Madam, Will You Talk?, by Mary Stewart

>> Tuesday, February 03, 2004

I tried Mary Stewart for the first time a few months ago, after seeing her recommended quite a few times. Since I liked the one I tried, I ordered quite a few more. The next I read, which I finished yesterday, was Madam, Will You Talk?.

Much of a strange and tragic drama of revenge, lust, fear, and death has already been played by the time Charity Selborne arrives at a plush resort in the South of France.

But by befriending a terrified boy and catching the attention of his enigmatic, possibly murderous father, Charity has inadvertently placed herself center stage.
This was really good. A B+.

Reading Madam, Will You Talk felt like watching one of those old movies from the 50s, I don't know if I can describe the kind of novels I mean: those adventure-ish movies, with their protagonists running around some kind of Europe, bantering all the way. There was a certain scene in Marseille, when they are walking next to the sea, where I just saw one of those movies, the wet cobblestone streets, the people dressed in 50s clothes...

Charity was an amazing heroine. This was no passive damsel in distress. I mean, she got involved in the whole mess through no actions of her own, but once she was in, her role was very much an active one, and she made a wonderful kick-ass heroine. That scene where she drives a car like it is a weapon was awesome. Richard was more of a cypher (of course, since the story was told from Charity's POV), but a likeable one.

The only weak point was the improbability of it all. Much of the action required a high level of coincidence. From some of the things that happend, one could suppose that about 100 people in all live in the south of France!

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Some Men's Dreams, by Kathleen Korbel

>> Monday, February 02, 2004

I recently finished Some Men's Dreams, by Kathleen Korbel.

The first time Genevieve "Gen" Kendall meets her new boss, John "Jack" Parker O'Neill, the new chief of pediatric care, she knocks him out cold with a softball. Desperately hoping to atone for her batting prowess, Gen volunteers to baby-sit Jack's young daughter, Elizabeth, while he recuperates, but as she gets to know the quiet, serious girl, she begins to suspect that something is troubling her. The more time Gen spends with Jack, the more attracted she becomes, but any possibility of a relationship with him seems futile at best since not only is Jack in charge of her professional career, but Gen must also find some way to tell him that his daughter is slowly starving herself.
After hearing nothing but raves about this book, maybe I was expecting a bit too much. It wasn't bad, not at all, but it wasn't the wonderful, wonderful book I was expecting, either. A B-.

What I loved best about the book was Gen, who was a wonderful character. A strong, intelligent woman, who loved her job, yet was glad when could stop devoting 22 hours a day to it and get a regular schedule. I loved her sense of humour and kindness and whimsy. Jack was ok, too, I guess. It's just that I didn't really get him until the last few pages, and without that final nugget of information, his behaviour throughout the book feels a little overblown. This meant I spent most of the book resenting him.

Now for the negatives... I might sound heartless, but the Elizabeth plot bored me, quite a bit. Also, I found myself really irritated by all those characters from previous books running around here, all with huge, complicated backstories we kept being given hints about. And the worst was that the big confrontation near the end didn't strike me as dramatic, but as melodramatic.

Sooo, not a bad way to spend a couple of hours, but not a keeper either, not even close.

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To Wed a Stranger, by Edith Layton

To Wed a Stranger was the first book I ever read by Edith Layton.

An arranged marriage for London's most desired lady?

Is it possible? The breathtaking Lady Annabelle has actually agreed to marry, sight unseen, a gentleman of her father's choosing -- the self-proclaimed "exceptionally average" Miles Croft. The ton is aghast! After scandalously toying with so many hearts, why is the exquisite Annabelle chaining herself to the new Viscount Pelham, a complete - albeit most attractive - stranger? Could it be that her own heart has been irreparably shattered, and she wants nothing more to do with romance?

Yet there is nothing "average" about their weding night! There is magic in Mile's touch, and the smoldering ecstasy it ignites threatens to consume them both. Dare Anabelle dream this is the one passionate and enduring love she ached for in secret, but never dreamed she'd be worthy of? Might this tender, mysterious lover truly be the scarlet lady's redemption - and could she be Miles's as well?
To Wed a Stranger was mostly really good, but I'm afraid it derailed a bit in the last part. A B.

I just loved the idea of this book, and the execution was well done, too. I haven't read the books that come before this one, but there's enough here to understand that Annabelle was quite the little bitch in those, the Evil Other Woman. Good for Edith Layton for feeling that such a character deserves to be a heroine in her own book, and without completely losing her edge.

The blurb I quoted above doesn't give even a hint about it, but this book wasn't only about a run-of-the-mill marriage of convenience between strangers. It's also an exploration of what happens when a woman who's been made to feel that the only thing of value that she has are her looks, loses them. What happens is that Annabelle becomes very ill during her honeymoon, and she ends up having her hair cut off, her skin scarred by blistering and bleeding and cupping, and losing way too much weight.

So what happens now that she's a shadow of the beautiful woman she once was? How does Miles react to this, being that her looks were a big reason why he decided to marry her, a stranger? I liked where the author takes these questions. Annabelle really does freak out when she sees herself in a mirror, and it's very hard for her to accept that even though she'll probably regain her looks, she's plain now. And Miles has a more realistic reaction than the one I was expecting. I was expecting him to want her even though she looked as she did, but no, he found himself feeling distaste at the way she felt like a child in his arms.

If the author had concentrated on this conflict, this book might have been a keeper, but unfortunately the last part was crammed with extraneous conflict, and I really hated it. I ended up skimming the last 40 pages or so, and it almost ruined the entire book for me.

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Strong Poison, by Dorothy L. Sayers

>> Sunday, February 01, 2004

I've just finished Strong Poison, by Dorothy L. Sayers, which, not counting the short stories, would be book # 5 in the Lord Peter Wimsey series.

Mystery novelist Harriet Vane knew all about poisons, and when her fiancé died in the manner prescribed in one of her books, a jury of her peers had a hangman's noose in mind. But Lord Peter Wimsey was determined to find her innocent--as determined as he was to make her his wife.
I was very much looking forward to get to this one, the book where the Peter - Harriet love story starts, and I was not disappointed. An A.

I just adored what there was of the love story, and was left wishing for more. So very few scenes, and all from Peter's POV, but so very effective! I loved reading how the always urbane and self-possessed Lord Peter fell like a schoolboy, and for such an interesting woman, too. No vapid débutantes for him, he goes and falls for a strong woman, one who makes a good living for herself, and who values herself enough that she objected her lover's having put her to the test, seeing if she'd live with him and offering marriage as a kind of prize because she did.

Though some readers might not like that long chunks of the action were spent away from Lord Peter, with Miss Climpson and her fellow Cattery employee, Miss Murchison, I greatly enjoyed spending more time with them, especially Miss Climpson. You've got to love a middle-aged spinster who freely admits that the conditions for women when she was young, in Victorian times, made them more "decorous" and "modest", but how "difficult" and "humiliating" for those who had to live through them! Very refreshing attitude.

The case itself was fascinating too, and very well-constructed. I guessed much of the solution, but not all, and this didn't ruin it for me at all.

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A Lesson in Seduction, by Susan Napier

I stopped reading the cheap Spanish translations of Harlequin books long ago, but earlier this week, when I drove my grandma to the UBS to trade hers in, I saw one by Susan Napier and I was tempted enough to try it. It was only 10 pesos (about 30 cents in US dollars) after all! The title of this one was A Lesson in Seduction.

They met at the airport. He wore a suit and carried a briefcase. He seemed quiet, a little shy. Definitely not the type to flirt with a fellow passenger'even if she was famous actress Rosalind Marlow! His name, Roz discovered, was Luke James. She was determined to discover more about him'such as why he appeared to following her. And was he as innocent as he seemed? What he really needed was a lesson in flirtation'and, on impulse, Roz decided to be his teacher! Luke was a fast learner. In fact, Roz soon discovered that he didn't need lessons at all. He could teach her plenty about the art of seduction!
Wow, Susan Napier very definitely doesn't write formula, does she? Both A Lesson in Seduction and the other one I read by her, Secret Admirer, were simply not the usual Harlequin fare. A strong B.

There was a lot to like here. The first pages were somehow reminiscent of JAK's Fabulous Beast, with a confident heroine and a hero she assumes is shy and self-conscious. Of course, he isn't as shy and nerdy as Roz assumes, but unlike the hero of Fabulous Beast, he doesn't turn out to be a secret agent, or anything like that. He actually is a shy-ish accountant, with very little experience with women. He holds his own with Roz, but it's she who's the most experienced partner here, and the one who makes the moves in the relationship. I liked them together, and their love scenes were especially poignant.

Something else I enjoyed was the way the author dealt with Roz's infertility. She was infertile from an STD she'd caught from an old boyfriend (already something I liked. Most authors would be too afraid to try this, for fear readers would think their heroines were dirty whores). I loved that though Roz did feel she'd lost something, and might have liked to have kids at some point, if this hadn't happened, she didn't do the "I'm not a whole woman now, and I'm not worthy of a good man, boo-hoo! You can't love me, no matter what you say no, because I can't give you 12 little rugrats, so go away!! Boo-hoo!!".

The book did have some problems, though. The worst was that it felt a bit too crammed. The suspense subplot, for instance, felt underwritten. My fear is that the Spanish translation might have abridged some parts, I don't know. Oh, and speaking of the translationitself, I should mention that it really sucked. Spanish (from Spain, I mean!) slang that threw me out of the story, scores of typos, awkward phraseology, confusion of homonyms... I probably would have enjoyed this book even more if I'd read it in the original English. Also, the first pages were like a big advertisement for the previous books in the series. If you do that, the least you can do is have the info about those books IN the book! I've had to ask for help in this.

In spite of these problems, I enjoyed this very much. I'll be looking for the author's backlist... in English, this time!

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Renaissance Man, by Jayne Ann Krentz

>> Friday, January 30, 2004

After a couple of bad Jayne Ann Krentz old categories, I approached Renaissance Man, by , written as Stephanie James with some trepidation.

Rare-book dealer Alina Corey decided to live like the heroine of her favorite Renaissance book, presiding over a court of glittering literati, a witty distance from love. It worked . . . until Jared Troy, a combative Renaissance scholar she knew only through his letters, suddenly appeared in the flesh, challenging her to a passion as grand as her dream But he was real: a stranger soulmate who stirred her to anger, ecstasy and love….
Renaissance Man was much, much better than those. A B.

The romance was wonderfully satisfying. Jared was a bit overbearing sometimes, but he never crossed the line into dominating bully. And man, he needed her! He confessed this freely, that his life was empty without her, that she had the power to hurt him, and so on and so forth. The love scenes were correspondingly tender and emotional.

Alina was hesitant to have anything to do with Jared, and unlike in some cases, when I just couldn't understand why the heroine rejected a wonderful guy she was attracted to, her doubts made sense. She's carefully built up a life she finds satisfying, and here comes a guy trying to pressure her into chucking everything away for him. Who wouldn't resist?

What was good was that she didn't simply let him steamroll over her objections (like the heroine of Golden Goddess, for instance). No, she stood her ground, and it wasn't until Jared saw it wasn't working and was forced to try another tack that she relented.

I liked almost everything about this relationship. The only thing that felt very weird and didn't work for me at all and threw me out of the fantasy at times, was his constant half-joking threats that he should beat her, he should be excused if he beat her, etc. Maybe it's just me, but I don't think that's something I'd tolerate a man to say to me, even if he was completely joking.

I enjoyed the Renaissance theme. The details were interesting, and the parallel between Alina and Jared and the story of Battista and Francesco worked to enrich the story.

The suspense subplot was uncharacteristically well-handled. The only problem it had was that it set the stage for Alina to behave very stupidly. Could she be any more stupid than near the end, when it becomes clear that it is very possible that her partner is engaged in illegal activities, and that he's set her up to take the fall if there's any problem, and she insists that it's he duty to warn him of a plan to catch him in the act? Even if he's guilty, she says she owes it to him to warn him, because he was her friend and mentor. Huh? I would suppose that by being willing to throw he to the wolves if necessary, he had forfeited that kind of right. This does end well, with the consequences of her warning her former partner all positive, but still, I just didn't buy those rationalizations.

Something I should mention is that this is very early work (1982), from when JAK was still in her awkward dialogue tags stage here. In only 2 pages, Jared "sooths", "interrups gruffly" and "breathes", while Alina "storms", "yelps" and "hisses". This was actually funny at times!

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The Men of Thorne Island, by Cynthia Thomason

>> Thursday, January 29, 2004

I'm still trying to read new-to-me authors and 2003 books. The Men of Thorne Island, by Cynthia Thomason, is both.

Fort Lauderdale CPA Sara Crawford learns that she has inherited Thorne Island on the Ohio side of Lake Erie from her Aunt Millie who she has not seen in fifteen years. Her aunt's Cleveland based attorney admits he has not seen the property, but the brochure he sent her makes it look wonderful. Sara changes her post April 15th vacation plans from Aruba to Ohio.

However, the island is nothing like the brochure, as the Cozy Cove Inn needs plenty of work to become habitable though four men live there. Apparently her aunt leased rooms to these recluses for twenty-five years at one hundred dollars per person. Though she wonders how these gents conned her aunt, to her surprise she finds one of the hermits Nick Bass quite attractive and he reciprocates. However, as they squabble and fall in love, he keeps a few secrets about his past from her including his true identity fearing that once she learns the truth it could end their relationship which was built without trust.
The best word to describe how I feel about this book is lukewarm. It was nice, but not really, really good. I had a good enough time reading it, but it was pretty easy to put aside. My grade (being generous, because certain elements were particularly enjoyable): B-.

It was a quiet book, which is something I like, sometime. It was very definitely not exciting (no suspense subplot, no big, explosive passions...), but it was kind of entertaining, in a restful way.

I really enjoyed reading about the whole process Sara went through trying to bring the island up to scratch again. This is something I always enjoy reading about, it being cleaning up the castle in a medieval or improving the ranch house in a western. Who would guess I hate housework as much as I do? ;-) Anyway, this element was well done here, even if some of it (namely, the vineyard) felt much too easy. I don't think making a good wine is as easy and work-free as Sara makes it to be here.

The relationships were nicely done, too, even though that between Nick and Sara, hero and heroine, wasn't the most satisfying one. I liked reading about the group dynamics better, actually. I guess I didn't completely buy Nick and Sara as the couple to end all couples (no big, explosive passions, remember!)

I did feel that 2 of the four men who lived on the island were a little underwritten. I felt I knew enough about both Nick and Brody, the cantankerous old fart, but Ryan (shy former jockey) and Derek Sweet (nice-guy former football player), were still only acquaintances by the end of the book.

Still, I spent a couple of nice hours with this one. It's a book to read when you're in a very specific mood.

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Five Little Pigs, by Agatha Christie

>> Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Warning: I'm about to go on an Agatha Christie binge this month, so beware, you'll probably encounter reviews of many of her books here. Last weekend I read Five Little Pigs, also published as Murder in Retrospect.

Five Little Pigs concerns a murder committed sixteen years earlier. Carla Crale prevails
upon Hercule Poirot to investigate the crime that sent her mother, Caroline, to prison for life (where she died). Caroline had been found guilty of poisoning her husband, Carla's father, Amyas Crale, the famous artist.

Poirot's investigation centers upon five suspects, still living, whom he convinces to speak to him and to record their own memories of the long-ago incident. Brilliantly intersplicing the past and the present, memory and reality, the search for truth and ongoing attempts to thwart it, Five Little Pigs has no antecedent.
This was a very compelling mystery. A B+.

The characterization was wonderful here (it must be noted that this isn't usually considered Christie's strong point), and the mystery was interesting and wonderfully plotted. Additionally, it had the extra interest of examining how the different people described the same events, how they saw and remembered different things, much of it due to their own personalities. However, there was a section where the author "transcribed" their accounts of the days before and after the murder which I felt bogged down the story a bit.

The most fascinating about the characterization I though were the dynamics between the murdered man and his wife, even if a wife staying with a husband who keeps cheating on her and even has the gall to have his latest lover stay at their house is something I'll never understand. It was especially interesting to see the other characters' reactions to it... was she right to stay? Should his selfishness be forgiven because he was such an excellent artist? I liked the exploration of these questions.

As always, the conclusion has Poirot gathering all the possible culprits and recounting what exactly happened. Christie's books have probably been the influence that has made me prefer this kind of ending to the "exciting", held-at-gunpoint type.

I did guess the solution to the mystery, even if I didn't see exactly how that person had done it. I was especially proud of how soon I guessed Caroline's motivations for her behaviour during the trial (in effect refusing to defend herself, and all that).

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Touched by Fire, by Kathleen O'Reilly

>> Tuesday, January 27, 2004

This weekend I read Touched by Fire, by Kathleen O'Reilly, a new-to-me author. I've had it for some time, but it wasn't until someone on one of my lists posted an intriguing comment about the hero that I was motivated to pull it to the top of my TBR pile.

Colin, Earl of Haverwood, a man afraid of his own temper, falls for gentle, breathtaking Sarah. But before he can trust in love, he must trust in himself.
A big disappointment, a C.

Touched by Fire sounded absolutely fascinated. I just loved the idea of the book, especially the idea of the hero, a child of rape, who therefore fears what's inside of him and is afraid to even touch a woman, yet is unbearably tempted by the heroine. Unfortunately, the execution of this idea wasn't good at all. Ok, it sucked.

My main problem was that I couldn't get a handle on the characters' motivations and thought processes. I simply couldn't understand their reasonings, how they came to their conclusions and made their decisions. This meant that I was continuously baffled by the things they did, by the way they swung back and forth in their decisions.

This one goes directly to my Trade List.

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The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, by Dorothy L Sayers

I'm continuing to read Dorothy L Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey books, though I'm only up to #4, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club.

90-year-old General Fendman was definitely dead, but no one knew exactly when he had died -- and the time of death was the determining factor in a half-million-pound inheritance.Lord Peter Wimsey would need every bit of his amazing skills to unravel the mysteries of why the General's lapel was without a red poppy on Armistice Day, how the club's telephone was fixed without a repairman, and, most puzzling of all, why the great man's knee swung freely when the rest of him was stiff with rigor mortis.
Really good, I liked it very much. A B+.

As always with Sayers, the mystery itself is interesting, but not the most enjoyable or intriguing element in the book. Here I even guessed quite soon what had happened to the body, though this turned out not to be the real mystery. The other one, who had actually killed the guy, I never did guess, but it wasn't what kept me reading.

The best thing were the characters and their dialogues and relationships. I was especially interested in what was shown about the consequences of WWI. This was in no way a psychobabble tract, or anything. It was very understated, and all the more effective for it. Certain things really hit me hard, like the scene where it's said that the older men were scandalized, but the younger had seen to much to be shocked. It doesn't sound like much told like this... you have to read it to feel the whole effect, I guess.

Something else I found especially remarkable was Peter's reaction to Ann Dorland. She'd been maligned by all before they met, even by sympathetic characters, so I was feeling a bit sorry for her. It was a nice suprise to see that Peter liked her and was very nice to her. I hadn't before seen him in his lover-boy incarnation, but it was surprisingly effective. Let's see how he does with Harriet Vane. I believe she's introduced in the next book.

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Night Swimming, by Laura Moore

>> Monday, January 26, 2004

I've been trying a lot of new authors this new year... new to me, that is. The latest was Laura Moore. I read her book Night Swimming (excerpt).

Lily Banyon and Sean McDermott have known each other since the cradle. Their mothers are best friends, as are their grandmothers. Growing up, Sean and Lily tormented each other -- sometimes deliberately, sometimes unwittingly -- and challenged each other, but although neither would have admitted it, they also admired and respected one another. And both of them secretly yearned for the other's love. Lily left Coral Beach ten years ago to go to college, and she has never been back . . . until now. . .

Although their work doesn't bring them into frequent contact with each other, their grandmothers do. Both Lily and Sean are dismayed to discover that the attraction between them has not faded over time; if anything, it's even more intense now. But neither one is willing to give an inch because both are certain that with the other on the scene things will soon go to hell in a hand basket. Can these two old adversaries possibly work together for the sake of their hometown?
I think I liked it more than I should have. A B+.

The main reason I say maybe I shouldn't have enjoyed this, is that something I liked very much, which was Lily and Sean's relationship, was more than a little juvenile. Very much like pulling someone's hair because you like them, that's the level of maturity I'm talking about. This was especially so in the flashbacks to their teen years, and I loved reading those flashbacks... LOL, what does this say about me? There was something about all those hormones rioting that made it fun to read.

I must say, though, that their reactions to each other when they finally met in the present seemed a little overblown for adults who meet 10 years after they had an adversarial relationship as children and teens. I'd expect some prejudice, but not outright hostility! And then the dynamics of their relationship become juvenile, too. Guilty pleasure, all the way, especially reading about how Sean is feeling. Lots and lots of internal lusting, while thinking that it's impossible, because Lily hates him. God, that sexual tension was scorchingly good!

And that was the most enjoyable element in the book. The plot itself could have been very interesting, but the author used too heavy a hand. I'm very much a tree-hugging liberal, but this doesn't mean I don't prefer a little subtlety, even in my conservative, low-life developer villains. I actually started laughing at one point when there was this scene from the POV of the villain and he started to think about how those trees in the marina were boring, and a nice cement structure would be much better.

And then there was John, the member of Lily's team who allows himself to be corrupted to undermine the project. I just didn't get why he hadn't been fired months before. He didn't work particularly well, so his stunt with Lily should have got him fired in a minute.

Apart from those, the rest of the cast of characters were well drawn (John was well-drawn, too, actually. His continued employment was just unrealistic). There were a couple I was supposed to like that I detested, though, namely those matchmaking grannies -ugh! They were not cute, they were manipulative creeps, and if a grannie of mine ever called my boss to ask him to send me to a certain project, because she wanted to set me up with this guy she thought would be perfect for me, I'd kill her and hide the body.

Quite a few problems, but the interesting plot, involving relationship, excellent writing and beautifully done setting made up for them.

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Scoring, by Kristin Hardy

I've just finished Scoring, the second book in Kristin Hardy's Under the Covers series, of which I loved the first book, My Sexiest Mistake.

Becka has just dumped her louse of a boyfriend and gotten her dream job as the trainer/therapist for a professional sports team. Granted, it's only the Lowell Weavers minor league baseball team, but it's a start. She's finished with settling when it comes to relationships and figures it's time for focus on her career and herself for a while.

Hunky Mace Duvall was gorgeous enough to make the Most Beautiful People list and talented enough to be an All-Star player until an auto accident cut him down in his prime. A year later, when he arrives at Lowell for his first assignment as a batting instructor, he's trying to figure out how to move on with his life. Mace's undeserved reputation as a playboy precedes him, and Becka wants nothing to do with him. But Mace has decided to live for today and earn that playboy reputation, starting with the delectable Becka.
This was nice, one of the good Blaze books, but not as good as the author's first. A B.

I've read many stinky horrible Blazes, many, many mediocre ones and only some good ones. My track record is really not very good with the line, so what keeps me coming back? It's just that when these books are good, they give me something I simply don't get in other lines. No, it's not the hot sex ;-) It's characters who feel young. Or rather, young characters who feel realistic. That's what I get from Blaze authors like Vicki Lewis Thompson, Jo Leigh and yes, Kristin Hardy.

Her characters have normal sex lives and they basically have the lifestyles of 20-somethings. I'm not saying they sleep with anything that moves, or that their lives are like those of the characters of Sex and the City (who are not 20-somethings anyway), they just don't feel like middle-aged people whose chronollogical age happens to start with a "2". Both Becka and Mace are like this. I can't really pinpoint an instance of behaviour where I can say "aha, this is young", but they felt right for people my age.

Oh, and BTW, I especially liked how Becka found the fact that the hero had had a not very discriminating sexual history unattractive (never mind that he actually was a "fake rake" and all those stories were lies). At last, a heroine who doesn't find a playboy guy sexy, and who doesn't hesitate to call him on it.

Apart from this, though, I didn't find the actual story particularly involving. I liked the characters themselves and I liked reading about them, but the story about them simply didn't capture my imagination. Maybe part of it is that I know absolutely nothing about baseball, so this whole aspect didn't interest me.

I wasn't crazy about the ending, either. Becka's behaviour there was more than a little TSTL and out of character.

Still, not bad. I'll continue to buy this author's books.

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Charmed, by Jayne Castle, Julie Beard, Lori Foster and Eileen Wilks

>> Sunday, January 25, 2004

I've just finished Charmed, an anthology with a Halloween theme, which contains all paranormal stories.


The first story, Bridal Jitters, by Jayne Ann Krentz writting as Jayne Castle was the reason I bought this anthology. This one, like many of her other books written under that pseudonym, is a paranormal futuristic.

In the distant future, an official marriage-of-convenience between paranormal business partners is almost called off -because of love
This was a gem of a story. An A-.

No matter how many times I read versions of this story (and I've read a few, by JAK alone), they always work like a charm. That scene, with the hero suffering from terminal horniness after using his paranormal powers, and trying so hard to stay in control and not jump the heroine, because he fears she'll be scared and all will be over if he does, and yet he can't help it... wow, stomach clenching all the way!

Here we have a story with good world-building, a lovely relationship and that feels right for its length. I've said it a hundred times, but the short stories that work better are those which don't cover the whole relationship, but just a crucial part of this. This one starts with them already in love (they don't yet know how the other feels, though) and already engaged to have a marriage of convenience. Perfect.


The second story was by a new-to-me author, Julie Beard, and the title was Man in the Mirror

Man in the Mirror takes a young woman struggling to find her way in a fast-paced world and propels her back in time to King Arthur's Court, into the arms of Tristan of Ilchester. There a chance encounter with the wizard Merlin and tending to the wounded Tristan give Katie new direction and the knowledge to make her dreams come true.
This one didn't work at all for me. A D+.

First of all, I'm just not fond of time-travels, so I might be a little harder on this than someone who's fond of the genre. Still, the whole time travel aspect felt preposterous. It was as if the author kept forgetting that the hero was supposed to be from the 6th century, so he spoke like a modern hero would, until the author remembered who he was supposed to be, and then he'd say he didn't know a random word the heroine had used. It just felt very careles.

Also, I felt the author tried to cram so much into 80 pages, that it all felt underwritten. Parts of it had an almost "videogame" kind of feel to them. And even the romance failed, miserably. I didn't get to know the hero at all, and the heroine not much. Just boring. The only reason this wasn't an F was that the settings were nicely done.


The third story was Tangled Dreams, by Lori Foster. This story is about the brother of the hero from the story in the Hot Chocolate anthology, which I read last summer.

In Tangled Dreams, a pair of ghostly lovers conspire to bring together shy Allison Barrow and sexy bartender Chase Winston to recover a treasure long missing. Along the bumpy way, Allison and Chase discover fantasy-fulfilling depths of passion and a danger that threatens it all.
This one had an interesting story, and there's no denying that Lori Foster knows how to do sexual tension you could cut with a knife, but some things about it bothered me. Still, a B-.

My main problem was that in spite of the great sexual tension, I found the sex distasteful, when they finally got to it. Thing is, Chase was a guy who needed to dominate in bed. Plain and simple. This wasn't an extension of how he was out of it, or anything -it wasn't a case of a man who couldn't bear to be with an independent, intelligent woman and needed a doormat: far from it! He was just... kinky? Got off from tying his partner up and dominating her, and this seemed to be pretty much the only way he could get off. And Allison loved this. While I don't disapprove or anything, and actually their relationship seemed to me pretty healthy, it just didn't do anything for me. Thus, lots of sexual tension and no payoff.

I wasn't crazy about the fact that Allison was a virgin (absolutely no need for it at all) and how Chase seemed to have a self-image of himself as a sex-god. Still, the story was enjoyable, even if I wish the author had gone somewhere else with it.


Finally, the last story was by an author I've been meaning to try for some time, Eileen Wilks. Its title was Pandora's Bottle.

Pandora Kitlock's fiancé John has a secret. He tries to tell Dora about it during their first intimate weekend tryst, but something--or someone--keeps interfering: Jack, John's alter ego who has all the passionate impulses of your typical genie. John tells Dora she has to choose between them and Dora is faced with the toughest decision of her life.
I quite liked this one, a B.

I liked the world-building, though it could have used a little more background -the usual problem in a short story. What was there was quite fascinating, though, a regular world, but one where magical beings have "come out of the closet". Wilks makes good use of it with a fun plot.

The romance itself was nice, and quite original. I think I'll be doing some searching for this author's backlist.


With an excellent story, a bad one and two nice ones, my grade for the whole anthology is a B.

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Friendly Persuasion, by Dawn Atkins

>> Friday, January 23, 2004

In my mad rush to read as many 2003 books as possible before voting in the 2003 AAR Reader Awards I grabbed one in a category I have a hole in, series romance. It was Friendly Persuasion (excerpt), by Dawn Atkins, a Harlequin Blaze by a new-to-me author.

Kara Collier just can't separate sex and serious relationships. What she needs is a lesson in sex without promises of forever. And who better to teach her than her commitment-shy--and hot--best friend, Ross Gabriel. Problem is they know too much about each other to actually hit the sheets. Until the night he shows up dressed like a stranger, that is. Soon Kara's enjoying the hottest sex she's ever had ... without a single thought of "I do!"

What started out as a favor for his best friend has suddenly become something much more. Ross doesn't want to admit his feelings for Kara, though--it might mean chaning his freedom-loving way. But when other guys start showing an interest in Kara, Ross can't hide his thoughts anymore. Not he has to persuade Kara that this seductive friendship can go the distance and that his feelings are very real ...
I liked this, both because it had a "friends falling in love" plot and because it felt fresh and the characters felt young. A B.

The first parts of the book were mostly taken up by descriptions of the various fantasy scenarios the hero and heroine dream up to have sex. These are quite fun, and more daring than usual (for instance, a pretty in-depth description of the heroine deep-throating the hero and then swallowing. Not precisely kinky, but less vanilla than what you usually get in romance).

I liked how it's made very clear that Cara's experienced, and has done all these "acts" with other guys already. It's better with Ross, but she's no innocent. Interestingly, in a bit of a double standard, I'm not quite as happy about how experienced Ross seems to be.

Later on, however, the book becomes more serious in exploring how suitable to each other these two people really are, and to be honest, the author had me doubting whether they did have a future together. I saw Ross as pretty well-adjusted, and I really don't think that lack of ambition is a character flaw, so I didn't appreciate Kara's attempts to change him. As for Kara, she needed someone with ambition, which isn't a character flaw either, so I simply didn't think she could actually live with someone like Ross without either killing him or herself.

The interesting thing is that at one point I actually thought "Maybe it would be a good ending if they ended apart", which was especially weird because this didn't make me enjoy the book any less. I was just enjoying the story and the fact that I had doubts, that I felt I knew the characters enough that I could

The situation with the secondary storyline, which was very sweet and nice, was similar. But, in both cases, the author managed to fix things and have the dual happy endings work out. Nice.

Before I go, please, "Cara" is Italian, for god's sake! NOT Spanish. Why does every single romance author think it is?? Here I was enjoying the very good Spanish the characters use when bam, "cara". Argh!

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Seduced, by Pamela Britton

I've been trying lots and lots of new authors this year (new to me, that is. I don't think any of them are debut authors). The latest was Pamela Britton. I read her book Seduced

One Touch Changed her Life Forever
Ruined by the dashing Duke of Ravenwood, Elizabeth Montclair would sooner put a pistol between the man's legs than be forced into marriage with him. But wed him she must, Elizabeth vowing that if she must do the thing, theirs will be a marriage of her convenience.

He Ruined her with a Kiss
They would each be free to take a lover? Lucien St. Aubyn cannot believe his prim and proper wife would suggest such a thing. He'd expected her to be a shrew, instead he finds himself wed to a Jezebel, one who wants to lose her innocence to a man, any man...as long as it's not him.

They Both Ended up SEDUCED
But Lucien wasn't the rake of Ravenwood for nothing, and his new wife knows it. She proposes a plan. Lucien will teach her the fine art of seduction, after which they will each go their separate ways.

But neither Lucien nor Elizabeth expects the way their first 'lesson' turns out. Soon both are fighting an attraction to each other, one that they both refuse to acknowledge. But as the stakes rise, so does the desire. In the end, it may well be the both of them SEDUCED.
Seduced was a wonderful suprise, and came very close to keeper status. A B+.

The whole first 3/4 of the book were a complete delight. I loved the author's voice, which was fresh and funny, and very lively, and I found myself fascinated by Lucien and Elizabeth and their courtship.

I especially liked how Lucien was written, how he came off as silly at the beginning when he was trying to be dangerous, and then how he slowly started to feel more and more for Elizabeth. I like characters who hide their hurts behind a façade of good humour and become the "class clowns", and Lucien was definitely that. Elizabeth was wonderful, too. All her reactions rang true for me. I just loved how she truly relished being unladylike, saying the rude things that come to mind, and all that.

Some of the things that happened in this section were almost groan-worthy clichés, but Britton managed to make them work. A good example would be that "lessons in seduction" thing. I usually hate that, but here, it worked. I think that must have been because in the sexual arena, these two are equals, even though she's a virgin and he's been around. Elizabeth is no shy, innnocent flower, and she succeeds in shocking even Lucien. I cheered for her ;-)

This wasn't really a "hot" book, because there's only one love scene and it's particularly short and unsatisfying, but the author is excellent at creating sexual tension.

The only reason why this wasn't a keeper was because I wasn't too crazy about the last part of the book. The whole trial and subsequent fever were too much of a departure in tone from the previous sections, and they were melodramatic, to make it worse (though if I must be completely truthful, I found myself with a lump in my throat at more than one point). I can't say this was a complete surprise, because even throughout the first sections, we know there's this issue hanging over their heads like a black cloud, but I don't know, I thought it could have been handled better.

And then, no payoff scene! I wanted to see Lucien and Elizabeth's scene when she woke up, hear them confess their love to each other for the first time, and I wanted a real love scene. But no, the author cut from the sickbed to 5 months later. I loved them then, though, Lucien loving having people see that Elizabeth had him twined around her little finger and Elizabeth saying all sorts of crude stuff to society matrons.

Another negative, that pirate ship thingie, and all those references to Lucy, that I'm guessing must be from a previous book. I never really completely understood what that was all about.

Still, even with all those negatives, which would have made most books get a C-range grade, at most, I loved the other parts so much that the book ultimately succeeded for me. I'm very happy to have discovered this author, and I'm heading over to buy her new book, Tempted.

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Imitation in Death, by JD Robb (In Death #17)

>> Thursday, January 22, 2004

I finally managed to get an affordable copy of book # 17 in JD Robb's In Death series, Imitation in Death. I had an interesting surprise when I opened the package and saw a Uruguayan flag on the cover (that would be the left-most flag, the one with white and blue horizontal stripes, and a yellow sun in the top left-hand corner).



Police Lieutenant Eve Dallas encounters one of her most difficult cases in this latest offering from J. D. Robb, alter ego of bestselling author Nora Roberts. With the very first victim, Eve realizes that the killer stalking the streets of New York City isn't a run-of-the-mill serial murderer. The copycat executions are imitating the methods and victim choices of an ominous list of notorious serial killers, beginning with Jack the Ripper. And when the killer leaves a distinctive note at the crime scene, it's clear that he's targeting Eve personally--a fact that worries Roarke, Eve's shrewd husband.

Assisted by her aide, Peabody, Eve compiles a list of suspects that includes several high-profile possibilities. Their very prominence, however, complicates the investigation, for they have the power and influence to make the search difficult. All of the suspects are reluctant to cooperate but one of them is playing with Eve like a cat with a mouse by tempting her with crime scene notes and challenging her to find him. Can Eve stop him before he slaughters again? Or will his next victim be Eve herself?
This was a good, solid installment in the series, with an even more fascinating than usual mystery. A B+.

Clichéd as it may sound, this was very much a visit with old friends. That was the only "flaw" here, actually: Eve and Roarke are so comfortable together now, that there is no tension at all in their relationship. I love to read about them, but there's no urgency in it, whereas in the first few books I actually got excited about what was happening between them.

There wasn't all that much character development in this book, but there were some nice details. I especially loved to see Roarke lose in a fight to the death with a grill. At last, something he's not a genius at!! Also, there was some new info about Eve's mother, but this didn't quite pack the punch of earlier revelations.

The mystery was one I really liked. I tend to disapprove of the whole fascination serial killers generate, but I shamefully must confess I'm fascinated too, here.

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Into The Darkness, by Barbara Michaels

>> Wednesday, January 21, 2004

I couldn't help myself, and I read Into The Darkness, by Barbara Michaels, even though I know I shouldn't read too many books by the same author in a row.

Upon the death of her grandfather, Meg Venturi finds herself part owner of an antique jewelry store. The local townspeople of Seldon, a small New England town, cannot understand why her grandfather would leave the other half of his store to the sinister and enigmatic man called A. L. Riley. But a series of threatening events convinces Meg that somebody wants her out of town.

The well-meaning but relentlessly nosy townspeople appear to know more than they're letting on, and a fine collection of garrulous businessmen, surly former classmates and exotic relatives keep Meg on her toes--and constantly looking over her shoulder.While the grandfather's estate is being settled, a series of mysterious events occur that lead to revelations from the past.
Into the Darkness was a suspense novel, without any paranormal elements. Though the suspense elements weren't too good, the characters and their relationships were excellent enough to keep me very interested. A B+.

Riley, our enigmatic hero, was a very appealing character. I'm a sucker for vulnerable, persecuted heroes, and he was very definitely all that. Michaels wrote him well, not seeing his POV let him retain his mystery, but even through Meg's eyes we readers could perceive some of what he was going through. When everything comes out, in that great scene near the end, it's wonderful to see he was feeling everything I suspected and more! I really liked the way their relationship developed.

I liked Meg, too, though it took me a little while to warm up to her. What I liked most about her was her intelligence about picking her fights. She was able to tolerate irritating but ultimately unimportant things, like her grandmother's insistence on her helping address thank you cards a whole afternoon, but when it came to integrity and honesty, she didn't compromise. Neither did she compromise on giving Riley a chance, against the advice of most of the town, and she won my respect with that kind of attitude.

I found all the background about the jewelry business fascinating, especially because it mostly wasn't about "important" jewelry, fabulous stones and the like, which is what most authors go ga-ga about. No, Michaels concentrated mostly on semiprecious stones and the jewelry made with them, which gave the book a nice extra touch.

As for the suspense subplot, I'm afraid it wasn't very good. Basically, the problem was that it all depended on too many people keeping secrets from each other for no good reason. I got left with the feeling that they had overcomplicated something that could have been solved much more easily, and with less danger to their lives, too.

The dénuément was good, even though through large part of it, I hadn't the slightest idea of what was going on. What made it good was all the character development we got throughout it (some of which I emntioned above). And, weird in a Barbara Michaels book, we actually had a kind of epilogue! Wonderful, her endings are often much too abrupt, but here we have pages and pages, concentrating on the romance part, no less!

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The Cinderella Mission, by Catherine Mann

>> Tuesday, January 20, 2004

The Cinderella Mission (excerpt), by Catherine Mann is part of the Family Secrets continuity series (see here the titles and the order). Actually, if I'm understanding this correctly, this title is one of 3 prequels to the continuity series itself, but well, the book does have a little "Family Secrets" logo on the cover, so the "not part of the series" thing must be relative.

Millionaire Ethan Williams risks his life daily as a CIA agent to save innocent lives. And they don't come any more innocent than Kelly Taylor, his longtime friend and new partner on a mission to intercept jewel thieves with information on the whereabouts of a missing agent. Ethan has his doubts about working with Kelly until he watches her, the sweet girl next door, transform herself into a seductive siren capable of conquering any man she wants - and she wants Ethan.

But this mission means more than finding a missing agent. Ethan has spent his life searching for his parents' killers, but the answers are closer than he thinks. In a dangerous gamble, Ethan must choose: Would he rather fulfill his need to know his past, or protect Kelly, the woman who could be his future?
This book is not the kind of thing I normally read. I tend not to go for SIMs, since they all seem to be about secret agent types and worldwide conspiracies - very definitely NOT my cup of tea. As for gimmicky continuity series, not my thing, either. However, it turns out I recently added one of the late entries in this series to my Wish List, a book titled Fever (I did so because the review kind of reminded me of that Dustin Hoffman movie, Outbreak). Then a friend mentioned she had the first 3 in the series (all three prequels... yeah, it's confusing!), so I thougth what the hell, how long could it take me to read them?

Aaaanyway, that's how I found myself reading a book I never would have chosen by myself. The beginning wasn't promising, but I ended up kind of enjoying it. It was readable, at least. A B-, just because I feel generous.

Let's get the problems out of the way. The first thing that bugged me was how the whole secret agents setup was so idiotic, with absolutely no realism at all. The worst was the big boss doing some nice matchmaking by pairing up Ethan and Kelly for the mission. Give me a break, the guy is dealing with national security issues and this is a consideration?

Then's the matter of the heroine's virginity, and how she wants the experienced hero to relieve her of it. *Big sigh*. Why, why, why? Why do authors feel the need to do this? Plus, her justifications as to why she was still a virgin felt forced.

And how about her "make-over"? That element felt so out of place. Here's this woman who insists on being given a chance to go on the field as a secret agent, who wants to be given the chance to deal with whatever, and the make-over has to be done slowly, trying not to hurt her feelings?

Finally, the suspense plot felt oddly incomplete, as if I should have known more than I did. I'd understand this if I weren't reading what's supposed to be the first in the series.

But, in spite of all this, I found myself enjoying the developing relationship between Ethan and Kelly. They had good chemistry, and Ethan was a really nice hero, even if he felt a little clichéd. As for Kelly, her wanting to be a secret agent and prove that she can do it well didn't degenerate into feisty, TSTL behaviour, as I had feared, so no strong complaints there.

I might read the other 2 books in the series that I have, but really, the overarching story didn't really capture my imagination enough to look for the other books, at least, so far it didn't.

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All About Love, by Stephanie Laurens (Cynsters #6)

>> Monday, January 19, 2004

All About Love, by Stephanie Laurens is the last in the original Cynsters series, the story of the sixth male cousin, the last member of the Bar Cynster. After that, probably due to the fans' demands, the author wrote some more spin-offs (Chillingsworth's story, those of the twins Amanda and Amelia, and, I believe, that of Devil's parents).

Alasdair Cynster, known to his intimates as Lucifer, decides to rusticate in the country before the matchmaking skills of London's mamas become firmly focused on him, the last unwed member of the Bar Cynster. But an escape to Devon leads him straight to his destiny in the irresistible form of Phyllida Tallent, a willful, independent beauty of means who brings all his masterful Cynster instincts rioting to the fore. Lucifer tries to deny the desire Phyllida evokes--acting on it will land him in parson's mousetrap, one place he's sworn never to go. But destiny intervenes, leaving him to face the greatest Cynster challenge--wooing a reluctant bride.

Phyllida has had a bevy of suitors--her charm and wit are well known throughout the countryside--but none of them has tempted her the way Lucifer does. His offer to teach her all about the ways of love is almost too tantalizing to resist. And although she's not yet completely surrendered, she knows only a fool stands against a Cynster...and Phyllida is no one's fool.
All About Love might not be the best entry in this series, but nonetheless, it is an enjoyable, solid one. A B+.

Is Laurens writing the same book over and over again? I may be dense, but I just don't see it that clearly. I've heard it said that her heros are the same guy, only with a different hobby. If it's Gabriel, then he's interested in money, Harry in horses, and that's the only difference, apparently. Well, that's not what I've felt while reading the series. Apart from their being possessive (in a good way) guys, ready to pursue the women they love, I definitely see them as different characters. As for the heroines, is their only defining characteristic that they don't want to get married? Well, no, and this isn't even accurate. Ok, enough about the series in general, and let's proceed to the book itself.

As always with Laurens, both the sexual tension and the love scenes themselves were scorching hot. They were my favourite kind, the kind that doesn't feel gratuitous and furthers the development of the characters.

And speaking of the characters, nice job. For all his alpha-ness, Lucifer is a considerate guy, who does give a damn about how he wins Phyllida, and tries to do it in a way that won't hurt her pride and make her happy. He sees how she about the courting she's received from the other men in the village, how she's disgusted because they all want her only because of what she is, not of who she is. This means he will do his best to show her that it's her he wants, not what she can give him. Ergo, he won't seduce the truth out of her, because he wants her to know that it's her own self that he wants. I find this consideration much more romantic than the guy who kidnaps the heroine because he wants her, so he feels he has the right to.

The suspense subplot was enjoyable, even if it was a murder investigation, as in Devil's Bride. I say "even if" because I thought the suspense subplot in Devil's Bride the weakest in the series. Everything was handled better here, from Phyllida's insistence on being involved in the investigation, which made much more sense than Honoria's, to the final confrontation and the whole motivations of the murderer.

The investigation itself was nice, serving to link the characters together, with no stupid macho posturing on Lucifer's part about how Phyllida as a woman must be kept in the dark. No, no, these two were pretty much partners. Also, I liked how Phyllida's having a secret was handled. She did her best to tell Lucifer as soon as she felt she could, though well, personally I would have thought a murder investigation would take precedence over her acquaintance's hysteria, but ok, not to Phyllida. And Lucifer knew she knew more than she told him, but trusted that she would tell him when she could and that she had enough sense not to withhold a piece of information that would be important to the investigation.

I am now going to read the next books in the series, even if the couple of reviews I've read tempt me less than the ones of the first 6 books. I'll give a pass to Devil's parents' story, though, because going in already knowing that in the future the hero will cheat on the heroine would completely ruin the book for me.

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Angel Falls, by Kristin Hannah

>> Thursday, January 15, 2004

I'd read on other book by Kristin Hannah, before reading Angel Falls (excerpt), and it had been completely different, an adventure story.

When Mikaela Campbell, beloved wife and mother of two, falls into a coma, it is up to her husband, Liam, to hold the family together, to care for their grieving, frightened children. Day after day, he sits by her bedside, telling stories of the precious life they have built, hoping, always hoping, that she will wake up. Then he discovers evidence of her secret past: a hidden first marriage to Julian True, a man no woman could resist . . . or forget. Desperate to bring Mikaela back at any cost, Liam turns to the one person who could make her respond-- and who could take her out of his arms forever.
I liked Angel Falls more than I thought I would. A B.

Ok, first of all, I wouldn't say this book is a romance novel, exactly, though there is quite a bit of emphasis on the love relationship between the married protagonists. It has a more women's fiction-ey feel, though this isn't really the heroine's story, but the hero's, so... "men's fiction"? ;-) Oh, scratch that, I refuse to agonize over the label. It's fiction, with a lot of romance in it. Period.

The reason I wasn't too hopeful about liking this was that I'm not the greatest fan of gloomy, depressing stories, and the first 100 or so pages of Angel Falls were really harrowing. They cover the first days of Mikaela's coma, and understandably, everyone around her is pretty much destroyed. This part was well-done, but not particularly easy to read. From then on, though, it was a page-turner. I finished the last 280 pages or so in under 2 hours (I know because it was during a 2-hour bus trip. I finished the book 5 minutes before we got to the bus terminal).

I adored Liam. He's such a wonderfully nice man, that I really felt for him when he was given cause to doubt his wife's love for him and decided to do whatever it took for her to live, even if it meant that she would leave him. He was an immensely likeable guy.

Mikaela I thought was a bit under-written, which is understandable, since she spent 90% of the book either in a coma or completely out of her head and amnesiac. I understand many people who read this book found it hard to like her, but I was always sympathetic to her. Some of her feelings were a bit hard for me to understand (that whole obsession with her first husband, basically), but I thought her behaviour was always honourable, and that she tried her best to have her marriage work.

The amnesia element here worked quite well. It was done realistically, and it wasn't just an excuse for unbelievable plot developments and irritating misunderstandings.

I wasn't crazy too crazy about the whole Hollywood element, which I thought was the weakest of the book. Gratuitous, that was my feeling.

On a more tangential note, how difficult is it for authors to have a native speaker of Spanish to go through all the parts in that language? Most of it was good here, some elements even remarkably authentic, so this made the mistakes even more jarring.

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Murder in Mesopotamia, by Agatha Christie

>> Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Agatha Christie has long been a favourite for me. By the time I was 12, I'd read almost everything she'd ever written. So, after some years of not rereading any of her books, and having lost most of the books by her that I owned (how?? I've no idea where they went!), I decided to try to get copies of those old favourites. One of the first books I bought was Murder in Mesopotamia.

When nurse Amy Leatheran agrees to look after American archaeologist Dr Leidner’s wife Louise at a dig near Hassanieh she finds herself taking on more than just nursing duties – she also has to help solve murders. Fortunately for Amy, Hercule Poirot is visiting the excavation site but will the great detective be in time to prevent a multiple murderer from striking again?
This was vintage Agatha Christie. An excellently plotted mystery + engaging characters means a really good and satisfying book. A B+.

It was interesting to read a book set in Iraq. The feeling was similar to when I was reading MM Kaye's Death in Kashmir, kind of bittersweet. Both places are very changed now from what they used to be when those books were written.

With books told in the first person, liking the character who does the telling is usually basic to enjoying the book. Not here. I wasn't too fond of Nurse Leatheran (I found her sexist, judgemental and unimaginative), but her role was pretty much just that of an observer who told what she saw. This was not her story, so my feelings about her were immaterial to my enjoyment of the book itself.

This was a classic "house party" cozy detective story, even if the "house" was an expedition house in Iraq. No matter. I enjoy this type of story much more than the hard-boiled type of mystery. As I mentioned, I cut my teeth on Agatha Christie (you should read the masterpiece I wrote for school when I was 10... Murder at Manswell Mansion. A Christie novel with a séance, no less ;-) I found it the other day when I was going through my old stuff), so in this case it's a first-as-favourites kind of thing.

The mystery itself was brilliantly plotted, I thought, and very "fair", for lack of a better term. What I mean by this is that there were enough clues that the reader could conceivably solve the mystery herself. I've read more than a few books where a crucial clue is something that only the detective knows, and I hate this! Of course I didn't guess what had happened here, but I like the idea that I had the necessary info so that I could have.

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Lessons in Love, Anthology

>> Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Lessons in Love, an anthology, was a loan from a friend who I'd told how much I'd enjoyed the linked stories in The Further Observations of Lady Whistledown. This one's an earlier book, and it does a similar thing. It tells the stories of three sisters, who go together to a house party.


The first story is Allegra, by Alicia Rasley.

Nicholas and Allegra have spent several years apart while he was a soldier in the war, and when he returns and has trouble dealing with his parents' death and subsequent circumstances, Allegra feels rejected and fears he no longer loves her.
I'm afraid the romance didn't work at all in this one. The only remarkable thing about the story, and something I liked, was that having fought in the war had had a real effect on Nicholas. Usually this is something authors treat as an insignificant detail in their characters' past; "he had been in the war" they say, as if they were saying "he'd spent the last few years running his estate in the country". Maybe these characters have some trifling wound left over from those days, but authors very seldom deal with the psychological effects of war, at least not beyond a couple of nightmares. Not so with Nicholas.

So, good for the author that she got this right, but I'm afraid it wasn't enough for me to get excited about the story itself. A C+.


The second story is Maggie, by Lynn Kerstan

No one is more shocked than Lady Magdalen when Simon, the rakish Earl of Keverne, begins wooing her. But when he abducts her from a house party and spirits her to a magical place by the sea, a headstrong woman soon finds herself propelled into the uncharted sea of true love.
Kidnapping plots are always problematic for me. I simply cannot get into the "fantasy" spirit this plot requires, and I get too angry about the sheer arrogance of the heros. Bastards, who do they think they are to force the heroine to do something that's against their will!

As kidnapping stories go, this one's one of the better ones. The heroine is quick to make up her mind that she actually likes being kidnapped, that it allows her to do the things she wants to do and enjoy life. Good thing she changed her mind quickly, because previously she'd been a sour, joyless hypocrite. As for the hero, he wasn't very well drawn. Maybe it would have helped if we'd seen his POV before the last few pages. As it was, this one gets another C+.


The last story, and the best one, was Sarita, by Julie Caille

Sarita, the youngest of the three, is searching for a husband, but expects her marriage to be one of convenience. Her parents, claiming to love each other, did nothing but cheat, argue and hurt each other. Convinced that if she does not marry for love, there will be no hurt. Then Robert enters her life. Robert's reputation is in a shambles because of his wife's suicide, and he does not want to hurt Sarita by having her associate with him, thus putting her own reputation in danger.
I liked this one best of all, mostly because the chemistry between Sarita and Robert was pretty good, and both characters were likeable. Still, nothing too remarkable. A B-.


My final grade for the entire anthology is a C+. I would have added points, as I did with The Further Observations... if the links between the stories had added something, but they didn't.

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Stitches in Time, by Barbara Michaels

>> Monday, January 12, 2004

After the overwhelming sexism of Golden Goddess, I was in need of reading something more... feminist, I guess. Stitches in Time, by Barbara Michaels, fit the bill nicely.

When an antique bridal quilt appears under mysterious circumstances at the vintage clothing shop where Rachel Grant works, she is fascinated. She has never been able to resist handmade textiles from the past, for she believes that through the ages, women wove protective magic into their fabrics in order to mark the important events of their lives: birth, marriage, and death.

But there is more than good in the quilt's magic power. Day by day Rachel sees and feels the power growing, as she senses the quilt influencing her thoughts and actions. Much as Rachel's logical mind longs to deny the supernatural, the aura of evil coming from the quilt is terrifyingly real, and it seems to carry a sinister legacy into the lives of the people Rachel loves.
Wonderful book! An A-.

I just love Michaels' voice, whether she's writing under that name or as Elizabeth Peters. Her sense of humour is witty and intelligent and cultured... definitely my kind of humour ;-) Actually, that would be an excellent description of this author's books!

Both plot and characters in this particular book were wonderful. Regarding the plot, I thought it was very original. I especially liked that though this was a paranormal, the manifestations themselves were pretty low-key. Not that I don't like it when Michaels has spirits materializing, and stuff like that, but this way of doing it was an interesting one. And the resolution, oh, dear, that was really sobering and fit in perfectly with the rest of the book. No black and white here.

As for the characters, I must confess I found Rachel a bit colourless at times, which was logical, actually, since her role in the whole investigation ended up being that of an observer, mostly. Still, by the end of the book she'd come into herself and became a more entertaining character. Adam, now, well, he was colourful and entertaining enough for three characters! That was one quirky, sweet guy.

The love story thread was more important here than in other Michaels books, and I liked it very much. Adam's declaration of love, for instance, was priceless! The way he tried to dissect and analyse all the components of his love was so wonderfully in character, and so endearing, at the same time!

I also enjoyed the secondary characters, especially Patrick, Ruth, Kara, Cheryl and Tony... oh, and how could I forget the dog, Alexander? Stitches in Time is linked to two other books, Ammie Come Home and Shattered Silk, and part of my enjoyment came from revisiting these characters from the other books.

I can't believe Michaels isn't writing more of these books now!

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Golden Goddess, by Jayne Ann Krentz (as Stephanie James)

>> Friday, January 09, 2004

Earlier this week I read Golden Goddess, an old category written by Jayne Ann Krentz as Stephanie James.

SMUGGLED TREASURE

Hannah Prescott had indulged in an innocent fantasy about Jarrett Blade, the handsome stranger books on the same plane with her on her vacation to Hawaii. But when this same man forced his way into her life by breaking into her hotel room to retrieve a golden fertility goddess found with her luggage, fantasy and reality seemed to close for comfort.

Smuggler or legitimate art dealer, Jarrett was an outrage! What right did he have to demand her love? He was the wrong kind of man, with his fanatical interest in primitive art and antiquated ideas about women. But could Hannah be wrong, and Jarrett be Mr. Right?
I love JAK. I've enjoyed many, many of her books (just take a look at my Index of Reads!). So, it really pains me to say that this book was crap. Very definitely the worst I've read by this author: a D. Disgusting, sexist, overbearing creep meets Miss Doormat. Ugh!

I hated everything about this book (well, almost everything. I liked the setting, but it was completely wasted on this story). Jarrett acted as if he had the right to order Hannah around from the moment he met her. I could take a guy like that if paired up with a heroine who doesn't let herself be pushed around, but not with someone like Hannah. Little Miss Doormat just let him run roughshod all over her. Sometimes she made a little show of defiance, but this never lasted long, and she immediately acquiesced to whatever it was he wanted.

Jarrett is also one of those dim-witted types who take inductive reasoning to dizzying levels. He was once burnt by a woman, so he's now convinced that all women are evil manipulators, whose only objective in life is to use men. He doesn't seem to notice that he himself is exactly what he's accusing Hannah of being: manipulative and a user.

I almost threw this book into the swimming pool every 10 pages or so. Some "interesting" moments...
Jarrett: "If anyone's going to take advantage of you, it's going to be me". Lovely.
Hannah (later in the book): "If he loved her at least a little, she'd be able to tolerate anything from him" (paraphrasing). Very smart. Page 1 from "How to be a punching bag in 10 easy steps".

All through the book I was hoping against hope that the ending would somewhat redeem this stupid story... maybe a good grovel? Jarrett realizing he'd been a jerk? Hannah standing up to him? Unfortunately, I was disappointed. Someone points a gun at them and suddenly they are confessing their love and that's it. Jarrett's entire softening is thinking that maybe, possibly, he might consider allowing Hannah to work after they are married. These two creeps deserve each other, as far as I'm concerned.

As for me, after forcibly prying my jaw apart, after gritting my teeth almost to dust while reading this, I just grabbed the most feminist book I could think of: a Barbara Michaels!

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Daniel and the Lion, by Margot Dalton

>> Thursday, January 08, 2004

Daniel and the Lion, by Margot Dalton is on a friend of mine's keeper shelf. She lent it to me last week.

THE LADY LOOKED LIKE A GOLDEN LION

And Steven Kelleher, age seven, knew she could be fierce, too. In fact, Jamie was the only person his dad couldn't manage to boss around.

Maybe that was because Jamie was a kind of doctor and was making his dad much better. She even made him laugh a lot. The cook said his dad used to always laugh. But that was before Mr. Kelleher's accident, she'd say. Before your mother left him.

Then Steven would feel sad. Partly, he still missed his mother. But mostly, he feared Jamie would leave, too. Then his dad and the whole house would turn dark and angry again.
I liked it. It was not really keeper material for me, but it was good enough. A B.

The main focus here isn't just Daniel and Jamie's relationship; it's the relationship between Jamie and Daniel's entire household. This includes Daniel, of course, and there is a romance between them, but though this is the most important thread, it's one strong thread among many.

Jamie was an interesting character. She would not take any shit from anyone... she starts right at the beginning, telling off Daniel when he tells her he wants to hire a man because women can't be trusted with confidential info (right. *snort* And all men can!), and she's still the same smart, tough lady by the end of the book. She does have some traits I wasn't too crazy about, like how she had this whole reverse-snobbery thing going on. Poverty, or at least, not richness is a virtue? In itself? Sorry, I don't think so.

The romance was interesting, and I liked that there was a full exploration of Jamie's "motivations" for loving Daniel. There was no knee-jerk "Of course it's really love!" here. Jamie knew she had fallen for lame ducks before, mistaken pity and protectiveness for love, and this time she really did make sure it wasn't like that.

The cast of secondary characters and their issues were nicely done. I especially liked Steven, Daniel's son. I'm not crazy about kids in romance novels, but I tend to like the solemn ones, like Steven. It's the "precious" ones who I can't stand.

I also enjoyed the subplot about the housekeeper, Maria, overcoming her agoraphobia. I did have some doubts, though. I was a bit uncomfortable with Jamie and Daniel "treating" her, without either of them being qualified therapists. The program they designed was probably well researched, and everything, and of course, it turned out fine, but I thought it was a bit risky and arrogant on their part to do this without professional help.

In the end, all the threads have a similar message: Jamie helped all these people, but they can now fend for themselves, they don't need to use Jamie, which was the fear she had. She helped, and they appreciate it, but they've learned to help themselves.

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Dream a Little Dream, by Antoinette Stockenberg

Dream a Little Dream (excerpt), by Antoinette Stockenberg, was a nice read.

For centuries Fair Castle stood proudly on English soil... until an excentric millionaire bought and transported it, stone by stone, to America. Today the ancient stronghold is home to his heiress, lovely Elinor MacLeish and her family... and is also home to the ghosts that refuse to leave their ancestral dwelling.

William Braddock, Lord Norwood, was once an impoverished English peer. But having made his fortune, he has set his sights on America. Fair Castle was once his. And now he wants it back.

When the English nobleman meets the headstrong American heiress, the battle is joined. Someone -or something- wants the castle back, and will stop at nothing to get it. But who will lose Fair Castle, and who will lose their hearts?
Like Desire's Moon, this was a book I read years ago and didn't remember well, only had a feeling that I had liked it. As I read it this time, it it turns out my feelings were correct. It wasn't a wonderful surprise, as Desire's Moon was, but I'd give it a nice B-.

I'm afraid this was a pretty uneven book. The first part was ok, if a bit unremarkable. It drew me in, at least.

Then the whole middle of the book was really, really good and satisfying, with lots of great tension. Up until this point we hadn't seen Will's POV yet, and I believe this was a very important part of the story's improvement, because up until then he had been quite a jerk. Seeing his POV allowed us to understand his actions, and made him much more sympathetic. This part was also when Elinor and Will start to get together, and they have nice chemistry.

The ending, unfortunately, wasn't good at all. There was way too much running around, and accidents and dastardly plots coming to light, and it all became tedious.

I liked Will, but Elinor was a bit harder to warm up to. She's supposed to be mature and confident, but she does many childish things. I'm sure you'll recognize the type: she doesn't like the hero, so she feels compelled to do idiotic things in front of him, things that don't make sense and make her look like an idiot, just out of a sense of defiance. And these are not even things that will affect the hero and upset him. I mean, an example would be how at one point Will shows up and Elinor, upset, defiantly lights a cigarette (of course, she doesn't smoke). Why on Earth would someone with half a brain do this??

Luckily, she doesn't take too long to outgrow this tendency, and she improves a bit, especially once she realizes that, as she puts it, "wanting to buy a castle is not an act of evil". By the time she and Will start to get it on, I could at least tolerate her.

I found the plot enjoyable, except for the ghost element. I thought the space given to them was inadequate. This was an element which should either have been more important or not have been there at all. Also, I never really understood exactly what the hell had happened to the now-ghosts when they were alive, and their whole actions never made much sense. It was all strangely unfocused.

One of the best things about this book was the setting. The castle was rendered very vividly, and I loved the whole idea of living in a Medieval castle, even though I just know it wouldn't be as fairy tale-ish in real life as it is here.

In spite of my problems with it, Dream a Little Dream had enough fresh, enjoyable elements that I think I'll try another Stockenberg.

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Hangman's Holiday, by Dorothy L. Sayers

>> Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Since Dorothy L. Sayers's short story collections can be read out of order, I read the other one I had left, Hangman's Holiday. It was ok, though a bit less enjoyable than the other one: a B-.

This collection includes 4 Lord Peter Wimsey stories, of which my favourite was probably The Incredible Elopement of Lord Peter Wimsey, which takes place in the Basque country (I'm translating from Spanish... País Vasco? I've no idea of what it correct English denomination is!), and has Lord Peter putting on a very imaginative masquarade, with the purpose of rescuing a lady in need. The solution was very ingenious. The Necklace of Pearls, which includes a stolen necklace amid Christmas merriment, was good, too.

In this book I also met another detective, Montague Egg, a wine-salesman who uses his common sense to solve mysteries, and who is forever quoting rhyming advice from the Salesmen's Handbook :-D Quite a few of these have to do with clocks and fairly complex manouvering, which I'm not crazy about. I think my favourite of these stories was Sleuths on the Scent, a story which has a room full of strangers discussing a recent murder, and finding the culprit among them. Oh, and I must mention that Maher-shalal-hashbaz is a pretty upsetting story for anyone who likes cats (a category which includes me).

Finally, there were two stories which didn't include either of these two sleuths, and both her very good, none-the-less. The Man Who Knew How has a man meeting someone who knows how to commit the perfect murder, and shows the consequences to this knowledge, while The Fountain Plays tells of the travails of a man who is being blackmailed.

The complete list of stories is the following:
- The Image in the Mirror (Lord Peter Wimsey)
- The Incredible Elopement of Lord Peter Wimsey (LPW)
- The Queen's Square (Lord Peter Wimsey)
- The Necklace of Pearls (Lord Peter Wimsey)
- The Poisoned Dow '08 (Montague Egg)
- Sleuths on the Scent (Montague Egg)
- Murder in the Morning (Montague Egg)
- One Too Many (Montague Egg)
- Murder at Pentecost (Montague Egg)
- Maher-shalal-hashbaz (Montague Egg)
- The Man Who Knew How
- The Fountain Plays

I think there are other Sayers short story collections, and I'll definitely be looking for them.

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Desire's Moon, by Elane Osborn

>> Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Desire's Moon, by Elane Osborn is a book I last read about 10 years ago. When I first started trading, I went through my shelves looking for books I wouldn't reread to stick in my Trade List. Desire's Moon was one of a short stack of books whose plots I didn't remember at all, but which evoked a positive feeling in me. I assumed I'd liked them and kept them, intending to reread them at some point and see what was what.

Oh, and BTW, it's weird, but I haven't been able to anything at all online about this book, and very little about the author. The reason I say it's weird is because Desire's Moon has got this very well produced cover, with stepback and with the outer cover cut in shapes. I always asumed books that rated a better produced cover were books the publisher would publicize a little more, so I can't really understand why there's this complete silence about the book. It's not like it is so old: it was published in the early 90s.

Like her ancient goddess namesake, lovely archaeologist Diana McKenzie was a beautiful huntress. She was searching for her father in the glittering city of San Francisco. But what she found one dazzling night was love... with a masterful stranger.

Dashing professor Ben Potter had never known a woman like Diana, a woman of passionate dreams and daring ambitions, of tempting beauty and fiery longings. Together they discovered a dreamworld of moonlit liaisons. but with their love entwined in a maze of intrigue, could they forge a future as bright as the moon's glow? Destiny held the answer to their shining love.
This was a very fresh and enjoyable read. An A-. However, I must mention that it took me some time to get into it, mostly because it starts with a dream sequence. I don't think this was a very good idea. Dream sequences are usually boring to read anyway, even more when you have no idea who the people in them are, we're not invested in the story yet. I'm very glad I stuck it through.

First of all, I loved the setting: 1897 San Francisco. That's just not something you see every day, plus, the action took place at the mayor's estate, a magical place, with a museum containing untold wonders and heated pools. I loved it!

And then there were the characters. Wow. I simply adored Diana. She was an awesome heroine. She's a woman ahead of her time, but she's definitely not a 21st century woman stuck in the 19th. She and her life feel realistic, because the author does an excellent job of showing the obstacles she faces as a woman trying to find work in a male-dominated field like archeology.

What I liked a lot about her is that she's perfectly conscious of these obstacles, and she plans her way around her. A good example is her plan for how to find a job as an archaeologist. She knows men won't accept her just like that, so she trains as an artist, because she knows artists are needed in digs (and that's a role deemed appropriate for females), and that will allow her to have a foot in the door.

I also liked that though at first she's a bit closed to the idea of finding love, completely convinced that to have a career she must remain alone for the rest of her life, she's intelligent enough to see by herself that it need not be that way. Yet, she refuses to go into a relationship where the man thinks he can order her around. And this was another thing that was wonderful about the book. Ordinarily, a heroine like this would be portrayed as an unreasonable, shrill shrew, or as an hair-tossing, foot-stomping feisty idiot.

Not Diana. She's smart and reasonable and flexible, yet firm. Also, she's smart enough to see that she can have what her new friend Emma has: a husband who will respect her and support her in her choice of life, and that, though Ben at one point tries to give her orders, he's that guy.

Professor Ben Potter is very definitely this guy. It's obvious, isn't it, that a guy named Professor Ben Potter just has to be a Beta? Anyway, I really liked him. He was a nice guy, who respected and appreciated Diana, and who was wonderfully crazy about her. I adored the chemistry between them.

Apart from the romance, there was also a light-ish suspense subplot. Ben and his British Museum colleagues suspect Diana's father, a well-known archeologist, of trying to steal one of the objects that will be displayed in the museum. Meanwhile, Diana has come there to see her father again after he abandoned her over 12 years ago (BTW, I really liked her reactions to her father, when she finally meets him. This is no daddy's little girl, for whom a father can do no wrong!). This whole subplot was interesting during most of the book, creating some interesting conflict between Ben and Diana, but not being in the forefront enough to overwhelm their romance. However, its resolution wasn't very well done, and I came thisclose to lowering the grade slightly because of it. I decided not to, though, because I liked the rest of the book too much for it not to be a keeper!

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