Friday, December 30, 2016

The Reykjavik Assignment (Adam LeBor) & Lady Claire is All That (Maya Rodale), Thriller & Romance with brilliant superwomen, who are also every woman


These two novels could not be more unalike, yet there is an affinity worth considering. Both feature brilliant heroines, kind of super women, who are also every woman. Yael Azoulay in Adam LeBor's thriller, THE REYKJAVIK ASSIGNMENT (Harper Collins) lives in the world of geopolitics. A covert United Nations negotiator, who happens to be beautiful, she is highly trained in combat and negotiations with an insider's knowledge of diplomacy and media. Dedicated to her boss, the U.N. Secretary General, she is hyper-aware that his survival, as well as her own, hinges on her ability to counter fast-moving plots and players. They surround her in this novel.

Yael's in the cross-hairs of a dangerous ex-lover and the leader of a shadowy corporate group, which thrives on political chaos. A deadly sniper wreaks havoc and people close to her boss die. When she learns of a plot against him, Yael decides to go to a conference in Reykjavik. She's following a hunch. Though Yael's opponents and friends underestimate her intuitive gifts, which have led her into questionable situations, they also underlie stunning victories. Yael both distrusts her insights and knows they are usually on target.

Ethics and necessity war in her psyche, along with her feelings for her estranged family. At 35, Yael is lonely and aware her profession has made a personal life impossible, She yearns for a meaningful relationship--a home beyond work. In the REYKJAVIK ASSIGNMENT, personal and political forces converge in Iceland's lava fields. As Yael claws her way toward the climax of this incredibly suspenseful saga, you never know whether "surprise" will be friend or foe.

Yael's insecurities about her looks and abilities are familiar to many women. Like them, she's introspective and tries to put negative feelings in perspective. What's extraordinary is her ability to stay a course she believes right, no matter the obstacles or risks. This courage makes her a threat in a world run mostly by men with women who do their bidding. These men are brutal against a female operative, who knows her own mind and will "go rogue" to succeed. Yael is both superwoman and every woman. This is the last volume of LaBor's trilogy. I want to read the others.

LADY CLAIRE IS ALL THAT by Maya Rodale (Avon Books) is a perfect bonbon of a romantic novel. She injects life into that old trope about the attraction of beauty to brains by reversing the sexes. Claire Cavendish is both gifted and obsessed with mathematics. But, as luck would have it, her world is the "ton" aristocracy of Regency London. When Claire's brother unexpectedly inherits a Dukedom, she persuades him to leave their horse farm in America and seek the advantages of his title. With her parents deceased, Claire's concern is for her young sisters, who would benefit from social and educational opportunities not possible in colonial America.  London also offers Claire a chance to meet another Duke, a famous mathematician whose work she has studied.

Her aunt sets about finding husbands for her nieces. The London social whirl, the primary vehicle for obtaining suitable marriages, has prescribed modes of behavior and dress. While her sisters enjoy the elaborate dresses and hair, Claire sticks to plain clothes,hair, and her spectacles. She talks about math at the parties, hoping to meet the mathematical Duke. Instead she meets Lord Fox, a handsome charming, athletic man with no apparent intellectual interests. While he believes himself irresistible to women, Claire believes he's quite taken with himself. Her lack of interest, not the whimpering and swooning he expects, is compounded by her frank way of talking.

She actually asks him why he's bothering her. Fox is puzzled. Most women, except the one who recently jilted him, think him a catch and this blue-stocking spinster should be grateful. Worse yet, she's right, he would not be bothering, except he's made a damnable bet that he can win Claire over and make her an attractive popular woman to their set. The only headway he makes is when he reveals that the mathematical Duke is a friend and offers to escort her to a "deadly" lecture at the Mathematics Society.

This is a very fun set-up. Claire, in a manner most unbecoming a woman, beats the lords at a card-game. Worse yet, it's obviously not beginner's luck but skill at numbers and she enjoyed winning. Then there's the lecture. When ladies were seated at the back, Claire stood to engage the speakers in mathematical questions. She does earn both the famous Duke's admiration and a scandalous mention in the papers.

Just being herself, Claire's outrageous. Her brilliance stands out as does her lack of interest in society's approval. Yet when she decides to conform, she also proves a marvel at strategy. She is a super woman in her intellectual abilities and self confidence. But like many women, she seeks the success of her family before her own.  And she has been so preoccupied with helping her younger sisters adjust, she hadn't factored in what she needs. Though she disapproves of Fox in many ways, between them there is an unmistakable physical chemistry, she can't control.

This is a very enjoyable sexy romance. It's inspired by the real Ada, Countess of Lovelace, considered the first computer programmer. The author's note says Ada worked with Charles Babbage and developed the first algorithm to be carried out by his Analytical Machine.  I liked the context for Claire's brilliance. This novel is also part of a series, Keeping up with the Cavendishes. I had fun with it without reading the others.