Undead and Unwed, by MaryJanice Davidson

>> Friday, April 30, 2004

Vampire books had never previously worked for me, but the reviews and comments were so wonderful for Undead and Unwed, by MaryJanice Davidson, that I bought it anyway.

Betsy Taylor is having a helluva week. She's been laid off, her stepmother boycotted her birthday party (again), her cat isn't speaking to her, she can count on one hand how often she's gotten laid in the last 18 months, and she's dead.

As if this wasn't bad enough, she can't seem to stay dead ... she rises each night in search of unholy sustenance and designer footwear. Worse, the other vampires are convinced she's been Foretold ... in other words, she's the new vampire queen. More concerned with her looks than vamp politics, Betsy just wants to keep her head down and adjust to her new liquid diet. Trouble is, the only vampires who want her more than the good guys are the bad guys. And when the good guys are ruthless, and the bad guys are unhinged, and they ALL want to have sex with her to cement their power base, it's tough for a modern girl to keep her shapely butt out of trouble ... and out of bed.
Ok, this was funny, funny, funny stuff. A B+.

I don't think one could categorize this novel.... vampire chick-lit? Is there such a genre? Whatever it was, it worked.

Betsy was a very engaging narrator. Actually, the whole writing style made me think of being in a comedy club and listening to a hilarious stand-up comedian. A witty, smart-ass comedian, that was Betsy all right. She actually won me over in spite of myself. I shouldn't have enjoyed her, I even rolled my eyes a couple of time, but I couldn't help myself. I don't know if it was her willingness to laugh at herself, or the way she took the extremely weird stuff that was happening to her in stride (and laughed at it), but she was amazing.

I was actually surprised by how sexy I found this book. I mean, yes, the author is well known for steamy writing, so on that account, I should have been expecting it, but the thing is, I'd always been grossed out by bloodsucking in vampire books. Carpathians, Sookie Stackhouse, Anita Blake, whatever, my reaction was just "yuck!" Here, it was sexy. Go figure.

And speaking of sex... this wasn't a romance, I know, but what can I say? I wish we'd had a bit more development of that aspect. The final love scene was really amazing. Davidson did something that worked extremely well there, and I just wished I were more invested in that couple.

Still, I had so much fun, even without a real romance, that I pretty much didn't care.


Overture to Death, by Ngaio Marsh

Considering how much I enjoy Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie, I'm thinking it might be a good idea to try some of their contemporaries who are supposed to write similar books. There are certain authors who keep being compared to them, like Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham, for instance.

So, last weekend I decided to try my first Ngaio Marsh, Overture to Death.

It was planned as an act of charity: a new piano for the parish hall, an amusing play to finance the gift. But its execution was doomed when Miss Campanula sat down to play. A chord was struck, a shot rang out and Miss Campanula was dead. A case of sinister infatuation for the brilliant Chief Detective-Inspector Alleyn.
I'm very impressed. Quite nice, I think I'll start looking for Marsh's backlist. My grade would be a B+.

The mystery itself was nicely done. I liked the very, very ingenious murder method. With something so elaborate, one might think that it's a bit too much to be plausible, but Marsh solves that problem (I'm trying very hard not to spoil this!) and it ends up being something that I actually could see happening.

However, what made this book so much more than simply an interesting murder mystery were the vivid characterizations and portrayal of life at the village.

Marsh was able to convey the feeling of village life very well, show how the most trivial, idiotic things can take on world-shattering proportions there. Normally, the big deal made out of whether they'd put on the play the poisonous spinsters had proposed or the other, more modern one, would simply irritate me, but Marsh makes it seem understandable that great hatreds can develop from such mundane stuff and even makes the reader really care about this.

The characterization was also excellent, even if I was a bit taken aback by the viciousness of the way the two spinsters were portayed. I don't think I've read such unpleasant characters in a long time, and this includes quite a few eeeevil villains! The rest of the characters were also very well done. Marsh has a way of describing a character with few words and yet making the reader feel she knows their essence, and she isn't afraid of gently poking fun at their little foibles, even with her most sympathetic characters.

This, my first encounter with Marsh's detective, Roderick Alleyn, was a positive one. He wasn't really too interesting here, but I could see some glimpses of something more, especially in what I could see of his relationship with the woman who in this book is his fiancée. I suspect I'll enjoy this guy more as I continue reading Marsh.


Birthright, by Nora Roberts

>> Thursday, April 29, 2004

After too many disappointing romantic suspense single titles by Nora Roberts, an author whose other releases I still like very much, I'd simply stopped buying them. But then I traded for Midnight Bayou and loved it so much that I thought it might be a good idea to give Birthright a try, too.

On a hot July afternoon, a worker at an Antietam Creek construction site drives the blade of his backhoe into a layer of soil — and strikes a 5,000-year-old human skull. The discovery draws plenty of attention and a lot of controversy. It also changes the life of one woman in ways she never expected...

As an archaeologist, Callie Dunbrook knows a lot about the past. But her own past is about to be called into question. Recruited for her expertise on the Antietam Creek dig, she encounters danger — as a cloud of death and misfortune hangs over the project, and rumors fly that the site is cursed. She finds a passion that feels equally dangerous, as she joins forces in her work with her irritating, but irresistible, ex-husband, Jake. And when a strange woman approaches her, claiming to know a secret about Callie's privileged Boston childhood, some startling and unsettling questions are raised about her very identity.

Searching for answers, trying to rebuild, Callie finds that there are deceptions and sorrows that refuse to stay buried. And as she struggles to put the pieces back together, she discovers that the healing process comes with consequences — and that there are people who will do anything to make sure the truth is never revealed.
Well, it was an excellent idea, because I really enjoyed Birthright. A very solid B+.

Roberts tackles quite a bit of plot. Callie, an archeologist starts work at a newly discovered site and almost immediately is approached by a woman who claims Callie is her baby, kidnapped almost 30 years ago. Callie is soon convinced that this is the truth, and starts investigating what happened all those years ago. Meanwhile, she has a new relationship to build with her birth family, her ex-husband is working with her at the dig and at finding out the truth about her kidnapping and oh yeah, he wants her back, and to top it all, people start getting killed at the dig. And let's not forget the secondary love story between Callie's birth brother and her lawyer.

More than enough plot for 3 books, right? And yet Roberts simply doesn't drop any threads and doesn't shortchange any of these elements, most especially the romance, which is often the first casualty when a lot is going on. I admit I wasn't overly convinced by the resolution of the murders, basically because the villain's motivations sounded a little farfetched, but the rest was really, really good.

What captured my attention the most were the relationships. Every single character was well-drawn and real, and their interactions rang true. Callie and Jake were my favourites. Roberts convinced me that they had finally grown out of what had made their first relationship fail and that things would go well now. Callie was a type of heroine I know most readers don't like, bitchy and sarcastic and quick-tempered and sometimes even a little bit mean, but I cheered for her. As for Jake, sorry, "Jake the Rake", he was a lovely, charming guy, still madly in love with his wife and desperate to get her back. I loved to see these two banter, and tease and provoke each other ;-)

The secondary romance, between Callie's brother Doug and Lana was also wonderful. I loved how in this case it was Lana who was the pursuer, how Doug would be left completely befuddled every time she asked him out or pursued him in another way.

And a special mention should be made of the slow development of the relationship between Callie and her newfound birth parents, especially her mother. This was really affecting, and very nicely done.

The mystery itself was interesting, even if, as I mentioned above, the resolution was a bit off. Still, I liked the investigation itself.

All in all, a very solid, enjoyable book. Based on how good it was, I just bought a copy of Three Fates, which I'd previously ignored.


The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde

>> Wednesday, April 28, 2004

When I read the review of The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde many months ago, I knew I had to read it. It took a long time, but I was finally able to get my hands on a copy.

In Jasper Fforde's Great Britain, circa 1985, time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously. England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in a Wordsworth poem and forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense. All this is business as usual for Thursday Next, renowned Special Operative in literary detection. But when someone begins kidnapping characters from works of literature and plucks Jane Eyre from the pages of Brontë's novel, Thursday is faced with the challenge of her career.
This was a very, very clever book, set in one of the most fascinating alternate worlds I've ever read. A B.

The world-building is The Eyre Affair's strongest point. Thursday Next's 1985 England is chock-full of little details that made me smile and wonder at the author's wonderful imagination, even if I just know I must have caught maybe half of the references. The setting was just so much fun that it reminded me of the Harry Potter books, in that sense.

Unfortunately, unlike those books, where TEA didn't succeed as well was in the storytelling and in making the characters ring completely true. Here, I saw the story mostly as a pretext to be in the world Fforde created. I didn't close the book feeling emotionally satisfied by the story, mostly because I didn't really care about these people, they weren't real to me.

Still, to be completely sincere, I was amused and entertained enough for my experience with the book to be overwhelmingly positive.


What is a Golden Age classic?

I found this nice definition here:

During roughly the 1920s and 1930s, between the World Wars, the British detective novel flourished and set the standard for its type. These books were meant to be entertainments, games where the reader matched wits with the author, so their hallmarks were cleverness of murder and detection methods, graphic violence or sociological comment kept to a minimum, stylish writing, and a satisfactory conclusion where order was restored to the community by an essentially honorable detective to confirm the reader's notion that the English way of life was the best on offer.

The modern reader, looking for an escape from a world where social and political problems seem insurmountable, can be just as entertained by the plots and characters and also by the glimpse into the customs and attitudes of a by-gone era.
That last part is right on!


Nine Coaches Waiting, by Mary Stewart

>> Tuesday, April 27, 2004

I read Nine Coaches Waiting, by Mary Stewart last week, but I completely forgot to write my comments about it.

The opulence and history surrounding Linda Martin at ChateÂu Valmy are all part of some wondrous, ecstatic dream. But there is a palpable terror crouching in the shadows. And then an accident that is no accident nearly kills the young English nanny's innocent, nine-year-old charge.

This is not "chance" -- this is something planned...and deadly.
Ooohh, this was really good romantic suspense. Just the type I like, I'd give this a B+.

I especially appreciated the way Stewart developed the suspense. Little by little, we start getting the sense that something is not quite right. Then, things start to happen, but we still can't be sure of what's goine on; just like Linda, maybe we suspect a little bit, but never know. And the setting, as always with Stewart, was good and helped this sense of something hidden in those idyllic surroundings. It was also very, very plausible, and I found myself really interested in what exactly was going on.

Unlike the heroine in my last Stewart, I really liked Linda. She was a terribly strong, smart and honourable heroine. When she needed to take action, she didn't stand there wringing her hands and whining that it wasn't fair. She simply thought of the best course of action in order to achieve her objective and did it!. Even though she was destroyed by the possibility that the man she loved was a murderer, she pulled herself together and did what she had to do to save Philippe's life.

And about her suspicions of Raoul, well, I usually get irritated by heroines who needlessly and with no reason mistrust the hero, but I thought this was simply not the case here. It was reasonable that she suspected Raoul. I mean, she didn't really know the guy. She did have a gut feeling that he was ok, but she recognized that she couldn't risk Philippe's life on that. Were her instincts right or wrong? I'm not saying, and I confess I didn't know until the very end of the book (lucky I didn't allow myself to end-peek!), but I believe she was right in not following them, whatever the outcome.

In fact, to me, the main weakness of the book was the love story. First of all, it was much too fast, and so unequal that it just didn't ring too true to me. My reaction to Raoul's proposal was not so much "oh, how romantic", but "what game is this guy playing?". It was all too rushed, both Linda falling in love with him and he with her, plus, it felt a bit unequal for my tastes. He a sophisticated playboy, she an unworldly governess, depending on his family for her salary. She confessing her love, he not doing so, and she saying she was willing to accept whatever he gave her. Anyway, of course, this "weakness" ended up being tied to a strength, IMO, which was that until the end I didn't know who Linda could trust, whether Raoul was in it or not.

And BTW, Philippe was adorable, so serious and solemn, and I loved to see him start to let loose a little bit. I confess I usually don't enjoy reading about children in my romances (or my romantic suspense *g*), but there are always exceptions.

The ending was pretty nice, starting with the fact that there was no final confrontation at gunpoint between the heroine and the villains. I'm tired of those. And of course, the conclusion to the love story was pretty good.

So, an engaging narrator, interesting cast of characters, fascinating plot, wonderfully done setting and the perfect writing style for the story on the plus side, while on the negative only that I didn't completely buy the romance. Pretty positive balance!


Bet Me, by Jennifer Crusie

>> Sunday, April 25, 2004

Bet Me (chapter one), by Jennifer Crusie is one of the books I've anticipated the most in the last few years. I even bought it new in hardcover... enough said!

Min Dobbs knows that happily-ever-after is a fairy tale, especially with a man like Cal Morrisey, who asked her to dinner to win a bet. Cal Morrisey knows commitment is impossible, especially with a woman as cranky as Min Dobbs. When they say good-bye at the end of their evening, they cut their losses and agree never to see each other again.

But Fate has other plans, and it’s not long before Min and Cal are dealing with meddling friends, wedding cake, a jealous ex-boyfriend, Krispy Kremes, a determined psychologist, chaos theory, a frantic bride, Chicken Marsala, a mutant cat, snow globes, two Mothers-from-Hell, great shoes, and more risky propositions than either of them ever dreamed of including the biggest gamble of all--unconditional love.
Wow! Crusie's back! I didn't really like her books since Welcome to Temptation much, but this one reminds me of what I find so incredibly good about her books.

Bet Me is a fairy tale romance with an edge. It is very much a romance, with the focus firmly on Min and Cal together, but it had many of the elements I enjoy of chick-lit, like a characters who are more realistic (no huge martyr complexes, no 30 y.o characters who are really 55 inside, no preposterous virgins, lol!), have friends and don't exist in a vacuum. The best of romance + The best of chick lit = a winning combination. My grade for the book is an A.

With the advent of the seemingly obligatory suspense subplot in all contemporaries, I always appreciate when a good character-driven story comes along. In Bet Me there's nothing but Cal and Min's story, and the only threat they encounter are the efforts of their exes to get them back. I really enjoyed the story. It all started with the very clichéd bet alluded to in the title, but even that element felt fun and original. I especially liked the fairy tale feel of the story, how circumstances conspired to keep them together. Usually such coincidences are groan-worthy, but Crusie wrote this in a way that it was funny and cute.

I adored the characters. Cal was the perfect fantasy guy, especially in the way he adored Min and desired her so much, no matter what her weight was. Some things are better made of butter, and you're one of them, or words to that effect. *Sigh*, I wish someone would tell me that! I loved the way he fed her, and most especially, the way he saw the real her.

As for Min, she started out a bit tedious with her insecurities about her weight, but, well, that is nothing if not realistic, I'm afraid, and it made the way Cal helped her get over them even more romantic. I liked the way she had real friends she could fall back on. In fact, Cal had a group of close friends, too, and all those people were an enjoyable supporting cast and enriched the story.

Something else I loved was the way neither Cal nor Min kept silent when their families were out of line. Some of my favourite scenes in the whole book were those where each told off the other's family for being disrespectful to the person they loved. This was really beautiful, IMO.

The book was written in Crusie's signature funny, witty style, which I adore. Her dialogue was priceless, and so were her love scenes. Loving, tender, steamy, all at the same time, I loved it!

And to top it all, and make it one of my favourite Crusies ever and so far the best 2004 read, Cal and Min didn't want children. I know most people won't like this and some will even be put off by this fact, but for me, this was great. I don't want children myself, so it's very rare for me to find a book where the protagonists' ideal projected future exactly matches mine. I mean, I'm fine reading about people who want children. I even think that it's the right decision for the most of those characters. It's just that sometimes it's nice to see that part of me reflected in a book I love. The last chapter, in which we see what finally happened to everyone, was perfect.

Anyway, I enjoyed the way their not wanting to have kids was dealt with. It wasn't the focus of the book, but it was recognized as an important issue. It was even used to show how Min's ex didn't know her at all, when he offered her that if they married, he'd even be so kind as to consider having children immediately... that said with an air of doing her the greatest favour imaginable. The contrast between he and Cal couldn't have been greater right then.

This was funny, well-written, cute and emotionally satisfying. I don't think I could ask for more.

I just visited Crusie's site and I want to read that You Again book mentioned in her Work in Progress page RIGHT NOW!! Please hurry up and write it!!


Fever, by Linda Winstead Jones

I hesitated to buy Fever, by Linda Winstead Jones, basically because it's a late entry in the very long Family Secrets continuity series. This is a series I haven't read. Or rather, I've read the reviews of the books that are in it, so I have a vague idea of what's what, but I don't really understand the intrincacies of the overarching plot, so I feared I'd be completely lost. Still, the plot sounded interesting, so I thought I'd try.

Called to Carson County, Montana, to find a cure for a deadly epidemic, renowned epidemiologist Faith Martin never thought shed become entangled in a seductive battle of the sexes. Luke Winston, her new "partner," was a heart-stoppingly handsome man who challenged her every decision . . . and awoke unsuspected desires within her. With each hour that passed, their passion escalated, and the stakes were getting higher. Ruthless scientists were after Faith for information she didnt even know she possessed, putting her life in jeopardy. Now Faith had to figure out a way to reckon with her mysterious past so she and Luke could have a future together.
I was right to think that the plot was interesting. I was also right to think that I'd not really completely get all the stuff about the genetic experiment, but in the end this wasn't my main problem in the book. What almost ruined everything were the many, many details which stank of series romance clichés. A C-.

This would have been much better simply as a medical thriller / romance. That part of it was nicely done, and the whole thing about how Faith was in reality the product of secret experiments, a genetically engineer super-woman, now prey of the shady organization that made the experiments, was a distraction. The bare bones were interesting enough (though, I repeat, I'd have preferred if it hadn't even appeared), but I was at a distinct disadvantage by not having read the previous books, since those parts felt too spare.

The little things that made the book a chore to read were not very important each in themselves, but they accumulated, and there were so many of them that the sheer volume was overwhelming. Let me just list some:

- Luke's irrational, completely unexplained hostility towards Faith in the beginning of the book. Ok, so you are a small town doctor whose town has fallen victim to an unknown epidemic. You are completely out of your depth. A specialized epidemiologist comes to help with her team, do you become hostile or do you feel relief that someone who might be able to help is finally there? Luke really comes across as stupid and mysoginist, here.

- What are the odds that Luke would be allowed to keep control of a situation like the one that was developing in his town? With something like that, I'd be willing to bet big money that at the first news of the outbreak, specialized scientists would come running to take over!

- In a move soooo typical of series romance, Luke's first wife is demonized for not wanting to live in a small town, but Dr. "He'd put down solid roots and hadn't been willing to give them up for Karen" Winston gets off scot free. It's not his fault that his marriage was a failure! It's the woman who should compromise.

- Luke takes Faith into his home and that walking old plot device who takes care of Luke's daughter gets an unnatural sparkle in her eyes because she decides Faith is "the one". Do all these women have no lives, other than matchmaking for their bosses?

- Faith was practically dead below the waist before she met Luke. Her couple of romances didn't work "because she was no great beauty". What, didn't she look around and see that most people are no great beauties, and yet people still fall in love? Oh, and of course, even her only attempt to dance had been a disaster, because she got all confused.

- Faith is soooo conscious of her biological clock. And then there's that very distasteful scene where she goes on all "impregnate me! I'm really fertile today!"

- The idiot Faith keeps insisting she's fine, that she hasn't been programmed. Oh, no, she'd know if she had been! Never mind the fact that she has been told all the siblings were programmed, and there's no reason why she'd be the exception. Why would she deny it, when any person with a normal IQ would be careful, just in case? No reason, she's just TSTL.

- Of course, Faith proves her worth by taking care of Luke's daughter and enjoying being coated in baby food. I guess the idea is that readers should find these scenes heartwarming or something, but I find them just tedious and think they reinforce the imbecile idea that a woman is a real woman only if she likes to take care of kids.

These are just a few things. Too many for me to be able to tolerate the book, even if the plot was one I enjoyed.


England's Perfect Hero, by Suzanne Enoch

>> Thursday, April 22, 2004

England's Perfect Hero, by Suzanne Enoch sounded wonderful.

Lucinda is the last of three friends who agreed to turn the tables on London's most incorrigible rakes. But love is the farthest thing from her mind.

With her two best friends happily married, Lucinda Barrett realizes she can no longer put off her lessons in love. The rogue she hopes to educate must be someone who will keep her life steady and uneventful -- and that someone is definitely not Robert Carroway! The handsome, brooding war hero is far too complicated, and he shuns London society and its “trivialities.”

Still, it is a pleasant surprise when Robert offers to assist Lucinda in her mission to reform and wed a more suitable nobleman. Now if only she can resist the sensuous allure of Robert's astoundingly blue eyes -- and his intense inner fire that leaves her breathless. Lucinda wants a husband, not a passionate, irresistible lover who could shake her world with one deep, lingering kiss. And her heart is telling her that this man could be the most dangerous, disastrous…and exhilarating love she will ever know.

I was very intrigued by the story at the beginning, but it soon took off in a direction I didn't care for, and it ended up simply not being satisfying. A C+.

I don't get why some authors feel the need to crowd and decorate a perfectly wonderful storyline with bells and whistles, until there's no space to develop the principal storyline. This is what happened here. The original story was a guy only just beginning to crawl out of the black hole into which he was sent by a horrific experience and the woman who in a way provides much of the motivation. I liked this story very much, but soon it was being buried by a boring suspense subplot and some nonesense about the gimmick that supposedly links the trilogy, some Lessons in Love thingies that were too idiotic to be believed..

The first part of the book was very enjoyable. Enoch goes a little further than authors usually go with their heros. Normally, their obligatory war experience, which supposedly left scars in their psyches, yadda, yadda, yadda, leaves them with nothing more inconvenient than a few nightmares... which vanish after they come into contact with the heroine's magic hymen (TM), of course! Not so for Robert. After his experience, being interrogated and tortured for months by the French (which, to be fair, was a great deal more harrowing than a straightforward battle, as horrific as those must have been), he's spent years pretty much in seclusion. Even 3 years later, the most unexpected things still trigger panic attacks, and it's terribly difficult for him to function in society.

The whole first part of the book shows him starting to slowly leave his cocoon, attracted by his sister-in-law's friend, Lucinda. This part, as these two become friends, and Robert starts realizing that there are still things that are worth being alive for, is touching and I enjoyed it.

However, the story soon looses focus, and in the second half of the book, Robert's shell-shock, or psychological trauma, or whatever you want to call it, pretty much disappears. He has to investigate a treasonous theft for which he's being blamed so presto! he can now function in society without much of a struggle. Who cares if it doesn't feel right, considering what we saw in the first part of the book? The plot needs for him to be a superhero, so he is.

Surprisingly, what didn't bother me much was the space given to the cast of previous books in the series, because these characters were nicely done and relevant to this story. They provided a kind of extended family for Robert and Lucinda, and this was nice.

Then there were the Lessons in Love, and the whole subplot about Lucinda being completely determined to marry this guy Geoffrey. Why? Well, because he was the first one she decided on and because her father likes him and because... oops, that's all. I really didn't get why she was so hell-bent on him. I mean, it wasn't simply that she was settling for a guy she didn't love, just to please her father. No, it's not just that. Geoffrey was an arrogant, unpleasant bastard, and Lucinda knew it, too. She recognized his unkindness, in the way he made fun of people "less perfect than himself", and she still considered it a possibility to spend the rest of her life with him? And called him amiable?

And in the end, the romance between Lucinda and Robert didn't work all that well, either. I simply didn't perceive much heat between them, and the love scenes I felt were strangely detached. Explicit, yes, but they didn't succeed in being at all hot. Also, something that made me a bit uncomfortable was how the dynamic seemed to be that Robert would tell Lucinda about some of his problems, and she'd pounce on him and kiss him, as if it was pity that turned her on, or something.

Very disappointing, this could have been an excellent story.


A Summer To Remember, by Mary Balogh

For some reason, I missed Mary Balogh's A Summer To Remember when it just came out. I must have read the review, and it really does sound like something I'd enjoy, so I really don't know why it didn't go on my wish list. It only came to my attention again a few weeks ago, so when I saw it in a bookstore, I bought it.

A year after being abandoned at the altar during the wedding she had dreamed of all her life, Lauren Edgeworth is in London to spend a quiet couple of months with her aunt, Elizabeth, Duchess of Portfrey, during the latter's confinement. Christopher "Kit" Butler, Viscount Ravensberg, is in London getting into every imaginable wild scrape and fast becoming one of London's most notorious rakehells. But now he has been summoned home in order to become betrothed to a woman chosen by his father, who banished him for life just three years before.

Desperate to do things on his own terms, Kit hastily searches for a bride to take home with him, someone his father cannot possibly object to, someone above reproach, someone dull, respectable, prim, and perfect. One of his friends suggests Lauren but then adds that Kit is surely the very last man she would accept for a husband. The challenge proves irresistible, and Kit wagers that he will have wooed and wed Lauren within six weeks...
I loved this, an A-.

I haven't quite read Mary Balogh's entire backlist, but I've read quite a few, and the conclusion I reached was that while Balogh is a genious at conveying dispair and sadness, her portrayal of happiness didn't work as well for me. This meant that her books left me a little bit depressed. there are exceptions, though. The Famous Heroine is one of them, and I'll add A Summer to Remember to that very short list. It's not that this book is a laugh a minute, but it has a somewhat lighter touch than others, and I felt good when I finished it.

ASTR is a sequel to One Night For Love (which I didn't like much), and follows Lauren, the woman who got left at the altar in the opening pages of that book. There, Lauren was a prim and proper, almost humourless prig. The genius of ASTR is that Balogh succeeds in making her sympathetic without her losing any of the qualities that make her uniquely her.

She's still proper, she's still prim, and even after spending time with Kit has loosened her up a lot, she's still far from the typical feisty hoyden who so often is the heroine in historicals. And speaking of her loosening up, I loved how Balogh wrote this, because it was oh so gradual and thus, believable. She didn't just wake up one morning and decided to suddenly free herself from society's strictures. Oh, no, she had to be coaxed into every step by Kit, but when she'd done it, she was quick to admit that she'd enjoyed it.

I also liked that while she did recognize that she'd been clinging too hard to the rules (the why she'd done it was explained perfectly, and it rang heartbreakingly true), she didn't completely discard them. She still saw value in many of them, and the scene where she slaps down the more typically feisty Freyja was beautiful. I like role reversals, and this was great: instead of the free-spirit heroine under attack from the hypocritical, proper prigs, here we have a proper heroine who gets attacked for it by an unconventional lady.

While I found Lauren the slightly more intriguing character, I also did adore Kit. I love tortured characters who don't react to their pain by brooding and treating everyone like hell. Kit was one of the most charming heros I've ever read, but this was obviously not just a shallow, superficial charm. It didn't completely conceal his depths. I thought his playfulness was perfect for Lauren.

I must note that I was especially interested in the love scenes, how Balogh succeeded in showing a passion that had almost no animalistic element. Hmmm, I don't know if that sounded right... what I mean is that while Kit definitely desires Lauren, it's not a caveman kind of emotion. He even marvels at one point at how his desire for her is almost non-sexual. It's more tender than anything else. I confess I'm a bit of a fan of internal lusting, and throbbing whatevers, but this was a nice change of pace ;-)

I liked very much how Balogh dealt with Kit's situation with his family. It quickly becomes clear that what looked awful of them when seen solely from Kit's perspective, definitely has another side, a very different other side. I especially loved Kit's brother Syd, and was a bit disappointed that we didn't see a romantic HEA for him here.

I very much enjoyed that the plot is completely character driven. Also, at first it looks like it's going to be based on the very clichéd "hero courts the heroine because of a bet", but luckily, Kit confesses the truth to Lauren before long, and this improves the book very much. What I wasn't too crazy about was the ending. It was a bit of an attack-of-the-martyr heroines kind of thing.

As for the Bedwyns... I'm afraid they didn't feel particularly compelling to me. Definitely sequel bait, but since their presence in their story wasn't gratuitous, they didn't bother me much, either.


Busman's Honeymoon, by Dorothy L. Sayers

>> Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Ok, I've finally got to the end of Dorothy L. Sayers'
Lord Peter Wimsey series, and it's a bittersweet feeling. I want more!

Busman's Honeymoon is number 11 in the series, and it's the last Sayers wrote all herself. She did start another one, Thrones, Dominations, but she left it aside and it was finished not long ago by another author. I'm hoping it's good, too, but this doesn't diminish my sadness at seeing the last of the original Peter and Harriet.

Murder is hardly the best way for Lord Peter and his bride, the famous mystery writer Harriet Vane, to start their honeymoon. It all begins when the former owner of their newly acquired estate is found quite nastily dead in the cellar. And what Lord Peter had hoped would be a very private and romantic stay in the country soon turns into a most baffling case, what with the misspelled "notise" to the milkman and the intriguing condition of the dead man -- not a spot of blood on his smashed skull and not a pence less than six hundred pounds in his pocket.
Well, in case I haven't mentioned it, this was an excellent book. An A.

Well, if the idea was to reassure readers that Peter and Harriet were on their way to happiness, Sayers succeeded admirably. After all the problems and tension in the other books in which they appeared, they are now happy. They are, indeed, something even better than simply blissfully happy. They are aware of problems, work through them, and are happy to be together all the way. Plus, I'm willing to bet that given the way they are able to work through all those minor irritants at the beginning (with humour!), they will be able to work through anything in the future.

There are also some very wonderful scenes where Peter examines his feelings in detail. I hadn't noticed, but he never really does that in previous books. We know exactly how Harriet feels because that was mostly what Gaudy Night was about, but we never had been given an in-depth look at what Peter was thinking and feeling about Harriet. Those scenes were tender, and sweet, and funny, and (I'm going to sound like a demented 'shipper) oh-so-romantic!

And again, as in Gaudy Night, the ending was amazing. I've never seen such a sad ending that engendered in me such a wonderful feeling that things were going to be fine... more than fine, happy! It was especially affecting because it was so stark, coming after a book that had been so light-hearted and funny.

I was struck by how close to my ideal Harriet and Peter's relationship is. It's one where the two participants are very much in an equal footing, not just in the outside trappings, but inside. It's also wonderfully free of possessiveness... generous, I guess.

As for the mystery itself, I felt it was secondary to the romance, but it provided the "excuses" for the development in Peter and Harriet's relationship. And it was pretty neat in itself, and narrated with humour and wit.

A worthy ending to an amazing series.


After Glow, by Jayne Castle (aka Jayne Ann Krentz)

>> Friday, April 16, 2004

For my plane trip home, I chose yet another book by Jayne Ann Krentz. This one was After Glow, a very new release, written as Jayne Castle.

Life is complicated for Lydia Smith. She's working at that tacky, third-rate museum, Shrimpton's House of Ancient Horrors, trying to salvage her career in para-archaeology—and dating the most dangerous man in town. Just when she thinks she might be getting things under control, she stumbles over a dead body and discovers that her lover has a secret past that could get him killed.
Just to top things off, trouble is brewing underground in the eerie, glowing green passageways of the Dead City and that dynamic dust-bunny, Fuzz, has a couple of surprises up his tatty, furry sleeve.

Of course, all of those problems pale in comparison to the most pressing issue: Lydia has been invited to the Restoration Ball and she hasn't got a thing to wear.
After Glow is the sequel to After Dark, which I recently reread in order to "prepare" (oh, the hardship!!!). I actually liked this one a little better, though not exactly enough to give it a keeper grade. A B+.

In After Glow JAK sheds light on so many of the things that had left me intrigued in After Dark. We find out exactly what happened during Lydia's famous Lost Weekend, we come to understand just what exactly is going on between Emmett and Mercer Wyatt, and of course, last but not least, we see more closure in Lydia and Emmett's relationship.

Speaking of their relationship, I liked that they are at a stage that is past the first courtship (they are already at a point where they have accepted their attraction and fondness for each other and have decided to pursue a relationship), but they still have issues to resolve and settle about it. This is something I like reading about, and something JAK is one of the few authors that does. Off the top of my head, I can think of quite a few of her books, especially her old categories, which start with the protagonists at this enjoyable stage.

I also very much enjoyed the world the story is set in. Well, I've enjoyed JAK's world-building in all her paranormals, even though I know many people are irritated by some of it, so this is not a surprise. I especially liked the ambience of the eerie green Old City and the character of Fuzz, the dust-bunny. Yeah, cinic old me is a bit of a sucker for cute animals, even though cute kids irritate the hell out of me.

I confess one of my favourite scenes of the book was the one where Emmett has just "melted amber" (that is, for the uninitiated, applied so much psychic power that the amber he used to focus it has been... ruined, would be the word). Apparently, ghost-hunters become incredibly horny after using their powers, so after melting amber, Emmett becomes practically an animal in heat. He can barely control himself. I loved this scene, as much as I loved the similar scene in After Dark, and the one in Bridal Jitters, the short story also set in this world. It didn't matter I'd read it twice before, it hit me right in the gut.

It's actually kind of strange that a scene like this one resonated so much with me, considering that one of the heros who have affected me the most this year was one who refused to even consider the posibility of applying the slightest pressure on the heroine. Apparently, there's an unpublished dialogue between he and the heroine where she says that he would have been able to force her to fall in love with him sooner, and he says that then they might have had to apply for an annulment because of non-consummation. I found this incredibly endearing and affecting, and yet, here I am enjoying a scene that is the complete opposite. Go figure!

This is one world I wouldn't mind visiting again. JAK does seem to have given Lydia and Emmett enough closure not to continue their story, but I do hope she keeps publishing those paranormals!


My Life Uncovered, by Lynn Isenberg

>> Wednesday, April 14, 2004

My Life Uncovered: Unraveled, Revealed... Bared, by Lynn Isenberg, was the first book I read of the ones I bought during my trip. It was also my first Red Dress Ink, and one by a new-to-me author, too.

Laura Taylor thought she had a done deal with a Hollywood producer. Turns out the only deal her agent closed was his own disappearing act. (Rumor has it he's in rehab somewhere in North Dakota.) But a chance encounter with a "guy who knows a guy" opens up a world of opportunities for Laura and gives her a chance to break into films -- adult films. (Someone actually writes those things?) Hey, a job's a job, and no one has to know about it. She'll write under a pseudonym. And it'll only be this one time . . .

Pretty soon, Laura's new career takes off and she finds herself leading a double life: pitching her legitimate screenplay in one part of town while playing the belle of the ball in another. Sure, she's always wanted the awards, the success, the attention, but it isn't exactly something she can write home about, and for once she's trying not to get noticed. After all, if her worlds collide, her future in Hollywood could get an X rating.
My Life Uncovered was quite readable, and I did mostly enjoy myself while I was immersed in it, but in a way, it was just empty calories. A C.

The problem was that while, as I said, it was a mostly entertaining book, it simply wasn't satisfying emotionally. I didn't close it and go "ahhh"; my reaction was more "so that's it?".

The reason I say "mostly" entertaining is that while the parts about the making and writing of adult movies were fascinating (though I, even with practically 0 knowledge of pornos in real life, have some doubts about whether Laura's movies would be sooooo successful), the rest, all that about the wheeling and dealing in Hollywood, bored me out of my skull. In the end, I just didn't care if that boring-sounding The Law of Malus ever got made, I was so sick of it!

Another problem is that the tone of the book went to extremes when it was about emotion. At some parts, things felt glossed over, as in how Laura felt about certain... sexual experimentations she did. And when there was sentiment, it felt mawkish and maudlin, very "deep, inspiring thoughts" kind of things.

Also, I felt it was kind of lacking in drama, because I never really felt a sense of danger from the possibility that Laura's identity as Bella Feega would be discovered. In a way, that was good, because if it had been taken seriously, kind of as the worst thing that could happen, a great disaster, I would have found it idiotic. But as it was, I didn't see any conflict, and this contributed to my simply not caring.

What I thought might bother me, which was the fact that the book was written in the present tense (first person, present tense, to be exact, but it was the "present tense" part that had me worried), ended up not bothering me at all. For the first few pages it was a little bit distracting, but I soon quit even noticing.


Light in Shadow, by Jayne Ann Krentz

I'd been saving Light in Shadow, by Jayne Ann Krentz for my long plane trip. I ended up switching flights and flying through the night instead of the morning, so I slept most of the way, but the book did help the few hours I was awake pass more quickly.

Zoe Luce is a successful interior designer in the Arizona town of Whispering Springs who's developed an unusual career specialty-helping recently divorced clients redesign their homes, to help them forget the past and start anew. But Zoe knows that some things can't be covered up with a coat of paint. And when she senses that one of her clients may be hiding a dark secret, she enlists P.I. Ethan Truax to find the truth.

Working together, they solve the mystery . . . and barely escape with their lives. But Ethan's exquisite detection skills are starting to backfire on Zoe: she never wanted to let him find out about her former life; she never wanted to reveal her powerful, inexplicable gift for sensing the history hidden within a house's walls; she never wanted him to know that "Zoe Luce" doesn't really exist. She never wanted to fall in love with him.

Now, no matter how much she resists, Ethan may be her only hope-because the people she's been running from have found her. And just when Zoe dares to dream of a normal life and a future with the man she loves, her own past starts to shadow her every step-and threatens to take her back into a nightmare.
This was actually pretty good. A B+, different from my keeper JAKs in that the relationship part wasn't as good, but the plotting was much better.

I'm not saying the romance wasn't good, because it was. Ethan and Zoe were interesting, likeable characters and I did see chemistry between them. It's just that their relationship lacked some urgency, that indefinable element that those JAKs that make my stomach clutch have in spades. Maybe part of the thing is that lately the author is concentrating on more mature characters, and their relationship are simply... calmer.

I especially liked that our protagonists are allowed to have faults. I mean, Romance-land seems to be populated by perfect beings; a guy who's been married and divorced 3 times and an escapee from a mental institution are not particularly easy to find.

I enjoyed the way Ethan was someone who wasn't at all suave or smooth. He was very much a guy, who sometimes said the wrong thing and made mistakes in relating to Zoe, but who at the same time was a terribly nice person and never a jerk. He reminded me a bit of another recent JAK hero: Thomas, from Smoke in Mirrors.

As for Zoe, I admired her courage and the way she stood up for what she thought was right and took responsability for rescuing herself when needed, and still knew when to ask for help. I also appreciated the fact that she had deeply loved her first husband: none of that demonizing of the first spouse to make the new love interest look better. That's a lazy way of writing, and I don't like it :-)

Where JAK seems to have improved a lot here is in the plotting. We have a suspense subplot here that was engaging, with the focus not so much on the suspense (the sources of physical danger are resolved pretty early in the book and never seem particularly physically threatening) as on the mystery, which is the way I prefer it.

The atmosphere was also outstanding, especially the way the mental institution Zoe escaped from was described. Talk about creepy! And also, there was a very nifty, interesting mystery from the past that Ethan is investigating, which I liked quite a bit. It was a nice touch.

As a negative, I'd point out that Zoe's "psychic powers", the way she can perceive feelings from the walls of rooms in which certain events have happened, were insufficiently exploited in the book. I was left wanting more of this element.

I must also mention that Light in Shadow is the first in a series that continues with Truth or Dare. Luckily, I knew it before I read it, because I guess otherwise I would have felt bothered by the way the ending lacks some closure (as happened to me when I first read this author's After Dark). Knowing it will continue, I can take it differently, though I know this isn't something that should affect my feelings.


A Letter of Mary, by Laurie R. King

>> Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Back from my trip, I have a ton of books I want to post about. Too many plane trips mean I had to read a lot to amuse myself ;-)

But first, some quick comments about the last book I read before I left: A Letter of Mary, by Laurie R. King.

Late in the summer of 1923, Mary Russell Holmes and her husband, the illustrious Sherlock Holmes, are ensconced in their home on the Sussex Downs, giving themselves over to their studies: Russell to her theology, and Holmes to his malodorous chemical experiments. Interrupting the idyllic scene, amateur archaeologist Miss Dorothy Ruskin visits with a startling puzzle. Working in the Holy Land, she has unearthed a tattered roll of papyrus with a message from Mary Magdalene. Miss Ruskin wants Russell to safeguard the letter.

But when Miss Ruskin is killed in a traffic accident, Russell and Holmes find themselves on the trail of a fiendishly clever murderer. Clearly there was more to Miss Ruskin than met the eye. But why was she murdered? Was it her involvement in the volatile politics of the Holy Land? Was it her championing of women's rights? Or was it the scroll--a deeply troubling letter that could prove to be a Biblical bombshell? In either case, Russell and Holmes soon find that solving her murder may be murder itself.
I had read this one before, some years ago, and found it a nice read, if not too remarkable. I do believe I enjoyed it more this time, probably because what I've read in the meantime has allowed me to appreciate certain aspects even more. A B would be my grade.

The case itself wasn't so great. Maybe my problem was that I found the "Letter of Mary" itself particularly tantalizing, so then I got a bit disappointed when things soon went in a completely different direction.

What I did like, and very much, was the characterization, both of the protagonists and of the rest of the cast. I especially enjoyed the relationship between Russell and Holmes, which was one very much among equals, something I always relish. I do tend to get icked out by very big age differences, but it didn't bother me all that much here. I hope it doesn't either when I get the first book in the series, where Russell starts out at 15, I believe.

Oh, and I must mention a little Easter Egg which I adored! At one point, there's a cameo appearance by a "Peter" who could only have been Lord Peter Wimsey, as he's portrayed in all his piffling glory. It was a fun surprise, especially since the reason I started reading A Letter of Mary, in the first place, was that I had just finished Gaudy Night and since my attempt to read something completely different after it had failed, I wanted something else that was mystery-ish and set in the early 20th century.


All About Passion, by Stephanie Laurens

>> Thursday, April 01, 2004

All About Passion, by Stephanie Laurens, comes after the six original Cynster books, and stars their friend Chillingsworth, an "honorary Cynster".

"If one is not marrying for love, one may as well marry for something else. My future countess has to be sufficiently docile and endowed with at least passable grace of form, deportment and address."

Fate has made Gyles Rawlings a man determined to control his destiny. He has decided to wed a well-bred lady who will dutifully bear him sons, yet turn a blind eye while he takes his pleasure elsewhere. By all good accounts, Francesca will fit his bill. As for the "elsewhere," he's recently encountered a beautiful, brazen siren who will make a fine mistress, one with a fiery nature to match his own.

But at the altar, Gyles discovers his bride is the bold enchantress who has inspired his deepest fantasies. Finding passion and love in the same woman has long been a secret fear. But as his world is rocked on its axis, Gyles becomes obsessed with possessing the one thing he'd thought he would never want... his wife's heart.
All About Passion definitely had a different flavour than the Cynster books, with a reluctant hero. I'm afraid it didn't work too well for me. A C-.

In part, I admit a good deal of my dislike for the book can be explained by the fact that I had just finished reading Sayers' Gaudy Night when I started this. This meant that I couldn't help comparing certain aspects, and All About Passion was consistently on the losing side. I'd see the way Gyles tried to dictate to Francesca as if she was his dog, not the woman he'd married and the way he refused to "worry" her with her suspicions that someone was trying to kill her, almost as if she was a child. I compared that to the way Peter was terrified by the risks Harriet took but refused to interfere, simply because he respected her, and Gyles looked even more boorish.

Apart from those things, I was soon also fed up and irritated with the way Gyles and Francesca related to each other. I resented Gyles idiotic refusal to realize that it wasn't reasonable to hold on to his first idea of how his marriage was going to work. He didn't even want it to work that way, but since that had been his original plan, he was determined to hold on to it. Typical "cut off your nose to spite your face" behaviour. Jerk.

On the other hand (and, I know, a bit contradictory to what bothered me about Gyles), I resented Francesca for not keeping to the bargain. From the beginning, she received a proposal for a marriage that would be completely of convenience, and from the beginning, her thought was "I'll change his mind". That's not an attitude I respect.

The so-called suspense subplot didn't help. It was all much too obvious. From the very beginning, it was obvious what was going on. Even before the murder attempts started, I knew the person responsible was going to try to kill Francesca, so it made Gyles and her look foolish for not realizing. Very tedious.

Laurens writes well, and I usually enjoy her stories. I'm going to keep reading her, and I'll take care not to do it after an A+ book!


Gaudy Night, by Dorothy L Sayers

I confess it: I am, first and foremost, a romance reader, so even in books outside the genre, it's the romantic threads that capture my imagination the most. As such, I've been looking forward to reading Gaudy Night, ever since I started reading Dorothy L Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey series, of which this one would be book # 10, because I knew this was where the relationship between Peter and Harriet Vane got to some kind of conclusion.

When Harriet Vane attends her Oxford reunion, known as the "Gaudy," the prim academic setting is haunted by a rash of bizarre pranks: scrawled obsentities, burnt effigies and poison-pen letters -- including one that says, "Ask your boyfriend with the title if he likes arsenic in his soup."Some of the notes threaten murder; all are perfectly ghastly; yet in spite of their scurrilous nature, all are perfectly worded. And Harriet finds herself ensnared in a nightmare of romance and terror, with only the tiniest shreds of clues to challenge her powers of detection, and those of her paramour, Lord Peter Wimsey.
It's hard for me to gush, but that's exactly what an A+ book like this one deserves. I loved it so much I didn't want it to end. I didn't care if it took me hundreds and hundreds of pages to reach the conclusion, I just wanted to stay in that world. I tried to read as slowly as possible, getting more and more disconsolate as I saw the pile of pages left till the end rapidly diminish. And when I finally finished it, it took me quite a bit of time to get in the right frame of mind to start something else.

Gaudy Night worked perfectly for me both as a mystery and as a romance.

The mystery was very different to the usual Sayers, not in the least because it wasn't a murder. In fact, I found it even chillier than the garden variety murder! The solution fit in very well, and it was one I guessed, though I must confess that my "guessing" was not so much rational as wishful thinking, because I found the culprit and her opinions despicable.

As for the romance, well, that aspect was what made the book so good for me. Sayers focuses the spotlight firmly on Harriet and Peter and their relationship here, and unfolds it slowly and very, very satisfyingly. It's a very rational developing on Harriet's part. Her attraction to Peter is not something physical (though of course, that element is not absent), but intellectual, and what we see here is her trying to understand Peter's mind and attitudes. By the end of the book, both Harriet and the reader are perfectly satisfied that theirs will be a marriage of perfect understanding.

The introspective mood of the romance is reflected by the leisurely pace of the writing, and by the many academical comments on sundry subjects, including a scholar's responsability to abstract "truth" and the role of women. This made for slow, but rich reading, and I enjoyed every single line immensely.

I was especially interested to note how wonderfully feminist the book was in these and other respects. Used to reading about the overbearing, dominating, overprotective males which abound in the romance genre, I especially appreciated how Peter completely respected Harriet. From recognizing that she and only she had the right to decide whether to take physical risks, to not pressuring into having a love relationship with him, he is my perfect man.

The setting, in an all-female college in Oxford, was of course, fascinating. I've been reading about the Realistic School of Detective Fiction, with its emphasis on giving the reader a realistic portrayal of the various settings, a "look inside", as it were, and this is something I very much enjoy. It was just as fascinating here as it was in previous Sayers books as Murder Must Advertise and The Nine Tailors.

All this made Gaudy Night a joy to read. And I musn't forget that ending! I must have reread it 10 times already. Every time I think of "Placetne, magistra? - Placet", I sigh :-)


Blog template by simplyfabulousbloggertemplates.com

Back to TOP