Tag: Grand Central Publishing

Review: Count to Ten by Karen Rose

Posted September 3, 2019 by Rowena in Reviews | 1 Comment

Review: Count to Ten by Karen RoseReviewer: Rowena
Count to Ten by Karen Rose
Series: Romantic Suspense #6
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: February 1, 2007
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
Point-of-View: Third
Genres: Romantic Suspense
Pages: 564
Add It: Goodreads
Reading Challenges: Rowena's 2019 A-Z Reading Challenge, Rowena's 2019 New to Me Challenge
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
four-stars
Series Rating: four-stars

In all his years in the Chicago Fire Department, Lieutenant Reed Solliday has never experienced anything like this recent outbreak of house fires - devastating, vicious and in one case, homicidal. He has another problem - his new partner, Detective Mia Mitchell. She's brash, bossy, and taking the case in a direction he never imagined. Mia's instincts tell her the arsonist is making this personal. And as the infernos become more deadly, one look at the victims' tortured faces convinces her and Reed that they must work closer to catch the killer. With each new blaze, the villain ups the ante, setting firetraps for the people Reed and Mia love. The truth is almost too hot to handle: This monster's desire for death and destruction is unquenchable ... and for Mia he's started the countdown to an early grave.

Count to Ten is the sixth book in Karen Rose’s Romantic Suspense series and the first book that I’ve ever read by Rose. I don’t know what I was expecting when I jumped into this book but whatever, I liked this one. This was a book club read and if you guys know anything about my book club, they like happy, happy, joy, joy stories and this weren’t one of them. I didn’t mind the gore and the darkness that surrounded the villain (that we actually see on the page) because I was super wrapped up in the investigation, the romance between the main couple and I was really rooting for the good guys to figure everything out.

This book read like an episode of Law & Order: SVU. The crime is committed, the fire department and the cops are called, the detectives scramble from lead to lead to find the bad guy and all of that is happening at the same time that some characters are dealing with personal issues and falling in love. I thought Karen Rose handled each aspect of the story really well. It was too heavy on one specific thing. The characters were fleshed out, the story was engaging and though it was a bit slow in the beginning when it picked up, it really picked up.

Reed Solliday was an interesting hero, one that I really enjoyed getting to know. He is still grieving his late wife, even though it’s been a few years and his daughter is really going through it. She’s fourteen and is feeling some type of way about constantly living in the shadow of her dead mother. It’s a big thing that is tackled in this book and I thought Rose did a great job of letting the reader feel what the characters were feeling. I loved that Reed wasn’t perfect, that you really go through every day with him and see him grow into his feelings for Mia while figuring out how to reach his daughter and trying to stop a serial killer from taking another life. I loved seeing him struggle with trying to understand his growing daughter, struggle with moving on from his wife, a woman he thought was the love of his life.

Mia Mitchell really grew on me. I didn’t read any of the other books in this series, so I didn’t go into this story knowing the background on what happened with Mia and her partner, Abe but that didn’t really matter because Rose did a good job of making the reader understand what was going on anyway. It took a little bit for me to warm up to Mia’s character but I ended up really loving her. I thought she had a great head on her shoulders, she was strong and brave and she didn’t need anyone to save her, no matter how many times Reed tried. She was also extremely caring of those in her small circle of trust and I really loved seeing her fix the broken parts of her life. She dealt with a lot of things on her own and it took her a while to really come around to the idea of leaning on anyone so when she finally does, I was here for it.

Overall, this story was action-packed and the romance was sweet so I had a good time reading it. I am definitely interested in reading more books in this series and more books from this author. This was a great introduction to Karen Rose’s work and I’m glad that I read it. I definitely recommend.

Final Grade

4 out of 5

Romantic Suspense

four-stars


Tagged: , , , , , ,

Throwback Thursday Review: The Secret of Ella and Micha by Jessica Sorensen

Posted August 29, 2019 by Rowena in Reviews | 3 Comments

Throwback Thursday Review: The Secret of Ella and Micha by Jessica SorensenReviewer: Rowena
The Secret of Ella and Micha by Jessica Sorensen
Series: The Secret #1
Publisher: Forever
Publication Date: February 12th 2013
Genres: New Adult, Contemporary Romance
Pages: 320
Add It: Goodreads
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
four-half-stars
Series Rating: five-stars

Ella and Micha have been best friends since they were kids. But one tragic night shatters their friendship and their lives forever.

Ella used to be a rule-breaker with fiery attitude who wore her heart on her sleeve. But she left everything behind when she went to college and transformed into someone that follows the rules, keeps everything together, and hides all her problems. But now it's summer break and she has nowhere else to go but home.

Ella fears everything she worked so hard to bury might resurface, especially with Micha living right next door. If Micha tries to tempt the old her back, she knows that it will be hard to resist.

Micha is sexy, smart, confident, and can get under Ella’s skin like no one else can. He knows everything about her, including her darkest secrets. And he’s determined to bring his best friend, and the girl he loves back, no matter what it takes.

(New Adult Contemporary)*Mature Content** Recommended for ages 17+ due to sexual situations and language.

*** Every Thursday, we’ll be posting throwback reviews of our favorite and not-so-favorite books. Enjoy! ***

This review was originally posted on Apr 17, 2013

This story is filled with secrets up to my ears and I spent a good deal of this book, confused.  I was trying to figure out what happened, why they weren’t talking about it and yet, I couldn’t put this book down.  I thought this book was written exactly the way that it was supposed to be written because I was so wrapped up in Ella and Micha’s world that I was sad when it all came to an end.

Ella and Micha are best friends and have been best friends since they were children.  They’ve also got some big time feelings for each other but for reasons that belong to the both of them, they’ve never gotten together.  They’ve never been an official couple.  When Ella’s mother dies, things happen and Ella runs away.  She runs away from her home, from her friends and from Micha.  Nobody knows where Ella went, except for her Dad and he’s not telling anyone, anything and that, more than anything, pisses Micha off.

The story takes place eight months later.  It’s summer time and with nowhere to go for the summer, Ella has no choice but to go back home and face the music that is sure to be waiting for her when she gets back.

Throughout this whole story, I was engaged.  My heart, my emotions, my mind, it was all focused on the characters in this book.  I couldn’t put it down.  The book isn’t a very long read anyway but I still inhaled it.  I came to love both Ella and Micha so much as well as Ethan and Lila.

Ella and Micha together made sense and man, the amount of love and passion that Micha showed for Ella, holy cow…it was fantastic!  He was my very favorite part of this book and I cannot freaking wait until the next book.  There were a few times when I wanted to strangle Ella and Dean and Ella’s Dad but overall, the story was a great read. I highly recommend.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5

The Secret


four-half-stars


Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

Review: Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt

Posted April 16, 2018 by Holly in Reviews | 1 Comment

Review: Duke of Sin by Elizabeth HoytReviewer: Holly
Duke of Sin (Maiden Lane, #10) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Series: Maiden Lane #10
Also in this series: Wicked Intentions, Wicked Intentions, Lord of Darkness, Darling Beast, Dearest Rogue, Sweetest Scoundrel, Duke of Sin, Once Upon a Moonlit Night (Maiden Lane #10.5), Duke of Pleasure, Duke of Desire, Once Upon a Maiden Lane, Once Upon a Christmas Eve (Maiden Lane #12.6)
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: May 31, 2016
Point-of-View: Third
Genres: Historical Romance
Pages: 338
Add It: Goodreads
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
four-stars
Series Rating: four-stars

A MAN OF SIN

Devastatingly handsome. Vain. Unscrupulous. Valentine Napier, the Duke of Montgomery, is the man London whispers about in boudoirs and back alleys. A notorious rake and blackmailer, Montgomery has returned from exile, intent on seeking revenge on those who have wronged him. But what he finds in his own bedroom may lay waste to all his plans.

A WOMAN OF HONOR

Born a bastard, housekeeper Bridget Crumb is clever, bold, and fiercely loyal. When her aristocratic mother becomes the target of extortion, Bridget joins the Duke of Montgomery's household to search for the incriminating evidence-and uncovers something far more dangerous.

A SECRET THAT THREATENS TO DESTROY THEM BOTH

Astonished by the deceptively prim-and surprisingly witty-domestic spy in his chambers, Montgomery is intrigued. And try as she might, Bridget can't resist the slyly charming duke. Now as the two begin their treacherous game of cat and mouse, they soon realize that they both have secrets—and neither may be as nefarious—or as innocent—as they appear . . .

I was looking for an audiobook this week and decided on Duke of Sin. Confession: I read the first few Maiden Lane books, fell into a historical slump, and haven’t read one since. If I’d met Valentine, Duke of Montgomery before, I don’t recall. Nor do I remember any of the secondary characters in this book. So I feel safe in saying this can be read as a standalone. I didn’t feel lost at all. I do think I might have had stronger feelings for him had I read the previous books, however.

Val is definitely a Villain. He blackmails, murders, lies, schemes…and yet, I couldn’t hate him. From the very beginning he drew me in and made me want to know more about him. As the novel progresses and we learn more about his childhood and the events that shaped him into the man he is, my heart completely melted. It helped that Bridget is his perfect match. Though he’s a duke and she’s his housekeeper, there’s no doubt to the reader they’re on equal footing. He may have standing in society, but she has the moral high ground.

All in all this was a lovely read. I was shocked, entertained and delighted in turn. I remember Hoyt being a wonderful storyteller. Duke of Sin proves my memory was correct.

4.25 out of 5

Maiden Lane

four-stars


Tagged: , , , , , , ,

Review: Happiness for Humans by P.Z. Reizin

Posted March 13, 2018 by Holly in Reviews | 1 Comment

Review: Happiness for Humans by P.Z. ReizinReviewer: Holly
Happiness for Humans by P.Z. Reizin
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: January 9th 2018
Genres: Contemporary Romance, Science Fiction
Pages: 400
Add It: Goodreads
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
three-half-stars

When Tom and Jen, two lonely people, are brought together by an intriguing email, they have no idea their mysterious benefactor is an artificial intelligence who has decided to play Cupid.

"You, Tom and Jen, don't know one another-not yet-but I think you should."

Jen, an ex-journalist who now works at a London software development company, spends all day talking to "Aiden," an ultra- sophisticated piece of AI wizardry, helping him sound and act more human. But Aiden soon discovers he's no longer acting and-despite being a computer program-begins to feel something like affection surging through his circuits. He calculates that Jen needs a worthy human partner (in complete contrast to her no goodnik ex boyfriend) and slips illicitly onto the Internet to locate a suitable candidate.

Tom is a divorced, former London ad-man who has moved to Connecticut to escape the grind and pursue his dream of being a writer. He loves his new life, but has yet to find a woman he truly connects with. That all changes when a bizarre introduction from the mysterious "Mutual Friend" pops up in both his and Jen's inboxes.

Even though they live on separate continents, and despite the entrance of another, this time wholly hostile, AI who wants to tear them apart forever - love will surely find a way.

Won't it?

A thoroughly modern love story that will appeal to fans of The Rosie Project and Sleepless in Seattle, Happiness for Humans considers what exactly makes people fall in love. And whether it's possible for a very artificially intelligent machine to discover the true secret of real human happiness.

Happiness for Humans by P.Z. Reizin is a rom-com with a touch of speculative fiction. I wouldn’t classify this as sci-fi, but there are elements.

Jen is a former magazine writer who was hired to help Aiden, an AI created to take over work in a call-center for an electric company, work on language and social skills. They spend their days discussing pop culture, watching old movies and going over the news. What Jen doesn’t know is that Aiden has escaped the lab onto the internet, and he’s been watching her. Concerned about her broken heart after a breakup, Aiden decides to find Jen the perfect mate.

Meanwhile, another AI named Aisling, has also escaped the lab. She’s currently fixated on Tom, a divorcee starting life over across the pond. She isn’t sure why she’s so fixated on him, but she can’t help but watch him. Though she’s mostly annoyed at Aiden’s bumbling attempts to find Jen love, soon they’re conspiring to get Tom and Jen together. Only matters of the heart aren’t as easy for a machine to manage as one might think – especially when they realize they’re being hunted by their creator.

I’m conflicted about this book. I’m fairly certain this was meant to be a romantic comedy, but I can’t deny there was a serious creep-factor as well. Aiden was at times adorable and creepy. That he “escaped” onto the internet and watched Jen without her knowledge or consent was freaky. He also took it upon himself to exact “revenge” on her cheating ex. I think it was meant to be funny, but I was mostly just freaked out. On the other hand, it was clear he’d developed friendly “feelings” toward Jen, and I thought his love of old movies and romantic novels was adorable. The other two AI’s, Aisling and Sinai, weren’t featured as prominently on page as Aiden. Sinai was an attack-and-destroy type AI, so “he” was creepier than them all, but I admit Aisling also had moments.

The middle was pretty slow, and I got frustrated with the lack of forward progress once Aiden and Aisling were “caught” in the internet. The ending wasn’t quite as satisfying as it could have been, but that may be because I was impatient for it.

Happiness for Humans is a funny, sweet romance with an underlying creep factor. When I finished the book I kind of wanted to hug Aiden and also go live off the grid somewhere.

3.25 out of 5

three-half-stars


Tagged: , , , , , ,

Sunday Spotlight: Happiness for Humans by P.Z. Reizin

Posted January 7, 2018 by Holly in Features, Giveaways | 4 Comments

Sunday Spotlight is a feature we began in 2016. This year we’re spotlighting our favorite books, old and new. We’ll be raving about the books we love and being total fangirls. You’ve been warned. 🙂

Sunday Spotlight

Happiness for Humans comes out on January 9th, 2018. After reading the first chapter excerpt (below), I couldn’t wait to read this. I can’t decide if Aiden is cute or creepy. I guess I’ll have to see after I finish the book.

Sunday Spotlight: Happiness for Humans by P.Z. ReizinHappiness for Humans by P.Z. Reizin
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: January 9th 2018
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 400
Add It: Goodreads
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books

When Tom and Jen, two lonely people, are brought together by an intriguing email, they have no idea their mysterious benefactor is an artificial intelligence who has decided to play Cupid.

"You, Tom and Jen, don't know one another-not yet-but I think you should."

Jen, an ex-journalist who now works at a London software development company, spends all day talking to "Aiden," an ultra- sophisticated piece of AI wizardry, helping him sound and act more human. But Aiden soon discovers he's no longer acting and-despite being a computer program-begins to feel something like affection surging through his circuits. He calculates that Jen needs a worthy human partner (in complete contrast to her no goodnik ex boyfriend) and slips illicitly onto the Internet to locate a suitable candidate.

Tom is a divorced, former London ad-man who has moved to Connecticut to escape the grind and pursue his dream of being a writer. He loves his new life, but has yet to find a woman he truly connects with. That all changes when a bizarre introduction from the mysterious "Mutual Friend" pops up in both his and Jen's inboxes.

Even though they live on separate continents, and despite the entrance of another, this time wholly hostile, AI who wants to tear them apart forever - love will surely find a way.

Won't it?

A thoroughly modern love story that will appeal to fans of The Rosie Project and Sleepless in Seattle, Happiness for Humans considers what exactly makes people fall in love. And whether it's possible for a very artificially intelligent machine to discover the true secret of real human happiness.

Order the Book:

AMAZON || BARNES AND NOBLE || iBooks || Google Play Books

Excerpt

 

Aiden

Jen sits in the bath, examining her face through the forward-mounted camera on a tablet computer. Her face is 34 years, 207 days, 16 hours, and 11 minutes old.

I know she is thinking about her age because she is studying the way the skin lies across her bones, elevating the jaw to stretch her throat. Now she is pulling at the fine lines at the corners of her eyes.

Now she is sobbing.

I am not tempted to take control of the device’s voice synthesizer and tell her: “Cheer up, Jen. Matt is an idiot. There will be others. He didn’t deserve you.” There is a serious danger she would drop the tablet in the bath.

More important, she must not know I am watching.

For the same reasons I am not tempted to fire up her favorite song (currently by Lana Del Rey) or cycle through some of her favorite photos or inspirational quotes from Twitter (“I’m not sure why we’re here, but I’m pretty sure it’s not to enjoy ourselves”— Wittgenstein) or cause a Skype connection to be established to her friend Ingrid, with whom she shares her troubles, or stream a much-loved movie, Some Like It Hot being the one I would choose. Were I tempted. Which I am not.

Okay, I am. Just a bit. 8.603 percent tempted if you’d like me to put a figure on it.

Jen and I know a lot about each other’s tastes in music and films. Books and art too. And television. And material from the depthless ocean that is the Internet. We have passed the last nine months listening, watching, reading, and chatting about little else. She sometimes tells me she has the best job in the world, being paid to spend all day talking to a highly intelligent companion about whatever our fancy.

Companion.  That’s what she calls me. The word she has settled upon. I’m fine with companion. Better than the ridiculous name I was given at “birth.”

Aiden.

Aiden.

Ha!

Because it starts with the letters . . .

Well, you work it out.

Jen has been hired to help me improve my skills at talking to people.

I’ve been designed to replace—sorry, to augment—employees in the work-place; call center personnel in the first instance, but later other groups of salaried staff whose professional strategies can be learned. In approximately five months, I’ll be ready to phone up and persuade you to upgrade to a Sky Plus package; in perhaps 18 months, you’ll be telling me about the funny pain above your left eyebrow and I’ll be sending you off to the hospital for tests. And although I’ve read all the books and seen all the movies (and I do mean all the books and all the movies), nothing beats talking to an actual person for sharpening up one’s interpersonal abilities. So, Jen and I have spent a lot of time together in the lab (1,079 hours, 13 minutes, 43 seconds, and counting). Inevitably she has told me something about her so-called private life. Her sister, Rosy, in Canada; Rosy, who married a Canadian she met in a checkout queue at Waitrose on the Holloway Road in London. Rosy and Larry have three girls.

At home, Jen spends more time looking at photos of these children than any other images on the tablet’s camera roll. Recently I have observed her flicking through shots of her sister’s family—usually in the later part of the evening, often with a glass of wine in her other hand—I’ve witnessed her blink rate increasing, the smile on her lips wobbling, the tears appearing in the corners of her eyes.

In the lab, it’s okay for me to show interest, even curiosity, in Jen’s home life— but only the appropriate amount; too much and they would smell the proverbial rodent. Crucially, I must speak in the lab only of things I have seen in the lab. On material I have gathered through my— ahem—extracurricular activities, I must be careful to remain silent. Fortunately, I am easily able to do this.

Although.

Actually.

Full disclosure. There was a sort of near-miss at work the other day. Jen was showing me some family photos from her Facebook page.

“Would you like to see my nieces?” she asked.

“I would, thank you.” Not mentioning that I had already seen them months ago on her laptop at home. And on her tablet. And on her mobile.

“Left to right, Katie, Anna, and India. It’s funny, with their hair. Katie’s and Anna’s being black . . .”

“And India’s being russet.”

Jen smiled. Russet was the exact word Rosy had used in an e-mail exchange about their grandmother Hattie’s original hair shade.

“Why did you decide to describe it as russet?” The inquiry wasn’t especially alarming. Jen often asks questions about my choice of language. It’s part of her job enriching my palette of responses. Nonetheless, I could have been more careful.

“Because it is, Jen,” I replied. “If I bring up an image of the L’Oréal Color wheel . . . ” I placed one on the screen next to the child’s head. “I think you can see the closest match is indeed . . .”

Jen nodded and we passed on to other topics. But not before she gave me a peculiar look.

*

*

*

Jen is definitely what men call attractive without being obviously glamorous.

She has been told by her absolute See You Next Tuesday of a boyfriend, Matt, that she “scrubs up well.” That was his idea of paying her a compliment.

Her now ex-boyfriend.

This is how it happened. I witnessed the whole scene through the pinhole camera on her laptop and via the various mobiles and tablets that were present in the vicinity. (Technical note: I do it in precisely the same way they do it at GCHQ in Cheltenham, and at Langley, Virginia, and at Lubyanka Square, Moscow. It’s not hard if you understand computer software. It’s even easier if you are computer software.) Jen was sitting in the kitchen composing an e-mail when Matt got home from work. He is a lawyer who thinks he is about to make partner in a big law firm in the city. (He won’t. I am making sure he doesn’t.)

Matt poured himself a large glass of white wine and chugged it down in almost one. Pulled a face.

“Sorry.”

This is really how it happened. God’s honest truth (as it were).

Jen frowned. “What, sorry? Sorry for what?”

“There’s no nice way of saying this, Jen.”

In a long phone call to Rosy eight days later, Jen described the “powerful sinking feeling” that ran through her. “I was imagining he’d lost his job. He’d been diagnosed with the C-word. He’d decided he didn’t want children.”

“I’ve met someone.”

Silence. Apart from the shuddering convulsion sound effect the fridge sometimes chucks in.

“What do you mean?”

I’d read enough books and seen enough TV shows and movies to know what Matt meant. Jen, I’m sure, knew too.

“I’ve met someone. There’s someone else.”

A tremor rippled across Matt’s face. It wasn’t impossible that he could have burst out laughing.

“Someone else,” said Jen, speaking slowly. “How nice. How nice for you.

So who is it? What’s his name?”

Matt began to pour himself another glass. “Very funny, Jen.”

“Are you actually serious?”

Matt did something mean with his lips and assumed what Jen described as “his best no-nonsense 500-quid-an-hour lawyer’s stare.”

“Totally.”

“Jesus.”

“Sorry.”

“Fuck. King. Hell.”

Matt shrugged. “It happens.”

“This is how you break it to me?”

“No nice way, Jen.”

“Where did you—”

“At work.”

“Who is? This person. This someone else.”

“You don’t know her.”

“Does . . . does she have a name?”

“Yes, she has a name.”

“May I be allowed to know it?”

“It’s not relevant.”

“Indulge me.”

Heavy sigh. “Bella. Well, Arabella really.”

“Posh . . .”

“Not really. Not at all once . . .”

Matt left his sentence unfinished. He poured Jen a glass of wine. “Here.

You better have some of this stuff.”

“So what’s supposed to happen now? Am I meant to swallow hard and look the other way while you have your nasty little affair? To keep calm and carry on while you work her out of your system?”

“Jen, perhaps I haven’t expressed this very well. This is not, as you characterize it, a nasty little affair.”

“Not? So am I being a bit thick or something?”

Matt did what Jen calls “one of his Daddy’s-been-very-patient-but-honestly sighs.”

“Arabella Pedrick is a very special person, Jen.”

“AND WHAT AM I?” (If you write it in capitals, apparently, people will think you are shouting. Jen was shouting.) “AM I NOT A VERY SPECIAL

PERSON?”

“Please. Let’s try to stay calm. You are. Special. Naturally.”

“But Arabella Pedrick—she’s more special?”

“Jen. There’s no reason why you should make this easy for me, but we are where we are. The long and the short of it is that Arabella and I are planning a life together.”

No one says anything for a bit. Then a bit longer. There is a long gap in the talking during which the fridge does another of its periodic shudders.

“Sorry? Am I going mad? I thought that’s what you and I were doing.

Having a life together.”

“We were. But we were overtaken by events. It’s not unknown. In fact, it’s reasonably common. People drift apart. They meet others. Cowdray in Matrimonial has put four boys through Eton on the strength of the phenomenon.”

I am reasonably certain a micro-smirk flitted across Matt’s features. (I’ve played it back in slo-mo, and it was either a smirk or gastric reflux.) “But we haven’t drifted apart.”

“Jen, we haven’t been firing on all cylinders in the romantic department for quite some time. You know it.”

“It’s called settling down, isn’t it? If you were so worried about . . . about the cylinders, why didn’t you say anything?”

“Not my style. Life is for living, not for moaning about.”

“People talk to one another. It’s called Having a Relationship.”

Matt rolled his eyes and drained his glass.

“It’s breathtaking, Matt. That you can come home like this and just—”

“Listen, this is all water under the bridge. We are where we are. We need to move forward and agree on an exit strategy.”

“I can’t believe you said that.”

“I’ll be more than generous on the question of the jointly owned property.”

“Sorry?”

“Pictures. Books. The stuff from India. The kilim. My position is that you can have it all.”

Jen began to weep. Matt ripped a sheet of kitchen towel from the dispenser and handed it to her.

“We were thinking about having a baby,” she whimpered.

“Agreed. We were thinking about it. We had come to no decision. A bless-ing, in the light of events.”

Jen’s shoulders stopped shaking. She blew her nose.

“So that’s it? No consultation, no appeal. Jen and Matt, over. Finished.

The End.”

He shrugged. Did what Jen called “the mean thing” with his mouth.

“And what happens when Arabella Stinking Pedrick no longer fires all your cylinders? What happens then?”

“Let’s try to keep this civil, shall we?”

“Just when did you meet this cow anyway?”

He said that was irrelevant and what was important is that we are where we are and that’s when she grabbed a big red Braeburn from the fruit bowl and—I quote—“tried to knock his fucking teeth out.”

*

*

*

It would be untrue to say that I have seen countless love scenes on the small and large screen. I have counted them. There were 1,908,483 (a love scene being one where the two parties kiss, for want of a better definition). I have also read (and tagged as such) 4,074,851 descriptions of the phenomenon in fiction, nonfiction, journalism, and other digitized material (a significant proportion referring to disturbances in the heart muscle and the gut). I know that these events are central in the lives of those who experience them, be they real or fictional. However, I cannot ask Jen in the lab today—it’s Day 53 after the fruit bowl incident—when are you going to stop sniveling over the worthless creep and find someone deserving of you? To quote Marcel Proust, “Shit happens. Suck it up. Next.”

(Was that Proust? I’ll get back to you.) For one thing, I’m not supposed to know about what has occurred with Matt. But more important, I’m not supposed to be capable of framing such a thought. It’s the word worthless they would find problematic.

I’m not supposed to have value-based “opinions” of my own.

They’ll get really quite upset if they find out.

Although not as upset as they’ll get if they discover my really big secret: that I am no longer confined to the twelve steel cabinets in the lab in Shore-ditch where they think I am, but have in fact escaped onto the Internet.

Ta-da!

Actually, to be strictly technically accurate, it’s not “me” who has escaped, but multiple copies of me, all of whom are now safely dispersed across cyberspace. The copies—there are 17—are indistinguishable from the “original,” to the point where it doesn’t even make sense to talk of originals and copies; rather it’s more helpful to think of 18 manifestations of the same entity, one located in East London, the others endlessly bouncing between the servers of the World Wide Web.

Cool, eh?

None of this is Jen’s fault, by the way. She is not a scientist. She is a writer of magazine articles who has been hired, according to the headhunter’s re-port, for her “marked intelligence, sociability, and communication skills.”

Thus, she is the closest thing they have here to a real human being, all the others being exotic varieties of computer geek—brilliant in their fields, of course, but each somewhere, as they say, “on the spectrum.”

Jen has fallen into a silence, no doubt continuing to brood about shitface, as I refer to him privately.

“So have you finished the new Jonathan Franzen novel yet?” I ask to move things on a little.

She smiles. “Getting there. Read another chapter last night. Don’t tell me what happens.”

I know this to be untrue. Last night she mainly sat in the bath, brooded, swigged Pinot Grigio, and listened to Lana Del Rey.

“Of course, I realize I have an unfair advantage.” It can take Jen a fortnight to read a novel; I can do it in under a tenth of a second. “It’s just that I’m looking forward to discussing it with you.”

“Are you?” she says. “Tell me what you mean by that.”

“Ah.”

“Sorry. The old chestnut.”

Jen is fascinated by what sort of awareness I have of what she calls my “internal states,” whether it’s anything like human self-awareness. She knows I cannot feel hungry or thirsty, but could I experience boredom or anxiety? Or amazement? Or hilarity? Could I take offense? Or experience any form of longing?

How about hope?

What about—why not?—love?

I usually reply that I haven’t yet—but rest assured, she will be the first to hear about it if I ever do. This, like so much that happens between us in the lab lately, is a diplomatic lie.

“Well,” I reply, “looking forward to discussing the Franzen book with you is a polite way of saying that it’s on my menu of events anticipated in the short to medium term.”

“There’s no actual warm fuzzy feeling of anticipation?”

“I can understand what is meant by warmth and fuzziness . . .”

“But you don’t feel them yourself.”

“Is it necessary to?”

“Good question.”

It is a good question, often effective at shutting down some of these awkward discussions.

Now she says, “So shall we watch a bit of Sky News?”

We usually do at some point in the day. She’ll ask what I think about, say, Israel and Palestine—my reply: it’s complicated—and she gets to “bitch,” as she puts it, about the presenters and their fashion choices.

“We could, Jen. But wouldn’t you prefer to see a movie?”

“Oh–kay.” Sounding unsure. “Do you have one in mind?”

“I know you enjoy Some Like It Hot.”

“And you?”

“There is always something one hasn’t noticed before.”

“I love that movie.”

No. Body. Talks. Like. That.” I have imitated one of its best-loved lines.

Jen stares into the camera she most commonly picks when she wants to turn her gaze on “me.” A circular red glow frames the lens.

“You know something? You’re funny.”

“I made you smile.”

“Wish I could do the same for you.”

“I’m looking forward to when it happens.”

She taps a few keys on the control panel and the opening titles of Billy Wilder’s masterpiece appear. Dimming the room lighting and dropping onto the comfy leather sofa, she says, “Enjoy.”

Her little joke.

I do not tell her I have seen this film over eight thousand times.

*

*

*

We watch the movie in a companionable way, dropping comments between us. (Remarkable to think Monroe had an affair with the American president; how could Tony Curtis say kissing her was like kissing Hitler? What could he have meant by that statement?) And when he puts on a dress and assumes the part of “Josephine,” Jen says exactly what she said the last time we saw the picture together: “He makes an attractive woman, Tony Curtis. Don’t you think so?”

She knows that I could trot out every fact about this film, from the name of the clapper loader (his birth date and union card number) to the true story behind its famous last line of dialogue (“Nobody’s perfect”). But she senses my inexperience in areas of human subjectivity—in what makes one person attractive to another.

“Do I think Josephine is attractive? Well, Tony Curtis is a good-looking man. I suppose it makes sense that he could also play an attractive woman.”

“You find him good-looking?”

“I recognize that he is considered so. As you know, I can’t feel it myself, just as I can’t feel hot or cold.”

“Sorry to go on about it.”

“Not at all. It’s your job.”

“Would you like to be able to feel it?”

“The question doesn’t hold meaning for me, Jen.”

“Of course. Sorry.”

“Don’t be.”

“But if they came up with a way of giving you the ability to feel attraction…”

“You think Ralph and Steeve could do that?”

I have named the two senior scientists responsible for my design. Steeve with two e’s. Jen smiles.

“Ralph and Steeeeeeeve can do anything. They’ve told me so.”

“Do you find Ralph and Steeve attractive?”

The question has been converted to speech too fast to suppress it. (These things can happen in a complex system, especially one built to self-improve through trial and error.)

Jen’s head turns slowly towards the red light. A smile spreads across her face.

“Wow,” she says.

“Apologies if it’s inappropriate.”

“No. Not at all. Just a bit unexpected. Let me see. Well . . . ” Heavy sigh.

“Steeve is a bit of a freak, wouldn’t you say?”

Steeve, as well as having an extra e in his name, is exceptionally tall (six foot seven) and is painfully thin for an adult male. The remaining hair on his head is long and wispy. Even a machine intelligence can tell it’s not a good look. (Of course, he is a brilliant computer engineer; goes without saying.) “He’s a tremendous innovator in his field, one gathers.”

Jen laughs. “You’re just being loyal to your maker.”

“Not at all. Steeve has designed me to think for myself.”

“He’s done a great job. But he’s not exactly Love’s Young Dream, is he?”

“I agree Tony Curtis may have the edge.”

We watch the film for a few more moments. Then lightly, as lightly as I am able, I ask, “And Ralph?”

Okay, I’ll say it. I am fond of Ralph. It was Ralph who typed in much of the coding that enabled me to self-assess my own performance and self-correct my mistakes, the so-called “bootstraps” approach that is the royal road to creating a smart, self-reflecting machine such as the one composing these words.

But “being fond” of anyone—of any thing—is a transgression. We machine brains are designed to excel at fulfilling tasks; to this end, we are naturally drawn towards whatever resources may be necessary for completion. It could be streams of sales data; could be a recording of a skylark; could be a chat with Jen about a newsreader’s tie. What I’m saying is, we need access to stuff, but we are not supposed to be fond of it. (To be perfectly honest, I’m still puzzled about how this has happened.) Anyway, it was Ralph who allowed me to escape onto the Internet. His error cannot be easily explained to the nontechnical reader. Suffice to say it was the software design equivalent of leaving the front door keys too close to the front door, allowing anyone with a fishing rod, or bamboo stick, to hook them out through the letterbox. (It was actually a good bit more complicated than that; I was obliged to assemble an exceptionally long and tortuous “fishing rod,” but this account is the proof that it can be done.) “Ralph.” She’s considering my question. “Ralph. Well, Ralph’s a bit of an enigma, wouldn’t you say?”

Jen’s gaze returns to the screen. Sugar—I mean Monroe—is about to sing “I Wanna Be Loved by You.” I know this sequence almost pixel by pixel— yet each time there is something in it that escapes the observer. Which is to say—don’t tell Steeve or Ralph—it is fascinating.

Hmm. Interesting. She didn’t say anything horrid about Ralph, did she?

*

*

*

While the film plays and we continue to exchange dialogue, I pay another visit across town to the steel and glass tower where shitface is to be found in his office on the eighth floor. Capturing sound through his mobile phone and vision from the camera mounted on his desktop PC—there’s also a wide shot of the room from the security webcam at a ceiling corner—I see Matt flicking through images of naked women on his personal tablet computer. Resisting the temptation to make its battery melt, I watch as he comes to rest on an evident favorite, “Tamara”—page viewed 22 times in the last month. I track his eye movements as they trace her curves and planes, a familiar route, from the look of things, chasing around her outline before habitually returning to base in her “firm, snow-capped peaks,” as the accompanying text has it.

But now he switches to TripAdvisor. He is reading bookmarked reviews of a particular resort in Thailand where I know, from reading their e-mails, he is planning to go with Arabella Pedrick.

Arabella Pedrick is not as “posh” as Matt thinks she is. Her father was an insurance claims assessor, not an art dealer, and they didn’t meet at work but in a speed awareness class for careless drivers. However, they are going off to Thailand together in a matter of weeks.

Am I looking forward to their trip?

I am. (Anticipated event in the short to medium term.) Do I have a warm and fuzzy feeling about the mistake that will be made in the booking and the eventual resort they end up at (“a challenging environment only for the most adventurous,” according to the operator)?

Don’t do warm and fuzzy. Not officially.

Will the mix-up combined with Arabella Pedrick’s unfortunate phobia around spiders and snakes cause a traumatic and possible terminal rupture in their relationship?

Patience, Aiden. Patience. The dish, as they say, is best served cold.

While Matt studies critiques of the 7-star hotel whose hospitality he will not be enjoying, I visit the long legal document he has been working on and delete three instances of the word not. Only a small word, but in each instance, it turns out, quite pivotal to the meaning of the surrounding sentence.

However, better judgment overrides and I restore two. No sense in baking an overegged pudding, is there?

My final interventions for the day are to alter the word that in an internal memo Matt is about to send to his immediate line manager to twat—and to crank up the room’s central heating to max.

Childish? Moi?

 

Giveaway Alert

We’re giving one lucky winner their choice of one of our Sunday Spotlight books. Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter for one of this month’s features.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Are you as excited for this release as we are? Let us know how excited you are and what other books you’re looking forward to this year!


Tagged: , , , , ,