altogether convinced by the way things were tied up and there are some loose threads ' like the couple Abi meets in a coffee shop who are introduced by name: I kept waiting for them to reappear before realising belatedly that they wouldn't.

Notwithstanding, this is a very recommendable book ' entertaining, suspenseful and thought-provoking. If you've never read any Barbara Erskine, this would be a great place to start.

Calais
Calais
by Kathleen Winsor
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Glossy theatrical saga, Aug. 10 2010
This review is from: Calais (Paperback)
Calais is the story of actress Arlette Morgan's rise to fame and fortune from the 1940s to the 1960s. Arlette is orphaned at the age of five, and Winsor convincingly explores how early loss shapes her character and influences her life choices. Arlette believes that if it were not for her parents' death, she would not have decided to become an actress. While her sense of her own mortality pushes her towards early success, acting provides a way for her to live more than one life. Her succession of love affairs, which sometimes seem under-motivated, might also stem from this need to live as fully as possible.

Winsor is especially adept at exploring female rivalry, and she has great fun with all the tropes that belong to this type of fiction: the college friends after the same part, the understudy waiting in the wings for the star to sprain her ankle, the showdown between the ambitious Eve Harrington-type ingenue and the understudy-turned-star. Her depiction of female friendship is less convincing. Arlette would seem a loner if it weren't for the revolving door ushering her men in and out.

Arlette sleeps with her leading men, her directors and anyone else who catches her fancy, but rarely uses the relationship to her advantage, and in fact, has a lot to put up with from the men in her life - especially consort Anthony De Forest. The prologue, set in 1966, allows the reader a glimpse of Arlette and Anthony's glamorous married life, positioning them somewhere between Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor and Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. Yet I didn't care for Anthony much: he seemed arrogant, controlling and insecure all at the same time.

As a depiction of the theatrical world Calais doesn't have the authentic ring of, for example, Noel Streatfeild''s adult novels, and I found myself seriously doubting quite a few details, such as whether a horse would be able to gallop across the stage. Apart from any lack of realism (which I may be wrong about, as I've never worked in the theatre) Calais has the faults of Winsor''s other books: after Anthony and Arlette marry the novel sags and begins to seem episodic. The last third is very overwritten, and the book doesn't so much end as simply come to a stop. However, it was worth reading as I found much of the novel the engrossing read it was meant to be ' a book for women, about a woman who lives out her dreams.

For the King
For the King
by Catherine Delors
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 25.47
30 used & new from CDN$ 0.90

5.0 out of 5 stars Grittily authentic historical thriller, Aug. 9 2010
This review is from: For the King (Hardcover)
I loved Catherine Delors's debut novel, Mistress of the Revolution, so my expectations for For the King were high, and I''m delighted to say that the book did not disappoint. An historical thriller, it deals with the failed assassination attempt on Napoleon in Paris on Christmas Eve 1800 ' or, in French Revolutionary parlance, the 3rd of the month of Nivose (translation: Frosty) of Year Nine of the Republic.

For the King follows the investigation after the attack, which, although it failed to harm Napoleon, killed and maimed many other people. The central character is Roch Miquel, the son of a tavern owner who has risen to be Chief of Police. Roch is convinced from the start that the Royalist faction is behind the plot, but unfortunately his patron and superior, the untrustworthy Fouché, is anxious to assign the blame to the ex-Jacobins who also want to see Bonaparte fall ' among them Roch's father.

And the lady on the cover? Roch is involved with Blanche Coudert, the beautiful young wife of a newly-rich banker. But his relationship to her comes under strain in the course of the investigation. You may notice that the cover image is from later in the 19th century, so the dress has been digitally altered to conform to the high waistline fashionable in 1800!

Although the cover highlights the romantic subplot, the main drive of the book is the chase after the assassins. This is a fast-paced read which never sacrifices atmosphere and is rich with details gleaned from archival research.

A very accomplished second novel and a wonderful read.

I received an ARC of For the King from the author.

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