Murder on the Links, by Agatha Christie

>> Saturday, February 28, 2004

Murder on the Links is one of the few Agatha Christie books I can remember nothing about from when I first read it.

“For God’s sake, come!” But by the time Hercule Poirot can respond to Monsieur Renauld’s plea, the millionaire is already dead — stabbed in the back, and lying in a freshly dug grave on the golf course adjoining his estate.There is no lack of suspects: his wife, whose dagger did the deed; his embittered son; Renauld’s mistress — and each feels deserving of the dead man’s fortune. The police think they’ve found the culprit. Poirot has his doubts. And the discovery of a second, identically murdered corpse complicates matters considerably.
It was a neat mystery. A B.

The mystery was pretty good, with countless twists and double twists, and I enjoyed it. As for the rest, it was fun seeing Poirot getting the best of the French inspector, who so arrogantly dismissed his methods as outdated. Hastings was as oblivious and foolishly romantic as ever, and he got a nice love story here.

All in all, nice and entertaining.


Murder Must Advertise, by Dorothy L. Sayers

>> Friday, February 27, 2004

I just finished Murder Must Advertise, by Dorothy L. Sayers. This one's the 8th in the Wimsey series. I've got only 3 left now :-(

When advertising executive Victor Dean dies from a fall down the stairs at Pym's Publicity, Lord Peter Wimsey is asked to investigate. It seems that, before he died, Dean had begun a letter to Mr. Pym suggesting some very unethical dealings at the posh London ad agency. Wimsey goes undercover and discovers that Dean was part of the fast crowd at Pym's, a group taken to partying and doing drugs. Wimsey and his brother-in-law, Chief-Inspector Parker, rush to discover who is running London's cocaine trade and how Pym's fits into the picture--all before Wimsey's cover is blown.
Reading this series so close together has allowed me to appreciate the evolution in Sayers' craft. I did enjoy the first ones very much, but these last ones, with the exception of Five Red Herrings, have actually been tremendously better. Murder Must Advertise gets an A-.

This time the whodunnit is not the most important thing. The focus is on life in an advertising firm in the thirties, and this was so funny and interesting that I wouldn't actually have minded if the whodunnit had been lacking altogether.

I did feel, though, that Peter was a bit more distant from the reader here than in other books, and again, I missed Harriet. I think my favourite books are those where these two work together. The dynamics of their relationship are delicious. Well, what do you want? I'm a romance reader, after all! Oh, there actually was a little mention to Harriet here, not by name, but just a throwaway line stating that Peter had a date that night with a woman who showed no signs of yielding. That was it, but it was pretty clear.

I adore these books. I hope I can make the three I have left last, but I don't really have much hope.


Duel of Hearts, by Diane Farr

When I first started Duel of Hearts, I was sure that it was my first book by its author, Diane Farr, but it turns out that I'd read Falling for Chloe and liked it.

Lilah and Adam, ninth Earl of Drakesley, have only two things in common. The first is that Lilah's father and Drake's cousin plan to marry, a marriage they rush to London to stop, meeting along the way and discovering their mutual mission. The second thing they share is their forceful, overly assertive personalities, the results of having been raised with no one to gainsay their every wish. Constant bickering ensues when each finds that the other is not responding as most do to their habit of riding roughshod over any and all obstacles. In pursuit of their common goal, they must work together: and, in spite of finding this difficult, the passion that results from their close proximity is as forceful as their personalities.
Duel of Hearts was strange in that it was at the same time a frothy comedy and an exhausting constant battle. I was surprised to see that this combination worked quite well. A B.

Drake and Lilah were characters one doesn't see every day in romance novel. They were rude, self-centered, childish drama queens, and though I'd probably find them exhausting in real life (I think I'm more like Lilah's dad and Drake's cousin in that respect), it was fun to read about them in a book. And man, they were absolutely perfect for each other!

I think the reason it worked was that the way they were enjoying themselves showed through every quarrel. They didn't get upset when the other was rude, they thrived on the chance to retaliate. And the author has a wonderful light hand with comedy, which helped make it all fun.

It was nice to rediscover Farr.


Edge of the Moon, by Rebecca York

>> Thursday, February 26, 2004

Yesterday I tried Edge of the Moon, by new-to-me author Rebecca York. It's a sequel to Killing Moon, which I haven't read.

Kathryn Reynolds is beginning to have a very bad feeling about the disappearance of her tenant and friend, Heather DeYoung. Tracking a number of people gone missing, detective Jack Thornton is sent to interview Kathryn.

When Jack and Kathryn meet, both experience a strange jolt. What neither realizes is that people and events are being manipulated around them. A dangerous magician named Simon Gwynn is attempting to perform a ceremony that will enslave a demon from another dimension. The demon, Ayindral, has no intention of allowing this to happen and will do whatever's necessary to save itself. Suddenly Jack and Kathryn are at the center of an inter-dimensional war whose outcome could be disastrous for mankind.
This was actually quite a lackluster book, but the weirdness of the plot made me enjoy it more than I would have otherwise. A B-.

As I said, the plot was very entertaining. A demon in danger of being chained and enslaved by an evil magician, astral projections and assorted paranormal events had me turning pages like crazy. It wasn't perfect, and there were some holes (I mean, why would a being that existed in a realm ungraspable by man have a name?), but on the whole, I liked it.

The romance was not good at all. Jack and Kathryn didn't really have much chemistry together, and I didn't buy their love story. I couldn't get rid of the feeling that what they felt for each other wasn't real, but something created by Ayindral.

Luckily the plot was good enough to carry the book.


Houses of Stone, by Barbara Michaels

>> Tuesday, February 24, 2004

I've just finished Houses of Stone, by Barbara Michaels, a reread.

Karen Holloway, an ambitious assistant professor at an unnamed women's college in the Northeast, learns of a previously unpublished novel by a 19th-century author known only as Ismene. Since she herself made Ismene famous in the academic world by publishing a volume of her verse, Karen knows her reputation will skyrocket if she can buy the manuscript from the bookseller who found it and issue it with her commentary. She and her colleague Peggy Finneyfrock (a well-drawn character) travel to a dilapidated estate in Virginia's Tidewater region in search of clues to Ismene's identity. But other academics are also in hot pursuit, and Karen finds herself haunted by nightmares brought on by the claustrophobic themes in Ismene's work.
I had a little bit of a problem getting into it, but I was soon caught up with it again (luckily, I remembered very little from the last time I read it a few years ago) and loving it. An A-.

Barbara Michaels always writes intelligent, literate books, and this one was an excellent example. The whole plot, about the manuscript and the quest to identify its author, with its feminist undertones, was wonderful, absolutely fascinating to me. I even loved the little references to various books and stories, like A Jury of her Peers which I'll be reading ASAP.

Not to mention, I love gothics, so I adored the plot of Houses of Stone, the manuscript itself. It sounds like something I'd actually enjoy reading.

The characterization, not only of Karen, but of the whole host of secondary characters, was beautifully done. I confess that even though sometimes she comes close to preaching, I always enjoy the way Michaels pokes fun at all those things I despise, like people like that foul Violet Fowler, Karen's landlady. And speaking of her, the scene in which Karen delivers a speech to the local literary society, was itself worth the price of the book. OMG, I couldn't stop laughing when I imagined the faces of all those close-minded conservative bigots, feeling all so superior, going in to hear a lecture on "Nineteenth Century Lady Writers" and receiving "The Pen as Penis" :-D

Something interesting was that for the first time in a Barbara Michaels book, I didn't guess who the hero was. That was a surprise, really, but not a bad one.

Oh and I found a little Easter Egg early in the book: at one point, when Karen describes the beginning of the manuscript, with the two sisters arriving at the house of a relative after the death of their father, her friend Peggy mentions that the plot sounds familiar, that she read a book like that once, and that it had Wolf in the title. I'm pretty sure she was refering to an old Michaels book: Sons of the Wolf. I just LOVE those little details!


The Prodigal Son, by Susan Grace

I tried a new-to-me author, Susan Grace, yesterday. The book's title was The Prodigal Son.

DESTINY'S LADY saga continues . . . In Victorian London, the children of Lady Cat's tempestuous union have grown up. Each is thrust onto the path of intrigue and deadly peril. And each will discover a special bravery that lies within. . . along with an extraordinary love to last a lifetime.


Though identically handsome in appearance, Lady Cat Grayson's twin sons are different in all other respects. Trelane, a newly appointed member of Parliament, is reserved and measured in his actions, while Eric, a foreign mercenary, has a renegade's lust for life. While the two maintain an uneasy truce, it is an attempt on Trelane's life on the day Eric comes home to England that changes everything. Determined to trap the attackers, Eric will masquerade as Trelane --- only to find himself in danger of falling in love with his brother's betrothed, the achingly lovely, Belle Kingsley. As a sinister menace next threatens Belle, Eric cannot stop himself from yielding to the sweet, simmering passion between them. Yet even as he vows to keep her safe, he knows that the greatest risk lies in telling Belle the truth about his identity. . . . and losing her forever
Unfortunately, it was pretty bad. A D+.

Somewhere in there were the bones of a good book, but the characterization and the awful writing style ruined it.

I could have liked the characters, but these people never felt real to me. They never achieved three dimensions, but remained flat and carboard-like. I suppose the author's "tell instead of show" writing style was partly responsible for making their feelings never seem real to me. I suppose I might have been a little more interested in the secondary romance, but that one was cut short the minute it started to develop, and we only got to see the conclusion.

Also, the dialogue was the worst I've read lately. Stilted, awkward, silly-sounding... And the internal monologues were even worse. Want an example? Ok, I open the book at random and here we go: page 136. Eric has asked a friend to watch over Belle, and she's snatched while under his watch. The guy thinks: "I saw Miss Kingsley leave the stationers' a few minutes ago and cross the road in this direction, but I do not see her now. Did she go into another shop?. The whole book was this way.

Oh, and the suspense subplot? Lame, too lame.

Not good at all. I don't think I'll be trying this author again.


Battle Prize, by Jayne Ann Krentz

>> Monday, February 23, 2004

Those old Silhouette Desires Jayne Ann Krentz wrote as Stephanie James include some wonderful books, but they also include horrible ones like this one, Battle Prize.


It started so innocently, when rugged, sensual Gage Fletcher challenged Rani Cameron to a war game. But Rani soon felt his desire to dominate her, to make her leave the charm of New Mexico, and to take her back to Dallas to confront a difficult relationship from her past. And Gage's demands didn't stop with business, he wanted Rani to fall in love with him, too.

Rani tried to win their battle of wills. But she longed to feel that fire of excitement in his arms. Would her desire for victory succumb to the delicious thrill of surrender?
I suppose this wasn't badly written, but it made me so horribly angry that it deserves a bad grade. A D+.

The main plot, which isn't really well described by the blurb I quoted above, is the following: Rani Cameron has quit her job, angry at the sexism she had to face in her company, and has moved to a nearby town. She has decided not to go back to the corporate world and purchase her sister's store from her (The Miniature World, selling miniatures for battle reenactments and so on).

After she left, things pretty much went to hell in the company, with at least one big potential account refusing to sign if Rani wasn't the one to handle things, so the company owner wants Rani back, and sends Gage Fletcher, owner of a security company to get her.

So things start there, when Gage appears and pretty much tells Rani that he will take her back, come hell or high water. Rani refuses, and thus the battle starts.

And that's it, most of the book was a battle, and I just hated that Gage always won. From a revolting forced seduction scene (rape, as far as I'm concerned), to the way he got her to travel to Dallas, including the fact that he'd always choose the winning side on those battle re-enactment thingies. All the while bleating how he was doing all this "for her own good", to protect her from her silly pride, etc., etc.

And the worse was that Rani was supposed to be a feminist. I mean, her whole attitude towards work, and the reason she quit, was perfectly justified and yes, feminist. But she'd give in every single time to that arrogant bastard Gage. Her first reaction would be one I liked. She'd put her foot down and tell him to go to hell, that he couldn't order her around. But he'd press on, and she'd cave in, and I wanted to throttle her.

I spent the entire book clenching my teeth and fantasizing about alternate outcomes of most scenes... you know, instead of Rani telling Gage "Oh, Gage, I want you, please take me", she'd tell him that if she didn't let her go, she'd go to the police and accuse him of rape the following morning. Stuff like that. It didn't make for a pleasant time reading it.


The Under Dog and other stories, by Agatha Christie

>> Sunday, February 22, 2004

The Under Dog and other stories, by Agatha Christie is a compilation of a Poirot novella and 8 of his short stories.

The Under Dog - This one's the novella. Poirot is called by the wife of a murdered millionaire to investigate his murder, because she isn't satisfied with the police's conclusions. The police suspect the murdered man's nephew, who was heard to leave the room after a fight at about the right time, but the lady's intuition tells her it was the secretary who did it. For some reason, it didn't completely capture my attention. It felt kind of tired, as if the author had no original ideas to include, except for the hypnosis thing, which was cool.

The Plymouth Express - The body of a millionaire's daughter is found under a seat in a train. Ingenious, even if the solution was a bit obvious.

The Affair at the Victory Ball - A young lord is murdered at a masquerade, and the same night his fiancée is found dead after an overdose. Interesting, but I didn't have the required knowledge about the characters in the Italian Commedia dell'Arte, which hampered my enjoyment.

The Market Basing Mystery - A man is found dead, in an apparent suicide, only suicide is impossible. Excellent story, with a very surprising ending.

The Lemesurier Inheritance - The Lemesurier family has a curse: no firstborn ever inherits the title from his father, he always dies first. Poirot intervenes when the wife of the current title holder requests his help because her eldest son has had a couple too many life-threatening accidents, and she doesn't believe in curses. Not precisely surprising, but a very good yarn.

The Cornish Mystery - The wife of a small-town dentist asks Poirot for help because she suspects her husband is trying to poison her. By the next day, when Poirot arrives, she's dead. Interesting, but I found the murderer's motivation not too well done.

The King of Clubs - Poirot's assistance is requested by a foreign prince, whose fiancé has gotten mixed up in a murder. The previous night she had appeare running into a neighbouring house, fainting after gasping "murdered". Nice, if a bit obvious.

The Submarine Plans - Submarine plans have been stolen from the study of a government minister and Poirot is called to help. Ingenious solution.

The Adventure of the Clapham Cook - This one has Poirot investigating the disappearance of a cook, who left suddenly from her job. It sounds like a fascinating mystery, but the solution is pretty lame.

Some good stories, but none too remarkable. A B- for the whole collection.


Beyond Sunrise, by Candice Proctor

Looking for somthing a bit different, I tried Beyond Sunrise, by Candice Proctor, a new-to-me author.

Ever since she can remember, India McKnight has craved adventure, dreaming of lands past the horizon. Following her calling, she becomes a travel writer, a vocation that takes her far and wide. All the while, she vows never to risk her freedom by falling in love. But when she sails to the exotic and unknown regions of the South Pacific, a rugged man brave enough to be her guide just may be the one who can lay claim to her heart.

Having turned his back on the “civilized” world long ago, Jack Ryder has been living in seclusion, hiding from the pain and betrayal buried in his past. When the beautiful, hotheaded Scotswoman arrives at his hut looking for a guide, he agrees to take her to the island of Takaku—despite the challenge—just to prove that her stubborn theories about native life are wrong. But when their journey turns dangerous, their fates become forever entwined. Forced to rely on each other for their very survival, they soon discover that passion and even deeper peril await them . . . just beyond the sunrise.
It was, indeed, something different, and I very much enjoyed it. A B+.

Beyond Sunrise was very much an adventure story, and while I might have liked a few more quiet moments, I actually had fun reading about India and Jack's adventures. This is not usually my cup of tea, but the very original setting and the good writing kept me interested. Being chased by cannibals through a tropical island is so much more entertaining to read than running from drug lords! ;-)

But it was India and Jack and their relationship that made this book so good. They were lovely together, and it was fun to see them banter the way through the South Pacific.

I really enjoyed the characters themselves, especially India. I really admired her reasons for living the life she'd chosen, and her motivations to become a travel writer, and I appreciated the fact that she wasn't a virgin (very refreshing!). This was a woman who had strong ideas about marriage, about how it wasn't an institution tailored to women's advantage. In this she was like many other romance heroines, but, unlike, most of them, she didn't simply forget about this the minute the man she loves proposed.

As for Jack, he's more a typical tortured hero, but I loved his wicked sense of humour and the way he genuinely cared about the world around him and its people.

In spite of this book being full of humourous touches, it touches upon certain themes that are not exactly light fare. What was happening at that time in that part of the world, with the native people and cultures being practically obliterated was an awful thing, and the author brings this to life perfectly, and without preaching.

All in all, a wonderfully satisfying book.


Wilfire at Midnight, by Mary Stewart

>> Friday, February 20, 2004

I really enjoyed the two of Mary Stewart's books that I read. Luckily I have quite a few of them left to read, and earlier this week I tackled Wilfire at Midnight.

The brooding mountains of Skye form the backdrop to a story of Wicker Man-like ritual murder. Gianetta Drury is a model who goes to Scotland for a rest from the frenetic London fashion scene, only to find that her ex-husband is staying at the same hotel (recommended by her parents who want them to get back together). The week before her arrival, the body of a local girl has been found on the mountain, in circumstances pointing to one of the men staying at the hotel. Then one of the women staying there is killed, her climbing rope cut during an ascent of Blaven.
There was a lot about it that I liked, but certain things, though possibly true to the period, bugged the hell out of me. A C seems like a good average.

Ok, first the good: This was romantic suspense, and I very much liked the suspense part. In fact, it felt a bit like a "horror" romance, which is a rare subgenre, and one I've enjoyed the few times I've ran into it. The atmosphere was incredible (though I had some difficulty following some of the descriptions of the scenary, since my English vocabulary is a bit lacking in "mountain" terminology), and the way the case was developed was good. The only negative was that I felt the book was too short, basically because the dénouement came when I was just beginning to settle into the book.

And now for the bad. I detested the romantic thread. Since saying exactly who Gianetta ends up with would be a spoiler, because it would mean that person isn't the murderer, I'll insert some spoiler space here:








The romantic thread touched on one of my hot buttons, which is that I cannot stand for a wife to go back to a cheating husband, and that is exactly what Gianetta does. To make it worse, she does it after some nauseating sermons about how love and pride don't mix, and that if a woman wants to keep her man, she should be ready to forgive and forget. Eeek!! If that's the "mature" way to feel, I'll be glad to stay immature the rest of my life, sorry!

Also, the problem is that after the little bit of preaching she does in the beginning about this, it was quite obvious that she and Nicholas would end up together, so all the little red herring clues which seemed to indicate he was the murderer didn't even begin to trick me. It's too typical of romantic suspense... if the heroine has two possible love interests, one of them is bound to be the murderer. So when I became convinced Nicholas was her love, it was obvious Roderick Grant had to be the murderer.

Oh, and a final irritant: I'd previously found Mary Stewart's heroines to be brave, resourceful and not prey to the damsel-in-distress syndrome, but Gianetta here was not that. There's this final confrontation with the murderer where she isn't able to do harm to him even to save her life, because oh, of course, a proper little woman freezes at the point where she has to actually hurt someone to defend herself, and needs to be rescued by her man. Bah!

I expected better of this author.


Gamemaster, by Jayne Ann Krentz

I've realized that my favourite early Jayne Ann Krentz books are those she wrote as Stephanie James for the Silhouette Desire line. I've only 2 of them left, now that I've read Gamemaster.


Shelley Banning was an enterprising accountant determined to acquire aid for one of her financially ailing clients. Her first task was to secure a loan from Joel Cassidy, ruler of a successful video-game empire. But Joel was a masterful player. He challenged Shelley word for word, kiss for kiss, until her supple body ache with longing. Joel's love bewitched her senses; his caress engaged her in a frenzied love match. But how could Shelley hope to win when Joel arrogantly informed her he was playing by his own rules?
I loved Gamemaster. It gets an A-.

What made me love it was something you don't usually get in early 80s books, and that was a real respect for his beloved's career on the part of the hero. And this was his immediate attitude! This wasn't a book where the main conflict was that the guy had to be made to realize that it wasn't right to bully the heroine. No, Joel respected Shelley from the beginning. He told her so at the outset, after she'd confided the difficulties she'd had in past relationships, how she tended to be attracted to men who had the same qualities that she had, only to have those men want to make her into the perfect corporate wife.

Joel made it very clear that that wasn't how it was going to be with him, that he was prepared to give her the same respect he expected from her, and he proved it. There was a point in the book where Shelley had to spend a couple of days working from dawn to dusk and Joel waited for her at home with dinner ready, telling her that some days he'd have to have dinner waiting for her, other days she'd have dinner waiting for him, and the rest of the time they'd make dinner together. That sounds like a good description of what to me is the ideal marriage: a real partnership.

Do you realize how refreshing this kind of attitude is? It's still rare nowadays for a heroine in a romance novel to even have a real career the reader sees her working in (every thought of work seems to disappear when the hero comes into her life), and it was even rarer to have an enlightened hero 20 years ago. I mean, right at the back of this book, where categories have the little summaries of upcoming titles in the line, I found this little jewel: "Enraged that he'd unwittingly hired a woman contractor, Phelan Cannon attacked Gabrielle at first sight with both anger and desire... awakening in her a hunger that only he could satisfy.". That was what was common in those days... heroes who were so chauvinistic that they would actually be enraged that they'd hired a woman.

Apart from a romance which really satisfied me, I liked most other aspects, from the well plotted (for a change) corporate mischief plot to the setting, in the early world of videogames, which I actually found kind of cute and quaint.


Captain Jack's Woman, by Stephanie Laurens

I finished Captain Jack's Woman, by Stephanie Laurens only a few minutes ago, but I felt so strongly about it that I needed to write my review immediately.

They meet in a clash of swords, drenched in the moonlight of Britain's rugged eastern coast: Captain Jack, his handsome features etched in silver and shadow, his powerful physique compelling Kit Cranmer to surrender. He is her dream lover come vividly alive, and his command of the smuggling gang is abosolute. His all-knowing gaze penetrates her disguise as the "lad" leader of a rival gang with frightening ease--and his punishment with kisses leaves her maidenly modesty in tatters.

Suddenly, Kit finds she's only too delighted to explore with Jack the pleasures normally reserved for married ladies...little knowing what dangerous forces she's unleashing. For even as Kit revels in midnight gallops and cottage rendezvous, Captain Jack is laying a gentle trap that will curtail her freedom...and bind her to him with a ring, a promise...and ties of devotion and desire.
The reason I've liked this author's books in the past is that her heroes tend to be people who have a real respect for their heroines. The hot love scenes are nice, as is the Cynster family, but that isn't what brings me back for more, it's the caring heros. Unfortunately, Jack, the hero in Captain Jack's Woman wasn't like that, and so the book gets a D+.

The first indication that he was a bastard came when I saw the difference between his attitude towards Kit when he thought she was illegitimate and his attitude when he realized she wasn't. He was made to see the light near the end, but for too long he insisted on archaic ideas of what a wife's role should be in his life, and though this might be realistic and true to the times, I despised him for it.

And then there was Kit, for whom I lost all respect when I saw the way she allowed herself to be manipulated and distracted by sex. She actually forgot to confront Jack I don't know how many times about his dealing in spies, even though this was supposed to be something she felt strongly about. And of course, up until the end, she allowed herself to be convinced of just about anything and let Jack completely dominate her through lovemaking. Idiotic nitwit!

Luckily this was an early book, so I don't have to fear Laurens will go in this direction with her next books. I already know she's got better at creating characters I can respect, as attested by the grades I've given to the first 6 Cynster books.


His Scandal, by Gayle Callen

>> Thursday, February 19, 2004

I'd never read anything by Gayle Callen. The first book by her that I've tried is the second in a trilogy, His Scandal (excerpt). This one comes after After His Betrothed.

Lady Emmeline Prescott is shocked when Sir Alexander Thornton, the most incorrigle scoundrelin England, suddenly notices she even exists--and starts flirting with her!

To win a wager, Alex must win a kiss from an innocent maiden. But first he must get past the gigly girl's chaperone--her straitlaced older sister, Lady Emmeline. And to his dismay, it is the enchanting, levelheaded Emmeline who intoxicates him with her soft sensuality and emminently kissable lips.
His Scandal just barely missed an A-range grade. My grade: a B+.

The development of the relationship between Alex and Emmeline (and that was practically the only emphasis of the whole book: the suspense subplot was so flimsy as to be inexistent) was a delight. Alex was a wonderful hero, a guy who seemed a bit of a scoundrel but had hidden depths. He fell for Emmeline fast, in spite of trying not to, but he knew he'd not be considered good enough for her, so he knew he had to behave honourably. I loved how he started being attracted to her, liking her, wanting to be with her all the time. It was very sweet, as were the scenes in which he finds himself getting jealous.

The setting was not very common, Elizabethan London. I enjoyed the way it didn't overwhelm the story with political and court intrigue, but gave the book a different flavour. The language might have felt a little anachronistic, but truthfully: I really prefer not to have to wade through 'twoulds and 'twas all over the place.

The only reason I didn't give His Scandal an A-range grade was that after the incredible tension generated between Alex and Emmeline throughout the book, the final scenes, didn't give me the emotional pay-off I was expecting. The ending was nice, and quite refreshingly original, but I don't know, I felt it lacked something.

I don't think I'll be getting book # 1, but # 3, His Bride, sounds interesting.


The Dream Wedding, by M.J. Rodgers

>> Wednesday, February 18, 2004

The Dream Wedding, by M.J. Rodgers was yet another book I couldn't remember why I'd bought. Until I read it, that is.

Handsome psychiatrist Michael Sands specializes in patients' dreams, but he falls into a dream of his own when he finds beautiful Briana Berry sleeping under the Dream Institute's office Christmas tree late one night. Answers to the many questions that arise from this discovery--how she got there, why she's dressed in an expensive wedding gown, and what her real identity is--pose a giant mystery, one Michael has to solve. As he struggles to maintain a patient-client relationship with Briana, he's painfully aware that he has fallen in love with the fascinating mystery woman.

As Briana searches for the memory that eludes her, she falls more deeply in love with Michael. Why can't Briana remember what she's really like? Why does she remember a childhood far different from the one her mother describes? Why does she feel threatened by the man who insists he is her new husband?
A neatly constructed, intriguing little mystery. A B+.

Usually, if I'm expecting a romance and it turns out the romance is veeery slight and all the emphasis is on a mystery, I'm not happy. Here, however, the mystery was so intriguing, so fascinating, that I didn't much mind. I simply couldn't imagine how Rodgers would be able to give us a reasonable explanation of the facts, short of making Briana have split personality or making it all a dream she'd wake up in the end, and every time we got one more nugget of information, I understood even less.

So, I kept turning the pages like crazy and the solution, when it came, made perfect sense and tied every single thread neatly.

Oh, and as to why I'd bought it: it turns out this one was one of the books recommended to me when I asked for titles in which the protagonists voluntarily decided not to have children. This was a really nice touch, only unfortunately, it was the only remarkable thing about the romance.


Don't Look Back, by Amanda Quick

>> Tuesday, February 17, 2004

I held out as long as I could, but I finally read Don't Look Back, by Amanda Quick. I'd been wanting to save it for a "rainy day", for a time when I absolutely needed something I knew I would like, but what can I say, I'm weak ;-)

A London lady who's skilled in the practice of mesmerism, Lavinia Lake has launched a new career as a private investigator, a startling and slightly scandalous occupation for a woman in Regency England. Strong-willed and independent, Lavinia isn't a typical society widow, a fact which alternately attracts and frustrates her enigmatic partner, Tobias March. Lavinia and Tobias have a prickly and passionate relationship, and Tobias is determined to protect her, while Lavinia is just as determined to be an equal partner in their business.

When the wife of mesmerist Dr. Howard Hudson is murdered and a rare antique bracelet known as the Blue Medusa disappears, the doctor seeks Lavinia's help. Tobias is reluctant to become involved in the matter but Lavinia feels compelled to help her late father's associate. Their attempt to uncover the murderer leads them to obscure antiquities dealers, secret organizations, amoral heirs, and ladies of the evening. And when a madman threatens Lavinia's life, only Tobias can hope to save her.
Don't Look Back is a sequel to Slightly Shady, and it's a sequel starring the same protagonists, á la Eve and Roarke. It was pretty enjoyable, but definitely not as good as this author's best works. Still, compared to what's out there, I'd give it a B.

The main problem is that Quick seems to be concentrating more on the suspense than on the romance lately. And let's face it, suspense was never this author's strong point. In her early books, the suspense subplots were always insubstantial and perfuntory, but when they started to be more prominent, she seemed to start creating mysteries which were a bit too complex. I mean, I don't want something too straighforward, but having too many villains, each with a different motivation and committing different crimes, is too much.

I would have loved to see more of Lavinia and Tobias' relationship. They are really cute together, and I like the way Quick has been developing their relationship slowly. Also, I enjoyed the secondary romances, both Anthony and Emeline and the very sketchy one between Joan Dove and a new "beau". I liked what there was, but I wanted more of it, not more of the suspense subplot.

Oh, well, I know I'll keep buying this author's books, but I really wish she hadn't gone in this direction.


Hot Zone, by Patricia Rosemoor

I've already read one of Patricia Rosemoor's Blaze books, and I liked it quite well, so I decided to read another one: Hot Zone.

Helen Rhodes is ready to take on upstart Luke De Vries and his trendy new coffee place, Hot Zone. So what if Hot Zone offers steaming java, even steamier hot tubs and a sizzling massage or two for customers? Helen's Cybercafé is the coolest thing in this quirky Chicago neighbourhood, and she plans to keept it that way!

Luke is intrigued -and very aroused- by his sizzling blond business rival. He just wants to make peace with Helen, make her cappuccinos every morning... and make love to her every night. Simple? Not exactly. Much more than java is heating up between these two people. It's very tasty... very addictive. And neithe ris calling it quits!
Not bad. A B-.

Best thing about this book: it was HOT. The author has a way with love scenes and with playful foreplay, I noticed that in Sheer Pleasure. Also, her love scenes are not gratuitous bonk-fests, but serve to further the characters feelings for each other, which is the best reason to actually have a love scene in a book, as far as I'm concerned.

Other nice things: a strong, independent heroine in charge of her sexuality, and who also had a real life outside of the hero, including some good friends and a good relationship with her mother.

Worst thing about this book: The whole "fall in love and get married" thing felt much too hurried. I didn't completely buy it.

Other bad things: The suspense subplot was pretty lame.


The Regatta Mystery, by Agatha Christie

>> Monday, February 16, 2004

I'm reading many short stories this year, especially mystery short stories. The latest collection was The Regatta Mystery, by Agatha Christie.

Mr. Parker Pyne happens to be handy at a dinner party when an incredibly expensive diamond is stolen. The incomparable Hercule Poirot proves that a crowd is the best place for a murder. And Miss Marple solves a crime that stumped the police without ever leaving her fireside. This superb collection assembles all of Agatha Christie's top detectives to solve the most challenging cases of their careers
The stories included were the following:

Problem at Pollensa Bay - (1936) - Detective Parker Pyne helps two lovebirds make the boy's overprotective mama accept the girl. A bit predictable, but cute.

The Regatta Mystery - (1939) - Parker Pyne is called to investigate how a valuable diamond disappeared from a closed room. The owner, a diamond merchant, who always carried the gem on him, had passed it round the table, after a young girl in the party challenged him that she could "steal" it. It was well-done, but also pretty easy to guess what had happened.

The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest - (1932) - Narrated by Hastings, this story has Poirot investigate the death of a man found inside a chest. The owner of the house is suspected to have killed him and stuck him in the chest, and later have spent the evening at a party in that same room. Very cleverly plotted.

How Does Your Garden Grow? - (1935) - Poirot receives a mysterious letter from an elderly spinster who requests his help in a matter she doesn't disclose. Receiving no reply, Poirot makes inquiries and learns that she's died, poisoned with strychnine. Interesting story, but Christie didn't play fair here, since the reader isn't privy to the little detail that tips Poirot off to the solution.

Yellow Iris a.k.a. "Hercule Poirot and the Sixth Chair" - (1937) - Yet another mysterious summons (a phone call, this time), has Poirot hurrying into a case. The setting is a restaurant, where a widower intends to recreate the circumstances of his wife's death the previous year... Intriguing, but a bit preposterous.

Miss Marple Tells a Story - (1939) - This one's narrated by Miss Marple herself, to her nephew Raymond and his wife. She tells of a consultation made to her by her solicitor, asking her to help a client of his who's suspected of murdering his wife in a supposed "locked-room" mystery. Pretty good, and very Marple-ish solution, which I always enjoy.

In a Glass Darkly - (1934) - This one's not a mystery, but a supernatural story. It's narrated by a man who visits a friend's house and as soon as he arrives, before he's even met the rest of the family, has a supernatural experience. He's changing in front of the mirror and reflected behind him he sees a horrifying scene in the adjacent room: a young woman being strangled by a man with a scar on his face. On turning around, the door he was seeing the scene through is actually blocked by a huge armoire. Going down to meet the rest of the family, he discovers the young woman is his friend's sister, and that her fiancé has a scar in his face... Interesting story.

The Dream, a.k.a. "The Three Strange Points" - (1937) - Poirot is summoned by a reclusive millionaire and asked if he can help him with his problem. Apparently, the man has been dreaming every night of shooting himself at 3:28 PM, and he now wonders if it's possible that someone is attempting to hound him to death by controlling his dreams. Poirot, obviously, can offer no help. When Poirot hears that not long after that the millionaire in fact did commit suicide at precisely that hour, he decides to investigate again. Intriguing, but I did catch every single clue, so I guessed everything pretty easily.

Problem at Sea - a.k.a. "Poirot and the Crime in Cabin 66", "The Quickness of the Hand" - (1936) - During a sea trip to Alexandria, Poirot gets acquainted with his fellow passengers, including a colonel who used to be a vaudevill artist and his rich, jealous and always rude to him wife. When the boat gets to Alexandria, the wife is murdered, in a locked room, apparently at a time in which her husband has an unasailable alibi. Well constructed.

Nice, consistent collection. Even though Poirot is my favourite Christie sleuth, I enjoyed having some stories starring the others. Made for a little variety. A B.


A Husband of her Own, by Brenda Novak

>> Sunday, February 15, 2004

I've just finished A Husband of her Own, by new-to-me author Brenda Novak.

Thirty-two-year-old Rebecca Wells is desperately trying to overcome her reputation for being high-strung and unpredictable. She wants to marry and settle down, start over with a clean slate and--deep down--hopes to finally gain the approval of her father.

As a token of her good will, her father thinks now is the perfect time for her and Josh Hill, the boy who grew up across the street, to put an end to their twenty-four-year rivalry and become friends. Only she and Josh have quite a past, and Rebecca doesn't want to let go of her resentment because, as much as she refuses to admit or acknowledge it, she feels more for him than she's ever let on--

And the guy she's always loved to hate is the one guy she'd most hate to love.
The only reason I didn't like this book better was because in a way, it accomplished what it was trying to much too well. A B-.

What do I mean by that? Well, Rebecca was really horribly treated by everyone in town. Everyone spoke derisively to her, including her family, and she was blamed for everything that went wrong. Meanwhile, Josh, who over the years had done just as much to her as she'd done to him, got a free pass and everyone adored him, including Rebecca's family. I assume the author intended the reader to feel angry on her behalf and to resent the unfairness of it all.

And that's why I say she succeeded too well. I was extremely angry, so angry that I ended up getting upset with Rebecca for being such a wimp and continuing to stay in that horrible town, with all those horrible people. I was also angry at her for being such a weakling that the only way she could find to leave the town was to have a man, her fiancé, Buddy, take her away. I wanted her to follow her friend Booker's advice and tell everyone to go to hell, not to go on trying to change in order to get her family to love her. I'm sorry, but that's not a cop-out, as far as I'm concerned. It's just realizing that the opinion of these horrendous, disgusting people isn't worth shit.

Argh, and the worst part is that in the end, she becomes exactly what they've been wanting her to become, by bringing in her dad's beloved Josh into the family. And as for Josh, I really resented the fact that he never once stands up for her and tells off the people who bad-mouth her all the time. I wanted at least one scene where he defended her against her family, but it wasn't to be.

The romance itself I guess was nice, though I would have liked to actually see the love scenes. I never appreciate having the door bang in my face unexpectedly.

Oh, and I didn't appreciate how the next book was advertised throughout this one, how countless little details were worked in to get us interested enough to buy it.

Why a B-, if so many things bothered me? Well, basically because I wasn't at all indifferent to what was happening. I read almost the whole thing with a lump in my throat, and I cared. So, in a way, as I said, the author succeeded with me.


The Dark Duke, by Margaret Moore

I discovered Margaret Moore when I read her wonderful short story in the Brides of Christmas anthology. After that, I read her Tempt Me With Kisses, and I knew I'd found and author whose backlist I'd be looking for. The Dark Duke is one of her earlier efforts.

Adrian Fizwalter, the Duke of Barroughby, wore the taint of scandal with flair, his very presence charged with the promise of forbidden things. But the gentle Lady Hester knew the rakish pose was only a mask, hiding a desperate and lonely man.

With her knowing eyes and quiet beauty, the spinsterish Lady Hester was a far cry from Adrian's usual amours. Yet though her goodness stirred him beyond imagining, he dared not give in to the longing to seek the comfort of her waiting arms, for his happiness would surely be her ruin....
Unfortunately, it wasn't as remarkable as the other books by her that I've read. Not bad, either, but it just didn't engage me all that much. A C+.

Both Adrian and Hester were nice characters, and I kind of enjoyed their early interactions. However, I felt the transition between the point where Hester and Adrian were interested in each other and feeling a certain attraction and the point where they were "in love" and having no problem in admitting it to themselves was too abrupt. One minute it was one thing, next minute it was the other, and this threw me out of the story.

The other problem was the character of Elliot, Adrian's brother, the person who'd all the while been doing all the horrible things Adrian was being blamed for. Apparently, their father had asked Adrian to keep Elliot's reputation spotless, and that's why he kept saving the bastard. I lost a lot of respect for Adrian for continuing to honour that promise, even if it was obvious that doing it was actually harming Elliot. I mean, come on, it was a bit too obvious, that great insight of Hester, that Adrian was enabling Elliott's behaviour by allowing him to do whatever he wanted without consequences!

Oh, and I really hated the final coda at the end. The author writes a little note at the end, talking about poor "bitter, angry, misunderstood" Elliott. Misunderstood?? Oh, for heaven's sake, the guy seduced a woman, got her pregnant and abandoned her to go crazy alone, while her child died (and that's just one of the very few little pecadillos we find out about), and we're supposed to feel sorry for him?? Thank god he wasn't the hero here, and hell will freeze over before I read the book in which he is!


Rapture's Mist, by Cinnamon Burke

>> Saturday, February 14, 2004

I've just finished a futuristic, Rapture's Mist, by Cinnamon Burke, about which I knew nothing about when I bought it. I've absolutely no idea why I did so, but I'm glad I did.

Tynan Thorn's austere life as a recluse comes to an abrupt end when he lays his eyes on the ravishing Amara, who has purposely entered his world in order to broaden his horizons.
Rapture's Mist accomplished its mission in that it completely drew me in and had me living in its word. The basic plot is that the heroine, Amara, is a pilot sent to the Earth to fetch the hero, Tynan, so that he can get to a Peace conference in time. Apparently the 5 corporations which rule space have come to a point where war is a possibility, and Tynan, a well known philosopher, has been selected to represent one of these corporations in the conference.

Tynan is a Guardian, part of a group concerned with recording the history of the world up until the 20th century (the book is set in the 23rd). They live in The Keep, a restored medieval castle, and they lead the life of medieval monks. Since Tynan has lived there all his life, and the Guardians are only male, he's never even seen a woman.

The book starts as Amara fetches him to take him to the Confederacy headquarters for the conference, and the first half or so is a very enjoyable road romance. They have quite a few adventures on their way (some pretty scary, like being boarded by space pirates), but the forced proximity ends up affecting them quite soon, and the romance is really nice here. Tynan is, of course, a virgin, while Amara is quite experienced, and the role reversal was very enjoyable to me. I really liked both, especially Amara, who was pretty kick-ass.

After they reach the Peace conference, the book changes a bit and we become embroiled in the whole process of the conference negotiations, which was surprisingly interesting. We are also brought into contact with the plotting and machinations of Amara's boss, Orion, who as well as being her former lover, was raised in the Keep and for years was Tynan's nemesis. I enjoyed this part slightly less, because there was a lot of back and forth between Amara and Tynan... he's jealous of Orion, he pushes her away, when he goes back for her she's the one who's offended. I thought this part ran a bit too long and could have been tightened a bit.

Also, some of Tynan's reactions here were a bit childish and juvenile, and I thought there was something in Amara's accusation that he was still allowing a childhood sense of rivalry to influence his relationship with Orion. Oh, he was right to mistrust Orion, but he certainly didn't go the right way in convincing Amara of what Orion was.

Still, even this part was fascinating to me, and the book was ultimately a success. A B+.


Have His Carcase, by Dorothy L. Sayers

I'm now up to book #7 in the Lord Peter Wimsey series, by Dorothy L. Sayers. Its title is Have His Carcase.

The mystery writer Harriet Vane, recovering from an unhappy love affair and its aftermath, seeks solace on a barren beach -- deserted but for the body of a bearded young man with his throat cut.From the moment she photographs the corpse, which soon disappears with the tide, she is puzzled by a mystery that might have been suicide, murder or a political plot. With the appearance of her dear friend Lord Peter Wimsey, she finds a reason for detective pursuit -- as only the two of them can pursue it.
Have His Carcase now stands with Strong Poison as one of my two favourite Sayers books. An A.

After an absence in the lackluster Five Red Herrings, Harriet Vane reappears in this book, and her interactions with Lord Peter are a joy to read. I love the way Sayers develops their relationship, so sloooowly, little by little.

The mystery itself was the best so far. The timetables were easy enough to follow (that's not always the case with Sayers, who always loved to introduce complex train schedules) and the mystery itself was beautifully constructed. I'm very proud of myself, actually, because I guessed a certain detail which allowed me to know exactly how the murder was committed, and I guessed it very, very early.

Excellent book. I have all the rest here, up until # 11, and I'm very tempted to continue. I'll do my best to wait a bit, but I don't know if I'll be successful.


Velvet Touch, by Jayne Ann Krentz

Velvet Touch, by Jayne Ann Krentz (as Stephanie James)


Tawny, elegant Lacey Seldon was determined to cut loose from her librarian past and find liberation in the Northwest. An island paradise in Puget Sound seemed the perfect place to begin...until she met Holt Randolph. Holt was unlike any man she'd ever met. His touch made her hunger for a release she'd never known. But he said he didn't want half a heart and challenged her to gamble it all in a blazing affair that would bring her to her senses--and into his arms.
Velvet Touch had a very promising plot, but in the end it wasn't as good as it could have been. A B-.

The set-up was intriguing. Lacey leaves all her life as a librarian in small-town Iowa behind, and decides to spend the summer at an inn on an island in the Puget Sound, evaluating her options and getting ready for the life of adventure she plans to lead. The first man she meets is the innkeeper, Holt, and they immediately embark on a bit of a tug of war. She has her plans, he wants her to forget them and realize that what she really wants is to stay with him.

And that was exactly what left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. Oh, I know Lacey made her decision by herself, and that it was probably the right thing, but I thought it would have been better for her to be able to sow her wild oats, at least for a time. As it was, she went from one sheltered life to another, without experiencing anything in between. I guess I should think it was better that she found her happiness at once, without wasting any time searching in the wrong places, as Holt did, but that's just it! Holt, the man, lives a life of adventure for some years and then settles down. Lacey, as a woman, is not allowed to do so. Unfair!


Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe, by Bill Bryson

>> Friday, February 13, 2004

I love travel books, and Bill Bryson's are among my favourites. You not only get all the local colour, but a hilariously funny narrator. The book I finished earlier today was Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe.

Bryson, a baby boomer, retraces his journeys through Europe in 1972 and 1973, when he and an Iowa high school buddy backpacked through the continent's major capitals and cities. In this account, Bryson revisits many of those places, and his tales about the changes in the sites--and within himself--are fascinating and often hilarious. The interests of Bryson and his unforgettable buddy, Stephen Katz, were quite different almost 20 years ago; they were in a constant search for beer and women and their favorite and least favorite places were judged accordingly. His interests on this latest trip are a bit more sophisticated. Bryson blends the accounts of the two journeys, offering insight into the various countries as well as his own life. This book is fun for travelers or armchair travelers, especially for anyone who journeyed through Europe in the hippie days of the early 1970s.
It was good, but not really my favourite book by this author: a B.

I think the main difference with the author's other books must have been that it felt as if he emphasized the "travel" aspect more here. In other books (I'm thinking of books like The Lost Continent, for instance), this was more incidental, and the main thing was the author's reactions to hwat was around him, which made for a rioutously funny read. I don't mean that this one wasn't funny, not at all, I found myself laughing out loud several times, but the thing is that Bryson has set too high a standard on other books on the "funny" front.

My favourite sections of the book were probably the parts in Belgium and the Netherlands, and also Capri. The parts on Bulgaria and Yugoslavia were worth a read, too, simply because it was a particularly interesting time in history to be there: a couple of years before the Balkans war and just as Bulgaria was emerging from all those years behind the Iron Curtain.


Take a Chance on Me, by Susan Donovan

>> Thursday, February 12, 2004

Take a Chance on Me (excerpt), by Susan Donovan generated a lot of buzz in the online romance community last year, and I'd been wanting to see what all the fuss was about.

A neurotic, hairless dog has witnessed his owner's murder, and it's pet psychiatrist Emma Jenkins's job to discover what he knows. Unfortunately, the dog has been adopted by Thomas Tobin, a pessimistic investigator who spends his life posing as a hit-man.

Emma soon discovers that the owner has more issues than the pet, and vows to steer clear of him. But there's something so appealing about Thomas Tobin and his imperfections...something so perfect...
From all I'd heard about Take a Chance on Me, I was expecting a LOL comedy. It didn't quite work for me in that sense (but then, my sense of humour is weird), but it did work very, very well as a steamy, tender and emotional romance. A B+.

The only thing I did find funny was Hairy, the Chinese Crested dog. Oh, that dog! The image of the little mutant rat dancing disco was incredible. I actually liked the device of giving him a voice and listening to his thoughts a lot.

The best, however, was Emma and Thomas together. After an awkward start, which I was a bit doubtful about, since it had Emma behaving like an idiot at times, because she was so blinded by lust, when they finally start getting together it was all very poignant and lovely.

Very enjoyable book. I'll have to see about finding this author's backlist.


Notorious, by Vicki Lewis Thompson

>> Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Yesterday I zipped through Notorious, by Vicki Lewis Thompson in a couple of hours.

Keely Branscom had always been a little notorious...

A confirmed wild child, she'd shocked the town by posing for a centerfold at the age of nineteen. But what she'd really wanted was to get a reaction from seriously sexy Noah Garfield. Only, back then, he hadn't quite known what to do with her...

Now, years later, Noah's still in over his head with Keely. But when he catches her walking into a Vegas strip joint, he knows that he has to save her from herself. Only, Keely doesn't want to be saved. Instead, Noah's supersexy childhood nemesis seems determined to show him exactly what he's been missing...
Vicki Lewis Thompson has become my favourite Blaze author. All 3 of her Blazes that I've read have been absolutely wonderful, exactly what I was hoping Blazes would be. Notorious was no exception. An A-.

Ok, so here's the plot: In Las Vegas for a wedding, the hero runs into the heroine (who used to be his small town's bad girl) going into a strip club. He immediately assumes she's a stripper, much "badder" than she actually is.

Now, what would an author like, say, Diana Palmer do with this? I probably would have been the perfect excuse for the hero, who obviously has lusted after our heroine since she was a teen, to think she's a whore and treat her like a piece of shit. The reason the plot works in Notorious is that the author went in the exact opposite direction with it.

All the time Noah assumes Keely is a stripper, and at one point he suspects she's a call girl, but at no point does he condemn her and treat her badly for it. All he wants is to help her, and he does his absolute best to resist her attempts to seduce him because he wants her to know that at least one man values her for something other than what she can do for him in bed. Is that sweet or what? He was a really adorable guy, but wow, near the end, when he let go, he had an edge, too.

Actually, I liked both characters. Keely was fun, a woman who had had a healthy, normal sexual history and felt no guilt about it. She wasn't as "bad" a girl as she tried to make Noah believe, but she wasn't a little Miss Innocent either, and led Noah a merry dance when she kept trying to seduce him.

The love scenes were really out of this world, too. I was so engaged in Noah and Keely's story, that I don't think I skipped even one line. And I didn't feel even one line was gratuitous padding: they all served to further the story and the relationship.

Even the plot near the end, about Keely going back, basically, to her small town, was handled well (as well as it could be). This book is a definite winner.


Confessions of a Scoundrel, by Karen Hawkins

I recently finished Confessions of a Scoundrel, by Karen Hawkins, which is apparently Book II of the Talisman Ring Series. I believe Book I is one I've read, An Affair to Remember.

Never has the irresistible rogue, Brandon St. John, pursued a woman with more fervor-but his ardent suit of Lady Verena Westforth has a different purpose. The delectable blond lovely is indeed enticing, but Brandon suspects her of hiding a valuable missive that he has sworn to recover. With a sensuous kiss and a passionate caress he intends to lower Verena's guard...and then discover where she's hidden "the goods."

Without the missive, Verena stands to lose the one thing dearest to her heart. And now an extraordinary man has entered her the worst possible time! Vulnerable though she may be, Verena vows she will not be just another of Brandon's "conquests," even as she aches to melt in his arms. But is he a needed friend or a foe in alluring disguise...and will she be able to prove to him that love is their true destiny?
I liked this book. Hawkins has a very readable style and the romance was nice. A B.

The romance was definitely the best part of the book. Verena was a delight. She was independent and forthright, didn't take any shit from Brandon (when he was pompous and overbearing, especially in the beginning, she called him on it) and didn't much do the "I'm not worthy" routine, except for a little while, near the end. I also enjoyed the fact that she'd had a nice first marriage and missed her husband, even sexually, too. Brandon I disliked at first, for the way he immediately assumed Verena was a certain "type" of woman and condemned her without any proof. But then he started showing a sense of humour, and their relationship started to be quite fun.

Unfortunately, the wonderful romance lost a bit of steam near the end, when the suspense subplot took over.

And speaking of the suspense subplot, it was awfuly messy. First of all, some things didn't make any sense, like why on Earth the villain would go to all that trouble to find something with which to blackmail Verena's brother a long time before he knew he'd have to blackmail anyone to get what he wanted. Also, it was very, very obvious, both who the villain was and where that letter had gone. At least all this stayed mostly in the background, except for the last part of the book, but I thought it was shoddy plotting.

Something else that irritated me was the character of the butler, Herberts. It's not just that it's not realistic and that a servant who behaved like him would be fired in a minute. No, I can do suspension of disbelief just fine, it's just that I have a low tolerance for this type of character, the person who drives the protagonists crazy with his antics and yet is supposed to be "cute". He's not, he's just an imbecile, and I can't believe nobody noticed that it was all his fault that Verena and James were put in danger.

Ok, now that I've got that off my chest... other than those details, this was a very enjoyable book.


See Jane Score, by Rachel Gibson

>> Sunday, February 08, 2004

I've been saving See Jane Score, by Rachel Gibson for my vacation. It looked like something I'd enjoy.

A little subdued. A little stubborn. A little tired of going out on blind dates with men who drive vans with sofas in the back, Jane Alcott is living the Single Girl existence in the big city. She is also leading a double life. By day, she’s a reporter covering the raucous Seattle Chinooks hockey team -- especially their notorious goalie Luc Martineau. By night, she’s a writer, secretly creating the scandalous adventures of “Honey Pie” …the magazine series that has all the men talking.

Luc has made his feelings about parasite reporters -- and Jane -- perfectly clear. But if he thinks he’s going to make her life a misery... he’d better think again.

For as long as he can remember, Luc has been single minded about his career. The last thing he needs is a smart mouthed, pain in the backside, reporter digging into his past and getting in his way. But once the little reporter shed her black and gray clothes in favor of a sexy red dress, Luc sees that there is more to Jane than originally meets the eye.

Maybe it’s time to take a risk. Maybe it’s time to live out fantasies. Maybe it’s time to...
I really did enjoy this one quite a bit. A solid B+.

I like Rachel Gibson's voice. She sounds pretty modern, and so did her characters. They struck a nice balance: neither the too-conservative people who seem to populate most historicals, neither Sex in the City types.

The story was one I particularly enjoyed. It's probably a pretty common female fantasy: I just love to see Ken fall for someone other than Barbie, as Jane puts it. Luc was terribly yummy (that tattoo, in particular, sounded incredible) and it was a real treat to see him gradually fall for Plain Jane, serious Jane, short, small-breasted Jane. I especially liked that it was a gradual process, and that he started to feel an attraction to her as he got to know her. As for Jane herself, she was a fun character, very witty, and I liked her outlook on life.

I really enjoyed the hockey background, even though I know absolutely nothing about the game itself. With villain-less contemporaries seemingly going the way of the dodo, I especially treasure the good ones I get.

The only thing that I didn't really like here was the whole Honey Pie porn column angle. It felt pretty contrived, and the parts "transcribed" were pretty tame and boring.


The Main Attraction, by Jayne Ann Krentz

I've just finished The Main Attraction, by Jayne Ann Krentz.

The whole town was buzzing

Filomena Cromwell's return home after ten years set small, sleepy Gallant Lake on its ear. Gorgeous, successful and driving a flashy Porsche, she was no longer the mousy girl who'd once found her fiance in bed with another woman. And Fil was determined to show the town just how irrepressible she'd become!

Trent Tavinder, a guest at the Cromwell family lodge, observed Fil's escapades with amusement. In her quieter moments he knew she was warm, sincere and loving. He'd let her have her day, as long as she reserved her nights for him....
After a couple of good JAKs, another bad one. It wasn't as awful as that mess, Golden Goddess, which I read last month, but it was pretty bad, at least most of the way. A C-.

The problem was the hero, Trent, who was a terribly dominating, my way or the highway kind of guy. It was all about how Filomena needed a man who'd have a firm hand with her, how she has a talent for mischief and needs someone who can manage her. Oh, please! And it's not like Filomena was one of those feisty children in a woman's body that used to populate historicals in the 80s. Oh no, she's a sensible, intelligent professional woman, who behaves pretty well, actually. The way Trent treats her, it's like he sees her as a child who needs her parent to set her some limits. Disgusting.

I mean, there's one particular scene in which the asshole actually sends her to her room to change her dress! I started beating the book against a wall at that point. My friend thought I was trying to kill an insect. I just couldn't believe she'd give in to something as humiliating as that. It was like that quite a bit during most of the book. She'd make some token protest, and then give in.

At least Filomena grew some backbone near the end, when Trent demanded that she "prove her love" in a very ridiculous way. She did make him suffer quite a bit, and stood her ground, and that is the only reason this book didn't get a D-range grade.


Evil Under the Sun, by Agatha Christie

The final book in the reading marathon of these last few days was Evil Under the Sun, by Agatha Christie.

‘There was that about her which made every other woman on the beach seem faded and insignificant. And with equal inevitability, the eye of every male present was drawn and riveted on her.’

Including Hercule Poirot’s. She is Arlena Stuart, the famous actress, enjoying — like the famous detective — a summer holiday on Smugglers’ Island, and she will become a common enough sight, sunbathing on the hot sands. Then one azure morning her beautiful bronzed body is discovered in an isolated cove, in the shade. She is dead, strangled. And Poirot, as luckless as ever when he attempts some downtime, will learn in the course of his investigation that nearly all the guests of this exclusive resort have some connection to Arlena. But who had the capacity and the motive to kill her?
It was pretty enjoyable. A B-.

The mystery side was really outstandingly good. It was beautifully constructed, with every single piece of the puzzle fitting perfectly, and we had more than enough clues disseminated throughout the book.

What wasn't so good, however, was the way Arlena Stuart was demonized by everyone. She was a scarlet woman, who seduced good men and led them to their downfall. Oh, for heaven's sake, that idiocy just drives me mad. I hate it when the men are excused that way. And that ending! I won't say anything for fear of spoilers, but argh!!!


Five Red Herrings, by Dorothy L Sayers

A few months ago I started reading Five Red Herrings, by Dorothy L Sayers (this one would be book # 6 in the Lord Peter Wimsey series), but I couldn't get into it. Since I wanted to read the series in order, anyway, I just left it aside for a while.

The body was on the pointed rocks alongside the stream.The artist might have fallen from the cliff where he was painting, but there are too many suspicious elements -- particularly the medical evidence that proves he'd been dead nearly half a day, though eyewitnesses had seen him alive a scant hour earlier. And then there are the six prime suspects -- all of them artists, all of whom wished him dead. Five are red herrings, but one has created a masterpiece of murder that baffles everyone, including Lord Peter Wimsey.
Five Red Herrings is not bad, really, but it's definitely the weakest Sayers I've read so far. A C.

I'm not surprised I got stuck the first time I tried reading it, since the whole first half of the book was pretty hard going. The mystery was interesting, but two things kept bogging me down.

First, Sayers' insistence on writing dialogue phonetically. Anyone with the slightest accent gets this treatment with her. Usually it's only a working class character or two, so it's not much bother, but here we have a book set in Scotland, and thus full of Scottish characters, all of whom have all their words rendered exactly as they would have been pronounce, according to the author. This drove me mad. I had to resort to reading paragraphs out loud to get a grip on what was said. It got a bit better in the second half of the book, both because there was less of it and because I'd got a bit used to it, but I still get irritated just thinking about it.

The second reason I had a hard time was the damned train schedules and Sayers fascination with them. I tried to keep track of that stuff, but at one point I gave up. Enough. It also didn't help that the setting was a real place, and that the little map at the beginning was a dud, pretty impossible to read, so I never could get a handle on exactly who was where and what they would have to go past to get somewhere else. Thankfully, also after the first half, there was a bit less of this.

So we've got a first half which was almost unreadable and a second half that was pretty ok. To tell the truth, if I hadn't been trying to read the whole series in order, I would have given up for good on this one before it got better. LOL, maybe I should have: no mention of Harriet here! ;-)


Wizard, by Jayne Ann Krentz

>> Saturday, February 07, 2004

Wizard, by Jayne Ann Krentz looked very good, at least from the back-cover blurb.


Sophia Athena Bennett had been raised by geniuses to shine in the rarefied atmosphere of academia. Instead she chose to live in Texas, where men were men, and a cowboy's prowess in barroom brawls and at breaking broncos was more important than any degree.

Enter Dr. Max Travers, professor of mathematics, friend of her brilliant parents, wizard. Sophy told herself he was a nerd; she told herself he probably made love by the numbers; she insisted that she preferred cowboys. Why was it that she found Max sexy as all get-out, and infinitely more dangerous than any gunslinger in a ten-gallon hat?
Wizard joins the list of my favourite JAK categories. I wasn't sure about giving it a keeper grade, because, well, it just isn't the kind of "important" book one sometimes (in one's more elitist moments) feels deserve a keeper grade. But hey, any book that has me reading most of it with my stomach churning and clenching, and gives me a lump in my throat during a scene in which the hero asks the heroine to stay overtime to finish typing a report for him deserves a keeper grade! An A-, well deserved.

This was a different book, in that instead of the very typical "heroine thinks she likes staid, conservative men, but finds love with a cowboy", we have here a story that is exactly the opposite. I really enjoyed this, since I'm not such a big fan of cowboys myself. I actually liked to see this professor show up those arrogant cowboys :-)

I also adored the character of Max. He was terribly endearing in his vulnerability and desperation for Sophy, a woman he thought would never be attracted to someone like him. So many scenes I felt my stomach clenching for, like the one where Max takes her to his hotel room once she has discovered the cowboy she thought she was in love with was cheating on him. I could just feel his anguish and his confusion. It takes a talented author to have me so involved in a measly 186 pages.


Born in Sin, by Kinley MacGregor

Even though I'm not a big fan of books set in Scotland, Born in Sin (excerpt), by Kinley MacGregor sounded like it would be my cup of tea.

Though few can equal her skill with the sword, Caledonia MacNeely fights an unfamiliar shiver when she is offered in marriage to the infamous "Lord Sin." Though Callie fears this mysterious, unreachable stranger -- less for the dark whispers that damn him than for the heat of his touch -- she is under the order of the English king. And with the fate of her troubled clan hanging in the balance, she has little recourse.

Banished as a child, "Sin" MacAllister learned to despise his Scottish heritage. Yet now, to unmask King Henry's foes, he must return to the hated Highlands -- wedded to a bewitching lass whose flaming red hair matches the fire of her spirit. A cold, hard heart has always been the key to Sin's survival, but this beauty awakens in him a perilous need he's never known.
Even though Born in Sin had many elements that should have made me love it, my grade for it is a C+.

I should have loved the very lonely Sin, desperate for love as he was, after his horrific childhood. And what a horrific childhood that was! I swear, this author must specialize in torturing her heroes: Sin and her Julian of Thrace, from Fantasy Lover are probably the two most tortured people I've ever read about.

So, I should have loved Sin, and relished how he started to believe, gradually and with great difficutly, that he might actually have some hopes of being loved by his wife. Problem is, round about the umpteenth heart-rending little memory of his childhood (maybe when he remembers going to the fair and his father buying drinks for his brothers and telling him a worthless being like him should just go and get himself some water? Or when everyone received presents at Christmas except for him?), I started feeling a teeny bit manipulated. It was way too much, overkill, and a shame, because a lighter touch would have made this book work beautifully.

Plus, it all didn't even make too much sense. Sin was perfectly comfortable with the love of his brothers and his friend Simon, so why was he so convinced everyone hated him?

This was the heart of the book, so having it not really work for me had the entire book not working. It wasn't bad, not at all, it just wasn't good.


Ravyn's Flight, by Patti O'Shea

>> Friday, February 06, 2004

The comments I'd read about Patti O'Shea's Ravyn's Flight (excerpt) weren't very encouraging, so while I was attracted to the book's subject matter, I was a bit doubful about trying it. Luckily, a friend offered me a copy, so I did read it.

Alone on a strange planet. Their teammates murdered by an unknown enemy. Help weeks away. Could there be a worse time to fall in love?

Ravyn Verdier was the communications specialist on a mission to test the habitability of Jarved Nine. Damon Brody was the commander who rescued her when the rest of her team is mysteriously killed. Trapped on a planet that harbored an unimaginable evil, they must depend on one another, trust each other implicitly.

An abandoned city held the key to their survival, but what they found behind its ancient walls defied all their preconceived notions, tested the very limits of the bond that had formed between them. To succeed, they would have to cast aside their doubts and listen to their hearts. For only when they were linked body and soul--when they realized love was their greatest weapon--would they be able to defeat the monstrous force bent on destroying all life.
Ravyn's Flight is a very imperfect book, so I definitely can understand the criticism, but I still found myself loving it. A B+.

This book reads as a meld of two different things, and things I never imagined could work together, at that. The beginning, when Ravyn and Damon meet at the scene of a mysterious and gruesome massacre, reminded me of the movie Alien. Then, as they started moving, and even more when they got to their destination, the enigmatic Old City, the book read like the St. Helen books Jayne Ann Krentz wrote as Jayne Castle. It had all the psychic angle, all the mumbo-jumbo about energy from the planet, and the protagonists using it as a matter of course.

I enjoyed the love story very much. This was very much a road romance, with the protagonists trekking to the Old City, and once they got there I guess it could qualify as a cabin romance. This meant they were together pretty much all the time, alone in a deserted planet, depending on each other for everything. I liked how the author handled their falling in love, because it wouldn't have been particularly believable for them to immediately start a relationship after the massacre they'd survived. As it was, they felt drawn to each other from the beginning, but the relationship itself developed more slowly. An wow, was it hot!

I enjoyed both characters very much. Ravyn considering herself a coward was a bit strange. Didn't she see what she was doing, the way she was someone Damon could trust to watch his back? But oh, well, I guess sometimes one's image of oneself isn't easily shaken, even by objective facts. Damon was a bit less complicated, and I thought him a wonderful guy, protective, but not dominating, and genuinely appreciative of Ravyn. My only problem with him was that TSTL moment there at the end when he decided to go hunting for the villain on his own.

And, speaking of the villain, that was where I thougth the book faltered. O'Shea had created what felt like a truly scary villain, but from the moment Ravyn and Damon find out what he is, and see an image, I just couldn't take it seriously. I'm sorry, but for some reason the author's description made me think of Barney the Purple Dinosaur, and even the description of human eyeballs hanging from his shirt as a fringe did nothing to dispel this image from my mind.

And that final confrontation, oh, man!! I was laughing histerically all the way through, what with Ravyn and Damon throwing the monster rays of love, because you know, the monster was a creature of hate, and love is stronger than hate, duh! I kept picturing these two as gigantic Carebears, sending out rays of love from their bellies.

No matter, I enjoyed the rest of the book enough that this gets an excellent grade.


Dawn in Eclipse Bay, by Jayne Ann Krentz

>> Thursday, February 05, 2004

Dawn in Eclipse Bay, by Jayne Ann Krentz is the sequel to her Eclipse Bay. I've already read the next one, too, book # 3. For some reason, I hadn't thought the middle book tempting.

Determined finally to follow her artistic dreams, Lillian Harte abruptly closes down her thriving computer matchmaking business and heads back home to Eclipse Bay to paint. But when Gabe Madison, her final client (and new brother-in-law), shows up on her doorstep, determined to collect the last "date" she owes him, it doesn't take long for the passion to flare, the small-town gossip to start, and the family meddling to follow.
This book was entertaining and I enjoyed reading it, but it's probably the weakest in the series. A B-.

The main problem is that the romance feels a bit off. I did kind of like it, but if felt like there were bits missing. What I mean is, even though Gabe's POV is supposed to be included, many of his important decisions are just skipped. He's attracted to Lillian, ok, we see that. Then he's following her to Eclipse Bay, without any explanation... we don't see him thinking about what to do and deciding. Then later, he has certain feelings for Lillian, ok, we get a clue that he's started to want more than just an affair with her. Then he's declaring his love. I really don't need to see everything spelled out, but these crucial moments felt missing.

Apart from that, as I said, it was entertaining. Lots of bantering, nice love scenes, likeable characters and an even lighter than usual suspense subplot.


Just in Time, by Judith A. Lansdowne

I finished a book by a new-to-me author yesterday: Just in Time, byJudith A. Lansdowne.

The Reverend Richard Damsey is delighted when the Duke of Berinwick offers him the vicarage at St. Milburga's of the Wood. A lover of antiquities, Richard will be able to delve into the legends of Owain Glyndwr's cup. Upon his arrival at the rectory, Richard is informed of the Duke's demise and that he now must deal with the young, formidable new Duke. But a surprise awaits him with the discovery that the dowager Duchess of Berinwick is none other than Veronica Longwood, a beloved childhood friend.

Richard's involvement with the people of the parish puts him in contact with Veronica, and it's not long before their childhood love blossoms into a tender, sweet, mature relationship. An armor-clanking ghost, an old feud, murder and mayhem all come together to put an end to the legend of Owain and his long-missing cup.
Just in Time sounded interesting, but it ended up being a disappointment. A D+.

I really liked the set-up for the story and the bare bones of the plot. I even approved of the basics of how that plot developed. However there were quite a few problems.

The main one was that I just couldn't warm up to the characters. Veronica I felt was a complete idiot and a whiny ninny. Ok, her original actions, which resulted in the accident that cost her son William her eye, were perfectly understandable and excusable. It was an accident, an impulsive act, meant to be harmless, which had unintended consequences. But her subsequent, self-indulgent actions weren't excusable or understandable. I mean, to send her son away because looking at him made her feel guilty? And, to make it even worse, even years and years later, she refuses to accept responsability and blames her husband and parents for "not making her strong". It's not her fault, you see, that she's weak. Idiotic ninny.

Richard was much more likeable than Veronica (which didn't require much!). He was a kind guy with a lovely sense of humour. The problem is that his characterization made it hard for me to see him as a romantic hero. The feeling I got from him was harmless, doddering old fool, contrasting with the fit, healthy 40 year old he was supposed to be.

The love story was barely there, and I didn't like the little I saw of it. It appeared to be simply left overs from their fondness for each other as children, with absolutely no passion involved.

The suspense subplot was idiotic, too, with a stupid family feud hundreds of years old.

Finally, another problem was the author's writing style, which for some reason made it difficult for me to get caught up in the story. I had to concentrate on making some progress, because if I didn't make that effort, my mind started wondering every couple of pages.


Poirot Investigates, by Agatha Christie

Poirot Investigates, by Agatha Christie, is a collection of 11 Poirot stories.

The Adventure of the Western Star - Poirot foils a jewel robbery. Pretty average story.

The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor - Poirot is commissioned by an insurance company to find out if a man who was found dead only with blood inside his mouth was natural death. Truly ingenious, with some very entertaining methods of detection. Probably my favourite of the lot.

The Adventure of the Cheap Flat - Poirot's gets interested in why two of Hasting's friends were able to get an expensive flat so cheap. A bit too improbable and far-fetched for my taste.

The Mystery of the Hunter’s Lodge - Poirot is called to investigate a murder by the nephew of the deceased. Very ingenious and interesting.

The Million Dollar Bond Robbery - The bonds in question disappear on a ship on its way to New York, and Poirot's help is requested by the man who was in charge of them. A bit obvious, really, but entertaining.

The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb - Probably the 10th story I've ever read featuring the curse of an ancient Egyptian pharao. Not bad, but not the best of them, either, though Poirot suffering in the desert was fun!

The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan - A pearl necklace disappears from a room which the owner's companion and the hotel maid swear neither left for more than 10 seconds. Good story.

The Kidnapped Prime Minister - Exactly what the title says. Poirot is asked by the government to find him in 24 hours, before an ever-important conference. Excellent.

The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim - Another favourite. A financier disappears, and Poirot bets his Scotland Yard friend Japp that he can find him in less than a week. Intriguing.

The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman - Poirot is visiting a doctor friend when a call is received from a patient, an Italian nobleman, asking for help because he's been attacked. Interesting.

The Case of the Missing Will - The would-be heiress asks for Poirot's help in finding the will in question. A bit obvious, too, but nice.

This was a pretty even collection. No stinkers and no gems: all nice, entertaining stories, some better than others, but all good. A B.


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!


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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